Levees Not War
Protect the Coast with Multiple Lines of Defense.

Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

We Support Nuclear Agreement with Iran

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

Atom PeaceOn Thursday, April 2, in Lausanne, Switzerland, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that negotiators had reached an agreement on key elements of a detailed and comprehensive framework to limit Iran’s nuclear program.

From the outset, we have supported the idea of the United States negotiating with Iran, after decades of estrangement and suspicion, and seeking both to peacefully reduce that nation’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon and to lift the sanctions on that nation. We are impressed by what we have heard in President Obama’s explanation of this historic agreement (or blueprint of an agreement), as well as in the remarks of Secretary of State John Kerry and Javad Zarif. Even though they are making many substantial concessions, the Iranians appear to be pleased with the framework announced yesterday.

Among the key provisions:

  • Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.
  • Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.
  • Iran’s breakout timeline—the time that it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for one weapon—is currently assessed to be 2 to 3 months. That timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least ten years, under this framework.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund spoke to Rachel Maddow last night and hailed the agreement as an excellent and comprehensive agreement.

As far as we can see, the United States is not having to give up anything (except an unwillingness to negotiate), and in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Iran is agreeing to a comprehensive system of safeguards, international inspections, monitoring, dismantling of centrifuges, reductions of plutonium stockpiles, etc.

This agreement has been worked out not only between the U.S. and Iran but with the active participation of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China. All nations’ foreign ministers have expressed approval of the basic framework announced on Thursday, April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland. Philip Hammond, Britain’s foreign secretary, said in a statement:  “This is well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago and a good basis for what I believe could be a very good deal.”

Click here for a New York Times timeline of Iran’s nuclear program.

Give Peace—and Negotiations—a Chance

We just pray that the negotiators will be able to complete their work without obstruction by opponents. Illustrious members of Congress, and Republican presidential hopefuls, now would be a good time to not do something stupid. If you have no alternative plan, then don’t stand in the way. Let’s remember that the world is better off because President Ronald Reagan was willing to meet face-to-face with Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss reductions in nuclear arms—there was substantial opposition to the Reykjavík summit at the time (1986)—just as critics opposed peace talks between Israel and Egypt, and President Nixon’s traveling to China, etc.

We should also note that President Obama and Secretary Kerry, with diplomatic assistance from Russia, succeeded in persuading Bashar al-Assad to agree to the destruction of all of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons. Obama—who has been a vocal proponent of nuclear nonproliferation since his first days in the U.S. Senate—also signed the New Start Treaty of 2010 with Russian president Dmitri A. Medvedev, with help in the Senate from then-senators John Kerry and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

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Further Reading

Hiroshima, 65 Years On: “Countdown to Zero” (LNW, 8/6/10)

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten (LNW, 8/9/10)

Disarmament Experts Clarify Film’s Position on Nuclear Power (LNW, 8/13/10)

Timeline on Iran’s Nuclear Program (New York Times)

On Iran, Obama Gets His Breakthrough,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 4-2-15

Kerry, the Negotiator,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 3-17-15

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Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

NoWar

Wrong War, Wrong Place, Wrong Time

Not out of indifference to the plight of the Syrian people, and not from an automatic rejection of any and all military action, but rather out of grave concern about the uncontrollable consequences that a U.S. missile strike upon Syria could trigger—such as, quite possibly, a war between Iran and Israel—we urge the members of Congress to vote No—even “Hell No,” if you like—on President Obama’s request to authorize the use of force against the Assad regime in Syria.

Although this blog has long supported Barack Obama for president, and we are pleased that John Kerry, whom we supported (and campaigned for) for president in 2004, is secretary of state; although we generally trust their judgment in both domestic and international affairs; and even though we’ve been thankful for the judicious restraint that Obama has shown until now during the Syrian civil war, and we’re grateful that this past weekend he averted what appeared a rush to arms and decided to seek congressional authorization—

Despite the foregoing, this is one vote we want Obama to lose.

See Where Senators Stand  |  Contact Congress  |  Contact White House

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They Can’t Tell Us How This Would End

US-SYRIA-CONFLICT-CONGRESSAfter a day of testimony by Secretary of State Kerry, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel, and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey, on Tuesday night the Senate Foreign Relations committee worked out a resolution that would set a 60-day limit on military action in Syria, with one 30-day extension possible. In the House, Democratic representatives introduced a resolution that would limit any military action to no more than 60 days. The Army Times reports that the House resolution “also specifically prohibits any American forces on the ground in Syria and restricts the president from repeating the use of force beyond the initial punitive strikes unless Obama certifies to Congress that the Syrian forces have repeated their use of chemical weapons.”

[ Update: On Weds., Sept. 4, the Senate Foreign Relations committee voted 10–7, with nay votes from both parties, to authorize the use of force against the Syrian regime. The full Senate is expected to vote next week. ]

The United States is seriously considering unilateral military strikes against a nation whose chief ally and arms supplier is Russia? Against a nation that says If you fire on us, we’ll fire on Israel? (Syria has already been in wars with Israel in 1967, 1973, and 1982.)

But let’s think about this a moment.

If the U.S. fires on Syria—a deliberate escalation of a highly complicated civil war—how could the U.S. keep the conflict from escalating further?

If the U.S. attacks Syria, can we be assured that Assad will not use chemical weapons again? The U.S. claims that he flouted international law once; why not again?

And if Assad were to use chemical weapons again, what would the U.S. do then? Escalate in order to not “lose face”?

And, just supposing the U.S. were to be opening confidential, “back-channel” talks with representatives of the newly elected moderate president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, as perhaps we might be, what effect might American missiles on Damascus have on those talks?

The British parliament voted last week against participating in military action against Assad, sidelining our usual closest ally. If the U.S. Congress votes no, will Obama say, as Prime Minister David Cameron said, “I get it,” and desist from a military strike?

Does the Obama administration really think it is wise, or even sane, for the U.S. to “go it alone” if necessary and use cruise missiles against yet another Arab nation? We know that military force against Arab nations only validates anti-Western propaganda, fuels al Qaeda’s recruiting efforts, and increases the likelihood of terrorist retribution here in the U.S., in London, and elsewhere in the West.

If it is true that forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians—U.S. officials say that more than 1,400 were killed in an attack near Damascus on Aug. 21, and keep mentioning some 400 children among them—then that is indeed a sickening atrocity, but still, we do not agree that that requires unilateral action by the U.S. (The UN chemical weapons inspectors are expected to produce a report in late September.)

Syria is simply too dangerous, too interconnected with live wires and explosives—what’s called in international diplomacy a mare’s nest, a snake pit, or a death trap, among other technical terms. Look at the neighborhood: Syria borders Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and is very close to Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Too many things could go wrong. Let’s not, for God’s sake, go there.

And, as we have said over and over from the very first days of Levees Not War (in 2005), the U.S. simply cannot afford endless war and habitual reliance on military solutions to crises overseas, but instead must redirect its resources to rebuilding our own crumbling national infrastructure and to augmenting social services, including jobs programs, education, unemployment relief, and health care. National security begins at home.

 

syria.map

Work through the United Nations

A complex and dangerous situation like this, one that requires fact-finding and deliberation and negotiation by a council of nations, is what the United Nations was founded to handle. If would-be interventionists are frustrated that the UN Security Council’s member nations Russia and China would not go along with Washington’s view that “something must be done” and would use their veto in the Security Council, that does not give Washington the right to bypass the UN.

(Russian president Vladimir Putin has told the Associated Press that Russia might vote for a UN resolution on punitive force against Syria if it is proved that Syria used chemical weapons against its own people. In the same interview, he warned that the West should not take “one-sided” action against Syria, that is, without the backing of the UN Security Council.)

The Arab League has called on the UN and the international community to take “necessary measures,” though the League did not specify what those measures might be. The secretary general of the Arab League did say, however, that there should be no military action without backing from the United Nations.

Some 100,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, which began with a pro-democracy uprising in March 2011. Some two million Syrians have been forced to flee to other countries. (Click here for a BBC News timeline of the Syrian civil war.)

Yale Law School professors Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro write in a New York Times op-ed that the choice of military force or nothing at all is “a false one.”

Most of international law relies not on force for its enforcement, but on the collective power of nations to deprive states of the benefits of membership in a system of states. Mr. Obama can cut off any remaining government contracts with foreign companies that do business with Mr. Assad’s regime. He can work with Congress to do much more for Syrian rebels and refugees—including providing antidotes to nerve agents, which are in short supply. He can use his rhetorical power to shame and pressure Russia and China.

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“Real Men Go to Tehran”

It’s a matter of public record that this war with Iraq is largely the brainchild of a group of neoconservative intellectuals, who view it as a pilot project. In August a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.” In February 2003, according to Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper, Under Secretary of State John Bolton told Israeli officials that after defeating Iraq the United States would “deal with” Iran, Syria and North Korea. 

—Paul Krugman, “Things to Come” (New York Times, 3/18/03)

What concerns us is not only the concerns raised above or the prospect of yet another U.S.-led war in the Middle East, but also the fact that neoconservatives and other hawks have been salivating for a war against Iran, and Syria could be an entry into just that. In early May, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, told Rachel Maddow that the same folks who brought us the Iraq war are pushing for a fight with Iran, and they see Syria as a backdoor entry into that war.

I think as Yogi Berra once said, it’s like déjà vu all over again. I see us walking down the same road with the same characters singing in the choir, the same people off the same sheet of music with a few changes trying to get us into war with Iran. The new momentum with respect to Syria is not just because of the brutal civil war there, it’s also because of people like Lindsey Graham and John McCain from my party and Bob Menendez from the Democratic party would like to use Syria as a back door to get us in a war with Iran. It’s another catastrophe brewing . . .

See “Syria Seen as a Backdoor to War with Iran” (LNW 5/2/13).

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Recommended Reading:

belle-syria-008-450x270New York Times updates on Syria

BBC News: Syrian civil war timeline and Syria profile

Jeffrey Frank at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Eisenhower 1954, Obama 2013: Echoes of Vietnam in Syria

Amy Davidson at The New Yorker (9/4/13): “Kerry and the Senators: Unanswered Questions

Steve Coll at The New Yorker (9/9/13): “Crossing the Line: How Should Obama Respond to Syria?

On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t OptionalNYT op-ed by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro

Natasha Lennard at Salon (9/4/13): RAND study finds that to destroy Syria chemical weapons, “boots on the ground” would be needed

New York Times editorial (9/3/13): “Debating the Case for Force

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo (9/1/13): “A Skeptic’s Guide to the Syria Mess

Ed Kilgore at Political Animal (Washington Monthly): “The Road to War with Iran Runs Through Syria

Washington Post map of likely strike targets in Syria

Levees Not War (6/14/13): “Here We Go Again

Think Progress (4/29/13): “What You Need to Know About the Syrian Civil War

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note (8/20/12): “Syrian Conflict Not Just a Battle Against Assad

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Here We Go Again

Friday, June 14th, 2013

belle syria

Once again, politicians demanding austerity for the American public are leading us—and other people’s children—into war

“Just providing arms is not enough.”John McCain

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This should be the mother of all cakewalks. The Obama administration has announced that the U.S. will begin arming certain groups of Syrian rebels because the Bashar al-Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its own people in the two-year-old civil war. The New York Times reports that the U.S. will “begin supplying the rebels for the first time with small arms and ammunition,” according to government officials. Some 90,000 civilians (likely an underestimate) have died in the fighting. Note: This is a public announcement, making official what has been in effect, covertly and surreptitiously and otherwise, for some time (see below).

Click here for the text of the White House Statement on Chemical Weapons in Syria.

Just yesterday, Politico and TalkingPointsMemo reported that former president Bill Clinton, in an appearance at the John McCain Institute for International Leadership (why?), said he now agrees with McCain that the U.S. should do more to aid the rebels. McCain has been saying the same thing for over a year, every Sunday-bloody-Sunday morning. Clinton opined that Obama risks looking like a “total fool” if he allows public opinion polls to guide U.S. policy on the matter. Our first reaction yesterday was, And who axed you? This morning we suspect that, given Clinton’s good standing among Obama’s base, he had clearance, if not encouragement, from the White House to say what he said; thus TPM’s headline, “Politico: Bill Clinton Breaks with Obama on Syria,” was perhaps not entirely accurate, unless “breaks with” means “serves as trial balloon mouthpiece for”.

And then, says Andrea Mitchell on The Rachel Maddow Show, after pointing out that in fighting Hezbollah in Syria, the West is effectively in a proxy war with Iran, McCain goes out onto the Senate floor to preempt the White House’s announcement (“In just a couple of minutes, the president of the United States will be announcing that it is now conclusive that Bashar Assad and the Syrian butchers have used chemical weapons.”). But now McCain says that the aid he’s been clamoring for is not enough; the president “had better understand that just supplying weapons is not going to change the equation . . .” The U.S. should also establish a no-fly zone. If a no-fly zone were to be established, then the S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has offered to sell—or has already delivered—to Assad could be used against the U.S. Air Force. Then what? And if one of those missiles hits an Israeli airliner? (Russia’s offer, or threat, is at least partly in response to the European Union’s allowing its arms embargo to Syria to expire effective June 1.)

It’s not as though the U.S. has not already been aiding the opposition to Assad. In a May 5 Guardian opinion piece titled “The West and Its Allies Cynically Bleed Syria to Weaken Iran” (source of the illustration above), Seumas Milne wrote:

Airlifts of arms to the Syrian rebels, co-ordinated by the CIA, have increased sharply in recent months to become what one former US official calls a “cataract of weaponry“. British and American forces are training rebel fighters in Jordan. The worth of US aid to the Syrian opposition has doubled to $250m, while the EU has now lifted its oil embargo to allow exports from rebel-held areas.

But John McCain, who assured us in 2002 and 2003 that a conflict with Iraq would be short and sweet, argues that this must be done. And the government, without offering proof, is telling us that chemical weapons were used—haven’t we heard this before?—so the United States, which is a peace-loving nation and a protector of human rights, cannot “stand idly by.” And the governments of the United Kingdom and France, who also support aid to the Syrian rebels, also have not put forth evidence of Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But what have these nations done to negotiate a diplomatic solution? What persuasive force have the U.S., France, or the U.K. applied upon the United Nations, upon Russia and other friends of Bashar al-Assad? France was prepared to take the lead against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya; why not now? (Because Syria is so freaking complicated and fraught with uncontrollable consequences, maybe?) And what part does Iran play in the government’s strategy? And Israel? Is this part of a deal to keep Tel Aviv from pulling the trigger on Tehran’s nuclear program (whatever that may be)?

Syria@EBDid we mention that Syria borders Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and is very close to Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia? And that the Assad regime is backed by and receiving anti-aircraft weapons from, Russia? Or did we mention that, according to recent reports from the BBC (or was it NBC’s Richard Engel?), there are some fourteen different “rebel groups” constituting the opposition in Syria? Or that, as we reported in May, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, says that Syria is viewed by the same neocons who brought us the Iraq war as “a back door to get us in a war with Iran”?

What could possibly go wrong?

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(Weren’t we saying just days ago that austerity economics is prescribed for the public but seems never to apply to the Defense department [¶8]? Who has paid for the weapons that will be supplied to the Syrian rebels? American taxpayers—individuals, mostly. But Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid benefits, they tell us, need to be curved downward—even Obama suggests so.)

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See also:

How Many Wars? After Libya . . . ? (LNW 3/26/11)