State Department is hobbled by identity politics
The pending normalization of full diplomatic relations with Cuba is long overdue and it is to be hoped that the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program will survive a congressional onslaught next month. That is all to the good and the administration of President Barack Obama deserves full credit for persevering in spite of nearly incessant attacks from the Israeli and Cuban lobbies both in congress and the media.
But even as the dust begins to settle the New York Times is reporting on a new existential crisis: same-sex marriages in the Foreign Service explored in an article entitled “State Department Fights for Rights of Gay Envoys.” Not that the Gray Lady is opposed to same-sex marriages for diplomats, quite the contrary. Its concern is that many highly qualified diplomats are turning down assignments because some benighted countries do not recognize same-sex unions and therefore do not accept that a man plus man or woman plus woman relationship actually qualifies as a diplomatic family. Which means that some Foreign Ministries are denying visas or accreditation for same-sex spouses. Worse still, as many countries regard homosexual behavior as a criminal offense, it suggests the possibility that some categories of Embassy and Consular family members not covered by full diplomatic immunity might find themselves arrested.
The Obama Administration is predictably outraged and is reported to be frantically working on the problem with the State Department making “securing the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world a priority” (my emphasis). But to my mind the fundamental problem is not same-sex marriage per se, which most Americans now no longer oppose, but the failure to comprehend what Embassies and Consular posts are supposed to do coupled with a characteristic inability to understand that American principles and rules, such as they are, do not have universal applicability. This is particularly true in the case of gay marriage, which impacts on sincerely held religious views and which is still a bone of contention even in the relatively tolerant United States and Western Europe.
Government at the White House level frequently does not understand how the great federal bureaucracies actually work. Contrary to the Times headline, being part of a diplomatic mission is a privilege, not a universal right, and both by law and convention the host country pretty much sets the rules on who may enter and under what conditions.
The article quotes Michael Guest, a gay former ambassador to Romania, who said “It’s increasingly a problem, as some countries have wanted to take a stand on the issue of marriage equality that isn’t really theirs to take.” He is wrong. The Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations stipulates that any country can expel or refuse to accept the presence of a foreign diplomat without providing any reasons whatsoever. Article 9 includes “The receiving State may at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or that any other member of the staff of the mission is not acceptable.” This is an option that the United States has exercised frequently in espionage cases as well as more recently in refusing to issue a visa to a proposed Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, for which the U.S. is the host nation.
The United States has also somewhat more questionably taken steps to restrict the travels of accredited diplomats with whom it is uncomfortable. Soviet era dips from Eastern Europe and Russia were generally required to get approval for traveling more than 25 miles outside of New York City or Washington and there have been similar restrictions on the movement of both Palestinian and Iranian representatives. So the host country is not obligated to accept anyone else’s standards and can in many respects set whatever rules it wishes within its sovereign territory.
Past U.S. determinations of who or what was acceptable were based on what were deemed to be security issues but the same sex marriage problem is something quite different. To be sure there have been homosexuals in government since the time of Pharaoh Khufu, and the United States Department of State has long had considerably more than its share with the once-upon-a-time understanding that it was best to stay in the closet. This was the rule in post-World War 2 America, both for diplomats and intelligence personnel, and it was largely justified by the danger of blackmail or the creation of diplomatic “incidents” as homosexual activity was illegal almost everywhere. When I served in the Rome Embassy in the 1970s one particularly flamboyant political officer who was almost but not quite out of the closet was generally accepted until he was observed regularly cruising at odd hours in the nearby Villa Borghese Park, leading to his being warned to cool his jets lest he come to the attention of the Carabinieri, who at that time staged regular roundups at gay gatherings to target what was then regarded as public indecency.
But one’s sexual preferences were rarely a problem in Italy back then and even less so now as homosexual relations have been legal since 1890. Civil unions that guarantee property rights, pensions or inheritance without regard to gender do not, however, exist in law, which means there are no same-sex marriages. One imagines that same-sex couples who go to diplomatic posts in Italy do so with a wink and a nod from the authorities at the Foreign Ministry, who are not likely to make an issue out of it. But Italian deliberate ambiguity about what constitutes a marriage is not the norm everywhere else. By one estimate 50% of all Foreign Service posts do not recognize or accept same-sex diplomatic or official couples.
The State Department sensibly insists that all of its employees should be free to accept assignments anywhere in the world, but not so sensibly it has appointed a Special Envoy for the Rights of Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people, both politicizing the issue and turning American diplomats into promoters of personal choices that many foreigners consider immoral as well as illegal. And Congress has predictably jumped on the band wagon with 100 Congressmen (99 Democrats and one Republican) calling on State to reciprocate by denying visas for families of diplomats from countries that discriminate against homosexuals.
In tackling the LGBT issue as a global crusade while also making it a major concern for U.S. embassies the White House and Democrats in Congress are not really doing anyone any favors. Overseas diplomatic missions exist to benefit broad American national interests, not to promote specific group agendas or to confront the host country on its laws and customs. Ambassadors traditionally enabled dialogue and established communications channels among nations while the consular services provided a mechanism to help ensure that American travelers and businessmen would be treated fairly by the local authorities. Having an embassy did not mean that Americans should not be subject to local laws, nor did it serve as a blunt instrument to demand that the foreigners be required to accept American values and customs.
But that vision of diplomacy was all before “democracy promotion,” much loved by Democratic presidents enamored of social engineering, for whom LGBT is almost certainly seen as a subset of democracy. And if past experience of government is anything to go by, this Obama initiative will probably morph into a War on Homophobia under President Hillary Clinton complete with a Czar and a substantial budget to pay for lots of first class travel to hotspots like Copenhagen to participate in conferences convened by gay rights activists.
In truth, the democracy cum human rights agenda has undeniably done a great deal of damage to the United States. It is still falsely cited as the one benefit that came out of the invasion of Iraq and is also used to justify the continued presence in Afghanistan. It led to the unfortunate intervention in Libya, fueled the drive to “do something” in Syria, overthrew an elected government in Ukraine and it is also behind much of the criticism of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. In reality all the frenetic activity to turn the world into Peoria has produced little beyond trillions of dollars of debt, thousands of dead Americans and quite likely millions of dead foreigners.
And the focus on cultural and social issues is frequently a perversion of diplomacy. Some recent Ambassadorial appointees, to include Michael McFaul in Russia and Robert Ford in Syria, were intended to confront the domestic policies of local governments that Washington disapproved of rather than to engage with them in dialogue. Beyond that, America’s roving mischief makers to include the State Department’s Victoria Nuland and various Senators named McCain and Graham showed up regularly in troubled regions to harass the local authorities. To put it mildly, that is not what diplomacy is all about. Diplomacy is a process whereby no one wins everything while no one loses completely producing a result that everyone can live with. It is not about “We are right. Take it or leave it.”
It is indeed acceptable for a national government to urge greater tolerance as President Obama did on his recent trip to Africa but creating a bureaucracy to assert the global primacy of American values to include what constitutes a marriage benefits no one, least of all those being “protected,” as in many countries that would only serve to enable labeling the sexual dissidents as American agents. And the idea of punishing the families of diplomats from countries that see marriage differently is completely absurd as it will produce retaliation, damaging to genuine American interests and potentially threatening the security of U.S. diplomats overseas.
The entire feel good process of instructing others how to live derives from a peculiar American sense that we somehow understand important things better than anyone else and everyone should follow our lead. It is a dangerous conceit as it breeds resentment and inevitably leads to tit-for-tat responses that serve no purpose. The United States is already viewed negatively by a large part of the world. Adding fuel to the fire by complaining about others’ values while promoting marginal causes that inevitably will be controversial is not what most American citizens should expect from their government. Unfortunately it is all too often what we wind up getting.
Shaker Aamer © Wikipedia
American authorities are “shamefully” refusing to release Shaker Aamer, the last British resident detained at Guantanamo Bay, despite calls from Prime Minister David Cameron for the prisoner to be freed, a lawyer has claimed.
Aamer’s legal counsel Ramzi Kassem called on the British government to pressure the White House further after President Barack Obama promised to “prioritize” his case in January.
Kassem also blasted the US government for refusing to allow Aamer access to independent doctors, despite concerns over the neutrality of army medical personnel.
The New York-based lawyer said the physical condition of Aamer, who has been imprisoned without trial for 14 years, “deteriorates with each passing day.”
Kassem filed a 26-page motion at a court in Washington calling for the British resident to be examined by two independent doctors and an army doctor to gauge how Aamer is coping with post-traumatic stress.
The Department of Defense has rejected the request, claiming it is too “difficult.”
Aamer’s last independent assessment took place in October 2013, when Californian psychiatrist Dr. Emily Keram described he had been mentally “destroyed” by interrogators, who allegedly subjected him to sleep deprivation and beatings.
Law professor Kassem expressed dismay at the reluctance of US authorities to release Aamer.
“It is truly shameful that we have to litigate every step of the way despite the prime minister’s demand and the president’s pledge to prioritize Shaker’s case,” he said.
“The UK government must press the White House to make good on its promise. The only thing more shameful are the arguments the US government is making in court to prevent Shaker’s examination.”
Cameron raised the issue with Obama on his official visit to the US earlier this year.
Obama promised to “prioritize” the case in January, but Aamer’s legal team claim nothing has been done to progress his case.
Writing in the Guardian last Friday, Aamer’s UK lawyer Clive Stafford Smith claimed the US military has deliberately ignored Obama’s order in breach of the constitution.
“President Obama, it seems, has personally ordered Aamer’s release, and his subordinates have ignored and thwarted his order,” Smith wrote.
“The contravention of the president’s orders indicates that there is a profound problem with the state of democracy in America.”
Kassem slammed the US government for not taking Aamer’s physical and mental health seriously.
He condemned the United States’ “self-servingly attempts to dismiss Mr. Aamer’s reliably-diagnosed and grave ailments as only ‘minor long-term impairments.’”
Aamer has never been charged with a crime or faced trial since he arrived at the high security prison in Cuba.
In describing his treatment at Guantanamo Bay, Aamer said he was stripped of his pride.
“I was not a human being any more. I meant nothing to them. I lost my dignity, my pride,” he said.
“I had to take off my underwear and hand it to them. I had sleep deprivation for 11 days. That made me crazy. They poured cold water over me. They kept me standing for 20 hours a day. I had to hold my hands and arms out.
“All of the statements I made at Bagram were during the sleep deprivation. I would have said anything. I told them, ‘I will tell you I am Bin Laden if you want me to,’” he said.
Aamer was arrested in 2001 in Afghanistan and subsequently moved to Guantanamo Bay, where in 2007 the US military claimed he was a “close associate” of Osama Bin Laden and a “recruiter, financier, and facilitator” for Al-Qaeda.
The Saudi citizen has always insisted he was only in the country to perform charitable work and said he confessed to being a jihadist while being tortured at the hands of the CIA.
Right before Congress left for its annual summer vacation the Obama Administration endorsed the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA). EFF opposes the bill because its vague definitions, broad legal immunity, and new spying powers allow for a tremendous amount of unnecessary damage to users’ privacy. Just last week the Department of Homeland Security agreed and criticized CISPA for its lack of privacy protections. More importantly, CISA fails to address the causes of the recent highly publicized data breaches.
The Obama administration’s endorsement is a complete reversal from its previous stance on privacy-invasive cybersecurity bills. In 2012, the White House published a detailed two-page veto threat against CISA’s antecedent, the Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). In the letter the Administration noted CISPA:
lacks sufficient limitations on the sharing of personally identifiable information between private entities
and that it would
inappropriately shield companies from any suits where a company’s actions are based on cyber threat information identified, obtained, or shared under this bill, regardless of whether that action otherwise violated Federal criminal law or results in damage or loss of life.
The same is true of CISA, which is why the Administration should’ve vetoed the bill. Like CISPA, CISA
- Adds a new authority for companies to monitor information systems to protect an entity’s hardware or software.
- Fails to mandate companies and the government remove unrelated personal information before sharing it with government agencies like the NSA.
- Grants broad legal immunity to companies for sharing more private information with the government than they’re currently permitted to do.
Lastly, CISA, like CISPA, doesn’t address problems identified by recent data breaches like unencrypted files, poor computer architecture, un-updated servers, and employees (or contractors) clicking malware links.
The administration has invested immense capital into looking strong on cybersecurity since January. And instead of publishing another veto threat, the White House Press Secretary urged the Senate to pass CISA. There was no deep analysis as in 2012. There was no explanation about CISA’s own privacy problems. And there was no acknowledgement about the White House’s sudden change in position.
Even though the President wants to sign the bill, the Senate must pass CISA first. Privacy advocates have defeated these “cybersecurity bills” five times in the past five years. In July, users and privacy advocates postponed a vote on CISA after sending over 6 million faxes opposing CISA to Senators during a Week of Action. Unfortunately, the vote was only postponed to mid-September when Congress gets back from vacation.
We must continue the pressure on the Senate to stop this bill. Please join us in continuing to tell our Senators to say no to CISA.
A prisoner of US military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay may soon starve to death, as after more than eight years of force-feeding his body is said to be unable to take the nutrients he is pumped with. The DoD opposed the ailing man’s release.
Tariq Ba Odah, a Saudi resident of Yemeni descent, was captured in Pakistan and held in Guantanamo facility since 2002. In 2009 he was cleared for release by the Obama administration, but remains in US custody. In 2007 he went on a hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without charges. After more than eight years without taking food voluntarily, he weighs less than 34 kilograms and may soon die, his lawyer says.
“Common sense dictates that Mr. Ba Odah is starving because his body is failing to properly absorb and process the liquid calories and nutrients he is being force fed. No other conclusion is viable unless one presumes the government intends to maintain him at just 56 percent of his ideal body weight while he is on hunger strike,” Omar Farah, his lawyer provided by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), wrote in a legal memorandum.
The CCR sought to secure Ba Odah’s transfer on humanitarian grounds through a US federal court. But the habeas corpus petition has been opposed by the Department of Justice, which late on Friday submitted a filing opposing it. The filing was kept under seal, which is “rare and unnecessary,” as CCR’s Wells Dixon told the Guardian newspaper
Ba Odah’s lawyer Farah said the rights group was “deeply disappointed by this secret filing.”
“It is a transparent attempt to hide the fact that the Obama administration’s interagency process for closing Guantánamo is an incoherent mess, and it is plainly intended to conceal the inconsistency between the administration’s stated intention to close Guantánamo and the steps taken to transfer cleared men. The administration simply wants to avoid public criticism and accountability,” he said.
An anonymous US official confirmed the assessment to the British newspaper, saying the government wants to avoid embarrassment rather than protect classified information by sealing the motion. The source added that hardliners in the Pentagon, who consider hunger striking a form of warfare, would not allow Ba Odah’s struggle for release to be unchallenged. Otherwise it would encourage other hunger strikers and make the DoD appear suffering a substantive defeat, the reasoning goes.
The US mishandles the hunger strike issue at Guantanamo bay, a problem that is far from being unique to that facility, RT was told by Scott Allen, professor of medicine at the University of California, who was part of a task force that examined force feeding procedures that are carried out at detention centers.
“The key mistake that the Department of Defense has made in its approach to hunger strikes is that it thinks of them too often collectively,” he said. “If they are concerned about the life of this individual, which is what they had stated the goal was all along, they need to focus on his case and his case alone and develop a plan that would preserve his life and his dignity.”
President Barack Obama made shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison a campaign issue during his first campaign, but failed to deliver on the promise. The latest move by his administration is to speed up transfer of roughly half of the prison’s 116 inmate population to other countries and have the rest relocated into high security prisons on US soil.
The plan was criticized by rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it fails to address the wider issue with keeping people detained for decades without charges in a denial of core western values.
A bad idea doesn’t somehow become a good idea just because five years have gone by. But the Obama White House and Sen. John McCain seem ready to recycle a proposal that was overwhelmingly rejected in 2010.
President Obama has renewed his commitment to closing Guantánamo before he leaves office, and McCain (R-Ariz.) said he might be able to support closure. However, there has always been a right way and a wrong way to close Guantánamo. The restrictions the Senate has passed, along with the latest proposal floated by the White House to move some detainees to the United States for indefinite detention without charge or trial, is the wrong way.
Guantánamo has never been just about the prison. Instead, Guantánamo has been about our government violating the rule of law and ducking American values. From torture and abuse during the Bush administration to indefinite detention and defective military commissions extending through the Bush and Obama administrations, Guantánamo has been a place where our government behaves like a human rights pariah instead of a human rights beacon.
The solution can never be to simply pack up both the detainees and bad policies at Guantánamo and ship them to some new prison here in the United States. No. The only meaningful solution is to close Guantánamo by ending indefinite detention without charge or trial, transferring the detainees who have been cleared for transfer, and trying detainees for whom there is evidence of wrongdoing in our federal criminal courts in the U.S., which regularly try terrorism suspects, including high-profile ones.
But instead of doing the hard work of closing Guantánamo the right way, the Obama White House is reportedly dusting off the same plan that Congress overwhelmingly rejected in 2010. The “plan” would involve transferring overseas all cleared detainees (an excellent idea, but one that actually needs to be completed now, not when this “plan” goes into effect), but then setting up prisons in the U.S. to continue the indefinite detention of men who have been imprisoned for more than a decade without ever being charged with any crime. Other detainees would be put on trial — but some of them would be tried before the same unfair military commissions used at Guantánamo. The result would be moving Guantanamo, not closing it.
McCain has a hand in it too. As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he sponsored the Senate’s National Defense Authorization Act, which would allow indefinite detention and military commissions to be brought to the U.S. as part of closing Guantánamo — but only if both houses of Congress approve the president’s plan. Of course, anything requiring both houses of Congress to approve almost anything from the president is a political non-starter. But this provision is still being sold as a step towards closing Guantánamo.
A particularly bizarre bit of news about the White House plan this week came in a Washington Post report that said that the White House was considering setting up a nearly empty prison in Thomson, Illinois, as a site for indefinite detention of Guantánamo detainees. This exact same plan, with the exact same prison in Illinois, was rejected by a House vote of 353-69 in 2010. Then Attorney General Eric Holder later swore that the Thomson prison would never be used for that purpose.
The ACLU said back in 2009 that shipping indefinite detention north was the wrong way to close Guantánamo, and it still is the wrong way to close Guantánamo. Bad ideas don’t get better by just sitting on the shelf. It’s time to close Guantánamo the right way, by charging in federal court any detainee who can be charged and ending indefinite detention for everyone else. If a prosecutor can’t put together a case against someone who has been sitting in prison for as long as 13 years, there is no reason that person should continue to sit in prison, whether in Guantánamo or someplace else.
Let’s close it the right way.
In a recent letter to US President Barack Obama twelve Nobel Peace laureates declared their support for the long history of US elite violence against Native Americans and enslaved Africans, as well as the US imperial violence around the world that has butchered tens of millions of people over the past 200 years. See US: An End to Torture: Twelve Nobel Peace Prize laureates write to President Barack Obama asking the US to close the dark chapter on torture once and for all. Obama responds.
The letter to Obama was signed by ex-President José Ramos-Horta (Timor-Leste, prize recipient in 1996), Archbishop Desmond Tutu (South Africa, 1984), Leymah Gbowee (Liberia, 2011), Mohammad ElBaradei (Egypt, 2005), Jody Williams (USA, 1997), Muhammad Yunus (Bangladesh, 2006), F.W. De Klerk (South Africa, 1993), John Hume (Northern Ireland, 1998), Oscar Arias Sanchez (Costa Rica, 1987), Bishop Carlos X. Belo (Timor-Leste, 1996), Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina, 1980) and Betty Williams (Northern Ireland, 1976).
The letter, the response from Obama and a subsequent article written by Ramos-Horta – see Obama: The Courage to Say “We Were Wrong” – were a stark reminder, to those of us who struggle to end the violence in our world, of what genuine peace activists are up against.
It was also a stark reminder that the Nobel Peace Prize, founded in response to the will of Alfred Nobel following his death in 1896, to be awarded to a person ‘who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses’ – see The establishment of the Peace Prize – was corrupted beyond recognition a long time ago, as has been carefully documented by Fredrik S. Heffermehl in The Nobel Peace Prize Watch and again graphically illustrated by its recent award to a prominent perpetrator of violence like Barack Obama. See Understanding Obama and Other People Who Kill (In fairness, perhaps, it should be noted that Obama is not the most violent recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize: that title should no doubt go to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.)
Ostensibly written by the twelve laureates to ask Obama to end the extensive US torture program, the letter includes the following words:
‘The United States, born of the concept of the inherent equality of all before the law, has been since its inception a hallmark that would be emulated by countries and entire regions of the world. For more than two centuries, it has been the enlightened ideals of America’s founders that changed civilization on Earth for the better, and made the US a giant among nations.’
Given the systematic atrocities planned, organised, sponsored, financed and committed by the US government throughout its history, which have been carefully documented by one author after another, one can only presume that the authors of the letter are delusional, incredibly ignorant or utterly devoid of compassion for those who have suffered or are still suffering from the extraordinary violence inflicted by military and economic forces controlled by the United States elite.
In relation to the domestic history of the United States, perhaps they should read Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States: 1492 – Present or they might try a shorter, more recent book in which Professor Timothy Braatz noted that US society was organized around the violent dispossession of Native communities, the enslavement of blacks, the marginalization of women, the exploitation of working people and industrial warfare. See Peace Lessons.
This seems a long way from the ‘enlightened ideals of America’s founders that changed civilization on Earth for the better’ to which our Noble peace laureates refer. And I’m sure that if they care to go out and ask a sample of Native Americans, African-Americans, women, working people and soldiers suffering from PTSD, they will get more insight into the accuracy of their claim as it stands today.
And what of the US impact on the rest of the world? Incredibly, in his article, Ramos-Horta says that ‘many of us on the other side of the world were touched forever when the Kennedys came out in support of the rights of Africans to rule themselves’. Is he naïve? A sycophant? Has he forgotten the vital role, extensively documented in the US National Security Archive, played by the US government in supporting the Indonesian occupation of his own country? See A Quarter Century of U.S. Support for Occupation.
I wonder what Desmond Tutu thinks of Ramos-Horta’s comment. Tutu, at least, should know what happened to the visionary leader of the newly independent Congo – see Patrice Lumumba: the most important assassination of the 20th century – and have some idea of the history of US violence throughout Africa, Asia and Central/South America, killing true leaders and installing US stooges so that western corporations can ruthlessly exploit their natural resources. For a taste of the extensive documentation of this point, see many of the books by Noam Chomsky and the recent book by Andre Vltchek Exposing Lies of the Empire.
I am only too familiar with the truth being butchered by elites and their agents in academia and the corporate media. But to read the truth being butchered so ruthlessly by Nobel Peace laureates is nauseating indeed.
Let us hope that those Nobel peace laureates who did not sign this letter will share their response to it with us.
I am deeply committed to searching out ways to resolve all conflicts nonviolently. But we must always start with the truth. Deluding ourselves about history or letting perpetrators get away with violence in the hope that they will be kinder to us next time does not work. Despite his pretty words, Obama will not change – see The Destruction of Barack Obama – and the US elite would not allow him to change should he seriously consider doing so. See The Global Elite is Insane.
If you have the courage to acknowledge and act on the truth, you are welcome to consider signing the online pledge of The People’s Charter to Create a Nonviolent World which has been signed by one honest and genuinely admirable Nobel peace laureate already.
And remember this: if you have not won the Nobel Peace Prize, you are in the same category as Mohandas K. Gandhi and many other fine people around the world who still struggle relentlessly for a world without violence whatever personal price they may pay.
Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His email address is email@example.com and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com
On August 3, President Obama declared that “under the Clean Power Plan, by 2030, renewables will account for 28% of our capacity,” and “will save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030.”
In the accompanying EPA rule, the word renewables is not used consistently. Sometimes it includes hydroelectric power, sometimes not. Sometimes the focus is on wind and solar power, sometimes it is broader. As the readers are aware, capacity is not the same thing as generation, and for generation, prices vary widely during the day. This makes it unclear how we get from a 28% capacity to $85 in annual savings. It is common for energy analysts to use levelized costs to compare different sources, but a residential consumer is paying for 24/7 access to a working grid, not for electricity from individual sources.
Without any enabling legislation, President Obama plans to force the United States to make an enormous capital investment, of the order of a trillion dollars, in wind and solar power and the associated grid infrastructure. Politicians often talk about investments when they mean forced transfers, but this really would be an investment, and the goal of this post is to estimate the return for the consumer. The post was inspired by a post by Willis Eschenbach at What’s Up With That. I will not consider the health and climate impacts of the plan. Judy Curry started the discussion of these in her August 3 post.
If the residential electricity bills actually do go down $85 a year as President Obama promised, then that $85 would be the return on our investment. To evaluate an investment, we divide it by the annual return to get a payback time. The situation is different if the electricity bills go up. The return is negative. We are never paid back and we have also lost our investment. One can still calculate a payback time using the same formula but we get a negative payback time, which is worse than any investment with a positive payback time. The readers who are scientists and engineers may appreciate the analogy to negative-temperature systems that are hotter than any system with a positive temperature. Among those awful investments with negative payback times, the smaller the negative payback time the worse the investment.
One complication in assessing a return on wind and solar investments is that the primary subsidies for renewables in the United States are the 30% federal tax credit and the 2.2¢/kWh producer tax credit for wind. These subsidies are effectively paid for by the people who pay income taxes. The toll falls heavily on the upper 1% in income who pay 46% of net US income taxes. Another problem in assessing a possible return is that the US has not gotten very far in wind and solar power. They accounted for only 4% of the electricity generation in 2013.
Europe is a better place to evaluate an investment in wind and solar power. The primary subsidy in Europe is a feed-in-tariff. Who pays in the end is different from the US. The people who are well off enough to buy solar arrays effectively are paid by the people who are not well off enough to buy solar arrays. I will leave the question of whether this is good social policy or not to the Europeans, but for this post it is useful because it means that the residential electricity bills reflect the wind and solar installation costs. It also helps that Europe has installed more than twice as much wind and solar capacity as the US.
Our starting point is Figure 1, which shows a plot of residential electricity prices compared with the residential component of wind and solar capacity for OECD-Europe countries. The data and the figures for this post are available as an Excel file. Willis Eschenbach and Jonathan Drake also made price plots for EU countries. Our emphasis will be on the higher-income European countries that are members of the OECD. Some countries, like Norway and Switzerland, are in OECD Europe but not the EU, while Romania is in the EU, but not the OECD. BP deems that Estonia, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Slovenia are not significant enough to include in their electricity spreadsheets, and I omitted them also.
The residential component of the wind and solar capacity is calculated from the residential share of the final consumption reported by the IEA. At 15¢/kWh, Norway is an outlier, well below the other countries. It has a very large per-person residential consumption of electricity generated by hydroelectric power. Norway also provides profitable balancing services to the continent, consuming wind and solar electricity when the price is low and providing hydroelectric power when the price is high. Roger Andrews has an excellent post on this balancing. The trend line is calculated without Norway. Incidentally, the US residential price is 12¢/kWh, even lower than Norway. The US has low-cost natural gas and coal and the US emphasizes tax credits rather than feed-in-tariffs to subsidize wind and solar power. As Willis noted, higher wind and solar capacities are associated with higher prices. For European consumers the return on their wind and solar investment is negative.
Figure 1. Residential electricity prices vs the residential component of the per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. The electricity prices are taken from the IEA, the capacities from BP, and the populations from the UN. Data are for 2013, except for the Spanish price, where I filled from 2011. The IEA prices are converted at the market exchange rates.
How negative is the return? I propose that we interpret the y-intercept of the trend line, 18.8¢/kWh, as the price of electricity without any wind or solar capacity. As a check, in Germany in 2000, when the wind and solar capacity were negligible, the price was 16.3¢/kWh, expressed in 2013 dollars with BP’s deflator. The difference between the actual price and the zero-wind-and-solar price becomes a per kWh surcharge for the wind and solar capacity.
If we multiply this by the annual residential consumption we get an annual per-person wind and solar surcharge. These are shown in Figure 2. Again there is a clear trend. More capacity is associated with a greater surcharge. The slope of the trend line in the figure is $1.14/y/W. If we divide this by the average cost of the cumulative wind and solar capacity, we get the return on the investment, which will be negative. I will take the average cost to be $4/W. Expressed as a negative payback time, this is 3.5 years. Expressed as a negative return, it is 29% per year.
Figure 2. Calculated annual per-person wind and solar surcharge vs the residential component of per-person wind and solar capacity for OECD Europe Countries. Hungary (11W/p, –$7/p/y) is omitted from the graph, but included in the trend calculation. The trend is constrained to go through the origin.
As investments, these are inconceivably bad and we would expect large opportunity costs at the national level. It is interesting that if we start on the right in our graphs and move left past Denmark and Germany, the big spenders are the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain) that have been in the financial doghouse in recent years.
For consumers, the high electricity prices discourage the use of electricity for increasing safety. During the great European Heat Wave of 2003, 70,000 people died, most of them indoors. This is a horrible way to die. The people who were indoors could have been saved by a $140 Frigidaire window unit, but only if they could afford to pay for the electricity.
Dave Rutledge is the Tomayasu Professor of Electrical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology.
The US Mission to NATO has confirmed that Washington is deploying six F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to Turkey. They are heading to the Incirlik airbase in the south of the country to help NATO in their fight against Islamic State.
The US representatives to the alliance made the statement in a message published on their Twitter feed. Aside from the six fighter jets, two other military aircraft will be travelling to Turkey from an undisclosed location in Europe.
The Anadolu Agency reports that the contingent includes a C-5 transport plane plus a KC-135 refueling aircraft.
Around 300 airmen from the 31st Fighter Wing are also being sent to Turkey, to help support Operation Inherent Resolve, according to the US military website Stripes.
The US had previously only used the Incirlik airbase, which is near the southern city of Adana, for unmanned reconnaissance missions.
Sunday’s announcement follows a decision by Ankara to allow the US to use the airbase near the Syrian border, to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State (IS). The proximity of the base means that US planes can reach IS targets in only 30 minutes.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Pentagon confirmed an unmanned drone was launched from Incirlik Air Base and that it hit a number of targets near Raqqa, which is IS’s stronghold in Syria. He also said preparations were underway for strikes inside Syria by manned US warplanes, Reuters reported.
“As part of our agreement with the US, we have made progress regarding the opening up of our bases, particularly Incirlik,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier told state broadcaster TRT, as cited by Reuters.
Turkey had been against the US and NATO using airbases in the country to conduct airstrikes against Islamic State.
However, Ankara made a sudden U-turn. In return for Washington’s use of Incirlik, Ankara has asked the US to establish a no-fly zone over Syria and a “security zone” along the Turkish border, according to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, who outlined the deal in July.
The attack by an Islamic State suicide bomber in July, which killed 32 people and injured more than 100, was the main reason for Ankara’s U-turn. It was the first time that IS had conducted an attack on Turkish soil. The group struck a cultural center in the mainly Kurdish border town of Suruc.
The US will invest $68 million to develop military base infrastructure in Estonia, as part of European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) that offers Eastern European countries additional military aid and training to better serve NATO interests near the Russian borders.
The announcement of additional funding comes as a US delegation visited the tiny Baltic state to meet Estonian Defense Minister Sven Mikser. Headed by Congressman Rob Wittman, the US side promised to invest in Estonia’s military bases in Amari and Tapa.
The development project will be implemented “through NATO’s support program of eastern countries European Reassurance Initiative (ERI),” Estoinia’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
The Soviet-built army base at Tapa is one of the Estonian Army’s largest military bases. It is excellent for live artillery firing training and maneuvers. The Soviet Amari Air Base will serve as a NATO airfield in the future.
“Head of the [US] delegation… Rob Wittman said that the presence of US troops was important, because the rotation of US soldiers in Estonia would help them gain experience and knowledge of the situation in the region,” the Ministry added.
The ERI, funded through Congress, was introduced by President Barack Obama last year and is designed to keep Russia in place after its alleged “aggression” in the Ukrainian conflict. The program aims to create a permanent US air, land, and sea presence in the region, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.
Since June, Washington has pledged to develop military training facilities in six countries on or close to Russia’s borders including Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. In fact, news from Estonia comes the same day as Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita reported that a former Polish military base in the town of Ciechanow may now be used to house American troops.
Trying to rally public support for a diplomatic agreement to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, President Barack Obama went to American University in Washington D.C., where – in 1963 – President John F. Kennedy gave perhaps his greatest speech arguing against the easy talk of war in favor of the difficult work for peace.
Obama’s speech lacked the universal appeal and eloquent nobility of Kennedy’s oration, but represented in a programmatic way what Kennedy also noted, that the details and deal-making of diplomacy are often less dramatic than the clenching of fists and the pounding of chests that rally a nation to war. Obama went through the pluses of what he felt the Iran deal would achieve and the minuses of what its rejection would cause.
Obama said congressional approval of the agreement would gain the narrow but important goal of ensuring that Iran won’t get a nuclear weapon while congressional rejection would lead toward another war in the Middle East, thus adding to the chaos started by President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option, another war in the Middle East. I say this not to be provocative, I am stating a fact,” Obama said.
“So let’s not mince words. The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”
Obama also called out many of the deal’s opponents, noting that many were vocal advocates for invading Iraq and that some are now openly acknowledging their preference for another war against Iran.
Obama said, “They’re opponents of this deal who accept the choice of war. In fact, they argue that surgical strikes against Iran’s facilities will be quick and painless. But if we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.
“The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences. We can also be sure that the Americans who bear the heaviest burden are the less-than-1 percent of us, the outstanding men and women who serve in uniform, and not those of us who send them to war.”
Still a ‘War President’
Apparently seeking to establish his own credibility as a “war president,” Obama also took note of how many countries he has launched military attacks in and against during his presidency:
“I’ve ordered military action in seven countries. There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it’s possible that we don’t have an alternative. But how can we, in good conscience, justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives, that has been agreed to by Iran, that is supported by the rest of the world and that preserves our option if the deal falls short?
“How could we justify that to our troops? How could we justify that to the world or to future generations? In the end, that should be a lesson that we’ve learned from over a decade of war. On the front end, ask tough questions, subject our own assumptions to evidence and analysis, resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war, worry less about being labeled weak, worry more about getting it right.”
One might note that as worthy as those guidelines are, they have often been violated by the Obama administration, such as its dubious allegations against the Syrian government regarding the infamous sarin gas attack on Aug. 21, 2013, and against Russia over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. In both cases, Obama and his administration have kept from public view evidence that they claim to possess while decrying skeptics who have questioned the conventional wisdom.
But Obama did take to task the neoconservatives and other warmongers who have followed a pattern of exaggerating dangers to frighten the American people into support for more warfare:
“I know it’s easy to play in people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich, but none of these arguments hold up. They didn’t back in 2002, in 2003, they shouldn’t now. That same mind-set in many cases offered by the same people, who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong.”
In conclusion, Obama added,
“John F. Kennedy cautioned here more than 50 years ago at this university that the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war. But it’s so very important. It is surely the pursuit of peace that is most needed in this world so full of strife.”
Usual Iran Bashing
Yet, while Obama made an impassioned case for a diplomatic solution to the Iran-nuclear dispute – and defended the details of the agreement – he also drifted back into the typical propagandistic Iran bashing that has become de rigueur in Official Washington.
Obama salted his praise for diplomacy with the typical insults toward Iran, portraying it as some particularly aggressive force for evil in the Middle East, juxtaposed against the forces for good, such as Saudi Arabia, the Gulf sheikdoms and Israel – all of which have spread more violence and chaos in the Middle East than Iran.
In that sense, Obama’s speech fell far short of the statement of universal principles on behalf of humanity that was the hallmark of Kennedy’s speech on June 10, 1963, a declaration that was remarkable coming at a peak of the Cold War and almost unthinkable today amid the petty partisan rhetoric of American politicians. In contrast to Obama’s cheap shots at Iran, Kennedy refrained from gratuitous Moscow bashing.
Instead, Kennedy outlined the need to collaborate with Soviet leaders to avert dangerous confrontations, like the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Kennedy also declared that it was wrong for America to seek world domination, and he asserted that U.S. foreign policy must be guided by a respect for the understandable interests of adversaries as well as allies. Kennedy said:
“What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”
Standing Up to Cynics
Kennedy recognized that his appeal for this serious pursuit of peace would be dismissed by the cynics and the warmongers as unrealistic and even dangerous. But he was determined to change the frame of the foreign policy debate, away from the endless bravado of militarism:
“I speak of peace, therefore, as the necessary, rational end of rational men. I realize the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war, and frequently the words of the pursuers fall on deaf ears. But we have no more urgent task. …
“Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are manmade; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”
And then, in arguably the most important words that he ever spoke, Kennedy said, “For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.”
Kennedy followed up his AU speech with practical efforts to work with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to rein in dangers from nuclear weapons and to discuss other ways of reducing international tensions, initiatives that Khrushchev welcomed although many of the hopeful prospects were cut short by Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.
Kennedy’s AU oration was, in many ways, a follow-up to what turned out to be President Dwight Eisenhower’s most famous speech, his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961. That’s when Eisenhower ominously warned that,
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. … We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”
Arguably no modern speeches by American presidents were as important as those two. Without the phony trumpets that often herald what are supposed to be “important” presidential addresses, Eisenhower’s stark warning and Kennedy’s humanistic appeal defined the challenges that Americans have faced in the more than half century since then.
Those two speeches, especially Eisenhower’s phrase “military-industrial complex” and Kennedy’s “we all inhabit this small planet,” resonate to the present because they were rare moments when presidents spoke truthfully to the American people.
Nearly all later “famous” remarks by presidents were either phony self-aggrandizement (Ronald Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” – when the wall wasn’t torn down until George H.W. Bush was president and wasn’t torn down by Mikhail Gorbachev anyway but by the German people). Or they are unintentionally self-revealing (Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” or Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”)
Obama has yet to leave behind any memorable quote, despite his undeniable eloquence. There are his slogans, like “hope and change” and some thoughtful speeches about race and income inequality, but nothing of the substance and the magnitude of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” and Kennedy’s “we all inhabit this small planet.”
Despite the practical value of Obama’s spirited defense of the Iran nuclear deal, nothing in his AU speech on Wednesday deserved the immortality of the truth-telling by those two predecessors.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
We’ve now spent three weeks watching American politicians argue needlessly over the Iran nuclear deal. For or against, they all miss this one salient point: It is the US that needed to end this standoff with Iran – not the other way around.
For years we have been hearing that US sanctions “were biting” and had “teeth.” Sanctions, it was said, would “change Iranian behaviors,” whether in regards to the Islamic Republic’s “support of terrorism,” its “calculations” over its nuclear program, or by turning popular Iranian sentiment against its government.
Here is US President Obama spinning the fairytale at full volume:
“We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy… And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power.”
There is, of course, scant evidence that any of this is true.
If anything, on the economic front, the net effect of sanctions has been to rally Iranians behind domestic production and thrift – establishing both the discipline and policy focus necessary to sustain the country indefinitely. A 2013 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report explains this unintended consequence of sanctions:
“There is a growing body of opinion and Iranian assertions that indicates that Iran, through actions of the government and the private sector, is mitigating the economic effect of sanctions. Some argue that Iran might even benefit from sanctions over the long term by being compelled to diversify its economy and reduce dependence on oil revenues. Iran’s 2013-2014 budget relies far less on oil exports than have previous budgets, and its exports of minerals, cement, urea fertilizer, and other agricultural and basic industrial goods are increasing substantially.”
Sanctions didn’t succeed on the political front either. By in large, Iranians did not hold their leadership responsible for sanctions-related economic duress, nor did they seek rapprochement with the West as a way out. The US continues to flog the narrative that Iranians elected President Hassan Rouhani in a bid to “moderate” foreign policy stances, but a survey conducted by US pollster Zogby Research Services in the immediate aftermath of Rouhani’s election turns that premise on its head:
Ninety-six percent of Iranians surveyed agreed with the statement that “maintaining the right to advance a nuclear program is worth the price being paid in economic sanctions and international isolation.” Of those polled, a mere five percent of Iranians felt that improved relations with the US and the West were their top priority.
No, sanctions have not worked in any of the ways they were intended.
So if the Iranians were not ‘dragged’ to the negotiating table, then what was the sudden incentive behind a multilateral effort to forge a deal in 2015 – 36 years after the first US non-nuclear sanctions were levied against the Islamic Republic, and nine years after the UN Security Council first issued nuclear-related sanctions?
Keep in mind that both the Iranians and the permanent members of the UNSC have offered up proposals to end the nuclear deadlock since 2003. So why, this deal, now?
Could it be that the Americans had simply blinked first?
And the world turned
It must be understood that much of this nuclear brouhaha has nothing to do with Iran actually possessing or aspiring to possess nuclear weapons. The Islamic Republic neither has nuclear weapons, nor does it profess to want them.
US intelligence agencies, over the years, have conceded that Iran has not even made the “decision” to pursue weaponization, and the IAEA has repeatedly stated in 52 periodic assessment reports that there has been “no diversion” of nuclear materials to a weapons program.
In short, all the fuss has really only ever been about containing, isolating and taming a developing nation with aspirations that challenge Empire’s hegemony. Iran was never going to be able to change the rules of the game single-handedly. That is, until the game itself shifted hands and direction.
In 2012, cracks in the global economic and political power structures started to shift dramatically. We started to see the emergence of the BRICS, in particular Russia and China, as influential movers of global events. Whether it was a shift in trading currencies from the conventional dollar/euro to the rupee/yuan/ruble, or the emergence of new global economic/defense institutions initiated by BRICS member states, the world’s middle powers began to assert themselves and project power on the international stage.
But it was in the vast and complicated Middle East arena that old power and new power came to clash most ferociously.
In November 2011, the year of the Arab uprisings, the BRICS announced their first collective foreign policy statement, urging the rejection of foreign intervention in Syria’s internal affairs.
By 2012, it started becoming clear that the crisis in Syria was being heavily fomented by external players, including the three UNSC Western permanent members, the US, UK and France and their regional allies, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO-member Turkey.
In 2012, it also became clear that Al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist fighters were dominating the opposition inside the Syrian military theater and that these elements were being backed by the United States and its allies.
The American calculus, at this point, was to allow and even encourage the proliferation of fighters prepared to unseat the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, anticipating that at some future date they could then reverse the gains of radicals.
Assad did not fall, but extremism – fueled by funding, arming and training from US allies – entrenched itself further in Syria.
This did not go unnoticed in Washington, which has always struggled to make a coherent case for its Syria strategies. The rise of ISIS (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and the flood of jihadists into the Syrian theater began to change the American calculations. The US began to work on hedging its bets… and that is when Iran began to factor significantly in America’s Plan B.
That Plan B began in mid-2012, just as Saudi Arabia’s incoming intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan was preparing for a violent escalation in Syria, one that would exacerbate the Islamist militancy in the Levant exponentially.
That July, secret backchannel talks between the United States and Iran were established in Oman, kicked off, according to the Wall Street Journal, by “a pattern of inducements offered by Washington to coax Tehran to the table.”
Take note that the Americans initiated this process, not the allegedly “sanctions-fatigued” Iranians, and that this outreach began when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the helm, not his successor Rouhani.
Iran – or bust
Iran’s elite Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani said a few months ago: “Today, there is nobody in confrontation with [IS] except the Islamic Republic of Iran, as well as nations who are next to Iran or supported by Iran.”
If you look at the array of ground forces amassed against Islamist radicals from Lebanon to Iraq, they consist almost entirely of elements allied with the Islamic Republic, or are recipients of weapons and sometimes training provided by the Iranians.
There are no combat forces from Western states and none from their Arab or Turkish allies within the region.
‘Boots on the ground’ are essential in asymmetrical warfare, but the US military will continue to oppose inserting its troops into direct combat situations in Syria and Iraq.
In a Telegraph op-ed on the eve of the Vienna nuclear agreement, Britain’s influential former ambassador to Washington Christopher Meyer wrote:
“Whether we like it or not, we are in de facto alliance against ISIL with Assad of Syria and with Iran, the implacable foe of our long-standing ally, Sunni Saudi Arabia…. if ISIL is able to expand further in the Middle East, won’t this unavoidably lead to the conclusion that our strategic ally in the region for the 21st century must be Iran?”
This is the conundrum Washington began facing in 2012. And so it set in motion a face-saving strategy to enable itself to “deal” with Iran directly.
The Vienna Agreement
Here’s what the Iran nuclear deal does – besides the obvious: it takes the old American-Iranian “baggage” off the table for the US administration, allowing it the freedom to pursue more pressing shared political objectives with Iran.
The Iranians understood full well in Vienna that they were operating from a strong regional position and that the US needed this deal more urgently. The Americans tried several times to get Iran to expand discussions to address regional issues on a parallel track, but the Iranians refused point-blank. They were not prepared to allow the US to gain any leverage in various regional battlefields in order to weaken Iran’s position within broader talks.
Although the Iranians are careful to point out that the Vienna agreement is only as good as the “intentions” of their partners, this deal is essentially a satisfactory one for Tehran. It ensures rigorous verification that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program, which is great for a country that doesn’t seek one.
It also provides Iran with protections against ‘over-inspection’ and baseless accusations, dismisses all UNSC resolutions against the Islamic Republic, recognizes the country’s enrichment program, provides extensive international sanctions relief, binds all UN member-states to this agreement (yes, Israel too) and nails down an end-date for this whole nuclear saga.
The deal also frees up Iran to pursue its regional plans with less inhibitions.
“What the president (Obama) and his aides do not talk about these days — for fear of further antagonizing lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have cast Iran as the ultimate enemy of the United States — are their grander ambitions for a deal they hope could open up relations with Tehran and be part of a transformation in the Middle East,” reads a post-Vienna article in the New York Times.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, commenting after the deal, said: “I know that a Middle East that is on fire is going to be more manageable with this deal and opens more potential for us to be able to deal with those fires, whether it is Houthi in Yemen or ISIL in Syria and Iraq than no deal and the potential of another confrontation with Iran at the same time.”
“The Iran agreement is a disaster for ISIS,” blares the headline from a post-agreement op-ed by EU foreign affairs chief Frederica Mogherini. She explains:
“ISIS is spreading its vicious and apocalyptic ideology in the Middle East and beyond… An alliance of civilizations can be our most powerful weapon in the fight against terror… We need to restart political processes to end wars. We need to get all regional powers back to the negotiating table and stop the carnage. Cooperation between Iran, its neighbors and the whole international community could open unprecedented possibilities of peace for the region, starting from Syria, Yemen and Iraq.”
Clearly, for Western leaders Iran is an essential component in any fight against ISIS and other like-minded terror groups. Just as clearly, they have realized that excluding Iran from the resolution of various regional conflicts is a non-starter.
That is some significant back-tracking from earlier Western positions explicitly excluding Iran from a seat at the table on Mideast matters.
And stay tuned for further policy revisions – once this train gets underway, it will indeed be “transformative.”
As for the Iran nuclear deal… except for some hotheads in Congress and the US media, most of the rest of the world has already moved on. As chief US negotiator and undersecretary for political affairs, Wendy Sherman said recently: “If we walk away, quite frankly we walk away alone.”
The balance of power has shifted decisively in the Middle East. Washington wants out of the mess it helped create, and it can’t exit the region without Iran’s help. The agreement in Vienna was reached to facilitate this possibility. Iran is not inclined to reward the US for bad behavior, but will also likely not resist efforts to broker regional political settlements that make sense.
It was not a weak Iran that came to the final negotiations in Vienna and it was not a crippled Iran that left that table.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (for once) aptly observed: “It is stunning to me how well the Iranians, sitting alone on their side of the table, have played a weak hand against the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain on their side of the table. When the time comes, I’m hiring (Iran’s Supreme Leader) Ali Khamenei to sell my house.”
Iran just exited UNSC Chapter 7 sanctions via diplomacy rather than war, and it’s now focusing its skill-sets on unwinding conflict in the Middle East. If you’re planning to challenge Empire anytime soon, make sure to get a copy of Iran’s playbook. Nobody plays the long game better – and with more patience.
Sharmine Narwani is a commentator and analyst of Middle East geopolitics. She is a former senior associate at St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and has a master’s degree in International Relations from Columbia University. You can follow her on Twitter at @snarwani