Another war

So, we have now attacked ISIS in Syria, as well as another group, and we also want to get rid of President Assad. Even better, this is an open-ended operation:

Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said the objectives set for the U.S.-led war in Iraq and now Syria could take years to complete. The attacks in Syria marked the start of a new phase, coming six weeks after the U.S. military began a similar campaign of airstrikes against Islamic State fighters in neighboring Iraq.

But this time it will work–I expect that in 6 months we will have turned the corner.

No, let us

This is … um, interesting:

Shezanne Cassim, an American who was jailed in the United Arab Emirates after posting a video that parodied Dubai teens, returned to the United States on Thursday and sharply criticized the authorities who imprisoned him.

“I did nothing wrong,” Cassim said in Minneapolis. “There was nothing illegal about the video, even under UAE law. I was tried in a textbook kangaroo court, and I was convicted without any evidence.”

For months, Cassim said, he and others apprehended in the case didn’t know why they were behind bars.

“We had no idea of what our crime was. We had no idea how long we’d be in prison for. We weren’t actually told what our crime was until five months later, after we were taken in,” he said. “Even then, we heard rumors of the charges, and they kept on changing.”

In December, Cassim was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of about $2,700. The charges were not read in court, but the country’s main English-language newspaper reported that Cassim was accused of defaming the UAE’s image abroad.

His family says the 29-year-old was arrested in April after uploading a 19-minute video that pokes fun at a clique of Dubai teens influenced by hip-hop culture.

It seems the UAE has done a much better job of defaming the UAE than Shezanne did, so who’s going to jail?

War and peace

This is a good first step:

The United States and five other world powers announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping agreement.

It was the first time in nearly a decade of talks, US officials said, that an international agreement had been reached to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program and roll some elements of it back.

The aim of the accord, which is to last six months, is to give international negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive accord that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could only be used for peaceful purposes.

As always, whether this is a good thing will depend on later actions, but talking is always better than war. The US and Iran do not trust each other (for good reasons on both sides) so this will be difficult, but again it’s better than war. This statement takes me back:

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister and a key member of Netanyahu’s governing coalition, said, “if a nuclear suitcase blows up in New York or Madrid five years from now, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.”

“If there will be a deal which would allow Iran to have the ability to ‘break out’ and build a bomb within six weeks, we cannot sit idly by in this situation, and we will examine all the options,” Bennett told Israel’s Channel 2 on Saturday night.

This is Condoleezza Rice saying, with respect to Iraq, that we can’t let the let the smoking gun be a nuclear blast, it is the idea of preemptive war–which worked so well in Iraq. I’m sure Netanyahu would support developments between China and Japan:

The Chinese government on Saturday claimed the right to identify, monitor, and possibly take military action against aircraft that enter a newly declared “air defense identification zone,” which covers sea and islands also claimed by Japan and threatens to escalate an already tense dispute over some of the maritime territory.

The move appeared to be another step in China’s efforts to intensify pressure on Japan over Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that are at the heart of the dispute.

Now there’s some good old fashioned saber rattling.

Iran and the US

Via here, there’s a long piece in the New Yorker by Dexter Filikins that you will want to read before you decide if the US should work with the new leader of Iran. One of the things to know is that Iran has done a lot to hurt the US:

At the funeral, the mourners sobbed, and some beat their chests in the Shiite way. Shateri’s casket was wrapped in an Iranian flag, and gathered around it were the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, dressed in green fatigues; a member of the plot to murder four exiled opposition leaders in a Berlin restaurant in 1992; and the father of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah commander believed to be responsible for the bombings that killed more than two hundred and fifty Americans in Beirut in 1983.

The other thing to consider is the reason:

As Revolutionary Guard commanders, he and Shateri belonged to a small fraternity formed during the Sacred Defense, the name given to the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and left as many as a million people dead. It was a catastrophic fight, but for Iran it was the beginning of a three-decade project to build a Shiite sphere of influence, stretching across Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean. Along with its allies in Syria and Lebanon, Iran forms an Axis of Resistance, arrayed against the region’s dominant Sunni powers and the West.

You really want to know some of the history of their relation with the US;

Iran’s leaders took two lessons from the Iran-Iraq War. The first was that Iran was surrounded by enemies, near and far. To the regime, the invasion was not so much an Iraqi plot as a Western one. American officials were aware of Saddam’s preparations to invade Iran in 1980, and they later provided him with targeting information used in chemical-weapons attacks; the weapons themselves were built with the help of Western European firms. The memory of these attacks is an especially bitter one. “Do you know how many people are still suffering from the effects of chemical weapons?” Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said. “Thousands of former soldiers. They believe these were Western weapons given to Saddam.”


The Iranian regime regarded the Taliban with intense hostility, in large part because of their persecution of Afghanistan’s minority Shiite population. (At one point, the two countries nearly went to war; Iran mobilized a quarter of a million troops, and its leaders denounced the Taliban as an affront to Islam.)

n the chaotic days after the attacks of September 11th, Ryan Crocker, then a senior State Department official, flew discreetly to Geneva to meet a group of Iranian diplomats. “I’d fly out on a Friday and then back on Sunday, so nobody in the office knew where I’d been,” Crocker told me. “We’d stay up all night in those meetings.” It seemed clear to Crocker that the Iranians were answering to Suleimani, whom they referred to as “Haji Qassem,” and that they were eager to help the United States destroy their mutual enemy, the Taliban. Although the United States and Iran broke off diplomatic relations in 1980, after American diplomats in Tehran were taken hostage, Crocker wasn’t surprised to find that Suleimani was flexible. “You don’t live through eight years of brutal war without being pretty pragmatic,” he said. Sometimes Suleimani passed messages to Crocker, but he avoided putting anything in writing. “Haji Qassem’s way too smart for that,” Crocker said. “He’s not going to leave paper trails for the Americans.”

The coöperation between the two countries lasted through the initial phase of the war. At one point, the lead negotiator handed Crocker a map detailing the disposition of Taliban forces. “Here’s our advice: hit them here first, and then hit them over here. And here’s the logic.” Stunned, Crocker asked, “Can I take notes?” The negotiator replied, “You can keep the map.” The flow of information went both ways. On one occasion, Crocker said, he gave his counterparts the location of an Al Qaeda facilitator living in the eastern city of Mashhad. The Iranians detained him and brought him to Afghanistan’s new leaders, who, Crocker believes, turned him over to the U.S. The negotiator told Crocker, “Haji Qassem is very pleased with our coöperation.”

The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil.” Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. “You completely damaged me,” Crocker recalled him saying. “Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.” The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. “We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.”

Now add in that the US helped to topple a democratically elected leader in Iran in the 1950s and replace him with a dictator, the Shah, who we supported until he was toppled in 1979 and you might see why Iran is suspicious of the US (and yeah, thanks President Bush for making sure Iran stays an enemy). Given this history, the US does need to be careful in negotiations but we also need to negotiate (if nothing else, for all the harm we have caused Iran).


Well then, this isn’t good:

Russia has deployed two powerful warships to the Mediterranean Sea to augment its normal naval presence amid rising expectations of Western airstrikes on its ally, Syria.

Comments from Russian officials are mixed on why they ships were sent, but having more warships near a war zone is never a good thing.

Syria and credible threats

I’m not sure exactly what to think about Syria so I revert to my default position–we shouldn’t go in. Whatever side you take though, this type of argument should be ignored:

By punishing Syria for their use, the United States and other countries would be enforcing an eminently worthwhile provision of international law. By not punishing Syria, the U.S. would indicate to Assad and other dictators in peril that they need not fear reprisals for using these weapons. That’s why it’s important to do something.

The idea is that we have to back up the threat or the next time we make a threat, we’ll be ignored (the ‘cry wolf’ idea). This seems right but it doesn’t seem to be true:

What Press found in his research is that leaders are very concerned about their own perceived credibility, but rarely pay attention to others’ histories of follow-through. Reading through thousands of pages of archived documents, he said, “I might have found two about what adversaries had done in the past and what [policy makers] should infer from that.” Yet those same policy makers were convinced that their own credibility was at stake with each major decision.

During the Cuban missile crisis, President Kennedy might have looked back at Khrushchev’s blustering over Berlin and decided that his threats were not credible.

These historic cases are consistent with Todd Sechser’s findings. Sechser, a political scientist at the University of Virginia who has undertaken careful quantitative studies of threat-making, has found that following through on threats “seems to carry few reputation benefits; to the contrary, it seems to carry considerable reputation costs.”

Sechser compiled a list of 210 instances of “compellent threats” made by nations between 1918 and 2001 in order to evaluate whether and under what circumstances states that make threats tend to get what they want. He also looked at what happened to states after they issued threats. He found that when a state followed through on a threat, its next threat succeeded in only 19 percent of cases, whereas when it did not follow through, its next threat succeeded 31 percent of the time.

So, when listening to arguments for a strike or war in Syria, ignore any argument that says we need to strike to retain our credibility.

It’s official, the CIA did help to overthrow Mosaddegh

This has been known for a while, but now it’s official:

The CIA has now acknowledged its role in the 1953 coup that deposed Iran’s left-leaning Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddegh. Few Iranians will be surprised. They have always believed Mosaddegh was ousted by U.S. and British interests, and those suspicions are a big part of Iran’s mistrust of the West to this day.

It’s a bit late (this was in 1998):

The agency pledged five years ago to declassify thousands of files on 11 major paramilitary and political operations launched under Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. It said then that records on these secret efforts at foiling Communism and furthering American foreign policy in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean would be released as early as 1994. Two former C.I.A. chiefs, Robert M. Gates and R. James Woolsey Jr., personally promised that the files would be released.

The nine operations constitute a secret history of American power as used against foreign governments by three Presidents. They include efforts to shore up the non-Communist left in France and Italy in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, guerrilla operations in North and South Korea in the Korean War, efforts including political propaganda and bombing missions in Indonesia in the 1950’s, paramilitary activities in Laos and Tibet in the first years of the American involvement in Vietnam and assassination plots in the Congo and the Dominican Republic in the early 1960’s.

The agency also promised six years ago to release records of its coup in Iran in 1954. It belatedly confessed last year that it had destroyed most of those files in the early 1960’s. Mr. Woolsey called that destruction, which remained a secret within the agency, even to him, ”a terrible breach of faith with the American people and their ability to understand their own history.”

It took them five years to realize that they had destroyed most of the files on Iran and another 16 to actually put out some of the records they did have. If they keep going at this rate, they might get out the rest of the documents they promised by the end of the century. The CIA also conceded they had had a file on Noam Chomsky after years of denial–remember this the next time they claim …. well, anything.

Add-on: notice with the Chomsky files that one of two things is very likely: the CIA lied when they said they had no file on him; they destroyed the file they had on him. Since both of these are illegal, I assume there will be an investigation. <–here is where you’re supposed to laugh.

As an aside, it’s interesting to note the main players who convinced President Ford to veto the Privacy Act (which expanded the FOIA):

President Gerald R. Ford wanted to sign the Freedom of Information Act strengthening amendments passed by Congress 30 years ago, but concern about leaks (shared by his chief of staff Donald Rumsfeld and deputy Richard Cheney) and legal arguments that the bill was unconstitutional (marshaled by government lawyer Antonin Scalia, among others) persuaded Ford to veto the bill, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive to mark the 30th anniversary of the veto override.

And yes, I found it ‘funny’ that the debate about the Privacy Act was classified.

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