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Iran

Republicans Undermining Peace is Old Hat

Why Revelations of Republican Treason Should Come as no Surprise

I have to admit, when I first learned of the Republican attempt to undermine the Obama Administration’s negotiations with Iran I was surprised. I rubbed my eyes and temples, quite possibly spewed some expletives, and pushed myself to read the open letter to Iran, what turned out to be a full page combination of condescension insult and ignorance. ‘Unbelievable,’ I thought. Directly undermining the President’s constitutional authority to negotiate with a foreign power is beneath even the shallow dignity of the Republican Party. Surely, they wouldn’t go that far.

Once I rubbed almost permanent vision patterns into my eyes, however, I realized that my immediate response was ill considered. There was nothing surprising about this letter after all. Republicans have demonstrated, time and again, that they are willing to cause any amount of suffering, pain and even death in order to achieve power. They are the ultimate Machiavellians. Any tactic, no matter how insidious, will suffice.

This is not the first time, or even the most extreme example of GOP complicity in undermining presidential negotiations. Hell, it may not even be the first time that Republicans sought Iranian collusion in their political games.

The most notorious, deadliest case of Republican diplomatic sabotage had to do with the Paris Peace Accords in 1968. By 1968, it was clear that the Vietnam Lie was a catastrophe. The Johnson Administration was engaged in peace negotiations for about a year as the presidential campaign slogged through the summer. In October, a month before the election, President Johnson was sure that he and the North Vietnamese had reached an agreement that would lead to a cease fire and a framework for peace. This diplomatic victory could have turned the election in favor of the lackluster Hubert Humphrey, handing Tricky Dick yet another humiliating political defeat. But it would have ended the Vietnam War, saving countless lives.

Things did not go as planned. Instead of a framework for peace, South “Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu was suddenly laying down obstacles to a possible settlement in the Paris peace talks.” He was scuttling the peace process. Why? It turned out that a Nixon campaign official, Anna Chennault, convinced Thieu to block the peace process for a better deal that a Nixon administration could deliver. Johnson did not get his peace, but Nixon won his election. The outcome was no bargain for the South Vietnamese.

Neither was it a bargain for the United States. According to the national archives, over 20,000 American soldiers died in Vietnam from 1969 to the end of the war. But Nixon won his election. He did not, however, satisfy his promise of “peace with honor.”

In 1981, the very first victory of the fabled Reagan Administration was the near miraculous release of American hostages from the U.S. embassy in Iran. We were awed (I was almost eleven and still awed). President Carter had spent about a year and a half trying and failing to negotiate the release U.S. hostages taken during the Iranian Revolution. Clearly, there was something about President Reagan that the vile Iranians were not willing to tangle with.

There was something about President Reagan, just not what we thought. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the major parties involved with the Carter negotiations all agreed that the hostages should be released. Abolhassan Bani-Sadir, the first President of the new Iranian Republic, said, “Ayatollah Khomeini and Ronald Reagan had organized a clandestine negotiation, later known as the ‘October Surprise,’ which prevented the attempts by myself and then-US President Jimmy Carter to free the hostages before the 1980 US presidential election took place.”

Did the perpetuation of the hostage crisis throw the election to Ronald Reagan? Would the Gipper have won regardless? It’s impossible to say. It does not matter. Growing evidence indicates that the Republican Party was willing to prolong unnecessary suffering and to create a ruinous relationship with a major Middle Eastern power, risking even the possibility of war, in order to gain an electoral advantage.

So it should come as no surprise that the Republican Party would do the same in 2015. In historical context, there are only two differences between the current travesty and the previous. First, is the openness by which this particular stunt was done. There was no attempt to hide or to cover-up the most recent scandal. This fact may only indicate the growing arrogance of a party that has successfully connived its way to power for the last forty years. The GOP felt that there would be no political price to pay for their duplicity. They may be right.

The other difference is that this incident seemingly had nothing to do with electoral politics. This is nothing more than an extension of the standard, anti-Obama, collective orgasm that the Republican Party has become. Is this latest stunt so far out of character for a troop of con artists referring to itself as a political party? The last six years are a testament to the Republican willingness to cause unnecessary suffering for the sake of political gain. Governing is never the goal, as Mitch McConnell, one of the signatories of the above letter, admitted when he stated that his primary goal was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. Health care? Economic recovery? Medicaid? The Republican Party is even willing to default on the faith and credit of the nation in order to score political points, backing off only when it the strategy started to backfire.

Normally, however, the strategy does not backfire. The cold, hard reality is that this most cynical Republican strategy is extraordinarily successful. In the late sixties, an age in which Americans were finally beginning to question the norms and values of American exceptionalism, hegemony, capitalism and materialism, Richard Nixon did become president…and completely delegitimized the office. Despite this, Ronald Reagan was elected and was instrumental in reversing the civilizing policies of the New Deal responsible for America’s most prosperous era. Reagan Republicans, in league with Reagan Democrats, resurrected the historical oligarchy that characterized most of U.S. history.

Despite birthing an extremist foreign policy the likes of which could be a plot for a dystopian science fiction, starting two simultaneous wars based on lies and distortions, leading to international scorn and destabilizing an entire geographic region, then collapsing the global economy, the Republican Party remains a legitimate political force in the United States. Their denial of established science and stalwart adherence to medieval, theocratic dogma is the laughing stock of the world, yet they remain in a position to influence global policy in the most powerful nation in history.

The Republican Party may be an international embarrassment and a political abomination, but we keep electing them to office. We, American citizens, allow conservatives, represented by the GOP, to control a larger percentage of our state governments, pushing a piecemeal policy of historical regression. They control our law making bodies at the local, state and national level. They control the Supreme Court and a significant proportion of our judiciary. Media and think tanks are dedicated to the perpetuation of Republican idiocy, and we, the citizens, are the ones who turn the channel, tune the radio, access the web sites and drink down the toxic rhetoric with gusto.

When will we turn our backs on this national crime against reason, civilization and good taste?


Death and Sacrifice for Freedom in Iran

Neda Agha Sultan

On Neda Agha-Soltan’s Death


The Poor Ayatollah: Questions of Legitimacy in the Iranian Conflict

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, seeing the opportunity, grabbed a very angry tiger by the tail.  His support of current President Ahmadinejad, and his dire warnings against further protests exacerbates the problem of political legitimacy in Iran.  As the leader of Iran, Khamenei had to make a stand.  He had three main choices: concede, conciliate or crush.  It looks like he is choosing crush. His speech made clear that he will support the incumbent president (regardless of the fact that he’s a whackjob) and will unleash a bloodbath against those who contradict his wishes.

I can’t speak as to Khamenei’s motivations for making the “crush” decision.  As a Grand Ayatollah he is a top expert in Islamic law and expected to apply Sharia to every day life.  Since I’m not an expert in any sense with regard to Sharia it may well be that his support for Ahmadinejad is consistent with his position and title.  I do, however, know a thing or two about politics in general as well as the dissemination of power in a society.  Power seems to be a strong motivating factor. Khamenei’s stance seems inspired more by Machiavelli than Mohammad.  If so, he should understand that the Italian political philosopher is not the final say in politics.

Legitimacy is crucial in running a country.  Brutal force does not carry the day in the long run.  Those who make the nation work, the shop keepers and day laborers and teachers and soldiers must recognize those in power as having a legitimate claim to that power.  It is obvious that the legitimacy of the power structure of Iran is in dire straights.  Though it’s clear that Ahmadinejad has a broad following, his presence at the top of the domestic power structure is polarizing.  In essence, his presence, and to be fair, the presence of his key rival Moussavi, are dividing the Iranian house.  By embracing the status quo, Khamenei may be derailing the legitimacy of his government in the eyes of the people.  Resorting to violence may quell the protests, but will not re-establish lost legitimacy.  It will only fuel resentment on the part of the electorate.

But there’s an added dimension to this that is not getting much press.  Iran is a theocracy.  It is supposed to be run according to Sharia.  The ultimate representative of Sharia in Iran is the Grand Ayatollah Khamenei.  Since there is no separation between “church” and state in Iran, that which destroys the legitimacy of the state institution may also destabilize the religious institution.

Religious institutions, especially those as cohesive as Shi’a Islam, have a great ace up their sleeve.  The legitamacy of religious institutions are vouched by God, or Allah.  But that lends one to ask, could Allah have stirred up such a hornet’s nest? For any institution there are dissidents who question the status quo.  All it takes is a widespread issue, such as a contested election, to reduce the legitimacy of the power elite and increase the legitimacy of the dissidents.  This could, ultimately lead to a paradigm shift.  Could Iran, and ultimately Shi’a institutions, be facing such a paradigm shifting crisis? We shall see.

The policies of Grand Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, resorting to blunt threats of violence, is unlikely to squash the seeds of dissent that could shift the ideological make-up of the country, and perhaps the region.

In a related matter: Kudos to President Obama for refusing to stir this particular stink.  Let’s let the people decide the direction of their own nation. What a concept!