Israel will lobby Congress on Corker bill to hamper Iran deal (Haaretz quoting senior official)

From Haaretz: Israel to push Congress to pass bill to hamper Iran deal

Israel will adopt two lines of attack as it tries to thwart – or at least modify – the international nuclear agreement with Iran in the coming weeks, a senior official said.Firstly, it will lobby the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would make it difficult, or even impossible, to approve a comprehensive deal with Iran if one is reached by the June 30 deadline.

At the same time, it will continue pressing the White House for the “improvements” Israel says must be made in the terms of the agreement, the official said.

It seems to me that if they go ahead and lobby Congress on the first, they make their job extremely difficult on the second.

The current draft of Corker’s proposal cannot prevent the agreement, but only delay its implementation for some time and put bureaucratic obstacles in its path.The Israeli official said Israel will try to persuade congressmen and senators to introduce a clause stipulating that the agreement with Iran should be seen as an international treaty. A U.S.-signed international treaty requires a Senate vote to go into effect.

“There’s a political struggle in Congress over Iran,” the official said. “Congress can make a decision that it’s a treaty and not an agreement. Those issues are being debated, so why don’t we make the most of it?”

13 Democratic Senators would have to join the 54 Republicans in voting for the bill to provide a veto-proof majority of 67. The current version of the bill requires the administration to provide Congress detailed briefings on the negotiations with Iran, and gives Congress 60-days to review the detailed provisions of the deal once it has been agreed (before it can be signed).

Politico reports that likely Senate minority-leader-in-waiting Chuck Schumer is backing the Corker bill:

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, one of Capitol Hill’s most influential voices in the Iran nuclear debate, is strongly endorsing passage of a law opposed by President Barack Obama that would give Congress an avenue to reject the White House-brokered framework unveiled last week.
[…]
“This is a very serious issue that deserves careful consideration, and I expect to have a classified briefing in the near future. I strongly believe Congress should have the right to disapprove any agreement and I support the Corker bill which would allow that to occur,” Schumer said in an emailed statement to POLITICO.Schumer had quietly signed on to a bill allowing congressional review of the Iran deal two weeks ago, but made little fanfare of his co-sponsorship. In a brief statement on Friday, he said only that he’d review the agreement. Now that the outlines of an agreement are known, Schumer’s emphatic statement that Congress has an important role becomes more significant, signaling to fellow Democrats that it’s safe to jump on board the review bill.

It seems like a dozen Democratic senators have either already co-sponsored the bill or indicated they will vote for it, and another three said today they are considering it. So a veto-proof majority may be available.

Meanwhile, Obama: Nuclear deal not predicated on Iran recognizing Israel

President Barack Obama on Monday poured cold water on an Israeli demand that a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran be predicated on Tehran recognizing Israel.”The notion that we would condition Iran not getting nuclear weapons in a verifiable deal on Iran recognizing Israel is really akin to saying that we won’t sign a deal unless the nature of the Iranian regime completely transforms,” Obama said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR).

The Obama doctrine of engagement requires empathy towards Iran’s legitimate suspicion of the west.

Though the negotiations are with the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, it’s clearly the US view that matters since we’re the driving force behind sanctions on Iran. I don’t think most lay-persons have the chops to judge how effective the inspections/controls might be, in any case, they haven’t been finalized. That hasn’t stopped talking heads from pontificating, obfuscating or reciting talking points (thousands of centrifuges! multiple facilities! stockpiles!).

What we, as non-experts in nuclear proliferation, should develop an appreciation for is the Iranian regime’s view of its own interests and how that informs their negotiating position. Thankfully, it seems like Obama gets it, which is why the deal seems to be getting done. Obama’s interview with Thomas Friedman was illuminating in this respect. Since Israel and Netanyahu are the perennial domestic backdrop to these negotiations, Obama had to preface his comments with the requisite genuflection towards Israeli concerns:

Obviously, Israel is in a different situation, he added. “Now, what you might hear from Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, which I respect, is the notion, ‘Look, Israel is more vulnerable. We don’t have the luxury of testing these propositions the way you do,’ and I completely understand that. And further, I completely understand Israel’s belief that given the tragic history of the Jewish people, they can’t be dependent solely on us for their own security.

what I’m willing to do is to make the kinds of commitments that would give everybody in the neighborhood, including Iran, a clarity that if Israel were to be attacked by any state, that we would stand by them. And that, I think, should be … sufficient to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see whether or not we can at least take the nuclear issue off the table.

None of this should be news to anyone. There’s a hint in here of a formal mutual defense treaty that might be considered new. There have been rumors in the past Israel may be permitted to join NATO. That cannot happen without a resolving the Palestinian issue and I’ll let you figure out what the probability of that happening on Bibi’s watch is (hint, starts with “Zee”, ends with “Ro”).

Or maybe Netanyahu is so upset because he doesn’t want to pay the billions Iran is demanding for it’s share in oil pipelines and tankers Israel and Iran jointly built in the 1970s (along with oil shipments that haven’t been paid for).

Friedman made a lot of hay over how “personally difficult” it is for Obama to hear allegations that he “has not done everything it could to look out for Israel’s interest”. Sure, the guy who’s ordering drone and aircraft strikes every other week is having a tough time dealing with the fact that right-wing talking heads and their cronies in Congress don’t have his back. In other news, the Easter bunny dropped off some candy for me yesterday.

What I did find interesting is the degree to which Obama put himself in Iran’s shoes and lent his voice to express Iran’s strategic interests and their very legitimate suspicions of the western powers. Now this might well be an attempt to sell the deal within Iran. But much of it is sincere:

I think that it’s important to recognize that Iran is a complicated country — just like we’re a complicated country. There is no doubt that, given the history between our two countries, that there is deep mistrust that is not going to fade away immediately. The activities that they engage in, the rhetoric, both anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, is deeply disturbing. There are deep trends in the country that are contrary to not only our own national security interests and views but those of our allies and friends in the region, and those divisions are real.

And now here’s something you won’t hear from the foreign-policy and constitutional law experts serving as US Senators of the GOP persuasion:

part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I’ve told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past.

The Reagan administration supported Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government throughout the Iran-Iraq war. A war Saddam started. Though to be fair, Reagan’s team did also facilitate the sale of weapons to Iran, oops Iran-Contra).

Reagan continued to provide support to Saddam Hussein while he was conducting a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, and dropping mustard gas on Iranian civilians. The CIA provided recon assistance for Iraqi chemical weapon attacks, knowing full well Saddam would use illegal chemical weapons. (I know, who’d have thought Saint Reagan’s administration capable of such perfidy).

Under Reagan, the US exercised a veto to prevent the Security Council from adopting the following resolution “members are profoundly concerned by the unanimous conclusion of the specialists that chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian troops, and the members of the Council strongly condemn this continued use of chemical weapons in clear violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which prohibits the use in war of chemical weapons.”

The US Navy protected Iraqi shipping, we provided laser-guided bombs to Saddam. And then as if the cake didn’t have enough icing, a US naval ship shot down Iran Air 655 from within Iranian territorial waters, killing 290 civilians, including 66 children. Which may be why they like saying “Death to America”. Imagine what we’d be chanting if the Iranian navy managed to kill 66 American children.

And it wasn’t just us, virtually every major Western power supplied Iraq with weapons and supported Saddam.

And finally as exhibit 5,826 in Iran’s “You can’t trust the West” file, we have a letter from 47 Republican Senators reminding them some American politicians are perfectly willing to renege on American promises. This is the same crew of “conservatives” who brought the US to the brink of default on its full faith and credit debt.

Obama gets why so many Iranians, of all political persuasions, might view nuclear weapons capability as the only sure-fire way to ensure their country doesn’t become road-kill in the next episode in our continuing mission to sprinkle freedom and democracy in their neck of the woods. Which is why he says:

what we know is that this has become a matter of pride and nationalism for Iran. Even those who we consider moderates and reformers are supportive of some nuclear program inside of Iran, and given that they will not capitulate completely, given that they can’t meet the threshold that Prime Minister Netanyahu sets forth, there are no Iranian leaders who will do that. And given the fact that this is a country that withstood an eight-year war and a million people dead, they’ve shown themselves willing, I think, to endure hardship when they considered a point of national pride or, in some cases, national survival.

My own read is that the Iranians likely want to develop their nuclear capability to the point where they can put together a bomb in relatively short order if they needed to. I would compare their position to Japan’s towards nuclear weapons.

Senior Iranian clerics (including Khamenei) have deep moral objections to nuclear weapons which they have voiced repeatedly. When faced with an existential threat, these qualms are likely to be pushed aside (they did develop a chemical weapons program int he end). But they likely understand that threshold capability could assuage their moral qualms while serving as an effective deterrent. They’ve had a traumatic experience where the self-proclaimed defenders of the freedom and goodness actively assisted a military dictator massacre Iranian and Kurdish civilians (who were their allies) by the tens of thousands, with weapons deemed illegal under International law. Did someone say vicious “proxy war”?

So Obama’s quite right to suggest that some risks need to be taken to help the Iranians overcome their deep distrust:

We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing … people don’t seem to understand,” the president said. “You take a country like Cuba. For us to test the possibility that engagement leads to a better outcome for the Cuban people, there aren’t that many risks for us. It’s a tiny little country. It’s not one that threatens our core security interests, and so [there’s no reason not] to test the proposition. And if it turns out that it doesn’t lead to better outcomes, we can adjust our policies. The same is true with respect to Iran, a larger country, a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. … You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.

For this type of engagement to work though, the inmates need to be kept from burning down the asylum while pretending to run it. Or as the Vulcan in the White House put it:

“The bottom line,” he added, “is that we’re going to have serious debates, serious disagreements, and I welcome those because that’s how our democracy is supposed to work, and in today’s international environment, whatever arguments we have here, other people are hearing and reading about it. It’s not a secret that the Republicans may feel more affinity with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s views of the Iran issue than they do with mine. But [we need to be] keeping that within some formal boundaries, so that the executive branch, when it goes overseas, when it’s communicating with foreign leaders, is understood to be speaking on behalf of the United States of America, not a divided United States of America, making sure that whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican that once the debates have been had here, that he or she is the spokesperson on behalf of U.S. foreign policy. And that’s clear to every leader around the world. That’s important because without that, what you start getting is multiple foreign policies, confusion among foreign powers as to who speaks for who, and that ends up being a very dangerous — circumstances that could be exploited by our enemies and could deeply disturb our friends.”

Tom Cotton got over $2.1 million in campaign ad support from pro-Israel donors

The NY Times is running a story on how contributions from a small group of single-issue mega-wealthy donors is impacting the Republican party’s stance on Israel.

GOP’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift

Donors say the trend toward Republicans among wealthy, hawkish contributors is at least partly responsible for inspiring stronger support for Israel among party lawmakers who already had pro-Israel views.

Cough. No shit Sherlock. Cough.

The Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, spent $960,000 to support Mr. Cotton. In that same race, a firm run by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire from New York and a leading donor to pro-Israel causes, contributed $250,000 to Arkansas Horizon, another independent expenditure group supporting Mr. Cotton. Seth Klarman, a Boston-based pro-Israel billionaire, contributed $100,000 through his investment firm.The political action committee run by John Bolton, the United Nations ambassador under President George W. Bush and an outspoken supporter of Israel, spent at least $825,000 to support Mr. Cotton. That PAC is in part financed by other major pro-Israel donors, including Irving and Cherna Moskowitz of Miami, who contributed 99 percent of their $1.1 million in 2012 races to Republican candidates and causes.

In other news Senator Cotton’s spokesman denied his letter writing campaign was in any way quid pro quo for this support.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said this relatively small group of very wealthy Jewish-Americans distorted the views among Jews nationwide who remain supportive of the Democratic Party and a more nuanced relationship with Israel.“The very, very limited set of people who do their politics simply through the lens of Israel — that small group is tilting more heavily Republican now,” he said, adding, “But it is dangerous for American politics as too many people do not understand that of the six million American Jews, this is only a handful.”

Which brings me to the real news in this story. The portion of the liberal establishment that is Jewish (including enough NY Times editors to matter) seems to be breaking big time from the current Israeli administration’s policies.

Uh, did I mention the story’s going to be on the first page of Sunday’s paper?

Or that J Street gets top billing in the story? Looks like the Times is ready to help them boost their profile.

“Israel did not traditionally represent that kind of emotional focus for any element of the Republican Party,” (Geoffrey Kabaservice, a Republican Party historian) said. “But the feeling now is that it is a winning issue, as it helps them to appear strong on foreign policy.”

“Appearing strong” as opposed to being sensible. I’m glad to hear both houses of Congress have majorities who’re focused on appearances rather than substance.

Over all, the most significant contributor by far to Republican supporters of Israel has been Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, who with his wife has invested at least $100 million in conservative causes over the last four years. A large chunk was spent on the 2012 presidential campaign, but Senate Republicans also benefited, and could soon again, particularly those considering a run for president.

The shift has also meant the Republican Party today accepts little dissent on the topic of Israel, said Scott McConnell, a founding editor of The American Conservative, an outcome he believes is in part driven by the demands of financial supporters.“Republicans interested in foreign policy used to understand that it was not in America’s national interest to ignore entirely Arab claims against Israel,” he said. “Now, there is a fanatical feeling of one-sidedness.”

“I know there has been all this fervent speculation that Tom Cotton and Bill Kristol and Sheldon Adelson were at some private room at the Venetian cooking this up,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, referring to Mr. Adelson’s casino in Las Vegas, where many prominent Republicans and Jewish leaders will gather this month. “But Tom is a smart guy and has a long record of thinking about the Middle East, and he is entrepreneurial. Tom wrote this letter.”

In other words, it may not be in the country’s interest. And it may not even be in the Republican party’s long-term interest. But it sure as shit was in Tom Cotton’s interest to write the letter.

Also, he’s an “entrepreneur”. Which is funny, I thought he was a United States Senator. But apparently lobbyists know him as an “entrepreneur”, and presumably one who knows you’ve got to watch that top-line sales/revenue number. But to have sales you’ve got to be selling something. So what exactly does Tom Cotton have that’s for sale?

Meanwhile, Chemi Shalev reminds us in Haaretz that “The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference”. In that Netanyahu faces new danger in U.S. following Iran deal: Being ignored. That’s in reference to Bibi’s demand that no nuclear deal with Iran be signed till Iran recognizes Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel introduced a new demand Friday for the final phase of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, saying the completed deal must include an “unambiguous Iranian recognition of Israel’s right to exist.”

Asked on Friday about Mr. Netanyahu’s new demand, a State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, told reporters in Washington that the negotiations with Iran on the agreement were “only about the nuclear issue.”

I guess that is State Department speak for “It’s our policy not to feed the trolls”.

And lastly, Peter Beinart looks at The three benefits of ending the U.S.’s cold war with Iran

First, it could reduce American dependence on Saudi Arabia. Before the fall of the shah in 1979, the United States had good relations with both Tehran and Riyadh, which meant America wasn’t overly reliant on either. Since the Islamic Revolution, however, Saudi Arabia has been America’s primary oil-producing ally in the Persian Gulf. After 9/11, when 19 hijackers—15 of them Saudis—destroyed the Twin Towers, many Americans realized the perils of so great a dependence on a country that was exporting so much pathology.

As many have noted, Iran is in many ways our natural ally in the region. For instance, as Beinart pointed out earlier, unlike the Saudis, Iran’s ayatollahs actually permit elections that involve quite vigorous debate.

It could empower the Iranian people vis-à-vis their repressive state. American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America’s relationship with Iran’s regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse.
[…]
As Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran’s hardline Revolutionary Guards “thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling.” But “if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and] the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed.” Thus “if you want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates, this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal.”

Finally, ending the cold war with Iran may make it easier to end the civil wars plaguing the Middle East. Cold wars are rarely “cold” in the sense that no one gets killed. They are usually proxy wars in which powerful countries get local clients to do the killing for them. America’s cold war with the U.S.S.R. ravaged countries like Angola and El Salvador. And today, America’s cold war with Iran is ravaging Syria and Yemen.

I think Beinart makes the last two hugely complex issues seem too neat. But at least he’s bringing them up, so he should get points for enriching the discourse. Seems to be doing a better job than some of our Senators

99 Red Balloons & John Bolton: Why the Republicans have lost me for a generation

It’s Sunday morning and I’m up with my 2 year old who woke up this morning chanting “I Love Balloons, I Love Balloons!” We were at a baby shower yesterday where she got a balloon as a gift, and our neighbor’s little boy gave her another one as we got home.

So I’m singing “I Love Balloons” with her and then I ask her whether she wants to hear the Balloon song? She doesn’t know what I’m talking about, but says “Yes!” anyway.

I have Nena’s original in German (99 Luftballons) and Bjork’s version (99 Red Balloons). I play them both to her and as I’m listening to them, and watching my daughter dancing around with her two balloons (neither of which are red) I think of the lyrics.

The song is about 99 balloons which are mistaken for a UFO and then interpreted as an attack by a military installation. They start a war that destroys the city. As the singer observes the devastation 99 years later, she launches a single red balloon to commemorate what was there. The song was written in Berlin during the Cold War when fears of a war launched in error were real. It was written about a year after the Iran hostage crisis ended.

My mind turned to John Bolton’s Op-Ed in last weekend’s NY Times: To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.

And then it hit me. There are only two type of politicians in the world. Those who want war, and those who don’t. That is all that matters in the end when it comes to politics.

I don’t want my two year old experiencing war. Ever.

I don’t want any two year old experiencing war. Anywhere.

Especially not a war cheered on by chicken-hawks who are happy to send someone else’s kids to fight and die while their friends profit from restocking our ammunition depots.

I’m an independent, but the Republicans have lost me for a generation. They’ve lost me till they elect leaders who don’t consider “anti-war” a slur.

So screw you John “Chicken” Bolton for supporting the war in Vietnam but avoiding deployment by enlisting in the national guard. We know you had “no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy” but were willing to support a war that sent thousands of other Americans to do just that and killed millions of people. And screw you Dick “Chicken” Cheney for avoiding the draft with five consecutive deferments and lying with relish to get us into the Iraq war. I’m sure chickens are insulted when they’re compared to you. And screw you 87% of Republican Senators who want to undercut a President trying to avoid war.

I won’t be voting for a Republican for a long time, not even one running for town dog-catcher. Because I want every parent, including those in Iran, to be able to spend a lazy Sunday morning with their kids rather than dodging bombs and bullets.

ਚੁ ਕਾਰ ਅਜ਼ ਹਮਹ ਹੀਲਤੇ ਦਰ ਗੁਜ਼ਸ਼ਤ ॥ ਹਲਾਲ ਅਸਤ ਬੁਰਦਨ ਬ ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੀਰ ਦਸਤ

When everything else has failed. Then, and only then, is it just to raise the sword.
– Guru Gobind Singh

Tom Cotton likes Bibi’s Iran “strategy” and hearts collective punishment too.

A letter to the Iranian leadership written by Senator Tom Cotton has offered the opportunity to revisit some of his past statements. This particular gem stands out, referenced in an Op-Ed in the Nation: Meet Tom Cotton, the Senator Behind the Republicans’ Letter to Iran

When, in 2013, a new Iran sanctions bill came before the lower chamber, Cotton introduced an amendment that would “automatically” punish family members of sanctions violators. “There would be no investigation,” Cotton explained during the mark-up. “It’d be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof.” Cotton wanted to punish innocent people; he called it “corruption of blood,” and extended the category to include “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids.”

There was a Huffington Post story at the time: Tom Cotton ‘Corruption Of Blood’ Bill Would Convict Family Members Of Iran Sanctions Violators

The amendment immediately sparked objections from several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who noted that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process rights to anyone charged with a crime under American law.”An amendment is being offered literally to allow the sins of the uncles to descend on the nephews,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said. “The amendment that’s being offered doesn’t even indicate a requirement of knowing violation. … I really question the constitutionality of a provision that punishes nephews for the sins of the uncles.”

Now, this should give everyone the heebie-jeebies. A duly elected member of the Congress of these United States (who went to law school) is proposing we jettison hundreds of years of legal precedent and the bill of rights, to implement collective punishment in a form we have not known since nations were run by feuding families.

What was representative Cotton talking about? And why did virtually everyone think he’d lost whatever marbles he may have had? Why does what he proposed sound so wrong?

One problem is the “automatic” punishment and “no investigation” proposals, which run rough-shod over the rights of due process, habeas corpus, etc, etc. Some would say we crossed that Rubicon with Gitmo and renditions. But that isn’t all Mr. Cotton is referring to here, he’s actually bringing up something else as old as Habeas Corpus when he talks about “corruption of blood”.

When Cotton says there would be “no investigation” and proposes punishing “parents, children, aunts….” via legislative action, he is proposing a Bill of Attainder, an instrument with a particularly bloody history in English law:

Medieval and Renaissance English kings and queens used acts of attainder to deprive nobles of their lands and often their lives. Once attainted, the descendants of the noble could no longer inherit his lands or income. Attainder essentially amounted to the legal death of the attainted’s family.

Attainder (or tainted) was reserved (mostly) for crimes of treason against the state as embodied in the monarch. It just happened to be a convenient way to get rid of enemies and their descendants. Enriching the treasury was another welcome side-effect, call it trickle up theory? The Brits haven’t passed a Bill of Attainder for over two hundred years and passed a prohibition against them a century and a half ago.

As you can imagine, this kingly privilege was not particularly popular with the nobles. In fact, it was so unpopular that some of the said nobles (or their younger, poorer relatives in the colonies) when fomenting rebellion against their monarch and forming these United States, inserted into their brand spanking new “Constitution” a provision to specifically prohibit bills of attainder by either Congress, or a state. It’s in Article I, section 9, and is a model of brevity and clarity:

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

Many of the founders were notoriously prickly when it came to issues of property (including the kind that could walk and talk), and confiscation of such by the state. That may have played a role in firming up their views. But they also believed in individual, personal responsibility. Or perhaps it was self-preservation. Which reminds me of something Lincoln once said that may apply:

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

The prohibition against attainder is so firm that I wonder where Senator Cotton managed to form such positive views of attainder. And why is it that these strange claims about latent Congressional powers (to conduct foreign policy or engage in collective punishment) seem to revolve around Iran?

The US does have an ally whose nominally democratic institutions have found a way to practice collective punishment. Our freshly minted Senator Cotton seems to have swallowed whole this ally’s current PM’s view on our dealings with Iran, and memorialized them in an open letter to the Iranian government signed by most of his Republican colleagues.

Then Representative Cotton defended his proposal at the time (Arkansas Times) by saying it would apply only to non-citizens.

The Israeli government’s policy of home demolitions, land seizures and assassination of entire families are all variations on attainder: the punishment of people for the supposed crimes of their relatives. Collective guilt, collective punishment. To get there requires having photogenic demagogues repeat things like this:

Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

every so often, till they begin to sound reasonable.

That is from an article in the Independent: Why I’m on the brink of burning my Israeli passport quoting an Israeli Member of the Knesset whose party was in the governing coalition. The Israeli MK in question (Ayelet Shaked of the Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home settler party) says her words (she’s actually quoting someone else) were taken out of context and responded in the Jerusalem Post: Exposing militant leftist propaganda. The clarification though, is as bad as the original statement:

A call for the indiscriminate killing of children is a terrible thing. But what if the statement was that any time you kill our children, you’re exposing your own children to the same fate? Still unsettling, but rational when you consider that they purposely use their kids as human shields. It’s not a call for indiscriminate murder.

I believe this is the logic Netanyahu used to arrive at the conclusion that the army he commanded last year was the most moral in the world. I wonder how this logic is applied in the honorable MK’s view of the world. Should the children of someone who kills a child in a traffic accident meet the same fate? Or is it reserved solely for murder, or politically motivated murder, or terrorism, or war?  I’m not sure, but it dredges up an even older legal argument over the law of “An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth”. Or perhaps all is fair in love and war?

But why should we look elsewhere if the fault (or mote) is in ourselves. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that the US prohibition on attainder did not extend to American Indians. Our history is rife with episodes where entire peoples were dispossessed of their lives and frequently massacred to avenge some act of a few (or sometimes by caprice). We engaged in every manner of collective punishment during the colonization of these lands. So maybe Representative Cotton was simply yearning for a more Jacksonian stance.

It seems to me that Senator Cotton is so enthralled by neo-con rhetoric that he is blind to the very same constitution for which he professes much love and reverence. Does that make him a “conservative” or a radical?

PS. Unlike Senator Cotton, I Am Not A Lawyer. But I do know morally repugnant ideas when I see them.

Iranian ambassador’s response to Netanyahu’s speech is worth reading

The NY Times published an Op-Ed by Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo,  today. It’s titled Netanyahu’s Nuclear Deceptions. Like many other readers, I found it to be an engaging rebuttal of Bibi’s speech and worth reading:

Despite that, alarmist rhetoric on the theme has been a staple of Mr. Netanyahu’s career. In an interview with the BBC in 1997, he accused Iran of secretly “building a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles,” predicting that eventually Manhattan would be within range. In 1996, he stood before Congress and urged other nations to join him to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear capability, stressing that “time is running out.” Earlier, as a member of Parliament, in 1992, he predicted that Iran would be able to produce a nuclear weapon within three to five years.In front of world leaders at the United Nations in September 2012, Mr. Netanyahu escalated his warnings by declaring that Iran could acquire the bomb within a year. It is ironic that in doing so, he apparently disregarded the assessment of his own secret service: A recently revealed document showed that the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, had advised that Iran was “not performing the activity necessary to produce weapons.” The United States intelligence community had reached the same conclusion in its National Intelligence Estimate.

There is a debate among Iranian politicians as to whether nuclear weapons would benefit Iran. Some of the machinations revolve around their fears that the US is committed to regime change in Iran and nuclear weapons may prevent it. The fear is somewhat legitimate given our history with the Mosaddegh administration and that of the Shah. I don’t think the Obama administration would try to engineer outright regime change in Iran. But a hard-line GOP administration could be another matter altogether.

The Wikipedia page on Irani politics around nuclear weapons and assessments of their capabilities seems to be quite thorough and even-handed. My general read is that Iran has the know-how and wherewithal to build a nuclear device, but the political decision to do so has not been made, which seems to be the view of US intelligence as well.

We will nevertheless continue to work with the agency to resolve this issue — despite our skepticism, which leads us to recall the notorious forged document about Niger’s “yellowcake” uranium that was used to coax the Security Council into authorizing the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Khoshroo turns the tables a bit on Netanyahu in bringing up the Palestinian issue and how it creates instability in the region.

There are other great issues at hand in the Middle East. The violent extremism we see in Syria and Iraq is one, and to fight it effectively, we need to ease international tensions. We must all address the problem of the breeding grounds that are delivering fresh recruits to the terrorist cause. Israeli aggression and the occupation of Palestinian territories have always been of major propaganda value for extremist recruitment.

There are many other causes of course, including repressive regimes in many Middle-Eastern states with large youthful populations.

I also think many of us discussing this issue underestimate the lively debate among Shia theologians about the morality of nuclear weapons and in general, weapons that kill indiscriminately. The Economist covered this, along with the suggestion that it may be a smokescreen. Now to be fair, religious and moral objections to such a weapon did not stop any of the other nuclear powers. But it’s important to recognize that even the ayatollahs are divided, especially when the caricature many in the West have of Iranian Shia religious leaders discounts the diversity of opinions in many other spheres (including human rights, for example the views of Montazeri)

and finally I can’t resist quoting Khoshroo’s coup de grâce:

The paradox of the situation is that a government that has built a stockpile of nuclear weapons, rejected calls to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, made military incursions into neighboring states and flouted international law by keeping the lands of other nations under occupation, now makes such a big fuss over a country, Iran, that has not invaded another country since America became a sovereign nation.

Though as we discussed elsewhere, the Kurds and Azeris may question that last assertion…

Netanyahu is Israel’s only hope against extremism… on literary prize committees.

It’s not just Iran that Bibi has to deal with, he is also tackling the existential threat posed by aging left-wing elites who keep awarding prizes to the wrong books. While we’re focused on the antics around the joint address to Congress, Bibi’s been busy dealing with these extremists in the only language they understand.

In Haaretz: Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges include too many anti-Zionist extremists

“The composition of the panel that selects Israel Prize laureates must be balanced and faithfully reflect the various streams, positions and strata of Israeli society,” Netanyahu wrote on his Facebook page. “However, over the years, more and more radical figures, including anti-Zionists – for example, those who support refusal to serve in the IDF – have been appointed to the panel and too few authentic representatives of other parts of the nation.”

I’m relieved Bibi has finally put his foot down to let us know who is “authentic” and who isn’t.

The guys at Breaking The Silence illustrate why conscientious objectors (refuseniks) are considered “extremists” and “radicals”.

“The Israel Prize belongs to all of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote. “It is our national asset, and it must represent the entire nation: men and women, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, religious and secular, veteran citizens and new immigrants, Israelis of all stripes irrespective of political leanings one way or the other.”Netanyahu’s remarks follow the resignation of an entire panel of judges – for the Israel Prize in literature – over efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the panel’s composition. The office vetoed two candidates to judge the prize, professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld.

“This is an unparalleled scandal,” said Yigal Schwartz, a professor of literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and editor-in-chief of the Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir publishing house. “I’m withdrawing my candidacy and urge other candidates to do the same. This isn’t a mistake; it’s a continuation of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deliberate policy of undermining Israel’s elites to gain votes from other groups. This is sabotage that it’s impossible not to oppose. Even this institution, the Israel Prize, which had remained untainted, they have sabotaged.”

Haaretz has an editorial as well: Netanyahu trampled on the Israel prize and the Jerusalem Post covers the issue in Netanyahu: Israel Prize judges’ panel comprised of too many anti-Zionist elements

Continuing the take no prisoners theme (even if they are bespectacled, elbow-patch adorned, Hebrew Lit professors), Chemi Shalev writes about Bibi in: Netanyahu’s Cossack-inspired election slogan: ‘Smite the leftists and save Israel!’

If you like the New Israel Fund, you’re toast. If you support J Street, you’re out. If you’ve ever whispered a word of sympathy for conscientious objection or considered the pros and cons of boycotting settlements, you’re done. If you vote for the Zionist Union, you’re an anti-Zionist. If you read the wrong newspaper, you’re suspect. If you think Obama is right and Netanyahu is wrong, you’re a potential traitor and a self-hating Jew.

It’s a “my way or the highway” mentality, and “if you’re not with us you’re against us” approach. You can support Netanyahu, condone settlements, view Obama as a nemesis and Iran as an existential threat – or cast your lot with the rest of Israel’s evil-wishers. When you vote for a party left of the Likud, according to this logic, you are, in fact, acting against Israel’s better interests:

This is one of the backdrops to Netanyahu’s decision to ignore the protests against his planned Congressional speech and to press ahead, come what may. When the only people you trust are those who agree with your every word, everyone else is automatically suspect, their motivations dubious, their intentions on trial. In fact, the moment you criticize Netanyahu, you are almost by definition exposing your malicious intentions, all the more reason for him to ignore you and go the other way. It’s a vicious circle inside the echo chamber in which Israeli sentiments are forged and decisions increasingly made.

Meanwhile Peter Beinart asses the impact Netanyahu has had on Jewish organization in the US in Netanyahu’s real victim? The American Jewish establishment

Who are Benjamin Netanyahu’s American victims? Not Barack Obama. Despite Bibi’s best efforts, he’s still in office, and retains the affections of most American Jews. Not the left-wing activists who oppose a Jewish state within any borders: Bibi’s settlement mania has been a bonanza for them. “We’ve got to give credit to Netanyahu,” declared BDS leader Omar Barghouti last December. “Without him we could not have reached this far.”No, Bibi’s real American victims are the people who appear publicly to be his friends: The leaders of groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee. Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress is simply the latest example. He’s destroying the old American Jewish establishment and building a new one in its place.

Huff Post poll finds Opinions On Netanyahu’s Speech Split Along Party Lines

Americans think that it was a breach of protocol for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, but they still want members of Congress to attend his speech, a HuffPost/YouGov poll finds.In the survey, Americans say by a 23-point margin that it’s inappropriate for a member of Congress to invite a foreign leader to speak in the U.S. without first consulting with the White House, and by a 17-point margin that Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu, specifically, was inappropriate. In both cases, about a quarter of Americans said they weren’t sure.

Despite disagreeing with the handling of the invitation, though, Americans were also more likely than not to say U.S. politicians should still meet with Netanyahu during his trip.

Forty-six percent said that their member of Congress should attend Netanyahu’s speech, which is scheduled for March 3, while just 24 percent said they shouldn’t, with another 30 percent unsure. Fifty-eight percent said President Barack Obama should meet with Netanyahu, with only 19 percent opposed and 23 percent not sure.

And then of course, there’s the perennially entertaining “bottle deposit crisis”: Would you buy an empty bottle from this man?

I’ll give him this much, Bibi has a knack for getting under people’s skin and getting folks to talk about him. I can’t think of a foreign leader whose name would be recognized by three-foruths of a random selection of Americans.