Tea-Publicans in Congress are bereft of foreign policy grown ups

When it comes to climate science denial, Tea-Publicans are all “I’m not a scientist, but...” But when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, suddenly they all deem themselves to be “experts” in nuclear science.

See today’s op-ed from Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), a protégé of Neocon war monger and co-conspirator in the Bush-Cheney regime’s unnecessary and illegal war in Iraq, John Bolton. Martha McSally: A dangerous deal for America and our allies.

Iran-nuclear-deal-1024x576Serving in the U.S. Air Force does not make you a nuclear scientist or nuclear non-proliferation “expert,” Congresswoman. You would do better to admit “I’m not a scientist, but...” and listen to the actual experts — the overwhelming majority of whom support the Iran deal.

Republicans used to take foreign policy and diplomacy seriously; they always claimed that they were the adults or the “grown ups” in the room on foreign policy. But that was in the days before the Neocon intelligentsia of the Bush-Cheney regime came to town.

Steve Benen recently asked the right question: Where are the GOP’s foreign policy ‘grown-ups’?

Republican leaders seem resigned to the fact that they’re probably going to lose [the Iran deal] fight and the deal will likely be implemented, but the number of GOP lawmakers willing to support the deal still stands at zero.

But away from Capitol Hill, the picture changes. We talked this week about some notable Republican figures who may not have a vote, but who nevertheless back the Iran agreement, including former Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Brent Scowcroft, a veteran National Security Advisor to several Republican presidents, who also served as the chairman of George W. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. A reader reminded me that I neglected to mention former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), a former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who’s also offered support for the deal.

Commenting on my piece, Vox’s Max Fisher raised an under-appreciated point:

“What we’re really seeing here are the last vestiges of a Reagan/HWBush-era Republican Party that took foreign policy seriously on its merits.”

He added that Republicans like Scowcroft and Lugar are better labeled the GOP’s “grown-ups.”

That’s true. It also raises a broader point about the slow disappearance of these “grown-ups” and their declining influence over Republican policy making, especially in the area of international affairs.

* * *

Jacob Heilbrunn wrote an item several years ago in which he argued that we were witnessing the “twilight of the wise man” and “the last gasp” of the Republican foreign policy establishment.

That was in 2011. Two years later, the American Prospect ran a good piece from Jonathan Bernstein that’s worth re-reading with the benefit of hindsight.

What is missing, specifically? The Republican side of “establishment” foreign policy. That is, a group of people who are certainly Republicans, but are not particularly partisan and who are comfortable working with the similar set of Democrats. Think Dick Lugar; think Colin Powell; think, perhaps more than anyone over the last 50 years, George H.W. Bush. Those Republicans, as Lugar’s defeat for re-election last year demonstrated, have been driven to the fringes of their party (or perhaps out of it; Powell is still a Republican, but supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012).

Why does that matter for Barack Obama? There just are not very many Republicans remaining who both care about foreign policy and national security and who are also inclined to work with a Democratic president as a matter of course. Those who do have virtually no clout within their party. Which means that when Obama proposes something, he starts with essentially the same zero Republican votes that he starts with on domestic-policy proposals.

In context, Bernstein was talking about U.S. policy towards Syria, but note how easily this identical argument can be applied today to the White House’s nuclear deal, and U.S. policy towards Iran.

Here is Brent Scowcroft’s opinion in the Washington Post this weekend. Maybe Rep. McSally should read it and listen to a Republican “grown up” instead of that wild-eyed war monger, John Bolton, who wants to get his war on with Iran. Congress, support the Iran deal:

Congress again faces a momentous decision regarding U.S. policy toward the Middle East. The forthcoming vote on the nuclear deal between the P5+1 and Iran (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) will show the world whether the United States has the will and sense of responsibility to help stabilize the Middle East, or whether it will contribute to further turmoil, including the possible spread of nuclear weapons. Strong words perhaps, but clear language is helpful in the cacophony of today’s media.

In my view, the JCPOA meets the key objective, shared by recent administrations of both parties, that Iran limit itself to a strictly civilian nuclear program with unprecedented verification and monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Security Council. Iran has committed to never developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon; the deal ensures that this will be the case for at least 15 years and likely longer, unless Iran repudiates the inspection regime and its commitments under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Additional Protocol.

There is no more credible expert on nuclear weapons than Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who led the technical negotiating team. When he asserts that the JCPOA blocks each of Iran’s pathways to the fissile material necessary to make a nuclear weapon, responsible people listen. Twenty-nine eminent U.S. nuclear scientists have endorsed Moniz’s assertions.

If the United States could have handed Iran a “take it or leave it” agreement, the terms doubtless would have been more onerous on Iran. But negotiated agreements, the only ones that get signed in times of peace, are compromises by definition. It is what President Reagan did with the Soviet Union on arms control; it is what President Nixon did with China.

And as was the case with specific agreements with the Soviet Union and China, we will continue to have significant differences with Iran on important issues, including human rights, support for terrorist groups and meddling in the internal affairs of neighbors. We must never tire of working to persuade Iran to change its behavior on these issues, and countering it where necessary. And while I believe the JCPOA, if implemented scrupulously by Iran, will help engage Tehran constructively on regional issues, we must always remember that its sole purpose is to halt the country’s nuclear weapons activities.

Israel’s security, an abiding U.S. concern, will be enhanced by the full implementation of the nuclear deal. Iran is fully implementing the interim agreement that has placed strict limits on its nuclear program since January 2014 while the final agreement was being negotiated. If Iran demonstrates the same resolve under the JCPOA, the world will be a much safer place. And if it does not, we will know in time to react appropriately.

Let us not forget that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with overwhelming retaliatory capability. I have no doubt that Iran’s leaders are well aware of Israel’s military capabilities. Similarly, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have impressive conventional militaries, and the United States is committed to enhancing their capabilities.

Congress rightfully is conducting a full review and hearing from proponents and opponents of the nuclear deal. However, the seeming effort to make the JCPOA the ultimate test of Congress’s commitment to Israel is probably unprecedented in the annals of relations between two vibrant democracies. Let us be clear: There is no credible alternative were Congress to prevent U.S. participation in the nuclear deal. If we walk away, we walk away alone. The world’s leading powers worked together effectively because of U.S. leadership. To turn our back on this accomplishment would be an abdication of the United States’ unique role and responsibility, incurring justified dismay among our allies and friends. We would lose all leverage over Iran’s nuclear activities. The international sanctions regime would dissolve. And no member of Congress should be under the illusion that another U.S. invasion of the Middle East would be helpful.

So I urge strongly that Congress support this agreement. But there is more that Congress should do. Implementation and verification will be the key to success, and Congress has an important role. It should ensure that the International Atomic Energy Agency, other relevant bodies and U.S. intelligence agencies have all the resources necessary to facilitate inspection and monitor compliance. Congress should ensure that military assistance, ballistic missile defense and training commitments that the United States made to GCC leaders at Camp David in May are fully funded and implemented without delay. And it should ensure that the United States works closely with the GCC and other allies to moderate Iranian behavior in the region, countering it where necessary.

My generation is on the sidelines of policymaking now; this is a natural development. But decades of experience strongly suggest that there are epochal moments that should not be squandered. President Nixon realized it with China. Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush realized it with the Soviet Union. And I believe we face it with Iran today.

So wise up, Ms. McSally.

 

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