The World According to Trump

Posted December 10, 2016 on 8:15 pm | In the category Human Rights, Iran, NATO, Russia, TRUMP, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

If the President elect of the U.S. has a world view it is a mystery. Similarly, if he has a strategic foreign policy strategy for the U.S. it too is a mystery. But there are clues that lead to thoughts of possible threats to world stability and, by extension, to American security.

Trump’s recent break from U.S.-China policy by accepting a call from the President of Taiwan was initially presented by much of the press as a faux pas. It was subsequently presented by the Trump camp as a clever, thought-out strategy to put pressure on China to bend to the will of the President elect. This theory is as realistic as his plan to have Mexico pay for America’s Great Wall. U.S. policy toward China was transformed in the Nixon years and clearly both countries have benefited from what was seen then as a seismic shift. Trump risks changing the nature of the relationship at a time when the U.S. has been focusing on developing stronger economic ties throughout Asia – the continent with the fastest growing economy.

During his campaign, Trump provided his view that NATO had become a too costly commitment for the U.S. and one that was unnecessarily confrontational to Russia. He has threatened to weaken America’s commitment to the NATO treaty that has served American and European vital interests for over 50 years, unless the European members step up their financial stake in NATO. While there may be a reasonable argument that Europe has not shouldered its share of the costs, (arguably true for some countries, not so for others) reducing America’s commitment to NATO would give a message to Russia that an invasion of the Baltic states could be a risk worth taking. As it did when invading Eastern Ukraine, Russia could argue that they are assisting ethnic Russians gain their freedom. It is curious that Turkey’s President Erdogan is the one NATO leader that Trump has reached out to with praise. He is the one NATO leader who is turning his country into a near dictatorship, with thousands summarily jailed, including hundreds of journalists who have been critical of him.

Trump has been highly critical of the Iran nuclear deal which has been supported by the members of the UN Security Council (incl. Russia and China), as well as America’s European allies. In criticizing the agreement Trump joins Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu, several Republican Senators, right wing ideologues like John Bolton, and several major funders of GOP candidates, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. While Trump has said he would walk away from the deal it is easier said than done, since our European allies and other treaty signatories would refuse to follow suit and American economic interests would likely suffer as other countries’ businesses take advantage of the U.S. reneging on the deal.

Trump has reached out with praise to the new President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has become a human rights nightmare as he exhorts his countrymen to summarily execute anyone in the country suspected of being involved in drugs. This has led to thousands of killings – many simply murders – with no reference to a system of justice. In this case Trump is making a mockery of the U.S.’s historic commitment to human rights and systems of law. His behavior shrinks our stance in the world and begins to provide a nasty model for the application of quasi fascist behavior. See this NY Times piece for a taste of Duterte’s world:

Trump has not said much about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East in general other than to criticize Obama for failing in everything he has done in that part of the world and claiming that he will defeat ISIS almost as soon as he is in office. The decisions his administration make in that region will affect millions long into the future and we are largely left to guess as to what he would actually do.

Trump has made it clear that he believes he has a special relationship with Russian President Putin and indeed he may. They share a capacity for bullying, a disregard for human rights, a sensitivity to criticism, a willingness to harass the press (in Putin’s case including murder and imprisonment) and an attraction to kleptocracy. He does not seem to worry about what Putin has done in the world – e.g. Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, Chechnya, etc. – and has been eager and able to participate in the Russian economy, an economy that could teach Wall Street a thing or two about cronyism.

There is currently much talk of giving Trump a chance before judging him. Since he was elected we have no choice but to give him his chance, but judging can begin anon. Look at his appointments, listen to his words, read his tweets and form a judgment. If he fools us and turns out to be realistic, thoughtful and intelligent then we can adapt our judgment. Looking at his appointments to date, his short list for Secretary of State, and his statements during and after the campaign, it seems unlikely we will find that necessary.


Drums Along the Potomac

Posted March 31, 2015 on 1:34 pm | In the category Iran, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“The Armed Forces Are the Instrument of Foreign Policy, Not Its Master”,   Hans Morgenthau

Some see war as a failure of diplomacy; others see it as a substitute. Twelve years after the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq those who prefer war to diplomacy are back and priming the pump for what could be the next exercise in American folly in the Middle East. This time it is Iran that looms as the target.

President Obama has chosen diplomacy joined with sanctions to reduce Iran’s likelihood of attaining a nuclear capability. And while success in this effort is by no means guaranteed, neither is the likely success of a military intervention despite claims by some that we should cease our diplomatic efforts and move apace to war.

In recent weeks our two major newspapers -the Washington Post and the New York Times– have published clear calls to bomb Iran on its op ed pages. In the once great Washington Post Joshua Muravchik, a Fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Politics, argued that “war [[against Iran] is probably our best option” and was explicitly critical of any diplomatic efforts. This is a reprise of his November, 2006 op ed in the L.A. Times which opens with: “We must bomb Iran” and predicts Iran’s creating conflicts all over the world, including Southeast Asia. He then urged then President Bush to attack at once, despite the “unpopularity” of his Iraq war.

Similarly, last week in the New York Times, John Bolton, analyst at he American Enterprise Institute and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, provided an op ed titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. This is consistent with Bolton’s predilection to send other people’s sons and daughters to fight unnecessary wars in places like Iraq, and to view diplomacy as a sign of weakness.

Add to this mix the views of politicians like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham and what seems to be the entire Republican membership of the House of Representatives and we have the seeds of an effort to move the country toward acceptance of yet another irrational attempt to change that part of the world in which we have been notoriously ineffective-even destructive-in the past. It is all too reminiscent of the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq which has provided much of the impetus for an energized battle between Shia and Sunni forces throughout the Middle east.

The press was instrumental in building support for the invasion of Iraq and that alone should be enough to warn us of the danger of accepting press reports and untested analyses without careful vetting. The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies participated in driving the argument to invade Iraq adds to the need to be careful whom we trust. The quality of the press is of fundamental importance and unfortunately there are reasons to be skeptical.


Is Israel’s Grip on America’s Middle East Policy Slipping Away?

Posted March 23, 2015 on 1:52 pm | In the category Iran, Israel, Middle East, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“Netanyahu’s shrill public statements during the last two or three days before the vote may account in part for Likud’s startling margin of victory. For the first time since his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, he explicitly renounced a two-state solution and swore that no Palestinian state would come into existence on his watch. He promised vast new building projects in the Palestinian territorial concessions, anywhere, since any land that would be relinquished would, in his view, immediately be taken over by Muslim terrorists.”   from,

“Israel The Stark Truth” by David Shulman, New York Review Blog, March 21, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s thinly veiled attacks on President Obama – and indeed on the office of the American Presidency – have opened the door to a long overdue reassessment of American policy in the Middle East, where we have invested a lot and gained little.

U.S. foreign policy is – or should be – based on analysis of what serves the strategic national interest of the United States. Most of the time that national interest is consistent with that of its allies — but not always. The United States has historically played a major role in the ongoing security of Israel and, in fact, Israel’s security has been a linchpin of American foreign policy since the post WWII years. It has included billions of dollars of military aid to Israel, and a Middle East foreign policy built on America’s commitment to Israel’s security. It has also been a forgiving policy. When Israel bombed the America ship U.S. Liberty in 1967, killing some 34 Americans, domestic politics led to the U.S. government joining in a pretension that it was simply a mistake by Israeli pilots, later proved to be false, and therefore arguably, a killing of Americans by Israeli pilots flying planes paid for by American taxpayers. Also, Israel’s nuclear force is at least partly a result of Israeli spies stealing secrets from the U.S. This is also largely winked at by the U.S. although one man remains in jail for that crime in spite of annual public relations efforts by the Israelis to get him released. While there have been other minor blips in the U.S.-Israel relationship over the years it has been largely collaborative until recently.

Domestic political pressure supporting Israeli interest in America is strong. Currently the U.S. provides annually ca. $3.1 Billion to Israel – a country of just over 8 million people. Israel supporters such as Sheldon Adelson have been willing to commit significant financial resources to politicians willing to support Israeli interests even when those interests are in conflict with U. S. interests. While America’s foreign policy has always been influenced by national or ethnic diaspora in the U.S., it is hard to imagine a more intrusive and negative influence on American foreign policy than what we have seen over the last several years with Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s Prime Minister. He joined forces with American extreme conservatives to help push American foreign policy towards the absurdly counter-productive 2003 invasion of Iraq and continues his attempt to destroy any hope of detente with Iran. And never mind peace with the Palestinians – both by 8 years of action and now open speech – Netanyahu has declared that a dead issue, while waffling slightly – and unbelievably – after he won reelection earlier last week. Netanyahu’s campaign was characterized by a not so subtle attack on Israeli Arabs and his spoken commitment to walk away from the possibility of a Palestinian state, the latter an open disagreement with long agreed Israeli-American Middle East policy.

Netanyahu meddled in American politics when he worked openly for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election – a foolish act mostly ignored by the American press some of whom now wonder why President Obama hasn’t been friendlier to Netanyahu. More recently Netanyahu worked with John Boehner in an attempt to join forces with the anti-Obama right wingers in the Congress to destroy a multinational negotiation with Iran. These negotiations involve France, Germany, the UK, U.S., Russia and China and represent the only realistic possibility to reduce the likelihood of an Iranian nuclear military capability. At this point Netanyahu’s arrogant bumbling has increased Israel’s isolation and raised the possibility of the U.S. – for the first time – supporting the concept of a Palestinian state in the UN. It puts at risk America’s historic relationship with Israel.

The U.S. has expended billions of dollars in the Middle East and has little to show for it other than a nuclear armed Israel that has managed to isolate itself from much of the Western world. The memory of the Holocaust and Israel’s strong democratic traditions have argued for almost unconditional love of Americans for Israelis but Netanyahu has managed to put that relationship at great risk to satisfy his narrow, personal political agenda. For many Americans this is now seen as an opportunity to loosen the ties that bind.

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The Slandering of Chuck Hagel

Posted February 17, 2013 on 11:33 pm | In the category Iran, Iraq, Israel, McCain, Politics, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The United States Senate, once known as “the world’s greatest deliberative body”, has become a stage for narcissistic Republican poseurs and clowns. The Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on former Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense has produced one of the most embarrassing episodes in the ongoing saga of the dumbing down of the Republican Party.

The rookie, Deb Fisher, a Sarah Palin pal from Nebraska who finds Hagel; “too extreme – far to the left of Obama” – whatever that means.. (Her refusal to refer to “President” Obama a pathetic reminder of her connections to the Nebraska Tea Party). That Hagel had the good sense to endorse her opponent, Bob Kerrey, in her election campaign apparently fueled her ire but so what? This is about the Secretary of Defense not about Fisher’s feelings.

Noted global warming denier and biblical scholar Senator James Inhofe (R from Oklahoma) found that Hagel was an “appeaser” without specifying why other than to refer to a statement by the Iranian Foreign Minister describing Hagel as someone with whom they might be able to talk.

Noted Chicken Hawk Saxby Chambliss, Republican Senator from Georgia and previously a slanderer of Senator Tammy Baldwin who had lost both legs piloting a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq, found that Hagel’s commitment to the concept of international negotiation was really simply a commitment to “appeasement” – again, whatever that means.

Senate newcomer and Tea Party pet Ted Cruz of Texas decided to become the reincarnation of Joe McCarthy, raising the suspicion that Hagel has been paid by enemies of the United States for speeches, questioning the patriotism of a battlefield decorated marine with a mythical list hidden away in his pocket.

But the main attractions in the early hearings – before Inhofe and Cruz pushed the process over the Crazy Cliff – were Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Noted poor loserJohn McCain got all red-faced with anger when Hagel refused to concede that McCain had been right in his support of the Iraq War “surge”, the grand strategy that delayed the inevitable U.S. withdrawal from a war that almost no one ended up supporting. His emotional, post-adolescent demand that Hagel agree that McCain was right and Hagel wrong on the surge was a sad display by a once admired Senator known now chiefly for his unwillingness to accept that he lost an election.

As for Senator Graham, what can be said about his obsession that Hagel is soft on support for Israel, or that he once said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here, I’m not an Israeli Senator I’m a US Senator, this pressure makes us do dumb things at times”? Or that he is somehow responsible for telling us what went wrong with Benghazi?

It is depressing enough to see a major political party sink into a cesspool of gratuitous innuendo verging on slander without watching the national press serve as a largely unquestioning conduit of cheap shots, distortions and outright lies. Where is Edward R. Murrow when we need him?

How long will we have to avoid the Sunday talk shows as they wheel in McCain so they can help him lick his wounds from a defeat that is now 5 years old? Or watch the likes of Dick Gregory sidle up to Lindsey Graham without calling him on what has become a bizarre personal vendetta against one of the few Republican Senators to have had the good sense and political courage to admit that President George W. Bush’s Iraq war turned out to be a bad idea, poorly implemented.

As for the soft on Israel charge? Do we elect Senators to act in the national interests of the United States or of Israel? When they come in conflict – which they occasionally do – can we have an adult conversation in the press – as they do in the Israeli press? Or do we continue to put up with a national press unable or unwilling to consider the real implications of blindly following the lead of a foreign leader like Benjamin Netanyahu?

As the Republican Party moves toward reconsidering their “message” after a serious defeat at the polls last November, will they finally – at long last – have the decency to accept that President Obama is indeed the President and that the American people expect them to behave with respect to the office and to the national interest?

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The Oscars and History

Posted January 14, 2013 on 4:51 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Canada, Iran, McCain, U.S. Foreign Policy, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

So no less than four films being considered for Best Film at the Oscara supposedly portray US history. One of them is relatively harmless. “Lincoln” is probably going to win everything because it does not, as far as any layman can tell, falsify history in any kind of serious way and features enough bearded men to make old testament prophets feel jealous. And it has a very Lincoln-looking British actor, no doubt thanks to terrific makeup help, who has the wrong accent but is as good at portraying a decent common man who acted well under pressure (Bob Newhart called this “The humble bit”), as were Raymond Massey – also a foreigner – Henry Fonda and others who have portrayed Honest Abe in the past. So we can give this a pass on the honest history front, although Spielberg once again demonstrates his fascination with brutal hand to hand combat and dead soldiers, though not at the level of “Saving Private Ryan”.
But what should we make of “Zero Dark Thirty” , supposedly a factual presentation of the CIA’s role in the assassination of bin Laden, or Ben Affleck’s “Argo”, another alleged representation of actual CIA operations.  And there is no doubt that “Argo” is an exciting film, especially in the opening scenes depicting the attack on the US embassy in Teheran.    But what’s going on?  Since when do films get such serious consideration that are made with government support and obvious comic-book plots  – a CIA female warrior  in one, and  a devil of a fearless handsome CIA agent in the other carry out awesomely dangerous missions for good old Uncle Sam – and against all odds succeed.  If they didn’t do that, there would certainly not be a film.  The first  has been attacked on the US Senate floor, by senators who actually personally know how torture functions, since the film seems to suggest that torture by US agents actually led to the discovery of the whereabouts of bin Laden.  From all accounts this is not true, and the very suggestion that it is  acceptable for the US  to gather information in this way, is more than offensive for those who suffered under such methods.

And “Argo” is “so full of bullshit it might as well have been a Charlie’s Angels episode” to quote Steve Burgess. The heroic people who really risked their lives and  those of their families in rescuing those US diplomats who managed to escape the chaos in the attack on the US embassy in Teheran , were of course the ambassador and the attache of Canada, who died last week.  They did what the diplomats of no other country – including some of the US’ supposed closest allies like the UK – were unwilling to do: risk their own lives to save those of US colleagues.   In real life the US citizens were hidden in two different Canadian diplomatic residences for a lengthy period before they were smuggled out, perhaps even with some input from the CIA operative who is made the hero of “Argo”: Affleck directing Affleck in the role.   One of these Canadian  diplomats, the  Ambassador, actually appears fleetingly in the film, but does not seem very important; the other  is never mentioned.    A postscript was added to the film, after howls of protest about an obvious insulting falsification of reality,  which  threw  a few crumbs  to the ambassador but never mentioned the attache, not to mention the Canadian prime minster, who allowed this mission to take place. It was all too reminiscent of how President Bush managed to  thank half the countries of the world for having helped during the 9/11 attack, but forgot Canada, the only one that had really done anything.

And then there is the fourth film”Beasts of the Southern Wild” a tale of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrine on the  Louisiana coast, which features an  amazing performance by an 8-year old girl who amazingly is also up for best actress, as is the director.  None of the above will win, because they don’t present a phoney version of history, that ranges on propaganda, but rather offer a mythic story of outsiders who have no desire to return to the society from which they have been cut off by the inundations.  This is the film of the year.  Go see it, and skip cartoon history



Romney: Outsourcing American Foreign Affairs?

Posted September 13, 2012 on 9:09 pm | In the category Iran, Israel, Obama, Romney, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Candidate Romney has not exactly distinguished himself in foreign affairs of late, the one area in which U.S. presidents actually exercise power. His foray into foreign travel as a candidate was a disaster with insults to Great Britain and Poland and audacious ass kissing in Israel. His latest bumbling attempt to abuse the truth regarding the American government role in the tragedy in Libya and the disturbances in Egypt have offended even most Republicans. But perhaps overriding all of this is his dicey relationship with Israel.

Romney’s trip to Israel was highlighted by a fund raiser with wealthy Jews organized by Casino owner and former Newt Gingrich supporter Sheldon Adelson, who brings the wisdom of the craps table to addressing the Iran nuclear issue. During the same trip much was made of the 35 year friendship of Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – a relationship that goes back to when they were both consultants for the Boston Group, but one that according to press reports is not as close as Romney likes to pretend. It was also during this trip that Romney managed to insult Palestinians while ginning up hints of military action against Iran.

So now this week we have Netanyahu making a public statement that not so obliquely attacks U. S. policy, and therefore President Obama.

” The world tells Israel: ‘Wait. There’s still time.’ And I say, ‘Wait for what? Wait until when?’ Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem.”

Parsing this statement tells us that 1, Netanyahu apparently believes it is up to him to define American policy and 2, that while he meddles in our presidential campaign we are not to attempt to dissuade Israel from doing something likely to damage American AND Israeli interests. And since the U.S. does not have the power to put a red light before Israel if they want a war it is tempting to tell them to start it without us. But of course were they to do that we would inevitably be dragged into a war that even Israeli military leaders say makes no military or political sense.

David Frum, a former George Bush speechwriter and one-time (and sometimes still) neocon, writes that Netanyahu was really not aiming his comments at Obama but rather at Ehud Barak, his erstwhile Israeli political ally who has walked away from supporting the concept of an attack on Iran. But given Netanyahu’s sophistication it is hard to believe he did not know the potential impact on the American election and, in any case, Romney jumped to the bait, perhaps in desperation.

What we have now is a candidate for President of the United States ready – even eager – to turn over major parts of our foreign policy to a foreign Prime Minister, apparently including the decision to go to war. And for those who doubt the possibilities here, think about the last president who wanted to start a war of choice – and think about the costs and the results.

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Iran and Mucho Macho Americano

Posted June 24, 2009 on 5:43 pm | In the category Iran, Politics, Press, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Whenever I forget how pitiful the American press has become I turn to PBS’s Lehrer Report knowing that Judy Woodruff is likely to remind me. While I largely avoided cable TV and network news talk shows during the Iran election fallout I had noted in the NY Times and Washington Post the comments of various Republican politicians to the effect that the president had not been “forceful” enough in his comments on the Iranian elections. (Much like foreign leaders had not been forceful enough in discussing the U.S. presidential election of 2000 when our Supreme Court handed the presidency to G. W. Bush, rather than bother to count the votes in Florida.) Comments came from the usual suspects, Senators McCain and Graham, Representatives Boehner and Kantor, Newt Gingrich, right-wing neocon columnists like George Will and Charles Krauthammer, and of course the usual blowhard media types on Fox TV and dumbbell radio.

Obama’s point – that it was strategically essential to avoid making the U.S. the outside force to be blamed for the demonstrations – was lost on these political hacks and we were treated to the predictable displays of American artificial testosterone. Virtually every credible Iran analyst supported Obama’s approach and assessed it as correct, as did Indiana Republican Senator Lugar – one of a diminishing number of Republican Senators with foreign policy bonafides.

Understanding a difficult, complex situation in Iran requires more effort than most Americans will give to it and unfortunately more effort than most of the American press will put into it. The attraction for simple-minded blowhards to spout meaningless slogans is too strong for a country that long ago decided to see all events through a strictly American prism. This is just the time for PBS to step up and provide the kind of background and intelligence needed to sort through the complexities. Lehrer and Woodruff gave us what they too often fall back on – an interview of two politicians (Senators Graham and Kerry) on opposite sides to argue about things that more often than not avoid any prospect of actually educating the viewer about anything other than where the two stand on whatever is defined as the issue. Woodruff’s interview served to carry the GOP’s water, asking in two or three different ways just why Obama did not speak out more strongly. Senator Graham was all over that while Senator Kerry did as well as could be expected to educate the viewers on some of the realities of the situation.

It is perhaps unfair to pick on Woodruff when so many of her colleagues in the press bow to the same gods of vacuity and simplicity (anyone who watched the Obama’s press conference can attest to that), but we used to expect more from PBS than mind-numbing, self-serving debates by politicians.

For anyone seeking an intelligent, instructional and nuanced view of the Iranian situation and Obama’s response to it, I recommend Terry Gross’s interview yesterday of Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Listen to it here.

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Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Senator McCain

Posted February 27, 2008 on 5:02 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Election 2008, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

Recent and ongoing events in Pakistan and Afghanistan highlight in new ways the disastrous effects of the United States’ misguided Iraq invasion and the delusionary nature of Senator McCain’s commitment to continuing a bankrupt policy in Iraq.

The War in Afghanistan is not going well. The Taliban is back in force, the poppy fields are again feeding America’s cocaine habit, America’s allies are beginning to question their willingness to continue in Afghanistan, violence against civilians is on the increase and the U.S. cannot bring enough force to bear because its military is bogged down in Iraq.

If there is a failure in Afghanistan – which appears possible, if not likely – the blame can go directly to the Bush decision to commit to an unnecessary war in Iraq. By not committing the needed forces to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan in favor of invading Iraq, Bush allowed the Taliban to withdraw into Pakistan and form a new commitment to take Afghanistan back. This in turn led to a stronger terrorist structure in Pakistan which has destabilized much of that country and which runs the risk of leading to the loss of major portions of Pakistan to the Taliban and its Al Queda allies. This is doubly worrisome given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Afghanistan was a major training ground for Al Quada and the opportunity to eliminate that from happening again now seems lost.

Which brings us to Senator McCain’s delusions. His campaign is based largely on his belief that the so-called surge has worked and that victory is in sight. While those are extremely questionable opinions, it is clear that even were they true any such victory would come at terrible cost – in human life, American treasure, diminished American influence in the world, increased Iranian influence in the region, a destabilized Pakistan and in all probability a failed state of Afghanistan.

The U.S. president has enormous powers in foreign affairs – reviewing the disastrous impact of President Bush’s foreign policy reminds us of that. And it reminds us that choosing the next president can send the United States further into decline if it sends into office a man (or woman) unable to understand the difference between genuine American national interest, and jingoistic political slogans. Senator McCain clearly is determined to wage a campaign aimed at continuing the failed Bush policies in Iraq and the voters will need to decide whether it wants what would amount to a third Bush term.

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Iran: Opportunity Knocks

Posted December 7, 2007 on 1:28 pm | In the category Iran, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

The Bush administration has had almost a week to respond since the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) publicly announced the unanimous agreement among 16 intelligence agencies that Iran had shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Obviously, officials in the administration had seen this coming for some time – minimally since August. To date, the administration’s response has been a desperate attempt to pretend that nothing has changed, that Iran remains as dangerous as ever, and that U.S. policy must remain the same.

It is curious that the administration has found a way to negotiate with North Korea with considerable success to date but cannot bring itself to address across-the–board issues with Iran, a country with considerably more freedom than N. Korea and among many of its young, a genuine interest in – if not sympathy with – the United States.

The NIE provides an opportunity for the Bush administration to move toward a robust diplomatic effort with Iran without losing face – except with the hardest of the neocons. Russia’s and China’s opposition to increased sanctions make it difficult to envision total success via sanctions and threats and while diplomacy can be difficult and has no guarantee of success, an opportunity missed would be an opportunity lost.

President Bush has just over a year of his presidency left to leave a legacy beyond the disasters in Iraq and the U.S. economy.  Diplomatic advances in North Korea AND Iran give him what may be his last opportunity to salvage his record. But so far his response to the NIE provides little optimism.

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Bush’s Foreign Policy: The Perfect Storm

Posted November 8, 2007 on 11:41 am | In the category Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Pakistan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

President Bush continues to wallow in the consequences of his own arrogant miscalculations. The situation America finds itself in can be traced to his and Cheney’s so-called tough guy approach to the world, as evidenced in the insane war in Iraq. Among what “Shock and Awe” and “Mission Accomplished” missed were the ripple effect consequences that followed and that continue to arrive.

Turkey asked that the U.S. avoid invading Iraq for reasons of its own security and their recognition of the likely bloodbath to follow, but agreed to work with the U.S. in providing staging areas for U.S. troops. At the same time it warned of the potential difficulties with the Kurds, a warning of which the U.S. apparently took no note. So having considerable responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis AND the increased power and influence of Iran in the region (incl. Iraq) the U.S. now has the problem of a possible micro war between two of its allies – the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. Bush is saying that he will help Turkey flush out the PKK (Kurdish rebels) but that is clearly an empty promise given our incompetence and unwillingness to put the thumbs to the Iraqi Kurds, who will at least passively support the PKK. It is a dog’s breakfast.

Pakistan has been presented as the bulwark of our “war on terrorism” which is beginning to sound a bit like the help that our friends in Saudi Arabia have given us leading up to and following 9/11. Pakistan is a nuclear power led by a dictator who views himself as the country’s savior while the majority of his citizens seek the democracy that Bush has presented as his foreign policy’s grandest wish. We continue to provide massive defense aid to Pakistan while it allows al Quada to operate more or less unfettered within its borders, the Taliban to operate out of its borders into Afghanistan and its peoples’ dream for democracy to wither and die. It is impossible to know what would happen in Pakistan without Musharraf but the best long-term hope is for a true democracy to develop while finding a way to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear arms remain out of the hands of extremists. So, does the U.S. continue to support Musharaf or pull the plug and risk democracy? There are echoes of what the U.S. did in Iran by shoring up the Shah, providing massive military aid, turning our eyes from the Shah’s human rights abuses and getting pretty much what we deserved – a belligerent Iran with whom we continue to squander diplomatic possibilities to a point where it might be too late. Another dog’s breakfast cooked up by this administration.

Afghanistan is the place that might have been a success for the administration but that too is being pissed away largely because of our Iraq folly. Pakistan passively provides cover for the Taliban which continues to operate at considerable strength in the South and increased strength elsewhere in Afghanistan while most of the U.S.’s troops are spinning their wheels helping to build a stronger Iraq which will probably eventually ally politically with Iran. Were it not for the Canadians, the British and the Dutch, Afghanistan might very well be lost already (no thanks to the Germans, French, Spaniards and Italians who hide their troops in the relative safety of the North). Defense Secretary Gates commented on this as recently as 25 October speaking to a group of unimpressed European generals:

”A handful of allies are paying the price and bearing the burdens,” he said in remarks that were notably critical of European governments. He spoke hours after leaving a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Netherlands, where he pressed for more troops for Afghanistan. There were no promises. ”If an alliance of the world’s greatest democracies cannot summon the will to get the job done in a mission that we agree is morally just and vital to our security,” he told the European generals, ”then our citizens may begin to question both the worth of the mission and the utility of the 60-year-old trans-Atlantic security project itself,” meaning NATO, which was created in 1949. His remarks drew little reaction from the generals, who applauded politely when he finished.” – AP

Clearly the U.S. will need to step up its commitment to Afghanistan but cannot do so as long as it is mired in an endless war in Iraq – that is, as long as G. Bush is president and no one with Rudy Giuliani’s views is elected in his place.

That leaves every president’s greatest challenge – the Middle East. Bush has all but ignored the Middle East for seven years – barring the talk of a “roadmap to peace” (remember that one?), his refusal to accept that the democratic election in Palestine was valid because the people elected the wrong guys, and of course his support for Israel’s disastrous bombing of Lebanon. Secretary Rice is now spending more time in the Middle East than in Washington and according to David Brooks in the NY Times – not exactly an objective observer – she is putting together an anti-Iran alliance, which would include Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. He goes on to say that:

“It’s slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. …But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organize the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region.”

This alliance will then face off against the alliance that will include Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and – in all probability – Iraq. This is a hope and a wish but certainly not a foreign policy based on reality.

1/20/09 – that is the key date – the time when sophisticated, intelligent people can begin to dig us out of Bush’s Perfect Storm created from a rare combination of American incompetence, arrogance, ignorance, and naiveté.

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