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Election 2012

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.
  • 18 September 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • 1 Comments
  • Election 2012, Nuclear file

Romney confused about “dirty bombs”


It’s hard to know where to begin when pointing out flaws in Mitt Romney’s recent comments on Iran’s nuclear program. A secretly recorded video, which was released by Mother Jones early this morning, portrays Mr. Romney channeling his inner role-playing geek, playing the part of Iran:

If I were Iran, if I were Iran—a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we’re going to let off a dirty bomb.” I mean this is where we have—where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

As many have pointed out, “fissile material,” or the uranium that Iran is enriching, is an incredibly poor material for a dirty bomb. It released its radiation incredibly slowly, meaning that you’d need to vaporize well over one thousand metric tons to contaminate Manhattan. To put that in perspective, according to the latest IAEA figures, in the past decade Iran has accumulated less than 7 metric tons of LEU, or .4% of what they’d need.  Clearly Mr. Romney is confusing the science.

  • 10 September 2012
  • Posted By Brett Cox
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Election 2012, Persian Gulf, Sanctions

The Realities of “Preventive” Strikes

Certain media outlets as well as conservative political camps in both the US and Israel would have you believe that it would take no more than a few days of airstrikes to delay and/or end Iran’s nuclear program. This claim is misleading in more ways than I can count, but here are a few.

Compared to the peaceful options laid out by Trita Parsi at last week’s Wilson Center panel discussion, “preventive strikes” carry a high risk of Iranian retaliation, regional war and American casualties. Pacifist fluff? Hardly. Take it from Admiral Michael Mullen:

“The US is aware that the action of a military strike could be destabilizing for the entire Middle East region and potentially generate a nuclear weapons race in that part of the world. I think an attack would also be, by us or by anybody else, very destabilizing.”

Further, according to a report published by CSIS, Gen. James N. Mattis, Commander of US Central Command, told aides that an Israeli first strike would be likely to have dire consequences across the region and for United States forces there.

The report CSIS outlines that retaliation from Iran would include “swarm tactics” on a heavy US naval presence and a potential rain of missiles from Iran – well known in the region for an ample ballistic missile program. Missile attacks on Gulf neighbors, all members of a united Gulf Cooperation Council, would give them a right to return fire in self-defense.

  • 6 September 2012
  • Posted By Stacy Hubert
  • 0 Comments
  • Election 2012, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Will Obama go on offensive about loose war talk?

On the eve of Barack Obama’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, it’s an open question as to how the President plans to frame the Iran debate.

At the Republican Convention last week, we heard loud and clear how Mitt Romney plans to differentiate himself from Obama: less talking to Iran, more talk about bombing Iran.

In his acceptance speech, he said of the President’s policy:

“…every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We are still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”

Romney’s website continues down the same path:

U.S. policy toward Iran must begin with an understanding on Iran’s part that a military option to deal with their nuclear program remains on the table. This message should not only be delivered through words, but through actions.

And although as Romney states that “time has shown that existing sanctions have not led the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear aspirations,” he still believes more sanctions are the answer (which does not necessarily separate him much from Obama):

As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute.

So Romney is covering his bases.  Axis of Evil reference: check. Claiming to support the Iranian people: check. Calling for another round of sanctions that punish those very same people: check. Attacking diplomacy: check.  But if  his intentions truly reflect some of his rhetoric, Romney would take talks of the table–which only leaves war.

  • 9 March 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Congress, Diplomacy, Election 2012, US-Iran War

“Capability” ultimatum misses the point, threatens diplomatic opportunity

We’re at a rare moment in which both the United States and Iran have unclenched their fists and appear ready for real talks.

Obama, thankfully, has taken the pro-war crowd to task.  The P5+1 are finally setting new negotiations for April.  And Khamenei took the rare step of publicly welcoming new talks.

These are very hopeful signs that a breakthrough may be achievable.  But we’ve seen how opportunities have been sabotaged in the past by political opportunism, ultimatums and intransigence that has demanded maximalist concessions from either side and blocked compromise and diplomatic progress.

So, the question is: which side’s hardliners will screw things up this time?

Enter Senators Graham, Casey and Lieberman.  They recently introduced a resolution in the Senate that effectively says the U.S. will go to war if Iran acquires an undefined “capability” to build a nuclear weapon.  They defended their stance in the Wall Street Journal this morning:

Some have asked why our resolution sets the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring a “nuclear weapons capability,” rather than “nuclear weapons.” The reason is that all of the destabilizing consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran will ensue as soon as Iranians have the components necessary for a weapon—and by then, it will be too late to stop them.

When some say that our red line is a “nuclear weapon,” it suggests that anything short of a working bomb is acceptable. This is exactly the wrong message to send.

The Senators should ask themselves how such a demand is read in Iran. As Eugene Robinson explains in his column this morning, “The truth is that every nation with sufficient wealth and scientific infrastructure has the capacity to build a bomb if it really wants to.”

Does the Lieberman-Graham-Casey trifecta really think the Iranians will capitulate to an ultimatum that demands they never achieve economic or scientific progress?  How do we sell that exactly?

  • 7 March 2012
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Diplomacy, Election 2012

Sparks fly between Obama & GOP on Iran saber rattling

The President had some choice words yesterday for those who are rattling the sabers on Iran to score political points, indicating that the White House is finally ready to stand up for a diplomatic resolution rather than allowing the contest to be measured getting bullied into a war of choice:

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities.  They’re not Commander-in-Chief.  And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. … This is not a game.  There’s nothing casual about it.  And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war.  If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so.  And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.  Everything else is just talk.

It’s a positive sign that the White House finally realizes it must take the pro-war crowd to task over its saber rattling and frame the Iran debate around resolving the problem, not merely ratcheting up pressure and getting bullied into war.  I wrote about the need for Obama to call his opponents’ bluff on Iran in October 2010:

Obama has by and large perpetuated a political metric that defines success on Iran only in terms of pressure. Only if Obama raises the consequences of the dire alternative to a successful engagement strategy — war with Iran — and stakes out a new path to create his own political space for diplomacy, can the president effectively navigate the new reality in Congress and pursue a successful Iran agenda.

As if on cue, the some day that Obama made his positive remarks, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel (R-KY) suggested the Senate should begin debate on an Iran war authorization:

“I made a recommendation last night for something that I think might convince the Iranians that we’re serious about it, and that would be to debate and vote on a resolution authorizing the use of force. That doesn’t guarantee that force would be used, but it certainly would be a credible step in the direction saying we view this as a very serious matter.”

Iran News Roundup 12/16

GOP candidates get fact checked for Iran claims at debate

Michelle Bachmann made the claim that the IAEA report proves that “Iran is within just months of being able to obtain that [nuclear] weapon.”  Fact checks from CNNThe Washington Post, and the New York Times said Bachmann got it wrong.

Mitt Romney accused President Obama of having said “pretty please” in order to have the American recently fallen drone returned and Rick Perry said the Obama should have used military  destroy of retrieve the drone.  But the New York Times says:

In fact, American military officials considered an operation to retrieve the drone but rejected it as too dangerous, since it would require a sizeable force traveling more than 200 miles into the country and likely facing a large Iranian protection force.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum repeated his very un-covert calls for “covert activities” against Iran. “We need to plan a strike against their facilities and say to them that if you do not open up those facilities and close them down, we will close them down for you.” (New American 12/16).

  • 23 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 0 Comments
  • Election 2012, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 11/23

Iran highlighted at Republican debate

At last night’s Republican primary debate the candidates discussed Iran at some length. Here are some of the notable positions they talked about:

Herman Cain suggested he would support an Israeli attack, and if their plan was strong enough he would “join with Israel” for the strike.

Ron Paul rejected aiding an Israeli attack, saying Israel can handle themselves and paraphrasing the former head of Mossad Meir Dagan said that an attack against Iran would be the stupidest thing to do in the world.”

Rick Perry advocated Central Bank of Iran sanctions, saying that they “will shut down that economy.”  He also tied the idea of a no-fly zone on Syria as a way to demonstrate U.S. resolve regarding Iran.

Newt Gingrich said that a strategy of energy independence could “break the Iranian regime” within a year, and that we should be “sabotaging the only refinery they have.”

Michelle Bachmann again repeated her false claim about Ahmadinejad, saying,  “he has said that if he has a nuclear weapon he will use it to wipe Israel of the face of the earth.  He will use it against the United States of America.”

Mitt Romney acknowledged that sanctioning Iran will negatively impact the U.S. economy by increasing gas prices, but said it is a necessary cost cost to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

(Click here for the complete transcripts)

Responses to the latest round of sanctions

Following the announcement of new sanctions against Iran experts have begun questing their effectiveness.  Robert Dreyfuss writes in The Nation, the new untargeted sanctions are “dumb” and will not change Iran’s decision making process.  He says that they are only being introduced to “buy more time for the Obama administration” politically (Dreyfuss The Nation 11/22).  A Washington Post editorial argues that the sanctions are “half-measures” and will increase the likelihood that military action will be required later (Washington Post 11/22).  Iran responded to the sanctions claiming they will “be in vain” and will not affect their ability to do business with other countries (Reuters 11/22).  While many are questioning the impact that these latest sanctions will have on Iran, the Christian Science Monitor and others have reported that they already have increased the price of oil (Christian Science Monitor 11/22).

  • 22 November 2011
  • Posted By Jamal Abdi
  • 0 Comments
  • Election 2012, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Question’s for tonight’s GOP debate

The GOP candidates will take to the stage tonight at 8pm EST to debate national security issues, and we expect Iran policy will once again be a major point of discussion.  Given that many of the candidates have had a chance to offer their talking points on Iran, here are some questions the moderators can ask to dig a little deeper beyond the standard rhetoric.

Mitt Romney

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently joined military and civilian officials and experts in stating that a military strike on Iran could only set its nuclear program back two or three years and would have many “unintended consequences.”  Experts say such strikes would convince Iran to make a full sprint towards a nuclear weapon.

You have suggested that a Romney Administration would be inclined to use military force to stop an Iranian nuclear weapon and have criticized President Obama’s stated willingness to engage Iran.  At the last debate you said, “If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.  If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.”

-Would a Romney administration be more willing to go to war with Iran than the current administration?  Given that military strikes short of a full-scale invasion of Iran would only delay–not end–the country’s nuclear program, does the “military option” mean you would be willing to send ground troops into Iran?

-Would a Romney Administration be willing to pursue a diplomatic resolution regarding Iran’s nuclear program and negotiate directly with Iran, or is diplomacy off the table?

  • 22 November 2011
  • Posted By Loren White
  • 0 Comments
  • Election 2012, NIAC round-up, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Iran News Roundup 11/22

New Iran Sanctions
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced new sanctions against Iran’s petrochemical industry and classified Iran and its Central Bank as a “primary money laundering concern” (To read the full transcripts click here).  The U.K. announced their own sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), cutting off all financial ties with the country, and France called for the EU in its upcoming meeting on December 1 to freeze CBI assets and stop importing Iranian oil (Reuters 11/21).  Russia, however, warned the sanctions undermine efforts to negotiate with Iran , and Iran has called them “psychological warfare” (Christian Science Monitor 11/22).

Meanwhile, fears that the new sanctions may disrupt oil supplies led to a rise in oil prices (Businessweek 11/22).

Barbara Slavin writes that the primary motivation for the sanctions yesterday was domestic politics. She quotes Brookings’ Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department policy advisor, who says, “The administration is trying to buy off Congress, buy off pressure from Israel and make sure nothing will further erode the president’s chances for re-election.”  Maloney also expresses concern that the Administration “lacks adult supervision” on its Iran policy (Inter Press Service 11/22).

GOP’s continues to saber rattle on Iran
Think Progress posted a video of Republican primary candidate Rick Santorum saying that Iranian nuclear scientists should be considered enemy combatants and should be treated like “garden variety terrorists.” (Think Progress 11/21).  According to the Huffington Post, fellow Republican primary candidate Mitt Romney has decided that Obama is vulnerable on Iran, and that by highlighting Romney’s willingness to use military force against Iran, the Romney campaign hopes to make Obama look weak (Huffington Post 11/22).

More signs of political infighting in Iran
A melee broke out yesterday at the office of an Iranian newspaper when security officials attempted to arrest Iranian president Ahmadinejad’s media advisor and managing editor of IRNA, Ali Akbar Javenfekr. The Washington Post reported that security forces stormed office of the building using tear gas and electric batons as they arrested 33 people. Javenfekr sustained bruises to his face during the process, and was only freed after a personal call from Ahmadinejad (Washington Post 11/21).

Additional Notable Articles:

UN passed a Canadian sponsored resolution requiring Iran to allow the Special Rapporteur into the country to investigate alleged human rights abuses by the regime.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam editorializes in the Guardian that contrary to the narrative often expressed in the West, Iran is not on the verge of political or economic collapse, and currently appears to be relatively stable.

U.S. asks the Iraqi government to make greater effort to fight Iranian backed militias as the U.S. continues its force draw down, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Washington is currently considering selling bunker busting bombs to the UAE, according to a Telegraph article.