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Another Muddled Situation in the Middle East

The Iranian military shot down an American drone aircraft on Thursday, and neither side disputes that. Pretty much everything else about the incident is unclear, however, as is the rest of the increasingly tense relationship between the two countries.
Iran claims the drone was within its sovereign airspace, making the craft fair game to be shot down under international rules, but President Donald Trump claims to have conclusive proof from his intelligence sources that the aircraft was in neutral airspace, which makes the downing an arguable act of war. This further muddles an already muddled situation between the two countries, which is further complicated by the fact that both countries currently have very unpredictable leadership.
The problem started long before Trump way back in the administration of Jimmy Carter when a harsh theocratic dictatorship seized power in Iran, as far as we’re concerned, although they do have a plausible argument it started with America’s backing of the harsh but secular and America-friendly dictatorship of the Shahs way back in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. In any case, the first thing the theocratic dictatorship did when it took power was to take fifty-two American diplomats hostage, and hold them in inhumane conditions for 444 days until President Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, and things between the two countries have been complicated ever since.
We concluded at the time, and to this day believe, that the hostages were released because the nutcase Iranian theocracy had concluded Reagan was going to be far tougher on them than Carter had been, and all of our Democratic friends were equally convinced that Reagan was just as willing to start a global conflagration with even the Soviet Union, so we still figure there’s something to be said for tough diplomacy. Reagan’s administration wound up trading arms with the Iranian theocracy for some hostages it and its terrorist gang proxies still held and using the extra profits to fund anti-communist forces in Nicaragua, on the other hand, and neither the sticks nor the carrots of the subsequent Democratic and Republican administrations have adequately solved the Middle Eastern problem.
With help from six of our most longstanding and militarily formidable European allies and the mighty combined weight of their economic sanctions President Barack Obama persuaded Iran to agree to a temporary shutdown or at least a shutdown of its nuclear weapons program. Critics such as ourselves argued at the time it was only temporary shutdown and arguably just a slowdown of Iran’s nuclear bomb program, and did nothing to curtail its intercontinental missile program or funding of terrorist gang proxies throughout the Middle East, or the nefarious meddling in every Middle Eastern crisis that popped up, and that given the western leverage a better deal could have been reached. All that still rings true, but Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal and and despite his much-bragged about negotiating skill hasn’t yet delivered the promised better one, and things remain unsettled.
Trump has reimposed severe economic sanctions on Iran’s already struggling economy, but none of those six longstanding and militarily formidable European allies have followed suit, and without their combined economic weight and assured military alliance the Iranians are less likely to blink. Trump has been squabbling with all of our longstanding allies around the world ever since he took office, and nutcases though they are the Iranian theocrats have surely noticed, and they might also sense other signs of weakness.
Trump ran for office as a a tough guy who wouldn’t let America be pushed around, but he also ran as Vietnam War draft dodger who alleged President George W. Bush lied America into a Middle Eastern quagmire, even as he criticized Obama for his premature withdrawal from the Iraqi conflict that Bush had allegedly lied us into, and while in office his foreign policy has been similarly schizophrenic. Currently he’s got some old school Cold War Republican internationalists  as Secretary of State and national security advisor, and for embarrassing reasons has no Secretary of Defense at all at the moment, yet he retains his cocksure and surprisingly risk-averse and isolationist instincts, and so far it’s led to a muddled message in the current crisis.
Trump “tweeted” that Iran had made a “very big mistake” by shooting down the drone, adding the usual exclamation mark at the end, but he later clarified that. Trump’s most ardent apologists always tell us we should take his rhetoric seriously but not literally, but in this case Trump explained that he was being literal rather serious. Trump explained he meant to say that Iran had made an actual mistake, with some trigger happy lower-ranking military officer launching the shoot down the $100 million yet unmanned drone without orders from the nutcase theocratic dictatorship, which is just one of those those things that happen in such a complicated world and no reason for nations to go to war.
Trump has also given credence to Iran’s explanations of a couple of attacks on oil tankers on the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran’s terrorist proxies have claimed credit for and which Iran has plausibly claimed it had nothing to do with. Trump’s old school Secretary of State and national advisor have blamed have blamed Iran for threatening a shipping lane crucial to the economies of our longstanding European allies and the rest of the world, but Trump himself has dismissed both incidents as “very minor,” and the self-described tough guy seems in no mood for a fight.
Which is probably for the best, given the current circumstances. We doubt that the nutcase theocratic regime in Iran is any more eager for a fight with the far more formidable United States military, as nutty as the theocratic regime might be, so there’s hope the desultory status quo will last until at least the next American presidential election.
In a more perfect world America wouldn’t have a president who has repeatedly cast international doubt on the conclusions of America’s intelligence, and one who has continued to negotiate with the puny likes of Iran as the leader of a unified coalition of the democratic and militarily and economically formidable western world, but here we are. We can’t say that any of these damned Democratic contenders for the presidency would fare  any better, on the other hand, so for now we’ll hold out hope for even the most desultory sort of  peace.

— Bud Norman

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Just Another Manic Tuesday

The most important story on a Tuesday full of big stories was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s pulling America out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing the preexisting economic sanctions and threatening even more, but given all the juicier stuff it’s the one we least want to write about.
The Iran story is damned complicated, and we have decidedly mixed opinions about it. Trump’s critique of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Barack Obama and his equally inept Secretary of State John Kerry and our Pollyanna-ish European allies cooked up is quite valid, and includes all the gripes we more eloquently articulated at the time the deal went down. Under the deal Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship is free to continue developing long-range missiles, funding the mischief of various crazed theocratic terrorist group and helping out some secular but just as troublesome dictatorships in the Middle East, there’s an expiration date that allows them to get nuclear weapons,. The notoriously tough deal-maker Trump is also right to note that these galling concessions were made at a time when strict international sanctions had brought the Iran’s economy to its knees and its crazed theocratic dictatorship to the negotiating table.
At this strange point in time, though, it’s not at all clear that pulling out of the hated JCPOA is going to result in a better deal. It took strict international sanctions to get Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship to agree to abandon its nuclear bomb development program, and to allow international inspections to verify their compliance, and this time around our European allies made clear they’re in no mood to reimpose sanctions and limit their oil supplies just to appease an American president who is threatening to wage trade wars with them and is quite unpopular with their constituents. Already the crazed theocratic dictatorship in Iran is rightly noting that America’s withdrawal from the deal frees them to resume their nuclear bomb development, Trump is warning that if they do so they’ll have “problems like they’ve never had before,” and carrying out any of either side’s threats will be ugly even in the best of all possible outcomes. There’s also no telling how this might affect the nuclear deal that Trump is trying to negotiate with the crazed dictatorship in North Korea, which isn’t quite so crazed that it hasn’t noticed how America keeps to to its negotiated agreements.
No matter how that all works out, there were a couple of domestic stores that Trump might eventually wish he hadn’t pushed to below the newspaper fold.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a hero of the Democratic party’s recent crusade against sexual harassment and a legal nemesis of Trump since his successful lawsuit against Trump University, was forced to resign shortly after The New Yorker published a report about two named women and an unnamed third one who offered medical records and other convincing evidence to back up their eerily similar accounts of Schneiderman’s shocking-even-by-current-standards sexual abuse. As he resigned Schneiderman offered the explanation that it had all been “role play,” like in that “Fifty Shades of Grey” that was a best-selling novel and hit movie in these strange times, but at this moment in the Democratic party’s righteous crusade against sexual harassment that couldn’t keep him his job.
Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Tuesday “tweeting” his schadenfreude about Schneiderman, but to borrow an old metaphor he was hurling his stones from the very glass house of Trump. Trump Jr.’s pop still has a defamation lawsuit in the courts by one of the many women he’s accused of lying about his own ungentlemanly behavior, which he was caught bragging about on that “Hollywood Access” tape, not to mention all that mess about the porno star he’s now forced to admit he paid to shut up about an alleged trysts. We’ve also noticed that these constant sex monster scandals seem to involve both left and right types, so there’s no telling which Republican moralist will be next.
Trump and every other Republican can also be glad that Don Blankenship didn’t win the Republican party’s Senate nomination in West Virginia. Blankenship is the coal mining executive who spent in a year in federal prison for worker safety violations that resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaged his “China person” wife and her “China family,” wound up talking about “West Virginia persons” and “negroes” in his convoluted explanations, and aptly described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship was too Trumpy even for Trump, who “tweeted” his advice that West Virginia candidates vote against him not because of his deadly felonies or unabashed racism but rather because he “can’t win.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wound up winning with a plurality, despite being the sort of boring establishment type of Republican we used to like voting for. He spared the party the sort of embarrassment it suffered when the unabashedly theocratic and credibly accused child molester and Trump-endorsed Roy Moore somehow lost a Senate seat in Alabama of all places, but it remains to bee seen if he can knock off Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as stalwart for coal mining as any Republican and pretty darned Trumpy himself.
There was another intriguing story that Trump is surely glad he knocked off the top of the front pages and the top of the hour on the cable news, where the hush money payment to the porno performer and that whole “Russia thing” have collided. It’s now reported that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admittedly arranged the $130,000 hush money payment to the aforementioned porno performer, which yet another Trump attorney now admits the president eventually paid, and whose office and home and hotel room were recently searched the by the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York office, and shortly after the election was also paid a half-million bucks by a Russian firm run by a Russian with close ties to the Russian dictatorship. It’s also reported he had a similar payment from the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which was hoping to get federal approval from a controversial deal that would result in its ownership of Trump’s nemeses at the Cable News Network.
There might yet be a perfectly reasonably and entirely exculpatory explanation for all this, but so far neither Trump nor any of his attorneys have provided one. We can only hope Trump’s instinct prove sounder in negotiating that North Korean nuclear deal and renegotiating the one with Iran.
And that was just Tuesday.

— Bud Norman