Slap-dash Sanctions Leave Less Room for Diplomacy

“These are ominous developments in all of these countries,” Phyllis Bennis told The Real News following reports that Donald Trump would sign a bill slapping sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran—an extraordinarily different set of state actors which pose very different foreign policy challenges.

“The notion that you can do a kind of cookie cutter attack, ‘We’re going to sanction them all in one bill, get it all done at once.’—this is insane,” Bennis said.

Bennis said she doesn’t believe that sanctions are going to help alleviate the challenge that the U.S. faces in its relationship with any of these countries.

This slap-dash sanctioning with support from both political parties, Bennis said, speaks to the inability of Congress and the White House to deal with diplomacy in a serious way.

“‘This is the answer to all the problems we have with countries we don’t like,’” Bennis said, “we’ll just sanction them all!’”

The deficiencies in this approach, Bennis said, are best exemplified in Iraq. From 1990 until 2003, U.S. sanctions on the country had a devastating impact.

“Half a million children under the age of five died from the results of sanctions,” Bennis doesn’t mince words, “they were killed by U.S. foreign policy. Sanctions were doing the job of war.”

Sanctions can antagonize decision makers, and may encourage a dangerous response. She points to the response we’ve already seen in Russia, where Putin just demanded the removal of hundreds of U.S. staff. Meanwhile in North Korea, we’ve seen that sanctions have not had an impact on the country’s nuclear capabilities. And in the case of Iran, the United States is just isolating itself by undermining a nuclear deal backed by five other countries while Iran strengthens its position in the world.

This decision will have many different impacts, and linking them all into one bill is “rather extraordinary,” Bennis said.

“We’re going to have to have negotiations. The notion that we can do something and not talk simply doesn’t work in the real world,” Bennis said.

Watch the full interview on The Real News Network.


Can Trump Actually Cut (Good) Deals on Diplomacy?


(Photo: Nyord / Shutterstock)

American beef is now available in China — as a result of a deal that Donald Trump made with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In exchange, Chinese chicken is now available in the United States.

Seems like a fair deal — hats off to Trump.

Oh, except that there are a few important caveats to the quid pro quo. The chicken can only be cooked. It won’t be labeled as coming from China. And consumers won’t even know the name of the brand that will market the birds. So, if you’re worried about eating chicken produced in a country with notoriously lax food safety regulations and inspections, stay away from that box of drumsticks in the freezer aisle.

But here’s perhaps the most idiotic part of the deal. The chickens that China cooks have to be sourced from the United States, Canada, or Chile. Chickens can’t fly long distances. But these particular chickens are jetsetters, flying as much as 12,000 miles one way from Chile to China and then another 7,000 miles from China to the United States.

Sorry, Donald: As deals go, this one’s definitely a zonk, as Monte Hall would have put it.

Donald Trump based his campaign in part on his ability to make better deals. He lambasted trade pacts like NAFTA and promised to do better. He criticized the Iran nuclear agreement and promised to do better. He challenged the terms of alliance arrangements with Japan and South Korea and promised to do better.

So far, however, the Trump administration has either left previous deals in place (NAFTA, Iran, alliances) or simply pulled out unilaterally (Trans Pacific Partnership, Paris climate deal).

Now, nearly a half-year into his term, Trump needs to demonstrate his dealmaker cred. He’s just returned from the G20 meeting in Hamburg where he’s touted his agreement on Syria with Vladimir Putin. It’s not yet clear whether this ceasefire will stop the fighting in Syria or whether it will turn out to be another crazy chicken deal with its ridiculous stipulations.

Meanwhile, the United States desperately needs to sit down and talk with North Korea to avert war in Northeast Asia. It has to help patch up relations between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors. And it has to find some way to repair ties with Europe in the wake of Trump’s resolute efforts to alienate German and French leadership.

This is the bare minimum of negotiating that the administration needs to do. More ambitious and urgent deals, such as another climate pact or a way for America to rejoin the existing one, are obviously beyond Trump’s interest or understanding. At the same time, Trump’s ability to make any deals in the present is complicated by the deals he or his associates might have made in the past, particularly with the Russians.

But for the sake of world peace, let’s assume that Trump can do something positive. It’s been all too easy to see what Trump minus looks like. What about Trump plus?

Dealing with North Korea

On July 4, North Korea crossed a red line that Trump drew in the stratosphere. At the beginning of 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un promised to launch a successful ICBM within the year. Trump tweeted in return, “It won’t happen.”

Now that North Korea has successfully tested something that approximates an ICBM — in reality, it would be difficult at this point to imagine the Hwasong-14 accurately reaching a target in Alaska — Trump must decide how to proceed.

The Trump administration could continue to ignore North Korea — the very strategy it has criticized the Obama administration for adopting. It could go to war, which would be a catastrophe as anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Korean peninsula could tell you.

Or Trump could go with door number three.

North Korea likes to make deals, and it bargains hard. It tries to extract the most money or the most ironclad guarantees from both allies and adversaries. It also sometimes breaks agreements. That, alas, is all too common in geopolitics.

In 1994, the United States managed to retard North Korea’s nuclear program by supplying heavy fuel oil and promising to build two light-water reactors through the Agreed Framework. North Korea secretly pursued a different (uranium enrichment) path to the bomb, while the United States and its partners never built those nuclear reactors. Deal off.

Between 1992 and 1994, Israel attempted to pay North Korea about a billion dollars to stop it from exporting missiles to the Middle East. North Korea even agreed to allow Israeli inspectors on North Korean soil to verify the agreement. The United States, however, blocked the effort. Deal off.

In 2007, because of a deal reached at the Six Party Talks, North Korea began to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for an easing of sanctions and the removal of the country from the U.S. terrorism list. But a year later, disagreements sharpened over inspections, North Korea grew more recalcitrant, and the incoming Obama administration failed to engage immediately to sustain momentum. Deal off.

What kind of deal would North Korea consider at this point? Of course I’d like to see North Korea mothball its nuclear program. But because of its fear of regime-change efforts, North Korea probably won’t agree to give up its deterrent capability. The United States could still attempt to freeze North Korea’s program as is and explore a moratorium on long-range missile tests (which Pyongyang maintained from 1999 to 2006). The real question is how much sweetener Washington will have to add to its offer, and what that sweetener will look like.

Trump has proven that he gets along great with dictators. For once, he should put this talent to good use.

A Deal with Doha

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was a terrible choice for secretary of state for many reasons — his lack of diplomatic experience, his conflicts of interest in the energy sector. But if there’s one place in the world where he should be able to exploit his modest capabilities, it’s the Persian Gulf. In the wake of the falling out between the tiny sheikhdom of Qatar and its neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Tillerson is on his way to the region to see if he can help sort things out.

It’s not going to be easy. Not only does he have to deal with Riyadh, which has presented Doha with a long list of frankly unreasonable demands such as the closure of Al Jazeera, but he also had to do battle with his own administration. President Trump has indicated his own supportfor Saudi Arabia in this conflict even as his underlings in State and the Pentagon are desperately trying to patch things up. Qatar, after all, hosts Al Udeid airbase (and 11,000 U.S. and U.S.-led coalition forces) and plays a key role in the fight against the Islamic State.

So, first task: Get the president to stop tweeting on the issue. It’s not that difficult. Qatar’s banishment was a full month ago, Trump is easily distracted, and he’s now busy defending his son from charges of colluding with the Russians.

Second task: lower expectations. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert announcedlast week that “we believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks; it could drag on for months; it could possibly even intensify.”

Third task: connect with the most promising mediator. Kuwait is the go-to country in this regard. It has remained neutral in the Gulf showdown. It has also tried to mediate other conflicts in the region, such as the war in Yemen. It’s the first stop on Tillerson’s itinerary.

Fourth task: apply leverage. The United States can threaten to reduce Saudi arms sales — which would be an excellent idea anyway — and it can threaten to move its base away from Qatar. Indeed, Washington holds a lot of trump cards in this game.

But first, Tillerson has to maneuver Trump out of the game. To clean up the Gulf mess, I’d choose a former oil exec over a former reality TV star any day.

Reset with Europe (and Russia?)

A picture in The Washington Post shows Donald Trump sitting alone at a table during the G20 summit as other participants socialize behind him. Here is America, in the “solitude of its power,” having “ceased to draw other nations to itself,” as Jean-Marie Colombani wrote immediately after 9/11in his famous Le Monde article “We Are All Americans.”

Of course, Trump supporters will see a very different photo. Snooty Europeans! And there is our defiant president, sticking to his guns and continuing to declare at every turn that America is first.

Indeed, Jeffrey Lord in a CNN commentary, gives Trump 11 out of 10 for his performance at the G20 (because of the apparently inadvertent reference to the movie This Is Spinal Tap, I initially took Lord’s piece to be a satire). “Count on the president’s supporters seeing this as a great win — a win in which Trump stayed true to his campaign promises to put American interests above all else,” Lord writes.

Trump has made no real effort to bridge the distance between himself and European leaders. Indeed, his only other stop in Europe was Poland, where he could commune with a similarly far-right government that hates immigrants, the media, and an open society. The Polish government obliged by bussing in loyalists who could be counted on to cheer a world leader in which only 23 percent of Poles have any confidence.

From adulation, Trump then traveled to consternation. Even otherwise conservative politicians like the UK’s Teresa May have been appalled at Trump’s maladroit moves at the global level. The assembled leaders of the G20 probably would have preferred if Ivanka had substituted for her father throughout the entire proceedings instead of just that one short seat-warming occasion.

In a direct rebuke to Trump’s dangerous and delusional approach to environmental issues, the European Union and the rest of the “G19” issued a final communiqué reaffirming their commitment to the Paris agreement on climate change. It will probably be the last G20 meeting Trump has to worry about — the next summits will be in Argentina, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps that’s what he was thinking when he was sitting by himself at the table. Or perhaps he was daydreaming about firing all the other G20 leaders.

The focus of media coverage, meanwhile, was the sideline meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Controversy continues to swirl over what the two might have said, or promised, concerning the charges of Russian interference in the U.S. election. But let’s take a closer look at the deal-making.

Putin and Trump capped several months of behind-the-scenes negotiations when they announced a ceasefire in Syria as the UN starts up its seventh round of indirect peace talks. Sure, there are plenty of reasons why this ceasefire is flawed. Every previous attempt at stopping the bloodshed has failed. This one covers only one part of the country. Iran did not participate in the deal. Russian police are slated to monitor the ceasefire, but Israel has already said that it doesn’t want Russians across its borders in Syria. It’s a win for Syria’s murderous leader, Bashar al-Assad.

But peace has to start somewhere. So, let’s provide some muted applause for the deal. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Syria. Maybe it will represent a turning point for Trump’s foreign policy, and Tillerson can use the political capital in both Doha and Pyongyang.

But beware of the fine print on any deal with Trump’s insignia on it. For a businessman who routinely swindled his contractors and filed bankruptcy to escape from his monumental mistakes, the “art of the deal” is all about looking out for number one.

And let’s be clear, number one is not America. It’s Trump himself.


? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War


(Photo: United Nations Photo / Flickr)

The 2016 election and its terrifying aftermath have pulled millions of Americans into a maelstrom of racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria, and Islamophobia, which simultaneously reflects and prepares the ground for an even more militarized, private-profit-driven, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant foreign policy. We don’t yet know whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy will reflect his earlier dalliance with isolationism or move closer to the rabid military interventionism favored by so many of his chosen generals. Even without knowing, though, we should identify what a new, non-imperial, truly internationalist foreign policy would look like—one in which international law, human rights, and global solidarity replace the “Global War on Terror.” That starts with cutting military budgets and ending the wars, occupations, and climate injustices that are generating the world’s many refugee crises.

A new US foreign policy must be broad in its vision and scope, and it must acknowledge that war cannot defeat terrorism. Despite some good intentions and powerful speeches, and despite renaming the “Global War on Terror,” President Obama was unable to break from it; in fact, he ended up significantly expanding its reach, with the use of US Special Forces and bombing campaigns increasing in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere, along with Iraq and Afghanistan. Further escalation of that policy by a Trump administration would only result in the escalation of failure.

A progressive foreign policy means ending the economic as well as the political privileging of military profiteers. It means lifting up diplomacy over war, while rejecting isolationism and recognizing the obligations that come with being the wealthiest and most powerful nation in history.

Read the full article on The Nation.

The post ? America Must Choose Diplomacy Over War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.



We still reap the harvest of good work by SWRD and Madam since 1930s in developing close friendship with China from Rice/Rubber pact and helping her during difficult periods in the UN system during the highest of the cold war. Do we …. Fortunately

and more »


The Art of Dissidence and Diplomacy

Photo: Ai WeiWei

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who staged a photographic reenactment of a three-year-old drowned Syrian refugee for the newspaper “India Today.” (Image: Ai Weiwei)

The position of the body is the same. The figure is prone on the beach, near the water’s edge. The head is face down in the sand, and the face is just visible. One arm is close to the body, palm upward. The knees are bent, the feet together.

This is not Alan Kurdi (initially misreported as Aylan), the three-year-old Syrian child whose body washed up on shore in Turkey. It is the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who staged a photographic reenactment for the newspaper India Today. He is not dressed in toddler clothing, nor has he shaved his beard to make himself appear younger. He is not after verisimilitude. He is paying homage.

At one level, the artist is simply expressing solidarity with the refugees that are pouring out of the warzones of the Middle East.

Last month, Ai set up a studio on the Greek island of Lesbos, which has been an entryway into Europe for many of the refugees. He has shared photos of life in the refugee camps with his many social media followers. He withdrew his art from two museums in Denmark after the Danish parliament passed a law allowing the government to seize property from asylum-seekers. He is planning a memorial to the refugees who have perished during the crossing. It’s made out of 14,000 of the poorly made lifejackets that surviving migrants discarded on arriving in Lesbos.

At another level, Ai Weiwei is making a bold statement about iconic representations.

The initial photo of Alan Kurdi shocked many people into recognizing the enormous cruelty of the refugee exodus. But after the photo was reproduced so often, it could not help but lose its initial capacity to arouse outrage. Can Ai Weiwei use his own iconic status to somehow refocus international attention on the continuing plight of the migrants?

Some of that attention has necessarily turned toward the artist himself, and not in a positive way.

“In his bizarre beach-lying ego trip, Ai also demonstrates what can happen when artists blunder too unthinkingly into big political issues,” writes Tim Teeman in The Daily Beast. “Instead of highlighting their cause, in their effort to shock, they can undermine it. Indeed, this is the biggest problem with Ai’s beach picture: it is all about him, and not about refugees, or the refugee crisis. It’s a pretty picture, whereas the picture of poor Aylan Kurdi — and all it stood for — was anything but.”

Teeman has reduced art, at least in this case, to little more than ego plus aestheticism. Ai Weiwei, he is arguing, is fundamentally irresponsible — for not thinking more and inserting himself less. It’s a strange criticism coming from Teeman. As a journalist who doesn’t generally cover politics — he writes mostly about popular culture — he is doing precisely what he faults Ai Weiwei for doing: foregrounding his own opinion (as opposed to sticking to the facts like a journalist) and wading into “big political issues” without thinking very deeply about them. Moreover, just like the Chinese artist, Teeman is aiming to provoke.

Well, we often criticize that which we fear, deep down, applies to ourselves as well. Still, Teeman inadvertently raises some important questions. What role can artists play in not only addressing political issues, but also helping to resolve political problems? As provocateurs, can artists do more harm than good? Is all art inherently political — or are politics and art antithetical?

I’ll explore these questions not only in this column but also in a new initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies that we’re calling Epicenter. Our new effort explores the intersection of politics and culture, precisely the territory that Ai Weiwei inhabits.

More on that, however, after a word from Madame President.

Madame President

The United States and the Arab World share this in common: Neither has had a female leader in the modern era. American voters might overturn the patriarchal status quo in the November elections. Arabs, meanwhile, will have to content themselves with the virtual reality of a female president.

In a new TV drama Madame President, the imaginary Arab country of Jabalein has just lost its leader to a heart attack. Noura Saad, the minister of planning and development, ascends to the presidency, but only for a year until the next elections. During this short tenure, she faces the usual problems of the region: water shortages, unemployment, civil unrest, political intrigue. On top of that, she must address concerns from colleagues and citizens alike that a woman is somehow not fit to be president.

Though it draws some musical and visual motifs from House of Cards, this production by Search for Common Ground and a Jordanian multimedia company relies more heavily on Tia Leoni’s Madam Secretary for inspiration: similar rise to power, nearly identical family make-up, and comparable conspiratorial backstory.

What it lacks in humor and fast-paced storytelling, Madame President makes up for in earnestness. It wants to address issues that are often off-limits in public debate in Arab countries: the status of women, the limits of civic protest, the prevalence of corruption. In thefirst episode, the new president decides not to crack down on young protestors upset over rising prices and unemployment. Instead, she meets face to face with them, listens to their demands, and releases their detained compatriots. Crisis averted!

Search for Common Ground has pursued this popular culture strategy in several parts of the world — a children’s TV show in Macedonia promoting intercultural understanding, a soap opera about social issues in Guinea, and a multi-nation TV show about footballers called The Team.

Here the artists are not simply raising provocative issues. They’re modeling the solutions: compassionate leaders committed to non-violence, football players from different socio-cultural backgrounds working together, soap opera characters providing information about public health issues. If Ai Weiwei is the provocateur activist, Search for Common Ground offers public service announcements wrapped up in the garb of popular entertainment. While the activist artist deploys the astringency of vinegar, the public service artist offers the honey of homey narrative.

You might argue that soap operas are not art. You might also argue that art should not be in the business of answering questions, only asking them.

These are legitimate challenges. But instead of this dualism of art/not-art, I prefer to imagine a spectrum that runs from more provocative to less provocative. On one end of the spectrum, the artist-dissident is throwing a pie in the face of convention: wake up! At the other end of the spectrum, the artist-diplomat is offering us the same pie as reconciliation and sustenance: eat up!


Our new program at IPS, Epicenter, is devoted to lifting up the work of artists as both dissidents and as diplomats — those who help to provoke conflict where the status quo is unjust and those who hope to resolve conflict where the status quo is violent. We’ll be focusing on the Middle East for the next year, with a particular emphasis on Iran. The nuclear deal — signed in July and implemented in January — offers a tremendous opportunity to improve U.S.-Iranian relations and pave the way for the resolution of key conflicts in the region: in Syria, Iraq, and even Israel-Palestine.

Since the United States and Iran don’t have formal diplomatic relations, much of the work of reconciliation must take place indirectly — through third parties, in second-track diplomacy, and by people-to-people contacts. One of the more successful examples of this kind of public diplomacy has been in sports. Like soap operas, athletic contests can often reach more people than exchanges in the fine arts.

This week, for instance, I write about the extraordinary case of “wrestling diplomacy”between Iran and the United States. Iranian wrestlers participated in the “Rumble on the Rails” in Grand Central Station in 2013. The next year, a U.S. team participated in the World Cup of Greco-Roman wrestling in 2014. What makes these exchanges so important is that, first of all, Iranian wrestlers are so much better than their U.S. counterparts — so a certain respect for Iranian culture and traditions is implicit in the exchange.

Also, as Bahman Baktiari, the executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Society, explains, “Wrestling appeals to conservative elements. Iranians start matches with prayers. Most of the logos in the arena are from the Koran. We are connecting to an important segment of Iranian civil society that we were not reaching before.”

Epicenter will tell these stories of the peacemaking component of culture. But it will also tell stories about the provocateurs.

“Art and culture is a great way to ensure accountability,” Manal Omar of the U.S. Institute of Peace told an audience at a session on “Art in Response to Conflict” sponsored by the Middle East Institute last week in Washington, DC. She pointed out that in a perverse way, artists are accorded more power and status in authoritarian countries. “The jails in the Middle East are filled with artists, poets, playwrights. They are the risks. They are the people who are inspiring the people. The authoritarian regimes have figured this out. Why haven’t we?”

Epicenter will amplify the efforts of organizations working with both the dissidents and the diplomats. Follow us on our Facebook page to read articles, see videos, and learn of events that are changing the face of the Middle East. Foreign policy is too important to leave to the “professionals.” Through art and culture, we can all work to make the world a better place.

The post The Art of Dissidence and Diplomacy appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and Epicenter.


Another Victory for Diplomacy Over War

The U.S.-Iran prisoner swap was possible because the nuclear deal has made the privileging of diplomacy over threats and war a key component of U.S.-Iran relations. The same is true of last week’s quick release of two U.S. Navy patrol boats and ten sailors who strayed into – or perhaps deliberately entered – Iran’s territorial waters.

Announcement of the prisoner exchange matched the discussions that were just getting underway in Vienna between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Jafar al-Zarif on implementation of the nuclear deal. Following the findings of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, that Iran had fulfilled its obligations under the deal to vastly reduce its uranium enrichment capacity and dismantle its sole heavy-water reactor, the nuclear-related international sanctions that have so crippled Iran’s economy will now be terminated.

The prisoner exchange meant the release of four U.S. citizens (all of them dual Iranian nationals as well), of whom the most prominent was Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, who had been imprisoned for 18 months on espionage and related charges following a series of mostly undisclosed court processes. The others were Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor assumed to have been arrested for proselytizing; Nostratollah Khosravi, about whom little is known; and Amir Mirza Hekmati, a former US Marine who was arrested in August 2011 while visiting relatives in Iran and charged with spying for the CIA.

And while many mainstream media articles barely mentioned it, or ignored it altogether, the release of the four was part of a prisoner exchange deal that also brought about the release from US prisons of seven Iranian citizens jailed in the U.S. on charges involving alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran. Even further, according to The Independent, the Iranian prosecutor’s announcement of the prisoner exchange also said that “the settlement included a clause according to which the U.S. will no longer pursue extradition of 14 Iranians for alleged involvement in purchasing arms from the U.S. to Iran.”

The prisoner exchange and the release of the U.S. war-boats provide an important model for the kind of diplomatic engagement that the Iran nuclear deal makes possible. While the deal was negotiated between Iran and the so-called “P-5 + 1,” referring to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the core of the negotiations aimed at ending decades of U.S. –Iran hostility. The deal on its face was quite narrow – otherwise it would likely never have been achieved. It imposed vast limits on Tehran’s nuclear power program in return for lifting international economic sanctions against Iran. And as we know, even that narrow agreement almost failed because of opposition from those who preferred war over diplomacy – in Israel, in the US Congress (from mostly Republican, but certainly not only, members) , and from hardliners in Iran’s parliament.

But the victory of diplomacy over war, despite its nay-sayers, held out the possibility of far broader new relations between the U.S. and Iran. And now, even though human rights issues were never officially included in the negotiations, we’re seeing how the easing of U.S.-Iran tensions that the nuclear deal made possible, is now bearing human rights and humanitarian fruit.

Next up: how to build on this new easing of relations to move towards a new diplomatic offensive to end the devastating war in Syria.

The post Another Victory for Diplomacy Over War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


Supporters of Diplomacy over War Must Speak Up

Rep. Boehner and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

(Image: Flickr / Speaker John Boehner)


Members of Congress are fleeing Washington’s steam bath for their August recess, making this a key time for constituents to raise their voices on crucial issues.

Right now, the biggest thing lawmakers must decide is whether they’ll join the 54 percent of voters who support diplomacy over war, or if they’d rather to kill the Iran nuclear deal.

The pact is a boon to regional security in the Middle East. The leader of Israel, the only state in the Middle East that does have a nuclear arsenal — one estimated to total 300 or even more nuclear weapons — must cease his endless scare-mongering over Iran’s supposed future nuclear threat.

As military and intelligence experts from around the world have agreed, this diplomatic breakthrough subjects Iran to unprecedented inspections of its nuclear and military facilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the so-called pro-Israel lobby in this country are going all-out to blow up the Iran deal — but that’s a big political miscalculation. How does being seen as scuttling the deal serve Israel’s interests? As Secretary of State John Kerry said, if the deal collapses, “Israel could actually wind up being more isolated and more blamed.”

Add the recent announcement of further settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as Tel Aviv expectation of “compensation” for the Iran deal and a vast increase in its multi-billion dollar U.S. military aid, and we have to conclude that the Israeli government has no vision of a future based on anything other than constant aggression and occupation, instability and fear.

The deal negotiated with Iran by the U.S. and other permanent UN Security Council members, plus Germany and the European Union, is very strong. It cuts off all paths for Iran to build a nuclear weapon (if indeed Tehran ever decided it wanted to, a decision all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies agree it has not made).

How is that a sustainable path for future generations of Israelis?

This is a landmark non-proliferation agreement with intrusive inspections and verification measures, which is why there is consensus support from nuclear security experts and the leaders of six of the most powerful countries in the world, including key U.S. allies.

Only after UN inspectors certify compliance will Iran gradually get much-needed relief from crushing international economic sanctions, which have devastated life for ordinary Iranians.

Viewed through a broader lens, the agreement could open a new U.S.-Iran relationship. Economic, cultural, and travel opportunities could flourish between our peoples. Security cooperation could begin between Washington and Tehran, reflecting our shared interests in bringing urgently needed peace and stabilization in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and beyond.

Further, the deal marks a step towards a desperately needed weapons of mass destruction-free zone in the Middle East, a goal endorsed by the United States and the UN Security Council in 1991 but which Israel continues to oppose.

The agreement makes all this and more possible. But the deal is in danger.

If Republicans — nearly all in lock-step opposition while offering no realistic alternative — and “pro-Israel” Democrats vote to kill it, all bets are off. The only thing we can be sure of if the deal fails is increased tensions, and a likely ratcheting up of the conventional and unconventional arms races in the Middle East. Another war in the war-devastated area would be disastrous for Americans, Iranians, and all the peoples of the region.

Supporters of diplomacy over war must make our voices heard over the din of nay-saying interest groups with deep pockets. The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC recently set aside $ 20 million to saturate newspapers and the airwaves with calls to kill the deal.

Members of Congress are heading home for their summer break. We all need to show up at their town hall meetings and visit, call, and email their district offices to demand they support diplomacy over war.

The post Supporters of Diplomacy over War Must Speak Up appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies. Kevin Martin is the Executive Director of Peace Action.


A Victory of Diplomacy Over War

Phyllis Bennis joins The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss the ramifications of the negotiated nuclear agreement between the U.S. and Iran, both in terms of future relations between the two countries, as well as for diplomacy at large:

“I think the broadest, most important aspect, is that this deal… is a huge victory of diplomacy over war. It gives us clear evidence that diplomacy works… In an era when we’re hearing constantly ‘there is no military solution,’ whether its to ISIS or the crisis in Syria, Libya, Iraq, and yet, the only strategy we see being imposed tends to be a military strategy. So this is a very important example of why the point that is made is true: there is no military solution, and there is in fact a negotiated diplomatic solution.”

Watch below:

The post A Victory of Diplomacy Over War appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies


The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last Night

President Obama ISIL SpeechToo often in the United States—most especially since 9/11—we equate “doing something” with “doing something military.” George W. Bush gave a traumatized, near-paralyzed US public two options: we either go to war, or we let ‘em get away with it. Faced with that choice, it was hardly surprising that 88 percent or so of people in this country chose war.

But the reality is that when there are no military solutions—which is most of the time, for those who care to notice, including on September 12, 2001—the alternative is not nothing, but active non-military engagement. Diplomacy becomes even more important. President Obama has said it over and over again: there is no US military solution in Iraq or Syria. He’s right. And yet military actions—in coalitions, with local partners, counter-terrorism but not counter-insurgency—were pretty much all we heard in his speech last night.

Obama’s four-part strategy to “degrade and destroy” ISIS (which he persists in calling ISIL, referencing the Levant, the old French colonial term for Greater Syria or al-Shams) tilts strongly towards the military. First, airstrikes, in Syria as well as Iraq. Second, military support to forces fighting ISIS on the ground, including support to the “moderate” Syrian opposition who challenge ISIS. Third, counter-terrorism strategies to “cut off its funding, improve our intelligence, strengthen our defenses, counter its warped ideology and stem the flow of foreign fighters.” And fourth, the only one not solely or primarily military, humanitarian assistance.

What’s missing is a real focus, a real explanation to people in this country and to people and governments in the Middle East and around the world, on just what a political solution to the ISIS crisis would really require and what kind of diplomacy will be needed to get there.

President Obama should have spent his fifteen minutes of prime time tonight talking about diplomacy. Instead of a four-part mostly military plan, he should have outlined four key diplomatic moves.

First, recognize what it will take to change the political dynamics of sectarianism in Iraq. The new prime minister talks a good line about creating a more inclusive government—but he has yet to choose new ministers to run the military and the intelligence/security agencies. And those are the very forces, for years controlled by sectarian Shia officials accountable to US-backed Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, responsible for most of the repression against Sunni Iraqis. That repression wasn’t small stuff, either. We’re talking widespread loss of jobs, attacks on communities, bombings, mass arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings against a huge swath of Sunni Iraqi society. Those are the people now backing ISIS, seeing it as the only force, however extreme and violent, capable and willing to challenge the sectarian government in Baghdad. And every time the United States drops another bomb, many in Iraq see it acting as the air force of the Kurds and the Shia against the Sunnis.

What’s needed is real pressure on the new government to reverse those years of anti-Sunni sectarianism. But at the moment, even though the United States pays much of the cost of the Iraqi government and is carrying out airstrikes for the government (and for the Kurds), Washington has less influence in Baghdad these days than Iran. So we need a new partnership—with the United States and Iran joining to push Iraq for a new, inclusive approach to governing. Even though Iran is itself predominantly Shia, Tehran is very worried about growing instability in their next-door neighbor resulting from the years of Shia sectarianism in Baghdad. The US-Iran nuclear talks are moving forward, and this should be the moment to broaden those talks to include discussion of a real “grand bargain” between the United States and Iran that includes all the regional crises.

Second, instead of a Coalition of the Killing, President Obama should have announced a new broad coalition with a political and diplomatic, not military, mandate. It should aim to use diplomatic power and financial pressures, not military strikes, to undermine ISIS power. Such a coalition would be far broader and far less fragile than a military alliance. All the regional governments have their own limitations on military action. Turkey knows that supporting, let alone joining, US-led airstrikes or other attacks on ISIS in Iraq or Syria could threaten the lives of its forty-nine diplomats and their families now held by ISIS. US ally Saudi Arabia will have to be pushed hard to stop arming and financing ISIS and other extremist fighters, but its dependence on US arms and military protection gives Washington plenty of leverage if it chose to use it. Turkey could be pushed to stop allowing ISIS and other fighters to cross into Syria from Turkish territory. US allies Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others need to be pushed to stop financing and arming everyone and anyone in Syria who says they’re against Assad. (Those include the Al Qaeda franchise al-Nusra Front as well as the so-called “moderate” opposition fighters of the Free Syrian Army, who themselves beheaded six ISIS prisoners captured in August.)

Third, the Obama administration should, perhaps this month while Washington holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, push to restart serious international negotiations on ending the complex set of multi-faceted wars in Syria. Whether or not another UN envoy is appointed to replace Lakhdar Brahimi, who resigned in frustration months ago, negotiations must begin again. Everyone involved, on all sides, needs to be at the table: the Syrian regime; civil society inside Syria including nonviolent activists, women, young people and refugees; the various armed rebels; the Western-backed external opposition; and the regional and global players supporting all sides—the United States, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. For the Obama administration, this could also provide a chance to partner with Russia on Syria policy, building on last summer’s successful joint effort to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, and perhaps lessen tensions over Ukraine.

Finally, an arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term agenda. This obviously isn’t something that will happen right away. But discussion about why it’s necessary could begin tomorrow. The United States has no leverage and no legitimacy in pressing Russia and Iran to end their support for the Assad regime in Damascus as long as Washington and its regional allies continue to arm and train the wide range of anti-Assad rebels. Qatar, Saudi Arabia and others, especially among the gulf states, have no reason to stop arming their various chosen factions as long as the United States ignores its own domestic requirements under the Leahy Law and the Arms Export Control Act to stop arms sales to known human rights violators in foreign militaries. A viable arms embargo will be on all sides or none. And once it’s on the agenda, it becomes a step towards another crucial goal, too often dismissed as impossible: a weapons of mass destruction–free Middle East, with no exceptions. Such a move would begin the process of inspecting and ultimately eliminating Israel’s powerful but unacknowledged nuclear arsenal, would confirm the non-military use of Iran’s nuclear power program and would end the propensity for WMD production in too many countries in the region. And it would be a fitting coda to a hard-fought and likely years-long diplomatic process.

That was the speech we should have heard tonight.

The post The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last Night appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Phyllis Bennis directs the New Internationalism project.