Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Congress vs. the White House on Iran and Israel - Richard Baehr

by Richard Baehr

The Obama administration is facing long odds for the president's party to ‎retain control of the U.S. Senate in the elections this Nov. 4. If the Republicans win control of the Senate to ‎add to their House majority, foreign policy issues may become far more ‎contentious in the next two years.‎

Two of the issues on which the two sides may bang heads concern Israel. The ‎more pressing item concerns the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. ‎The current talks between the P5+1 and Iran have already been extended once, ‎and if no deal is reached by Nov. 24, may be extended again. That would ‎avoid an admission of defeat by an administration that has been loath to ever ‎admit defeat about any policy or programmatic failure, of which there have been ‎many. 

On the other hand, there are also fears that in order to avoid another ‎extension of the negotiations, the administration and its partners will humble ‎themselves before the mullahs by offering much more of what the Iranians are ‎demanding to close the deal. This would include concessions on the ‎number of spinning centrifuges, inspections, weapons systems, and elimination or ‎reduction of sanctions against the regime in the five weeks remaining before the ‎deadline. This may still not be enough to avoid the Iranians pulling the rug out, ‎since they have learned that delay never hurts them, so long as a few more ‎concessions are pocketed while they agree to continue to talk. In other words, if ‎the Iranians are unhappy with America's best offer today, they know it is not our ‎final offer, and that the next offer after this one, which may come near the ‎deadline of the next extension will probably be even better for them. But expect ‎any extension to be accompanied by some sanctions relief and concessions on ‎centrifuges by the P5+1. ‎

Unfortunately, the Obama administration may feel the need for a deal this ‎November, especially if it receives a stinging rebuke from voters in a few days, ‎and wants to change the political momentum with a "victory" of some sorts. So there ‎may be added incentive for it to get this done in the two months between the ‎elections and the swearing in of the new Congress in January, which is likely to be ‎less friendly. 

This raises the issue of exactly what it is that gets done, if something ‎is done. The administration, through its loyal mouthpiece, The New York Times, has ‎made it clear that it will not sign a treaty with Iran, but rather a multi‎party agreement. What this means is that ‎the Senate will not get a shot at approving a "treaty," which requires two-thirds of those ‎voting to pass, and the president will do what he chooses to do without the ‎consent of the Senate. This will not go down well in a Republican-controlled ‎Senate.‎

Keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons has been a bipartisan concern ‎among senators and House members for decades. It is one of the few such issues ‎that attracts members from both parties. 

However, when New Jersey Democratic ‎Senator Robert Menendez and Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk attempted to ‎strengthen the sanctions against Iran as a fallback if negotiations failed earlier in ‎the year, the administration applied immense pressure on Senate Democrats, ‎urging them to refuse to sign on, as a show of loyalty to the White House and trust ‎in its efforts. The White House argued that Senate passage of the new sanctions ‎bill would drive Iran away from the negotiations and increase the chances for war‎‎. The real history of the sanctions bills over the past few years is that only when ‎they began to bite Iran hard enough, did that country show some serious interest ‎in a deal. The other uncomfortable truth the White House and its supporters ‎ignore or obfuscate is that they opposed toughened sanctions every step of the ‎way and demanded waiver authority to relax them, ‎something they intend to use.‎

Some critics of the administration have argued that the White House's attitude ‎about sanctions is part of a broader policy shift to turning Iran from foe to friend, which ‎includes adoption of a policy of containment rather than prevention in terms of an ‎Iran with nuclear weapons. Treating Iran as an ally rather than pariah is far from the consensus ‎view in Congress, but it is not at all rare among the foreign policy solons in ‎Washington who think they know better and are more "realistic" than members of ‎Congress, since they are freed from the chains of the supposedly all-powerful ‎Israel lobby that columnist Tom Friedman has claimed has bought and sold the ‎members of Congress. ‎

The other lightning rod in the years ahead between the White House and Congress ‎relating to Israel is likely to be Israeli settlements and negotiations with the ‎Palestinians. When talks fail, as they always do, only Israel is blamed. Now ‎Secretary of State John Kerry, moving rapidly along the path from mediocrity to ‎fool, is arguing that the rise of Islamic State is attributable in part to the failure to achieve a ‎two-state solution as well as climate change. ‎

The one thing that seems to have most enraged President Barack Obama, his staff, and the State ‎Department, has been Israel building apartments for Jews in its capital city. These ‎construction activities are always described as obstacles to peace, or at times, even ‎making peace impossible. When the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority ‎President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party praises a terrorist who ran over a group ‎of Israelis, killing an infant, the State Department calls for calm. The Fatah ‎statement honoring a murderer (hardly the first time this has happened) is never ‎described as an obstacle to peace. Nor does anyone at Foggy Bottom seem very ‎annoyed that Iranians regularly insult Obama while he makes nice to them. On the other hand, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe ‎Ya'alon is persona non grata when he comes to Washington for talks, ‎since he angered the administration by being openly ‎critical of Kerry a few months back. ‎

When some civilians used as human shields by Hamas were killed in the recent war ‎in Gaza, this was also a source of bitter rebuke of Israel by the administration. But ‎the apartment building has been a more constant problem for this team. Israel is a ‎country where the birth rate is more than 50 percent higher than it is in any other ‎developed country, with 176,000 births in the last 12 months, ‎about three-quarters of them Jewish. One might think it makes sense that housing would be a ‎priority for the government. But it is only Jews moving into existing apartments in ‎Arab neighborhoods, or Israel building housing for Jews in areas beyond the Green Line, that gets official Washington unhinged, never Israel building housing for ‎Arabs nor Arabs moving into Jewish neighborhoods. The State Department policy ‎seems to be that what is theirs (Arabs') is theirs, and what is yours ‎‎(Jews') can also be theirs. ‎

Many Democrats in Congress are under increased pressure from Muslim and left-‎wing activists in their districts or states to become less supportive of Israel. So far, ‎most have resisted, though their support for Israel lately has come more on easy ‎stuff (foreign aid). If Obama seeks to join the United States up with the EU nations ‎in blasting Israel over the failure to achieve peace, and over settlement activity, and ‎completes the turn toward Iran, then some of these members will be tested in the ‎next two years. 

But if Republicans are in the majority come January in both the ‎House and Senate, there will be a pushback against Obama as he tries to complete ‎his turn away from Israel and its security concerns. Harry Reid, the Democratic ‎senator from Nevada and current majority leader, worked to protect the president ‎of his party when push came to shove over Iran sanctions, Israel be damned. ‎Obama may just be getting started and his anti-Israel agenda may be much clearer over ‎the next two years. If so, it would be good if Congress were in friendlier ‎hands.‎

Richard Baehr

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=10363

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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