Three Senators back off the AIPAC poison-pill bill to scuttle diplomacy with Iran, before it has been given a chance. It seems many were co-sponsoring a bill they never intended to vote on. Translation: it was an easy give for AIPAC, as long as it never actually happened. Or if you want to gussy that up into a rationale, this is about as good as it gets:
A spokesman for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) said Wednesday that merely introducing the bill — but not voting on it — was helpful to negotiations. “Senator Bennet supports the President’s diplomatic efforts and would like them to succeed. The pertinent question isn’t about when we vote on the bill, but whether its introduction is helpful to the negotiations. He believes it is,” spokesman Adam Bozzi said.
And he believes that even though the president has said it isn’t helpful to the negotiations. Still, it’s good to see a small amount of pushback against AIPAC and in support of the president.
When trying to make their case, in short, both sides tend to focus solely on the downside. But what about the potential benefitsof a successful negotiation? To judge the pros and cons of diplomacy properly, we have to consider not just the downside of failure, but also the potential upside of success. And I don’t mean just the possibility of limiting Iran’s nuclear program (a desirable goal in itself), but also the more important possibility of putting U.S.-Iranian relations on a fundamentally different path (which is what AIPAC, et al are really worried about).
Among the potential benefits he outlines:
[I]f you’re not a fan of the clerical regime, you might want to consider killing it with kindness instead of bolstering it with belligerence. More than half of Iran’s population is under 35, and many are eager for better relations with the outside world (including the United States). Making it easier for Iranians to travel, get educated in the United States, and get exposed to the rest of the outside world will put those aging mullahs in a very awkward position. Have we learnt nothingfrom the failed Cuban embargo, which has helped keep the Castro Bros. in power for half a century?If we really believe in the transformative power of markets, Hollywood, hip-hop, the Internet, democracy, and free speech, let’s turn ‘em loose on Tehran. If your goal is a more moderate Iran, that approach is likely to work a lot better than ostracism, covert action, and repeated threats of military force, which merely galvanize Iranian nationalism and help justify continued repression by hardliners.
My view is that ignoring the positive potential of this engagement is a betrayal of the Green Revolution. And they do not deserve to be betrayed.
[A]t least in the short term, negotiations remain the best way to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. And U.S. President Barack Obama cannot be hamstrung in discussions by a group of senators who will pay no price for causing the collapse of negotiations between Iran and the P5 + 1, the five permanent members of the security council, plus Germany. “You have a large group of senators who are completely discounting the views of the administration, the actual negotiators, the rest of the P5 + 1, the intelligence community and almost every Iran analyst on earth,” said Colin Kahl, who, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East during Obama’s first term, was responsible for preparing all of the options that the President says are still on the table.
If these negotiations were to collapse — and collapsing the negotiations is the goal of some of the most hawkish hawks — the most plausible alternative left to stop Iran would be a preventative military strike, either by the U.S. or by Israel (Arab states, which are agitating for an American strike, wouldn’t dare take on the risk of attacking Iran themselves). Such a strike might end in disaster. …
The whole column is worth a read. Another sound point:
[W]hy support negotiations? First: They just might work. I haven’t met many experts who put the chance of success at zero. Second: If the U.S. decides one day that it must destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, it must do so with broad international support. The only way to build that support is to absolutely exhaust all other options. Which means pursuing, in a time-limited, sober-minded, but earnest and assiduous way, a peaceful settlement.
Beinart declares that “the sanctions bill is all about torpedoing a nuclear deal”:
Fallows weighs in. Read it. This truly is a critical moment for the US after 9/11. It’s one reason we elected Obama twice. And yet his own party is now trying to sabotage it, when the possibility of a breakthrough – agreed to by all the major powers – is real and as yet not fully tested. Money quote:
Republicans led by Mitch McConnell are pushing for a sanctions bill that is universally recognized (except by its sponsors) as a poison-pill for the current negotiations. Fine; opposing the administration is the GOP’s default position.
Fallows has a quote from the AIPAC website, the main lobbying group for war. It’s worth reading as well. Fournier, no Obama fan, also gives a great money quote here:
Obama dithered and stumbled on Syria, but his instincts were right: Avoid bloodshed if at all possible. He is acting prudently on Iran. He is the commander in chief, and you’d expect fellow Democrats to give him the benefit of the doubt. Is the Democratic opposition to Obama based on the merits or born of political calculation? If it’s the former, wayward Democrats had better be right, because the stakes are high. If it’s the latter, shame on them and their “antiwar” party.
Amen. None of these Democratic Senators are prepared to give the president the lee-way to try to avoid another disastrous and unwinnable war in the Middle East. Their sanctions bill would kill the only alternative to the war AIPAC wants. Democrats in New York and New Jersey should let Schumer and Menendez and Booker know that sabotaging their own president and the only potential for peace is inexcusable. That goes for Michael Bennet’s inexplicable betrayal as well.
(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama walks with Sen. Michael Bennet toward Marine One to depart the White House November 6, 2013 in Washington, DC. By Mark Wilson/Getty Images.)
The basic storyline in recent days has been that the pro-sanctions-bill side is gaining in numbers, while the anti-sanctions-bill side hasn’t — even though the White House has been lobbying Dems very aggressively to back off on this bill, on the grounds that it could imperil the chances for a historic long-term breakthrough with Iran. As Josh Rogin puts it, “the White House’s warnings have had little effect.”
We’re very close now to the 60 votes it needs to pass. The Dem leadership has no plans to bring it to the floor, but there are other procedural ways proponents could try to force a vote. And if the numbers in favor of the bill continue to mount, it could increase pressure on Harry Reid to move it forward. Yes, the president could veto it if it did pass. But we’re actually not all that far away from a veto-proof majority. And in any case, having such a bill pass and get vetoed by the president is presumably not what most Democrats want to see happen.
Congress passed sanctions to entice Iran to come to the table, and Iran came to the table. Pressure from sanctions was intended to encourage Iran to reach a deal, and Iran reached a deal. If Congress could resist the urge to destroy its own success – new sanctions would derail all talks, force Iran from the table, and tell the world the United States isn’t serious about peaceful solutions – real progress could move forward.
Ryan Cooper thinks Democratic senators, like sanctions-supporter Cory Booker, are making a mistake:
The Senate is full of them. The list of Democratic Senators who favor a march to war with Iran rather than allowing the current negotiations to proceed unhindered is here. I note a few remarkable members of the war chorus: Michael Bennet of Colorado – a key Obama supporter; Cory Booker of New Jersey (ditto); Mark Warner of Virginia; Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut; Ben Cardin of Maryland; and, of course, Chuck Schumer of New York. All of these Democrats are in favor of humiliating the president of the United States and refusing to allow him to pursue negotiations without being trumped by deliberate, pre-meditated sabotage.
I wonder how many of their Democratic constituents really want them to sabotage their own president’s negotiations to avoid what would otherwise be a relentless march toward another war in the Middle East? Do these Democrats seriously want war as the only option with Iran’s newly emergent moderate government? Do they want to do to Obama what no Republicans did with Reagan over his rapprochement with the Soviet Union? Do they really want to sabotage a negotiation years in the making, created by crippling sanctions, and now possibly about to bear fruit? Why on earth can they not wait until the final deal is done, if it is?
The striking thing about the long and delicate rapprochement with newly empowered moderate forces in Iran is how far from the national conversation it is. There are few heated TV debates; Twitter is relatively quiet; the blogosphere sits in two camps of near calcified intellectual hostility; only AIPAC slouches forth from time to time to threaten negotiation-ending new sanctions in the Senate.
And yet we have had two breakthroughs since the last elections in Iran: first the actual interim agreement between the major powers and Iran, and now a secondary practical deal to begin ramping down Iran’s nuclear program starting January 20. That second deal was announced around lunchtime today. All of it appears to be reversible at any point if one of the parties does not appear to be living up to its side of the bargain:
Giving details about the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi told state television that each party’s commitments would be implemented “in one day”. “After the first step is taken, then in a short period of time we will again start our contacts for resumption of negotiations for the implementation of the final step.” He added: “We don’t trust them. … Each step has been designed in a way that allows us to stop carrying out our commitments if we see the other party is not fulfilling its commitments.”
It would be foolish to try and glean clues from nuances in public statements, but I don’t find the lack of trust to be a deal-breaker. The honesty about such a lack of trust is what gives the deal a chance to work. But the more fearful and reactionary factions in both countries’ legislatures are doing their best to unravel the detente. In Iran, a big majority of the parliament appears recklessly willing to sanction new uranium enrichment of up to 90 percent (allegedly for powering submarines); in the US, the Senate is also brandishing possible new sanctions that would end the detente if enacted, and require humiliating concessions Iran will never agree to. But neither legislature has yet acted – and the positioning and jockeying may be an inevitable part of what president Obama has claimed is only a 50-50 chance of success.
I don’t have any illusions about parts of the Iranian regime, or about Israeli hopes to scuttle any accord in favor of another unpredictable and polarizing war in the Middle East.
Hrag Vartanian suggests the Tehran of 45 years ago looked a lot like the Abu Dhabi of today:
It may be hard for us to image the larger cultural renaissance that was taking place in Iran after the Second World War, when the CIA-backed coup in 1953 toppled Iran’s democracy and installed in its place the Shah, who in a major push for modernization invested in culture and tried to open up the country to the world. The internationally renowned Shiraz Arts Festival, one of his regime’s initiatives, welcomed such luminaries as Peter Brook and Robert Wilson from the West, and helped revive local interest in folk music. Epic productions in 1971 celebrated the history of Iran and the Shah’s achievements, and the Iranian elite was not secretive about their huge appetite for luxury and art of all types. By 1977, Iran even had an impressive center of modern art, Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which still contains a fantastic collection of works by Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock, Bacon, Warhol, and countless others standard bearers of Western modernism.
There are curious parallels between Shah-era Iran and the Arab Gulf states today, with their investment in culture (replete with global events, Shiraz Festival vs. Sharjah Biennial) and a lurking specter of severe human rights abuses, but what differentiates them is that Iran had a rich network of native institutions and a more developed art history upon which a modern identity was built.
Meanwhile, Ryan McCarthy visits the country’s Kish Island, another relic from the Shah’s rule that was once meant to be a Vegas-style resort:
One day, I suspect, the people obsessing about the details of an Iranian nuclear deal will look a bit like the people who obsessed about the details of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in 1987. In retrospect, what mattered wasn’t the number of ballistic and cruise missiles each side dismantled. What mattered was ending the cold war. …
In fact, it’s an open constitutional question whether Congress can impose mandatory sanctions on a foreign state over the president’s strong objection. Congress has the power to regulate foreign commerce, but the president is vested with executive power and is the sole representative of the United States vis-a-vis foreign states. Just as the congressional power to declare war does not prevent the president from using military force in what he views as emergencies — whether Congress likes it or not — the congressional power to regulate foreign commerce can’t force the president to implement sanctions that would undermine a time-sensitive executive agreement if doing so, in the president’s view, would jeopardize vital national-security interests.
Any congressional efforts to completely eliminate the president’s foreign-affairs discretion could lead to a constitutional showdown, which Congress would almost certainly lose. If Congress passed new sanctions legislation that the president believed would undermine the deal with Iran, he could veto it; if Congress mustered up the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto, the president could simply refuse to implement the sanctions. The courts would be unlikely to side with Congress because, traditionally, they have viewed such disputes as “political questions” best resolved through the ballot box.
In other Iran commentary, Fareed argues that the new deal is “not a seismic shift”:
It’s more relaxed than the press reports would have you believe:
Most news stories cite Obama and Kerry as saying Geneva is a six-month arrangement. However, the text of the agreement notes that the deal is “renewable by mutual consent.” And lest that line is viewed as a throwaway to placate Tehran, the text specifically notes that the parties “aim to conclude negotiating and commence implementing” the final agreement “no more than one year after the adoption of this document.”
Drezner warns them against freaking about the Iran deal. He observes that “the only thing going ballistic on this deal accomplishes is demonstrating your utter unreasonableness on negotiations with Iran”:
Now the key words in that last sentence are “going ballistic.” I’m not saying you should love the deal. You distrust both Iran and the Obama administration. I get that. The thing is, you’re distrusting the wrong agreement. This is an interim deal that is easily revocable in six months if a comprehensive deal falls apart. Objecting to this deal now does nothing but erode your credibility for future moments of obstructionism if a comprehensive deal is negotiated.
Seriously, game this out. Let’s assume you implacably oppose the negotiations going forward. If the deal holds up — and before you laugh, consider that Netanyahu is now describing the much-derided-at-the-time Syria deal as a “model” to follow — then you’ve undermined your reputation before the really big negotiations start. So whatever justified opposition you might have to such a deal will be largely discredited. On the other hand, if the deal falls apart — and there’s a decent chance of that — then you’ll get blamed for obstructionism for reflexively opposing it from the get-go.
Larison explains the lockstep opposition of Iran hawks:
Steve Hanke finds that Iran’s currency is stabilizing:
In light of the rial’s recent stability, I have delisted the rial from my list of “Troubled Currencies,” as tracked by the Troubled Currencies Project. For starters, the rial no longer appears to be in trouble. And, on a technical note, implied inflation calculations are less reliable during sustained periods of exchange rate stability.
That said, we must continue to pay the most careful and anxious attention to the black-market IRR/USD exchange rate in the coming months. Like the P5+1 agreement, Rouhani’s economic progress in Iran is tentative and likely quite fragile. Since the black-market IRR/USD is one of the only objective prices in the Iranian economy – and perhaps the most important one of all – it will continue to serve as an important weather vane, as the diplomatic process continues, and as Iran’s economy gradually moves into a post-sanctions era.
The Iranian nuclear deal struck Saturday night is a triumph. It contains nothing that any American, Israeli, or Arab skeptic could reasonably protest. Had George W. Bush negotiated this deal, Republicans would be hailing his diplomatic prowess, and rightly so.
The only question here is whether the agreement is in American interests. It is. Ever more severe sanctions increasingly risked war with a country three times as big geographically and 2.5 times as populous as Iraq (the American occupation of which did not go well). That danger is now receding, which can only be a good thing. And if negotiations and UN inspections can indeed succeed in allowing Iran a civilian enrichment program while forestalling a weapons program, it is a breakthrough for the whole world and an important chapter in the ongoing attempts to limit proliferation.