NUCLEAR MADNESS: TRUMP’S DANGEROUS BABBLE AND IGNORANCE OF STRATEGIC REALITIES

NUCLEAR MADNESS: TRUMP’S DANGEROUS BABBLE AND IGNORANCE OF STRATEGIC REALITIES

By

Harry C. Blaney III

There seems to be no act by Donald Trump that does not endanger American and global security. We had the undermining of the EU and NATO, the beating up on America’s allies, and the threat to tear up the Iran nuclear and not least the still unknown relationship between Trump and Putin with overtones of selling out to Putin and rewarding him for helping in Trump’s election.  But in the most recent words by Trump in an interview Thursday, he said he thought an arms control treaty with Russia is a “bad deal” and that the United States should build up its nuclear arsenal to be the “top of the pack.” This, is my top pick of dangerous acts by this clearly clueless man on issues of war and nuclear matters.

As every knowledgeable person knows the American nuclear arsenal and capability tops that of any other nation on this earth and has for a long time. Our nuclear weapons can destroy much of the world almost instantaneously. Much of that nuclear capability is deployed in essentially invulnerable American ballistic missile submarines. That is why there is no reason for us to add to them or try to “modernize nukes” them beyond basic maintenance and safekeeping.

Contrary to Trump’s call for added military expenditure just adds to the overwhelming resources and war fighting capability we already have over either Russia or China. Any conflict with them would be as they use to say MAD –mutual assured destruction. That means they should never be used in any circumstance and their existence is purely as deterrence.

American experts and our allies know that a new arms race would not be to the interest of any nation either friend or potential foe. But now both Russia under Putin and Trump seem to not understand the importance to our security of past and present arms control treaties and agreements. The last was the New START treaty between America and Russia which capped the number of nuclear warheads by both nations. And under the Non-proliferation Treaty we and other nuclear nations are bound and promised to work toward elimination of these weapons. The treaty’s aim by this promise is to stop other nations from building their own nuclear weapons. Top leaders, Secretaries of State and Defense, etc. with great experience on nuclear issues, Republicans and Democrats have called for their eventual and timely elimination, known as “going to zero.” A worthy cause but requires all to moderate their own ambitions and work very hard on a true mutual reduction accompanied by other safeguards to ensure security for all nations.

US and Russian escalation of these weapons would undermine greatly the incentive of others to forgo their own weapons. Trump’s words and actions so far have only given other nation reasons to be frightened,  uncertain of our support, or  go alone in developing these weapons. The end being a world of chaos and destruction which Trump for some reason seems to relish.

What is at work in Trump mind or his real goals? Is it an initiative, not of gaining good and fair arms control agreements and seeking confidence building measures bringing security for the world population that make us all safer, or is it Trump’s chaos theory at work of unlimited and high risk blindness to an “arms race” that itself is massively dangerous?
What is needed is less such weapons, better training and practical equipment to ensure American defense, support of our allies, and safety of our people in the world we have today. We need not more money in weapons with no purpose in our time but the near elimination of humanity and global civilization.

Trump in this field has continue his exaggerations and reinforced his habitual lies in claiming the U.S. has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” There is NO nation on earth that can match America’s modern nuclear force or for that matter conventional war fighting and the safeguarding of our nation. To say otherwise is to deceive out people, waste our needed resources for building back our civilian infrastructure, ensuring our children get the best education in the world, and protecting our environment, not least addressing the massive threat of climate change.

We welcome your comments!! See section below for your comments.

SENATORS HIT THE FLOOR WITH DEBATE ON IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Photo: Dick Durbin Official Site

By Harry C. Blaney III

The Senate started September 9th in a late Wednesday afternoon debate on the Iran Nuclear Deal resolution rejecting the agreement.  It constituted a remarkable series of very serious Democratic arguments for this agreement, which in the history of Senate debates will likely go down as among the most important in foreign affairs and in quality, at least on the side of those who support the deal.

We have taken two of these speeches by Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Bernie Sanders, which were among the best and deeply in contrast to the respective lines by the  Republican hawks which followed line by line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s direction towards an avoidable war. This done without adding any real factual or realistic arguments against the deal or showing a better path that will achieve, as the deal does, a verified halt to Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. Least of all, they did not make any case that Israel would be better off with a likely war and upheaval in the Middle East if this deal was not approved and Iran had nuclear weapons in a few months time.

SPEECH TEXTS

By:  Sen. Bernie Sanders

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

I support the agreement that the United States negotiated with China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom and Iran. I believe this approach is the best way forward if we are to accomplish what we all want to accomplish—that is making certain that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon – an occurrence which would destabilize the region, lead to a nuclear arms race in the area, and would endanger the existence of Israel.

It is my firm belief that the test of a great nation, with the most powerful military on earth, is not how many wars we can engage in, but how we can use our strength and our capabilities to resolve international conflicts in a peaceful way.

Those who have spoken out against this agreement, including many in this chamber, and those who have made every effort to thwart the diplomatic process, are many of the same people who spoke out forcefully and irresponsibly about the need to go to war with Iraq – one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of our country.

Sadly, people like former vice president Dick Cheney and many of the other neo-cons who pushed us to war in Iraq were not only tragically wrong then, they are wrong now. Unfortunately, these individuals have learned nothing from the results of that disastrous policy and how it destabilized the entire region.

I fear that many of my Republican colleagues do not understand that war must be a last resort, not the first resort. It is easy to go to war, it not so easy to comprehend the unintended consequences of that war.

As the former Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have talked to veterans from WWII to Iraq, and I have learned a little bit about what the cost of war entails. In Iraq and Afghanistan we have lost 6,700 brave men and women, and many others have come home without legs, without arms, without eyesight.

Let us not forget that 500,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came back to their families with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The suicide rate of young veterans is appallingly high. The divorce rate is appallingly high, and the impact on children is appallingly high. God knows how many families have been devastated by these wars.

And we should not forget the many hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women, and children who died in that war, and those whose lives who have been completely destabilized, including those who are fleeing their country today with only the clothes on their back as refugees. The cost of war is real.

Yes, the military option should always be on the table, but it should be the last option. We have got to do everything we can do to reach an agreement to ensure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon without having to go to war.

I believe we have an obligation to pursue diplomatic solutions before resorting to military engagement – especially after nearly fourteen years of ill-conceived and disastrous military engagements in the region.

The agreement calls for cutting off Iran’s pathways to the fissile materials needed for a nuclear weapon by reducing its stockpile of uranium by 98 percent, and restricting the level of enrichment of uranium to well below the level needed for weaponized uranium. The agreement requires Iran to decrease the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds, dismantle the country’s heavy-water nuclear reactor so that it cannot produce any weapons-grade plutonium, and commit to rigorous monitoring, inspection, and verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Only after Iran has demonstrated to the international community its compliance with the tenets of the agreement – the U.S. and European Union will lift the sanctions that helped bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The agreement also contains a mechanism for the “snap back” of those sanctions if Iran does not comply with its obligations.

Does the agreement achieve everything I would like? No, it does not. But to my mind, it is far better than the path we were on – with Iran developing nuclear weapons capability and the potential for military intervention by the U.S. and Israel growing greater by the day.

Let us not forget that if Iran does not live up to the agreement, sanctions may be reimposed. If Iran moves toward a nuclear weapon, all available options remain on the table. I think it is incumbent upon us, however, to give the negotiated agreement a chance to succeed, and it is for these reasons that I will support the agreement.

By Sen. Dick Durbin

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mr. President, for many years the US and others in the global community have worried about a nuclear armed Iran – and for good reason. 

Our intelligence community assesses that, until as recently as 2003, Iran was working toward a nuclear bomb.

Such a weapon in the hands of the Iranian regime would be an unacceptable risk to the region, to Israel, and to the world. 

The reckless war in Iraq further empowered Iran.  The country’s hardliners moved forward at great speed building suspicious nuclear infrastructure.  These efforts produced large and unsettling quantities of highly enriched uranium that could have been used for a nuclear weapon.     

This is the mess President Obama inherited when he came to office.  Yet, he pledged that Iran would not obtain a nuclear bomb on his watch.

With the current deal negotiated between the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran, he has delivered on that promise—something no previous president has been able to do. 

He has negotiated a comprehensive deal in which Iran pledges to the world not to build a nuclear bomb and agrees to stringent inspections and terms to ensure that Iran keeps that pledge. 

And this historic agreement was accomplished without drawing the United States into another war in the Middle East. 

I understand that any deal with Iran is open to suspicion.  Iran has a long history of destabilizing actions and outrageously offensive statements. 

Yet, what also troubles me is that some in this chamber – 47 Senators from the other side of the aisle – chose to undermine this effort even before it was concluded.

You see back in March – while negotiations where still underway and Iran was in full compliance with an interim agreement – 47 Republican Senators took an unprecedented and deeply troubling step.

They wrote to Iran’s hardliners trying to undermine any possible deal.

That’s right, while the executive branch of our government carried out negotiations with some of our key Western allies to halt Iran’s nuclear program, members of this body wrote directly to our adversaries in Iran opposing our own government here at home.

Ponder that for a moment.

Can anyone here imagine if 47 Democrats had written to Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai saying don’t negotiate with then President Nixon – or to Soviet President Gorbachev saying don’t negotiate with President Reagan?

What if 47 Senate Democrats had written to Saddam Hussein before George W. Bush launched his ill-conceived war? 

The howls of protest would have been deafening.

Yet, that is exactly what happened here – something for which the Senate Historian’s office has reportedly found no precedent.

So it should be no surprise that many of these same voices also rushed forward to reject the final agreement immediately after it was announced.

None of these naysayers had time to actually read the agreement before they rejected it outright.   

Tragically, this apparent knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything by this administration has not only hurt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program, but also tragically eroded this chamber’s historically bipartisan approach toward foreign policy. 

Mr. President, before the recess I came to the floor to announce my strong support for the nuclear agreement reached between key world powers and Iran. 

I noted that strong countries negotiate with their adversaries and have done so for generations, regardless of who was in the White House at the time.  And agreements reached from talking with our enemies have had tremendous benefits to our national security.

The deal with Iran is no different.

Since then, more than 35 of my Senate colleagues have expressed their support for this agreement.

They have pointed out the obvious.

First, this agreement places unprecedented restrictions and inspections on Iran, making it near impossible that Iran will be able to build a nuclear bomb without being caught.

Iran will not be able to cheat and get away with it.

Second, the agreement includes an Iranian commitment to the world’s powers that it will never build a nuclear bomb.  This means that if Iran cheats, action against Iran would likely have strong international support. 

And last, rejecting this agreement would leave the current international sanctions regime in tatters, eroding and falling apart over time. 

Even worse, Iran could walk away, leaving it unconstrained to build a nuclear weapon.  The region and our allies would then be at an even greater risk to a nuclear-armed Iran. 

Quite simply, rejecting this deal puts the US and the region at greater at risk. 

So much of the debate on this agreement is on issues peripheral to the primary goal – blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.  This agreement is the best option to do that.

And let me be clear, nothing in this agreement prevents the US or our allies from taking military action later if Iran cheats.  Nor does this agreement prevent the US from countering other Iranian actions in the region. 

And while Iran will likely continue to support terrorist groups, it will do so without the possibility of a nuclear umbrella.

It’s probably no surprise that many former Israeli security and intelligence officials see this agreement as in Israel’s interest.  It’s not because they trust Iran, it’s because this agreement blocks Iran’s pathway to a bomb. 

In fact, dozens of former senior Israeli security leaders have come out in support of the deal, including two former heads of Israeli Security Agency Shin Bet. 

Perhaps some of you saw the PBS Newshour interview last month with former head of the Mossad Efraim Halevy.  He said in support of the agreement,

I believe this agreement closes the roads and blocks the road to Iranian nuclear military capabilities for at least a decade.  And I believe that the arrangements that have been agreed between the parties are such that give us a credible answer to the Iranian military threat, at least for a decade, if not longer.  Up to a couple of years ago, the Iranians refused to discuss their nuclear programs on the basis of a negotiation, international negotiations. They said that this was their sovereign right to do whatever they wished.  They have caved in. They have entered into a detailed discussion of their capabilities. They have agreed to an agreement which lists their various facilities in Iran. They have agreed to knocking out the first and foremost important element in it, their location in Arak, which is a plutogenic-producing facility in potential.

   The core of this particular aspect is going to be destroyed.  And that means that there will be no capability of the Iranians to ultimately weaponize whatever they are doing for the purposes of attacking anybody around the world for the next decade. If only for that element alone, I would say this is an agreement worthwhile accepting.”

And when asked if he thought Iran would cheat, Halevy replied:

That is exactly the whole point of the agreement.  Whereas, when the United States negotiated with the Soviet Union, the code word which was used by President Reagan and Secretary Shultz was trust and verify, this time, it is mistrust and verify. There is going to be a verification system in place which is second to none and has no precedent.  And I believe that if the Iranians are going to try and cheat, there will be ways and means of finding this out. I think that the machinery which is going to be put in place, which, by the way, will be supported fully by the United States, without which this could not actually be implemented, will not be in place if the agreement is scuttled by Congress.”

And, of course, so many others outside of Congress from both sides of the aisle have come out in support of the deal, including former Senators Levin, Lugar, Nunn,Warner, Boren, Mitchell, and Kassenbaum.

Former National Security Advisor Scowcroft and former Secretaries of State Albright and Powell have expressed their views on the value of this deal.

And in recent weeks, more than 100 former US ambassadors…35 former generals and admirals…400 rabbis have written in support of the deal. 

Let me share a few key points from Senators Nunn and Lugar – two top nonproliferation experts and the former chairs of the Senate Committee on Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations Committee respectively.  They note: 

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at American cities, and the Soviets were subject to numerous arms controls agreements. But progress was hard-fought and incremental at best. In an ideal world, the Soviet Union would have agreed to more severe constraints than those agreed by Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, for example. It would have dismantled all of its nuclear weapons, stopped its human rights abuses and halted its meddling around the world.

   But, as all of these presidents – Democratic and Republican – understood, holding out for the impossible is a recipe for no progress at all. Congress should take the same approach today to the Iran nuclear deal.”

And they continue,

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, members of Congress must think long and hard about the consequences if this agreement is turned down. There is no escaping the conclusion that there will inevitably be grave implications for U.S. security and for U.S. international leadership in the decades ahead. Sanctions allies will go their own way, reducing the effectiveness of our financial tools and leaving Iran in a stronger position across the board.  Any future effort by this president or the next to assemble a “sanctions coalition” relating to Iran or other security challenges will be weakened. U.S. leadership, diplomacy and credibility, including efforts to achieve support for possible military action against Iran, will all be severely damaged.”

Former Chairmen of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin and John Warner made the argument that if the US walks away from this deal and then later finds Iran pursuing a bomb, it will find it harder to work with allies on a military strike having previously undermined the diplomatic approach.

Specifically, they argue,

The deal on the table is a strong agreement on many counts, and it leaves in place the robust deterrence and credibility of a military option. We urge our former colleagues not to take any action which would undermine the deterrent value of a coalition that participates in and could support the use of a military option. The failure of the United States to join the agreement would have that effect.”

Wise words from wise men – Republican and Democratic alike.

Mr. President, There have been decades of mistrust between the US and Iran. 

I myself cannot forget what happened in 1979 when our embassy was seized and more than 60 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.  There were mock executions and other inhumane acts.  Anyone who is familiar with this story knows the pain these people and their families suffered.

And no one can forget the horrible threats made by some Iranian leaders against the Israeli people or denials of the Holocaust.

Israel has genuine security concerns about Iran.  So do I. 

But at the end of the day, I believe this agreement is the best way to take one of those concerns – an Iranian nuclear bomb – off the table. 

It won’t change Iranian behavior overnight.  But in the long term, it also has the potential to empower the Iranian moderates – those who want a more open and internationally respected country.

Let’s not forget, Iran has one of the most pro-Western secular populations in the region – one hungry for greater connection to the world.  Iran’s leaders know this – and that is no doubt why Iranian hardliners are so opposed to this deal.

It is also important to remember that this is an agreement negotiated in partnership by the US and other key global powers – Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.  

And in a meeting last month in the Middle East, the Gulf Cooperation Council also strongly supported the deal – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

In total, more than 100 countries have publicly supported this agreement. 

So at the end of the day, we should follow the words of President Kennedy – “Let us never negotiate out of fear.  But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

Mr. President, I believe that is exactly what President Obama and the world powers have accomplished with this unprecedented agreement.

It’s time for us to show the same courageous leadership here in the Senate.

END TEXTS

We will continue to follow the debate and votes and their meaning of national security and peace in the Middle East.

We welcome your comments!

An open letter from retired generals and admirals on the Iran nuclear deal

The Iran Deal Benefits U.S. National Security

An Open Letter from Retired Generals and Admirals

On July 14, 2015, after two years of intense international negotiations, an agreement was announced by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia to contain Iran’s nuclear program. We, the undersigned retired military officers, support the agreement as the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. 

The international deal blocks the potential pathways to a nuclear bomb, provides for intrusive verification, and strengthens American national security. America and our allies, in the Middle East and around the world, will be safer when this agreement is fully implemented. It is not based on trust; the deal requires verification and tough sanctions for failure to comply. 

There is no better option to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. Military action would be less effective than the deal, assuming it is fully implemented. If the Iranians cheat, our advanced technology, intelligence and the inspections will reveal it, and U.S. military options remain on the table. And if the deal is rejected by America, the Iranians could have a nuclear weapon within a year. The choice is that stark. 

We agree with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who said on July 29, 2015, “[r]elieving the risk of a nuclear conflict with Iran diplomatically is superior than trying to do that militarily.” If at some point it becomes necessary to consider military action against Iran, gathering sufficient international support for such an effort would only be possible if we have first given the diplomatic path a chance. We must exhaust diplomatic options before moving to military ones. For these reasons, for the security of our Nation, we call upon Congress and the American people to support this agreement.

GEN James “Hoss” Cartwright, U.S. Marine Corps

MGEN William L. Nash, U.S. Army

GEN Joseph P. Hoar, U.S. Marine Corps

MGEN Tony Taguba, U.S. Army

GEN Merrill “Tony” McPeak, U.S. Air Force

RADM John Hutson, U.S. Navy

GEN Lloyd W. “Fig” Newton, U.S. Air Force

RADM Malcolm MacKinnon III, U.S. Navy

LGEN Robert G. Gard, Jr., U.S. Army

RADM Edward “Sonny” Masso, U.S. Navy

LGEN Arlen D. Jameson, U.S. Air Force

RADM Joseph Sestak, U.S. Navy

LGEN Frank Kearney, U.S. Army

RADM Garland “Gar” P. Wright, U.S. Navy

LGEN Claudia J. Kennedy, U.S. Army

BGEN John Adams, U.S. Air Force

LGEN Donald L. Kerrick, U.S. Army

BGEN Stephen A. Cheney, U.S. Marine Corps

LGEN Charles P. Otstott, U.S. Army

BGEN Patricia “Pat” Foote, U.S. Army

LGEN Norman R. Seip, U.S. Air Force

BGEN Lawrence E. Gillespie, U.S. Army

LGEN James M. Thompson, U.S. Army

BGEN John Johns, U.S. Army

VADM Kevin P. Green, U.S. Navy

BGEN David McGinnis, U.S. Army

VADM Lee F. Gunn, U.S. Navy

BGEN Stephen Xenakis, U.S. Army

MGEN George Buskirk, US Army

RDML James Arden “Jamie” Barnett, Jr., U.S. Navy

MGEN Paul D. Eaton, U.S. Army

RDML Jay A. DeLoach, U.S. Navy

MGEN Marcelite J. Harris, U.S. Air Force

RDML Harold L. Robinson, U.S. Navy

MGEN Frederick H. Lawson, U.S. Army

RDML Alan Steinman, U.S. Coast Guard

THE STRUGGLE FOR A SETTLEMENT ON IRAN AND SECURITY FOR THE REGION

 

obama 2

THE STRUGGLE FOR A SETTLEMENT ON IRAN AND SECURITY FOR THE REGION

by

Harry C. Blaney III

 

America under President Obama and Secretary John Kerry is clearly embarked on a difficult and comprehensive set of diplomatic initiatives to try to change the serious global “risk ratios” for America and the international community. But frankly the stakes are high and the rewards are elusive but possible. The problem is that they have been thwarted both by opponents abroad and from partisan opposition at home. The idea of a bipartisan foreign policy is no more a reality than a domestic love fest on domestic issues. These myopic and obstinate obstructions have both stalled progress on a host of domestic issues and on achieving progress towards greater global prosperity and a more peaceful world.

 

Tonight the President will make his State of the Union address and the prediction is that it will focus on inequality and unemployment, but it will likely also note the challenges America faces abroad.  For one thing, Obama was handed a raw deal when he came into office, including a global recession bordering on depression, nuclear dangers looming in Iran, Pakistan, India, North Korea, and not least disastrous, costly, and mismanaged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of that, a global existential threat to mankind by climate change and the growth of inequality on a global scale.  He was opposed on almost every policy when he tried to deal with these issues. In his first term, the Republicans in Congress made clear that his reelection was their first and only goal — which they did not achieve. Now in his second term, malevolent opposition and obstruction are their main tools to prevent progress at home and abroad.

 

Iran is just such an example. While we are engaged today on a broad set of interrelated diplomatic efforts to contain malevolent forces especially in the Middle East and beyond, the Congress led by mostly, but not exclusively, Republicans are trying to scuttle the negotiations between the G-5 plus 1 Group and the EU and IAEA with Iran. They are doing this by now threatening to add unneeded sanctions to scuttle the path to a possible peaceful agreement and to entice the Iranians back out of any deal and move America towards an added war against Iran in which American lives are to be put at risk for no benefit and much cost to us and the rest of the world.

 

The sad part is that under Obama America has added key, strong, and comprehensive international sanctions of unparalleled harshness. These have cut Iran’s oil exports by nearly two thirds and imposed new bans on Iran’s banking sector. Together they have deeply impaired and impacted Iran financially. The Iranian Rial has lost about 80 percent of its value. Inflation and unemployment surged, and as a result, they have come to the table based on Obama reaching out to find a peaceful solution that can rid Iran of any nuclear weapons program. But any agreement must also have some benefit to Iran, especially to its economy. Both sides have to have a stake in the outcome.

 

Recently in the New York Times (1/27/14), Senators Carl Levin and Angus King argued that “There are only two ways to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon: negotiations or military action.” They stated the essential truth and the inevitable conclusion is that those who argue for new sanctions before the results of the negotiations are known want us to go to war. We need to ask why and at what cost to us and our allies who have backed the previous sanctions we proposed, thinking that they would lead to talks and not war.

 

The two Senators argue that: “The increasingly stringent economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran over the last three decades have worked. Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, came to office last year promising an improved economy, and he seems to have quickly realized that the only way to deliver on this promise is by achieving relief from the sanctions.”

 

They added:

“For us to impose additional sanctions under these circumstances (or threaten to impose additional sanctions) could be an “I told you so” moment for these [Iranian] hard-liners, providing the very excuse they’re looking for to kill the negotiations and, with them, what is probably the best chance we have of resolving this incredibly dangerous situation without resorting to military action. From our vantage point as senators serving on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, the risk analysis is quite straightforward.

 

“The potential upside of legislating further sanctions is the hope that increased pressure might elicit more concessions or push Iran to conclude a more favorable deal. But this is unlikely. The potential downside is more likely and more dangerous: Iran’s decision makers could conclude that the United States government was not negotiating in good faith — a view that Iranian hard-liners already espouse. This could prompt Iran to walk away from the negotiations or counter with a new set of unrealistic demands while redoubling its efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

 

“Instead of slowing Iran’s nuclear program, such legislation could actually accelerate its quest for atomic weapons, leaving a stark choice: Either accept the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, or use military force to stop it.

 

“Worse still, it could alienate our international partners. The sanctions have been effective largely because of the active participation of many countries, including China and Russia. When the United States alone doesn’t buy Iranian oil, it has little effect on Iran’s economy, but when the European Union stops, and other major oil customers of Iran such as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Turkey significantly reduce their purchases (which they have), Iran is in trouble (which it is).”

 

Their bottom line was “We don’t know whether Iran can be persuaded to peacefully give up its nuclear weapons ambitions — but it is very much in our interest to give this diplomatic process every chance to succeed.” I would add that the Iranians have said they do not want nuclear weapons and they too are working against the wishes of their hardliners to try and make a “deal” which they know in advance would require concessions on their overall nuclear ambitions and especially enrichment at and above 20%.

 

Iran’s intentions remain a bit of a puzzle and remain murky. The want to be the voice of Shiites throughout the region, they want to be a “great” regional, if not global power.  They see the Sunni countries as a threat to their regional standing, but also likely want now an economy that is growing, with lower inflation and to create jobs and exports.

 

They many also want to be seen as an accepted leadership nation in the larger global context. They know they are more seen now as a kind of rogue state. They know they will get none of these goals without the lifting of sanctions. That alone is reason to continue to negotiate and to even seek, overtime, a larger range of cooperation and rapprochement. The reality is that nuclear weapons in the hand of Iranians is more a danger to them than a useful tool. How could they use it or even threaten it without themselves bringing upon them self-destruction?

 

The Iranian debate in Congress and among right-wing war hawks writers and media shows us again the difficulties for America today as it undertakes difficult and complex foreign policy initiatives, when regardless of the goals and desirability of an effort, they will mindlessly oppose what Obama tries no matter the advantage to our nation. Think immediately of North Korea, think climate change, think Syria, think the Middle East negotiations, and then realize that it is these Tea Party/Neo-Cons, and right wing Republican hawks beholding not to American interests but to myopic and greedy paymasters, that are endangering our nation’s effective role in a high risk world.

 

We welcome your comments.

THE BATTLE OVER STRATEGIC POLICY, DIPLOMACY, AND WORLD VIEW

The Battle Over Strategic Policy, Diplomacy, and World View

by

Harry C. Blaney III

This last year and much earlier and certainly during this coming election year we have seen and will see a battle royale over the purpose and direction of America’s role in the world such as we have rarely witnessed in the last several decades. The question is not so much “if we should be involved” but that too in some cases. There are those on both the far right and on the far left who, for very different reasons, would like to see America either go back to “fortress America” or treat the rest of the world with what my old boss called, in a highly misunderstood memo, “benign neglect.” Yet that position leads us in any case to a dead end and is truly impossible to maintain in the fast moving 21st century world.

Then the question is what kind of engagement we should have, what challenges should we address, and with what goals and with what tools? To simplify the question, there are two broad groupings of stances or schools on strategic and international issues. The first is an “internationalist”perspective which means fully engaged, with a often liberal stance, towards the risks, problems and opportunities for America. The proponents believe that America can and should be a power for good and initiate efforts to solve problems preferably by diplomacy and other “soft power” tools and use the military as a last resort. It accepts that international organizations like the United Nations, OECD, IAEA, UNDP, and NATO are important and cooperation with friends and allies are key to global problem solving.

The second school dominated by a kind of ideological based perspective is that America is and should be the predominant power of the world and that we can and should use military power to that end when it is seen as in our own interest. It is often seen by proponents as our best option. While this group says it support democracy and human rights, in fact, its support for military and dictatorial governments, both in the past and now, shows that its interests are not with the poor people of the developing world, but rather with oligarchs and authoritarian regimes favoring the rich and ruling classes. It supports a raw form of “capitalism” as a favored solution to almost all problems. It also detains international organizations, especially the U.N., but also treaties like the Law of the Sea, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and generally multilateral engagement to solve global problems like our present efforts to defuse war in the Middle East and our concerns about Iran.

We have seen some of this group’s influence at work in the recent Department of Defense and State and foreign operations (USAID and related programs) appropriations bill for FY 2014 that is before Congress now. It is filled with cuts to our diplomacy and “soft power” and it tries to dictate to the administration on a host of issues like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and other issues. It cuts funding for the United Nations and UNESCO. On the other hand, the Defense Appropriations part includes added funding that the DOD did not ask for and does not need; it puts unneeded funding into nuclear weapons that are not needed and could indeed  be cut in major ways with no loss to security. It dictates spending on low priority very expensive systems that the military-industrial companies want to enrich their executives but are likely never to see any action or real use. This robs our defense forces from resources that they really need, especially money for our troops, training, and logistics in the post cold-war world.

We are still in a narrow box of our strategic policies and objectives being dictated by Congressional types who in turn are run by the lobbyists, their military industries paymasters out for their own interests rather than that of the nation as a whole. We are going into a period when both the Departments of State and Defense will be undertaking major “rethinking” documents of their policies and their strategy in the coming years. The call for reform of this dysfunctional and dangerous decision-making and indeed of our political system is urgently needed if America is ever to become the nation it aspires to be in its domestic life and reach abroad. We need decision making aimed at real risks and dangers and human needs rather than that which is dictated by crazy selfish ideology and those with money and power, controlling our political life and making profits without any true  social or global benefits.

In the end, in the international sphere, the fundamental question remains what are the objectives and values America is most interested in upholding? Is it, as we have often proclaimed, to provide security, prosperity, protect human rights, fight poverty, deal with climate change and a host of other key goals? Or is it to simply proclaim our dominance, send our troops into harms way willy-nilly to gain some narrow advantage, ignore scientific truth about the danger of climate change and environmental detraction, turn our back on humanitarian crises, ignore the problems of global poor health care and its costs to the poorest, and not least, not support international efforts against nuclear weapons or peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts as a key objective rather than choose “war-war” as our first tool in almost any upheaval.

As a professional “policy planner” in the Department of State and much of my “think tank” positions, I had to also wonder of how little thought, experience, study, and wisdom went into past disastrous decisions by the civilian (including in the White House where I once served), the military that I often worked with, and sometimes in the DOS. We all had to acknowledge that most of the decisions we faced were not easy and the consequences of action or inaction were often horrendous — in short, we do need to do better within our government and the quality of our civil servants. But we need less myopic perspective, narrow self serving partisan values, and more understanding of the costs of poor judgment.

We welcome your comments!

Decision Pending to Reduce Nuclear Weapons: The U.S. Strategic Posture Review

There are few issues that are more important for the security of mankind than the reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons. The danger of proliferation is evident in Iran, North Korea, Pakistan and even India.  Further, the number of nuclear weapons and material in the former Soviet Union and in Russia proper is a key risk to everyone including the Russians themselves. The hope is that both the U.S. and Russia will agree in time to mutual reductions in order to lower nuclear arms levels.

 Discussions on a technical and low level are already underway to see if a true mutual and proportionate reduction level is doable.  Both Republican and Democratic past foreign policy and national security leaders have endorsed deep reductions from the present levels. 

 We are likely to see in the coming weeks a statement by President Obama in response to the issuing of the Strategic Posture Review document now in the works which could create a real possibility of further reductions in American nuclear weapons. There is a growing consensus that the numbers we are permitted to have, under the New START treaty, of 1,550 deployed and some 5,000 in stockpiles is unnecessary for deterrence purposes and each warhead or missile on hair trigger alert is an existential threat of a major catastrophe for our globe.

 

The key to this decision will be a close review of what is really needed for deterrence and many experts both military and civilian are indicating that numbers like 1,000 or even much lower are more than enough to ensure security for all and may even increase security with the necessary adjustments in deployment, transparency, and confidence building. Indeed given the inspections provisions under New START, the instruments do exist to ensure stability and confidence on all sides.

There are many advantages to major reductions in nuclear weapons.  For America, the reasons include major cost savings by not having to maintain, deploy, and safeguard so many weapons. Taking them off hair trigger makes the world a much safer place and with many weapons deployed on invulnerable subs there is high confidence that our deterrent and retaliatory capability would remain even after an attack. However, the likelihood of such an action is infinitesimal given the clear consequences for all.

 The problem is that like trying to get the American economy to grow with a logical and effective stimulus program, the decision to reduce our nuclear stockpile and change some of our strategic posture options has become enmeshed in highly partisan politics where the Republicans seem ready to oppose even slight and mutual reductions of nuclear weapons. Indeed, they seem bent on an illogical desire to increase such weapons and pile money into a massive system which is unnecessary and would create more danger than reduce risks.

 There is a clear need for a moratorium on mindless partisan fights that seemed only aimed at destroying Obama’s election chances rather than on sound strategic realities. The GOP seems just to be focused on pilling more money into the military-industrial sector at the expense of building a truly prosperous, fairer, and broader economy and creating goods and service needed here in America.

 The pilling of money into Republican-supporting front groups by military-orientated firms underlines the corrosive impact of coming to reasonable and fact-based decisions on weapons numbers and deployment.  Thus the answer to better security lies in a major change in the ability of unaccountable money to determine U.S. politics, budget decisions, and where our country is headed.

We welcome your comments!

Syria Ablaze Again and Spreading, Geneva Meeting Meets Russian Intransigence: Another Fig Leaf, but a Solution Must Now Be Found Soon!

As predicted, the Syrian civil war (that is what it is) continues unabated with increased killings as some 100 people are dead even as the Geneva meeting took place.

The not really new and flawed Kofi Annan proposal for a Syrian transition was met with adamant opposition by Assad as the regime rejected any outside influence and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov stated that there was no requirement that Assad step down…….a stance that only permits more unrestrained killings. 

It seems now that Russia will not play a constructive role in Syria at least for the foreseeable future.  With arms supplies from Russia reported, it seems we will not see any early abatement in the carnage. This stance can’t but have wider repercussions for Russia in the Middle East and for its role as a responsible global player.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had harsh words for their stance and said Assad will still have to go. But not a word was said on actually making it happen.  Inevitably as the deaths rise and the conflict spreads the determination to find a solution will increase.

The inaction by outside powers has created a stalemate that will inevitably end in unneeded bloodshed, perhaps with one side triumphant over the other but ultimately over the bodies of their own citizens. This result will create conditions for future conflict and be a catalyst for hatred spreading throughout the Middle East.  Egypt’s new President gave rhetorical support to stopping the bloodshed but not much more.

Massacres are not the way to reach a political solution and the clear signal that the international community will not intervene only encourages more bloodshed by Assad.  The bet is he will not win in the end, but the real question is how long this process will take and how many will be butchered before the civil war ends.

At the moment, the United Nations, NATO, the Arab league, and Turkey are not willing to act directly to put a stop to the killing. Some countries are providing arms to the rebels, others as noted are doing the same to the Assad regime. This inaction will only further the mass carnage.

What is needed is an immediate call for a cease fire and a large peacekeeping intervention as well as humanitarian assistance that is protected by the international community. Additionally, it is necessary to put in place zones of protection and a “no fly zone” at least over key border areas of Syria, which means taking out Syrian air defenses and airfields. Only NATO has these capabilities, with Turkey and some other Arab countries, playing the major role on the ground.  The Syrian-Turkish confrontation adds further uncertainty and instability to the equation of the Syrian conflict and the region.

This peacekeeping force should be empowered to prevent sectarian conflict and reprisals.  They should help with the establishment of a transitional government of all groups dedicated to establishing a secure and peaceful new democratic government. The Syrians need to get their act together to this end and end their divisions. But the healing will take a very long time as the Kosovo example has shown.

We welcome your comments!

For more information on Syria, take a look at the Final Communique by the Action Group for Syria, posted in our Full Text Pieces Page!