The negotiations on Iran's nuclear development with the U.S. and five major powers are coming up against a November 24 deadline. Charles Freeman, retired diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, offers an assessment of the central issues in reaching a deal--or failing to.
Should the negotiaitons fail, he notes at least three serious consequences: 1. the sanctions will seriously weaken (the sword the U.S. believes it holds over Iran); Iran could proceed with its program without international monitoring; nuclear proliferation woud increase in the Middle East. All of this, he argues, needs to be measured against the current upheval in Syria and Iraq.
What is the U.S. doing in the Middle East? A senior retired diplomat, Robert Hunter, looks back on U.S. policy after 9/11 and looks forward to the effort to degrade ISIL. He argues that U.S. presidents have failed to ask two questions: What follows? Who benefits? He points to the cross-purposes and their conseuqences as the U.S. once again tries to lead a grand coalition against ISIS/ISIL.
"The US has committed several key errors, some out of lack of knowledge, some out of the felt need to respond to external events, and some in misguided response to the desires of US partners in the region.
"After 9/11, the US chose not only to extirpate those responsible for the first attack on the continental United States since 1814, but also to overthrow the Taliban regime, occupy the country, pull in all 27 other NATO allies to help, and try—but fail—to create a New Afghanistan. Then in 2003, a small group of advisors around President George W. Bush leveraged popular reaction to 9/11 to invade Iraq, one of the greatest foreign policy mistakes in US history....
"With the invasion of Iraq, the US blundered into the midst of civil war in the Middle East. It overthrew a Sunni regime that dominated a Shia majority population. Most of the troubles the US now faces in the Middle East flow from that fact. Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states have sought to “redress the balance,” in particular by getting the US to overthrow the minority Alawite (Shia) regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.... Thus the United States became an active party in a Sunni-Shia civil war, first unwittingly on the Shia side (invasion of Iraq) and subsequently on the Sunni side. It has also been supporting the geopolitical interests of states that oppose Iran, among other countries, which are competing for power among themselves, thus double-binding the US in support of others’ regional agendas that should mean little or nothing to the United States and its interests.....
And it goes on, check out Hunter's analysis at LobeLog.
Two pieces (somewhat long) lay out the reasons 1. there will be no grand coalition gathered against ISIS and 2. the competing goals of the relevant Middle Eastern nations.
Raghida Dergam The World Post The US president may decide in the end that this is not his war, and that it is best to return to his country to fortify it against terrorism, and let ISIS unleash itself on everyone until it commits suicide or until it is slayed eventually. This is perhaps the course he might choose if it appears to him that all those who want him to fight their wars on their behalf will meet his war with ingratitude and petulance.
David Stockman Contra Corner In truth, the whole thing is a giant, pathetic farce. There will be no coalition, no strategy, no boots, no ISIS degradation, no gain in genuine safety and security for the American homeland. This is an utterly misbegotten war against an enemy that has more urgent targets than America, but a war which will nonetheless fire-up the already boiling cauldron of Middle Eastern tribal, religious and political conflict like never before. There is no name for what Obama is attempting except utter folly.
Compared to the furrowed brow of American newscasters and journalists, these two pieces have a distant skepticism about the ISIS situation and the U.S. response so far. Note the competing and incompatible Sunni/ Shiite interests at stake. These make a grand coalition unlikely and as Dergam suggests it might also be the key to any small local coalition that would "degrade" ISIS.
Three knowledgable and connected Times reporters, Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt, and Mark Landler, write today:
....Some officials and terrorism experts believe that the actual danger posed by ISIS has been distorted in hours of television punditry and alarmist statements by politicians, and that there has been little substantive public debate about the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East.
Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department’s top counterterrorism adviser during Mr. Obama’s first term, said the public discussion about the ISIS threat has been a “farce,” with “members of the cabinet and top military officers all over the place describing the threat in lurid terms that are not justified.”
Should that story have been written a week ago? They note one element that I have thought and argued about over the last few weeks: What are "the unintended consequences of expanding American military action in the Middle East." Story here, NYTimes, 9/11!
UPDATE: Can Obama's plan work? Skeptics right and left. Lobe Log
In the book, World Order, Kissinger offers his thoughts on the present state of foreign policy, drawing on his long career observing and advising on same. But he bristled, to put it mildly, when that long career prompted a few pointed questions from interviewer Todd Zwillich. It seems the Nobel Peace Prize winner isn't accustomed to being asked to defend his role in some of the uglier episodes of the 1970s.
That Kissinger doesn't want to talk about such things is no surprise. It is surprising that he hasn't come up with a better way to deflect questions about, say, Allende or Vietnam by now. The grounds on which he objects to Zwillich's bringing up the past are pretty flimsy: first of all, it happened a long time ago, and therefore is not something contemporary audiences should be interested in or consider themselves able to assess; and second, it is unfair to the people who were involved in making the decisions that are now being questioned.
In response to this from Zwillich:
One passage in your book says that idealism is a critical part of American policy, but that the most sustainable course will involve a blend of realism and idealism, [which is] too often held out in the American debate as incompatible opposites. It made me think of your history in places like Chile. Was it the case that realism trumped democratic idealism there when you engineered the coup against Salvador Allende, was that an example of that?
Ahem. You know one trouble with discussion of this...You’re referring to an event that happened 50 years ago, and so it’s very hard to reconstruct…
Zwillich presses on, correcting the timeline ("forty years") and noting that, despite Kissinger's disavowal of any involvement with the coup, "Many other people testified in front of the Church Commission in the Senate later on that in fact you were well informed of that operation even after officially turning it off in a memo –"
Once again, Kissinger falls back on his not-quite-an-argument about how it's all off-limits for discussion because it happened a long time ago.Read more
My column in the current issue (September 12) tries to show that decisions made in 1919-1920 at the Versailles peace talks did not settle all the issues thrown up by World War I. They simply set the table for new rounds of conflict. Today's Ukraine-Russia, Israel-Palestine were my examples. As we see everyday in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, history is never past; sometimes it is simply very quiet.
I thought this quote at Pat Lang's site (on the coming Scottish vote for independence) succinctly summed up the power of history in national stories and imagination (ironically the essay is focused on Arabism and Islam.)
“The historical memory of a nation is not merely a repository. Our vision of the past channels our vision of the future by constraining options, but also it plays a proactive role.Read more
Connie Bruck, who writes regularly on business and politics for the New Yorker, has a run down on AIPAC's history and influence on U.S. policy toward Israel. She points to some recent setbacks in its lobbying (on Iran, negotiations, and sanctions), but over-all she illustrates that it is a formidable influence not only in Washington but everywhere anyone runs for national office. More formidable she says than the NRA.
One congressman, who gave up, points out how hard it is to vote in the U.S. national interest when AIPAC is on your case. "Friends of Israel" @ the New Yorker.
After his release from his first captivity in Libya James Foley wrote this letter to his alma mater, Marquette University. He said:
Myself and two colleagues had been captured and were being held in a military detention center in Tripoli. Each day brought increasing worry that our moms would begin to panic. My colleague, Clare, was supposed to call her mom on her birthday, which was the day after we were captured. I had still not fully admitted to myself that my mom knew what had happened. But I kept telling Clare my mom had a strong faith.
I prayed she’d know I was OK. I prayed I could communicate through some cosmic reach of the universe to her.
I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed.
I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on my knuckles. And it helped to keep my mind focused.
Clare and I prayed together out loud. It felt energizing to speak our weaknesses and hopes together, as if in a conversation with God, rather than silently and alone.
In a previous installment...
- mention was made of the US resupplying Israel with armaments: Stars & Stripes; according to reports, mortar rounds and ammuntion for grenade launchers.
- Then, before Congress left for its unearned summer vacation, it voted funds for a resupply of Israel's Iron Dome rockets; some sleight of hand it turns out.
- Then, there are reports that the U.S. National Security Agency supplies Israel with targeting information. Perhaps for Gaza? Glenn Greenwald's account.
And then: various countries and international bodies support UNRWA, the organization that cares for Palestinian refugees from Israel both in Gaza and the West Bank. These funds will be solicited to rebuild Gaza, perhaps in time for the next Israeli assault.
If the world in various guises is paying both Israel and Hamas, can we ask why? And should we? What if each had to pay their own expenses? What if taxpayers in the U.S. and the EU all said, not in our name.
ADDENDUM: There's a gremlin in a link to a Haaretz story (citing the WSJ) to the effect that the weapons' transfers were done without WH or State Dept. approval. The transfers are now being held up by the WH. Haaretz "According to a senior U.S. official, the decision to tighten oversight and require approval of higher-ranking officials over shipments, was intended to make it clear to Israel that there is no "blank check" from Washington in regards to the U.S.-made weapons the IDF makes use of in its Gaza operations."
There is much else in this report including expressions of Netanyahu's arrogance: he can outwait whatever Obama may do, because he has Congress in his pocket as well as the direct links Israeli officials have to officials and departments of the U.S. government. Here is a link to the Wall Street Journal story in case you have access.
Today’s New York Times story on Argentina’s apparent financial default isn’t likely to make anyone more fond of hedge fund firms, except maybe those who, like the fund’s manager, tend to valorize the “rights of creditors.” The lead:
The hedge fund firm of billionaire Paul E. Singer has about 300 employees, yet it has managed to force Argentina, a nation of 41 million people, into a position where it now has to contemplate a humbling surrender.
Presented that way, the development seems an example of what Pope Francis had in mind when he used the term “savage capitalism” during a visit to a soup kitchen last year, and in fact, it’s exactly how Jubilee USA president Eric LeCompte characterizes it: “When Pope Francis has used the term savage capitalism he refers to a group of extreme actors who profit from exploitation of the poor. I can’t think of a more appropriate example than the actions of the vulture hedge funds and Argentina.”
Imagery and metaphor are inevitable in accounts of crises like these, precisely because they can be useful in beginning to understand details that can otherwise be confounding. More from the Times story:
The campaign against Argentina shows how driven and deep-pocketed hedge funds can sometimes wield influence outside of the markets they bet in … While Mr. Singer’s firm has yet to collect any money from Argentina, some debt market experts say that the battle may already have shifted the balance of power toward creditors in the enormous debt markets that countries regularly tap to fund their deficits. Countries in crisis may now find it harder to gain relief from creditors after defaulting on their debt, they assert.
“We’ve had a lot of bombs being thrown around the world, and this is America throwing a bomb into the global economic system,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, the economist and professor at Columbia University. “We don’t know how big the explosion will be — and it’s not just about Argentina.”
Battles, bombs, and explosions. That Elliott, a small New York firm generally unknown outside financial circles, can wield such power over a distant sovereign nation says much about its arsenal: It manages more than $25 billion in assets, an amount accrued through returns of 14% a year since 1977. By that measure, Elliott easily meets, if not embodies, the definition of a successful fund. And why might it be so successful? Perhaps because a hedge fund isn’t a “hedge” in the way that term might suggest—and in fact once was used, even in finance.Read more
UPDATE: Here is the Financial Times (British) on the Obama conundrum with Israel/Palestine: "The odds are that, once the dust settles in Gaza, Washington will let the situation drift. It is arguably the fourth of Mr Obama’s Middle East crises after Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why waste more capital on it? The answer lies as much within the US as in the Middle East. Unless Mr Obama is prepared to play the role of a genuinely neutral broker, talks are always likely to fail. If, as a growing number of American Jews and a brave minority of Israelis argue, Israel is digging its grave by undercutting moderate Palestinians, it is time for more thoughtful friends in the US to speak out. Why should Aipac be the one with the megaphone?" Whole article here
Original post: 7/31: "While Congress figures out how to pass $225 million in new Iron Dome funding before the August recess, DoD supplies Israel with new ammo. Stars and Stripes' story: "As conflict continues between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the Department of Defense has released arms to Israel from a weapons stockpile maintained within the borders of the close U.S. ally, defense officials confirmed Wednesday. The ammunition sale from the weapons stockpile, established in the 1990s for use by both countries in case of emergency, took place within the past week, following three weeks of battle between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in Gaza." Foreign Policy Situation Report, Gordon Lubold
"But according to a defense official it was not in response to an emergency request from Israel. "Instead, the United States elected to supply 120mm mortar shells and 40mm grenades from the stockpile because the arms were approaching the date they would require replacement, he said. Israel regularly buys such ammunition when the United States rotates its stocks, he said, and the United States would meanwhile send new ammunition to refresh the stockpile." Stars & Stripes
There's no foreign-policy issue I've found as frustrating and hard to get a grasp on as the Israel-Palestine conflict. When a conflict flares up, especially one with longstanding roots, the natural thing for someone like me to do is try to get up to speed on the basics: What did I miss while I was growing up (or not yet born) that will help me understand what's going on now? But when it comes to Israeli politics, that neutral accounting of facts has always been nearly impossible to find. Try to find someone who can explain what's going on over there, and they skip directly to an impassioned rebuttal of the other side's views. Everyone wants to tell you why the other side is wrong and their own side is misrepresented. Everyone wants to tell you how it's all about bias. It's the one issue that, to judge from the public discussion, seems to be ideology all the way down.
That's finally changing for me; with this latest flare-up I finally feel like I can get a handle on what's happening and why. I'm skeptical of "how social media changes everything" arguments, but in this case I do think there's a lot to be said for the power of Twitter in helping me find arguments and reporting and images I wouldn't have seen otherwise -- a lot of it coming from journalists in my age cohort who, I assume, are also fed up with the "pro-and-anti-Israel" posturing that has dominated any discussion of Israel and its actions (and U.S. involvement in same) throughout our lifetime. They want to move beyond the calcified positions and tired slogans and try to see what's really happening now, because that might lead to a way out instead of just more retrenchment and identity politics. (Read Paul Waldman's excellent post at the American Prospect on that.) I finally feel like I can follow the events as they unfold without having to choose a side first.
Which is why I've been so fascinated by what's been happening with David Frum, now a Senior Editor at the Atlantic, regarded by many as an independent thinker because, after serving as a speech writer for George W. Bush, he distanced himself from and became highly critical of the radical elements in the Obama-era GOP. Frum is smart and sharp and right about a lot of things, but also smug, and surprisingly sloppy in his thinking when it suits his ideology. (Just because he's not totally partisan doesn't mean he's not ideological.) And when the subject is Israel, he puts his critical-thinking skills on a shelf and goes all in on the propaganda. He has become a vivid illustration of the poisonous conversation around Israeli politics, and the way it reduces otherwise responsible thinkers to frothing idealogues eager to jump to the worst conclusions about anyone who they think might see things differently than they do.Read more
After hinting that there would be no U.S. military involvement in Iraq's current metldown/civil war...well, there is. President Obama has said he is sending 300 military advisors to??? advise? to target ISIS militants for air attacks? to show the Iraqi military how to do something they are unwilling or incapable of doing? And only 300? what about the air crews bringing them in? the translators? Well, you get it. And all of this while Mr. Maliki is still in power. And oh yes, maybe we'll take a few shots at Syria while we're bombing in Iraq.
NYTimes: "President Obama said Thursday that he would deploy up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help its struggling security forces fend off a wave of Sunni militants who have overrun large parts of the country, edging the United States back into a conflict that Mr. Obama once thought he had left behind.
"Warning that the militants pose a threat not just to Iraq but also to the United States, Mr. Obama said he was prepared to take “targeted and precise military action,” a campaign of airstrikes that a senior administration official said could be extended into neighboring Syria."
Update: You can now watch Andrew Bacevich on Moyers & Company below.
Two weeks ago, Andrew Bacevich’s essay “The Duplicity of the Ideologues” appeared on our site. Beginning Friday online, and on PBS through the weekend, Bacevich will be featured on Moyers & Company, where he’ll be discussing the situation in Iraq and issues of U.S. foreign policy he raised in his Commonweal piece. You can check your local listings here; in the meantime, see the preview of Bacevich’s appearance below. (And see “The Duplicity of the Ideologues” here; it’s even more worth [re]reading in light of events since it first appeared.)
Do read the new column from E. J. Dionne about "Dick Cheney's Chutzpah," because it's as angry as even-tempered E. J. ever gets. And with good reason. In a field crowded with shameless hawks, cheering for more military action in Iraq while ignoring the consequences of their past enthusiasm for war, Dick Cheney stands out as perhaps the most shameless of all. He and his daughter Liz wrote an op-ed for yesterday's Wall Street Journal, published with a subheadline that left even the most cynical liberals sputtering:
(To be fair, it does say "rarely," which you might read as a concession that it has happened before.)
Is Dick Cheney in any position to be lecturing Barack Obama about fecklesness in foreign policy? Of course not. But his motives for doing so are clear enough. He, like many of the other neocons and Bush-era hawks now pointing fingers at Obama, has a reputation to think about, and a deep investment in shifting the blame for the mess in Iraq onto someone else's shoulders. Embracing a revisionist history of Bush-era foreign policy could have dreadful consequences for most Americans, and especially for the men and women in the military -- not to mention for the people of Iraq and neighboring countries. But it can only be good for Dick Cheney. Here's Dionne on how they'd like the debate to be rigged:
Thanks to the Cheney op-ed, we can see how Obama’s hawkish critics are out to create a double standard. Whenever they are called out for how mistaken they were about Iraq in the first place, they piously lecture against “relitigating the past” and say we must instead look forward. At the same time, many of them feel perfectly free to trash the president in extreme and even vile terms.
A lot of liberals and media types have spoken up in exasperation after watching unreformed and unreflective hawks like John McCain, Bill Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, and so on appear on the Sunday-morning shows and on op-ed pages as if they were still respected authorities, with no hard questions about the disastrously wrong predictions they made so confidently before the (last) invasion of Iraq. James Fallows says: "we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrong.... we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while." (He links to a lot of other people making similar arguments, including our own Andrew Bacevich -- and, yes, go read that now if you haven't already.)Read more
The exchange of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo was heralded Saturday morning as a breakthrough in negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Sunday and Monday, the exchange is getting head winds from Congressional Republicans. Mike Rogers (R. MI) claims the exchange was illegal and against U.S. policy of trading with terrorists. We will certainly have more of this. And we will have more criticisms on the grounds that Bergdahl walked away from his unit on purpose. Bergdahl is now in Germany for medical treatment and probably won't be heard from for a long time.
President Obama will be criticized through the November elections, but he probably made the right decision for Bergdahl. And maybe he made the right decision for the Taliban prisoners, at least two of whom have been at Guantanamo for over a decade. If Congress won't let the president bring Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S. for trial, what better way to dispose of them. They have been sent to Qatar where it is said they will be banned from traveling for a year. Maybe the Qataris will pension them off and they will live there ever after.
UPDATE: June 6: The Times's Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, gives a rundown on some of the media coverage and responses from the Times's news editors.
Queen Alia Street, a main thoroughfare in Amman, was packed with traffic on May 24th, the day of the Pope’s visit to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Vertical posters depicting important places in Jordan, like the site of Jesus’ baptism or the massive, blue King Abdullah I mosque, read “Joy and Hope” in Arabic and English. The flags of Jordan and the Vatican lined the overpasses and the walls of the Amman International Stadium where the Pope would say Mass later in the afternoon.
These decorations appeared just days before the Pope’s visit, but signs of his impending arrival were visible throughout Amman for the preceding weeks: curbs received a fresh coat of yellow and black paint, and images of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Pope Francis shaking hands were posted throughout the city. Jordanians, both Christian and Muslim, were excited not only to receive Francis—the fourth pope to visit them in fifty years—but also to use the opportunity to showcase their country’s long history of Muslim-Christian coexistence.
Along with 30,000 other Jordanians—mostly Christians but some Muslims—I attended the Mass over which Francis presided. Because I taught religious education classes for our English-language parish in Amman, I was able to sit on the grassy, ground level of the stadium with the families of the First Communicants, who would be receiving their First Eucharist at the Mass. I had a clear view of the altar and its big, yellow tent, and was able to walk around the field easily, greeting friends and fellow parishioners in the four hours before the liturgy.
As we waited in the hot sun for the Pope to arrive, Fr. Bashir Badr, a friend and Roman Catholic priest, served as an emcee, leading the congregation in chanting and singing. We yelled, “Long live the king!” and "Viva il papa!", sang along to well-known Arabic liturgical hymns, and learned the words to songs written especially for the visit of the Pope. Children let balloons fly into the sky, including two large balloon rosaries, one blue, one pink.
When the Pope arrived, we all ran to the edge of the track that encircled the field.Read more
...and other nearby countries. The Pope referred to the "State of Palestine" in his meeting with Palestinian President Abbas. In an unexpected and unplanned gesture he stopped his car to get out and pray at the security wall separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, and the Palestinians from the Israelis.
He has invited Israelie President Peres and Abbas to the Vatican to pray for peace. From the NYTimes story: "Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation on Sunday to a joint prayer session was “taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.” Who knows!? Can't hurt!
Reminds me of ideas from a book I just finished, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes, by Mitri Raheb, the pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem. Maybe Francis has read it too.
As Francis arrives in the Middle East on May 24, there are continuing concerns both about the diplomatic to and fro, and about security.
The New York Times reports on the trip's several pitfalls, suggesting that the visit acknowledging all the major players will please few of them. "At each stop on the orchestrated itinerary, the Vatican’s focus...could be overshadowed as all sides dissect Francis’ every action. Already, his effort at ecumenical outreach, traveling with a rabbi and an imam from his native Buenos Aires, has led to criticism that he is not fully engaging local religious leaders."
And from Loblog a run-down of the security concerns about his visit to Israel. "The section of the [U.S.] State Department’s 2013 County Reports on Terrorism dealing with Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza drew attention to the growing threat posed by “extremist Israeli settlers.” It cited “399 attacks by extremist Israeli settlers that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage” and deemed them “violent extremists” — mostly over “price tag” attacks against Palestinian Arab homes and property. “Price tag” is a code-term used by Jewish extremists to justify what they claim are retaliatory actions against Arabs or proposed policies of the Israeli government — policies that would restrict the expansion of settlements in “Judea and Samaria,” the preferred settler term for the occupied territories in the West Bank. “Price tag” has been appearing prominently in the Hebrew graffiti defacing Christian sites."
Almost fifty years ago, the conciliar document Nostra aetate removed a cancer from the heart of Christianity. Its central section, on Jews and Judaism, overturned centuries of faulty interpretation regarding the main "teaching of contempt" for Jews that was part of Christian culture, doctrine, and liturgy.
Surgery is one thing; rehabilitation another. The first is relatively quick and anesthetized; what follows is more challenging, sometimes painful, and often a test of perseverance and endurance.
So as the Pope prepares for the Holy Land, how healthy is the Jewish-Christian relationship? And how is Israel preparing for the Pope?Read more