Age: 56 |
Birth City: آبادان |
Joined on October 02, 2012
The Trump administration’s Plan B on Iran is no plan at all
Suzanne Maloney, Deputy Director - Foreign Policy Senior Fellow - Center for Middle East Policy, Energy Security and Climate Initiative
The Brookings Institution: The suspense is over. Two weeks after President Trump ruptured the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran to a chorus of questions about the administration’s “Plan B,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday outlined a new U.S. strategy for contending with the persistent challenges posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.
There’s only one problem with the strategy: It’s not a strategy at all, but rather a grab bag of wishful thinking wrapped in a thinly veiled exhortation for regime change in Iran.
Actually, there are about a dozen other problems with the strategy that Pompeo articulated—that being the number of benchmarks that the speech laid out as the prerequisites for any “new deal” that he insisted the administration is “ready, willing, and able to negotiate” with Iran. Despite this nod to the possibility of new negotiations, the substance of Pompeo’s remarks forecloses any realistic avenue for diplomacy with or around Iran’s current leadership. And it will exacerbate existing frictions around a variety of diplomatic and trade issues with all of America’s traditional partners
Instead, the speech heralds an unabashed embrace of go-it-alone maximalism that is not only likely to come up short on Iran, but will also backfire across an array of U.S. interests and allies in an unpredictable fashion. Trump’s alternative to the Iran nuclear deal is a dead end, one that will alienate our allies, disregard vital partners such as Russia and China, and divorce U.S. policy on Iran from even the slightest pretense at multilateral support or realistic objectives. What a terrible waste of U.S. leverage and leadership.
For a president with brash ambition and only the crudest understanding of international politics, maximalism has understandable appeal, not the least of which is that it seems to present a compelling alternative to the approach pursued by Trump’s predecessors. President Obama sought an explicitly limited bargain with Tehran under a framework for issue-specific diplomatic engagement that was first advanced during the latter days of the Bush administration. This was a purely pragmatic calculation that reflected the urgency of Iran’s burgeoning nuclear infrastructure and the absence of any meaningful consensus with U.S. allies and other key stakeholders around the full suite of challenges posed by Tehran.
But in practice, the narrow transactionalism of the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), contributed to its eventual unravelling by Trump. An unavoidably imperfect solution to only one aspect of the Iran problem ensured that the continuation—and in many cases, the exacerbation—of Tehran’s regional malfeasance loomed all that much larger. In the aftermath of the deal, the real and present dangers of Iran’s support for violent proxies, its military entrenchment in Syria, and its relentless domestic repression seemed even more resistant to external pressure or inducements. And with the clock ticking on the expiration of some of the JCPOA’s restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities, skepticism around the nuclear deal’s value eroded the durability of the deal in Washington. It’s worth noting that Iranians felt a corresponding buyer’s remorse, having overestimated the ripple effects of reopening their economy, their compliance assured by the lack of obviously better alternatives.
Trump felt no such constraint. Having made his name as a wheeler-dealer, he disdains half-measures and is convinced he can find holistic fixes to protracted problems. Which is why his new secretary of state articulated an ambitious laundry list of demands for a new deal in his speech today—including a full accounting of Tehran’s past nuclear work, an end to Iran’s support for terrorist organizations, the release of unjustly detained dual-nationals.
Who can rightly argue against these as the aspiration objectives of U.S. policy? The difficulty, of course, is that the speech offered no realistic pathway to achieving them. Insisting on an unequivocal end to the full inventory of Iranian misdeeds is not a starting point for a serious negotiation. It’s magical thinking to suggest that after 40 years and at the apex of its regional reach, the Islamic Republic will proffer a blanket capitulation in exchange for the promise of a future treaty with a government that has just jettisoned an existing agreement >>>
Clashing With Trump, E.U. Tries to Blunt U.S. Sanctions on Iran
The New York Times: Venting anger at President Trump, European leaders said Thursday they would take steps aimed at blunting the effects of the American sanctions he restored on Iran, which could penalize European companies doing business there.
At a European Union summit meeting in Sofia, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said it would begin a legal process to prohibit companies based in the 28-member union from complying with the American sanctions.
“We should know that the effects of the announced American sanctions will not remain without consequences,” Mr. Juncker said. “We have a duty to protect our European companies.”
The meeting, with leaders of western Balkan countries, came barely a week after Mr. Trump quit the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and leading world powers, which has eased sanctions in exchange for verifiable curbs on Iran’s nuclear activities.
Leaders of Britain, France and Germany had implored Mr. Trump in vain to honor the accord, which he has long described as a disastrous giveaway.
The other parties to the agreement, including Iran, China and Russia, have said they want the agreement to survive. At the same time, Iran has hinted that it may no longer honor the agreement if the promised economic benefits do not begin flowing to the nation of 80 million.
The withdrawal of the United States is a potentially fatal blow to the agreement because it restores all of the American sanctions, which not only restrict commerce with Iranian energy, banking and other sectors, but could penalize foreign businesses that trade with or invest in Iran.
On Tuesday the Trump administration took further steps to isolate Iran economically, placing the governor of its central bank on a terrorist blacklist.
The American sanctions are a powerful deterrent to many non-American companies, particularly large multinational businesses that are intertwined in the United States economy and dependent on its financial system. The restored sanctions mean they must essentially choose between doing business with Iran or the United States.
Mr. Trump’s Iran decision is part of a broader pattern of actions that have deeply frustrated America’s European allies. He also has threatened new tariffs, quit the Paris climate accord and, in their view, expressed disdain for multilateral diplomacy.
Their anti-Trump mood was reflected in a speech on Wednesday by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, who denounced what he called the “capricious assertiveness of the American administration.”
Mr. Juncker amplified the criticism on Thursday.
“We will not negotiate with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” Mr. Juncker said. “It’s a matter of dignity, and it’s a matter of principle.”
Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, noted that Europe does not want a trade war with the United States over the Iran deal. “We are looking for technical solutions to protect our companies,” Ms. Grybauskaite said.
Despite their defiant response to Mr. Trump, it is unclear how effective any European Union measures would be in countering the restored American sanctions on Iran. Even as the summit meeting was underway, more big European-based companies signaled they would have to quit doing business with Iran to avoid running afoul of the American sanctions.
The world’s leading container shipping company, A.P. Moller-Maersk, said it would no longer do business in Iran, Reuters reported, while the Italian steel maker Danieli began scaling back on Iranian orders. On Wednesday, the French oil giant Total said it would have to divest from Iran unless it received an exemption from the American sanctions.
President Emmanuel Macron of France appeared to acknowledge this reality at a news conference in Sofia, conceding that France does not want to get into a trade war with the United States over Iran.
“We’re not going to choose one camp over another,” Mr. Macron said. While he said he wants to protect the ability of European businesses to remain in Iran if they wish, Mr. Macron also said, “We’re not going to impose on French businesses to stay in Iran.”
Europe has few good options for dealing with Donald Trump
The Economist: REMEMBER “Love Actually”? Back in 2003, in the heat of the Iraq crisis, British hearts were lifted by Hugh Grant’s portrayal of a prime minister publicly humiliating a bullying American president. In 2018 Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran is inspiring Europeans to their own moments of Grantian hauteur. “Do we want to be vassals who obey decisions taken by the United States while clinging to the hem of their trousers?” asked Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister. German diplomats are spitting blood. One magazine urged Europe to join the anti-Trump “resistance”.
If that seems a trifle overcooked, the strength of the fury shows the value of the Iran deal for Europeans. In one neat package it diminished a security threat, bolstered multilateralism and strengthened the transatlantic bond. The Europeans fought desperately to assuage Mr Trump’s concerns, and earned only humiliation. Their current efforts to stop him slapping tariffs on their steel and aluminium exports next month may be similarly doomed. The twin pillars of Europe’s place in the world are the multilateral rules-based order and the transatlantic alliance. Mr Trump seems to be forcing Europeans to choose between them.
For now, the path seems clear. Meeting this week in Sofia, Europe’s leaders agreed they would try to keep the nuclear deal alive (see article). The options include countermeasures like a “blocking regulation” to shield European firms investing in Iran from American sanctions. Whether they will succeed is an open question; for many European companies, the American market is too important to risk. (Germany exports about as much to North Carolina as to Iran.) On the trade row, some European governments think the current spat can be flipped, judo-like, into talks about eliminating the tariffs which Mr Trump dislikes on cars and other goods; others doubt it. But all agree that if his metals tariffs take effect, Europe must hit back.
If all this hints at a new readiness to get tough, it is in part because other tactics have flopped. Emmanuel Macron, the so-called “Trump whisperer”, tried flattery; he was ignored. Angela Merkel’s softly-softly approach found only Trumpian derision. Mr Trump paints the European Union as a plot against American interests and has urged its disintegration. These days European diplomats mutter that only the hard-nosed seem to get results from Mr Trump. Europe is rich and capable. Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that America can be an adversary as well as a partner. Should matters between Europe and America escalate, says Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a think-tank, “It’s not clear to me that America would win.”
But there are dangers in the “Love Actually” approach. It seems self-defeating to try to defend the multilateral order using the same divisive tactics as Mr Trump. The WTO, perhaps Mr Trump’s next target, is already tottering; it might not survive an escalation between the world’s two largest trading partners. America’s withdrawal from the Iran deal leaves the Europeans awkwardly lining up with China and Russia to offer sweeteners to the regime in Iran—a serial human-rights violator and source of regional instability. The need to convince the Iranians to stay in the deal means there is no leverage to make them end their missile programme or their regional troublemaking, as Europe had been trying to do before Mr Trump walked away. Most of all, Europe still depends on the American security guarantee. It should think hard before offering Mr Trump an excuse to jettison it.
Such are the dilemmas thrown up for Europe when America comes First. And while Mr Trump has never hidden his allergy to multilateralism, today his cabinet has fewer dissenting voices. The “adults in the room” on whom the Europeans had pinned their hopes, grey-haired generals or businessmen with an affection for diplomacy and stability, have largely been turfed out in favour of men like John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, who has urged regime change in Iran and thinks rules are for wimps. Things will not get better under this administration.
Yet it would be myopic to blame The Donald alone for the sense of transatlantic drift. The end of the cold war, and growing threats elsewhere, set America on a different geopolitical course. Even Barack Obama, who believed in alliances and knew how to appeal to Europeans’ vanity, wanted to pivot America towards Asia. It is hard to imagine a president who would not. Mr Trump’s successors may not share his aversion to partnership. But nor will they preside over a return to the status quo ante.
So as Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, hinted this week, it is time for Europe to attend to its own yard. Mr Trump has already spurred some gentle defence co-operation inside the EU; it can be stepped up without undermining NATO. Germany is going backwards on military spending, but it has at least learned, in Mr Leonard’s phrase, to “weaponise” its economy in disputes with Russia and Turkey. Mr Macron can lead a fresh European diplomatic offensive in the Middle East; the regional tensions which a collapse of the nuclear deal could unleash make that an especially urgent task. Even Mrs Merkel has come to understand that disasters abroad have consequences at home. On trade the EU has been striking deals with partners like Canada and Japan that will boost growth and spread European standards.
But maintaining unity is difficult when many European countries, especially in the east, are not convinced that they must line up with their own continental partners in geopolitical affairs. Only last week three governments vetoed a planned EU statement condemning Mr Trump’s decision to move America’s Israeli embassy to Jerusalem. Standing up to Mr Trump feels intoxicating, but Europe’s options are limited by its own divisions and dependence. If America drops its end of the international order, Europe lacks the strength to support the entire structure alone.
Dianne Feinstein blasts Nikki Haley for blocking UN Gaza investigation
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Senator Dianne Feinstein said she was “deeply disappointed” in Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, for stopping the UN Security Council from investigating Israeli actions on the border with the Gaza Strip.
“I’m deeply disappointed in Ambassador Haley’s decision to block a UN inquiry into yesterday’s events,” Feinstein, who is Jewish, said Tuesday in a statement. “Without question there should be an independent investigation when the lives of so many are lost.”
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 60 Palestinians were killed in the violent demonstrations at the fence between Gaza and Israel on Monday, the same day that the United States dedicated its new embassy in Jerusalem, and two were killed on Tuesday.
Israel accused Hamas of organizing the protests and using them as cover to carry out attacks and damage security infrastructure, pointing to a video in which a Hamas official said 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed in clashes on Monday and Tuesday were members of the terror group.
The protests at the fence have been held weekly for close to two months, but intensified on the day of the embassy opening, leading to condemnations worldwide of Israel and the United States.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaking at a UN Security Council meeting concerning the violence at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip, at United Nations headquarters, May 15, 2018 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
Haley used the threat of a US veto on the Security Council to block proposals for an inquiry and berated the council for even considering the issue.
“I ask my colleagues here in the Security Council, who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?” Haley said.
“No one would,” she said. “No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.”
Haley said that those who blame the embassy opening for the Gaza violence are “sorely mistaken.”
“The violence comes from those who reject the existence of the State of Israel in any location,” she said. “Such a motivation – the destruction of a United Nations Member State – is so illegitimate as to not be worth our time in the Security Council, other than the time it takes to denounce it.”
Feinstein, a California Democrat, called on protesters to “remain peaceful,” but appeared to lay much of the blame on the embassy opening and what she suggested was a lack of restraint by Israel.
“While protests must remain peaceful, Israeli forces must exercise greater restraint in the use of live ammunition,” she said. “President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy was a serious mistake that will reverberate throughout the region. US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital should have been resolved in the context of broader peace negotiations where both sides benefit.”
Feinstein had voted for a 1995 law calling for the US to move its embassy and in June 2017 voted in favor of a bill saying “Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital.”
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, in a video posted on social media, also juxtaposed the embassy opening with the violence on the Gaza border. “The embassy move brought tensions to a boiling point,” the Sanders video said.
The video described the protesters as “demanding an end to the ten-year blockade” Israel imposed on the Strip after a season of intensive rocket fire on Israel, “an end to the occupation, and the right to return to their former homes inside Israel.” >>>
Trump’s Failure in Jerusalem
The New York Times: The day the United States opened its embassy in Jerusalem is a day the world has longed for, because of what it was supposed to represent: the end of a seemingly endless conflict, a blood-soaked tragedy with justice and cruelty on both sides. Israelis and Palestinians have envisioned a capital in Jerusalem, and for generations the Americans, the honest brokers in seeking peace, withheld recognition of either side’s claims, pending a treaty that through hard compromise would resolve all competing demands.
But on Monday President Trump delivered the embassy as a gift without concession or condition to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and as a blow to the Palestinians. The world did not witness a new dawn of peace and security for two peoples who have dreamed of both for so long. Instead, it watched as Israeli soldiers shot and killed scores of Palestinian protesters, and wounded thousands more, along Israel’s boundary with the Gaza Strip.
Unilateral action, rather than negotiation and compromise, has served the purposes of successive right-wing Israeli governments. They have steadily expanded Jewish settlements in the West Bank, on land Palestinians expected to be part of any Palestinian state.
And even when the Israelis uprooted settlements in Gaza in 2005, they did so without negotiating an agreement that would have empowered a more moderate Palestinian government. They acted to increase Israeli security in the short term while increasing Palestinian despair and the power of militant groups like Hamas. For years, Israeli governments have insisted they have no peace partner on the other side, while behaving in a way that perpetuates that reality. The possibility of peace has continued to recede, and Israel’s democratic character has continued to erode under the pressure of a long-term occupation of millions of Palestinians who lack sovereignty of their own.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly promised a grand peace plan without delivering, and he has now lent America’s weight to this maximalist Israeli strategy. For decades, the United States prided itself on mediating between Israel and the Palestinians. Successive administrations urged a peace formula in which the two parties would negotiate core issues — establishing boundaries between the two states; protecting Israel’s security; deciding how to deal with refugees who fled or were driven away after Israeli statehood in 1948; and deciding the future of Jerusalem, which was expected to become the shared capital of Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Trump’s announcement that he was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moving the embassy from Tel Aviv, swept aside 70 years of American neutrality.
The ceremony on Monday marking the embassy opening could hardly have been more dismissive of Palestinians. It was timed to make the American bias clear, coming on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence in 1948 — and the day before Palestinians observe Nakba, or Catastrophe, the expulsion of their ancestors from the newly formed Jewish state. The fact that Robert Jeffress, a Dallas pastor who has denigrated Jews, Mormons and Muslims, and the Rev. John Hagee, a megachurch televangelist who has claimed Hitler was descended from “half-breed Jews”and was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel, had prominent roles in the ceremony should embarrass all who participated.
Israel has every right to defend its borders, including the boundary with Gaza. But officials are unconvincing when they argue that only live ammunition — rather than tear gas, water cannons and other nonlethal measures — can protect Israel from being overrun.
Led too long by men who were corrupt or violent or both, the Palestinians have failed and failed again to make their own best efforts toward peace. Even now, Gazans are undermining their own cause by resorting to violence, rather than keeping their protests strictly peaceful.
But the contrast on Monday, between exultation in Jerusalem and the agony of Palestinians in Gaza, could not have been more stark, or more chilling to those who continue to hope for a just and durable peace.
Opinion: Israel’s Citizens Will Pay the Price
by Uzi Baram
HAARETZ: Israel Harel’s opinion piece (“Loathing Trump, hating Netanyahu,” May 11), which raises questions also brought up by a quite a few other people, requires an answer that’s neither dogmatic nor automatic, but rather that meets the test of facts and reality.
Harel’s main claim is that even though Benjamin Netanyahu was right all along on the issue of Iran, his opponents aren’t willing to admit it, just as they aren’t willing to overcome their loathing for the U.S. president despite “the painful blow Donald Trump dealt Israel’s most dangerous enemy.”
Left-wing circles, according to Harel, react negatively to any American move in Israel’s favor – first and foremost, of course, Trump’s hard line on Iran and his transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, but also his appointments of Israel-lovers like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo as, respectively, national security adviser and secretary of state.
We shouldn’t make light of these arguments by claiming they are ideological and therefore not worth considering. But as a man of the left, I can state my opinion of Trump: He’s a president afflicted by hyperactivity, one who behaves like an actor on stage and suffers from narcissism. Unlike Netanyahu, he has no real grasp of the material and the data.
From my standpoint, the Trump-Bolton world looks frightening and dangerous. Bolton – an “Israel-lover” who is at peace with the settlements, would look favorably on the annexation of the territories and has no interest in Palestinian rights – is not someone who supports Israel. But anyone who favors the nation-state bill, the Supreme Court override bill and creeping annexation can feel that Bolton and Trump support his policies. All of Trump’s moves on issues like the environment, health care, support for the lobby of murderers known as the National Rifle Association and more are anti-liberal and designed to undermine the American Constitution.
I’m not ignoring the possibility that some of his moves will be successful; perhaps he’ll even reach the hoped-for agreement with North Korea. But his abandonment of the Iranian nuclear deal was an emotional decision. It was born of no comprehensive worldview other than the desire to uproot Barack Obama’s legacy. The agreement had been the fruit of an outlook shared by leaders of the entire world, who wanted to prevent Iran’s nuclearization. Netanyahu is cheering, public opinion is celebrating, but nobody dares to ask himself whether Trump’s decision truly benefits Israel.
And here, Israel Harel, is where I see the great land mine that has been laid in our region. Trump and Netanyahu are disciples of the policy of forcing the other side to surrender. That’s the common denominator which links their approach with those that have always failed in the end. If Iran is pushed into a corner, the price will be paid by all Israelis, including those who are cheering the possibility of war.
Netanyahu, unlike Trump, may actually be capable of weighing substantive considerations, but he’s a prisoner of both religious and secular hawks and of his defense minister, who lacks any real judgment.
The euphoria that has afflicted us recently is reminiscent of the dangerous euphoria after the 1967 war. Contrary to what the right wing says, we’re no great power. We’re a small nation with a strong army and vulnerable territory. True, we must stop Iran’s aggression in Syria, but for that purpose, we need a broad international alliance that would also deal with solving the Palestinian problem. Any other path will be filled with obstacles and danger.
The truth is out there. But not at the Haspel hearing
Amnesty International: Law, morality and “American values” were among the topics raised in the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the morning of 9 May 2018. The two-and-a-half hour public hearing was for the Committee to question Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee to be the next Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
There was some heat generated at the session, but little or no light.
Classification, obfuscation, prevarication, limited time (about an hour of substance according to Lawfare), and some partisan politics left the public in the dark about the extent of Gina Haspel’s role in the CIA secret detention program, in which between 2002 and 2008 more than 100 individuals were subjected to enforced disappearance, a crime under international law, and a number of them subjected to torture, also a crime under international law.
Enforced disappearance? Not a single mention at the hearing. The word torture made a couple of brief appearances, but it seemed to dissipate into the ether as soon as it was aired, like the ghost at the banquet.
The key question of whether Gina Haspel was involved in the torture of ‘Abd al-Nashiri at a CIA “black site” in late 2002 was blocked with “Senator, anything about my classified assignment history throughout my 33 years, we can talk about in this afternoon’s classified session”. It was clear that no more light would be shed on that specific question at this public hearing. Whether Senators got any clearer answers at the closed hearing is not known.
In fact, ‘Abd al-Nashiri’s name came up again at the public session. The Committee’s Chair, Richard Burr, who had opened the hearing by saying he was “looking forward to supporting” Gina Haspel’s nomination, ended it by asking her to share “for the American people’s purpose” who “Nashiri” is. Haspel thanked the Senator, and responded – with little regard for the presumption of innocence in this case of a man facing a death penalty trial by military commission at Guantánamo – that “Mr Nashiri was the Emir of the attack in 2000 on the USS Cole, in which we lost 17 sailors”. Senator Burr thanked her in turn, adding “it’s important to put into context when individuals are mentioned; what their role was in terrorism”. Such context cannot hide the ugly reality of ‘Abd al-Nashiri’s torture and enforced disappearance at the hands of the CIA.
After President Trump’s nomination-by-tweet of Gina Haspel on 13 March, Amnesty International stressed that a confirmation hearing was not the forum in which to establish the truth about the allegations against her. The organization called for the nomination to be withdrawn, and for the USA to meet its obligation under international law to conduct a proper investigation (Gina Haspel is but one of many who should be so investigated). This has not happened, and the organization is calling upon Senators to vote against confirmation.
A familiar theme, repeated ad nauseam over the years, was heard again at the hearing. It boils down to a plea to excuse torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment – euphemized as “enhanced” interrogation techniques (EITs) – on the grounds that decisions were taken and responses improvised in the confusing aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the fear of further attacks. This plea for understanding is accompanied by the mantra that the CIA’s activities were lawful, because lawyers in the Department of Justice said so.
Both positions are untenable. A lawyer cannot render torture or enforced disappearance lawful. Neither can a President. Not now, and not back then either. And the idea that this program should be cut some slack because it happened in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity falls apart when one considers, for example, the long and detailed (and classified) Justice Department memos on EITs and secret detention conditions written four, five, six years after the attacks. Even if the program was dreamt up in the immediate aftermath of the traumatic events of 9/11, it was operationalized and refined in the cold light of day, in the most calculated manner. This was a sustained assault on basic human rights.
On the question of the longevity of the program, Gina Haspel was asked whether, as it began to receive fewer detainees between 2005 and 2007, she had called for the program “to be continued or expanded”. She responded that “like all of us who were in the Counter Terrorism Center and working at CIA in those years after 9/11, we all believed in our work”, and “had been informed that the techniques in CIA’s program were legal and authorized by the highest legal authority in our country, and also, the President”. Senator Ron Wyden said that he took her somewhat evasive answer to be one that “sure sounds” like she had called for the program to be continued.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment came when the nominee would not answer yes or no to a question from Senator Kamala Harris of whether in hindsight she thought that the CIA’s use of EITs had been immoral, even if she had believed they were technically legal. Detainees, it should be recalled, were subjected among other things to mock execution by interrupted drowning (“water-boarding”), forced nudity, stress positions, cruel use of shackles, prolonged sleep deprivation, and confinement in coffin-sized boxes. All while held incommunicado in solitary confinement in secret facilities.
The refusal to answer the morality question did not sit well with Gina Haspel’s opening statement in which she stressed her “strong sense of right and wrong” or with her insistence later in the session that she has a “strong moral compass”. And it jarred with her assertion made at the outset that she understood that “what many people around the country want to know about are my views on the CIA’s former detention and interrogation program”. If that is what the public wanted, it is not what they got >>>
Trump Has No Plan Left on Iran Other Than War
The Nation: Michael Klare is The Nation’s defense correspondent, and also professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College. He’s written 14 books on international energy and security affairs, including, most recently, The Race for What’s Left. This interview has been condensed and edited.
Jon Wiener: In the wake of Trump’s pulling out of the Iran treaty, there is some talk that Europe could still maintain the deal with Iran to monitor its nuclear capabilities, and that Trump might, over the long term, renegotiate this treaty in some way. What do you think?
Michael Klare: I don’t think there’s really a happy outcome from this. I don’t see some way in which Europe can rescue the Iran nuclear deal at this point. Trump says that he wants new negotiations with the Iranians for a totally new deal. I don’t think that’s in the cards at all. We’re going to see very tough sanctions on Iran. And I don’t think the Europeans will be able to protect their companies from the effects of U.S. sanctions, so they will have to quit trading with Iran. And if the Iranians move to restart their nuclear enrichment program, the next step is war.
JW: The Iran nuclear agreement has been a great success over the last three years. The U.N. nuclear agency has a monitoring station outside of Vienna where they get live video from inside Iran’s once-secret uranium enrichment plants. Every week, scientists analyze dust samples collected from across Iran, looking for minute particles that could reveal possible cheating. There are U.N. inspection teams on the ground in Iran who work every day of the year checking and rechecking the nuclear facilities there, investigating tips that something might be going on. All of this has stopped Iranian nuclear enrichment.
MK: That’s correct. And it’s not just the international atomic energy agency inspectors—the U.N. and the Europeans also say that Iran is fully compliant. It’s the top American intelligence officials as well. Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats, the Director of National intelligence, have testified as recently as last month that, so far as they know, Iran is in full compliance with the agreement. There’s no evidence whatsoever of Iranian cheating on the deal.
JW: How unusual is this degree of scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear program?
MK: This is the most intrusive inspection regime ever mounted by the international community. There’s never been anything this intrusive in terms of the number of inspectors, the number of inspections, the constant intrusion into Iran’s nuclear facilities. Aside from the issues covered by the agreement, Donald Trump complains that Iran is engaged in other activities that he finds offensive—like ballistic missile testing, like supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. The Europeans and others also object to those activities, but they are not covered by the deal that the United States signed. So Trump can’t say that those are in fact infractions of the deal.
JW: It seems like the effect of Trump’s announcement within Iran will inevitably be to strengthen the hardliners there who want to restart the nuclear program and remove the surveillance regime. How likely do you think that is—and how soon do you think that might happen?
MK: That’s hard to determine. It would make sense for the Iranians to continue to abide by the agreement and to work with the Europeans to isolate the United States, to portray the United States as the bad guy, and not to rush into enriching uranium. On other the hand, there are forces within Iran who feel that the deal never worked to Iran’s advantage because the U.S. kept up economic pressure on Iran throughout this period, so they never received the economic benefit they were led to believe they were going to receive. So the hardliners may say, “Let’s just go back into enriching uranium because that’s to our advantage.” How that will play out is impossible to say.
JW: Inevitably we have to talk about Israel. Israel sees Iran as its primary enemy in the region, and this will undoubtedly strengthen the hardliners within Israel.
MK: When we talk about Israel in this case, you have to narrow it down to one person: Benjamin Netanyahu. He has made it a personal crusade to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal and has spent many years trying to do that. He’s thrilled by Trump’s decision. However, this is going to lead Israel on a collision course with Iran and possibly to a regional war and I’m not sure everyone in Israel is so thrilled about that >>>
Trump’s rejection of Iran nuclear deal may be Israel’s dream moment
Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor
The Guardian: Israel’s heaviest strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, in response to apparent missile attacks on the occupied Golan Heights, reveals how much has been uncorked by Donald Trump’s decision to quit the Iran nuclear deal this week. If confirmed, it is the first time Iranian forces have struck at Israeli positions from inside Syria and the response was the largest Israeli strike yet against Iranian positions.
In the run-up to Trump’s decision, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, used an interview with Der Spiegel to advise the US president to think through the consequences. He said Trump would be “opening a Pandora’s box, which is tantamount to war. I don’t think Donald Trump wants war.”
Events since Trump’s announcement on Tuesday vindicate Macron’s warning. The lid on Pandora’s box has at least been opened. Inside appears to be the long-flagged direct war between Israel and Iran.
Macron’s concern for months has been that the Iranian crisis has to be seen as inextricably linked to the situation in Syria, and as a result the US and the west should not cede the Syrian peace process to an alliance of Russia, Iran and Turkey.
His concern was less that Bashar al-Assad might emerge the temporary military victor from the eight-year civil war, but that Iran might secure that victory on behalf of Assad, and so remained entrenched in Syria for the foreseeable future.
Israel would never accept an outcome to the civil war that left Iranian-backed forces – who number as many as 100,000, according to the Syrian political opposition – permanently encamped on Syria’s southern front and capable of hitting Israel.
Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal on the basis that Iran was cheating would hand Israel the casus belli it needed to intensify its assault.
But in rejecting the Iran deal, Trump gave Israel every encouragement. He cited the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent presentation on Iran’s alleged secret nuclear weapons programme as a prime example of why Iran could not be trusted. He also laid out new demands, including a requirement that Tehran end its quest to destroy Israel.
Netanyahu immediately accused Iran of deploying “very dangerous weapons” in neighbouring Syria. They were “for the specific purpose of our destruction”, he told reporters.
Trump’s emphatic rejection of the deal this week was Israel’s dream moment, according to one European diplomat.
The question now is whether Israel and the US are acting in concert, with Washington applying the economic pressure through sanctions and Israel the military pressure through airstrikes. Some diplomats hope these are mere skirmishes born of the tension in the region, and not part of a secret strategy.
The UK foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, told MPs: “After closely interrogating everybody I could find in the White House, I would say that there is no enthusiasm in the United States for a military option, and there is no such plan.”
The British fear is more that there is no long-term plan, save to put pressure on Iran, a view borne out by a State Department official who briefed this week: “The goal is to prevent Iran from ever developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon and the detail beyond that is something we are going to have to flesh out.”
There is also a good deal of exasperation in Europe that the interagency incoherence that is always a feature in Washington is worse than normal. A visit to Europe by the new US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, is eagerly awaited to give Europeans a stronger sense of how far Washington is prepared to tolerate Israel’s military strikes.
Key newly installed figures in the Trump administration, such as the national security adviser, John Bolton, have been explicit in the past that they favour regime change in Tehran, and the twin leverage of of US economic and Israeli military firepower might hasten that moment.
Israel also knows that for the moment the disruption of Iran inside Syria has the implicit support of Saudi Arabia, most Gulf states and the Syrian political opposition.
There is little to restrain Israel from trying to hit all of the 14 chief Iranian bases in Syria. Macron, and indeed Vladimir Putin, can appeal for de-escalation, but the danger is that a build-up of large historical forces are being unleashed.
Iran has long seen itself encircled and has built what Tehran calls the “axis of resistance”, an alliance of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and, at times, Hamas against what it perceives as Israeli and US hegemony in the region. Syria has come to be seen as vital to that axis.
Unless diplomacy belatedly triumphs, the fear is that Syria’s long proxy war may about to become a direct war.
Did Trump just put the world in danger for little reason other than to stomp on Obama's legacy?
President Trump on Tuesday finally did what wiser heads in his administration have been trying to keep him from doing almost from the time he was sworn in: He announced that he would withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement. In doing so, he rejected the pleas of America's closest allies and more than 100 current and former senior diplomats. He even turned a blind eye to his own Defense secretary's conclusion that the agreement has allowed robust monitoring of Iran's activities.
But as alarming as the action itself was the deceitful and demagogic speech in which he attempted to justify it. It was virtually indistinguishable from the sort of rant Trump delivered on the campaign trail — utterly uninformed by the sort of appreciation for complexity that experience confers on most occupants of the Oval Office. And much as we would like to think the president was motivated by a belief, however wrongheaded, that tearing up this agreement would lead to a better one, it's hard to escape the suspicion that he was more influenced by a compulsion to besmirch the legacy of his predecessor.
Trump spoke four days before he must decide whether to again waive the economic sanctions against Iran that the U.S. lifted to comply with the agreement, which Iran negotiated in 2015 with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany and the European Union. In his speech, Trump said not only that he won't waive the sanctions but that the U.S. will "withdraw" from the agreement, which he called a "disastrous deal" that has caused "great embarrassment to me as a citizen."
But Trump's attack on the agreement — reminiscent of his irresponsible decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement on climate change — was characteristically misleading and short on detail. For example, he described the limits on Iran's nuclear activities as "very weak," a laughable characterization in light of the elaborate requirements of the agreement. Here's one illustration: Iran had to give up most of its ability to enrich uranium and agreed to place the vast majority of its centrifuges in storage under the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Trump is rightly concerned that several provisions of the agreement — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — expire or sunset after 10 or 15 years, a condition he called "totally unacceptable." Ideally the agreement would have made those provisions permanent. He also was right to complain in his speech about Iran's development of ballistic missiles and its support for militant groups in the region. But those were the compromises required to strike the deal in the first place. There is nothing about abrogating or repudiating the agreement that puts the U.S. in a stronger position to command concessions.
In a statement issued after Trump spoke, the leaders of Germany, France and Britain acknowledged the need to address what happens to Iran's nuclear program after some of the provisions of the current agreement expire, as well as their concern about Iran's ballistic missile program and its "destabilizing regional activities, especially in Syria, Iraq and Yemen." But the European leaders suggested that that new approaches could be identified without violating the agreement. Trump offered no convincing argument to the contrary.
What was perhaps most bizarre about Trump's speech was that it both flirted with advocating regime change in Iran — the president referred to the Islamic government there as a "dictatorship" that had seized power — and simultaneously offered to engage it in negotiations toward a new nuclear agreement. Why would he think Iran would be inclined to accept his overture?
In their statement, the European leaders noted — as they likely did in their private conversations with Trump — that the International Atomic Energy Agency has concluded that "Iran continues to abide by the restrictions set out by the JCPOA, in line with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The world is a safer place as a result." Therefore, Britain, France and Germany will remain parties to the agreement and "will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement."
The full consequences of Trump's decision cannot be known, but they almost certainly will include a further erosion of America's credibility with its allies and others, and tacit encouragement for Iran to revive its nuclear program. That will be bad for the country and for the world.