Two Different Sponsors Of Terror. Two Very Different US Responses.

The US annual terrorism report of 2017 named Iran as “the foremost state sponsor of terrorism.” But is it really? Even Trump, before the 2016 election, gave that title to Saudi Arabia, apparently basing his opinion on a leaked secret memo from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that stated Saudi donors “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Indeed, there was good reason for Clinton and, by extension, Trump to feel that way. After all, Saudis comprised the majority of terrorists involved in 9/11 and they were funded by a Saudi citizen – Osama bin Laden. The Saudis also created the Taliban by teaching their extreme Wahabbist form of Islam to young Afghan refugee students during the Soviet-Afghan War. (Talib means student.) The Saudis continue to finance the Taliban. And, as if all that were not bad enough, the Saudi’s Wahabbism inspired ISIL or, as it is more commonly known as ISIS.

In addition, the Saudi royal family has long used its power and extreme religious beliefs to terrorize the citizens of Saudi Arabia. It tortures and incarcerates anyone who dares to defy its religious beliefs or openly criticizes the family. And it often publicly beheads the most outspoken dissidents, even crucifying their bodies following executions to threaten anyone else considering defiance. Commit a more serious crime and the Saudis will bury you up to your neck and stone you to death.

Yet the family’s brutality and excesses are largely ignored in the West because the Saudis have lots of money and oil. Of course, that fact did not go unnoticed by the Trumps and the Kushners who have relied on Saudi money to finance their developments. Indeed, one of Trump’s first official acts as president was to travel to Riyadh where he bowed to the royal family, placed his hand on a crystal globe and gushed about the Saudi’s purchase of weapons from the US. (It should be noted that Saudi Arabia has used those weapons to carry out a brutal war in Yemen, continuing to bomb and kill thousands of civilians as part of the near 1,400-year conflict between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam.)

Since Trump’s meeting in Riyadh, Trump’s ties with the Saudis have become as unshakeable as his ties with Putin. Even when the Saudi leader ordered the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and Washington Post contributor, Trump refused to hold him accountable or to even acknowledge his involvement. Not even the mass shooting of US military personnel by a Saudi at the Pensacola Air Station drew a rebuke from Trump.

As I’ve previously written, Iran, on the other hand, was a US ally until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when it deposed the brutal monarchy of the Shah who had gained power after the 1953 coup of Iran’s democratically-elected Iranian prime minister orchestrated by the UK and US. The prime minister’s crime? He threatened to nationalize Iran’s oil reserves.

Our relationship with Iran has been exceedingly complicated ever since.

Following our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which border Iran, Iran’s goal has been to force the US to remove our military from the region. With that goal in mind, it has supported terrorist groups as proxies against both the US and Israel. In retaliation, the US imposed economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy. Yet we have occasionally worked together for common goals. Iranian militias helped the US and its allies end the violence in Iraq. They also helped fight against ISIS.

But it’s Iran’s support of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraqi militias that has led to its reputation as a sponsor of terrorism. Hezbollah is described by the US as the primary terrorist partner of Iran. Yet that claim is open for debate. To many, especially Palestinians and Lebanese, Hezbollah is a political party and a liberation movement that uses force to resist Israeli occupation.

Iran also supports Hamas, a group that has been labeled a terrorist organization since 1997. But some argue that Hamas is a resistance movement. Not a terrorist group. In addition, some claim Iran has links to the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS. But those claims are murky at best. Indeed, Iran did as much to defeat ISIS as anyone, including the Kurds.

It must be emphasized that, unlike the Saudis, no Iranian has ever attacked Americans on American soil.

So which country is the greater sponsor of terror? Which nation commits the greater number of human rights violations against its own citizens? By those measures, it would be difficult to draw a clear line between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The obvious difference seems to be in how we treat them.

Trump’s Act Of War.

There is an old saying that one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. Never has that been more true than in describing Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani. Though Soleimani was reviled by Israel and the US for orchestrating terrorist attacks, he was celebrated in Iran for protecting his nation.

Indeed, Soleimani had a complex history. He first came to prominence during Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Iran – a war that resulted in the deaths of a million Iranians – a war supported by the US under the theory that the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Soleimani is credited with creating and implementing the IED roadside bombs used against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also credited with creating and supporting regional militias feared by Israel and others. Yet Soleimani led his militias to help bring an end to the War in Iraq. In addition, he fought against Iran’s and America’s common enemy: ISIS.

So, though Soleimani’s actions wounded and killed many US troops, one could reasonably argue that he also saved many. Moreover, he was a hero to many in Iran and arguably the second-ranking leader of the nation.

Was his assassination justified? Maybe. But it was most certainly foolhardy.

To put this into perspective, it should be noted that, not long ago, the US had begun the long process of normalizing relations with Iran. We had returned Iranian assets that were frozen in 1979 in exchange for an agreement that Iran would limit its nuclear program to peaceful uses. And, by all accounts, Iran was upholding its part of the bargain. That was hugely significant given the ugly history between our two nations.

In case you’re unaware, the ugliness began when, in 1953, the US helped Great Britain orchestrate a coup of the democratically-elected Prime Minister of Iran for daring to nationalize his nation’s oil industry. His overthrow led to a brutal dictatorship under the Shah who was considered a US ally. When the Shah escaped the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and was given safe haven by the US for medical treatment, the new Islamic Iranian government retaliated by invading our embassy and holding Americans captive.

Despite our history with Iran, there was an opportunity to negotiate a lasting peace. The government of Iran had moderated. Many of the people of Iran had demonstrated for more freedom. Many Iranians even looked to the US as friends.

Then Trump was installed as US president. Wanting to destroy his predecessor’s legacy, he quickly removed the US from the nuclear agreement. He increased economic sanctions on Iran. And though he relied on Iran and Soleimani to help defeat ISIS, when Soleimani no longer served a purpose to the US, and Trump was facing an impeachment trial in the Senate, Trump ordered Soleimani’s assassination.

The consequences may well be devastating. Soleimani was not a rogue actor like bin Laden or al-Baghdadi. Rather, he was a sovereign nation’s highest-ranking general and second in command. Killing him by drone was nothing less than an act of war.

Further, Trump has shown that he cannot be trusted. Soleimani’s assassination comes on the heels of Trump throwing our Kurdish allies to the curb to be killed or displaced by the Turks. By not consulting our allies and others in the region before the assassination, Trump has shown a lack of respect because they, too, may be targeted by an angry Iran. And we have started a conflict that is almost certain to last generations.

Moreover, instead of weakening Iran, Trump’s rash action has strengthened it. If the US accedes to Iraq’s demand that the US remove our troops from Iraq, we will have less influence in the region. We will be leaving a weak Iraqi government and army to fend off what is certain to be renewed efforts by ISIS. That may well lead the Shiite majority Iraq to request the help of the Shiite majority Iran. If successful, the two nations will comprise part of a Shiite crescent surrounding Sunni nations – many of them our Middle Eastern allies. A strengthened Iran may well pose a greater threat to Israel.

And though, unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran has never struck the US on US soil, it may well be motivated to do so. It knows it can’t win a war of confrontation with the US. So Iran’s only recourse is to fight an asymmetrical war through acts of terrorism and cyber attacks.

Worst of all, it appears that the Trump administration has no plan to deal with the consequences other than to threaten, bully and bluster, which is likely to escalate matters. So buckle up America. We’re in for a long, unnecessary fight.

So Netanyahu Doesn’t Like The Agreement. So What?

Whether or not Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes our nuclear agreement with Iran shouldn’t matter. He wasn’t in the room while the deal was being made. And if he had been, we’d likely be at war right now. You see, it’s clear by now that Netanyahu doesn’t want peace in the Middle East. It appears that he won’t be happy until Israel has annexed all of the Palestinian territory and blasted its neighbors back to the stone age.

Not even world opinion has swayed him from his expansionist goals. Not the world outrage at Israel’s disproportionate response to Palestinian rockets. Not the international outrage at the increasing number of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. Not the Obama administration’s outrage at the break in protocol when Netanyahu accepted the Republican invitation to speak to the US Congress.

For certain, Israel has the right to exist and a right to live in peace. But, just as certainly, Israel’s leader does not have the right to dictate foreign policy to the US or any other nation. Neither should he have any say in the just announced agreement between the US, Iran and other world powers. Of course, that hasn’t stopped him from trying to derail the deal. From the very beginning of the talks, Netanyahu has appealed to the Republican chicken hawks in Congress to use force to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Never mind that the use of force would almost certainly backfire (quite literally). A military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, would incense Iran and much of the rest of the world. Worse, it would give Iran even more incentive to complete a nuclear weapon.

After all, military powers, even superpowers, tend not to attack countries that possess nuclear weapons. For good reason. The consequences are simply too dire. And a nuclear-armed Iran that has been previously attacked would likely feel justified in supporting more terrorism and pursuing retribution against its attackers. Moreover, the sanctions against Iran…even the proposed increased sanctions…were not hindering Iran’s progress toward a nuclear bomb. The sanctions were only hurting innocent Iranian civilians and entrenching Iran’s antagonism with the West.

The fact is, the nuclear agreement was by far the best of all of the available options. At minimum it delays Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It provides a framework for inspections. And it opens the door to more negotiations and more cooperation.

Make no mistake, the new agreement is not a one-sided concession to Iran. The agreement calls for Iran to submit to inspections and to dispose of nuclear fuel in exchange for the lifting of the current sanctions by international community. That is not only fair. It is a positive for everyone involved. Indeed, history has shown that such agreements are far more productive than the alternatives. For example, as a result of our engagement with China, it has gone from a Cold War enemy to our largest trading partner in just 3 decades. In contrast, our get-tough expansion of NATO and deployment of missiles on Russia’s doorstep has led to increased tensions and armed incursions by Russian troops into Ukraine. And we all know what has happened as the result of our ill-conceived invasion of Iraq. Not only has it destabilized Iraq and much of the Middle East, it has led to the creation of a much more dangerous enemy – ISIS.

So Netanyahu thinks the nuclear agreement with Iran is a historic mistake? So what? Let’s not let him derail the agreement and lead us, along with the Republican warmongers, down the path to yet another war. He can continue to bluster and act the spoiled brat. It really shouldn’t matter. And, if Netanyahu threatens to do more than whine, we should ignore him.

Check that…we should make it clear that any attempt to derail the agreement will be met with a suspension of US support and an embargo on weapons.

NetanyaWho?

As has been widely reported, the Prime Minister of Israel spoke to a joint session of Congress for the third time. Only Winston Churchill has matched that number. However, as you know, this is the first time a leader of another nation has requested and received an invitation to appear before Congress without first going through the diplomatic channels of the State Department and the White House.

His appearance was an obvious insult to the Office of the President by both Israel and our Republican leadership.

We know why the Prime Minister requested the opportunity to speak: He and his handlers believed it would help his re-election campaign. And we know why Republicans extended the invitation: It was another opportunity to provoke and demean President Obama.

What I don’t know is why we pay attention to Netanyahu at all. His predictions of doom by a nuclear-armed Iran have seemed unnecessarily alarmist for many years. Indeed, they seem little more than a scare tactic to assure his re-election. Further, since US taxpayers provide Israel with more than $3 billion per year in direct foreign aid and an estimated $12-17 billion more in indirect aid, his offering counsel and advice to US leaders seems like the tail wagging the dog. And, if Israel is frightened at the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, imagine how Iran feels about Israel’s nuclear bombs. Imagine how Iran feels about the threat of US nuclear arms and our so-called “special relationship,” especially when one of our senior (both in tenure and age) senators jokes about “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran?”

It’s time to end this charade. It’s time to negotiate our own deal with Iran and other Middle Eastern nations. It’s time to stop listening to Netanyahu and to stop sending foreign aid to Israel. It’s time to stop looking the other way as Israel steals more and more of Palestinian land. It’s long past time for the US to stop giving military hardware to Israel. It’s time to demand that Israel end the civil rights abuses of Palestinians and negotiate a true settlement. It’s time for Palestinians to stop sending rocks and rockets across the border. It’s time to demand an end to Israel’s disproportionate military response to Palestinian terrorism. It’s time to end our UN Security Council veto of the recognition of Palestine as a separate state.

In short, it’s time the US grabbed both of these nation states by the scruff of the collar and demand that they start acting like adults in the 21st century. The 1967 war is over! It’s time to make peace…a real and lasting peace.

In addition, there should be a political penalty for Netanyahu’s arrogance. Any semblance of a “special relationship” between the US and Israel should now be over…ended by the politics of destruction practiced by people like Netanyahu, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Unless the people of Israel vote Netanyahu out of office and relegate him to history alongside their other mistakes, and unless Israel sends a formal and very public apology to the White House, we should provide Israel no more support than we provide other allies, such as France, Germany and Sweden.

Further, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should all but ignore Netanyahu’s bombastic bluster while negotiating a treaty with Iran…a treaty that does more than benefit our ill-mannered little brother.

Men (And Women) Of War.

Now that the political upheaval in Ukraine is reaching a critical juncture, the usual warmongers are blustering and calling for military threats. At the same time, they’re blaming President Obama for “weak foreign policy.” Exactly which foreign policy do they consider weak? The policy that ferreted out and killed Osama bin Laden? The policy of targeting al-Qaeda leaders with drone strikes? The policy of providing air support for Libyan rebels? The policy of mandatory inspections and destruction of chemical weapons in Syria?

Or is it the policy of allowing the people of other nations to select their own government and leaders? Is it the peace negotiations with the new moderate President of Iran who requested a dialogue to end the severe economic sanctions in exchange for Iran ending its ambition for nuclear weapons? Or is it the resumption of US-led peace talks between Israel and Palestine? All of these are positive steps that stand as a welcome contrast to the Bush administration’s “you’re with us or against us” black and white approach to foreign policy.

The world is not merely black and white. It’s nuanced and complex. For example, Russia still has thousands of nuclear warheads with the capability of extinguishing all life on this planet. The US, Great Britain, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea all have nuclear weapons. And all but North Korea have long-range delivery systems for their warheads. As a result, military threats and war are seldom the best solutions.

Without using nuclear warheads, which could escalate into the complete destruction of our planet, our options are limited. We have seen what happens when we involve our military in nation-building projects such as Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. We have seen what happened when we used our CIA to overthrow leaders in Chile, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and too many Caribbean and Pan American countries to count. We have seen what happens when we serve as the world’s largest arms and munitions dealer.

All of these tactics have created anti-American sentiment, anti-American terrorists and legions of heavily-armed militias who are determined to fight us and each other. Yet this reality seems lost on the neocons who still cling to Cold War beliefs and the ideals of the Project for the New American Century…a plan to expand the American empire by using our status as a superpower by bullying and threatening other nations to obtain an endless supply of cheap raw materials and underpaid labor.

It was neocons from both parties who led us to arm the Shah of Iran to help him oppress his people in exchange for selling us cheap oil. It was Teapublican neocons like Donald Rumsfled who armed Saddam Hussein to fight Iran. It was the neocon Richard Perle who convinced Ronald Reagan to rebuff Mikhail Gorbochev’s attempts to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It was the neocons who led us to arm and educate the radical Islamists of western Pakistan to fight the Soviets. It was neocons like George H.W. Bush, Oliver North, Elliott Abrams, Caspar Weinberger and Richard “The Dick” Cheney who arranged to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the illegal funding of death squads in El Salvador and Nicaragua. It was the neocons who supported the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in hopes that the Taliban would allow US oil companies to build a pipeline across Afghanistan so that they could gain access to Caspian oil and gas. It was neocons like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Scooter Libby and Condoleeza Rice who used the attacks of 9/11 to lead us into Iraq in order to ensure access to Iraqi oil.

More recently, neocon-lite Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for direct military involvement in Libya and Syria despite the fact that many of the militias involved in the war to overthrow Assad in Syria are allied with al-Qaeda. McCain, Graham and other warmongers from both political parties have called for increased sanctions on Iran – even as serious negotiations are underway – a move that would be likely to result in war with Iran. And now, the neocons are calling for confrontation and intervention in Ukraine. They are claiming that the problems in Ukraine are the result of the Obama administration’s “weak” foreign policy.

Seriously?

What do they want the administration to do? Invade Ukraine despite the fact that Ukraine has long been allied with Russia? Such an intervention rightly would be seen by Russia as an act of war. Since the end of the USSR, we have already broken our promises by moving NATO to the very doorstep of Russia, a move that is seen as a very real threat. We have already deployed our missile defense system in Europe, an act that is also seen as a threat to Russia by making a US first strike seem like a real possibility.

Any threat to use military force in Ukraine would, in effect, create a reverse version of the Cuban missile crisis. And there’s no guarantee that Putin is as realistic as Nikita Kruschev and as determined to avoid nuclear war.

The Project for the New American Century ended in 2006 in the aftermath of the group’s disastrous plan to invade and remake Iraq. Unfortunately, its members and proponents, including Richard “The Dick” Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, William Bennett, Jeb Bush, Steve Forbes, Dan Quayle and many others continue to sell the same bad ideas. Their ideas need to be relegated to the toxic waste dump of history where they belong. While we’re at it, we should bury the racist notion of American “Exceptionalism” along with the top-down economic policy known as Reaganomics, aka Trickle Down theory, Horse and Sparrow economics, and Voodoo economics. It’s time to leave the military and economic thinking of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries behind us.

It is a new century with new possibilities. It requires new thinking and new strategies.

Let’s Sit This War Out.

By my calculations, the US has been at war all but 33 years of our existence. And that doesn’t even include many of the “police” actions and minor intrusions into other nations.

Now many in Congress are beating the war drums again. They want us to do more to help depose Syria’s al-Assad by creating a no-fly zone and providing even more weapons to the rebels. But which rebels? Al Qaeda? Hezbollah? Those who cut out the hearts of their enemies and dined on them?

Fact is, there are some very bad actors involved in the Syrian killing fields, including President al-Assad’s forces. Moreover, Russia has decided to support al-Assad by providing more sophisticated weapons, including ground-to-air missiles.

Do we want to provoke a conflict with Russia? With neighboring Iran? Do we want to embroil the entire region in the conflict? Do we want to sacrifice the lives of even more of our soldiers? Do we want to pour billions more of our taxpayers’ money down a Middle Eastern rat hole? I think not.

It’s not cowardice to refuse to fight a war that lacks a clear objective and a predictable outcome.