Tag Archives: Iran

Alarmism and the “special relationship”

Not what you expected to see on Speaker John Boehner's home page, eh?
Not what you expected to see on Speaker John Boehner’s home page, eh?

Later this morning, at 11 AM, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make his much-ballyhooed speech before a joint session of Congress (minus a few dozen members). It will contain the same platitudes and hyperbolic warnings — “I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission,” he said, with characteristic understatement — that have been his staple for two decades. (Yes, two decades!) People will clap numerous times. They will stand, sit, and then stand again in a spectacle that would put your average Catholic mass to shame. Bored DC residents (but I repeat myself) are lining up to ask for tickets.

But something is different this time around: namely, Bibi — who is in the midst of a reelection campaign — has managed to anger President Obama more than usual by accepting an uncoordinated invitation from House Speaker John Boehner, which in turn upset a lot of congressional Democrats.

The rhetorical phrase of the moment seems to be “politicizing the special relationship,” which is a euphemism for “pissing off Democrats:”

  • John Kerry: “It was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the speaker of the House and that an administration was not included in this process. But the administration is not seeking to politicize this.”
  • Samantha Power: “This partnership should never be politicized, and it cannot and will not be tarnished or broken.”
  • Rep. Greg Meeks, D-NY: “We shouldn’t be playing politics on the floor of the House.”
  • Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-IL: “I just think [the Netanyahu speech before Congress] is a very bad idea. It’s politicized — he shouldn’t politicize our relationship and the Congress of the United States.”
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-TX: “But by politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship with an address which will be seen as a refutation of our foreign policy and our president, one that will take place two weeks before national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Speaker Boehner are playing a destructive and reckless game with the U.S.- Israel relationship and will potentially upset the delicate state of our negotiations with Iran and our leadership of the P5+1.”
  • J Street: “Wading into partisan American politics behind the back of our elected president damages the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
  • Benjamin Netanyahu: “The last thing anyone who cares about Israel, the last thing that I would want, is for Israel to become a partisan issue, and I regret that some people have misperceived my visit here this week as doing that. Israel has always been a bipartisan issue. Israel should always remain a bipartisan issue.”

Enter Jeffrey Goldberg, Netanyahu’s-staunchest-critic-except-when-he’s-in-fact-underhandedly-needling-Obama:

Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent: He is apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president they despise. Boehner seeks to do damage to Obama, and he has turned Netanyahu into an ally in this cause. It’s not entirely clear here who is being played.

Therein lies the crux of the issue. It is actually easy to see, with increasing clarity, just who is getting played here, and it is neither Boehner nor Netanyahu: it’s the American public, for being told time and again that, above all, the “special relationship” is at stake and must be protected at all costs. Worse yet, we have to bear these same costs in the form of dead American soldiers, widespread anti-Americanism, and increased insecurity.

And for what? Since when, in the arena of international relations, do permanent “special relationships” even make sense? “America doesn’t have friends. America only has interests,” Henry Kissinger once said. But to this rule Israel is a glaring exception: unlike the American relationship with virtually every other country in the world, the American-Israeli bond is “unbreakable” a priori — its logic depends on nothing. And it is self-perpetuating: the “unbreakable bond” must remain as such because it has always been so: “Israel has always been a bipartisan issue.” (This is, of course, as true as “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.”)

Look at the American relationship with China over the past several decades — or with Egypt, or Iran, or even India. These relationships have all seen ebbs and flows, summits and nadirs, depending on mutually expressed interests. By contrast, the Israeli-American relationship, while enduring the occasional bump, including this one — slight hiccups that, in the absence of a genuine rift, nearly always manage to generate a greater media stir than they warrant — has held remarkably steady even as the two nations’ strategic interests drift ever farther apart.

And yet, in view of these contradictions, what we seem to hear most from political analysts is a collective handwringing over the relationship’s “deterioration,” not recognition of its longtime illogicality in the first place.

Goldberg is so torn up over Bibi’s clash with Obama that he wrote a Q&A in which he played both the Q and the A himself.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, warned: “What you’re going to see is a very, very deep disagreement over policy by an American government led by President Obama and an Israeli government for now led by Netanyahu…[which is] only going to get worse if an agreement is struck with Iran, and then you’re in a very serious clash between the two countries.”

A liberal rabbi, John Rosove, got downright Gladwellian: “It’s a tipping-point moment. It’s no longer the Israeli government, right or wrong. The highest form of patriotism and loyalty is to criticize from a place of love.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), the sole Jewish member of Congress, said of Netanyahu’s speech: “It is an opportunity to let not just the Israeli prime minister know, but the Israeli people know, that America is united in strengthening our relationship with Israel.”

Perhaps strangest of all was the statement by aptly-named Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), who noted: “When you separate Israel from the policies of its government, it complicates the matter for Congress.” Indeed it does. But whether Netanyahu loses his premiership on March 17th or not, American interests will continue to differ meaningfully from Israel’s. In other words, it is about the state, not just the current government.

For example, Iran poses a much-reduced threat — in any meaningful conception of the term — to the United States in comparison to its effect, however exaggerated, on Israel’s security. ISIS cannot possibly hope to directly threaten American territory in the same way it can worry Israeli citizens. The radicalization of Arab opposition movements poses a greater immediate concern to Israel than it does to the United States. And so on.

Stranger still, the peak alarmism we seem to be reaching now in the upper echelons of the Israeli-American diplomatic clique is entirely contradicted by all available evidence. The U.S. has, for example, placed crippling sanctions on Iran. It’s bombed ISIS. It continues to bankroll billions of dollars of military aid to Israel each year. Just yesterday, while Netanyahu was at AIPAC sowing panic over a potential Iran deal, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was at the UN’s Human Rights Council, asking its members to end their “obsession with Israel.”

All this is to say: after watching Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likudnik allies cry wolf, engage in warmongering, and inject themselves into American politics in the past couple decades, we’re learning the wrong lesson when we lament the “politicization” of the special relationship. It’s possible this may be just the gift horse we need.

Is AIPAC’s power ebbing?

Probably not, unfortunately. But it helps to have a counterweight, even one as fecklessly centrist as J Street. The relatively new “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization (whatever that means) is urging Congress not to pass a new Iran sanctions bill. National Journal takes stock of the situation:

The rise of J Street, a younger pro-Israel lobby pushing hard against the new sanctions, is serving as a counterweight to AIPAC on this issue. Revived hope for a diplomatic breakthrough with new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani helps J Street’s cause. So does political pressure from Obama. By decoupling support for Israel with support for new sanctions against Iran, the group is making it easier for lawmakers inclined to support the White House.

“We’ve been working diligently on Capitol Hill and in the Jewish-American community to raise support for the president’s diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Iran, and oppose any legislation which would threaten it,” said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J Street. “We feel very strongly that the current bill in the Senate would threaten diplomacy.”

J Street’s influence is also clear in the money it spends. Among pro-Israel groups, JStreetPAC was the largest single political donor during the 2008 and 2012 cycles, contributing nearly $2.7 million to federal candidates, parties, and outside groups.

Not so fast, says Foreign Policy:

A recent letter attacking Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing an internal brouhaha at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The Cable has learned. The powerful lobbying outfit, known for its disciplined non-partisan advocacy for Israel, recently issued an action alert about the Florida congresswoman’s waffling on Iran sanctions legislation. The letter urged members to contact Wasserman Schultz and cited a disparaging article about her in a conservative website founded by a prominent Republican political operative.

That AIPAC was driving hard for new Iran sanctions legislation surprised no one. But its use of a right-wing blog to target a well-connected Jewish Democrat with a long history of support for Israel raised eyebrows among some current and former AIPAC officials. It also raised concerns that AIPAC’s open revolt against the White House’s Iran diplomacy could fray its relations with liberal Democrats on the Hill.

“In the 40 years I’ve been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I’ve seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship,” said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC’s former chief lobbyist.

My inner optimist wants to believe this is the last, dying gasp of an organization desperately short on ideas. But then I remember that I live in the United States, and I laugh at my inner optimist.

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“The Star” bows out on Homeland‘s Season 3 finale

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Jay: So, where does Homeland go from here? Brody’s dead, Carrie’s both promoted and pregnant (with both assignments seemingly up in the air, for the moment), and the U.S. and Iran have signed a nuclear deal (in a scene that must have been shot very recently). I confess that it is difficult to imagine a scenario next season that would really keep my interest at this point.

As for the episode itself, I was disappointed, I think. I can’t put my finger on any specific flaw, other than the pervasive notion that this show has really meandered without any real objective for quite some time now. In Season 1, Homeland was about patriotism, family, and loyalty. Much of what happened that season can be analyzed via Brody’s relationships with other people: Carrie, his wife Jessica, his daughter Dana, his mentor Abu Nazir, etc.

But as Season 2 began to run off-track and then Season 3 continued the trend, I’m much less clear on what the show is “about” now. And while I’ve been predicting Brody’s death for quite some time, the fact that it’s now actually happened does raise a lot of questions as to how the series will proceed.

In some ways I think it would be best if they just stopped the show entirely here. What do you think? Continue reading “The Star” bows out on Homeland‘s Season 3 finale

“Big Man in Tehran:” On Homeland, Brody’s past closes in

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Sam: So, what’s the over-under on Brody making it out of Tehran alive? Or Carrie, for that matter? Does it strike you as not coincidental that the two of them are in Tehran for the final episode? It seems rather likely that one of them (dare we say both?) might end up not making it out of Tehran.

Overall, this episode felt like a giant teaser for the finale, though. The entire episode seemed like a whole lot of tension over whether or not Brody would carry out his mission. While the twists were clever, they seemed reminiscent of what we’ve seen from Homeland before: Carrie goes rogue in a foreign country, the original mission goes out of whack, and then things end up okay somehow.

We’ve harped on this before as well, but Saul really cannot be surprised that Carrie flat out cannot take orders, right? I mean, even Dar Adal can tell him that. Why they continually send someone like her into the field (and into Tehran, of all places) is just absolutely ridiculous. I suppose it helps with the storyline, I guess.

What’d you think of this episode? Continue reading “Big Man in Tehran:” On Homeland, Brody’s past closes in

Brody lives on for another “Good Night,” as Homeland Season 3 nears its conclusion

Jay: This was a riveting hour of television. And even aside from the theatrics of trying to get Brody across the Iraqi border and into Iran, the episode did well in other ways too — especially by avoiding some other pitfalls that could have easily induced some eye-rolling.

For one, I was cringing pretty hard as Carrie shouted at Brody over a secure line: I was just waiting for the moment when she’d scream, “I’m carrying your baby!” Perhaps the show’s writers realized that that would’ve truly been the moment Homeland would’ve jumped the shark. But it came perilously close.

Another nice little non-moment was the senator’s relatively reasonable behavior at the secret CIA site. You can often discern the quality of a show by the dimensionality of its heroes and villains. So the fact that Homeland has been gradually willing to portray the senator in a more sympathetic light is a good sign, methinks.

Personally, I could quibble a bit with the way that Brody’s vehicle looked like it had been utterly destroyed — occupants included — before they both miraculously escaped. But the moment actually turned out to be rather useful, as Brody’s Marine instincts clearly kicked in and he went from being a blubbering victim (as any of us would’ve been) to a man in charge instantly. I also liked the fact that Javadi killed Brody’s partner, which at least somewhat tempered the miraculous nature of their escape into Iran.

I’m a little less clear on what comes next. I tend to agree with some other predictors who are guessing that Brody isn’t actually the father of Carrie’s child — a point which she seemed to confirm to Quinn in this episode (although that could easily be a lie). On the other hand, if Brody’s fated to die this season anyway, it would make sense to have a mini-Brody born soon thereafter so as to provide Carrie some measure of solace, at least. (There, even more ridiculous theories for you.)

What did you think? Continue reading Brody lives on for another “Good Night,” as Homeland Season 3 nears its conclusion

Delusion of the day

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sounded the alarm that Iran was approaching “a red line.” Did the U.S. president even mention any of this? No, he was running around the country crying wolf and catastrophizing about an invented crisis. The real international threats go unremarked upon. For all intents and purposes Netanyahu is now the West’s protector.

What they said:

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A Congress of simpletons

Jeremy W. Peters reports on the contentious Armed Services Committee meeting yesterday that resulted in its recommendation for Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense:

At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Republicans like Ted Cruz, a freshman senator from Texas, going as far as to suggest that Mr. Hagel had accepted money from nations that oppose American interests.

Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and other Democrats countered by saying that Republicans had unfairly questioned the integrity of both Mr. Hagel, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, and had undermined the work of the normally bipartisan committee itself.

“Senator Cruz has gone over the line,” Mr. Nelson said. “He basically has impugned the patriotism of the nominee.”

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is opposing his former colleague, also bristled at the attacks on Mr. Hagel, saying that “no one on this committee should at any time impugn his character or his integrity.”

Tension reached its height when Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, said that those who had suggested that Mr. Hagel was “cozy” with terrorist states had a basis for their claims because Iran had expressed support for his nomination.

“He’s endorsed by them,” Mr. Inhofe said. “You can’t get any cozier than that.”

Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, gasped in disgust. “Senator Inhofe, be careful,” she later warned him. “What if some horrible organization said tomorrow that you were the best guy that they knew?”

“Horrible organization?” Implicitly characterizing Iran as such is not only ignorant — for one, most people wouldn’t refer to Iran as an “organization” — but it also perfectly illustrates the binary us=good/them=bad mentality of our elected officials towards the rest of the world.

No wonder neocons retain their substantial influence on American foreign policy, despite their shameful record on Iraq. No wonder we end up getting involved in Libya and even now some are agitating for action in Syria. If the prospect of being endorsed by one of the United States’ enemies — an enemy created thanks to the actions of the CIA as much as those of the current Iranian regime itself — is so anathema as to disqualify a Defense Secretary nominee, that says more about the committee discussing his appointment than it does about Chuck Hagel.

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Hamas, in its own words

Surprise, surprise. Turns out that, despite a lot of unsavory rhetoric and actions, Hamas doesn’t sound quite so radical and irrational as it’s made out to be in the Western press. Open Zion snags this quote by Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal:

“I am the leader of Hamas. I tell you and the whole world, we are ready to resort to a peaceful way, without blood and weapons as long as we attain our Palestinian demands: a Palestinian state and the ending of the occupation and the (West Bank separation) wall.”
-Khaled Mashaal says in an interview with CNN – largely ignored by the Israeli media.

The Ynet article includes more from Mashaal:

Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal said his Islamist movement Hamas is willing to accept a Palestinian state within the 1967borders or 22% of “historical Palestine.”

According to Mashaal, this has been Hamas’ mission and what it has been fighting for since its inception. In an interview aired this weekend on CNN, Mashaal said: “I accept a Palestinian state according to the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”

Mashaal also addressed the issue of recognizing Israel, saying “I want my state. After this state is established, it (can decide) its position toward Israel. Don’t ask me when I’m in prison under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel.”

Other encouraging signs exist as well (see first link above), including a Hamas-led investigation of “unlawful executions” of Israeli collaborators. Of course, it seems likely this will be a sham, but the very fact that Hamas feels the need to legitimize itself by carrying out some semblance of the judicial process is more evidence that the broad brush used so frequently to portray the democratically elected organization is inaccurate and out of date. One of the key contradictions of Israel’s position vis à vis Hamas is the fact that it continues to decry the organization as a fanatical terrorist group while simultaneously negotiating truces and ceasefires with it, with an eye towards a potentially more permanent settlement later on. The coexistence of those two actions is logically absurd, yet Israel and its defenders persist in perpetuating it as if it makes even a shred of sense.

(The same can be said, in many respects, in regards to Iran. In that nearly all experts agree that striking Iran’s nuclear facilities would set back progress on the bomb by only a few years at most, what does Israel get out of doing it? Given its inability to stop the technical savvy of Iran, a preemptive Israeli attack only makes sense as a deterrent — a message to Iran that further development is useless because bomb-building facilities will continue being destroyed. But if this type of deterrent measure works, then Israel’s constant depictions of the ayatollah as a fanatical theocrat operating outside the bounds of rationality simply do not add up.)

Not all broken clocks are right even twice a day

Benjamin Netanyahu:

During an address to the Britain’s House of Commons, Netanyahu said that Russia is still passing ballistic missile technology to Iran and that the Iranians are only a year away from acquiring long-range nuclear missile capability.

“If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped, then within a year Iran would become self-sufficient and would be able to create those missiles on its own,” Netanyahu said.

Oh, and…this was in November 1997. Then, the next year (Jay Bushinsky and Liat Collins, “PM: It may be too late to stop Iran, Iraq nuclear plans,” Jerusalem Post, June 9, 1998; no link):

Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated that Israel is doing everything to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nonconventional ballistic and nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the international community had largely ingnored the issue until Israel had begun raising it. He said although there had been a change, it was not sufficient and it is possible that Israel will not be able to prevent Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability. He said the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a lack of balance in the international system.

You see, if there’s one thing the global community can count on, it’s that Iran will always be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.