Posted tagged ‘Iran’

Trump’s Puppet Pompeo

April 29, 2018

There are a lot of votes associated the Evangelical Christian’s “Jews for Jesus” and their fellow travelers who exude unconstrained fawning over the State of Israel.  There’s big money from these sources too as well as from mega donors such as Sheldon Addleson who must think his lavish financial support for Israel will ease his entry into the hereafter.  And President Donald Trump has not overlooked these connections.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson poured cold water on the notion the US simply walking away from the Iran nuclear agreement, the President knew he would need a new Secretary of State.  Once Tillerson was dismissed, the President nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo.  Secretary of State Pompeo has picked up the Trumpian position that the Iran Nuclear Agreement is (or should be) void. The rationality is because Iran’s behavior, well beyond the Agreement’s criteria, were unacceptable and represent grounds to scrap our promises (and in the process,  teach the world that in the future America’s word doesn’t mean much).  

Secretary of State Pompeo is visiting the Middle East beating the anti-Shiite drum with a clear anti-Iran rhetoric.  The Middle East is a mess with chasms of rich versus poor, Shiite versus Sunni, and a unhealthy dose of radical ideologue groups such as al Qaeda, ISIS, Hezbollah, and Hamas.  Picking sides is a prescription for making matters worse.

Pompeo’s enthusiastic adoptions of Trump’s campaign lines doesn’t bode well that he will gain any Middle East insight.  It is very difficult to hear others when one is talking too loud.

And even worse, moving so quickly to walk away from the agreement will have other consequences as well. (Israel and the Trump brigade of “Chicken-Hawks” will find themselves isolated from the rest of the world opinion.)  The most obvious undesirable consequence will be for Iran to restart their nuclear weapons programs which in turn may prompt other nations (Saudi Arabia and Japan, for example) further destabilizing their regions.  A less obvious potential is the inability for the US to withdraw from Middle East military presence.  This will cost money and carries the potential for shooting war events.

With these consequences, where is Congress and its war powers responsibility?  

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Confused? Or Trying To Confuse?

April 4, 2018

President Trump has had quite a week for himself.  He has set off the first skirmish of a potentially harmful trade war.  He has changed his National Security Advisor to a George W Bush “let’s invade Iraq” chicken hawk whose previous positions have been to preemptively strike North Korea and scrap the Iran nuclear agreement.  And today, the President announced the movement of US troops to the Mexican boarder allegedly to keep Mexican immigrants (and drugs) out.  

With trade, the President begins with a reasonable thesis, China has been strong arming Americans companies in order to obtain intellectual property and have been exporting far too much steel on world markets.  This has not been a mystery to previous Administrations but how to curtail China’s behavior has been elusive. 

The President said he would be different and immediately announced large tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, which would include China.  Predictably (history is a good teacher), China retaliated with tariffs on a wide range of politically sensitive US exports and hinted that more could come if the US did not rethink its new tariffs.

Almost coincident with firing HR McMaster as National Security Advisor, President Trump received and accepted an invitation to summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  McMaster’s replacement, John Bolton is a hawk’s hawk.  Do you wonder what type of advice Bolton will give on how President Trump should deal with North Korea? 

Even more curious is what to do about Iran.  Again, President Trump sees Iran correctly in the sense of pursuing its own Middle East agenda.  The President has shaded his views about the Iran Nuclear Agreement from Iran violating the agreement (which Iran has not) to the agreement’s “spirit” (the agreement is about nuclear activity not other matters) claiming Iran is acting poorly and therefore the US should withdraw from the agreement. 

Has the President considered that (1) none of the other signatories to the Iran Nuclear Agreement will withdraw, and (2) simply walking away from the Iran Nuclear Agreement will not be lost on North Korea (or China) as to how much value one should put into any future US agreement.

With respect to Mexico, the President again is correct that some Mexicans and some amount of drugs pass through the US-Mexican boarder.  Most reports, however, indicate the flow of Mexican undocumented immigrants is at very low levels if at all.  And with respect to drugs, there is little indication a wall or a battalion of soldiers will make any difference

So why does the President say the things he does?

There are as many theories to explain the President’s behavior as there are pundits.  No one really knows, that is the President has not explained his motives directly to a confidant.  But one can safely begin by assuming the President is not confused.  President Trump is a 100% “ends justify the means” type of personality.  

For example, today the President jumped again onto Amazon linking Amazon’s use of US Postal Service local delivery as unfair to the Post Office and tax payers.  There is speculation President Trump’s real target is Jeff Bazos, CEO of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post. 

Maybe and in addition, just as possible an explanation for the President claiming a string of clearly untrue charges against Amazon is to distract voters who will soon be feeling the blowback from tariffs, will see the North Korean overtures going astray, will see the US isolated from other world allies over Iran, and see the wastefulness and inadequatecies of using highly trained instruments of war attempting to police the almost 2000 mile Mexican border.

The office of President of the United States has served as an example for all American children that hard work and honesty can serve their lives well and some day they might too become President.  President Trump seems set everyday to darken that image to the point where unlike George Washington who could not tell a lie, future generations might not be able to tell the truth if they follow the President’s habits.

White Knuckles

July 31, 2017

There appears to be a collective “oh sh*t” coming from US intelligentsia. It has taken a full six months for think tank members along with other thoughtful Americans to grasp how far out on the branch of sound governance the US has crawled. What do you think of our President now?

Conservative and right of center thinkers have cut President Trump all sorts of breaks. “He’s new at this”. “His staff is not helping”. And who can forget the wounds inflicted by “fake news”. No wonder the world seems muddled when the US ship of State has no rudder.

The think tank world makes its living from keeping an eye on the four corners of the globe.

  • Russia has concluded good times are not coming from the Trump Administration despite what his campaign rhetoric and it is time to get back to business intimidating Easter Europe and opposing US goals in North Korea and Syria.
  • China similarly has concluded President Trump is a paper threat towards their US trade. China reasons their long term interest in being the supreme power in Southeast Asia is theirs for the taking.
  • The Muslim world (lead by the twin dysfunctionals, Iran and Saudi Arabia) has concluded the US is over stretched and therefore they are content to ply the suicidal path of nuclear armaments. (Allah would have wanted that.)
  • And the motley collection of third world countries, such as North Korea, Pakistan, most of Africa, and Venezuela, plod along with little recognition how close they are to a failed nation.

The conservative intellectuals also know how leaderless the US current is. Republicans have practiced governance tactics which have lead at best to gridlock and when not gridlocked, to destructive, wrong side of history policies.

Time for a tax cut anyone? Or how about more denial of global warming or the need for 21st century trade practices with both Asia and Europe? And where in the world of international disorder should Mexico stand? Does Mexico rank up there with North Korea, Iran, Russia or China?

President Trump has selected a new chief of staff, a new “silver bullet” so to speak. The conservative intelligentsia know that while General Kelly is a good man and competent choice, there is no reason to expect General Kelly can fix the lack of direction or find the soul of domestic policy. On both scores, there simply is none.

Former President Obama was frequently criticized for “leading from behind”. But few honest brokers could allege President Obama did not understand the world and various global forces at play. President Obama also understood that he would be out on the limb alone because the Republican side in Congress was out to undercut him at every step.

Real thinkers in American think tanks are becoming “white knuckled” as they begin to realize the Commander in Chief has no comprehensive understanding of foreign policy issues and has little interest in listening to anyone who might know.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seems a very capable executive but has no background in foreign policy. His professed loyalty to President Trump is very worrisome since the President has no idea of what to do.

Secretary of Defense, Jim Maddis is by far the sharpest knife in the draw and that in and of itself is a long term danger. The US democracy has long been the domain of civilians with military actions executed by military professionals. Where are the foreign policy civilian experts?

General Kelly has a narrow set of options. Hopefully he will find clear thinking experts whose advice he can preferential route to President Trump. General Kelly must at the same time thwart the access of the one dimensional thinkers and former campaign aides who seek to curry President Trump’s favors.

It’s white knuckle time.

Great Decision or Great Mistake?

November 25, 2013

Looking back in recent history, the George W Bush White House followed the “negotiate from strength” position.  The style holds that no matter what the issue, the other side is wrong.  Employing this option, one either ignores the other side’s request to negotiate, or presses its opinion with unreachable demands.  This approach makes little progress in resolving disputes, and as seen in Iraq, can get it terribly wrong.  It does, however, play well with domestic political realities.

President Obama has followed a much different foreign policy approach.  The Obama White House has steered carefully away from confrontations for which options would be most likely military force.  (Syria is one example where Obama almost got trapped into military action only to be saved by Russian intervention.)

Iran now presents a mighty challenge.  The Bush Administration stayed clear of any thing close to military action relying instead on unilateral (read not too effective) sanctions and name calling.  Bush acted tough but even chicken hawks like Dick Cheney had little stomach for another conflict after having had their lunch handed to them in Iraq.

Now a six month agreement has been negotiated with Iran by a coalition of countries.  This represents a small step forward… maybe.  To Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it represents a great mistake.  If you haven’t been keeping current with the news, tune in and listen to “friends of AIPAC and Israel” parrot Netanyahu’s words.

The gist of the agreement is that for 6 months, Iran will cease enriching uranium.  During this period negotiators will seek to find a more permanent arrangement where presumably the West is assured that Iran will no longer conduct work leading to nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu says “won’t happen”, “can’t happen”, because Iran’s never tell the truth.  Hmmm.

Just as with Saddam Hussein who said Iraq had no WMDs, Iran might be serious about reaching an agreement.  Iran may also just be buying time.  With Iraq the Bush “negotiators” went directly to war and subsequently found out Hussein had been telling the truth.  Following Netanyahu’s advice would have only one outcome… war.

The Iranian nuclear programs are a very serious matter.  On one hand it is highly unlikely that Iran would use a nuclear weapon as a first strike tool.  But most experts predict that other Middle East countries will panic and seek to acquire nukes for themselves.  With the instability we see today in the Middle East, the prospect of multiple nuclear capable countries is not a pretty picture.  No one can predict how such a situation might play out.

So why is Netanyahu acting so obstinate?

Like with “W”, he is playing what he thinks is his best domestic political hand.  Most Israelis do not trust Iran (for many good reasons).  But Netanyahu’s tactics also has the advantage that if this six month agreement does work, he wins too.  If negotiations go bad, Netanyahu can say “see I told you so”, and expect now more support for military action.

The take home message, since no one knows for sure how further negotiations will fair, is to give President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry some room.  If it is war we want, then the “great mistake” will lead us there too.  If it is the avoidance of war (at least for a while), then lets keep talking.

This is not a “peace in our time” speech.  This is a “we do not need a Middle East war at this time” speech.

 

The Sound Of Reason

November 12, 2013

Last evening, Robert Gates, former CIA Director, Secretary of Defense, and holder of many other leadership positions including President of Texas A&M, spoke in Philadelphia.  In short, he was great.  He spoke clearly and straight forward.  He sprinkled in some insightful humor which both made one laugh and think.  Gates is on a speech giving circuit and if he comes to your city, try and see him.  You won’t be disappointed.

This was not just a light hearted evening.  Gates highlighted his years of service and the men he had served with.  President Reagan was the best, and Presidents Nixon and Carter seemed tied for the least redeeming.  The “take home” observations, however, involved the dysfunction of Congress and the seemingly intractable situation with Iran.

Gates, when asked if Congress was unethical, replied he thought they were no more so than most previous Congresses.  Rather, he said, Congress suffered from too many members who viewed their Congressional service as a “career”.  As such, all decision Congress members make are colored with how they align with reelection plans.  Forgotten is how decisions impact the Country, especially in the long term.

His Iran comments underscored Congress’ weakness.  Iran or Persia as it has been known historically is set upon being the dominant State in the region.  Iran has concluded this means they must possess nuclear weapon capability if not outrightly having them.  The fact that most of the rest of the world does not want nuclear weapons to spread makes no difference to the Iranians.  Just look at North Korea on one hand, and Iraq and Libya on the other hand.  Those with survive, those without perish.

But what to do, cautioned Gates, was a huge problem.  Preventive military intervention like a missile attack might slow the Iranians down but in the end they would rededicate themselves and put their nuclear facilities deeper underground.

Negotiating would almost certainly prove fruitless.  Iranians are great negotiators, Gates said, and they would string out talks until they had what they wanted.

With both the US and Israel having drawn lines in the sand, war looks inevitable (since Gates believed Iran would build nuclear weaponry).  War, however, would open Pandora’s box with the reactions of other Middle East countries or the greater Muslim world not to be predicted.

Should Iran gain nuclear weapon capability and the West do nothing, many other Middle East countries would begin their own programs.  Soon nuclear weapons would be available like AK-47s.

Gates describe Iran as a critical problem with no obvious solution.  With Congress as dysfunctional as it is, the US is in a weak position to forge any plan that would unite other countries in a common stand.  This was the note upon which the evening closed.

Hmmm.

It was clear that Gates saw Congress as a much more important and urgent problem to solve than Iran.  Without Congress legislating rationally against a long term set of objectives the Country would become impotent.

As with Iran, Gates offered no new ideas on how to fix Congress, other than it was each of our responsibilities to try and do so.

Middle East Puzzle

October 24, 2013

There’s an old baseball story about a manager trying to defend one of his decisions.  It seems the game was tied with runners of first and second, one out.  The manager asks the gathered reporters what should the short stop do if the ball was hit to his right?  Should the short stop throw to third base for one out, or to second trying for a double play, or to first base for a sure single out?  About one third of the reporters picked “throw to third”, one third picked “throw to second” and one third picked “throw to first”.  There you have it said the manager, regardless of my choice, two thirds of you will find it wrong.

The story bears a more than slight resemblance to the Middle East.  What course should the Obama Administration being following?  As with this baseball story, what ever course the Administration picks, more than half of the Middle East players will be against the US choice.

Looking at Syria, it should be clear that the insurgents will be as bad a nightmare or worse than the current Assad regime.  They are unfit to rule.

Should Iran agree to certain concessions, and the Western powers accept these concessions and reduce the sanctions, you can be sure Israel and Saudi Arabia will be opposing any reductions in sanctions.

The clearest case for opposing an Iran compromise comes from the Saudis.  While the Saudis are Sunnis, they are first and foremost a regime that demands stability and status quo.  The Saudis are not in favor of popular vote (in the Middle East that exists today).  invading Iraq, aiding the Syrian insurgents, and encouraging the Muslim Brotherhood.  There were all actions the Saudis saw as very dangerous and totally misguided.

To a large extent, this is also how Israel see the Middle East.  Unfortunately, Israel did lobby for Iraq regime change and so its position is a little manufactured.  Also, the Israeli position versus Iran’s nuclear program is compromised.  Were Israel to say, if Iran gives up (and we can verify) its nuclear programs, we will do the same, there might be a basis for a brighter future.  Such a position would for sure put Israel in a less hypocritical position.  Middle East stability, not democracy, is what Israel thinks is in its best interest.

So that’s the lay of the land.  No matter what the Obama Administrations proposes, there will be a number of countries that object.  Hmmm.

Don’t forget, President Obama “leads from behind”.  In other words, the President tries to “react” to world events rather than precipitating them.  So how should he resolve the Syria uprising, the Iranian nuclear issue, the Palestinian-Israeli peace accords, the Iraq unrest, the Egyptian failed democracy, or pick any country in Africa’s lawlessness?

So, who again is worried about the delayed start-up of the Affordable Care Act web site?

 

Egypt? So What’s The Big Deal?

August 21, 2013

It has been tortuous to watch President Obama and his Administration try to express a US position towards Egypt.  One moment he’s for policies which would restore the Muslim Brotherhood to power.  The next moment he seems content with the Generals.  Like a Professor, President Obama seems to be able to see both sides of the issue but can not utter his choice.

Foolishly, the Bush Administration started this mess when they encouraged more freedom of expression for Egypt.  When former President Mubarak finally got around to allowing more free expression, the Arab Spring had arrived.  With the genie out of the bottle, history’s course was not predictable.

“Free and fair” elections were held and the Islamic Brotherhood won narrowly.  The election was hardly over when the newly elected President, Mohamed Morsi declared he would exercise extraordinary powers until the Constitution was changed (in a way that provided these powers).  Included in the Constitutional changes were the entry of Sharia law and an implicit role of Islam in State affairs.

The Brotherhood pointed out repeatedly that they had won the election and that provided them the right to change the ways things were done.  Morsi championed democracy while he twisted it to create a Islamic fascist State.  Hmmm.

The Egyptian military are not “awareness robbed” individuals.  They know that only with sectarian governments where the military can predict the course of events will the military’s privileged lives be safe.  Look at Pakistan, Iran, and Egypt.

So back to President Obama.

His position does not differ that much from former President George W Bush.  “We are not interested in an elections results, we are interested in the process used in an election”, or words to that effect, the President said.  Who could find fault with this endorsement of democracy?

The Bush and now Obama position simply does not reflect current reality.  If Egypt were experienced with open democracy, the rule of law, and commercially, the owners and leaders of major businesses achieved their positions through meritocracy, and the Egyptian concept of government could accept inclusiveness  (protections for minorities), one could argue Egypt was more than ready for democracy.  But we have just seen that Egypt is not ready.

Some will argue that returning to a strong man ruler will not prepare Egypt either.  On the other hand, President Morsi’s path would sink Egypt further and further into an Islamic and fascist State.  So what’s a President suppose to do?

The issue President Obama should be focused upon is the greater Middle East and a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  This is the key to creating a Middle East playground where the more dysfunctional States (Syria, Iran, Iraq) can mature.

Saying this differently, the problem is not Egypt, it is the greater Middle East.  This Muslin region is divided by ethnicity and religious secularism.  The region can also boast of some of the lowest educational levels and huge income inequality.  The answer for Egypt is the answer which is best for the region.

The President must hold his nose and support the Generals.