An Open Letter to Senator Chuck Schumer

The following letter is a response to Senator Charles Schumer's announcement that he intends to oppose the Iran nuclear deal. Read the reasoning behind his decision before reading my response to his decision.

 

Dear Senator Schumer,

Two months ago Mondoweiss published an article discussing the agonizing process you would use to make your decision on the Iran nuclear deal. 

The article stressed that you did not want to be accused of dual loyalty and that you would do what was best for the U.S. over what was best for Israel if the interests of the two countries were ever in conflict.  However, the questions you said you would be asking to evaluate the deal were only those questions that Benjamin Netanyahu would want you to ask when evaluating the deal, thus making it more difficult to dismiss charges of dual loyalty.   I can only back this claim after we review the questions you thought were most important, as stated by Mondoweiss

Schumer then listed the questions he have (sic). All are extremely detailed. First, what is the exact character of the inspection regime? Second, what actions cause the sanctions to be lifted? Third, Let’s say the sanctions are lifted, what are the snapback provisions; does the US need the allies or the UN to agree with us, or can the US restore sanctions on its own. Fourth, What are the inspections allowed on military sites? One is the size of Rhode Island. Fifth, what happens to the $100 billion that’s “sitting there” in frozen Iranian accounts because of the sanctions. Sixth, 10,000 kilograms of uranium goes down to what number, 300; and how much goes to Russia? 

Do you notice something these questions all have in common?  They all point in one direction.  All these questions have one goal in mind--to find flaws and weaknesses in the deal. If any of them produced unsatisfactory answers, they would give you a reason to reject the deal. These questions were good and necessary to evaluate the deal--but they were not sufficient for evaluating whether the deal is in our national security interests.  If you REALLY wanted to put American interests first then you would have spent just as much time weighing what could go wrong if we reject the deal as you would  have spent exploring weaknesses in the deal. Your questions were biased toward rejecting  the deal instead of providing a balanced analysis of accepting versus rejecting the deal.  To be fair, Mondoweiss mentioned you had 14 pages of questions about the deal, but I can only judge you on the questions it cited and on the reasoning you have provided for your decision to reject the deal, and neither lead me to believe that you carefully balanced the potential consequences of rejecting the deal with the consequences of accepting it. 

And the potential consequences of rejecting the deal are grave.  Rejecting the deal is likely to lead to war with Iran--and even after we fight a war with the Iranians we are unlikely to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon. What's worse, when they get a nuclear weapon, they will be far more angry and dangerous than they are now. And what is even worse yet, a war with Iran could give ISIS the opportunity to obtain a nuclear weapon, and unlike Iran, ISIS has stated that it wants to use a nuclear weapon on the United States.

Let me explain.  Do you think that we should reject the deal in order to renegotiate a new deal with Iran?  If so, you are dreaming.  The sanctions regime brought Iran to the negotiating table, and if the sanctions regime falls they will have no reason to negotiate a worse deal from their perspective.  Russia and China won't support the sanctions regime if we walk away from the table.    And it is unlikely that Europe will either.

Germany's Ambassador to the U.S., Peter Wittig said,

 

Many of the emerging countries would consider Congress blocking this deal as a trigger to at least question the present sanctions regime . . . I would see a certain danger if the blame game in the international community comes to the conclusion that it is not Iran that is to blame. Then the international solidarity that has been quite strong in recent years would most probably erode.

 

British Ambassador Peter Westmacott  shared  Ambassador Wittig's concern, adding. 

I suspect we would probably see more sanctions erosion than less, unless the deal collapsed because of reasons that were visibly, clearly, incontrovertibly Iran’s responsibility.

 

You base your rejection of the deal partly on speculation that our European partners won't have the backbone to be tough in enforcing the deal should Iran be caught cheating.  If you don't think they have the backbone to enforce the deal against cheating, why would you expect them to have the backbone to keep up the sanctions regime?

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has been one of the deal's most vociferous critics.  Yet even he scoffs at the idea that we could negotiate a better deal.  Here is what he said recently in a Los Angeles Times column.

 

Some critics of Obama's plan advocate scuttling the deal and increasing economic sanctions against Iran instead. They are dreaming. Iran and the United States' negotiating partners have already signed the accords and are straining at their leashes to implement them. There will be no other  "better deal."  As for sanctions, they were already too weak to prevent Iran's progress toward the bomb, and they will not be reset now. To paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, "These sanctions are going boys, and they ain't coming back."

So once sanctions collapse, where will it lead us?  Iran will have little incentive to continue operating under the interim deal struck last November if sanctions fall.  They could continue developing their program with relatively few restrictions and we will be faced with the choice of allowing Iran to develop a bomb if it chooses to do so or going to war. John Kerry explained how war was almost inevitable in his recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. I will post the conversation between Goldberg and Kerry after this letter because it is rather lengthy.

So we will almost inevitably go to war with Iran. What will this war look like and what will it accomplish?  Senator Tom Cotton would have you believe that it would be a cakewalk and that the war would be over in a few days.  But most military experts say otherwise.   Retired General Anthony Zinni addressed the consequences of an attack back in 2009:

 

After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? What happens if they decide, in their hardened shelters with their mobile missiles, to start launching those? What happens if they launch them into U.S. bases on the other side of the gulf? What happens if they launch into Israel, or somewhere else? Into a Saudi oil field? Into Ras Laffan, with all the natural gas? What happens if they now flush their fast patrol boats, their cruise missiles, the [unclear] full of mines, and they sink a tanker, an oil tanker? And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts. What happens if they activate sleeper cells? The MOIS, the intelligence service — what happens if another preemptive attack by the West, the U.S. and Israel, they fire up the streets and now we got problems. Just tell me how to deal with all that, okay?

Because, eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.

 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that a war with Iran could lead to devastating consequences.  He noted that Iran could close the Persian Gulf to oil exports and he stated

 

If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe . . . Their capacity to wage a series of terror attacks across the Middle East aimed at us and our friends, and dramatically worsen the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere is hard to overestimate.

He also noted that our attack would only set their nuclear program back by two or three years.  This concern was echoed by more than 30 national security experts in a 2012 report published under the auspices of The Iran Project.   These experts noted that an attack against Iran would likely set their program back by up to four years and that such an attack would likely cause the entire population to rally behind their leaders.  More importantly, they noted that though there is no evidence that the Supreme Leader has decided to build a bomb, an attack against his country is likely to spur him on to taking that decision.   They also concluded that  it  "would not make it impossible to monitor a reconstituted Iranian nuclear program, but the task would become far more difficult and the resulting conclusions would be more uncertain."   The Iran Project's report is essential reading, and I will quote its most important passages at the end of this letter.

You and those who think like you are unwilling to live with any uncertainty about Iran's nuclear program.  In the face of that uncertainty you are setting us on a path to war.  But even a war won't erase uncertainty -- there will still be uncertainty about Iran's program  two to four years after we launch an attack and Iran starts rebuilding its program.  If we can't be certain that we will detect enough of Iran's nuclear activities to prevent it from getting a bomb under the most rigorous inspection regime ever negotiated,  how can we possibly detect enough of their nuclear activities to be certain that we have thoroughly targeted and destroyed their facilities after they've kicked out the IAEA inspectors?  Simple answer: we can't without putting boots on the ground,

This is a question the deal's critics do not address.  And it is a question that MUST be addressed. Iraq has an area of 168,754 square miles. Iran has an area of 636,400 square miles. Iraq has a population of 33.4 million people. Iran's population is 77.4 million. In Iraq, only part of the population resisted our occupation. In Iran, nearly the entire population will be united against us. Occupying Iraq is to occupying Iran as wrestling a bunny is to wrestling a lion.

Past experience shows that the U.S. does not have indefinite staying power.  We grew tired of our occupation of Iraq and of the war in Afghanistan and we  greatly reduced our presence there.  And we will grow tired of our occupation of Iran after 5 or 10 or 15 years of having our soldiers coming under constant fire.  Sooner or later, we will pull out, leaving a very angry Iran free to develop nuclear weapons.

I said earlier that rejecting the deal could easily lead to ISIS having a nuclear weapon.  How is that possible?   A short review of history will reveal the answer.

Our Iraqi invasion in 2003 was disastrous, not only for what happened in Iraq, but for what happened in Afghanistan and for what happened with Iran. We took our eyes off the ball when we invaded Iraq. Our military was divided between two fronts and we could not give the Taliban the full attention it deserved. Thus, we provided the Taliban a life raft when we invaded Iraq and gave them an opportunity to arise anew.

And that's not all. Iraq was Iran's rival. Iraq was the counterweight keeping Iran in check. We created a political and military vacuum when we attacked Iraq--a vacuum that Iran was all too happy to fill.

Today Iran may be doing more than any other country to keep ISIS in check. ISIS will be the biggest beneficiary if we attack Iran. We will once again be taking our eyes off the ball, and ISIS will just laugh, expand, and behead people in celebration.  And unlike Iran which claims it is not trying to get nuclear weapons, ISIS has indicated that it will try to buy nukes and use them against the U.S.

Your decision to reject the deal will cause some to call you the Senator from the great state of Israel.  They will accuse you of putting Israel's interests ahead of our own.  That is not a fair assessment.  Though you may be putting Israel's  interests as perceived by its current right wing government ahead of our own, it is questionable that your decision truly serves Israel's best interests.  Many former Israeli security officials have concluded that the deal is one Israel can live with.  Some have even concluded it is a good deal.  Former Shin Bet Director Ami Ayalon has called the deal  "the best possible alternative from Israel’s point of view, given the other available alternatives."  I could quote other Israeli security experts, but this letter is long enough without me doing so.  Instead, I will provide a few links after this letter should you be interested in exploring this further.

It is wrong to call you the Senator from the state of Israel for rejecting the deal because rejecting the deal will be bad for Israel.  Rejecting the deal will be disastrous for the U.S. as well.  The only ones who will benefit from rejecting the deal is ISIS.  Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to you as the Senator from the state of ISIS.  And the war that will develop as a result of the deal's rejection will be known as Schumer's war.

Robin Messing (a New York State Voter)

 

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Jeffrey Goldberg's interview with John Kerry

 

Goldberg: Why do you assume war in the absence of the deal? For them to rush to the bomb—why would they do that?

Kerry: Are you better off going back to a situation where you don’t know what they’re doing—you don’t have inspectors in; you have no inspections regime; you have no reduction in their stockpile; you have no requirements that they do any of that. You’re simply—quote—“relying on them being people of common sense.” You mean, all of a sudden the people you say want to destroy Israel, they’re going to become a country of common sense? I mean, how contradictory is that? . . .

So Congress rejects the deal—tells six other countries that signed on to it, “We don’t like it, but let’s go back and renegotiate.” And the ayatollah says, “We’re not renegotiating. We’re going to do what we are doing.” So will they enrich to 90 percent the next day? I don’t expect that. But what’s going to happen, Jeff, when a month and a half from now we get an intel message from Israel saying, “We see this facility that’s growing over there and we think there’s enrichment,” and we challenged the IAEA and the IAEA says we got to go in and Iran says, “We’re not letting you in.” We’re back to square one. What do you think 16 Republican presidential candidates are going to say about this uninspected facility that Bibi is starting to scream about? What do you think is going to happen? Where do you think the pressure is going to be? There are no inspectors. Supposing they start to dig deeper, a new hole, under a new mountain, and they do it more carefully, and they go deeper and you don’t have a MOP ability [a Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a large bomb in the American arsenal capable of penetrating concrete bunkers] to take it out. They have an ability to get a bomb.

Goldberg: A hole so deep even a MOP couldn’t do it?

Kerry: Yes, absolutely correct.

Goldberg; Are you saying that this would inevitably cycle toward confrontation no matter what?

Kerry: I said this at the [Senate] Armed Services Committee. President Obama is not asking for war. He’s not saying we’re going to war. He’s saying that the unfolding of events in the absence of inspections, in the absence of a regime that requires [the Iranians] to do things, in the absence of a reduction of their stockpile, while they’re spinning centrifuges—what do you think is going to happen when you have uninspected centrifuges spinning and enrichment taking place in Iran?

Goldberg: Politically?

Kerry: Politically! The hue and cry will be, “Iran is going to go to a bomb, you better drop the thing on them now to stop them.” It’s inevitable. Then you have tit-for-tat. Iran—even the CIA and General Dempsey said, [U.S. Defense Secretary] Ash Carter said at the hearing, Iran will respond. So how many of those rockets that are going to come crashing into the straits? Will the Strait of Hormuz be closed? Will our troops in Afghanistan be attacked? Will other bases that are static in the region start—what happens?

 

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Excerpts from Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran (The Iran Project's Report)

According to official statements, the objective of U.S. military action at that point would be to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. In our judgment, that objective is unlikely to be achieved through a military action that relies on aerial strikes supplemented by cyber attacks, covert operations, and perhaps special operations forces. After reviewing many studies on this controversial question, we have come to believe that extended military strikes by the U.S. alone or in concert with Israel could destroy or severely damage the six most important known nuclear facilities in Iran, setting back Iran’s nuclear program for up to four years. Our informed estimate is that a military strike by Israel alone could delay Iran’s ability to build a bomb for up to two years. In our view, Israel could not replicate the success of its earlier surgical strikes against single reactors in Iraq and Syria, since Iran’s nuclear sites are numerous and widely dispersed, with one (Fordow) buried deep underground. If no lasting resolution of tensions over Iran’s nuclear program can be achieved in the aftermath of U.S. and/or Israeli attacks (as discussed below, we believe military action is more likely to reduce than enhance the prospects for such a political resolution), attacks might need to be resumed at some future point."  . .  .

U.S. policy statements indicate that the objective of military action against Iran would be to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Are we capable of achieving this objective through a brief or even an extended military campaign, whether conducted by the U.S. alone or in concert with others?  As described in more detail below, a military action involving aerial strikes, cyber attacks, covert operations, and special operations forces would destroy or severely damage many of Iran’s physical facilities and stockpiles. But in our judgment, complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear program is unlikely; and Iran would still retain the scientific capacity and the experience to start its nuclear program again if it chose to do so. We believe that extended military strikes by the U.S. alone or in concert with Israel could delay Iran’s ability to build a bomb by up to four years—if the military operation is carried out to near perfection, with all aircraft, missiles, and bombs working to maximum effect.   A military strike by Israel alone, with its more limited military capacity, could delay Iran’s ability to build a bomb for up to two years.  The distinction between preventing and delaying Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon would be a critical one, when considering the objectives of war.  Although there are strategic reasons for not being specific about redlines and military objectives, official and unofficial statements reveal a marked lack of consensus and clarity within government circles about what the United States should aim to achieve through any military action against Iran. Privately, some in Washington may have embraced the more modest short-term objective of delaying Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon, as a step toward prevention; but others may well have embraced objectives that are far broader than official statements currently suggest. Examples of broader objectives that are embraced by some parties include: 1) to bring about regime change; 2) to damage Iran’s military and economic power so that it would be unable to pursue an aggressive policy in the region, particularly with regard to Israel; or 3) to force Iran to capitulate to U.S. demands regarding not only the nuclear program, but also Iran’s hostility toward Israel; its support for Hezbollah and Hamas; and the regime’s treatment of the Iranian people. In order to fulfill the stated objective of preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear bomb, the U.S. would need to conduct a significantly expanded air and sea war over a prolonged period of time, likely several years. In order to fulfill any of the more ambitious objectives suggested above, an even greater commitment of force, including troops on the ground, would be required to occupy all or part of the country.  As far as we can judge from publicly available documents, no government official has suggested undertaking a land war or occupying Iran. Were the objectives of military action to expand during conflict, making such a campaign necessary, we estimate that Iran would require a commitment of resources and personnel would be greater than what the United States has expended over the past ten years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined (due both to Iran’s large size and population and to the strength of Iranian nationalism, as demonstrated during Iran’s long and brutal war with Iraq, which invaded Iran in 1980). . . .

 . . . we believe that a U.S. attack on Iran would increase significantly Iran’s motivation to build a bomb. According to one senior military official, this was the conclusion reached by many in the Bush administration.  While there is no evidence that Iran’s Supreme Leader has decided the country should develop a nuclear weapon, many observers believe that Iran’s leaders want the country to be capable of making a bomb if they perceive one to be needed. After an attack or repeated attacks, Iran’s leadership could become more convinced than ever that regime change is really the goal of U.S. policy. The decision to build a bomb would be taken for national security reasons, with the assumption that a nuclear weapon would help to head off any future or sustained U.S. military action. But building a bomb would also redress the humiliation of being attacked and restore national pride, which has been a major driver of Iran’s nuclear program for a decade. In connection with a decision to go rapidly for a nuclear weapon, or perhaps even in advance of actually making such a decision, Iran could also withdraw from the NPT and end all cooperation with the IAEA. Such actions would have a significant impact on U.S. policy objectives by eliminating international inspections and monitoring of declared sites, which have been a crucial source of data on the Iranian nuclear program. Losing the IAEA presence in Iran would not make it impossible to monitor a reconstituted Iranian nuclear program, but the task would become far more difficult and the resulting conclusions would be more uncertain.

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Israeli Security Experts Support the Deal

Why This Man Supports Iran Deal — Despite Bibi's Bluster  (Ami Ayalon quote is from this article)

Israel Security Establishment Breaks With Bibi on Iran Deal

Israeli Nuclear/Security Experts on the Iran Deal

For Israel’s Sake, Don’t Reject the Iran Agreement  by former Knesset member and retired IDF Major General Amram Mitzna

 

Update 10/28/2015: Senator Schumer's campaign committe received a $90,000 donation from NORPAC, an AIPAC affiliated PAC some time between when he announced his opposition to the nuclear deal and when the Senate voted on the deal.  This donation made him the biggest recipient of NORPAC funds during the 2016 election cycle.