One remarkable aspect of the Iran debate now taking place in Washington is its lack of balance. From Israel and the various Iran hawks, no argument, no matter how over the top, can be in bad taste. For them it is permissible, nearly mandatory, to liken the graying revolutionary regime of Iran (a state which, for all its undeniable faults, has suffered invasion at the hands of Saddam Hussein, was an extremely valuable ally of the U.S. in Afghanistan after 9-11, was the only Muslim country in the Mideast in which there was open mourning for the World Trade Center attack, and has never invaded anybody in anyone’s memory) to that of Adolph Hitler. Mark Kirk, the main Senate spokesmen for the hawks, denied there could be any such thing as a sincere Iranian moderate. When administration aides went to Capitol Hill to explain the kind of interim deal which was in sight—basically a freezing Iran’s nuclear program in return for giving Iran access to a small percentage of its own money, now tied up in foreign banks—they were met with countless senators and Congressmen who would claim that Israel had given them more accurate information. John Kerry was reduced to saying that Israel, not party to the negotiations, just maybe knew less of the details than the American diplomats who were there. Kerry had a plaintive tone and felt compelled to add that he talked to “Bibi” a great deal too.
In the realm of published opinion, in the press and the specialized foreign-affairs journals, you can find many defenders of the current negotiation, which almost certainly has the support of the vast majority of foreign-affairs specialists. But one strained to hear an open public defense of an Iran deal from a single congressman or senator. When White House spokesman Jay Carney mentioned that the alternative to diplomacy with Iran was probably war, it seemed almost shocking—for once someone had used strong language in favor of negotiating. But on Capitol Hill the battle of words was lopsided. Against Kirk and company, supporters of the adminstration’s diplomacy praised Israel and maneuvered behind the scenes to ensure that the Senate’s calendar and arcane rules delayed an escalation of sanctions vote before Kerry’s team could try another round of negotiating. But they did nothing to rally public opinion. Read More…
John Kerry’s visit to the Senate Banking Committee in an effort to stave off a further round of sanctions while U.S.-Iran negotiations are proceeding in fits and starts produced revealing comments from Mark Kirk, currently the Senate’s leading Netanyahuite.
Kirk first challenged the professionalism of State Department number three Wendy Sherman, followed with his now standard references to Munich and Chamberlin, and then, in a bold bid to produce a memorable soundbite, said “How do you define an Iran moderate? An Iranian who is out of bullets and out of money.”
What does this mean exactly? That Kirk believes all Iranians are—by their genes—bloody minded killers if given the chance? That only if they are starved and beaten down is it possible to deal with them? Or does it not apply to ordinary Iranians, but only their politicians? Kirk perhaps had in mind Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leader of the Green movement, and possibly the presidential leading vote-getter in 2009, now under house arrest. Perhaps he was a moderate only because he was out of bullets. (Like pretty much all Iranian politicians, Moussavi supports maintaining Iran’s ability to enrich uranium. I doubt you will find any Iranians who back Netanyahu’s view that only Israel, of all the nations in the Mideast, should be permitted full access to the nuclear fuel cycle.)
If this is what passes for foreign policy thinking among top Republicans, the party is in a very bad way. I suspect there are Republican office holders who hold alternate views—including those that understand Iran as a complicated country in a mellowing phase a generation and a half after a tumultous revolution, one which probably can be dealt with on a rational basis, as we now deal with Russia and China. But they are almost completely silent. In the vacuum, the Mark Kirks represent the brand of the GOP. Making ignorant and belligerent comments about Iran has now become a form of Republican electioneering.
If Bibi Netanyahu succeeds in closing down Obama’s diplomatic path to Iran, only the road to war remains open.
Which is exactly what Bibi wants.
For what terrifies Tel Aviv, and rattles Riyadh, is not a U.S. war with Iran, but the awful specter of American rapprochement with Iran, a detente.
Thus, when France’s foreign minister torpedoed the deal John Kerry flew to Geneva to sign, France soared in neocon esteem. The “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” of 2003 who opposed the Iraq war suddenly became again the heroes of Verdun and the Marne.
“Vive La France” blared the Wall Street Journal editorial declaiming, “Francois Hollande’s Socialist Government has saved the West from a deal that would all but guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear power.”
Did Hollande really save the West? Or did he just rack up points with the Saudi princes for when the next big arms contract comes up for bid?
What is going on is a gravely serious matter.
If the Netanyahu cabal succeeds in sabotaging U.S. negotiations with Iran, it is hard to see how we avoid another war that could set the Persian Gulf region ablaze and sink the global economy.
And just what is it that has Netanyahu apoplectic?
A six-month deal under which Iran would freeze all enrichment of uranium, in return for a modest lifting of sanctions, while the final agreement is negotiated. The final deal would put permanent limits and controls on Iran’s nuclear program to ensure it is not used to build bombs
And there would be more and more intrusive inspections.
How would this imperil Israel?
Iran today has no atom bomb. Has never tested a bomb. Has never exploded a nuclear device. Possesses not a single known ounce of 90 percent enriched uranium, which is essential for a uranium bomb.
Nor does Iran have enough 20 percent uranium to make a bomb. And part of the stockpile it did have has been converted into fuel rods. There are inspectors in all of Iran’s operating nuclear facilities.
The Ayatollah has declared a fatwa against nuclear weapons. The Hassan Rouhani regime says it has no nuclear weapons program.
And U.S. intelligence agrees with Iran.
All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007, and, again, two years ago, said, with high confidence, that Iran has made no decision to build a bomb and has no nuclear weapons program.
How would new restrictions and reductions on an Iranian nuclear program that has never produced an ounce of weapons-grade uranium, let alone a bomb, threaten Israel, with its hundreds of atom bombs?
“You can’t trust the Iranians. They’re lying about their nuclear program,” says Lindsey Graham.
Is U.S. intelligence also lying?
Ten years ago, it turned out Saddam was telling the truth and it was Lindsey’s friends doing the lying about Iraq’s WMDs.
Looks like the same old crowd up to the same old tricks.
Chutzpah. I believe that’s the word for it.
Just days after learning the Americans have been tapping her phones and taping her conversations, Angela Merkel has been publicly upbraided by the U.S. Treasury for being a bad global citizen.
What did she do to deserve this?
Merkel just won a third term as chancellor with a record vote and has an approval rating near 80 percent. But she is a bad global citizen because Germany is running the world’s largest trade surplus.
The Washington Post thinks the Treasury’s tongue-lashing is overdue, as does Paul Krugman of the New York Times:
In this environment, a country that runs a trade surplus is … beggaring its neighbors. It is diverting spending away from their goods and services to its own, and thereby taking away jobs.
Is this not astonishing?
Competing successfully in world markets is now tantamount to stealing food off the table of one’s less-competent and less-successful neighbors.
By this standard, America was a selfish nation and a rotten global citizen for the first seven decades of the 20th century, when we ran trade surpluses every year, averaging 4 percent of GDP.
From the Civil War through the Roaring ’20s, with a high tariff, we became the mightiest manufacturing power the world had ever seen. Our economic independence enabled us to stay out of two world wars. And when we did go in, we won within months in 1918, and we won again only a few years after Pearl Harbor.
Is this a record to be ashamed of?
Every modern nation that has risen to world power has done so through economic nationalism: Britain under the Acts of Navigation; the United States under protectionist Republicans from 1860-1914; Bismarck’s Germany; postwar Japan, which rose from the ashes of 1945 to become the world’s second economy; and China from 1980 to today.
Trade surpluses, run at the expense of rival powers, have been the hallmark of great nations in their rise to preeminence.
The first reports in early May of 1960 were that a U.S. weather plane, flying out of Turkey, had gone missing.
A silent Moscow knew better. After letting the Americans crawl out on a limb, expatiating on their cover story, Russia sawed it off.
Actually, said Nikita Khrushchev, we shot down a U.S. spy plane 1,000 miles inside our country flying over a restricted zone.
We have the pilot, we have the camera, we have the pictures. We have the hollow silver dollar containing the poisoned-tipped needle CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers declined to use.
Two weeks later, Khrushchev used the U-2 incident and Ike’s refusal to apologize to dynamite the Paris summit and the gauzy Spirit of Camp David that had come out of his ten-day visit to the USA.
Eisenhower’s reciprocal trip to Russia was now dead.
A year later, President Kennedy would be berated by Khrushchev in Vienna. The Berlin Wall would go up. And Khrushchev would begin secretly to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from Key West.
Had there been no U-2 incident, would the history of the Cold War have been different? Perhaps.
Yet, while there were critics of launching Power’s U-2 flight so close to the summit, Americans understood the need for espionage. Like us, the Soviets were installing ballistic missiles, every single one of which could incinerate an American city.
Post 9/11, too, Americans accepted the necessity for the National Security Agency to retrieve and sift through phone calls and e-mails to keep us secure from terror attacks. Many have come to accept today’s risks of an invasion of their privacy—for greater security for their family.
And there remains a deposit of trust among Americans that the NSA, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency are not only working for us, they are defending us.
How long Americans will continue to repose this trust, however, is starting to come into question.
Last week, we learned that a high official of the U.S. government turned 200 private phone numbers of 35 friendly foreign leaders, basically the Rolodex of the president, over to the NSA for tapping and taping.
Allied leaders, with whom America works toward common goals, have for years apparently had their private conversations listened to, transcribed and passed around by their supposed U.S. friends.
Angela Merkel has apparently been the subject of phone taps since before she rose to the leadership of Germany and Europe. A victim of the East German Stasi, Ms. Merkel is not amused.
It may be hard to pity John Kerry, but in the last couple of days, I’ve felt for the guy. America has competitors and rivals, and enemies too. But the problems posed by so-called friends are more vexing. On Wednesday Kerry was in Rome, for a scheduled seven-hour meeting with Netanyahu. Seven hours, that’s right. Three weeks ago, Netanyahu got a lengthy meeting with Obama, while the US government was on verge of shutting down. Max Blumenthal quipped that that one of Obama’s main jobs is to be the “Bibi-sitter”—for his efforts to make sure that Netanyahu doesn’t try to start a war in the Mideast or call up his minions in Congress to thwart US diplomacy.
Then there are the Saudis, the other “pillar” of the U.S. mideast alliance system. Unlike the case of Israel, no one even pretends there are “shared values” in play. It’s a pretty pure protection racket: we provide protection to the Saudi monarchy, and they use their oil wealth to aid the U.S. in other objectives, most importantly keeping the price of oil stable. This arrangement made a fair amount of sense post-1945, when keeping Arabia in the Western camp and the Soviets away from Mideast oilfields seemed of paramount importance, as it was throughout the Cold War. But the inherent problems of a close relationship dealing with a medieval theocracy with piles of money are now becoming more obvious.
One problem is that they basically don’t like us, at all; another is they seemingly prefer their women to be covered in shapeless black sacks; a third, that U.S. troops cannot be stationed there, lest Saudis feel compelled to blow up U.S. buildings in retaliation. (Most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis.) The Saudis use their vast wealth to spread their brand of Islam throughout the Muslim world, a brand which happens to be more antimodern and anti-Western than any other kind. They are upset when Obama balked at intervening in Syria on behalf of the the Saudi-backed jihadi rebels, and of course ignore the fact that the Palestinians still have no state sixty-five years after the Zionists got one. My guess is that the Saudis care far more about the jihadi forces they support in Syria than the Palestinians, who are, by regional standards, a basically secular and forward-looking group. They have shown their anger by refusing to take the seat in the UN Security Council that they spent years lobbying for.
And of course Iran. Here is where the Saudis, the other little rich gulf states, and Bibi Netanyahu are on the same page. You can see why Iran frightens them. It is governed by Shi’ite Muslims, and there are restive Shia minorities in most of the Gulf states, pressuring and sometimes demonstrating for civil and political rights. And of course Iran has a genuine middle class and a scientific infrastructure, which is why both Israel (which behaves as if it has a right in perpetuity to a regional nuclear weapons monopoly) and the Saudis, who are perhaps embarrassed by their own relative backwardness, feel threatened. Read More…
Col. Douglas Macgregor (retired) is a decorated combat veteran, the author of four books, a Ph.D., and executive VP of Burke-Macgregor Group LLC, a defense and foreign-policy consulting firm in Reston, Virginia. Macgregor’s groundbreaking books on military transformation—Breaking the Phalanx and Transformation Under Fire—have profoundly influenced thinking about change inside America’s ground forces. His newest book, 5 Battles in 5 Wars: 5 Essays on Transformation and War, 1914-1991, will be published in 2014.
Recently I interviewed him about America’s military needs in the 21st century:
TAC: What are the real threats the United States faces today and into the near future?
DM: There are three kinds of threats. The first threat is economic. In 1958, President Eisenhower told the American people, “The purpose is clear. It is safety with solvency. The country is entitled to both.” Eisenhower was right then and he’s right now. (See Paul Taylor, Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, Gabriel Velasco and Seth Motel, “Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs between Whites, Black and Hispanics.”) We need to send home low-skilled, uneducated people who are not Americans. At the same time, American citizens must be first in line to receive training, education, and jobs. The second relates to the first in that our borders are open and unprotected. Criminality in many forms marches hand in hand with illegal immigration across our borders and through our ports. The third involves alliance commitments that threaten to entangle the U.S. Armed Forces in conflicts that are of no interest to the American people.
TAC: How would you defend against those threats? Structure of military? Homeland security?
DM: Committing U.S. Army Forces to the Border Security Mission is the only sensible and cost-effective means of securing our borders. These Army forces need to be tightly integrated with U.S. Coast Guard, Air National Guard, and U.S. Navy elements that must secure our coastal waters. Meanwhile, conflicts beyond America’s borders are likely to resemble the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century, except that fights for regional power and influence will overlap with the interstate competition for energy, water, food, mineral resources and the wealth they create. These conflicts promise to be far more lethal and dangerous than any we’ve experienced since 1991. Fortunately, we should be able to avoid entanglement in most of them given our growing domestic energy independence and capacity for food production. Read More…
I’ve generally been paying more attention to the P5 plus 1 Iran negotiations than the government shutdown melodrama. Haven’t you? The opening round in Geneva was predictably opaque: Iran’s foreign minister presented a complex proposal, and the Western negotiators, plus Russia and China, acknowledged its seriousness and said, we’ll get back to you. Anyone who thinks that nuclear negotiations are not incredibly complex, whose details are beyond the ability of all but experts, isn’t serious. But in general, Iran seems to want to offer inspections and limitations on how much and to what degree it will enrich uranium, in return for acknowledgement of its “right to enrich” and sanctions relief. Of course, the devil is in the details, but my sense is that a rigorous but fair-to-both-sides agreement would essentially make it impossible for Iran to “break out” and build a weapon without the rest of the world having a lot of warning. Which is good, because Iran’s leaders have said they reject nuclear weapons for religious reasons. Perhaps an Islam expert can suggest what these might be: it’s pretty obvious that Christian, Jewish, and atheist regimes exercise no such rejection. I would take the Iranian assertion with somewhat of a grain of salt, but it is clearly much better than Iran’s leaders saying that religion requires them the have the same weapons that various other countries wave menacingly about.
Of course, we know that a powerful entrenched interest opposes any such agreement with Iran. One high-ranking representative of it, Senator Mark Kirk, took to the pages of the London Telegraph to warn against any deal. Said Kirk, it’s 1938 all over again, and does the West want to be Churchill or Chamberlain. I wonder whether a single person in Great Britain is moved by such comparisons. In any case, a top Telegraph columnist responded forthwith, pointing out the very obvious differences between the behavior of Iran and Nazi Germany, including that, unlike some countries we might name, Iran hasn’t invaded another country in 170 years.
Mark Kirk, sad to say, represents a big fraction of the US Senate that takes its foreign-policy marching orders from AIPAC and Benjamin Netanyahu. One question observers of the negotiations are waiting to have answered is whether Congress will decide, in an effort to thwart successful negotiations, to add on to the sanctions—essentially denying the Obama administration the capacity to actually negotiate with Iran. My feeling is that this is somewhat a danger—but that if it is apparent to all the world that the ignoramuses of Congress are blocking a deal (I’m borrowing the term deployed by the Telegraph‘s Peter Oborne) the other nations whose cooperation is needed to enforce the sanctions regime will begin to peel away. Which might be good for Iran—to have the sanctions removed without a deal—but probably is not the best of possible outcomes.
President Obama defended American exceptionalism in a speech mostly dealing with America’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East at the UN Tuesday: “Some may disagree,” he noted, “But I believe America is exceptional, in part because we have shown a willingness, to the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up, not only for our own narrow self-interests, but for the interests of all.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently published a New York Times op-ed in which he critiqued this conceit head on: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Putin’s statement clearly struck a nerve: Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint answered Putin directly (“all humans are created equal—but not all nations are created equal”) while Senator John McCain responded in the wrong Pravda. Obama’s UN remarks represented a rather pointed reply to Putin’s comment. He warned of a “vacuum of leadership” that would result from American disengagement around the globe. He argued that “the world is better” for active U.S. leadership.
Is American “exceptionalism,” then, derived from its globalist foreign policy? Not according to Richard Gamble: In a 2012 article for this magazine, he argued that America has been driven by “old” and “new” American exceptionalisms. Gamble cites an 1899 speech by Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner, written at a time when America’s imperialist bent was beginning to take hold:
When Sumner came to the question of what set America apart from other nations, he debunked the most popular and superficial conception of exceptionalism and looked at history to ground America’s identity in something more substantial. Sumner first noted the irony that by claiming it had a unique civilizing mission to perform, America sounded just like every other major power at the end of the 19th century. “There is not a civilized nation which does not talk about its civilizing mission just as grandly as we do,” he remarked. The English, French, Germans, Russians, Ottoman Turks, and Spanish said the same.
It was not America’s “divine mission,” writes Gamble, that once set it apart. The old idea of exceptionalism was “more about what America doesn’t do than what it does, more about national self-restraint than national self-assertion.”
Indeed, one could not help comparing the defensive Putin backlash to George Washington’s famous 1796 farewell address:
Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it … The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.
America’s political connections and involvement now extend far beyond Europe’s friendships and enmities. Our engagement around the globe is now routine. Yet Washington advocated for restraint. He was devoted to the peace and permanency of the Union, and to preserving domestic peace at all costs. Only one comment in Washington’s speech hints at “exceptionalism”: he said the U.S. enjoys a peculiarly “detached and distant situation” from other nations, and this position “invites and enables us to pursue a different course.”
In other words, the only “exceptionalism” envisioned by Washington is anathema to that expressed by American politicians today. While Washington saw domestic concerns as our most important preoccupation, Obama defined strict national interests as “narrow” and selfish.
Yet in a nation swimming in debt and riddled with unemployment, perplexed by health care complications and political schisms, one cannot help thinking that these “narrow” concerns are actually quite broad.
Obama now faces the most critical moment in his presidency. He speaks to the United Nations this morning, and the speech and whatever follows perhaps will initiate a renewed negotiation with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. The stakes in the negotiation may be as dramatic as war or peace, and their outcome will likely set the trajectory for America’s Mideast policy for at least the next decade.
Since his 2008 inauguration, Obama has tried to split the difference between his liberal internationalist and realist supporters and hawkish pro-Israel elements. That meant he backed off on pushing Israel to stop growing its West Bank settlements, while also pouring cold water on Israeli plans for a preemptive strike on Iran. But now all the issues which could be kicked down the road are approaching a boiling point. Iran’s newly elected leaders are signaling in every possible way that they want relief from sanctions and responsible relations with the West. In return they are willing to accept restrictions and oversight on their nuclear program, ensuring it will not produce nuclear weapons. Israel, which has called the tune on American relations with the Mideast for decades, is in a sort of panic at this prospect, fearing that Obama and the West will start a detente process with Iran, leading to normal and mutually beneficial relations. Israel is like Taiwan in 1971, but with vastly more cultural and economic power within the U.S. than Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist regime. Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard are claiming, without reaching a large audience thus far, that Iran’s newly elected president Rouhani represents a Hitlerian threat to the West, and more, that Israel is the leader of the West. Curiously, this bizarre claim was made at the very moment Israeli military forces were abusing European diplomats attempting to deliver aid to Arabs being dispossessed by Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing operations in the West Bank. So yes, Israel is certainly the very model of Western leadership, if that leadership consists of ethnic cleansing and abuse of those Western diplomats who try, however ineffectually, to oppose it.
But Kristol has allies, even in the Obama administration. Gary Samore, who was a leading nuclear negotiator in the administration, recently signed on as president to an anti-Iran lobbying group which distinguished itself by trying to deny New York City hotel accommodations to President Rouhani and his delegation. As telling as Samore’s role in setting American policy is the letter released today by Senators John McCain and Charles Schumer, calling for the United States to adopt a negotiation strategy that is all take and no give, and which has no chance of success. It’s not surprising about McCain–he’s a perpetual warmonger in his dotage. But Schumer is key Democrat, albeit one who styles himself as Israel’s “guardian”. And Israel wants the United States to go to war against Iran, or at least wants Washington to ensure in perpetuity not only that Israel retains a nuclear weapons monopoly in the Mideast, but a monopoly as well on uranium enrichment and knowledge of nuclear fuel cycle. Margaret Thatcher once said Israel was mistaken to insist on rights for itself which it denied to other people. She was speaking of Palestinian aspirations for statehood at the time, but her words, essentially the Golden Rule applied to diplomacy, could well apply to Israeli nuclear policy.
Whether Obama has the will and political strength to resist this pressure, whether he can explore soberly whether the United States might benefit from regular relations with a large, technologically advanced, and democratically inclined Muslim country, will be the greatest test of his presidency.