Nomination Time in the U.S.A. 1. Michigan

Nomination Time in the U.S.A.   1. Michigan

by

Howard Adelman

There is no magic or appropriate rationale for beginning this exploration of the current electoral mood in the United States except that Michigan is my first stop in my American tour. I begin writing, not in order to predict what will happen in the rest of the presidential nomination process in the U.S., but to understand the process and the factors that have pushed it one way or another and to anticipate possible rather than likely outcomes. The direction of the Southern States is now clear, but not the Northern tier or the Western cluster; Bernie Sanders stands virtually no chance of winning the nomination as the Democratic candidate. Yet without Bernie Sanders, if Michigan is an indication, in a faceoff between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Hilary could be the loser. That is a provocative assertion, but after I clear the underbrush, I will explain my thinking. But before you get all worked up with anxiety about the future of the leadership of the Western world, keep in mind that I wrote, “if Michigan is an indication.”

Given the data, there is an obvious puzzle over why Hillary Clinton, who was projected to win Michigan by a substantial margin according to virtually all polls, lost by a narrow margin. Since the polls for Republican voters were reasonably accurate, what happened? Further, the polls in the subsequent elections in Illinois and Ohio were reasonably accurate, so what happened on 8 March in Michigan, the 24th state to vote
in this year’s American primaries? And what is the relevance for the Presidential election in which Michigan holds 242 votes in the electoral college that will select the President?

I begin with the GOP. The Republican race in Michigan was a primary with a minimum threshold of 15% to even win any delegates, a key factor for Marco Rubio. At the half-way mark, with the contenders reduced to four, Michigan was supposed to offer a good indication of the eventual results. Note that although any candidate whose vote exceeds 50% wins all at-large delegates (as distinct from congressional district delegates) from the state, no candidate did.

Understanding the following basic data is important in Michigan where the total number of delegates at stake in the Republican primary was 59 to be distributed proportionally among the candidates receiving at least 15% of the vote.

Ave. Poll

Candidate          %      Projections      Votes        Delegates   Targets

Donald Trump   36.5     39                  483,751           25             345,000

Ted Cruz            24.9     24                 330,015           17             345,000

John Kasich        24.3    23                  321,655           17             ?

Marco Rubio        9.3    14                  121,672             0             ?

A key indicator was whether Ted Cruz could bring on board white voters without any college experience who, in large proportions did not normally vote. Could his formidable ground force of evangelical/Tea Party supporters, using old-fashioned door-to-door campaigning to bring out the vote, achieve their target of 345,000 votes? They came reasonably close. At the same time, could Donald Trump continue his streak of bringing on board large numbers of previous non-Republican voters and non-voters, especially again among white voters, again without college experience. He succeeded beyond his expectations. John Kasich hoped his track record of creating jobs in neighbouring Ohio could stand in good stead in Michigan where underemployment and unemployment were major issues. He did about as well as expected.

The big loser was, of course, Marco Rubio. As the election approached, Marco Rubio was panicking over polls in his home state of Florida and he shifted to concentrate his efforts there. But his decline in the number of expected delegates and failing to achieve the minimal 15% left him branded as a loser that multiplied his troubles in Florida. The shift in resources and surrender in Michigan proved to be a big mistake, compounded by his stooping into the gutter to engage in dissing with a master of the art, Donald Trump. Elections are not simply or even mostly about policies and programs, especially this year’s Republican primary. They are about stamina and the communication that the candidate in question is a winner. Rubio made a major mistake and lost the Florida primary to an even larger extent in Michigan.

Mitt Romney, a prince among Republicans, had called Donald Trump a phony and a fraud among a large number of epithets thrown at the candidate leading the Republican pack. Mitt Romney was a former governor of Michigan. Although the combination of unaffiliated PAC ads and candidate-affiliated super PAC ads as a percentage of all GOP ads that were anti-Trump grew from 9% in February to 47% in the first week of March, and given that the pro-Marco Rubio Conservative Solutions PAC accounted for five times as many anti-Trump ads as the next-highest group, the ads were, nevertheless, counter-productive and reinforced the anger against the country club establishment in the Republican Party. Donald Trump benefited more from the Rubio loss of votes than either Ted Cruz or John Kaslich.

Look at the results of the exit polls:

  • Trump won 44% of male Republicans, 28% from women.
  • Kasich posted a strong and early lead in the country club counties such as Oakland as expected.
  • Cruz did well considering that Republican congressional representatives tend to be moderate in a state ranked as very liberal generally; Cruz is at the extreme right in the Party, but so are Bill Huizenga and Justin Amash from Michigan.
  • The Trump vote increased by 3.5% over projections.

All of the above are critical to understanding the path of the Republican primary vote, but in the last half dozen presidential races, Michigan voters have supported the Democratic Party’s candidate. So the primary results may help choose the Republican candidate but probably not the winner in the presidential election where the Democrats are expected to take the 242 Michigan electoral college votes.

That is why the Democratic race with 130 Michigan delegates at stake (340 overall that day) is so crucial to determining the eventual results. Clinton entered the Michigan primary with 677 pledged delegates (59%) to Sanders’s 478 (41 %) making her, by far, the most likely candidate to win even if Bernie Sanders took Michigan. Bernie was a long shot, but emerged as a long shot winner, nowhere sufficient to ever catch up to Clinton, but an important psychological victory nevertheless. The primary vote indicated that the younger the voters, the lower the minority population as a percentage of the total and the greater the percentage of educated as well as working-class, the better Sander’s chances are.

According to the weighted (based on record of accuracy) average of a large number of polls, Hillary Clinton was projected to win 59.2% of the delegates (range of 52%-66%) to Bernie Sanders 38.3% (33%-47% range). Only one poll came close to the margin of error in predicting Bernie’s win, the Mitchell Research and Communications Poll, with52% for Hillary Clinton and 47% for Bernie Sanders. Given the surprise for both candidates at the actual results, it seems that internal campaign polls did not differ from the various external ones. On the other hand, the number of targeted delegates by each candidate indicated that the results were not totally surprising since the Clinton campaign’s target was 63 delegates while that of Sanders was 67 delegates. The targets and the actual results were congruent.

As stated above, the results were psychological more than political, boosting morale in the Sanders camp and initiating a recalibration in the Clinton camp, but with no deep concern that Clinton would not eventually win the nomination, though the prospect of a dark horse candidate had now become real even though implausible. Even more significant, according to exit polls, was Sanders increase in support among Black voters – up from 10 or so percent in the South to 30% in Michigan. He was projected to win 21% of Black voters in Michigan, but won 30%. The oddest result was that Sanders, a Jew and a self-declared socialist, did very well among Arab Americans, especially in Dearborn where Sanders won over Clinton by a huge 2:1 ratio (64:36).

  1. Was Sander’s increase in the Black vote in part due to his appeal to blue-collar workers because he was so opposed to the free-trade deals which did not provide a net for workers earning good wages and now requiring retraining?
  2. Since self-identified independents also seem to vote for Sanders, does this bode ill for Clinton indicating that these voters might switch to Trump rather than Clinton since Trump also has been very critical of those trade deals?
  3. Further, since Sanders has benefited from much higher turn out of voters, and this is the same phenomenon that has buoyed the Trump campaign, will Trump benefit from a good proportion of these voters?

Aside from the fact that I am in the most liberal part of the state, in Ann Arbor, my personal “extensive” polling last evening and this morning of people exiting, not the polling booth, but the motel, indicates that the largely unexpected results in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in Michigan may have been due to a number of factors:

  • The polls were inaccurate because younger voters get their news and information from the new social media and it is very difficult to access their opinions using traditional methods so that, when it comes to determining the preferences of younger voters, polls may not be reliable.
  • There seems to be some overlap between the voters to whom Trump appeals to those flocking to Bernie Sanders, not among the young educated voters, but among the disaffected working class in Michigan that have turned voters against any establishment, Republican or Democratic.
  • In the primary vote, it was safe to vote for Bernie because he was unlikely to be the presidential candidate and, even if he was, polls showed him beating Trump by an even larger margin than Hillary Clinton, evidently because Sanders was a more formidable competitor for the disaffected vote than Donald Trump.
  • Local conditions, especially considering the subsequent vote in Ohio, seem to have had a powerful influence on the disposition of the voters in the primary in Michigan.

Let me expand on those local conditions. Perhaps the most important factor has been the reams of stories about the lead poisoning of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and, even more importantly, the apparent indifference and insensitivity of the previously well-esteemed Republican governor to the plight of the citizens of Flint, Michigan. First of all, it was learned that Michigan authorities adopted cost-saving changes in the city’s water supply that caused mass lead poisoning. The governor, Rick Snyder, as a Republican accounting technocrat determined to cut costs. He had set the tone for such policy decisions. In 2013, an official appointed by the Governor decided to save money by changing the water supply for Flint Michigan. Though the problem of lead poisoning quickly became evident in tests of the water supply, it was not until 2015 that the old source of water was reinstated. Contrary to the efforts of Republicans in Washington to blame the Obama administration, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards, not Washington. In fact, the Republican- controlled Congress has hamstrung the federal government and even eliminated the power of the EPA to intervene.

Donald Trump has promised to eliminate the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, as have other Republicans. For voters influenced by issues rather than by assertions of a faith in the strength of the leader, by voters who have come to understand that government, rather than being the source of the problem, is, in reality, the sine qua non of adequate services and the foundation, economic as well as social, for the well-being of a society, “socialism” in the U.S. has subsequently been retired among many as an epithet of abuse, Bernie became the preferred option in the fight over the good versus claimed evil of governance and government.

Another powerful and continuing scandal resulted from the enormous $18 billion municipal bankruptcy of Detroit. In the bankruptcy resolution, just as in the bailout of the automobile industry, the big institutions were protected, but not the salaries or pensions, even of the 12,000 existing retirees.. Not only did pension cheques shrink by 6.7%, but large numbers of pensioners were required to pay back “overpayments” of tens of thousands of dollars, not even spread out over time, but in a lump sum. If the pensioner opted to pay over time, the account was subject to a 6.75% interest charge. To make matters worse, the settlement was initiated in the beginning of March for the repayment for what former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr said was excess interest paid out in special payments on top of the regular pensions.

In Ann Arbor this past weekend, there is a large swim meet with high school students participating from all over the state. The meet has been plagued evidently by poor air quality and consequent skin irritation and rashes for the students caused by the chlorine in the pool mixing with the oil on the skin of the swimmers, exacerbated by large numbers and the desire of the swimmers to compete with dry bathing suits and, therefore, avoiding washing off before they plunge into the pool. However, the problem is evidently easily relieved by a good up-to-date ventilation system, but the school infrastructure is old and has long been in need correction, just one relatively minor item in a very long list of capital improvement deficits that plague states and municipalities given the last three decades of assaults on taxation and governments.

It was not clear to me than any of those whom I questioned who came from the nether reaches of the State of Michigan made any connection between political ideology and current practices and the capital deficits, unemployment and condition of rust-belt America. They tended to blame  the problem on the kids for not showering, though they acknowledged that, given the importance of small advantages in competitive swimming, it was understandable why students did not shower properly.

In the process of the discussion, I believe I acquired a greater understanding of why, even if Bernie Sander’s campaign to become the Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party may be hopeless, the movement and its long term effects on American society and attitudes is probably more important than even Bernie winning. That is why I believe he is staying in the race.

I write this as more reports on altercations at Trump rallies are being broadcast on CNN this morning. Will these unaffiliated voters be drawn towards a posture of strength in a leader or towards someone campaigning against the critics, not of bad government or of corrupt government, but at government in general? Given Clinton’s shifts in her rhetoric recently, perhaps she can win most of those voters to the Democratic camp.

 

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

Netanyahu and Moses: Parshat Va’era: Exodus: 6:2-9:35

by

Howard Adelman

I recognize that argument by analogy is the weakest form of argument if it can even be counted as a legitimate form of rational argument at all. But it is one of the most common forms of commentary used in biblical interpretation. That is not because of the strength of its reasoning, but because of the often brilliant insights provided by great leaps of the imagination which happen to resonate with reality.

This parshat about the escape of the Jews from Egypt and their return to the Promised Land is so well known that it scarce requires any repetition. Instead, I want to tell a contrasting contemporary story about Benjamin Netanyahu, the current Prime Minister of Israel, through the lens of the Torah, and ask the question whether his mission is to lead the Jews into the whole land of Israel or whether it is his destiny to lead the Jews, reluctantly of course, out of Eretz Israel altogether.

Like Moses and his brother, Aaron, Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi) had a brother, Jonathan (Joni). Aaron was the older brother by three years. In the Biblical text, as Rashi noted, in some places the two are referred to as Aaron and Moshe and, at other places, as Moshe and Aaron. Though Moses is referred to as the greatest Jew in the history of the Jewish people, Rashi says that Aaron and Moshe were two sides of the same coin. Both act in the face of a far greater earthly power. But they play complementary roles. Aaron is the man of words, the orator, the rhetorician, while Moses serves as the political leader. Both rose to the greatest heights in the expression and realization of their God-given skills.

At first glance, one might presume that the comparison is of Bibi to Moses and Joni to Aaron. After all, like Aaron, Joni was the older. But Joni died young. Further, Bibi was the orator. Though Joni was a great commander of his elite strike force in the IDF, he was more akin to Rabin; Joni was not a media star while that is the very route Bibi took to rise to the pinnacle of power in Israel by becoming a minor star in the U.S. media firmament. So I start with comparing Bibi to Aaron and Joni to Moses, for like Moses, no matter what happens in history, Joni will be remembered as one of the great figures in Jewish history who led the attack that freed the captives in Entebbe in Uganda and allowed them to return to Israel, though he himself would only return in a casket. As one of the few Jewish writers to emerge in America after WWII, one who seemed to lack any neurosis and even retained his role as an observant Jew, as one who celebrated rather than begrudged military figures, Herman Wouk wrote of Joni in the following terms:

He was a taciturn philosopher-soldier of terrific endurance, a hard-fibered, charismatic young leader, a magnificent fighting man. On the Golan Heights, in the Yom Kippur War, the unit he led was part of the force that held back a sea of Soviet tanks manned by Syrians, in a celebrated stand; and after Entebbe, “Yoni” became in Israel almost a symbol of the nation itself. Today his name is spoken there with somber reverence.

Further, according to what was known of Joni, he was an exemplar of humility. Whatever one can say about Bibi, few if any would say he is humble. On the other hand, we all know that Joni occupies a mythical place among the stars of the redemption of Israel for his martyrdom in the rescue of the Jews captured by Arab terrorists and taken to Entebbe.  But Benjamin Netanyahu was also a man of action and not just of words, for he was a commando in the same elite unit in which Joni served who went on another mission and rescued Jews hijacked on a Sabena flight. It was Bibi who would emerge as both the orator and the political leader. I suggest that we look at Netanyahu as made up of two souls, his own inner being as an orator, as a man of words, as an Aaron, and, as well, as a ghost in the mechanism of his body, the ghost of Joni who could have risen to be a rival to Rabin in the political landscape. In other words, Bibi Netanyahu is both Aaron and Moses in his own mind, but his true self was to be a spokesperson. The political mission fell into his lap inadvertently, though not reluctantly as was the actual case with Moses.

Many if not most of the prophets of Israel were reluctant to assume their roles – Jeremiah, Isaiah, and even the satirical figure, Jonah. Moses asks God to find someone else. He can’t do the job. Even though Moses had been raised as a prince of Egypt, he asked, who am I to assume such a lofty role? He also contended that the people of Israel would not believe him and accept him as their leader; after all, he had not been brought up among them. Further, like the stuttering King George VI of Britain in a time when Britain was threatened with being overrun by Nazi Germany, Moses reluctantly assumed the role of titular leader of his people in spite of his overpowering stutter. Moses too was a stutterer and had uncircumcised lips. Moses’ fourth reason for his reluctance; he had no desire to assume the role. Others were more ambitious and more interested and more capable.

None of these four reasons were Bibi’s problem. He always was convinced not only that he could do the job, but that he was the best person for the job. He also believed, if given the right circumstances for his people to assess him, they too would become convinced that he was the best man for the position. He obviously had the gift of the gab and was a terrific orator. Further, perhaps no one in the history of modern Israel was so convinced that he was destined to become the leader; as many would attest, he had a messianic complex. For his essence was to be an Aaron who took on the role of a political leader rather than a leader with the essential spirit of Moses in his soul. Adopting the mantle of Moses was shapeshifting, assuming the ghost of Joni while underneath lacking those leadership skills. He was convinced of his own abilities, of his own worth, of his own powers of persuasion and, most of all, of his destiny. If he faced any problem, it was the inability and reluctance of the Israeli people to recognize all of that. That was the major, and perhaps only real obstacle that he had to overcome.

Look at how Bibi went out into the diaspora, not as a shepherd who rashly but out of compassion for his kin who was a slave being beaten by an overseer, killed that very same overseer. Bibi had never been banished to Midian and willingly accepted his role as never-to-be-remembered figure. Each step was taken to advance his ambition.

Further, Moses begs to be excused because he is an initial failure. When he first asks Pharaoh to let my people go, Pharaoh laughs at Moses and makes the Israelite slaves work harder as punishment for the chutzpah of their so-called leader. The Israelites reacted, not by rallying around Moses, but by getting angry and asking him to leave office. Recall that Bibi also was voted out of office when he pissed off Bill Clinton and failed in forging a peace deal with the Palestinians.

“My Lord, why have You done evil to this people? Why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your Name, he did evil to this people. But You did not rescue Your people.” (Exodus 5:22-23) But it was not Bibi, the orator, who failed, but Bibi the ghost of Joni. Unlike Moses, instead of asking why God failed both him and the Israelites to free his people, Bibi blamed himself. God promised redemption and redemption did come once again when Barak, in spite of the most generous offer imaginable by an Israeli leader to the Palestinians, also failed, and Bibi once again retuned to leadership of the Jewish people. Unlike Moses, he believed it was his destiny and mission to lead Israel.

But had not Moses been raised in the luxury of America? Had he not mastered the way of the Americans just as Moses had of the Egyptian elite? But so had Joni. Both returned to Israel. Both served in the IDF in illustrious roles. There is a difference however. While Moses could never acclimatize himself to being an Egyptian and always felt uncomfortable even though he had been adopted as an infant and raised in a royal household, Bibi, in fact, was more at home in America than in Israel. If he had stayed in America, though, because he was born abroad, he could possibly have risen to become vizier, a very big man in a very big pond rather than a very big man in a relatively little pond. Bibi never lost that sense of entitlement and lectured both two Democratic presidents as if he was their equal in stature and power. Bibi has always been a would-be president of the United States. Bibi was no Moses.

So when each president would not do his bidding, he subverted first one by slow-walking the peace process and the second one by increasingly confronting Barack Obama, and telling him that he had not learned the lessons of history, that he was naïve and that he had made a bad deal, a bad, bad deal with Iran. Bibi was no withering vine. Bibi was no Moses. Moses was appalled at the hardships of slavery of the Israelites. Bibi was appalled that Jews anywhere did not have absolute power to determine their own destiny, attributing the suffering of the Jewish people to the absence of such power. Moses was sensitive to the fact that his people had incorporated the spirit of bondage in their very being. Bibi was extremely proud that Israelites had presumably and absolutely thrown off the spirit of bondage that afflicted Jews in the diaspora. For Bibi was destined to be the redeemer of the entire land of Israel; for Moses, God always remained the redeemer, not he. This was true even though Moses exhibited such a range of skills, and accomplishments, and in spite of his severe handicap. He was a prince, shepherd, politician, law-giver, teacher, judge and prophet.

Bibi, in contrast, was the child of a very embittered man, in Benzion Netanyahu’s own estimation, forced to live out the best years of his life in exile. When Bibi as an adult himself lived in the diaspora, he was, in contrast, not a humble shepherd, but a media star, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, and, at a very young age, ambassador of Israel to the United Nations. He then became a politician, not through being chosen by God, nor initially by being chosen by the people, but by having mastered the ability of getting ahead politically be accruing wealthy supporters and by forging a network of very ambitious colleagues. He never received any renown as a legislator even though the rule of law is central to the life of the Jewish people. Nor was he ever a teacher, unless a teacher is defined like both he and his father as a pontificator of personal convictions and received opinions rather than as an inquirer into the truth. He was known for his partisanship and his skills as a political broker rather than for any sense of judicious fairness. He saw himself as a prophet even though that very conviction made him blind to the advantages of the Iran nuclear deal, especially for Israel.

I write this as a form of explanation for why Bibi treated Obama as if he was Pharaoh rather than a partner and supporter of the Israel people. For Bibi, Obama was a front man for Evil rather than simply a leader with a different perspective, a different set of obligations, a different approach and a different attitude, hope rather than pessimism. When Moses was called forth to confront Pharaoh and lead the people back to Israel, he was given a staff, a mateh, that turned into a serpent and back into a staff as an instrument, not only to prove God’s magical powers, but as the very tool that would call forth the ten plagues inflicted on the Egyptian people.

Now there are many questions to ask about those plagues. For one, why punish the Egyptian people for the evils of their autocratic leader? Most of all, why kill innocent babes in the cause of your own freedom? But I will not deal with any of those issues. Rather, I want to ask what was the staff that would bring water out of rocks, that would divide the sea so that the Israelites could cross, but, most of all, what was the rod that was used to confuse Pharaoh, raise his wrath and bring about one plague after another on the Egyptian people?

The cobra, a god of the Egyptians, as symbolically represented on the headdress of the Pharaoh, was the supposed source of divine power for the Pharaoh. Moses was given the power to grab the snake and turn it into a power for himself, a rigid staff rather than wriggly serpent. Second, the snake represented a reversal of what happened in the Garden of Eden. There Adam had viewed his masculinity as an Other, as something for which he was not responsible. Further, that Other, that erect penis with a mind of its own, abused the skills of language and seduced Eve, or, in my interpretation, responded naturally to a female, but in the process, further encouraged Adam to distance him from his responsibility. Thus, turning the crawling, twisting snake back into a staff was a symbol of recovering one’s masculinity, of reintegrating oneself as en embodied creature willing and courageous enough to mark one’s place in the world. Third, in addition to the mateh symbolizing the seizure of the magical powers of the Other, in addition to the mateh, the staff, representing the reaffirmation of oneself as a courageous embodied creature standing up mano-to-mano, the serpent is also a symbol of man assuming he is God, assuming he is the ultimate in vision, in insight, in the determination of the use of power, in understanding how power works and how history will unfold.

The snake represents the power in the enemy Other, the power already in oneself, and the transcendent other of the Almighty Other. To turn that serpent once again into a stiff staff is to perform all three actions at one and the same time. The problem emerges not when one combines all three, but when one misconstrues the friend, the supporter, the adviser, the provider, not as a perhaps mistaken ally, but as a front for Evil. The problem is not in the snake and the staff, but in he who seizes it and uses it and who it is seen to be used against and who it is actually used against. Because Bibi sees himself as a Moses, but is really an Aaron, because he wears the ghostly cloak of his dead brother, because he projects onto others with whom he disagrees the character of the Devil, Bibi backs himself and Israel into a dark corner, not just a cave, but a black hole where light is sucked in rather than emitted, where, despair squelches all hope, a situation where a man who sees himself as leading the Jewish people to the promise of the whole land of Israel in the end leads them out of Israel because, in contrast to Ben Gurion who absolutely saw the need of a small nation to have a very large nation as a patron, Bibi got caught up in the myth of self-sufficiency.

Pray to God that his false leadership, that his mis-leadership, that, in the final analysis, his non-leadership shall end, the sooner the better. Otherwise I fear the plagues will fall on Israel and not on Israel’s true enemies.

 

With the assistance of Alex Zisman

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

Sanctions and Relief Implementation

by

Howard Adelman

Note that the EU3+3 (Britain, France, Germany + China, Russia and the U.S.) is the same as the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia and U.S., permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany).

To understand the current conflict over sanctions against Iran, it is helpful if we provide a brief history.

  • 1979 (November) President Carter’s Executive Order 12170 freezing Iranian assets (estimated value $10-12 billion) in response to Iranian hostage-taking of American embassy personnel by radicals protesting allowing entry to the Shah of Iran for medical treatment into the U.S.
  • 1980 embargo on U.S. trade with Iran imposed and travel ban to Iran issued
  • 1981 sanctions lifted after hostage crisis resolved
  • 1984 U.S. prohibits weapons sales, loans or assistance to Iran following Iraq invasion of Iran and belief that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program
  • 1987 (October) President Ronald Reagan issues Executive Order 12613 prohibiting all imports from or exports into U.S. by Iran
  • 1995 (March) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12957 prohibiting all manner of trade between the U.S. and Iran in support of the Iranian petroleum industry
  • 1995 (May) President Clinton issues Executive Order 12959 prohibiting any trade with Iran
  • 1996 (August) under President Clinton, Iran and Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) (H.R. 3107, P.L. 104-172) signed into law but Libya deleted from name of law when sanctions against Libya lifted in 2006
  • 1997 (August) Mohammad Khatami, considered a reformer, elected President of Iran and president Clinton eases some sanctions
  • 2000 sanctions reduced for pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, caviar and Persian rugs
  • 2001 (August) Iran (and Libya) Sanctions Act renewed under President George W. Bush
  • 2004 U.S. Courts overrule a Treasury Department application of sanctions to intellectual exchanges and reciprocal publication arrangements
  • 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad elected President of Iran and lifts suspension of uranium enrichment program agreed to with Britain, France and Germany (EU3) and sanctions in place now vigorously reinforced
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696 passed against the renewal of Iranian uranium enrichment program
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1696
  • 2006 UNSC Resolution 1737
  • 2007 UNSC Resolution 1747
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1803
  • 2008 UNSC Resolution 1835
  • 2010 (June) UNSC Resolution 1929
  • 2010 (July) EU expands its sanctions beyond those required by the UNSC
  • 2012 (October) EU significantly expands and details more specifically its bans on the provision of services and equipment for the petrochemical industry, including oil tankers, the supply of services upon which Iranian production was so dependent, especially the ban in the export of certain specific metals, including graphite, that would be critical to Iran’s ability to fabricate its own machinery related to Iran’s ballistic missile development as well as its petrochemical industry
  • 2013 (March) EU imposition of sanctions against judges, media officials and a special police monitoring unit linked to the death of a dissident held in custody
  • 2013 (June) election of Hassan Rouhani government in Iran
  • 2013 (July) almost five months before Joint Plan of Action agreement signed and after Rouhani elected on a pledge to enter negotiations with the UN, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 400:20 in favour of increased sanctions against Iran
  • In contrast, following Rouhani’s election, the EU took a pro-active stand to invite Iran to join negotiations and a step-by-step approach that would restore normal economic relations while ensuring Iran’s right to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes
  • Sanctions begin to be lifted for an initial six-month period by the EU in January 2014 after the JPA came into effect beginning with suspension of the ban on the import of petrochemical products and the banking and insurance related thereto.

While George W. Bush was renewing the sanctions regime against Iran, since 1998, Iran and the EU had been seeking to formalize its commercial and political cooperation arrangements and, in 2001, sought to negotiate a comprehensive trade and co-operation as well as political dialogue agreement. Negotiations started in 2002 but paused when Iran declined to engage in any further human rights dialogue after 2004. Once Iran’s clandestine nuclear development program was revealed in 2005 and Iran refused to co-operate with IAEA, all dialogue between the EU and Iran stopped.

The increasing severity of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions between 2006 and 2010 were in direct response to Iran’s refusal to abide by the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the requirements set down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA was determined to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue to ensure the NPT was not breached. At the same time, the IAEA recognized Iran’s rights to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

The biggest change came because of independent EU action in July 2010 since the EU was then Iran’s largest trading partner. Further, London is a global financial centre; UK financial restrictions made it much more difficult for Iranian banks to use the international financial system to support its oil and gas business and Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. In addition to an embargo on nearly all dual-use goods and technology which could contribute to uranium enrichment, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, heavy water or to the development of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the EU introduced bans on the export of telecommunications, monitoring and transport equipment as well as arms, followed by more sanctions on instruments that could be used for internal repression. Perhaps the bans on investments, services and technology for the oil and gas industry were the most crippling since Iran’s oil production systems were based on European technology. European banking restrictions related to investments, grants, financial assistance, especially transfer of funds to and from Iran, and the ban on the provision of insurance services, were also enormously effective. But perhaps the sanctions that most hit home to persons of influence in Iran were the restrictions on the admission of specific persons (a long list to which more names were continuously added), freezing of their funds and economic resources and their inability to satisfy any claims.

By the time the JPA was put in place in November 2013, oil imports from Iran had fallen to zero and EU exports fell again by 26% in the 2012-2013 period. EU sanctions against Iran are based not only on the failure of Iran to be compliant with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) but also because of Iran’s human rights record, support for terrorism, and its destructive approach to Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Given the close economic ties between the EU and Iran, the targeted sanctions against specified individuals and organizations were even more significant because they entailed freezing of funds and economic resources of persons responsible for serious human rights violations in Iran and persons, entities and bodies associated with them. The list of people and organizations affected was long.

It was in the context of the UN sanctions against Iran for its breach of NPT that the Joint Plan of Action (JPA) has to be understood rather than the 35 years of U.S. up-and-down sanctions against Iran. In return for Iran taking steps to halt and roll back its nuclear enrichment program, the E3/EU+3 agreed to:

  • Pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales to enable Iran’s current customers to purchase their current average amounts of crude oil
  • Enable the repatriation of an agreed amount of revenue held abroad and, for such oil sales, suspend the EU and U.S. sanctions on associated insurance and transportation services
  • Suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s auto industry and associated services
  • Suspend U.S. and EU sanctions on:
    • Iran’s petrochemical exports, as well as sanctions on associated services
    • Gold and precious metals, as well as sanctions on associated services
  • License the supply and installation in Iran of spare parts for safety of Iranian civil aviation and associated services. License safety related inspections and repairs in Iran as well as associated services
  • No new nuclear-related UN Security Council or EU sanctions
  • U.S. Administration, acting consistent with the respective roles of the President and the Congress, will refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions
  • Establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade (transactions involving food and agricultural products, medicine, medical devices, and medical expenses incurred abroad) for Iran’s domestic needs using Iranian oil revenues held abroad involving specified foreign banks and non-designated Iranian banks yet to be defined
  • This channel could also enable: transactions required to pay Iran’s UN obligations; and, direct tuition payments to universities and colleges for Iranian students studying abroad, up to an agreed amount for the six-month period
  • Increase the EU authorization thresholds for transactions for non-sanctioned trade to an agreed amount.

Nine months ago as the first deadline for the Joint Plan of Action approached, the negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement hit a snag over the issue of sanctions, though, as became a pattern over the last nine months, the Iranians continued to voice optimism about the results of the negotiations. Thus, on 21 May 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Today, the nuclear negotiation is progressing and is on the threshold of reaching a conclusion.” The very next day, this was the same message coming from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Saeed Jalili, the former lead negotiator, a conservative very close to Khamenei, said, “We should permit the (Iranian) nuclear negotiation team to proceed with its programs in the framework of (the Supreme Leader’s proposed) ‘heroic lenience’ and we should all assist them in their bid to materialize the nation’s rights.”

There could be two reasons for the articulation of this optimism: 1) domestically to dampen down the ultra-conservative voices critical of the negotiations; 2) to send a message to the P5+1 that the Iranians are fully committed to the success of the negotiations. But there were two sets of issues which this optimism masked. There were disagreements about Iranian compliance that would persist for the next nine months and that I will deal with in tomorrow’s blog. Second, there were rising voices within Iran that the pace of lifting sanctions had been far too languid given the enormous concessions (in their minds) that the Iranians had made thus far in their nuclear program. Just as there were continuing concerns within the U.S about the Iranian commitments to a successful outcome of the negotiations., within Iran there were an increasing number of queries from many quarters about whether the U.S. was truly committed to lifting sanctions or whether the whole process was just a ruse to stop, set back and eventually derail Iran’s development of its nuclear program.

As reported from the Tasnin News Agency in Al-Monitor, Seyed Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesperson for the Iranian Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, noted “intense disagreements” over a variety of issues during the Vienna talks, including an alleged P5+1 proposal for a 10-year rollout for sanctions relief. The Iranians were afraid of a Republican backlash that could re-impose sanctions, since they already anticipated that American sanctions relief would only take place under U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive authority to waive many of the sanctions on Iran. Waivers can be easily rescinded. Iran might accept waivers, but only in an initial phase in a process leading to complete sanctions relief.

Hosseini called for lifting of all sanctions rather than segmentation and a phased-in approach, a comment directed not only at the then current snag in negotiations about sanctions, but an explicit critique of the JPA provision for the implementation of the agreement of “specified long tern duration” usually bandied about as ten years. The issue was a divide between ending or suspending sanctions.

If the U.S. insisted upon a 10-year rollout period for sanctions relief, then the Iranian rollback in its nuclear program should also be phased over ten years, Iran insisted. Yet the other side insists on Iranian compliance with IAEA requirements as a prerequisite to sanctions relief, consistent, not with the preamble of the JPA, but with the position that Iran is the outlier in its failure to comply with its international treaty obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPA). The sanctions were imposed for Iran’s failure in compliance. Making relief implementation proportionate to Iranian compliance is akin to requiring the justice system to reduce a fine in proportion to a felon desisting in the future from recommitting the felony.

The JPA calls for a “comprehensive solution.” Comprehensive entails lifting all trade, technology, banking, energy and aeronautical sanctions – including UN Security Council, EU multilateral and national sanctions – with the implication that these even included non-nuclear sanctions by the U.S. (hence the importance of having the historical background). But U.S. oil and financial sanctions are subject to the Iran Sanctions Act described above. To waive sanctions, the President must certify to Congress, not only that Iran will not be able to build nuclear weapons within a one year breakout period, but that Iran no longer seeks to build weapons of mass destruction ever. Further, the President must certify that Iran no longer sponsors terrorism (Hamas and Hezbollah, both clients of Tehran, though Hamas had a fallout with Iran over Syria). Both Hamas and Hezbollah are listed by the U.S. as terrorist organizations. Finally, the President must certify that Iran no longer represented a security threat to U.S. Interests. Given the U.S. commitment to Israel and Saudi Arabia, how could this be possible given Iran’s continuing foreign policy?

Who said that sanctions are easy to lift but hard to impose? This analysis suggests that the opposite may be truer.

All these issues end up being tied into the negotiations. And I have not even delved into the Syrian part of the equation. It is a truism that Lebanese issues and conflicts over Hezbollah cannot be resolved without reference to Syria. So bringing all of these into the negotiations would definitely kibosh them. Where do you draw the line? As we shall see tomorrow, IAEA restricts the negotiations to nuclear issues, but then includes military developments (e.g. missiles) related to nuclear militarization, but excludes other foreign policy issues.

However, with the U.S. as the lead negotiator on the side of the UNSC, the matter becomes complicated in a totally other way – not over what is included and what is excluded, but over who is included and who is excluded. Many members of Congress insist they must have a say since an act of the U.S. Congress is involved. And the Iranians, as well as everyone else, know the position of the Republicans. Senator Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, however, insists that what is at stake is a good deal, not knee-jerk opposition to Iran. “If it’s a good deal, I’m going to vote for it. I want a good outcome… We haven’t been in the camp of wanting to add sanctions right now. We’ve been in the camp of wanting to find what a good deal is. So if we get a good deal, I’ll be glad to vote for it.” However, for the Republicans, merely extending the breakout period from three months to one year does not represent a good deal.

So the sanctions issue is bound to be a spoiler for both sides if politicians and the domestic constituencies behind them become convinced that Iran is not sincere in its quest to pursue a strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy. Hence, as we shall see tomorrow, the repeated reassurances that Iran is complying with almost all the requirements of the JPA. Hence, also the IAEA’s insistence of stretching beyond a narrow interpretation of nuclear negotiations to include other nuclear-related security issues (missile delivery systems) as well as assurances of full transparency.