Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category
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. . .
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.
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: . . .
Duplicity is in the long-run counterproductive.
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. . .
Peter Beinart tells us in the Atlantic why attacking ISIS is not a good idea. His recommendation carries more weight in view of his enthusiastic support for the Iraq War. Take a look at this Atlantic article from July 2015 that Beinart wrote:
I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”
For me, it would be a painful question. I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that meanssupporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.
In his current article in the Atlantic, Beinart writes:
or close to a decade, the trauma of the Iraq War left Americans wary of launching new wars in the Middle East. That caution is largely gone. Most of the leading presidential candidates demand that the United States escalate its air war in Iraq and Syria, send additional Special Forces, or enforce a buffer zone, which the head of Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, has said would require deploying U.S. ground troops. Most Americans now favor doing just that.
The primary justification for this new hawkishness is stopping the Islamic State, or isis, from striking the United States. Which is ironic, because at least in the short term, America’s intervention will likely spark more terrorism against the United States, thus fueling demands for yet greater military action. After a period of relative restraint, the United States is heading back into the terror trap.
To understand how this trap works, it’s worth remembering that during the Cold War, the United States had relatively few troops in the Arab and Muslim world. When Ronald Reagan was elected president, Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, did not even exist. All of this changed in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and President George H. W. Bush dispatched 700,000 troops to expel him and defend Saudi Arabia. After the war was won, thousands stayed to deter Saddam, and to enforce no-fly zones over Iraq.
Before the Gulf War, the Saudi native Osama bin Laden and his associates had focused on supporting the mujahideen, who were fighting to repel the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But after the U.S.S.R.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, al-Qaeda turned its attention to the United States, and in particular to America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. In 1992, al-Qaeda issued a fatwa calling for attacks on American troops in the Middle East. After the United States intervened in Somalia later that year, Somali rebels allegedly trained by al-Qaeda shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. In 1995, al-Qaeda operatives took credit for bombing a joint U.S.-Saudi military facility in Riyadh. And in 1996, a truck bomb devastated a building housing U.S. Air Force personnel in the Saudi city of Dhahran. (Although Saudi Hezbollah carried out the attack, the 9/11 Commission noted “signs that al-Qaeda played some role.”) That same year, another al-Qaeda fatwa declared, “The latest and the greatest of these [Western] aggressions … is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places”: Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998, the eighth anniversary of the beginning of that “occupation,” al-Qaeda bombed America’s embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The fact that al-Qaeda justified its attacks as a response to American “occupation” makes them no less reprehensible, of course. And al-Qaeda might well have struck American targets even had the U.S. not stationed troops on Saudi soil. After all, as a global superpower, the United States was involved militarily all across the world in ways al-Qaeda interpreted as oppressive to Muslims.
Still, it’s no coincidence that bin Laden and company shifted their focus away from the U.S.S.R. after Soviet troops left Afghanistan and toward the United States after American troops entered Saudi Arabia. Key advisers to George W. Bush recognized this. After U.S. forces overthrew Saddam in 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said one of the benefits “that has gone by almost unnoticed—but it’s huge—is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia.” The United States, he reasoned, had thus eliminated “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda.”
The problem was that to remove thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia, the United States sent more than 100,000 to invade and occupy Iraq. A dramatic surge in terrorist attacks against American and allied forces ensued. As Robert Pape, the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, has enumerated, the world witnessed 343 suicide attacks from 1980 to 2003, about 10 percent of them against America and its allies. From 2004 to 2010, by contrast, there were more than 2,400 such attacks worldwide, more than 90 percent of them against American and coalition forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Many of those attacks were orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, which in 2006 established the Islamic State of Iraq. After weakening in 2007 and 2008 (when the U.S. paid Sunni tribal leaders to fight jihadists), the Islamic State strengthened again as the Obama administration’s inattention allowed Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to intensify his persecution of Sunnis. Then, after Syrians rebelled against Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State expanded across Iraq’s western border into Syria, later renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Significantly, when the last American troops left Iraq, in December 2011, isis did not follow them home. “In its various incarnations,” notes Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert who is a professor at Georgetown, the Islamic State “focused first and foremost on its immediate theater of operations.” Although isiswas happy if people inspired by its message struck Western targets, it made little effort to orchestrate such attacks. Research fellows at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment detected only four isis-related plots in the West from January 2011 to May 2014.
But beginning in the fall of 2014, . . .
Very interesting thoughts about the Iran Deal from a couple of readers of James Fallows’s series on the matter. Worth reading.
I may have already linked to this column by James Fallows, in which a reader named Betsy marshals her arguments on why we reject the deal. (Trigger warning: Betsy’s writing is jarring in many ways, but (as Fallows points out) it is not an outlier but is typical of the mail attacking the Iran Deal.)
In a column today, Fallows includes three additional emails, these being from readers commenting on Betsy’s email. The first one is difficult: he seems enraged that Fallows quote Betsy (the writer of this email clearly has a very low opinion of Betsy), but seems unaware of Fallows’s point: that Betsy’s email was typical of those emails that opposed the deal. The other emails are more interesting.
Today’s column begins:
On Monday I mentioned again that I hope the U.S. Congress does not manage to block the Iran deal. For more on the reasons why, consider this new letter from three dozen retired U.S. flag officers arguing that the deal makes sense from a military perspective. They join the 100-plus former U.S. ambassadors, the 60-plus former senior U.S. national-security officials, the 29 physicists from America’s nuclear-weapons programs, and the five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and three former U.S. undersecretaries of state who have all recommended the agreement. [Update: plus the head of an organization set up to oppose the deal, who after studying its terms now recommends it.]
Obviously diplomatic judgments are not simple numbers games, and experts can be wrong. But think for a moment how this deal’s prospects would look if comparably experienced and bi- or non-partisan groups kept emerging to warn against it—rather than emerging to recommend it, as they have done.
In that post on Monday I also quoted a letter from a reader named Betsy that was representative of the anti-deal mail I get round the clock. I’m about to disappear from online life for a week or so to finish writing an article for the magazine. Before I go, three letters with three perspectives on Betsy’s letter.
First, from a tech-world veteran who is now a government contractor in the D.C. area. He does not at all like the fact that I quoted this letter: . . .
James Fallows has an excellent column, specific and detailed, on why the Iran deal will pass. And he includes an analysis of Netanyahu’s speech and position, which, to be honest, are idiotic. Netanyahu used the term “no brainer,” and indeed his proposal seems to have been created without giving it any thought whatsoever: a true no-brainer.
Well worth reading.
And read as well Fallows’s account of Obama’s explanation of why we should sign the Iran deal.