Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

Reflections on the Trump Overseas Tour

by

Howard Adelman

My overall impression of Donald Trump’s first excursion overseas as President is the low standard American commentators have set for their President. Further, Trump has surrendered American leadership in the world, although the focus has been on whether his visits to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and the G7 were far less damaging than expected.  I examine the trip thus far one stop at a time.

Saudi Arabia

The glitz was familiar. Friendships were forged and solidified. The dancing at the ardha ceremony on the part of the Americans was awkward, and that may have been the metaphor for the whole visit. At the same time, a number of issues came into sharper focus.

  1. Donald’s supreme ignorance concerning terrorism

Though Trump declared that the war against terror was not a war of one civilization against another or one religion against another, but a war against evil, Iran alone was blamed as the heinous source of terrorism, as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism.” To some extent, in the Middle East, the country is a prime source. However, most radical Islamicist terrorism in Europe, in North America and even in the Middle East, is a product of Sunni, not Shiite, background. Wahhabism, rooted in Saudi Arabia, is both a source of proselytizing as well as repression, though both merge together in terrorism in only a small proportion of adherents to this fundamentalism. ISIS in its theology and jurisprudence is far closer to Saudi Arabia than to Iran.

  1. Donald proved he could be diplomatic

He learned to follow Barack Obama’s lead, a lead at which he once aimed withering criticism, and avoided the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” He also deliberately ignored his anti-Islamic rhetoric in addressing Muslim leaders and conveniently forgot that he had once declared that Muslims hate us.

  1. Donald’s Respect for Democracy

Saudi Arabia is a dynasty and theocracy, permitting only male descendants of the founder, King Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman al-Saud, to rule. Further, the Basic Law that dictates a dictatorship is rooted in sharia law; punishment can be severe for apostasy, sorcery and adultery. Trump could have offered indirect criticisms of the Saudi democratic deficit by applauding the honesty of its December 2016 elections and the innovation in allowing women to both vote and run as candidates, while urging moves towards further reform. If he had a deeper sense of diplomacy than he exhibited, this need not have emerged as a scolding, but as encouragement towards judicial independence and due process in opposition to rampant use of arbitrary arrest, particularly targeting human rights activists. However, Donald Trump’s “principled realism” unveiled an absence of any principles.

  1. Donald’s Ethos

Donald seems to have no sense of human rights – freedom of speech, freedom of assembly – and universal values; he expresses a positive disdain for them in the leaders he admires. He never once brought up the issue of human rights or confronted the repressive government of the Saudis. Instead, a member of his executive, Secretary Wilbur Ross, lauded his visit to Saudi Arabia by noting there were no protesters. “There was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard.” When Ross was offered an option to amend or qualify the statement, he abjured and, instead, doubled down on the plaudits he awarded Saudi Arabia without reference to the authoritarian reasons.

(See the U.S. Government Report: https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/253157.pdf)

This State Department Report explicitly notes that, “the [Saudi] government categorically forbids participation in political protests or unauthorized public assemblies.” Two protesters currently sit on death row sentenced to be beheaded.

  1. Donald’s Economic Interests

While the billions in trade deals (selling billions of dollars in arms to the Saudis whom he once charged with masterminding 9/11) were being celebrated, so was Saudi investments in America – $55 billion in defence, manufacturing and resource companies. Sales and investments also promised to bring more jobs to America. Less apparent was the fact that a close associate of Donald Trump, Hussain Sajwani, whose DAMAC Properties built the Trump International Golf Course Dubai, might be a big beneficiary.

  1. Saudi Middle East Peace Plan

Though the fifteen-year-old Saudi-led plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had previously led nowhere, there were hints that the Saudis had modified their approach by offering Israeli recognition as well as trade and investment cooperation if Israel took positive steps towards peace – freezing settlements, releasing prisoners. The increasing surreptitious cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia in trade, security and even diplomacy has, in fact, provided the possibility of making the current period propitious for an advance toward peace, however unlikely that seems to be.

Israel and the Palestinians

At this time, virtually no one with any in-depth knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expects any breakthrough on the conflict. This is especially true of the Palestinians. Some still believe that Palestinian stubbornness on the “right of return” is a, if not the, major impediment. In fact, there is a deal in the backdrop which allows Israel to ensure its demographic Jewish majority while giving a nod to Palestinian honour. Since there are agreements in place for trading territory and various resolutions are thrown about in dealing with the 80,000 Jewish settlers outside Area C in the West Bank, the problem of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel versus East Jerusalem serving as a capital of a Palestinian state still seems insurmountable. Could that problem be bracketed and a peace deal agreed upon on the other issues?

  1. Orthodox Jews were already suspicious when an unknown rabbi purportedly gave permission to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner landing in Saudi Arabia after the sun had set for the beginning of shabat.
  2. Donald Trump arrived in Israel against a background in Washington where he let the Russians know that intelligence had come from Israel.
  3. Former MK Moshe Feiglin, former leader of Zehut, criticized the $110 billion dollar-weapons-deal signed by Donald with Saudi Arabia.
  4. Netanyahu had to order his ministers to meet Trump at the airport; extreme right wing members recognized that they could not win Trump’s endorsement for a one-state solution based on Israeli victory.
  5. Netanyahu welcomed Trump to the “united capital of the Jewish state.”
  6. Donald Trump, whatever the huge range of his ignorance and inadequacies, does have a keen ear for identity politics and an ability to appeal to that side of Palestinian political concerns. In the past, efforts to strike a deal based on Palestinian self interest have failed. Would Donald be able appeal to their identity concerns?
  7. Recall that in February, Trump suggested that he, and the U.S., were no longer wedded to a two-state solution, even as the State Department reaffirmed that the U.S. still supported a two-state solution. Only a bare majority of Israelis continued to support a two-state solution and the support among Palestinians had dropped to 44%. However, it was not clear whether Trump had dumped the two-state solution or whether he was holding out that possibility if the Palestinians refused to bend and compromise. In his dealings with Israel, he was much clearer that he continued, for the present, to support a two-state solution, but it was also clear that it would not be based on a return to the Green Armistice Line, though Trump disdained the use of a label to characterize the solution without clarification of any content.
  8. When Donald Trump went to Bethlehem to meet Mahmud Abbas, he was greeted with a banner declaring Trump to be a man of peace: “the city of peace welcomes the man of peace.”
  9. Donald Trump did urge Palestinians to refrain from inciting violence.
  10. Trump broke a taboo and flew directly from Riyadh to Tel Aviv.
  11. Trump broke another taboo and, as U.S. President, visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, but without any Israeli politicians.
  12. He also reinforced Netanyahu’s propensity to demonize Iran as Trump insisted that Iran would never be allowed to make nuclear arms in the same week that a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, had just been re-elected as President of Iran.
  13. On the other hand, Trump did not announce moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as he had promised.
  14. Further, Trump asked Netanyahu to “curb” settlement expansion, but did not ask for a freeze on building housing units in existing settlements.

The Vatican

  1. Instead of building bridges, as Pope Francis favoured, the Pope had criticized Trump’s promise to build a wall on the Mexican border during his campaign.
  2. Trump in return had called Francis “disgraceful.”
  3. Pope Francis, a critic of climate change sceptics, openly advocated adopting policies to deal with climate change. (Francis gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on preserving the environment – of course, there is little possibility that Trump will read it).
  4. Francis is also perhaps the best-known world figure who identifies with giving a helping hand to the poor, with compassion for refugees and, in a Ted talk, he had urged the powerful to put the needs of the people ahead of profits and products.
  5. Francis and Trump did not end up in fisticuffs, but the half-hour visit appeared to be a downer for the Donald and certainly for Sean Spicer, a Catholic, who never got to meet the Pope; the background of the Manchester terror attack did not help, though Trump is all sentiment when children are killed and riled up when terrorists do the killing.

Brussels

  1. The visit to the heartland of globalism was bound to depress the Donald, especially when the UK placed a curb on sharing intelligence with the U.S. since Washington leaks could have compromised the investigation of the Manchester terror attack.
  2. The release of the CPO discussed yesterday did not help.
  3. Donald lectured other members of NATO – totally ignoring the progress made towards the 2% of GDP to be dedicated to the military; he claimed other members owed “massive amounts”; “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying.”
  4. The combination of ignorance and bravado earned some open sniggers from a few European leaders but more frowns.
  5. Donald did not say that NATO was obsolete or dysfunctional, but neither did he pledge America’s unconditional fealty to NATO as required under Article 5 dealing with collective defence and the requirement that each member come to the defence of another.
  6. Donald was mostly left to wallow in his depressed isolation.

The G7

  1. At the G7, Trump lost the control he had exhibited in the Middle East and even Rome.
  2. It is difficult to say whether this was because of events back in Washington – John Brennan’s testimony that there definitely was Russian interference in the election and “possible” collusion because of Trump campaign officials contacts with the Russians, the breaking news of Trump possible obstruction of a criminal probe when he urged his intelligence chiefs to announce that there was no evidence of collusion, and the continuing parade of information that the Trump budget would be disastrous for Trump’s working class white supporters, or whether it was a result of events at the G7, or some combination thereof.
  3. First, while Trump refused to commit to the Paris Accord on the environment, he bragged that he won two environmental awards. And he did – for soil erosion control and preserving a bird sanctuary on one of his golf courses and for donating park land to New York State. Donald did not add that the first on the golf course complemented his self interest and the second was a way to get a charitable donation for land on which he was refused permission to build a golf course. Further, as one drives on the Taconic State Parkway through Westchester, you are greeted with large signs advertising the approach to Donald J. Trump State Park, but one finds the park is small (436 acres of woods and wetlands) relative to the signs, lacks any amenities – trails, parking, washrooms and picnic areas – and is uncared for (overgrown pathways and buildings deteriorated and covered with graffiti) since Trump never donated the money needed for its maintenance.
  4. President Xi of China told Trump that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord would be irresponsible.
  5. Was America’s pledge to commit $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund alive or would Trump issue an executive order this week cancelling the American commitment?
  6. In turn, European leaders lectured Trump on the fallout for the U.S. withdrawing from the Paris Accord – a wave of international anger that would lead to retribution, declining trade with the U.S. and destroy the last shred of trust in Washington; withdrawal would be treated by the world as “diplomatic malpractice” and characterized as betrayal; Trump had delayed an announcement before he arrived at the G7 and, perhaps, might allow U.S. state interests to take precedence over fulfilling his wild and destructive promises.
  7. Europeans tried to educate Trump on globalization and trade policy, but there was little indication that they had made a dint in his thinking. However, a private meeting with Justin Trudeau seemed to indicate that Trump would not scrap NAFTA, but would work to iron out wrinkles. On the other hand, the Europeans rejected out of hand his plea for bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones.
  8. The Donald was sabotaged in his effort to deliver French President Emmanuel Macron his traditional macho pull and handshake. Macron, instead of greeting Trump first, let him stand there, as he planted cheek kisses on Angela Merkel, greeted several others and then, having been briefed, subverted Trump’s effort and even pressed his hand harder and longer and would not let Trump pull away.
  9. When all other leaders are seen chatting informally with one another as they look over an iron fence at the spectacular view, Trump is nowhere in sight. Instead of walking there with the others, he went in a golf cart. When he arrived, he was surrounded by a phalanx of security men and only then joined the group and appeared to dominate the conversation.
  10. When Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, as host of the conference, addressed his fellow leaders, all leaders had on headphones and listened – except Donald Trump, sitting two seats away, Donald without headphones sat looking vacantly at the table. Perhaps no one can understand Italian as well as he can.
  11. Trump had been gone too long from living in what he owned and projected his possessive individualism. Was it the requirement of collegiality that made him slip from his vacuous demeanour at the Vatican to his glumness in Taormina, Sicily?
  12. There was a media dustup over whether he referred to Germany as evil or bad, and, if “bad,” as seems to be the case, did he mean the situation in which Germany finds itself, specifically with respect to refugees, or did he mean German political policies were bad?
  13. The meetings confirmed what Angela Merkel had come to believe: a) that the U.S. was no longer a reliable ally on which Germany could depend; b) American current policies on trade and climate change were disastrous.
  14. Trump had gone from dancing with swords in Riyadh to dodging darts at the G7.

The trip overseas marked the U.S. loss of leadership in the Western world and threatened America with negative repercussions because the Europeans had linked action on climate change with trade policy. Trump managed to keep his head above water in this overseas trip as he escaped the domestic closing in on the administration in its fourth month in office, but only by moving America towards disastrous policies that would be economically and politically detrimental to the U.S.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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The Irrationality of Humans

The Irrationality of Humans

by

Howard Adelman

In this series of blogs I began a week ago, I tried to sketch the deep philosophical assumptions underlying a variety of approaches to comprehending and managing the polis. How do we organize our political lives and to what end? The blog on last week’s Torah portion offered a moral approach, as set out in the Book of Leviticus, essentially setting up rules for redistributing wealth in the economy. The presumption was that religious laws could be imposed on the polity and used to counteract the built-in propensities encouraging economic inequality.

A variation of this approach is currently being applied in Iran which just witnessed the landslide re-election of an ostensible reformer, President Hassan Rouhani, against his challenger, the hardliner, Judge Ebrahim Raisi. I call Rouhani an ostensible reformer because his program differs markedly from the puritans who want to close off Iran to Western influences versus the Rouhani position of greater flexibility and interaction with the rest of the world. Rouhani has a more tolerant perspective on the role of domestic individual behaviour and external foreign interests in dealing with the policies of the polis. But both the reform and the conservative leadership remain committed to the precepts of Islam framing the polity. The conservatives want to control it as well.

The previous two blogs analyzed a book that won the Donner Prize last week (Alex Marland’s Brand Command) which documented the Stephen Harper government’s method of centralized control and the use of branding to manage the polity. My critique insisted that the book had inverted the roles of framing and branding, and that the key issue was framing. Branding was simply a method of covering up the contradictions within the Tory base between free enterprise conservatives, who oppose any moral frame for the polity, and community conservatives who believe the polity should conform to historically predominant Christian norms.

The analysis also implied that, as long as Liberals (or Democrats in the U.S.) covered up the divisions on their own side between economic liberals who believe, on the one hand, that a light touch of liberal tolerance and justice can be used to manage the polity, its inequalities and injustices, versus a more radical wing that sees the need for a greater role of the state in managing competing interests to ensure greater equality, then a well-disciplined opposition with a clear brand can disguise and, indeed, repress those fundamental differences, and then win. The brand can be the disciplined command and control that Stephen Harper employed or the anarchic populist appeal used by Donald Trump. Branding is a tool used to manage contradictions and manipulate constituents either by means of control and command or by populist appeal.

Framing, however, has priority, for if we fail to understand the warfare over principles, in despair a divided polis can easily turn democratic representative and responsible government into a populist system run by a demagogue. The warfare is not simply over principles, but over the role those principles are permitted to play in the polis. To understand the tension between various sets of moral principles wanting to provide the frame, and the behaviour of humans within the polis, it is necessary to acquire a better grasp on that behaviour and the nature of the tension and tribulations between the frame of the polity and the behaviour of its members. In this blog, I concentrate on the latter. In the next blog, I will analyze the civic religion in Canada that provides Canadians with a generally dominant overarching frame.

Conservatives are divided between free enterprise and community conservatives. For free enterprisers, humans are rational actors who make choices to maximize their own individual interests, but their interests are determined by a deeper human nature driven by a need to survive at a minimum, and by greed and acquisitive drives that build on and enhance the survival mode. Humans may be driven by greed, where the principles of survival play a commanding role, but they also may be driven by passions that have an inherent propensity to undermine interests. The predominant Christian ethos was based on the need to control passions that could wreak havoc in our individual and collective lives. Is life or desire fundamental? Neither is rational.

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two Israelis who worked in the United States for years, won the 2002 Nobel prise in economics for documenting and explaining individual economic behaviour and demonstrating that it was fundamentally irrational. Their proofs also undermined the rational choice assumptions of the high priests of monetary policy whose behaviour Juliet Johnson described in Priests of Prosperity, a nominee for the Donner Prize. The sacred religion of rational choice was upended in the economic crisis of 2007-2008. Imprinting and unconscious embodiment explain to some degree why survival and desire dictate choices more than any rational deliberation over alternatives to determine which one will best satisfy our individual interests.

The work of both men in behavioural psychology and their articulation of prospect theory undermined totally the Kantian assumption that judgement was simply the process of rational reconciliation between our moral values and our understanding of the world in accordance with the laws of nature, between practical and pure reason, between morality and nature. In 2011, Kahneman published a volume with great popular appeal, Thinking Fast and Slow, which contrasted our predominant predisposition for fast thinking, for thinking that I have described in my writing as searches for congruencies between one’s own inscribed views of the world and priorities in dealing with it, and rational deliberative decision-making.

If you are a free enterprise conservative, you are steeped deeply in the frame set out by both John Hobbes and John Locke that humans are interest maximizers and possessive individualists determined to secure their futures by seeking to acquire and own goods ad infinitum. Humans were inherently possessive individualists driven by the natural laws of survival. Kahneman, using his original work on complex correlational structures and studies of how attention, more than the actual observed world, was correlated with actual behaviour. Influenced by Richard Thaler’s pioneering work on consumer choice and hedonic psychology, in 1982 Kahneman published with Amos Tversky Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.

Both men were Israelis. Kahneman in particular had served in the intelligence service. The IDF, the politicians and Mossad in 1973 had all ruled out the possibility of a massive assault by the Arab forces. After all, Syria and Egypt had both suffered enormous psychological and physical defeats in the 1967 war. Any rational assessment would have indicated that initiating a war with Israel would be self-defeating. The failure of the intelligence operation to anticipate the possibility of an attack, the failure to look at worst possible scenarios, ignoring or misinterpreting data the IDF itself had collected of an imminent attack – that Russia advisors had withdrawn – failing to recognize that Egypt was currently driven by a sense of shame and a need to recover some honour, even at the risk of another great defeat, had, together with other forms of mindblindness, produced a situation in which the fate of Israel had been risked and almost sacrificed to this immersion in preconceptions that made both the state and much of society blind to the motives and actions of others. Even at its most fateful level of survival, irrationality had framed and limited rational deliberation. And Kahneman and Tversky went on to demonstrate how this mindblindness and irrational choice revealed itself in the most mundane of subjects, consumer choice.

Thus, began the tectonic shift undermining rational choice theory based on interests. Choice was seen to be rooted, not in survival and life, but desire and the assessment of whether an experience will be pleasurable rather than painful. While life emphasizes the needs necessary for the body to survive, desire is something else. It is the effort to see ourselves projected into the world and recognized by another, usually another seen as superior in some respect, for who we have become and what we have accomplished. The individual suffers discomforts and even pain when that recognition does not come. Desire is not material, even as it is manifested in material things. God is portrayed in the Torah as motivated to create the world in the first place to become manifest and to be recognized through projections into the world. Humans were created with the ability to provide that recognition. In contrast to God, humans had the benefit of being embodied.

Humans are not so much possessive individualists as troubled personalities making mistake after mistake about what satisfied their interests, mistakes made precisely because they are governed in their judgments and decisions by a commanding illusion that develops mindblindness, an incapacity to take into account a variety of other factors as they focus on a specific one perceived as crucial to realizing who they are. Humans are not so much possessive as obsessive individualists.

If not for obsessive individualism, how else can you explain why Israelis living in an environment in which neighbours threaten your very existence and when personal allies argue endlessly over every triviality, they nevertheless perceive themselves as extremely happy? They do so certainly in comparison to members of Nordic countries who have created polities that do far more than any other on earth to ensure both that needs are satisfied and that long-term security is achieved. Israelis were indoctrinated to believe in Jerusalem of Gold, that Israel was the Promised Land, even though the external evidence to the contrary was overwhelming. On the other hand, in one study by Kahneman and Gilbert, Midwesterners in the U.S. experienced themselves as deficient in comparison to Californians because they suffered from a much harsher climate; they became convinced that good weather would solve their discontent. Any study of the experience of Californians would show it would not.

Cain and Abel were not driven by possessive individualism. They clearly demonstrated this by their willingness to sacrifice the best products of their labour so that God would recognize them as the best. When one received the recognition and the other did not, the latter was driven, not just to distraction, but to murder the other, not because of the superiority of the other’s nomadic life, nor because of all the herds the other had collected that he as a farmer had not, but because this nostalgic way of life seemed to be recognized as superior by the same God of judgement. There would always be a bias to the status quo called nostalgia or, in modern economic and political theory, status quo bias.

Kahneman and Tversky pioneered in developing an understanding of base rate fallacies and cognitive, optimist and conjunction biases, in attribution substitution and the economic conception of loss aversion that undergraduates find so entrancing in undermining rational choice theory. Together they built the structure of prospect theory and established the primacy of framing, but have thus far had only a marginal impact on the economic religion of rational choice. Their own work could be used to predict how difficult it would be for the status quo of economic rational choice theory to absorb the lessons that emerged from their research.

They provided a solid empirical basis for undermining rational choice theory that has been reinforced by the research of neuroscientists on imprinting and on more contemporary versions of the theory of the unconscious than Freud offered. We are, to a great extent, our genes and the environmental imprinting in our lives.

 

In the contest between genetic determinants and environmental cues, we learn independently of the consequences, not only because of the genes we have inherited, but because we can only really learn some things when we reach different stages of life. Learning is phase-sensitive. It works through genomic imprinting: DNA methylation and post-translational modification of DNA-associated histone proteins. The 1,000+ transcripts in our brain – particularly in the subgranular zone of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus – is where memory is imprinted and learning takes place in a process of neurogenesis. Thus, it is not only our organ development, the development of our muscular-skeletal system and organs as imprinted in the subventricular zones and lateral ventricle of the brain that stage our physical development, but our mental development is, to a large degree, also determined by imprinting.

Alongside these developments, in the actual field of politics, efforts were initiated to select politicians who could perform. Hillary supposedly lost because she was so stiff. It was only after she had lost and gave her first interview that she seemed to relax. The goal became to groom politicians to match biases in the populace and to appeal to those biases through controlling the brand or, more demonstrably in the U.S. in the last election, deal with the incongruence of the candidate and both the needs of the populace and the needs of the nation with a more fundamental emotional appeal, even if originating in the chaotic mind of a populist candidate versus the chaos in the beliefs of the populace.

Thus far, Canada has avoided that fate because it has a strong civic religion. But dangers are evident concerning the fragility of the faith.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Terrorism and Migration: Part I                                                                      29 January 2017

by

Howard Adelman

Donald Trump is at it again. Why doesn’t he leave me alone? Why doesn’t he leave you alone? On Friday, 27 January 2017, the Office of the Press Secretary released Donald Trump’s executive order on migration, formally called, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” Before we go to the text itself, look at all the worry and consternation Trump has already caused simply by the preliminary leaks. His own bombast on the subject on television set off verbal brush fires all over the place. The full text can be found of numerous sites around the world; s:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/us/politics/refugee-muslim-executive-order-trump.html)

Many businesses with skilled workers from overseas employed by American companies are affected. Would the companies have to meet abroad so that these employees can attend? Would all international academic conferences have to be relocated outside the United States? What about students and faculty traveling back and forth? And consider all the private universities in the U.S. dependent on income from foreign students. There are over a million foreign students; though few come from the countries specifically boycotted, all would have to go through a rigid check system.

Look at the letter the Dean of Faculty of Princeton University felt impelled to send her colleagues this past Friday even before she could access  the full text of the new executive order. Simply based on the pre-publication media reports and the consternation they were already causing, she sent out the following letter to try to quiet the fears raging though her segment of academia.

We have received many messages from members of our community concerned about the impact of possible changes in immigration policies under the new administration in Washington. According to media reports, President Trump signed an executive order today. It has been reported that the order includes stricter immigration vetting measures and may include provisions that could impact non-immigrant visa holders as well as lawful U.S. permanent residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. At this stage, we do not know the content of the executive order or its impact.

We do, however, want to be prepared to support and advise our students, scholars, and others who might be affected by any changes, and to express our deep concern about any potential impact on the ability of this and other American universities to engage in teaching and research of the highest quality.

We have strongly advised students and scholars who might be affected and who have travel plans in the coming days to defer travel outside of the United States until there is some clarity and legal analysis of the situation or, if they must travel, to seek legal counsel before they do. We have also shared with potentially affected students and scholars the information we are receiving from a law firm that follows these matters closely and has advised members of our community in the past. More from Fragomen Worldwide Immigration Law Firm Alert January 25, 2017.

We wanted to share this information more broadly with all of you because many of your students or peers may be reaching out to you for information or support, and we are all affected when members of our community feel at risk. We take very seriously anything that could affect the ability of our students and scholars to engage in their scholarship. International students and scholars who have immigration questions or specific questions about their current situation should contact the Davis International Center (puvisa@princeton.edu), which is following the situation extremely closely and in the best position to provide advice or resources.

We will continue to keep you posted as we know more and we will work closely with our Princeton colleagues, peer institutions and the immigration law community to understand this and other immigration issues as they arise and to support members of our community who make essential contributions to research and teaching on this campus.

Does the new executive order include “stricter vetting procedures,” what Trump thunders as “extreme vetting”? Would the new policy impact on non-immigrant visa holders, such as individuals on student visas or teaching in the United States at universities on temporary work permits? Would the policy affect lawful U.S. permanent residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen who already hold permanent residence visas? Would the executive order affect teaching and research of the highest quality, or any quality for that matter? Though intended to express a concern about research in general, the effect of this quickly drafted open letter to the members of her community in the wording unintentionally suggested that Princeton was only concerned about the highest quality research? The fallout from the irrationality exuding from Washington even frazzles the minds of brilliant academics so they too misspeak.

Even more fundamentally, how does the executive order conform with existing law that in designating countries for exclusion, there must be an evaluation of the effects of such a designation “on the law enforcement and security interests in the United States (including the interest in enforcement of the immigration laws of the United States and the existence and effectiveness of its agreements and procedures for extraditing to the United States individuals, including its own nationals, who commit crimes that violate U.S. law.)” In other words, if countries are designated – as Syria as well as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen are – without any evaluation on U.S. capacity for law enforcement or on U.S. security interests domestically and internationally and on extradition procedures, is the executive order illegal? It is noteworthy that the law firm commenting on the presidential executive order did not comment on the legality of some of its sections.

Further, though the President and the members of his cabinet are given wide discretion under existing legislation, they are all required to follow certain very clearly defined procedures in applying such a designation. And there is no evidence, and likely there is none given the very short period the Trump government has been in power, that those procedures have been followed. The issue is not only whether the ban is “inappropriate and ineffective in the fight against terror,” as the American Iranian Council has argued, but the executive order may also be illegal since there has been no effort to gather evidence to measure either the appropriateness or effectiveness in fighting terror.

What initial advice was offered? If you might be affected, do not travel. That is, you risk not being re-admitted to the United States. If you must travel and are in a situation that might be affected, get some legal advice. Immigration lawyers are about to do a booming business in the United States and around the world. Such are the affects of the blather coming out of the mouth of the most powerful individual in the world. America’s best and brightest, not any prospective terrorist, are discombobulated. This is the first paragraph of the legal advisory a top immigration law firm sent out:

President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign an executive order that will suspend the entry of foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen to the United States for a period of 30 days, according to a published draft of the order. {A report in the 26 January 2017 New York Times was cited.] The executive order is also expected to suspend a worldwide program that exempted certain visa renewal applicants from consular interviews. [See Section 8 (a)]

The focus of the panic attack was on foreign nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen or on those who hold dual citizenship for the birth place may determine whether or not the person is deemed to be a national of one of those countries. Thus, even if the person is an American citizen, if a country such as Iran insists that the person is an Iranian national, under this presidential executive order, the person can be treated as an Iranian national.

Will residents in America who have strong ties to those countries be affected, since it is the foreign country’s laws that determine whether the United States deems the individual to be a member of that foreign nation? Does the ban apply to temporary visa holders (B-1, H1B and L-1) who are currently lawful permanent residents of the United States? If so, then you should be concerned about travelling back “home” if one of your parents becomes ill. The letter from this legal firm warned about long delays in processing visa applications as a result of the executive order, since the waiver for personal interviews was removed. All applicants would have to have a personal interview.

For a government determined to whittle down bureaucracy, this perhaps illegal cancellation of existing law under section 217 2/A (8 U.S.C. 1187) applicable to countries with very low non-immigrant refusal rates will just mean many more personnel required to deal with visa applications.

Now not one of these words of the law firm or the Princeton Dean of Faculty mentions refugees, the ostensible prime target of the executive order. The momentum of this America-First inspired policy almost forced institutions and professionals to attend first to self-centred needs, those of their own community members. Those most affected and those most in need of assistance, refugees, were ignored in both the letters of the law firm and the dean. This may be the most pernicious effect of the new regime.

Certainly, there is a danger of this in Canada where officials appear primarily focused on possible negative (and positive in the case of pipelines) effects on Canada of the new Trump regime. The Minister of Immigration, who was himself born in Somalia, if not carrying a Diplomatic passport, could possibly be barred from entry into the U.S. However, contrary to the ordinary meaning of Trump’s executive order, on Saturday, the U.S. State Department “clarified” that Canadians with dual citizenship from any of the seven nations would be denied entry for the next three months. Minister Ahmed Hussen evidently got an agreement from Washington reversing this decision and that not only Canadian citizens with dual citizenship from one of the seven countries designated in the ban, but also those with citizenship from one of the countries but only permanent residence in Canada, would NOT be barred from entry into the U.S. However, an Alberta biomedical engineer, Haji Reza, born in Iran with a Canadian permanent residence card, was banned from entry into the U.S.

Further, the Minister announced that Canada would step in to invite those refused entry into the U.S. to come to Canada on temporary permits. However, though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” However, Canada has not yet increased its targeted intake to make up, at least in part, for those refugees denied entry into the U.S.

There is anther side, however, a more tragic side. In Quebec especially, there has been a rise of Islamophobia, inspired in part by the French government ban on wearing items which communicate religious messages – kippas, large crosses but especially hijabs. A 2015 Quebec Human Rights Commission survey “found that 43 percent of Quebecers believe we should be suspicious of anyone who openly expresses their religion, with 49 per cent expressing some uneasiness around the sight of Muslim veils.” After a note had been posted the year before on the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec reading: “Islam hors de chez moi,” (Islam out of my country), this past year during Ramadan, a pig’s head wrapped in cellophane and tied with a bow was left on the doorstep of the centre.

Yesterday evening events became much worse. A gunman opened fire on the 40 or so congregants at that Centre. There are at least six deaths and many injured. Will Trump put a ban on travel to the United States against right wing Islamophobic terrorists?

The reality is that Trump policy measures targeting Muslims, while insisting he does not target Muslims, is contagious. Trump’s linkage between terrorism and Muslim migrants and refugees is not only dangerous to the fundamental values of the United States, not to speak of its efficient functioning, but to other countries around the world.

To be continued

The Second Clinton-Trump “Debate”

The Second Clinton-Trump “Debate”

by

Howard Adelman

Of course, it was not a debate. It was more of a cock fight. And the town hall format only provided window dressing for the moderators to field question (mostly vetted by organizations) to the two candidates, while allowing a half dozen or so questions, usually mundane though one incisive one on jobs and energy, from the audience. Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz perhaps did their best to reign in Donald Trump, but they largely failed and, instead, Trump trumpeted his charges that the debate was a three-to-one proposition. What the format did was to remove the lectern as a barrier between the candidates and the audience and, most importantly, from each other. While Trump spoke, Hillary Clinton tended to sit impassively on her stool, though occasionally smiling at another Trump whopper. Donald Trump used the time, when Hillary was speaking and when he was not interrupting and talking over her, to strut and cower as a hovering and glowering menace behind her as he paced and grimaced, snorted and sniffed, in belligerent displeasure.

So body language was even a greater part of this debate than the first. Prior to the debate, commentators pondered how Donald Trump would handle the audience questions and engage with them as individuals when they asked questions. Even though the opportunity was lost for most questions to come from the audience, Donald Trump simply used the queries to engage stridently as he did at his rallies to talk at the audience in general and never really address an individual let alone try to answer a question. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, did talk to the individuals trying to answer the question directed to her rather than at the audience in general. But she has never mastered the art of talking with rather than to the person.

An excellent opportunity was offered to both of them when a Muslim woman in the audience stood up and asked how each of their policies would make her feel as a Muslim American citizen. Donald Trump was asked to respond first. He approached the woman and, though his back was turned to us, there was no indication in his body language – leaning forward, facing her directly – that he made any effort whatsoever to speak to her. What he in effect said was that he did not have a prejudicial bone in his body, but Muslims had to understand that terrorists were Muslims and that he was not afraid to say it, that Muslims had a special responsibility to look for terrorists among them and not abrogate their responsibilities to America as he claimed had occurred in a specific case of terrorism where they allegedly failed to report the explosives and arms the terrorist was assembling. He would not make the error of being politically correct and would call them radical Muslim terrorists. Though he did not state that he had revised his policy of keeping out all Muslims from America until they could properly be vetted, he did exhibit the new version of that policy called extreme vetting to be applied to a number of countries that he claimed nurtured and harboured Muslim radical terrorists. Clinton, on the other hand, he claimed would admit them by the tens of thousands allowing Muslims to come in freely and did not have the courage to call them what they were, radical Muslim terrorists.

Hillary Clinton called them radical jihadists and insisted that Donald Trump’s nomenclature fed to the false notion that America was at war with Muslims and raised the spectre of Islamophobia. Further, those same terrorists used Donald Trump as their recruiting tool. Hillary Clinton directly addressed the woman and insisted that she was as equal a citizen as any other American, that there have been Muslims in America going back to the days of George Washington, and that America was at war with terrorist extremists who were trying to hijack Islam for their own nefarious purposes. She never addressed the issue of whether there was or was not any connection between their Islamic faith and their extremist ideology. At the same time, she never drew the questioner closer into her confidence by asking her if she had suffered any discrimination herself because she was a Muslim given the current international situation and the fear of terrorism focused on Muslims.

If victory was to be awarded based on posture, and if the pose of a bully matters more in a cockfight, then the much more self-assured strutting and conventionally belligerent Donald Trump would be awarded the badge. In other words, Trump’s deplorable and irredeemable supporters would remain his supporters and would continue to be unredeemed. But if civility counted, if scoring points on policy and strategy counted, if getting credit for answering and not evading questions are to be valued, then Hillary once again doubtlessly won, but not as clear a victory as when Donald failed even his most ardent followers in the first debate. Except for the independents and wavering Republicans! For them the debate was another perpetrated by Trump on himself.

Since I really want to write about the terribly debased state of American politics much more than the debate between Clinton and Trump, I will use this analysis of the debate to set up my next blog on that subject. Let me begin, not with the lowest points in the debate when Trump denounced his own Vice-President’s suggested policy vis-a vis Russia and Assad in Syria and his prophecy or promise that Hillary would go to jail if he becomes president, but with his reiteration of his only apology which came at the very beginning of the “town hall debate.”

This is the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when Jews ponder and seek forgiveness for their sins. That search for redemption is called tshuva. Jews are expected to recognize, acknowledge and ask forgiveness for their sins before God for their sins against Him and to their fellow humans for their sins against them. Now there are many iterations of the meaning of tshuva, but it is generally thought of as consisting of at least the following qualities:
• Identification or recognition of the sin
• Identification of who was hurt by the sin
• Acknowledgement of responsibility for committing the sin
• Requesting forgiveness from those hurt by the sin
• Accepting the consequences for having committed the sin
• Determining with conviction never again to recommit the offence.

All of these must be conveyed with the most profound and deepest sincerity. What did we hear from Donald Trump in this third reiteration of his “apology”? He was dismissive rather than sincere. And he as quickly as possible pivoted away from the issue to discuss fighting ISIS, a much more serious issue he claimed. That is, his offence, if it was an offence, was trivial. In any case, both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton had allegedly committed much worse offences because they did terrible things to women. He had only talked about women, admittedly in a way he now regretted and he now considered wrong, but it was only locker room talk.

Did he recognize what he had done, a requirement for the very beginning of tshuva? Most certainly not. For what he had done was not even just locker room talk. I would argue, purely on personal anecdotal evidence, that it was not locker room talk at all. In my days swimming, playing basketball and playing football (yes, I once did all of these), I can recall male teenagers, much to my self-righteous disgust, discussing penis sizes and the size and quality of women’s breasts – my teenage associates at the time had a laser-beam approach in locker rooms in focusing on the female chest at the expense of the butt, the legs, the ankles and most times even the face and certainly never personality. But I never once heard boys or men discussing forcing themselves on women and grabbing their “pussies”. Perhaps they did not discuss it because they were not famous and did not, like Donald, think they could get away with it. But I dare say that they never even considered it, not simply because such acts are unequivocally illegal and constitute assault, but because such harsh moves on women were well beyond even their imaginations.

Donald Trump, after persistent questioning from Anderson Cooper, did finally assert that he had only talked that way and never acted that way – contrary to the claims of many of his staff members on The Apprentice – but even if no further solid evidence comes out that he did actually assault women in this way, he did so in his mind and to a media host – who was fired by his news organization as a result of the revelations. Does this constitute a conspiracy to commit assault on women? I doubt it, but I know too little of criminal law to offer an opinion. But one need not go into the legal issues. One can simply recognize that Trump never once acknowledged the seriousness of what he said and its character as he tried to reduce what he had uttered to the level of his usual trash-talk in discussing women.

He certainly never acknowledged that he had hurt all women and asked for their forgiveness. Further, as my wife Nancy pointed out, he never acknowledged that he had defamed American men who engage in locker room talk across the country, but I daresay very rarely if ever would discuss grabbing women by their pussies, let alone without their consent. An apology that diminishes and dilutes the sin committed, that fails to come to the first level of recognizing what the sin was, that is not addressed to all those, female and male, hurt by Donald Trump’s boasts about locker room talk and his supposed very recent claims of contrition, does not even make the grade of 10% of what is required by a true apology.

Did Donald Trump take responsibility for what he had done? Well you cannot if you do not know, recognize and then acknowledge what you had done wrong. When he said, “I was wrong. I apologize,” he was not even taking responsibility for what he had done even at the level of his failure of recognition, for his error in his mind may have been that he had been indiscreet in talking that way in front of an open mike. He never requested forgiveness from those hurt by the sin, a willingness to accept that consequences should follow for having committed the sin, never mind expressing a determination never again to re-offend. Even Newt Gingrich, a stalwart supporter, had said, Trump would have to realize that he had to reach deep within himself and indicate that he was capable of so doing and would have to live with what he had done and live as a reformed character. There is absolutely not a whiff of evidence of Trump’s willingness or capability of doing any such thing.

The problem of ISIS is a crucial policy issue. But the character and personality of the president is even more important because it is his character, whereas policy is a collective enterprise, even though Trump as president would have a disproportionate influence on such policy, though not as disproportionate as he believes he would have. His grandiose belief in the powers he would wield as president unlimited by a system of laws, checks and balances was articulated when he fell to the bottom of the pit of politicking and promised not only to appoint a special prosecutor, which a president does not have the power to do, but to jail Hillary Clinton when he becomes president, a power usually assumed by tin pot dictators when they succeed someone they overthrow and never by an elected president of the United States. To threaten to do so was a repetition at his rallies to “lock her up,” and, in my mind, the single-most important indicator that Donald Trump is totally unfit to be president. And when his surrogates insisted he was joking – when he was so clearly not – they proved they are as deplorable and irredeemable as they continue to demonstrate that they are.

But Donald Trump proved that he was certainly not a politically correct person and definitely not a politically correct politician when, instead of simply pivoting, he trounced his vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence and threw him under the bus for having said that the Trump administration would not only create a no-fly zone as Hillary promised (she is much more of a hawk than Obama), but would bomb the Assad military positions. Trump took an opposite tack. Aleppo was already lost. He would seek an alliance with both Russia and Syria (and, therefore, with Iran) in fighting ISIS. It is mindboggling. The whole international strategic thinking establishment of the United States must be shivering in their boots. Trump is simply politically stupid to the nth degree, but particularly in foreign policy. That was well in evidence in all the issues raised in that area last evening. And the result – the moral bankruptcy of much of the Republican Party was on full display when Mike Pence continued to back Trump in spite of what Trump had said, in spite of the ignorance of the Republican presidential candidate and in spite of the way he himself was treated.

What we saw and heard last night went well beyond Trump’s usual extreme mendacity, like his usual claim that the Iran deal was bad because America had to pay Iran $150 billion to sign the deal and his ignoring Clinton’s claim that the deal had reduced Iran’s capacity to make nuclear weapons without firing a single shot. The money at stake was at most $100 billion and probably more like $52 billion, but the money was Iran’s in the first place that had merely been embargoed. The money released from the embargo did not include monies embargoed because of Iran’s human rights record, its support for terrorism, etc. Further, deductions had to be made even from these funds to repay China. One big lie simply tumbled out and followed another.

Take one last point, his admission that he had not paid federal personal income taxes. Instead he claimed that Warren Buffet and George Soros, “Hillary’s friends,” had made similar deductions, not that they paid no taxes. Further, he lied when he said that it was really Hillary serving her rich friends when these very two friends had long advocated that America introduce a system that closed income tax loopholes for the rich and institute a much fairer tax regime. As Hillary insisted, Trump’s policies would reward the rich even more than they are currently rewarded while ratcheting up the deficit and creating large levels of unemployment by cancelling NAFTA.j

While admitting that the Canadian health insurance system is plagued with inordinate delays, it is far superior to the reformed American system under Obamacare and stratospherically superior to the previous American medical system. I will ignore his ignorance of and insults to Canada. After all, just last year he praised the single-payer system of Canada. If Trump is elected president, the whole American system – economic with respect to employment, finances, national debt, taxation; political; judicial, as well as foreign policy around the globe and domestic policies on education and especially health, would be, in one of Trump’s favourite words, a disaster.

Thnks to Alex Zisman for helingiling opponents,

Ten International Film Previews

1. Coming Home (Chinese)
2. You Call It Passion (Korean)
3. A Decent Engagement (Indian)
4. A Separation (Iranian)
5. Mustang (Turkish)
6. Footnote (Israeli)
7. The Source (French about North Africa)
8. Poli Opposti (Italian)
9. Barbara (German about East Germany)
10. The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles (French)

Ten International Film Previews

by

Howard Adelman

These are not reviews per se, but sketches and reflections on what these films may say about the world today and one country in that world. They are not representative of their country. Their selection depended on films that I have watched in the last week, mainly on the flight home from Israel. The list excludes the Hungarian film, Son of Saul, on which I wrote three blogs. The compilation is not comprehensive either – no Russian films, no Latin American films and no films from Black Africa. The order of the previews is arbitrary, simply traveling from east to west and then south to north.

Coming Home (China)

First shown at Cannes in 2014, the title of this film in Chinese literally translates as The Return, a name that makes far more sense in terms of the plot and theme. For the film is about a professor, Lu Yanshi (Lu played by Chen Daoming), sent away to a “re-education” camp during the Cultural Revolution who returns twice to his wife, Feng Wanyu (Yu played by Gong Li) and daughter, Dandan (Zhang Huiwen), an aspiring ballerina. [I know that referring to Lu – the husband – and Yu – the wife – can be very confusing; it was while watching the movie, at least for the first half hour. But that is how they refer to one another.] The first time when he escapes, his family is intact, but he is re-arrested when he tries to meet his wife. He returns a second time when he is rehabilitated years later. In neither case does he come home, for the first time he cannot reach home and the second time there is no home to come to; intervening events have destroyed “home” in any meaningful sense except the physical.

The film is superbly acted, but it is far more than a domestic drama or even an indictment of the Cultural Revolution. The film is an allegory of recognition. In fact, Yanshi, the name of the professor, literally means “how to recognize” in both Cantonese and Mandarin. But the term is more often associated with passionate romance, definitely not the passion of the next film discussed. Yet this is a film of passionate romance on the deepest level.

When the professor first returns and encounters his daughter whom he has not seen in over ten years – he was arrested when she was four years old – she does not recognize him as her father or her responsibilities to him. Ironically, this loyal child of two revolutions – a communist and a cultural one – only knows personal ambition. As a direct result of this failure of recognition, and the trauma of a blackmail Yu was forced to endure, Lu’s wife will suffer amnesia and no longer recognizes her husband when he returns a second time. The movie offers an allegory that suggests that it is one thing for greed, blind ambition and power mongering behind a Cultural Revolution to produce an authoritarian and repressive state. It is perhaps even worse when contemporary China enters a state of amnesia about that period creating a double calamity for the victims.
You Call It Passion (Korea)

Newspaper stories can be about publishers and the pursuit of power, such as Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane, or about juxtaposing a journalist’s ethos of setting truth against power by covering the tale of two very different but dedicated, determined and diligent journalists (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) trying to uncover the Watergate scandal. Or it can be about a hard bitten reporter who turns out to be a very good detective as James Stewart did in Call Northside 777. Newspapers used to be excellent backdrops for interweaving glamour and intrigue, money and power, ambition and ethics. This is no longer the case as newspapers struggle to stay alive in the world of the new media. This tale of the tabloid press is a little bit of all of these themes, but never seems to focus on any of them as it narrates the tale of a very bright but innocent newspaper intern, Do Ra-hee (Park Bo-young) who joins the workforce of a very large, likely pulp, newspaper in the entertainment section that is more about scooping for scandals than it is about allowing readers to get greater insight into the artists and entertainers in Seoul.

Though the intern is a woman who looks like a teenager to a North American, this is no weak feminist track like Front Page Woman. The movie is about getting the scoop on a famous young male actor, but as a cross between the reporter as detective as well as one torn by ethical concerns when offered material by “a reliable source” that could destroy a career but enormously advance that of the young reporter. I initially thought the movie was going to be a contemporary Korean remake of the classic Hollywood tale It Happened One Night, with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, but this time with a young female rather than male reporter trying to get the goods on a celebrity. But the closest this movie gets to the hard bitten reporter is the entertainment editor, Ha Jae-kwan (Jung Jae-young), who yells at his journalists to put passion into their jobs and make passion what their jobs are about. But the movie is really about saving their own jobs by uncovering economic skulduggery. The film is a lesson in lack of direction where a movie fails to decide at the core what it is about. Neither comedy nor romance, neither exposé nor ethical drama, neither a poem to a journalist’s passion for truth nor deconstruction of an editor’s drive to get a scoop while being a bit of both of the latter, the movie is a lightweight addition to the genre of newspaper movies.

A Decent Engagement (India)

India makes excellent movies, from Bollywood entertainment to serious court room films about justice, like Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court. This is clearly not one of them. Put an American hunk into an Indian setting where he is finally to meet the love of his life in a traditional arranged marriage and you have the basic elements of tension and conflict, comedy and romance. But not one of them is in evidence here. The situations are clichés. The script is terrible. The film is not helped when the lead cannot decide whether he is mentally challenged or an innocent abroad or, more accurately, an American with the patina of an Indian in Delhi. As soon as the lead opens his mouth, we learn that he cannot act. The best part of the movie is the plethora of scenes of Indian life that serve as fillers to a threadbare script, but also serve as a respite from a disastrous movie.

A Separation (Iran)

Iran has wonderful directors and actors. In a country with a built-in stress between creativity and repressive control, especially under the auspices of religious law, the opportunities for exciting and great films certainly exist, even if the conditions for exploiting the opportunities are extremely difficult. Asghar Farhadi’s movie walks that line with a great sense of balance. It is a simple courtroom drama about the unintended consequences of competing but legitimate personal interests and priorities clashing where both truth and a hierarchy of norms are both very unsettled in spite of the claims of Sharia law to have a monopoly on both.

Nader (Peyman Moaadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) may love one another, but Nader is attached to his father who suffers from dementia while Simin wants to ensure that their daughter has a future. Thus, past and future clash in the present. And the film is greatest in showing that there are no easy answers as two excellent actors pursue that task.

Mustang (Turkey)

Set in a small remote agricultural village far from Istanbul, Mustang is an absolutely wonderful film. There is no difficulty in determining on which side of the modernity-tradition divide the female director (Deniz Gamze Ergüven) falls, as five very close sisters grow up in the home of their aunt and uncle who fall back on protection and policing when the first threat appears on the horizon to the couple’s reputation. The girls, all with a great sense of joie to vivre that is wonderfully portrayed and at all times infectious, is viewed from the perspective of and also driven mostly by the youngest, a mustang determined not to be tamed.

The film begins with the will to live and celebrates life’s joyful, comedic and happy moments, but gradually, and very gradually, descends into claustrophobia in a house made into a prison for confining the human spirit before the plot turns to loss, the greatest being the camaraderie among the five girls, and eventual tragedy. The movie is touching without in any way being cloying, funny without being farcical, and horrific without any of the usual exposure to gross torture. And though clearly on the side of freedom and feminism, the movie somehow manages not to be didactic. Unlike the Indian film above, all the beautiful cinematography of landscape and life are integral to the flow of the film.

Footnote (Israel)

This is one film I did not see in the last five days. But not for lack of trying. Since I was flying from Israel, I was looking forward to watching one of the many excellent Israeli films. I could speculate why I could not find one, but instead I will simply add a footnote to an excellent 2012 Israeli film about both the love and the competition between a father and a son who happen to be in the same realm of scholarship. But there is a difference. The father is engaged in pilpul, a minute engagement in teasing out inconsistencies and insights from small passages in the Talmud. The son, by contrast, is a populizer of Judaism and a public intellectual instead of probing into the minutiae of scholarship.

I loved the movie, not simply because it was about the real tension I experience between the minutiae of scholarship and the desire to communicate to a larger audience, but because the movie was about the fact that neither aspiration can substitute for love within the family, and especially between father and son. To do so with an acute comic sense is masterful. The brilliant hilarious scene of s cluster of great scholars crowded into a tiny office to resolve a dispute offers the humorous side of Israel, precisely because it exemplifies what is so maddening and tragic about the wonderful country.

The Source (France about North Africa)

Aristophanes’ Lysistrata provides the template for this contemporary version of women in a small village using a sexual strike to force their underemployed men to undertake work that can ease the burden of their overworked and treacherous effort at carrying water back from a well. Instead of striking for peace in opposition to the Peloponnesian War, these North African women declare a sexual war to overcome the resignation to and backwardness of crippling tradition. Like the Turkish movie above, Mustang, the setting is in a small remote village. Like Mustang, the film flirts with the comedic against a backdrop of hardship, but that is physical as much as it is moral. Both films are about women in motion that brings forth the poetry of that action.

In this film, an outsider Leila (Leila Bekhti) is married to a village teacher. Rather than the youngest daughter of a family acting as the spur to upset the settled applecart because there is neither a road nor a cart to bring the water from the village well, Leila organizes the protest against assigning women to carrying water hanging from a pole slung across the backs of the women, including pregnant ones. The result of the current obsolete system leads to a disproportionate number of miscarriages and deaths of children. Unlike the Turkish film, and unlike Turkey itself these days, Radu Mihaileanu imbues his movie with love and hope rather than tragedy and despair.

Poli Opposti (Italy)

This movie is a sophisticated contemporary comedy set in a thoroughly modern world, not only one where sexual repression has been removed, but where the women have become the hard bitten, cold and insensitive ball breakers, and the men have been transposed into sensitive souls. Often funny, always very well acted, this traditional version of a comedy of opposites that attract and fall in love, is conceived in an inverted mode. It is a delight to watch precisely because credibility is not a stake. The female warrior divorce lawyer (Sarah Feiberbaum) and her son are saved from being cast into the cold of an unloving world by a sensitive human relations counsellor (Luca Argentero) who believes in pushing cooperation and dialogue rather than exacerbating already deep divisions. If Lysistrata informed The Source, the sophisticated comedies of traditional Hollywood provide the template for this movie, but it is updated by reversing the archetypal male and female roles.

Barbara (German about East Germany)

The story portrayed in Coming Home of abuse by political authorities in China was mirrored by events in East Germany. But Barbara is a film about voyeurism rather than intimate love in the face of oppression. Nina Hoss plays a brilliant physician, not sent to a re-education camp, but to the boonies because she applied for an exit visa. Lu Yanshi just wanted to return home. Barbara just wants to get out. Escape, not unlike that of Huckleberry Finn, a book she reads to a patient and escapee she is protecting. But Barbara had become hardened, not by male abandonment, but by male domination and real repression. She smokes heavily and smiles rarely. But when she does, she lights up the screen.

Though a failure in trust imbues both Coming Home and Barbara with an enormous degree of tension, it is all the more oppressive in Barbara because it appears to be so total and comprehensive leaving very little room for humanity and empathy. Yu in Coming Home develops cold and expressionless eyes, but they are sometimes awakened and we delight in the joy and sensitivity of those rare occasions. The same look, however, in the landlady in Barbara is menacing rather than simply vacant. Both films record the devastating effects of state oppression with great attention to detail, but the regime of surveillance, the informers in East Germany, are omnipresent and anonymous. In the love story of Lu and Yu, the informers are intimates and the party secretary is portrayed in a sympathetic way. East Germany and Stasi reached a dead end; If Coming Home is any indication, there is some hope that China can overcome or get around oppression because, after the Cultural Revolution, room has been made for inter-human sensitivity and empathy even as the government retains its iron grip on society in general and the country suffers from collective amnesia.

However, excellent films can emerge from the worst conditions.

The Yellow Eyes of the Crocodiles (France)

Two sisters, one glamorous, cold and self-serving, Iris (Emmanuelle Béart), the other, Joséphine (Julie Depardieu), mousy, intellectual and self-effacing, one oblivious to the needs of her son, the other sensitive but often clumsy in dealing with the needs of her two daughters, especially the older one who is so caught up in the attraction of the glitter of her aunt, provide the core of this story of recognition both on the inter-personal and collective level but from a radically different standpoint than Coming Home. In Yellow Eyes, the deceit is obvious and eventually self-destructive. That is why it is a comedy. In Coming Home, the failure of recognition becomes buried deep in the broken families resulting from the Cultural Revolution.

The acting is brilliant as is the direction by Cécile Telerman. One of the greatest rewards in watching foreign as well as American films is observing women come into their own as great directors. When the variety of directors throws light, not only on the screen, but on and into the world in which we live, the rewards are enormous.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy – External Affairs

by

Corporeality I: The Body Politic and Diplomacy

by

Howard Adelman

“Howard, you’re never going to be a diplomat.”

Not that I had ever aspired to be one, but why? Why not me? When a Canadian ambassador addressed me with this comment, Canada was then gavelling the Multilateral Refugee Working Group (RWG) negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians in the early 1990s before the Oslo peace process unravelled with the collapse of the Camp David and Taba peace talks and the al-Aqsa intifada took their place. (Cf. David Goldberg and Tilly Shames (2004) “The ‘Good-natured Bastard’: Canada and the Middle East refugee question,” Israel Affairs: Special Issue: Israel in the International Arena, 10:1-2, 203-220) Though the focus was on the Palestinian refugees before the millions of Syrian refugees became the poster children for Middle Eastern displacement, the RWG performed another role. It served not simply as the venue for advancing the discussion on the Palestinian refugee issue, but as a front for the bilateral talks and a safe place out of the spotlight to debate hot process issues, such as PLO participation and Palestinian representation and identification as a separate delegation independent of the Jordanian one. I was present as a technical adviser.

Could I not become an ambassador because I was too forthright, because I lacked the smooth etiquette of even a junior in the foreign ministry? Either of these elements would have disqualified me, but that was not the explanation the ambassador offered. “You’ve been educated as a philosopher. Ever since Descartes, philosophers have been trained to think in terms of clear and distinct ideas. However, diplomacy relies upon equivocation. Diplomats have to use language that means different things to the different parties in the negotiations.” He was only being partially satirical.

I would not qualify for a number of reasons. On Friday I wrote about Jethro in the Torah and his meeting with Moses and Aaron as an example of the following characteristics of a diplomat:

  1. Courtesy – Jethro notified his hosts of his arrival to ensure that he was welcome by the leader of the people – something which Netanyahu did not do when Ron Dermer, his American-born Israeli envoy to the U.S., cooked up the scheme with the House of Representatives Republican Majority Leader, John Boehner, to have Netanyahu address a joint session of Congress without informing the President;
  2. Recognition – Moses and Aaron (not Aaron alone) went out to greet Jethro on what was the tarmac at the time and demonstrated that the head of a nation should greet a visiting envoy;
  3. Respect – Moses did so by showing the visiting diplomat the highest regard in both his words and body language;
  4. Jethro was a formidable diplomat because he was a very careful listener and not only heard Moses’ long tale about the Israelite escape from Egypt, but was able to summarize the narrative so that Moses and Aaron could recognize how close Jethro had been listening;
  5. Jethro demonstrated that he also understood the Israeli position by providing an empathetic summary of the Israelite perspective without ever actually endorsing it;
  6. Jethro demonstrably came with only one goal in mind – reconciliation and peace;
  7. The one attitude that was absolutely verboten was arrogance;
  8. Jethro was the exemplar of the refusal to use force or his position of authority to persuade Moses and Aaron, but relied on words alone to influence his son-in-law;
  9. Jethro went further and demonstrated his initiative and creative imagination by sacrificing to the Israelite God for the role He played in freeing the Israelites from Egypt, something which the Israelites themselves had not yet done;
  10. Finally, both Moses and Jethro understood the important role of breaking bread together in a festive meal as a way to cement a relationship.

How do the current parties in Middle East negotiations measure up to these standards? David Remnick, outstanding editor of The New Yorker, in an article on Secretary of State John Kerry in the final double issue for 2015 entitled, “Negotiating the Whirlwind” (pp. 66-77), offered a number of insights into Kerry’s attributes as a negotiator, though the focus was on the possibility of making a break through on Syria rather than Kerry’s role in the last failed effort to get the peace negotiations off the ground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Kerry is portrayed as having the following characteristics:

  1. He is a man of exemplary courage “undaunted by risk” having won three Purple Hearts and both a Bronze and a Silver Star in the Vietnam War in spite of George W. Bush’s toadies’, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, attempts to besmirch that military record, the ultimate in irony, for George W. Bush sat out the war stateside as a member of the Texas National Guard;
  2. Though without question a man of the establishment, Kerry demonstrated a different kind of courage in standing up against the received wisdom as a leader of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War  and became for me personally at that time a real hero;
  3. He is unwilling to go for the jugular if the cost might be undermining the whole diplomatic effort;
  4. His overriding character as a negotiator is that he is tireless and doggedly relentless;
  5. He seems to suffer a more serious handicap than being a philosopher dedicated to clear and distinct ideas for he is prone to verbal logorrhea and a propensity to be rhetorically undisciplined;
  6. Further, instead of being a master of equivocation, he is infected with the disease of the wasp establishment in the United Sates and a betrayal of his forgotten Jewish grandfather as he has mastered the precise contradictory trait of using unboundaried rhetoric to describe raw reality, but doing so in “upholstered platitudes ;“
  7. He has an abounding faith in the value of personal relationships;
  8. He believes in the power of persuasion and the importance of influence, though always with the American qualifier of carrying a stick in the other hand;
  9. He contrasts with Barack Obama’s skepticism because he exudes a “sentimental optimism;”
  10. Like Jethro, he does understand and has mastered the art of building trust by both understanding the Other and demonstrating that understanding in dealing with contentious parties.

How do these characteristics fit the attributes most desirous in a diplomat such as the exemplary Benjamin Franklin? Courage is irrelevant, absolutely necessary when it comes to fighting a war, but irrelevant at the negotiating table. Nor does being an angry young man and an anti-establishment warrior qualify one as a diplomat speaking from personal experience. Third, tireless optimism is no substitute for caution and careful analysis, but actually gets in the way of the latter two prerequisites for diplomacy. Being relentless may be necessary for a Churchill, and his bulldog, when fighting a life-and-death war against the Nazis, but is irrelevant in diplomatic negotiations and may, as Remnick writes, be like the car buyer who enters the automobile showroom and lets the salesperson know that he is determined not to leave until he has purchased a car.

Kerry with his weak command of linguistic skills has shown that he lacks mastery of the core tool of a diplomat, absolute proficiency in the use of language which must be clear and concise as well as always coherent and non-contradictory. Equivocation is one thing; padded platitudes are another, especially when, instead of demonstrating being in touch with reality, they reveal detachment from it. When this is compounded with a record of contradictions – supporting Bush’s foolish war in Iraq but then voting against appropriations for reconstruction – this is not an outstanding record of achievement to waltz on the stage of foreign diplomacy. This may be the result of relying too much on advisers. This is not helped when later one avoids responsibility for taking that advice and remains critically bitter about the advice Robert Shrum gave him not to take on and challenge the calumnies of the Swift Boat Veterans.

Personal relationships, as Jethro and Moses demonstrated, are key to foreign relations, but as Kissinger noted, Kerry’s “unbounded faith” in the value of such relationships may be misplaced. However, his belief in the power of persuasion, in spite of carrying a big stick, his belief in putting that big stick behind his back instead of waving it in the air, and his comprehension in demonstrating empathetic understanding are exemplary, though marred somewhat by his sentimental optimism unbecoming of a diplomat.

How do those skills and weaknesses reveal themselves when attacking some of the major diplomatic challenges of our time? Cuba was clearly Obama’s doing, largely due to insistence of the Cubans, but this put Kerry’s nose out of joint. One cannot imagine Aaron being disturbed because Jethro as a foreign diplomat wanted to deal directly with Moses. A second success, certainly in my eyes, was the conclusion of the nuclear arms talks with Iran. Kerry’s persistence, his efforts to build personal relationships, his mastery of the material and the core issues while communicating a complete understanding of the position of the Iranians, his refusal to play the military card, all contributed to his success. But with the Iranians, not with his former colleagues in the Senate who were well aware of his unwillingness to trot out America’s military might, of Kerry’s unwillingness to go for the jugular as revealed in his handling of the election results in his contest with George W. Bush, of his sentimental optimism and his unbounded faith in personal relationships. They may have loved John Kerry as a colleague but they distrusted him as a tough negotiator. Well you can’t please everyone all the time, and perhaps never given the force and irredentism of populist Republicans these days.

A lesser known success was Kerry’s efforts to broker a compromise with the contenders for leadership in Afghanistan. When the election results threatened to undermine the country’s feeble democracy, Kerry negotiated a compromise between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani stretching personal relationship diplomacy almost to the breaking point, but sufficient to keep the government together, an absolute prerequisite in fighting the war against the Taliban.

But look at the failures – Egypt, Libya, the partial alienation of Saudi Arabia. But these may have had more to do with Barack Obama than with Kerry, a topic which I will take up tomorrow.  The most outstanding failure was the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but this was not a failure of negotiating skills, but of wasting diplomatic capital on a quixotic effort driven by that sentimental optimism and absolute faith in himself if only he could get both parties into the same room. Here taking huge risks was folly for the probability of a fearful Mahmoud Abbas taking the necessary risks for peace can be compared to that of Arafat whose courage amounted to the sliver of a new moon while Abbas’ willingness to take a risk was hidden behind the moon in eclipse. With Abbas on one side and, a bullying, blustering unreliable bull shitter like Netanyahu on the other (I told you I was unsuited to diplomacy), the chances of getting even the wisp of victory out of the negotiations was even less than the chance of winning over a billion dollars in the recent lottery draw in the United States, especially given the intractable positions on both sides.

But the problem goes even deeper. The late intervention in the Balkans and the Dayton Accords were not, as Kerry claimed, a diplomatic success, except in the eyes of Richard Holbrooke and other Americans for it left the shattered parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina patched together like a smashed teacup with the shards glued back together, but in a form useless as a teacup because it will not hold any hot water for long. And Rwanda was not a failure of America to intervene, but a failure of the Clinton administration to support and allow the UN peacekeepers already there to be reinforced and do their jobs. Kerry may demonstrate a capability in empathetic understanding but it is not matched to the same degree in objective understanding.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Tomorrow: Barack Obama as a Political Leader and Diplomat.

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

 

IV Haley and Obama – Military and Foreign Policy

by

Howard Adelman

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.

http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/uploads/Documents/other/SzubinTranscript20150916-v2.pdf

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.

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. 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%.
  4. 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.
  5. “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.)
  6. “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.
  7. “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.
  8. “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:

  1. JCPOA does not in any way affect American sanctions with respect to Iran’s support to terrorist groups;
  2. It does not touch on Iran’s human rights abuses;
  3. It does not touch on Iran’s support for the Assad regime, nor was it ever intended to;
  4. 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