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Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

How I Learned To Hate The Bomb: The Renewed Campaign To Spark Hysteria Over Iran

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

First up, from Foreign Policy’s article on deterring and containing Iran:

Deterrence in the Middle East, they [policymakers and foreign policy analysts] argue, could be just as stable as it was between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War. “Israel’s massive nuclear force will deter Iran from ever contemplating using or giving away its own (hypothetical) weapon,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in the Oct. 12 edition of Newsweek. “Deterrence worked with madmen like Mao, and with thugs like Stalin, and it will work with the calculating autocrats of Tehran.”

But this historical analogy is dangerously misconceived. In reality, defusing an Israeli-Iranian nuclear standoff will be far more difficult than averting nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. This is true even if those Iranians with their fingers on the nuclear trigger are not given to messianic doomsday thinking. Here are five factors that will make an Israeli-Iranian nuclear confrontation potentially explosive.

Before we dive into these five factors, I’ll just pause to say that comparing a nuclear Iran to the American-Soviet standoff or even comparing Cuba during the Crisis with Iran is pretty specious and silly. And so:

Communication and trust.

The October 1962 negotiations that settled the Cuban missile crisis were conducted through a fairly effective, though imperfect, communication system between the United States and Russia. There was also a limited degree of mutual trust between the two superpowers. This did not prevent confusion and suspicion, but it did facilitate the rivals’ ability to understand the other’s side and eventually resolve the crisis.

Israel and Iran, however, have no such avenues for communication. They don’t even have embassies or fast and effective back-channel contacts — and, what’s more, they mistrust each other completely. Israel has heard Iranian leaders — and not just President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — call for its destruction. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders remain prone to paranoid and conspiratorial views of the outside world, especially Israel and the United States. In any future Iranian-Israeli crisis, each side could easily misinterpret the other’s moves, leading to disaster. A proxy war conducted by Iran through Hezbollah or Hamas against Israel could quickly lead to a series of escalating threats.

This actually is a serious problem. The Cold War MAD-speak for it is “redlines,” a series of negotiated agreements between America and the Soviet Union on what provocations from the other side could cause a nuclear response. The name comes from the Red Line, the teletype device that directly linked the White House and the Kremlin, installed in the wake of several clashes with the Soviets that almost led to nuclear Armageddon.

Of course, comparing the Israel-Iran situation to the Cold War is ludicrous, the best comparison is undoubtedly the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. Here as in a hypothetical Middle Eastern cold war, there are no redlines and no communication between Islamabad and Mumbai on this issue. And, in the author’s favor, we have come to the brink of a third India-Pakistan war that most likely would have involved nuclear exchanges twice since 9/11.

Both times, both sides were slowly pushed back from the brink by Washington. I’ll pick back up on this in a minute.


The Soviets wanted to extend their power and spread Communism — they never pledged the annihilation of America. Iranian leaders, however, have called for Israel to be “wiped off the map of the Middle East.” After the street protests that followed the June presidential election, Iran has entered into chronic instability. In a moment of heightened tension and urgent need for popular support, an Iranian leader could escalate not only rhetoric but action.

There is a strong precedent in the Middle East of such escalation leading to war. Arab threats to destroy any Jewish state preceded a massive invasion of the new Israeli state in May 1948. In May and June 1967, Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al-Nasser loudly proclaimed his intent to “liberate Palestine” (i.e. Israel in its 1949 borders), and moved his panzer divisions to Israel’s border. The result was the Six Day War.

The revisionist history that has sprung up around the Cold War in the two decades since its end is quite fascinating. Does Krushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations and shouting “We will bury you!” count for nothing anymore?

The author of the piece is right that despite all the rantings and threats, the main goal of the Soviet Union was to extend their power and influence into the Third World under the guise of World Socialism and to stay militarily competitive with America. But the same is also true with Iran: Despite the loud, blustery threats from the ayatollahs lo these last three decades, Iran has time and again proved itself to be a ruthless and crafty player of the Great Game, certainly not an irrational actor.

The analogy to the Six Day War is baffling and somewhat deceptive. It wasn’t Nasser’s rhetoric that caused the war, it was him moving his armies to the Israeli border. And the analogy is doubly misleading because Iran has very little conventional capability, their influence in the Middle East is almost entirely based on assymetric power.

And by the way: Panzer divisions? Really? That’s about as subtle as a kick to the groin.

Command and control.

In 1962, the two superpowers possessed sophisticated command-and-control systems securing their nuclear weapons. Both also employed effective centralized decision-making systems. Neither may be the case with Iran: Its control technology will be rudimentary at first, and Tehran’s decision-making process is relatively chaotic. Within Iran’s byzantine power structure, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mounts an army and navy of its own alongside the regular army and navy, and internal differences within the regime over nuclear diplomacy are evidence of conflicting lines of authority. Recent events suggest that the IRGC, allied with Ahmadinejad, has increasingly infringed on the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, no one can be certain how decisions are made and who makes them.

This one’s pretty easy. The entire nuclear program is under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (the Sepha-i Pasdaran), a shadow military and secret police that reports directly to the Supreme Ayatollah Khamein’i. Simple. There is no issue with unity of command despite their recent civil unrest.

Mutual deterrence.

Both the United States and USSR had second-strike capability made credible by huge land masses. They possessed hardened missile silos scattered throughout the countryside, large air forces equipped with nuclear bombs, and missile-launching submarines. In the Middle East, Iran stretches across a vast 636,000 square miles, against Israel’s (pre-1967) 8,500 square miles of territory. This point was made by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2001, who noted, “Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack.” If this is the way an Iranian pragmatist thinks, how are the hard-liners thinking?

In contrast, by 1962, the two superpowers implicitly recognized the logic of mutually assured destruction. And yet, they still came relatively close to war — in John F. Kennedy’s words, the risk of a nuclear conflict was “between one out of three and even.” When Iran goes nuclear, the huge disparity in size will pose a psychological obstacle for its recognition of mutual deterrence.

All things being equal, Israel’s small size would be a detriment to a mutually-assured destruction strategy. But things aren’t equal. Even if Iran obtains a handful of nuclear weapons and halfway decent missiles to shoot them at people with, Israel will be the only side that has a credible second-strike capability. Combined with the certainty of American assistance, this doesn’t seem like much of an impediment to MAD.

Even assuming the United States promises Israel a retaliatory nuclear umbrella, Iran will doubt U.S. resolve. The mullahs will be tempted to conclude that with Israel gone, the United States would see no point in destroying Iran. Given the criticism leveled today against President Harry Truman for using the bomb against Japanese civilians in World War II, what are the chances of American retaliation against Iran, especially if the Islamic Republic has not attacked the United States?

I seriously doubt the mullahs doubt American resolve when it comes to the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf. Nuclear missiles exploding near the oil would be seriously bad for business, and if there’s one thing you can guarantee, it’s that America will respond swiftly and strongly to any perceived threat to our energy security. Not to mention, Israel is quite popular here in the States and they have a very vocal political lobby.

And the last sentence presupposes that if Israel is nuked by Iran, that America will have to nuke Iran in retaliation. We just might, but even if we don’t, American conventional power is strong enough to level the entire country in a month (despite its huge size, much of Iran is uninhabitable, and the population is clustered around urban and semi-urban areas). There isn’t a doubt in the world that America would descend upon Iran like the Wrath of God if they were to ever do something so stupid.

Crisis instability.

In view of the above dangers, if and when a grave crisis does erupt, Israel would be tempted to strike first in order to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, which would devastate its urban core. Iran will be well aware of Israel’s calculations and, in the early years of becoming a nuclear power, will have a smaller and probably more vulnerable nuclear arsenal. This will give it, in turn, strong incentives to launch its own preemptive strike.

This will not happen as long as America has such a heavy military presence in the Middle East. Period. This favorite talking point of war hawk pundits was put to bed decisively in 2007 during the Bush Administration. They came to Washington to ask for the latest generation in nuclear bunker-busters for a strike on Iran (as well as permission to cross Iraqi airspace) and were turned down flat by Condi Rice and Bob Gates, who threatened to end the American-Israeli relationship permanently if they did go ahead and do it anyway.

Yes, you read that right. Israel wants to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program by dropping nuclear weapons on them. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Just a few more points to wrap up:

Once Iran is a nuclear power, the Middle East is likely to enter a fast-moving process of nuclear proliferation. Until now, most Arab governments have not made an effort to match Israel’s  nuclear arsenal.

Already happening. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have all those Chinese ballistic missiles hidden out in the Empty Quarter for nothing. But the fall of Iraq has as much to do with it as Iran’s nuclear program; that’s a whole ‘nother story though.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of some analysts that the possession of nuclear weapons could make Iran more cautious, a nuclear Iran will likely be emboldened. It could press Hezbollah to be more aggressive in Lebanon, flex its muscles in the Persian Gulf, and step up its challenges against U.S. forces in the region.

Iran is pretty bold now. Things really couldn’t be going any better for them if they had tried. Their unconventional warfare power by proxy in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, western Afghanistan and a host of other places makes them the de facto regional hegemon.

The most important point, and the one all these pro-war Iran pieces leave out, is that the critical factor in the Israeli-Iranian relationship is how the American-Iranian one  is doing. And it’s doing very very well, if you’re an ayatollah. With American forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan without sufficient numbers to pacify both countries, Iran has become sort of the unofficial peacekeeper in southern Iraq (where in true Iranian fashion they back every side and just wait to see who wins) and Herat in western A-stan. With a phone call they can make life very unpleasant for American soldiers in Iraq or start another Hizb’allah-Israeli conflict.

Bottom line, as long as these conditions persist America has very little influence to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but enough influence to stop Israel from attacking them preemptively, which is going to mean an enforced stalemate until something crazy happens or the strategic calculus changes drastically.

It’s No Surprise To Me…

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Jane Hamsher is our own worst enemy. Now she’s trying to whip up opposition to the war funding supplemental:

I just want to take a minute to thank everyone who is taking time out of their day to make calls and stand by their commitment to end the war. When I look over the lists and read about the thousands of calls people are making to the offices of members of congress, and I see people like Toby who called 25 offices in one day, it makes it all worthwhile.

We really appreciate the efforts of everyone who has called, and who continue to call.  It’s a highly fluid situation, and Rahm Emanuel is furiously horse trading for votes.  Sources on the Hill say that they’ve never seen this kind of full-court press from the White House.  Members are being bribed, bullied and cajoled into abandoning their commitment to vote against any war funding that doesn’t include a time table to bring the troops home.

There’s some controversy about giving money to the IMF, which I’m not really as familiar with as I should be, so I won’t comment on that yet, but Hamsher doesn’t address that here either. Instead, she talks about “war funding that doesn’t include a time table to bring the troops home,” which is just bizarre. It’s not bizarre because we shouldn’t have a time table, of course, it’s bizarre because the US has already agreed to a time table for withdrawing troops from Iraq. It was one of, if not the, key point of the status of forces agreement we signed with the Iraqi government. So insisting on including something you already have in order to vote for something is just odd.

And that’s without even pointing out what a political disaster it would be to have Democrats killing funding for American troops in combat. Say what you will about public opinion about the Iraq war, people just aren’t going to be comfortable with cutting off funding for supplies while troops are in the field. Nor should they be. If Democrats do kill this, and I doubt they will, they’ll lose a lot of ground for it very quickly. And I doubt that much matters to Hamsher who, like a Rush Limabugh or a Sean Hannity, is much better served, personally, by being in the minority.

Obama Backtracks on Photos, New Torture Information Released

Friday, May 15th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

I’m late to this (damn finals), but obviously the big news of the past couple of days is that the Obama administration will not, in fact, be releasing photos of Bush administration approved torture they had previously indicated they were going to release. I had previously applauded the decision to make the photos public, so my initial reaction was to join the chorus condemning the administration for this reversal, but the more I think about it, the more I’m not so sure.

To with, the only particularly convincing rationale I’ve heard for the decision is that it wasn’t so much about quashing “anti-American sentiment,” so much as it was avoiding enflaming Iraqis. With the rather large caveat that I have no way of knowing whether or not this is true, I guess this makes some pretty good sense to me. With national elections scheduled before the last US troops are set to leave the country in 2011, I do think it would be wise to avoid anything that is going to cause a disproportionate backlash among the citizenry so long as American troops remain in the country, not necessarily because it puts the troops in any increased danger (I think these claims are rather dubious) but rather because it would likely make the political situation unteneable for some time in that country. Assuming this really is the rationale, I suppose I can live with it for the time being, provided that we get more answers in the interim, or that the pictures are released after the last of US troops leave Iraq.

In other news, Robert Windrem reports on what could be a devastating wrinkle in the torture regime in The Daily Beast:

*Two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney’s office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner, a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

*The former chief of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, in charge of interrogations, tells The Daily Beast that he considered the request reprehensible.

He also claims that much of the information in the 9/11 commission report was based on information gained from torture.

This is an important revelation for two reasons. First of all, the typical conservative rational for why the Geneva Conventions are inoperable to terrorists (they’re “illegal combatants”) presumably don’t apply here. An Iraqi intelligence official would presumably have been a uniformed member of a duly constructed state military body, and would almost certainly have been a POW recognized under Geneva anyway you slice it, making Cheney a war criminal any way you look at it. Secondly, this is after the invasion. There’s no “ticking time bomb” logic in play for looking for an al-Qaeda/Iraq link after we’d already invaded Iraq. Rather, this was Dick Cheney looking to extract information that would confirm the political reasons put forward for the war. He was looking for false confessions plain and simple.

Also, not for nothing, but where the hell is George W. Bush (you know, the commander in chief) in all of these decisions?





Torture Used to Find Al-Qaeda/Saddam Link

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

No one could have predicted:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

“The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly — Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 — according to a newly released Justice Department document.

“There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder,” he continued.

Of course, pointing out that the most common use of torture over the years, from the Inquisition to Stalinist Russia, was to elicit false confessions. Because while torture isn’t necessarily any more effective than good interrogating for getting accurate information out of people, imposing increasing levels of extreme physical pain on people until they say what you want them to is a great way to get people to, well, say what you want them to. Whether it’s true or not. The question at this point is whether Cheney and Rumsfeld were simply looking for confirmation of the things they “knew,” or if they were actually looking to extract false information from detainees to justify an aggressive war in Iraq. The fact that the inability to garner this information, even by torture, doesn’t seem to have phased the pre-conceived belief tells you all you need to know about the run-up to war; the administration wanted a war with Saddam from day 1, and nothing was going to stop them. Also, given that Rumsfeld seems to have reconciled the discrepancy by concluding that the torture didn’t work, one is left to wonder why, exactly, the torture regime was furthered.

It’s worth pointing out that this has been a very bad week for the Bushies. Revelations that they went to extraordinary measures to quash any official dissent from the legal opinions espoused in the OLC significantly undercuts the notion that the OLC opinions were issued in good faith, and senior policy makers simply acting on the legal advice they were getting. As does the reminder that the FBI strenuously objected to the interrogation methods, to the point that FBI director Robet Mueller directed FBI personnel to have nothing to do with it. Even worse, the Senate Armed Services Committee report on the matter is a brutal demolition of the Bush administration’s various line, and paints a portrait of a group of sadists who were determined to torture from the very beginning, and who took a number of actions that seem to demonstrate they knew what they were doing were legally dubious.

If you’d asked me about the matter on Monday morning, I would have said that I thought the biggest hurdle to action was that getting convictions in the matter would be extremely difficult, if not downright unlikely. After reading the SASC report, and given the plethora of information that was brought back to the front of the story yesterday, however, today I’d have to say that, on the whole, it’s exceedingly obvious that senior administration officials were engaged in serial lawlessness, human rights abuses, war crimes, etc. Prosecute them. Now.

But hey, Dubs didn’t get any oral in the Oval Office. Which is good, because otherwise we might have had to impeach him or something.

It’s Always Sunny in Neoconville

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

In a very good post altogether, Yglesias makes a critical point you don’t see made nearly enough:

In terms of Iraq, think about it this way. If things continue to be fairly calm for a few years, that will “prove” that the surge “worked” so we should be glad that the doves didn’t manage to ruin things back in 2007 and 2008. And if things don’t remain calm, that will also “prove” that the surge “worked” until the doves came along to ruin things in 2009 and 2010.

This really isn’t a minor point in any regard, and it’s something every non-neocon foreign policy writer/blogger should point out at every possible turn. Sadly, it might already be too late. Through much of the spring and summer of last year, the Presidential election was focused on whether or not Barack Obama would “admit the surge worked.” There was never any question amongt the mainstream press that it had, in fact, worked, only whether or not Democrats would admit that John McCain had been right all along. Of course, judging the success of the surge before we start to draw down troops (you know, to see if it actually made things better) was always absurd, but that was never really the point for the neocons who, I suspect, always knew Obama was probably going to win the election. By establishing it as conventional wisdom that the surge was successful, they’re set up the classic “heads I win, tails you lose” scenario Yglesias outlines above, and more or less insured that they’ll stick around through the GOP minority period and, eventually, dominate American foreign policy against someday.

Chain of Command

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

This simply can’t be tolerated:

CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn’t convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.


Obama’s decision to override Petraeus’s recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.

A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama’s decision.

I don’t know the specifics here, and insomuch as Gates has agreed with the 16 month timeframe before, I’m sure there’s something to it the article doesn’t mention, but as far as the military’s attempt to undermine Obama goes, he needs to remind them what the chain of command is. Bill Clinton let himself get rolled by the military’s political apparatus, and it was one of his most embarrassing early defeats. Obama should put his foot down on this quickly, and someone needs to be tendering their resignation this week.

In truth, there’s something to be said for taking a scalp even if th report isn’t true. Clinton’s problem, early on, was that he was neither a particularly popular nor credible new President. Indeed, Colin Powell was a much more popular national figure than Clinton in 1993. Obama doesn’t have that problem, as he’s arguably the most popular public figure in a generation or more in the United States, and a solid majority of the public agrees with him on Iraq. To that end, Obama should demand the resignation of a high ranking military official (I prefer Mullen myself) as a demonstration of his political heft and lack of patience with uniformed stonewalling.

Re: Bush Won Iraq

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

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by Brien Jackson

Tommy, that’s not really all that surprising. The neocons have been setting that up for quite some time, and it’s the thinking behind the push to force everyone to “admit the surge worked.” It doesn’t make any sense obviously, we won’t know if the surge worked until troops start leaving. But the calculation is pretty simple; the surge probably didn’t really do much for the long term situation, but if the idea that the surge fixed everything in Iraq becomes conventional wisdom then Obama will take all the blame for anything bad that happens once troop levels decrease. That this logic requires we leave 100k+ troops in Iraq forever to “succeed” won’t make any difference on cable with people like Kristol and Krauthammer pushing it endlessly.

Post-Feminist Foreign Policy: Liberal Internationalism In Action

Monday, January 26th, 2009

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by Tommy Brown

From a really bizarre article in the online version of Newsweek by Anna Quindlen, titled “The End of Swagger:”

As Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton begin to use their uncommon authority and intelligence to implement a new American international agenda, it might behoove them to read a speech given some years ago in Beijing. It read in part: “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights for one and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely—and the right to be heard. Women must enjoy the rights to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.”

Secretary Clinton was first lady when she spoke those words at a United Nations conference on women in 1995. Some of the participants wept to hear an influential American commit to a view of the world so many of them shared: that the way for nations to prosper was to pay attention to women’s rights, women’s welfare and women’s concerns.

A noble cause, to be sure, but one that immediately runs up against the brick wall of reality, in that the only belief in women’s rights that most countries where the Western Enlightenment never penetrated have is that a woman has a right to bear children and serve her husband. While of course it is a noble cause to push for women’s rights worldwide, Your Humble Author seems to recall that this particular message was a key one in both the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, and in the end, turned out to be so much horse manure. And this is in a situation where we invaded, broke down their old society, and re-wrote their laws. Accomplishing it through less direct means like diplomacy may be a tad more difficult.

Now, I’m sure this will offend some (if not most) people, but foreign policy is not missionary work, and our relationships with unpleasant regimes shouldn’t hinge on whether women have to wear the burqa or not. I’m all for soft diplomatic power to encourage women’s rights, and using the UN to push for it, in the same manner that we led the fight against human rights violations (until recently). But in matters where important national security interests are at stake, this is the definition of a non-issue.

A story most don’t know is that the main roadblock towards America extending diplomatic recognition to the Taliban government, and thus being able to negotiate with them in the years before 9/11, was that a group led by Mavis Leno (wife of Tonight Show host Jay) lobbied and convinced then-President Clinton that recognition should be denied until the Taliban gave their women Western-style civil rights. The fact that everyone in Afghanistan lacked any sort of Enlightenment-style human rights seems to have escaped everyone involved.

But here’s where the article gets a bit bizarre:

Those are the kinds of conclusions that put people’s backs up, particularly if those people happen to be male. Isn’t it just another form of sexism, they argue, to suggest that women are better, or different? Hasn’t Secretary Clinton shown herself to possess a killer instinct as finally honed as that of any male counterpart? Yes, she has, and perhaps now that everyone knows she can be the toughest person in the room, she is uniquely positioned to go the other way. “Soft diplomacy could be her greatest strength,” says Kavita Ramdas, president of the Global Fund for Women. “This is the time to get rid of militarism as a dominant theme, not only because it’s wrong, but because it doesn’t work.”

It truly makes one wonder about the premise for this entire article, considering that the former Secretary of State passing the torch to Hillary Clinton is also a woman (though perhaps because she is a Republican it does not count).  So what does Madam Clinton being a woman have to do with getting ridding of “militarism as a dominant theme” and moving towards soft diplomacy? Obviously a woman can be just as hawkish as a man, in the case of both Condi and Hillary, and the author points that out the latter before making a totally contradictory point.

In the end, this is a difference of ideology, not yet another skirmish in the Battle of the Sexes. The Bush administration was composed of neoconservative hawks; the Obama administration is composed mostly of neoliberal hawks with the occasional internationalist thrown in.  This makes it pretty likely that negotiation is going to take a dominant position over militarism and saber-rattling, but I am at a loss as to why the SecState being a woman has anything to do with it.

A Tale of Three Cities: A User’s Guide To Politics in Post-Surge Iraq

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

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By Tommy Brown

Virtually nowhere else in the world is the proverb “You can’t tell the players without a scorecard” more apropos than the Middle East.  With a recorded history that goes back millennia, a bevy of ethnic and sectarian groups feuding over grievances both ancient and modern, as well as being the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions, it makes the inner workings of the Byzantine Empire or the Balkans seem as simple and straightforward as a sitcom plotline.

Since 9/11, and especially since the invasion of Iraq that ended with our occupation of Baghdad on 9 April 2003, Americans have been bombarded with an endless stream of news, analysis and opinion about Islam, terrorism, the Middle East, Iraq, Iran and virtually every other related subject. The unfortunate thing is that most of this commentary has absolutely no grounding in reality. Almost every piece of information that comes from the American media (television news and blogs are the worst culprits) is either filtered through a political lens to score partisan points or based on generalizations that have no meaning when discussing conditions on the ground.

The worst of these generalizations invariably concern Iraq.  I personally cringe every time I see a member of the Bush Administration, the Congress or the media refer to the “Iraqi people” when, for all intents and purposes, no such thing exists outside of diplomatic recognition and passports.

Before the Allied victory in World War One, after which the British and French took crayons and erasers to the map of the Middle East with very little concern for the wishes of the actual inhabitants, the area that is now Iraq was divided into three Ottoman valiyets, or provinces, centered around the major cities in the region: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.


Iran and the “Or Else” Doctrine

Monday, September 1st, 2008

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By this point, it has become blatantly obvious to me that the Bush Doctrine is specifically designed to eliminate all options with unfriendly nations short of total capitulation or war. I have taken to referring to it as the “Or Else” Doctrine, because the gist is, “Do what we say or else.” It’s usually tough to break foreign policy doctrines down this simply, but there you have it.

One only has to peruse the pages of the Weekly Standard to see how truly out of control the neoconservatives have gotten. Columnists like Jonah Goldberg have been calling George Bush an appeaser, Neville Chamberlain, and various other unkind epithets for refusing to attack Iran posthaste for the better part of two years.

Now this may seem a bit extreme, but it’s because they are not only devoted adherents to the Bush Doctrine, the public face of America’s current foreign policy, but also to the Cheney Doctrine, the private face. The Cheney Doctrine, referred to as the One Percent Doctrine by the Ron Suskind book of the same name, basically boils down to this: If there is a one percent chance that a hostile nation or group is developing WMDs and planning to hand them off to terrorists, it must be treated like a hundred percent certainty. The response is the important thing, not the analysis or a preponderance of the evidence.

Iran obviously fits this description, but the problem, most everyone in the developing world fits this description. As a guiding foreign policy, fairly applying it across the world would be, to be kind, absolutely insane, which is why you don’t see Saudi Arabia or Egypt being hassled.

The drive to portray Iran as an evil, irrational, apocalyptic state actor and their (mostly ceremonial) president as a Hitleresque madman is that they have already decided war is the only option, it is just a matter of when.

Their claims to want negotiations when certain conditions are met are disingenuous at best. Because the neoconservative preconditions include ending uranium enrichnment, recognition of Israel, an end to support of Hizb’allah and other terrorist groups, an end to support of the Iraqi government and insurgents and other wish list items that are never ever going to come about without negotiation. So the choice remains: Either Iran totally capitulates to every demand without reservation and we’ll think about being nice to them, or we go to war. And the former option is never going to happen; the Persians consider themselves our cultural equals if not superiors, and will never give in to our demands in such a humiliating fashion.

Because when you think about it, if all these preconditions are met, what exactly are the pressing issues that America needs to negotiate with Iran about? They will have conceded to all our important demands before we sat down with them; they will be playing nice and no longer be a “rogue state.” At that point, there is certainly nothing overwhelmingly important to American national interests to discuss.

The main problem with the Bush/Cheney Doctrine is than an “or else” approach to unfriendly states only works as long as those states know that massive and punishing retaliation will answer any deviation from towing our line. As soon as that fear is lost, they will begin to act against us, first in secret and then openly, and would even encourage our erstwhile allies to go off the reservation, as there is obviously no punishment in between the silent treatment and war that is going to be used against them.

Iran, really, is the perfect example of the phenomenon mentioned above. When we spurned their diplomatic entrees after the fall of Baghdad, the mullahs knew they had America over a barrel re: Iraq because they were literally allied with both sides of the Shi’a-on-Shi’a conflict: both the government (dominated by the Islamist Iraqi exile movements Dawa and SCIRI) and the rebel Mahdi Army. This gave the recent conflict in Basra a surreal quality, knowing that no matter which Iraqi faction won Iran had won by proxy.

The Bush/Cheney Doctrine presupposes that America will always have the strategic upper hand on hostile regimes, and with Iran nothing could be further from the truth, they have us at a severe disadvantage in Iraq; it’s their best asset against us, and they know it. Which makes our refusal to even talk to them, outside some low-level Foreign Service contacts, even more bizarre and verging on the criminally stupid.

When you’re this deep in a hole, it’s usually a good idea to stop digging, but the Administration seems hellbent on getting us into another war; according to Seymour Hersh, they have been running operations into Iranian territory for more than three years, attempting to provoke the mullahs into a response. Thus far, Iran has been wise enough not to respond, knowing it would mean the end of their reign, even though an Iranian war would open a Mideastern Pandora’s Box that would damage the US almost irretrivably, which sort of disproves the “apocalyptic intentions” nonsense constantly heard from the neocon wing.

With a little less than six months left for the Bush Administration, it is still an open question whether or not a war with Iran is imminent. The fact that I don’t trust the president not to start another preemptive war in order to “hand it off” to his successor either really says a lot about how divorced our foreign policy has become from the legitimate national interests of the country.


by Tommy Brown

“The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.”

-Niccolo Machiavelli

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