Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

If the Turks want to hang out with this guy…

June 8, 2010
What would Ataturk say?    Source: Google Images What would Ataturk say? Source: Google Images

Turkish President Gul pictured with the world’s most notorious extremist, who is quoted in the article below as saying that the Zionists are  “holding up the flag of the devil itself…” and are “the backbone of the dictatorial world order,” taking a page again from Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer.  In its drive to be a regional power, Turkey is starting to make strange bedfellows.  What would Ataturk say?

Maybe Ahmadinejad is pre-empting the Security Council’s likely announcement of tougher sanctions with more hateful attacks against Israel.  But as we know from the Hamas Covenant, the Zionists control the UN Security Council, like almost everything else in the world and throughout history (tongue in cheek, however painfully)…

From Today’s CNN wire service:

Istanbul, Turkey (CNN) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hit a strident tone on a variety of topics during a press conference on the sidelines of an Asian security summit in Istanbul on Tuesday.

A key item on the agenda at the summit is last week’s Israeli raid on an aid flotilla in the Mediterranean. Ahmadinejad said the confrontation revealed Israel’s “devilish” nature.

“It showed violence and hatred and war-mongering attitudes,” he said at a news conference. “The devilish sound of the uncultured Zionists was coming out from their deceit. … They were holding up the flag of the devil itself.”

The raid led to the deaths of nine people, all Turkish citizens — including one Turkish-American. Turkey is urging Israel to accept an international probe into the incident.

Ahmadinejad congratulated Turkey, which has been in a war of words with Israel following the raid, for its response.

Iran’s own nuclear program has been another major topic at the summit. The United States expects to bring a new resolution on increased sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program to a vote in the United Nations Security Council this week.

By calling for a resolution instead of sitting down for talks with Iran, the United States is “gravely mistaken,” Ahmadinejad said.

“Within the framework of respect and justice, we’re ready to negotiate with everyone. Anyone who is going to resort to the language of force and aggression, the response is clear,” he said.

Ahmadinejad went on to commend Turkey and Brazil for recently negotiating a deal with Iran on a uranium enrichment swap.

“The initiative marked the beginning of a new path — the beginning of an end to unilateralism in the world,” he said.

The United States, he added, missed an opportunity by not embracing the deal.

Asked whether the raid on the flotilla last week will change the way countries vote in the Security Council, Ahmadinejad said the raid will actually change many things.

For Israel, he said, “it has actually rung the final countdown for its existence. It shows that it has no room in the region and no one is ready to live alongside it. Actually, no country in the world recognizes it, and you know that the Zionist regime is the backbone of the dictatorial world order.”

He added, “Maybe at the Security Council, it will impact temporarily. The Zionist regime, with what it has done, it actually stopped its possibility to exist in the region anymore.”

How do you say W in Hebrew: Bibi

June 7, 2010
When is tough effective?

Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes to the George W. Bush school of anti-diplomacy.  It’s nice to blow off steam, especially when you are in the right.  But does brandishing your sword make an effective foreign policy?  Ask Kaiser Wilhelm II, the arch-villain of World War I, whose bluster and belligerence led to the encirclement of Germany, his gravest fear.  Ask most Americans after W left office — did W’s shooting from the hip help America’s image in the world?  Improve America’s security? 

I had meetings with Netanyahu in my capacity as a sovereign analyst for Israel several years ago.  He was then finance minister and a very effective one.  I always came away with the belief that his Achilles’ heel was his hubris.  His narcissism was always the elephant in the room, and more so than the average politician.  I can’t help but believe that his leadership has had something to do with such recent diplomatic fiascoes as the Biden visit and the Gaza flotilla.

Netanyahu, though ineffective, may be right about Gaza.  If you don’t understand why Israel is touchy about Hamas and Gaza, please read the Hamas Covenant in this link, as translated by the Yale University Avalon project, especially Art. 22.  It reads like Der Stuermer.  Here are a few snippets (out of order):

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it…

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying…

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)…”

In their Nazi treatment, the Jews made no exception for women or children… 

With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.

They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources. They obtained the Balfour Declaration, formed the League of Nations through which they could rule the world. They were behind World War II, through which they made huge financial gains by trading in armaments, and paved the way for the establishment of their state. It was they who instigated the replacement of the League of Nations with the United Nations and the Security Council to enable them to rule the world through them. There is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it…

There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad…

Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…

Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people…

…the ferocity of the Zionist offensive and the Zionist influence in many countries exercised through financial and media control, as well as the consequences that all this lead to in the greater part of the world…”

There you have it.  That’s who’s in power in Gaza.  Hence, the blockade (to prevent the flow of weapons and to pressure Gazans to kick the genocidal extremists out).  History has shown that civilized people should believe what extremists write in their books and manifestos.

As for Turkey, the AK Party did a nice job cleaning up its image in recent years in order to appear to the world as a sort of Islamic version of a European Christian Democratic party.  This has kept Turkey’s secular generals from kicking them out, as they did to the Islamists not long ago. Now, ensconced in power, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his cronies are trying to reorient foreign policy in a more “Islamist” direction, putting ideologues in key foreign policy posts, taking on Israel, championing the oppressed Muslims of Gaza.  Yet, he shows he either hasn’t read the Hamas Covenant or doesn’t care, when he says that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, but a resistance movement (see article).  Sir, is the PKK terrorist or a resistance movement (the PKK is the Kurdish “liberation” movement on Turkish soil that the Turks believe is “terrorist”)?  Were the Turks who murdered masses of Armenians in the early 1900s, which Hitler later said was his inspiration for the Final Solution, genocidal killers?  C’mon, it’s not so hard to tell right from wrong in this world!  Turks should have a re-think about how moderate the Islamism of the AK Party really is.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza could be counterproductive.  It certainly has become a diplomatic liability.  If there is a better way to staunch the flow of weapons to Gaza that Iran is ready to send, if there is a better way to empower those that would topple the would-be committers of genocide running Gaza today, then I say scrap the blockade.  Israel certainly needs to scrap its bunker mentality and engage with the rest of the world, before, like Wilhelmine Germany, it becomes encircled.  P.R. should be a top Israeli priority; and, in order to clean up the country’s global image, Israelis should perhaps start by voting Netanyahu out of office at the next opportunity.  Read about his vehement defense of the Gaza flotilla raid. He may be right, but he certainly is not very diplomatic.  

Mideast Update: Watch Clinton’s Aipac speech

March 15, 2010

Bibi was defiant in the Knesset, refusing to halt Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.  The Obama administration has turned up the heat, higher than at any time since 1991 when H.W. Bush/Baker withheld loan guarantees because of settlements.  This worries Israeli diplomats.  Hillary is set to give a speech at the AIPAC conference beginning in six days.  High diplomatic drama — the Rising Powers blog has been keeping you informed of the current events, the history, and yes, this blogger’s opinions on the stress in the alliance. 

In a past blog, I argued that Netanyahu’s foolishness reaped:

” ..no gain at all for Israel at the cost of modestly damaging US-Israeli relations, which, at least with the Obama administration, could prove hard to repair.  Having met Prime Minister Netanyahu a number of times when I was involved with rating Israel’s bonds, I suspect the buck stops with him. His hubris was behind this, if only in spirit rather than in deed.”

But, I pointed out that on the substance of Jerusalem, one must stop and think:

“…the point that Jerusalem should not be divided, should remain under Israeli sovereignty with strong guarantees for Muslim control over Islamic holy sites should not be dismissed out of hand.”

And…

” A few years ago, the Israeli leftist and peace activist and former Labor minister, Yossi Beilin, said that the deal with the Palestinians should be a swap – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza (including dismantling most Jewish settlements) in exchange for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem…  The nature of any deal is — you give something up, I give something up.  Yet the Arab position, notably in the much vaunted 2002 Saudi peace plan, is, Israel gives something up (withdrawing to the 1967 borders) and the Arabs agree not to make war.  I concede and you agree to take the gun away from my head… 

“Jerusalem is the third holiest city of Islam, but is the holiest spot on Earth for Judaism, not to mention the importance it holds for Christians.  During Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed to visit the Cotel, or Western Wall.  Today, under Israeli sovereignty, the Islamic Waqf administers Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.  In the West Bank, Jewish shrines have been destroyed under Palestinian Authority rule.  Israel protects Islamic sites under its control.

“The swap – Palestinian state and dismantling of most settlements for Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem – is the right thing to do in my view. The Palestinian/Arab side has succeeded in moving the debate.  It is now about splitting Jerusalem. In return, maybe, just maybe, the Palestinian side would give up the so-called right of return of Palestinians to their pre-1947 homes in Tel Aviv, Haifa and elsewhere.  (Should Jews demand a return to Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Tunisia and other states where they lost all they had – or even just financial compensation?) This is called staking out an extremist position as a negotiating tactic.  Your adversary may ultimately concede out of exhaustion. Arafat was a master of this strategy, using terrorism and the intifadah as levers. 

“US policy, which many argue is biased toward Israel, inadvertently backed the Arab view on Jerusalem, thanks in large part to the handiwork of Bill Clinton at Taba (and quite frankly of Ehud Barak).  Bubba was guided only by his desire to be the man who brought peace to the Middle East, a sort of redemption for his impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  It has been very good PR on the part of the Arabs to move the debate this way, and woeful PR on Israel’s part.  Israel has been woeful at PR since 1967.  But as they say in Texas, that dog won’t hunt.  The debate has already been moved. In order for Israel to obtain international legitimacy, it must negotiate over Jerusalem.”

Regarding arguments made by Stephen Walt, known for his criticism of Israel and the US-Israel alliance, I noted:

“He pushes heavily the argument of Israel’s invincible military and of the paper tigers that are Israel’s regional threats.  I would argue that history has shown that a mistaken belief in one’s invincibility, driven by perceptions from wars past, often precedes a military defeat.  A foreign policy realist like Walt should understand this.  So, friends of Israel would do well to be cautious about how strong they think little Israel, with its small territory, small population, dysfunctional political system, and few allies, is relative to its enemies.” 

And finally, in a piece I wrote on Hillary’s criticism of Israel’s “insult” of America, I noted that support for Israel in surveys of Americans has historically held pretty high:

“…the Secretary of State and the President are entitled to express their feelings of being insulted by Israel, as they were elected to do just that, communicate America’s position vis-à-vis foreign countries.  And, we as voters are entitled to review the Obama administration’s record on this and other issues in 2 ½ years and either keep them there or throw them out.  Polls of American attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians consistently show over 50% for Israel, while support for the Palestinians remains stuck at below 20%.  Israel’s support rose to 63% in the most recent Gallup poll a month ago, found hereSupport for the Arab side, on the other hand, has crept up from near 10% to the mid-teens over the last 20-30 years.  In any case, Walt & Mearsheimer, I don’t know if these numbers can be explained simply in terms of the so-called vice grip of Jews over Congress and the media.  But, people who live by the polls, often die by the polls, and such numbers can change abruptly, although they haven’t for decades.  I’ll bet the “support for Israel” numbers will dip a bit as a result of the latest ”insult.”  Thanks, Bibi.”

Well, keep an eye out for Sec. of State Clinton’s speech at the AIPAC conference, and Biden’s meeting with Bibi in Washington, where he is coming to speak at the annual meeting of the nefarious but successful pro-Israel lobby.  She may give a peek at her cards, that is, how far the Obama administration is ready to take this, to exploit this diplomatic gaffe to pressure Israel to make concessions.  Trouble is, Netanyahu loves a good fight.

Middle East Update: Lula trip, Biden flap fallout, etc.

March 14, 2010
"Neutral" Lula and his dour friend.  Source: Google Images
“Neutral” Lula and his dour friend. Source: Google Images

The Rising Powers blog has devoted some time in recent days to the diplomatic flap over Israel’s embarrassment of US Veep Joe Biden with the announcement of East Jerusalem settlements.  See recent posts here and here.  To update you, President Lula of Brazil, the one-time labor union firebrand who has united his country of extreme riches and extreme poverty like no one before, is going to take a crack at bringing people together in the Middle East.  Where President Obama has been unable to bridge the gaps in the region, Lula has called on “someone with neutrality” to take a shot. Eh-hem, is that someone Brazilian?  The two-term President of Latin America’s largest economy and member of the exclusive club called BRIC will journey to Iran in May to offer some Brazilian optimism to Ahmadinejad and Khamenei, aka Dour and Dourer.  I wish Lula well.  As a long-time Brazil analyst, I applaud this man’s every effort.  A supremely positive force for the planet, unless you’re trying to protect the Brazilian rainforest.

In other post Biden news, a Maariv columnist was quoted in the NY Times on the subject, saying that Netanyahu is trying to placate both right-wingers in his coalition and the American ally, and thus finds himself dancing at two weddings; where will he be when the music stops? Nicely put!

And, the Biden flap has not slowed the Netanyahu government’s efforts to kill or capture Hamas military commanders and other killers, with the capture today by Israeli forces operating in Ramallah of Hamas terror mastermind, Maher U’dda. Would that the PA would nab these guys, right?

Finally, Hillary is slated to speak at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference which begins this coming Sunday in Washington.  What will she tell America’s nefarious Israel lobby, so successful yet so vilified by Walt & Mearsheimer and many others?

Hopefully, all the drama will move, however slowly, in the direction of peace…and fairness.

Image:  “Neutral” Lula and his dour friend.  Source:  Google Images.

Israel’s economy: weathering the storm

November 10, 2009
Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

Much news and commentary you hear about the State of Israel has to do with geopolitics and the Arab-Israeli conflict (see my colleague Ben Moscovitch’s blog on this site for a nice selection.)  Settlements, will Abbas run or not, Iran’s plans to wipe Israel off the map, Israel’s thoughts about taking military action against Iran, the Goldstone Report on the war in Gaza, films about the war in Lebanon, and on and on. 

Not that this hyper-news about Israel is not important and interesting.  But, let’s step back and look at Israel from a “rising power” perspective — half highly indebted socialist country/half cutting-edge hi-tech and health sciences capitalist upstart.  Its economy has proven itself resilient to the intifada, to the tech bust of nearly a decade ago, and now to the US-led global meltdown. 

How so?  It’s about policy, stupid.  Sound economic policy, begun in the 1980s with a classic monetary stabilization program that reduced inflation, and deepened only a few years ago, by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, as finance minister, with his Thatcherite restructuring of the economy (e.g., increasing the labor force participation rate by creating incentives for the religious to work) and his shift to a rules-based fiscal policy.  Israel still has a high government debt burden — above 80% of GDP.  But that is down from above 100% not long ago.  Meanwhile the rest of the world has caught up to Israel’s debt levels (with the U.S. now surging higher). 

On the external front, the country couldn’t look better — $60 billion in foreign exchange reserves, a current account surplus, and “net external creditor” status, that is, Israel’s claims on foreigners exceed foreigners’ claims on Israel (oh, how the U.S. would love to have that balance sheet!)

So, in spite its modest size, constrained by the country’s small population, the Israeli economy dwarfs those of many of its much poorer and poorly run neighbors.  Have a look at the Fitch press release below referencing a recent report on Israel and its sovereign credit outlook.

Fitch Affirms State of Israel at ‘A’/’A+’; Outlook Stable   
06 Nov 2009 8:22 AM (EST)


Fitch Ratings-London-06 November 2009: Fitch Ratings has today affirmed the State of Israel’s Long-term Foreign and Local Currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) at ‘A’ and ‘A+’ respectively with Stable Outlooks. The Short-term Foreign Currency IDR is affirmed at ‘F1’ and the Country Ceiling at ‘AA-‘.

“Israel has fared better than many other small, open economies in the recent global economic and financial downturn, suffering only a mild recession compared to rated peers in Europe and Asia,” says Paul Rawkins, Senior Director in Fitch’s London-based Sovereigns team. “Nonetheless, the downturn has exposed Israel’s key vulnerability to shocks, namely a high public debt ratio that looks set to exceed 80% of GDP in the wake of wider fiscal deficits in 2009-10.”

Fitch says an improved macroeconomic policy framework, coupled with structural reforms since the last recession in 2001-02, laid the foundations for strong growth in 2004-08, in line with the ‘A’ median of 5%, rendering the economy markedly more resilient to shocks. With the exception of Bahrain, China and Poland, Fitch expects Israel to be the only country in the ‘A’ range to escape an outright recession in 2009. This performance is attributed largely to aggressive monetary and exchange rate policies, aided by a relatively trouble-free banking sector and an absence of asset price bubbles. Structurally, Israel’s high-tech manufacturing and services sectors have proved unexpectedly resilient to declining global investment demand, presaging a near record current account surplus in 2009.

Israel’s high public debt ratio remains the key constraint on its sovereign ratings. The adoption of rules-based fiscal policy in the wake of the last recession has served Israel well; limits on the growth of public expenditure and a ceiling on the state (i.e. central government) deficit facilitated a contraction in general government debt to 78% of GDP at end-2008 from a peak of 100% in 2003. Even so, this ratio remains high relative to the peer group median of 37%, although it is not the most extreme (‘A-‘ rated Greece exceeds 100% of GDP). Moreover, considering the mildness of its recession and an absence of financial sector-related support, the current external shock has taken a heavy toll on the public finances, chiefly on the revenue side. Fitch expects Israel’s general government deficit to widen to 6%-7% of GDP in 2009-10, on a par with rated peers Malaysia and the Czech Republic, which have experienced much steeper recessions, while pushing general government debt up to over 84% of GDP by end-2010.

While Israel’s experience with fiscal rules has been mixed, the current framework has entrenched fiscal discipline and together with signs of a strong economic recovery, suggests Israel’s powerful public debt dynamics could reassert themselves by 2011, forestalling any further deterioration in the public debt/GDP ratio. The government envisages a sharp narrowing in the state deficit to 3% of GDP in 2011 (from 6% in 2009), but still hopes to adhere to tax cuts over the medium term. Fitch expects some revision to the fiscal rules, with greater prominence being given to the Maastricht public debt/GDP ratio of 60% of GDP. From a rating standpoint, a positive rating action would require a decline in the debt/GDP ratio to a level nearer to the ‘A’ median. Conversely, a prolonged rise in the debt/GDP ratio and/or sustained fiscal easing would prompt a negative rating action.

Externally, the Government of Israel became a net external creditor for the first time in 2008, although it still falls short of ‘A’ norms on this measure. Burgeoning international reserves – these have more than doubled to USD60bn since end-2007 – have been the key factor behind this status change for the sovereign, facilitated by a strong current account surplus and buoyant net capital inflows. The economy as a whole also passed a new milestone in 2008, registering a surplus of external financial assets over liabilities for the first time. Israel expects its standing on the international stage to be further enhanced by OECD membership in the near future.

Contact: Paul Rawkins, London, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7417 4239; Richard Fox, +44 (0) 20 7417 4357

Media Relations: Peter Fitzpatrick, London, Tel: + 44 (0)20 7417 4364, Email: peter.fitzpatrick@fitchratings.com.

Additional information is available on http://www.fitchratings.com.

Russia-Turkey deal: the Czars would be jealous

August 7, 2009
Peter the Great sought a warm-water port on the Black Sea.  Source:  www.worldsecuritynetwork.com/
Peter the Great sought a warm-water port on the Black Sea. Source: http://www.worldsecuritynetwork.com/

The NYTimes published an article today detailing a set of energy deals concluded between Russia and Turkey in Ankara, with Prime Ministers Putin and Erdogan present.  The deal was with Russian energy giant Gazprom, allowing state-owned Gazprom access to Turkish territorial waters, a benefit Russian czars and party chairmen since Peter the Great (pictured above — who ruled Russia from 1682-1725) have sought by force (or threat of force).  Now, in true “Western” fashion, Russia, Inc. is signing a business contract that provides benefits to Turkey as well.  Turkey desires to become an energy hub and has obtained a Russian commitment to build a pipeline across its territory.

The Times article explains how Western interests have competed with Russia for energy agreements with Turkey in order to avoid Russian dominance of the Eurasian energy pipeline system, and the consequent vulnerability of energy-hungry Western Europe.  Russia has used pipeline cutoffs before for political purposes, e.g. with the Ukraine.

Turkey for its part, with a less pro-Western government than heretofore, headed by the moderate Islamist AKP party, probably does not mind playing what the Brits over a century ago called, “the Great Game,” or the Great Power competition in the East.  Has Vlad the Great bested Peter??

Obama: Too busy for Israel?

July 28, 2009

Netanyahu and Obama smile for the cameras.  Source:  Google Images

Great op-ed by Aluf Benn, diplomatic editor/correspondent for Haaretz, in today’s NYTimes.  He asks, Where has Obama been on Israel?  Why hasn’t he spoken to Israelis directly, the way he has addressed everyone else from Ghanaians to Egyptians, Europeans to Latin Americans?  For sure, he is really busy, probably busier than any other president since FDR.  As he himself has emphasized, there is the bank bailout, the trillion dollar fiscal stimulus, two wars (one to wind down, one to wind up), a failing state (Pakistan), and health care reform (is that really necessary right now?), not to mention the controversy over the arrest of a Harvard professor who is a friend of his.  Yet he has said he is the one who can untie the Gordian Knot of the Arab-Israeli conflict by the power of his personality and the credibility he has in the Muslim world.  Well, Aluf Benn argues that he is losing credibility with Israelis, a key player in the conflict.  Moreover, he points out something important and elusive to most world leaders.  The difference between playing to American Jews and playing to Israelis.  You don’t have to go on and on about the Holocaust and link it to the Arab-Israeli conflict to placate Israelis.  Just visit Yad Vashem and then deal with the here and now.  American Jews are more interested in politicians reiterating their angst about the Holocaust than are Israelis.  Israelis prefer to hear about a plan to deal with Iran’s emerging nuclear weapons capability, about Hamas rockets in the south and Hezbollah rockets in the north, and about Israel being recognized as a Jewish state by the Muslim world.  Have a read…

Barack Obama: Naif or Visionary?

July 7, 2009

President Obama in Prague earlier this year calling for nuclear disarmament.  Source:  www.guardian.co.uk

Slip back for a moment to the early 1980s.  The Reagan administration was talking about a winnable nuclear war.  Reagan himself called the MX missile the “Peacekeeper Missile,” a powerful multiple warhead nuclear weapon some interpreted as an effort to obtain a “first-strike capability.”  Orson Welles, that powerful cinematic presence, ambled up to the podium, with the assistance of a cane, on a sunny day in Central Park in June 1982, to address thousands in the Nuclear Freeze movement.  Activists opposing Reagan’s foreign policy, including this blogger, marched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Pentagon in 1981, chanting “No draft, no war, U.S. out of El Salvador!!”  When mounted police trotted alongside the marchers, some began chanting, “Free the horses!”  It was the 1980s, but we wished it was the sixties.

Obama has said he came of age during the Reagan presidency.  So did I.  For many years, I wore a T-shirt I purchased at the Nuclear Freeze rally that had a picture of our blue planet on it, with words above, “Don’t Blow It!”

Barack Obama, spending his last two college years at Columbia University, wrote an article in 1983 profiling two anti-war groups on campus, which is attached and currently making its way around the web.  In addition, he wrote a paper for a poli sci class, for which he received an ‘A’, on how he would negotiate nuclear weapons reduction with the Russians.   This week he will have a chance to implement that paper.  Dreams come true for some of us.

A NYTimes article today explains how Obama’s thinking on nuclear weapons has evolved over the years since that article and poli sci paper.  It suggests that at core he, like Reagan ironically, wants to eliminate nuclear weapons from the planet.  (Read his Prague speech on the matter.)  Yet today, he’ll settle for negotiations with the Russians for nuclear weapons reductions and for efforts at non-proliferation. 

He is a remarkable fellow, our president, with so much confidence and affability that he convinces people to do things.  This is a presidential quality.  A quality W woefully lacked.  I am impressed by the fact that the Russians, in advance of Obama’s trip, have agreed to allow U.S. military overflights to resupply NATO in Afghanistan.  Gobama!!

I just hope that over the years since the early eighties, Obama has come to grasp the complexities and ironies of interstate relations and the way nuclear weapons factor in to whether states make war or peace.  A study of these issues can be emotionally-unsatisfying, especially to a utopian wishing to put an end to the “twisted logic” of national security, bemoaning the “academic discussion of first versus second strike capabalities,” and attempting to confront “the relentless, often silent spread of militarism in this country.”  It’s okay, Mr. President, we all wrote like that in college.  

For the record, militarism is what happened in pre-World War I Germany, as the German General Staff, backed by the Kaiser, virtually hijacked that country; it is not at all what has taken place in America since George Washington turned down the opportunity to become a military dictator. 

The question is, now that Barack Obama is the leader of what he called in 1983 the “military-industrial interests, as they add to their billion dollar erector sets,” can he make the best decisions on weapons systems and force posture that will make the world safer?   

Although nuclear weapons are a horrible reality, they have arguably reduced great power conflict since the end of World War II.  While we hate having this threat hanging over us, it is one of the ironies of being human that it is exactly this threat of mutual destruction that has deterred nuclear-armed states from going to war.   So, President Obama’s goals of reducing nuclear weapons and staunching proliferation make sense, but we must be very careful when talking about nuclear disarmament.  The reality is that if all the peace-loving major powers disarmed, the technology remains out there, the genie is out of the bottle.  Some nasty power some time in the future (need I name names?) could and would build such weapons.  Would we have a deterrent to their use or threatened use of such weapons at that time? Could we develop one quickly? We must tread carefully in this area.  The disarmament and arms control efforts of the liberal democracies in the thirties occurred against the backdrop of Germany’s secret arms buildup, leaving them unable to confront Hitler in 1939.

Furthermore, those of us who opposed the Reagan arms buildup must admit that what Reagan (and George Kennan and Paul Nitze) had hoped would happen happened!  We bankrupted the Soviet Union through an arms race, and that nasty dictatorship withered away.  Was it worth the risk?  Maybe not.  The risk of nuclear war probably increased during the eighties because of the subtle shift in the balance of first strike/second strike capabilities, what Student Obama scorned in 1983.  If rasher men had been running the Soviet Union at the time, they could have interpreted Reagan’s commitment to the MX missile and other weapons systems, in conjunction with statements by such luminaries as Cap Weinberger, as an effort to obtain a first strike advantage, an ability to wipe out your adversary in a first strike so as to sustain only a modest second strike against yourself.

Back to today, the disagreement that Obama has had with his Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, over whether to modernize our nuclear arsenal, warrants careful consideration.  As the guy calling for nuclear arms reduction and wishing to build alliances through the power of America’s example, Obama does not want to build new “erector sets,” especially when he’s announcing expensive domestic spending initiatives.  Yet it is important for the U.S. to stay at the technological edge in military preparedness, especially as regards weapons that improve defense and deterrence.  I’m not saying that Gates’s initiative is the right one, only that policy makers must choose which technologies will be critical to America’s security and a safer world.  Yet Obama’s priority seems to be, simply, to not build any more nukes.  

The NYTimes article speaks about a class on presidential decision-making at Columbia that was formative for Student Obama, in which he wrote a paper on how to conduct nuclear arms negotiations with the Russians.  I took a course around the same time at Tufts University that was formative for me, called War and War Prevention, taught by Stephen W. Van Evera, now a professor at MIT and author of an important book, Causes of War:  Power and the Roots of Conflict, that I hope Obama and his national security team have studied.  The book’s conclusion: policies that strengthen a nation’s capacity to defend itself, rather than conquer other nations, make the world safer by convincing leaders the world over that conquest is difficult.  So, disarmament doesn’t usher in a safer world, arming with the right armaments, defensive armaments, does.  The book also suggests that misperceptions about this “offense-defense” balance have been a leading cause of wars throughout history, notably the catastrophic World War I.  Therefore, transparency, policy clarity and the disinterested analysis of national security by people outside government would reduce the risks of misperception. 

Ironically, nuclear weapons have bolstered the defense, by discouraging would-be attackers.  It is a depressing thought that the most horrible weapon in history has had a silver-lining, just as the most hopeful prospect – disarmament – has helped cause war.   For a greater understanding of why human affairs involve so much contradiction, we must, alas, turn to Mr. Freud, who last century theorized that two instincts drive human beings – the love and death instincts.  The love instinct (libido) drives us to build and the death instinct to destroy.  President Obama is definitely a builder.  He should just relegate his utopian visions to their proper place on the back burner, so that he can take a hard look at defense policy, formulating one that will promote American security and peace in the world.  The Van Evera book is a starter…

Obama on Iran: Good analysis, Poor judgment?

June 19, 2009

fpa5714_1_harwoodobama_190x126

In a small segment of a 17 minute interview President Obama had with John Harwood of the NYTimes that dealt mostly with financial regulation and health care (watch it on the link below), the president analyzed US-Iran relations in light of the election stand-off.  His comment that dealing with Moussavi would not be much different than dealing with Ahmadinejad has been widely criticized for undermining the reformers in Iran.  This is the trouble that highly analytical politicians can get into.  Remember John Kerry?

Obama made a point that some Iran observers, generally on the right, have made, and that I made in an earlier post, that no matter who becomes Iran’s next president, it will be hard to dissuade that nation from building the bomb.  This is an important insight.  The probability of success in talks on nuclear proliferation with the moderates in Iran would still be low, albeit a bit higher than with the conservatives. 

In spite of this analysis holding water, Obama is being faulted for saying this and for not coming out heavily in favor of the protestors.  I applaud his hands-off approach, really quite unique for an American president, ensuring that conservatives in Iran have the least possible evidence of American interference in Iran’s affairs as possible.  Yet the president should be careful in holding forth on foreign policy analytics, as he is not some snarky blogger seeking to impress readers, but rather the President of the United States…

Obama interview with John Harwood of the New York Times. June 16, 2009

Karim Sadjadpour on Iran…

June 17, 2009

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment on CNN this morning.

Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment was on CNN this morning analyzing the situation in Iran of late (see below).  Which way the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the paramilitary Basij will turn in this standoff will be critical, as will the staying power of the protestors in the coming days.  Note Sadjadpour’s article that I embedded in an earlier post on Iran as well.  Very good reading on the man with difficult decisions to make, Supreme Leader Khamenei…

From CNN’s American Morning with John Roberts:

John Roberts: Where do you see this ending?

Karim Sadjadpour: It’s difficult to say, John. A lot of it depends on what the opposition leaders decide they want to do. Certainly there’s a tremendous sense of outrage in Tehran. Not only in Tehran, throughout the country there’s a tremendous sense of injustice that these young people have. At the same time, it’s a country which endured an eight-year war with Iraq. People are allergic to the prospect of further carnage and bloodshed and violence. But at the moment, I think there’s truly a sense of outrage and I see these protests continuing.

Roberts: The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the government have told people to stay inside. The IRGC is saying if you put up certain materials on blog sites you could face legal charges. How big of a role is the Revolutionary Guard Corps and this paramilitary organization, the Basij, playing in trying to tamp down these protests?

Sadjadpour: They’re playing a definitive role. But what’s been amazing is they haven’t dissuaded people from going in to the streets. Historically, when the regime has announced that the Basij and the Revolutionary Guard are authorized to use force to shoot people, that will quell the protests. But so far, we haven’t seen the protests really quelled. The other day there were several hundred thousand people in Tehran. And it just gives you an idea of how outraged people feel that they’re willing to go out in to the streets and risk their lives.

Roberts: And this ruling Guardian Council, which has said it will recount certain parts of the election. Of course, Moussavi and his supporters are calling for a new election. How far do you think they will go in that? Are they playing for time here, hoping all of the protests will die down and eventually people will get tired of going out in the streets and accept the results of the election? Or might this actually lead to a new election? Can they resist the will of the people?

Sadjadpour: The Guardian Council is not like our Supreme Court. It’s not an objective entity. It’s essentially under the hegemony of Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader. And I think Khamenei deferred to the Guardian Council simply as a tactical move to buy time. But Khamenei may be faced with a dilemma and it may be one day soon, whether to sacrifice President Ahmadinejad or sacrifice himself. Because it’s really gotten to the point where people are calling for the head of Khamenei. And this is unprecedented in the last 20 years.

Roberts: Khamenei has been supreme leader since 1989. This is, as you suggest, all about his survival as well. Right now he’s hitched his wagon to Ahmadinejad who’s got the loyalty of the Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Basij. Can you foresee any circumstances under which he might, for his own survival, throw Ahmadinejad overboard?

Sadjadpour: I think it’s certainly within the realm of possibilities. And I would argue, John, Ahmadinejad doesn’t necessarily have the loyalty of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij. I was based in Iran for a couple of years and I spoke to many of these young people within the IRGC and Basij who recognize that this “death to America” culture of 1979 is obsolete today and Iran will never achieve its full potential unless there’s reform made in the political, economic, social realm. So I think we shouldn’t take for granted the fact that all of the regime’s shock troops are necessarily going to side with President Ahmadinejad.

Roberts: What will it take to initiate that huge fracture? As we see now, the Guard Corps and the Basij are on the side of the government.

Sadjadpour: We have to get inside the head of Ayatollah Khamenei…his world view is very clear. When you’re under siege, never compromise. Because if you compromise it’s going to project weakness. If he orders a mayor clampdown, I think we may start to see fissures within the regime’s shock troops.