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Hardliners And The Republican Caucus”: Why Israel’s Security Experts Support The Iran Deal — And Why Iran’s Hardliners Don’t

As congressional Republicans seek to undermine the nuclear agreement between Iran and the international powers, they assert that hardline Islamists in the Islamic Republic are delighted with the deal, while Israelis concerned over their country’s security are appalled. The same theme is now repeated constantly on Fox News Channel and throughout right-wing media.

But that message is largely false – and in very important respects, the opposite is true.

In arguing for the agreement at American University last Wednesday, President Obama noted that the most hostile factions in the Tehran regime aren’t celebrating this agreement – as the cover of the New York Post suggested. “In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo,” he said. “It’s those hardliners chanting ‘Death to America’ who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.”

Indeed, while vast throngs of Iranians greeted their government’s negotiators in a joyous welcome, the fanatical reactionaries in the Revolutionary Guard and the paramilitary Basij movement – which have violently repressed democratic currents in Iran – could barely control their outrage. Upon reading the terms, a Basij spokesman said last month, “We quickly realized that what we feared…had become a reality. If Iran agrees with this, our nuclear industry will be handcuffed for many years to come.”

Hoping and perhaps praying for a veto by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, their Supreme Leader, the Basijis, the right-wing media in Teheran, and their regime sponsors pointed to “red lines” that the agreement allegedly crossed. “We will never accept it,” said Mohammed Ali Jafari, a high-ranking Revolutionary Guard commander.

Such shrill expressions of frustration should encourage everyone who understands the agreement’s real value. Iran’s “Death to America, Death to Israel” cohort hates this deal – not only because of its highly restrictive provisions, but because over the long term, it strengthens their democratic opponents and threatens their corrupt control of Iranian society.

In Israel, meanwhile, the alarmist criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – a sage whose confident predictions about Iran, Iraq, and almost everything else are reliably, totally wrong – has obscured support from actual military and intelligence leaders. Like experts in this country and around the world, the best-informed Israelis understand the deal’s imperfections very well — and support it nevertheless.

“There are no ideal agreements,” declared Ami Ayalon, a military veteran who headed the Israeli Navy and later oversaw the Jewish state’s security service, the Shin Bet. But as Ayalon explained to J.J. Goldberg of the Forward, this agreement is “the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives” — including the most likely alternative which is, as Obama explained, another extremely dangerous Mideast war.

Efraim Halevy, who formerly ran the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service, and later headed its National Security Council, concurs with Ayalon (and Obama). Writing in Yedioth Aharonoth, the national daily published in Tel Aviv, Halevy points out a profound contradiction in Netanyahu’s blustering complaints. Having warned that an Iranian nuclear weapon would pose a unique existential threat to Israel, how can Bibi logically reject the agreement that forestalls any bomb development for at least 15 years and increases the “breakout time” from one month to a year — even if Iran ultimately violates its commitments?

Such a deal is far preferable to no deal, the ex-Mossad chief insists, although it won’t necessarily dissuade Tehran from making trouble elsewhere. Halevy also emphasizes that no mythical “better” deal would ever win support from Russia and China, Iran’s main weapons suppliers, whose leaders have endorsed this agreement.

In short, both of these top former officials believe the agreement with Iran will enhance their nation’s security – and contrary to what Fox News Channel’s sages might claim, they represent mainstream opinion in Israel’s military and intelligence circles.

So perhaps we can safely discount the partisan demagogues and feckless opportunists who claim to be protecting the Jewish state from Barack Obama. And when someone like Mike Huckabee – who memorably escaped military service because of his “flat feet”denounces the president for “marching Israelis to the oven door,” let’s remember the sane and serious response of Israel’s most experienced defenders.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, August 6, 2015

August 7, 2015 Posted by | House Republican Caucus, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Israel | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Any Fool Can Start A War With Iran”: Because Of Our Strength, We Have To Take A Practical, Common-Sense Position

Right now, it’s beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he so prematurely received in 2009.

Perhaps you recall how, during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama’s opponents treated his expressed willingness to speak with the leaders of unfriendly countries such as Cuba and Iran as a sign of immaturity.

“Irresponsible and frankly naïve,” was how Hillary Clinton put it.

Joe Biden said it was important for an inexperienced president not to get played by crafty foreigners.

Obama was unrepentant. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them—which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [the Bush] administration,” he said, “is ridiculous.”

And so it was. Only ridiculous people talk that way now. With hindsight, it’s become clear that Obama wasn’t simply repudiating the GOP’s melodramatic “Axis of Evil” worldview, but expressing his own considerable self-regard.

Also his confidence in America as he sees it through his unique personal history as a kind of inside-outsider, capable of being more than ordinarily objective about our place in the world. When you’re the most powerful economic and military power on Earth, he keeps saying with regard to the Iran deal, it’s important to act like it: strong, calm, and confident. Able to take risks for peace because your strength is so overwhelming.

President Obama told the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if Ronald Reagan could reach verifiable arms agreements with the Soviet Union, a country that posed “a far greater existential threat to us than Iran will ever be,” then dealing with the Iranians is “a risk we have to take. It is a practical, common-sense position.”

As we saw in 2003, any damn fool can start a Middle Eastern war. And while hardly anybody in the United States wants one, even Iranian hardliners should have no doubt who would win such a conflict.

“Why should the Iranians be afraid of us?” Friedman asked.

“Because we could knock out their military in speed and dispatch if we chose to,” Obama said.

That’s the same reason Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and his allies in the U.S. Congress) need to cool it with the Chicken Little rhetoric. Obama thinks it’s “highly unlikely that you are going to see Iran launch a direct attack, state to state, against any of our allies in the region. They know that that would give us the rationale to go in full-bore, and as I said, we could knock out most of their military capacity pretty quickly.”

Of course Netanyahu knows that perfectly well. But here’s the kind of thinking that he and his allies on the evangelical right really object to:

“Even with your adversaries,” Obama said, “I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran. We had in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so…they have their own…narrative.”

Demonizing Iran serves Netanyahu’s short-term political purposes. Ditto Republican presidential candidates. But Obama has a wider audience and a longer view in mind. Much of what he said was directed over the heads of his domestic audience. Besides, GOP war talk makes it easier for Democrats to support Obama.

“Iran will be and should be a regional power,” he told Friedman. “They are a big country and a sophisticated country in the region. They don’t need to invite the hostility and the opposition of their neighbors by their behavior. It’s not necessary for them to be great to denigrate Israel or threaten Israel or engage in Holocaust denial or anti-Semitic activity. Now that’s what I would say to the Iranian people.”

He also focused upon the common enemy:

“Nobody has an interest in seeing [the Islamic State] control huge swaths of territory between Damascus and Baghdad,” Obama said. “That’s not good for Iran.”

Indeed not. More than the Turks, more than Saudi Arabia, more than anybody but the Kurds, Iranian forces are fighting ISIS on several fronts.

The president’s words were grudgingly noted in Tehran. In his own carefully crafted speech expressing guarded blessings for the arms control agreement, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei assured hardliners that he hadn’t gone soft on America.

However, he also alluded to Obama’s conciliatory remarks.

“He mentioned two or three points, but did not confess to tens of others,” Khamenei complained.

Which is how conversations begin.

This deal isn’t the end. But it’s an excellent beginning—of what, remains to be seen. Iran has essentially purchased anti-invasion insurance, while the U.S. and its allies have bought relative stability in the Persian Gulf.

Could things go wrong? Things can always go wrong.

But there’s always time to start a war.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, July 22, 2015

July 22, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, President Obama | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Presidents Negotiate Arms Agreements”: Cotton And The War Caucus Count On Constituents’ Ignorance

When a Man’s fancy gets astride on his Reason; When Imagination is at Cuffs with the Senses; and common Understanding, as well as common Sense, is Kickt out of Doors; the first Proselyte he makes, is Himself. Jonathan Swift, 1704

As near as I can determine, Senator Tom Cotton’s biggest worry about Iran is that its government is as bellicose and fanatical as he is.

The good news is that based on the Islamic Republic’s response to the condescending, adolescent tone of the “open letter” he and 46 Republican senators addressed to Iran’s leaders, that seems unlikely. Judging by their measured responses, Iranian politicians appear to understand that they weren’t its real audience.

Rather, it was a grandstand play directed at Cotton’s own constituents among the GOP’s unappeasable Tea Party base. Its actual purpose was to express contempt and defiance toward President Obama, always popular among the Fox News white-bread demographic — basically the same motive that led Cotton to repeat Obama’s name 74 times during a 2014 election debate with Senator Mark Pryor.

That big doodyhead Barack Obama’s not the boss of them.

Except that particularly with regard to foreign policy, he is. But hold that thought.

Javad Zarif, the American-educated Iranian foreign minister involved in intense negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry, observed that the senators’ letter has “no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.”

The Persian diplomat pointed out that the agreement’s not being hashed out between the U.S. and Iran, but also among Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Any deal would be put before the UN Security Council and have the force of international law.

A future U.S. president could renounce it, but at significant political cost unless Iran clearly violated its terms.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan points out chief executives from FDR and Reagan to George W. Bush have negotiated arms control deals negotiated in ports of call from Yalta to Helsinki. “In other words,” Kaplan writes, “contrary to the letter writers, Congress has no legal or constitutional role in the drafting, approval, or modification of this deal.”

Presidents negotiate arms agreements, not raw-carrot freshman senators.

Iran’s crafty old “Supreme Leader” Ayatollah Khamenei lamented “the decay of political ethics in the American system,” but added that he stood by the process. “Every time we reach a stage where the end of the negotiations is in sight,” Khamenei said, “the tone of the other side, specifically the Americans, becomes harsher, coarser and tougher.”

Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus reported the score: “Qom Theological Seminary 1, Harvard Law 0. When an ayatollah sounds more statesmanlike than the U.S. Senate, it’s not a good sign.”

Bargaining is practically the Persian national sport. They’re inclined to see a my-way-or-the-highway type like Tom Cotton as unserious and immature.

As if to confirm that impression, the Arkansas senator took his newfound notoriety to CBS’s Face the Nation, where he complained about Iran’s growing “empire.”

“They already control Tehran, increasingly they control Damascus and Beirut and Baghdad and now Sana’a as well,” Cotton said. “They do all that without a nuclear weapon. Imagine what they would do with a nuclear weapon.”

You read that correctly. Arkansas’ brilliant Harvard law graduate complained about Iran’s control of Tehran — the nation’s capital since 1796.

As for Iran’s alleged “control” of Baghdad, you’d think an Iraq veteran like Cotton would have some clue how that came about. Hint: President George W. Bush invaded Iraq. The Bush administration deposed Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, whose invasion of neighboring Iran led to an eight-year war killing roughly a million people. They installed as prime minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite nationalist who’d spent 24 years exiled in, yes, Iran.

How Iranian-armed Shiite militias came to be leading the fight against ISIS terrorists west of Baghdad is that the Iraqi government begged for their help. It’s in Tehran’s national interest to defeat ISIS even more than in Washington’s. Can this possibly be news to Cotton?

Probably not, but he can count on his constituents’ ignorance. It would be astonishing if 20 percent of Arkansas voters could locate Iran on a world map, much less grasp that if Iran looks stronger, it’s because the U.S. keeps attacking its enemies. “Like all the Iran hawks before him,” Daniel Larison writes in American Conservative, “Cotton claims to fear growing Iranian influence while supporting policies that have facilitated its growth.”

For President Obama, a verifiable agreement preventing the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons they say they don’t want could be a diplomatic triumph, reshaping the entire Middle East without firing a shot.

To the War Party, that would be a bad thing. Meanwhile, Tom Cotton gave his first speech in the U.S. Senate, prating about “global military dominance” and “hegemonic strength” like the villain in a James Bond movie.

It was a performance calculated to make him a star.

 

By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 18, 2015

March 19, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Tea Party, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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