Archive | September 4th, 2020

Divest from violent policing and endless wars: Invest instead in a new social contract

by: William Minter and Imani Countess

The interactions between policing, racism, and the U.S. military vary enormously across time and place. In some instances the relationship is positive. In particular, the two world wars of the 20th century led to advances in international human rights law, such as the Geneva Conventions and the global human rights system constructed after World War II. Both within the United States and around the world, veterans of color returned home to demand that they and their communities should enjoy the same rights that they had been fighting for. Their actions contributed decisively both to the U.S. civil rights movement and to anti-colonial movements around the world.

Nevertheless, violence against racial “others” has been pervasive, with the history of conquest and slavery feeding into contemporary policing and U.S. wars. This is amply confirmed by recent scholarship and commentaries on the history of U.S. policing, usefully summarized in a New Yorker article by Jill Lepore.

A few examples, ranging over the course of U.S. history up to the present, well illustrate the point.

Let us briefly consider the iconic Second Amendment, the violent displacement of Native Americans over centuries, the territorial expansion of U.S. empire in the late 19th century, and the growth of domestic policing and its international expansion in the 20th century.

The Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, after almost two centuries of colonial settlement in what was to become the United States. It reads in full: “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” As historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz explains, this historical context is still relevant despite the passage of more than two centuries and the expansion of U.S. power across the continent and around the world:

“The elephant in the room in these debates has long been what the armed militias of the Second Amendment were to be used for. The kind of militias and gun rights of the Second Amendment had long existed in the colonies and were expected to continue fulfilling two primary roles in the United States: destroying Native communities in the armed march to possess the continent, and brutally subjugating the enslaved African population.”1

The violent displacement of Native Americans within the territory that is now the United States began with Spanish settlers in Florida and New Mexico in the late 16th century, even before English settlers first arrived in Virginia in 1607. The violence continued with conquest of the East Coast and New Mexico in the 17th and 18th centuries. Then came the forced expulsion of Native Americans from the South in the infamous Trail of Tears, under the Jackson administration in the 1830s, to make way for white settlers to occupy the land and grow cotton on plantations using slave labor.

The conquest of the American West, then home to many of the continent’s indigenous peoples, followed in the second half of the 19th century. The assault on Native lands continued in the second half of the 20th century with displacement for construction of dams and, in recent years, pipelines—intrusions that are still being contested.2

From the Spanish-American War of 1898 onward, U.S. wars included not only the iconic World Wars I and II, but also the construction and defense of a formal and informal empire that spanned the globe.

August Vollmer is not a household name, but his career trajectory reflects the historical links between policing and the military. He served as the police chief of Berkeley, California, from 1909 to 1923. Vollmer was influential in shaping law enforcement around the country, becoming known as the father of modern American policing and a pioneer in the academic field of criminal justice. His drive to professionalize the police was built on his experience in counterinsurgency in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.

Vollmer was not an exception. According to historian Stuart Shrader,3 writing in 2014 in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri:

“A close look at the history of US policing reveals that the line between foreign and domestic has long been blurry. Shipping home tactics and technologies from overseas theaters of imperial engagement has been a typical mode of police reform in the United States. … From the Philippines to Guatemala to Afghanistan, the history of US empire is the history of policing experts teaching indigenous cops how to patrol and investigate like Americans. … But the flow is not one-way: these institutions also return home transformed.”

This mutual influence has manifested itself in open wars in Southeast Asia in the 20th century and in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 21st century. But it has also spawned pervasive global structures to manage not only these wars, but also the war on drugs, the policing of immigration, and the post-9/11 war on terror.

A global military

The Breathe Act, proposed by the Movement for Black Lives, includes a demand to dramatically reduce the budget of the U.S. Department of Defense. This is echoed in more detailed proposals put forth by antiwar activists and defense analysts. The global reach of the Black Lives Matter movement implies that a similar reckoning must come for the global security system. Progressives must scrutinize, expose, and challenge the endless wars pursued by the United States military along with the parallel failures of global counterinsurgency and counterterrorism strategies.

United States military spending far exceeds that of any other country, adding up to more than the total of the next nine countriesDespite rising criticism of wasted money and endless wars, however, in late July 2020 significant majorities, including Democrats as well as Republicans in Congress, defeated an amendment to cut 10% from the total Pentagon budget of $740.5 billion. The vote was 324 to 93 in the House of Representatives and 77 to 23 in the Senate.

In contrast to the Vietnam War era, there is currently no strong antiwar movement in the United States with links to progressive movements focused on domestic policy. The default assumption in public debate is that U.S. wars are waged in order to protect the security of the United States. And with no military draft to spread the pain widely throughout society—as during the Vietnam War—the loss of U.S. lives in wars abroad remains largely invisible to the media and the public. Nonetheless, there are abundant critiques, across a wide political spectrum, of the U.S. military posture, and a widely shared uneasiness about “endless wars.” 4

The toll of U.S. wars, of course, is by no means limited to the U.S. personnel who lose their lives. The wars involve a scale of violence against civilians that systematically violates international human rights law, primarily targeting those seen as racially “other.” In the Indochina wars of the 1960s and 1970s, in covert interventions throughout the post-World War II period, and in the Middle East wars and the global war on terrorism of the years since 9/11, there has been little accountability to international standards.5 Moreover, U.S. policy systematically rejects any international obligation to allow independent review of the U.S. military presence around the world.

Violent repression but no security

Impunity for abusive state violence and failure to provide security are more common around the world than respect for the rule of law. The United States is no exception. It is important to explore the unique U.S. history and legacy of white supremacy that underpins the resistance to change. But it is also important to recognize that the United States, however powerful, is far from alone in its failures. No nation can claim to have found the solutions or to be above the need for accountability.

Because of the global scope of its military force, the United States is indeed the largest force for state violence outside its own borders in the current era. But in many active conflicts this country is neither the exclusive nor even the primary factor driving these wars, which are also shaped by internal forces and by other outside actors. As Elizabeth Schmidt has extensively detailed in her two-volume study, the scope, nature, and impact of foreign intervention in Africa varies enormously across cases.6 However iconic, U.S.-dominated interventions such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq are the exception rather than the rule worldwide.

Much more common, throughout the years of the Cold War as well as the post-9/11 era, is U.S. complicity with authoritarian regimes to wage aggression without the presence of large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground. U.S. involvement in such cases can unfold largely without attracting the attention of the U.S. media. The slaughter of as many as one million Indonesians in 1965–1966 has no resonance in U.S. public memory, unlike the Vietnam War. But U.S. officials both encouraged and collaborated with the slaughter of as many as half a million people, directed by the military forces that brought General Suharto to power and kept him in office for 31 years. “Jakarta” became a code word in Latin America for anti-communist mass killings, which the United States supported over decades.7

Whether the United States is actively involved or plays a secondary role to other actors, however, the post-9/11 counterterrorism and counterinsurgency wars tend to operate with the same logic. With a relatively low toll in American lives, they have little visibility to most of the U.S. public. But these forever wars have produced mounting costs in U.S. resources as well as violence and insecurity in the nations where the wars are staged. At best there have been occasional military victories and temporary restoration of a semblance of normality. More often, escalation has increased insecurity and civilian suffering, whether or not U.S. involvement is front and center.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the region with which the two of us are most familiar, that pattern is most visible in three long-running conflicts: the Nigerian army against Boko Haram in Nigeria, the African Union military mission in Somalia, and French and regional military forces fighting in Mali and other countries in the West African Sahel. In all these cases, unlike in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the United States has a minimal presence of combat troops on the ground. But U.S. involvement is significant nonetheless: the United States is training African military forces, flying armed as well as reconnaissance drones, and mounting occasional actions by special forces, most notably in Somalia. Neither the U.S. government nor the affected African governments are willing to prioritize diplomacy and development over military aid and arms sales. 8

During the Cold War, extreme repression sometimes bought years or decades of stability for authoritarian governments at the expense of their citizens. In the period following the Cold War and particularly in the post-9/11 period, even nominal stability is elusive, as state violence often provokes increased insurgent violence and/or the growth of organized criminal violence, such as drug trafficking.

This then provides the incentive and the excuse for security forces to double down on violence. Despite revelations by investigative journalists, monitoring by human rights organizations, and calls for reform,the mission and the organizational culture of both the police and the military ensure that reform efforts are strong on rhetoric and weak on implementation.

Structural obstacles thwart internal “reforms”

To some extent, racism, violence, and impunity can be tempered by reforms within police and military institutions, such as policies to encourage diversity in the ranks and to prohibit or change certain practices. The U.S. military is subject to codes of conduct such as the Geneva Conventions, the United Nations Convention against Torture, and the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice. Some local jurisdictions have attempted to reform their policing through measures such as barring chokeholds, requiring use of body cameras, and establishing civilian review boards to investigate misconduct.

These reforms can have some limited effects, but they are by no means universally applied. There are significant differences among agencies, within both law enforcement and the military, with respect to the rule of law. Many officers in the U.S. military hold strong personal commitments to professional codes of conduct; this is reflected in the rising tensions between some levels of the military and the lawless Trump administration.9 Among federal and domestic law enforcement agencies, norms, policies, and practices are highly variable. In times of crises, these differences between agencies will continue to be central in the choices either to escalate violence or to deescalate violence while considering alternatives.

However, the organizational culture of security agencies is most often highly resistant to significant reforms or checks, and credible penalties for violations are rarely enforced. Moreover, the criteria for “success” in achieving their missions—numbers of enemy forces killed in war, arrests made in policing—are not measures of success in achieving actual security. Continued threats are turned into justification for increased budgets and for doubling down on failed strategies.

Without external accountability for violations of human rights and for ineffective policies, internal reforms can only have marginal impacts. And vested interests in violent organizational cultures, growing in proportion to exorbitant budgets, create strong incentives for politicians to avoid enforcing outside accountability.

Shifting resources through divestment and investment

The domestic debate on police violence has significant momentum, with continuing local protests and high national visibility. A central question is whether, how, and to what extent localities should divest from violent policing and reinvest some funds in alternative means to ensure community security.

With U.S. military engagement abroad largely invisible to the wider U.S. public, there is no parallel, high-profile debate on the role of the U.S. military in fomenting global violence, nor much public discussion of redirecting the Pentagon’s budget or priorities. The U.S. military itself is unlikely to question the fundamental premises of its global engagement, which centers on the competition with major powers such as Russia and China. The traditional conception of security—as protection against violent threats from enemies—largely persists. And the vested interests and policy assumptions that protect funding for the military-industrial complex are even more strongly entrenched than those that defend local police budgets.

But there is also a strand of strategic thinking and internal criticism within the defense community that is open to considering other threats to security, most notably global disease pandemics and climate change. A notable example is the internal military investigations of the impact of climate change. In his new book All Hell Breaking Loose, Michael Klare analyzes internal Pentagon documents, finding evidence that “of all major institutions in U.S. society, none is taking climate change as seriously as the U.S. military.”10

Military planners realize that they must prepare for complex clusters of climate disasters, such as the sequence of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017. Such events have already stretched the military’s capacity for humanitarian response and pose a growing threat to military bases, both within the United States and around the world. The military has focused its planning more on adaptation to climate change than on mitigation by reducing carbon emissions. But it has also taken steps to diminish its reliance on fossil fuels through proactive research and investment in renewable energy. And it is acutely aware of the likely increase in instability due to the effect of climate crises in areas already plagued by other causes of conflict.

These Pentagon reports and their implications have not been widely publicized, given the imperative not to openly contradict the climate-denying commander-in-chief. But under different national political leadership, some military voices could potentially be advocates for addressing the causes, rather than only the consequences, of rising conflicts. This would also require rethinking the mission of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.

No single conflict, in Africa or elsewhere, currently has the potential to shift thinking about fundamentals of the U.S. global military posture. Even Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which earned bipartisan condemnation, is discussed only as an exceptional case. Nor is the movement to curb violence within the United States likely to fully extend its scope to the global arena. What can have significant effects, however, are the fiscal pressures from new initiatives on other issues, such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. And changes in the Pentagon’s priorities may also come, in indirect ways, from its own research and planning to deal with the climate crisis, the threat of pandemics, and other humanitarian crises. Those factors, together with the emerging consensus against endless ground wars, have potential to eventually change the minds of Republican as well as Democratic voters.


        Credit: Costs of War Project

The costs of the post-9/11 wars have been well documented by the Brown University Costs of War Project, with a budgetary cost of $6.4 trillion through fiscal year 2020. Peace activists and analysts have advanced credible alternatives to save on military spending.11Polls from foreign policy establishment organizations may highlight support for ongoing military alliances as essential to U.S. global engagement. But when other pollsters asked more detailed questions, 58 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Democrats supported ending U.S. ground wars.

When asked to identify the top threats to our security, a plurality of voters (46 percent), and 73 percent of Democrats, said that the US primarily faces nonmilitary threats. In light of the covid-19 pandemic, along with disastrous hurricanes, fires, and floods, public pressure for spending on such other threats is likely to grow. And critics will find many in the military who agree with them.

Trump has vowed to end wars, but this is a false promise, notes Peter Certo in Foreign Policy in Focus. Democratic candidates, for their part, have not yet taken full advantage of public disenchantment with shooting wars to advance a robust agenda of funding for alternative security initiatives.

A new social contract?

In the previous essays in this series, we argued that significant shifts in views on the home front open an opportunity for similar changes in policy paradigms at the global level. Such is the case for action on the climate crisis, gross economic inequality, and economic rights, such as the right to health and the right to a living wage. The major obstacle is political will rather than lack of compelling alternative visions, which are now highly visible in public debate. The same applies to state violence, although the potential for domestic change on this front is still much more visible than the alternatives to global U.S. military overreach.

The current convergence of global crises, none of which shows any signs of ending, threatens mass devastation on the scale of the Great Depression and World War II, in the United States and around the world. In rapid succession in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic, its economic repercussions, and resistance to state violence have had unprecedented cumulative effects. While further turmoil is inevitable, this might also offer the opportunity for fundamental changes—if urgent demands for immediate action are grounded in an understanding of the deep roots of injustice and the global scope of the challenge.

One of the most striking signs of hope is the fact that progressive activists as well as many mainstream analysts are seeing the issues not as isolated and competitive but as linked and complementary. The Black Lives Matter movement has continuously stressed the intersectionality of identities and issues. More and more activists are following their lead, which implies focusing on providing mutual aid and solidarity across boundaries of all kinds, including national borders.

Policy changes to implement such a vision will not be easy. One measure of success, whether at the local, national, or global level, will be to what extent government budgets begin to shift from investing in state violence to social investment in fulfilling a new social contract.

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How the Arms Trade Treaty has influenced the US-China diplomatic chessboard

by: Samuel Hickey and Jessica Budlong

Almost four years into its term, the Trump administration continues to abandon international security agreements at a dizzying clip. These actions are providing China with the perfect opportunity to fill the vacuum left by collapsing American leadership.

Two days prior to the June U.S.-Russia strategic dialogue, China’s top legislative body voted in favor of joining a treaty that President Trump had unsigned in flamboyant fashion more than a year ago. The little-known Arms Trade Treaty sought to set a minimum standard for arms exports and raise international arms trade practices closer to the U.S. standard, an obvious “win” for the United States. Unregulated arms transfers to high-conflict zones intensify and prolong conflict, and also make it more dangerous for international aid organizations to provide humanitarian assistance. The ATT simply seeks to establish international norms to stop such transfers and promote accountability in the global arms trade.

In an adept reading of the geopolitical room, China declared its intention to join the ATT from the same U.N. podium that the United States announced its withdrawal back in 2019. China’s arms control guru, Fu Cong, highlighted the further “coincidence” that China acceded to the ATT on the same day that President Trump withdrew from the World Health Organization, July 6. The split-screen characterization was striking: China is taking the reins while the Trump administration surrenders hard-won U.S. moral authority.

President Trump’s withdrawal doctrine is not only damaging U.S. security, but it is presenting China opportunities to isolate and weaken the United States. A different approach could have also given the United States more options for dealing with challenges posed by Iran.

U.S. withdrawal from the ATT

President Trump chose to pander and advance the National Rifle Association’s false narrative that the ATT could lead international bureaucrats to regulate gun trade in America. The charade turned to political theater when he unsigned the United States from the ATT at a raucous NRA rally.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has since observed that “[t]he treaty does not affect sales or trade in weapons among private citizens within a country,” countering President TrumpJohn Bolton and the NRA’s claims that the ATT would infringe on Americans’ constitutional Second Amendment rights or create a “national gun registry.” In fact, the ATT seeks only to regulate the murky international arms trade. Illicit arms have caused the deaths of Americans in countries around the world.

This harsh reality was a major driver behind the U.S. push for the treaty in the first place. U.S. leaders wanted to constrain other countries’ arms trade practices using the tools already being used at home. China’s accession to the ATT is an opportunity to improve and expand U.S. models of behavior, but instead, the Trump administration has demonized the architecture regulating the $95 billion global arms trade and even seeks to bypass congressional oversight of foreign arms sales to conflict zones. Further, the Trump administration appears to have ignored a key security benefit that would come from broader membership in the ATT.

The limits on Iranian arms trade may soon lift

Iran’s accession to the treaty could have played a valuable role in mitigating the United States’ concerns about the scheduled expiration of a U.N. conventional arms embargo in October 2020. Finding a lack of international support to extend it, the Trump administration is now lashing out and threatening a crisis at the U.N. Security Council over the “snapback” mechanism in the Iran nuclear deal. Attempting to unilaterally “snapback” all previous UNSC sanctions resolutions on Iran without a firm legal basis to do so could do serious damage to the credibility of the UNSC and future nonproliferation agreements.

Despite its attempts to prevent the adoption of the ATT in 2013, Tehran was looking for ways to re-join the international community after signing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The United States could have used the past five years to urge Tehran to review its position and join the ATT, which could have gone a long way to cooling the region’s many high-conflict zones including in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. 

As part of a gradual path to ATT accession, Iran could recommence submitting reports to the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which it has not done since 1998. However, regional accession would be necessary to pull the Middle East’s arms trade out of the shadows and to reduce Iran’s reliance on proxies. With the ATT having entered into force for over 100 countries, the Middle East is nearly absent with Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, and others missing. Mirroring accession by Iran’s rivals could bolster stability and create space for a larger regional arms control regime.

China seizes an opportunity

As Trump focuses on domestic politics, China is turning its attention to world affairs. However symbolic, China’s accession to the ATT received cheers and a call from the European Union for “major arms exporters” to join the treaty, a potential shot across the bow at the United States.

Further, regulated arms trade between China and Iran takes on new importance as the two pursue a 25-year agreement that will likely cover energy, infrastructure, and military cooperation among other things. This potential agreement will be viewed skeptically by the United States, but the circumstances depict the United States as the irresponsible actor and China as upholding international best practices. Indeed, China’s domestic policies now require the recipient government to not transfer arms imported from China to any third party without prior consent; undermining another claim Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has heaved at Iran.

An abrogation of global leadership

President Trump’s actions have come back to haunt him, with China using the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the ATT as ammunition on the global stage. Rather than alienating our closest allies and feeding our adversaries, the United States could have used the ATT to address its problems with Iran. The missed opportunity to engage Iran in discussions on its regional activities — an opportunity made possible by the Iran nuclear deal — ultimately led to the current crisis at the UNSC.

On a more positive note, China’s inclusion in the ATT signals there could be opportunities to expand current treaties and agreements with our competitors and to influence their behavior. As China takes on more global responsibility, there may be renewed impetus to talk to China about the Missile Technology Control RegimeAustralia GroupWassenaar Arrangement, and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation.

If the Trump administration is truly interested in pulling China into broader agreements to constrain weapons proliferation, it should also learn to read the room. By rejoining the ATT and engaging China in areas where it seems more comfortable, the United States could once again become a global leader on threat reduction. 

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Joe Biden must elaborate his Iran policy

by: Shireen Hunter

Since Donald Trump became president in 2017, U.S.-Iran relations have steadily deteriorated. This downward trend in relations accelerated following the United States’ withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in May 2018.

The United States followed with the imposition of new sanctions, on the sale of Iranian oil as well as on many other sectors of its economy and a number of specific individuals. In fact, no part of the Iranian economy has escaped U.S. sanctions.

Even the spread of Coronavirus, which to date has claimed more than 20,000 Iranian lives, did not move the Trump administration to relent on its maximum pressure campaign on Iran and allow the country to import more medicine.

Initially, Iran responded by what it has characterized as “strategic patience” and tried to convince the European signatories of the JCPOA to take actions to ease the economic and financial difficulties caused by new U.S. sanctions. Iran even reacted cautiously to the U.S. killing of General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the IRGC’s Quds force.

This strategy did not pay off. Therefore, to impose a cost on Trump’s policy, Iran began step-by-step increases in the level of its enriched uranium, albeit within the range permitted by the JCPOA. Despite Iran’s patience and caution, the U.S. augmented pressures on Tehran and tried to extend the U.N. arms embargo on Iran. This effort failed at the U.N. Security Council, with even key U.S. allies — the U.K., Germany, and France — abstaining.

The U.S. failure at the Security Council showed the depth of other nations’ disapproval of a U.S. Iran policy based only on pressure and without any incentives, which could encourage Iran to compromise.

Finally, Secretary Pompeo attempted to force the reimposition of U.N. sanctions by invoking the JCPOA’s “snapback” mechanism — but due to the U.S. departure from the JCPOA, this was roundly rejected as illegitimate. Mike Pompeo, however, has declared that sanctions will return on September 20, with or without U.N. approval.

Democratic response

Despite the Trump administration’s ramping up of its anti-Iran rhetoric and actions, the Democrats’ criticism of these policies has remained rather muted. Their main criticism has been that Trump’s policies have failed to bring the Iranian government down, to force it to accept U.S. demands, or to reduce Tehran’s nefarious activities in the Middle East. Instead, they say, the Trump administration’s policies have isolated the U.S. internationally.

Most Democrats have not mentioned once the human cost of U.S. sanctions, even after the COVID-19 crisis hit Iran. Nor have they presented concrete plans on how they would do things differently. In short, their approach to the Iran issue has been long on criticism and short on better alternatives.

When talking more specifically, Vice President Biden’s foreign policy advisers’ statements have been eerily close to the Trump administration’s positions. On the JCPOA, despite the general expectation that a Biden administration would rejoin the agreement, a careful reading of some of Vice President Biden’s advisers’ statements shows that this outcome cannot be counted on.

For example, Tony Blinken, a likely candidate for the post of national security adviser, has said that the U.S. would return to the JCPOA only after Iran fulfills its commitments under the nuclear agreement. One assumes that he means that Iran has to reverse increases in the level of its enriched uranium before the U.S. rejoins the agreement. Moreover, according to him, in the interim, all sanctions would remain in place.

Iran is unlikely to agree to this condition. Tehran increased the levels of uranium enrichment in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and the imposition of new sanctions. Given the U.S. record on the JCPOA, Iran would not walk back from these measures without the simultaneous U.S. return to the JCPOA and some reduction in sanctions.

Blinken has also said that the U.S. would want to negotiate a longer and better agreement with Iran. But he is silent on what he means by “better.” Does he mean denying Iran the right to enrichment as initially the U.S. insisted on? Does he mean that a new agreement should also cover the Iranian missiles and its regional activities?

If this interpretation is correct, then no one should except any progress in resolving the standoff with Iran under a Biden presidency. Iran would not give up the right to enrichment, nor would it give up its missiles, except within a broader regional arms reduction plan, since missiles are its primary deterrent capability.

Other Biden advisers, notably Jake Sullivan, while emphasizing diplomacy, have talked of maintaining pressure on Tehran.

Limits of diplomacy

It seems that Biden advisers believe that diplomacy can resolve issues virtually on its own. But this is not so. Diplomacy succeeds If there is a willingness to compromise and give and take on the part of both parties. But if it is used just to deliver ultimatums, even if politely and softly, then it generally fails.

President Obama succeeded in reaching an agreement with Iran because he was willing to compromise and give incentives to Iran as well as demand concessions . But reading Blinken, one does not see much readiness for compromise or willingness to offer incentives.

This interpretation might not be correct, and we can hope that it is not. But if these statements reflect Vice President Biden’s views and inclinations, then there would not be much hope for a breakthrough in U.S.-Iran relations.

A more productive way to approach Iran under a new administration would be for the U.S. first to return to the JCPOA and at least partially lift sanctions, while Iran resumes its full compliance and reverses all increases in the levels of its enriched uranium. Gradually, a Biden administration should allow U.S. companies to deal with Iran and thus prepare the way for dialogue on regional and other issues, especially in areas where there might be some convergence of interest between Iran and the U.S.

For any breakthrough to be possible, Iran has to do its share as well. Tehran must realize that, sooner or later, it has to discuss regional issues of concern to the U.S.  and other Western powers. Without such discussions, even if the U.S. returns to the JCPOA, it cannot expect full normal economic relations at regional and international levels.Written by

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Why is Iran developing missiles and bolstering regional proxies?

by: Jalil Bayat

After failing to extend the Iran arms embargo at the U.N. Security Council, the Trump administration is now seeking to initiate the “snapback” mechanism provided in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which allows its participants to reinstate all multilateral sanctions against Iran lifted in 2015 under the nuclear deal.

Trump purportedly wants a new deal with Iran which will not only prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but will also limit the country’s missile program and cut its support for proxy forces in the region. But he seemingly pays no attention to what motivates Iran to develop a missile program or to form regional proxies.

Iranian leaders’ motivation for these behaviors in a volatile Middle East is survival. Historical and geopolitical experiences in the region impose two behaviors on Iran which have, incidentally, provoked the most antagonism by the U.S.

Developing a missile program

When Saddam Hussein launched missile strikes on Iran (1980-1988), Iran was unable to retaliate. The West had sanctioned Iran and the country had to turn to Libya and North Korea for the simplest military and missile equipment. It also lacked an advanced air force. This situation led Iranian leaders to feel the need to create and develop a native missile program; and today they have the largest missile arsenal in the region.

And now, Iran’s leaders are not prepared to simply lose this means of legitimate defense. By stating that a large number of missiles provide a deterrent force for Iran, a former diplomat and a columnist for several Iranian newspapers on diplomacy, Fereydoun Majlessi told me: “Economically, it was also much more feasible to manufacture missiles rather than purchase them. So, Iran acquired the technical know-how for this industry.”

Developing regional proxies

According to professor of International Relations at Florida International University, Mohiaddin Mesbahi, Iran is “strategically lonely” in terms of geopolitics. In other words, whether willingly and consciously or unwillingly and out of necessity, it is strategically lonely and deprived of any meaningful alliances with the great powers. During the course of history, Iran has been invaded many times by the Arabs, Turks, and Saddam from the west, by the Moghuls and Afghans from the east, by Russia from the north, and by the Portuguese from the south. It had no allies in any of these cases. Nor does it have any reliable regional allies today. Iran is the only Persian-speaking, Shiite country in the wider Arab-Sunni dominated Middle East and its strategic loneliness along its extensive borders without natural barriers means that defending itself along its borders will equate to defeat.

These conditions have led its leaders to consider creating proxies in the region to expand the breadth of Iran’s strategic defense. In fact, the motivation behind creating the proxies is mainly defensive rather than offensive as indicated in findings by the RAND Corporation: “Iran is not seeking territorial expansion or the forced imposition of its revolutionary ideology.” Hezbollah in Lebanon is seen as Iran’s first stronghold against Israel, and Ansarullah balances Saudi power in Yemen. Even support for Hash’d al Shaabi is to prevent Iraq from invading Iran again. In an interview, former diplomat and spokesperson for Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, said he sees Iran’s behavior as a reaction to U.S. actions. “The United States has invested in Arab states to counter Iran,” he said, adding, “and Iran has reciprocally invested in popular forces to counter and resist U.S. domination.

The outcome of Trump’s strategy

Over the last three years, however, the Trump administration has tried to “change Iran’s behavior” by disregarding these two motives. Nevertheless, it has been unable to reach a new agreement with Iran despite exiting the nuclear deal, imposing the harshest, unprecedented economic sanctions, applying tough political and military pressures, and assassinating the country’s top major general. The U.S. is seeking to extend the arms embargo on Iran while selling billions of dollars of arms to its regional rivals and giving Israel — which has nuclear weapons — economic and security backup. It has also encircled Iran with its military bases.

Iran’s leaders can only conclude that the U.S. is seeking regime change, adding resistance as a third motivation. Needless to say, no sovereign country is willing to give up its independence, in the same way Iranian leaders are not willing to forgo their defense tools, especially at a time when they are almost convinced that the U.S. pursues the policy of toppling them.

Persisting along these lines will most likely plunge the U.S. administration into an unnecessary war. A November win by Trump in the election will greatly increase the possibility of a U.S.-Iran confrontation. Perhaps that is why the Revolutionary Guards used a replica of an American ship in their recent naval drills to prepare for a real situation.

The U.S. should understand the motives of Iran’s leaders. U.S. leaders need to understand why Iran wants missiles or seeks to form regional proxies. Merely observing behavior without understanding the motives behind it does not provide U.S. leaders with and accurate analysis. It will only continue the spiral of misperceptions on both sides.

But once the U.S. discerns these motives instead of going for behavior change, it can pursue policies that give Iran no incentive to advance its missile program or support regional proxies. That is, behavior can change through motivation. This can only be achieved with a stable security system in place in the Middle East whereby countries are reassured of their sovereignty and independence and differences are resolved without military intervention. The U.S. can use its leadership potential in the world to create such a system, or else it can continue to destabilize and escalate tensions in the region by pursuing unilateral bullying policies. Which one will America choose?

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Palestinian economy stands to benefit Nazi settlers

How a proposed new fund to bolster the Palestinian economy stands to benefit Israeli settlers.

by: Zaha Hassan

The tripartite agreement between the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and the U.S. to normalize Emirati-Israeli relations in exchange for an Israeli commitment to sideline plans to officially annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territories, does nothing to advance prospects for creation of a Palestinian state; rather, it is consistent with the “outside-in” approach the U.S. has historically pursued which helps Israel build ties with Arab states while continuing to settle its population on Palestinian lands.

Along the same lines, a new initiative recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives aims to preserve the prospects for a Palestinian state, but instead is likely to support Israeli business ventures in the West Bank at a time when annexation still looms.

The proposed $250 million fund, included in the State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill, will be partly used to support private sector partnerships between Palestinians and Israelis.  Based on past experiences, the fund is likely to become one more example of how — under the guise of supporting Palestinians — the United States plays into efforts to liquidate Palestinian national aspirations.

The stated objective for the House’s “Joint Investment for Peace Initiative” is to jumpstart the Palestinian economy, support a negotiated two-state solution, and facilitate ties between Israel and the Arab world. With the Palestinian Authority on the verge of financial collapse, and 24 percent unemployment across the occupied Palestinian territories, any money to support job creation and entrepreneurship in the West Bank and Gaza should be a welcome development.

Like the Investment Initiative, a 1995-1996 effort to extend the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement to the West Bank and Gaza was meant to bolster Palestinian economic development and regional trade. But what it did was ensure that Israeli settlement goods received preferential treatment in the U.S. and undermine Arab resolve to end Israeli occupation.

With more than 750,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem now and annexation of large parts of the West Bank still likely on the horizon, the stakes are much higher in 2020. The U.S. should create a new model for bilateral support that entrenches Palestinian sovereignty rather than incentivizes Israeli settlements. It can do this by revising the Joint Investment Initiative bill, the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement, and other similar programs so that Israeli settlers and settlement enterprises are specifically excluded.

The “Joint Investment for Peace Initiative”

The State Department Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Act 2021, which includes the “Joint Investment for Peace Initiative,” passed in the House on July 24 and would provide U.S. loans and other support to private entities that “carry out projects that contribute to the development of the Palestinian private sector economy.” Among the Initiative’s stated objectives is to support a viable Palestinian economy necessary for a two-state solution, and to encourage engagement between Palestinians and Israelis with benefits to them and to the region.

While supporting Palestinian economic development is laudable, Palestinians are unlikely to participate because of a loophole that allows Israeli settlers operating businesses in and exploiting the natural resources of the West Bank to obtain U.S. financial backing. This opening for settlers is likely not accidental. In fact, earlier versions of the bill specifically prohibited “geographic discrimination” defined as denying grants to “any community or entity in Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza due to its geographic location.” A 2019 Senate Appropriations Committee report discussing an earlier version of the bill explicitly stated that funds should be used “to encourage commerce between Israeli and Palestinian businesses in the West Bank.

Some may argue that if allowing some Israeli settlers to benefit from the Initiative is the only way to ensure bipartisan support for the bill’s passage then it is better than the alternative of having no such development assistance for Palestinians at all. However, if Congress believes that “building a viable Palestinian economy is central to the effort to preserve the possibility of a negotiated settlement leading to a sustainable two state solution,” than whether settlers benefit matters a great deal.

It is precisely Israel’s settlement enterprise and the extensive land expropriation and restrictions on movement of goods and people it brings that prevents Palestinian economic development; it is not a lack of Palestinian ingenuity or capital. By providing financial support to settlers and prioritizing joint ventures with Israelis, Congress will only incentivize more settlement activity and snuff out the remaining prospects for a two-state solution.

How extending the U.S.-Israeli free trade deal helped settlers more than Palestinians

Believing a Palestinian state was on the horizon, in October 1995, PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat signed an agreement with the U.S. promising to work for an end to the Arab League boycott of Israel and to extend preferential treatment to U.S. goods. A year later, following congressional authorization, President Bill Clinton signed a proclamation to extend the benefits of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement to the West Bank and Gaza.

A bilateral trade agreement between the United States and the PLO was not possible at the time because to do so meant implicit U.S. recognition of the state of Palestine, something the U.S. would only do after Israelis and Palestinians had signed a peace agreement. And neither could President Clinton, consistent with international law and U.S. policy, treat the occupied Palestinians territories as part of Israel sovereign territory. The proclamation was essentially a creative legal work-around.

The move was meant to allow Palestinian products to benefit from duty-free treatment in the U.S. “identical to…products of Israel,” “provid[ing] new employment opportunities for Palestinians outside Israel proper, and “lur[ing] increased foreign investment to the West Bank and Gaza.” Then-Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), co-sponsor of the authorizing bill for the proclamation, was more optimistic, stating that it would “help the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Though the value of Palestinian exports to the U.S. was relatively insignificant in the 1990s, the understanding was that the peace process and an infusion of international donor support would catapult the Palestinian economy and bilateral U.S.-Palestinian trade would flourish.

But that’s not what happened. Out of the 233 countries the United States currently trades with, the West Bank ranks near the bottom as the United States’ 208th largest trading partner worth a total of $3.83 million for the first six months of 2020. Israel, by comparison, conducts about 10 times that amount with the United States in a single day.

If history is any guide, once it is ultimately signed into law, the bipartisan initiative the House passed in July will suffer a similar fate and be yet another trojan horse designed to allow the United States to appear to be preserving the prospects for a Palestinian state, while in fact enriching Israeli settlers and normalizing their permanence in the region.

Indeed, these measures neither provide guarantees that Palestinian goods will move unhindered at ports and crossings controlled by Israel, nor that Palestinians will have access to their natural resources and land in order to produce goods for the marketplace. U.S. programs that allow Israeli settlers to participate or benefit only incentivize the expansion of settlements and settler enterprises and encourage the displacement of Palestinians. Today, settler enterprises and the Israeli military backing them cost Palestinians in the West Bank billions per year in lost income.

Compounding the lack of confidence in the endeavor’s success, USAID will not be responsible for administering the program. Instead, that task will fall to U.S. International Development Finance Corp., a new government agency headed by Adam Boehler, a former corporate executive with no development experience and Jared Kushner’s college roommate.

What is the U.S. obligation?

Economic development for Palestinians has become a battle-tested tool for facilitating the twin objectives of blurring the lines between Israel and the occupied West Bank and breaking Arab resolve about the limits of relations with Israel while occupation endures. The best way the United States can help Palestinian development is to disincentivize continuation of Israel’s military occupation over the West Bank and not seek to normalize Israeli presence by encouraging regional economic integration.

Allowing settlers to benefit from U.S. economic programs isn’t just bad foreign policy, it also happens to be a war crime under international humanitarian law. To preserve the possibility of a durable resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict and to avoid U.S. complicity in rights violations abroad, Congress and the administration should ensure that all programs aimed at promoting Palestinian economic development including the extension of free trade to the West Bank and Gaza and the Joint Investment Initiative are revised to include language restricting Israeli settlers and settlement enterprises from benefiting.

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Cohen Detail on Trump Devastating, Racism, Pedophilia and Satanism

Trump wants America to be Putin’s Russia but then…Trump isn’t Vladimir Putin…more like ‘Putin’s ass’

By VT Editors 

  •  Trump “inadvertently” made a crude sexual comment about Cohen’s 15-year-old daughter, saying: “Look at that piece of ass. I would love some of that.”
  • Trump said: “Tell me one country run by a black person that isn’t a shithole. They are all complete fucking toilets,” Cohen claims, and praised apartheid-era South Africa, saying: “Mandela fucked the whole country up. Now it’s a shithole. Fuck Mandela. He was no leader.”
  •  I will never get the Hispanic vote,” Trump said, according to Cohen. “Like the blacks, they’re too stupid to vote for Trump. They’re not my people.”
  •  Trump watched a strip show which included simulated urination in Las Vegas in 2013 (It is ‘alleged he later hired the participants to urinate on him at a Vegas sex club)
  • Called Christian Evangelists who were just praying with him in his office ‘full of bullshit’

Michael Cohen’s tell-all memoir makes the case that president Donald Trump is “guilty of the same crimes” that landed his former fixer in federal prison, offering a blow-by-blow account of Trump’s alleged role in a hush money scandal that once overshadowed his presidency.


Bill Kristol@BillKristol
“Trump held a meeting at Trump Tower with prominent evangelical leaders, where they laid their hands on him in prayer. Afterward, Trump allegedly said: ‘Can you believe that bulls–t? Can you believe people believe that bulls–t?’”

Trump, despite his later protestations, green-lighted the $130,000 payment to silence Daniels ahead of the 2016 election, reasoning he would “have to pay” his wife a far greater sum if the affair ever became known, Cohen writes, adding the president later reimbursed him with “fake legal fees”.

“It never pays to settle these things, but many, many friends have advised me to pay,” Trump said, according to Cohen. “If it comes out, I’m not sure how it would play with my supporters. But I bet they’d think it’s cool that I slept with a porn star.”

Pervaiz Shallwani@PervaizistanNEW: In upcoming book, Michael Cohen writes Donald Trump’s disdain for Obama was so extreme he hired a “Faux-Bama” to participate in a video in which he “ritualistically belittled the first black president and then fired him.” He includes this photo: http://cnn.com/2020/09/05/politics/michael-cohen-book-trump-white-house/index.html

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India should beware as ‘the Quad’ evolves toward an informal military alliance in Asia

by: Sarang Shidore

The escalating U.S.-China conflict over trade and technology is garnering international headlines. But the emergence of a U.S.-led embryonic military alliance, also involving Japan, Australia, and India, ought to be equally worrying to those opposed to a new global cold war. Known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialog, or “Quad,” the grouping may hold its first-ever joint military exercise next month. India, which faces an assertive China on its borders, may have the most to lose in this evolution. But India is also best positioned to limit the Quad’s trajectory and should do so before it is too late.

The Quad was first proposed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — who resigned this week due to health issues — in 2007 but the idea went dormant thereafter. The United States and Japan revived the grouping in 2017, arguing that China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative needed to be countered by a rival infrastructural push. Meanwhile, the traditional term “Asia-Pacific” in U.S. security discourse was replaced by a newly constructed geography — the “Indo-Pacific” — combining the Indian and Pacific Oceans and their littorals, and the U.S. Pacific Command renamed the Indo-Pacific Command.

In time though, the Quad has shown itself to be less interested in building highways and power plants and much more in joint patrols and military exercises, coupled with diplomatic rhetoric of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and a stress on common democratic values. India’s already-close defense relationship with Washington has effectively become trilateral, with Japan being included on a permanent basis in the annual Malabar military exercise. If Australia is included in this year’s exercise as anticipated, it would effectively mark the Quad’s coming-out party as a military alliance.

The Quad’s member states have denied that it is an alliance, or anti-Chinese. That is misleading. For one, Australia and Japan are already part of the formal, decades-old hub-and-spoke system of U.S. alliances in Asia. This does leave India as the odd one out. However, we no longer live in a world of new, formal military alliances. Most states prefer to keep their security partnerships flexible. Yet this does not eliminate the evolution of coherent security structures and informal commitments.

The Quad is an example of the form alliances of the future may take — with no formal mutual-assistance treaty, secretariat, or even a website. But a clear identification of the common adversary, deep inter-operability, regular adversary-specific exercises, and cooperative ventures to build up each other’s capacity can make informal alliances sufficiently potent. The gap presented by India’s formal ally status in Washington is being rapidly made up through deep Indian involvement in the U.S. defense architecture, undergirded by arms sales and pacts facilitating logistics and communications inter-operability between the militaries, further supplanted by an agreement with Australia.

In fact, Washington embraced the new geography of the “Indo-Pacific” precisely to bring India into the fold of the U.S.-led security architecture in Asia. It was a way to expand the hub-and-spoke alliance system in Asia. India presented a challenge for Washington — it was not only not a formal U.S. ally, but it also possessed a stubborn tradition of strategic autonomy from the days of its founding as an anti-colonial republic in 1947. India also has a major capabilities gap with China, which made it sensitive to rushing into an overtly anti-Beijing alliance. This included staying well clear of disputes to which it was not a claimant state, such as the South China Sea. There were many cooperative aspects to the India-China relationship on multilateral trade, climate change, and global norms.

Three factors have darkened this competitive-cooperative dynamic. The first is the rise of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in New Delhi in 2014. A hard nationalist, Modi early on placed his bets on Washington by recklessly wading into the South China Sea dispute. He also struck a deep rapport with fellow Asian nationalist Abe — and took an overt position critical of China in his first visit to Tokyo as prime minister. Continuing localized Chinese incursions culminated in a serious military stand-off high in the Doklam plateau adjacent to Bhutan in 2017, in which China largely prevailed. After a brief thaw in ties, India resumed its military forays into the South China Sea, even as Chinese incursions stepped up on the border. India also strongly opposed the BRI.

The second factor is Washington’s increased determination to counter the rise of China. Its roots are in the Obama era with Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea as a key tool. President Trump’s anti-globalism has opened a new front on trade, but the simultaneous revival and gelling of the Quad indicates that the military dimension is no less prominent.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vast concentration of powers and his embrace of an assertive domestic and foreign policy is the third driver. Beijing and Islamabad inked the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as a part of the BRI, annoying New Delhi. But Chinese incursions into buffer zones on the India border and the subsequent clash leading to the death of 20 Indian troops in June 2020 was a key setback. These were the first fatalities on the disputed India-China border since 1975. More than two months later, China continues to hold its newly acquired territory.

Thus, developments in Washington, Beijing, and Delhi have together accelerated the drift toward a new cold war in Asia. The greatest proximate danger is the formation of defined, adversarial military blocs, which would harden rivalries and enhance chances of violent incidents. Should Asia be dominated by contending military blocs, weaker and frontline states will face the greatest dangers. India fits this description well.

But India’s idiosyncratic status in the Quad also gives it unique leverage for limiting the grouping’s evolution. India could do this by vetoing further militarization of the Quad. Most immediately, this would mean the non-inclusion of Australia in the upcoming Malabar exercise, and maintaining the current approach of not issuing joint statements at Quad summits. More proactively, India could push the Quad toward its original political-economic understanding. New Delhi  could also strengthen ties with its non-Quad partners with strategic ties to China. As I have written elsewhere, Russia and Iran are key here. Russia, in particular, has deep interdependencies with India. Persuading Russia to join the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific strategy is however unlikely to work.

A policy of restraint in New Delhi does not equate to naivete. The role of ASEAN — and Vietnam, Singapore, and Indonesia in particular — should be made central to a policy of resolved restraint. These countries (as also U.S. ally South Korea), hardly China’s clients, have wisely stayed away from the Quad for a reason. India has spoken of the centrality of ASEAN to Asian security, but has failed to translate this into a meaningful strategy.

If China is indeed inherently and immutably aggressive, a new cold war in Asia may be unavoidable. But very rarely is the world divisible into a neat contest between good and evil. Democracies can be offensive power-maximizers and autocracies defensive security-seekers, and vice versa. Moreover, adversarial relationships can be constructed and deconstructed. India’s choices could help nudge Washington toward a grand strategy of restraint in Asia — critical to prevent vigorous economic competition turning into open conflict and warfare.

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Pompeo tries to extort cash from struggling Sudan

by: Mitchell Plitnick

Mike Pompeo’s Middle East trip during the Republican National Convention has turned into a tour de force of scandal and failure. In that sense, it mirrors well both his tenure as secretary of state, and his boss’s time as president.

Starting in Jerusalem, Pompeo made a mockery of his office by giving a political speech, which might have been a violation of the Hatch Act, and doing so from foreign soil, a breach of diplomatic tradition in the United States.

Pompeo also visited Bahrain, where his attempt to convince the king to join the United Arab Emirates in normalizing relations with Israel was firmly rebuffed, and wound up his trip in Oman. There, Pompeo is reported to have discussed the ongoing blockade of Qatar by fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain. It is notable that Pompeo did not say that he had discussed this issue with Bahrain or the UAE, as one would expect if he were trying to resolve the stalemate. Instead, he discussed it with Oman, which has long been leading efforts to repair relations between the Gulf states.

Pompeo also attempted to convince Oman to increase efforts to normalize relations with Israel. Omani leaders have met with Israeli officials, including a 2018 visit to the country by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But there is no indication that Oman is prepared to move further than it already has in normalizing ties with Israel for the time being, despite some raised hopes in both Jerusalem and Washington. 

When he departed Jerusalem, Pompeo made the first-ever direct flight from Israel to Sudan. It was there that the secretary would demonstrate just how degraded the United States’ foreign policy has become under Donald Trump, and with Pompeo at the helm of the State Department.

Pompeo told Sudanese leaders that the United States would consider removing them from the list of state sponsors of terrorism — if Sudan pays us $330 million.

Let’s put this in context. In 1989, Omar al-Bashir led a bloodless coup and took over Sudan. He would rule for the next three decades, with an iron fist. Natural disasters, dictatorship, civil war, massive human rights violations, even genocide marked the history of Bashir’s rule. Sudan’s economy has been devastated many times, and it is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Last year, a popular, non-violent revolution forced Bashir out. The revolt’s leaders made a deal with the remaining military leadership to transition to a civilian and more democratic government. It’s a shaky arrangement, with many elements in the military government reluctant to cede power to civilian rule, and leading activists wary of the military. As University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes described it to me after visiting Sudan in January, it is “a civilian-led government with a majority on the three main governing bodies, albeit with strong military representation.”

The transition has been difficult and uneasy, and it is complicated further by Sudan’s presence, along with only Iran and Syria, on the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism — or SST — list. Zunes told me, “The U.S. sanctions make it difficult for other countries and international financial institutions to do business with Sudan.”

Although many sanctions on Sudan were lifted in recent years, the country remains isolated from the global monetary system — the International Monetary Fund and World Bank — due to its SST listing. This prevents it from getting the capital it needs to recover from the devastation it suffered during Bashir’s rule, and the economic impact of losing much of its natural resources when South Sudan split off from the rest of country in 2011.

In other words, the Sudanese people desperately need to be removed from the SST list. Currently, about one in four Sudanese faces a shortage of food, and inflation in June was measured around 130 percent, a substantial rise over the African Development Bank’s already grave projection of 61.5 percent.

Sudan’s entire GDP was just $18.9 billion in 2019, and it is expected to drop to just $9.7 billion in 2020. That’s the country we are trying to extort $330 million from, a sum that would represent less than 0.00007 percent of our 2020 budget.

This is cruel and inhumane. It’s made all the more so by the fact that Sudan is being held responsible for crimes committed by Osama bin Laden, who was expelled from Sudan long before the September 11 attacks and, in any case, was only allowed in the country for a few years by Bashir and one of his aides, Hassan al-Turabi. Whether Sudan should be held responsible now that Bashir has been ousted is dubious but given the effects of the SST listing on the Sudanese people, it’s also irrelevant. A stable Sudan might be able to grapple with these issues and, if necessary, the costs. But extorting an impoverished country for what to it is a significant sum, but the U.S. amounts to less than pocket change is intolerable — especially as that country is actively trying to become more free and open.

Pompeo also tried to convince the Sudanese to open normal relations with Israel, something that had been floated this past February, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Sudanese General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, and hastily announced that Sudan and Israel would move to establish normal relations.

The angry response from the Sudanese people made Burhan back off quickly. Sudan’s Information Minister Fasial Saleh reacted similarly this week to Pompeo, stating “The transitional government does not have the mandate… to decide on normalization with Israel. This matter will be decided after the completion of the transitional authority.” In other words, come back to us when we have a permanent government, we can’t handle the disruption now.

In February, it seemed Sudanese leaders were testing the waters on warming relations with Israel, knowing such a move would please Washington and maybe convince it to remove Sudan from the SST list. Whether the Sudanese government transitions to democracy, reverts to a military dictatorship, or lands somewhere in between, its economy desperately needs the international assistance it cannot access while still on the infamous list.

The Trump administration need not have attached a price tag for Sudan’s long-ago dalliance with Osama Bin Laden. There is little to be gained by this maneuver except to extend the suffering of the Sudanese people and make it harder for the civilian, democratic forces in that country to prevail. But this is the nature and character of the Trump administration. If Sudan should finally find its economic and democratic balance, they are not likely to forget how the United States treated them as they tried to build their country.

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What Trump’s troop withdrawal from Iraq means for ending America’s endless wars

by: Trita Parsi

The Wall Street Journal scoop on the details of the Trump administration’s troop withdrawal from Iraq is welcome news. Reportedly, President Donald Trump is cutting U.S. troop levels by one- third, to about 3,500 troops from 5,200. This move would bring force levels back to where they were in 2015, at the height of the war against ISIL, which in and of itself demonstrates how unnecessary the troop level increases have been mindful of the decimation of the Islamic State.

Yet, the Journal — and the media narrative around this in general — frames this solely as a decision born out of political pressures in Iraq and the United States. The Iraqi public wants the United States to leave — as demonstrated by the Iraqi parliament voting to expel U.S. troops earlier this year – and Trump seeking to deliver on his campaign promise to end the endless wars.

“But both governments have faced political pressures at home from critics who have complained that the U.S. may be engaged in an open-ended mission,” the Journal reports.

While political pressures for bringing American service members home certainly exist — a poll conducted by the Charles Koch Institute last month revealed that three-quarters of the public support bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan —the media is mistaken in presenting this decision solely as a populist move devoid of a compelling strategic rationale. Indeed, America’s global military domination and endless wars are the baselines; it’s the decision to end wars and bring troops home that faces scrutiny, not deciding to wage war in perpetuity.  

In reality, the strategic rationale for a withdrawal from Iraq is arguably the stronger card. After all, the withdrawal should take place even if public support for it was absent.

First, rather than fighting ISIL — which was the original rationale for the troop deployment in 2014 — Washington’s unhealthy obsession with Iran keeps the American military stuck in Iraq and Syria. (Incidentally, there is no congressional authorization for Trump’s flirtation with war with Iran). The Iran obsession, in turn, has taken resources and attention away from the fight against ISIL.

“The threat against our forces from Shiite militant groups has caused us to put resources that we would otherwise use against ISIS to provide for our own defense and that has lowered our ability to work effectively against them,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said at an U.S. Institute for Peace event this month. “Over the last seven or eight months, we have had to devote resources to self-protection that we would otherwise devote for the counter-ISIS fight.”

Moreover, the Iraqis insist that they don’t even need the U.S. active military’s help against ISIL in the first place. “We definitely don’t need combat troops in Iraq, but we do need training and capacity enhancement and security cooperation,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Washington last week following a White House meeting with President Trump.

Nor are U.S. troops needed to check Iran’s influence in Iraq. That is, first of all, an Iraqi problem and American service members should not be put in harm’s way to resolve regional quarrels that have little bearing on U.S. national security. Secondly, as my QI colleagues and I wrote in a report released this past summer:

“Rather than expanding Iranian influence in Iraq, the withdrawal of American troops will likely provide more room for Iraqi nationalism to unite Iraqi political factions against an outsized Iranian influence in the country. Currently, America’s military presence tempers this natural desire for greater independence from Iran, as many political factions view Iran as a necessary partner to balance and contain America’s military influence in Iraq.”

Indeed, keeping U.S. troops in Iraq appears to prolong and expand Iran’s influence in Iraq while our obsession with Iran is turning Iraq into the battlefield between Washington and Tehran in a confrontation that neither serves U.S. interests nor Iraqi or regional stability. 

U.S. troops in Iraq are practically sitting ducks. Contrary to Trump’s claims, the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani has not deterred Iran, as evidenced by rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq by Iran-aligned paramilitary groups on January 15, March 11, June 13, July 27 and August 15. Instead, the American troop presence has only put the U.S. one rocket attack away from a full-scale war with Iran. 

Trump may very well be solely motivated by showcasing his base that he is ending the endless wars. But it still lies in America’s national interest to bring the troops home.

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The Iranian view of Hiroshima: Beyond anti-US ideology?

by: Clément Therme and Banafsheh Keynoush

The use of the memory of Hiroshima as a political weapon against the US, a country that Iran says has undermined its sovereignty since World War II, is a recurring theme in Iranian media. During a visit to Tehran by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2019, the Iranian daily Farhikhtegan carried a picture of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear blast—a reference to America’s bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the war. “How Can You Trust A War Criminal, Mr. Abe?” the newspaper asked in dual English and Persian headlines.

Iranian films screened in Hiroshima

On the whole, the memory of Hiroshima is regarded as a positive influence in shaping the recent bilateral relations between Tokyo and Tehran. According to Farhikhtegan, President Hassan Rouhani declared in 2013 that Iran and Japan are two countries that have suffered greatly from weapons of mass destruction. The two seem to bond by insisting on their shared historical experience as victims of weapons of mass destruction. In Japan, still to this day, survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are living testimony to the long-term health hazards of weapons of mass destruction. In Iran, there are some 50,000 victims of chemical weapons who can testify to the weapon being used by the Iraqi state during the first Gulf War (the Iran-Iraq war of 1980–1988). Every summer, Iran’s participation in the Love & Peace Film Festival demonstrates how it uses the memory of Hiroshima to strengthen cultural cooperation with Japan.

The festival screens Iranian films in Hiroshima about the sufferings of chemical warfare victims in the first Gulf War. Japanese directors have also screened films about Hiroshima at Iran’s Fajr International Film Festival.

Despite this connection based on memories of human suffering, at first glance Japan and Iran appear to have achieved little to advance a common understanding about the nuclear bomb since Hiroshima. This is partly explained by the fact that the Allied Powers in World War II insisted that Iran break off diplomatic ties with Japan in 1943, in exchange for signing a treaty to guarantee Iranian sovereignty. It was not until 1951 that Iran was able to end its officially declared war on Japan, once Tokyo re-established peaceful relations with the wartime Allied Powers by signing the Treaty of San Francisco. In 1953, bilateral diplomatic relations were restored when the Japanese mission reopened in Tehran.

Personal friendship between the Shah and the Emperor

The period coincided with Iran’s national drive to obtain nuclear technology under the US Atoms for Peace program. Iran’s quest for nuclear sovereignty in this period was not a hurdle to its bilateral relations with Japan. By the 1970s, Iran launched its nuclear energy program, and the period was marked by a brief renewal of Japanese interest in Iran’s commercial and energy markets, driven by the personal friendship between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Emperor Hirohito. In 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolution halted the country’s nuclear program, only to be resumed in the mid 1980s. By the time the Islamic Republic of Iran’s massive nuclear build-up was exposed to the world in 2002, Tehran appeared to have parted ways with Japan over the issue of nuclear weapons.

The anti-US ideology of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, created obstacles by way of an understanding between Tokyo and Tehran on the subject of shunning nuclear weapons. Even Tehran’s political ties and energy cooperation with Japan were constrained by the issue and over Tokyo’s military and security dependency on Washington. But despite the US factor in placing limits on the making of a strong Japanese-Iranian partnership, the memory of Hiroshima continued to influence political interactions between Tehran and Tokyo.

“Japan of the Middle East”

Iran’s fascination with the successful “Japanese model” for economic growth and development despite the setbacks of World War II predated its revolution. The leaders of imperial and revolutionary Iran both liked to compare their country’s development process, and its share of hurdles and anti-western culture clashes, with Japan’s rise to power after Hiroshima. The fascination transcended Iran’s rigid Islamist factional debates under the Islamic Republic. It was the product of a national consensus from the Shah’s era to transform Iran into the “Japan of the Middle East.” The Iranian intellectual Ali Shariati who inspired the revolution to fight imperialism, and who disregarded the history of Japanese imperialism as a thing of the past, saw Japan as a successful example of modernization without the problems of westernization.1.

Despite these positive views of Japan, Iran’s political ties and energy cooperation with the country were limited. Even after the reformist President Mohammad Khatami visited Japan in 2000, the first by an Iranian leader since 1958, prospects of better relations with Iran looked dim. It was under Khatami that Iran’s nuclear program developed, triggering a nuclear proliferation crisis in the following years. Japan was a key ally for the US and Europe in their efforts to limit the scope of the Iranian nuclear program. For its part, Iran began memorializing Hiroshima, to deflect criticism over its nuclear activities. For example, Iran opened a Peace Museum in 2011, inspired by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum’s efforts to bring to life the narratives of countries that fell victim to weapons of mass destruction.

Forty years of confrontation

Iran’s tensions with the US and its allies have lasted over forty years, and increased in intensity, especially after Washington pulled out of the nuclear deal in 2018. Though Iran’s conflicts with the US in particular are not as deadly as the World War II tensions, they carry a potential to incur a heavy cost on all sides. This begs the question of whether the nuclear debate in Iran encompasses more than what meets the eye, especially if it cannot be confined by the memory of Hiroshima or joint US-Japan efforts to date to end the potentially dangerous aspects of the Iranian nuclear program. Ayatollah Khamenei has publicly declared time and again that the nuclear deal made under the Obama administration harmed Iran’s interests by delaying its nuclear program. At the same time, he has banned the use of nuclear weapons through a fatwa, given that public sentiments in Iran are still generally opposed to the idea of the bomb. But average Iranians do not have a say on matters of foreign policy, or on how revolutionary Iran will address the issue of nuclear deterrence if it works to enhance its security.

The Islamic Republic of Iran seems to be piecing together the memories of Hiroshima not so much to take Japan’s path toward disarmament, or improved relations with the U.S.2. Tehran is intrigued by the US insisting on having nuclear weapons, and on the right to use them, and what that entails for Iran’s long-term security given the tensions between the two. It is these issues that preoccupy Tehran when it opts to work with other countries that have defied US nuclear ambitions, such as North Korea, Russia and China, to develop the Iranian nuclear program.

In 1983, Japan’s Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe met with Ayatollah Khamenei in Iran to broker a deal that would ensure maritime navigation in the Persian Gulf during the first Gulf War. Iran welcomed the idea, but it was not enough to get Iraq on board to end the war. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzu Abe accompanied his father on that trip as a young man, his first to Iran, to witness the challenge of averting military confrontation. On his second trip to Tehran last year, Abe was told that Iran would not stay committed to the nuclear deal if other parties refused to salvage it. Iran resumed its nuclear activities shortly after, pointedly showing that the memory of Hiroshima was not enough to end the revolution’s drive to obtain full sovereignty in its nuclear policy decisions.

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