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January 30, 2007

John Edwards on Iran

Listen to what John Edwards told the Herzliya Conference:

At the top of these threats is Iran. Iran threatens the security of Israel and the entire world. Let me be clear: Under no circumstances can Iran be allowed to have nuclear weapons. For years, the US hasn’t done enough to deal with what I have seen as a threat from Iran. As my country stayed on the sidelines, these problems got worse. To a large extent, the US abdicated its responsibility to the Europeans. This was a mistake. The Iranian president’s statements such as his description of the Holocaust as a myth and his goals to wipe Israel off the map indicate that Iran is serious about its threats.

Once Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the Middle East will go nuclear, making Israel’s neighborhood much more volatile.

Iran must know that the world won’t back down. The recent UN resolution ordering Iran to halt the enrichment of uranium was not enough. We need meaningful political and economic sanctions. We have muddled along for far too long. To ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep ALL options on the table, Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.

In the same speech Edwards reminded everyone of the nefariousness of Syria, just like the president has been doing lately.

Later in the Q&A session, Edwards said that he supports "direct engagement with Iran," which I take to be a euphemism for direct negotiations between the U.S. and Iran regarding Iran's nuclear program. That's exactly what the U.S. should be doing, but John Edwards' saber-rattling won't help us get to that point.

The Bush administration clearly doesn't want to negotiate with Iran. The US is opening with intimidation, isolation, and punishment. Escalation, if you will. When those strategies fail, they'll proceed directly to war. Nobody really thinks that Iran will be talked out of its nuclear program because Bush put another aircraft carrier in the Gulf or pressured some institutions not to bank with Iran.

Michael Froomkin argues that Edwards hawkish rhetoric is just a negotiating tactic. If Edwards wins the Democratic primary and the general election, then he'll have to negotiate with Iran. Froomkin thinks that Edwards has to talk tough now so as not to undermine his future negotiating position. Frankly, that argument strikes me as a bit of a stretch.

Even if Michael's right, the fact remains that the Bush administration is manufacturing an immediate crisis over the Iranian nuclear program as an excuse to start another war.

Like compulsive gamblers, the president and his neocon cronies want to go double or nothing. Bush knows that he botched Iraq, and now he's thinking about his legacy. It's the twilight of the Bush presidency and his top advisors realize that the gilded age of neconservatism is coming to an end. They want one last chance to test their beloved hypotheses and they've got their beady little eyes locked on Iran.

All of a sudden, Iran is a crisis. The biggest crisis! Luckily, we've got two air craft carriers in the Gulf right now.

Remember, Iran is five to ten years away from being able to make a bomb. Furthermore, President Ahmadinejad is losing public support and trying the patience of the Iranian elites who keep him in power. Rumor has it that his job is in danger.

John Edwards is being an enabler. By insisting that Iran is literally the biggest threat in the world, he's giving Bush cover for another war. (Update: The Jerusalem Post reports that elsewhere in his speech Edwards said that stopping a nuclear Iran was 'greatest challenge of our generation'.)

If Iran is developing nukes, perhaps the world would be justified in stopping the program by force. Unfortunately, it won't be that simple. Some hawks would have you believe that we could just precision-bomb Iran, destroy its nuclear facilities, and get out. Presumably, the Iranians would just hide their facilities better next time. The result of attacking Iran would not be a safer world, it would be an angrier Iran. Remember, Iran is a big exporter of terrorism. If we attacked Iran's nuclear program, what do you think Iran would do next? Suffice it to say that attacking the Islamic Republic of Iran is not going to be a coup for counter-terrorism.

The nuclear genie is not going back into the bottle. That, in the neocon's twisted estimation, is why we have to "remake" the Middle East. "Remaking" means overthrowing governments and replacing them with pro-American regimes. Remember how well that worked in Iraq?

Regardless of his future intentions, John Edwards should not be facilitating Bush's push for war. He must not make the same mistake on Iran that he did with Iraq.


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Wow! That's no ordinary trial lawyer! That's a tough trial lawyer! Weaker trial lawyers would have stopped at Iran being a regional threat, but those who are extra-special tough on foreign policy say "the entire world"! Maybe he can say something about a smoking gun being in the form of a mushroom cloud, or just play that episode 4 climax of this season's 24 for emphasis.

Thank you for avoiding re: Team Bush the metaphor of "doubling-down" as against "double-or-nothing", the former being often a smart proposition bet and the latter a drunk's sad waste.

"If Iran is developing nukes, perhaps the world would be justified in stopping the program by force. "

Why? When did every other country in the world's right to have nukes but the US get revoked? Last time I checked, only one country in the world had ever used them on another country....

In the abstract, it might be morally permissible to sabotage a nuclear program, any nuclear program--if that sabotage actually reduced the spread of nuclear weapons and didn't have repercussions worse than the threat posed by the nukes. Starting a war for peace is a stupid idea, and bombing Iran's nuclear program would start a war and probably do little to delay Iran's entry into the nuclear club over the long term.

Iran is a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, so it doesn't currently have the legal right to nukes.

Even if Michael's right, the fact remains that the Bush administration is manufacturing an immediate crisis over the Iranian nuclear program as an excuse to start another war.

Precisely right. Froomkin's "tactical" explanation might make sense, were it not for the fact that the administration is clearly gearing up for an attack on Iran. Either Edwards supports such an attack, or he's being naive in the extreme.

Edwards was looking very good to me until this. Now it looks like I'm back to supporting "none of the above" for the Dem nomination, for the time being at least.

Very good Lindsay. Fine job of commentary. Edwards also shows that the original geo-politics that lead to Iraq are still pretty strong amongst leading democrats.

I think in this moment your instincts are very very good. I strongly support your on-going analysis, and hope your influence grows.

Where does he say Iran is the biggest threat in the world? The preceding non-excerpted paragraph makes me think that he's saying Iran is the biggest threat in the region.

Adding: I don't know that it's necessarily the biggest "threat" in the region, either, but that's at least a less overblown claim.

I forgot to add the link to the Jerusalem Post's coverage of Edwards' full address. Edwards said that stopping Iran from getting nukes is the "greatest challenge of our generation" and that Iran threatens the entire world.

Interesting comments from Edwards. He just cost himself any small shot he had at winning the DNC presidential nomination. Too bad.

Interestingly, I think the biggest threat to mid-east regional security and potentially world security is.....Israel! It will be because of Israel that the region will continue to be unstable. Unfortunate that these people, Jews and Arabs, still cannot find a way to co-exist.

Why can't we have one (non-vegan) Democrat running for President who has the guts to tell the American people the truth about Iraq, Iran, US foreign policy, and the bloated military budget?

Ah, shit, and I had thought John learned his lesson from the last time this happened.

The corpo-media has already started the process of demonizing the latest enemy-du-jour; expect them to continue uncritically pushing the neoCon party line at every opportunity. Within a few months, "Iran must be destroyed" will have reached the status of Conventional Wisdom.

The signs are there that we can expect to see a repeat performance of the marketing of the Iraq war. BushCo will pretend that there's some way that the Iranians could save themselves from being attacked if they knuckle under far enough, but just as happened in 2003, they will be dissembling about their intentions and outright lying about the facts.

Just as in 2003, they have already decidered to start yet another war and they won't tolerate their will being thwarted.

That unprincipled, self-serving aging yuppie scum like Edwards (and soon, Hillary) would jump on what they think the latest trend among the Kewl Kidz Klub is par for the course; expect the rest of the Dems to play go along to get along because it's what all the popular kids are doing.

What's really insane is that their war of choice against Iran isn't really about protecting either the USA or Israel. Iran couldn't be in a position to trump the Israeli nuclear arsenal for many years; it could never be in a position to trump that of the USA. That's a scenario in which deterrence should be a perfectly viable option for preventing anyone from starting to throw nukes around.

What it's really about is preventing Iran from being in a position to refuse to take orders from Washington, and preserving the Israeli right wing's ability to be the bully of the region.

NeoCons are such a load of shits. They're so cowardly and unimaginative that the only way they can cope with the existence of an external world that they don't control is to fantasise about holding it at gunpoint.

It's the conventional wisdom factor that I'm scared of. In the run-up to the Iraq war, I began to wonder whether I was crazy because no one was asking really basic questions like "Is war the best solution to this problem?" and "Are we sure that there's a problem?" and "You know there's a difference between a potential threat and an imminent threat, right?" and "How is deposing Saddam Hussein supposed to reduce terrorism?"

At the time, I didn't speak out. I mean, I went to anti-war protests and wrote to my elected officials and signed a lot of petitions. But I didn't publicly voice the basic questions that were reverberating in my head because even so called liberals were playing along with the Saddam Threat script, even if they didn't want to authorize the president to use force just yet.

The right wing managed to marginalize anyone who spoke out too strongly against the war. "Serious" liberals couldn't say "This war is just a crazy idea, I don't understand what this is supposed to accomplish."

I don't want that to happen again.

I don't think there is any serious intent for war wih Iran. This is simply a Cold War style military standoff until one side blinks and then begins a more peaceful path with the other. We're simply pressuring President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and pressuring moderates, reformers and others in Iran to remove him from office. Ahmadinejad has ignored improving the Iranian economy and broken his other election promises, and instead provoked problems with the U.S. instead of improving trade. Iranian clerics and voters won't let this foolishness continue very much longer.

Iran has a 1,000,000 man army with a large chemical weapon missile force and the U.S. is not going to risk those raining down on our 130,000 troops in Iraq in the Green Zone, etc.. That's simply unlikely.

About a year ago I did a very detailed weapon by weapon analysis of Iran on my website, I compiled this from Russian intelligence sources, which I believed to be fairly accurate at the time. The U.S. won't take on an army this large. This is why the U.S. won't take on North Korea either. Iraq was very weak by comparison, and invited an invasion by their weakness and huge oil reserves.

The fact that some fear that the U.S. may start war with Iran proves the psychological warfare from our side is more credible than it actually really is. Nothing much is likely to happen unless Iran becomes a serious nuclear threat, then all bets are off.

FYI, that statement is verbatim of what I got as a response from Dennis Moore D-Kansas, when I sent him a note urging him to not make the same mistake on Iran that he made on Iraq.

The one thing that makes me a little less afraid of a ginned up war with Iran is that this is about the third time in the past year that "Holy Shit We're All Going to Die II: Iran" has been announced. I was convinced something was going to happen last October (Karl Rove's October Surprise). Now it seems like they keep testing the waters and keep deciding that (domestically) the time isn't right.

I still don't understand this tempest in a teapot. They guy wants to negotiate with Iran and wants to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Are there folks here who want Iran to have nuclear weapons? Or don't take the threat seriously? It's not just "aging yuppie scum" and neocons that are concerned. Do you understand that Iran with the bomb, means whatever becomes of Iraq will want the bomb and the Saudi royal family too, and then Egypt won't want to become a second-rate Arab state, so they'll get one. Does anyone find that dangerous? Does anyone think that a serious president or diplomat wouldn't want to go into hard-nosed negotiations with Iran with a full-court press hardline. Then you give on the reactors from the Russians, but you get international inspectors on site permanently. Jeez, do we know of any Democrats who aren't essentially saying the same thing as Edwards?

No, I don't know of any Democrats that have staked out a clear-cut rational anti-escalation position on Iran, and that's the problem. Not every Democrat is saber-rattling like Edwards, though.

Every Democrat who toes the administration line on "IMMEDIATE CRISIS IN IRAN!!!! OMG! NUKES!! ARRGH" is selling out the country. I'm sure Edwards is sincere, but he's playing a very dangerous game.

Every major politician who gives cover to the Bush administration, or who further alienates the average citizen of Iran with bellicose rhetoric is out of line and doing the whole world a disservice.

If you really hate Ahmadinejad as much as I do, quit your yapping about war and nukes and "all options" being on the table. He's hanging on to power by the skin of his teeth. He can't govern the country, he's alienated the average Iranian and the political and religious elites. The only way he can hang onto power is if he can reenergize crazy nationalist sentiment.

Nice going, hawks, if you engage that demographic in Iran with your bellicose rhetoric. (I'm giving hawks the benefit of the doubt to say they're just posturing. People get all upset when I intimate that some of them might be serious, because that would be a crazy position to attribute to anyone, now wouldn't it?)

If hawkish rhetoric and petty sanctions do inflame the average Iranian and prop up their crazy president, it will be just like when Al Qaeda engaged the same demographic in the USA. Al Qaeda handed Dubya another term because they especially freaked out a bunch of nationalist religious fundamentalists and got the average person on the street back in touch with their pre-Enlightenment paranoia. Naturally, they backed the most reactionary, bellicose nationalist on the scene. Look where he took the country. Now, we're on the verge of the international war Osama Bin Laden always wanted.

Fucking brilliant, you "realists."

I think you're right on this, Lindsay. The most frustrating thing about the Iraq invasion is that the debate about it had already been lost by the time most media outlets recognized it began. The newsmedia and commentariat had too deeply internalized too many assumptions that tilted the argument in favor of invasion.

This is just like social security. It's stupid to unquestioningly accept a manufactured crisis point and try to push our position as the appropriate response to that crisis point. We should concurrently argue that our position is superior and that the crisis point is manufactured.

It's even more frustrating than you say it is, Lindsay. I don't think Edwards is just caving in because of Republican pressure. Bush can't overtly press for war on Iran; his approval rate is about twenty points too low for that. It's likely built into his political persona. As his record on Iraq shows, he has no backbone on foreign policy, so he's likely to do whatever he thinks is a) conventional wisdom, b) popular, c) common sensical, in the negative sense of the term, and d) patriotic, again in the negative sense. He has the two issues he cares about, poverty reduction and health care; everything else is just for show.

What's certain is that Obama, who made pro-war prononucements on Iran as early as 2004, isn't doing it because of pressure. At the time, there wasn't any. Like Edwards, he just has no real foreign policy, beyond "Let's try to get along and pretend to solve problems."

In contrast, Clinton does have a foreign policy, probably, but it's thoroughly rotten, almost as if she were a Republican.

Should Edwards become president and take up the cudgel to beat Iran over nukes, I just pray he can pronounce “nuclear” as it is spelled, as opposed the whooping baboon presently loose in the Whitehouse.

An article by William Pfaff about American foreign policy in the NY Review of Books touches upon the issue of Iran and Nuclear weapons - Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America :

“Nuclear weapons proliferation, since North Korea's recent nuclear claims, is now more than ever an American preoccupation. In North Korea and elsewhere, the most important incentive for obtaining nuclear weapons is to deter American (or in Iran's case, Israeli) military intervention. The advantage provided by possession of such weapons is intimidation of neighboring states and inhibition of foreign interference. On the other hand, as Iran is finding out, the effort to obtain nuclear weapons may invite a precautionary foreign attack, so the choice of proliferation presents its own risks.

In Washington, Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is usually described as a threat to Israel, or to American bases or interests in the region, or even to Europe. Given the ability of all of these governments to retaliate conventionally as well as by nuclear means, it seems implausible or even unreasonable that Iran would initiate such an attack, or even imagine that there would be something to gain from doing so.

The possession of nuclear weapons provides mainly symbolic power, since their actual use implies unforeseeable and uncontrollable consequences, while this same uncertainty contributes to their deterrence effect. Building and testing a nuclear weapon makes a country ostensibly more important, or a more notorious and more feared actor on the international and regional stage, but the positive exploitation of nuclear status, even for purposes of blackmail, is not easy.

The nuclear threat is not automatically a credible one since its execution would be so disproportionate to any easily imagined provocation. …”

“… As the last sixty years of nuclear strategy studies suggest, the value of these weapons for any purpose other than deterrence seems slight. Their utility for coercion or blackmail seems very doubtful when not linked to a secure second-strike capability to deter retaliation, of the kind possessed by the cold war nuclear states, and this is beyond the means of the countries now considered candidates for nuclear status.”

I didn't address John Edwards in my comments above. But historically Democrats have done well by holding on to some hawkish sounding positions. John Kennedy was elected in 1960 partially because he ran to the right of the antCommunist Richard Nixon by his claims of a "missile gap" between the numbers of U.S. and Soviet missiles.

John Edwards is a shrewd product liability lawyer, where in a courtroom it's all about strategy and out-thinking your adversary. The new 2008 version of John Edwards is a combination of his 2004 populism along with some tougher sounding words on foreign policy matters meant to shore up more conservative Democrats and Southern supporters.

I doubt it will work, but Edwards hopes to position himself among the Democratic pack as the most electable. But Hillary Clinton is well positioning herself to win the nomination with key fundraising and more shrewd strategy as well.

Our election system is not a real democracy but a form of big business oligarchy(a government ruled by big business approved candidates chosen from a select group of ruling class members). Since 1980, a Bush or Clinton has been on a presidential ticket in every election. Big business is already beginning to center around Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side and Mitt Romney on the Republican side, making these two the likely contest in 2008. Big business will choose the eventual winner of the election as well. The U.S. doesn't have a king or queen, but has this oligarchy system of a national ruling class and big business chosing the leadership of the nation, with the voters only a small formality in this system.

For more background on this social system read the classics, C. Wright Mills, THE POWER ELITE and G. William Domhoff, WHO RULES AMERICA?.

LB said:
"Some hawks would have you believe that we could just precision-bomb Iran, destroy its nuclear facilities, and get out."

No, as I believe Wes Clark has talked about, there would be special forces raids as well: perhaps whole battalions of commandos and combat engineers would be inserted at sites where bombing was not optimal. They would carry off or destroy equipment, materiel, and records found there, and demolish or seal the sites on their way out. A campaign of such raids and coordinated bombardment could finish inside a week, and would not begin an invasion or occupation as the misbegotten "Operation Iraqi Freedom" did. It would leave the Iranians free to restart their nuclear program from scratch, but they would have lost a few years and a big investment. If they were convinced that the U.S. would do the same thing to their second try, some of the Iranian leadership would oppose a second try.
Meanwhile it is important that the Iranians understand that if they persist in trying to acquire nuclear weapons, they will be prevented in the end from acquiring them, that force will be the last resort, but will, if need be, be resorted to -- and they need to be reminded that whoever the U.S. president is, that is what U.S. policy will be. John Edwards and the foaming mouths of the Bush administration are reminding them.
OTOH, the Iranians also need persuading that they do not need a nuclear deterrent to shield their country from an "Operation Iranian Freedom" invasion and occupation, beacause Americans understand that would be as much a nightmare for us as for them. This president should begin direct talks with Teheran; he probably won't, but the next, Edwards perhaps, will.

Iran is a threat to Israel, eh Mr. Edwards? And I should believe that, or even care whether it is true or not (it isn't) why? I was under the impression the UN anti-proliferation directive for the Middle East included all the nations of that area. Israel pull up stakes and leave?

Because THEY damn sure have enough nukes to threaten every nation. On Earth. And, gee, looks like they are doing so themselves and through their proxy. US.

Thanks for making it easy to eliminate a candidate 22 months before the election. Pander elsewhere.

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