Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reforms to Rebuild America

The absurdity of some ambitious politicians and the timidity of the rest makes me wonder if the U.S. may need revolutionary reform in order to survive, i.e., a legal, non-violent movement (imagine Occupy gone nationwide minus police brutality) so profound that it generates revolutionary restructuring of the political and financial system. OK, nice dream, right? But what might the policy goals be?

1. If corporations are "persons," arrest them. If you can't figure out how to arrest a criminal corporation, then obviously corporations are not persons, so let's get over this nonsense.

2. Ban unearned income. The super-rich got that way through government welfare in the form of what is literally called "unearned income." That means just what it says - you get something without working for it! Obviously, the money comes from somewhere, and since they did not earn it, one way or the other, it came out of the pockets of those who do work. Worse, having been spoiled by their government handout at your expense, the super-rich now want to avoid taxes on the unearned income. They get a huge gift free from the hard-working taxpayers and still are not satisfied! Why? Simple - the super-rich are not patriotic; they do not think they owe anything to the country that gave them the gift of unearned income. How selfish can you get??? Now of course we could deny them the right to be defended by the U.S. Armed Forces, and we could deny them the right to drive their Mercedes on the national highways, and we could deny them the right to drink from the public water supply, but it would be a lot simpler just to ban unearned income. If you don't earn it, you don't deserve it.

3. Ban mercenaries. Ever since Caesar Augustus used his private palace guard to destroy the Roman Republic and found the Roman Empire, the danger of mercenaries to the state that hires them has been clear. Today, the U.S. has a massive mercenary military force essentially free from Congressional oversight or judicial restraint. This highly dangerous way of subverting the will of the people and its elected representatives to fight foreign wars will eventually come back to haunt us. If a war is worth fighting, then uniformed U.S. soldiers should do the fighting.

4. Welfare for corporations in return for giving corporate profits to the people. If a great corporation encounters adversity, by all means give it welfare - call it a bailout, call it opening the Fed's discount window, or just call it socialism. Socialism means using government to help people, and the people working at great corporations of course deserve charity just as much as everyone else. But corporations are NOT PEOPLE! Corporations are abstract legal/financial entities, and they do not deserve anything. A corporation may be judged too big to fail because it is of value to society, but that is the only reason - we do not "owe" corporations anything any more than we "owe" kindness to the cement blocks their headquarters are resting on. So here's the bargain: if the members of a corporation desire Federal welfare, in return we the people desire their profits, and we will consider paying the CEO at a rate commensurate with that of all other employees.

5. One-Term Leaders. No one should be allowed to be president for more than one term: the temptation to start a war just to get reelected is just too strong. Similarly, Congressfolk should similarly be restricted to one term, with no post-term benefits. Of course, no one is in it for the money, but still the temptation to think about the money rather than about how to help the country is distracting. Anyone who wants a life in government can work his or her way up through the bureaucracy. Seriously - don't you know thousands of people who would make better legislators than the clowns we currently have?

Bottom line: real reform to sustain American democracy requires simultaneous reform of the political system, the economic system, and foreign policy to place all three on a consistent foundation of empowerment of the 99%, i.e., the weaker individuals, groups, and societies.
Additional reform proposals would be welcome.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Iraqi Lessons

The Washington elite decision to invade Iraq occurred for reasons that thinking Americans will bitterly debate for much of the rest of this century. Like it or not, the influence of that decision will be heavy on the shoulders of every person alive on earth for the rest of that persons life. The question now centers on the lessons we all learn.

Lesson #1: War does not create democracy. If Washington invaded Iraq to defend freedom, the invasion was a disaster. The behavior of the U.S. toward occupied Iraq, the behavior of U.S.forces in Iraq, and the behavior of Iraqi politicians during the occupation have all tarnished the reputation of that ever out-of-reach ideal known as democracy.

Lessson #2: The American way of war destroys societies rather than saving them. If Washington invaded Iraq to save the Arab people, its destruction of the most advanced middle class society in the Arab world makes the failure of that goal crystal clear.

Lesson #3: A flashy war somewhere else will trick the American people every time. If Washington invaded Iraq to keep Bush-Cheney in office, the plan worked brilliantly, rescuing an apparently doomed administration. Perhaps the worst president in American history was able to preside over what was, in moral terms, perhaps the most immoral decade in American history, step nimbly over the thousands of dead civilians, ignore the tattered remnants of U.S. Constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, and announce with a grin that being president had been fun.

Lesson #4. Empires feast on war. If Washington invaded Iraq to build empire, the lesson to be derived from the perspective of the American people is quite different from the lesson that an empire-builder would derive. Despite being fought to a draw by rag-tag extremists”—many of whom were in fact genuine nationalists and having its uniformed forces essentially kicked out, the empire-builders have much to savor: Iraq remains, sort of, in the U.S. orbit, with huge and dangerous U.S. mercenary forces evidently planning to remain. Then theres that monster fortress embassy in the Green Zone. As for the ring of real fortresses, the U.S. military bases, just exactly what is happening to them? More significantly for empire-builders, the war facilitated the establishment of a larger ring of U.S. bases throughout the region, not just surrounding Iran but making clear that, for the moment, the U.S. is the winner of the Central Asian Great Game that Russia and Great Britain used to fight. Of course, the small matter of how to avoid a second embarrassing victory”—in Afghanistanremains to be worked out; some of our brilliant strategists are now suggesting the (to empire-builders) obvious solution: expand the failed Afghan adventure to Pakistan.

Lesson #5. Even winning a war can harm your security. OK, maybe the U.S. did not exactly win the Iraq war, but it certainly conquered the place and invented its current government. Yet who in the U.S. feels more secure? The war empowered bin Laden for years, multiplied anti-U.S. feeling worldwide, contributed greatly to a continuing U.S. economic mess, left the country profoundly divided, and left the U.S. embarrassingly irrelevant in the Arab world, as became obvious when the White House sat on the sidelines during the heady days of Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, Iran, which empire-builders and Likudniks so love to criticize, is manifestly more significant on the world stage than it was a decade ago. Much more seriously for real strategic thinkers, Russia and China are steadily moving forward with low-cost economic development projects to expand their global influence while being pushed more and more warmly into a strategic embrace by the squeeze the U.S. is putting on them.

Lesson #6. Aggression is complicated. If Washington invaded Iraq to get Iran, well, Washington transformed Iraq from Irans main enemy into, shall we say, a very friendly and submissive neighbor: dare we say Iraq is Persian for Canada? And now Washington is almost throwing Pakistan as well into Irans orbit. In the process, Washington also taught Iranians at least two lessons that will come back to haunt Americans. First, Iranian efforts to work with the Bush Administration were accepted briefly when desperately needed to construct a new Afghan regime, after which Bush immediately insulted Iran (remember Axis of Evil???). Second, tensions with Iran have greatly empowered Irans own militaristic, super-nationalistic neo-cons. Iranians have learned that hostility toward the U.S. pays a lot more than cooperation.

Lesson #7. War enriches the rich. This one is harder to contemplate; it's a real conspiracy theory and surely must impute more deviousness to certain factions than they deserve, but if some of those who supported the invasion of Iraq did so to blind the 99.9% to the accelerating shift of power and wealth into the hands of the 0.1%, they certainly achieved what they wanted. One one level, the shift of wealth to the uber-rich occurred directly through the enormous benefits handed to CEOs profitting from the war. On a second level, war tensions distracted Americans. Linking the levels together was an insidious dynamic of rising impoverishment of the 99%, facilitating the task of persuading some of them to sacrifice their lives on the battlefields of empire. That this in fact worked and did so on at least two crucial levels is pretty much beyond dispute; that it was planned from Day 1 is less clear. Nonetheless, now they own it all.

The American people (not the Occupiers; that courageous minority understands the need to defend democracy) are right: a self-satisfied if embarrassed grin followed by firm denial and a trip to the mall is the only way to deal with this mess. Face up to reality and we will all need psychiatrists.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pakistani Academic Warns of U.S. Threat

Opinion and policy emerge not just from the politicians but also from informed society. If a recent Pakistani academic's assessment of the U.S. as a threat that Pakistan must counter by cooperation with Iran and Russia becomes representative of Pakistani public opinion, the U.S. is likely to face a significant diplomatic and strategic defeat.

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

Human nature creates crises: the safer, smoother, more stable things are, the more risk people will take, sooner or later wrecking all that stability. Despite the outpouring of analyses of the 2008 Financial Crisis, it remains unlikely that society has internalized this lesson about the ever-present threat of human nature even as regards economic crises, however obvious the message may be. How much less likely is it that we are anywhere close to protecting ourselves from self-inflicted political crises?

We all are now aware that the shortsighted, selfish behavior of a few millionaires on Wall Street, a few politicians, some compliant regulators, and--truth be told--more than a few of the "other 99%" looking to cheat their neighbors for a quick buck can combine to generate a financial tsunami. It's not about foreigners. We are our own worst enemy. What most complacent and confused Americans fail to understand is the degree to which we make our own international political crises as well. From the American War in Vietnam to the Global War on Terror to the looming war against Iran (backed by Russia, China, and maybe Pakistan), the U.S. has the power to take the initiative and create these disasters but lacks the power to resolve them in a beneficial manner.

Note clearly that this discussion concerns self-inflicted crises, those resulting from the conscious choice to engage in unnecessarily greedy behavior. A crisis caused by an external force, human or natural, lies outside the discussion. Here the concern is on a class of crisis caused by perfectly avoidable human greed leading to obviously risky behavior (in effect, investing in a chain letter). To put it differently, the class of crises of interest here is a class for which one should expect the guilty to be named and punished (both by the judicial system for crime and by God for their sins).

Since everyone is now thinking about utterly unnecessary and egregiously man-made financial crises even as we are hit by repeated utterly unnecessary and egregiously man-made political crises, a question that seems timely and useful flows from the above paragraphs:

Can our recently learned lessons about financial crises help us to avoid political crises?

In The Black Swan, Taleb reports an alleged pattern of economic risk-taking:

The economist Hyman Minsky sees the cycles of risk taking in the economy as following a pattern: stability and absence of crises encourage risk taking, complacency, and lowered awareness of the possibility of problems. [78.]

Nouriel Roubini, the economics professor who predicted the 2008 Financial Crisis in brilliant detail, described the vicious cycle of economic crises as consisting of [once I delete the economic adjectives] the following steps [Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics 18.]:

  1. Worries drop;
  2. Costs fall;
  3. The bubble drives growth;
  4. Increasingly risky ventures are undertaken.

Applying this abstract vicious cycle (to which I would simple add the obvious final stepcollapse, i.e., the point at which the cycle ends...with a bang) derived from economics to international relations is suggestive. Whether in economics or politics, the dynamics of the bubble of greed are frequently equivalent. In the aftermath of 2008, the point as regards economics must be obvious to all, whether they have read Marx, Keynes, Minsky, and Roubini or not. Every poor, naïve, uneducated (or just greedy) homeowner who took out a mortgage that he or she obviously could not afford and has now lost that home is today an expert in bubble economics and the danger to us all posed by unregulated capitalism.

But international politics is harder to see clearly through the fog of greedy politicians who classify information to prevent the voters from learning the truth and who wave the bloody shirt of foreign menace to promote their careers. Language too helps to obfuscate. We do not talk of imperialist bubbles. But if one abstracts to clear away the clutter of detail, the dynamics of greed, willful denial, moral hazard, and willingness to riskeven promote—“collateral damage in so-called Global War on Terror looks like nothing so much as the 2008 Financial Crisis. Leaders became increasingly confident that they could not be stopped, with their appetites for new victories, new wealth, and new power rising apace. As the new policybe it the issuance of new securities based on sub-prime mortgages or military adventures in yet another Muslim societyproceeded without major defeat, each new venture seemed less and less costly. Every small gain was used to justify a larger gain, every small risk to justify a larger risk. Even when the risks were seen, they were dismissed; after all, it was the poor who would suffer from unemployment and foreclosureor death on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the case of the wars, most of those poor were foreigners. Moreover, like the Wall Street firms bailed out by politicians generous with taxpayer funds, the White House was too big to fail.” Like Wall Street megabanks, the White House knew it and took advantage of it: moral hazard gone wild. Like big bank CEOs, presidents and vice presidents are almost never held criminally accountable in court for their sins. And then suddenly, the financial/imperial party was over, and the victims were left to clean up the mess.

In the abstract the pattern of failure is clear: failure of the people to carry out their democratic responsibility to monitor their leaders, arrogance, abuse of power, denial about the risks, corruption, lack of concern about collateral damage, and moral hazard.

As long as society trusts those in power, the powerful will abuse that trust for personal advantage, be it the selling of bad securities or the selling of bad wars. The more society is willing to countenance collateral damage to workers driven into unemployment and homeowners foreclosed, or Muslim wedding parties bombed and Muslim societies denied the right to civil liberties and national independence from the globalization avalanche, the more the rich and powerful will hold parties at the expense of everyone else. Bubbles are very good business for those who create them. They will never stop doing so until we put in place the moral strictures, legal regulations, and judicial holding to account necessary to stop them. But it is not that simple, for many of us were tempted to buy houses we judged we could flip into the hands of a more naïve neighbor to skim an unfair profit; many of us looked the other way while innocent Muslims across the globe were slaughtered in the name of global war to retain all the undeserved special privileges that make possible a rich life in a poor world. So in the end, the old saying is true: we get the government we deserve.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pakistan Resists U.S. Energy Interference

In view of the current lust of Republican politicians for the environmentally dangerous Keystone Pipeline that would pour filthy shale oil from Canada into the U.S., one can only imagine how those same politicians would react if a foreign country tried to prevent the U.S. from solving its energy problems. But that is exactly what Washington appears to be doing to poverty-stricken Pakistani efforts to emerge from its energy crisis.

The lead paragraph in the Pakistan's English-language daily The Nation says it all:

Notwithstanding the US threats, [my emphasis] Pakistan has not only conveyed its willingness to Iran, it has also stepped up the pace of work on Pak-Iran Gas Pipeline Project. [The Nation 12/20/11.]

Pakistan has many reasons to improve relations with Iran at the expense of the U.S., about which most of official Washington appears oblivious. Indeed, the trend appears very much in the direction of Pakistani-Iranian detente. Pakistan's decision to accelerate construction of a long-planned gas pipeline from Iran, which would represent a huge battlefield defeat for Washington's economic war against the Islamic Republic,will--if not overturned--also accelerate Pakistani-Iranian detente. Combined with separate efforts to construct a joint electricity network, it could make Iran an essential part of Pakistan's future. [A regional perspective on Pakistani-Iranian electricity cooperation is provided by Pakistan's Frontier Post.] Creative U.S. diplomacy might theoretically transform a burgeoning Pakistani-Iranian detente into an opportunity for a trilateral dialogue, perhaps led by Pakistan, which desperately needs cooperative relations with both countries, but little sign of diplomatic creativity has been seen in Washington since Obama's now long-forgotten Cairo address.

The reality seems much grimmer. Unidentified "sources," according to the Pakistani report, claim that Washington has "gone to the extent of threatening President Zardari of economic sanctions if work is not stopped immediately." The minister cut to the chase:

Asked how Pakistan would sustain unprecedented American pressure against this project, the minister said: “Come what may, we will have to learn to live on our own.”

Muslim states simply are not to be allowed to engage in bilateral economic projects that interfere with global superpower strategy. One wonders if anyone in Washington can see how all this, so conveniently for American adversaries in Iran, neatly places Iran and Pakistan in the same box: two innocents suffering from U.S. economic warfare.

The potential size of the U.S. blunder in shoving Pakistan into that box with Iran is suggested by a comment by none other than Pakistan's petroleum minister, who noted that Iran's eager trade partner China would be serving as financial adviser to the project. Can anyone in Washington see the strategic implications of defining the U.S. role as spoiler? If Washington fails in its spoiler role, it nevertheless alienates both Pakistan and China and confirms in their minds the need to work closely with Iran and any other candidate to resist U.S. pressure. If it succeeds in its spoiler role, same outcome. A no-win policy is great policy.

Assessing Blame for the U.S.-Iranian Conflict

The U.S.-Iranian contest for status appears highly dangerous: even if the players are in the game for purposes short of war (e.g., national status, personal career), miscalculation is an ever-present threat. Moreover, the game is expensive on numerous levels, not least the waste of oil powering all those U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, assessing who is to blame is critical. It's not about punishing the irresponsible but about discovering a solution.

Washington has placed more obstacles in the way of U.S.-Iranian rapprochement that has Tehran, judging from a simple list, though policy makers seem curiously oblivious to their own actions. The list suffices to illustrate that Washington bears some of the responsibility for the conflict, and recognition of even that simple fact on the part of U.S. decision makers would constitute progress, but a serious assessment of where blame lies requires moving past mere lists, and a straightforward weighting scheme is the next step. The approach might clarify far more than just U.S.-Iranian relations.

Parsimony is the key to designing an unbiased weighting scheme.  All can probably agree that existential threats are the worst, lesser national security threats a bit lower on the scale of severity, threats to the regime (but not the state, much less the population) yet less severe. Insults, despite the propensity of politicians on the make to treat them as worth their weight in gold, are far less significant than military or diplomatic moves. Preparations are more difficult to score, but since every country feels that it has the right to prepare (to research, to arm, to train), it is hard to see how legally permitted preparations can be ranked as very seriously. By now it should be clear that the business of weighting schemes, albeit useful for measuring the significance of behavior, can get messy very quickly.

In an attempt to avoid such messiness, then, the following parsimonious weighting scheme is proposed, with a score of 8 for "Existential Attack" down to 1 for "Rhetorical Attack:"

  • Existential Attack - war that could destroy the society
  • Attack on State - war that could destroy the military but takes care to avoid destruction of society
  • Regime Overthrow Attempt
  • Lesser Military Moves - repositioning forces, arming adversaries
  • Non-military Use of Force - economic sanctions
  • Official Threat to Use Force
  • Diplomatic Campaign to Weaken Adversary
  • Rhetorical Attack - insults carrying no clear implication of action.

Much is of course overlooked. For example, is an official threat to attack by a nuclear state by definition an "existential threat" that should be scored higher than threats by states that possess no weapons of mass destruction? This weighting scheme is a short step on the road to placing blame, yet it already seems to improve our understanding by demonstrating how ridiculous glib protestations of innocence are.

The "Assessing Blame" table, scoring once if either state has even once done the relevant act, generates a much higher score for the U.S. than for Iran. Note that the issue of whether the U.S. has actually done anything to overthrow the Iranian regime is scored "0," arguably introducing a pro-U.S. bias. Moreover, each state gets the same score of "5" for lesser military move, which again seems to introduce a pro-U.S. bias since it leaves the host of threatening U.S. and Israeli military moves scoring no more than the relatively minor Iranian military moves in Iraq and Lebanon. Third, each is scored "3" for conducting a hostile diplomatic campaign, but again consider the reality: while the Iranian campaign is for reform of the global political system to "cut the U.S. down to size" the U.S. campaign is arguably a far more serious effort to marginalize Iran. Iran's call for reform is not only quite reasonable on the face of it (a pro-U.S. bias does obviously exist in the governance of the world and U.S. management of the world is fraught with errors), but Iran's campaign calls for new leadership not the exclusion of the U.S. from world affairs.

The substantive elephant in the methodological room that is left untreated in the above analysis is the charge that Iran's alleged policy of nuclear opacity may be designed to enable Iran to sneak up to a breakout capacity that would enable it to create a handful of nuclear bombs with which to threaten Israel, which has an official policy of nuclear opacity and is commonly thought to possess 200-400 nuclear bombs, not to mention a variety of delivery systems, all under a one-sided U.S. defensive umbrella. Since even a lopsidedly weak nuclear breakout is still something of a game changer, Iran's apparent inability to present clear evidence that it is not traveling down this road deserves consideration...but only in the context of a vastly superior Israeli nuclear capability. Israel cannot, legitimately, have it both ways: either ignore the nukes and nuclear aspirations of both sides or pay attention to the nukes and nuclear aspirations of both sides. The contribution of a clear method is how clearly it brings such issues into focus.

In short, even a simplistic weighting scheme further reveals the degree to which blame for the U.S.-Iranian conflict lies not just partly but mostly on the U.S. side.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Reconciliation

The Obama Administration's stance toward Iran, while at least refreshingly nuanced, remains caught in the overall grip of provincialism and absence of creativity that has characterized U.S. policy since the Islamic Revolution. Recent remarks by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, reflect this disturbing combination of insights amid blindness.

The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs made important remarks on Iran this Friday which included both realistic caution and continuing evidence of the profound and dangerous degree of self-delusion in Washington. To his credit, General Dempsey supported Panetta's attitude that war is not the answer, but other comments suggested that Washington remains deeply disconnected from reality. Asked if Washington was making efforts to reach an agreement with Iran to avoid accidental incidents that might lead to an undesired conflict, Dempsey said:

We have discussed this but have not come to a decision about opening up links or a hotline to seek an option to de- escalate any incident. It's not our behaviour that's the impediment to progress here. 

While this may well have just been a thoughtless and casual response, such lack of sensitivity to a longstanding adversary's perception of reality betrays an astounding degree of provincialism, suggesting that an undesired war is indeed a very real possibility. Evidently the general and, almost surely, the rest of the Administration, would benefit from deeper consideration of which side's behavior constitutes "the impediment to progress."

U.S. and allied behavior includes the following impediments:

  • introduction of nuclear arms into the region (Israel);
  • threats of aggression;
  • establishment of a ring of military bases surrounding Iran;
  • highly public economic warfare against Iran;
  • sailing of nuclear-capable submarines off Iran's territory waters (Israel);
  • a long violent invasion and occupation of Iraq designed to put Iraq firmly in the U.S. camp;
  • the belligerent sailing of a powerful U.S. attack fleet in the Persian Gulf.

Iranian behavior includes the following impediments:

  • impolite rhetoric demonstrating a lack of sensitivity to Israelis;
  • defensive aid to Hezbollah;
  • murky nuclear transparency designed to get away with as much as possible without clearly violating Iran's nonproliferation commitments;
  • military and financial aid to Iraqi political allies to facilitate resistance to the U.S. invasion;
  • a political campaign to promote regional resistance to Israel;
  • a political campaign to promote the restructuring of the global political system away from its current U.S.-centric position toward a more "democratic" system that would deny the U.S. its current position of supremacy.

Examine the two lists. While both sides are playing tough, there can hardly be any doubt that U.S./Israeli behavior is vastly more provocative than Iran's. After all, Iran's impediments mostly add up to perfectly legitimate defensive moves and calls for global political reform, while Washington's impediments are focused on the application of force (even if one does not count the appearance of a U.S.-Israeli terrorist campaign to murder Iranian nuclear scientists). Add the overwhelming preponderance of force on the U.S./Israeli side, and the mountain of U.S. impediments to improved relations emerges clearly. Those U.S. impediments may or may not bother Iranian hardliners, who benefit enormously from being able to scare their people into support or submission simply by letting them see what Washington is doing, but they are great cause for concern on the part of anyone hoping for regional peace.

If Washington ever decides that it wants to solve the U.S.-Iranian conflict, at this point, it probably has no effective short-term option; through short-sighted animosity, it has boxed itself into a corner and ceded its freedom of maneuver to the Israeli war party extremists. Over the long term, however, Washington does have an option that would be low-risk since it requires no strategic weakening of the fundamental U.S. power position but which might pull the rug out from under Iranian hardliners: offering Iran a bargain including respect, inclusion, and security in return for cooperation in moving toward a regional nuclear regime based on transparency on the part of all countries either in the region or with military forces in the region. Such words would not ever impress all Iranians (how could they, given the history of U.S. duplicity toward Iranian democratic aspirations?), but over time might well impress enough Iranian national security officials to change Iranian policy. The real impediment is this: as the side with the power, it is up to the U.S. to come to the realization that the first move is up to Washington, not to a weak--if noisy--Tehran that sits nervously in a defensive crouch.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pakistan Contemplates Iranian Triumph Over U.S.

With the U.S. allegedly already in the midst of a covert war against Iran (most recently suggested by the violation of Iranian airspace by the now-famous captured drone), a Pakistani report illustrates a significant degree of sympathy for Iran. The potential for a Pakistani-Iranian entente rises with every passing day in the face of U.S. intransigence toward both.

In a very serious analytical piece about the implications of Iran's shoot-down of a U.S. drone that violated Iranian airspace that appeared in Pakistan's Nation [ Babak Dehghanpisheh, 12/11/11], you can almost hear the gloating. The title says it: "Iran Hits the Jackpot." It must be easy for Pakistanis to feel some kinship with Iranians these days, with both countries' airspace being violated by the U.S. military. The author reports that "Russian and Chinese officials have already asked to inspect the drone" and explains how the technology may flow into the hands of others, including Hezbollah. One can hardly help but wonder why the author did not mention the possibility of this technology now getting into Taliban hands as well; with a state of war between the Taliban and the Pakistani regime still in existence despite talk of talks, that may perhaps best be left clearly implied but unstated. The broader point about the leveling process of the U.S. high-tech weapons getting into enemy hands once those weapons are used is the real message, and the author reviews the many precedents illustrating the ability of Iranians and Hezbollah to manipulate such advanced technology to their benefit.

American readers should note the absence in this Pakistani review of any sense of "backwardness" on the part of the various Central Asian or Mideastern adversaries of the U.S. An American military secret, once revealed, can be made use of. The locals can fight back against the empire not just in their own ways but also using the empire's supposedly unique techniques. Washington is changing how the whole world goes to war and is doing so much faster than it can itself figure out whether or not the ultimate benefit will be to the U.S. or to its adversaries.

Two years ago the U.S. rather shortsightedly took the opportunity to shoot down an Iranian drone over Iraq [Wired Danger Room 3/12/09], evidently without troubling itself to consider how U.S. occupiers might justify firing on an Iranian aircraft that was over Iraq rather than the U.S. Now Iran has paid the U.S. back, but the advantage goes very much to Iran's benefit - in terms of the flow of valuable technology and the propaganda value. The domestic political position of Iranian hardliners has also surely been solidified; their argument that the world needs to be governed in a new way greatly strengthened.

Ahmadinejad Calls for New Global Political Order
2011: Most nations of the world are unhappy with the current international circumstances. And despite the general longing and aspiration to promote peace, progress, and fraternity, wars, mass-murder, widespread poverty, and socioeconomic and political crises continue to infringe upon the rights and sovereignty of nations, leaving behind irreparable damage worldwide.
Approximately, three billion people of the world live on less than 2.5 dollars a day, and over a billion people live without having even one sufficient meal on a daily basis. Forty-percent of the poorest world populations only share five percent of the global income, while twenty percent of the richest people share seventy-five percent of the total global income.
More than twenty thousand innocent and destitute children die every day in the world because of poverty. In the United States, eighty percent of financial resources are controlled by ten percent of its population, while only twenty percent of these resources belong to the ninety percent of the population.
What are the causes and reasons behind these inequalities?...
The rulers of the global management circles divide the social life from ethics and spirituality while claiming the situation is the outcome of the pursuit of the path of divine prophets or the vulnerability of nations or the ill performance of a few groups or individuals. They claim that only their views and approaches can save the human society....
Who provoked and encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade and impose an eight-year war on Iran, and who assisted and equipped him to deploy chemical weapons against our cities and our people?
Who used the mysterious September 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq , killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources?...
Who dominates the policy-making establishments of the world economy?
Who are responsible for the world economic recession, and are imposing the consequences on America, Europe and the world in general?
Which governments are always ready to drop thousands of bombs on other countries, but ponder and hesitate to provide aid to famine-stricken people in Somalia or in other places?...
Efforts must be made with a firm resolve and through collective cooperation to map out a new plan, on the basis of principles and the very foundation of universal human values such as Monotheism, justice, freedom, love and the quest for happiness.
The idea of creation of the United Nations remains a great and historical achievement of mankind. Its importance must be appreciated and its capacities must be used to the extent possible for our noble goals.
We should not allow this organization which is the reflection of the collective will and shared aspiration of the community of nations, to deviate from its main course and play into the hands of the world powers.
Conducive ground must be prepared to ensure collective participation and involvement of nations in an effort to promote lasting peace and security.
Shared and collective management of the world must be achieved in its true sense, and based on the underlying principles enshrined in the international law. Justice must serve as the criterion and the basis for all international decisions and actions. [International Business Times 9/22/11.]

2008: He accused the United States of oppressing Iraqis with six years of occupation, saying Americans were "still seeking to solidify their position in the political geography of the region and to dominate oil resources."[CNN 9/22/11.]

2007: Ahmadinejad invited "all independent, justice-seeking and peace-loving nations" to join Iran in a "coalition for peace." [CNN 9/22/11.]

The more blatant the discriminatory behavior of the U.S. (e.g., asserting the right to violate the borders of other states at will), the more attractive Ahmadinejad's message becomes in the eyes of all global observers.

If Iran can make such a clarion call for global justice, why not Pakistan? If Iran can hit back at U.S. violations of international law with legitimate force, why not Pakistan? In the context of Pakistan already beefing up its air defense capabilities for the precise purpose of stopping U.S. aerial attacks inside Pakistan (unless permitted by Pakistan), if Iran can do this, might Pakistani generals be tempted to chat with the Iranians about how they did it? If Iran can say this, might Pakistani politicians be tempted to make similar calls for global justice?

Indeed, they already are:

Pakistan should develop relations with Iran and China on permanent basis, former information minister and MNA Syed Sumsam Bukhari urged the government and linked resolution of problems to preservation of national dignity.
“Developing warm relations with Iran and China is need of the hour,” he told party workers and media persons. [The Nation 12/11/11.]
Washington's outdated two-party Cold War mentality is undermining U.S. national security step-by-step every day as it offers a policy of intransigence toward antagonists and friends alike. If Washington cannot learn how to be sympathetic toward the views and needs of others, then it must at least learn to compromise. Insistence on victory always and everywhere at the expense of others is too difficult and too expensive; it is a policy designed to fail.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

U.S.-Pakistan: Sliding Down a Slippery Slope

Dynamics may generate behavior at multiple levels, so the short-term dynamics do not necessarily forecast long-term trends, but still, the daily course of events in U.S.-Pakistani relations suddenly seem noteworthy.

First, consider that at precisely the moment of greatest public irritation in Pakistan with the long-standing U.S. practice of causing heavy collateral damage, we are hearing about talks between the Pakistani government and the Taliban. The context, i.e., that in this instance the collateral damage was the deaths of Pakistani soldiers, is also important, because while the Pakistani army itself is guilty of widespread collateral damage to Pakistani civilians, it is not likely to accept easily the friendly-fire deaths of soldiers at the hands of Americans, thus pushing the military and the public onto common anti-American ground. Now, in that ominous context (for Washington global manipulators), the Taliban and the regime suddenly seem to be finding their own common ground.

In the past, anti-American feeling might arise, but in general the Pakistani army knew which side its bread was buttered on. Washington decision-makers should realize, however, that a strong argument for Pakistani regime compromise with the Taliban exists: Islamabad is after all correct that the core conflict in Pakistan between the government and the Taliban really is not very closely related to Washington's battle with al Qua'ida. Rather, it is about local autonomy and is a culture war rather than a conflict for global power. In the broad context of rising Pakistani democracy, the regime has every reason to search for positive-sum solutions to this local culture war, which has become a severely negative-sum conflict for Pakistan. One issue on which most Pakistanis, Talibani or not, can presumably agree is the desirability of diminishing U.S. military activity in and above Pakistani territory.

These considerations lead to the second interesting development. After the U.S. strike on the Pakistani army position, Islamabad halted the flow of trucks delivering military supplies to U.S./N.A.T.O. forces in Afghanistan, resulting in the trucks piling up in a parking lot. That parking lot was just attacked. The Pakistani regime puts the trucks in parking, where they are vulnerable to the Taliban: this sounds like a neat way of working toward that joint goal noted in the previous paragraph, though no evidence of actual collusion is yet apparent.

All this of course raises the question of how judicious Washington's response to this delicate situation will be. One initial indication is provided by a very important Spencer Ackerman report in Danger Room revealing U.S. plans to allow mercenaries to run air missions across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The report deserves close reading. Giving local control to contractors in it, in the end, for the money and beyond the range of Congressional oversight and U.S. law speaks for itself.

The point here is not to read too much into a few events but simply to caution that incidental short-term dynamics can have a way of turning into long-term trends if not treated with sufficient seriousness and sensitivity.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Provoking a Pakistani-Iranian Alliance

For those who need more nightmares to keep them awake at night, consider:
The U.S. is rapidly alienating nuclear Muslim Pakistan; Israel is threatening to attack non-nuclear Iran. Are Washington decision-makers thinking about the long-term implications of their extremist tactics toward these two large Muslim neighbors?

It should be obvious to all decision-makers that simultaneously alienating and threatening (not to mention actually attacking) Pakistan and Iran without offering either a remotely acceptable alternative constitutes a potent brew. Iran alone poses only a small challenge to the U.S.-centric global political system, but Iran and Pakistan together are already too big to isolate. Backed by Russia and China, Pakistan and Iran could transform the global strategic situation...and it is Washington that is provoking this transformation.

It is true that lots of evidence points the other way. Much of Pakistani society has traditionally had  pro-Western sympathies. Pakistan is also a Saudi ally, and Riyadh would presumably be greatly irritated by Pakistani nuclear aid to Iran, and yet, it seems to have put up quite nicely with the alleged previous Pakistani nuclear aid to Iran, an old story recently back in the news. Would a quid pro quo to Riyadh suffice to persuade them to look the other way? It is also true that Sunni Pakistan and Shii Iran face religious obstacles to smooth relations. Finally, political and economic dissatisfaction on the part of the Baluchi minority on both sides of the Pakistani-Iranian border provoke bilateral tensions.

Reasons to Cooperate:
Nevertheless, the two countries have plenty of reasons to cooperate:

  • Hostility along their common border raises the probability of instability among local minorities, the importance of which will only rise when the planned gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistani Baluchistan opens so Baluchi unrest is not just a problem but a reason for cooperation;

  • Both would like to see U.S. influence in Afghanistan decline;

  • Pakistan needs Iranian hydrocarbons and Iran needs trade partners;

  • Pakistan and Iran have a common interest in evading Western sanctions on Iranian oil exports, with a Pakistani refinery recently having closed as a result of the sanctions;

  • Even religion is a two-sided coin, for Shia and Sunnis are both Muslim and the greater the degree of perceived threat from the West, the greater the tendency of each to perceive common interests as Muslims.

Under Attack
But perhaps the most compelling reason for Pakistan and Iran to cooperate is that they both may feel that they are under U.S. attack. The argument that Iran is already under attack by Israel and perhaps the U.S. has been made repeatedly [e.g., LATimes 12/4/11]. Whether the U.S. is leading any such attack or not and whether or not it is even aware of such an attack, Iran must surely hold it to blame given the blind support by certain U.S. politicians and talking heads, some of whom hold Israeli passports, for right-wing Israeli militant goals. As for Pakistan, there is no argument about whether or not the U.S. is attacking, but only about whether or not U.S. attacks have been secretly permitted by the Pakistani regime. Whether or not that is the case, many Pakistanis surely resent the resultant carnage (over 2,000 killed by U.S. drone attacks since 2004 in Pakistan according to one calculation). 

These events are likely to have three results:

  1. To enhance the power of the defiant Iranian ruling elite and the influence within it of extremists (i.e., those willing to match the extreme measures being used against them);
  2. To undermine the power of the current Pakistani regime and empower anti-American factions;
  3. To push Iran and Pakistan closer together out of perceived necessity.

Pakistan As Irans Model
Each country has a military with enormous political power. Pakistans ability to defy the world and acquire nuclear arms without being punished (indeed, with the result that it was rewarded) may well be making it the model for Irans increasingly influential military politicians. AEIs Ali Alfoneh has made this argument, which should be considered on its merits independent of the less carefully argued conclusions of Alfonehs piece. The logical conclusion of the argument that Irans military is following the Pakistani model is that Irans military believes that only nuclear arms can give Iran both the national security and international standing that any major nation would aspire to have.

Pakistan As the Second Iran
Simon Tisdall has warned in the Sidney Morning Herald that submissive Pakistan could be transformed into a second independent-minded Iran:

The belief that impoverished, divided Pakistan has no alternative but to slavishly obey could turn out to be one of the seminal strategic miscalculations of the 21st century. Alternative alliances with China or Russia aside, Muslim Pakistan, if bullied and scorned enough, could yet morph through external trauma and internal collapse into quite a different animal. The future paradigm is not another well-trained Indonesia or Malaysia. It is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The implications of Tisdalls warning, which he does not explain, are serious. A Pakistani transformation into a new global political system challenger in cooperation with its neighbor Iran and under the protection of both China and Russia would give rise to a vastly larger challenge to American superpower aspirations and Israeli security concerns. Pakistan is thought to have as many nuclear bombs as Israel, not to mention being much more difficult for Israel to attack. Many may view the Islamic Republic as sui generis; alliance with Pakistan would transform not just its strategic situation but also its call for restructuring of the global political system into something that could not easily be dismissed.

The challenge of a coordinated Iranian-Pakistani campaign against American direction of the global political system would go far beyond the mere logistics of Israeli efforts to maintain regional military dominance. First, it would make clear to all but the most provincial Americans that Iran is not isolated. Second, it would unite Shia and Sunni. Third, by virtue of Russian and Chinese support, it would transcend religion, making Iran and Pakistan global champions of an anti-superpower alliance that would find sympathetic observers in every corner of the globe. Fourth, that global role would fit smoothly into the Moscow and Beijing playbooks, encouraging them to adopt a tougher line toward the U.S., which would in turn encourage Iran and Pakistan. In the current context of a U.S. already appearing steadily less in tune with the world, less able to exert its influence without the resort to violence, and less able to profit from the use of that violence in a world desperate for more fundamental and judicious problem-resolution strategies, flipping Pakistan into an Iranian ally and system-challenger, with both under the formal protection of Russia and China could transform the global political system into a nightmare for American decision-makers.

Common International Situation
As Pakistani-U.S. relations deteriorate, the international situation facing Iran and Pakistan is starting to look increasingly similar. Russia and China are cooperating to build an economic and security bloc capable of resisting U.S. influence and are each major trade partners with Iran, while China has long supported Pakistan. That background makes all the more significant the November news that both Pakistan and Iran are moving toward full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). One of Pakistans goals in joining is to gain support for its plan to import Iranian gas. Pakistans drift away from the West toward now cooperative Russia and China thus has both strategic and economic rationales.

The Evidence So Far
While much of the above is a warning about the future, the situation on the ground has already evolved significantly to U.S. disadvantage:

Iran and Pakistan are allegedly supporting the Taliban;
Iran and Pakistan have just agreed to fight the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan;
Pakistan has sought help from Iran in improving its medical infrastructure in remote areas;
The two sides have recently agreed to reform regulations and establish a joint investment bank to enhance bilateral trade;
Pakistan has allegedly just rejected U.S. pressure to give up its plans to import Iranian gas.

Washingtons Choice
The future course of Iranian-Pakistani ties remains very much up in the air. No fatal tipping point is yet clearly visible. Nevertheless, subordinate dynamics are gaining strength while dominant dynamics are weakening. The rate at which those changes are occurring is neither obvious, constant, nor linear. An exponential rise in, say, Pakistani popular anger, Pakistani military humiliation, or Iranian risk perception could rapidly take initiative out of American hands. The lack of U.S. sympathy for the plight of the Pakistani people and steadfast refusal of Washington to countenance a strategic compromise with Iran that would offer it the option of an independent foreign policy combined with respectful treatment by the West should be seen in Washington strategic thinking circles as ominous signs.

Washington has at least two addictions that undermine American interests:
  • The addiction to force as the answer to global Muslim political grievances;
  • The inability to discern the fundamental distinctions between U.S. national security and the factional goals of the extreme right wing in Israel represented by Netanyahu, Lieberman, and AIPAC.

Until Washington recognizes these weaknesses in its strategic calculus, the prognosis for American influence in Central Asia will get steadily bleaker.

As for Pakistani-Iranian relations, the mid-term bilateral trend is toward closer cooperation, while the mid-term global trend is toward leaning to the Soviet-Chinese side. The momentum of the double shift, with bilateral and global trends forming a positive feedback cycle, is intensifying in response to U.S. intransigence to the point that a fundamental rethinking of its strategic calculus toward Central Asia by Washington will probably be required to prevent the transformation of Pakistan into a significant ally of Iran over the next few years.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rogue Regimes

The (right-wing, expansionist) Israeli lobby puts its foot in its mouth and clarifies the debate over whether or not the U.S. can afford an alliance with the current Israeli regime.

An organ of the rightwing faction of Israelis called the Emergency Committee for Israel just made the following statement [kudos to Mondoweiss for alerting us to this]:

The Obama message is loud and clear: the world would be a safer, simpler, and more peaceful place if not for the troublesome Jewish state. [Committee for Israel.]

My thanks to the ECI for dispensing with propaganda and, finally, getting to the nub of the issue. Given the trend of Israeli foreign policy over the past generation,  ECI's spokesperson William Kristol, always prepared to put the factional interests of the Israeli right-wing ahead of U.S. (or long-term Israeli) national interests, has accurately stated the question the world now faces:

Would the world be a safer, simpler, and more peaceful place if not for the troublesome Jewish state?

The world would indeed be a safer, simpler, and more peaceful place without regimes that:
  • violate international law;
  • terrify their neighbors by launching aerial overflights with manned or remote-controlled bombers;
  • murder scientists and political activists in other countries;
  • commit ethnic cleansing;
  • practice religious discrimination and encourage hatred of particular religions
  • advocate preventive war in the absence of a clear and present danger;
  • demand special rules for themselves, like the right to weapons others are forbidden from having;
  • refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty;
  • practice collective punishment.

We can all name multiple regimes that engage in some of these political and moral sins, though the list of regimes that practice all of these activities on a regular basis is short. Such regimes (not states or societies or populations--regimes) should be opposed. Is the particular regime with which Kristol is always so obsessed on that list? You decide.
Methodological Note

For those interested in political science theory, the above may be read as defining the term "rogue state," a very loaded term that users in our wonderful mainstream media almost never actually define. To call a state a "rogue" state is not just a free insult; it implies that it is out-of-control and endangering the world. So now we have a definition, composed of the above enumerated policy positions, which taken together represent the "rogue" extreme on a continuum from "civilized" to "rogue" behavior. 


Rogue State = V1-9

More precisely, then, the greater the degree to which a state's foreign policy is characterized by the 9 elements enumerated above, the more accurate it is to identify that state as a "rogue" state.

Now, instead of pointless arguments about whether or not State X is a rogue state, we can ask which of the listed rogue behaviors characterize the behavior of a state and calculate the score for the point in time of interest. This helps reduce the room for miscomprehension, focuses attention on the specific behaviors, facilitates comparison among states (many of which are sometimes guilty of some of the enumerated behaviors) by generating a score, and guides us to move away from glib characterizations of "states" toward the more accurate and useful characterizations of "regimes," which are actually the guilty parties.

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Crazy to Convince Your Enemy that You are Crazy

Ex-Mossad Chief Meir Dagan, as everyone who reads a decent newspaper cannot but know, is once again publicly drawing attention to what he sees as the danger of Netanyahu's extreme public hostility (the word "war-mongering" comes to mind) toward Iran. Does Dagan have reason to fear a disaster caused by Israel?

Given Dagan’s experience on the point of the spear confronting Iran, his recent characterization of Ahmadinejad as rational and his warning not to underestimate Iran needs to be considered carefully by the glib politicians in Tel Aviv so eager for a war to prevent Iran from…well…from continuing to lead the regional anti-Israeli front, to put it frankly.

Indeed, Dagan's portrayal of the ruling faction in Tel Aviv is rather less positive:

[he] castigated Barak's statement last month about Israel having a time window of less than a year for a military move to stop the nuclearization.
"I'm very troubled," he said. "What I understand [from Barak's statement] is that Israel must act within that time frame. I don't share that appraisal."...
Dagan last night expressed concern for possible mistakes made by Israel's leadership. He explained that if a decision takes shape to attack Iran, it is up to him to warn of the imminent disaster. He said an offensive now would be entering "a regional war with eyes wide open. This is necessary only when we're attacked or when the sword begins to cut the flesh." 
[Haaretz 12/2/11.]

Much can be said about this complex issue, but there is one really scary scenario that is seldom mentioned: the increasing probability of a miscalculation. I will just give one example.
If we accept Dagan’s assessment that Ahmadinejad is rational, then how must Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Iranian elite view Netanyahu, with his patently absurd comparison of Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the steady stream of Israeli threats to start a war? Would Iranian national security officials be likely to view Netanyahu as a “rational man?”

And if Iranian leaders become convinced that nuclear Israel is under the control of an irrational leader at the head of a religious and expansionist movement that hates Islam, what might such a perception of Israel tempt Iran or some of its sympathizers to do?

Dagan and Dikstra and Ashkenazi and other Israeli officials too low-level to dare to speak out have good reason to be concerned about the implications of Netanyahu’s warmongering. Whether Netanyahu is just bluffing or playing political games to con Congress into increasing aid or not may be beside the point. Convincing Iran that he is irrational is a very dangerous game.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Iran Policy: Making the Same Mistake Over and Over

Insisting on digging deeper the hole you are standing in constitutes evidence of psychological decline. U.S. policy toward Iran is an example so obvious that even hardline Israeli intelligence officials are getting nervous.

The possibility of American decline has traditionally been seen by Americans as virtually impossible by definition, at least in recent decades. Americans tend not to remember anything much further back than that, but I would guess that those who survived the Great Depression might occasionally have experienced some doubt about the "inevitability" of progress in America. Over the last decade, the disastrous mismanagement of the so-called "war on terror" and the U.S. financial system and the environment (remember the poisoned Gulf of Mexico??) have awakened more than a few of the "other 99%" to the realization that since we the people built the U.S., we the people can logically also wreck it: whether you find this good news or bad news, the fact is that the U.S. did not evolve through some inevitable natural phenomenon; we created it through a lot of hard work and more than a little moderate, open-minding thinking of the type that today seems in scarce supply. Therefore, we the people (and perhaps occasionally even a politician or two) ought to be evaluating our society every waking minute for signs of cracks in the facade of everlasting progress. You can't fix it if you don't know it's broke.

In a previous introductory effort to examine the possibility of American decline, I identified several signs of wear, of which one was Washington's "declining ability to design the appropriate tools for international conflict resolution." Assertions of this type are easy to justify with selected evidence but extremely difficult to measure accurately. Face validity for the assertion may be provided by the failure to deal effectively with the long, slow build-up of al Qua'ida, the war on terror, the endless cancer of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that American bias has so needlessly intensified, and the clueless 30-year-long failure by Washington to devise an effective policy toward Iran. Compared to the defeat of Hitler (even if primary credit for that goes to the USSR), the democratization of Germany and Japan, and the peaceful resolution of the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy over the last 15 years or so does indeed appear second-rate. Nevertheless, the assertion that American foreign policy is declining in effectiveness and constitutes evidence of a broader decline deserves constant reevaluation until conclusively demonstrated to be false.

In that context, Washington's continuing insistence on pursuing a hard-line policy of threats, discrimination, and marginalization toward Iran that is demonstrably not working constitutes one of the most significant pieces of evidence. The gap between stated goals and the negative-sum methods Washington insists on employing to achieve those goals has now become so clear that even the toughest of the Israeli national security elite, most prominently recently retired Mossad chief Meir Dagan, are beginning to lay their reputations on the line to raise the red flag of warning against emotion-driven politicians who are treading too far down the slippery slope to disaster.

The point here is not that Dagan has suddenly become soft or liberal, but that he seems to feel that he must, to protect his country, make the public distinction between zero-sum policies (i.e., policies that either help Israel or Iran) and negative-sum policies (i.e., policies that harm both sides). Dagan, in the face of a torrent of insults from Israeli war-party politicians, has recently reiterated his warning that an Israeli attack on Iran would risk disaster for Israel. American politicians, like many in Israel, have great difficulty today distinguishing between steps that protect national security and steps that undermine it even though they demonstrate "toughness." The option of offering Iran a compromise exists but does not even appear to occur to Dagan, who--as the apparent leader in recent years of  undeclared Israeli war on Iran (via terrorism)--has given no evidence of willingness to compromise with Iran but is staking his political future on avoiding self-defeating risk-taking. In other words, like other conservatives, he rejects a positive-sum outcome, but like responsible leaders of all hues also rejects irresponsible policies that are likely to turn out to be negative-sum (an outcome that can only be detected by those who make the effort to think about the long term). 

To determine whether the U.S. is governing effectively or entering a period of decline, one of the key pieces of evidence will be the quality of its policy toward Iran.