Tag Archives: President Bush

Washington Think-Tank Cultivating ‘Last Resort’ Against Iran and Priming Next President

Originally posted at OpEdNews.com

Preventive – a seemingly innocuous word has been getting a lot of play in recent publications and conferences sponsored by Washington think tanks – perhaps nowhere more than at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Generally we don’t expect death, destruction and illegality to rest on the preventive side of the equation. Then again, after March 19, 2003, perhaps we should. When WINEP uses the word preventive they mean “preventive military action.” More precisely – a military attack on another country, in this case Iran that is neither in self-defense nor in response to an immediate threat of attack.

The likelihood of a military strike against Iran either by the United States or Israel has been debated for years waxing and waning with the geopolitical climate. What is not in question is the steady effort by some to lay the ground work for such an action.

The Washington Institute founded by Martin Indyk, a former research director for AIPAC, seeks to “bring scholarship to bear on the making of U.S. policy” in the Middle East. Among its programs is the Presidential Study Group “charged with drafting a blueprint for the next administration’s Middle East policy.” WINEP’s board of advisors includes noted figures such as Richard Perle, R. James Woolsey and until 2001 Paul Wolfowitz.

Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow and director of WINEP’s Military and Security Studies Program wrote a three-page article in September 2006 entitled “Iran: The Complex Calculus of Preventive Military Action.” Eisenstadt discussed the factors that would be in play if the U.S. took preventive military action to “thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

He tackled first the matter of congressional authorization for a planned attack on Iran. He referred to it as “consulting Congress.” Quickly bypassing Congress’ constitutional power to declare war citing precedence, Eisenstadt laid out two options. 1. Inform a select group of members of Congress prior to launching a strike, but risk public disapproval. 2. Allow Congress to openly debate the “merits of military action” and seek a joint resolution, but risk defeat of a resolution.

Bearing in mind WINEP’s mission to use scholarship to assist in policy making, it is worth noting a glaring omission. Mr. Eisenstadt made no room for discussion of the UN Charter ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1945 thereby making it the law of our land. It requires that member nations refrain from the threat or use of force and that if a dispute is not settled it shall be referred to the Security Council which will make recommendations.

While the Charter allows for military action in self-defense and the issue of a preemptive attack in the face of “imminent danger” has been a point of contention in recent years, no strong case for an “imminent” attack was even put forth in the article. What Eisenstadt was considering was a preventive strike to “thwart ambitions.”

To minimize national backlash – a rally around the flag in Iran – Eisenstadt recommended that the U.S. engage in a “high-profile information campaign” to convince the Iranian people that an attack on their country is in their best interest. The article concluded that while seeking diplomacy, military prevention should be on the table.

In summer 2007, Eisenstadt published another article on preventive action “The Complex Calculus of Preventive Military Action.” Along with the title the article was, with a few exceptions, the same as the one he authored in 2006.

In 2006, his reason was “faltering diplomacy” over Iran’s nuclear program. In 2007, he pointed to Bush administration claims that Iran was supplying IED’s that were being used against U.S. forces in Iraq. This was a big news item at the time. What was not big news was that proof of those claims never fully materialized.

Both articles shared an important statement, “[One] should not dismiss the possibility that the intelligence picture concerning Iran’s nuclear program could change rapidly.” And change it did. In December 2007, the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran were made public. Among the findings: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

Thus began the campaign to discredit the 2007 NIE on Iran.

Bending, conspiring, duping and ruining our day

The first to let his fingers fly was Norman Podhoretz. Writing for the Commentary, he penned an article in June 2007 entitled “The Case for Bombing Iran.” On September 11, his book World War IV: The Long Struggle against Islamofascism was released.

Hours after the key judgments of the NIE were made public, he accused the intelligence community of “bending over backward” to dispute what he claimed is universally believed – that Iran is “hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons.” He continued, “But, I entertain an even darker suspicion. It is that the intelligence community, which has for some years now been leaking material calculated to undermine George W. Bush, is doing it again.” Patrick Clawson, WINEP’s deputy director for research offered his own spin. He asked “how much does weaponization matter?” and claimed that the findings only suggest a change in sequence by Tehran. For good measure, Clawson lamented about the U.S. intelligence community’s “poor track record.”

Next up: Kenneth Timmerman. Writing for Newsmax, Timmerman cited the publication’s alleged sources in Tehran and claimed that “Washington has fallen for ‘a deliberate disinformation campaign’ cooked up by the Revolutionary Guards.”

Timmerman viciously attacked Thomas Fingar, chair of the National Intelligence Council, and others involved in preparing the NIE all the while quoting himself from the book he authored that was released a few weeks earlier entitled Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender. It’s unclear whether he was suggesting Dr. Fingar was a traitor, a saboteur or just a wimp.

James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation urged readers not to be misled by the NIE. Despite the NIE’s high confidence that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program, Phillips warned of the danger of “disinformation or misinformation.” His answer was that it was “Time for Team B.” He said the president should establish an independent panel of experts to examine the evidence assembled in the NIE. Either the U.S. intelligence agencies’ experts were not expert enough for Mr. Phillips’ liking or their findings were not to his liking.

Podhoretz, Timmerman and Phillips are all members of The Committee on the Present Danger co-chaired by WINEP’s advisory board member, R. James Woolsey.

When committed to your hand – double down.

With the November 2007 NIE in mind would Michael Eisenstadt, for the third year, reintroduce the Complex Calculus? In June 2008, it resurfaced. This time primarily as an annex to a 45-page publication called Agenda: Iran. The Last Resort: Consequences of Preventive Action against Iran coauthored with colleague Patrick Clawson.

The authors assert that the study does not advocate military action – the time is not right and they don’t know the level of target intelligence available to the U.S. The Last Resort does lay out the “prerequisites for a successful policy of preventive action should the United States decide to go this route.” A precursory look finds they favor prevention over deterrence while only feigning interest in diplomacy. Undoubtedly what it does is provide that all important blueprint for a preventive strike not only militarily, but politically.

There is no hiding the resentment the authors have for the release of the NIE findings. They blame lack of support for preventive action by allies and even Iranians on the intelligence community “seemingly soft-pedaling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

The article speaks to the proper conditions both in the U.S. and Iran for a preventive strike to be accepted and successful. One scenario they describe is if Iran were to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In January 2007 John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN and perennial cheerleader for bombing Iran, in a conference call reportedly with members of AIPAC, expressed disappointment that Iran had not withdrawn from the NPT in response to the UN Security Council Resolution passed the month before. “I actually hoped they would. That kind of reaction,” he told them “would produce a counter-reaction that actually would be more beneficial to us.”

Smoking-gun evidence presents a dilemma for the authors. Striking in the absence of it would create a challenge militarily in terms of target intelligence and could evoke sympathy for Iran. Attacking Iran in the presence of smoking-gun proof, they report, could be “tantamount to going to war with a nuclear Iran.” And, waiting for it “may amount to de facto acquiescence in a nuclear-armed Iran.” The language is familiar.

“The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Condoleezza Rice, September 8, 2002.

“Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.” Pres. George W. Bush, October 7, 2002.

Nuclear facilities are not the only targets Eisenstadt and Clawson consider worthy of bombing. They also eye Iran’s oil infrastructure. They admit it may result in soaring oil prices and poor economic growth, but quickly add those problems are “not clearly the greater evil.”

They also suggest coupling strikes on nuclear facilities with strikes on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and the Ministry of Intelligence. This combined with the prospect that repeated strikes may be required, preventive military action begins to emerge as a widespread military campaign.

Also discussed is an Israeli strike versus U.S. strike. While Israel may be more disposed to taking preventive action, they say, it will likely engender more international criticism. They question the effectiveness of an Israeli-led strike versus one led by the U.S. military. Given that many will conclude that the U.S. at the very least gave the green light, they offer a few suggestions including the U.S. preempting a strike by Israel or proposing a joint U.S.-Israel action.

Prevention, they say, would involve a significant risk of retaliation by the Iranians and may only delay the nuclear program most likely requiring future military action. Not mentioned are casualties or financial burdens. When discussing deterrence they employ phrases like “catastrophic failure” and the “deaths of hundreds of thousands, if not millions.” What is clearly not acceptable in connection to a policy of deterrence is a resultant “ambiguous nuclear weapons capability.”

Taking the Show on the Road

Eisenstadt’s call for a high-profile information campaign was not limited to targeting Iranians. On July 3, 2008, he participated in a conference call with reporters held simultaneously in Washington, D.C., London, Brussels and Jerusalem.

Sponsoring the call was The Israel Project (TIP). According to its website, TIP “provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel” influencing “hundreds of millions of people around the world.” Its board of advisors includes 22 members of the U.S. Congress (12 Senators and 10 Representatives).

He said that he was somewhat pessimistic about the prospects of successful diplomacy. He then repeated to the 100-plus reporters the fear-eliciting conclusion from the Last Resort that not acting militarily could result in catastrophe and the deaths of millions of people.

Mark Summers, a reporter based in Bahrain, asked whether talk of preventive measures was premature given the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. Eisenstadt responded, “To be honest, to be fair, I think that the NIE was carefully couched.”

A Former CIA Analyst Weighs in on the Last Resort

Ray McGovern, who during his 27-years in the CIA had the opportunity to chair NIE’s, had strong words about Eisenstadt’s approach.

“One way to look at the Eisenstadt paper [the Last Resort] and briefing is as a surrogate NIE. They fulfill the function of an Estimate nicely for administration’s purposes not unlike the Office of Special Plans setup by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith in the Pentagon to come up with the “correct” answers before and during Iraq. It’s an old stratagem; one of the best examples was Team B which played up the Soviet threat starting in the ‘70s.”

McGovern who has advocated for a “Memorandum to Holders” of the previous estimate – an update to the 2007 NIE – added sharply “If you can’t get the answers you want from the $50 billion intelligence bureaucracy, make sure they do nothing and create something off on the side to provide what you want.”

On preventive military action, McGovern doesn’t hold back. “Preventive military action is a war crime. It’s a war of aggression defined by Nuremberg as the supreme international crime.” Referring to the Last Resort he said “I’m sure it’s being shown to whomever will digest it into words for the president as ‘this is probably the considered view of the experts’ on Iran.”

Next Stop on the Preventive Action Tour: Christians United for Israel (CUFI)

In late July 2008, WINEP’s Patrick Clawson joined controversial pastor John Hagee’s CUFI for their Washington-Israel Summit. Ali Gharib, a Washington-based journalist, discussed Clawson’s role in an article he wrote. Clawson sat on the panel “Iran: Eye of the Storm.” This panel was closed to the press so Gharib attended instead with a participant’s pass.

He reported “Clawson elicited laughter from the crowd with his statement that Some Iranian leaders are quite happy to be suicidal. Many of them are not rational.” He also claimed “Iran is spending at least $200 million a year financing, training, and arming every terror group that is killing Israelis in the pursuit of eliminating the state of Israel.”

However, during the Q&A session when questioned about possible Iranian retaliation to a U.S. strike, Gharib writes that Clawson responded by saying, “The history, so far, is of blood-curdling threats, and [then] nothing happens.”

It seems in a brassy attempt to sell the preventive action product, Clawson points to heinous actions by an irrational regime and then when asked about Iranian retaliation, he claims that same group might not respond at all to an attack on its homeland.

Shifting Focus to Arabs and Americans

For years, the focus on preventing a “nuclear Iran” was based on the perceived threat to the state of Israel as demonstrated in Patrick Clawson’s presentation at the Christians United for Israel conference. But in September, a noticeable shift began to emerge from the thinkers at the Washington Institute.

On September 11, 2008, Clawson wrote “Don’t Make Iran an Israeli Issue” published in The Jewish Daily Forward. After reminding readers of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he wrote “Lately, however, the public discussion has been focused too much on the specific threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to Israel.” He reasserted that claim, but then added how it would also be a “menace” to its “Arab neighbors and to American and Western interests.”

Seeking no cover, he explains “[If] we want to figure out how to move Russia and China to do more, we are more likely to persuade these governments by emphasizing the risk of proliferation rather than the threat to Israel.”

To Bomb or Not to Bomb

Two weeks later, Clawson and Eisenstadt hosted a panel at The Washington Institute called “Bombing Iran or Living with Iran’s Bomb.” It was based on a publication of the same title written by Kassem Ja’afar for the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels, an organization established in 2004 by the American Jewish Committee.

Isaac Ben-Israel, a member of the Knesset and retired major general in the Israeli Defense Forces spoke directly to the question of prevention versus deterrence and concluded that the “chosen strategy” would be prevention. “The reason” he said “is not only because I am speaking as an Israeli and we all know the policy of Iran towards Israel calling to destroy Israel or to wipe it out of the map every two days or so, it’s not that reason by itself. It is much deeper than this.”

Ben-Israel then shifted to Clawson’s new call to action. He stated that because Iran is neither Arab nor Sunni a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran is “frightening not only Israel but those Arab leaders, what we call the moderate Arab states in the Middle East.” He spoke of proliferation and Iran exporting the Shi’a revolution.

He predicted in the face of a military conflict, despite heavy losses, “Israel will survive and Iran will go back to the Stone Ages.” He warned that Iranian nuclear capability is the main concern because once they have that it’s just “a few months away” from having a bomb and that “I think will depend only on their good will, if you believe they have a good will.”

Kassem Ja’afar, former diplomatic advisor to the government of Qatar, turned the attention to a regional issue. What Ja’afar said is perhaps more reflective of the concerns of the U.S. and Israel governments than a fear of attack. According to Ja’afar “[Very] simply Iran wants to be recognized as a regional super power…because it wants to have a dominant effect on the policies of the region, on the wealth of the region, and the strategic position of the region vis-à-vis the world.”

This is unacceptable, he said, because of the ideological and strategic dimensions. Strategic dimensions like “oil and the Gulf and the maritime routes throughout the Middle East.” In his publication he describes in great detail the military assets that Israel and the U.S. would bring to the table if there were a preventive attack – writing U.S. involvement into the picture as a given.

Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst brought some cold reality to the discussion. Because of the absence of unclassified intelligence, he has seen “people coming out with strike plans” in Op-Ed’s that “range from rubbish to irresponsible,” casting a disapproving look at one or more of the panelists which included in addition to Kassem Ja’afar and Isaac Ben-Israel, Michael Eisenstadt and Patrick Clawson.

He continued “The fact is that these are extraordinarily complex and they involve far more than simply counting targets…This is much more of a chainsaw than a scalpel.” He did offer “What we have and what Israel does not have is the ability to persist. We have the ability to do the damage assessment. We have the ability to do re-strikes.”

During the Q&A, Clawson and Eisenstadt focused on the issue of a preventive attack on Iran. Clawson asked Isaac Ben-Israel “What do you think the international community and Israel would do in the aftermath of this strike to prevent Iran from rebuilding?”

Ben-Israel responded nonchalantly “If we fail we have to come back five years later and do the same again…The alternative is, do we want for Iran to have a bomb?” Answering his own question, he closed with “the alternative is worse.”

Michael Eisenstadt asked Kassem Ja’afar, “What might the Arabs be willing to do to help either the United States or Israel with preventive military action?” Ja’afar’s answer in a nutshell, “I frankly don’t think the Arabs can do much at all.”

Deputy Director of National Intel Gives WINEP a Presidents Daily Brief – Say What?!

Ray McGovern was on to something when he spoke about WINEP and the Last Resort serving as a surrogate NIE. Seems the Washington Institute for Near East Policy may have the best seat in town when it comes to access to U.S. intelligence.

McGovern said it was “bizarre that McConnell’s [Mike McConnell, Director of National Intelligence] principal deputy Donald Kerr briefed WINEP some 5 or 6 months ago….and a CIA nuclear weapons expert also briefed WINEP.”

That CIA analyst may have been Michael Leiter, Acting Director of the National Counterterrorism Center who paid WINEP a visit in February 2008 to discuss the “looming challenges in the war on terror.” Ray believes that this level of interaction by the agency with WINEP is “Very irregular.”

On May 29, 2008, Donald Kerr, the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence delivered a remarkable presentation to WINEP.

Speaking at a program entitled Emerging Threats, Challenges, and Opportunities in the Middle East, Kerr explained that the Presidents Daily Brief (PDB) was one of their most privileged documents read by only a handful of people and delivered to the president by either the Director of National Intelligence or himself. He added “They are based on some of our best collection capabilities, coupled with our most exacting analysis.”

Then Donald Kerr announced “This evening, I’m going to give you a notional view of some of the issues that will be raised in the Oval Office PDB on January 21, 2009.”

“We’ll give you a snapshot of where things stand now and some of the overarching thoughts as to potential future developments…Iran, for example, continues to provide weapons, funding, and training support to certain Iraqi Shi’a militants designed to increase Tehran’s influence over Iraq and ensure the United States suffers setbacks.”

He offered a taste of intelligence analysis on the state of Iran when the next president takes office. The level of authenticity or sincerity is not clear. Was what he provided his own personal conclusion or based on combined intelligence and analysis?  Certainly, it would be improper for someone in his capacity to fabricate information about such a sensitive matter.  No heavily guarded secrets were shared it seems, but the presentation did appear to be tailored to his audience. With Congress fighting for more access to intelligence information it does seem “very irregular” that a think tank with a clearly pro-Israel viewpoint that regularly discusses a military attack on Iran would be hand-fed information of any level directly from the ODNI.

What follows are highlights, including a jab at the NIE, from Kerr’s prepared speech on his mock PDB on Iran:

“The regime has become more authoritarian …Despite rising oil income, Iran’s economy is plagued by high inflation and unemployment…Iran’s foreign activities constitute a direct and immediate threat to American interests.

Iran is pursuing a range of efforts to undermine U.S. influence…The U.S. military continues to find caches of Iranian-made weapons in Iraq, including rockets, small arms, and explosively formed penetrator devices, including some manufactured in the past year.

We must also talk about the nuclear issue. Over the past year, we have gained important new insights into Iran’s activities related to nuclear weapons, and in November 2007, the Intelligence Community published a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iranian intentions and capabilities in this area. In our NIE…we also judged that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities…But given that the halted activities were part of an unannounced secret program that Iran attempted to hide, we do not know whether it has been restarted since our last assessment…A number of countries in the region have recently expressed renewed interest in nuclear power.”

These remarks fit like a glove to WINEP’s Last Resort hand.

A Q&A followed with at least one member of WINEP pretending he was the president, pushing the envelope in his questions to Donald Kerr to the great amusement of the audience. But, there was no joke about the information he was trying to elicit – target intelligence on Iran.

Michael Stein asked “Do you know exactly where those production facilities are and how we can target them or what kind of weaponry will produce the result we want? I would hope also that you have some boots on the ground and you’ve done some mapping for us and can give us precise directions of where to go and what to do. And, finally, at what point would you suggest to me that the Iranians have gone too far in this development and that I better do something about it before we pass the point of no return? [Laughter, applause.]

You can read Donald Kerr’s response to those questions here as well as questions posed by R. James Woolsey, Martin Gross and others.

Priming the Incoming President

Mentioned earlier was WINEP’s Presidential Study Group that “drafts a blueprint for the next administration’s Middle East policy.” One of the task forces is the “Future of the U.S.-Israeli Relations.” This group convened several times throughout 2007 and 2008 including a retreat with ten Israeli counterparts.

Their final product is a Statement on “How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” It states that Iran’s nuclear weapons capability “hovers above all other items on the U.S.-Israel agenda.”

Among the declarations of this Statement:

“We have an abiding commitment to the survival and security of Israel, so the potential threat to Israel of an Iranian nuclear bomb is a major concern of ours as well.”

“Americans should recognize that deterrence is, in Israeli eyes, an unattractive alternative to prevention, because, if deterrence fails, Israel would suffer terribly.”

“[The] U.S.-Israel relationship has come under unprecedented attack. Some of these critics argue that Israel has manipulated the U.S. government to act counter to the American national interest, which – if properly understood – would see Israel as a liability… We reject that critique.”

The Task Force recommends that the new president’s policy options should include coercive options and preventive military action against Iran. They ask the president to use his position to convey directly to the American people that Iran’s “nuclear ambitions are likely to trigger a surge of nuclear proliferation…The central argument is that preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability is not special pleading for America’s ally Israel – it is vital to America’s own security.”

Included among the signatories to this Statement are advisors to Senators Barack Obama and John McCain. They include Dennis Ross, Obama’s senior advisor on Middle East affairs. Ross served as co-convenor of this task force and is a consultant to WINEP. Other foreign policy advisors to Sen. Obama who signed in support of this Statement are Richard Clarke, Susan Rice and Anthony Lake. R. James Woolse, advisor to Sen. McCain and advisor to WINEP signed as well. Worth noting is the cover of the publication that displays a photograph with U.S. and Israeli flags waving behind a line of uniformed men and women armed with what I am told are AR-15’s, M-16’s and AK-47’s.

Considering the working relationship with advisors to both presidential candidates, the exchange of information with members of the intelligence community and even a special visit in October 2007 by Vice President Dick Cheney, there is little doubt that the Washington Institute for Near East Policy will continue to live up to its mission to draft and shape U.S. policy in the Middle East – a policy that assigns a high priority to a preventive military attack on Iran.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If Increased Sanction Resolution, 362, Could Give Bush License for a Naval Blockade Why Support It?

Last month’s introduction by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN) of H. Con. Res 362 has raised the ire of many who believe the actions that are called for within the resolution could very well lead the U.S. down the path to a military conflict with Iran.Yet, there is strong bipartisan support for this resolution with 220 cosponsors as of June 29. The Senate version, S. Res. 580, currently boasts 32 cosponsors. In fact, in a truthout report by Maya Schenwar and Matt Renner, a Pelosi staffer is quoted as saying this resolution will “pass like a hot knife through butter.”

During the Rob Kall Radio Show on June 25, Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) graciously took time from discussing his new book, “Fire Breathing Liberal” and his push for impeachment inquiries to address concerns that were being raised regarding this resolution that he, himself, cosponsored.

The issue at hand was the language in the resolution that “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.”

Confession: I had to look up inter alia to find that it means “among other things.”

As an invited caller, I shared with Congressman Wexler my experience the prior evening. I read the passage above to a group attending a lecture by Dr. Bob Bowman, Lt. Colonel, USAF, ret, a fighter pilot in Vietnam, who also directed the DoD “Star Wars” programs under Ford and Carter. Bowman is on a speaking tour to restore the Constitution and hold the Bush administration accountable through impeachment.

As I read from Res. 362, a collective groan rose from the audience as people scrambled for pen and paper to take down the information. Dr. Bowman declared it was something we had to fight. He paused and reflected before stating, “It cuts very close to being a declaration of war.”

In response to this, Rep. Wexler offered, “Let me start by just creating a foundation from my view which is that I intensely distrust President Bush particularly as it relates to the use of military force.”

He went on to state that, “We have a responsibility to prevent President Bush from unilaterally attacking Iran similar to what he did, of course, with Iraq.” This is the reason, he added, that he is also a cosponsor of H.R. 3119. This resolution prohibits the use of funds for military operations in Iran without prior authorization by Congress.

Congressman Wexler explained that “Resolution 3119 could not be clearer in indicating that Congress will not give Mr. Bush a blank check and that we support a policy of engagement rather than military force.”

Researching H.R. 3119 immediately following Wednesday’s interview found that it was introduced one year ago and has gained little traction with only 29 cosponsors – all Democrats. Three more names, including Rep. Wexler’s, were added on June 26 bringing the total count to 32. At this point, H.R. 3119, legislation that has not passed, really serves as no deterrent.

In detailing his reason for supporting 362, Mr. Wexler remarked “I signed on to the resolution you spoke about initially because I believe and I still do, although I understand your concern and I respect it, that 362 called for enhanced economic – as you read – economic, political, and diplomatic sanctions.”

In respect to the language that follows that calls for President Bush to “prohibit the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products,” and begin “stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles,” etc. entering or departing Iran, Congressman Wexler contended that the resolution “makes no reference whatsoever to the use of military force, it makes no reference, of course, to any language that would support an embargo. Although, again, I want to point out that I understand your concern and I understand your reluctance because it is strong language.”

Indeed, the word “embargo” cannot be found within the four-page document, but prohibiting trade or commerce with another country in order to isolate it, e.g. preventing refined petroleum products from entering Iran, is by definition an embargo.

When pressed by Rob that comments coming in to him were pointing to a Naval blockade, Rep. Wexler dismissed it by saying there is no language in the resolution that calls for a Naval blockade. Again, the word “blockade” is not used. But, any effort to prevent supplies from reaching a country – which this resolution calls for – is after all a blockade.

Ultimately, the congressman conceded that he understood the “concern that the mechanism of enforcement in theory might be a Naval blockade.” “But,” he explained, “that’s the use of a military confrontation act and that is not something that I would support unless there was prior congressional approval. I understand the concern particularly in that it’s President Bush that we are talking about, but I don’t think reasonably that there is any language in 362 that authorizes a Naval blockade. If there is, I would not have signed it.”

I asked, “What then would imposing stringent inspection requirements on persons, vehicles, ships – what would that look like then?” Rep. Wexler replied, “It’s a good question.” So pleased was I that I asked a “good question,” I failed to recognize that the conversation drifted into a discussion over the concern of a “nuclearization” of the Middle East and the question was never addressed. Lesson learned.

Often times what is not written into legislation or little things that are inserted such as “inter alia” can be far more damaging than what is actually written.

What lessons have we learned from the Bush administration? 1. If the President and Vice President are given a blank check, for example the 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force,” they will surely take full advantage of it. 2. If the President and Vice President are not given permission by Congress to wreak havoc – they will anyway.

Follow-Through

One attribute, among others, that separates Rep. Wexler from many of his colleagues on the Hill is his willingness to engage in dialogue beyond the perfunctory sound bite. One thing about Rob Kall, editor and publisher of OpEdNews.com is his drive to go the extra mile. Not a common practice these days in the corporate-owned mainstream media. Rob, looking to clarify some issues regarding 362, reached out the following day to Congressman Wexler who readily agreed to continue the conversation. Look for Rob’s upcoming article about the media aspect of this.

The dominant theme presented to Rep. Wexler in follow-up was the question of what really is going to keep President Bush, who already unilaterally and preemptively attacked a sovereign nation with no repercussions from a Democratic majority, from repeating the scenario with Iran.

Rep. Wexler, in his reply, held fast to his belief that H. Con. Res. 362 would not open the door to any military action by the U.S. against Iran. He explained, “First and foremost H. Con. Res. 362 is a non-binding resolution which is only a statement/expression of Congress without any force of law.”

While it is true that the resolution is non-binding. It is ironic that a non-binding resolution would “demand” the President take a specific action. Even more ironic is the fact that what is being asked seems to be right up the Bush administration’s alley.

Mr. Wexler again reiterated that “nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran.”

But, if the President takes the direction to, for example, prohibit export of refined petroleum products to Iran or restrict movement of Iranian officials who are not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons,” and it triggers a military conflict which in all likelihood Bush will not back away from, Congress can wash their hands and say, “Hey, we said there was nothing in our resolution that authorized that.”

Congressman Wexler, in his follow-up with Rob Kall, emphasized again the call for all this to happen with the support of the international community.

The issue of an international context was reinforced in a dismissive reply on June 25 by Ackerman and Pence who claim criticism of the resolution is “utter nonsense.”

The resolution does demand that the President “initiate an international effort.” Is it enough for the President to place a few calls to “initiate” an international effort and then call it a day? I don’t know. The resolution doesn’t say. What it also doesn’t say is that the actions demanded within the resolution require UN approval.

Many believe the fact that the U.S. unilaterally attacked Iraq was not the overriding problem in 2003. Would support of the international community have made our venture into Iraq acceptable and legitimate? I think not.

A Democrat and a Republican Speak Out

Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) who is not seeking reelection in November after losing to incumbent Frank Lautenberg in the Senate primary, made a rather bold and unexpected statement regarding the Bush administration and Iran at a public forum on Iraq on June 13. Andrews was an early and staunch supporter of the Iraq war and has routinely taken a tough stance on Iran. During his Senate primary campaign, he received the endorsement of the Political Action Committee of Cherry Hill for his commitment to the security of the State of Israel.

Andrews stated [see video] “There is a real and consistent concern that the government of Iran is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. Now there has been saber rattling about this. There’s going to be an attempt, I believe, to “Gulf of Tonkinize” this issue before the November election and I think you can anticipate all kinds of Naval adventures in the Persian Gulf that will try to be used as a pretext for an attack upon Iran. I think that that will be the strategy in the November election.” A call earlier today to Rep. Andrew’s office for further comment has yet to be returned.

There was no mention of specific legislation. Still, his remarks add credence to what many fear – that the President could use this demand, non-binding as it is, to create an embargo against Iran to provoke the Iranian government. To date, Rep. Andrews has not cosponsored H. Con. Res. 362.

GOP Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), like Andrews, served 18 years in Congress. Gilchrest, who stated that he regrets his early support of the Iraq war, also lost his state’s primary this year.

On June 26, Rep. Gilchrest took to the House floor. He questioned what the impact of Resolution 362 and its tightening of sanctions on Iran in a broader way would have on U.S. policy in the Middle East and the impact of the conflict between the two nations.

He responded to his own questions by stating, “I will say, in my judgment, Mr. Speaker, that Resolution 362 will exacerbate, make much more difficult, the problems in the Middle East, and the relationship of Iran with the United States, and the relationship of Iran. Knowledge and an informed policy in the Middle East, a surge of diplomacy, can make a key difference. When Nikita Khrushchev said he was going to bury the United States, what was Eisenhower’s response? He invited Nikita Khrushchev to the United States to tour the Nation, and it began to lessen the conflict between the two countries.”

He concluded by stating that in the fall of 2007, 58 House members on both sides of the aisle signed a letter to the parliament in Iran asking for a parliamentary exchange. That letter, he said, “was hand-delivered by some of us in Lisbon to Iranian parliamentarians. They took it to Iran. And what is their response to us? They want a dialogue. There are members of the Iranian parliament that want a dialogue. Consensus and dialogue. We need more carpenters. Vote against Resolution 362.”

A Unique Perspective

There is an unspoken understanding that online discussions concerning Israel, AIPAC, Iran and the U.S. Congress often descend rapidly into accusations of politicians being “beholden” – or worse – to AIPAC and Israel and alternatively, charges of anti-semitism are often volleyed back without effort made to find common ground. This does little to promote the shared goal of a peaceful Middle East.

I reached out to Rabbi Michael Lerner, an activist and editor of Tikkun, a progressive Jewish and interfaith magazine, for his thoughts.

Rabbi Lerner stressed that he was not an “insider in this struggle,” but openly shared his perspective. He observed that “AIPAC and many other parts of the American Jewish establishment have bought into the paradigm of ‘domination over the other’ as the only way to achieve safety and security in this world.”

He added “There are the majority of American Jews who do not support the war in Iraq and would not support a war in Iran unless it was perceived as being Israel’s only path to self-defense.”

When asked specifically about H. Con. Res. 362, the Rabbi explained, “From our standpoint, the blockade of Iranian oil is a provocative step meant to push Iran into taking counter-steps that would then allow Israel or the U.S. to provide their own people with alleged justification for a larger assault.”

Rabbi Lerner emphasized that “The major forces pushing this are NOT the State of Israel and the American Jewish establishment, but Vice President Cheney and the oil companies whose interests he serves. It is they who worry most about Iran emerging as the dominant force in the Middle East, particularly as the US moves out of Iraq in the years following an Obama election to the presidency.”

“After having fought a war in Iraq so that we could hand over the oil fields to the US oil companies, something that was vigorously denied in the past but in the past few weeks has become the explicit goal of the US puppet regime in Iraq, US oil interests are not willing to see their promised mega profits be threatened by Iran. They imagine that this may be their last moment (that is, from now till Jan. 20, 2009 when the new president takes office) at least for another four or eight years, and so they want to do something that could provoke a larger war that the new president would have to support.”

As it relates to members of Congress, Rabbi Lerner concludes, “The American Jewish Establishment, operating through AIPAC and many other sources, has aligned itself with this crusade of folly, first in Iraq and now in Iran. And, they have been able to call upon many of their supporters in Congress to do likewise.”

Alternatives

Rabbi Lerner does see another option. “We in the Network of Spiritual Progressives call it the “Strategy of Generosity” and we’ve developed a specific manifestation of that when we call for a Global Marshall Plan as the best way for the U.S. and Israel to achieve homeland security.”

They have found that this is the “only plausible alternative to the ‘Strategy of Domination’ and this has been introduced to Congress as House Resolution 1078 two months ago by Congressman Keith Ellison and others.”

Please read more of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s remarks in his OpEdNews post here.

 

A final thought: Those of us who disagree with the course our government has established can blog and comment relentlessly, but without consistent direct action, we won’t veer far from it. As Ray McGovern, CIA analyst turned activist, often says – sometimes you gotta put your body into it.

Telecom Immunity Battle: A Red Herring?

 Red herring: An argument, given in reply, that does not address the original issue. Critically, a red herring is a deliberate attempt to change the subject or divert the argument.

As I sit and wonder if the vote I cast in NJs presidential primary for Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton – actually registered, I am reminded of a senator whose brief run for president actually stood for something. From the outset, Sen. Chris Dodd had little chance of winning his party’s nomination, but something he said in mid-October 2007, grabbed the attention of frustrated Americans nationwide. Regarding President Bush’s “hold my breath ’til I turn blue” insistence that the U.S. Senate grant immunity to telecom companies, Chris Dodd said “Hell no.” Okay, I just made that up – but I’ve been dreaming of members of Congress rising to the floor one by one declaring proudly “Hell no” when faced with the dangerous and self-serving demands of George W. Bush and his cronies.

Actually, what Dodd said last October was a bit more eloquent. He declared, “While the President may think that it’s right to offer immunity to those who break the law and violate the right to privacy of thousands of law-abiding Americans, I want to assure him it is not a value we have in common and I hope the same can be said of my fellow Democrats in the Senate. For too long we have failed to respect the rule of law and failed to protect our fundamental civil liberties. I will do what I can to see to it that no telecommunications giant that was complicit in this Administration’s assault on the Constitution is given a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
To that, I said “Hell yes.” When the senator threatened a filibuster, I even dropped some green in the bucket to ‘encourage his courage.’ When asked for another contribution so the good senator could continue to carry this message, I put on the brakes – for two reasons. First, I don’t subscribe to a coin-operated style of doing the people’s business. Secondly, while Dodd argued against giving the telecoms a “get-out-of-jail-free card,” he had already pressed one into the palms of both Bush and Cheney when he declared, “Impeachment proceedings suck all of the oxygen out of the room.” Nevertheless, Chris Dodd stayed true to his commitment to fight telecom immunity and for that I am grateful.

The battle wages on in the Senate. When I watch these proceedings I think about how they…well… suck all of the oxygen out of the room. How can I say this about an issue as important as our constitutional right to privacy and one in which I regularly contact my senators? Because, clearly the air is very thin in those rooms. Why is so much time and effort being spent on arguing about immunizing phone companies when enough evidence exists to bring the Bush administration to account for their role in those same crimes? True, the telecoms were greedy and/or spineless players, but in the end they were no more than pawns to the dastardly duo that are the president and vice president.

Still, the American people have a right to recourse and we must continue to demand that the telecoms not be dipped in the same accountability repellant that coat both Bush and Cheney. Clue to Congress: It’s water-soluble. Simply wet them down with Watergate-like impeachment hearings and you will easily strip them of their overreaching powers. Question for Congress: Have you forgotten your history? The second article of impeachment against Richard M. Nixon was for electronic surveillance he claimed was critical to national security.

Some will tell you that granting immunity to the telecoms will destroy our chances to learn what Bush and company were up to with their domestic surveillance. A letter recently addressed to Democracy for America (DFA) members penned by Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com goes like this: “Dear DFA member, Today is a genuine opportunity – the first in a long time – for Senate Democrats to take a meaningful stand against the lawlessness of the Bush administration. If telecom amnesty were granted, it would result in the immediate dismissal of numerous lawsuits against the telecoms, thus extinguishing the only remaining means for discovering what our Government really was doing over the last seven years as it illegally spied on our telephone conversations and emails.”Really? The only remaining means? This coming from an authority on constitutional law?

Here’s an idea. Subpoena the phone companies so they can discuss their role in illegal wiretapping in the confines of an impeachment hearing. You can shed light on their activities and indict the Bush administration all in one shot.DFA has been sending out a lot of emails lately. Democracy for America is a political action committee committed to “rebuilding” the Democratic Party from the bottom up. It is led by Jim Dean, brother of Howard, former presidential hopeful and chair of the DNC. In addition to their usual activity of garnering support for progressive Democratic candidates, DFA has suddenly become a very vocal opponent of telecom immunity.
A recent message from Jim Dean stresses the importance of fighting immunity. Like Glenn Greenwald, Dean tells members “[immunity] means we may never know the full extent of the administration’s illegal domestic spying programs.”That’s funny, because in my circles the administration’s involvement is common knowledge. Perhaps it’s because…They admitted to it! Constitutionally minded people around the country eagerly awaited for Congress to act on this discovery after the New York Times belatedly published the story in December 2005. And act they did – by granting the Bush cabal new and improved powers – temporarily of course…right?

Immediately following the NY Times disclosure, Bush fessed up. In a December 17, 2005 radio address, he explained that yeah, he did it and it was all to protect you and me. Not only that, he explained he had “reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks,” and that he would do so “for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups.” Bush claimed that these actions were “consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution.” Why? Because as President, he authorized it. Later, we would learn that domestic spying was initiated not as a direct response to the attacks on 9/11, but shortly after Bush was sworn in as President.

Last week on Rush Limbaugh’s show, Dick Cheney confirmed the telecom involvement by stating “retroactive liability protection for the companies that have worked with us and helped us prevent further attacks against the United States.”Yet there never seems to be enough evidence for our United States Congress to take definitive action that involves accountability. For that matter, there are many “progressive” groups that have been unwilling to utter the word impeachment.Jim Dean of DFA has remained virtually silent on the issue of impeachment perhaps following the lead of big bro, Howard, who when asked about impeachment remarked “We don’t play gotcha politics.”

Impeachment is mentioned six times in the Constitution. Which article and section is entitled “Gotcha politics?”Jim Dean though, offers us a solution beyond pressuring our senators. “What can you do?” he asks. “If you have a cell phone from Verizon or AT&T, you can keep on sending them your money and supporting them – and President Bush – in their cover-up. Or you can join DFA Wireless – DFA Wireless is powered by CREDO Mobile and 10% of your monthly charges can be directed to support DFA.”

DFA invited Michael Kieschnick, president of CREDO Mobile to use DFAs list to ask members to “support a company that opposes – rather than enables – the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping.” He too warns that “Retroactive immunity would prevent us from finding out what the Bush administration asked these companies to do and who asked them to act outside of the law.”

CREDO, a division of Working Assets has, over the last 20 years, donated more than $50 million dollars to progressive non-profits including the ACLU and Amnesty International. More recently, they have directed some funds to Iraq Veterans Against the War and the Center for Constitutional Rights – two of my personal favorites. As I sifted through numerous anti-immunity emails from DFA including personal messages from Jim Dean, Glenn Greenwald, Michael Kieschnick and Caroline Frederickson (director ACLU Washington Legislative Office), I realized there was something missing. While all these emails mention telecom giants AT&T and Verizon as privacy offenders, a third, Sprint Nextel is consistently left out of the discussion despite pending litigation.

From a February 5, 2006 USA TODAY article, Leslie Cauley reports that “The National Security Agency has secured the cooperation of large telecommunications companies including AT&T, MCI [now Verizon] and Sprint, in its efforts to eavesdrop without warrant…”Last November, Ellen Nakashimo of the Washington Post wrote, “The immunity provision sought by the White House would wipe out about 40 lawsuits that accuse AT&T, Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel of invading American’s privacy and constitutional rights by assisting the government in domestic surveillance without a warrant.”

Surprisingly, despite the lack of oxygen in my office as a result of my preoccupation with impeachment, I found myself picking up the phone and dialing CREDO Mobile. Feeling a little light-headed, of course, I asked haltingly “What network powers CREDO Mobile?” A friendly voice chirped, “Sprint, it’s very reliable.”

I learned that CREDO “rents” the service from Sprint. When I commented that CREDO/Working Assets serves then as a middleman with some of the money still ending up in the hands of alleged privacy offender Sprint, I was told I would have to email any other questions, but that I would receive a response within 24 hours. 25…36…40 hours and counting. I’m not holding my breath.

Okay, so CREDO is powered by Sprint. It’s gotta be powered somehow I guess. But, given the nature of the emails from DFA and CREDO with regards to telecom immunity, full disclosure would have been appropriate. Something else to keep in mind should you choose to go this route, while your personal information and phone records will not be going to the NSA without a warrant, your customer information will be going to another federal agency. Remember how 10% of your monthly cell phone charges can go to Democracy for America? Those transactions are considered individual political contributions. As a result, when subscribers sign up for DFA Wireless, their personal information is captured so it can be accurately reported to the Federal Election Commission as a political contribution.

While not-for-profit groups like DFA, the ACLU and MoveOn team up with the for-profit Congress to convince us they want to hold the Bush administration accountable, I have to ask what does accountability look like to these people? While they are all quick to point out the transgressions of the administration, their solution has been to wait them out and hope for better in 2009. Do I want to donate 10% of anything to that cause? Hell no.

Hey Chris, Jim, Glenn, Michael and Caroline, members of Congress: Please, do us all a favor. Stop the distractions. Join us in the call for impeachment. I’ll donate the oxygen masks.

Nancy’s Choice: Affleck or Nirenberg

Citizen John Nirenberg, awakened from his political slumber by the Bush administration’s assaults on the Constitution and frustrated by the inaction of Congress, made a choice. John decided to pay a visit to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. His mode of transportation? A pair of 60-year-old feet. His path? Route 1 from Faneuil Hall in Boston to Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Actor Ben Affleck was on a mission too. Ben traveled to Capitol Hill to do some research for his new role in the upcoming movie, “State of Play.” Ben will play a congressman whose mistress is murdered. Naturally, he decided to visit House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Ben’s mode of transportation?  I’ll leave that up to the reader’s imagination.

John, during the course of his 500 mile walk, wanted to be sure that Nancy knew to expect him. He sent a letter on December 15 explaining the reasons for his journey and kindly requesting a meeting upon his arrival. He also phoned, emailed and sent a certified letter. He did so rather frequently. Frequently enough that he soon came to know the staffers by name.

One can only imagine how Ben expressed his intent to meet with Nancy. Perhaps a call from his publicist?

John, while on his trek, was met with cheers and encouragement by locals in the cities and towns he passed through including this writer in the birthplace of the Constitution, Philadelphia, PA as described in the article,  Keeping the Republic . He also met with bad weather, blisters, an injured ankle and aching knees.

Ben was met with adoring fans and those pesky autograph seekers as described in the Indo-Asian News Service.

Sadly, John never received confirmation from the Speaker’s office regarding a meeting. But, he soldiered on with the help of David Swanson of AfterDowningStreet.org who is no stranger to Pelosi’s office. On Wednesday, they arrived at the Cannon House Office Building where Nancy’s district office is housed. Alas, Nancy wasn’t there. Instead, she was very, very busy at her Speaker’s office at the U.S. Capitol with no chance for John to gain access. They would have to settle for a staffer who would never arrive. You can read David’s delightful depiction of their zany adventures in the district office here . This meeting was important to John because our government now condones torture and wars of aggression, has restricted the right to habeas corpus, is threatening preemptive military action against yet another country and has a President and Vice President who have declared themselves to be above the law.

Thank goodness for Ben that Nancy chose him. Yes, Ben was able to meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday. His adventures are reported here  by Washington Post writer, Mary Ann Akers. According to Mary Ann, “Among the lucky ladies who got to chat with Affleck was none other than House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”  Mary Ann goes on to describe how even though Nancy and Ben have met before, she never hosted him in her office! How exciting for both of them. Apparently, this meeting was important to Ben because the makers of the “State of Play” want to recreate the Speaker’s Lobby for the film. Who knew Ben was not only an actor, but a set designer as well?

John, as described in his blog sat in a “small, spare, cramped, ugly green space with virtually no decorations, no photos, and few senior staff.”

Ben, according to Mary Ann “commented that of all the offices he visited, none were as nice as the Speaker’s, which has a palatial balcony and grand view of the National Mall.” John holds out hope that one day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will stop obstructing impeachment hearings and that the Constitution will be restored and protected.

Ben holds out hope that he won’t have another box office flop and maybe, just maybe, he’ll receive the coveted gold statue. Who knows? He might just  thank Nancy Pelosi in his acceptance speech!

Update: John reports “OMG, Speaker Pelosi’s Office Called!


John Nirenberg at the National Constitution Center (Photo: Cheryl Biren-Wright)