Selling the Thing

Back in the sixties there was that anti-Nixon poster – Would You Buy a Used Car from This Man? At the time, and probably still, the least respected occupations in America were that of car salesman and, of course, politician. Those professions, or careers, were always at the bottom of this list, and they’re related. With the car salesmen, part of that had to do with the product. Remember the Pinto, the Gremlin and the Vega? But that was only part of it. In both cases the problem was really the process – no one likes getting jerked around by a smooth-talker in a cheap suit, pretending to be your friend. Car salesmen are bad enough, but politicians promise things that everyone knows they can’t deliver – Peace with Honor, or prosperity for all, or both at the same time, or that very bad things will happen to other Americans you and your friends don’t particularly care for, and everyone else will pay taxes but you. No one believes a word of it. Our political system doesn’t allow for any of that. People simply vote for the smooth-talker whose heart is the right place. They don’t expect much, but the other guy was just a smooth-talker in a cheap suit, or for some, Hillary Clinton is just a smooth-talker in a cheap pants suit.

Politics is sales. There’s something sleazy about it – or it’s tragically sad. Arthur Miller wrote that famous play about the tragic sadness of that clueless committed salesman – but someone is always trying to sell us something. In early March this year it was the Republicans. They brought the “real” leader of the free world to the United States to address Congress, to upbraid and shame our young and hopelessly naïve president – invited to do so by the few remaining Real Americans – those who prefer war to diplomacy, and don’t like gays, and who prefer minorities stay in the background, quietly, and like their women modest and generally silent. That would be the Republicans of course.

Everything had been arranged. Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to come and to set things straight, behind that hopelessly naïve president’s back. There was no need to tell him what was up – and those few remaining Real Americans would thus show the rest of the other whining and useless Americans, who voted the wrong way, twice, what a real leader does, or at least what a real leader says. That seemed to be the general idea. After this, no one would ever vote for a Democrat again, not even for dogcatcher. The big guy would show Americans the mistake they had made, twice. This was a political sales job, and the smooth-talker did his thing:

With dark warnings and a call to action, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel used one of the world’s most prominent venues on Tuesday to denounce what he called a “bad deal” being negotiated with Iran and to mount an audacious challenge to President Obama.

In an extraordinary spectacle pitting the leaders of two close allies against each other, Mr. Netanyahu took the rostrum in the historic chamber of the House of Representatives to tell a joint meeting of Congress that instead of stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Mr. Obama’s diplomatic initiative “would all but guarantee” that it does, in turn setting off a regional arms race.

This was not well received – here many thought this guy had no business telling us our president was a fool, and that our president’s constitutional authority to negotiate treaties, and to be the one person to speak for America to the world, should be ditched for the idea that the 535 voting members of Congress – 435 Representatives and 100 Senators – should be the ones to speak for America in one voice.

How the hell was that supposed to work? Was this guy calling for coup that would rid us of this president, by making him pretty much a ceremonial figurehead? Would that apply to future presidents? What if the next one is a Republican? Meanwhile, back in Israel, many worried that this was going to ruin things with the one nation that had always supported Israel. Israel was telling America how to behave, or else. Or else – what was Israel going to do? Were they going to find someone else to send them three billion dollars a year, and arms and technology, like that Iron Dome system, and veto any move against them at the United Nations? Would that be Putin, or the Chinese? Or were they simply waiting for the Republicans to put Obama in his place, to completely neuter him, any day now?

None of it worked. Obama reached his framework agreement with Iran – a far better agreement than anyone imagined – so this sales pitched failed spectacularly. The Republicans changed no minds either – those who thought this was a brilliant move preened. Everyone else seemed to think they had been real jerks, and now there is this:

The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday. Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country’s ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.

Rasmussen Reports, who conducted the poll, said Israel had “tumbled down the list.” By contrast, 86% and 84% see Canada and Britain respectfully as the US’s allies.

When broken down along party political lines, 76% of Republicans view Israel an ally of the US compared to only 45% of Democrats and 47% of Independents.

David Atkins is not surprised:

Republicans will no doubt jump on the fact that most of the weakening of support for Israel as an ally comes from Democrats, and accuse Democrats of anti-Semitism and the usual even more scurrilous charges.

But the reality is that Netanyahu and the far right in Israel have partisanized the relationship and become cheerleaders for Republicans. The Israeli far right desperately wants to bomb Iran, and they explicitly reject a two-state solution for Palestine. Those positions are detrimental to Israel’s security and immoral on their face – and they run explicitly counter to world opinion and mainstream Democratic policy in the United States.

Given how politically divided the U.S. has become, it’s not surprising that an Israel that aligns itself in a strongly partisan way with extreme policy positions would find itself rapidly losing support from the citizens of the country it needs most for aid and defense.

Atkins notes that with Netanyahu’s new and solid electoral victory at home, this is how it going to be for the next several years or beyond. Netanyahu made his sales pitch. America needs to change its ways, and needs to neuter this dangerous president, or they’ll no longer be our best friends forever. Most Americans said fine. We have other friends.

That’s not what Benjamin Netanyahu expected, so it was time for a new sales pitch:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there’s “still time to get a better deal” as he slammed last week’s Iranian nuclear framework agreement.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Netanyahu said the preliminary agreement struck between Iran, the United States and five other world powers failed to allow the destruction of any of Iran’s centrifuges or dismantle its nuclear facilities. And he was skeptical that Iran would submit to the inspections included in the deal.

“I wouldn’t bet the shop on inspections because totalitarian regimes have a way of cheating,” Netanyahu said.

It’s not too late to change everything, and really, honest, he has nothing against the skinny black guy:

Asked if he trusts Obama, Netanyahu said: “I trust the president is doing what he thinks is good for the United States.”

That was a bit of damning with faint praise, but it was a shift, and he was just trying to be reasonable:

After the deal was announced, Obama said this is a “good deal,” and the alternative was war with Iran.

Like many Republicans who have criticized the agreement, Netanyahu disagreed, arguing that sanctions against Iran should be ratcheted up further to get more concessions from Tehran.

“The alternatives are not either this bad deal or war,” he said. “There’s a third alternative, and that is standing firm, ratcheting up the pressure until you get a better deal.”

Later, on ABC’s “This Week,” Netanyahu argued further sanctions could press Iran into accepting conditions it’s currently rejecting.

“What they don’t accept today, they can accept tomorrow,” he said. “With the drop in oil, those sanctions have become even more effective. That’s what got Iran to the table in the first place. And then, once they’re at the table, why let up on those sanctions? In fact, that’s the time to increase the pressure and to get tomorrow what you can’t get today.”

In his address to congress, Netanyahu said this better deal would include dismantling all nuclear gizmos of any kind in Iran forever, and a complete change in Iran’s foreign policy, so they’d no longer support any bad guys anywhere and that Iran recognize Israel’s right to exist, with the implicit suggestion Iran recognize Israel, officially and diplomatically. He wasn’t that specific this time, but we do have a Jewish grandmother out here who was not impressed with young Bibi:

Appearing after Netanyahu on CNN, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the prime minister wasn’t presenting a real alternative to the deal with his opposition.

“This can backfire on him, and I wish that he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative,” she said. “I think this is the best that’s going to get done.”

And young Bibi is not the only one making a sales pitch:

President Barack Obama says he is “absolutely committed to making sure” Israel maintains a military advantage over Iran.

His comments to The New York Times, published on Sunday, come amid criticism from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the deal that the United States and five other world powers struck with Iran. Tehran agreed to halt the country’s nuclear ambitions, and in exchange, Western powers would drop sanctions that have hurt the Iran’s economy.

Obama said he understands and respects Netanyahu’s stance that Israel is particularly vulnerable and doesn’t “have the luxury of testing these propositions” in the deal.

“But what I would say to them is that not only am I absolutely committed to making sure they maintain their qualitative military edge, and that they can deter any potential future attacks, but 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,” Obama said.

That, he said, 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,” he said.

And he hopes this sounds reasonable:

Obama said even if Iran can’t be trusted, there’s still a case to be made for the deal.

“In fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon,” Obama said.

And it’s time to get serious:

President Obama says it would be a “fundamental misjudgment” to condition a nuclear deal with Iran on the country’s recognition of Israel.

Obama made the comments Monday during an interview with Morning Edition’s Steve Inskeep.

Here’s the sales pitch:

“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. “And that is, I think, a fundamental misjudgment. I want to return to this point: We want Iran not to have nuclear weapons precisely because we can’t bank on the nature of the regime changing. That’s exactly why we don’t want to have nuclear weapons. If suddenly Iran transformed itself to Germany or Sweden or France then there would be a different set of conversations about their nuclear infrastructure.”

In short, what is Bibi thinking? What’s this “better deal” he imagines? Samuel Berger, the national security adviser to President Clinton from 1997-2001, says it’s imaginary:

No one can argue that a better agreement wouldn’t be better – 3,000 Iranian centrifuges is better than 5,000; a 20-year deal is better than 10. The tough question is: How do you get there? Putting aside what the Iranians might do in response to additional pressure – dig in deeper, speed up their program – and looking just at our side of the equation, the notion of a better deal is unachievable.

One really should not do stupid stuff:

According to critics, seeking a better deal starts with increasing sanctions on Iran. If tough sanctions brought them to the table, tougher sanctions will bring them to their knees. At some point their economy will be in tatters from the intensified sanctions, and they will be forced to return to the bargaining table and agree to better deal. With a closer look, however, this scenario unravels.

First, it is highly unlikely that even our allies in Europe would join us in further sanctions against Iran in the wake of a nuclear agreement they believe is sensible and positive. That is even truer for other countries – like India, Japan, South Korea and China – that were pulled into the existing sanctions regime quite unwillingly. The support of these countries for the oil sanctions in particular has been critical to the sanctions’ effectiveness. They will not willingly sign up for more.

Second, if a deal falls through, it is likely that the existing multilateral sanctions regime will begin to crumble. As noted, countries like India and South Korea, who don’t feel threatened by an Iran nuclear weapon, will be only too happy to find a pretext to break out of the sanctions – perhaps tentatively at first but in a rush as others do. It will be hard to argue the rationale for sanctions, which, from the perspective of nearly every nation, will have achieved their purpose – bringing Iran to the table to negotiate serious limitations on its nuclear program.

Indeed, the proponents of tougher sanctions to get a “better” deal have misunderstood the nature of the Iranian sanctions. The fact is that the United States does not own or control the multilateral sanctions regime. The effectiveness of the sanctions is based on how the international community views the perceived threat and therefore the legitimacy of coercive actions to stop it.

We are not the only players here, and there’s the “long game” to consider too:

The framework does not – nor by itself is it likely to – fundamentally alter the other threats Iran poses in the region, including its ongoing efforts to exert control in Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad and Sanaa, and its continuing threat to Israel. That is why it is important to embed this agreement in a regional strategy that bolsters concrete cooperation with our friends in the region and reassures them that we are there for the long haul. President Obama’s summit with regional partners at Camp David will be an important opportunity to look not only at the hot spots, but at the bigger picture.

The Iran nuclear agreement is important not despite other troubles in the region but because of them. Each challenge would be more difficult and dangerous if Iran’s nuclear program was unconstrained and unmonitored, let alone if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon and spark others in the region to follow. Under the agreement that is emerging, we will have a high degree of confidence – as will others in the region – that Iran’s nuclear program is seriously constrained. Walling off the nuclear threat does not extinguish the fires that are burning in the region. But it does remove what would be the most combustible fuel.

We really shouldn’t screw that up:

Enacting new, tough sanctions in an effort to force Iran toward a “better” deal would mystify and alarm the rest of the world, isolating and weakening us. Such sanctions would crumble under their own weight…

That has its logic, but Greg Sargent offers this:

Can we please stop pretending that a good “sales pitch” from President Obama is what is required to get Congressional Republicans to support any final nuclear deal with Iran? Yes, Obama’s effort to “sell” any Iran deal could shape public opinion towards it. But Republicans will likely oppose a final deal no matter what is in it or what the public thinks of it. The real reason Obama’s “sales pitch” – and its impact on public opinion – might matter is due to its impact on Congressional Democrats.

Obama is making a sales pitch to them:

There has now been some movement in favor of the White House position among Democrats. On CNN yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein – who has good “hawkish” credentials – confirmed that she would vote against the current version of the Corker-Menendez bill, which would suspend Obama’s authority to lift sanctions, pending a Congressional vote to approve or disapprove the deal. The Corker bill could undergo changes before it is voted out of committee in mid-April. But in its current form, it could scuttle the whole process by unnecessarily holding a vote before any deal is finalized. If Feinstein opposes the final Corker bill it could perhaps help staunch Dem defections just enough to prevent it from getting a veto-proof majority.

Meanwhile, Senator Chris Murphy – a rising star of sorts within the party – is bluntly warning fellow Democrats that if they support the Corker bill, they will “own responsibility for the failure of negotiations.” As of now, at least eight Senate Dems have signed on to it.

The movement from Feinstein and Murphy suggests that supporters of a deal have a chance of preventing Corker-Menendez from passing over a presidential veto.

Fine, but that doesn’t solve everything:

Republicans may hold some kind of post-deal vote to restrict the president’s authority to suspend sanctions and carry out our end of the bargain. The question then would become whether enough Democrats would support that to override a veto. If not, Obama would continue to insist he has the authority to temporarily lift the sanctions; Republicans would insist he doesn’t. The deal would presumably continue amid GOP objections, and things would then get extremely contentious.

Then we get down to the essential question of whether or not Obama has the authority to temporarily lift sanctions without Congress:

And it may not be resolvable. No “sales pitch” from Obama will resolve it, either; it’s very hard to imagine this Congress voting to affirmatively give Obama that authority in the context of a deal. You can see an endgame where Republicans and Obama agree to some kind of legislation that doesn’t resolve that argument, but does provide a role for Congress in toughening up the mechanism that would re-impose sanctions if Iran breaks the deal.

They do want a role, and Slate’s Joshua Keating sees the problem here:

In an interview with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman, President Obama makes a not-all-that-convincing claim that he wants Congress to play a role in implementing the nuclear deal with Iran—just so long as that role doesn’t involve preventing him from doing anything he wants to do.

“I do think that [Tennessee Republican] Sen. Corker, the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, is somebody who is sincerely concerned about this issue and is a good and decent man, and my hope is that we can find something that allows Congress to express itself but does not encroach on traditional presidential prerogatives—and ensures that, if in fact we get a good deal, that we can go ahead and implement it,” Obama said.

But critics in Congress – mostly Republicans, but also a few Democrats – who are not happy about the deal, and really not happy about the White House conducting foreign policy without their oversight, don’t seem convinced.

A month earlier, Netanyahu told them that they should have a say, and they believed him, as the man who knows how America should work, but that’s not how things work here:

The White House can’t actually lift the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran without Congress, but the president has considerable authority to waive them or suspend them. A report by Larry Hanauer of the RAND Corp. lays out Congress’s options for responding to the deal, ranging from passing legislation to facilitate it by relaxing sanctions (don’t hold your breath) to passing legislation that would impose new sanctions or limit the president’s ability to suspend. Congress could also prohibit the executive branch from using federal funds to implement the agreement or even pass an authorization for the use of military force against Iran should the country not comply with the terms of the agreement. The last option is unlikely – Congress doesn’t seem to be in the mood to grant the administration new war powers these days, even powers it hasn’t actually asked for. And it’s not clear that opponents of the deal have the votes to overturn a presidential veto on the other options.

Even Corker’s comparatively mild bill – it would block the lifting of sanctions for only 60 days and require another joint resolution to make the block permanent – is still short of the votes it needs for a veto-proof majority. Even skeptical Democrats who might favor congressional oversight would probably be more wary of actually blowing up the president’s negotiated agreement.

As the RAND report argues, “Political gridlock makes it highly likely that Congress will be unable to take any legislative action at all.” This would mean that for now, the White House could selectively lift sanctions through executive action.

The original idea that Netanyahu floated a month ago, that only Congress should speak, as one voice, for America, not the president, is as an absurd idea as ever, and Josh Rogin adds a twist:

In an interview with me last week, before the Obama administration announced the breakthrough between Iran and six major world powers, Republican Senator Bob Corker said he had figured out the overarching objectives of the president’s various moves in the Middle East, including not just Obama’s drive to get a deal with Iran but also his reluctance to get involved in Syria and his treatment of Arab allies and Israel. Corker said Obama just wants to get out of the region.

“It’s become very evident as to what the administration is doing relative to the Middle East,” Corker said. “The administration’s view is that in order to extract ourselves in the Middle East, we need to move away from our relationship from Israel and we need to more fully align ourselves with Iran, so we create this balance in the Middle East between Iran and its influence and the Arab Sunni influence in the region.” He added: “That seems to be our strategy. And that’s what’s creating all of this turmoil in the region.”

According to Corker, the Iran deal is the lynchpin of Obama’s drive to change the balance of power in Iran’s favor and then remove America’s role from the region.

But that’s not exactly what Obama is selling:

Obama defined his own doctrine as: “We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.” American core concerns in the region no longer include oil or territory or strategic interests, the president said. “Our interests in this sense are really just making sure that the region is working,” he said. “And if it’s working well, then we’ll do fine.”

Is that what Obama is selling – make sure no one has nukes and step back, and let them work out their problems among themselves? Would you buy a used car from this man? Ah, yes.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Foreign Policy, Framework Agreement on Iran, Iran and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s