Friday, April 10, 2015

Editorial: Give Peace a Chance

Granting President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry the approval to finalize an agreement with Iran and five other nations to put controls on Iran’s nuclear development should be a no-brainer. But there is a problem with Congress.

You see, Republicans pledged on the night that President Obama was inaugurated not to cooperate with the new president in any way, and to deny him any victories. Apparently that includes the president’s efforts to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

On March 9, 47 Republican senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, sent a letter to Iranian leaders that apparently was intended to undermine the negotiations. The Republicans warned Iranian leaders that once President Obama is out of office in 2017, “the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Obama noted it was “somewhat ironic” to see Republicans “wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.” Luckily, it didn’t stop the Iranian negotiators from agreeing to open their nuclear facilities to international inspection.

Obama might not be able to set aside sanctions against Iran that are required by US law if Congress won’t go along with changes to that law, but those sanctions will count for little if right-wing denialists in Congress alienate the other nations that helped to negotiate it, including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. They would be free to conduct their own business with Iran.

Congressional leaders should be concerned about the president’s authority to conclude international agreements without congressional approval. The Senate particularly should be concerned about its prerogatives to “advise and consent” on treaties. But this Congress is so dysfunctional that we’re hard pressed to criticize Obama for trying to avoid interference by mendacious Republicans.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) became the heir-apparent to the post of Senate Democratic leader when Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced he would not seek re-election next year. But Schumer has endorsed a GOP bill that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered deal. If Schumer joins Republicans in trying to stop the nuclear deal, Senate Democrats should think twice about giving him the promotion, and any Democrats who vote with the Republicans to prohibit the deal ought to get a primary opponent at the next election.

While Republicans place more trust in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than they share with President Obama, two former top Israeli intelligence officials have expressed optimism about the nuclear agreement. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy argued that Iran made important and significant concessions during the negotiations and Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli military intelligence, said the deal could delay the Iranian nuclear program by many years, the Times of Israel reported April 5.

Lawrence Wilkerson, the Republican retired colonel who was an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell in George W. Bush’s administration, said on MSNBC’s Ed Show April 3 the agreement was historic, “in the category with Kissinger and Nixon opening China, with Camp David under Carter, with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and so forth ... We have a deal here that if it’s consummated in the complexity that it will need to be by the end of June, if it’s consummated this is a deal that has win-win written all over it.”

If the deal unravels, Wilkerson said, “I think it is going to be a much more dangerous region for sure. ... But I know what my political party wants. My political party, at least some of them — the 47 [senators] for example who signed the letter to the Ayatollah — they want war.”

Why do Republicans (and apparently some Dems) want war? Because war is good for business. Less than 24 hours after the 47 Republican senators trolled the Iranian hardliners, the letter’s author, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) met with the National Defense Industrial Association, a lobbying group for defense contractors. Cotton has said Congress should consider supplying Israel with B-52 bombers and “bunker buster” bombs, which are manufactured by NDIA member Boeing, for a possible military strike on Iran. Other NDIA members include Northrop Grumman, L-3 Communications, ManTech International, Oshkosh Defense, and Booz Allen Hamilton.

The Iran deal also has an impact on world oil prices, which took a pounding on April 2 following news that Iran had reached a preliminary agreement with the six world powers over its nuclear program. With the prospect that more Iranian oil would come onto already oversupplied world markets, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) May oil futures dropped $1.33, or 2.5%, to $48.91 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent May crude prices dropped 5% on the news, to $54.72.

However, after it became clear that Republican opposition could delay the efforts to implement the deal that would relax sanctions, oil prices rebounded more than 5% on April 6, with Brent May crude rising 5.77% to $58.12 a barrel and WTI rising 6.11% to $52.14, Reuters reported.

So relaxation of sanctions on Iran has an impact on the value of oil reserves around the world. That can add or subtract billions of dollars to the bottom lines of multinational oil corporations, so oil executives keep their hired hands in Congress working to roil the Middle East and keep oil prices and profits up.

Sen. Cotton on April 7 said it would simply take “several days air and naval bombing against Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities” to put the Iranian nuclear sites out of commission but Juan Cole noted that bombing Iran’s nuclear enrichment sites would only set back those operations a year or so, and would put Iran on a war footing with the US.

“Those who think such bombing runs would be the end of the story ... are fooling themselves,” Cole noted. “Bombing Iraq in 1991 and the no-fly zone had a lot to do with taking the USA down the path to a ground war in 2003. Bombing now will almost certainly lead to a similar ground war.”

Iran is 2.5 times more populous than Iraq and is much bigger geographically, Cole noted. “It is likely that Iran war numbers would be three times those of Iraq, at least,” he wrote.

So to dismantle the Iranian nuclear program by force could cost 15,000 US troop deaths, 90,000 Americans seriously wounded and 270,000 lightly injured, Cole wrote. Such a war could cost the US $5.1 trillion while the cost of caring for wounded troops over a lifetime would run from $9 trillion to $18 trillion. All because Republicans and a few Democrats were persuaded by Netanyahu that diplomacy could not work.

The Obama administration managed to pull the economy out of the nose dive that the Bush administration left it in. Obama saved the US auto industry, the banks and the stock market, implemented the Affordable Care Act and got unemployment down to 5.5% and even got gas prices down to $2 a gallon, despite Republican attempts to block him at every turn.

On foreign policy, Republicans learned nothing from Bush’s catastrophic invasion of Iraq — an invasion that Benjamin Netanyahu urged. Toppling Saddam Hussein took out a major rival of Iran and put Iran-allied Shi’ites in power in Iraq. Then, frustrated by Obama’s resistance to getting involved in the civil war in Syria, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in 2013 urged Saudi and Qatari governments to arm Syrian rebels who turned out to be allied with al Qaeda and Islamic State/Daesh.

Republicans clearly are inept at economics and foreign policy. President Obama should proceed with the other participating nations to finalize the nuclear agreement with Iran by July 1. That gives the US an opening to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, which could become our ally against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State/Daesh as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The agreement also gives Israel at least 10 or 15 years to settle with Palestinian officials on the two-state solution that is the only route to a lasting peace in that troubled land. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2015

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