Tuesday, August 25, 2015

3:AM magazine (London) -: Obama's speech on the Iran nuclear treaty



3:AM:: article:

obama’s speech on the iran nuclear treaty

By Alan Gilbert.
President Obama Addresses Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention
Last Wednesday, Obama gave the most important and
well-argued foreign policy speech of his Presidency,
a speech which follows two years of long and hard
diplomacy, and put together a diplomatic agreement
 to bar Iran from seeking a nuclear weapon. This
agreement blocks the danger of an even larger war
in the Middle East, provoked by yet another
American aggression. Obama was rightly critical
of the first Gulf War, but he did not quite say – no
 American President could speak English about
this – that Bush and Cheney lied to launch an
unprovoked attack on a people which had not
attacked the United States (see Article 2, section
4 of the UN Charter which bars aggression and
recognizes self-defense against it; Michael Walzer,
 Just and Unjust Wars, chs. 1-6).

It is worth taking in the stakes here, and mounting
an all-out effort to support this Treaty. This means
specifically talking to Congressional representatives,
but also demonstrating (there was one against Charles
Schumer in New York yesterday) or if need be, forging
a much more active, nonviolent, anti-war mass
movement. Because Obama’s speech was so important,
I showed it in my graduate seminar on Ethics and
International Affairs last Thursday night. I asked the
class how many had actually listened to the speech. Of
14 people there, only 1, Michael Akume, a student from
Nigeria who follows American politics perhaps more
carefully than I do, had. This is not surprising nor is
 it the students’ fault nor the fault of the American
people who have yet, for the most part, even to hear
Obama’s arguments. Americans are not anxious, as
we saw in the protests over Obama’s threatening to
fire missiles at Syria, to go to yet another, unpredictably
 wider, longer. losing war in the Middle East. They are
supportive of this agreement – and Jewish-Americans
are more supportive than others. But a section of the
elite – Sheldon Adelson at least, perhaps the Koch brothers
judging from Scott Walker’s haste to announce he would
bomb Iran the first day of his Presidency, and AIPAC –
wants war/regime-change and Netanyahu has ardently
campaigned for it so the corporate press is “confused”
and in supposed news coverage, often against the
President.(Still that a major speech by an American
President on so compelling an issue, one so carefully,
logically constructed, is so weakly covered in the
corporate press is shocking.)

As President Obama makes starkly clear, the alternative
to this agreement is war (that is, American aggression
against Iran). And he said, given his embrace of Israel’s
 needs, to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, he
himself would carry it out (I will return to this aspect
of the speech). Though Obama acts creatively and
under great criticism for peace, no American President,
head of a large Empire, can mainly fight for peace (as
Obama said, he has sent troops to fight in 7 cases; except
for taking out Bin Laden, none are justified…).
Nonetheless more intelligently than any existing
scholarly or journalistic comment (this is often a
 unique feature of Obama’s speeches, compared to
 any other figure in mainstream American political
 life), Obama underlined the point that not only the
European powers, Russia and China have come in
on this agreement through hard negotiations –
“I know; I was there” he said pointedly – and sometimes
 at the cost to their countries of billions in trade, but
 every government that has spoken about it, except
 Israel, has supported it. Nuclear experts and over
100 former American ambassadors have endorsed it.
This Treaty has major international standing as a peace
agreement through multilateral diplomacy.

Therefore, if the Congress sabotages this, as Obama
underlined, it will not only cause a larger and more
dangerous war in the Middle East; it will fatally
undermine America’s standing or credibility in t
he world as a political leader for diplomacy – a
decent one, at least sometimes – as opposed to
“with us or against us” naked aggression. And
against Congress’s expressed wishes, it would
enhance Iran’s standing and if the Iranian leadership
so desired (it is not clear that they do), enable them
to pursue a nuclear weapon quickly and with relief
of most of the sanctions.

In contrast to this Treaty, the notion of “with us or
against us” was Netanyahu’s first and longstanding
strategy, proposed by Richard Perle and others now
at the center of American neoconservatism, for
redefining the Middle East by war and conquest. This
bizarre approach is often pawned off on the United
States, as executed in Iraq, by Bush and Cheney and
incited today by William Kristol, McCain, Graham, the
Republican Presidential candidates – even Rand Paul
who should know better, but wants so badly to be
President… – and of course the Republican caucus
 backed by many Democrats.

In a deeper perspective, however, Obama likened his
own role to that of John F. Kennedy in the first
negotiations with the Soviet Union preventing war –
he spoke at American University because that is
where Kennedy spoke on the importance of negotiating
with an “enemy” more than 50 years ago – and he also
underlined the connections with Ronald Reagan negotiating
previous treaties. The great tradition of American diplomacy
contrasted with arrogance (hubris), trying to get everyone
to knuckle under to force, the “with us or against us”
taunting of critics, including domestic ones, as enemies
or “weak” of Bush-Cheney. With 12 years in in Iraq and
13 in Afghanistan, as well as the rise of ISIL, it is clear
enough that American policy – even a successful imperialist
policy – needs a level-headed attention to facts. Obama
underlined his own criticisms of the Iraq war – what he
once named a dumb war though it is also and more
 importantly an unjust war, an American aggression – but
said that his goal has been to change America’s mindset.
Instead of unilateralism and bullying, Obama sought to
exercise American leadership through multilateral
diplomacy and to avoid war wherever possible. This,
he said, is an admirable tradition in American foreign
policy, and the alternative has created a great crisis in
the Middle East, once again down to ISIL today.

Obama was right about the horrors of the Iraq
aggression and Mr. Cheney. This is the worst, most
destructive and dangerous thing initiated by American
leaders – it includes official torture, extraordinary
rendition and trashing international law which American
had previously fought for – in the post-World War II era.
But this speech, by an American President aiming rightly
to defeat a belligerent self-destructive hegemonic
argument, also erred on or left many deep issues in shadow.
As my student Habib Zahori (an Afghani, who has
reported for the Times) pointed out, Obama, shockingly,
 omitted, for example, American genocide in Vietnam
 (some two million Vietnamese died because of the
American invasion ).

“Block out the noise,” Obama said to the Congress, the
empty clamor for aggression. He is right.

Now some of the critics (this includes Democrats like
 Schumer on the take from Netanyahu and AIPAC and,
in fact, willing to endanger Israelis by pursuing
Netanyahu’s “conquest of the realm”) demand some
other, supposedly “better agreement.” But Obama
underlined that diplomacy worked here only because
 all the powers were concerned with Iran getting a
nuclear weapon and altering the status quo in the
Middle East. That status quo includes a nuclear
armed Israel, and as Obama emphasized, a far more
formidable power in conventional military terms
than Iran, one to be aided further by Obama as the
most supportive President, in terms of arms, in modern
times. The multilateral sanctions regime which exerted
such pressure on Iran that they agreed to this deal was
focused solely on eliminating Iran’s search (if it exists)
for a nuclear weapon.

Hence sanctions by other powers also end with this
agreement. For that is why they originally stepped up,
at Obama’s urging, the sanctions. One cannot have a
Treaty which achieves the goal explicitly sought by
all the allies and then keep the partners agreeing to
punish Iran forever to achieve the American/Israeli
Right’s goal of regime change or war.Further if the
American Congress sabotages this Treaty, Iran will
appear to others to be in the right., the power willing
to pursue, at some sacrifice, peace and America
governed by an irrational Congress/Israeli government
 influence, hopelessly belligerent, a pawn of
Netanyahu (or Adelson, his funder).

Obama speaks of his career-long defense of Israel and,
rightly, of the need of an American President to act on
his best judgment – in this case a very well-argued and
decent judgment – of America’s interests, not the Israeli
leader’s judgment. That this even has to be said – even
while America arms the illegitimate and immoral Israeli
Occupation of Palestine – is sad… Netanyahu’s policy
of trying to defeat Obama is ugly and is dangerous for
most Israelis (and is likely to produce widespread
revulsion in the United States if the Congress succeeds
in rejecting the Treaty, a long and losing war ensues…).

Now, other countries like Germany will gain in trade by
immediately opening to Iran. Thus, instead of a dramatic
agreement which bars Iran from seeking a weapon forever
 and imposes inspections for 15 years – and if there is
evidence that Iran is doing so, Obama underlined, the
US can act swiftly, militarily even, to do something about
it – Iran can instead move quickly to produce such a
weapon and with large international sanctions relief as
well as widespread sympathy (again, there is not clear
evidence, according to Western and Israeli intelligence
that Iran is now doing or would do so…). Now Ahmedinijad
(though not the Supreme Leader), was, as Obama
emphasizes, a Holocaust denier (he held a 
conference with various reactionary 
fantasists); he said something about being present
for Zionism’s burial (not the same as a 
statement that he would make war to 
do it – that cliche flows probably from a
partisan or interested mistranslation
of what he said), Further, Iran has 
not aggressed against any one.

Iran gives some aid to the Houthis and Hezbollah,
Obama notes. But talk about the Pot and the
Kettle: what violent movements for 
change usually from the Right has the US not
aided in the world?  Take the Contras in 
Nicaragua or the putsches against the 
democracies in Honduras or the Ukraine (the
latter both under Obama).And Hamas was
initially created and funded by Israel
 to defeat the PLO… Netanyahu had 5 Iranian
physicists  murdered going to work (until 
the US stopped him) while Israel
has locked up for 20 years the courageous
Mordechai Bnunu who worked on and told 
the truth about the Israeli nuclear arsenal…

What would the United States government do to a
government that murdered 5 of our physicists? 
Further, Netanyahu didn’t go on about Iran 
until after the supposed great enemy Iraq 
was invaded by the United States. So 
why is Netanyahu personally – and the 
Israeli government – so willing to 
undermine its three billion dollar a 
year in arms giving-ally, Barack Obama,
so all out for war? The answer unfortunately is
that the war and the threat of war is a 
diversion, as big a fraud as the Iraq 
war. What the government of Israel 
wants – a racist government moving 
over to the even farther right than 
the Prime Minister, not a single 
partner for peace among them 
(Netanyahu claims this of 
the Palestinians but Abbas 
would happily negotiate; 
what Netanyahu does is 
psychologically projection, as 
Jung might have named it). Israel 
is enforcing steadily 
a “second transfer” that is 
ethnic cleansing by force and 
phony law (Israel declares all 
longstanding residents of the 
Occupied Territories “temporary,” 
revokes their passports, takes their 
homes upon dying or declares 
them open for settlement and 
steadily moves them out). Netanyahu 
would also like a remodeling of the 
neighborhood a la Perle without 
additional Israeli effort.

But the Israeli government, as Netanyahu showed
openly with his last racist appeal in the recent
election to his supporters –“ Arabs are swarming to
the polls” – pursues a policy of enforced apartheid
(as many have noted) and transfer/ethnic cleansing.
No international organization will sanction it (this
policy of forced transfer, war and conquest in the
Middle East). Except for the US, Israel often has
no votes in the UN because its policy toward the
 imprisoned Palestinians (behind a wall) displays
 a contempt for decency. Anyone who has been
to the Occupied Territories or sees film of the
soldiers abusing the people on the news will
not sympathize with the Israeli government. Hence,
 Palestinians are behind a wall not only in Israel
but in the bad coverage of the commercial media
in the United States, led by the New York Times.
As Chris Hedges’ powerful, recent argument
for it indicates, the Boycott, Divestment and
Sanctions movement grows 
AP880540970157-640x480
What Obama said in the speech about Hamas firing
in missiles from Israel’s border – the “dangerous
neighborhood” – is not quite true since “greater Israel”
engulfs, step by step, illegally and immorally conquered
Palestine, including repeated slaughters (to test weapons)
in Gaza; it is Israel that refuses, as the most armed power
in the Middle East, to negotiate with the Palestinians. What
Hamas does is awful but where it attacks the Israeli
Occupiers and not civilians, self-defense (killing
civilians is murder; Israel killed some 460 children
in Gaza last winter, Hamas 1 in Israel…; mass nonviolent
resistance by Palestinians, however, would be both much
more effective and decent). Israel’s expansion – the
300 settlements and 500,000 settlers planted in Occupied
Palestinian Territory – makes the neighborhood
“dangerous” for the Occupiers. In contrast, seeking
an agreement would lessen the danger. The position
of Netanyahu, the Republicans and now Schumer is,
thus, as Obama underlines, stupid for the Israeli people.
It is not designed to limit Iran’s capacity to produce
a nuclear weapon. It tries instead to force the American
President to back out on a multilateral, international
agreement America negotiated, makes Iran’s search
for a weapon (if they are doing that) swifter and
abolishes all the multilateral inspections. If Iran
were strengthening its capacity to produce a weapon
 (some in Iran would like to, though the Supreme
Leader has barred making or using these weapons
 as he barred using chemical weapons in the
Iran-Iraq war), the US would then bomb Iran, and
instigate a wider war in the Middle East.

To sabotage the agreement is thus to facilitate more 
rapid Iranian proceeding – without inspections, not
 barring weapons and restricting research even for 
peaceful nuclear energy for 10 years – toward a 
nuclear weapon. That is why Obama underlined 
the ironic agreement between Iranian belligerents 
who chant “death to America” and Republicans 
about the Treaty. If getting rid of a supposed Iranian
 nuclear weapon were, in fact, the aim –
 it isn’t – then opposing the agreement would, 
as Obama said, produce the opposite of what 
opponents claim they want. Now as the Federalist 
Papers suggest (numbers 4 and 51, for instance), 
the American Congress could take special steps 
to oppose arbitrary Presidential wars, wasting 
the lives and treasure of citizens and many, 
many others:

“It is too true, however disgraceful it be to
human nature, that nations in general will
make war whenever they have a prospect of
getting anything by it; nay, absolute monarchs
will often make war when their nations are to
get nothing by it, but for the purposes and
objects merely personal, such as thirst for military
glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition,
or private compacts to aggrandize or support their
particular families or partisans. These and a variety
of other motives, which affect only the mind of the
 sovereign, often lead him to engage in wars not
sanctified by justice or the voice and interests
of his people.” (John Jay, Federalist, number 4)

Congress sometimes does so, because of popular
resistance from below in the case of Obama firing
missiles at Syria. It is thus particularly sad and creepy
that the one time in the modern era – not about Vietnam,
 not about the aggression or torture in Iraq, not about
Kissinger-Nixon aiding torturers and backing every
murderous dictatorship in Latin and Central America
(Chile, Argentina, Salvador, Honduras – the list goes
on and on) – the Congress uniquely demands final say
on, to oversee/override an intelligent, peace-enhancing
agreement. This Treaty also weakens the ties of, the
thrall over American policy of Israel and monarchical
Saudi Arabia, one which gives more maneuverability to
seek peace or advance American purposes in the Middle
 East short of war, and makes America less widely
disliked/hated. Thus in all the bizarre, often 
criminal history of modern American foreign
policy, that the Congress claims, at the bidding 
of Israel and given America’s extraordinary 
warmongering militarism, in this case and 
in this case only, a right to review a 
Presidential decision is really 
awe-inspiringly awful. In the Federalist, the
balance of powers was supposed to prevent 
quasi-monarchical wars. Yet what the Congress
is doing is being even more dangerously and 
murderously warmaking than Obama’s version 
of the Imperial Presidency (Obama uses drones 
to murder people, usually civilians, in countries
the US is not at war with, allows the NSA to spy 
on all Americans without warrants, protects 
torturers/murderers from prosecution against 
Treaties signed or initiated by the United States 
and mercilessly prosecutes whisteblowers/American
heroes like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning).

Yet as Obama tries wisely to reinstate serious diplomacy in
this case and work toward balancing of powers in the
Middle East, the Congress is channeling Dick Cheney’s
ghost (he can be seen flickering, with his cracked
smile still, on Fox…) and neocon belligerence. The current
Congress – some Democrats as well as all Republicans reject
the agreement without any decent argument or often, without
argument except authority (“Netanyahu says…) – endangers
 most Israelis – wider war will definitely do this – and furthers
 pursuit of a nuclear weapon now, if that is Iran’s aim.
Moreover, this treaty reveals American imperial might.
As Obama underlines, it is extraordinarily intrusive on
Iran – in fact, uniquely so in the history of arms
agreements. It bars nuclear weapons forever. It
restricts even peaceful research on atomic power –
something that Iran has a right to do and which the
 US encouraged under the Shah – for ten years.
 Inspectors can oversee activities at any currently
identified nuclear site immediately, and gain access,
in 24 hours, or if there is Iranian objection, a
maximum of 24 days, to any site which the US
finds suspicious.
Obama_US_Jamaica.JPEG-0b1c7_s878x559
To have a nuclear weapon, Obama underlines, Iran
would have to have secret weapons chain from sites
at which uranium was mined or traded for to the
reactors to enrich uranium (the existing plutonium
reactors are now to be sealed). No country (including
the US or the USSR) has ever been able to do this
in the face of a modestly serious inspections regime.
Now the original SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation
Talks) Treaty Kennedy negotiated was for 5 years.
The Reagan treaty – START (Strategic Arms
Reduction Treaty) – was for 15 years. This Treaty,
in those traditions, is for 15 years and has, as
Obama underlined, far more intrusive aspects.
For Iran is a much weaker power than the Soviet
Union; it has no nuclear weapons pointed at
American cities as the United States (and Russia)
 still do. Further, Iran is now suffering from major
sanctions and its domestic product has fallen 20%
because of it. Ordinary Iranians are hurting. Thus,
Iranians elected the Rouhani government which
negotiated this agreement (Iran is probably more
of a democracy than what the US supports in the
Middle East, including Israel which holds a large,
subjugated population captive…). There is great
pressure emanating from below in Iran for better
standard of living – that is, relief from the boycott
– as well as for moving toward Western democratic
practices (recall the Green Revolution of 2011) and
in addition, toward open trading with the West.

In addition, Obama pointed out, the Treaty does
not require any reduction in US military power.
Answering these critics, he underlined that Iran
spends $15 billion on the military, an eighth of
even what US allies in the Middle East – the
reactionary regimes of Israel, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and
other bizarre monarchy/dictatorships spend on
American weaponry.But Obama also underlined
that the US official military budget – supposedly
600 billion dollars per year – is 40 times Iran’s. And
 this does not include nuclear research done in the
department of energy, the entire “intelligence” budget –
some hundreds of billions which includes the
drone shootings, the budget for the Joint Special
Operations Command which is off the Pentagon
books, a secret force of some 66,000 soldiers sent
by the President on 12 missions in some 70 countries
each night, money in the State Department budget
spent on lobbying other countries to buy American
weapons (some 6,500 “diplomats” are employed in
this – it is a central activity in every American
embassy – though the total diplomatic budget, about
60 billion, 1/10th that of the official Pentagon budget –
includes these costs as a small fraction…) and the like.
To put Obama’s point even more clearly and less
flatteringly to the US government, the US perhaps
spends over a trillion dollars a year on war and
has some 1180 military bases abroad (no other
country has more than 5).

In contrast, the Iranian government spends 15 billion
dollars per year…maybe one-seventieth of what the
US spends…Iran has no bases abroad.Short of a nuclear
weapon Obama says, Israel, with US help, can easily
withstand Iran. But the same is even true with such a
weapon (Israel has at least 200 nuclear warheads –
and would destroy Iran even without US support;
deterrence worked with the Soviet Union and would
with Iran; the Israeli leadership’s panic about Iran is
a diversion from their illegal transfer of the Palestinians.
The US has troops in – as a result of invasions over 10
years ago – the two countries immediately surrounding
Iran (the equivalent: if Iranian troops had occupied
Mexico and Canada…). Iran has not invaded any other
power in modern times. That is another fact Obama –
as the President of the largest Empire in the world,
trying to convince warmongers on the extreme Right
dedicated to Netanyahu not to launch another war –
glosses over.

In response point by point to the claims raised by
critics of the nuclear agreement, however, Obama
showed, that these are empty…He is right to refer to
 logic here. This is the most careful argument
advanced by an American President for a foreign
policy decision. Now The New York Times had a
serious editorial defending the agreement. But
with the Republican “debate” – once again, 
note how warmongering, led by Lindsay
Graham who suggested as a criterion for 
nomination that only a candidate who 
wants larger war, more troops to Iraq and
Syria – should be a Republican presidential 
nominee, and the “Christian” warmonger 
Huckabee – the commercial press barely 
covered the speech. Nor does it run down 
– even in summary form – Obama’s striking 
answers to every argument so far advanced 
by the critics.Senator Schumer of New York
 announced his opposition to the agreement
 Friday morning. He and others do not feel 
that they will pay a penalty for sabotaging a 
major peace agreement, undermining 
American diplomatic leadership in so far as 
(pretty rarely unfortunately) it plays a decent 
role, and mandating – in the name of 
Netanyahu and a bizarre and self-destructive 
faction in Israel – war by the United States 
of America. The Treaty is a new and 
courageous departure for American policy. 
But the corporate media – once again, influenced
by a large Israel, AIPAC funded campaign, some 
$40 million – have not covered this agreement 
honestly. For instance, before Obama’s speech, 
they had not noticed that all the advocates of this
war were advocates of the mad and also 
self-destructive aggression against Iraq in 
2003. In order to defend this Treaty, however, 
Obama reached out to canvas arguments to 
many groups and took in Peter Beinart’s fine 
column from the Atlantic on how the advocates 
of war in Iran and those who brought America 
to war in Iraq. As Obama said archly and rightly, 
these warmongers have been in the wrong about 
war repeatedly.

And thus, suddenly, last Tuesday, Beinart’s point made the
New York Times in its initial account of Obama’s position and
 then in the editorial.Now the warmongers include not just
the pathetic McCain and Lindsay Graham (and of course
the craziness/war advocacy/”the Bible says so” of the
“Christian Zionists” including Huckabee – see here for
another fine Beinart dissection of the strange claim that
Iran, which has had little harassment of Jews internally,
is plotting genocide against Israel – and of Straussian
neocons like William Kristol – stuck like a squeaky
broken record on “appeasement,” “appeasement” as
if all the world were a repeat of “Munich…” (consider
 the figures on Hitler’s arms, overwhelming, compared
to disarmed England or even the Soviet Union and the
United States in 1939…) and prayers for “Greater Israel”
– and behind them, Netanyahu (bankrolled by the Las 
Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson).

Against the haze in the corporate press, Beinart – himself,
like Andrew Sullivan, a former supporter of the Iraq war
who saw clearly its devastating effects on the Middle East
and America and how he had been misled – names every
one of these advocates of yet another war as a repeated
aggressor. As Beinart says, if this point becomes widely
recognized, support for sabotaging this agreement is likely
to evaporate.Responding carefully to each argument, Obama
said, rightly, that the exaggerations/panic of Huckabee,
Graham, Kristol et al is a sign of vacuity of argument.
Obama asked for new specific proposals or even
arguments beyond “get a better agreement”; there are none.
Now if the US attacks Iran, Iran has lots of troops to send to
fight; there will be a larger and more unstable war in the area,
and Israel, which has nuclear weapons may well be threatened
in 5 or 10 years and could easily come to use nuclear weapons.
And radiation travels.

This Treaty – this creative turn in American policy – is thus
no small matter for the fate of the world.Critics on the left –
those who rightly note that Obama is the President of an
Empire, not mainly a representative of you and me – are
mistakenly blind to this point. Glenn Greenwald, however,
rightly, criticizing Obama’s claim that the US is waging
wars in 7 countries under his leadership, does recognize
the value of the Treaty. Now my student Salvador
Armendariz pointed out to the class that there was a
contradiction between calling for international
agreement and threatening unilateral sanctions/force
 if it fails:

“President Obama initially stated that unilateral US sanctions
alone had failed to curb Iran’s nuclear policy which the
US considers a threat. However, when addressing
arguments against his administration’s nuclear deal,
he stated that if Iran were to break the terms of the
nuclear agreement the US could unilaterally impose
sanctions on Iran (I think he said even without the
consensus of the US Security Council) to address
that problem. I think the problem with his contradiction
is that it would be misleading to indicate that the US could
act unilaterally (in terms of imposing economic
sanctions) if necessary to curb Iran’s nuclear programs.
If Iran were to break the terms of the deal, and the
US would want to continue to use a diplomatic option
to address that problem, it would need to orchestrate
multilateral intervention once again as it has done now.”

Salvador is right, but as Salvador noted, this is a
comparatively small intellectual weakness in
what is, vis-a-vis the Right, a very careful argument.
 (I might also note: the Right agitates for precisely
another ineffectual, unilateral war, not that a
multilateral invasion would be more effective
or decent.) As Michael Akume also pointed out,
Obama made this error to reassure the Right that
America’s war-making power remains in tact.
Krista Vendetti gave a good talk on Amartya
Sen on democracy. After the seminar, she told
me she had gone with Move On to meet with
Congressman Ed Perlmutter. An older man
attending the meeting warned bitterly that Iran
must not be allowed a nuclear weapon. He did not
know that the new agreement prevents precisely
this result. One of Perlmutter’s aides was very
huffy with the group of defenders of the Treaty.
Nonetheless, Krista waited to speak one on one
 with Perlmutter; interestingly, Ed was sufficiently
impressed to offer her an internship. Hopefully, he
also has the good sense to support the Treaty. But
only the greatest active pressure from below, as
Obama rightly requested, can now uphold this
agreement, Majority sentiment on this, as on
many issues, does not sway Congress, an organization
 controlled – in Jimmy Carter’s recent words on the
Thom Hartmann show – by oligarchy; whether
democracy is more than in name usually, often only
depends on action from below.

The Move On group made a difference. You can, too.
I urge everyone to act in support of the agreement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan Gilbert is John Evans professor at the Josef
Korbel School of International Studies at the
University of Denver and author of
Marx’s Politics:Communists and Citizens(Rutgers,
1980),  Democratic Individuality 
(Cambridge, 1990), Must Global 
Politics Constrain Democracy (1999) and
Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting 
for Emancipation in the War for 
Independence (Chicago March, 2012). 
His blog Democratic Individuality is a 
rich mine.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 15th, 2015. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rob Howse on why Congress overriding the Iran Treaty would undermine/collapse the US economy


     Rob Howse and Jacob Lew underline an argument about the emptiness of Republican claims to sabotage the mulilateral treaty with Iran which most people don't know.  It is worth taking in and emphasizing to our fellow citizens and Congress to uphold the Treaty.

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     International finance, as Rob Howse underlines, works according to specific agreements.  While the US is a great economic power, its ability to strong-arm others, particularly banks and businesses in other countries, is very limited.  For example, European powers invested heavily in Iran in oil until the US made the issue of stopping a nuclear weapon (if the Iranians are indeed pursuing one) primary.  But now two years of negotiations have produced a strong agreement about this. The goal has been achieved.  it is the height of foolishness to believe that the Europeans and the UN will go back to sanctions, let alone inscribe stronger sanctions after Iran has agreed to strong inspections and limits for 10 years on a peaceful program and forever on a nuclear weapon.

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    Worse yet, if Congress forces the US to back out and try to punish all foreign banks and companies who will not cooperate, they can cite in international tribunals the very Treaty the United States has negotiated.   The US can then attempt to allege a national security exception for a trading agreement (not a human rights or environmental one since these bodies do not allow such exceptions, even when based on democratically passed laws...).  But in this case, it would have to claim this having backed out of a multilateral treaty, securing Iranian cooperation in ending Iran's possibility of pursuing a nuclear weapon, negotiated by the President. What international adjudicative body will not award the biggest damages against the US, given this agreement, for cowardly attempts to back out of this American-led agreement and punish foreign companies.  And what steps will other countries take against the US given its new, hypocritical, idly belligerent, economic war on the world and its move to launch an unpredictable, very threatening, even larger war in the Middle East?

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   Such losses would sabotage America's own economy not to mention, as Obama underlined, the dollar as the world's currency.  As Rob says archly below, Senator Schumer is Wall Street's man (aside from Israel and AIPAC). Wall Street would experience severe damages...

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   In Howse's pointed formulation,

   "The peace party, led by the Administration, has offered a detailed and intricately crafted diplomatic settlement. The war party that dare not say its name has provided only a dogmatic appeal to human desperation, that if we pummel Iranians enough, and then pummel our allies and trading and finance partners enough, they will do our will.  Such a strategem would, to say the least, betray the values that make America great and undermine our moral credibility in the world; at the same time it is a wild fantasy, albeit a perverted one."

***

    Rob gets into the technical aspects of international trade agreements, many of which are, as he does not say, harmful to American working people (and others).  But he suggests the excellent point that these agreements also tie down Goliath (the largest war economy in the world).  The US can't just growl - pace Bush, Cheney and the Republican neocon ninnies all mouthing the same nonsense they did about Iraq - and get others to go along.  That is a mercy.  As he suggests, it would be a curse on Republicans for the silly servants of the ultra-rich and Israel - in this case, with somewhat contradictory interests - to get their way.

***

    More importantly, Obama said, the somewhat bipartisan American position is that Iran must be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon by war.  But that would be, contra Obama,  an horrific, unjust, imperial war, leading to greater crises in the Middle East (with Israel having nuclear weapons and very likely, being threatened by these developments over the next 10 years).  If Congress sabotages this agreement, that war will be.  In contrast, Obama emphasizes the importance of the Treaty.  He is right to do so.  And we should all work to support it.

***

    At DU last week, I heard former Israeli admiral and head of the Shinbet, Ami Ayalon who argued that the treaty is, for the Israeli security establishment, a "done deal."  He is going around the US speaking in favor of Congress accepting the agreement (in this regard, he represents most intelligence officials and military officers in Israel). In answer to a question, he sharply criticized Netanyahu's course. But the American Republican/neocon corpse doing Netanyahu's and Sheldon Adelson's - the Las Vegas casino magnate, funder of Netanyahu's and Mitt Romney's campaigns - bidding, is still twitching.  It needs to be put to rest...

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      Previous posts in this series can be found here, here and here.

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International Law and Economic Policy Blog
TTIP and the Iran Deal: European Business Should Be Protected Against US Unilateral Sanctions 

In the debate over the Iran deal among US legislators, high-profile enemies such as New York Senator Charles Schumer attack the Administration's suggestion that the one alternative to this agreement is war-bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.  Such critics hold out that continued or perhaps intensified sanctions could bring Iran to its knees, submitting to demands for a "better" deal. The hiccup is that the rest of the world is likely to lift sanctions and do business with Iran.  Hence, Schumer and company  have to insist that the US take punitive action against foreign economic interests that are willing to engage with Iran (so-called secondary sanctions).   Such punitive action would, it is suggested, bring other countries into line and produce collective economic pressure that brings Iran to heel.

This reasoning is understandable from the groupies of Netanyahu: it has been a key element of the Israeli leader's Gaza policy of siege.  That is, the notion that reducing a people to economic desperation will break their will.  But is this realistic, or rather is it based upon a distorted and craven understanding of human nature?
The enemies of diplomacy with Iran have scoured the JCPOA with a fine tooth comb, operating from the most negative and cynical assumptions of how each provision will be interpreted, and how Iran will implement it.  On the other hand, when it comes to the defense of their own strategy they have offered barely more than a dogmatic assumption that an economic siege can cause so much suffering and despair in Iran that it will capitulate; and that through another set of brutal penalties, we can force the hand of those who disagree-namely the rest of the world sans Netanyahu.

The peace party, led by the Administration, has offered a detailed and intricately crafted diplomatic settlement. The war party that dare not say its name has provided only a dogmatic appeal to human desperation, that if we pummel Iranians enough, and then pummel our allies and trading and finance partners enough, they will do our will.  Such a strategem would, to say the least, betray the values that make America great and undermine our moral credibility in the world; at the same time it is a wild fantasy, albeit a perverted one.

Enter today US Treasury  Secretary Jack Lew.  In the New York Times nyti.ms/1IQDwW8 Lew offered a reality check. Cutting off European and other businesses and financial institutions would  be an economic disaster for the United States, Lew persuasively argued.  Our  exporters and investors need access to global payment networks, and we have debt service obligations in other places, including Japan, that require continuing economic and financial relations. I would add that, ironically, Charles Schumer purports to represent New York in the Senate; following Lew's impeccable  reasoning, New York as a financial center would be hardest hit of all by cutting off foreign economic actors from our financial networks, which means cutting off our networks from them.

Secretary Lew also mentioned the WTO.  Most likely punitive secondary sanctions of the kind contemplated by Schumer and company  would have to be justified under the national security exception in the GATT (Article XXI) and in related agreements-very pertinently the GATS that covers financial services. The US has often taken the view that the national security exception in the GATT is self-judging.  The fact that the wording of Article XXI refers to measures that a nation "considers" to be necessary for its national security is the textual hook for saying national security is self-judging.

But under the investment treaties the United States has entered into with numerous countries it has signed on to obligations that could not so easily be waived on the basis of a self-judging national security provision.  As is clear from litigation under the Argentina-US BIT, the language in BITs is likely not to qualify the requirement of necessity with an expression such as "considers", which could imply extreme deference if not self-judging by the state taking sanctions.  Plainly said, if the enemies of the Iran deal had their way, under the existing investment agreements that are binding on the United States, the US could be liable for hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of damages if foreign companies doing business in the America were penalized for transactions with Iran.

Secondary sanctions already exist to some extent.  But their premise is a multilateral consensus on sanctions, reflected in the UN Security Council resolutions.    

Continuing or intensifying secondary sanctions is a whole new game where the Congress rejects the Iran deal but our allies and trading partners disagree and are unwilling to renew their own sanctions.  In those changed circumstances, secondary sanctions would be an affront to our allies and trading partners, attacking their sovereignty and impeding their choice to deal with Iran in the circumstance of the Congress's closure of the path of diplomacy.  It would be nigh impossible to show that secondary sanctions were necessary to the national security of the United States where the Congress threw out the window a tangible fully worked-out diplomatic alternative.

The United States is currently attempting to finalize economic agreements with important partners-TTIP with the Europeans and TPP looking out toward the Pacific.  Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is often regarded as a threat to national sovereignty. But ISDS can protect the sovereignty of America's economic partners by allowing monetary claims against the United States if it punishes foreign firms that deal with Iran.   

Both the EU and the TPP partners of the United States should demand clear language in these accords, cutting off at the pass the possibility that non-US business entities could be punished for dealings with Iran. Such sanctions should be prohibited where they are unilateral, and not justified by an agreed framework for responding to violations.  Since the Obama Administration has pioneered the path of diplomacy and cooperation, it could scarcely object to such a clause. Further, some enemies of diplomacy with Iran have ventured that even if Congress does not halt America's participation in the deal, a future President might unravel it.  Significant financial consequences if such an effort were to try to force the hand of America's allies and trading partners would have at least some dissuasive effect on future efforts to undo the Iran deal.  With fast track now in place, the Congress would only be able to stop such a safeguard provision by nixing the trade agreements altogether.  Something many Republicans would have second thoughts about doing. 
Posted by Rob Howse on August 14, 2015

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The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
The High Price of Rejecting the Iran Deal
By JACOB J. LEW AUG. 13, 2015


WASHINGTON — THE Iran nuclear deal offers a long-term solution to one of the most urgent threats of our time. Without this deal, Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism [sic - the leading rogue state/aggressor/terrorist with drones and secret prisons to this moment is the United States's government], would be less than 90 days away from having enough fissile material to make a nuclear bomb. This deal
greatly reduces the threat of Iran’s nuclear program, making Iran’s breakout time four times as long, securing unprecedented access to ensure that we will know if Iran
cheats and giving us the leverage to hold it to its commitments.


Those calling on Congress to scrap the deal argue that the United States could have gotten a better deal, and still could, if we unilaterally ramped up existing sanctions, enough to force Iran to dismantle its entire nuclear program or even alter the character of its regime wholesale. This assumption is a dangerous fantasy, flying in the face of economic and diplomatic reality.


To be sure, the United States does have tremendous economic influence. But it was not this influence alone that persuaded countries across Europe and Asia to join the current sanction policy, one that required them to make costly sacrifices, curtail their purchases of Iran’s oil, and put Iran’s foreign reserves in escrow. They joined us because we made the case that Iran’s nuclear program was an uncontained threat to global stability and, most important, because we offered a concrete path to address it diplomatically — which we did.

In the eyes of the world, the nuclear agreement — endorsed by the United Nations Security Council and more than 90 other countries — addresses the threat of Iran’s nuclear program by constraining it for the long term and ensuring that it will be exclusively peaceful. If Congress now rejects this deal, the elements that were fundamental in establishing that international consensus will be gone.


The simple fact is that, after two years of testing Iran in negotiations, the international community does not believe that ramping up sanctions will persuade Iran to eradicate all traces of its hard-won civil nuclear program or sever its ties to its armed proxies in the region. Foreign governments will not continue to make costly sacrifices at our demand.

Indeed, they would more likely blame us for walking away from a credible solution to one of the world’s greatest security threats, and would continue to re-engage with Iran. Instead of toughening the sanctions, a decision by Congress to unilaterally reject the deal would end a decade of isolation of Iran and put the United States at odds with the rest of the world.


Some critics nevertheless argue that we can force the hands of these countries by imposing powerful secondary sanctions against those that refuse to follow our lead.


But that would be a disaster. The countries whose cooperation we need — including those in the European Union, China, Japan, India and South Korea, as well as the companies and banks that handle their oil purchases and hold foreign reserves — are among the largest economies in the world. If we were to cut them off from the American dollar and our financial system, we would set off extensive financial hemorrhaging, not just in our partner countries but in the United States as well.

Our strong, open economic relations with these countries constitute a foundation of the global economy. Nearly 40 percent of American exports go to the European Union, China, Japan, India and Korea — trade that cannot continue without banking connections.


The major importers of Iranian oil — China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — together account for nearly a fifth of our goods exports and own 47 percent of foreign-held American treasuries. They will not agree to indefinite economic sacrifices in the name of an illusory better deal. We should think very seriously before threatening to cripple the largest banks and companies in these countries.


Consider the Bank of Japan, a key institutional holder of Iran’s foreign reserves. Cutting off Japan from the American banking system through sanctions would mean that we could not honor our sovereign responsibility to service and repay the more than $1 trillion in American treasuries held by Japan’s central bank. And those would be direct consequences of our sanctions, not to mention the economic aftershocks and the inevitable retaliation.


We must remember recent history. In 1996, in the absence of any other international support for imposing sanctions on Iran, Congress tried to force the hands of foreign companies, creating secondary sanctions that threatened to penalize them for investing in Iran’s energy sector. The idea was to force international oil companies to choose between doing business with Iran or the United States, with the expectation that all would choose us.


This outraged our foreign partners, particularly the European Union, which threatened retaliatory action and referral to the World Trade Organization and passed its own law prohibiting companies from complying. The largest oil companies of Europe and Asia stayed in Iran until, more than a decade later, we built a global consensus around the threat posed by Iran and put forward a realistic diplomatic means of addressing it.


The deal we reached last month is strong, unprecedented and good for America, with all the key elements the international community demanded to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Congress should approve this deal and ignore critics who offer no alternative.


Jacob J. Lew is the secretary of the Treasury.