Category Archives: Foreign Policy

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

Yes, Heller Embarrassed Nevada

newspapers 1 The Reno Gazette Journal adds its editorial voice to the backlash over the #Iran47 participation of Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), in “Heller embarrassed Nevada with Iran letter.”   Thus, the Gazette Journal joins a chorus including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Nashua, NH Telegraph, the Concord, NH Monitor, the Peoria Journal Star, the Salt Lake Tribune, the New York Times, the Kansas City Star, the Sacramento Bee,  the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, the Baltimore Sun, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times,  and others. [Pol]

Senator Heller’s web site doesn’t include any press releases explaining the inexplicable.  Perhaps he’s adopting some of the other incredulous statements made, like Senator McCain’s “snow storm” excuse?  [Pol] Or, he might use the Senator Rand Paul template: “I signed the Iran letter in Order to Help Obama?”  Or, how about the former Governor Jeb Bush idea, “I approved it out of frustration?”  There’s always 60+ day Senator Tom Cotton’s version: “If Congress doesn’t approve the deal it may not last.”

Maybe the junior Senator from Nevada could mash them all together?

“I signed the Iran Letter because I was frustrated with the snow storm, and in order to help the President I thought I’d let the Iranians know that the Constitution allows the Senate to offer “advice and consent” to treaties before they’re ratified, just in case the fellows weren’t educated.”

The last part is really amusing given that the Iranian government has the highest number of US college graduates serving in any foreign government cabinet in the world.  President Rouhani has a PhD from the prestigious Glasgow Caledonian University (Scotland), Zarif has a PhD from the University of Denver; the Science, Research & Technology minister (Mohammad Ali Najafi) did post graduate work at MIT.  Vaezi, Minister of Communications, began his PhD at LSU and finished at the Warsaw University in Poland, the Minister for Industry, Nematzadeh, graduated from Cal Poly in 1968, and studied industrial management at Cal Berkeley. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the AEO, has a PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT.  Chief of Staff, Mohammad Nahavandian, has a PhD in economics from George Washington University.  [IranPrimer]

The junior Senator from Nevada might want to consider his response and rationale very carefully because when an editorial board uses terms like “condescending, embarrassing, clueless, damaging, and hypocritical,”  the Senator’s next words should be very carefully weighed and measured.

Comments Off on Yes, Heller Embarrassed Nevada

Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran

GOP Age of Un-Enlightenment: Heller one of the #Iran47

Heller 3

Nevada’s junior Senator, Dean Heller (R) is one of the  signers of the now infamous ‘enlightenment letter’ to the Iranian leadership.  Heller, who has a certain flare for the dramatic – if not the practicable – has demonstrated his willingness to participate in amateur political theatricals before.   Witness the “Balanced Budget Amendment” which he hauls out every session only to be reminded that the budget of a sovereign nation doesn’t have the same characteristic as a household budget in East Deer Breath.  Or, there was the gallant attempt to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act, in tandem with former Senator (now Heritage Foundation guru) Jim DeMint. This scene evaporated as well.   Considering the matter at hand, here are some absolutely unsolicited bits of advice for the junior Senator:

#1.It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.”  Before signing on to this line, one might be aware that the recipients include  Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who attended Drew College Prep in San Francisco, got his B.A. in International Relations from San Francisco State University in 1981, and a Master’s in 1982. He did post graduate work at the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and received his PhD in International Law and Policy in 1988. Here’s guessing that the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs might have some knowledge of U.S. governmental operations?

Opening lines such as this are patronizing or at least condescending, and one of the Things Not Done in international relations is being… patronizing or condescending.  Iran, love it or loathe it, is a sovereign nation, and that pompous, supercilious, opening sounds suspiciously like the #Iran47 would like to teach their “little brown brothers” about U.S. politics. 

#2. Don’t make obvious errors.  It really doesn’t do to have a legal heavyweight from the Bush Administration tell you that the Senate may “offer advice and consent,” but “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis). [Goldsmith]  In athletic parlance, this fumble is often called an Unforced Error.

#3. You will be known by the company you keep.  Very junior Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) has made it very clear that he wants to scuttle all attempts at diplomacy with Iran.  “The end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug, so speak,” Cotton said in January, speaking at a conservative conference hosted by the advocacy group Heritage Action for America.” [Huffington Post]  This puts the #Iran47 deep in the realm of American hardliners who see no practicality in negotiating a deal with the current Iranian government.  Not everyone has dived into that pool, including acknowledged foreign policy expert former Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN).  If Senator Heller would like to retain his “periodically moderate” label, this is not the way to do it.

#4. The more flexible you are the more options you’ll have.  Taking the hard line stance as a signatory to the Cotton Letter means that diplomacy is off the table.  What does that leave?  Let’s assume the old adage is correct: War is the failure of diplomacy.  If diplomacy is removed as an option then the only way to resolve an international dispute is with armed forces.  But, what of economic sanctions?

#5. Don’t discard options merely because they require assistance.  Unilateral economic sanctions never work.  At best they can be functional in about 13% of their applications, at least since 1970, and  usually with small countries. (Rhodesia comes to mind)  [Hill]  Then there’s this observation from the Director, Institute for International Economics, a panelist at the CFR:

“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. The simple reason is that the United States no longer dominates the world economy. There are always alternative sources of export, import markets, finance, whatever it may be. We alone cannot coerce others. And there are always alternatives, and they will always be available.”

And, this leads us to the next point.

#6. The more friends you have the better.  The current negotiations involve  members of the P5+1 who are actually negotiating the deal with Iran.  The U.S. isn’t the only country with a negotiating interest in the talks, the other nations include the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, Germany, and the U.S.  Some care should have been taken that what was perhaps meant as a poke at Iran wouldn’t be received as a slap in the face of the other negotiating countries.  Now, consider the next point —

#7. If the #Iran47 intend for the talks to collapse, then the intended (or unintended?) consequence could be the U.S. wedded to a unilateral policy calling for a military solution to the issue of Iranian nuclear development? After all, why would the UK, France, or Germany participate in military operations if they assume their negotiations were in good faith, and the U.S. was the one to pull out?

Should the U.S. become embroiled in a war with Iran,  a nation with about 450,000 regular military personnel, some 120,000 in the Army of the Guardians, and about 3 million combat trained paramilitary Basij, it should be reasonably obvious that the conflict would not be a simple matter of a few air strikes.  And, while the U.S. is thus engaged what happens in, say, Ukraine? Iraq? Central Africa? Nigeria? North Korea? Libya?

#8. “Regime Change” is a term freighted with negative associations. In an ethereal world of ideals, as opposed to the practical one in which we are living, we could bargain very nicely with a ‘new’ regime in Tehran.  That is, IF, the new regime was cooperative.  However, as we learned to our dismay in Iraq, a new regime doesn’t necessarily equate to a cooperative ally.  The ‘new regime’ in Iraq refused to negotiate a status of forces agreement with two American administrations, insisted on the pull out of U.S. combat forces, and then proceeded to make a hash of Sunni-Shia power relationships giving ISI a wedge into the fray.

#9. Striking a pose and taking a position are two different things. Striking a pose is easy.  One may be belligerent – fists at the ready, emotions on high;  or pacific – fists down, brain engaged. Taking a position requires thought, especially forethought, and the inclusion of a host of factors which may or may not prove to be critical elements.   One of the conveniences of militarism is that it requires little forethought – have a problem with someone? Simply shoot’em up.   The current situation in the Middle East is not a scripted melodrama from film writers; the good guys are difficult to identify and may not always be ‘good,’ and the bad guys may be helpful in one area (think Iran and its assistance against ISIL) and unhelpful in others.

Signing on as an original founder of the #Iran47 wasn’t the best idea Nevada’s junior Senator has had, and in fact it may prove to be one of his worst moments.  Unless, of course, he would like to posture as a belligerent, mindless subscriber to militarism and the notion that not only is might always right but it also always works.  This is a dubious proposition at best, and it certainly offers a future challenger an opening on an unforced error.

Comments Off on GOP Age of Un-Enlightenment: Heller one of the #Iran47

Filed under Congress, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran

Thank You For Your Service, Maybe?

PTSD There’s a difference between Militarism and Supporting Our Military.  There is also a difference between being militaristic and being supportive of our nation’s service members and veterans.  A militarist tends to regard military efficiency as the best ideal of the state, and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military services. [DictRef]  Now that the terms are defined, why do conservatives have such a difficult time comprehending the problems created when they call for a “strong” Department of Defense, and a “strong” nation, or a “strong” foreign policy, and almost simultaneously disparage the members of the military and veterans when those people express their needs?

The latest manifestation of this issue comes from radio talker Michael Savage, who offered his opinion on Armed Forces members and veterans who are suffering with PTSD:

“If the whole nation is told, ‘boo-hoo-hoo, come and get a medication, come and get treatment, talk about mental illness,’ you know what you wind up with? You wind up with Obama in the White House and lawyers in every phase of the government, that’s what you wind up with. It’s a weak, sick nation. A weak, sick, broken nation.” […] “You need men like me to save the country,” he said. “You need men to stand up and say stop crying like a baby over everything.” He continued that “men are so weak and so narcissistic” that it is “no wonder ISIS can defeat our military.” [Savage/RRW]

It Helps To Know What You’re Talking About

Mr. Savage must know what he’s doing; he must know that there’s an audience for this kind of nonsense.   First, it is obvious Mr. Savage has absolutely no personal military experience.  Had he any experience he’d know the truth of the old adage: A war leaves no one unwounded.  He was about 26 at the height of the war in Vietnam, but didn’t serve.  Nonetheless, he’s certain the nation needs “men like me to save the country.”

Shut Up and Shoot Yourself?

Secondly, the fossilized notions about mental illness embedded in Savage’s rant are appalling.  If a person seeks treatment for mental health issues, then he is “weak, sick, and broken?”  Savage/Weiner couldn’t have crafted a more blatant recipe for further weakening injured individuals.  Again, even a cursory familiarity with the U.S. military would demonstrate the Department of Defense takes PTSD very seriously, in fact there’s been the establishment of the Defense Centers of Excellence – for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.  

In August 2013, the DoD, the Veterans Administration, and other agencies created a joint research program to study PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injuries. [Defense.Gov]  One element of the study will be a collaboration to study the factors influencing the chronic effects of mild TBI in order to improve diagnostic and treatment options, keying on a better understanding of the relationship between TBI and neurodegenerative disease.   No “boo hoo hoo” here, simply a directive from the Department of Defense and the White House that we take a serious scientific look at nature and treatment which ought to be available to any of the 2.5 million U.S. service members who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since September 2001 and need mental health treatment.

The conception that “real men (and women) don’t cry” or that “real men (and women) don’t want to be stigmatized as having a mental health issue is dangerous in and of itself.  During a presentation for the American Psychiatric Association in 2012 it was noted that fewer than half the soldiers who reported combat related PTSD received the necessary care, and of those who participate in a treatment program between 20% and 50% will stop before the treatment is complete.  When 93% of Army infantrymen have come under fire from rockets, artillery, or mortars, and when 91% report having been ambushed or attacked, and 87% report they know someone who has been seriously injured or killed, then it’s obvious some form of scientifically based treatment programs will need to be in place to assist those who develop PTSD. [Stripes]

There’s no “boo-hoo-hoo” factor when a mental health issue, such as PTSD,  produces intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance symptoms, negative feelings about self and others, inability to experience positive emotions, feeling of emotional numbness, feelings of hopelessness, memory problems, difficulty in maintaining close relationships, anger and irritability, overwhelming guilt or shame, self destructive behaviors, problems with concentration, problems with insomnia, difficulties created by being easily startled or frightened.  [MayoClinic]

This is serious stuff.  While the rates for civilian suicides remained steady at 19:100,ooo over the period of a recent study for the National Institute of Mental Health, the Army suicide rate – historically lower than the civilian rate – surpassed it in 2008 and kept climbing, until it finally dropped a bit in 2012-13.  [USAT]  What is Savage/Weiner advocating? Is his message so divorced from reality that it’s little more than “Just Shut Up and Shoot Yourself?”

An Alternative Universe of Memory

Mr. Savage/Weiner evidently defines ‘manhood’ in antediluvian terms.  Men back in the good old days were Real Men, and women knew how to act like ladies?  This TV scripted perspective never existed in any real form. Mr. Savage/Weiner seems stuck in a wonderland of Leave it to Beaver, and Ozzie and Harriet.  His definition of masculinity sounds more like an interpretation of a John Wayne movie script.  It certainly isn’t Bogart sending Bergman off in Casablanca, or Sidney Poitier in Raisin in the Sun. It most certainly isn’t ultimate slacker Hoffman in The Graduate. [NPR]  Nor is it to be found in Gregory Peck’s performance in To Kill a Mockingbird.  And, merciful heavens, it must not be anywhere near the comedic rendition from Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.  The hard sad truth is that Mr. Savage/Weiner’s interpretation never even existed in Hollywood outside the genre of stock war movies and derivative westerns.

If Mr. Savage/Weiner is reaching about 3 million Americans with his entertainments,  about 1% of the population, then why waste pixels and print?  Because, his views energize some of the least attractive and least socially useful elements in our national repertoire of ideas.  Surely, nothing is less useful than militaristically bantering about the glories and barbarities of war, while disparaging those who come home from it  to the nightmare of PTSD.

Talk Without Money

Perhaps this isn’t such a far fetched perspective when placed in proximity to the Republican budget proposals of the recent past.  Flags, color guards, pomp and circumstance are all part of the 4th of July atmosphere attached to political performances.  However, when it comes down to the money, the appropriations for Veterans’ services life gets stickier. 

The lack of specificity in budgets crafted by Representative Paul Ryan make it very difficult to predict what the impact of his budget slashing might be, especially in the short term.  Rep. Ryan once referred to budget cuts in cost of living formulas for retired service-members as a “modest adjustment to a particularly generous program.” [WaPo]  Other modest adjustments were considered:

“The House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has told a veterans’ group it is studying a plan to save $6 billion annually in VA health care costs by cancelling enrollment of any veteran who doesn’t have a service-related medical condition and is not poor.

Committee Republicans, searching for ways to curb federal deficits and rein in galloping VA costs, are targeting 1.3 million veterans who claim priority group 7 or 8 status and have access to VA care.” [vmusa]

In other words, “No matter what we told you about taking care of you if you volunteered to take care of our country, if we can cut back on government spending at your expense we’ll do it.”  A veteran with a priority group 7 or 8 status is on his or her own – no matter how many paeans were offered and “thank you’s for your service” rendered.

Since when did we decide, as a nation, that a veteran is not really a veteran if he or she is in the “wrong category” and is thereby less worthy of a nation’s gratitude?

How much difference is there between the hate-radio talker who disparages the mental illnesses exacerbated or triggered by combat experience and the impact of that experience on a returning veteran, and the casual elimination of veterans’ benefits from selected categories merely to satisfy the “drown the government in a bathtub” crowd?

There is a point at which it must be acknowledged that militarism creates veterans, and promises to those veterans should be kept.

Comments Off on Thank You For Your Service, Maybe?

Filed under Afghanistan, conservatism, Defense Department, Foreign Policy, Health Care, Iraq

Pulling Representative Heck Slowly Toward Understanding Foreign Policy

SpaghettiRepresentative Joe Heck (R-NV3) is confused about the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.  “I don’t think we have a coherent foreign policy, and that’s part of the problem,” Heck said. “We have not exercised the level of leadership around the globe as we have over the past 20 years. … The world looks toward somebody to kind of set the example. And I don’t think we’ve been setting the example that we have set previously.” [LVRJ]

First there’s a big difference between something which is incoherent and something with which there is disagreement.  The limited engagement portion of what’s lumped together as Obama Doctrine isn’t too difficult to comprehend.  Unilateral force will be used if there is a direct threat to the United States.  That wasn’t too hard, was it?

Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.  If force is to be used, it should be in a very precise way.  [FP] Also not all that hard to understand.  In case Representative Heck is still confused, let’s apply some examples.

ISIL: A direct threat to Americans or American interests. IS attacks threatening Americans and American interests in Iraq, especially in the vicinity of Erbil in Kurdish controlled areas presented a direct threat to Americans in the region.  Response? Air strikes.  So far so good.  IS momentum in the area has been blunted and American lives and interests protected.  Humanitarian aid and the rearming of the Peshmerga forces associated with the mission was augmented by efforts from the British, the French, and the Germans.  Multilateral, targeted, minimal force applied to secure desired results.  What’s confusing about that?  But, what of indirect threats?

Libya:  What should be done in cases of threats to global security? Once again, we find the Administration employing a multilateral approach. In 2011 an effort by the U.S., Canada, France, Italy, and Great Britain (in a coalition ultimately including 19 nations)  coordinated a campaign of air strikes, naval blockades, no-fly zones, and logistical assistance to Libyan rebels. It worked.

Syria: The civil war in Syria presents a more complicated problem for nations which perceive the situation as a threat to global security.  The Assad government has close ties to Russia, and the rebel groups range from small inexperienced moderate elements, to criminal gangs, to extremist groups, to the really extremist groups like ISIS.  Coalitions, alliances, and coterminous realignments and the creation of new coalitions, make this a very fluid situation.  Problem One was to get the stockpiles of chemical weapons out of the game.  Mission accomplished. Last month a Danish ship delivered the last 600 metric tons of chemical weapons to a U.S. ship (Cape Ray) at an Italian port, where the chemicals will be destroyed. [CNN] Multilateral. Minimal use of force (a show of force at one point) with a maximum use of diplomacy, combined with a specifically focused mission.

Calls for arming the anti-Assad rebels is a simplistic response to a complicated problem.  In December 2013 the BBC published something of a roster of Syrian rebel forces for those wishing to keep track of the players.  There’s a coalition now called the Supreme Council of the Free Syrian Army, the good news is that this is a relatively moderate group, but the bad news is that it is composed of some 30 different militias which retain their own operational independence, command structures, and agendas. In short it is a very loosely joined network of independent brigades. Then there is the Islamic Front, another coalition of about seven groups which wants to topple the Assad government and devise an Islamic state.  This is not to be confused with the Al Qaeda or jihadist groups, such as the Al Nusra Front, and the Islamic State.  But wait, we haven’t listed the independent groups such as the Ahfad al-Rasoul Brigades, Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front, or the group often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, the Durou al-Thawra Commission.

Now, just who is it that the U.S. might want to arm?  And by the way, Syria is about 64% Sunni, about 20% of whom are Kurds, Turkomans, Circassians, and Palestinians.  The Shia represent most of the other Muslims in Syria, and are divided into three groups: Twelvers, Ismailis, and Alawis.  And then there are the recently discovered by the foreign press —  Yazidis.

Now Representative Heck might want to ask himself: Does he prefer a policy which keeps U.S. interests in mind in Syria by making maximum use of diplomatic multilateral efforts and a minimal infusion of force; or would he prefer getting the U.S. mired in another swampy situation in the Middle East?

If one’s idea of a coherent foreign policy is one of moving in with a maximum use of unilateral force — and with minimal consideration of the consequences — then the Obama Administrations doctrine isn’t going to meet with one’s approval. And, that’s the question which needs to be answered by Representative Heck — If you don’t like a mission specific use of force, applied in conjunction with a multilateral diplomatic and military effort, then what do you want?

The bellicose blustering of the Bush Administration sounded coherent, but ultimately proved to produce incoherent results.  Witness our next example: Iraq.

Iraq: A nation created in the wake of World War I, with significant religious and political internal differences, formerly governed by an intransigent and despicable (albeit secular) dictator, crumbles after Sunni populations in the north and west perceive the Shiite government in the south (Baghdad/Basra) to be ignoring or damaging their interests. Kurdish populations in the northeast see the Shiite government as inimical to their interests, and the compliment is returned by the southern Shia.

The removal of ISF military leaders who are Sunni or former Baathists by the Maliki government creates a security force (army) of questionable utility.  The question is answered as the Iraqis try to form a new government in July-August 2014, and  ISIL moves from Syria into ‘friendly’ territory around Mosul.  ISIL (IS) attracts support from local Sunni groups alienated by the Maliki government, and radicals from surrounding territories.

The fractures in the Iraqi political system, fully identified in a policy review with General Odierno in 2010, are visible today. [FP]  Our goals as set forth in 2010-2011 are to (1) encourage reconciliation, (2) help develop a professional civil service, (3) promote a healthy relationship between the parliament and the executive, and (4) to support the reintegration of refugees and displaced persons.  [FP]

Recent actions by the Obama Administration have sought to get the Yazidis to safety (a multinational effort), re-arm and supply the Peshmerga (a multinational effort), and get the Maliki government in the rear view mirror in order to restore the government and the Iraq Security Force into working order.  Is this too complex for Representative Heck to ponder?

How about we set an example of using multinational cooperation to  diminish threats to global security by applying the least force appropriate in the most multilateral format possible?  Is that too difficult to understand?

Carry a Big Bull Horn and Do What With It?

But wait, Representative Heck’s apprehensions go even further:

“Heck said a lack of follow-through on U.S. threats makes America appear weak. He didn’t cite Syria, but President Bashar al-Assad suffered no serious repercussions for using chemical weapons against his own people.

“Our adversaries need to know that if they do X, then the U.S. is going to do Y,” Heck said. “And there has not been that consistency. That’s why you see actors, not only in the Middle East, but also Russia and China, push the limits.”  [LVRJ]

Breathe.  Did Representative Heck miss the part where the Danish ship met the U.S. ship in the Italian harbor — and Assad doesn’t have his chemical weapons anymore? The serious repercussion is that Assad can’t use his chemical weapons on his own people anymore because he doesn’t have them.  He’s down to barrel bombs.

Breathe, and let the breath condense on the crystal ball Representative Heck seems to have about the intentions and actions of foreign parties. If we tell people we’ll do Y if they do X — What are X and Y?

Let’s explore some of the implications of Representative Heck’s simple formula, in the application of the administration’s doctrine: Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Putin moves against Ukraine.  There is no direct threat to the United States therefore we will address the threat multilaterally and not necessarily with maximum (military) force.  Multilateral action is messy, can be slow, doesn’t make for dramatic headlines, and certainly isn’t conducive to the bellicose bluster approach. However, in this instance it’s a far better approach.

For example, the U.S. does about $160 million in trade with Ukraine, [Cen] by contrast Germany’s trade with Ukraine is estimated at $10 billion. [Siemens pdf] If economic interests are placed in the “threat” category then Germany has far more at stake in the problems between Ukraine and Russia than we do.  So do China, Belarus, Poland, Turkey, Italy, and Hungary. [Bloomberg]

But, but, but, sputter the critics, Putin moved into Crimea and we didn’t do anything.  Come to think of it, neither did the Ukrainians — possibly remembering Crimea was attached to Ukraine in 1954 as a matter of Soviet administrative convenience, and when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Crimea negotiated terms which allowed it to be an autonomous republic. [AJAM]

While the Russians (Putin) continue to threaten interference with Ukrainian sovereignty, the latest efforts have been rebuffed.  The Russians are putting out the story that the destruction of an armored column is a fantasy — the Ukrainians have another version of events, one in which they destroyed at least half of it. [HuffPo] Meanwhile, the notion of sending arms to Ukraine sounds a bit like carrying coal to Newcastle — at one point Ukraine exported arms to Russia, included in a total of $1.3 billion in arms sales each year. [Bloomberg]

Perhaps there’s not enough drama in the careful ratcheting up of economic sanctions to cool the blood of those who, like Representative Heck, are unable to comprehend the current foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration?  However, it’s not like the Russians didn’t get some warnings as the sanctions were slowly increased until they started to hurt Russians in their grocery stores. [USAT]  Yes, Mr. Putin, if you continue to threaten (X) Ukraine, the western nations will (Y) hit you in the grocery baskets.  Worse still for Mr. Putin’s plans, the Germans, who have taken their own economic interests into consideration during the maneuvering, are now taking a much stiffer stance. [NYT]

Now, what part of Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance. isn’t clear?

China? It’s difficult to tell what Representative Heck might be talking about, other than a generalized appeal to the old Yellow Peril line of jingoism.  However, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he knows we’re monitoring what is going on between the Philippines, Vietnam and the Chinese regarding the South China Sea. [Reuters] And, that’s what we’re doing — monitoring to see if there has been or will be a de-escalation of tempers in that region.  We will be working with Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and China to resolve differences — meaning we will adopt the position that Indirect threats will be met multilaterally and not necessarily with the use of maximum force in each instance.

Perhaps Representative Heck does understand that the Obama Administration will meet indirect threats with multilateral efforts and not apply the use of maximum force in each instance — then what is the substance of his criticism?  We don’t “sound” strong enough? What does that mean? We don’t “look” strong enough? What does that mean?

Representative Heck may be indulging in theater criticism — should the President’s voice have been louder? Deeper? Should the wording of policy statements have been more aggressive? Should aggressively worded policy statements be issued no matter what our friends and allies may say?  He may assert he doesn’t agree with the foreign policy direction of the Obama Administration, but surely he can’t mean he doesn’t understand it.

Never one to be considered a softy, Gen. George Patton offered this pithy bit of advice on leadership:

“You young lieutenants have to realize that your platoon is like a piece of spaghetti. You can’t push it. You’ve got to get out in front and pull it.”

President Obama seems to have received and understood that message, Representative Heck must still be working on it. Pull too hard on spaghetti and it breaks.

Comments Off on Pulling Representative Heck Slowly Toward Understanding Foreign Policy

Filed under Foreign Policy, Iraq, Nevada politics, Politics, Republicans