Wednesday, September 09, 2015

09-Sep-15: Figuring out what people have figured out about Iran and its nuclear plans

Tehran: Where is this all going? [Image Source]
It's been eight weeks since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action became a reality. Many news outlets would have written that as "been signed". Wikipedia's entry on the JCPOA, for instance, starts out with this definition:
an international agreement on the nuclear program of Iran signed in Vienna on 14 July 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany), and the European Union. [Wikipedia]
But as we pointed out ["29-Jul-15: Built not on trust but on... verification"], the JCPOA was not signed in Vienna and will not be signed there or anywhere else. (We explain in that post.) This has been carefully and repeatedly explained to the Iranian people by the people who run the Iranian regime. In fact, ordinary Iranians appear overall to have a better grasp of what the JCPO does and does not mean for them and their interests when compared with citizens of other places.

In the West, where optimism frequently trumps reality, the JCPOA and what it stands for continues to be seriously misunderstood.

How much support does it have in the US? Depends whom you ask.

The issue is with the people's representatives in Washington right now. There, the threshold which the Obama administration had to cross to overcome Congressional rejection seems to have been passed a few days ago ["In Win for Obama, Iran Deal Assured of Passage", Vice of America, September 2, 2015]. Seems to, because so far it's all pledges by politicians which, forgive the cynicism, are not always worth the paper they're not written on. But everyone seems to agree that whatever had to be done in the Senate and the House from an Obama standpoint has been done, and the rest is predictable, more or less.

Scene at a rally in Washington DC happening right
now [click to view] [Image Source: Twitter]
But if you ask the American people, the picture looks entirely different: black-and-white different. The latest numbers from Pew Research Center ["Support for Iran Nuclear Agreement Falls", Pew, yesterday] tell a clear, unambiguous and - if you're a politician with principles - depressing story: US public support for JCPOA, very low on the day it was signed - sorry, agreed, no we mean finalized - has dropped precipitously and steadily since then. The more people know about it, the more they want it stopped.

As of yesterday, it stands at 21% - one American in five is on board the train. A shade under half of all Americans define themselves as opposed: 49% according to Pew. Some 30% say they have no opinion. The poll was conducted between September 3 and 7, and among some 1,004 adults.
In mid-July, a week after President Obama announced the deal, 33% of the public approved of the agreement, while 45% disapproved and 22% had no opinion. Over the past six weeks, the share approving of the agreement has fallen 12 percentage points (from 33% to 21%), while disapproval has held fairly steady (45% then, 49% now). Somewhat more express no opinion than did so in July (22% then, 30% now)...  While the partisan divide over the nuclear agreement remains substantial, support for the deal has slipped across the board since July. Currently, 42% of Democrats approve of the agreement, while 29% disapprove and an identical percentage has no opinion. In July, 50% of Democrats approved, 27% disapproved and 22% had no opinion. Republican support for the agreement, already low, has dropped even further (from 13% to 6%).... When opinion about the Iran nuclear agreement is based only on those who have heard a lot or a little about the agreement, opposition to the agreement exceeds support by more than a two-to-one margin (57% to 27%)... [Pew Research, September 8, 2015]
Here's a comparison. When Britain's prime minister during Hitler's rise to power, Neville Chamberlain, returned home in September 1938, 77 years ago, with the infamous Munich Agreement ("peace in our time") in his hand and appeasement on his mind, he had pretty good public opinion support.
Opinion polls appear to show that the majority of the nation was in support of the stance taken by Chamberlain... [Source]
And in the end, peace was of course not what they got.

President Obama cannot even claim as much backing as the failed British leader Chamberlain did. As a German analysis of the appeasement chapter puts it
Britain and France underestimated just how determined Adolf Hitler was in his lust for conquest. The failure of Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement meant war was inevitable... ["The Road to World War II: How Appeasement Failed to Stop Hitler" | Klaus Wiegrefe - Spiegel Online
Back to 2015, and is the world closer to war or further away?

The main story on the Iraninan FARS news site at this
moment. In Iran, they take this man very seriously. Good sense
and caution suggest we should too [Image Source]
Sitting where we are, in Jerusalem, the prospect of getting to peace with Iran seems remoter than ever. To show why, here's one of the main news stories in Iran at this moment, Wednesday afternoon, in Tehran:
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei described Israel as a "fake" regime, and said there won't be any Israel in 25 years from now. "Some of the Zionists have said that given the results of the nuclear negotiations (between Tehran and the world powers), they have been relieved of concerns about Iran for 25 years, but we tell them that basically, you will not see the next 25 years and with Gd's grace, nothing under the name of the Zionist regime will exist in the region by then," Ayatollah Khamenei said, addressing a large number of Iranians in Tehran on Wednesday. He added that the heroic spirit and morale of Muslim fighters will not let the Zionists feel comfort and tranquility in the next 25 years. ["Supreme Leader: Israel Not Alive in 25 Years" | Iranian FARS News | September 9, 2015]
There we go again, narrowly obsessing over Israel. Or as President Obama put it a month ago ["Obama says Israeli interference in US affairs over Iran deal unprecedented" | Times of Israel | August 8, 2015], the JCPOA is “very good for Israel” and (not in precisely these words, but this is how he was widely understood) "Israeli interference in internal US affairs ahead of a Congressional vote on the Iranian nuclear deal was unprecedented."

But that Khamanei blast yesterday was not directed at the Jews alone:
Elsewhere, Ayatollah Khamenei warned of the US endless enmity towards the Iranian nation, and said even after the nuclear agreement, whose fate is not yet clear in Iran and the US, the Americans have been hatching plots and approving a bill in the congress against Iran. He described national might as the only way to end the US plots, and said a strong economy, growing scientific progress and maintaining and reinvigorating the revolutionary spirit and morale of the people, specially the youth, are among ways to boost national might and power. Ayatollah Khamenei reiterated the need for vigilance against the US plots to influence Iran, and said Tehran had only entered negotiations with Washington just on the nuclear issue "and we will not negotiate with the US in other fields". In relevant remarks in August, Ayatollah Khamenei stressed that regardless of the nuclear agreement with the world powers, Tehran would not allow the US to find a way to influence Iranian economy, politics and culture...  "Washington imagined that it could use this agreement whose fate is not clear yet - as its final approval is not yet a definite fact neither in Iran nor in the US -  to find a way to influence in Iran; and this was their intention." But "we closed this path; and we will definitely keep it closed", he underlined. "We will not allow the US to influence (our) economy, or politics or culture. We will stand against such penetration with all our power - that, thanks God, is at a high level today," Ayatollah Khamenei said. [FARS News | September 9, 2015]
And over at TIME Magazine they have more, also from today, quoting the Supreme Leader's own website and Twitter account, as he reminds the faithful that:
...the U.S. remains the ‘Great Satan’. “Satan only deceives and tempts, but the Americans not only do that but they also murder and place sanctions and act hypocritically. They claim to be the banner holders of human rights in the world, yet every few days an innocent unarmed person in America itself is murdered by their police, and this is only one example of their crimes. They are worse than Satan,” he said. [TIME, today]
In case any of the Supreme Leader's statements lack clarity, we can ask one of his most recent honored guests for help in interpreting them:
Austrian President Heinz Fischer was travelling to Iran on Monday, becoming the first European head of state to visit since 2004, his office said, two months after an international deal was struck over Tehran's contested nuclear programme. During his three-day stay, Fischer is due to meet supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif, one of the main negotiators of the historic agreement signed (sic) in Vienna on July 14 with six major world powers. [AFP, September 7, 2015]
And in the background, there's plenty of Tehran action involving anxious business-minded visitors:
Germany got in on the action first, with a government jet touching down at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport just five days after the deal was signed. Since then, a representative from every major European power has visited or announced plans to do so, and smaller countries like Poland are scrambling to get a cut. ["These European leaders and businesses are rushing to do deals with Iran" | Washington Post, August 21, 2015]
Just yesterday, three Spanish government ministers (Industry, Energy and Tourism; Development; Foreign Affairs) arrived there for much the same reason.

What can the JCPOA actually deliver, besides rich commercial agreements? Some disturbing things, according to an influential and very well-placed Israeli voice, who argues that the effect of the transaction is going to be very different from the way its marketers have portrayed it (our words, not the writer's). This is also from yesterday:
The claim that Iran’s enrichment routes to a nuclear bomb have been blocked has no basis. In fact, Iran will have four routes to enriching uranium to a military level... The nuclear agreement with the main world powers is set to enable Iran safely, legally, and without economic hardships or changes in its rogue policies, to overcome the main obstacles on its way to possessing a nuclear weapons arsenal and becoming a regional hegemonic power... By endorsing the deal, its supporters actually surrender the most effective tools to convince the Iranians to make concessions and give up their nuclear program, namely the biting sanctions and the credible military threat.  A containment policy by definition makes a military option irrelevant. The claim that after 10-15 years the US will have all options in case Iran resumes its nuclear program is false because the Iranian defense, industrial and nuclear infrastructures in place will make any military reaction futile.
["The Mistaken Rationale behind the Iran Nuclear Deal" | September 9, 2015, authored by Brig.-Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, former head of the IDF Military Intelligence's research division, and until recently, director general of Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs]
The way we see it, American public opinion seems to have intuited what one of Israel's sharpest and best-informed strategic minds is saying, chilling as it undoubtedly is. (His view is part of the reason we call the JCPOA the "Iran Nuclear Enablement Deal". And we think we're being factual, not irreverent or cynical.)

As for the way America's politicians are steadfastly articulating why and how they are taking the courageous stands they are taking - against the bulk of their electors' opinions, we think you can't beat the Democratic Senator for Michigan (nothing personal), one of the handful who boldly stepped forward once the Obama threshold had been safely passed, and stated his position this way:
"Despite my serious reservations, I will reluctantly vote against a motion of disapproval because I believe that doing so will protect the credibility of the United States to hold Iran accountable to adhere to every single obligation in the [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]..." ["Senate Democrats deliver Obama's Iran nuclear deal support" | CNN, September 8, 2015] 
Hard to argue with a man who, despite serious reservations, evinces such deep faith in the power of "credibility" to stop a renegade state propelled by messianic fervour and with a nuclear arsenal in the making.

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