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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. . .

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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. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2018 at 12:27 pm

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