The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Why Can’t We Quit Poking Iran?

The Daily Escape:

Fall in the Eastern Sierras – photo by Deirdre Harb

You may not remember the tangled history the US has with Iran, but you know that Trump decertified the Iran deal that was developed by the US and 5 other major powers (Russia, China, Germany, England and France). In his decertifying speech, Trump said:

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout…

Just three countries publicly support Mr. Trump’s decision: Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. We all know that Iran calls the US “the great Satan”, but we forget how we earned the title. Here is a quick review from the BBC:

  • In 1953, the US overthrew Iran’s elected government. We (and the UK) were not going to stand by and let their Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadeq nationalize Iran’s oil industry. The CIA led a military coup, and re-installed the Shah.
  • In 1979, a coup overthrew the Shah, and Ayatollah Khomeini took control of the Iran government. In November 1979, Iran took over the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for what was 444 days, until 1981.
  • In 1985-86, the US secretly shipped weapons to Iran in exchange for Tehran’s help in freeing US hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The profits were channeled to rebels in Nicaragua, creating a political crisis for President Reagan.
  • In 1988, a US warship shot down an Iranian Airbus A300 killing all 290 people on board. We said it was a mistake, and Iran apparently forgave us.
  • In 1999, Iran’s new president Katahimi called for “a dialogue with the American people” that went nowhere.
  • In 2002, GW Bush denounced Iran as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and North Korea.

Now, nothing in the above excuses Iran’s efforts to destabilize parts of the Middle East, or their deep, abiding hatred of Israel. Nothing excuses Iran’s role in developing and introducing the IED’s that were so lethal to US troops in Iraq.

Time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Mutual enmity remains on full display.

But Trump, like Obama and GW Bush, searched for a way to reduce our presence in the Middle East and shift attention to Russia and China. The solution for all three Presidents was to pit Middle Eastern governments against one another creating a balance of power, attempting to prevent any single country from becoming too influential.

If they make war against each other, that’s an acceptable outcome, as long as Israel remains unscathed.

In that context, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was something that the US and its European allies couldn’t allow. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided a means of halting the program’s progress without risking the outbreak of war. The deal prevented the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb destabilizing the region.

By attempting to reopen the JCPOA by withdrawing, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran’s regional meddling, or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program, and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Neither of Trump’s goals are reachable. Iran gains nothing by agreeing to them. And the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. So, as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the Europeans plus China and Russia, are unlikely to agree with any US attempt to reinstate broad sanctions.

And Trump is making his negotiations with North Korea more difficult. Walking away from the Iran deal justifies North Korea’s belief that negotiation with the US on nuclear issues is futile. Particularly when one president’s agreement can be so easily torn up by his successor.

The American Right has considered Iran one of the “axis of evil” since 9/11. In that context, Trump’s desire to replace diplomacy with sanctions and eventually regime change, is ideologically consistent. The Right is simply using its electoral victory to advance a long-held policy.

We should remember that most of the GOP presidential candidates in 2016 were against the Iran deal, and probably would have acted similarly to Trump.

We are at a crossroads in our relationship with Iran. With the Iran deal, our long-term antipathy could have been moderated, and ultimately replaced by alignment of goals in the Middle East. Peace might have broken out.

But Trump has insured that will now take decades longer than it might have.



Los Estados Banditos

Today, let’s consider the bombshell dropped by the Wall Street Journal. Apparently the NSA spied on the efforts of the Netanyahu government to purchase win support in Congress when they were considering approval of the Iran Nuclear Deal. A US intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as:

How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?

There’s more. The Hill reported: The NSA helped the White House figure out which Israeli government officials had leaked information from confidential US briefings our government gave to the Israelis:

The NSA’s snooping allegedly found Netanyahu and his aides leaked details of the negotiations gained through Israeli spying, coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal and asked those lawmakers who were undecided on the deal how it could get their vote…

So, the WH knew that the NSA was spying on both Netanyahu and certain Congress critters. Some will say that the Executive Branch was spying on Congress. But there are two other ways to look at this.

• The NSA was spying on an ally, which we have done in the past (Merkel, Hollande).
• And that spying revealed that members of Congress were apparently working with Israel.

Either way, some in DC will be outraged. In fact, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-CA) has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story. That is hilarious, since that spying is authorized by NSA procedures, procedures that Rep. Nunes has said are more than adequate to protect the privacy of US persons. You know, in his role as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. From Emptywheel:

If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal [the] FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored…tap placed on Bibi…

However, you could also return to the basic question from last fall: Why are members of Congress working to help a foreign government derail a major foreign-policy initiative of the US? And be outraged yourself.

This is the reason that allowing lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it inevitably collects details about the legislative process. That can also disclose an untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments to members of Congress. Finding that is within the purview of the Executive branch’s mandate.

Maybe more privacy protections, including for Members of Congress, are needed. But wiretapping the communications with foreign leaders is solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, even if it incidentally collects information about members of Congress. Congress itself has deemed these actions may sometimes be important to protect the US.

And didn’t Congress approve all of this spying to catch terrorists? Or, was it just to get intelligence to assist our drone attacks. Or, to assist in the war on drugs, so that we can play catch-and-release a few more times with El Chapo. The problem is, when you build an intelligence gathering system this big and this technologically capable, it will inevitably intrude into domestic politics. Or vacuum up not-so-innocent information that is incidental to its intended target.

As for surveillance of members of Congress, surely everyone in Congress knows how that game works, THEY VOTED TO IMPLEMENT IT!

There’s a substantive difference between direct surveillance of members of Congress, and surveillance of a foreign ambassador’s reporting back to his government about communications with those Members.

If Nunes, et. al were simply trying to hang on to the remnants of our Constitution like the rest of us poor schlub voters, maybe the poutrage would be understandable.


Did the AP Promote an Untruth About Iran?

Last Wednesday, PBS NewsHour reported about the Iran nuclear deal, and how it stood with Congress: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Associated Press reports today that under an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate one location it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms. This comes about halfway through the 60-day period that Congress has to scrutinize the Iran nuclear deal with the U.S. and five other countries…

Sadly, it turned out that this allegation in the AP story was untrue. George Jahn wrote the story, in which he cites a “draft” of an agreement between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran on inspection of Iran’s Parchin site, rumored to be the location of their nuclear weapons program. Further complicating matters, Jahn’s story went through several edits soon after its release.

Fortunately, a report by Max Fisher at Vox walks you through the evolution of Jahn’s story. Fisher relies heavily on Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, who was quick to note the level of duplicity coming from Jahn:

The oldest Washington game is being played in Vienna…And that is leaking what appears to be a prejudicial and one-sided account of a confidential document to a friendly reporter, and using that to advance a particular policy agenda.

What Fisher missed, though, is that George Jahn is the poster child for the type of behavior that Lewis describes. Emptywheel reports that Jahn has been playing precisely this game at AP for years, mostly surrounding Iran and its nuclear program.

In reading about how events evolved after Jahn put up his first version of the story, it pays to look at these events in the light of the usual tennis match of lopsided accusations and the propaganda that develops around it. Iran deal opponents jumped on the story so quickly that it seemed that they had a heads-up regarding when it would go live. Republicans in Congress were able to get their comments on the “secret side deal benefiting Iran” into some of the early revisions of Jahn’s article.

And that may have been the precise reason that Jahn was given the copy of the draft agreement, because his viewpoint was seen as the last, best chance to disrupt the deal in Congress.

One more point needs noting in this context. Deal opponents, as mentioned above, were quick to spin the agreement between the IAEA and Iran as being kept secret because it is such a sweet deal for Iran. That paints the picture that the IAEA is on Iran’s side.

As Vox notes, confidentiality in agreements of this type are the norm.

Juan Cole reports on an email from Gary Sick, an expert on Iran and security, who pointed out that the Accord actually provides for the inspectors of the IAEA always to be present at such inspections. The reason for the presence of Iranian experts is that there is a long history of outside nuclear inspectors being sent in by the Great Powers for espionage. As an example, the 1990s UN inspections of Iraq were infiltrated by US intelligence. So, the Iranian inspectors are there to keep an eye on the UN inspectors, not to cover up Iranian activities (to which the IAEA will have full access).

AP ultimately removed most of its allegations from the story.

Once again this is proof that there is absolutely no downside for a “journalist” to report negative news about Iran (or in the case of the PBS News hour, quickly pass it along). In fact, there is a strong possibility that a serial fabricator like George Jahn will be able to continue to have his work published, even after being proven inaccurate more than once.

One of the problems citizens face in evaluating complex geopolitical issues is that they are often unexplainable in sound bites. This is true for global warming, or for lung cancer from cigarette smoking. It is also true for the Iran deal, which leaves us too easily confused by parties with an agenda. And although many of our journalists are admirable, some people advertised as journalists just aren’t very good – there are always a few Judith Millers (who sold us the Iraq War) with an agenda.

From the reporting leading up to the Iraq War, reporting on Israel in Gaza and now Iran, the US media has a lot to answer for. This was not just careless reporting, since the AP deliberately left out contradictory language from the document they quoted. We need to demand more accurate and unbiased reporting.

This was far from a proud moment for journalism.


Monday Wake Up Call – August 24, 2015

There was a curious story in the NYT on Saturday. They quote former Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak in a new biography revealing that Israel came close to striking Iran’s military facilities in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The biographers spoke on Israeli television, saying that despite Barak’s and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s desire to do so, the Israeli military refused.

Recorded interview excerpts between Barak and the biographers were aired by Israel’s Channel 2, which stressed that Mr. Barak had sought to prevent them from being broadcast, but that they had been approved by Israel’s military censor. Mr. Barak later confirmed that the recordings were authentic, but said he had provided the information on background to Ilan Kfir and Danny Dor, whose book, “Barak: The Wars of My Life,” came out this week in Hebrew.

The interviews confirmed a longstanding view that Israel’s security chiefs held back the political leadership, particularly in 2010. In 2012, the timing did not work out because of a joint US-Israel military exercise and visit by Leon Panetta, US defense secretary. Barak said he recalled “demanding” to postpone the joint military exercise. The NYT quotes Barak:

You ask, you demand that America respect your sovereignty to make a decision that you want to do that, even if America is opposed to that and it is against its interests…

The news is that the civilian leadership really wanted to start a war with Iran but first, the military leaders demurred, and then so did the Obama Administration. This confirms that the past 7 years have not been all Israeli bluster intended to play bad cop to our good cop. The bad news is that the administration has known for years that Netanyahu and his administration are off their collective rockers, yet Congress continues to send Israel weapons and billions of dollars every year.

The sad part is that there isn’t anything really new here. It has been well documented previously. Juan Cole reported in 2011 that: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Netanyahu appears to have forced out Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli spying agency Mossad… Dagan went on to accuse Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, of grossly exaggerating the threat from Iran, calling a [potential] strike on that country “stupid idea that offers no advantage.”

In 2012, apparently Obama stood firm in opposition to an Iran strike, since Israel didn’t have the capability to really damage Iran’s nuclear facilities and needed support from USAF in the form of B-52s and bunker buster bombs. Mr. Obama later compensated Israel for standing down by providing them with the bunker busters.

Here’s a thought worth polishing and spreading: That the unspoken concern of the US and the world is not so much that a nuclear armed Iran might someday attack Israel and further destabilize the ME, but that a nuclear armed Israel is now ready, able, and rehearsing their plans to attack Iran. Imagine for a moment the hysteria in Congress if the headline of this story was reversed: “Khomeini was on the verge of attacking Israel 3 times”.

It’s time to cut Israel loose, to eliminate the undue influence this nation has on American foreign policy.

So, wake up Congress Critters, modeling Netanyahu’s foreign policy behaviors will lead America to failure. To help with the wake-up, here is a photo that shows those in Congress just another example of life in the food chain:

Life in the Food Chain

(H/T Naked Capitalism)

Your Monday Hot Links:

This is how Bernie Sanders could win. OK it’s a long shot, but FiveThirtyEight says that if Hillary implodes, Sanders vs. Biden could be highly competitive. Clinton won’t drop out before the primaries and a Biden run could split the establishment vote, giving Sanders an opening.

Billionaires keep flocking to architect Robert A.M. Stern’s newest limestone creation at 220 Central Park South. Next is billionaire hedge funder Ken Griffin, who we mentioned yesterday. Griffin’s new pad could cost him anywhere between $30 million and $160 million, which is really just chump change for the hedge funder who reportedly nets $2.2 million a day, and that’s after taxes!

In a related story in the Onion, a study finds it is easier than ever for American dollars to join the 1%.

First wolf pack found in California in nearly a century. On Aug. 9, the cameras photographed two separate black-furred wolves, believed to be adults. Five black wolf pups were photographed in the same spot. It was clearly a pack.

Doctors may have found a way to override the body’s evolutionary habit of storing fat with a discovery of a master switch for the body’s metabolism. Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School discovered a new genetic pathway that controls human metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn away fat.

Grading Carly Fiorina’s tenure at HP. By a Silicon Valley journalist.


Iran: WMD 2.0?

The Republicans job of whipping up support to override an Obama veto of the bill to kill the Iran deal got tougher since Kerry just secured limited support for the deal from the Gulf States. The NYT reports that Khalid al-Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar, who hosted the meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said:

This was the best option among other options…We are confident that what they undertook makes this region safer and more stable.

With that, most Democrats who are on the fence will likely be convinced to support the deal.

Republicans should be convinced as well, but most won’t be. However, one Republican, Pat Buchanan, thinks they are wrong:

It appears that Hill Republicans will be near unanimous in voting a resolution of rejection of the Iran nuclear deal. They will then vote to override President Obama’s veto of their resolution…

Buchanan goes on to say that, if Republicans override the veto, the US will vote in the UN Security Council to lift sanctions, along with the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, and:

A…vote to kill the Iran deal would thus leave the US isolated, its government humiliated, unable to comply with the pledges its own secretary of state negotiated. Would Americans cheer the GOP for leaving the United States with egg all over its face?

And if Congress refuses to honor the agreement, but Iran complies with all its terms, who among our friends and allies would stand with an obdurate America then? Israel would applaud, the Saudis perhaps, but who else?

Now, it seems that applause will not include the Gulf States. Here’s Buchanan’s money quote:

And how is Israel, with hundreds of atom bombs, mortally imperiled by a deal that leaves Iran with not a single ounce of bomb-grade uranium?

Word. Another Republican, David Stockman, (former OMB Director for Reagan) had this to say about the deal and its Republican support: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

Indeed, it was the same crowd of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Feith [who]…falsified the WMD claims against Saddam Hussein, [and] have been beating the war drums so loudly about the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Stockman concludes: (emphasis by Stockman)

So it needs to be shouted from the rafters at the outset that all the arm-waving and screeching against this deal by the GOP war-mongers and the Israeli lobby is grounded in a Big Lie. The whole Iran-is-after-the-bomb narrative is just WMD 2.0.

Finally, some clear thinking by a few Republicans on Iran.

The Iraq War was one of the most important and damaging episodes in the history of US foreign policy. And everyone remembers that the war was based on a lie, and that the lie was brought to you by Republicans.

Can Republicans explain why their demand for total capitulation by Iran is so well-suited to creating a winning position for the West? How can these Republicans pretend that nothing has happened over the last 15 years that throws their neo-con, chicken-hawk worldview into question?

It’s fair to ask Republicans who championed the Iraq War to explain the differences between the Iraq WMD debacle and the current situation in Iran. If they are compelled to debate why we should bomb or invade, and how that outcome would be any better than it was in Iraq, the debate over the Iran nuclear deal might turn out not to be much of a debate at all.

Sadly, most Republicans are not thinking clearly regarding Israel vs. Iran. In April, the Wrongologist reported on a Bloomberg poll showing that Republicans think that “patriotism” doesn’t mean they must support America’s interests first when it comes to Israel. From Bloomberg:

Republicans by a ratio of more than 2-to-1 say the US should support Israel even when its stance diverges with American interests…Democrats, by roughly the same ratio, say the opposite is true and that the US must pursue its own interests over Israel’s.

American Republicans said that Israel comes first by a 67/30 margin.

Learn from that, and don’t vote for ANY candidate who says that Israel’s needs come first in the debate about the Iran deal.


Our Summer of Dickitude

(You may have noticed our sporadic blogging. Wrongo is nearing the end of a year-long project that will be operational in Chicago during the week of August 9-15. During these days leading up to the project’s start, it has been all conference calls and negotiations with 3rd parties. Regular blogging will return during the week of 8/16.)

Let’s look at the one part of the American summer that is seeing rapid growth, that of rampant Dickitude. We start with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) saying about the Iran deal:

If this deal goes through, the Obama administration will become the leading financier of terrorism against America in the world…I’ve heard this referred to before as the ‘Jihadist Stimulus Bill’.

Expect full blown, uncensored, nuclear Republican crazy until after the Fox debate.

You probably didn’t know that Ted Cruz is a sci-fi/comic book fan, a fact highlighted in an interview published last week by The New York Times Magazine. Mr. Cruz told Fox News that his top 5 superheroes are: (see below from a tweet by Andreu Aitch)

Cruz heros

Rorschach, who you may not know, is one of the main characters of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Rorschach is a man who gives lip service to living by a morally unassailable, black and white code, but who nevertheless picks and chooses much of what he considers to be right and wrong entirely based on his own prejudices. Rorschach is the kind of person who murders people for the “greater good”.

Rorschach’s epitaph is:

Never compromise, not even in the face of Armageddon.

Doesn’t that seem like Cruz’s philosophy, where he’s willing to publicly fight his party’s leadership and shut down the federal government in order to spare his country from the impact of Obamacare? You might find a guy with a philosophy that prioritizes principle over peace, even though it might bring nuclear war, to be a risky person as your president.

BTW, why do our newsies want us to pick our president based on what cartoon character he likes best?

Speaking of Dickitude, what about Walter Palmer, the lion-killing dentist? The unauthorized killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe, apparently was a poaching. This recalls that Palmer pleaded guilty in 2008 to the poaching of a black bear in Wisconsin, so Palmer is a serial poacher. And, in 2009, Palmer agreed to a settlement with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry over allegations that he sexually harassed a receptionist. Without admitting guilt, Palmer settled and paid $127,500 to the woman, who also was his patient.

Let’s hope he does time in Zimbabwe.

Moving on, The Hill reports that Federal prosecutors charged Rep. Chaka Fattah, (D-Pa), Wednesday in a 29-count indictment with racketeering, conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud. The FBI and IRS launched its probe of the Congressman’s activities in March 2013. The indictment alleges that, in connection with his failed mayoral bid in 2007, Fattah and his associates borrowed $1 million from a wealthy supporter and disguised the funds as a loan to a consulting company. He then created sham contracts and made false accounting records, tax returns and campaign finance disclosure statements.

In another alleged scheme, beginning in 2008, Fattah lobbied individuals in the executive branch in an effort to secure an ambassadorship or an appointment to the US Trade Commission for 69-year-old lobbyist Herbert Vederman, for which Vederman paid Fattah an $18,000 bribe.

Want to bet he is re-elected?

Finally, Rick Perry said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana show that gun-free zones are “a bad idea”. He said he believes people should be able to take their firearms to the movies:

I think that you allow the citizens of this country, who [are] appropriately trained, appropriately backgrounded, know how to handle and use firearms, to carry them. I believe that, with all my heart, that if you have the citizens who are well trained, and particularly in these places that are considered to be gun-free zones, that we can stop that type of activity, or stop it before there’s as many people that are impacted as what we saw in Lafayette.

Imagine adding guns to a dark, loud environment. What could possibly go wrong? Especially if some sort of escalation were to occur, and a group of true heroes packing handguns are there to intervene. Hundreds of people in a dark theater shooting at the same time to “defend” themselves.

OTOH, we have zero interest in actually dealing with the problem:

Layfayette debate


Sunday Cartoon Blogging – July 26, 2015

Happy Sunday! Americans hate theocracy everywhere but at home. According to the Pew Research Center, 49% of Americans think churches should speak out about political matters, while 48% disagree, reflecting our divided politics. This has changed since 2010, when 52% wanted preachers to stay away from politics, and 43% didn’t.

The new urge to hear their pastors pillory politicians is supported mostly by Republicans. About 63% of Americans still think churches should stop short of endorsing candidates for office (vs. 32% who favor endorsing), but the gap has narrowed since 2010 when it was 70-24%. Moreover, only 29% of Americans see the Democratic Party as friendly to religion, while 47% see the Republicans favoring religion.

So in the most devout parts of the country, Democratic candidates tend to distance themselves from the party’s national stereotype. You will see this again in 2016.

Churches as institutions should be apolitical. And conversely, the political process should not explicitly favor members of certain religions for office. If it is really true that pious people are more honest or ethical, that fact will be clear when individuals are evaluated during the campaigns. On the other hand, nothing is easier to fake than religious faith, precisely because we can’t see into the heart of another person.

While politicians must pander to lobbies or to wealthy individuals that pay for their election campaigns, if they pander to religion, it makes a hole in the fabric of US politics. Having religious organizations directly sponsor political candidates would be so much easier. After all, “God wants you to vote for John Doe” is a pretty irresistible campaign message. Luckily, that isn’t America – yet.

Another week of summer with more Trump, Iran, and killings in Louisiana. Kerry met with the Senate:

COW Cooler Heads

Boehner has a strategy for Iran deal:

COW Same as Obamacare


GOP has to scratch its itch:

COW Fleas

Trump also deserves a medal:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Fugelsang nails it about mass shootings, this time in Louisiana:

Fugelsang on Louisana

The Louisiana gunman’s rage dates back decades. CBS News in Louisiana reported:

A local TV host frequently invited him as a guest, knowing he’d be a lightning rod who could light up the phone lines with rants against abortion and working women…

So he was part of what Donald Trump and Ted Cruz affectionately refer to as “The Base.”


The Baddest Bad-ass GOP Hawk

This is Wrongo’s last column on Iran for a bit. There are several million words written every day about the nuclear deal, and events may yet overtake us all on the subject. But, it is difficult to let it disappear in the rear-view mirror without looking at the Republican presidential candidates’ trying to say that they will tear up the deal on the day they take office.

Consider Scott Walker, who, according to the Weekly Standard, wants to make it clear that he is the baddest Republican hawk. Walker spoke to reporters after an appearance at the Family Leadership Summit, saying that the next president must be prepared to take aggressive action against Iran, possibly including military strikes, on the day he or she is inaugurated. Walker said he would not be comfortable with a commander-in-chief who is unwilling to act aggressively on day one of a new presidency.

Makes you want to know what Walker thinks should happen on day two, or does his planning just stop on day one?

Jeb Bush tried to be the responsible baddest hawk. The Weekly Standard reported that Bush said in response to Walker’s statement:

One thing that I won’t do is just say, as a candidate, ‘I’m going to tear up the agreement on the first day.’ That’s great, that sounds great but maybe you ought to check in with your allies first, maybe you ought to appoint a secretary of state, maybe secretary of defense, you might want to have your team in place, before you take an act like that.

These positions aren’t really different, and both are reckless. Vowing to undo the agreement puts pressure on all GOP candidates to articulate an alternative. And why should voters trust the Republican nominee with the presidency when he is eager to boast about his readiness to start a war against a country that just negotiated a nuclear weapons agreement with the US and its allies?

The US would not be defending itself or anyone else, (that means you, Israel) by launching an attack on Iran, but it would be committing a breach of the UN Charter. In the process, it would also be exposing our forces and some of Iran’s neighbors to retaliation. And, it would risk dragging the rest of the region into a larger war.

Politically, Democrats will make the case that the only alternative to the Iran deal would be war, so supporting the agreement should end up being the majority position in the US. Already, a Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 56% of Americans support the deal, though about 60% are skeptical that it will work, suggesting that, Americans want to give it a try, even if success is far from assured.

Even the American Conservative’s Daniel Larison disproved:

If Iran were building a nuclear weapon, the US would be in the wrong to launch a “preventive” attack on them. To do so after Iran starts scaling back and limiting its nuclear program would be an even greater crime. Walker’s thinking about “very possibly” attacking Iran immediately after taking office would be indefensible warmongering even if there were no deal with Iran.

George W. Bush’s preventive war against Iraq was the stupidest blunder in the history of US foreign policy. That only 12 years later, so many Republican presidential candidates are considering the possibility of repeating that blunder in Iran is appalling.

While no one thought it was possible, Scott Walker is making George W. Bush look thoughtful. Walker is trying to out-hawk the rest of the Republican field, but instead, is coming across as a kook. Next, in an attempt to outdo Walker, some candidate will pledge he’ll launch a nuclear strike on Iran on Election Day.

Most of the Republican candidates basically are in favor of a war with Iran, and there is little doubt that the Republicans will beat that war drum all the way to November, 2016.

And if Walker is a real Republican, he’ll get America’s corporations to build a private nuclear strike capability; and he would pledge to use it after the New Hampshire primary.

His right-wing talking point would be that we can’t have the government picking winners and losers when it comes to manufacturing a nuclear crisis or nuclear weapons.


Hawks Ignore a Key Point in Iran Deal

One of the big objections by Israel and the GOP hawks to the Iran deal is that release of sanctions enables Iran to purchase advanced weapons that the sanctions have prevented for 30 years. And with the release of Iran’s $100 billion in blocked funds, it will have big bucks to spend on them. Robert Farley reports that both Russia and China have been looking forward to this moment. Some say they pushed hard for the nuclear deal, since they had much to gain in the form of weapons sales.

The fact that Russia and China didn’t break the sanctions regime a long time ago should be considered almost a miracle, but Farley thinks that despite their interest in tweaking the US, neither favors a nuclear Iran. In the past, Iran acquired weapons from both Russia and China, as well as from the US. We can expect them to look to Russia and China, since Iran is a tempting buyer in the emerging arms export competition between Moscow and Beijing.

But, Matthew Weybrecht at the Lawfare blog thinks that most arms sales to Iran could still be a few years in the future. He reports that, according to the Implementation Plan (Annex V), sanctions relief will begin upon IAEA-verified implementation of (specified) nuclear-related measures. It is not entirely clear when “IAEA-verified implementation” will begin, but Weybrecht thinks it will probably be sometime in early 2016.

Why? Because a copy of the proposed UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) has been leaked to the press. The Resolution terminates the previous Iran sanctions, but also immediately imposes a new regime that retains certain arms restrictions, including continuing the arms and ballistic missile embargoes for five and eight years, respectively.

These new (really continuing) restrictions came in a separate “statement” (which the UNSC requires all states to comply with) and actually takes the form of permitting specific purchases, but only with the advance, affirmative permission of the UNSC.

In effect, this amounts to an embargo from which the UNSC can grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis, and the US can use its veto to block transfers it does not like. The Obama administration gets to claim that the arms embargo will stay in effect for years after Implementation, and that it can veto any Iranian purchases it worries could destabilize the region.

It is now possible to see a little into the future: Iran gets its $100 billion back, but they will have trouble getting approval to purchase advanced weapons like cruise missiles, which would be deeply worrying to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf States. And the international restrictions probably mean that neither China nor Russia will want to take the risk of exporting them to Iran.

Iran has a relatively impressive air defense network, but it will require an infusion of new technology to provide real protection from Israel or US air attack. Approval from the UN for new air defense weapons may prove impossible to get in the near term.

Farley indicates that Iran has other needs, including modern ground combat vehicles, modern small naval vessels, and a host of support equipment. Those probably would be approved by the UN.

Iran would probably be permitted to purchase low-end aircraft from either China or Russia. Planes from either country would represent an improvement over current Iranian capabilities. In the longer term, depending on how well the nuclear deal holds together, Iran could purchase aircraft on par with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.

So, who won the negotiation?

The US and the rest of the P5+1 get to retain the most important military restrictions for at least a few more years.

Iran gets significant economic relief from the sanctions and gets to claim it got all the sanctions immediately eliminated.

Yet, it bears noting that if China and Russia didn’t break the arms embargo before, there is little reason to think they will do that going forward. And if they did, would they continue down that path after the UN Security Council said “no” to a specific arms deal?

But, Iran with access to modern military weapons could pose a greater threat to the region than an Iran with a few crude nuclear devices it could never use. That potential risk, along with the nuclear risk, is now postponed for a few years in the future.

This is the agreement we’ve got. Implementation will be challenging, even if all parties are acting in good faith, not just because its constraints are complicated, but because irreconcilable parties in Iran and the US, including most Republicans, favor its demise.


Monday Wake-Up Call – July 20, 2015

The Wrongologist is like many who tried to read “Gravity’s Rainbow” by Thomas Pynchon back in the day, and could not finish it. However, there is a wonderful thought in the book: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

That thought describes the campaign by those who are against the Iran deal. Get people thinking about anything but the deal, and there is a good chance it will not be approved in Congress.

But this isn’t only a US-Iran deal. Our Congress can’t derail the deal, it can only nullify US participation in it. If that happens, we will be the ones left out. For more than a decade, Iran has been near the top of our Middle East agenda. Along the way, the risks inherent in Iran’s nuclear program have been inflated, in part because it helps drive the prevailing Western view of Iran as a rogue state; in part, because it was crucial to the sanctions regime that the Western countries constructed, and ideally, it might have helped to topple the regime.

This view prevails today in Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as among Washington’s neo-cons, all of whom see Iran as the major source of disorder in the region.

Before getting bogged down in the debate about the deal, stop and appreciate the single most important accomplishment here. We live in a world where nuclear weapons are easy to develop or to purchase, which is a huge potential problem. We must have a non-proliferation program that the international community agrees on and will make every effort to enforce.

What’s key in the Iran deal is that the world united to say that it’s very important that we don’t sit back and do nothing while new countries get nuclear weapons. In this sense, the accomplishment isn’t really specific to Iran. The most significant thing is that we can agree that non-proliferation is the goal, and come together to prevent the spread of nuclear weaponry. If Turkey or Saudi Arabia decide tomorrow that they want a nuclear weapons program, there will be a credible system in place to deter them.

And if blocking Iran from making a nuclear bomb was the real goal, this deal offered the best choice. Despite what Netanyahu and American chicken hawks believe, we cannot eliminate their nuclear program by bombing Iran. The West cannot invade Iran and succeed with that goal. either. If you take Netanyahu and the neo-cons at their word, sanctions won’t work.

So, it is not surprising that the deal’s opponents offer NOTHING as an alternative.

Time will tell if the deal delivers on what it’s supposed to do. Iran has been an implacable foe of the US (and vice-versa) for 36 years, and that isn’t going to change overnight. But there is the real potential for a thaw in the hostile relations between our two countries, and this makes Israel and our (Sunni) Arab friends and enemies very uncomfortable. This deal also gives us a chance to take a look at the mess in the ME within a new paradigm. The old paradigm has not worked. It created a hole so deep that the region is at risk of never being able to crawl out of it.

While our traditional allies are understandably anxious, they’ve come by their anxiety honestly. And, if we take Einstein’s definition of insanity being the belief that doing the same thing over and over again will give you a different result, then our allies and their friends in Congress are insane.

The most prominent arguments against the deal aren’t really arguments at all. The people making them don’t like the deal because they don’t like Iran, and because the deal has some upside for Iran. That is, of course, the nature of deal-making. The chicken hawks don’t want to come out and say they oppose diplomacy in all forms and simply want a war with Iran, so we get their reframing and bluster instead.

Peacemaking has risks. War also brings risk.

The one lesson Americans never ever seem to learn is probability assessment. Our politicians always lock into one factor they are sure will predict the future with certainty.

Well, it’s time for them to grow up. If the Iran deal is a curtain, it is a deal that allows us a good amount of time to figure out what’s behind the curtain.

Behind every curtain is another curtain, the future, and nobody knows what’s back there. So, wake up Congress, debate the deal, but approve it.

Here to help wake them up is #3 in our songs of summer series, here is “Summertime” by Janis Joplin from 1969:

If your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good lookin’, you better not cry.

If you read the Wrongologist in email, you can see the video here.