Sunday, January 29, 2012

Former Saudi Intel Chief Warns Against Iran War Scare 'Hyperbole'

Now a Saudi national security official joins Israeli and U.S. current and former policy-makers charged with defending their countries' security in warning against the current anti-Iran war hype. Everyone who thinks Riyadh wants an Israeli/U.S. war against Iran should pay careful attention to Turki al-Faisal's recent comments.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Emerging Economic War Vs. Iran: Worth the Effort?

Iranian legislators are considering an embargo on oil exports to West Europe, in response to the West European decision to embargo oil imports from Iran. Pardon me for failing to take this seriously as economic warfare: I predict the international oil market will turn out to be fungible (take a drop away here, get a drop from somewhere else). As diplomatic repartee, however, Iran scores!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Provoking an Oil War Is a Bad Bet for the U.S.

Perhaps Washington has a secret plan for defeating Tehran in a contest over oil, but Tehran has enormous tactical advantages, while the relevance of Washington's vast military superiority appears questionable. Has anyone in Washington actually thought this out?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Democracy Fans the Sparks of War

Much can be said about the U.S/Israeli conflict with Iran, and unfortunately much--way too much--is being said. The most important thing for the security of all of us right now is to take all the hot air with a grain of salt.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Children Playing With Nuclear Matches

Russian, American, and Israeli national security thinkers warn against launching a war on Iran: do the politicians care?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

IDF: Nuclear Iran 'Could Deter' Israel

A senior IDF general has admitted that a nuclear Iran "could deter" Israel. Exactly.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Will Netanyahu's Provocations Backfire?

Netanyahus combined efforts to push the U.S. into a war on Iran as a smokescreen for his plan to absorb the West Bank and to manipulate the U.S. presidential election may open the door to an alliance of U.S. and Israeli national security officials who believe in security through peace and justice.

Friday, January 13, 2012

U.S. Policy on Iran Invites Third-Party Provocations

U.S. policy toward Iran is not just designed to fail but designed to hand the initiative to America's enemies.

Monday, January 9, 2012

U.S. Policy on Iran Is Designed to Fail

Intentionally or not, Washington's policy toward Tehran is flawed politically, historically, and psychologically. It is a policy designed to fail.

Never, ever say please if you can get away with spitting in someones face. That, in this highly civilized new century, has become the essence of American policy toward Iran. Many in Washington will surely defend this approach as the only language they understand. Maybe so. One thing is for sure: it is the only language in which they have heard us speak.

In defense of Washington policy makers, they of course do not know how Tehran might respond to a sincere and consistent policy of inviting Tehran policy makers to sit down and reason together. And they can be excused for seeing little likelihood of being able to convince Tehran of sudden American sincerity between now and the Presidential election.

A Policy Designed to Succeed
A policy designed to persuade Tehran to forgo militarization of nuclear technology would contain at least three shifts in U.S. policy toward Iran and one fundamental shift in the regional context. The policy shifts toward Iran are obvious: respect, inclusion, and security. The regional shift is sufficient movement toward justice for Palestinians to make radical Iranian involvement in the Levant irrelevant. Amazingly, all these U.S. moves, which Washington seems to find so distasteful, are fully consistent with U.S. national security.

Nevertheless, it is worth considering how Americans would feel if China or Russia  invaded Mexico, set up a string of huge military bases there, and sailed an offensive Armada into the Gulf of Mexico, while loudly discussing the option of attacking the U.S. (of course, with pinpoint accuracy to avoid civilian casualtiesexcept for scientists working at the Pentagon), and demanded that the U.S. relinquish not just its most powerful weapons but its right even to conduct research toward some future emergency development of such weapons. How many American politicians would bend their knee and disarm in return for nothing more than the privilege of being invited to negotiations? How many who did bow down would win reelection?

Even the most reasoned high-level U.S. pronouncements about Iran come out wrong. Consider Defense Secretary Leon Panettas recent statement that Iran is only laying the groundwork for a possible future bomb. That would seem to settle the issue in a rational world. Countries have the right to lay the groundwork for future defense. But nohe then continued to point out that even though he admits Iran is not building nuclear arms, the responsible thing to do right now is to keep putting diplomatic and economic pressure on them to force them to do the right thing. Leon, you really understand human nature. As long as you can spit in their face, dont ever say please.

But the mistake is more serious than just egregious American bullying that accomplishes nothing more than to irritate Tehran and make a serious global issue dangerously emotional. Even in rational terms, Panetta is singing off-key. Perhaps in Washington, it seems rational for all countries, even those threatened with aggression, to trust Washington. Elsewhere, "rational" would not be the word for such a naive attitude. On the contrary, given Washington's aggression against Palestine, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq, its threats against Iran can only be interpreted as making only one policy "rational" for Iranians: maximizing self-defense capabilities. That is not the lesson Washington should be teaching.

In this context of endless bullying without any inducement to compromise, an incident that will inflame passions is almost inevitable.

Whatever you may think of U.S. or Iranian foreign policy, the fact is that every time Tehran underscores its independence and right to self-defense, Washington becomes more aggressive. If this is war, it is a one-sided war. Yes, Iran is insulting, warning, lecturing, posing, and desperately trying both to strengthen itself and to give the appearance of strength: only an unemployed Republican presidential candidate could define that as aggressive. Washington, in contrast, is intensifying a crippling campaign of economic warfare within a context of a simultaneously tightening military encirclement.

If Washington is bluffing, it is a convincing bluff, plenty convincing enough to make someone in Tehrans highly factionalized regime panic. Let us assume, for the purposes of conversation, that Washingtons Masters of the Universe have everything perfectly calibrated to force Tehran to beg for mercy without any risk of a disaster. Let us assume that the disasters of the Iraq invasion, the on-going mess in Afghanistan, and the endless elite-created recession are lessons learned, mistakes never to be repeated. Wiser now, the Masters of the Universe really do know how to run the world, we shall assume.

Still, from Tehrans perspective, things are starting to look a little scary. What if someone or some faction panics? What if a third party (say, an ambitious Israeli politician or an al Quaida type) sets a trap? What if Iranian decision-makers simply decide that Washington needs a slap on the face to wake it up?

What if Tehran calculates that things are getting out of control, that Washington leaders are not Masters of the Universe but just provincial politicians wrapped up in their election campaign? What might Tehran do? And how would American politicians, not exactly known for their ability to appreciate how the world looks to Muslims, be likely to react? In the current emotional situation, anything is possible, and almost every conceivable scenario will be bad news for Americans.

People do not respond very well to rude and highly public ultimatums, even when they are persuasive. Any Iranian politician who did so would almost certainly face discharge, arrest, and probably a firing squad for betraying his country. Moreover, how could an Iranian policy maker even defend a proposal to kowtow to the U.S. before his peers? The U.S. over the last decade has fought wars, either itself or via proxies, in Iraq, Somalia, Gaza, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. How many victories did it win?

Psychology suggests Tehran will not accept an ultimatum. History suggests the U.S. will only make matters worse if it starts another war. Both the U.S. secretary of defense and the recently retired Israeli head of Mossad see an attack on Irans nuclear establishment as at best a very short-term palliative. The U.S. campaign of economic warfare against Iran is empowering Iranian hardliners, putting the initiative in the hands of Moscow and Beijing, and alienating U.S. allies from Turkey to Japan (both of which are demanding the right to continue buying Iranian oil).

Washingtons policy toward Iran is a policy designed to fail. Why?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Winners and Losers

When you think policy makes no sense, perhaps you just haven't figured out who benefits.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Yelling 'Fire!' in the Nuclear Theater

The issue of Iranian nukes is far too important to be treated with glib soundbites.Those who cannot bring themselves to speak responsibly about such critical issues only reveal their lack of qualifications for national leadership and provoke one to wonder what their real game is. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Stop whining. There are plenty of jobs.

All you 20 million unemployed Americans should just stop whining. There are plenty of jobs, with far more to come. Everyone who wants to work can get ten offers tomorrow morning. First, that imperial embassy in Baghdad is so big it will never have enough support personnel and security guards. Second, all those Pakistani truck drivers for U.S. forces in Afghanistan need to be replaced. Third, the construction of democracy, in fact the construction of roads, in Afghanistan is literally an endless task, since those who dont like having Americans in charge of their country destroy everything as fast as it is builtso we need to build faster. And then there is Iran. Once we trash that country, American workers will have a real bonanza. Iran is not Iraq. Iran is big. For unemployed Americans who cant drive or mix cement or man a security post, well, theres always a job on the Afghan-Pak border persuading goatherds that cooperation with America is the best way for them to build their personal futures. So instead of sitting suicidal in your basements, start studying Farsi and Dari and Urdu. Your government will take care of you.

Challenge to the War Party

American media are being flooded with calls for aggression against Iran, all replete with glib assumptions and careful avoidance of any deep analysis of what might go wrong. Here is what I want:

an argument for launching a war against Iran that is intellectually honest and profoundly self-critical, an argument that enumerates assumptions and questions them, an argument that searches for what could go wrong and lays out a precise plan for avoiding pitfalls, an argument that shows how war will lead us to a world we can honestly expect to be better than it would have been without war.

I predict that no one can make such an argument. I challenge the smooth-talking, "they will welcome us with flowers" set--those of you who think wars can be managed and long-term dangers avoided--to prove me wrong.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Transparency! Responsibility! Regulation!

AmericaAmerican society and ruling eliteneeds some good, old common sense New Years Resolutions. To me, three seem pretty much to sum it up: transparency, responsibility, and regulation.

It is only common sense that a democracy cannot function if officials are allowed to hide what they do from those who hired them; no powerful official can for long resist the temptation in a dark closet to do something he has good reason to hide: the solution is to turn on the lights. Taking responsibility for your behavior is understandable to any well-bred three-year-old. Again, this is common sense: who will consistently behave responsibly when told they do not have to? Finally, not only do most of us fall short of sainthood, there is always a truly evil person in every crowd. For him certainly, but also just to help guide the rest of us to stay on the straight and narrow, it is, once again, only logical that we need regulation.

Transparency by those in power allows democratic political oversight and trains the elite to behave responsibly, while regulation reinforces responsibility. A century ago Lenin won a revolution with the famous slogan peace, bread, land. That was a slogan capturing the essence of what Russians thought they should receive from their government. Today, in the U.S., the issue is not about what government should give people but about how the elite that runs both government and corporate power centers behaves. Put briefly, an elite that behaves transparently and accepts responsibility for its actions would revolutionize America but could continue to exist; such an elite would be compatible with democracy. Absent such a revolutionary change in behavior, either the elite or democracy must give way.

In Finance. Four years after the entirely man-made 2008 financial crisis, the carefully concealed government program that rescued both the financial system (justifiable) and the millionaire crooks who almost broke it (unjustifiable) is only now leaking out into the public realm. Someday, a politician must be put on public trial and ordered to explain why bailing out the rich with taxpayer funds should be hidden from the taxpayers.

Lack of Financial Regulation
thanks largely to the fact that credit default swaps existed in a totally unregulated area of the financial universethis was the result of that 2000 law, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, sponsored by then-senator Phil Gramm and supported by then-Treasury chief Larry Summers and his predecessor Bob RubinCassano could sell as much credit protection as he wanted without having to post any real money at all. So he sold hundreds of billions of dollars worth of protection to all the big players on Wall Street, despite the fact that he didnt have any money to cover those bets. [Matt Taibi, Griftopia, (Speigel and Grau Trade Paperbacks, 2011), 101.]

Who led the fight to keep taxpayers in the dark? Naturally, it was the Fed, that so-called Federal regulator complicit in the creation of the financial crisis by its cosy (read: corrupt, as in, dont forget to give me a nice Wall Street management position after my years in the government, now, good buddy) relationship with those it was assigned to regulate plusthe banks it was supposed to have been regulating. This is really not very hard to understand: if you were a billionaire who became a billionaire by cheating investors by persuading them to purchase what you knew to be bad investments and the government handed you free money from the pockets of American workers after you got in trouble, wouldnt you want to keep it secret?!? To find out what Washington was doing with taxpayer money behind the backs of taxpayers, Bloomberg had to file Freedom of Information requests! What was the bottom line?

banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Feds below-market rates

Either the Fed was so irresponsible and just plain stupid that it threw away $13B of taxpayer money orthis constitutes outright corruption.

in Foreign Affairs. Two countries today are responsible for generating a decade-long crisis that could provoke a disastrous war, perhaps even a nuclear war, by their game-playing over the concept of nuclear transparency: Israel and Iran. Regional nuclear monopolist Israel plays the dont ask-dont tell charade, while Iran appears to be playing exactly the game that got Saddam killed: pretending for short-term status to have the ability to militarize nuclear technology overnight. Both Tel Aviv and Tehran need to grow up and support regional nuclear transparency as the first step toward the establishment of a shared security regime.

As for Washington, it should--as sole superpower--defend the interests of mankind and--as the elected government--defend U.S. national security: both obligations would be better served by promoted stability founded on mutual security than by getting into the middle of a squabble between foreign politicians playing games for personal advantage. Yes, moves to lower regional tensions would put the careers of Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu at risk. So what?

in Domestic Affairs.

When corporations are either 1) permitted by a society that provides them a business-friendly environment to enrich themselves or 2) are even assisted by corporate welfare to enrich themselves and their business behavior subsequently endangers the welfare of society, then that society must have a legal process for holding such corporations as entities and the managers of such corporations and their government friends personally responsible. Goldman Sachs executives, despite appearing to have engineered the collapse of AIG only to profit further from that disaster via a monstrous taxpayer bailout [Taibi, 118; Nouriel Roubini and Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics (Penguin Books: 2010), 228-9], remain free and rich while the millions who have lost homes and jobs remain homeless and unemployed.

Responsibility in Financial Affairs
Even though they werent really in danger of losing any money by holding on to [WM: AIG executive] Neugers securities, they were returning them anyway, just to force AIG into a crisis. [Taibi, 116] In essence, the partners of Goldman Sachs held the thousands of AIG policyholders hostage, all in order to recover a few billion bucks theyd bet on [WM: AIG executive] Joe Cassanos plainly crooked sweetheart CDS deals. [Taibi, 118.]

in Foreign Affairs. The war party infamous for the savaging of Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia (using Ethiopian troops), Afghanistan, Pakistan should be held legally responsible in open court not only for what it did to foreigners but for the resultant American deaths and the harm to American principles. Were crimes committed (e.g., lying to the American people about the reasons for invading Iraq, illegal wiretapping, Abu Ghraib, war against civilian populations in such places as Fallujah)? Let the system of justice reach a decision. Throwing a rug of political denial over the rotten foundation of American democracy is not the way to prepare for the future.

Responsibility in Foreign Affairs
At the height of what looked like success in Iraq and Afghanistan, American officials fretted endlessly about how, in the condescending phrase of the moment, to put an “Afghan face” or “Iraqi face” on America’s wars.  Now, at a nadir moment in the Greater Middle East, perhaps it’s finally time to put an American face on America’s wars, to see them clearly for the imperial debacles they have been -- and act accordingly.  [Tom Dispatch 1/3/12.]

in Domestic Affairs. In 2010 a meek and vague new financial regulatory bill was signed into law, leaving the crucial details to be determined by the very regulatory foxes (e.g., in the Fed) whose irresponsibility and collusion brought us the financial crisis in the first place. We are being conned.


Regulation in Financial Affairs
We are now in the worst of all worlds, where many TBTF institutions have been bailed out and expect to be bailed out in any number of future crises. They have as yet faced no sustained regulatory scrutiny, and no system is in place to put them into insolvency should the need arise. Even worse, many of these institutionsstarting with Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chaseare starting to engage once more in proprietary trading strategies,”… [Roubini, 224].

in Foreign Affairs. Regulation is relevant to foreign policy in two ways: the establishment of international law, which U.S. presidents have shamefully made careers out of violating in recent years, and domestic efforts to hold politicians to account for the foreign policy they implement. Regarding the latterthe idea of holding senior officials personally responsible for their foreign policy actions--the most egregious trend is the rising ability of the President to make war without the consent of Congress. (Yes, there is something in the Constitution about this.)

What Could Obama Do? Everyone, conservative or liberal, is now aware that Obama has yet to respond to the hopes of Americans for a savior to rescue the country from the combination of the neo-con orgy of empire and government-facilitated financial crime. Yet he can yet become an above-average president in his first term, opening the door to greatness in his second. No, he does not have the power to pass significant new laws; any conversation he has with Republicans in 2012 will be doomed to failure; the stumbling gait of the elite-crippled American giant gives him little power to change the world. All this is sad but true.

Nevertheless, Obama is President. He has the power to defend the 99%. He can, for example, urge the Attorney General to start seriously investigating both corporate crime and corrupt politicians who were either on the take to corporations or exploiting their positions for private gain. There is plenty of time before Election Day to bring some of the obvious suspects--who wrote laws to facilitate bank fraud and then bailed their buddies out or who invaded other countries on false pretensions--to trial. That is just an example. It comes under the heading Responsibility.

One of the greatest failures of the Obama Administration was the absence of a clear, public denunciation of the recent practice of giving the finger to international law, a crucial shield defending democracy. Obama does not need an act of Congress to stand up before the American people and speak to us of the principles conducive not to the long-term security of the U.S. empire but of American democracy. Lying to the American people about the reasons for war, making nuclear threats against non-nuclear powers, advocating preventive war as a regular policy option, hiring mercenaries and pushing open-ended authorizations for unilateral presidential action to facilitate presidential wars without Congressional declarations of war are great ways to defend the militarist heart of an imperial garrison state; they are not so good for defending the security of a democratic society of free citizens. This is just a second example; it comes under the heading Regulation. A great President is one who will inform the naïve American people that he too must bow before the law; in a word, like those of us who elect the President, he too must be regulated, and a great President would wish to leave behind such a legacy.

The U.S. Government needs three New Years Resolutions: transparency, responsibility, regulation. If Obama wants to lead the U.S. proudly into the 21st century, he can start now.