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Monday, January 6, 2020

MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACKING


It is easy enough to criticize Trump’s actions and threats of action in the Middle East.  I find it more difficult to say what the Mid-East policy of the United States ought to be, given the facts on the ground as they are today.  Leave to one side the fact that many of the current national boundaries in the Middle East were decided by a committee of European generals and politicians after the First World War.  Leave to one side as well the fact that in 1953 a progressive secular president of Iran, democratically elected two years earlier, was overthrown by a joint US/British operation, to be replaced eventually by a puppet Shah.  The question I ask myself can be put this way:  On January 21st, 2021, as President Sanders settles into the Oval Office with the Democrats in firm control of the House and Senate, when he holds his first meeting with his foreign policy advisers, what ought his long term goals be for the revision, perhaps even the upending, of American Middle East foreign policy?

I begin with two premises and one general rule.  First premise:  America has no national interest in the religious dispute between Sunni and Sh’ia.  Second premise:  America [as opposed to certain American capitalists] has no national interest in who controls the oil resources of the region.  General rule:  Regime change as an American national policy is a bad idea, even if the change one is actually trying to bring about [as opposed to pretending to bring about] is a change from a non-democratic to a democratic form of government.  What then ought America’s Middle East policy be?

I simply do not know.  I invite suggestions and comments from the readership.

14 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

I agree with what you have said so far. Also Bernie did have an interesting statement today. He pointed out that Iran sent condolences to the US after 9/11 and he then mentioned that yesterday ISIS committed some terrorist bombing in Tehran, killing 12 Iranians, and that the US ought to send condolences for that action .

I can't off the top of my head list specifics, but I think that kind of relationship to the various states in the region
could not only pay dividends but express and manifest a different kind of US, one not exploiting its military strength for gain of any sort.

Jerry Fresia said...

And this from the twitter feed: it is bad has we would have thought:

THREAD: Over the past few days, I've spoken extensively with career U.S. government officials as they've worked around the clock to try and mitigate the damage from Trump's ineptitude on Iran. With their permission, I'm sharing a small taste from our lengthy conversations. Enjoy.
4:49 AM · Jan 6, 2020·Twitter Web App
18.2K
Retweets
28K
Likes
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
Replying to
@rezamarashi
"We have no functional national security decision-making process in place. We have no plan for what comes next. They are woefully unprepared for what's about to pop off, and they're too stupid to realize it. People here are freaking out, and rightfully so."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"We're still trying to dig out from underneath the last war of choice, and now they're trying to start a new one. I finally cracked open the bottle of scotch you gave me that I've been keeping stashed away in my desk drawer."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"I'm gonna call you later tonight to talk through this so I can go into meetings tomorrow armed with some sane talking points to insert into this clusterfuck."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"When did most of us find out about killing Soleimani? After it already happened. Since then, we've been trying to cobble together contingency planning on the fly, but these charlatans ignore most of it, and then Trump does more stupid shit that puts us back at square one."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"All Trump cares about is shitting on Obama's legacy, sucking up to donors, and distracting from impeachment. None of this is about American interests or security. He's surrounded by ideological lunatic sycophants like Pence and Pompeo. But they're far from the only ones."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"So many of Trump's top advisors on Iran are military vets who served multiple tours of duty in our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. They believe to their core that Iran is the reason why they lost those wars, and they're dead set on payback - no matter what it takes."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi

Jerry Fresia said...

·continued:

12h
"They've been pushing to kill Soleimani for years, and they finally baited Trump into it. They think war with Iran is long overdue, so for them, this was a means to an end. When Iran responds, they'll tell Trump to hit the Iranians harder. You see where this could go."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"They know the Iraqis are gonna kick them out now, so they're gonna try to kill as many as possible on their way out. Iranians, Iraqis, whoever. Some of them are advising Trump to tell the Iraqi government to fuck off and dare them to make us leave. I shit you not. Insanity."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"When I used your points about Soleimani's murder being a catalyst for Iranians to rally around the flag, they said that was 'Obama apologist bullshit,' and the Soviet Union forced people against their will into public displays of support. So apparently Iran is a superpower now."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"Trump is threatening war crimes against Iran, and none of his top advisors have the courage to publicly oppose it. Instead, they act like cowards and go on background with journalists to express their opposition. They should all resign. They don't deserve to serve this country."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"We have friends that are getting deployed into war zones, but for what? Trump has deployed 14,000 troops over the past 6 months, and it didn't prevent the current crisis. At what point do we start asking whether deploying troops is part of the problem rather than the solution?"
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"The scariest part is that they're just making shit up to justify their preferred course of action. When we point out inaccuracies or question logic, we're at best yelled at or at worst cut out of the process. Most of the political appointees are paranoid, unqualified, or both."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"Last year, if you would've asked me whether American institutions are durable enough to prevent a Trump-led war with Iran, I would've said absolutely. Today, I'm not so sure. For as bad as it looks to you all on the outside, it's even worse when you see it from the inside."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
"One of Trump's top Iran advisors got suckered into a honey trap, had their laptop/iPhone stolen and hacked before they woke up, and the White House refused to take precautionary measures regarding their security clearance. Ladies and gents, I give you the Trump administration."
Reza Marashi
@rezamarashi
·
12h
In conclusion: Yes, folks. It really is that bad. I am but a humble messenger of truth. The voice of the voiceless. That is all. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

s. wallerstein said...

Withdraw all U.S. troops from the area, close all U.S. military bases, bring the fleet back home, annul all military alliances including alliances with Israel, end all military aid to the area, end all arms sales to the area, end all embargos and sanctions against Iran or other governments, buy oil from whoever sells it at the best price, restore full diplomatic relations with Iran, recognize Assad as president of Syria, support any actions and sanctions voted for by the UN Security Council, support any actions or sanctions voted for by the UN Human Rights Commission, in general, stop trying to rule the Middle East, etc.

Anonymous said...

Then you open up the region to control by Russia and China.

s. wallerstein said...

So what?

Jerry Fresia said...

I like what President Wallerstein is saying: sanity

Anonymous said...

We live in an insane world that can be kept slightly more sane by those with power choosing the lesser of evils in a given situation.

s. wallerstein said...

I can't tell if there are two anonymous or only one.

In any case, you'd have to convince me that Russia and China are the contemporary equivalent of Nazi Germany, bent on world conquest and/or on the genocidal or extermination of a whole people or race or religion, etc.

Thanks, Jerry.

LFC said...

Scattershot comments follow. Herewith the executive summary so to speak:

The US's main goals in the region shd include: (1) reduction of existing conflicts and/or their resolution; (2) reduction of terrorism of all kinds and its "export"; (3) encouragement of regimes that are more responsive to their pops' needs and less corrupt (this does *not* mean forcible regime change); (4) improvement of disastrous humanitarian situations e.g. w Syrian refugees and IDPs, and in Gaza; (5) assuring that ISIS does not regroup and get back the territory it lost from 2014 to 2019; (6) assuring that the Syrian Kurds who fought vs. ISIS, in conjunction w Iraqi forces and coalition airpower, are not abandoned to the untender mercies of the Turkish government.

The Trump admin declared that, in its view, Israel's occupation of the West Bank does not violate international law. This was a reversal of a consistent U.S. position to the contrary since 1967 I think. This Trump admin position is something a Democratic pres. could undo on his or her first day in office. Not all of Trump's moves in the region are so easily reversed, however. Congress voted to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia and I think Trump simply ignored it. Anyway the large arms sales to S. Arabia shd stop until Saudi Arabia amends its indiscriminate actions in Yemen (and to some extent elsewhere).

Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran has been close to a total failure and shd be dumped. OTOH, prob too late now to rejuvenate the Iran nuclear deal.

The Trump admin's much-ballyhooed ME peace plan never got off the ground, partly b.c the Palestinians did not consider, for understandable reasons, the Trump admin a good-faith actor here. A new admin shd clear the decks, announce a new, more coherent, comprehensive policy approach to the P/I conflict that cd result in peace talks starting again. In a debate, iirc, Sanders said the U.S. shd be both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian. He has to translate that into a coherent set of proposals (maybe they're already there in the campaign's position papers). The basic outline for P/I peace -- 2-state solution, defensible borders, compromise on water rights, end effective blockade of Gaza, etc. -- has been pretty obvious for a long time. The US though has never been willing to use its full leverage to force the parties to an agreement. You have to not only lead the parties to the water but force them to drink (i.e., by threatening to cut off all forms of all aid to both sides until they agree to a deal). Once they've drunk they may realize the water actually tastes reasonably good, except for some die-hard holdouts on both sides.

On Afghanistan, the peace talks w the Taliban have been very off-again on-again. Prob enough blame to go around here.

Need to emphasize that it's time to restore a minimal degree of coherence instead of, as Trump has done, hopping from one week's obsession to the next in the fashion of a headless chicken. The ME is such a complicated series of interlocking conflicts and criss-crossing alliances and loyalties that no admin can possibly make progress on all of them. So you need to take a Hippocratic Oath approach -- first, don't worsen already bad situations -- and then try to improve discrete situations that may be amenable to such.

A total and immediate w/l of all US mil. forces and assets from the region is not only politically unfeasible but would be interpreted, fairly or not, as the US washing its hands of the region. In the short run that might have its attractions but in the medium run it wd prob not conduce to achievement of goals listed at the beginning of comment.

s. wallerstein said...

The U.S. always has noble goals and good intentions: that's part of the psychopathology of U.S. foreign policy. Those who carry out U.S. foreign policy seem incapable of admitting to themselves that their goals and intentions are not noble: they probably genuinely believed that they were invading Iraq to "bring democracy" and "protect human rights, especially the rights of women".

Here's a rather forced analogy, but it says something, I hope. Let's imagine a guy who beats his wife and his kids and his aged mother out of good intentions. He beats his wife because he wants her to give up binge drinking, he beats his kids because they're lazy students and he wants them to study harder and he beats his mother because she is forgetful due to her age and he wants to improve her memory. That's the U.S. The guy just has to get out of the business of beating people just as the U.S. has to get out of the business of running a global empire. They are not particularly good at it, they don't understand foreign cultures and they generally fuck up and in addition, kill a lot of innocent people in spite of their good intentions.

So bring the troops home. I agree with you, LFC, about number 6, that something should be done to protect the Syrian Kurds who fought ISIS. Maybe I'd leave a few U.S. troops to back them up. Otherwise, bring'em home!

LFC said...

The U.S. should not have tens of thousands of soldiers in Germany and Japan 75 years after WW2. The U.S. should not have 28,000 soldiers in S. Korea decades after the Korean armistice. The treaties that govern their presence should be if nec. renegotiated. The U.S. does not need and should not have approx 750 mil. bases all over the world.

But we were not talking about the global U.S. mil. footprint or the U.S. global "empire". We were talking specifically about the Middle East. And in that context, while I am not at all a Middle East expert by any imaginable yardstick and while I do not pretend that I have magic wands to wave that will even begin to solve those problems, my impression as a citizen who votes
and therefore feels bound to reach some tentative position is that a *complete and immediate* U.S. withdrawal from the region would on balance not help. Now, given the failures you have noted, I could be wrong about that. Fortunately, as I am not employed by a think tank, an NGO, a university, or a government, or a media org., few people give a fu*k what I think and I can therefore say pretty much whatever I want, secure in the knowledge that, outside of some corners of the blogosphere, no one cares.

Btw, I do not see this as being about intentions. Most govts have a mix of motives and most think their intentions are on the whole nobler than they are. Trump has, I think, basically no intentions that qualify as noble, at least not in this context. I also agree the U.S. is not esp good at running a global "empire". Luckily for the U.S. and its allies the USSR was not v good at running its Eastern European empire cum sphere of influence, but that's another story.

s. wallerstein said...

Most countries are not particularly good at running global empires. The "natives" have a bad habit of wanting to run their own lives according to their own codes and sets of values.

Fred said...


For decades love letters between Soleimani and many others in the Middle East including US commanders indicate that Soleimani has deep ties to Hezbollah and into the Iraqi government. Good riddance