Newly leaked documents reveal insane counterterrorism tactics used against Standing Rock water protectors

According to newly leaked internal documents obtained by The Intercept, a mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan was hired and collaborated with police in at least five states to target the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters.

TigerSwan was hired by Energy Transfer Partners, owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline project. The mercenary group originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor.

The documents paint a violent picture of the Standing Rock water protectors. Internal communications describe the anti-DAPL movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the water protectors to jihadist fighters countless times. At one point, a report states that the movement “generally follows the jihadist insurgency model while active,” and that “while we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.”

NationofChange can personally confirm that we experienced no such indication that any of the water protectors acted as if they were like jihadist fighters while we were at the Oceti Sakowin camp at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

Furthermore, documents show that TigerSwan conducted sweeping and invasive surveillance of the pipeline protesters. The company was responsible for portraying the water protectors as unpredictable and menacing in order to justify the outrageous tactics they were using.

Energy Transfer Partners is not stopping there, though. They have retained TigerSwan to focus on other pipeline projects. A portion of the leaked documents includes situation reports from TigerSwan operatives in other states, such as South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Texas, anywhere from September 2016 to May 2017. These reports detail the surveillance and intelligence gathered by TigerSwan on pipeline opponents and upcoming protests.

Surveillance tactics used by the company include social media information harvesting, aerial surveillance and radio eavesdropping and infiltration of camps and activist circles.

Additional documents obtained via public records requests show communications between several government groups, such as the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Justice Department, and state and local police who all worked together to monitor the protest, including gathering information from social media to share it with others in this “Intel Group.”

To view the leaked documents, as well as read more about the entire investigation, head over to The Intercept.

Tell the Trump administration to stop Big Oil from completing the Dakota Access Pipeline:

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The reign of Trump: Understanding crazy in Washington

It must be very difficult for anyone outside of the United States to understand what is going on in Washington these days. Presidents of the United States have not always been great intellectuals, but usually it could be assumed that they would have at least some understanding of the major issues affecting the country and the world. Furthermore, regardless of political leanings, they would be sure to have people around them who were expert in the areas assigned and they would rely on these people to shape policy and their public statements.

The history here is not glorious. President George W. Bush’s experts took the U.S. into a needless and seemingly endless war in Iraq. The top economic advisers to Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush laid the groundwork for the housing bubble, the collapse of which gave us the worst economic crisis in seven decades, from which we still have not fully recovered.

But even with such horrendous mistakes, presidents did make an effort to be informed on major policy areas. This is not true with President Trump. He really is clueless in most areas of foreign and domestic policy. He knows remarkably little about basic policy issues for someone who has lived in this country for 70 years, and perhaps even more serious, he doesn’t care.

His incredible ignorance shows itself almost daily. Trump vigorously denounced China throughout his campaign as a world class currency manipulator. Yet he told everyone about his great relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping after their meeting last month. He said that he didn’t want to ruin the relationship by talking about currencies, and came away the meeting with the interesting tidbit that Korea used to be part of China.

His knowledge of domestic matters seems little better. In February, the month designated to highlight African American history, Trump referred to the great slavery abolitionist and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass as though he were still alive. (He’s been dead for 120 years.) He also suggested that people should examine the causes of the U.S. Civil War, an issue that is already the topic of an immense body of research.

He apparently does not even understand the Electoral College system whereby he managed to win the presidency even though lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. He routinely hands out maps of the 50 state electoral vote to reporters interviewing him, as though he is providing new information. All these reporters already know the map by memory.

It would be possible to go on at considerable length about President Trump’s ignorance and incompetence, but the real question is why do the Republicans stand behind a president who is embarrassingly unqualified for the job? The answer is they don’t care.

The Republican Party has become a vehicle for the rich to take as much as they possibly can as quickly as they possibly can. There is no ideology or philosophical commitment involved; this is simply a question of filling their pockets.

This is apparent in all of their actions. The centerpiece of their health care reform proposal is a tax cut of more than $600 billion over the next decade, which goes almost exclusively to the richest one percent in the country. As a bonus, they stand to pay less for their health care insurance, if they also happen to be in good health. (The plan is also likely to cost 24 million people their insurance.)The tax reform plan that Trump has outlined could give millions of dollars in tax savings each year to the country’s richest families and save their families billions when they die by eliminating the estate tax.

But it is not just on the tax side that Trump’s policies will make the rich even richer. Trump and the Republicans are fighting financial regulations that are designed to hold down the fees charged by the financial industry on everything from student loans and retirement accounts to credit card transactions. In addition to abandoning efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the Trump administration is also weakening environmental regulations that essentially require industry to clean up after itself.

A great example was Trump’s use of an executive order to overturn a regulation that required the mining industry to restore land after it engaged in mountain top mining. While this was sold as a measure to protect the jobs of mineworkers, it will likely have the opposite effect. Trump was making it cheaper for coal companies to replace labor intensive underground mining with mountain top mines that employ far fewer workers. His executive order was about coal industry profits and nothing more.

The Republicans in Congress, who have the power to remove a president that is clearly not qualified for the job, have no intention of taking any action as long as he can produce results for the very rich. These people care about being re-elected and when their career in Congress is over they look to a second career as an incredibly well-paid lobbyist.

The only way that Republicans will abandon Trump is if he actually becomes so much of a public embarrassment that he jeopardizes the re-election prospects of a substantial percentage of Republican senators and Representatives. We clearly have not reached this point, which means that Trump can keep being as crazy and corrupt as he wants.

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Coal is in a death spiral as India cancels new plants and solar prices plummet

China and India have knocked the United States off the top spot of the index of best places to invest in renewables.  Analysts cite the impact of Trump’s policies in favor of coal and petroleum.

Meanwhile, as Trump talks up a return of coal in the U.S., global coal markets have been shaken to the core by the Indian government’s decision to cancel planned 14 gigawatts of coal plants.  They took the decision because solar power has fallen in price so dramatically that the coal plants were no longer competitive.

India’s plans for so many dirty coal plants had raised alarms among climate activists, who suggested that they would make it impossible for New Delhi to meet its emissions reduction goals under the Paris climate treaty.  That consideration has now been removed.

Solar’s share of India’s electricity output increased 80 percent last year.. India added 10 gigawatts of solar in 2016.  It has a goal of 100 gigawatts from solar by 2022.

The renewable energy sector in India already accounts for 60,000 jobs, and will add a similar number by 2022.

India is able to generate electricity by solar panels for 4.4 cents a kilowatt hour without any subsidy, undercutting not only coal but all other sources of electricity generation.  Analysts are wondering whether at these prices India will ever build another coal plant.

Typical of the massive scale of the Indian projects is a 750 megawatt project in Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, one of the world’s largest solar facilities at a single site.  It will increase India’s installed solar capacity by 7.5% and will double the installed capacity of Madhya Pradesh.  One plant.  It will avoid one million tons of toxic carbon dioxide emissions every year. And such solar facilities can often be built in as little as 18 months.

Get the fossil fuels out of climate policymaking:

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Officer who killed Tamir Rice fired for lying on job application

Responsible for fatally shooting a 12-year-old boy playing with an airsoft pellet gun, Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehmann was fired Tuesday for failing to disclose the reasons why he had resigned from a previous police department. During a recent press conference, city officials clarified that the officers involved in the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice were both receiving punishments based on administrative rule violations, not Rice’s death.

On November 22, 2014, CPD officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback responded to a 911 call about a possible juvenile scaring people with a “probably fake” gun. The police dispatcher failed to inform the officers of the caller’s doubts regarding the authenticity of the weapon.

As the patrol car approached 12-year-old Tamir Rice, a surveillance camera recorded Officer Loehmann jumping out of the vehicle and immediately firing two shots, with the fatal bullet hitting Rice in the abdomen. The officers later realized Rice had in his possession an airsoft pistol with the orange safety indicator removed.

An investigation conducted by Cleveland’s Critical Incident Review Committee (CIRC) found no fault in the officers’ actions leading up to the fatal shooting. In 2015, a grand jury declined to file criminal charges against Loehmann and Garmback. In March, the emergency dispatcher who handled the call was suspended eight days for violating protocol by failing to relay critical information to the responding officers.

Despite the fact that Loehmann and Garmback were not criminally charged, the city of Cleveland agreed to pay $6 million to Rice’s family in order to settle a federal lawsuit filed over their son’s death. According to the terms of the settlement, neither the dispatchers nor the officers involved will admit to any wrongdoing.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Michael McGrath, the city’s director of public safety, announced that the Cleveland Police Department had terminated Loehmann for failing to disclose the reasons for his resignation from the Independence Police Department while applying to become an officer for Cleveland PD. According to his supervisors, Loehmann was emotionally unfit and suffered a mental breakdown on the gun range in Independence.

Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams confirmed that Loehmann had been fired from the department while Garmback received a 10-day suspension for violating administrative rules. Garmback will also be required to attend an additional tactical training course due to his reckless driving in the moments prior to the fatal shooting.

“You know, it’s difficult when a child – in this case, a 12-year-old – loses their life,” stated Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson during the press conference on Tuesday. “It makes it even more challenging and more difficult in terms of accepting it if it happens at the hands of a police officer.”

“There’s a 12-year-old kid dead,” Chief Williams said during the news conference. “I mean, you know, people on both sides are going to say it wasn’t enough, it was too much. We have to go through our process. We have to be fair and objective to everyone in this process.”

According to Williams, the department changed its hiring policies in 2015 to begin checking every personnel and disciplinary file of officers applying from other police departments. Besides utilizing more body cameras, Cleveland officers have also started installing first aid kits inside their patrol cars.

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America’s Iran hysteria

“Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis told reporters on a mid-April visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “you find Iran.”

I must admit that when I stumbled across that quote it brought up uncomfortable personal memories.

East Baghdad, January 25, 2007: my patrol had missed a turn and so we swung onto the next grimy avenue instead.  As platoon leader, I rode shotgun in the second of our four vehicles, yakking away on the radio.  The ensuing explosion rocked the senses: the sound, the blinding dust, and the smell – a mix of burnt metal and, well… I still can’t bring myself to describe it.

Our lead HMMWV, a military utility vehicle, aimlessly swerved right and came to rest beside a telephone pole. Only then did the screams begin.

The “cost” would be two wounded and two dead: my then-unborn son’s namesakes, Specialist Michael Balsley and Sergeant Alexander Fuller.  These were our first, but not last, fatalities.  Nothing was ever the same again.  I’m reminded of poet Dylan Thomas’s line: “After the first death, there is no other.”

The local militia had shredded our truck with an advanced type of improvised explosive device that was then just hitting the streets of Baghdad – an explosively formed projectile, or EFP.  These would ultimately kill hundreds of American troops.  Those EFPs and the requisite training to use them were provided to Iraqi militias by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s a detail I’m not likely to forget.

Still, there’s one major problem with bold, sweeping pronouncements (laced with one’s own prejudices) of the sort Secretary of Defense Mattis recently offered on Iran: they’re almost always wrong.  It’s the essential flaw of “lumping” – that is, of folding countless events or ideas into one grand theory.  But, boy, does it sound profound!  The truth is that Iran is simply notbehind most of the turmoil in the Middle East, and until Washington’s policymakers change their all-Iran-all-the-time mental model, they are doomed to failure.  One thing is guaranteed: they are going to misdiagnose the patient and attack the wrong disease.

Look, I’m emotionally invested myself.  After all, I fought Iranian-trained militiamen, but a serious, workable national strategy shouldn’t rely on such emotion.  It demands a detached, rational calculus.  With that in mind, perhaps this is the moment – before the misdiagnosis sets in further – to take a fresh look at the nature of America’s thorny relationship with Iran and the Islamic Republic’s true place in the pantheon of American problems in the Greater Middle East.

Let’s start this way: How many Americans even realize that there are only three countries in the world with which their country has no ongoing diplomatic relations at all? Actually, the number was four until the Obama administration began slowly normalizing bilateral ties with one longtime member of the naughty list: Cuba.  How many could name the three remaining states on that roll of shame?  The first and easiest to guess is surely North Korea; the most obscure is Bhutan (the “Switzerland of the Himalayas”).  And, yes, of course, last but by no means least is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Think of all the scoundrels not on that list: Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe; our Pakistani “frenemy”; Vladimir Putin’s Russia; Equatorial Guinea with its craven, 40-year dictator, accused of cannibalism; and, until 2012, Bashar al-Assad’s grim Syrian regime.  Throughout the Cold War, the U.S. kept an embassy in the Soviet Union and it similarly maintained formal relations with apartheid South Africa.  As of 2014, the State Department officially dealt with nine-tenths of the globe’s most abusive regimes, according to the Human Rights Risk Atlas.

So, is the secretary of defense correct? Is Iran really behind all regional trouble in the Greater Middle East?

Hardly.  In fact, such an assertion – and the language of absolutes that goes with it – is by definition problematic.  In a Washington filled with Iranophobes, the demonization of that country is already a commonplace of everyday political chatter and it almost invariably rests on three inflated assumptions about Iran’s menacing nature: that it is on an eternal quest to develop and perhaps employ nuclear weapons (especially against Israel); that it massively supports regional “terrorists” and their proxies; and that it regularly exhibits an unquenchable desire to establish its regional hegemony by force of arms.  All three suppositions rest on another faulty assumption: that Iran has a straightforwardly dictatorial system of fundamentalism led by irrational “mad mullahs.”

Let’s consider each of these propositions.

The Iran exaggeration

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a Middle Eastern country – no, not Israel – but one with a sizeable, protected Jewish community, a place where Islam is the state religion but its president regularly tweets Rosh Hashanah greetings for the Jewish New Year.

Sounds like somebody’s wild fantasy, but it’s actually Iran.  In fact, the Islamic Republic sets aside one mandatory seat in its parliament for a Jew, three for Christians, and another for a Zoroastrian.  It would be a mistake to conclude from such token gestures that Iran is a paragon of tolerance.  But they do speak to the complexity of a diverse society full of paradox and contradiction.

It certainly is a land in which hardline fundamentalists chant “Death to America!” It’s also a country with an increasingly young, educated populace that holds remarkably positive views of Americans.  In fact, whatever you might imagine, Americans tend to have significantly more negative views of Iran than vice versa.   Don’t be shocked, but Iranians hold more positive views of the U.S. government than do the citizens of Washington’s allies like Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.  In reality, there’s long been a worrying paradox in the region: an inverse relationship between the amiability of a government’s relationship with Washington and the favorability ratings of this country among its people.

In other words, when it comes to Iran… well, it’s complicated.  The trouble is that Americans generally don’t do nuance.  We like our bad guys to be foreign and unmistakably vile, even if such a preference for digestible simplicity makes for poor policy.

If you want to grasp this point more fully, just think about Secretary of Defense Mattis’s recent statement again. He assures us that Iran’s shadow hovers over every regional crisis in the Middle East, which is empirically false.  Here, for instance, are just a few recent conflicts that Iran is not behind or where its role has been exaggerated:

* The Arab Spring and the subsequent chaos in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt.  Iran didn’t start or significantly influence the uprisings in those countries.

* Turkey’s decades-long war with separatist Kurds in its southeast provinces.  Again, not Iran.

* The ongoing spread of al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria and on the Arabian Peninsula.  Iran actually abhors such groups, and certainly wasn’t behind their rise.

* Or, if you want, take Yemen, since supposed Iranian meddling in the Middle East’s poorest state happens to be one of the favorite drums Washington’s Iranophobic hawks like to beat.  And yet a range of credible reports suggest that the much-decried collusion between Iran and the Houthi rebels, who are the focus of the Saudi war in that country, is highly exaggerated.

Look, Iran is a significant, if often thwarted and embattled, regional power and a player, sometimes even a destabilizing one, in various regional conflagrations.  It supports proxies, funds partner states, and sometimes intervenes in the region, even sending in its own military units (think Syria).  Then again, so does Saudi Arabia (Yemen and, in funding terms, elsewhere), the United Arab Emirates (Yemen), Russia (Syria), and the United States (more or less everywhere).  So who’s destabilizing whom and why almost invariably turns out to be a matter of perspective.

The State Department and various other government agencies regularly label Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” – and that couldn’t sound more menacing or impressively official and authoritative.  Yet to tag Iran as #1 on any terror list is misleading indeed.  The questions worth asking are: Which terrorists?  What constitutes terrorism?  Do those “terror” outfits truly threaten the U.S. homeland?

As a start, in 2016, the State Department’s annual survey of worldwide terrorism labeledISIS – not Iran, Hezbollah, or the Houthis – as “the greatest [terror] threat globally.” How do we square that “greatest sponsor” stamp with an Iran that has proven both thoroughly hostile to and deeply invested in the fight against ISIS and various al-Qaeda-linked groups in Iraq and Syria?

Iran does support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.  However, lumping regionally focused nationalist organizations like Hezbollah with genuine global jihadist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda (in its proliferating forms) is deceptive, often purposely so.  The Lebanon-based Hezbollah, for example, is largely fixated on Israel, but has sometimes even fought ISIS in Lebanon and Syria.  In other words, Hezbollah, though it had previously attacked U.S. troops in the region, isn’t sending its operatives to crash planes into American buildings.

To think of it another way, more foreign ISIS volunteers hail from Belgium or the Maldives Islands than from Iran. In fact, most of the top sources of ISIS’s foreign recruits (Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Jordan) turn out to be “friendly” American “partners.”  From 1975 to 2015, Iranian-born terrorists inflicted zero deaths in attacks on U.S. soil.  In contrast, citizens of key U.S. allies – Saudis, Egyptians, and Lebanese – killed thousands on 9/11.  In fact, since then, 85% of domestic terrorists turned out to be American citizens or permanent residents.  Most were American-born.  Of the 13 U.S. citizens involved in such fatal terror attacks, none were Iranian-American.

As to the charge that Iran is by nature an aggressive power, there can be little question that the Islamic Republic aggressively pursues its regional interests.  That, however, by no means makes its moves automatically antagonistic to Washington’s interests in the region.  If anything, as a Pentagon assessment concluded in 2014, its military strategy is ultimately defensive in nature and based on a feeling of being threatened, which makes sense when you think about it.  After all, when it comes to American power – from the 1953 CIA-British coup that overthrew Iran’s elected prime minister and installed the autocratic Shah to Washington’s support for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein in his war of aggression against Tehran (1980-1988) to the present administration’s all-in support for the autocratic Saudis in an anti-Iranian partnership, they have legitimate reasons to feel threatened.

In addition, unlikely as it may seem to most Americans, on certain issues like a Taliban-free Afghanistan, the U.S. and Iran actually have had converging, if complex, interests. Additionally, though Iran once promoted Iraqi Shiite militias that attacked and killed U.S. troops (including my soldiers, Mike Balsley and Alex Fuller), today, both countries desire a relatively stable, ISIS-free Iraq. None of this is easy to swallow (least of all by me), but prudent strategy demands a dispassionate, rational assessment of inherently emotional issues.  Unfortunately, when it comes to Iran, that’s hardly an American predilection at the moment. 

The company we keep

In 1957, the U.S. supplied a key regional leader with his first (“peaceful”) nuclear reactor, as well as the necessary scientific training for those who would run it and some weapons-grade uranium to power it. Then, in the 1970s, American experts began to fear that their partner might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons on his own.  A few years later, revolutionaries overthrew him and inherited that American-originated program. That leader was, of course, the man the Americans had installed as ruler of Iran in 1953, Reza Shah Pahlavi.

It always struck me as odd that Iran made the cut for the very exclusive membership in George W. Bush’s “axis of evil.”  After all, unlike those 15 Saudi hijackers and perhaps even the Saudi government, it had no connection to 9/11 and was “comprehensively helpful” in the initial takedown of the Afghan Taliban and the arrest of fleeing al-Qaeda fighters.

By contrast, consider just a few of Washington’s “partners” in the region:

* Saudi Arabia: this monarchy enforces a strict brand of conservative Wahhabi Islam not so terribly different from the basic theology of ISIS.  The Saudi government publicly executes an average of 73 people per year, including juveniles and the mentally ill.  Beheading is the favored technique. (Sound familiar?)  Nor are all the victims convicted murderers.  According to a 2015 Amnesty International report, “Non-lethal crimes including adultery, robbery, apostasy, drug-related offenses, rape, ‘witchcraft,’ and ‘sorcery’ are punishable by death.”  In addition to its citizens carrying out the 9/11 attacks, Saudi Arabia supported a branch of al-Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) in the Syrian conflict.  Furthermore, its ongoing U.S.-backed air strikes against Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been killing numerous civilians and may have helped to cause and further intensify a disastrous famine. The U.S. response: a record-breaking $110 billion arms deal for the Saudis.

* Egypt: In the wake of a 2013 coup d’étatled by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi against an elected government, that country’s military gunned down hundreds of demonstrators.  Since then, its strongman has used “mass, arbitrary arrests,” tortured detainees, and conducted “extrajudicial executions” – all in the interest of retaining power.  The U.S. response: $1.4 billion in (mostly military) foreign assistance in fiscal 2017.  To top it off, President Trump recently invited Sisi to the White House, lauded the dictator’s “fantastic job in a very difficult situation,” and is planning a future visit to Egypt.

* Turkey: this formal ally boasts NATO’s second largest military and hosts an important U.S. airbase.  Unfortunately, Turkey is increasingly unstable thanks to a recent coup attempt, its ongoing war with Kurdish separatists, and an escalating intervention in Syria’s civil war.  Worse yet, after relaunching an internal war against Kurdish rebels, its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has taken the country into distinctly autocratic terrain in the wake of a narrow victory in a referendum that does away with the office of prime minister and further centralizes executive power in his hands.  Turkey’s deteriorating human rights record includes the pre-trial detention of more than 40,000 coup “suspects,” the summary dismissal of 90,000 civil servants, the shuttering of hundreds of offices of nongovernmental organizations and media outlets, and the imposition of a 24-hour curfew in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern part of the country. The U.S. response: $3.8 million in direct (military) assistance in fiscal 2017, and promises to continue arms sales which topped $2.3 billion last year.

This motley crew has one thing in common – they’re no angels. 

“Rip it up”

Iran hawks live on both sides of the political aisle.  In 2015, for example, Hillary Clinton told an audience at Dartmouth College that Iran represents “an existential threat to Israel.”  Though she expressed tacit support for Obama’s then-pending nuclear deal – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA – she added that “even if we do get such a deal, we will still have major problems… [Iran is] the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism.”

When it comes to real rancor toward Iran, however, you have to look to the right.  Senator John McCain, for instance, immediately cried foul about the JCPOA, calling it a “bad deal” likely to “nuclearize” the Middle East.  More colloquially, as both a candidate and as president-elect, Donald Trump repeatedly vowed to “rip it up,” while former governor and presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee accused President Obama of “marching the Israelis to the door of the oven.”

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, intelligence and congressional testimonyindicate that Iran is complying with the JCPOA.  Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Martin Dempsey – not exactly a dove – believed that the deal reduced the risk of Iran weaponizing its nuclear power. All the appeals from the president, various pundits, neocons of every sort, and congressional hawks to withdraw from it also neglect an obvious reality: the JCPOA is a multilateral deal and none of our partners (Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany) will support “tearing up” the agreement.  Imagine the optics of a future American unilateral abrogation of an agreement Iran is complying with: the onus will be on Washington alone; its allies will continue to abide by the deal and, with genuine justification, Iran’s leaders will be able to depict the Americans as destabilizing “cowboys.”

Here’s the reality of the present situation: despite decades of sanctions and the military containment of Iran, the U.S. has not significantly affected its policies or stance in the region.  Few in Washington display the courage to ask the crucial question: Why continue?  Why not a creative new approach – the gradual normalization of relations?

Though you wouldn’t know it, given the prominence of Iranophobes in Washington, the U.S. has little to lose.  Current policy is counterproductive in so many ways, while Washington’s never-ending bellicosity and threats to “rip up” the nuclear agreement only undercut Iran’s moderates and the eminently sensible President Hassan Rouhani, who recently won a smashing electoral victory against a hardline, fundamentalist opponent in which a stunning 73% of Iranian voters cast ballots. Why not make it more, not ever less, difficult for Iran’s conservatives to vilify the U.S.?

Forty years of failure

There’s an uncomfortable truth that Washington needs to face: U.S. policy toward Iran hasn’t achieved its goals despite almost four decades of effort since an American-installed autocrat was overthrown there in 1979.  Foreign policy hawks – Democrats and Republicans alike – will undoubtedly fight that reality tooth-and-nail, but as with the Cuban embargo, Iranian isolation has long outworn any imagined usefulness.  That ostracizing Iran remains fashionable reflects domestic political calculus or phobic thinking, not cogent strategy, and yet our new president just traveled to Saudi Arabia, a truly autocratic country, and in the wake of an Iranian election that was by all accounts resoundingly democratic, denounced that land as despotic and all but called for regime change.

So here’s a question that, believe it or not, is okay to ask and is not actually tantamount to treason: What exactly does Iran want and fear?  It wants international legitimacy, security, and a reasonable degree of regional power (not world domination). It fears continued isolation, any coalition of hostile Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia (assisted by Israel), and U.S.-sponsored attempts at regime change. If you think that makes the Iranians sound paranoid, just check out the recent celebratory get-together in Saudi Arabia or remember how, just before the Bush administration’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, Newsweek quoted a senior British official summing up the situation in Washington this way: “Everyone wants to go to BaghdadReal men want to go to Tehran.”

In sum, U.S. policy in the Middle East is confused, contradictory, counterproductive, and dangerous.  It could leave Washington involved in a war with Iran. (And given our recent wars in the region, imagine where that’s likely to land us.)

The U.S. doesn’t require more enemies. Its hands are already full enough without additional faux “existential” threats or, as John Quincy Adams warned so long ago, eternally going “abroad seeking monsters to destroy.”

Oddly enough, the Trump administration has a unique opportunity to normalize relations with Iran.  While President Obama’s modest overtures toward that country were greeted with scathing partisan scorn, President Trump might just be able to garner enough Republican support to do so much more, were he ever to try.  At the moment, he clearly possesses no such plans, and yet, as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Trump can go to Tehran!

My small bit of advice, however: don’t hold your breath…

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It’s hard, expensive work, and our daily operations are funded entirely by donations from readers like you.

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