It is astonishing how rapidly the fragile state of Iraq is imploding, as the Islamic militant group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIS), advances on many Iraqi cities. The 2003 military intervention by the United States and its allies destabilized the political and social framework of the country, which Nouri al-Maliki has completed. Resulting in sectarian divisions, through a progressive marginalization of the Sunni population. The surrender of Iraqi troops is the result of this foolish and short sighted policy. The huge investment (about $25 billion) in their training by the international community was insufficient.
Tag Archives | Iran-U.S. Relations
Charles Dudley Warner’s oft-quoted suggestion that “politics makes strange bedfellows” is never better illustrated than the prospect of a rapprochement between Iran and the United States. Stimulated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) rapid military advances in Iraq, both sides find themselves on the same side – albeit for vastly different reasons.
The barrage of criticisms of Obama’s foreign policy has cast a new and favorable light on the president and his role in the generally grisly parade of foreign policy cockups that have characterized his two administrations.
Particularly, it has highlighted the dissatisfaction of the neoliberal and neocon interventionists with President Obama’s chariness in committing military power to advance their cherished initiatives. And that’s a good thing for Obama. I discussed this issue when I characterized the president’s position as “don’t use stupid actions to follow up on stupid policies.” Remarkably, given the considerable energy and intellectual power exhibited in America’s non-stop overseas jiggery-pokery, US geopolitical strategy has abounded in stupid policies.
And, in my opinion, that’s no accident. I think it has to do with the mindset of the interventionist caucus in the US foreign policy government and private sector apparatus, which has been dragging or guiding the US government into wars (and enhancing its own power, profits, and influence) for generations. The gold standard for ham-fisted intervention is still Iraq War II, but it seems there is an inexhaustible supply of wonks, pundits, advocates, and agitators within the Beltway ready to be “heroes in error” for the next US crusade. A few points about interventionism in the Age of Obama.
A new report released by the cybersecurity firm, Mandiant, a FireEye Company, concluded that the cybersecurity threat landscape is expanding at a rapid clip globally. This year’s report also highlighted the continuing emergence of Iranian-based attacks that are increasingly becoming more targeted. In Mandiant’s annual M-Trends: Beyond the Breach assessment of cybersecurity trends, the company noted, “One conclusion is inescapable: the list of potential targets has increased, and the playing field has grown.”
The report goes on, “Cyber threat actors are expanding the uses of computer network exploitation to fulfill an array of objectives, from the economic to the political,” the report said. “Threat actors are not only interested in seizing the corporate crown jewels but are also looking for ways to publicize their views, cause physical destruction, and influence global decision makers.”
Hassan Rouhani has been Iran’s president since June of last year and it is useful to examine the legacy of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
For those who have come to believe that Iran is the country dominated by anti-Semites or Holocaust-deniers, I think the most categorical response is what Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, Christine Pelosi, in a Twitter exchange on September 5, 2013: “Iran never denied it [the Holocaust]. The man who did is now gone. happy new year.”
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected as Iran’s president in June of 2005, neither I nor any journalist or political expert in Iran had a clear idea of what his foreign policy would be. Domestic and economic policies are not the subject of our discussions here. As time went by, it became clear that Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy was based on no single principle, but adventurism, ultra-idealism and frantic decisions that would render him a publicity stunt rather than a chief executive.
The Obama administration says Iran’s nomination of a former hostage-taker as its ambassador to the United Nations is “extremely troubling.” US senators have also balked at Iran’s pick of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was part of a Muslim student group, which seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. The 52 Americans were held for 444 days during the crisis.
Senator Ted Cruz says he will introduce legislation to block Iran’s application for a US visa for Mr. Aboutalebi. Department of State spokeswoman Marie Harf said at Wednesday’s daily briefing: “I will say that we think this nomination would be extremely troubling. We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran.” Mr. Aboutalebi has reportedly said he had minimal involvement in the hostage-taking group, named the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line. Officials for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations have so far declined to comment.
Mr. Cruz, a Texas Republican, said on the Senate floor on Tuesday: “It is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country.” He added, “This person is an acknowledged terrorist.”
His legislation would require US President Barack Obama to deny a visa to any UN applicant determined to have engaged in terrorist activity. Fellow Republican Senator John McCain called Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment “a really kind of an in-your-face action by the Iranian government,” the Associated Press news agency reports.
Speculation has it that Iran wants to pursue legal action against the US-Israeli led Stuxnet cyberattack.
If the rumors prove to be true, Iran’s case against the United States could give the international community a great opportunity to use the case as needed momentum towards setting official international regulations on cyberwarfare. Arguably, the Stuxnet cyberattack is an illegal act of force that violated the Charter of the United Nations, the IAEA safeguards regime, and Iranian sovereignty as well.
After the U.S.-Israeli cyberattack, Tehran took a relatively passive posture and never officially complained to international legal channels. Shortly before President Rouhani took office in Tehran, an anonymous Iranian diplomat made public that Iran’s Foreign Ministry had enough evidence to take legal steps against the United States for the Stuxnet cyberattack. If Iran takes legal action against Washington it can demand that it receive compensations for damages caused and having its sovereignty violated by an illegal act of war. A lot is at stake as Iran’s determination against the cyberattack could set boundaries for future illegal cyber behavior.
During a recent speech to university students, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei urged the country’s students to prepare for cyberwar, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported last Wednesday. Calling the students “cyberwar agents” he reminded them of their special role in this particular kind of war and that Tehran is prepared for a cyber battle against the United States and Israel. Ayatollah Khamenei’s remarks are believed to be a response to Israel’s Major General Aviv Kochavi, who went on record as saying, “cyber, in my modest opinion, will soon be revealed to be the biggest revolution in warfare, more than gunpowder and the utilization of air power in the last century.” These remarks are a powerful reminder of the uncertainty of future international cyberwarfare and how unregulated it is.
Over the past decade, the United States and Iran have changed the definition of traditional warfare giving the international community a glimpse into what future wars will look like. In the past decade, both countries have extensively built up their cyber arsenals launching sophisticated assaults on each other’s computer networks, banks and sensitive infrastructure. It could be argued that the United States has been more successful but Iran is catching up. It is clear that when these cyberattacks do grow in escalation they may potentially have a serious humanitarian impact. Yet, international law has not been absent in addressing the cyberwar domain. For many, cyberwar and cybersecurity is seen as still the ‘stuff’ you see in summer blockbusters and not for what it really is: serious, perplexing and scary.
The past few months have seen Iran busy.
Apart from elections and a new President, a proposed nuclear deal still being discussed and despite past efforts neither side has walked away from the negotiating table. Additionally, with the United States no longer directly engaged in Iraq, Iran’s role in the region seems to be growing, to the chagrin of the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Furthermore, the Iranian nuclear deal might just put an end to the status quo between the Gulf countries and Iran. If so, how is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) going to react? To begin with, the Arab countries are having a hard time trying to find some common ground. When it comes to the Iranian situation, different member countries of the GCC are adopting different approaches. For instance, Oman is trying its best to be neutral. In fact, Oman acted as the facilitator during the US-Iran negotiations for the nuclear deal. On the other hand, Qatar is waiting to project itself as the key player in the region, ahead of both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“We extend our hand for peace, including to the Iranian people, but today was a great occasion that was missed.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres
It’s not on par with Nixon going to China, but in Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of politicos and economic and social leaders, Iran and Israel have taken the first “baby steps” in creating a thaw in their relations. While the moment in “Twitter diplomacy” is unlikely going to translate into direct trade or even a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but considering how relations have been between Iran and Israel for the past several decades, it would be safe to characterize an exchange, even via Twitter, as historic. Up until the election of Hassan Rouhani, the only exchanges between Israel and Iran were to hurl insults at one another and accuse each other of undermining the security of the other.
With Iran agreeing to the Geneva agreement and suspending uranium enrichment above 5 percent, halting the installation of centrifuges and stopping construction on a heavy-water reactor, the momentum is building for normalized or even a working relationship with the West. While Iran has argued for the past decade that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the West has accused the Islamic Republic of operating a nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapons capabilities. “Ingrained skepticism about the good faith of the Islamic regime remains one of the main sources that could endanger the process,” Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, told Bloomberg. “The quality of Iran’s implementation of the Geneva agreement will reduce such obstacles.” The dilemma for the West is whether to throw away any opportunities at semi-normalized relations or build upon any opportunities that present themselves.
Now that Iran is reconstructing its international relations through diplomacy and becoming a regional power, the West, through the United Nations, is considering using the issue of human rights as leverage.
On December 18, 2013, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution put forth by Canada that condemned Iran for alleged human rights violations. 86 countries voted in favor, 36 against and 61 abstained. While the UN resolution did express some concern over human rights abuses, the resolution emphasized that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has pledged to address women’s rights as well as the rights of minorities within Iran.
The resolution acknowledged and praised Rouhani’s efforts “to take concrete action to ensure these pledges can result in demonstrable improvements as soon as possible and to uphold the government’s obligations under its domestic laws and under international human rights law.” The UN resolution, which also signaled out Syria and North Korea, comes on the heels of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program. An interim agreement stipulates limitations on certain portions of Iran’s nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief.
2013 was not a good year for political stability or progress in most Arab countries. Henry Kissinger once said that: “the Arabs can’t make war without Egypt; and they can’t make peace without Syria.”
Egypt is polarized in a zero-sum fierce fight between its two best organized institutions, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, following Revolution 2.0 and the ousting in July 2013 by General Al-Sisi of elected President Morsi. Violent demonstrations and political assassinations occur almost on a daily basis. Syria is entrenched in the worst political and humanitarian crisis since it became a nation; the civil war has claimed more than 100,000 lives and millions of refugees have been displaced. Kissinger was referring to Arab-Israeli matters, but clearly these two key countries are in no position to provide regional stability. Maybe it is time for the U.S. to a rethink its Middle East policy approach.
What about Iraq and the Arab Gulf states? Iraq, with its substantial oil and water resources and a traditionally large middle class, well-educated population, is not in good shape either. The rising number of victims of sectarian fighting between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority is approaching a peak of violence not seen since 2007. Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional government is slowly, yet aggressively, establishing itself as an independent state, without the label.
When President Rouhani was popularly elected last June, the factors that led to his victory bore quite a resemblance to President Obama’s victory in 2008, albeit with obvious exceptions.
Both were never given a chance to win in the face of other establishment candidates, both were catapulted by the youth vote, both were welcomed to an economy in tatters, both were replacing presidents that were unpopular at home and abroad, and perhaps most importantly, both gave their respective populations an unprecedented sense of hope.
This theme of “mirrored politics” has yet to finish. Rouhani and Obama find themselves in similar situations trying to balance the political force of their respective domestic hardliners as they attempt to secure an historic nuclear deal after 34 years of hostility. For their mission to succeed, both Presidents will need to force each respective opposition to align, for just long enough that Secretary of State John Kerry’s and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s signatures have dried at the bottom of a comprehensive deal. Calling this process “extremely delicate” is putting it nicely.
Since assuming power in 2002, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has sought to position Turkey as a leading Middle Eastern power, prompting some analysts to allege ‘neo-Ottoman’ ambitions.
The ‘Turkish model’ of modernism and moderation has been hailed across the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) as a model to be emulated, and was enhanced by the Arab Awakening. Prior to the AKP assuming power, Ankara and Jerusalem had a unique military alliance, based on their shared security interests. However, since 2008, Ankara has regularly spouted anti-Israel rhetoric – which contributed to the AKP’s ‘street cred’ across the Arab world – while at the same time continuing some aspects of its military cooperation with Jerusalem.
The two states’ shared economic and security interests have created an unusual dynamic that permits both to extend an open hand, as well as a clenched fist. While that bilateral relationship was severely strained — and even at times hostile — as a result of the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, it has recommenced following Israel’s apology earlier this year for the Turkish loss of life. Yet Turkey has moved at a snail’s pace on the path to restoring full diplomatic relations, raising questions about Ankara’s sincerity about normalizing diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.
President Barack Obama speaking on Saturday at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution to an influential audience of Israeli supporters and journalists offered his best defense, so far, of the Iranian nuclear agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1.
As part of the six-month agreement, the United States would allow Iran some enrichment capabilities. While critics of the agreement and any agreement for that matter argue that Iran should not have any enrichment capabilities, the president accurately pointed out that that’s not feasible given the technology behind enrichment. “Theoretically, they (Iran) will always have some, because, as I said, the technology here is available to any good physics student at pretty much any university around the world.”
While Obama gave the agreement a fifty percent chance of success he nonetheless insisted that the diplomatic effort is worth it. If a long-term agreement isn’t reached, the international community is “no worse off” then when it started. “If at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them,” Obama said.