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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Donny and Bibi’s Folly

The Daily Escape:

Hyner View State Park, Hyner, PA – photo by Scott Hafer.

Maybe it’s early to have a full perspective on Trump’s decision to leave the Iran Nuclear Accord, but Wrongo is reminded of this quote from Benjamin Netanyahu, on September 12, 2002:

If you take out Saddam’s regime, I guarantee you it will have positive reverberations on the region.

He said this while he was pressing for the US to attack Iraq, who was an Israeli foe in 2002. Naturally, the results were far from positive for the region, and the outcome for the US was catastrophic in both financial and human costs.

Bibi has again been successful in urging another Republican president to start an adventure in the Middle East, this time, by backing out of the Iran deal. Once again, Bibi has set up an opportunity for the US to attack another Israeli foe. This decision is a truly consequential foreign-policy blunder.

Steven Walt in Foreign Policy:

It is important to understand what’s really going on here. Trump’s decision is not based on a desire to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb; if that were the case, it would make much more sense to stay firmly committed to the deal and eventually negotiate to make it permanent.

Walt says that this is what’s really going on:

Abandoning the JCPOA is based on the desire to “keep Iran in the penalty box” and prevent it from establishing normal relations with the outside world. This goal unites Israel, the hard-line wing of the Israel lobby…and hawks including National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and many others.

Walt says that the hawks’ great fear was that the US and its Middle East allies might eventually have to acknowledge Iran as a legitimate regional power.

The preferred strategy to keep Iran from becoming a regional power has been regime change. US neo-cons and others in the Middle East have pursued this for decades. The neo-cons see two possible routes to regime change. The first relies on ramping up economic pressure on Tehran in the hope that popular discontent will grow, and that the clerical regime will simply collapse. This is the same strategy that worked so well failed in Cuba. Since the Nuclear Accord would end the sanctions that were keeping Iran weak, it was reason enough for most Republicans and hawks to be against it.

The second option is to provoke Iran into restarting its nuclear program, which would give Washington the excuse to launch a preventive war. The Israelis and Saudis would be happy to watch the US and Iran fight. The thought is that a war would eliminate Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and inspire its people to rise up and overturn their leaders.

This scenario shows how little thought these people give to outcomes: If we bomb Iran, their first reaction will not be one of gratitude. Bibi will again be wrong, there will be no “positive reverberations”. Rather, it would trigger fervent Iranian nationalism and the regime would become more popular.

Leaving the deal is another spectacular “own goal” from the Trumpkinhead. They must be dancing in Moscow and Beijing, the two biggest winners of the Trump withdrawal.

Other winners include the Iranian far-right, who will say that Rouhani and the reformists were naive to trust that the Americans would honor any agreement, and the Iranian public should move to the right in the next parliamentary election.

Bibi and his government will now campaign on how every Israeli should be terrified at the prospect of returning Iran back toward the possibility of becoming a nuclear power, something Bibi has worked hard to bring about.

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia get closer to a pretext for the direct military confrontation that they want, purchased with the blood of Americans, blood that the American neo-cons will be happy to spill. With friends like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

Ultimately, Iran will probably end up getting nukes. But, every other country also wants some atomic insurance. The hawks need to remember that nuclear fission and fusion are 75-year old technologies. Even North Korea, among the poorest countries on earth, has mastered it. The bar just isn’t that high.

So, nuclear proliferation has a natural tailwind, and destroying America’s credibility removes the last wisp of an obstacle to it.

 

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Bibi’s New News Isn’t News

The Daily Escape:

Spring Flowers in the Tejon Pass, as seen from Rt. 5, CA -2018 photo by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel

On Monday, in a presentation in English, Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu attempted to give Donald Trump high altitude air cover for Trump’s pending decision to end the nuclear agreement with Iran. The basis of Netanyahu’s speech was that Israeli intelligence had gathered new and damaging information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program:

In a special address on Monday, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented what he described as shocking, indisputable evidence that Iran had lied about its covert nuclear weapons program in the past and “continued to preserve and expand its nuclear weapons knowledge for future use” after signing the 2015 deal with six world powers to halt its nuclear activities.

Bibi presented 55,000 pages of documents and 183 CDs. Netanyahu said Iran hid an “atomic archive” of documents on its nuclear program. Reuters said that:

Most of the purported evidence Netanyahu presented dated to the period before the 2015 accord was signed…

Nancy Letourneau offered this: (emphasis by Wrongo)

But if you actually paid attention to the content of Bibi’s presentation two things stood out. First of all, the evidence isn’t so shocking. According to James Acton, the co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, “everyone involved in negotiating the JCPOA assumed that Iran was lying when it said that it had never had a nuclear weapons program and the JCPOA was developed on that basis.” He also pointed out that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) already documented much of what Netanyahu presented.

All Bibi had was old, dated Intel that he presented as new. This was stage-managed so that Trump can announce in 10 days that the US is pulling out of the accord because Iran “lied.”

If you followed the debate about the JCPOA during the Obama administration, you may remember that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) said that any nuclear weapons program Iran had was stopped in 2003, and had not been restarted. That was “re-certified” in the US 2011 NIE, with the same conclusion.

During the development of the 2007 NIE, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed all Iran had was a “feasibility study” which was based on the fear that Saddam Hussein might have a nuclear weapons program. But once the US invaded Iraq in 2003, and handed over control of the country to Iran-backed Iraqi political factions, Iran immediately stopped whatever “studies” they had been doing.

A nation’s files about nuclear weapons technology are among the most sensitive documents in their national security archives. They are extremely tightly controlled. Yet, the Israeli story is that they managed to steal 1,000 pounds of files from a Top Secret facility in Iran.

Apparently, unlike Wrongo, Bibi has never moved an office. A thousand pounds would take about 60 “banker’s boxes”. And you would need a truck, or two trips in a car to haul all that away.

From a top-secret Iranian warehouse.

Just try to imagine the actual logistics involved in removing that many documents, and then loading them on a truck. This isn’t a five minute operation.

Leaving the JCPOA may happen on Trump’s watch. He can reinstate US sanctions, but he can’t change UN Security Council resolution 2231. So if Trump reinstates sanctions against Iran, he will not have pulled the plug on the JCPOA accord.

To reinstate UN Security Council sanctions without Russian and Chinese agreement, Trump must state officially that Iran violated resolution 2231. After a formal investigative process, the “rollback” of UN sanctions would come to a vote where five of the eight signatories of the JCPOA would have to agree that Iran violated the deal.

Given that Trump won’t get the Iranian, Russian and Chinese votes, he must get all four European votes. That seems likely to be an uphill climb. France and the UK may buy in, but convincing the Germans and the EU may be difficult.

In effect, walking out of the deal may work to Iran’s advantage in the long run. In the short run, it may simply move Germany and the EU closer to Russia and Iran.

That surely won’t be a happy outcome for Trump, or America.

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A Hundred-Year War

The Daily Escape:

Gouldian Finch, native to Australia – photo by Melinda Moore

(This post is an expansion of the ideas in Wrongo’s Memorial Day column)

Ms. Oh So Right suggested while we were in Europe that we stop calling it the “War on Terror” and begin calling it the “Hundred Year War.” Why? Because it seems that the Middle East has an unbreakable hold on us. Tom Friedman offers this take on the Trump doctrine:

The Trump doctrine is very simple: There are just four threats in the world: terrorists who will kill us, immigrants who will rape us or take our jobs, importers and exporters who will take our industries — and North Korea.

Last week, Trump took the decision to insert the US into what promises to be a never-ending war between the Sunni and the Shia for control of the ME. Rather than try to keep a balanced political position between these two religions, Trump has tilted America towards the Sunnis. This from Paul Mulshine:

The pivotal moment on his foreign trip came when Trump cuddled up to Saudi Arabia, a country he accused of “paying ISIS” back when he was campaigning for the presidency.

ISIS is of course, a Sunni group. So is al Qaeda. And Saudi Arabia is at the center of the Sunni universe.

There was a peaceful and democratic change of power in the ME while Trump was away. It was the re-election of Hassan Rouhani in Iran. In that contest, 41.2 million voters, or 73% of the Iranian electorate, turned out to vote. So who did Trump lash out at during his speech in Riyadh? Not Saudi Arabia, but Iran:

From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms, and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region…

This ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia funds more terror than does Iran, and it isn’t a democracy. This despite the fact that we share with the Iranians the goal of ousting ISIS from Syria. Yet, on May 18, US planes attacked a convoy of Syrian Army forces that included Iranian militias, and probably a few Russian advisers.

Back when Trump appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, there was some hope that we might become more calculated in our involvement in the region. But both individuals seem to be hot to go to war with Iran. The fear is that the Trump administration will adopt the “on to Tehran” strategy the people around George W. Bush endorsed back when it seemed that Bush’s Iraq invasion had succeeded.

This is where we start getting into “Hundred Years’ War” territory. (The Hundred Years’ War was a series of conflicts waged from 1337 to 1453 by the House of Plantagenet, rulers of England, against the House of Valois, rulers of France, over the succession of the French throne.)

This is why Wrongo thinks we must re-instate the draft. Let America debate about why Trump and the neo-cons think a war with Iran is a good idea. Let them explain to draft-age kids and their parents why American should get involved in a civil war between the Shia and the Sunni.

Why will this keep us safe?

Trump is embarking on a hard-line anti-Iranian journey, precisely when Iranians re-elected a moderate to lead their country. Trump risks making a mistake that would be similar to GW Bush’s. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein permitted the Iranian Shia majority to link up with the Iraqi Shia majority, thus giving the Iranians the first step towards creating the “Shia Crescent.”

If Trump takes an aggressive attitude toward Tehran, he’ll be playing into the hands of the Iranian hard-liners. Trump campaigned at least in part, on not repeating Bush’s ME mistakes. But now he is aligning himself with the Sunnis, who plan to keep the Syrian civil war going for at least another generation (25 years).

What happens then?

We’ll still have 58 years to figure it out.

Let’s close with a tune. Here are Todd Rundgren and Donald Fagan doing “Tin Foil Hat” from Todd’s new album “White Knight”. It’s a song about Donald Trump:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

He’s coming down the escalator

With a girl from east of here

He wants to make the country greater

We got nothing left to fear

 

Because the man in the tin foil hat

Is sitting on the throne tonight

It kinda feels like a coup d’état

But it’s gonna be great, tremendous, amazing and all that

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Taking a Break From Domestic Politics

(The next column will appear on Monday 3/14. Starting tomorrow, the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are attending a wedding in Vermont)

Our preoccupation with the primaries, and dick-measuring has obscured several things that are happening around the world. Let’s take a quick look at three things we have talked about in the past.

US Russia/Middle East policy. Sec. Def. Ash Carter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, and the wacky NATO Commander, Gen. Phillip Breedlove, all seem to be intent precipitating a war with Russia. Last week at a Congressional hearing, Breedlove called Russia “America’s greatest strategic threat.” He went on to accuse Vladimir Putin of “Weaponizing” the flood of ME refugees into Europe as a plan “to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.”

We have our disagreements with Russia, we certainly hate what they did in Crimea and what they are doing in Ukraine. The jury is out on whether they are saving or frying our bacon in Syria, but it seems that we are (almost) on the same page there, except for our insistence that Assad must go.

It pays to remember that Russia is armed with several thousand nuclear weapons. Is it really wise for the head of NATO to pick a fight with a country that he knows feels deeply threatened by NATO expansion?

Our policy with Israel. Netanyahu has once again shown his contempt for Obama by spurning an invitation to meet in the Oval Office. When the Iran deal went down over Israel’s strong disagreement, the US agreed to send Israel more equipment and money to shore up their defenses against Iran. But, Netanyahu wants even more money and equipment than Obama is willing to give him, and he thinks that he will get a better “deal” from the next US president. Tom Friedman observed on PBS that Obama has quietly given up on the two-state solution, that it is up to Israel to implement a “one-state” solution: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

The idea that they need John Kerry…to come over…It’s got to start with them. I think the most constructive thing President Obama could do [is]…say, we tried. It’s over. There’s going to be a one-state solution.

Friedman says all the Israelis do is pick apart new peace plans, making it more about the US, not about the warring factions in Israel: (brackets by the Wrongologist)

The Americans [should say]…nobody’s coming. It’s over. It’s yours. You own it. Now you live with it.

And fix it if you can. But can we expect that from ANY of the current presidential candidates? No, they all say that they are Bibi’s greatest supporters. So we can expect the policy of “whatever Bibi wants, Bibi gets” to continue.

Finally, Turkey: Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey wants to become a member of the EU. But, President Tayyip Erdogan is moving quickly to make Turkey an illiberal democracy. Turkish elections are democratic and mostly fair, but the government that they elect imprisons journalists, reassigns police in the middle of inconvenient investigations, and most recently, closed the country’s largest newspaper. In fact, 2000 people have been arrested just for insulting President Erdogan.

The EU is considering accelerating Turkey’s negotiations for EU membership. That process, which has been stalled for years, normally requires a candidate country to meet basic standards on pesky items from the independence of its judiciary, to press freedoms, two things missing in today’s Turkey.

The EU is crafting a devil’s bargain. They want Turkey to open up new refugee resettlement camps to hold the Syrians who cross from Turkey to Greece, and on to the rest of Europe. But shopping in the Turkish bazaar is never wise for the novice. The EU learned that lesson this week, when it discovered the refugee deal it believed it had previously sold to Turkish leaders turned out to be just the beginning of the negotiation on Monday. Turkey’s counter offer would have prompted EU negotiators to get up and walk out six months ago. Ankara’s proposal:

• €3 billion in refugee aid in addition to the €3 billion already pledged.
• Liberalized visas for Turkish citizens to visit the EU.
• A pledge by the EU to resettle the same number of Syrian refugees already in Turkish refugee camps, as Turkey takes in when the EU sends them back.
• Accelerated consideration of Turkish EU membership.

Turkey’s message to Europe is: You need us more than we need you. Their message back should be: we’ll give you the money. That’s it.

In closing, Wrongo just can’t resist a brief return (excuse the pun on briefs) to the US general election. Hillary’s likely reaction to Trump’s exhibitionism: “Somewhat like a penis, only MUCH smaller”.

COW Trump Package

 

 

 

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Netanyahu: Gimme the Golan Heights

The carve-up of Syria has started. When Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Barak Obama on Monday, he asked for three things:

• That the US raise its aid to Israel from $2 billion US to $5 billion annually to be used against the “new” Iranian threat
• Israel intends to formally annex the Syrian Golan Heights, and Netanyahu wants our recognition of that annexation
• That the US submit the terms of any future deal involving Syria to Israel for their approval in advance of US approval

During the meeting, Netanyahu also clarified Israel’s purported “red lines” with regards to Syria.

We won’t tolerate attacks from Syrian territory, we won’t allow Iran to open a front [against us] on the Golan Heights, and we will disrupt the transfer of deadly weaponry from Syria to Lebanon…

That explains the money part of the requests. Well, we will do #1, we won’t do #3, and that leaves #2, recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan.

Some history: Israel occupied Syria’s Golan Heights after the Six-Day War in 1967, and annexed the Golan in 1981. In the intervening 48 years, neither the UN, nor any country has recognized the Golan annexation. The US could not unilaterally recognize the Golan annexation without upsetting our EU allies. In addition, Russia would not recognize the annexation, and they have an air force in Syria. And Iran could make life difficult for Israel by increasing Iranian aid and weapons to Hezbollah.

Why does Israel want to complicate Obama’s task in the Middle East? Well, he asked for recognition of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, just as new oil reserves were discovered there.

Wait, they found oil in the Golan? Apparently, yes. And it’s potentially billions of barrels. The tangled web of the oil business is at work here: Genie Oil & Gas, a US company, is doing the exploratory drilling in Golan through its subsidiary, Afek Israel Oil and Gas, which holds an exclusive 3 year petroleum exploration license issued by the government of Israel. Genie’s founder and CEO is Howard Jonas, who has been a big financial backer of Netanyahu’s political campaigns. And, look at the advisory board of Genie Oil & Gas:

Michael Steinberg, Board Chair
• Rupert Murdoch
• Jacob Rothschild, the chairman of the J Rothschild group of companies
• ex-CIA director James Woolsey
• Dick Cheney
• Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard
• Bill Richardson, former secretary of energy under Bill Clinton
• Mary Landrieu, former Louisiana Democratic Senator

With “Advisors” like these, it would be foolish to bet against the US recognizing the Israeli annexation of an oil-rich Golan Heights at some point. From Mint Press News:

Israel hopes to quintuple the size of its settlements over the next five years by adding an additional 100,000 settlers to the region.

So, new settlers and new oil.

Perhaps Bibi’s request is really part of a longer game directed at the 2016 US presidential candidates, in which he is laying out his demands: “In return for my political support” go the unspoken, but implied words of Bibi, “I would like you to agree to fill my shopping bag,” including the Golan.

It turns out that Haaretz is now reporting that Mr. Obama has rebuffed Bibi’s bid to have the US recognize Israel’s annexing Golan:

Washington rejects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion to US President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday to discuss the possibility of US recognition of Israeli rule over the Golan Heights, a senior White House official said.

We should have predicted this move by Israel: the Golan occupied, and Syria in fragments due to uprisings and attacks by ISIS creates a vacuum for Israel to fill. But if you buy that the request was really directed at the next president and the next Congress, and not the lame duck Obama, Bibi apparently is betting that his sycophants in the Congress are going to give him what he wants in 2017.

It would be a challenge for America’s politicians to explain to voters in 2016 why we should increase funding of Israel by $3 billion, instead of helping students pay off their college loans, or instead of building better roads.

We need to make sure that this additional reach into our pockets by Israel is a national campaign issue in 2016. Until a few politicians lose an election because they are too hawkish on Israel, we will continue to lavish money on them.

And our politicians will continue to support Israel’s Middle East policies at the expense of our own.

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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.

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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 et.al. [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.

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Israel Pays to Play

The Hill reports that on Monday, almost every freshman member of the US Congress jetted off on an all-expense paid trip to Israel for a week of briefings and lobbying. This year, the trip is intended to ensure they vote against the Iran nuclear deal.

The junket is an annual affair organized by AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, and just 3 freshman are not going. 67 of the total of 70 are expected to go this year, flying business class and staying at five star hotels. AIPAC’s stated goal is that 80% of any Congress has been on one of its trips to Israel at least once. Among the world’s democracies, it is an unparalleled example of one country’s attempted influence on the political system of another.

The trip is paid for by The American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), the educational wing of AIPAC. According to the National Journal, over the past 14 years, the foundation has spent more than $9.4 million on Congressional travel. There are two separate trips organized along party lines, one for Democrats, and another for Republicans. The Democrats’ trip begins on August 3, and will be led by House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland). The Republican trip begins on August 8, and will be led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California).

Wouldn’t it be nice if Congress had as much interest in the concerns of America as they apparently have for the concerns of Netanyahu? The bribe visit comes during the 60-day period in which Congress is reviewing the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama has threatened a veto if the GOP-led Congress votes to reject the agreement. That would place the onus on lawmakers to muster enough votes to override the president, and the trip gives Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, a fierce critic of the Iran deal, another chance to make his case directly to lawmakers.

This despite polls showing that 84% of US Jews favor Iran nuclear deal. The trip draws new attention to the fact that just about the ONLY opposition to this deal (discounting oil sheikhdoms) comes from the Republicans and Bibi. It will make it even more obvious that those Congress people who oppose the agreement do so not out of loyalty to their own country, but to Israel. But, a look at 2014 pro-Israel donations to Congress critters shows that Republicans have no monopoly on Israeli money. The data below are from OpenSecrets.org:

FireShot Screen Capture #060 - 'Pro-Israel_ Money to Congress-page-0This is just what they gave in 2014. When will we demand that our Congress act to benefit Americans before seeking to benefit another country?

Think of the hypocrisy. We send $3.1 billion each year to Israel. Since 1948, we have sent $121 billion in total to them, all paid by taxpayers, most in the form of military assistance. And some of that money comes back in the form of donations to our Congress.

Israel is not our 51st state, yet we’ve sent them our dough rather than using it to repair our roads or to build new bridges at home. We’ve allowed them to meddle in our internal politics, we’ve invited them to disrupt our presidential elections.

Now, we will release Jonathan Pollard on parole after 30 years in prison. Pollard is a spy who stole US defense secrets and gave them to Israel. Pollard will be greeted as a hero in Israel, should he get to leave the US as a condition of his parole. Pollard’s release is dubious because he provided Israel with information during the Cold War that allegedly was then traded to the Soviet Union (reportedly in exchange for allowing Jews to emigrate). Think about it: Our #1 ally sent our secrets to the Soviets?

How long before Americans see the Israeli effort to buy Congress for what it is?

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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.

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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.

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