Monday, March 21, 2016

Pandermonium! At AIPAC, Trump Makes Same Promise on Jerusalem We've Been Hearing Since 1972

Breaking news!

The news media is abuzz today with reports that, speaking before the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington D.C. - the annual gathering of rabid right-wing Israel supporters - a presidential candidate vowed to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

So who was it this time? Donald Trump.

"We will move the American Embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem," he bellowed, reading from a script written for him by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, publisher of the conservative, pro-Israel weekly The New York Observer. Kushner took over the business from his father Charles, a real estate mogul and convicted criminal once described by The Jewish Week as "one of the marquee names in American Jewish philanthropy."

So why is this news? It's not.

Promising to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital and to move the American embassy there is part of Pandering 101 for Oval Office hopefuls. It is one of those litmus test talking points; the thing a politician says to prove the depths of his or her obsequiousness to a minuscule but influential cadre of donors and king (or queen) makers.

Every candidate in the past few decades knows this. It's an easy vow to make, and no one ever pays any political price for inevitably breaking it (since half of Jerusalem remains occupied territory and actually moving the embassy there would be a clear violation of international law (and long-standing U.S. policy, recently upheld by the Supreme Court), which doesn't recognize Israel's claim over the historic city). Making such an absurd promise plays well to the writhing masses at AIPAC confabs, establishes one's Zionist bona fides, and is a quick and easy way to offend indigenous Palestinians living under occupation, apartheid and blockade without actually flipping them the bird.

Nevertheless, the press continues to report on this blustery promise, no matter who utters it, as if it actually merits attention.

While he repeated the promise today for AIPAC, Trump had already said it back in January. And Ted Cruz has too (and even introduced legislation mandating the move in early 2015):

So has John Kasich (though, he's made clear that might not be his first priority when it comes to foreign policy):

And Jeb Bush before him:

So did Mitt Romney in 2012:

And Ron Paul and Rick Santorum the same year before they dropped out of the race:

And Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann (and Herman Cain) before them:

Unsurprisingly, both John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin made the promise back in 2008:

Even Barack Obama participated in this ritual before AIPAC, the day after clinching the Democratic Party nomination for president in June 2008:

Obama's statement was met with instant criticism and he wound up walking it back almost immediately. Five weeks after delivering those remarks, Obama effectively retracted them during an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, saying, "You know, the truth is that this was an example where we had some poor phrasing in the speech. And we immediately tried to correct the interpretation that was given."

Four years earlier, John Kerry did the same (without the walk-back), while also touting his record of making similar demands during his tenure in the Senate:

Before that was Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. As reported by The New York Times in May 2000:

(Supporters of moving the embassy were subsequently disappointed in Bush's failure to act on his promise.)

The year before, while beginning her campaign for New York's Senatorial seat, the then-First Lady Hillary Clinton weighed in on the matter herself:

The next summer, as election day neared, Clinton repeated her pledge, adding that "the embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv before year's end."

Every Republican Party platform in the past 20 years has maintained the fiction that the embassy would be moved to Tel Aviv at the earliest convenience. The 1996 platform even vowed that the next "Republican administration will ensure that the U.S. Embassy is moved to Jerusalem by May 1999," while four years later the party promised that "the next Republican president will begin the process of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel's capital, Jerusalem."

In the mid-1990s, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and House Speaker Newt Gingrich similarly pandered like pros:

Before that, in 1992, the Clinton/Gore campaign hit the incumbent Bush administration for balking at the official recognition of "Israel's sovereignty over a united Jerusalem." Their campaign promised voters that "Bill Clinton and Al Gore will... support Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel."

Even Mike Dukakis tacked to the right of both the outgoing Reagan administration and George H.W. Bush campaign in 1988:

Al Gore, who tried to win the Democratic nomination for president that year, reportedly said in September 1987 that "he would consider moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."

In April 1984, during a heated Democratic primary season, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart bent over backwards to assure voters in New York City that they too supported moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a position even Israelis themselves understood as hollow political posturing).

The New York Times reported at the time:
Walter F. Mondale said he had supported such a move for 20 years, and he asserted that Senator Gary Hart had changed his position on the issue five days ago. In the past two weeks, Mr. Hart has denied that he suddenly changed his position, but has said his position has ''evolved.'' He has said firmly that if he became President, he would move the embassy to Jerusalem.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the only one of the three candidates who opposes moving the embassy. The Reagan Administration also opposes such a move because the status of Jerusalem has long been disputed and the United States does not support Israeli sovereignty over the city.
Despite efforts by New York Senator Daniel Moynihan and California Congressman Tom Lantos to introduce a bill mandating the move, Reagan was adamant about not relocating the embassy, as such a divisive policy would, according to his Secretary of State George P. Shultz, "be very bad for the United States" and "damage our ability to be effective in the peace process."

The pandering was so thick, however, that a month later the Reagan administration had to pretend to consider supporting the move in order to stave off losing votes in the upcoming election.

Though the bill eventually stalled, Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Nick Thimmesch, who called the proposal "one of the dumbest ideas to be advanced in Congress this session," lamented that "some of the election-year pandering in the Republic verges on the obscene" and credited the ill-conceived gambit to the lawmakers' "blind obedience to the Israel lobby (American Israeli Public Affairs Committee)." That was October 3, 1984.

By 1986, another bill was introduced to move the embassy, this time brought to the Senate floor by segregationist Republican Jesse Helms.

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Reagan attacked the Carter administration for abstaining from a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel's attempted annexation of East Jerusalem and calling upon all countries to remove their embassies from the city.

But even by the mid-1980s, though, this was an old political ploy. The New York Times pointed out that the 1976 Democratic Party platform - on which Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale ran for office - declared:
We recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Before that, on March 17, 1972, Michigan Congressman Gerald Ford, then the Republican Minority Leader, told a Zionist Organization of America regional meeting in Cleveland that the Nixon Administration should transfer the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Two years later, after first replacing Spiro Agnew as Vice President and then becoming President himself following Nixon's resignation, Ford backtracked on his previous position. "Under the current circumstances and the importance of getting a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, that particular proposal ought to stand aside," Ford said at his very first presidential press conference on August 9, 1974.

It's been over four decades since then and, sadly, while Palestine remains under brutal occupation, Israeli colonies continue to expand with impunity, and Palestinians are subject to ongoing oppression and violence, election-year pandering and blind obedience to the Israel lobby has become more obscene than ever.



March 22, 2015 - In his own grotesque AIPAC speech today, Ted Cruz reiterated his promise regarding moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"On my very first day in office," he declared, "I will begin the process of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the once and eternal capital of Israel," using the AIPAC-approved epithets always used by fawning politicians to describe the historic city.
Nodding with acknowledgement of the fact that this vow is an repeated refrain for presidential hopefuls, Cruz sought to dispel any doubt that he would act on his illegal and immoral promise. "I recognize for years a whole bunch of presidential candidates, both Republicans and Democrats, have said that," he told the assembled Zionists. "Some have said that standing here today. Here's the difference: I will do it."

Thankfully, here's the thing: no, he won't. In fact, since he'll never ever be president, he'll never even get the chance.



September 28, 2016 - During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in New York City for his annual propaganda stand-up routine before the United Nations General Assembly, Donald Trump again declared his intention, if elected president, to have the United States government officially "recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel."

Such recognition would clearly violate both domestic and international law, as Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 is considered illegal and illegitimate by the entire world, including the United States.

Trump's declaration - a common campaign promise by presidential hopefuls and constant refrain of AIPAC-funded Congressional blowhards - goes hand-in-hand with another absurd pledge routinely made by politicians: that the U.S. Embassy will be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

It's a pandering platitude signifying nothing. But what else should we expect from this gilded nightmare?

(Credit: GPO)


Monday, March 14, 2016

Putting A Lid On Clinton's Erroneous Iranian "Nuclear Weapons Program" Talking Point

Hillary Clinton walks onstage at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before the February 11, 2016 Democratic debate.

(Credit: AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Marco Rubio isn't the only presidential candidate who robotically regurgitates the same irritating sound bite over and over again.

In early July 2015, as negotiations over Iran's nuclear program and international sanctions entered their final stage, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was campaigning at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. "I so hope that we are able to get a deal in the next week that puts a lid on Iran's nuclear weapons program," she told the crowd.

On July 14, the day the deal was reached, she repeated the idiom twice, calling the agreement "an important step in putting the lid on Iran's nuclear program" and telling the press that while the accord "does put a lid on the nuclear program... we still have a lot of concern about the bad behavior and the actions by Iran."

Later that month, while stumping in Iowa, Clinton told a crowd of her supporters, "I don't trust the Iranians, nobody should trust the Iranians. We're not expecting some kind of transformation on their part. This is a hard-headed agreement to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program."

Back in New Hampshire that August, Clinton insisted, "We have a lot of other challenges posed by Iran. But personally as your future president, I'd rather be dealing with those challenges knowing that we have slowed down and put a lid on their nuclear weapons programs."

The following month, the Clinton campaign had returned to Iowa, where the presidential hopeful said, "I support the president's agreement with Iran," adding that "it's the best alternative we have to put a lid their nuclear weapons program."

On the January 17, 2016 edition of Meet The Press, Clinton told Chuck Todd, "Look, I have said for a long time that I'm very proud of the role that I played in getting us to the point where we could negotiate the agreement that puts a lid on Iran's nuclear weapons program."

During the February 4 Democratic debate, she again said the Iran deal "puts a lid on the nuclear weapons program."

At a debate in Wisconsin a week later, Clinton boasted (seemingly to the tune of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly") that she "put together the coalition that imposed the sanctions on Iran that got us to the negotiating table to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program." She later said, "I think we have achieved a great deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement to put a lid on the Iranian nuclear weapons program."

During a Town Hall last night, Clinton laid out her version of Iranian nuclear history:
They had built covert fuel facilities. They had stocked them with centrifuges, all of that had happened while George W. Bush was president. And we had done, you know, sanctions, and everything that we could think of as the United States government and Congress, but it had not stopped them.

And there were a lot of other countries in the region who said they would take military action if necessary. So I led the effort to impose sanctions on Iran, to really bring them to the negotiating table, the negotiations started under my watch, ably concluded under Secretary Kerry, to put a lid on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Clearly, Clinton thinks this particular idiom will resonate with a largely uninformed American public that has been trained to believe that, before her heroic sanctions and the eventual deal, Iran had been desperately trying to build a nuclear weapon. "By 2009," her campaign website reads, "Iran was racing toward its goal—and a lot of Western nations felt powerless to stop them."

But here's the thing: none of that is true.

Iran Doesn't and Didn't Have a Nuclear Weapons Program - and Never Has

International intelligence assessments have consistently affirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. What Iran does have, however, is a nuclear energy program with uranium enrichment facilities, all of which are perfectly legal and protected under international law. All Iran's nuclear facilities and fissile material is under international safeguards, strictly monitored and routinely inspected by the IAEA. No move to divert nuclear material to military or weaponization purposes has ever been detected. These facts have been consistently affirmed by U.S., British, Russian, and even Israeli intelligence, as well as the IAEA. In fact, the IAEA itself has said in the past that there is "no concrete proof" Iran's nuclear program "has ever had" a military component.

Hysteria over an imaginary Iranian "race" toward a obtaining a nuclear bomb has been exploited over the past three decades to justify sanctions, threats and covert actions against Iran in the hopes of overthrowing the government that came to power after ousting the U.S.-backed Shah in 1979.

Even claims that Iran had a dedicated nuclear weapons program before 2003 are dubious at best, and rely on evidence that is most likely completely fabricated and whose authenticity was repeatedly questioned by the IAEA. As former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei noted in his 2011 memoir, "Age of Deception," U.S. intelligence officials "did not share the supposed evidence that had led them to confirm the existence of a past Iranian nuclear [weapons] program, other than to refer to the same unverified set of allegations about weaponization studies that had already been discussed with the Agency."

In fact, even the "Final Assessment" of Iran's alleged past weapons work, published last December by the IAEA, was a dud. The agency concluded that "a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003," and that "these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities." Moreover, the IAEA affirmed - as it has for the past decade - that there were "no credible indications of the diversion of nuclear material" from Iran's nuclear energy program to a possible parallel military effort.

After reviewing these findings, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter insisted, "There hasn't been a more meaningless conclusion of such an over-hyped issue since the CIA assessed that Iraq had 'dozens of WMD program-related activities' in the aftermath of the invasion and occupation of that country." Beyond this, Ritter adds that even the supposed "range of activities relevant" to a nuclear weapon "are far less threatening than the ominous description provided by the IAEA would lead one to believe. In every case, the IAEA was either forced to concede that their information was baseless (allegations concerning the manufacture of "uranium metal," for instance), or else could be explained through 'alternative applications' involving Iranian commercial and military activities unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program."

Reading even further between the lines, nonproliferation expert and international law professor Dan Joyner has noted that the IAEA assessment wholly vindicates Iran against allegations that its past activities violated its legal obligations. He wrote that the IAEA has "now given its opinion that Iran has not violated NPT Article II through any of the alleged PMD activities, because none of the assessed activities can be said to rise to the prohibited level of the manufacture or other acquisition of a nuclear explosive device." Also, because there was never any diversion of nuclear material from peaceful to military uses, the IAEA had effectively "determined that none of these activities constituted a violation of Iran’s safeguards obligations. As Article 1 of Iran's comprehensive safeguards agreement makes explicit, the IAEA's safeguards activities in Iran are implemented 'for the exclusive purpose of verifying that such material is not diverted to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.'"

Bet you don't hear that in the press or shouted from podiums often.

Iran Didn't Build 'Covert Fuel Facilities'

Neither of Iran's two uranium enrichment facilities - at Natanz and Fordow - was ever operational without strict IAEA safeguards in place. Both of them were declared to the agency well in advance of opening and long before any nuclear material was introduced to the plants or the centrifuges installed in them. Since coming online, both facilities have been routinely and rigorously monitored and inspected by IAEA personnel. No diversion of nuclear material to weapons work has ever been found or suspected.

No One Was Going to Attack Iran

A common refrain heard consistently for decades now is that the "clock is ticking" and "time is running out" to end the nuclear impasse peacefully because Israel, or the U.S. itself, is on the verge of bombing Iran. This is all bluster and chest-thumping.

It was never actually going to happen - and still won't. Such threats lent credibility to and deflected criticism of successive administrations' negotiations with Iran, nothing more. If the American public thought an attack was imminent, the reasoning went, they'd support diplomacy over war and any negotiated outcome could be seen as a victory for the West. The supposed pending attack on Iran is the ultimate straw man. This is literally how propaganda works.

Clinton Was Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Hillary Clinton has long been touting her own role in kickstarting negotiations with Iran that eventually led to a multilateral deal. But Clinton did nearly nothing to advance the talks and, throughout her political career has done everything she could to threaten Iran, support confrontation and stall diplomacy.

It was Clinton who, during her time as Secretary of State, held fast to the Bush administration's (and Israeli government's) outrageous insistence that Iran forego its legal rights and curtail all domestic uranium enrichment. Iranian offers to negotiate a deal since 2005 were routinely rejected by the United States government, which long maintained the irrational position that Iran capitulate to the American demand of zero enrichment on Iranian soil.

Clinton also killed a potential deal over a nuclear fuel swap in 2009 because she refused to negotiate minor details with Iran, instead demanding that Iran "accept the agreement as proposed because we are not altering it." What a diplomat.

What made successful diplomacy with Iran possible was not, as so many like Clinton still erroneously claim, the devastating sanctions imposed on the Iranian people or even the 2013 election of Hassan Rouhani, it was the Obama administration's eventual abandonment of the "zero enrichment" demand.

Though Clinton did authorize (at the behest of President Obama) backchannel talks with Iran to proceed 2011 and 2012, no real progress was made toward a solution to the enrichment impasse. As Laura Rozen has revealed, it wasn't until early 2013, after John Kerry succeeded Clinton as Secretary of States, that talks bore fruit.

"At the March 2013 Oman meeting," Rozen reported in August 2015, "then-Deputy Secretary of State William Burns conveyed a message from Obama that he would be prepared to accept a limited domestic enrichment program in Iran as part of an otherwise acceptable final Iran nuclear deal."

This dropping of the "zero enrichment" demand effectively opened the door for acknowledging (albeit implicitly) Iran's right to enrich and for negotiations to move forward productively.

Clearly, the biggest obstacle Iranian negotiators had to deal with on their way to a deal was Clinton herself.

It's about time Clinton put a lid on her own lies.