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Diplomatic Burn! U.S. responds to Iran

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Here is the diplomatic version of a backhanded bitchslap to Iran.  It’s what they get after saying they’d send their Navy to U.S. coastal waters.
“I’d simply say that given the limited size and capability of the Iranian navy they would be far better off focusing on the challenges closer to home”
– State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland

Written by gringolost

September 29, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Iran

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America’s disappearing strategy

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Strategy is like magic. Both the magician and strategist use art and science to wow their audience by seemingly pulling off the implausible. It’s not the rabbit emerging from the hat that is magic, it’s the process making it happen that is magic. The same goes for strategy. So when President Obama makes “Disrupting, Dismantling, and Defeating Al-Qa’ida and its Violent Extremist Affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Around the World” a key component of this year’s National Security Strategy (NSS), he is missing the point. That is a goal, not a strategy.

Of course, it is intriguing that the U.S. would even feign interest in publishing its national security strategy for the entire world to see but that’s not the point. The point is no matter which document you read, whether the Quadrennial Defense Review, this year’s NSS, the NSPD (for G.W. Bush) or PPD (for Obama), there is hardly any coherent plan in any of these so-called “grand strategy” documents. All these documents get strategy wrong. They fail to recognize how strategy is more than just stating a goal; it is establishing preferences, prioritizing interests, and employing the available means in a coherent plan to achieve those interests.

Going back to the previous example, the NSS aims to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa’ida … through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, strengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a bankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity.” These statements are hyperbole more than strategy. The U.S. should strengthen partners and secure the homeland anyway, regardless of any al Qa’ida threat.

A better strategy against al Qa’ida would recognize that the organization has morphed into an ideological program that can be adopted by self-starters who want to carry out homegrown terrorism. America’s strategy has to distinguish between what it wants to do and what it can do against these types of organizations. Fighting a global amorphous threat requires infinite reach and infinite resources. Without these, the U.S. must prioritize and seek defenses where it knows it can protect. Extending itself in distant theaters only exposes America to greater security risk.

In addition to violent extremism, there are two other areas where the NSS falls woefully short: Iran and North Korea. Admittedly, these challenges are hard. But if the U.S. wants Iran to “live up to its international responsibilities” it must recognize that Iran has different perceptions of these responsibilities. As well, the U.S. must recognize that Iran has sufficient leverage over American policy in the region that it can avoid certain amounts of coercion. The U.S. should make a sober assessment of itself to see exactly what it can coerce Iran to do. Trying to alter Iran’s behavior beyond America’s capability to do so is really just wasting time. The same goes for North Korea and the developing problems on that peninsula. The U.S. is severely handicapped in what it can make North Korea do. The U.S. must reassess its position in that region as well.

Lastly, the national security strategy should include only those things which are absolutely imperative. Needlessly adding peripheral interests complicates planning. Thus, while interests such as countering nuclear proliferation, combating terrorism, and securing cyberspace are all a must. It is less true that growing America’s space capabilities, opening foreign markets to trade, or cutting carbon emissions are essential to national security. To be sure, these are all valuable goals but they do nothing but add complexity to the already difficult task. Likening it to magic, the objective of strategy is to draw in the audience with one hand while the other performs the important functions which make the trick work. By overloading America’s national security strategy it can ruin the trick.

Memo: US response to Iran’s nuclear program

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It’s the end of the semester here at The Fletcher School. With that comes finals. One of my finals was a policy options memo on how the U.S. could respond to the current Iranian nuclear issue. The memo is about 1,500 words, but I just wanted to share about 600 words that cover, what I think, are the 3 courses of action available to U.S. policy-makers. Here goes:

The Obama administration has essentially three viable courses of action in which to proceed: engagement, containment & deterrence, and rollback. These three options cannot be pursued simultaneously but exist along a continuum. These options can be augmented by supplementary inducements, both political and economic.

  • Engagement has been “Plan A” for this administration. Whether in a multilateral framework or bilateral talks, negotiations with Iran have been shrouded with threats of punitive economic action. To compel Iran to put its nuclear program on the negotiating table will likely require harsher sanctions on the regime. However, it will be tremendously difficult to gain international support for what essentially would be a near-boycott of Iran.
    • The downside to engaging Iran with the threat of economic sanctions is the policy’s risk of hardening disapproval against the U.S. in the region. Further, the success of this policy is inextricably linked to our ability to gain an international coalition to impose such sanctions.
  • Connected to engagement is the “Plan B” option of what the U.S. could do to oppose an Iran with nuclear weapons. Here, U.S. policy would be one of containment and deterrence against the regime. This option becomes enacted whence the failure of engagement. To maximize the utility of containment and deterrence, the U.S. will need to form multinational strategic partnerships and explicitly convey these partnerships to Iran.
    • Necessarily, the U.S. would have to extend its nuclear umbrella to allies, deterring Iran based on our second-strike capabilities. As with engagement, containment will require increased international cooperation to isolate Iran.
  • The rollback option will emphasize less engagement, although engagement can be a tool to gauge Iranian intentions. Rollback will begin with increasingly stringent sanctions; then it will be followed by preventative strikes against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. The rollback policy will require significant calibration to signal our resolve against Iran. Necessarily, regime change will be seen as an escalation of this policy. By gradually escalating the use of force, the U.S. could dissuade Iran sufficiently to cease its nuclear activities.
    • The risks posed by this option are great. The American image abroad will suffer should another attempt at regime change occur. Additionally, there is the risk that escalation could draw the U.S. into a larger war with Iran. Further, it will be difficult to predict the behavior of an Iran that has been directly attacked by the U.S.
  • Supplementary inducements include the repeal of current sanctions against Iran. Additionally, political concessions to Iran will have to be made. The U.S. will most likely have to back Iran’s ascent to greater regional leadership.
    • As an supplement, inducements are most likely to succeed with the rollback option. However, this combination still holds the most risks to American interests. Inducements coupled with engagement could produce positive results, but the “Plan B” containment and deterrence option must remain as a safety mechanism.

Recommendation: Engagement coupled with political and economic inducements should be this administration’s priority. However, this policy should be prefaced with explicit statements that any and all available means will be employed to contain and deter Iran if engagement does not work. Although this strategy may strengthen Ahmadinejad’s hold on power, it offers the best chance of de-nuclearizing the country without having to resort to force.

The Twitter Revolutionary Guard

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Last week, the Etemad-e-Mobin consortium purchased a 50 percent plus one share of the Telecommunications Company of Iran (TCI).  Etemad-e-Mobin is composed of three companies, two of which are reportedly owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

This telecoms purchase adds to the already robust economic and social power of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Seemingly, the purchase also increases the government’s power to control future twitter revolutions.

Written by gringolost

September 30, 2009 at 7:32 pm

Nuclear stubborn Iran and North Korea

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If you could have a nuclear weapon, would you give it up?

North Korea doesn’t seem like it would.  On September 4th, the bi-polar Pyongyang declared it was in the “last phase” of nuclear enrichment.  Apparently, a North Korean spokesman even added that it was open to either “sanctions or dialogue” when talking about six-party talks.

Meanwhile, Iran is ignoring requests by the International Atomic Energy Association to “re-engage” the UN agency on questions regarding its nuclear program.  Citing a rule within the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran continues to enrich uranium despite many international objections.

International condemnation: Iran vs. the LA Race Riots

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One of my most enthusiastic blog followers (I am not going to say her name but she can be found here) emailed me a question on the protests in Iran versus similar protests which have occurred in the US.

Here’s her exact wording (bare in mind this was from about a week ago) * I should also note that this question came from a person who is surely on the side of Iranian protesters who want democratic accountability:

I have been listening all day to news coverage about President Obama’s stand on the protests in Iran. People are saying we should intervene because the Iranian police are killing protesters. I know that US police have been responsible for deaths of protesters in numerous instances. My question is: during those instances, have other countries condemned the US actions in those instances?

Like the 1968 Chicago riots? the LA riots?

As expected, I didn’t know the answer.  But I did postulate that perhaps there were harsh criticisms from typically anti-US world leaders such as Castro and Qaddafi – but I didn’t know for sure.  I imagine that when our riots occurred they did so in a much different global context.  One where I think the brevity of the riots and the lack of real-time international media probably limited any international criticism.

But, I can’t be sure of this.  If anyone has a better answer please share.

Written by gringolost

June 28, 2009 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Iran, Uncategorized

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Using internet access to promote US interests with minimal commitment

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A web router developed by the US Navy, and now property of a non-governmental organization called the TOR project, is being used by Iranian protesters to bypass government bans on certain websites such as Twitter and Facebook.  Basically, the TOR program allows internet users to disguise their traffic and visit websites anonymously despite the Iranian government’s blocking attempts.

From Eli Lake’s Washington Times article on the subject:

Iran, a country of 70 million people, has more than 20 million Internet users – the highest percentage in the region outside Israel – and a well-developed blogosphere.

For Iranian Internet users, TOR allows them to visit government-banned Web sites and avoid detection by the authorities. The Tor Project does this by routing Web requests among several different computer servers all over the world.

I can’t help but think that technology like this is a great way for US interests to be promoted with minimal commitment.  I mean Iran’s government can’t blame the US for interference if people are simply accessing information, right?

So basically this gives Iranian protesters a tool that they can use in their struggle that doesn’t directly involve the US –  not that they would want any help from the US.  Meanwhile, the Iranian government cannot do anything to counter this technology except attempt to shut it down.  But shutting it down will only continue the Islamic Republic of Iran’s downward decline of legitimacy.

Now the bigger picture: the initial investment made in the TOR project by the US Navy is now paying off in dividends.  Whereas, other US foreign policy investments to create a more Western-aligned Iran (such as the $90 million appropriated to the State Department to promote democracy from 2007-2008) only tend to create accusations of unwanted influence.  Soft Power as it’s known is the power to gain influence simply by espousing univeral political values and an attractive culture.  While Soft Power is a key device to promote US interests, it seems that internet and technology may be a better input to making that device work – more so than the millions of US dollars spent on “democracy promotion”

Written by gringolost

June 26, 2009 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Iran, Soft Power, Uncategorized

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