Obama’s Weak Rationale for the Iran Deal

Apart from being shocking, the Iran deal is baffling. Why would a U.S. president enter into an agreement that so empowers a nation that behaves so badly?

Iran’s leaders – including its supreme leader – routinely call for the annihilation of Israel. It’s designated by the U.S. as a state sponsor of terrorism. It sends money, weapons and military experts to forces hostile to the U.S. and Israel. Its proxies killed more than a thousand U.S. troops in Iraq. It aids the Taliban. It’s holding U.S. citizens hostage. And most alarming, it’s bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, likely with the intention of making good on its pledge to erase Israel from the map.

Within Iran, political prisoners are common, with reports of torture, rape, and killings of them. It lacks freedom of speech, the press, and religion. It practices Sharia law. Democracy and the rule of law are absent, with most power in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Council of Guardians determines who can run for office, and holds veto power over the parliament.

Responsible countries typically penalize such regimes through military containment, economic sanctions, and diplomatic isolation. Engaging with them amounts to rewarding bad behavior; top U.S. officials meeting with their leaders – such as what Secretary of State John Kerry has been doing – boosts them politically in the eyes of their citizenry and of other world leaders.

Why would President Obama not only engage in diplomacy with this rogue nation, but also lift economic sanctions and thereby enable increased funding of its terrorist activities abroad? Why would Obama give Iran express permission to build nuclear weapons starting in a decade, and leave open avenues for the country to cheat on the agreement before then?

His explanation is that he hopes the deal will prompt Iran to be “less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative,” and boost reformers within the country’s political system.

Yet he or his administration don’t explain how such goals will come about. They’re extremely unlikely.

Most of those who comprise Iran’s powerful, entrenched institutions shun any kind of political and economic reform. There’s nothing to indicate reformers will get the upper hand within Iran, with or without the agreement.

Those currently in place will use revenues gained from the lifting of sanctions to further entrench themselves. For example the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or goon squad as The Economist calls them, are set to profit handsomely from the lifting of sanctions; they control an array of businesses that span industries including construction, oil, automobiles, and telecommunications.

While the current president, Hassan Rouhani, seems open to economic reform, he’s no political reformer – and his powers pale in comparison to the ultra-hardline Ayatollah Khamenei. Reformists only make up less than a quarter of Iran’s parliament, and none are very well known, according to Arron Reza Merat, writing in The National Interest.

The next parliamentary elections are to be held this February, but all candidates have to be approved by the reactionary Guardian Council. Anyone who backed the 2009 protests against the presidential election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are expected to be disqualified.

Even if Iran were ever to get a reformist president and parliament again, as it did during the late 1990s and early 2000s when Mohammad Khatami was president, not much would change. The Guardian Council routinely vetoed reform-minded legislation during his tenure.

There’s no use in holding out hope for an “Arab spring”-style regime overthrow in Iran; even if it were to happen, we all have seen the dark winters that typically follow such events in Middle Eastern countries. And Iran’s reactionary institutions make it highly unlikely that a reformist would ever replace the 76-year-old Khamenei after he dies.

Defenders of the Iran deal point to Nixon’s outreach to China in 1972, when the U.S. made significant concessions to China such as plans to shutter the U.S. embassy in Taiwan. China thereafter scaled down its anti-American rhetoric, but the deal did nothing to quell that country’s totalitarianism or development of nukes. (And unlike Obama, Nixon gained the release American political prisoners.) As Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, authors of Mao: The Unknown Story point out, “The increased Western presence did not have any appreciable impact on Chinese society while Mao was alive….The only people who benefitted at all from the rapprochement were a small elite.”

While China opened up economically and moved from totalitarianism to authoritarianism under Deng Xiaoping, its lack of democracy and ever-increasing saber-rattling are a serious cause for concern more than four decades after Nixon went to China.

President Obama’s “encouraging reformers” argument for inking the Iran deal is incredibly weak. Don’t expect Iran to become a responsible player in the community of nations anytime soon. Expect it to keep causing trouble. When it gets nukes, expect the worst.


(Originally published in Newsmax.com)

Will Greece Go Russian?

GreeceAthens is due to run out of cash within the next few months, and prospects are dim for a new loan agreement between the European Union and the recalcitrant new Greek government.

During negotiations with Germany, instead of trying to work out a deal Greece’s radical left leaders have been acting more like Soviet-bloc leaders used to act toward the West, making threats (e.g. to seize German assets and flood the E.U. with migrants and jihadists) and demanding that Germany pay reparations for World War II which ended 70 years ago.

With a cash crunch looming, Greece could abandon the West altogether and seek the assistance of Russia, and/or China. Early next month Greece’s new prime minister Alexis Tsipras is due to make a trip to Moscow to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

There are a lot of Marxists in the new Greek government, and still a lot of Communist influence in Russia. There also are reports that some top Greek government officials are cozy with their Russian counterparts.

Will Greece fall into the Russian orbit? The signs are pointing to that. Here’s hoping that the Greeks work out a deal with the West, liberalize their economy, and stay in the euro zone.


John Kerry’s Intention-Paved Road

A frequent criticism of persons who lean left is that they tend to judge themselves based on their intentions rather than on the outcome of whatever policy it is they support. Secretary of State John Kerry just demonstrated that attitude to a T.

At his recent commencement speech at Yale University, he remarked, “In a complicated world full of complicated decisions and close calls that could go either way, what keeps you awake at night isn’t so much whether or not you got the decision right or wrong. It’s whether you made your decision for the right reasons – integrity.”

So if something goes terribly wrong because of an erroneous decision the Secretary made, he doesn’t lose any sleep, so long as he feels he made that decision with integrity. If his intentions were good, he feels fine.

Apparently, giving Syria a pass after crossing Kerry’s and Obama’s own “red line” on chemical weapons,  with the result that it’s again using chemical weapons, doesn’t keep Kerry awake at night, as long as he feels he gave them a pass with integrity.

Greatest Generation Redux

korean warIf they aren’t included already as members of the Greatest Generation, Korean War veterans should be. Were it not for them, tens of millions of more people today would be living poverty-stricken lives in a totalitarian nightmare. Korean War vets stopped the communists from conquering the whole of the Korean peninsula, enabling life in the southern portion to flourish under what later was to develop into a showcase of democratic capitalism.

July 27 marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice. The juxtaposition of the territories north and south of the line marking the northern advance of the U.S. army in 1953 speaks volumes.

The south has become so successful that its standard of living is on par with other industrialized-countries. Democracy and freedom of expression are strong.

The north, meanwhile, is stuck in the political and economic dark ages – all because it was unfortunate enough not to be conquered by the American military.

To consider what life would have been like for South Koreans had President Truman decided not to intervene on their behalf some six decades ago, look to the Stalinist north. Its per capita income is $1,800, a mere one-eighteenth of the south’s. North Koreans’ life expectancy is significantly lower, and they’re a couple of inches shorter on average than their brethren to the south.

Food scarcity and malnutrition are endemic in the north; it’s only thanks to international food aid that another famine is avoided such as the one that took place in the mid-1990s. Industry in the north is stagnant and infrastructure is crumbling or nonexistent.

Even more frightening is the notorious political repression of North Korea. Freedom of expression is nonexistent. Say or do anything the government disapproves of, and you could wind up in one of its notorious prison camps.

Some 370,000 military personnel – the vast majority of whom were Americans – under UN auspices came to the aid of an ill-equipped South Korean after the North Korean communists invaded the south in 1950. Allied forces pushed the North Koreans to the border of China before the latter entered the war and drove the allies back to near the 38th parallel, where the truce line was drawn. While it would have been nice had the whole peninsula been liberated, that nearly would have been impossible without starting a wider war with China.

Would that one day the whole peninsula is peacefully unified under democratic capitalism. Meantime, next time you pick up your Samsung Galaxy Note II, or climb into your Hyundai or Kia, in addition to thanking the amazing ingenuity of the Koreans, thank a Korean War vet as well.

The North Korean Appeasement Routine May Not Work This Time

Many believe that the recent troublemaking by North Korea is a repeat of that country’s tried-and-true pattern of threats and military muscle-flexing followed by appeasement in the form of food and energy aid by the free world.

This time, however, there’s a key difference: North Korea has a new leader. He’s young and inexperienced, and probably hotheaded and cocky, without the learning that comes with years of governing. And there’s probably no elder around to give him wise counsel, because in North Korea all power is in the single leader. It is presumed by North Koreans that he is all-knowing, and there’s likely no one whose rank and status are close enough to his to be in a position to give him that counseling. Perhaps if a cooler head tried that, he’d be purged or shot.

Now we, and especially South Korea, should start to worry. North Korea announced that it’s tearing up the armistice between it and South Korea. It’s done that before, but not with a brand new inexperienced leader. Last Saturday it announced it had formally entered a “state of war” with South Korea, and that and “all matters between the two Koreas will be handled according to wartime protocol.”

That was talk, but now there’s action. There are reports of a big jump in activity at North Korean missile sites.

This is serious. A wrong move by either side could turn into a hot war. The way Kim Jong Un has been acting, that even may be what he wants. After all, a long-held goal of the North is reunification with the South. Under Communist rule.

Given that there’s probably no one within the North Korean government with the rank or stature to counsel Kim Jong Un with the right advice, China needs to send emissaries there to do so. And/or Russia. And if the Obama administration isn’t already urging China and Russia to use their clout with the North Korean leader to help defuse this situation, then it most certainly should start doing so.

When a Liberal Meets the Paleoliberals

Great article by Eric Bell, a filmmaker and writer who started a project to document the events surrounding the building of an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with the aim of portraying the proponents of the center in a positive light and the opponents of the center in a negative light – not necessarily to be intentionally biased but because that’s what he genuinely believed. He got funding and support from Hollywood bigwigs to bring the film to fruition.

But then he started learning some truths about militant Islam – truths that would make any genuine liberal shudder. The Arab spring had turned into a winter, where non-Muslims started fearing for their lives. He informed the funders that he wanted to mention some of these issues in his film. “I wanted to show what happens to countries when they gain a Muslim majority, how women are treated, that homosexuals were executed, that free speech did not exist, that the forced Islamic Law was not consistent with Democratic Values – anything and everything I could think of.”

But he soon learned that he was dealing with a lot of paleoliberals. They didn’t want to hear any of those ugly truths. “Eric you are starting to sound like an Islamophobe,” they told him. “We don’t want to make a movie that promotes fear. Let’s just stick with the existing plan, okay?”

Bringing up those realities about militant Islam constituted  “hate speech” and “propaganda designed to spread fear”. There’s a site called “Loonwatch” where people – such as Bell – who criticize radical and violent Islam are called a “loon”, in the pejorative sense. (That’s ironic, because the loon is one of the most beautiful species of waterfowl. Its call is also one of the most beautiful sounds of nature.)

Unwilling to stick with the original script, Bell had to give the money back. He also got banned from writing for the Daily Kos, for revealing his liberal (as opposed to paleoliberal) tendencies. He suffered plenty of other blowback as well.

“Given the incredible density of the popular Liberal mind, …the readers of my articles were unable to see how the beliefs of Islam were in direct conflict with human rights, gay rights, women’s rights and basic Democratic Values.”

Those people are what you call paleoliberals. And unfortunately, they greatly outnumber the liberals.

Osama bin Laden’s Boomeranged Plans

(A previous version of this article appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.)

Islamic extremists always have hated the presence of US armed forces in the Middle East. In an effort to coerce us into leaving, they called for a holy war and mounted a massive terrorist attack. The result: a lot more US forces in the Middle East. Terrorists may be good at blowing people up, but they are not political geniuses. The best way to remove US troops from a given territory is by waging peace on us, not war.

In his 1998 fatwa urging the killing of Americans everywhere, and in his 1996 “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” Osama bin Laden bewailed the American military bases in Saudi Arabia. He vowed to “expel the Jews and the Christians out of the Arab Peninsula” by initiating a guerrilla [terrorist] war. “And by this war, great losses will be induced on the enemy side, that would shake and destroy its foundations and infrastructures, that will help to expel the enemy defeated out of the country.”

Bin Laden partially got his wish, but not in the way he intended. The U.S. did withdraw Air Force operations from Saudi Arabia, for the most part. It happened only after we “induced” great losses on bin Laden’s side, rather than the other way around.

Bin Laden’s attack on September 11, 2001 proved to be one of the biggest strategic miscalculations of all time. While he no doubt relished the thought of having killed thousands of Americans, his broader objective backfired. Apart from he eventually being killed, it prompted the deployment of more American soldiers in the Middle East than bin Laden probably ever dreamed of. There are more than a hundred thousand U.S. troops there.

In his war declaration, bin Laden mocked the US’s quick withdrawal from Lebanon in 1983, from Yemen following a 1992 bombing of a hotel there, and from Somalia after 18 US Army Rangers were killed there in 1993. He apparently concluded that a new round of attacks would produce a similar outcome. That sentiment probably was reinforced by our tepid response to the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, when we launched a few cruise missiles into the Sudan and Afghanistan.

But bin Laden did not understand that different kinds of terrorist attacks provoke different kinds of responses. We as a nation are slow to anger. But when we get angry, we are ferocious. We not only pummeled bin Laden’s terror network but annihilated two regimes that harbored it.

Smarter Muslims who dislike the US presence in the Middle East should have been furious with bin Laden after what he did on 9/11, not only from a moral standpoint but also from a strategic one. Radical Muslims, by contrast, continue to cheer that terrorist attack. Little do they realize how badly their own interests were damaged.

Even less obvious to radicals is that waging peace is the best way to keep us out of the Middle East. US forces got heavily involved in the Middle East because a radical Iraqi ruler decided to invade his neighbor to the south in 1990, with tremendous repercussions for the interests of the US and rest of the world. That ruler’s threat to peace over the ensuing 12 years made us stay there. Only now, after he’s been long removed, has the US finally decided to substantially reduce its forces in Iraq.

Of course, the continued presence of bad guys in that region will keep us there for the foreseeable future, as is the case elsewhere, like the Korean peninsula.

This should be a lesson to those who are under the mistaken impression that the US deploys its military abroad for reasons of “hegemony” or “empire.” No, the actual reason is to counter bullies, terrorists, or warring factions. And once they are gone, we go home. The steep reduction of US forces in Germany following the Cold War is a good example.

But extremists do not think in rational terms like this. That is one reason why they are called extremists. It leaves us with the messy job of trying to eradicate them before they can inflict further terror on civilization. Meanwhile, because of their actions, it looks like we will be taking up residence in their home territory for years to come.

Patrick Chisholm is editor of PolicyDynamics.

Nice Countries, but Firm Countries, Finish First

(A previous version of this article appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.)

The United States will be friends with practically any other country, as long as that country is also willing to be friends. But woe to those who aim to do the U.S. harm.

Being open and friendly, but tough when one needs to be, is a strategy for success. In other words, nice guys but resolute guys finish first.

That holds true not just for individuals, but also for nations. And the United States is one such nation.

The world is blessed to have many countries – especially developed Western countries – that promote the ideals of freedom, democracy, peace, economic cooperation, and humanitarianism. It is a far cry from centuries past, when the major countries’ primary goal was to divide and conquer.

But there is an unenlightened contingent. Numerous countries, especially rogue states, still insist on spewing out insults and vitriol, and blaming their internal troubles on other countries. They have the medieval mentality that belligerence is the key to advancement.

The latter group of countries is why the former group can’t be too nice. Giving into bad guys’ demands can have disastrous consequences. A famous example is when Great Britain acceded to Hitler’s desire to usurp more territory in 1938, thinking that once his immediate demands were satisfied he would no longer be a threat. Britain’s leaders were under the erroneous impression that bad guys could be dealt with solely through talks, diplomacy, and appeasement.

The United States can sometimes be too nice, too. In 1994 it signed an agreement with Pyongyang to allow North Korea limited nuclear-power generation in exchange for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program. As it turned out, North Korea did no such thing.

By and large, though, the United States combines niceness with toughness.

America is akin to a rich, successful, and happy person. Such a person is affable and receptive toward everyone he meets. Yet he is vigilant, too. Being rich, he’s envied. There are people who don’t like him just because of his good fortune or his outsized influence. Some wish to hurt him. For those people, he’s firm. He plays hardball right back with them. And he doesn’t give in to their demands.

America is willing to be friends with almost any country as long as that country is willing to be friends with America. And if that other country is not willing, America still holds out hope that someday it will change its mind.

During the cold war it was the Soviet Union that was the antagonist, not the U.S.. Because the Soviets were ideologically against the American way of life, no amount of trying to befriend them would have worked. The only thing the U.S. could do was be ever-prepared and ever-vigilant – make sure the Soviets see the weapon at America’s side, while always having an olive branch stuck in its back pocket. After the Soviets finally shed their bad attitude, the U.S. happily and readily presented them with that crumpled old olive branch.

Another example was Libya. In the wake of Saddam Hussein’s ouster, Libya finally realized that being cooperative with America, not antagonistic, was in its best interests. So it shed its program of weapons of mass destruction.

Whether it is a nation or a person, a key to success is to be friendly and kind to anyone who reciprocates, yet tough toward those who try to inflict harm.

A computer model even illustrated this lesson. Developed by The Santa Fe Institute, was a digital fish tank. Users could introduce new life forms to observe whether their species thrived or died out among the other life forms. According to tech guru Winn Schwartau, each life form had a complex set of rules governing its behavior. Over time, wrote Schwartau, the life form that consistently dominated abided by the following rules:

“1. My species will always play nice with you. I will never be aggressive to you. We will make every attempt to cooperate and work with you and everyone in our (global) fish tank.

2. If you screw with me, I will annihilate you without any warning. Period.”

That was written pre-9/11. Like Japan and Germany 60 years prior, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein discovered how seriously we take Rule #2.

And as long as we keep abiding by both rules, America, like the fish in the digital fish tank, will stay on top.

Patrick Chisholm is editor of PolicyDynamics.

Deterrence’s End

(A previous version of this article appeared in The Christian Science Monitor.)

During the Cold War, deterrence helped preserve the peace. Now, America and the world are facing the truly frightening prospect of future cold wars, as hostile regimes around the world come closer to develop-ing their own nuclear weapons. North Korea, it appears, already has them. Iran is getting closer to having them. Iraq likely would have had them by now if not for our intervention. (There are very credible reports that Saddam Hussein merely put is nuclear program on hold, with the intention of restarting it later.)

It is easy to imagine a proliferation of nuclear-armed nations within a few decades. Deterrence worked for 40 years with the Soviet Union, notwithstanding numerous close calls. Many believe deterrence will keep Iran at bay as well. But the concept of deterrence is breaking down. Iran and North Korea do not require long-range missiles to attack the United States. They have an alternative delivery system: terrorist organizations. Launching a strike against us would be a matter of using such organizations or their own operatives to smuggle in weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The attacking nation could keep its participation secret. As several observers have pointed out, this reality negates the idea of deterrence. Were such an attack to occur, determining culpability would be very difficult, if not impossible. A smuggled-in nuclear bomb detonated in an American city would leave little if any trace of physical evidence as to who carried out the attack. This would hold true for biological weapons and other WMD as well.

It is akin to the criminal world: if the identity of murderers always could be known, the fear of certain retribution would result in fewer murders. Similarly, in the past the fear of certain retribution deterred rogue nations. But now that their complicity can be kept secret, we are much more vulnerable to catastrophic attacks.

Even if we could eventually ascertain a nation’s complicity, the mere fact that it may think we could never do so, and try to get away with it, is enough to negate deterrence.

The situation reflects the larger changes that have been taking place since the end of the Cold War. We have entered the era of “Fourth Generation Warfare” (a phrase coined in 1989 in a “Marine Corps Gazette” article, which denotes warfare against nongovernmental terrorist or criminal groups like Al Qaeda). This type of warfare is typically waged by highly mobile, secretive terrorist or paramilitary groups that do not necessarily act under the direct control of a foreign government. They blend in with civilian populations, and often are glad to sacrifice their lives to kill civilian or military personnel. They may act as proxies for hostile governments, which supply weapons, training and other support. The advent of WMD means such groups can inflict casualties on a scale that in previous times would have required large armies.

The geopolitical scene has changed as well. No longer (for now) are we squaring off with a hostile superpower, but with an assortment of rogue states that have or could soon have WMD. The increasing availability of lethal technology means the risks of the unthinkable are rising every year. Given the nature of petty tyrants, it is only a matter of time before one of them decides to use WMD, including nuclear weaponry, against us or one of our allies.

The North Korea situation demonstrates what happens when rogue regimes are allowed to obtain WMD. It is an excruciating predicament indeed (and shows that we – as opposed to rogue nations – can still be deterred). The immediate lesson is that we must prevent more of these predicaments, as we did with Iraq.

We are living in unique times indeed, where the widespread availability of WMD is profoundly changing the geopolitical equation. For our planet to survive, America and the allies have to do things they would not normally do. It includes preemptive military action. Though such action certainly carries large risks and consequences, assuming diplomacy and sanctions fail to persuade, there is no other way to stop the onset of a world full of nuclear-armed despots. Otherwise, if they gain access to WMD, they will not be deterred.

Patrick Chisholm is editor of PolicyDynamics.

Not Letting a Good Crisis Go to Waste

As was eminently predictable, arch-reactionary/socialist Hugo Chavez is having trouble keeping his country’s lights on. Venezuela is starved for electrical power. That always happens when industries get nationalized and bureaucrats start to run things. With cush jobs and little fear of layoffs, there’s little consequence of sluffing off on the job. The private-industry people who really knew how to run things are long gone. There’s little or no new investment in the industry because the government wants to spend its money elsewhere. And there’s certainly no private investor willing to see his or her money go down a rat hole.

But Hugo (that’s Ooo-go – the H is silent in Spanish) has put an interesting twist on the whole thing. Faced with power rationing, he’s directing that rationing to his political opponents, i.e. market-economy-driven sectors like shopping malls, while reserving plenty of it for his allies.

You’ve got to hand it to ole’ Hugo for creativity – knowing how to turn a bad situation into his advantage.