Posted on March 12, 2015 in Countdown


Persian Pen Pals

While Republicans have railed against the Obama Administration and Democrats for their lack of bipartisan efforts in the past, it seems that there are certain instances in which casting bipartisan efforts aside is appropriate. Senator McConnell seemed to get a little ahead of himself last week after he bypassed the committee process and attempted to bring the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 up for a vote before the March 24th deadline for a political framework. In an open letter addressed to the Senator, 10 Democratic Senators expressed their disapproval with Senator McConnell’s actions and framed it as a maneuver to score political points. But the controversy and open letters didn’t end there. In another open letter from this past Monday, 47 Republican senators led by freshman Senator Tom Cotton decided to send a deeply condescending reminder (both in English and Farsi) to Iran’s leaders about the intricacies of the U.S. system of checks and balances. However, Senator Cotton and his fellow signatories may be overestimating the extent of their Congressional powers. The Senators may have forgotten that they in fact cannot ratify treaties, but may only pass resolutions providing counsel—“empowering the president to proceed forward with ratification.” It would appear that it isn’t only Iran that needs to be enlightened about the intricacies of international agreements and the U.S. Constitution. This comes as no surprise though, as only two years ago Senator Cotton attempted to introduce legislation that would have punished the family members of anyone who violates U.S. sanctions with Iran—a direct violation of Article III of the constitution. The unprecedented letter is another example of flagrant disrespect for President Barack Obama. Back in 2009, in a disgraceful break from decorum, congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) shouted "you lie!" as President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress. Last week Speaker Boehner invited a foreign leader to undermine a sitting President in front of an almost full House chamber. We can't help thinking that this pattern of impropriety and disrespect for the office of the President has more than a little to do with who is occupying the Oval Office.

"There's still work left to be done"

This past weekend marked the 50th Anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. With race relations flaring across the U.S., the importance of the occasion could not have been overbilled, although the Congressional Republican leadership didn’t seem to understand that point. Despite the damning report on systematic discrimination in the Ferguson police department that came out just a few days before (a report which we worry may be the story in more police departments in cities across the U.S.), despite the uproar in Wisconsin over yet another police killing of an unarmed black teenager, and despite the injustice of the Trayvon Martin case, and so many others, it took a public media shaming for the Republican leadership to send a last minute delegate to attend the events. On the other hand, President Obama did not fall flat in his sweeping 40-minute oratory exclamation point on how the spirit of the Selma marchers is what makes America exceptional. The President painted a beautiful picture, showing how Selma flung open the doors for other groups to walk through on their march to equality, justice, and acceptance, and how it is often the actions of individual Americans in response to our collective struggles that make America strong. The President’s declarative is key – America should be by and for the people. However, it is noteworthy to highlight that the very right to vote fought for in Selma is in jeopardy today. Over 20 states have passed legislation that undermines the Voting Rights Act and makes it harder for minorities, the poor, and the elderly, among others, to cast his/her ballot on Election Day. 

He Was Against It Before He Was Against It

Coming off the U.S. leg of his campaign tour last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a Likud party press briefing Sunday that his support for creation of a Palestinian state, expressed in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, is no longer relevant given the current reality in the Middle East. Amid a series of reversals and denials from the Likud party and the PM's office on this position, it's important to step back. Netanyahu's stated change of heart was spurred by last Friday's news of a back-channel peace proposal from August 2013 in which Netanyahu's and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's negotiators discussed a return to the 1967 borders with swaps, some recognition of Palestinian claims in East Jerusalem, and limited right of return for Palestinian refugees. The document reveals serious concessions in the eyes of the Israeli right, Netanyahu's political base. In an effort to dissuade anyone from believing Bibi was soft, a newsletter was circulated by the Likud party stating that the Bar Ilan speech was "null and void" and that "Netanyahu's entire political biography is a fight against the creation of a Palestinian state." In a flurry of damage control, Netanyahu's office said the newsletter merely reflected the views of Likud Knesset Member Tzipi Hotovely and not the prime minister but added that any vacated land would be "immediately overtaken by radical Islam and terrorist organizations sponsored by Iran." Responding to questions about Bibi's change of heart on negotiating an end to the conflict, at Monday's press briefing the U.S. State Department reiterated its strong commitment to a two-state solution with "Israeli and Palestinian partners who are also committed to that goal." The State spokesperson continued, "A lot of things are said during election campaigns. We'll wait to see the policies of the next Israeli Government." We'll be waiting too—but we get the distinct feeling we've been here before.

Black Hat, Cloak and Dagger

According to its current Director, the growing threat posed by cyber terrorism and the use of the internet by organizations such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) exposed the pitfalls with the modus operandi under which the CIA has been operating since the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. CIA Director John Brennan announced that the agency will be restructured in order to “embrace and leverage the digital revolution.” By announcing the largest organizational restructuring that the agency has undergone since its inception, Director Brennan subtly admitted that the U.S. intelligence community has failed to adapt to the growing number of modern threats that endanger U.S. national security. While it is early to determine what this overhaul will mean, it is interesting to consider what impact the merging of covert spies and agency analysts will have on the actual gathering of better intelligence. Reading this we can't help thinking about the tragic Iraq war and the faulty intelligence that got us there.


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