Tag Archives: Iran

The return of the war hawks

I see the War Whisperer is back on the case:

As I wrote yesterday, the average MSNBC viewer endures Nicole Wallace, John Podhoretz, Steve Schmidt, and its prize thoroughbred Joe Scarborough. But Bill Kristol hangs out in its green rooms too, feted as a sardonic #NeverTrump-ist. This coterie of exiled GOP lifers hates the president in part because he is crude; he doesn’t hide the contemptible opinions that the coterie has coated with gleaming smiles and palaver about “freedom” and “opportunity” for years. “Iran” is one of those words, like “lawsuit” for Don Henley, that causes these people to lose any semblance of reason or connection to humanity. They hated the Obama administration’s deal with that country. Now they can burnish their war hawk bonafides, dormant since supporting the occupation of Iraq because freedom!

Daniel Larison gets it right:

The key thing that U.S. politicians and policymakers need to keep in mind is that internal protests in Iran are not about us, and they are not an “opportunity” for us to exploit. The U.S. should publicly say as little as possible about the protests except to condemn the use of force against peaceful protesters, and it should not otherwise attempt to insert itself into the situation or interfere. There is not much that the U.S. could practically do in any case, and none of it would be helpful or constructive. The Trump administration in particular has no credibility with Iranians, and any expressions of support it offers are likely both unwanted by and harmful to the intended recipients. The administration cannot ban Iranians from the U.S. at the start of the year, and then suddenly pretend that it respects them and supports their aspirations at the end.

The horror of Trump aside, the other horror is that Kristol, et al. never learn. Never learning keeps their MSNBC green room invitations coming.

Everything is awful

Since January I’ve recited Elizabeth Bishop’s line from “The Bight” as if it were a mantra: awful but cheerful. As the worst week of the year inches toward some kind of dignified close, reminders why we’re fucked.

First, Puerto Rico, where a million people or more than eighty percent of the island remains without power. Trash pickup is non-existent. So are essential services. Dengue, chikungunya and Zika epidemics are possibilities:

At the Iniciativa Comunitaria clinic, doctors said they’re seeing a spike in cases of pink eye, skin rashes and diarrhea that often come with lack of cleanliness.

On a recent weekday, Alexandra Hernández was watching her husband pour a bag of lime on a dead cow that had gotten tangled up in a derelict tractor on the day of the storm and remained in their yard.

The mayor’s office said it didn’t have the resources to remove the stinking carcass and suggested Hernández move for the safety of her 3-year-old child. But she was staying put. “I have nowhere else to go,” she explained

But the president, who pronounces “Puerto Rico” as if he learned it from Buster Poindexter, has threatened to withhold FEMA aid, no doubt because nobody on the island voted for him in 2016 unlike Texas and Florida and besides they’re brown skinned people.

Next, the president’s decision to stop paying Affordable Care Act subsidies has sent the insurance markets into a tailspin. Citizens dependent on Obamacare fortunate enough to live in a state with contingencies get the hammer blow deferred another year. For the rest of them?

The subsidy payments are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and go directly to insurers to help offset out-of-pocket costs — such as co-pays and deductibles for low-income Obamacare customers. Without them, Obamacare insurers will still have to provide discounts to customers — they’ll just have to eat the added cost, which most will attempt to recover by increasing premiums.

“The market can only take so many shocks,” said Ceci Connolly, CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. “We had hoped that a business person would have understood the implications to the market, but that seems not to be the case.”

Obamacare customers are already contending with fragile markets. Nearly half of all counties have just a single insurer selling plans, and premiums are skyrocketing in many states. Trump’s decision to cut off the subsidy payments two weeks before open enrollment begins on Nov. 1 for Obamacare’s fifth enrollment season is sure to lead to further uncertainty by consumers as well as insurers.

I had conversations about Bob Corker yesterday. Bob Corker, who voted for every one of World War III enthusiast Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet nominees, will not save us.

If our president didn’t have a couple bats gliding across his belfry, I would say he has loaded the legislative branch with the responsibilities for the sake of running a do-nothing Congress campaign in 2020; the world knows he hates Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, who don’t hate him because, at last, their pet projects are getting underway. Tom Cotton, the ghoul from Arkansas, agrees:

The president seemed determined to erase any residual hope that the nuclear deal might form the basis of a new relationship between the United States and Iran. His speech, from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, was perhaps the most hostile of any American leader toward Iran since President George W. Bush placed the country on his “axis of evil” in 2002.

Mr. Trump recited a litany of misdeeds by Iran going back to the 1979 hostage crisis and described it as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, supporting Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Taliban. He also accused the country of dealing with North Korea, a reference to Pyongyang’s long history of selling missile technology to Iran, and said he had asked the nation’s intelligence agencies to investigate whether the relationship went further.

His tone made clear that Mr. Trump has no interest in what, for the Obama administration, was the biggest gamble of the accord: to provide the basis for two longtime adversaries to find other ways to cooperate.

We’ve got three years, three months, and three-odd weeks left, if my wretched math is correct. The Senate will not recommend impeachment. In 2016 I discovered Aperol. I can’t think what potent potable I can add to my collection that will produce the necessary daze.

“It’s not even close”

Barack Hussein Obama’s speech exhorting Congress to approve the Iran deal showed him at his best: in command of paradoxes, crisp, cogent, and a determination to treat listeners as if they were adults. I especially liked the terseness with which he said: “I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as president, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls, it’s not even close.” That was solid acting — he threw the words away in the last independent clause. Larison and I agree:

His responses to hawkish criticisms of the deal were pointed and sometimes mocking, which is understandable given how shoddy the arguments against the deal typically are. The speech seems to have been aimed primarily at fence-sitting Democrats in Congress and members of the public that don’t yet have a definite view of the deal. It was another reminder that Obama is particularly interested in non-proliferation and arms control issues and that he is willing to pursue them aggressively.

There were a few things from the speech that stood out. One was Obama’s emphasis on the fact that the U.S. is giving up nothing as part of this deal except the punitive measures imposed on Iran over the nuclear issue. He compared this deal with Cold War-era arms control treaties to make the point that the latter imposed limitations on the U.S. and were somewhat riskier than the current deal. The implicit argument here was that these arms control treaties were also the right thing to do, and the deal is even more obviously so.

I also think like Larison that his rhetoric got wooly when he stressed the existential crisis awaiting us should we fail to act. The second Iraq War, not to mention the Libya intervention, should have taught us that states are for the most part rational actors and don’t will their own destruction. But we’ll see.

The grotesqueness of the foreign policy commentariat

In Steven Spielberg’s Amistad, Secretary of State John Forsythe laments the fate of a Republic beholden to ex-presidents. Is there anything worse? Yes. Try living in a Republic in which columnists who are repeatedly wrong still have paying jobs. From Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer to Michael Gerson and David Brooks, every columnist who supported the crackpot ideas about the spread of democracy in the Middle East still gets quoted and invited to talk shows. These people are, naturally, the loudest opponents of the Iran deal. Correlation exists. Larison:

Every prediction Iraq war supporters made about what would happen in the region proved false. Contrary to their expectations, there was no wave of political reform inspired by regime change, Iranian influence expanded greatly, jihadist groups flourished and continue to flourish today, and Iraq suffered from the evils of sectarian civil war. Opponents of the invasion anticipated and warned about most, if not all, of these possible dangers. Over a decade later, Iran hawks are now claiming that the deal will greatly empower Iran and its proxies and thus contribute to greater regional instability, but in order to support this argument they are compelled to misrepresent Iran’s setbacks as proof of its growing power

Yet mainstream Beltway reporting won’t regard support for the Iraq as a disqualifier of seriousness. Reducing the deficit is a sign of seriousness.

Iranians: cautious optimism

“American journalists, who pride themselves on ‘neutrality” and “balance,’ should spend some time considering how much of a platform they give to Israelis and how little they give to Iranians,” Glenn Greenwald writes in a column assessing the Iran deal. The people whom we want to cripple with sanctions and on whom we want to drop bombs escape mention. He records a couple of elite Iranian opinions, for example Rutgers professor Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American:

To the extent this deal accomplishes that, he said today in an interview with The Intercept, he supports it, though if it ends up confined only to nuclear issues, “then it will be very bad for both countries.” Amirahmadi added that the mood in Tehran is, in general, “very happy.” Ordinary Iranians, he said, “obviously like what has happened” primarily because “they expect money to arrive, which will help the economy and create jobs.”

But he noted several critical caveats. To begin with, expectations among ordinary Iranians are very high: they expect substantial economic improvement, and if that fails to materialize, Amirahmadi sees a likelihood of serious political instability, which “could go in a terrible direction for Iran.” He pointed out that for many years, the Iranian government has, with some good reason, blamed the U.S., Europe and their sanctions regime for the economic suffering of Iranians. “They no longer have that pretext, which means they have to deliver,” he said.


As for outright Iranian opposition to the deal, Professor Amirahmadi said that it was largely confined to “conservatives,” by which he means “fundamental Islamists who are now the only real hard-core nationalists in the country.” But he also said that deal opponents “have some valid points.” For one, Iran (unlike Israel) is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and as such has the absolute right to enrich uranium at any levels; “there’d be no reason to join the NPT except to get that right, so the fact that this deal ‘lets’ Iran do what they already had the right to do, at lesser levels, is not really a ground for celebration,” he said. He also pointed out that “the money that will flow to Iran under this deal is not a gift: this is Iran’s money that has been frozen and otherwise blocked.” As a result, he said, the hard-liners have a valid objection to viewing these provisions as real concessions.

The last idea — “this is Iran’s money that has been frozen and otherwise blocked” — is one, I imagine, that doesn’t keep Tom Cotton and John McCain from a good night’s rest after hours of grueling labor in cable news green rooms.

‘I bet the hardliners in both our countries are bleeding when we shake hands’


So the P5+1 and Iran have reached a deal on delaying Iran’s development of nuclear weapons for ten years. Before Bibi Netanyahu runs to John Bolton’s shoulder for a good cry, let’s make clear what the alternative could’ve been. Larison:

This will limit Iran’s nuclear program more effectively than a decade of sanctions and coercive methods ever did, and it makes Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon much less likely than any other available course of action. The alternatives that Iran hawks have been proposing for the last two years–ending negotiations, more sanctions, threatening or taking military action–would have left Iran’s program under fewer constraints and would have pushed Iran towards building nuclear weapons. It is important to remember that the loudest, shrillest opponents of this deal would have made a nuclear-armed Iran more likely if they had their way. So when the hard-liners start their inevitable cries of “appeasement” and “surrender” start, keep in mind that their “solution” would have failed and backfired as usual. If the deal is implemented fully, this should take the nuclear issue with Iran off the agenda for at least the next decade and possibly much longer than that.

But this is to me the most significant possible outcome:

It is too early to know how the deal will affect internal conditions in Iran, but it is probable that Rouhani’s success in these talks will give him more room to push for some measure of economic and social reform. Sanctions relief will take some of the economic pressure off of the Iranian people, and especially the Iranian middle class, and that will gradually aid the cause of Iranian opposition groups that the sanctions have been helping to strangle. There aren’t likely to be any dramatic changes in Iran’s internal politics, but reducing sanctions can only help loosen the grip of the regime and the hard-liners that they have strengthened in the past.

It’s worth reminding readers that the right wing — assured in its belligerence, its droit du seigneur to question any deal and at any time that threatens defense contracts but guarantees a berth on FOX News — has issued these threats before, even against their own. Look what Charles Krauthammer was writing about Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1987:

Stalin was, in the prophetic words of a 19th-century Russian revolutionary, Genghis Khan with a telegraph. Gorbachev is Khrushchev with a tailor. Why is Gorbachev so readily extenuated by the leaders of the leading democracy? Because there is nothing that Western public’s hunger for more than a communist with a human face. So when the smile reveals iron teeth, it is best to pretend we do not see them. Or better still, to argue that they cannot be there.

Substitute “Hassan Rouhani” for Gorbs. “I bet the hardliners in both our countries are bleeding when we shake hands,” Reagan said to his Soviet counterpart in Geneva, 1985.

Warning to Dems: scuttle the Iran deal and we’ll cut you

Ari Rabin-Havt has a blunt warning for Democrats who align with the Republicans voting for Senator Bob Corker’s bill giving Congress the right to approve the Security Council’s negotiation with Iran:

Senators with a D after their names should take heed of the warning progressive groups sent and look to history, aware that this vote, if successful, will become a critical demarcation point in their careers, equivalent to the October, 2002, vote to authorize war in Iraq. Twelve and a half years later, the ramifications of that vote are still echoing in the Democratic Party.

Howard Dean would have been unlikely to rise to prominence among the Democratic electorate had John Kerry, John Edwards, or Dick Gephart voted against the Iraq War. Dean certainly would have never achieved the public base of support that propelled him to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.

Had Kerry voted differently, Democrats in 2004 would never have to suffer through his contorted explanations as to why even though he voted to authorize military action, he actually opposed going to war in Iraq. This same confusion led Kerry to explain his war-funding vote with the infamous, campaign-killing gaffe that he “voted for it, before he voted against it.”

I’ve donated to causes a handful of times, but, yes, you can be sure this will be one time when I will swamp Bill Nelson’s office with calls and emails if he joins.