Pompeo’s Scorched Earth Campaign

From The American Conservative:

Paul Pillar comments on Mike Pompeo’s latest string of destructive acts and dishonest claims as Trump’s term comes to an end. Here he addresses Pompeo’s distortions and exaggerations of the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda in a speech delivered on Tuesday:

To achieve a trifecta of abuse of the terrorism issue, Pompeo has picked this same week to foment a misbelief that Iran and Al-Qaeda are, in Pompeo’s words, an “axis” and “partners in terrorism.” If this sounds a lot like an earlier supposed partnership between Al-Qaeda and another Middle Eastern state starting with the letter “I” – as well as an earlier “axis of evil” – it should. The Iranian regime, Shia and Persian, is no more of a partner with Al-Qaeda than was the secular regime of Saddam Hussein. Iran and al-Qaeda have been on opposite sides of almost every political, ideological, military, and sectarian divide, as manifested in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

The presence of some Al-Qaeda types in Iran, mostly under a kind of house arrest, has been known for years and reflects a modus vivendi between enemies rather than anything approaching a partnership – see Michael Hirsh’s fine summary of the issue. Pompeo is presenting nothing new.

Describing the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda as an “axis,” as Pompeo did, is every bit as dishonest and ridiculous as it was when George W. Bush included Iraq and Iran as part of the so-called “axis of evil.” It is fitting that Pompeo’s description echoes that of Bush, because the claim Pompeo is making is little more than reheated Bush-era propaganda that Iran hawks have periodically tried to promote. Every time Iran hawks bring up this nonsense, it gets shot down very easily because their distortion of the evidence is so obvious. The New York Timesreports:

Mr. Pompeo spoke alternately about Al Qaeda’s “new home base” and a “new operational headquarters” in Tehran, bewildering counterterrorism officials, who said there was no evidence for his assertions. Some said his comments appeared to represent his own analytic conclusions, rather than those of the United States intelligence community.

Pompeo went so far as to declare that Iran is the “new Afghanistan” for the terrorist group, which is also nonsense. He is telling these lies in the hopes of throwing up more roadblocks to U.S. reentry into the JCPOA, but it isn’t going to work because his claims are false. Iran holds some members of Al Qaeda as hostages and bargaining chips in order to protect themselves against attack, but they do not work with them or sponsor them. They hold these people as an insurance policy for their own security. It takes willful ignorance or anti-Iranian fanaticism to interpret it as anything else. In Pompeo’s case, it is definitely the latter. As Matthew Petti pointed out in his report on the speech, relations between Iran and Al Qaeda are antagonistic and not the cozy partnership that Pompeo imagines:

But Lahoud, who studied the same documents, found just the opposite. She published a study in 2018 showing that al-Qaida “views Iran as a hostile entity,” and points out that members of the group were mistreated and even died in Iranian custody.

There are governments in the region that support and arm local Al Qaeda affiliates and other like-minded groups, but unfortunately for Pompeo they are US allies and clients.

Continue reading “Pompeo’s Scorched Earth Campaign”

A Malevolent Decision That Will Kill Countless Yemenis

From The American Conservative:

The Trump administration is moving ahead with the disastrous decision to label the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization:

The Trump administration is preparing to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents a terrorist organization before leaving office in January, fueling fears the move will disrupt international aid efforts and upend United Nations-brokered peace efforts between the Shiite movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, according to several diplomatic sources.

The U.N. and international relief agencies have tried to dissuade the Trump administration from designating the Houthis a foreign terrorist organization, but the apparently imminent decision would give U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo another victory in his anti-Iran strategy as he visits Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates this week. Riyadh, which has been at war with the Houthis for over five years, has already designated the Houthis a terrorist organization and has been urging Washington to do the same.

Parts of Yemen are already suffering from famine, and millions more could experience the same if this designation goes ahead. The effect that this decision will have on the civilian population is horrifying to contemplate. That is why international aid organizations, the UN, and virtually everyone that has been following the conflict in Yemen have been pleading with the Trump administration not to do this. It would be an exceptionally cruel and destructive act, and it also makes no sense on the merits.

Scott Paul of Oxfam reacted to the news earlier tonight:

We cannot forget about the ongoing disaster that our government’s support for the war on Yemen has created, and with this terrorist designation the US is set to make an already appalling humanitarian crisis so much worse. Because most of Yemen’s population lives in Houthi-controlled territory, and the Houthis function as the de facto government, a terrorist designation amounts to full-on economic warfare against the people of Yemen. The FTO designation is the harshest measure that Pompeo could choose, and it shows that he is aiming for causing maximum harm for its own sake.

Read the rest of the article

An Aggressive China Policy Is a Recipe for More Endless Wars

From The American Conservative:

Robert Farley explains why the U.S. can’t end endless wars if it pursues an aggressive China policy:

The problem is straightforward: Any effort to characterize China as an existential threat to the United States necessarily implies a level of conflict that will (as it did during the Cold War) provide justification for US intervention anywhere in the world. The solution for a less interventionist foreign policy is not to play up the threat of Beijing in the hopes the US will stop intervening elsewhere, but rather to carefully rethink what constitutes a threat to US core values, and what the United States must sacrifice to meet that threat.

The open-ended wars that the US has been fighting for the last two decades were the result of exaggerating a relatively small, manageable threat (i.e., terrorist attacks) into a major global menace that required massive resources and frequent military interventions in many different countries. One can only imagine how much worse things will be if the US replaces its militarized overreaction to terrorism with a militarized overreaction to the Chinese government. A hard-line China policy not only increases the likelihood of conflict between the US and China in East Asia, but it is also likely to encourage more interference in the affairs of other countries that have close relations with China.

If a U.S.-China rivalry follows the pattern of other great power rivalries, that would involve trying to subvert client governments through proxy wars and coups and sometimes intervening directly to overthrow those clients. Policymakers would predictably claim that peripheral countries are actually vitally important and must be “defended” or pulled into our orbit. Hawkish pundits would write articles about “who lost Malawi” and explain why it was absolutely “crucial” to American security that we prop up a dictator in Uzbekistan. The US would wage wars for “credibility” and refuse to end them for the same reason.

Read the rest of the article

Cuba and Washington’s Absurd Overuse of Sanctions

From The American Conservative:

Mike Pompeo is reportedly considering adding Cuba to the list of state sponsors of terrorism in another last-minute move to box in the incoming administration:

State Department officials have drawn up a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a final-hour foreign policy move that would complicate plans by the incoming Biden administration to relax increased American pressure on Havana.

Like the other designations that Pompeo’s State Department has made or considered in recent years, naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism is without merit and it is being done mainly to spite the next administration. If it happens, it will be a stupid, petty, and harmful decision. That is what we have come to expect from Pompeo and the rest of this administration, but that is no excuse for what they’re doing.

Read the rest of the article

Lloyd Austin and the War on Yemen

From The American Conservative:

Mark Perry has written an excellent report on Lloyd Austin’s policy views. Among other things, Perry finds that Austin was strongly opposed to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen when he was in charge of Centcom:

What’s crucial is what Austin did in the aftermath of these failures, particularly after the Saudi intervention in Yemen. “Lloyd was enraged by the Saudi intervention,” a senior officer who worked with Austin at Centcom said, “because we [the Americans] were quietly supporting the Houthi fight against AQAP [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] at the time.” Austin was so angered by the Saudi move, this now-retired officer said, that he considered formally requesting that the Obama administration denounce the intervention. “We waved him off of that,” the officer with whom I spoke at the time said. But Austin also predicted the troubles the Saudis would face and made his views known to senior civilians at the Pentagon. “He thought the Saudis would lose in Yemen and that, before it was all over, we would have to bail them out,” this same officer noted. Austin was right on both counts: The Saudis found themselves mired in Yemen and dependent on U.S. intelligence assets in their fight.

The Obama administration’s support for the war on Yemen was one of its greatest and most destructive errors. If the president and the Secretary of Defense had listened to Austin’s advice and refused to support the war, that could have been avoided. It reflects very well on Austin’s judgment that he understood that the Saudi intervention wasn’t going to succeed. One of my concerns about Austin is that he would be too indulgent of the Saudis and the UAE because of his Centcom experience, just as Mattis had been when he was Defense Secretary, but this record suggests just the opposite. At the very least, that bodes well for how the Biden administration will act in Yemen. Austin’s view of the war on Yemen helps make sense of why Biden selected him.

Read the rest of the article

The Latest Phony ‘Peace’ Deal Is Stoking Conflict

From The American Conservative:

Mitchell Plitnick examines the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara:

The agreement with Morocco combines the worst of both the Abraham Accords with the UAE and Bahrain and the agreement with Sudan. It also tramples on international law, and provides yet another example of the Trump administration paying far more than necessary for a meager gain.

The Morocco deal may be the tawdriest and ugliest of the various agreements that the Trump administration has announced over the last few months. In exchange for some modest concessions (liaison offices, direct flights, etc.) to Israel, the U.S. has made a major change in policy and abandoned a position it has held for decades at the expense of an oppressed people. The Trump administration has endorsed another illegal occupation, further making a mockery of our government’s claims to respect international law and the principle of self-determination. The U.S. has paid a high price for very little, and the U.S. itself will receive nothing except well-deserved opprobrium. It is hardly a triumph of diplomacy to give one state everything it could possibly want while obtaining nothing for one’s own country.

Read the rest of the article