Schumer Gets Specific on Iran

For today’s paper, I spoke with Chuck Schumer about his efforts to expand the Democratic majority in the Senate and how he thinks his party’s candidates are strong enough to withstand any Republican rallying around the flag in the event of an attack on Iran.

While the piece deals more with Schumer’s take on the political consequences of an attack on Iran, the New York Senator also explained why he thinks any bombing would substantively be a bad idea in terms of its impact on American foreign policy and national security.

"The Iranian people do not like the Mullahs," said Schumer. "They are a more secular people. Persian culture has always been a more mild culture. It’s not a fundamentalist culture. The Iranians are more Middle Class. The average income is eight thousand dollars as opposed to three thousand in Iraq, very important. And they have information."

As a result, he said that the Iranian leadership, "is very fragile."

For that reason, he thinks the best way to stop nuclear weapons "is to sort of put the squeeze on the government and force it to change. The good news here is that the French and the Germans – who for mercenary reasons were quite resistant – have new leadership that is fully on board."

Citing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who still engenders much suspicion from neoconservatives like Norman Podhoretz, and Nicolas Sarkozy, he said "Merkel and Sarkozy are both fine. They’ll go with the program."

Asked who else could block economic sanctions, Schumer said "The Chinese don’t care. They have too many fish to fry. So who’s left? Putin. Putin’s a nationalist who wants to build up Russia’s power and Iran is leverage. He needs two things: Money. He’s not unlike the Chinese leaders in that they want to make their country richer and more powerful. And they make anywhere from between nine to twelve billion dollars a year based on what they do with Iran. Somehow they have got to be made whole."

Schumer added that "Putin will only give up his Iran card if he is given something he really wants."

And what does he want?

"The missiles. The missiles out of Eastern Europe. He hates them."

Schumer seems to think that’s a direction worth exploring.

"These missiles protect Western Europe 20 years down the road from an Iranian missile that is not even on the engineering stages. Iran’s an immediate threat, far more dangerous to the United States, Europe and everywhere else. And they could win Putin over."

He said the Bush administration refused or were unable to think in sufficiently geopolitical terms.

"These guys are just thick," he said.

Schumer also said that logistically, an attack on Iran would be tough for the administration to carry out.

"I don’t think they have a good choice," said Schumer. "They will saber rattle but they can’t do much."

"I think an attack, after the failure in Iraq, it will end whatever is left of the Bush presidency. They’ve got to know that. And I think the military solution is a very difficult solution no matter who does it – because of underground bunkers and because they are dispersed. Whether America or Israel does it, it is not like bombing the Iraqi reactor in ‘81 or bombing the thing in Syria."

(Schumer was referring to the Israeli bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor outside Bagdad in 1981 and the apparent Israeli Air Force strike against Syria in September of a partly constructed nuclear reactor.)

He said he favored the financial squeeze because "The economic solution, unlike this solution, weakens the regime instead of strengthening the regime, because it separates the people from the regime."

I then asked Schumer about his vote in favor of the Kyl-Lieberman amendment to label the Iranian revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, which every presidential candidate except Hillary Clinton, who also voted for it, says could ease the president’s path to war.

"I think terrorism is terrorism," said Schumer. "It’s not ignoring it. It’s how you handle it in a smart way."

He disputed the notion that it gave the president any authorization to go to war, saying the really bellicose language was removed from an earlier bill.

"I was involved in knocking out" that language, he said.