Tag: European Union

Two new lows

President Trump has hit two new lows: his racist comment on the origins of some American immigrants and his renewed threat to abrogate the Iran nuclear deal.

Neither is a surprise. His racism has long been apparent. What else was all that “birther” stuff about where Barack Obama was born? He believes, with good reason, that racial prejudice appeals to his almost entirely white base. He has reportedly been saying so to those he has talked to privately since his comments became public. I have no doubt he is correct.

There is just no getting around the hard fact: more than one-third of the American electorate either holds racist views or doesn’t regard racism as a political disqualification. Never mind that African immigrants to America are more educated than its native born, or that Norwegian immigrants to the US fared remarkably poorly. Prejudice ignores the facts.

On the Iran nuclear deal, the President is promising to withdraw unless he gets satisfaction within four months on two issues I regard as important: the deal’s “sunset” (i.e. expiration clauses) and inspection of Iranian nuclear sites. But neither problem, important as they are, can be solved with a unilateral withdrawal four months from now.

It has been apparent since the conclusion of the agreement that something would have to be done about its expiration. But trying to do that now, 7 years before the first of the expirations, is impossible: the Europeans will not go along with a US threat to withdraw and reimpose sanctions at this stage in the deal’s implementation. They might do so as expiration approaches, but they are correct in thinking there is no urgency about the matter.

The US attempt to impose urgency will fail. The Iranians will then have a choice: continue to implement the agreement with the Europeans, or withdraw and make a rush for nuclear weapons. Either move will weaken the US. We could go to war in a last-ditch effort to prevent Iran from going nuclear, but the odds of success in that endeavor are not good and the ramifications for the region are disastrous. I’d bet though on the Iranians continuing to implement the deal, making European support for extending it far less likely and any US rush to war unjustifiable.

As for Iranian military sites, the issues involved are serious and complicated. But neither the US nor the Europeans have exhausted the provisions in the deal to press for inspections to ensure that these sites are not in violation. They should do that first. Trump’s threat all but guarantees they won’t.

The threat to withdraw from the nuclear deal is cast as an ultimatum to the Europeans, not to Iran, to fix these two main issues: expiration and inspection of all sites the International Atomic Energy Agency requests. It ignores the option the Europeans have to continue the agreement without the US. This is Trump’s frequently repeated error in negotiation: he threatens to act on his own best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) but ignores the other guy’s. The result is that he rarely gets what he wants. The other guy has options too. In this case, both Iran and the Europeans can do better without us than we can by withdrawing.

Trump is still campaigning against Barack Obama: both his statement on the nuclear deal, which refers explicitly to his predecessor, and his racist remarks should be read in that light. The result is two new lows that weaken America’s standing in the world.

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Iran options

There are now some ideas out there about how the US should respond to the protests in Iran. Dubowitz and Shapiro, Michael Singh and Eli Lake have chimed in. Here’s my compilation of their and other proposals. I don’t mean to suggest I support these, only that they are options. I’ll clarify my own views in a later post.

Two things should be clear from the outset: any US effort will be far more effective if it has broad bipartisan and international support, and only Iranians can determine how this episode ends.

  1. Consistent bipartisan public and diplomatic support, including at the highest level. This is what the Trump Administration is doing, with tweets by both the President and the Vice President. Congress might chime in with a resolution. President Obama could contribute his charisma and organizing skills. The US government’s broadcast networks will join in. The idea is to encourage protest against a regime the US finds oppressive, corrupt, and aggressive, in the hope that it will either modify its behavior or fall to the popular will. This public support could focus on revealing corrupt practices and documenting unjustifiable arrests by the Islamic Republic’s security forces, including objecting to them in diplomatic contacts. Public and diplomatic shaming of this sort will be more effective if some countries relatively friendly to Iran can be convinced to join in. Today’s meeting of the UN Security Council provides an opportunity for that.
  2. Sanctions against human rights abusers, corrupt officials and enablers. The Global Magnitsky Act and other US legislataion makes this pretty easy: the President needs only to name names to block their financial resources and travel. Treasury has started with entities linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program. While there aren’t a lot of Iranian officials putting their savings in US banks or visiting the Washington Monument, listing them gives other countries pause as well. If the Europeans join in such designations of individuals, that would greatly amplify the impact. Likewise high officials of the regime who have been welcome in the West and its media could be given the cold shoulder until the repression stops. The US could also levy sanctions against companies that supply Iran with repressive apparatus or help Tehran to block internet communications, and encourage the Europeans to join in.
  3. Encouragement to tech companies to keep its channels to Iranians open. I’m a bit perplexed what this means in practice, but Karim Sadjadpour is pushing it so it must be a good idea. If there are ways for the tech companies to circumvent or reduce the impact of the Islamic Republic’s efforts to block internet and social media communications, there is obvious virtue in encouraging the companies to do whatever is possible. That should include not taking at face value Tehran’s blackballing of individuals to remove them from social media, and blocking any censorship efforts beyond the confines of Iran.
  4. Heightened visibility and costs of Iranian activities in the region. One aspect of the protests is criticism of the Islamic Republic for spending the nation’s resources in Syria and Yemen rather than benefiting Iranians at home. This complaint could be encouraged by greater attention in the international press to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ sponsorship of Hizbollah, Shia militias, Hamas, the Houthis and its other proxies, as well as more effective efforts to counter them on the battlefield.
  5. Reduced diplomatic ties. The US can’t do this, because it only has a interests section in the Swiss Embassy that handles minimal essential services as well as diplomatic communications. But it could encourage the Europeans and others to lower the level of their representation.
  6. An end to the visa ban on Iranians. This move by the Trump Administration lends credence to the Iranian regime’s claim that the US is prejudiced not only against the regime but also against Iranians. Vetting of Iranians for US visas is already vigorous. The ban could be lifted to signal support for Iranians while opposing the regime.

None of these moves would do more than marginally increase pressure on Tehran. All would require US diplomacy to enlist the support of many other countries, something President Trump’s egregious behavior towards many of them has made far more difficult.

As Karim Sadjadpour puts it, “change will not come easily, or peacefully, or soon.”

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This interview is too long

Ivan Angelovski of the Belgrade weekly NIN did this excessively long interview with me last week. I gather it was published yesterday or today: 

HOW DO YOU SEE THE WORLD IN 2018? WHAT ARE THE HOTTEST SPOTS?

The world is in bad shape in 2018. The big issues confronting the United States have to do with North Korea and Iran but apart from the success against Daesh in Iraq and in Syria there isn’t a lot of good news for the United States. There’s a lot of concern I think in Washington and beyond that the president is weakening the United States internationally rather than strengthening it.

North Korea and Iran are the key hotspots in the near term. In the longer term we face a big adjustment to Chinese power, especially in the Pacific but also elsewhere in the world. We obviously face some challenge from Russia as well, but I think it’s a very different challenge. Putin is looking large today but when his bubble bursts he will not look all that large. In the meanwhile we face real challenges, especially from their expertise on the Internet.

There are lots of other challenges. Challenges in Africa and the Middle East especially in Yemen and Libya. The world is not in good shape.

HOW DO YOU EXPECT THE NORTH KOREA ISSUE TO UNFOLD?

Deterrence has worked and it probably will continue to work. It’s very clear why Kim Jong-Un wants nuclear weapons. It’s for regime preservation.That’s quite rational.Attacking the United States unprovoked with nuclear weapons would be an obvious and serious error because we would respond. But by the same token an American attack on North Korea would be a serious mistake because they can respond not only with nuclear weapons but also with conventional artillery against Seoul and kill hundreds of thousands if not millions of people. So what options do we have? The main one is to sit down and negotiate with the North Koreans.

YOU DIDN’T MENTION THE ISSUE OF JERUSALEM?

The issue of Jerusalem is a self-imposed wound by the United States. There is no issue with Jerusalem that has to be solved tomorrow. There are many other issues that have to be solved between the Israelis and the Palestinians first. The president chose to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in order to satisfy domestic constituencies, apparently without any serious thought being given to the international repercussions. Why would he do that? Because the Christian evangelicals and a limited number of his big donors wanted it. I also think that he had come to understand that his peace initiative was going no place so he wasn’t ruining anything by doing this, at least in his mind. That said it would have been very easy to do this in a way that was palatable to the Palestinians and to the Arabs had he added a sentence to the decision that said “I look forward to the day when there will also be a capital of Palestine in Jerusalem”. Arabs and Palestinians would have applauded, everybody in the world would have been happy with the addition of one senstence. It’s very telling that he didn’t end that sentence. He’s completely hard over on the Israeli side. Not just on the Israeli side but on the Netanyahu side of this dispute. Netanyahu doesn’t want a Palestinian state and certainly not now. Trump committed an own-goal. It’s just fantastic that a hundred and twenty-eight countries voted against us in the General Assembly. What more evidence do you need that this guy is weakening the United States?

USA NEVER LOOKED MORE ALONE THAN TODAY.

It’s not surprising. This is a guy who puts America first, who’s criticized our closest allies, at this point I don’t think he can even visit Germany or maybe even London. I think the demonstrations in London against him would be truly massive.They know that and that’s why they’re not scheduling that visit. But Germany feels the same way. He is intentionally alienating our closest allies. The negotiations with Mexico and Canada over the North American Free Trade Agreement are going badly, he’s made the South Koreans very nervous.The Japanese seem to get on ok with him because their inclination is to move in the direction of doing more on defense.Trump wants that so I think there there’s a meeting of the minds, the Saudis obviously like him, the Emiratis like him, but everybody else in the Middle East is pretty grumpy about him, including even Sisi, who Trump declared his best friend.

One problem that isn’t so visible abroad is if that the Americans are having trouble speaking with one voice. You hear very different things out of the National Security Council, out of

the president, the State Department and the Defense Department.That alone causes nervousness around the world and makes people hedge against the possibility that what the president said yesterday isn’t going to be true tomorrow.That’s a big problem.

USA ALWAYS HAD DIFFERENT VOICES FROM THE CONGRESS AND THE ADMINISTRATION IN THE WHITE HOUSE, BUT NOW IT SEEMS THERE ARE DIFFERENT VOICES IN THE ADMINISTRATION ITSELF

You don’t usually have six or seven voices coming out of Washington. There’s a big deterioration in mental and verbal discipline. ThePresident himself is not mentally or verbally disciplined, he doesn’t say the same thing from one day to another, so why should anybody else be disciplined if he isn’t?

TO WHAT DO YOU CREDIT THIS?

His lack of education and bullheadedness are important factors. He simply did not get a good education. I don’t care if he went to Wharton.He doesn’t show much more than a sixth-grade education. He doesn’t read much, he doesn’t learn easily, he learns from things that affect him personally but not from things people tell him about something else. He has made a career of lying – he lies about his real estate projects, he lies about how much money he has, he’s unreliable in paying his contractors. He has gotten away with it. So why would you expect him to be different at over 70? He enjoyed success for 50 years by lying. Read more

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The wrong chair

Serbia, State Department official Hoyt Yee warned in October, could not “sit on two chairs.” He meant it has to choose between the European Union and Russia, between the West and the East. This is admittedly asking a lot of a country that enjoyed a leading role in the heyday of the Non-Aligned Movement and continues to regard itself as at least militarily “unaligned,” whatever that means in the post-Cold War world.

Serbian President Vucic was in Moscow earlier this week to meet with President Putin. He said things there that at least sound to Washington ears as if he is choosing the East. He

repeated a vow that Serbia will not join EU nations in imposing sanctions against Russia, though he ‘can’t guarantee what will happen after I leave this post.’

He says he asked Russia to join the Belgrade/Pristina talks if Kosovo manages to convince the US to join them:

Vucic has also claimed claimed that Serbia is the only country in Europe that has never voted against Russia in any international forum.
Let’s be clear: Serbia is free to choose its alignment or non-alignment, just like any other sovereign state. But it really cannot sit on two stools. Aligning its foreign policy with the EU is part of the process of qualifying for accession. While Brussels may choose to be wishy-washy about it in the near term, the votes for accession simply won’t be there when the time comes unless Serbia meets the membership criteria.
That will include not only alignment with EU sanctions and other decisions vis-a-vis Russia but also acceptance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Kosovo and normalization of relations between the two states. Twenty-three out of 28 EU members have recognized Kosovo. I doubt any of the 23 will be willing to accept Serbia as an EU member unless is normalizes relations with its erstwhile province. But I am certain the Dutch and Germans will hold out no matter what.
What does normalization entail? There are two crucial steps:
  1. Entry of Kosovo into the UN General Assembly;
  2. Exchange of diplomats at the ambassadorial level.

Note that neither of these steps involves “recognition of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence,” which Serb politicians have pledged not to do. Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence was an expression of political will that breached no international law, as the International Court of Justice has advised, in response to a Serbian request. Nor is bilateral recognition necessary, as entry into the UN makes that superfluous. Exchange of diplomatic representatives at the ambassadorial level is in any case the moral equivalent. East and West Germany called them “permanent representatives.”

When should Serbia normalize relations with Kosovo? Belgrade’s approach has been to postpone until just before EU accession. That is a serious error. At the final stages of negotiation, all the leverage is on the EU side. Just ask Slovenia and Croatia, which had to yield on important issues in the final stages of their accession negotiations. The same will happen with Serbia: if it gets to that final stage without normalizing relations with Kosovo, it won’t get anything in return for it.

This means Serbia would be wiser to sit on the EU chair sooner rather than later, negotiating what it can in return for Kosovo’s UN membership and exchange of something like permanent representatives. What can it get? I don’t know, but no one will ever know unless it tries. And having Moscow at the Pristina/Belgrade talks won’t help. After all, Russia has recognized the independence of breakaway provinces of Georgia and Moldova, while annexing Crimea and supporting secessionists in Ukraine’s southeast. Is it wise for Serbia to be relying on Russia to assert Belgrade’s sovereignty over Kosovo?

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Will they build it?

Three questions arise about President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem:

  • why did he do it?
  • what will the consequences be?
  • will it ever get built?

The why is domestic politics. He promised to do it during the campaign and his deepest-pocketed supporters wanted it done. The move gets a lot of support in the Christian evangelical community and far less among Jews, but the President needs concrete examples of fulfilling his campaign promises, many of which he has abandoned in office.

The opposition of allies and friends in Europe and the Middle East had little impact beyond inclusion in the announcement the assertion that it is not intended to prejudice a future decision on the boundaries of Jerusalem. That is specious, since he also implied that Jerusalem would remain undivided, which is the key issue. The announcement included nothing attractive from the perspective of Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims more generally, which is why they see it as vitiating any potential role of the US as an honest broker in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

As for other consequences, we’ll have to wait and see. Protests are the least of it. There are many other longer-term possibilities. Trump has certainly cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution most Israelis and Palestinians as well as the US and most of the rest of the world have been supporting for decades. Palestinians don’t want a state that doesn’t have its capital in Jerusalem any more than Israelis do.

If Palestinians can’t have their own state, they will seek equal rights within the single one, which will bring into doubt the state’s Jewish character. Arabs are likely the majority already, or soon will be, in the area Israel currently controls, if we count Gaza as well as the West Bank. The Israelis might want to give Gaza to Egypt, which controlled it in the past, but the Egyptians won’t take it: they don’t want to absorb a destitute Palestinian population that is in part Islamist. They’ve got enough trouble already in continuous Sinai.

The Trump administration is a radical one that enjoys upsetting the apple cart. The President likes to think this will open the way to progress. It is far more likely to end his own peace initiative, which son-in-law Kushner is heading. I even wonder whether, having realized that initiative was going no place, Trump decided to do something that would distract attention and engender enough violence so that its demise could be blamed on the Palestinians. But I suppose that just shows I’ve spent too much time lately in the Middle East, which loves conspiracy theories.

It is far more likely that ignorance and bullheadedness led to the decision to move the embassy. Now let’s see if Congress, which pushed for it, is ready to appropriate the several hundred million dollars it will cost to build the kind of fortress the United States will require in Jerusalem. Is it possible that we’ll suffer the consequences of this decision, but not see the facility built?

PS: For interesting Israeli responses to the Jerusalem move, see the short statements from Mitvim, the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.

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His own worst enemy

President Trump today announced the US officially recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and initiated the process of enabling the US embassy to move there from Tel Aviv.

What’s wrong with that?

As former Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer explained this morning on NPR, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It has been for almost 70 years and will continue to be. No one I know doubts the facts.

But the status of Jerusalem is in dispute: we don’t know its ultimate borders, whether some of it may some day be part of a Palestinian state, and there is no agreement on how it will in the future be governed. Trump’s move ignores these facts.

More importantly, it tilts the playing field, once again, in Israel’s direction. Trump offered nothing to the Palestinians besides platitudes. He might have said the US could envisage their capital also in Jerusalem, presumably in the eastern part of the city that is majority Palestinian. He might have limited what he said about Israel’s capital to the western portion of the city, where all the Israeli institutions he mentioned are located. He might have suggested in some other way that the US has an evenhanded view and will act as an honest broker in trying to resolve the ongoing disputes.

He didn’t. While advocating moderation, tolerance, and reasoned debate, Trump essentially aligned himself with extremist Americans and Israelis, who see no reason to accommodate Palestinian interests or interest in having a state of their own. Trump still wants, he says, to facilitate a lasting peace. He even says it with unusual passion and conviction. But what he has done makes compromise more difficult, not less.

How will the Muslim world react? Some fear violence. Certainly there will be demonstrations against what Trump has done. And demonstrations in the Middle East all too often result in violence. But a lot of Arabs have other things to worry about these days besides the Palestinians, who were already convinced Trump wasn’t going to do anything good from their point of view. A few rocket launches may satisfy some.

The people most aroused and likely to indulge in violence are the Iranians and Sunni extremists (especially Al Qaeda and the Islamic State). The elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards are not known as the Al Quds (Jerusalem) force for nothing. While Trump claims to be leading a campaign against both, his move on Jerusalem will inspire his adversaries. Look for them to invent symbolic, likely violent, acts against Israel and the US.

Hard to imagine any other significant government will follow Trump’s lead. The Europeans are dead set against it, as they rightly view it as making peace more difficult to negotiate, not easier. The gap that has opened between the US and our European allies on the Iran nuclear deal will widen. The Gulf Arabs, some of whom Trump and the Israelis have been courting as allies against Iran, will find themselves hamstrung and unable to move further in that direction.

Trump is in many ways his own worst enemy. Now he has made negotiations between Israel and Palestine more difficult, widened the rift with Europe, and hampered the alliance he hoped for against Iran. All in a single stroke.

PS: The slurring of his speech is noticeable. He is supposedly a teetotaler. Teeth don’t fit right?

PSS: Claudia Trevisan of the Brazilian daily O Estado de Sao Paolo was the first to get to me with questions. I answered;

Q: What is the potential impact of the president’s announcement on the peace process? Can the US still be a broker of negotiations?

A: It can be a broker as long as both sides agree it can be one. The Palestinians are saying no, but I’m not sure that will last.

Q: The president has said it is not prejudging the outcome of boundaries and the future status of Jerusalem. Can this nuance reduce the impact of the announcement?

A: It’s better than not saying it, but I don’t think it mitigates much.

Q: Can this decision help in any way help the peace process?

A: I don’t think so. It is more likely to kill it, at least for the time being.

Q: Do you expect an increase of violence in the region and of terrorist acts against the US as a consequence of the decision?

A: I don’t like to predict an increase in violence, since then people start feeling they have to fulfill the prophecy. But both violence in the region and against the US are possible.

 

 

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