JFP 2/7: State to slash Iraq presence; top Israeli soldiers & spies against Iran war
Just Foreign Policy News, February 7, 2012
State to slash Iraq presence; top Israeli soldiers against Iran war
Support the Work of Just Foreign Policy
Your support helps us to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and create opportunities for Americans to advocate for a foreign policy that is more just. Help us press for an end to the war in Afghanistan and spread opposition to a new war with Iran,
Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
Robert Redford: The Battle for Jeju Island: How the Arms Race is Threatening a Korean Paradise
The U.S. campaign to "encircle" China with its Aegis anti-ballistic system is threatening the pristine coastline of Jeju Island, a culturally and ecologically unique land off the southern coast of the Korean peninsula.
William Hartung: Military Spending: A Poor Job Creator
Fact sheet compares the impact of military spending on jobs to domestic spending and tax cuts.
"Occupy AIPAC": March 2-6
On Saturday, March 3rd, there will be a conference on reforming U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East away from AIPAC's priorities and towards supporting peace and popular aspirations in the region: no war with Iran, free Palestine, support the Arab Spring. Co-sponsored by CodePink/Women for Peace, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Just Foreign Policy.
Help Support Our Advocacy for Peace and Diplomacy
The opponents of peace and diplomacy work every day. Help us be an effective counterweight.
1) The State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, the New York Times reports. That's a sharp sign of declining U.S. influence, the NYT says. Americans are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
U.S. officials said a quieter and humbler diplomatic presence could actually result in greater leverage, the Times says. Having fewer burly, bearded and tattooed security men - who are currently the face of America to many Iraqis and evoke memories of horrible abuses - could help build trust with Iraqis, these officials believe. A $500 million State Department program to train Iraqi police may be scrapped; U.S. and Iraqi officials are skeptical that it will not be a waste.
2) Perhaps American Jews should start noticing that an astonishing number of Israel's top soldiers and spies are warning against bombing Iran, writes Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast. Meir Dagan, fresh from an eight-year stint as head of the Mossad, called attacking Iran "the stupidest thing I have ever heard." Dagan's successor at Mossad, Tamir Pardo, suggested that an Iranian nuclear weapon was not an existential threat. Another former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, declared that "it is not in the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel." Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz added that "Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential threat" and that bombing would mean "taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us."
Almost every week, Israeli security officials say things about Iran's nuclear program that, if Barack Obama said them, would get him labeled anti-Israel by American Jewish activists and the GOP, Beinart writes.
3) Reports that "secondary" U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan targeted rescuers helping the wounded from previous strikes deserve further investigation, writes the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, in his recent book, "The Triple Agent," describes a 2009 drone attack at the funeral of a Taliban operative that was aimed at a senior commander; he escaped, but dozens of civilians, including children, were reportedly killed in the strike. Are funerals appropriate targets? That's the kind of question Congress and the courts should be asking, the LAT says.
4) The U.S.' tough position on abuses in Syria should also be applied to Arab states that are allies - including those that stand with the U.S. on Iran, argues the Washington Post in an editorial. The same Sunni Arab states that demand a "democratic transition" in Syria have sent troops to Bahrain to help ensure the regime's survival, the Post notes.
The U.S. has exceptional influence in Bahrain, the Post notes. But the Obama administration has mostly refrained from using that influence. U.S. criticism of Russia for continuing to arm the Assad regime will sound more credible when U.S. military aid to Arab allies engaged in repression comes to a complete and unambiguous halt, the Post says.
5) Ahead of the first anniversary of the popular uprising in Bahrain, the government of Bahrain has stepped up its denial of visas to human rights oriented non-governmental organizations, writes Joshua Hersh for the Huffington Post. A bipartisan group of congressmen signed on to a letter to Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, asking him to "reconsider the recent travel bans" on the NGOs. The letter was signed by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) Jim Moran (D-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and John Carter (R-Texas).
6) A Jerusalem court has ruled against plans to build a luxury housing development on the remains of a Palestinian village abandoned in the 1948 war, the Washington Post reports. The court battle was seen as a test case for preservation of Palestinian heritage in Israel, where remains of Arab villages whose residents either fled or were expelled in the fighting have largely vanished under modern buildings, parks and planted forests. A court petition filed by former residents of Lifta and their descendants, joined by Israeli activists, argued that the ruins of the village on the outskirts of Jerust alem, the most extensive remains of such a site from the pre-state era, should be preserved.
7) Traders and analysts say the last round of sanctions on Iran's Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran's private sector, the New York Times reports. This economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West. Even Iranians who oppose their government tend to see the growing economic pressure as an unfair gesture unlikely to yield any positive results.
Because of the ever-tighter pressure on any kind of trade with Iran, the black market price of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, has nearly doubled in the past year. At Shohada Hospital, one of the country's premier institutions, about 1,200 cancer patients a year go without radiological treatment, because the radiology equipment is no longer working and replacement parts cannot be brought into Iran.
Some Iranian businessmen said the people who will suffer most from sanctions are not the ones who can pressure the government for change. "So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran," one businessman said. "How does that stop nuclear enrichment?"
8) Supreme Court investigations of the ISI over deaths and disappearances in detention and interfering in elections have attracted broad political support, the New York Times reports.
9) Since the Marines are being shrunk anyway, Marines in Okinawa can be downsized without building new facilities for them in Okinawa or Guam, argue Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon in the Politico. Current plans will likely cost Washington, and the Japanese government, at least $15 billion each over the next decade. Most of this money could be saved. [As they note, there are recent signs that the Obama Administration is moving to curtail the movement to Guam and may be giving up on building a new base in Okinawa - JFP.]
1) U.S. Planning to Slash Iraq Embassy Staff by Up to Half
Tim Arango, New York Times, February 7, 2012
Baghdad - Less than two months after American troops left, the State Department is preparing to slash by as much as half the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for Iraq, a sharp sign of declining American influence in the country.
Officials in Baghdad and Washington said that Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and other senior State Department officials were reconsidering the size and scope of the embassy, where the staff has swelled to nearly 16,000 people, mostly contractors.
The expansive diplomatic operation and the $750 million embassy building, the largest of its kind in the world, were billed as necessary to nurture a postwar Iraq on its shaky path to democracy and establish normal relations between two countries linked by blood and mutual suspicion. But the Americans have been frustrated by what they see as Iraqi obstructionism and are now largely confined to the embassy because of security concerns, unable to interact enough with ordinary Iraqis to justify the $6 billion annual price tag.
The swift realization among some top officials that the diplomatic buildup may have been ill advised represents a remarkable pivot for the State Department, in that officials spent more than a year planning the expansion and that many of the thousands of additional personnel have only recently arrived. Michael W. McClellan, the embassy spokesman, said in a statement, "Over the last year and continuing this year the Department of State and the Embassy in Baghdad have been considering ways to appropriately reduce the size of the U.S. mission in Iraq, primarily by decreasing the number of contractors needed to support the embassy's operations."
Mr. McClellan said the number of diplomats - currently about 2,000 - was also "subject to adjustment as appropriate."
To make the cuts, he said the embassy was "hiring Iraqi staff and sourcing more goods and services to the local economy."
At every turn, the Americans say, the Iraqi government has interfered with the activities of the diplomatic mission, one they grant that the Iraqis never asked for or agreed upon. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's office - and sometimes even the prime minister himself - now must approve visas for all Americans, resulting in lengthy delays. American diplomats have had trouble setting up meetings with Iraqi officials.
For their part, the Iraqis say they are simply enforcing their laws and protecting their sovereignty in the absence of a working agreement with the Americans on the embassy.
"The main issue between Iraqis and the U.S. Embassy is that we have not seen, and do not know anything about, an agreement between the Iraqi government and the U.S.," said Nahida al-Dayni, a lawmaker and member of Iraqiya, a largely Sunni bloc in Parliament.
Expressing a common sentiment among Iraqis, she added: "The U.S. had something on their mind when they made it so big. Perhaps they want to run the Middle East from Iraq, and their embassy will be a base for them here."
Those suspicions have been reinforced by two murky episodes, one involving four armed Americans on the streets of Baghdad that Iraqi officials believe were Central Intelligence Agency operatives and another when an American helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing because of a mechanical failure on the outskirts of the capital on the banks of the Tigris River.
"The plane that broke down raised many questions about the role of Americans here," said Ammar al-Hakim, the leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, a leading Shiite political party and social organization. "So what is the relationship? We're still waiting for more information."
"We always knew that what they were planning to do didn't make sense," said Kenneth M. Pollack, of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "It's increasingly becoming clear that they are horribly overstaffed given what they are able to accomplish."
Mr. Pollack described as unrealistic the State Department's belief that it could handle many of the tasks previously performed by the military, such as monitoring security in northern areas disputed by Arabs and Kurds, where checkpoints are jointly manned by Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, and visiting projects overseen by the United States Agency of International Development.
Americans are also still being shot at regularly in Iraq.
The size of the embassy staff is even more remarkable when compared with those of other countries. Turkey, for instance, which is Iraq's largest trading partner and wields more economic influence here than the United States, employs roughly 55 people at its embassy, and the number of actual diplomats is in the single digits. "It's really been an overload for us, for the Foreign Ministry," Mr. Zebari said of the American mission.
The considerations to reduce the number of embassy personnel, American officials here said, reflects a belief that a quieter and humbler diplomatic presence could actually result in greater leverage over Iraqi affairs, particularly in mediating a political crisis that flared just as the troops were leaving. Having fewer burly, bearded and tattooed security men - who are currently the face of America to many Iraqis and evoke memories of horrible abuses - could help build trust with Iraqis, these officials believe.
"Iraqis, as individuals, have had bad experiences with these security firms," said Latif Rashid, a senior adviser to President Jalal Talabani.
One State Department program that is likely to be scrutinized as officials consider reducing the size of the embassy is an ambitious program to train the Iraqi police, which is costing about $500 million this year - far less than the nearly $1 billion that the embassy originally intended to spend. The program has generated considerable skepticism within the State Department - one of the officials interviewed predicted that the program could be scrapped later this year - because of the high cost of support staff, the inability of police advisers to leave their bases because of the volatile security situation and a lack of support by the Iraqi government.
In an interview late last year with the American Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a senior Iraqi official at the Interior Ministry said the United States should use the money it planned to spend on the police program "for something that can benefit the people of the United States." The official, Adnan al-Asadi, predicted the Iraqis would receive "very little benefit" from the program.
Reducing the size of the embassy might have the added benefit of quieting the anti-Americanism of those who violently opposed the military occupation.
Moktada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has steadfastly railed against American influence here and whose militia fought the American military, has recently told his followers that the United States has failed to "disarm."
Mr. Sadr recently posted a statement on his Web site that read, "I ask the competent authorities in Iraq to open an embassy in Washington, equivalent to the size of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, in order to maintain the prestige of Iraq."
2) U.S. Jews Should Heed Top Israeli Soldiers Who Oppose Bombing Iran
Some of Israel's leading soldiers and spies are warning against bombing Iran. American Jews should listen to them rather than accept Netanyahu's apocalyptic claim that Tehran's nuclear program is an existential threat to the state.
Peter Beinart, Daily Beast, Feb 7, 2012 4:45 AM EST
There's nothing American Jews love more than Israeli soldiers, except perhaps, Israeli spies. Go to American synagogues-especially Orthodox synagogues-and you'll find boys wearing green-and-yellow skullcaps bearing the Israel Defense Force's Hebrew acronym. A central element of the Birthright Israel program, which aims to instill a love of Israel and Judaism in young American Jews, is their mifgash, or encounter-often R-rated-with Israeli soldiers. For my Bar Mitzvah, I was given a tome celebrating the exploits of Israel's external and internal spy agencies, the Mossad and Shin Bet. My 6-year-old son recently came back from the library of his Jewish school carrying a volume entitled Keeping Israel Safe: Serving the Israel Defense Forces.
So perhaps American Jews should start noticing that an astonishing number of Israel's top soldiers and spies are warning against bombing Iran. It began last summer, when Meir Dagan, fresh from a highly successful, eight-year stint as head of the Mossad, called attacking Iran "the stupidest thing I have ever heard." He noted that while in office, he had joined with Yuval Diskin, director of the Shin Bet, and Gabi Ashkenazi, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Fund, to block this "dangerous adventure."
Since then, a throng of current and former security officials have issued similar warnings. In December, Dagan's successor at Mossad, Tamir Pardo, suggested that an Iranian nuclear weapon was not an existential threat. This month, another former Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy, declared that "it is not in the power of Iran to destroy the state of Israel." Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz added that "Iran poses a serious threat but not an existential threat" and that bombing would mean "taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us." It's remarkable, when you think about it. Almost every week, Israeli security officials say things about Iran's nuclear program that, if Barack Obama said them, would get him labeled anti-Israel by American Jewish activists and the GOP.
The struggle between Israel's civilian and military leaders eerily evokes the struggle inside the Bush administration over war with Iraq. Like Dick Cheney, Benjamin Netanyahu has only one mode: apocalyptic. His idols are Winston Churchill and Revisionist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, both men famed for having foreseen the Nazi menace when others looked away. And throughout his career, Netanyahu has plugged virtually every adversary Israel faces into the Hitler role. In 1993, when then–Foreign Minister Shimon Peres brokered the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu compared him with Neville Chamberlain. In his 1993 book, A Place Among the Nations, reissued in 2000 as A Durable Peace, Netanyahu compared the Palestinian effort "to gouge Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] out of Israel" to the Nazi effort to force Czechoslovakia to cede the "Sudeten district." In a CNN interview with Piers Morgan in 2011, Netanyahu analogized negotiating with Hamas to negotiating with Hitler. And in 2006 he told an American Jewish audience that "it's 1938 and Iran is Germany."
Israel today is witnessing the same struggle that Washington witnessed in 2002 and 2003, a struggle between people who think practically and people who think ideologically, between people trying to soberly assess a given adversary and people who can view that adversary only by analogy with the mightiest, most demonic powers the world has ever known. One of the most appalling features of America's invasion of Iraq was how ignorant top policymakers turned out to be about the country they set out to conquer and remake. Netanyahu doesn't seem much better. According to The New York Times, he has been telling visitors that the Iranian people may welcome being bombed by Israel. No wonder Meir Dagan is scared.
We all know how the Iraq debate turned out: Skeptics in the military, State Department, and intelligence agencies were sidelined or cowed. Similarly in Israel, Dagan has had his diplomatic passport revoked, and Netanyahu's allies have pushed legislation to prevent former security officials from speaking to the media.
The most valuable thing American Jewish leaders can do to influence Israel's internal struggle is to stop equating being pro-Israel with being pro-war. American Jews have long basked in the wartime prowess of Israel's soldiers and spies. Perhaps it's time we started admiring their aversion to war as well.
3) Regarding U.S. drones
Congress and the courts need to take a harder look at the moral and legal issues around the program.
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2012
When the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism released a report Sunday claiming that U.S. drone strikes have killed dozens of civilian rescuers and mourners in Pakistan, the American media scarcely noticed. Similarly, while other countries hotly debate America's covert program of targeted assassination, its legality has never been considered by a U.S. court and is seldom discussed by Congress, which has ceded extraordinary authority over the drone program to the president and the CIA.
That silence could well come back to haunt this country.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism's findings are worth a look - not because they're an ironclad assertion of facts on the ground in Pakistan's tribal areas, where solid information is hard to come by, but because of the questions they raise about the drone program. The three-month investigation turned up evidence that at least 50 civilians were killed when they tried to rescue people injured in a drone attack, only to be hit with another round of missiles. If this is true, it's a tactic that seems borrowed from the playbook of Islamist terrorists, who have been known to set off bombs in crowded areas, wait for rescuers to arrive and then explode more bombs to maximize the carnage.
Eyewitness accounts in such places as the tribal areas must be regarded with great skepticism; playing up alleged U.S. atrocities is a common recruiting strategy for terrorist groups. But claims of secondary drone strikes are so frequent that they call for further investigation. Meanwhile, Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, in his recent book, "The Triple Agent," describes a 2009 drone attack at the funeral of a Taliban operative that was aimed at a senior commander; he escaped, but dozens of civilians, including children, were reportedly killed in the strike. Are funerals appropriate targets, even when they provide an opportunity to lure dangerous terrorists out of hiding?
That's the kind of question we'd like to hear asked more often, by Congress and the courts. The drone program is so secretive that until last week it was not officially acknowledged to exist; President Obama changed that in an online appearance in which he insisted that drone attacks "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties."
Such assurances, even when they come from the president, aren't enough. Other countries have developed drone technology, and if they follow U.S. precedent, they could start targeting their own enemies across any border they like, including our own. It is past time for U.S. courts and the United Nations to explore the legal issues involved in targeted assassination and set rules that take into account advances in technology.
4) U.S. must bring pressure to bear on Bahrain
Editorial, Washington Post, February 6
The Obama Administration and other Western governments have rightly lambasted Russia and China for blocking action by the U.N. Security Council on Syria. The government of Vladimir Putin is particularly culpable for propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad: In addition to vetoing a Security Council resolution, it has been supplying Damascus with weapons. In contrast, though it suffered a diplomatic defeat, the United States will ultimately reap the benefit of siding with the Syrian people. As President Obama said in a searing statement Saturday, by rejecting the regime and its criminal brutality "we stand for principles that include universal rights for all people and just political and economic reform."
For that stance to be effective, however, it must be consistent across the region. After all, quite apart from democratic principles, the Obama administration has a strategic interest in overturning the Assad government, which is Iran's closest Middle East ally. Its tough position there won't mean as much unless it is also applied to Arab states that are allies - including those that stand with the United States on Iran.
That's why U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain continues to be disturbing. In some respects, the year-old conflict in that island nation is the inverse of Syria's: A Sunni ruling family and elite is battling a disempowered Shiite majority. The same Sunni Arab states that demand a "democratic transition" in Syria have sent troops to Bahrain to help ensure the regime's survival, while Shiite Iran, which has given military support to the Assad regime, is calling for democracy for Bahrain.
The United States has exceptional influence in Bahrain, in part because the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based there. But the Obama administration has mostly refrained from using that influence. It tried to go forward with a $53 million arms sales package last year until it met stiff resistance in Congress. Now the State Department has disclosed that the administration is releasing "previously notified equipment needed for Bahrain's external defense and support of 5th Fleet operations," including spare parts.
A statement said that the administration was "maintaining a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform." Nevertheless, the transfer of any military aid now sends the wrong message, both to the Khalifa regime and to the region. U.S. criticism of Russia for continuing to arm the Assad regime will sound more credible when American military aid to Arab allies engaged in repression comes to a complete and unambiguous halt.
5) Congressmen Confront Bahrain Over Recent NGO Visa Restrictions
Joshua Hersh, Huffington Post, 02/ 2/2012
Washington -- With the first anniversary of the popular uprising, and subsequent suppression, in Bahrain fast approaching, a number of human rights organizations are asking a dreaded question: What happens if there's another crackdown, and not enough international organizations are there to witness it?
This unlikely circumstance has started to seem like a serious possibility in recent weeks, as the government of Bahrain -- amid its own internal investigation and repeated promises of reforms and accountability -- has stepped up its denial of visas to human rights oriented non-governmental organizations.
On Thursday, the brewing controversy received a boost in attention as a bipartisan collection of congressmen signed on to a letter to Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the ruler of Bahrain, asking him to "reconsider the recent travel bans" on the NGOs:
'As we approach the one-year anniversary of mass protests in Bahrain on February 14th, reversing these bans would support your pledge to engage international organizations and individuals "in order to ensure that there is no return to unacceptable practices once the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry has left Bahrain."'
The letter is being circulated by the office of Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), and is also signed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), Mike Honda (D-Calif.), James McGovern (D-Mass.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) Jim Moran (D-Va.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and John Carter (R-Texas).
"In Bahrain, representatives from organizations such as Freedom House and Human Rights First have been denied access or told to delay their visit to Bahrain," McDermott told HuffPost. "Many of these organizations have been instrumental in advancing the rule of law and human rights in Bahrain. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the protests in Bahrain, it is critical now more than ever that the Bahraini government let these NGOs into the country."
In November, an international commission investigating the 2011 crackdown published a report that documented evidence of "systematic" abuse by security services.
The government of Bahrain, which supported the commission, has since promised to enact substantive reforms by the end of March, a pledge that was welcomed by the Obama administration, but that many human rights activists have greeted with skepticism. Many observers anticipate a spike in clashes and violence in mid-February, during the failed uprising's anniversary.
6) Israeli court grants reprieve to abandoned Palestinian village
Joel Greenberg, Washington Post, Tuesday, February 7, 12:55 PM
Jerusalem - A Jerusalem court has ruled against plans to build a luxury housing development on the remains of a Palestinian village abandoned in the 1948 war that followed the establishment of Israel.
The court battle was seen as a test case for preservation of Palestinian heritage in Israel, where remains of Arab villages whose residents either fled or were expelled in the fighting have largely vanished under modern buildings, parks and planted forests.
A court petition filed by former residents of Lifta and their descendants, joined by Israeli activists, argued that the ruins of the village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the most extensive remains of such a site from the pre-state era, should be preserved.
The petition cited opinions by preservation experts and architects who said the development plans did not meet local and international preservation standards.
A judge in the Jerusalem administrative court ruled Monday that an invitation for bids for construction at the site should be canceled, effectively nullifying the plans.
Sami Ershied, the lawyer who represented the petitioners, said that the court had "dealt courageously" with the case and had affirmed that the villagers' "history and heritage deserve protection under the law."
7) Iran's Middle Class on Edge as World Presses In
Robert F. Worth, New York Times, February 6, 2012
Tehran - One measure of the profound anxiety now coursing through Iranian society can be seen on Manouchehri Street, a winding lane at the heart of this city where furtive crowds of men gather every day like drug dealers to buy and sell American dollars.
The government has raised the official exchange rate and sent police into the streets to stop the black marketeers, but with confidence in Iran's own currency, the rial, collapsing by the day, the trade goes on.
The fuel for this manic trade is not an actual economic collapse - the new European oil embargo has yet to take effect, and there is plenty of food on the shelves - but a rising sense of panic about Iran's encirclement, the possibility of war and the prospect of more economic pain to come. The White House announced a further tightening on Monday aimed at freezing Iranian assets and constricting the activities of Iran's Central Bank.
Already, the last round of sanctions on Iran's Central Bank has begun inflicting unprecedented damage on Iran's private sector, traders and analysts say, making it so hard to transfer money abroad that even affluent businessmen are sometimes forced to board planes carrying suitcases full of American dollars.
Yet this economic burden is falling largely on the middle class, raising the prospect of more resentment against the West and complicating the effort to deter Iran's nuclear program - a central priority for the Obama administration in this election year.
Ordinary Iranians complain that the sanctions are hurting them, while those at the top are unscathed, or even benefit. Many wealthy Iranians made huge profits in recent weeks by buying dollars at the government rate (available to insiders) and then selling them for almost twice as many rials on the soaring black market.
Even Iranians who oppose their government tend to see the growing economic pressure as an unfair gesture unlikely to yield any positive results.
"We know they want to pressure us so we rise against our government, but we are not in a position to do that," said Murad, a haggard 41-year-old waiter at a Tehran tea shop. Like many middle- and lower-class Iranians, Murad seemed to blame both his own government and the West for his plight. He makes about $50 a day in the tea shop where he has worked for 25 years, he said, and with three children at home, his life has gotten measurably harder in the past year.
"Prices are going up so much I have to work all the time, and we still can't buy new clothes even once a year," he said. "The rich don't suffer, they are protected. The truth is, we'd like to have good relations with the West. What is the point of 'Death to the U.S.A.'? But what can we do about this?"
The crisis has taken a toll on medical care, affecting the middle class as well as the poor. Because of the ever-tighter pressure on any kind of trade with Iran, the black market price of Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, has nearly doubled in the past year, said Lian, a young nurse who works in the cancer ward of one of Tehran's major hospitals (the government regulates the mainstream supply of such drugs, but supplies are very limited).
The sanctions have also affected medical technology, because radiology machines fall under the "dual use" provisions of laws aimed at keeping nuclear technology out of Iran. At Shohada Hospital, one of the country's premier institutions, about 1,200 cancer patients a year go without radiological treatment, because the radiology equipment is no longer working and replacement parts cannot be brought into Iran, said Pejman Razavi, a doctor at the hospital.
Many Iranians are also skeptical about the Western preoccupation with Iran's nuclear program. "The economic pressure will not push Iran to a nuclear settlement," said Kayhan Barzegar, the director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies, who has taught in the United States. "The nuclear file is a nationalistic issue; it's too late for Iran to backtrack. Domestic politics will react negatively to any negotiation - candidates in the elections will say: you sold the nuclear program!"
Some Iranian businessmen make similar comments, noting that there are always ingenious new ways to sell oil and to transfer money, and that the people who will suffer most from sanctions are not the ones who can pressure the government for change. "So you kill the pistachio trade in Iran," one businessman said. "How does that stop nuclear enrichment?"
8) Court Challenges Put Unusual Spotlight On Pakistani Spy Agency
Declan Walsh, New York Times, February 6, 2012
Lahore, Pakistan - Long unchallenged, Pakistan's top spy agency faces a flurry of court actions that subject its darkest operations to unusual scrutiny, amid growing calls for new restrictions on its largely untrammeled powers.
The cases against the agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, have uncertain chances of success, analysts say, and few believe that they can immediately hobble it. But they do represent a rare challenge to a feared institution that is a cornerstone of military supremacy in Pakistan.
In the first case, due for a hearing on Wednesday, the Supreme Court has ordered the ISI to produce in court seven suspected militants it has been holding since 2010 - and to explain how four other detainees from the same group died in mysterious circumstances over the past six months.
The second challenge, due for a hearing on Feb. 29, revives a long-dormant vote-rigging scandal, which focuses on illegal donations of $6.5 million as part of a covert, and ultimately successful, operation to influence the 1990 election.
The cases go to the heart of the powers that have given the ISI such an ominous reputation among Pakistanis: its ability to detain civilians at will, and its freedom to meddle in electoral politics. They come at the end of a difficult 12 months for the spy service, which has faced sharp criticism over the killing of Osama bin Laden by American commandos inside Pakistan and, in recent weeks, its role in a murky political scandal that stoked rumors of a military coup.
Now its authority is being challenged from an unexpected quarter: the chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry. Only weeks ago, Justice Chaudhry, an idiosyncratic judge, faced accusations of being soft on the military when he inserted the courts into a bruising battle between the government and army.
Now Justice Chaudhry seems determined to prove that he can take on the army, too. "This is a reaction to public opinion," said Ayaz Amir, an opposition politician from Punjab. "The court wants to be seen to represent the popular mood."
The court's daring move has found broad political support. Last Friday, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, compared the military to a "mafia" during a National Assembly debate about the plight of the four detainees who died in ISI custody.
On Saturday, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest religious party, tabled a proposed law that would curtail the ISI's powers of detention - a symbolic act, given the party's limited support base, but nonetheless a significant one.
Wednesday's court hearing could be a significant step for the "disappeared" - hundreds of Pakistanis who have vanished into ISI custody over the past decade, amid allegations from human rights groups of torture and extrajudicial executions.
9) Rethinking Okinawa military relocation
Mike Mochizuki and Michael O'Hanlon, Politico, 2/5/12 9:17 PM EST
The Obama administration has begun to spell out details of its new defense strategy and budget plan, which proposes to reduce military budgets by nearly $500 billion over 10 years, close to 10 percent of nonwar costs. A key component is to halve U.S. combat brigades in Europe from four to two - keeping one each in Germany and Italy.
Part of the argument is economic. But it's not that it saves a lot of money to bring forces home from Europe - perhaps only a few hundred million dollars a year. Rather, at a time of high U.S. unemployment, the administration may be calculating that the economic stimulus created by military bases should benefit local American communities rather than those in Germany or Italy.
The Obama administration, however, is not applying this logic in Asia. It remains unwisely committed to relocating up to half the U.S. Marines now in Okinawa, Japan, to Guam - and then building a new airbase in Okinawa for those who remain. (As this op-ed piece went to press, reports suggested that some modest changes in current plans were being considered.)
But a more fundamental rethinking is appropriate. Current plans will likely cost Washington, and the Japanese government, at least $15 billion each over the next decade. Most of this money could be saved - and provide a relatively painless contribution to the Pentagon's daunting task of finding roughly half a trillion dollars in savings, as required by the Budget Control Act. There is a way to do it that won't weaken U.S. power in the Pacific one iota.
The administration should simply downsize the Marines in Okinawa without building new facilities in Guam. Since the Marine Corps' strength is apparently slated to decline by about 20,000 over the next few years - almost three times the number of Marines slated to be repositioned in Guam - it can remove those Marines from the force structure, perhaps by reducing the number of regiments in the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here: