Wednesday, September 9, 2015

No Ideas, No Options: Why the GOP Alternative to a Iran Nuclear Deal is All-out War

by Nomad

An opposition party is supposed to offer alternatives to the ruling parties initiatives. In the case of the Republican party, the alternative to the Iran Nuclear deal is military conflict.


As Congress mulls over the fine print in the Iran Nuclear Arms agreement, it is interesting to listen to some of the reactions of Republican candidates.
It was always perfectly clear that anything that emerged from Obama administration's efforts would be condemned by the Republicans. 

Had the agreement had the   diplomats of the Iranian Republic marching the Supreme Leader in chains to the waiting American warships, Republican Congressmen would have been complaining that the chains were of the wrong weight or that that the speed of the military escort was too slow.

The criticism began long before Congress ever got a chance to look over the actual agreement. That criticism, some say, had much more to do with the bad relationship between the parties and the Right's animosity toward Obama than the particulars of the Iran deal.

Bashing from the Candidates

Here is a sample of the statements we heard from the candidates regarding the agreement.
All of the are as robust as they are vague.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee member and presidential candidate Marco Rubio said:
"President Obama has consistently negotiated from a position of weakness, giving concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands, holds Americans hostage, and has consistently violated every agreement it ever signed."
He cited no examples which concessions President Obama and six world powers gave away. So, I suppose we will have to take his word for it.
Likewise, candidate Scott Walker charged that the deal rewarded. 
the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism with a massive financial windfall, which Iran will use to further threaten our interests and key allies, especially Israel."
No GOP criticism of the deal, it seems, is complete without some mention of Israel's defense. Understandably the source of much of the criticism can be linked to Israel and an army of powerful lobbyists.

Strange, since Israel is the only nation in the region with nuclear weapons. (Nobody has considered the possibility of creating a unilateral nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.)

When it came to hysterical hyperbole, the award went to Mike Huckabee who, in a moment of poor taste and judgment, declared:
“It is so naive that [Obama] would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
Even the Israelis- no strangers to wild hyperbolic statements- found that remark over the top and offensive.

The Hypocrisy of the Bush View

JEB, in his stride, decided the best way to critique a complicated arms agreement was to turn into a personal attack on the president's style.
"This is the game that the Obama administration spokespeople play, that unless you're for their nuanced, sophisticated, trust-me-I’m-just-smarter-than-the-rest-of-us kind of view, then you’re a war monger." 
Bush might sincerely believe that idea or he may just be playing into the right wing perception of the uppity black guy in the White House. 
It's not a constructive criticism in any case. It's actually the kind of hypocrisy we have come to expect from JEB. It's really just a deflection.

After all, of the major wars America has started in the last thirty years with boots on the ground, how many have been under a Bush administration?

After brother George's misadventure in Iraq, the American public might, however, be forgiven for thinking the Republican party prefers war to peace. When given a choice between continuing with sanctions- a path supported by the UN and most of our allies- the Bush administration ignored international law and common sense and launched the Iraq invasion

Where was the call for a nuanced and sophisticated policy then?
This is, after all, the party of official war-monger John McCain who thought it was pretty funny to change a Beach Boys song into a jingle about bombing Iran.
Now that's what I call sophisticated!

That's not to say there are no legitimate questions about some of the details. For example, is it really such a good idea to Iran to inspect its own sites, as it has recently been alleged

In any agreement where verification replaces all possibility of trust between the sides, details make all the difference. The problem is that this particular issue is simply too complicated for non-experts. We cannot rely only on our feeling about the Iranians. 

Worse still, it is too important to leave to highly-partisan, easily-swayed politicians, under the influence of powerful lobbyists and special interests.

But What are the Options?

The perception that the Republicans only want all-out war with Iran could change pretty overnight if the Republicans had any original ideas about what to do about Iran. What is their alternative to what's presently on the table. Is a flawed deal really better than nothing?
It could be.
Why?
Implicit in the Republican rejection is that the only solution to Iranian nuclear weapons problem is war.
*   *  *
It's easy to criticize the treaty but finding a better option is much harder. If we reject a structure for peace, one that is necessarily maintained by constant vigilance and an immediate response in case of violation, then a war becomes inevitable. 

Peace, after all, must begin someplace. If you consider every peace negotiation as a synonym for appeasement, then you might as well starting dropping the cluster bombs and sinking the ships. 
That is a dangerous and defeatist belief. 

It is an approach may be favored by the leaders of America's ally in the region, Israel. That's no coincidence. Israel has most to lose from a bad deal with Iran. On the other hand, Israel also has the most to gain from a US war with Iran.

The American public is by no means convinced that Congress should reject the deal. When asked whether Congress should vote to approve or not approve this agreement. the majority opinion (41%) was uncertainty. The rest were pretty evenly split with 27% voting to approve and 32% said Congress should reject the agreement. 

If politicians cannot assess the deal, and the public cannot determine the merits, then what do the experts in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation think about the agreement? 
According to one source, the Arms Control Association, a nonpartisan group based in Washington, released a statement this week (signed by 75 experts) in support of the deal. They declared it “a net-plus for international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.”
The Arms Control Association statement argues that the deal’s monitoring and verification provisions “make it very likely that any future effort by Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, even a clandestine program, would be detected promptly, providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
Compared to other arms agreement, they said, the deal with Iran exceeds historical standards. They added that there would always be ways to "improve the text." Nevertheless, the statement said, the experts saw "no realistic prospect for a better nuclear agreement.”

Ideologies and the Inevitability of War

Others think it is pointless to try to make agreements with a regime that clearly cannot be trusted.
Joshua Muravchik of Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University recently wrote in the Washington Post:
Ideology is the raison d’etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating its rule and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. In this sense, it is akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes that set out to transform the world. Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond. A nuclear arsenal, even if it is only brandished, would vastly enhance Iran’s power to achieve that goal.
This view is based on ideas that are quite outdated. The crusade to spread the Islamic Revolution across the Middle East has become largely null and void since the widespread popular unrest after the disputed 2009 election results. 

Iran's dream was crushed by the fact that its own people the very people who should be most delighted with the results of the revolution- openly and courageously rejected that autocratic vision.
Ultimately the leaders in Tehran could only impose their will by the use of suppression and force. It became apparent that the Iranian Revolution was dead and control could barely be maintained inside the Republic itself.
That's not the kind of ideology that can be spread. The proof?

Today Iran is fighting ISIS, with boots on the ground. In a much rawer form, ISIS espouses the same kind of Islamic revolutionary ideology that once inspired the leaders of the Iranian Republic in the 1980s.

Additionally the Arab Spring- for all of the chaos the ensued- verified that the people of the Middle East and North Africa have had enough of autocratic leaders, whether that is a military leader friendly to the West or a mullah financed by Iran.

Furthermore, there is a more obvious flaw in Muravchik's argument. He states that the revolutionary imperative makes any negotiation with Iran impossible. In fact, we don't make peace negotiations only with people who share our ideology.
That "unshakeable ideology" argument could easily have been applied to the Soviets or Red China.   In both cases, their fervor to launch a world-wide revolution never prevented peace negotiations. 

Muravchik goes on to make the Republican case for war. He doesn't without the slightest hesitation. Something the Republican candidates haven't so far dared to do.
Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.
With all due respect, this surely qualifies as war-mongering to most people. Sorry, JEB.

Is it any surprise that Muravick was formerly a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute? Moreover, he is a resident scholar at the conservative think-tank, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) home to many of "the leading architects of the second Bush administration's public policy."

By now, the American public has heard every variety of the "just a little war" before. That kind of talk was persuasive enough to keep the American military in Iraq for nearly nine years.

Reagan, Kennedy and the Difficult Process of Peace

One point that seems to have been largely ignored in the debate is the nature of international peace negotiations. President Reagan whose peace negotiation with Gorbachev sent shockwaves through the war-hawk minority in the Republican Party, said:
“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
In that light, President Obama is not doing anything different than what Reagan did at the Reykjavík Summit in 1986 and beyond.

Remarkably, the Reagan Administration came to power describing past nuclear reduction agreements with the Soviet as "fatally flawed." As a contemporary source notes that like the candidates of our time, Reagan didn't actually say what those flaws were. More importantly, Reagan didn't reveal how those flaws compared to the alternative, that is, having no agreement at all.  At the end of the day, Reagan the war hawk has become the Conservative Cold Warrior.
Why? Because he chose peace over war. 

Despite the vast ideological differences between the two sides, Reagan and Gorbachev conducted a series of summit meetings between 1985 and 1988 in Geneva, Reykjavik, Washington and Moscow. 

The eventual fruit of these negotiations was a radical shift in the Cold War dynamic. After much high-level discussion, Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, a significant step in ending the Cold War.
Later Reagan would say:
The challenge of statesmanship is to have the vision to dream of a better, safer world and the courage, persistence, and patience to turn that dream into a reality.”
Where is the Republican courage and patience today? Or perhaps the GOP candidates think Reagan was mistaken in that view. They wouldn't dare to admit that. 

In fact, Reagan's view was simply what all Americans used to firmly believe about the necessity of war. Reagan might have done a lot of saber rattling but when it didn't prevent him from seizing the moment to choose peace over war.

As John Kennedy once pointed out, the pursuit of peace is never as dramatic as the rush to war because peace is a process, 
"a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures."
Martin Luther King, Jr. had similar views. He said
"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal."
Peace is a path that leads us away from war. It is a road we must construct bit by bit, over years.  It's not a particularly glamorous task but it is something we can leave our children. 

War, on the other hand, leaves behind only ashes, misery and rubble. Surely we can do a little better than that. 

The Dangerously Addictive Taste for War

I recall watching CNN and the air of excitement that built prior to the initial bombing campaign over Baghdad in 2003. The reporters had a very hard time trying to keep the thrill out of their voices. It made such a great spectacle... if one could ignore the fact that innocent people were being victimized.

In the Iraq invasion, it didn't take long for the madness of war to surface. In December of 2003, Lt. Colonel Nathan Sassaman, battalion commander, Iraqi town of Abu Hishma
"With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."
In 2015, with an infrastructure in tatters, with lethal marketplace bombs a daily event, with most of the country out of the hands of the national authorities, the Iraq citizens- the majority of who despised Saddam- remain understandably unconvinced that America helped very much.

Ultimately, war is an admission of failure, the last resort. It's not a question of whether war can be won. It is a question whether this is the best option. 
Any nation that is as powerful as the US has clearly sufficient means to wage a devastating war against any other nation, anywhere on the globe.  This is a commonly-accepted fact, the world over.  
However, the superpower that relies solely on its ability to make war while ignoring all other options is not as powerful as it could be.
We should never again allow a party to convince that peace is an impossibility and war is our only option.  

Learning from Our Mistakes

When we look at what has become of George Bush's mission to assert American dominance over the fragile Middle East, this should be a time of reflection. To learn from our past mistakes.

This moment in America's history should provide all Americans - but especially the war hawks  in the Republican party- what happens when a powerful nation forsakes the often tedious process of peace.  
It isn't as though a generation has passed since the Bush crusade in Iraq. The effects of his catastrophic miscalculation are visible everywhere you look.  

If the Republicans in Congress do not seem to have learned from the past, that shouldn't come as a surprise. War has a devastating effect on the national character of all nations, whether they are its victims or its instigators.  
Leo Tolstoy famously said
War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle the voice of conscience within themselves.
If we judge by the remarks of some of the Republicans in Congress and the candidates on the campaign trail, the love for war must also silence the voice of common sense.


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