Posted tagged ‘Iran’

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.

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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.

Troubled Times

August 7, 2013

It’s August.  This is the time for summer’s last flings.  Time for picnics and the beach.  And it’s so pleasant in Washington with Congress on break.  But, as the news reports indicate, all is not good around the world.  In fact in some spots life is down right miserable.

From Pakistan to Tunisia (including Sudan, Somalia, and other middle African countries) life is down right tenuous.  Why there and not here?

In these lands there is much killing.  Guns are plentiful.  Explosives, however, are used to boost the numbers. Bombs are so effective since others can be caught by surprise.  Suicide bombers are the method of choice.  Apparently there is a limitless number of eager volunteers.  You might say these life enders are just dying to make a point.  But what point?

Suicide is not unique to the Islamic world.  The US actually records higher numbers of suicides each year than any country in the Islamic world.  What seems to be the difference is that Americans (and Westerners in general) commit suicide for personal reasons.  They choose to end their own lives and do not choose to disturb anyone around them.  Only in the Islamic world do we find people who willingly self destruct at the behest of someone else.  And unlike many Buddhists who self immolate in recognition of some cause, these Islamic suiciders seems sure that taking as many other lives as possible is a worthy idea and will bring them accolades when they enter paradise.  Hmmm.

So what advice should the US be giving countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan?  Should the US be sharing Thomas Paine’s writings?  How about explaining the US Constitution and how it is constructed?  Or, possibly the “Western Cannon” might find fertile ground.

Hmmm.

I feel comfortable that Senators Lindsay Graham and John McCain (who visited Egypt yesterday) thought that (1)after first helping Senator Graham’s upcoming Senate election campaign that (2) they could explain how the US would resolve a situation like the current Egyptian military take over.  Hmmm.

It is just striking that those who backed (and still back) the Iraq invasion and occupation are firmly convinced that Egypt will be different.

My guess is that they are correct, but just not now.  Maybe in 50 or 100 years.  Until Arabs clearly confine their chosen religion to their private lives and restrict the exercise of its ideology amongst themselves and do not interfere with others, communications will be limited to who holds the biggest stick.

Disclaimer.  Not all Muslims would choose to be a suicide bomber.  Not all Imams would teach or ask their followers to act this way.  And, for sure there is a thin line between some military actions where soldiers are sent into action where death is almost certain.

 

Old News

July 7, 2013

Syria is no longer front page news.  The killings and woundings continue.  They just don’t seem so newsworthy anymore.

The forces loyal to Bashar al Assad seem to be gradually regaining much of the land lost to the insurgents.  Syrian killing Syrian, Shiite killing Sunni (and vice versa), and a country decaying before the our eyes is no longer  qualify as new information.  With no end game in sight, this war’s 15 minutes of fame has come and gone.

And besides, there is Egypt.  The rich Egyptian fabric of social confusion offers much new to write about.  Like many third world countries, the discrete but powerful military is a cut of society all to itself.  The brass may speak of civil order, but behind those words is the unmistakeable intention to remain in power and in control of their way of living… (regardless of what some clerics say Allah wishes).

In Egypt, there are secularists and Islamists.  Some see modernity as the curse and others see the Koran as positive if balanced with western dress and technology.  The poor, like the poor everywhere, want bread and a place to live.  The young want jobs and then they will worry about Islam (isn’t it, Allah helps those who help themselves?).

Many Egyptians distrust the US and envy the paternalistic approach US foreign policy has taken.  On the other hand, those who hold the strings of power realize that US aide is essential to keep Egypt from blowing up in civil war.  The US quietly supports the Egyptian military and the military hold the reigns of power (new type of democracy?).

The intrigue of establishing an interim Egyptian government and the squashing of the inevitable street demonstrations will fill front pages and evening news reports for weeks to come.  Lost in this attention will be the gradual Assad consolidation of power.  The justice or lack there of concerning the continued rule of Assad will be lost.  Many Americans have thought it just sounded so right to want the insurgents to over throw a minority government.  Hmmm.

My guess is that when President Obama goes to sleep at night, his pragmatic mind dreams of Egypt finding some stable compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and an Islamic but religiously impotent government.  More of what Mubarak brought but this time without Mubarak.

Instead of counting sheep, President Obama thinks of Syria settling down with Assad at the helm.  This outcome is not ideal since there will continue to be Iranian influence (fueling Hezbollah for mischief in Lebanon and Israel) but the Sunni religious extremists who populated much of the insurgents don’t portend a great future either.  The President dreams that Iraq is too complex to even worry about, but an insurgent victory in Syria almost certainly would foretell of new Sunni versus Shiite trouble in Iraq.

What a mess the Middle East seems to be.  If there was anything in modern experience which is reminiscent of “pandora’s box”, the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq certain makes my list.  Oh, for the good old days.