Reporter's Notebook

Early and Often

Bernie Sanders, among five presidential candidates to stump for votes in Pasadena, is out to win California

On May 31, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Secretary Julián Castro and Gov. Jay Inslee participated in the first presidential forum focused on immigration at the Pasadena Hilton. Sanders also held a political rally Friday at the Pasadena Convention Center, drawing a crowd of about 2,000 people including Pasadena City Councilmembers Tyron Hampton and Steve Madison. And New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s event May 30 at the Women’s City Club of Pasadena was sponsored by Women in Leadership Vital Voices and Lena Kennedy, sister of Pasadena City Councilman John Kennedy.

Candidates are making sure to traverse California on their campaign trails because the state has moved its primary election date up from June to March 3, 2020. Conversely, during the 2016 campaign, when California’s June primary was one of the last, Sanders was the only presidential candidate to visit Pasadena.

“We are treating [California] like an early primary state,” Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir recently told NPR, “campaigning there early and often, and making a strong play to try and win that state.”

The primary election for the city of Pasadena will also be held March 3. The state essentially forced the city to hold its general election the same day as the presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020, in an effort to increase voter participation, which had fallen below 25 percent in Pasadena. The mayor and City Council districts 1, 2, 4 and 6 will be up for election. Several candidates have already declared their intention to run.

Feelin’ the Bern in Pasadena

Sanders’ visit to California followed his first trip to his home state of Vermont since he announced his candidacy, a series of ice cream socials in New Hampshire and a two-day swing through Nevada.

Sanders’ recently hired a fundraiser — a position that didn’t exist in his 2016 campaign — to oversee his new strategy of holding smaller, grassroots, in-person fundraising events for donors of all levels and the media.

Sanders was the first candidate to sign the grassroots, nonprofit Indivisible Project’s pledge calling on Democratic candidates to make the primary constructive, rally behind and immediately endorse the ultimate Democratic nominee no matter who it is and do everything in their power to make that nominee the next president.

Sanders’ wide-ranging speech at the Pasadena Convention Center touched on domestic policies such as income inequality, poverty, affordable housing, homelessness, jobs, voting rights, unions, legalized cannabis, women’s rights, abortion, education, child care, tuition-free college, criminal justice reform, immigration, health care, climate change and the Green New Deal. He also touched on foreign policy, including his opposition to war.

Sanders went after President Trump’s economic message, saying American workers have been ignored. And he pointed out that in 2016, the media and political establishment called his ideas too radical, but that a majority of Americans now support them.

“Four years ago, we began the political revolution; this campaign we finalize the political revolution,” he said.

Sanders said he is often asked by his critics how he plans to pay for all his proposals.

“Ten years ago, the American people bailed out the crooks on Wall Street to the tune of $1 trillion. Well, Wall Street can now help the working families of this country. We will impose a transaction tax on Wall Street speculation.”

Sanders condemned states like Georgia and Alabama for passing “draconian” anti-abortion legislation.

“A woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right and we will defend that right,” he said. “I will never nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who is not prepared to vigorously support Roe v. Wade. This is an issue for everyone. Men must stand with women.”

He called out National Security Advisor John Bolton for helping lead the United States into war in Iraq in 2003 and warned that Bolton is now leading the charge to drag the country into war with Iran.

“Iraq was a disaster,” he said. “War with Iran will be worse. It will lead to perpetual warfare. Our kids, our grandchildren: never ending war. We must do everything we can to stop international conflicts through diplomatic means, not war.”

He pledged to rally world leaders to cut military spending and use that money to combat climate change.

“Think about a world where instead of building more nuclear weapons, poison gas, tanks and guns,” he said, “China, Russia, India, Latin America, Africa and the United States are coming together to say, ‘We are going to save this planet for our children and our grandchildren.’”

Sanders attacked Trump and vowed to defeat the “most dangerous president in American history.”

A Focus on Immigration

After his Pasadena rally, Sanders and three other presidential candidates — Harris, Castro and Inslee — discussed their plans for immigration reform at the Unity + Freedom Forum at the Pasadena Hilton.

LA Mayor Eric Garcetti also spoke at the event, which was not open to the public, but more than 500 grassroots leaders and immigrant-rights advocates from across the nation were in attendance. About 7.1 million people watched Telemundo’s livestream of the event. Two moderators and several immigrants told their stories and asked questions of the candidates.

Harris claimed that there is bipartisan support for immigration reform on Capitol Hill and pledged to work on a bipartisan solution.

“Most Americans are acutely aware of the economic benefit to this country of having immigrants,” she said. “Farmers across the country, some of whom may have even voted for this president, understand that the strength of their farms and their continued success is in large part because of an immigrant workforce.”

Using executive orders, Harris said she would immediately reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), restore Temporary Protected Status protections and enact a moratorium on migrant detention facilities, as well as undo the Trump administration’s other “backward, hate-drive policies.” She said the administration’s child separation policy is not border security but rather a human rights abuse committed by the US government.

“Every day that we don’t resolve this issue there are real consequences to real human beings,” she said. “We need a president who understands the complexity of this issue.”

Castro described specific policy proposals he would enact if elected and said immigration has to be a top priority for the next president.

“On April 2, I released my very comprehensive and progressive ‘People First’ immigration plan, which includes decriminalizing border crossings and treating them as a civil offense, ending family detention, reuniting families, improving the legal immigration system, reinstating DACA and implementing a pathway to citizenship for DACA parents, increasing refugee admissions, eliminating for-profit migrant detention facilities, stopping the border wall, adding the number of visas to harness talent from around the world and getting rid of 287(g).”

Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.

Sanders called Trump a racist and pledged to establish a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

Justin co-authored an article on Iran in the new issue of Public Diplomacy Magazine along with Pacific Council President and CEO Dr. Jerrold D. Green and Communications Project Fellow Gemma Stewart. Read it here.

U.S. Policy On Iran: Public Hostility, Not Public Diplomacy

JUNE 12, 2019
By: Jerrold D. Green, Gemma Stewart, Justin Chapman, Public Diplomacy Magazine and Pacific Council

What is the opposite of public diplomacy? 

The answer may be termed “public hostility,” and that essentially is how current U.S. policy toward Iran can be described. Instead of seeking influence over the Islamic Republic of Iran by promoting cross-cultural relations, encouraging dialogue, and deftly deploying smart power, the United States has opted for a form of public demonization. 

Iran and the United States have unquestionably had a tumultuous relationship since the Iranian Revolution, characterized by great tension and fleeting moments of collaboration and cooperation. For the moment, however, the relationship is in a public diplomacy crisis. 

There were signs of a new relationship in 2015 when Iran agreed to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a limited and narrow long-term deal focused exclusively on curbing Iran’s nuclear program signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany. This agreement came after years of tension and a more than two-years-long negotiation process led by then- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. 

It is inconceivable that North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal in light of Iran’s experience with the United States.

Hope of cooperation ended in May 2018 when President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal after months of threatening to do so. To set the stage, Trump initiated a public campaign calling the deal “rotten” and stated his desire to reinstate sanctions on Iran as well as to consider new penalties. However, many observers believe Trump’s decision to withdraw was counterproductive, as the United Nations, significant elements within the U.S. government, Washington’s JCPOA partners, and other members of the international community acknowledged that Iran was and still is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal. Trump did not present evidence that Iran was not honoring the deal when he announced his decision. 

Critics of the JCPOA correctly and accurately pointed out that the deal failed to address destabilizing and destructive Iranian involvement in Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Syria. Iran has unquestionably been involved in all manner of unsavory activities in the region. However, architects of the nuclear deal will be the first to point out that the JCPOA was not expected to have immediate influence or impact on other Iranian issues, be they domestic or foreign policy. Such challenges need to be addressed over time, but torpedoing the nuclear deal was not the way to deal with them. 

By pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal, the threat of Iranian retaliation, increased sectarian conflicts, and Tehran yet again seeking a nuclear weapons capability have become valid concerns. The Trump administration has not launched any diplomatic initiatives towards Iran while abandoning a deal that it brokered is seen as proof to many that Washington cannot be trusted. It is inconceivable that North Korea, for example, will give up its nuclear arsenal in light of Iran’s experience with the United States. 

There have been cases in the past where the United States was able to implement good faith public diplomacy efforts with hostile nations. In the case of Iran, however, what we see now is more like a cold war with no thawing in sight—the complete antithesis of public diplomacy.

Now celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, Iran is under crippling economic pressure, mounting discontent at home, and intensifying regional tensions, some of which are due to the reinstatement of sanctions on the country. Such growing political and economic pressure has given a boost to Iranian hard-liners and weakened more moderately-inclined Iranian officials including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S.- educated architect of the 2015 pact. 

Additionally, President Trump has exacerbated tensions by making bellicose public statements, such as directly threatening Iranian President Hassan Rouhani via tweet, vowing “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” Other senior Trump officials such as National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have been equally as threatening. Bolton dubbed Iran the “central banker of terrorism” and Pompeo recommended designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a foreign terrorist organization, which would be the first time that the United States designated a unit of another government’s military as a terrorist group.

The United States shows no interest in initiating public diplomacy efforts focused on this key Middle Eastern country with a population in excess of 80 million people. Public diplomacy is an attempt to find common ground and thus to promote leverage over friends and rivals alike. There have been cases in the past where the United States was able to implement good faith public diplomacy efforts with hostile nations so as to ratchet down tensions in search of mutual accommodation and increased U.S. influence. In the case of Iran, however, what we see now is more like a cold war with no thawing in sight—the complete antithesis of public diplomacy. It is a policy of all sticks and no carrots.

The relationship between the United States and Iran is at a dangerous juncture. Yet again, the United States is going it alone rather than adhering to established international norms and agreements. 

Washington’s abrupt policy shift behavior has engendered considerable international condemnation. At the recent Munich Security Forum, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was scathing in her criticisms of the United States for walking away from the JCPOA. In a joint statement after Trump withdrew the United States, Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May noted pointedly that the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the nuclear deal remained the “binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute.” Withdrawing from the deal was problematic not only vis-à-vis a more reasoned policy towards Iran, but also dismissive of our allies and deal partners, especially the UK, France, Germany, and the European Union. This was a P5+1 agreement, not a bilateral U.S.-Iranian one.

A further consequence of withdrawing from the deal was the illogical decision in terms of the findings of the U.S. intelligence community. After President Trump’s decision to withdraw, there was congressional testimony from CIA Director Gina Haspel, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats who all noted that Iran is in compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. Trump responded by calling them “naïve” about Iran irrespective of the intelligence findings.

The relationship between the United States and Iran is at a dangerous juncture. Washington’s unremitting hostility to Iran does not have a genuine policy corollary. Is the United States seeking regime change, civil war, another popular revolution? Other than total Iranian capitulation, is there a realistic way out of this impasse? Clearly, U.S. allies do not support the United States’ approach to Iran. Yet again, the United States is going it alone rather than adhering to established international norms and agreements. 

The United States should lead by example. This is one situation in which public diplomacy would be especially powerful as the current U.S. policy of public hostility instead strengthens the very political and cultural forces in Iran that the United States should be striving to weaken.

It is in the interest of the global community to have a collaborative Iran and not one that is cornered, desperate, and pushed into areas of even greater hostility. It is especially noteworthy that over 60 percent of Iran’s 80 million people are under 30 years old. If public diplomacy were to leverage the attraction young people feel globally towards the United States and its culture would be a far more powerful response to Iran’s sclerotic, corrupt, and fossilized theocratic elite than hectoring and isolating. The Trump administration should focus on building mutual trust and productive relationships with the future generations of Iran, which by definition would cleave it away from the unpopular ruling elite in Tehran.

The United States should lead by example. It should subtly but unmistakably drive a wedge between the Iranian people and its unpopular leadership. This is one situation in which public diplomacy would be especially powerful as the current U.S. policy of public hostility instead strengthens the very political and cultural forces in Iran that the United States should be striving to weaken.


Dr. Jerrold D. Green is the president and CEO of the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Gemma Stewart is the Communications Project Fellow at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

Justin Chapman is the Communications Officer at the Pacific Council on International Policy.

This article was originally published in the Summer/Fall 2019 issue of USC’s Public Diplomacy Magazine.