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Foreign Policy

About Iran and Nuclear Weapons

Let me start by saying three things:

  1. I support diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons
  2. I support the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill
  3. I don’t think there are any right answers here, but only answers that are less wrong than other ones

Inherent in the first statement is the fact that I do not believe Iran’s claims it is pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes.  I believe there is one purpose behind Iran’s nuclear program and that is the development of a nuclear weapon.  That said, I do not believe the Iranians would be stupid enough to use nuclear weapons on Israel.  The ayatollahs, as 2009 demonstrated, are interested, first and foremost in the maintenance of their power.  The surest way to lose that power is to use nuclear weapons on Israel.  Israel would have no compunctions about massive retaliation against Iran in such a situation and no reasonable person could fault Israel for taking such action.

While many would argue that support for the Schumer-Menendez-Kirk bill is the quickest way to end the diplomatic process and ensure war, I believe that wrongly reads the situation.  It was the pressure brought to bear by sanctions, and the effect upon the Iranian economy, that caused Iran to come to the negotiating table in the first place.  To successfully conclude a deal to end the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons requires that Iran understand that consequences exist in the event negotiations fail.  The threat of additional sanctions helps serve that purpose.

The Putin Doctrine

A number of attempts have been made to discern and describe a ‘Putin doctrine’ during the years of his influence on Russian and world affairs, including some recently as a consequence of his reaction to the Syria chemical weapons crisis. Most suggest a doctrine of ‘reasserting Russia’s power‘ or ‘building Russia up by tearing the US down,’ an aspiration and strategy which, while arguably correct, seem to miss Putin’s underlying and unmistakeable political philosophy.

Here we propose an argument for a ‘Putin doctrine’ as follows:

No nation, group of nations or international organisation has the right to interfere or intervene without consent in the internal affairs of any sovereign state under any circumstances short of the proven violation of existing conventions governing the use of weapons of mass destruction.

In other words a sovereign state has the right to deal with dissent, insurgency and secession by whatever means it otherwise sees fit. That this might include conventional warfare against civilians, mass arrests and detentions, summary executions, massacres, genocide and authoritarian terrorism is left to the discretion of the state’s leadership. And if the state is an ally, Russia will actively disable the Security Council from taking action against it on behalf of any majority of the larger international community whom might find such activity objectionable. As Russian ‘hard power’ inevitably increases we need to think this through carefully.

Vlad the Implorer

Well, now we’ve seen it all. Vladimir Putin has an op-ed in the 11 September edition of the New York Times imploring Americans to undermine their own security by doubting the motives, credibility and policies of the US government:

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders.

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Vladimir Putin – A Plea for Caution From Russia NYT 11 September 13

There you have it. It’s Obama versus the world and the Pope. With Vladimir Vladimirovich as the humble arbiter of peace and voice of sweet reason. Oh, brother! Pity “those still finding their way to democracy” if they wander into his neighbourhood.

Ironically, the powerful effect of this agitation and propaganda on the weak-minded comes at a time when many in the United States, especially among certain factions of the Left and the Right, are as vulnerable as mice; since domestic spying revelations have undermined the faith of Americans in their own government. You know, that Snowden guy who sought asylum recently in… uh, Russia… Hey, hang on a minute. Vladimir, it seems you are a very naughty boy.

The Lavrov Gambit

Interesting developments overnight have again changed the course of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis:

President Obama on Monday called a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors in order to avoid a military strike a “potentially positive development,” that could represent a “significant breakthrough,” but he said he remains skeptical the Syrian government would follow through on its obligations based on its recent track record.

Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung and and Will Englund – Obama sees potential ‘breakthrough’ in Russia’s Syria proposal Washington Post 10 Sep 13

Clearly a positive development and a significant shift in the Syrian and Russian position. A vindication for Obama’s tough policy on the use of chemical weapons one would suppose? One might think it ridiculous to use this development to justify a vote against authorising Obama’s free hand to apply the military pressure which brought it about in the first instance.  

Be Careful What You Wish For…

About an hour after the vote which defeats the proposed Authorisation for Use of Military Force in response to the chemical weapons attack in Syria we will probably begin to realise that the world as we know it has been irrevocably changed; and probably not for the better.

The inevitable decline of American power precipitated by the disastrous Bush administration will enter its terminal phase as the American public withdraws into an insular shell of isolationism and denial of collective responsibility in spite of having enjoyed for decades the relative security and prosperity that engaged American power has provided.

The performance of the American Left since 21 August has been an utter embarrassment; exposing the vaunted activist Internet as little more than a breeding place for fatuous conspiracy theories, misdirection, unreasonable and stubborn scepticism, selfishness, wilful ignorance and misplaced moral outrage. A complete and utter shambles. Shameful.

Courageous activists and diplomats campaigned for decades to implement the hard-won provisions of an almost unanimous prohibition of chemical weapons only to have it thoughtlessly repudiated with the ridiculous argument that ‘people are just as dead’ by other means. Or compared incessantly, in ignorance of what nerve agents are capable of or intended to do, to the use of white phosphorous at Fallujah. All in support of a knee-jerk response to a proposed military action in the face of a truly inhumane war crime.

There is No Right Answer on Syria

Chemical weapons are a terrible thing.  I disagree with the assertion that dead is dead.  They are a torturous method of killing innocent civilians.  They cause civilians to die a gruesome and slow death.  Those that survive are permanently disfigured.  With conventional weapons, yes, they leave the person dead, but they tend to be considerably quicker in bringing about that death.

In the modern era of warfare, militaries can effectively protect soldiers against their use.  That leaves them as nothing more than a weapon of civilian murder – a weapon that kills slowly and gruesomely.  A strong moral argument exists that when such weapons are used, the world has a responsibility to take those actions necessary to prevent their further use and punish the perpetrators.  This can include military action.

At the same time, war is war and we should not enter it without serious discussion (the exception being in response to a military attack; think Pearl Harbor and us declaring war on Japan the next day).  What happened with the Iraq war represented a severe failure of this process and we cannot afford a repeat of that hear.  We need to see the evidence put out there.  We need to have the discussion.  We need to enter this with our eyes open.  Remember, even limited strikes put our men and women in uniform in the line of danger and cost us money in a time when we really don’t have the money to spare – especially on another war.

The Petraeus Puzzle

It’s interesting to note the subtext in the Petraeus resignation controversy, that the FBI investigation was the result of his paramour “blowing” the affair:

The F.B.I. investigation that led to the sudden resignation of David H. Petraeus as C.I.A. director on Friday began with a complaint several months ago about “harassing” e-mails sent by Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s biographer, to another woman who knows both of them, two government officials briefed on the case said Saturday.

When F.B.I. agents following up on the complaint began to examine Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, they discovered exchanges between her and Mr. Petraeus that revealed that they were having an affair, said several officials who spoke of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. They also discovered that Ms. Broadwell possessed certain classified information, one official said, but apparently concluded that it was probably not Mr. Petraeus who had given it to her and that there had been no major breach of security.

Scott Shane and Eric Schmitt – Biographer’s E-Mails to Woman Led F.B.I. to Petraeus NYT 10 Nov 12

Given Paula Broadwell’s biography, “…she specialized in military intelligence, spending time at the U.S. Special Operations Command and the FBI Counterterrorism Task Forces before pursuing an academic career…” according to her publisher, one assumes she knew an email containing classified information would lead to an analysis of her on-line activity and the exposure of her relationship.  Her motivations are further confounded by the unnamed officials’ suggestion that “the two women seemed be competing for Mr. Petraeus’s loyalty, if not his affection.”  Needless to say her book “jumped from a ranking on Amazon of 76,792 on Friday to 111 by mid-Saturday.

The Tale of the RQ-170

On 4 Dec 2011 an RQ-170 drone came down in North-eastern Iran, about 250km from the Afghanistan border, and led to a brief unresolved diplomatic incident; the US government ultimately admitted, after considerable prevarication, that the surveillance drone was operated by the CIA and asked that it be returned.

More disturbingly, Iran claimed that the drone was captured, not shot down, “by their own ways and means.”  Subsequent reports detailed how this was claimed to be accomplished by jamming the encrypted control signal.  Others have suggested an even more sophisticated cyberattack which hacked the command link while masking the intrusion from the aircraft’s erstwhile controllers.  Whatever the explanation the self-destruct protocol one assumes would be provided didn’t function or was not invoked.

Dick Cheney’s criticism that it should have been destroyed by an immediate air strike, while instructive, failed to consider that the CIA may have by then completely lost track of it.

Fars, the semi-official Iranian news agency, reported that both Russia and China had been “most aggressive in their pursuit of details on the drone” and most defence analysts agreed that “reverse engineering” was inevitable though opinions varied on the impact on the operational superiority enjoyed by classified US stealth assets.  Whatever the outcome the active intelligence gathering missions targeting Iran’s nuclear program had become public:

The overflights by the bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin and first glimpsed on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2009, are part of an increasingly aggressive intelligence collection program aimed at Iran, current and former officials say. The urgency of the effort has been underscored by a recent public debate in Israel about whether time is running out for a military strike to slow Iran’s progress toward a nuclear weapon.

Scott Shane and David E Sanger – Drone Crash in Iran Reveals Secret U.S. Surveillance Effort NYT 7 Dec 11

The political consequences were largely subsumed in the almost universal bipartisan acknowledgement that such actions were prudent and necessary.

It's On! Recap and Commentary on the First Republican Debate (2012)

I don’t know whether many people (especially on the left) had the stomach to watch this 90 minute exercise in silliness and futility, but I personally am a bit of a masochist. I sat through the full thing, knowing all the while that it was over an hour of my life I could never get back. For the most part, little of interest was said, though I must confess to a few points of agreement on my part with a couple of the candidates (95% disagreement of course). There were even some laughs scattered throughout, so I can hardly call it a complete waste, can I?

Let’s have a look at what was on the table tonight.

America Needs the World: the World Needs America

That was the essence of Joe Biden’s important Foreign Policy speech at the Security Conference in Munich Today.

“I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America’s relations around the world… We will engage. We will listen. We will consult. America needs the world, just as I believe the world needs America

More below the flip…