Lawmakers get $83,000 from pipeline company, then rush a bill favoring pipeline construction

David Sirota writes: The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.

Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.

Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts. [Continue reading…]


Organized crime: Pentagon blows $43 million on useless Afghan gas station

USA Today reports: U.S. taxpayers footed the bill for a $42 million natural-gas filling station in Afghanistan, a boondoggle that should have cost $500,000 and has virtually no value to average Afghans, the government watchdog for reconstruction in Afghanistan announced Monday.

A Pentagon task force awarded a $3 million contract to build the station in Sheberghan, Afghanistan, but ended up spending $12 million in construction costs and $30 million in “overhead” between 2011 and 2014, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) found. Meanwhile, similar gas station was built in neighboring Pakistan cost $500,000.

“It’s hard to imagine a more outrageous waste of money than building an alternative fuel station in a war-torn country that costs 8,000% more than it should, and is too dangerous for a watchdog to verify whether it is even operational,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. “Perhaps equally outrageous however, is that the Pentagon has apparently shirked its responsibility to fully account for the taxpayer money that’s been wasted — an unacceptable lack of transparency that I’ll be thoroughly investigating.” [Continue reading…]


U.S. sends ‘message’ to Abbas with $80 million aid cut

Al-Monitor reports: The Obama administration is cutting aid to the Palestinians by $80 million in what congressional sources describe as a “message” to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The State Department notified lawmakers on Sept. 25 of its intention to reduce economic aid for the West Bank and Gaza Strip from $370 million to $290 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, Al-Monitor has learned. The news of the 22% cut from the department’s initial request follows mounting criticism from Congress about Palestinian “incitement” in the rash of stabbing attacks that have left at least 10 Israeli civilians dead over the past three weeks.

“We need to dial up pressure on Palestinian officials to repudiate this violence,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. [Continue reading…]


America’s myopic view of Benghazi


Could the Saudis be dragging the U.S. into a war crimes scandal?

PRI reports: Thirteen liberal legislators have put President Barack Obama on the spot for his support of Saudi Arabia’s unchecked war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has been guided by US intelligence, flying American fighter jets and dropping US-made bombs.

A Human Rights Watch researcher has put the death toll from the incursion at 2,355 civilians since March.

Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingel and her colleagues reminded the president in a letter last week that Saudi Arabia, America’s strongest Arab ally and best weapons customer is behaving badly in Yemen, and could be dragging the US into a war crimes scandal. “With this level of active involvement in the campaign,” the letter reads, “we are concerned that some overseas may hold the United States responsible for any civilian casualties resulting from the bombing.”

Many Yemenis already hold America — and the UK — responsible for Saudi actions. [Continue reading…]


Why the U.S. should not provide Israel with the GBU-57 bunker buster or the means to use it

Kingston Reif writes: In the aftermath of the Republican-controlled Congress’ failure to block the Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), attention has begun to turn to implementation of the agreement and steps the administration and Congress can take to ensure scrupulous Iranian compliance, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, reassure nervous regional allies, and counter Iran’s many destabilizing activities in the region.

While numerous worthwhile suggestions have been put forward pursuant to these objectives, other proposals that have been put forward, including by Democratic supporters of the JCPOA on Capitol Hill, would severely complicate — if not threaten altogether — implementation of the agreement.

One such counterproductive recommendation is to transfer the GBU-57 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), and the means to deliver it, to Israel. The most powerful air-delivered conventional weapon in the U.S. arsenal, the bunker-busting MOP is reportedly capable of holding at risk hard and deeply buried targets, such as Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow. [Continue reading…]


How Pope Francis U.S. visit can help boost diplomacy and defeat militarism

Trita Parsi writes: Pope Francis’s visit to Washington DC could not have been better timed for the Obama administration. Relations with Cuba have been normalized and the Iran nuclear deal has survived the theatrics of the mandated Congressional review. Pope Francis has of course played an important role in many of these wins for President Barack Obama. He helped with the backchannel diplomacy with Havana, he has endorsed the Iran deal and the White House has reportedly also enlisted his offices to help secure the release of three American citizens imprisoned in Iran.

While the Pope’s assistance in what appears to amount to a prisoner exchange with Iran is both welcomed and necessary, there are two other interrelated issues that deserves some papal nudging.

On the broader level, the Obama administration should seek strong support from the pope on the matter of diplomacy as a principle. The Iran nuclear deal was above all a major victory for a foreign policy paradigm centered on the idea that international conflicts must first and foremost be resolved through dialogue and negotiations, rather than through militarism and coercion.

Many outside of the US may find it perplexing that this even needs to be debated, but the Congressional debate around the Iran nuclear deal revealed the profound opposition that remains within the Washington foreign policy establishment around the notion of negotiating and compromising with one’s adversaries. [Continue reading…]


The unheralded force that helped win the Iran deal and reshape U.S. foreign policy

Ben Wikler writes: At midnight tonight [Thursday], the clock stops. The congressional review period for the Iran nuclear deal expires, and the opponents of the deal officially lose their chance to torpedo the landmark foreign policy achievement of the Obama era. Thanks to 42 Democratic and Independent Senators, the GOP-driven sabotage bill never even reached the president’s desk, and the United States has moved off of the path to war with Iran.

It’s a moment worth marking: the visible sign of a tectonic shift in the politics of American foreign policy.

The Iran deal’s political survival means many things at once. It signals the decline of AIPAC and the Likud lobby, a masterfully executed vote-whipping operation driven by the White House, Dick Durbin and Harry Reid in the Senate, and Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. David Price, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett in the House.

But it also means something more, something largely missed in the many write-ups of how the victory was forged. The success of the Iran nuclear deal marks a crescendo of a politically mature constituency for peace and diplomacy. It’s a milestone in the ascendancy of a grassroots movement stirred to action by the Iraq war that has been building steadily since, a force that will shape the politics of war and peace in 2016 and the years beyond. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: Following a final failed attempt by Senate Republicans to kill the Iran nuclear agreement Thursday, the administration moved aggressively toward putting it into effect, naming a new czar to oversee implementation and announcing that President Obama would issue waivers suspending all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Oct. 18.

The waivers will not go into effect until what the agreement itself calls “Implementation Day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Iran has complied with all of its obligations — including removal of 98 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile, shutting down its underground enrichment facility and rendering inoperative the core of a plutonium-capable reactor.

Senior administration officials said those processes could take well into 2016 once they begin next month, under the terms of the deal completed in July. [Continue reading…]


Senators investigating ‘revolt’ by U.S. military analysts over ISIS intelligence

The Daily Beast reports: Leading Congressmen from both parties said Thursday that they’re investigating allegations that intelligence on ISIS was being skewed to match the Obama’s administration’s rosy depictions of the war against the terror group.

The news comes less than a day after The Daily Beast revealed that more than 50 analysts with the U.S. military’s Central Command formally complained that higher-ups were improperly interfering with ISIS intelligence reports. Top d efense and intelligence officials also said they’re looking into the accusations.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain, told The Daily Beast, “We’re investigating… Our committee is looking at it, we have jurisdiction and oversight.” [Continue reading…]

The Hill reports: Defense Secretary Ash Carter has asked his under secretary of defense for intelligence to make clear to military officials that the Pentagon chief expects “unvarnished, transparent” intelligence, the Pentagon announced Thursday. [Continue reading…]


AIPAC suffers stinging political defeat

The New York Times reports: Officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee knew the odds were against them in the fight to block President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran from surviving a congressional vote. But the influential pro-Israel group threw itself into a nearly $30 million advertising and lobbying effort to kill the accord anyway.

On Thursday, the committee, known as Aipac, was handed a stinging defeat. After Mr. Obama mustered enough Democratic backing in the Senate to halt a vote on a resolution of disapproval against the deal, a group known for its political clout saw its power and reputation in Washington diminished.

“They failed — they couldn’t even get a vote,” said Clifford Kupchan, an Iran expert and the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, who noted that Aipac had gone “all in” and tried everything to stop the deal. “It’s among the biggest setbacks for Aipac in recent memory.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Senate Democrats delivered a major victory to President Obama when they blocked a Republican resolution to reject a six-nation nuclear accord with Iran on Thursday, ensuring the landmark deal will take effect without a veto showdown between Congress and the White House.

A procedural vote fell two short of the 60 needed to break a Democratic filibuster. It culminated hours of debate in the Senate and capped weeks of discord since the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China announced the agreement with Iran in July.

The debate divided Democrats between their loyalties to the president and to their constituents, animated the antiwar movement on the left and exposed the diminishing power of the Israeli lobbying force that spent tens of millions of dollars to prevent the accord. [Continue reading…]


Two thirds of Jewish lawmakers in Congress back the Iran nuclear deal

The Jerusalem Post reports: Two thirds of Congress’ Jewish lawmakers back the Iran nuclear deal in a tally finalized when Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., announced his backing.

Grayson’s announcement late Wednesday, the day deliberations began in Congress, brings the total number of backers among the 28 Jews in Congress to 19, with nine opposed. [Continue reading…]


Obama secures key vote to protect Iran nuclear deal in U.S. Congress

Reuters reports: President Barack Obama on Wednesday secured the 34th Senate vote needed to sustain a veto of any congressional resolution disapproving a nuclear deal with Iran, ensuring the accord will not fail in the U.S. Congress.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski announced her support for the agreement, becoming the 32nd Senate Democrat, along with two independents, to back a pact announced on July 14, which exchanges sanctions relief for Iran for Tehran’s agreeing to curtail its nuclear program.

The move means Obama’s fellow Democrats will have enough votes to protect the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in the U.S. Congress.

Their next goal is to see if they can gather at least 41 votes in the Senate to use the filibuster procedural rule to block a disapproval resolution in the Senate and keep Obama from having to use his veto power. [Continue reading…]


How the Iran deal will pass — and why it should

Fred Kaplan writes: It’s looking more and more like Benjamin Netanyahu committed a strategic blunder in so ferociously opposing the Iran nuclear deal and in rallying his American allies to spend all their resources on a campaign to kill the deal in Congress.

If current trends hold, the Israeli prime minister and his stateside lobbyists — mainly AIPAC — are set to lose this fight. It’s politically risky for Israel’s head of state to go up against the president of his only big ally and benefactor; it’s catastrophic to do so and come away with nothing. Similarly, it’s a huge defeat for AIPAC, whose power derives from an image of invincibility. American politicians and donors might get the idea that the group isn’t so invincible after all, that they can defy its wishes, now and then, without great risk.

It would have been better for Netanyahu — and for Israel — had he maybe grumbled about the Iran deal but not opposed it outright, let alone so brazenly. He could have pried many more favors from Obama in exchange for his scowl-faced neutrality. Not that Obama, or any other American president, will cut Israel off; but relations will remain more strained, and requests for other favors (for more or bigger weapons, or for certain votes in international forums) will be scrutinized more warily, than they would have been. [Continue reading…]


The questionable legality of U.S. military aid to Egypt

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Egypt’s rising authoritarianism has been met with a collective shrug in Washington, which sends Cairo $1.3 billion in military aid each year.

One notable exception is Senator Patrick Leahy, who is raising alarm about human rights abuses Egyptian security forces have committed as they battle militants in the Sinai Peninsula. He recently asked Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter whether Egypt had run afoul of a federal law he sponsored that bars military units that have committed human rights abuses with impunity from receiving American aid.

“According to information I have received, the number of militants has steadily increased, due, at least in part, to ineffective and indiscriminate operations by the Egyptian military and the lack of licit economic opportunities for inhabitants of the Sinai,” Mr. Leahy wrote in the July 20 letter.

Mr. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, is asking a rhetorical question. It is abundantly clear to the senator and Egypt experts in the American government that Egypt’s security forces have committed abuses with impunity in recent years. In May, the State Department told Congress in a report that security forces have “committed arbitrary or otherwise unlawful killings during the dispersal of demonstrators, of persons in custody and during military operations in the northern Sinai Peninsula.”

Mr. Leahy’s point is that continuing to enable a despotic government by shipping over American Apache helicopters, missiles and ammunition is not only unwise but almost certainly unlawful. [Continue reading…]


AIPAC tells Congress: You can vote down Iran deal because Obama can implement it anyway

M.J. Rosenberg writes: Bob Satloff, an old AIPAC hand, who now runs AIPAC’s think-tank, the Washington Institute For Near East Policy (which AIPAC created as its “intellectual front” in 1985) has let us in on one of the most interesting arguments that AIPAC’s lobbyists are now using against the Iran deal on Capitol Hill.

It is that Senators and House members can safely vote down the agreement because President Obama can implement it unilaterally anyway. In other words, it’s a safe vote. You can please the lobby (i.e, the donors) without damaging U.S. foreign policy because your vote doesn’t change a thing. [Continue reading…]


God’s chosen senator, Chuck Schumer, stands with Netanyahu in opposing Iran deal

The New York Times reports: The decision by Senator Chuck Schumer to oppose President Obama’s deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program rattled the Democratic firewall around the accord, but supporters said Democratic defections in New York and South Florida would not be enough to bring down the agreement.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have promised a vote in mid-September on a resolution to disapprove the nuclear accord between Iran and the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China, which in itself would be a blow to Mr. Obama’s prestige.

But to scuttle the Iran nuclear deal, opponents have two high hurdles. They will need 60 votes in the Senate for a resolution of disapproval to overcome a filibuster by accord supporters. If they get that, the president will veto it. Then opponents must secure two thirds of the lawmakers in both chambers to override the veto.

Mr. Schumer, of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate and likely Democratic leader in 2017, said Thursday night that he would vote for the resolution of disapproval and a veto override. Mr. Schumer’s voice is powerful, and his politics are wily, but he alone cannot stop the international agreement. [Continue reading…]

As M.J. Rosenberg has pointed out, Schumer believes that it is his God-given mission to serve in the U.S. Senate as the guardian of Israel.


The security disaster for Israel if Congress says no to the Iran deal

James Adler writes: Now that the Iran negotiations have ended with a deal, will US Congress approve or reject it? Opponents think we should have obtained a “better deal,” and demand one.

Clear thinking should show the deal to be security boon and its repudiation a security disaster for Israel.

The first questions pertain to any deal with Iran.

Why would Iran’s own antideal hardliners reject a deal they knew their regime planned to try to violate? It makes no sense. [Continue reading…]


Iran nuclear deal gets support of House Israel backer, Sander Levin

The New York Times reports: Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the longest-serving Jewish member now in Congress, said Tuesday that he would support the Iran nuclear accord, lending a hefty voice of approval in a chamber deeply skeptical of the deal.

“Israel’s security has and always will be of critical importance to me and our country,” Mr. Levin said in a lengthy statement explaining his decision. “I believe that Israel, the region and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that. In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult.”

Mr. Levin’s remarks came as members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee began a sharp grilling of three cabinet secretaries sent to Capitol Hill for the second time by President Obama to defend the agreement. While many Republicans have lined up against the accord and some Democrats rushed in early to defend it, the administration is most deeply concerned with congressional Democrats, especially Jewish members and those from heavily Jewish districts who have expressed skepticism. [Continue reading…]