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“Defiance Of The Right-Wing Opposition”: Iran Debate; Clinton Steps Up To Oppose The Demagogues

When Sarah Palin joins Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and a motley crew of crazies in Washington this week to rally against the Iran nuclear deal, the speeches are likely to reflect the incoherence of the opposition. None of these right-wing celebrities appears to comprehend its terms, how it was negotiated or – most important – why its failure would probably lead to yet another horrific war.

On that same day, as Cruz, Trump, and Palin blather on about their love of Israel, their hatred for Barack Obama, and their determination to “make America great again,” someone else will step up to support the agreement – someone whose diplomatic efforts laid the groundwork for successful negotiations with Tehran.

That would be Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former Secretary of State and leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Scheduling a major speech on the Iran deal for the same day as the Washington event, Clinton is plainly determined to display her mastery of its details as well as her defiance of the right-wing opposition.

But this speech — which could become one of the best moments in public life — will also prove just how far she has come since the last time she ran for president.

That’s because Iran was the subject of one of the most troubling moments in her 2008 campaign, when she promised to “totally obliterate” that country (and presumably its 70 million-plus population) if the mullahs ever attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon. Having uttered that genocidal threat in response to a provocative question, she reiterated the same bluster a few days later on ABC News’ This Week.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran [if they attack Israel with nuclear weapons]. And I want them to understand that. … I think we have to be very clear about what we would do,” she told host George Stephanopoulos.

At the time, in early May 2008, it wasn’t clear why the Iranians needed to “understand” any such ultimatum, since our own intelligence showed that they neither had nuclear weapons nor were likely to possess such weapons any time soon – and that the Israeli military was (and is) fully capable of nuclear retaliation. Clinton’s harsh rhetoric seemed to be aimed more directly at Obama, her primary opponent, whose aim of negotiating with traditional enemies like Tehran she had denounced as “naïve.”

Those who expected better from her pointed to her Mideast advisors, who advocated an opening to Iran, and to her own previous remarks about the imperative of talking with “bad people” as a sign of strength, not weakness. But at that moment, she seemed to echo John McCain and the “bomb Iran” chorus among the Republicans.

Much has changed since 2008, of course – including the leadership of the Iranian government. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the aggressive Holocaust denier who held the Iranian presidency back then, gave way in 2013 to Hassan Rouhani, a reformer who wants to end his country’s international isolation. Thanks in part to Clinton’s work as Secretary of State, a powerful and unprecedented international alliance enforced real sanctions that finally pushed Iran into serious negotiations. And since those negotiations began, Rouhani’s government has heeded the required limitations on its nuclear activities.

Perhaps Clinton hasn’t changed. After all, she has always believed that diplomacy, aid, and other aspects of American power are just as fundamental to our security as military force. But she has found a balance and a voice that are more vital than ever in a contest against irresponsible politicians, whose demagogy points us again toward war.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editors Blog, Featured Post, The National Memo, September 8, 2015

September 9, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, 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 High Price Of Rejecting The Iran Deal”: Foreign Governments Will Not Continue To Make Costly Sacrifices At Our Demand

The Iran nuclear deal offers a long-term solution to one of the most urgent threats of our time. Without this deal, Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, would be less than 90 days away from having enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. This deal greatly reduces the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, making Iran’s breakout time four times as long, securing unprecedented access to ensure that we will know if Iran cheats and giving us the leverage to hold it to its commitments.

Those calling on Congress to scrap the deal argue that the United States could have gotten a better deal, and still could, if we unilaterally ramped up existing sanctions, enough to force Iran to dismantle its entire nuclear program or even alter the character of its regime wholesale. This assumption is a dangerous fantasy, flying in the face of economic and diplomatic reality.

To be sure, the United States does have tremendous economic influence. But it was not this influence alone that persuaded countries across Europe and Asia to join the current sanction policy, one that required them to make costly sacrifices, curtail their purchases of Iran’s oil, and put Iran’s foreign reserves in escrow. They joined us because we made the case that Iran’s nuclear program was an uncontained threat to global stability and, most important, because we offered a concrete path to address it diplomatically — which we did.

In the eyes of the world, the nuclear agreement — endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and more than 90 other countries — addresses the threat of Iran’s nuclear program by constraining it for the long term and ensuring that it will be exclusively peaceful. If Congress now rejects this deal, the elements that were fundamental in establishing that international consensus will be gone.

The simple fact is that, after two years of testing Iran in negotiations, the international community does not believe that ramping up sanctions will persuade Iran to eradicate all traces of its hard-won civil nuclear program or sever its ties to its armed proxies in the region. Foreign governments will not continue to make costly sacrifices at our demand.

Indeed, they would more likely blame us for walking away from a credible solution to one of the world’s greatest security threats, and would continue to re-engage with Iran. Instead of toughening the sanctions, a decision by Congress to unilaterally reject the deal would end a decade of isolation of Iran and put the United States at odds with the rest of the world.

Some critics nevertheless argue that we can force the hands of these countries by imposing powerful secondary sanctions against those that refuse to follow our lead.

But that would be a disaster. The countries whose cooperation we need — including those in the European Union, China, Japan, India and South Korea, as well as the companies and banks that handle their oil purchases and hold foreign reserves — are among the largest economies in the world. If we were to cut them off from the American dollar and our financial system, we would set off extensive financial hemorrhaging, not just in our partner countries but in the United States as well.

Our strong, open economic relations with these countries constitute a foundation of the global economy. Nearly 40 percent of American exports go to the European Union, China, Japan, India and Korea — trade that cannot continue without banking connections.

The major importers of Iranian oil — China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — together account for nearly a fifth of our goods exports and own 47 percent of foreign-held American treasuries. They will not agree to indefinite economic sacrifices in the name of an illusory better deal. We should think very seriously before threatening to cripple the largest banks and companies in these countries.

Consider the Bank of Japan, a key institutional holder of Iran’s foreign reserves. Cutting off Japan from the American banking system through sanctions would mean that we could not honor our sovereign responsibility to service and repay the more than $1 trillion in American treasuries held by Japan’s central bank. And those would be direct consequences of our sanctions, not to mention the economic aftershocks and the inevitable retaliation.

We must remember recent history. In 1996, in the absence of any other international support for imposing sanctions on Iran, Congress tried to force the hands of foreign companies, creating secondary sanctions that threatened to penalize them for investing in Iran’s energy sector. The idea was to force international oil companies to choose between doing business with Iran or the United States, with the expectation that all would choose us.

This outraged our foreign partners, particularly the European Union, which threatened retaliatory action and referral to the World Trade Organization and passed its own law prohibiting companies from complying. The largest oil companies of Europe and Asia stayed in Iran until, more than a decade later, we built a global consensus around the threat posed by Iran and put forward a realistic diplomatic means of addressing it.

The deal we reached last month is strong, unprecedented and good for America, with all the key elements the international community demanded to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Congress should approve this deal and ignore critics who offer no alternative.

 

By: Jacob J. Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, Opinion Pages; Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, August 13, 2015

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Global Economy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, U. N. Security Council | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Triumph For Presidential Leadership”: Pundits; Obama’s Too Mean To Iran Deal Critics

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus, to her credit, supports the international nuclear agreement with Iran. In her new column, however, she criticizes President Obama anyway, not over the substance of his foreign policy, but for not being nice enough to the diplomatic deal’s opponents.

Obama once understood, even celebrated, this gray zone of difficult policy choices. He was a man who took pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side of nearly any complex debate.

The new Obama, hardened and embittered – the one on display in his American University speech last week and in the follow-up spate of interviews – has close to zero tolerance for those who reach contrary conclusions.

In fairness to the columnist, Marcus goes on to make substantive suggestions about how best to argue in support of the deal, and she concedes “Obama’s exasperation is understandable.” Her broader point seems to be that she wants to see the deal presented in the most effective way possible, but Marcus nevertheless chides the president for his tone and unwillingness to “accommodate” his foes.

She’s not alone. After the president noted that the American right and the Iranian hardliners find themselves on the same side of this fight, other pundits, including National Journal’s Ron Fournier, raised related concerns about Obama being harsh.

That’s a shame – there are constructive ways to look at the debate over U.S. policy towards Iran, but hand-wringing over presidential tone seems misplaced.

Let’s not miss the forest for the trees. President Obama and his team defied long odds, assembled an unlikely international coalition, and struck a historic deal. By most fair measures, this is one of the great diplomatic accomplishments of this generation.

For all the incessant whining from the “Why Won’t Obama Lead?” crowd, this was a triumph for presidential leadership, positioning Obama as one of the most effective and accomplished leaders on the international stage.

To watch this unfold and complain that Obama is simply too mean towards those who hope to kill the deal and derail American foreign policy seems to miss the point.

What’s more, let’s also not lose sight of these detractors’ case. Some of the deal’s critics have compared Obama to Hitler. Others have accused the White House of being a state-sponsor of terrorism. Many of the agreement’s foes in Congress clearly haven’t read the deal – they decided in advance that any agreement would be unacceptable, regardless of merit – and many more have approached the entire policy debate “with vagueness, deception and hysteria.”

Slate’s William Saletan attended the recent congressional hearings on the policy and came away “dismayed” at what opponents of the deal had to offer. Republicans, he concluded, seem “utterly unprepared to govern,” presenting little more than “dishonesty,” “incomprehension,” and an “inability to cope with the challenges of a multilateral world.”

To Marcus’ point, it’s fair to say that the president is not “taking pains to recognize and validate the legitimate concerns of those on the opposite side.” I suppose it’s possible Obama could invest more energy in telling Americans that his critics, when they’re not comparing him to Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, or both, are well-intentioned rivals.

But at this stage of the debate, there should be a greater emphasis on sound policy judgments and accurate, substantive assessments. I’m less concerned with whether Obama is being nice to his critics and more concerned with whether he’s correct.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Iran Nuclear Agreement, Pundits | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Obama Vs The Republican Cavaliers”: Defending A Long Bipartisan Tradition Of Negotiating Even With Adversaries We Deeply Mistrust

If you wondered why President Obama gave such a passionate and, yes, partisan speech on behalf of the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, all you had to do was tune in to the Republican presidential debate the next night.

Anyone who still thinks the president has any chance of turning the opposition party his way after watching the candidates (or listening to Republicans in Congress) no doubt also believes fervently in Santa Claus. In fact, the case for Santa — made so powerfully in “Miracle on 34th Street” — is more plausible.

The candidates gathered together by Fox News in Cleveland suggested that the hardest decision the next president will face is whether killing Obamacare or voiding the Iran deal ought to be the first order of business. All who spoke on foreign policy sought to paint the “Obama-Clinton” international strategy as “failed” and “dangerous.”

Obama does not need any private briefings on how Republicans are thinking. He realizes, as everyone else should, that there’s only one way to save the Iran accord. Republicans will have the votes to pass a measure disapproving it, and he needs to keep enough Democrats on his side to sustain his veto.

He also knows that he is in an ongoing battle for public opinion over a very big issue. In broad terms, this is an argument over whether the foreign policy of George W. Bush, with its proclivity toward unilateral military action, or his own approach, which stresses alliances and diplomacy, is more likely to defend the United States’ long-term interest.

The president was not wrong when he said that “many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.” And in light of the language used by Cleveland’s Cavaliers of Unilateralism, it was useful that he reminded Americans of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, when “those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak — even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.”

Lest we forget, in September 2002, shortly before the midterm elections, Bush dismissed Democrats who called for U.N. support before U.S. military action in Iraq. “If I were running for office,” Bush said, “I’m not sure how I’d explain to the American people — say, ‘Vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I’m going to wait for somebody else to act.’ ” Now that’s partisan.

In foreign policy, the past isn’t even past because we have not resolved the debate over how to use U.S. power that opened after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In a June Gallup survey , Americans were as split as ever on whether the war in Iraq itself was a mistake: 51 percent said it was, 46 percent said it wasn’t. Among Democrats, 68 percent said it was a mistake; only 31 percent of Republicans did. Independents split much like the country as a whole.

Those who counsel Obama to be more conciliatory toward Republicans in defending an agreement that could block Iranian nuclear ambitions for at least a decade (and probably more) are nostalgic for a time when many Republicans supported negotiated settlements, saw containment policies as preferable to the aggressive rollback of adversaries and were committed to building international alliances.

Such Republicans still exist, but there are not many of them left in Congress. And we should have enough respect for the party’s presidential candidates to believe that they mean what they are saying when, for example, one of them (Scott Walker) insists that “Iran is not a place we should be doing business with,” while another (Jeb Bush) declares that “we need to stop the Iran agreement, for sure, because the Iranian mullahs have . . . blood on their hands.”

Obama is defending a long bipartisan tradition of negotiating even with adversaries we deeply and rightly mistrust, the prime example being the Soviet Union. For now, the consensus across party lines in favor of such diplomacy is broken. Many of us would like to see it restored, but the evidence of Obama’s time in office is unambiguous: Friendly gestures won’t win over those determined to block his policies.

In the short run, Obama simply has to win enough votes for his Iran deal. For the long run, he has to convince Americans that his measured approach to the world is the safest path for the country. Defending this view aggressively is no vice.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 9, 2015

August 11, 2015 Posted by | Congress, GOP Primary Debates, Iran Nuclear Agreement | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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