Quitting the INF Treaty Is a Serious Mistake

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

The Trump administration is preparing to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty thanks to the arms control-hating John Bolton:

The Trump administration has told U.S. allies that it wants to withdraw from the landmark Reagan-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, and plans to inform Russian leaders of its position in the coming days, said foreign diplomats and other people familiar with the deliberations.

The planning is the brainchild of Trump’s hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who has told US allies he believes the INF puts Washington in an “excessively weak position” against Russia “and more importantly China,” said a diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

The president confirmed the intention to withdraw from the treaty this weekend:

President Donald Trump said Washington will exit the Cold-War era treaty that eliminated a class of nuclear weapons due to Russian violations, triggering a warning of retaliatory measures from Moscow.

The treaty has served US and European security well for three decades. Casting aside a landmark arms control agreement risks starting a new destabilizing arms race with Russia at a time when relations with Moscow are already extremely poor. Withdrawing from the treaty amounts to letting Russia off the hook for its recent violations, and it gains the US nothing except the ability to waste more resources on nuclear weapons that we don’t need. Killing the treaty isn’t going to remedy any of the things that critics complain about. China isn’t a party to the treaty and hasn’t been bound by its limitations, but it is difficult to see why the US needs to be able to have land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles in East Asia in any case. Giving up on an arms control treaty that has been largely successful for European security because it does not address new developments in another part of the world just creates a new problem without fixing any of the others.

Quitting the INF Treaty is just one example of Bolton’s reflexive hostility to any and all nonproliferation and arms control agreements. In addition to supporting withdrawal from the INF Treaty, Bolton is also resisting an extension of New START:

Former US officials say Bolton is blocking talks on extending the 2010 New Start treaty with Russia limiting deployed strategic nuclear warheads and their delivery systems. The treaty is due to expire in 2021 and Moscow has signaled its interest in an extension, but Bolton is opposing the resumption of a strategic stability dialogue to discuss the future of arms control between the two countries.

Extending New START should be an easy national security win for the Trump administration. There is no good reason to oppose the extension, just as there was no good reason to oppose its ratification. Bolton is ideologically opposed to the treaty, which he has previously declared to be “execrable,” and as long as he is National Security Advisor it seems very unlikely that the treaty will be extended. Quitting the INF Treaty and allowing New START to expire would represent the willful destruction of the most important arms control agreements that the US has, and together they will have a very dangerous destabilizing effect on the security of Europe and the US

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.

The Cost of Enabling Reckless Clients

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

When Obama was president, hawkish foreign policy pundits and analysts promoted the fiction that he “abandoned” allies and “rewarded” adversaries. This was one of Romney’s main campaign themes in 2012. Their answer to this imaginary problem was that the U.S. should seek to have “no daylight” with its “allies” (by which they almost always meant just Israel and Saudi Arabia). Romney once went so far as to say that there should not be “an inch of difference” between the US and Israel, and applied this standard to all US relationships with its “friends and allies”:

You don’t allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and allies.

Romney’s dumb position in 2012 had become the more or less default hawkish view in the next presidential campaign. The hawks held that public criticism of these governments was a mistake that harmed US interests, and they argued that the US should be supporting these states far more than Obama had done. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that they thought the appropriate US response to any controversy involving a US“ally” was to offer knee-jerk support.

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Report: Turkish Authorities Have Recordings of the Consulate Murder

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Turkish authorities claim to have audio and video recordings that prove Saudi agents tortured and then murdered Jamal Khashoggi:

The recordings show that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi in the consulate after he walked in on Oct. 2 to obtain an official document before his upcoming wedding, then killed him and dismembered his body, the officials said.

The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.

“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence.

“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

The existence of these recordings would explain how Turkish authorities knew what the Saudi agents had done to Khashoggi and how they had done it. Such recordings would provide definitive proof to support the charges made against the Saudi government. Our government should press Turkish officials to share this proof with the U.S. and their other allies. The fact that Turkey is willing to disclose that it has this evidence suggests that they are prepared to go to great lengths to keep the Saudi government from getting away with this. No one honestly doubts at this point that the Saudi government had the prominent critic murdered in their consulate, but evidence of the crime will lend support to efforts to hold the Saudis accountable.

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Saudi Recklessness and the Myth of ‘Withdrawal’

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Hal Brands makes an extremely shaky assertion about recent Saudi recklessness and U.S. involvement in the Middle East:

Much of Saudi Arabia’s recent behavior has been linked to the rise of MBS, who seems driven by a combination of ambition, arrogance and recklessness. Yet it is not a coincidence that Saudi misdeeds have accumulated at a time when the US is widely seen to be drawing down in the Middle East.

The US has backed the Saudis and Emiratis in the war on Yemen from the start. The US has not been “drawing down” in the region, unless one wants to arbitrarily use the height of the Iraq war as the standard by which to measure our level of involvement. It is preposterous to suggest that Saudi misdeeds are the result of a US withdrawal from the region when no such withdrawal has happened, and it is even worse to make this claim when the US is actively aiding the Saudis in the commission of those misdeeds. Brands correctly says that “Saudi conduct since 2015 has been destabilizing in the extreme,” but omits that the US has been an accomplice in the worst of that destabilizing conduct.

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‘Maximum Pressure’ Is a Dead End

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Vali Nasr predicts that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaigns against North Korea and Iran won’t succeed:

What North Korea is looking for is a step-by-step diplomatic process in which the United States offers concessions ranging from a declaration of peace on the Korean Peninsula to the lifting of economic sanctions. Instead, Trump’s national-security team is demanding full denuclearization before offering anything up in return. That looks to be what Washington has in mind for Iran as well.

Faced with this reality, Pyongyang or Tehran could see a benefit in resisting Washington’s pressure strategy.

The main flaw in the Trump administration’s approach to both states is that it pairs maximalist demands that the other side will never accept with “maximum pressure” tactics that depend on broad international support that doesn’t exist. Our government demands things that are politically impossible for any self-respecting government to agree to, and then sets out to punish the other side when it refuses to meet Washington’s absurd expectations.

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Netanyahu’s ‘Nowhere Land’ Blunder

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave another one of his typical U.N. speeches last week in which he accused Iran of having a “secret atomic warehouse”:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told the United Nations on Thursday that his intelligence agents had discovered a “secret atomic warehouse” in downtown Tehran, escalating a growing confrontation with Iran and setting up a direct challenge to its government to open the facility to inspectors and prove it is not in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran denied the accusation, and Netanyahu’s claim was subjected to widespread ridicule in Iran. The location of the facility that he identified was in a remote village whose name, Torquzabad, called to mind the Farsi expression for “nowhere land,” and the building that he identified as the warehouse is a former carpeting cleaning site. Holly Dagres describes the reaction from Iranians:

A group of young Iranian men wasted no time and visited this so-called nowhere land right after Netanyahu’s speech. “Don’t bother coming here – there’s nothing here,” they laugh in a video popularly shared on social media. Since the video, Iranians are now using the Persian carpet cleaning facility site as an opportunity to post selfies. At least two were featured on the frontpage of Iranian newspapers. Even the Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, weighed-in on the speech on Twitter with the Persian hashtag #Torquzabad and a photo of himself and other high ranking officials laughing.

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