American Elephants

Obama’s Iran Deal Is Vanishing In A Puff of Disbelief by The Elephant's Child

20131007_obama_iranflag_LARGE“Sometime this week, President Obama is scheduled to sign an executive order to meet the October 15 “adoption day” he has set for the nuclear deal he has made with Iran. According to the president’s timetable the next step would be “the start day of implementation,” fixed for December 25.” That’s Amir Taheri, writing in the New York Post. He added “But as things now stand, Obama may end up being the only person in the world to sign his much-wanted deal, in effect making a treaty with himself.”

Iran has not signed anything and has no plans for doing so. The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) hasn’t been discussed at the Iranian Council of Ministers, nor has the government bothered to provide a Persian translation of the text (159 pages). The Ayatollah Khamenei said early on that they had no intention of signing a document with America.

Obama’s P5+1 group (Britain China, Germany, France and Russia) have apparently decided that Obama’s deal is really only about lifting sanctions and not enforcing anything. So that’s what they are doing. Putin is renewing his interest with Assad and propping up the Assad dictatorship in Syria, as well as starting delivery of S300 anti-aircraft missiles and is engaged in talks to sell Sukhoi planes to the Islamic Republic.

Britain has lifted the ban on 22 Iranian banks and companies that were reportedly involved with nuclear deals.  German trade with Iran has risen by 33 percent, and they are now Iran’s third-largest trading partner after China.

China has signed a preliminary accord to help Iran build five more nuclear reactors. France has sent its foreign minister and a 100-man delegation to negotiate projects to double Iran’s crude oil exports and negotiate other big business deals. Everybody regards the JCPOA as a green light for dropping sanctions. Indian trade us up 17%, and New Delhi is negotiating a massive investment in a rail-and-sea-hub on the Gulf of Oman.

Austrian, Turkish and UAE banks are lifting restrictions that were imposed on Iran because of their nuclear program. President Hassan Rouhani boasted that “the structures of sanctions built over decades is crumbling.”

They have no intention of shutting down their nuclear project.

The Iranian crowds are not shouting “Death to Britain, France and Germany. Death to India, Russia and China.” They are quite specific. It’s America and Israel. We do need to keep that in mind.

The Mullahs are certain that Obama is paralyzed by his fear of undermining the non-existent “deal.” They are encouraging Palestine in a new Intifada, working to choose the next president in Lebanon, and are calling openly for overthrow of the monarchy in Saudi Arabia.

Obama has hoped to engage Iran on other issues, and reportedly hoped to meet with the Ayatollah Khamenei in Tehran to shake his hand and, I guess, formally turn the Middle East over to Iran. Khamenei declared last week “any dialogue with the American Great Satan to be forbidden.”

There has been a ballistic missile test in Iran that apparently violates the Iran Deal.  Nevermind.

Obama has apparently moved into a fantasy world in which Putin is exhibiting his weakness, while Obama shows what real leadership is with his Climate Change initiatives.  Inside Iran, Obama’s moderate partners who would never actually use a nuclear weapon have doubled the number of executions and political prisoners. They crushed marches by teachers last week. Hundreds of trade unionists have been arrested and potential protesters are terrorized by a new “anti-insurrection” brigade.

President Obama appeared with Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes yesterday. It was an amazing interview. If you didn’t see it, a video and transcript are available here. It is very interesting.

What is Vladimir Putin Doing in Syria? by The Elephant's Child

Putin formalThe great mystery in the Middle East is what is Vladimir Putin doing? Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state from 2005 to 2009, and Robert M. Gates, defense secretary from 2006 to 2011, join to write an op-ed at Fox News

One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.

Obama claimed it is a sign of Russian weakness. Europe is alarmed — they have quite enough on their plates with refugees from the Middle East, not all of them by any means from Syria. They are demanding, expecting far more than the Europeans are willing to give, and the people of Europe are beginning to act in opposition.

The fact is that Putin is playing a weak hand extraordinarily well because he knows exactly what he wants to do. He is not stabilizing the situation according to our definition of stability. He is defending Russia’s interests by keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power. This is not about the Islamic State. Any insurgent group that opposes Russian interests is a terrorist organization to Moscow. We saw this behavior in Ukraine, and now we’re seeing it even more aggressively — with bombing runs and cruise missile strikes — in Syria.

Putin is not a sentimental man, and if Assad becomes a liability, Putin will gladly move on to a substitute acceptable to Moscow. But for now, the Russians believe that they (and the Iranians) can save Assad. President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry say that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. That is true, but Moscow understands that diplomacy follows the facts on the ground, not the other way around. Russia and Iran are creating favorable facts. Once this military intervention has run its course, expect a peace proposal from Moscow that reflects its interests, including securing the Russian military base at Tartus.

Russians don’t regret their foreign adventures. The last time was Afghanistan, and that didn’t happen until Ronald Reagan armed the Afghan mujahideen with stinger missiles. Putin is not responding to world disorder nor does he have any concern for the Syrian people or for Syria as a state.  He’s not trying to hold the Middle East together.

Vladimir Putin is reacting to circumstances in the Middle East and sees an opening created by American disinclination to fully engage.  He’s playing power politics. There will continue to be refugees until people are safe. Significant support for the Kurds, Sunni tribes and and Iraqi special forces is not, as Mr. Obama claimed, “mumbo jumbo.” It might save our current lack of strategy. We must do what we can to prevent an incident with Russian military activities — but we should never have gotten to a place where Russia is warning us to stay our of their way. The Russians intend to secure their interests in the Middle East.

Richard Cohen: The high cost of avoiding war in Syria

David Ignatius: The U.S. cannot pass Syria on to Putin

Charles Krauthammer: President Obama’s Syria Debacle

Peter Baker: Wary of Escalation in Syria, U.S. Is Waiting Out Putin’s Moves


The Grand Old Party and the Very Big Tent by The Elephant's Child

big-top2You have probably noticed that we are Republicans here. If you have ever clicked on the “about” button in the sidebar, you will see our big tent declaration. I don’t have a big “see how I discovered conservatism” story, I have always been a Republican. My great great grandfather wrote in the very first days of the Republican Party  “I am a quiet but interested member of the Republican Party.”Not exactly a rousing declaration, but there you are.

I’m a conservative, but most Republicans are, they just define “conservative” a little differently. On some subjects I agree with the libertarians, others with  the “establishment.” That’s what “a big tent” means. You agree on some things, not on others, and you fight about it. And at some point you finally discover that you can’t have your own way and you have to compromise. I get really annoyed by the constant battle by conservatives over who is conservative enough and who is not, and just how pure true conservatism must be.

That said, I believe that most Republicans are dismayed or horrified by the extent to which Barack Obama has attempted to radically transform the United States of America, and once his party was soundly defeated to give control of Congress to the Republicans, by executive order, executive note, refusing to enforce the law, and even going to the United Nations to get his own way. This is something new in American politics.

They are angry about the attempt to change the demographics of the country before the next election. They are frightened by the “Iran Deal” which the president mistakenly believes is a good thing. And that hardly even scratches the surface of a very long list. Republicans are united in their dismay, but all over the place about how to deal with it, about what is most urgent, and especially the correct strategy and tactics.

The fight is on and the Democrats are delighted. They call it “Chaos” and are sure that it is a signal of the coming, much desired demise of the Republican Party. They do want to shut us up, but they would prefer that we just go away — permanently. Here are four great pieces that hint that there’s still some life in the Grand Old Party:

—Kevin Williamson, writing at National Review: “OK. Let’s Fight

—Andrew Malcolm, writing at Investors: “Gee, that felt good to dump Boehner, McCarthy as Speaker, but now …

—David Harsanyi, writing at The Federalist: Relax. This Is Exactly How Congress Should Work, when it comes to the House, ‘chaos’ can be preferable to lockstepping.

—Noah Rothman, writing at Commentary: The Noble Goal of the Freedom Caucus

How Is Our Strategy in the Middle East Working? “What Strategy?” by The Elephant's Child

From the opening episode of this year’s Homeland: “They’re there for one reason and one reason only, to die for the Caliphate and usher in a world without infidels. That’s their strategy and it’s been that way since the 7th century.”

Asked what he would do, Quinn suggests 200,000 soldiers on the ground and an equal number of doctors and teachers. Told that that is not feasible and asked for another solution Quinn says “Hit reset — pound Raqqah into a parking lot.”

(h/t: gerardvanderleun)

How Come We’re Always Surprised by Events? by The Elephant's Child

article-2343392-1A5EE249000005DC-338_634x479Once again the administration is being taken by surprise. Moscow has established a new airbase in Syria to go with its existing naval base. and they are determined to keep Bashar Assad’s regime in power. The U.S. no longer has any influence in Baghdad, and ever since the U.S. forces pulled out in 2011, Iran has become the dominant player in Iraq.

When Russia sent in flights to create a new Russian military base in Syria, our protests were ignored. President Obama’s failure to act on his red line in Syria has consequences. When he could not even act against Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people or Iran’s development of a nuclear program, it ‘s pretty clear that he’s not going to do anything.

Humiliated, Obama is now trying to pretend that Putin will “help”take care of ISIS, but he has been attacking the rebels fighting the Assad regime instead. This is a pure power play by the Russian President. Leon Aron, who is the director of Russian Studies at AEI, looks at why:

  • To establish a sustained, open-ended Russian military presence in the Middle East for the first time since President Sadat sent Soviet personnel home in 1972, thus recovering a key Soviet geopolitical asset as postulated by the Putin Doctrine.
  • To establish the Russia-Iran-Syria (and possibly Iraq) de facto alliance as the dominant military and thus political actor in the Middle East.
  • To boost patriotic mobilization in Russia, which increasingly is the Putin regime’s sole claim to legitimacy. With the economy tanking fast, the ruble down 57% from this time last year, inflation at around 15%, and the seemingly stalemated war on Ukraine no longer generating enough heat to keep the patriotic fervor a-boil, Putin needs another “short, victorious war” (as the Minister of Internal Affairs Vyacheslav Plehve hailed the ultimately disastrous Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05).

The question becomes how far will Putin go? Both Aron and Ralph Peters suggest that we should be prepared for an “accidental” shoot down of a U.S. or British or French plane? That Putin delights in humiliating the United States is not a surprise. That the Obama administration seems regularly to be surprised is more worrying.

Everything is Connected, But That Doesn’t Mean You Can Make Sense of it by The Elephant's Child

saudi-arabia-oilFor those of us who have forgotten our history, 1973 was the year of the Yom Kippur War. Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israeli positions in territories occupied by Israel. In August, Saudi King Faisal and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat met in Riyadh and negotiated an accord whereby the Arabs would use the “oil weapon” as part of the coming military conflict.

October 6, Egypt and Syria attack Israeli-occupied lands in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The Soviet Union acted to supply Egypt and Syria with weapons and supplies. (Notice that Russian interest in Syria is not new) October 8, Israel goes on full nuclear alert.

The United States initiates Operation Nickel Grass, a strategic airlift to provide replacement weapons and supplies to Israel. OPEC negotiations with the major oil companies to revise the 1971 Tehran price agreement fail. October 19, Congress appropriates $2.2 billion in emergency aid to Israel. Libya proclaims an embargo on oil exports to the U.S. and Saudi Arabia and other Arab states follow suit the next day. October 26, the Yom Kippur War ends in complete defeat for the Arab forces. Dissension, negotiation. Israel agrees to withdraw from the west side of the Suez Canal. Oil ministers , with the exception of Libya, announce the end of the embargo. The 1973-74 stock market crash ends.

OPEC forced the oil companies to increase payments dramatically. Price of oil quadrupled to nearly $12 U.S. per barrel. The oil exporting countries got very wealthy. Gold faucets and fancy yachts.

The U.S initiated price controls. Out of that developed the 55 mph speed limit, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, The Department of Energy, and the National Energy Act of 1978. Ad campaign “Don’t be Fuelish,” compact cars, front wheel drive and 4-cylinder engines. Greater interest in “renewable energy.” Research in solar power and wind power. More emphasis on Mass transit. End of big cars with tail fins, welcome for the Volkswagen Beetle, rise of Japanese cars.

1978, Protests against Mohammad Reza Pahlavi Shah of Iran, wave of political unrest and violent clashes, Muslim fundamentalists seek a Muslim state, 1979, Shah leaves on vacation, never to return. One million Iranians march in support for exiled Ayatollah Khomeini. Ayatollah returns to Iran after 14 years of exile. Gasoline shortage, world oil glut. OPEC increases full 14.5 % increase in price. Iran takes western hostages. Jimmy Carter tried to rescue hostages, made a mess of it. Ronald Reagan succeeded Carter, hostages were released.

This is all more or less accurate, but perhaps gives a sense of the back and forth of cause and effect that got us where we are today, but not much sense of what to expect. The middle east still has vast oil wealth, but we are no longer dependent on their oil nor natural gas, but instead need approval to export our own plentiful supplies of oil and gas.

In the first years of the seventh century, when the Prophet Mohammad began his mission in Arabia, the whole of the Mediterranean was part of Christendom. A few decades after the death of the Prophet, his Arab followers burst out of the Arabian peninsula and attacked Persia and Byzantium. The Persian empire was conquered, then Syria, Palestine, Egypt and North Africa — and then Spain, and Sicily. It’s been going on ever since. The aim of the fanatics is to return to the pure Islam of the days of the Prophet. The aim of the West seems to be a colony on Mars.

$500 Million. 5 Fighters. Obama Says It’s Not His Fault! by The Elephant's Child

damaged-buildings-syrian-civil-war1  When you draw a ‘red line,’ or ‘a line in the sand’ publicly in international terms, it is a very serious threat.  When you back down your reputation is permanently damaged. That is usually a lesson that one learns on the playground.

In a 2012 press conference in Stockholm, Obama said:

I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement in the situation. But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. We cannot have a situation where chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.

Assad unleashed a sarin gas attack on Syrians in Ghouta just outside of Damascus. Obama avoided any action in Syria in order to help with the Iran negotiations. The image above is a neighborhood in Syria.

The answer was supposed to be investing $500 million in training some of the Syrian rebels to fight Assad’s army, but it actually yielded just four or five fighters.

So now President Obama and his foreign policy team are confused.Why is Vladimir Putin pouring troops and weapons into Syria? Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that it really isn’t helpful, and is making things worse. Russia has deployed a small number of tactical jets in Syria for the first time. Moscow is clearly preparing to help Assad cling to power. American pilots regularly fly surveillance flights and airstrike missions, the direct involvement of Russian forces could mean trouble.

Russia has been an ally of Syria since Sadat kicked the Soviets out of Egypt in 1972. Look at a map. Putin has re-claimed the Crimea and is simply asserting their influence in the Middle East. Putin’s ambition is always to avenge and reverse Russia’s humiliating loss of superpower status over 25 years ago.

Obama’s efforts to train an opposition army to fight the ISIS has been an abysmal failure. And an expensive failure. But the White House is not to blame. The finger, the White House says, should be pointed not at Mr. Obama, but at those who pressed him to attempt training Syrian rebels in the first place. The New York Times says:

In effect, Mr. Obama is arguing that he reluctantly went along with those who said it was the way to combat the Islamic State, but that he never wanted to do it and has now has been vindicated in his original judgment.

Mr. Trump simply says “Syria’s a mess, Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.” A comment much in line with his simplistic answers to everything else.

Ryan C. Crocker who was ambassador to Afghanistan under Mr. Obama and ambassador to Iraq under George W. Bush said the president was right to think that a train-and-arm program would not work, but he either should have continued to resist or taken ownership rather than blame others.

How un-presidential that sounds — ‘We didn’t want to do it, we thought it was unsound but you made us do it,’ ” said Mr. Crocker. “It’s just indicative of their whole approach to Syria, which is not to have a policy. This is the worst thing they could say.”

Now refugees are flooding Europe. We don’t know who are refugees, who are migrants, and who are members of ISIS. What we are learning is that EU estimates are that four out of five migrants are not from Syria but from Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and even states farther removed. Mr. Obama’s response seems to be welcoming a hundred thousand or so refugees every year into the indefinite future.


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