Now after the phone call…

Now after the phone call between Pres Obama and Rouhani, the AP morning news had this analysis:

The Guard is something of the Pentagon, CIA and Wall Street rolled into one. Its reach extends deep into Iran’s economy through investment arms and front companies. These, too, have suffered under Western sanctions, which have included black-listing Iran from international banking systems.

Guard leaders may insist that Iran can ride out any kind of economic squeeze, but the numbers say otherwise. Iran’s inflation and unemployment are rising and — perhaps more so than political crackdowns — the stumbling economy risks feeding widespread dissent.

This may be the overriding reason for Khamenei’s green light to Rouhani’s overtures. The Guard’s leadership also does not want to be seen as blocking a chance at easing the U.S.-led sanctions.

It’s uncertain whether Washington will decide to pull back some of the embargoes as part of step-by-step bargaining in nuclear talks. Iran, too, has given offered no concrete plans on what it would do in return to address Western concerns over the country’s nuclear program.

But Secretary of State John Kerry suggested the “very different tone” from Iran could open up a new course in the negotiations, last held in April after a series of dead-end rounds. Other exchanges, including letters between Obama and Rouhani, hinted that the outreach is not only confined to the nuclear standoff and could open room for deeper contacts on many overlapping issues, including perhaps Syria’s civil war.

Sounds remarkably similar to my last blog. Let’s hope Rouhani continues with positive actions and ignoring the “Death to America” crowd. We shall see.

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Talk to Iran?

Trust Iran?

Where has this sudden move by IRAN to admit that nuclear weapons should not be a weapon in their military come from? Is it from the recent showdown in Syria where President Assad was trembling (tic) at the thought of military strikes in Syria…  Uh, no. I don’t believe military options are the key reason. I think two other options are influencing the Khomenei and the new President in Iran.

The first, often criticized, is the cumulative effect sanctions are having on the population in Iran. Despite Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea shrugging theirs off, sanctions are finally making an impact in Iran.

After Ahmadenijad’s reelection in 2009, many in the country thought the “election” was fraudulent and rioting ensued across the country (reminder the Supreme Leader selects the President to be voted upon in Iran-not a real free election) Iran’s oil revenue is down 58% and it has been reported that over 50% of the population is having trouble finding enough money for food. This can be directly correlated to decreased fuel subsidies by the Iranian government spiking gasoline prices and runaway inflation on basic necessities and western products.  Rouhani was elected on the promise that he would improve the economy and situation for the average Iraninan..  Now he has to deliver.

Where could he possible get the money for this? How about cutbacks or reduction in developing nuclear weapons? This is hugely expensive, especially buying equipment on the global black market, subsidizing North Korea, paying off nuclear scientists, and they burying them into mountainsides. They could save billions of dollars and turn that money back to the country or to the oil infrastructure. If Rouhani can get some sanctions reduced in a deal with the US, even more trade and infrastructure can help his cause. More money also means Iran can increase their foreign aid to their friends across the Middle East, Venezuela, and North Korea. (Perhaps future blog on that topic)

What else is enabling this sudden desire to talk to the US? I believe it’s the sudden reemergence of their long friends the Russians. With Putins team stealing the political limelight with a “save” in Syria, I think the Iranians will use the Russian link for their future negotiations with Kerry. I look to see Russian influence either on inspectors, teams, or even coordinators for verification. Perhaps UN teams allowed as well, but don’t look for any Americans anytime soon own those teams.
Russia also plays a key role in any future UNSC Resolutions or helping remove current ones. What else? I’m sure Iran would be happy to receive their often delayed S300 missile system.

Putin will be for elevating his country to a status so they matter again on the World Stage… All without military might. He is seeking equal status with the US in the Middle East and probably fits in with old realpolitik thoughts from the old days…

Do I think all these happy thoughts on Iran possible? Yes, but it’s not as we haven’t heard this tune before, both in Iran and their soul mates in North Korea. (North Korea was reportedly powering up a reactor this last week that they agreed to shut down a decade ago in return for oil shipments there). I am highly skeptical of these public promises and well have to see what Iran agrees to, and more importantly what inspectors find. In the end nothing should change for sanctions until we see some actual events on the ground in Iran.

Either way, I think we have to give these talks a shot, even if it helps Russia in the near term. Military action in Iran is the last thing we need at this point after multiple Wars the last decade and a budget crisis with a tired military.

Governor on Governor War.. for Jobs.

I find it amusing to see the articles and editorials attacking the Texas governor Rick Perry for his frequent trips (usually to more Northern states) to recruit businesses to Texas.

The most recent trip to Maryland has been lambasted by their governor and local press for visiting the Baretta USA factory in Accokeek, Maryland.  Baretta USA has expressed interest after the Maryland governor signed one of the toughest gun control laws in May.  I have read other reports with anonymous comments from Baretta USA executives stating “Why should we manufacture guns in a state where the residents can’t buy the weapons they produce?”  This sounds catchy, but I believe cost of doing business in Texas would be much cheaper (Energy or production, land costs, taxes, etc..)

After passage of the Maryland bill the company released this statement:

“..(company was) deeply concerned about Governor O’Malley’s effort this year to impose broad new restrictions on the rights of Maryland citizens to buy firearms, as well as on the types of firearms and firearm magazines they can acquire.”

While I agree the timing seemed suspect to Maryland after the Washington Navy Yard shooting, its not as if Baretta stopped manufacturing firearms, or that business did not continue.

In fact Gov Perry (and his office) offered this in response:

“Listen, there’s always anti-gun individuals…”

“The fact is, I’m a pro-Second Amendment guy.  Texas is a pro-Second Amendment state.  Baretta has been a great manufacturer in Maryland and they feel not only under-appreciated, they feel under attack.”

“Anytime a company is potentially interested in Texas, the governor likes to reach out with them personally.”

I would have to agree with that.  Isn’t that part of his responsibility as governor.. to promote his state? (Like Alabama and South Carolina have done with Mercedes, Honda, BMW and Boeing?) Wouldn’t Texas voters find Perry at fault if he didn’t try to bring jobs to the state?

In they end, Baretta USA has said they have no plans to leave Maryland, but they are open to expanding operations in another state.

They Maryland governors response can be seen in an OP-ED published today titled “Texas fails compared with Maryland economy” Apparently the governors debating on Crossfire last night didn’t get out her points..

She repeatedly talks about how Texas is only making minimum wage jobs (ignoring the lower cost of living in Texas and typically they are starter jobs) yet I don’t see how this plays in the Baretta expansion debate.  Baretta must compete globally and they are looking to make a USA product at a competitive price for the US market.  They feel underappreciated in Maryland and Texas can provide educated workers and a lower cost of production. I believe her attacks would be less if she wasn’t so afraid of losing a great employer for her state.

Perry has been successful in similar campaigns luring Caterpillar, Ebay and Google to the state for some of their expansion.  While that didn’t make Illinois of California governors happy, I say so what.  If you don’t like it feel free to compete. It is a free market and level playing field here in the States.

If Baretta USA does come to Texas, I might be one of the first to order their 9mm.

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/09/18/perry-and-omalley-face-jobs-debate/

Former SECDEFs comment on Syria

CNN political Analyst David Gergen interviewed on a panel yesterday Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.  Their topic was Syria.  I found several quotes very interesting in the wake of the Fox interview of Syrian President Assad.

Both Secretaries of Defense criticized the current administration on how they handled the Syrian crisis and are skeptical of Russia ultimately brokering a deal to remove Assads Chemical weapons.

Here are some of the mistakes listed:

  1. Neither would have advised the President to seek Congressional authorization for strikes
  2. Secretary Gates said that a proposal for a military strike against Syria for using chemical weapons was a mistake…akin to “throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East”  He goes on to say “Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya taught us something about unintended consequences of military action once its launched?” (I couldn’t agree more with Secretary Gates here)
  3. Panetta said it was a mistake not to carry out an attack.  He stated the President should have kept his word after he pledged an attack if Syria used chemical weapons. (I can only surmise his reasoning is that now there is no punishment for Assad using chemical weapons)
  4. Secretary Panetta went on to say a few times it was the Presidents red line in the sand and the credibility of this country was on the line.  Panetta said the President should have directed limited action going after Assad.

It was refreshing to see Sec Gates agree with many of my postings on Syria and Secretary Panetta also follow a logical line of reasoning and policy on Syria.  Unfortunately I cannot say the same about Sec Hagel or the Presidents current Policy on Syria which seems to be unintelligible or constantly changing between extremes.  (From a previous post, hurry, wait, strike, Congress, strike, Russia, wait till next week..)

I wish we could get Sec Gates back…  even Sec Clinton. The current administration doesn’t seem to understand the Middle East.

 

 

Security Clearances… Cleared for What?

Let me first say, I am retired, have no access to any data on current events or specific recent events in DC or intelligence leaks.  With that said I can comment on generic things I have seen dealing with government clearances.

Typically, the lowest level of security clearance is good for 10 years following a rudimentary background check.  This includes a credit check and felony/arrest check. Higher level clearances have a more thorough check and are only good for 5 years.

As you’ve seen in recent articles, these clearances can be reactivated by an employer after a service member or govt worker leaves government service for the remainder of the clearance time.  After the 5/10 year time frame expires, the employer or employee would have to pay for a new background check.

While I never did background checks themselves, it appears from the media reports, and from what I saw on active duty, there are not any annual recheck to make sure a member has changed since the background check was accomplished.  I only saw members lose their clearance when they applied for an extension, and most commonly they lost it for being behind on car payments or credit cards.

Now we have our Washington Navy Yard shooter (former Navy Reservist) who never went higher than E-4.  From 2004 to 2010, which includes time before and during his 4 year tour, he was arrested 3 times in three states – 2 of which were for gun discharges, and ultimately received his SECRET clearance for 10 years in 2008.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered “top to bottom reviews” of the Security clearance System and procedures for gaining access to facilities..  I’ll save him some time and money and propose a few here for clearances:

1. SECRET Clearances good for only 5 years to match TS and higher guidelines.

2. Full background checks for all levels of security clearances (Make SECRET match TS level background checks) No way you should miss an arrest on a background check.

3. Annual computer database checks on members with clearances on Terrorist and Criminal databases.

4. Annual Credit Checks to maintain clearance.

5. Mental Heath checks for members with clearances.  Yes if you hear voices you should not have a weapon or a clearance.

5. If a member leaves the service/govt, a background check must be completed before reactivating a contractors previous clearance.

6. Increase checks on contractors performing background checks. Any violations of policy should lead to termination of their contract.  (Contractor who did Edward Snowden’s background check also failed with the Washington Navy Yard shooter background check.)

7. Review background checks completed by the contractor in number 6 above for errors or incomplete checks.  Suspend any clearances needing a complete check.

8. Review the number of clearances granted to contractors.  As the military downsizes this number seems to grow in proportion, raising our risk.

While these are only a few changes, perhaps they might have helped in the Edward Snowden case and the Washington Navy Yard.  Current clearance procedures are a failure.  With all of the instant computer data available these days, it could be relatively easy to maintain in a Security office.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/navy-yard-shooting-exposes-flawed-security-clearance-process/2013/09/18/b5c4809c-209a-11e3-a358-1144dee636dd_story.html

Karzai not in a hurry… We are.

Karzai not in a hurry… We are.

With 2014 approaching and the drawdown coming, President Karzai seems to be in no hurry to sign a future forces agreement. If he thinks the pressure is on President Obama, he is sadly misreading him. The President can’t wait to announce all combat troops are out of AFG. I bet all of his budget planners wish the same.

Rumor says Karzai wants us to guarantee defense of Afghanistan in case of invasion. Ok, are we signing a training mission or an alliance? We are talking about training forces. If no agreement -we are gone. We should be pulling all our extra gear out now, which I believe we are, and plan forward with the amount of troops we think are likely. If we get to 6 months prior to the next troops deployment order without an agreement, just announce the deadline has passed and we a don’t deploy any more troops there.

Will dragging this out push us to give him “modern weapons?” I don’t think I need to answer that one.

I think he forgets we have to plan for future training missions a year out…and we are a year out. It’s time to plan get out.

No pressure on us either.

A Plea from Putin

From the NYTimes:

A Plea for Caution From Russia
By VLADIMIR V. PUTIN
September 11, 2013 The New York Times
MOSCOW — RECENT events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.

Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government. The United States State Department has designated Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, fighting with the opposition, as terrorist organizations. This internal conflict, fueled by foreign weapons supplied to the opposition, is one of the bloodiest in the world.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria? After all, after fighting in Libya, extremists moved on to Mali. This threatens us all.

From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists. Reports that militants are preparing another attack — this time against Israel — cannot be ignored.

It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.”

But force has proved ineffective and pointless. Afghanistan is reeling, and no one can say what will happen after international forces withdraw. Libya is divided into tribes and clans. In Iraq the civil war continues, with dozens killed each day. In the United States, many draw an analogy between Iraq and Syria, and ask why their government would want to repeat recent mistakes.

No matter how targeted the strikes or how sophisticated the weapons, civilian casualties are inevitable, including the elderly and children, whom the strikes are meant to protect.

The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen nonproliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.

We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. The United States, Russia and all members of the international community must take advantage of the Syrian government’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action.

I welcome the president’s interest in continuing the dialogue with Russia on Syria. We must work together to keep this hope alive, as we agreed to at the Group of 8 meeting in Lough Erne in Northern Ireland in June, and steer the discussion back toward negotiations.

If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust. It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.

Vladimir V. Putin is the president of Russia.

Syria Accepts Russian Proposal

image Syrian President Assad has accepted the Russian proposal for international control of his chemical weapons.

We shall see if this is accepted into TA UNSC Resolution led by France.

Odd though we are stopped at the brink of attacking by a supposed Kerry gaffe. I guess it’s better to be lucky than right.

 

A Quotation Summary of Syria

Although I lifted this from my earlier blog, I think it deserves its own posting that I can update.

Here is a summary (my version) of the White House comments or statements so far:

“We must attack within 48 hours”

“We can’t wait on the UN inspectors report”

“We have a large Coalition with us”

“I don’t need Congress to authorize this immediate threat”

“I will seek Congress’ authorization” (for this immediate threat but not until next week, oops 2+ weeks)

“But I don’t need their authorization”

“We will punish them militarily” (but not destroy the weapons themselves)

(To get some Republicans onboard) “We will change the momentum of the battlefield”

“If they hand over their chemical weapons we won’t attack”

Don’t worry about Syria’s response, AQ, rebuilding Syria or affiliated extremists.. “We’ve talked this all through”

Is Syria Different?

I’ve seen more and more press releases from this weekend on how Syria is different from Iraq, or Libya, that we must act.  Funny coming from Sen Kerry who was against action in Iraq, despite UN Sanctions which we don’t have here, that this time we must act.

How did our last bombing in the region go after its leader Gaddafi was threatening..  From a Sunday article in the London paper the Independent:

Libya has plunged unnoticed into its worst political and economic crisis since the defeat of Qaddafi two years ago.  Government authority is disintegrating in all parts of the country putting in doubt claims by American, British and French politicians that NATO’s military action in Libya in 2011 was an outstanding example of a successful foreign military intervention, which should be repeated in Syria. … Output of Libya’s prized high-quality crude oil has plunged from 1.4 million barrels a day earlier this year to just 160,000 barrels a day now.

Thomas Friedman had a great article discussing this same topic in his Sunday Op-Ed:

I keep reading about how Iraq was the bad war and Libya was the good war and Afghanistan was the necessary war and Bosnia was the moral war and Syria is now another necessary war. Guess what! They are all the same war.

They are all the story of what happens when multisectarian societies, most of them Muslim or Arab, are held together for decades by dictators ruling vertically, from the top down, with iron fists and then have their dictators toppled, either by internal or external forces. And they are all the story of how the people in these countries respond to the fact that with the dictator gone they can only be governed horizontally — by the constituent communities themselves writing their own social contracts for how to live together as equal citizens, without an iron fist from above. And, as I’ve said before, they are all the story of how difficult it is to go from Saddam to Jefferson — from vertical rule to horizontal rule — without falling into Hobbes or Khomeini.

He goes on further discussing the same dangers I have in previous posts about there is no political entity that is ready to take over should Assad be toppled or removed from power.

If we were to decapitate the Syrian regime from the air, the same thing would likely happen there. For any chance of a multi-sectarian democratic outcome in Syria, you need to win two wars on the ground: one against the ruling Assad-Alawite-Iranian-Hezbollah-Shiite alliance; and, once that one is over, you’d have to defeat the Sunni Islamists and pro-Al Qaeda jihadists. Without an army of the center (which no one will provide) to back up the few decent Free Syrian Army units, both will be uphill fights.

The center exists in these countries, but it is weak and unorganized. It’s because these are pluralistic societies — mixtures of tribes and religious sects, namely Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Druze and Turkmen — but they lack any sense of citizenship or deep ethic of pluralism. That is, tolerance, cooperation and compromise. They could hold together as long as there was a dictator to “protect” (and divide) everyone from everyone else. But when the dictator goes, and you are a pluralistic society but lack pluralism, you can’t build anything because there is never enough trust for one community to cede power to another — not without an army of the center to protect everyone from everyone…..

…..

Each tribe or sect believes it is in a rule-or-die struggle against the next, and when everyone believes this, it becomes self-fulfilling.

That means Syria and Iraq will both likely devolve into self-governing, largely homogeneous, ethnic and religious units, like Kurdistan. And, if we are lucky, these units will find a modus vivendi, as happened in Lebanon after 14 years of civil war. And then maybe, over time, these smaller units will voluntarily come together into larger, more functional states.

They are tough words, but if we “change the momentum on the battlefield” we need to be prepared to get more involved for quite some time.

Is Syria different on the ground?  No.  It will take enormous effort, money, and blood before Syria would be stable enough following the collapse of their government.  It would take help from the Arab League, NATO, EU, The UN, none of which is stepping up yet.

Is it different for Presidential authority to unilaterally act? Yes.  In fact, despite calls from the President that Congressional approval is not required (coincidentally that he is seeking approval of) the NY Times this morning had this in their article:

…. the proposed strike is unlike anything that has come before — an attack inside the territory of a sovereign country, without its consent, without a self-defense rationale and without the authorization of the United Nations Security Council or even the participation of a multilateral treaty alliance like NATO, and for the purpose of punishing an alleged war crime that has already occurred rather than preventing an imminent disaster.

If you remember the Bush reasoning for Iraq, it was expanding our authority to strike to prevent an imminent attack.  There was also a decade of UN Sanctions not upheld.

Related articles

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/opinion/sunday/friedman-same-war-different-country.html?_r=3&

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