News of America's misadventures in foreign policy and defense.
The vote by the UN Security Council today to impose a fourth round of UN-backed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program—the first three were enacted under pressure from President Bush and his administration, including Ambassador John Bolton—are a sign that President Obama has no idea what to do about Iran.
Hint: sanctions ain't it.
You'll hear a lot from the Iran-bashing, neoconservative crowd and from the Obama administration itself, especially the State Department, about what a great victory this is. In particular, you'll hear Obama and the State Department tout the fact that it was Obama's brilliant effort to win over Russia and China for the sanctions vote that made all the difference. They'll tell you that Obama contrived to isolate Iran and to persuade Moscow and Beijing to go along with the new sanctions on Iran, when in fact Russia and China succeeded in ensuring that the sanctions imposed by the UNSC are meaningless. And, of course, President Bush did the same thing, three times: despite Bush's cowboy approach to unilateral hegemonism and unchecked wars abroad, Bush, too, managed to get Russian and Chinese support for three previous votes at the UNSC for sanctions on Iran between 2006 and 2008.
A self-congratulatory statement from the State Department's office at the UN—i.e., from Susan Rice's shop—notes that the United States "remains open to dialogue" with Iran, but it goes on to list no fewer than fourteen new or enhanced sanctions on Iran imposed by UNSC Resolution 1929. In fact, none of the sanctions is worth a damn. None of them are "crippling," none of them target Iran's oil and gasoline imports, none of them have a thing to do with Iran's real economy, and none of them will do a thing to persuade, compel, or scare Tehran into changing its policy on its nuclear program. (The fact that the sanctions are so mild and meaningless is the direct result of insistence by Russia and China that the sanctions have no impact on Iran's population.
So, according to the State Department, the sanctions in Res. 1929 ban nuclear and missile investment abroad, ban Iranian access to a range of conventional arms, restrict Iran's access to ballistic missile technology, provide for nations to inspect ships carrying cargo to Iran, target the Iran's shipping firm IRISL and its airline for increased "vigilance," and include various measures dealing with finance, including calling on all nations to "prohibit on their territories new banking relationships with Iran, including the opening of any new branches of Iranian banks, joint ventures and correspondent banking relationships, if there is a suspected link to proliferation." In response, Iran is likely to pretend to be outraged, but in fact Tehran is well aware that the sanctions are merely a political statement. No doubt, Iran is unhappy with the fact that neither Russia nor China acted to block or veto Res. 1929. But they won't accomplish their objective.
President Ahmadinejad is heading to China soon for a high-profile visit to Shanghai, where he may meet with President Hu Jintao. And Iran has been meeting this week in Turkey with the Turks and the Russians. Not that there isn't some bad blood between Iran and its Asian allies: Miffed at Moscow and Beijing for backing the sanctions, Iran plans to boycott the latest meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian proto-alliance linking Russia, China and various central Asian counties in which Iran has "observer" status. Even so, the two big Asian powers aren't about to let the United States impose harsh new penalties on Iran, and the Iranians know it.
At the security summit in Turkey on Tuesday, the leaders of Iran, Turkey and Russia—including Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin—engaged in what the New York Times called a "display of regional power that appeared to be calculated to test the United States just one day before a scheduled American-backed debate in the UN Security Council." At the meeting, Ahmadinejad and Putin held private talks, and Putin said publicly that the UNSC action "should not put Iran's leadership or the Iranian people into difficulty."
Brazil and Turkey voted against Res. 1929. Earlier this month, Brazil and Turkey engaged in a brilliant diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to go along with the October, 2009, agreement worked out between Iran and United States, in Geneva, but in slightly modified form. The United States is angry at both countries for doing that, since it was seen (accurately) as an effort by the two regional powers to slow down the mad rush to sanctions. The vote by Brazil and Turkey will not endear either country to Hillary Clinton's heart. In a calculated insult to Brazil and Turkey, the United States today told the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that the diplomatic effort was a bad idea. According to the Los Angeles Times:
The United States told the IAEA The United States told the U.N.'s atomic watchdog on Wednesday that a Brazilian and Turkish effort to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program failed to address international concerns.
The neocons, of course, are pretending to be overjoyed. Pretending, because the most virulent neoconservatives, such as Bolton, have long argued that the sanctions are useless and meaningless and that they won't deter Iran. And the neoconservative watchdog group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), issued a statement moments after the UNSC vote praising the action but calling for more:
In passing a fourth round of sanctions, the United Nations Security Council has sent a clear message to Iran: the cost of pursuing an illegal nuclear weapons program is international economic isolation. While this is a clear message and an important symbol of the international community's opposition to Iran's current policy, it will not be sufficient to halt Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Further action is required in the form of even more meaningful sanctions.
More sanctions are indeed coming, but it's an open question as to whether they will be "meaningful." Both the United States and the European Union intend to use the UNSC resolution as the starting point for imposing unilateral, non-UN sanctions on Iran, including Treasury Department-sponsored financial sanctions that could target Iran's Central Bank. And Congress, in its infinite nonwisdom, is likely to pass legislation that will put enormous pressure on the White House to restrict Iran's supply of imported gasoline and refined petroleum products. (For an analysis of the sanctions push, see my recent article in The Nation.)
Perhaps the saddest reaction to the provocative but useless sanctions resolution came from J Street, the supposedly pro-peace, anti-AIPAC Jewish lobby, which gushed over the resolution:
J Street welcomes the passage of enhanced multilateral and broad-based sanctions on Iran at the United Nations Security Council today.… Today, the Government of Iran hears a clear message from the international community that there are real consequences to continued obfuscation, delay, and intransigence over its nuclear program, as well as real benefits should they fully address international concerns.
The fact is that the resolution will make it harder, not easier to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough on Iran's nuclear program. That's because it will make it more difficult for Iran's fractious leadership to make any conciliatory move without appearing to be caving in to international pressure.
For Obama, who tried to open the door for dialogue with Iran, Res. 1929 is a symbol of his failure. Since military action has been ruled out, the choice are between diplomacy and containment of a post-nuclear Iran. In that choice, the sanctions are irrelevant. But they do make the diplomacy a lot harder. For the administration, the best that can be said is that the sanctions are an effort to buy time, to stave off the Congressional crazies who demand actions such as naval embargos of Iran and the neoconservative lunatics who want to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran. Unfortunately, President Obama, it only encourages them.
The long-anticipated peace jirga in Afghanistan concluded on Friday, with mixed but potentially very important results. And in its wake, President Karzai—who is committed to opening talks with the Taliban to end the war—fired two top Afghan security officials, to howls of protests from US and NATO officials. Both fired Afghans appear to have been American stooges.
In both the jirga and firing of Afghanistan’s interior minister and intelligence chief, a key issue was Karzai’s insistence on freeing political prisoners held by the United States and Afghanistan, including many Taliban, and removing more than 100 current and former Taliban from the so-called List 1267, the outmoded, post-9/11 UN-maintained watch list. At the jirga, the 1,600 delegates issues a sixteen-point resolution that called for the removal of top insurgent leaders from List 1267, including Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a key insurgent leader.
The jirga’s key accomplishments are significant: It decided to create a permanent shura, or council, to explore the opening of peace negotiations, and it’s possible that current or former members of the Taliban could take part in that council. It called on the Taliban to cut ties with Al Qaeda, a call widely seen as meant to placate the United States—even though Al Qaeda barely exists as an organization anymore. Besides calling for the elimination of the UN blacklist, it also called for the release of detainees held by the United States in Guantánamo and at Bagram Air Base and other prisons. Under great pressure from the United States, the jirga stopped short of calling for a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.
The point of removing the Taliban officials from the list: it’s impossible to have official peace talks with men who would be instantly arrested and incarcerated. And it’s a gesture to the Taliban, a sign that Karzai is serious about wanting reconciliation. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy, has expressed horror at the idea of removing Mullah Omar from the UN list.
The jirga also demanded that no preconditions be imposed on peace talks with the Taliban. As Anand Gopal in the Christian Science Monitor reported:
Among the controversial propositions include the demand that both the Taliban and the Afghan government drop any preconditions for talks. Kabul and Washington have said that they will only talk to those insurgents who lay down their weapons and accept the Afghan constitution. The insurgents, on the other hand, believe such terms constitute a surrender and refuse to start talks until foreign troops leave.
A number of delegates said the government’s demands were unrealistic.
"When they say put down your guns and accept our law and then we’ll talk, what kind of negotiation is that?" asks a delegate from the eastern province of Nangarhar, who asked not to be named.
Originally announced by Karzai in January, the jirga was to have included representatives of the Taliban, apparently including Mullah Baradur, the number-two Taliban official, who had engaged in secret contacts with Karzai and the UN. But in February, Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI, threw a monkey wrench into the planning for the jirga by arresting Baradur. His arrest was widely seen as an act by Pakistan to assert control over the Afghan peace process, a message to Karzai that his efforts would fail unless they brought Pakistan into the center of the talks.
It’s likely that the firing of the interior minister and the chief of intelligence by Karzai is meant to smooth the way for just that: talks with the Taliban, in which Pakistan will play a key role.
Though activists for women’s rights, among others, aren’t happy about the idea of reconciling with the Taliban, and although Afghanistan’s petulant opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah, the runner-up in last August’s presidential election, foolishly led a boycott of the jirga, the three-day meeting did bolster Karzai’s prestige, and it could set the stage for a lengthy peace process that could, in fact, end the war. Staffan de Mistura, the savvy UN official in Afghanistan, said that the jirga could indeed create conditions over the coming months that could lead to a political breakthrough. The Taliban are watching very carefully what is happening,” he said. “They are not naïve, as you know, neither blind, and they are also in my opinion tired.”
Mistura said that he’d orchestrate a visit to Afghanistan by UN officials to speed the process of removing Taliban officials from the UN watch list.
Two days after the jirga ended, Karzai fired Amrullah Saleh, the intelligence chief, and Hanif Atmar, the interior minister. In the New York Times and the Washington Post, along with other US media, American and NATO officials huffed and puffed with annoyance about their dismissal. According to the Times, the firing directly related to Karzai’s efforts to talk to the Taliban:
Officials also said that Mr. Saleh was uncomfortable with Mr. Karzai’s insistence that some Taliban members should be released from detention as a signal of the government’s intent to negotiate and reach out to the insurgents.
And the paper added that if Karzai wants to talk to Pakistan (and the Taliban, which is sponsored by Pakistan) about a deal, he needed Saleh out of the way:
Mr. Saleh is also an outspoken critic of Pakistan and has publicly blamed the government for its support of the Taliban and other extremists. As Mr. Karzai positions himself to reach out to the Taliban, he is likely to have to turn to Pakistan for help, and that could have been more difficult if Mr. Saleh remained in a central role.
Stunningly, the Obama administration has the gall to state publicly that it’s not happy about Karzai firing the two stooges. According to the Post:
The departures of Interior Minister Hanif Atmar and National Directorate of Security chief Amrullah Saleh are likely to become an additional irritant in the already rocky relationship between Karzai and Washington.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said both officials were "people we admire and whose service we appreciate." Atmar, Morrell added, "was one of the ministers we cared about."
Whatever your thoughts about the Gaza flotilla incident, one thing is certain: neither the event itself, nor the subsequent world reaction, has anything to do with anti-Semitism.
Try telling that to Charles Krauthammer or Bibi Netanyahu.
In what may be eligible for Worst Op-Ed of 2010, Krauthammer lies and prevaricates through a viciously misguided op-ed in today’s Washington Post entitled “Those Troublesome Jews” that includes this pathetic zinger:
“The world is tired of these troublesome Jews, 6 million—that number again—hard by the Mediterranean, refusing every invitation to national suicide. For which they are relentlessly demonized, ghettoized and constrained from defending themselves, even as the more committed anti-Zionists—Iranian in particular—openly prepare a more final solution.”
Krauthammer’s disgusting insinuation is echoed by Netanyahu, the thuggish Israeli prime minister, who says:
“Once again Israel faces hypocrisy and a biased rush to judgment. I’m afraid this isn't the first time.”
Playing the anti-Semitism card means that you can play with the facts. Krauthammer, for instance, arrogantly claims that he can “prove” that the flotilla was an act of aggression rather than a political statement aimed at weakening Israel’s embargo of Gaza by this canard:
“Oh, but weren't the Gaza-bound ships on a mission of humanitarian relief? No. Otherwise they would have accepted Israel’s offer to bring their supplies to an Israeli post, be inspected for military materiel and have the rest trucked by Israel into Gaza—as every week 10,000 tons of food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are sent by Israel to Gaza.”
But, of course, Israel would not allow those supplies to reach Gaza under any circumstances precisely because many of the items—cement, for instance—are on the do-not-allow list that Israel arbitrarily maintains to weaken Gaza economically. To be sure, the point of the flotilla was not to provide Gaza with supplies. The point of the entire effort is to make a demonstration to the world that the continued embargo of Gaza is outrageous and cruel, and in that they have succeeded remarkably well.
It appears that the message has gotten through, on some level at least, to the Obama administration, which has tried to pretend since taking office in 2009 that Gaza doesn’t exist. Having ignored Gaza entirely—never once sending George Mitchell, the special envoy appointed in January, 2009—Obama now says that things have to change:
“What’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out how we meet Israel’s security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians.”
That’s a start.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Hamas. As far as I’m concerned, Hamas is a radical-right organization whose main leaders are fundamentalist Muslims with a penchant for blowing up pizza parlors. There are elements in Hamas that are more enlightened, but overall Hamas is a creation of Israel itself: first, because in the 1970s and 1980s, the Israeli secret service helped fund and organize Hamas because it believed that radical Muslim Palestinians would split the Palestinian movement and fight Fatah, and they did; and second, because during the 1990s and 2000s Hamas’ nihilistic radicalism fed off the cynical radicalism of extremist Israelis such as Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu. It was the extremism of Sharon and Netanyahu that led to the growing popularity of Hamas. If Hamas were serious about peace, they’d agree to accept a permanent ceasefire with Israel and to accept the principle of a two-state solution by recognizing Israel. That’s what the PLO, under Yasser Arafat did, in the 1980s and 1990s. By doing so now, Hamas could checkmate the Israel embargo and capitalize on the fact that Israel is on the defensive, politically.
But to get there, the Obama administration may have to change its policy and start talking to Hamas. Smart diplomats can figure out a dozen ways of doing so and making it work.
Drop what you’re doing and take half an hour to read the report by Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, on the implications of the U.S.-sponsored drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and around the world. It’s a stunning indictment of how the United States is flouting the rule of law and setting a precedent that could lead, in Alston’s view, to a world in which nations willy-nilly use drone technology to kill anywhere, anywhere, they care to.
Which is what the United States is doing.
The report also cites killings by Russia and Israel, among other countries, but the United States is far and away the principal culprit.
You can read the whole report here.
In a statement on releasing the report, published today by the UN, Alston said:
“It is an essential requirement of international law that States using targeted killings demonstrate that they are complying with the various rules governing their use in situations of armed conflict. The greatest challenge to this principle today comes from the program operated by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. . . . The international community does not know when and where the CIA is authorized to kill, the criteria for individuals who may be killed, how it ensures killings are legal, and what follow-up there is when civilians are illegally killed.”
By failing to “disclose their criteria” for who its kills and why, the United States is setting a dangerous precedent. It is, said Alston, “deeply problematic, because it gives no transparency or clarity about what conduct could subject a civilian to killing.” He added:
“I'm particularly concerned that the United States seems oblivious to this fact when it asserts an ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe. … This strongly asserted but ill-defined license to kill without accountability is not an entitlement which the United States or other States can have without doing grave damage to the rules designed to protect the right to life and prevent extrajudicial executions.”
Alston didn’t say that the drone attacks violate international law, but that’s the implication – and the Obama administration is scrambling to justify the policy under law. Alston specifically rejects the notion of “preemptive self-defense” and said that killing outside of a combat zone under wartime conditions “is almost never likely to be legal.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Alston drew out the full meaning of the U.S. policy:
“This expansive and open-ended interpretation of the right to self-defense goes a long way towards destroying the prohibition on the use of armed force contained in the UN charter. If invoked by other states, in pursuit of those they deem to be terrorists and to have attacked them, it would cause chaos.”
At the conclusion of his report, Alston calls on "states" -- i.e., the United States -- to identify in detail the policies and criteria used for killing civilians and to "specify the procedural safeguards in place to ensure in advance of targeted killings that they comply with international law." And he adds:
"States should make public the number of citizens collaterally killed in a targeted killing operation."
There's lots of meat in this report. Read it!
And when you're finished, and you want to read something mealy-mouthed, read the Q&A from the Council on Foreign Relations.
So far, the Obama administration has expressed “deep concern” over the Israeli air and sea assault on the flotilla heading for Gaza and called for an investigation of the facts. That won’t cut it.
Of course, even that is too much for right-wing and neoconservative critics of Obama, who long for the good old days when the administration of George W. Bush reflexively supported everything that Israel did. Elliot Abrams, for instance, who served as a top official at the National Security Council under Bush, blasted Obama for criticizing Israel’s policy of expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and for two recent actions at the UN: first, support for the nonproliferation resolution that called on Israel to open its nuclear facilities for inspection, and second, support for the unanimous UN Security Council resolution that criticized (mildly) Israel’s raid on the flotilla.
But in fact America’s response to the deadly attack has been mild. The United States has refused to condemn it. Yesterday, General Jones, the national security adviser, huddled with Israel’s Ambassador Oren and with Uzi Arad, the controversial, right-wing Israeli national security adviser, to work out a common policy that the Washington Post reports focused on “how to contain the immediate diplomatic fallout from the raid.” Secretary of State Clinton called Israeli Defense Minister Barak to say that “we should be extremely cautious in both what we say and what we do in coming days.”
Cautious? No, the United States ought to be outspoken. The New York Times, in a scathing editorial today, slams Israel (“no excuse”) and then raises the broader question of the blockage of Gaza itself:
“At this point, it should be clear that the blockade is unjust and against Israel’s long-term security.”
And the Times says Obama should forthrightly condemn the attack and demand an end to the blockade:
“On Tuesday, President Obama expressed his 'deep regret' over the flotilla incident. He is doing Israel no favors with such a tepid response. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown time and again that he prefers bullying and confrontation over diplomacy. Washington needs to make clear to him just how dangerous and counterproductive that approach is.
“Mr. Obama needs to state clearly that the Israeli attack was unacceptable and back an impartial international investigation. The United States should also join the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, France, Russia and China — in urging Israel to permanently lift the blockade.”
But there’s no sign, yet, that the Obama administration is prepared to break with its over-cautious, toe-the-line stance. At least not in public. Behind the scenes, there are reports that the United States might be rethinking its refusal to talk to Hamas. Having long avoided dealing with Hamas -- for instance, in trying to restart "proximity talks" between Israel and Fatah -- the United States has gone along with Israel’s absolute prohibition on contacts with the Gaza-based movement. According to Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader, and Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau, however, Hamas has been in contact with a steady stream of American emissaries, all of whom have gotten the green light from the White House or the State Department. So far, the Obama administration hasn't budged from its official no-talks rule, but the Israeli attack on the peace flotilla will create more pressure for a change in the official American policy.
That would be welcome, and long overdue.
The fallout from Israel’s air and sea attack on the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla of aid ships is only just beginning, but it will be immense.
Most important, the event is likely to force the international community, including the United States, to open a dialogue with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza. The blockade of Gaza can no longer be sustained politically. Today, Egypt opened the border with Gaza for passage of aid and people, and world pressure on Israel to undo the blockade is likely to be overwhelming. In that, the Free Gaza Movement and its allies have succeeded, though at the cost of many dead and wounded.
Protests are building worldwide, and even Israeli apologists are admitting that the attack on the flotilla was a catastrophic blunder.
Martin Indyk, the head of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution and a longtime ally of Israel, told the New York Times that it’s now the responsibility of the United States to extricate Israel from the mess it’s created in Gaza, and he proposed what is likely to be a workable solution: the lifting of the Israeli blockade, a ceasefire by Hamas, and the exchange of political prisoners held on either side. (Hamas hold Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.)
Of course, Prime Minister Netanyahu may reject such advice, but in that case Israel is likely to suffer far more severe international isolation. The big question: Will President Obama finally decide to end the foolish U.S refusal to talk to Hamas? (George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, has never visited Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. Sending him there, immediately, is the most important first step.)
The flotilla was carrying 10,000 tons of cement, construction supplies, wood, glass, material for a damaged water treatment plant, prefab housing and so on, not weapons. Also on board the ships were 700 peace activists, including pro-Hamas sympathizers, Turkish citizens affiliated with a Muslim charity and people from all over the world. They’ve been taken to Ashdod, an Israeli port.
Robert Malley, in the same Times piece that quoted Indyk, echoes that it’s long past time to turn attention to Gaza. In an exquisitely mixed metaphor, he said: “If you ignore the huge thorn of Gaza, it will come back to bite you.” Aside from the fact that one cannot be bitten by a thorn, it’s true. And the many months of rumors that President Obama is truly concerned about Gaza while keeping those concerns private mean that it’s time for the president to declare what he thinks. So far the U.S. response has been mealy-mouthed. (Even the Turkish ambassador to the United States said, “We would have expected a much stronger reaction [from the United States] than this.” Prime Minister Erdogan called the Israeli action “inhumane state terrorism” and added: “This attack has clearly shown that Israel has no desire for peace in the region.” Strong words.)
Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that the EU will oppose the blockade more forcefully. “The EU doesn’t accept the continued policy of closure,” she said.
When the Obama administration decided to move aggressively down the path of more sanctions on Iran, it was not because they thought it would work – they don’t – but because they had no idea what to do when U.S.-Iran talks broke down in late 2009. According to U.S. officials, the United States was simply trying to buy time: by going to the UN, they could make it look like they were doing something, and ease the pressure from hawks, neoconservatives, and the Israel lobby.
But as a direct result, the administration is now is deep conflict with two close allies, Turkey and Brazil. Those two countries, acting like adults when the United States began behaving like a petulant child, sought to continue the stalled diplomacy, to coax Iran back to the bargaining table. It worked. Brazil’s President Lula, visiting Tehran with Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan, won a commitment from Iran to ship about half of its enriched uranium to Turkey, restarting the diplomatic process that ended last year when Iran first accepted a similar deal and then backed off.
Amazingly, the deal that Turkey and Brazil achieved was almost exactly the same as the one that was worked out by the United States and other world powers in Geneva on October 1. President Obama praised that accord, but now that he’s pushing for sanctions (that won’t work) his minions are denouncing the Brazil-Turkey agreement.
Yesterday, at Brookings, Secretary of State Clinton slammed Brazil:
"I don't know that we agree with any nation on every issue. And certainly we have very serious disagreements with Brazil's diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran. And we have told President Lula, and I've told my counterpart the foreign minister [Celso Amorim] that we think buying time for Iran, enabling Iran to avoid international unity with respect to their nuclear program, makes the world more dangerous, not less.'
"They [Brazilians] have a theory of the case, they're not just acting out of impulse. We disagree with it. So we go at it. We say well, we don't agree with that, we think that, that the Iranians are using you. And that we think it's time to go to the Security Council, and that it is only after the Security Council acts that the Iranians will engage effectively on their nuclear program."
Brazil and Turkey insisted that the deal with Iran is the right thing to do, defying Clinton’s criticism. According to the Wall Street Journal, Lula said:
"All the deadlines and dates are being met. We carried out everything they asked for."
And Erdogan added:
"The accord with Tehran was a diplomatic victory and those countries that criticize us are merely envious.”
They’re both right. That didn’t stop Thomas Friedman, the world’s worst columnist, from writing earlier this week in the New York Times that the Brazil-Turkey diplomacy was “as ugly as it gets.” He wrote:
“I confess that when I first saw the May 17 picture of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, joining his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with raised arms — after their signing of a putative deal to defuse the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons program — all I could think of was: Is there anything uglier than watching democrats sell out other democrats to a Holocaust-denying, vote-stealing Iranian thug just to tweak the U.S. and show that they, too, can play at the big power table?”
What’s ugly, Friedman, is arrogant, imperialist commentary like that.
Meanwhile, by insisting on useless sanctions with Iran, the Obama administration has deeply alienated two very important countries, making a mockery of Obama's pledge to elevate diplomacy and brideg-building as the cornerstone of U.S foreign policy. He's also used up a lot of political capital to drag Russia and China to support the U.S-led effort for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran. As Robert Kagan, a neoconservative thinker noted this week in the Washington Post, President Bush managed to persuade Russia and China to vote for a UN sanctions resolution not once, but three times. Kagan is right, even if he's right for the wrong reasons. So Obama has alienated friends, given up political chips win over adversaries, and accomplished precisely nothing vis-a-vis Iran.
President Obama today announced the administration’s new national security strategy, and you should read the whole fifty-two pages, not just the commentary and reporting, to draw your own conclusions.
Yes, as some liberals and progressives point out, the new strategy shows that Obama is not President Bush. Brian Katulis, an expert at the Center for American Progress, wrote yesterday in Politico that “the plan is grounded in core progressive foreign policy principles that stand in sharp contrast to mainstream conservative doctrine,” and he added:
Though some progressives clearly have deep misgivings about Obama’s policy choices — whether involving Afghanistan, drone strikes in Pakistan or the handling of terrorist detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere — they should embrace and defend his overall national security vision.
But not so fast. Especially in the wake of the revelation, in Monday’s New York Times, that the administration has approved a vast expansion of covert operations by the U.S. military in the Middle East and Central Asia, it isn’t clear whether Obama's effort to separate himself from President Bush’s policy of unilateral interventionism, regime change, and the Global War on Terrorism is rhetorical or real. And the examples that Katulis points out – Afghanistan, drone strikes, and Guantanamo – aren’t just blips that can be overlooked.
In his introduction to the new strategy, Obama unfortunately proclaims, as did Bush, that America is “at war” with an amorphous network of terrorists. “For nearly a decade, our nation has been at war with a far-reaching network of violence and hatred,” says Obama. And he falls into the old, shop-worn rhetoric about American’s greatness and the need to maintain military superiority, “We will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades. … We must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership, a strategy that rebuilds the foundations of American strength and influence.”
That’s the nub of the issue. Unlike Bush, who eschewed alliances and believed that American military power could roll over enemies and allies alike, and whose use of unilateral force in invading Iraq outraged European and Asian allies, Obama seeks the same goals – military superiority and expanded global influence – through alliances, such as NATO. Perhaps multilateralism is a good thing, when it’s compared to unilateralism (especially the sort employed by Bush, which mixed ignorance and arrogance in equally lethal doses), but Obama still insists that American must arrogate to itself a worldwide leadership role, backed by overwhelming military power.
The best thing about Obama’s new strategy is that the president recognizes that national security starts at home, and he stresses the importance of a strong economy, education, technological innovation, and the search for clean energy as key to American power in the new century. Does that mean that he’s ready to launch an industrial policy that aims at creating high-paying skilled jobs at home, to vastly increase government funding of research and development, job training, and rebuilding American’s crumbling infrastructure? It isn’t clear. Sadly, in talking about new sources of energy, Obama emphasizes that doing so will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, which is not the primary goal of clean energy technology, and he says little about the importance of that new energy technology as a good in itself. And he continually emphasizes reducing the deficit, which seems to rule out needed huge new expenditures for R&D, training, job creation, and infrastructure building. Still, it’s a good sign when the president puts rebuilding American at home at the “center” of his national security strategy.
In the key passage on the use of force, the new strategy says:
While the use of force is sometimes necessary, we will exhaust other options before war whenever we can, and carefully weigh the costs and risks of action against the costs and risks of inaction. When force is necessary, we will continue to do so in a way that reflects our values and strengthens our legitimacy, and we will seek broad international support, working with such institutions as NATO and the U.N. Security Council. The United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend our nation and our interests, yet we will also seek to adhere to standards that govern the use of force.
Yes, that’s an improvement over Bush’s declarations that might makes right, even when it’s employed recklessly and unilaterally. But it still allows Obama a lot of wiggle room. And when U.S. military covert operators and U.S. Special Forces are reportedly operating inside Iran, making contacts with dissident groups and gathering targeting information for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, then what’s the difference?
File this under the Department of It-Looks-Like-Satire-But-It’s-Not:
I know it’s only boilerplate from the State Department, the kind of warning they issue all the time about trouble spots and violence-prone places. But—Afghanistan? Really? I think we know.
Here’s from State’s latest official Travel Warning:
“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Afghanistan. The security threat to all U.S. citizens in Afghanistan remains critical. This supersedes the Travel Warning for Afghanistan issued July 23, 2009, to remind U.S. citizens of ongoing security risks, including kidnapping, and to include an email address for the consular section at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. …
“No part of Afghanistan should be considered immune from violence, and the potential exists throughout the country for hostile acts, either targeted or random, against American and other Western nationals at any time.
“Riots and incidents of civil disturbance can and do occur, often without warning. U.S. citizens should avoid rallies and demonstrations; even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.
“Carjackings, robberies, and violent crime remain a problem. …
“The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in Afghanistan is limited, particularly for those persons outside the capital.”
A secret military directive signed last September 30 by General David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, authorizes a vast expansion of secret US military special ops from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia and “appears to authorize specific operations in Iran,” according to the New York Times.
If President Obama knew about this, authorized it and still supports it, then Obama has crossed a red line, and the president will stand revealed as an aggressive, militaristic liberal interventionist who bears a closer resemblance to the president he succeeded than to the ephemeral reformer that he pretended to be in 2008, when he ran for office. If he didn’t know, if he didn’t understand the order, and if he’s unwilling to cancel it now that it’s been publicized, then Obama is a feckless incompetent. Take your pick.
If Congress has any guts at all, it will convene immediate investigative hearings into a power grab by Petraeus, a politically ambitious general, and the Pentagon’s arrogant Special Operations team, led by Admiral Eric T. Olson, who collaborated with Petraeus. And Congress needs to ask the White House, What did you know, and when did you know it?
Drop what you’re doing and read the whole piece, by Mark Mazzetti, in the Times, which ran it on page 1 as the lead story in today’s paper. (Critics of the “mainstream media” take note: the Times broke this story fearlessly, even though it apparently redacted certain operational details at the behest of the administration.)
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: In September, Petraeus signed the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Execute Order providing for a “broad expansion of clandestine military activity” in the region of Centcom’s responsibility, the Middle East and South Asia. Reports Mazzetti:
The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.…
The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive.
Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.
The Times story raises a million questions: Is this how the United States intends to carry out the order to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaqi, the Yemen-based US citizen who is reportedly an Al Qaeda operative? Does the revelation of this order have anything to do with the abrupt resignation of Dennis Blair, the departed Director of National Intelligence? What sorts of “dissident groups” in Iran might the military connect with, and might they include paramilitary forces associated with rebellious Kurds in western Iran, several of whom were just put to death by Tehran, or the Pakistan-linked Baluchistan rebels in southeast Iran?
For decades, the military has tried to elbow the Central Intelligence Agency into a subordinate role. Even as the intelligence budget ballooned (since the 1990s) to enormous proportions, the Pentagon has gobbled up most of it and tried to force the civilian CIA into a subordinate role. (According to Mazzetti, the CIA supports the Petraeus directive, even though it is explicitly aimed at “break[ing] its dependence on the Central Intelligence Agency,” but we’ll see.) The gung-ho Special Ops folks at the Pentagon have been pushing hard to become a kind of uniformed covert operations unit of the US government, even though military operations aren’t governed by the same sort of restrictive Congressional oversight that the CIA operates under. And, according to Mazzetti, the Petraeus order is intended to accomplish things that the CIA “will not” do:
The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished“ by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.
Petraeus, along with General McChrystal, should have been fired long ago by Obama, if for no other reason because of their insubordination in 2009 is trying to force Obama's hand in pushing for a series of escalations of the Afghanistan war. Obama can still redeem himself by firing them now.