Politics, Posturing and Negotiations

June 18, 2012

The latest round of negotiations between the P5+1 countries and Iran over the latter’s controversial nuclear program is currently underway in Moscow. Officials have described the scene as “tense and tough.” At home, politics, posturing and micro-managing have not ceased. But that doesn’t change the reality that, as security officials from the United States and Israel have repeatedly said, a continued diplomatic process is the best way forward. Negotiations take time, and time, right now, is on the side of the West.

Romney, rooting for failure of diplomacy, tries to make political gain out of a delicate national security issue. The Los Angeles Times reports, “In hawkish remarks that drew cheers from an audience of religious conservatives, Mitt Romney accused President Obama on Saturday of being more afraid that Israel might attack Iran than that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon. The Republican presidential candidate, who frequently attacks the administration for failing to back Israel’s government more aggressively, ratcheted up his criticism a notch.” Romney said: “I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite… You look at his policies with regards to Iran… He’s almost sounded like he’s more frightened that Israel might take military action than he’s concerned that Iran might become nuclear.”

In reality, as Eli Lake of Newsweek reported last September, the administration has given Israel military and security support “that has drawn the two nations’ militaries increasingly close even as their leaders seem politely distant. The aid, U.S. and Israeli officials confirmed to Newsweek, includes the long-delayed delivery of 55 powerful GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators, better known as bunker-buster bombs, deemed important to any future military strike against Iranian nuclear sites. It also includes a network of proposed radar sites—some located in Arab neighbors—designed to help Israel repel a missile attack, as well as joint military exercises and regular national-security consultations. As Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak noted last August, “I can hardly remember a better period of support, American support and backing and cooperation and similar strategic understanding of events around us than what we have right now.” [Mitt Romney via LA Times, 6/16/12. Eli Lake, 9/25/11. Ehud Barak via Fox News, 8/3/11]

American and Israeli military experts urge patience, firmness in negotiations; hawks disagree. In the upcoming issue of neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard, William Kristol and Jamie Fly write, “Isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?” But security professionals disagree. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, “In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons.” America’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey expresses concern as well saying, “A conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I’m not just talking from the security perspective. It would be economically destabilizing.”

Former CENTCOM Commander General Anthony Zinni further explains that, “I think the problem with the strike is thinking through the consequences of Iranian reaction. One mine that hits a tanker, and you can imagine what is going to happen to the price of oil and economies around the world.  One missile into a Gulf oil field or a natural gas processing field, you can imagine what’s going to happen.  A missile attack on some of  our troop formations in the Gulf or our bases in Iraq, activating sleeper  cells, flushing out fast patrol boats and dowels that have mines that can  go into the water in the Red Sea and elsewhere. You can see all these reactions that are problematic in so many ways.  Economic impact, national security impact — it will drag us into a conflict.  I think anybody that believes that it would be a clean strike and it would be over and there would be no reaction is foolish.” [William Kristol and Jamie Fly, 6/25/12. Martin Dempsey via National Journal, 1/26/12. Meir Dagan via the Atlantic, 6/13/12. Anthony Zinni, 8/09]

Congress seeks to tie the president’s hands amidst negotiations. As American and partner country negotiators were preparing to meet with Iranian officials, Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reported, “Nearly half the Senate told President Barack Obama today that unless Iran gives three specific concessions at this weekend’s talks with world powers in Moscow, he should abandon the ongoing negotiations over the country’s nuclear program. ‘It is past time for the Iranians to take the concrete steps that would reassure the world that their nuclear program is, as they claim, exclusively peaceful,’ wrote 44 senators in a Friday bipartisan letter organized by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).”

However, as Senator Jack Reed correctly explains, “This [Iran] is not a threat we can ignore, but the way to pursue it is through this very careful, pain-staking diplomatic approach.” Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as State Department Chief of Staff in the Bush administration says, “Virtually all of America’s national security leaders, from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his predecessor Robert Gates, to Bush administration intelligence chief Gen. Michael Hayden, have stated that the idea of ending Iran’s nuclear program with military strikes is a fiction and that a negotiated solution, backed up by international pressure, represents our best strategy. But this hasn’t stopped some in Washington from acting on their predetermined notion that negotiations with Iran are fruitless… Negotiations with Iran are simply too important to be undercut by meddling from politicians whose presumptions are not based on sound intelligence and whose political agendas make a positive outcome more difficult. Given the consequences and the American lives that are no doubt on the line, patient and determined negotiations should be given the chance to succeed.” [The Cable, 6/15/12. Jack Reed, 6/8/12. Lawrence Wilkerson, 5/23/12]

 What We’re Reading

Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was declared the victor in the Egyptian presidential election.

A remote-controlled bomb blast killed six people in the Afghan province of Kabisa.

The Saudi Arabian crown prince, who passed away over the weekend, was buried in Mecca.

A bus carrying Shia Muslims was bombed in Pakistan.

A Yemeni military commander was killed in a suicide attack.

The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing tens of thousands from their land to make way for state-run sugar plantations.

China welcomed the Philippines’ decision to remove two ships from the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

The pro-bailout New Democracy party in Greece looks to form a new coalition government.

The French socialist party won more than 300 seats in the French parliament.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for further reforms to make Spain’s economy more competitive.

 Commentary of the Day

Hussein Ibish questions whether or not the Arab Spring revolutions were worth the economic and human price.

Ilan Berman discusses the difficulties that the Iranian nuclear negotiations pose on Russia.

Kate Brannen reports on the gap between Mitt Romney’s claims and experts’ assessments of Pentagon spending and plans.

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