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…]


Sen. Wyden objects to anti-terrorism rules for websites

The Associated Press reports: Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and skeptic of broad government surveillance, objected Tuesday to a bill that would have required social media and online sites like Google, Yahoo, Twitter and Facebook to alert federal authorities of any terrorist activity.

The proposal, by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had been tucked into a broader bill authorizing intelligence programs throughout the 2016 budget year and became the subject of several private meetings on Capitol Hill between congressional staff and industry officials.

In a statement submitted into the Congressional Record, Wyden said the Senate had been asked on Tuesday to approve the intelligence authorization bill by unanimous consent. Doing so would bypass any debate. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., confirmed that leadership had hoped to pass the bill before the August recess, but that not all senators were on board. [Continue reading…]


What’s inside the Justice Department’s secret cybersecurity memo?

National Journal reports: Sen. Ron Wyden has many problems with the cybersecurity bill that the Senate may take up before the August recess.

But he can only talk about some of them publicly. Other reservations remain strictly classified.

Wyden, the Democratic privacy hawk from Oregon, claims that a classified Justice Department legal opinion written during the early years of the George W. Bush administration is pertinent to the upper chamber’s consideration of cyberlegislation — a warning that reminds close observers of his allusions to the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers years before they were exposed publicly by Edward Snowden. [Continue reading…]


Israeli ambassador to House Democrats: Don’t fret about killing Iran deal

Politico reports: Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s message to House Democrats is simple: don’t worry about voting against the Iran deal, because no matter what, the U.S. will not allow the Islamic Republic to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The message, described by multiple lawmakers who were on the receiving end, is meant to tamp down fear of what will happen if Congress votes to block the nuclear agreement. The U.S. and Israel have both said they would do anything to ensure Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.

Dermer and other opponents are fighting an uphill battle against the nuclear pact: Capitol Hill insiders say opponents to the deal do not have the votes to override President Barack Obama’s veto. [Continue reading…]


The nuclear physicist answering lawmakers’ questions on Iran deal

The Wall Street Journal reports: As the White House ramps up its campaign to sell its Iran nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress, a shaggy-haired scientist is proving to be its best asset on Capitol Hill.

Both Republicans and Democrats called Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics professor, the administration’s most credible source of information on the accord reached this week aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program and the negotiations that produced it.

“He’s by far been the best witness, the best person to talk to,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R. Tenn.). On Thursday, Mr. Corker said Mr. Moniz would testify at the committee’s first hearing on the final deal next week, along with Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

The agreement reached Tuesday in Vienna puts strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program for the next decade that are designed to keep Tehran from being at least 12 months away from amassing enough nuclear fuel for a bomb. In exchange, the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations will lift economic sanctions on Iran.

Mr. Moniz, 70 years old, played a key role over the months of talks that led to the accord between Iran and six global powers. In particular, he had a string of one-on-one technical discussions with Ali Akbar Salehi, now chairman of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Mr. Salehi studied at MIT in the 1970s, when Mr. Moniz taught at the school, though they didn’t meet there.

“It’s extraordinarily fortunate that at this moment in time we have, in the cabinet and on the negotiating team, an honest-to-goodness nuclear physicist who knows this stuff,” said Sen. Angus King (I., Maine). [Continue reading…]


Documenting death inside Syria’s secret prisons

NPR reports: A Syrian forensic photographer, who now uses the pseudonym Caesar, documented the death of thousands of detainees in Syria’s brutal prison system. He made more than 55,000 high-resolution images before he fled the country, fearing for his safety, in 2013.

He spoke publicly for the first time in July 2014, when he appeared before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, wearing a blue jacket with a hood to protect his identity.

Dozens of Caesar’s photographs will be displayed again in the halls of Congress on Wednesday.

The exhibition is sponsored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in cooperation with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [Continue reading…]


Hackers warned about internet vulnerabilities but were ignored

The Washington Post reports: The seven young men sitting before some of Capitol Hill’s most powerful lawmakers weren’t graduate students or junior analysts from some think tank. No, Space Rogue, Kingpin, Mudge and the others were hackers who had come from the mysterious environs of cyberspace to deliver a terrifying warning to the world.

Your computers, they told the panel of senators in May 1998, are not safe — not the software, not the hardware, not the networks that link them together. The companies that build these things don’t care, the hackers continued, and they have no reason to care because failure costs them nothing. And the federal government has neither the skill nor the will to do anything about it.

“If you’re looking for computer security, then the Internet is not the place to be,” said Mudge, then 27 and looking like a biblical prophet with long brown hair flowing past his shoulders. The Internet itself, he added, could be taken down “by any of the seven individuals seated before you” with 30 minutes of well-choreographed keystrokes.

The senators — a bipartisan group including John Glenn, Joseph I. Lieberman and Fred D. Thompson — nodded gravely, making clear that they understood the gravity of the situation. “We’re going to have to do something about it,” Thompson said.

What happened instead was a tragedy of missed opportunity, and 17 years later the world is still paying the price in rampant insecurity. [Continue reading…]