WASHINGTON – Not embarrassed at all, GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is sticking with his characterization of the Iran nuclear agreement as “marching the Israelis to the door of the oven,” a reference to the Holocaust. He refused to apologize despite condemnation of his remarks by President Obama who characterized them as “grossly irresponsible.”
The former Arkansas governor made the attack this weekend in a denunciation of the role of President Obama in a nuke deal involving the U.S., other world powers and Iran.
His attack came after a hearing last week at which members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tried to outdo each other in pledging to torpedo the anti-nuclear-weapons deal with Iran, knowing full well there’s no way to negotiate another one.
In fact, eight of the 10 Republican members of the committee signed a letter last March that can only be interpreted as urging the Iranians not to negotiate with the Obama administration at all.
Aside from the U.S and Iran, the agreement was signed by Germany, China, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. However, the senators were thinking less about world politics and more about the politics of elections. One member, Marco Rubio, R-Fla., went so far as to imply that if he were elected president next year, he would abrogate any deal with Iran then in existence.
To get elected, the senators on the committee, like so many other right-wing politicians, depend upon millions in campaign financing from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s main lobbying arm, and from billionaires such as the oil-rich Koch brothers and the gambling casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson.
Adelson owns Israel’s most read newspaper, and is the main financial supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. AIPAC, Adelson, the Koch brothers, and their ilk are determined to keep Netanyahu in power. Under his rule, much of Israel’s publicly owned resources have become privatized, putting billions of dollars into the coffers of a few American-owned corporations. Later this year, for example, the Israeli government intends to privatize the postal service.
Netanyahu’s coalition is holding on to power only by a thread, with just a bare majority in the Knesset. The leftist Joint List coalition, which includes the Israeli Communist Party, is now the third largest political grouping in Israel. Why? Because the Israeli economy is in a shambles; the cost of living is soaring and wages are plummeting.
Now more than ever Netanyahu is using what he has always used to win elections: fear.
He has a problem, though: the new leaders of Iran seem willing to eliminate one of the fears faced by Israelis. If economic sanctions are lifted and money starts flowing into their country, the Iranians are willing to stop their progress toward becoming a nuclear power. Adelson and Netanyahu are acting as if they are convinced that if the majority of Israelis become less afraid, his coalition could lose. That’s reason enough for them to go all out to kill any deal reached with the Iranians.
The Koch brothers have jumped onto the anti-deal bandwagon because they badly want to discredit the Obama administration in retaliation against the imposition of extra taxes on their enterprises.
Representatives of the billionaires and the Israel lobby have told legislators in the House and Senate that it is not enough to be against the deal with Iran; they must fight it tooth and nail if they want their campaign chests to stay filled.
No wonder that right-wingers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are eager for their billionaire benefactors to get the message loud and clear: they will fight to the finish to undermine the Iran agreement. They have sworn again and again their allegiance to the efforts of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner to kill the deal.
No wonder that one Capitol Hill observer, reporter Max Fisher, called the Senate hearing on the Iran deal “a clown show.” The right-wingers on the committee didn’t seem concerned with the logic behind what they said, as long as it was crystal clear they were fighting against approval of the agreement.
For example, during the hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., brought up “electromagnetic pulse” (EMP) weapons. U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, an MIT nuclear physicist, explained to Johnson that outside of science fiction fantasy stories, there are no such thing as EMP weapons. Moniz offered to send Johnson a study on the subject.
Meanwhile, right-wing House member Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who are not on the Foreign Relations Committee, went to Vienna to discuss the Iranian deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which under the agreement will do most of the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. The IAEA is an independent organization that reports to both the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It has been monitoring Iran’s nuclear program for years and has been warning the world about it.
IAEA officials, in a very open manner, gave Cotton and Pompeo details about how the monitoring process would be conducted under the deal. Then, as if operating in a reality-free universe, Cotton and Pompeo accused the Obama administration and the IAEA of striking “secret deals.”
Cotton had been the author of the March letter to Iranian leaders that seemed to urge them to quit the talks.
Huckabee’s is only the latest in continuing attempts to undermine the agreement. Right-wing House members and Senators are loudly complaining that the UN Security Council has already voted its approval of the deal, before the U.S. Congress has acted, as if the UN should wait for the likes of Huckabee, Pompeo and Cotton to complete their campaign of confusion.
Actually, the UN Security Council is waiting. Its resolution does not take effect until 30 days after the Congress is scheduled to vote on the deal September 17.
Last May, the Obama administration yielded to Republican pressure and agreed to a bill – the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – under which Congress has the authority to approve or reject the agreement. That gives the conservatives time to organize powerful campaigns to undermine the deal. For example, AIPAC is flying in hundreds of people who will flood the House and Senate with a warning: kill the deal or face our wrath.
Because Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress, it’s doubtful whether approval of the deal will pass anyway, but if a bill is passed rejecting the deal, Obama will veto it and it’s doubtful that the Republicans can get enough votes to override.
However, if enough senators and representatives keep a blind eye on world realities and think only of their next elections, they could do great damage to the prospect of world peace. Even though five other countries and the European Union have approved the treaty with Iran, it could become moot if the Obama administration is blocked from lifting sanctions on Iran now being imposed by the U.S.
As Secretary of State John Kerry has pointed out, in 12 years of living with economic sanctions, Iran has gone from having 164 nuclear-processing centrifuges to having 19,000. Furthermore, Iran now has enough fissile material – that is, material capable of sustaining a nuclear fission chain reaction – to make 10 bombs. The leaders of Iran are not about to end their nuclear weapon program unless their country benefits from doing so, and that means the sanctions must be lifted.
At the same time, it’s probable that Israel already has the bomb. Even if it doesn’t, the U.S. and other nations are bound by treaties to come to her defense in case of war.
Without an agreement, the world could continue to be faced with Iran and Israel at each other’s throats. Without an agreement, it could be just a matter of time before one attacks the other, and this could drag the whole world into a catastrophe.
Photo: President Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 27. Obama condemned Huckabee’s remarks and characterized them as “grossly irresponsible.” (Evan Vucci / Associated Press)