Archive for the ‘Iran’ category

Call Me Cynical

March 2, 2017

President Trump has announced his intentions to increase Defense spending by $50 billion, an increase “badly needed” according to the President. Hmmm.

The President’s story gets a little cloudy when he says he can pay for this budget increase by shifting money from the State Department and the EPA. This proposed slight of hand is necessary because (1) President Trump and most Republicans want to cut taxes, (2) the President wants to launch a $1 trillion dollar infrastructure plan, and (3) there is the inconvenient law restricting what increases in spending are possible (sequestration). Do we hear the deficit increasing on the GOP’s watch?

President Trump has proclaimed that part of making America Great Again is “rebuilding” the military, woefully underfunded, the President says. Hmmm. The Defense budget weighs in at slightly under $600 billion, more than all other countries combined. An increase of $50 billion or 8% could procure some more airplanes and ships, or could be used to outfit more sailors or troops. But for what purpose?

The Presidents suggestion of taking money from the State Department is laughable unless there were to be across the board reductions in Federal Government spending. But even the act of decreasing Defense and State Department budgets begs the central question, what is to be the over arching US foreign policy?

Many observers have had their fill of the notion that the US is world’s policeman. And to be sure, the US policies in Afghanistan and Iraq have been poorly thought through and to date, failures. But policeman and deterrent can be two different situations. A deterrent if effective can keep other nations from aspiring to enforce their wills on other nations, for example Russia, China, or Iran. Does the President or his advisors really think that buying more planes, ships, and tanks will be sufficient for him to “bluff” other countries into following America’s wishes?  And what will happen if the President’s bluff doesn’t work?

Beefing up the military is a nice sop for his nationalistic followers, especially those who have never worn a military uniform (like the President). More Defense spending will also please a lot of Defense Contractor CEOs. Hmmm.

Taking the money from State Department and the EPA, however, may reflect other motives. Weakening the State Department could (and most likely would) make implementing US foreign policy dependent upon military action. A self fulfilling prophecy so to speak.  Will President Trump be a war President?  Neoconservative rhetoric can be infectious until implemented, then if becomes deadly for the sons and daughters of other Americans.

It is the EPA donation may shine more light on an underlying and even more sinister motive. Which sounds more responsible to you, (1) cutting the EPA budget purposely so the EPA will become resource starved and cannot continue key programs like enforcement of clean air and water regulations or those related to global warming, or (2) cutting the EPA to fund serious national security concerns, and oh yes, unfortunately with a restricted budget the EPA simply cannot do as much as before?

Hmmm.

ISIS – Are They Behind Every Tree?

March 27, 2016

Hyperbolism is a friend of most politicians. And during a Presidential campaign season, the use of hyperbole is a must tool for most candidates. Hyperbole is particularly useful in misdirecting voters from one party’s failures to the mistaken belief that these failures are the result of the other party. For example, the GOP standard line touches on some aspect “of President Obama’s failed foreign policy”. Their litany goes… President Obama withdrew our troops too quickly and enabled the conditions leading to ISIS formation. Hmmm.

This revisionist history overlooks much.

For starters, Osama bin Laden’s “al Qaeda” movement began its brand of terrorism from safe bases in Afghanistan in the 1990’s. Al Qaeda became a household word following 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center (twin towers). With this spectacular terrorist act, Al Qaeda became enemy number one, a threat to America “because they do not like our way of life” our politicians and news media told us.

In a few months, the US went to war against the Taliban Afghan government and in the process drove al Qaeda underground and unable to further operate in the open. Future al Qaeda terrorist operations would have to be conducted by affiliates located in other countries.

These affiliates, however, were not to be found in Syria or Iraq since both countries were under the authoritarian control. Then for reasons which historians will debate for years to come, the US decided to invade and occupy Iraq. Saddam Hussein was toppled quickly and again for uncertain reasons, the US settled in for a period of regime change and “democratization”.

Soon the roots of “al Qaeda in Iraq” arose. Sunni based militias including Al Qaeda in Iraq raised havoc with Shiites and presented opposition to the newly formed Iraqi Government. Then came the “surge” where the US committed more troops and without much fanfare, began giving money to various local Sunni militias. The results were stunning and al Qaeda activities ceased.

When the US handed daily government control over to the “democratically” elected and Shiite lead government, surprise, surprise, the payments stop flowing to the Sunnis. In a short period, AQII had reappeared and during the Arab Spring morphed into ISIS.

It is problematic whether the US troop removal had anything to do with ISIS’ growth. Neoconservatives favor the story line that US military presence would have confronted ISIS and rendered them un-functional. Does this imply that the US would remain indefinitely in Iraq?

Al Qaeda and ISIS have been the faces of radical Islam. Behind these faces, however, are the raw unabashed thirst for power and a greater share of oil profits. Acts of terrorism are simply tools used in an attempt to shape world behavior and screams “leave us alone”.

The ISIS fear hyperbole can be easily seen if one wants to look. More people die each year from gun related mass shootings than terrorism world wide. More people die in traffic accidents each year than from acts of terrorism worldwide. More people die in home accidents than from terrorism worldwide. Hmmm.

President Obama’s decision to withdraw US military from Iraq, of course, was consistent with signed agreements executed during the Bush years. President Obama’s decision not to over turn these agreements, however, was thoughtful and not a result of weakness or fear. The nonsense of Sunni versus Shiite, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, and the general ambivalence of the Muslim world towards moving into modernity are social problems the US or any other country cannot solve. Only the Middle East populations can bring sense to their lives.

The troubling aspect of this non-involvement position is the region has only known leadership by power, the strongest kid on the block gets the oil and the money. What will make things different in the future?

The answer is unknowable but so what?

Suppose ISIS were to establish itself in Iraq and much of Syria. What would Egypt, Iran, or Saudi Arabia do? Take the worst case, ISIS somehow found a way to overthrow these regimes and gained greater territory. Would ISIS withhold oil from world commerce?

Unlikely, ISIS would need oil revenues (as it does today) to finance its government administration.

Would ISIS send an army of terrorists overseas (say to Brooklyn or Orlando or Salt Lake City) to create mayhem and bring foreign governments to their knees? Even more unlikely.

Hyperbole might be forgivable if one sees it as an essential part of politics. Hyperbole, however, must be constantly challenged by the responsible media so that average Americans do not drink the Kool-aid and believe these clearly unsubstantiated claims.

There will not be terrorists behind every tree but there could be an hyperbole spewing politicians.

ISIS and World War II

October 27, 2015

News reports today said President Obama would soon announce his approval of a military plan to move US military assets closer to the front lines in Syria and Iraq. What does that really mean?

On one level moving troops who are already there and not changing their mission seems like “no news news”. This announcement, however, could mean much more. And much more is probably not wise.

As World War II drew to a close, Allied Forces raced towards Berlin intent on getting there before Soviet troops. The race was all about territory and seizing most of Germany and its capital thereby keeping the Soviet Union contained in Eastern Europe. The Soviets had the opposite goal and wish to extend its influence as far as it could.

One possibility for the US Syrian repositioning might be similar to WWII. If one believes Assad is about to fall, then the US might want to have a presence in Syria.  Subsequently, a partitioned Syria might geographically provide the West with territorial advantages helpful in concluding a larger peace plan. In return for Russian withdrawal, the US could agree (without losing face) to withdraw too.

The US Iraq repositioning could follow similar logic but this time towards Iran. Iran will have continuing interests with Iraq and will want a route to resupply its client, Hezbollah, in southern Syria.

There is, unfortunately, another explanation.

“Head to tail” thinking (the opposite of comprehensive) has marked US Middle East involvement since George W Bush’s ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation.   US military may be just saying they need their special operations personnel closer to the front than where they are currently placed without necessarily thinking about unintended consequences. Just a military tactical adjustment. Hmmm.

Until last week, it had been over two years since a US military member was killed in Iraq. With the death of a special ops master sergeant, the US may be stepping again onto a slippery slope.

The level and quality of Congressional “war talk” is extremely worrisome. There is no shortage of politicians willing to criticize President Obama, calling him weak and lacking any type of Middle East plan. If you listen, however, not a one of these chicken hawks has a comprehensive Middle East plan. The politicians are acutely aware that there is no stomach in the voting American public for another ground war in the Middle East but with elections ahead, these politicians want swagger points.

President Obama needs to demand comprehensive plans from the military which entail only the amount of troops currently there. The illusion that if ISIS were suddenly eliminated there would sunshine and peace in the Middle East must not take root in military or political thinking. ISIS is just the current group of thugs.

The Middle East is fundamentally a mess and will remain so until radical Islam is rejected and a real move to modernity is made. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

One of the great foreign affairs successes of the Cold War went by the name “containment”. US policy was aimed at containing, not eliminating the spread of Soviet Union influence. The US Middle East enemy is not Russia, it is rather the failed States/lawless radical Muslim extremist groups who are set on making a better life for themselves without adopting modernity.

Containment could be the answer once again.

Four More Years

September 12, 2015

Can you hear the sounds of a nation beginning to wake up?  Barack Obama will not be President after the election of 2016.  It is only a very quiet murmur now but the drum beat is beginning to grow and resonate more widely. As the Presidential campaigns begin to bring focus to the real and less real issues, Americans are going to begin to understand how lucky we have been for 8 years.

Dream on you may be thinking. Hmmm.

The Affordable Care Act was a jobs killer and would hopelessly increase healthcare costs we were told. To the apparent surprise of the GOP, none of this has come true. Immigration reform was not legislation the House could consider despite the reality that there was 11 million undocumented aliens living in our Country.  But when the President prioritized enforcement activities, suddenly there were plenty of ideas (but no action).

Raising taxes on “job creators” was a death wish the GOP said but allowing the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy to expire hardly evoked a deep breath.  The US economy has grown steadily during President Obama’s watch. More recently, the Iran nuclear deal was a bad deal the GOP told us, yet what constitutes a better deal (and how we might get it) is a mystery. And now Tea Party GOP members are lining up to demand defunding planned parenthood or they will shut down the Government by not approving a budget.  Is that a way to run a railroad?

With a Congress which seems to have no conception that their job is to produce laws that help the entire Country thrive, the prospect of continued wrong headed, ideological thinking seems a given. Who will be the one adult in the house who stands up to a Congress more concerned with (1) getting reelected and (2) providing a generous return for their financial supporters.

With respect to foreign policy, the contrast couldn’t be more striking. The GOP prefers to continue the chest beating “we are the strongest country in the world” and “America must lead the world” slogans which were true in the past but no longer can stand up to 21st century facts. President Obama has chosen the difficult path associated with diplomacy and patience over the Dick Cheney like blustering and threatening. While the latter sounds strong and heroic, the inconvenient truth is that the GOP is unwilling to fund its foreign policy dreams and so its protestations are just for show.

To be clear, the GOP would be willing to cut other government spending in order to throw more at Defense but socially this will not work, not to mention the harsh backlash from broad sections of the country that would follow.

President Obama has not be perfect by any means. He openly displays the “I don’t suffer fools well”. And he accepted some unfortunate compromises with the Affordable Care Act. Also, entitlements and most all the Federal Government departments are ripe for efficiency improvements. The tax code is an unmitigated joke. President Obama will leave plenty that he could have tried to fix.

But the President, in time, will be remembered for not having a “dog in the fight”, that is a financial or special interest dog. President Obama insisted upon looking at the world without sunglasses and treating other countries respectfully but with cold reality. No better example is the Iran nuclear deal. Standing pat would have driven Iran to finish developing the “bomb” in secrecy and that would have forced the hand of the West. Iran may still develop the bomb in secret but to do so will be in violation of Iran’s promises to the world. War then would be widely accepted if it must happen.

Geopolitical realities strike us everyday yet too many in our Congress members seem to see no more than what’s happening in Kansas or Arizona. What was true or simply necessary 50 or 70 years ago no longer fit a world which already has too many nuclear weapons or too many people consuming too much fossil fuels. Those countries just emerging into the “good life” (compared to where they were) are not interested in listening to some US Congress member telling them what they should be doing, especially when that advice does not apply to the US.

The past four years could be simply the behavior of a lame duck President. I think not, however. I think President Obama will be remember less as the first black President and much more as the first President in over 50 years to think.

Political Chuckles

September 4, 2015

Today is a slow news day. It is early September just before the Labor Day Weekend. Here’s vignettes to put a smile on your face.

President Obama has just secured enough Senate votes to ensure the GOP cannot override his veto of a promised Congressional resolution aimed at negating the Iran nuclear deal. Kim Davis, the born again christian and County Clerk in Kentucky who refused to obey court orders to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples is behind bars. Tom Brady has prevailed in a court case against the NFL. And there is maybe some light in the possibility of closing Guantanamo. Each of these stories carries some humor that might light up these slow news times.  Hmmm.

The Iran nuclear deal is a reasonably important matter which holds the potential for another Middle East war up to and including the use of nuclear weapons. One would think Congress would be highly motivated to avoid war.  Clearly, Iran, might cheat on the deal’s terms and proceed secretly to develop nuclear weapons. Such a consequence will likely lead to military action. So, wouldn’t a prudent person object to the deal?

Here’s the humor. Iran is just as free today to develop nuclear weapons, do it secretly, and claim profusely it is not. Once the West were to establish Iran had nuclear weapons, guess what, military action could follow. So, how can 100% of Republican Congress members all vote against the deal. Are they unable to see a difference or are they more interested in a political statement against President Obama?

Kim Davis is sadly in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. She has claimed the “laws of God” have provided her the authority to ignore a Federal Court order. While this is both sad and unfortunate for Ms Davis, her custody is offering a wonderful opportunity for panderers like Mike Huckabee. He has endorse her “good” fight and is now planning to visit Davis while she in jail. Huckabee, who is a Presidential candidate and if elected would need to swear he would defend the Constitution and the laws of the land seems to see this one differently. I wonder whether he is trying “Trump” this issue to get his name out, or whether he does not see the connection with Sharia law advocates?

Tom Brady, the NFL New England Patriots’ quarterback, who got the book thrown at him over allegations that he knew about the activities leading to the use of under inflated footballs in a playoff game. NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodall, chose to play the role of arbitrator in a NFL versus NFL players union dispute over Brady’s four game suspension. The Court ruled, in essence, that Goodall violated the terms of the NFL Players Agreement and vacated the penalties Goodall had levied and then ruled as arbitrator as ok. The humor lies in the big Goodall picture. Until the public began hinting they would not buy advertisers’ products, Goodall paid little attention to off-field player behavior. Since getting “religion”, the morality rudderless Goodall has issued one penalty after another that made no consistent sense. The court’s verdict was not a statement of Brady’s innocence, but instead was a slap down for the Commissioner.

Today’s last piece of humor is a variant of the Iran nuclear deal. The GOP has nearly unanimously opposed Guantanamo Detention Center’s closing. The basis, they claim, is they don’t want the remaining “dangerous” detainees moved onto US soil. These detainees were simply too dangerous, the GOP claimed. Once again humor can be seen in (1) seemingly lack of knowledge that US Federal “supermax” prisons hold and have held far more dangerous prisoners, and (2) the “don’t close Guantanamo” seem to lack the very basic awareness that due process is the backbone of American jurisprudence. These Congress members are our lawmakers. Don’t you see the humor?

Admittedly humor might be a stretch in these cases. Hypocrisy might better apply. I see the humor, however, when the subjects come forward, stand tall, and profess to hold certain opinions which are clearly inappropriate if not outrightly incorrect.

Dick and Liz, Truly Exceptional

August 30, 2015

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal carries a half page op-ed column by Liz and Dick Cheney. The father daughter team went way beyond attempting to rewrite history in their piece. One is tempted to believe their column was really an attempt to hawk their new book due out in September. Seeing it in any other light would either bring further discredit to former Vice President Dick Cheney’s long years of public service, or more cynically, underscore the failings of those who cannot bridge world changes and insist upon living in the past.

The Cheney’s column, titled “Restoring American Exceptionalism”, is roughly constructed in three parts. They open with a claim that American Exceptionalism has its roots in the founding days of our Country. Hmmm. The Cheneys do not belabor this claim and immediately move on to slamming President Obama for abandoning Iraq and making a “bad” deal with Iran.

The Cheneys omit any explanation why President Obama was in a position to remove US troops from Iraq in the first place, and say nothing about what a mess Iraq became after President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney invaded and occupied Iraq, thereby opening Pandora’s Box. Probably just a minor detail in Dick and Liz’s opinion (or an inconvenient truth in many other’s minds).

By this point, Dick and Liz are full throated in their denunciation of President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal. Their argument reads like the words were from AIPAC or maybe even Prime Minister Netanyahu. As you might guess, the Cheneys offer no alternative path or explanation why no agreement does not lead to war while an agreement does. Hmmm.

After making a “President Obama – Neville Chamberlain” comparison, the Cheney’s catch their breath on reminisce over the successes of WWII and post war recovery, and of course, the winning of the cold war. I guess these are things “exceptionalsim” is made of.

It is doubtful any one can accuse the Cheneys of being unsure of their visions nor hampered with too many facts. Simply check out PNAC (Project for the New American Century) begun in 1997.  Cheney’s view of the world (especially the Middle East) and the unbridled use of American military power is on display. What’s so wrong with using other people’s children to fight on the ground? It’s called an all volunteer Army and a great thing when there are not so many other civilian jobs.

The kindest light that can be put on this column is it represents a crass attempt to merchandize a book. The Cheneys show complete ignorance of true American Exceptionalism and instead attempt to conceal America’s foremost foreign policy failure (Iraq War) with shameful comparisons to former great Americans. George Marshall, Dwight Eisenhower, and Harry Truman would spin in their graves if they could read this column.

The Middle East (especially Iran), China, and Russia all represent complex challenges for America foreign policy. One foreign policy approach is unlikely to work for all. Selecting the best approach for each will be both difficult but critical to maintaining a peaceful world. Negotiating by laying down ultimatums is the quickest way to failure. Negotiating in good faith may not always produce desired results also but good faith is the only way win-win outcomes can be forged.

The Cheneys don’t recognize this alternative.

Jeb Moves Closer To Irrelevance

August 12, 2015

With 16 Republicans vying for the GOP Presidential nomination, the field is crowded to say the least. The original presumed leader, Jeb Bush, has been struggling to make his candidacy relevant without much success. Yesterday he added another package of hot air which will be difficult to talk around in future debates should he somehow get the nomination.

Yesterday, Jeb tossed out the already well worn line that ISIS is a direct result of President Obama withdrawing US troops from Iraq too soon (after ten years of a war fought for no valid reason). Bush gratuitously added Hillary Clinton to the list of coconspirators. He claimed the policies of both left Iraq exposed and unprepared for whatever lie around it. Hmmm.

Many observers’ first reaction is to ask, “on who’s watch did the US troops get into Iraq in the first place?”

Further questions might be who supported (selected in many analyst’s views) Nouri al Maliki as Iraq’s Prime Minister and did nothing to replace him when it became clear Maliki was driving a wedge between Sunnis and Shiites?

Jeb’s speech, billed as a major foreign policy statement, certainly ranked higher on importance scale than most of Donald Trump’s bluster. That is, however, not much of an endorsement.

Bush is also one of many who have denounced President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal. Jeb’s also calling for a “better deal” whatever that is. Apparently, Bush believes that magic will somehow intervene and Iran will disavow its nuclear ambitions on its own accord.

Jeb’s opposition to President Obama and just about anything the President has done is not really a surprise. Some say this is just politics. When one considers, however, that a group of leading American scientists (who would understand the technical aspects of the agreement) and another group of retired senior military officers (who would understand the difficulties and dangers of a war with Iran) have both issued letters saying the current agreement with Iran is the best alternative available now, Bush’s (and many other politicians’) rejection of the agreement makes one wonder whether they are thinking things through?

Jeb’s brother George W certainly did not think through what a war in Iraq might lead to. “W” added to this intellectual laziness (or incompetence) a hard sell to the nation where “faulty” intelligence was used to convince the American people war was the right option.

Jeb’s view that had America kept its fighting forces in Iraq, ISIS would not be where it is today is simply problematic. Maybe or maybe not. What is not problematic is that had the US still kept combat mission forces in Iraq, they would have been used resulting in deaths to more Americans. Probably as certain would have been that Iraq would have still not undergone the political and social reforms necessary to mend together the Iraq’s sectarian differences.

If Jeb Bush (or any other candidate) wants to speak on foreign policy and to really be relevant, they need to address the situation as it exist today. I wonder what Jeb would say about the Iranian nuclear deal given the world’s endorsement? What would he do when President?

I also wonder what Jeb would do with Iraq as it is today? Hmmm.

And while he is at it, how does he think the US can handle the Middle East, Russia (western expansion creep), and China (south China sea expansion), and the mess that is called Africa? Such statements are unlikely because they are highly nuanced and bold clear unequivocal statements would unlikely stand the test of do we have the forces, the will, and the budget to undertake them.

Consequently Jeb is left to making statements on what “should” have been and even then he is getting it wrong.  Jeb is drifting towards irrelevance.