Updating Babylon the Great’s Nuclear Arsenal

Updating America’s Nuclear Arsenal for a New Age

April 8, 2019, 8:00 AM EDT

Destroyer of worlds.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

More than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, nuclear war may be something to worry about. At the moment, tensions between India and Pakistan, North Korea’s small arsenal, Iran’s nuclear program, and the U.S. withdrawal from its treaty with Russia on intermediate-range nuclear missiles are all roiling the status quo of global security.

But the U.S. can best prepare for the next nuclear age by sticking with the two-pronged strategy that worked so well during the Cold War: deterrence combined with arms control. That means pursuing two seemingly contradictory goals: seeking to shrink the number of nuclear weapons around the globe, while simultaneously maintaining and improving a nuclear arsenal potent enough to dissuade adversaries from doing anything stupid.

The difference is that there are now three great powers involved. The U.S. needs to modernize its arsenal to counter rising threats from China and Russia, and pursue arms-control treaties with them both.

On the diplomatic side, President Trump should welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin’s willingness to extend the New START agreement, which drastically reduced overall U.S. and Russian arsenals but is set to expire in 2021. Eventually, China should be persuaded to join the pact. Though still well below the START limits, its arsenal is growing. And the U.S. should seek to renegotiate the abandoned Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty as a trilateral pact that also includes Beijing.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has much work to do to modernize its own nuclear-weapons systems. The military was helpfully promised upwards of $1 trillion over 30 years for the project.

The priority should be the submarine fleet, the leg of the U.S. nuclear triad that best combines stealth, mobility and accuracy. The Navy needs full funding to replace its aging Ohio-class ballistic-missile subs with the new Columbia class, scheduled to enter service in the early 2030s.

The ground-based leg of the triad consists of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground silos in the Great Plains. These would cause such vast damage, they would be useful only in the event of an existential crisis. Given this limitation, it makes little sense to entirely replace them. The Air Force should instead upgrade the Minuteman, and could cut its numbers considerably.

That leaves the air leg, which now depends on outdated stealth technology and archaic B-52 bombers. The Air Force is buying at least 100 B-21 Raiders, but unless this new long-range plane proves capable of penetrating ever-more-sophisticated air defenses, it won’t be more than a stopgap. Long term, the service needs to consider drones, air-launched missiles and other cutting-edge alternatives to manned planes.

At the same time, the Pentagon needs to upgrade the weapons themselves, placing a new emphasis on its stockpile of less-powerful tactical weapons that can be “dialed down” to lower yields. The enemy is more likely to fear that the U.S. will really use an atomic weapon if it is not as destructive as the one dropped on Hiroshima.

Russia has reportedly adopted a doctrine known as “escalate to de-escalate,” which involves using limited numbers of such lower-yield weapons to buy time in the event its conventional military finds itself overmatched by U.S. or Chinese troops. Of course, this approach gambles that there could be such a thing as limited nuclear war.

The Pentagon also needs to catch up with Russia and China in developing hypersonic glide missiles that can evade ground defenses after re-entering the atmosphere, and to work on missile defenses capable of destroying enemy vehicles at launch rather than in mid-course. To develop such a deterrent, the U.S. will first have to build a vast network of space-based detectors and greatly expand research on high-energy lasers.

Deterrence can be grim business, in that it involves building more deadly nuclear capacity. But this strategy has helped avert nuclear war between superpowers for decades. A 21st-century reboot should aim to do the same.

—Editors: Tobin Harshaw, Mary Duenwald.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg Opinion’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

How the Beast from the Sea Lied to US

Iraq: How we were lied into war

Eric S. Margolis /24 Mar 2019 / 19:15 H.

SIXTEEN years ago, the US and Britain committed a crime of historic proportion, the invasion and destruction of Iraq. It was as egregious an aggression as Nazi Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland.

Large numbers of Iraqi civilians died from 2003 to 2007. Iraq’s water and sewage systems were bombed, causing widespread cholera. The UN estimated 500,000 Iraqi children died as a result. Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, said it was “a price worth paying”.

But not so much for the 4,424 US soldiers killed in Iraq, or the 31,952 wounded, many with devastating brain and neurological injuries. Nor for US taxpayers who forked out over US$1 trillion for this botched war and are still paying the bill hidden in the national debt.

In 2003, Iraq was the most advanced Arab nation in social welfare, health, education, military power, and industrial development. But it was run by a megalomaniac, Saddam Hussein, who had been helped into power and sustained in his long war against Iran, by the US, Britain and their Arab satraps.

When Saddam grew too big for his britches, Washington lured him into invading Kuwait, another American-British oil satrapy. A hue and cry went out from Washington and London that Iraq had secret nuclear weapons that threatened the world. War, thundered US-British propaganda, was urgent and necessary.

As I knew from covering Iraq for many years, it had no nuclear weapons and no medium or long-range delivery systems. What it did have was a laboratory at Salman Pak staffed with British technicians producing lethal toxins for use against Iran. I discovered this secret operation and reported it. Meanwhile, the Iraqis were threatening to hang me as an Israeli spy.

I watched with disgust and dismay as the US and Britain launched massive broadsides of lies against Iraq and those few, like myself, who insisted Baghdad had no nuclear weapons.

Almost the entire US and British media were compelled to act as mouthpieces for the George Bush/Tony Blair war against Iraq, trumpeting egregious lies designed to whip up war fever. US media, supposedly the tribune of democracy, became lie factories, putting even the old Soviet media to shame.

The New York Times led the charge, along with the three main TV networks. I was in Iraq with its star correspondent, Judith Miller, who became a key agent of the pro-war campaign. So too the Murdoch press in Britain and Fox News. When the BBC tried to question the torrent of lies about Iraq, it was crushed by Tony Blair. A leading British nuclear expert who questioned the nuclear lies was murdered. Iraq was polluted by US depleted uranium shells.

Journalists like me were intimidated or marginalised. I was dropped by a leading US newspaper, a major Canadian TV chain, and by CNN for whom I had been a regular commentator. I was told the Bush White House had given orders, “get rid of Margolis”. My sin: insisting Iraq had no nuclear weapons and was not threatening the US. Things became so absurd that the story went out that Saddam had “drones of death” that were poised to attack America.

Of the US media, only the McClatchy chain and Christian Science Monitor reported the war honestly. Nearly all the rest of America’s TV talking heads brayed for war. Most are still there today, demanding war against Iran.

Who was behind the war? A combination of big oil, which wanted Iraq’s vast reserves, and the Israel lobby, which wanted to see Iraq destroyed by US power. The Pentagon was taken over by pro-war neoconservatives: Wolfowitz, Feith, Rumsfeld.

George Bush, an ignorant fool, was putty in the hands of vice-president Dick Cheney, a pro-war megalomaniac. The CIA played along. Even the respected former general, Colin Powell, made a fool of himself before the UN by claiming Iraq had hidden weapons. It had chemical weapons, all right, but we had the receipts to show they came from the US and Britain.

No one in the US or Britain ever faced trial for war-mongering and killing vast numbers of people. The lying media escaped well-deserved censure. As for the lying politicians who brought on this disaster, they blamed poor intelligence and bad luck. Those few who opposed the war of aggression remain sidelined or silenced.

Eric S. Margolis is a syndicated columnist. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

The Real Reason Bush Went to War in Iraq (Revelation 13)

The Real Reason Bush Went to War in Iraq: The Answer May Shock You

Ahsan I Butt 21 March 2019

EXPOSEDSixteen years after the United States invaded Iraq and left a trail of destruction and chaos in the country and the region, one aspect of the war remains criminally underexamined: why was it fought in the first place? What did the Bush administration hope to get out of the war? (Photo above from left: Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, President George W. Bush, and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The official, and widely-accepted, story remains that Washington was motivated by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. His nuclear capabilities, especially, were deemed sufficiently alarming to incite the war. As then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, „We do not want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.“

Despite Saddam not having an active WMD program, this explanation has found support among some International Relations scholars, who say that while the Bush administration was wrong about Saddam’s WMD capabilities, it was sincerely wrong. Intelligence is a complicated, murky enterprise, the argument goes, and given the foreboding shadow of the 9/11 attacks, the US government reasonably, if tragically, misread the evidence on the dangers Saddam posed.

There is a major problem with this thesis: there is no evidence for it, beyond the words of the Bush officials themselves. And since we know the administration was engaged in a widespread campaign of deception and propaganda in the run-up to the Iraq war, there is little reason to believe them.

My investigation into the causes of the war finds that it had little to do with fear of WMDs – or other purported goals, such as a desire to „spread democracy“ or satisfy the oil or Israel lobbies. Rather, the Bush administration invaded Iraq for its demonstration effect.

A quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay. Put simply, the Iraq war was motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power.

Indeed, even before 9/11, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw Iraq through the prism of status and reputation, variously arguing in February and July 2001 that ousting Saddam would „enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region“ and „demonstrate what US policy is all about“.

These hypotheticals were catalyzed into reality by September 11, when symbols of American military and economic dominance were destroyed. Driven by humiliation, the Bush administration felt that the US needed to reassert its position as an unchallengeable hegemon.

The only way to send a message so menacing was a swashbuckling victory in war. Crucially, however, Afghanistan was not enough: it was simply too weak a state. As prison bullies know, a fearsome reputation is not acquired by beating up the weakest in the yard. Or as Rumsfeld put it on the evening of 9/11, „We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re, you know, big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kinds of attacks.“

Moreover, Afghanistan was a „fair“ war, a tit-for-tat response to the Taliban’s provision of sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leadership. Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith considered restricting retaliation to Afghanistan dangerously „limited“, „meager“, and „narrow“. Doing so, they alleged, „may be perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength“ and prove to „embolden rather than discourage regimes“ opposed to the US. They knew that sending a message of unbridled hegemony entailed a disproportionate response to 9/11, one that had to extend beyond Afghanistan.

Iraq fit the bill both because it was more powerful than Afghanistan and because it had been in neoconservative crosshairs since George HW Bush declined to press on to Baghdad in 1991. A regime remaining defiant despite a military defeat was barely tolerable before 9/11. Afterwards, however, it became untenable.

That Iraq was attacked for its demonstration effect is attested to by several sources, not least the principals themselves – in private. A senior administration official told a reporter, off the record, that „Iraq is not just about Iraq“, rather „it was of a type“, including Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

In a memo issued on September 30, 2001, Rumsfeld advised Bush that „the USG [US government] should envision a goal along these lines: New regimes in Afghanistan and another key State [or two] that supports terrorism [to strengthen political and military efforts to change policies elsewhere]“.

Feith wrote to Rumsfeld in October 2001 that action against Iraq would make it easier to „confront – politically, militarily, or otherwise“ Libya and Syria. As for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, one close adviser revealed that his thinking behind the war was to show: „We are able and willing to strike at someone. That sends a very powerful message.“

In a 2002 column, Jonah Goldberg coined the „Ledeen Doctrine“, named after neoconservative historian Michael Ledeen. The „doctrine“ states: „Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.“

It may be discomfiting to Americans to say nothing of millions of Iraqis that the Bush administration spent their blood and treasure for a war inspired by the Ledeen Doctrine. Did the US really start a war – one that cost trillions of dollars, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, destabilized the region, and helped create the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) – just to prove a point?

More uncomfortable still is that the Bush administration used WMDs as a cover, with equal parts fearmongering and strategic misrepresentation – lying – to exact the desired political effect. Indeed, economists consider the notion that the Bush administration deliberately misled the country and the globe into war in Iraq to be a „conspiracy theory“, on par with beliefs that President Barack Obama was born outside the US or that the Holocaust did not occur.

But this, sadly, is no conspiracy theory. Even Bush officials have sometimes dropped their guard. Feith confessed in 2006 that „the rationale for the war didn’t hinge on the details of this intelligence even though the details of the intelligence at times became elements of the public presentation“.

That the administration used the fear of WMDs and terrorism to fight a war for hegemony should be acknowledged by an American political establishment eager to rehabilitate George W Bush amid the rule of Donald Trump, not least because John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, seems eager to employ similar methods to similar ends in Iran.

(Ahsan I Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. Posted earlier and made available to CityWatch by Common Dreams.)

-cw

The Beast from the Sea Is STILL Lying About Iraq (Revelation 13)

16 Years Later And The Bush Administration Is STILL Lying About Iraq

March 21, 2019

Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for President George W. Bush, took some time on the 16th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to remind us that the Bush administration DID NOT lie us into the war, but instead everyone just got their intelligence wrong. This is another lie. We’re 16 years into this quagmire and those responsible for it still can’t admit that they weren’t honest with the American public. Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this..com/watch?vTranscript:

*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Yesterday, mark the 16th anniversary from the date that the United States decided to invade Iraq. Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush has a press secretary during the run up to the Iraq war, decided to take the time not to commemorate the 4,500 dead US soldiers or the 300,000 dead Iraqi civilians and combatants, but instead took to Twitter, wrote a multi tweet thread about how nobody in the Bush administration lied us into the Iraq war. He swore up and down that no money lied. Stop saying we lied. Nobody lied. It’s just that all the intelligence was bad. But we were telling the truth based on this intelligence that later turned out to not be true. So there was no intentional or malicious lying taking place by anyone within the Bush administration. So says Ari Fleischer the guy who helps spread the lies that got us into the Iraq war. Now, plenty of people on Twitter, plenty of articles came out.

Everybody already refuted what Ari Fleischer had to say, because just like when he was press secretary, his entire litter, little, uh, Twitter screed was a lie. None of it was true except for the fact that, yeah, the intelligence agencies got it wrong. But what he left out was that not only did they get it wrong in some areas, but they actually had it right in plenty of other areas. It’s just that the Bush administration chose to ignore those parts. Like when the intelligence officials came and said, hey, we can’t find any evidence anywhere of nuclear weapons. And then Dick Cheney goes on TV and says, Oh yeah, there’s no question Saddam has nuclear weapons. Or when Condalisa Rice went on TV and said, well, they’ve got all these aluminum tubes, and they’re using those to build missiles. The probably nuclear missiles. Yeah. The intelligence community before those claims were made, told them these things aren’t happening.

So guess what, Ari, that is a malicious and intentional lie. The list is, is endless of all the lies this administration told to get us into Iraq. They lie to us in there. They didn’t know how to get out of there. Once they got in there, they didn’t even have an actual goal with this war other than George W. Bush. And Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld trying to finish what Bush’s daddy started in the early nineties beyond that, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know how to get out, and that’s why we still have American troops over there interact 16 years later. But the worst part of it all is that nobody from that administration is willing to admit that they weren’t honest. Hell, back in, I think it was what, 2006 we got the Downing Street memo, maybe it was even 2005 were British officials, said that the u s is fixing intelligence around a specified goal of Iraq invasion.

Even the British knew that we were fixing our intelligence to support an invasion that happened. That was a thing and nothing happened to George W. Bush or anyone else from his administration. They should have all immediately upon taking office by Barack Obama had been prosecuted for their war crimes, for lying us into the war for torturing enemy combatants. Everything totally prosecutable. Very easy to prove. But Obama came to office and said, let us look forward, not backward. It’s actually what he said, and that’s why these people are walking around today. Hell, George W. Bush has getting praise from some Democrats now. He’s so sweet. He gave Michelle Obama a piece of candy at the funeral. What a, what a good guy. He couldn’t figure out how to get his rain Poncho on during Trump’s inauguration. He’s such a goofball. He’s a goofball who got hundreds of thousands of people across this planet killed, and he hasn’t shown a single bit of remorse for the lies that calls all those deaths. That’s not exactly the kind of guy we should be hoisting up on our shoulders and saying, look at this lovable idiot. Isn’t he cute?

Trump and His Supervisors are ALL Clueless

Neither Mattis nor Trump Recognizes the Scope of This Fight

By Michael Ledeen December 24, 2018

Like all presidents beginning with Jimmy Carter, President Trump isn’t promoting the downfall of the Iranian regime. He loves sanctions, somehow believes that economic misery will eventually provoke the Iranian people to rise against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his henchmen, and periodically sends our troops to kill proxies and members of the Revolutionary Guards.

General Mattis did not, so far as I can tell, challenge this policy. He was an outspoken critic of the Islamic Republic when he led Centcom, but he was opposed to Trump’s rejection of the nuclear deal, and never, so far as I can tell, called for American support of the ongoing uprising of the Iranian people against the regime.

I am a Marine dad, and I am full of admiration for General/Secretary Mattis’ many fine words warning of the Iranian threat to us, as well as his outstanding leadership on the Iraqi battlefield. But I have been disappointed by his lack of action against the mullahs.

It should be obvious that an effective Syria policy must include defeating Iran — Syria, and also Lebanon, are run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — and I was dismayed and surprised that Mattis’ resignation letter did not deal with Iran. I am afraid this means that Mattis agrees with Trump that we should not challenge Tehran. Like the president, Mattis seems to favor some sort of deal. So while I am impressed by the dignity and coherence of his resignation, I am not impressed with his policy views, any more than I was when he called John Kerry “valiant” in a public conversation with a CNN talking head at the Aspen Institute.

Nor do I admire Mattis’ — and Trump’s, and Pompeo’s, and most of the pundits’ and journalists’ — failure to see the world for what it is. How often have you heard warnings that the withdrawal from Syria and Afghanistan will make war more likely? They don’t seem to realize that the war is on, right here and now. Nor do they see that it’s a global war, and that we face a coalition of radical Islamist and radical Leftist regimes, from China and North Korea and Cuba to Russia, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela. Our enemies, who fear and despise freedom, are well aware that this is a big war. Listen to the Taliban, as quoted by my fine colleagues Bill Roggio and Tom Joscelyn:

For years, the Taliban and al Qaeda have told their followers that victory is on the horizon. “Verily, Allah has promised us victory and America has promised us defeat, so we shall see which of the two promises will be fulfilled,” Mullah Omar has been quoted as saying.

More recently, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri claimed that the Taliban’s resurrected Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will be the “nucleus” of a new caliphate.

Such is the importance that Osama bin Laden’s successor has placed on the Afghan jihad. Similarly, the leader of al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Asim Umar, predicted in 2017 that Trump’s “America First” policy meant that America would retreat from Afghanistan, thereby signaling the loss of its global leadership position.

Today, their predictions look prophetic.

Israel Struggles to Control Syria (Revelation 11:2)

FILE PHOTO: Surface-to-air missile fire lights up the sky over Damascus as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria, April 14, 2018. Hassan Ammar,AP

Israel Says Missile Fired From Syria Intercepted; Reports of IDF Strikes Near Damascus

Sound of loud explosions reported in Damascus ■ Iranian and Hezbollah arms depots reportedly targeted ■ Incident comes days after Netanyahu said may expand military action after U.S. pullout from Syria

Jack Khoury

Yaniv Kubovich

Noa Shpigel

Israel struck an arms depot west Syria’s capital city of Damascus from Lebanese airspace, Syrian state media reported late Tuesday night. According to reports three soldiers were wounded in the attack which aimed at Hezbollah depots.

„The aggression originated from above the Lebanese territories and a number of hostile targets were downed,“ Syrian TV added. SANA state media reported that missiles were indeed intercepted.

The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman, said the targets were arms depots that belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their allies, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah.

The Israeli military spokesman said shortly after that an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria was intercepted by Israeli air defense systems.

Residents in the area of northern city of Hadera, south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast, reported seeing a trail in the sky, and residents of Hefer Valley Regional Council, between Netanya and Hadera, reported hearing a loud explosion.

The sound of loud explosions also echoed through Syrian capital city of Damascus, a witness told DPA.

Syrian air defense activity near Damascus, December 25, 2018. SANA

Residents in the area also said that explosions took place around the Al Mezzeh Military Airport west of the capital, reportedly targeted by Israel before, and in the areas of Kesawa and Jimraya, which are located north-west of Damascus.

The residents added that there were at least two rounds of strikes in Kesawa and Jimraya.

Lebanese residents near the border with neighbouring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky, hinting that Israeli planes were using Lebanese airspace to hit targets inside Syria.

Lebanese state-run National News Agency said Israeli war planes performed mock raids above southern Lebanon, and other media outlets reported that residents near the border with neighboring Syria said the sound of planes could be heard in the sky.

The incident comes two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the American military withdrawal from Syria will not affect Israel’s policy toward the war-torn country.

„The decision to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy: We will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there,“ Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Also on Sunday, the Israeli army said soldiers fired toward several gunmen approaching Israel’s border with Syria in the Golan Heights. No Israeli forces were wounded and it is unclear whether the gunmen were hit.

In an abrupt policy shift, U.S. President Donald Trump announced last week that Washington would withdraw the roughly 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.

The decision was followed on Thursday by the surprise departure of U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, who in a resignation letter to Trump laid bare the growing divide between the two over foreign policy.

„I would like to reassure those who are concerned. Our cooperation with the U.S. will continue in full and finds expression in many areas: Operations, intelligence and many other security spheres,“ Netanyahu said.

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot also commented on Trump’s decision Sunday, saying it is „significant,“ but should not be overblown.

„The Russian presence in Syria since the end of 2015 created a new situation,“ Eisenkot told a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

„It required us to enter a dialogue to create a system to prevent friction, and it has been a factor affecting how we have used force. Through the entire period, I as chief of staff have felt that there has been an understanding regarding Israel’s security needs.“

Although Russia and Israel established a system to avoid friction between Israeli aircraft operating in Syria and Russian military planes in the area,  a Russian aircraft was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles during an Israeli airstrike in September. The Russians blamed Israel for the mishaps, a claim that Israel vigorously denied.

A former head of military intelligence said in November that Israeli strikes on Syria „have been cut almost to zero“ since the Russian plane was shot down. Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, interviewed on Radio 103, said Iran was „changing tactics“ and has been reducing its presence in Syria in favor of Iraq and Lebanon.

„Apart from the Russians‘ anger with us, I assume they also passed stern messages to the Iranians,“ he said. „Russia’s strategy is to stabilize Syria, and Iran was disrupting that by developing its precision missile facilities.“

Russia announced it had delivered the S-300 air defense system to Syria in October. That came after the September 17 downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli airstrike, a friendly fire incident that stoked regional tensions.

AP, DPA and Reuters contributed to this report.

Trump Delivers Syria to Iran

Trump Delivers a Victory to Iran

The president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has ruined the administration’s efforts to contain the Islamic republic.

Reuel Marc Gerecht Senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Mark Dubowitz Chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

During the presidential campaign, the outlier in Donald Trump’s foreign-policy orations was his treatment of Iran. On Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia (remember President Barack Obama’s “off-mic” tête-à-tête with President Dmitry Medvedev?), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump largely followed his predecessor. Differences existed, certainly in style and manner, but the overlap between the two men on most of the big foreign-policy questions was profound.

When it came to the clerical regime in Iran, however, the two men were polar opposites. Trump thought the nuclear agreement with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was “the worst deal ever.” He also let loose against Tehran’s Islamic radicalism, terrorism, quest for regional hegemony, and fondness for sowing mayhem in the Middle East. Trump’s serrated rhetoric stood in contrast to the comments of Obama, his secretary of state, and other senior officials, who had muted their criticisms of Tehran in their pursuit of the atomic accord and, as important, a new strategic realignment, wherein a less interventionist America might, so the theory went, find a modus vivendi with a richer, commercially engaged, and moderating Islamic Republic.

As president, Trump followed through. The nuclear deal went down, the sanctions came back, and despite moments of wobbliness concerning troop deployments in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the Trump administration held fast in the Middle East. National-Security Advisers H. R. McMaster and John Bolton, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, and, perhaps most of all, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a new approach to the Islamic Republic. The Trump administration wasn’t inclined to roll back the clerical regime, but it did seem ready to contest and contain Iran’s Shiite imperialism in Syria, Yemen, and even in Iraq, in which the president had never evinced much interest.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria, concurrently with his intention to drastically reduce the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan and the likely soon-to-be-announced further drawdown of U.S. personnel in Iraq, has made mincemeat of the administration’s efforts to contain Iran. If you add up who wins locally by this decision (the clerical regime in Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,  Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite radicals, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) and who loses (Jordan, Israel, the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs, everyone in Lebanon resisting Hezbollah, the vast majority of the Iraqi Shia, the Gulf States), it becomes clear that the interests of the United States have been routed.

Before Trump pulled the plug in Syria, the rhetorical center of the president’s Iran policy was the “New Iran Strategy” speech by Pompeo at the Heritage Foundation on May 21, 2018. The 12 demands that Pompeo issued to Tehran are not historically provocative—they were, until the coming of Obama, essentially what the United States had always sought: to deny the mullahs nuclear weapons and stop them from spreading their version of Islamic militancy. Washington hadn’t been brilliantly successful in countering Tehran and only occasionally efficient in bringing real pain to the mullahs and their praetorians, the Revolutionary Guards, who are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers since they first drew blood in Lebanon in 1983. But Pompeo, by redrawing the lines, clearly signaled that the United States wasn’t giving up, that a campaign of “maximum pressure” was still coming. It is clear now, however, that the secretary’s speech was a bridge too far for Trump, who may never have read it.

To be fair to the president: The administration’s developing approach was probably never his. A close read of Pompeo’s Heritage speech reveals the tactical quandary that has always been at the core of the Trump presidency’s approach. The secretary put forth a lot of “don’ts” for the regime: “Iran must end support to Middle Eastern terrorist groups, including Lebanese Hizballah, Hamas, Palestine Islamic Jihad … respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi Government … end its military support for the Houthi militia [in Yemen] … must withdraw all forces under Iranian command throughout the entirety of Syria … end support for the Taliban and other terrorists in Afghanistan … cease harboring senior al-Qaeda leaders … and end its threatening behavior against its neighbors.” But he did not clearly indicate that the United States would do anything to punish the Islamic Republic for its malign actions other than use sanctions.

It is an excellent guess that Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, and Haley were willing to apply more pressure than just sanctions, and would have given speeches to that effect if they’d been allowed to do so. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was more reticent about committing U.S. troops to an anti-Iran mission, would have likely been more forward-leaning if he had trusted Trump to stay the course in Syria and Iraq. All these officials certainly agreed that U.S. forces in Syria, which don’t cost much and have incurred few casualties, should stay. Those troops and civilians were the hinge of long-term Iranian containment—a low-cost use of American soldiers, backed up by allied European special-operations units, that had checked the advance of much larger and more costly Iranian, Russian, and Syrian-regime forces.

To their credit, Pompeo, Bolton, McMaster, Haley, and Mattis removed the rhetorical legerdemain surrounding the reasons for American troops being in Syria: They were there to squash the Islamic State and prevent its rebirth, and they were there to check Russia and Iran, which controls Syrian-regime ground forces as well as the indispensable foreign Shiite militias. This American engagement was easily the best bang for the buck that Washington had gotten in the region since 2001.

Nor were Bolton, McMaster, Pompeo, Haley, and Mattis operating outside congressional authorization: At any time, Congress could have cut off funding for U.S. forces if it thought they were straying too far from their original mandate. Congress didn’t do so. Syria may be the one locale where congressional Democrats and Republicans largely agreed about the use of American military power. And if the president were ever serious about rebuilding a transatlantic alliance against the Islamic Republic, Syria was the place to do it.

But Trump just couldn’t buy in. It’s ironic that the president snapped when discussing Syria with Turkey’s President Erdoğan, who is modern Turkey’s first real Islamist ruler and certainly not a friend of the United States. The president’s tweets are a muddle: At one moment, he thinks the Islamic State is destroyed, and therefore our soldiers can come home; at another, he suggests that ending the Islamic State isn’t even America’s business because the group is aligned against the Syrian regime, Iran, and Russia. (“Why are we fighting for our enemy, Syria, by staying & killing ISIS for them, Russia, Iran & other locals?”) All one can conclude is that the president just wants out of Syria, regardless of the consequences. Even more than Obama, Trump is post-post-9/11.

Which leaves the administration’s Iran policy centered on sanctions. Sanctions have many things going for them as a foreign-policy tool. Against Iran, they eliminated the surreality under Obama of the United States returning money that could be used to support the clerics’ imperialism for, at best, a short-term surcease to our nuclear anxieties. Tehran now has tens of billions less in hard currency to further its ambitions than it did when Trump took office. And Trump was right: Iranian aggression abroad got much worse after the nuclear deal was concluded.

But sanctions aren’t strategy. If they encourage Americans to stop thinking about the other factors required to counter the Islamic Republic, they become a delusion, an appealing, inexpensive choice for those not quite ready to admit they no longer have the intestinal fortitude to play hardball in the Middle East. Without the complementary use of other instruments of national power, they serve the same purpose that nuclear diplomacy and the JCPOA did for Obama: They are cover for our continuing retreat.

When Trump won the presidential election, Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic, speculated on the potential upside of his victory: Trump might actually follow through on what he’d preached—an American withdrawal from the Middle East. Surrounded by Bolton, Pompeo, and Mattis, Trump’s promise seemed to dim. But Khamenei, who is the most accomplished dictator in modern Middle Eastern history, in part because he can see and exploit the weaknesses and strengths in both his enemies and friends, appears again to have seen his adversary correctly: Trump’s desire to be done with the Muslim Middle East (and so much else) is deep.

And unlike the Iranian cleric, who imbibed radical European literature and melded it to the revolutionary Islamist ethos of his heroes, Sayyid Qutb and Ruhollah Khomeini, Trump has no grand vision. He has the sense of a populist politician who knows America will, without leaders arguing otherwise, always go with less, not more, in foreign affairs. Trump has gutted and left powerless his senior officials, who have tried hard to give some coherence and mundane effect to his waves of emotion and disconnected data points. It’s hard to think of a time when an American president has so publicly stripped his most senior advisers of their credibility.

Although Khamenei didn’t say so, it’s a good guess that if given the choice between dealing with American sanctions or America staying in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, he’d take the former. Trump’s withdrawal has severely weakened his own Iran policy, signaling boredom, fickleness, fatigue, and fear. He’s weakened American allies in the region and probably obliged the Kurds who fought with us in Syria to seek protection from Iran and Russia. The great Iranian-American tug-of-war, which has defined so much of Khamenei’s life, may well be over. It is odd and wry that many Americans, on the right and left, may believe that what is good for Khamenei could possibly be good for the United States, too.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He has served as a Iranian-targets officer in the CIA, and is the author of Know Thine Enemy: A Spy’s Journey into Revolutionary Iran.

Mark Dubowitz is the chief executive officer for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he heads its Center for Sanctions and Illicit Finance.

Iran and Korean Nuclear Collusion

Iran’s NUCLEAR cooperation with North Korea EXPOSED – ‘Exact’ names and locations REVEALED

Iran and North Korea are cooperating on nuclear weapons, an NCRI document has claimed (Image: GETTY)

IRAN is cooperating with North Korea on nuclear weapons by conducting clandestine deals with the dictatorship to further its global military ambitions, an Iranian Resistance document has claimed.

By SAM STEVENSON

PUBLISHED: 06:04, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

UPDATED: 13:43, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says expert

Iran missile tests breach no UNSC resolution says a Press TV expert as it announces plan to increase its military range. The announcement is being considered as a show of defiance against the US which has branded the country as a security threat.

The extraordinary claims were made in a paper composed by the official Iranian Resistance movement. The document asserts numerous Iranian officials have travelled to North Korea to discuss nuclear weapons. It comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attacked Iran for violation of United Nations (UN) resolutions this week.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

In exchange for obtaining military, nuclear and missile equipment, the Iranian regime sends oil to North Korea, the explosive paper claims.

According to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) document, many Iranian officials have been in clandestine talks with Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship over nuclear weapons policy.

Missile and nuclear experts from North Korea have had a consistent presence in Iran since the Iran-Iraq war, the NCRI paper states.

The document, entitled ‘Iran’s Ballistic Buildup: The march towards nuclear-capable missiles’, purports to know the “exact location of the place where North Koreans stay”, contending it is: “End of Babaie Highway heading to the east, past Morvarid Hall, at Khomeini complex.”

It also mentions specific individuals whom it claims are involved.

According to compiled reports, IRGC delegates and commanders regularly visit North Korea, with Mohsen Fakhrizadeh allegedly present during the third nuclear test conducted by North Korea on February 12, 2013.

Iran Takes Over the Syrian Bridge

Iran repopulates Syria with Shia Muslims to help tighten regime’s control

New communities are settling in areas where Sunnis have fled or been forced out as Tehran seeks an arc of control stretching from its borders to Israel

Martin Chulov

First published on Fri 13 Jan 2017 08.23 EST

In the valleys between Damascus and Lebanon, where whole communities had abandoned their lives to war, a change is taking place. For the first time since the conflict broke out, people are starting to return.

But the people settling in are not the same as those who fled during the past six years.

The new arrivals have a different allegiance and faith to the predominantly Sunni Muslim families who once lived there. They are, according to those who have sent them, the vanguard of a move to repopulate the area with Shia Muslims not just from elsewhere in Syria, but also from Lebanon and Iraq.

The population swaps are central to a plan to make demographic changes to parts of Syria, realigning the country into zones of influence that backers of Bashar al-Assad, led by Iran, can directly control and use to advance broader interests. Iran is stepping up its efforts as the heat of the conflict starts to dissipate and is pursuing a very different vision to Russia, Assad’s other main backer.

Russia, in an alliance with Turkey, is using a nominal ceasefire to push for a political consensus between the Assad regime and the exiled opposition. Iran, meanwhile, has begun to move on a project that will fundamentally alter the social landscape of Syria, as well as reinforcing the Hezbollah stronghold of north-eastern Lebanon, and consolidating its influence from Tehran to Israel’s northern border.

Iran and the regime don’t want any Sunnis between Damascus and Homs and the Lebanese border,” said one senior Lebanese leader. “This represents a historic shift in populations.”

Key for Iran are the rebel-held towns of Zabadani and Madaya, where Damascus residents took summer breaks before the war. Since mid-2015 their fate has been the subject of prolonged negotiations between senior Iranian officials and members of Ahrar al-Sham, the dominant anti-Assad opposition group in the area and one of the most powerful in Syria.

Talks in Istanbul have centred on a swap of residents from two Shia villages west of Aleppo, Fua and Kefraya, which have both been bitterly contested over the past three years. Opposition groups, among them jihadis, had besieged both villages throughout the siege of Aleppo, attempting to tie their fate to the formerly rebel-held eastern half of the city.

The swap, according to its architects, was to be a litmus test for more extensive population shifts, along the southern approaches to Damascus and in the Alawite heartland of Syria’s north-west, from where Assad draws much of his support.

Labib al-Nahas, the chief of foreign relations for Ahrar al-Sham, who led negotiations in Istanbul, said Tehran was seeking to create areas it could control. “Iran was very ready to make a full swap between the north and south. They wanted a geographical continuation into Lebanon. Full sectarian segregation is at the heart of the Iranian project in Syria. They are looking for geographical zones that they can fully dominate and influence. This will have repercussions on the entire region.

“[The sieges of] Madaya and Zabadani became the key issue to prevent the opposition from retaking Fua and Kefraya, which have exclusive populations of Shia. Hezbollah consider this a security zone and a natural extension of their territory in Lebanon. They have had very direct orders from the spiritual leadership of Iran to protect them at any cost.”

Iran has been especially active around all four towns through its Hezbollah proxies. Along the ridgelines between Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and into the outskirts of Damascus, Hezbollah has been a dominant presence, laying siege to Madaya and Zabadani and reinforcing the Syrian capital. Wadi Barada to the north-west, where ongoing fighting is in breach of the Russian-brokered ceasefire, is also part of the calculations, sources within the Lebanon-based movement have confirmed.

Elsewhere in Syria, demographic swaps are also reshaping the geopolitical fabric of communities that, before the war, had coexisted for centuries. In Darayya, south-west of Damascus, more than 300 Iraqi Shia families moved into neighbourhoods abandoned by rebels last August as part of a surrender deal. Up to 700 rebel fighters were relocated to Idlib province and state media announced within days that the Iraqis had arrived.

The Sayeda Zainab mosque has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah. Photograph: Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images

Shia shrines in Darayya and Damascus have been a raison d’etre for the presence of Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed Shia groups. The Sayeda Zainab mosque on the capital’s western approach has been heavily fortified by Hezbollah and populated by families of the militant group, who have moved in since late 2012. Tehran has also bought large numbers of homes near the Zainab mosque, and a tract of land, which it is using to create a security buffer – a microcosm of its grander project.

Abu Mazen Darkoush, a former FSA commander who fled Zabadani for Wadi Barada said Damascus’s largest Islamic shrine, the Umayyad mosque, was now also a security zone controlled by Iranian proxies. “There are many Shia who were brought into the area around the mosque. It is a Sunni area but they plan for it to be secured by Shias, then surrounded by them.”

Senior officials in neighbouring Lebanon have been monitoring what they believe has been a systematic torching of Land Registry offices in areas of Syria recaptured on behalf of the regime. A lack of records make it difficult for residents to prove home ownership. Offices are confirmed to have been burned in Zabadani, Darayya, Syria’s fourth city, Homs, and Qusayr on the Lebanese border, which was seized by Hezbollah in early 2013.

Darkoush said whole neighbourhoods had been cleansed of their original inhabitants in Homs, and that many residents had been denied permission to return to their homes, with officials citing lack of proof that they had indeed lived there.

“The first step in the plan has been achieved,” he said. “It involved expelling the inhabitants of these areas and burning up anything which connects them to their land and homes. The second step will be replacing the original inhabitants with newcomers from Iraq and Lebanon.”

In Zabadani, Amir Berhan, director of the town’s hospital, said: “The displacement from here started in 2012 but increased dramatically in 2015. Now most of our people have already been taken to Idlib. There is a clear and obvious plan to move Sunnis from between Damascus and Homs. They have burned their homes and fields. They are telling people ‘this place is not for you anymore’.

“This is leading to the fragmentation of families. The concept of family life and ties to the land is being dissolved by all this deportation and exile. It is shredding Syrian society.”

At stake in postwar Syria, with the war beginning to ebb, is more than who lives where when the fighting finally stops. A sense of identity is also up for grabs, as is the bigger question of who gets to define the national character.

“This is not just altering the demographic balance,” said Labib al-Nahas. “This is altering the balance of influence in all of these areas and across Syria itself. Whole communities will be vulnerable. War with Iran is becoming an identity war. They want a country in their likeness, serving their interests. The region can’t tolerate that.”

Additional reporting by Suzan Haidamous

Syria is the Iranian Dream

Members of the Syrian opposition receive training from the U.S. Army Oct. 22, at the Tanf military outpost in southern Syria. (Lolita Baldor/AP)

U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians’

By Liz Sly, Loveday Morris

December 21, 2018 at 7:09 PM

BEIRUT —One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.

The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.

Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.

“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”

A top Iranian official gloated Friday that the United States has admitted failure in its attempts to “overrun” the Middle East, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.

From left, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu join hands following consultations this month on Syria at the United Nations in Geneva. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

“The Americans have come to the conclusion that they can exercise power neither in Iraq and Syria nor in the entire region,” said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, the commander of ground forces of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, at a news conference in Tehran.

The most immediate impact will be in Syria, where U.S. troops have been serving as a buffer against Iranian expansion throughout the country as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — backed by Iranian-trained and funded militias consolidates control over areas that rebelled against him in 2011.

The area in northeastern Syria where most of an estimated 2,000 U.S. troops are based is now up for grabs, with both Turkey and the Syrian government vying for control.

The Syrian Kurds, who manage the area, say they are hoping to reach a deal with Assad, which would head off a feared Turkish incursion — and bring the Iranian-allied government into areas overseen by the U.S. military.

Of more immediate concern to Israel is a much smaller toehold the U.S. military has maintained at Tanf, a tiny territory in Syria along the border of Iraq and Jordan.

The Trump administration has not said whether the withdrawal plan includes Tanf, where around 250 U.S. Special Forces are based alongside a Pentagon-trained unit of former Free Syrian Army rebels.

The rebel commander, Muhannad al-Talla, said the rebels had been told to prepare for a U.S. pullout, although they were not given a date.

The U.S. base is located at the border crossing between Iraq and Syria, along the shortest link between Tehran and the Syrian capital of Damascus, a route Iran could use to sustain the growing arsenal of missiles and rockets that its ally Hezbollah is building in Lebanon.

The unilateral decision to withdraw, without a plan for what comes next, has called into question the Israeli assumption that it can count on the United States to protect Israel against Iran, Israeli analysts said.

The sense now in Israel is that Israel is essentially alone in the task of back-walling the Iranian military presence in Syria,” said Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst with the International Crisis Group. “This decision feeds the notion that is prevalent in the region, even if it’s not entirely correct, that the U.S. is withdrawing. Many people draw delight from this, specifically in Tehran and Moscow.”

Iran is already close to restoring another land route across Iraq through Syria and into Lebanon via the Iraqi-Syrian border crossing linking the Syrian town of Bukamal and the Iraqi town of Qaim. This location is a crossroads of geopolitical conflict where the forces of the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Iranian-backed militias, Russia, the United States and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are battling for control.

With the United States withdrawing its troops from the Syrian side of the border, Israel is concerned about whether it will also pull out from Iraq, where around 5,200 U.S. troops are based and mostly provide training and advice to the Iraqi Army, said Brig. Gen. Eli Ben Meir, who formerly headed the Israeli military’s research analysis division. The United States maintains a base just across the border from Bukamal, in Qaim, which will continue to act as a deterrent to Iran’s unfettered access to the area after troops leave Syria, while the U.S. presence in Iraq more broadly exerts some restraint on Iran’s ability to exercise full control.

“The most important thing from Israel’s aspect and Israeli strategy is how the U.S. military existence in Iraq, and especially on the Iraqi-Syrian border, will reshape, if at all, because of this withdrawal,” Meir said in a conference call with journalists in Israel. “Iran wants to be more involved in what’s going on in Syria, but there is Iraq that is between.”

The decision to withdraw from Syria on the grounds that the Islamic State has been defeated, as Trump claimed, is also likely to bolster demands from Iran’s Shiite Iraqi allies for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s former foreign minister. He predicted an intensified effort in the Iraqi parliament, where Iran-backed militia groups control at least a third of its seats and could count on support from others opposed to the U.S. presence to push for a U.S. withdrawal.

“The logic is that if the U.S. has defeated ISIS in Syria and is withdrawing, ISIS is defeated in Iraq and they should also withdraw from Iraq,” he said.

Morris reported from Jerusalem. Zakaria Zakaria in Brazil contributed to this report.

Liz Sly is The Washington Post’s Beirut bureau chief, covering Lebanon, Syria and the wider region. She has spent more than 17 years covering the Middle East, including the first and second Iraq wars. Other postings include Washington, Africa, China, Afghanistan and Italy.

Loveday Morris is The Washington Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. She was previously based in Baghdad and Beirut for The Post.