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Negotiating With Iran

As you probably know, details of the penultimate deal with Iran were published yesterday. This deal is so unbelievable, that it’s almost a mugging of Iran. Seriously, it’s hard to imagine what more could have been gotten here. Here are the key points:

  • Iran will give up about 14,000 of its 20,000 centrifuges. This is slightly more than we were aiming for.
  • Iran will give up all but its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, and they’re not allowed to build any new ones. These are 1970s era technology, meaning that if they decide to proceed in the future, they’re starting forty years behind where they are today.
  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67% for at least 15 years. To put that in context, you need to enrich uranium at 90% to build a nuclear weapon. This also sets them back decades if they change their minds about this deal in the future.
  • Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67% LEU for 15 years. You don’t need my help with that one. A 97% reduction pretty clear.
  • All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment. This is going to happen immediately, so we won’t have to wait long to see if they’re earnest in their intentions to abide by this agreement.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies. There’s a whole lot more language giving the IAEA the power to inspect anything, at any time, and for any reason. The level of transparency that Iran agreed to is ridiculously thorough. If someone tries to tell you that Iran can still hide stuff, ask them to provide you with an example of the IAEA missing nuclear development anywhere in the world.

You can read all of the details here (don’t let someone tell you what’s in the deal, read it for yourself).

Here’s what Iran gets in exchange for everything they agreed to; the world (US and EU) lifts its sanctions after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

So to recap, President Obama increased the sanctions to the point where Iran cried, "UNCLE" and gave up much more than anyone ever thought they would in exchange for lifting those sanctions. He didn’t bomb them. He didn’t get a single American soldier (or civilian for that matter) killed. He negotiated like grown ups do.

Bush handled Iraq the republican way, and we got ISIS and tens of thousands of dead Americans and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. And this is just the beginning. So when republicans tell you that negotiating with Iran was stupid because we don’t know if they’re going to hold up their end of the bargain, ask them how fucking stupid and naive they think Reagan was when he negotiated with The Soviet Union. And ask them what Reagan got up front from Gorbachev before holding up his end of the deal.

It’s time for republicans to stop weighing in on foreign policy. They have a stupid view of the world, that brings terrible consequences. And they further their stupidity making up some stupid shit about (for example) how ISIS was formed because Obama pulled out of Iraq too soon. When you don’t know history, you sure as fuck don’t know how to proceed in the future. They compound their stupidity with ignorance. Not only did ISIS form in 2003, but we left Iraq when we did because we were bound by Bush’s status of forces agreement, which had an end date. Obama did his damndest to keep us there. The Iraqi government was having none of it. So even in their fairy tale version, where ISIS didn’t form until after we left Iraq, they’re still a product of Bush’s stupidity.

Republicans need to shut up now. Obama’s got this. That brings me to the other thought I had about this post I wrote four years ago (you’re going to want to read it). In it, I talk about the political theater that is being put on for us. It’s a show where we have every component of Star Wars, except that the "good guys" are hapless and can’t seem to deliver on what they really want to deliver on. Republicans are the bad guys, not even pretending to be serving anyone but their corporate masters anymore. Democrats are (we’re supposed to believe) the hapless good guys who are always being overpowered by republicans.

I’m more sure of that dynamic now than I’ve ever been. Obama can negotiate, and he can be tough. He can get more than we could have hoped for from Iran, but he couldn’t get us single payer health insurance (or even a medicare buy in provision). Obama’s kick ass performance here, in negotiating this deal, just highlights what I said in that piece four years ago.      


Did Obama Threaten Germany? Really?

I came across a seriously disturbing story by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept today. In it, he says that the Vice Chancellor of Germany (Sigmar Gabriel) told him that the Obama administration threatened to stop sharing intelligence with Germany if they decided to give Edward Snowden asylum. From the article;

Afterward, however, when I pressed the vice chancellor (who is also head of the Social Democratic Party, as well as the country’s economy and energy minister) as to why the German government could not and would not offer Snowden asylum — which, under international law, negates the asylee’s status as a fugitive — he told me that the U.S. government had aggressively threatened the Germans that if they did so, they would be “cut off” from all intelligence sharing. That would mean, if the threat were carried out, that the Americans would literally allow the German population to remain vulnerable to a brewing attack discovered by the Americans by withholding that information from their government.

We’re threatening our allies now?

More importantly, we’re threatening our allies over one person now? I thought that charging Snowden with the espionage act was outrageous and completely inapplicable. Edward Snowden did not steal classified information and hand it off to our enemies. Nor did his information injure the United States in any way that they’ve been able to demonstrate. So far, in every single court case where mass surveillance has been challenged, the government has provided precisely no evidence of injury. In fact, when the president came out and announced that the program was going to undergo significant review and reform, he made Snowden a whistleblower. If what Snowden revealed caused the program to be reviewed and modified, he is the very definition of a whistleblower.

But I digress. I generally believe that Obama has been good on foreign policy. He intensified the sanctions against Iran enough to the point where they agreed to negotiate. He’s doing some serious damage to Russia’s economy as well, making it less likely that Putin will have the ability to take Ukraine. He played Putin like a fiddle over the Syria situation by making him deal with Assad’s biological weapons. He made a completely correct calculation when he decided to fly into our frenemies’ airspace to get Bin Laden, who they had been protecting for years. He’s done some things I disagree with like creating future terrorists with the widespread use of drones in Pakistan, and not doing a damned thing to reign in Israel’s massive land grabs but hey, who agrees with anyone all the time?

But this threatening Germany over Snowden thing is inexplicable. I literally can’t see the rationale behind it. What’s the upside? You finally get Snowden and put him in prison? And for that, you’re willing to threaten a powerful ally? This makes no sense to me.

If we’re going to threaten to withhold intelligence from an ally, how about we look at Ireland or Switzerland, where giant piles of money are being stashed by US corporations and rich asshats. I mean, if they weren’t our allies, they may not be able to afford to shelter all that money, since they would have to put more money into their own defense. So why not threaten an ally over trillions of dollars instead of over one whistleblower? If we got that money, we could finally pay for Bush’s wars or fund job creation and education programs. If we got Edward Snowden we could……..stop future whistleblowers from letting us know what our government is doing to us?

I want to find this story hard to believe, despite this administration’s vicious crackdown on whistleblowers because the endgame doesn’t make sense to me. Greenwald doesn’t seem to entirely believe it’s true either. He ends the piece by saying;

Nonetheless, one of two things is true: 1) the U.S. actually threatened Germany that it would refrain from notifying them of terrorist plots against German citizens and thus deliberately leave them vulnerable to violent attacks, or 2) some combination of high officials from the U.S. and/or German governments are invoking such fictitious threats in order to manipulate and scare the German public into believing that asylum for Snowden will endanger their lives. Both are obviously noteworthy, though it’s hard to say which is worse.

I agree. This is really disturbing, and a great cause for concern since this would make the Obama administration bigger international bullies than the Bush administration were. 


Tom Cotton, YOU Don’t Understand Our Constitutional System

So I learned something new yesterday that I thought I’d share with you. Remember the stupid Tom Cotton letter? You know, the condescending one he addressed to The Islamic Public Of Iran? You know, the one that started with,

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system…".

The one that then goes on to say,

"Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Well, in a delicious twist of irony, it appears that nothing Tom Cotton said in his dumbass letter is true. Nothing, except maybe the spelling of his name in his signature. The president can negotiate and bind this deal without a single member of congress weighing in, and it cannot be undone by the next president. So if you’re keeping score, that would be the trifecta of wrong on the part of the whackadoodle freshman senator from Arkansas.

I learned that there are three kinds of international agreements. From the article;

"…..these forms of international agreements include: “treaties,” which receive the approval of two-thirds or more of the Senate; “congressional-executive agreements,” which receive the authorization or approval of a majority of both houses of Congress; and “sole executive agreements,” which are concluded by the President on his own constitutional authority without formal congressional or senatorial participation."

Naturally, I did some more research since one source is never going to cut it for me. I found some background information on FindLaw. The constitution doesn’t exactly make a distinction between treaties and agreements (of either flavor), but Thomas Jefferson did broach the subject in a report he prepared for George Washington while he (Jefferson) was Secretary Of State. Here are his words;

"Considering the value of the interests we have at stake and considering the smallness of difference between foreign and native tonnage on French vessels alone, it might perhaps be thought advisable to make the sacrifice asked, and especially if it can be so done as to give no title to other the most favored nations to claim it. If the act should put French vessels on the footing of those of natives, and declare it to be in consideration of the favors granted us by the arrets of December 1787, and December 7, 1788 (and perhaps this would satisfy them), no nation could then demand the same favor without offering an equivalent compensation. It might strengthen, too, the tenure by which those arrets are held, which must be precarious so long as they are gratuitous.

It is desirable in many instances to exchange mutual advantages by legislative acts rather than by treaty, because the former, though understood to be in consideration of each other, and therefore greatly respected, yet when they become too inconvenient can be dropped at the will of either party; whereas stipulations by treaty are forever irrevocable but by joint consent, let a change of circumstances render them ever so burdensome."

In the first fifty years of the US’s independence, sixty treaties were made compared to twenty-seven executive agreements. When WWII started, the count was at eight hundred treaties and twelve hundred executive agreements. For the period between 1940 and 1989, there were seven hundred and fifty-nine treaties and thirteen thousand and sixteen executive agreements. In 1989, the US was party to eight hundred and ninety treaties and five thousand one hundred and seventeen executive agreements made by Saint Ronny of Republican Mythology.

I know what you’re thinking at this point; those are just numbers so what kind of executive agreements are we talking about? Good question. The peace agreement with Vietnam in 1973 was an executive agreement. The "Destroyers for Bases Agreement of 1940" was an executive agreement that FDR signed. He gave the UK fifty overage destroyers in exchange for 99-year leases on certain British naval bases in the Atlantic. The Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq that George W Bush made didn’t require a congressional vote, so that was an executive agreement. So these aren’t insignificant agreements.

I found a myriad of court cases that uphold the authority of executive agreements. You can find those pretty easily if you’re interested in doing some more research. The Supreme Court has upheld the validity of executive agreements several times, starting with United States v Belmont in 1937. There’s Dames & Moore v. Regan, and Weinberger v. Rossi, and several more similar SCOTUS decisions. Those are just a few of many, but you get the point.

So to recap:

  • Executive agreements have been made without the approval of congress, starting with our first president.
  • These executive agreements have been pretty substantial agreements to do everything from establishing peace, to trading arms, to defining the length of a US occupation.
  • The Supreme Court has been upholding the authority of these agreements over and over again for decades.
  • Tom Cotton and his forty-six republican peers in congress are complete idiots, who should avail themselves of the large staff they each possess to do the type of research I managed to do with just me, my computer, and my tired eyes.

This stupid letter of Tim Cotton’s is going to do the opposite of what he intended for it to do. Instead of derailing these talks with Iran and humiliating President Obama, he has strengthened the resolve of both our president and the Iranians who have been publicly mocking Cotton. And he is once and for all going to prove the "three dimensional chess" credit that Obama has been getting getting for six years now.