Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, January 26, 2012
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including bonus links on Mexico’s security, Europe’s economy, the ‘New Egypt,’ and five extra articles on Iran-Western tensions, for Thursday, January 26, 2012, are:
Campaign money from financial sector up 700% since 1990
The Wall Street Journal
Campaign Donations From Financial Services Sector Jump
The 2012 presidential election is likely to be about the widening gap between the wealthy and regular Americans.
By one new measure, the 1% continues to thrive.
A study by the Sunlight Foundation shows that campaign contributions from individuals who work in the financial services sector have increased 700% since 1990. In 2010, the finance, insurance and real estate industries gave a combined $178 million. In 1990, those industries donated just $15 million.
There’s already an anti-piracy law that’s worse than SOPA
If You Thought SOPA Was Bad, Just Wait Until You Meet ACTA
When sites like Wikipedia and Reddit banded together for a major blackout January 18th, the impact was felt all the way to Washington D.C. The blackout had lawmakers running from the controversial anti-piracy legislation, SOPA and PIPA, which critics said threatened freedom of speech online.
Unfortunately for free-speech advocates, these pieces of legislation are not the only laws which threaten an open internet.
Few people have heard of ACTA, or the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, but the provisions in the agreement appear quite similar to – and more expansive than – anything we saw in SOPA. Worse, the agreement spans virtually all of the countries in the developed world, including all of the EU, the United States, Switzerland and Japan.
Many of these countries have already signed or ratified it, and the cogs are still turning, with the final real fight playing out in the EU parliament.
The treaty has been secretly negotiated behind the scenes between governments with little or no public input. The Bush administration started the process, but the Obama administration has aggressively pursued it.
Indeed, we signed ACTA in 2011.
Here’s a quick video primer …
As Iraq, Afghan wars end, mercenaries seek profits in Mexico
The Washington Post with Foreign Policy
Security contractors see opportunities, and limits, in Mexico
With the Iraq war over and the American presence waning in Afghanistan, U.S. security contractors are looking for new prospects in Mexico, where spreading criminal violence has created a growing demand for battle-ready professionals.
After years of lucrative work in the Middle East and Central Asia, where their presence has been occasionally marred by incidents of excessive force and misconduct, contractors and private security firms of varying sizes and specialties are being drawn into a battle closer to home. But Mexico’s restrictive gun laws mean that foreign contractors must enter the bloody drug war unarmed as they take jobs ranging from consulting and technical training for the Mexican military to guarding business executives from kidnapping gangs and extortionists.
Virginia-based DynCorp International has job openings in Mexico for aviation instructors and mechanics. The Manhattan consulting firm Kroll hires anti-kidnapping specialists to protect Mexican business executives. MPRI, a company based in Alexandria, is training Mexican soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques.
The companies are beckoned by swelling pots of public and private contracting gold. In November, the Pentagon’s counter-narco-terrorism program office solicited bids on more than $3 billion in contracts worldwide, with an unspecified amount destined for operations in Mexico. The State Department has pledged nearly $2 billion in drug war aid to Mexico since 2008, much of it available to U.S. companies that can provide equipment or services to the embattled Mexican government.
Security spending by private companies in Mexico and the Mexican government has also surged. Since President Felipe Calderon deployed Mexico’s military against the country’s drug kingpins in December 2006, the number of armed private security firms in the country has doubled, Mexican federal police statistics show. But while there are 1,400 licensed firms in good standing, analysts say there may be another 10,000 operating without proper authorization.
Still, despite Mexico’s potential for highly remunerative work, experts caution that it will never equal the bonanza that U.S. companies found in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- In other US-exporting-violence-to-Mexico news, The Economist runs the story, “Not so fast:The simmering controversy over Operation Fast and Furious“:
“YOU don’t lose guns. You don’t walk guns. You don’t let guns get out of your sight,” said Carlos Canino of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in an angry interview with congressional investigators. He was talking about Operation Fast and Furious, a fatally misconceived effort to fight drug-trafficking that had led some of his colleagues to lose guns deliberately.
The operation, outlined in two congressional reports last summer, began in 2009 in the Phoenix, Arizona, field office of the ATF, which is under the Department of Justice. The department was trying to be more active in Mexico’s fight against its drug gangs, and decided that agents would allow known “straw purchasers” to buy guns from American shops. The straw buyers, the ATF reasoned, would bring the guns to the gangs. When the guns turned up again, the agents might be able to use them as evidence to build bigger cases.
A similar effort, Operation Wide Receiver, which ran from 2006 to 2007, was shut down because it was ill-conceived and dangerous. When the idea was revived many field agents in Phoenix were appalled. There might have been more resistance, but the operation was hidden from other border policing agencies, and even from ATF agents in other offices.
The critics got little attention until December 2010, when Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent, was shot dead during a firefight. Two rifles recovered at the scene were part of Operation Fast and Furious. Whistleblowers started to come forward. In January 2011 William Newell, the special agent then in charge of the Phoenix office, announced 20 indictments. Most were of straw buyers who could have been indicted much earlier.
The battle over Operation Fast and Furious has only become more serious since then. There are more troubling questions about how much senior officials in the Justice Department, up to and including Eric Holder, the attorney-general, knew about the operation, and when. Last February the department issued a letter denying the allegations that the ATF had allowed gunwalking. In March Barack Obama told Univision that neither he nor Mr Holder had authorised the operation. Six weeks later, in May, Mr Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that he had “probably” first heard of Operation Fast and Furious “over the past few weeks”.
Explore our interactive map of Mexico’s drug traffic routes, “cartel” areas and crime-related homicides
Last month the department withdrew its February letter, saying it was not correct. Testifying again a few days later, Mr Holder was sanguine when asked to clarify the difference between lying to Congress and misleading it: “Well, if you want to have this legal conversation, it all has to do with your state of mind.” He added that the department would not be turning over any materials related to the operation from later than February. But he is being hauled in to give more testimony next month.
Soros: austerity “could destroy the European Union”
Soros Says German Austerity Drive Threatens Breakup of Region
Billionaire investor George Soros said that German-driven austerity plans in Europe risk creating tensions that could splinter the region as it struggles with a debt crisis entering its third year.
“Germany is acting as a task master, imposing fiscal discipline,” Soros told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today. “But that could create tensions that could destroy the European Union.”
Investors have become less upbeat about the euro region, according to a Bloomberg Global Poll today. For the first time, a majority — 56 percent — say one or more nations will leave the single currency in the next 12 months. Meanwhile, Greece is trying to complete a deal with private bondholders on a debt- relief plan before a summit of European leaders on Jan. 30.
“Greece may pose a problem if it in fact defaults,” Soros said. “Defaulting by itself doesn’t necessarily mean they will leave the euro. But the need to at least reach a primary surplus may force Greece out of the euro.”
Soros also said there is a “big difference between Greece and Italy,” with the latter doing “really quite well.”
As Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has stated, “there needs to be some reward,” Soros said. “There need to be some benefits for Italy and that would strengthen the Monti government.”
Monti has pushed through a 30 billion-euro ($39 billion) austerity plan and a package designed to boost growth in the past two months. Italian borrowing costs have fallen since he came to power in November, and he said this week his measures have been “appreciated” by European colleagues.
“You must impose strict fiscal discipline on deficit countries, but then you must find some stimulus to get out of the deflationary spiral,” Soros said. “Structural reforms alone won’t do it.”
- Speaking of grim economic news from across the pond, The Guardian reports, “UK moves closer to second recession as economy shrinks 0.2%“:
Britain has moved closer to its second recession in three years after official figures showed the UK economy contracted by 0.2% in the last three months of 2011.
A severe drop in manufacturing output in the last quarter dented hopes that the UK could avoid joining much of Europe in a slump that is expected to push up unemployment and see thousands of companies go bankrupt.
Capital Economics, a leading firm of economic analysts, said it was likely the UK was already in recession.
US to offset troop reduction with more drones
The Wall Street Journal
More Drones, Fewer Troops
The Pentagon plans to expand its global network of drones and special-operations bases in a fundamental realignment meant to project U.S. power even as it cuts back conventional forces.
The plan, to be unveiled by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday and in budget documents next month, calls for a 30% increase in the U.S. fleet of armed unmanned aircraft in the coming years, defense officials said. It also foresees the deployment of more special-operations teams at a growing number of small “lily pad” bases across the globe where they can mentor local allies and launch missions …
Defense officials said the U.S. Army plans to eliminate at least eight brigades while reducing the size of the active duty Army from 570,000 to 490,000, cuts that are likely to hit armored and heavy infantry units the hardest. But drone and special-operations deployments would continue to grow as they have in recent years.
At the same time, the Army aims to accentuate the importance of special operations by preserving light, rapidly deployable units such as the 82nd and the 101st Airborne divisions …
The new strategy would assign specific U.S.-based Army brigades and Marine Expeditionary units to different regions of the world, where they would travel regularly for joint exercises and other missions, using permanent facilities and the forward-staging bases that some advisers call lily pads.
Marines, for example, will use a new base in Darwin, Australia, as a launch pad for Southeast Asia, while the U.S. is in talks to expand the U.S. presence in the Philippines—potential signals to China that the U.S. has quick-response capability in its backyard, defense officials said.
Yet many of the proposed bases will be secret and could temporarily house small commando teams, the officials said …
Republican presidential contenders have seized on planned cuts to accuse President Barack Obama of weakening the U.S. military. While national-security issues aren’t seen as a weakness for Mr. Obama in the coming presidential campaign, lawmakers could try to block his proposals on Capitol Hill …
The Pentagon, meanwhile, sees the bases and drones as part of an effort to offset cutbacks that some critics say will undercut the U.S.’s global dominance. The Pentagon says it will have more than enough force to fight at least one major troop-intensive ground war.
The Pentagon still will invest in some big-ticket items, including the F-35 stealth fighter, as a counterweight to rising powers, including China—although the department is poised to announce this week that it is going to slow procurement of the new plane, said defense officials.
Many Obama administration officials see last year’s international military intervention in Libya as a model for future conflicts, with the U.S. using its air power up front while also relying on its allies, and on local forces to fight on the ground.
‘New Libya’ continues to torture detainees
Libyan detainees died after torture, human rights group says
Several detainees in Libya have died after being tortured in recent weeks, the human rights group Amnesty International said Thursday.
The humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders said it was halting its work in detention centers in the city of Misrata because detainees are “tortured and denied urgent medical care.”
The agency, known by its French acronym MSF, said it has treated 115 people with torture-related wounds from interrogation sessions.
Amnesty, in a statement, described “widespread torture and ill-treatment of suspected pro-Gadhafi fighters and loyalists,” a reference to those who fought for the regime of leader Moammar Gadhafi until his ouster and death.
“Amnesty International delegates in Libya have met detainees being held in and around Tripoli, Misrata and Gharyan, who showed visible marks indicating torture inflicted in recent days and weeks. Their injuries included open wounds on the head, limbs, back and other parts of the body.
“The torture is being carried out by officially recognized military and security entities as well by a multitude of armed militias operating outside any legal framework,” Amnesty said in a statement.
‘New Egypt’ “commits the same abuses Mubarak committed”
Egyptian protesters plan sit-in until army leaves
Egyptian youths camped out on Thursday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and vowed to stay put until the army hands power to civilians, a day after a mass demonstration marked a year since an uprising which brought down Hosni Mubarak.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into the square and onto streets of other cities for the January 25 anniversary of the day the revolt began. Although good-natured, the demonstration exposed rifts in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
The Tahrir crowds were broadly split between youths demanding the army cede control to civilians immediately and Islamists celebrating a political transformation that has handed them sweeping gains in parliament after decades of repression.
Sit-ins have in the past sparked violence when the police and army have sought to clear protesters out, but on Thursday the scene was peaceful.
Scores of youths occupied the square surrounded by dozens of tents pitched on traffic islands. Vendors sold hot drinks and some activists huddled round open fires to keep warm in the morning air.
“The military council commits the same abuses Mubarak committed. I don’t feel any change. The military council is leading a counter-revolution. We will protest until the military council goes,” said 23-year-old student Samer Qabil.
- In other Egypt news, The New York Times reports, “Egypt Bars Son of U.S. Official From Leaving“:
The Egyptian authorities have blocked the son of a United States cabinet member and at least five other American employees of two Washington-backed nongovernmental organizations from leaving Egypt in an apparent escalation of a politically charged criminal investigation into foreign-financed groups promoting democracy.
Officials of the group, the International Republican Institute, said the Egyptian authorities had blocked its Cairo chief, Sam LaHood, from boarding a flight at the airport several days ago. His father is Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary and a former Republican congressman from Illinois. Officials of the group said Egyptian legal authorities told them four others, including two other Americans, had been barred from travel outside the country as well.
Officials of its sister organization, the National Democratic Institute, also said on Thursday that six of its employees had been banned from traveling, including three American citizens. It was unclear how many other Americans working at similar groups may also be banned from travel.
The episode comes at a tense moment in relations between Washington and Cairo. A year after a council of generals took power after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, Washington has begun publicly urging them to turn over authority to civilians as soon as possible. And legislators have begun agitating to put new conditions about the transition to democracy on the more than $1.3 billion a year in military aid that the United States sends Egypt, although the Obama administration has shown no inclination to allow such a move.
Egypt’s ruling military council, in turn, has been suggesting for months that the United States may have been financing nonprofit human-rights groups and democracy-building groups with an agenda to destabilize Egypt, part of a growing drumbeat of anti-Americanism that has emanated from the military-led government. The generals have often sought to blame outbursts of violence in the streets on such foreign interference.
The military council has also kept in place Mubarak-era laws requiring any foreign financing of Egyptian nonprofit organizations to pass through the government and go only to licensed groups. The government rarely issues licenses to genuinely independent civil society groups, ensuring that almost all of them remain in a kind of legal twilight and vulnerable to prosecution — including the American-backed groups.
Since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak a year ago, the American government has begun providing some financing more directly to Egyptian nonprofit groups without going through the Egyptian government, acting in the expectation that Egypt’s political transition meant a more open policy toward civil society groups.
But several months ago, the military-led government began a formal legal investigation into foreign financing of Egyptian nonprofits, and it culminated recently in raids by armed police squads who confiscated files, computers and money from four such groups, including the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. The institutes have close ties to the Congressional leadership and work to promote the practice of electoral democracy in countries around the world.
Palestinians now doubt May elections will take place
Ma’an News Agency
Palestinian politicians doubt elections will take place
Several Palestinian officials expressed doubt on Wednesday that elections scheduled for May would take place.
Senior Hamas official Ismail Radwan told Ma’an that “the pre-date is nearing (…) elections can not be held under two governments as the national unity government has not been formed.”
He added: “Occupation may be a reason, but we have to overcome any obstacles that may be preventing elections.”
Fatah leader Thiab al-Loh told Ma’an that elections need to be prepared for in advance and at the moment “we are at the beginning (…) now we are not ready.”
The delay in forming a unity government is a major obstacle to elections, he said.
The work of the Central Elections Committee is vital in recommending a suitable time for President Mahmoud Abbas to issue a date for elections, al-Loh added.
PFLP leader Jamil Mizher said that the scheduled May date for elections would be impossible, as parties were stalling and the reconciliation agreement had not been implemented.
“Holding elections needs a presidential decree, and logistical and administrative preparations which are not possible in light of stalled reconciliation measures,” he told Ma’an.
Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold elections within a year in their reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in May 2011.
Factions also agreed to form an interim government of technocrats to oversee preparations for the vote, but the administration has yet to be established and the West Bank and Gaza remain divided under rival governments.
Ahmadinejad wants nuclear talks even if West doesn’t
The Associated Press
Ahmadinejad says Iran ready for nuclear talks
Iran is ready to revive talks with the world powers, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday, as toughening sanctions aim at forcing Tehran to sharply scale back its nuclear program.
Even so, he insisted that the pressures will not force Iran to give up its demands, including to continue enriching uranium, that led to the collapse of dialogue last year.
The United States and its allies want Iran to halt making nuclear fuel, which they worry could eventually lead to weapons-grade material and the production of nuclear weapons.
Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes — generating electricity and producing medical radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.
The 27-member European Union imposed an oil embargo against Iran on Monday, part of sanctions to pressure Tehran into resuming talks on the country’s nuclear program. It follows U.S. action also aimed at limiting Iran’s ability to sell oil, which accounts for 80 percent of its foreign revenue.
No date is set for the possible resumption of talks between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany. Negotiations ended in stalemate in January 2011, and Iran later rejected a plan to send its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for reactor-ready fuel rods.
Iran had previously indicated that it is ready for a new round of talks. Ahmadinejad is the highest-ranking official to make the offer.
He accused the West of trying to scuttle negotiations as a way to further squeeze Iran.
“It is you who come up with excuses each time and issue resolutions on the verge of talks so that negotiations collapse,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Kerman in southeastern Iran. “Why should we shun talks? Why and how should a party that has logic and is right shun talks? It is evident that those who resort to coercion are opposed to talks and always bring pretexts and blame us instead.”
- It’s no wonder Ahmadenijad wants talks, considering the Reuters story, “Iran won’t move toward nuclear weapon in 2012: ISIS report“:
Iran is unlikely to move toward building a nuclear weapon this year because it does not yet have the capability to produce enough weapon-grade uranium, a draft report by the Institute for Science and International Security said on Wednesday.
The report by the institute founded by nuclear expert David Albright offered a more temperate view of Iran’s nuclear program than some of the heated rhetoric that has surfaced since the United States and its allies stepped up sanctions on Tehran.
“Iran is unlikely to decide to dash toward making nuclear weapons as long as its uranium enrichment capability remains as limited as it is today,” the report said.
- But the Iranian president also wants us to know, according to Reuters, “Ahmadinejad says EU to be sanctions loser“:
The European Union rather than Iran will lose out under new EU sanctions banning Iranian oil, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday as lawmakers said they might cut supplies to EU countries ahead of a July 1 deadline.
“It is the West that needs Iran and the Iranian nation will not lose from the sanctions,” Ahmadinejad said in his first public comments on the issue since the EU’s 27 member states agreed the ban on Monday.
“There was a time when 90 percent of our trade was with the Europeans. It has now dropped to 10 percent. We didn’t call for this. Cut it (trade) and let’s see who will incur the loss,” he said in excerpts of a speech broadcast on state radio.
Tehran has said the EU’s six-month phase-in for the ban indicates its difficulties in cutting Iranian oil supplied as it faces unprecedented economic uncertainties due to a debt crisis. The EU is Iran’s second biggest oil customer after China.
- If there is a war, the Christian Science Monitor wants us to know, “How Iran could beat up on America’s superior military“:
The US may outspend the Islamic Republic nearly 90-to-1 on defense. But Iran, heir to ancient Persia’s naval innovation, has a well-honed asymmetric strategy designed to reverse that advantage.
A 2002 US military exercise simulating such a conflict proved devastating to American warships.
Indeed, Iran can cause immense harm, analysts say, without ever directly facing off against far superior conventional US forces. Even a few incidents – like mines laid in the Gulf, or Iran’s small-boat swarming tactics against oil tankers or a US Navy ship – could raise fears of insecurity to unacceptably high levels.
It could also have far-reaching economic consequences, including a spike in oil prices, since roughly a third of all seaborne oil shipments pass through the Strait of Hormuz – making it the single most important choke point for oil tankers in the world.
“[Iran's] final aim is not to physically close [the strait] for too long, but to drive up shipping insurance and other costs to astronomical heights – which is just as good, in terms of economic damage, as the physical closing of the strait,” says a former senior European diplomat who recently finished a six-year tour in Tehran.
“If you are not sure whether you will get hit, or if you get hit not by conventional force but some wild boat that might float around in the sea – or a mine or two – that will create far more insecurity than a battle line where the strait is closed,” he says.
And Iranian harassing tactics are just the start, he adds. Other layers include artillery and rockets stationed at the Strait of Hormuz, Kilo submarines, and mini-submarines from which divers can be sent out to damage ships.
- The extensive New York Times Magazine article coming out this Sunday, “Will Israel Attack Iran?,” is a must read for those who are wondering just how close we are to military action against Iran:
As the Sabbath evening approached on Jan. 13, Ehud Barak paced the wide living-room floor of his home high above a street in north Tel Aviv, its walls lined with thousands of books on subjects ranging from philosophy and poetry to military strategy. Barak, the Israeli defense minister, is the most decorated soldier in the country’s history and one of its most experienced and controversial politicians. He has served as chief of the general staff for the Israel Defense Forces, interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister. He now faces, along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 12 other members of Israel’s inner security cabinet, the most important decision of his life — whether to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran. We met in the late afternoon, and our conversation — the first of several over the next week — lasted for two and a half hours, long past nightfall. “This is not about some abstract concept,” Barak said as he gazed out at the lights of Tel Aviv, “but a genuine concern. The Iranians are, after all, a nation whose leaders have set themselves a strategic goal of wiping Israel off the map.”
When I mentioned to Barak the opinion voiced by the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — that the Iranian threat was not as imminent as he and Netanyahu have suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic (and that they, Barak and Netanyahu, were cynically looking to score populist points at the expense of national security), Barak reacted with uncharacteristic anger. He and Netanyahu, he said, are responsible “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.” As for the top-ranking military personnel with whom I’ve spoken who argued that an attack on Iran was either unnecessary or would be ineffective at this stage, Barak said: “It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions. But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.”
Netanyahu and Barak have both repeatedly stressed that a decision has not yet been made and that a deadline for making one has not been set. As we spoke, however, Barak laid out three categories of questions, which he characterized as “Israel’s ability to act,” “international legitimacy” and “necessity,” all of which require affirmative responses before a decision is made to attack:
1. Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?
2. Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?
3. Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?
For the first time since the Iranian nuclear threat emerged in the mid-1990s, at least some of Israel’s most powerful leaders believe that the response to all of these questions is yes.
- Finally, we never link to the Huffington Post but the article, “AIPAC’s “War With Iran” Bill Passes House Committee,” has frightening material we simply couldn’t find elsewhere – and it may become illegal for the US to avoid war with Iran:
Accordingly the House Foreign Affairs Committee hurriedly convened this week to consider a new “crippling sanctions” bill that seems less designed to deter an Iran nuclear weapon than to lay the groundwork for war.
The clearest evidence that war is the intention of the bill’s supporters comes in Section 601 which should be quoted in full. (It is so incredible that paraphrasing would invite the charge of distorting through selective quotation.)
‘(c) RESTRICTION ON CONTACT. — No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that — (1) is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran; and (2) presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations. (d) WAIVER. — The President may waive the requirements of subsection (c) if the President determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.’
What does this mean?
It means that neither the president, the Secretary of State nor any U.S. diplomat or emissary may engage in negotiations or diplomacy with Iran of any kind unless the president convinces the “appropriate Congressional committees” (most significantly, the House Foreign Affairs Committee which is an AIPAC fiefdom) that not engaging with Iranian contacts would present an “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.”
To call this unprecedented is an understatement. At no time in our history has the White House or State Department been restricted from dealing with representatives of a foreign state, even in war time.
If President Roosevelt wanted to meet with Hitler, he could have and, of course, he did repeatedly meet with Stalin. During the Cold War, U.S. diplomats maintained continuous contacts with the Soviets, a regime that murdered tens of millions and, later, with the Chinese regime which murdered even more. And they did so without needing permission from Congress. (President Nixon was only able to normalize relations with China by means of secret negotiations which, had they been exposed, would have been torpedoed by the Republican right.)
But all the rules of normal statecraft are dropped when it comes to Iran which may, or may not, be working on developing a nuclear capacity. Of course if it is, it is obviously even more critical that the American government officials speak to Iranian counterparts.
But preventing diplomacy is precisely what Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Howard Berman (D-CA), leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee which reported out this bill, seek. They and others who back the measure want another war and the best way to get it is to ban diplomacy (which exists, of course, to prevent war).
Think back, for example, to the Cuban missile crisis. The United States and the monstrous, nuclear armed Soviet regime were on the brink of war over Cuba, a war that might have destroyed the planet.
Neither President Kennedy nor Premier Khrushchev knew how to end the crisis, especially because both were being pushed by their respective militaries not to back down.
Then, at the darkest moment of the crisis, when war seemed inevitable, an ABC correspondent named John Scali secretly met with a Soviet official in New York who described a way to end the crisis that would satisfy his bosses. That meeting was followed by another secret meeting between the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and a Soviet official in Washington. Those meetings led to a plan that ended the crisis and, perhaps, saved the world.