Few progressive foreign policy priorities have been proven more correct, visionary, and critical to global security than the Iran anti-nuclear deal. But, unfortunately, Donald Trump’s unilateral violation of the agreement in May 2018 and his advisors and others’ (looking at you, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies) unstrategic (and failed) strong-arming of Iran has only made the country’s nuclear program more advanced.
President Joe Biden, for his part, has appointed a seasoned and well-respected diplomat to renegotiate a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and appears to be close to a final agreement for mutual reentry and compliance with the deal’s restrictions. But, of course, the usual suspects are opposing the agreement.
For some reason, freshman Representative Ritchie Torres of New York is amongst them — and has been very public about his disdain of the Iran deal. He represents South Bronx and East Harlem, a district that encompasses some of the poorest neighborhoods in the state and that struggles with the daily impacts of structural racism. Torres has said that he is “on a mission to radically reduce racially concentrated poverty in the Bronx and elsewhere in America.” Yet, he ignores most public opinion that prefers diplomacy to war with Iran, even IF Iran gets a nuclear weapon. He’s also ignoring global, including Israeli, and US national security experts regarding the Iran deal.
WHO ARE THE ANTI-IRAN DEAL DEMOCRATS?
Before going further, here’s a quick refresh since 2015 feels like a century ago: Republicans and some Democrats teamed up in 2015 to try to kill President Barack Obama’s signature foreign policy accomplishment, the JCPOA (colloquially known as the Iran deal) between Iran, the EU, and the P5+1 (a diplomatic formation that includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). Congress gave itself the power to review the deal in 2015 but failed to veto the international agreement. This review opened the door for these opponents — mostly curated by an echo chamber of Iran regime change think tanks, lobbyists, billionaires, and super political action committees (PACs) — who haven’t stopped. Long story short, they found their useful idiot in Trump. First, they were able to rally against the tyranny of diplomacy and Obama’s deal working. Then they implemented a plan to create a sanctions wall in the wake of Trump’s decision to blow up the deal, effectively preventing future diplomacy from succeeding. They even said as much.
Torres’s positions are far from supporting meaningful diplomacy, dialogue, and peacebuilding toward nuclear nonproliferation, a final two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, or broader peace in the region.
While the Biden administration wants to return to the Iran deal like a plurality of Americans, the sideshows put on by House Democrats, Torres, and AIPAC last week are creating unnecessary roadblocks that provide unclear political benefits amidst already intense right-wing opposition. Anti-Iran-deal Democrats were only able to list 15 members supporting their initiative last week, down from the 25 who voted against the deal in 2015, but only five showed up. As Sara Haghdoosti, the executive director of Win Without War noted, the poor attendance at the press conference shows that whoever is loudest, not whoever has the best policy ideas to keep us safe, wins the most airtime in Washington. The low attendance at these members’ anti-Iran deal presser reveals AIPAC’s declining, albeit still powerful, political power. It also begs the question as to why a member of Congress representing some of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City would so publicly play bad politics and continually parrot talking points verging on disinformation.
During last week’s event with AIPAC, the congressman said he tries “to approach the issue not from the perspective of an American, but the perspective of an Israeli.” But the Israeli security establishment, by and large, supports the JCPOA, with one Israeli general calling Trump’s violation of the deal, which was urged by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, “the worst strategic mistake in Israel’s history.” So while understanding other people’s points of view is critical to diplomacy, the Palestinian perspective should also be seen as just as necessary for a US politician to make an informed decision.
Moreover, the policies that Torres is pushing for, in his aim to kill anti-nuclear diplomacy by fear-mongering about Russia and his advocacy of a blank check of US government support for Israel regardless of that government’s human rights abuses, actively make everyone less safe. For those that don’t know, among other support, the US provides Israel with $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) every year. Israel is the number one recipient of the FMF, a grant program that allows the Israeli military to buy surveillance tools and weapons, among other items for its occupation, from US arms manufacturers. Torres’s positions are far from supporting meaningful diplomacy, dialogue, and peacebuilding toward nuclear nonproliferation, a final two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, or broader peace in the region.
THE CASE FOR A DEMOCRATIC APPROACH
At the core of this clouded debate are two critical questions for policymakers. First, is it in the best interest of the US government and the American people to seek nonproliferation and conflict resolution with Iran through diplomacy when the alternative is potentially another disastrous war of choice? And second, does the US government’s unconditional monetary support of Israel make the people in the US, Israel, and Palestine safer?
Choosing the path to war with Iran over diplomacy while providing the Israeli military both the match and the gasoline to commit arson are contradictory — and intertwined in Washington. However, these two policies fundamentally undermine achieving what the US government, including Torres, and the rest of the anti-Iran industry in Washington (most often patronizingly) claim it wants: Israel’s coexistence with its neighbors through a negotiated two-state solution.
Getting back to Torres, I’m failing to understand how opposing diplomacy with Iran or unconditionally arming Israel, which is an unpopular policy domestically, is in the interest of his constituents. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem, among others, have labeled Israel as an apartheid state. How is supporting such a state in the interests of people struggling to break free from similar structural racism in this country, let alone find housing or feed their families in the Bronx?
Instead, unlike his purported mission to address racialized poverty in his district, which is a commendable (and progressive) project, Torres has stuck his neck out for a lobby that will help re-elect insurrectionists to Congress and advocates for pro-regime change US policies in the Middle East. It is a shame that someone who claims to speak for working people would seek to use common-sense diplomacy and accountability, which is in the best interest of everyone’s safety, as a rallying call for more weapons, coercion, or impunity.
Kate Kizer is a progressive foreign policy writer, strategist, and columnist at Inkstick.