Showing posts with label iran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label iran. Show all posts

12/07/2007

The Iranian NIE (New Incredulous Explanations)

In my mind, one of the biggest political stories going on these days concerns the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's capability to develop nuclear weapons. This fall there has been a steady drumbeat to war, as was evidenced by the Kyl-Lieberman resolution in the Senate and President Bush going so far as to warn us about "World War III." But according to the NIE, Iran stopped its weapons program four years ago and is farther away from getting the bomb than was commonly thought.

That alone is a big story, but that led to a new story that's not being addressed at all: the criticism from conservatives who are skeptical about the NIE's validity. These conservatives are trying to downplay the meaning of the NIE because "the intelligence has been wrong before" and because "Iran is still a threat." (You can read some of these criticisms from the Boston Globe, former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, and the National Review.)

I'm all for a free exchange of ideas and a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the government and the media. But it should never serve as a distraction from the real issues at hand. And I worry that this is exactly what is happening now. And the general public is too apathetic and too distracted to care.

One common criticism I've been reading is that the intelligence is not to be trusted because it was wrong the first time regarding Iraq. So why should we trust the intelligence now? Because hopefully the intelligence community has learned something since taking us to Iraq. And if they haven't, then someone should be held accountable for getting the intelligence wrong again. And if this recent NIE is also inaccurate, heads need to roll because this is too important to not get right the first time.

And why are these people so critical of the intelligence to begin with? By extension, they are criticizing the intelligence gathering community. This community consists of military personnel and Department of Defense personnel. But aren't these neoconservatives who are so big on war with Iraq and Iran supposed to be the Pentagon's allies? Why are they denigrating the very community they rely so much on to accomplish their geopolitical objectives?

Why are these people more concerned with the accuracy of the intelligence than with the disconnect between the intelligence's findings and Bush's rhetoric about "avoiding World War III?" And rather than breathing a sigh of relief that the Iranian threat might not be as ominous as was once feared, why are they bellyaching about how the intelligence may be faulty? Would these same detractors be questioning the intelligence as fervently as they are now if the intelligence said that Iran had an actual bomb? Or is it only okay to criticize intelligence findings if these findings contradict your political wishes?

And why isn't this story getting more play in the media? Why isn't the public hopping mad about this? This isn't another one of those inside baseball stories that nobody outside of Washington cares about. This is about our national leader making irresponsible and provocative statements about the threat another country poses, which has led to chest-thumping from Republicans in particular raising the specter of a pre-emptive nuclear war. And these irresponsible statements are based on information that is not true now and was not true at the time these statements were made!

Where is the outrage? Where are the congressional Democrats? Where are the hearings? Where is Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee? Where is Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee? Where are the Democratic presidential candidates? And where is the contrition among the Republican presidential candidates? Where are the voters who should be asking these Republican presidential candidates and Hillary Clinton about what went wrong?

Why are supposed "news" channels like CNN and MSNBC devoting their precious airtime to stories about Natalee Holloway and Stacy Peterson? Why are we more concerned with a presidential candidate's speech about faith than with our chief executive's rhetoric about World War III? Why are we more concerned with which superstar endorses which presidential candidate than the obfuscations the president's press secretary gives about what the president knew and when he knew it? And why is the president allowed to take credit for being so cautious about something now that he had been so reckless about in the past?

It's like Bizarro Land. It just doesn't make any sense. This nation is in trouble.

11/04/2007

Edwards: The Clinton-Obama Pivot

Much has been written about last week's Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Judging from most of the accounts I've read, the thing everyone seems to be talking about is Hillary Clinton's equivocations regarding the driver's license issue for illegal aliens. To Clinton's credit, the illegal immigration issue is extraordinarily complex--one that is difficult to reduce to bimodal yes-or-no thinking. However, the political consequences of such caution can be quite harmful, as one's thoughtfulness can easily be spun as pandering, hedging one's bets, dodging the issue, trying to have it both ways, or political expediency.

John Edwards picked up on this immediately and attacked Clinton hard for it during the debate. Since then, he has worked hard to drive "Hillary's double-talk" home, as is evidenced by this tough video his campaign crafted shortly after the debate. However, for the Edwards campaign, his attacks on Clinton have had more than just the benefits of getting Democratic voters to rethink their support for Hillary Clinton and changing the media's storylines about her. They also had the added benefit of getting Barack Obama's supporters to wish that their candidate could be as aggressive as Edwards was.

Dan Conley of Political Insider recently wrote about the frustration and anger that Chicago and Illinois politicos have about Obama's "inept" campaign. According to Conley:

"[T]hose more interested in stopping [Clinton's] nomination now feel that Edwards, or even Biden, would have made better use of Obama's hype and money."
Now, to Obama's credit, as I mentioned in my debate analysis, he did a better job of "showing his spine without showing his fangs" when he attempted to draw contrasts with Clinton.

The problem is that voters tend to respond to hardball politics and hardhitting attacks. It is common for voters to say they hate negative politics, but that doesn't seem to be what they respond to. The 2004 swiftboating of John Kerry, the sliming of John McCain during the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary, and the attacks on the patriotism of former Georgia senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland during the 2002 campaign are perfect examples of this. Note that all three of these candidates lost.

Barack Obama is not being attacked by other Democrats the same way Kerry, McCain, and Cleland were attacked by their Republican opponents. However, all three of these candidates lost to more aggressive opponents who engaged in hardball politics. This is not to endorse the tactics of George W. Bush and Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, but it does prove the point that strong attacks can yield good results. Politicians who try to take the high road and adopt a more cerebral strategy often end up in the loser's column. For example, Al Gore's ability to recite the names of the major politicians and power players in the Balkans during the 2000 presidential debates (done in an attempt to distinguish himself as well versed in foreign policy, as opposed to his "I know nothing about the world" opponent George W. Bush) did not help him.

This is why I believe Edwards stands to benefit from possible defections from Obama's campaign. If Clinton can't deliver change because of her "double-talk" and Obama can't deliver change because of his perceived inability to fight for change, then that would leave Edwards as the lone candidate capable of both fighting for and delivering the change the other candidates jawbone about.

The Iran issue provides another avenue through which Edwards can make the case against Obama. One of the most important political columns I've read this year was written by Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg Political Report. In his column, Gonzales cited numerous examples from Obama's tenure in the Illinois state legislature that exposes Obama as potentially unable or unwilling to take a stand on several key issues:
"While some conservatives and Republicans surely will harp on what they call his "liberal record," highlighting applicable votes to support their case, it's Obama's history of voting "present" in Springfield--even on some of the most controversial and politically explosive issues of the day--that raises questions that he will need to answer. Voting "present" is one of three options in the Illinois Legislature (along with "yes" and "no"), but it's almost never an option for the occupant of the Oval Office.

We aren't talking about a "present" vote on whether to name a state office building after a deceased state official, but rather about votes that reflect an officeholder's core values."
Gonzales then goes on to talk about how Obama voted "present" on issues related to partial birth abortion and concealed firearms. His column is an interesting and important read that should provide his Democratic opponents (especially Edwards and maybe even Biden) with a way to weaken him.

How does this relate to Iran?

Last month the Senate voted to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. The resolution passed 76-22. Hillary Clinton voted for it, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd voted against it, and Barack Obama, who was campaigning that day, did not vote. Obama says he would have voted "no," but for voters who are unaware of the reasons behind Obama's missed vote, this missed vote feeds into the narrative that Nathan Gonzales wrote about earlier.

To continue, senators eager to avoid a repeat of Iraq wrote a letter to President Bush stressing that Bush does not have the authority to launch a unilateral strike against Iran without congressional approval:
"We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran. These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran."
This is an important letter that provides senators with a bit of political cover while attempting to rein in President Bush. Thirty senators, led by Senator James Webb of Virginia, signed this letter. As Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone asks, "did yours?" Clinton and Dodd signed the letter, but Obama did not. Again, recall Nathan Gonzales' column. Real Clear Politics' Reid Wilson also picked up on this:
"The missed opportunity is not the first time Obama's Senate record has been put seemingly at odds with his campaign rhetoric on the issue."
Obama did later introduce a resolution stating that Bush does not have the authority to attack Iran, but this invites the criticism of him being absent from the original discussion during the Kyl-Lieberman vote and not getting on the record then. Not signing the letter drafted by Senator Webb of Virginia provides another point of criticism, especially since Obama's resolution generally says the same thing that Webb's letter does.

In response to Clinton's criticism of Obama's resolution, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, "...Senator Obama knows that it takes legislation, not letters, to undo the vote that she cast." However, this new resolution from Obama could be used to portray him as a "Johnny come lately" because his resolution addresses issues that have been hotly debated before. If John Edwards is paying attention, he can pivot from taking down Clinton for her "double-talk" to using Obama's Illinois record of not voting on several key issues, his reticence to hit his opponents (read Clinton) hard, and his missed vote on Iran to paint him as a candidate of all talk and no action.

"All talk" and "double-talk" has a certain resonance. Whether it paints him as a negative candidate in Iowa remains to be seen, but it would definitely tap into the anger and frustration that many Democrats have about their leading presidential candidates and the Democratic Congress right now.

9/20/2007

Iran: Knee-Jerk Psychology

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently sought to visit Ground Zero during his visit to New York for a United Nations summit. He wanted to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site in honor of the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The New York City Police Department reviewed his request, but ultimately denied it citing security concerns. Various presidential candidates weighed in and blasted the Iranian president's "outrageous" request and called him a "state sponsor of terrorism." I watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning and they expressed similar sentiments.

Seeing that Ahmadinejad has made no secret about his desire to seek nuclear power and that he has made several controversial and incendiary remarks, such as "wiping Israel off the map" and denying the Holocaust, it is no surprise that politicians and the public reacted so vehemently to his request to visit the site of the World Trade Center. However, while this knee-jerk reaction of anger towards the Iranian president may make us feel good for standing up to someone we consider an enemy, I believe it is symptomatic of a larger problem with the American psyche that we are either unaware of or simply don't want to address.

Obviously, I am not saying this to defend Ahmadinejad at the expense of the United States. However, there was a huge missed opportunity here.

President Bush has called Iran part of an "axis of evil." Lots of neoconservatives and even some of the current presidential candidates have alluded to launching a preemptive attack on Iran. The United States maintains no diplomatic relations with Iran. We view Iran as one of the main enemies of one of our most important allies, Israel. We stress that Iran cannot pursue nuclear technology and that if they develop nuclear weapons, we will attack them. In short, the United States has made its disdain for Iran perfectly clear.

Despite this, the Iranian president sought to visit the site of the worst terrorist attack in history and lay a wreath there in honor of the victims. While we may never know his true motives, the fact is he acted in a way that is incongruent with the negative way in which we portray him. Ahmadinejad can now go back to Iran and tell his government and the Iranian people that he tried to extend an olive branch to the United States, but was shot down. So he could plausibly state that the United States is the belligerent nation, not Iran. Young Iranians (those in their 20s and 30s) who are not hostile to America like Iranians from the previous generation will then be given a reason to think less favorably about this nation while placing a bit more confidence in their own leader. Why should we expect the Iranians to listen to our demands about major issues like their military and nuclear technology if we won't even honor their request to visit the site of an international tragedy? Even if the United States wouldn't let him enter Ground Zero itself, would it have been too difficult for them to at least let him see the site from behind a fence or a block away?

Had the United States (I say the United States because I'm sure the New York Police Department was acting as its surrogate) allowed Ahmadinejad to visit Ground Zero, that may have led to a slight thawing of the ice between the two countries. At the very least, it may have given both countries some much needed breathing space as they jockey and posture and rattle their sabres.

Yes, Ahmadinejad is not the poster child of peace, liberty, and human rights. However, the United States should not worry about losing a propoganda battle to Iran. And Democrats and Republicans alike have repeatedly said that 9-11 should not be politicized. However, thumping their chests about how "the dangerous Iranian president should not be allowed to visit this sacred ground" is doing just that. It may win them a few votes, but it doesn't do anything to improve relations between the two countries.

Having lived abroad, I can easily understand that it is foolish to classify nations and politicians as "friends" and "enemies." When you do this, people are less inclined to respect or work with you. The world is much more complicated than "good" and "bad," and any politician who tries to simplify such matters is doing a terrible disservice. President Bush has taken his "either you're with us or against us" rhetoric and led large swaths of the nation to think in a similarly bimodal fashion.

Interestingly, although Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel may have been reduced to a common punchline on late night television and stands no chance of winning his party's presidential nomination, his views on our policy towards Iran and terrorism are particularly prescient.

Be careful of overly simplistic knee-jerk thinking. That is what got us into Iraq and may potentially be what gets us into Iran, but it won't be what gets us out of Iraq responsibly, nor will it be what resolves the Iranian conflict sensibly. Wisdom is more important than pride.

Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.