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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

With nuclear negotiations with Iran being extended, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the U.S. experience with Iraq in 2002 and 2003. While most of us would prefer not to revisit or re-debate the run-up to the invasion, the more responsible path is to look at the parallels and learn where we can. At a minimum, we owe that to the men and women who served in the Iraq war.

In that tense prewar time, enormous pressure was being put on Iraq to allow for intrusive international inspections of their alleged nuclear weapons program. Among other things, it was a process driven by artificial timelines. The United Nations inspections team led by Hans Blix requested more time, but the Bush administration had its own timetable. Those calls for further deliberation were rejected, and the public was provided with a steady stream of alarmist messages describing the looming threat that Iraq posed. The words of caution from many of our leading allies were dismissed.

This history is critical to our present deliberations for one simple reason: What we’re doing now is exactly what we should have done instead of invading Iraq.

Without a doubt, an Iranian nuclear program is an issue to take very seriously. The U.S. and Iran have been in conflict since 1979, the Iranians have been a leading state sponsor of terrorism, and the regime in Tehran has willfully misled the world regarding its intentions in the past.

At the same time, there are only two ways to definitively control Iran’s nuclear program. The first is by establishing a rigorous program of on-site inspections supported by the international community and confirming that significant portions of Iran’s program have been dismantled and rolled back. The second is by launching a ground invasion of Iran and literally taking control of the sites in question.

In short, the choice at hand is inspectors on the ground or boots on the ground.

At this point our negotiating team, working closely with Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, has led tough negotiations that have yielded real results. Since the negotiations began, Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen and their program has been rolled back. A final deal will include a verifiable limit on the number of Iranian centrifuges. It will limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to reactor grade (5 percent) and limit Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to commercial needs. It will modify their Arak reactor to limit its ability to produce plutonium and it will definitively lengthen the amount of time it would take Iran to develop a weapon.

In the past six months the international community has made more progress containing Iran’s nuclear program than in the preceding ten years. This is a strong argument in favor of continuing the negotiations.

Perhaps most importantly, a final deal will put in place a highly intrusive inspections and monitoring regime with global support. Based on Iran’s prior behavior the international negotiating team is insisting on very stringent inspections. The negotiated outcome will likely be best characterized as “all verify and no trust.”

Congress has played a role as well. The sanctions that they passed have helped bring Iran to the table. And despite the efforts of some in Congress, they ultimately gave our diplomatic team the room they needed to maneuver.

Unfortunately, there are also efforts afoot to sabotage the deal. Some in Congress are working to move the goalposts and add new sanctions on Iran or push for concessions that they know perfectly well Iran will never agree to. This is a bad idea. To be sure, there are other issues to pursue with Iran such as their appalling human rights record and their missile program, but these can and should be handled separately. They should not be used to scuttle the progress that has been made. It will not benefit America’s national security interest if we make every outcome other than war impossible.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson served as Gen. Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002-2005. He is now a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary. Readers may send him email at

AFP Photo/Kazem Ghane

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Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]