[Note for TomDispatch Readers: There will be no post for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The next TD post will be Tuesday, January 17th. Tom]
Tell me if this sounds familiar: the leadership of a distant nation has its own ideas about whom you should vote for, or who should rule your country, and acts decisively on them, affecting an election. Such interference in the political life of another country must be a reference to... no, I'm not thinking about Vladimir Putin and the American election of 2016, but perhaps the Italian election of 1948, or the Japanese election of 1958, or the Nicaraguan election of 1990 -- all ones in which the U.S. had a significant hand and affected the outcome. Or what about an even cruder scenario than just handing over suitcases of cash to those you support or producing "fake news" to influence another country's voting behavior? How about just overthrowing an already elected democratic government you find distasteful and installing one more to your liking, as in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, or Chile in 1973?
All of the above were, of course, classic American operations in which the CIA, in particular, "hacked" foreign elections (so to speak) or simply wiped out democratically elected governments. In the post-World War II era, this sort of thing was a commonplace. As Joshua Keating of Slate reports, a recent study "found evidence of interference by either the United States or the Soviet Union/Russia in 117 elections around the world between 1946 and 2000, or 11.3% of the 937 competitive national-level elections held during this period. Eighty-one of those interventions were by the U.S. while 36 were by the USSR/Russia."
While people may still be arguing about what exactly Russia hacked into during the recent U.S. election and which Russians did it, the history of U.S. interference in, or in response to, elections in other countries is at best a fringe story in our world. And yet, here's the strange thing: given the official shock and outrage in Washington right now over the very idea of the Russians tampering with an American election, you can search the historical record in vain for past public hints of remorse in Washington, no less apologies for overthrowing or even killing foreign leaders or undermining, or simply ditching, elections. And yet you have to wonder what the world might have been like had the U.S. not interfered so relentlessly in electoral politics globally. How might the history of Chile, Guatemala, or Iran been different if the U.S. hadn't been quite so focused on destroying democracy in each of those countries?
Such thoughts came to my mind because, in today's piece, Rajan Menon, author of The Conceit of Humanitarian Intervention, explores Donald Trump's possible plans for tearing up (or living with) the Obama administration's Iranian nuclear deal -- and for tearing into or living with Iran itself. After all, if there is one thing the men he's appointing to his national security team seem to have in common, it's their obvious Iranophobia. Their sky-high level of animus and anger toward that mid-sized regional power is, or at least should be, striking. It would be inconceivable, had the CIA, in cahoots with Britain's MI6, on the orders of American President Dwight Eisenhower and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, not taken out the popular elected government of Mohammad Mossadeq in August 1953. They did so in response to its nationalization of the properties of the British oil company we now know as BP. That CIA-engineered military coup, which put an autocratic and oppressive Shah firmly on the Peacock Throne for the next quarter century and consigned democracy to the trash heap of history, led directly to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the revolution of 1979, the embassy hostage situation of that year, and all the decades of enmity that followed. The present Iranian situation -- now one of the most combustible on the planet, as Menon points out -- might as well be stamped "creation of the Great Satan." But who would know it here? Who cares? Who remembers?
Those who forget history are fated to... well, perhaps be Trumped by it, as we may soon see. Tom
Will Trump Shred the Iran Nuclear Deal?
Or Is That the Least of Our Problems When It Comes to U.S.-Iranian Relations?
By Rajan Menon
Stack up the op-eds and essays on the disasters that await the world once Donald Trump moves into the White House and you'll have a long list of dismaying scenarios.
One that makes the lineups of most pundits involves a crisis with Iran. So imagine this. Trump struts to the podium for his first presidential press conference, the trademark jutting jaw prominent. He's spent the previous several days using Twitter to trash the nuclear agreement with Iran, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Unlike former President Barack Obama, Trump loves drama. But the JCPOA runs 159 pages, so he can't literally tear it up on live television as part of his performance. (And no, it's not the small hands problem.) Instead, he announces that the nuclear deal is a dead letter, effective immediately.
Could he really do that? Pretty much -- through an executive order stating that the United States will no longer abide by the accord and reinstituting the American sanctions that were lifted once the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) certified Iran's compliance with the agreement and it survived a vote in Congress.
There's a reason Trump might choose to quash the Iran nuclear deal in this manner. As the State Department put it in November 2015, responding to a clarification request from Congressman Mike Pompeo, a sworn enemy of the agreement and Trump's pick to head the Central Intelligence Agency, the JCPOA "is not a treaty or an executive agreement, and is not a signed document... [It] reflects political commitments between Iran, the P5+1 (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China), and the European Union. As you know the United States has a long-standing practice of addressing sensitive problems that culminate in political commitments." Assuming that Trump would bother providing a nuanced defense of his decision, he could simply claim that the Obama administration had cut a global political deal that lacked legal standing and that, as he'd said repeatedly during the campaign, was also a terrible deal.
There's not much Congress would be able to do. Indeed, Trump might not even face significant resistance from its members because the agreement never had deep support there. In May 2015, even before the negotiators had signed the JCPOA, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), asserting its right to scrutinize the terms of the accord within 60 days of its conclusion and vote to approve or disapprove it. That bill passed 98-1 in the Senate. The lone dissenter was Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, who demanded that "a nuclear arms agreement with an adversary, especially the terrorist-sponsoring Islamist regime," be submitted to the chamber as a treaty, in which case approval would have required a two-thirds majority. The vote in the House for INARA, 400-25, showed a similar lack of enthusiasm.- Advertisement -
Pending Congressional review, the INARA barred the Obama administration from lifting or easing the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. And it imposed short deadlines for submitting the agreement to Congress and for a report on verification: five days for each task. On top of that, the Act mandated a semi-annual report on matters outside the scope of the agreement, including money laundering by Iran and its planning of, or support for, terrorism "against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world."
The nuclear agreement was signed on July 14, 2015, and that September 11th, the House voted against it, 269 (including 25 Democrats) to 162. Barely a week later, Senate Democrats managed to muster 58 votes to prevent a resolution of disapproval from moving forward. So yes, the Obama administration prevailed -- the vote tally in the House was insufficient to override a veto -- but the results showed yet again that support for the Iran deal was barely knee deep, which means that President Trump won't face much of a problem with legislators if he decides to scrap it.
Why the Nuclear Deal Is Worth the Bother