Sunday, April 5, 2015

Nuke ‘Em High!

We really don’t like the Iranian government. We started off on the worst foot possible with the 1979 hostage crisis and never improved our relations over the years. Their fomenting of Shiite extremists, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Houthis in Yemen, their alignment and support of the minority Assad regime in Syria, their rather powerful control over the “elected” Iraqi government and their rather undisguised efforts to coopt even Sunnis extremists – like Gaza’s Hamas – have collided violently not just with American policies in the region but with both such stalwart Sunni nations – from Saudi Arabia to Egypt – and our ally Israel.
We dislike Iran’s religious leaders even more that the little old men ruling Cuba today. Iran’s leaders have been secretive, made nuclear arm’s inspectors from the United Nations crazy and have been pretty overt in their anti-American (“Great Satan”) and anti-Israeli sloganeering. And those nasty Iranian nuclear-enrichment centrifuges (pictured above) have seemingly been working overtime of late.
Are these all good reasons not to enter into a nuclear arms containment treaty with them? Or is this precisely why an treaty is the right approach, short of a military effort that most probably won’t stop a nuclear program maintained deep, deep underground and scattered all over Iran? Are disarmament treaties supposed to be between opposing countries? Think the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. Such American-supported armed efforts against Iran might also lead to the mining of the Strait of Hormuz, the unleashing of sleeper terrorist cells against U.S. targets everywhere, allow Iran to fund anti-American efforts among existing terrorist groups and generate a very steep and destabilizing rise in the price of petroleum worldwide, rather abruptly ending the current decline in prices at the pump. And let’s face it, there are a whole pile middle class Iranians who hate their religious leaders more than we do… who might perish in an attack on their country.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu tells us that the sanctions will produce a total surrender by Iran of all of its nuclear ambitions; we just have to keep them in place a bit longer. But despite a rather severely wrecked economy, Iran has not budged until recently on anything resembling a stand-down in the development of fissionable, weapons-grade, materials. Global sanctions have supplemented U.S. sanctions rather severely, and sanctions have been in place for a very long time. Sorry Bibi, despite so many, many years of sanctions, nothing has happened. Your theory of denying this potential treaty and going back to a rather clear path of failed sanction efforts flies completely in the face of hard facts.
After the invasion of Iran by Iraq, the United States increased sanctions against Iran. In 1984, sanctions were approved that prohibit weapons sales and all U.S. assistance to Iran. The United States also opposed all loans to Iran from international financial institutions. In October 1987, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12613 prohibiting the importation and exportation of any goods or services from Iran.
“The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) that is the basis of the current sanctions against Iran is a revised version of the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) that was signed on 5 August 1996 (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172). The act was renamed in 2006 when the sanctions against Libya were terminated... On 31 July 2013, members of the United States House of Representatives voted 400 to 20 on 31 July 2013 in favor of toughened sanctions.” Wikipedia.
Okay, we may have some general structural goals in the newly announced, proposed basic provisions of a possible nuclear-containment treaty with Iran, but as many have noted, the devil is in the details, how agreements are monitored and enforced become critical. But we are on a path that offers more practical hope that the rather absurd assertions from flip-floppy-Netanyahu and that probably needs to be explored before we embroil ourselves into another Middle Eastern conflict.
Indeed, it seems pretty clear that if Iran did develop a nuclear weapons capacity, there would be a countervailing effort from neighboring Sunni powers, explored in a recent blog, to expand into their own nuclear arsenal. Just what the world needs: a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Bibi and his cabinet strongly oppose the announced deal (outlined below); he tells us the treaty would cause just that arms race to begin, but in fact, this deal may just stem that effort.
“Netanyahu said after [a special cabinet] session that ‘Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period.’… However, he also acknowledged the possibility of a final agreement being reached, saying that such a deal must ‘include a clear and unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel's right to exist.’
“Netanyahu said his Cabinet ‘is united strongly opposing the proposed deal,’ which he said would threaten Israel's survival. ‘Such a deal does not block Iran's path to the bomb,’ he said. ‘Such a deal paves Iran's path to the bomb. And it might very well spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East and it would greatly increase the risks of terrible war.’, April 3rd. His assumptions that Iran will have a nuke in spite of the treaty are interesting, and his belief that he has any support anywhere in the rest of the world for his position is misplaced, outside of his fragile conservative coalition and those American politicians who have marched in lockstep with Netanyahu’s commands. 
Israel is not and was a party to the sanctions agreement or the negotiations between Iran on one side, and the U.S., U.K., German, French, Russian and Chinese parties, on the other side, that were actual parties to the negotiations. America is the keeper of its own foreign policy, and despite his efforts to inveigle Congress with his demands, Bibi’s rather obvious and successful merger of his Likud Party with the GOP on issues he wishes to command, it is time for our Congress to do what’s best for Americans. And the United States remains committed to keeping Israel alive and well in this maelstrom, even if we do it “our way” and not under direct orders from Bibi.
So exactly what how did President Obama describe these challenging basics of the Iran agreement to the American public? “Under the accord, Iran agreed to cut the number of operating centrifuges it has by two-thirds, to 5,060, all of them first-generation, and to cut its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium from around 10,000 kilograms to 300 for 15 years. An American description of the deal also referred to inspections ‘anywhere in the country’ that could ‘investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility.’ But in a briefing, American officials talked about setting up a mechanism to resolve disputes that has not been explained in any detail.
“In a move not seen since before the Iranian revolution in 1979, and to the surprise of many in both countries, Iranian government broadcasters aired Mr. Obama’s comments live. In parts of Tehran, people cheered and honked car horns as they began to contemplate a life without sanctions on oil and financial transactions, though the issue of when the sanctions are to be removed looms as one of the potential obstacles to a final agreement on June 30.” New York Times, April 2nd.
Among my massive coterie of Jewish friends, I have found very little support for Netanyahu’s extremism. But there are powerful forces, with deep ties to Israel’s Likud Party, working to align the United States with Netanyahu’s demands. Is Republican opposition towards the accord based on what’s best for America or simply paying off a cash-for-votes debt funded by some of our country’s richest, and most Hawkish, Jewish billionaires? Rejecting a treaty that has yet to be finalized? “The alliances in Congress that pro-Israel donors have built will certainly be tested as they lobby lawmakers to oppose the deal with Iran and perhaps even expand sanctions against the country, despite objections from the Obama administration.
“Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views… ‘Absolutely, it is a factor,’ said Marc Felgoise, who manages the Philadelphia Israel Network, a campaign fund-raising group, and whose own contributions have shifted to Republicans, though he still supports many Democrats. ‘They are trying to cater to people who are ultimately going to support them.’
“Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, saw his donations from pro-Israel donors soar to about $285,000 in the 2014 election cycle from less than $100,000 in 2008, during his previous election, the analysis by MapLight shows. Pro-Israel contributions to Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, plummeted to less than $150,000 in 2014, when he was also re-elected, from nearly $300,000 in 2008, according to this count.
“But few candidates have benefited as much as [Arkansas GOP Senator Tom] Cotton [who fomented that letter from 47 Republican Senators to Iran’s religious leadership]… The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000.” New York Times, April 4th. And nobody is bidding for GOP votes for moderation, it seems. Exactly how meaningful would escalated U.S. sanctions be if the other negotiating nations – U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China – lifted their restrictions, putting Iran pretty much in the same position with or without America support?
So where are we? Probably in a better place than we expected if you just look at the bones of the treaty. We have become strange de facto allies with Iran in our attempt to defeat ISIS, a further complicating factor. Despite the above cash-for-votes reality, are we seeing glimmers of hope among our Congress, from both sides of the aisle, that they might actually put partisan politics aside to look at this proposed treaty objectively, or is the lure of campaign issues for the upcoming 2016 elections (and lust for campaign support) just too juicy to put American well-being above our heavily politicized and polarized bickering? The President may not need Congressional approval to finalize the accord, but the failure to get everyone on the same page continues to frustrate us all. Strangely, if the accord is sufficiently attractive, perhaps opposing it for the sake of opposition might just backfire in the next election. Think about it.

I’m Peter Dekom, and am I going to see America’s best interests trump stupid politics on major issues ever again?

No comments: