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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

The GOP wants another war, because the past couple have gone so well

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I do not understand the intense desire some have expressed to go to war against Iran. It seems absolutely insane to me, but of course I also thought that it was insane for the US to invade Iraq under George W. Bush, a war that was sold to the US by the simple expedient of outright lies and that has pretty much wrecked the Middle East and resulted in the rise of ISIS.

With that example, how could anyone think a war with Iran—a war that would be totally at the initiative and decision of the US—would be a good idea? Well, for one thing, none of those pushing for the war will have to fight in it. They mostly plan to reap great rewards from the increase in defense spending.

In the NY Review of Books Elizabeth Drew looks at the current situation:

Ever since Hurricane Bibi blew through Washington last week, advocates and opponents of a possible nuclear agreement with Iran have been assessing the damage. It’s clear that the traditional bipartisan approach toward Israel has been smashed. But the essential question is what effect Netanyahu’s visit will have on the the nuclear deal and above all, whether Congress, by bringing it to a direct vote as it now threatens, will reject it, thus ending a long effort to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and raising a long-term question as to whether US negotiators’ word amounts to anything.

Because the agreement—being negotiated by the Obama administration and fellow members of the P5+1 group––isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t have to be approved by the Senate by a two-thirds vote. But since the existing strict economic sanctions on Iran were imposed by Congress, many members insist that they should have a voice in whether they can be lifted, as they would be in the agreement, in exchange for tight controls designed to prohibit Iran from developing nuclear weapons. What this is really about is whether Congress will have veto power over the agreement itself—a power that has become Netanyahu’s and other opponents’ chosen route for sinking a deal.

Hours after Netanyahu’s speech, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, apparently eager to capitalize on its rapturous reception by the mostly Republican audience, announced that he’d shortly move that the Senate immediately take up a resolution requiring a congressional vote on any agreement with Iran. This went against McConnell’s earlier pledge that the Senate would proceed according to the “regular order,” which would have meant that legislation had to be considered by the relevant committee, in this case Foreign Relations, before it could be brought to the floor; and two days later, he backed down after Democrats threatened to block the move. But this is most likely a temporary retreat on McConnell’s part.

The principal resolution to give Congress an opportunity to vote on any nuclear deal is sponsored by the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Bob Corker, of Tennessee. It has been co-sponsored by Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democratic member on the committee, four other Democrats, and one Independent. As currently drafted (but subject to change, particularly if it has to be approved by the Foreign Relations Committee and as others weigh in) the resolution would require the administration, within five days of reaching an agreement, to submit it to Congress, which would move swiftly to vote on it—too swiftly, opponents of the resolution say, for serious consideration of its provisions. One particularly troublesome part of Corker’s proposal would require that the administration regularly report on whether Iran is involved in terrorist acts, which has nothing to do with arms control.

Corker is regarded as a relatively responsible figure, not simply a wrecker like so many of his party colleagues. He didn’t favor McConnell’s move to bring his bill to the floor just after Netanyahu’s speech, preferring that it go through the committee process first. Menendez, too, though a longtime critic of the negotiations with Iran, opposed bringing the resolution to a vote without review by the committee. But Corker now has to answer to the Republican Senate caucus if he wants his proposal to pass. And while Menendez has been a skeptic about dealing with Iran, it’s one thing to express concern about negotiations and another to defeat an international agreement that the administration has reached with Iran to try to prevent its development of nuclear weapons. (At the moment Menendez has other distractions: it was recently disclosed that the Justice Department plans to charge him with accepting gifts and lavish vacations from a supporter in exchange for governmental favors.) His most significant Democratic ally among the skeptics is Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate.

To give Democrats a palatable alternative to Corker’s proposal, Barbara Boxer, of California, along with some influential Democratic allies, has drawn up a counter proposal that would . . .

Continue reading.

Bob Corker is famous in my mind for endlessly repeating that “we must stay the course” in Iraq, and when the Iraq war was clearly a disaster, blandly stated, “I have never said, ‘We must stay the course.'” His political opponent had a good clip showing Corker explicitly saying that we must “stay the course,” and then explicitly denying he had ever said. Corker has absolutely no integrity.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2015 at 4:13 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

On Iran: Absence of Plan B

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Kevin Drum has an interesting note: No commentator who is opposed to Obama’s negotiations with Iran has any Plan B. More at the link, but that’s the essence. It’s like the GOP opposition to Obamacare: they don’t like it, but they don’t have an alternative to offer. The same with negotiating with Iran: they don’t like it, but they don’t have an alternative to offer. Childish, not to put too fine a point on it.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2015 at 9:35 am

“Existential” as a tip-off that a bad argument follows

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Netanyahu will soon be using his invitation from the GOP Speaker of the House, John Boehner, to attack the US President and US foreign policy in a Congressional address, something that has never happened before. In the address, he will probably trot out his old, shallow arguments designed to make the Israeli public fearful and keep him in power. James Fallows has a very good pair of columns on those hoary arguments.

Both columns are well worth reading. The first begins:

I have received a foreseeable flood of mail in response to the collection of Israel-and-Iran letters posted three days ago. I am not going to quote any more of it. As has been evident for many years, there is an unbridgeable chasm in outlooks on this topic. Having offered a sample of the current state of that divide, I’ll say Enough for now.

This makes me all the more admiring of diplomats who try to find ways across the chasm, starting with what I saw from Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat, and Jimmy Carter at Camp David long ago (as dramatized in Lawrence Wright’s playCamp David).

* * *

But I will weigh in on one more aspect of the Netanyahu-Obama-Iran controversy, namely the language with which we describe it. If you’d like background on how Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu came to this impasse, please read two reports by David Ignatius, here and here. If you’d like to consider some of the long-term ramifications of Israel’s leader saying that he is the “true” voice of Jews worldwide, including American Jews, please read M.J. Rosenberg in The Nation, or former Congressman Mel Levine and former Israeli Ambassador Oded Eran in Politico.

From Levine and Eran: “[The U.S.-Israel relationship] is especially threatened when an Israeli Prime Minister is seen as openly challenging the U.S president, asking the country and the Congress to side with a foreign Prime Minister over America’s President on an issue which potentially involves war and peace, a question about which the American public is anguished and divided.”

From Rosenberg: “Netanyahu’s action, in challenging the American president and claiming to speak for all Jews when he does so, suggests that it is Israel and not the country in which Jews live and vote that is their homeland. This idea is anathema to the overwhelming majority of American Jews. … He is coming to the US Capitol to tell Congress that it should not support a president who is working to secure an agreement that president believes serves national interests, among which he has repeatedly said is the security of Israel.”

* * *

On language: We’ve reached the stage where a particular word obscures more than it clarifies about Iran and its nuclear prospects. That word is “existential,” as in this now-standard formulation from Prime Minister Netanyahu: “A nuclear Iran is an existential threat on Israel and also on the rest of the world.”

I have learned in seeing mail that if the first paragraph of a message includes the word “existential,” I know 90 percent of what will come next. In this context an existential threat, literally a challenge to continued existence, means implicitly likening Iran to Nazi Germany—or explicitly equating it, as Netanyahu has donefor many years.

By definition an existential threat justifies any action that might forestall it, from preemptive military strikes to efforts at torpedoing an “unacceptable” diplomatic deal. It makes all compromises suspect. And it means that opinions from other countries lack moral standing, because after all their existence is not on the line.

In most of Netanyahu’s speeches, as in most of the angry mail I receive, you can find each of those elements. Look for them in the next editorial you read in theWSJ or Commentary. Whenever you see an argument that could be paraphrased as “it’s 1938 again,” you’ve found the real thing. But let’s stop and think about this concept of existential threats. . .

Continue reading.

And the second starts:

Yesterday I argued that it was time for Americans to drop or ignore the words “existential threat” when thinking about Iran and its nuclear potential. The words have become a slogan or incantation taking the place of thought. Now, response:

(1) A slew of readers have written in with variants of this sentiment:

The populated stretch of Israel from Haifa to Tel Aviv is about 55 miles as the crow flies. One or two nuclear weapons delivered in minutes by Iranian ballistic missiles and Israel would cease to exist, even if the Israelis were able to make a retaliatory strike.

Sure seem like an existential threat to me.

OK. That is “existential” if (a) by the same logic you acknowledge that South Korea is living with an “existential” threat now, yet has not seemed terrified or terrorized by it, or motivated to preemptive attack; and (b) you assume that the leadership of Iran is literally suicidal, since any attack on Israel would bring a devastating, nuclear-armed counterattack. The current Iranian government does many destructive things. I have asked “existential” readers for evidence of suicidal moves on Iran’s part, and am still waiting.

(2) From a veteran of the news business: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 February 2015 at 10:36 am

U.N. Human Rights Council votes to probe legality of drone strikes

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The US objects, naturally enough. And yet the high civilian death toll and questionable legality of the attacks makes the inquiry perfectly natural. The US generally adopts a one-sided view of things and seems disinclined to approach things with equity—equal treatment—in mind, part of the idea of US exceptionalism, I suppose: “We can do as we want, and we reserve the right to condemn strongly and even punish other nations who do as we do.” What would the US think of some other nation kidnapping a US citizen from within the US, spiriting him out of the country, torturing him for months, and then releasing him in some backwoods spot? Would we think that was okay, particularly if the citizen was innocent of any wrongdoing? The US seems to think it was fine when we did it, but I bet the US would object to being on the receiving end.

For example, the US is (petulantly) refusing to issue a visa to Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, so he will be unable to travel to the UN. (This also shows the lack of wisdom in placing an international body on territory controlled by one government, which can then restrict access as it pleases.) TIME magazine notes:

Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.

However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.

It’s very strange that the US refuses to provide a reason for its refusal, but presumably the Ambassador either represents a security threat, or is a terrorist, or it’s a foreign policy reason (though the US is in fact attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran). But the (unanimous) Congressional vote offers a clue:

Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.

And the NY Times reports:

The vote sent what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.

Let’s think about that. In 1953 the US, using the CIA, covertly overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran. The US deliberately destroyed their government and put in place puppets (in effect). The reason: we wanted their oil, and we were willing to destroy their government to get it.

In the light of that, and of the atrocities visited on Iranians by the SAVAK, is it any wonder that the average Iranian had little love for the US. Possibly the US citizenry, if a foreign power overthrew our government and put in place a puppet government to seize our national resources, would have no objection and would welcome the rape of their country. But Iranians apparently didn’t like it, and in 1979 seized the US Embassy and held the occupants hostage for 444 days. None were killed. (8 servicemen died by accident in a rescue attempt; one Iranian was killed.)

So: a reasonable provocation, no deaths, and 33 years later the US bars the Iranian Ambassador because he was one of the students who particpated in that uprising. He was 22 years old at the time. Have you ever heard of college-age youth rising in protest about a cause they see as important? (Cf. Occupy Wall Street.)

A lot has happened since then, and holding the Ambassador responsible for understandable actions more than 30 years ago seems excessive, especially given the US’s own responsibility in creating the situation (by illegally overthrowing a democratically elected government).

You can see how other nations might view the US in a negative light, in part because the US tends to skip over its own faults and its responsibility for bad actions.

Now, back to the UN Human Rights Council: John Zorocostas reports in McClatchy:

The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed Friday, over the strong objections of the United States, to study whether American drone strikes comply with international law.

The resolution, which was drafted by Pakistan and co-sponsored by Yemen, both countries where the U.S. has undertaken multiple drone strikes, was adopted on a 27-6 vote, with 14 abstentions. The United States, Great Britain and France all voted no, but several NATO allies abstained.

Human rights advocacy groups, led by New York-based Human Rights Watch, mounted a strong campaign to garner support for the the motion.

In a letter circulated to the 47-members of the council on Thursday, the advocacy group argued that while currently only the U.S., Great Britain and Israel use armed drones in operations against alleged terrorists, it cautioned “that other states, and non-state actors, may acquire them in the future.”

Human Rights Watch also said it has “serious concerns that some if not many U.S. drone attacks may violate international law.”

A report published earlier this month, by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. independent expert on the promotion and protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms found that a U.S. drone strike in October 2006 at a religious seminary in Chenagai in the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan killed up to 80 people instantly, 69 of whom were children.

The report also said that in December, a U.S. drone strike on a convoy of vehicles making their way to a wedding celebration outside the city of Rada in Yemen killed as many as 15, the majority of whom may have been civilians.

The resolution urges that all “states” using drones should ensure that they are complying “with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular, the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality.” . . .

Continue reading.

US drone strikes are killing civilians in countries who, naturally enough, object to a foreign power arbitrarily dealing out death to citizens simply because it has the power. It seems perfectly logical to bring the issue to the Human Rights Commission, and the only reason the US objects is that in this case the US is the transgressor. (If another nation were doing such things to the US or US allies, the US would certainly demand a review and action.)

The utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy is repugnant. And yes, I know that doubtless there are other nations who are worse. That does not lessen, and is not relevant to, the US idea of fairness, justice, and international law, which seems to be mostly “might makes right,” and anything the US does is good. This is a child’s view.

Toward the end of Zorocostas’s report, he notes:

But a large number of U.S. allies abstained rather than oppose the resolution, including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Austria, and Montenegro.

Moreover, neutral European Union member Ireland, and neutral Switzerland voted in support of the motion, along with China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

The EU does not have a common position on the use of armed drones, but there is growing political opposition to them.

In February, the European Parliament, voted 534 to 49 to declare drone strikes “outside a declared war” to be “a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country.”

The US response seems unreasonable, unfair, and inappropriate. In a word, the US does not play well with others. If the nations were children in a sandbox, the US would definitely be the bully.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 1:19 pm

GOP willing to keep veterans from their benefits in order to get a war with Iran

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The GOP seems hell-bent on having a war with Iran, our other recent wars having gone so well and enriched the country. Take a look at Sen. Marc Rubio’s position and statements. And the veterans’ benefits? Alex Leichenger reports at ThinkProgress:

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that sought to provide veterans with greater access to health care and education over an amendment aimed at increasing sanctions on Iran.Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome the GOP obstruction.

Republicans have been trying to get a vote on an Iran sanctions measure, which has stalled after experts and Obama administration officials convinced most members of the Democratic caucus that it would derail talks with Iran over its nuclear program and could lead to war.

After numerous attempts failed, the Senate GOP used Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) veterans’ benefits bill to bring the issue up again but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to go along. “Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that. Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” Reid said on Wednesday.

One of the nation’s largest veterans groups, the American Legion, agreed. “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement this week. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”

“There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way,” the American Legion tweeted on Thursday.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on senators to take irrelevant issues like Iran out of the vets bill debate, and on Thursday called the GOP’s obstruction “shameful.”

“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, according to the Washington Post.

Sanders’ bill paid for the benefits by using some funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had no objections using those funds to pay for the wars, called it a “bogus gimmick.”

“How can we afford $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest three-tenths of Americans, but we can’t pay for veterans benefits?” Sanders tweeted.

A bipartisan expert group said in a recent report that new Iran sanctions now would undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last month that “right now the imposition of more sanctions would be counterproductive.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

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