THE 2016 DEMOCRAT PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: MIDDLE EAST

In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Democratic Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security. Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.

THE PLATFORM:

Syria

The Syrian crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond. Donald Trump would inflame the conflict by alienating our allies, inexplicably allowing ISIS to expand in Syria, and potentially starting a wider war. This is a reckless approach. Democrats will instead root out ISIS and other terrorist groups and bring together the moderate Syrian opposition, international community, and our regional allies to reach a negotiated political transition that ends Assad’s rule. Given the immense scale of human suffering in Syria, it is also imperative that we lead the international community in providing greater humanitarian assistance to the civilian victims of war in Syria and Iraq, especially displaced refugees.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, we will work with the NATO-led coalition of partners to bolster the democratically-elected government as it assumes a primary role in tackling terrorism, forges a more secure future for the country, and safeguards advances, like securing women’s rights. Democrats will continue to push for an Afghan-led peace process and press both Afghanistan and Pakistan to deny terrorists sanctuary on either side of the border. We support President Obama’s decision to maintain a limited troop presence in Afghanistan into 2017 and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists to plan and launch attacks on our homeland.

Iran

We support the nuclear agreement with Iran because, as it is vigorously enforced and implemented, it verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb without resorting to war. We reject Donald Trump’s view that we should have walked away from a deal that peacefully dismantles Iran’s nuclear program. We will continue the work of this administration to ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon and will not hesitate to take military action if Iran races towards one.

Democrats will also address the detrimental role Iran plays in the region and will robustly enforce and, if necessary, strengthen non-nuclear sanctions. Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism. It violates the human rights of its population, denies the Holocaust, vows to eliminate Israel, and has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East. Democrats will push back against Iran’s destabilizing activities including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, counter Iran’s ballistic missile program, bolster the capabilities of our Gulf partners, and ensure that Israel always has the ability to defend itself. Finally, Democrats recognize that the Iranian people seek a brighter future for their country and greater engagement with the international community. We will embrace opportunities for cultural, academic and other exchanges with the Iranian people.

COMMENTARY:

The Middle East is a region in turmoil with no good or easy answers either for nations in the region or for Western governments. The fundamentals of insecurity remain the Sunni-Shia divide and the rise of ISIS and other terrorist groups that thrive on this divide in the Muslim community. There are a lot of issues that are missing in this section of the Democratic platform. Not least is directly the problems of the Gulf Sates like Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as well as a discussion on Libya.

On Syria, the key statement about the country – that the “crisis is heartbreaking and dangerous, and its impact is threatening the region, Europe, and beyond” – is correct. Yet the landscape is so dark and complex that a clear path forward is not only very difficult, it is near impossible without the cooperation of all the major powers in the region. However, this is not currently forthcoming, as Egypt, Turkey, and other players are in internal disarray. Additionally, the Sunni-Shia conflict still badly needs resolution,  which seems out of reach without long-term work to heal. 

What can and should be done more specifically is deal with the real, major, and dire humanitarian situation. We need now to start to look at a humanitarian space which can at last be effectively enforced by multi-lateral peacekeeping/peace-protecting forces that include Muslim, Western, and other nations, along with needed support with major resources to create a cordon of protection and safety.

Supporting “moderate” forces remains a work in progress that must be reinforced.  Yet all of this must, in the end, lead to Assad’s removal in order to create lasting peace.  Russia must recognize the need to change its strategy and re-assess its interests, and see a crisis that is heartbreaking, dangerous, and one that’s impact is threatening the stability of the entire region. Europe, America, Russia, and beyond need to acquiesce to a real compromise that ends with a broad based multi-group governmental coalition based on ensured security of all ethnic groups.  Not least, what is needed is a major rebuilding of society – which will need a large amount of funding – for a region that has been decimated by hate and a brutal regime. The United Nations and other international organizations need to be involved.

The Afghanistan section essentially is a reiteration of the Obama Administration’s existing strategy, which tries to combine a certain limited US military presence with support for the Afghan government’s efforts to do what is necessary to bring security and a measure, at last, of a responsible government to the nation.

Progress, though slow and with many setbacks, have been made against ISIS and other terrorists groups. There is no mention of addressing the major problem of deep corruption that undermines true security and stability and the building of a measure of democracy. Part of the answer must be to restore some common security and economic improvement in the lives of the common citizen. This means Pakistan must act to stop its actions to destabilize Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

Iraq stands as another battlefield that needs a comprehensive approach – military action alone will not fix the ills we now see in that nation.

Iran remains a work in progress and the Democratic Platform outlines the right path forward because no honest observer can deny that the Iran nuclear agreement is at the heart of ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapons for a very long time. The platform acknowledges that all of the other problems of Iran must be addressed, likely one-by-one, and we need to find some common ground. An aggressive stance is self-defeating for that country, and some are starting to recognize this, but it is a slow process. We need a long-term strategy to nudge Iran towards peace and help it to take a more cooperative stance in the region.

What is clear is that the Democratic platform is by far more realistic, more likely to result in a better outcome, less risk prone, and less likely to make the region even more unstable than much of Donald Trump’s own views and those of the GOP that unthinking hostility towards diplomacy and conciliation, raw hostility, and mindless use of military threats and bluster are.

We welcome your comments!

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THE 2016 REPUBLICAN PLATFORM’S FOREIGN AND NATIONAL SECURITY POSITIONS: “CHALLENGES OF A CHANGING MIDDLE EAST”

In this series, we will be looking at positions taken by the Republican Party in their 2016 Platform on issues pertaining to national security.  Next up is the Middle East. A commentary on the platform issue will be found at its end.

The Platform:

The Middle East is more dangerous now than at any time since the Second World War. Whatever their disagreements, presidents of both parties had always prioritized America’s national interests, the trust of friendly governments, and the security of Israel. That sound consensus was replaced with impotent grandstanding on the part of the current President and his Secretaries of State. The results have been ruinous for all parties except Islamic terrorists and their Iranian and other sponsors.

We consider the Administration’s deal with Iran, to lift international sanctions and make hundreds of billions of dollars available to the Mullahs, a personal agreement between the President and his negotiating partners and non-binding on the next president. Without a two-thirds endorsement by the Senate, it does not have treaty status. Because of it, the defiant and emboldened regime in Tehran continues to sponsor terrorism across the region, develop a nuclear weapon, test-fire ballistic missiles inscribed with “Death to Israel,” and abuse the basic human rights of its citizens. A Republican president will not be bound by it. We must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends.

Over the last four years we have seen the rise of a murderous fanaticism in the form of ISIS, the so called Islamic State. Its reach now extends far beyond the Middle East to virtually every continent. ISIS has brought ancient butchery into the 21st century. Nations are imploding, erasing long-established borders.

The Obama Administration and its Secretary of State so mishandled the Arab Spring that it destabilized the entire region. The hope some saw in the Arab Spring has transformed into disappointment. The dictator of Syria, Bashar Assad, has murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people and created millions of refugees, and an American president has been unable to rally the world against him. Understandably, our allies fear for their future in a region far more dangerous than it was eight years ago. A Republican administration will restore our nation’s credibility. We must stand up for our friends, challenge our foes, and destroy ISIS.

Hezbollah, controlling over 100,000 missiles in Lebanon, must be isolated and Lebanon’s independence restored. We will support the transition to a post-Assad Syrian government that is representative of its people, protects the rights of all minorities and religions, respects the territorial integrity of its neighbors, and contributes to peace and stability in the region. The Iraqi people have been on the front lines in the fight against terror. Hundreds of thousands have been killed, and the attacks against them continue, even in Baghdad. Our partnership with them should continue as long as ISIS and others like it survive in the region. We are deeply concerned that, in the face of genocide against them, Christian communities in cities like Gerbil are receiving no financial support from either the U.S. government or the UN to help with displaced persons and urban refugees. Their survival is sustained only by private charities. This must change immediately.

Defeating ISIS means more than pushing back its fighters while abandoning its victims. It must mean aiding those who have suffered the most — and doing so before they starve. It means supporting the long-term survival of indigenous religious and ethnic communities, punishing the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and conditioning humanitarian and military assistance to governments on their observable commitment to human rights. We continue to support the Kurdish people, whose bravery and cooperation with our forces merit our respect and their autonomy. Many countries in the region have given, and continue to give, substantial assistance to the United States because they understand that our struggle against terrorism is not an ethnic or religious fight. They consider violent extremists to be abusers of their faith, not its champions. We applaud their courage and value their counsel. The U.S. government, together with its global partners, should mobilize its political, economic, and military assets to support the creation of a safe haven in northern Iraq to protect those ethnic and religious minorities continuing of ISIS.

HARRY’S COMMENTARY:

This is the usual criticism without a clear answer and examination of the risks and cost of any alternative policies and actions. Just looking at a few of their statements and positions we see how far away the Republican Party is from the reality is on the ground. 

First, we should take the statement that “sound consensus was replaced with impotent grandstanding on the part of the current President and his Secretaries of State. The results have been ruinous for all parties except Islamic terrorists and their Iranian and other sponsors.”

As they used to say before we got a GOP presidential candidate that specializes in lying, self-contradiction, and racism, the facts and premises and assumption are all wrong, as they are with the denial of climate change that accompanies the 2016 GOP platform. Let’s try a little facts. Obama and Kerry are the farthest apart from “grandstanding” than any president and Secretary I have known in my many decades as diplomat and foreign affairs scholar. The are cautious and not high on doing “stupid things.” 

They have avoided sending troops into the Middle East to be killed for no good reason after the results of Bush II and the neo-cons that still advocate more “war” without reason. They have sent in non-combat troops and provided training, advice, and resources, and the reality is that those in Iraq have made astonishing progress so far with minimum costs in American blood and resources. This is a war the Iraqi multi-ethic combined forces need to fight. In fact the Obama/Kerry strategy has shown that ISIS can be reduced by just the strategy and approach that Obama has decreed and the military has instituted. In Syria I know of few good options and it is certain that the GOP will not come up with any that won’t shed American blood or make the situation worse, as we did in Iraq in 2003. I have no idea what the platform means to create a “safe haven” in Iraq and I am not sure the drafters know either. The idea of a “no fly zone” in Syria has been examined and former Secretary Clinton is said to have supported it in the past, but the military say that it is not feasible. Perhaps this needs to be looked at again with care but not without a full assessment of its feasibility.

As for Iran, the nuclear deal has so far been a sound success regarding its sole aim to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and its related technology. In the GOP platform is a direct lie in saying that Iran “develop[ed] a nuclear weapon,” the word for this factually untrue statement is its boldness and mendacity to scare people. The GOP may wish to take away this victory of American and allied diplomacy  just when it achieves our key objective. It would be the height of stupidity and dangerous to the whole region if we renounced the Iran deal and consequently permitted Iran to start immediately building nuclear weapons, especially because of the possibility of others in the region to build their own as a reaction. The word stupid hardly covers this disastrous position.

Regarding the empty rhetorical points and lies about the tragic situation in Syria, which is dangerous, complex, and risky and where America has indeed rallied allies and with them to engage in this murky environment in both diplomacy and assistance to moderate elements against both ISIS and Assad,  I see not a single suggestion from Trump and his ilk on how to do better and not with more cost to US lives. Not to mention without even greater civilian deaths and any assurance of a true end point in which that country can return to security, democracy, peace, and the elimination of conflict between the many powers now involved — including Russia and various Shia groups.  All the Republicans can offer is a man without any knowledge of foreign affairs and with the least regard to truth and facts on the ground. The danger of these positions and the baseless and wrong views of past and present conditions and risks is a show of deep ignorance and irresponsible stances.

The point on “abandoning” its victims, read civilians and refugees, is a canard. America has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to support displaced persons and refugees under Obama via the UN system including UNHCR, our aid programs, and NGOs and other relief groups. More than anyone else. The Republican controlled Congress can pass a bill tomorrow to increase aid by billions of dollars, without cutting any assistance to other vulnerable groups or from any other programs, and Obama would sign the bill overnight. This is a plain hypocritical stance that uses the suffering of others for partisan political points and doing nothing to solve the problem.  Also the fact is that many places, especially cities, are inaccessible to safely provide assistance due to the military action of Assad and the Russians blocking assistance. How would Trump change that? Secretary Kerry is trying to change this  via diplomacy as this is being written.

In short, this GOP platform is filled with misstatements, very bad ideas, platitudes, and little of positive new practical or useful ideas on how to solve the many problems of the Middle East.  It show the shallowness of Trump’s perspective on a critical issue and even of the Republican Party.

FACT SHEET: JOINT COMPREHENSIVE PLAN OF ACTION (JCPOA) FOR IRAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

 After intensive negotiations, the P5+1 group and Iran have reached a first-step agreement on Iran's nuclear program. (http://news.xinhuanet.com/)
After intensive negotiations, the P5+1 group and Iran have reached a first-step agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. (http://news.xinhuanet.com/)

By: Harry C. Blaney III

Below is the summary “fact sheet” from the White House outlining the recent framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.  While there are some issues that still need added agreement and clarification, and lots of very technical elements that need to be spelled out, the outline makes it clear that the critical elements in the framework achieve the needed bottom line that Iran would need at least one year before being able to build a bomb, also that key avenues to build a bomb have been blocked for some 10-25 years, that inspections are all that we truly need along with key “full scope” IAEA inspections, all facilities would be inspected by IAEA including the secret Fordow facility, in short a high level of guaranteed transparency,. Further, key nuclear weapons technology will be either be “mothballed” or dismantled like the Arak heavy water reactor and rebuilt in a way that would not produce weapons-grade plutonium, further, its 10,00 kilograms of low-enriched uranium would be reduced to 300 kilograms, and centrifuges would be reduced to just 6,104 from 19,000. See below for more details.

The end produces an agreement that, subject to any changes, provides truly the safeguards against an unknown “breakout” by Iran and also provides for phased sanctions relief which still need to be agreed as to its phasing and extent.  This can and must be a “Win-Win” outcome for both sides since this balanced document can only be the basis for a viable international agreement.

This is a significant agreement and a positive step away from war. Our more detained analysis and assessment will follow.


Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program

Below are the key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland. These elements form the foundation upon which the final text of the JCPOA will be written between now and June 30, and reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. Important implementation details are still subject to negotiation, and nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We will work to conclude the JCPOA based on these parameters over the coming months.

Enrichment

  • Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.
  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.
  • All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline – the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon – is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.

Iran will convert its facility at Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium at its Fordow facility for at least 15 years.
  •  Iran has agreed to convert its Fordow facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only – into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.
  • Iran has agreed to not conduct research and development associated with uranium enrichment at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Iran will not have any fissile material at Fordow for 15 years.
  • Almost two-thirds of Fordow’s centrifuges and infrastructure will be removed. The remaining centrifuges will not enrich uranium. All centrifuges and related infrastructure will be placed under IAEA monitoring.

Iran will only enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, with only 5,060 IR-1 first-generation centrifuges for ten years.

  • Iran has agreed to only enrich uranium using its first generation (IR-1 models) centrifuges at Natanz for ten years, removing its more advanced centrifuges.
  • Iran will remove the 1,000 IR-2M centrifuges currently installed at Natanz and place them in IAEA monitored storage for ten years.
  • Iran will not use its IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, or IR-8 models to produce enriched uranium for at least ten years. Iran will engage in limited research and development with its advanced centrifuges, according to a schedule and parameters which have been agreed to by the P5+1.
  • For ten years, enrichment and enrichment research and development will be limited to ensure a breakout timeline of at least 1 year. Beyond 10 years, Iran will abide by its enrichment and enrichment R&D plan submitted to the IAEA, and pursuant to the JCPOA, under the Additional Protocol resulting in certain limitations on enrichment capacity.

Inspections and Transparency

  • The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.
  • Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.
  • Inspectors will have access to uranium mines and continuous surveillance at uranium mills, where Iran produces yellowcake, for 25 years.
  • Inspectors will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years. Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing base will be frozen and under continuous surveillance.
  • All centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure removed from Fordow and Natanz will be placed under continuous monitoring by the IAEA.
  • A dedicated procurement channel for Iran’s nuclear program will be established to monitor and approve, on a case by case basis, the supply, sale, or transfer to Iran of certain nuclear-related and dual use materials and technology – an additional transparency measure.
  • Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA, providing the IAEA much greater access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.
  • Iran will be required to grant access to the IAEA to investigate suspicious sites or allegations of a covert enrichment facility, conversion facility, centrifuge production facility, or yellowcake production facility anywhere in the country.
  • Iran has agreed to implement Modified Code 3.1 requiring early notification of construction of new facilities.
  • Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing

  • Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design that is agreed to by the P5+1, which will not produce weapons grade plutonium, and which will support peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production.
  • The original core of the reactor, which would have enabled the production of significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be destroyed or removed from the country.
  • Iran will ship all of its spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the reactor’s lifetime.
  • Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.
  • Iran will not accumulate heavy water in excess of the needs of the modified Arak reactor, and will sell any remaining heavy water on the international market for 15 years.
  • Iran will not build any additional heavy water reactors for 15 years.

Sanctions

  • Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.
  • U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.
  • The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
  • All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).
  • However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.
  • A dispute resolution process will be specified, which enables any JCPOA participant, to seek to resolve disagreements about the performance of JCPOA commitments.
  • If an issue of significant non-performance cannot be resolved through that process, then all previous UN sanctions could be re-imposed.
  • U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place under the deal.

Phasing

  • For ten years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development – ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Beyond that, Iran will be bound by its longer-term enrichment and enrichment research and development plan it shared with the P5+1.
  • For fifteen years, Iran will limit additional elements of its program. For instance, Iran will not build new enrichment facilities or heavy water reactors and will limit its stockpile of enriched uranium and accept enhanced transparency procedures.
  • Important inspections and transparency measures will continue well beyond 15 years. Iran’s adherence to the Additional Protocol of the IAEA is permanent, including its significant access and transparency obligations. The robust inspections of Iran’s uranium supply chain will last for 25 years.
  • Even after the period of the most stringent limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits Iran’s development or acquisition of nuclear weapons and requires IAEA safeguards on its nuclear program.

We welcome your comments!