PARIS -- So it's almost official: The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, France, United Kingdom), plus Germany, are on the brink of striking a deal with Iran on nuclear limitations in exchange for loosened sanctions. Iran and nuclear enrichment have been living "in sin" together on the down-low for awhile now, and other countries are finally acknowledging it by giving Iran the diplomatic equivalent of toaster ovens and candleholders. What's the big hurry? Is someone pregnant?
France, the most reluctant of the negotiating countries, posted a warning in February on the webpage of the French embassy in Tehran that "protests hostile to France and to the magazine Charlie Hebdo (the Paris-based magazine attacked by terrorists in January) were held several times in recent weeks in Iran. ... These events are frequently announced in advance on Iranian state television." This warning was still posted as of this week.
France doesn't have the luxury of geographic distance to help it forget Iran's history of hostage-taking, hijackings and bombings, all of which ultimately led to France's adoption of Iraq as a regional partner. France understands that U.S. President Barack Obama's "finger in the wind" foreign policy risks unforeseen consequences by ramming through an Iranian deal at a time when there is still so much dust flying in the Middle East.
Iran seems eager to take home the blue ribbon for Middle Eastern supremacy, kicking Islamic State backside in Iraq while simultaneously drawing its Gulf state neighbors into a war against Iranian proxies in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its allies have finally managed to get their act together to propose a joint Arab military force to fight insurgent wars. It's about time they finally wiped the cobwebs off all the military hardware sold to them by the West.
Ultimately, both sides are doing the West a favor right now in fighting each other -- so don't touch it. If Iran and Saudi Arabia settle in with their hands around each other's necks, then so be it. Just keep liquidating Islamic State forces, so that we can all get down to dealing with strictly state actors and the proxy forces for which they can be held responsible.
Granted, a fully nuclear Middle East is inevitable at some point. Iran has been hell-bent on building its nuclear capabilities one atom at a time. Eventually, it will get there. So will Israel (if it isn't there already), Saudi Arabia and perhaps other actors in the region. The best we can hope for is a dragged-out process, after which the strategy shifts to transparency and containment. In other words, "We will let you sit at the adults' table, but we expect you to use proper table manners, or it'll be a lecture (diplomacy) followed by a potential whack on the backside (military action)."
The prevailing attitude at the negotiations seems to be one of accepting the inevitable. "Fine, we know you're going to draw all over the walls in your room anyway, but now we're going to give you some construction paper." That's what the six world powers are trying to buy: some transparency.
Will the Iranian regime ever stop with the "death to America" and "death to Israel" nonsense? Probably not, and for essentially the same reason why the New Zealand All-Blacks rugby team does the Haka: It's kind of a cultural thing at this point. Maybe it will even become a term of endearment -- like the guy at school who called you "jerkface" but went from shoving you into lockers to just giving you a wink.
It's not as if Iran has much else going for it to capture the imagination of the rest of mankind. One "death to America" unleashed in the social media age, and it can troll the entire planet. But it will sound increasingly dumb as sanctions lift, "Iran Inc." opens for business to foreign companies, and Iranian citizens collect paychecks from companies based in nations upon which the regime wishes death.
Or at least that's the dream -- just as it was when the Soviet Union collapsed. We tend to presume that the citizens of these non-capitalist countries will intuitively grasp the relationship between work and money, yet there are people who have spent their entire lives in America and still can't grasp that concept.
Nonetheless, it should all happen without some kind of thunderclap "deal." For once, I wish that Team Obama would simply do what it does best: nothing.