Rumi on the Iran Deal

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Reading Jalaladdin Rumi is a diversionary summer-vacation tactic to keep at arm’s length Congressional debate over the Iran deal, where arguments that are demonstrably weak are immune from rebuttal. Rumi knew a thing or two about the human condition – and ways to rise above it. So why not consult this Sufi mystic, born in Afghanistan in 1207, subsequently residing mostly in Anatolia, for counsel?

There are good reasons to be in favor of this deal and to be wary of it. But these reasons fail to explain why so few of America’s elected representatives will cross party lines to vote on an issue of this magnitude. No one has offered a feasible diplomatic plan to negotiate a “better” deal. And the military plans on offer involve short-term holding actions, immediate costs as well as long-term, negative consequences. Even so, the partisan divide is nearly impermeable.

When President John F. Kennedy lobbied the Senate to consent to ratify a treaty banning atmospheric nuclear testing in 1963, only eight Republican Senators voted in opposition. In contrast, President Barack Obama will face nearly a united Republican front against an agreement that is designed to constrain Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon for the next fifteen years.

The reasons for this vast shift over half a century in the Republican Party’s views toward nuclear arms control warrant a subsequent post and a dissertation or two. For now, what’s worth noting that the GOP’s opposition has extended beyond strategic arms reduction to a generalized hostility toward diplomacy as a mechanism to reduce proliferation dangers. If the Iran deal is rejected or undermined on partisan grounds, it’s hard to envision how other non-proliferation diplomatic initiatives – think of North Korea, at the outset – could pass muster on Capitol Hill. The intensity of opposition to the Iran deal is so great within Republican ranks that some are already taking aim at funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be responsible for monitoring the Iran deal.

So what counsel would a Sufi master have to offer when one of the two major parties in America has gone so off-kilter?

Here’s a sampler, courtesy of the translation and interpretation of Coleman Barks:

“Look how the caravan of civilization has been ambushed…

“The hard rain and wind
are ways the cloud has to take care of us.
Be patient…

“Ignore those that make you fearful
and sad, that degrade you
back toward disease and death…

“Constant, slow movement teaches us to keep working
like a small creek that stays clear
that doesn’t stagnate, but finds a way
through numerous details, deliberately…

“Mind does its fine-tuning hair-splitting,
But no craft or art begins
or can continue without a master
giving wisdom into it…

“Listen when I am out of control,
But don’t put anything breakable in my way…

“Your old life was a frantic running from silence.

“Your words are guesswork.
He speaks from experience.
There’s a huge difference.”

To read one who speaks from experience, I recommend Brent Scowcroft’s op-ed in the August 21st edition of the Washington Post.

Michael Krepon is Co-Founder of the Stimson Center. This piece originally ran in Arms Control Wonk on August 25, 2015.

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