Iran Is the New Iraq: Why That’s Big

History is about to rhyme. Here’s how. And why you don’t want it to.

During 2002 and into early 2003, the American public, U.S. allies, and the rest of the world were treated to more than a year of strongly worded statements cherry-picked from U.S. intelligence communities by the George W. Bush administration and sophisticatedly spun together into a policy for acting to stop Saddam Hussein from deploying chemical and biological weapons and to prevent him from starting a nuclear program. That policy led to the U.S. war in Iraq.

Today, in 2017, fifteen years later, the cherry picking and policy spin begins again. This time with Iran. This time, about pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal. Yet the consequences this time may be no less severe than those that have materialized since the “Mission Accomplished” banner hung above the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump repeatedly criticized the nuclear agreement with Iran, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As President he has been asking his advisors for a way to get the U.S. out of the deal. Since none have as yet been forthcoming, at least not to Trump’s satisfaction, he has twice this year recertified Iran’s compliance with the agreement, most recently on July 18. (In May, 2015, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Review Act, by which Congress receives ongoing reports about Iran’s behavior regarding nuclear agreement compliance; the Act also requires recertification by the President every 90 days.)

But this President is not one to be deterred from a stated goal. Although Iran has not been in material breach of the agreement, game plans are being presented for the President to act on to pull the U.S. out of the deal even if the Islamic republic is not in material breach.

According to foreign policy analyst and Iranian expert Trita Parsi, one of those game plans entails decertifying the deal if Trump can justify a claim that Iran is not implementing it. That certainly would be fair enough if Iran were caught in material breach of the deal. But as of this summer, Iran has not been in material breach, as Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, affirmed on July 26. In an interview with David Ignatius, Corker, who remains adamantly opposed to the deal, pointed out that there are technical breaches and material breaches. “[It’s the] material breaches that matter. Well, right now, they’ve had some technical non-compliance but they get back into compliance from time-to-time.” In other words, the President needs Iran to get caught in a material breach in order to argue with a straight face that Iran is not implementing the deal. Then he can legitimately decertify.

The obstacle for Trump has been that Iran has been implementing the deal but he wants to tear it up. So what to do? Find a way to claim justification for decertifying the deal anyway. Parsi learned of one rationale which would do just that. It would involve using “the spot-inspections mechanism of the nuclear deal … to demand access to a whole set of military sites in Iran. Once Iran balks … Trump can claim that Iran is in violation, blowing up the nuclear deal while shifting blame to Iran.” And Iran will balk, because “the mechanism is only supposed to be used if tangible evidence exists that those sites are being used for illicit nuclear activities.” In other words, the agreement does not allow for fishing expeditions.

This would be a “charade,” Parsi writes, “a rerun of the machinations that resulted in the Iraq war. It doesn’t matter what Iran does or doesn’t do….” Trump is not interested in “determining whether Iran is in compliance or not. The administration is committed to finding a way to claim Iran has violated the accord, regardless of the facts – just as George W. Bush did with Iraq.”

“Shifting blame to Iran” is essential to any game plan for end-running the deal if the United States hopes to get its allies behind America’s exiting of the deal. This is what Corker himself wants. You “wait until you have your allies aligned with you.” Then you ask “to get into various facilities in Iran. If they don’t let us in, boom. [W]hat you want is you want the breakup of this deal to be about Iran. You don’t want it to be about the United States because we want our allies with us.”

John Bolton, another high-level foreign policy advisor, absolutely does not want the deal to continue. In a telling article in National Review titled “How to Get Out of the Iran Deal,” the former U. S. Ambassador to the UN recently laid out a detailed, five-page game plan for the kind of spin we can expect to hear from the White House and the media in the following weeks and months. Bolton, who calls the Iran nuclear deal “execrable,” was asked in July by Steve Bannon, then Trump’s chief White House strategist, “to draw up just such a game plan…, which I did.” It’s a strategy, Bolton states, “that can be readily expanded to a comprehensive, hundred-page playbook if the administration were to decide to leave the Iran agreement.” Note the meaning of that carefully crafted sentence. Bolton, who has also served at high levels in various presidential administrations since the 1980s, is no stranger to spin. He is not saying: here is a just case for pulling out of the agreement. He’s saying: if you [Trump] pull out when Iran is not in material breach, here’s how to spin your decision.

Under four subheadings – Background; Campaign Plan Components; Execution Concepts and Tactics; Conclusion – Bolton’s argument through all four sections may be summed up as: here’s how to pull out all the stops in a domestic and global campaign to get as many influential agencies, allies, and media as possible on board to support “a decision not to certify and to abrogate the JCPOA.” His ways and means include, but are not limited to:

■ developing momentum in Congress for pulling out,
■ diplomatic and public education initiatives,
■ early and quiet consultation with key players,
■ explaining why the deal is harmful to U.S. national security interests,
■ a full court press by U.S. embassies worldwide,
■ coordinating with all relevant Federal agencies,
■ the timing of announcements,
■ having unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran ready to be implemented,
■ encourage public debate that goes further than abrogating the deal,
■ announcing U.S. support for the democratic Iranian opposition,
■ expedite delivery of bunker-buster bombs,
■ and actively organize opposition to Iranian political objectives in the UN.

Bolton expands on the “how” of those and other strategies throughout his article. “This effort,” he concludes, “should be the Administration’s highest diplomatic priority, commanding all necessary time, attention, and resources.”

If Iran continues to implement the deal but Trump remains firm about tearing it up, we should be prepared to face a deluge of what the distinguished foreign policy thinker John Mearsheimer calls, in his insightful little book Why Leaders Lie, “a deception campaign.” This, he argues, is based on fearmongering, which “occurs when a state’s leaders see a threat emerging but think that they cannot make the public see the wolf at the door without resorting to a deception campaign.”

“History may not repeat itself,” Mark Twain has been noted to have said, “but it sure does rhyme.” If we draw from the deception campaign of 2002, it’s not hard to divine what kind of rhyming statements, i.e., sound bites, are going to be hawked by the White House and Congress in the coming weeks and months. Here are some likely ones:

■ Of all of Obama’s wrongheaded policies, none is more dangerous to the US that the Iran deal. This has left the President with confronting a terrible threat in the Persian Gulf…
■ Obama, Kerry, and others in that administration were naive to think that Iran doesn’t want nuclear weapons…
■ The time has come to pull out of the deal…
■ We have clear evidence that Iran is not abiding by the nuclear deal…
■ Congressional leaders are united in their view that Iran will…
■ The only way to stop Iran from having nuclear weapons is to pull out of the deal and place very tough US sanctions on Iran…
■ The Iran deal has not deterred it from pursuing paths to have nuclear weapons….
■ We support the President to pull out of the deal…
■ We are confident that Iran is seeking means to build a nuclear weapon…
■ If we do not pull out of the Iran deal and enact very strict sanction immediately…
■ Iran had no intention of honoring the agreement….

It is foolish to try to predict what the next fifteen years will look like should such sound bites about Iran succeed, but if they succeed it is equally foolish to assume that consequences at home and in the Middle East will be less severe than they have been during the past fifteen years. Even if the American public only wants ponder its future on the basis of its collective self-interest, it may want to consider what would occur in the oil markets if Iran, in retaliation, not only disrupted the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf but attacked the oil refineries in Saudi Arabia. And here we find another lesson from fifteen years ago.

Despite the Bush administration’s unprecedented, multi-aspected spinning throughout 2002 to try to assure everyone of the wisdom of invading Iraq, the President still had many significant doubters, at home and overseas. To try to convince them to have faith, Bush would occasionally trot out what he called the success of the U.S. policy in Afghanistan. After all, he would say, al Qaeda had been routed, the Taliban government had been ousted, and Hamid Karzai, the new President of Afghanistan, was cooperating with the West.

Well, now. The war in Afghanistan is in its sixteenth year, there is no end in sight, suicide bombings are common, the Afghans are fed up with burying their dead, the Taliban have regained strong holds in many places, the government only rules about 60% of the country, and more U.S. troops are being deployed there.

Some may say: well, that’s hindsight; we want to look forward. Sure, let’s look forward. But you won’t move forward wisely apart from applying wisdom learned from past mistakes. The decision not to finish the job with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan but to instead go to war in Iraq is at least partly implicated in the terrible, ongoing suffering of countless millions of Afghans, Iraqis, and Syrians. And the decision has also cost the U.S. dearly in many ways, both domestically and internationally. The American public knows this. What they may not know in the coming weeks and months is that they may be being played again.

Talking to Iran is what’s needed. This, too, is another lesson to be learned from the Bush era. Well-known among the foreign policy establishments of the West and the Middle East, but virtually unreported by the news media, the Iranian government sent a formal diplomatic letter to the Bush administration in May, 2003, seeking the start of direct high-level talks on a wider array of issues crucial to improving the bilateral relations.

Parsi helpfully included a copy of the letter as an Appendix in his illuminating book Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. The Iranians, he writes, had prepared a comprehensive proposal. It had been drafted and known only to a closed circle of decision-makers in Tehran and approved by the highest levels of clerical and political authorities, including Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the supreme leader, who has the final say in all matters of state.

Apart from Khamanei’s imprimatur, the proposal would not be taken seriously by the Bush White House. Most significantly, then, the proposal was authoritative. Thus the Americans, Parsi writes, were stunned by it. The proposal called for a dialogue of “mutual respect” and listed major points of contention that Iran was willing to discuss with the U.S. In the letter, Iran declared itself willing to:

■ talk about its nuclear program;
■ increase its cooperation with the U.S. on al Qaeda;
■ help stabilize Iraq;
■ lean on Hezbollah “to become a mere political organization within Lebanon”;
■ accept the Arab League’s Beirut Declaration for a two-state solution.
■ end Iranian “material support to Palestinian opposition groups” (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et al.) and pressure them “to stop violent action against civilians.”

Of course bilateral negotiations are a two-way street, so the proposal also spelled out what Iran would like to see on the table in return from the U.S.:

■ the removal of Iran from the “axis of evil”;
■ an end of sanctions and impediments to international trade;
■ “full access to peaceful nuclear technology”;
■ recognition of “Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region”;
■ U.S. help against anti-Iranian terrorists.

The letter closed by suggesting mutual next steps, including public statements, establishing parallel working groups, and hammering out a timetable for implementation. Since Washington and Tehran had had no embassy-level bilateral relations for a quarter of a century, the offer was unprecedented. How would the Bush administration respond?

Stop and think about this for a minute. As with all initial steps toward diplomacy, this one was but a starting point. Both sides would know that the proposal was not set in stone. It was merely the potential beginning of the international game of give-and-take of getting to Yes. But first the waters needed to be tested by both parties. If they liked the temperature, then some next steps might include discussing some of the items. If that process continued, long story short, items and issues in the original proposal would probably hit the cutting room floor, with the potential remaining that some items might be taken to an agreement, even if that took months or years to hammer out.

Given the unprecedented nature of the proposal, it would be an exceptionally irrational move if the recipient did not engage with the sender to at least test the waters. Not only did the Bush White House choose not to do that. It immediately and rudely snubbed the reachout. “An opportunity for a major breakthrough had been willfully wasted,” Parsi concluded. Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the time, believed the mistake was huge. According to BBC News security correspondent Gordon Corera, Wilkerson afterward said, “In my mind, it was one of those things” about which you say “I can’t believe we did this,” especially at a time when Iranian vulnerability was at its greatest and Washington at its most triumphalist. That snub looms large in how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the radical fundamentalist politician, became Iran’s president in 2005, and also why it became so difficult, and took so many years of trying, to get Iran to the negotiating table for its nuclear program.

President Trump’s willingness to tear up the Iran nuclear deal seems to stem from his anger at the Islamic republic’s ongoing support of Hezbollah, its attitude toward Israel, and its ballistic missile program. But the way to seek changes in Iran’s behavior that would benefit the United States is through diplomatic initiatives that seek to talk with Iran about areas of concern to both countries. A huge obstacle to that today, however, is that, as in 2002, we have a White House that doesn’t want to talk but to dictate to Iran.

Of course the Iran nuclear deal is not a perfect deal. Nothing done by humans in this world is. And no future deals with Iran, or with any other state, will be perfect either. It would be unwise in the extreme, however, and harmful to America, for a U.S. president not to put honest, serious, and concerted efforts into trying to build diplomatic relations with Iran. The JCPOA can be a springboard for that. It gives the P5+1 nations a verifiable framework for monitoring Iranian compliance. It give the U.S. many years to talk with Iran about other matters. And it comes at a time when Iran has recently re-elected a president who is open to talking.

For Trump, Corker, Bolton, and many other influentials, the strategy seems to be: tear up the deal and enact very tough sanctions, which will force Iran to negotiate a better deal. I don’t believe that pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement will, as Bolton wrote, create “a new reality” that will “enhance international peace and security.” I don’t believe America’s allies – possibly there will be a few exceptions – will buy that either. Pulling out would certainly create a new reality. I would be very surprised if it did not rhyme with the reality that emerged during the last decade and a half. If it does emerge, it will be yet another case of wisdom lost.

Diplomats and negotiators have a lot of wisdom and President Trump should give them carte blanche to start reaching out to Iran. As one of the biblical kings has reminded us, after he saw peace ensue from an unlikely diplomatic mission, “wisdom is better than weapons of war.”

We can learn wisdom from history or remain foolish decision makers. If the Trump White House refuses to get wisdom from the mistakes made by the Bush White House, God help us.

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Images permissions from Creative Commons: Geo. W. Bush (BBC News); Donald Trump (Drew Angerer/Getty Images); John Bolton (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty); Afghanistan war scene (Javed Tanveer/AFP/Getty); President Rhouani (STR/AFP/Getty);

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I post a new article. And, hey, if you like this stuff, tell a friend! Thank you.

A Christian View of Not Voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump

choices coffee mugsSeveral times over the past few months I’ve tried to explain to people I’ve run into why I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the November presidential election. Mostly, I’ve been bumbling through the explanations, still trying to get a good handle on my position. But recently when I tried it out I thought, okay, that’s nailed it. So, heart on sleeve, here it is. It’s pretty simple, actually. Here’s my story

When the Democratic and Republican conventions took place in July, I watched all 12 hours over the four nights of each of them that were shown on PBS-TV. And I approached them as a professional researcher – as someone who knows what his own biases and beliefs are but who has been trained to know how to set those aside as far as possible to listen as objectively as possible – for the sake of learning and discovering further truths, and perhaps even the changing of one’s mind.

And at the beginning of each 12-hour period I said to the TV: okay, convince me; I’ve already decided not to vote for Hillary or Trump; change my mind. But neither party convinced me to support its presidential candidates. Instead, most of the speakers on those stages for the Democrats and the Republicans, including Hillary and Trump, left me deeply grieved that this is the best America can do for itself and the world.

I’m not voting for Hillary for many reasons, but the tipping point for me came during Bernie Sanders speech, when he announced that there had been a “significant coming together” of the Democratic Platform Committee – between his campaign team and Hillary’s – to produce “by far, the most progressive platform in the history of the Democratic Party” – a point he emphasized with exceptional clarity and deliberateness several times during is speech, to huge applause.

dominoesI’m not voting for Trump for many reasons, but the tipping was the accumulative effect of the speeches during the Republican convention. Speakers: defining themselves by what they are against; blaming Hillary Clinton and President Obama for all the turmoil in the Middle East and with Russia; and giving shockingly inane analyses of domestic and international problems and offering the vaguest generalized (i.e. impossible) policies as solutions (something the Dems also did the following week). And there was: the explosive, war-mongering speech of Gen. Michael Flynn (former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency); Chris Christie’s utterly stupid mock prosecution of Hillary Clinton, in which he had the coliseum rocking and screaming “Guilty!” every time he presented his “evidence” – and this is the guy who would like be appointed Attorney General if Trump wins the presidency?!. The flagrantly misleading claims about the rise of terrorism and ISIS were unconscionable, and there was not a word, not one single word, about how the Iraq policy of the George W. Bush administration gets implicated in the tragic condition today of Iraq. And especially for solving problems of international relations, the barrage of militaristic hubris overwhelmed me. Didn’t we get our fill of what a disaster that can be from the first four years of the Bush administration? I could go on, but I’ll stop.

Since this is a time when both main presidential candidates are the most unpopular candidates in modern history, surely our country must be under some sort of judgment from God. If so, it’s not “just the Democrats” fault, or “just the Republicans fault,” or just anyone else’s fault. We’re all at fault in our own ways. So what’s a Christian who tries to be a good citizen to do?

You can makeup your own mind. Here’s where I have arrived. I had told friends for a long time that I would probably not vote this year. But recently I went on the Internet and discovered that the state in which I live is one of dozens that permit a write-in vote for President. So that’s what I’ll probably do this November 8. I know, I know, the person I vote for isn’t going to win. But I figure that if enough millions also cast protest (write-in) votes, maybe it will send a good message. That doesn’t mean that either party will listen. But we are not responsible for others’ actions. Only for our own.

The heavyweight theologian St. Augustine taught that Christians must assume the obligations of citizenship. Let us remember, however, that there are limits to the claims that political parties have on conscience. For some, and I’m one of them these days, there may be too much distance at times in our land between the City of God and the City of Man. If the two major candidates seem to you capable only of furthering that distance, God is not forcing you to vote for either one. Yet you can still participate in political community as a responsible Christian citizen by finding a way to protest against the status quo. You don’t have to stay away from the voting booth, as I was going to do. Find out if your state allows write-in voting.

gobsmackedIf you’re not up for voting this year, you can find other ways of engaging in political community for righteousness sake. For example, think through your political view, so you can clearly communicate it to others, or explain your good and sufficient reasons (briefly!) in a “letter to the editor” or to your senator or representative. You could start a group (or join an existing one) to pray for elected officials in local, state, and national governments, or meet with politically frustrated, like-minded others and brainstorm creative forms of political witness, and then chose one and go for it. And it is especially good to get involved in the lives of the poor, the needy, the helpless, the outcasts, on whom the Bible places special emphasis – for they need our help more than the rich, who have power and means to be their own advocates.

In other words, for heaven’s sake and for your community’s sake exercise some political muscles. If you have not done this for a while, those muscles will soon let you know they exist – you’ll notice the ache! It’s good feeling.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images via Creative Commons. Top, by Lauren Macdonald. Middle, by Great Beyond. Lower, by Magdalena Roeseler

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; Donald Trump Is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS [Aug 12]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept 16]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

Donald Trump is Wrong about the Founding of ISIS

the White HouseMost people had forgotten all about it, but Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump recently revived a comment he had made in January, stating that President Obama was the founder of ISIS. “President Obama. He’s the founder of ISIS,” Trump said at a campaign rally in Florida on August 10. Apparently he did not want anyone to mistake his point, for he immediately added: “He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS.” Then he added: “I would say that the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”

Asked about his comment in interviews the next day, Trump did not back down. To conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who seemed to be fishing around with Trump to try to find a way to soften Trump’s language, Trump said, “No. I meant he’s the founder of ISIS. I do. I don’t care. He was the founder.” It seems a ridiculous waste of time to have to state the obvious: President Obama did not found ISIS (see below). But Trump’s handle on foreign policy lends itself to the ridiculous.

Now I hold no brief for the CIA, but you really should read this New York Times op-ed by Mike Morell, the acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013. No matter what you think of the CIA, it’s clear that one thing they do well is to identify vulnerabilities in people and exploit them. With that in mind, keep in mind that for months Trump has been singing various praises of Russian President Vladimir Putin (see this link also).
In his op-ed., Morell explains why.

He reminds us that Putin was a career intelligence officer, skilled at identifying people’s vulnerabilities and exploiting them. Noting Trump’s “obvious need for self-aggrandizement,” Morel writes that “[t]his is exactly what [Putin] did in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.”

Egyptian lamp and jug (Matt Create)In his op-ed, Morrell also argues persuasively why Trump is not only unqualified to be President but that he has already posed a threat to U.S. national security. A few days later, Morell was on the Charlie Rose television show for a major interview, in which he explained in great detail why he wrote the op-ed. You owe it to yourself to listen closely to that interview.

But to return to Trump’s ignorance about the founding of ISIS… I wrote a series of articles for this blog two years ago that traced a large and important branch of the roots of ISIS back through al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the militant vision of Sayyid Qutb, a radicalized Egyptian intellectual in 1950’s Egypt. Never heard of Sayyid Qutb? Apparently neither has Donald Trump.

So, having suggested that you take time to read the above links and listen to Mike Morell on Charlie Rose, now I’m going to give you some more homework. For a crash course on what Trump doesn’t know about the religious-political roots of ISIS, set aside time to read this series of articles. It will take you about an hour, but it will be time well spent.

Here’s the first one in the series. They are all linked, so you can read through them at your own pace, or skip through them to find those that interest you. And lets talk about this along the way. The Comments area for those articles is open. I hope this helps you. If it does, do forward this post to your friends. This issue is too important to let an outrageous falsehood hang in the air unaddressed, as if it were true.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Adam_Inglis (top) and Matt Create (lower) from Creative Commons.

For other posts about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, see these, beginning with this one: To Boldly Go: anti-Trump Republicans Speak Up [Jun 11]; A Christian View of Not Voting for Donald Trump of Hillary Clinton [Aug 25]; Is Donald Trump Merely Lending His Name to “America”? [Sept 16]; Predicting Presidential Debates [Sept 23]; Who Lost the First Presidential Debate? [Sept 26].

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

WHY DIPLOMACY?

Vietnam memorial wallTwo years ago a national poll conducted jointly by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and Annenberg showed that 71 percent of Americans believed that the Iraq war was “not worth it.” That was up from 58 percent a year earlier, in an ABC News and Washington Post poll. Today, if the Republican presidential candidates are any indication, even the GOP, including establishment figure Jeb Bush, believe that invading Iraq was a mistake.

They, as well as a large number of Americans, regret the war because they have learned wisdom from the war history of the past 13 years. They see the unrestrained blowback that began with the insurgency in 2003-2004 and the rise of al Qaeda in Iraq. They see that the ISIS horror show emerged from al Qaeda in Iraq and the historic humanitarian crisis that is a result. They see the unprecedented, multi-aspected costs, and much more besides. In other words, this large group sees the bad fruit and now regrets the war.

But why has so much gone so wrong? Well, that depends whom you’re asking. Generals? Foreign policy analysts? Presidential candidates? Economists? Journalists? Other experts? Each will propose good and sufficient reasons that must be included for a credible picture of what went wrong. But there is a more fundamental answer. It  comes from those ethicists, theologians, and religious leaders who deal with the moral problem of war. These are the “just war” theorists.

In 2002 and early 2003, many and diverse just war theorists, with the support of their constituencies, presciently argued that the George W. Bush administration’s rationale for going to war in Iraq did not meet the requirements of just war, therefore it was immoral and unjust and the United States could expect all sorts of unpredictable things to go wrong in the Middle East if the war was launched.

Unfortunately, little was made of this in the news media at the time, despite the fact that so many Christian denominations and other religious bodies were stating it formally in letters to the Bush administration, including denominations to which the President, Dick Cheney, Carl Rove, and Donald Rumsfeld belonged. An article by the theologian and political writer James W. Skillen, “Evaluating America’s Engagement in Iraq with Just-War Criteria,” shows very clearly why the U.S-led war about Iraq did not square with the five main principles of just war theory.

Just war theory brings a lot of gravitas to the question of “why diplomacy?”, which is the pressing political question of our time. Since President Obama took office in 2009, a very vocal, influential segment of American political commentators has been habitually critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. By and large, this is the same pack of pundits who supported launching the war about Iraq, and whose latent militarism today can be heard by anyone with ears to hear what their policy rhetoric about the Middle East implies.

Why diplomacy? Look at just the past two years, as Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State, reminded Charlie Rose in a recent intervieKerry & Zarif shake handsw. It was American diplomatic leadership that mobilized the world to fight ebola, that brought 66 countries together to fight ISIS, that led negotiations to the nuclear agreement with Iran, that brought Cuba in from the cold, and that led to the first peaceful democratic transition of power in Afghanistan. Of course none of this, Blinken added, “has happened as well as it should [or] as effectively as it should.” But, “You take the United States out of any of these pictures [and] it doesn’t happen. We are the single country that has the ability to mobilize and move others more than any other country.”

Why diplomacy? Diplomacy will not bring heaven on earth. Far from it. But diplomacy seeks solutions even to the most intractable international problems through means other than war. One of its indispensable purposes – dare I add, a purpose under God – is to prevent types of hell on earth such as the ISIS movement from materializing. Surely promoting the art of diplomacy is wiser than regretting the annals of war.

This editorial was first published in The Mountain Press, Sunday February 21, 2016.  Charles Strohmer writes frequently on politics, religion, and international relations. He is the author of several books and many articles and is the founding director of The Wisdom Project.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

Images courtesy of Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. And, hey, tell some friends! Thank you.

The Idiot’s Guide to the Iran Nuclear Deal

Iran nuclear facility at ArakWe don’t live in a perfect world, and the Iran nuclear agreement is not a perfect deal. There’s also an old principle in negotiations that goes something like this: People who are not at the table think they are better negotiators than those around the table. We’ve been hearing that posturing in the news about the agreement, and on talk radio. Of course the deal deserves to be debated, and honest people are going to disagree about it. Fortunately, with the signing of the agreement (July 14), its details can be found on the Web, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and others who have actually been at the table, are now out and about everywhere explaining the deal.

As someone who has been writing about U.S. – Middle East relations for many years, and who believes that diplomacy is better than weapons of war, here are seven reasons why I think the nuclear agreement with Iran will make the world a little safer. And that’s a good thing.

(1) It is very telling that President Obama and respected, high-level supporters of the deal – including two dozen U.S. generals and not a few high-profile Israelis, not to mention those who negotiated the deal – have been much more publicly forthcoming about its risks and vulnerabilities than many of its detractors have been about its benefits and substantial achievements. (There are, however, sensible critics of the deal. They do not decry the deal in toto. Rather, they acknowledge its value, while arguing, for instance, to shore up vulnerabilities in the deal and thereby strengthen the agreement.)

(2) This is not an agreement between the United States and Iran. And multilateral diplomacy is not in the same ballpark as trying to settle an argument with your neighbor, or plan the next family vacation with your spouse, or negotiate with the prospective buyer of your house to clinch the sale, or hammer out a difficult new policy on the library board. This is about negotiating nations. At the table are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States; plus Germany. (The so-called P5+1.) Six world powers; five are permanent members of the UN Security Council. Plus Iran.

To hear some people talk, it’s as if the United States has some sort of magnetic hold on China, France, Russia, the U.K., and Germany that can move them withersoever it wills. That’s crazy thinking. Those five sovereign international stake holders, plus Iran, all brought to the process their own national and security interests. All of that went into the mix, tumbled around, and was determinative of outcomes – from the pre-negotiations that got them all to the table in the first place, to securing agendas and procedures, to the actual talks, to the publicity and the deadlines, to the signing of the agreement. It was a huge achievement. With Iran’s national and security interest pulling against the P5+1, and because this was true at times even among the P5+1 nations, none of those outcomes was guaranteed.

(3) The deal should be seen as vital in the (still ongoing) diplomatic recovery of the United States. The path to recovery has been long and tedious and necessary, due in no small measure to the severe damage inflicted on America’s reputation by the Bush administration’s imprudent snub of Tehran’s diplomatic reach-out to Washington in the spring of 2003. The recovery has taken more than a decade and a new approach to U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, especially toward Iran, and led by a White House that is willing and able to talk, really talk, to adversaries (not make absolutized demands as preconditions for talks).

Iran uranium conversion plant at IsfahanIf, as many of its detractors want to see happen, the United States walks away from the Iran nuclear accord – which the seven nations’ emissaries have worked tirelessly, in sickness and in health, to forge – it will miserably depress the diplomatic recovery and U.S. credibility will suffer terribly in the international community. America’s good faith will be called into question, big time, and that would usher in an era of international relations that will not be good for Americans or for the rest of world.

(4) Diplomacy and negotiations are better than weapons of war. It may surprise many Americans to know that conservative Republican foreign policy toward the Middle East has been adjusting and adapting itself to the discredited political ideology of neoconservatism that was prominent in White House policymaking decisions about the Middle East during the first term of the George W. Bush administration.

Neoconservatism does not know how to negotiate with adversaries, and it does not favor diplomacy with Iran but, rather, military action. The political shift of many Congressional conservatives to this strategy can be heard in their broken-record, militaristic language about how the U.S. should deal with Iran’s nuclear program.

Pay attention to the language of Republican presidential candidates, not to mention that of liberal hawks, when they talk about their approach to U.S. foreign policy toward Iran. The absorption and promotion of neoconservative foreign policy into the worldview of American conservatism is little understood, alarmingly so.

(5) Diplomatically in the world, fifteen years is long time. Without the Iran nuclear accord, Iran is only a few months away from “breakout time” – the length of time it would need to produce one nuclear weapon. The deal, however, curbs Iran’s nuclear activities in ways that push breakout to around one year, for fifteen years. The year 2030, however, has left many fearful because by then breakout could be back to a few months.

But fifteen years is a long time. By then, Iran’s international actions may have shown a steady posture of coming out of the cold. The world may find an Iran that has not been cheating or kicking out the inspectors. The P5+1 plus Iran may have pulled together on one or two other significant issues. Iran’s government or interests may change. Who knows? In other words, that fifteen years may – please God – buy the world lot of good. If so, how can that be a bad deal? Alternatively, if Iran begins gearing up to produce a nuclear weapon, the P5+1 will have had time to gain additional wisdom for deciding what to do about that threat, and by sustaining its international credibility the United States will have accrued a lot of clout in the decision making.

Iran uranium enrichment plant @ Qom (BBC)(6) The Middle East has become a fragile region. Without this nuclear deal, it is probable that extremely negative consequences that make the region more unstable will arise not far down the road. On the other hand, the Iran nuclear agreement could become the leaven for a wider strategy that makes the Middle East a safer place. With Iran’s nuclear behavior restrained, Israel should calm down some, and the Arab Gulf states should be less nervous and less inclined to seek their own nuclear weapons. Although it is unlikely that Persian Iran and the Arab states will any time soon drop their enmity, the nuclear deal may help them to cooperate against common enemies such as the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

(7) If Congress votes to “disapprove” the agreement (a vote is scheduled for September), and if President Obama does not follow through on his promise to veto that vote, we would get the worst of all worlds. Iran will be the beneficiary of the lost deal, the U.S. the bad guy, with Russia and China rushing in to fill the vacuum, and the world will see not a united but a divided America on this extraordinary achievement. And even if the agreement stands, the next President could have enough domestic political support to pull the U.S. out of the deal, or to make U.S. support of the deal so unrealistically conditional as to become untenable.

Conclusion. If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends but your adversaries. War does not resolve international problems. Diplomacy and negotiations accomplish that. If you agree with this editorial, now is the time to write or email your representative in Congress and tell him or her to vote to “approve” the Iran nuclear agreement. It is not based on trust but verification. It is currently the wisest available way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The world will be better off with the agreement than without it.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Addendum: A couple of days after I wrote the above article, I read a piece in The Atlantic explaining how Iran could derail the nuclear deal.

Charles Strohmer is a frequent writer on politics, religion, and international relations. He is the author of several books and many articles and is the founding director of The Wisdom Project.

Top image: Iran’s heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak (AP). Middle image: uranium conversion plant at Isfahan (Alamy). Lower image: uranium enrichment plant at Qom (BBC).

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that wagingwisdom.com seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here wagingwisdom.com, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

An Imperfect Nuclear Deal with Iran: What Else?

Kerry & Zarif at the tableYou only have to glance at news headlines in recent days to see that the nuclear deal with Iran raised as many tough questions as it solved. Jubilant Iranians in Tehran danced in the streets after the April 2 announcement while Iranian hardliners criticized the deal. In America, Republican presidential hopefuls were everywhere in the media voicing their opposition while President Obama explained his support of the deal to Thomas Friedman at the White House. In Israel, some editorials cautiously favored the deal while Benjamin Netanyahu stated plainly that the deal threatened Israel’s survival. The mix of opinions and emotions ranged far and wide and the wrangling won’t go away anytime soon.

Now that a solid interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear program has been reached between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany), the parties will bump along toward the June 30 signing deadline. As they do, during the next twelve weeks you’re going to hear high-level critics and defenders of the deal abuzz in the media, locked in a fiercely pitched verbal battle arguing their cases and trying to increase public and political support for their side.

Behind all the pushing and shoving, of course, is the question of whether this is a good deal? We all want to know the answer to this. And the only way to know – let’s be honest – is to understand the nuts and bolts of the agreement. But let’s face it, most of us don’t have the specialized technical and scientific nuclear training required for that kind of knowing. Even if we did, it will only be after the signing, perhaps well into the future, before we will know whether this was a good deal. The unpredictability of domestic and international politics, if not the intentions of a signatory, can scuttle even a good deal after it has been implemented. And there are other possibilities. The signing deadline might be pushed into the future or it may never take place.

Meantime, before June 30, as the final very technical details are being resolved (that is the goal), you will be hearing from supporters and naysayers about issues such as the upsides and downsides of the inspections, the break-out time line, the sunset clause, sanctions relief, Iran’s ballistic missiles, and an array of other strengths and deficiencies of the agreement. We will also be hearing that the deal doesn’t do a thing stop Iran from bankrolling terrorism or from quashing human rights. But diplomats, negotiators, and deal signers know that you’ve got to start somewhere.

Iranian workers at nucelar plantWho, then, are we to believe? What are we to think about this? It seems so murky. And what about trusting Iran? But the deal is not based on trust, President Obama said, but on an “unprecedented verification” inspections regime. Everyone will have to make up their own mind about the agreement. My advice during the coming weeks would be to listen chiefly and carefully to the hopeful but cautious supporters of the agreement who also admit to and discuss its weaknesses. Ignore the critics who have nothing good to say about the agreement.

No deal is going to cover all the bases, never mind being perfect. And if in the end, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say, does not accept it, the deal will not be signed by Iran. Despite all the uncertainties that remain, what we’re getting is far batter that what anyone anticipated when the current round of serious, high-level talks commenced in February 2013. (Diplomacy is often protracted, intense, and boring, with deals emerging after all-nighters and a lot of coffee. Iran and the P5+1 have been in various levels of talks about Iran’s nuclear program since June 2006.)

What we’re getting is basically an arms control agreement. Iran has agreed to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. If the agreement is in good measure successful, it will be historic, not only because it would help usher Iran back into the community of nations or because it would be a giant step toward ending the thirty-five-year-old cold war between the United States and Iran.

If successful, the framework of the pact could also be used to break the pattern of nuclear proliferation that has been taking place since World War Two (think India, Pakistan, North Korea). Thinking paradigmatically, the agreement with Iran could be a template for preventing nuclear proliferation. And that would be historic.

There are only two options to this deal. One option is increased and stricter sanctions, which would destabilize the region even more. The other is bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, which would certainly be the prelude to another U.S. war in the region. So there is the stark reality: the deal, stricter sanctions, or war. Given the likely ramifications of the latter two options, this agreement is a significant accomplishment and probably the best alternative.

Iran and P5+1 nego table (uncredited photo)There are good and sufficient reasons, therefore, for welcoming this arms control agreement, despite its imperfection. Differences remain on both sides and must be resolved for the June 30 signing, and both sides want to see the deal improved in their favor before its signing. So much wrangling will take place around the table also. Who knows what the outcome of this final stage of negotiations will be? Only novelists know the future.

It is not the done thing in foreign policy circles to ask for prayers. The secularism of the circle rules that out. But if you are a praying person, you might want to pray that the agreement will be successful. It seems like a reasonable deal. The space that the diplomats have worked tirelessly to create for the world on this crucial issue is so much better than an Iran with nukes.

Outcomes cannot be guaranteed and troubling concerns will remain unanswered on June 30. But wisdom has a vital interest in seeing international relations established on mutual ground for mutual good amid their diversity. Wisdom is better than weapons of war.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Here is the full text of the April 2 agreement.

Here is President Obama’s very forthright discussion with Thomas Friedman about the June 30 agreement.

Here is a series of in-depth posts – they start here – about what turns out to be the surprising history of U.S. – Iran relations since 1979.

Top photo courtesy of Press TV. Center photo courtesy of IIPA via Ghetty. Lower photo courtesy ICHR Iran.

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that wagingwisdom.com seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here wagingwisdom.com, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

The ISIS horror show: what you now need to know

higher learningSpeaking recently at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama called ISIS a “brutal, vicious death cult.” As the atrocities and inhumanity of the ISIS horror show spread and worsen, as air strikes continue, and as more combat troops are inserted, even people who have remained largely uninformed now know that they need at least some understanding of ISIS that goes beyond CNN or Fox News. So I thought it would be useful to gather in one place, for easy access, a number of short but informative articles on this.

Last year, over the space of two or three months on this blog, I posted several threads of well researched background articles that readers found helpful for learning what ISIS is on about. These non-sensationalistic but necessary pieces delve well beyond typical news coverage, talk radio punditry, political newspeak, and the religious hyper-ventilating that leaves far too many important questions untouched. Interested? If so, I have listed the first post of each of those threads here, just below, in the order that they were published, beginning with the first post. (At the end of each of those posts is a link taking you to the next piece in that thread.)

We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity. You can probably get through the complete fabric in an hour or two and take away a good “reader’s digest” version of where ISIS/ISIL is coming from and what its religious, political, and social goals are. This will also help you see what leaders of more than sixty nations understand about ISIS/ISIL and why they recently gathered in Washington for an unprecedented three-day summit on countering ISIS.

This is the only place on the Web, at least that I know of, where you can avail yourself of a detailed collection like this in one place. It may not scratch all of your itches, but you will come away pretty well informed.

Here is the list of threads, in order, beginning with the first one. But they have been written in such a way that you could jump in anywhere. I don’t have all the answers (no one does), but such as I have I give to you. If you find this list useful, send it to a friend or two.

1) RELIGION AND THE POST-9/11 BIG PICTURE part 1 of 2

2) THE RELIGIOUS ROOTS OF AL QAEDA AND ISIS part 1 of 4

3) WHERE ISIS STANDS: US VS. EVERYONE ELSE part 1 of 2

4) ISIS & THE RISE AND FALL OF ISLAM part 1 of 3

5) ISIS & AL QAEDA: THE ROLE OF JIHAD part 1 of 2

6) ISIS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE IN ISLAM part 1 of 2

7) ISIS & JIHAD: INEVITABLE WAR

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Brian Donovan (permission via Creative Commons)

President Obama, Symbolic Power, Paris, and Public Perception

Paris march millions Every picture tells a story. Finally, instead of more excuses from the Obama administration about why the President was MIA among the world leaders at the Paris unity-against-terrorism March on Sunday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday afternoon that “we should have sent someone with a higher profile to the event.”

All day long Monday, images poured into and out of the media of the million+ people who had quietly gathered in the Place de la Nation Square to show the world’s solidarity for the victims of the Paris terrorist attack. At the head of the marching throng were pictured 40 world leaders walking arm-in-arm. But what many saw was: Where is the President of the United States?

Too short of a notice to get the President there, said the White House, given all the high security measures that would have been needed. It would have disrupted this important event.

And yet, there was British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and the King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the others. Their security teams pulled off their attendance on short notice.

Paris march world leadersWorse, the scene lacked the presence of any top U.S. officials. That also stared everyone in the face. No U.S. Vice-President. No Secretary of State. Even Attorney General Eric Holder, who had been at a summit on terrorism in Paris that morning, did not take part. There were no senior cabinet officials either. Only U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley and her staff were present.

Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN’s “Global Public Square,” called the absence of top U.S. officials a “pathetic” mistake. I agree. “I thought this was why God invented Vice-Presidents,” Zakaria quipped.

It’s true that the states represented their by their leaders at the Paris march don’t give a wit about the symbolic “message of the missing president.” The U.S. has been, is now, and shall remain adamantly united with them in their anti-terrorism policies. These leaders know that. Certainly France isn’t fussed about the symbolic message. After the Paris attack last week, President Obama made it a point to reassure French President Hollande of America’s solid partnership with its old ally France on the anti-terrorism front.

Nevertheless, emotional symbols in foreign affairs, like doctrines and explanations, play roles outside the corridors of a state’s power, where they can evoke public responses that can settle in and alter perception. The Paris solidarity march carries such a high degree of symbolism that President Obama’s absence was a glaring image that negatively affected world opinion. For a state that lacks the street cred it had in the world before the war about Iraq, it was indeed a pathetic mistake.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top photo, AP. Bottom photo, Reuters.