Keeping War Hopes Alive on Iran

The Israel Lobby and the many U.S. politicians in its thrall keep trying to sink President Obama’s negotiations limiting Iran’s nuclear program and thus keep hope alive for another Mideast war. But progress toward an agreement keeps moving forward, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The completion of technical talks to implement the Joint Plan of Action negotiated by Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States) underscores the falsity of assertions that legislation imposing still more sanctions is somehow needed to keep the Iranians negotiating seriously.

The technical talks actually were successfully completed more quickly than some Western officials had expected. Completion means all the T’s have been crossed and I’s have been dotted on the Joint Plan of Action, a preliminary agreement that freezes or reverses the components of Iran’s nuclear program that otherwise would have been most worrisome concerning possible application toward the making of nuclear weapons. In return the P5+1 is providing only minimal relief from sanctions, with the main sanctions regarding banking and oil exports remaining in place.

Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Paris on Jan. 12, 2014, for diplomatic meetings on the Middle East. (State Department photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry arriving in Paris on Jan. 12, 2014, for diplomatic meetings on the Middle East. (State Department photo)

With this development it should be all the more clear that the current bill introduced by Senators Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, and Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey — which, in providing for still more sanctions, also threatens war and imposes unmeetable demands for a final agreement with Iran — is all about torpedoing the negotiations, not facilitating them.

The prime promoters of the bill are interests that want no agreement with Iran and instead want to maintain permanent hostility toward it and unending isolation of it. But as Kirk and Menendez have enlisted additional co-sponsors an additional dimension has emerged. Nearly all of the senators who have more recently signed on to the bill are Republicans. The current 59 co-sponsors include all but two (Rand Paul and Jeff Flake) of the Republicans in the Senate but only 16 of the 55 Democrats and independents.

Partisan division on legislation of any sort is not news, of course, but it does mark a departure in the campaign to sink negotiations with Iran. The most conspicuous and energetic element in this effort — AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee —  generally tries to present itself as an equal opportunity lobby. Although it obviously welcomes each additional Republican co-sponsor, it probably is less than happy with the prominent partisan divide, because it will need to enlist additional Democrats to accomplish its objective of killing any deal with Iran.

The increased partisan coloration of this contest will mean more members casting votes for reasons that are even farther removed than they otherwise would have been from careful consideration of what is in U.S. interests. As on so many other issues, party solidarity and party competition may take preference over what is good for the Republic.

Many members will support something like the Kirk-Menendez bill as they see most of their colleagues on the same side of the aisle supporting it, while not bothering to notice how it nourishes the very hardline tendencies in Tehran that supposedly everyone would like to see diminished. Nor is much attention likely to be paid to the numerous specific faults in the bill that will mean undermining rather than furthering a negotiated agreement.

Edward Levine, a respected longtime staff member with the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees, has provided an analysis of some of these faults for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

Even worse, an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program may become the foreign policy equivalent of Obamacare: a measure that Republicans oppose in order to remove from the political scorecard what threatens to count as a major achievement for the Democratic president. If a final deal along the lines outlined by the Joint Plan of Action is achieved, it probably will indeed be perceived, once Mr. Obama reaches the end of his term, as one of the most significant foreign policy accomplishments of his presidency.

To carry the comparison with Obamacare ever further, a destructive response can include not only opposition up front to try to prevent enactment in the first place but also, after enactment — or in this case, after the signing of a final agreement with Iran — continuing efforts to keep the law or the agreement from working. In the case of the Iranian nuclear program, some of this sort of after-the-fact sabotage is foreshadowed by provisions in the Kirk-Menendez bill that Levine examines.

One can hope that this unfortunate scenario will not come to pass because enough Republicans will not only do what is good for the Republic but also see support for an agreement restricting Iran’s nuclear program as good politics.

There may be some basis for such hope. Start with an awareness that Barack Obama will never be running for anything again, and probably neither will John Kerry, and so whatever goes on their personal achievement lists should count for relatively little in future elections. Add the fact that Hillary Clinton is currently a private citizen and cannot claim credit for what is being achieve diplomatically right now.

As commentators have increasingly suggested, it may be more possible than many have expected to defy AIPAC and to live politically to tell the tale. The principal objective of the diplomatic negotiations — prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon — is one everyone can agree on. This might be one of the better issues, no matter how wide the partisan chasm remains on almost the whole domestic agenda, on which Republicans can demonstrate that they are not just the Party of No.

There is plenty of credit to go around, with Republicans as well as Democrats in Congress being able to claim some of that credit based on all those previously enacted sanctions that “brought Iran to the table.” The President, in his statement Sunday on completion of the technical talks, invited that kind of credit-claiming. Members should take him up on his invitation.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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2 comments on “Keeping War Hopes Alive on Iran

  1. Joe Tedesky on said:

    Mr Pillar, I like how you ended your writing here on a good note. Placing the Lame Duck in the role of being a good ethical character is a great thought. I think that often the personal side of a leader will drive a decision more than anything else.
    I just hope they (the leaders) are of good karma.

    In the 1919 Henry Cabot Lodge Sr made life hell for Woodrow Wilson as he attempted to join the League of Nations. Reverse history that event, and you may come to believe there may have not been a WWII if the US had become a member. Wilson had a lot of problems with the Republicans who campaigned against his foreign policy ideas. I think Obama/Kerry are up against the same strength of obstruction, and we all know how Wilson was not allowed entrance to the LON.

    Voices out of Iran are sounding to be diplomatic at the same time they point to already established business opportunities who are clawing their way back to do trade with them, Iran. Some raise a point to the lack of US business trade with Iran as a not to much to lose thing going on ,there. At the other end are countries like Germany, Italy, and others who feel differently than the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. China, and Russia along with the BRIC countries are ready to go on their own. No more Dollar $$$ Wow! That’s a lot, I think about.

    I think now would be a perfect time to start discussing how much Foreign influence should be injected into our countries decision making. I am not a lawyer, but I do believe we have espionage laws prohibiting foreign influenced policy shaping. I am not sure yet of the loop holes, so then close them loop holes now, immediately.

    Sorry got carried away there. Finally, just be fair!

  2. Most interesting article by Uri Avnery posted on The Palestinian Chronicle
    The Imperator: Sharon’s Catastrophic Legacy – Jan 18 2014 – by Uri Avnery

    ….when Begin’s preferred Defense Minister, the former Air Force chief Ezer Weizman, resigned, Begin was compelled to appoint Sharon as his successor. For the second time I chose Sharon as Haolam Hazeh’s Man of the Year. He took this very seriously and sat with me for many hours, in several meetings at his home and office, in order to explain his ideas.
    One of them, which he expounded at the same time to the US strategic planners, was to conquer Iran. When Ayatollah Khomeini dies, he said, there will begin a race between the Soviet Union and the US to determine who will arrive first on the scene and take over. The US is far away, but Israel can do the job. With the help of heavy arms that the US will store in Israel well before, our army will be in full possession before the Soviets move. He showed me the detailed maps of the advance, hour by hour and day by day.
    This was typical Sharon, His vision was wide and all-embracing. His listener was left breathless, comparing him to the ordinary little politicians, devoid of vision and breadth. But his ideas were generally based on abysmal ignorance of the other side, and therefore came to naught.
    ——————————————
    At the same time, nine months before the Lebanon War, he disclosed to me his Grand Plan for a new Middle East of his making. He allowed me to publish it, provided I did not mention him as the source. He trusted me.
    Basically it was the same as the one he wanted to propose to Arafat.
    The army would invade Lebanon and drive the Palestinians from there to Syria, from whence the Syrians would drive them into Jordan. There the Palestinians would overthrow the king and establish the State of Palestine.
    The army would also drive the Syrians out of Lebanon. In Lebanon Sharon would choose a Christian officer and install him as dictator. Lebanon would make official peace with Israel and in effect become a vassal state.
    I duly published all this, and nine months later Sharon invaded Lebanon, after lying to Begin and the cabinet about his aims. But the war was a catastrophe, both militarily and politically.
    Militarily it was a demonstration of “the Peter principle” – the brilliant battle commander was a miserable strategist. No unit of the Israeli army reached its objective on time, if at all. The Israeli-installed dictator, Bachir Gemayel, was assassinated. His brother and successor signed a peace treaty with Israel, which has been completely forgotten by now. The Syrians remained in Lebanon for many years to come. The Israeli army extricated itself after a guerrilla war that lasted 18 full years, during which the despised and downtrodden Shiites in Israeli-occupied South Lebanon became the dominant political force in the country.
    And, worst of all, in order to induce the Palestinians to flee, Sharon let the barbarous Christian Phalangists into the Palestinian refugee camps Sabra and Shatila, where they committed a terrible massacre. Hundreds of thousands of outraged Israelis protested in Tel Aviv, and Sharon was dismissed from the defense ministry.
    At the height of the Battle of Beirut I crossed the lines and met with Yasser Arafat, who had become Sharon’s Nemesis. Since then, Sharon and I did not exchange a single word, not even greeting each other.