Sixty Odd Days

The sixty-day siege began in the middle of July:

President Obama eagerly took on critics of the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday, inviting question after question on an agreement he suggested that many of his political adversaries had not even read.

Mr. Obama used a formal East Room news conference to begin what White House officials said would be an aggressive effort by the president and his top advisers over the next 60 days to combat critics in both parties and to sell the Iran deal to members of Congress, the public and allies in the region.

While Mr. Obama is expected to win enough votes to sustain a veto of any legislation rejecting the deal, his goal over the next two months is to persuade enough Democrats to support the accord so that he can paint opponents as driven by politics rather than diplomacy.

Everyone knows how this turns out. Even the Republicans know. The Republicans have enough votes in the House and Senate to pass their legislation that formally disapproves of this deal. The deal with Iran is not an actual treaty – it’s a set of agreements between Iran and the United States, and five other nations – an understanding of who will do what, when – so there’s nothing to ratify, nothing that would then become law, defining what we must or must not do. Congress can only say they disapprove. That’s it – but Obama agreed the United States will pull out of all the agreements if the Republicans have enough votes to override his veto of their legislation saying the United States should not have even started to talk to the Iranians in the first place. The Republicans don’t have enough votes for that. They never will. At the end of these sixty days the deal will stand. Obama will end up where he started, holding onto what he had in the first place.

This is political siege warfare – you win if you end up where you started, holding onto what you had in the first place. In between, you wait, there are sudden attacks, then you wait some more, there are more sudden attacks, and then you wait some more. There is no victory. There is only survival, after a whole lot of talk. It’s rather boring, actually.

Mike Huckabee tried to fix that:

Mike Huckabee is not backing away from his strident criticism of President Barack Obama and the Iranian nuclear deal – even as his fellow Republican presidential candidates distance themselves from his remarks.

A day after making an explicit comparison to the Holocaust in denouncing the agreement, the former Arkansas governor continued to make his case on Twitter.

In an earlier interview with Breitbart News published Saturday, Huckabee said that Obama is “naive” in trusting Iran to uphold its part of the deal. “By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Obama is Hitler. He wants to exterminate the Jews. How else can you read this? Huckabee simply had the courage to say this, but he got slapped down – every Jewish group in the world told him to knock it off, and polls show that American Jews favor the Iran deal at a twenty percent higher rate than the rest of us. Huckabee has since been saying that Real Jews agree with him. Someone should ask this ordained Baptist minister who these folks are and where they’re hiding – but it doesn’t matter. Mike Huckabee is who he is – an excitable fellow – and he needs to steal some thunder from Donald Trump. Fox News has set the rules for which folks get to participate in the first Republican presidential debate – the top ten in the polls they choose – and Mike Huckabee might not make the cut. He needs to be noticed – by someone, anyone. The Iran deal may be a done deal. His getting on stage with the big boys, rather than being relegated to the kids’ table – Fox News’ secondary “candidates forum” for the losers and weirdos – is not a done deal yet. He has work to do.

This done deal is, however, generating all sorts of odd talk:

The actors Morgan Freeman, Jack Black and Natasha Lyonne have leant their support to Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran.

The stars feature in a new video designed to help persuade legislators to get the agreement through Congress when it goes to the vote in September. Alongside them are an eclectic mix of camera-friendly experts including ex-CIA agent Valerie Plame, Queen Noor of Jordan and retired US Ambassador Thomas R Pickering, who urge Americans to support the agreement lest they wind up “super dead”.

Morgan Freeman has played God in a number of movies. Jack Black was the voice of that lovable Kung Fu Panda. Natasha Lyonne was brilliant in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You and But I’m a Cheerleader – a cult favorite – but this is very odd:

As Freeman explains, “the agreement on the table is the best way to insure that Iran doesn’t build a fucking bomb” before going on to suggest “the alternative is war”. The actor has been a prominent supporter of Barack Obama, voicing campaign ads and giving substantial donations.

Lyonne, who starred in American Pie and recently returned to the public eye with a part in Orange is the New Black, chips in with: “Do me a favour, OK, don’t let some hot-headed member of Congress screw this up”, while Black adds “playing politics with our national security isn’t all that funny”.

Valerie Plame and Queen Noor of Jordan agree – watch the video and you’ll see – but something strange is going on in our politics. On the other hand, anything with the open and direct and gorgeous and smart as a whip Natasha Lyonne in it is a delight. It’s just that what she has to say about Iran might be irrelevant. And the Kung Fu Panda has spoken?

On the other hand there’s this:

The Clarion Project is hoping to convince US Congress to vote no on the Iran deal by enlisting the help of the American public. …

In March, the non-governmental organization unveiled the first video in its series of seven short films warning about the dangers of the Iran deal. Ever since world powers signed the nuclear agreement on July 14, the NGO has shifted its gears to focus on the vote in the US Congress to urge politicians to vote ‘no’ on US approval of the deal.

Here we go again:

Ryan Mauro, the Clarion Project’s national security adviser, spoke with The Jerusalem Post to discuss the videos, each of which is in a distinct style. Some satirize the deal with cartoons, others invoke Adolf Hitler and past failed peace agreements, while another one envisions a dystopian future where the US has sunk into chaos and rioting because of a nuclear battle in the Middle East.

These aren’t sly, and the most watched video in the series is Super Power Poker – Live from Iran, an insulting cartoon depicting a poker match between Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, President Barack Obama, looking like a pimp, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi King Salman. It’s rather awful. This whole thing isn’t a badly-drawn fifties cartoon either.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Steve Benen reports this:

The Senate Armed Services Committee held its own hearing today on the international nuclear agreement with Iran, which regrettably went about as well as the other congressional hearings on the issue. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a Republican presidential candidate and one of his party’s most unyielding hawks, got especially animated during an exchange with Defense Secretary Ashton Carter:

GRAHAM: Could we win a war with Iran? Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins?

CARTER: No, the United States…

GRAHAM: We win!

Yeah, we do, but Benen adds this:

The senator seemed pleased with himself, though this doesn’t exactly help the Republican cause. For proponents of the agreement, the concern has long been that GOP lawmakers want to kill the diplomatic deal because they want a military confrontation with Iran. Republicans usually make a point to deny this, instead saying they prefer a “better” diplomatic solution.

Graham, however, is less subtle – his line of questioning suggested the United States would win a war, which makes war an appealing alternative.

The administration’s cabinet secretaries seemed visibly irritated with Graham’s grandstanding, and they didn’t make much of an effort to debate the South Carolina senator…

Why bother? Kevin Drum adds this:

So there you have it: (a) the Ayatollah unquestionably wants to destroy Israel and attack America, and (b) there is no doubt America would win this war. This sounds like mighty poor strategic thinking on the Ayatollah’s part to me, since presumably he knows as much as Lindsey Graham about the relative military strength of Iran and the United States. But I guess his pesky religious views compel him to commit national suicide anyway.

This is as nuts as those videos:

Now, you might be skeptical that Graham knows the Ayatollah as well as he thinks he does, or knows his religious views in any depth either. But even if we give him the benefit of the doubt on that score, his apparent view of things still doesn’t make sense. If the Ayatollah is as committed to war as Graham thinks, why would he bother with this deal in the first place? According to conservatives (I’m not sure what the CIA thinks these days), Iran is currently less than a year from being able to build a nuclear bomb. So why not just build a few and start the war? It can’t be because the sanctions matter. If war is inevitable thanks to the Ayatollah’s religious views, but America is going to win the war by reducing Iran to a glassy plain, then who cares about a few more years of sanctions? Most Iranians are going to be dead a few hours after the war starts anyway.

So… it’s all still mysterious. Conservatives don’t like the deal Obama negotiated. Fine. But we can’t go back to the status quo. If we pull out of the deal, economic sanctions will decay pretty quickly and Iran will have lots of additional money and be a year away from building a bomb. The only other alternative is war. Graham is more open about this than most conservatives, but even he realizes he has to be cagey about it. He can’t quite come out and just say that we should go to war with Iran before they build a bomb. So instead he tosses in an oddly pointless question about who would win a war between Iran and America. Why? Some kind of dog whistle, I guess. Those with ears to hear understand what it means: Graham wants to see cruise missiles flying. The rest of us are left scratching our chins.

Drum finds all of this getting weirder and weirder:

The deal on the table, imperfect as it might be, doesn’t restrict American freedom of action at all. Plus it has a pretty stringent inspection regime and would prevent Iran from building a bomb for at least ten years – probably longer. That’s better than what we have now. So why not go ahead and sign the deal and then use the next ten years to figure out what to do next? What’s the downside?

I can’t really think of one except that it makes a shooting war less likely over the next decade. I call that a feature. I guess Graham and his crowd call it a bug.

The General had to straighten these people out:

While the nuclear agreement with Iran will not stop it from funding organizations the United States considers to be terrorist groups, the pact reduces the chances of a near-term military conflict between the two countries, the top American military leader, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, told Congress on Wednesday. …

General Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the nuclear deal did not prevent the United States from striking Iranian facilities if officials decide that Tehran is cheating on the agreement. But if it sticks to the terms of the pact, such a strike – with attendant retaliation – is far less likely, he said.

In his trademark to-the-point style, General Dempsey answered a barrage of questions from Republican senators that appeared intended to make him criticize the pact. The general – appearing alongside Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew – neither praised nor condemned the nuclear agreement.

Instead, he gave an assessment of both the potential and the limitations of the pact. “If followed, the deal addresses one critical and the most dangerous point of friction with the Iranian regime,” General Dempsey said. “But as I’ve stated repeatedly, there are at least five other malign activities which give us and our regional partners concern,” including the pursuit of ballistic missile technology, weapons trafficking, the use of surrogates and proxies, the use of naval mines, and undersea activity.

Ah, they thought they had him, but they didn’t:

When Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, accused General Dempsey of “damning” the pact “with faint praise,” the general was again brief.

“First, Senator, I would ask you not to characterize my statement as tepid, nor enthusiastic, but rather pragmatic,” he said. “Relieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior than trying to do that militarily.”

They seemed surprised that a general would say that, but they managed to do their thing anyway:

When Mr. Kerry, who along with Mr. Moniz negotiated the agreement, spoke, the hearing at times got antagonistic.

Toward the end, Mr. Kerry and Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, got into a heated exchange over whether Mr. Kerry should apologize to families of American military forces who were killed in Iraq by Shiite forces using weaponry provided by Iran.

Mr. Cruz, a presidential candidate, misquoted Mr. Kerry, saying the secretary of state had apologized to those families. Mr. Kerry corrected him, and Mr. Cruz then pressed Mr. Kerry about why he had not apologized to them.

Yeah, it was weird, and meanwhile, down the street:

At the White House, the Democratic lawmakers were given Champagne and soft drinks and were briefly entertained by a piano player before filing into the East Room around 4:30 p.m. to hear the president give an intensive 30-minute seminar on the details of the Iran agreement. Several cabinet members were in the audience.

The president promised that he would explain the details of the agreement to everyone in the room for as long as anyone wished, and he said he would get more detailed answers from others if any were needed.

“He is leaving no doubt that this is his top priority,” said Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. “I’ve never seen anything like it, except maybe during the Affordable Care Act debate in 2010.”

The president’s message, lawmakers said, was the same as he has given elsewhere: While not perfect, the deal is better than any alternative.

Despite the abrupt end to the meeting, many in the room were persuaded, Ms. Schakowsky said.

“I feel very confident that we will have sufficient votes to sustain a veto,” she said.

This really is a done deal, and the Los Angeles Times’ Doyle McManus points out that there is no real alternative:

The simplest option – and the one least likely to succeed – has come from Marco Rubio: escalate U.S. sanctions until Iran cries uncle.

“The only option we have is to re-impose the American sanctions,” the Florida Republican said on CBS last week. “Give Iran a very clear choice: You can have an economy or you can have a weapons program, but you will not be able to have both.”

The problem is, U.S. economic sanctions alone have never compelled another country to surrender. And there’s little chance Obama or his successor could persuade the world’s other economic powers to join in sanctions if the United States walked away from the current deal.

And there’s this:

Some conservatives have proposed a slightly more sophisticated option: ask Iran and the other five countries in the negotiations to reopen the talks.

“The alternative is for Congress to reject this deal and demand a better deal, to send our negotiators back to the table with both tougher sanctions and [threats of] military force,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said in a television interview.

“Arms control agreements are renegotiated all the time,” said Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. “You just go back and say: We couldn’t get a bipartisan consensus. At that point, the Europeans and Russia and China have to decide whether to go back to the table too.”

That, however, is not as easy as it sounds.

“Do you think the ayatollah is going to come back to the table if Congress refuses this, and negotiate again?” Kerry asked. “I mean, please. I would be embarrassed to try.”

Kerry called it a “unicorn arrangement” – “a fantasy, pure and simple” – because international willingness to impose sanctions would erode, reducing U.S. leverage on Iran.

There is that:

Even Takeyh, who favors this course, believes sanctions would weaken. “Yes, there will be leakage,” he said. “China may want to buy oil from Iran. India will want to reopen trade. It will mostly happen in Asia. But at least Iran won’t get access to the biggest markets.”

If the U.S. could keep Europe in line, he argued, Iran would come back to the table. That’s a big if, a European diplomat told me; French and German business delegations have already visited Tehran to look for new trading opportunities.

And then there’s military action against Iran:

Few of Obama’s critics promote that option, in part because U.S. military officials say it wouldn’t end Iran’s nuclear research but merely set it back two or three years. Also, it could start a major war.

But one forthright proponent of airstrikes is John R. Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

“If the real objective is stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, preemptive military action is now inescapable… Some critics of Obama’s plan advocate scuttling the deal and increasing economic sanctions against Iran instead. They are dreaming.… There will be no other, better deal.”

That argument oddly puts Bolton in the same absolutist camp – rhetorically, anyway – as Kerry: If the deal doesn’t succeed, the most likely outcome is war.

And that’s it:

There are other alternatives. But none of them are easy, none are cost-free and none are guaranteed to work. If Obama’s deal with Iran is something of a gamble, his critics’ proposed alternatives are gambles too, and their outcomes would be even less certain.

Wasn’t that what Natasha Lyonne was saying? This is going to be a strange sixty days, ending where everyone knows it was going to end anyway. At least the YouTube videos are amusing.

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.
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