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“Iran And The Case For Realism”: The Choices We Face Are ‘Often Between Greater And Lesser Evils’

Foreign policy debates rarely get away from being reflections of domestic political conflicts, but they are also usually based on unstated assumptions and unacknowledged theories.

That’s true of the struggle over the Iran nuclear agreement, even if raw politics is playing an exceptionally large role. There are many indications that Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Susan Collins (Maine) might in other circumstances be willing to back the accord. But they have to calculate the very high costs of breaking with their colleagues on an issue that has become a test of party loyalty.

There is also the unfortunate way in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to frame Congress’s vote as a pro- or anti-Israel proposition. Many staunch supporters of Israel may have specific criticisms of the inspection regime, but they also believe that the restraints on Iran’s nuclear program are real. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), for example, has said that U.S. negotiators “got an awful lot, particularly on the nuclear front.” And the “nuclear front,” after all, is the main point.

But the pressures on Cardin, who is still undecided, and several other Democrats to vote no anyway are enormous. A yes vote from Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, would be a true profiles-in-courage moment — and have a real influence on his wavering colleagues.

President Obama and his allies are right to say that the dangers of having the agreement blocked by Congress are much higher than the risks of trying to make it work. The notion that the United States could go back and renegotiate for something even tougher is laughable, because this is not simply a U.S.-Iran deal. It also involves allies who strongly back what’s on the table. Suggesting that the old sanctions on Iran could be restored is absurd for the same reason: Our partners would bridle if the United States disowned what it has agreed to already.

The administration’s core challenge to its critics is: “What is the alternative?” It is not a rhetorical question.

The counts at the moment suggest that Obama will win by getting at least enough votes to sustain a veto of legislation to scuttle the pact. He has a shot (Cardin’s decision could be key) of getting 41 senators to prevent a vote on an anti-deal measure altogether.

But once this episode is past us, the president, his congressional opponents and the regiment of presidential candidates owe the country a bigger discussion on how they see the United States’ role in the world. Obama in particular could profit from finally explaining what the elusive “Obama Doctrine” is and responding, at least indirectly, to criticisms of the sort that came his way Friday from Republican hopefuls Scott Walker and Marco Rubio.

There are many (I’m among them) who see Obama primarily as a foreign policy realist. Especially after our adventures in Iraq, realism looks a whole lot better than it once did. I say this as someone who still thinks that the United States needs to stand up for democratic values and human rights but who also sees military overreach as a grave danger to our interests and long-term strength. The principal defense of Obama’s stewardship rests on the idea that, despite some miscues, his realism about what military power can and can’t achieve has recalibrated the United States’ approach, moving it in the right direction.

A useful place to start this discussion is “The Realist Persuasion,” Richard K. Betts’s article in the 30th anniversary issue of the National Interest, realism’s premier intellectual outpost. Betts, a Columbia University scholar, argues that realists “focus more on results than on motives and are more attuned to how often good motives can produce tragic results.” While idealistic liberals and conservatives alike are often eager to “support the righteous and fight the villainous,” realists insist that the choices we face are “often between greater and lesser evils.”

“At the risk of overgeneralizing,” he writes, “one can say that idealists worry most about courage, realists about constraints; idealists focus on the benefits of resisting evil with force, realists on the costs.” On the whole, “realists recommend humility rather than hubris.”

For those of us whose heads are increasingly realist but whose hearts are still idealist, realism seems cold and morally inadequate. Yet the realists’ moral trump card is to ask whether squandering lives, treasure and power on impractical undertakings has anything to do with morality. Critics of realism confront the same question that opponents of the Iran deal face: “What is the alternative?”

 

By: E. J. Dionne Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 31, 2015

September 1, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The GOP Candidates Are Pledging To Undo The Iran Nuclear Deal; Don’t Buy It”: Get’s Us Nothing, And Potentially Costs Us A Great Deal

Republicans have spent much of the last six years shaking their fists in impotent protest against the things that Barack Obama has done. That’s the way it is when you’re out of power: There are only so many tools at your disposal to undo what the president does, even if you control Congress. This dynamic also explains some of the restiveness in the Republican electorate, since their leaders have been telling them of all the ways they’ll fight Obama (like repealing the Affordable Care Act), only to be stifled at every turn.

And now it looks like they’re going to fail to stop the deal the United States and five other world powers negotiated with Iran to restrain its nuclear program. Since the agreement isn’t a treaty, it doesn’t require ratification; instead, Congress can try to pass a resolution to stop it, which President Obama would veto. A veto override would require two-thirds of the members of both chambers of Congress, and the deal’s opponents aren’t going to get that.

While there are still a few Democratic senators who have not made their positions known, the last few days have seen one after another come out in favor of the deal (with the exception of New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, to no one’s surprise). Republicans need 13 senators to join them in opposition to the deal, and so far they have only two. As of this writing, there are 13 Democrats who have yet to announce their position; unless 11 of them come out in opposition — which seems all but impossible — the deal will have enough supporters to stop a veto override. Furthermore, such an override would probably fail in the House anyway.

So what will happen then? When all the votes are cast and the deal’s critics come up short, the Republicans running for president will rush to the microphones to repeat what they’ve already said: that this is the worst deal in diplomatic history, that Barack Obama is Neville Chamberlain, that Israel is all but already consumed in a fiery nuclear blast, etc.

If there’s been any disagreement between the candidates, it’s only in how fast they want to tear up the deal. For instance, Scott Walker says he’d do it on “day one” of his presidency, and even suggested he might launch a military strike on Iran to boot. Marco Rubio has said something similar, that he would “quickly reimpose sanctions,” which means tossing out the deal. Jeb Bush suggested that he’d at least hire his cabinet and check in with allies before figuring out what to do next, which is what passes for thoughtfulness in GOP circles these days.

What none of them have grappled with is what happens afterward. It’s possible that the other signatories to the agreement, including Germany, China, and Russia, will say that whatever President Trump thinks, they’ll hold up their end. If Iran agrees, then it might be subject to renewed U.S. sanctions, but the reason the current sanctions regime has been so effective is that the U.N. and so many other nations have participated in cutting Iran out of the world economy; sanctions by the U.S. alone would not have nearly the same impact.

On the other hand, if the agreement falls apart when we pull out — which is what Republicans would obviously prefer — then we return to the status quo, with Iran free to pursue nuclear weapons if it wishes without any inspections at all.

If the past is any indication, I don’t expect Republicans to find the time to discuss what would actually happen if they got their wish, since they’ll be too busy throwing Munich analogies around. But let’s assume that the deal doesn’t get shot down in Congress, and it begins to take effect. A year from now, what will the GOP nominee say about the deal? What if it seems to be working — the sanctions have begun to be unwound, inspections are proceeding, and there’s no indication yet that Iran is secretly trying to create nuclear weapons. What then? Will that nominee say, “I don’t care if it looks like it’s working, Bibi Netanyahu once showed me a picture of a cartoon bomb, so I’m still going to walk away from this agreement”?

Maybe. But the truth is that the next president abandoning this agreement has about as much likelihood of happening as Donald Trump’s plan to convince Mexico to pay for a 2000-mile wall between our two countries. It’s the kind of thing a candidate says when he wants to sound tough, but it’s not the kind of thing a president — even if it’s one of these guys — actually does. It would get us virtually nothing, and potentially cost us a great deal.

Think about that when you see the candidates shouting at the cameras after Congress fails to stop the agreement, pledging to do their utmost to destroy it.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, August 21, 2015

August 23, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP Presidential Candidates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“The Harrowing Lives Of Christians In The Middle East”: When All Is Said And Done, They Have Only Their Faith

Witnessing sectarian turmoil in the Middle East, and observing the back and forth over which threat is most existential to countries in that religiously sensitive region, a soft voice asks: “Don’t Christian lives matter, too?” Depends upon how it’s expressed.

This weekend, the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations will celebrate the Feast of Saint Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ, and the Catholic Church will recognize Mary’s assumption into heaven.

Words

● An Aug. 11 article by The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth, featured Aviya Morris, a 20-year-old West Bank settler, described as “the fresh new face of Jewish extremism.”

According to the article, “in 2013 [Morris] was arrested on suspicion of involvement in vandalizing Jerusalem’s Monastery of the Cross, where assailants left behind the spray-painted message ‘Jesus — son of a whore’ on a wall.”

Morris, The Post reported, was released without being charged.

● An Aug. 10 Anti-Defamation League news release expressed outrage at remarks made by Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, director of Lehava, which the ADL called “a far-right extremist organization in Israel.” According to the release, Gopstein reportedly said he favored the burning of churches and compared Christianity to idol worship.

The remarks were made, the ADL said, during a symposium on Jewish religious law on Aug. 4 in Jerusalem, when Gopstein was asked: “Are you in favor of burning [churches] or not?” He replied: “Of course I am! It’s Maimonides. It’s a simple yes. What’s the question?”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in the release, “Rabbi Gopstein’s views have no place within the Jewish tradition or in a democratic society,” and Greenblatt called for an apology.

● A June 18 ADL news release condemned a suspected religiously motivated hate crime against the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The ADL said the 1,500-year-old church was set on fire early in the morning, damaging the prayer room and outer areas of the church: “Graffiti reading ‘False idols will be smashed’ — a line from Jewish prayer — was spray-painted on one of the walls.”

“We deplore this despicable hate crime against one of the holiest Christian sites in Israel,” said then-ADL leader Abraham H. Foxman in the release. Foxman also noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had condemned the attack and promised to prosecute the perpetrators.

Until those words describing anti-Christian hostility appeared in The Post and the ADL releases, I had never heard of Morris or Gopstein. They were made prominent by the publications. There is no indication that more than a small minority of Israelis shares such hatred. But it does exist, at least among a few, in the region where Christianity was born, and it finds expression in venom-filled words and desecrated churches.

Deeds

Christians beyond Israel are far worse off.

You wouldn’t know that is the case, however, from the attention that Middle Eastern Christians receive.

Followers of Christ in Iraq, quiet as it has been kept, have borne a large brunt of the pain resulting from the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Before 2003, as many as 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. Today, because of killings and panicked flights from terror, that number is below 500,000.

The Islamic State’s calling card to Christians in Syria and Iraq: Convert to Islam or pay with your life. Recall the scenes on the Libyan beaches where Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians were beheaded.

“We’re certainly looking at the potential end of Christianity in the Middle East if no one does anything to protect these ancient communities that are dwindling now,” said Eliza Griswold, author of a recent New York Times Magazine article about the dire straits of Christians in Iraq and Syria.

But the international dueling over the Iran nuclear deal, sectarian turmoil and Israel’s response to foreign threats overshadow the plight of Christians.

Middle Eastern Christians have no army of their own, no government that represents them in world capitals, no voice in international parleys that have a bearing on their fate. They are vulnerable; their plight is slighted by Western powers fearful, as Griswold wrote, of “appearing to play into the crusader and ‘clash of civilizations’ narratives the West is accused of embracing.”

When all’s said and done, Christians in the Middle East have only their faith.

But they know, as do the Christians who will pay tribute to Jesus’s mother — a saint, not a whore — this weekend, that earthly powers don’t have the last word, that a cup of strength lies within their grasp, and that though they suffer, they, as Christians, actually matter to the one who matters to them most of all.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 14, 2015

August 17, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Middle East, Religious Extremists | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Creators Of Iran Situation Should Stay Out Of It Now”: They Have No Compunction With Being Repeatedly Wrong

Last Wednesday, in a thoughtful and persuasive speech on the merits of the Iranian nuclear agreement, President Barack Obama chastised Dick Cheney and his ilk. He didn’t mention the former vice president by name, but few in the audience would have missed the reference.

Noting that many critics of the Iranian deal also supported the invasion of Iraq, President Obama said they “seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong.” Tellingly, the former vice president, who still insists that deposing Saddam Hussein was a good idea, has been among the most vociferous critics of diplomacy with Iran. “(The agreement) will in fact, I think, put us closer to the actual use of nuclear weapons than we’ve been at any time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II,” Cheney recently told Fox News.

He’s not the only one. Those curiously unselfconscious denunciations of the Iranian agreement continued in last Thursday’s GOP presidential primary debates. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said the deal would make the world “an incredibly dangerous place.” (That was at least less hysterical than his assertion a few days earlier that Obama was “marching Israel to the door of the oven.”)

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker pledged to rip up the deal on “Day One” of his hoped-for administration. In the earlier debate for second-tier candidates, former business executive Carly Fiorina said she would telephone “my good friend, Bibi Netanyahu, to reassure him we will stand with the State of Israel.”

Given our history with Iran, it’s no surprise that this deal has attracted many skeptics — including some from the president’s own party. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, prominent among Senate Democrats, has announced his opposition.

But it is the Republican Party that remains a refuge of historical revisionism, full of prominent politicians who refuse to admit that the Iraq war left the Middle East worse off. Indeed, the toppling of Saddam Hussein significantly bolstered Iran, giving it more power in the region.

After all, Saddam was an enemy of Iran’s ayatollahs, a counterweight that kept them in check. That’s why the United States was a tacit ally of his for many years, supporting Baghdad in its eight-year war against Tehran. (Remember that 1983 photo of Donald Rumsfeld, then President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East, shaking Saddam’s hand?)

Even if the GOP wants to pretend that its military adventurism hasn’t had a downside, many voters remember anyway. A college student had the gumption to confront Jeb Bush at a campaign stop last May as he blamed President Obama for the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. “Your brother created ISIS” when he disbanded the Iraqi Army, said 19-year-old Ivy Ziedrich.

So it is simply mindboggling to watch the politicians who’ve done the most to empower Iran denounce Obama’s diplomatic efforts to limit its nuclear power. They were wrong when they rattled their sabers to gin up public support for the invasion of Iraq, a strategic misfire with consequences that will ripple for decades. And they’re just as wrong now. Why would anyone listen to them?

Prominent Republicans are quite aware that the American public is weary of war, wary of any armchair hawks who would insist that U.S. military strength would carry the day in any conflict. Even core Republican voters are reluctant to use force; only 21 percent of GOP voters — and 14 percent of voters across the board — support military action against Iran rather than a diplomatic solution, according to an April Washington Post poll. So Republican leaders insist that they’re not pushing for military strikes against Iran.

“That’s never been the alternative,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Post. “It’s either this deal or a better deal, or more sanctions.”

But that’s a far more naive proposition than depending on the inspections regime to limit Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama persuaded China and Russia to join sanctions against Iran, but they’re ready to ink this deal. They won’t be pressed into tightening the financial noose around Tehran. And without their cooperation, sanctions won’t work.

Because America’s military might has limits, diplomacy ought to always be the first and second options. History makes that clear; the war in Iraq was merely a reminder.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, August 8, 2015

August 9, 2015 Posted by | Dick Cheney, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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