Category Archives: Foreign Affairs

Polk on Iran

William R. Polk

William R. Polk

William Polk has a guest piece at Informed Comment warning us about what is likely to happen if we carry down our current track to a war with Iran.  How many M.E. specialists, historians, soldiers, reporters–none of them alarmists or peace-niks–do we have to hear?  This is just what was happening in the run-up to the Iraq war, except the stakes are much, much higher (for us).  It is like we are stumbling along the edge of a precispise with only some aware of what we are doing and praying that we pull away from the edge.  But on we go.

The Russia-Georgian War

1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle

1,500 Reported Killed in Georgia Battle

Robert Farley has some excellent coverage and analysis of the Georgia-Russian war here and then here.

So what gives?  We have an American Ally, being groomed for NATO membership, at war with Russia.  Russia and the USA of course still retain the ability to annihilate humanity if they got sucked into a total war.  And nobody is freaking; the olypics carryon serenely, the UNSC isn’t in session recalled; the duct tape remain on the shelves.

And of course this is an entirely rational response.  What was entirely irrational was the schemes to expand NATO right up onto the Russian border.  The much commented-on discussion between Fukuyama and Kagan included some revealing exchanges that shed much light on this.  Fukuyama tried to explain the absurdity of the current US position of demanding to have everything from Russia: accepting missile defence in eastern Europe, NATO expansion (while excluding Russia), that Russia sabotage their lucrative relationship with Iran, accepting the NATO settlement on Kosovo, return to internal democratisation, be nice to their West-facing neighbours, and, no doubt the moon on a stick.  Kagan resisted but later on made a revealing comment: that the the hubris didn’t start in 2001, but the Clinton administration (or, I would say, Bush I).  Right!  The neocons could not have been so successful in pushing their agenda, and remain so influential, if they weren’t pushing at an open door.  To some extent we have all become neocons and they are really a pathological examples of a much wider movement based on hubris and delusion: how else to explain HR362 and the absurd Iran policies.

What we are seeing now is a tragic ‘correction’ where the Russians and the Georgians are exposing our priorities for us.

Update: via Robert Farley it seems that the Washington Post doesn’t get it and is still very much in delusional neo-con land.

Update II: guardian.co.uk has some deatailed reports on the war and these reports suggest that the Georgians very much started it.

The Chauffer-Terrorist Fiasco

Commander Huber puts the latest Gitmo trials in prespective at the Pen and Sword.

Ritter: We are at war with Iran

After my previous article on whether we will go to war with Iran, Scott Ritter posts an article at TruthDig to say that we are already at war with Iran.  This is so true.  And it remionds me of why it is so important to read people like Ritter, Hedges and Fisk with an established track record in seeing these things clearly when everyone else is stumbling around.  Check it out.

The Killing Fields of Iraq

Via Juan Cole, we have this video report from the Guardain.  It is heart-breaking.

Fukuyama and Kagan

Blogging heads.tv have a fascinating discussion between Francis Fukuyama and Robert Kagan providing as good a critique of the neoconservative project as you will see.  Robert Kagan is probably one of the smartest neo-cons since Fukuyama departed over the Iraq war but Fukuyama is quietly brilliant and in a different league.  It just leaves my shaking my head in disbelief that someone of this calibre got sucked up in the neoconservative project.  Kagan make sone very revealing comment about the way that good historians will trace the origin of the recent American hubris not to the start of the Bush administration but to ’90s and the Clinton administration (and the first Bush administration).  He is quite right of course, even if the neocons took it to pathological extremes.

Chris Hedges on the Madness

Chris Hedges has an article, A War of Self-Destruction, on the consequences of a war with Iran, and follows a line of thinking very like my own.  While it is clearly an insane proposition, the truth of the matter is that the people making these decisions profit in every way from these wars and they clearly believe their wealth will cushion them from the worst of its impacts—they just don’t fear the consequences of everything going tits up.  While they will surely regret their actions, they are right: their wealth will protect them.

Are they going to start this war?  It remains an abstraction for me.  Each time the lunies have another push at starting a war, they enable the adults to take away more of their toys, and more people stop paying much attention to them.  The more they cry wolf the more they seem to be ignored.

But still HR 362 remains in play and apparently keeps gaining sponsors.  This is of course the US political process doing its dance, but could it end in war?  The chances surely can’t be zero.  But what are they?

We live in interesting times.  Let us pray that they don’t get too interesting.

Fisk on Syria and Iran

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

The Syrian and Iranian leaders, Bashar al-Assad, left, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Tehran on 3rd August

Check out Fisk’s latest article describes the hilarious attempts by Sarkozy and others to detach Syria from Tehran.

Fisk concludes:

In other words, Syria kept its cool. When the US invaded Iraq, the world wondered if its tanks would turn left to Damascus or right to Tehran. In fact, they lie still in the Iraqi desert, where US generals still variously accuse Iran and Syria of encouraging the insurgency against them. If Washington wants to leave Iraq, it can call Damascus for help.

And the real cost? The US will have to restore full relations with Syria. It will have to continue talks with Iran. It will have to thank Iran for its “help” in Iraq – most of the Iraqi government, after all, was nurtured in the Islamic Republic during the Iran-Iraq war in which the US took Saddam’s side. It will have to accept Iran is not making a nuclear bomb. And it will have to prevent Israel staging a bombing spectacular on Iran which will destroy every hope of US mediation. It will also have to produce a just Middle East peace. McCain or Obama, please note.

And it Continues

Martin Rowsons take on Browns Iran abhorrence remarks

Sometimes a picture is really priceless.  The Iranians have repeatedly made clear that they have no intention of attacking Israel, that they anticipate Israel falling apart through its own internal contradictions.  there is not the slightest indication that the Iranians are preparing for any such military intervention or that they would ever be capable of it.  The real point of course is that it is a political attack, and the whole is part of the ‘cold war’ being fought between Iran and Israel, the USA and the industrial nations, a war that the Bush administration decided to fight, and the Israelis appear to be making sure that the Bush administration makes good its promises of taking out Iran after Iraq.

With such confusion and disingenuousness one can only presume that this is political manouevring to prepare for military should it come to that.  Should that come to pass the wealthy people that gave us this mess will not be the ones to pay the price: that will fall to the poor people.

I missed an article by Scott Ritter at TruthDig on the 14th on the consequences of such a war. Elsewhere Gershom Gorenberg picks apart Benny Morris’s Strangeglovian fantasies about Israel using its nuclear wepaons aresenal to settle up with Iran and Commander Huber surveys the inanity of the discorse on the Iraq war.

Jeff and Gershom on Obama

Two of my favourite bloggers—Commander Huber of The Pen and Sword and Gershom Gorenberg of South Jerusalem—have written similar and different articles on Obama’s foreign policy.  The commander analyses the ducking and diving in Obama’s Iran policy from the perspective of the Pentagon while Gorenberg takes the foggy bottom angle of his Israel policy.  They agree on the difficulties he faces (you have to work with the political context you have rather than the the one you would like) and that while some of his tactical manoeuvres may have caused some dismay, it is quite possible (so they argue) to pick out a coherent strategy.  Needless to say we will need more data, but that reading seems defensible to me, and is consistent with his record, such as it is.

I am most curious to know whether Gershom Gorenberg agrees with Comander Huber’s analysis.

Iran again

I have added the following comment on Yglesias’s solution-in-search-of-a-problem article, Exciting New Reasons to Bomb Iran.  As I am in the middle of a blogging drought I thought I would repost it here.

Matt, as often you are so right about this.

As Scott Ritter points out the Iranians have switched from talking down the US/Israeli sabre rattling as bluster to responding in kind and they are doing this to give Mullen and the realists the ammo to argue that there is no way the fallout for an attack on Iran can be restricted without much more serious preparations than those that have already been made and, of course, those preparations can’t be made before January.

Cheney and the neocons have been desperate since 2005 to bring about regime change and they figure that whatever the outside chances bombing is their last best shot. They don’t care about the risks to the Middle East and the American/world economy: that kind of pain will be felt by poor people and foreign suckers.

However the neocons need a plausible rationale to sell to the rest of us. As Matt says they have a solution in search of a problem.

Yglesias on Blogging

Matthew Yglesias, in response to a gripe about blogging and him in particular wrote a ludicrously self-efacing response where he horribly insults his main benefactors in his readers and employers at the Atlantic, and followed it up with another article expressing his regret that he doesn’t have a greater mastery of Middle eastern languages to add depth to his opinions on the matter.

Part of the reason that so many of us like reading Yglesias is that he comes up with this kind of stuff that might not be always comfortable to read but it sure makes you think—the mark of a philosopher, and the real reason for reading good bloggers.

Clearly if you are going to comment on an area, some mastery of it is required, but anyone who seriously believes that a mastery of Persian, Arabic and Hebrew is necessary to comment on US foreign policy in the Middle East is exhibiting worrying signs of narrowness.  Yglesias finishes his second missive on the subject with a beautiful observation about the Pakistani understanding of US culture and language will make them much more effective in manipulating US policy makers than the reverse.  It is this kind of awareness that makes Yglesias’s commentary so valuable.

Just yesterday Yglesias observed that many commentator’s advocacy of bombing Iran show signs of people with a solution in search of a problem.  I used to work in the tech sector and we learned to recognise this kind of thinking, and Yglesisas is of course dead right.  It is this ability to condense into a short article a critical insight  that makes them so valuable.  Yglesias says that thanks to his shortcommings ‘the overwhelming majority of Americans have never read this blog and never will’ but this is exactly wrong.  It is the chalenging (i.e., worthwhile) aspects of his blog that will act as the barier.  I wish perhaps more of the pundits that populate the mainstream media would read, and, more importantly, understand what he says in his blog.  We would not be in half the mess we are if they did.

What is going on?

Reflecting on my previous article on our seeming determination to smash our economies on the rocks of Iran I thoght of the the Taijitu or yin-yang motif, which I think may summarize the situation.  My understanding is the the motif is intended to symbolise the cyclical waxing and waning of the yin and yang qualities in a given situation.  Notice that when dark yin or light yang are at their maximum, the other is present in the middle, and of course the dominating one must then give way.

This seems to me to symbolise where the industrial powers are today.  Their military-industrial dominance has been derived on the mastery of coal and then oil.  Dominating the oil lies at the heart of the industrial nation’s involvement in the region from the beginning of the oil era at the opening of the 20th century.  It drew the British into the region with their 1914 invasion of Iraq, the carving up of the Arab world after beraking up the Ottoman empire, the overthrowing of Mosadegh and so on.

Of course oil supplies are probably maxing out and can no longer feed the colossal displacement activity that we normally call economic growth.  The underlying source of our power is set to decline.  It is the impotence and frustration that comes from this realistation that may be driving some of the irrational and destructive behaviour.

Iran Insanity Update

I read an account by a member of the paratroop regiment serving in the Falklands conflict.  After the surrender of the Argentine forces some bored members of the regiment were play a game of cricket, with hand grenades and some improvised bat.  The batter would have to hit the grenades into the sea where they could safely explode.

This reminds me of the games that we are playing at the moment with Iran.  Maybe we are all bored and in need of some entertainment–not able to get the kick out of destroying other people’s countries we need to make the game a little more exciting.  Let us hope that we keep on hitting the grenades into the sea.

Many with a good knowledge of what is going on, and a good track record in finding things out, are saying that we are nat making any sense.  Nothing has changed since the Iraq fiasco.  But when the fireworks start this time we are all going to get seriously hurt.  Before we started destroying the Iraqi people and their country they were an industrialized country with cities, hospitals, schools, power grids, water treatment and so on.  We systematically wrecked that so it makes a good study of what could happen in the industrial world if we pull down all those systems.  They, and our economies, are all dependent on oil.

This is why the Iranians have no need for a strategic nuclear deterrent.  They just need control a single narrow shipping lane.  They have always been clear about this, and they have had plenty of time to prepare.

Nothing that we are doing makes any sense at all.  We accuse them of undermining the nuclear weapons proliferation agreements, but it is us that are destroying these agreements.  We accuse them of destabilising the middles east but it is us that are doing so.  We accuse them of supporting terrorism and yet we hear that the Bush administration has asked for $400m from Congress to terrorize Iran and Congress are playing along and considering authorizing a naval blockade of Iran.  And we continue to terrorize and kill people in the region in quite high numbers, far, far higher numbers than the paramilitary groups that we obsess over.

We are nuts.  I don’t know how it is going to play out and it is not worth losing sleep over.  Worrying is a mug’s game.  All I can do is call it as I see it.

For those that are interested, Seymour Hersh and Scott Ritter have interviews (Hersh, Ritter) and articles (Hersh, Ritter) spelling out what is going on.  Gordon Prather’s articles on nuclear weapons proliferation are excellent, as are Gareth Porter’s on the wider issues.

Clarke’s Statement

John Cole makes a good point; it is not as if you need to trawl through hours of debate to reconstruct the context.

SCHIEFFER: Can I just interrupt you? I have to say, Barack Obama hasn’t had any of these experiences either, nor has he ridden in a fighter plane and gotten shot down.

CLARK: I don’t think getting in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to become president.

That sure is a mean and vicious swiftboating.

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Of Causation and History (Crooked Timber)

[Part of a series of articles reviewing blogs and websites (here Crooked Timber) on my blog-roll; see the about page.]

I have completed Taleb’s The Black Swan and will say more about it later but I first want to take him to task on one of his opinions (one that he doesn’t really hold as it turns out). From page 171:

Popper’s insight concerns the limitations in forecasting historical events and the need to downgrade “soft” areas such as history and social science to a level slightly above aesthetics and entertainment, like butterfly or coin collecting. (Popper who received a classical Viennese education didn’t go quite so far; I do. I am from Amioun.) What we call the soft historical sciences are narrative dependent studies.

To confuse historicism and history is a horrible conflation, and no claims to rural roots should excuse this kind of boorishness. As Aristotle by way of Aquinas and Schumacher reminds us,

‘the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.'(*) ‘Slender’ knowledge is here put in opposition to ‘certain’ knowledge, and indicates uncertainty.

(*) Aquinas, Summa theologica, I, 1, 5 ad 1.

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M.E. Nuclear Follies: Hersh, Ritter, … and the Failed States Index

Jamal Dajani’s latest Mosaic Intelligence Report looks at what has been going on in Afghanistan. The outlook for victory in the ‘good war’ looks incredibly bleak.

Gordon Prather has an article arguing that the Bush administration legacy will be “the deliberate destruction of the existing international nuclear-weapons proliferation-prevention regime,” and Scott Horton has interviewed him on the subject. Prather shows a touching incredulity that nothing the Bush administration does in this area seems to make much sense.

Iraq has gone from second to fifth in the Foreign Policy Failed States Index, illustrating perfectly the success of the ‘surge’. William Pfaff has a truthdig article, The Illusion of Saving Nations from Themselves, reminding us of how we got here:

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362 and the Price of Oil

Via Juan Cole, here is Ron Paul suggesting that the current price of oil may reflect Israeli/US threats to attack Iran.

The OPEC president agrees and forecasts that it may hit $170 before the year is out.

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Insanity

George Monbiot reminds us of how powerful narratives can be when people want to believe them enough, according to a poll reported on Sunday, 60% of people in Britain agreeing with the statement that “many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change.” As Monbiot explains this is pure denial.

Paul Krugman sounds close to despair about how people continue to blame high oil prices on speculators and has another go at explaining why this is almost certainly not the case. Prices are rising because we are in the situation now where demand is outstripping supply.

And then there is this kind of comment from Andrew Sulivan:

But why do I find the hysteria not so effective this time around? Maybe it’s because the period in which we could have stopped Iran‘s nuclear ambition is now behind us.

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Hedges on Courtiers

Chris Hedges has a brilliant article where he lights into Tim Russert and Barack Obama as courtiers posing as outsiders holding power to account.  He is of course right.  It was interesting to note David Brook’s column highlighting Obama’s political effectiveness and ruthlessness, Sullivan’s agreement and Yglesias’s “boy-oh-boy is he pissed at Barack Obama”.

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