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The New York Times editorial board has come a long way since its days of upholding the false dichotomy of sanctions versus war as the only options for US-Iran relations. It was less than two years ago that the Times published an editorial assessing the potential paths for addressing the US-Iran impasse—and completely neglected to mention diplomacy or negotiations.

But a Saturday editorial shows that the Times's vocabulary and outlook on the subject has since undergone a significant expansion:

If there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran, President Obama needs Congress to support negotiations. But negotiations and compromise are largely anathema in Washington, with many lawmakers insisting that any deal with Iran would be unacceptable — a stance that would make military action by Israel and the United States far more likely.
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On Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that the Obama administration would come to a decision within the next few weeks about the magnitude of the US "enduring presence" in Afghanistan. Panetta said that the White House was currently reviewing several recommendations for troop levels from General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. These options take into account the different roles US troops would play in Afghanistan after 2014. According to the New York Times,

The number, Mr. Panetta said, will be based on how many forces are needed for counterterrorism — that is, in commando raids like the one that killed Osama bin Laden — as well as for training and providing air transport and other support to the Afghan security forces.
Panetta would not comment on the troop levels being considered. However, last August, the press began reporting that the Pentagon was pushing for a 25,000 troop enduring presence. That number is still being floated. Responding to these reports last month, Marc Grossman, the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said that the 25,000 troops figure is "speculative" and that a number has yet to be decided upon. Grossman did not, however, deny that the Pentagon is pushing for the 25,000 troops. A 15,000 troop figure has also been floated around in the press.

Do you support leaving 15,000 or more US troops in Afghanistan indefinitely?

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Hey, remember a few weeks ago when our old friend Bibi Netanyahu came to town and made a hullabaloo over Iran and "red lines"? Admittedly, much of what the Bibster said to the US media was bluster, but the gist of the "red line" issue was that the "red line" President Obama has set for Iran—meaning, the point at which the military option would become a real option, which Obama set at developing a nuclear weapon—isn't motivation enough for Iran's leaders to bring about a resolution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program. Nevermind the fact that Netanyahu's analysis of the issue is incredibly flawed—why believe that "red lines" have any bearing on Iran's actions, or that they are what is preventing a diplomatic accord from being struck, when the West has yet to take diplomacy seriously? What the Israeli prime minister wants our president to do is shift his "red line" a bit further down in the timeline, to when Iran is nuclear capable, a term which the PM left conveniently vague. No matter the precise definition, though, under Bibi's "red line", Iran could be bombed even if it has no intention of actually building a nuclear weapon. And that's just plain stupid.

Now, much to the President's credit, the Obama administration did not stay quiet on this, nor did it give in. Instead, the administration stuck its neck out by reaffirming its "red line" narrative. "We’re not setting deadlines," Secretary Clinton told Bloomberg Radio the day after Netanyahu said that the international community "should set an ultimatum with a timeline" for Iran. And Ambassador Susan Rice, appearing on Meet the Press right after Bibi on September 16, fervently defended the administration's position:

[T]he president has been very, very clear.  Our bottom line, if you want to call it a red line, president’s bottom line has been that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon and we will take no option off the table to ensure that it does not acquire a nuclear weapon, including the military option.
So what does it say that, less than a week after Netanyahu made his rounds on the Sunday morning talk shows, the US Senate voted overwhelming for a resolution affirming not the US president's position, but that of the Israeli prime minister?

Do you support President Obama's stand on the "red line" for Iran?

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Yesterday evening, I posted a story on the Just Foreign Policy blog about the lack of skepticism displayed by the New York Times in their article, "Hezbollah Is Blamed in Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria." The first paragraph of last night's version of this article read,

A senior American official confirmed Israel’s assertions on Thursday that the suicide bomber who killed five Israelis in an attack here on Wednesday was a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria.
I took issue with the use of "confirmed" here, since no confirming evidence is mentioned in the article. In fact, the article admits that the identity of the suspect was still unknown and that the official referred to in the above paragraph "declined to describe what specific intelligence — intercepted communications, analysis of the bomber’s body parts and other details — that led analysts to conclude that the suicide bomber belonged to Hezbollah."

Well, the New York Times revised the beginning of the article sometime this morning. Unfortunately, it was not for the better.

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Talks in Moscow between the P5+1 and Iran have apparently hit the same wall that ended last month's Baghdad meeting. The West wants Iran to halt its 20% enrichment, ship its 20% stockpile out of the country, and close down Fordo. And what is it willing to give in return? Safety upgrades for an Iranian civil nuclear reactor and some airplane parts. The West's negotiating position does not address either of Iran's desiderata: sanctions relief and acknowledgement of Iran's right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.

The one redeeming feature of this offer is that it could be construed as an implicit acceptance of a civilian nuclear program in Iran, but … seriously? The West is expecting Iran to give up some of its best bargaining chips for airplane parts?


Should the West consider postponing the EU Iran oil embargo as part of a trade for Iran halting its 20% enrichment?

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Just yesterday, Rick Santorum announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, leaving Mitt Romney the presumptive Republican candidate for president. The Obama campaign has moved quickly, announcing today it's on (no, really, they said this) by releasing a factsheet on Facebook about their likely opponent, entitled, "Five Things You Need to Know About Mitt Romney." The image has become a viral sensation, with over 15,000 likes, 2,800 comments, and 7,000 shares at the time of writing. I've embedded a copy to the right. Take a look.

Okay, first fact is predictable.

Second one ... wait, what?

He opposes the President's plan to end the war in Afghanistan and would leave troops there indefinitely.
Does this mean that Obama is NOT planning to leave troops in Afghanistan indefinitely? How did I miss the President announcing a date for full withdrawal from Afghanistan? Did I black out or something? When did this happen? What great news!

Oh, hold on, I don't know anything about this because it didn't happen. By all accounts, 2014 is still only the end of the combat mission, and the administration is still in talks with the Afghan government to leave perhaps tens of thousands of troops in the country indefinitely.

So, Obama isn't planning to end the war. And he wants to leave troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. Please, someone help me: how does the President's position differ from the one he ascribes to Romney here? Or does the Obama campaign know something we don't know about the President's plan for withdrawal? Is the President planning to run on a platform of ending the war for real by removing all troops sometime in the near future? In any case, I await a satisfactory response.


Do you support leaving troops in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2014?

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In his speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday, President Obama reiterated his commitment to keeping all options on the table in order to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon—including diplomacy.

"I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say," said the President before thousands of activists congregated in the Mount Vernon Convention Center in Washington for AIPAC's annual conference.

But some experts question the wisdom of the President's remarks.

“It was simply irresponsible for President Obama to threaten to conduct diplomacy with Iran,” said Heritage Foundation analyst David Bryant. “As long as Obama rattles his olive branch at Iran, they'll never take his threats of military intervention seriously.”

Bryant's statement reflects the general outlook in the neoconservative community: threats of diplomacy are counterproductive because they make war less likely, not more so. Since these experts assess that the only solution to Iran's nuclear program is a military one, talk of possibly sitting down at a negotiating table and trying to come to a compromise like civilized human beings is a preposterous—and dangerous—notion.

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Mon Jan 30, 2012 at 02:26 PM PST

CNN: Wrong on Iran

by Megan Iorio

It seems that CNN's wire staff is eager to add its voice to the Iran war chant--at least judging from an article it published on Sunday. The piece contains the following passage concerning the recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program:

The energy agency reported in November that it can no longer verify that the Iranian nuclear program remains peaceful ...

Oh, CNN. I know you tried really hard to make this statement so convoluted that no one would bother disputing it. You are pretty devious, I must say. However, you failed. I am so calling you out on this.

First, let's take a look at the passage of the IAEA report that I believe is the source of CNN's error:

While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.

The first part of this passage asserts that the IAEA actually does continue to verify that all nuclear material under safeguards in Iran is not being diverted from peaceful activities. That means that all of the material that the IAEA knows about in Iran is being used for peaceful purposes.

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When the backbone of an article about Iran is a collection of remarks made by an AIPAC henchman, you know you're not likely to find a fair and balanced examination of the issue at hand. A piece published earlier today by Bloomberg is a remarkable example of this, not because of what is said by the interviewee, however, but rather due to what is asserted—and omitted—by the journalist herself.

"Obama Prepared to Use Force to Stop Nuclear Iran, Former Adviser Ross Says," reporting of which is attributed to Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, is focused on comments made by Dennis Ross, a former national security adviser to Obama and special adviser on Iran to Hillary Clinton. Ross is affiliated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which is a spin-off of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Thus, it is no surprise that Ross's remarks are antagonistic toward Iran.

There are, however, two places where the reporting is misleading. In one instance, which stands as the conclusion of the piece, it is an omission that is the root of the problem:

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On the House suspension calendar for tomorrow is this year's “Give Iran Hell Via Broad, Indiscriminate Sanctions!” legislation, known formally as HR 1905, the “Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011.” When a bill is placed on suspension, it means that it is being considered “non-controversial,” which this bill sure does seem to be, at least in Congress: 358 Members are currently cosponsors. However, hidden in the depths of this legislation is a provision that ought to be anything but non-controversial: a measure which aims to prohibit any contact between certain US and Iranian officials. I say “ought to be” because many cosponsors don't even know that this provision exists.

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Mon Dec 05, 2011 at 06:54 PM PST

The Media's IAEA Logic Fail

by Megan Iorio

I have long held the suspicion that US politicians and major media have developed a powerful alternative logic that they don't wish to share with the rest of us. It's a logic that allows one to do such wondrous things as prove a large-scope negative and infer a universally quantified statement from an existentially quantified one. Really, it's quite selfish of them to keep so significant a discovery to themselves.

Unfortunately, as long as the powers that be reserve the calculus for their own purposes, I cannot, in my commitment to diligence, recognize its controversial claims.

One of the coolest tricks of this secret logic--which, remember, we must restrain ourselves from adopting--is its allowance of inferences from possibility to certainty. This happens anytime an individual or organization asserts an unproven allegation as a fact. We saw such creative reasoning in the run-up to the war in Iraq: politicians and media alike asserting, as if it were fact, that Saddam Hussein's regime was developing weapons of mass destruction. Evidence supporting these claims was, as we later discovered, quite lacking; and it was only on a possibility, scantily supported, that opinion leaders based their assertions. Because these claims were asserted, and the act of asserting is normally reserved for those statements that we have good reason to believe to be true, many Americans readily believed them. And because they believed these claims, they supported--or, at the very least, did not oppose--US action against Iraq. The result of these fallacious assertions was irrevocable: trillions of dollars wasted, hundreds of thousands killed or maimed. Thus is the power of asserting.

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Today's New York Times print edition features an editorial concerning the findings of the most recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program. The piece begins with a standard, preemptive condemnation of Iran for pursuing nuclear weapons, followed by a prescription for harsher sanctions. Yet, in the very next paragraph succeeding this prescription, the editorial board expresses doubt that sanctions will do any good in deterring Iran from developing a nuclear weapon:

We’re not sure any mix of sanctions and inducements can wean Tehran of its nuclear ambitions. We are sure that a military attack would be a disaster — and the current saber-rattling from Israel should make everyone nervous. A military strike would not set back Iran’s program for very long. It would rally Iranians around their illegitimate government. And it would produce a huge anti-Israeli and anti-American backlash around the world — whether or not Washington had tried to stop it.

It seems that the Times editorial board is dancing around something as if it's lost for words. Or perhaps it simply refuses to acknowledge the obvious. It recognizes that sanctions may not work in resolving this issue. It recognizes that a military attack would be disastrous. But in prescribing additional, tougher sanctions, the Times establishes a false dichotomy. The options are not sanctions or war. These are not the only instruments at our disposal.

The word you're looking for, New York Times editorial board, is 'diplomacy.'

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