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GOP dilemma: Back Putin? or Obama?

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Kevin Drum has a good post on a difficult choice the GOP must make—though I expect they’ll back Putin, whom they actually sort of admire: tough guy, white, takes revenge on journalists who criticize him, etc. Don’t forget that George W. Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and saw his soul, which (apparently) Bush admired.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2015 at 9:33 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Iran

Iran (and the US) in the Middle East

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Interesting post at TomDispatch.com:

Think of it as the American half-century in the Middle East: from August 17, 1953, when a CIA oil coup brought down democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed the Shah as Washington’s man in Tehran, to May 1, 2003, when George W. Bush landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of southern California.  (The planes from that aircraft carrier had only recently dropped 1.6 million pounds of ordnance on Iraq.)  There, standing under a White House-produced banner that read “Mission Accomplished,” the president dramatically announced that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended” and hailed “the arrival of a new era.”

Today, we know that those combat operations had barely begun.  Almost 12 years later, with the Obama administration pursuing a bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State, they have yet to end. On only one thing was President Bush right: with the invasion of Iraq, a new era had indeed been launched.  His top officials and their neoconservative alliesimagined the moment as the coronation of a new order in the Middle East, the guarantee of another American half-century or more of domination.  Iraq, that crucial state in the oil heartlands of the planet, was to be garrisoned for decades (on the “Korea model”); the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was to be brought to heel; and above all, fundamentalist Iran was to be crushed. That country’s rulers were to find themselves in an ever-tightening geopolitical vise, with American Iraq on one side and American Afghanistan on the other.  (A quip of the moment caught the mood of Washington and its high-flown hopes perfectly: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)  The Bush administration would ensure that the great blemish on the American half-century in the region, the reversal of the CIA’s coup by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 and the humiliation of having American diplomats taken hostage for 444 days in Tehran — would be wiped away. The regime of the Ayatollahs was soon to be history.

Of course, it all turned out so unimaginably otherwise, leaving us today knee-deep in the chaos of that “new era.”  Shock and awe, indeed!  The American half-century has been swept away as definitively as was the Soviet Cold-War version of the same before it.  Someday, the disastrous invasion of Iraq will have its historian and we’ll understand more fully just what that moment really launched, what forces already building in the region it let devastatingly loose.  It certainly blew a hole in the heart of the Middle East in ways we have yet to come to grips with and prepared the ground, as dynamite does a construction site, for the disintegration of both the European and the American versions of “order” in the region, as well as for the building of we know not what… yet.

Today, amid remarkable fragmentation, roiling conflict, sectarian struggles, the growth and spread of extremist groups, and the creation of one failed state after another, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, two key energy states still remain in place: Saudi Arabia and Iran.  And the Saudis, a repressive Sunni kingdom with a restive Shia minority population whose rulers have used the country’s immense oil wealth to buy social peace, are visibly nervous.  Hence, their decision to begin a terror-bombing campaign in disintegrating Yemen, with the threat of a ground invasion (possibly involving Egyptian and other troops) to follow.  As the Americans have already shown, far more “precise” bombing than the Saudi air force is capable of has a history of not resolving, or even further stoking, conflicts. Just what kind of blowback the Saudis will experience from their rash decision to strike in Yemen is impossible to know, but it’s not hard to guess that, as with Washington’s drive through “the gates of hell” in Iraq in 2003, it’s unlikely to be whatever that country’s rulers are now imagining.

Keep in mind that the destabilization of Saudi Arabia in any fashion would be a daunting prospect in the Middle East and, given its key role in oil production, globally as well.  As for Iran, like the cheese of nursery rhyme fame, today it stands alone.  TomDispatch regularPeter Van Buren (who, as a State Department official, lived through the beginnings of Bush’s “new era” in occupied Iraq) suggests that in the coming years it may prove to be the single cohesive nation in the neighborhood.  So, whatever we don’t know about the future of the Middle East, it’s certainly not too early to say, “Mission Accomplished,” and congratulate George W. on his new era. Tom

The Iranian Ascendancy
Twelve Years Later, We Know the Winner in Iraq: Iran
By Peter Van Buren

The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

Today’s News — and Some History

The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refuelingon demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidipeople from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandonedfour key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of theLibyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent.

The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of theLibyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

Iran Ascendant

The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2015 at 3:30 pm

Why no Iranian guests on Sunday talk shows

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It’s very strange that Sunday talk shows, ostensibly to explore political questions, never have an Iranian as guest. Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

Sunday morning news television is where Washington sets its media agenda for the week and, more importantly, defines its narrow range of conventional, acceptable viewpoints. It’s where the Serious People go to spout their orthodoxies and, through the illusion of “tough questioning,” disseminate DC-approved bipartisan narratives. Other than the New York Times front page, Sunday morning TV was the favorite tool of choice for Bush officials and neocon media stars to propagandize the public about Iraq; Dick Cheney’s media aide, Catherine Martin, noted in a memo that the Tim-Russert-hosted Meet the Press lets Cheney “control message,” and she testified at the Lewis Libby trial that, as a result, “I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used. It’s our best format.”

Over the last couple months, the Sunday morning TV shows – NBC‘s Meet the Press, CBS’s Face The Nation, ABC’s This Week, Fox’s News Sunday, and CNN’s State of the Union – have focused on a deal with Iran as one of their principal topics. In doing so, they have repeatedly given a platform to fanatical anti-Iran voices, including Israeli officials such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They have sycophantically interviewed officials from the U.S.-supported, anti-Iranian Gulf tyrannies such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan; two weeks ago, Chuck Todd interviewed Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Adel Al-Jubeir and didn’t utter a word about extreme Saudi repression, but actually did ask this “question”:todd-540x135

Are the foot rubs we Americans are giving to you to your liking, Mr. Saudi Ambassador, or do you feel that we must make them more vigorous? In the last three weeks aloneMeet the Press has interviewed the Israeli Prime Minister, the Saudi Ambassador, and the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.

Meanwhile, their “expert media panels” almost always feature the most extremist “pro-Israel,” anti-Iran American pundits such as Jeffrey Goldberg, who played aleading role in spreading false claims about Iraq under the guise of “reporting” (and only became more beloved and credible in DC for it), was dubbed Netanyahu’s “faithful stenographer” by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, and even joined the Israeli military in his young adulthood. In 2014, Face the Nation interviewed Netanyahu five times and featured his “faithful stenographer,” Goldberg, three times; in 2015, the CBS show just last week interviewed Netanyahu and has already hosted Goldberg four times. ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos actually features supreme neocon propagandist Bill Krsitol as a regular “ABC News Contributor” and has also interviewed Netanyahu. And that’s to say nothing of the “hawkish”, AIPAC-loyal and/or evangelical members of the U.S. Congress who are fanatically devoted to Israel and appear literally almost every week on these programs.

But as these shows “cover” the Iran deal, one thing is glaringly missing: Iranian voices. There has not been a single Iranian official recently interviewed by any of these Sunday morning shows. When I raised this issue on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, a Meet the Press Senior Editor, Shawna Thomas, said the show had “put in a request” with Iran for an interview, while MSNBC’s Chris Hayes also suggested that it can be difficult to secure interviews with Iranian government officials.

That may be, but even if it is difficult to obtain interviews with Iranian government officials, it is extremely easy to interview Iranian experts, scholars, journalists and other authoritative voices from Tehran. Last week, Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez  hosted a fascinating hour-long discussion about Iran with Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former nuclear negotiator for Iran who was Iran’s Ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1997, and now teaches at Princeton. Just this week, CNN International’s Christiane Amanpour interviewed Tehran University Professor Sadegh Zibakalam about Tehran’s views and actions in the Iran deal. Beyond those in Iran, there are Iranian-American groups and Iranian-American experts who actually speak Farsi who don’t see the world the way Jeffrey Goldberg and Lindsey Graham do. Outside the Sunday shows, Iranian officials have been interviewed occasionally by U.S. media figures.

In sum, the only way to exclude Iranian voices is if you choose to exclude them. That’s exactly what Sunday morning television programs have done, and continue to do. And it matters a great deal for several reasons.

For one, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2015 at 1:31 pm

6 things we’ve already done to Iran—including shooting down a passenger plane

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Jon Schwarz looks at some reason Iran may not like the US and its allies:

It’s hard for some Americans to understand why the Obama administration is so determined to come to an agreement with Iran on its nuclear capability, given that huge Iranian rallies are constantly chanting “Death to America!” I know the chanting makes me unhappy, since I’m part of America, and I strongly oppose me dying.

But if you know our actual history with Iran, you can kind of see where they’re coming from. They have understandable reasons to be angry at and frightened of us — things we’ve done that if, say, Norway had done them to us, would have us out in the streets shouting “Death to Norway!” Unfortunately, not only have the U.S. and our allies done horrendous things to Iran, we’re not even polite enough to remember it.

Reminding ourselves of this history does not mean endorsing an Iran with nuclear-tipped ICBMs. It does mean realizing how absurd it sounds when critics of the proposed agreement say it suddenly makes the U.S. the weaker party or that we’re getting a bad deal because Iran, as Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham put it, does not fear Obama enough. It’s exactly the opposite: this is the best agreement the U.S. could get because for the first time in 35 years, U.S.–Iranian relations aren’t being driven purely by fear.

1. The founder of Reuters News purchased Iran in 1872

Nasir al-Din Shah, Shah of Iran from 1848-1896, sold Baron Julius de Reuter the right to operate all of Iran’s railroads and canals, most of the mines, all the government’s forests, and all future industries. The famous British statesman Lord Curzon called it “the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamed of.” Iranians were so infuriated that the Shah had to rescind the sale the next year.

2. The BBC lent a hand to the CIA’s 1953 overthrow of Iran’s Prime Minster Mohammad Mosaddegh

If the Reuters thing weren’t enough to give Iranians a grudge against the Western media, the BBC transmitted a secret code to help Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy’s grandson) lay the groundwork for an American and British coup against Mosaddegh. (BBC Persian also assisted by broadcasting pro-coup propaganda on the orders of the British government.) Soon enough the U.S. was training the regime’s secret police in how to interrogate Iranians with methods a CIA analyst said were “based on German torture techniques from World War II.”

3. We had extensive plans to use nuclear weapons in Iran

In 1980 the U.S. military was terrified the Soviet Union would take advantage of the Iranian Revolution to invade Iran and seize the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. So the Pentagon came up with a plan: if the Soviets began massing their troops, we would use small nuclear weapons to destroy the mountain passes in northern Iran the Soviets needed to move their troops into the country.

So we wouldn’t be using nukes on Iran, just in Iran. As Pentagon historian David Crist put it, “No one reflected on how the Iranians might view such a scenario.” But they probably would have been fine with it, just as we’d be fine with Iran nuking Minnesota to prevent Canada from gaining control of the Gulf of Mexico. “No problem,” we’d say. “Nuestra casa es su casa.”

4. U.S. leaders have repeatedly threatened to outright destroy Iran

It’s not just John McCain singing “bomb bomb bomb Iran.” Admiral William Fallon, who retired as head of CENTCOM in 2008, said about Iran that “These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.” Admiral James Lyons Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the 1980s,has said we were prepared to “drill them back to the fourth century.” Richard Armitage, then Assistant Secretary of Defense, explainedthat we considered whether to “completely obliterate Iran.” Billionaire and GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson advocates an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran — “in the middle of the desert” at first, then possibly moving on to places with more people.

Most seriously, the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declared that we will not use nuclear weapons “against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” There’s only one country that’s plausibly not in this category. So we were saying we will never use nuclear weapons against any country that doesn’t have them already — with a single exception, Iran. Understandably, Iran found having a nuclear target painted on them pretty upsetting.

5. We shot down a civilian Iranian airliner — killing 290 people, including 66 children

On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, patrolling in the Persian Gulf, blew Iran Air Flight 655 out of the sky. The New York Times had editorialized about “Murder in the Air” in 1983 when the Soviet Union mistakenly shot down a South Korean civilian airliner in its airspace, declaring, “there is no conceivable excuse for any nation shooting down a harmless airliner.” After the Vincennes missile strike, a Times editorial announced that what happened to Flight 655 “raises stern questions for Iran.” That’s right — for Iran. Two years later the U.S. Navy gave the Vincennes’ commander the highly prestigious Legion of Merit commendation. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2015 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Iran

The courts are leading us in the wrong direction: Another “state secrets” misjustice

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Glenn Greenwald reports at The Intercept:

At the center of it is an anti-Iranian group calling itself “United Against Nuclear Iran” (UANI), which is very likely a front for some combination of the Israeli and U.S. intelligence services. When launched, NBC described its mission as waging “economic and psychological warfare” against Iran. The group was founded and is run and guided by a roster of U.S., Israeli and British neocon extremists such as Joe Lieberman, former Bush Homeland Security adviser (and current CNN “analyst”) Fran Townsend, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and former Mossad Director Meir Dagan. One of its key advisers is Olli Heinonen, who just co-authored Washington Post Op-Ed with former Bush CIA/NSA Director Michael Hayden arguing that Washington is being too soft on Tehran.

uani

This group of neocon extremists was literally just immunized by a federal court from the rule of law. That was based on the claim — advocated by the Obama DOJ and accepted by Judge Ramos — that subjecting them to litigation for their actions would risk disclosure of vital “state secrets.” The court’s ruling was based on assertions made through completely secret proceedings between the court and the U.S. government, with everyone else — including the lawyers for the parties — kept in the dark.

In May 2013, UANI launched a “name and shame” campaign designed to publicly identify — and malign — any individuals or entities enabling trade with Iran. One of the accused was the shipping company of Greek billionaire Victor Restis, who vehemently denies the accusation. He hired an American law firm and sued UANI for defamation in a New York federal court, claiming the “name and shame” campaign destroyed his reputation.

Up until that point, there was nothing unusual about any of this: just a garden-variety defamation case brought in court by someone who claims that public statements made about him are damaging and false. That happens every day. But then something quite extraordinary happened: In September of last year, the U.S. government, which was not a party, formally intervened in the lawsuit, and demanded that the court refuse to hear Restis’s claims and instead dismiss the lawsuit against UANI before it could even start, on the ground that allowing the case to proceed would damage national security.

When the DOJ intervened in this case and asserted the “state secrets privilege,” it confounded almost everyone. The New York Times’s Matt Apuzzo noted at the time that “the group is not affiliated with the government, and lists no government contracts on its tax forms. The government has cited no precedent for using the so­-called state­ secrets privilege to quash a private lawsuit that does not focus on government activity.” He quoted the ACLU’s Ben Wizner as saying: “I have never seen anything like this.” Reuters’s Allison Frankel labeled the DOJ’s involvement a “mystery” and said “the government’s brief is maddeningly opaque about its interest in a private libel case.”

Usually, when the U.S. government asserts the “state secrets privilege,” it is because they are a party to the lawsuit, being sued for their own allegedly illegal acts (such as torture or warrantless surveillance), and they claim that national security would be harmed if they are forced to defend themselves. In rare cases, they do intervene and assert the privilege in lawsuits between private parties, but only where the subject of the litigation is a government program and one of the parties is a government contractor involved in that program — such as when torture victims sued a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen, for its role in providing airplanes for the rendition program and the Obama DOJ insisted (successfully) that the case not go forward, and the victim of U.S. torture was thus told that he could not even have a day in court.

But in this case, there is no apparent U.S. government conduct at issue in the lawsuit. At least based on what they claim about themselves, UANI is just “a not-for-profit, non-partisan, advocacy group” that seeks to “educate” the public about the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program. Why would such a group like this even possess “state secrets”? . . .

Continue reading.

Remember Obama’s promises about “transparency”? When words go one direction and actions go another, which do you believe?

And something very odd is going on in that case. Read the entire article, because there’s more. Later in the article:

But in some important respects, this latest abuse is a step beyond that. It’s certainly true that legally immunizing brutal violations of human rights on secrecy grounds (as both the Bush and Obama DOJs have done) is worse than preventing a Greek billionaire from prosecuting a lawsuit. But to intervene in a private lawsuit in order to shield an extremist neocon group from the consequences of their actions — through secret meetings with the judge in which unaccountable “secrecy” assertions are made — is even more offensive to basic legal rights than what has preceded it.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2015 at 1:14 pm

Republican idiocy on Iran

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An excellent editorial in the NY Times:

After helping to ignite a firestorm over a possible nuclear agreement with Iran, Senator John McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, is now sort of acknowledging his error. “Maybe that wasn’t exactly the best way to do that,” he said on Fox News on Tuesday.

He was referring to the disgraceful and irresponsible letter that he and 46 Senate colleagues sent to Iran’s leaders this week that generated outrage from Democrats and even some conservatives.

The letter was an attempt to scare the Iranians from making a deal that would limit their nuclear program for at least a decade by issuing a warning that the next president could simply reverse any agreement. It was a blatant, dangerous effort to undercut the president on a grave national security issue by communicating directly with a foreign government.

Maybe Mr. McCain, who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, should have thought about the consequences before he signed the letter, which was drafted by Tom Cotton, a Republican of Arkansas, a junior senator with no foreign policy credentials. Instead of trying to be leaders and statesmen, the Republicans in Congress seem to think their role is outside the American government, divorced from constitutional principles, tradition and the security interests of the American people.

The letter was the latest shot to blow up the negotiations with Iran. Earlier this month, House Republicans invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to denounce a pact in a speech to Congress, and a group of senators is pushing legislation that could set new conditions on a deal and force a congressional vote.\

Besides being willing to sabotage any deal with Iran (before they know the final details), these Republicans are perfectly willing to diminish America’s standing as a global power capable of crafting international commitments and adhering to them.

Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. was blistering in his condemnation, saying, “This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.” But perhaps President Obama described this bizarre reality best. “It’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran,” he said. “It’s an unusual coalition.”

So far, the Iranians have largely dismissed the bumbling threat, with their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, describing the letter as “propaganda.” But there are fears it could embolden hard-liners in Iran who, like the Republicans and some of the Democrats in Congress, oppose any nuclear agreement between Iran, the United States and its major allies. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 March 2015 at 9:57 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government, Iran

The GOP’s love of wars that other people fight

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Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker:

Forty-seven senators, all of them Republicans, have sent a letter to Tehranthat might be summarized this way: Dear Iran, Please don’t agree to halt your nuclear-weapons program, because we don’t like Barack Obama and, anyway, he’ll be gone soon. That may be shorthand, but it is not an exaggeration of either the tone or the intent of the letter, which was signed by the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, as well as John McCain, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul. The signature drive was organized by Senator Tom Cotton. He is a thirty-seven-year-old Republican, who entered the Senate two months ago, from the state of Arkansas. Senators, as the letter helpfully informs the Iranians—this is an actual quote—“may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms. As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.” (Or, of course, a third of the Senate could be voted out every two years.)

The letter opens, “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” As the letter writers tell it, “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” It is a bit more complicated than that: Presidents can make commitments that are difficult to get out of (unless one wants to provoke a crisis), and Congress, instead of just being able to merrily modify, has to deal with things like vetoes. What is more extraordinary is the intent behind this tinny civics lesson—to tell a foreign power, one with which the United States is at odds, not to listen to the American President.

What is the source of the crying need that certain members of Congress, particularly Republicans, feel to make sure that everybody, and every last mullah, knows that they are much more important than some guy named Barack Obama? One pictures Tom Cotton walking through the streets of Montreux, where John Kerry, the Secretary of State, has been doing his best to negotiate a deal that will keep Iran from getting the bomb, asking random strangers with briefcases, “Don’t you know who I am?” Iran and the United States have been in an intimate, often hostile embrace for half a century. The Iranians have been watching us pretty closely, through coups and revolutions and wars and hostage negotiations and the imposition of sanctions. (I wrote about the current talks, which resume this Sunday, in the magazine this week.) The Iranians were adept enough in their knowledge of American electoral politics to time the release of the American Embassy hostages, in January, 1981, to Ronald Reagan’s completion of his Inaugural Address. (Split screens in the news coverage showed a tired-looking Jimmy Carter, who had actually negotiated the deal, on the phone, while Nancy Reagan waved at the crowd.) They probably know that they would be signing an executive agreement, not a treaty that the Senate would ratify.

Indeed, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, said that the letter has “no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.” He added that he found it “interesting” that certain groups should be so opposed to a deal that “they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”

Is that the reaction that the Republicans were hoping for? Perhaps they don’t care if the United States is embarrassed in front of the other members of the U.N. Security Council—which, along with Germany, are the parties to the talks—as long as they have something that they can boast about on Fox News. The prospect of Iran getting a nuclear bomb is a grave threat to world peace. The Obama Administration, which is trying to stop that from happening, has only a certain number of cards to play, and yet the Republicans are doing whatever they can to weaken its hand. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2015 at 8:16 pm

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