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Iran Deal: Why Would We Heed The Same Voices That Are Always Wrong?

Nobody was surprised by Benjamin Netanyahu’s immediate denunciation of the Iran nuclear agreement as “a historic mistake for the world.” Echoing the Israeli prime minister’s opposition throughout the negotiations were all the usual suspects in this country — a panoply of pundits and politicians from Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and Fox News Channel analyst Charles Krauthammer to MNSBC host Joe Scarborough. Now this same crew will urge its rejection by the United States Senate.

Focusing on the alleged pitfalls of the deal between Iran and the world powers, these critics downplay provisions that would allow economic sanctions to “snap back” quickly if Iran violates its promises, and greatly increase the Islamic Republic’s difficulty in building an undetected bomb. They don’t explain that if the United States had walked away, the result would have been the disintegration of international sanctions, the rapid buildup of Iran’s nuclear capability,  and the likelihood of war – not just bombs, but “boots on the ground.”

What everyone should remember about the agreement’s prominent foes is something they will never mention: their own shameful record in promoting our very worst foreign policy mistake since Vietnam.

Like his admirers here, Netanyahu was a fervent proselytizer for war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He appeared before the United States Congress in 2002 to frighten Americans and whip up belligerence. “There is no question whatsoever” – mark those words – “that Saddam is seeking, is working, is advancing toward the development of nuclear weapons,” he intoned, restating the “mushroom cloud” rhetoric of national security advisor Condoleezza Rice and vice president Dick Cheney, among others.

Around the same time, Krauthammer declared: “Time is running short. Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. He is working on nuclear weapons. And he has every incentive to pass them on to terrorists who will use them against us.” As the vote on Bush’s war resolution approached that fall, he warned that “we must remove from power an irrational dictator who…is developing weapons of mass destruction that could kill millions of Americans in a day.”

And we heard the same endless, hysterical exhortations from Kristol, Scarborough, and the entire cohort that had been pushing for war in Iraq ever since 9/11. No doubt they wish we would forget they ever uttered such nonsense. But at the time they argued that not only would Saddam’s overthrow mean “the end of his weapons of mass destruction,” as Scarborough once gloated, but the democratic ouster of all our enemies in the Mideast.

On that claim, Netanyahu was unwavering and absolute. “If you take out Saddam, Saddam’s regime,” he told Congress, “I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region. And I think that people sitting right next door in Iran, young people, and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots is gone.”

Of course, Bibi’s “guarantee” was worth less than the pitch of any used-car salesmen. So was Kristol’s blithering reassurance that Iraq’s Shi’a and the Sunni communities felt no enmity that would disrupt the bright future post-Saddam.

As Netanyahu noted not long ago – while arguing, ironically, against negotiations with Iran – the mullahs in Tehran now have far greater influence than we do over the Iraqi government in Baghdad, because both are dominated by Shi’a parties. (He failed to recall his own wrong predictions.) So we wasted blood and treasure to throw out Saddam and empower the Iranian mullahs in his place. And now the same figures responsible for that policy disaster demand that the United States turn away from the prospect of a peaceful resolution with Iran, and toward still another armed conflict.

The fundamental truth, recognized by Republican idol Ronald Reagan, is that negotiations are always preferable to war. Yet many on the American right have often preferred war, including the utterly insane risk of nuclear war, to dealing with our enemies. Earlier this year, Scarborough suggested that even if the Iran deal looked better than expected, he disdains peace talks on principle – as do the neoconservatives, who rose to prominence lobbying against strategic arms negotiations with the Soviet Union.

“I never trusted the Soviets,” said Scarborough. “I never wanted Reagan to make deals with the Soviets in the late ‘80s. It turned out well, but I was always against détente and against dealing with communists. And right now, I’m against dealing with a country whose Supreme Leader calls us the devil, who says death to America at the same time he’s negotiating this deal.”

“It turned out well” is to put it very mildly. Not only was President Reagan’s reputation enhanced, but owing to decades of negotiation, we avoided a nuclear conflict that would have ended life on this planet. Yet Scarborough and his ilk reject the idea of talking with our enemies – although any negotiation over matters of war and peace will always require that distasteful necessity.

Twelve years ago, we made the historic mistake of listening to all these false and foolish prophets. There is no excuse to repeat that tragic error.

Photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands in Vienna, on November 20, 2014, with Baroness Catherine Ashton. (U.S. Embassy Vienna via Flickr)

On Gas Tax Increase, Obama Is Wrong — And (Some) Republicans Are Right

It doesn’t happen often, but Washington is now debating an important issue on which the United States Chamber of Commerce, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer, and a growing posse of assorted right-wingers are right – and President Barack Obama is wrong.

Those voices on the right, along with many on the left, are urging consideration of an increase in the federal gasoline tax, sorely needed both to maintain America’s transportation infrastructure and to reduce greenhouse gases. Yet for reasons best known to him alone, the president is resisting that excellent idea.

As every sentient American adult knows, the price of gasoline at the pump has fallen precipitously in recent months. Filling a 20-gallon tank today costs about $30 less than buying the same volume of gas cost last summer. To raise the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon would only recoup 10 percent of that consumer bonanza – and would bring tax revenues roughly in line with inflation since the last time an increase passed in 1993.

Since then, of course, America’s roads, bridges, tunnels, and transit systems have continued to decay, without sufficient funding or will to keep them in decent condition. Congressional revulsion at raising taxes, thanks to the mania enforced by Grover Norquist at the misnamed Americans for Tax Reform, has left the Highway Trust Fund on the brink of bankruptcy since last year. A modest gas tax increase would begin to solve the problem, at least for the transportation sector. (The rest of the nation’s infrastructure – everything from airports and dams to state universities, public buildings, and water mains – is falling apart, too, but that will require bigger solutions.)

Were we inclined, as a nation, to consider what we owe both our ancestors and our descendants, Washington would have embarked on a program of national reconstruction years ago, to take advantage of negligible interest rates, an idled labor force, and under-utilized capital. No comparable opportunity to rebuild cheaply and efficiently, while creating the kinds of jobs that support families, has existed since the Great Depression. And much of what we now take (and use) for granted was built in those years, and in the early postwar decades, when public works were widely seen as a public good.

But the ideologues who now dominate our politics under the rubric of “conservative” are not in the business of conserving anything – not our natural resources, not our environment, and certainly not our infrastructure. Their frothing opposition to government and taxation has actively encouraged decay. Today, the radicals represented by the Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity (another misnomer) will seek to block even a very modest gas tax increase, as they are doing on the state level in Iowa – without any plausible proposal for infrastructure repair that everyone knows is essential.

Ask for their alternative solution to financing infrastructure, and the geniuses at the Heritage Foundation, for instance, demand an end to transit spending and a cut in construction wages. Others on the right simply mumble about “reducing waste.” What they don’t propose is a plausible, equitable, sustainable way to rebuild.

These people shouldn’t call themselves the Tea Party. With their strange urge to ruin the transportation systems that made this the strongest country in the world, they’re more like a Termite Party. Termite is also the proper term for Republicans in the House of Representatives, where Speaker John Boehner brags that he has never, ever voted to increase the gas tax. (After all, it doesn’t fund golf courses or tanning beds.)

The limits to such madness may be on the horizon, however. When a right-wing stalwart like Inhofe – a noted climate denier and stooge of the oil industry – acknowledges that a gas tax increase may be inevitable, then sanity could break out, even on Capitol Hill.

For President Obama to situate himself among irrational opponents of an increase is perplexing. Perhaps if enough Republicans and corporate leaders insist on a gas tax hike, he will abandon that position and join their ranks. And then at last, the “bipartisan” approach he still cherishes, against so much evidence, might produce something of value to this country.