A Tale of Love and Darkness

A Tale of Love and Darkness

by

Howard Adelman

Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day in Israel, begins at 8:00 p.m. on Monday evening. At dusk this Sunday evening until 8:00 p.m. tomorrow, Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, Israel’s national Remembrance Day is observed to commemorate those who fell since 1860 in the cause of establishing and preserving the State of Israel. More formally, the day is called: l’Chalalei Ma’arachot Yisrael ul’Nifge’ei Pe’ulot Ha’eivah…”We Will Fulfill the Last Will of the Fallen – to Defend Our Home in Israel.” 1860 is chosen as the beginning date for counting, for that year marks the first time that Jews were permitted to live outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem since the Second Temple fell. Those fallen include not only those who died in battle, but those who were victims of terrorist attacks. The number 24,000 has been accepted as the approximate total of those who have died for the sake of Israel, but 60 service personnel and 11 civilians were added to that total since Memorial Day in 2016. Many more died in that effort as you will read. This blog is dedicated to them as well.

 

It should be no surprise that many events preceded these two holidays. I chaired a discussion about the state of contemporary Zionism and Israel in mid-week in which Emanuel Adler depicted the drift in Israel towards illiberalism which, in retrospect, could be interpreted as a nostalgic tribute to Amos Oz, the co-founder of Peace Now. On Saturday morning, our Torah study group focused on the parts of the text that justified Jews living in and possessing the land and the reasons why ancient Israelite leaders who lived and/or died in the diaspora wished to be buried in Israel. Reasons offered were legal, political, security, psychological pushes and sociological pulls. The Saturday morning sermon in synagogue was given by Galit Baram, the Israeli Consul General in Toronto; she was born in Jerusalem in 1969 and studied archeology and English – which she speaks perfectly – at Tel Aviv University. She did her MA in American studies and after graduation became a political assistant in the Foreign Ministry of Israel. Before coming to Canada, she was Director of the Department for Palestinian Affairs and Regional Cooperation.

I may write about one or more of the above topics over the next few days. However, today, to commemorate the beginning of Yom HaZikaron this evening, I will review the film Natalie Portman directed and in which she starred as the mother of Amos Oz, A Tale of Love and Darkness, which we saw, almost coincidentally on Netflix last evening. I gather the film received mixed reviews when it showed at Cannes and at TIFF, where I missed it, and then when it had a general release. I thank God for Netflix. Though the reviews of the film were positive generally, most were tepidly positive. In contrast, I loved the film and think Natalie Portman was very courageous as well as creative in directing a film with as much of a literary ear as a cinematic eye in full respect to the writings of Amos Oz.

In one very positive review that I did read following its TIFF showing, published on 14 September 2016 in Esquire, Stephen Marche called the movie “urgently relevant and unlike anything else.” Though I agree that the film is unlike most other movies, Marche argued that what made it relevant was the debate over the Iran nuclear deal that developed a schism between Americans – at least Democrats – and Israel and between American Jews and the remainder of the American public. Though I belong to the Jewish minority who favoured the deal, A Tale of Love and Darkness was not suddenly relevant because of the deal. Otherwise, it would be irrelevant today. And it is not.

Although Marche’s review expressed an extraordinary admiration for the film, Marche was wrong, not only about the relevance issue, but in his take on the film. The movie remains highly relevant even when the Iran nuclear deal has slipped into the background in both Israel and the U.S. as most have accepted that, whatever other dangers the deal may have helped facilitate in the tensions between Iran and both Israel and the U.S., the situation in North Korea reminds us how beneficial the Iran nuclear deal was and remains. Marche argued that, “The film is a study of the moment when Jews changed from being a people in the diaspora to a people with a country. The birth of Israel is so much more than a setting here—it is the existential reality that shapes the characters.”

That is not true. The film offers no such study. Further, people shaped Israel in turn. History is not simply in the background scattered through the film as incidental events to mark time and determine character. Nor is it an issue of either a politically relevant film in the background or Marche’s contention that, “ultimately life is about your fucked-up family. That’s the insight at the heart of A Tale of Love and Darkness.” The emphasis on the personal and the intimate is not the insight. And the choice is the very reverse of either/or, of background and foreground, of cause and effect. For Amos Oz, and for Natalie Portman in the way she directed the film, it is a matter of both/and. The political and the personal are dialectically intertwined and ultimately inseparable, each throwing light upon the other.

A Tale of Love and Darkness is not simply remarkable because it veers away from the sentimentality of the shtetl, as in Fiddler on the Roof, or the redemptive theme of films like Schindler’s List. It is extraordinary as a movie that tries to give a cinematic expression to a literary vision. Certainly, the movie is neither sentimental nor heroic. It is both and so much more.  But the heroism is of a dear friend of Amos Oz’s mother hanging up a sheet on a clothesline and then shot and killed as a sniper bullet cuts through the laundry. It is the heroism of a small boy playing in the dirt who was also shot and killed by a sniper. The film is true to Oz’s 2002 memoir. The emotions are raw. The wounds are gaping. No bandage can fix them like the bloody finger Amos Oz’s father suffered after another of his clumsy mishaps. And no lecture or intellectual argument can fill the gap of our incomprehension. There are no sermons in the movie.

I write this because I was sure that I had read Oz’s book – after all it was the largest selling literary work in the history of Israel – but when I watched the film, I could not remember anything. Perhaps that is because I read enough about it to come to the imaginary conclusion that I read Amos Oz’s memoir. Perhaps there were other Freudian reasons for my belief or my forgetfulness. About three decades ago, Oz and I were having a shabat breakfast at the home of a mutual friend in Jerusalem. We got into an hour long silly debate about fashion and his contention that the fashion industry controlled what we wear. I was attending the fashion show in Israel the following week and he thought it preposterous that I, as a philosopher, loved fashion shows. I contended that fashion then – it continues today – is more a reflection of popular culture than a determinant of it. There was no resolution to that debate because we were not listening acutely to one another.

And Oz is an acute observer who listens to his heart. The best scene in the movie based on the memoir is one of the few without Natalie Portman who plays his mother (Fania) and is the central figure in the memoir and the movie other than Amos himself. Oz (Amir Tessler) is a young boy prior to the War of Independence in post WWII Palestine who is sent to play in the garden of an Arab official when his caregivers, friends of his parents, attended a party there. In the garden was a beautiful Arab girl on a swing who spoke Hebrew fluently and had the ambition of becoming a poet. Oz was entranced and clearly infatuated. As we watch her young baby brother playing in the dirt and then Oz climb a tree and act out playing Tarzan, whose solitary life with animals and personal strength and daring mesmerized him, in the audience we wait with “bated breath” as the cliché goes to see whether Oz will fall and even fall on the small boy as he has already fallen for the beautiful Arab girl.

A weak link in the chain breaks and a small but significant disaster follows. For Oz, disasters are the results of an accumulation of minutiae and usually unforeseen events rather than a cataclysmic sudden shift in history which is a product rather than a cause. This is true in the history of a nation and in one’s personal history. The result was, as Oz wrote, that “everything was silent all around you in an instant as though you had been shut up inside an iceberg.” For violence is as much about a failure of communication as it is about intractable differences. Between and among Jews as well as between Israel and her enemies.

Early in the film, we see Amos Oz’s father being connected by phone. The timing of the call must be arranged. The technical details have to be put in place. Communication is obviously very difficult. Who is Arieh calling in America or Europe? It turned out he was calling Tel Aviv and the call is quickly aborted to be arranged at another day and time to be confirmed by post. The film is as much about the failure in communication, the failure to connect and the gaps, the abysses, that result.

The film, based on the memoir, is a juxtaposition of opposites and their interplay, love (mother) and darkness (father), romantic Zionism and realpolitik, Jewish idealism and the harsh reality of Jabotinsky’s vision imprinted in his father but largely omitted from the film, the romance of Rovno in Poland/Ukraine where Amos Oz’s mother lived with servants and chandeliers and then the darkness of exile and the Holocaust, fantasy and reality in our minds, Jewish Polish (sweet) versus Jewish Russian (somewhat sour) borscht in the minutiae of Jewish cooking culture, generosity versus truth – Oz’s mother advises that it is better to be generous and have a sensitive heart than to be honest, between idyllic scenery and a barren landscape of narrow and claustrophobic alleys in the so-called City of Peace that is Jerusalem destroyed over and over again by successive invaders, movie versus memoir, word play (Adam, Adom, Adon and Dom) which non-Hebrew speakers mostly miss in a film which has many such moments of insight, metaphors such as gates which open and the abyss which we face, a world in which a cauliflower can hold up the sky and a world portrayed where the sky was literally falling in post-WW II Palestine and newly independent Israel, between paradise and hell, between compassion and prudence, between intellectuals and bullies, between the pale faces of poets and the deep tans of a sabra on a kibbutz, between intellectuals and heroic soldiers, but also between hapless dreamers and bullies, some of whom could be seduced with words and stories, between the rebirth of an Israel based on a two millennial dream and the loss of passion and idealism with the emergence of the state according to Oz and when Oz’s mother stopped telling stories, between the eternal innocence Oz’s mother saw in her son’s soul and the deep guilt ever present in the writing of Amos Oz, between an open and a closed world, between blinding whiteness and equally blinding blackness when blackbirds or crows cover the sun and the sky, between children whom you love more than anything and children who outlive you, outgrow you and who in some parts of their being must reject you. “Every mother ends up crying alone.”

His mother and he are caught between fire and the water from which Oz as a boy in a dreamlike story traversing the landscape dressed as a monk alongside his mother, also dressed as a monk. Both were pledged to silence, but his mother succumbed and he survived. On the journey, the young Oz dreams of rescuing a drowning maiden versus the reality of fire, the reality of the fantastical story, told to him by his mother, of a gentile woman in Rovno who burned herself alive when rejected by her child and called a whore after she fled her abusive husband into the arms of a lover,

In spite of it all, the love of Jerusalem versus the ironic darkness of Tel Aviv where Oz’s mother eventually takes an overdose of her anti-depression medication in January 1952 and dies in the home of a sister, either Sonya or Chaya, I was not clear which. The two sisters had chosen the new life of Tel Aviv versus the dark passages of the history of Jerusalem. The suicide takes place against the background of a debate over whether to reject German reparations – the position of the idealists, primarily from the right – and the pragmatic view that the money was needed to resettle refugees.

The film does have a historical line. Though the movie begins in post WWII Palestine, there are flashbacks and references to Rovno, now Rivne in Ukraine, where 25,000 Jews once lived in pre-war Poland. The film refers to 23,000 Jews who were marched into the Sosenski Forest and murdered, though the number represents the total killed since 2-3,000 were killed prior to that fateful two-day march and another 2-3,000 were killed afterwards when the ghetto was destroyed. But the flashbacks and references precede that period of darkness when Fania Mussman enjoyed the comforts of an upper middle class life that was such a contrast with the hardships she endured in a small cold apartment in Jerusalem.

Someday I will catch the short documentary made prior to Natalie Portman’s movie by the daughter of Amos Oz, Fania Oz-Salzberger, named after his mother, Fania Oz-Salzberger is an Israeli scholar and historian who wrote one book with her father, jews and words (not capitalized), in which the two declared that “ours is not a bloodline, but a text line.” Amos inherited the word play and love of words from his father. The documentary traced Fania Mussman’s travels with her mother to Palestine with her two sisters, Amos Oz’s aunts, Sonya and Chaya, for the three sisters were ardent Zionists educated at the famous Tarbut School in Poland.

It was Zionism that saved the family from the Holocaust and saved Amos Oz for the world. However, the mother of Fania, Sonya and Chaya, instead of offering blessings for her salvation because of her daughters’ Zionist idealism, never forgot or let anyone else forget the wonderful life they had left behind in what was once Poland in a region in which Jews once consisted of 25% of the population. Amos Oz’s memoir is full of Rovno, but it exists only as very shaded background in Natalie Portman’s film.

The movie, A Tale of Love and Darkness, really begins with curfews and attacks from Arabs and then all-out warfare after the UN Resolution on partition was passed in November 1947 and Arab countries invaded the nascent Jewish state when independence was declared on 15 May 1948. The siege of Jerusalem and famine followed. Oz’s father, Yehuda Klausner (Gilad Kahana) called Arieh, a pedant about words, a librarian and an author who resisted writing books with any popular appeal, incompetently planted greens in their small garden as Oz collected empty bottles to make Molotov cocktails and sand for sandbags. Short sighted, with two left feet, Arieh had used words to win the hand of beautiful Fania, only to gradually lose her to her dreams and eventual depression.

Finally, the 1949 Armistice Agreement arrived and the determination of the line, called, without any sense of the irony, the Green Line that would prove to be anything but temporary in the world mental landscape or a source of new growth. But the semi-final act of the film occurs several years later with the Tel Aviv floods of 1951-2, of which we were reminded in 2013 and 2016, and Amos could not save his mother from drowning in her depression. According to Oz, dreams should never be fulfilled, the messiah should never come, because that will only bring the onset of disaster, the very opposite message of Independence Day that will begin to be celebrated tomorrow. Amos Oz tried to act out the romantic vision of his mother and, as depicted in the movie, left his father to live as a farmer on a kibbutz. But when his father came to visit him on the kibbutz in the film, and Amos sits upon a tractor, Amos Oz could not hide from either others or himself that he had the pale soul of a writer rather than the dark tan of a sabra, bronzed Jews who could swim as Amos Oz dubbed them. His mother chose deep sadness in place of ordinary pretense and the grandiloquent fantasies of the stories she told her son but could not sustain. Amos Oz chose to write – and live.

Taken to its logical conclusion, or, at least, back to its fundamental premise articulated in the depressive state of Amos Oz’s mother, romantic utopianism leads to the reverse, deep depression. “I know nothing about anybody; we all know nothing; better to die not knowing.” Truth be told, we only live in a balancing act, balancing on a tight rope between messianic perfection and cosmological ignorance. But that is not a truth with which the romantics who sacrificed their lives for the dream of Israel could accept. Oz never gave up his dream but has always accepted reality sufficient to survive. He wrote brilliant books with wry humour, the one element of his writing largely sidelined in Natalie Portman’s magnificent movie; she does capture some of his incisive irony. But Amos never forgot to cry for his dead mother.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Ken Adelman: Reagan at Reykjavik

Ken Adelman (2014) Reagan at Reykjavik:
Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday, late afternoon at Massey College, I went to hear Ken Adelman discuss his book on the 11-12 October 1986 Reykjavik summit. (My late brother Al was born on 12 October so it is an easy date to remember as Al turned fifty that day.) At the two-day summit in Reykjavik, President Ronald Reagan of the U.S. and Mikhail Gorbachev, Secretary-General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the two most powerful men in the world, failed to conclude a disarmament deal. They both initially thought it was a great failure. But Reykjavik set the stage for the deal they finally signed, the most important arms reduction program in decades if not in history.

Ken did not just give a talk about the contents of the book, but offered a very lively multi-media presentation with photos and videos, anecdotes and an articulation of both his feelings and his thoughts. It was one of the best and most interesting talks that I have ever heard. Further, it was a crucial turning point in history and the preface to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Ken followed his wife into the Commerce Department in 1969, but eight years later during the Ford administration, he had risen to become the assistant to Donald Rumsfeld as the Secretary of Defense. Ken became the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency for almost five years from 1983 to 1987 when he resigned just when the most widespread reduction of intermediate nuclear tipped missiles was concluded and 80% of intermediate ballistic missiles were sent onto the ash heap of history. Though he was central to the negotiations, he gives almost all the credit to Ronald Reagan, not for his intellect, not for any self-conscious critical reflection, but for a very clear vision and determination to end the arms race and a belief that America would win and the Soviet Union would lose, something Ken nor virtually any other expert believed could happen. For as a director of the arms control agency, the agency’s goal was simply to try to freeze the arms race, not end it.

What you have to know is that Ken is a neo-con (he calls himself a con-con), a cold war warrior who always, even at the Reykjavik summit, promoted peace through strength. When we chatted before the talk, he told me that he too majored in philosophy (and religion) at a very small college in the cornfields of Iowa, but he went on to write a PhD in Kinshasa in Zaire as a dependent husband while his wife, Carol, who worked for the U.S. Commerce Department, was in Kinshasa as a diplomat. We compared notes and talked more about Africa than his work on political theory.

Near the end of his talk, he claimed that at Reykjavik, Ronald Reagan brought anti-nuclear arms in from the fringes and made it legitimate. After the talk, I went up to Ken and told him that I had been head of the nuclear disarmament movement at the University of Toronto as a student in the sixties and that we did not consider ourselves outliers needing legitimacy from Reagan. His response was immediate: so you were part of the enemy, but it was said with a wry smile from a scholar and statesman who competed with Ron Reagan in being affable and personable.

Of course, I had to recall I had been his enemy when he believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and when he initially supported the war in Iraq, though only a few years later that “cakewalk” turned into a disaster as the Bush government dismantled the Iraqi army, decimated the civil service in Iraq and destroyed the possibility of creating a strong and unified post-Saddam Iraq. Even then, it was a surprise that this neo-con cold warrior voted for Obama in the 2008 election because of his dismay at McCain’s irrational response to the economic crisis and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. He reverted to supporting Mitt Romney in 2012 and let me know that he thought that Donald Trump was despicable and surmised that Hillary would be a stronger President than Obama in foreign affairs. I did not have to ask him who he would vote for in this election.

He did not begin his talk with Reagan and Gorbachev, but with Roberson Davies. Though I knew about his Shakespeare expertise and his use of Shakespeare to teach politics, I had no idea he even knew who Roberson Davies was. Evidently, when buying his $150 worth of books to take to Kinshasa that he would need to write his thesis, the salesperson in the bookstore foisted on him Robertson Davie’s The Fifth Business: The Manticore – World of Wonders, the first in the Deptford Trilogy. Ken thought he was being given a present for buying so many books, but it ended up on his bill. Three months after his arrival in Kinshasa, with no other distractions from his academic life, this then non-novel reading nerd, picked up the Robertson Davies volume and could not put it down. He and his wife Carol devoured the whole Robertson Davies corpus. So he was especially delighted to give a talk at Massey College where Davies had been the first master.

Ken then went on to recall his socializing with Allan Gotlieb during the eighties when Allan was the Canadian ambassador from 1981-1989 and his wife, Sondra Gotlieb ran the most important Washington social salon from the Canadian embassy. Allan and Sondra were in the audience and Ken expressed his personal thanks to them, not for all the social occasions to which he had been invited at the Canadian embassy, but for a very intimate dinner to which he and his wife had been invited when Robertson Davies was Allan Gotlieb’s guest.

So this was the introduction to a talk that was very personal as well as being Ken’s contribution to diplomatic history. And he began with what could have been the beginning of a Robertson Davies novel. On the screen there was a picture of Hofty House, this two story relatively small mansion located on a windswept plane on the outskirts of Reykjavik and reputedly haunted. This impression was reinforced as the rain slashed against the windows, though in the picture when Reagan meets Gorbachev, there is no rain.

Ken never carried the haunted theme forward in his talk, so I was not sure why he introduced it. But he did convey the very small headquarters in which the politicians and their advisers worked with Reagan located in the upper room to the left and Gorbachev located in the upper room to the right and the small meeting room below Reagan’s rooms which had only room for a table and seven chars, one each for the two leaders at each end, one for George Schultz, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Foreign Minister. Beside each of them sat a translator. And then in the picture he showed, there was a seventh person crouching at the knees of Ronald Reagan, a much younger Ken and with a bushier moustache.

Ken explained that, whereas the previous disarmament summit in Geneva had been planned for six months, this one was a last minute affair with only ten days for preparation. When the U.S. delegation had to meet in private, they went to the American embassy to meet in the bubble or safe room, where they sat next to each other on narrow chairs in two rows with the knees of the ten of them rubbing against a counterpart in another chair. Ken also introduced the irony that the KGB and the CIA shared two bathrooms in the basement where the two groups were located on each side of the house.

So Reykjavik was a very weird place to hold a summit. There were very few hotels there, but over 3,000 journalists had been assigned to cover the summit, but all they were left to do was follow the sightseeing of Gorbachev’s wife, Raisa. The summit got off to a very propitious start as far as the Americans were concerned. Reagan was told that Gorbachev was arriving. Reagan did not bother putting on a coat, but ran outside to greet Gorbachev personally and, in the picture Ken showed, it looks like Ronald Reagan, twenty years older than Gorbachev, is helping Gorbachev up the steps.

Ken used his depiction of the talks to illustrate his general principles of diplomacy (with my rephrasing based on my memory):
1. Dream big;
2. Clearly articulate your goal;
3. Know how you are going to get there;
4. Be persistent when you are down.

I had heard Ken talk at another meeting about diplomacy and how it had changed. Reykjavik was a turning point in that as well. Ambassadors and trained diplomats used to carry the responsibilities for diplomacy. At Reykjavik, the ambassador was displaced even from his home, did not participate in the summit and seemed to illustrate the instantiation of a new era of diplomacy which no longer required an ambassador who was an expert in figuring out the politics of another country. What was needed was a media star capable of articulating and communicating that policy to the audience back home. A diplomat now was engaged in public explanation of goals, the reasons for the policy, media relations using social media, and defending the policy no matter how controversial.

The bywords of discretion, understatement, being quiet (as well as afraid of making a mistake), were no longer the hallmarks of high level diplomacy. Ambassadors did not know the policy and would be embarrassed if they made a mistake. The new diplomacy meant living with mistakes, not evading the risk of making them. So when Gorbachev and Reagan went head-to-head in 10 and ½ hours of unscripted discussion over two days without notes, this was a harbinger of the new diplomacy.

Gorbachev had arrived at the summit with a briefcase full of proposals. The U.S. delegation had presumed that the meeting was only a glad handing event to boost Gorbachev’s status in the Soviet Union. The discussions had their ups and downs, twists and turns, depressions and elations. And so much in the end fell on the issue of Reagan’s star wars vision, the ability to shoot down any enemy’s missiles. This was then simply a laboratory idea and a number of us, myself included, were convinced it would never work. We were wrong. But even at the time, the American delegation could not figure out why this was such a big issue for Gorbachev, especially since Reagan offered to share the technology.

Gorbachev had conceded ten different times. Reagan conceded nothing. Gorbachev insisted the star wars research be abandoned. Reagan refused since how could a country’s desire and will to defend itself be surrendered. At the time, the summit collapsed in failure over this issue. Why was Gorbachev so desperate to get an agreement but so unwilling to give up on this issue? The Soviet Union was broke. George Bush, then head of the CIA, and Donald Rumsfeld, then Secretary of Defence, had had a head to head battle over whether the USSR was spending 11-13% of GDP on the military (Bush) or 13-15% on the military (Rumsfeld). As it turned out, the amount was 30% of GDP as the Americans learned later. Gorbachev could not afford economic improvement while pursuing armaments. Further, he was convinced that the Americans with their ingenuity and wealth could outspend them even if the USA shared its star war technology with them.

I was one of the ones who blamed Reagan at the time for the failure of the talks, but had to swallow those words when the two sides signed an agreement a year later. But then I took solace in the fact that Ken had to swallow his misbegotten support for the Iraq War. Further, in 1986, just before the Reykjavik, both Ken Adelman and Ronald Reagan had failed to get Pakistan to halt its nuclear program. In December 1982, Reagan had warned President Ziv of Pakistan against pursuing nuclear arms. In 1984, America drew a red line in the sand that Ziv was warned not to cross. But in 1986, it was clear that Ziv had called the American bluff and had enriched uranium over the 5% limit (sound familiar from the Iran negotiations?), had engaged in technological transfers and was probably in a position to produce one or two nuclear weapons. Pakistan was a recipient of large amounts of American aid so the U.S. had considerable leverage. But Pakistan was also the staging area for arming and training the resistance forces in Afghanistan fighting the Russians.

Ken had advised Reagan to counter-bluff Ziv, but recognized that given American dependence on Pakistan for the fight in Afghanistan, the U.S. was resting its policy on quicksand. The achievements of the Reykjavik summit pushed Pakistan into the background as Ken Adelman witnessed and was party to the most extensive disarmament agreement in history.

He clearly was not perfect in his own admission. And even though he supported the Iraq War and failed to reign in Ziv, his contribution to peace and diplomacy was enormous.

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Iranian Radicals

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 May 2016 at noon at Massey College at the University of Toronto, Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi, a Professor of History and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the university, gave a talk entitled, “The Iran Deal and the End of the Iranian Revolutionary Radicalism.” The talk was not about the terms of the deal itself, upon which I have written a great deal, but rather on the far more important topic, the significance of the deal as an indicator of the current stage of the Iranian revolution and the implications on both domestic policy within Iran and on international relations.

Mohamad’s most important book has been Refashioning Iran: Orientalism, Occidentalism and Historiography (2001). In it, he described the unique historical cultural and religious heritage of Iran, in contrast to the imposition of Western imperialist influences. In the journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (23:1&2, 2003, Nasrin Rahimieh described the scholarship in the book as “a remarkable work of historiography and an original analysis of Iranian cultural history” by challenging the Euro-centred concept of modernity and the widespread intellectual conviction that the spirit of inquiry, rationalism and scientific discovery can be traced exclusively to the European Enlightenment. In Mohamad’s thesis, the Enlightenment itself was influenced in its development by a dialectical relationship with the East, in particular, the Middle East, which facilitated the refashioning of the cultural revolution underway in Europe and the emergence of a new conception of self epitomized by the Enlightenment.

True to that spirit of exploring the interaction of East and West, Mohamad began his lecture with the depiction of the confluence of two streams, the final stage of the Iranian revolution and America’s historical withdrawal from its self-defined role as spreading democracy to the rest of the world. On the latter, it is noteworthy that former Vice-President Dick Cheney, a prime author of the military intervention in Iraq, on Friday endorsed Donald Trump as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, the very same Trump who has repeatedly denounced that intervention as America’s biggest foreign policy mistake and who has championed an America First policy that requires America to surrender its role as policeman of the world. This is also the same presidential candidate who repeatedly knocks the Iran nuclear deal as the “worst deal ever” while revealing he knows very little about its terms.

Three months ago, as Trump campaigned in the New Hampshire primary, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN where he put on full display his total ignorance about the contents of that agreement and his absolute lack of credentials to be the leader of the free world. Trump boasted as usual that he is “the best deal-maker ever,” “the best negotiator ever,” while revealing gross misrepresentations of the deal and the process that lead to it. As Trump mis-described the terms, he claimed that America was paying Iran $150 billion to sign the deal. In reality, the UN was lifting the sanctions that blocked Iran from using $50 billion (not $150 billion) of its own money. America had been the main initiator and the most important enforcer of the sanctions, but in no rational world could the release of Iran’s own money be described as the U.S. giving Iran that money to sign the deal. Yet this blustering braggart went on to win, or is on the verge of winning, the Republican nomination to run for President on the absolutely unique campaign of presenting himself as a victim of the “establishment” and a heroic one person saviour – victim and victor at one and the same time.

Mohamad’s thesis was precisely the opposite of Trump’s. Though Mohamad did not spell it out in his lecture, the implicit assumption of the talk (confirmed in my discussions with him afterwards) was that the deal was the best one possible for both sides, and, more importantly, was a significant step in the advancement of peace in international relations. Further, in the major thrust of his talk, the deal was critical both as a signal of and an instrument for the advance towards moderation of the Iranian regime. While I have agreed with the former conclusion, I have been sceptical about the latter claim. Mohamad’s talk forced me to reconsider that position.

In the talk, Mohamad presumed he was addressing an educated audience and took for granted that we were all familiar with the variation of theories of the stages through which revolutions pass. When I was an undergraduate, I read Crane Brinton’s 1952 revised edition of The Anatomy of a Revolution and believe it is still among my collection of books now mostly shelved in my garage. As a medical student at the time, I recall that my predominant reaction was that the book should have been called The Physiology of Revolution for it was far more of a dynamic account of stages revolutions pass through than of its structural elements. Further, it was more of a disease account, a portrait of an abnormality that societies have to go through in order to develop an immunity to political domestic violence. Mohamad referred to, but did not explicate, the fact that the dominant conception of the Iranian revolution by Iranians was an engineering rather than a medical model, implying a constructive rather than abnormal political pattern through which societies pass.

Since he did not elaborate on how the stages of a revolution conceived in engineering terms differed from those stages conceived in a medical framework, I had to fall back on the disease model as a means of understanding the intellectual foundation for his talk and when I asked two questions afterwards, I chose not to raise the question because any answer would require another lecture. In the disease model, revolutions are abnormalities in social development, but usually necessary abnormalities that societies in the process of maturation need to go through, to acquire the necessary institutions that will immunize that society from the destructive forces as inherent propensities in domestic politics.

Revolutions begin with failures of the old regime, more specifically, the increasing costs of maintaining the regime and carrying out its perceived responsibilities, and the decreasing ability to access the funds necessary for that task. As the regime grows more ineffectual and less able to enforce its rules, defectors come forth from the regime and an opposition arises in significant part from elements outside the normal power structure. When a regime can no longer hold the centre, when it can no longer enforce the values underpinning the regime and the order established by it, a revolt or a disaster instigating a revolt breaks out. Moderates step in to try to mollify the rebels and reassert control. They fail. The reforms they initiate are half-assed. And they are caught in a vice between reactionaries who condemn them for their weakness and selling out, and by the militants who denounce the wishy-washy half-hearted efforts. After the regime has lost its immunity to change, after the incubation period, then the revolution proper begins and the disease soon appears at fever pitch.

The radicals lead an uprising to challenge the constituted authority directly and take control of the main centres of power – the railways, the communications centres, the seats of law and of governance – precisely the key source of failure of the Easter Rising in Ireland where the revolution was delayed rather than halted in its tracks by this failure, by a focus on symbols of place rather than power. That was lucky, lucky, because of what also failed to follow – the initial successful seizure of control and The Terror as a way to deal with the domestic opposition and its foreign supporters. Instead, the British ruling regime resorted to terror, retaining power temporarily, but at the cost of its legitimacy.

Normally, terror perpetrated by the militant revolutionaries emerges like a raging fever. While a weak regime tries to extend and consolidate its power and authority, many errors are committed and the revolution is only partially successful. The radicals give rise to an equally powerful reaction as moderates either gradually or suddenly assume power over the instruments controlled by the radicals. But they too cannot regain the trust of the population and a new regime led by a charismatic and populist leader takes charge to exercise control primarily through coercive power rather than through the authority of legislated and judicially adjudicated laws and certainly not through the influence of ideas.

This standard pattern is neither a necessary nor a constant one. For example, though the British Revolution produced a Cromwell, the French a Napoleon and Russia a Stalin, the U.S. exceptionally did not yield to dictatorship. Not all revolutions need devour their children. In the U.S., this may have been because the American Revolution had a release valve – the cleansing of the figures of power of the old regime took place by means of a forced exodus as the elements of the old power structure fled to the mother country or to Canada as self-defined United Empire Loyalists. But whichever path taken, given the context and circumstances, what initially emerges is a regime of dual power – Presbyterians and the military leaders of the new modern army in Britain, Girondins and Jacobins in France, Bolsheviks versus Mensheviks in partnership with liberals in Russia. And that was certainly true in the Iranian Revolution.

Though often viewed as a reactionary regime to restore the power of the Mosque, the Iranian Revolution exemplified the pattern of extremist control in a revolution. In the very significant first phase through which it passed, the so-called men of virtue, those most fanatically dedicated and led by a small and resolute disciplinary leadership gained power in conjunction with the Revolutionary Guards. The exercise of that power was characterized by summary executions at home to expunge the regime of “vice,” and the export of the revolution to the near-abroad. If France had its Committee of Public Safety and Britain its Council of State, Iran had its Council of Experts to centralize power and authority through the use of lethal force to repress any perceived opposition. The domestic repression was combined with missionary adventurism and then went through two other stages, the seeming compromise between the clerics and the militants in a so-called period of apparent moderation and then the supposed reinvigoration of the revolution under the Terror of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian Revolution under the rule of President Hassan Rouhani is now going through the consolidation of its Thermidor, its second substantive moderating phase and convalescence from the fever of its incandescent fervour in the disease version of the stages of revolution

At the height of the feverish period of Puritanism and the revolt against the influence of the Great Satan, during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election and then fraudulent re-election in June of 2003, the third phase of the Terror began. The final evident opponents of the regime were either killed, suppressed into silence or forced into exile, like the Nobel Prize winner for human rights, Shirin Abadi. That is when Ahmadinejad announced the resumption of the Iranian nuclear program and the plans for 10 nuclear plants in total disregard of UN resolutions. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were banned and Iran declared it would no longer be bound by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran had passed through the first stage of the actual revolution in the first decade of the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini who consolidated his power in partnership with the Revolutionary Guard by expunging his communist and liberal secular allies from power in the decade until his death in 1989. He did so under the rule of Islamic law, velayat-e faqih. (Faqih is an Islamic jurist). Khomeini’s death inaugurated the second stage in the dual split between Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, Khomeini’s successor as Supreme Leader, and President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the incomparable deal maker who makes Trump look like a wuss. At the same time, Iran exported its anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli fervent orthodoxy and revolutionary spirit in the bombing of the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina in 1994.

A radical dual system of rule had been incorporated into the Council of Guardians to mediate between decisions of the Majlis or parliament and the Council of Experts, charged with selecting the Supreme Leader. This proved inadequate. In 1988, constitutional reform created an Expediency Council, an administrative amalgam of clerics, scholars and intellectuals to resolve disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians and ensure the efficacy of legislated rule. Although its creation seemed initially to be ineffectual as the Iranian Spring was suppressed in the tyrannical rule and consolidation of clerical power, Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi in his talk seemed to suggest, if I interpreted him correctly, that the Expediency Council saved the new revolution from the Terror instituted under Ahmadinejad and his continuation in power via a fraudulent election in 2003. That Council enabled his replacement by the consolidation or power of the moderates under Rafsanjani.

In the terror, the Revolutionary Guards had gained a monopoly and consolidated its corrupt control over entire economic sectors of the economy, arrested critics routinely and permitted prison guards to routinely flout the rule of law in the treatment of prisoners (see Michael Ledeen Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West.) The West’s reaction was primarily stimulated by the resurrection of the nuclear program rather than by the abuse of civil liberties. Utilizing gradually increased smart sanctions while avoiding a direct military confrontation, the attack against Iran’s nuclear program worked. Moderates were elected and the new regime in 2009 launched a process of reconciliation, of which the most momentous outcome was the nuclear deal. But that was made possible when Iran entered the fourth phase of its revolution and the real Shiite scholars began to reassert themselves against the pseudo and unrecognized scholarship of a third rate Khamenei as they tried to distance the clerics from the political misrule of Ahmadinejad, who tried to cover up his corrupt and inept regime with the rationale that his rule exemplified the return of the Shiite messiah. Anti-clericalism had mushroomed and hope for the preservation of the status of the clerics depended on the resumption of a widely recognized clerical scholar becoming the third Supreme Leader.

But political and economic revolutions are relatively superficial and deal with the earth’s crust and not the momentous shifts in the tectonic plates on which that crust rests – such as the Industrial Revolution and the Reproductive Revolution. In the next blog I will discuss that interaction as exemplified by developments in the Iranian Revolution as depicted, to the best of my memory, by Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi.

With the help of Alex Zisman

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

 

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

On the issue of the role of the military and security of Americans from overseas threats, Haley insisted that the U.S. was facing “the most dangerous terrorist threat since 9/11,” and called for “strengthening the military so when we fight wars we win them.” Obama, based on the intelligence reports he reads every morning, agreed that these are dangerous times, but America faces no dangers from a rival power. America had the most powerful and best military force in history and spent more on its military than the next eight nations combined (four if you calculate based on a percentage of GDP). But the danger comes from failed and failing states, not rival powers. Decrying America’s growing weakness was just so much hot air.

Obama did not denigrate the threat that terrorists posed. His first priority was going after terrorist networks to protect Americans. But that did not make this task WWIII.  Terrorists in the back of pickup trucks and making bombs in a garage do not pose an existential threat to the U.S. Rather than rhetorically building them up, Obama called for rooting out these killers and fanatics, hunting them down and destroying them. Obama claimed that America was on track to do just that, for in concert with its allies, the U.S. was working to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt its plots, stop the flow of fighters and stomp out its vicious ideology. He called on the Republican- dominated Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.

Does that require an additional carrier group, additional ground combat forces, modernization of America’s nuclear fleet and a host of other enhanced expenditures on the military? If there is indeed a real danger of WWIII, say with China, such an enhancement might be warranted. But if America intends largely to stay out of other country’s civil wars, if America is going to concentrate its military forces in fighting ISIL, then increasing the Pentagon budget by a trillion dollars as Senator Rubio proposed (cf. an analysis by the Cato Institute) is not necessary.

Obama’s proposed military expenditures are more than sufficient both to go after terrorists and provide a cover and help for America’s allies. In going after terrorists, Obama articulated the correct approach. “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

Not only are American memories long, but its concerns are very broad. Though the immediate focus may be terrorists, the long term threat remains instability because of weak states, ethnic conflict, poverty and even famine. Tough talk and calling for the carpet bombing of civilians will not solve such problems. Nor will assigning America the role of rebuilding every nation that falls into crisis. Effectively, Obama called for managing threats rather than aspiring to a utopian ideal of eliminating them. And then he reiterated the central platform of his foreign policy – building coalitions “with sanctions and principled diplomacy.” The policy applied to China with TPP and climate change agreements. It applied to the re-opening to Cuba. In this pairing of diplomacy with military and economic threats, Obama defined leadership in the world as the “wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.”

What about the main foreign policy issue of Obama’s presidency, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran? Instead of insisting, as Haley did, on only entering into international agreements celebrated in Israel rather than in Iran, Obama insisted that his program combining sanctions with diplomacy had worked. Iran was in the process of deconstructing its nuclear program. The world had avoided another war that would have been the consequence of a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

On this central foreign policy issue, was Obama correct? Or were his Republican critics? Even though Netanyahu has now acknowledged defeat, many if not most Republicans have not. On Monday (18 January), that is, on Implementation Day of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Fox News published a peace by one of its frequent contributors, Fred Fleitz. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/01/18/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-national-security-fraud.html)

Fleitz worked for the CIA and various national security agencies for a quarter of a century. When John R. Bolton, the űberhawk in the Republican constellation, was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration, Fleitz was his Chief of Staff. Fleitz is the author of Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests and currently is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C. right wing national security think tank. As Wikipedia described it, “The Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank that has been widely accused of engaging in conspiracy theorizing.”In July of 2011, even before the interim agreement with Iran was agreed upon, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Fleitz accused leaders of the U.S. intelligence community of being unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue at variance even with the Obama White House. Further, he insisted that “liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks” had given biased (that is, favourable) reviews of the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that was classified at the time.

 

In other words, Fleitz contended that leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies and liberal intellectuals had been in cahoots in both misleading Americans and, even more strangely, were at odds with the Obama administration. Recall my earlier blogs on the Iran nuclear program: the NIE had concluded that Iran, though it was preparing the ground for a nuclear weapons program, had not yet decided to actually build a nuclear weapon. Fleitz, in contrast, insisted that Iran was on the brink of testing a nuclear device.

In 2002, when he was appointed as an analyst for the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee by GOP Chairman Pete Hoekstra, Fleitz was one of the leaders in the chorus that insisted that Cuba had under development a biological weapons program, a conclusion he justified not on the basis of an objective collection of facts and analysis, but because all intelligence analysis is political. He also had a reputation of continuing Nixonian practices. He was widely suspected of being involved in releasing the name of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for her husband’s public denial of George Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMDs. Fleitz has had a stellar record of exaggeration, distortion and hyperbole.

This background is important in understanding Fred Fleitz’s attack on Monday which one of my readers sent to me. It exemplifies some of the wild analysis behind the attacks on the Iran nuclear agreement made by Republicans. One accusation is that Iran “will receive approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief even through Iran is still designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror.” The latter is true – Iran is designated by most Western countries, with good justification, as a state sponsor of terrorism, though an enemy of ISIS. But it is not true that Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief, monies that it can then use to foster terrorism.

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/other/SzubinTranscript20150916-v2.pdf

The rest of Iran’s reserves are not liquid; they have already been pledged as guarantees for other purposes: $20 billion as collateral for projects with China; tens of billions more to back nonperforming loans to Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Further, of that $50 billion, Iran cannot spend the $50 billion; it needs to hold most of those funds in reserve to defend their currency, the rial, and to finance the pent-up demand for imports. $50 billion is just enough to finance about 5-10 months of Iranian imports and is the buffer that the IMF recommends as a prudent reserve. Further, in President Hassan Rouhani’s economic revitalization program, the government will be torn between taking the lid off the consumer sector and the need of government funds to get out of the deep economic hole Iran fell into as a result of the sanctions. Iran needs $100 billion for unfunded pensions and debts to the domestic banking sector, $100 billion for infrastructure, and $170 billion to once again make the oil and gas sector functional.

Iran has supported the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy. Is this accurate? In previous years, Iran has been supporting Syria to the tune of $4-7 billion per annum, if the value of Iranian oil transfers, lines of credit, military personnel costs and subsidies for weapons for the Syrian government are all taken into account.  Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, claimed that in 2012 and 2013, Iran spent $14-15 billion in military and economic aid to Assad. Tehran is very unlikely to spend significant increased amounts in support of terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East only because it already has been spending plenty. Iran did increase its military support of the Assad regime. In preparation for the October offensive against Aleppo by the Syrian forces, Iran sent in 2,000 Republican Guard troops in addition to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who fought alongside Assad’s army with Russian air and cruise missile support from its ships in the Caspian Sea.

In contrast, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. did not even provide the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with advanced military equipment even though the FSA had been significantly debilitated in its continuing battles with ISIS. Nor did the Americans offer to provide a no-fly zone to enable the FSA to resist the Syrian army advance, though the three countries did provide extra military supplies and anti-tank weapons, the latter used to excellent effect to destroy a considerable number of tanks and armoured vehicles. The FSA Brigades (the Thuwar al-Sham Battalions, the Sultan Murad Brigade, the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Suqour al-Jabal, etc.) actually managed to hold off the recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian forces and its allies, though in its retreat back to Aleppo the FSA lost a number of villages and towns on the Ghab Plain – including Tall Qarah, Fafin, Kulliyat al-Mushat, Tall Suwsein Abtin; the desert and mountainous terrain of the Aleppo southern countryside greatly benefitted the Assad regime forces which were armed with heavy weapons.

Thus, as I predicted even while I strongly supported the nuclear deal, Iran could be expected to enhance its backing of terrorism and the Assad regime. As it happens, the enhanced support in Syria took place independently of the Iran nuclear deal. For Iran’s assistance to both terrorist and oppressive allies was based on the principle: “in for a penny, in for a dime,” Further, the implementation of the deal depended on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei providing continuing support for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, Khamenei warned the so-called moderates of American perfidy and accused the U.S. of deceit and treachery. More importantly, Khamenei auspiciously disqualified a number of reformist candidates who applied to run in next month’s elections, including some sitting members.

Fleitz made a number of other accusations.

  1. “When Iranian officials refused to give up their uranium enrichment program, the U.S. said they could keep it.” Wrong! The U.S. and its allies only aimed to dismantle Iran’s nuclear arms enrichment program and not its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
  2. “Iran will continue enriching uranium under the nuclear deal with 5,000 uranium centrifuges.” Yes, but at very low grades unsuitable to be converted to very high grade enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons except through a very lengthy process.
  3. Iran swapped all of its highly enriched uranium, which was shipped to Russia, for an equivalent amount of uranium ore which Iran was free to enrich. True, but the enriched uranium shipped to Russia was enriched above 5% and some of it to almost 20%, whereas it will take months just to convert the uranium ore for which it was swapped to just above 3%.
  4. The Chinese will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding its heavy-water Arak plutonium facility after its core was removed. True, but the redesign will not permit the reactor to be used to produce plutonium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
  5. “When Iran balked on including restrictions on ballistic missile tests in the agreement, they were removed.” Wrong! Restrictions on Iran’s missile program were an ambition, but not an expectation. Restrictions were never included in the agreement. (I will comment further on the American continuing effort to limit Iran’s missile program.)
  6. “The Obama administration also took Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its meddling in the Middle East off the table.” They were never on the table, even in the 2012 Interim Agreement.
  7. “The deal drops U.N. and EU sanctions on Iranian terrorist individuals and entities.” U.S. allies and the UN are not colonies or satraps of the U.S.
  8. “The U.S. encouraged Iran to play a more active role in Iraq.” But the tensions between the Shiite government and Iraqi Sunnis were worse before under Maliki who was not Obama’s creation.

The lesson: Republican ideologues cannot be relied upon to discern fact from fiction or offer a reasonable analysis. The reality is that, contrary to Fleitz’s contention, the Iran nuclear deal has not only slowed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; it has stopped it altogether. Haley has been too influenced by these hacks.

The reality, as Adam Szubin articulated it so well, is:

  1. JCPOA does not in any way affect American sanctions with respect to Iran’s support to terrorist groups;
  2. It does not touch on Iran’s human rights abuses;
  3. It does not touch on Iran’s support for the Assad regime, nor was it ever intended to;
  4. The Iran nuclear program is the most serious issue of all to the U.S., to its allies, and particularly to Israel and dismantling it should not be made hostage to Iran’s support for terrorism, abuse of human rights or backing for Assad.

The result: on Implementation Day at the beginning of this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran had reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, the number of centrifuges by two thirds. Iran removed the atomic core of the Arak Reactor so it could not produce plutonium for military purposes. In return, the embargo on Iran’s reserves was removed. What should have been a day of celebration for the whole world was marred by hatred and bitterness of Khamenei, on the one hand, and the belligerent paranoid fantasists in America on the other hand.

Nevertheless, there remains a great deal to be done on non-nuclear issues. There is a need to have Iran own up to its deceitful methods of circumventing the IAEA and hiding its program; as the IAEA reported in December, Iran had failed to fully cooperate and even provided some answers to investigators that were blatantly false. There is Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. There is Iran’s, not only support for, but military intervention in Syria. There are a plethora of human rights violations. And there is the constant – the Iranian regime’s implacable hatred of Israel. There are no sanctions in place against Iran for the latter evil practice, but sanctions do remain in place by the U.S. and are being enforced for the unsettling and destabilizing practices of Iran in the international arena – its missile development program, its support for terrorism and its intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad against the FSA.

The U.S. embargo on Iran remains almost entirely intact. U.S. investment is still prohibited. Iran and its companies cannot access the American banking system. U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as designated companies and individuals prior to the sanctions imposed against its nuclear program remain in place. Perhapsamore important, secondary sanctions against non-Iranian banks doing business with embargoed individuals, companies and state entities remain in place; non-Iranian businesses working with those Iranian entities will be cut off from using the U.S. banking sector.

For example, those banks cannot do business with: the Qods Force, or any of its officials or subsidiaries such as Bonyad Taavon Sepah; its construction arm, Khatam al-Anbiya; its oil and gas engineering company, Sepanir; Mahan Air; Bank Saderat, one of the largest commercial banks in Iran; key Iranian defense entities, including the Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Defense Industries Organization, the Aerospace Industries Organization, and other key missile entities, including Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group and Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group; the Tiva Sanat Group which worked to develop the Iranian navy’s fast boat; the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Company (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

With respect to enforcement of the nuclear deal itself, those sanctions are only suspended; the snap-back provisions remain in place in case of violations and can come into force in a few days. This also applies to multilateral sanctions by the United Nations should just one of the P5, the permanent five members of the UNSC, opt to do so. Finally, there are no grandfather clauses in the JCPOA protecting preexisting contracts against snap-back. That is, contracts entered into before the snap-back will also be subject to sanctions.

“The JCPOA is built to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat and the potential for any of Iran’s proxies or affiliates to acquire a nuclear weapon. Thus far, it offers great promise.” That deal does not diminish the terrorism threat and the threat to regional stability. “Our joint goal—and one we share with our Israeli and Gulf partners—is to ensure that we’re using all of our tools, including sanctions, to combat all of these conventional activities… the JCPOA is a strong deal. It makes the United States and our allies safer by ensuring that the nightmare scenario… (terrorist entities with access to nuclear devices) does not come close to becoming a reality. The deal is not based on trust but on verification and on scrutiny.” (Szubin)

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part I

Netanyahu and Obama at War: Part I Netanyahu

by

Howard Adelman

On 5 January 2016 on America’s Public Broadcasting Network (PBS) on the program “Frontline,” the station broadcast “Netanyahu at War,” an epic account of the conflict between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) and President Barak Obama of the United States over American Middle East Policy.  Michael Kirk, Jim Gilmore and Mike Wiser produced the documentary.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/netanyahu-at-war/

After watching it, I thought it should have been entitled, “Netanyahu and Obama at War” even though only about half the program focuses on that phase of Netanyahu’s relations with the United States. The program began, as do many dramatic series on television, with a series of very brief clips of strong opinions voiced by many of Middle East observers and specialists dealing with the last decade-and-a-half and subsequently sprinkled throughout the documentary. The range of experts included in the show was very impressive. And they virtually all spoke as frankly as Netanyahu did when he upbraided President Obama in his own White House. The climax of the program took place when Netanyahu visited the United States and in a joint press conference, Netanyahu lectured Obama in public. Netanyahu’s famous address to a joint session of Congress where he received 26 standing ovations emerged as an anti-climax, though it is portrayed at the beginning of the documentary as the pinnacle of the war between the two.

The program began in March 2015 in Jerusalem at the Prime Minister’s residence when Prime Minister Netanyahu was determined to stop Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran just before he was about to the deliver his famous speech to the American Congress. (Full disclosure. I have written a great deal in support of that deal and have been critical of the stance that Netanyahu took on the deal.) The television program, at least on the surface, tried to take a non-partisan position of detachment.

After all, the show opened with Eyal Arad, part of Netanyahu’s inner circle in the early nineties, but more recently the two have fallen out over accusations that Arad had been the conduit through which Israeli NGOs received foreign funding, a charge Arad found hypocritical since Netanyahu offered him a job once to be paid by foreign donors. Ayad stated that Netanyahu had a messianic notion of himself as a person called to service in a mission to save the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel more particularly. Ayad was followed by Tachi Hanegbi, another close adviser to Netanyahu, who declared that Netanyahu had never before made such an important speech. Bibi believed he had a historic role to play. Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, then appeared and stated that Bibi wants to be the person that stops the evil power of Iran in the same way that Churchill stopped Nazi Germany. Netanyahu was clear. He wanted to make the strongest case possible against the deal so that he could go down in history as the person who warned us all about what is about to happen.

Peter Baker of The New York Times then appeared and stated that it is rare for anyone to come to America and directly tell the President of the United States that he is wrong. In fact, I believe it was unprecedented. Even more audacious, this foreign leader interfered directly in American foreign affairs and told members of Congress that they have a duty to stop Obama, to prevent their own president from going forward with the Iranian nuclear deal with Iran. The risk to Israeli-American relations was enormous as Ronen Bergman (The Secret War with Iran) pronounced subsequently.

Further, it was an enormous gamble. Because, as Chemi Shalev of Haaretz said, Bibi was willing to sacrifice U.S.-Israeli relations to advance his goal. So Bibi addressed the Republican-controlled Congress with many Democrats boycotting the session making it clear that this was a totally partisan affair with a foreign Prime Minister lining up with the official opposition to the President. Unprecedented is too weak a characterization for what was taking place. As Bibi began in traditional Zionist rather than just revisionist political-speak, “The days when Jews were passive in front of genocidal enemies are over.”

The Congressional applause was overwhelming. Bibi then insisted that we always have to remember that the greatest danger facing our world is when there is a marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons. But Bibi went further. He lectured Obama, an ex-law professor who used to teach constitutional law, on the meaning of the American constitution and what it demanded of its political leaders. Iran’s founding document promises death, tyranny and the pursuit of jihad in opposition to the American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The two counties, Bibi insisted, were foundationally sworn enemies. Epic indeed. A person with a messianic complex believing that he was at a crossroads in history with a Churchillian mission to stop evil in its tracks!

The documentary then switched to Obama declaring that Obama had never been as furious and that the White House saw Netanyahu’s chutzpah as a usurpation. One commentator inexplicably even described the livid feeling of the White House as feeling that a coup d’état had been attempted. Netanyahu’s position was not simply a disagreement over Obama’s policy, but an outright attack on what Obama regarded as a central achievement for his foreign policy legacy. Sandy Berger, former national security advisor, in fact, introduced the theme that Obama set immediately after his inauguration – to recast America as a close friend of the Islamic world and, to that end, Obama wanted to show that the US was no longer joined at the hip to Israel.

David Remnick of The New Yorker called the whole episode a humiliation for Obama taking place at a very sensitive moment in the negotiations with Iran. Obama, in his follow-up press conference noted that Netanyahu had not offered an alternative scenario. For if there was no deal, Iran would immediately resume pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. Of course, there was an implicit alternative: the United States in concert with Israel using even more coercive pressure on Iran. The problem was not an absence of an alternative strategy, but the efficaciousness of such a strategy in comparison to the diplomatic route. Further, the coercive strategy stood behind the diplomatic channel to suggest to Iran what could happen if no agreement was reached. Of course, for the U.S. (and Israel) the alternative was Iran putting its effort to develop nuclear weapons in high gear without U.S. and Israeli good intelligence access to Iran’s progress.

Aaron David Miller, who had worked in the State Department for 25 years from 1978 to 2003, saw the clash as a train wreck bound to happen given the dysfunction coming from both sides. He was the first commentator in the documentary to suggest the source of the problem had a double root. That provided the segue to allow the documentary to go back in history and trace the historical roots of the conflict in terms of Netanyahu’s personal history:

  • Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, was a professor of history at Cornell who saw himself as unable to get tenure at Hebrew University at the time because of his strong revisionist beliefs; Benzion saw the world as fundamentally hostile to the Jewish people, as Miller described him, with the Nazi Holocaust just the latest and worst manifestation of an age-old hostility to the Jewish people
  • As a result, from the age of 7, Bibi grew up in the U.S. where in New York and Philadelphia he learned to speak like an American and to possess a deep love of and admiration for the U.S.
  • Bibi still had to earn his Israeli spurs: Netanyahu when he was in the IDF as a young officer was part of the special Israeli strike force disguised as maintenance crew that stormed a hijacked Sabena plane scheduled to fly from Brussels to Tel Aviv, an operation in which the passengers were all saved and a few Israeli soldiers were slightly wounded, including Netanyahu who injured his hand by friendly fire; two of the three members of Black September were killed and the other was captured along with the Arab women with them
  • So terrorist actions reinforced his view, according to Ari Shavit, that the world was out to get the Jews and, in the bottom line, only Jews could be relied upon to protect themselves from the terrible demonic forces that faced Jews
  • When Israel did not occupy East Jerusalem, did not occupy the West Bank, did not occupy the Golan Heights, did not occupy Gaza, did not occupy Sinai, Arab states amassed to attack Israel with thousands of tanks and a quarter million soldiers; Israel proved its mettle by defeating them all, including the renowned Jordanian forces after the Jordanian king ignored Israel’s plea to stay out of the war
  • Palestinian leaders had promised to slaughter the Jews, to wipe them out, but they did not succeed.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic claimed The Six Day War set in motion a lot of what we are dealing with today. Is that thesis, so common in intellectual circles, accurate, or is the right wing view a better descriptor since the war had been continuous ever since Jews began to return to their ancient land? Certainly, the humanitarian card once more came to the fore, the so-called million homeless and displaced Palestinian refugees, as if they had no national home to which they could go and where they could be protected. For revisionists, there was no parallel with the Jews. Just one loss in a war would mean the loss of any homeland and the prospect of Jews en masse wiped out and not just turned into refugees. But the documentary ignored entirely this perspective and instead insisted that it was the occupation of Palestinian lands that ignited decades of conflict as if there had been no conflict heretofore.

As Dore Gold, another Netanyahu advisor, opined, The Six Day War proved that Israelis had always to be alert, always would need good intelligence, and both a readiness and an ability to respond quickly with military force when threatened. That version of history had been instilled in Bibi since he was born and he skipped his high school graduation in the U.S. to return to Israel and, if possible, fight the Arabs in he Six Day War. The war ended too quickly for him to do anything but dig trenches. But he was present at that crucial turning point in Israeli history.

His views were further reinforced when Israel was attacked in 1973 and then again when his older brother, Jonathan (Joni), who commanded the elite IDF unit, Sayeret Matkal that freed the civilians in Entebbe, was himself killed and became one of the mythical figures of Israeli history. David Remnick of The New Yorker insisted that there is no question that this event imprinted in Bibi even more deeply his sense of mission and purpose. After graduating from MIT, Bibi reinvented himself on the American media as an expert on terrorism. A PLO state would mean more war, more violence in the Middle East. And Bibi in the eighties became an official spokesman at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Marvin Kalb of NBC News insisted that this was critical to contemporary politics, mastering the media and selling your country and its narrative to the world, especially in Ronald Reagan’s America where Bibi’s portrait of Good against Evil had a very receptive audience.

At age 34, Benjamin Netanyahu was appointed as Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, a position that had been so important in Israeli history since Abba Eban held the position in the birthing days of the young state. The story he sold was that the Security Council condoned Palestinian violence against Israel while condemning Israeli efforts to take counter-measures. In 1988, Bibi resigned to return to Israel and build his right wing political base. What was omitted from the documentary was the historical record of a revisionist Israeli politician, namely Menachem Begin, giving Sinai back to the Egyptians and signing a peace agreement with Egypt. What was also ignored was the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement.

Then the Clinton years, the nineties, when Good versus Evil was no longer fashionable and the push for peace between Israel and Palestinians was now at the front of the American agenda.  After a long protracted and fumbling path, Yitzchak Rabin and Yasser Arafat had finally entered into direct negotiations. Dennis Ross, an American Middle East envoy to the Middle East from 1993-2001, witnessed it all and was representative in regarding these negotiations as a historic breakthrough because, for the first time, both sides declared that they were prepared to recognize the other. Was Israel unprepared to recognize Arab control over the West Bank and Gaza before 1967? Oslo was regarded as historic because Palestinians were now negotiating for themselves, but many Israelis suspected that the PLO was not really prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and that this was all a diversion to reinforce the Palestinian cause.

President Bill Clinton presided in the White House as Arafat and Rabin not only signed the Oslo Accords, the blueprint for arriving at a final peace agreement, but shook hands in a historic symbolic moment that became an iconic image. Saeb Erekat, the Chief Palestinian peace negotiator, asked in the documentary the crucial question. Would the handshake lead to a shift in cultural views on both sides, to shift to a belief that peace is possible, to shift to a position of live and let live?

While the world, as Martin Indyk, U.S. Ambassador to Israel 1995-1997 opined, celebrated that historic handshake on the White House lawn, angry protests were taking place all across Israel. Netanyahu was building a coalition of the religious and the political right strongly opposed to the Oslo Agreement. According to Marvin Kalb (The Road to War), Netanyahu did not believe in the possibility of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians. As he would later treat the Iran Accord, Netanyahu saw the Oslo Accords as marking a point of peril for Israel, reinforcing his belief that such an agreement could never and would never work. The extreme vitriol, the incitement, led directly to Rabin’s assassination before the elections. “In blood and fire we will expel Rabin.” Netanyahu never tried to dampen the fiery storms and deep seated fears and hatreds on the right. The ground was ready for a Yigal Amir to assassinate Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin.

Bill Clinton said it all. Wearing a kippa and addressing the Israeli public, he said, “Your Prime Minister was a martyr for peace but he was a victim of hate.” If hatred is not combated it grows within oneself as a cancer. Just as Netanyahu would do later in Obama’s second run for office, Clinton went overboard in trying to influence the Israeli election. Netanyahu was by then trailing badly in the polls. Then Hamas assured his victory by blowing up the No. 18 bus in Jerusalem. So, as Ari Shavit said, Rabin’s great heroic act led to a new wave of terror and people dying in the streets of Israel. Over nine days, four suicide bombers, 59 dead, hundreds injured. Hamas had effectively sabotaged Oslo and ensued Netanyahu’s election. “This peace is killing us.” The promise of security had worked, even though the coalition on the right had only the slimmest of majorities.

But Clinton and Netanyahu were doomed to clash. The politics of hope and the politics of fear are very incompatible bedfellows. Oslo was Clinton’s legacy. Oslo was Netanyahu’s nightmare. After lecturing Clinton on the Middle East, Netanyahu bowed to American pressure, at least a little, and agreed to meet with Arafat. He then pulled Israeli troops out of Hebron. Instead of the direct confrontation he later would use against Obama, Bibi seemed determined to slow walk peace to death with his maddening manoeuvres, though, in the end, Arafat would do the job for him. In the meanwhile, an unholy alliance between the left and the right in Israel brought down Prime Minister Netanyahu. The lesson Netanyahu learned: whatever else you do, keep your base intact and do not compromise to satisfy the American president one iota lest your supporters be unforgiving and desert you.

Ehud Barak won the election; Netanyahu suffered an overwhelming defeat. Clinton now gambled all to try to forge a final peace deal. Barak made an offer even dedicated peaceniks thought far reaching. Arafat refused to buy in even though Barak had agreed to cede East Jerusalem. Another intifada broke out. The left in Israel on the side of peace were fundamentally undercut. Most Israelis simply gave up on any belief in peace.

The same thing happened on the Palestinian side. Frustration, disappointment, anger – everything fed the extremists on both sides as the middle wilted away. Diana Buttu, a Palestinian negotiator, however, never blamed Arafat for refusing the deal. There was just no deal to be made even for the red lines on each side. The peace process had proved bankrupt. Netanyahu seemed vindicated once again.

Elliott Abrams (with the American National Security Council 2001-2009) was dead right that in Israel the despair about peace, the distrust of the Palestinians, had now spread to the middle-roaders and to some degree even into the peace camp. On the other hand, terror spread to America itself as the twin towers in New York came crashing down as a result of two hijacked planes flown into them by terrorists on 11 September 2001. Bush was then the president as good was then seen as the enemy of evil once again. By 2008, Netanyahu was re-elected as Prime Minister.

Obama was also re-elected and initiated his policy of opening the U.S. to the Muslims of the world based on mutual interest and mutual respect. On his first day in office, he phoned Mahmoud Abbas. Later in his first television interview, he chose an Arab TV network. Obama had been trained as someone who could use words to bring peace to the streets of Chicago and he believed that the same capacities could bring peace to the Middle East.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Solidarity: Coercion, Influence and Authority in Contemporary Society

Part II: Cases

 

  1. Solidarity: Coercion, Influence and Authority in Contemporary Society

“Solidarity Forever,” written by a member of the International Workers of the World (the Wobblies), Ralph Caplin, in 1915, and sung to the tune of “John Brown’s Body” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” was the most widely belted out tune by the United Jewish People’s Order (UJPO) when I was a kid. It was the anthem of the Jewish communist organization. It was popular among unions and socialist groups. We sang it at our non-communist summer camp and it was adopted by the social and racial protest groups of the sixties in which communists played a very minor role. When I was active in the cooperative movement in my twenties, however, the “Battle Hymn of Cooperation” was sometimes sung as a substitute and rival. The words of the original are as follows:

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,

There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;

Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,

But the union makes us strong.

 

CHORUS:

Solidarity forever,

Solidarity forever,

Solidarity forever,

For the union makes us strong.

Is there aught we hold in common with the greedy parasite,

Who would lash us into serfdom and would crush us with his might?

Is there anything left to us but to organize and fight?

For the union makes us strong.

Chorus

It is we who plowed the prairies; built the cities where they trade;

Dug the mines and built the workshops, endless miles of railroad laid;

Now we stand outcast and starving midst the wonders we have made;

But the union makes us strong.

Chorus

All the world that’s owned by idle drones is ours and ours alone.

We have laid the wide foundations; built it skyward stone by stone.

It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own.

While the union makes us strong.

Chorus

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,

But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.

We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn

That the union makes us strong.

Chorus

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,

Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.

We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old

For the union makes us strong.

The themes are simple. The lone individual is weak. The collective – in this case the collective of the trade and labour union – makes us strong. Why do we need that unity and strength that comes through membership in a worker’s union? Because the employers, the capitalists, the greedy parasites and idle drones, are exploiters who would, if they could, turn workers into serfs, even though what you see all around you has been built by those workers and is ostensibly owned by those workers. Yet when times get tough, workers are dispensable even though what has been constructed, what feeds us, has been built and supplied by those very same workers. The only way we can repossess what was once rightly ours is to break the power of the capitalists. The only way to do that is through the union, through solidarity. That is the only way that the exploitive character of the capitalist system can be overthrown and a new world order rise from its ashes.

Why were we singing this song in camps in the forties and fifties and in the protest marches against nuclear testing and then against racial segregation in the sixties? The words did not match our positions, our beliefs or our role as students, at least for the vast majority of us. We did not think of capitalists as slave drivers and exploiters, idle drones and parasites. Workers in unions were earning good wages. Nor did we in the New Left believe that the individual was powerless without belonging to a collectivity.

I raise this issue for two reasons. First I want to introduce the vertical bar of power and the horizontal bar of solidarity. The premise of the song is that the less power you have, the closer you are to the bottom of the vertical bar of power, the wider and the more unity needed in the horizontal cross bar of solidarity. The undisclosed ironic premise was also that, in such a world view, more coercion was required to maintain and enhance that solidarity. The union was not just the aggregation of individual interests, but a larger entity to which the individual owed his or her proportionate rewards.

The second reason is because I want to telegraph a theme – the incongruity between what we said and sung and our own predominant values. In the sixties in the nuclear protest movement and in the striving for the rights of those who suffered from racial discrimination and social injustice, we did not identify with their struggle because we experienced the absence of power at the root of their suffering or because we shared in their interests. Nor did we believe that the ruling order was intent on blowing us all up or even were just lackeys of the military-industrial complex. Nor were they drones and exploiters. They were just politicians inattentive to our priorities, values and concerns. Countervailing power was not needed to bring them around. Pressure and education would be sufficient to influence them. Nevertheless, we sang the old Wobbly union song to express our solidarity with the downtrodden and those who were racially excluded or segregated in inferior situations. We wanted solidarity among people with very different interests and we did not believe that we needed power to challenge power.

These incongruencies and contradictions are apparent in periods of historical transformation. In the sixties we were in the final stages of society’s transformation from a modern society based on rights and freedoms. Solidarity played a very ambiguous role no longer linked to the acquisition of coercive power. The secular religion that developed vied with a secularist religion which relegated both morality and traditional religion to the private sphere as it manipulated to acquire and hold power in partnership with economic interests that worshipped at the feet of the idol of the free-market. This was the new postmodern world. In this world, traditional religion was sidelined. The two forms of religious secularism occupied the main space. To understand the character of this shift, it is necessary to offer a very potted overview of fundamental paradigm shifts in the structure of our beliefs, thoughts and passions. But first a note on coercive power.

Solidarity is horizontal. It attacks the problem of how one achieves unity among a myriad of individuals. There are three dimensions to that effort. The first is power, the vertical bar discussed above. It has two faces – the creative use of the energy of each of the members of the group and the group as a whole, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the way coercion is applied to exclude outsiders, identify outsiders as threats and enemies, and promise security and protection for the members within the collectivity.

The second dimension is influence. That influence may be material focused on how an organization serves and enhances the material interests of its members to maintain their sense of identity and inhibit a desire to leave – exit. Alternatively, that influence entails ideas and ideology, a common set of principles and values to bestir loyalty and a system for ensuring input to defining those values. The third is authority which also has two faces.  On the one hand, there are the formal rules and regulations by and through which the organization is run. The tensions between the coercive versus creative uses of power and the competing interests and ideas are provided with boundaries by those rules and regulations. However, those same rules and regulations do not let us discern whether the leadership is authentic behind that exercise of authority or whether the authority is merely formal. Does the leadership represent the interests and articulate the best ideas to allow the organization to persevere with the minimal application of coercion or does the leadership simply pick and choose among rules and regulations as an exercise of power (Adelman 1976)?

How does one know whether the authority of an organization or the state as a whole is being used in a manipulative way or, alternatively, to represent the interests and values of an organization? One clue is whether the leadership emphasizes and exaggerates the role and place of external enemies and plays on the fear of its members about dangers from within or without, and, in turn, induces flight and exit from that collectivity altogether. On the other hand, to what extent are ideals allowed and encouraged, to what extent are interests represented? And how is authority actually exercised? These various dimensions of authority, influence and power determine the degree of solidarity of a group. This essay, will, however, primarily focus on the interaction of power and solidarity and largely bracket the other two dimensions. But a few notes on authority and influence first.

In the case of the solidarity which we praised and sang hymns to in my youth, we were free of any authority of any organizational rules which governed our behaviour. Further, we usually had leaders truly identified with the interests and values of the membership since there were few material or other rewards. Authentic authority counted, not formal authority. In the area of interests, we were fighting for interests that were either not our own (people suffering from racial discrimination or, in the case of aboriginal Canadians, from neglect and material exclusion), though in the beginning in the nuclear disarmament movement we were focused on interests that were our own and, as in the contemporary environmental movement, interests that encompassed us all. We fought battles through ideas, not material influence. But most of all, we fought against the misuse of coercive power that could end up blowing up the whole world in the name of providing for our collective security.

Because we ourselves lacked coercive power, because the authority of the organizations were weak and the continuation ephemeral, and because we had never really worked out how to reconcile power and authority while enhancing both material and intellectual creativity, we could sing songs of solidarity with a substantial message that had virtually nothing to do with reality. They were the hymns of the Old Left adopted by the New Left already inhabiting a very different world. The totally apparent contradictions of the hymns offered the best clue that the issue of solidarity in reconciling power, influence and authority had not been resolved.

We were not free of identifying an enemy without (the political-industrial complex), though most of us eschewed such simplistic reification of those responsible for the nuclear arms race. The common interests were usually one-themed objectives – stopping nuclear testing and the production of strontium 90 that got into the milk of babies. The organizations fostered open dissent and disagreement, but had difficulty working out methods of resolving fundamental differences that avoided exit or sectarianism. (Hirschman 1970). For the core question with respect to solidarity is who is included and who excluded. In our modern states, this fundamentally revolves around the basic question of who can and cannot become citizens of that state and the entry or exit routes for that decision.

On the level of solidarity, the major question is one of either exit or participation. There are two basic alternatives:

  1. A normative method, such as in traditional religion or in what I argue are the elements of a new secular religion, wherein every individual is instilled with a common set of rules and practices that are internalized to form habits. In that way, political systems need the least coercive power to attain and maintain solidarity while fostering individual freedom;
  2. Structural control so that system of distribution of power as defined formally wherein that formal system infuses every relationship and provides a hierarchy of power and stratification that defines how power is distributed and how influence, both material and ideological, may be exercised.

There are three routes to travel in dealing with these two alternatives. On the one hand, the principle of solidarity may take from traditional religion the internalization of rules, values and practices, and, via state structures, the system of authority and organization of power in a dialectical tension to promote the self-realization of the individual. Second, one can break away from a system of internalizing rules altogether and foster material self-interest through the discipline of economic market forces now operating globally on the foundations of an ostensible rational choice model. Third, one can build a system which decreasingly rests on the rule of any law, internalized or external, though often using traditional internalized rules and practices to undermine the rule of law, and instead rest authority on a single leader or party, usually married to nationalism, as the way of translating and using the rules of the traditional religion to foster a new one.

This is the case in Putin’s Russia or in Iran’s theocracy or Egypt’s military state or in a host of would-bes, with a particular concentration in states where one sect or other of Islam is ascendant, and corrupt. Authoritarian governments and leaders disrespect internalized norms of traditional religion that foster tolerance and respect for differences. Instead, they use external norms and dress codes to control populations, particularly the population of women. Most of all, these regimes rely on fear to keep their populations in line. Stephen Harper’s divisive efforts in Canada and disrespect for many established democratic norms, however much hated by a majority of Canadians, have been a very weak and insipid version of such mechanisms.

Western democracies faced with these two outliers find that the political party most wedded ideologically to both extremes – the worship of the free market with minimal political input and the worship of an authoritarian leader – also generally emphasize most of all a set of values inculcated through habits and traditional practices, usually religious, to foster solidarity. That religious secularism has the strongest tendency to rely on the politics of fear. That party also faces an opposition that tries to meld market forces that are policed and governed by polities and the rule of law, with political institutions that protect against authoritarian tendencies by marrying the internal coherence of the market with lawful authority through the new religion of universal human rights. Unfortunately, the effort operates as an abstraction representing the actual invisible and internalized practices fostering tolerance in such a society. As such, that opposition lacks the power and appeal of such forces for bonding as nationalism. Inability to foster loyalty and solidarity is the Achilles’ heel of the religious secularism of HRH.

I will next spell out how these tensions manifest themselves in one case study of citizenship rites and another case study of refugee policy in Canada, particularly the policy on the intake of Syrian refugees.

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

Goals and Significance of the Iran Deal

by

Howard Adelman

This past summer, John Robson wrote an op-ed in the National Post (17 July 2015) claiming that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” He went from that assumption to its presumed opposite, asserting that those most committed to the deal then must have a very different agenda than stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He speculated that it might mean a desire to promote regime change provided that this happens before Iran goes nuclear in ten years. Or perhaps the real motive is a soft-headed rather than hard-hearted intent simply to delay Iran going nuclear for just ten years. (He did not write soft-hearted versus hard-headed, but if he so deliberately turns what is written on its head, he perhaps deserves the same treatment, even if only for a weak attempt at humour.)

However, ignoring the extreme misrepresentation for the moment, just look at the bad logic. To repeat, he insists that, “those most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear are most unhappy with the deal.” But is it not more valid to assert that those most unhappy with the deal are more determined to continue economically crippling Iran so it is less able to pursue its hegemonic program in the Middle East and enhance its extreme antagonism towards Israel? Are these goals not the primary ones rather than any determination to stop Iran from going nuclear? The presumption that Netanyahu and his ilk are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear is a presumption, not a fact, and I would argue a false one. Further, even if it was accepted that the extreme opponents of the deal are the ones most determined to stop Iran from going nuclear – a very questionable assumption indeed – it does not follow that this is the reason that they are really unhappy with the deal. Nor does it explain their actions, particularly Netanyahu appearing before the American Congress to try to persuade Americans to kill the deal. Netanyahu said, “I deeply regret that some perceive my being here as political; that was never my intention.” But how else can one describe the enormous effort the Jewish state put in to killing the deal. Motives can be overdetermined – to kill the deal, to prevent Iran from becoming an even more powerful economic and military power in the region, and even, perhaps, to heighten the political schisms already in America.

The false assumptions and illogic in reasoning is also to be found in the characterization of the proponents of the deal. While those proponents, as I indicated in my last blog, have a modest agenda focused only on making sure Iran does not develop nuclear weapons and that they have no agenda beyond that, the argument that they must have another hidden agenda, such as an illusionary expectation of regime change, does not follow from the argument that the opponents of the deal are most determined to stop Iran from becoming nuclear. It is both logically and empirically possible that the proponents and opponents are equally, or almost equally opposed to Iran not acquiring nuclear arms, but either side may have additional, and often very understandable and even commendable goals separate from that one, such as the fairly obvious one, that Netanyahu also has the goal of keeping Iran crippled economically.

Now I wish that John Robson were just an extreme example of a critic who is both illogical and misrepresents reality, but, unfortunately, this is not the case. He may teach history in Ottawa and be a journalist and documentary filmmaker, but he also may be one of the poorest critics of the accord. He, however, has lots of company, though many do not defend that opposition on the basis of sheer partisanship that is immune to wrestling with facts and rational argument.

Take another critic of the accord, Shimon Kofler Fogel, CEO for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the Canadian counterpart to America’s AIPAC. At least in his op-ed alongside John Robson’s, he says what he believes is wrong in his view of the deal, that it fails to leverage the diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran to reign in its hegemonic foreign policy goals and its extreme antipathy to Israel. He is absolutely correct. It does not do that. Further, all parties negotiating with Iran did not believe that was a feasible goal. But Fogel, though accurate about the non-achievement of the accord, is also guilty of false reasoning. If the weight of sanctions coerced the Iranian regime to come to the negotiating table, then, he argues, it follows that those conditions can and ought to have been used to modify Iranian foreign policy. But that does not follow at all, not only not for Iran, but for virtually all of the other representatives of the six nations negotiating with Iran.

The fact that Iran is the leading sponsor of terror in the Middle East (I personally think ISIS is, but Iran is horrible enough, and the point is not worth debating here), that it is a brutal regime with an enormous number of executions per year and extreme repression of its minorities, mainly Bahä.a’is, does not invalidate the value of the agreement. Fogel’s recommendation that relief from the sanctions should be tied to Iranian tangible progress on reducing Iran’s role as a state-sponsor of terror is disingenuous. For, to repeat, it was neither the goal of the negotiations nor one that any reasonably-knowledgeable person argues could be achieved by negotiations at this time. The agreement already allows for his other recommendations – continuing to define Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism, continuing the criticism of Iran for its horrendous human rights record and the continuing use of sanctions for these reasons – quite separate from the provisions of the Special Economic Measures Act.

The goal of the negotiations with Iran was clearly spelled out in Obama’s first election platform, but particularly in the Prague Agenda articulated in an Obama speech in Hradčany Square of the Czech capital on 5 April 2009, which focused on Iran, not as a rogue state, not as a promoter of terrorism, not as a human rights abuser and, most of all, not as an intractable enemy of Israel. The focus was on promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy and reinforcing mechanisms in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Obama was intent on reducing the risks posed by nuclear weapons while simultaneously supporting and promoting nuclear energy as an alternative for peaceful purposes.

The Prague Agenda included a broad swath of goals, many since achieved:

  • Negotiating a new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by 30%;
  • Cancellation of the Bush plan to deploy ground-based strategic missile interceptors in Europe;
  • Restricting the strategic use of America’s nuclear arsenal to deterrence only;
  • Banning nuclear testing for the future.

The Prague Agenda included further restrictions on North Korea and Pakistan, but these have notably not been achieved. However, the goal of rallying international support and engaging Iran to resolve the crisis over its military nuclear program has now finally been achieved after over five years of work. The Majli, the Iranian parliament has just endorsed the deal. So has the Obama administration. “My administration will seek engagement with Iran based on mutual interests and mutual respect. We believe in dialogue. But in that dialogue we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community.” (my italics) Israel wanted no such result for this regime.

Making the world safer from nuclear terror and reigning in Iran did not supplant the need for deterrence and a strong regional strategy. (It may have had an inadvertent impact on it.) Further, the achievement of such a goal of eliminating the prospect of Iran becoming a nuclear power had to meet a number of criteria:

  1. The strongest inspection and verification system ever;
  2. Elimination of advanced centrifuges and a significant reduction of older models;
  3. A virtual elimination of Iran’s stockpile of highly enriched uranium
  4. Sanctions relief as a quid pro quo;
  5. Spelling out repercussions in case of violations.

A further word is needed on the prospect of regime change in Iran and transformation of its confrontational ideology. Paul Berman in The Tablet on 15 July 2015 focused on a single paragraph in Obama’s speech about the conclusion of the Iran deal. Obama stated in reference to U.S./Iran relations, “Our differences are real, and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored. But it is possible to change. The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel – that’s a dead end. A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.”

Paul Berman insisted that this one paragraph was crucial because, “if a change among the Iranians is not, in fact, possible, then Obama’s critics are right. The deal will turn out to be a disaster because, in the short run, it will strengthen the Islamic Republic conventionally and, in the long run, will strengthen the Islamic Republic unconventionally – and, all the while, the Islamic Republic will go on treading the dead-end path of violence and rigid ideology and the dream of eradicating demonic enemies. It is hard to imagine how, under those circumstances, the deal will reduce the chances of war. On the contrary, Iran’s endangered neighbors will contemplate their own prospective eradication and will certainly notice that time is against them, and they would be foolish not to act.”

It is one thing to argue that regime transformation may take place as a result of the deal and the insistence that it must take place or else the deal is more than worthless for it will enhance the prospect of war in the region. Obama made the former claim. Berman extracted from that slim possibility and transformed it magically into an absolute necessity. In that case, then the nuclear containment deal to peaceful uses is only as good as the strength of the possibility of transformation of the Iranian regime. That is clearly not Obama’s position.

It is and was certainly not the goal of the Iranians who stood steadfast in the opposition to the “arrogant” U.S., “the policies of which they viewed to be at 180 degrees to their own. The U.S. remained as the “Great Satan” ever after 18 months of negotiations. Israel remained its implacable enemy. Though Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted that the deal was only about guaranteeing that Iran could continue its peaceful program of developing nuclear energy and had no wider goals, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani insisted there was another aim: opening a new chapter of cooperation with the outside world after years of sanctions. He predicted that the “win-win” result would gradually eliminate mutual mistrust. Similarly, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also saw the deal as going beyond the nuclear arrangements and hopefully could lead to greater regional and international cooperation.

What have Benjamin Netanyahu’s goals been in rejecting and criticizing the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program? Let me go back to his address to a joint session of Congress, not the one earlier this year, but the one he delivered on 24 May 2011 before the negotiations got underway and when the Arab Spring remained a gleam in many eyes, including Netanyahu’s. Though most of his address focused on the negotiations with the Palestinians, a small portion of his remarks addressed the question of Iran. Iran was depicted as the most powerful force in the Middle East opposed to modernity, opposed to democracy and opposed to peace. Here are Netanyahu’s words verbatim:

The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against Americans troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.

When I last stood here, I spoke of the consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out. The hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons. (my italics) Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam. A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world.

These were not Obama’s words, but those of Netanyahu. Then he came across as the most vocal champion of ensuring that a militant Iran did not possess nuclear weapons. Just over seven months later, in the 2012 new year, when the U.S. led the successful charge to impose new and tough sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking industry as the “only” diplomatic measure that could force Iran to the negotiating table, after President Obama signed legislation imposing sanctions against Iran’s central bank to impede Iranian oil sales and the EU put plans in place for an oil embargo, this goal was no longer sufficient for Netanyahu. The consequent weakening of the Iranian rial led Iran to state that it was willing to permit a visit by a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which, independently of the world powers, had suggested that Iran was working towards acquiring the ability to make nuclear weapons. As the goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear weapons came nearer, Netanyahu’s pitch shifted.

There was one discordant note at the time. Israel wanted the U.S. to warn Iran that if the sanctions and diplomacy failed to get Iran to abandon its nuclear program, the U.S. should warn Iran that the U.S. would resort to military means to stop Iran. While not ruling out such a possibility, the U.S. refused to threaten Iran if negotiations failed. In contrast, Netanyahu, while applauding the new economic sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s military nuclear program, insisted that only if the sanctions were combined with the threat of military action would the effort succeed. Netanyahu was proven wrong. It succeeded beyond most expectations. No threat of military action was necessary.

That note threatening military action grew far more shrill when Netanyahu, during the period in which he was struggling to put together a new coalition government, addressed an AIPAC Policy Conference in March 2013. After the usual praise for the President and Vice-President of the U.S., after the accolades to the government of the United States as Israel’s best and most steadfast ally, Netanyahu now insisted far more vociferously that sanctions were insufficient and that Iran needed to be militarily threatened.

Iran has made it clear that it will continue to defy the will of the international community. Time after time, the world powers have tabled diplomatic proposals to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue peacefully. But diplomacy has not worked. (my italics) Iran ignores these offers. It is running out the clock. It has used negotiations to buy time to press ahead with its nuclear program. Thus far, the sanctions have not stopped the nuclear program either. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard. But Iran’s leaders grit their teeth and move forward. Iran enriches more and more uranium.  It installs faster and faster centrifuges Iran has still not crossed the red line I drew at the United Nations last September. But they are getting closer and closer to that line. And they are putting themselves in a position to cross that line very quickly once they decide to do so. Ladies and Gentlemen, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, we cannot allow Iran to cross that line. We must stop its nuclear enrichment program before it will be too late.  Words alone will not stop Iran.  Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. (my italics) Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.

From March 2013 until November 2013 when the negotiators were on the verge of a tentative deal with Iran, and with the US Senate poised to authorize new sanctions, and after Obama phoned Netanyahu to ask him not to oppose the deal, Netanyahu did just that, openly opposed the deal by phoning all the other leaders asking them to block it. French President François Hollande agreed. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, carried the message to his colleagues in the negotiations which bought time for Israel to take further steps to try to stop the deal after Netanyahu had failed to persuade John Kerry at Ben Gurion Airport not to loosen sanctions without the Iranians agreeing to halt the nuclear project altogether. The sticking points then were Iran’s stock of enriched uranium and the heavy water reactor at Arak that could produce plutonium from spent fuel.

The delay turned out to be temporary only. On 24 November 2013, an interim agreement, called the Joint Plan of Action, was agreed upon in Geneva that provided for a short-term freeze on much of Iran’s nuclear program in return for a decrease in the economic sanctions against Iran, the agreement to commence on 20 January 2014. Iran agreed not to commission or fuel the Arak heavy-water reactor or build a reprocessing plant to convert spent fuel into plutonium, agreed not to commission the Bushehr Nuclear Plant, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plan, the Isafahn uranium-conversion plant, the Natanz uranium-conversion plant and the Parchin military research and development complex. Iran also agreed to stop enriching uranium above 5% reactor-grade, and to dilute its stock of 20%-enriched uranium. As well, Iran agreed not to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and to leave half its 16,000 centrifuges inoperable, all this to be verified by more extensive and frequent inspections.

That is when Netanyahu first labelled the deal a historic mistake and became an implacable foe to the negotiations. But not because it left Iran as an implacable foe of Israel. Not because of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Those reasons would come later. At that point the deal was opposed because it did not dismantle Iran’s nuclear capacity altogether. In other words, Netanyahu now opposed Iran even having the ability to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu had upped the ante and produced a deep gulf between Israel and the P5+1, for the premise of the negotiations from the get-go was that Iran would be allowed to use its nuclear knowhow and facilities for peaceful purposes. In his speech to the Knesset on the Plan of Action, Netanyahu admitted that sanctions without a military threat had, in fact, produced significant and successful results, but the deal was still bad because the results were not tangible. Effectively shutting down Iran’s nuclear military production was insufficient.

From then on, the line of attack grew more shrill, more definitive, and the grounds expanded until the bulk of the weight was not on the efficacy of inspections or the length of time Iran’s military nuclear program would be in place, though these were always there and were almost always deformed with less and less resemblance to the actual terms of the agreement. It soon became obvious and clear that Netanyahu was not really after an agreement that halted the possibility of Iran developing nuclear weapons, but that he opposed the deal because Iran without nuclear arms would be an even more dangerous foe of Israel. However, preventing Iran from using its facilities for peaceful purposes had never been a premise of the negotiations or there never would have been any negotiations. Further, that goal of dismantling Iran’s nuclear facilities altogether had not been Netanyahu’s goal eighteen months earlier.

Netanyahu was now engaged in gross exaggeration if not an outright lie. “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world .” (my italics) This is a bad agreement; this is a historic mistake. This became his mantra. Both were evaluations of a very dubious nature as more and more information emerged about both the Action Plan and the terms of the ongoing negotiations. Netanyahu’s efforts to weave his new critique and reconcile it with his old support for simply a ban on Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons was skating on thinner and thinner ice. The release of the final agreement in July allowed him to fall through the ice, but the freezing water has not reduced the pitch of his hysteria one iota. Netanyahu had established to any objective observer, as distinct from his horde of cheerleaders, that he was not the one most opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons; he wanted to keep Iran impoverished for very understandable reasons given Iran’s irrational and extreme antipathy towards Israel.