Nowhere are the dangers of partisan disunity more apparent than in the United States’ handling of foreign policy, especially when it comes to Iran and the forces working to maintain it the latest boogeyman of U.S.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after speaking before a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
BEIRUT — The U.S. government is coming apart at the seams in more ways than one. The world watched as lawmakers played chicken with the debt ceiling in 2011 and forced a government shutdown in 2013. And now, a dispute over American foreign policy in the Middle East is prompting an unprecedented schism between the executive and legislative branches.
Nowhere has this split been made more apparent than in the open letter sent by 47 Republican senators to the leadership of Iran on March 9. One faction of the U.S. government wants to maintain a policy of destructive regime change and isolation of Iran and its allies, while the other is considering a more moderate approach that starts with a nuclear deal and ends in potential peace between longstanding rivals.
Speaking to MintPress News in Beirut, Gareth Porter says the American governmental system has fundamental bureaucratic political interests that require Iran to remain an adversary.
“Those interests have built up for more than three decades, if you include the counterterrorism bureaucracy of the United States, which is strongly anti-Iran,” said Porter, an investigative journalist, historian and author of “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”
AIPAC and the Iran letter
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. arrives to pose for photographers in his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2015. The rookie Republican senator leading the effort to torpedo an agreement with Iran is an Army veteran with a Harvard law degree who has a full record of tough rhetoric against President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.
According to its author, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, the letter was meant to educate Iran’s leaders about the nature of the American constitutional system so that Iran does not believe an agreement made by it and the P5+1 nations (the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, plus Germany) will be binding.
Yet the letter was actually intended to destroy those negotiations, an outcome which fits squarely into the policies of Israel’s Likud Party government, which won Tuesday’s elections. Headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party has influence over the actions of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby group.
Indeed, Open Secrets reported that Cotton received hundreds of thousands of dollars from pro-Israel donors, including over $900,000 from the Emergency Committee for Israel, during his election campaign. According to MJ Rosenberg, Cotton’s letter was likely written by AIPAC.
Rosenberg, who worked at AIPAC for six years, wrote on his blog on March 9:
“On all matters relating to Israel and the Middle East in general, AIPAC writes the legislation (or letters, resolutions, etc) which are then handed over to legislators to drop in the hopper, gather cosponsors, and get it passed or sent. Not only that, the ideas for these initiatives come out of AIPAC rather than (as is usually the case with lobbies) starting with the Member of Congress who then asks the lobby for help with drafting. AIPAC does it all, from soup to nuts.”
Further, he asserted that congressional letters in support of an Israeli objective, such as the Iran letter, need AIPAC’s approval. In these cases, he wrote, “AIPAC (1) will then either write the letter or edit it (2) decide if that particular legislator will be allowed to sponsor it and (3) decide whether or not the legislator can attract signers by saying it is AIPAC-approved.”
“I suppose it is possible that the Senators treason letter was written without AIPAC. I mean, it’s possible that a meteor will destroy all human life tomorrow,” he wrote. “But, believe me, 47 senators are not going to undertake an initiative this serious on AIPAC’s #1 issue without the lobby’s approval.”
While the anti-Iran coalition may seem like it’s backed by every Senate Republican, it is not. Seven of the Senate’s current 54 Republicans refused to sign Cotton’s letter, revealing a more level-headed approach to an issue that is being promoted among partisan lines.
Those seven senators deserve to be named for not following the herd and goading the U.S. into another war in the Middle East. They are Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Susan Collins (Maine), Robert Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson (Ret.), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, described them as “The Magnificent Seven” in a recent Huffington Post article.
“Many of the 47 who did sign the letter followed the herd instinct to hurt the president and now wish they had not,” Wilkerson wrote. “I commend, however, most strongly the seven. They refused to join the herd no matter the thundering of its hooves.”
Politics doesn’t stop at the water’s edge
President Barack Obama exchanges words with AIPAC president Lee Rosenberg after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference in Washington Sunday, March 4, 2012. Photo credit: AP
In 1947, Michigan Sen. Arthur Vandenberg proclaimed: “We must stop partisan politics at the water’s edge.” He was speaking on the cusp of the creation of NATO, the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. He was a Republican, and Harry Truman, the president, was a Democrat.
What Vandenberg meant was that political differences can be exploited domestically when it comes to issues like health care, Social Security or the deficit. But the country must stand united on foreign policy because of the potential dangers in projecting a fractured approach.
Whatever one may think of the above-mentioned policies, a state (e.g., the United States) benefits enormously in terms of strategic priorities if it is united in its foreign policy prerogatives. And it doesn’t matter whether those efforts are toward overthrowing Iraq, Iran and Syria to implement a new wave of Jeffersonian democracy, as many of the neoconservative thinkers during George W. Bush’s terms promoted, or making amends with Iran, ending military adventurism, and starting to focus on the world’s greatest rising power — China.
Vandenberg’s statement, however, was uttered well before the founding of AIPAC and the pernicious influence of other lobby groups and money in American politics.
The poison of disunity
The devastating effects of disunity on government policy and the ramifications of those policies on the people of the world are most apparent in the United States’ current approach to the Middle East.
“In theory, this administration has acknowledged our real major interest in the Middle East is aimed at removing the rest of the Islamic State, or Daesh [Arabic acronym of ISIS], and that overrides everything else,” Porter, the investigative journalist and author, told MintPress.
Porter explained that the U.S. is not acting consistently and determinedly to advance that goal. “It seems like there’s a competition between that interest on the one hand, and supporting the anti-Iran coalition in the region on the other,” he said, adding: “That is no policy at all.”
Porter emphasized this point by noting that the U.S. would like to pursue a policy of fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but it doesn’t have the allies to do so, except Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. The problem for U.S. strategy here is that the administration is unwilling to work with those actors.
With regards to the idea that the U.S. is attempting to pull itself out of the Middle East and “pivot” toward Asia, Porter said, “They [the U.S. administration] say that but, of course, those statements are not worth very much.” Further, he says, statements supporting this notion are just a rhetorical device to suggest, “Oh, we’re really on the move here. We’re really doing something dynamic.”
He told MintPress that this split in ideologies is exemplified by the United States’ approach to Syria. The U.S. should either put priority on weakening Iran’s influence in the region and oppose Iran’s allies, such as Syria and Hezbollah, or focus on the fight against ISIS, he says.
Interestingly, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” last month, and it did not include Hezbollah as a threat to U.S. interests in the region.
Structural limitations and the shifting sands of policy
President Barack Obama meets new Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdul Aziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015. The president and first lady have come to expresses their condolences on the death of the late Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP
Since the Obama administration showed its reluctance to engage more directly in the Syrian civil war in 2013, Saudi Arabia and Israel have been feeling the ground shifting beneath their feet with regards to U.S. policy in the region. The sweeping Middle East regime change strategy exemplified by George W. Bush and the neoconservatives no longer exists.
“Saudi Arabia and Israel are freaking out because they’re pursuing a policy that is so obviously not in the interests of the United States that they must believe that the United States is going to try to screw them over, and pursue a different policy,” Porter said.
However, he emphasized, “Whether or not that is actually the U.S. policy is another matter entirely.”
Porter believes Saudi Arabia and Israel think the U.S. is going to sell them out to Iran, but he does not believe that the U.S. has actually decided to embark on this fundamentally different policy. Nor does he believe the country will do so in the future.
Porter told MintPress that the current negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program do not represent any parallel to President Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China in the 1970s.
“I think they still regard Iran as an adversary strategically and the rhetoric will not dramatically change,” he asserted.
There is a strong coalition of political interests in favor of continuing an adversarial relationship with the Islamic Republic, he concluded, and the letter from Senate Republicans to the Iranian leadership is just one sign of that.