Friday, January 23, 2015

The Iranian Nuclear Threat: What to do

It has been an interesting week for U.S. Israel relations. As is well known, both the U.S. and Israel are extremely concerned about the prospect of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. The issue is how to stop the Iranians from pursuing a nuclear bomb, and on this issue, the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate don’t see eye-to-eye. 

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said: 

"New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”

Indeed, the Senate is not of one mind, as differing bills work their way through the legislative process. Here  is a good review of the bidding.

Moreover, Israel does not adhere to only one view of the matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu favors a bill that would impose conditional sanctions on Iran, but at a press conference with European Union foreign policy chief  Federica Mogherini, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed that 

“In Israel, one of the top intelligence –- one of the top intelligence personnel within the Israeli intelligence field –- I won’t name names, but this person was asked directly by a congressional delegation that visited there over the weekend what the effect of sanctions would be. And this person answered that it would be like throwing a grenade into the process”

Perhaps LIndsey Graham heard this Mossad official, because on Meet the Press, Graham said that he would be willing to forego a provisional sanctions bill if the President would submit any agreement with the Iranians to the Senate for ratification. 

This is an idea that, to borrow a phrase from Wolfgang Pauli, is "not even wrong." Any resolution of the problem will require many interim agreements, and submitting each one to the Senate would make progress impossible. This is especially true when one considers that the partisans in the Senate would never aprove of anything that the President negotiated, because they are dedicated to making sure that he fails at everything, regardless of the cost to the country.

To round out this catalogue of difficulties, Speaker of the House John Boehner has invited the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to address Congress in early March. In a rude breach of protocol the Speaker did not even notify the White House. It has been theorized that this is pay-back for the President acting unilaterally on immigration. If so, it is beyond ironic that the acolytes of Ronald Reagan forget his admonition that “Politics ends at the water’s edge.” (1)

If you want to see the extreme of using Iran to bash the President in a disgusting appeal to the religious right, I give you Ted Cruz. 

Bibi will be standing for early elections on March 17, and he will be speaking to Congress in early March. There is a longstanding norm of international politics that disapproves of any action that smacks of involving one country in the internal politics of another. Although Bibi is arguably guilty of breaching this norm in November of 2012, the White House referred to it in explaining why neither the President nor John Kerry would be meeting with him in advance of the Israeli election.

So, now might be a good time to re-read what I wrote in February of last year, "AIPAC reconsidered."

Of course, today it is difficult to be as sanguine as I was about the Arab Spring when I wrote that. However, I still think that things are a lot better now than they were six years ago. ISIL is a source of great concern but I have it on reliable information that no less an expert than  General Anthony Zinni.opines that the U.S. could defeat this rag-tag non-professional gang of 30,000 fighters in about 2 weeks, if we could only summons the political will to do so. Problem is we can't and therefore, Syria remains an impossible situation, perhaps, because people did not heed the advice I gave here.  

So, there are two questions:

First, where is AIPAC going to come out on the sanctions bill? Will they see the wisdom of the President’s approach, as they did last go-round, or will they defer to Bibi Netanyahu, thereby bolstering him in his election campaign?

Second, what does Big Mitch think we should do?
Regarding the first we can only wait and see. 

As to the second question, I think it is obvious that the U.S. needs to speak with one voice, and that it should be the voice of a grown-up. Sadly, the only one who seems to fit that description is the President of the United States. 

Wish him luck, and, 

“… tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

(1)  It was actually Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg who first uttered these words in 1947. Most of the Gipper's best lines were written by someone else. 

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