Monday, October 5, 2009

Waters Edge?

DeMint making his own U.S. foreign policy?

Oct 1: Rachel Maddow is joined by Steve Clemons, senior fellow at the New America Foundation and publisher of the Washington Note to discuss Senator Jim DeMint's desire to travel to Honduras to deliver a political message contrary to the official U.S. position.

There was a point -- I believe it was a time known as "2001 through 2008" -- at which Republicans believed it was the responsibility of the president to oversee U.S. foreign policy.
Now, it stands to reason that these same Republicans, forced to endure life under a Democratic administration, would be critical of the president on international relations. Likewise, it makes sense that the GOP minority might even present an alternative, telling the public how they'd do things if they were in power.
But Eric Kleefeld noted yesterday the way some congressional Republicans have taken it upon themselves to simply start pursuing their own foreign policies, whether their efforts undermine the positions of the United States government or not. Kleefeld pointed to examples that will no doubt be familiar to regular readers:
* Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is visiting Honduras in order to support the recent military coup against a leftist president, which has been opposed by the Obama administration and all the surrounding countries in the region.
* Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) will be going to the upcoming climate change conference in Copenhagen, bringing a "Truth Squad" to tell foreign officials there that the American government will not take any action: "Now, I want to make sure that those attending the Copenhagen conference know what is really happening in the United States Senate."
* House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) traveled to Israel, where he spoke out against President Obama's opposition to expanded settlements. He also defended Israel on the eviction of two Arab families from a house in east Jerusalem, which had been criticized by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
* Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) boasted in June that he told Chinese officials not to trust America's budget numbers. "One of the messages I had -- because we need to build trust and confidence in our number one creditor," said Kirk, "is that the budget numbers that the US government had put forward should not be believed." Since then, he has declared his candidacy for U.S. Senate.
This just isn't normal, and it's certainly not constructive. The notion that politics is supposed to stop "at water's edge" has been a principle long embraced by American officials in both parties. We simply can't have right-wing lawmakers signaling to the world that the United States has two competing approaches to dealing with the world at the same time.
Now, whenever I bring this up, I get emails from readers reminding me that Speaker Pelosi met with Syrian officials in early 2007. Why, I'm asked, was that perfectly acceptable, while DeMint, Inhofe, Cantor, and Kirk draw criticism?
It's really not that complicated. In DeMint's case, he's chatting with coup leaders heading a government that isn't recognized by any country on the planet. Syria at least has a recognized leadership.
But more important, Pelosi was part of a bipartisan delegation that, according to a Republican House member who accompanied the Speaker, "reinforced the administration's positions."
In other words, Pelosi and the CODEL weren't acting against the positions of the U.S. government, and didn't criticize U.S. policy from foreign soil. (I'd add, by the way, that a month after the Speaker's trip, Bush's Secretary of State engaged Syria in bilateral talks.)
Congressional Democrats during the Bush era never took steps that were remotely similar to what we're seeing from congressional Republicans now.
Attaturk (FDL): Doing more than just cheering against America
Many of us have now seen or heard the cheers of various right-wingers over the United States losing out on the Olympics to Brazil. They reserve their patriotism for when it can lead to bombing things.
As always, what Digby says:
Just as a successful universal health care system would doom the Republicans, a successful negotiation on nonproliferation would doom the neocon vision that you cannot talk to adversaries and only force is advisable and just.
So, naturally after the U.S. and our european allies obtain a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran comes the lying and the pleading for war. The more ridiculous the claim the better. Take it away Elliott Abrams.
People used to say that — that if there’s an attack on Iran, you know the population is going to get patriotic. But that’s what Americans would do. I don’t know that it’s what Iranians are going to do, considering the way that regime is hated in Iran.
Yeah, what's an unpopular regime compared to the thrill of being bombed?
 Digby: Roll Out The Aluminum Tubes
 In the days after the successful talks between Western powers and Iran, which yielded more in one day than eight years of threats by the Cheney Administration, those who profit off of belligerence and confrontation with the world had clearly circled the wagons and planted their stories in the nation's newspapers. If people got the idea that Iran was moving toward cooperation, why, what would the foreign policy "establishment" that thrives off of conflict and military deployment do? Where would the next enemy be found? It's very bad for business.

So out came the links. Helene Cooper typed up the fears of anonymous officials wondering if the agreements in the first round of talks, including a deal where Iran would ship its enriched uranium to Russia to ensure that it would be used for peaceful purposes, were just a tactic by the Iranians to "buy time." Practically the same article popped up in the LA Times, as "experts and government officials" questioned whether the timeline for IAEA inspectors to visit the recently revealed facility at Qom represented another stall tactic. Amid this suspicion, neocon emeritus Elliott Abrams surmised that Iranians would not oppose a military attack on their own country, because there's nothing dissidents enjoy more than bombs raining on their heads (the reformers don't want sanctions either, it will hurt ordinary Iranians rather than the ruling regime). And today, this bombshell is splashed across the New York Times:

Senior staff members of the United Nations nuclear agency have concluded in a confidential analysis that Iran has acquired “sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable” atom bomb.

The report by experts in the International Atomic Energy Agency stresses in its introduction that its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence, which it says came from intelligence agencies and its own investigations.

But the report’s conclusions, described by senior European officials, go well beyond the public positions taken by several governments, including the United States.

Two years ago, American intelligence agencies published a detailed report concluding that Tehran halted its efforts to design a nuclear weapon in 2003. But in recent months, Britain has joined France, Germany and Israel in disputing that conclusion, saying the work has been resumed.

A senior American official said last week that the United States was now re-evaluating its 2007 conclusions.
I don't know why this is news. Three years ago, under pressure from House Republicans, the Bush Administration posted documents revealing how to build a nuclear bomb on the Internet. Even this article presumes that Iran received the nuclear knowledge from "external sources," most likely Pakistan's godfather of the atomic bomb A. Q. Khan. The NYT wrote about Khan giving nuclear secrets to Iran in March 2005, and in that story, it was floated that Khan and Iran discussed trading knowledge in 1987. (Meanwhile, Khan has been set free by our ally Pakistan.) This is an old, old story, resurrected just when diplomatic efforts to defuse the conflict are moving forward.

In reality, Iran has agreed to allow the UN to visit the facility at Qom, have set a date of October 25 for that inspection, and the IAEA has described a "shift to cooperation" in the Iranian stance. The President's national security advisor has called the efforts at cooperation significant and said things are moving in the right direction.

Just as a successful universal health care system would doom the Republicans, a successful negotiation on nonproliferation would doom the neocon vision that you cannot talk to adversaries and only force is advisable and just. So they plant stories with unproven allegations about secret uranium stocks. They even had to go to Canada to drop one rumor:

Iran has tried to acquire materials for a nuclear weapon in Canada, according to a top official in Canada's Border Services Agency.

George Webb, head of the agency's Counter Proliferation Section, says customs officers have seized centrifuge parts (centrifuges are used to enrich uranium) and electronic components for bombs and guidance systems.

Webb made the claims in a story published Thursday in Canada's National Post [...]

The article, however, offers nothing to corroborate Webb's claims and reports them without even a hint of skepticism, except to say that "The devices can be used in peaceful nuclear plants but are also required to produce nuclear weapons" and to note that there have been few arrests and no convictions in connection with Webb's far-reaching claims.

But skepticism is merited. The government claims and breathless media reporting – without adequate evidence – that Iran is a grave and looming threat is reminiscent of the same claims and media coverage in the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as several commentators have pointed out. Remember Saddam Hussein's horde of yellowcake uranium?
These allegations aren't coming from the Office of The Vice President this time, at least not yet. But they are out there, the neocons are desperate to hold off anything resembling peace, and sadly the media isn't always appropriately skeptical of the claims. Arm yourself with the facts. Juan Cole's list of things you know about Iran that are not true is a good start.

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