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The Loss of Momentum

In politics, war, sports, and other realms momentum counts for a lot. If you maintain the momentum, you can give the appearance that your victory is inevitable. This disheartens your adversaries, emboldens your side, and leads waverers to root for your cause. If, however, you lose momentum the entire process is reversed and you are put on the defensive, with numerous negative consequences.

Well, guess what? The West has just lost momentum in the battle to keep Iran from going nuclear. The Obama administration claims that the deal which takes effect next week is only temporary and phased in–that in return for a partial slowdown in its nuclear program (which, according to the New York Times, will add as little as “several weeks to the time Iran would need to acquire enough enriched uranium for a bomb”) Iran will get “only” $6 billion to $7 billion worth of sanctions relief.

But Iran has won something far more valuable than that limited sanctions relief, which is valuable enough as it is to a cash-strapped regime. It has stopped the momentum of the West’s sanctions and is beginning to reverse it. After having worked so hard to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Iranian regime, the U.S. is now backing off, even going so far as to implicitly recognize Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium–i.e., its “right” to maintain breakout capacity to build a bomb within a few weeks or months.

This is sending a signal to the entire world that we are no longer serious about containing Iran. Instead, we are going to accommodate it. Given that reality, the hordes of waverers and finger-to-the-wind countries which have been very reluctant to give up their business dealings with Iran are now likely to open up the spigots and let trade flow.

An initial sign of this comes from Dubai. The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, has long had an equivocal relationship with Iran. Like other Sunni states in the region, it has been terrified of the rise of Iranian power but, as a small state located across a narrow waterway from the Persian powerhouse, it has also sought to accommodate the Iranians as much as possible. Dubai, which lives on trade, has been especially active in providing a market where Iran can buy and sell what it needs.

Thus it is hardly surprising but nevertheless significant to read the ruler of Dubai quoted as follows:

Asked whether he thought it was time to lift the sanctions, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, told British broadcaster the BBC:

“I think so and give Iran a space… Iran is our neighbor and we don’t want any problem, he said, adding that “everybody will benefit”.

This is indicative of a broader reaction that is sure to set in almost immediately. Countries which had been brought reluctantly to support sanctions on Iran are going to ease off. This is especially true of states in the Middle East whose rulers are wily survivors. They can read which way the wind is blowing, and they now recognize that the Iranians have what George H.W. Bush once referred to as “big mo” and the U.S. doesn’t. They will act accordingly.



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