Tuesday, July 28, 2015


"The Iran deal presented at Vienna is both weak and also far more dangerous than most observers had anticipated. Weak because it very evidently does not definitively meet its own objective of ensuring Iran won’t be able to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities, and dangerous because in return for the temporary limitations set on Iran’s nuclear programme, the regime and its conventional military capabilities will be profoundly emboldened.... Despite all of this, the Obama administration insists that the deal will be effective and that no better deal would have been attainable. To his critics, Obama accuses that if they favour war, then they should say so. But for years, the Obama administration insisted that all options were ‘on the table’ when it came to confronting Iran, and everyone understood this to be reference to possible military intervention. ‘I don’t bluff’ insisted Obama when referring to the use of force in 2012. And yet more recently the President has made plain his belief that there is no realistic military solution to the Iranian threat, rather suggesting that he was indeed bluffing. Many suspected so at the time, not least the Iranians. And therein lies the problem. When it comes to the military option – an unpalatable prospect to be sure -there is an important role for the military deterrent. That doesn’t mean that the West would have to use military force, but it would need to convince Iran that it was serious about doing so if need be. We shouldn’t forget that the one time Iran appeared to voluntarily halt work on its nuclear programme was during the invasion of Iraq. Clearly the mullahs’ thought there was a real likelihood that they could be next. The same is true of sanctions. During these negotiations, Obama consistently resisted congressional pressure to have new tougher sanctions ready in the event that Iran walked away from a deal that actually met the West’s security objectives. The threat of yet more sanctions could well have given the negotiators the leverage for securing a deal that was actually robust enough to be taken seriously. If Iran knew that the West was prepared to stop at nothing to derail any attempts to go for the bomb, then regime might think twice, certainly if it thought its own hold on power would be jeopardised. But in reality, Tehran could see just how badly Obama needed to get a deal signed and they cashed in accordingly. The capitulationist agreement that emerged from Vienna is the result, and history will judge our leaders for not showing resolve and pushing for better."
Tom Wilson, "There was a credible alternative to the Iran deal. Obama just chose to ignore it". The Spectator. 20 July 2015, in www.spectator.co.uk
"After so much wrangling — the false starts, constant setbacks and mutual suspicion — the nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers was always likely to disappoint. Many will say it has lived down to expectations. It should be applauded anyway. For one thing, there is a fair chance that history will take a kinder view. For another, the agreement must be measured against the more unpalatable alternatives. Benjamin Netanyahu will not agree. The Israeli prime minister’s fulminations against the Tehran regime have grown louder and, it must be said, somewhat delusional. The other day, Mr Netanyahu said that Iran’s goal “is to take over the world”. Iran has been ruthless in promoting its Shia proxies as much of the Arab state system has fallen into collapse, but taking over the world? Mr Netanyahu’s answer to Tehran’s nuclear programme has long been to start another war.... Supporters of the agreement should not try to hide from its weaknesses. Even with a new, uniquely intrusive inspection regime, Tehran might still press ahead with a clandestine nuclear programme. Once sanctions are lifted, Iran will have access to tens of billions of frozen and new resources. It will pump more oil and buy technologies hitherto denied it. If it breaks its pledge to stick to a civilian nuclear programme, the so-called “snapback” provisions of the deal may struggle to reinstate effective sanctions. But then who could claim that sanctions have themselves been effective? As Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has pointed out, economic isolation has not prevented Iran from increasing the number of uranium-spinning centrifuges from 200 to 20,000. By US calculations that leaves Tehran within three months of producing enough fissile material for a bomb. One of the purposes of the deal is to push that timeline out to a year."
Philip Stephens, "Three cheers for a flawed Iran deal". The Financial Times. 14 July 2015, in www.ft.com
One does not have to be a ideological soulmate of Mr. Philip Stephens of the Financial Times, to feel that au fond, what he says apropos the Persian nuclear deal is indeed correct. The simple fact of the matter is, that from a historical vantage point, the time, if there ever was a time to engage in the va banque policy of 'regime-change' towards Persia was circa either 1992 or 2002. And a quick look at both dates shows how reluctant and unevenly such a policy would have played-out in the chancellories of the West. With as much if not more opposition to such a policy among both the Western publics and in International opinion in the rest of the world as was inspired by the Iraq adventure in 2003. And, even if such a policy were engaged in and nominally 'successful' what would have been the ultimate end-result? The triumph of Western Democracy pluralism in Tehran? The mind reels at the thought. Infinitely more likely would have been a repeat, on a larger and grander scale of the debacle in Iraq. However, mere facts are not things that our neo-conservative ideologues and their political enablers in the USA and the UK were ever much concerned about. Faute de mieux, let us try: to engage in a policy of regime change, or conversely to employ force in order to destroy or retard Persia's nuclear programme, would be sheer and unadultered madness given the fact that currently almost the entire Near and Middle East, from Libya in the West to Iraq in the East is in flames and chaos as it undergoes assault by Sunni, religious fanatics of one sort or the other. Resulting in the absurdity that it is (in a strange and perverted fashion), Persia and its allies in the Lebanon and in Syria, who are the 'conservative' forces supporting the status quo ante. Favoring (albeit in an extremely limited fashion) pluralism of religion and sect. Accordingly, the agreement that the Americans and their allies have cobbled together with the regime of Mullahs in Persia, is as former high State Department official in the governments of Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger, Richard Haas noted recently, the very best that can be gotten at the present time given the overall situation in the Near & Middle East:
"The net result is that the accord should lengthen the period it would take Iran to produce one or more nuclear weapons from several months to as much as a year, making it more likely that such an effort would be discovered in time. The prospect that the JCPOA could keep Iran without nuclear weapons for 15 years is its main attraction. Sanctions alone could not have accomplished this, and using military force would have entailed considerable risk with uncertain results. On the other hand (there always is another hand in diplomacy), the agreement permits Iran to keep far more nuclear-related capacity than it would need if it were interested only in civil research and in demonstrating a symbolic ability to enrich uranium. The agreement also provides Iran with extensive relief from economic sanctions, which will fuel the regime’s ability to support dangerous proxies throughout the Middle East, back a sectarian government in Baghdad, and prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime" 1.
'Politics', as the greatest statesman of the 19th century, Otto von Bismarck once aptly put it, 'is the art of the possible'. The accord arrived at with the detestable regime of Mullahs in Persia is simply the very best that can be negotiated at the present time. And there is nothing to suggest that there were or are any levers: either economic or military which would have successfully resulted in Tehran agreeing to anything much better.
1. Richard Haas, "Living With the Iran Nuclear Deal". The Council on Foreign Relations. 14 July 2015, in www.cfr.org. See also with many of my own caveats, and reluctance, in the conservative, British periodical, the Spectator, in: Leader, "Iran can’t be trusted: This is an awful plan, but it’s the best option we’ve got". The Spectator. 18 July 2015, in www.spectator.co.uk. See also the following analysis by Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute:
"Without rehearsing its strengths and weaknesses, the most important feature is that Iran’s nuclear programme will be limited and monitored such that, over the next two decades or so, any Iranian efforts to construct a nuclear weapon – whether in secret or in declared facilities – will not only be detected swiftly, but in ample time for the United States and its allies to craft a diplomatic and, if necessary, military response. Iran will be rewarded with sanctions relief only when it has imposed these restrictions and, if disputes arise, any of the E3+3 can - after an admittedly complex process of adjudication and arbitration - re-impose sanctions by notifying the UN Security Council".

Thursday, July 16, 2015


"Greece’s ruling Syriza party erupted into rebellion and recriminations on Wednesday as prime minister Alexis Tsipras appealed for support for a new bailout deal that will heap more austerity measures on the country. In a sign of the tensions before a key parliamentary vote, radical leftist demonstrators opposed to further cuts hurled petrol bombs outside parliament and riot police used tear gas to disperse protesters, whose numbers had swelled to more than 10,000. Mr Tsipras was expected to prevail in the vote, scheduled for some time after midnight in Athens, with the help of opposition parties keen to grasp an €86bn bailout package to prevent Greece from crashing out of the eurozone. Still, the backlash from his own party could see more than 30 MPs rebel against their leader. Widening rifts within the leftwing, anti-austerity party also seem likely to force Mr Tsipras to reshuffle his cabinet to keep Syriza together in the aftermath of the vote. In a sign of the potential threats to the stability of the Greek government, more than half of Syriza’s Central Committee signed a letter opposing the deal and slamming it as a “coup”. Nadia Valavani, deputy finance minister, also resigned. “The solution imposed today in such a depressing way is not sustainable for the Greek people and for the country,” Ms Valavani said in a letter sent to Mr Tsipras on Monday and made public on Wednesday. Addressing his unruly party, Mr Tsipras called on MPs to maintain unity given the gravity of the situation, and asked them what they would have done instead. “I exhausted all possibilities and looked at all the negotiating solutions. Tell me what is the credible alternative that I did not think and did not say?” he asked".
Christian Oliver and Henry Foy in Athens and Peter Spiegel, "Syriza splinters ahead of crucial vote on Greece bailout deal". The Financial Times. 15 July 2015, in www.ft.com
"I had a long conversation today with Mr Hudson on his return from Athens where he has been serving as first secretary to our Legation. He emphasised the extent to which the Government were replacing the efficient Venezelist officers and officials by incompetent Constantinist [sic] amateurs. He is afraid that if some action is not taken in the near future the whole executive machinery will be irremediably ruined, and complete disintegration will set in. His views merit attention in that he was the only one of our officials in Athens who consistently forecasted the present crisis. I venture to urge the following considerations: (1) The Greek people, rightly or wrongly, are under the impression that in the end we will come to their assistance. At our request they are maintaining eight divisions of 150,000 men in all in Anatolia at the cost of two million drachmae a day. For the last two months they have been doing this on their own resources in order to convince us of their good faith....They know that they cannot hold out much longer, and that we shall be forced to show our hand. They are confident of the result and they look to us to appear as the friend and Protector of Greece....But if we really intend to help Greece we can only do so by positive action, and all negative compromises merely afford the French and the Italians an occasion for overt or subterranean opposition. (3) By 'positive action' I mean something like the following: - send someone to Greece at once to get into touch with King Constantine and to inform him that we shall be prepared to afford him support under certain conditions.... (4) I fully realise that the above suggestion may appear drastic. My point is however that unless we do something drastic the situation will collapse of itself."
"Memorandum by Mr. Nicolson on the Greek situation". 8 January 1921. In Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939. First Series, Volume XVII: Greece and Turkey, January 1, 1921-September 2, 1922. Edited by W. N. Medlicott, Douglas Dakin & M. E. Lambert. (1970), pp. 7-8.
The rather hectic and indeed almost unprecedented changes in the Greek situation is almost breathtaking. First the idiotic and ultra-gauchiste Syriza government rejects the proposed extension to the bailout programme by the troika and instead has insists upon a referendum by the Greek people to vote on the matter. Which to my own great surprise the Greek people, taking leave of their senses once again, voted in accordance with the wishes of the Syriza government and rejected the last bailout offer by the European Union and its partners of the IMF and the European Central Bank. When predictably enough Brussels announced that it would not offer Athens any further concessions and indeed hardened its stance on the negotiations with Prime Minister Tsipras, the latter only to my surprise staged a very quick climbdown at the very last second and agreed to an even more onerous, nay perhaps more accurately much more onerous bailout formula. Indeed as per the EU Observer:
the deal represents capitulation on nearly all points for the left-wing Greek government, which was elected on a platform to stop austerity and which, just one week ago, held a referendum in which Greek people rejected creditors' demands 1.
In short, financially at least, the radical Syriza government has been almost completely fettered in exactly the way that that most elegant and timeless of diplomats, Harold Nicolson suggested almost one-hundred years ago. Unfortunately, Nicolson's advice was rejected at that time by the more august and perhaps cynical mandarins of the Foreign Office 2. Thankfully, his European Union successors have successfully managed to implement his programme. Of course it is probably the case that as advocated by the IMF, the bailout programme should also include at the very least some degree of debt forgiveness 3. If not perhaps immediately then in a few years time, once the Syriza government or whoever (hopefully) succeeds it, manages to implement the needed reforms which Greece's almost completely corrupt and inefficient governmental structure and the society which supports it, cries out for. But for that the sooner that the Syriza government is ousted the better. In that respect if nothing else the hardline pursued by the European Union and Germany in particular has been quite praiseworthy.
1.Honor Mahony, "Greece capitulates at EU summit". EU Observer. 13 July 2015, in www.euobserver.com.
2. See as Minute by the Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, Sir Eyre Crowe, dated the 10 January 1921, in Documents, op. cit., p. 9.
3. Shawn Donnan, Peter Spiegel, "Latest IMF debt relief push baffles eurozone creditors". The Financial Times. 15 July 2015, in www.ft.com

Friday, July 10, 2015


Taliban fighters have killed 11 Afghan soldiers in an ambush on a military convoy in western Afghanistan. Military sources said on June 29 that the convoy came under heavy fire late on June 28 in the Karokh District of Herat Province. The fighting lasted for five hours, a military spokesman told the Reuters news agency. Afghan security forces have suffered increased casualties since the Taliban launched their annual spring-summer offensive in April. Most international combat troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan at the end of last year, with a small NATO mission called Resolute Support remaining to train and support local security forces.
"Taliban Attack Kills 11 Afghan Soldiers In Herat." Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. 29 June 2015, in www.rferl.org
"As was the case in Vietnam and Iraq in 2011 ---, the US ended its combat presence at a time when Transition involved a serious risk that the war would fail to achieve any form of security and stability. The combat situation was intensifying rather than declining, and the Afghan government was still partially paralyzed by the crisis growing out of the 2014 Presidential election."
Anthony Cordesman. Afghanistan at Transition: the lessons of the longest War. (March 2015). p. x.
The issues at stake in Afghanistan are similar to those which have confronted the Americans and their allies formerly in Iraq and now in a new fashion in both Iraq and Syria. The question can be posed in a very simple manner: can and will the Afghan National Army perform or collapse if and when the Americans withdraw circa 2016 / 2017? Presuming that the Americans do indeed withdraw from Afghanistan in the same fashion that the Americans withdrew from Iraq circa 2011, it would seem to be a good surmise that the Taliban will stage many ferocious and perhaps very successful attacks. The conundrum is: will the Afghan National Army collapse or not? At the very least, it should be possible that if the Americans were to retain x number of troops on the ground as advisors and in the air, for the situation to be fairly stable. If the Americans as per the original plans of the White House, were to completely withdraw at the end of the 2015 / 2016, then it would be quite possible to expect that the Afghanistan National Army will, under hammer blows of the Taliban, begin to first withdraw into the enclaves of the major urban areas and then to collapse. Not, mind you a collapse tout à coup but in stages so that after two or three years, it would not be too surprising to begin to see something akin to what happened in South Vietnam in 1975 and in Kabul with the Najibullah regime circa 1992. Given the overall situation in the Near and Middle East at present a collapse of the current Kabul government to either the Taliban or to chaos would be an unmitigated disaster. Pur et simple. Accordingly, those like the American military commentator Anthony Cordesman who advocate that the Americans retain forces in some form or other for the long-run are surely correct. The only alternative being a collapse in stages by the Afghan National Army. As the greatest of all military theorists, Karl von Clausewitz once noted:
"There are times when a general must rise above it, calmly hold to his plans and face the short-term objections that are advanced by fainter hearts. Still, this impression is no mere specter that can easily be dismissed; it is not like a force that affects only a single point, but rather one that spreads instantaneously through every sinew, and paralyzes all military and civil activity....These consequences of retreat should not be underrated 1."
1. Karl von Clausewitz. On War. Edited & translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. (1976), p.471.