Category Archives: Strategic

Yes, says the general: Ground troops may be necessary

Here’s today’s lede story for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal:

Dempsey opens door to combat troops in Iraq

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff raised the possibility Tuesday that U.S. troops could become involved in ground attacks against the Islamic State, despite repeated pledges to the contrary from President Obama.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee that U.S. military advisers are helping Iraqi government forces prepare for a major offensive to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State in recent months. Although the advisers have been assigned primarily to assist with planning and coordination, Dempsey for the first time suggested that they eventually could go into the field on combat missions.

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific [Islamic State] targets, I’ll recommend that to the president,” he testified….

Maybe we can degrade and destroy ISIL with only air power. But as I’ve said before, we don’t know that we can — which is why it is ill-advised, sinking to the level of “doing stupid (stuff),” to rule out using ground troops on the front end. (Saying you don’t want to do it is one thing. Saying on the front end that you won’t is another matter.)

Ground combat troops could become necessary. Which is why a senior general officer, who must have plans for all contingencies, would say what Gen. Dempsey said. And why the president shouldn’t have said what he said.

Going into a fluid military situation, you can’t know that it won’t become necessary to resort to ground combat. You just can’t.

Lindsey Graham’s reaction to Obama’s ISIL speech

Above is a video of Lindsey Graham speaking on the House floor about the plan for combating ISIL that President Obama spoke about last night.

Here are some excerpts from Graham’s speech:

  • “About the speech last night, what bothered me the most was the way it started. The President tried to tell us that as a nation we’re safer today than we have ever been. Do you believe that? I don’t. There are more terrorists, more organizations with more money, more capability, and more weapons to attack our homeland than existed before 9/11. We’re not safer than we were before 9/11 and that’s just an unfortunate fact.”
  • “Every president, every senator makes mistakes. History judges you not by the mistakes you make but by what you learn from them.”
  • “Here’s what I ask of the President – stop caveating everything. Look the enemy in the eye and say ‘We will destroy you’ and stop. Look the American people in the eye and say ‘We have to win, we will win and I will do what is necessary to win.’”
  • “The American military…..they’re tired, but they’re not too tired to defend this country.”
  • “The President also said this operation against ISIL will be like other CT (Counter-terrorism) operations over the last five or six year. No, it will not! This is not some small group of people running around with AK-47s. This is a full blown army. They were going to defeat the Kurdish Peshmerga, a pretty tough fighting group, if we hadn’t intervened. To underestimate how hard this will be will bite us.”
  • “Mr. President, please be honest with the American people about what we face. Somebody’s got to beat this army. This is not a small group of terrorists. They have howitzers. They have tanks. They are flush with money. They are getting fighters from all over the world. But they can and will be defeated. They must be defeated.”
  • “There is not a force in the Mideast that can take these guys on and win without substantial American help.”
  • “Mr. President, if you need my blessing to destroy ISIL, you have it. If you need to follow them to the gates of hell, I will send you a note – ‘go for it.’ If you need Congress to authorize your actions, let me know. You say you don’t and I agree with you, but if it makes us stronger for this body to vote in support of your plan to destroy ISIL, I will give you my vote. But here’s what I expect in return — your full commitment to win.”
  • “One thing I can promise the American people – if we take on ISIL and lose – we will unlock the gates of hell. And hell will come our way.”

Graham speak

The best part of President Obama’s speech tonight

Here it is:

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here’s what one of them said. “We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people.”

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth….

Yes, that is what sets this nation apart. We are the nation that will go halfway ’round the world to save endangered and oppressed people. And we are the one nation that can do that, time and again. We have the power; we have the resources. And therefore we have the moral obligation.

That’s not the only reason we must “degrade and destroy” ISIL. It also involves doing “what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for.”

The monsters of ISIL must be stopped. And we’re the ones to do it. It’s great that the president is enlisting others to help. But it’s going to depend on us, and our resolve to end this evil.

HERE’s a strategy for dealing with ISIS: Let’s do them the way the Aggies did the Gamecocks

tan suit

And oh, yeah — what’s with the tan suit?

Yes, that headline is my way of admitting that I don’t have a strategy for dealing with ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State/QSIS. I don’t even know how to solve the confusion over what to call them.

But then, I’m not POTUS. And the man who is is taking a lot of flak for his honest admission yesterday that “We don’t have a strategy yet.” (Possibly the worst such gaffe since Toby Ziegler said C.J. Cregg could go to Ramallah to “swat at suicide bombers with her purse.”) Which he perhaps deserves, for having made some of the decisions that led to the metastatic growth of the former al Qaeda in Iraq that has turned into that new thing, a self-financing, blitzkrieging army of bloodthirsty terrorists.

But having left Iraq without any sort of residual force to act as a counterbalance to instability, and having ignored the advice of his entire national security team three years back when there was still a chance to prop up some moderate alternatives in Syria, I’m not entirely sure what the president should do, what we should do, now.

Which is why you might see me indulging myself in irrelevancies, with the rest of the ADD brigade, over such trivia as the president’s tan suit. Sorry about that. But truly, I’m at a loss for more helpful observations to offer.

And, oh, yeah — Russia is invading Ukraine with impunity. (At least the president is visiting Talinn to express support for a nervous NATO ally, for what that’s worth. I’m not sure how reassuring that will be. They’ll probably be on pins and needles hoping he doesn’t say the words, “red line.”)

Any ideas, folks? I’ll be glad to pass them up to the White House.

Seriously, I’m glad the president wants to get his ducks in a row and have a strategy, instead of the fits and starts of our actions thus far, which have had a “what are we actually trying to do?” feel about them. Although driving them from Mosul Dam was encouraging, as was rescuing the Yazidi. But we need something a little more thought-out, and effective, than a #bringbackourgirls type of reaction to outrages.

And I hope this administration is up to it. A lot of people — including, I saw this morning, Maureen Dowd and Eugene Robinson, not your usual Obama-hating suspects — seem to have their doubts these days.

Obama, the coup de main commander in chief

Something struck me over the weekend about POTUS.

We know he’s not much of one for committing conventional forces. He’s no Rommel or Patton; you’ll never see major armored formations maneuvering in large land battles if he can help it. And trench warfare is about 180 degrees from anything this commander in chief would engage in.

He’s even hesitant about the use of air power in any sustained way. He went along in Libya, but on the condition that we were just what Nick Adams in “No Time for Sergeants” called the whole danged Air Force: the helpers. Leading from behind, and all that.

On the other hand…

He’s more willing than any president in my lifetime to launch one-time, deus ex machina attacks from the sky, with devastating and deadly effect. I refer here to the drones, which he has used more extensively by far than any predecessor.

Also, let’s not forget the killing of Osama bin Laden. Or the snatching from Libyan soil of one of the ringleaders of the Benghazi attack, just last week, the success of which the president was happy to tout:

“It’s important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and we will bring them to justice,” the president said Tuesday at an event in Pittsburgh. “That’s a message I sent the day after it happened, and regardless of how long it takes, we will find you. I want to make sure everyone around the world hears that message very clearly.”…

No, he’s not one for the long-haul slog. But if he can pounce down on you and kill or capture you out of a clear blue sky, leaving behind nothing but a puff of dust in his wake, he will get your a__.

Over the weekend, it finally hit me: He’s the coup de main president. For those not up on military theory, a coup de main is “An offensive operation that capitalizes on surprise and simultaneous execution of supporting operations to achieve success in one swift stroke.

It’s like, if this generation of leaders had been in charge of the Normandy invasion, you’d want Colin Powell in charge of the beach landings — he’s all about putting massive, irresistible force on the objective and overwhelming the enemy’s defenses. But you’d put Obama in charge of something like the Pegasus Bridge operation — a swift, sudden attack by glider-borne troops on a small target of strategic importance to the overall operation.

Except he wouldn’t have gone in for that “hold until relieved” part. He would have wanted to go in, kill all the Germans defending the target, then get out. Which wouldn’t have been helpful in that case, since we needed the bridge to advance inland. So, bad example.

But you know what I mean — don’t you?

Way harsh assessment of Obama’s Mideast performance

Jennifer Rubin, the house conservative at the WashPost, calls my attention to this way harsh assessment of President Obama’s performance in the Mideast, from (not too surprisingly) Elliott Abrams, who served in both the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations:

There’s always Tunisia. Amid the smoking ruins of the Middle East, there is that one encouraging success story. But unfortunately for the Obama narratives, the president had about as much as to do with Tunisia’s turn toward democracy as he did with the World Cup rankings. Where administration policy has had an impact, the story is one of failure and danger.

The Middle East that Obama inherited in 2009 was largely at peace, for the surge in Iraq had beaten down the al Qaeda-linked groups. U.S. relations with traditional allies in the Gulf, Jordan, Israel and Egypt were very good. Iran was contained, its Revolutionary Guard forces at home. Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained….

That wasn’t quite enough for Ms. Rubin, who got in another couple of licks:

Add to that a new Rand Corporation study showing terrorist groups’ activity has increased 50 percent in the last three years and the near-collapse of the nuclear non-proliferation architecture and you have a truly troubling conflagration: more terrorists, fewer functioning central governments and the potential widespread possession of weapons of mass destruction (already used multiple times with no consequences by Bashar al-Assad)….

Yeah, I know, consider the sources. But I’ve become somewhat jaded myself with the president’s policies, or lack thereof, over the last couple of years. So I resonate a bit to these messages…

 

Unusual split between McCain, Graham on Iran, Iraq

This WashPost headline (“Wait, John McCain and Lindsey Graham are at odds? Yes — on Iran and Iraq“) grabbed my attention this morning:

Pick your favorite foreign policy debate and odds are hawkish Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) will be on the same side. Not so when it comes to the escalating situation in Iraq.

McCain on Monday warned sharply against the idea of collaborating with Iran to help the Iraqi government push back against radical Islamist fighters…

“It would be the height of folly to believe that the Iranian regime can be our partner in managing the deteriorating security situation in Iraq,” said McCain in a statement….

Appearing on the Sunday news shows, Graham cautiously endorsed the idea, provided certain conditions are met.

“Well, we’re going to probably need their help to hold Baghdad,” he said on CBS News’s “Face The Nation.”

On the same program, Graham said, “We need to all make sure Baghdad doesn’t fall

It’s not really a huge split, except that McCain’s language (“height of folly”)  is so emphatic. But worth making note.

Frankly, I’m intrigued by the implications of working with Iran for other issues. No, I don’t expect us to become big buddies and see them immediately drop their nuclear program for their new pals, but crises breed opportunity, and there could be one here — aside from the immediate tactical situation, which sees Iran in a better position to act than the U.S.

It’s going to be tough to work with the mullahs while simultaneously pressing Maliki to be less of a Shi’ite chauvinist (thereby making his regime one more worth saving), but it’s worth exploring.

So I think Graham’s being the more pragmatic and flexible here…

Editor’s note: The above video clip — one of my most popular ever — is NOT from this week. It’s from May 15, 2007.

U.S. isolationism rising. Meanwhile, the world doesn’t cooperate and go away

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Here’s an ominous juxtaposition of stories from today’s news. First, this poll:

A near-majority of Americans say the United States should become less active in world affairs, a dramatic change from the post-9/11 national environment and one that comes as President Barack Obama tries to juggle crises in the Middle East and the Ukraine.

In a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll, 47 percent of respondents said the U.S. should dial down its activity in foreign affairs, versus 19 percent who said the country should be more active around the globe. Three in ten respondents said the current level is correct.

That represents a major flip in how Americans view world affairs since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. At that time, nearly 4 in ten Americans said they wanted to see more engagement around the world, and just 14 percent said the nation should be less active.

Comparable studies in the mid-1990s found that about a third of Americans believed the U.S. should reduce its foreign policy footprint….

Hmmm… I wonder… Could that be the same 47 percent Mitt Romney was on about?

Meanwhile, we have this item from The Guardian, which no one could mistake for a pro-interventionist newspaper:

The biggest geopolitical risk of our times is not a conflict between Israel and Iran over nuclear proliferation. Nor is it the risk of chronic disorder in an arc of instability that now runs from the Maghreb all the way to the Hindu Kush. It is not even the risk of Cold War II between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

All of these are serious risks, of course; but none is as serious as the challenge of sustaining the peaceful character of China‘s rise. That is why it is particularly disturbing to hear Japanese and Chinese officials and analysts compare the countries’ bilateral relationship to that between Britain and Germany on the eve of the first world war.

The disputes between China and several of its neighbours over disputed islands and maritime claims (starting with the conflict with Japan) are just the tip of the iceberg. As China becomes an even greater economic power, it will become increasingly dependent on shipping routes for its imports of energy, other inputs, and goods. This implies the need to develop a blue-water navy to ensure that China’s economy cannot be strangled by a maritime blockade.

But what China considers a defensive imperative could be perceived as aggressive and expansionist by its neighbours and the United States. And what looks like a defensive imperative to the US and its Asian allies – building further military capacity in the region to manage China’s rise – could be perceived by China as an aggressive attempt to contain it….

It’s no accident that we see Americans gazing into their isolationist navels, anxiously taking their own temperatures, while a British publication gazes out at the world as it is. Even as it ceased to rule half the world, Britain has remained at least interested in what happens around the globe. Whereas the average American on the street will always default to isolationism, barring catastrophic events that temporarily turn his attention abroad.

Which, in a world that has relied since 1945, and especially since 1991, on American engagement — economic, diplomatic, humanitarian and yes, military — as a stabilizing force, is not a good thing.

For a generation, China has steadily been engaging more closely with the world, including nations in our own Monroe-Doctrine backyard. One of the first editorials I wrote for The State in 1994 was on the subject of Chinese diplomatic and trade initiatives in the Western Hemisphere. They have been so successful that, according to Stratfor, a Chinese economic slowdown has a deleterious effect on the region:

A looming slowdown in the Chinese economy promises trouble for China’s economic partners in Latin America, especially commodity exporters. The growing relationship between China and Latin America is on display this week as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi tours the region in a trip that will wrap up April 26. Wang is visiting Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina to discuss bilateral financing and trade deals.

China’s slowing economy and potential for domestic economic instability threatens to sharply lower demand for key commodities exported by Latin American countries. Particularly vulnerable are countries such as Brazil, Peru and Chile that have seen China rise in importance as an export destination…

My relativist friends will say that’s fine. We had our time; maybe it’s China’s turn. All nations are alike — there’s nothing exceptional about our own; any perception to the contrary is pure, narrow chauvinism — and a world in which China is the dominant influencer is no worse than one that turns to America.

As you know, I believe they couldn’t be more wrong.

Fortunately, everyone who has held the White House in my lifetime agrees with me — or at the very least says he agrees with me, whatever his actions may say. Our serious political discussions tend to be about ways and means, not ultimate aims. In fact, while he was defending a foreign policy based on the assumption that intervening in Iraq was the worst foreign policy mistake of our time (with which I’m bound to disagree, at least somewhat), I rather like the president’s invocation of a doctrine based on singles and doubles rather than home runs:

MANILA — At a news conference in the Philippines on Monday afternoon, President Obama initially scoffed when a reporter asked him to explain the “Obama doctrine” in light of his handling of recent world events.

But then he seemed to embrace the idea. Surveying hot spots from Syria to Ukraine, Obama laid out an incremental, dogged approach to foreign relations that relies on the United States deploying every possible economic and institutional lever before resorting to armed force.

“That may not always be sexy. That may not always attract a lot of attention, and it doesn’t make for good argument on Sunday morning shows,” said Obama, who is nearing the end of a week-long, four-nation tour of Asia. “But it avoids errors. You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run. But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world.”…

The problem with isolationists is that they don’t even want us to get up to bat. They don’t even want to show up for the game. Which is not good for the country, and even worse for the rest of the world.

The president in the Philippines -- reaching out, engaging with the world.

The president in the Philippines — reaching out, engaging with the world.

If ‘crazy’ is called for, Obama’s not your man

Thought this clip of David Brooks talking about what it might take to stop Putin in Ukraine — since the usual stuff (sanctions, etc.) isn’t working — rather interesting:

DAVID BROOKS: I’m also thinking, sometimes you just have to do something a little crazy. Putin did something a little crazy. And we’re all, ooh, let’s not get in front of that guy.

Obama is like the least likely person you’re ever going to meet to do something crazy. He’s prudent, thinks thing through? But sometimes you just got to strike a little fear…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Like what? I mean, what would be…

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I’m beginning to think we’re going to get to a spot, if this continues to escalate, and it’s clear — well, it seems clear that Putin is — just wants to — if Ukraine wants to go West, he will dismember Ukraine.

And it seems to me that arming, not getting involved, us, in Ukraine, but arming Ukraine for some deterrent effect to keep the Russians out of there is a useful thing to start to think about. And I think we’re probably going to end up having a serious debate about that…

Yeah… You’ve got that right. Barack Obama just doesn’t do crazy.

Now, George Bush, he would do crazy. And as you know, I thought it one of his virtues. (I didn’t think he had many, but I granted him that one.) The invasion of Iraq would have been a wonderful deterrent to rogue, or merely problematic, regimes — if Bush could have maintained the impression that he would be willing and able to do something like that again.

The invasion of Iraq scared the stuffing out of Moammar Qaddafi, who immediately gave up his attempt to get nukes. There were signs of nervousness across the region, as oligarchs and dictators thought, “If he’ll take out Saddam, just like that, he could come after me next. He’s crazy…”

But then Bush lost public support over Iraq, and it became clear he didn’t have the capital to do anything like that again, and everybody calmed down…

No chance of that happening with President Obama. Even when the other kids — France, Britain — volunteer to go first, he’s not going to get crazy. He was elected pretty much on an anti-crazy platform.

Robert Gates, the quintessential national security professional, judges ex-boss Obama harshly

Coming from the source it comes from, this is pretty devastating:

In a new memoir, former defense secretary Robert Gates unleashes harsh judgments about President Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the Afghanistan war, writing that by early 2010 he had concluded the president “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”Gates cropped

Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.”…

The source is someone for whom I’ve always had the utmost respect, as I’ve written in the past. Other political appointees come and go, but Gates has always seemed to me the real-life version of what the fictional George Smiley was in John le Carre’s world:

Mr. Gates is a Smileyesque professional. He was the only Director of Central Intelligence ever to have come up through the ranks. He had spent two decades in the Agency, from 1969 through 1989, with a several-year hiatus at the National Security Council. He received the National Security Medal, the Presidential Citizens Medal, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal (twice) and the Distinguished Intelligence Medal (three times).
I trust professionals, particularly those who have devoted themselves to national service. Not in every case, of course — there are idiots and scoundrels in every walk of life — but if all other things are equal, give me the pro from Dover over someone’s golf buddy every time…

You know the real-life “golf-buddies” and campaign contributors and hangers-on. The fictional counterparts to them, in the le Carre world, would be Saul Enderby and, to a lesser degree, Oliver Lacon.

It’s one thing for Republicans and other professional detractors to attack the president’s national security seriousness. For Robert Gates to do it is quite another thing.

The Economist tells America to buck up, stiffen upper lip

I’m not finding a link to the actual report itself, but I thought I’d share this release from The Economist:

November 26th 2013

 

THE ECONOMIST PUBLISHES SPECIAL REPORT ON AMERICA’S FOREIGN POLICY

 

After a dreadful decade abroad, Americans are unduly pessimistic about their place in the world

 

This week’s issue of The Economist publishes a special report on America’s foreign policy, “Time to cheer up”, which argues that the world America faces today may seem cussed and intractable, but America’s strengths are as impressive as ever.

 

In this report, Edward Carr, Foreign editor for The Economist looks at the advantages America has in the primacy game and shares a to-do list for the world’s superpower.  After five years immersed in a world-class financial crisis on top of a dozen more in unhappy wars, the mood in America was bound to be dark. And yet the great engines of American power are turning. The armed forces are peerless and will remain so, even when they are financed less lavishly. The economy is clawing its way back to health. Despite Iraq, the ideals of liberal democracy and open markets are potent still.

 

In geopolitics America has no direct challenger, but without maintenance primacy frays. One threat is Washington politics, eroding American authority in the world. The other is the shifting international system– which no longer needs America as a guard against Soviet aggression and must find a way to reflect the aspirations of emerging powers, chiefly China.

 

Only a country that had glimpsed supremacy would count those two threats as decline. Predictably, the unipolar moment after the Soviet collapse was transient– if only because it tempted America into relying too much on force. The return to the frustrations and reverses of everyday diplomacy is uncomfortable, no doubt; and if America withdraws or lapses into peevishness, dangerous as well. Yet the country has one tremendous advantage. What will most determine its destiny is none other than America itself.  

 

- ENDS -

 

What are we to think about the nuclear deal with Iran?

First, I don’t know enough about this to have an opinion yet, if I ever will. The closest I can come right now is to survey the views of other informed, critical observers, and see if I can begin to discern an impression.

Before this past weekend, I was very worried about the kinds of deals that were being discussed because France, Saudi Arabia and Israel were all giving them a big thumbs-down, and expressing a significant loss of faith in the United States’ willingness to push for a deal that actually would halt the Iranian nuke program.

So I do a quick check to see how those parties are reacting to this:

So… a mixed bag.

Meanwhile, back home, the Obama administration has trouble on this among two key groups:

  1. Republicans in Congress.
  2. Democrats in Congress.

The WSJ reports:

The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties are threatening to break with President Barack Obama‘s policy and enact new punitive sanctions on Iran, arguing that the interim deal reached in Geneva on Sunday yields too much to the Islamist regime while asking too little.

“The disproportionality of this agreement makes it more likely that Democrats and Republicans will join together and pass additional sanctions when we return in December,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.), an influential member of the Senate Democratic leadership.

So maybe the deal is moot at this end. I don’t know.

Thoughts?

Graham, McCain, et al.: Say ‘no’ to any Iran deal that eases sanctions, lets nuke program continue

This just in from Lindsey Graham:

GRAHAM, SCHUMER, MENENDEZ, MCCAIN, CASEY, COLLINS URGE ADMINISTRATION NOT TO ACCEPT IRAN DEAL THAT CUTS BACK SANCTIONS BUT ALLOWS IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM TO CONTINUE

 

With Geneva Negotiations Set to Resume, Senators Express Concern with Reported Deal Administration Currently Weighing – Plan Would Provide Relief from Sanctions without Significantly Rolling Back Iranian Progress towards Nuclear Weapon

 

Group of Senators Praise Administration’s Use of Sanctions Thus Far, Urges Negotiators to ensure that Concessions and Gains are Proportionate

 

Senators: Focus Should Be on Achieving a Balanced Deal That Rolls Back Iran’s Progress towards a Nuclear Weapon

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham, Charles E. Schumer, Robert Menendez, John McCain, Bob Casey and Susan Collins wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry, expressing their support for negotiations but cautioning the Administration against accepting a deal with Iran that would roll back economic sanctions without also rolling back progress towards nuclear weapons capability. According to media reports, Administration negotiators have considered accepting an agreement that would provide relief for the Iranian regime from the debilitating economic sanctions while only requiring the Iranians to halt their work towards a nuclear weapon, rather than undoing the progress they have already made.

 

The senators wrote, “We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.

 

“It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.”

 

Under the reported agreement, the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5% for civilian use, to cap but not reduce the number of centrifuges, and to continue work near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. The senators argue that these steps may suggest Iran is willing to temporarily slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapon, but they would allow Iran to continue making some progress towards obtaining a nuclear weapon under the cover of further negotiations.

 

In return, Iran would receive relief from economic sanctions, including access to previously-frozen assets. The senators said the reported agreement, “does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.”

 

The full text of the letter appears below:

 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We appreciate your continued efforts, in concert with our friends and allies, to negotiate with the Iranian regime. We also commend the efforts of your negotiating team to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability.  Our negotiators have benefited from the effects of tough economic sanctions in bringing Iran to the table.  Without the Administration, Congress, and our allies working together, we would not have arrived at this crucial point.

Indeed, we support the concept of an interim agreement with Iran that would roll back its nuclear program as a first step to seeking a final settlement that prevents Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. At the same time, we are concerned that the interim agreement would require us to make significant concessions before we see Iran demonstrably commit to moving away from developing a nuclear weapons capability.

It is our understanding that the interim agreement now under consideration would not require Iran to even meet the terms of prior United Nations Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its reprocessing, heavy water-related and enrichment-related activities and halt ongoing construction of any uranium-enrichment, reprocessing, or heavy water-related facilities. For example, we understand that the P5+1 is prepared to permit Iran to continue enriching uranium at 3.5 percent albeit for civilian use, to cap but not reduce its number of centrifuges, and to continue work around or near the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. While the interim agreement may suggest that Iran could be willing temporarily to slow its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, it could also allow Iran to continue making some progress toward that end under the cover of negotiations. This does not give us confidence that Iran is prepared to abandon unambiguously its nuclear weapons pursuit altogether, as it must.

Furthermore, it is our understanding that in return for certain Iranian actions, the P5+1 would allow Iran to gain access to considerable amounts of capital that have been frozen by our international sanctions. Some have estimated the value of this capital for Iran as much as $10 billion. We regard this as a major concession on our part that would not be justified by the concessions the Iranian regime would be required to make in return. If we are reducing sanctions, Iran should be reducing its nuclear capabilities.

As you know, it is not just the sanctions themselves but the threat that they would continue to tighten that has brought the Iranians to the negotiating table. Easing sanctions now without real, tangible actions by Iran to roll back its nuclear program would not only diminish this threat of future pressure, it could make it more difficult to maintain the current sanctions regime at a time when many international actors are already eager to lessen their implementation of sanctions. We feel strongly that any easing of sanctions along the lines that the P5+1 is reportedly considering should require Iran to roll back its nuclear program more significantly than now envisioned.

It is our belief that any interim agreement with the Iranians should bring us closer to our ultimate goal which is Iran without a nuclear weapons capability.  We must ensure that the steps we take in the coming weeks and months move us towards a resolution that ultimately brings Iran in compliance with all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, seeks to prevent Tehran from possessing any enrichment or reprocessing capability, and resolves any and all fears that Iran will develop a nuclear weapons capability.

The upcoming round of negotiations could hardly be more important and we must be ever mindful of with whom we are negotiating. Iran has been the largest state sponsor of terrorism for over thirty years; its leaders routinely call for the destruction of Israel; and it arms and finances terrorist groups around the globe. We urge you and your negotiating team to fight for an interim agreement that demands as much or more of Iran as it does of the United States and our allies. We hope in the next few weeks we and our partners will redouble our efforts to gain greater proportionality and to finalize an agreement that demonstrates that Iran is moving away from the nuclear weapons path.

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Just your friendly neighborhood superpower, ma’am

Every once in awhile, Slate decides to surprise me with an editorial point that I agree with.

While this piece doesn’t go terribly deeply into things (something I am not surprised to see on Slate, which often entices me with headlines for pieces that don’t deliver), at least it states some obvious points that apparently are not obvious to all my friends out there.

Excerpts from the piece headlined, “Why America’s Critics Will Miss the U.S. Superpower: For all of its faults, no one comes to the world’s aid like the United States:”

American foreign policy isn’t popular at the moment either, especially among our allies. The Germans are angry because we pointlessly tapped Angela Merkel’s telephoneThe Saudis are angry because we won’t join the war in Syria. President Obama’s failure to become the world savior that the Norwegian Nobel Committee so fervently expected him to be has caused widespread disappointment.

And yet, when a disaster unfolds and resources have to be rapidly mobilized, it’s as if nothing has changed. One of the largest typhoons on record hit the Philippines last week. The extent of the damage isn’t yet known. But the American response is already larger—by a factor of hundreds—than that of the largest economy in East Asia. The United States is sending an aircraft carrier to the worst-hit regions and has promised $20 million in emergency aid. Millions more will be raised by U.S. charities. The British are sending a warship and $16 million. Even the Vatican has promised $4 million. And the government of China, the new land of opportunity? $100,000….

The Chinese do give development aid, but differently: not in response to tragedies, not to counter disaster, but to facilitate the export of raw materials to China. There is merit to some of China’s efforts, especially in Africa. But the Chinese state is not, for the most part, interested in generosity for its own sake. Nor do many Chinese billionaires believe that new wealth brings new obligations. Several of them refused even to meet Bill Gates a few years ago, apparently because they were afraid he might ask them to give away some of their money.

All of which is not an elaborate excuse for messy America foreign policy, or the still-weak American economy, or the indecisive American president. It’s just a little reminder: U.S. strength may be waning, U.S. status may be fading, and U.S. attraction for talented foreigners may soon taper off. But there will be reasons to be sorry if America isn’t a superpower anymore, perhaps more than America’s critics think.

So, you know, it kinda does matter who the hegemonic superpower is.

France getting disgusted with us burger-eating surrender monkeys

A piece in the WSJ this morning by John Vinocur discussing the strange new paradigm whereby the French are tough on bad guys, and disgusted with Americans for wimping out:

In an interview with the Associated Press on Oct. 4, Barack Obama depicted Iran as a country living with sanctions “put in place because Iran had not been following international guidelines, and had behaved in ways that made a lot of people feel they were pursuing a nuclear weapon.”

For French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, that was a pastels-and-wispy-brushstrokes rendering of reality. Two days later, in an interview with Europe 1 radio, Mr. Fabius drew a darker, edgier picture. “As we speak,” he said, Iran keeps the centrifuges turning that are needed to make enriched uranium for nuclear bombs. But Iran is also pursuing a second, separate track toward atomic weapons with the construction, at Arak, of a heavy-water reactor producing plutonium.

That project might take “around a year” to complete. And “if it is completed, you won’t be able to destroy it,” Mr. Fabius said, “because if you bomb plutonium, it will leak.” At that point, he said, for “the Americans, the Israelis and others,” there would no longer be adequate sanctions to stop Tehran.

He gave no hint of who those “others” might be. But here was the French foreign minister talking about a possible military engagement against Iran in a more forceful manner than anything summoned so far by the U.S. president. Mr. Fabius was not advocating a strike, volunteering eventual French participation, or indulging in simple Obama-bashing. But he was expressing a kind of French contempt for the U.S. administration’s evasive vocabulary about the Iran endgame…

The French, fresh from having led the way in Libya and having very neatly clapped a stopper on al Qaeda’s doings in Mali, have little patience with American waffling, according to Mr. Vinocur. Some factors that feed into that are the president’s sudden backing away in Syria, and a broken promise by then-SecDef Leon Panetta last year, who promised to give France any help it needed in Mali, only to be overruled by the White House.

American actions or inactions aside, I find it fascinating to see how aggressive France has become on the world stage the last couple of years….

Senate panel OKs limited action against Assad

Well, President Obama has passed his first hurdle in getting authority from Congress (authority he knows he already possesses, which I’m sorry, I just can’t stop pointing out) to take military action against the Assad regime in response to crimes against humanity.

The authority the panel’s resolution grants is limited, but not all that limited:

The Senate committee’s version, released late Tuesday by a bipartisan group of senators, would permit up to 90 days of military action against the Syrian government and bar the deployment of U.S. combat troops in Syria, while allowing a small rescue mission in the event of an emergency. The White House also would be required within 30 days of enactment of the resolution to send lawmakers a plan for a diplomatic solution to end the violence in Syria.

Opening a hearing Wednesday afternoon to consider amendments to the resolution, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it was “tightly tailored” to give the president the necessary authority but “does not authorize” the use of U.S. ground troops in Syria. The committee subsequently rejected, by a 14-4 vote, an amendment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would have imposed further restrictions by invoking provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution…

Still… it really bothers me for a commander in chief to go into a combat situation with his options for response to the situation limited. Dwight Eisenhower, who oversaw one of the most complex military plans in human history, the invasion of Normandy, famously and correctly said that before the battle begins, plans are everything. After the first shot is fired, they are nothing. You have to be able to react to the situation.

But this is about as good as it could get on the course that the president has chosen.

Unfortunately, it’s probably as good as it’s going to get, what with Rand Paul planning another of his filibuster stunts on the Senate floor, and the House prepared to do what it does best — pose and posture and demonstrate utter disregard for the responsibilities of governing.

Key Republicans line up behind action in Syria — but will the latter-day Robert Taft Republicans do so?

John Boehner and Eric Cantor have both joined Nancy Pelosi in lining up behind the president’s proposal to take limited military action in Syria.

There are reports that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are doing so as well, despite all the reservations they expressed the last couple of days.

That’s important, even impressive, given the problems Congress has had lining up behind anything in recent years.

But it doesn’t answer the big questions. A big reason why Congress has been so much more feckless than usual lately is that the leadership lining up behind a plan is not the same as Congress doing so.

One of the causes of the president’s highly disturbing indecision on this issue is attributable to the fact that his party has been drifting toward what has been its comfort zone since 1975 — reflexive opposition to any sort of military action.

But the real indecision is expected on the Republican side, where pre-1941 isolationism has been gaining a strong foothold in recent years.

In that vein, the WSJ had an interesting column today headlined, “The Robert Taft Republicans Return.” As Bret Stephens wrote,

Such faux-constitutional assertions—based on the notion that only direct attacks to the homeland constitute an actionable threat to national security—would have astonished Ronald Reagan, who invaded Grenada in 1983 without consulting a single member of Congress. It would have amazed George H.W. Bush, who gave Congress five hours notice before invading Panama. And it would have flabbergasted the Republican caucus of, say, 2002, which understood it was better to take care of threats over there rather than wait for them to arrive right here.

Then again, the views of Messrs. Paul, Lee and Amash would have sat well with Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio (1889-1953), son of a president, a man of unimpeachable integrity, high principles, probing intelligence—and unfailing bad judgment.

A history lesson: In April 1939, the man known as Mr. Republican charged that “every member of the government . . . is ballyhooing the foreign situation, trying to stir up prejudice against this country or that, and at all costs take the minds of the people off their trouble at home.” By “this country or that,” Taft meant Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The invasion of Poland was four months away.

Another history lesson: After World War II, Republicans under the leadership of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg joined Democrats to support the Truman Doctrine, the creation of NATO, and the Marshall Plan. But not Robert Taft. He opposed NATO as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, a provocation to Russia, and an undue burden on the federal fisc.

“Can we afford this new project of foreign assistance?” he asked in 1949. “I am as much against Communist aggression as anyone. . . but we can’t let them scare us into bankruptcy and the surrender of all liberty, or let them determine our foreign policies.” Substitute “Islamist” for “Communist” in that sentence, and you have a Rand Paul speech…

Obama powerfully makes case for action in Syria — then passes the buck

POTUS delivered an impressive speech in the Rose Garden today, strongly and ably making the case for why we need to act in Syria, then noting that he is fully empowered to act without anyone’s permission… and then saying he won’t decide, but will leave it to Congress.

You know, the body that can’t pass a budget. The gang that can’t raise the debt limit to keep the government functioning without a major, credit-rating-damaging meltdown. That’s who he’s asking to decide.

First, let’s quote some of the stronger passages in which the president makes the case for action:

This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security. It risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. It endangers our friends and our partners along Syria’s borders, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq. It could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons, or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm.

In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted.

Now, after careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets…

I’m prepared to give that order…

I’m confident in the case our government has made without waiting for U.N. inspectors. I’m comfortable going forward without the approval of a United Nations Security Council that, so far, has been completely paralyzed and unwilling to hold Assad accountable….

What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?

Make no mistake — this has implications beyond chemical warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorist who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us….

I will also deliver this message to the world. While the U.N. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted….

I don’t expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. Privately we’ve heard many expressions of support from our friends. But I will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action….

But we are the United States of America, and we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in Damascus. Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. We aren’t perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities…

Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country…. and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments. We do what we say. And we lead with the belief that right makes might — not the other way around.

We all know there are no easy options. But I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions….

I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage….

That’s the speech, without all the “buts” and “howevers” removed. Wow. Pretty powerful, huh? What a call to arms. Note the repeated use of the word, “must:” this menace must be confronted… it must be confronted…

Except, in the end, it isn’t. The president said, “I wasn’t elected to avoid hard decisions,” even as he was avoiding this hard decision. Actually, it’s weirder than that. He’s made up his mind, and one of the things he’s made up his mind about is that we really don’t have a choice. We must act. And yet, he won’t.

If the world were a debating society, this wouldn’t matter. Act today, next month, next year, it would all be the same. The important thing would be to let everyone fully have their say, and make sure everybody feels great about the ultimate decision (which ain’t gonna happen, but that seems to be the idea here).

But in the real world, it may already be too late to act with any effectiveness, in terms of degrading Assad’s air assets, or ability to launch future chemical attacks on his people — or having any other effect that would actually be helpful.

As the president says, “The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose.” So, if we’re going to do so, the time to do it is now. Or rather, yesterday. Or several months ago, when the president’s red line had already been crossed, and those 1,429 people were still alive, when those 400 children still had futures.

In short, I am most disappointed in the president’s abdication of responsibility — especially after he so ably made the case for immediate action.

rose garden

How much WMD is ‘a whole bunch?’

Those who wondered why the Obama administration had been slow, at least before the last few days, to acknowledge that Syria had crossed its red line — or to act (you know, by actually giving rebels those promised arms) when it did own up to it — must not have paid close attention to the specific words that the president used when he drew the line:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime … that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus…

How much WMD is “a whole bunch?” I don’t know. But I think maybe we’ve finally gotten to that point…

Egypt: Now that’s what I call a coup

Back in my day, a military coup d’état was a quiet affair. We had one when I was a kid living in Ecuador in the early ’60. One day, my parents informed me there had been a “coup.” I had never heard the word. They told me it was like a revolution — the president was gone, and a military junta was in charge. (Then they had to define “junta.” It was like a committee…)

A revolution? I went to the window and looked out. Same old street, nothing interesting going on. I had expected riots, violence, surging humanity. (The story I heard later was that they just let the president have a bit too much too drink — something that wasn’t hard — put him on an airplane, and let him wake up in Panama.)

In Egypt, they known how to have the kind of coup that I was expecting when I looked out that window. Millions surging in the streets. The military moving in, shutting down demonstrations, taking over state media, and tossing out the president who was so defiant, just last night. The latest, from the BBC:

The head of Egypt’s army has given a TV address, announcing that President Mohammed Morsi is no longer in office.

Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said the constitution had been suspended and the chief justice of the constitutional court would take on Mr Morsi’s powers.

Flanked by religious and opposition leaders, Gen Sisi said Mr Morsi had “failed to meet the demands of the Egyptian people”.

Anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo gave a huge cheer in response to the speech….

TV stations belonging to Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood went off air at the end of the speech….

The ousted leader’s current whereabouts are unclear…

See, now that’s a coup. Meanwhile, Morsi fights back on Twitter and Facebook. This sets up an interesting conflict between the old and the new: Is the Tweet mightier than the army? I love Twitter, but I’m old school; I’m betting on the big battalions this time.

What does it all mean, Mr. Natural? For the United States, it’s a touchy situation. This piece, written before the coup actually took place, sets out how touchy:

Over the past two years, post-revolution Egypt has been a policy minefield for the Obama administration, which has struggled to balance its support for a democratic transition with its need to preserve its interests in the region.

The latest chapter of Egypt’s fraught political transition, however, has left the administration in perhaps its most precarious position yet..

As Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi weathers a storm of opposition that could pave the way for a military coup, Washington and its ambassador in Cairo have emerged as lightning rods. Those calling for the dismissal of Morsi say the United States became too cozy with the Muslim Brotherhood, the political and social movement that brought the Islamist leader to power. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, warns that the United States is failing to speak out loudly and clearly against a military coup in the making.

After voicing support for Morsi, the Obama administration appeared to distance itself from him this week, with the White House issuing a statement saying that President Obama had told the embattled Egyptian leader in a phone call that the United States “does not support any single party or group.”

That may sound sort of hapless, but put yourself in the president’s position: Quick, who are the good guys in this mess? Not an easy question to answer…