Saturday, May 26, 2018

Symptoms of precipitous “decline and fall” in U.S. foreign policy

Our country’s penchant for self-righteous posturing, its overt “messianic and missionary,” “big stick and bombs” foreign policy, combined with its covert “secret” and not-so-secret wars (e.g., the large laundry list that makes for the CIA’s bag of ‘dirty tricks,’ from regime overthrow to ‘targeted killings’ and torture), have rendered the fine—albeit ambiguous—political art of diplomacy a mere dark shadow of its former self. All of this was embodied with bombast and bluster in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent speech at the aptly named Heritage Foundation that proclaimed in predictably pompous rhetoric a “new Iran strategy,” although in historical terms, there was precious little that was truly new, much like resurrected fashions that attract those devoid of historical knowledge and a dispositional and feckless taste for fads of any kind. For example, Pompeo announced, without a trace of irony or satire:

“No more wealth creation for Iranian kleptocrats. No more acceptance of missiles landing in Riyadh and in the Golan Heights. No more cost-free expansions of Iranian power. No more.”

Never mind the fact that the U.S. government, at the pinnacle of its pyramid of power, and today more than ever, models a kleptocracy, albeit one draped in neoliberal capitalist dress produced in sweatshops furiously affixing labels of democratic legitimacy.

Never mind the fact that the U.S. government, which is the world’s biggest exporter of arms, is fighting a devastating proxy war in Yemen (the poorest state in the region), providing the Saudis with the weaponry essential to its illegal military intervention in the country (causing mass civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis on several fronts). Indeed, “the U.S. and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region [i.e., the Middle East] [having] supplied over 98% of [the] weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

Compare this to Iran (with admittedly geopolitical and religious interests for propping up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal Syrian regime), which “did not even make the list of the 40 largest importers – only accounting for 1% of arms imports to the region.” In fact, “Iran, which is under an international arms embargo, spends a fraction of what its Arab neighbours spend on weapons, instead relying on proxies and soft power to advance its policies.”

Only the U.S. and Israel are free to takes sides (which comes with their inordinate military prowess) in external and internal Middle Eastern conflicts, the Arab regimes or Iran located in this part of the world, forbidden from doing so (they apparently lack our altruistic motives), any actions by them invariably characterized as threats to the national security of the U.S. and Israel, or serving as ready-made explanations for terrorism, and so forth and so on.

Never mind the fact that the immense military aid the U.S. provides to Israel (a country with well over 100 nuclear weapons*), more than it provides any other state, has been used to further Zionist (colonialist settler) territorial ambitions, facilitated by a long-standing occupation of Palestinian territories (70 years!) that has systematically and ruthlessly denied the international legal right of self-determination to the Palestinians (in Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem). 

* It’s a well-known fact that Israel possesses quite a number of nuclear weapons (150-200) and believes itself to be entitled, alone in the Middle East, to possess such weapons. Israel—alongside India and Pakistan—has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and alone among nuclear-weapons states, it has never publicly acknowledged its nuclear arsenal nor openly demonstrated its nuclear capability. As Avner Cohen writes in The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb (2010), “In Israel, to this day, the gap between nuclear conduct and basic democratic norms of open debate, the public’s right to know, public accountability, oversight, and transparency remains vast.” 

Furthermore, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons has not led to a viable or successful deterrence strategy and policy. For example, it has “not deter[red] Arabs from attacking it; nor is there evidence that it imposed limitations on Arab operational planning.” (In fact, Arab states in the region have never had anything remotely close to a coordinated strategy and policy with regard to Israel, whatever the historical pan-Arab rhetoric of ‘annihilation.’) Among the adverse side effects of its nuclear weapons arsenal and related policy, Zeev Maoz notes that “it was a major factor in accelerating a conventional arms race and in igniting a nonconventional arms race in the Middle East.” While Israel was developing its nuclear potential (1957-67), “inter-Arab relations were characterized by political and military discord,” its decision to develop nuclear weapons coming at a time “when the actual investment in military manpower and hardware by the key Arab states was marginal, to say the least.” Maoz convincingly argues that ”each time Israel actually invoked its nuclear policy in a context of international crisis or war, its implied or explicit threats failed to achieve their intended aim.” In short, “the logic of last-resort deterrence that served as the strategic foundation of the nuclear project is logically self-defeating, because it renders incredible the threat of nuclear retaliation in any other circumstances.” See Maoz’s very important book, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel’s Security and Foreign Policy (University of Michigan Press, 2006). 

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In a future post I will introduce the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or “the Iran Deal,” and speak to the President’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the agreement (which was not ‘legally binding’ inasmuch as this was not a treaty … but more on that anon). For now, and in preparation for our next installment, should anyone want to begin to historically and politically contextualize the recent hawkish, deceptive, and irresponsible rhetoric coming from both Trump and Netanyahu, I’ll recommend two titles: Haggai Ram’s Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession (Stanford University Press, 2009), and Daniel H. Joyner’s, Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law: From Confrontation to Accord (Oxford University Press, 2016).
Further Reading:
  • Abrahamian, Ervand. The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S. - Iranian Relations (The New Press, 2013).
  • Alford, Ryan. Permanent State of Emergency: Unchecked Executive Power and the Demise of the Rule of Law (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017).
  • Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Azimi, Fakhreddin. The Quest for Democracy in Iran: A Century of Struggle against Authoritarian Rule (Harvard University Press, 2008).
  • Bacevich, Andrew J. The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (Oxford University Press, updated ed., 2013).
  • Bacevich, Andrew J. America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (Random House, 2016).
  • Calabresi, Steven G. and Christopher S. Yoo. The Unitary Executive: Presidential Power from Washington to Bush (Yale University Press, 2008).
  • Cole, David and James X. Dempsey. Terrorism and the Constitution (The New Press, 3rd ed., 2006).
  • Cole, David and Jules Lobel. Less Safe, Less Free: Why America is Losing the War on Terrorism (The New Press, 2008).
  • Greenberg, Karen J. Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (Crown, 2016).
  • Joyner, Daniel H. International Law and the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (Oxford University Press, 2008).
  • Joyner, Daniel H. and Marco Roscini, eds. Non-Proliferation Law as a Special Regime: A Contribution to Fragmentation Theory in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • Krent, Harold J. “From a Unitary to a Unilateral Presidency,” Boston University Law Review, Vol. 88, No. 2 (2008): 523-559.
  • March, Andrew F. Islam and Liberal Citizenship: The Search for an Overlapping Consensus (Oxford University Press, 2009).
  • Mirsepassi, Ali. Democracy in Modern Iran: Islam, Culture, and Political Change (New York University Press, 2010).
  • Patrikarakos, David. Nuclear Iran: The Birth of an Atomic State (I.B. Tauris, 2012).
  • Sanger, David E. Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (Broadway Paperbacks, 2013).
  • Weiner, Tim. Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (Anchor Books, 2008).
  • Wilford, Hugh. America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East (Basic Books, 2013).
  • Wills, Garry. Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (Penguin Books, 2010).


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