“To The Permanent War Caucus, It’s Always 1938″: When The Hitler Card Won’t Do, Play The Chamberlain Card
If he accomplished nothing else during his presidency, Barack Obama has surely earned a place in the Bad Political Analogies Hall of Fame. According to savants on Fox News and right-wing editorial pages, Obama is both Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who capitulated to Nazi territorial demands in 1938.
That is, to the more fervid exponents of the Sore Loser Party, President Obama is both a psychotic dictator and a spineless appeaser of tyrants.
(I am indebted for this insight to Washington, D.C., attorney Mike Godwin, promulgator of “Godwin’s Law,” which holds that the first person to play the Hitler card in a political argument automatically loses.)
I’m thinking the law also needs a Chamberlain corollary, because the Permanent War Caucus on the Republican right accuses every American president who negotiates an arms pact with our putative enemies of weakening national security. Always and with no known exceptions.
President Nixon got compared to Neville Chamberlain for his (strategically brilliant) opening to China, as well as for the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with the Soviet Union.
In 1988, something called the Conservative Caucus, Inc. took out full-page newspaper ads arguing that “appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.” The ad mocked President Reagan with Chamberlain’s iconic umbrella, and compared Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to Hitler.
In 1989, of course, the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR imploded.
Jonathan Chait sums up the right’s paradoxical case against Obama, weakling dictator: “He is naive in the face of evil, desperate for agreement, more willing to help his enemies than his friends. The problem is that conservatives have made this same diagnosis of every American president for 70 years…Their analysis of the Iran negotiations is not an analysis at all, but an impulse.”
Despite the fact that Tehran made concessions most observers thought were impossible, the right hates this deal because they hate all deals. Today, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. supporters, such as the forever-wrong William Kristol, describe Iran’s leaders as the new Führer. The apocalyptic enemy before that was the Tehran regime’s bitter enemy, Saddam Hussein.
Anyway, we all know how invading Iraq worked out.
Iran is five times Iraq’s size, has three times its population, and has extremely forbidding terrain.
No matter. To the Permanent War Caucus, it’s always 1938 and blitzkrieg is eternally threatened. Netanyahu has been predicting Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons for almost 20 years now — although the Wile E. Coyote bomb cartoon is a relatively recent touch.
Israel, of course, has a nuclear arsenal of its own.
But what really makes the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison so foolish isn’t simply that it’s a cliché. It’s that it completely misrepresents the power balance between the U.S., its allies, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and militarily weak, politically and strategically isolated Iran.
In 1938, Nazi Germany had the strongest military in the world. (Indeed, there’s a revisionist school that holds Neville Chamberlain was wise to postpone an inevitable war while Britain re-armed.)
Shiite Iran, by contrast, can scarcely project power much beyond its borders, and is threatened by traditional enemies on all sides. Examine a map of the Middle East. Tehran is almost 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. Ethnically and linguistically distinct, the Persians are surrounded by hostile Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which repress their own Shiite minorities, and are fanatically opposed to the Ayatollahs.
Almost unknown in this country, U.S. client Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran — complete with nerve gas attacks on the Persians and Kurds –remains a bitter memory. ISIS terrorists are massacring Shiites by the thousands in Iraq and Syria. For that matter, check out the U.S. military bases ringing the Persian Gulf, along with omnipresent, nuclear-armed aircraft carriers and submarines.
One needn’t have a particle of sympathy for Iran’s odious theocratic government to see that we’ve got them totally outgunned and surrounded. Economic sanctions engineered by the Obama administration have really hurt. So yes, if they thought they could trust us, it would be very much in Tehran’s interest to make a deal and stick to it — putting the nuclear temptation aside in favor of what amounts to anti-invasion insurance.
But can we trust them?
President Obama explained his thinking to the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman: “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing…people don’t seem to understand.”
“[W]ith respect to Iran…a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”
If you’re really strong, in other words, act strong.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 15, 2015
“The Iran Deal Is About Restraining A Barbaric Regime”: It Neither Legitimizes Nor Appeases That Regime
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing about Iran in the New Jersey Jewish Standard on April 1, sought to alter perspectives on that country with some speculation about race. “Imagine if Ayatollah Ali [Khamenei] was threatening to murder all blacks in the Middle East,” he wrote. “What if he tweeted regularly that people of dark skin are of the devil and must be annihilated. Would the American government be negotiating with him?”
Boteach suggested that a U.S. administration would face “international opprobrium for legitimizing a government with racist, genocidal intent against an identifiable ethnic group.” He asked, “Why is it that threatening to murder the Jews is acceptable?”
Boteach referred to President Obama as “a historic figure, the first African-American president” and said that he didn’t doubt that Obama “is a friend of the Jewish people.” But, he added, “We are witnesses to the world’s foremost republic and sole superpower negotiating with a government with a clearly defined agenda of carrying out a second holocaust.”
Boteach declared of Obama: “We need him to stand up for us.”
Boteach, an author, TV host and self-described “America’s Rabbi,” recently took out full-page ads in The Post and the New York Times to tell Obama that any pact that allows Iran to retain a significant nuclear infrastructure will make him an appeaser on par with Neville Chamberlain.
I have no idea how Obama might respond to Boteach’s fantasized Khamenei with murderous intent against blacks. Neither can I presume to speak for other African Americans. For my part, were my family and I in the Middle East and faced with such a threat, I would want my government to take all necessary steps to cut off every pathway that such a racist leader could take to develop a nuclear weapon.
Which brings me to the recently negotiated framework with Iran.
If there happens to be a way to create a comprehensive, long-term oversight effort that includes robust and intrusive inspections of that country’s nuclear program, I say do it.
If my government can deny a genocidal leader the plutonium necessary to build a bomb, go for it.
If my government, working with other world powers, can shut down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium, that’s a good thing.
Should this president, working with world leaders, get Iran to: agree not to stockpile materials needed to build a weapon, give international inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear program, set strict limits on its program for more than a decade and impose unprecedented transparency measures that will last 20 years or more, then I say hooray. And, of course, economic sanctions should not be lifted until Iran complies with terms of the final agreement.
Because if a fantasy Iran were to aim to liquidate all blacks in the Middle East or elsewhere, just as the real-life Iran has threatened to annihilate millions of Jews in Israel, I wouldn’t ever want it to become a nuclear power capable of delivering on its threats.
Locking down a barbaric country in an internationally enforced agreement is a start. It neither legitimizes nor appeases that regime.
And it’s something any U.S. president should try to do, not just on behalf of Jewish people, with their long and painful history, or African Americans with painful experiences of our own, but for the sake of all Americans as well as all those worldwide who could be threatened.
Iran is everybody’s business. Or it ought to be.
Yet, it doesn’t — or shouldn’t — follow that U.S. policy toward Iran can be dictated from anywhere other than the United States.
It was, therefore, shocking to read a National Review article titled “Netanyahu, Not Obama, Speaks for Us,” which was posted online March 2.
Who is writer Quin Hillyer referring to when he says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and not the president, speaks “for you and for me”?
Obama speaks on the world stage for this country and its values. He has more than demonstrated a willingness to exercise American power in defense of our national interests. (Ask Osama bin Laden.) To suggest that this president is less diligent in the safeguarding of our civilization, more deficient in moral courage and less likely to pursue justice on our behalf than a foreign leader is as absurd as it sounds.
I also happen to believe that Obama promotes equality, justice and dignity for all, and not because he is black or because he views the world through any racial or religious prism.
By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 10, 2015
“Peace Rather Than War”: If Chuck Schumer Kills The Iran Nuclear Deal, He Should Not Be Senate Minority Leader
The framework for the Iranian nuclear deal is about as good as anyone could reasonably expect. If it were solely up to the negotiators, it would likely be finalized in June. But they are not the only players, and it’s become clear that the biggest danger to the deal are hawks in Iran and the U.S.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) is threatening action that may destroy the bargain, while Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is doing the same. Iran is out of the U.S.’s control — but Democrats can hold Schumer to account. If he destroys the Iran deal, he must not be allowed to become Senate minority leader, a position that was basically bequeathed to him by outgoing Minority Leader Harry Reid.
On the Iranian side, Khamenei said out of the blue this week that any deal must include the immediate lifting of all sanctions and prevent foreign inspectors from visiting military sites, two demands that could blow up the tentative framework negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland. However, there’s good reason to believe Khamenei is positioning for domestic hardliners. The Lausanne framework provides for the lifting of a big chunk of current sanctions, while keeping others related to Iran’s support for Hezbollah. Khamenei, in other words, could squirrel out of his seemingly tough demands if he wanted.
At any rate, if Khamenei really does want to blow up the deal, there’s no stopping him. Iran will either accept the deal or it won’t. If not, it’s really Khamenei’s loss.
That brings us to Schumer. He has announced his support for a Senate bill sponsored by Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee that would require congressional approval for any final deal with Iran. Since a veto by President Obama is certain, Republicans will need Democratic support to override it. Schumer, as the Senate minority leader heir-apparent, is sending a clear signal to Democrats that betraying the president is fine, while undermining arguments that the Corker bill is a mere exercise in partisanship.
The fact that Schumer is even daring to try this is surely evidence of the continuing weakness of the Democratic Party’s anti-war faction. Even Elizabeth Warren isn’t particularly anti-war.
However, pro-war Democrats have consistently underestimated the long-term political danger behind such casual aggressiveness. Just like Cory Booker, Schumer appears to have forgotten that voting for the Iraq War is the reason Hillary Clinton is not president today.
Many good old liberals were absolutely furious with the whole Democratic establishment for voting for Bush’s war of aggression and getting something like half a million people killed for no reason. They’re not so agitated at the moment, but if Schumer shanks what may be the last best hope at a deal before President Bush III takes the nation on another jolly Middle East crusade, then he will face an enormous backlash. And it should cost him the job he covets so badly.
According to Matt Yglesias, a former Schumer intern, the senator is a “really sincere and committed Israel hawk,” and sees himself as dedicated to protecting Israel’s security. If that is his motivation, it might be possible to convince Schumer that this Iran bargain is actually in Israel’s long-term interests. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thought the Iraq War would be a swell development for Israel, and it turned out to be an epic strategic disaster instead. Chances are that he’s wrong about this one, too, like he is about everything else.
But if Schumer can’t see reason, then someone else should be Senate minority leader — preferably someone who is more interested in peace than war.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 10, 2015
“A Reminder About Netanyahu, Iraq, And Iran”: George W. Bush Listened To Netanyahu And The Neocons. The Rest Is History
Just a few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looked like a figure with huge influence in American politics. There he was addressing Congress, with Republicans practically carrying him into the House chamber on their shoulders. He was on every American television show he wanted, delivering his dark warnings of the second Holocaust to come if an agreement was signed with Iran. And now? Even after winning re-election, as Dan Drezner argues, Netanyahu has become irrelevant to the Iranian nuclear debate. There’s no one left for him to persuade.
And even though his argument always verged on the nonsensical—that any agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program “paves Iran’s way to the bomb,” whereas if we just walked away then Iran would abandon such ambitions and everything would turn out great—it is now becoming almost comical. He’s now demanding that Iran recognize Israel as a condition of any agreement, which as Josh Marshall notes would certainly be nice, but is completely irrelevant to the question of whether Iran has nuclear bombs or not. The agreement will succeed or fail, no matter what Benjamin Netanyahu thinks of it.
At the risk of piling on, I want to draw your attention to this piece by J.J. Goldberg of the Forward, which reminds us of just how spectacularly wrong Netanyahu has been on questions like this in the past:
In early January 2002, four months after the September 11 attacks, Israeli national security council director Uzi Dayan met in Washington with his American counterpart Condoleezza Rice. She told him—to his surprise, he later told me—that President Bush had decided to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein. A month later Dayan’s boss, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, met with Bush in the White House and offered some advice, based on decades of Israeli intelligence.
Removing Saddam, Sharon said, according to three sources with direct knowledge, will have three main results, all negative. Iraq will implode into warring tribes of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. You’ll be stuck in an Iraqi quagmire for a decade. And Iran, a far more dangerous player, will be rid of its principal enemy and free to pursue its ambitions of regional hegemony. Bush didn’t agree.
Israeli leaders continued pooh-poohing Iraq all spring. Dismissal turned to alarm in August, when Iranian dissidents released evidence that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. In September Sharon told his cabinet to stop discussing Iraq. It was annoying the White House.
On September 12, however, a different Israeli voice visited Washington: ex-prime minister-turned-private citizen Benjamin Netanyahu. A longtime Sharon rival, closely allied with Washington’s neoconservatives, he’d been invited to address the Republican-led House as an expert on Iraq. Baghdad, he said, was hiding mobile centrifuges “the size of washing machines.” Moreover, “if you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime, I guarantee that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” Throughout the Middle East, including Iran, populations will be inspired to topple their own dictators.
Bush, of course, listened to Netanyahu and the neocons, not Sharon and his generals. Alas, Sharon was right. Iraq imploded. Iran surged. The invasion had reverberations, but hardly positive. The rest is history.
I sometimes feel like as a country we’re already beginning to forget what a spectacular catastrophe the Iraq War was. It was probably the single biggest mistake in the history of American foreign policy, and part of what made it so maddening was the insistence of its boosters that it was going to be not just easy but the source of unending joy and happiness for the United States, the Middle East, and the world. They mixed their frenzied fear-mongering with the assurance that anyone who raised any doubts was a Saddam-coddler who didn’t really want our Arab friends to receive the blessings of democracy, prosperity, and peace that were sure to result from our invasion. They didn’t say, “This is going to be difficult and unpleasant, but we have to do it”; instead, they said, “This is going to be great!”
And today, the conservative narrative is that, sure, a couple of things went slightly wrong along the way, but if Barack Obama hadn’t come along and screwed everything up, today Iraq would be thriving and peaceful and it all would have turned out just as they predicted in 2002. That belief forgives them for their part in the calamity, of course.
Bibi Netanyahu wasn’t an “expert” on Iraq, and he isn’t an expert on Iran. Perhaps after the last couple of months, we can finally put to rest the idea that we should take his opinion on anything into account as we’re considering what we should do.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, April 7, 2015
On Tuesday in Louisville, Kentucky, Senator Rand Paul will officially kick off his campaign for president. As the New York Times reported Monday, his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, will be right by his son’s side for the campaign announcement. But don’t expect to see much of the elder Paul throughout the campaign—or hear much from him. While Rand and Ron both consider themselves libertarians, their positions on multiple issues have diverged in recent months as Rand has attempted to make himself a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In the process, that has alienated many libertarian supporters of Ron.
While Ron Paul was always an outsider candidate with no real shot of becoming president, Rand has much larger national ambitions. That has required him to make compromises on some of his positions, compromises that many libertarians find unacceptable. Retaining their support will almost certainly be a necessity for Rand to win the GOP nomination. But will they look past his heresies?
Rand Paul has been a savvy political operator during his time in the Senate and has always sought to leverage his libertarian support on issues that had broad acceptance within the GOP. For instance, Paul expertly seized on the issues of criminal justice reform and the overreach of the National Security Agency (NSA). These were long-held libertarian positions that, partially thanks to Paul’s advocacy, suddenly found renewed interest among mainstream Republicans. The issues garnered support among conservatives because they would shrink the size of government. They were the perfect issues for him to retain his libertarian credibility while earning greater support among traditional Republican voters.
But recent issues have demonstrated where traditional Republicans differ from libertarians, and that has put Paul in an uncomfortable position. Libertarians like Ron Paul set a very high bar for military conflict. Often, they are called isolationists, a term that has sometimes been used to describe the younger Paul, much to his chagrin. In the early parts of his time in the Senate, Paul displayed many of those leanings. In 2011, for instance, he called for ending all military aid to Israel. As late as June 2014, Paul wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq. “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” he asked in the piece. Just a few months later, after the Islamic State murdered two American journalists, Paul condemned President Barack Obama for not doing more to stop the terrorist group.
Over the following nine months, Paul’s remarks about the military and his policy positions have seemed to become more and more hawkish. Last October, he gave a speech on military intervention that you could never imagine his dad giving. “The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world,” he said. “To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.” It was quite a rhetorical change from a man who just 20 months earlier performed a 13-hour talking filibuster over U.S. drone use.
In January, Paul made news at a forum hosted by the Koch Brothers when he challenged the traditional Republican line on military action. “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops?” he asked senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who had criticized the Iran negotiations. “I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.” That was music to the ears of libertarians everywhere. Maybe, they thought, Paul would actually stick to his libertarian roots on foreign policy.
Nope. In early March, Paul signed on to Senator Tom Cotton’s letters to the leaders of Iran, explaining why the American political system effectively prohibited Obama from making any lasting commitments in the negotiations. The letter received widespread condemnation, including from many within the Republican Party. But in libertarian circles, Paul’s signature was treated as almost an act of treason. At the Daily Beast, Olivia Nuzzi reported on a number of libertarian leaders who declared Paul’s signature the final straw; they would no longer support him for president.
At the end of March, Paul proposed a massive increase in defense spending, raising it more than $190 billion over the next two years and offsetting those increases with cuts elsewhere. As Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel reported at the time, this doesn’t quite represent a flip-flop. But it’s still quite a change from Paul’s 2011 budget which would have reduced defense spending to $542 billion in 2016, including additional war funding. Under his new plan, defense spending would be nearly $700 billion in 2016.
As his 2016 officially kicks off, Paul will have to strike a balance between appeasing the defense hawks and libertarians within the Republican Party, both of whom view him suspiciously. To some extent, his movement back and forth between the factions has made it unclear what his foreign policy views actually are. Last week, for instance, as Republican candidates criticized the president’s deal with Iran, Paul stayed noticeably quiet. When his staff finally responded to questions to Bloomberg on Monday, they offered little insight into Rand’s actual position on the deal. That tactic—sidestepping the question—will work for now. But eventually it’s going to fail as Republican voters and donors will demand his position on different foreign policy issues.
The good news for Paul is that his positions on the NSA and criminal justice reform, among other issues, still play well within the party. More than any other candidate, he has made a concerted effort to reach African Americans. These are all libertarian positions that will play well for him during the primary. But it will still be hard for many Ron Paul followers to overlook—or brush off—Rand’s turn to hawkishness on foreign policy, assuming he goes in that direction. For instance, Nick Gillepsie, the editor in chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, calls Paul “libertarian-ish,” not a libertarian.
Do Republican primary voters want a “liberatarian-ish” candidate? We’ll find out soon enough.
By: Danny Vinik, The New Republic, April 7, 2015