a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Van Hollen cuts and pastes views on Iran blockade resolution

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2008

I received an e-mail from Representative Chris Van Hollen’s office last week on the subject of H.Con.Res. 362, known to its detractors as the “Iran blockade resolution.”  (The e-mail may be read here.)

A disturbing part of that resolution (in my opinion) is:

[Congress] demands that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program;…

(emphases added) …which — given this administration’s “ready, fire, aim” methods — still seems to me like waving a red cape in front of a bull in a china shop.” The gist of Van Hollen’s response to my own e-mail expressing opposition to H.Con.362 is this:

Some have interpreted language in the resolution as authorizing a blockade of Iran. The resolution makes no mention of military pressuremuch less a blockade. H. Con. Res. 362 calls for the President to seek the international community’s support for an export ban on refined petroleum, not a blockade. Iran does not export refined petroleum products, it imports them. Therefore an export ban on refined petroleum would be enforced by customs inspectors and export administrators on the territories of the exporting countries, not in the Persian Gulf. This method is already in use by the international community, including the United States to enforce the four existing UN Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran.

Finally, I draw your attention to the final whereas clause of the resolution which states in explicit language, “Whereas nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran.” Since a naval blockade is by definition the use of force, the language of the final whereas clause of this resolution renders the prospect of a naval blockade simply out of the question.

First, it is of no consequence whatsoever that Iran imports refined petroleum products — in fact, preventing imports is the traditional purpose of a blockade.  Second, the resolution itself speaks of “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran.

Now I’m not alone in suspecting that the language of the resolution is a reckless demand for a naval blockade — whatever its sponsors may have intended, the measures envisioned can not be carried out without inspections and, if necessary, interdictions at sea.  From a July 10, 2008 letter by Lawrence Korb, Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (ret.), and Lt. General Robert Gard, Jr. (ret.) urging Congress to abandon the resolution:

• The language demanding the President initiate an international effort “prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran,” is of particular concern because despite the protests of its sponsors, we believe that implementation of inspections of this nature could not be accomplished without a blockade or the use of force.

• Immense military resources would be required to implement such inspections of cargo moving through the seas, on the ground and in the air. The international community has shown no willingness to join in such an activity. Without a Security Council Resolution, implementation of these measures could be construed as an act of war.

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Rating the Debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th September 2008

I didn’t get to see the knockout blow by Obama last night I confess I’d been crossing my fingers for; instead, the debate was a vivid demonstration of how narrow the field of debate is, and/or how unwilling Obama is to run outside the hash marks and set up some of that change he’s been promising. Examples (debate transcript via the New York Times):

I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons  […]

Senator McCain is absolutely right that the violence has been reduced as a consequence of the extraordinary sacrifice of our troops and our military families.  […]

And to countries like Georgia and the Ukraine, I think we have to insist that they are free to join NATO if they meet the requirements, and they should have a membership action plan immediately to start bringing them in.  […]

[Iran has] gone from zero centrifuges to 4,000 centrifuges to develop a nuclear weapon.

To the contrary: if we’re ever hit by a nuclear weapon in the U.S., it will almost certainly arrive here not by missile, but in a container on a ship, truck, or train. The surge didn’t reduce violence, the successful conclusion to ethnic cleansing and al-Sadr’s decision to pocket his gains did. Fast-tracking Georgia into NATO is of less than no value to American interests compared to locking down loose nukes, something Obama said in the next breath was something he also wanted; he may have to choose. And while I seem to be the last person on the East Coast who remembers it, it was not one year ago that a National Intelligence Estimate stated, and I quote, We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

Even on Iraq, Obama couldn’t forebear to lead his criticisms with the observation that “We have weakened our capacity to project power around the world because we have viewed everything through this single lens,” as if our capacity to project power is itself the goal and point of American foreign policy.

I think Josh Marshall misses the point here: “I know that many Obama supporters are disappointed that he passed on various opportunities to deliver a smackdown that McCain couldn’t recover from. But having watched the guy for 18 months now, for better and worse, that’s not who he is.”  I realize that Obama is temperamentally not inclined to go for the jugular, and that may even be smart politics.  As hilzoy argued, his graciousness compared to McCain’s rudeness may be the dominant impression that many take away from the debate — something that burnishes his “bipartisan, get it done” credentials (not to mention his “not an angry old coot” credentials) much more than McCain’s.

The point wasn’t that Obama failed to smack McCain down, though I wish he had — say, on voting against the Webb G.I. bill, given McCain’s teary praise for vets.  (Bonus: would have got McCain mad, always good to watch for those just tuning in.)  No, it was actually and simply that he agreed on too much with McCain. As Jim Henley wrote after the debate:

As a symptom of the constriction of elite opinion, the debate was instructive less for the answers than even the questions. “Foreign policy” consists of wars and nothing but wars. It’s about whom you bomb or don’t, and whom you do or don’t convince to help you bomb someone.

The debate certainly also proved that there’s plenty of important stuff Obama is right about and McCain is wrong about.  But even if and when Obama wins this election, that will not be the end of all that’s wrong with our military and foreign policy.

Not all of that is Obama’s fault by any means.  Tonight, I saw a video by a group heretofore unknown to me: United Against Nuclear Iran.  It featured lots of ominous music, and repeated yet again the claim that Iran was building nuclear weapons. The video has one Richard Sokolsky talking about military measures as a way of stopping Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions. And while known neocons Fouad Ajami and James Woolsey were two of the talking heads involved, so were ex-Clintonistas Dennis Ross and Richard Holbrooke.

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That’s not change, that’s more of the same

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 28th August 2008

I’m trying very hard to get with the program and root for the home team and everything. And in fits and starts, the star attractions at the Democratic Convention in Denver are starting to make the case why I should: McCain has morphed into Bush in both politics and campaign style, and we can’t afford four more years of McSame. Fine, I can buy that. And it looks like between Obama’s nomination, Hillary’s motion to finish up by acclaim, and then Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden last night, the punditocracy and blogocracy are agreeing it was a good day for Democrats, party unity, chances in November, etc.

Over at “Obsidian Wings,” publius is very pleased with Kerry in particular, who made a good impression earlier in the day at a panel on the Middle East and then in the convention with a good stemwinder of a speech. For my part, I liked much of Kerry’s speech, especially the parts contrasting Senator McCain and Candidate McCain.  I’ll leave the campaign play by play of it all to others.  As I commented at Obsidian Wings, two things stood out for me.

First, it was unambiguously great to hear a major American politician say, on prime-time TV,

President Obama and Vice President Biden will shut down Guantanamo, respect the Constitution, and make clear once and for all, the United States of America does not torture, not now, not ever.

Second, it was distinctly less great to hear him claim, 30 seconds or so earlier,

Iran is defiantly chasing [nuclear weapons].

Not according to the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran last December, they’re not. As loyal readers know, this claim is unfortunately also baked right in to the Democratic platform, giving the go-ahead for Senators Evan Bayh and Jay Rockefeller to repeat it as well.

For all that I strongly approved of much of what was said last night, I’m very uneasy about and disappointed with high level, allegedly serious Democrats catapulting the propaganda like this.  If they know something the national intelligence community doesn’t, they should say so.  Meanwhile; it’s insidious in much the same way that the baseless claims about Iraqi WMD were insidious.  As another speaker (and another Iraq AUMF “yea” vote) put it last night, albeit with a different target: that’s not change, that’s more of the same.

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No more important priority

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th August 2008

A few days ago I gave the Democratic platform a somewhat magnanimous “gentleman’s B” regarding civil liberties and respect for the rule of law — long on rhetoric, short on some of the specifics I hoped for, but arguably pointed more or less in the right direction. I now see, via Jonathan Schwarz (“A Tiny Revolution”)*, that the foreign policy sections of the draft Democratic platform (a.k.a. “Renewing America’s Promise“) contain an old familiar whopper (emphases added):

The world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That starts with tougher sanctions and aggressive, principled, and direct high-level diplomacy, without preconditions. We will pursue this strengthened diplomacy alongside our European allies, and with no illusions about the Iranian regime. We will present Iran with a clear choice: if you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror, and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime. The Iranian people and the international community must know that it is Iran, not the United States, choosing isolation over cooperation. By going the extra diplomatic mile, while keeping all options on the table, we make it more likely the rest of the world will stand with us to increase pressure on Iran, if diplomacy is failing.

This performs the neat trick of promising no illusions about Iran only to provide one in the very next sentence. The Democratic platform committee notwithstanding, the United States intelligence community published a National Intelligence Estimate just a year ago that famously — well, maybe not famously enough — concluded (emphases added):

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.

It also quietly resuscitates the ugly “all options on the table” code for “we already got nukes, know what I’m saying?” If you were a Tehran leader, you’d already halted any nuclear weapons work, and you heard yourself being threatened with possible nuclear strikes (all options, remember) for something you’d already stopped doing, what would you do? A) regret stopping, B) restart on the “might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb” principle, C) find ways to credibly threaten or actually cause pain to whatever U.S. personnel or interests might be in the vicinity, D) all of the above.

Sad to say, the “abandons its nuclear weapons program” language was already a feature of the Obama “Blueprint for Change” (p. 29 of 33).** But it used to be the only mention Obama’s platform made of “table” was of coming to one or having a seat at one, not keeping “all options” on it.

The rot runs deep. The newfound belligerence is of a piece with H.Con.Res.362, a resolution demanding that the President increase pressure on Iran to abandon a nonexistent nuclear weapons program among other things by “…prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran” — i.e., a blockade. I.e., an act of war. This rash piece of legislation has been co-sponsored by 265 Representatives at latest count. The tally includes a number of major Democratic figures — Rahm Emanuel, Barney Frank, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, and Henry Waxman among them — many no doubt congratulating themselves on reaching across the aisle to nutballs like Issa, Pence, King, Hoekstra, Rohrabacher, or Westmoreland, or kind of across the aisle to Bush Dogs like Heath Shuler or Lincoln Davis.

There’s more bad news tucked in here and there among the platform’s foreign policy pages; for example, the promise of 92,000 more, not fewer troops in our standing armed forces must rank high among them (p. 28, and also no surprise to Obama watchers).

But maybe it’s more worthwhile to highlight a central, innocuous-looking conceit of Obama’s and of many Americans. From page 2 of the “Renewing America’s Promise” platform:

The Democratic Party believes that there is no more important priority than renewing American leadership on the world stage.

Really? Might it not be at least as important to have our facts straight first?

And even when we do (from time to time), might there not be problems so critical — e.g., global warming — that solving them takes priority over who gets to be at the head of the victory parade? Might there not be problems — e.g. nuclear proliferation — that all but require us to forego conventional measures of leadership, by beginning to disarm our own vast nuclear arsenal?

In truth, there may be no more important priority than redefining just what it is we mean by “leadership on the world stage.” Has our global reach in the past decades to, say, Saudi air bases, Afghan fighters, or Iranian coup d’etats helped us or hurt us? Does the 5,000th nuclear warhead make us more or less secure? Do we prefer to lead in aircraft carriers at sea, or liberties preserved at home? Do the American people gain, or does someone else, when United States policy fixates on protecting overseas oil fields and pipelines instead of education and infrastructure?

There may be much that’s good about this draft platform. But the Democratic Party is missing an opportunity to level with itself and the American people by insisting that the United States government must continue to run the world (or at least try to) on its own terms, without regard to the facts, and without regard to the American people’s desire or ability to bear any burden or pay any price our masters in Washington decree.

* Schwarz credits Don Bacon (“War is a racket”), perhaps via correspondence; I found no specific entry at the site.
** The document is printed two reduced pages per printed page; by its own pagination, the “abandons” cite is on p. 52 of 59.
UPDATE, 8/18: “desire or ability” instead of “manifest inability”

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Gordon Clark (Green-MD-8) on Congress and impeachment

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 13th July 2008

Gordon Clark is a former SANE/Freeze, Peace Action, and Public Citizen state and national organizer who is challenging Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) in the November election, as the Green Party candidate for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District seat in Congress. As befits a Green Party and progressive candidate, he’s centering his campaign on the issues of the Iraq war, global warming, and to some extent on the storm clouds gathering for a possible Iran war; as I noted at the time, I first learned about the execrable H.Con.Res.362 bill demanding a blockade of Iran via a press release from the Gordon Clark campaign.

I was curious where Mr. Clark stands on impeachment, accountability, and the dream of a healthy constitutional democracy in the United States. Via his website, I just got through listening to an interview he gave on June 13th on the (quite excellent) BlogTalkRadio news show “Radio Resistance,” hosted by Chip Gibbons. The Clark interview begins at around 32:30 minutes*; the key part, for me, is here:

GIBBONS, “RADIO RESISTANCE” (at around 44:52): If you were in Congress right now instead of Representative Van Hollen, would you be pursuing impeachment of George Bush?

CLARK: As I said, I think it’s a tough call in some ways. I’ll start off by saying: yes, I would. […] If I were in the legislature right now, there’s no question that this administration has committed crimes that deserve impeachment and I would be forced to vote for it.

(All emphases are mine.)

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Van Hollen cosponsors Iran blockade bill

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th June 2008

Chris Van Hollen (D-MD-8) — chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and my congressman — became the 208th co-sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 362 on Tuesday. That resolution expresses

the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes.

While that resolution is only a “sense of Congress” bill, it is asking — make that “demanding” — this president do things like this…

(3) initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s nuclear program; …

(emphasis added) …seems to me like waving a red cape in front of a bull in a china shop.

True, the resolution affirms that nothing in it shall be construed as authorizing use of force against Iran, but (a) little details like that are not likely to bother Cheney or Bush, (b) a blockade — and that’s what it is — is an act of war. Note also that while allegedly thoughtful internationalist types like Van Hollen may think “international effort” means “U.N. approval,”, Bush et al are likely to claim some “coalition of the willing” including Albania and the Fiji Islands is close enough for government work.

There’s also that little matter of last fall’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which seems to have gone down the memory hole, or into the Beltway’s equivalent, a “la la la I can’t hear you la la la” hole. On this, H.Con 362 is nothing if not brazen, citing and essentially ignoring the finding in the same sentence; we’re back to preventive acts of war:

Whereas the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reported that Iran was secretly working on the design and manufacture of a nuclear warhead until at least 2003, but that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009;

Well, what more do we need — anchors aweigh! In fact, the NIE also said, “inter alia”*:

This NIE does not assume that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons. Rather, it examines the intelligence to assess Iran’s capability and intent (or lack thereof) to acquire nuclear weapons, taking full account of Iran’s dual-use uranium fuel cycle and those nuclear activities that are at least partly civil in nature. […]

Tehran’s decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005. Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously. […]

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might—if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program. It is difficult to specify what such a combination might be.

(Emphases added.) Now it’s true that a blockade would affect Tehran’s cost-benefit approach — but I’m not sure whether Congressional co-sponsors ought to be so sure how it would affect it, or even destroy it. Putting themselves in their Iranian counterparts’ shoes for just a moment, wouldn’t they be rushing to speak before the Majlis or whatever it’s called saying “we must never let ourselves be dictated to this way! Iran must have a nuclear weapon, now more than ever!” To say nothing of the real powers that be in Tehran.

For more on this, visit “Just Foreign Policy,” where those of us in Van Hollen’s and other co-sponsors’ districts can dash off yet another “disappointed” message to our elected representatives.

* I feel so smart when I say “inter alia”! I almost wonder whether some percentage of Congress co-sponsored this thing for that reason alone.

PS: Almost forgot: might not have learned about this except for an e-mail from the Gordon Clark for Congress campaign to the Montgomery County Progressive Alliance mailing list. From the Green Party candidate’s statement in the e-mail:

Rep. Van Hollen claims that the Iraq war is ‘Bush’s war,’ conveniently ignoring that it is a Democratic House – which Rep. Van Hollen himself helps leads as chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – which continues to fund the war, including the $162 billion they approved just last week. Now Rep. Van Hollen has attached his name to a measure that is a major step toward war with Iran, a conflict that would dwarf even the Iraq war in its deadly, chaotic and destabilizing effect on the Middle East and world.

I call on Rep. Van Hollen to remove his name from H. Con. Res. 362 immediately, and to do everything in his power to keep this terribly destructive measure from passing.

UPDATE, 6/27: H.Con.Res. 362 is a legislative priority of the powerful American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Via dailyKos diarist Tom J.

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Department of followups: obliteration, Altstoetter, UPDATE: Zimbabwe

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th May 2008

An occasional review of further developments in stuff I’ve written about before.

  • Past diminishing and well into negative returns…, April 24, 2008 — Responding to Senator Clinton’s threat to “obliterate” Iran if it were to attack Israel,* Iranian cleric and “Assembly of Experts” member Ahmed Khatami said:

    A disreputable American (presidential) candidate has said that if Iran attacks Israel, she will obliterate Iran if she is the president. I tell the American people, it is a shame for them that their presidents are servants of Israel without any willpower.

    What they are saying recently is just psychological war. However, if the crazy people in Washington or Tel Aviv take any military action, the Iranian nation will hit them with such a slap that they will not be able to get on their feet again.

    We are observing the siege of Shiite Sadr City in Iraq. It seems Americans would like to make what happened in Gaza happen in Sadr City too. We can only conclude that America is fighting Islam.

    What the “slap” would be is left to our imaginations, but Americans are now presumably in the collateral damage crosshairs if Iran chooses to retaliate for any American military action. A corollary to “violence begets violence” is “reckless, foolish talk begets reckless, foolish talk.”

  • Practice to deceive, April 22, 2008 — In prior posts I’ve echoed the suggestions of legal scholars like Scott Horton and Philippe Sands that the Nuremberg “Judges” or “Justice Trial”, a.k.a. U.S. v. Altstoetter, is a precedent for trying lawyers like John Yoo and David Addington for war crimes based on giving the color of law to illegal acts. However, writing at “Balkinization,” New Zealand legal historian Kevin Jon Heller argues otherwise:

    The bottom line, in my view, is that as reprehensible as Yoo’s opinions were –- and they were indeed reprehensible -– the case provides far less support for prosecuting him than most scholars assume.

    The key difficulty, Heller believes, is that none of the Altstoetter defendants merely gave legal advice; rather, all were also part of the Nazi legal machinery denying habeas corpus to prisoners and issuing verdicts. Heller asserts that the NMT (Nuremberg Military Tribunal) arguably convicted all the defendants for their deeds rather than their legal advice:

    … the mode of participation they use to convict a defendant -– ordering, aiding and abetting, joint criminal enterprise, etc. -– and often even fail to identify which of the defendant’s acts discussed in the judgment they consider criminal. […] … individual responsibility required the prosecution to prove “that a defendant had knowledge of an offense charged in the indictment . . . and that he was connected with the commission of that offense…

    Related posts at “Balkinization” include Marty Lederman’s setup for Heller, “What, if Anything, Does the Nuremberg Precedent Tell Us About the Criminal Culpability of Government Lawyers?,” acknowledging the potential relevance of Altstoetter, and “What’s the Relevance of Altstoetter, Anyway?” following Heller’s piece which reiterates Lederman’s skepticism about the propriety of Altstoetter-based criminal charges against Yoo et al for their “aspirational” readings of U.S. and international law, rather than an inquiry into whether constitutional obligations were breached.**

    However, Lederman also acknowledges Scott Horton’s comment about Heller’s post. There’s much more in Horton’s comment, but one part makes a point I made in “Practice to Deceive” — that the way in which the advice and directives were concealed argues for knowledge that said advice was criminal in nature:

    Philippe Sands’s key finding — if there is just one — is that the bottom up narrative that the Administration puts forward surrounding the introduction of torture techniques is a sham. He follows the story to its roots, and he finds that it is, to the contrary, a “top down” story, with a number of lawyers engaging in an elaborate scheme to cover it up with the paper trail that starts with the Diane Beaver memoranda. Key to this unraveling is the story of the senior lawyers’ trip to GTMO at the launch of the process, a trip about which Haynes repeatedly lied. Now it’s possible to explain this from a PR angle focused on domestic politics, which undoubtedly was a major focus of the White House throughout, but a prosecutor could just as well make the case that this shows recognition and belief that the scheme was essentially criminal (or presented substantial likelihood of criminal culpability) and thus needed to be concealed.

  • Zimbabwe: enough is enough, April 10, 2008 — The repression of Zimbabweans following their election of Morgan Tsvangirai (contested by Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and state apparatus) continues unabated — but so far at least without the logistical resupply of a ship full of weapons sold by China to the Zimbabwean government. The An Yue Jiang was not allowed to dock in South Africa, Namibia or Angola — generally thanks to union activism in those countries.But Nell Lancaster (“A Lovely Promise”) points to a recent article at Sokwanele *** alerting readers that the government of Malawi may be the weak link in the chain of refusals to allow the ship to offload its deadly cargo. As the Sokawanele author Hope puts it, the case is important because (a) political violence in Zimbabwe continues, (b) the case has proven to be something people outside Zimbabwe can get involved in, and (c)…

    it is also forcing countries in the region to ‘nail their colours to the mast’, so to speak. In the open glare of the public eye, this story shows us which nations are concerned for the safety of the Zimbabwean people, and which ones are more concerned with the loyalty to the Zanu PF regime.

    The Malawi embassy in Washington, D.C. can be contacted at (202) 721-0274. Embassy e-mail addresses I’ve found include (Taiwan) and (UN); several others are listed here.

    * Clinton’s remarks to Chris Cuomo (emphases added): whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program, in the next 10 years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” Like him or not, Khatami is justified to consider this, on careful consideration, as a (reckless) threat of nuclear retaliation by Clinton for a nonnuclear attack — even if, in a subsequent interview with Keith Olbermann, she conditions a U.S. nuclear response on an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel. In another interview with Andrea Schaefer, she claimed “facts on the ground have changed” since October 2007 (before the release of an NIE denying an active Iranian nuclear weapons program was underway) — and considered the notion of Iranian theocrat undeterrability plausible enough to repeat without qualification on national TV.
    ** Lederman thus at least implicitly concedes the possibility and potential propriety of impeachment proceedings against Yoo (and possibly the president) by Congress. As may or may not be well known, one of the consequences of a conviction for an impeachable act is that the convicted person may not hold federal office again. Both impeachment and conviction are thus useful and possible after that person has held federal office.
    *** The word means “Enough is Enough”; the site chronicles Mugabe’s repression and democratic resistance to it in Zimbabwe.

    NOTES: (1) Khatami remark link is to a Real News Network video clip, transcript, and translation of Khatami’s remarks. (2) Nell has an earlier post about the An Yue Jiang here.

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Past diminishing and well into negative returns…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th April 2008

…on the value of this Democratic primary campaign. eRobin (“fact-esque”) and others see it differently, seeing the campaign as giving candidates a chance to hear from more voters:

…the more time they’re out there forced to compete for the votes of the people who want to hear about the candidates’ schemes to reverse the damage of the BushCo years, the better off the Democrats are for November.

In the abstract, I’d agree. Here, now, and with respect, I don’t, because I guess I’m not seeing the campaign they’re seeing.

The campaign I’m seeing features Hillary slingshotting rightward off of questions about flag lapel pins, the Iranian nuclear threat — remember, there isn’t one — and appearances and “toughness” generally. What people are likely to remember from Pennsylvania primary isn’t energy policy or college tuition support, but belligerent statements on Iran, “can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen”, and the hideous ABC debate (regardless of the crowd outside). The outcome will be either to bloody nominee Obama, or coronate nominee Clinton by overturning the pledged delegate and popular vote count via party elders… like herself. Yes, that would be nominally legit. No, it wouldn’t be good.

I’m particularly appalled by Clinton’s Iran war drum beating and her bizarre extension of a nuclear umbrella over not just Israel — which has its own nuclear weapons — but other Middle East countries. And for using Good Morning America to do it. I gave her the benefit of the doubt once about falling for hypotheticals (re the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario); no more. Congratulations all around — Charles Krauthammer’s “Slim Pickens” fantasy is only two weeks old and already it’s taking shape as future U.S. policy.

In so doing, Hillary has all but single handedly revived the Iranian hardliner position for getting a deterrent of their own. And here’s the beauty part (if you’re a “Left Behind” fan or a Likudnik, that is): all without even trying to get a nuclear free zone including Israel in the Middle East — the only way I’d want an American president to even consider such a step. But wait, that’s not all: she’s also hemming and hawing about how Iran may be undeterrable — something that was a critical (il)logical* step to getting us into the Iraq War.

I surely won’t be pleased about it, but Clinton being more “likely to be bamboozled into another war” may (unfortunately) turn out to be the most accurate assessment I’ve ever made for the record. For all her vaunted experience, the closer I look at her Iran statements, and the more I think about them, the much worse she looks: like someone who is play-acting tough, and like someone who’s playing with fire.

If this kind of talk is punished at the polls, I’ll stand corrected that the Democratic primaries are serving a higher purpose. As it is, McCain could — if he were smart, and so inclined — flank Clinton from the left and undermine her “experience” bullet point with a variation on the “in your heart you know she’s nuts” strategy. After all, he just joked “bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran.” She was in earnest. She was talking about using nuclear weapons. And not even in retaliation for an attack on this country.

I’d like her not to.

* Obligatory “by me too.” NOTE: The embedded video collection above includes four clips substantiating the statements about Iran I’m attributing to Senator Clinton. Re Iranian undeterrability, she says in the Olbermann interview “I don’t buy that”, nosirree, but leaves that qualifier out in the Schaefer interview, inviting those viewers to believe the mad mullahs are all itching for a nucular showdown someday.

UPDATE, 4/25: Transcript of 4/23 Clinton exchange with Andrea Schaefer on “Morning Joe” (4th clip in embedded video above). Also, for how two experts think Iran should be addressed, tune in to this dialogue between ISIS Jackie Shire and Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione.
UPDATE, 5/4: Transcripts of the key parts of all 3 Hillary Clinton clips above (Cuomo=1st clip, Olbermann=2d clip, Schaefer=4th clip) are now here: Cuomo interview (“obliterate”), Olbermann interview (“would provoke a nuclear response”), Schaefer interview (“facts on the ground have changed”). The note above now specifies which interview is which.
UPDATE, 5/28: The Olbermann clip is no longer available in the video collection embedded above.

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Good for a grin

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 7th January 2008

# Kenneth Pollack — Incredibly Enough, He’s Even Stupider Than You Thought (Jonathan Schwarz, “A Tiny Revolution”) — Schwarz reviews Pollack’s book “Persian Puzzle”, in which Pollack thinks it odd and irrational that Iranians were stocking up on naval equipment, which implied to Mr. “Threatening Storm” that they were spoiling for a fight with the good old U.S.A. Turns out they had a pretty decent reason for doing so — the US was sinking Iranian ships. Schwarz:

…it’s standard in government bureaucracies for people to become blithering idiots who have no idea what’s going on right in front of their face. So Pollack isn’t unusual in that regard. But it takes a special man to use his own blithering idiocy about his own country as justification to believe another country is mysterious and incomprehensible. Kenneth Pollack is that special man.

# This is the way, step inside (Spencer Ackerman, “toohotfortnr”) — Ackerman wades into Jonah Goldberg’s “Liberal Fascism” book and finds its definition of fascism overbroad, not applicable to Goldberg’s “exhibit A” — the Wilson era — even by Goldberg’s own definition. Ackerman concludes:

I’m starting to think Jonah Goldberg is not an intelligent man.

# Bad News for Mike Gravel (Jim MacDonald, “Making Light”) — New Hampshire citizen gets a two question phone call from a pollster:

“Are you planning to vote in the Democratic primary?”
“Sure am.”
“Who are you planning to vote for?”
“Mike Gravel.”
“Oh, you mean you’re going to vote in the Republican primary.”
“No, Mike Gravel is a Democrat. Two-term Democratic senator from Alaska.”
“Are you sure?

# I can press when there needs to be pressed (WIIIAI, “Whatever it is, I’m against it”) — WIIIAI observes today’s Bush interviews with Israeli television, Al Hurra, and Al Arabiya, featuring several gem-quality Bushisms:

“I can press when there needs to be pressed; I can hold hands when there needs to be — hold hands. […]

And what ends up happening in this process is that the leaders will commit, and then they’ll get their committees to work, and it gets stuck. And that’s when I’ll have to work with Condi Rice to unstick it.

Ahem. Does Laura know about this? Does she help? WIIIAI: “I’d put a joke in here, but each version of “Like the time I got my () stuck in ()” I come up with is more disturbing than the one before.”

# The Republican debates according to a 9-year old (DailyKos diarist 8ackgr0und N015e) — This guy gave his 9 year old the job of following the GOP debate on Saturday: “Follow me below the fold for the 9-year old’s rendition of a fight between Sarge, Wrinkles, Bunny Ears, Oily, Beagle Eyes and Carrot Face…” From the resulting transcript:

They are rude
Interrupt alot!

Beagle Eyes
Arrogant foreign policy
We need 400,000 troops
Don’t let politicians get involved
Leave it to military with blood on their boots. […]

John Micane never supported amnesty
Charge $5,000 to stay
attack ads

Immigrants should not be rewarded

Fight.Fight. Interrupt. Fight

Do not sent 12,000,000
Ronald Reagan on some commercial. […]

Obama doesn’t have the background to lead.

No candidate likes Obama.
Republicans don’t think he’ll be a good president.
Obama gonna win.

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…and when did they know they didn’t know it?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th December 2007

We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.
Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities
National Intelligence Estimate, November 2007
released December 3, 2007

Well, well, well.

Given the amount of saber rattling about Iran over the past year and more by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Hadley, et al, the questions are what did they know they didn’t know, and when did they know they didn’t know it… and are we ever talking about the President of the United States as we discuss this?

Today, Bush said (incredibly) that he was made aware of the NIE last week,”* adding that Mike McConnell told him “in August, I think it was” that there was “new information” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, [h]e didn’t tell me what the information was.” You’d like to hear President “catapult the propaganda.”  Bush was mildly curious about the information, but that doesn’t seem to fit his view of his job description.

Moreover, it appears this particular estimate was ready quite a bit earlier than “last week.” The Washington Post’s Dafna Linzer and Joby Warrick write that “The report was drafted after an extended internal debate over the reliability of communications intercepts of Iranian conversations this past summer that suggested the program had been suspended. […] when intelligence officials began briefing senior members of the Bush administration on the intercepts, beginning in July, the policymakers expressed skepticism.

But apparently even the “past summer” date is being generous — if you’re interested in knowing when the administration should have stopped beating its war drums. Last month Gareth Porter of IPS reported that “A National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been held up for more than a year in an effort to force the intelligence community to remove dissenting judgments on the Iranian nuclear programme.” Yet given what’s been released — no nuclear program now, ability to produce even a HEU (highly enriched uranium) atomic weapon by 2013 at earliest — the problem must have been finding any affirming judgments.

Yet here’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on November 10, 2007:

There’s clearly a recognition that we may need to put more pressure on the Iranian regime, so that they would change a set of policies that are having the effect of isolating the Iranian people … at the same time keeping open the — as we have from the very beginning — the option of negotiating a successful outcome […] …the problem is not a civilian nuclear program for Iran, the problem is a program that seems designed to achieve a nuclear weapon capability. That’s the problem; and that once that problem is removed, then there is a positive way forward for Iran on the table that involves easing pressure on the regime and also a civilian nuclear program. (*)

And here’s Bush on August 28, 2007:

Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late. (*)

And again on October 18, 2007:

…I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously. (*)

So Bush was banging the alarm bell well after August — but that’s cool, because of course he hadn’t bothered to find out what that new information was back then, and wasn’t briefed on the NIE until last week! “Need to know” and all that.

Given our strange new American political system, Vice President Cheney’s threats loom the largest of all, perhaps most memorably the one issued aboard the U.S.S. Stennis in the Persian Gulf on May 11, 2007:

With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we’re sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike. […] We’ll stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region. (*)

While that was before the summer’s developments, this statement, given on October 21, 2007, was not:

The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (*)

ThinkProgress has its own “greatest Iran the nuclear threat hits,” if you’re looking for more. At this point, I think Josh Marshall gets the last word on this administration:

But it shows us once again, for anyone who needed showing, that everything this administration says on national security matters should be considered presumptively not only false, but actually the opposite of what is in fact true, until clear evidence to the contrary becomes available. They’re big liars. And actually being serious about the country’s security means doing everything possible to limit the amount of damage they can do over the next fourteen months while they still control the US military and the rest of the nation’s foreign policy apparatus.

* All emphases added. Asterisk links lead to full text of remarks at

UPDATE, 12/4: Scott Horton (“No Comment”) quotes an intelligence community source who says “The NIE has been in substantially the form in which it was finally submitted for more than six months,” i.e., since at least early June, 2007 or so.
UPDATE, 12/5: Greg Mitchell (Editor & Publisher) provides quotes by our nation’s pundits on Iran’s inactive nuclear weapons program; David Brooks, Jim Hoagland, Tom Friedman, Bill Kristol, Richard Cohen, and Ken Pollack are featured. Glenn Greenwald (Salon) focuses on Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post; see particularly the September 5, 2007 lead editorial “Rogue Regulator” attacking IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei — a skeptic about Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. They’re never wrong — so they never learn.
UPDATE, 12/6: Dan Froomkin (, “A Pattern of Deception“; emptywheel (firedoglake), NIE Timeline.

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