Reflections on the confrontation with Iran

US Ambassador Mark G Hambley and William Morris of the Next Century Foundation discuss Iran in the third of three broadcasts from Springfield Massachusetts for Hala London Radio:

Is Corbyn an anti-Semite?

The following comes from Dr Neil Partrick, one of the Senior Fellows at the Next Century Foundation. Neil’s article is contentious but interesting. You may find the original on his blog at

Anti-Semitism is not as big a problem in the UK Labour Party as it appears to be, judging by the amount of British media coverage of the issue. Nor is anti-Semitism as widespread in the party as some allege. It is true that the accusation of it against some on the pro-Corbyn left of the party, made most strongly by anti-Corbyn MPs, is in part a politically-motivated attempt to damage Mr Corbyn and his leadership. This can have the effect on the Corbynite Left of encouraging them to defensively kick against the hostility of the Labour ‘Right’, and maybe, just maybe….repeat, maybe….this explains the comments of pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson, for which he has today partially apologised.

To some it might seem that anti-Semitism is simply being confused with anti-Zionism. Sometimes it is, and that I too have a problem with. However it is actually, and increasingly, hard to separate the two issues. If Zionism is always unacceptable, in any form, to some on the Left, then it should be no more a concern to them than any kind of nationalism/national aspiration that is ethnically or religiously exclusive e.g. the aspiration for ethnic Kurdish nationhood (very popular among Kurds in parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and supported by some in the west); the agitation for, creation of and maintenance of Pakistan, a self-defined exclusivist Muslim state. Or Arab nationalism, a banner that Nasser and others got behind in the ambition to mobilise one ethnicity, ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians, against Israel (or rather ‘the Jews’ as their propaganda referred to) and in the process disregarding a whole host of Middle Eastern, non-Arab, minorities.

The same could be said of the official ‘Arab Ba’ath’ ideology of present day Syria and of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Arab chauvinism expressed via an ethnically exclusivist politics i.e. ethno-nationalism. The Muslim Brotherhood – recently in power in Egypt and still popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, including in Palestine – is committed solely to establishing a form of political rule that unites Muslims under Islamic law (regardless of Christian Arabs et al). However I never hear people on the Far Left, or Jeremy Corbyn specifically, talk critically about them. In fact he has praised and shared platforms with the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas (whose charter still contains reference to the widely recognised anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’), and shared platforms and praised Hizbollah (a Lebanese pro-Iranian group solely interested in advancing the interests of Shia Muslims, in Lebanon, Syria etc).
OK. Maybe this is just inconsistency, or (wilful) ignorance, or both. Maybe this isn’t cast iron proof of anti-Semitism. I really cannot see Jeremy Corbyn going home at night and sticking pins in a doll depicting a pot-bellied, bespectacled, gold chain-wearing, big-bearded, big-nosed, archetypal ‘Yid’. Yet he praised and defended an infamous mural with more or less this exact depiction of a Jew on it, even when this specific aspect was pointed out to him. In response to criticism of some young Leftist Labour activists who had referred to the power of ‘Jewish capitalists’/’Jewish capital’, he said that they’d let their anti-capitalist enthusiasm run away with them. Perhaps he would be as indulgent of Ernst Rohm and his anti-capitalist Nazi Brownshirts whom Hitler had purged. In a fairly recently unearthed clip of Jeremy speaking (prior to him becoming party leader) on a pro-Palestinian platform about Israel, he was found to respond to a critical question put to him by a British Jew, whom he presumably recognised, by saying that ‘they’ should have more of a sense of humour, and that ‘by now’ ‘they’ should know this country better. When some his followers in the party target anti-Corbyn Labour Jewish MPs and councillors with strongly pro-Palestinian messages on social media, they are choosing to focus on their ethnicity and to link that to a foreign issue. In doing so they are in effect portraying these British politicians as foreigners in their own country, just as Corbyn did when responding to an audience member in the clip I refer to above. Would they – do they – ever target non-Jewish political opponents (who’ve sympathised with Israel) in this manner?
The hostility to Israel easily overlaps on the left with hostility to US foreign policy and perceived disproportionate US armed action on Arab/Muslim states/targets. If Israel and the US are deemed to be wrong, then some on the Labour Left find it hard to be critical of a Middle Eastern enemy of Israel and the US. In the case of Iran, which in its most senior office of state institutionalises exclusive Shia political and spiritual authority, this reluctance even applies when some of the Iranian working class are striking over pay and conditions. It should also be noted that the Labour Party has long had a significant representation among Muslim Asians in the UK, usually, but not exclusively, of Pakistani heritage, among whom strong and sometimes highly conservative Islamic assertions can sometimes be found that hardly fit with the apparent politics of middle class socialists enthused about Corbyn.
Anti-Semitism, perhaps ironically, literally means to be an anti-Semite, a loose ethnic term, using perhaps spurious ethno-genetic classifications, that includes Arabs as well as Jews. In common and widespread parlance however, it means to be anti-Jewish. What is it to be ‘Jewish’? It is ostensibly an adherent of a particular monotheistic religion. However Jewishness plainly has a wide set of cultural identifiers, and to some extent ethnic identifiers, that apply to Jewish atheists too. It obviously isn’t the same thing as being ‘Israeli’, which is actually not a totally ethnically exclusive nationality, even if political and constitutional realities mean that it is very close to being so.

So, are Jeremy Corbyn and some of his allies anti-Semites? Well, the blithe and knowing disregard for causing collective offence, the prioritisation of factional political advantage over addressing such offence, and hostility to any territorial expression of Jewish national identity, but acceptance of other ethno or religious nationalisms, comes pretty close.



Countries urged not to strip terror suspects of citizenship

THE HAGUE – Stripping terror suspects of citizenship does not increase national security and may even make it worse, legal experts told a conference on ending statelessness.

They are particularly concerned over the increasing use of the measure by Britain which this year revoked the nationality of “Jihadi bride” Shamima Begum who left London to join Islamic State (IS) in 2015 at the age of 15.

Britain is also considering the case of British-Canadian Muslim convert Jack Letts who joined IS as a teenager and is now being held in a Kurdish-run jail in northern Syria.

“Stripping nationality is a completely ineffective measure – and an arbitrary measure,” said Amal de Chickera, co-founder of the Institute on Statelessness, which is hosting the conference in The Hague.

He said countries should retain responsibility for nationals accused of supporting IS and ensure they are prosecuted.

“Stripping nationality when people are abroad merely exports the problem to other countries,” he said, adding such measures were also likely to have a serious impact on families back home.

Countries should recognize that women married to IS fighters, and their children, may have been victimized, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s conference.

The conference heard that Britain stripped nationality from more than 100 people in 2017, compared to a total of 12 people between 1950 and 2002, but most cases were done quietly.

De Chickera said it was crucial that all countries’ counter-terrorism policies should not result in more people becoming stateless – which means someone is not recognized as a national by any country in the world.

To avoid making people stateless, Britain has focused on dual nationals. But Audrey Macklin, a human rights law professor at the University of Toronto, said if all countries had laws to revoke citizenship from dual nationals then you would get a race to see who could do it first “and to the loser goes the citizen”.

“Is this a policy that makes sense as a global practice directed at making the world more secure, at reducing the risk of terrorism? To my mind, not so much,” she said.

She said citizenship was a right rather than a privilege, and described citizenship deprivation followed by expulsion as the “political equivalent of the death penalty”.

The conference comes midway through a U.N. campaign to end statelessness in a decade. An estimated 10 to 15 million people are stateless worldwide, often deprived of basic rights.

On the ongoing, and brutal, war being conducted in Yemen

We discuss Yemen in the first of three broadcasts from the USA with Hon Mark G Hambley, former US Ambassador to Lebanon, former US Chief Negotiator on Climate Change, former US Spokesperson to the Arab and Islamic World, and those are just some of the positions he has held. He has served as a diplomat in many countries. He was Ambassador in Qatar. He was Consul General in Alexandria. He has served in Libya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Jordan.

As America and Iran inch closer to war, new talks are needed

A couple of interesting and well informed articles on Iran by Nick Pelham in the Economist the other day. This was the editorial:

For nearly four years Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon was blocked. The deal it signed with America and other powers in 2015 limited its nuclear programme to civilian uses, such as power-generation, and subjected them to the toughest inspection regime in history. The experts agreed that Iran was complying and that its nuclear activities were contained. But then President Donald Trump ditched the nuclear deal and Iran resumed stockpiling low-enriched uranium. It is now poised to breach the 300kg cap set by the agreement. Iran may hesitate before crossing that line, but it is also threatening to increase the enrichment level of its uranium, bringing it closer to the stuff that goes into a bomb.

Fortunately, Iran is not about to become a nuclear-weapons power. Its breakout time is over a year. But it is once again using its nuclear programme to heap pressure on America. That adds an explosive new element to an already-volatile mix. America accuses Iran of attacking six ships in the Strait of Hormuz since May. On June 20th Iran shot down an American spy drone. America insisted the aircraft was above international waters, not Iran’s, and sent warplanes to strike back. Ten minutes before they were due to hit targets inside Iran Mr Trump called them off and contented himself with a cyber-attack instead . . .

The rest of the editorial can be found here. And for the full background article use this link.

What hope for Libya?

Hala London Radio writes: Catch up on this special edition of Hadith Al Sa3a as Lina chats with William Morris about the latest in Libya, striving for peace, and Next Century Foundation (of which William is the Secretary General). The video is in English and you can watch it below:

Are John Bolton’s days numbered?

Stafford Clarry, the Next Century Foundation’s senior member in Iraq, seems to think that John Bolton’s days as the US government’s National Security Advisor are coming to an end. He writes that:

There is a good chance, as with so many other top staff in the White House administration who have come and gone.
National Security Advisor (NSA) Bolton’s historically hawkish approach to US foreign policy has been long known, which is affirmed by his behavior during his short stint in the White House.
On Iran Stafford adds:
US-Iran relations that impact the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) are currently under control. Knowledgeable and experienced observers, however, fear “miscalculation, misjudgment, or human error”. See Speigel Online interview with former US CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta below.
US-Iran military conflict is less likely largely because of potential adverse impact the 2020 US presidential election for the current White House. This is compounded by White House (Trump) well-known hesitancy in involving the US in another war.
North Korea attracts wanted/needed attention from the highest levels because they have nuclear weapons and missile capabilities for leverage. 
In observing the North Korea situation, Iran is making moves toward increasing its nuclear and missile capabilities in order to gain leverage to attract unwanted/unneeded attention.

NBC News 2 July 2019

Bolton the hawk struggles to retain his influence with Trump

Analysis: John Bolton remains the chief skeptic of diplomacy with North Korea and Iran, but is he losing influence with the president?

By Dan DeLuce, Carol E. Lee, and Andrea Mitchell

WASHINGTON — John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s famously hawkish national security adviser, could not have been enthusiastic when his boss crossed into North Korean territory last weekend to make a bit of history with the leader of the Pyongyang regime, Kim Jong Un.
For years, Bolton has warned against conciliatory gestures or negotiations with North Korea. Two months before he took his current job, Bolton argued in an op-ed for a preemptive strike on North Korea based on what he called an “imminent” threat.
Now Trump’s latest diplomatic gambit with North Korea has raised fresh questions about the influence of his national security adviser, who has appeared out of sync with the president in recent weeks, particularly when it comes to how to handle Pyongyang.
When the president stepped into North Korean territory briefly alongside Kim Jong Un over the weekend, Bolton was conspicuously absent, holding talks 1,200 miles away in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar.
While Bolton was on his previously scheduled trip to Mongolia, a fierce critic who has painted him as a warmonger — Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson — was on hand for the president’s rendezvous with the North Korean leader.
A day after Trump’s unprecedented walk across the demilitarized zone into North Korean territory, Bolton pushed back against a report in the New York Times that said the administration was considering scaling back its demands on Pyongyang and accepting a freeze on North Korea’s production of nuclear material instead of a full dismantling of its arsenal.
“Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK,'” Bolton tweeted. He called the report “a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President.”
Trump, who as a candidate promised to extract America from wars overseas, has openly acknowledged that he and Bolton do not see eye to eye at times, but he has insisted he retains confidence in his national security adviser.
“John Bolton is doing a very good job but he takes a generally tough posture,” Trump said last month. He called Bolton a “hawk,” and added, “I have other people that don’t take that posture, but the only one that matters is me.”
Bolton’s trip to Mongolia had been planned a month before the impromptu meeting with Kim, a person familiar with the planning said, and he stopped in Jerusalem to meet with Israeli and Russian officials. Bolton chose to go to Mongolia instead of the DMZ because the country has “a critical bilateral relationship that the U.S. is looking to deepen across economic and military ties,” this person said.
A senior official insisted Bolton’s view was not out of step with Trump’s on North Korea. The president remains committed to an agreement that would require Pyongyang to give up its entire nuclear weapons program in return for a lifting of economic sanctions, instead of an incremental, step-by-step negotiation, the official told NBC News. “The policy on North Korea is what it has been and continues to be, the big deal. Hand over all of it,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
It was the State Department and Stephen Biegun, the U.S. envoy to North Korea, who have sometimes moved beyond the president’s position, the official said, citing the February summit in Hanoi that ended abruptly without an agreement. “The last time the State Department got ahead of the President he walked from Hanoi.”
In May, hours after Bolton told reporters North Korea had violated United Nations resolutions with a short-range missile test, Trump played down the episode.
“North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me,” Trump tweeted. “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me.”
It’s not the first time the president has publicly contradicted senior members of his administration. Trump blindsided former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others with tweets and remarks that ran counter to previously stated policies.
“It’s kind of a way of publicly putting Bolton in his place,” one source close to the White House said. “He kind of takes glee in doing it publicly.”
According to three sources with close ties to the administration, friction between Trump and Bolton worsened in late May over Iran.
Outside advisers and supporters told Trump he was being dragged into a confrontation with Iran and alleged his aides were moving ahead without fully consulting him, the sources said. The president came away angry and ready to question Bolton.
“There definitely are tensions,” one of the sources said of Trump’s and Bolton’s relationship.
The dynamic between the two men ebbs and flows, with Bolton at times favored by Trump and at other times a source of irritation, the sources said. Bolton’s status is not helped by the fact that he has made few allies inside the administration.
Nevertheless, the president did not appear to be ready to sack Bolton, the sources said.
While Bolton is at odds with some other members of the administration over North Korea, he and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are mostly in agreement on pursuing a tough line with Iran, current and former officials said. But Pompeo enjoys a closer rapport with the president, and is more adept at adjusting to Trump’s view and pulling back on a course of action that makes the president uncomfortable, current and former officials said.
The White House National Security Council did not respond to requests for comment.
James Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander, said that under previous administrations, it would have been “unthinkable” for a president and a national security adviser to air their disagreements in public.
“Publicly it sends a very bad signal, both to our allies and also it encourages our opponents,” the retired admiral told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “Kim is thinking, ‘Wow, this is terrific.'”
Despite Trump’s wariness of military confrontation, Bolton has had a substantial impact on the administration’s policies, helping to push through harsh economic sanctions on Iran and the Maduro regime in Venezuela, former officials and experts say.
But Trump is reportedly disappointed that the sanctions have not spelled the end of the Maduro regime as quickly as Bolton and his team expected.
Last week, Bolton played a role in Trump’s decision to impose yet more sanctions on Iran, targeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials days after Tehran downed a U.S. drone.
People close to the national security adviser downplayed the significance of any differences between Bolton and the president, saying Bolton’s not worried. Trump “likes people who have different opinions,” one of them said.
In an interview with the New Yorker magazine published in April, Bolton said he accepts that his view does not always prevail in the White House.
“You have to know in advance the president’s views are not always yours. When you enter government, you know that you aren’t going to win everything.”
Stavridis said the president’s treatment of Bolton could force the national security adviser to question his future in the administration.
“He’s got to start seeing that self-respect light flickering a little bit, flashing yellow,” Stavridis said.
“I think he has to figure out a way to close the gap with his boss or look for other opportunities to serve,” he said.

Spiegel Online 2 July 2019

Former Secretary of Defense Panetta on Iran ‘You Can Create Chaos, but You’d Better Have a Plan’

By Roland Niles
DER SPIEGEL: Secretary Panetta, late last month, U.S. President Donald Trump called off a military strike against Iran at the very last minute — according to him, just 10 minutes before the missiles were to be launched. Have you ever seen something like that before?
Panetta: No, I haven’t. Generally, when you’re discussing that kind of military operation, there is a great deal of time spent in the National Security Council discussing the different options and the consequences of each option. There is normally a great deal of consideration about the pros and cons of conducting such a military strike. If it is done according to that process, the president early on reaches a decision as to whether he will proceed with a mission or not. In my experience, once a president has made the decision to proceed with a mission, he goes forward with it.
DER SPIEGEL: Trump claimed that he learned just 10 minutes before the strike was to take place that 150 people would likely lose their lives. Do you think this account is accurate?
Panetta: If that’s what happened, then it’s a dysfunctional process. I cannot imagine that the Defense Department would have plans for going after certain targets that did not include what the casualties would be if you struck those targets. That should have taken place early on in the discussion. If that discussion was bypassed and it was only 10 minutes before the strike that the president was made aware of the number of casualties, then something is terribly wrong with the decisionmaking process in the White House.
DER SPIEGEL: Meanwhile, since the resignation of Jim Mattis at the end of last year, the Defense Department has only been led by an acting secretary without Senate confirmation. How much does this affect the president’s ability to react to crises or make important decisions involving the military?
Panetta: It further weakens the process that should take place in determining whether or not military action should occur. If you’re only dealing with an acting secretary, by the very nature of that title, that secretary is in a weakened position — not only in dealing with the military, but also in dealing with the White House. The feeling is that he is just there temporarily rather than being there in a permanent position, having been confirmed by the Senate. It really does undermine the authority of Defense Department leadership.
DER SPIEGEL: How dangerous is the situation in the Gulf right now? Is war a real possibility?
Panetta: It is a dangerous situation. I think there’s no question that tensions are increasing on both sides. The United States is ratcheting up sanctions while Iran is obviously willing to not only take down drones, but also to conduct attacks on tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. And the danger, of course, is that the more these tensions increase, the greater is the possibility of a miscalculation, misjudgment or human error on one side or the other that could result in military confrontation.
DER SPIEGEL: What would happen if the U.S. were to strike targets in Iran? Even if such strikes were limited, would a larger conflict become inevitable?
Panetta: That was always our estimation when I was at the Department of Defense — that if you struck targets in Iran, missile sites or installations or other targets, that Iran would literally respond, either by firing missiles at our military bases in the Gulf or having missiles fired towards Israel. They have a pretty effective missile system.
DER SPIEGEL: Many people believe that militias allied with Iran would attack U.S. facilities or American allies in other countries as well. Is that a realistic scenario?
Panetta: I think Iran would use several approaches. They have the capability of directing proxies like Hamas in Gaza, the Houthis in Yemen and others to conduct attacks in other parts of the region. So they really have a number of options for retaliation. It isn’t going to be a situation where the United States could simply bomb targets and walk away without paying a price.
DER SPIEGEL: With his strategy of “maximum pressure,” Trump is still trying to force Iran to the negotiating table. Do you think it will work?
Panetta: I have concerns about the president’s maximum pressure tactics on a number of fronts. He’s used maximum pressure on North Korea and we still don’t have any plan for denuclearization. He’s used maximum pressure on trade with these tariffs, and we still have not resolved those trade issues. He’s used maximum pressure with Iran, but I don’t know that he has ever determined what the longterm strategy is going to be with regard to these kinds of tactics. You can use maximum pressure, you can create chaos, but you’d damned well better have a plan to resolve the issue. And I don’t think he thinks that far ahead.
DER SPIEGEL: What is the Iranian approach at the moment?
Panetta: I think they are thinking that they’re dealing with a very unpredictable and uncertain president who is not quite sure what path to take to try to resolve these issues. The fact that the president says the main objective is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and yet, at the same time, is the same person who tore up the Iran agreement, which was the only viable plan for trying to restrain Iran from proceeding with a nuclear weapon, creates enough distress on the part of Iran that they’re not sure — even if they sat down and negotiated with the president — that he would keep his word.
DER SPIEGEL: What about advisers close to the president like National Security Advisor Bolton or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Do you think they have a plan for resolving this situation?
Panetta: I would hope so, because they’re in the position to be thinking about that. At the same time, I think they’re trying to feel their way with the president, in terms of just exactly what he wants to do. I assume they supported a military strike and it probably took them by surprise that the president decided not to go through with it.
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DER SPIEGEL: What is the best path to get out of this mess?
Panetta: I think the best approach for the United States would obviously be to make sure that we have sufficient military strength in the region in the event we are called upon to defend our forces there. Secondly, it is absolutely essential that we keep the Strait of Hormuz open, with a third of the oil in the world passing through the straight. Not only our national security, but the economy of the world is dependent on that. Thirdly, because there is so little trust between the United States and Iran, the better approach to try to open up a diplomatic channel would be to use our allies Germany, Great Britain, France and, yes, Russia and China, all of which are partners to the Iran agreement.
DER SPIEGEL: There has been plenty of criticism of Trump’s Iran policy. But he did get a lot of positive feedback for his decision to call off the strike, including from Democrats.
Panetta: In two-and-a-half years, it’s probably the one thing he has got right.
DER SPIEGEL: Trump’s decision reflects widespread public opinion in the U.S.: Many Americans seem to be opposed to any kind of overseas military involvement. Is that an accurate description of the general mood in the U.S.?
Panetta: I think the general notion is to try to avoid becoming involved in a Middle East war that is not justified in terms of our national security. I think the Iraq experience still is something that impacts American public opinion — there is a feeling that that war was not necessary. If it’s a war created more by the parties, by their inability to resolve issues, I think there would be a lot of concern about that kind of conflict. If, on the other hand, our national security was truly called into question and Iran suddenly started attacking our military bases in the region and killing Americans, I don’t think there’s any question that this country would be unified in fighting back.

The White House will meet Iran “without condition”, “on condition” that Iran behaves

The Next Century Foundation’s senior member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry, writes on his view in regard to the ongoing war or no war crisis between the USA and Iran:

Everyday Iranians are suffering the severe consequences of US-imposed sanctions, not terribly unlike what everyday Iraqis suffered during 13 years (1990 to 2003) of UN-authorized sanctions that were arguably much more severe. The UN sanctions on Iraq shut down oil exports completely (to zero) and prohibited all UN Member States from trading anything and everything with Iraq, with the sole exceptions of food and medicine. Thirteen(13) years!

The Iranian leadership will not suffer personal hardship due to US sanctions; indeed, they may thrive economically. The Iraqi leadership did not suffer personal hardship due to UN sanctions; indeed, they continued to build palaces.

It’s hard to imagine where “maximum pressure” on Iran is going given the results so far of “maximum (limited) pressure” on North Korea, China, Venezuela, and even the Palestinians.

One way of looking at it: Active dominates Passive – actively bad dominates passively good, actively good dominates passively bad. But where’s the dominant action when “maximum pressure” meets “maximum resistance”?

To move the situation forward, the White House has offered to meet and converse with Iran without preconditions, on the condition “when the Iranians can prove that they want to behave like a normal nation”.

A seasoned NYT analyst and regular columnist warns, “Just remember: The Iranians are great negotiators with a bad hand and [the White House is] a terrible negotiator with a good hand.”

Where is all this going when one side, apparently, deftly plays defensive offense?

The Washington Post
20 June 2019
The U.S. should strive for a stable Iran. Instead, it is suffocating it.
By Ardeshir Zahedi and Ali Vaez
Ardeshir Zahedi is Iran’s former foreign minister (1966-1971) and ambassador to England (1962-1966) and United States (1960-1962 and 1973-1979). Ali Vaez is the International Crisis Group’s Iran project director, based in Washington.
We belong to two very different generations of Iranians. One of us served in senior official positions in the pro-Western monarchy that ruled Iran prior to the 1979 Islamic revolution; the other is a child of that revolution. One presided over the golden age of Iran-U.S. relations; the other was subject to years of state-sponsored anti-American indoctrination. Yet, despite these differences, we share a sense of belonging to both countries and grave concerns about the collision course they are on.
The Trump administration seems to believe it can achieve what has eluded its predecessors for four decades: fundamental change in Tehran. It has resorted to a time-worn set of tools to attain this objective: strangling the Iranian economy through sanctions, destabilizing Iran by supporting dissidents and secessionists, and launching an information war against the leadership in Tehran. It appears convinced that exercising what it calls “maximum pressure” will cause Iranian capitulation or regime collapse.
The Iranian people, meanwhile, strive for democracy as they have for more than a century, amid growing discontent over endemic corruption, repression and environmental degradation. They deserve a government that respects their rights, preserves their dignity, and offers them peace and a chance at prosperity. Washington’s belligerence, however, could once again bring their democratic struggle to grief. This is for several reasons.
First, the Trump administration has very little credibility as the would-be standard-bearer of positive change. Its rhetoric promising to “crush” Iran or usher in “the official end of Iran” through military action belies its professed distinction between the leadership and the Iranian people.
The administration’s list of public missteps toward the Iranian people is as long as it is regrettable. It includes preventing almost all Iranians from visiting the United States; misstating the historic name of the Persian Gulf; failing to express sympathy with Iranians after terrorist attacks by the Islamic State and separatist groups; and, perhaps most consequentially, withdrawing from the nuclear deal that remains popular in Iran and to which many there had pinned their hopes for a better life.
These mistakes have helped transform top-down anti-Americanism in Iran into a bottom-up phenomenon. Nothing spurs a rally-around-the-flag effect among 83 million Iranians more than humiliation and threats of foreign aggression.
How can Iranians buy into the administration’s professions of positive intent when Washington selectively decries their leaders’ corruption and human rights violations while overlooking the same behavior among U.S. allies? Why didn’t President Trump ask his North Korean or Russian counterparts to fundamentally reorient their policies before he would engage them in fruitless pageantry?
The administration’s Iran policy is not a strategy. It is a pressure tactic wrapped in bellicosity folded inside a chimera. It is bereft of a viable vision and based on the naive assumption that overthrowing the Islamic republic will miraculously lead to a pluralistic and pro-American order. That previous U.S.-sponsored regime change in the region has ushered in failed states or worse autocracies seems to be an afterthought.
Even when the administration seems to vie for rapprochement, it is unconvincingly inconsistent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says, “We are prepared to engage in a conversation [with Iran] with no preconditions,” but in the same news conference , he goes on to say that would happen only “when the Iranians can prove that they want to behave like a normal nation.” This kind of double-speak and condescension does not instill trust.
The suffocating sanctions that the United States is slapping unilaterally on Iran have pushed the country into a deep inflationary recession, impoverishing its middle class and enriching state-affiliated actors, especially men with guns and experience in circumventing restrictions. This could lead to one of two outcomes: a weakened Iranian society, in which making ends meet will overshadow any quest for liberty; or a blind, desperate revolt that ends either in a brutal crackdown or a bloody civil war.
Either scenario will leave behind a broken, radicalized and militarized Iran, perhaps entrenching the Islamic republic’s most hard-line elements. How does that temper Iran’s behavior? How is that in the United States’ interest?
Bullying and crude threats will achieve little beyond entangling the United States and the region in another senseless war while deepening the two countries’ 40-year estrangement. The United States should strive for an Iran that is stable with a strong middle class and highly educated youths connected to the moderating influence of the outside world. The Iranian people want to restore the friendship between Iran and the United States, two countries that enjoyed 123 years of cordial ties before 1979. But the path to their hearts and minds is not through sanctions and military intervention.
It is not too late for this administration to cease demonizing and threatening Iran, and step aside from its maximalist demands. One of Iran’s most renowned poets, Rumi, offers a better way forward: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Iran: On the war that almost happened

This comes in from Stafford Clarry, senior member of the Next Century Foundation in Iraq:

On increasing US-Iran tensions, there are tons of news reports and analytical articles published by credible sources. Attacks against Iran that escalate into full-on war could have unintended and unknown consequences devastating to both sides and beyond.
Iran is neither Iraq nor North Korea. Iran has capacities and capabilities that neither have. In the meantime, everyday Iranians are facing severe hardship. Why, for what?
Regarding the loss of the $100 million-plus drone, Iran has apparently retrieved some debris. Armchair analysis begs questions. Would Iran venture beyond its territorial waters to retrieve drone debris? Doubtful. Would the US venture into Iran’s territorial waters to retrieve drone debris? Doubtful.
Iran said, and the US confirmed, there was a manned P-8 aircraft accompanying the MQ-4C drone. Iran claims they chose not to attempt to destroy the P-8 because there were people on board (35?). The Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft is a modified Boeing 737 designed to operate in conjunction with MQ-4C drone.
Authorization to engage the US Military in hostilities requires Congressional approval. The White House (WH) claims they already have approval under a 2001 authorization.
The Republican Senate majority leader is calling for robust debate in Congress on the WH taking the country to war. Some Republicans strongly oppose war with Iran. Some senior WH staff are advising that attacking Iran would cause disaster for the WH in the 2020 presidential election. Recent WH response defends Iran by trying to assert the drone loss was a miscalculation and a mistake.
Friday evening analyses by PBS NewsHour Shields & Brooks and on Washington Week were very informative as usual. US-Iran tension was the number one topic. On Washington Week, at the end of a spirited discussion, the moderator asked the panel of four seasoned journalists with contacts in the WH, “Are we heading toward war?” Three of the four quickly said “No”.
The fourth reporter worried about what the WH would do if there is another incident. A response: Iran exceeding the limit on uranium enrichment next month is more worrisome.
Uranium enrichment of at least 90% is required for a nuclear weapon, which Iran has never achieved. Under the JCPOA, Iran is allowed 300 kilograms of uranium enriched to 3.7%. It is this allowed quantity that Iran threatens to exceed next month.
In the meantime, everyday Iranians are severely suffering the consequences of sanctions, not terribly unlike how everyday Iraqis suffered 13 years (1990 to 2003) of UN-authorized sanctions that shut down oil exports completely and prohibited UN Member States from trading with Iraq, with the sole exceptions of food and medicines. As the Iranian leadership will not suffer personal hardship due to sanctions, neither did the Iraqi leadership, which continued to build palaces.

Distress and Defiance in Tehran By Salar Abdoh, an Iranian novelist and essayist – The New York Times 21 June 2019


TEHRAN — To get around Tehran, nothing beats a motorcycle. It is cheap and fast, and you can break the laws of the gridlocked traffic at will. The motorcycle is the pulse of this city of 15 million. It is a nuisance and necessary. I try to cultivate a special relationship with motorcycle mechanics; without them, Tehran does not move. And when they talk, I listen.
Farzad, my motorcycle mechanic who works from a hole-in-the-wall garage in my neighborhood, complained that the price of engine oil had tripled in late May. “The customers think I’m ripping them off,” he said. “I tell them to go to the bazaar and buy the oil themselves if they want, and I’ll change it for them.”
On a visit to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan I had bought him a pair of used hiking shoes for about $10. His eyes shone when I gave him the shoes. The pair, if bought in Iran, would have cost around $100 — the equivalent of a month’s wages for a laborer.
On Thursday morning, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone. The Americans claimed the drone was in international airspace; the Iranians released competing coordinates, placing it within Iranian territory. On Thursday night, President Trump approved retaliatory strikes on Iran, before pulling back at the last minute. International experts fear that the possibility of war is increasingly real. On the ground in Tehran, this is news to no one.
I live on 30 Tir Street in southern Tehran, the beating heart of the city. The labyrinthine Tehran bazaar is a short walk away. There are government ministries, libraries, churches, a functioning synagogue and a Zoroastrian high school nearby.
This is the Tehran that would draw visitors, but there are few. The devastating impact of American sanctions is everywhere: The stores are often empty; the restaurants, mostly deserted. On the adjacent Hafez Avenue, a deafening silence pervades the shopping complex specializing in selling mobile phones.
One of the few stores on 30 Tir Street that still attracts customers is run by Abbasi, a retired army officer who repairs household gadgets — people cannot afford to buy new stuff. “Well, isn’t this already war?” he asked, without much rancor. It’s a question many Iranians ask themselves these days.
Since the Trump administration reimposed sanctions last year, Iran’s oil exports have fallen by more than half, the Iranian rial has lost more than 60 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year and inflation has reached 37 percent. The Iranian economy contracted by 4 percent in 2018 and is expected to contract by 6 percent this year.
The sanctions are ultimately about individual lives: a relative’s immunosuppressive meds after a liver transplant suddenly skyrocketing in price and nearly disappearing from the market; a painter of some renown ceasing to practice her craft after 30 years because of the now prohibitive cost of art material; young professionals without jobs leaving Tehran in large numbers to try their luck in smaller, less expensive towns.
The price of paper has increased fivefold; the price of car parts, four times. Most fruits have become luxury items, many families can’t afford meat and factories in the provinces are shutting down.
When a country like Iran — with the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves and an educated work force — suddenly turns poor, a feeling not unlike embarrassment hangs in the air. Sometimes the reactions can turn comical: “Exclusive sale!” a street vendor shouts near Vanak Square in northern Tehran, “Ladies, I have decided to drop the prices of my tops because of Trump’s bad faith. Mr. Trump and I aim not to please you, but to empty your pockets!”
The old bazaar in Tehran, Iran.
The old bazaar in Tehran, Iran. Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press
Life in Iran would seem intolerable without the occasional comic relief. The acute awareness of what might have been fills the air like an ache. I remember that momentous summer night in 2015 when President Hassan Rouhani of Iran announced the nuclear deal with President Obama. I joined the tens of thousands celebrating in Tehran.
We imagined that a new chapter had opened in Iran’s relationship with the world. After the easing of sanctions, the Iranian economy seemed to make significant strides. According to the Central Bank of Iran, the economy grew 12.5 percent between March 2016 and March 2017. European manufacturers like Peugeot were preparing for major investments.
Four years later, the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation wishing to come in from the cold have been destroyed. Iran finds itself at the threshold of war with the United States after having signed a nuclear deal it did not pull out of.
Whether you are for or against the Islamic Republic, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the most prominent military force of your country, is being labeled a terrorist organization while the channels of economic exchange between your country and others are barred and your major export — oil — is being choked, the ordinary Iranian may be forgiven for thinking that war is just a matter of time.
The last time there was a definitive test of wills between Iran and another country was Saddam Hussein’s invasion in the 1980s. Iran, which was completely dependent on Western technology and military ware before the revolution, intensified its efforts during and after the war to develop self-reliance.
Members of the generation running the Iranian government and military for the past 30 years came of age during the darkest days of the Iran-Iraq war. They pushed expertise in asymmetrical warfare and a homegrown mastery of missile, cyber and drone technology because they saw no other way to have a fighting chance in their long struggle against the United States.
After President Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, the Iranian decision makers were convinced that their strategy — self-sufficient military prowess and strategic depth in the region — was right all along.
Sadi Shirazi, the great 13th century Persian writer, has a tale about a king at sea. A member of his retinue who has never seen so much water will not stop wailing and wants to return to land. The king’s adviser has a solution: Throw the man who cannot swim into the water and he will quickly learn the attraction of being on a safe ship.
The Trump administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran smacks of throwing the country into the sea to bring it to its senses. Except that Iran learned to swim during its war with Iraq. Iran does not recognize the king and doesn’t see the ship as a safe haven. After all, the entity that threw it into the current once can and will do it again.