Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nukes for None

Sharing an opinion with BushCheney makes me nervous. Somehow, it just does not seem right that he and I agree on anything. Yet, here I am agreeing with him that the idea of Iran developing nuclear weapons is Not Good. I strongly believe that Iranian nuclear weapons are an inherent threat to peace and stability in that region. I further believe that all nations, particularly Iran’s neighbors should actively pursue policies to limit Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran’s unwillingness to allow international verification and inspection belie its claims of peaceful nuclear research. You are right, George, Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a matter of grave concern.

But (you knew this was coming, didn’t you) the danger is not limited to Iran. Israel is reported to possess about 100 or more nuclear weapons, which causes a certain amount of apprehension to its neighbors. Elsewhere, India has about 30 nuclear devices while neighboring Pakistan probably has somewhat fewer ( And of course, the 800 pound gorillas of the nuclear club, the United States and Russia, possess thousands of nuclear weapons, a legacy of the Cold War that continues to influence the present. Although the US and Russia have reduced nuclear arsenals in recent years, they both retain significant nuclear capability. So do the British, French and Chinese. For a list of nuclear weapons capability, see here.

The Cold War arms race between the US and the former USSR should give the world a clue to what is happening now in the middle east. Beginning with the first American nuclear device, the Soviets, threatened by the West since 1917 (and remembering the US and British intervention against them in 1918-19), matched every improvement made in the US arsenal. The Soviets exploded their first nuclear device in 1949. When the US developed the hydrogen bomb that same year, the Soviets followed suit in 1955. Soviet advances in rocket science gave them a perceived advantage in ballistic missiles in 1960 (the so-called “missile gap” that the post-Soviet archives now reveal was a chimera). The US introduced multiple targeted reentry vehicles in 1969, an advantage that was soon eliminated when the Soviets did the same. Whatever advantage one side or the other achieved was soon canceled by the other’s advances. If a nation (Iran, USSR) feels threatened by another’s weapons (Israel, USA), it will do what it can to eliminate that threat. History shows that weapons beget weapons whether those weapons be longbows, gunpowder, battleships or nuclear missiles.

Iran’s nuclear weapons research follows this age-old pattern for which human beings have yet to devise an effective strategy. The incredible destructiveness of nuclear weapons has lead to a variety of arms control and non-proliferation schemes but in an unstable world, where nations feel at risk, these efforts are a weak bulwark. What is needed is a strong commitment to de-proliferation, the creation of nuclear-free zones that ultimately encompass the entire planet. The middle east is a good place to start.
Iran and other Muslim nations are rightly afraid of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and will seek to neutralize it as soon as they can. In the absence of any organized effort to reduce and eliminate Israel’s nuclear weapons, they have every incentive to pursue their own nuclear weapons. That is why, along with other cooperative efforts to restrain Iranian nuclear weapons development, I advocate establishing nuclear free zones in the middle east (and south Asia). The idea is to eliminate regional arms races that contribute mightily to instability.

A good first step in that direction would be the United States’ unilateral reduction in its nuclear arsenal with a pledge to make further reductions as other nations agree to similar reductions. The US can reduce its arsenal with little or no risk because even a reduced inventory provides more than sufficient deterrent against any would be foe. This is hardly a new idea; it’s been around almost as long as nuclear weapons themselves. In 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev proposed eliminating all nuclear weapons. Back then the world was a simpler place with only a few nuclear powers. Twenty years later the world is far more at risk.

Returning to my opening thought. Yes, BushCheney, Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a danger. Simply waging economic or military war will, at best, address only part of that danger. The greater danger is a world in which nuclear weapons are considered legitimate for ANY nation.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Learning From History?

Two interesting items in the news today illustrate just how badly BushCheney has bolloxed America’s security in the post 9-11 world.

The first is an article in Foreign Relations by Paul Pillar who served as National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005. In that capacity, Mr. Pillar was responsible for analyzing intelligence on Iraq prior to the American invasion. He argues that the administration “cherry picked” intelligence to support its decision to launch the war and concludes:

“If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades.”

The consequences of that decision are now well known. The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) just issued a report that summarizes the difficulties America faces in rebuilding Iraq. The report is written in typical auditor neutral style but it’s conclusion is clear: Iraq is a mess with no real end in sight. America lacks both the resources needed to stabilize Iraq and the metrics to measure progress toward that goal. The graph on page 6 is especially enlightening. It shows that US forces are not fighting international terrorists “over there so we won’t have to fight them here.” Instead, the US is fighting “an intrinsic part of Iraq’s population” that objects to foreign troops and concentrates attacks on the occupiers. (Thanks to Fred Kaplan at Slate who brought the GAO study to my attention.)

BushCheney claims that the origins of the war are past history, not worthy of discussion at this point. But as the GAO report makes clear, that history has created consequences that will plague America for years.

That history is not even past; it’s about to repeat itself in Iran. Americans would do well to understand how BushCheney created a counterproductive war as they try to lead this nation and the world into yet another conflict.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Funny How That Works

BushCheney and his minions are accusing Iran and Syria for the violent reaction against cartoons regarded as blasphemous by the Islamic world.

"I have no doubt that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and have used this for their own purposes," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday. "The world ought to call them on it."

Juan Cole followed up on Secretary Rice's remarks.

"I have done keyword searches in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service of the CIA, which translates radio broadcasts and newspaper articles, for all of 2005 and 2006, using 'Denmark and Syria.' I found nothing from 2005 mentioning the caricatures in FBIS transcriptions of the Syrian press. The only things there for 2006 concerned the past week, which saw a violent demonstration in downtown Damascus.

I then did a similar keyword search in Lexis Nexis, which includes the BBC World Monitoring of the Arab press. I again found nothing for 2005. I print below what I found for 2006; the record begins only on January 31.

In short, it simply is not true that Syria has whipped up sentiments in the Arab world about the Danish caricatures. Neither the CIA, nor the BBC monitoring, nor any of the wire services, noticed any Syrian official saying anything at all about this matter until the past week! Since Syria is ruled by a secular Arab nationalist Baath regime, this finding is not surprising. And what influence would Bashar al-Asad, a heterodox Alawite Shiite and a secular Baathist, have with his Sunni Muslim or orthodox Twelver Shiite neighbors?

It is being alleged that the Baath regime was behind the burning of the Danish embassy in Damascus, on the grounds that it could not have happened unless the police state allowed it. But things have gotten out of hand before in Syria, sometimes on a large scale. It is likely that the regime allowed the initial demonstration, which radical Sunni Muslims took advantage of to torch the embassy. The Syrian regime hates radical Islam and doesn't like disorder, either. We cannot assume that the embassy burning was directed by the Syrian state. There is no evidence for it, and it actually doesn't make any sense. What would Bashar have to gain from that?

Rice and Bush have decided to get Syria, and are using the current crisis as a stick with which to beat it, and are lying shamelessly to the American public.

As for Iran, its embassy was active in Copenhagen pushing for an apology in fall of 2005, but I can't find in Lexis evidence of inflammatory statements until the past week. As I've said before, the Middle East official most concerned with whipping up this issue seems to be the Egyptian foreign minister.

In the past week, some Iranian officials have called for calm on the issue, rather than inciting it. Other officials, such as Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, have in fact said harsh things, but only very recently. Despite wild charges that the Iranian protege Hizbullah was behind the Beirut embassy burning, in fact the demonstration on Sunday was a Sunni demonstration. The Shiites don't seem to have been part of it. Robert Fisk speculates that Sunni fundamentalist forces from Tripoli and the Palestinian camps too advantage of it to push their own agenda, and the Syrian regime was taken by surprise.

You can only imagine the Karl Rove memo: 'Anythin' happens in the Middle East, blame it on Syria and Iran. Works every time!'"

Monday, February 06, 2006


Amazingly, America is once again pushing the world to war on the basis of lies and deceptions. This time, Iran is the target. But a recent Iranian offer that met all substantive American and European demands regarding Iran’s nuclear activity was dismissed as “nothing new” and ignored by European negotiators.

"...The immediate upshot of the rejection of Iran's offer is that the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted on Friday to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, although the council will take no action until an IAEA report on Iran is delivered in March. The council could possibly impose sanctions....

Given all the mountainous revelations about the cover-ups and disinformation on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, all indications are that we have not learned any meaningful lessons from the Iraq fiasco, such as the need for a more scrutinizing media....

Yet, incredibly, no one in the European or US media even examined the nature and content of the six-point Iranian proposal, confining themselves to the official pronouncements of the EU-3 diplomats who are more keen on satisfying the US's march toward the Security Council than in breaking the nuclear stalemate on their own.

These diplomats, so adept at "leaking" their own highly-publicized proposal to Iran last summer, kept a tight lid on Iran's proposal and, what is more, there is no evidence that any respected member of the Western media made any attempt to get their hands on Iran's proposal.

That aside, the following is the nub of Iran's six-point proposal:
(a) Iran pledges that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, not nuclear bombs. (b) Iran pledges that it will get the legislative approval in its majlis (parliament) of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and will continue with IAEA inspections. (c) Iran pledges to stay within the NPT. (d) Iran pledges that it will not resume enrichment prior to the next IAEA meeting. (e) Iran pledges that its nuclear research will be under monitoring by the IAEA. (f) Iran will continue negotiating with the EU-3 regarding enrichment issues for two years, and after two years, if the negotiations fail, will resume enrichment activities.

Certainly, the last item was a novelty and the EU-3 diplomats have some explaining to do as to why they were not interested. The chronology of Iran-EU3 negotiations clearly shows the lie on the part of Sawers and his German and French colleagues, for this was the first time that Iran had offered to extend the freeze on enrichment activities for another two years to give negotiations more time, and it was quite duplicitous on their part to suggest otherwise.
The European path to the Security Council is strewn with lies and deceptions, with a systematic distortion aimed at denying Iran's right to nuclear technology at any price, even if that means reneging on their earlier pledges of respecting Iran's nuclear rights "without discrimination", as stipulated in the 2004 Paris Agreement.

Clearly, listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's anti-Iran stance, Europe's main priority is US appeasement, and not Iran. Merkel's Iran-bashing could have dire consequences for Berlin's Iran and Middle East policy, in light of Germany's status as Iran's No 1 European trading partner.

Merkel, a novice in foreign policy making, has set aside the nuanced approach of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder by facilitating the United States' war-prone approach to Iran. Merkel's government appears to be doing for the US on Iran the kind of subservient role London played on Iraq. This is a sure recipe for disaster...."

And it’s working. Fubar at Needlenose reports a LA Times poll showing that 57% of Americans favor military intervention if Iran's Islamic government pursues a program that could enable it to build nuclear arms. He notes:

"Even though Iraq is looking to become FUBAR on every political, military, and strategic level, a significant number of people think it's a good idea to send troops next door to a country several times the size, a proven capacity for turning its youth into cannon fodder for an ideological cause, and with a lot of friends nearby."

Fear sells. Even bad ideas look good when you are terrified. Can you even imagine how horrible war in Iran will be. The world might even get to see America use nuclear weapons for the first time ever. Israel will have an opportunity to become the second nation to use nuclear weapons.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Long War

The Department of Defense presented the Quadrennial Defense Review to the nation this week. Mandated by Congress, the review assesses current and future military requirements based on experience and prediction. This years’ review introduces Americans to “the Long War” for which the Pentagon will require various personnel and weapons systems. The last review was issued just after the 9-11 attacks but largely reflected the world as the US military understood it prior to that event. This year’s review looks at the past four years and projects threats and forces for the next five, 10 and 20 years.

The military, being a practical and adaptive organization, will place more emphasis on non-state terrorism and assymetrical warfare. One of the two simultaneous big wars, a staples of US military doctrine for decades can now be against a non-state enemy. Each branch will field special units to find, track and defuse nuclear and catastrophic weapons. All good for the post 9-11 world. At the same time, our military must also dissuade China, India and Russia from becoming our adversaries. Good for the generals’ and admirals’ big weapons systems. Despite the somewhat changed focus, the review offers little change in military thinking; new programs call for new funding rather than rethinking how to use the existing $400 plus billion Defense budget (not including Iraq). Fred Kaplan at Slate calls the review “...a muddle at best, an assortment of interesting ideas with no scheme for translating them into reality.” Although 9-11 “changed everything” Kaplan notes that the allocation of military resources is little changed from the Cold War era.

Welcome to America’s Brave New World. Defense officials spoke about the new military environment in the Long War. Defense SecretaryRumsfeld said in an address at the National Press Club:

"Compelled by a militant ideology that celebrates murder and suicide with no territory to defend, with little to lose, they will either succeed in changing our way of life, or we will succeed in changing theirs,"

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England said in an address that Islamic extremists and terrorists are "profoundly more dangerous" than in the past because of technological advances that allow them to operate globally.

Both statements are distortions. Rumsfeld uses the specter of heathen fanatics terrorizing Americans into submission. In fact, the militant ideologues have relatively few suicidal followers and limited capability to attack. At their worst, these suicidal extremists have pulled off one spectacular attack. Beyond 9-11 their efforts have been minimal, with a kill count not totaling a thousand. Terrorism is no small problem but it hardly rises to the level of an endless war. Endless vigilance, perhaps, but not war. That’s why a Global War on Terrorism is such a bogus premise for national security policy. It exaggerates a real problem and distorts the thought process. In the process, however, the terrorists succeed in changing our way of life by providing an absolutist administration rationales to infringe on civil liberties. The America that is saved by BushCheney and Rumsfeld will be a diminished America.

Deputy Secretary England distorts his words by seeing only half of the technological capabilities available to terrorists. The other half is the fact that any technological advances that allow Islamic extremists and terrorists to operate globally are matched and exceeded by our own. We can outclass any technology that any potential enemy can access. Terrorists can operate globally because the world is now a global society in which peoples of all nationalities circulate. Communications link nations and individuals together in a world-wide network. That is the one technology that would-be terrorists can exploit to their advantage, as can we. The rest is simply cleverness on their part (box cutters and airplanes) and sloppiness (missing all the clues) on ours.

Neither official spoke directly of the potential state adversaries–China, Russia and India–but the defense review addresses these nations with a new fighter plane, carrier task forces and submarine launched conventional weapons. Here is where I question the premise and utility of military power at all. Our conflicts with these nations will be trade, resources and ideas, none of which are military in nature. The United States looking for the wrong tools to secure its future, a future that I believe is intimately bound up with the other peoples and nations with whom we share this planet. Our best defense in an increasingly interdependent and vulnerable world will be cooperation, understanding and reason, not guns and tanks and bombs.

My superbly rational arguments aside, the Defense budget will grow, creating policy and tools that are self-defining and ultimately self-defeating . America in 2006 is too scared to think straight.

More Iraq Voices

Chris Allbritton has returned to Iraq for a third tour and is posting on his weblog, Back to Iraq 3.0. In a recent post on the Saddam Hussein trial he reflected on the international support Hussein received from the international community, including the US. He concludes with these words:

“...why should Iraqis have to suffer under Saddam or endure watching their friends shredded by car bomb blast so that Americans can feel safe from Khomeni or from terrorists. Why should Saudi Arabians suffer a corrupt monarchy so we can enjoy SUV’s, for that matter?”

Riverbend offers her thoughts on the recent elections:

"...After nearly three years of a failing occupation, I personally believe that many Iraqis voted for religious groups because it was counted as a vote against America and the occupation itself. No matter what American policy makers say to their own public- and no matter how many pictures Rumsfeld and Condi take with our fawning politicians- most Iraqis do not trust Americans. America as a whole is viewed as a devilish country that is, at best, full of self-serving mischief towards lesser countries and, at worst, an implementer of sanctions, and a warmongering invader.

Even Iraqis who believe America is here to help (and they seem to have grown fewer in number these days), believe that it helps not out of love for Iraqis, but out of self-interest and greed...."