Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Regime Change and Assassination Nation

This Wall Street Journal article discusses the intraparty dispute that has broker out within both the Republican and Democratic parties over the role of “regime change” in US foreign policy.  Against regime change are Republicans Donald Trump, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, joined by Democrat Bernie Sanders.  Hillary Clinton is for regime change, since she oversaw it in Egypt and Libya, although she says she argued for more gradual change in Egypt but was overruled by others in the Obama administration.  Her interventionism is echoed by Marco Rubio.   

I am disappointed that the US has become “assassination nation,” beginning perhaps after World War II when the CIA was formed.  But it was relatively rare until the Bush and Obama administrations.  Bush just liked killing Muslims, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan.  With drones Obama now can kill anybody anywhere, and he often does.  Assassination by drone is probably better than the old fashioned way which often involved many collateral casualties, even in the case of bin Laden. 

For me, however, it goes against the standard set by leading men in the old Western movies, who did not shoot their enemies in the back.  Attacking individuals secretly from the sky seems cowardly, even if it may be good for American security.  You can argue that terrorists have no right to any kind of fair treatment, but when the US abandons fairness and justice, it sets a bad example for the rest of the world. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Trump on Visas

As a one-time visa officer, I am appalled at the misinformation about visas. 

 First, President Obama said the wife of the San Bernardino shooting couple had come to the US under a visa waiver program, when she had come under at fiancée K-1 visa. That was probably just bad staff work, but for a major address, there should have been better fact checking. Apparently, the State Department has said it will review the K-1 visa program, although a miniscule number of K visas are issued compared to temporary visas and even other types of immigrant visas. It is just trying to make Obama look less stupid that he did Sunday night. State will also review issuance procedures for other types of visas that are more relevant than fiancée visas. 

 The main problem with all visas is the lack of good intelligence about who is a problem and who is not. The CIA and FBI can’t know what every person in the world harbors in his heart. The only absolutely safe thing to do would be to stop issuing any visas and stop allowing any foreigners to enter the US. There are probably a significant number of Americans who would support such a proposition, despite its disastrous effect on the US economy and the US reputation in the world. But it would not be prohibited by the Constitution. No foreigner has a Constitutional right to enter the US. American citizens do have such a right, but they don’t need a visa, just a passport. 

 Trump’s proposal stops short of an across the board visa denial and would deny visas only to Muslims for a limited time, until as he said, “we can figure out what is going on.” There has been outrage among various people, many of whom should know better, saying this is unconstitutional because it discriminates against a religion. There is no Constitutional protection for visa applicants. By their reasoning, if we denied a visa to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, he would be entitled to appeal the visa denial all the way to the US Supreme Court. That is ridiculous. I know Joe Scarborough likes to go the mosque to pray, but he should not be so generous to ISIS terrorists. 

Donald Trump’s proposal may not be the best solution to the terrorist threat, but it’s not illegal, and over the years, the US has had many very discriminatory visa programs. When I was issuing visas, the big concern was the Communist threat; so, we denied visas to Communists. That doesn’t mean that we were engaged in some McCarthy-ite campaign against Americans who had some vague Communist connection. We just didn’t what people who might foment some kind of trouble once they entered the United States on a visa. Americans in America have Constitutional protection of free speech, but a Communist living in Moscow does not, although Joe Scarborough thinks he should have. Joe thinks he has a right to come to America and work to overthrow the US government. Or that a foreign Muslim has a Constitutional right to come to America and kill people, because he is innocent until proven guilty under the Fifth Amendment. I don’t agree. American citizens are protected by the Fifth Amendment; al-Baghdadi is not.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Star Wars and Me

I was pleasantly surprised to find myself quoted in one of the latest “Moments in Diplomatic History” published online by the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST). 

While working in the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) during the Reagan Administration my main responsibility was to work on space arms control issues.  About halfway through my assignment, President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) called “Star Wars.”  As you can see from the ADST article, the announcement came as a surprise to almost everyone in the foreign affairs and defense community of the government.  It was at least partly inspired by private conversations between Reagan and physicist Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb. 

One of my jobs at ACDA was to write an “Arms Control Impact Statement” on space arms control.  Reagan’s Star Wars announcement threw a monkey wrench into that statement, since it proposed violating at least two arms control agreements, the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.  What made it even worse was that the statement had to be approved by the Defense Department, which meant Richard Perle, who was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. 

Perle was opposed to almost any arms control agreement.  I have long believed the urban myth that at Reykjavik, after Reagan and Gorbachev had agreed to mutually eliminate all land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBNs), Perle kept Reagan up all night talking him into rejecting the deal the next day.  This ADST note sheds some light on that issue, which may be mildly favorable to Perle.  It says that in return for eliminating all these missiles, Gorbachev wanted Reagan to drop the SDI program, and Reagan was unwilling to do that, because he liked the SDI program so much.  However, the article also says that after the tentative Reagan-Gorbachev agreement, Richard Perle and General Robert Linhard hauled Reagan into a bathroom and told him “it was an impractical thing to do, especially at a time when the Administration was trying to convince Congress to fund a new generation of land-based missiles, the MX.”  So, maybe there is some truth to the urban myth about Perle. 

In any case, Perle was going to make it very difficult to say anything bad about the arms control implications of the SDI.  I think that after a number of tries to get Defense Department clearance, the statement was so watered down that it hardly said anything. 

While I was working on this issue at ACDA, I attended the only National Security Council meeting that I ever attended.  It was on SDI, and I went as the back bench support for the main ACDA representative.  I don’t remember exactly what was discussed, but I think NSC deputy Robert McFarlane chaired the meeting, and one of the main speakers was General James Abrahamson, who was famous for being the officer who oversaw the F-16 development program for the Pentagon, one of the most successful aircraft ever developed.  People hoped he could do the same thing for SDI, but even he couldn’t do it. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Veneration of Veterans

I thought this op-ed in the Washington Post was right on the money.  A lot of this current veneration of veterans is just for show, to make the people who express it feel better, not to help the veterans.  Most businesses that make a show of hiring veterans do it as publicity to win customers, rather than as a service to veterans.  Colorado claims to be veteran friendly, but seeing what is happening with the VA hospital here, Senators Gardner and Bennet and Governor Hickenlooper would hardly be less supportive of veterans than if they went around and punched each veteran in the nose. 

Here’s my comment on the Washington Post op-ed by Will Bardenwerper:

If you have to choose between the homecoming for Iran & Afghanistan vets of sham love and support and the homecoming for Vietnam vets of hostility, I would choose the former.  But you can't expect too much.  The 1946 movie "The Best Years of Our Lives" illustrated the shallowness of public support for even veterans of much venerated World War II.  If you choose to fight for your country, that probably has to be reward enough.  Others should be nice, but you probably have to content yourself with believing that virtue is its own reward.  Perhaps Vietnam vets (like me) can take some solace in the fact that Vietnam has become a functioning member of the community of nations while Iraq has become a snake pit of anti-American hatred and hostility.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Turkey and the Kurds

The US has to decide what course to take regarding Turkey as the recent suicide attacks illustrate the growing instability of the country.  The main issue facing Turkey is how to handle the Kurds, both the ethnic minority inside Turkey, and their Kurdish brethren in Syria, Iraq and Iran.  Turkey has for years declared the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist group, and the US and NATO have also listed it as a terrorist group.  Currently, however, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria are America’s best allies in fighting ISIS.  Can the US support the Kurds in those countries while acquiescing in Turkey’s opposition to them in Turkey, and probably across the border, too?  The Turkish air force has been suspected of striking the Kurds while it was supposedly supporting US efforts against ISIS in Syria. 

If it were not for Turkey, the US could support the creation of a greater Kurdistan consisting of the Kurdish parts of Syria and Iraq.  We would probably be happy if the Kurds tried to annex part of Iran, if we could avoid getting involved.  However, we are involved in Turkey, which is a NATO member.  Turkey would not be happy giving up a significant amount of its territory to a greater Kurdistan. 

Adding to the problem for the US is the decline of the Turkish government.  It has become more religious, and President Erdogan has become more authoritarian, producing unhappiness among the Turkish people.  His party no longer holds a political majority, and the country is facing new elections as he tries to get a majority.  Thus, Turkey faces internal instability and destabilizing pressure from outside.  The US cannot easily abandon Turkey, a longtime NATO ally, especially when we need Turkey’s support in the battle against ISIS just across the border. 

The US could  lean heavily on the Kurds in Syria and Iraq to reign in their brothers in Turkey.  We could offer more and more military support, if they keep the Kurds in Turkey from making trouble.  We could even wink and imply that if they behave today, we might look the other way if they try to form a greater Kurdistan later.  Meanwhile, we should work with the Turkish government to calm the situation there, to tone down its campaign against the Turkish Kurds.  But Erdogan probably sees the Kurds as the greatest threat to his power, and the recent suicide bombings, with whispers of Turkish government complicity, illustrate the problems with that course of action.  

Friday, October 09, 2015

Kunduz Hospital Bombing

The shelling or bombing of the Doctors without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, reminds me of my time in an artillery battery in Vietnam.  In general we only fired at targets that had been precleared by someone in our chain of command, or we fired for forward observers who were engaged with the enemy.  In a few cases, working with our quad-50 machine gun crew, we would have to seek clearance to fire at someone who we thought was sneaking around our perimeter, just in case it was a South Vietnamese unit wandering around. 

We had a number of no-fire areas marked on our maps and charts, indicating the locations of towns and bases.  I don’t think we ever fired into one of these no-fire zones.  It would have required all kinds of special clearances. 

From the discussion it sounds as if the question in Kunduz is whether the Afghan or US forces were taking fire from the hospital.  Even if they were taking fire from the hospital, would that warrant calling in an air strike on it?  In Vietnam there was supposedly a pretty rigorous process for clearing a fire mission on a target that was not engaged in actual combat.  American liaison officers checked with Vietnamese contacts about whether there were any civilians or friendly troops in the area. 

The situation would have been complicated in Kunduz because the city had been friendly until the Taliban takeover.  The entire city would have been a no-fire area, and there would have been to reason to fire into it.  With the Taliban attack, the whole city would still be considered a no-fire area because there would be civilians everywhere.  However, if friendly troops were taking heavy fire, there would have been a debate about whether it was necessary to accept “collateral damage” in order to neutralize the enemy.  It would seem that a decision of that nature should have been made pretty high up. 

Doctors without Borders claims that no one was firing from the hospital.  In that case, there seems no justification for attacking it.  However, if they are wrong and there was firing, then maybe there was justification, but Doctors without Borders legitimately would want to know who decided that they were expendable.  I guess that is what the military review will try to determine.  I am inclined to give our troops the benefit of the doubt in the fog of war, but screw-up do happen. 

In Vietnam one night someone came up on our radio channel asking if we were firing at certain coordinates.  We were not, but we could hear him asking other batteries if they were firing there.  Finally one battery answered and said that they had just finished a “battery three-by-three” on that target.  The stranger on the net said that it was a small town, which was now destroyed.  A “battery three-by-three” means that an entire artillery battery, probably four large or six small guns, fired nine volleys in the shape of a box around the target.  Obviously something went wrong in the clearance process for that fire mission. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Attempts to Sell Radioactive Materials to Terrorists

The reports that someone in Moldova was going to see radioactive material to terrorists to make a dirty bomb is not to alarming.  Offers such as this happen frequently in the criminal underworld.  Radioactive materials, such as cesium are fairly available in small quantities from sources such as old hospital radiation therapy machines.  In Brazil about 30 years ago, such a machine was broken open in a junkyard by curious workers who ended up polluting and poisoning a good part of the city of Goiania.  When I was in Poland, there were frequent rumors of people with radioactive materials in Ukraine or Moldova who were willing to sell. In most of these cases the sellers had very little material, and probably had access to little more, usually just mishandled medical or scientific samples. 

Here are some examples of earlier cases. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bad Memories of a Government Shutdown

It looks like we will avoid a government shutdown tomorrow, but one still hangs over us before the end of the year. 

The 1990s government shutdown broke faith with the American people, and particularly with me as a government employee, and I have not forgiven the Republicans for bringing it on, although the Democrats were not guiltless.  Nevertheless, as a result of the shutdown, I am disposed never again to vote for a Republican, unless he is clearly the best qualified of the candidates in any election, local or nation. 

As a Foreign Service officer, I was sent to the American Embassy in Warsaw, Poland, to administer a science cooperation agreement, the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund, that was signed before I arrived, but that was to run for a total of five years, which would have been for four years after I arrived for my three year assignment in Warsaw.  It should have spanned my whole tour of duty.  When I arrived the fund for the agreement, which was financed by matching grants from the US and Poland, had about $4 million in the bank.  My predecessor had spent very little of it on cooperative projects.  Most of the money that had been spent had gone for meetings of administrators in the US and Warsaw.  I undertook to spend almost all of the money we had in the bank by funding projects, which we did. 

After we had funded our first round of projects, the Republicans cut off the next year’s funding.  Although there was an international agreement obligating both sides to contribute for five years, the US invoked an escape clause that had been inserted for the Poles, in case they ran into a financial crisis following the fall of the Communist government there.  It said that either side could fail to fund the agreement if it was impossible.  The US declared that it did not have the money to fund the agreement, which had been about $2 million in previous years.  Clearly the US government had $2 million that it could have contributed, but the Republicans would not. 

The Polish equivalent of an assistant secretary of State who was in charge of all Western Hemisphere affairs called me in periodically to berate me, on behalf of the US government for not honestly fulfilling the terms of a promise we had made in writing to the Polish government.  As someone who was brought up to be honest and pay his bills, I was embarrassed and humiliated to be the recipient of these demarches.  I told him that if he really wanted to change things, he should raise the matter with the Ambassador, or have his Ambassador in Washington raise it with the Secretary of State, but at that time, Poland main foreign policy objective was membership in NATO.  Poland was not yet a member, and was unwilling to do anything that might jeopardize its chances of becoming a member.  So, he complained to me, but would not raise the issue with higher officials, whom he needed to support his NATO application.  While I understood that I was not personally responsible, I was ashamed of my country, and I can still remember squirming in his office while he accused the US of dishonesty.  I inwardly agreed with him, but never admitted it to him or to anyone else in Poland.  I adhered to the instructions I received from Washington. 

Meanwhile, I was working on another project funding environmental projects in Poland.  An agreement on Polish debt said that instead of paying part of the debt it owed to the US, the Poland could pay a small part to fund environmental projects in Poland.  I was the US representative and sponsor of a Polish environmental NGO called the Ekofundusz, or Ecofund.  This was a small group of about 20 people who identified, funded and administered environmental projects around Poland.  The leaders were former senior Polish environmental officials, including a former Minister of Environment, who were on the outs because they had supported Solidarity’s overthrow of the Communist government.  After the initial change, many of the old Communists were back in government while I was there, including the current Minister of Environment.  The Ecofund served as sort of a Brookings Institution or American Enterprise Institute, giving a job and an opportunity to keep working on their issues to these anti-Communist leaders while they were out of power. 

It had taken me much of my first two years in Poland to get the legal and financial provisions in place for the Ecofund to stand on its own.  About the time that the Congress was refusing to fund the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund, I got the pieces in place to authorize the Polish treasury to pay part of its US debt to the Ecofund, setting up the Ecofund for ten or more years of funding. 

Because there was no more money for the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund, and the Ecofund was set up to get its future funding from the Polish government, the Ambassador said that he was going to recommend abolishing my position.  I was disappointed, because in addition to working on science and environment funding, I also worked on nuclear non-proliferation issues, but because of the division of labor in the embassy, and because my predecessor had not been interested in these issues, non-proliferation issues usually went automatically to the political section.  Sometimes I did not even get the cables from Washington about those issues.  For some reason, the one issue that automatically came to me was the Nuclear Suppliers Group.  Because of this, I formed a relationship with the Polish special ambassador for non-proliferation issues, Ambassador Strulak.  He became the rapporteur for the five year review conference of the Non-Proliferation Treaty while I was in Poland. 

Another embarrassing moment involved Ambassador Strulak.  He often visited the US and met with many American non-proliferation officials.  Although I had spent many of my Washington assignments dealing with the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), it was an issue that seldom came to my attention at the embassy in Warsaw, because the cables and the action automatically went to the political section.  On one of my visits to Amb. Strulak to talk about Nuclear Supplier Group issues, he told me that during his last visit to Washington, he had been inquiring about the MTCR.  He told me that Poland wanted to join, but that the US had blocked their membership.  He said he had asked the experts in Washington who understood the issue, and my name frequently came up.  It was the first I had heard about the matter.   When I inquired about it after Amb. Strulak had told me about it, it turned out that President Clinton had personally decided to blackball Poland.  I understood the reason.  The MTCR had initially been set up as a somewhat informal arrangement among friendly nations, thus the administrative structure was relatively relaxed.  But it had begun to grow by leaps and bounds, making the informal structure difficult to work with.  Thus, the US wanted to put a more structured leadership in place before expanding the MTCR even further.  Although I understood, I was deeply disappointed that what was to some extent my baby had offended Poland while I was in Poland, and I had been completely cut out of the discussion. 

While I was stewing because my job would be eliminated with the end of the Maria Sklodowska Curie Fund, and I was being cut out of non-proliferation policy issues, I got a call from Washington asking if I would be willing to go to Rome to take on the Science Office there in a few weeks.  Rome was about to take on the rotating presidency of the European Union, and the current science officer in Rome was leaving or had already left.  I agreed to go, rather than just sort of hang around in Warsaw, but in retrospect, I should have looked further into the offer, which at the time seemed too good to be true.  I later found out that the man I was replacing was a political appointee, a “schedule-C” who had been with the Ambassador to Italy Bartholomew for the maximum allowed eight years, and the State Department had not allowed him to convert over to become a career Foreign Service officer.  Thus, he had been forced to leave, and when I arrived in Rome, I discovered that various people in the embassy, probably notably including the Ambassador, were not happy about it.  But I didn’t know that while I was in Warsaw. 

Rome wanted me to come right away, but the first annual meeting of the Ecofund under their arrangement with the Polish treasury was about to take place in a few weeks.  I said that I could not leave until after the meeting, because I wanted to make sure that everything was in place for the Ecofund’s future existence.  It turned out that the date I was to leave was exactly the date of the government shutdown.  Preparing to move to Rome, my wife and I had packed everything.  Big things had been shipped to Rome, and our car was packed with clothes and two dogs, planning to drive to Rome as soon as the embassy closed for the day.  In the afternoon I was saying my farewells, and I was in the Defense Attaché’s office, when I got a call from my assistant who said I had an urgent call from Rome.  When I came down to take it, the caller said that I should not leave Rome because the government had been shut down.  After all the disappointments I had been through, it was the last straw.  I usually tend to follow orders, but this seemed too much.  My wife and I had no place to live in Warsaw; we had already moved out of our house.  We had already shipped our belongings to Rome.  It seemed to me that the US government had abandoned its troops in the field.  Its word was no good, either in promises to foreign governments or to its own Foreign Service officers. 

The only comparison I can come up with goes back to my days in the Army in Vietnam.  My artillery battery was stationed at Fire Base Barbara on a mountaintop near the Laotian border just a few miles south of the DMZ with North Korea.  We received an intelligence report that enemy troops were massing at the bottom of our mountain and were about to attack.  Our main defense was a group of old air defense artillery duster guns, twin 40-mm cannons that had been used against planes, but now were used against troops on the ground.  Because the duster crews were often stationed in dangerous places, they had a reputation for not being too disciplined and not playing by the Army rules.  We got a call from out battalion headquarters saying they heard that our dusters were low on gas, and we should not lend them any because it was too hard for our battalion to supply us out on the Laotian border.  We were not going to keep the dusters from firing at the enemy just because our battalion did not want to resupply us.  But I was not happy that headquarters apparently thought it was better for us to die to save gas than for them to have to resupply us a week or two early.  There is a history of expendable troops in war, and if you have to sacrifice your life, so be it, but it you don’t HAVE to sacrifice your life, you shouldn’t do it just to save the US government a few bucks.  The fact that my life was not worth a 55 gallon drum of gasoline, or a continuing resolution to keep the government open until a long-term agreement could be reached, was too much. 

It turned out that the deputy chief of mission, the embassy number two, was an old friend from my assignment in Brazil.  He said to go ahead and leave Warsaw and come to Rome, and he would work out the bureaucratic details.  So we went, but I had pretty much lost faith in the US government for not keeping its word, and in the Republican Party in particular for abandoning me in the field.  I was mad with the government when I left Rome for trying to strand me in Warsaw, and apparently Rome was mad with the government for firing my predecessor in Rome and sending me instead.  It did not make for a happy assignment.  I decided after a while that I would stay for as long as Rome held the presidency of the EU, but then I would retire from the Foreign Service.  I did not feel welcome in Rome, and I had lost respect for the American Government.  It was sad for me as a Vietnam veteran and a Foreign Service officer with more than twenty years of experience. 

In any case, as the US faces the potential of another government shutdown, whether now or in December, it brings back a lot of bad memories, and a huge contempt for the Republican Party.  It claims to be the party for a strong American defense, but I see it as the party that abandoned me in the field.  I keep trying to remind myself that as much as I dislike the party, there may be some good individuals in it, but I have a hard time finding any.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bigotry in the US and Israel

Tom Friedman's column in today's NYT is probably meant to be a warning to US politicians not to speak evil of their opponents, to me it is confirmation of bigotry in Israeli society, which Jews usually denounce as antisemitism if anyone dares speak it aloud.  As a Jew, Tom Friedman may come under more criticism than a gentile, but he has been an objective newsman in both the Israeli and the Arab world before returning to the US.  Discussing the film, "Rabin: The Last Day," the director said Rabin's murder "came at the end of a hate campaign" that included "the parliamentary right, led by the Likud (party), already then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu."

Friedman says this film is a warning to American Republican candidates who are stirring up similiar hate-filled emotions in the US.     He is right that hate is not a good basis for a campaign,  But if something is an issue, you should not refuse to talk about it just because you might hurt homebody's feelings, but there is no need to threaten or encourage violence.  I don't think either Trump or Carson has done that.

The US has not descended to the level that Israel reached at the time of Rabin, as described in the film.  Israelis should remember that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.  Let them work out their own political problems with their Muslim neighbors and then lecture us on how to deal with our own political system.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Congressman Perlmutter Supports Iran Nuclear Deal

Congressman Perlmutter answered my last letter encouraging him to support the Iran nuclear deal.  He said that he would support it, combined with strong support for Israel.
Letter from the congressman:
September 4, 2015
Dear James,
Thank you for contacting me about the Iran nuclear agreement. I appreciate hearing from you on such an important issue, because it enables me to better represent the beliefs and values of our district.
I support the Iran Agreement negotiated by the United States, Germany, China, United Kingdom, France, Russia, the European Union and Iran. The U.S. and its international partners have committed to a diplomatic solution I believe reduces and limits Iran's ability to develop or manufacture nuclear weapons and is in America's best interests. This Agreement should also reduce nuclear tensions in the Middle East and will make our friend and ally, Israel, safer and less prone to nuclear conflict with Iran. I have reached these conclusions after reading the Agreement and its attachments, reviewing numerous articles pro and con, attending classified briefings, discussing the Agreement with its proponents and opponents, and listening to military and diplomatic experts, as well as constituents.
This Agreement has far reaching and historical impacts for our foreign policy and for our international security. The Agreement is a nuclear non-proliferation agreement limiting Iran's capacity to build nuclear bombs. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a peace agreement which resolves or eliminates all threats. So, despite the diplomatic progress made toward reducing Iran's nuclear capabilities under the Agreement, further steps must be taken to deter and discourage Iran from fulfilling its threats and to assist Israel in defending its national security.
Consequently, I am working with Congressional leadership and the Obama Administration to assure: 1) Israel receives an "unprecedented level of military, intelligence, and security cooperation from the United States; 2) America works with Israel to develop and share the latest military technology, including technology to penetrate deep bunkers; 3) Congress completes and extends legislation that provides military and foreign aid to Israel over the next 10 years; 4) Congress maintains oversight of the Agreement and its implementation as well as other laws and sanctions pertaining to Iran through frequent classified and unclassified briefings; 5) and America opposes any type of resolution brought before the United Nations that is one-sided or biased against Israel or which harms Israel's national security. The best path forward is to support the Agreement and to enact legislation that maintains a strong military presence in or around the Middle East and which provides unprecedented aid to Israel.
I encourage you to continue to contact me about the issues that are important to you.  Please visit our website at to sign up for my e-newsletter and receive periodic updates on my activities as your representative in Washington.

Ed Perlmutter
Member of Congress

Monday, September 14, 2015

Americans Ignore Australia

Today I watched several US morning news shows - CBS & Morning Joe - and then I watched Aljazeera.  One of Aljazeera's lead stories was the fact that Australia had a new Prime Minister.  Neither of the US shows had mentioned that.  All of the the US networks focus on easy news.  They have virtually no staff overseas.  They send their one foreign correspondent to wherever the hot spot of the day is, now the refugees in Europe.  If they have any foreign story, it is that one hot spot, and often there is not foreign reporting.  Lately anything from the Middle East has just been reported from the foreign correspondent's base in Turkey.  If it's a European story, it's likely just to be reported from London, and if it's Asian, from Beijing or Shanghai, wherever their one correspondent is based.  Aljazeera actually has correspondents who go the where the news is happening, even if it is not in a major capital.
Instead of reporting news, the so-called news shows in the US mainly have pundit talking heads, pontificating about the US election, which is still more than a year off.  Right now, the campaign is really just a reality show, which partly explains why Donald Trump is doing so well.  He is good at reality TV, and the networks love him because he boosts ratings without requiring the networks to do any work.  There is always some new meaningless poll they can talk about.  With the advent of cell phones, polls are virtually worthless, but the pundits latch on to them as if they were solid gold.
Besides Aljazeera, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are about the the only organizations doing serious reporting.  Even on American stories, the networks seldom do any investigative reporting.  They just go to press conferences at the White House, the forest fire, or wherever the press gaggle assembles.  America is supposed to be an important country leading the world, but it's difficult for Americans to find out what is happening around the world, or even what is happening in the US.  How corrupt is Congress?  Americans have opinions, but nobody gives them the facts to back up or refute their opinions.

Monday, August 31, 2015

IIASA and Richard Perle

For a substantial part of my Foreign Service career, while Reagan was President, I frequently crossed swords with Richard Perle at the Pentagon.  He was much superior to me.  He was an assistant secretary of Defense; for much of this time I was a junior officer at the State Department.  However, I often worked on technology transfer issues, and Perle was very interested in technology transfer issues, especially as they related to the old Soviet Union.  He always kept an eagle eye on CoCom, the old Coordinating Committee that regulated technology transfers from Western, allied countries to the Soviet Union. 

My first brush with him must have been shortly after Reagan was elected and Perle was installed at the Pentagon.  I got a call from the science advisor to the State Department Under Secretary who handled technology transfers.  He said that Perle was cutting America’s support for and participation in IIASA. 

IIASA is the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.  (IIASA web site, and IIASA Wikipedia entry.)  In the Cold War 1980s its mission was to promote cooperation between scientists from Western and Communist countries.  Perle was apparently concerned that it might be a conduit for uncontrolled technology transfer from the West to the East.  It was such an innocuous, academic institution that this seemed ridiculous.  The Under Secretary’s science advisor and I tried to stop Perle from blocking US participation, but as I recall, we failed. 

The good news is that IIASA survived and is still going today, with a broader mandate, since the old bipolar Cold War has ended.  It was my introduction to Richard Perle, who always seemed to be on the opposite side of issues that we were both interested in, from East-West technology transfers to third world transfers involving nuclear proliferation or other high tech problems.  

Reagan, Casey, and the Ayatollahs

I was in a meeting with Bill Casey not long after he became head of the CIA.  I had been the State Department representative working on NIE-11-12-80 (CIA link to it is here - ) regarding Soviet military science and technology.  Reagan was elected more or less while we were working on it.  The chief CIA honcho was a guy named Jan Herring, who is apparently still around (link - ).  He and CIA deputy director Admiral Bobby Inman quit abruptly about the time of the election and the naming of Bill Casey to be CIA director. 

There were of course many military types working on the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate), and I was the lone working level State Department rep.  After a while I got concerned that the hawks were going nuts finding new technological ways the Soviets were going to kill us in our beds, and I started to push back and say that we can’t be sure that this unusual frequency or substance is being developed to use as a super weapon.  And I found the CIA was supporting me, although they wouldn’t take the lead in opposing the military.  However, after Jan Herring left and Casey came in, there was no hope of toning down the Estimate.  In addition the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research usually is headed by a senior Foreign Service officer, but at this time it was headed by a senior CIA official on loan.  He was not about to take a stand against the new man who was going to be his boss when he returned to the CIA.  So, at the big, final meeting with Casey to approve the NIE (which I attended), he did not make any waves about State Department concerns.  Casey really did mumble; I could not understand a lot of what he said.  I would like to think some of the “alternative view” language in the NIE was due to me, but after 35 years, who knows where it came from. 

Anyway, I like to think that Reagan’s election was orchestrated by the Iranian ayatollahs, rather than the ayatollahs being manipulated by the Reagan campaign.  There is a movie about the “Manchurian Candidate.”  I think Reagan was the “Iranian Candidate.”  The Iranians hated Carter for letting the Shah come to the US for medical treatment when he was dying.  They wanted “anybody but Carter.”  If Carter had rescued the hostages there is some chance that he might have been elected, because he would have appeared a stronger, rather than a weaker ("malaise") President.  Reagan probably would have won anyway, but who knows? 

I saw Carter recently when he came to Denver to sign copies of his new book, “A Full Life.”  I bought one and he signed it.  Recently someone asked him if he had any regrets, and he said one was the failed rescue mission, because if it had not failed, he might have been re-elected.  The Iranian hostages were a major factor in the election.  Incidentally, one of the hostages was a classmate of mine in the A-100 class.  This is the group of 40 or 50 officers that you come in with and there is a 6 or 9 month orientation, and then you can kind of keep track of your classmates to see who becomes the first ambassador, who goes the highest, etc.  Several of my classmates became ambassadors, but I didn’t make it.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Second Letter to Congressional Representatives

As the date for voting on the Iran nuclear deal approaches, please note that despite the split of public opinion on the issue, the vast majority of those knowledgeable about the issue support the deal.  A number of military officers, scientists and diplomats have publicly weighed in on the issue, and in almost all cases they favor approval of the deal.  I urge you to support the deal. 

Three dozen retired generals and admirals have written an open letter supporting the nuclear deal and urging Congress to do the same.  They called the agreement “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”  ( and

Twenty-nine top American scientists have written President Obama supporting approval of the deal.  Many of those who signed have worked on America’s nuclear weapons program; some were Nobel laureates.  The New York Times notes that many of the scientists hold Department of Energy “Q” clearances allowing access to sensitive technical information about nuclear weapons.  I held a “Q” clearance when I was a State Department Foreign Service officer, because I worked on nuclear non-proliferation issues.  ( and

Finally, many of my former State Department colleagues have written supporting the agreement.  A letter to President Obama signed by more than 100 former American ambassadors stated, “If properly implemented, the comprehensive and rigorously negotiated agreement can be an effective instrument in arresting Iran’s nuclear program and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the volatile and vitally important region of the Middle East.”  I served with a number of the ambassadors signing the letter, some when we were young junior officers together; others were ambassadors under whom I served overseas.  I have recently been corresponding about this issue with Amb. Dennis Jett, who signed the letter.  ( and

I hope that you will take the views of these experts who favor the Iran nuclear deal into consideration in your deliberations.  In addition, they represent the views of many others from their professions, like myself.  I believe that it will make the world, the United States, and the Middle East, including Israel, safer.  It will significantly restrict Iran’s nuclear activities, and it will provide ten to fifteen years of breathing space in which to work out the next steps for preventing further nuclear proliferation in the region. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

No Reply from Representative Perlmutter re Iran Deal

Congressman Perlmutter did not reply to my letter regarding the Iran nuclear deal.

Reply from Sen. Gardner re Iran Deal

Thank you for contacting me regarding Iran. I appreciate you taking the time to write. It is an honor to serve you in the United States Senate and I hope you will continue to write with your thoughts and ideas on moving our country forward.

Concern about Iran's nuclear weapons capabilities has been growing for over a decade. In 2002, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) first discovered that Iran was engaging in a variety of nuclear activities, which violated its obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The international community has since pressured Iran to discontinue these activities through both diplomacy and sanctions. After twenty months of negotiations, a deal was reached between Iran and the six P5+1 countries, which include the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the United Kingdom. The parameters of this agreement are outlined in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA).

The more details we learn about the deal, the worse it seems. Reports indicate that this deal accomplishes none of the goals it should, nor the goals the negotiations began with. It would make Iran a globally approved nuclear threshold state. It would endanger our closest ally in the region, Israel. The sanctions relief in the deal would give Iran billions to pour into continued international terror operations. Full access to all of Iran's undeclared nuclear facilities or military facilities where nuclear work may be conducted is the only way to ensure Iran's compliance with the JCPA. In this agreement, however, inspectors must wait at least 24 days before they can set foot on these sites, which is far from the Administration's promise of "anytime, anywhere" inspections. Iran remains the largest state sponsor of terror in the world and continues to provide weapons and supplies to terrorist groups that have killed Americans, such as Hezbollah or Iran-backed militants in Iraq. Furthermore, despite the advice our military leaders, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, this deal lifts the current conventional arms embargo against Iran in five years and lifts sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program after eight years, allowing Iran to become an even bigger threat to the region. 

There is no doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran would destabilize an already volatile region and directly threaten our U.S. national security and that of our close allies, such as Israel. Ever since its statehood, Israel has been a shining light for democracy in a politically unstable region. Iran's regime, however, refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and has repeatedly said that it plans to "wipe Israel off the map". It is imperative that we do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and from becoming nuclear-capable. That means doubling down on the sanctions that brought Iran to the table in the first place and working to enact a deal like the President originally promised: one that prevents Iran from ever obtaining a nuclear weapon rather than putting them on the glide path to a bomb in a few short years. We must also continue to provide all the support we can toward Israel. Standing by Israel is one of my top priorities in Congress. The American people and the world deserve a better deal. Congress should reject this deal and deliver on the promises made at the outset of these negotiations. 

Again, thank you for contacting me, and do not hesitate to do so again when an issue is important to you.


Cory Gardner
United States Senator

Reply from Sen. Bennet on Iran Deal

Thank you for contacting me regarding U.S. policy toward Iran. I appreciate hearing from you.
Over the past decade, there have been international concerns that Iran has made progress toward obtaining a nuclear weapon - a prospect that we cannot allow.
In the Senate, I have supported tough sanctions on the Iranian government. Sanctions can be an effective tactic but they do not represent a coherent diplomatic strategy. We must aggressively use all of the political, diplomatic and economic tools available to us to mobilize the international community and ensure the effectiveness of our sanctions.
In November 2013, the Obama Administration along with the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China (P5+1) began a series of diplomatic negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. While I support the efforts to engage Iran and its people through diplomacy, I'm cognizant of the security risks Iran poses to our allies in the region and to the international community at large.
On July 14, 2015, the P5+1 reached an agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which I supported, Congress now has 60 days to review the final text. Our primary goal must be to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. That would be the worst outcome. In evaluating this deal, we must weigh the terms of the agreement against the realities of the current situation. I am carefully reviewing the agreement and consulting with a variety of experts. Congress has an important responsibility in this process, and playing politics right now is the last thing we need. The stakes are high, and I take this decision very seriously.
Like many Coloradans, I am deeply concerned by many other issues with the Iranian government.  In May 2015, the Senate passed a resolution calling on Iran to release all U.S. citizens wrongly detained in that country and to  work with our government to locate missing U.S. citizens. I supported that amendment and will continue to address other areas of concern.
I value the input of fellow Coloradans in considering the wide variety of important issues and legislative initiatives that come before the Senate. I hope you will continue to inform me of your thoughts and concerns.
For more information about my priorities as a U.S. Senator, I invite you to visit my website at Again, thank you for contacting me.


Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator

Letter to Congress re Iran Nuclear Deal

I am writing to urge you to approve the agreement among the United States, Iran, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China and the EU, under which Iran agrees to restrain its nuclear program in return for the relaxation of economic sanctions against Iran.

This agreement significantly restricts Iran’s nuclear program and will make it more difficult for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, which it was already prohibited from doing by its membership in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  The NPT allows members to develop nuclear energy in almost any way as long as it is not used for military or explosive purposes.  Nuclear energy, scientific research and medical activities are all allowed, along with the infrastructure to support those activities.  Iran has agreed to much stricter controls on its program.  Its current program will become much smaller and less threatening, with less nuclear material, less enrichment capability and less plutonium production capability.  It has agreed to a more intrusive inspection regime than that usually applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency.  I am sure that in addition, the US will use its own “National Technical Means” of verification like that it has used to monitor nuclear agreements with the Soviet Union and Russia, and to monitor the activities of rogue nuclear countries such as Pakistan and North Korea. 

For me, however, the main argument in favor of the agreement is the lack of a better alternative.  Without this agreement Iran would only be bound by the much less restrictive verification measures applied to NPT members, measures that already applied to Iran without this deal.  If this agreement had not been finalized, the other partners in our sanctions regime against Iran would probably have dropped out, leaving us with a much weaker regime.  The only non-diplomatic option that I see would be a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or perhaps a more generalized attack on the nation itself, like our earlier invasions of its eastern and western neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I don’t support such an attack, and I think that most Americans are weary of war in that region.  It’s possible that the agreement could have been stronger, eliminating more of Iran’s centrifuges, for example, but this agreement is strong, and more delay might have alienated our partners as well as the Iranians, possibly jeopardizing any deal at all.  The best is often the enemy of the good. 

Therefore, I urge you to support the agreement. 

As background, I am a retired Foreign Service officer who spent ten or more years of my career working on nuclear non-proliferation issues.  I spent most of my time working on the South American nuclear rivalry between Argentina and Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s.  At times this competition seemed to be following the course of Pakistan and India, but I was pleased that in the 1980s while I was serving as science officer at the American Embassy in Brasilia with responsibility for nuclear issues, Brazil and Argentina agreed to end their nuclear competition.  It took some time, but in the 1990s both countries joined the NPT.  While working on non-proliferation issues, I often crossed paths with other people working on the issue, such as Richard Clarke, Robert Gallucci, Charles Duelfer, and Gary Samore.  I have been retired for almost twenty years, but I remain interested in these issues and continue to follow them. 

I was motivated to write this letter by President Obama’s request on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” that ordinary Americans do so.  I agree with the President and Secretary of State Kerry that this agreement is good for the US, and for the world, including Israel and the Sunni Arab countries. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Military Leaders

I am very disappointed that none of the ten Republican presidential candidates who appeared in the main Fox debate were veterans.  At least two of the candidates in the earlier kids’ debate were veterans – Rick Perry and Lindsey Graham.  This is due to changes in priorities in the US which have affected both the military and politics.  Twenty-six of our forty-four Presidents have served in the military.  This includes George W. Bush, whom I don’t include because he avoided service in Vietnam by joining the Alabama National Guard.  In the past, men who wanted to serve their country politically would often want to serve in other ways, such as defending it in the military.  When I was growing up, almost every man who could pass the physical had served in some military capacity during World War II.  The big change in attitude came during the Vietnam War, when the military became an object or derision, and the draft was eliminated. 

Before the elimination of the draft, the military was a rather democratic institution with people from across the US, socially, racially, financially, etc.  When the draft was eliminated, men from good families served much less than those from lower classes.  The military particularly drew from lower class white men, rednecks, to whom the military still appealed as a patriotic calling, and one that was financially as good as or better than any occupation they could find in the civilian sector.  It also took in many blacks and Hispanics, who had less family connection to the military and who were thus attracted mainly by the financial aspects rather than by patriotism. In any case, we have less diversity in the military and fewer veterans in most segments of civilian society.   

One example of the elite’s contempt for the military is the fact that while she was dean of the Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan blocked military recruiters from using the school’s office of career services to talk to prospective recruits.  Harvard is not a hotbed of students seeking to serve their country; they are too interested in getting rich on Wall Street.  Harvard is producing brilliant, selfish, greedy narcissists.  It’s an example of how America’s economy is doing well while its moral structure crumbles. 

Traditionally the military has represented some of the best qualities of America and its citizens, but as the pool of military recruits shrinks, it has fewer high class individuals to draw from.  There are of course many fine people serving in the military, but there is a higher proportion of people who are not so fine. 

As a result, the military has fewer leaders to offer to the American political system.  Colin Powell was one who served in many important positions, but who never ran for public office.  In this respect, he copied General George Marshall, one of the finest men ever to serve in the military, but who also refused to run for office, leaving the field to General Eisenhower.  Eisenhower is the last military leader to follow in the footsteps of General George Washington.  Other Presidents, like Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter, served in the military, but did not distinguish themselves as military leaders.  Eisenhower was primarily a soldier who also entered politics.  Kennedy and his cohorts were politicians who had served in the military.  Kerry and McCain fall in the latter category.

McCain is rightly characterized as a hero for his actions while a prisoner of war.  However, he was not a great military leader.  His father and grandfather were military leaders, but they did not go into politics.  McCain did not succeed in the military as his ancestors had.  Neither McCain nor Kerry carried the mantle of “great military leader” into their failed campaigns for President.  There is no military leader today with any claim to that title.  Even Colin Powell’s military success came mainly as a staff officer, not a line officer commanding troops in combat.  The closest probably has been General Petraeus, for his successful surge campaign toward the end of the Iraq war.  Unfortunately, his political chances have been undermined by his immoral personal life.  In any case, his success in Iraq pales beside the accomplishments of previous military Presidents like Washington and Eisenhower.  McCain’s and Kerry’s military accomplishments don’t even deserve comparison to those predecessors. 

I think America is poorer for not having a military cadre to draw from for political office.  Generals don’t only fight.  Marshall was known in WW II as “the great organizer.”  We could use a great organizer, or just someone who inspires confidence in their leadership.  Reagan did inspire people, and I think that is why the Republicans look up to him so, although many of his so-called accomplishments have paled in the light of history.  Obama, on the other hand, may have more lasting accomplishments, but he generally fails to inspire the confidence of American citizens, or the respect of his international cohorts. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Iran Nuclear Deal and Jewish Politicians

Senator Schumer’s decision to go against a Democratic President and oppose the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by former Senator John Kerry, whose father was Jewish, raises questions about the loyalty of some Jews to the United States.  Schumer is joined in opposition by Representative Steve Israel, the most senior Jewish Democrat in the House.  Do they oppose the deal because it is bad for the US, or because Bibi Netanyahu says it is bad for Israel?  Do they believe that Netanyahu is smarter than Obama, or that Israel’s survival is more important than America’s?  They have very Jewish constituencies and may be representing their constituents’ interests, but that would raise the broader question of whether Jews in general are more loyal to Israel than to the US. 

On the other hand, Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Sander Levin have said that they will support the Iran agreement, making it clear that Jews are not a monolithic group any more than Christians, blacks, or any other ethnic or religious group.  But there are deep undertones of racial and religious bias, highlighted first by Speaker Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu to give a speech to the Congress that vehemently attacked President Obama.  The fact that a foreign country that calls itself a Jewish nation has become so deeply involved in American politics illustrates the extreme involvement of Jewish interests.  Presidential candidate Huckabee, a Christian, joined in by likening the agreement to the beginning of the World War II Holocaust.  Speaker Boehner’s actions have also inserted greater ethnic, religious tensions into this debate. 

In addition there are dueling Jewish lobbies, AIPAC and J-Street.  AIPAC supports Bibi Netanyahu and the right-wing, hawkish, Likud party, while J-Street supports more liberal, less hawkish Jews.  Israel seems to be somewhat evenly split between hawks and doves, but AIPAC is much stronger in the US than J-Street.  In addition, many Gentile politicians, like Huckabee, support AIPAC, some out of principle, many because AIPAC contributes so much money to political campaigns.  In addition to AIPAC, billionaire Sheldon Adelson has contributed millions to politicians who support Israel’s hawkish views. 

The NYT reports that Obama has been angered by the AIPAC onslaught against the Iran deal, often making arguments that do not portray the deal correctly.  I think Obama has been remarkable in dealing with religious prejudice.  When he was campaigning for President the first time, Christians attacked him for the Christian church he attended.  He basically gave up his church because of a few inflammatory things his pastor had said.  I was appalled that Christians would drive a Christian out of a Christian church, but they did.  Now, the Jews have launched a full scale attack on him.  He is replying by making factual arguments, not resorting to ad hominem attacks.  The Jews seem confident that they can withstand any attacks by waving the Holocaust card, and perhaps they can. 

To me it seems ironic that, while the Iran nuclear deal will benefit the whole world, the biggest beneficiary may well be Israel, if indeed Israel is at the top of list of countries that Iran would like to attack.  The deal makes it much less likely that Israel will be attacked with a nuclear weapon.  It gives Israel and the rest of the world a ten year cushion to figure out what to do next.  

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Senate Testimony on Iran Deal

Tempers are flaring over the Iran nuclear deal.  On C-Span, I watched some of the testimony by State Under Secretary Sherman and Treasury Under Secretary Szubin before the Senate banking committee, and the Senators I watched were not very polite, even the Democrats.  It looks like the Senators want to kill some Iranians’ they want the streets of Tehran to run red with blood.  I was appalled.  These are the same senators who have basically approved Israel’s and India’s nuclear weapons program.  And they have done little but complain about Pakistan’s and North Korea’s bombs.  This is a strange country and Congress is a strange institution.  We have already invaded two of Iran’s next door neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq; do they just want to drop one huge, multi-megaton atomic bomb and destroy all three countries at one time? 

Meanwhile, on the PBS Newshour, Ray Takeyh and Nicholas Burns debated the effectiveness of Obama’s speech.  Takeyh thought Obama had utterly failed, and Burns did not do very well defending Obama.  Takeyh complained that the agreement will expire in ten or fifteen years, and then Iran can build a bomb, glossing over the fact that in ten or fifteen years Iran will stand exactly where it stands today without the deal.  It will still be a member of the NPT, which says that it cannot build a bomb.  He said that the negotiated deal was bad and that the US should go back and renegotiate it.  When asked if it would not be hard to drag the other parties, including Russia and China, back to the table, he said it would be hard but not impossible. 

What he failed to say, and what no opponent has said that I have heard, is that the deal will give the next President, or Israel, or the UN, or whoever, at least ten years to negotiate a new deal or extend this one.  The attitude seems to be that Kerry is a lousy negotiator, but the Republicans have no one who can negotiate anything better in ten years.  This is probably true, because Ronald Reagan is dead, and he was the only Republican who seemed able to negotiate any kind of arms control agreement.  Colin Powell has basically become a Democrat, because the Republican Party has become some kind of an insane asylum.  It turns out that Condi Rice plays the piano much better than she can negotiate treaties.  No wonder Donald Trump is doing so well.  “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”  The Republicans know they are so stupid that they cannot even understand this nuclear agreement, much less negotiate anything better. 

Another aspect of this that is very odd to me is that many of the negotiators and defenders of the Iran deal are Jewish, while Israel’s allies in trying to kill it are good ol’ Christian white boys.  Those most conflicted over the agreement are Jewish Democrats like Chuck Schumer.  Do they go with Israel, or with the President’s Democratic Party?  They may well determine whether the Senate can override the President’s veto of the bill rejecting the Iran agreement.  John Kerry’s father was Jewish, although he claimed to be Irish.  Wendy Sherman is Jewish, according to Wikipedia.  Her Treasury colleague today, Adam Szubin, appears to be Jewish.  They were grilled, and I thought mistreated, by some angry, white senators from some agricultural states, who apparently know more about cotton and corn than about nuclear energy or international agreements.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Obama's Iran Speech

Obama gave a good speech today in defense of the Iran deal.  He dealt with all the major issues, and answered the objections to it.  Of course, those dead set against it, many Republicans and Israelis, will not be convinced.  But it should have convinced moderate, thinking people that on balance this is a deal that should be supported because it makes the world, and the Middle East in particular, a safer place. 

He dealt with the provision most roundly criticized by opponents, the 24 day period to resolve disputes concerning sites that have not been declared as nuclear related, e.g., conventional military bases, perhaps some civilian research laboratories.  He explained that the 24 day provision applies only in controversial cases; most inspections would take place in a shorter time period.  And he made the argument that the deal is better than any alternative, especially another war in the Middle East. 

He invoked Reagan and Kennedy as two Presidents who embraced diplomacy and arms control over war.  He stopped short of pointing out that Reagan had a secret policy of appeasement with Iran by providing them banned weapons under the Iran-Contra deal.  He did mention that Bush and Cheney had strengthened Iran by eliminating its worst enemy, Saddam Hussein.  He also mentioned that the US had been one of the early providers of nuclear technology to Iran in the 1960s and 1970s.  And he did not mention that one reason Israel fears the Iranian program is that they know that Israel developed its nuclear weapons capability by tricking western countries, including the US and France, into providing much of what Israel needed for weapons. 

Israelis probably fear Iran because they have more respect for the Persian race than for the Arab race.  The Israeli-Persian relationship goes back to the Old Testament, more than 2000 years ago, when the Persian king Darius sent Daniel to the lions’ den because Daniel prayed to the God of Israel.  The Israelis probably believe that the Iranians have the expertise and infrastructure to build a bomb, unlike most or all of the Arab states, who would need much more help. 

I don’t know whether the Iran deal will be blocked by Congress.  It looks like it will be close, and the best bet for upholding it is the fact that it will be difficult for the Senate to overcome an Obama veto of a Congressional bill blocking it.  I hope the deal is allowed to go into effect.  If not, either Iran will have a much easier path to a bomb, or we will invade yet another Middle Eastern country, and this time one that is not entirely stuck in the Middle Ages, as Afghanistan and Iraq were, thus promising a bloodier, more costly war, also likely to end in defeat for the US as the Iraq war did. 

In general, I think that Obama has been a good President, especially when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.  Bush was probably a nice man personally, but a terrible President.  He was asleep at his post when Osama bin Laden attacked the World Trade Center.  A relatively minor upgrade in airport security would have prevented the attack.  In contract to Bush, who was stupid and lazy nice guy, Cheney was a spiteful, mean-spirited villain.  For most of his administration, Bush was a coward before Cheney, afraid to confront Cheney’s desire to go to war with almost everybody except out closest friends.  Toward the end of his administration, as things began to visibly fall about, Bush finally began to distance himself from Cheney.  Strangely, his father’s choice of Dan Quayle to be his Vice President was one of George H. W. Bush’s worst decisions, and George W. Bush’s decision to name Cheney his Vice President was one of the son’s worst decisions.  In addition to the unsuccessful wars, Bush, who had an MBA, oversaw the destruction of the US financial system by reckless Wall Street banks, although Clinton shares the blame for his repeal of Glass-Steagall, which had reined in Wall Street. 

Obama was faced with the possibility of a second Depression when he took office, and he avoided it.  He gets criticism from the Republicans for winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, who insist that if we had stayed the course we would have won.  But it we can’t win a war in a small, backward country in eight or ten years, something is wrong with our military or our strategy.  Cheney and Rumsfeld were strategic failures, whom Bush stupidly put in charge of two wars.  Their failure is highlighted by Bush I’s successful prosecution of the first Iraq war, noted recently by Richard Haass in the Wall Street Journal.  

In addition, ObamaCare expanded health care significantly.  There are still health care issues, cost and the single-payer issue, but ObamaCare was progress.  On the negative side, Guantanamo is still a prison camp that is America’s gulag.  People are being held in violation of US and international law, in spirit, if not under the letter of the law.  It is an embarrassment to a country that prides itself on its morality and rule of law.  Reagan’s “city on a hill” has slid down into the mud.  Bush and Cheney are responsible for pushing it into the mud, but Obama has not pulled it out. 

The Republicans blame Obama for his budget deficits and the growing national debt, but at least part of the problem is the Republican’s refusal to raise taxes.  No doubt some cuts are necessary, but some additional revenue is also necessary.  Today’s column by Tom Friedman in the NYT points out the intransigence of the Republicans in refusing even to raise a five cent tax per gallon of gas to fund the repair of roads and bridges.  Obama could have done better, but the Republicans made sure he was not playing with a full deck.