Category Archives: Foreign Policy

The Russians Are Playing, The Russians Are Playing

The Russians Are Coming 1966

While playing connect the dots is a favored past-time among the punditry, it takes time to piece together the actions and intent of the Russians in terms of American politics.   We can, however, list some items which should be of continuing interest to the American voting public:

Item: Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo, has been doing some heavy lifting in the background information department.  He reminds us that the Russians aren’t playing from a position of strength; they aren’t the power they once were, and shouldn’t be perceived as the Cold Warriors of Old. This doesn’t mean we can dismiss their “asymmetrical” activities in American elections, but we should be clear about their capacity to do major harm.  They are engaged in trolling operations; and in “news” operations.  And, yes, as Marshall outlines it, there is a Putin-Trump connection.  What does make all this interesting is that both Putin and Trump are operating from positions of weakness, rather than strength; Putin in a declining economic power and Trump in a declining political position.

Item: The Manafort Issue is no less intriguing. CNN reports that the Trump Campaign chair received funds from the former Ukrainian regime, now under investigation for corruption. According to the NYT:

“And Mr. Manafort’s presence remains elsewhere here in the capital, where government investigators examining secret records have found his name, as well as companies he sought business with, as they try to untangle a corrupt network they say was used to loot Ukrainian assets and influence elections during the administration of Mr. Manafort’s main client, former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.”

Manafort’s response has been varied.  He’s denied that any such transactions took place (Vanity Fair) and tried to shake off the allegations by saying that some donations to the Clinton Foundations were equally shady. (Politifact)  However, Mr. Manafort’s allegations of corruption were not substantiated with any actual evidence. [Politifact] This leaves us with an uncomfortable bit of circumlocution from Mr. Manafort — “I didn’t do it, but if I did what the Clinton’s did was worse.” This is not a very strong argument.

Item:  The matter of the DNC hack.  That the hack came from Russian sponsored sources is no longer a matter of debate – it did.  We should get used to titles like Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear in relation to the hack job. The first round of released information was enough to thoroughly embarrass the DNC, but the second round may be the most deleterious.  The hacking was more widespread than previously thought, and the DCCC information was both leaked and used – according to Minority Leader Pelosi:

“The California lawmaker was responding to the latest hacking incident, into the House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which on Friday night published members’ personal cell phone numbers and some private email addresses.”

Democratic lawmakers received obscene calls and texts. Pelosi advised members to change their phone numbers, and they were also advised on another concern, “One major concern are the emails sent to the members or the staff could include website links with malware or phishing attempts to steal identities or financial information. Congressional security officials have warned members and staff not to click on websites they are not familiar with.” [CNN]  Now, we’re getting into some truly nasty territory. It could be argued that the Trump Campaign has outsourced the Dirty Tricks Department to the Russians?

Comments Off on The Russians Are Playing, The Russians Are Playing

Filed under corruption, Foreign Policy, Republicans

Trump: Even Truthiness Doesn’t Matter

Al ZarqawiThe man in the photo above is the founder of ISIS (Daesh).  And then there’s this from the latest round of Trump0matic Rhetoric:

“In the wide-ranging phone interview (with CNBC), Trump insisted that President Barack Obama “absolutely” founded ISIS. He also discussed economic issues, including regulation and infrastructure spending.

Asked about them, he doubled down and said “[Obama] was the founder of ISIS absolutely, the way he removed our troops. … I call them co-founders,” he added, referring to his Democratic presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton.”

I know full well that correcting Trumpisms is like shoveling sand up hill, but at least we don’t have to reside in the land of utter stupidity and ignorance.  Let’s focus on “the way he removed our troops.” Obama removed our forces based on the SOFA agreed to by George W. Bush.

December 14, 2008:

“It is true that Bush signed an agreement, known as the Status of Forces Agreement, on Dec. 14, 2008, that said: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

Condoleezza Rice, who served as Bush’s secretary of state, wrote in her 2011 book, “No Higher Honor,” that Bush did not want to set a deadline “in order to allow conditions on the ground to dictate our decisions.” She wrote that she met with Maliki in August 2008 and secured what she thought was an agreement for a residual force of 40,000 U.S. troops. But she said Maliki soon “reneged” and insisted on “the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011.” She said Bush “swallowed hard” and agreed to what she called “suitable language” to do just that.” [FactCheck.org]  (emphasis added)

The remainder of the argument depends on a subjective opinion as to how “hard the Obama Administration tried to renegotiate the SOFA.”  Critics of the withdrawal of combat forces charge that the Administration “didn’t try hard enough.”  However, the insistence of the Maliki government that any agreement would have to be put to the Iraqi Parliament didn’t help matters.  This also leaves open the argument that perhaps the Bush Administration didn’t press the Maliki government hard enough either.

Critics of the US policy in regard to Iraq, and the deployment of troops to that country, are caught arguing “Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda,” when there are altogether too many variables in a complex situation to make blanket charges of any kind.

And, while Trump says he will continue to say Obama and Clinton are the “co-founders of ISIS” (I prefer Daesh) the timeline rebuts this presumption.  A brief trip down memory land —

2004: Abu Musab Al Zarqawi establishes Al Qaeda in Iraq.

2006: Zarqawi, killed in a US air strike, is replaced by Abu Ayyub Amasri at the head of AQI. October 15, 2006: Al Masri announces the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq; Sunni tribes begin a campaign to kill AQI members, and AQI is rebranded the Islamic State in Iraq.

In reality, the formation of Daesh goes back a bit further, as is explained here:

“ISIS/IS has its origins in an obscure militant group, Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (JTJ), that was stood up in 2000 by a Jordanian one-time criminal-turned-Islamist named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (AMZ).1 His intent was to fight the Jordanian government, but he failed to gain traction.2 Zarqawi then traveled to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the mujahidin (resistance) in the jihad against the Soviets. Having arrived after their departure, he soon returned to his homeland to fight the well-entrenched Jordanian monarchy. His efforts came to naught, and he eventually returned to Afghanistan, where he ran an Islamic militant training camp near Herat.” [MEPC.org]

And now the plot thickens and becomes more nuanced:

“Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, al-Zarqawi moved into Iraq. There he developed extensive ties with Ansar al-Islam (Partisans of Islam), a Kurdish Islamist group. In March 2003, the United States invaded and occupied Iraq. A brilliant conventional campaign led to the erroneous belief on the part of the George W. Bush administration that Iraq would stabilize and progress towards democracy. By summer 2003, the disgruntled Sunni minority — toppled from power with the downfall of Saddam Hussein — launched a deadly insurgency. It consisted of five distinct groups, four composed largely of Iraqis from the former regime, nationalists, tribal elements and various Islamist fighters. The fifth group was AMZ’s JTJ, consisting of a smattering of Iraqis and many foreign fighters.”  [MEPC.org]

Not that any of this matters to Donald J. Trump.  However, what we do know is that the Trump pronouncements on foreign policy are as vapid and ill informed as his sloganeering on any other topic.  ISIS (Daesh) morphed from a fifth element in the Iraqi insurgency into a major and deadly part of the conflict in the region, but they certainly didn’t find their origin in the Obama Administration.

Those wishing to get a longer, more historical look at the issues surrounding the current conflict in the Middle East may want to start with David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed The World.  Also recommended is Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. These are three notable books which will give a person something to do besides listen to Trump’s simplistic sloganeering and sloppy irrationality.

Comments Off on Trump: Even Truthiness Doesn’t Matter

Filed under Foreign Policy, Iraq, Politics

DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Ukraine Map

Yes, Mr. Trump, the Russians are in Ukraine. They’re occupying Crimea, and supporting “rebel” groups in eastern Ukraine. [HuffPo]  More distressing still is baffling inarticulateness which came after Mr. Trump was reminded that the Russians were already in Ukraine:

“Asked about the scrubbing of pro-Ukrainian language from the Republican platform, Trump offered up a word salad in which he seemed unaware that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been meddling in Ukrainian politics for years.

“[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said. (1)

Stephanopoulos pushed back, reminding Trump that Putin’s “already there, isn’t he?” Trump quickly changed the topic to Obama bashing.

“Okay — well, he’s there in a certain way. (2) But I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He takes Crimea.” (3)  [ThinkProg]

(1) The Russians are obviously already in Ukraine, and are currently building up forces along the border (again).

“Kremlin is supposedly to deploy three more brigades near the Ukrainian border. The Russian Federation is actively regrouping its two armies near the border with Ukraine and new divisions are being formed, according to the representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence agency.

“The 1st Tank Army, which is stationed in Moscow region, is being built up, as well as the 20th Army with Headquarters in Voronezh. Three new divisions are being created. The plans of the Russian leadership are changing,” told the representative of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine Vadym Skibitskiy.” (emphasis in original) [Ukraine Today, July 26, 2016]

Skibitskiy further commented that the three brigades formerly deployed along the border with Ukraine have now turned into three divisions.

(2)He’s there in a certain way?”  Well, yes, if “certain way” means occupying Crimea, supporting eastern pro-Russian rebels against the Ukrainian government and moving in like the proverbial brother-in-law who takes over the couch and then the living room. Liquidating status and changing place names.

July 28, 2016: “Russia liquidates the federal district status of the annexed Crimea.”

July 30, 2016: “U.S. tech giant Google has reinstated existing Soviet-era place names on online maps of Russia-annexed Crimea after it angered Moscow by changing them to correspond with names that Ukraine hopes to adopt in future under its “decommunization” law.”

(3)He’s  going away.” Certainly not if the Russians are building up units like the 1st Tank Army and the Russian army units based in Voronezh.  Putin is not going away any time soon, but he would like the Sanctions imposed in March and April 2014, April 2014, and the third round of sanctions imposed from April 2014 to the present to go away. Putin would really like it if the EU sanctions extended on December 12, 2015 to July 31, 2016 went away.

A door prize to anyone who can figure out what this means, which might be perilously close to “I can see Russia from my house:”

And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this.”

Ah yes, THIS from the man who suggested he would seriously consider not supporting Article 5 of the NATO agreement – one for all and all for one.  Yes, that self-same article 5 that was invoked by NATO after we were attacked on September 11, 2001.  The Lithuanians certainly don’t find Mr. Trump’s bombast comforting –  a large segment of the Lithuanian population remember all too vividly what the Russians did to them when they asserted their independence in 1991. [WaPo]

Mr. Trump obviously isn’t listening to people like Erika Verberyte, Lithuanian diplomat and foreign policy expert: “Almost every family in Lithuania had someone killed or deported by KGB. I was 19 and a student at Vilnius University during the events of Jan.13, 1991, when we rallied to stand up to Soviet tanks.” [WaPo]

The question is will Mr. Trump stand up to the Russian Tanks?

Comments Off on DIY Ukraine Briefing: Will Trump Stand Up To The Russian Tanks?

Filed under Foreign Policy, Politics, Republicans

Three Stooges Diplomacy: Nevada Republican Representatives Oppose Iran Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

The voting records of Nevada Representatives Amodei, Heck, and Hardy are recorded here, on roll call votes 491-494.  Unfortunately, those votes are almost perfectly predictable.  Their explanations even more so.

Three StoogesIt takes something, I’m not sure what, to oppose an agreement which intends to curtail Iran’s capacity to develop a nuclear arsenal.  However, Nevada representatives Amodei (NV2), Heck (NV3), and Hardy (NV4) have whatever that is.

Representative Amodei has nothing specific to say about his votes on “the Deal,”  Representative Cresent Hardy (R-BundyLand) made this statement in his press release:

“Americans have learned for themselves that this deal puts the region and the global community at risk. It amounts to inadequate inspections, a frightening implementation timeline, and provides $150 billion in sanctions relief to the world’s single largest state sponsor of terrorism.

Under this agreement, Iran will be allowed to pursue intercontinental ballistic missiles after eight years and conceivably attack any nation in the world. Worse still, in 15 years the regime will have all limitations on uranium enrichment removed. If Iran is only two or three months away from devising a nuclear weapon today, imagine how close will they be with a robust economy and no enrichment limitations?

Supporters contend that we should accept a bad deal over no deal. This is a false choice. We owe it to the American people and future generations to do everything we can to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

This deal fails miserably.” (emphasis added)

Logic fails to adequately analyze this statement.  However, there’s more, from Representative (Running for Senate) Heck:

“My initial concerns with the deal stem from the fact that we caved on anytime-anywhere nuclear site inspections, even giving Iran a say in which sites get inspected, and that the deal lifts the conventional arms embargo on Iran. According to reports, Russia and China were the two biggest proponents of lifting that embargo, no doubt to pursue their own nefarious purposes and regional ambitions.” One thing this deal will not change is Iran’s continued sponsorship of terrorist groups in the Middle East and their influence peddling in Iraq. Those aren’t qualities I look for in a partner on an agreement over nuclear weapons development. In the past Iran has not adhered to international norms and obligations when it comes to their nuclear program, and so Congress now has a chance to review this deal and every aspect of this agreement.” [Heck]

Yes, if it isn’t to be THIS deal then what deal might have been possible?  At least Heck’s statement is slightly more specific than Hardy’s talking point spew.  But taken together they represent the usual oppose anything anytime strategy of the Republican in Congress, even if the outcome of an executive action is positive.  Nor, do they make any common sense.

Representative Hardy is concerned that under the terms of the agreement Iran will develop nuclear weapon capacity in eight to fifteen years.  Let’s inject the specter of the current situation – before the “freeze” during negotiations spurred by the sanctions, and without an agreement:

“In the absence of this agreement, the most likely outcome would be that the parties resume doing what they were doing before the freeze began: Iran installing more centrifuges, accumulating a larger stockpile of bomb-usable material, shrinking the time required to build a bomb; the U.S. resuming an effort to impose more severe sanctions on Iran.” [Atlantic]

So instead of a timeline stretched out to 8 to 15 years to build the bomb, Iran could go back to its pre-negotiations strategy – continue to install, accumulate, and develop on a timeline that puts it about two months from nuclear weapons capacity.   How this puts the region and “global community” at less risk is frankly beyond me.   And we’ve covered this territory before.   Someone needs to ask: What kind of unilateral sanctions  would be so effective that Iran would agree to stop nuclear weapon development in 60 days?

What do we know about sanctions? Let’s Review: “Since 1973, the last quarter-century, only 17 percent of U.S. sanctions have worked. That’s whether they’re unilateral or multilateral. But less than one in five of the cases we have applied have, according to our scoring system, had positive effect.” And, “They almost never work when they are applied unilaterally rather than multilaterally, which in these days is almost always the norm. There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover.” [DB/Bergsten]

Hardy 2

Representative Hardy is quoting all the right GOP talking points, especially the one about rejecting a bad deal over no deal.  Whatever that’s supposed to mean because there is no other deal.  And, no deal puts the Iranians right back on track to build their nuclear weapons in the next 60 days.

Joe Heck

Representative Heck complains that the U.S. “caved” on anytime, anywhere inspections.  However, when 2/3rds of Iran’s current centrifuges are eliminated and 98% of its enriched uranium stockpile is gone, that puts an effective stop to the program.  As for “ultra-secret, really really really secret, so secret we don’t know about them” installations – how is the United States, or the allies, or the IAEA supposed to know what it can’t know?  Remember, if Iran violates the deal the current sanctions snap back into place for ten years with the option on the part of the allies to hold those sanctions in place for another five.  

Perhaps Representative Heck isn’t familiar with the inspection elements, which include the continuous monitoring of: uranium mining and milling, uranium conversion, uranium enrichment, fuel manufacturing, nuclear reactors, spent fuel, and “suspicious locations.”   What’s not covered under “suspicious locations?”

Representative Heck’s next point, that we’re not dealing with a suitable partner in these negotiations because Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, begs for an answer to at least one question:  If we never negotiated with those who do things we don’t like – then how do we get them to stop doing those things?  There are two options – negotiate or go to war.  Which answer does Representative Heck prefer?

Laboring Under Delusions

All three of the Republican Representatives from Nevada appear to be laboring under some non-productive delusions. 

The first delusion, noted above, is that somehow economic sanctions form a third option in international relations.  And, as noted previously, they don’t.   Only 17% have had positive results since 1973, and they’ve almost never been effective when applied unilaterally.  For example: Cuba.

The second delusion, is that someone, anyone, other than President Obama, could have negotiated a better deal.  This isn’t only “our deal.” The agreement was worked out by representatives from the U.S., the U.K., France, China, Russia, and Germany – along with the European Union. And yes, the Chinese and the Russians may have their own agendas, but so do we, the French, the British, the Germans, and the representatives of the European Union.   To act as if a treaty or agreement is only valid if and only if the U.S. gets everything it wants, when it wants it, is to render this country an outlier in international relations.  The results are splintered relationships and doubts on the part of our allies that we’d ever negotiate in good faith about much of anything.

The third delusion is that past behavior – in this case on the part of Iran – is always predictive of future behavior under different circumstances.  Here’s one central example of the changed circumstances:

“There are also aspects of the deal that Iran can’t easily undo. Iran must dismantle two-thirds of its installed centrifuges, remove 98% of its uranium stockpile, and permanently alter the Arak Plutonium reactor before it receives any relief from economic sanctions. These actions will be verified by the IAEA and will greatly increase the time it would take Iran to obtain weapons-grade nuclear material.” [ACC]

There will perhaps always be those who will cry that this doesn’t change the circumstances “enough” – whatever the standard might be —  but, that opinion doesn’t challenge the fact that the circumstances have changed, and inspection regimes will be far more comprehensive than any suggested in the past, and will have far more force because the negotiations were not unilateral or regional.  (Those wanting additional information about the timeline of negotiations between European countries, the Russians, the Chinese, and the American might want to start here for background information. )

The fourth delusion is that “going it alone,” and “packing big heat,” makes the U.S. look stronger.  We might more politely refer to this as the Militarist Option, wherein we swagger upon the international stage threatening to bomb into gravel piles those who annoy us.   This, of course, isn’t strength, it’s bullying, and we know bullies don’t approach their interpersonal issues from a position of personal strength.

However much opponents of the non-proliferation deal may ignore facts, distort provisions, and rail on about negotiations with our enemies, the deal is done.  All they can do now is whine and enjoy the benefits?

Comments Off on Three Stooges Diplomacy: Nevada Republican Representatives Oppose Iran Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Filed under Foreign Policy, Nevada Congressional Representatives, Nevada politics, Politics

Iran Deal: In Five Pictures

Iran Deal 1

All the usual suspects are challenging the Iran Deal, not to mention the over the top sensationalist (and extremely insensitive) comments by Buy-My-Book former Governor Huckabee.  It’s advised that before one buys into the hyperbolic renditions – and rending of garments – by the opposition which got us into a Fine Mess in Iraq, take a look at the fact sheet from which the graphics were taken.   For those who would like the coloring book version, here are the illustrations from that fact sheet:

Iran Deal 2 Iran Deal 3 Iran Deal 4Iran Deal 5 Feel better now?  If not, go back to the original fact sheet.  Still not completely satisfied?  The, see National Interest’s publication on five reasons to negotiate with Iran from back in November 2014.  For an economic perspective see IBT’s analysis on how the sanctions and Iran’s economy relate.  Or, try this opinion piece from Haaretz on three benefits from ending the cold war between the U.S. and Iran.

The ultimate argument from those who oppose any deal at all, and any deal will intrinsically never satisfy some of the critics, is that “Iran can’t be trusted.”  Not to put too fine a point on it, but for some critics every Iranian would have to have an IAEA inspector surgically attached 24/7/365 in order for the deal to be acceptable, and even then there would be questions.  Look at the four light blue segments in the last graphic “Access and Verification.”  What did Reagan say? “Trust but verify.”  And he was dealing with the old Soviet Union which already had nuclear weapons.

This might be the time to remember December 8, 1987, the date President Reagan signed the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Soviet Union?  How the feathers did ruffle!  George Will pronounced it “The Day the Cold War Was Lost,” asserting that we were the losers.  [RCP] [Shields]  Conservative columnist William Safire declared Reagan a fool and that  “the Russians “now understand the way to handle Mr. Reagan: Never murder a man who is committing suicide.” [Shields]  And then there was this commentary:

“Howard Phillips, the chairman of the Conservative Caucus, who, like former Governor Reagan, had been in 1978 a leading opponent of the Panama Canal treaty, accused Mr. Reagan of “fronting as a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda.” [Shields]

The take-away from this trip down memory lane is that (1) you don’t have to negotiate peace treaties with your friends, and (2) there will always be War Hawks among us who will denigrate any attempt at peaceful negotiations no matter who is conducting them.   For hard-liners no negotiations will ever be acceptable and no treaty will ever be successful.

There are some other considerations appropriate to this treaty. 

#1. This is not a unilateral effort.  We do tend to see international negotiations from a unilateral perspective, and this is magnified in the news coverage.  However, the treaty is the result of negotiations between and among China, Russia, Germany, France, the UK, and the US.  Defeat of this treaty discredits the efforts of the US to take into consideration the needs and policies of its allies, and that’s a dangerous element in an unstable world.

#2. Unilateral economic sanctions don’t work.  The “crank up the sanctions” argument is bombast.  The most conspicuous failure being the US sanctions on Cuba, imposed October 19, 1960 and extended on February 7, 1962.  55 years later the Castro regime is still nestled nicely in power.  One professor looked at the 550 pages of current sanctions on the Treasury Department’s list and observed:

“Daniel Drezner, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, says sanctions “tend to work when the demand is incredibly well-defined,” like resolving a trade dispute, “and there is some sort of decent relationship with the target state.” Those governments can compromise without worrying that the country imposing sanctions will keep demanding more. Drezner says that broad sanctions targeted at adversaries have far lower odds of success.” [Bloomberg]

This echoes the conclusion drawn years earlier (1998) by a presenter at a

CFR forum:

“The first conclusion is that sanctions have an extremely poor record of achieving their own foreign policy goals. Since 1973, the last quarter-century, only 17 percent of U.S. sanctions have worked. That’s whether they’re unilateral or multilateral. But less than one in five of the cases we have applied have, according to our scoring system, had positive effect. They almost never work when they are applied on a partial rather than comprehensive basis, which is the norm. They almost never work when they are applied unilaterally rather than multilaterally, which in these days is almost always the norm. There is no case—repeat, no case—where unilateral sanctions have ever worked to induce a sizable country to make a major change in policy, no case in history that we have been able to discover.” [Bergsten]

The reason unilateral sanctions don’t work?  If the US is unwilling to trade with the target, others are perfectly willing to do so – like the Chinese, the Russians, the French, the British, and the Germans.  In other words, without the cooperation of our allies the power of the sanctions evaporates.

#3. The sound bite “No deal is better than a bad deal” is pure hogwash.  First, this is NOT a bad deal.  It keeps the sanctions option open, it provides for the Reagan Formula “trust but verify,” it prevents Iran from pursuing its nuclear weapons program.  Secondly, without the deal the sanctions would be unilateral (see above), while access and verification would be nearly impossible thus allowing Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program without international interference.  Finally, there are two general options in diplomatic relations: Diplomacy and War.  War being, as the saying goes, the failure of diplomacy.  

It seems incongruous for those who’ve been telling us for years now that Iran is One Year Away from a nuclear weapon that a treaty which prevents nuclear weapons programs in Iran from continuing for the next 10 years is somehow a “failure,” or a bad treaty.

There will be no convincing those who want a war with Iran that the current treaty is a diplomatic success.  It will be up to those who aren’t predisposed to dismiss diplomacy and who seek negotiated settlements of profound problems to support the acceptance of this treaty.

Comments Off on Iran Deal: In Five Pictures

Filed under Foreign Policy, Iran

Get Serious or Get Lost? GOP lack of focus on ISIS

ISIS I’ll take the Republicans, especially the ones in Congress, seriously when they speak of ISIS threats to national security when they take up the bill sent to Congress during the week of February 11, 2015 which authorizes U.S. action against the Islamic State.  The joint resolution had a bit of something for everyone:

“The proposed legislation limits Obama from the use of “enduring offensive ground combat operations,” deliberately vague language intended to win over those on the left wary of mission creep and those on the right who don’t want to restrict possible military action against ISIS.” [TheHill]

As of the moment it merely looks as if the GOP wants to turn foreign and defense policy into a semantic game for the purpose of giving Democrats headaches in an election many months away.  Witness the whinging from Senator Lindsay Graham:

“One by one, nearly a dozen GOP presidential hopefuls took the stage here last weekend for a Lincoln Dinner, each different in style and stature but all joining a rising Republican chorus that lays blame for the Islamic State terrorist group squarely at the feet of President Obama. “If you fought in Iraq, it worked. It’s not your fault it’s going to hell. It’s Obama’s fault,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said to cheers.” [WaPo] …

“This deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a speech this month. “We’ve seen [the Islamic State] sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities and attempt to establish a caliphate.” [WaPo]

If the Republicans want more U.S. involvement in Iraq, then why not authorize the administration to apply more force in the region – as in bring the joint resolution to the floor for a debate and vote?

Perhaps the delay is because the Republicans don’t want to address key issues, and would rather launch verbal flames than real ones.  Consider the flap over the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government.

If the Obama Administration had been serious about winning in Iraq it would have negotiated a status of forces agreement,” wail the right wingers. Not. So. Fast. It takes two parties to negotiate such an agreement and the al Maliki government wasn’t playing the game:

“But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.” [Time 2011]

The Iraqi government under al-Maliki, once touted as the harbinger of democracy, proved to be a colossal failure.

The Iraqis wanted stable government, less corruption, economic reconstruction, and all the other things modern governments can provide. However, rather than moving forward from the gains made during the last months of U.S. occupation, the al-Maliki government swung away. The situation fell apart almost immediately.

Maliki’s government used “de-Baathification” laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protest corruption, they were branded terroristsand were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy. [ForeignPolicy]

This is not exactly a recipe for popular government, or even a respected one. However, the situation with the Iraqi security forces was even dimmer.

“The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt.” [ForeignPolicy]

And we wonder why the Iraqi forces couldn’t hold Mosul, and  can’t hold Ramadi?   By 2006 the political atmosphere was getting obvious, only the willfully blind could avoid seeing the implications of the Sunni-Shia split, and al-Maliki’s role in that disintegration:

“By the time Maliki took office, the police and the Army were overwhelmingly Shiite, packed with former militiamen bent on cleansing Baghdad of Sunni Arabs. In the summer of 2006, each morning brought new reports of sectarian atrocities. Maliki did very little to stop them, according to Matthew Sherman, the civilian adviser to the U.S. Army. “We’d go into his office, we’d tell him about a massacre that had been carried out by his men,” Sherman told me. “And Maliki would just sit there and say, ‘I’m sure they were terrorists.’ We could never get him to act against the death squads.” (Maliki says that he never received any evidence that his soldiers or police had acted improperly.)” [NYorker 2014]

The eggs laid by the parliamentary elections of December 2005 were fully hatched by 2014.   By 2015 the eggs were completely scrambled, and not in a good omelet sort of way.

al-Maliki’s resignation in 2014 didn’t alleviate the situation. As of August 12, 2014 the Iranian government pulled its support for al-Maliki, offered him asylum, and backed his successor Hiadar al-Abadi. [Guardian] The disaffected Sunnis, the former criminal gangs, the death squads and the local militias were now a fact of life in Iraq’s daily existence.  Nor has U.S. policy been all that helpful.  The Iranians, who are positioned to assist the current Iraqi government in its fight with ISIS, are the subject of saber rattling by members of the U.S. Congress who want to do everything from bolster current embargo terms to engage in outright military action against Tehran.

In other, less elegant terms. if we weaken the Iranian government then we risk undermining the Iraqi government’s efforts to retain or retake territory seized by ISIS.

It is very difficult to have a consistent and rational foreign policy when the requirements are (1) opposition to the Iranian government, and to all forms of Iranian involvement in Iraqi military operations against ISIS; (2) opposition to ISIS which doesn’t incorporate Shia interests in Iraq; and (3) support for Sunni participation in Iraqi governance, when the Sunnis could be convinced that their interests would be better served by ISIS than by the governing Shia groups in Baghdad. Perhaps these contradictions help explain why the Republicans don’t want a full blown discussion of U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Iraq, and seem content to snipe from the sidelines?

If the GOP is serious about discussing our policy toward Iraq, then it’s time to bring the joint resolution to the floor, debate the ramifications seriously, recognize the historical and political implications of the policy, and to take a stand on those issues.  The rest is simply political noise making, the equivalent of slide whistles and noise-makers.

Comments Off on Get Serious or Get Lost? GOP lack of focus on ISIS

Filed under Foreign Policy, Iraq