Cross-posted from View from the Left Bank.

“What fools we are.”
(Quote from an old friend concerning the machinations described below)

The more one actually studies  what Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) has done concerning the international agreement concluded between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) and Iran, the more it seems like the basketball move that he faked left while moving right. Classic Bennet, I might add. At the time when his vote no longer was critical to the outcome, Colorado’s U.S. Senator Michael Bennet finally came out and endorsed the nuclear agreement with Iran. By all indications, he is determined to find a way to deep-six the agreement, days prior, Bennet endorsed.

True enough, Bennet threw his hat into the ring, committing to support the Obama Administration on the agreement. But virtually simultaneously, Bennet has agreed to co-sponsor “accompanying legislation,” referred to by some as “AIPAC’s Plan B,” to undermine it. Concerned about what might be a tough re-election campaign, he is trying to satisfy both supporters and opponents, and as a result, could end up satisfying neither.

It should come as no great surprise, that having failed to kill it one way, that the agreement’s opponents would try yet another. It is, in the end, little more than an attempt to slightly improve U.S.-Iranian relations, a move away from 36 years of non-stop efforts to overthrow the government of the Islamic Republic and replace it with something more subservient to U.S. strategic and regional interests. Having failed in that multi-decade effort, more sober heads – including the President’s – have concluded it is time to recognize the fact that regime change by military means is not an option, thus time to negotiate! Even though this shift in approach, in the end is quite modest in scope, it sits poorly with anyone that might lose a bit of influence as a result – i.e., Israel, Saudi Arabia and the assortment of American war-mongering meshugganahs who still want the mullah’s heads on platters. And so in an effort to keep the U.S. on a warpath with Iran, they – be they Netanyahu, neocons, AIPAC or Tea Party types have gone on their own political warpath. As a result, it turns out that the agreement is still in big trouble in Congress, through another route: a backdoor plan to kill the agreement.

After endorsing the result of the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, Bennet threw in his little caveat: that along with Maryland’s U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) (who came out square against the Iran agreement) he, Bennet, would also co-sponsor “accompanying legislation” “that includes increased funding for Israeli security.” Given that Israel already receives some $3.5 billion annually in U.S. aid and has done so since the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accord, it is hard to imagine how much more military aid and security guarantees Washington can provide.

In an op-ed in India Punchline, former Indian diplomat, Bhadrakumar Melkulangara adds perspective to the Cardin-Bennet maneuvering:

Tehran has every reason to be concerned that in its efforts to placate the Israelis who are hopping mad at the Iran nuclear deal, the Obama administration may begin supplying Israel with the means to attack Iran on its own, without US direct involvement. The prevailing assessment of experts is that while Israel may succeed in penetrating the Iranian air defence system (at a high cost, of course), it needs very large bombs or so-called Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) and very large aircraft to carry them to destroy the Iranian nuclear sites some of which are buried deeply underground.

Pressure is indeed building up in Washington on the US supplying the MOPs and the legendary B52 bombers to Israel. In a joint article in WaPo recently, two hugely influential pro-Israeli voices in the US Dennis Ross (formerly special assistant to Obama for the Middle East) and David Petraeus (formerly director of the CIA) made precisely such a recommendation:

  • Israelis would need the 30000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator and the means to carry it. While some may question whether we [US] would act militarily if the Iranians were to dash to a bomb, no one questions whether the Israelis would do so.
  • Providing the Israelis the MOP and the means to carry it would surely enhance deterrence — and so would developing options now in advance with the Israelis and key Arab partners to counter Iran’s likely surge of support for Hezbollah and other Shiite militias after it gets sanctions relief.

Plainly put, the action plan involves on the one track the US engaging Iran in negotiations, while on a parallel track the US providing the Israelis the military wherewithal to attack Iran if the latter felt like it at any time of their choice on own volition without Washington having to get entangled in it.

The Cardin-Bennet proposal adds weight to this two-track policy which might be entitled “Talking Peace While Still Planning For War.” Called the “Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015,” which Cardin insists is “consistent with the administration’s interpretation of the agreement,” to the contrary, it appears to throw a major monkey wrench into its implementation. The bill exudes hostility towards both Iran and the Iranian leadership. As it is written, it comes through more as a something threatening war rather than an attempt towards the normalization of relations. As such, it will more than likely draw strong objections from the White House as well as its P5+1 partners and Iran.

Part of the problem for the Obama Administration (and every one since Jimmy Carter’s presidency) is that having vilified Iran for so long and told so many half truths and outright lies about its intentions, that this seeming sudden shift to negotiate with a country deemed “the enemy” confuses much of the American public. It is as if all these years, different administrations – Democratic and Republican – have dug themselves into a deep hole concerning Iran, one largely of their own making. Now seemingly suddenly, they (the Obama administration in this case) shifts gears. But it is 36 years of attacking Iran, considering it a “threat” either to Israel or to the US that gives credence to Cardin and Bennet’s cynical maneuvering – they are simply building on a decades-old tradition: the myth of the Iranian threat.

The Cardin-Bennet bill goes beyond simply piling more aid onto Israel. In effect, Cardin’s bill seeks once again to actually renegotiate several key elements of the agreement in order to scuttle it. It will include provisions to tamper with sanctions relief, to add new terms to the deal, to authorize provocative arms transfers to Israel. It also includes threats of military action if Iran “cheats.” Tyler Cullis of the National Iranian American Council, an organization which, along with the Friend Committee for National Legislation, has lobbied hard and successfully for the agreement, summarizes the impact of this new legislation as follows:

“Several provisions of [Cardin’s proposed] bill are ‘poison pills’ aimed at either thwarting implementation of the [deal] or inviting Iranian responses that threaten to undercut the deal. We are thus entering a dangerous time.”

Jim Lobe, one of the more perceptive analysts of U.S. Middle East policy who has closely followed the negotiations, added: “Any hard-headed look at [Cardin’s proposed] bill suggests he’s acting as a cat’s paw for AIPAC and its allies whose principal goal is to prevent any diplomatic solution that might ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran.”

As Lobe goes on to detail some of the bill’s specifics:

  • “… the bill authorizes the delivery to Israel of Massive Ordnance Penetrators (MOPs) ‘and the means to deploy them’ and requires the president to “ensure that Israeli personnel have every opportunity and means to train with such defense systems, including joint training exercises utilizing strategic bombers…” (Sec. 10) Aside from the provocation such an action would pose to Iran, arms-control experts insist that any transfer by the U.S. of strategic bombers like B-52s or B-2s to Israel would constitute a clear violation of the New START Treaty commitments.”

  • “The bill also attempts to reinterpret—or effectively renegotiate—specific provisions of the JCPOA. For example, it states that ‘any production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) by Iran would be a violation of the JCPOA…’ (Sec. 3, paragraph 4) But the JCPOA itself merely restricts Iran’s enrichment to reactor-grade levels for the first 15 years of the agreement, at which point the limitation would cease to exist unless a new agreement were put in place.”

A little background on the negotiations is in order:

For those who watched the negotiations between what was referred to as the “P5+1” group (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) and Iran should have seen the pattern: the P5+1 and Iran would come to an agreement that would result in the lifting of sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing to strict controls on its nuclear energy program. But then, the United States would “move the goal posts” – pour on new demands that were not included in what had previously been agreed. This appears to be happening yet again, despite the fact that a general agreement has been reached.

For a variety of reasons, Iran was, for the United States, a harder nut to crack than Iraq, Libya and Syria. It became clear to all that a military option – a major bombing campaign and/or invasion of Iran was too risky. Unable to trigger  regime change in Iran, i.e., having failed to overthrow the Iranian government through sanctions, sabotage, vilification of the regime, Washington, whose wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria had seriously destabilized the region, opted for another strategy:

– Negotiate yes, but take as much as possible and give as little as necessary.

– Extend the negotiations for as long as possible and when necessary move the goal posts.

But even the culmination of a successful negotiating process following the above guidelines was too much for some of the more hawkish elements of the U.S. political spectrum – the neocons, hard core Zionist types (AIPAC and the like), Hagee’s band of fundamentalists – Christians United For Israel – and the like. They have been looking for a number of ways to undermine and kill the agreement. Their attempts to do so through Congress seem to have stalled. At last notice some 41 senators have stated that they favor the Iran deal. It is possible that given Congress’s arcane procedural rules that agreement may not now come up for a vote there and that thus, that the agreement will go into effect if the Iranian parliament approves it, as is expected.


Rob Prince is a retired Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. He frequently writes about economic and political developments in North Africa, especially Algeria and Tunisia. He blogs at View from the Left Bank.