Wednesday, September 09, 2015

EXTRA: What Do You Do When A Trusted Politician Votes Wrong On Something As Important As The Iran Nuclear Deal?


I had a very painful call last night from one of my favorite congressmen, die-hard, serious, thoughtful progressive Ted Lieu (CA-33-- Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Venice). It was a tough decision, he told me, but he had decided to vote against the Iran deal. I know what kind of response he's going to get from his base. I was certain he was going to vote for it, so I wasn't prepared for his decision. He sent me a heartfelt 24-page statement that he released to his constituents today.

His district has a lot of Jewish voters, on both sides of the issue, and a lot of Iranian voters, also on both sides of the issue. He told me he worked hard to hear what all the concerns were on both sides and from anyone with a strong feeling about the Iran deal. I'm going to reproduce some of the passages from from a statement that started with: "Whether to support or oppose the JCPOA is a close call. Both supporters and opponents need to tone down the extreme rhetoric-- we are all on the same team."

If you watched the Cheney video last night (embedded again below), it's hard to imagine being on the same team as he is or the same team that the other warmongers who want so very, very much to push us into a war with Iran. Apparently, I failed to persuade Ted that that is some kind of a reality. "Based on my due diligence," he continued, "one fact is clear: those who are certain the JCPOA is a good deal, or certain the JCPOA is a bad deal, are misguided in their certainty."
The truth is that we will not know for years whether the JCPOA-- which is a very complex document-- is a good deal, a bad deal, or something in between. This is because the JCPOA has both significant strengths and significant weaknesses, it changes dramatically over time, and its ultimate success or failure will depend on the future behavior of Iran, the E3/EU+3, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the countries in the Middle East. Scholars have noted this issue is a "close call... Based on the totality of information I have considered, I will be opposing the JCPOA because I believe it is more likely than not that the JCPOA will turn out to be a bad deal.
He goes on to say:
It is with a heavy heart that I come to this conclusion because the JCPOA has significant strengths. I commend the Administration for rolling back Iran’s nuclear breakout time from approximately two or three months to approximately one year at the implementation date of the JCPOA. I also commend the Administration for negotiating snapback sanctions that can be imposed unilaterally if Iran were to cheat. Those are major accomplishments.

There is also a high cost, which is that Iran-- instead of getting gradual sanctions relief based on performance over time-- will instead receive a massive, upfront cash infusion of somewhere between $50 billion and $100 billion that the regime can spend to further its funding of terrorist networks and brutal proxy regimes. The regime will also receive hundreds of billions of dollars more over the course of the JCPOA that otherwise would have been frozen under sanctions.

Nevertheless, if this was the basic contour of the deal-- that we roll back Iran’s nuclear program to a one-year breakout time in exchange for sanctions relief with snapback sanctions as an enforcement mechanism-- I would vote yes on the deal. Unfortunately, this is not the entirety of the deal. The rollback of Iran’s nuclear program under the JCPOA is temporary. After 8.5 years, Iran’s nuclear breakout time starts coming back down, and after year 15 the nuclear breakout time diminishes to just a few weeks or near zero. In addition, the snapback sanctions expire after year 10.

I would, however, even vote yes on a deal with temporary provisions if the relative status of Iran and the United States were roughly the same after the provisions expired. Unfortunately, that is not the deal either. Instead, as a direct result of following the JCPOA, Iran will likely be (1) far stronger than it is today in terms of both its military and economy, (2) at a very short breakout time not just for one nuclear weapon, but many nuclear weapons and (3) capable of delivering nuclear weapons long range, potentially onto our homeland.

Another way of looking at this issue is the following: Should the US agree to a deal that gives Iran massive and continuing sanctions relief but has no restrictions on the number or type of centrifuges that Iran can spin, no snapback sanctions, no arms embargo, and no ballistic missile ban? That’s what this deal looks like after year 10.

By lifting the arms embargo in year five and the ballistic missile ban in year eight, the deal allows Iran to significantly build up its military, export more terror, and acquire or develop advanced ballistic missile technology. The JCPOA also allows Iran, when the nuclear rollback provisions expire, to have a vast nuclear infrastructure. Iran can legally spin an unlimited number of advanced centrifuges and stockpile an unlimited amount of enriched uranium. The situation caused by the JCPOA likely increases the chances of war and conflict, both in the short term and long term, and could fuel an arms race in a volatile region of the world.

Avoiding war has always been one of my two central guiding principles, with the other principle the protection of US national security. That’s why I opposed the Administration’s request for an AUMF to send ground troops to the Middle East; voted for an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act offered by Representatives Barbara Lee, Jim McGovern, and Walter Jones to withdraw US forces from Iraq and Syria; and opposed the Administration’s airstrikes in Syria.

After considerable thought and study, I have concluded the JCPOA increases the chances of more regional conflict and US entanglement in the Middle East in the short term, and a lengthy, difficult and more deadly war with Iran in the long term. Specifically, my predictions are that the JCPOA will likely result in at least the following three consequences:
In the short-term (years 1 to 4), regional wars and conflict will likely increase because Iran will use part of the upfront infusion of $50 to $100 billion to fund terrorist networks and violent proxy regimes in a volatile region of the world during a particularly volatile time. This will fuel an even larger arms race in the Middle East and cause Iran’s enemies to retaliate. Our allies in the Middle East have already asked the US to provide more assistance, which could increase American entanglement in the Middle East. Keep in mind the US is currently bombing in Syria (which I oppose); has ground troops in Iraq (which I oppose); and is helping Saudi Arabia bomb Yemen (which I oppose).

In the medium term (years 5 to 8), regional wars and conflict could get even more lethal. Iran can considerably build up its military-- including ground, air and missile capabilities-- because the deal specifically lifts both the arms embargo in year five and the ballistic missile ban in year eight. (The surprise lifting of these two arms control provisions makes the JCPOA weaker than the framework announced at Lausanne). Iran can also seek to provide advanced conventional weapons and missiles to its terrorist networks and proxy regimes. Moreover, Iran can more easily acquire technology that will allow it to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

In the long term (years 8.5 to 15+), the chances increase of a more protracted, difficult, and deadlier war. That’s because Iran’s nuclear breakout time goes down to a few weeks or near zero not just for one nuclear weapon, but rather for many nuclear weapons along with the potential ability to deliver those weapons onto American soil with intercontinental ballistic missiles. With Iran building up its military and snapback sanctions expiring, options to the American president become more limited. If Iran were to race to build nuclear weapons when the JCPOA’s nuclear rollback provisions expire, the US might not be able to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities with just airstrikes. The JCPOA thus exposes America to a grave, potentially existential threat that would be unlikely to occur but for this deal.
The above consequences occur if Iran complies with the JCPOA. Opponents of the agreement have raised many issues related to what happens if Iran does not comply or cheats, since Iran has previously violated numerous international agreements.

Opponents are concerned about a number of verification and compliance issues, including: the lack of anytime, anywhere inspections at suspected sites; the confidential agreement-- which I and other Members of Congress are not allowed to see-- between the IAEA and Iran on inspections at the Parchin facility; the all-or-nothing nature of the snapback sanctions mechanism that make it difficult to use; and the difficulty of verifying what a closed regime may be hiding in a country that is larger than Germany, France, and Spain combined.

I do not address the above verification and compliance issues because it would not change my vote. I oppose the JCPOA based on my analysis of the existential consequences to the US if Iran simply followed the JCPOA for fifteen years. If Iran were to cheat, then the potential existential threat to America would occur sooner.

I also freely admit that my predictions could be wrong. And if the JCPOA is put into effect, I hope I am wrong. I note, however, that the arms race and more US entanglement in the Middle East are already starting to happen, and the long term problems I identified have also been recognized by others in the foreign policy establishment.

For example, Dennis Ross and David Petraeus, both of whom served in the Obama Administration, wrote “[T]he deal places no limits on how much the Iranians can build or expand their nuclear infrastructure after 15 years. Even the monitoring provisions that would continue beyond 15 years may prove insufficient as the Iranian nuclear program grows. And Iran’s ability to dramatically increase its output of enriched material after year 15 would be significant, as Iran deploys five advanced models of centrifuges starting in year 10 of the agreement.”
Ted then discusses how he arrived at his conclusions and his decision. You can find the rest of it on his official website. Thursday evening (6PM) there will be a candlelight vigil at the Westwood Federal Building (Wilshire and Sepulveda) sponsored by MoveOn, Peace Action, PDA, CodePink and other groups that have been allies of Ted's in the past. Still officially undecded among L.A. Congressmembers: Janice Hahn, Tony Cardenas and Xavier Becerra (came out and backed the deal just now), all of whom have higher political aspirations. Let's all calm down and watch this video again and remember... peace is better than war and the other party is the war party, not the Democrats:

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At 9:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wish I could imagine that Lieu's is merely a defection. But like so many elected officials, he's definitely long since downed the neocon Kool-Aid if these thoughts are still muscling their way unchallenged around his propagandized mind: "...between $50 billion and $100 billion that the regime can spend to further its funding of terrorist networks and brutal proxy regimes."

Neocons are so impatient and have so little impulse control. Don't they realize that what the Iran agreement ultimately does is give the U.S. and its major allies (Britain, Israel, and the Gulf States) the extra years they need to organize the future crushing of Iran militarily, including and especially the strategies, logistics, and weaponry needed to significantly dampen the inevitable Iranian retaliation for the destruction that will be rained down on it if it violates the agreement in even any minor way - or when the U.S. and friends lie about such as was done in Iraq.

Hopefully, the agreement will work as it is supposed to, and all parties mellow and come together in peace and prosperity. And I fervently hope, pray, and wish for that to happen. And I'm extremely relieved that the agreement likely will survive the congressional challenge. But realistically, given the West's apparent permanent violent encroachment on that part of the world, peace and prosperity for all doesn't seem like a realistic proposition. Still, I'm hoping wildly for such.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Bula said...

If he won't support it, I hope that is a decision of conscience and not undue pressure from special interests.

But voting against it is different.

Just abstain... and not vote AGAINST your party and President.

Remember, you are voting WITH the Republicans at that point.

At 11:06 AM, Blogger winograd4congress said...

As a constituent of Rep. Lieu's, I am sorely disappointed in his decision, however rationalized, to reject diplomacy and accede to the wishes of those who have no interest in peace, having long campaigned to bomb Iran's reactors -- action that would surely lead to regional if not world war with untold carnage. It is sad day when a legislator who takes progressive stands on many issues rejects the most rigorous UN inspections in history to side with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and neocon politicians who dream of leveling the middle east. I ask that Rep. Lieu, a personable man, at the very least end his AIPAC-sponsored junkets to Israel and cut his staff ties with anyone still associated with that dangerous organization.

At 12:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: winograd4congress comment above:

" ... end his AIPAC-sponsored junkets to Israel ..."

Well that explains it much more quickly and credibly than a 24-page cover-up.

John Puma

At 9:53 AM, Blogger JaneAnneJ said...

I will never again contribute to a politician who does not vote for the Iran Deal. I live in America, not Israel, and I want a two state solution. The money that goes to Iran is IRAN'S OWN MONEY. I have Israeli friends and Iranian friends. They all want the Iran Deal. It's a PEACE DECISION.

At 5:08 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

I can not support Lieu again, as I did last election through Blue America. Is it too early to start recruiting an actual anti-war progressive NOT in AIPAC's pocket to primary him?

At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's actually *in the military*.
And just disrespected the President,
his Commander in Chief. Very interesting.


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