John Bolton Worries That Diplomacy With North Korea Undermines Prospects For Iran War

March 08, 2012 4:54 pm ET by Walid Zafar

John Bolton

Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton doesn't agree with the Obama administration's fruitful diplomatic outreach with North Korea. In particular, he worries that a road towards détente with the authoritarian Democratic People's Republic of Korea — another Obama foreign policy breakthrough — will undermine the "bomb Iran" consensus Bolton has been trying to build. In his editorial in the Wall Street Journal, the former high-ranking Bush administration official criticizes diplomacy with the new government of the DPRK on the grounds that it will embolden the regime in Iran.

Unfortunately, the Leap Day deal is worse than just another failed effort to chitchat North Korea out of its nuclear weapons. It provides a political and economic lifeline to Kim Jong Eun's uncertain new regime, and it schools him on how to outwit America. Tehran's mullahs will take careful note of the Obama administration's desperation to announce a deal, any deal, that can be described as "progress" on the nuclear-proliferation front.

[...]

Most objectionable morally, despite U.S. denials of a quid pro quo: We are providing 240,000 tons of food aid that will almost certainly be diverted to the DPRK military and other favored recipients. It is a strict canon of U.S. humanitarian assistance that such aid be closely monitored, but there is no reason to believe that monitoring will be any more effective than in the past. Make no mistake, we are simply feeding young Kim's dictatorship.

[...]

The critical elements of the Leap Day deal are available for Tehran to use to its advantage: unverifiable moratoria, the resumption of long-failed negotiations that will buy it time, and the expectation of reduced economic pressure. Iran can even count on Mr. Obama to try to restrain Israel, its strongest and most determined regional opponent.

What does Bolton suggest we do instead? He has plenty of criticisms, but offers few suggestions on what he would do differently. He writes, for instance, that we should "concentrate on finding ways to exploit the North's leadership transition in order to hasten Korean reunification." How does Bolton know that we aren't already doing that? Would we not also, at the same time, be trying to reduce the nuclear threat from Pyongyang? And is it not possible that the diplomatic route is also aimed at dividing the new government?

Instead, Bolton just complains.

The deal Bolton is against prioritizes the safeguarding of nuclear material, which is always a good thing. The less nuclear research that is completed and the fewer tests rogue regimes like North Korea engage in, the safer we all are. As Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association explained following the announcement of new talks, "it is essential that North Korea's nuclear program remain as limited as possible."

No one, particularly not the White House, is under the illusion that these talks will mean that North Koreans will halt their entire nuclear program or dismantle existing nuclear weapons. It doesn't work that way, which is one of the reasons why the Bush administration was largely ineffective in containing North Korea's program, and why the hawkish "all-or-nothing" approach to diplomacy has produced little in the past decade.

The real story here isn't that Bolton disagrees with the president's policy in North Korea, it's that hawks like Bolton don't want diplomacy with North Korea because it weakens the prospects of a disastrous war with Iran — a war which would at most delay the nuclear program by a few years, and convince the Iranians that they need a nuclear deterrent.

In his eagerness for war with Iran, Bolton prefers to continue the Bush administration's failed policy toward North Korea. Mike Chinoy, a senior fellow at the U.S.-China Institute has written that "U.S. sanctions, coercion, and a refusal to engage in bilateral dialogue were key factors in the North's decision to stage its first nuclear test," which happened during Bush's second term. Bolton's message is clear: Don't engage in diplomacy with a nuclear-armed country lest it somehow advantage another country which does not have a nuclear weapon (and had not made the decision to develop one, according to U.S. intelligence estimates). That's really not a good model for keeping us safe.

"In dealing with North Korea," Chinoy explains, "dialogue and negotiations—however difficult and uncertain—offer a far better chance of managing what remains one of the world's most dangerous flashpoints."

The same is true of Iran.

Romney Defeats Netanyahu

March 06, 2012 6:26 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

We have one person to thank for the fact that President Barack Obama successfully let Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu know 'who's the boss' both at the AIPAC conference and at a meeting between the two at the White House on Monday.

Thank you, Mitt Romney.

Imagine if things had worked out the way Netanyahu wanted them to: Romney would have turned out to be an excellent candidate who crushed his opponents with dispatch. He would not only have the Republican nomination sewn up by now, but he would be the frontrunner to win in November (especially if the economy was trending down and not up).

Under those circumstances, Bibi would have treated Obama the way he treated President Clinton during the ridiculous Lewinsky brouhaha. He essentially ignored him, hanging out with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and sending the word to his followers that Clinton was likely to be removed by Congress. For Bibi, who hated Clinton's alliance with the late Yitzhak Rabin and his commitment to Rabin's vision, it was all 'happy days are here again.'

That was how yesterday was supposed to be, too. Instead, Netanyahu met with an invigorated president who, thanks to Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and the rest of the weak GOP field, looks like an almost sure bet for re-election in November. Bibi understood that any attempt to embarrass Obama or diss him in front of his AIPAC buddies would haunt him for five more years.

Even worse, it could cost him his job. Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir rallied AIPAC against the first President Bush, leading Bush to all but endorse his opponent, Yitzhak Rabin and bring about Shamir's defeat. AIPAC gives ovations to Israeli leaders who challenge U.S. Presidents. But the Israeli people don't, because they live there and understand how much Israel needs the United States (no, AIPAC, it is not the other way around).

So that is why yesterday was Bibi's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Start with Obama's speech to AIPAC. Netanyahu had asked that the United States redraw its "red line" from actual Iranian development of a nuclear bomb to the mere capability to do so. Should Iran cross the line, we would go to war. Obama mentioned no red lines and did not change U.S. policy. He maintains his latitude to do what he thinks is right.

Netanyahu wanted Obama to agree that the diplomatic route is dead; that sanctions can be utilized, but only to produce "crippling" pain on Iranians as a prelude to war. Instead, Obama emphasized diplomacy, mentioning it over and over again as the surest way to end the stalemate.

Netanyahu wanted Obama to make clear that if Israel attacks Iran, the United States will have its back. Obama agreed with the prime minister that "no Israeli government can tolerate" a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands, seemingly giving Netanyahu a go-ahead to bomb. But Bibi knows that means nothing unless the U.S. will join in the attack, and Obama made it clear that he is not there. Not even close. The president said:

As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm's way. I've seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who've come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don't make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.

In other words, he understands that Israel will do what it is going to do. But as president, he won't join in unless the U.S. is directly threatened. Vice President Biden's idea that there must be "no daylight" between Israeli and U.S. policies was noticeably absent.

It didn't get any better for Netanyahu when he met with Obama at the White House.

Netanyahu tried hard to get Obama to go the Biden "no daylight" route. But Obama wasn't buying. When Bibi came out with the outlandish and chutzpah-laden line "we are you and you are us," Obama was silent. His message was: "We believe that there is still a window that allows a diplomatic solution to this issue."

No wonder Netanyahu seemed so deflated when he delivered his much-heralded speech to AIPAC. It is enough to say that its highlight was when he justified war with Iran using a biblical story about a bad Persian tyrant who tried to destroy the Jewish people 2,500 years ago. (Pathetically, Bibi gave Obama a copy of the Bible story to use in his deliberations.)

It only got worse for Netanyahu today when Obama stated at a press conference that diplomacy remains his preferred route. Obama spoke just after the announcement that the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany would commence negotiations with Iran on the nuclear issue.

Unlike last time when, at Netanyahu's insistence, the United States imposed a 3-month deadline, this time negotiations will be open-ended. According to the New York Times, the talks would "help relieve pressure from Israel to use military force against Teheran."

At his press conference, Obama at one point spoke as if he was directly addressing the neocons:

I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people.

Because what I've said is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table, and we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

Netanyahu returns to Israel tonight. From the perspective of a hawk, his trip was an utter failure. He came here looking for a partner for war but leaves feeling lonely. War is much less likely.

Well played, Mr. President. And, Mitt, thank you.

Richard Haass Pretends Not To Understand What “Rational” Means

March 06, 2012 4:08 pm ET by Walid Zafar

Richard Haass, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, continues to misrepresent the words of General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During a segment on MSNBC's Morning Joe yesterday, Haass, an Iran hawk who has been advocating for regime change, characterized Dempsey's comment that internal Iranian decision-making is rational as not much different than supporting an Iranian weapon. Haass made the same charge a few weeks back in another appearance on the show, where he is a frequent guest. During his most recent exchange, host Joe Scarborough claimed that Dempsey's analysis of Iranian rationality "is almost disqualifying of a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs."

SCARBOROUGH: Explain about what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs said a week ago, and how disturbing that was for some people in the foreign policy.

HAASS: Well, General Dempsey, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff talked about Iran being a rational decision maker. Again, in the nuclear world, to call someone a rational decision maker it means it's okay if you have nuclear weapons, you will be a responsible custodian —

SCARBOROUGH: So why did the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs say that about a country that has been the epicenter of world terrorism since 1979? And if he truly believes that, why is he the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

[...]

To call Iran a rational actor, I would say, is almost disqualifying of a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, especially because as you said before, the most disturbing part is, it seems like this is calculated.

Watch:

Scarborough's incredulity about the suggestion that Iran is rational and his call for General Dempsey to be fired comes from a pundit who might not understand the issue or the terminology of national security and foreign affairs. But Haass, a high-ranking State Department official in the Bush administration, should know better.

General Dempsey almost certainly does not believe that "it's okay if [the Iranians] have nuclear weapons." Rather, he has explained that Iran has developed its nuclear program based on its own cost-benefit analysis. (As President Obama pointed out during his speech before AIPAC, "the United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon.")

It's easy to see why Dempsey's words are so controversial and why people like Haass choose to mischaracterize them. War hawks have been behind a sustained and very well-funded campaign to depict the Iranian regime as fundamentally unstable and irrational, and therefore, uncontrollable by means of diplomacy, sanctions or anything short of war. Add the nuclear element and you have a rogue nation that could blow up the world. Dempsey's words, therefore, undermine one of the right's most enduring arguments for war.

To his credit, Dempsey, who originally called Iran a rational actor in a CNN interview last month, reiterated his point in testimony before a House committee last week. Asked by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) if he wanted to clarify remarks, Dempsey stuck to his guns, explaining:

DEMPSEY: Not to sound too academic about it but Thucydides in the fifth century B.C. said that all strategy is some combination of reaction to fear, honor and interests. And I think all nations act in response to one of those three things, even Iran. The key is to understand how they act and not trivialize their actions by attributing to them some irrationality. I think that's a very dangerous thing for us to do. It doesn't mean I agree with what they decide by the way but they have some thought process they follow.

If the Iranian threat is as real as hawks like Haass contend, then it is important to understand how the regime makes its decisions so that we can devise a strategy to convince it that a nuclear weapon isn't in their own best interest. Jumping on Dempsey, a decorated war hero, for doing his job and making a point that's consistent with the intelligence on Iran's nuclear program shows how far hawks are willing to go to get their war of choice.

Attack On Iran Could Result In Attacks Here

February 29, 2012 11:54 am ET by MJ Rosenberg

The New York Times reports today that, "American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas."

Just what Americans and Israelis need. According to the front page piece, Israelis might have to endure a missile onslaught from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, while we could see car bombs exploding in our cities and our troops coming under renewed terror attacks in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East.

An increase in car bombs set off against civilian targets in world capitals would also be possible. And Iran would almost certainly smuggle high-powered explosives across its border into Afghanistan, where they could be planted along roadways and set off by surrogate forces to kill and maim American and NATO troops — much as it did in Iraq during the peak of violence there.

Nonetheless, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), AIPAC has decided to make the Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution — which would ban containment of Iran in favor of attacking its nuclear sites — the centerpiece of its upcoming Washington conference (which starts on Sunday with a speech by President Obama). JTA reports that the "resolution, which now has 35 signatories, is expected to top the agenda of items that AIPAC activists will take with them to Capitol Hill on March 6, the conference's last day."

There has been some speculation that AIPAC's inability to attract more than 35 co-sponsors on the resolution is a sign of weakness. I doubt it. I think it wants to start with a low number and then, following its conference, trumpet the spike in sponsorship from 35 to 80 or 90.

The resolution is, as I've noted before, an unprecedented infringement on President Obama's power to pursue diplomacy rather than war. Although it's only a resolution, it is expected that its sponsors will convert it into binding legislative language later. After all, once a senator has endorsed the non-binding version, how does he or she bail when the lobby re-introduces it as a mandate?

Just to recap:

According to its sponsors, the resolution rejects "any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear weapons-capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."

The sponsors made its intent clear: "All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran — except for one, and that is containment."  Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT)  said that "the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union" — or China, or North Korea, or Pakistan.

The senators are telling the president that if Iran develops a "nuclear weapons capability," we must go to war.

The good news is that it is now beginning to look like President Obama has no intention of going to war with Iran, nor of letting Israel bomb first and drag us in later. And there is also some significant Congressional pushback on the idea.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, favors the diplomatic route with Iran and opposes the resolution, saying that "I really believe that negotiations should proceed without any resolutions from us right now. This is a very sensitive time. Candidly, I think diplomacy should have an opportunity to work without getting involved in political discussions about a resolution."

And in the House, a conservative Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and a liberal Democrat, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, also have written a letter to the President urging that he reject the AIPAC approach in favor of negotiation (they are seeking co-signers).

The letter concludes:

A military strike against Iran could lead to a regional war in the Middle East and attacks against U.S. interests. Even worse, such a strike would likely compel Iran to abandon the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, eject international inspectors, and rapidly pursue a nuclear deterrent.

Top military and civilian leaders have repeatedly issued warnings about the consequences of a military strike on Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned that the United States "could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases," and that "would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret."

Former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan made a similar prediction when he said that attacking Iran "would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program."

Retired General Anthony Zinni said, "If you follow this all the way down, eventually I'm putting boots on the ground somewhere. And, like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."

To avoid war, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, called for the United States to utilize "any channel that's open" for engagement with Iran, noting, "Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union."

We strongly encourage your Administration to pursue bilateral and multilateral engagement with Iran. While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war that would be devastating for the United States and our allies in the region.

Those who ask what they can do to prevent another horrific Middle Eastern war should ask their senators not to cosponsor the Lieberman-Casey-Graham resolution and ask their representatives to sign the Jones-Ellison letter.

Obviously, these efforts are uphill battles. Having worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years, I can tell you that saying no to the lobby is a very difficult proposition. Unless the legislator has a totally safe seat, the lobby will make the legislator and his or her staffs miserable until they sign. They are forced to ask themselves: Is it really worth it to defy a lobby that can make my life so miserable and maybe even prevent my re-election? The answer is usually no.

A better question a legislator can ask himself is whether it is worth losing American lives in an unnecessary war because a president is constrained from utilizing diplomacy to prevent it? Is it worth it to even consider another Iraq when we are just wrapping the first one up? Is it worth it to get into another war without knowing how it will end or how much it will cost? And if it is, how many American lives is it worth?

Similarly, I would ask how many Israeli lives is a strike on Iran worth. Given that no one knows if Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon, with the U.S. intelligence community clearly of the belief that it isn't, why would Israeli leaders even consider attacking Iran when an attack would rain missiles down on Haifa, Tel Aviv and more? How many kids would die in a move that would evoke the old adage "we destroyed the village in order to save it?"  

As for us:

Last night on the Washington metro, I saw a young man, maybe just out of his teens, with a prosthesis below one knee. I wanted to thank him for his military service, but I wasn't sure he actually was a veteran. He might have been in a car accident. The only indication was his camouflage shorts.

I asked, "Were you in the war?"

He said that he was: Afghanistan. We talked a little, and I thanked him for his service to our country.

He responded, "There is no need to thank me, sir. I didn't have a bad war, except for this. It still hurts some, but I've only had it a month."

I was awe-struck (as I invariably am) by the heroism of these soldiers. But most of all, I felt determined to do whatever I can to prevent another Middle East war. I can't see how anything we can possibly achieve in Iran through war, rather than diplomacy, is worth a brave kid's leg. Let alone his life.

Don't Boycott Israel

February 27, 2012 2:53 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

The movement to boycott Israeli products seems to be growing, albeit primarily on college campuses and food co-ops — two venues where one might expect this tactic to pick up traction. After all, it is at universities and among progressives (do non-progressives even shop at food co-ops?) that sympathy for the Palestinians is most pronounced and where fury at the 45-year-old Israeli occupation is highest.

It is heartening that, at long last, progressives have come to see that indifference to the occupation, in all its forms, makes no sense. Unless you're wearing ideological blinders, it is impossible to look at what the Israeli government is doing in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza (yes, Israel still controls the air, sea and land entry and exits to and from Gaza) and not be outraged. The occupation must end, and the United States should do everything in its power to help end it rather than simply do whatever Prime Minister Netanyahu dictates.

As for the rest of us, I believe that we should convey to our elected officials that we will no longer give them a "pass" on Israel/Palestine. Today, a senator or representative feels free to be utterly reactionary on the Middle East and remain immune to challenges by progressive constituents if he is on the right side on other issues.

If he or she is "good" on the economy, gay and women's rights, health care, immigration, etc., they are free to support Israel's incursions into Gaza, the expropriation of Palestinian land, saber rattling over Iran and, in fact, to do whatever AIPAC tells them to do. They count on their progressive constituents' silence and acquiescence. And they get it.

That has to stop. Being "good" on other issues does not absolve any government official from being terrible on Israel/Palestine or, for that matter, Iran. Certainly progressives in the 1960's and 1970's didn't give a pass to liberals who supported LBJ's Great Society programs but also supported the horrific war in Vietnam. In fact, they even challenged them in primaries (and often won).

There were no free passes on Vietnam. There should be none on the Middle East (especially as the threat of war with Iran grows).

I have to say, however, that I do not believe that boycotting Israel, as we are seeing on some campuses and at those co-ops, makes any sense — at least for those of us who favor peace, the end of the occupation, a Palestinian state, and also the continued secure existence of Israel.

It is one thing to boycott companies which are directly involved in the occupation either by exploiting the natural resources of the occupied lands or by providing the Israeli government with equipment (civilian or military) that can be used to sustain the occupation.  If one's target is the occupation, boycott the occupation.

But boycotting Israel itself only makes sense if one wants Israel itself to go away. After all, why else would one refuse to purchase goods grown on kibbutzim inside Israel proper or manufactured in Haifa and Tel Aviv, places that are indisputably Israel.

Why, for example, would one oppose Israeli participation — Israeli, not settler, participation — in international academic conferences, unless one opposes the existence of the state itself. Why would Madonna and a host of other performers face demands that they not perform in Tel Aviv, unless those urging the boycott believe that all Israelis are beyond the pale.

Those who want to boycott, divest and sanction should limit their actions to the occupation or admit that their target is not just Israel beyond the '67 lines but inside them as well.

It is particularly maddening to see Americans join in those boycotts. Did they boycott themselves when we, the United States, illegally invaded Iraq and proceeded to destroy the country? How about when we overthrew Allende, supported fascist death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala, and backed blood-drenched juntas in Argentina and throughout Latin America?

To be honest, I would have supported a boycott against my own country in those days if it was targeted against the people responsible for those atrocities. I would have welcomed it as a way to make those responsible for these atrocities pay a price. But I would not have supported a boycott that targeted all Americans.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I would not have punished all those Americans who voted for McGovern in 1972 in order to stick it to Nixon's thugs. Why would you punish the good guys too?

The same applies to Israel, a country that is as diverse as this one, a country that includes secular left-wing Tel Aviv, a country with millions of people who oppose the occupation and thousands who put their lives on the line to do so.

Who are we to boycott them? We should, instead, empower them by pressing our government to stand up to Binyamin Netanyahu and the settlement movement.

Yes, boycott the occupation — the settlers, the politicians who support them, and the businesses that sustain them. But not Israel itself, unless you think that it is a society beyond redemption. It isn't — any more than we are.

Senate Trying To Force Obama To Go To War

February 22, 2012 5:06 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

No one knows if President Obama intends to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, give Israel the go-ahead to do it, continue to rely on sanctions or turn to comprehensive negotiations to resolve the escalating conflict.

The decision to go to war is the most difficult one a president can make because it is impossible to foresee the outcome of a war. Even if it is Israel that attacks rather than the United States, the consequences for us are likely to be the same. That is because the entire world knows that the United States and Israel are linked by means of strategic cooperation agreements which prevent Israel from acting without, at least, tacit U.S. approval. If Israel is "in," so are we.

It is safe to assume that Obama wants to avoid war. Having just come out of the disastrous Iraq experience which cost 4,500 American lives and severely damaged our interests and credibility in the Middle East (and beyond), the president wants to keep his options open. If he can prevent war (i.e., Americans dying and other vital U.S. interests being attacked), he will.

But while the president needs his options open, the United States Congress, under intense pressure from pro-war lobbyists, is determined to shut down all but one of them.

That is the meaning of the legislation introduced this month by senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

The legislation:

rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear weapons-capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

The legislation's intent was made clear by Lieberman: "All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran — except for one, and that is containment." He added that "the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union" — or China, or North Korea, or Pakistan.

The senators are telling the president that if Iran develops a "nuclear weapons capability," we must go to war.

Imagine if President Kennedy had been told by the Congress back in 1962 that if the Soviet Union placed missiles in Cuba, he would have no choice but to attack the USSR. If it had, I wouldn't be here writing this column today and you wouldn't be reading it.

Presidents need latitude to make decisions affecting matters of national security and, until now, all presidents have been afforded it, as provided for in the United States Constitution. But, in the case of Iran, the rules are changing.

Here is more evidence.

On Sunday, General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told interviewer Fareed Zakaria that he does not think the U.S. should rush to war. He was speaking after a visit to Israel and long consultations with its leaders.

Dempsey said that it was not "prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran" and that "a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve [Israel's] long-term objectives." He also said that he did not believe that the Iranian regime was insane but was rather a "rational actor" not likely to commit national suicide.

Dempsey's remarks outraged Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose office put out a statement saying that Dempsey, and other U.S. officials who questioned the rationale for war, were "serving Iran's interests."

Had another foreign leader implied that the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a four star general, was some kind of Iranian agent, he would have been smacked down. But that is not how it works with Netanyahu.

It turns out that senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Graham were in Israel at the time Netanyahu attacked Dempsey. Rather than defend the American general as these uber-nationalists would do in any other similar situation, they joined the Israeli government in bashing the general — and decorated war hero. (The long-held custom of government officials not criticizing U.S. policies when in a foreign country has not applied to Israel for years.)

Check out this Jerusalem Post story on McCain's reaction which the paper correctly characterized as "siding with Jerusalem in the debate" over how to deal with Iran.

As for Graham, he said, "I admire General Dempsey," but added that "people are giving Israel a lot of advice here lately from America. I just want to tell our Israeli friends that my advice to you is never lose control of your destiny. Never allow a situation to develop that would destroy the Jewish state."

In other words, American advice to think long and hard about the consequences of war with Iran is tantamount to allowing "a situation to develop that would destroy the Jewish state."

The most appalling aspect of the senators' remarks is that their zeal to please Netanyahu and his backers in America has overridden their constitutional responsibility to put the security of the United States above all other considerations. An Israeli decision to attack Iran affects Americans, including their constituents in uniform and even ordinary Americans walking down the streets of New York, Washington, or Arizona and South Carolina.

As noble as their professed concern for Israel may be, America is supposed to come first for United States senators. McCain and Graham ought to be ashamed for standing in a foreign country and blatantly placing its government's interests before ours.

But, hey, it's politics and what could be more important than nailing down support for the next election?

Neocon Arguments For Iran War Are Tired Cliches

February 16, 2012 1:18 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

Writing in today's Washington Post, columnist Fareed Zakaria does a terrific job destroying some arguments for war with Iran. He does it by, of all things, citing history.

First, Zakaria takes apart the argument, often made by Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, that the "window" to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability is closing and that rushing to war — without, of course, knowing how a war would play out — is essential. Zakaria explains that this is one of the oldest justifications for war in the book:

The most famous example, of course, was Germany's decision to start what became World War I. The German General Staff believed that Russia — its archenemy — was rearming on a scale that would soon nullify Germany's superior military strength. The Germans believed that within two years — by 1916 — Russia would have a significant, and perhaps unbeatable, strategic advantage.

As a result, when turmoil began in the Balkans in June 1914, Germany decided to act while it had the advantage. To stop Russia from entering a "zone of immunity," Germany invaded France (Russia's main ally) and Belgium, which forced British entry into the war, thus setting in motion a two-front European war that lasted four years and resulted in more than 37 million casualties.

Zakaria then cites the Israeli argument that Americans cannot understand their fears because "Iran is an existential threat to them."

But in fact we can understand because we have gone through a very similar experience ourselves. After World War II, as the Soviet Union approached a nuclear capability, the United States was seized by a panic that lasted for years. Everything that Israel says about Iran now, we said about the Soviet Union. We saw it as a radical, revolutionary regime, opposed to every value we held dear, determined to overthrow the governments of the Western world in order to establish global communism. We saw Moscow as irrational, aggressive and utterly unconcerned with human life. After all, Joseph Stalin had just sacrificed a mind-boggling 26 million Soviet lives in his country's struggle against Nazi Germany.

Then there was the mad rush to war in Iraq:

Many in Washington in March 2003 insisted that we could not wait for nuclear inspectors to keep at their work in Iraq because we faced a closing window — the weather was going to get too hot by June and July to send in U.S. forces. As a result, we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years.

In short, millions have been killed in wars that were based on faulty premises and lies. Happily, on the other hand, the ultimate war (a U.S.-Soviet war that might have ended civilization) did not come to pass because policymakers on both sides decided to contain the respective nuclear threat rather than blow up the enemy.

It is unlikely that Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave much thought to these historical precedents when they decided to introduce a resolution — promoted by AIPAC — that rules out "containing" the Iran nuclear threat in favor of going to war.

Their resolution is best described on Lieberman's website: "All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran — except for one, and that is containment."

The senators elaborate in a joint statement:

The resolution we intend to introduce will put the Senate on record as opposing containment in the strongest and clearest terms, detailing why the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union.

Forget for a minute that there is no clear evidence that Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons, let alone even the slightest indication that Iran is prepared to commit national suicide by using any possible weapon it develops. Focus only on the fact that these senators are seeking to rule out containment in dealing with the eventuality that the Iranians succeed in developing a bomb.

They would prohibit the one policy the U.S. has successfully employed in the case of every other unfriendly regime that has developed nuclear weapons.

But for some reason, the Iranian case is different. In the senators' joint statement opposing containment, they specifically assert that "a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union."

Their thinking is that unlike Stalin's Russia, Mao's China and North Korea's dynastic and reckless leaders, the Iranian regime is suicidal. Although use of an atomic weapon would lead to its own annihilation, the hawks claim Iran will happily commit suicide for the sheer pleasure of taking Israel down with it.

But no nation has ever committed suicide and Persians, whose pride in their own culture and sense of nationalism knows no bounds, are clearly among the least likely candidates for the course of self-immolation. (Assuming they hate Israel so much that they would happily self-destruct, there is also the matter of the Palestinians who would also die in any nuclear attack on Israel. It's difficult to believe that, in the name of Palestine, Iran would slaughter the Palestinians.)

No, the campaign that surrounds Iran is about Israel's fear that a nuclear Iran would inhibit Israel's freedom of action throughout the Middle East, taking away its ability to do whatever it wants whenever it wants to. Israel fears precisely what happened to the United States after the Soviets got the bomb — that both countries would be constrained by a fear of the other. A 'balance of terror,' as it was called during the half-century that the two nuclear superpowers avoided war.

There is no alternative to containment (not even regime change, considering that even opponents of the regime support Iran's nuclear program).

Even if Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, the attack would only set back Iran's nuclear program by a few years. It would also probably end any debate in Iran about developing a nuclear deterrent; having been attacked, the regime would almost surely commit to building a bomb as soon as possible. And they would succeed.

Then what? Iran would have a bomb and we would have no choice but...containment.

So the only question is whether we adopt the policy of containment before a war or after. The answer should be obvious.

Of course, we might be able to avoid the question of containment if we commenced comprehensive negotiations with Iran with a goal of preventing development of a bomb (while permitting enrichment for civilian purposes), normalizing U.S.-Iranian relations, ending its support of terrorism against Israel or anyone else, and dropping the sanctions that punish ordinary Iranians and not the regime.

That is exactly what we would do if every policy could be made absent the powerful lobby that fears diplomacy more than war and is so effective at hamstringing U.S. policy with devices like the Lieberman-Casey-Graham resolution.

Michael Rubin Continues To Misrepresent Others' Work

February 14, 2012 3:38 pm ET by Walid Zafar

American Enterprise Institute fellow Michael Rubin has a habit of distorting the truth. In a post at neoconservative flagship Commentary, where he is a frequent contributor, Rubin goes out of his way to entirely misrepresent someone else's work in an effort to paint those who don't share his views as supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Rubin is upset with this post by UN Dispatch editor Mark Leon Goldberg, a rather cut-and-dry explanation of why a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Syria is unworkable. Rubin not only accuses Goldberg of "siding with Assad," he goes so far as to bring Ted Turner into the mix. Turner, the billionaire media mogul, gives money to the UN Foundation, which funds UN Dispatch.

Rubin writes:

Alas, it seems that neither the United Nations nor self-described progressives have learned anything since UN dawdling over such arguments led it to stand aside as nearly a million died in Rwanda massacres in the mid-1990s. But, so far as Ted Turner's money speaks, its message is "the UN will look the other way; let the massacres continue."

If you're one of those people that read through these pieces without clicking on the links, you might actually get the impression that Goldberg is arguing that we should let the massacres continue. But here's what is actually written in the piece in question:

As of now, the Assad regime has expressed no intention whatsoever of consenting to foreign troops operating on Syrian soil.  Ergo, there is no chance that the UN would even contemplate a peacekeeping mission.  If, at some future point the Assad regime agrees to a ceasefire and invites a peacekeeping force to monitor and help implement the ceasefire or peace agreement then we can start talking about a peacekeeping force. For now, though, the idea is basically a non-starter.

It's obvious that Goldberg isn't siding with Assad; he's explaining how the United Nations works and how the body dispatches peacekeeping missions. It's highly unlikely that Rubin doesn't understand this. In fact, Rubin has actually argued against the efficacy of U.N. peacekeepers before (something that Goldberg, it should be noted, does not do here). During the 2006 Lebanon War, Rubin wrote that "with its long and troubled history in the region, the idea of sending a peacekeeping force should be dead on arrival." What was then "dead on arrival" is now suddenly the only way to prevent continued bloodshed.

Goldberg left this comment on the Commentary site pointing out the problems with Rubin's post:

Explaining how UN peacekeeping operates helps inform a discussion about our actual policy options vis-a-vis Syria. That was my intention in writing the post. It is disingenuous to suggest that describing the limitations of UN Peacekeeping equates to "siding with Assad."

Commentary tends to treat its opinions as unchallengeable facts. Unfortunately, Goldberg's earnest attempt at explaining to Michael Rubin how a multilateral institution actually functions won't do anything to change that.


UPDATE: Ironically, Rubin is now upset at someone else for doing what he just did to Goldberg. In another post up at Commentary, Rubin complains that a writer at Real Clear World "falsely summarizes my argument."

George Will Wakes Up

February 09, 2012 5:37 pm ET by Walid Zafar

In his column today, conservative Washington Post opinionator George Will's takes his side to task for the dishonest ways they have attacked the president's record on foreign policy. As Will explains, those who advance the notion that "America is being endangered by 'appeasement' and military parsimony have worked that pedal on their organ quite enough."

The deaf, dumb, and blind approach that the Republican presidential contenders have taken, in which they attack even the president's most popular and successful decisions, doesn't have much resonance with the electorate — especially given that the president has pursued a fairly conservative foreign policy while backing modest cuts to the massive military infrastructure. Will writes:

The U.S. defense budget is about 43 percent of the world's total military spending — more than the combined defense spending of the next 17 nations, many of which are U.S. allies. Are Republicans really going to warn voters that America will be imperiled if the defense budget is cut 8 percent from projections over the next decade? In 2017, defense spending would still be more than that of the next 10 countries combined.

Do Republicans think it is premature to withdraw as many as 7,000 troops from Europe two decades after the Soviet Union's death? About 73,000 will remain, most of them in prosperous, pacific, largely unarmed and utterly unthreatened Germany. Why do so many remain?

Since 2001, the United States has waged war in three nations, and some Republicans appear ready to bring the total to five, adding Iran and Syria. (The Weekly Standard, of neoconservative bent, regrets that Obama "is reluctant to intervene to oust Iran's closest ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.") GOP critics say that Obama's proposed defense cuts will limit America's ability to engage in troop-intensive nation-building. Most Americans probably say: Good.

Will, an early and enthusiastic  supporter of the war in Iraq, points out that what many Republicans are complaining about — namely that we are less inclined to invade and occupy other countries almost at will — is exactly what most Americans want. In particular, Will goes after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has advanced the "appeasement" canard even more than his more hawkish opponents. Romney's policy on Afghanistan, for example, seems to be the opposite of what the president is initiating; even if that means continuing a war that many (including some of Romney's own advisors) realize is unwinnable in the conventional sense.

But Will's comments about military spending are even more important. In the past several months, we've heard from Republicans that sequestration would result in all sorts of terrible outcomes, including a possible military draft, the abandonment of our allies, and even ceding our "global superpower status." The Heritage Foundation, one of the breeding grounds for conservative thought, is not only opposed to modest cuts to military spending but has consistently called for defense spending to be increased, much like Romney.

But these arguments, as Will notes, are made without consideration of just how massive our military budget is, how small an impact sequestration will ultimately have, and the fact that not only do we spend more than the next 17 countries combined, but that many of those behind us are our NATO allies and hence are of no threat.

Will AIPAC And Bibi Get Their War?

February 09, 2012 2:11 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

These are strange times for those of us who follow the debate about a possible war with Iran. It is clear that the Israeli government and its neoconservative camp followers here in the United States are increasing pressure on President Obama to either attack Iran or let Israel do it (in which case we would be forced to join in). But the idea of another war in the Middle East is so outlandish that it seems inconceivable it could actually occur.

Still, the conventional wisdom holds that it can, because this is an election year and the assumption is that no one will say no to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

War enthusiasm will rise to a fever pitch by March, when AIPAC holds its annual policy conference. Netanyahu will, if the past is any indication, bring the crowd of 10,000 to its feet by depicting Iran as the new Nazi Germany and by coming very close to stating that only war can stop these new Nazis. Other speakers will say the same. The few who mention the idea of diplomacy will be met with stony silence.

From the convention center, 10,000 delegates will be dispatched to Capitol Hill with two or three "asks" for Members of Congress. One will, no doubt, be that "containment" of a nuclearized Iran be ruled off the table (leaving war as the only remaining option should Iran get the bomb). Another will likely be that the U.S. stop all dealings with the Palestinian Authority should Hamas and Fatah permanently reconcile. A third could apply either to Iran or Palestine and will inevitably demand fealty to whatever Netanyahu's policy of the moment happens to be. I've sat in on those meetings where the AIPAC "asks" are developed, and it was always clear that the substance didn't matter all that much.

The goal of the "asks" is ensuring that Congress follow the script. Invariably at least one of these AIPAC goals will be put into legislative language and quickly pass both chambers of Congress. In fact, usually the "ask" is already in legislative form, so that the AIPAC citizen lobbyists can simply demand that their legislators sign on as co-sponsors (if they haven't already done so). Once the AIPAC bill has the requisite number of co-sponsors, the House and Senate leadership brings it to the floor where it passes with few dissenters.

All hell breaks loose if a member of Congress objects.

One Member of Congress has actually described what happened when she voted no on an AIPAC "ask." Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) refused to support a bill (opposed by the State Department) that would have essentially banned all U.S. contacts with Palestinians. AIPAC was not pleased with her recalcitrance.

In a letter to AIPAC executive director, Howard Kohr, McCollum described what happened next. In short, she was threatened by an AIPAC official from her district, called a terrorist supporter and warned that her behavior "would not be tolerated." In response, McCollum told AIPAC not to come near her office again until it apologized.

McCollum was not, of course, the only legislator threatened that way. She is, however, the only one in memory who went public.

As one who worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years, I know that many, if not most, legislators who vote with AIPAC complain about its strong-arm tactics — but only in private. In fact, some of the most zealous defenders of Netanyahu and faithful devotees of the lobby complain most of all. Among staff, AIPAC's arrival in their offices during the conference is a source of dread. Hill staff, much like legislators themselves, like to think they are perhaps a little important. AIPAC eliminates that illusion. Although AIPAC calls its requests "asks," they are, in fact, "tells" — and "no" is not a permissible response. (Staffers who like AIPAC, and there are a few, tend to work with it hand-in-glove, which is how AIPAC invariably knows what is going on even before the elected representatives do.)

Despite all this, I do not think that either Netanyahu or his lobby are all that eager to go to war. After all, Israel's intelligence community opposes it for a host of reasons starting with the fact that it would not eliminate Iran's nuclear program. There is also the fear that Iran's Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, on Israel's northern border, have tens of thousands of missiles that they can let fly if Iran is attacked. Above all is the understanding that no one knows if an attack would make Israel safer or threaten its very existence.

So here's a theory: Netanyahu and his camp followers here do not really want a war now. They just want it understood that they can dictate whether there is one or not. And when. In other words, they want to show who is boss (it's not like we don't know).

As for Obama, he may just be playing along with Netanyahu and AIPAC because he understands their strategy. Perhaps he knows that it isn't war they want but the illusion of control.

Only, it's not an illusion. And it certainly won't be if Netanyahu gets the president he wants in November — a Republican who will fight the war Netanyahu wants but isn't eager to fight himself. Surely Mitt or Rick or Newt will do it for him.

« Previous    21 - 40 of 310   Next »