Headlines: Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M; Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

Democracy Now Headlines: Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M; Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Tamils Ignore Military Deadline as Refugees Flee

In Sri Lanka, a government deadline for the surrender of Tamil Tiger rebels has passed with the Tamils refusing to lay down their arms. The deadline prompted some 49,000 civilians to flee the Tamils’ last remaining stronghold to avoid an expected intensified Sri Lankan military assault. Sri Lanka has been accused of indiscriminate bombings, while the Tamils have been accused of using the trapped civilians as human shields. An estimated 4,500 civilians have died in the fighting over the last three months. Aid groups have raised concerns of more civilian casualties, as up to 100,000 people remain trapped in the Tamil-controlled area.

Addressing CIA, Obama Treads Softly on Bush Torture Memos

President Obama visited the CIA’s Virginia headquarters Monday, following last week’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing torture techniques. Speaking before a raucous crowd, Obama refused to condemn the memo’s contents outright, calling them potential mistakes.

President Obama: “Don’t be discouraged by what’s happened the last few weeks. Don’t be discouraged that we have to acknowledge potentially we’ve made some mistakes. That’s how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward, that is precisely why I am proud to be president of the United States, and that’s why you should be proud to be members of the CIA.”

The Obama administration has said it opposes any effort to prosecute CIA interrogators who engaged in torture, as well the Bush administration officials who authorized its use. On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation over the next six months.

Obama Asks Cabinet to Cut $100M

Obama meanwhile held a cabinet meeting at the White House, where he laid out a plan to cut a collective $100 million from all government agencies.

President Obama: “I’m asking for all of them to identify at least $100 million in additional cuts to their administrative budgets, separate and apart from the work that Peter Orszag and the rest of our team are doing to go line by line with the budget and identify programmatic cuts that need to be made. And in the next few weeks, we expect to cut at least 100 current programs in the federal budget.”

Diplomats Walk Out on Ahmadinejad over Israel Comments

In Geneva, diplomats from twenty-three European nations walked out of a UN conference on racism Monday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a speech calling Israel a “cruel and repressive racist regime.” Audience members applauded as the diplomats exited the room.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “After World War II, under the pretext of Jewish suffering and by taking advantage of the Holocaust, they used aggression and military force to turn an entire nation into refugees. And they transplanted people from Europe, the United States and other parts of the world into their land, establishing a thoroughly racist government in occupied Palestine.”

The US and several other nations are already boycotting the conference over concerns it will criticize the Israeli government. Prior to the walkout, two protesters dressed in clown suits were removed after yelling at Ahmadinejad, “You are a racist!” Hundreds also protested Ahmadinejad outside the conference, including the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.

Elie Wiesel: “His presence is a scandal. A man who is the number one Holocaust denier in the world, a man who publicly, repeatedly said that he was going to destroy the people of Israel, his place is not at the place where we discuss human rights. He violates human rights. He preaches hatred, and therefore he should be in jail, actually, in The Hague for incitement of genocide.”

The Israeli government and its supporters have accused Ahmadinejad of inciting genocide over a mistranslated 2005 speech. After the Geneva session, Ahmadinejad said Iran has been subject to repeated threats of violence from the Israeli government.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “We will be able to experience peace and brotherhood when we all develop a more tolerant vision and improve our capacity to listen to each other. Please pay attention to this last point. They threaten us with war. The Zionist regime threatens to take military actions against us, again and again. But we do not believe in war. We think the solution to global problems should be based on humanitarian solutions, democratic solutions, based on the free votes of all nations.”

Nobel Laureate to Defend Jailed Iranian American

In news from Iran, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi has joined the defense team of the imprisoned Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. A secret Iranian court sentenced Saberi to eight years in prison last week for allegedly spying for the United States. One of Iran’s leading dissidents, Ebadi will join Saberi’s legal team as it appeals the conviction. On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated US calls for Saberi’s immediate release.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We believe she should be freed immediately, that the charges against her are baseless, and that she has been subjected to a process that has been non-transparent, unpredictable, arbitrary. And we hope that actions will be taken as soon as possible by the authorities in Iran, including the judiciary, to bring about the speedy release of Ms. Saberi and her return home.”

3 Iraqis Killed, 8 US Soldiers Wounded in Baquba Bombing

In Iraq, at least three Iraqis were killed in a suicide attack on a meeting between US soldiers and local officials in the city of Baquba. At least eleven other Iraqis were also injured, along with eight US soldiers.

Harman Won’t Deny Speaking to Alleged Israeli Agent

Back in the United States, Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman of California is coming under growing scrutiny over allegations she discussed trading political favors with an Israeli agent in 2005. CQ Magazine reported Harman was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. In exchange for Harman’s help, the suspected Israeli agent reportedly pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi to appoint Harman chair of the House Intelligence Committee after the 2006 congressional elections. On Monday, Harman issued a statement denying lobbying the Justice Department about the two AIPAC officials, but she did not deny the allegations of her discussion with the suspected Israeli agent, nor did she address whether she tried to lobby the White House.

Obama Seeks $100B for IMF

President Obama has asked Congress to authorize a $100 billion grant to the International Monetary Fund. The funding boost would come as part of a $500 billion international commitment made at the G20 summit in London earlier this month.

Obama to Meet Credit Card Execs at White House

The White House has announced Obama will meet with credit card executives from the nation’s top fourteen banks later this week. The White House says Obama will lobby them to back new limits on lending abuses, including arbitrary interest rate hikes, premature late fees, and interest charges on debt paid on time.

IG: 20 Criminal Probes, 6 Audits Investigating Bailout Abuses

The Inspector General overseeing the government bailout of Wall Street has revealed he’s opened twenty criminal investigations and six audits into whether tax dollars are being misused. In a new report released today, Neil Barofsky says the investigations focus on allegations including securities fraud, tax, insider trading and public corruption.

Struggling Chrysler Turned Down Government Aid over Pay Caps

Meanwhile, Barofsky has also revealed the financial services wing of the auto giant Chrysler turned down government aid over new federal limits on executive pay. In his new report on the bailout, Barofsky says Chrysler Financial turned down $750 million earlier this year. Chrysler Financial’s parent company, Chrysler, has received $4.5 billion in government loans. Chrysler Financial collected $1.5 billion in federal loans when less stringent pay limits were in place.

Oakland Hires Private Security Firm to Patrol Neighborhoods

Oakland has become the latest American city to hire private armed guards to carry out police duties. Oakland’s city council recently voted to hire the company International Services to patrol troubled areas. Proponents say the move will save money for the cash-strapped city. Chicago’s city council recently proposed to grant private guards more responsibilities, including the authority to write traffic tickets.

Ex-Presidents Clinton, Bush to Appear in Joint Event

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have signed onto a joint appearance next month in Toronto, Canada. Clinton and Bush will appear together on stage in what organizers call a “moderated conversation.” Last month, Bush faced wide protests and calls for his arrest when he came to the Canadian city of Calgary for his first post-White House public speech.

Somali Pirate to Appear in US Court

The lone surviving Somali pirate involved in the kidnapping of an American cargo captain earlier this month has been brought to face trial in the United States. The pirate, nineteen-year-old Abduhl Wal-i-Musi, surrendered before US Navy snipers shot his three accomplices aboard their boat. Musi is expected to be arraigned in a New York courtroom later today.

French Energy Giant Spied on Anti-Nuke Activists

In France, the state-controlled energy operator has admitted to infiltrating and spying on anti-nuclear activists across Europe. Pierre Francois, a former top security official for EDF, says he began organizing the spying since 2002.

Arizona Duo Wins Pulitzer for Arpaio Coverage

And in media news, the Pulitzer Prize winners for journalism were handed out on Monday. The winners included Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin of the East Valley Tribune in Mesa, Arizona. The duo won for their coverage of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who’s been accused of practicing discriminatory enforcement of federal immigration laws. Last month, the Justice Department opened a civil rights probe into Arpaio’s immigration enforcement policies.

McCain Jokes about “Killing” Iranians

For the second time in his presidential campaign, Republican candidate John McCain joked about the prospect of killing Iranian civilians.

Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain, who has a history of making aggressive statements about his militaristic foreign policy views, earlier this week “joked” that American cigarette exports to Iran may be a way of killing Iranians. According to media reports, McCain reacted to a report revealing that American cigarette exports to Iran have risen tenfold during President Bush’s time in office by saying “Maybe that’s a way of killing ’em.” He went on to say, “I meant that as a joke, as a person who hasn’t had a cigarette in 28 years, 29 years.”

This is the second time McCain has publicly joked about killing Iranians. Last year, McCain sang the words “bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann:”

Don’t Bomb Iran

Despite evidence that the United States government–particularly the Bush administration–has fabricated or exaggerated information detailing Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, the Bush administration has continued to advocate an aggressive policy towards Iran. In recent days, the Bush administration has compared Democrats who promote diplomacy to politicians who advocated appeasing the Nazis. Moreover, news reports continue to come out suggesting that the United States will not rule out military action against Iran.

In response, a group called Make Films Not War has produced a new film questioning the rush towards war with Iran:

Of course, while the video focuses much of its attention on the Republicans, it’s important to remember that Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has threatened to “totally obliterate Iran” if it attacks Israel. Moreover, Congressional Democrats–including Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow have supported controversial claims made by the Bush administration and have declared the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization.

The Candidates and Iran

When it comes to foreign policy, Iraq has dominated the headlines in the 2008 presidential election, despite the fact that in many cases, the major party candidates do not offer a significant departure from existing policy. While Republican Senator John McCain supports an indefinite occupation of Iraq and a more aggressive policy, the Democratic Party candidates–Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama–have not offered a policy that is much different. Their policy is one of indefinite occupation by a smaller force. This has led some–including Noam Chomsky–to state that they do not believe Iraq will be a significant issue in the campaign.

However, if Iraq is not receiving an appropriate amount of attention, US policy towards Iran is receiving less attention. In an article for Foreign Policy in Focus, Frankie Sturm recently argued that Iran is a critical issue for US foreign policy both in terms of possible military action with Iran and policy in the Middle East. Strum’s article is reprinted below:

Although Iraq and the economy tend to dominate the headlines, Iran is never far from the news cycle – or from the speeches of the leading U.S. presidential candidates. In a recent trip to the Middle East, John McCain reiterated his concern about “Iranian influence and assistance to Hezbollah as well as Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Iran also received the attention of President Bush when he insisted last month that Iran is developing nuclear weapons in order to “destroy people.” Implausible and unsubstantiated as this claim might be, it represents a popular thread of argument in the Iran debate.

But Iran figures in other ways in the 2008 presidential election. It is not only a matter of war and peace. The candidates’ approach to Iran reveals what U.S. engagement with the Middle East might look like in the years to come.

Similarity of Approach

Although there are significant differences between the presidential contenders, they all share certain concerns and assumptions about Iran. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain have all openly stated that Iran cannot, under any circumstances, be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. To that end, each candidate maintains that the military option, though not preferred, remains “on the table.”

This unity is the result of a fundamental mistrust the candidates share toward the Iranian regime. For Obama, Iran is a “radical theocracy” that sponsors terrorism and “regional aggression.” According to John McCain’s website, Iran is a “dictatorship” that has “aided and abetted the violence in Iraq” and trained “the most violent Shia militias.” Hillary Clinton is largely in agreement with these statements, arguing that “Iran poses a long-term strategic challenge to the United States, our NATO allies, and Israel.” Consequently, Iran is not to be trusted with nuclear weapons.

Beyond this shared stance on Iran’s nuclear program, the three candidates also succumb to a certain sin of omission. None of them has acknowledged Iran’s legitimate security interests. While foreign policy experts across the ideological spectrum agree that Iran is guilty of bad behavior, many have also pointed out that Iran faces serious national security threats of its own. The United States, which has threatened to overthrow Iran’s government, has 160,000 troops in neighboring Iraq and is part of a 40,000-troop NATO force in neighboring Afghanistan. Iran shares a border with American ally Turkey, and the U.S. Navy is present in force in the Persian Gulf. In short, Iran is boxed in by a massively stronger power that has repeatedly threatened it. Furthermore, Iran also feels threatened by Israeli nuclear weapons, for which it has no effective defense.

By not publicly recognizing these issues, Obama, Clinton, and McCain fail to provide a solid explanation for Iranian behavior. How does one distinguish deterrence or self-defense from “Islamofascism” or a bid for regional hegemony? Since sponsorship of terrorism or the pursuit of nuclear weapons could be used for either hegemony or deterrence, Iran’s motivations are notoriously difficult to read. Nevertheless, a president must make those tough calls. The use or non-use of military force will rely on how the president understands Iran’s motives and actions. The candidates have failed to publicly demonstrate such an understanding.

Important Differences

In spite of these similarities, the differences between Obama, Clinton, and McCain can help us determine how willing and able each candidate will be to pursue a diplomatic course before opting for military action. Of the three, Obama is the most committed to a negotiated settlement with Iran. He has unequivocally stated that he would engage the Iranian regime “without preconditions,” offering a pledge not to invade and possible membership for Iran in the World Trade Organization. Since Iran will not stop enriching uranium as a prerequisite to talks, this is the only way to engage Iran on the nuclear issue. Obama also stands out because he, unlike Clinton and McCain, is more circumspect on whether he believes Iran actually intends to build nuclear weapons.

For example, in the latter half of 2007 each candidate published an essay on foreign policy in Foreign Affairs magazine. While McCain and Clinton openly charge that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, Obama does not. He recognizes that Iran is enriching uranium and he is clear about his opposition to an Iranian bomb, but in very careful language he avoids saying that Iran wants nuclear weapons. On his website, Obama claims that Iran “has sought” nuclear weapons – notice the past tense – but doesn’t say that Iran is currently doing so.

Obama’s discretion on the nuclear weapons issue may indicate that he recognizes more nuance in Iran’s motivation and actions than he lets on. While he, like Clinton and McCain, has not publicly acknowledged the security threats facing Iran, at least one of his advisors has. Joe Cirincione, an Obama foreign policy advisor with expertise in nuclear weapons policy and national security, has articulated an understanding of the threat environment facing Iran and how nuclear weapons could undermine Iranian security. Although ignored by the mainstream media, this line of argument is of monumental importance.

With 70 million people, vast oil wealth, and a mountainous topography, Iran does not face any serious military threat from countries in the region (unless they are supported by the U.S. military). However, other countries in the region could develop nuclear weapons if Iran obtains them first. Since no amount of conventional strength could protect Iran from a neighboring nuclear bomb, the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran could actually decrease Iran’s security. A president who does not understand the relationship between Iran’s security challenges and its nuclear program will have a difficult time engaging the Iranian regime in productive negotiations. By keeping advisors like Cirincione on hand and not assuming that Iran ultimately desires nuclear weapons, Obama shows that he might have that understanding after all, public rhetoric notwithstanding.

For all of Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Obama regarding his supposed naïveté in foreign affairs, she has a remarkably similar position. In 2007 she said that “I would engage in negotiations with Iran, with no conditions, because we don’t really understand how Iran works.” She also believes that Iran might respond to a “carefully calibrated package of incentives.” In a speech made from the Senate floor in February 2007, Clinton declared that the president cannot take military action against Iran without congressional authorization. However, several months later she voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment that designated the Revolutionary Guard of Iran as a terrorist organization. Clinton immediately found herself under fire from Senate colleagues Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Barack Obama, as well as others who worried that the amendment would allow the White House to claim authority to attack Iran.

Such episodes, in addition to her authorization of the Iraq war, show that Hillary Clinton has a history of acting tough or making war without a consideration of the consequences. Particularly troubling about the juxtaposition of this approach with her willingness to pursue diplomatic means is that the difference between Clinton the dove and Clinton the hawk seems to be largely contingent on the latest opinion polls. When it was politically expedient for her to support the Iraq war and Kyl-Lieberman, she did so. When the war in Iraq became unpopular, she became an opponent of the war. Similarly, when the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, she moderated her Iran rhetoric, largely by ceasing to talk about the country.

One of Clinton’s closest foreign policy advisors, Richard Holbrooke, has shown a similar tendency. An advocate of regime change in Iraq, Holbrooke has also compared Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, claiming that Iran is “an enormous threat to the United States, the stability in the region, and to the state of Israel.” Then, after the NIE, Holbrooke wrote in the Huffington Post that he had consistently opposed military action against Iran, even before the NIE. Still, in 2008 he has continued to argue that all options must remain “on the table.” Prudence may dictate that there is a time for diplomacy and a time for military action, but public opinion is not always the best way to decide between the two. In fact, it may not be a guide at all considering how much the presidential bully pulpit influences public opinion in matters of foreign policy. Unfortunately, Clinton’s past on Iran leaves it impossible to know when military action would take a back seat to diplomacy and vice versa.

The differences between Obama and Clinton are dwarfed by the gap between the Democratic and Republican positions on Iran. John McCain proposes isolation only, with no call for providing Iran incentives to change its behavior. If sanctions and isolation do not work, he is willing to act militarily. With the price of oil hovering around $100 a barrel, the United States bogged down in Iraq, and China and Russia reluctant to punish Iran for uranium enrichment, Iran will feel confident that it can weather whatever storm of sanctions the United States might put together. In this scenario, if he stays true to his word, the military option will be the only choice John McCain has left.

October Surprise?

Iran will continue to be an important foreign policy theme in the 2008 election. Nevertheless, it is likely to be overshadowed by the economy and Iraq. The U.S. public is accustomed to hearing bad things about Iran, so unless something out of the ordinary occurs – such as a military strike authorized by the Bush administration – it is hard to imagine Iran trumping voters’ concerns over Iraq and possible recession.

In the event that an Iranian October surprise does take place, it is difficult to predict how it would affect the election. If there is overt aggression on Iran’s part, the tough-talking John McCain will almost certainly benefit. However, an unprovoked attack on Iran might discredit Republican militarism, thereby giving the Democratic candidate a boost. What remains certain, though, is that Iran awaits the next American president. And while the identity of that person is not yet clear, the policy choices Americans will have to choose from are.

Frankie Sturm, a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org), is a free-lance writer based on Washington, DC. His pieces on American politics and foreign affairs have appeared in the Peoria Journal Star, the Topeka Capital-Journal, and MinutemanMedia.org.

Ehlers says he doesn’t want to “go to war with Iran;” How has he Voted?

Grand Rapids area congressional Representative Vern Ehlers was recently quoted in the Grand Rapids Press saying that there is “no way I want to go to war with Iran.” How does this statement relate to his voting record on Iran and his record on Iraq?

photo of vern ehlers

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a brief piece–one paragraph long–in its “polpourri” section reporting on the efforts of an unnamed “liberal advocacy group” that is pressuring Representative Vernon Ehlers on Iran. According to the Press, the group urging Ehlers to “stop the Bush administration from going to war with Iran.” In response to the effort, Ehlers is quoted saying that “There is no way I want to go to war with Iran. There is probably nothing to be gained by us attacking Iran.”

While it is comforting to know that Ehlers is opposed to a war with Iran, the article fails to examine Ehlers’ voting record on Iran or his public statements on Iran. As opponents of the Iraq War have learned in West Michigan, it is one thing to say that you are “not pleased” with how the war turned out–which Ehlers has said–and quite another to actively oppose it. With regard to Iraq, Ehlers has said that before the war started he raised concerns about the war, but those concerns were never made public.

With regard to Iran, Ehlers has said little publicly. In a July 18, 2004 article in the Grand Rapids Press (“Draft Talk Sends Chills”), Ehlers said “Given the present situation in Iraq I don’t see that as remotely possible” when asked about the possibility of invading another Middle Eastern country. During a debate in the last election, Ehlers said he that Iran is a “difficult” situation because of its location in the Middle East and their opposition to Israel.

Ehlers has voted in favor of a number of resolutions and bills that have passed the House of Representatives on Iran. None of the bills or resolutions support military action, but they do clearly demonize and isolate Iran. Ehlers has co-sponsored some legislation and resolutions that cast Iran in this light, with an example being the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007. Moreover, these resolutions and acts call for strict economic sanctions against the country and generally call for more aggressive efforts unilaterally by the United States and by the United Nations against Iran. Finally, as was the case with Iraq, Ehlers has not sponsored legislation or statements specifically calling for the President not to invade Iran.

Vern Ehlers’ Iran Voting Record:

YES on H. Con. Res. 203: Condemning the persecution of labor rights advocates in Iran (10/02/07)

Ehlers voted for and co-sponsored this congressional resolution condemning Iran for the arrest and imprisonment of Iran union leaders Mahmoud Salehi and Mansour Osanloo. The resolution also expresses “solidarity” with workers in Iran and their efforts to bring “political freedom” and “individual liberty” to Iran.

YES on H.R. 1400: Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 (09/25/07)

Ehlers voted for and co-sponsored this act declaring that Iranian president Ahmadinejad is violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” It calls for restricting Iran’s access to the World Trade Organization (WTO), bans the import of goods from Iran, requires parent companies to pay penalties for subsidiaries that do business in Iran, and calls on President George W. Bush to determine whether the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is a terrorist organization, and prohibits the United States from exporting goods or services to countries that are assisting nuclear or advanced conventional weapons programs in Iran. The act also states that it cannot be interpreted as authorizing the use of force against Iran.

YES on H.R. 2437: Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2007 (07/31/07)

Ehlers voted in support of this act authorizing state and local governments to divest from and prevent investment in companies with investments of more than $20 million in Iran’s energy sector, those that sell arms to the government of Iran, and financial institutions that extend more than $20 million in credit to the country for a period longer than forty-five days. The president of the United States is directed to publish a list of companies, institutions, and individuals meeting this criterion.

YES on H.R. 957: To amend the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to expand and clarify the entities against which sanctions may be imposed (07/31/07)

Ehlers voted in support of this act, which altered the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to clarify and expand to whom sanctions can be imposed.

YES on H. Con. Res. 21: Resolution Calling for the UN to Charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (06/20/07)

Ehlers voted in support of this resolution calling for the United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and the United States charter because of his calls for the destruction of Israel. It also calls for the Security Council and UN member states to consider stronger measures to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and reaffirms the United States’ strategic partnership with Israel.

YES on H. Res. 1091: Resolution Condemning Iran’s Commitment to hold a Holocaust Denial Conference (12/08/06)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution condemning Iran for hosting an international holocaust denial conference. It also calls for the United Nations to publicly repudiate Iran’s anti-Semitic statements and to strengthen its commitment to act to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear power.

YES on H. Res. 976: Resolution Condemning Iran for Human Rights Abuses (09/26/06)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution condemning the human rights abuses of the Iranian government and calling for the international community and the United States to pressure Iran to halt discrimination and violence, especially towards women.

YES on H. Res. 942: Resolution Recognizing the Centennial Anniversary of Iran’s 1906 Constitution (09/20/06)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution recognizing the anniversary of Iran’s 1906 constitution and expressing hope that Iran will again “enjoy” a “democratic government” in the spirit of the 1906 Iranian constitution.

YES on H. Con. Res. 4155: Resolution Condemning Repression of Iran’s Baha’i Community (09/19/06)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution calling on Iran to cease repressive activities aimed at the Iranian Baha’i community and calling on Iran to grant the Baha’i rights guaranteed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. The resolution also calls for the United States to make human rights practices a significant factor in U.S.-Iran foreign policy and making it an issue in discussions with the European Union (EU).

YES on H. Con. Res. 341: Resolution Condemning Iran for Violating Nuclear Nonproliferation Obligations (02/16/06)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution condemning Iran for violating international nonproliferation obligations and calling for Iran to be reported to the United Nations Security Council. The resolution also asserts that Iran has forfeited the right to develop any aspect of nuclear fuel because of its breaches of the “Safeguards Agreement.”

YES on H. Con. Res. 523: Resolution Condemning Iran for Threatening Israel (10/28/05)

Ehlers voted in support of this resolution condemning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel. It calls for the United Nations Security Council and “civilized nations” to condemn the statements and censure Iran while also considering measures to deny Iran access to nuclear weapons.

YES on H. Con. Res. 398: Resolution Expressing Concern over Iran’s Development of Nuclear Weapons (05/06/04)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution stating that Congress condemns the Iranian government for failing to report to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its continued deceptions regarding its nuclear program. It also urges the United Nations to take actions against Iran.

YES on H.R. 1883: Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 (09/14/99)

Ehlers voted in support of this act, which seeks to prevent the proliferation of certain goods, services, and technology to Iran.

YES on H. Res. 188: Resolution against Cruise Missile Proliferation (11/06/97)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution condemning the proliferation of cruise missile technology to Iran and calling for possible sanctions towards Russian entities involved in the proliferation.

YES on H.R. 3107: Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 (07/19/96)

Ehlers voted in support of this act imposing sanctions on persons transferring goods or technology that could be used by Iran to develop petroleum resources. The act was touted as a way of lessening Iran’s support for international terrorism and limiting its capability to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

YES on H. Res. 416: Resolution Calling for Investigation of Iranian Arms Transfers (05/08/96)

Ehlers voted in favor of this resolution establishing a subcommittee of the Committee on International Relations to investigate the United States’ role in Iranian arms transfers to Croatia and Bosnia.

YES on H. Con. Res. 102: Resolution Calling for the Emancipation of the Iranian Baha’i Community (03/27/96)

Ehlers voted in support of this resolution calling for Iran to protect the human rights of its Baha’i community and encouraging international pressure on the country.

Michigan Senators Vote in Support of Controversial Iran Resolution

Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow on Wednesday voted in support of a “sense of the Senate” resolution that escaltes the United States’ rhetoric towards Iran by urgning stronger economic sanctions and advocating that the Bush administration designate Iran’s military as a terrorist organization.

On Wednesday, Michigan Democratic Party Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow voted in favor of a controversial “sense of the Senate” resolution on the United States’ relationship with Iran. The resolution–which originally threatened military action towards Iran–was edited mildly after it was criticized by some Democrats who described it as “a backdoor method of gaining military action” against Iran. A modified resolution–allegedly improved and toned down–passed the Senate by a vote of 76-22 with significant Democratic Party support.

Despite the removal of the most directly threatening rhetoric, the resolution still endorses the position of the Bush administration–mainly that Iran is engaged in a proxy war against the United States in Iraq. The resolution urges the Bush administration to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization and urges the administration to impose strict economic sanctions on Iraq. The resolution–despite being non-binding–is a significant escalation in the rhetoric towards Iran in that it makes the claim that the Iranian military is a terrorist organization. The resolution also relies heavily on the recent testimony of General Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

In a piece titled “Debunking the Neocons’ Iran War Measure,” author Gareth Porter criticized the logic on which these claims were based:

1. The administration has not come forward with a single piece of concrete evidence to support the claim that the Iranian government has been involved in the training, arming or advising of Iraqi Shiite militias.

2. The U.S. intelligence community has not endorsed the argument being made by some in the Bush administration that the Iranian government was responsible for the rise in Shiite military activity in Iraq.

3. The main argument made in the February 11, 2007 briefing for an Iranian official role in providing EFPs to Shiite militias — the allegation that only Iran had the capability to manufacture EFPs or components for EFPs that can penetrate U.S. armor — was quickly proven to be untrue.

4. U.S. and British Military officers and civilian officials have expressed doubt that EFPs and other armaments in the hands of Shiites have actually come from Iran or that Iranian Quds force personnel have been involved in the supply.

5. The Quds Force of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the administration has claimed is the instrument of the alleged Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq, has apparently been withdrawn from Iraq.

6. There is a substantial body of evidence that the Hezbollah in Lebanon — not Iran — has been the main source, if not the only source, of EFPs and other weapon used by Shiite militias in 2006 and 2007.

This is not the first time that Carl Levin has supported Senator Liberman–a pro-war Democrat–on Iran. Back in July, Senator Levin praised Liberman for his willingness to stand up to Iran. That Levin would take a position is not surprising–he has received extensive support from the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC)a Zionist lobbying organization that has demanded “action” on Iran.

Levin Praises Lieberman on Iran Resolution

photo of praising iran resolution

Michigan Senator Carl Levin who many point to as an antiwar voice in the Senate for his calls for withdrawing a portion of US troops from Iraq, on Wednesday expressed considerable praise for former Democratic Party Senator and current Independent Senator Joe Lieberman’s Iran resolution. The resolution, passed by the Senate 97-0, charges that Iran has been intervening in Iraq and that it has played a role in attacks on United States’ soldiers. The resolution has the potential to increase the prospect of a conflict with Iran, as it contains language stating “the murder of members of the United States Armed Forces by a foreign government or its agents is an intolerable act of hostility against the United States” while demanding that Iran “take immediate action” to stop supporting Iraqi militias and insurgents.

Last month, Lieberman gained some notoriety for saying “I think we have to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq.” The liberal “blogosphere” has largely reacted with disgust over Levin’s comment, but it is unfortunately not surprising. Earlier this year he called for developing a military plan to confront Syria. Moreover, Levin is a major recipient of money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (APIAC) who has called for aggressive action against Iran.

The transcript from a video showing Levin’s praise of Lieberman:

Lieberman: …the threat posed by Iran to our soldiers’ lives, our security as a nation, and our allies in the Middle East is a truth that cannot be wished or waved away. It must be confronted. This resolution–this amendment–gives the Senate the opportunity to do that. So let us then Mr. President with one voice, tell the fanatical anti-American leaders of the government in Tehran, who I believe do not represent the majority of the Iranian people that they cannot attack our troops without consequences. Let us with one voice tell our brave soldiers in Iraq that Iran’s assault on them will not go unnoticed or unanswered by this Senate. The regime in Iran I fear is betting that our political disunity about Iraq will constrain us in responding to its attack. I don’t believe that. For the sake of our nation’s security, for the sake of our soldiers, we must and I am confident, we will prove them wrong.

Levin: First, let me commend the Senator from Connecticut for his amendment. This is an awfully important message that is in that amendment about the threatening activities of Iranians against us in other parts of the world, but more specifically, in Iraq. This amendment is intended to capture some of the problems which are created by those activities of Iranians in Iraq particularly. What we’re trying to work out with the Senator from Connecticut, and again I commend him on his initiative, I think it’s a very important one, and I think it’s very possible that the Senate can speak with one voice and we should speak with one voice on this issue. There’s some language modifications which we’re suggesting, which I have already had the chance to talk to my good friend from Connecticut about and I think if we could either have a brief quorum call or if anybody else who’s here wishes to address the Senate on this or other subjects, they could be recognized at this point. But in the absence of that, I would —

Lieberman: I would just want to respond to my friend from Michigan, to thank him for his general expression of support for the amendment and also for some of the suggestions he has made to me and our staffs are working now. Again, I want this to be a clear statement but I really want it to be a unified statement and I believe that together we can achieve that result. I thank him and will continue work with him.

Ehlers Supports Amendments Restricting War with Iran

On Wednesday, West Michigan congressman Vern Ehlers voted in support of two amendments to the defense authorization bill that would have restricted the ability of the Bush administration to attack Iran. In a 136 to 288 vote, Representative Ehlers voted in support of an amendment that would have blocked military action against Iran without the approval of Congress. Ehlers also voted for a more narrow amendment that would have prevented money authorized for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from being used to develop a contingency plan for attacking Iran. That vote failed 202 to 216. In both votes, several Democrats voted against the amendments, despite the fact that they essentially affirmed the authority that Congress is granted in the United States constitution.

Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Holland, who has promoted an aggressive United States foreign policy, voted against the two amendments.

Commentary: The Lies Continue – US Media and the War in Iraq…and Iran?

Jeff Smith’s latest column for Recoil, a satire and music magazine distributed around West Michigan, has been published in the commentary section of the site. The column, titled “The Lies Continue: US Media and the War in Iraq…and Iran?” looks at the role of the corporate media in the United States in supporting the United States’ occupation of Iraq. It also promotes a campaign by Media Mouse to bring Democracy Now to the public airwaves in Grand Rapids. In the column, Smith writes:

Let’s face it folks the media has played a major role in letting the current administration get away with brutalizing the people of Iraq. The major news media in this country instead of just reporting on the latest area soldier who has been killed in Iraq, should get on their fucking knees and ask forgiveness to these military families for contributing to the lie of this war. I mean, I wanna see Lee Van Amyde and Suzanne Geha and the rest of these local media people publicly apologize for not doing their job and holding the government accountable for the reasons they gave in starting a war. Well this isn’t likely to happen. Instead the news media now is not only not questioning the ongoing occupation of Iraq and Bush call for a “surge” in US troops, they are going right along with the administration in beating the drums of war against Iran.

Read the entire column.

Grand Rapids Press Supporting Government’s Iran Claims

Over the past week, The Grand Rapids Press has ran a series of articles reporting government allegations that Iran is supplying weapons killing United States soldiers in Iraq. The articles, one of which linked weapons from Iran to a death of local soldier, support the claims of the US government and military and rely almost exclusively on government sources.

Over the past week, the Grand Rapids Press, the major newspaper in West Michigan, has published a series of articles that appear to be designed to build support for the Bush administration’s Iran policy and possibly even building support for a military attack on Iran. The articles all stem from the context of heightened rhetoric from the Bush administration linking Iran to attacks on US soldiers in Iraq, with many of them relying on evidence presented at a briefing by United States military officials on the weekend of February 10. That briefing, conducted by officials who refused to be quoted and insisted on anonymity, presented what the military claimed was proof that the Iranian government is supplying insurgents in Iraq with weapons. the Grand Rapids Press ran a story based on an initial account of this briefing from the New York Times on Monday the 12th, relying on official sources to assert that Iran was supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons. While publishing one story that was critical of this claim on the 13th, the Press accepted the premise of the military’s claim that the Iranian government wants to harm United States soldiers in Iraq. The Press’ support of this claim reached its apex on Wednesday the 14th, when it ran a front-page article titled “New type of bomb from Iran killed area soldier” in which reporter Ted Roelofs links Iran to the death of a local soldier.

Roelofs’ article was a lengthy and emotional piece that relied primarily on comments from the father of Army Spc. Brandon Stout, who was killed in Iraq on January 22 when his Humvee was attacked. Roelofs cites William Stout as saying that the Pentagon told him the attack was “bigger than the IED” and that the death of his soon was “instant” due to lethality of the bomb. Stout is also quoted as saying that the attack tells him “we are going to be in another war here with another country pretty soon.” Roelofs cites a briefing given by the United States military on Saturday as proof that weapons from Iran are being used to attack United States soldiers in Iraq, describing the United States military as scrambling to find ways to reinforce armor on Humvees to lessen the fatalities from these attacks. Aside from William Stout, who despite the tragic loss of his son, is clearly not an expert on the Iraq War or relations with Iran, Roelofs relies heavily on “official” sources, citing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, United States Congressional Representative Peter Hoekstra, and an “unnamed officer” cited in the Washington Post, all of whom supported the general assertion that Iran wants to attack United States soldiers in Iraq.

While appealing to the emotions of people who empathize with the suffering of a family of a soldier killed in Iraq, Roelofs’ piece relies on sources that have been greatly questioned in recent days. There have been several analyses calling into question specifics of the United States “evidence” laid out at the briefing, showing that it is part of an ongoing campaign of disinformation regarding Iran. Even some within the military and the corporate media have distanced themselves from the claims, yet the Grand Rapids Press story ends with Representative Hoekstra and William Stout calling for increased troop movements in Iraq to seal the border to prevent Iranian influence.

The basis for these claims was reporting in the New York Times over the weekend on Iran’s alleged supply of weapons to Iraqi insurgents. On Monday, February 12, the Grand Rapids Press reprinted a story from the New York Times by James Glanz under the title “Weapons Display indicts Iran, U.S. Says.” The story was based on a briefing by United States military officials on Saturday during which the officials displayed “their first public evidence” that “Iran supplies Shiite extremists in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war.” The article goes on to state that the weapons include canisters called “explosively formed penetrators or EFPs” and are “perhaps the most feared weapon faced by American and Iraqi troops” in Iraq. The article explains that the briefing was held “under strict security,” with the United States military showing an array of EFPs, mortar shells, and rocket-propelled grenades with serial numbers that the military claimed could be linked to Iran. The military also claimed that Iranian leaders have authorized smuggling the weapons into Iraq, an assertion made without evidence and under the insistence of anonymity.

The article cited “doubts” that people could have about the evidence due to the timing (the weapons had been known about since 2004) and the insistence on anonymity, but asserted, “the direct physical evidence presented on Sunday was extraordinary.” The article also attempted to appeal emotionally to its readers, stating that more than 170 Americans had been killed and 620 wounded with these weapons. It ended by concluding that “without specific evidence” the military claimed that the Iranian security apparatus, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force controlled the delivery of these weapons into Iraq an asserted that they could do so only with the knowledge of the Iranian government and their complicity.

While the initial report raised a number of serious allegations and was reprinted in numerous news sources, it has been widely discredited since the allegations against Iran first appeared in the New York Times on Saturday. The radio news program Democracy Now cited two striking similarities between the Times article and the articles that built support for the invasion of Iraq, an almost complete reliance on anonymous “official” sources and the authorship of Michael Gordon. Gordon played a major role in building support for the Iraq War, co-authoring a piece with Judith Miller alleging that the Iraq had weapons of mass destruction on September 8, 2002, a piece which was then used by Vice President Dick Cheney to state that it was not just the Bush administration asserting that Iraq had WMD, but also the New York Times. Critics have highlighted the fact that the New York Times has positioned itself over the past few decades as the official government paper and has been quick report the official stance of the United States, relying frequently on official sources to the exclusion of independent sources. This was particularly problematic with the piece on the alleged weapons from Iran, as the story failed to provide any context about the relationship between the Iranian government and Iraq. Moreover, it is also worth noting that not far into the article doubts are raised about the accuracy of the claims with the Times piece pointing out that there was no direct evidence presented, yet both the New York Times and the Grand Rapids Press locally ran the story under headlines that treated the allegations as fact rather than allegations.

Even when subsequent reporting raised some issues about the specifics of the United States’ claims, the corporate media–including the Grand Rapids Pressbought into the overall idea that Iran is threatening United States troops in Iraq. the Grand Rapids Press ran an article from the Washington Post on Tuesday the 13th titled “Top brass accuses Iran, not its leaders,” citing the fact that the Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had made comments on Monday saying that the United States had no information linking the Iranian government to the supply of weapons allegedly coming from Iran into Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq. He maintained that, “It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved” but said that he would “not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.” The version of the article printed by the Grand Rapids Press, greatly altered and edited from the original version that appeared in the Washington Post, included a denial from the Iranian government but concluded with State Department spokesman Sean McCormack stating that “the Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity.” This edit ended the article with more certainty than the original version in the Washington Post, which described how the Bush administration has been evasive and has referred reporters to multiple agencies and frequently refused to answer questions, while also cutting a quote critical of the administration’s policy on Iran from Democratic Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut. The placement is also important, as all stories reporting the involvement of the Iranian government have been on front page of the Grand Rapids Press, while this article was located on page A3.

In the Thursday, February 15 edition, the Grand Rapids Press ran a Newsday article by Craig Gordon under the headline “Bush rips Iran, but U.S. won’t attack.” That article, printed on page A5, discussed President Bush’s comments at a news conference in which he stated that the United States has no intention to attack Iran despite his blaming the Iranian government for a recent spate of deadly attacks on US soldiers. However, even as a number of sources within the government and outside of the government have raised significant doubts about Iran’s supplying weapons to Iraq, President Bush maintained that despite having no idea whether Iranians at the “highest levels” of the government were responsible, Bush continued to point the blame at Iran. The article quotes Bush saying that, “the idea that somehow we’re manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous,” showing that the Bush administration still believes the discredited evidence. Bush framed the issue within the context of needing to act to “protect our troops,” stating “we’re going to do something about that it, pure and simple.” Far from raising questions about earlier claims reported in the Grand Rapids Press, the article gives continued credence to those claims. Moreover, as was the case with previous reporting on the issue, this story relies exclusively on official sources within the government, with the only voices being present being Bush’s and that of Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton, who only said that she was “deeply concerned” and did not get into specifics of the claims. The article does not directly address the considerable debate over the accuracy of the Bush administration’s claims and instead bolsters the one-sided reporting on the topic in the Grand Rapids Press.

Even before the Press ran its initial article on the alleged weapons from Iran, a day before that article appeared, the Grand Rapids Press ran a story from the Associated Press titled “Bush Iran rhetoric echoes Iraq stance.” The story, written by Tom Raum of the Associated Press, examined some of the parallels between President George W. Bush’s “tough new stance on Iran and his military buildup in the Persian Gulf.” It begins by describing how the administration is “making allegations about Iran without providing proof,” while also making similar claims that Iran is behind the recent abduction and execution of five United States soldiers. The story cites President Bush’s recent assertions that he has no plans to invade Iran, but mentions that in recent days the United States has increased the naval presence in the Persian Gulf to the highest level since 2003, confirmed that the military has been given the authority to kill or capture Iranian agents “plotting attacks” on United States forces, and has armed Iran’s neighbors with Patriot missiles. The article cites only three sources, Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute and advisor to the Iraq Study Group, and Zbigneiw Brezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s former National Security Advisor. The Press cut the article after a section in which it talks about how Bush is “betting” that he can prop up the Iraqi government and stop Iran’s supply of weapons and fighters to Iraq, omitting the remaining 287 words of an 819 word article. The 287 words omitted were significant, as they explained that Iran has denied these allegations and that “outside actors” like Iran are not considered “a major driver of violence” in Iraq by the National Intelligence Estimate. The original AP article also quoted additional sources both within and outside of the Bush administration to convey to readers that there is considerable difference of opinion over the best strategy for dealing with Iran.

This official ambiguity over how best to deal with the situation in Iran has been absent from the Grand Rapids Press over the past week, with the Press instead relying heavily on government sources and wire stories–supplemented by an emotional piece tying the death of a local soldier to weapons supplied by Iran–to build support for the Bush administration’s Iran policy. While the specific intentions of the Bush administration are unclear at this point, in light of recent statements, military maneuvering, and similarities to its public relations campaign used in 2003 to build support for the invasion of Iraq, there is a serious possibility that the administration is attempting to incrementally build support for an invasion of Iran. Consequently, the Grand Rapids Press needs to look critically both at its reporting of the Iraq invasion and the role that it played in building support for that war, as well as its recent coverage of Iran, and begin to ask critical questions. Both as journalists and as a major supplier of news to people living in West Michigan, the Press must position itself as a government watchdog rather than as a vehicle for amplifying the assertions of the government and military.