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Thoughts on the Iranian “Deal”

Iran nuclear talks

Yesterday negotiators from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China finished hammering out a tentative deal with Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program.

There are a lot of opinions about the deal, some positive, some definitely negative and quite a few like mine a wait and see attitude. Now I am hopeful that the deal is a positive first step in assuring that Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. In fact I pray that it does.

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The fact is that we have to try, even if some allies for their own reasons disagree. The Israelis are understandably concerned, especially since the last President of Iran, most of the Mullahs that actually run that country and the Revolutionary Guard have expressed their belief that Israel should not exist. Thus for the Israelis this can be seen as an existential matter. If Iran were to get operational nuclear weapons and use them against Israel that state would suffer greatly. Likewise the Saudis are distrustful of the Iranians, but for different reasons. For the Saudis this is the great conflict between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam, a conflict that appears to be gaining steam in Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Lebanon. It is  conflict that has the potential to be the Islamic equivalent of the Thirty Years war, that great bloodletting between Catholic and Protestant Europe. Iran and the Saudis are the leaders of the respective factions of Islam, they are mortal enemies.

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We have to be cognizant of both the Israeli and Saudi concerns. They are legitimate and because they are allies we must take them into account. That being said the most important security needs to be addressed by the United States are those of the United States. Sometimes those are not always the same of allies, even allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. That is something that has to be weighed in this case.

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The cold fact of the matter is that for many years we in the United States have become accustomed to resorting to military force first and neglecting the other aspects of national and international power that could be brought to bear to in achieving our national security and foreign policy goals. Those other aspects include economic power, information and diplomacy which unfortunately have been neglected. Presidents and our Congress have, even in spite of the misgivings of military leaders pursued the military option first.

After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Bush Administration with the authorization of Congress pursued an almost single minded military solution to those attacks. That response was not only against the Al Qaeda terrorists but against their Afghan Taliban hosts and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

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Those campaigns have worn our military down. The resources spent in those countries, the lives lost, the money spent and the wear and tear on equipment have harmed our national security. But even above that in terms of strategy we eliminated the one natural enemy of Iran which helped hold them in check. We invaded Iraq and left it in a condition that it could no longer be the western bulwark against Iran. We turned down Iranian offers of help after September 11th and in doing so lost opportunities which might have led us and Iran down a different path. Instead President Bush declared Iran and Iraq both parts of an “Axis of Evil.”

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It was a declaration that the Iranians rightly understood as a declaration of war. Legally it may not have been, but the stated strategy enunciated by men like John Bolton and those we call the “Neocons” inside the Bush Administration and in associated think tanks could only be understood by the Iranians in that light. That end state envisioned by Bolton then and even now was regime change in not only Iraq, but also Iran. We have to ask ourselves this question: If another nation did this to us, how would we respond? I dare say that we, like the Iranians would dig in our heels and seek to develop military capacities that could defeat them, or if not defeat them make their “success” so costly that our enemies would not press us.

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Now because of those choices we are faced with a situation where Iran is estimated to be reasonably close to developing a nuclear weapon capacity. It is something that if it happens will result in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. The Israelis already have that capability and the Saudis are reportedly pursuing that capability. Thus it cannot be allowed to happen.

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That being said there are ways to ensure that does not happen. One advocated by those opposed to the deal is a hard line approach including pre-emptive military strikes against Iran, which not only would bring about a regional war but at best delay Iran a few years in procuring nuclear weapons.

The other is the course that has been pursued by the Obama Administration over the course of the past few years. That is the use of economic sanctions and diplomacy. As I said at the beginning this has not been our default policy over the past 12 years. But it is necessary. We are not in a good position to add yet another war, a war with world wide security and economic implications to our plate.

The fact is that due to the wars of the past 12 years as well as budget cuts including the sequestration cuts we are not in a good position to wage another war. We are stretched thin. Readiness thanks to sequestration is declining. The Chief of Staff of the Army stated that only two combat brigades are immediately deployable for combat operations. Could we launch another military campaign? Yes we could. But war, if we believe Clausewitz war is an extension of politics and policy. But we have to ask if would it achieve our overall policy goals? That I am not sure.  Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”

In fact even if we delivered punishing strikes to Iran the costs could be great, and not just the economic costs.  Our campaign would have to be an air campaign to destroy hardened targets many of which we do not know the exact locations. Our record in such air campaigns is mixed. We spent over 70 days pounding Serbia with little to show for it in actual damage to their military. Likewise Iran is not Iraq, our targets will not be exposed in the open desert. Additionally Iranian A2/D2 (Anti-Access/Area Denial) capabilities pose great risks for US and Allied Warships as well as bases in the Arabian Gulf. If an Iranian Kilo Class submarine were to sink an American Aircraft Carrier it would not be a tactical setback, it would be a major loss of American strategic capability not just in the Middle East but world wide.

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Likewise as I mentioned before we took out the one natural opponent of Iran when we overthrew Saddam Hussein. In doing so we destroyed every bit of infrastructure, military power and civil government structures that any new Iraqi government would need to maintain any sense of a balance of power in the Arabian Gulf.

All that being said do I trust the Iranians? I cannot say that I do. I am a realist. I enlisted in 1981 in large part because of the Iranian takeover of the American Embassy and the hostage crisis. They remain a dictatorial regime which persecutes religious minorities including Christians. They restrict their people from open access to the internet and persecute political opponents. The Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful organization in Iran has actively worked to destabilize other countries in the region. Their influence is great especially in regards to Lebanon’s Hezbollah which has launched missile campaigns against Israel and been active on the side of Syria dictator Bashir Assad in that country’s brutal civil war.

However the path of diplomacy must be given a reasonable chance to succeed. In the early 1970s President Nixon started a process of detente with the Soviet Union and Communist China. It was not embraced by hawks. President Ford, Carter and Reagan continued those policies to one degree or another with the final result being the fall of the Berlin Wall, collapse of the Warsaw Pact and overthrow of Communism.

This deal is a start. It is not perfect at all. I see issues in it. but it is based on the politics and art of the possible. It has the potential to be a game changer in a region wracked by war and revolution, a region led for the most part by despots in which terrorists often operate freely. I don’t know if it will work, but I hope it does.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pouring Gasoline on the Fire: The True Believers and Unending War

The Consulate in Benghazi Burns

“Passionate hatred can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. Thus people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer

September 11th 2012 was a day that initially was marked by somber reflection on the attacks that killed nearly 3000 people 11 years before. However as the night settled over the Continental United States Americans were again attacked. This time two events, one in Egypt and one in Libya brought about the loss of American lives including Ambassador Chris Stevens and ignited a political firestorm.

It is no secret that extremist Moslems, Christians and Jews, each for their own particular theological and political reasons have been trying with all their might to bring about a global conflagration between the the Islamic world and the West, especially the United States and Israel.  Hatred of the other, power and the desire for vengeance against crimes real and imagined motivate all of them. The desire for the ultimate judgement of God being poured out on their enemies is a motivating force because their enemies are by necessity the enemies of their God.

The latest violence appears to have its genus in the release of a a film produced by someone named Sam Bacile who claims to be real estate broker and Israeli citizen. The Israelis say there is no such Israeli and some wonder if the name is actually a pseudonym and the AP reported that the cell phone led to a man named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula a man convicted of financial crimes who admitted a role in the film today.  Nakoula is neither an Israeli or a Jew and has used the the name as a pseudonym.

Koran Burning Pastor Terry Jones

The film, called alternately “The Innocence of Moslems” or “Mohammed: Prophet of Moslems” is being promoted extensively by Egyptian Coptic Christian expatriate and anti-Moslem zealot Morris Sadek and Koran burning “pastor” Terry Jones. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal the man who calls himself Sam Bacile claimed that the film was “a political movie” and that “Islam is a cancer, period.” One of his collaborators an Evangelical Christian named Steve Klein told Fox News that “we went into this knowing that this was probably going to happen.”

Bacile or Nakoula, whoever he happens to be released a 13 minute long trailer for the film on You-Tube in English and it was translated into Egyptian Arabic. It has gone viral in the Islamic world. The Islamic preachers of hate and the cottage industry that thrives on finding reasons to hate Americans used the film to launch demonstrations at the US Embassy in Cairo and the Consulate in Libya.

Egyptian Protestors desecrate the American flag after breaching the Embassy Wall

Warned of upcoming demonstrations the Press Officer of the US Embassy in Cairo published the following statement six hours before the protest. Please note it is not an apology, it is diplomats in danger trying to calm the situation:

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

In Egypt the new government headed by Moslem Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi did little to break up the demonstration yesterday and the crowds entered the compound, pulled down and desecrated the American flag and raised the black Islamic banner. However, they did no more. Today more demonstrations have occurred but Egyptian security forces interposed themselves between the demonstrators but the Egyptian government did nothing to condemn the demonstrators.

However during the initial phases of the crisis Republican Presidential Candidate condemned the Obama administration and the Embassy for “apologizing” for the “right of freedom of speech” in response to the attack on the Cairo embassy. Romney was criticized for the statement by many Republicans for appearing to use the attacks for partisan political gain. After doubling down on the comments this morning many analysts believe that Romney has come out of the day worse off on how he is viewed than before.

Romney’s remarks were contrasted with those of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in 1980 when the military operation ordered by President Jimmy Carter to free the US hostages during the Iranian hostage crisis. Reagan made this statement: “This is the time for us as a nation and a people to stand united and to pray” while Bush said “I unequivocally support the president of the United States — no ifs, ands or buts — and it certainly is not a time to try to go one-up politically. He made a difficult, courageous decision.” Both Reagan and Bush would campaign using the “weakness” of Jimmy Carter as one of their key points of attack but on the day of the disaster both had the decency not to use it for their political gain.

Ambassador Chris Stevens

In Libya there was a small demonstration at the consulate. However that demonstration appears to have been pushed aside by an armed group of 20-30 men wielding RPGs, machine guns and other automatic weapons. The assault by the group lasted between 4-5 hours and during it Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans including two Marines were killed.

The Libya attack appears to be a planned and premeditated attack, possibly to avenge of Al-Qaeda’s Libyan born second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 4th, which Libyan Al Qaeda allies have promised to retribution. The fact that the attack occurred when a Ambassador Stevens was on a visit to promote the opening of a new cultural center. Stevens was respected by many Libyans for his role during the Libyan revolution and the Libyan government has apologized and Libyans have marched to apologize for his death.

Libyans protest in Sympathy with the US

President Obama has order a Marine Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team (FAST) platoon  to Tripoli to bolster the embassy defenses and ordered two Guided Missile Destroyers to Libya. He has promised that “justice” will be served on Ambassador Stevens’ killers. Osama Bin Laden and many other Al Qaeda leaders have faced that justice during Obama’s term and I expect that these brutal killers will not live long. He also made a telling comment about how he and the administration now view the situation in Egypt:

“I don’t think that we would consider them an ally, but we don’t consider them an enemy…I think it’s still a work in progress, but certainly in this situation, what we’re going to expect is that they are responsive to our insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected.”

The operative words in his remarks about Egypt are that “I don’t think that we would consider them an ally.” It appears that the President fully recognizes that despite hopes that pro-western modernists would gain power after the revolution that the newly elected government of Moslem Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi is not our friend.

Tonight the demonstrations in Cairo continue, others are breaking out in other countries and many Arab leaders recognize the danger and are trying to defuse the situations.

The problem is that no matter who is President that the instigators of the attacks on the embassy and the consulate as well as those that egg them on and those that intentionally try to provoke them will not stop. They will continue to do all that the can to bring about the war that they think will bring the fulfillment of their apocalyptic visions, be they Islamic, Christian or Jewish.  The fire is burning and these fools are doing all that they can to spread the flames around the world.

I wish I could say that it was going to get better but it looks like we are being pulled even deeper into this war without end.

Pray for peace but know that those that want war do more than pray for it, they are willing to do anything for it, even kill.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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