Nearly a year after the Iran deal passed, it is still in treacherous waters. Hardliners in the American power structure want to capsize the deal. They include neoconservatives inside the Beltway who have the ear of administration officials, the Israel lobby, and Hillary Clinton’s braintrust too. And it’s all happening in plain sight. Because the mainstream press doesn’t care to hold these folks to account.
Here is a fine column at the National Interest by Paul Pillar on the unrelenting neoconservative efforts to scuttle the Iran deal:
Iran now has been in compliance for two and a half years with stringent restrictions on its nuclear program agreed to in multilateral negotiations.
Despite this record of compliance, efforts to destroy the agreement continue…. The main motivations for opposition to the agreement have had nothing to do with nuclear nonproliferation and instead have to do with not wanting to have any agreement of any sort with Iran.
That opposition has centered in two overlapping places. One is Republican determination not to let Barack Obama have a major foreign policy success. The other is the objective of the right-wing Israeli government—with everything such an objective customarily implies regarding domestic U.S. politics—to keep Iran permanently ostracized and not to have anyone (especially the United States) do any business with it, and thereby to keep Iran forever as a bête noire that is portrayed as the “real” source of trouble in the Middle East, to continue to use it as a distraction from any other troubles the Israeli government prefers not to talk about, to make sure there will be no competition to Israel as supposedly the only reliable U.S. partner in the Middle East, and to keep a major regional competitor to Israel weak and isolated.
President Obama can take on the Republicans, but he has to play ball with the Israel lobby because it is so powerful. It holds chairs in his administration, and Hillary Clinton is dependent upon it to mount her campaign.
The opposition has shifted its attack from alleged Iranian cheating– because Iranians are actually accepting the intrusive inspections regime — to Iranian wickedness throughout the Middle East, says Pillar:
Even before the JCPOA was adopted and implemented, opponents of the agreement had shifted much of their rhetorical energy to the notion that the agreement would somehow encourage more “nefarious,” destabilizing Iranian activity in the Middle East.
An example is a recent piece by the Washington Institute’s Mathew Levitt. Levitt’s item is titled, “Under cover of nuclear deal, Iran foments regional instability”. But look at the text and you will see that there is no connection whatever, either logical or empirical, drawn between the nuclear agreement and any Iranian actions in the region.
Pillar pulls apart Levitt’s argument.
A reference to Syria does not note that the Iranian activity that supposedly is “fomenting instability” consists of support for an incumbent regime that has been in power for decades. And a reference to Iraq fails to mention that in the biggest part of the conflict there—the fight against ISIS—Iran is on the same side as the United States.
Pillar says that Hillary Clinton has been recruited, out of pro-Israel inertia.
Hardliners in the United States and Israel are playing off hardliners in Iran in ways that imperil the future of the nuclear agreement, with the most likely scenario for the accord unraveling being that U.S. hostility and continued economic warfare against Iran would tip the balance of power in Tehran in favor of those who would declare that the accord is a bad bargain for Iran and should be scrapped. The hardliners motivated by the objectives mentioned above are being abetted by those in the United States who may not share those objectives but, out of habit or perceived political self-interest, go along with the mantras about Iran always being an enemy and a trouble-maker and deserving of our hostility. This includes presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, notwithstanding her declared support for the nuclear agreement.
Pillar links to an earlier piece at the National Interest stating that Hillary Clinton wants to undo the Iran deal. Amir Handjani and Ariane Tabatabai say that the Obama administration has undertaken off-shore balancing between Saudi Arabia and Iran in an effort to fight ISIS and stabilize the region, but influenced by hardliners, Clinton has other ideas.
Secretary Clinton’s Iran policy would reverse this. It would put America directly in the middle of the Saudi-Iran cold war and on the side of Arab Sunni states who have a vested interest in making sure that Iran and the United States never normalize relations.
Secretary Clinton should use the opportunity offered by the post–Iran deal opening to confront ISIS, tackle the Syria problem and stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq—all issues that require Iranian input to manage.
Notice that the spearhead of opposition to the deal, Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — a spinoff of the Israel lobby group AIPAC — has expressed confidence in the anti-Iranian bona fides of an Obama appointee: Adam J. Szubin, the under secretary of Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.
— Matthew Levitt (@Levitt_Matt) May 25, 2016
Szubin’s portfolio is managing and maintaining the Iranian sanctions inside Treasury. As we have reported, there has been an amazing continuity in his office. Founded in 2004, there have been three under secretaries for terrorism and financial intelligence, and all three were obvious nods to the neoconservative/Israel lobby base of the D.C. establishment, and all of little apparent interest to President Obama, asleep at the switch.
Szubin’s predecessor as under secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence was David S. Cohen, whose predecessor was Stuart A. Levey. Cohen and Levey had been associates in the same law firm. Szubin had served as Levey’s counsel. It’s an unbroken chain.
Levey wrote his thesis at Harvard under Marty Peretz, about saving the Zionist “dream” from Kahanists. While David Cohen had the approval of Alan Dershowitz. Szubin’s ideology is not at all transparent, but his father was a Holocaust survivor, and AllGov notes his establishment and Orthodox Jewish credentials.
More worryingly, earlier this year, Szubin agreed to be in a lineup of speakers for a neoconservative outfit, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, alongside such ideological hacks as Elliott Abrams, Cliff May, Reuel Marc Gerecht, and Jonathan Schanzer. Virtually ever speaker is neoconservative and Republican; the only exception to be seen is Nancy Youssef.
Most government officials, at any time in any administration, would choose not to appear in so politically marked a company. But Szubin obviously only solidifies his status by doing so. And the Obamaites can do nothing about it, or maybe they approve it to throw bones to the lobby.
After the Iran deal was signed last summer, Szubin spoke to the Israel lobby group the Washington Institute in September 2015, laying out the policy that Iran is now complaining of, “secondary sanctions” that intimidate European firms and banks from engaging in any transaction with Iran.
You will see that in that speech Szubin parroted the Benjamin Netanyahu line that Iran is the largest sponsor of world terrorism, which is a necessary talking point in neoconservative and Republican circles but not the usual emphasis of the Obama administration. And he did so at the moment when he was tasked with defending the nuclear deal.
We know Iran for what it is. We know it to be the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, we’re keenly aware of its nefarious activities in the region, and we’ve invested years in devising intricate sanctions to frustrate its objectives. We are now redoubling those efforts, as I will detail in a few minutes. But, I argue, Iran’s relationship with terrorist groups is exactly why securing a nuclear deal was so important. I vividly remember sitting across the table with Israeli government officials in the mid-2000s—2006, 2007, 2008—and hearing that Iran posed a range of threats to the Israeli government and the Israeli people, but only one was an existential threat. It was the possibility that Iran could obtain a nuclear weapon—and with it, the nightmare scenario that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorist groups would have the world’s most destructive capability. It is, for those reasons, imperative in my view that we take that nuclear threat off the table, and then turn intensively to combating the remaining conventional threats that Iran poses.
It almost sounds like he was against the deal.
…If Iran cheats– we know the maxim if you give an inch they will take a mile applies very much in this case.
Here Szubin described his efforts to maintain “secondary sanctions,” which the Iranians have been complaining about:
Moreover, our whole range of sanctions authorities targeting Iran’s support for terrorism, destabilizing regional activities, missile proliferation, and human rights abuses remains in place. Under the JCPOA, more than two hundred Iranian-linked companies and individuals will remain designated, will remain on the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) list, including major Iranian firms in the military, defense, engineering, construction, and energy fields. And secondary sanctions continue to apply to all of these Iranrelated individuals and entities. Let me explain what I mean by secondary sanctions. What I mean is that a foreign bank—a German bank, a Chinese bank, a Singaporean bank—that does business with any of those companies or individuals that I just mentioned faces a total cutoff from the U.S. financial system. It is a very stark threat, and one that our foreign banking counterparts do not take lightly, I can assure you
He bragged about crunching down on a Lebanese construction firm that supports Hezbollah. And of course Szubin’s cheerleader Matthew Levitt is focused on Hezbollah.
Here are the effects of the sanctions bill passed in December 2015, after the Iran deal, on Hezbollah-subsidized social services in Lebanon, hospitals, doctors, and nurses:
Its network mainly serves impoverished areas, including three hospitals, 12 health centers as well as 20 infirmaries, according to a 2009 study published by the Middle East Policy Council. One company, Jihad Construction, is involved in rebuilding areas damaged by Israeli strikes or recent bomb attacks linked to the Syrian war. The depth of the group’s coffers is harder to estimate.
Salaries now have to be paid in cash. Recipients, including those with mortgages and loans, risk being cut off from the Lebanese banking system.
And Szubin speaks at neoconservative shops without anyone raising an eyebrow about it. The deep state doesn’t have to hide its hand because nobody is taking fingerprints. The New York Times has run a couple of stories on how the secondary sanctions are strengthening Iranian hardliners but it never asks: How aware is the president of all this? Who is executing the policy at treasury?
Thanks to David Bromwich, who understands the opponents’ long game better than anyone.