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Elliot Ackerman on the Anabasis

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Why the Classics? reprints an essay from their archives:

As the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan dominates the news, we wanted to bring you an essay by Elliot Ackerman from our archives about a work focused on the difficulty and danger of military adventures abroad: Xenophon’s Anabasis. This book offers — according to Ackerman, who is a veteran of Afghanistan, a recipient of the Silver Star and Bronze Star, and a National Book Award finalist — in its account of a doomed Greek expedition into Persia an important lens for Americans to think about our wars both in Afghanistan and Iraq and our country’s understanding of what war is and what it means.   

A western army marches to within sixty kilometers of Baghdad. Their leader, the youngest son of a great ruler, has gathered them to oust the current regime. They face a large irregular force. A pitched battle is fought. The result is inconclusive. The rudderless army suffers greatly as it attempts to extricate itself from the conflict and find its way home. Perhaps this sounds like something we’ve recently lived through, but it’s not. It’s Xenophon’s Anabasis — the title loosely translates as The March Up Country.

This book — written around 370 B.C., almost thirty years after the events it relates — chronicles an expedition of 10,000 Greek mercenaries under the command of Cyrus against his brother the Persian King Artaxerxes II between 401 and 399 B.C. Arguably the first soldier-turned-author, Xenophon was an Athenian of noble birth, but one who had little taste for the hectic and cosmopolitan life of fifth-century Athens. He had a predilection for war and was an admirer of the Spartans, then ruling the Hellespont after the humiliating Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian Wars.

The Anabasis opens when Xenophon’s old friend Proxenus, a Theban mercenary serving as a general in the army gathering under Cyrus, invites him to participate in the campaign. Unsure whether or not to join the march, Xenophon consults with the philosopher Socrates who advises him to ask the Oracle at Delphi for guidance. “Xenophon went and put the question to Apollo, to which of the gods he must pray and do sacrifice, so that he might best accomplish his intended journey and return in safety, with good fortune.” The oracle tells Xenophon that he should pray to Apollo, but when he reports this to Socrates, the philosopher is quick to point out that Xenophon asked the wrong question. Rather than inquiring as to whether or not he should go on the campaign or stay at home in the first place, he instead only asked whom he should pray to so that he would achieve the best result once he left.

It seems asking the wrong question in the run-up to war isn’t just a 21st-century phenomenon. And Xenophon isn’t alone among the foreign commanders in asking them. Cyrus, the youngest son of the recently deceased Darius II, was by all accounts a charismatic leader. Xenophon writes of him, “that he should triumph over his friends in the great matters of well-doing is not surprising, seeing that he was much more powerful than they, but that he should go beyond them in minute attentions, and in an eager desire to give pleasure, seems to me, I must confess, more admirable.” In short, Cyrus is the type of guy you’d like to have a beer with. He leverages that personal magnetism when convincing each member of his coalition to contribute troops to the march, tailoring his reason for fighting to whatever they wish to hear as opposed to his true aim: deposing his brother as King of Persia.

It isn’t until Cyrus’s army has marched from Greece into what is now Iraq that he finally lets them know the real purpose of the expedition. Upon receiving the news, the Greek generals under Cyrus confer among themselves, concluding that having advanced this deep into enemy territory they are committed, that Cyrus, despite this one deception, has always treated them fairly, and that they should chose to fight on his behalf. The battle is joined on September 3rd, 401 B.C., just outside of Baghdad, at a place called Cunaxa.

That fateful day opens with a series of Persian feints, in which Artaxerxes’s army attempts to pull Cyrus deeper and deeper into their territory. The strategy works and when Cyrus commits to battle it’s because he believes he’s caught an adversary who is too weak to engage him. The Greek hoplites on the army’s left flank, anchored along the banks of the Euphrates River, quickly defeat the Persians opposite them. Witnessing their success from the army’s center, Cyrus’s enthusiasm becomes irrepressible. Then he sees his brother Artaxerxes across the battlefield. Xenophon captures the moment in all its glorious, simple horror: “Unable to longer contain himself, with a cry, ‘I see the man,’ he rushed at him . . . As Cyrus delivered the blow, someone struck him with a javelin under the eye severely . . . Cyrus himself fell, and eight of his bravest companions lay on top of him.”

The son of the great king, seemingly destined for greatness himself, is slain by a javelin launched from the hand of a common soldier named Mithridates. That common soldier is richly rewarded by his king Artaxerxes — until he drunkenly boasts aloud that it was he who killed Cyrus. The same king who rewarded him now tortures him to death via scaphism, a punishment synonymous for Greek peoples with the cruelty and excess of the Persians. Artaxerxes shackles Mithridates inside a box filled with flies, wasps, and larva after coating his body with milk and honey; the soldier will slowly be eaten alive.

This story presents a hard lesson, but one absolutely central to the Anabasis: chance, not intelligence, bravery, or skill, exalts or casts down men’s fate.

Xenophon doesn’t expound on the what-ifs. Rather he shows throughout the Anabasis the fickle swing of fortune in wartime. When the Greek generals suggest that Ariaeus, Cyrus’s second-in-command, take up his claim, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the Anabasis itself is interesting reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 August 2021 at 1:51 pm

The Man Who Refused to Spy

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Laura Secor writes in the New Yorker:

In the spring of 2017, an Iranian materials scientist named Sirous Asgari received a call from the United States consulate in Dubai. Two years earlier, he and his wife, Fatemeh, had applied for visas to visit America, where their children lived. The consulate informed him that their requests had finally been approved. The timing was strange: President Donald Trump had just issued an executive order banning Iranians from entering the U.S. on the very kind of visa that Asgari and his wife were granted. Maybe applications filed before the visa ban had been grandfathered through, or some career State Department official wanted to give families like his a last chance to reunite.

Asgari, who was then fifty-six years old, considered the U.S. a second home. In the nineties, he had attended graduate school at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and he came to like America’s commonsense efficiency. His daughter Sara was born in the U.S., making her an American citizen. His two older children, Mohammad and Zahra, had attended American universities and stayed on. Asgari was now a professor at Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, and former graduate students of his worked in top American laboratories; his scientific research, on metallurgy, sometimes took him to Cleveland, where he had close colleagues at Case Western Reserve University.

Asgari and Fatemeh boarded a flight to New York on June 21, 2017. They planned to see Mohammad, who lived in the city, and then proceed to California, where they would visit Zahra and meet the man she had married. But when the Asgaris stepped off the jet bridge at J.F.K. two officials accosted them.

The officials whisked the Asgaris into a room, where a phalanx of F.B.I. agents awaited them. Asgari was under arrest, the agents told him, accused of serious charges in a sealed indictment whose contents they couldn’t reveal at the airport. He could go with them to a hotel and look over the indictment, or he could go to a local detention center, and then be transferred to Cleveland, for an arraignment. In the turmoil of the moment, he barely registered that nobody had stamped his visa or returned his passport.

Asgari was fluent in English, but the word “indictment” was new to him. He’d never had a problem with the law. He was a high-spirited man accustomed to middle-class comforts, a professor’s lectern, and an easy repartee with people in authority. Surely, he figured, he was the subject of some misunderstanding, and so he would go to the hotel and quickly clear it up.

At the hotel, the agents handed Asgari a twelve-page indictment. It charged him with theft of trade secrets, visa fraud, and eleven counts of wire fraud. To Asgari, the indictment read like a spy thriller. It centered on a four-month visit that he had made to Case Western four years earlier, which the document presented as part of a scheme to defraud an American valve manufacturer of its intellectual property in order to benefit the Iranian government. The punishment, the agents made clear, could be many years in prison. Their evidence had been gathered from five years of wiretaps, which had swept up his e-mails before, during, and after the visit in question.

The charges were nonsense, Asgari said. The processes he’d studied at Case Western were well known to materials scientists—they were hardly trade secrets. If the government really meant to prosecute him, it would inevitably lose in court.

“We haven’t lost a case,” one agent told Asgari.

“This will be your first,” he replied.

Asgari didn’t realize it, but a vise was closing around him. He had never seen his visits to America through the prism of its tensions with Iran. “Science is wild and has no homeland,” an Iranian philosopher had once said, and Asgari believed this to be so. His scientific community spanned the globe, its instruments and findings universally accessible. That national boundaries and political intrigue should interfere with intellectual exchange seemed to him unnatural. He had confidence in the capacity of cool rationality to set matters right.

If he could just make the F.B.I. agents understand the science, Asgari told himself, they would see their mistake. He described the relationships and the laboratory equipment that had attracted him to Case Western, and explained how the properties of a material emanated from the arrangement of its atoms, and could be altered by engineers who understood that structure. But even as he talked he began to have a sinking feeling that an indictment was not something he could dissipate with words.

That night, Fatemeh went home with Mohammad, and two guards stayed in Asgari’s hotel room as he slept. In the morning, the agents drove Asgari to Cleveland, his wife and son following behind.

He was arraigned at the federal courthouse and delivered to the Lake County Adult Detention Facility, a maximum-security jail in Painesville, Ohio. For the first of the seventy-two days he would spend in that facility, Asgari occupied an isolated cell. Lying on his bed, he could hear other inmates screaming.

The F.B.I. had reason to be interested in a man like Asgari. Sharif University was Iran’s premier technical institution, and the instruments and insights of materials science could be used to build missiles and centrifuges as easily as to improve the iPhone or to better understand the properties of a gem. Asgari’s concerns fell squarely on the civilian side of the line. “I never intentionally worked for destructive purposes,” he told me, during a series of conversations that began in 2018. “If you have a pen, you can write a love letter, or you can write instructions for making a bomb. That’s not a problem with the pen.”

Asgari’s career was a love letter to the atom. He was dazzled . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US in practice doesn’t think much of human rights.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2020 at 4:44 pm

Saudi Arabia Is the Worst Country in the World

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Kevin Drum blogs at Mother Jones:

As you all know, one of Saudi Arabia’s oil complexes got hit by drones and cruise missiles over the weekend. The Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken responsibility, but maybe the attack actually originated from Iran instead? Over at National Review, Jim Geraghty says that if this turns out to be the case, we have four options:

  • Do nothing.
  • Try to bribe Iran into better behavior by signing on to France’s $15 billion loan plan.
  • Let the Saudis respond however they want.
  • Have the Pentagon respond.

Needless to say, all four of these options presume that Saudi Arabia is our ally and Iran is a mortal foe. But why?

I’m hardly a fan of Iran. They chant Death to America! and hold Americans hostage in their prisons. They support terrorist groups around the world that have killed scores of Americans. They bankroll Hezbollah and other extremist groups. There’s not much to like there.

But nothing Iran has done holds even a tiny candle to Saudi Arabia’s behavior. The theological terrorists who control religion in the Kingdom have been exporting their murderous anti-Americanism for decades. Their citizens were behind 9/11 and they bear a fair amount of responsibility for the rise of ISIS as well. They’ve been fighting Yemen forever and their current war has included endless atrocities—which Geraghty generously suggests were merely “botched” operations.¹ Internally they’re as repressive a regime as you can imagine, even more so than Iran. Just recently they murdered a critic and then carved him up with a bone saw to get rid of the evidence. They are forever trying to get America to lay down American lives in their endless proxy wars against Shiite Iran.

I could continue, but why bother? I would say that over the past few decades, Saudi Arabia has been America’s worst nightmare. Not Russia, not China, not Iran, not North Korea. All of them are frankly pipsqueaks compared to the damage Saudi Arabia has done to American interests.

And yet . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 September 2019 at 1:43 pm

Donald Trump Is a One-Man Foreign Policy Catastrophe

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

Doyle McManus reviews Donald Trump’s foreign policy:

As president he named himself negotiator-in-chief and tried to cajole North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to abandon nuclear weapons. He reimposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, betting he could force the ayatollahs to change their ways. He vowed to force China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union to give up what he called unfair trade practices. He backed an uprising in Venezuela aimed at toppling its leftist president, Nicolas Maduro. He declared victory against Islamic State and ordered U.S. troops home from Syria. In his spare time, he asked his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to arrange peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

He has achieved none of those outcomes.

But he might declare war on Iran. And impose tariffs on European cars. And commit the United States to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 May 2019 at 11:09 am

Trump Is Doing the Same Thing on Iran That George W. Bush Did on Iraq

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Understandable in that Trump is devoid of originality and thus naturally must copy. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Last week, intelligence officials testified publicly that Iran has not resumed its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. The next day, President Trump called these officials “extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” and advised, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

The first-blush response to this presidential outburst was to dump it in the same category as Trump’s other public eruption against members of his government who undercut his preferred narratives with inconvenient facts. That response is probably correct: this Trump tantrum is probably like all the other Trump tantrums. But there is another possible meaning to this episode: Trump’s rejection of intelligence assessments of Iran’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities eerily echoes the Bush administration’s rejection of Iraq’s WMD capabilities a decade and a half earlier.

Shortly after their testimony, the intelligence officials were summoned to the Oval office for a photographed session in which they publicly smoothed over their breach with the president, and (according to Trump) assured him that their remarks had been misconstrued, despite having been delivered in public and broadcast in their entirety. Yet Trump’s interview broadcast Sunday with Margaret Brennan on CBS made clear how little little headway they made in regaining his trust.

Trump told Brennan he plans to maintain troops in Iraq because, “I want to be able to watch Iran … We’re going to keep watching and we’re going to keep seeing and if there’s trouble, if somebody is looking to do nuclear weapons or other things, we’re going to know it before they do.” But would he accept the assessments that he received? No, Trump replied, he wouldn’t.

His reason for rejecting this intelligence was consistent. Trump is unable to separate the question, Do I like Iran’s government and its foreign policy? from the question Is Iran building a nuclear weapon? Tell Trump that Iran is abiding by its nuclear commitment, and what he hears you saying is, “Iran is a lovely state run by wonderful people.”

If that account of Trump’s thinking sounds too simplistic, just look at his answers:

I’m not going to stop [intelligence officials] from testifying. They said they were mischaracterized — maybe they were maybe they weren’t, I don’t really know — but I can tell you this, I want them to have their own opinion and I want them to give me their opinion. But, when I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problems …

My intelligence people, if they said in fact that Iran is a wonderful kindergarten, I disagree with them 100 percent. It is a vicious country that kills many people …

So when my intelligence people tell me how wonderful Iran is — if you don’t mind, I’m going to just go by my own counsel.

In fact, intelligence officials did not deny Iran has caused problems. They simply asserted facts about its nuclear weapons. Trump cannot hear those facts without translating it into Iran being comprehensively “wonderful.”

Even more remarkably, Trump explained that intelligence assessments could not be trusted because they had failed in the run-up to the Iraq war:

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to move on here but I should say your intel chiefs do say Iran’s abiding by that nuclear deal. I know you think it’s a bad deal, but—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I disagree with them. I’m — I’m — by the way—

MARGARET BRENNAN: You disagree with that assessment?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —I have intel people, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree. President Bush had intel people that said Saddam Hussein—

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sure.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: —in Iraq had nuclear weapons — had all sorts of weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? Those intel people didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and they got us tied up in a war that we should have never been in.

Trump’s understanding of this history is almost perfectly backwards. U.S. intelligence officials never said Iraq “had nuclear weapons,” or even anything close to that. They did overstate Iraqi weapons capabilities. But — crucially — the Bush administration also pressured intelligence agencies to inflate their findings, as John Judis and Spencer Ackerman reported in 2003, and administration officials overstated the intelligence that was produced, as the Senate Intelligence Committee found in 2008.

The backdrop to this episode does have some important differences with the current moment. The Bush administration had been plunged into an adrenal panic by the 9/11 attacks. Its rush toward war was largely choreographed by Dick Cheney, a skilled bureaucratic operator, and enjoyed broad public legitimacy created by the national unity bestowed upon Bush by the surprise attack. None of these conditions apply to the easily distracted, childlike, and deeply unpopular sitting president.

And while Cheney has departed the scene, National Security Council director John Bolton has assumed a somewhat parallel role. An ultrahawk with a long record of punishing subordinates who undermine the factual basis for his preferred policies, Bolton has emerged as Trump’s most influential foreign policy adviser. Bolton in 2015 insisted that Iran was racing toward a nuclear weapon. (“Even absent palpable proof, like a nuclear test, Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident.”) He likewise concluded that diplomacy could never work (“The inescapable conclusion is that Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program”) and that “only military action” could stop it.

As Trump has grown alienated from his national security apparatus, Bolton appears to be the one remaining official who has retained a measure of his trust. And while he may not have a Cheney-like ability to manipulate the president, Bolton does benefit from a near vacuum in rival power sources. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2019 at 4:46 pm

American Exceptionalism Is a Dangerous Myth

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Eric Levitz writes in New York:

Donald Trump has done more to elevate the left’s critique of U.S. foreign policy than any politician in modern memory.

As a presidential candidate, the mogul told Republican primary audiences that George W. Bush had lied the United States into Iraq; that said war had done a “tremendous disservice to humanity”; and that America could have saved countless lives by investing $5 trillion in domestic infrastructure instead. As commander-in-chief, Trump has suggested that there is no moral distinction between the U.S. and other great powers; that American foreign policy in the Middle East is largely dictated by the interests of arms manufacturers; and that the U.S. judges foreign regimes by their utility to American economic interests, not their commitment to human rights.

But if Trump’s descriptions of geopolitics echo Noam Chomsky, his prescriptions owe more to Attila the Hun. The president does see the invasion of Iraq as a criminal waste — but only because the U.S. failed to expropriate the region’s oil fields. He does imply that, in the eyes of the American state, Raytheon’s profits count more than journalists’ lives —but he sees that as a good thing. And when Trump suggests our country isn’t “so innocent,” he isn’t imploring neoconservatives to hold America to higher moral standards, but rather, to hold foreign autocrats to lower ones.

In other words, the Trump presidency can be read as an object lesson in the virtues of hypocrisy. Having a global hegemon that preaches human rights — while propping up dictators and incinerating schoolchildren — is bad. But having one that does those things while preaching nihilism is worse; not least because even a nominal commitment to liberal values can function as a constraint against their violation. Trump’s distaste for the whole “shining city on a hill” shtick has, among other things, enabled the Pentagon to tolerate higher levels of civilian casualties in the Middle East, the Israeli government to accelerate settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, and the Saudi crown prince to take a bonesaw to international law.

It’s understandable, then, that many liberal intellectuals are eager to revive the national myths that Trump has busted. Such thinkers concede that Trump has highlighted flaws in the triumphalist, Cold War narrative about American global leadership. And they acknowledge the necessity of rethinking what “leading the free world” truly requires of the United States. But they nevertheless insist that America’s self-conception as an exceptional power — which is to say, as a hegemon whose foreign policy is shaped by universal ideals (as opposed to mercenary interests) — isn’t just a beneficent fiction, but an actual fact. And that compulsion is unfortunate; because it will be difficult for liberals to realize their vision for America’s exceptional future, if they refuse to grapple with its unexceptional past.

In the current issue of The Atlantic, former Hillary Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan presents one of the more compelling cases for making America exceptional again. Against Dick Cheney’s arrogant, unilateralist approach to world leadership — and Trump’s nihilistic disavowal of America’s international obligations — Sullivan offers a call for restoring the U.S. to its former role as a benevolent hegemon, one whose global supremacy is legitimated by its demonstrable commitment to spreading peace, democracy, and shared prosperity.

Crucially, Sullivan recognizes that this restoration is contingent on sweeping reform. He acknowledges that,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 January 2019 at 2:30 pm

Mohammed bin Salman Is the Next Saddam Hussein

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The US has a bad habit of aligning itself with dictators and authoritarian rulers, quite a few of whom it has helped to power. Ryan Costello and Sina Toossi write in Foreign Policy:

In the 1980s, the United States embraced a brutal Middle Eastern tyrant simply because he opposed Iran. Washington should not repeat the same mistake today.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly shocked over the backlash to his government’s killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In a recent phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, according to the Wall Street Journal, his confusion over official Washington’s furor “turned into rage,” as he spoke of feeling “betrayed by the West” and threatened to “look elsewhere” for foreign partners.

Saudi Arabia’s indignation at the United States would not be the first time an autocratic U.S. ally in the Middle East has assumed it could act with virtual impunity due to its alignment with Washington in countering Iran. Indeed, the Saudi prince’s meteoric rise to power bears striking similarities to that of a past U.S. ally-turned-nemesis whose brutality was initially overlooked by his Washington patrons: former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Years before Saddam became Washington’s chief foe, he enjoyed significant support from the United States and other Western countries. This ended after he decided to invade Kuwait in 1990. However, the lead-up to that conflict and Washington’s earlier patronage of Saddam provide instructive lessons for U.S. regional policy today and the major risks of not responding forcefully to the assassination of Khashoggi.

Mohammed bin Salman’s gradual and brutal consolidation of power, marked by the detention and torture of his domestic rivals, evokes the “nation-changing assault on dissent within Iraq’s ruling party in 1979 by a young President Saddam Hussein,” Toby Dodge, a consulting senior fellow for the Middle East at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Bloomberg last year. “The concentration of power in one youthful, ambitious and unpredictable pair of hands is worrying now as it was then.” Washington’s steadfast support of Saddam during the 1980s not only enabled his rampage against his own people and neighboring countries, but also eventually threatened U.S. security interests.

The U.S. relationship with Saddam Hussein began in 1963, when, according to the former National Security Council official Roger Morris, the CIA under President John F. Kennedy “carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein” a coup to overthrow the government of Gen. Abdel Karim Kassem, who had five years earlier toppled Iraq’s pro-American monarchy.

However, U.S. ties with Saddam truly began to solidify in February 1982, when the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the State Department’s terrorism list, paving the way for providing military assistance to Iraq. This occurred roughly 17 months after Saddam’s invasion of Iran, while Iraqi forces were occupying the oil-rich southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan that Iraq sought to annex. In December 1983, President Ronald Reagan dispatched Donald Rumsfeld as a presidential envoy to meet Saddam and set the stage for normalizing U.S.-Iraqi relations. U.S. support for Saddam during the war would grow to include, according to the Washington Post, “large-scale intelligence sharing, supply of cluster bombs through a Chilean front company, and facilitating Iraq’s acquisition of chemical and biological precursors.”

Saddam’s devastating use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War, both against Iranian military and civilian targets and on his own people, did not deter U.S. support. Rumsfeld’s meeting with Saddam took place despite Washington possessing firm evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons use beginning in 1983. Prior to Rumsfeld’s trip, on Nov. 1, 1983, senior State Department official Jonathan Howe had toldSecretary of State George Shultz of intelligence reports showing that Iraq was resorting to “almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]” against the Iranians.

While Iran received some weaponry from the United States through the Iran-Contra affair, Washington tipped the scales much further in favor of Saddam. When intelligence showed Iran mounting a major offensive in early 1988 that threatened to break through Iraqi lines, Reagan wrote to his secretary of defense: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.” Toward the end of the war, “U.S. intelligence was flowing freely to Hussein’s military,” according to a 2013 article in Foreign Policy, despite U.S. officials being “fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons.”

According to declassified CIA documents, two-thirds of all Iraqi chemical weapons deployed during the war were used in the last 18 months of the conflict, when U.S.-Iraqi cooperation peaked. This included the March 1988 genocidal chemical weapons attackon the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja, which led to the deaths of as many as 5,000 civilians. Ironically, this attack would later be used by the George W. Bush administration in 2003 as part of its pretext for invading Iraq to eliminate the country’s by then nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

A few months after the Halabja attack, in September 1988, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy wrotein a memo on the chemical weapons question that “the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is … important to our long-term political and economic objectives.” Today, the Trump administration is echoing this language when discussing the U.S.-Saudi relationship, despite Saudi Arabia’s killing of Khashoggi and its devastating assault on Yemen, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently proclaiming that Saudi Arabia is “an important strategic alliance of the United States” and that “the Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us.”

It was no surprise, then, that on the eve of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Saddam felt he had unconditional backing from the United States. This impression was reinforced by Saddam’s meeting with then-U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie on July 25, 1990, a week before his invasion of Kuwait. During their fateful encounter, according to a diplomatic cable summarizing the meeting, Glaspie stressed “President [George H.W.] Bush’s desire for friendship” and that “the president had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq.” When Saddam raised the issue of Kuwait, which he had been relentlessly threatening, Glaspie stated that the United States took “no position on these Arab affairs.”

To this day, academic experts such as the Harvard University professor and FPcolumnist Stephen M. Walt contend that “the United States did unwittinglygive a green light to Saddam” to invade Kuwait—much as he invaded Iran—without a strong response from the United States. Walt adds that, contrary to some perceptions, Glaspie was “following the instructions she had been given” and that “she was doing what the Bush administration wanted at this crucial meeting.” U.S. diplomatic cables from Glaspie’s era also reveal, according to Germany’s Der Spiegel, that “Glaspie and her predecessor painted the regime in an extremely favorable light from the very outset, overlooked Saddam’s widely-known crimes, and were so influenced by mutual enmity for Iran as to be negligently uncritical.”

The United States was wrong to back Saddam simply because he opposed Iran, a mistake that has haunted it for decades. Not only were more than 500,000 U.S. troops required to dislodge Saddam from Kuwait, resultingin 382 U.S. military casualties, but it also placed the U.S. government on a warpath that resulted in the 2003 toppling of Saddam, an event that beyond its humanitarian and financial costs for the Iraqi and American people led to the rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and inextricably altered the regional balance of power in favor of Iran—whose largely Shiite allies have assumed power in Baghdad by way of democratic elections.

Today, the Trump administration’s reflexive support of Mohammed bin Salman is heading in the same direction as Washington’s ill-fated support of Saddam Hussein. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s important.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2018 at 7:23 am

The mafia-like nature of authoritarian states, and why it matters

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Clay Fuller writes at the American Enterprise Institute:

God bless Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He is in a tough spot, but he continues to nail it. Two weeks ago, he made headlines when he correctly pointed out the Iranian government is run by “something that resembles the mafia more than a government.” The most fundamental and overlooked observation of the post-Cold War era is that all authoritarian governments, in their myriad institutional forms, operate more like criminal syndicates than the traditional Westphalian conceptualization of sovereign governance.

In “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security,” Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace uses her experience in Afghanistan to articulate Pompeo’s point. My point is that it is universally applicable: No two dictatorships are the same and neither are any two transnational criminal organizations, but there are common attributes among all of them. All engage in, and in fact depend upon, theft. Whether it is intellectual property, land, resources, foreign aid, or people that are stolen, dictatorships operate outside of internationally established rule of law traditions. The criminal nature of modern authoritarian governance is one the policy world is understandably reluctant to accept for diplomatic, trade, and security reasons. But a growing number of scholars see the writing on the walls.

Most people will accept the claim that organized crime fuels corruption. Fewer will agree on who, how, why, and when. By taking well-established measures of corruption and democracy from the Varieties of Democracy Institute and Freedom House, respectively, analyses show that non-democracies after 1991 have grown far more corrupt than Cold War non-democracies on average. This provides some evidence for the important insight that Pompeo applied to Iran, but more importantly, it informs a general logic of national security for the modern world.

All of America’s national security threats are either authoritarian states or are supported by them. I argue that all authoritarian states are kleptocracies because by definition, authoritarians maintain an artificial monopoly on the use of political power. They support their absolute power by pillaging their own and others’ economies, using the loot to purchase the support of elites in militaries, political parties, connected families, and loyalists in governments at home and abroad.

Ideology plays a part, but not like it did during the Cold War. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now functionally capitalist. Putin’s oligarchs do not support his autocratic rule because they believe it is what Lenin prescribed. It is doubtful that Kim Jong-Un’s inner circle truly believes that “Juche” (North Korea’s official ideology of self-reliance) and nuclear missiles are the most profitable and sustainable path forward. I have a hard time believing the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp wakes up every morning and thinks, “Hey, wiping Israel off the map and starting World War III sounds like a good idea.”

Surely some autocratic elites drink the ideological Kool-Aid, but arguably most do it for the enhanced living standards they receive from corrupt systems. CCP elites are the fastest growing class of billionaires. Russian oligarchs are infamous for their luxurious lifestyles. The elite in North Korea have internet access, consume Western media and whiskey, drive Mercedes, and buy smartphones. The IRGC, as Secretary Pompeo articulated, treat themselves very nicely in comparison to the Iranian people from whom they steal.

If autocratic elites do not support their regimes for personal gain, they do it out of fear. Dissent is often equivalent to a death sentence. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister of Russia, was assassinated just outside the Kremlin for opposing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Last year, North Korea announced the execution of five senior security officials using anti-aircraft guns, ostensibly for making false reports. Such gruesome tactics demonstrate the lengths to which autocrats will go to punish disloyalty.

Regardless of their motivations, the corruption of mafia-like elite circles are the soft spot of post-Cold War authoritarian states. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 August 2018 at 8:47 am

Pompeo speech on Iran reveals that Plan B consists of wishful thinking

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washington Post:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was supposed to announce the Plan B for Iran — how we were going to fix the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action by exiting the deal without our allies. Instead we got bluster and a wish list unattached to a coherent strategy for attaining our goal. The speech was mislabeled as “a new Iran strategy.” It was missing the strategy — a cogent explanation as to how we will unilaterally obtain what we could not when we had a united front. On a more welcomed note, Pompeo said the Trump administration would go the treaty route. (One hopes the same is true with regard to North Korea, in which concern is growing that a desperate president will give away the store.)

Pompeo threatened to crush Iran with new sanctions. Vowing to make them the strongest sanctions in history, he did not explain how U.S. unilateral sanctions could be stronger than the multilateral sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place. Pompeo seems to have abandoned the pretense that European allies will exit the deal. Instead he hinted, but did not say outright, that we’d start slapping sanctions on allies who stayed in the deal. (“Over the coming weeks, we will send teams of specialists to countries around the world to further explain administration policy, to discuss the implications of sanctions we imposition, and to listen.”)

Pompeo listed 12 requirements for a new Iran deal, including ceasing all enrichment (even the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes)  and “unqualified” access to all sites as well as non-nuclear items such as withdrawal of all troops from Syria and ending support for Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen and for Hezbollah. As the Associated Press reported, “Taken together, the demands would constitute a wholesale transformation by Iran’s government, and they hardened the perception that what Trump’s administration really seeks is a change in the Iranian regime.”

Pompeo declared: “We will ensure freedom of navigation on the waters in the region. We will work to prevent and counteract any Iranian malign cyber activity. We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them. Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East.” We have failed to do any of this to date, and it is entirely unclear why we could not have remained in the JCPOA. Moreover, having pulled out of the JCPOA without our allies, it is far from clear why they would cooperate with us on more ambitious undertakings.

The demands were so over-the-top as to convey a total lack of seriousness. “If you read the 12 requirements Pompeo listed for a new deal, it becomes immediately apparent that the administration does not take diplomacy seriously,” says Jake Sullivan, who served in various capacities in the Obama administration and was Hillary Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser during the 2016 campaign. “They set the bar at a place they know the Iranians can never accept. And the rest of the world, including our allies, will see that clearly. So now the question is, now that the U.S. has abandoned even the pretense of diplomacy, will secondary sanctions work? I think we will see the rest of the world drag their feet and look for workarounds, and the sanctions will be considerably less effective as a result.”

Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress was even more blunt. “It is delusional — the triumph of naive bluster over the hard-won experience of the unified effort it took with the rest of the world’s leading powers to get the 2015 deal,” he said. “There was a better pathway to strengthening the deal — one that strengthened support internationally and at home as well. But the formula Team Trump is using will weaken America’s hand on the nuclear issue and also will likely put us in a less advantageous position to deal with Iran’s destabilizing policies in the region and its support for terrorism.” Why is that? Katulis argues that the all-or-nothing-with-no-leverage approach “further fragments political support at home for U.S. engagement overseas and created unnecessary ruptures with allies at a time when we need to build coalitions at home and overseas to get real results.”

Indeed, our closest ally immediately threw cold water on the grand plan. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson remarked: “The prospect of a new jumbo Iran treaty is going to be very, very difficult. … I don’t see that being very easy to achieve, in anything like a reasonable timetable.”

In the short run, we can expect the European Union to negotiate with Iran to increase investment and support in order to keep Iran in the deal. The administration will then need to contemplate whether it is really willing to declare economic warfare on our own allies to force them out of a deal which, for now, Iran is in compliance with. We’ve gone from a unified front against Iran to a unified front against President Trump’s harebrained scheme. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2018 at 12:31 pm

Trump vs. the “Deep State”

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Evan Osnos reports in the New Yorker:

Two months after Donald Trump’s Inauguration, the White House took a sudden interest in a civil servant named Sahar Nowrouzzadeh. At thirty-four, she was largely unknown outside a small community of national-security specialists. Nowrouzzadeh, born in Trumbull, Connecticut, grew up with no connection to Washington. Her parents had emigrated from Iran, so that her father could finish his training in obstetrics, and they hoped that she would become a doctor or, failing that, an engineer or a lawyer. But on September 11, 2001, Nowrouzzadeh was a freshman at George Washington University, which is close enough to the Pentagon that students could see plumes of smoke climb into the sky. She became interested in global affairs and did internships at the State Department and the National Iranian American Council, a Washington nonprofit. George W. Bush’s Administration appealed for help from Americans familiar with the culture of the Middle East, and, after graduation, Nowrouzzadeh became an analyst in the Department of Defense, using her command of Arabic, Persian, and Dari. (Her brother, a Navy doctor, served in Iraq.) For nearly a decade, Nowrouzzadeh worked mostly on secret programs, winning awards from the Departments of Defense and State, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the F.B.I.

In 2014, she was detailed to the National Security Council, as an Iran specialist, and helped to broker the nuclear deal. One of the most intensely debated questions among American negotiators was how far they could push Iran for concessions, and Nowrouzzadeh proved unusually able to identify, and exploit, subtle divides in Tehran. “She was aggressive,” Norman Roule, the C.I.A.’s highest-ranking Iran specialist at the time, told me. “She worked very hard to follow policymakers’ goals. She could speak Persian. She could understand culture. She is one of the most patriotic people I know.” In 2016, Nowrouzzadeh joined the policy-planning staff of the State Department, a team of experts who advised Secretary of State John Kerry. At times, she advocated a harsher approach to Iran than Kerry was pursuing, but he cherished Nowrouzzadeh’s “unvarnished judgment,” he told me. “I liked someone who relied on facts and could tell me when she disagreed with my interpretation. Give me that any day over a bunch of yes-men.”

On March 14, 2017, Conservative Review, a Web site that opposed the Iran deal, published an article portraying Nowrouzzadeh as a traitorous stooge. The story, titled “Iran Deal Architect Is Running Tehran Policy at the State Dept.,” derided her as a “trusted Obama aide,” whose work “resulted in an agreement that has done enormous damage to the security interests of the United States.” David Wurmser, who had been an adviser to Vice-President Dick Cheney, e-mailed the article to Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House. “I think a cleaning is in order here,” Wurmser wrote. Gingrich forwarded the message to an aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with the subject line “i thought you should be aware of this.”

As the article circulated inside the Administration, Sean Doocey, a White House aide overseeing personnel, e-mailed colleagues to ask for details of Nowrouzzadeh’s “appointment authority”—the rules by which a federal worker can be hired, moved, or fired. He received a reply from Julia Haller, a former Trump campaign worker, newly appointed to the State Department. Haller wrote that it would be “easy” to remove Nowrouzzadeh from the policy-planning staff. She had “worked on the Iran Deal,” Haller noted, “was born in Iran, and upon my understanding cried when the President won.” Nowrouzzadeh was unaware of these discussions. All she knew was that her experience at work started to change.

Every new President disturbs the disposition of power in Washington. Stars fade. Political appointees arrive, assuming control of a bureaucracy that encompasses 2.8 million civilian employees, across two hundred and fifty agencies—from Forest Service smoke jumpers in Alaska to C.I.A. code-breakers in Virginia. “It’s like taking over two hundred and fifty private corporations at one time,” David Lewis, the chair of the political-science department at Vanderbilt University, told me.

Typically, an incoming President seeks to charm, co-opt, and, when necessary, coerce the federal workforce into executing his vision. But Trump got to Washington by promising to unmake the political ecosystem, eradicating the existing species and populating it anew. This project has gone by various names: Stephen Bannon, the campaign chief, called it the “deconstruction of the administrative state”—the undoing of regulations, pacts, and taxes that he believed constrain American power. In Presidential tweets and on Fox News, the mission is described as a war on the “deep state,” the permanent power élite. Nancy McEldowney, who retired last July after thirty years in the Foreign Service, told me, “In the anatomy of a hostile takeover and occupation, there are textbook elements—you decapitate the leadership, you compartmentalize the power centers, you engender fear and suspicion. They did all those things.”

This idea, more than any other, has defined the Administration, which has greeted the federal government not as a machine that could implement its vision but as a vanquished foe. To control it, Trump would need the right help. “I’m going to surround myself only with the best and most serious people,” he said, during the campaign. “We want top-of-the-line professionals.”

Every President expects devotion. Lyndon Johnson wished for an aide who would “kiss my ass in Macy’s window at high noon and tell me it smells like roses. I want his pecker in my pocket.” But Trump has elevated loyalty to the primary consideration. Since he has no fixed ideology, the White House cannot screen for ideas, so it seeks a more personal form of devotion. Kellyanne Conway, one of his most dedicated attendants, refers reverently to the “October 8th coalition,” the campaign stalwarts who remained at Trump’s side while the world listened to a recording of him boasting about grabbing women by the genitals.

Over time, Trump has rid himself of questioners. He dismissed James Comey, the head of the F.B.I., and then Andrew McCabe, his acting replacement. Gary Cohn, the head of the National Economic Council, resigned early this March, after months of private resistance to Trump’s plan for sweeping trade tariffs. A week later, Tillerson was fired by tweet, receiving notice by phone while he was on the toilet. Nine days after that, the national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, who had pressed the President to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, was asked to go, followed quickly by David Shulkin, the head of Veterans Affairs. John Kelly, the once assertive chief of staff, has lost control of access to the Oval Office and of the President’s phone calls; Trump has resumed using his personal cell phone for late-night calls to such confidants as Sean Hannity, of Fox News, who is known in the capital as his “unofficial chief of staff.”

In Washington, where only four per cent of residents voted for Trump, the President hews to a narrow patch of trusted terrain: he rarely ventures beyond his home, his hotel, his golf course, and his plane, taking Air Force One to Mar-a-Lago and to occasional appearances before devoted supporters. He has yet to attend a performance at the Kennedy Center or dine in a restaurant that is not on his own property. As a candidate, Trump rarely went a week without calling a news conference. But in office, as he contends with increasingly intense investigations, he has taken to answering only scattered questions, usually alongside visiting heads of state. He has now gone more than four hundred days without a solo press conference. (Obama held eleven in his first year.)

A culture of fealty compounds itself; conformists thrive, and dissenters depart or refuse to join. By May, the President was surrounded by advisers in name only, who competed to be the most explicitly quiescent. Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, told an interviewer, “My function, really, as an economist is to try to provide the underlying analytics that confirm his intuition. And his intuition is always right in these matters.” Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, remained in office despite the President’s descriptions of him as “weak,” “disgraceful,” and an “idiot.” Sessions has been forgiving, telling a radio show in his home state of Alabama, “That’s just his style. He says what’s on his mind at the time.” Trump has turned, more than ever, to those he knows, often to their detriment. On a whim, he nominated his White House physician, Ronny Jackson, to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. The White House reportedly had not bothered to vet Jackson, leaving it to Congress to discover allegations that he drank on the job and dispensed medication so freely that he had acquired the nickname Candyman. Jackson, who denied these allegations, withdrew his nomination, his reputation wrecked.

After sixteen months, Trump is on his third national-security adviser and his sixth communications director. Across the government, more than half of the six hundred and fifty-six most critical positions are still unfilled. “We’ve never seen vacancies at this scale,” Max Stier, the president and C.E.O. of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that works to make the government more effective, said. “Not anything close.”

Some of the vacancies are deliberate. As a candidate, Trump promised to “cut so much your head will spin.” Amid a strong economy, large numbers of employees are opting to leave the government rather than serve it. In Trump’s first nine months, more than seventy-nine thousand full-time workers quit or retired—a forty-two-per-cent increase over that period in Obama’s Presidency. To Trump and his allies, the departures have been liberating, a purge of obstructionists. “The President now has people around him who aren’t trying to subvert him,” Michael Caputo, a senior campaign adviser, told me. “The more real Trump supporters who pop up in the White House phone book, the better off our nation will be.”

Americans are inured to the personnel drama in the White House—the factions and flameouts and new blood and walking wounded. But the larger drama, Stier said, is unfolding “below the waterline,” far from the cameras and the West Wing, among little-known deputies and officers in the working ranks of government. A senior Administration official called them the “next-level-down guys.” These are the foot soldiers in the war over the “deep state.” “They’re not talked about,” he said. “But they’re huge.”

When Nowrouzzadeh saw the article about her in Conservative Review, she e-mailed her boss, a Trump appointee named Brian Hook. “I am very concerned as it is filled with misinformation,” she wrote. She pointed out that she had entered government under George W. Bush, and added, “I’ve adapted my work to the policy priorities of every administration I have worked for.” Hook didn’t reply. Instead, he forwarded her message to his deputy, Edward Lacey, who dismissed her complaint, writing that she was among the “Obama/Clinton loyalists not at all supportive of President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.”

In the 2013 novel “A Delicate Truth,” John le Carré presents the “deep state” as a moneyed, cultured élite—the “non-governmental insiders from banking, industry, and commerce” whose access to information allows them to rule in secret. Trump’s conception is quite different. A real-estate baron, with the wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. history, Trump is at peace with the plutocracy but at war with the clerks—the apparatchiks who, he claims, are seeking to nullify the election by denying the prerogatives of his Administration.

From the beginning, Americans have disagreed about how to balance partisan loyalty and nonpartisan expertise. When the populist Andrew Jackson reached the White House, in 1829, he packed the government with friends and loyalists, arguing that “more is lost by the long continuance of men in office than is generally to be gained by their experience.” A Jackson ally in the Senate, William Learned Marcy, said, famously, “To the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” Thus began the “spoils system,” in which a winning candidate dispensed most government jobs as gifts. It lasted until 1881, when President James Garfield was shot by a man who believed that he was due a diplomatic post as a reward for supporting Garfield’s campaign. In response, Congress created a civil service in which hiring was based on merit, in the belief that only a workforce free from political interference could earn public trust.

To admirers, America’s civil service became the ballast in the ship of state, exemplified by the National Laboratories, Neil Armstrong, and generations of humble bureaucrats who banned unsafe medications, recalled defective motor vehicles, and monitored conditions at nursing homes. According to the Partnership for Public Service, the federal workforce has included at least sixty-nine winners of the Nobel Prize, most of them scientists with little public profile. All U.S. public servants are bound by an official code of ethics that demands “loyalty to . . . country above loyalty to persons, party or government department.” Ryan Crocker, a diplomat who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria, told me, “I was an Ambassador six times—three times for Republican Administrations, three times for Democratic Administrations. No one elects us. We will, obviously, give policy advice, but when policy is decided we do everything we can to carry it out. I didn’t think the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a spectacularly good idea, but once our troops crossed the line of departure that argument was over.”

But the old tension between loyalty and expertise never subsided. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and also an audio reading of the article.

Later in the article:

The Trump advisers who favored preserving it had been effectively silenced; McMaster and Tillerson were gone, and Mattis had given up making the case.

In their place was John Bolton, a former State Department official who was recently appointed the national-security adviser after a long term as a Fox News backbencher. Bolton, known in Washington as a maximalist hawk, is arguably the most volatile addition to the Administration since its inception—an unrepentant advocate of the Iraq War who has also argued for regime change in Iran and in North Korea. “He lied repeatedly during his time at State,” Wilkerson told me. In 2002, when Bolton was the department’s top arms-control official, he planned to accuse Cuba of developing a secret biological-weapons program. When a lower-ranking intelligence official, Christian Westermann, spoke up to say that the accusation was unsupportable, Bolton tried to have him fired, telling his boss that he wouldn’t take orders from a “mid-level munchkin.”

To Wilkerson, Bolton’s arrival at the center of American national security is alarming. He recalled an encounter in 2002, when Bolton was publicly calling for Bush to confront North Korea. At the time, Wilkerson, who had served thirty-one years in the Army, cautioned Bolton that an attack on Seoul would result in enormous casualties. “John stops me mid-sentence and says, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t do casualties and things like that. That’s your bailiwick, ’ ” Wilkerson told me. “The man has no comprehension of the young men and women that have to carry out his goddam wars.” He continued, “He thinks it’s right to shape a narrative that’s false, so long as that narrative is leading to a ‘better’ purpose.”

During Trump’s march to Washington, he framed his mission as nothing less than regime change: America’s capital was a defeated empire in need of occupation. In the months after the Inauguration, as I watched that rhetoric turn to action, the tactics and personae started to remind me of another experience with regime change. As a reporter embedded with the Marines, I arrived in Baghdad in April, 2003, on the day that Saddam’s statue fell. I covered Iraq off and on for two years, a period in which the U.S. occupation was led from the Green Zone, a fortified enclave in the country’s capital, where Americans lived and worked in a sanctum of swimming pools and black-market Scotch. The Green Zone—officially, the home of the Coalition Provisional Authority—functioned as an extension of the White House, led by political appointees, staffed by civil servants, and attended by waiters in bow ties and paper hats. It was Iraq as the war planners had imagined it would be: orderly, on-message, and driven by the desire to remake the country in the name of capitalism and democracy.

After a year, the Green Zone had acquired another connotation, as a byword for disastrous flaws in the invasion: the failure to stop looters or to restore Iraq’s electricity; the decision to disband the Iraqi Army; the blindness to a growing resistance to the occupation. As the problems accumulated, so did the vacant offices in the Green Zone, because people in Washington were unwilling to join. The Administration turned, more than ever, to loyalists. Officials screening new American prospects sometimes asked whether they had voted for Bush and how they saw Roe v. Wade. A cohort of recent college grads, recruited because they had applied for jobs at the Heritage Foundation, were put in charge of Iraq’s national budget. The rebuilding of the stock market was entrusted to a twenty-four-year-old. “They wanted to insure lockstep political orientation,” Wilkerson recalled. “And what we got out of that was a lockstep-stupid political orientation.”

In the outside world, the mistakes were well documented. But inside the Green Zone the lights and air-conditioning were always on, there was no unemployment, and no one debated America’s role in Iraq. It was rhetoric over reality (“Mission Accomplished!”), and appearances mattered most: the press office distributed rosy, misleading statistics and obscured the dismal progress in restoring electricity and recruiting new police. The philosophy of governance—defined by loyalty, hostile to expertise, and comfortable with lies—created a disaster, even as its adherents extolled American values. Those who recognized the self-delusion and incompetence began referring to the Green Zone as the Emerald City.

The early mistakes in Iraq were like land mines sown in the soil. They continued erupting for years, in the form of division and decay. Similarly, the mistakes that the Trump Administration has made are likely to multiply: the dismantling of the State Department; the denigration of the civil service; the exclusion of experts on Iran and climate change; the fictional statistics about undocumented immigrants; and the effort to squelch dissent across the government. Absent a radical change, the Administration has no mechanism for self-correction. It will not get normal; it will get worse.

Trump is less impeded than ever, a fact that impresses even those he has mocked and spurned. . .

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2018 at 1:11 pm

What the Trump administration does not understand: They have to make deals and stick with them to ‘win’

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Jennifer Rubin writes in the Washinton Post:

National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conceded in their respective Sunday interviews that the administration does not harbor a policy of regime change in Iran or North Korea. That’s a change for them, which makes it acceptable for President Barack Obama’s harshest critics on the right to accept that position without blinking an eye. Such is tribal politics these days.
In fact, a more nuanced position is essentially the one President Ronald Reagan adopted during the Cold War: Of course our long-term interest is in seeing oppressive, aggressive regimes join the “ash heap of history,” but in the short run we need to devise policies to contain them, side with oppressed people and bolster our allies who are literally on the front lines. I find it inexplicable that our most senior national security officials cannot articulate that simple principle.
At any rate, it is striking how little strategic sense Bolton displays. For Bolton, ending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is a good unto itself. So wedded to the idea of undoing it and so enamored of his own criticism of it, however, he fails time and again to explain how our absence from a deal, separating from our allies and casting Iran as the wronged party makes us safer right now. His interviews become circular:

JAKE TAPPER: Can you explain to me how you’re going to be able to get Iran to agree to a new tougher deal without the participation in sanctions of China and Russia and Europe?
BOLTON: Well, I think you have to start first with the fundamental deficiencies of the deal itself. It would not stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Quite the contrary, it provided cover for Iran to continue its efforts. And if it continued, it would have given Iran extraordinary economic benefits, without any guarantees of Iranian performance. So, the rationale for getting out of the deal is that it was contrary to American national security interests when we entered into it, and it hadn’t gotten any better with age.

He didn’t answer Tapper’s question, and he never quite explains how extricating ourselves from a flawed deal in and of itself puts us now in a better spot. When pressed on how we are going to get the better deal, Bolton lapses into platitudes:

TAPPER: The U.S. essentially, at least as of now, going it alone, how will that force Iran back to the table?
BOLTON: But we’re not going it alone. We have the support of Israel. We have the support of the Arab oil-producing monarchies and many others. And the consequences of American sanctions go well beyond goods shipped by American companies, because of our technology licenses to many other countries and businesses around the world.

But of course we had these countries’ “support” before, but they were not party to the deal. Tapper’s question goes unanswered.
With zero evidence, Bolton insists the Europeans will leave the Iran deal. But even assuming that he is right, what evidence is there that Iran would agree to terms more favorable to the United States after we left an existing agreement when, at the very least, they have support from Russia and China? Moreover, the excuse that we could not address Iran’s nonnuclear conduct while we were in the deal is fundamentally untrue. Bolton declares:

If you look at the enhancement of Iran’s strategic position in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, the arc of control that they’re seeking to construct with conventional forces all the way from Iran to the Mediterranean, if you look at what they’re doing in Yemen to support the Houthi rebels, to gain a position of control there behind the lines, in effect, of Saudi Arabia and the other oil-producing monarchies, they have used the obsession with the nuclear deal to continue to expand and threaten dominance throughout the Middle East. I think getting out of the deal says to Iran, those happy days are over, from the U.S. perspective.

Trump has been in office for about 16 months and has done little if anything to address these issues. To the contrary, he has signaled he wants out of Syria, thereby ceding to Iran and Russia a dominant position. We still lack an approach to addressing these challenges.
In sum, Bolton is foreign policy by polemics and gestures, not by strategy. This works if you are a Fox News contributor or a lively dinner speaker, but not if you are in charge of assembling viable options for the president. Perhaps Trump will put Pompeo front and center to mop up the pieces of the Iran deal. Pompeo certainly seems keen on repairing the alliance with our European friends. (“President Trump and President Macron have both said we want to get a deal that is right, a bigger deal,” Pompeo said on “Face the Nation.” “We will be hard at that in the weeks ahead. I hope to be a central part of achieving that.”)
Even if Pompeo is successful in getting the European members of the deal and the United States back on the same page, there is no reason to believe that Iran (which successfully recouped funds that were frozen under the sanctions regimen, has the Europeans anxious to preserve the deal and has China and Russia on its side) will give up more than it did before. Pompeo may . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2018 at 12:26 pm

He Was a Tireless Critic of the Iran Deal. Now He Insists He Wanted to Save It.

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When one gets what he wished for and it turns out to be awful, one approach is to deny that one ever wished for it. Moral cowards use this strategy if they are dishonest. Gardiner Harris profiles in the NY Times one such dishonest moral coward:

While many hands gripped the sword that undercut the Iran nuclear deal, no one outside the Trump administration was a more persistent or effective critic than Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of a hawkish Washington think tank.

But rather than publicly celebrate President Trump’s decision Tuesday to jettison the accord, he is mourning its demise, saying he genuinely wanted to fix the agreement and worries that its unraveling could be dangerous.

That lament, though, has enraged the pact’s supporters, who never saw a fix as remotely palatable to Mr. Trump and blame Mr. Dubowitz above all others for providing the intellectual foundation for its passing. They now say he is trying to distance himself from the potentially catastrophic results.

“I am being attacked by the right for being a fixer & by the left for being a nixer,” Mr. Dubowitz, who leads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, tweeted Wednesday. “Welcome to Washington where anyone in the middle of the policy & political street gets run over.”

To which Jon B. Wolfsthal, the top arms control official in President Barack Obama’s White House, responded by tweet: “yes yes, such a moderate. A moderate enabler of extremism. A moderate peddler of lies and half-truths. A moderate catalyst of undermining a constructive, viable agreement in favor of a unicorn. You own this. Say anything you want. You own this.”

The bile from normally high-minded experts has been remarkable.

“It is unbelievably galling to see him, of all people, trying to escape responsibility,” said Ben Armbruster, the communications director for Win Without War, who recently wrote an article titled “Mark Dubowitz: You’re on the Hook for Killing the Iran Deal.”

With his almost single-minded focus on criticizing the Iran deal, Mr. Dubowitz’s voice cut through the din of a city where think tanks wield many megaphones.

During the congressional debate on the deal, he and his foundation colleagues testified in opposition to the deal 17 times over an 18-month period. By contrast, officials from the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, more established conservative think tanks, testified only once.

More recently, Mr. Dubowitz was the only nongovernmental official routinely consulted by both European and American negotiators in a monthslong back-and-forth over a possible side agreement to the deal, and he sometimes reviewed secret drafts. He wrote, according to two administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, parts of a report on Iran that Brian H. Hook, the chief American negotiator in the recent talks, took to White House meetings — a highly unusual step. He advised many of the deal’s most prominent critics on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Dubowitz’s main concerns about the deal were its lack of any limits on the regime’s ballistic missile program and its “sunset provisions” that would allow Iran to increase its capacity to enrich uranium beginning seven years from now. Mr. Dubowitz said the deal gave Iran tens of billions in economic relief that it had used to fund terrorism and foreign adventurism.

Now that Mr. Trump has decided to withdraw from an agreement he called “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into,” Mr. Dubowitz’s campaign to draw attention to what he saw as its flaws has taken its place among the most consequential ever undertaken by a Washington think tank leader.

But in written responses to questions, Mr. Dubowitz said he felt “ambivalent” about the withdrawal: happy that Mr. Trump saw the agreement as flawed but disappointed in the rejection of the proposed fix, which he said “seemed closer than anyone would have expected.”

“I was very invested in the process of trying to help the E3 bridge the gap with us,” he added, referring to negotiations with British, French and German diplomats.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is formally known, is 109 pages, and Mr. Dubowitz was often able to cite its provisions by heart. He is widely seen as understanding the multifarious mechanics of sanctions, a rare feat.

But he is far from the usual tweedy think-tanker. Raised in Canada, trained as a lawyer and having worked in venture capital, Mr. Dubowitz wears tailored French suits and keeps his curly hair just so. In 2016, he paid himself $560,221, a sum nearly twice that accepted by counterparts at larger, more established think tanks.

Top officials in the Obama administration often dismissed Washington’s foreign policy think tanks as paid agents of Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, countries that annually invest tens of millions in the Washington influence game. Those nations were implacably opposed to the Iran deal in part because they feared that it would achieve exactly what Mr. Obama and his European counterparts intended, which was to normalize Iran’s clerical government.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies was founded in 2001 as Emet — Hebrew for “truth” — and its goal was to “provide education meant to enhance Israel’s image in North America.” The organization has long been linked to the Likud party in Israel, which is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a fierce opponent of the Iran deal. Its top funders have included Bernard Marcus, a co-founder of the Home Depot; Sheldon G. Adelson, the casino billionaire; and Leonard Abramson, the founder of U.S. Healthcare. All are conservatives who give to Jewish causes.

In May, the group co-hosted a conference criticizing Qatar, which is locked in a bitter dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A trove of hacked emails showed that the conference was funded by a $2.7 million payment that passed from George Nader, a Lebanese-born American citizen working as an adviser to the de facto ruler of the Emirates, through Elliott Broidy, a Republican donor with substantial financial links to the Emirates.

Mr. Dubowitz said Mr. Broidy had approached his foundation in 2017 to fund a conference on Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood. “As is our funding policy, we asked if his funding was connected to any foreign governments or if he had business contracts in the Gulf,” Mr. Dubowitz said. “He assured us that he did not.”

As for the withdrawal from the Iran deal, Mr. Dubowitz scoffed at the idea that he had played much of a role. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2018 at 11:20 am

Donald Trump says Iran got $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash.

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And as Tump’s statement passes through Trumpland, it is morphed into the US giving $150 billion in cash to Iran. I got a comment on Quora just this morning that repeated that claim. Trump’s original statement was:

The nuclear deal gave Iran “$150 billion, giving $1.8 billion in cash — in actual cash carried out in barrels and in boxes from airplanes.”

— Donald Trump on Thursday, April 26th, 2018 in an interview on “Fox & Friends”

Jon Greenberg reports in Politifact:

In a wide ranging phone call to Fox & Friends, President Donald Trump repeated his objection to the 2015 nuclear agreement that rolled back Iran’s nuclear program.

“The past administration made a horrible deal giving $150 billion,” Trump said April 26 on the Fox News morning show. “Giving $1.8 billion in cash — in actual cash carried out in barrels and in boxes from airplanes.”

Of the two numbers he gave, $150 billion and $1.8 billion, the first is dodgy and the second is slightly exaggerated. And there’s no evidence that barrels and boxes were involved.

We reached out to the White House and will add their response when it arrives.

The $150 billion

The 2015 agreement freed up Iranian assets that had been frozen under sanctions. Called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the deal included Iran and the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The agreement only affected sanctions imposed to punish Iran for its nuclear program. Iran has other assets that remain frozen.

Some conservatives have put the amount released after lifted sanctions as high as $150 billion, which is the highest of estimates we have seen. Another estimate from Iran’s Central Bank topped out at about $29 billion in readily available funds, with another $45 billion tied up in Chinese investment projects and the foreign assets of the Iran’s Oil Ministry.

After talking with officials at Iran’s Central Bank, Nader Habibi, professor of economics of the Middle East at Brandeis University, believes the actual total is between $25 billion and $50 billion.

In July 2015, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers Iran would gain access to $56 billion.

It’s important to know that little of that money was under the control of the United States or any U.S. bank. Most of it, Habibi said, was in central and commercial banks overseas. Furthermore, it was Iran’s money to begin with, not a payment from any government to buy Iran’s cooperation.

The $1.8 billion

The Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan analytic arm of Congress, reviewed this cash transfer in a 2018 report. It gave a total of $1.7 billion.

That was the amount that U.S. and Iranian negotiators settled on to resolve an arms contract between the United States and Iran that predated the Iranian revolution in 1979. Iran had paid for military equipment, and it was never delivered.

As of 1990, there were $400 million in that account. Negotiators agreed that accrued interest would add $1.3 billion to the amount, which is a lot of money — but 25 years is a long time for interest to build up the balance.

The United States sent the money to Iran in euros, Swiss francs and other currencies. Trump embellished when he mentioned barrels and boxes. Reports at the time said the money was packed and loaded onto pallets, similar to how other bulk goods are shipped.

Our ruling

Trump said that the nuclear deal with Iran gave the country $150 billion, including $1.8 billion from the United States in cash.

The $150 billion is the highest estimate we’ve seen, and the one with the least evidence to support it. The high-end estimate from the U.S. Treasury Department in 2015 was $56 billion, and outside analysts believe the number could be lower.

The $1.8 billion is reasonably accurate. The official amount is $1.7 billion. However, there’s no evidence that barrels and boxes were involved. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 May 2018 at 11:04 am

Vox has a good explainer of the Iran deal

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Check it out.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2018 at 2:39 pm

Anatomy of a Lousy Decision: Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal

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Jon Wolfsthal, a senior adviser to Global Zero, a nonpartisan group dedicated to the elimination of nuclear weapons, and the director of the Nuclear Crisis Group, wasfrom 2014 to 2017, the senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the National Security Council. He writes in The New Republic:

I am biased. I worked for President Obama, supporting the negotiations that produced the Iran deal President Trump now plans to scrap. On the other hand, laboring on nuclear arms control for three decades, including as an inspector in North Korea and as an observer at Iranian nuclear facilities, also gives you a perspective that people who don’t read nuclear manuals at home (a solid mental health choice) sometimes lack.

For those who have never read the actual text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or are less familiar with nuclear inspections, here’s what President Trump is throwing away.

Before the JCPOA came into force, Iran had close to 20,000 uranium enrichment machines, called centrifuges, in operation. Most of these were primitive, but some were more advanced models and the pace of advancement was accelerating. Under the JCPOA, Iran cannot have more than 5,060 centrifuges operating and cannot use more advanced models until 2025, and then would have had to slowly introduce them and explain why they were doing so. Iran was also required to let IAEA inspectors track and monitor centrifuge production and storage of parts. That all goes away after today. Iran is within its right to reject any restrictions now that the U.S. is openly violating the deal.

Before the JCPOA entered into force, Iran had enriched some uranium up to 19 percent of uranium-235 content, i.e. where 19 percent of the uranium sample consists of the particular isotope that can be easily split (uranium-235). Natural uranium has less than 1 percent U-235, while producing weapons requires uranium enriched above 90 percent U-235. Iran also possessed large amounts of uranium gas, many times more than needed to make one nuclear weapon. Under the JCPOA, Iran is barred from enriching any uranium above 3.67 percent and from possessing more than 300 kg of uranium gas, less than the amount needed for even one bomb. Both of these restrictions were to last until 2030. Now, Iran can enrich to whatever level it wants, for any reason, and posses as much uranium gas for enrichment as they choose. This will leave Iran weeks if not days from a bomb once they restore their infrastructure.

Before the JCPOA entered into force, International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors could only visit some Iranian sites every few weeks, some every few months. Under the JCPOA, IAEA inspectors have permanent access at key sites and have installed remote sensing equipment that provides real-time data to ensure that Iran is not enriching uranium to a level higher than allowed under the deal—technology no other state maintaining nuclear facilities has ever allowed international monitors to install. Now, all of this goes away. IAEA access will be greatly reduced and the IAEA can only realistically hope to gain access to suspect or military sites if it can gain the backing of the IAEA Board of Governors and the UN Security Council. These seem unlikely and any such request could ignite a political and even military standoff.

Could Iran have sat back under these restrictions for 15 or 20 or 25 years and then just built a bomb? This was the scenario the deal’s critics focused on. But it wouldn’t have been that simple: The JCPOA bans Iran from doing any research on specific technologies needed to produce nuclear weapons. So while it is possible they could have built up stocks of uranium and a large enrichment capability, without the mechanical devices needed to produce a bomb, such work would have been somewhat useless without the auxiliary research. And any moves to do such research would have been obvious, since Iran was required under the JCPOA to adopt something known as the IAEA Additional Protocol—the gold standard in inspection rights and access that ensure the IAEA can get into facilities, interview people, and gain access to information upon request. These weapon restrictions and inspection rights, too, now go away.

These are just a few example of where Iran was before the deal, what restrictions they accepted under with the 156 pages of the JCPOA, and what they are now free to reverse at any time now that President Trump has announced the United States will violate the terms of the deal by refusing to waive sanctions.

The nuclear expert in me has trouble understanding either how this state of affairs is better than what existed under the JCPOA, or how President Trump—who has defied the advice of key European allies—expects to gain broad international support for a new, tougher deal, given what will certainly be less effective sanctions and lower support from our allies than what the U.S. had leading up to the JCPOA. And for all Russia’s general hostility to NATO and misuse of the UN to protect Syria’s president Assad, we should remember that Russia supported UN sanctions against Iran and blocked the sale of advanced air defense missiles to the state. These air defense missiles have now been delivered, making U.S. military action riskier for our troops and airmen. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 May 2018 at 12:27 pm

Gen. Michael Flynn’s Slow Descent Into Madness

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Dana Priest tells us today about Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn:

A lot of reporters and other civilians found Mike, as everyone called him, refreshing. A plucky Irish Catholic kid from Rhode Island, he wasn’t impressed by rank. He told his junior officers to challenge him in briefings. “You’d hear them say, ‘Boss, that’s nuts,’ ” one former colleague said.

….The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones….[Stanley] McChrystal, who was appointed to run JSOC in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief….He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

Sounds like a good guy who just needs a little direction. So, um, what happened?

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency….“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true….Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues.

….Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go….Flynn began saying that he had been fired because President Obama disagreed with his views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of ISIS. I haven’t found anyone yet who heard him say this while he was still in the military….As Flynn’s public comments became more and more shrill, McChrystal, Mullen, and others called Flynn to urge him to “tone it down,” a person familiar with each attempt told me. But Flynn had found a new boss, Trump, who enlisted him in the fight against the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Well, I guess it will all work out. Donald Trump will provide a firm hand at the—wait. What’s this? . . .

Continue reading. And do read the rest. It will send chills down your spine.

Written by Leisureguy

24 November 2016 at 12:39 pm

Childhood Immigrants Once Protected By Obama’s Program Now Face Betrayal And Deportation

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Ryan Devereaux describes what could well be one of the great betrayals by the US government, much like the neverending betrayals of Native American treaties and agreements, currently viewable at the Dakota Access Pipeline  protest site.

Carlos Varga did not hesitate when the opportunity presented itself in 2012 — a path to formalize his status as an American, a chance at a driver’s license, a work permit, and a social security number. The avenue was an executive order signed by President Obama, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that was intended to protect undocumented children brought to the U.S. at a young age from deportation, and to encourage their inclusion in civil society.

“I definitely didn’t think twice,” Carlos, who came to the U.S. when he was 4 years old, said of his decision to sign up.

Carlos threw himself into activism in the years that followed, ultimately landing a position working on a major New York City initiative, the largest of its kind in the country, to inform and educate immigrants about their rights. When the 2016 race for the presidency rolled around, Carlos, who is now 31, watched Donald Trump’s rise with alarm, but like many others, he believed Hillary Clinton would ultimately pull off the win.

On the night of the election, the Vargas family gathered at their home in Staten Island to watch the results come in. It was well after midnight, Carlos said, when the reality of what was playing out on the television began to sink in: that Donald Trump, a man who built much of his campaign around the racist scapegoating of immigrants, was going to take the White House.

“We just looked at each other like, ‘He won. This guy actually won. He’s going to be the next president of the United States,’” he recalled.

For Carlos, Trump’s election meant explaining to his 72-year-old undocumented mother, the woman who brought him and his siblings to New York City 2 1/2 decades ago, that the threat of their family being pulled apart had just increased. It meant the relief he eagerly signed up for in 2012 was now in question. And it meant his activism had now taken on an unprecedented urgency. . .

Continue reading.

An agreement with the US means nothing: the US may at any time abrogate the agreement with no notice. Currently viewable, the Iran agreement that led them to dismantle their nuclear arms program, and we have inspections to verify that it doesn’t resume. Naturally enough, they also got something from the deal: unfreezing their assets (returning their cash) and lifting the sanctions.

But the new US President states that he will abrogate this agreement. What do you expect? When the US agrees to something, it seems to mean very little in practice.

Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2016 at 1:08 pm

Russia did provide missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

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Somini Sengupta and Andrew Kramer have an interesting report in the NY Times:

A Dutch-led investigation has concluded that the powerful surface-to-air missile system that was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine two years ago, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night.

The report largely confirmed the already widely documented Russian government role not only in the deployment of the missile system, called a Buk, or SA-11, but the subsequent cover up, which continues to this day.

The report by a team of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine was significant for applying standards of evidence admissible in court, while still building a case directly implicating Russia, and is likely to open a long diplomatic and legal struggle over the tragedy. . .

Read the whole thing.

Obviously, the Ukrainian separatists are responsible for firing the missile at the airliner. Russia provided them the missile but was not responsible for targeting the passenger airliner. So Russia in this case is guilty simply of providing arms, which the US does as well: arms deals are a major US export industry, and the US provides arms to groups that target civilians—for example, the US provides the planes and munitions that Saudi Arabia uses to kill large numbers of Yemeni civilians, including the targeting of hospitals. So if Russia is to be punished for provide arms used against civilians, the US should have to answer as well.

And, though the story does not mention it, the US Navy shot down an Iranian airliner, killing everyone on board. The captain of the USS Vincennes, the ship that fired the missile, was William C. Rogers III, and he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his actions while commanding the ship.

I wonder whether those who are outraged that Russia provided a missile to the Ukrainian separatists are similarly outraged at the US Navy for its action in shooting down Irain Air Flight 655, or at the US for selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2016 at 11:07 am

Posted in Government, Iran, Military

Hillary Clinton has consistently taken a hawkish stance and supported military interventions

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And I do not find that a good thing. Patrick L. Smith takes a detailed look at US foreign policy:

What an unusual season—or seasons, I should say. The inner workings of American foreign policy are rarely as exposed as they have been over the past couple of years. We ought to appreciate the clarity of this interim and take from it lessons that will make us smarter. And angrier, which is my abiding hope.

One still has to look past the well-embroidered drapery of mis- and disinformation that official Washington weaves to understand events as they are. As ever, one must read the press not to know what has occurred in any given case, only to know what we are supposed to think occurred. Then commences the search for what did occur. It can be found; I cannot recall a time during my professional life when the “alternative” press—how I dislike this term—bore more responsibility than it does now.

The lesson available to us at the moment has to do with duplicity. And we ought not miss it because what is at issue in two specific cases could hardly be more significant. One, the Obama administration signed an accord governing Iran’s nuclear program last July; it is the single most constructive thing the U.S. has done in the Middle East, among very few, in many decades. Two, in February it signed an agreement with Moscow providing for a partial ceasefire in Syria and new talks intended to produce a lasting peace and a political solution; there is a chance now to alleviate what is currently the world’s worst political and humanitarian crisis.

American duplicity now jeopardizes both of these multilateral undertakings. Over the past several weeks it has grown perfectly evident that the administration is well along in subverting the Iranian and Syrian accords by either working against them (the Syria case) or abrogating the commitments it made when it signed them (the Iran case). There is time still to reverse course, but there is little to suggest the Obama administration has any intention of doing so.

Given the magnitude of these two questions, the rest of the world is effectively invited to hold the bag as Washington continues its ever more desperate effort to sustain its place atop the global order. The reality we must accept is that nothing else matters to the policy cliques—no number of deaths, no risk of regional war.

Once in a while we get a glimpse of those who execute American policy abroad in the act of lying, or betraying another nation or going back on their word. Now we have a chance to see that treachery, even if it is noon on a sunny day, is a standard feature in the American diplomatic repertoire. In the sanctum sanctorum of the policy cliques, where only the high priests are permitted, Machiavellian deceit—“stylish and accomplished amorality,” as one truly awful historian of U.S. policy puts it—is a badge of worldly wisdom. If the paradox is not too much, having no principles is a principle held high within the cliques.

I consider context and history essential in any conversation, as this column’s readers might be tired of hearing by now. Let us begin with a little of both.

America was founded on the certainty of its innocence, and in the republic’s earliest years there was justification for this. It was the European powers who made the world a sordid, Hobbesian place where all fought all in their own interests alone. Democratic Americans, fair and fair-minded, desired only friendships abroad and no “foreign entanglements,” as Washington famously put it in his farewell address.

The tradition comes down to us—even as it has been entirely mythical since the Spanish-American War and our subsequent suppression of democratic aspiration in the Philippines in the early years of the 20th century. Walter Russell Mead, the supercilious historian quoted above, wrote as recently as 2001 that Americans are still “the Mr. Magoo of the world community.”

The smell of cornpone is strong in Mead’s “Special Providence,” a title that makes it hard to read on even as one must—again, strictly to understand what one is supposed to think. Our problem in foreign affairs remains our innocence, it seems. We are too democratic in determining our foreign policies—shall I write that out again so it can sink in?—and so our “moralistic illusions” ever intrude. We have to close the “moral gap” between our desire for a fair and balanced world and things as they are.

“The United States continues to enjoy both at home and abroad a kind of hayseed image when it comes to foreign policy,” Mead writes, “that of an innocent, barefoot boy unaccustomed to the wiles and ways of the sharp international operators.”

Does it indeed, Professor Mead.

“Special Providence” is Mead’s opus on American policy, and it is held in very high regard. Now you know the approved thinking. Now you understand that our policy elites do not like to start wars of choice, disrupt other nations, shred social fabrics, break international law incessantly and all the rest. But these things are necessary because they are the ways of the world. Dislike it as we may, we have to join the Hobbesian scrum in our own interests alone. If we had a just foreign policy dedicated to peaceable international relations, the rest of the world would scoff just as Metternich and Bismarck and all those British foreign secretaries did.

And now we are ready to take a brief look at just what Washington has been up to with the Iranians and the Syrians of late.

*

As early as January, five months after it was signed, one would have to be half-blind not to suspect that the accord restricting Iran’s nuclear activities to peaceful purposes—energy generation and medical research, primarily—was fated to be another of Washington’s deals that are not deals. The Iranians need this agreement to work for all sorts of reasons, let there be no question. But—straight out front—I applaud them for patiently sticking with it given all that the Obama administration has done to negate it since it was concluded last summer. They have ample reason to walk away.

Remember “implementation day,” last Jan. 16? That was when the International Atomic Energy Agency certified that Iran had met all the conditions stipulated in the accord it signed with the U.S. and five other major powers. Secretary of State Kerry grandly announced in Vienna that sanctions imposed on Iran would thenceforth be lifted.

Remember the next day, a Sunday? The White House immediately announced a new set of sanctions against 11 Iranian companies, institutions and individual people because Iran had tested a ballistic missile the previous autumn.

Last month came more of the same. This time the Iranians conducted several missile tests over a period of two days. And on March 25 the administration announced another round of sanctions, these once again imposed by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

You can read all manner of things about these developments. The Israeli press will tell you without qualification that the missile launches violate not only a U.N. Security Council resolution, but also the nuclear accord itself. Not even the American media are trying to put that latter thought over.

The American press has stepped back, too, from its accounts of UNSCR 2231, the resolution passed when the nuclear accord went through last July. The new resolution supersedes all previous U.N. rulings, and, reflecting tough negotiations beforehand, alters the language subtly but significantly. Previous Security Council votes barred Iran from testing ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Resolution 2231 simply “calls upon Iran” not to conduct such tests.

A small matter, except that it is not. The change in language is not an accident. It is there to accommodate Iran’s very real post-agreement interests. Iranians live next door to a hostile nuclear power—the Israelis, of course. The Saudis recently took an order of Chinese-made missiles capable of bearing nuclear warheads. Having dropped what nuclear ambitions it may have had—and I question if it ever had any—Iran has a right and emphatically a need to defend itself.

You can translate 2231 into plain English this way: The Security Council prefers you would not test ballistic missile technologies, but under international law it can do no more than prefer it. The Americans, in the person of the self-regarding Samantha Power, assented to the language in 2231, we must not forget. Now Power protests that it means something other than what it means. The only people who take this fleck of duplicity seriously seem to be members of the American public. No one else does.

For a time the U.S. pretended the Iranian tests breached 2231, and the New York Times duly reported the tests as so doing. But both the administration and the Times have subtly stepped back in their customarily dishonest way, if you have been following the news reports. They had to: The stated position is indefensible. Not even Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon can bring himself to plain-spoken condemnation of Iran’s testing activities.

In any event, there is this logical lapse: Iran has certifiably dismantled all aspects of its nuclear program that would have made it capable of weaponizing enriched uranium. Nonetheless, say the Americans, we will impose sanctions on Iran for developing missile technology that would make it capable of firing one of the nuclear weapons we have just made certain it cannot build.

Look at it this way and tell me, please, why Washington is imposing new rounds of sanctions even as it has announced that the severe, encompassing sanctions related to our nuclear suspicions have been removed. This is also what I mean by duplicity: Let’s make a deal. Now that you’ve lived up to it, we’re going to set to sabotaging it.

Did I just write that U.S. sanctions “have been removed?” Editorial error. That is not at all accurate.

A few Sundays back Iranians celebrated Nowruz, their new year, and Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, traveled to Mashad, a holy city up near the northeast border with Afghanistan, to speak. “The Americans did not act on what they promised in the nuclear accord,” Khamenei explained in a nationally televised address. “They put something on paper but prevented the materialization of the objectives through many diversionary ways.”

What did Khamenei mean? He complained about the sanctions imposed after the missile tests, but that is only one diversionary means. Khamenei said “many.” If you have no truck with the supreme leader, I ought to add, he was quoting Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s able and highly regarded foreign minister and the top negotiator in the nuclear talks last year. What do they mean, then? What does Iran mean?

A trickle of reports begin to answer these questions, although only one—no surprise—is available on this side of the Atlantic. Robert Parry’s Consortium News just published “The ‘Hybrid War’ of Economic Sanctions,” a compelling analysis by Alastair Crooke, a former European Union adviser on the Middle East with decades of experience in the region. Crooke’s Beirut-based website, Conflicts Forum,published the piece in slightly different form a few days earlier.

“What is happening is significant,” Crooke begins. “For whatever motive, the U.S. Treasury is busy emptying much of the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the July nuclear accord] of any real substance…. Treasury officials, since ‘implementation day,’ have been doing the rounds, warning European banks that the U.S. sanctions remain in place and that European banks should not think, even for a second, of tapping the dollar or euro bond markets to finance trade with Iran, or to become involved with financing infrastructure projects in Iran.”

Crooke continues: . . .

Continue reading.

Duplicity is in the long-run counterproductive.

Written by Leisureguy

17 April 2016 at 8:41 am

Iran’s revolutionary grandchildren

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Robin Wright reports in the New Yorker:

When the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died abruptly, from heart failure after surgery, in 1989, he left behind fifteen grandchildren. The fate of his heirs reflects the depth of tensions within the Islamic Republic as it marks the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Imam’s triumphant return from exile—and prepares for twin elections, on February 26th. All the Khomeini kids (eight males and seven females) are committed reformers pushing for Iran to open up at home—politically, economically, and socially—now that it has reëngaged with the world. In public letters and interviews, seven have challenged the theocracy’s political rules and rigid social strictures. Since 2004, three have registered to run for office.

Hassan Khomeini is the family standard-bearer. He considered a soccer career before enrolling in a seminary, in the holy city of Qom, in his twenties. Now forty-three, he still plays the odd pickup game and goes to big matches. “I was good in defense, and if I had continued soccer I might have achieved something,” he joked at a meeting with Iran’s top players, in December. He is now more seriously employed as the caretaker of his grandfather’s legacy, at the Institute for the Compilation and Publication of Imam Khomeini’s Works. He is also a published scholar on Islam’s disparate sects. He wears a black turban, signifying that he descended from the Prophet Muhammed. He has all the right connections, too. His Instagram account, which has almost a quarter of a million followers, is loaded with images of him alongside top theocrats and politicians. In December, reformist newspapers ran front-page stories heralding him as Iran’s “Future Leader” and as a “Second Khomeini.”

Yet despite—or because of—his politics and family position the charismatic cleric is apparently not good enough for today’s hard-core custodians of the revolution. This week, he was disqualified from running for the Assembly of Experts, a body of eighty-eight clerics, akin to the Vatican’s College of Cardinals. It selects Iran’s Supreme Leader—the position created and held for a decade by Khomeini’s grandfather. The Assembly, which sits for eight years, is widely expected to pick the next Supreme Leader, almost certainly from among its own members. The Leader has the ultimate say on political, social, security, and diplomatic policies. The twelve-man Guardian Council, which vets all candidates, ruled that Khomeini “does not have enough Islamic knowledge to help designate the next Supreme Leader.”

“It’s a surprise to me, and to many others, that some of the honorable gentlemen on the Guardian Council couldn’t establish that I am qualified,” Khomeini countered, when he was first rejected, last month. He appealed the decision but was rejected again, on Thursday. “All my support from top clerics has been ignored, as have my religious publications,” he said on social media.

He’s not the only Khomeini blocked from office. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 February 2016 at 10:00 am

Posted in Election, Iran, Politics

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