Commentary

Keith Ellison and Walter Jones Stand Up for Diplomatic Engagement with Iran

The media war fever for military confrontation with Iran has grown so great that even the media noticed. Writing in the New York Times, Scott Shane asked the reasonable question: how is it that we're having a war fever with Iran, when polls show that after ten years, the American public is weary of war?

A key part of the story is that we've had a one-sided political debate about Iran. Major media are often ambivalent about the degree to which it's really their responsibility to educate the public about basic facts - like the fact that the U.S. government is quite confident that Iran is not now trying to build a nuclear weapon. Instead, the media's default position often is to reflect what they perceive to be going on in the political debate. And what the media largely perceive is that one side - the non-Ron Paul Republican presidential candidates, the Lieberman-Graham-McCain axis, and the pro-Likud lobby groups and think tanks - is pushing aggressively toward military confrontation, and the other side - the Obama Administration - is saying, well, not so fast, without strongly and consistently challenging some of the core assumptions of the pro-war voices.

Largely missing from the recent political debate, until now, has been a full-throated defense of diplomatic engagement with Iran towards negotiated agreements that would resolve or mitigate international concerns about its disputed nuclear program, thereby pushing back the prospect of military confrontation.

But that could change. Representatives Keith Ellison [D-MN] and Walter Jones [R-NC] are currently circulating a Congressional letter to President Obama urging the President to redouble U.S. efforts towards a diplomatic agreement.

Does AIPAC Want War? Lieberman "Capability" Red Line May Tip AIPAC's Hand

For all it has done to promote confrontation between the United States and Iran, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has worked to avoid the public perception that AIPAC is openly promoting war. In AIPAC's public documents, the emphasis has always been on tougher sanctions. (If you make sanctions "tough" enough - an effective embargo - that is an act of war, but it is still at one remove from saying that the U.S. should start bombing.)

But a new Senate effort to move the goalposts of U.S. policy to declare it "unacceptable" for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons capability - not a nuclear weapon, but the technical capacity to create one - gives AIPAC the opportunity to make a choice which all can observe. If the Lieberman resolution becomes an ask for AIPAC lobbyists at the March AIPAC policy conference, then the world will know: AIPAC is lobbying Congress for war with Iran.

Sponsors of the Lieberman resolution deny that it is an "authorization for military force," and in a legal, technical sense, they are absolutely correct: it is not a legal authorization for military force. But it is an attempt to enact a political authorization for military force. It is an attempt to pressure the Administration politically to move forward the tripwire for war, to a place indistinguishable from the status quo that exists today. If successful, this political move would make it impossible for the Administration to pursue meaningful diplomatic engagement with Iran, shutting down the most plausible alternative to war.

What I Learned in the Airport in Bahrain

Bahrain International Airport - When I came to Bahrain, it certainly wasn't with the intention of spending my whole time in the country in the airport. I wanted to see what was going on in the country, not to see what was going on in the airport.

 

But the Bahrain authorities would not let me enter the country. At this writing, it's 5 PM local time. My flight got in at 2:15 AM. I have been informed that the Director of Immigration has decided that I shall not have a visa to enter Bahrain - although in the past it was the practice of the Bahrain authorities to give visas to Americans in the airport pretty much automatically - so the authorities are saying that the only way I am leaving the airport is on a plane out of the country. At this writing, it looks like I could be in the airport for another 36 hours.

 

Other observers managed to get in, and you can see their reports at Witness Bahrain. [You can't see that website if you live in Bahrain though - it's blocked here by the Bahrain authorities.] But if you're in the U.S., you can read reports on Witness Bahrain on the protests marking the first anniversary of the uprising for democracy, and the Bahrain government's response to those protests. I won't be able to contribute to those reports, since, sitting in the airport, I won't be able to observe the protests and the government response.

 

However, I did learn something useful, sitting in the airport, waiting with a bunch of other foreigners for permission to enter the country.

 

I learned that the government of Bahrain is starting to pay a real price for its efforts to shield its actions towards peaceful protesters from international scrutiny.

 

Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy with Iran that Would Prevent War?

Can Joe Lieberman Block Diplomacy with Iran that Would Prevent War? by Robert Naiman There's no question that some people in Washington would very much like for the U.S. to have a policy towards Iran whose endgame is war or externally-induced regime change. And they have a long-term strategy to bring this about, which is to block efforts at meaningful diplomacy, so that the only thing left on the table is war or externally-induced regime change.

 

Now, according to reports from DC, come Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham with a new bill. What does their bill seek to do? According to reports from people who have seen the draft bill, in its current form it seeks to block the President from having a policy to "contain" Iran if it develops nuclear weapons capability.

 

Jasmin Ramsey wrote Wednesday at LobeLog:

 

 

The key lines in the resolved [clauses] have been highlighted by a Washington policy expert:

 

"(6) Strongly rejects any policy that fails to prevent the Iranian government from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability and that instead would settle for future efforts to "contain" a nuclear weapons capable Iran;

 

(7) Urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and to oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat." [my emphasis on variations of the word "capable" - RN]

 

Call-In for Wyden-McGovern Letter Opposing New Bahrain Arms Sales--Report Back Here!

Since there is not much time before the letter closes for signatures, calling your representatives would help. Just follow these simple instructions:

  • Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
  • Ask for your representative's office.
  • When your representative's office picks up, tell them that you urge your representative to sign the Wyden-McGovern letter to oppose any new arms sales to Bahrain. The deadline for signatures is Wednesday close of business.
  • If you are speaking to your Representative in the House, tell them to contact Mike McVicker in Rep. McGovern's office to sign.
  • If you are speaking to one of your Senator's offices, tell them to contact Isaiah Akin in Sen. Wyden's office to sign.
  • When you're done, make sure you report your call below!

WaPo: Still Getting Ahead of the Facts on Iran

It seems that the Washington Post still requires a bit of help sticking to the facts on Iran. An article in yesterday's Post, entitled "Center for American Progress, group tied to Obama, under fire from Israel advocates," featured the following passage (emphasis mine):

At the same time, Israel’s supporters worry that Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon and greater instability in the Middle East pose existential threats to Israel.

Hm. "Iran's quest for a nuclear weapon." Sounds awfully familiar. Where have we heard that before?

Oh, yes. Recall that, way back in December, Just Foreign Policy initiated a campaign to get the Washington Post to correct a photo gallery headline, which originally read, "Iran's quest to possess nuclear weapons." The ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, agreed that the headline was "misleading," and the Post corrected it to read, "Iran's quest to possess nuclear technology." The mishap was blamed on the tricky nature of the headline creating process.

This time, however, the object of Iran's quest wasn't being mulled by an uninformed photo or copy editor--a journalist or editor, who should have known better, was responsible.

To his credit, Mr. Pexton responded to my email in a prompt fashion, and the offending passage was revised shortly thereafter--about six hours after the article was originally published. The passage now reads (emphasis mine):

WaPo: Sneaky Persians Menace Pentagon's Noble Aim to Keep U.S. Troops in Afghanistan Forever

In a front page exposé on January 4, the Washington Post revealed that sneaky Persian agitators are conspiring to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping 10,000-30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on "non-permanent," "non-U.S." bases after "all foreign troops are supposed to be withdrawn" in 2014, just as these sneaky Persians conspired to thwart the Pentagon's noble aim of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.

The Post story is quite instructive, even if it is not exactly "news" in the common sense of the term. It presents the world from the point of view of diehard Pentagon revanchists who want to keep US troops in Muslim countries forever against the will of the majority of Americans and against the will of the majority of people who live in these countries. It presents this diehard Pentagon revanchist view as if there were no interests in the world besides those of Pentagon revanchists and wily Persian agitators, such as the interests of the majority of people who happen to live in the United States, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Of course, in the world view of the diehard Pentagon revanchist, the concerns of these mere residents are largely irrelevant, if they have no military implications. How many divisions do these mere residents control? These mere residents are just pawns in a game of Pentagon-sneaky Persian chess.

It is a story, moreover, that is spectacularly contradicted by the Post's own previous reporting, as well as that of other major American newspapers.

The story informs us:

 

Judy Miller Alert! The New York Times is Lying About Iran's Nuclear Program

It's deja vu all over again. AIPAC is trying to trick America into another catastrophic war with a Middle Eastern country on behalf of the Likud Party's colonial ambitions, and the New York Times is lying about allegations that said country is developing "weapons of mass destruction."

In an article attributed to Steven Erlanger on January 4 ("Europe Takes Bold Step Toward a Ban on Iranian Oil "), this paragraph appeared:

 

The threats from Iran, aimed both at the West and at Israel, combined with a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective, is becoming an important issue in the American presidential campaign. [my emphasis]

The claim that there is "a recent assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran's nuclear program has a military objective" is a lie.

As Washington Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton noted on December 9,

 

But the IAEA report does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.

Indeed, if you try now to find the offending paragraph on the New York Times website, you can't. They took it down. But there is no note, like there is supposed to be, acknowledging that they changed the article, and that there was something wrong with it before. Sneaky, huh?

But you can still find the original here.

David Gregory Should Tell Rick Santorum There Are UN Inspectors in Iran

Rick Santorum is running as the "more AIPAC than thou" candidate. But David Gregory wants people to think of him as a "journalist." We can hold David Gregory to a higher standard.

On Sunday, Republican Presidential Rick Santorum told David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press" that, unlike President Obama, he would "be saying to the Iranians, you either open up those [nuclear] facilities, you begin to dismantle them and, and make them available to inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through airstrikes and make it very public that we are doing that."

David Gregory did not challenge Santorum's statement. But Gregory knows - or should know - that Iran's nuclear facilities are already under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Politicians will say whatever they can get away with, but journalists have an obligation to correct serious misstatements of fact.

Of course, one can try to come up with excuses for why David Gregory didn't correct the record. Let's consider some potential excuses, and why they are no good.

"Journalists can't correct everything candidates say." This was a one-on-one interview, and the topic of discussion was Iran's nuclear program, and Rick Santorum's claims that he would be tougher than President Obama in confronting Iran about its nuclear program. Is there another context where it would be more appropriate for David Gregory to correct the record about what is known about Iran's nuclear program?

Stop the War on Christmas: Cease Fire in Afghanistan

Shouldn't Americans of every faith tradition band together to stop the war on Christmas? Let us call on President Obama to announce that on December 24th and 25th, the United States will observe an offensive cease-fire in Afghanistan, and urge others to join the cease-fire, as a goodwill gesture to promote peace talks.


Far from being utopian, I claim that this is a pragmatic political proposal, with little cost and significant potential benefits; indeed, according to recent press reports, a US-initiated Christmas truce would complement peace efforts that the Obama Administration is already pursuing.

The political cost would be negligible. Would Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and John McCain denounce President Obama for announcing that US forces in Afghanistan will stand down to mark the birth of the Prince of Peace? If they did, would anyone take them seriously?

This is a decision that President Obama can make unilaterally as Commander-in-Chief. He does not need the permission of Lindsay Graham, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, or the Washington Post editorial board. If President Obama decides that US forces in Afghanistan will not take offensive military actions on Christmas, so shall it be.

Already, Reuters reports, the Obama Administration is contemplating confidence-building measures to promote peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including transferring Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo to Afghan government custody and supporting the establishment by the Afghan Taliban of a political office in Qatar for the purpose of participating in peace talks.