Iran and the 5+2: No Need to Be Too Optimistic

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Mahmoud Omidsalar

Since the beginning of the negotiations between Iran and the so-called 5+1, one thing has been quite clear. The 5+1 group is incorrectly named. It should be more aptly dubbed, the 5+2 in order to include Israel, whose permission is apparently required by the American government before it can reach a decision. Throughout these negotiations, the frequent trips of the U.S. officials to the Jewish capital and the submissive phone calls of the U.S. President to Israeli leaders have been ongoing.  In trying to reach a diplomatic agreement with Iran—a signatory to the NPT and a country that does not have nuclear weapons—America must run to Israel, which has a nuclear arsenal and has never signed the NPT, in order to obtain permission for its every move. The situation would be embarrassing to most nations, but America is a different world.

During his return performance in front of a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Prime Minister Netanyahu ranted again about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. He told the American public and politicians how Iran is an existential threat to Israel and a danger to the rest of the world. There was, of course, nothing new in his tirade. For nearly a quarter of a century he has been sounding the same false alarm with no significant variation. His latest performance, however, had a new component that had never been tried on Americans before. Netanyahu became the first foreign leader to attempt to discredit the foreign policy of a sitting U.S. president in the U.S. Congress. The spectacle of a foreign leader, invited to America by the Speaker of the House of Representatives in order to undermine the American government’s foreign policy must be a first in U.S. history.  It must also be a new record in Congressional compliance with the wishes of the Israel Lobby.

Most parliamentarians in most countries of the world would be offended if they were asked by the leader of a foreign nation to side with him against their own country’s diplomatic endeavors. In most nations, such an act would be considered at best disloyal and at worst treasonous. Well, not in America. American Congressmen are a different breed. Shortly after Netanyahu’s performance, 47 out of the 54 GOP senators, (that is 87% of the Republican members of the U.S. Senate), signed a letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran stating that any diplomatic agreement with the President of the United States would not be worth the paper it is written on. A few days later, a bipartisan group of 360 out of 435 representatives (83% of the House) signed another letter, this time addressed to President Obama, which carried a warning about reaching an accommodation with Iran. The bottom line in all of this is that a strong majority of the U.S. Congress has sided with a foreign leader against their own country’s diplomatic efforts.

What makes the Israeli PM’s blatant interference with U.S. policy truly ironic is that a few days after meddling in U.S. foreign policy, Netanyahu said at a gathering of Arab Israelis that the American officials’ disapproval of his policy toward the Palestinians is interfering with Israeli policy. He added: “I think it’s forbidden that any foreign body will intervene in the processes of our democracy.” This was hardly reported in the mainstream U.S. media, which has always toed the Israel Lobby’s line. Of course, one cannot be sure if it would have made much difference even if it were widely reported. 

The United States has truly reached new lows of submissiveness toward Israel. This is largely due to the steady growth in the influence of the Israel Lobby and the corrupting influence of the free flow of special interests’ money into the American political process. It is the confluence of these circumstances that allows the Prime Minister of Israel, a small country that totally depends on America’s good graces for its survival, to dare to challenge the president of the United States in the U.S. Congress, amid thunderous applause by the nation’s servile legislators. 

Israeli leaders have always depended on American politicians to toe the AIPAC’s line. It is only that with Netanyahu, the Israeli exercise of power and influence has lost all subtleness. Netanyahu knows how much influence he wields through his fifth column and intends to use it more ruthlessly than any of his predecessors. In an article that was published in the Washington Post, Glen Kessler provides the link to a video of Netanyahu speaking openly about the U.S.  In this video, the Israeli PM says, “I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily”. 

The vast power that Israel exercises through its lobby on politics, press, and public opinion is a fact of life in the United States. Netanyahu’s brutal exercise of that power in the past drove President Bill Clinton to despair. CNN’s Aaron David Miller reports that following his first meeting with an arrogant and demanding Netanyahu in 1996, Clinton angrily asked his aids: "Who's the --- king superpower here?"

In their copiously documented book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007, pp.7 – 8), Mearsheimer and Walt, two of America’s eminent scholars of international affairs, write that although it is the U.S. national interest that should be the primary object of American foreign policy, “For the past several decades… and especially since the Six Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel. … This situation has no equal in American political history.” They add that the United States’ willingness to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of Israel is almost entirely due to “U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the Israel Lobby… No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest.” They warn that “Many policies pursued on Israel’s behalf now jeopardize U.S. national security.”

All nations’ foreign and domestic policies interact: one generates costs that the other has to bear.  America’s unconditional support of Israel has profound domestic consequences. The United States is diverting badly needed funds from its own crumbling educational system, public health services, and disintegrating infrastructure to economic aid packages for Israel. As of 2005, U.S. taxpayers’ direct contribution to Israel by way of foreign aid has amounted to $154 billion (Mearsheimer and Walt, p.24). According to a report by the Congressional Research Service (published in April of 2014), the U.S. Congress, which struggles to fund many domestic social programs that directly impact the welfare of American citizens, has had no problems syphoning $3 billion dollars in annual grants to Israel since 1985.

The prodigious generosity of American aid to Israel becomes more understandable when one places it in some comparative context.  In 2014 – 2015, the federal funds that were available to the State of California for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) amounted to no more than 635,796,000 dollars. In other words, in order to feed American citizens who might go hungry or be malnourished without this program, California received only about 20% of the money that Israel receives every year in outright aid.  The American annual aid to Israel is obscene by any standards. The total funds proposed in California’s Five-Year Infrastructure Plan in 2014 for replacing and modernizing the state’s 5 aging State Hospitals was $162.5 million. This is less than 5.5% of the annual handouts to Israel. The three billion dollars in annual foreign aid to Israel is only the tip of the iceberg.  American generosity towards its client state goes far beyond foreign aid.  The American taxpayers have subsidized Israel’s economic development throughout its history and have repeatedly rescued it during its periods of financial crisis. This is a fact that Mearsheimer and Walt have copiously documented (pp.23 – 48). 

Aside from handouts and various forms of aid, the U.S. is increasingly pushed by Israel into costly conflicts with the Muslim world. These conflicts, which cost a great deal in blood and treasure, serve only Israel’s interests.  The latest of these was the Iraq War. In his book, Israel in the Second Iraq War (2010), Stephen Pelletière (who served as a senior political analyst on Iraq at the CIA in the 1980s), blames George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq on the influence of “a special breed of ideologues, adherents of Israel’s right-wing party, the Likud … [who] were nested in the Pentagon and in the office of the vice president, and, from these twin bastions, they lobbied hard—and successfully—to get America to go to war with Iraq” (p.xii).  He faults the Israelis for dragging the U.S. into the Iraq War against America’s own interests (p.94). 

The horrific human cost of George Bush’s invasion of Iraq is matched by the astronomical economic burden that it put on Iraq, the United States, and on the countries in the region that had to absorb the costs of caring for millions of Iraqi refugees. I am not aware of studies that address the cost of this war to the whole world. However, a number of estimates of its cost to the United States exist. According to Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, a Nobel Laureate in economics (2001), and Linda Blimes, a Harvard economist, the war in Iraq cost the United States an estimated three trillion dollars (see their The Three Trillion Dollar War, 2008 and cf. Reuter’s earlier report). Again, to put this costly war in context one must remember that the entire cost of the U.S. Food Stamp Program (SNAP) for the fiscal year 2013 was about $80 billion or 0.002% of the cost of the Iraq war. Another example of the relative costs of this war concerns the student debt in the U.S. According to Forbes, the total amount of the college debt in the United States, a debt that has been crippling students, parents, and the economy of the country, was 1.2 trillion dollars in 2013. This amounts to less than half the cost of the Iraq war.

These facts are easily available to American citizens and to their representatives in the U.S. Congress. But in spite of knowing the human and financial costs of military involvement on behalf of Israel, the same people and organizations that dragged the United States into war with Iraq are now banging the drums of war with Iran and are busily trying to sabotage the ongoing diplomatic efforts between Iran and the 5+1.  

The lessons of all of this are clear. First, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. citizens are too politically ignorant and too generally distracted to care about the fate of their country or themselves. Second, the government of the United States is not able to pursue policies that are designed to secure its own best interests in its dealings with the Muslim world. Instead, it is deeply influenced by the unbridled flow of the Israel Lobby’s money, which dictates America’s Middle Eastern policy without regard for the nation’s long-term security and welfare. Let me provide a specific example of what I mean by the influence of the AIPAC money.

The casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, is a major contributor to various organizations that are part of the so-called Israel Lobby in the United States. He is also on record encouraging the U.S. to strike Iran with a nuclear bomb  (  Speaking to a group in Israel, Adelson said the following:

I am not Israeli, the uniform that I wore in the military unfortunately was not an Israeli uniform, it was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF, and one of my daughters was in the IDF, and my two little boys … one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow … hopefully he’ll come back [to Israel], his hobby is shooting and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF.

Here’s an American Jew, born and raised in the U.S., where he amassed his fortune—36.4 billion dollars as of 2014 according to Forbes—who regrets that he had to wear an American military uniform, and has made sure that his children serve in the Israeli military rather than in the American armed forces.  He is typical of many American Zionists who although enthusiastically supportive of a U.S. war with Iran, will not have their children fight in that war.  If they ever succeed to push America into starting a war with Iran, that war will be fought not by the children of Adelson and other wealthy Zionists, but by gentile kids who will be sent to die in droves for Adelson’s devotion to Israel. 

What is important to understand about Adelson (and others like him), is that he is not just some American Zionist, devoted to Israel’s welfare and security. More importantly, he is a man who according to the Federal Election Commission contributed over $100 million dollars to various conservative candidates and causes in 2012. The Daily Beast reports that Adelson spent $100 million in 2014 to buy himself a Republican senate, and judging from the last Senate election results, he succeeded to do so . The Jewish Press puts the amount that Adelson spent to influence the election of the U.S. Senate at $400 million or four times what was reported by the Daily Beast.

Be that as it may, with respect to their belligerent stance towards Iran, writes the Jewish Press, pro-Israel Democrats, Republicans, and Independents don’t differ much. The liberal media mogul Haim Saban, who is Hillary Clinton’s “major sugar daddy,” according to Tibi Singer, is on the same side as the conservative Sheldon Adelson.

It seems logical to assume that the massive contributions of Zionists like Adelson and Saban to the American political process combined with the ethical imbecility of U.S. Congressmen and the turpitude of the country’s pro-Israel press and pundits, will move the U.S. Congress to do all in its power to either prevent or unravel any serious diplomatic agreement between Iran and the United States, regardless of what happens in Lauzanne. Therefore, as far as the relationship between Iran and the American part of the 5+1 is concerned, optimism about the outcome of these talks might be premature. What the talks between Iran and the 5+1 may bring about at the end may not necessarily be the removal of all sanctions, but a realization by the other members of the 5+1 that the U.S. can negotiate neither in good faith nor as an independent agent. In due time, these other nations may realize that the costs of going along with the wishes of a “superpower” that behaves as the client of its own client state might prove to be too much for their economies and their national interests to bear. The more independent members of the 5+1, who do not share the West’s servile attitude toward Israel, namely China and Russia, may eventually decide to go their own way with regard to Iran. 

Of course Iran has nothing to lose by staying the course and by continuing to negotiate in good faith. After all, Iran has managed to free several billions of its frozen assets since it began its negotiations with the West. Even if present talks with the 5+1 do not produce the lifting of all economic sanctions this summer, Iran might very well manage to discredit the U.S. Middle East policy and begin the process of driving a wedge between America and the other members of the 5+1, some of whom seem to be weary of American antics. 

*Mahmoud Omidsalar obtained his Ph.D. in Persian Literature from the University of California, Berkeley in 1984, and joined the Encyclopaedia Iranica as a consulting editor in 1990. He was appointed to the Supreme Council of the Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia (Tehran).  In 2006. Together with the late Iraj Afshar, he edited the series Folia Medica Iranica and Persian Manuscripts in Facsimile. His most recent English books are: Poetics and Politics of Iran’s National Epic, the Shāhnāmeh (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Iran’s Epic and America’s Empire: A Handbook for a Generation in Limbo (Santa Monica: Afshar Publishing, 2012).

More By Mahmoud Omidsalar:

*Comrades in Harms: Charlie Hebdo and the Western Liberal:

*Israel’s “Final Solution” for Gaza and the Cadaverous Conscience of the West:

*Pre-emptive War with Iran and the Proverbial 800 Pound Gorilla:

*Photo Credit: ISNA, The Sidney Morning Herald

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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