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Can this Marriage Be Saved?

The U.S.-Israel relationship has not run super-smoothly during the Obama Administration, but last Spring when the President visited Israel things looked to be patched up. But now.....

Nathan Guttman of the Forward has a rundown on the current dispute(s), primarily over the negotiations with Iran but also the failing talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken the lead on these and is now the object of the usual attacks, not only by Israeli right-wingers, but our very own right-wingers (and moderate-wingers) in Congress (the well worn "anti-Semitic" has been bandied about). Congress may add to the sanctions against Iran, a move that Obama and Kerry oppose while the current negotiations continue; they resume November 20.

Of course, all of this may be papered over. Yet as Tom Friedman (surprise!) pointed out this past week, the U.S. needs to press its own interest in this matter. Friedman thinks it is in Israel's interest as well, but PM Netanyahu disagrees:

Friedman: "We must not be reluctant about articulating and asserting our interests in the face of Israeli and Arab efforts to block a deal that we think would be good for us and them. America’s interests today lie in an airtight interim nuclear deal with Iran that also opens the way for addressing a whole set of other issues between Washington and Tehran."

MORE: But then there's this account of Israeli lobbying in the Congress: "According to multiple Congressional aides, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are storming Capitol Hill in an effort to discredit the Obama administration's interim nuclear deal with Iran. The effort coincides with a visit by Israel's Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, who is also speaking with lawmakers on the Hill. The campaign includes one-on-one briefings with lawmakers that provide data that strays from official U.S. assessments."  Whole thing at Foreign Policy: The Cable.

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Comments

Commenting Guidelines

I am no expert about this, or much else, but Friedman and the Obama administration are rightly worried about the attempts by some legislators to inject themselves into the difficult and delicate negotiations with Iran as well as into the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio. I, for one, see no reason to regard Prime Minister Netaynahu's public efforts to sway congressional efforts as anything but outrageous. For members of our Congress to tolerate this blatant interference is also a disgrace.

I don’t think its correct to characterize Congress’ interest in what deal, if any, is struck with Iran as an inappropriate injection where it does not belong.  By law, it seems, Congress, not the executive branch, is empowered to establish what sanctions are applied against Iran.  So, shared responsibility exists and Congress has a legitimate role to play.  And given its legitimate role, its not inappropriate for Israel or any other country to be talking to Congress, just as its not inappropriate to be consulting with the President or the State Department. 

 

The concerns expressed by Senators or Congressmen are far from being expressions of the right wing.  Even Margaret, in her post, acknowledges that moderates are also concerned.  And the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, who wants the U.S to drive a harder bargain with Iran, is a liberal Democrat, as are others expressing concern.   Based on what I’ve been reading, these concerns exist across the political spectrum and within both parties.

 

And these concerns are shared by many individuals and nations.  After all, it wasn’t Congress or Israel that prevented a deal being reached last week.  If John Kerry is to be believed, it was Iran, and if Iran is to be believed, it was France, whose government is led by Francois Hollande, the head of the French Socialist Party.

 

I’ll try and address the issue raised by Margaret of the status of the U.S.-Israel alliance a little later.

 

Jeff,

If Congress, on its own, is empowered to impose sanctions on Iran, then I think that such legislation is surely misguided.

Generally speaking, it used to be held, with very good reason, that domestic politics "stops at the oceanfront," How can any president's capacity to conduct difficult diplomatic negotiations if he or she is being besieged by domestic quarrels? The history of the Israeli Prime Minister's interventions into American politics is long and anything but constructive. Of course, in matters such as these, several nations have legitimate interrests to promote. But dabbling in one antoher's internal politics is hardly a recipe for constructive engagement. Listen to Netanayahu's denunciation of the recent Iranian-American negotiations? And pay attention to his public lobbying of members of congress, urging them to undercut the president's efforts by imposing new sanctions. This strikes me as totally froeign to the intent of the Constitutional division of powers. It can only weaken the executive's capacity to conduct foreign affairs prudently and successfully. Notice that we are not talking about taking or not taking military action. We're talking about trying to negotiate a peaceful end to hostilities that thrreaten to erupt into terrible warfare.

Bernard,

 

You may be right that it was not wise for Congress to have been given the role it has with respect to sanctions, but that seems to be the situation, and Congress will just as jealously guard its prerogatives as the executive branch does its.

 

Notice that I didn’t take a position on what deal would be a good deal, because like you, and I assume everyone else commenting here, I’m no expert on these complicated, technical matters.  One of the main sources of disagreement between our side and Iran during the negotiations had to do with the plutonium reactor that Iran is building at Arak.  France in particular wanted construction on that reactor to cease during negotiations and Iran apparently balked.  There’s a very good article on this at the New York Review of Books.  The blurb for it says:  “To anyone who has been following the Iranian nuclear program, it was almost a forgone conclusion that negotiations with Iran would hit a road block when it came to the so-called IR-40 heavy water reactor located in Arak. The “40” here refers to the projected power output of forty megawatts of thermal power. It is hard to imagine generating much electricity from a forty-megawatt reactor. Whatever the IR-40’s intended use, it is not to produce electric power. What it does produce is plutonium—something that is useful for making a bomb.”  The article is entitled “Iran’s Plutonium Game,” and you can read it here http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/nov/11/irans-plutonium-game/

 

As for Netanyahu’s interference, I agree with you that he has no business personally interfering in purely domestic politics and certainly not in elections.  So, when he appeared on a Sunday morning network talk show a few weeks before the 2012 Presidential elections – even though he didn’t express a preference for either candidate, and even though when asked whether Romney was correct that Obama was throwing Israel under the bus, he said nobody’s throwing anybody under the bus (or words to that effect) – I still believe he was justly condemned.  Everybody knew who he was for and he should have stayed far away from American television during the middle of an election season.

 

But when the issue is one of foreign policy and it concerns Israel’s interests  --Iran has declared itself to be Israel’s mortal enemy – I think he has the right to be heard and to try to persuade.  John Kerry gives speeches and press interviews all the time in Israel expressing the United States’ views, even when those disagree with the views of the government of Israel.  And there is a long history and tradition of this.  I can even recall when Bill Clinton sent his main man, James Carville, to Israel to help Ehud Barak defeat Netanyahu in the 1999 election, which he did.  Talk about interference with domestic politics!  But I was for Barak, so I didn’t care, but I bet Netanyahu did!

 

Increased tensions between the US and Israel were inevitable once President Obama announced that his 2nd term foreign policy priorities would be Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel would like to permanently freeze the status quo: an Iran without nuclear weapons and a Palestinian "reservation" subject to Israeli control.

Iran's status as a "pariah" state (a status that has been both self-imposed and externally reinforced) was welcomed--as long as Iran didn't have nuclear weapons. The conundrum, from the Israeli perspective, was that any negotiations to constrain Iran's use of nuclear power would end Iran's status as a "pariah" state. For Israel, the "military option" continues to offer the least risky strategy for temporary preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons.

Negotiations confer legitimacy.  And so it came to pass that P5+1 initiated negotiations and the US for the first time in over 30 years conducted face to face talks with the "pariah" Iran.

Whatever the outcome of the current nuclear negotiations, Iran is shedding its "pariah" status--unless the Ayatollah decides otherwise. This is a foundational change in the Mideast, comparable to the overthrow of Mubarak.  Israel's comfortable status quo is disintegrating, replaced by an unknown, more risky future. And Obama is seen as facilitating both ofthese changes. Further his failure to bomb Syria underscored his unreliabilty. .

However, Israel and U.S. ties are deep and permanent. This "marriage" will survive because of "the children"--which is the foundation for many marriages.

J P Farry

JP Farry: Thanks for your comment. Your conclusion suggests that you think that PM Netanyahu or FM Lieberman (perhaps to become PM in the future) will acquiesce in whatever agreement the P5+1 reach with Iran. It will depend on the agreement, of course. Current information suggests that Iran will insist on its "right" to nuclear power, the P5 will try to fudge that, insisting that the restraints built into the agreement will obviate any chance of it building nuclear weapons and therefore it will be no nuclear threat to Israel or the Gulf Nations. How will Netanyahu take this?

 

I agree that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel is deep and abiding.  Israel and the U.S. have disagreed before, sometimes seriously, but as long as both countries want there to be an alliance, which they do, these disagreements will be worked through.  Its not unusual for the U.S. to have disagreements with allies.      For example, there have been many disagreements over the years with South Korea even though the United States fought a war to save South Korea and lost 35,000 American lives as a result, and even though the United States has at untold cost maintained an army there for almost 65 years to protect South Korea.  We have had many disagreements over the years with our European allies, including very serious disagreements such as those concerning the United States invasion of Iraq, but we are still allies.  And we have many more disagreements with the Palestinians than we do with Israel, but we nevertheless remain (probably) the largest benefactor of the Palestinians in the world, to the tune of $750 million per annum.  There are many other examples.

 

There are current disagreements between Israel and the Obama administration – good faith disagreements about what is required to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons -- but you would be hard pressed to find anyone in the administration who believes the alliance is at risk of dissolving.  Support in Congress is strong and steady.  And most importantly, by very large majorities, the American people want there to be a strong alliance between our country and Israel.

 

Some (but by no means all) who are expressing these alarmist views are doing so because they oppose the alliance in the first place and want it to fail.  But I believe they are counting chickens whose eggs have no intention of hatching.

 

As for Iran, I think it is becoming more of a pariah in the Middle East, certainly with respect to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States and perhaps with respect to Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.  Its sponsorship and control of Hezbollah has destabilized Lebanon, and Assad’s Syria, what’s left of it, is more and more becoming a client state of Iran due to its complete dependence on Iran for its survival.  Iran is actually running Assad’s war in Syria, according to a new article, The Shadow Commander, by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker.  The Filkins’ article also describes the havoc that Iran has wrought in Iraq.

 

I don’t know, any more than anybody else, how all this will play out.  But as long as Iran continues to extend its power in the Middle East, you would think that the Sunni-Shiite split will become even more exacerbated with the tragic results that we already see unfolding there.

 

Margaret:  I would supplement your last comment by noting that the Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran call for zero enrichment within Iran, but it does seem that the  P5+1 is prepared to negotiate this away. 

How Israel reacts depends on what deal ultimately is struck, which remains to be seen.  I'm not sure Israel has any options.

Jeff: Thank you for your caution about Iran's continuing status as a pariah state. Certainly, Iran will remain a sponsor of Hezbollah and Assad--and see itself as a protector of Shia populations throughout the Middle East. And Iran will continue to meddle in Iraqi politics and avoid any accomodation with Israel.

For these reasons, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (and Israel) will continue to treat Iran as a pariah.  By initiating direct negotiations with Iran, however, the US seems to be signaling an end to the era of  US ostracism..  We are signaling that Iran can have a roll in any  future modus vivendi in the chaotic Middle East. The Obama Administration may also be admitting that it will be increasing difficult to enforce a sanctions regime on a "sweet talking" Rouhani than on a scowling Ahmadinejad.

 Members of US Congress assume that they can continue to demand that China, India and Japan submit to increasing economic harm by further reducing their oil imports from Iran. Sanctions are a two-edged sword which don't directly harm the American economy but do significantly impact the economies of our friends.  

Currently Turkey and Iran are rivals for influence in Iraq and Syria. They are seeking incompatible goals. Yet these two countries are not enemies but competitors who have significant economic ties and cooperate on a number of shared goals.

 The U.S. has a comparable relationship with Russia--we are rivals not mutual pariahs..

We have to be realistic. Any détente with Iran will not result in a happy marriage. The best we can hope for are more options for "muddling through" the Middle East's explosive conflicts.

j p farry

Yes, there are strong ties of friendship and common interest between the U.S. and Israel; and they are going to continue. On the other hand, the word "alliance" refers to the relationship between sovereign states. That alliance, though it has had its ups and downs, has remained strong and stable over many decades. Yet, is it really a reciprocal relationship? Israel has certainly benefitted from it. But how was the U.S. benefitted?

 

May I return for a moment to the matter of Congressional efforts to introduce new sanctions on Iran. A simple quesrtion: Who speaks for the U. S. in any negotiations with a foreign nation? When a secretary of state or any other representative of the president speaks to a foreign negotiator, why shoud the foreigner think that the U. S. representative can make commitments that will stand?

This is an old and standing issue in political thought. Can there be any effective "divided sovereignty?" That is, who can our negotiationg partners take to speak for us? Congress, a shifting body with,shifting ambitions among its members, is hardly a dependable negotiating partner. This is true for Iran, for climate change negotiations, etc.

The present political paralysis in the U. S. calls into question our national capacity to address any substantial issue, domestic or international. It is hard for the president to claim that he can lead ona nay issue of substance. Congress obviously can't. Not a happy day for anyone who believes that effective national government is crucially important, both domestically and internationally.

Le me add my thanks to j p farry for his illuminating comments.

J. P.:  Thanks for your thoughtful response.  I don’t have a problem in the world with the United States talking to Iran. I just want the U.S. to continue to oppose it, and build alliances against it, when Iran is seeking to extend its power in the Middle East.

 

You make it sound as though the reason the P5+1 and Iran are now engaging in what may or may not prove to be serious negotiations -- let’s not forget that Iran hasn’t done anything yet – is because the U.S. decided to stop treating Iran as a “pariah.”  But the P5+1 has been negotiating with Iran for four years, but fruitlessly due to Iran’s bad faith.  Iran repeatedly violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which it is a signatory, and the Security Council resolutions designed to bring it into line with its treaty obligations.  It repeatedly lied to the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency and secreted major portions of its atomic energy program and its missile delivery program, all the while denying it had an atomic weapons program. 

 

The reason that the P5+1 and Iran may now be engaging in serious negotiations is because the sanctions-backed-by-credible-threat-of-force regime has forced Iran to the negotiating table.  Whether Iran will continue to be in bad faith or not remains to be seen, and may depend on the merits of the interim agreement that are now being negotiated.  So, what’s happening now, if its serious, is a testament to those sanctions.

 

I disagree that the oil sanctions against Iran have hurt our allies (or China).  Oil prices remained stable while the sanctions were being implemented, and they are way down from what they were in 2008.  If sanctions against Iran had caused any serious shortages, prices would have spiked as the sanctions were implemented.  But they haven’t.

Has Iran every formally apologized for holding our diplomats hostage? 

Irene:  The answer is no.  Or for its role in bombing the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1994, and murdering 84 and wounding hundreds.  Or for destabilizing Lebanaon.  Or for the murder and mayhem it has spread to Syria and Iraq.  Or for brutally repressing its own people when they took to the streets peacefully to protest the fixed elections of 1999 that gave Ahmadenijad his second term in office.

As I say, it is a force for evil in the region and should be contained unless it mends its ways, which it has no intention of doing.  It is embarked upon a course of expansion of its power in the region in the hopes of becoming the dominant power there.  Which is why our policy there should be to check it.

And since 1979, it has regarded the United States as a pariah, the Great Satan.

Margaret asks what has Israel done for the U.S. and how does the U.S. benefit from its alliance with Israel.

 

We can start with the fact that Israel’s overwhelming victory in 1967’s Six Day War against the Soviet supplied and sponsored militaries of Egypt and Syria discredited the Soviet Union and ended the Middle East’s infatuation with it.  It was after that war that Sadat kicked the Soviet Union out of Egypt.  Today, Russia’s only ally in the Middle East is Syria, which isn’t even a real country anymore.

 

Thus, in the most serious and dangerous military and geo-political conflict in which the United States has been engaged since the end of WWII, Israel was instrumental in decreasing the influence of the Soviet Union in the Middle East and increasing the influence of the West, particularly the United States.

 

Today, Israel purchases 25% of the United States’ exports to the Middle East, even though Israel contains only 3% of the population.

 

More and more United States companies are opening R&D branches in Israel to take advantage of its world leadership in technology: #1 in the world in engineers/scientists per capita and in quality of research institutions and in R&D as a percentage of GDP and in wastewater recycling; #2 in the world in clean-tech innovation; #4 in the world in patents per million population; and #5 in the world in scientific publications per capita.  United States companies are increasing their competitiveness every day because of cooperative enterprises with Israeli firms and institutions.  Among many other companies, Microsoft, Intel, IBM, Apple, Google, GE, General Motors, and Abbott Labs all have operations in Israel.

 

Israeli innovations in solar energy, biofuels and reverse osmosis are marketed by U.S. companies worldwide.

 

Israel has played an important role in developing technologies now incorporated into daily use in the U.S. and around the world, including instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocols (VoIP), encryption technologies for online commerce and cyber-security programs.

 

Israel is at the fore-front of innovations in medical technologies and devices that are benefitting people in the United States and around the world.

 

I could go on and on and on.  If you want more, say so, and I’ll give you more.

 

Would you rather that the United States ally itself with failure, and not success.  Who would you rather the United States have as its principal ally in the Middle East?  All of the failed economies and medieval societies that litter the region?

 

And if its real-politick that excites you, then Israel is the most stable country in the region and has the strongest military and the keenest intelligence service in the region.  Israel and the U.S. have been swapping intelligence for years to the mutual benefit of both countries.  And Israel’s experience in handling terror has been of great benefit  to the United States.  A lot of military equipment developed in Israel is now in use in the U.S. Armed Services.  And you may not have heard that Israel has discovered off shore and has already significantly brought online some of the largest natural gas fields in the world.  Israel’s energy needs have been satisfied, according to current estimates, for the next 40 years, and Israel has become for the first time in its history an energy-exporting nation.  And it is believed that beneath the natural gas fields lurk some of the largest oil fields to have been discovered in quite a while.  So, if its oil and gas that you’re looking for in an ally, Israel will do.

 

And lets not forget that Israel is a part of Western civilization, as is the United States, and that it is the only country in the region where the Christian population is increasing.  And with the possible exception of Turkey, Israel is the only democracy in the region, a democracy built over the last 65 years under conditions of extreme hardship.

 

Who would you rather the United States pick as its principal ally in the region?  The dictatorship of Fatah or Hamas?  The terror state of Syria?  The on-again, off-again, on-again military dictatorship of Egypt?  The theocratic dictatorships of Iran or Saudi Arabia?  The failed states of Lebanon or Iraq?

 

So, Israel and the United States have shared values and allegiances.  And Israel has contributed and continues to contribute to the U.S. militarily, economically and culturally.  As does the United States to Israel.  It is a mutually beneficial relationship, and the bonds between the two are growing all the time.

 

Bernard,

 

The President takes the lead in foreign policy and in some areas, he has the sole authority.  But in others, not.  For example, under the Constitution, the President cannot enter into treaties with foreign countries on his own.  The Senate must ratify treaties before they become law.  And in those cases the President must confer with the Senate and takes its views into account when negotiating treaties.  And from time to time, the President negotiates a treaty that the Senate refuses to ratify.  When that happens, its not a usurpation of constitutional authority by the Senate, its the constitutional way of things. 

 

And though Congress’ constitutional authority has been eroded since the end of WWII, its the constitutional way that the President cannot on his own declare war against a foreign country.  Congress has that power.  I doubt you objected to the role Congress played in holding the President back from his intention to bomb some of Assad’s military assets so as to deter Assad from the further use of chemical warfare on his own people.  I was in favor of those strikes, but I didn’t object to Congress playing a role even when I didn’t get my way.

 

So, there is a long tradition of the Congress playing a legitimate role in the formulation of foreign policy, and of the President and Congress having to confer with one another in the formulation of foreign policy.  It makes things more complicated and difficult, but that’s what the founders intended.

 

By law, it seems, the Congress has a role to play in the sanctions regime that is imposed on Iran.  So, this is one of those instances in which the President is going to have to consider Congress’ views.  And there isn’t anything wrong with the Congress asking Israel to give it the same briefing that Israel has given the Obama administration so that the Congress will have all the information before it that the administration has before it.

 

But I wouldn’t worry too much about Congress enacting new sanctions while the President is in the midst of negotiations.  I doubt its going to do that.  But it may be the case that the President’s negotiating stance is shaped somewhat by Congress’ views.

 

And then there’s this:  I was listening Friday to the weekly roundup segment of NPR’s All Things Considered.  E. J. Dionne pointed out that in the negotiations with Iran, the President may be putting to good use the role of Congress.  The administration may be saying to Iran, “You better accept what we are offering now, because if you don’t, the big, bad Congress is going to impose much harsher sanctions on you.”

 

Jeff, I do appreciate the factual accuracy of lots that you are saying. Apparently, though, we disagree about the importance for the whole country of havin g a clearly recognized authoritative voice in NEGOTIATING with foreign leaders. For example,there is a big difference between the Constitutional requirement that treaties become final only if they are RATIFIED by Congress and suggesting that the many, often contentious, voices in any Congress can play a constructive role in the negotiating process that LEADS to determining the terms of the treaty or the negotiating process.

The general issue here is whether so-called "divided sovereignty," however desirable in domestic decomocratic governance, can function well in the process of negotiating with foreign states.

Bernard,

I assume that in the instances I mentioned, such as treaty negotiations, the President's team is working all along with Senate leaders so that the President can shape his negotiating positions so that whatever he negotiates will have the best chance possible of being ratified by the Senate.  And so that the President can try to convince Senate leaders of the merit of his own positions.

That's not much different from what's going on now. In the current situation, Congress has not, to the best of my knowledge, opened back channels with Iran so as to independently do its own negotiating.  That would cetainly be inappropriate.  But you are correct that the current process is pretty noisy and public, and that probably is not healthy and probably is a reflection of the acrimonious spirit of our times.

So, maybe we don't disagree so much, after all.  In any event, I've enjoyed our back and forth, which I think has been constructive.  Thanks.

Half facts always seem impressive and Jeff always aims to please when it comes to Israel and related issues.

On Apologies: Iran has never apologized for imprisoning U.S. diplomats nor for the claim that it had a role  in bombing the Jewish Center in Buenos Aires, Lebanon, etc. The U.S. has never apologized for dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, using napalm in Vietnam, invading Iraq, removing Mosaddegh the prime minister of IRAN in 1953, etc. For better or worse, sovereign nations do not apologize, not the United States, not Israel, not Iran. So what does that prove?

On Congress: The role of Congress in debating U.S. foreign policy waxes and wanes depending on the country, the topic, the lobbying. In this particular case, the lobbying by the Israeli government in the person of its ambassador, AIPAC, and various American-Jewish groups points not only to the deep affection Congress men and women have for Israel but the very considerable clout of contributions to their political campaigns. Yes, it's a free country and you can give your money to any hack you like. But let's not conclude that Congress is judging the negotiations on their merits.

Israel our ally: Israel should be our ally; we have a lot in common (they spy on us; we spy on them--they just do a better job). But let's face it, it is the tail that wags the U.S. dog. Jeff mentions Israel's victory over Egypt in the 1967 war. That victory permitted the growth of  settlements in the West Bank, which has roiled the Middle East for over forty years. Israel has invaded Lebanon, carried out assassination plots in Jordan, Dubai, Lebanon, etc., (let's not forget Shabra and Shatila--did Ariel Sharon apologize for that?). So who needs the Soviet Union (or Russia) to be meddling in the Middle East when its consituent nations, including Iran, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc. do a thorough job themselves. 

Our Alliance: With a friend like this......

Margaret:  You’ve claimed for a long time that you are a “real friend” of Israel’s and that you don’t oppose Israel, but just Israel’s “current government.”  I’ve never believed these claims, which I thought were just camouflage.  I’ve always thought you were sailing under a false flag and now you are proving it, as your dislike – a mild word -- of Israel and your bitterness about the U.S.’s alliance with Israel flows onto your pages with unmistakable clarity.  You aren’t any sort of friend to Israel; you are its bitter opponent.  You don’t just oppose the “current government” of Israel; you oppose Israel itself and probably all of its governments since God knows when.

 

And though you’ve insinuated before that Israel controls the U.S, you’ve never been as direct about it as you now are when you say that “[Israel] is the tail that wags the U.S. dog.”  And you continue the insinuation you’ve made before that Congress is largely a puppet legislature that is actually controlled by AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.  You now say forthrightly that at least with respect to issues concerning Israel, Congressmen don’t, in the main, vote their convictions – they don’t vote on the “merits” – to a “very considerable” degree, they do what they are told to do by “AIPAC and other American-Jewish groups” because they have been paid with campaign contributions to do so.

 

These are extremely provocative and inflammatory charges – that at least where Israeli issues are concerned, the United States has been taken over by the Jewish state and that the Congress has largely been taken over by AIPAC and other American-Jewish groups.  I’m sure you are aware of the implications of what you say.

 

Before I comment on these charges, I want to give you the opportunity to present your evidence in support of them.  As the proponent of such claims, particularly such inflammatory claims, it is your duty to know what you are talking about.  Please present your evidence.

 

Jeff: Two responses to your comments: Nov 16, 10:52 am

 

1) During previous P5+1 negotiations with Iran, US representatives did not directly engage Iranian diplomats. For over a decade, the US has rejected all suggestions of direct US-Iranian talks. Following President Rouhani's attendance at the UN in September, this policy obviously changed.

 

The historical significance of  the P5+1 meeting 10 days ago was not that Iran  proposed a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment--Iran has made similar proposals in the past.. What was significant was that the US was willing to accept this as a negotiating proposal. Our previous position was that unless Iran stopped all enrichment, we wouldn't talk.

.

(2)  The Iranian oil embargo: The US government has given at least 11 countries (including China, Japan, India and Greece) waivers from the penalties associated with importing Iranian oil.  The Executive Branch granted these waivers because these nations would experience serious economic consequences if they halted all Iranian oil imports. In response, nations receiving waivers adopted some voluntary import limitations. (It should be noted that Saudi Arabia has increased its oil production to make up for the decrease in Iranian oil exports as well as the cessation of Libyan exports).

 

The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would require all countries to stop importing Iranian oil within one year. Effectively this legislation prohibits the President from granting further waivers.  In the past, Congress has adopted "sanctions' legislation" to pressure Presidents. In response, both President Clinton and President Obama adopted Executive Orders to mitigate what they judged to be the counter-productive elements of these Congressional proposals. In the current situation, President Obama is not likely to adopt an Executive Order to explicitly deny his discretionary authority to direct effectively US foreign policy.

 

Today any proposal to further ratchet up sanctions by banning all Iranian oil exports seems unrealistic. Waivers were granted for a good reason. The recovery of the world economy is still problematical. China has said that it only recognizes sanctions imposed by the UN--not unilateral sanctions.. In addition, China, India and Japan are not going to ban all Iranian oil imports unless someone replaces Iran's current export of 1 million barrels a day. And in October, Saudi Arabia began cutting back on its oil production levels.

j p farry 

 

J. P.:  With respect to all the press reports I’ve read, the reason for the encouragement within the P5-+1 that these talks might be more productive than those in the past was that Iran was communicating its willingness to be more forthright and more flexible than it had been in the past.  Are you claiming this wasn’t the case?  On what basis?

 

With respect to previous negotiating sessions between the P5+1 and Iran, are you saying that the U.S. representative refused to participate? 

 

With respect to past negotiating sessions, I’ve been unable to find detailed information about the substance of the negotiations.  Perhaps I’m misunderstanding what your saying, but your remarks would seem to indicate that Iran is now offering what it has been offering all along for the past 4 years and that the difference this time is that the P5+1, and particularly the U.S., have capitulated.  Is that right?  I’d appreciate it if you could you direct me to sources that would fill me in.

 

With respect to the oil sanctions, if in order to hold the sanctions regime together, it is necessary to grant some countries some form of waivers, as is currently the case, I’d be all for it and I’d hope Congress would be, too.

Margaret, I haven’t had any response from you presenting your evidence for your claims, so I’ll just post my comment on your claim that with respect to matters concerning Israel, the United States is controlled by Israel and that to a very substantial degree, Congress is controlled by AIPAC and other American-Jewish groups.

 

Your claim isn’t this: that Senators and Congressmen vote their convictions when they support Israel, but that they are, in your opinion, wrong about what’s in the interest of the U.S.  Your claim is much more serious than that.  It is that they have largely abandoned their convictions and no longer care about what’s in the interest of the U.S. because they have been “bribed” by campaign contributions to do Israel’s bidding – they have become paid agents of Israel, rather than of the American people who elected them and are deliberately selling their country down the river.  In short, they are traitors.

 

And this claim is not made about just a few people.  The claim is that Senators and members of the House have en masse become traitors.  Just to say it out loud makes it sound outlandish, at least to my ears.  With one exception, I don’t know of any claim like it in my lifetime.  The exception, of course, was the claim by Joe McCarthy and his followers that large numbers of the executive branch, especially within the State Department, had become agents of the Soviet Union.  And I assert, Margaret, that your claim is just as demagogic as his was.

 

First, since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day-War in 1967, after which Israel and the U.S. drew together in a close alliance, there have been over 10,000 individual federal elections for the Senate and House.  Please name all those elections in which you claim that pro-Israel groups have played a determinative or even an outsized role?

 

Second, the good-government site, Open Secrets, collects data on lobbying expenditures, including lobbying by pro-Israel groups.  According to its data for the two-year election cycle, 2011-2012, lobbying expenditures by pro-Israel groups (including AIPAC) constituted one-tenth of one per cent of the total amount spent on lobbying – that’s right, .001.  Please explain how such a paltry percentage could cause the catastrophic effect that you attribute to it.

 

Third, the good government site, Open Secrets, also collects data on campaign contributions, including those by pro-Israel groups.  According to its data for the two-year election cycle, 2011-2012, campaign contributions by pro-Israel groups constituted one-half of one per cent of the total amount of campaign contributions – that’s right, .005.  Please explain how such a paltry percentage of the total campaign contributions flowing to candidates could cause Congress en masse to become agents of Israel, rather than of the American people who elected them.  [Lobbying and campaign-contribution data has also been collected for earlier election cycles, but I have assumed that these would not be too different from the 2011-2012 cycle].

 

Last, the opinion polls show that the American people strongly support the alliance with Israel by very large majorities, anywhere from around two-thirds to around three-quarters of those polled.  So, you would expect Congress strongly to support Israel, either because members share the beliefs of their constituents or because they wish to align themselves with the electorate, or both.  Especially in light of the points I’ve made above, why is this not a much more natural and believable explanation of Congress’ strong support for Israel than the explanation that you proffer?

 

Margaret, in a comment to your post of September 30, 2013, entitled “OMG! What if peace broke out?” you accused me of intimating that views you cite or your own views were anti-Semitic.  In my comment of October 1, 2013, at 7:03 p.m., I responded that I had never called any of your remarks anti-Semitic, but mentioned three, all having to do with the same issue you’ve raised here, that I had refrained from calling anti-Semitic, but that, in fact, had crossed the line.  I would now add to the list your remarks of today that I am discussing here.

 

For shame.

Great posts, as always, Jeff.   

Jeff: One site prviding an overview of the P5+1 negotiating positions is at http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheet/Iran/Nuclear/Proposals

Since joining the P5+1 team, US announced policy has evolved: (1) Iran must conform to UN Resolutions and stop all nuclear enrichment; (2) Sanction reductions are not negotiable (Secretary Clinton, May 24, 2012;) (3) Sanctions may be partially lifted but Iran will have to roll back and reverse either its capacity to enrich uranium or the amount of enriched uranium it currently stores.

As Benjamin Netanyahu has stressed, the US is now supporting a proposal that requires Iran to call a temporary halt to some aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for a reduction in sanctions. Iran's nuclear program will in no way be rolled back or reversed.. Netanyahu says this a great deal for Iran, one that is not being forced upon them by existing sanctions or the threat of sanctions. In contrast to the naivete of the US, France understands the need to weaken-- not stabalize--the Iran nuclear program

Netanyahu also highlights the symbollic implications of Secretary Kerry's direct involvement in these negotiations.Since 1980, both Israel and the US have refused to extend diplomatic recognition to Iran. Yet we now see the US Secretary of State engaged in direct negotiations. (Don't such negotiations imply de facto recognition of the Islamic Republic of Iran?)

I share your judgment that  any sanctions regime must include the option for waivers. But the House has passed legislation which eliminates waivers for imported Iranian oil.  Both the Israeli Ambassador and an Israel government minister (joined by sympathetic American based lobbying groups) are pressuring the Senate to adopt the House-passed prohibition on future waivers.

Along with you, I hope the Senate rejects their pressure.

j p farry

 

It would seem that all of us commenting here would like the P5+1s to achieve an agreement with Iran ending its capacity to construct a nuclear weapon. Some of us (perhaps most of us) think this would be good for the Middle East, for Israel, for the United States, and the rest of the world. If the negotiations do not succeed, are the consequences an attack on Iran? further sanctions that will increase the hardship not just on the Iranian military, but on the civilian population? or will everyone throw up their hands and give up, including giving up on sanctions? In the latter case, Iran might or might not build a bomb. Then what? They bomb Israel? Seems unlikely given Israel's own nuclear arsenal. Who can deny that an agreement would be better than the alternatives?

It is the sausage-making of negotiations and legislation that raises the stink. Which brings me to:

Jeff: November 17, 2013 - 9:42pm:

Margaret, I haven’t had any response from you presenting your evidence for your claims, so I’ll just post my comment on your claim that with respect to matters concerning Israel, the United States is controlled by Israel and that to a very substantial degree, Congress is controlled by AIPAC and other American-Jewish groups.

As previously discussed, I have no obligation to respond to you. You do not appear to be either a subscriber or a “contributor” to Commonweal, hence your “free-rider” status entitles you to nothing.

Your claim isn’t this: that Senators and Congressmen vote their convictions when they support Israel, but that they are, in your opinion, wrong about what’s in the interest of the U.S. Your claim is much more serious than that.  It is that they have largely abandoned their convictions and no longer care about what’s in the interest of the U.S. because they have been “bribed” by campaign contributions to do Israel’s bidding – they have become paid agents of Israel, rather than of the American people who elected them and are deliberately selling their country down the river. In short, they are traitors.

They are not traitors. They have not abandoned any convictions, if they have them. Most of them do not spend a lot of time thinking about foreign policy and they take their cues from their party leaders, from those who lobby them, their contributors, and where available, from interested constituents. I would guess, or at least I hope, that they think the interests of the U.S. and Israel’s are congruent. Otherwise they are fools (or traitors) (and they hate Obama). In this case, the refusal to accept Obama and Kerry’s plea to hold off on new sanctions suggests that PM Netanyahu’s words (and those of his Cabinet members visiting DC) carry more weight than those of the President and the Secretary of State. In any case, it would appear that the legislation is going nowhere before the P5s and Iran meet up again.

And this claim is not made about just a few people. The claim is that Senators and members of the House have en masse become traitors.  Just to say it out loud makes it sound outlandish, at least to my ears. With one exception, I don’t know of any claim like it in my lifetime. The exception, of course, was the claim by Joe McCarthy and his followers that large numbers of the executive branch, especially within the State Department, had become agents of the Soviet Union. And I assert, Margaret, that your claim is just as demagogic as his was.

Yes, demagoguery. Alive and well, Mr. Jeff!

First, since Israel’s victory in the Six-Day-War in 1967, after which Israel and the U.S. drew together in a close alliance, there have been over 10,000 individual federal elections for the Senate and House. Please name all those elections in which you claim that pro-Israel groups have played a determinative or even an outsized role?

Second, the good-government site, Open Secrets, collects data on lobbying expenditures, including lobbying by pro-Israel groups. According to its data for the two-year election cycle, 2011-2012, lobbying expenditures by pro-Israel groups (including AIPAC) constituted one-tenth of one per cent of the total amount spent on lobbying – that’s right, .001. Please explain how such a paltry percentage could cause the catastrophic effect that you attribute to it.

Third, the good government site, Open Secrets, also collects data on campaign contributions, including those by pro-Israel groups. According to its data for the two-year election cycle, 2011-2012, campaign contributions by pro-Israel groups constituted one-half of one per cent of the total amount of campaign contributions – that’s right, .005.  Please explain how such a paltry percentage of the total campaign contributions flowing to candidates could cause Congress en masse to become agents of Israel, rather than of the American people who elected them.

Lobbying and campaign-contribution data has also been collected for earlier election cycles, but I have assumed that these would not be too different from the 2011-2012 cycle.

Open Secrets: An excellent site. Given the wash of money over the last election cycles, what do percentages mean? Here are the cash equivalents:

Lobbying: Open Secrets reports that AIPAC (which only lobbies) spent the following: 2011: $2,850, 000. 2012: $2,761,388. 2013: $2,235,911.

Overall pro-Israel lobbying contributions from several groups was a bit over $16 million for 2012.

Campaign contributions: Open Secrets reports that Pro-Israel groups spent a bit more than $14 million on Congressional races in 2012. $6,582,590 in the House; $3,436,638 in the Senate.

Last, the opinion polls show that the American people strongly support the alliance with Israel by very large majorities, anywhere from around two-thirds to around three-quarters of those polled. So, you would expect Congress strongly to support Israel, either because members share the beliefs of their constituents or because they wish to align themselves with the electorate, or both. Especially in light of the points I’ve made above, why is this not a much more natural and believable explanation of Congress’ strong support for Israel than the explanation that you proffer?

Yes, most Americans support Israel. Do most Americans think an attack on Iran will resolve the nuclear issue? Do most Americans think an attack on Iran will finally provide security? Most Americans don’t pay much attention to foreign policy.

Margaret, in a comment to your post of September 30, 2013, entitled “OMG! What if peace broke out?” you accused me of intimating that views you cite or your own views were anti-Semitic. In my comment of October 1, 2013, at 7:03 p.m., I responded that I had never called any of your remarks anti-Semitic, but mentioned three, all having to do with the same issue you’ve raised here, that I had refrained from calling anti-Semitic, but that, in fact, had crossed the line. I would now add to the list your remarks of today that I am discussing here.

So you are saying the criticisms I have raised here are anti-Semitic. More demagoguery, Mr. Jeff!

J P: I take it from your last comment that the U.S. has participated in the negotiating sessions that have taken place during the last four years, so that, in fact, U.S. representatives did directly engage Iranian diplomats, just not at the cabinet level, i.e., the Secretary of State didn’t attend.  But that was true of other countries, as well.

 

Unless you directly contradict it, I’m going to assume that Iran did communicate to the P5+1 a willingness to be more forthright and flexible in negotiations, occasioning renewed hope for success within the P5+1.  If its not true, then the P5+1 governments are misleading their citizens and the world press is misleading its readership.

 

I’m also going to assume that when negotiations began, Iran was true to its word, leading the P5+1 to believe that, unlike prior occasions, continued negotiations would be fruitful.  Hence, an interim, six-month, verifiable stand-still agreement to keep Iran from advancing its nuclear weapons program while negotiations continue.  Whether this interim agreement works, depends upon its terms, which remain to be negotiated.  I know that Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and others don’t trust Iran and believe it will continue to be in bad faith, and maybe they’re right, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

 

We’ll also have to wait and see whether a final deal can be reached, and if so, how much Iran has moved toward the P5+1 and how much the P5+1 has moved toward Iran.

 

As far as formal diplomatic relations between Iran, on the one hand, and Israel and the United States, on the other, that’s a two-way street.

 

With respect to waiver-of-sanctions issues, I said I would favor them if they were necessary to hold the sanctions regime together.  Whether they are or not, I don’t know.

 

Thanks for the link, but when I tried it, it carried me to a “Page Not Found” page.  Any other suggestions?  I’d like to be better informed on this issue.  Thanks.

Jeff: sorry for the bad link. Try--

http://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Iran_Nuclear_Proposals

I  would agree that it highly likely that P5+1 and Iran engaged in "back-channel" talks after the election of President Rouhani. And it may indeed be the case--as the author of the article in The New Yorker states (Margaret has just posted this on the dotCommonweal site) that Iranian negotiators demonstrated a new urgency and seriousness. And it may be that this change in demeaor encouraged P5+1 to modify its previous negotiating position--and to convince Prresident Obama that he should risk the ire of Netanyhu by adjusting previous US positions.

We all agree that a successful negotiation will result in both sides achieving some, but not all, of their objectives. My position is that the US cannot avoid a paradoxical outcome: if it doesn't succeed in limiting  Iran's nuclear program, through negotiations, it will have to use military force. BUT--because of the prominent diplomatic involvement of the Secretary of State--(and Netanyhu has surely underscored the symbollic importance  of Kerry's involvement)--the US is conferring a legitimacy on Iran that it has withheld for over 30 years. If the US ultimately is required  to use military force, this whole exercise will be seen as a catastrophe engineered by a naive President and Secrretary of State. If on the other hand, Iran is convinced to accept an iron-clad IAEA regulatory regime, then the US will have achieved a significant  diplomatic achievement even if Iran enhances its status --and influence--in the Middle East.

The stakes are high and there is no easily achieved good alternative.

(I have found this exchange of ideas very fruitful. Perhaps we can switch our comments to the new tread that Margaret has just openned. 

j p farry

Margaret,

 

Here’s what I claim.  First, that the claims that Israel, at least with respect to issues concerning Israel, controls the United States [“[Israel] is the tail that wags the U.S. dog] and that AIPAC and other American Jewish groups, through campaign contributions, substantially control Congress are falsehoods.  Second, that these claims – that the Jewish State controls the United States and that American Jews control Congress -- invoke stereotypical, anti-Semitic images of Jewish control.  Third, that the combination of these two – the invocation of stereotypical, anti-Semitic images in support of falsehoods – is anti-Semitic.  Which of these, if any, do you disagree with?

 

Its hard to know how to address your last comment because you contradict yourself so much.  At times, you seem to be completely recanting what you said above and admitting that Senators and Congressman vote the way they do out of conviction and not because they have been “bribed” with campaign contributions.   You say that their votes are based on the conviction that its in the U.S.’s interest to stand with its ally, Israel.  [“I would guess, or at least I hope, that they think the interests of the U.S. and Israel’s are congruent.”]

 

At times you seem to partially recant when you claim, for example, that they act out of a combination of many factors (but no mention of conviction) and you don’t claim any one of them is more important than the other. [“[T]hey take their cues from their party leaders, from those who lobby them, their contributors, and where available, from interested constituents.”]

 

At times, you claim in one and the same sentence that they both do and do not have convictions. [“They have not abandoned any convictions, if they have them.”]

 

In any event, none of these resemble what you said in your comment of November 17, 2013 at 2:11 p.m to which my subsequent remarks were addressed.

 

And the claim that Israel controls the U.S. is not addressed at all.  Its disappeared.

 

I noticed that of the 10,000 federal election for Senate and House since 1967, you didn’t name one in which pro-Israel groups played a decisive or even an outsized role.

 

And you don’t address at all how such small percentages of lobbying expenditures (0.1%) and such small percentages of campaign contributions (0.5%) could cause members of Congress to come under the control of AIPAC and other Jewish American groups.  If every penny of pro-Israel campaign contributions ceased tomorrow, 99.5% of campaign contributions would continue to flow into candidates’ coffers.

 

And you’ve completely misinterpreted the figures you cite for campaign contributions.  First, in your second link you call them “lobbying contributions,” but there are “lobbying expenditures” and “campaign contributions.”  “Lobbying expenditures,” I believe, are the costs of doing business for lobbying groups, as in salaries, rent, etc. Your second link is actually for “campaign contributions,” monies contributed to campaigns by PACs and the like. Second, and more important, the $16 million figure that you cite in your second link for campaign contributions for 2012 is actually for the two-year election cycle of 2011-2012, as you will see when you scroll down and read the last two sentences under “Methodology.”  Third, and equally important, the figures you cite in your third link, which are also for 2011-2012, are repetitious of those in in your second link.  Again according to the information under “Methodology,” the second link includes, in addition to contributions to candidates, contributions to political parties and outside spending groups, whereas the contributions in your third link are just for candidates, which is why the figures for the second link are a little higher than the figures for the third link.

 

The effect of correcting these errors is to greatly reduce the amounts that you claim were expended.

 

J P:  Thanks for your kind words, your new link and, most of all, for the forthrightness of your first paragraph.

 

I think that how all this turns out for Obama depends upon facts and circumstances.  If the P5+1 negotiates a peaceful, final settlement and it actually terminates Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it will be very good for Obama.  If Iran is in bad faith and manages to complete its nuclear weapons program, it will go badly for Obama, that is, if its even known prior to the end of his administration.  But if Iran is in bad faith – say, an interim deal is worked out and its discovered that Iran is in violation of its terms – but its discovered before the bombing option is foreclosed, then the American people will not hold it against him.  They want him to exhaust all options before he resorts to bombing and they want him to show the world that he has done so.  Then, everything will depend on the success of the bombing run.  In America, everything depends on success.  As George C. Scott said in his defining role as Patton in the eponymous 1970 movie, “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.”  This may not be the American creed, but its certainly one of them.

 

As for Iran, I think if its forced to abandon its nuclear weapons program, it will lose stature, not gain stature.  That doesn’t mean that it won’t begin to be more integrated into the world, but that will depend upon whether Iran wants to be and whether it begins to play a constructive role in its area of the world, including with respect to Israel.  And if the negotiations fail and its seen to be Iran’s fault, it will be more isolated than ever. 

 

I hope we can cross-comment again, too.  But it probably won’t be now.  I’m going to be otherwise engaged for at least a few days.

Gerelyn,

Thank you, too, for your compliment.  It require a certain amount of work to post my comments, and its nice to know somebody is reading and enjoying them.