BETWEEN TRUMP, BREXIT, AND PUTIN – WILL THE WEST MAINTAIN ITS UNITY AND SECURITY?
Harry C. Blaney III
In the last post I tried to empathize that our key focus now should be that “there is a lesson to all of us who worry about the direction that humanity is moving and not less what direction America will go in the future.” Recent events have already reinforced this concern and need for all of us to recognize the challenges we will be facing in a likely Trump and Putin dominated world. The declarations in the inaugural address and other statements have not changed the judgement that we are in for a very risky era and especially dealing with Russia.
As we move into Trump’s presidency he has, even before being president, created more chaos and disunity and doubt among our dearest allies and friends and given joy to those that wish us ill. He has acted as if his main and only goal is to be a major disputer of our shared international democratic and security framework that has held our common values and security together. Already there is talk that his main strategy is to create chaos and thus increase his control as his management style.
The 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. day “massacre by tweets” from Donald Trump, and his interviews with European publications, has already severely damaged our relationship with our allies. His actions include the degrading of the key institutions upholding decades of peace, security and cooperation in Europe.
These institutions and our promises of collective security and maintaining peace for all are underpinning the essence of global stability and unity. The Atlantic community ties are key and even hinting that we could do away with them and indicating his disdain for the EU and NATO have set in motion confusion among our friends and empowered dark authoritarian forces in Europe.
I believe this was a deliberate act of sabotage of existing key institutions that have kept the peace in Europe and kept America as the respected and undisputed leader among free nations. That confidence no longer exists. In the Trump world of support for the racist and fascists factions in far right parties of Europe the result is we have deeply hurt the shared values on both sides of the Atlantic.
These parties that Trump has praised are themselves calling for disunity, hate for immigrants, adapted extremist views, denounce democracy, and advocate conflict and disunity within Europe and in society. In some nations they have already taken actions contrary to democratic norms, undermine media independence, and the rule of law. Not much difference than the tact Trump increasingly has taken here – witness his attack on the press and opposition leaders like Rep. John Lewis.
The one person who has gained the most from all this disunity is Putin. The gambit for as early summit portends possible decisions which might further undermined security in European and beyond. Europeans wonder if Trump would sell out their security for a “mess of porridge.” This with the background of the consequences of the disastrous Brexit which seems now to run on autopilot, thanks to UK Prime Minister Theresa May who now directs her nation off the cliff of influence in Europe and the world.
Frankly, Trump has done in just one or two days of tweets and interviews with European publications more damage to the security and unity of Europe and of the Atlantic community, than Putin, in decades with all his underhanded efforts to subvert European democracy and unity by promoting far right fascists groups and subverting European media. Either this is from madness, stupidity, or something even more dark and terrible?
Can the damage be undone? The prospects of Trump wanting to be a positive and stable voice in global affairs looks very dismal as it does here at home after the John Lewis debacle. This is demonstrated in his continued desire to undermine our fundamental American values of justice, racial and social tolerance, our need for strong public education which is key to our democracy, the protection of our environment, and not least a strong social and health safety net. These actions at home and those we cited abroad divide rather than unite. They also diminish America’s image among our allies and decent people everywhere.
The only ray of hope was in President Barack Obama’s last press conference, where he indicated his faith in the good judgement and decency of a majority of the American people to persevere and in the end win out against our worst instincts.
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There is much one can learn from the most recent Trump speech on foreign policy. It is still scary and incredulous that there is no real “there there” with any of Trump’s foreign policy perspectives. This is especially true when he is off his text and speaks what is really in his mind at that moment and it leads him to express ideas that are his own unbalanced perceptions of reality and his worst prejudices. Yes they are often crazy and silly and not least dangerous.
The examples of going off tract and into the realm of “extreme” views is exemplified in much of this speech which was billed as a means to show a serious policy side in the foreign affairs sector. Between a few peremptory statements that were written by his so-called foreign affairs “experts” that in large part were often along the lines of our current policies, much of the speech’s content would make the world a less secure and more dangerous in a host to areas.
His statement that he would institute what he called “extreme interrogations” of Muslim immigrants and visitors to America. Once again, along with building a massive “wall” between the US and Mexico, and clear bigotry against Muslims and even deceased American Muslim war heroes, he sees only what the people at the NRA and the KKK see and this is perhaps more destructive to American democracy, its internal unity, and yes our security globally than almost any other external challenge we face abroad.
On the question of dealing with ISIS, Trump adopted much from President Barack Obama’s approach to fighting the so-called Islamic State. Trump’s outrageous perception of “solutions include in his words: “I say that you can defeat ISIS by taking their wealth. Take back the oil. Once you go over and take back that oil they have nothing. You bomb the hell out of them and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in.” Trump also said the United States should have left troops in Iraq to guard oil facilities while the U.S. took all the oil to pay for the war. All of this is clearly absurd, crude unthought through strategy, and also illegal under international law.
What he has not made clear is whether he would send massive troops into the Middle East conflicts?
One lie was his statement was when he said that he has been right about the Middle East from the start. This is not true, old video and audio clips shown on the MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” showed footage against his claim that “I have been an opponent of the Iraq War from the beginning,” as he said in his address at Youngstown State University in Ohio. But The “Morning Joe” video played a clip from Howard Stern’s radio show. At that time he asked Trump if he was for invading Iraq, and Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The same is true when Trump also contradicted himself on the troop withdrawal or draw down in Iraq. He said on August 15th: “I have been just as clear in saying what a catastrophic mistake Hillary Clinton and President Obama made with the reckless way in which they pulled out,” But the record shows he supported pulling out of Iraq in 2007, when he said “You know how they get out? They get out,” Trump told CNN that year. “Declare victory and leave.”
He also prevaricated on Libya. In his speech he said “Libya was stable and President Obama and Hillary Clinton should never have attempted to build a democracy in Libya,” But he also he advocated for deposing Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. In February 2011, Trump also said in a video filmed in his office that “Gaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people. Nobody knows how bad it is. We should go in. We should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick.”
He has been all over the map on the Middle East and time and time again he has change his position but never admitted it that he was wrong. What this shows is his clear lack of analysis, willing to face hard facts on the ground, and unwilling to accept being wrong. That is dangerous for a president and for our nation’s effective leadership in the world.
Trump repeated his previous policy to continue the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and even fill it with new detainees. He hinted at including, possibly some U.S. citizens. This facility is one of the great weapons that terrorists point to of the evil of America and a recruiting tool for ISIS. Trump does not even acknowledge this and seems to think that water boarding, torture, and mass bombing including killing of civilians is the way to conduct an effective policy in the Middle East. Even worse he has hinted at using atomic weapons. The Obama administration is trying to close Guantanamo via sending current detainees abroad, which he did recently with 15 individuals, and more are planned. But the easy and right answer is to send them to American maximum security prisons and bring them under US laws.
His stands on climate change, NATO’s unity and that of EU, the Iran deal, trade, and dealing with Russia, and on many other issues are the among the most dangerous for a viable and peaceful world and US national security.
In sum, the time has come, given Trump’s own words over time and especially now, for a true deep serious analysis of what Trump might do to American respect and security and indeed just rationality in our vital foreign and national security area.
Some in the media have done this, but in the vast conservative Republican owned mainline media and right wing radio talking heads have done little to challenge Trump’s lies and clearly deranged and unnecessary aggressive statements that have frightened our allies and embolden our adversaries. It is a high risk world where idiocy is our greatest danger. Indeed, we need more debate and even more serious examination in the media of the full range of global challenges and of what our own corrosive politics has done to our global position. Time has come for more public questioning and more attention to the implications of Trump’s policies if we are to achieve a sane and safe world.
The final decision still awaits in the Paris Climate change outcome. The now revised shorter text of the agreement is being negotiated on Friday and Saturday and perhaps beyond. Still we see mutual recriminations both at home and globally from all sides. Having started down the road for agreement it seems that most key powers recognize the problem and are working to put together a final document that will hopefully move us all forward towards a cleaner safer and livable world. But problems abound.
The initial release of the draft COP21 climate agreement text was criticized by environmental groups as not going far enough, especially on the side of shutting down carbon based energy sources by 2050 and not providing enough funding to do all that needs to be done. A new shorter draft text has been issued which many think still leaves key issues unresolved.
There has appeared to be many objections by a wide range of nations to the draft text. India and Malaysia want a stronger text including more resources from the richer nations. Advanced richer nations want the text to apply to everyone as the best way to deal with the climate crisis.
As we have noted, the stumbling blocks towards the last days of the conference are appearing. China especially, has a wide range of objections to the existing text including not wanting to accept a “review every five years of the pledges of action to reduce carbon emissions and to reassess the target of no more than a 2 degrees Celsius increase in temperatures.” The Chinese representative said Beijing would not be able to change its climate plans for at least another 25 years.
Many other countries have agreed, including developed and developing to reviewing the targets. The Chinese representative was against trying to look at a possible goal of a rise of just 1.5C and said it was not something that is realistic. China opposed the measure in the agreement to broaden the base of nations delivering money to help poorer countries fight climate change. The 1.5C was also opposed by Saudi Arabia in another spanner in the negotiations.
On the other side Island nations and others said without the 1.5C limit they will cease to exist. This hoped for goal is supported by a wide groups of developing nations and Europeans to deal with the climate crisis. The real problem is that even with the pledges on the table now it will be hard to meet the goal of keeping temperatures well below even the 2 degree C target. The bottom line seems that more, much more will be needed now or in the near future if the science is right on emissions and means to limit them.
This new test was issued after intense overnight negotiations Wednesday, and the Conference is going into at least Saturday or Sunday. It would be a wonder if even that extension would be met unless major compromises were found. Island nations were especially asking for yet stronger language. The reality is likely that any agreement will likely have some changes but not meet fully what any side desires. The question is does the “imperfect” defeat any agreement that will move towards the needed solutions?
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an $800 million climate pledge by 2020 from the U.S. at the UN climate change conference in Paris on Wednesday. He criticized deniers of global warming, saying: “Make no mistake: If, as a global community, we refuse to rise to this challenge—if we continue to allow calculated obstruction to derail the urgency of this moment—we will be liable for a collective moral failure of historic consequence.” He said also that deniers are “so out of touch with science that they believe rising sea levels don’t matter, because in their view, the extra water will just spill over the sides of a flat Earth.” (See speech here) Kerry came back to the conference to try to bring the sides together
On the other side, the climate deniers, coal, oil and other polluters and Republican supporters of the deniers and industry, already say it goes too far. Environmental groups in Paris believe it is too weak and they have a real case to be made, but these global negotiations are places of hard realities and the real question is are we truly moving forward? No document of this comprehensive and negotiated type, with 195 participant countries, will ever please all sides.
This new draft of 29 pages is down from 49, in which the key top members from the main nations will argue and work out a new, hopefully consensus, draft in the next few days, (or not), that will again not satisfy everyone likely. There are, according to reports, some 100 items where decisions have not been made due to conflicts over objectives or methods. Officials say the key issue is still how to define the obligations of nations developed or developing in addressing climate change.
The conference will in the future either be seen as a major negative catastrophic event for the globe or the starting point for some real progress. It is this text and the commitments that will follow that will prove if the international community – all sides – are in this together and all share a responsibility or we abandon our earth and the avoiding of mass disasters that we can in fact mitigate.
An assessment of the results and future paths and options will be posted after the results are known!
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At this year’s United Nations General Assembly 70th anniversary, President Obama spoke at the Opening Session, filling the room with talk of diplomacy, democracy, and human rights. He did not shy away from addressing controversial topics that involved Russia, China, Iran, and Syria and reminded the world that cooperation over conflict must be recognized, especially in the United States, as a strength rather than a weakness. He was there to elaborate on what the U.N. really stands for by highlighting it in contrast with arguments found today in foreign policy, such as “might makes right,” “that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones,” and “that rights of individuals don’t matter.” President Obama made it very clear in never hesitating to protect our country with top military force, but also stressed the fact that we live in a much more integrated world; we all have a stake in each other’s success, and if the nations there cannot work together more effectively, then all will suffer the consequences. That when tens of thousands of people are slaughtered in one country where an “apocalyptic cult like ISIL” or a torturous dictator like Assad exist, it is no longer a single nation’s security problem, but rather an assault on humanity.
With the chaos and conflict happening in or affecting multiple regions of the world, President Obama took the time to not only call out other world leaders, but also acknowledge and reflect on past mistakes made by the United States and the administration. This in an effort to illustrate what steps are necessary to move forward and ensure such harmful mistakes do not take place again. He spoke of specifics such as the hard lessons learned in Iraq, as one nation cannot impose stability on another, or the fact that the coalition in Libya that took down a tyrant should have done much more to fill the vacuum that left Libya in a civil war with no official government established.
Although President Obama took the time to recognize the work done with partners, including Russia and China, in creating a comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, he did not go without promoting key international law such as Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity that had been violated by Russia. Essentially, President Obama rose to the occasion of speaking out against atrocities, as controversial as they may be, and while never undermining the difficulty of what is required of any call to action, painted a picture of what should and could be done. Such a picture includes working with any nation in resolving the deadly conflict in Syria, and joining with more than 50 countries in a U.N. peacekeeping effort to ensure peace agreements are carried out and civilians are protected from mass killings.
As President Obama ended his speech looking into the future, one must remember that the key elements he spoke of must, by far, surpass his term. The basic ideals of diplomacy, democracy, and human rights are not, and should not, be recognized and associated with only one specific party or specific country, but by all nations, as it is not simply a matter of what is right, but also what is best for the prosperity of any country and region.
Below please see the entire text of President Obama’s speech at the Opening Session of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, or Watch it online!
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentlemen: Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, it is worth reflecting on what, together, the members of this body have helped to achieve.
Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war — by forging alliances with old adversaries; by supporting the steady emergence of strong democracies accountable to their people instead of any foreign power; and by building an international system that imposes a cost on those who choose conflict over cooperation, an order that recognizes the dignity and equal worth of all people.
That is the work of seven decades. That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued. Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals. Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims. But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.
It is this international order that has underwritten unparalleled advances in human liberty and prosperity. It is this collective endeavor that’s brought about diplomatic cooperation between the world’s major powers, and buttressed a global economy that has lifted more than a billion people from poverty. It is these international principles that helped constrain bigger countries from imposing our will on smaller ones, and advanced the emergence of democracy and development and individual liberty on every continent.
This progress is real. It can be documented in lives saved, and agreements forged, and diseases conquered, and in mouths fed. And yet, we come together today knowing that the march of human progress never travels in a straight line, that our work is far from complete; that dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.
Today, we see the collapse of strongmen and fragile states breeding conflict, and driving innocent men, women and children across borders on an *epoch epic scale. Brutal networks of terror have stepped into the vacuum. Technologies that empower individuals are now also exploited by those who spread disinformation, or suppress dissent, or radicalize our youth. Global capital flows have powered growth and investment, but also increased risk of contagion, weakened the bargaining power of workers, and accelerated inequality.
How should we respond to these trends? There are those who argue that the ideals enshrined in the U.N. charter are unachievable or out of date — a legacy of a postwar era not suited to our own. Effectively, they argue for a return to the rules that applied for most of human history and that pre-date this institution: the belief that power is a zero-sum game; that might makes right; that strong states must impose their will on weaker ones; that the rights of individuals don’t matter; and that in a time of rapid change, order must be imposed by force.
On this basis, we see some major powers assert themselves in ways that contravene international law. We see an erosion of the democratic principles and human rights that are fundamental to this institution’s mission; information is strictly controlled, the space for civil society restricted. We’re told that such retrenchment is required to beat back disorder; that it’s the only way to stamp out terrorism, or prevent foreign meddling. In accordance with this logic, we should support tyrants like Bashar al-Assad, who drops barrel bombs to massacre innocent children, because the alternative is surely worse.
The increasing skepticism of our international order can also be found in the most advanced democracies. We see greater polarization, more frequent gridlock; movements on the far right, and sometimes the left, that insist on stopping the trade that binds our fates to other nations, calling for the building of walls to keep out immigrants. Most ominously, we see the fears of ordinary people being exploited through appeals to sectarianism, or tribalism, or racism, or anti-Semitism; appeals to a glorious past before the body politic was infected by those who look different, or worship God differently; a politics of us versus them.
The United States is not immune from this. Even as our economy is growing and our troops have largely returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, we see in our debates about America’s role in the world a notion of strength that is defined by opposition to old enemies, perceived adversaries, a rising China, or a resurgent Russia; a revolutionary Iran, or an Islam that is incompatible with peace. We see an argument made that the only strength that matters for the United States is bellicose words and shows of military force; that cooperation and diplomacy will not work.
As President of the United States, I am mindful of the dangers that we face; they cross my desk every morning. I lead the strongest military that the world has ever known, and I will never hesitate to protect my country or our allies, unilaterally and by force where necessary.
But I stand before you today believing in my core that we, the nations of the world, cannot return to the old ways of conflict and coercion. We cannot look backwards. We live in an integrated world — one in which we all have a stake in each other’s success. We cannot turn those forces of integration. No nation in this Assembly can insulate itself from the threat of terrorism, or the risk of financial contagion; the flow of migrants, or the danger of a warming planet. The disorder we see is not driven solely by competition between nations or any single ideology. And if we cannot work together more effectively, we will all suffer the consequences. That is true for the United States, as well.
No matter how powerful our military, how strong our economy, we understand the United States cannot solve the world’s problems alone. In Iraq, the United States learned the hard lesson that even hundreds of thousands of brave, effective troops, trillions of dollars from our Treasury, cannot by itself impose stability on a foreign land. Unless we work with other nations under the mantle of international norms and principles and law that offer legitimacy to our efforts, we will not succeed. And unless we work together to defeat the ideas that drive different communities in a country like Iraq into conflict, any order that our militaries can impose will be temporary.
Just as force alone cannot impose order internationally, I believe in my core that repression cannot forge the social cohesion for nations to succeed. The history of the last two decades proves that in today’s world, dictatorships are unstable. The strongmen of today become the spark of revolution tomorrow. You can jail your opponents, but you can’t imprison ideas. You can try to control access to information, but you cannot turn a lie into truth. It is not a conspiracy of U.S.-backed NGOs that expose corruption and raise the expectations of people around the globe; it’s technology, social media, and the irreducible desire of people everywhere to make their own choices about how they are governed.
Indeed, I believe that in today’s world, the measure of strength is no longer defined by the control of territory. Lasting prosperity does not come solely from the ability to access and extract raw materials. The strength of nations depends on the success of their people — their knowledge, their innovation, their imagination, their creativity, their drive, their opportunity — and that, in turn, depends upon individual rights and good governance and personal security. Internal repression and foreign aggression are both symptoms of the failure to provide this foundation.
A politics and solidarity that depend on demonizing others, that draws on religious sectarianism or narrow tribalism or jingoism may at times look like strength in the moment, but over time its weakness will be exposed. And history tells us that the dark forces unleashed by this type of politics surely makes all of us less secure. Our world has been there before. We gain nothing from going back.
Instead, I believe that we must go forward in pursuit of our ideals, not abandon them at this critical time. We must give expression to our best hopes, not our deepest fears. This institution was founded because men and women who came before us had the foresight to know that our nations are more secure when we uphold basic laws and basic norms, and pursue a path of cooperation over conflict. And strong nations, above all, have a responsibility to uphold this international order.
Let me give you a concrete example. After I took office, I made clear that one of the principal achievements of this body — the nuclear non-proliferation regime — was endangered by Iran’s violation of the NPT. On that basis, the Security Council tightened sanctions on the Iranian government, and many nations joined us to enforce them. Together, we showed that laws and agreements mean something.
But we also understood that the goal of sanctions was not simply to punish Iran. Our objective was to test whether Iran could change course, accept constraints, and allow the world to verify that its nuclear program will be peaceful. For two years, the United States and our partners — including Russia, including China — stuck together in complex negotiations. The result is a lasting, comprehensive deal that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while allowing it to access peaceful energy. And if this deal is fully implemented, the prohibition on nuclear weapons is strengthened, a potential war is averted, our world is safer. That is the strength of the international system when it works the way it should.
That same fidelity to international order guides our responses to other challenges around the world. Consider Russia’s annexation of Crimea and further aggression in eastern Ukraine. America has few economic interests in Ukraine. We recognize the deep and complex history between Russia and Ukraine. But we cannot stand by when the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a nation is flagrantly violated. If that happens without consequence in Ukraine, it could happen to any nation gathered here today. That’s the basis of the sanctions that the United States and our partners impose on Russia. It’s not a desire to return to a Cold War.
Now, within Russia, state-controlled media may describe these events as an example of a resurgent Russia — a view shared, by the way, by a number of U.S. politicians and commentators who have always been deeply skeptical of Russia, and seem to be convinced a new Cold War is, in fact, upon us. And yet, look at the results. The Ukrainian people are more interested than ever in aligning with Europe instead of Russia. Sanctions have led to capital flight, a contracting economy, a fallen ruble, and the emigration of more educated Russians.
Imagine if, instead, Russia had engaged in true diplomacy, and worked with Ukraine and the international community to ensure its interests were protected. That would be better for Ukraine, but also better for Russia, and better for the world — which is why we continue to press for this crisis to be resolved in a way that allows a sovereign and democratic Ukraine to determine its future and control its territory. Not because we want to isolate Russia — we don’t — but because we want a strong Russia that’s invested in working with us to strengthen the international system as a whole.
Similarly, in the South China Sea, the United States makes no claim on territory there. We don’t adjudicate claims. But like every nation gathered here, we have an interest in upholding the basic principles of freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce, and in resolving disputes through international law, not the law of force. So we will defend these principles, while encouraging China and other claimants to resolve their differences peacefully.
I say this, recognizing that diplomacy is hard; that the outcomes are sometimes unsatisfying; that it’s rarely politically popular. But I believe that leaders of large nations, in particular, have an obligation to take these risks — precisely because we are strong enough to protect our interests if, and when, diplomacy fails.
I also believe that to move forward in this new era, we have to be strong enough to acknowledge when what you’re doing is not working. For 50 years, the United States pursued a Cuba policy that failed to improve the lives of the Cuban people. We changed that. We continue to have differences with the Cuban government. We will continue to stand up for human rights. But we address these issues through diplomatic relations, and increased commerce, and people-to-people ties. As these contacts yield progress, I’m confident that our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore. (Applause.) Change won’t come overnight to Cuba, but I’m confident that openness, not coercion, will support the reforms and better the life the Cuban people deserve, just as I believe that Cuba will find its success if it pursues cooperation with other nations.
Now, if it’s in the interest of major powers to uphold international standards, it is even more true for the rest of the community of nations. Look around the world. From Singapore to Colombia to Senegal, the facts shows that nations succeed when they pursue an inclusive peace and prosperity within their borders, and work cooperatively with countries beyond their borders.
That path is now available to a nation like Iran, which, as of this moment, continues to deploy violent proxies to advance its interests. These efforts may appear to give Iran leverage in disputes with neighbors, but they fuel sectarian conflict that endangers the entire region, and isolates Iran from the promise of trade and commerce. The Iranian people have a proud history, and are filled with extraordinary potential. But chanting “Death to America” does not create jobs, or make Iran more secure. If Iran chose a different path, that would be good for the security of the region, good for the Iranian people, and good for the world.
Of course, around the globe, we will continue to be confronted with nations who reject these lessons of history, places where civil strife, border disputes, and sectarian wars bring about terrorist enclaves and humanitarian disasters. Where order has completely broken down, we must act, but we will be stronger when we act together.
In such efforts, the United States will always do our part. We will do so mindful of the lessons of the past — not just the lessons of Iraq, but also the example of Libya, where we joined an international coalition under a U.N. mandate to prevent a slaughter. Even as we helped the Libyan people bring an end to the reign of a tyrant, our coalition could have and should have done more to fill a vacuum left behind. We’re grateful to the United Nations for its efforts to forge a unity government. We will help any legitimate Libyan government as it works to bring the country together. But we also have to recognize that we must work more effectively in the future, as an international community, to build capacity for states that are in distress, before they collapse.
And that’s why we should celebrate the fact that later today the United States will join with more than 50 countries to enlist new capabilities — infantry, intelligence, helicopters, hospitals, and tens of thousands of troops — to strengthen United Nations peacekeeping. (Applause.) These new capabilities can prevent mass killing, and ensure that peace agreements are more than words on paper. But we have to do it together. Together, we must strengthen our collective capacity to establish security where order has broken down, and to support those who seek a just and lasting peace.
Nowhere is our commitment to international order more tested than in Syria. When a dictator slaughters tens of thousands of his own people, that is not just a matter of one nation’s internal affairs — it breeds human suffering on an order of magnitude that affects us all. Likewise, when a terrorist group beheads captives, slaughters the innocent and enslaves women, that’s not a single nation’s national security problem — that is an assault on all humanity.
I’ve said before and I will repeat: There is no room for accommodating an apocalyptic cult like ISIL, and the United States makes no apologies for using our military, as part of a broad coalition, to go after them. We do so with a determination to ensure that there will never be a safe haven for terrorists who carry out these crimes. And we have demonstrated over more than a decade of relentless pursuit of al Qaeda, we will not be outlasted by extremists.
But while military power is necessary, it is not sufficient to resolve the situation in Syria. Lasting stability can only take hold when the people of Syria forge an agreement to live together peacefully. The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict. But we must recognize that there cannot be, after so much bloodshed, so much carnage, a return to the pre-war status quo.
Let’s remember how this started. Assad reacted to peaceful protests by escalating repression and killing that, in turn, created the environment for the current strife. And so Assad and his allies cannot simply pacify the broad majority of a population who have been brutalized by chemical weapons and indiscriminate bombing. Yes, realism dictates that compromise will be required to end the fighting and ultimately stamp out ISIL. But realism also requires a managed transition away from Assad and to a new leader, and an inclusive government that recognizes there must be an end to this chaos so that the Syrian people can begin to rebuild.
We know that ISIL — which emerged out of the chaos of Iraq and Syria — depends on perpetual war to survive. But we also know that they gain adherents because of a poisonous ideology. So part of our job, together, is to work to reject such extremism that infects too many of our young people. Part of that effort must be a continued rejection by Muslims of those who distort Islam to preach intolerance and promote violence, and it must also a rejection by non-Muslims of the ignorance that equates Islam with terror. (Applause.)
This work will take time. There are no easy answers to Syria. And there are no simple answers to the changes that are taking place in much of the Middle East and North Africa. But so many families need help right now; they don’t have time. And that’s why the United States is increasing the number of refugees who we welcome within our borders. That’s why we will continue to be the largest donor of assistance to support those refugees. And today we are launching new efforts to ensure that our people and our businesses, our universities and our NGOs can help as well — because in the faces of suffering families, our nation of immigrants sees ourselves.
Of course, in the old ways of thinking, the plight of the powerless, the plight of refugees, the plight of the marginalized did not matter. They were on the periphery of the world’s concerns. Today, our concern for them is driven not just by conscience, but should also be drive by self-interest. For helping people who have been pushed to the margins of our world is not mere charity, it is a matter of collective security. And the purpose of this institution is not merely to avoid conflict, it is to galvanize the collective action that makes life better on this planet.
The commitments we’ve made to the Sustainable Development Goals speak to this truth. I believe that capitalism has been the greatest creator of wealth and opportunity that the world has ever known. But from big cities to rural villages around the world, we also know that prosperity is still cruelly out of reach for too many. As His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us, we are stronger when we value the least among these, and see them as equal in dignity to ourselves and our sons and our daughters.
We can roll back preventable disease and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS. We can stamp out pandemics that recognize no borders. That work may not be on television right now, but as we demonstrated in reversing the spread of Ebola, it can save more lives than anything else we can do.
Together, we can eradicate extreme poverty and erase barriers to opportunity. But this requires a sustained commitment to our people — so farmers can feed more people; so entrepreneurs can start a business without paying a bribe; so young people have the skills they need to succeed in this modern, knowledge-based economy.
We can promote growth through trade that meets a higher standard. And that’s what we’re doing through the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade agreement that encompasses nearly 40 percent of the global economy; an agreement that will open markets, while protecting the rights of workers and protecting the environment that enables development to be sustained.
We can roll back the pollution that we put in our skies, and help economies lift people out of poverty without condemning our children to the ravages of an ever-warming climate. The same ingenuity that produced the Industrial Age and the Computer Age allows us to harness the potential of clean energy. No country can escape the ravages of climate change. And there is no stronger sign of leadership than putting future generations first. The United States will work with every nation that is willing to do its part so that we can come together in Paris to decisively confront this challenge.
And finally, our vision for the future of this Assembly, my belief in moving forward rather than backwards, requires us to defend the democratic principles that allow societies to succeed. Let me start from a simple premise: Catastrophes, like what we are seeing in Syria, do not take place in countries where there is genuine democracy and respect for the universal values this institution is supposed to defend. (Applause.)
I recognize that democracy is going to take different forms in different parts of the world. The very idea of a people governing themselves depends upon government giving expression to their unique culture, their unique history, their unique experiences. But some universal truths are self-evident. No person wants to be imprisoned for peaceful worship. No woman should ever be abused with impunity, or a girl barred from going to school. The freedom to peacefully petition those in power without fear of arbitrary laws — these are not ideas of one country or one culture. They are fundamental to human progress. They are a cornerstone of this institution.
I realize that in many parts of the world there is a different view — a belief that strong leadership must tolerate no dissent. I hear it not only from America’s adversaries, but privately at least I also hear it from some of our friends. I disagree. I believe a government that suppresses peaceful dissent is not showing strength; it is showing weakness and it is showing fear. (Applause.) History shows that regimes who fear their own people will eventually crumble, but strong institutions built on the consent of the governed endure long after any one individual is gone.
That’s why our strongest leaders — from George Washington to Nelson Mandela — have elevated the importance of building strong, democratic institutions over a thirst for perpetual power. Leaders who amend constitutions to stay in office only acknowledge that they failed to build a successful country for their people — because none of us last forever. It tells us that power is something they cling to for its own sake, rather than for the betterment of those they purport to serve.
I understand democracy is frustrating. Democracy in the United States is certainly imperfect. At times, it can even be dysfunctional. But democracy — the constant struggle to extend rights to more of our people, to give more people a voice — is what allowed us to become the most powerful nation in the world. (Applause.)
It’s not simply a matter of principle; it’s not an abstraction. Democracy — inclusive democracy — makes countries stronger. When opposition parties can seek power peacefully through the ballot, a country draws upon new ideas. When a free media can inform the public, corruption and abuse are exposed and can be rooted out. When civil society thrives, communities can solve problems that governments cannot necessarily solve alone. When immigrants are welcomed, countries are more productive and more vibrant. When girls can go to school, and get a job, and pursue unlimited opportunity, that’s when a country realizes its full potential. (Applause.)
That is what I believe is America’s greatest strength. Not everybody in America agrees with me. That’s part of democracy. I believe that the fact that you can walk the streets of this city right now and pass churches and synagogues and temples and mosques, where people worship freely; the fact that our nation of immigrants mirrors the diversity of the world — you can find everybody from everywhere here in New York City — (applause) — the fact that, in this country, everybody can contribute, everybody can participate no matter who they are, or what they look like, or who they love — that’s what makes us strong.
And I believe that what is true for America is true for virtually all mature democracies. And that is no accident. We can be proud of our nations without defining ourselves in opposition to some other group. We can be patriotic without demonizing someone else. We can cherish our own identities — our religion, our ethnicity, our traditions — without putting others down. Our systems are premised on the notion that absolute power will corrupt, but that people — ordinary people — are fundamentally good; that they value family and friendship, faith and the dignity of hard work; and that with appropriate checks and balances, governments can reflect this goodness.
I believe that’s the future we must seek together. To believe in the dignity of every individual, to believe we can bridge our differences, and choose cooperation over conflict — that is not weakness, that is strength. (Applause.) It is a practical necessity in this interconnected world.
And our people understand this. Think of the Liberian doctor who went door-to-door to search for Ebola cases, and to tell families what to do if they show symptoms. Think of the Iranian shopkeeper who said, after the nuclear deal, “God willing, now we’ll be able to offer many more goods at better prices.” Think of the Americans who lowered the flag over our embassy in Havana in 1961 — the year I was born — and returned this summer to raise that flag back up. (Applause.) One of these men said of the Cuban people, “We could do things for them, and they could do things for us. We loved them.” For 50 years, we ignored that fact.
Think of the families leaving everything they’ve known behind, risking barren deserts and stormy waters just to find shelter; just to save their children. One Syrian refugee who was greeted in Hamburg with warm greetings and shelter, said, “We feel there are still some people who love other people.”
The people of our United Nations are not as different as they are told. They can be made to fear; they can be taught to hate — but they can also respond to hope. History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires who believed that might always makes right, and that will continue to be the case. You can count on that. But we are called upon to offer a different type of leadership — leadership strong enough to recognize that nations share common interests and people share a common humanity, and, yes, there are certain ideas and principles that are universal.
That’s what those who shaped the United Nations 70 years ago understood. Let us carry forward that faith into the future — for it is the only way we can assure that future will be brighter for my children, and for yours.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
President Barack Obama, Opening Session of the 70th United Nations General Assembly, September 28, 2015
As one alternative to the passing of the Iran Nuclear Deal was military intervention, President Obama reminds the public that military intervention should not be so easily assumed. The chance to address world issues with diplomacy before the use of military should always be considered, especially when the alternative calls on our brave men and women to risk their lives for their country. Below you will find excerpts of President Obama’s remarks on the Iran Nuclear Deal at a veterans round table where he sat and spoke with Secretary Kerry, to veterans who have served the United States in different services, and with two Gold Star Mothers.
“There are times where, in a debate like this, we hear a lot of loose talk, casual threats of military force, false promises that military actions will be easy or simple or relatively costless. These veterans and their families remind us that that is not the case. They know the consequences when we rush into war. They understand what it means when we act without broad international support and when we fail to consider unintended consequences.”
“And I want to repeat, none of them are under any illusions. They understand that this is a dangerous world. And it is precisely for that reason that they want to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon. And what I indicated to them is that even as this debate winds down, I am hopeful that their voices continue to be heard on a wide range of foreign policy debates. Because we live in a complicated world and we live in a world where terrible things happen, and American leadership is going to be vital in addressing those issues.”
“But the one principle that I want us to remember every time we make a decision is that American power is not restricted just to our military actions, that we have a lot of tools in the toolkit, and that we have to try to solve problems without resort to military force, understanding that at the end of the day, there may be times where we have to act militarily, but we don’t do so as a first resort and we certainly don’t do so on the basis of political considerations. Because the sacrifices are too significant, and the stakes are too high. And I think these veterans and Gold Star family members, they can remind us of that each and every day.”
President Barack Obama, Remarks by the President at Veterans Roundtable on the Iran Nuclear Deal, September 10, 2015
After a victorious win for the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, and most importantly, diplomacy, the resolution of disapproval for the Iran Nuclear Deal never reached a final vote, as it was blocked by Senate 58 to 42 on September 11, 2015. Although there is a great chance the GOP will do everything in its power to complicate this deal and reimpose sanctions, those in favor of the Iran Nuclear Deal can celebrate a major win and step in the right direction in ensuring that Iran will never attain a nuclear weapon. Below we have Secretary Kerry’s statement on this monumental win and the commitment of the Administration and State Department that everything outlined in the deal will be implemented, and that Iran lives up to the entirety of this deal .
SECRETARY KERRY’S STATEMENT:
“[The] vote by the U.S. Senate is an important step forward toward the United States and its international partners implementing the agreement reached in Vienna on July 14, 2015, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. This agreement, when implemented, will make the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world safer.”
“I am grateful to the Members of the Senate who carefully reviewed the agreement and deliberated on its provisions. I know that for many of my former colleagues, this decision was extremely difficult, but I am convinced that the benefits of the agreement far outweigh any potential drawbacks. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action includes the most extensive verification and transparency provisions ever negotiated; it mandates strict cutbacks and enduring limits on Iran’s nuclear activities; and it prohibits Iran from developing a nuclear weapon forever.”
“Going forward, the State Department and the entire Administration will be fully committed to implementing and verifying this agreement to ensure that Iran lives up to the commitments it has made. We will also continue to work closely with our partners and allies in the region to deepen our security cooperation, and to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its support for terrorism.”
John Kerry, U.S. Department of State, September 11, 2015
The Senate started September 9th in a late Wednesday afternoon debate on the Iran Nuclear Deal resolution rejecting the agreement. It constituted a remarkable series of very serious Democratic arguments for this agreement, which in the history of Senate debates will likely go down as among the most important in foreign affairs and in quality, at least on the side of those who support the deal.
We have taken two of these speeches by Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which were among the best and deeply in contrast to the respective lines by the Republican hawks which followed line by line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction towards an avoidable war. This done without adding any real factual or realistic arguments against the deal or showing a better path that will achieve, as the deal does, a verified halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. Least of all, they did not make any case that Israel would be better off with a likely war and upheaval in the Middle East if this deal was not approved and Iran had nuclear weapons in a few months time.
By: Sen. Bernie Sanders
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I support the agreement that the United States negotiated with China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom and Iran. I believe this approach is the best way forward if we are to accomplish what we all want to accomplish—that is making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon – an occurrence which would destabilize the region, lead to a nuclear arms race in the area, and would endanger the existence of Israel.
It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength and our capabilities to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.
Those who have spoken out against this agreement, including many in this chamber, and those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process, are many of the same people who spoke out forcefully and irresponsibly about the need to go to war with Iraq – one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of our country.
Sadly, people like former vice president Dick Cheney and many of the other neo-cons who pushed us to war in Iraq were not only tragically wrong then, they are wrong now. Unfortunately, these individuals have learned nothing from the results of that disastrous policy and how it destabilized the entire region.
I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort. It is easy to go to war, it not so easy to comprehend the unintended consequences of that war.
As the former Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have talked to veterans from WWII to Iraq, and I have learned a little bit about what the cost of war entails. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have lost 6,700 brave men and women, and many others have come home without legs, without arms, without eyesight.
Let us not forget that 500,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to their families with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The suicide rate of young veterans is appallingly high. The divorce rate is appallingly high, and the impact on children is appallingly high. God knows how many families have been devastated by these wars.
And we should not forget the many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children who died in that war, and those whose lives who have been completely destabilized, including those who are fleeing their country today with only the clothes on their back as refugees. The cost of war is real.
Yes, the military option should always be on the table, but it should be the last option. We have got to do everything we can do to reach an agreement to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon without having to go to war.
I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region.
The agreement calls for cutting off Iran’s pathways to the fissile materials needed for a nuclear weapon by reducing its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent, and restricting the level of enrichment of uranium to well below the level needed for weaponized uranium. The agreement requires Iran to decrease the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds, dismantle the country’s heavy-water nuclear reactor so that it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and commit to rigorous monitoring, inspection, and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Only after Iran has demonstrated to the international community its compliance with the tenets of the agreement – the U.S. and European Union will lift the sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The agreement also contains a mechanism for the “snap back” of those sanctions if Iran does not comply with its obligations.
Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? No, it does not. But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.
Let us not forget that if Iran does not live up to the agreement, sanctions may be reimposed. If Iran moves toward a nuclear weapon, all available options remain on the table. I think it is incumbent upon us, however, to give the negotiated agreement a chance to succeed, and it is for these reasons that I will support the agreement.
By Sen. Dick Durbin
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Mr. President, for many years the US and others in the global community have worried about a nuclear armed Iran – and for good reason.
Our intelligence community assesses that, until as recently as 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.
Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world.
The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran. The country’s hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure. These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.
This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office. Yet, he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.
With the current deal negotiated between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, he has delivered on that promise—something no previous president has been able to do.
He has negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledges to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agrees to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge.
And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East.
I understand that any deal with Iran is open to suspicion. Iran has a long history of destabilizing actions and outrageously offensive statements.
Yet, what also troubles me is that some in this chamber – 47 Senators from the other side of the aisle – chose to undermine this effort even before it was concluded.
You see back in March – while negotiations where still underway and Iran was in full compliance with an interim agreement – 47 Republican Senators took an unprecedented and deeply troubling step.
They wrote to Iran’s hardliners trying to undermine any possible deal.
That’s right, while the executive branch of our government carried out negotiations with some of our key Western allies to halt Iran’s nuclear program, members of this body wrote directly to our adversaries in Iran opposing our own government here at home.
Ponder that for a moment.
Can anyone here imagine if 47 Democrats had written to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai saying don’t negotiate with then President Nixon – or to Soviet President Gorbachev saying don’t negotiate with President Reagan?
What if 47 Senate Democrats had written to Saddam Hussein before George W. Bush launched his ill-conceived war?
The howls of protest would have been deafening.
Yet, that is exactly what happened here – something for which the Senate Historian’s office has reportedly found no precedent.
So it should be no surprise that many of these same voices also rushed forward to reject the final agreement immediately after it was announced.
None of these naysayers had time to actually read the agreement before they rejected it outright.
Tragically, this apparent knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything by this administration has not only hurt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but also tragically eroded this chamber’s historically bipartisan approach toward foreign policy.
Mr. President, before the recess I came to the floor to announce my strong support for the nuclear agreement reached between key world powers and Iran.
I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time. And agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.
The deal with Iran is no different.
Since then, more than 35 of my Senate colleagues have expressed their support for this agreement.
They have pointed out the obvious.
First, this agreement places unprecedented restrictions and inspections on Iran, making it near impossible that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb without being caught.
Iran will not be able to cheat and get away with it.
Second, the agreement includes an Iranian commitment to the world’s powers that it will never build a nuclear bomb. This means that if Iran cheats, action against Iran would likely have strong international support.
And last, rejecting this agreement would leave the current international sanctions regime in tatters, eroding and falling apart over time.
Even worse, Iran could walk away, leaving it unconstrained to build a nuclear weapon. The region and our allies would then be at an even greater risk to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Quite simply, rejecting this deal puts the US and the region at greater at risk.
So much of the debate on this agreement is on issues peripheral to the primary goal – blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. This agreement is the best option to do that.
And let me be clear, nothing in this agreement prevents the US or our allies from taking military action later if Iran cheats. Nor does this agreement prevent the US from countering other Iranian actions in the region.
And while Iran will likely continue to support terrorist groups, it will do so without the possibility of a nuclear umbrella.
It’s probably no surprise that many former Israeli security and intelligence officials see this agreement as in Israel’s interest. It’s not because they trust Iran, it’s because this agreement blocks Iran’s pathway to a bomb.
In fact, dozens of former senior Israeli security leaders have come out in support of the deal, including two former heads of Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet.
Perhaps some of you saw the PBS Newshour interview last month with former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy. He said in support of the agreement,
“I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade. And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer. Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished. They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.
The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed. And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.”
And when asked if he thought Iran would cheat, Halevy replied:
“That is exactly the whole point of the agreement. Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent. And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.”
And, of course, so many others outside of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of the deal, including former Senators Levin, Lugar, Nunn,Warner, Boren, Mitchell, and Kassenbaum.
Former National Security Advisor Scowcroft and former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell have expressed their views on the value of this deal.
And in recent weeks, more than 100 former US ambassadors…35 former generals and admirals…400 rabbis have written in support of the deal.
Let me share a few key points from Senators Nunn and Lugar – two top nonproliferation experts and the former chairs of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively. They note:
“At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at American cities, and the Soviets were subject to numerous arms controls agreements. But progress was hard-fought and incremental at best. In an ideal world, the Soviet Union would have agreed to more severe constraints than those agreed by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, for example. It would have dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, stopped its human rights abuses and halted its meddling around the world.
But, as all of these presidents – Democratic and Republican – understood, holding out for the impossible is a recipe for no progress at all. Congress should take the same approach today to the Iran nuclear deal.”
And they continue,
“Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of Congress must think long and hard about the consequences if this agreement is turned down. There is no escaping the conclusion that there will inevitably be grave implications for U.S. security and for U.S. international leadership in the decades ahead. Sanctions allies will go their own way, reducing the effectiveness of our financial tools and leaving Iran in a stronger position across the board. Any future effort by this president or the next to assemble a “sanctions coalition” relating to Iran or other security challenges will be weakened. U.S. leadership, diplomacy and credibility, including efforts to achieve support for possible military action against Iran, will all be severely damaged.”
Former Chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and John Warner made the argument that if the US walks away from this deal and then later finds Iran pursuing a bomb, it will find it harder to work with allies on a military strike having previously undermined the diplomatic approach.
Specifically, they argue,
“The deal on the table is a strong agreement on many counts, and it leaves in place the robust deterrence and credibility of a military option. We urge our former colleagues not to take any action which would undermine the deterrent value of a coalition that participates in and could support the use of a military option. The failure of the United States to join the agreement would have that effect.”
Wise words from wise men – Republican and Democratic alike.
Mr. President, There have been decades of mistrust between the US and Iran.
I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. There were mock executions and other inhumane acts. Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.
And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.
Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran. So do I.
But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns – an Iranian nuclear bomb – off the table.
It won’t change Iranian behavior overnight. But in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates – those who want a more open and internationally respected country.
Let’s not forget, Iran has one of the most pro-Western secular populations in the region – one hungry for greater connection to the world. Iran’s leaders know this – and that is no doubt why Iranian hardliners are so opposed to this deal.
It is also important to remember that this is an agreement negotiated in partnership by the US and other key global powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.
And in a meeting last month in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council also strongly supported the deal – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
In total, more than 100 countries have publicly supported this agreement.
So at the end of the day, we should follow the words of President Kennedy – “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
Mr. President, I believe that is exactly what President Obama and the world powers have accomplished with this unprecedented agreement.
It’s time for us to show the same courageous leadership here in the Senate.
We will continue to follow the debate and votes and their meaning of national security and peace in the Middle East.
It is now agreed that the Iran nuclear talks will resume on March 15th and this session will be focused on the remaining key “macro” political issues that are still outstanding. There are indications on both sides that a deal may at last come together. However, they all say “but nothing is agreed upon unless everything is agreed on,” that there are a lot of difficult issues that remain, and that there are strong opponents of any deal on both sides.
This weekend we have been seeing statements from the “P-5 plus one” (The United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom), that some progress is in the cards during the next meeting. President Barack Obama said “We have made progress in narrowing the gaps, but those gaps still exist.” On the European side, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at a meeting in Latvia, “I believe a good deal is at hand. I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal.” She added the “last mile” of the nuclear talks would involve political will more than technical negotiations.
On the Iranian side, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said we believe we are ‘very close’ to a nuclear deal during an interview with Anne Curry of NBC News on March 4th. Further, in an interview with a weekly affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting published on Saturday 7th March, Zarif said, “I believe there are more chances of success than failure,” adding “the odds of [reaching] a [final] deal is more than 50 percent.” He said, as noted earlier: “but nothing is agreed upon unless everything is agreed on.”
All of these statements are contingent on the final requirement that both sides desire a “good” agreement and are willing to pay the political price for such an agreement. Iran especially needs to accept that a nuclear “option” is not in its fundamental interest. The administration has said that this agreement does not require Senate ratification since it is not a treaty but an executive or political agreement between governments. The president can wave some of the sanctions but not all of them and this issue is a sticking point. On the Iranian side there remains opposition from hard liners, but I doubt that Zarif would be able to proceed unless he was given authority to do so from the highest authorities. Yet any “political” or “framework” agreement would still have to be sent back to the “experts” for specific drafting and review before a formal agreement was signed. This could take months, not weeks.
In Congress the Republicans seem determined to veto any agreement they do not like. It looks sadly like many Republicans will oppose even a “good and strong” agreement. They were stopped from pushing forward a GOP plan to act before the March 31st negotiating deadline by the Democrats since the fear was that by before the negotiations ended, Congress would act on a draft anti-agreement legislation that would undercut and indeed put up a series of barriers against any realistic agreement coming into existence. The question now is whether the Democrats can hold together against such a plan should an agreement be settled.
The more recent news is the surprising and most duplicitous action by 47 Republican Senators who have interfered and intervened into on-going delicate negotiations with Iran to limit their nuclear program. This was done on the brink of the start of new high level meetings of the key powers in Geneva and is a direct affront to the President who under our constitution has responsibility for foreign affairs.
As the New York Times Tuesday March 10th front page story reporting characterized it: “The letter appeared aimed at unraveling a framework agreement even as negotiators grew close to reaching it.” The partisan effort was criticized by President Obama, and very strongly by Vice President Biden who denounced the Senate Republicans. Click here for the Vice President’s Full Statement.
The Iranians reportedly said they were not moved by the letter. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in response: “In our view, the letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. He added: “It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”
From a macro strategic perspective, such an agreement could have major implications upon the possibility that limited rapprochement could ensue, and a broader set of regional issues, not least how to deal with ISIS, and a effort to reconcile the Shia-Sunni divide and even get Iraq unity back on track. As with all such deep and historic acrimony, nothing is certain and unpredictable change is always lurking on the sidelines to reappear when it is politically expedient for one side or another. But if America and our allies are to help a process of reconciliation in the region, they need to take the long-view and work very hard at it despite any setbacks.
Below is the list of Republican Senators who signed and didn’t sign the Open Letter to Iran that was written to undermine the President’s negotiations.
Senators who did sign: 2016 Possible Presidential Candidates are highlighted