Living in Society

Slaying a Foreign Government Official

Dr. Maureen McCue speaking for the Iran Deal at Rep. Dave Loebsack’s Office Aug. 31, 2015

The politics of Iran has been on my radar since the Iranian Revolution when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in 1979 and an Islamic republic replaced the monarchy.

I lived in Mainz, Germany that year. I was a mechanized infantry battalion adjutant in the Eighth Infantry Division, which, as part of V Corps, was training for a war in the Middle East over oil. Across the Rhine river from us was Wiesbaden, the evacuation point for American citizens fleeing Iran in the wake of the revolution. Our unit provided support to the Wiesbaden operation during the evacuation.

One of the choices I made during that time was which of my peers in the battalion would be sent to Iran during the aftermath of the Shah’s overthrow. I picked someone whose family wasn’t with him in Germany. My friend was never deployed to Iran and we were all grateful for that.

In this context it is natural that the United States assassination of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force would catch my attention. What I wasn’t prepared for was spending so much time following developments. When I write “developments” what I really mean is the slow, uneven release of information about what happened and what it means. Yesterday’s post is a list of the main questions raised early on in the discovery process. Answers have proven complicated and elusive.

I was reading the news right when I wrote Soleimani was a target of opportunity. That means the U.S. intelligence community had long been tracking his movements and after President Trump gave the order to slay him, when his movements at the Baghdad airport exposed him and his entourage, there was an opportunity to take action and our military did. While our president seems impulsive, in this case there was a developed plan to assassinate Soleimani.

Two things make this different. First, Soleimani was revered in Shia Muslim culture. His death by unmanned drone attack elevated him to martyrdom and could bring a ruptured Iranian society together in opposition to the United States. Second, he was part of the Iranian government the way Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley is. It is important to note Soleimani’s status was distinct from a figure like Osama bin Laden who was a rogue, non-state actor. People who make a proportional comparison between Soleimani and bin Laden are wrong to do so.

The politics of this have been predictable as Heather Cox Richardson pointed out in her daily Letters from an American:

Last night’s news about the assassination of Iran’s military leader Qassem Soleimani has today turned into a predictable split. Defenders of the president insist that Soleimani was an evildoer and the United States absolutely should have taken him out. They have no patience for anyone questioning Trump’s decision, suggesting that those questioners are anti-American and pro-terrorist if they do not support the killing of a man they insist has been one of our key enemies for years.

Those questioning the president’s decision to assassinate a member of a foreign government as a terrorist freely acknowledge that Soleimani was a dangerous man. But they are concerned that Trump appears to have ordered the man assassinated illegally and has, in the process, ignited a firestorm.

If you are reading this post, you should consider subscribing to Richardson’s daily emails.

Whether President Trump had constitutional or legal authority to assassinate a member of the Iranian government without consulting the Congress remains an open question. The administration claimed it was free to act under the 2002 Authority for the Use of Military Force enacted by congress in the wake of the 911 terrorist attacks. The U.S. named the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, of which Quds Force is a part, a terrorist organization. Friends Committee on National Legislation has been lobbying the Congress to repeal the 2002 AUMF. The incident yesterday in Baghdad highlights the pressing nature of Congress reasserting its authority over the executive branch of government in matters of war and peace.

In today’s Iowa City Press Citizen, Zachary Oren Smith posted the reactions of three people running for congress. Smith’s framing was “early reactions to the U.S. military strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani fell along party lines in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Democrat Newman Abuissa, a native of Damascus, Syria, reacted to the assassination, “If the goal of the U.S. is a regime change or to negotiate a better deal, this attack makes both goals impossible to achieve. It strengthens the government of Iran and makes it impossible for them to sit down with the U.S. president.”

Both Republicans supported the president and Schilling was quoted at length, parroting long-debunked talking points.

What makes easy media narratives like Smith’s difficult is the decades-long context in which Thursday’s assassination took place. Simple comparisons serve little purpose and push a struggling news outlet closer to irrelevance.

My questions from yesterday aren’t answered. After spending too much time following the news, my work on other projects lagged behind. I need to keep moving. 2020 is here and there is much I want to accomplish.

I did make time to visit a friend whose spouse died Wednesday. She said of him, “at least he got out of here before all this shit happened.” It remains for those of us living to deal with it and carry on.

Living in Society

Questions About Our New War With Iran

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

At 3:15 a.m. CST my phone rang. It was an international call from Jordan. I don’t know anyone in Jordan and the caller did not leave a message.

I know a few people who travel in the Middle East from time to time. None of them stood out as a person who might be calling the morning our country assassinated Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, as a target of opportunity at the Baghdad airport.

I had not heard of Soleimani so I found and read Dexter Filkins Sept. 23, 2013 New Yorker profile. However this decision was made, intentionally or not, the U.S. Government kicked the beehive of Shia efforts toward hegemony in the Middle East. We will likely be stung by this extrajudicial exercise of American military force.

There is not enough information despite the rapid response of social media. The vacuum generates questions:

Why didn’t the president inform the gang of eight of the imminent assassination? Given the prominence of the target in Iranian and Middle East society he should have. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was clear he hadn’t.

Why didn’t the administration seek an authorization for the use of force from the U.S. Congress? According to Pelosi, there is no existing authorization relative to Iran.

When will the president address the public on what he did and why?

Was this assassination retaliation for the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad or part of a long-term plan to enter war with Iran?

What will be the consequences for U.S. interests in the region? Iranian officials have already stated publicly there will be revenge for the slaying. We can expect them to act with thoughtful reserve and to think outside the box.

Who will replace Soleimani in the established and future operations for which he was responsible?

What was the benefit to U.S. interests of elevating Soleimani to the status of martyr?

There are a lot of questions, few answers, and a grim pall has been cast over this Friday in Iowa.


Iran Deal Update

Photo Credit: Des Moines Register

Except for the president and members of his administration, the world supports the Iran Deal negotiated by the Obama administration with key allies and Iran.

On June 28, Austria, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, which are not party to the agreement, issued a statement supporting the Iran Deal:

“(We) attach the utmost importance to the preservation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by Iran and unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council, as a key instrument for the non-proliferation regime and a major contribution to stability in the region.”

The purpose of the agreement was to restrict Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The United States, under President Donald Trump, chose to violate the JCPOA because the chief executive thought it was a “bad deal.”

Last week the president authorized new sanctions against Iran, but they already felt economic pain from previous ones. What this round of sanctions tells Iran and the rest of the world is the U.S. is running out of options, according to Jarrett Blanc at Politico,

With Iranian oil sales down to 300,000 barrels per day (from 2.5 million before sanctions were reapplied) and Iran’s economy suffering, the United States has effectively cut Iran out of international commerce already. The real signal Iran will take from the new sanctions is that the Trump administration either does not understand this reality or cannot come up with a more effective option to improve upon it.

Iran recently announced it would exceed the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium required by the Iran Deal. They did exceed it, which was widely reported on Monday. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association made this June 27 press release with Kelsey Davenport, ACA director for nonproliferation policy, which summarizes where we stand regarding the Iran Deal (emphasis mine):

(Washington, DC)—Iran’s announcement that it may soon breach the 300-kilogram limit on low-enriched uranium set by the 2015 nuclear deal is an expected but troubling response to the Trump administration’s reckless and ill-conceived pressure campaign to kill the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

It is critical that President Donald Trump does not overreact to this breach and further escalate tensions.

Any violation of the deal is a serious concern but, in and of itself, an increase in Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile above the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent enriched uranium does not pose a near-term proliferation risk.

Iran would need to produce roughly 1,050 kilograms of uranium enriched at that level, further enrich it to weapons grade (greater than 90 percent uranium-235), and then weaponize it. Intrusive International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections would provide early warning of any further moves by Iran to violate the deal.

Tehran is not racing toward the bomb but rather, Iran’s leaders are seeking leverage to counter the U.S. pressure campaign, which has systematically denied Iran any benefits of complying with the deal. Despite Iran’s understandable frustration with the U.S. re-imposition of sanctions, it remains in Tehran’s interest to fully comply with the agreement’s limits and refrain from further actions that violate the accord.

If Iran follows through on its threat to resume higher levels of enrichment July 7, that would pose a more serious proliferation risk. Stockpiling uranium enriched to a higher level would shorten the time it would take Iran to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb–a timeline that currently stands at 12 months as a result of the nuclear deal’s restrictions.

The Trump administration’s failed Iran policy is on the brink of manufacturing a new nuclear crisis, but there is still a window to salvage the deal and deescalate tensions.

The Joint Commission, which is comprised of the parties to the deal (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Iran) and oversees implementation of JCPOA, will meet June 28. The meeting is a critical opportunity for the state parties to press Iran to fully comply with the nuclear deal and commit to redouble efforts to deliver on sanctions-relief obligations.

For its part, the White House needs to avoid steps that further escalate tensions with Iran. Trump must cease making vague military threats and refrain from taking actions such as revoking waivers for key nuclear cooperation projects that actually benefit U.S. nonproliferation priorities.

If Trump does not change course, he risks collapsing the nuclear deal and igniting a conflict in the region.

If interested in following the progress of the Iran Deal, discussions with North Korea, and potential extension of the New START Treaty between Russia and the United States, follow Daryl Kimball on twitter @DarylGKimball.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa. Paul Deaton is, among other things, a member of the Arms Control Association.

Living in Society

Stability Should Matter

Snowfall in Big Grove

Between three and four inches of snow fell overnight. It’s still coming down. I have 80 feet of driveway and a shovel to deal with when the sun comes up. The first buckets of salt and sand were emptied yesterday — there is plenty in reserve.

It’s not our first winter in Big Grove.

I filled the bird feeder for the first time this year and expect birds to find it this morning. Deer, used to the cultural resonance of last year’s seeds, have been stopping by to check the feeder since hunting season began.

Despite the unbroken crystalline sheet of snow it’s not a blanket, that clichéd word. We need a new vocabulary. Neighborhood sounds are muffled in pre-dawn hours yet we know global tensions have increased rendering nothing comforting about newly fallen snow this January.

President Trump’s “America first” slogan and the actions behind it are unraveling what global order existed before his rise to power. We all know it and the dissonant, unwelcome noise of his administration conditions us with its absurdity. Columnist George Will characterized the effect in the Washington Post,

Half or a quarter of the way through this interesting experiment with an incessantly splenetic presidency, much of the nation has become accustomed to daily mortifications. Or has lost its capacity for embarrassment, which is even worse.

I’m interested in U.S. foreign affairs. The last two years have been exhausting.

Step-by-step, we withdrew our leadership from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There’s talk about withdrawal from the INF treaty, the New START treaty, and even from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization which our country helped found.

Trump’s meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un was a head scratcher. After decades of unsuccessful negotiations regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambition, the president held a brief meeting in Singapore then declared in social media, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.”

It is hard to describe the instability we created in the Middle East where we’ve engaged third string envoys like Mike Pompeo and John Bolton to do our work, in Pomeo’s case, only until the Rapture.

Last week the president introduced his Missile Defense Review which is certain to destabilize relationships with China and Russia, potentially fueling a new nuclear arms race.

By these actions and more, the United States under Trump created a vacuum of leadership which China in particular, but Russia as well, are ready to fill. What is lost in “America first” is the American people benefit from international stability. This president and Republicans who back him apparently could care less.

We understand there will be a 46th president. The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to check this one. The only question is when he will exit the office. In the meanwhile, it is time to clear snow from the driveway and get out in society, to sustain our lives while the absurdity continues.

I don’t like the national disgrace under which we currently live and the instability this president created. Few I know do. Time and good work will cure some of it. At least that’s what I hope now that we’re getting into winter.


Nuclear Disarmament in Trump World

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

Elimination of nuclear weapons remains a priority for many of us who followed disarmament progress through the years. Our work hasn’t ended. What should be our priorities in Trump World?

To a large extent, society answered that question in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to which the United States is a party. Article VI has been and remains a sticking point in meeting treaty obligations. Here’s the text,

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

Nuclear states have taken inadequate steps toward compliance with Article VI. U.S. backpedaling on disarmament treaties began when in 2002 President George W. Bush removed the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972. Under Donald Trump, the United States is expected to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and negotiations for renewal of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) have yet to commence. The Trump administration is heading the opposite direction of good faith negotiations to end the arms race. It is creating a political environment for a new arms race, a complete refurbishment of the U.S. nuclear triad, and development of new nuclear weapons.

Where should disarmament advocates focus their efforts? Here’s my list.

As the two largest nuclear states, the U.S. and Russia should de-escalate nuclear competition and establish a regular dialogue on strategic stability. At a minimum, we should make a mutual decision to extend the New START Treaty before it expires in 2021.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said publicly Russia would not make first use of nuclear weapons. The United States should adopt a no first use policy regardless of what Russia says or does.

During negotiations for U.S. Senate ratification of New START, Arizona Senator Jon Kyl negotiated a refurbishment of the nuclear weapons complex. Under President Trump, this budget has grown to over a trillion dollars. We should encourage the new U.S. House of Representatives leadership to cut back on the administration’s plan to upgrade the nuclear complex.

There has been talk of developing new types of more usable nuclear weapons. We should advocate to block administration plans to develop such weapons.

As President Trump withdraws from the Iran Nuclear Deal we should encourage and support our international partners to implement it without us.

Now is the time to implement realistic, action-for-action steps toward disarmament with North Korea. Any dialogue with North Korea should proceed with that goal as the basis for talks.

Finally, advocates should promote compliance with Article VI in the run up to the 2020 NPT Review Conference.

A nuclear weapons-free world remains possible. In Trump World making progress toward that goal will continue to be challenging. Like most citizens we have limited resources and a large number of issues wanting our attention. This list serves to focus on what’s most important politically, and look for opportunities to advance each item as they present themselves.

To learn more about nuclear disarmament efforts in the U.S., check out the Arms Control Association website by clicking here.

Kitchen Garden Living in Society

Why Don’t Iowa Farmers Export More to Europe?

Sundog Farm

During a brief appearance at Northeast Iowa Community College in Peosta on July 26, President Trump claimed a trade breakthrough with European allies.

“We just opened up Europe for you,” he said.

Not so fast!

On Saturday, European Union Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who met with Trump, said trade talks almost collapsed over U.S. agricultural demands.

Agricultural trade will remain off the table in any trade talks between the U.S. and EU, Juncker said, according to Deutsche Welle. A European commitment to buy more U.S. soybeans is driven by market conditions.

Europe is the second largest importer of soybeans after China and prices are low because of the U.S. trade war with China. In other words, after market conditions driven by the president beat the price of soybeans down, Europe sees a bargain. It is hard to fathom how Trump sees Europe “opened up” under these conditions. Granted Iowa farmers planted more acres in soybeans this year, but the president’s statement can only be seen as political posturing in advance of the 2018 midterm elections and everyone should know it.

There is a more significant problem with “opening up” Europe for agricultural trade — the issue of genetically modified organisms.

There are very few genetically modified crops grown in Europe compared to the U.S., according to a July 27 New York Times article. The reason is in 2001, the EU issued a directive about GMOs. From the early stages of research to the marketplace, these products would have to pass a series of tests for environmental risks and human safety. The consequence of the directive in Europe is few farmers produce GMO crops.

In the U.S., neither the USDA nor the National Academy of Sciences is concerned that GMO crops have any impact on consumers different from non-GMO crops, despite a slate of regulations. Driven by science, farmers embrace GMO crops because of their acceptance in the U.S. marketplace combined with the attributes of genetically modified seeds. Regardless of science, increasing the amount of GMO crops exported to Europe seems unlikely given the fact many European countries have banned GMOs.

Shorter version of Trump’s statement, “Farmers, here’s a bone.”

It’s hard to see how help for Iowa farmers will materialize from current discussions with Europe. The irony of increased soybean sales to Europe after Trump’s trade war beat down prices as something positive seems lost on his true believers. They may swallow this hook, line and sinker, but other sentient beings should not. It is another deception from a president with an unending supply of deceit.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa


Helsinki and New START

B-61 Nuclear Bombs

I don’t know one person, acquaintance or public figure who thought the July 16 meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki went well.

The only people who found a ray of hope in the awkward encounter are those in the arms control community who pointed out some positives, not the least of which is an easing of tensions between the two nuclear powers evidenced in the meeting.

“It looks like Trump and Putin may have agreed in Helsinki to resume strategic stability talks.” Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, posted on twitter. “One key issue: New START, which can be extended without complex negotiation, without further approval by Senate or Duma, and without Trump making unwise concessions.”

Such a move makes sense and would be an easy win for Trump. It may not be well received among Trump’s base supporters because, after all, the Obama administration negotiated New START. The 44th president called in his markers to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty. Some of us felt he gave away too much with a complex offering of perquisites to Republican hawks led by Jon Kyl. Not the least of these was an expensive, unneeded modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex. The Trump crowd won’t like it, regardless of the efficacy of an extension, because of the association with President Barack Obama.

Republicans have expressed disappointment with Trump’s foreign policy, such as it exists. They may (publicly or privately) attempt to reign in the president. At some point the U.S. wants to address perceived Russian violations of the INF treaty negotiated between Presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, signed in 1987. Russia has threatened to withdraw from the INF treaty for many years, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

As we look forward with trepidation to the next meeting between the two heads of state, the arms control community will be working to advance the causes of nuclear disarmament and abolition. It is something they do regardless which party has majorities in the Congress or who is president.

~ First posted on Blog for Iowa


Why Stop Denuclearization at North Korea?

On June 14, 2018 PSR Board member Ira Helfand, MD met with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon in Seoul.

Responding to citizens everywhere who yearn for peace, political leaders in South Korea, North Korea, China and the United States staged a flurry of diplomatic activity this year to avert a Korean crisis.

We are not yet out of the woods. Physicians for Social Responsibility’s health professionals advocated for peace in Korea and will continue to promote diplomacy to denuclearize not only North Korea, but the rest of the world as well.

On June 7, PSR released and delivered to Congressional offices a “Health Professional Open Letter to Congressional Leaders” on Korea with signatures from 16 prominent health professionals including presidents of national physicians’ associations as well as deans and former deans of medical schools and public health schools. PSR members met with staff for their U.S. Representatives and Senators, placed op-eds at, the Boston Globe,  the Baltimore Sun, and Quartz (see In the News). Immediately after the June 12 Singapore summit PSR issued a statement welcoming the outcome..

PSR will continue to advocate for careful and deliberate diplomacy toward a genuine peace accord between the Koreas.  The cancellation of joint U.S. – South Korean “Freedom Guardian” military exercises that were scheduled for August will surely help the peace process.

But for now, North Korea retains its nuclear arsenal, and eight other nations cling to their arsenals as well. The harrowing months of provocations, threats and counter-threats between the U.S. and North Korea showed once again that nuclear weapons do not provide security for any nation.  As experts explored the possible military scenarios involving Korea, the world was reminded of the horrific humanitarian impact of modern warfare, especially if nuclear weapons come into play.  To remove this profound public health threat, PSR joins with International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in prescribing total elimination of all nuclear arsenals with a strategy of “stigmatize, prohibit, eliminate.”

For more on this story, see a list of relevant current Congressional legislation, a PSR report onWhere Do We Go From Here?” and an overview of reactions to the Trump-Kim Singapore summit across the American political spectrum.

If you’d like to stay in touch with Physicians for Social Responsibility’s subscribe to the activist list by clicking here.

~ Cross posted from the Physicians for Social Responsibility blog which can be found here.


Heads in the Sand by Matthew Yglesias

Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats by Matthew Yglesias
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yglesias’ book was a timely read in the context of the Trump administration’s forays into foreign policy, notably the April 13, 2018 bombing of Syrian chemical weapons capacity. Written before the Obama presidency, the lines of thought and policy started during the George W. Bush administration continue to the present. There is little evidence liberals received the author’s message or have done much to support a sustainable, bold foreign policiy. Rather they often co-opt neocon positions.

Living in Society

Preserve the Iran Deal

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility April 8, 2008 Photo Credit: Reuters

The 45th president doesn’t like the Iran Deal.

He campaigned against it. He begrudgingly certified Iran’s compliance with it after his inauguration. As additional 90-day certification periods passed, he didn’t. Neither did he move to end it.

With the installation of John Bolton at the National Security Council, and Michael Pompeo as Secretary of State, administration policy regarding Iran is expected to change.

The Iran Deal or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program (JCPOA) was the signature foreign policy achievement of President Barack Obama. The United States, along with the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Germany and China, stopped Iran from building a nuclear weapon.

In July 2015, Iran had almost 20,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium in the cities of Natanz and Fordo, according to BBC News. Iran had been building a heavy-water nuclear facility near the city of Arak. Spent fuel from a heavy-water reactor contains plutonium suitable for a nuclear weapon. Iran agreed to restrict these activities in the JCPOA which brought a robust regimen of monitoring, verification and inspection designed to ensure Iran’s compliance with the deal. Every 90-day certification period, which is peculiar to the United States, international inspectors reported Iran maintains its compliance.

We should keep the Iran Deal. It’s not just me who says so.

“120 of America’s most respected national security leaders want to keep the Iran Deal,” wrote Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund. “Trump, Pompeo and Bolton want to kill it.”

Click on the link to read Keep the Iran Deal — 10 Good Reasons Why authored by the National Coalition To Prevent An Iranian Nuclear Weapon.