Some Democrats say that they are “blue no matter who.” Trump, they say, is such an existential threat that they will vote for anyone who winds up as the Democratic nominee for president. But is it really wise to extend such a blank check to a party that has disappointed us so many times before?
This past week more than 300 American newspapers colluded — if the word fits… — to simultaneously publish editorials declaring themselves, contra Trump, not “the enemy of the people.” Shortly thereafter the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring that it too did not consider the press to be, in a phrase that evokes the rhetoric of the former Soviet Union, state enemies.
The Boston Globe organized this journalistic flash mob.
“The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful,” the Globe‘s editorial board wrote. “To label the press ‘the enemy of the people’ is as un-American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries.” President Trump has repeatedly derided the media as “the enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news” on Twitter and at campaign rallies.
The First Amendment guarantee of press freedom, the Globe wrote, “has protected journalists at home and served as a model for free nations abroad. Today it is under serious threat.”
Is it really?
The surprise election of Donald Trump has elicited more the-sky-is-falling handwringing than any other political event in my lifetime (I will turn 55 next week). Very Serious People have warned in Big Important Newspapers that the rise of Trump harkens the transformation of the U.S., and other Western democracies, into fascist states. Even before he took office, the ACLU called Trump “a one-man constitutional crisis.”
No doubt, Trump’s rhetoric evokes the president’s authoritarian instincts: deriding his foes as anti-American, calling for and ordering mass deportations, supporting torture, and yes, press-bashing showcase the mindset of a man who doesn’t support democratic values and probably doesn’t even know much about the history or philosophy behind them.
But let’s separate Trump’s crude rally remarks and crass online rants from his Administration’s policies. What is he actually doing? How does his day-to-day governance represent a radical departure from the norms established by presidential precedents?
When you set aside Trump’s talk in order to focus instead on his walk, it is hard to conclude that he is an outlier by American standards. A better analogy, a friend observes, is Kaposi sarcoma, a cancer commonly associated with AIDS. It can kill you. But it’s not the main reason you’re having problems.
In other words, Trump isn’t — despite what 300-plus newspaper editorial boards would have us think — a root cause of American crisis. He is a symptom of preexisting conditions. This is important. Because if we delude ourselves into thinking that getting rid of Trump will fix what ails us, things will only get worse.
Running down the list of what offends people about Trump, there is nothing here we haven’t seen before — and ignored when other presidents did them.
Trump stands accused of colluding with Russia to steal the 2016 election. There is still zero evidence that this happened. It’s still just vague insinuations leaked to newspapers with histories of cozying up to the CIA-FBI-NSA by anonymous CIA-FBI-NSA spooks.
There is, on the other hand, ample evidence that Ronald Reagan colluded with Iran to delay the release of the 52 American embassy hostages held in Tehran in order to destroy Jimmy Carter’s reelection chances.
Richard Nixon colluded with a shadowy Taiwanese business executive with ties to South Vietnam in order to scuttle the Johnson Administration’s last-ditch attempt to negotiate peace between South and North Vietnam just before the 1968 election. Nixon squeaked by the Democratic nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by 0.7%. LBJ said Nixon was guilty of “treason,” but nothing happened.
Trump has been criticized for mass deportations of illegal immigrants, including separation of children from their parents, and rightly so.
But there is nothing new about Trump’s actions on immigration. Bill Clinton deported 12 million people, George W. Bush deported 10 million and Obama deported 5 million. (Obama’s numbers were lower but more robust because he ordered ICE to charge illegal immigrants as criminals. They faced prison if they returned. Previous presidents merely sent them home on buses and planes.)
As the National Immigration Law Center points out, “President Trump is exploiting the tools and infrastructure set in place by previous administrations to (1) expand the definition of who should be banned and deported and (2) militarize federal agencies and build up the deportation machine.”
Separating children from their parents at the border began under Obama, albeit in smaller numbers.
Trump has legitimized the “alt-right,” i.e. the psychotic right-wingers we used to call Nazis, Klansmen and fascists. Even after a fascist murdered a woman and injured others at an alt-right riot in Charlottesville, the president wallowed in false equivalence: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.” Coddling racists is disgusting. But it’s not new to American politics.
During the 1990s then-First Lady Hillary Clinton called some African-American youth “superpredators.”
Reagan relied on racist dog-whistles during his 1980 campaign, which he launched in the small Mississippi town where the Klan murdered four Freedom Riders during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “I believe in states’ rights,” Reagan said. States right was political code for supporting racial segregation.
On substance, legislation and regulation, Donald Trump is virtually indistinguishable from his predecessors, many of whom are responsible for far more serious attacks on democracy.
George W. Bush alone is guilty of far more heinous crimes. He introduced the dangerous explosion of “signing statements” in which the president signs a bill into law and then crosses his fingers behind his back, secretly ordering that the law not be enforced. And he invaded Iraq preemptively, an extreme violation of international law, which states that nations may only go to war in self-defense or when faced with a grave and imminent military threat.
Where Trump differs from previous presidents is in tone. He is obnoxious and obscene. He lies — loudly. At least in public — they all swear in private — Americans like their leaders calm, deliberative and low-key.
It isn’t surprising that Trump’s trash-talking is freaking people out. But we shouldn’t conflate rudeness with an existential threat to democracy. Democracy, decency and civility were never real American values in the first place. That, not Trump, is the real problem.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s independent political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
I’m white, male, able-bodied, educated, tall. Got a solid resume. I’m relatively adaptable. I started out as one of hundreds of professional political cartoonists. Now there are fewer than 20. Yet I’m freaked out.
I’ve survived poverty, getting mugged and being shot at and managed to remain pretty calm. But I’m more worried now.
Given how relatively good I have it, I can’t imagine how freaked out everyone else must be. Like, for example, black people when they get stopped by cops. Or Tamir Rice’s parents.
There are countless anxiety-inducing news stories tailor-made for this news junkie with a special interest in economics and the Middle East. This week alone, the Saudi-Iranian proxy war in Yemen widened into a full-fledged Sunni-Shia diplomatic rift over the execution of a Shia cleric. Scary. Then there’s the falling stock market, which controls me, over which I have no influence, and against whose effects I am unequipped to protect myself. The boom-bust cycle of capitalism is giving us bigger, more frequent troughs punctuated by shorter boomlets whose benefits all go to the top 1%.
I can’t believe anyone likes capitalism. Most people are a paycheck away from homelessness. Jobs are scarce. Jobs keep paying less. Bosses keep getting meaner. Everything gets more expensive.
Capitalism is so depressing it makes one nostalgic for Soviet-era queues for toilet paper.
In what is in danger of becoming a pattern for me, I have to apologize to the Baby Boom generation, specifically for rolling my eyes when Boomers whined about turning 50. That’s when you lose your job, can’t find a new one, struggle to care for aging parents while feeling your own body start to fall apart. They were right. The fifties are a bitch. (Though fiftysomething Gen Xers have less cash than they did.)
To mangle Hunter S. Thompson, last year got weird. I’m trying to go pro, but I’m not sure what that means.
2015 was the year when what used to be my boring safe job, drawing political cartoons, became more dangerous than my other job, part-time war correspondent.
Psycho gunmen slaughtered my colleagues at Charlie Hebdo, making France the nation where a journalist was most likely to get murdered in 2015. More psycho gunmen tried to shoot up a right-wing anti-Muslim cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, only to get themselves killed by the local SWAT team. There were always death threats; now they’re scarier and more specific.
After Charlie and Garland, you’d think newspapers and magazines would have rallied around what’s left of American editorial cartooning. There is zero, zip, nada support for American cartoonists by editors or publishers. Post-Charlie, they all wrote passionate editorials defending free speech. They said nice things about cartooning. While they fired more cartoonists. Refused to hire any. Stopped printing them.
The cowards didn’t even reprint the Charlie cartoons so their readers could see what the fuss was about.
The annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Columbus inaugurated the new normal: police police police, police dogs, police snipers on the roof. When I went on tour to publicize my book Snowden, security became a routine part of the equation — for the first time in nearly 20 books.
No wonder no one under 30 wants to become a political cartoonist. Not only is there no work and no respect, your impoverished ass might get shot with an AR-15.
So then a few weeks ago I looked at my chest. I probably do this more than you do, because a wart on my chest once nearly killed me. I noticed a new bump. A growing new bump. I found myself in the somewhat ridiculous role of the first male in three weeks to pass through the automatic doors of the rhodamine-pink special Breast building at my hospital. I’m anti-sexist. Still, it does something to a man to be quizzed about his menstrual and lactation histories. Not to mention worrying about the possibility of becoming one of the couple of thousand American men who get breast cancer each year — you just know the system isn’t set up for that.
Fortunately, I dodged that bullet. Just a lipoma.
A bullet that hit me square in the chest last year, albeit metaphorically, was fired by Nick Goldberg, an editor at The Los Angeles Times. He accused me of lying in his newspaper, a grave offense in journalism unless your name is Bill O’Reilly, and fired me. I hadn’t lied. He was wrong. After I presented proof that I’d told the truth, the Times — under pressure, since the Internet was going crazy due to their disgusting refusal to reconsider — didn’t issue a retraction or hire me back. Presumably fearing a lawsuit, they doubled down. Goldberg still draws a salary. Not me.
I used to be a sound sleeper. Head hit the pillow, I was gone until morning.
No more. Insomnia is my new normal. I’m jittery, nervous, distrusting. Lots of nightmares. If you can be so totally wronged, libeled by a corporation that’s literally trying to destroy your career because of its opaque conflict of interest with outside parties (the Los Angeles Police Department), and it doesn’t make any difference when you prove you’re innocent, where common sense and human decency no longer hold sway, well, that’s a weird, unsettling world where you can never relax. If I get four hours a night, that’s better than most.
The thing that surprises me most about workplace shootings is that there are so few of them.
Under the doctrine that 2015 sucked so hard, 2016 has got to be better, I’m cautiously optimistic about the coming year. Yet anxiety remains.
My new graphic biography Bernie is about Bernie Sanders. Sales figures will be directly proportionate to the senator’s performance in the primaries. There’s cause for optimism in New Hampshire but the South is a challenge and now you’ve got The New York Times skewing expectations by suddenly claiming that the Iowa caucuses are do or die for Bernie, even though no one thought he was going to win there before. It’s Hillary’s campaign to lose. I knew that. But it was hers to lose in 2008, and she did.
What if Bernie crashes and burns? Then my book dies. Or what if Bernie becomes the nominee, and the book gets huge — will there be enough security? If not, I die. Anxiety turns everything into a lose-lose.
Behind all that anxiety, of course, is money. Not enough of it.
Every month that I manage to pay all the bills is a miracle. I move money around, scare up just enough extra work, hustle hustle hustle. My colleagues marvel at my energy. What’s my secret? Being tired all the time, and depressed, and not knowing how I’ll be able to eat in 10 years, much less retire. Probably like you.
Like most Americans, I don’t have substantial retirement savings. If I don’t work, I live maybe a year or two before moving to the great outdoors.
I fantasize about a soft landing. Maybe some magazine or website or newspaper will take me on full-time. Maybe with benefits? It’s OK, I don’t need benefits.
Or an academic gig — teaching journalism or cartooning or history somewhere. It would be fun. I’d be good at it. But where? How? You can’t apply to a college or university; the academic job application process is insanely time-consuming and the reply is always a rejection. An offer has to come to you.
One must trust in the universe. The philosopher Eckhart Tolle says the universe will provide what you need.
Unless it doesn’t.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net and SkewedNews.net, is the author of “Snowden,” about the NSA whistleblower. His new book “Bernie” about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, is now available for pre-order. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2016 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
I have been arguing for years that the American political system is broken. Not in the way that everyone else says it is – the Democrats and Republicans unable to compromise or get anything done. Given what happens when the two major parties cooperate – “free trade” agreements that send American jobs overseas and cut wages for those that remain, wars we have no chance of winning, and tax “reform” that only benefits the extremely wealthy and the corporations they control – we could use a lot more Washington gridlock.
The best indication that the United States government is no longer a viable entity, and so beyond reform that we need to start from scratch, is the fact that the best and the brightest no longer aspire to a career in politics or governmental inspiration. It’s not just anecdotal; polls and studies show that the millennial generation, like the generation Xers before them, care deeply about the nation’s and the world’s problems but don’t think that it’s possible to solve them through the political system, refuse to sacrifice their personal privacy in a campaign, and are disgusted by the requirement of raising millions of dollars in order to run.
Despite the obstacles, every now and then – like that one tadpole out of a thousand that manages to evade the snapping jaws of hungry fish – someone interesting and intelligent decides to enter public life. Unfortunately, these poor souls must present themselves as boring and stupid in order to do so – and shred every last ounce of integrity they had before they entered the political process.
If there is a better case for this political system being over and done, I don’t know what it is.
Current case study: Rand Paul.
The senator from Kentucky has been a principled voice of resistance to the Obama administration’s most egregious violations of privacy and civil liberties. He has relentlessly opposed the National Security Agency’s wholesale collection of Americans’ personal communications and digital data, filibustered to protest the attorney general’s refusal to rule out using drones to kill American citizens on American soil, and followed his libertarian father’s tradition of non-interventionism by opposing the post-9/11 endless “war on terror.”
In many respects Paul, a Republican, has been more liberal – and certainly more vocal – than the most left-leaning members of the Democratic Party.
Now, however, he has officially declared that he is running for president next year. And so the usual coalition of GOP officials, Washington Beltway pundits, and no doubt his campaign advisers are telling him that he must abandon the interesting, intelligent and true-to-the-Constitution stances that got him noticed in the first place.
Gotta become “electable,” you see.
In just one week as a presidential candidate, he has backed away from his 2007 statement – which happened to have the virtue of being correct – that Iran did not represent a military threat to the United States. To be a Republican these days, you have to be against everything Obama does, and he just finished negotiating a deal to normalize relations with Iran.
Paul made some major efforts to reach out to African-Americans over the last few years – rare for a Republican – but there are early signs that his unwillingness to call out the racist “dog whistles” of his Tea Party-besotted opponents will neutralize his previous expressions of sympathy for black victims of police profiling and brutality.
He even flip-flopped on drones. “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him,” he said recently.
What’s next: selling us out on the NSA? Apparently maybe.
I am tempted to argue that Paul is wrong, and that he would be better off personally as well as politically sticking to his guns. After all, he has, or at least has had, these popular positions all to himself. Why follow the lead of Al Gore, who foolishly decided not to emphasize his credibility as an environmentalist in 2000?
Be that as it may, let’s focus on the big takeaway: the perception among the political class that, to be electable, you have to adjust your positions to conform to the banal, the uninspired, the illegal, with total disregard for the will or the greater good of the American people.
(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM
Originally published by ANewDomain.net:
aNewDomain, Moscow, 01.04.2015 — The National Security Agency is selling Americans’ personal data to private corporations in order to raise revenues for stretched federal coffers, according to a blockbuster report to be released by Second Look Media.
It turns out that Second Look, which is 50-percent owned by billionaire eBay founder Iranian-American Pierre Omidyar, is a 25-percent spinoff of First Look Media, known for transcribing NSA documents leaked by former NSA/CIA contractor Edward Snowden.
Second Look is scheduled to publish the details on April 1.
The program began during Barack Obama’s first term in office, when congressional Republicans began “cockblocking” Obama’s every move and denying even routine budget appropriations. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is reported to have suggested to the frustrated president that the government should consider “rolling big-data style, like they do in Silicon Valley” i.e., monetizing valuable personal information that is in the hands of its agencies and federal departments.
Attention naturally turned to the NSA, which methodically intercepts, stores and indexes every digital communication on earth, including those between American citizens. The communications include, but are not limited to, email, text messages, voice phone calls, cell phone metadata, faxes, bank wire transfers, and even telegraph, which is still used by remote train stations in Nevada and Utah. “If someone figures out a way to bring back the passenger pigeon, we’ll snag the sucker, Xerox its ass, and implant a chip in his brain just in case someone wants to use him to say something,” said former NSA director Michael Hayden in 2009, prior to his resignation.
According to sources, the NSA held secret online auctions on the so-called “darknet” to offer transcriptions, recordings, bank account numbers and even the sexual habits of Americans to the highest bidder, regardless of whether its country of origin has good relations with the United States.
Most of the gigantic data files ended up in relatively benign hands, such as an affiliate of the Brazilian social network Bazoo, which ran searches on Portuguese-sounding names in order to market spam email offering 35-percent discounts on Brazilian waxes.
However, the Russian energy giant Gazprom, which is closely affiliated with President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, allegedly purchased voice recordings of every phone call in the upper Midwest between February 2012 and January 2013. Although their intent can’t be known positively, analysts believe the Russians wanted to learn more about the fracking industry, both as a form of industrial espionage, and also in order to use shell companies to acquire drilling rights under the homes of registered Republicans.”
Obama administration officials speaking under condition of anonymity confirmed the basic details of this account, but deny that they did anything wrong. “First and foremost, we ran this past the lawyers. There’s a reason that they call people who live in the United States ‘Americans.’ That’s because they live in America. Anything that is in America belongs to America. In other words, people are just like dogs, cats, wild turkeys, worms, what have you – that’s the government’s property. That’s pretty much been the case ever since the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Bob Jenkins of the American Civil Liberties Union expressed concern about what he called a “novel” interpretation of constitutional law that he said “seems to contradict two centuries of legal precedent and 800 years of Anglo-American common law dating back to the Magna Carta.”
But the administration official says that the data is the president’s to sell, and he will do so as long as there is a huge federal deficit to pay off to China. Says the source, ‘Anyway, section 215(b) of the USA Patriot Act authorizes the president to do anything it takes in order to defeat Al Qaeda, and we won’t be able to take on the terrorists if we are too broke to buy any weapons.’ “
Speaking under condition of anonymity based on threats of this reporter, a representative of the NSA who may or may not work there said that the government takes care to sell American data only to private companies who “we know can pretty much be trusted.”
But that seems to be belied by a $14-million sale of DNA records belonging to Millennials and Generation Xers who make $38,000 to $54,000 a year to FarsiNet. After the sale was complete, the NSA was surprised to learn via Twitter that FarsiNet was, in fact, affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Still, the NSA has no plans to change the program as long as there is no reaction from the public. “We desperately need that extra spending money,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. “For example, you know the $14 million everyone’s making such a fuss about? We used that to add a new wing to the NSA’s new data farm in Utah. And will use the data we store there to make another $140 million, and so on and so forth, until we can finance maybe a quarter of our next war.”
For aNewDomain, I’m Red Tall.
Originally published by Breaking Modern:
In a supremely strange move this week, 47 Republican senators took the unprecedented step of directly writing the leader of a foreign government in order to get in the way of a US president’s foreign policy talks with it. This is even though the US constitution, as any ninth grader has learned in social studies, puts a sitting US president in charge of foreign policy.
In its letter to the Iranian government, the GOP senators said: Don’t bother cutting a deal with President Obama and the United States right. Because, it said, the next “Republican president” will just reverse any agreement “with the stroke of a pen.”
This astounded news watchers around the world. Here’s why this development is so disturbing and why you should follow these developments closely.
But first, let’s back up and look at the Iranian reaction to the letter. It certainly didn’t do much to dissuade Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from continuing with US talks to limit nuclear weapons production in Iran.
In a public statement, Zarif said he wasn’t buying it, but that he now has a stronger understanding of constitutional separation of powers under the American system than the signatories of the letter do.
Confused in the USA
As American legal scholars and political analysts struggle to get their heads around the GOP letter and its implications, Iran’s Zarif offered some theories. The Republican senators, Zarif said, must “not understand international law,” said Zarif, a professor of international law, and they must not understand the US constitution, either. Either they are not “fully cognizant of the nuances of their own constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.”
Ouch. And he’s right, as any ninth grader making a B in the social studies could tell you straight away.
Under law and by custom, the executive branch is in charge of foreign policy – including treaty negotiations, which this is not.
While the Senate specifically and the legislative branch in general have a consulting role to play, especially in the ratification of treaties, the kind of agreement being contemplated between Obama and Iran is not one of them. In fact, President Bush arrived at a similar deal with Libya, which did not require congressional consent.
Furthermore, presidents historically honor their predecessor’s international promises regardless of their political party. They have to, for all the obvious reasons.
So, bottom line, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s notorious “bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran” plan will have to wait.
A Sign of Political Decline?
US lawmakers, for the first time anyone can remember, have publicly set out to undermine a sitting president during talks with a longtime adversary are astounding.
US Vice President Joe Biden accurately characterized the implications in this statement:
This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander in chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous.”
Of all people, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, got right to the heart of the issue.
The GOP letter, the Ayatollah said, is “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.”
Don’t All Countries Stick To Foreign Commitments Post Elections?
Forgotten in this tempest of partisan lunacy is a fact alluded to in Khamenei’s statement: “All countries, according to the international norms, remain faithful to their commitments even after their governments change.”
Iran knows this well. Why? Because if Iran hadn’t followed such “international norms,” it would be free to develop any nuclear weapons program they felt like, no matter what it had agreed to in the past. And that means there would never be grounds for the United States or any other country to impose economic sanctions on Iran.
This is why international observers in the US, Europe and in the Middle East are so blown away by the GOP letter.
The agreement that prohibits an Iranian nuclear weapons program is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran signed it in 1968, and agreed to an inspections regime in 1974.
Ah, but that was under the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
The Shah was deposed in the 1979 Islamic revolution. The new government, the one currently led by Ayatollah Khamanei, nevertheless agreed to honor the international agreements signed by its predecessor, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
And this makes the Republican letter still more outrageous.
Why You Should Care
What you are watching now is a most bizarre spectacle. You’ve got the United States playing holier than thou, screaming to high heavens that Iran can’t be trusted and that the country poses a grave danger of developing nuclear weapons that it will sell or fire at Israel or even at us.
Yet Iran is and has been honoring a nuclear treaty signed by an entirely different government, one that was overthrown back in 1979.
But now you have 47 lawmakers contacting the leader of a foreign government directly, saying that, unlike Iran, anything the President of the United States negotiates with foreign countries becomes null and void when he leaves office. And this is not even after a full-fledged revolution, mind you, but just after an election.
Whatever moral high ground as United States once held on the international stage is collapsing into a deep deep valley. I’ll be watching these developments for you in the days and weeks to come.
Libya agreed to give up its nuclear program and had its government overthrown. Afghanistan and Iraq didn’t have one and got invaded. If the Iranians, with their long experience of American interference, agree not to build nuclear weapons, they would be idiots.
Originally Published at ANewDomain.net:
Far be it for me to bend my knee to President Obama — neither the office of president nor the man currently occupying said office get much respect from this news junkie — but the Republicans have crossed the line about Iran.
Over much of the past year, the Obama Administration has been conducting negotiations with Iran over its nuclear energy program. By most accounts, talks have been fruitful, moving closer to the goal of a deal under which Iran would guarantee not to build nuclear weapons in exchange for at least a partial lifting of U.S.-led trade and other economic sanctions, some of which date nearly four decades to the Islamic revolution, the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the 444-day hostage crisis.
Under an interim agreement signed a year ago to jumpstart talks, Iran has frozen its nuclear program and the U.S. has not imposed new sanctions.
Because both countries have been more open to a deal than ever before, negotiations have gone well, so well that — in light of the White House’s recent announcement that it plans to normalize relations with Cuba — many Iranians hope that Iran too may resume diplomatic relations with the United States.
Americans and Iranians would both benefit from a thaw. There would be new economic opportunities, not least due to Iran’s geography, which makes it the shortest route for a pipeline for Caspian Sea oil and gas pipelines. Iran’s sponsorship of Hezbollah and cozier ties to Hamas, not to mention its influence in post-occupation Iraq and as a Shiite counterbalance to the Saudi Wahhabism that fuels much of radical Islamism, would make it a valuable Middle East partner. Forty percent of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz on the Persian Gulf — which is controlled by Iran.
First and foremost, however, in the American system diplomatic relations are and always have been the domain of the executive branch. It is a radical breach of the separation of powers, and rude and disrespectful to the office of the president, for legislators to undermine White House efforts to forge closer ties with another nation, which is exactly what the GOP is currently doing.
Members of Congress are pushing hard for new sanctions against Iran, or at least the threat of additional sanctions should the U.S. and Iran fail to come to terms soon. Pressing the issue further, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) took the extraordinary step of inviting right-wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress — without consulting with the president. “Inviting a foreign leader to speak at the Capitol without even informing the president, let alone consulting him, is a bald-faced usurpation for which there is no recent precedent,” notes Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson.
To put it mildly, Netanyahu is cra-cra when it comes to Iran. He repeatedly compares Iran to Nazi Germany (never mind the whole Iran has never invaded another country or built a death camp thing), warning that it’s 1938 (the year before Hitler started World War II) and that the world must act militarily or risk losing everything. Worried that a speech will likely bash Iran and thus lead to the scuttling of talks, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has asked Netanyahu to stay home.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of accusations impugning my loyalty to my nation of birth, I am always hesitant to accuse other Americans of being unpatriotic. In this case, with so much at stake and so much to be gained, however, I can’t avoid the conclusion that Congressional Republicans are engaging in diplomatic sabotage so extreme as to be anti-American, bordering on treason.