The US Is Wrong to Block Iran’s Loan

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Iran has been seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund for the first time in almost sixty years to help them fight the pandemic. The U.S. is expected to block the loan:

The US plans to block Iran’s requested $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund for funding Tehran says it needs to fight its coronavirus crisis.

Advocates for sanctions relief have also been calling for the IMF to approve this loan request in recognition that Iran needs all the resources it can get to get the pandemic under control. Hadi Ghaemi, an Iranian human rights activist, mentioned it in his appeal for sanctions relief last month:

Time is of the essence. The US government should immediately suspend all sanctions that affect the delivery of humanitarian goods to Iran, including banking sanctions on Iran, and vote yes on the $5 billion emergency funding Iran has requested from the International Monetary Fund.

The official excuse for blocking the loan is that the administration assumes that Iran doesn’t need the loan and granting the loan will allow them to divert other funds to support for proxies. This is a very tired excuse, and one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Iran’s government has every incentive to bring the outbreak under control. The assumption that they will use the loan as an opportunity to send more money to their proxies relies on a cartoonish, ideological view of the country. Iran hawks assume that Iran wants to exploit the pandemic to engage in more “adventurism” because that is what they have been hoping to do. Iran hawks think that this is their best chance to bring about regime change, and they are willing to let the pandemic consume many thousands of innocent lives to that end.

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After Crozier Comments, Navy Secretary Modly Must Resign

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly just made things much worse for himself and the Navy by delivering an attack on Capt. Crozier in a speech to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. It will come as no surprise that the contents of the speech have become public:

“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” Modly said, according to a transcript of remarks Modly made to the crew, copies of which have been provided to CNN by multiple Navy officials.

There is a rough transcript of the speech here, and both Task & Purpose and The San Francisco Chronicle obtained an audio recording of the speech.

Modly’s speech was an attempt to justify his unpopular and outrageous decision to remove Crozier from command, and by giving such an inflammatory speech so soon after that decision he showed remarkably poor judgment. The “big controversy” that he complains about just became even bigger. Lecturing the crew about Crozier’s supposed “betrayal” is not going to persuade anyone, and it is bound to stir up even more discontent than there was before. It is deeply insulting to Crozier and his crew to cast the captain’s actions in such derogatory terms. Even if Modly genuinely believes Crozier to have been in the wrong, it is destructive and demoralizing to attack a well-respected officer this way. He was lashing out at the crew as much as Crozier because the crew gave the captain such a rousing sendoff. That’s unacceptable, and it proves that there needs to be someone else in charge of the Department of the Navy.

Modly’s original decision to relieve Crozier of command was a serious mistake, and this tone-deaf exercise in self-justification compounds the first error. Incredibly, Modly criticized Crozier for being either “too naive” or “stupid” for circulating his letter to maybe 20 people, and then he delivers a speech to a crew of thousands and somehow doesn’t think it was going to leak the minute after he finished. Whatever he hoped to achieve by berating the crew for their devotion to their captain, he has pretty much destroyed whatever credibility he might have still had with them.

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The Intense Backlash To Firing Captain Crozier

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The backlash to the Navy’s punishment of Capt. Crozier has been intense, and some influential members of Congress are denouncing the decision to relieve him of command:

Some Navy veterans were disgusted:

David Lapan, a retired Marine colonel, had this to say:

“What signal does this send to the fleet?” said Lapan. “Relieving that commander under these conditions makes it appear to be retaliation. It makes it appear the Navy is more interesting in not being embarrassed rather than taking care of sailors.”

Especially, he said, when one day earlier Modly was calling for commanders to be honest about what they need.

“It makes it appear that you really don’t want them to be honest.”

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Why the US Should Scrap the Useless, Noxious Saudi Relationship

Gil Barndollar and Sam Long do an excellent job of making the case against the noxious U.S.-Saudi relationship:

These attacks on individuals, however, paled in comparison to the Kingdom’s military misjudgments. The war in Yemen, pushed by Mohammed bin Salman when he became Minister of Defense in 2015, was expected to be a quick triumph. Instead it has become the worst humanitarian disaster on earth. American-made missiles and bombs have killed thousands of civilians due to some combination of Saudi carelessness, incompetence, and malice. The campaign has also been an embarrassment for Saudi Arabia’s paper tiger military, outfought by Yemen’s Houthi militia and trapped in an unwinnable war – a war backstopped by the support of both the Obama and Trump administrations.

These decisions ultimately damage the United States, rightly seen as Saudi Arabia’s unblinking protector. Though Congress took belated steps to end the Saudi campaign in Yemen, most Americans could and did ignore Saudi Arabia’s recent actions in its own neighborhood. But as job losses mount, ordinary Americans will finally face the consequences of our toxic relationship with the Saudi monarchy.

The U.S. has worked with some very nasty authoritarian states over the decades, sometimes out of genuine necessity in WWII and sometimes because it was deemed expedient for the sake of a larger policy goal. The US has usually come to regret the compromises that it has made by cooperating with these governments, and the benefits from these relationships have usually been few and limited. The U.S.-Saudi relationship serves no such purpose now if it ever did, and the US gets no benefits from it at all. Now there are only costs and risks, and they continue to increase as the reckless Mohammed bin Salman consolidates his hold on power.

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A Failed Secretary of State

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

Jackson Diehl comments on Mike Pompeo’s terrible performance during the coronavirus crisis:

Has any secretary of state been worse in an emergency? It’s impossible to think of a more feckless performance since World War II. Pompeo’s dreadful week followed a month in which he has been all but invisible on the coronavirus issue, apart from one appearance at Trump’s daily press conference-cum-reality show.

While more responsible leaders have struggled to contain the pandemic, Pompeo has pursued pet causes as if nothing else were happening. That’s especially true of the “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, which he, more than any other official, has promoted.

Pompeo was doing an abysmal job as Secretary of State in better times, so it comes as no surprise that he is doing even worse now that more is expected of him. His tenure has been defined by issuing lots of unrealistic ultimatums and flinging lots of undiplomatic insults. Neither of those is useful or constructive, especially in an emergency like this one. Pompeo’s main contribution to the administration’s response to the outbreak has been to troll Iran and China in public in a desperate bid to distract attention from the president’s bungling. Behind the scenes, he has been one of the leading officials agitating for military escalation in Iraq. In the ghoulish opposition to sanctions relief for the Iranian people, Pompeo has been the chief ghoul.

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The Ghoulish Opposition to Sanctions Relief for Iran

Originally appeared at The American Conservative.

The Wall Street Journal predictably rejects sanctions relief for Iran, but it is worth noting that they have to tell a lot of lies to make their argument:

Easing sanctions would shore up the regime’s shaky position without providing relief to the Iranian people. Tehran has money for medicine if it cuts spending on missiles, nuclear-weapons development and military adventurism. Diverting billions from the mullahs’ violent imperial project is the best way to relieve suffering in Iran and the broader Middle East.

Iran is not engaged in “nuclear-weapons development” and hasn’t been for more than a decade and a half, so we can dismiss that as the utter nonsense that it is. The rest of the editorial is just as divorced from reality. The one thing that the editorial gets right is when it says that the “sanctions campaign has starved the government of hundreds of billions of dollars.” Starving the government of all that revenue means that it has fewer resources to combat the current outbreak. Unlike non-sanctioned governments, Iran’s government cannot afford to undertake the costly measures needed to safeguard public health. Mahsa Rouhi and Narges Bajoghli explain this in their recent op-ed:

At the same time, the American sanctions and falling oil prices have severely weakened the Iranian economy. An impoverished Iran needs financial and medical resources – from food and medicine to cash transfers – to carry out an effective nationwide quarantine and other measures to curb the outbreak.

Iran can’t afford to halt its economy and enforce a complete lockdown. Tehran has sought to shore up the financial security of its poorest families through cash transfers over the past week but faces a huge budget deficit. Pirouz Hanachi, the mayor of Tehran, explained that a quarantine was nearly impossible to enforce because the government would be unable to financially support people unable to work.

Hard-liners in the U.S. take great pleasure in the economic damage and dislocation that their sanctions have caused, but as soon as someone tries to hold them accountable for inflicting misery and death on Iranians they suddenly start pretending that sanctions are harmless and irrelevant to conditions inside Iran. They are quick to declare that “maximum pressure” is “working” because of the havoc that sanctions wreak on Iran’s finances, but they don’t want to be held responsible when that havoc results in the preventable deaths of innocents. It is indisputable that US sanctions block Iranians from making transactions with the rest of the world because financial institutions refuse to do business with them, and that prevents them from being able to obtain vital medicine and medical equipment. Sanctions are collective punishment that hurt the weakest and most vulnerable people in Iran, but sanctions advocates don’t want to own the consequences of the economic war that they fanatically defend.

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