Mojo - July 2008

MoJo Convo: Iran Panic? A Follow Up Question for the Experts

| Thu Jul. 3, 2008 10:53 AM EDT

Earlier this week MoJo writer Laura Rozen asked an Israeli intel correspondent, an Iranian American activist, an arms expert, a former peace negotiator, and an anti-war intellectual:

How likely is a scenario in which the US or Israel strikes Iran before Bush leaves office? (Or is the Left falling for the hawks' propaganda?)

Read the original conversation here.

Now for a follow up question:

There have been hints of potentially momentous shifts on policy to Iran this past week. Final thoughts on what promises to be a long hot summer?

daniel_levy-65x70.jpg

Daniel Levy, a former Middle East peace negotiator, is Director of the Prospects for Peace Initiative at The Century Foundation, and of the Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation:

The first thing I would say would be to caution against expectations of a dramatic breakthrough in either direction—either imminent attacks or an imminent deal—when hearing the latest developments, which is good news in the case of the former, but not so much in the case of the latter. I would also be careful about drawing what some may see as an obvious causal relationship: Israel and American heightened the threat; Iran climbed down—longer and more complicated processes are at work.

If one were to be mischievous, one could even pose the opposite speculation: Namely, that in anticipation (or with advance information) of a greater Iranian willingness to demonstrate flexibility on the enrichment freeze, the threats were escalated in order to allow the claim that chest-thumping was working. If indeed we have inched closer towards negotiations, then the key thing will be to give those negotiations a chance to make progress and to demonstrate patience. Naturally, all sides would have to justify a change in approach to their respective domestic audiences.

The challenge will be to do this in a way that does not undermine the process itself. So keep any clucking and "they blinked first rhetoric" to a minimum. My own sense is that one of the significant factors in play here is that Iran, similar to other regional powers, is already looking beyond the Bush administration and beginning to choreograph it signals and messaging with the next administration in mind. Syria's resumption of negotiations with Israel probably comes from a similar place.

Hard diplomatic bargaining is not only the best option, but also the option most likely to address legitimate concerns on all sides in ways that the other parties can live with (limitations and transparency of any enrichment/civil nuclear energy program, Iranian regime security, cessations of Iranian provision of material assistance to groups deploying violence against Israeli civilians, etc.); and the new Trita Parsi-Shlomo Ben-Ami op-ed is well worth reading on this. But note—negotiations entail brinksmanship and moments of crisis that require very skillful management, which makes me worry given the current actors on the scene.

There have been some posts and questions on this thread regarding the relationship between the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iranian issue. In shorthand, I would say the following:

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Blogger Brian Beutler Shot, Expected to Make Full Recovery

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 6:20 PM EDT

Sad news, folks. Brian Beutler, the Washington correspondent for the Media Consortium and a frequent contributer to this site and this blog, was shot three times yesterday in a failed mugging in Northwest Washington DC. Brian is in the hospital and is expected to make a full recovery. Brian's editor, Adele Stan, wrote this after visiting Brian in the hospital:

Funny thing about being a journalist: your job is to write about people and mayhem and trauma, but let any of those touch you directly, and it becomes a different game. With that caveat, allow me to recount my brief visit today with my colleague, Brian Beutler, whose sign-off is a familiar one on this site, and has come to define the reporting of The Media Consortium's syndicated reporting project.
I was just about to leave the house this morning to meet with Brian when I got word this morning, through a mutual colleague of ours, that he had been shot last night in Washington, D.C., in an aborted mugging.

Video: DNC Hammers McCain on Economic Double Talk

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 3:41 PM EDT

He basically asked them to make this video...

Background.

McCain Denies Ever Saying He Lacks Expertise on Economy

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 12:56 PM EDT

John McCain is a honest dude. Sure, he flip-flops on stuff (see the bottom of this post), but he utters truths that a lot of other politicians wouldn't. A perfect example is his statement from December 2007: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should." He's said similar things as well.

Problem is, uttering truths doesn't help you run for president. (Shocker, right? Is it a sign of a fundamental idealism or innocence that writing that statement genuinely upset me?) So now McCain is not just insisting that he does have economic expertise, he's actually denying that he said the statement in question. Think Progress has the depressing, not-very-honest details. Running for president makes messes of good men.

Report: Interrogation Instructors at Gitmo Taught Communist Tactics from 1950s

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 11:20 AM EDT

Really? When the military was copying old communist torture tactics verbatim, no one thought, Hey, this doesn't seem like a very American way of doing things?

The military trainers who came to Guantánamo Bay in December 2002 based an entire interrogation class on a chart showing the effects of "coercive management techniques" for possible use on prisoners, including "sleep deprivation," "prolonged constraint," and "exposure."
What the trainers did not say, and may not have known, was that their chart had been copied verbatim from a 1957 Air Force study of Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to obtain confessions, many of them false, from American prisoners.

One More Clinton Campaign Post-Mortem: No Hierarchy, No Trust, No Comity

| Wed Jul. 2, 2008 10:49 AM EDT

There's a new Vanity Fair article on the squabblings of Hillary Clinton's key campaign advisers. As you would expect, it feels about two months out of date, but it's still well-reported. The dysfunction described — some of the folks at the top of the Clinton campaign really couldn't stand each other — really makes you wonder how the campaign ran at all. Here's an excerpt, for short-term nostalgia's sake:

It was impossible to find anyone who could lay out the hierarchy of Hillary's campaign. Almost everybody had veto power, but no one could initiate. The group was about as effective as the U.N. Security Council. After Super Tuesday and Obama's remarkable run of February victories, it was clear their arrogantly defended strategies had failed. They became consumed with trading personal invective, hurling expletives, and trashing one another in print.
[Mark] Penn and [Harold] Ickes especially hated each other. Penn was a protégé of the most poisonous character in the Clinton White House, pollster Dick Morris. Leon Panetta, who had battled against Morris's morally empty advice in the '96 campaign, compared Penn to Karl Rove and saw Hillary's dependence on Penn as an ominous sign. "Morris had no lines between right and wrong," says Panetta. "There are moments when [the Clintons] want to hear from the dark side because that may be the only way to win.… Losing is not part of their vocabulary. They know no limits when it comes to the energy and tactics they will use—no matter how distasteful."

Everyone takes digs at everyone in the piece. It's an ugly scene, and it undercuts the claims of greater executive management skills — "Think about the [election] as a hiring decision!" HRC used to say — that Clinton made when running against Obama.

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How to Think about Immunity

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 5:49 PM EDT

As has been widely reported, the House's new FISA bill probably won't be up for a vote in the Senate until after the July 4th holiday. But the bill continues to be subjected to a great deal of criticism on the left for its telecom immunity and surveillance provisions.

And for good reason! The bill allows for bulk collection of data on American citizens without warrants or oversight of almost any kind, and, for all intents and purposes, it requires civil lawsuits against the telecommunications companies that participated in President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program to be thrown out of court. This, many would like us to believe, is some sort of compromise.

The Yoo-Sands Controversy

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 3:11 PM EDT

Yesterday, I reported on former deputy Attorney General (and torture memoranda author) John Yoo's none-too-subtle attempt to discredit critic and author Philippe Sands by suggesting he'd lied to a House subcommittee. As an attempt to clear the air, Sands has written a letter to John Yoo, which he's also submitted for the congressional record, and I've obtained a copy. The text appears below.

Iran to Suspend Uranium Enrichment for Six Weeks?

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 2:35 PM EDT

An Iranian American academic writes that an Iranian news site is reporting that Iran has decided to suspend uranium enrichment, "as a goodwill gesture," for a period of six weeks. "This action will be taken in return for no further sanctions, and resumption of negotiations with the 5+1 group during this period based on the latest proposed package." (Here's the source of the report, he says).

If true that Iran has accepted the West's "suspension for suspension" proposal, as former US Iran envoy Nick Burns has called it, it would conceivably make way for the US to join international talks with Iran over its nuclear program. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice has said repeatedly that Washington would be willing to talk directly with Iran if Iran agreed to suspend its enrichment program. It's a position that the State Department reiterated as recently as yesterday.

I am trying to confirm whether the Iranian report is accurate.

Iranian and American sources warn that more information is needed.

More details if they become available.

Update: More hints Iran is considering trying to get to negotiations.

Thursday Update: A more detailed suggestion of the anticipated potential Iranian response to the latest P5+1/Javier Solana offer is available here:

The 5+1 proposal to Iran proposes a "pre-negotiation" phase at which stage there would be a "freeze for freeze", i.e. Iran would not add any new centrifuges and the 5+1 would not introduce any new sanctions. In this phase, Iran would negotiate with 5+1 minus the US to prepare the grounds for full-fledged negotiations which would then include the US. In this phase, Iran can also comment on the agenda of the negotiations and introduce new topics (eg. Tehran could insist that the issue of an uranium enrichment consortium on Iranian soil be discussed with high priority). Iran can also focus on the "commonalities of the two proposals" as Dr. Mottaki has underlined a few times. Once the two sides agree to enter full-fledged negotiations including the US at the table, then Iran will have to suspend enrichment and the 5+1 will lift the existing UN sanctions.

Justice Scalia Wants You to Have Every Opportunity to Off Yourself

| Tue Jul. 1, 2008 11:53 AM EDT

Michelle Cottle notes some statistics on gun deaths that I am genuinely surprised by. This probably isn't what the Supreme Court had in mind when it struck down DC's handgun ban:

Suicides accounted for 55 percent of the nation's nearly 31,000 firearm deaths in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There was nothing unique about that year — gun-related suicides have outnumbered firearm homicides and accidents for 20 of the last 25 years. In 2005, homicides accounted for 40 percent of gun deaths. Accidents accounted for 3 percent. The remaining 2 percent included legal killings, such as when police do the shooting, and cases that involve undetermined intent.
Public-health researchers have concluded that in homes where guns are present, the likelihood that someone in the home will die from suicide or homicide is much greater.

Update: Some further thinking and research on this. Scalia argued in the ruling overturning the DC handgun ban that individuals essentially have a right to keep a gun by their beds, which they can use to scare away assailants in the middle of the night. As Arthur Kellermann wrote in the Post over the weekend, "Statistically speaking, these rare success stories are dwarfed by tragedies." Kellermann pointed to a study that found guns in the home were 12 times as likely to be involved in the death or injury of a member of the household than in the fending off of a masked intruder.

And one need only consult the Brady Campaign to find further horrifying statistics. The risk of homicide in the home is three times greater in households with guns. Due to firearm suicides, there are more than twice as many suicide victims in states with high household firearm ownership. See more here.