The Politics of the Iran Nuclear Deal

Michael Hirsh reports on the lingering toxic effects of Trump’s foreign policy decisions, including the decision to renege on the nuclear deal. Biden’s timidity on reversing Trump’s policy has left many observers baffled:

“The decision-making process in the administration is such that people who have the last word with the president are prioritizing domestic policy over foreign policy,” said Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group, who is a former top aide to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s chief Iran negotiator.

The result, Vaez said, was “tragic” for Biden and would come back to haunt him, especially with Iran edging toward potential nuclear breakout – the point at which the country has enough fissile material for a bomb. “For someone like him with so much foreign-policy experience to allow politics to play such a role is unbelievable.”

Biden’s mishandling of the revival of the nuclear deal has loomed larger than some of his other foreign policy mistakes because it is such a high-profile issue, it was a major difference between Biden and Trump during the campaign, and the magnitude of Trump’s failure was so great. It has also undermined Biden’s claim to competence in matters of foreign policy, which his supporters assumed was one of his strengths. Rejoining the agreement is a no-brainer on the merits, so it has been discouraging to see the process drag on for more than a year when U.S. reentry should have been relatively straightforward. Vaez says that it is “unbelievable” that Biden is allowing domestic politics to play such a dominant role in the decision-making process, but it is unfortunately all too believable given the president’s tendency to favor the status quo even when it was created by Trump. Add in political calculations during an election year, and you have a recipe for inaction and stagnation.

Carl Bildt and Javier Solana are similarly mystified by Biden’s slow-walking approach:

So it’s puzzling that, after running on a return to the nuclear deal and promising that “America is back,” Biden has been slow-walking diplomacy that US allies strongly support. The common refrain is that he is “playing it safe” on Iran ahead of the upcoming midterms. But frankly, being the president under whose watch efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear efforts succeeded would be a much bigger hit for Biden and the Democrats in advance of the 2024 elections.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Biden Escalates in Somalia

Biden is sending more troops back into one of the endless wars:

President Biden has signed an order authorizing the military to once again deploy hundreds of Special Operations forces inside Somalia – largely reversing the decision by President Donald J. Trump to withdraw nearly all 700 ground troops who had been stationed there, according to four officials familiar with the matter.

In addition, Mr. Biden has approved a Pentagon request for standing authority to target about a dozen suspected leaders of Al Shabab, the Somali terrorist group that is affiliated with Al Qaeda, three of the officials said. Since Mr. Biden took office, airstrikes have largely been limited to those meant to defend partner forces facing an immediate threat.

The earlier withdrawal from Somalia did not mean that the US was no longer involved in the conflict, but pulling troops out of there was one of the few things that Trump got right. Reversing that withdrawal is a mistake, and launching more strikes in Somalia practically guarantees that more Somali civilians will be killed by US attacks. US military involvement in Somalia is relatively limited, but it is still unnecessary and ill-advised. Limited US involvement is how it has been possible for the last three presidents and now Biden to wage a war there that most Americans know nothing about. That has happened because there has been scant oversight and no pressure on any administration to justify the continuation of the war.

The legal authority for US involvement in Somalia’s conflict is as shaky as it gets. Because Al Shabaab is considered an “associate force” of Al Qaeda, the government claims that the 2001 AUMF applies to a group that didn’t exist when the AUMF was written. This is a prime example of why the 2001 AUMF needs to be repealed: it gives any president a free hand to wage war virtually anywhere against any group provided that there is some notional link with Al Qaeda. It is absurd to think that Al Shabaab poses any threat to the United States, so it is hard to see how any genuine US security interests are being served by expanding our role in the war.

There was an opportunity here for Biden to change the policy he inherited in a way that wouldn’t repeat the mistakes that the US has been making in Somalia for decades, but instead he has decided on going back to a militarized approach that was bringing Somalia neither peace nor security. As Elizabeth Shackelford explained shortly after the 2020 election, US intervention in Somalia was not succeeding in defeating Al Shabaab:

The security situation has remained a violent stalemate. Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi recently declared that – with US assistance – Somalia is “on the brink of defeating” al-Shabaab, the al Qaeda-affiliated group we are fighting there. The consistency of al-Shabaab’s attacks and civilian casualties for several years now suggests otherwise. US military leaders have conceded that military defeat of al-Shabaab is not possible and that the conflict will only be won by addressing the underlying causes of extremism in that country with better governance. In the absence of any signs that governance will improve on its current course, maintaining the same military-led strategy is counterproductive.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Robert Kaplan’s Obscene Cheerleading for Saudi Arabia

It would be tempting to view Robert Kaplan’s op-ed for Bloomberg this week as an April Fools’ prank, but unfortunately he seems to be serious:

The fight is for something broader and more fundamental: the right of peoples the world over to determine their own futures and to be free from naked aggression. This requires an orderly world where the law of the jungle does not operate. Thus, we should welcome a number of autocracies into this struggle.

Nothing demonstrates a desire to fight for self-determination like aligning with governments that deny their people the right to determine their own futures. It is not clear why these governments should be brought into a struggle against naked aggression when many of them are engaged in their own aggression. Kaplan touts the “relatively enlightened” ruler of Morocco as an example of the sort of autocracy that he means while conveniently ignoring that the Moroccan government illegally occupies territory that it seized by force almost fifty years ago and denies self-determination to the Sahrawi people that live in that territory.

One of the authoritarian regimes that Kaplan wants us to appreciate is none other than the Saudi government. Kaplan informs us that “personal freedoms have dramatically expanded” under the de facto rule of Mohammed bin Salman. This is partly true in certain limited respects, but it is also extremely misleading. While there has been some loosening of restrictions in social life, there has been intensifying repression when it comes to speech and expression. Dissenters are not only jailed, but they are also tortured and executed.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

The Painfully Stupid Hawkish Opposition to the Nuclear Deal

It didn’t seem possible, but Iran hawks’ arguments against the nuclear deal are becoming dumber than ever. Here is Bret Stephens peddling false information and drawing the most absurd conclusions about the possible revival of the agreement:

But with or without the deal, Moscow will be able to build nuclear power plants in Iran, irrespective of the sanctions over the war in Ukraine. And Beijing – which in 2021 signed a 25-year, $400 billion strategic partnership with Tehran – will be able to conduct a lucrative business in Iran with little concern for U.S. sanctions.

Combined with February’s “no limits” friendship pact between Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, an Iran deal represents another step toward a new antidemocratic Tripartite Pact.

Stephens has been dead-set against any agreement with Iran from the start, and his arguments against it have always been shoddy. When the original interim agreement was reached in 2013, he declared that it was “worse than Munich.” Now here we are almost ten years later and he is still making bizarre Axis references to attack a nonproliferation agreement that was doing exactly what it was meant to do until the US started trying to destroy it.

One of the weirdest and most frustrating aspects of the debate over the nuclear deal is the idea promoted by hawks that an agreement that restricts Iran’s nuclear program is actually a great gift to the Iranian government. Yes, Iran will receive sanctions relief in exchange, but that is an inevitable part of any agreement and it is hardly a gift to permit the resumption of normal commerce and trade. All that it means is that the US would no longer be strangling the Iranian economy.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

The Rehabbing of Mr. Bonesaw

Francisco Rodriguez calls once again for lifting broad U.S. sanctions on Venezuela:

Karen Attiah is understandably disgusted by the cover story in the new issue of The Atlantic that provides the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, a platform to tell self-serving lies:

Most sickeningly, the Atlantic gave MBS a platform to not only continue his absurd denials of having anything to do with Jamal’s murder (even though it was carried out by figures in his close circle and the CIA concluded he gave the order to capture or kill), but also to present himself as the real victim. “The Khashoggi incident was the worst thing ever to happen to me,” the magazine reported that MBS has told people close to him. The murder “hurt me and it hurt Saudi Arabia, from a feelings perspective.”

The article does occasionally acknowledge some of the abuses that have taken place on the crown prince’s watch, but it is fair to say that they handled Mohammed bin Salman with kid gloves and let him off the hook for many of the crimes committed by his government since he rose to prominence and then became de facto ruler. The war on Yemen was Mohammed bin Salman’s idea more than any other top official in the kingdom, and he owns the devastating consequences of that war more than anyone else. As Attiah notes, the war and the Saudi government’s war crimes against Yemeni civilians receive the briefest of mentions.

The framing of the war as one “between Saudi Arabia and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels” oversimplifies the conflict and also fails to put the Saudi coalition intervention in context. Because it mentions Yemen only twice in passing, the article does not discuss the extent of the humanitarian crisis that the intervention has created. The crown prince’s television-viewing habits are explored more extensively than the kingdom’s signature foreign policy initiative over the last seven years. One would not know after reading this article that the war on Yemen has killed at least 377,000 people, most of whom were civilians perishing from hunger and disease. That would seem to be important information to include in a cover story profile of a foreign leader, but somehow it was not included.

Graeme Wood has defended the profile as necessary reporting:

All journalism is an attempt to bring readers things they do not know, and all interviews with heads of state involve getting them to say things they wish they had not said. To elicit these utterances, one must approach the subject sideways – and, most of all, keep him talking, and reveal more than he intends to say.

Read the rest of the article at Eunomia

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

The Obstacles to Ending Senseless Economic Wars

Francisco Rodriguez calls once again for lifting broad U.S. sanctions on Venezuela:

No civilized nation should adopt policies that target vulnerable civilian populations. In fact, no other nation does. The United States is the only country to impose economic sanctions on Venezuela. Other countries have explicitly limited themselves to individual sanctions targeted at regime leaders and have openly rejected and criticized the use of economic sanctions that hurt ordinary Venezuelans.

The Biden administration’s Venezuela policy remains a cruel farce, and it is showing no signs of changing for the better. US treatment of Venezuela over the last several years is one of the clearest examples of how Washington’s addiction to broad sanctions as a default option and our political leaders’ desire to be seen “doing something” about a foreign crisis have combined with disastrous results. Using broad sanctions in a bid to compel Maduro to give up power was never likely to work, as many people observed at the time, and more than three years after the Trump administration’s ill-advised decision to recognize Guaidó as president we can say without any doubt that it has failed. Venezuela is becoming a cautionary tale of how a policy of collective punishment has been allowed to continue for years for no good reason. Because there is no significant domestic political pressure to ease or lift the sanctions, the administration is able to let the policy run on autopilot without having to fear any backlash.

As I noted in one of my columns this week, the Biden administration’s official position is that broad US sanctions do not contribute to ordinary Venezuelans’ suffering at all. As Rodriguez mentions in his article, Assistant Secretary of State Nichols made this preposterous claim when he testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. When confronted with the destructive effects of the economic war that our government is waging against the people, US officials simply pretend that it has nothing to do with the hardship that the people are enduring. If the policy I supported was responsible for causing thousands of preventable deaths and contributing to deepening the misery of millions more, I might not want to admit it, either, but it is unacceptable for the government to wage a relentless economic war against an entire nation and then wash its hands of the consequences as though the sanctions had nothing to do with it. When the administration denies responsibility for the consequences of its policy, I have to assume that they are doing that because they know they cannot possibly defend the sanctions once they acknowledge the costs.

Read the rest of the article at Eunomia

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.