JFP 11/22: Iraq war boosters backing Romney; Ron Paul slams foreign bases
Just Foreign Policy News
November 22, 2011
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1) Former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has denounced the IAEA's major new claim that Iran built an explosives chamber to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear explosion as "highly misleading," writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. Kelley, a nuclear engineer who was the IAEA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq and is now a senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, pointed out in an interview with the Real News Network that a cylindrical chamber designed to contain 70 kg of explosives, as claimed by the IAEA, could not possibly have been used for hydrodynamic testing of a nuclear weapon design, contrary to the IAEA claim.
2) Major Western powers took significant steps on Monday to cut Iran off from the international financial system, the New York Times reports. The US also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iran's nuclear industry, as well as on its petrochemical and oil industries, adding to existing measures that seek to weaken the Iranian government by depriving it of its ability to refine gasoline or invest in its petroleum industry. The Treasury Department named the Central Bank of Iran as a "primary money laundering concern," a step short of formal sanctions, which would probably be resisted by China and other Asian countries that import oil from Iran. The Obama administration is also worried that such a step could drive up oil prices while the economy is fragile.
China, Japan and other countries use Iran's central bank to process transactions from their purchases of Iranian oil, the Times notes, in part because most of Iran's major commercial banks are already subject to sanctions. They would be likely to resist an order to stop dealing with the central bank, and this would put the administration in an untenable position, since the US could not sever its ties with Chinese or Japanese banks. Nonetheless, the White House has been under pressure from Republicans in Congress to designate the central bank, the Times notes.
3) Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain are turning for national security advice to former officials in the Bush administration, including some who pushed hardest for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bloomberg reports. The former officials include Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy under Rumsfeld; John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN; and Robert Joseph, a White House National Security Council aide during Bush's first term. Feith, Bolton and Joseph were in the Bush camp that favored U.S. unilateral action and was "skeptical of engagement" with allies as well as foes. In Bush's second term, the pendulum swung back toward engagement. The return of the unilateralists to Republican inner circles "in that sense, it's going back," said James Mann, who wrote "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet."
4) Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Ron Paul held firm to his stance that eliminating the U.S. military presence around the world is the key to both reducing the nation's debt and easing tensions with the Muslim world, the Washington Times reports. "Those troops stationed overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies," Paul said. "I think it's a danger to our national defense, and we could save a lot of money cutting out the military expenditures that contribute nothing to our defense." A Bloomberg poll released last week shows Paul in a statistical dead heat in Iowa.
5) The notion advanced by some Republican presidential candidates that helping dissidents in Iran could get rid of Iran's nuclear program is totally at variance with reality, writes Azadeh Moaveni in Time Magazine. Iran's nuclear program is overwhelmingly backed by Iranian public opinion, government supporters and dissidents alike. "The nuclear program is an issue of national pride that ties many Iranians together," says Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the RAND Corp., who conducted a 2009 survey showing that 87 percent of Iranians backed the nuclear-energy program.
6) Battle lines are set for a fight in December over the path forward on Iran sanctions, writes Josh Rogin in Foreign Policy. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is leading the charge for collapsing the central bank of Iran and trying to bring down the whole Iranian economy. In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran's financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran."
There are two risks to the Kirk strategy, Rogin writes: one is that other countries' central banks might decide to react negatively and stop doing business with the US, another is that bringing down Iran's economy would disrupt world oil markets, raising the price of energy.
"We are eager to work with Congress ... to amplify our pressure on Iran, but it is critically important that the steps we take do not destabilize the U.S. and global economy while potentially benefiting Iran," a Treasury Department spokesman said. A senior GOP Senate aide responded, "Treasury should go back and model the cost to the U.S. economy and the world economy of an Israeli strike on Iran."
7) Israel has ordered the shutdown of the Israeli-Palestinian "All for Peace" radio station, AP reports. "A radical leftist station that becomes an instrument of incitement must not be allowed to broadcast to the broader public," said Danny Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party. The Israeli director of the station said it would go to court to try to get back on the air.
8) The Pakistani Taliban have declared a cease-fire to encourage nascent peace talks with the government, a move that appears to show the deadly group's willingness to strike a deal, AP reports. Mohammed Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, said the cease-fire announcement was an indication that "the peace process is starting," saying it could fulfill a government condition for talks. The US would likely oppose any effort to strike a deal, AP says.
8) Hezbollah has unraveled much of the CIA's mission in Lebanon, effectively shutting down the agency's crucial operations there, notes Max Fisher at The Atlantic. CIA sources say the CIA's intelligence-gathering function has been crippled as the organization has been re-focused since 2001 on killing people.
9) Ugandans greeted President Obama's decision to deploy 100 US military advisers to central Africa to hunt Joseph Kony with mixed feelings, writes Jackee Budesta Batand of MIT in the Boston Globe. Social media outlets were abuzz with the fear that the US was only interested in Uganda's oil sector. Peace activists are skeptical of a move that seems to champion military approaches over finding peaceful resolutions to the conflicts.
Stephen Oola, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer and interim coordinator of the Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity, said, "it is unfortunate that President Obama's first tangible action under the LRA Disarmament Act is to send military advisers instead of a credible peace delegation." Oola credits the current peace in Northern Uganda as a direct result of the peace talks held in 2006, and sees peace processes as a more viable option to military efforts.
The Obama administration's use of military action threatens the work of local players seeking to end the conflict through the resumption of peace talks, Batanda writes. Previous military interventions have always resulted in retaliatory attacks on the communities where the rebels have operated. What will this intervention do differently to ensure that there are limited civilian casualties, she asks.
10) The U.S. government seems divided over the wisdom of the latest Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia, the New York Times reports. Some diplomats in the State Department are strongly against the Ethiopians jumping into Somalia again, while the Pentagon and the C.I.A. seem to support it. A senior Defense Department official said it was too soon to tell whether the Ethiopian military action would weaken the Shabab further or hand the insurgents a propaganda boost.
1) Ex-Inspector Rejects IAEA Iran Bomb Test Chamber Claim
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Nov 19
Washington - A former inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repudiated its major new claim that Iran built an explosives chamber to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear explosion.
The IAEA claim that a foreign scientist - identified in news reports as Vyacheslav Danilenko - had been involved in building the alleged containment chamber has now been denied firmly by Danilenko himself in an interview with Radio Free Europe published Friday.
The latest report by the IAEA cited "information provided by Member States" that Iran had constructed "a large explosives containment vessel in which to conduct hydrodynamic experiments" - meaning simulated explosions of nuclear weapons - in its Parchin military complex in 2000.
The report said it had "confirmed" that a "large cylindrical object" housed at the same complex had been "designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kilograms of high explosives". That amount of explosives, it said, would be "appropriate" for testing a detonation system to trigger a nuclear weapon.
But former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley has denounced the agency's claims about such a containment chamber as "highly misleading".
Kelley, a nuclear engineer who was the IAEA's chief weapons inspector in Iraq and is now a senior research fellow at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, pointed out in an interview with the Real News Network that a cylindrical chamber designed to contain 70 kg of explosives, as claimed by the IAEA, could not possibly have been used for hydrodynamic testing of a nuclear weapon design, contrary to the IAEA claim.
"There are far more explosives in that bomb than could be contained by this container," Kelley said, referring to the simulated explosion of a nuclear weapon in a hydrodynamic experiment.
Kelley also observed that hydrodynamic testing would not have been done in a container inside a building in any case. "You have to be crazy to do hydrodynamic explosives in a container," he said. "There's no reason to do it. They're done outdoors on firing tables."
Kelley rejected the IAEA claim that the alleged cylindrical chamber was new evidence of an Iranian weapons programme. "We've been led by the nose to believe that this container is important, when in fact it's not important at all," Kelley said.
The IAEA report and unnamed "diplomats" implied that a "former Soviet nuclear weapons scientist", identified in the media as Danilenko, had helped build the alleged containment vessel at Parchin.
But their claims conflict with one another as well as with readily documented facts about Danilenko's work in Iran.
The IAEA report does not deny that Danilenko – a Ukrainian who worked in a Soviet-era research institute that was identified mainly with nuclear weapons – was actually a specialist on nanodiamonds. The report nevertheless implies a link beween Danilenko and the purported explosives chamber at Parchin by citing a publication by Danilenko as a source for the dimensions of the alleged explosives chamber.
Associated Press reported Nov. 11 that unnamed diplomats suggested Volodymyr Padalko, a partner of Danilenko in a nanodiamond business who was described as Danilenko's son-in-law, had contradicted Danilenko's firm denial of involvement in building a containment vessel for weapons testing. The diplomats claimed Padalko had told IAEA investigators that Danilenko had helped build "a large steel chamber to contain the force of the blast set off by such explosives testing".
But that claim appears to be an effort to confuse Danilenko's well- established work on an explosives chamber for nanodiamond synthesis with a chamber for weapons testing, such as the IAEA now claims was built at Parchin.
One of the unnamed diplomats described the steel chamber at Parchin as "the size of a double decker bus" and thus "much too large" for nanodiamonds.
But the IAEA report itself made exactly the opposite argument, suggesting that the purported steel chamber at Parchin was based on the design in a published paper by Danilenko.
The report said the alleged explosives chamber was designed to contain "up to 70 kg of high explosives" which is claims would be "suitable" for testing what it calls a "multipoint initiation system" for a nuclear weapon.
But a 2008 slide show on systems for nanodiamond synthesis posted on the internet by the U.S.-based nanotechnology company NanoBlox shows that the last patented containment chamber built by Danilenko and patented in 1992, with a total volume of 100 cubic metres, was designed for the use of just 10 kg of explosives.
An unnamed member state had given the IAEA a purported Iranian document in 2008 describing a 2003 test of what the agency interpreted to be a possible "high explosive implosion system for a nuclear weapon".
David Albright, director of a Washington, D.C. think tank who frequently passes on information from IAEA officials to the news media, told this writer in 2009 that the member state in question was "probably Israel".
Although the process of making "detonation nanodiamonds" uses explosives in a containment chamber, the chamber would bear little resemblance to one used for testing a nuclear bomb's initiation system.
The production of diamonds does not require the same high degree of precision in simultaneous explosions as the initiator for a nuclear device. And unlike the explosives used in a multipoint initiation system, the explosives used for making synthetic nanodiamonds must be under water in a closed pool, as Danilenko noted in a 2010 PowerPoint presentation.
Having endorsed the IAEA's claims, Albright concedes in a Nov. 13 article that the IAEA report "did not provide [sic] Danilenko's involvement, if any, in this chamber."
In an interview with Radio Free Europe Friday, Danilenko denied that he has any expertise in nuclear weapons, saying, "I understand absolutely nothing in nuclear physics." He also denied that he participated in "modeling warheads" at the research institute in Russia where he worked for three decades.
Danilenko further denied doing any work in Iran that did not relate to "dynamic detonation synthesis of diamonds" and said he has "strong doubts" that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme during those years.
Albright and three co-authors published an account of Danilenko's work in Iran this week seeking to give credibility to the IAEA suggestion that he worked on the containment chamber for a nuclear weapons programme.
The Albright article, published on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security, said that Danilenko approached the Iranian embassy in 1995 offering his expertise on detonation diamonds, and later signed a contract with Syed Abbas Shahmoradi who responded to Danilenko's query.
Albright identifies Shahmoradi as the "head of Iran's secret nuclear sector involved in the development of nuclear weapons", merely because Shahmoradi later headed the Physics Research Center, which the IAEA argues has led Iran's nuclear weapons research.
But in late 1995, Shahmoradi was at the Sharif University of Technology, which is a leading centre for nanodiamonds in Iran. Albright argues that this is evidence supporting his suspicion that nanodiamonds were a cover for his real work, because the main centre for nanodiamond research is at Malek Ashtar University of Technology rather than at Sharif University.
However, Sharif University had just established an Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in 2005 that was intended to become the hub for nanotechnology research activities and strategy planning for Iran. So Sharif University and Shahmoradi would have been the logical choice to contract one of the world's leading specialists on nanodiamonds.
2) United States and Its Allies Expand Sanctions on Iran
Mark Landler, New York Times, November 21, 2011
Washington - Major Western powers took significant steps on Monday to cut Iran off from the international financial system, announcing coordinated sanctions aimed at its central bank and commercial banks. The measures, a response to a recent United Nations report warning about Iran's nuclear activities, tighten the vise on Iran but still fall short of a blanket cutoff.
The United States also imposed sanctions on companies involved in Iran's nuclear industry, as well as on its petrochemical and oil industries, adding to existing measures that seek to weaken the Iranian government by depriving it of its ability to refine gasoline or invest in its petroleum industry.
The United States, Britain and Canada each announced measures aimed at shutting off Iran's access to foreign banks and credit. The European Union is expected to approve similar measures on Thursday, in what amounts to a concerted response to the finding this month by the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran may be continuing to work on a nuclear weapon and delivery system.
The Treasury Department named the Central Bank of Iran and the entire Iranian banking system as a "primary money laundering concern" - an unusual and symbolically important step, but one that is short of formal sanctions, which would probably be resisted by China and other Asian countries that import oil from Iran. The Obama administration is also worried that such a step could drive up oil prices while the economy is fragile.
Still, the administration sought to portray the measures as a major increase in pressure on Iran's leadership, which they called on to return to the bargaining table over its nuclear program.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, standing next to her, said the United States had not ruled out formally sanctioning the central bank, a step that would have a more draconian effect on Iran because it would cut off from the American market any foreign bank that does business with the central bank.
Mr. Geithner insisted that simply labeling Iran's banking system as a risk for money laundering would cause foreign banks to think twice about dealing with it. With the American, British and Canadian actions, he said Iran was effectively cut off "from three of the world's largest financial sectors."
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who has taken a particularly aggressive line toward Iran, called Monday for major powers to freeze the assets of the central bank and suspend purchases of Iranian oil.
China, Japan and other countries use Iran's central bank to process transactions from their purchases of Iranian oil, in part because most of Iran's major commercial banks are already subject to sanctions. They would be likely to resist an order to stop dealing with the central bank, and this would put the administration in an untenable position, since the United States could not sever its ties with Chinese or Japanese banks.
Mr. Obama could request a waiver to exempt such institutions from the ban, but experts on sanctions said that such a waiver would undermine the credibility of the United States. The White House has been under pressure from Republicans to designate the central bank, and has worked to forestall such legislation.
3) Bush-Era Iraq Hawks Counsel GOP Hopefuls
Gopal Ratnam and Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg, Nov 18, 2011
Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain are turning for national security advice to former officials in the George W. Bush administration, including some who pushed hardest for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The former officials include Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Robert Joseph, a White House National Security Council aide during Bush's first term and later a State Department official.
Feith, Bolton and Joseph were in the Bush camp that favored U.S. unilateral action and was "skeptical of engagement" with allies as well as foes such as North Korea, said James Mann, a foreign policy scholar at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
In Bush's second term, with the nation still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pendulum swung back toward engagement. The return of the unilateralists to Republican inner circles "in that sense, it's going back," said Mann, who wrote 2004's "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet."
The contenders in the Republican presidential primary field have attacked President Barack Obama's foreign policies. They say Obama showed weakness by not leading the allied air campaign in Libya, where the U.K and France played prominent roles, and not being tough enough on Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons efforts.
Iran is Obama's "greatest failing from a foreign policy standpoint," former Massachusetts Governor Romney said at the Republican foreign policy debate Nov. 12 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He called for U.S. military action if measures such as economic sanctions and covert operations aren't successful in thwarting Iran.
Obama's plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq have been criticized by most of the candidates even though the deadline was set by Bush in a 2008 agreement with the country. Obama announced the withdrawal Oct. 22 after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach an accord to assure immunity for a residual U.S. force there.
"The idea that a commander-in-chief would stand up and signal to the enemy a date certain of which we're going to pull our troops out I think is irresponsible," Texas Governor Perry said Oct. 30 on "Fox News Sunday." Perry also called for cutting off foreign aid to countries that oppose U.S. policies.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Representative Ron Paul support the Iraq withdrawal. [Bloomberg is confused on this - Huntsman blasted the Iraq withdrawal - JFP.]
Republican hopefuls advised by the Bush veterans conflate toughness with unilateral U.S. action, said Paula Newberg, director of the Institute for Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington. On complex issues from the Arab Spring to China's rising wealth, they don't show "anywhere near the kind of nuance that's required and have instead returned to a recap of foreign policy of decades earlier."
Romney's advisers include Joseph; Cofer Black, a former head of Central Intelligence Agency's counterterrorism center and executive of the security firm Blackwater, now Xe Services; Meghan O'Sullivan, a Bloomberg View columnist and former White House official who oversaw Iraq and Afghanistan policy; Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and a former counselor at Rice's State Department; Dov Zakheim, the former Pentagon comptroller; and John Lehman, Ronald Reagan's Navy secretary.
Perry's list of informal advisers includes Feith; Bolton; Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later ambassador to Afghanistan; and Daniel Blumenthal, former Pentagon international security affairs director for China and Taiwan, according to a person familiar with the campaign who asked not to be named.
Victoria Coates, a former research associate to Rumsfeld and an art historian, is a Perry foreign policy adviser, and Emily Domenech, a former Pentagon trip planner, is a defense adviser, the campaign said Nov. 2.
"I'm fairly regularly in contact with" the Perry campaign and "have met Perry more than once," Feith said in a telephone interview. They've discussed Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as "things like the relationship of strategy to the defense budget," Feith said.
Feith, Bolton, Khalilzad, and Cohen were among 10 so-called neoconservatives who were national security officials in the Bush administration, Jeffery Record, a professor at the Air Force War College, wrote in his 2010 book "Wanting War -- Why the Bush Administration Invaded Iraq." Overthrowing Saddam Hussein "became a neoconservative mantra during the 1990s that culminated in the U.S. invasion," he wrote.
As the Pentagon's policy chief Feith, set up separate cells within the department that cited links between Iraq and al- Qaeda, as well as evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the CIA doubted. Subsequent investigations found no proof of either and concluded that Feith's information came from the Iraqi National Congress and other exile groups seeking U.S. help to overthrow Hussein.
A February 2007 Pentagon Inspector General report criticized the actions of Feith's cells as "inappropriate" because they didn't "clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community." In his book "War and Decision," Feith called the conclusion a "misguided notion" because the briefings were meant to critique other intelligence and not to replace it, he wrote.
Joseph was a member of a "White House Information Group" that coordinated a pre-war white paper called "A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein's Quest for Nuclear Weapons."
As Bush's undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton was part of the "politics of persuasion" that stressed "the most sensational" intelligence scenarios, according to an Atlantic Monthly article by former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack.
Joseph and Bolton also opposed Bush's second-term diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.
4) Ron Paul: U.S. military bases create enemies
Ben Wolfgang, The Washington Times, Sunday, November 20, 2011
Despite his recent surge in the polls, presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul won't back away from controversial positions that have in the past caused pundits and many Republicans to dismiss him as an unelectable fringe candidate.
Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, the Texas Republican held firm to his stance that eliminating the U.S. military presence around the world is the key to both reducing the nation's debt and easing tensions with the Muslim world.
"Those troops stationed overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies," Mr. Paul said during a testy back-and-forth with host Bob Schieffer. "I think it's a danger to our national defense, and we could save a lot of money cutting out the military expenditures that contribute nothing to our defense."
A Bloomberg poll released last week shows him in a statistical dead heat in Iowa, where the nation's first caucuses will be held in less than two months. The survey of likely Republican caucus-goers shows Mr. Paul at 19 percent, trailing only businessman Herman Cain, at 20 percent. Mr. Cain has slipped in the polls in recent weeks after allegations of sexual misconduct and a perceived lack of foreign-policy knowledge.
Mr. Romney came in third with 18 percent, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is polling at 17 percent, according to Bloomberg.
5) Why GOP Presidential Hopefuls Miss the Point on Iran's Nuclear Program
Azadeh Moaveni, TIME, November 21, 2011
But despite the decline in living standards accelerated by economic isolation, Iranians remain remarkably united behind the country's nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week called into question Iran's insistence that all of its nuclear work has been directed at energy production, citing evidence that appears to suggest research into warhead design, particularly before 2003. And Western countries' belief that Tehran's civilian nuclear program creates cover for a secret weapons program is the reason for the rising tide of sanctions. Still, despite the burden those sanctions impose on their lives and their own grievances with the regime, the majority of Iranians still appear to back their country's nuclear stance. As one Iranian blogger, Abbas Khosravani, put it in a post responding to the new IAEA report: "These political games won't divert us from pressing forward with our rights."
The "rights" question is a point of national pride: while Iran's rights as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) don't include weapons development, they do include uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. And the Western powers have demanded, starting with the Bush Administration, that Iran give up the right to enrichment. (Tehran is currently required by the U.N. Security Council to suspend enrichment until it has satisfied transparency concerns raised by the IAEA, but the starting point of the U.S. and its allies when the sanctions began was that Iran could not be trusted to exercise its NPT right to enrichment.)
The regime is able to stoke nationalist resentment at the idea that their country is being singled out unfairly, particularly in light of the nuclear program of Israel, which has not signed the NPT and is widely assumed to have a substantial nuclear-weapons arsenal. An Islamic student group issued a letter following the IAEA report demanding that Iran withdraw from the treaty, under which its program remains under IAEA inspection. "The majority of Iranians still feel [a nuclear program] is something they should have, especially if others do," says Sanam Dolatshahi, a journalist at BBC Persian service who monitors the Iranian blogosphere.
Republican presidential candidates, when trying to outdo one another in promises to pressure Iran, paint a portrait of a population awaiting rescue through U.S. intervention. The way to stop Iran's nuclear program, many of them argue, is to help "Iranian rebels" overthrow the regime, as if a more democratic Iran would offers itself up to the world as a nuclear eunuch. That may simply be wishful thinking.
The opposition Green Movement may have fizzled in the face of a harsh government crackdown, but even at its height, the Greens stood staunchly behind what they view as Iran's national right to nuclear power. Many wouldn't have minded an Iranian bomb, or at least the know-how to build one. They may have been critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's provocative bombast, but they largely agreed that his government shouldn't concede to Western demands.
Today, call-in television programs, Facebook pages and the widely active Iranian blogosphere - which reflects a diverse range of positions on the current government in Tehran - all suggest that a majority of Iranians remain committed to their country's nuclear ambitions. "The nuclear program is an issue of national pride that ties many Iranians together," says Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the RAND Corp., who conducted a 2009 survey showing that 87 percent of Iranians backed the nuclear-energy program.
6) Stage set for new Iran sanctions fight,
Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, November 19, 2011
It's a rare moment of bipartisan unity: The Obama administration and both congressional Democrats and Republicans all agree that new measures are needed to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. But that's where the agreement ends; battle lines are now set for a fight in December over the path forward on Iran sanctions.
The Obama administration is under serious congressional pressure to tighten the noose on Iran following the foiled Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir and the new International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report that confirms Iran's nuclear weapons program. The leading idea on Capitol Hill is to sanction the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), which stands accused of facilitating all sorts of illicit activities. The question is whether to try to punish the CBI or to try to collapse it altogether, a move that risks negative effects for the world oil markets and the U.S. economy.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is leading the charge for collapsing the CBI and trying to bring down the whole Iranian economy. In August, more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama, written by Kirk and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), which stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran's financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran."
Earlier this week, Kirk introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which is on the floor now, that would force the administration to cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that does business with the CBI. The administration, led by Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, has been lobbying against the Kirk amendment because they believe it could risk harm to the U.S. economy.
Kirk's language already has a lot of support, including co-sponsorship from Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Dean Heller (R-NV), John Tester (D-SD), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Pat Roberts (R-KS), John Barrasso (R-WY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Scott Brown (D-MA), Dan Coats (R-IN), John Cornyn (R-TX), and David Vitter (R-LA).
There are two risks to the Kirk strategy: one is that other countries' central banks might decide to react negatively and stop doing business with the United States, another is that bringing down Iran's economy would disrupt world oil markets, raising the price of energy.
"We are eager to work with Congress to develop new authorities to amplify our pressure on Iran, but it is critically important that the steps we take do not destabilize the U.S. and global economy while potentially benefiting Iran," a Treasury Department spokesman told The Cable.
A senior GOP Senate aide responded to that argument today, telling The Cable, "Treasury should go back and model the cost to the U.S. economy and the world economy of an Israeli strike on Iran."
Earlier this week, the administration held a closed-door meeting with Kirk, Schumer, Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SC), and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is the unofficial Democratic lead on the issue. They tried to work out a compromise but failed. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to keep the Kirk amendment off of the defense bill, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) maneuvered to make sure it would get a vote.
So today, Menendez introduced his counter amendment, which has the support of Schumer, Reid, and Sens. Robert Casey (D-PA), Kirstin Gillibrand (D-NY), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).
"This amendment will require the president to make a determination about whether the Central Bank of Iran's conduct threatens the national security of the United States or its allies based on its facilitation of the activities of the Government of Iran that threaten global or regional peace and security," Menendez said Friday on the senate floor.
The administration hasn't fully endorsed the Menendez amendment, but they like it better than the Kirk language, one Democratic Senate aide told The Cable. The administration has a long record of opposing any congressional efforts that force its hand on how to apply sanctions. The issue will probably come to a head when Congress returns from Thanksgiving recess.
7) Israel shuts down dovish radio station, critics allege muzzling
Amy Teibel, Associated Press, November 20
Jerusalem - Israel has ordered the shutdown of a dovish Israeli-Palestinian radio station, officials and the station's operators said on Sunday. The station and other critics said the move was politically motivated, and part of a broader assault on democracy by conservative forces in the government.
Some members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition have pushed forward a series of measures recently that critics say are aimed at stifling opponents. Among the proposed legislation are attempts to block most foreign funding for dovish nonprofit groups, lowering the threshold for politicians to file libel suits against the media, and a push to shift control of Supreme Court appointments from an independent panel to parliament.
Conservative lawmaker Danny Danon boasted that he had helped close the "All for Peace" radio station. Danon, a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, claimed the Communications Ministry shuttered the station at his request, after he claimed it "incited" against Israel. "A radical leftist station that becomes an instrument of incitement must not be allowed to broadcast to the broader public," Danon said.
Operators of "All For Peace" radio said they complied with a shut-down order issued last week. Israel's communications ministry confirmed it issued the order, and said the station was broadcasting into Israel illegally.
The ministry, headed by a Likud Cabinet minister, said in a statement that the station's Hebrew-language broadcasts inside Israel were "economically damaging local radio franchisees." It did not mention the issue of incitement.
Mossi Raz, the Israeli director of the station, said that it transmits from the West Bank where it is not subject to Israeli law. He told Israel Radio that the station, which has been operating since 2004, would go to court in Israel to try to get back on the air.
8) Pakistani Taliban declare cease-fire, commander says; others doubt that any deal would last
Associated Press, Tuesday, November 22, 11:09 AM
Peshawar, Pakistan - The Pakistani Taliban have declared a cease-fire to encourage nascent peace talks with the government, a senior commander said, a move that appears to show the deadly group's willingness to strike a deal.
It was unclear Tuesday whether all the militants claiming to be under the Taliban banner would obey the directive, which the commander said had been in effect for a month. The Pakistani Taliban are believed to be divided into many factions. There has also been significant militant violence in the country in recent weeks.
Hours after the Taliban announcement, state-run Pakistan Television quoted Interior Minister Rehman Malik as saying that the government had not held formal talks with the Taliban. "But if the Taliban has announced a cease-fire, we welcome it," it quoted Malik as telling reporters in the southwestern city of Quetta.
The United States, which has pounded the Taliban with missiles fired by drones, wants Pakistan to keep the pressure on insurgents and would likely be concerned about any effort to strike a deal. Many of America's fiercest foes in Afghanistan - as well as al-Qaida operatives from around the world - live alongside the militants in the Pakistani region of North Waziristan.
Army offensives against the Taliban are unpopular among many Pakistanis, many of whom view the militants as misguided Muslim brothers rather than terrorists. Right-wing and Islamist parties that support their aims have long called for a peace deal.
This view appeared to get traction in September when government leaders, opposition politicians and other national figures met in Islamabad and produced a vague resolution in support of peace moves with militants. Despite this, the government's official line is that they will talk only with militants who lay down their arms.
Mohammed Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, said the cease-fire announcement was an indication that "the peace process is starting," saying it could fulfill a government condition for talks. But he also advised caution, noting "the Pakistani Taliban has many factions and it's not clear who is behind this." "The situation will come clear in the coming days," he said.
8) CIA Outsmarted by Hezbollah: Is This the Cost of Counterterrorism?
Since 2001, the U.S. spy agency has been retooled to fight terror, but what has it lost?
Max Fisher, The Atlantic, Nov 21 2011,
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has unraveled much of the CIA's mission in Lebanon, capturing up to a dozen U.S. spies in the country and effectively shutting down the agency's crucial operations there. "Beirut station is out of business," a source told the Los Angeles Times today. The incident is a major blow to the CIA and to U.S. intelligence. The agency's posting in Lebanon has for decades been one of its most aggressive, most highly valued, and, for its staff, most prestigious. Though the CIA base there aggressively tracks Hezbollah, it is also a headquarters for monitoring and often countering Syria and Iran.
How was the CIA outmaneuvered by one of its oldest foes in one of its proudest outposts? CIA sources that spoke to the Associated Press, which broke the story along with the L.A. Times, seem not to fear a strengthening Hezbollah or even to blame the agency's White House overseers, as spy officials often do, but rather cite a changing culture in the CIA itself. The old CIA mission of counterintelligence, of spy-versus-spy, has taken a back seat to the new emphasis on killing terrorists, they seem to worry, and the agency has suffered as a result.
"The Lebanon crisis is the latest mishap involving CIA counterintelligence, the undermining or manipulating of the enemy's ability to gather information. Former CIA officials have said that once-essential skill has been eroded as the agency shifted from outmaneuvering rival spy agencies to fighting terrorists. In the rush for immediate results, former officers say, tradecraft has suffered.
The most recent high-profile example was the suicide bomber who posed as an informant and killed seven CIA employees and wounded six others in Khost, Afghanistan in December 2009."
The Khost incident, which was devastating to the CIA, neatly encapsulates how the world's premier spy agency managed to lose so much of its spy skills. Since September 2001, the agency's mission has been less and less about subterfuge and intelligence-gathering but more and more about killing terrorists. In its growing emphasis on finding targets over finding information, it over-exposed itself to the double-agent at Khost. This year, as it was ramping up drone strikes in Pakistan, paramilitary operations in Somalia, and targeted killings in Yemen, it seems to have lost some of its once-prized focus on outwitting such hostile agencies as Hezbollah's "spy combat unit."
How much has the CIA changed since 2001? In the late 1990s, senior officials in the Clinton administration debated endlessly over whether the CIA could legally be granted the authority to kill Osama bin Laden; the agency had been banned from assassinations since 1976, following revelations that it had tried to kill Fidel Castro a decade earlier. Even the idea of a direct presidential order to kill the world's most dangerous terrorist, a man who had already blown up two U.S. embassies, was considered controversial and outside the CIA's normal realm. Yet in the first 20 months of the Obama administration, the CIA's drone program in Pakistan alone killed over 800 people. It runs or helps run drone programs and special operations in several countries and even operates detention centers. Under Obama, the CIA and Pentagon have borrowed one another's methods in Afghanistan and Iraq (not to mention one another's leadership) so regularly that the line between U.S. intelligence and the U.S. military has blurred in unprecedented ways.
9) Ugandans Wonder: Is US After Kony, Or Oil?
Jackee Budesta Batand, Boston Globe, November 19, 2011
[Jackee Budesta Batanda is the 2011-2012 IWMF Elizabeth Neuffer fellow at the Center for International Studies at MIT.]
Ugandans greeted President Obama's decision last month to deploy 100 US military advisers to central Africa to assist in the manhunt for rebel leader Joseph Kony with mixed feelings. Immediately, social media outlets were abuzz with the fear that the United States was only interested in Uganda's nascent oil sector.
In addition, Obama's announcement could not have come at a worse time in Uganda's political history. The country has been rocked by corruption scandals in the oil sector, with parliament calling for the country's ministers to resign while it investigated charges that they took bribes from a British oil company. The scandal also exposed the deepening rift within the ruling National Resistance Movement government, which has been in power for over 26 years, as well as the public's dissatisfaction at the corruption-marred "liberation government.''
Many people questioned why America was giving support now, when it could have intervened much earlier in the fight against Kony's guerrilla group, the Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, which is accused of widespread atrocities. President Yoweri Museveni called a press conference in the wake of the announcement to dismiss claims that American troops would fight in the war, saying he would never allow foreign troops to fight a war for him.
The US Embassy in Kampala also called a press conference to dispute the criticisms that the US assistance was sparked by its interest in Uganda's oil. The New Vision, the state-owned newspaper, quoted Virginia Blaser of the US Embassy: "The United States is deeply committed to supporting Uganda's effort to eliminate the threat of LRA and providing humanitarian assistance to LRA-affected regions. Since 2008, the LRA has been responsible for at least 2,400 attacks and over 3,400 abductions. According to the United Nations, there have been approximately 250 attacks attributed to the LRA this year.''
Peace activists on the ground are skeptical of a move that seems to champion military approaches over finding peaceful resolutions to the conflicts. Stephen Oola, a Kampala-based human rights lawyer and interim coordinator of the Advisory Consortium on Conflict Sensitivity, said, "it is unfortunate that President Obama's first tangible action under the LRA Disarmament Act is to send military advisers instead of a credible peace delegation. It is a typical Washington solution.''
Oola credits the current peace in Northern Uganda as a direct result of the peace talks held in 2006, and sees peace processes as a more viable option to military efforts.
Ugandans remember other unsuccessful military campaigns - backed with US money - that the Ugandan army has embarked upon in trying to take out Kony. They question how effective this new strategy will be.
In terms of the impact of the US deployment of troops, Oola asks, "What message is the American government sending to Ugandans disgruntled by the regime's performance? I have no doubt in my mind that for many Ugandans, if there is a need for America's help, it would be to get rid of corrupt government officials siphoning billions of shillings in oil contracts to their foreign bank accounts, [not] for advisers to hunt Joseph Kony and his abductees.''
The Obama administration's use of military action ignores, undermines, and unravels the work of local players seeking to end the conflict through the resumption of peace talks. Previous military interventions have always resulted in retaliatory attacks on the communities where the rebels have operated. What will this intervention do differently to ensure that there are limited civilian casualties?
10) Ethiopian Troops Said To Enter Somalia, Opening New Front Against Militants
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, November 20, 2011
Nairobi, Kenya - Witnesses along the drought-stricken Ethiopia-Somalia border reported Sunday that hundreds of Ethiopian troops had crossed into Somalia with armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery and tanks, opening a new front in an intensifying international offensive against the Shabab militant group.
The Islamist insurgents of the Shabab are already battling Kenyan forces in southern Somalia and African Union peacekeepers in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu. So far the reaction among Somalis, though, has been the polar opposite of what happened a few years ago, when Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in 2006 and occupied the country for about two years, turning the population against them and fueling the rise of the Shabab.
The injection of Ethiopian troops is a risky move, Western officials say, because of the historic enmity between Ethiopia, a Christian-led nation, and Somalia, which is almost purely Muslim. The neighbors have clashed repeatedly since Somalia became independent in 1960, and in 2006, Ethiopian forces ousted an Islamist movement that controlled much of southern Somalia.
Last week, African Union officials said they were considering adding Ethiopian troops to the 9,000 peacekeepers in Somalia, who have taken heavy casualties recently.
But the American government, a close ally of Ethiopia, seems divided over the wisdom of this. Some diplomats in the State Department are strongly against the Ethiopians jumping into Somalia again, said one American official, while the Pentagon and the C.I.A. seem to support it.
"The feeling is that the Ethiopians have the muscle, and the Kenyans don't," said the American official, who spoke anonymously because of the delicacy of the topic. "But it would be much better for the Ethiopians to back these operations discreetly, maybe with air power and logistics, and not to storm in."
Though Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on earth, it boasts one of the largest armies in Africa.
In Washington, military and intelligence officials were monitoring the news media reports about the Ethiopian incursion but could not independently verify the offensive. A senior Defense Department official said it was too soon to tell whether the Ethiopian military action would weaken the Shabab further or hand the insurgents a propaganda boost.
A senior official with Somalia's transitional government, a weak and unpopular entity that survives purely on outside support, said last week that Somalia's president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, did not want Ethiopian troops inside Somalia, but that he was powerless to oppose them.
Kenya and Ethiopia blame Somalia's instability for hampering their own economic development, and both countries consider the Shabab, who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda, to be a regional threat. Yet analysts say the countries may have ulterior motives and are intervening in Somalia to install their own proxy forces who will then serve the interests of Kenya and Ethiopia.
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