IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy
On the issue of the role of the military and security of Americans from overseas threats, Haley insisted that the U.S. was facing “the most dangerous terrorist threat since 9/11,” and called for “strengthening the military so when we fight wars we win them.” Obama, based on the intelligence reports he reads every morning, agreed that these are dangerous times, but America faces no dangers from a rival power. America had the most powerful and best military force in history and spent more on its military than the next eight nations combined (four if you calculate based on a percentage of GDP). But the danger comes from failed and failing states, not rival powers. Decrying America’s growing weakness was just so much hot air.
Obama did not denigrate the threat that terrorists posed. His first priority was going after terrorist networks to protect Americans. But that did not make this task WWIII. Terrorists in the back of pickup trucks and making bombs in a garage do not pose an existential threat to the U.S. Rather than rhetorically building them up, Obama called for rooting out these killers and fanatics, hunting them down and destroying them. Obama claimed that America was on track to do just that, for in concert with its allies, the U.S. was working to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt its plots, stop the flow of fighters and stomp out its vicious ideology. He called on the Republican- dominated Congress to formally authorize the use of military force against ISIL.
Does that require an additional carrier group, additional ground combat forces, modernization of America’s nuclear fleet and a host of other enhanced expenditures on the military? If there is indeed a real danger of WWIII, say with China, such an enhancement might be warranted. But if America intends largely to stay out of other country’s civil wars, if America is going to concentrate its military forces in fighting ISIL, then increasing the Pentagon budget by a trillion dollars as Senator Rubio proposed (cf. an analysis by the Cato Institute) is not necessary.
Obama’s proposed military expenditures are more than sufficient both to go after terrorists and provide a cover and help for America’s allies. In going after terrorists, Obama articulated the correct approach. “When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”
Not only are American memories long, but its concerns are very broad. Though the immediate focus may be terrorists, the long term threat remains instability because of weak states, ethnic conflict, poverty and even famine. Tough talk and calling for the carpet bombing of civilians will not solve such problems. Nor will assigning America the role of rebuilding every nation that falls into crisis. Effectively, Obama called for managing threats rather than aspiring to a utopian ideal of eliminating them. And then he reiterated the central platform of his foreign policy – building coalitions “with sanctions and principled diplomacy.” The policy applied to China with TPP and climate change agreements. It applied to the re-opening to Cuba. In this pairing of diplomacy with military and economic threats, Obama defined leadership in the world as the “wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.”
What about the main foreign policy issue of Obama’s presidency, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran? Instead of insisting, as Haley did, on only entering into international agreements celebrated in Israel rather than in Iran, Obama insisted that his program combining sanctions with diplomacy had worked. Iran was in the process of deconstructing its nuclear program. The world had avoided another war that would have been the consequence of a military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
On this central foreign policy issue, was Obama correct? Or were his Republican critics? Even though Netanyahu has now acknowledged defeat, many if not most Republicans have not. On Monday (18 January), that is, on Implementation Day of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Fox News published a peace by one of its frequent contributors, Fred Fleitz. (http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/01/18/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-national-security-fraud.html)
Fleitz worked for the CIA and various national security agencies for a quarter of a century. When John R. Bolton, the űberhawk in the Republican constellation, was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration, Fleitz was his Chief of Staff. Fleitz is the author of Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests and currently is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C. right wing national security think tank. As Wikipedia described it, “The Center for Security Policy (CSP) is a Washington, D.C.-based national security think tank that has been widely accused of engaging in conspiracy theorizing.”In July of 2011, even before the interim agreement with Iran was agreed upon, in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Fleitz accused leaders of the U.S. intelligence community of being unwilling to conduct a proper assessment of the Iranian nuclear issue at variance even with the Obama White House. Further, he insisted that “liberal professors and scholars from liberal think tanks” had given biased (that is, favourable) reviews of the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that was classified at the time.
In other words, Fleitz contended that leaders of the U.S. intelligence agencies and liberal intellectuals had been in cahoots in both misleading Americans and, even more strangely, were at odds with the Obama administration. Recall my earlier blogs on the Iran nuclear program: the NIE had concluded that Iran, though it was preparing the ground for a nuclear weapons program, had not yet decided to actually build a nuclear weapon. Fleitz, in contrast, insisted that Iran was on the brink of testing a nuclear device.
In 2002, when he was appointed as an analyst for the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee by GOP Chairman Pete Hoekstra, Fleitz was one of the leaders in the chorus that insisted that Cuba had under development a biological weapons program, a conclusion he justified not on the basis of an objective collection of facts and analysis, but because all intelligence analysis is political. He also had a reputation of continuing Nixonian practices. He was widely suspected of being involved in releasing the name of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for her husband’s public denial of George Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMDs. Fleitz has had a stellar record of exaggeration, distortion and hyperbole.
This background is important in understanding Fred Fleitz’s attack on Monday which one of my readers sent to me. It exemplifies some of the wild analysis behind the attacks on the Iran nuclear agreement made by Republicans. One accusation is that Iran “will receive approximately $150 billion in sanctions relief even through Iran is still designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terror.” The latter is true – Iran is designated by most Western countries, with good justification, as a state sponsor of terrorism, though an enemy of ISIS. But it is not true that Iran will receive $150 billion in sanctions relief, monies that it can then use to foster terrorism.
The rest of Iran’s reserves are not liquid; they have already been pledged as guarantees for other purposes: $20 billion as collateral for projects with China; tens of billions more to back nonperforming loans to Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Further, of that $50 billion, Iran cannot spend the $50 billion; it needs to hold most of those funds in reserve to defend their currency, the rial, and to finance the pent-up demand for imports. $50 billion is just enough to finance about 5-10 months of Iranian imports and is the buffer that the IMF recommends as a prudent reserve. Further, in President Hassan Rouhani’s economic revitalization program, the government will be torn between taking the lid off the consumer sector and the need of government funds to get out of the deep economic hole Iran fell into as a result of the sanctions. Iran needs $100 billion for unfunded pensions and debts to the domestic banking sector, $100 billion for infrastructure, and $170 billion to once again make the oil and gas sector functional.
Iran has supported the murderous regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Hezbollah, its terrorist proxy. Is this accurate? In previous years, Iran has been supporting Syria to the tune of $4-7 billion per annum, if the value of Iranian oil transfers, lines of credit, military personnel costs and subsidies for weapons for the Syrian government are all taken into account. Nadim Shehadi, director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies at Tufts University, claimed that in 2012 and 2013, Iran spent $14-15 billion in military and economic aid to Assad. Tehran is very unlikely to spend significant increased amounts in support of terrorism and destabilizing the Middle East only because it already has been spending plenty. Iran did increase its military support of the Assad regime. In preparation for the October offensive against Aleppo by the Syrian forces, Iran sent in 2,000 Republican Guard troops in addition to Lebanese Hezbollah fighters who fought alongside Assad’s army with Russian air and cruise missile support from its ships in the Caspian Sea.
In contrast, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. did not even provide the Free Syrian Army (FSA) with advanced military equipment even though the FSA had been significantly debilitated in its continuing battles with ISIS. Nor did the Americans offer to provide a no-fly zone to enable the FSA to resist the Syrian army advance, though the three countries did provide extra military supplies and anti-tank weapons, the latter used to excellent effect to destroy a considerable number of tanks and armoured vehicles. The FSA Brigades (the Thuwar al-Sham Battalions, the Sultan Murad Brigade, the 13th Division, the 101st Division, Suqour al-Jabal, etc.) actually managed to hold off the recapture of Aleppo by the Syrian forces and its allies, though in its retreat back to Aleppo the FSA lost a number of villages and towns on the Ghab Plain – including Tall Qarah, Fafin, Kulliyat al-Mushat, Tall Suwsein Abtin; the desert and mountainous terrain of the Aleppo southern countryside greatly benefitted the Assad regime forces which were armed with heavy weapons.
Thus, as I predicted even while I strongly supported the nuclear deal, Iran could be expected to enhance its backing of terrorism and the Assad regime. As it happens, the enhanced support in Syria took place independently of the Iran nuclear deal. For Iran’s assistance to both terrorist and oppressive allies was based on the principle: “in for a penny, in for a dime,” Further, the implementation of the deal depended on Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei providing continuing support for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Instead, Khamenei warned the so-called moderates of American perfidy and accused the U.S. of deceit and treachery. More importantly, Khamenei auspiciously disqualified a number of reformist candidates who applied to run in next month’s elections, including some sitting members.
Fleitz made a number of other accusations.
- “When Iranian officials refused to give up their uranium enrichment program, the U.S. said they could keep it.” Wrong! The U.S. and its allies only aimed to dismantle Iran’s nuclear arms enrichment program and not its use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
- “Iran will continue enriching uranium under the nuclear deal with 5,000 uranium centrifuges.” Yes, but at very low grades unsuitable to be converted to very high grade enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons except through a very lengthy process.
- Iran swapped all of its highly enriched uranium, which was shipped to Russia, for an equivalent amount of uranium ore which Iran was free to enrich. True, but the enriched uranium shipped to Russia was enriched above 5% and some of it to almost 20%, whereas it will take months just to convert the uranium ore for which it was swapped to just above 3%.
- The Chinese will assist Iran in redesigning and rebuilding its heavy-water Arak plutonium facility after its core was removed. True, but the redesign will not permit the reactor to be used to produce plutonium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
- “When Iran balked on including restrictions on ballistic missile tests in the agreement, they were removed.” Wrong! Restrictions on Iran’s missile program were an ambition, but not an expectation. Restrictions were never included in the agreement. (I will comment further on the American continuing effort to limit Iran’s missile program.)
- “The Obama administration also took Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its meddling in the Middle East off the table.” They were never on the table, even in the 2012 Interim Agreement.
- “The deal drops U.N. and EU sanctions on Iranian terrorist individuals and entities.” U.S. allies and the UN are not colonies or satraps of the U.S.
- “The U.S. encouraged Iran to play a more active role in Iraq.” But the tensions between the Shiite government and Iraqi Sunnis were worse before under Maliki who was not Obama’s creation.
The lesson: Republican ideologues cannot be relied upon to discern fact from fiction or offer a reasonable analysis. The reality is that, contrary to Fleitz’s contention, the Iran nuclear deal has not only slowed Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; it has stopped it altogether. Haley has been too influenced by these hacks.
The reality, as Adam Szubin articulated it so well, is:
- JCPOA does not in any way affect American sanctions with respect to Iran’s support to terrorist groups;
- It does not touch on Iran’s human rights abuses;
- It does not touch on Iran’s support for the Assad regime, nor was it ever intended to;
- The Iran nuclear program is the most serious issue of all to the U.S., to its allies, and particularly to Israel and dismantling it should not be made hostage to Iran’s support for terrorism, abuse of human rights or backing for Assad.
The result: on Implementation Day at the beginning of this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iran had reduced its stockpile of enriched uranium by 98%, the number of centrifuges by two thirds. Iran removed the atomic core of the Arak Reactor so it could not produce plutonium for military purposes. In return, the embargo on Iran’s reserves was removed. What should have been a day of celebration for the whole world was marred by hatred and bitterness of Khamenei, on the one hand, and the belligerent paranoid fantasists in America on the other hand.
Nevertheless, there remains a great deal to be done on non-nuclear issues. There is a need to have Iran own up to its deceitful methods of circumventing the IAEA and hiding its program; as the IAEA reported in December, Iran had failed to fully cooperate and even provided some answers to investigators that were blatantly false. There is Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism. There is Iran’s, not only support for, but military intervention in Syria. There are a plethora of human rights violations. And there is the constant – the Iranian regime’s implacable hatred of Israel. There are no sanctions in place against Iran for the latter evil practice, but sanctions do remain in place by the U.S. and are being enforced for the unsettling and destabilizing practices of Iran in the international arena – its missile development program, its support for terrorism and its intervention in Syria on behalf of Assad against the FSA.
The U.S. embargo on Iran remains almost entirely intact. U.S. investment is still prohibited. Iran and its companies cannot access the American banking system. U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as designated companies and individuals prior to the sanctions imposed against its nuclear program remain in place. Perhapsamore important, secondary sanctions against non-Iranian banks doing business with embargoed individuals, companies and state entities remain in place; non-Iranian businesses working with those Iranian entities will be cut off from using the U.S. banking sector.
For example, those banks cannot do business with: the Qods Force, or any of its officials or subsidiaries such as Bonyad Taavon Sepah; its construction arm, Khatam al-Anbiya; its oil and gas engineering company, Sepanir; Mahan Air; Bank Saderat, one of the largest commercial banks in Iran; key Iranian defense entities, including the Ministry of Defense for Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Defense Industries Organization, the Aerospace Industries Organization, and other key missile entities, including Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group and Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group; the Tiva Sanat Group which worked to develop the Iranian navy’s fast boat; the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Company (unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
With respect to enforcement of the nuclear deal itself, those sanctions are only suspended; the snap-back provisions remain in place in case of violations and can come into force in a few days. This also applies to multilateral sanctions by the United Nations should just one of the P5, the permanent five members of the UNSC, opt to do so. Finally, there are no grandfather clauses in the JCPOA protecting preexisting contracts against snap-back. That is, contracts entered into before the snap-back will also be subject to sanctions.
“The JCPOA is built to eliminate Iran’s nuclear threat and the potential for any of Iran’s proxies or affiliates to acquire a nuclear weapon. Thus far, it offers great promise.” That deal does not diminish the terrorism threat and the threat to regional stability. “Our joint goal—and one we share with our Israeli and Gulf partners—is to ensure that we’re using all of our tools, including sanctions, to combat all of these conventional activities… the JCPOA is a strong deal. It makes the United States and our allies safer by ensuring that the nightmare scenario… (terrorist entities with access to nuclear devices) does not come close to becoming a reality. The deal is not based on trust but on verification and on scrutiny.” (Szubin)
With the help of Alex Zisman