Archive for the ‘Iran’ category

Toxic Thinking

January 11, 2020

Section I – The Birth of an Idea

During the George W Bush Administration, America was introduced to “Neoconservative” thinking.  This oxymoron was intended to reflect an updated version of good old Republican values most Americans recognized if not loved.  Neoconservatives argued that the United States represented the zenith of civilization offering a vibrant economy, military strength, and wholesome values which others would do well to emulate.  A “think tank” named “Project for the New American Century” boasted a foreign policy designed to ensure the 21st century was made in America’s image.  Hmmm.

“W” was not much of a thinker although IMO he eventually realized there was something fishy about his hubris filled, swaggering staff when they preached how America was right and others were not.  “W” was more comfortable wearing nice suits and getting his picture taken then squaring up what his Vice President, Defense Secretary and others were saying with laws and the Constitution.  So “W” side tracked his “compassionate conservative” label and read the scripts subordinates like Dick Cheney gave him.

And then there was 9/11.

The neoconservatives threw open doors and windows, and shouted from roof tops about the exceptionalism of America (google PNAC -Project For A New American Century) and how it was their duty to spread this thinking throughout the world but especially in the Muslim world. 

No sooner had US forces ousted the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan than the neoconservatives set their sights on “nation building”.  “We can’t allow terrorists to highjack Afghanistan again”, the neoconservatives said thumping their chests.

But that wasn’t enough.  Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, etc pointed at Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and falsely connected him to 9/11.  The Cheney cabal beat and beat war drums until the US invaded and occupied a sovereign country on trumped (pun) charges. 

Black sites, enhanced interrogation (think Nazi Gestapo techniques), and Guantanamo Bay Detention center (created to be outside the jurisdiction of US courts!!!) were products of neoconservative thinking.  Hmmm.

Section II – Rebirth

Fast forward.  Following 8 years under President Barack Obama where logic and reason prevailed, the country elected Donald Trump.  President Trump has turned out to govern in ways lacking logic or reason.  The stage has been set for neoconservatism to return.

The decision to assassinate the Iranian General Qassem Soleimani smacks of Dick Cheney-esq foreign policy.  (If you got the bigger stick, use it.) President Trump breathlessly raced to center stage in order to proclaim the assassination was on his order.  Trump thinks he is a tough guy despite having had bone spurs when he had the chance to go to Vietnam.

One must be careful, however, in assigning credit or blame to President Trump with respect to the assassination.  The President is an opportunist’s opportunist.  One should instead look to those advising the President, who would gladly hand the President a loaded gun in a crowded room.

Neoconservatives are paternalistic ideologues who exemplify “father knows best”.  Issues are reduced to black or white decisions which of course the neoconservative knows the best path forward.  Regrettably, the world is not a dichotomy of choices where one path is clearly superior to the other.  But authoritarian, paternalistic thinkers do not handle this possibility very well.

Iran is from an American’s perspective an opaque place where theocracy rules, women are subjugated, and free speech does not exist.  Iran, however, is not illogical, and like Russia, has adopted a foreign policy which buffers the homeland with client organizations operating in neighboring countries.  Iran does not want another Saddam Hussein ruling a neighboring country and subsequently invading Iran.  Hence General Soleimani’s work as a Middle East “trouble maker” is not likely to end with his death.

Assassinating the General will not change Iran’s foreign policy, it will simply change who is pursuing that policy.  Neoconservatives do not seem to recognize this subtlety and when confronted with more “bad behavior”, neocons will most likely reach for the hammer over using their words.

Section III – Teaching Points

There are ample reasons why President Trump ought be a one term President which have nothing to do with this recent assassination.  With respect to Iran, however, the President has willingly become a tool of neocons.  Judgement?  While the buck stops with the President, voters would do well to realize there are neoconservatives behind many bushes and trees, poised to jump out and take control of a putty-like President.  

In a strange way, the combination of President Trump and Neoconservative backers combines the worst of two dangerous forces.  One must assume that neocon motivation is at least in part founded upon energy sector driven economics.  The President has demonstrated a fondness for energy companies already and his America First motto fits Neoconservative rhetoric like a glove.  

President Trump has tried anti-globalism, embraced trade wars, and championed xenophobia.  Is neoconservatism next?

    

The “One Off” President

January 5, 2020

As the New Year begins, President Trump enters his fourth year as President.  Hopefully 2020 will be his last year in office, but certainly not all Americans hold those views. 

For the most part, Trump supporters have seen “one off” acts by the President which in their value system, represents positive events.

  • Barring Muslims from entering the US,
  • Building a wall between the US and Mexico,
  • Withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Accord,
  • Ending the US participation in the Trans Pacific Partnership,
  • Championing religious freedom (at the expense of LGBTQ members),
  • Abrogating the Iran Nuclear Deal,
  • Unilaterally imposing punitive tariffs on long term trading partners, and
  • Pandering in all ways possible to the pro-life community. 

Each of these actions appealed to at least some of his supporters.  Hmmm.

Along the way, the President who subscribes fully to the absolute authority view some see imbedded in the Constitution’s Article 2, managed to get himself impeached. 

What a surprise.

The evidence, however, is clear that the President tried to us the power of his office to tilt the 2020 election his way.   The Republican controlled Senate is likely to acquit the President, even as more documents see the light of day and the case against the President gets firmer.   President Trump see the risk that everyday Americans have an opportunity to see through the smoke.

So what can the President do to shade the evidence more in his favor?

The answer is “not much”.  What the President can do is help take America’s eye off impeachment.

This past weekend, US assets assassinated a senior Iranian General under the claim that the forces this general controlled were targeting American assets in the Middle East region. Although details have not been released, most news authorities agree that Qasem Soleimani was “guilty as charged”, and had been engaged his similar activities for years.

There are two big questions, (1) why now, and (2) why ever (short of during a declared war)?

One is left with few explanations for “why now”.  The President has ordered US withdrawal from Syria on several occasions and most recently, pulled US troops back from the Turkish border allowing Syrian, Russian, Turkish and Iranian forces greater strategic territorial control.  Hardly a strategy if one was seeking to stabilizing the region with US interests in mind.

But what if the President is now more interested in distracting Americans from his impeachment and even better, getting Americans to adopt a war mentality (don’t change horses in the middle of the stream)?

The larger and more significant question, however, is how could the President ever justify assassinating anyone, particularly a member of a foreign government?  While ethics and commonsense should drive a US decision towards alternative counter measures, the President has shown no regard for ethical or moral thinking in his three years as President.

The President’s hard core supporters are unlikely to be swayed by any type of ethical or moral argument. But the 10% or so independent voters are looking and listening too. For the sake of our country, their November vote can ensure President Trump is a one term bad dream.  Lets hope independents are paying close attention.

  

The Week That Wasn’t

June 24, 2019

If one looks and listens closely, there is evidence that President Trump is getting his “number” called fairly often. In addition, it appears his rhetoric is not as effective as in the past to get the public’s eye off his mistake. 

China is sinking the President’s ship without much effort.  China’s selective tariffs have hurt farmers and Trump’s tariffs have hurt untold businesses and are now hurting Americans in their pocketbooks.  The President claims China is hurting big time but where is the evidence to support that claim?

The southern border continues to be a joke where each blustery Trump statement acts like a puff of smoke.  When the air clears, the immigrant situation is the same or worse.

This past week the President struck new colors with Iran and diplomacy.  Chicken hawks such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, both whooping up a war cry against Iran (recognize that it will be other Americans sons and daughters going off to fight), the President talked tough and then he didn’t.  The President blinked and called off punitive airstrikes at the last minute showing his own “red line” was mostly pink or white.

The President offered a humanitarian justification for choking at the last minute.  Hmmm.  From someone who doesn’t know how to tell the truth, and believing now the President suddenly tell the truth, is a big pill to swallow.   Most Americans assume Trump was telling another falsehood.  Americans were relieved since there is little stomach in the nation for another Middle East conflict. 

Why the pull back?  Maybe, the President got concerned about getting involved in a Middle East War, this one on his watch.   And, without a doubt, President Trump was cognizant of the 2020 campaign and the promises of no interventions.  While voters can’t be sure what the President’s reasoning really was, past experience strongly suggests Trump wanted no parts of anything that could blow back on him.

Not to be outdone by foreign affairs, the President hyped a stepped up ICE campaign to “round up millions” of illegal residents.  The tough guy had spoken.  At the last minute, once again the President blinked and called off the program for at least two weeks.

“The program”, even in its suspended state, is unclear.  News reports identified up to a million refugees who sought asylum, were given a court date, released, and then disappeared.  Pundits, however, suggest that ICE lacks the capability to find a million people as well as the resources to deport them. 

Just the same, the President probably thinks he scored a victory with his supporters with his threat and by not following through, never revealed how hollow a threat he had made.

The lesson involved in these two situation is sadly that both never should have occurred and calling them off at the last minute teaches all others how to call the President’s bluff.  Hmmm.

Iran is a bad regional actor and as a theocracy, should be carefully watched and even more carefully approached.  As a theocracy, Iran can always justify its action (no matter how devastating to Iranians) because god (Allah) said so.

There is practically nothing this President or any one else can do to shut off the flood of refugees and undocumented immigrants… at the border.  Central America is poor and America is wealthy.  If the President, instead, devoted his attention to finding a political solution with a comprehensive immigration reform, there is hope that undocumented immigration could be controlled.  But it is clear that a solution does not fit the President’s needs and he will continue to use the border as a campaign prop.   

Nuclear Blackmail

June 18, 2019

This past week Iran announced it might soon exceed some of the agreed upon limits to its nuclear development program.  Of course this statement should come as no surprise since the US unilaterally pulled out of the 6 nation agreement and reimposed severe sanctions on Iran.  But, one must wonder given the statement issued by the US National Security Council what the NSC is thinking.

“Iran’s enrichment plans are only possible because the horrible nuclear deal left their capabilities intact,” NSC spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “President Trump has made it clear that he will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. The regime’s nuclear blackmail must be met with increased international pressure.”   Hmmm.

There is no secret that many Republicans and conservatives, for various reasons, strongly opposed the Iran Nuclear Agreement (formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan For Action).  The JCPFA, however, did provide a verifiable path to a cessation in Iran’s nuclear weapons development.  The JCPFA did not provide for all the demands conservatives were making.  So was half a loaf better than none?

As is happening now with North Korea, some Administration people want complete disarmament and proof positive of denuclearization as a basis for negotiation or nothing.  These demands are not going to happen with North Korea.  And it is not going to happen with Iran either.

Behind the scenes, Israel has been a vocal supporter of a tough line with Iran and even recommending “regime change”.  (Remember Israel also pushed a similar line with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.)

This tough as nails position has the advantage of never being wrong in any foreign affairs discussion.  Unless Iran throws open its doors and throws out all nuclear weapons, research papers and files, and proves that former nuclear scientists are no longer employed, how can America be sure Iran does not have secret programs?  But this extreme position is a non-starter.

An honest NSC and State Department would have said that Iran’s decision to exceed certain previously agreed to limits was regrettable but understandable since the US was no longer abiding by its agreements either.  But who said the Trump Administration is any more clear eyed or honest in its rhetoric that the President himself.   

Does Lying Matter?

June 13, 2019

President Trump has demonstrated little affinity for telling the truth.  The best perspective would be that the President believes strongly that the ends justify the means, and if the President thinks a situation should be this way or that way, then using words that effect that outcome may be appropriate.  Hmmm.

There are many moral or ethical rationales why “ends do not justify means” but don’t waste your time trying to convince the President.  Recent newspaper reports site the President as having “lied” over 10,000 times in public statements.  And most of these cases are readily verifiable with publicly available data.  Hmmm.

Most people learn about lying as children with the story of the little boy who cried “wolf”.  The lesson is how can anyone believe another person if the other person persists in telling lies?  President Trump has taken this fable to a new level and most observers first reaction to the President’s comments is that the truth is most likely the opposite of what President Trump has said.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney got President George W Bush to lie about Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program and suffered a permanently damaged reputation when the US invaded Iraq on this false basis.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has now announced that he has proof Iran was behind the attacks on two commercial oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz.

While this is possible (the US may have radio intercepts), it is highly unlikely there is a smoking gun.  Much more likely there are presumed connections to an Iranian surrogate or an Iranian financed rogue unit.  

Americans should be alert to Washington talk over the next days and weeks.  There is simply too much of a convenient connection when the Trump Administration labels Iran as the enemy.   Focusing America’s attention on the bad guys takes public opinion away from China or Mexico or the Mueller report.  

If the President can’t tell the truth, why should Americans believe his Secretary of State? 

The Anti-S Word

March 10, 2019

Anti-Semitism is one of many hate filled belief systems.  Anti-Semitism purports to call those of Jewish heritage unfit to live freely among the world community and assigns all sorts of calamities to conspiracies amongst Jewish persons.  Anti-Semitism extremists seeks the “final solution” as demonstrated in Nazi Germany.  So to label someone as an anti-Semite is a serious charge.  Hmmm.

Ilham Omar, a newly elected Democrat Representative from Minnesota, has been awarded the label “anti-Semite” twice in the last couple of weeks.  First, Omah referenced “it’s the Benjamins, baby” for why Jewish lobbying groups were successful promoting aid for Israel.  Omar was referencing AIPAC and the flow of lobbying money aimed at influencing US foreign policy.  Hmmm.

Next, Omar questioned out loud how someone could be loyal to the US and Israel at the same time.  At a minimum, Omar was calling out the apparent hypocrisy of many in Congress who are outspoken about their unconditional support of Israel (and by extension Israel’s mis-treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories).

Now if one has been watching and reading current events and recognizes the name Sheldon Adelson and still denies that money has been used to steer US foreign policy, it will be difficult to discuss this topic further.  Along the same lines, if one does not recognize the extra-legal actions where Israel confiscate Palestinian lands in order to build Israeli settlements, or creating roads within the occupied lands where only Israelis can drive are signs of misguided domestic policy if not outright apartheid, then anti-Semitism will have no practical definition bounds.  Any criticism of Israeli policy will be definition be “anti-Semitic.   Hmmm.

Israeli’s conservative (both religious and political) government often denies the existence of lobbying activity or the planned creation of new settlement and permanent occupation of the West Bank.  Subsequently, the Israeli Government will admit the facts and justifying them on the need for self defense.  “Israel must (will) defend itself”.   Who could expect less.

And clearly Arab extremist groups have and continue to plan horrible atrocities against Israelis. Neighboring Arab countries still deny, 70 years after the establishment of a Jewish State, Israel’s right to exist.  So why shouldn’t Israel execute extraordinary policies to ensure its survival?

Unfortunately, when a State becomes theocratic (for example Israel’s constitution defines Israel as a “Jewish State”), all paths to rational debate ceases.  (God gave the land to Israelis, the Bible tells us)  Concerned?

Think about Iran which is also a theocracy.  Is Iran a rational State?

Israel has in the past agreed to take a path towards a “two state solution” where a sovereign state of Israel exists along side of a sovereign state of Palestine. While avowing a two state solution, Israel’s specific behavior has been anything but that.  Is that an anti-Semitic statement?

Pundits and critics should be careful about how easily they throw around the term “anti-Semitic”.  Representative Omar is both young and inexperienced.  Her choice of words may also have been poor but to throw the “Anti-S” word was premature, shut down discussion, and elicited sophisticated hypocrisy from those with hidden motives. 

Instead, one should insist upon learning the facts such as “how much money does flow from Jewish lobbying groups to US legislators”, “what due process has been used (and how often) to take land from West Bank Palestinians and build new Israeli settlements”, and “how does US “Israel Policy” serve US national interests”?

Representative Omar is a poor target for Israel supporters to justify using the “anti-S” word.  Rather, if Representative Omar’s words upset Israel supporters, they would be better served ignoring Omar (and not giving her a public stage) and temper their worries by studying whether Omar’s claims have merit.   

Foreign Relations, Bush League

October 11, 2018

The Trump Administration following the inspiration of their commander in chief have racked up quite a score card for foreign affairs.  Everything in the foreign affairs arena done in the Obama Administration was prima facia wrong (how about worst ever).  With this view, abandoning, walking away from, or reversing any and all Obama Administration policies was the Trump option of choice.

So, we have ended NAFTA (worst treaty ever), thumbed our nose at the Europeans by withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, and roundly distanced the US from almost all other countries with our America First and indiscriminate use of new tariffs attitude.  President Trump said he expected each other country to act similarly, that is in the best interest of themselves.  Hmmm.

It is relatively easy to look good or at least get away with new policies regardless of how short sighted they may be, if you have actually inherited a good economy and a well defined foreign policy.  Deconstructing is much easier and for the short run less risky than for proposing and implementing sound, constructive longer term policies.  President Trump has and continues to show us how true that observation is.

Someone, however, with a “one off” set of tactics, runs a far ranging risk of “what goes around, comes around”.  Case in point, withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

A group of neoconservative hawks combined with far right Israeli supporters (remember the Iraq invasion in pursuit of non-existent WMDs) lobbied hard for President Trump to reverse the Obama Administration negotiated agreement with Iran.  With the most bellicose rhetoric the President could muster, with draw from the Iran Nuclear Agreement he did. 

Proud as a peacock, the President labeled the agreement “the worst ever”.  Hmmm.

The President then reimposed the economic sanctions which existed prior to Iran agreeing to halting their nuclear development.  Regime change (which Israel predicted) was just around the corner.  But…

The “but” is that the rest of the signatories (Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China) did not wish to see Iran restart its testing.  The US cajoled and then threatened that dire consequences would befall them if they traded in violation of US sanctions.  For many businesses, the US market is extremely important and understandably these companies hesitated.

Making a straight up choice between the US and Iran as a trading partner would seem a no brainer.  The complication, however, was the US was not acting very trustworthy in its dealings with any other country forgetting about Iran.  Hmmm.

America First (or America Alone as it is practiced) will not work in todays global economy.  Supply chains are too intertwined to simply take a unilateral position unless one is willing to accept sharply higher costs of doing business and substantially lower economic growth.  So where does the US stand?

Russia and China are strategically challenging the US for world economic growth and strategic national interests.  Europe (the UK, France, and Germany) are simply unwilling to turn down trade with Iran on the basis of an unfriendly country asking them to.  Hmmm.

Reports this week that the other signatories to the Iran Nuclear Agreement were exploring a “barter” system with Iran as a means of out flanking the US squeeze on monetary based trades.  The details are not important but the fact that three important allies are openly discussing ways to circumvent US sanctions should send a huge message.

I wonder if anyone is listening?