Immunity to Falsification

Immunity to Falsification

by

Howard Adelman

The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday on the belief in birtherism showing that one-third (33%) of Republicans still say that Obama was not born in the U.S. 22% of independents and even 10% of Democrats agree as well, even though Trump himself finally stated that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. As the NYT wrote, “the human capacity to resist contradictory evidence can be remarkable.” One reason: rationalizing Trump’s about face: “the birthers and non-birthers all seemed to think that Trump has privately agreed with them all along, and all praised his flip-flop as a shrewd political stratagem to change an inconvenient subject.” This was reinforced because Trump did not admit he was wrong, but simply stated that Barack was born in the U.S. so he could get on with his campaign.

In the debate last night, the moderator said to Trump that the birth certificate was produced in 2011, yet you continued to question the President’s legitimacy in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and as recently as January, so the question, in the context of racism, is, “What changed your mind?” Trump, as usual, did not answer the question of why he changed his mind, or even if he really did. He said, “Nobody was pressing it; nobody was caring much about it, but I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.”

Lester Holt, the moderator, unlike his usual practice of allowing Donald to go on and on, said, “We are talking about racial healing in this section. What do you say to Americans…” Trump then cut him off. “I say nothing. I say nothing. Because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before.” He then continued to blame Hillary for introducing the birther issue. “Well, it’s very simple to say. Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and a very close friend of Secretary Clinton, and her campaign manager, Patty Doyle, went to—they were in the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard, and you can go look it up and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week, Patty Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. [CNN followed the debate by showing a clip where Doyle said no such thing.] Blumenthal sent McClatchy, a highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it, they were pressing it very hard; she failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn’t fail, I got him to give the birth certificate.”

When CBS News did a fact check, they concluded, “This has been Trump’s line since the “birther” issue resurfaced this fall, but Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly denied being involved. Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, told Wolf Blitzer a volunteer forwarded an email promoting “birtherism” and that that person was fired. “The campaign nor Hillary did not start the ‘birther’ movement, period, end of story,” Solis Doyle told CNN, saying the volunteer’s actions were “beyond the pale” and that Clinton called Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to apologize.
Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton confidante but not a current campaign staffer, denies ever contacting McClatchy; the former McClatchy bureau chief, James Asher, recently said he clearly recalled the conversation with Blumenthal. Hillary then came into the debate and said, “Just listen to what you heard. Clearly, as Donald just admitted, he knew he was going to stand on this debate stage…so he tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed.” Hillary and the moderator both attested that Donald’s claim that Hillary started the birther movement was an outright lie.

Further, even if Donald had “forced” Obama to release his long form birth certificate, why is this an accomplishment unless one had sowed the seeds of suspicion along the way? Finally, why continue the issue – the certificate could be a forgery… for four years afterwards if Trump had put it to bed? But the question asked – why Donald changed his mind – was never answered. Videos were broadcast with Trump questioning Obama’s legitimacy year after year. But there is little indication that this has any effect on Trump supporters.

Two outright and blatant lies – Hillary started the birther campaign. Second, Donald Trump forced Obama to produce his long form birth certificate and that ended the issue when it did not. As Lester said, Trump Two-Two continued to raise the issue for a further four years. His diehard followers continue to hold onto the birther issue because they join the Democrats in not believing he has been sincere on the issue, but for very apposite reasons. Further, the Republicans want to back a winner. Trump won the primaries largely because they came to believe that the Trump candidacy offered them the best chance of winning the White House. As the Washington Post wrote this morning, “His (Trump’s) answer on his five-year quest to show that President Obama was not born in this country was like watching a car accident in slow motion.” The newspaper also provided a list of 23 of the most noteworthy claims that Trump made that were false.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/09/27/fact-checking-the-first-clinton-trump-presidential-debate/?tid=a_inl

Yesterday, in The Globe and Mail, Konrtad Yakabuski wrote (“Get ready for anything in presidential debate”) that, “many in the Republican Party and media have been complicit in allowing Mr. Trump to get away with the utter debasement of political language and incivility that have characterized his campaign. Trump rallies, which for months have been broadcast live and unfiltered on U.S. cable networks, are truth-free zones where conspiracy theories go to procreate. The Republican nominee wantonly twists, distorts and perverts reality. Confronted with the facts, he simply shoots the messenger in some ad hominem tweet/slur, while conjuring up yet another shameless lie… Mr. Trump lies effortlessly and with the compulsion of someone who just can’t help himself.”

Once again, the fact checkers pronounced Trump wrong and wrong and wrong and Hillary and Lester right, though, in one case, Hilary misrepresented her original position on the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP). So why do his supporters continue to believe him and believe in him? Note, other beliefs totally resistant to correction:

“Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” 33% of all Americans.

There is no “solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” 26% of Americans – 46% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats in spite of the fact that virtually 100% of climate scientists believe that there has been an increase in the temperature of the Earth over the last few decades. 97% of them believe that this increase has largely resulted from human activity. The deniers do not lack the information. They are simply not convinced by the evidence for evolution or for climate change. The roughly same group is unlikely to be convinced that Barack Obama was born in the US even when Donald Trump, the father of Obama birtherism, says he was. As Yakabuski concluded, “his core supporters are deeply distrustful of established media outlets, preferring to get their news (to the extent they do at all) from alt-right websites… White voters without a college education are with Mr. Trump. And for many of them, nothing but nothing will change their mind.”

So one third of the U.S. electorate seems beyond the reach of reason and persuasion by means of scientific evidence. Trump has by far the vast majority of these as his supporters. That means, he only needs possibly as little as another 10% of the public to swing his way to win the race. Since many Republicans who are not immune to reason and evidence have swung behind him to ensure other Republicans on the ticket get elected and to even get Trump Two-Two elected just to prevent Hillary appointing judges to the Supreme Court, there is certainly a real possibility that he could win.

So the results of the presidential debate do not seem to be dependent on a mastery of facts – and Trump Two-Two knows this. But this conclusion may very well be wrong. For the debate is not intended to separate Trump Two-Two from this block of voters, but to win over Republicans and Independents who are repelled by a candidate who not only believes in myths, but is a propagandist for such myths. In a focus group of 20 independents in a key race in Florida, 18 of the 20 believed that Hillary won the debate. But only 4 of the 20 were persuaded to vote for Hillary. If even the rest split evenly, and if 18% of voters have not made up their minds, that would mean that Hillary won 20% of the eighteen more than Trump, or a 4% increase above her 41% support, more than enough to trounce Trump in Florida.

The debates are also intended to shore up and invigorate the Democratic vote. Given the debate on race, given the debate on women and Trump’s demeaning reference to a Hispanic woman, given the debate on truth, Hillary will undoubtedly enhance her support and the determination to vote of women, Blacks and Hispanics. One suspects this will also be true to a small extent with independent educated white voters, but this is clearly speculation. I suggest, however, that it will do little to bring millennials into her political debate.

I offer one more quote before I move on tomorrow to try to answer the question of immunity to evidence and the direction of the vote of millennials by the strangest of comparisons of two apparently total opposites – Donald Trump and Martin Heidegger.

“In the populist rebellion Mr. Trump leads, there are no facts, only Us and Them, and anything They say is just the Establishment and its enablers protecting their privilege. This is exactly what the youthful Left proclaimed 50 years ago. It’s what the aging Right proclaims today. History has inverted itself.” History has not, but that is for tomorrow.

The Build-Up to the Washington-Tehran Nuclear Negotiations

  1. The Build-Up to the Washington-Tehran Nuclear Negotiations

Part IV: The Washington-Jerusalem-Buenos Aries-Tehran Quadrangle

by

Howard Adelman

Where has Howard been going with this series? The trajectory has been simple if somewhat roundabout. I began with the brouhaha over Netanyahu’s planned visit to Washington to address a joint sitting of both houses of Congress, a visit that was against the explicit preferences of the Obama administration. My thesis was simple. I argued that Netanyahu openly risked a further breach with Obama because he deeply believed that the Washington-Tehran negotiations were more than just misguided, but were leading the West into a terrible cul-de-sac.

I wanted to convince my fellow liberals that this was not a deep division between Israel and America, but that the response to the planned visit was a manifestation of the deep divisions between Israel and the Obama administration over the Iran talks. Netanyahu was not coming to Washington either to poke Obama in the eye OR to advance his election prospects in the coming Israeli elections. This cynical interpretation of Netanyahu’s motives mischaracterized the serious issues at stake. Further, the risks of going to Washington against the wishes of the U.S. President were more likely to jeopardize his election chances than enhance them.

To give some foundation to an alternative Republican and Israeli right-wing view of Iran, I took a side journey via the fracas in Buenos Aries over the investigations into the 1994 blowing-up of the Jewish cultural centre by Iranian agents and the charges that the present Argentinian administration was undercutting that investigation via a side deal with Iran. Those charges came to a head on Friday when the federal prosecutor in Argentina, Gerardo Pollicita, formally requested that charges be brought against Argentina’s current President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, for obstructing an investigation into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish centre in Buenos Aires. This is unprecedented. Though I hope the backgrounder on Argentinian fascism and anti-Semitism helped provide some depth of understanding to the issue, my main angle was to document the Buenos Aries-Tehran connection and focus on the treachery of even the so-called moderates in the Iranian government. I did not discuss my suspicions that either the Argentinian intelligence service or, more likely, Iranian agents, were responsible for the death of thee prosecutor, Albero Nisman.

Iran will certainly manipulate and negotiate, but this regime, except, ironically, when the extremists have been in power, has always been able to hide behind lies. Yet the Prophet taught: “Be honest because honesty leads to goodness, and goodness leads to Paradise. Beware of falsehood because it leads to immorality, and immorality leads to Hell.” Surah 40:28 of the Quran reads, “Truly Allah guides not one who transgresses and lies.” However, for the conciliation among and between people and peoples, lying is preferable to telling the truth, especially when it is in service of the good. The Prophet says: “He is not a false person who (through he lies) settles conciliation among people, supports good or says what is good.” Lying is NOT even the exception in Islamic, let alone Iranian, foreign policy, but a norm. The great statesman, Anwar Sadat, was a master of deceit in service of the good, and good did finally emerge from the 1973 Yom Kippur War when Egypt finally agreed to a peace with Israel. But if the Other is the embodiment of evil, lying is not only permitted but encouraged, for The Good requires extermination of a disease. And it is the end point, the telos, that determines the worthiness of a lie.

In contrast to Islam which incorporates lying into diplomacy, Machiavellianism is an outlier to Christian teaching. However, it is a central element in Western foreign policy. Even Machiavelli, who was no Machiavellian but a humanist, believed that, although religion served a useful purpose in providing social order, the rules of morality were disposable when security was at stake. If the moral universe taught by Christianity was allowed to trump all other principles, then Christians would become passive and impotent allowing evil men to rule the world. In Islam, by contrast, lying becomes a virtue not a necessary prerequisite for survival as much as it may harm your chances for entry into heaven. Allah may prohibit lying, but his Prophet taught that there were exceptions. When the powerful Jewish tribal leader, Kaab Ibn al-Ashrf of the tribe of Banu al-Nudair was aligning with his enemy, Mohammed had a spy infiltrate his entourage, win his trust and assassinate him. A practice integral to the foreign policy of all countries is religiously sanctioned in Islamic ones. In that sense, Islam is less hypocritical than Christianity. Allah may not sanction lying, but if the intention is lofty, it is the intention in your heart that counts.

In Judaism, when the shofar is blown on Rosh Hashanah and at the end of the Day of Atonement (or when Joshua fought the battle of Jericho to make the walls come tumbling down), one of the four sounds made is tekiah. It is a plain deep bass sound with an abrupt ending, often interpreted to be the base line of the Jewish character – blunt and to the point. It is the sound that also stands for forgiveness for your debts. The almost identical Arabic word, Al-Takeyya, in Islam refers to the right to be deceptive in signing any accord when the intention is to serve the higher interests of Allah. Al-Takeyya means to prevent or guard against. The principle of Al-Takeyya conveys the understanding that Muslims are permitted to lie as a preventive measure against anticipated harm to one’s self or fellow Muslims.

In the above sense, it is at the very least understandable that Netanyahu and the Republicans fear a treacherous Iran, and that belief might have a deep rational foundation. It is also why Obama can be excused for being so Machiavellian – though he is not very good at it – in trying to cut a deal that will avoid having to go to the Senate for approval as long as possible. (See Michael Doran’s Republican-oriented but astute and excellent analysis of the U.S.-Iran negotiations – http://dev.mosaicmagazine.com/author/michael-doran/; Doran is a senior fellow of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council. For his more general critique of Obama’s Middle East policies, see: http://mosaicmagazine.com/observation/2014/07/the-new-middle-east-war/)

All this must be seen in my own continuing analysis of the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran in which I both tried to dispense with some of the misrepresentation of the negotiations by its critics while retaining a supportive but skeptical appreciation of the process itself. My last blog was published on my wordpress website, howardadelman.com, on 21 November 2014 entitled, “Iran: Three Days Before the Nuclear Negotiations Deadline.” That was my latest attempt to keep readers informed in an attempt to provide a balanced interpretation of those negotiations. After summarizing the build-up to the current negotiations, the agreements thus far, the current status, the divisions facing both sides, the significance of the negotiations and agreements reached, and current prospects, I will return to Netanyahu’s coming visit and the deep split within Washington over the negotiations.

There is absolutely no debate over the importance of these negotiations for the Obama administration. The discussions are, by far, the most important foreign policy initiative of his second term. Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser for strategic communication, said that the nuclear negotiations with Iran are “probably the biggest thing President Obama will do in his second term on foreign policy.” Though the process began much earlier, the negotiations are underway at a time when Obama has been in his weakest position in relationship to Congress where the Republicans now hold a majority in both houses. On the other hand, Obama has nothing to lose. He does not face re-election. But his weak position vis-à-vis Congress also restricts what can emerge out of the negotiations.

For both Tehran and Washington recognize that the Obama administration cannot deliver on the possibility of permanently lifting sanctions, but will only be able to offer a series of six month waivers. This has a double effect – it weakens what the administration can extract from Tehran at the same time as it frees Washington up in making an agreement without Senate approval. The Arab Spring, the military withdrawal from Iraq and, ironically, in the wake of the latter, the explosive rise of Islamic State that has led to a covert cooperation between Washington and Tehran to confront this menace, have all facilitated holding negotiations and the progress thus far, without even taking into consideration the economic pressures the sanctions have posed for Iran, especially difficult in a time of rapid and extreme declines in oil prices.

Two other regional changes have also been helpful. John Kerry’s tremendous efforts to push forth an Israeli-Palestinian deal tanked, and tanked badly. Since the administration blamed Netanyahu’s stubbornness more than the immobility from the side of the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration felt far freer in its opening to Iran. Second, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia consistently and persistently urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear program. Abdullah felt so frustrated with Washington that he opened his own diplomatic track to Tehran and last March issued an unprecedented invitation to Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to visit Saudi Arabia. These two major rivals in the Middle East, these two leading heirs of the Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam respectively, these two countries so deeply buried in a cold war, these two who are in such opposite corners vis-à-vis Assad’s regime in Syria, suddenly took a totally unexpected approach to the rivalry with Iran, not because Saudi Arabia had suddenly fallen in love with Iran, but because it had lost all trust in the ability of America to back it in its conflict with its main rival.

Further, Saudi Arabia was staring at an Iran that, with its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad holding on in Syria, the Shiites now dominant in Iraq, and Bahrain and Yemen also under Iranian influence, Saudi Arabia’s oil fields were surrounded. King Abdullah is now dead. Defence Minister Prince Salman, who was named as Abdullah’s successor back in June of 2012 after the death of Salman’s two older brothers, was also named Deputy Prime Minister while continuing to hold the defence portfolio. Previously, he had been the orchestrator of the new policy. He is now king.

The Obama administration chose to revive diplomacy rather than war. This fits in with its efforts to wind down military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama administration also embraced diplomacy because, as it analyzed the situation, sanctions may have had a devastating effect on Iran, but these were considered insufficient to bring Iran to its knees. All they could do was bring Iran to the negotiating table. As well, the sanctions were interpreted as having a perverse effect, reinforcing Iranian resistance while, at the same time, undercutting the so-called moderates now in positions of power.

Let’s review the essential elements and backstory in Obama’s negotiating strategy with Iran.

  1. The strategy is not just about containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions; it envisions reinstating Iran, the sponsor of terrorist regimes like Hezbollah and Hamas, the backbone of the repressive Assad regime, and the Shi’ite spoiler in Iraq – not to speak of Bahrain and Yemen – back into the international system of nation-states as a full participating member instead of enhancing its international isolation.
  2. Obama not only aims to accept Iran back into the community of nation-states as a full member, but he would recognize it as a regional power: “They have a path to break through that isolation and they should seize it,” because “if they do, there’s incredible talent and resources and sophistication…inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power.”
  3. The policy was intended as a resurrection of the “grand bargain” that Iran purportedly offered the U.S. at the beginning of the 21st century but which George W. Bush had dismissed out of hand.
  4. This was even part of a much larger strategic vision that intended to bury Henry Kissinger’s policies of a global balance of power and replace it with a positive sum game with very decentralized loci of power – incidentally, precisely the phrase repeated in the Ayatollah’s guideline for the negotiations. In Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2009, he said, “our destiny is shared, power is no longer a zero-sum game. No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation…No balance of power among nations will hold.”
  5. The policy had excellent bi-partisan credentials since it was the fourth plank of the 2006 strategic plan of the Iraq Study Group’s chaired by Howard Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton in which withdrawal from Iraq, reinforcing the troops in Afghanistan, and reinvigorating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were the first three planks.
  6. In this new world of multi-centred strategic blocs, Iran would become a significant player in eradicating the real danger of radical Islamicists.
  7. In inflating the Islamicists, the repressive policies of the Ayatollahs in Iran against the Bahá’is and the dissidents of the June 2009 Green Movement could be ignored even as Obama acknowledged and offered verbal recognition to their insistence on rights.
  8. Just when Obama was offering his invitation and open hand instead of a clenched fist, Tehran began to operationalize its secret underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordow, the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) near Qom, after it was revealed to the IAEA by Iran on 21 September 2009, but that information was only released after it was discovered and documented by Western intelligence services, based, in part, on information from Israel’s Mossad, which had installed a listening device in the Fordow plant, a device discovered after the September 2012 explosion in the plant; Iran’s failure to inform IAEA was in blatant violations of its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its 2003 agreement with IAEA;
  9. In 2009, Iran told the IAEA that the 16 cascades of 3,000 centrifuges were to be run to enrich U-235 up to 5%; instead, they were operating to enrich U-235 to 20% bomb-grade nuclear fuel. Further, though required to give 180 day advance warning to IAEA in September 2011 of implementing the upgrading, they starting the upgrading in three months in December of 2011.
  10. As a result of the 2009 betrayal, Obama introduced the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA) as the foundation for an escalating program of sanctions against Iran to pressure Iran to enter into negotiations.
  11. In July 2009, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal reiterated its belief to Hilary Clinton, then Secretary of State, that negotiations with Iran will not lead to a dismantling of its military nuclear program and that the only way to deal with Iran was “to cut off the head of the snake,” a position later repeated directly to Obama by King Abdullah.
  12. In March 2010, in a culmination of disputes between Israel and Washington, bad blood between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel clotted over discussions on Israeli settlements when Obama abandoned a private meeting with Netanyahu and left him stewing while Obama joined his family for dinner.
  13. In 2011, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, informed the U.S. as well as the world that Iran was approaching a “zone of immunity” making its nuclear program impervious to Israeli military attack and time was short before Israel would have to strike.
  14. In 2012, Obama, feeling betrayed again by Iran, not only Iran’s nuclear program, but over its support for the Assad regime in Turkey, blew up and threatened appropriate aggressive retaliation, echoed both by France and Israel.
  15. The U.S. reassured Israel that it was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability and, at the same time, increased its military and intelligence cooperation with Israel.
  16. At the same time, Obama reached out to Tehran by refusing to arm the rebels in Syria seeking to bring down Iran’s satrap, Assad; this, in turn, lead to secret bilateral meetings between Jake Sullivan, Hilary Clinton’s director of policy planning, and Iranian foreign affairs and defence officials in the Ahmadinejad regime.
  17. November 2012, Obama is reelected.
  18. In 2013, many Track II and backchannel meetings with Iran were held.
  19. In April 2013 in the meeting of the P5+1 with Iran in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the basis of the deal to enter negotiations was put in place: sanctions relief in return for Iran degrading its 20% enriched nuclear bomb grade U-235 to 5%, while allowing more uranium to be enriched to 5%, instead of, as UNSC sanctions required, ceasing all processing and enrichment of U-235.
  20. Critics lambasted Obama for not insisting on a cessation of all enrichment processes.
  21. Washington was convinced that its carrot and economic stick approach helped facilitate the election in Iran of “moderates” led by Hassan Rouhani in Iran in June 2013.
  22. When Khamenei offered Obama his hand and a promise to negotiate, though opposed by both Israel and Saudi Arabia, Obama withdrew the military threat and acquiesced in more moderate sanctions; Obama accepted Tehran’s offer to degrade or, alternatively, transfer the 20% enriched uranium to Russia. Israel regarded itself as betrayed by the policy turn to engagement without Iran agreeing in advance to dismantle its nuclear capabilities as allegedly promised to Israel.
  23. As Israel held off from bombing Fordow and other nuclear production sites in Iran, the U.S. reassured Israel that sanctions would not be lifted until Iran’s nuclear capability was dismantled.
  24. CISADA proves even more effective than anyone had thought and Iran was quickly in dire economic difficulty.
  25. In November of 2013, the five permanent members of the Security Council, P5 +1 (Germany), agreed on a Joint Plan of Action in dealing with Iran.
  26. Senate hawks, mostly Republican and Democratic, and Obama Democratic doves, had very different goals in the ensuing negotiation; the first wanted to use Iran’s weakened position to force Iran’s hands into the fire to accept the need to dismantle its facilities, while the Democratic doves were willing simply to accept a lower degree of enrichment, leaving Iran with its core production facilities intact, in an effort to keep Iran’s breakout time at over a year instead of the three months that many believe Iran had achieved.

Tomorrow: The Joint Plan of Action: Terms and Results