As neocons are working to destroy Iran’s tentative nuclear deal, US President Obama will have to either reinvent America’s policy or give in to Israel’s lobby and Saudi Arabia’s paranoiac fear of Shia Islam.
If months of intense political wrangling were crowned earlier this April by the confirmation that Iran and the P5+1 countries reached a tentative framework agreement over one of the most contentious issue of the past three decades – Iran’s nuclear dossier – it appears such diplomatic respite could prelude to a dangerous political standoff.
If by any account Iran’s nuclear negotiations were going to be trying, especially since Tehran’s nuclear ambitions do not necessarily sit at the center of this internationally staged quarrel, Israel’s neocon war campaign against the Islamic Republic risks pushing the world toward yet another lengthy conflict- a global one at that.
With the fires of war already burning bright in the MENA region – Middle East and North Africa – the fall of another domino could prove one too many for the word to handle. From a purely geostrategic standpoint a war with Iran, however pleasing to Tel Aviv’s avid warmongers, would likely force Western powers and their Arab allies to commit more military power than they can handle. Bearing in mind that the US has already committed troops and resources to Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and of course Ukraine, how much farther can imperial America really stretch?
However grand the US might think itself to be, and however solid the US might think its alliances to be, Washington has yet to win a war. Claiming victory as George W. Bush did in Iraq on May 1, 2003 did not exactly make it so. And though America basked in the glorious light of its military supremacy over the “Iraqi enemy,” its joy was short-lived as reality soon came knocking. And though starting a war might seem an easy enough business for neocon America, it is really the art of peace this belligerent nation has failed to master so far.
But back to Iran’s nuclear deal
To the surprise of many skeptics, Iran and the P5+1 did reach a deal – and while there were a few near misses, a deal was nevertheless brokered; proof experts actually insisted that Tehran is more interested in diplomacy than its detractors gives it credit for. Iran’s concessions attest to its officials’ determination to engage with the international community and integrate back into mainstream international politics.
As Gareth Porter wrote in a report for CounterPunch this April, “The framework agreement reached on Thursday night [April 2, 2015] clearly gives the P5+1 a combination of constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that should reassure all but the most bellicose opponents of diplomacy.”
And although Iran gave every assurance its government will not seek to weaponize its nuclear program, no amount of concessions might prove sufficient enough or comprehensive enough to assuage Washington’s fears vis-a-vis its “great Satan” – especially if the Saudis and Israelis have a say in it.
With the ink of the nuclear framework agreement still left to dry, both the powerful Israeli lobby and Al Saud’s petrodollars went on overdrive, telling the world what a catastrophe Iran’s nuclear deal would be.
One trip to US Congress and a few well-chosen words against its mortal enemy later, Israel seems satisfied it forever drove a wrench into the yet to be formulated and signed nuclear agreement.
As Yuval Steinitz, Israel minister for intelligence and strategic affairs so eloquently told the world on April 6, Israel would try to persuade the P5 +1 “not to sign this bad deal or at least to dramatically change or fix it”.
Echoing his minister’s narrative, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu determined that since Iran represents a threat to Israel’s very existence, America should abandon all diplomacy and instead beat the war drums. And we don’t really need to know why, only that it is so – If Netanyahu’s drawing did not convince your idle mind of Iran’s evil in 2012 then nothing will!
Just as Israel’s lobby bullied its way through the Oval office, cornering U.S. President Barak Obama into relenting power to Congress, Saudi Arabia declared war on Yemen, adding a new layer of complication to an already impossible mesh of over-lapping and over-conflicting alliances in the Middle East, thus weaving a dangerous noose around peace’s neck.
Interestingly, if war requires no US Congress oversight you can be sure that peace does!
Caught in between a rock at home and a hard place in the Middle East, US President Obama is faced with one mighty dilemma – one which will determine not his presidency but his very legacy.
If recent tensions between President Obama and the Israeli Premier are anything to go by, it would appear Israel’s lobby suit of armor is not as thick and potent as it’d like it to be, or maybe just maybe, it simply exhausted Americans’ patience. Israel’s greatest ally and supporter, the one power which has quite literally and almost single-handedly carried the Jewish State into being and helped it survive adverse winds since its very inception in 1948: vetoing UNSC resolutions when needed, propping its military and economy when needed, acting a political champion when needed, could be running out of road.
If Israel and Saudi Arabia’s foreign agenda stand now in perfect alignment – their ire directed not at one another but at Iran, changes in the region and fast-moving geostrategic interests have forced the US to re-evaluate its position vis-a-vis Iran and the so-called mythical Shia crescent the world has learnt to be wary of without quite understanding why.
In Netanyahu’s officials’ own words we are to believe that Islamic radicalism, a perverted, acetic and reactionary interpretation of Islam which has mapped itself around Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism movement would be preferable to seeing Iran gain a greater footing in the Arab world. In September 2013, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Jerusalem Post that Israel favored the Sunni extremists over Assad and the Shiites. “The greatest danger to Israel is by the [Shiite] strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said in an interview.
“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Obviously Saudi Arabia would rather eat its own foot than allow the all so devilish Iran from reclaiming its standing in the region, especially since it would essentially mean relenting power to rising calls for democratic reforms in the Gulf monarchies – Bahrain being the flagship of such a desire for change.
Why do that when you can wage senseless wars to assert your dominion?
Iran’s nuclear deal is more than just a nuclear deal. If signed, this deal would become the cornerstone of a broad shift in alliances, the moment when the US would actually choose to put its national interests over that of Tel Aviv and over Riyadh’s billions. Where Israel has bullied the US for decades, Saudi Arabia has bought its policies for decades.
With nothing left to lose but his good name and his legacy, President Obama could be just the man to break this self-destructing cycle and reinvent America’s foreign policy.
And that’s not even wishful thinking it would actually make sense for America to make peace with Iran – economically, politically and in terms of energy security and counter-terrorism Iran could be a more helpful and potent ally than Saudi Arabia. Bearing in mind that Riyadh’s fingerprints are all over al-Qaeda, ISIS and whatever terror offshoots radicals created those days, Washington might want to consider another ally in its fight against radicalism.
Thing is, America wants change! What it needs now is mastering the courage of its desire.
America is a superpower running out of steam, and more importantly running out of standing in the world. America’s exceptionalism is on its last leg. Too many double-standards, too many incoherencies in its alliances, too many double-talks, double-entendres and double-crossings. America needs a deal.
And though the July deadline seems very far away indeed, especially since Yemen’s war came to yank at diplomacy’s already stretched out rope; not signing the nuclear deal would be far worse than ruffling Israel and Saudi Arabia’s feathers.
For the sake of argument, why not ask Israel to pay the world the courtesy of practicing what it preaches in terms of nuclear transparency. That would be the nuclear deal of the century!
Catherine Shakdam is a political analyst and commentator for the Middle East with a special emphasis on Yemen and radical movements. A consultant with Anderson Consulting and leading analyst for the Beirut Center for Middle East Studies, her writings have appeared in MintPress, Foreign Policy Journal, Open-Democracy, the Guardian, the Middle East Monitor, Middle East Eye and many others. In 2015 her research and analysis on Yemen was used by the UN Security Council in a situation report.
Politicians, activists and journalists have stimulated an ‘availability cascade’ to support alarm about human-caused climate change.
Climate change may exacerbate environmental problems that are caused by overpopulation, poorly planned land-use and over-exploitation of natural resources. However, for the most part it is very difficult to separate out the impacts of human caused climate change from natural climate change and from other societal impacts.
Nevertheless, climate change has become a grand narrative in which human-caused climate change has become a dominant cause of societal problems. Everything that goes wrong then reinforces the conviction that that there is only one thing we can do prevent societal problems – stop burning fossil fuels. This grand narrative misleads us to think that if we solve the problem of climate change, then these other problems would also be solved.
Politicians, activists and journalists have stimulated an ‘availability cascade’ [link] to support alarm about human-caused climate change. An availability cascade is a self-reinforcing process of collective belief formation that triggers a self-perpetuating chain reaction: the more attention a danger gets, the more worried people become, leading to more news coverage and greater alarm. Because slowly increasing temperatures don’t seem alarming, the ‘availability entrepreneurs’ push extreme weather events and public health impacts as being caused by human-caused climate change, more of which is in store if we don’t quickly act to cool the planet by reducing fossil fuel emissions.
A deconstruction of this availability cascade is needed to avoid bias in our thinking and to better understand the true risks of human caused climate change:
- The basis for this cascade originates from the 1992 UNFCCC treaty, to avoid dangerous human caused climate change through stabilization of CO2 emissions. Note, it was not until 1995 that the IPCC 2nd Assess Report identified a discernible human influence on global climate.
- Then, the UNFCCC changed the definition of climate change to refer to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity. This leads to the perception that all climate change is caused by humans.
- Sea level rise and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, drought and heat waves are attributed to climate change, which are de facto assumed to be caused by human-caused climate change.
- Human health impacts, national security risks, etc. that are exacerbated by extreme weather events are then inferred to be caused by human-caused climate change.
A critical link in this cascade is the link between human-caused climate change and extreme weather. In 2012, the IPCC published a Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX). The Report found low to medium confidence of a trend in droughts in some regions and the frequency of heavy rains in some regions, and high confidence of a trend in heat waves in Australia. There is no trend in hurricanes or wild fires. Attribution of any trend in extreme weather events to human caused climate change cannot be done with any confidence. With regards to the perception (and damage statistics) that severe weather events seem more frequent and more severe over the past decade, there are several factors in play. The first is the increasing vulnerability and exposure associated with increasing concentration of wealth in coastal and other disaster-prone regions. The second factor is natural climate variability. Many extreme weather events have documented relationships with natural climate variability; in the U.S., extreme weather events (e.g. droughts, heat waves and hurricanes) were significantly worse in the 1930’s and 1950’s.
As a specific example of this cascade, consider the recent announcement from the White House that it will start a new initiative to focus on the health effects of climate change, with a draft report from the USGCRP [link]. Several years ago, the Cato Institute addressed this issue in their impact assessment of climate change on the U.S.[link]. The Cato Report concluded that the health effects of climate change on the U.S. are negligible today, and are likely to remain so in the future. They found that 46 percent of all deaths from extreme weather events in the U.S. from 1993-2006 were from excessive cold and 28 percent were from excessive heat, and that overall deaths from extreme weather events have declined in the U.S. They also found that diseases transmitted by food, water and insects have been reduced by orders of magnitude in the U.S. over the past century, and show no sign of resurgence.
Specifically with regards to asthma, which is an issue that influenced President Obama: the argument is that increasing heat waves will exacerbate smog, which exacerbates asthma. However, according to the EPA, smog levels have dropped 33% since 1980 [link]. Further, heat waves in the U.S. have not been increasing; the EPA’s analysis of the heat wave index for the U.S. [link] shows that the index during the 1930’s reached levels almost an order of magnitude greater than the recent decade. While asthma rates have been climbing, the cause cannot be global warming. Nevertheless, a recent survey [link] of the American Thoracic Society members found that 77% of the respondents observed an impact from climate change on increases in chronic disease severity from air pollution.
The availability cascade that leads to belief that climate change is exacerbating chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma misleads us away from a deeper investigation of the true causes of public health problems and from addressing these problems in a more meaningful way. And then multiply this consequence across the whole range of issues that climate change is allegedly making worse. The availability cascade of climate change as apocalypse acts to narrow the viewpoints and policy options that we are willing to consider in dealing with complex issues such as public health, weather disasters and national security. Should we be surprised when reducing CO2 emissions does not ameliorate any of these problems?
Is climate change making us stupid? I fear that the answer is ‘yes.’ This problem is exacerbated by politically correct climate change orthodoxy, enforced by politicians, advocates and the media in an availability cascade, which is destroying our ability to think rationally about how we should respond to climate change. As a result, we have created a political log-jam over this issue, with scientists caught in the cross-fire.
JC note: this is a draft of something I’m writing, I would appreciate any feedback.
Caracas – On the eve of the much-anticipated Summit of the Americas, Senior White House Advisor Benjamin J.Rhodes downplayed his government’s designation of Venezuela as a threat to U.S. national security on Tuesday.
On March 9, President Obama issued an Executive Order branding Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” and imposing new sanctions, a move which has been roundly condemned by a multitude of nations and multilateral blocs, including UNASUR, the Non-Aligned Movement, CELAC, and the G77+China.
In response to the global outcry, the White House has appeared to soften its tone, with Rhodes dismissing the aggressive language of the Executive Order as “completely pro forma”.
“The United States does not believe that Venezuela poses some threat to our national security,” Rhodes stated in a press conference. The Presidential advisor did not, however, indicate that the U.S. administration had any intention of rescinding the executive decree.
The White House statement comes just days prior to the Summit of the Americas in Panama, which may mark a new chapter in U.S.-Latin American relations as the former continues to rebuild diplomatic ties with Cuba.
However, this supposed watershed moment has been vastly overshadowed by the Obama administration’s aggressive measures against Venezuela which have united the region behind Caracas and are likely to be a key point of contention at the summit.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has launched a petition campaign to gather 10 million signatures demanding the repeal of Obama’s Executive Order, of which 9 million have been collected so far. The Venezuelan head of state intends to personally deliver the signatures to the U.S. president during the summit this weekend.
Opposition Leaders Seek to Discredit Venezuela
While the U.S. attempts to downplay its aggressive posture against Venezuela, Venezuelan opposition leaders head to Panama where they plan to denounce the Bolivarian nation before the gathering of regional leaders.
The Panama summit will feature various parallel fora that will give “civil society” leaders the opportunity to present on the political and social situation in their respective countries.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of jailed far right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, will be given four minutes to present on Venezuela, which she claims is “on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe“. Lopez, awaits trial for his role in leading last year’s violent opposition protests known as “the Exit” which sought the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro, taking the lives of at least 43 people.
Also attending is Rocio San Miguel of Citizen Control, who is a journalist specializing in military affairs closely linked to the U.S. embassy and various programs of USAID. She has actively worked to discredit President Nicolas Maduro’s relationship with the Venezuelan military as well as coordinates the provision of U.S. funds to anti-government groups.
Representing the Civil Consortium for Development and Justice, attendee Carlos Ponce Silen is the director of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (RELIAL), which funnels the millions it receives in National Endowment for Democracy (NED) funding to Venezuelan opposition groups.
According to U.S. embassy cables published by Wikileaks, Ponce Silen organized a meeting between the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) acting country representative and right wing student leaders in 2008.
Participating on behalf of the Venezuelan Institute of Social and Political Studies (INVESP) is Carlos Correa, director of the NGO Public Space, which has been revealed by a Freedom of Information Act request to be one of the principal fronts for over $4 million in NED funds channelled to Venezuelan opposition journalists between 2008 and 2010.
The Venezuelan opposition has received hundreds of millions in U.S. funding over the past decade, including $14 million between 2013 and 2014 alone, provided via USAID and the NED.
Boa Vista – US President Barack Obama arrived today in Jamaica as part of an ongoing effort to persuade the island and its neighbors to reduce dependency on Venezuela’s bilateral PetroCaribe program.
As the first active US president to visit Jamaica in 33 years, the primary goal of Mr. Obama’s trip will be to develop, in coordination with the World Bank, an investment plan in the Caribbean’s energy sector.
Vice-president Joe Biden has alleged that PetroCaribe, founded by Hugo Chavez in 2005, is being used as a “tool of coercion” against the region by the South American nation.
For almost a decade, Venezuela has shipped fuel to 18 nations in the Caribbean and Central America with favorable terms for payment, such as low-interest loans, while investing in community projects including hospitals, schools, highways, and homeless shelters.
In January, Biden gathered Caribbean heads of state in Washington as part of his Caribbean Energy Security Initiative, which he claims is seeking clean energy solutions for small island governments. However, the focus of the event was less about environmentalism and more about breaking away from Venezuelan trade.
“Whether it’s the Ukraine or the Caribbean, no country should be able to use natural resources as a tool of coercion against any other country,” he told the leaders in attendance.
Last month, US Secretary of State John Kerry warned of “strategic damage” on Venezuela’s part which could cause “a serious humanitarian crisis in our region.”
According to a Miami Herald report published on March 26th, Venezuela has halved subsidized shipments of crude oil to Cuba and other PetroCaribe member nations from 400,000 barrels per day in 2012, to 200,000 barrels per day.
The article, which claimed to cite a Barclay’s Bank report, has since been refuted by the Venezuelan government.
Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Delcy Rodriguez insisted last week that the information was “not true,” and was being published in a concerted effort to discredit PetroCaribe.
Maintaining that the organization remains “pretty strong” despite sliding oil prices and a contracting economy, Rodriguez said a “war” is being waged against the socialist program, because it “brings solutions to poor people.”
By Eva Golinger | TeleSur | April 3, 2015
As Latin America prepares for the upcoming Summit of the Americas in Panama City on May 9-10, the big elephant in the room is not going to be the long awaited reunion of Cuba with the organization, from which it was excluded over fifty years ago under U.S. pressure, but rather President Obama’s latest act of aggression against Venezuela.
The entire region has unanimously rejected Obama’s Executive Order issued March 9, 2015, declaring Venezuela “an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. national security and foreign policy” and has called on the U.S. president to rescind his decree.
In an unprecedented statement on March 26, 2015, all 33 members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which represents the entire region, expressed opposition to U.S. government sanctions against Venezuelan officials, referring to them as “the application of unilateral coercive measures contrary to International Law”.
The statement went on to manifest CELAC’s “rejection of the Executive Order issued by the Government of the United States of America on March 9, 2015”, and its consideration “that this Executive Order should be reversed”.
Even staunch U.S. allies such as Colombia and Mexico signed onto the CELAC statement, along with U.S.-economically dependent Caribbean states Barbados and Trinidad, amongst others. This may be the first time in contemporary history that all Latin American and Caribbean nations have rejected a U.S. policy in the region, since the unilateral U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Ironically, President Obama’s justification to thaw relations with Cuba, announced in a simultaneous broadcast with President Raul Castro on December 17, 2014, was primarily based on what he called Washington’s “failed policy” towards the Caribbean island.
More than fifty years of unilateral sanctions and political hostility had only served to isolate the U.S. internationally, while Cuba strengthened its own relations with most countries around the world and gained international recognition for its humanitarian assistance and solidarity with sister nations.
Almost without pause, Obama opened the door to Cuba, admitting Washington’s failure, and then shut it on Venezuela, implementing an almost identical policy of unilateral sanctions, political hostility and false accusations of threats to U.S. national security. Before the region even had time to celebrate the loosening of the noose around Cuba’s neck, it was tightened on Venezuela’s.
Why, the region wondered, would President Obama impose a proven failed policy against another nation in the hemisphere, especially during a period of renewed relations?
Considering the ongoing U.S. war on terrorism that qualifies any alleged threat to U.S. security, by anyone or anywhere, to be a viable target of its vast military power, Venezuela was not about to sit quiet in the face of imminent attack.The South American nation immediately launched an international campaign to denounce Obama’s Executive Order as an act of aggression against a country that poses it no real threat.
President Nicolas Maduro published an Open Letter to the People of the United States in the March 17, 2015 edition of the New York Times alerting readers to the dangerous steps the Obama administration was taking against a peaceful, non-threatening neighboring state. The letter urged U.S. citizens to join calls for Obama to retract his Executive Order and lift the sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
The region reacted quickly. Just 48 hours before Obama’s Executive Order was issued, a delegation of Foreign Ministers from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), representing all twelve South American countries, had traveled to Venezuela to meet with government officials, opposition representatives and members of civil society. UNASUR had been mediating dialogue between the government and opposition since anti-government protests erupted last year and caused over 40 deaths in the country and widespread instability. The fact that Obama’s decree came right after UNASUR had reignited mediation efforts in Venezuela was perceived as an offensive disregard of Latin America’s capacity to resolve its own problems. Now the U.S. had stepped in to impose its will. UNASUR responded with a scathing rejection of Obama’s Executive Order and demanded its immediate abolition.
Additionally, countries issued individual statements rejecting Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela and its designation of the South American country as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to its national security. Argentina considered it “implausible to any moderately informed person that Venezuela or any country in South America or Latin America could possibly be considered a threat to the national security of the United States”, and President Cristina Fernandez made clear that any attempt to destabilize Venezuela would be viewed as an attack on Argentina as well. Bolivian President Evo Morales expressed full support for President Maduro and his government and lashed out at Washington, “These undemocratic actions of President Barack Obama threaten the peace and security of all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean”.
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted that the Obama Decree must be a “bad joke”, recalling how such an outrageous action, “reminds us of the darkest hours of our Latin America, when we received invasions and dictatorships imposed by imperialism…Will they understand that Latin America has changed?”
Nicaragua called the Obama Executive Order “criminal”, while wildly popular ex Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica called anyone who considers Venezuela a threat “crazy”.
Beyond Latin America, 100 British parliamentarians signed a statement rejecting U.S. sanctions against Venezuela and called on President Obama to rescind his Executive Order labeling the country a threat.
More than five million people have signed petitions in Venezuela and online demanding the Executive Order be retracted.
Furthermore, the United Nations G77+China group, which represents 134 countries, also issued a firm statement opposing President Obama’s Executive Order against Venezuela. “The Group of 77+China deplores these measures and reiterates its firm commitment to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela… The G77+China calls on the Government of the United States to evaluate and put into practice alternatives of dialogue with the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, under principles of respect for sovereignty and self-determination. As such, we urge that the Executive Order be abolished”.
And then there’s the CELAC statement. The entirety of Latin America has rejected Obama’s latest regional policy, just when he thought he had made groundbreaking inroads south of the border. Unsurprisingly, the White House has miscalculated regional priorities once again, underestimating the importance sovereignty, independence and solidarity hold for the people of Latin America.
While Latin America celebrates the easing of tensions between the U.S. and Cuba, the region will not stand by and let Venezuela come under attack.
If the Obama administration truly wants to be a regional partner, then it will have to accept and respect what Latin America has become: strong, united and bonded by a collective political vision of independence and integration. Any other means of engagement with the region, beyond respectful, equal relations based on principles of non-interventionism, will only have one outcome: failure.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has refused to release four seconds of a recording made in the Richard Nixon White House more than 40 years ago, claiming the disclosure would expose a reference to Vietnam War peace talks and American government spying capabilities of the time.
The four-second segment, recorded on January 12, 1973 by Nixon chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, has been sought by researcher Ken Hughes of the University of Virginia, who has studied the Nixon-era tapes. It contains information related to negotiations between the U.S. government and the government of South Vietnam connected to the war.
But the NSA rejected Hughes’ request, claiming the brief recording “would reveal information that would impair U.S. cryptologic systems or activities,” NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told Bloomberg in an email.
Bloomberg was also told by the National Archives that the segment must be kept a secret because it could reveal “the identity of a confidential human source, a human intelligence source” or a “relationship with an intelligence or security agency of a foreign government or international organization.”
Bloomberg’s Anthony Capaccio reported: “Historians say the redacted segment probably refers to a threat by former President Lyndon Johnson to expose an illegal attempt by Nixon’s presidential campaign to derail the 1968 Paris peace talks on ending the Vietnam War.”
To Learn More:
Classified: Why Is Obama Keeping Secret Four Seconds of a Nixon-Era Tape? (by Anthony Capaccio, Bloomberg )
Nixon White House Tapes (Wikipedia)
New Technology Takes Aim at Notorious Watergate Tape Gap (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
A deal with Iran over its nuclear program would benefit the US as it needs to change its policy in the Middle East, and even build a constructive relationship with critical regional powers, said Hillary Mann Leverett, a former US negotiator with Iran.
RT: Hopes are high that the six world powers and Iran who have been holding talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne will reach a deal by Wednesday evening. What kind of document do you expect to come out of these talks?
Hillary Mann Leverett: I would assume at this point we can still really think of only a vague document coming out of these talks. There does not seem to be agreement on many of the details, much of the substance that would be detailed in the final agreement.
But that is not really the purpose of what they were trying to get by [Wednesday evening]. This was supposed to be a political understanding of what the agreement would entail, and a final agreement then would be drafted by June 30. So my sense is that if we get an agreement it will be focused more on a reaffirmation in a sense of a core bargain that they struck back in November 2013: that the parties would proceed toward resolving this conflict by Iran agreeing in negotiated contacts to constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive lifting of sanctions.
And that is where I think the parties have really got stuck, because the comprehensive lifting of sanctions is something that is not technical. It doesn’t involve nuclear physicists at the table, it requires real political will. And I think that’s where we’ve seen the brinkmanship.
RT: If a deal is agreed on, what kind of reaction is it likely to trigger on Capitol Hill?
HL: I think the reaction will be negative, regardless of what the deal is. Some people in Washington, I think, disingenuously claim that it depends on whether it is a ‘good deal’ or ‘bad deal’. But there is no ‘good deal’ for many of the lawmakers in Washington, the 47 senators who sent this letter to Iran, there’s no good deal for them with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their agenda is regime change. They would be happy for an Iran under a kind of Shah, an American puppet, to have nuclear weapons. But they are not really interested in an independent state to have any nuclear weapons. So I think they would oppose any deal.
I think because of that reality, the focus of the talks in this session has been not so much, not I really think at all, on the US sanctions, but how to really put that in its own box and deal with something more internationally. The focus has been on the UN sanctions, which Congress has no say over. The United States could agree to lift UN sanctions in five minutes. I saw it done on Libya; I saw it done on Sudan. The United States can do it in five minutes; they don’t need to consult with anybody in Congress. And that is what I’m talking about in terms of political will.
It’s up to President Obama whether he will agree and literally pick up the phone and call the UN ambassador and say: “Either vote for the lifting of sanctions or abstain.” It’s all he needs to do. That’s a question of political will; the rest of it is really just political posturing.
RT: The Republicans have warned that any deal with Iran might not survive after Barack Obama is out of the White House. Should we expect the US to make a U-turn on Iran in subsequent years?
HL: We’ve actually seen a bad scenario of this happening in the past. In the late 1970s under President Carter, his administration had negotiated the SALT II treaty with Moscow, with the Soviet Union. And the way he sold it was as if it was a “technical agreement,” that we were “imposing meaningful curbs” on the Soviet Union’s strategic capacity. The Congress defeated it. It was a devastating failure for President Carter.
We could potentially be looking at something like that if President Obama plays the same game by saying that he’s essentially going to hold his nose while he is negotiating with Iran and just try to focus on a narrow technical agreement. He needs to make the case, the strategic case why a fundamental realignment of US policies in the Middle East toward the Islamic Republic of Iran is imperative for the United States, that after a decade of disastrous military interventions in the Middle East, the United States needs a different way. It needs a constructive way forward with Iran. But he has not done that. Instead, my concern is that he is following President Carter’s route. Essentially Carter’s view was that the Soviet Union was an unreconstructed adversary, evil empire in a sense, and he was just going to hold his nose and try to get the SALT II treaty passed. Well, he lost the election in 1980, we got Ronald Reagan, and that was the end of that.
RT: If a deal is reached, how is it likely to change regional dynamics for America’s main allies in the region Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both strongly oppose a deal?
HL: I think it will be very good for the United States. After the end of the Cold War, the United States has gone through a period I think some would call of arrogance, essentially trying to impose its dominance on various regions of the world, including the Middle East. And those who want to go along with it, we characterize them as allies, when they are not really allies per se, they are just going along with the United States. What we really need is constructive relationships with each of the critical powers in the region so that they can restrain even the reckless impulses of our so-called allies. It’s not in our interests when Israel bombs Lebanon, Israel bombs Gaza. It’s not in our interest when Saudis invade Yemen. If you have a better relationship with Iran, it will constrain these reckless impulses of even our allies, and allow the United States to get off this dangerous trajectory of trying to impose its own military dominance on the region.
US President Barack Obama has lifted an arms freeze on Egypt imposed following the 2013 military ouster of the first democratically elected government.
During a Tuesday phone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the US president announced that he would allow 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles, and 125 M1A1 tank kits to be delivered to Cairo.
Obama also said he would continue his support for $1.3 billion in annual military assistance.
“The president explained that these and other steps will help refine our military assistance relationship so that it is better positioned to address the shared challenges to US and Egyptian interests in an unstable region, consistent with the longstanding strategic partnership between our two countries,” the White House said in a statement.
The aid, which will start in fiscal year 2018, consists of four parts: counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security, and maritime security.
“In this way, we will ensure that US funding is being used to promote shared objectives in the region, including a secure and stable Egypt and the defeat of terrorist organizations,” said US National Security Council Spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan in a statement.
The announcement comes at a time that Egypt has engaged in an aggression on Yemen led by Saudi Arabia.
Cairo has even said that it may send ground troops to the impoverished country to back Saudi warplanes’ air raids.
However, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, described the move as “the right thing to do”, saying, “We encourage the government of Egypt to continue its democratic process. But Egypt is also a strong regional ally. Maintaining that relationship must be a priority for the US.”
On July 3, 2013, then army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced that President Mohamed Morsi was no longer in office.
Morsi is currently in custody along with several other members of his Muslim Brotherhood party.
The United States has to make an “extraordinary climb-down” on the issue of sanctions in order to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear energy program, an American investigative journalist says.
Gareth Porter, a historian, journalist, author and policy analyst specializing in US national security policy, made the remarks in his article, titled “Sanctions and the Fate of the Nuclear Talks,” published on Friday by Middle East Eye, an online news portal covering events in the Middle East.
“The Obama administration won’t get the signed agreement that it is seeking with the quantitative limits to which Iran has agreed if a detailed agreement on lifting sanctions is not reached as well,” said the author of the Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
“And that won’t happen unless the P5+1 makes an extraordinary climb-down from its starting position on the issue,” he added.
Iran and the P5+1 – the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – are engaged in intense negotiations to work out a comprehensive agreement aimed at ending the longstanding dispute over the Islamic Republic’s civilian nuclear work as a July 1 deadline draws closer.
Sources close to the Iranian negotiating team say the main stumbling block to resolving the Western dispute over Iran’s nuclear issue is the timetable for the lifting of anti-Iran sanctions.
Iran and the US have reported progress in the negotiations but have said that they are not rushing to reach the deal just for the sake of beating the self-imposed end-March deadline for a framework agreement.
Porter said that the fate of the talks hangs on closing the gap between the two sides on removing sanctions imposed against Iran.
He stated that the issues related to Iran’s civilian nuclear program have now been more or less resolved, but the issue of sanctions relief is still very much there.
Porter wrote that “all the evidence indicates that the two sides have not advanced beyond where they were last November, when they were very far apart.”
He said that the Obama administration wrongly believes that Iran is negotiating with the P5+1 because sanctions are seriously hurting its economy.
Porter wrote that Washington “fails to grasp the depth of Iranian commitment to removing the sanctions as a matter of national pride as well as to be able to achieve a higher level of economic development.”
He said the “myopic perspective” of the US and its allies is part of the problem, adding that they “intend to maintain the ‘sanctions architecture’ in place for many years after the implementation of the agreement has begun.”
In adopting such a policy, the investigative journalist said, “the Obama administration is following precisely the course outlined by Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), the neoconservative think tank whose outputs align completely with Israeli interests.”
Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies
He revealed that Dubowitz designed the anti-Iran sanctions which were approved by Congress in late 2011 and he “strongly influenced the administration’s sanctions policy for the entire Joint Plan of Action period.”
Bibi’s re-election makes the prospect of a third intifada more likely than ever. And when it does come it would take a surfeit of optimism to believe that it won’t be as widely supported among the Palestinians as the First Intifada (1987-1991) or as violent as the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
The so-called international community, consisting of Washington and its European allies, has failed the Palestinian people miserably over many years by now. Its unfailing and ignoble pandering to Israel that informs the West’s entire policy with regard to the Middle East has only succeeded in creating a monster in the shape of the intransigent, rejectionist, and brutal political culture that now holds sway there. It is a culture underpinned by a flagrant disregard for international law and the human rights of some 3 million people in the occupied West Bank and 1.8 million in Gaza, which at time of writing remains a pile of rubble after Israel’s summer 2014 air, land, and sea assault in which 2100 Palestinians were slaughtered – around 500 of them children – and up to 9000 injured or maimed, many of those permanently.
Gaza remains under siege, hermetically sealed from the outside world, its people and their suffering a symbol of the hypocrisy and indifference of an international order in which Palestinian blood is not only cheap it is worthless. Israel’s exceptionalism, meanwhile, remains sacrosanct.
Nobody should be fooled by talk of a rupture between the Obama administration and Netanyahu. The President, the world knows by now, holds Bibi somewhere between disdain and disgust in his feelings towards him. The studied insult delivered to the president by the Israeli Prime Minister when he addressed the US Congress a few weeks ago, where Netanyahu attempted to undermine talks between the P5+1 and Iran in Switzerland, couldn’t have been more wounding. It undermined both the President’s authority in Washington and his influence overseas.
The Israeli election that followed was marked by the new low Netanyahu went to in order to scoop up enough votes to win. Scaremongering, apocalyptic rhetoric, and out and out racism issued from his lips in the lead up to the polls, leaving no doubt that along with the so-called Islamic State, Benjamin Netanyahu poses the gravest threat to the stability of the region.
Yet despite this – despite the phone conversation reported to have taken place between Obama and Netanyahu after the Israeli Prime Minister’s re-election, during which Obama told him that he would have to “reassess” his administration’s policy towards Israel in the wake of Netanyahu’s pre-election statements negating the prospects of a two state solution, US policy towards Israel isn’t about to undergo any meaningful reorientation anytime soon.
During an interview with the Huffington Post, Obama confirmed that despite his differences with Mr Netanyahu, US aid to Israel to the tune of £3 billion a year will not be affected. And therein lies the rub, for until there is willingness in Washington to punish Netanyahu’s and the Israeli right’s rejectionist policy with the threat to suspend aid, the chances of a shift in said policy are less than zero.
The impotence of the Obama administration has been laid bare over these past couple of weeks. The anti-Obama coalition comprising Congressional Republicans and the Likud Party knows that the worst-case scenario involves waiting out the remaining year of the first black president’s tenure. The best-case scenario, which is far more likely, will see Obama cave just as he’s caved when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Whether on settlements expansion, the continuing annexation of East Jerusalem, Gaza, or meaningful steps towards the realization of a two state solution, the president has been played like a violin by Netanyahu these past few years.
That said, the much vaunted two state solution is but a canard. There is no possibility of a two state solution, as Netanyahu knows full well. The idea of anything approaching a viable Palestinian state comprising what is left of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza is an insult to the collective intelligence of the Palestinian people. What we have now is a de facto single state in which 4.8 million people living in it are regarded and treated as Helots. As such, it is only when Israel is forced to comply with international law and human rights that any meaningful progress can hope to be made. That force must take the form of economic sanctions.
The only issue over which Obama will likely defeat the Israeli leader at present is Iran. The recent talks in Switzerland look to have made significant progress, which in conjunction with the unanimous aversion to the deployment of hard power against Tehran by the other nations involved in those talks, this has left Netanyahu and his Washington allies increasingly isolated as yesterday’s men.
This still leaves the Palestinians, who cannot be expected to continue to endure the injustice that defines their existence for much longer without there being an explosion. Yes, the international boycott campaign grows and has scored some notable successes over the past year, but nonetheless at this stage the Palestinians could be forgiven for considering themselves more or less abandoned to their fate.
A third intifada is heading down the track as a consequence – and when it comes neither Washington nor its allies should be in any doubt that it arrived as a direct result of their weakness, double standards, and perfidy.
The cause of the Palestinian people remains the cause of humanity in our time. All else is embroidery.
John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1
US drone strikes on Pakistani soil over the past decade have claimed the lives of some 2,200 people, Press TV quotes Islamabad
According to figures presented in a report by Pakistani lawmakers, 2,199 people have been killed and 282 others injured in the US drone attacks in Pakistan.
Nearly 210 houses and 60 vehicles have also reportedly been damaged.
The families of 43 of the dead and seven of those injured have received compensation so far, according to the report.
However, rights activists say Islamabad has not revealed the actual number of deaths, which many say is more than 3,000 and possibly as many as 4,000.
“The majority of the people who got killed were the citizens of Pakistan and I don’t think that this [report] is a final truth. There are still numbers that are out there and I hope those numbers also come out and that will push this number of 2,200 to a much higher numerical level,” political analyst Tariq Pirzada said.
Islamabad has so far failed to provide accurate information regarding the identity of those killed in the drone strikes.
Although evidence on the ground indicates civilians are the main victims of the strikes over the years, the Pakistani government reports that most of those killed are militants.
Islamabad has also said it cannot determine the actual number of civilian deaths as a result of its ongoing ground and air offensives against the militants in the tribal areas.
The Pakistani government has been criticized for allowing the US to carry out its illegal drone strikes near the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The aerial attacks, initiated by former US president, George W. Bush in 2004, have been escalated under President Barack Obama.
Obama has defended the use of the controversial drones as “self-defense.” Washington claims the targets of the drone attacks are militants.
The United Nations and several human rights organizations have identified the US as the world’s number-one user of “targeted killings,” largely due to its drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The “Free Press” in Action
In Latin America last year, there were two events that each produced 43 casualties. Which elicited greater outrage?
For the U.S. media, it was the “violent crackdown” leaving “43 people dead” (NPR) in “an autocratic, despotic state” (New York Times ) run by “extremists” (Washington Post ). Surely these charges were leveled at Mexico, where 43 student activists were murdered in Iguala last September. In their forthcoming A Narco History, Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace describe how the victims, “packed into two pick-up trucks,” were driven to a desolate ravine. Over a dozen “died en route, apparently from asphyxiation,” and the rest “were shot, one after another,” around 2:00 a.m. The killers tossed the corpses into a gorge, torched them, and maintained the fire “through the night and into the following afternoon,” leaving only “ashes and bits of bone, which were then pulverized.”
Initial blame went to local forces—Iguala’s mayor and his wife, area police and drug gangs. But reporters Anabel Hernández and Steve Fisher, after reviewing thousands of pages of official documents, reached a different conclusion. Hernández explained “that the federal police and the federal government [were] also involved,” both “in the attack” and in “monitoring the students” the night of the slaughter. Fisher added that the Mexican government based its account of the massacre on testimonies of “witnesses who had been directly tortured.”
The Hernández-Fisher findings reflect broader problems plaguing the country. “Torture and ill-treatment in Mexico is out of control with a 600 per cent rise in the number of reported cases in the past decade,” Amnesty International warned last September, pointing to “a prevailing culture of tolerance and impunity.” The UN concurred this month, and “sharply rebuked Mexico for its widespread problem with torture, which it said implicates all levels of the security apparatus,” Jo Tuckman wrote in the Guardian.
Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has done his part to escalate state violence. He gave the orders, while governor of México State, for what Francisco Goldman calls “one of the most squalid instances of government brutality in recent years”—the May 2006 assault on the Atenco municipality. Some 3,500 state police rampaged against 300 flower vendors, peasants and their sympathizers, beating them until they blacked out and isolating women for special treatment. Amnesty International reported “23 cases of sexual violence during the operation,” including one woman a trio of policemen surrounded. “All three of them raped her with their fingers,” a witness recalled.
Peña Nieto responded by asserting “that the manuals of radical groups say that in the case of women [if they are arrested], they should say they’ve been raped.” Amnesty stumbled into a trap laid by attention-desperate women, in his opinion. Regarding Atenco, he stressed: “It was a decision that I made personally to reestablish order and peace, and I made it with the legitimate use of force that corresponds to the state.” Surely this is the “autocratic, despotic state” the New York Times criticized.
The paper’s archives lay bare its views—that Peña Nieto can “do a lot of good,” given his “big promises of change” and “commendable” economic agenda. The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth interviewed Mexico’s president just before the Iguala bloodbath, dubbing him “a hero in the financial world.” A Post editorial praised his ability to summon the “courage” necessary to transform Mexico into “a model of how democracy can serve a developing country.” The Post clarified, with a straight face, that Peña Nieto displayed his bravery by ignoring “lackluster opinion polls” as he pushed through unpopular reforms—a truly “functional democracy,” without question. There was no serious censure of the Mexican president in these papers, in other words. The charges of despotism and extremism, quoted above, were in fact leveled at Venezuela—the site of the other episode last year resulting in 43 Latin American casualties.
But these demonstrations, from February until July, were dramatically different from the Mexican student incineration. What, in the NPR version, was “a violent crackdown last year against antigovernment protesters,” in fact—on planet Earth—was a mix of “pro- and anti-government protests” (Amnesty International) that “left 43 people dead in opposing camps” (Financial Times ). “There are deaths on both sides of the political spectrum,” Jake Johnston, a researcher with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, affirmed, noting that “members of Venezuelan security forces have been implicated and subsequently arrested for their involvement.” He added that several people were apparently “killed by crashing into barricades, from wires strung across streets by protesters and in some cases from having been shot trying to remove barricades.” Half a dozen National Guardsmen died.
In the wake of these demonstrations, the Post railed against “economically illiterate former bus driver” Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, for his “hard-fisted response to the unrest” and “violent repression.” The New York Times lamented his “government’s abuses”—which “are dangerous for the region and certainly warrant strong criticism from Latin American leaders”—while Obama, a year after the protests, declared Venezuela a national security threat. His March 9 executive order, William Neuman wrote in the Times, targets “any American assets belonging to seven Venezuelan law enforcement and military officials who it said were linked to human rights violations.”
Compare Obama’s condemnation of Maduro to his reaction to the Iguala murders. When asked, in mid-December, whether U.S. aid to Mexico should be conditioned on human rights, he emphasized that “the best thing we can do is to be a good partner”—since bloodshed there “does affect us,” after all. The Times followed up after Obama hosted the Mexican president at the White House on January 6, noting that “Mr. Peña Nieto’s visit to Washington came at a time of increased cooperation between the United States and Mexico.”
This cooperation has won some major victories over the decades. NAFTA shattered poor farming communities in Mexico, for example, while promoting deforestation, environmentally ruinous mining—and corporate profits. In 2007, U.S. official Thomas Shannon stated that “armoring NAFTA” is the goal of Washington’s security assistance, which “totaled $2.5 billion between FY2008 and FY2015,” the Congressional Research Service reported. The result is a death zone, with perhaps some 120,000 intentional killings during the Felipe Calderón presidency (2006-2012). Tijuana’s Zeta Magazine published a study claiming the slayings have actually increased under Peña Nieto, and the nightmare has deepened to the point where the murder rate “exceeds that of Iraq,” according to Molly Molloy.
None of these developments infuriated Washington like those in Venezuela, to be sure. After Chávez’s first decade in power, “the poverty rate ha[d] been cut by more than half” and “social spending per person more than tripled,” while unemployment and infant mortality declined, the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined. And the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean found, in May 2010, that Venezuela had the region’s most equal income distribution. In Mexico a year later, the Los Angeles Times noted, “poverty [was] steadily on the rise.” Throughout this period, Washington’s aims included “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital US business,” and “isolating Chavez internationally,” as former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield outlined the strategy in 2006.
Reviewing this foreign policy record in light of recent Mexico and Venezuela coverage makes one thing obvious. There is, most definitely, a free press in the U.S.—it’s free to print whatever systematic distortions it likes, so long as these conform to Washington’s aims.
Nick Alexandrov lives in Washington, DC. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org