The stage is set, the actors have committed their lines to memory, and the curtain is now rising: the Great Iran Debate is on! It’s a war story, as so many of our national narratives are these days, one pitting the President of the United States – and the overwhelming majority of Americans – against the US supporters of a foreign government, a "fifth column," if you will.
This debate underscores an amazing fact: not since the war of 1812, when the New England Federalists sided with Great Britain against their own government, has a fifth column wielded such power in this country. As President Obama seeks to avoid war with Iran – what would amount to World War III in terms of its military and economic consequences – the fifth columnists in our midst, ensconced in some of the highest councils of government, are actively undermining his efforts to avoid catastrophe. Unlike subversives of the past, however, whose treason was found hidden in pumpkin patches and took cover in the darkest corners of the State, these proclaim their allegiance to a foreign government quite openly.
The administration’s negotiations with Tehran over Iran’s nonexistent nuclear weapons program have been extended beyond the deadline for success twice now, reflecting the eagerness of both sides to reach some kind of agreement. Neither wants war: but there are those who do. In a demonstration of how radically different societies nonetheless share overarching patterns of human folly, both the Americans and the Iranians face pretty much the same conundrum at home: how to overcome the influence of their hardliners in order to avoid a war that would surely be the ruination of both. In this sense, our neoconservatives and their Republican sock-puppets are mirror images of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), both of which are trying their damnedest to sabotage the talks.
Not that the neocons are pro-IRGC, except in the sense that they share the same fanatic mindset: in making their case against even the faintest possibility of peace, they echo the arguments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has declared that Iran represents an "existential threat" to the Jewish state and conjures images of a Second Holocaust to make his rather unsubtle point.
Unlike subversives of the past, the neocons make no effort to hide their allegiance to a foreign government. Indeed, with refreshing honesty, they openly proclaim it, as House Speaker John Boehner has done with his invitation to Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress as the Great Iran Debate takes place.
After all, why settle for second best? Let’s just go straight to the source.
If this administration had any balls, their response would be to counter this grandstanding by arranging for a public rebuttal – from Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, which is working at cross purposes with their ostensible boss. As Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report:
"The Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has broken ranks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling U.S. officials and lawmakers that a new Iran sanctions bill in the US Congress would tank the Iran nuclear negotiations."
According to Rogin and Lake, Israeli intelligence officials briefed a visiting congressional delegation and stated bluntly that "if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse."
This is precisely the unadmitted but quite transparent goal of the "Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act," co-authored by Senators Robert Mendendez (D-New Jersey) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois). Their bill has so many tripwires and triggers in it that it would, in effect, make it impossible for the administration to certify that all the many conditions it imposes have been met. First submitted in 2013, it died when the Iranians indicated they were ready to come to the negotiating table, but has been revived substantially unchanged.
Another roadblock is the "Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act," put in the hopper by Sen. Robert Corker (R-Tennessee), which mandates a joint congressional vote on any agreement reached with the Iranians. A reasonable-sounding proposition, but it does much more than mandate a vote: not only does it effectively eliminate all points of order as well as limiting debate (for both sides) to twenty hours, it also requires the abrogation of the agreement if claims are raised by a "foreign government, a foreign intelligence service, or another reputable source, that Iran has failed to comply."
What this means is that the Israelis – or their journalistic camarilla in the US – are being given veto power over the actions of the US government. And they tell me I’m exaggerating – and even engaging in "hate speech" – when I characterize the Israel lobby and its congressional zombies as a fifth column. In this case, overstatement is impossible: the Corker bill and its big brother, Kirk-Menendez, are nothing less than treason given the imprimatur of "law."
With a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, and a full-scale propaganda campaign by the Israel Firsters in the "conservative" movement, the prospects for both bills look reasonably good. However, two factors militate against their success: first is the President’s defiant promise to veto them if they make it to his desk. Whether the War Party can secure a veto-proof majority is problematic. Second is a compromise bill, yet to be finalized, to be co-sponsored by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).
While details are not yet available, Politico reports the legislation would "allow quick votes by Congress to reinstate some sanctions if the Obama administration finds that Iran has violated any nuclear agreement. Some of those sanctions have been loosened by an interim deal." The important point is that the bill would not impose any new sanctions.
Kirk-Menendez, on the other hand, imposes a whole range of new sanctions to be triggered by even the vaguest suspicion that Iran has violated any UN resolution going back a decade or more. The official US Intelligence Assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, you’ll recall, said the Iranians stopped their nuclear weapons research in 2003: Kirk-Mendendez would trigger sanctions under this assessment, citing Iran’s pre-2003 activities. Yes, it’s that unreasonable.
The very idea that the Israeli Prime Minister is coming to Washington to mobilize Congress against their own President is proof positive of what we have been saying in this space for quite some time: that the Israel lobby has so distorted US foreign policy that it very often violates American interests. The brazenness of this lobby invites rebuke.
As the White House announced it would not meet with Bibi on his propaganda trip to the US, we learned the Israeli Prime Minister has scheduled a meeting with the primary pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, where he will doubtless crow about his all-pervasive influence on Capitol Hill. If this administration had any balls – which they most emphatically don’t – the State Department would bar Bibi’s entry to the US on grounds of national security.
For truly our national security is being undermined, along with Israel’s to boot. There’s a reason the Mossad is coming out in the open against Netanyahu’s obstructionism: they know a war with Iran, which would inevitably involve the Jewish state, is not in Israel’s interest. But Bibi is concerned first of all with keeping his own grip on power, and in order to do that he must appeal to the rising tide of ultra-nationalist extremism now overwhelming the Israeli polity. That this directly endangers the entire Zionist project is something the analysts of the Mossad realize all too well, although the Prime Minister’s office cannot afford to acknowledge it, at least openly.
The Israel lobby is powerful, but it is operating at a disadvantage: the American people support efforts to come to terms with Iran short of war. They don’t want another conflict in the Middle East, as much as the neocons pine for it. Whether ordinary Americans will rise up and raise their voices in time to defeat the saboteurs of peace is an open question: alerting them to the danger is our job, and I hope we are up to it.
In the meantime, the only hope is to make such a popular mobilization unnecessary. Provided the Boxer-Paul bill contains the right provisions – no new sanctions and a timeline that gives the negotiations a chance to conclude with some prospects of success – both Senators are to be commended for their effort. Sen. Boxer has always been reflexively pro-Israel, even to the extent of sponsoring legislation that would have made visa-less travel from Israel to the US possible – in spite of persistent and strenuous objections raised by our intelligence community. Her impending retirement, however, gives her the political space to be brave.
The bravery of Sen. Paul, who is most definitely not retiring from politics, is of a less qualified sort: he’s about to embark on a presidential bid. Paul, along with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), has not signed on to previous attempts by Israel’s amen corner to sabotage the negotiations, and in joining with Boxer to head off Kirk-Menendez he is taking a big political risk. Kudos to him.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.