Category Archives: Iran

DIY News and Views: Intelligence and the Lack Thereof

Intelligence

There was an open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence yesterday, and for those who like their news unfiltered, here’s the link.  DNI Director Daniel Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and FBI Director Christopher Wray got the headlines; but, there’s more to be learned from DIA Director General Robert Ashley, NSA Director General Paul Nakasone, and NGA Director Robert Cardillo.

DNI Director Daniel Coats’ opening statement is linked here. (pdf) It should be of interest that the first two topics addressed in his presentation to the committee were (1) Cyber security threats; and, (2) Online Influence Operations and Election Interference.  As noted in several national broadcasts, the “southern border” — for which Trump claims “crisis status,” — doesn’t appear until page 18 of the print edition. While on that page, please note that Mexican sourcing is mentioned for fentanyl, most fentanyl is coming in from China.

On the other hand, from the lack of intelligence department, the president* is challenging the conclusions of his own intelligence gathering and analytical agencies, disputing their priorities and findings. [MST] The report that Iran is abiding (for now) with the previous arms deal, and North Korea definitely is not, seems not to be sitting well with the Oval Office occupant.  It’s instructive to take a closer look at some of the findings reported to the Select Committee, before heading back to the generalities of news outlet commentary.  Russia and China:

“At present, China and Russia pose the greatest espionage and cyber attack threats, but we anticipate that all our adversaries and strategic competitors will increasingly build and integrate cyber espionage, attack, and influence capabilities into their efforts to influence US policies and advance their own national security interests. In the last decade, our adversaries and strategic competitors have developed and experimented with a growing capability to shape and alter the information and systems on which we rely. For years, they have conducted cyber espionage to collect intelligence and targeted our critical infrastructure to hold it at risk. They are now becoming more adept at using social media to alter how we think, behave, and decide. As we connect and integrate billions of new digital devices into our lives and business processes, adversaries and strategic competitors almost certainly will gain greater insight into and access to our protected information.”

The Defense Technical Information Center offers this advice on how to analyze Russian use of cyber assaults and activities:

 “Russian military theorists generally do not use the terms cyber or cyberwarfare. Instead, they conceptualize cyber operations within the broader framework of information warfare, a holistic concept that includes computer network operations, electronic warfare, psychological operations, and information operations; In keeping with traditional Soviet notions of battling constant threats from abroad and within, Moscow perceives the struggle within information space to be more or less constant and unending. This suggests that the Kremlin will have a relatively low bar for employing cyber in ways that U.S. decision makers are likely to view as offensive and escalatory in nature; …”

Review, their activities are ongoing, surreptitious, and holistic.  To get further into these weeds, see the Minority Report, Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, January 2018. (pdf) on Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy in Russia and EuropeChapter 4, on the weaponization of civil society, ideology, culture, crime, and energy is especially informative.

As the president* disparages the information, evaluation, and analysis of our intelligence community efforts, and is revealed to have even more ‘undocumented’ meetings with Uncle Vlad, [FinTimes] … and probably won’t stop having secret meetings with the Russian dictator [VanityFair]… we need to keep our focus on Russian and Chinese activities, not to the exclusion of other pressing subjects, but toward being able to discern how much of our internal turmoil has external support and encouragement.

Comments Off on DIY News and Views: Intelligence and the Lack Thereof

Filed under Iran, Iraq, Politics

Thank You Senator Corker

Hmm, never thought I’d begin a post on a liberal blog with “Thank you, Senator Corker.” But, here it is.  The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued his now famous Tweet about properly staffing the Pennsylvania Adult Day Care Center, and followed up with a serious conversation including:

“The senator, who is close to Mr. Tillerson, invoked comments that the president made on Twitter last weekend in which he appeared to undercut Mr. Tillerson’s negotiations with North Korea.

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.”

Simply airing these views is an act of civic responsibility, and if the Senator’s comments are accurate then there are more Republican Senators who hold these views; it would behoove them to chime in, even if only on the last few lines of the chorus.  We can imagine why we’ve not heard more voices.

The Republicans may now be victims of their own gerrymandered monster.  Those who break with the President may feel at risk of facing primary challengers.  However, a president with a 32% approval rating is not necessarily a creature to be feared.   That said, there are states in which the local politics could require senatorial and congressional candidates to pose close to the president, or at least could encourage it. Senators should recall that a Trump endorsement doesn’t insure election — ask Luther Strange in Alabama.

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has drawn a challenger who is (thus far) playing unabashed sycophant in the Trump parade, perpetual candidate for almost anything Danny Tarkanian.  (See also: Nevada Independent)

“I have so many people that are contacting me over the past couple months saying ‘you gotta run against Dean Heller,’ ” Tarkanian said. “They understand, as I do, that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda.”

There are a few problems with that agenda.  If America first means America alone, then the President’s doing a fine job of that.  Right off the bat members of NATO got the message that Trump didn’t think all that much of Article 5, at least not enough to even mention it during a meeting concerning that important mutual defense clause.  Paris Accords — not even a treaty, but a mutual decision to follow voluntary self imposed guidance on climate change mitigation — and the US backs out.  When the President said he wouldn’t mind renegotiating the agreement the rest of the world’s nations said, thank you but NO we’re not interested.

We’re now in Round 4 of talks to renegotiate the NAFTA and the US Chamber of Commerce isn’t pleased with the administration’s demands, which border on protectionism (if they don’t ramble right into it).  As of two days ago the administration appeared poised to insert “deal breaking demands” into the bargaining process, some of which would seriously upset supply chains for the auto industry.  While there are certainly NAFTA provisions which might be improved, the current administration has proposed items which sound very much like the TPP provisions Trump opposed when he pulled the US out of those talks. [WaPo]

And then there’s North Korea.  While the remnants of the State Department (there are still a massive number of unfilled positions, many of which have NO nominees) try to tackle this problem, the President issues saber rattling tweets and undercuts his own Secretary of State.  [NPR]  It isn’t the least bit reassuring to hear informed comments like this when discussing the delicate and significant relations with the North Koreans:

“Without political appointments in place, governments in Asia and around the world are canvassing the Trump administration, trying to open lines to various advisors in the White House. And they’re getting mixed messages that are often hard to sort out.”

Oh, but wait there’s even more.  In addition to leaving our allies scrambling around at least since last August trying to find definitive answers to a chaotic foreign policy, they may also question whether our word means much of anything.  We need to recall that whatever Trump says, there are 6 nations involved in the Iran nuclear development containment deal and two of them aren’t happy: the Iranians and the Russians.  The Chinese government went on record in late September in support of the containment plan treaty, and three days ago the United Kingdom made its position clear in a medium Trump would understand (Twitter) “The Iran Deal is Working.”  The French foreign minister made a longer, but similar comment:

“It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” the minister told journalists in New York on the sidelines of this week’s UN general assembly.

French President Macron has also made his support for the agreement clear.  The German government has stated its support for a continuation of the agreement.   The P5+1 that signed the treaty could end up being the Chinese, French, Germans, Russians, and British vs. the US.  America “first” literally becoming America alone.

Senator Corker has a reputation for speaking carefully — all the more reason to listen to his warning.

Comments Off on Thank You Senator Corker

Filed under Economy, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran, NAFTA, Nevada politics, Politics, Tarkanian

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

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

>Coffee and the Papers: Ensign, No Questions Please

>

Senator John Ensign (R-NV) will address his Senate GOP colleagues at the weekly lunch today. He joins a list of other Republican Senators who have done the Mid-Day Mea Culpa, including Vitter, Craig, and Stevens. [TPMDC] More on Ensign’s return to Washington, D.C. [LV Sun] CREW is asking for an Ethics Committee investigation, [CREW] and the organization has some questions about the severance package allegedly paid to former staffer/mistress. [CREW]

Someone finally tags the problem: “What Republicans are adamantly opposed to is the idea of adding a public plan to that exchange. They portray it as a “government takeover” of the health care system, or even as socialized medicine. Those are egregious mischaracterizations.” [NYT]  Some Democrats and progressives are falling into the trap of comparing health care services with health care insurance. The health care reform bills in Congress are not “nationalized medicine,” they are proposals to reform health care insurance.  There are some legitimate criticisms of health care provided by VA hospitals, and the problems in the Philadelphia facility weren’t helpful to the patients or to the VA’s reputation, but those incidents are entirely irrelevant to the current issue — we’re talking about health care insurance not health care services. More at the LAT. The Administration is launching an accessible database, or “health care story bank,” sometime today. Some pertinent advice for Democrats from dday at Hullabaloo.

The level of incomprehensibility and confusion emanating from critics of the Obama Administration’s cautious and incremental approach to dealing with Iran is readily apparent in drum-beater John Bolton’s notion that we should indicate our willingness to provide concrete support for the protesters while admitting we have no capacity to actually provide concrete support. [Think Progress]

Iran’s Guardian Council has ruled out annulling the June 12th election after citing irregularities in 50 districts. Foreign Ministry spokesman lashed out at UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for “ignoring the realities of Iran’s election and … remarks clearly contradicting his duties (which are) “a clear interference in Iran’s state matters.” Further: “Ban Ki-moon has damaged his credibility in the eyes of independent countries by ignorantly following some domineering powers which have a long record of uncalled-for interference in other countries’ internal affairs and colonisation,” Qashqavi said. [AJNeng]

 Al Arabiya reports “Tension mounts as Iran rules out vote fraud.” The Iranian government (or at least parts of it) are trying very hard to make the case for British interventionism: “In the meeting yesterday we concluded to summon Iran’s ambassador to London for a limited time for some explanations and a complete report of events and Britain’s interference in Iran’s internal affairs,” Ahmadi said.” And on the other hand, “UK expels two Iranian diplomats” [BBC]

Comments Off on >Coffee and the Papers: Ensign, No Questions Please

Filed under Ensign, Health Care, Heath Insurance, Iran