Commentary: With the Impeachment Results In, Foreign Capitals Can See Clearer How Their Relations with Washington Add Up

US President Donald Trump (above). With the results of the Impeachment Trial reached, many foreign capitals will likely be moved to go through a reevaluation process of their thinking on the Trump administration and try to understand with greater clarity how their relations with the US really add up. Before the results were in, many foreign capitals, feeling under pressure to protect their interests based on false claims and attacks heard from Trump’s adversaries, acted in ways that could potentially have had the effect of turning their respective countries’ relationships with the US into ruins. Foreign capitals should stay well clear of anything his adversaries produce. Trump’s acquittal should serve as a great demarcation point at which analyses of his administration, and its foreign policy in particular, shifted worldwide for the better.

From the start, US President Donald Trump has referred to the entire program of destruction through Impeachment  that his political opponents embarked upon as a hoax. All that was done in the impeachment process beared that out. The Articles of Impeachment produced from the US House of Representatives 78-day investigation were based on inappropriate interpretations, drenched in negative preconceptions, of Trump’’s telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They proved to be ignoratio elenchi, irrelevant conclusions. Boiling down what occurred, Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party who hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, engineering a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment. Their premise was that during a phone call that Trump had on July 5, 2019 with the Ukrainian President, Trump sought to coerce the foreign leader to initiate an investigation of an 2020 US Presidential Election opponent in return for the release of military aid that he was withholding. It put a faux complexion to the phone call given the official transcript of the call released by Trump indicated nothing of the sort. It was all initiated by claims of an alleged whistle blower who never heard the phone conversation. Supposed fact-finding hearings insisted upon by House Democrats lifted the veil on nothing but hearsay and alarmist presumptions.  All along, observers in foreign capitals only needed to be cognizant that there are two chambers of US Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The US Senate, which, under the US Constitution, was tasked to vote on whether to convict or acquit Trump on the Articles of Impeachment, required a two-thirds supermajority to convict the US President. A two-thirds supermajority in the Senate is 67 out of 100 Senators.  The Senate at the time of the impeachment vote was firmly under the control of Trump’s Republican Party. Thus, one could say that the results of the impeachment process against US President Donald Trump were as inevitable as mathematics.

Observing events, greatcharlie hoped that the smallest spark of decency would have caused House Democrats to find some way to stop moving down their destructive path in their own chamber. Instead, they pushed through the two articles, accusing him of betraying the country for his own political benefit and obstructing a Congressional investigation into his actions. The Impeachment process is intended to be reserved for those circumstances in which the removal of the US President is imperative. Notably, the impeachment process must be correctly described as a partisan process. There was no special prosecutor or special counsel appointed to review matters surrounding the House Democrats so-called case against Trump. The process in the House impeachment Investigation was deliberately conducted without due process for Trump. His legal Representatives were not allowed to participate in the process. Trump was not allowed to call his own witnesses and cross-examine witnesses of House Democrats. House Democrats did include the testimony of 18 of their own witnesses in House Committee Hearings in their impeachment documents. (Notably, the witnesses were linked to only 17 submitted transcripts. The transcript of testimony of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community was omitted.) Some renowned constitutional scholars in the US have gone as far as to label the entire impeachment process an abuse of power by House Democrats. To that extent, 52 Republican Senators, seeing how broken the process conducted by House Democrats was, voted on January 31, 2020 not to further the trial process in their chamber with new witnesses. On February 5, 2020, the Senate voted to acquit Trump on both Articles of Impeachment, never coming close to the supermajority required on either count.

With the results of the Impeachment reached, many foreign capitals will likely be moved to go through a reevaluation process of their thinking on the Trump administration and try to understand with greater clarity how their relations with the US really add up. Before the results were in, many foreign capitals, unnerved by what was occurring in Washington and felt under pressure to protect their interests, especially when they knowingly or unknowingly paid heed to all of Trump’s adversaries false claims and attacks. Under the influence of such information, some acted in ways that could potentially have had the effect of turning their respective countries’ relationships with the US into ruins. Understanding that many foreign leaders had been misled the impeachment drama and distorted reports in the new media, Trump remained patient with them. He used opportunities for direct talks with them to set the record straight. In doing so, he protect relations between the US and many of its closest allies and friends. Now, most foreign leaders are hardly responsive to the musings of Trump adversaries and if anything, they are filled with astonishment at their unrimmitimg rancor. Still, there remain some foreign leaders who have not landed on the matter this way.

Nil dictum quod non dictum prius. (Nothing has been said that has not been said before.) After four years of explaining why attacks made by Trump’s adversaries against the foreign policy efforts of his administration are absolutely incorrect and at times, balmy, it has become more difficult to be original. To promote the truth, greatcharlie’s has admittedly invested great effort into illustrating why each attack itself should have no bearing on any countries policies vis-a-vis the US. It can be stated without pretension that reasonable concern exists at greatcharlie that readers will begin to find our repeated discussions of the matter as a rather tedious penchant. Nevertheless, varied interpretations of the impeachment, and unbalanced interpretations of his successful work, only send mixed signals to foreign capitals. That consequently makes it far more difficult for some foreign governments to determine what is coming next, whether Trump is safe in his spot, and how to proceed in their bilateral relations with the US. So, once again greatcharlie takes a bite at the issue of the perceptions of foreign capitals of the Trump administration and events surrounding the very unconstructive, vacuous impeachment process in the US Congress. In his work, Orator, in 46 B.C., the Ancient Roman orator, poet, and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, suggested the goals of rhetoric should be: docere, to teach; delectare, to delight; and, movere, to persuade. Mindful of the words of the the noble pagan, greatcharlie has pushed forward with this commentary. Isthuc est sapere non quod ante pedes modo est videre sed etiam illa quæ futura sunt prospicere. (True wisdom consists not in seeking that which is immediately before our eyes, but in the foresight of that which may happen.)

Trump displays Washington Post headline at White House Press Conference (above). Although a conclusion has been reached on Impeachment, it is certainly not a time to say: “All’s well that ends well”; or, “Let bygones be bygones.” In general, his adversaries now appear just as willing, perhaps even more determined, to strive further in their efforts to destroy Trump. An increase on attacks against him should be expected. The consequences of denying the truth about Trump’s efforts, particularly on foreign policy on Ukraine and issues concerning elsewhere in the world, have been severe and widespread internationally. Trump’s adversaries have sought to convince the world that his foreign policy is at sixes and sevens.

The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

In Book I of Paradise Lost, the masterwork of the great 17th century English poet and intellectual, John Milton, it is written: “The mind is its own place, and in it self / Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.” Everything done against Trump by his adversaries has been driven much more than simply fallible human calculation. As a whole, Trump’s adversaries include harsh critics and detractors within the US news media as well as some angry scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party. For whatever reason, they have some inextinguishable, inexhaustible need to injure Trump. It is as if they have some score to settle with the US President. That is a matter which should alarm everyone. They appear too comfortable with expressing the most fanatical rebukes possible as opposed to constructive criticisms.

Although the curtain has fallen on the impeachment episode, it is certainly not a time to say: “All’s well that ends well”; or, “Let bygones be bygones.” In general, his adversaries now appear just as willing, perhaps even more determined, to destroy Trump. An increase in attacks against him should be expected. Trump’s adversaries mimic the mindset of those who once engage in primitive blood feud or vendettas in parts of Italy in the Middle Ages. The consequences of denying the truth about Trump’s efforts, particularly on Ukraine policy and urgent and important issues concerning elsewhere in the world, have been severe and widespread internationally. If possible, Trump’s adversaries would convince the world that all of his foreign policy efforts are at sixes and sevens. It is amazing that anyone in good conscience would repeatedly publicize assessments of the administration’s efforts that are so tragically off-balance. The falsity of his adversaries claims is proven everyday by Trump’s work product. Among the varied sources from which one can receive news in the US, there still exist sources willing to report the truth. However, in the agregate, stories that denigrate Trump far outweigh honest reports.. It is not the intent of greatcharlie to make inelegant characterizations of Trump’s adversaries. However, there are clearly those among them who can shed bits of their presumed sense of what is decent with some ease.

If any part of it all could be looked upon lightheartedly in spite of the grave and dangerous nature of what Trump adversaries have been trying to do, it would be the words of his political opponents in the US House of Representatives. The expressions of sheer hatred for Trump heard particularly from House Democrats have been so incongruous with norms of decorum, good discipline and statesmanship, that a juxtaposition was created between what one expected on terms of their behavior in the two chambers of Congress and what one observed. The best example is perhaps the comment from the Speaker of the House of Representatives Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. Remaining defiant on February 6, 2020, the day after the Senate voted not to convict Trump on both articles, Pelosi stated in a vengeful tone: “He is still impeached forever.” It was clearly vain attempt to soothe her own apparent disappointment after her House Democrat impeachment cabaret failed to result in Trump’s conviction. It is hard to imagine what that statement actually does for her. On February 4, 2020, Pelosi shocked a worldwide audience as she tore up her official copy of the State of the Union Address that Trump handed to her before his presentation. She stated the next day that tearing up the address was “completely, entirely appropriate.” Her behavior could rightly be characterized as an unsightly tantrum in which her raw emotions overcame her intellect and wisdom. Chief Impeachment Manager and Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff, engaged in absolutely ludicrous behavior throughout the impeachment process. During closing arguments in the Impeachment Trial, he took the whole matter to the very heights of absurdity when he stated in all sincerity: “Trump could offer Alaska to the Russians in exchange for support in the next election or decide to move to Mar-a-Lago permanently and let Jared Kushner run the country, delegating to him the decision whether to go to war.”

Right up to those recent moments, not one comedic talent had ever engaged in mimicry of either Pelosi or Schiff to the extent that they would have behaved in such a way as he did during the Impeachment Trial in the Senate or as she did during the State of the Union. To utter such absurd statements as Schiiff or to portray Pelosi tearing up a copy of Trump’s State of the Union Address, would have doubtlessly been viewed as being “too far over the top” or “too absurd.” The aphorism of the renowned US author and poet Mark Twain obtains: “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

Interestingly, shortly after Pelosi first took the reigns as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the 116th Congress on January 3, 2019, Trump actually offered best wishes to her. In remarks in the White House Briefing Room that same day, Trump offered his congratulations for her “very, very great achievement” of returning as Speaker. He continued: “Hopefully we’re going to work together and get lots of things done, like infrastructure.” Trump further stated: “I think it will be a little bit different than people think.” However, Pelosi had no interest in getting chummy with Trump. It is crystal clear now that her intentions were the complete opposite. In her handling of the impeachment matter, Pelosi desperately sought gain and retain the US public’s attention, and drum the idea into the heads of the people that Trump was a corrupt man. This was especially important as the 2020 US Presidential  Election was only months away. To that extent, the whole process was a  vehicle for the Democratic Party. However, the whole effort sadly morphed into a masochistic form of exhibitionism. The failed impeachment obliterated her image as a shrewd leader. The kamikaze-like impeachment will forever remain a figurative tin can tied to her tail. Hers will always be the main name associated with the political attack launched against the US President. Only she is responsible for that. At some point, Pelosi may come to the realization that for years to come the Impeachment effort for Trump will stand as his “red badge of courage” for his valorous stand, upright, secure, determined, indefatigable, and with pride in the face of all the wrong that was hurled at him.

House Democrats, still key to the larger so-called resistance to Trump, are among his adversaries who have indicated a willingness to serve on as his tormentors as he moves toward a second term. They threaten a new impeachment process. Those planning new moves against Trump, however, must understand that the US President Trump, his aides and advisers, and honorable Congressional Republicans will certainly not sit still for that. Schiff, in particular, should give thought to the promise proclaimed in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ’s Le Nozze de Figaro: “Se vuol ballare, signor contino,/ il chitarrino le suoneró.” (If you want to dance little count, I will play the tune on my guitar.) Trump adversaries have not been able to bring him down. They have choked over and over again on their own lies and blind rage. It is fairly certain that they will never succeed in hurting Trump.

Trump (center), US Vice President Mike Pence (left), and Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (right) at State of the Union Address. Pelosi shocked a worldwide audience as she tore up her official copy of the State of the Union Address Trump handed to her before his presentation. Her behavior could rightly be characterized as an unsightly tantrum in which her raw emotions overcame her intellect and wisdom. The failed impeachment obliterated her image as a shrewd leader. The kamikaze-like impeachment will forever remain a figurative tin can tied to her tail. Hers will always be the main name associated with the political attack launched against the US President. Only she is responsible for that.

Expected Reactions in Foreign Capitals

Periculosum est credere et non credere; ergo exploranda est veritas, multum prius quam stulta prave judicet sententia. (It is equally dangerous to believe and to disbelieve; therefore search diligently into the truth rather than form foolish ideas that would pervert your judgment.) It is difficult to determine how many aides and advisers of foreign leaders have fallen prey to the musings of Trump’s adversaries. Undoubtedly, in spite of the truths available to investigate, there were numerous officials in various countries, particularly in the intelligence services, tasked to inform their respective governments of events in the US who followed a false path to the extent that the possibility of Trump’s conviction through a very emotional and very irrational hate driven Impeachment process was real. They most likely offered as their best advice to their leaders that a watchful eye needed to be kept on events in Washington and in terms of diplomacy with the Trump administration, it would be best for leaders talking to US senior officials and diplomats to hold their cards close to their vests.

From the manner in which some countries have communicated with, stated about, and behaved toward the Trump administration, one could best judge whether their leaders most likely had unfortunately been swayed by the arguments propagated by Trump’s adversaries. Foreign capitals able to discern the angry and hateful language of Trump’s adversaries for what it was, have managed to establish good relations with his administration and reach new, balanced agreements with US over the past three years. Good person-to-person communications between Trump and their respective leaders are enjoyed. Economic improvement, growth, and a greater sense of hope in their own countries can be seen.

Conversely, for those foreign leaders, acting on a false understanding of Trump founded on distortions propagated by his adversaries, it has been a different world. Indeed, particularly in the first year of the Trump administration, some foreign leaders would actually march into meetings with Trump, speaking and acting inappropriately toward him. Such behavior was even observed in one-on-one talks in the White House. In behaving that way, many forfeited far too much in the way of desire benefits and increased prosperity for their people. It is impossible to forget how German Chancellor Angela Merkel stormed into the White House with a countenance of lightning and the very awkward photo opportunity she had with Trump in the Oval Office following their first meeting. The relationship between the two leaders has been repaired since to a great degree.

It would not be too hard to imagine that among foreign leaders having superpower military capabilities, and some having already acted on misguided advice from aides and advisers to approve action against federal and state election systems in the US, would become quite concerned over the possibility of an abrupt leadership change incited by Trump’s adversaries or what professional minds in their intelligence services may judge are unseen hands furtively shaping events from within the US system. To be a bit more precise about what countries are being referred to, the Russian Federation would certainly be main one. Hearing ad nauseum during the Impeachment Trial about how threatening House Democrats view their country, one could imagine Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his aides and advisers in the Kremlin were not pleased with events as they were transpiring in Washington.

Chief Impeachment Manager and Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (above). Schiff engaged in absolutely ludicrous behavior throughout the impeachment process. During closing arguments in the Impeachment Trial, he took the whole matter to the absolute heights of absurdity when he stated in all sincerity: “Trump could offer Alaska to the Russians in exchange for support in the next election or decide to move to Mar-a-Lago permanently and let Jared Kushner run the country, delegating to him the decision whether to go to war.”

As for those unmistakably antagonistic words aimed directly toward Putin, Schiff perhaps has mistaken him for a character in perhaps a streaming television series. He should be informed that Putin is very real and be informed of what that really means. Fortified behind the shield of US power, Schiff likely sensed little risk but a considerable courage over the statements he made. However, Schiff may not have been aware that the Russian Federation President rarely responds well to such statements, and he commands the capability and capacity to do harm to US interests. Truly courageous opposition groups, their leaders and ordinary citizens who join protests, in Moscow and elsewhere in Russia and not thousands of miles away in Washington, will attest to the fact that his responses to such criticism and challenges to his authority at home are usually extreme. Relations between the US and the Russian Federation certainly were not helped by Schiff’s comments. There is a great likelihood that Putin and his team sense that the US would be a far more threatening opponent, an existential threat, if the US government, through technical processes under the US Constitution using equivocations, outright falsehoods, deceit, or through some more aggressive means, fell into the hands of Trump’s adversaries. On a more grave note, if some unexpected change in US leadership were to occur, as a contingency, the Russian Federation may have plans to rapidly implement a horrific plan of decisive strategic military action before allowing any rogue elements to fully take the reigns of government. (Surely the Kremlin would calculate that it would not be at all safe for the Russian Federation or the world to stand by quietly while zealous megalomaniacs put Trump out of office and take over the government, especially in spite of all the tremendous things he is doing for the US. Drastic steps would most likely be taken.)

Bringing the Kremlin closer to such thinking has likely been the most significant consequence of the aggressive political moves Trump’s adversaries and their expression of hardline positions on the Russian Federation during the Impeachment process. Trump’s adversaries may want to take a look at reports of robust deployments of Russian Federation submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Those deployments could be assessed as an “elementary precaution” taken by Moscow in light of what it has been witnessing. Doubtlessly, some may wrongly infer from this that Putin could potentially react to a hypothetical displacement of Trump due to some friendship or some sordid link that every possible effort has been made by his adversaries to prove exists between him and Putin when no relationship of the kind ever existed or ever could exist. Trump and Putin are competitors, and while not hostile toward one another, they are hardly friends. Those adults who still mistake the appearance of congeniality for friendship, if they could pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, are socially underdeveloped. It is difficult for competitors in any arena to be friends. In fact, it can be stated outright that Putin has absolutely no love for Trump or the US. To that extent, it may very likely be the slightest strain of conscience as an observant Russian Orthodox Catholic, and the reality that Trump, in response to a Russian Federation attack, would not for the slightest moment hesitate to launch the full retaliatory strategic nuclear capability at the Russian Federation, along with anything else he could pound that country with, that restrains Putin from dealing with US once and for all. Notions of some “Green New Deal” to save the planet are not being bandied about in the Kremlin conference rooms. As long as Trump is in the White House, Putin will continue to require that there be some aggressive predicate before making any fatal decision to attack.

A Russian Federation Delta-IV class ballistic missile submarine, capable of striking targets in the US with multiple nuclear warheads, lurks with an obscure purpose in open waters (above). If some unexpected change in US leadership were to occur, as a contingency, the Russian Federation may have plans to rapidly implement a horrific plan of decisive strategic military action before allowing any rogue elements to fully take the reigns of government. Bringing the Kremlin closer to such thinking has likely been the most significant consequence of the aggressive political moves Trump’s adversaries and their expression of hardline positions on the Russian Federation during the Impeachment process. Trump’s adversaries may want to take a look at reports of robust deployments of Russian Federation submarines in the Atlantic Ocean. Those deployments could be assessed as an “elementary precaution” taken by Moscow in light of what it has been witnessing.

A Distorted Picture Created by Trump’s Adversaries from the Start

Digging a little deeper, one finds that the vitriol of Trump’s adversaries, domestic as well as foreign, has been well-expressed since the first year minus one of his presidency. An apparent part of their mission has been to keep foreign capital uncertain and distrustful of Trump to thwart his efforts on behalf of the US. That reality was tough to come to grips with back then. Reviewing what has been seen from his adversaries since, greatcharlie cannot help but call attention to the fact that  everything appears to have turned out pretty much as it had forecast in early 2017. In a February 28, 2017 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump: It May Be Provided Outside the Counter-Trump Milieu”, it was written: “It may very well be that, albeit unintentionally, US foreign policy experts in discussing Trump with their European colleagues as well as with European leaders and officials, they may have had a deleterious effects on their perspective, morale, and performance. Leaders and officials may have been thrown a bit off-kilter, and delayed getting both involved and into a working rhythm with the Trump administration after learning of US news media reports and comments from the Obama administration in its waning days. Consider that from the start of 2016 Presidential Election, uncertainty was created about what a Trump victory would mean for Europe given some harsh campaign comments on NATO. It likely had a chilling effect on them. However, assurances also came from all quarters that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would win the election. After the election there was more turmoil, and before the Europeans could formulate an approach to Trump, they encountered a flurry of reports detailing his inexperience and how unprepared he was to appropriately handle foreign policy decisionmaking. Doubts were expressed about his advisers’ perspectives and abilities.  Questions were raised about Russia’s influence on the election result and Trump’s campaign. Stories were told of a war between Trump and the US Intelligence Community, and rumors swirled that Trump might face impeachment.” (In 2017, greatcharlie frequently used the term, “counter-Trump milieu”, but alas, it failed to gain traction in the policy debate. The term concerning the very emotional and very irrational personal attacks Trump and against his presidency created by others that managed to stick was “Trump derangement syndrome.” So be it! At least greatcharlie gave it the old school try. )

What a few years earlier may have been considered impossible is the modality of the attacks on the US President in the US news media. It catches the eye. The news media never admired Trump. More seasoned, balanced, critics, have produced reports and commentary explaining that lots of things should be done, omitted, changed, and corrected by Trump. However, many other critics better skilled in unpleasantness than bon mot, deemed Trump unfit for the presidency even before his election victory. The words “not presidential” have been heard from them every time Trump speaks. Qui court les rues. Efforts by Trump of any kind have elicited a range of reactions by those engaged in the broad, piquant, counter-Trump discourse. There are other critics who apparently have found nothing desirable and everything loathsome about Trump. Trump’s efforts are explained as a cunning deceit, a dark tragedy. He is characterized as just another seductive tyrant, a demagogue. Imaginably, in time, one of Trump’s adversaries will declare him to be Beelzabub, Lord of the Flies! Perhaps one already has. There is so much being stated against Trump, it is difficult to keep up with it all.

As greatcharlie discussed in September 23, 2019 post entitled, “Commentary: Some Foreign Leaders Continue to Misstep in Approaching Trump: Yes, It Is Still Happening!”, it could be said that the US news media has not covered Trump as much as it has attached itself to him. They walk alongside him in order to discomfort and discourage him, increase the power of the blows against him. They do not want Trump to feel a sense of serenity, calmness, quietness, peace and joy as president for one moment. They would like Trump to feel a deep-seated frustration, anxiety, worry.  They seem determined to hurl Trump into loneliness and pain. Interestingly, their hope for glory in attacking and defeating Trump walks hand in hand with their own doom for the most of them live in the same country, the civilization that Trump is trying to improve.

In “Satan’s Monologue: Me miserable” from Book IV of Paradise Lost, Milton writes,  “For never can true reconcile mentioned grow/ Where wounds of deadly hate have peirc’d so deep.” The problem Trump’s adversaries have created is acute. Little doubt was left that those engaged in the effort to hurt Trump never fail to gratify themselves with their exertions. They could convince the most discerning among us all that they would be willing to spend the remainder of their lives speaking against Trump. However, with each disturbing new effort, in greatcharlie’s judgement, they rob themselves of their own humanity. Interestingly, perhaps hidden in the fanaticism if those very vocal adversaries of Trump is a certain doubt that becomes more and more difficult to ignore, resulting in a rage and attacks of ever-increasing intensity in an effort to tamp it out.

It is bitter this, but after examining all of this, greatcharlie has had to catch itself out, contradict its egalitarian sensibilities and surrender its once fond notion that deep down people understand the need to respect one another, have an innate sense of right and wrong, and care for the rights of others to think differently. Instead, greatcharlie is close to succumbing to an apparent reality that not everyone is cut from that cloth. There is no intention at all to encourage similar thinking among our readers. For greatcharlie, it is currently the subject of introspection and intense self-examination. Quid enim est stultius quam incerta pro certis habere, falsa pro veris? (What, indeed, is more foolish than to consider uncertainties as certain, falsehoods as truths?)

Since his inauguration, Trump has managed to have a fine effect on the progress of the US. His basic concept has been manifested in the slogans: “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great”. It would be true to state that one must be a certain age of life’s experience to authentically understand Trump. This is not an impolitic expression of reverse agism. Rather, it means one must have acquired experience that comes with years, aging. One must know a lot about humanity. One must know a lot about human relationships. Trump has that knowledge and experience, in spades. The minute Trump observes a situation, he knows what can happen. He knows the answer; he knows the usual result.

Our Insights on Trump in 2017 and Some of Our Insights Today

The object of all of Trump’s ambitions since his inauguration and even prior as during his campaign has been doing the best job he can as the US President. He has managed to have a fine effect on the progress of the US. His basic concept has been manifested in the slogans: “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great”. Convinced Trump possessed all of the necessary elements to be successful, greatcharlie also attempted to call attention of foreign capitals away from the noise of his adversaries and toward the truth of the matter using its February 28, 2017 post entitled, “A Worried Europe Finds Scant Reassurance on Trump: It May Be Provided Outside the Counter-Trump Milieu”. It was explained: “To better understand Trump and improve relations with the US, European leaders and officials must set aside their personal preferences. There are some solid reports that present positive perspectives on Trump. Those reports as well as any that may even appear feeble, must be examined. The analytical process in the current environment must be akin to a crucible in which irrelevancies are burned off and the result is the truth. If European leaders and officials could disassociate themselves from the mixed, very often negative, signals emanating out the political milieu in the US, they might recognize an intriguing duality about Trump. In business, Trump for decades engaged in high stakes negotiations and hefty transactions. He displayed talent as a planner, manager, and builder, a man who created things. The German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling said, “Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music.” The architecture of Trump’s buildings and music would have things in common such as rhythm, texture, harmony, proportion, and dynamics. For Trump, designing and constructing buildings was an art. He could become lost in it. That was Trump’s world, too. As a media celebrity, he lived a life of high drama while he entertained and bedazzled. During the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Trump’s varied capabilities and interests appeared to coalesce. On the surface, Trump was self-confident, audacious, brash, and bombastic–some might add boorish, yet in his planning, he was humble, meticulous, perceptive, and innovative. European political leaders might take special note of how Trump, facing constant waves of calumny and invective, dug deep inside himself and always found a way, leaving other candidates trailing in his wake. This stands in stark contrast to the notions of Trump’s alleged vacuity, which is more often deceitfully served up by a variety of angry, aggressive, envious, and ambitious sources camped in all directions.  They all certainly have reasons for their positions. The presidency represents a huge change for Trump and he continues to recurvate from being a very successful businessman and celebrity known worldwide to a more potent, more formal, and in many ways, more narrow role. Regarding all of the opprobrium, Trump has seen other winds and has faced other storms.  He has no reputation for faltering in adversity.”

With the focus remaining on foreign policy, it would be true to state that one must be a certain age of life’s experience to authentically understand Trump. This is not an impolitic expression of reverse agism. It does not at all mean one must have sensibilities of a past era. Rather, it means one must have acquired experience that comes with years. One must know a lot about humanity. One must know a lot about human relationships. Trump has that knowledge and experience, in spades. The minute Trump observes a situation, he knows what can happen. He knows the answer; he knows the usual result.

If one wants to contradict reality, one may free oneself to deny or ignore that Trump displays an extraordinary mix of talent and technique. Much as a successful jockey on a horse, that talent and technique moves as one creature through Trump. Trump has sought new ways of doing things. It has become cliché to make reference to Trump’s use of Twitter, but it is perhaps the most apparent manifestations of that search for new ways. Trump has the ability to find higher meaning in the tiniest bit of human circumstance. Once he observes it, he finds a way to make use of it. When considering individuals, Trump will sort through and parse out all of the characterizations of the subject presented to him and manage to find the authentic person. Even when assessing an individual in the abstract, and he has heard all that has been well-meaningly prejudged and preconceived, he can find the real person swimming in the middle of it all. Concerning international situations, longstanding and new, urgent and important, he will go through conventional recommendations of aides and advisers while simultaneously asking himself the question: “What is a missing piece?”; “What is the opening that cannot be immediately seen but provide a path to resolution?”; and “Why were prior efforts unsuccessfully in resolving the matter?” Foremost though, and perhaps superfluously stated, is his insistence upon putting “America First.” That idea, itself, was one of the elements that seemed to fortify him, and aided him through nearly four years of travails with his adversaries.

Further evidence of his ability to superbly harness his talents is Trump’s ability to not only ensure that policies are established from US values and interests, as well as Trump’s own concept and intent, but discern the distinct aspects and character of an issue while policy implementation is underway. Once he recognizes those special bits of an issue, he shares his thoughts about them with his team. That frees Trump and them to pursue each issue in its own special way keeping everything else important in mind, (Perchance it was that freedom to open one’s mind to consider varied roads and untried paths to achieve policy success that left the door open for those positioned in the administration’s policy making apparatus who were close-minded and averse to Trump’s presidency, to abuse an honor system and attempt to bend situations to their liking or simply hurt their President.)

Trump (right) with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (left) raise up signed copies of Phase One trade agreement. Looking only at a few highlights from the catalogue of Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments since January 20, 2017, a reasonable thinker could only declare his output to be superb, extraordinary even. New trade agreements, seen in the context of foreign policy as much as economics, have been marvelously done. An impressive example of his achievements is his January 15, 2020 signing of the first phase of a reformed trade arrangement with China signalling a pause of a nearly two year trade war between the world’s two largest economies and laying the groundwork for talks for a broader agreement.

When a foreign policy accomplishment of the administration is revealed, many see a certain simplicity to it all. In perceiving simplicity in the Trump team’s work, however, one misses the toil, sweat, soul, will, and brain stretching efforts of the many brilliant minds at Trump’s disposal that accounts for such successes. They miss it much as some might miss the strokes of a fine brush on a master’s canvass. The honorable professionals in the administration want things to be right. Without reservations of any kind, they want the US to succeed and Trump to succeed. It is not lost to them that Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election and it is through that victory his administration was created thus providing them with the tremendous opportunity to serve their country. It is that sense of appreciation in part which compels them to do their utmost for Trump. Such honorable individuals on the Trump team remain dedicated to an issue until the last piece of the puzzle is in place. They have no hidden purposes, no divergent opinions with the US President or some personal aesthetic of how US foreign policy should be carried out or appear. They know that the work they are doing is not about themselves.

This is not a minor point for a number of individuals who found their way into the foreign policy apparatus for one reason or another, have acted within the administration as if their thoughts about how policy should be handled mattered most. Some would state that due to recent US political trends, polarization and passion has made it more difficult to avoid separating what facts are true from what is relevant based on partisan convictions. This is slander for the job of foreign policy analysis, as well as intelligence and defense analysis, requires all efforts to be uncompromisingly honest. The manipulation or shading of truth for partisan political purposes is never acceptable. Those who find that they lack the self-discipline to refrain from such behavior should resign from the US government and find employment elsewhere.

Most ordinary observers are indeed completely unaware of all that is involved in the Trump administration’s foreign policy formulation and implementation. To that extent, it has been rather easy for those men and women who are distrustful, disloyal, and in some cases, dishonorable, former Trump administration employees. to shamefully mislead the US public and the worldwide audience about the hard work that is taking place in the administration. Through public statements, many have left no doubt that even before their first day of work in the administration they were Trump’s adversaries. Theirs has been nothing other than an ugly, willful effort, putting it crudely, to prey on ignorance. Very relevant to this are recent reports that the White House National Security Council (NSC) staff is being downsized sharply in a bid to improve efficiency within the policy coordinating body by consolidating positions and cutting staff. The Assistant to the US President for National Security Affairs (National Security Advisor) Robert O’Brien explained: “I just don’t think that we need the numbers of people that it expanded to under the last administration to do this job right.” However, a second, unspoken thrust of the overhaul is more than carving off some of the fat, but rather putting a hoped-for end to what many critics see as a string of politically damaging, unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information. Surely, mieux vaut prévenir que guérir.

Reportedly, officials holding an anti-Trump officials bias who remained in place in the White House after serving in the administration of US President Barack Obama are suspected of being the origin of leaks of Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders and other damaging disclosures. In the Obama administration, frightfully conceited NSC officials, wielded enormous power. It has been said that NSC staff members were known to telephone commanders in Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East with orders. Military officials familiar with the calls have explained such behavior was a violation of the military’s strict chain of command. That sense of entitlement and power along with the continuous “anonymous ” leaks that have delivered blows to Trump’s foreign policy efforts, could be inferred as stronger evidence that the ultimate goal of anti-Trump holdovers from the Obama administration was to promote their own concepts of how US foreign policy should be formulated and implemented. Put plainly, their agenda was to resist and defeat Trump.

Trump using iPhone onboard Air Force One (above). Trump has created a style, actually feared by his more cerebral adversaries of being a new science, which they, themselves, would never be capable of applying. They criticize him for that and much more. One might more rightly examine his style as an art in which he has considerable command of what Trump, himself, dubbed: “The art of the deal.” He could be adored for that talent, and many do adore him. Genius is denied in things that are practical. In a self-deprecating manner, Trump might be dismissive this examination of his thinking-process and his approach to foreign policy. He would likely state that he sees himself just as being himself, nothing more.

Good Vibrations about Trump’s Foreign Policy Future

What Trump has established about his administration’s foreign policy is that he is getting things done, and the administration’s future on that front is bright. As greatcharlie has indicated in previous posts, Trump’s remarkable ability to imagine new, great accomplishments is a product of being the “imagineer in chief.” No matter what he is working on, Trump can recognize the all to familiar “sweet smell of success.” When he detects it, he moves toward his goal with an optimism and confidence that seems to cause his political adversaries to seeth. The policy issues that Trump has been tackling are very real, complex, challenging, and very dangerous. It is by no means something done for leisure. Despite distractions and background noise of specialists, a certain clarity allows him to see international situations as they really are. While occasionally being let down by insufficient analyses in the past, Trump, rather than dwell on those events, does the math to find the solution. Trump’s goal is to make the world a better place for the US, and for everyone else, despite a belief promoted by his adversaries, political and otherwise. This may have gone either unnoticed or ignored, but it is certainly under appreciated. Indeed, for creating so much real hope, a debt of gratitude is owed to Trump whether anyone wants to admit it or not. Fitting here are the last two lines of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 which state: “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never wrote, nor no man ever lov’d.”

Looking only at a few highlights from the catalogue of Trump’s foreign policy accomplishments since January 20, 2017, a reasonable thinker could only declare his output to be superb, extraordinary even. New trade agreements, seen in the context of foreign policy as much as economics, have been marvelously done. The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a landmark trade agreement strengthening the interests of US businesses in their dealings with both North American neighbors. It is an achievement that previous US administrations would vie to list among their accomplishments. A remarkable trade agreement has been reached with Japan. South Korea is now open to a more equitable burden sharing arrangement with the US for its defense. The first phase of a reformed trade arrangement with China has been signed. US military forces in Syria have been successfully repositioned in relaxation to allies and adversaries in the country and the US posture in the region has been refined. NATO has been strengthened significantly under his leadership. Agreements were garnered from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to judiciously ameliorate the flow of their citizens to the US border with Mexico, particularly in migrant caravans organized by criminal elements. The list goes on. There are literally far too many successes to unpack them all here.

Sume superbiam quæsitiam merits. (Assume the proud place your merits have won.) Trump has created a style, actually feared by his more cerebral adversaries of being a new science, which they, themselves, would never be capable of applying. They criticize him for that and much more. One might more rightly examine his style as an art in which he has considerable command of what Trump, himself, dubbed: “The art of the deal.” He could be adored for that talent, and many do adore him. Genius is denied in things that are practical. In a self-deprecating manner, Trump might be dismissive this examination of his thinking-process and his approach to foreign policy. He would likely state that he sees himself just as being himself, nothing more. It is true that Trump on many occasions can be candid, off-the-script, funny, and entertaining. (Many find what he says on those occasions as very charming.) However, he does it all not as banal amusement, but with the purpose of being a more effective communicator and more relatable to the US public. In fact, he is effective in both categories.

With regard to the continued use by foreign capitals of reports and commentaries from Trump’s adversaries in their analyses of his administration’s relations and policies concerning their respective countries and regions, greatcharlie has a suggestion: Stop! Such information has doubtlessly resulted in lively discourse in numerous conference rooms of government edifices worldwide. However, there is unequivocally nothing of true value that any other country’s foreign policy apparatus can infer or glean about Trump’s plans and likely actions from the suppositions that dominate the rhetoric of his adversaries. For the sake of promoting peace and security and better relations between countries, greatcharlie can only hope its suggestion to avoid it all is given careful attention.

The Way Forward

In Book II of Paradise Lost, Milton composed: “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to Light.” A proper sense of humanity cannot help but cause one to feel apologetic over all of the difficulties and disappointment caused Trump, who was indeed innocent all along, as well as his family. Fortunately, the Senate has spoken, and in greatcharlie’s humble opinion it has spoken correctly. Trump adversaries have embarked on a program of destruction against him have proven to possess considerable expertise in the techniques of disinformation, political destabilization, and regime change or at least appear to be well-guided by those who do. It is clear that all of their efforts have been impelled by a belief that whatever is said or done in her cause is righteous. The latest sign of being in the cradle intellectually, some of Trump’s adversaries have concluded that the concept underpinning Trump’s efforts in foreign and national security policy is simply trying to be unlike Obama. Inherently by doing things better, honed by truth and reality and not preconception or colored interpretation of circumstances, he has been very much unlike Obama. One can conceptualize the image of Trump and his critics passing one another with Trump going up, reaching great heights, and his critics going down, weighted by their jealousy, envy, and hatred. With a particular focus on foreign policy, nearly everything has been marvelously done by Trump. From what has been witnessed, one can imagine that in the future, Trump will be viewed as a man of his time. He will be acknowledged as an outward sign of US culture, an expression of an awareness in the US of how the world is moving, and a symbol of the toughness the US still possesses. Without a shadow of doubt, he will be the subject of great admiration.

Relations and policies of all countries toward an influential power as the US will always be important. Given the outcome of the Impeachment process, greatcharlie has a suggestion with regard to the continued use by foreign capitals of reports and commentaries from Trump’s adversaries in their analyses of his administration’s relations and policies concerning their respective countries and regions: Stop! Such information has doubtlessly resulted in lively discourse in numerous conference rooms of government edifices worldwide and given that so much of it is amassed daily, foreign government officials have most likely found it easy to cherry pick from. However, there is unequivocally nothing of true value that any other country’s foreign policy apparatus can infer or glean about Trump’s plans and likely actions from the emotionally charged suppositions that dominate the rhetoric of his adversaries. The most stirring idea propagated about Trump, that he will be removed from office, is a red herring, a lie, simply nonsense. The unpleasant reality that must be accepted at this point is that any information taken from sources of that type has not enhanced, but has only polluted foreign analyses. Trudging through it will only lead to the continued gumming up their respective decisionmaking mechanisms. Even when brainstorming, reaching for whatever statements and views Trump’s adversaries offer would be a wasteful use of time, talk, and energy. Frankly, any organization still giving credence to the expressions of Trump’s adversaries would be better off using Chaldean Numerology! The noise coming from Trump’s adversaries should be properly characterized as extraneous matter. The normal discipline for professional minds is to ignore such extraneous matters and stick to the real matter at hand. Except among minds that are flaccid–and in any organization, discerning, frustrated eyes can identify those investigators, special agents, and case officers who have incomprehensibly risen to supervisory positions who lack real qualifications and appropriate capabilities, nothing should be so perplexing about the need within law enforcement, intelligence services, and diplomatic services, still utilizing information proffered by Trump’s adversaries, to change their thinking on the current US President and his policies.

Of course, il n’y pas plus sourd que celui qui ne veut pas entendre. The meditations of greatcharlie may be of no interest at all within any foreign capital. To that extent, greatcharlie is unaware if any government concerns itself with its work. Nevertheless, on the point about using Trump’s adversaries as sources of information on Trump and his administration, no truer words have been written on this blog. Stay well clear of anything his adversaries produce! For the sake of promoting peace and security and better relations between countries, greatcharlie can only hope its suggestion is given careful attention. Let Trump’s acquittal serve as a great demarcation point, a line at which analyses of his administration, and its foreign policy in particular, shifted worldwide for the better.  Nil intra est oleam, nil extra est in nuce duri. ([If this be not true] there is no pit in the olive, nor has the nut any shell.)

Amplifying the Truth about the Denuclearization Diplomacy to Counter Flawed Interpretations and Negative Expectations: A Response to Readers’ Comments

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at Panmunjom in June 2019. It is important to hear from our readers, and necessary to directly address their latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue much of our effort has been dedicated to in the past couple of years, in this case the US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy. Although the diplomatic process has been long and there have been no big results yet, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. No reason has yet been found to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Hoping to provide greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here.

Following the publishing of our December 12, 2019 post, “Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, If Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others “, greatcharlie received a number of comments concerning its analyses of the US-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) diplomatic process on denuclearization. Perhaps the top five among those comments would be: discussions in posts are overly optimistic about the negotiations; discussions in posts are too supportive US President Donald Trump; discussions in posts are too understanding of North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un; discussions in posts fail to provide enough information about what is going on inside North Korean foreign and national security policy institutions (a rather immoderate expectation); and, discussions in posts are too critical of using overt sources, specifically US news media broadcasts, publications, and online posts, to draw inferences about the Trump administration’s future actions. All comments on greatcharlie’s work product, with the exception of the churlish few, are welcome. It is important to hear from our readers. It is especially necessary to directly address the latest comments, especially when: they concern an issue to which several of our posts have been dedicated in the past couple of years (in this case, US-North Korea denuclearization diplomacy); they question the blog’s outlook; and, their comments arrive in considerable volume. Under the best circumstances, greatcharlie would like to be known for being a voice of common sense. The hope of greatcharlie is to earn its readers through the quality of our work. The hope also is to successfully act as a virtual listening post for our readers, discerning foibles from inside of governments, while being remote from it.

It stands to reason that many observers would have serious reservations about what is happening with the diplomacy on denuclearization and whether there is a genuine path to success under current circumstances. One could say there has been a lack of progress. Each summit between Trump and Kim, to include Hanoi, has been a “nearly but not quite” moment. Kim at first offered real hope that something positive could be constructed, it would be reasonable for some to sense now that he will provide in the end what he been best known for providing: disappointment and pain. To go further, one might presume that the North Koreans were never fully vested in the diplomacy and had not even tried to fully grasp the immense responsibility they shared with their US counterparts at this important point in their country’s history. One might be convinced that they simply sensed some prospect of exploiting, in some way, an opportunity that they still do not fully understand. (If they have surreptitiously taken that path, their greatest test may come soon enough when they must know what to say or do to prevent a war with an unbeatable opponent.) It has been said that a gentleman should know when to leave a party. Nonetheless, looking at the denuclearization issue, one notices a lot that is positive washes up on its shores. Struck by that, greatcharlie has not as yet found reason to subscribe to the idea that the diplomatic process is over. Optimism allows one to believe that there may still be some sort of eclectic masonry that Trump can build to create a link between the two countries. (Perchance this is the sort of optimism that some readers find so unsettling.) With the aim of providing greater clarity as to greatcharlie’s stand on the issue, a tour d’horizon from our prism is provided here. Dicamus bona verba. (Let us speak words of good omen.)

Kim (center) gesticulating as he talks with North Korean officials. On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, surely the rational and reasonable could recognize the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept his proposal in some form hashed out at the negotiation table. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward with Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump, downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, and then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been tedious. Wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves as lower tier players.

North Korean Diplomacy: Something Fairly Different from the Norm

On the diplomatic process on denuclearization, the rational and reasonable should surely recognize  the benefits of what Trump has proposed. The clear choice for Pyongyang should be to accept them in some form, hashed out at the negotiation table. Trump’s proposal would have positive implications for the North Korean people for generations. Kim’s delay in recognizing what could be gained is somewhat perplexing. There have not been mixed messages from US, or anything that could reasonably be interpreted as such, to confuse the North Koreans or throw them off their game. Pyongyang’s oscillation upward from Kim’s positive nature and relative openness toward Trump then downward to the rejectionist attitudes toward US proposals by the North Korean Foreign Ministry and negotiation team, then upward again when Kim speaks measuredly or displays relative restraint (at least to discerning eyes), has been positively tedious. If Pypngyang could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, wittingly or unwittingly, the North Koreans have been portraying themselves, by all reasonable and accepted international diplomatic standards, as lower tier, Mickey Mouse players. Without knowing for certain, it would be wrongful to ascribe what is at the professional core of the North Korean negotiators and their managers in Pyongyang that might be the cause for what they have been doing in the diplomatic process. Parsing out their words and deeds, greatcharlie has been able to draw inferences as to why they have been acting in eccentric ways. (Perhaps policymakers in North Korea would be better labelled policy transmitters for Kim is the only policymaker in North Korea.)

Dissimilar to their US counterparts, who may likely be morally centered by a particular religion, Pyongyang’s policymakers and diplomats are centered by the official ideology of North Korea, that in a way mimics theology, known as juche. Translated from Korean, juche means “independent status of a subject” or simply “independence.” The concept was founded in the 1950s by Chairman Kim Il-sung, Kim’s grandfather, on the idea that Korea suffered for hundreds of years under foreign, specifically Chinese control, and it is determine forever into the future remain independent. To that extent, it will remain independent, North Korea, in nuanced ways has sought to distance itself from the influence of big Socialist powers, at one time, the Soviet Union and China still. Among the nuanced aspects of juche was the promotion of the cult of personality of the “quasi-divine” ruling Kim dynasty ensuring a monolithic leadership. That was officially adopted as the leader doctrine in 1980. Indeed, starting in their early years, North Koreans have been taught  to fanatically cling to the party line of Workers’ Party of Korea and place their faith in the party chairman, the Supreme leader, above all things. Ethnonationalism is also an aspect of juche. There is an emphasis maintaining and celebrating the purity and superiority of North Koreans. There are several other aspects, some equally disconcerting. While so much has been done to distinguish juche from Communists and Socialism, the underpinnings of those political ideologies in its system is clear. Despite any displeasure this comment might cause in Pyongyang, it could be said juche is essentially an avant-garde or disjointed simulacrum of a Communist or Socialist system as intended under the ideas of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (To the disapproval and exasperation of many Northeast Asia regional experts and Korea scholars, in previous commentaries on North Korea, greatcharlie has simply labelled the country as being Communist. To clarify, the purpose for doing that was to provide an immediate point of reference to our readers to allow them to better understand how its bureaucracy operates. Further, leaving everything stated here about juche aside, the country that would develop from Kim Il-sung’s movement, North Korea, was originally girded by the sweat, blood, wherewithal, and guidance of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China. To that extent, far more similarities to both of those Communists countries still exist than differences. The intent of stating any of this is neither to extenuate greatcharlie’s choice, nor  offer a mea culpa.)

All members of the society are true believers in juche, and every move they make is colored by the precepts of juche. That certainly holds true for North Korean policymakers and diplomats working on the denuclearization diplomacy. For them, participating in the negotiations has been more than a job. It has been a grand opportunity to faithfully serve Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea and vehemently support and defend North Korean political ideals. Making certain that their performances in the negotiations immaculately adhered to national ideals has very likely been a measure of success for North Korean diplomats. That being the case, likely ever present among them is the stress of potentially making an error politically. Avoiding that means always making certain there is no possibility for the misinterpretation of their actions. Looking toward the North Korean policymakers and diplomats to introduce an ingenious idea to propel the diplomatic process forward would be misguided. What one might expect from the North Korean policymakers and diplomats at best would be a spirited reflex defense of party ideals and expressions of a decades old hostile national bias against the US. As fate would have it, this is essentially what has been observed. Stirred in has been a heavy portion of negative sentiment and caprice toward the US in the public statements of the North Koreans. As much as part of a larger negotiation stratagem, periods of indignant silence from the North Koreans also appears to be a manifestation of the daily travail of officials not to say or do anything that might remotely skirt the party line of the Workers’ Party of Korea. When confronted with either behavior, their US counterparts, as expected, have exhibited classic diplomatic sangfroid and patience. Audi vide, tace, si vis vivere in pace. (Use your ears and eyes, but hold your tongue, if you would live in peace.)

There are issues of competence at play in the North Korean’s actions, too! They lack experience in authentically working with other diplomats or simply conversing with a diverse group of interlocutors Indeed, their limited range of diplomatic skill reflects the fact that they come out of a society alienated from the rest of the world, the so-called hermit kingdom. Diplomats of its UN Mission in New York might have opportunities to interact with their counterparts of other UN member states’ missions in committees. Diplomats in North Korea’s 25 embassies situated in as many countries have opportunities to interact with the outside world. However, they may seldom have the opportunity to authentically practice core skills such as confidence building and give and take in negotiations. Even their contacts with diplomats of a handful of friendly countries, while congenial and business-like, would expectedly be superficial as all important decisions have been normally been made directly between the capitals of those countries and Pyongyang. That being the case, having the experience of interacting with US diplomats has undoubtedly been a learning experience for the North Korean negotiating team whether they admit it or not.

Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiation team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes kind of akin to cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. (Hopefully, that pretense does not belie any artificial intentions of Pyongyang in the diplomacy on denuclearization in general.) In an odd way, that bit of pretense could be what in a way liberates them to act uncoventionally. It is not easy to know what is genuine with the North Koreans. It never has been. A pitfall of being frivolous, though, could be that their inexperience may not allow them to judge just how far off from what is decent they can go. There is a thin line between chaos and order. Potentially, the North Korean negotiators could spoil the entire diplomatic process, albeit unintentionally. Instances in which they seemed to have moved a bit far off the mark might be those occasions when North Korean negotiators have reportedly made platitudinous objections to US proposals. There have also been occasions when doses of pronounced immaturity, crudeness, and impertinence were included in official statements from the North Korean Foreign Ministry.

In North Korea, the government insists upon keeping a watchful eye over threats to its system and society. It is understood that the reactionary, the counterrevolutionary, most often “hiding in the shadows,” posed the greatest threat and was viewed as anathema. Given human nature there was always the threat that could arise from the unsuccessful education of citizens. The security services use techniques to create fear that rival those of the Erinyes in the poems of Aeschylus and are forever hunting for those who may fall short of what is expected or may be “foreign spies.” Citizens live as if plugged into an electric outlet, terrified of crossing the line. To that extent, North Korean policy approaches have been forged by analysts in an environment of fear, and implemented by terror stricken diplomats who in addition to adhering to the precepts of juche, are simply trying to stay around. Although well aware of the danger posed by their own government’s security services, it causes one to wonder why false promises from North Korean diplomats have been commonplace during their past 25 plus years of negotiations with the US. Perhaps it was the human element. Their egos got the best of them and they wandered off toward a bridge too far in the heat of the negotiations. There has not been any of that in the current process. One can be certain  that if something is stated at the negotiation table that billows up the slightest ire in Pyongyang, it will be walked back immediately. Quam multa injusta ac prava fiunt moribus! (How many unjust and improper things are authorized by custom!)

Under ordinary circumstances, one thinking in ordinary ways might expect that North Korean policy makers and diplomats would eventually recognize that there is a need for them to become climatized to a true international environment. The clear choice would be to try to tidy things up and to transition to a new line of not political, but professional thinking. However, expecting the North Koreans to catch the Holy Ghost and see the error in their ways would be out of court. Except for Kim, North Koreans, at least officially, do not engage introspection. The government believes it has provided them with a clear path to follow.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong (center), stands with the North Korean foreign policy officials at Panmunjom in June 2019. Mindful that all authority to make foreign policy decisions resides in Kim, the North Korean negotiations team likely has no leeway to negotiate anything innovative at the negotiating table with the US. As that very likely is the case, the performance of North Korean officials and diplomats becomes a bit akin to a cabaret. Feeling duty bound to do something even with imposed limitations, a certain amount of pretense might expectedly be reflected in their moves. Indeed, that bit of pretense could be what liberates them to act uncoventionally.

How North Korean Attitudes and Behavior Are Perceived

Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in the West, Pyongyang approaches have resembled some huge masquerade, performed as a way to avoid engaging in the authentic diplomacy of give and take. The North Korean’s aspiration appears instead to be wearing the Trump administration down and compel its acquiescence to a default agreement under which all key North Korean goals would be attained. Those goals would include retaining their nuclear weapons and delivery systems at level of their choosing and ending the economically devastating sanctions imposed by the US. There are likely others in the Washington who believe Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it. (Those feelings seem well evinced by the hostile countenance of North Korean negotiators’ faces in the few publicly available photos of them. As opposed to concealing any gesture of internal thought, their faces betray an almost immeasurable anger that can barely be contained. One might also be led to believe that the North Korean negotiation team’s sullen and stoic faces might be the result of having had the Hell posted out of them at some point.)

Presumably, North Korean policy makers and diplomats could not care less about what their US counterparts think of their style. That is not exactly a perspective conducive to building confidence and forging a fruitful working relationship. If the North Koreans were to give it a moment’s thought, they would likely discover that far from being beguiled by their behavior, US negotiators on the other side of the table find coping with the whole cabaret they have been putting on during diplomatic process very unsatisfying to say the least. One might go as far as state that US negotiators may personally feel the process may no longer be worth the candle. Yet, being well-trained, imbued with true diplomatic acumen, exceptionally experienced, and just plain professional, they will remain figuratively strapped in place. They certainly will not walk away from the drawn out process that has featured dismal interactions with the North Koreans.

Pyongyang apparently never read, and accordingly never had the chance to heed, greatcharlie’s advisement not become distracted by the rants and ramblings on Trump’s foreign and national security policy in the US news media. It appears that this us precisely what they have done. From the North Korean’s repertoire verbal attacks against the US, one can discern similarities with US news media’s favorite criticisms of Trump administration. A top US news media criticism of the Trump administration’s effort at denuclearization diplomacy is that a well-thought out, reasonable negotiating strategy is absent. A parallel to that would be the statement of North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Myong Gil that whether Pyongyang breaks its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and missile testing “entirely depends on the stance of the United States.” Perhaps a misplace patrician aesthetic has founded that absolutely absurd idea, endlessly presented by the US news media, is that in diplomatic settings, Trump is unaware of etiquette and unable to properly present himself as President of the US. Moreover, it is also frequently posited that Trump has displayed an alleged barbaric, “gangster mentality”, that has tainted his personal interactions and diplomatic efforts with European allies at G7, G20, and NATO summits. Echoing these preposterous sentiments, have been official statements emanating from the North Korean Foreign Ministry referring to the denuclearization diplomacy as the “sickening negotiations” and threats that talks will not be resumed unless Washington takes measures to ensure a “complete and irreversible withdrawal of the hostile policy toward the DPRK.” Additionally, what has become rather kitsch reaction is the US news media insistence upon declaring anything Trump is doing as being solely directed at supporting his reelection or personal gain. Not thinking, but simply mimicking that ludicrous idea, the North Korean Foreign Ministry accused Washington of “abusing the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for its domestic political events.” Quis nescit primam esse historic legem, ne quid falsi dicere audeat?; deinde ne quid veri non audeat? (Who does not know that it is the first law of history not to dare to say anything that is false?; and, the second not to dare say anything that is not true?)

Group photo of Kim (center) and his leadership team in Pyongyang. Surely interpretations of the antics displayed by the North Koreans have shaped perceptions of US officials on the denuclearization diplomacy. To some in Washington, Pyongyang’s attitudes and behaviors have been quite predictable. To them, the same show that had been running for so many decades after the Korean War continues its run in the background in Pyongyang. Thoughts and deeds emanating from Pyongyang appear at best to be tinged by an anti-US bigotry and at worse scorched by it.

Pyongyang’s Perceptions of Where Washington Is Headed

In news US media outlets today, bits of news about the efforts of an administration in office is highlighted or hidden by reporters depending upon whether they fit the narrative, positive or negative, that the outlet holds of that administration. To that extent, the news, as opposed to being reported in a fair and balanced way, is decidedly curated. As a staunch proponent of the right of freedom of speech as entitled under the First Amendment of the US Constitution, greatcharlie certainly believes critics of US government activities, particularly the press, the Fourth Estate, should have free hand to express themselves.  However, along with that right of free express comes a reasonable expectation that news media outlets, particularly in the arena of international affairs, will act prudently in presenting information. Professional ethics alone should guide behavior in news media outlets with regard to presenting information that is known to be false or cannot be substantiated. Even more, presenting questionable information that may have an undesirable, deleterious, and even destructive impact on their own country’s success must be avoided. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who, to be more forthright, are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him that may be based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency.

Ex falsis, ut ab ipsis didicimus, verum effici non protest. (From the false, as they have themselves taught us, we can obtain nothing true.) Trump’s adversaries seem to feel a compulsive need to express from a soapbox overly simplistic views about him and his administration’s efforts to the point of extravagance. What was one of the worst direct allegations made by his adversaries in the news media was the shameful declaration that “Trump is a Russian spy.” For those willing to submit to reality, the final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters, Robert Mueller, known as the the Mueller Report, should have knocked down any concerns the fantastic allegation might be true. Anyone who understood what that falsehood would have entailed to be true would hardly have uttered such complete nonsense without feeling foolish or guilty. At the same time, many at very high levels inside and outside of government, most of whom had albeit possessed an untutored expertise in the subject matter, clearly believed it all. Strangely, it appears that vacuous pronouncements about “Trump’s espionage” were rooted in “facts” on how the “spy world” works from productions of the entertainment industry. Trying to make any sense of it, one might believe that instead of being concerned with foreign and national security policy, his adversaries were writing spy novels or novels of political intrigue. (Perhaps the intent among some of them is to publish a roman à clef on this period at some point down the line.)

Vigorous as ever are the endless exertions that Trump has done this or that lurid or generally inappropriate thing. Those pundits with the gumption to state such things publicly seem to have been provided an open invitation to flood broadcast, print, and online news media with their breathtaking, multi-layered rumors, cluttered with ambiguities and contradictions. To be blunt, one should always suspect that the stories they hear in the US news media are lies. Perchance, such views expressed on Trump reveal the limits of their intellectual power, and more sadly, the sensibilities of the times, banal and tasteless. Added to all of that, Trump clearly makes a satisfying target for the misguided passion of reporters and pundits. For those who can recall the degree of professionalism and intellectual acuity that journalists of those same news media outlets once displayed in an era not so long ago, it all becomes too heartbreaking to watch. Current journalists from those outlets now seem so completely estranged from that high-level of performance.

Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn the lesson that is dangerous to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching endless incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel. Some countries based their policy decisions on the many absurdities about Trump found in the US news media enough so that they brought their relations with the US perilously close to ruin. As aforementioned, questionable information from the news media has surely provided the push from behind to both flawed and completely incorrect inferences and judgments made in Pyongyang. To that extent, the US news media  has undoubtedly played a role in making efforts of the US negotiation team to establish an intimate relationship with the North Koreans more difficult.

Trump at his inauguration on January 20, 2017. Critics of Trump in the US news media, who are actually his adversaries, never fail to curate information that they make available to the public to fit their negative narrative on Trump. They also never fail to propagate commentary about him based on conjecture at best or presumption at worse. Assuredly it has been done with a goal to bully and cause harm. It has been a problem from the first year minus one of his presidency. Trump’s adversaries have yet to learn how dangerous it is to throw ugly rhetoric around. An international audience devours such information and has a penchant for reaching incorrect conclusions from the tiniest morsel.

Nodum in scirpo quærere. (To look for a knot in the rushes (I.e., to look for difficulty where none exists.) Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party who hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. Their premise was that during a phone call that Trump had on July 5, 2019 with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump sought to coerce him to initiate an investigation of an election opponent in return for the release of military aid he was withholding. It was very unusual interpretation of the phone call given the official transcript of the call released by Trump indicated nothing of the sort. It was all initiated by claims of an alleged whistle blower who never heard the phone conversation. Supposed fact-finding hearings insisted upon by House Democrats lifted the veil on nothing but hearsay and alarmist presumptions. (Res ipsa loquitor! If they truly do not understand that the world does not work in that way, how apparent it becomes that some officials from the US intelligence services, through their briefings, have failed to provide Members of Congress with a thorough understanding of intelligence work, particularly tradecraft.) Observing events, greatcharlie admittedly hoped that the smallest spark of decency would have caused House Democrats to find some way to stop moving down their destructive path. Instead, they pushed through the two articles, accusing him of betraying the country for his own political benefit and obstructing a Congressional investigation into his actions. That drastic step taken was more about House Democrats feelings about Trump than about his actual actions. Democrats in Congress, through their legislative action, have memorialized the schism between themselves and Trump.

To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big. However, what observers in foreign capitals should actually note is that there are two chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The US Senate, which also has a say in how US foreign policy is conducted, is controlled by Trump’s Republican Party which has fully supported his efforts and can continue to achieve much to support the US President without their Democrat counterparts in House. Those observers in foreign capitals should further note that Trump has actually acquired a remarkable record of success on a plethora of foreign policy issues. Still, most importantly, observers in foreign capitals should note that House Democrats, have not as yet recognized or acquiesced to the truth that they may have all been useful idiots in a larger, darker plan of dishonorable individuals within the government, and some outside, to force Trump from office. The true nature of the very apparent criminal conspiracy is currently under investigation by the highest ranking law enforcement officials in the US. They will twinkle out the conspirators of this abominable enterprise–hidden most likely within the intelligence services–and reveal the full nature of their heinous plans. More than just tge House Democrats, the news will undoubtedly perplex and unravel all those individuals who have been so certain of Trump’s guilt in all of the nonsense propagated. (There will most likely be a tidal wave excessive emotional outbursts, likely be akin to those unsightly ones seen in the camp of Hilary Clinton when was announced that she had lost the 2016 US Presidential Election.)

Trump’s political adversaries, Members of the Democratic Party, who currently hold the majority in the US House of Representatives, aggressively lashed out against him, conducting a truncated process of investigation and hastily approving two malicious articles of impeachment against him. To the extent that the behavior of House Democrats relates to the denuclearization diplomacy, it may indicate to observers in foreign capitals that Trump does not have Congressional support for his foreign policy initiatives. It may have already led some foreign capitals to consider whether it would be worth the candle to work with Trump on anything big.

Getting an Improved Grip on the Situation

Unlike a mystery, all challenges, much as puzzles, have solutions. They simply need to be found. As outlined earlier here, there are political, professional, and personal issues that doubtlessly preoccupy the North Koreans and stand as obstacles to constructive negotiations. However, there may indeed be a way make interactions between negotiating teams rewarding and thereby potentially useful to Kim in moving the diplomatic process on denuclearization forward. Right now the negotiations, ironically, have been a tool that has allowed Pyongyang to stall it, intentionally or unintentionally. If an issue takes one into deep waters, one must often dive deeper into it in order to develop a sound theory, to find solutions. Sometimes that can be done by making connections between a matter at hand with similar yet remote issues that already have answers. If Pyongyang can again forgive greatcharlie’s honesty, it must be stated that dealing with its foreign policy apparatus, and particularly its Foreign Ministry, seems akin to trying to interact with a young adult, just beginning to understand his or her place in the world.

The young adult, teenager to be more precise, may typically spend time and exert energy strongly protesting vehemently complaining, and tearfully fretting and frowning about one thing or another. However, whatever may actually be at the root of what irritating or pressuring them more often will not be articulated. The teenager will expect a responsible adult, to whom they may choose to express their feelings, to supernaturally possess some understanding of not only what is disturbing them, but it’s cause. Failure to do so will elicit the words that nearly every teenager may have stated or thought at some point, “You don’t get me!”

In order to get to the root of the problem means creating conversation, talking it out. That will usually responsible adult to try to hear them out while ignoring criticism and accusations mostly without merit. It would not be the proper time for ordinary repartee. When opportunities arise to get a word in edgewise, the adult can discuss similar situations from experience, and say things that will draw questions from the teenager. Discussing situations from which commonalities of  experiences can be recognized will also support communication. A conscious effort should be made by the adult to supply a vocabulary that the teenagers can incorporate to express their experiences thus supporting a more productive exchange. Further, by taking these steps, a figurative bridge might be constructed which may support other fruitful exchanges with the teenager in the future. Notably, if teenagers are not correctly mentored in a way that is right and proper by caring adults, they can very well fall prey to their contemporaries and other adult who will not have their best interests at heart. In a similar way, North Korea could fall prey to its northern neighbors, the Russian Federation and China, which only seek to promote their respective interests.

Conceptualizing along such lines, an approach might be developed that might potentially provide US negotiators with a way to work more effectively with the North Koreans. Of course, the North Koreans, themselves, must be open to any approach in the end. However, if US negotiators could convince them to share, without pretension, their bedrock concerns, things could really get started. Certainly, the North Koreans’ laser focus during negotiations will remain pursuing specific goals as instructed by Pyongyang. However, other than an all or nothing frontal assault, they may not have considered better ways to pursue those goals via talks. Demonstrating to the North Koreans at the negotiation table that there are alternative ways to mutually satisfy the aims of both countries may resonate with them. It could very well provide them with work product that they might be pleased to report back home. Virtus est vitium fugere, et sapienta prima stultitia caruisse. (To flee vice is the beginning of virtue, and the beginning of wisdom is to have gotten rid of folly.)

It is important to note that what is presented here does not infantilize the North Korean policymakers and diplomats. That is far from its intent. What is presented here acknowledges a pattern of behavior, identifies an instance of similar behavior unrelated to foreign policy from which an understanding of it can be furthered, and provides a starting point from which strategy for working constructively under such conditions might be more easily conceptualized. (One might muse lightheartedly on how much easier it would be for Washington to interact with Pyongyang, if US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo could staff the US negotiation team with clairvoyants and precognitive empaths!)

Some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie does not subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right.

The Way Forward

Confessedly, greatcharlie feels a certain piquancy about receiving comments for they serve as proof positive that readers take a real interest in what is posted on the blog. Equally pleasing is the thought that prior posts have stirred debate on the issue of diplomacy on denuclearization to some degree. Still, it remains a tad troubling to know that some critics will likely interpret what is presented here as further evidence that it is the “vocation” of greatcharlie to evangelize for the Trump administration. True, greatcharlie supports the foreign policy efforts of the US President and wishes him well. However, greatcharlie will never subscribe to the view that expressing goodwill, siding with truth, and choosing what is universally right over wrong can be judged as a partisan political exercise. The purpose of greatcharlie’s efforts on the denuclearization diplomacy has been to bring the truth to the public by providing an accurate rendering of what is happening with regard to the diplomacy of denuclearization. Without affectation, greatcharlie believes it has been doing that job right. Our intent is to keep gnawing at the subject of diplomacy on denuclearization. The hope is that our readers will continue to give our posts the concentration that is sought from them.

In composing this precis of greatcharlie’s thinking on the diplomatic process on denuclearization in response to readers’ comments, it became very clear that our readers have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the issue. Interestingly though, us-them arguments and hints of the rhetoric of good versus evil were common features of their responses. Questions were also frequently raised as to why the US would even want to negotiate with Pyongyang given its disobliging stance. Perhaps the best response to all of that would be that Trump did not stumble into the diplomatic process on denuclearization. He knew the history of US-North Korea relations and jumped in knowing that there would be a lot of hard work entailed without an immediate solution. The work may be challenging, but the prize of success is greater peace and security in Northeast Asia, and greater degree of peace and security in the world. That is certainly worth pursuing. Prudens futuri temporis exitum caliginosa nocte premit Deus; ridetque, si mortalis ultra fas trepidat. (God in His wisdom veils in darkness of night the events of the future; and smiles if a mortal is unduly solicitous about what he is not permitted to know.)

Commentary: The Hanoi Summit: What Kim Did Wrong and What Trump Is Doing Right

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). Before the Hanoi Summit, Trump insisted that if he became unsatisfied with the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That was precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not reach a common understanding with Trump in order to create a denuclearization agreement. Yet, regardless of what drove Kim, the question of what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point remains. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in Hanoi’s aftermath.

The strains placed on both US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in their February 27-28, 2019 meeting in Hanoi were quite significant. The intended outcome of the meeting, that primarily being an agreement on denuclearization and North Korea’s economic rejuvenation, would have been positive for both sides. Before Hanoi, Trump put considerable energy into considering the type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. He remained optimistic despite being bombarded by the voices of pessimism heard from naysayers and dream killers of all political stripes. For Kim, moving North Korea along a path toward the economic miracle that Trump proposed would require a well-planned, monumental project to restructure the only world he and his people have known. Surely, it was worth the candle for both Trump.and Kim to make a go at it. However, it may very well be that Kim did not fully understand that everything North Korea is, and everything it has, was actually at stake. To that extent, North Korea may not have been properly invested in the move toward denuclearization. It appears even Kim’s purported percipience of Trump and US foreign and national security policy making was also lacking. (Perhaps that knowledge was simply not being properly applied in practice.) .

Trump insisted before the Hanoi Summit, much as he had before negotiations with other national leaders on agreements, that if he became unsatisfied the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That is precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not to reach a common understanding with Trump and create a denuclearization agreement. Given Kim’s human rights record, some might suggest may have been influenced by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Sardonics aside, the talk’s outcome provides indicia to support a few reasonable theories. Thinking outside of the box in order to find causality for Kim’s decision, one might conclude on a basic level, that the whole negotiation soon became too rich for his blood and rather than take a giant step forward and risk making the wrong choice, he held pat on his position. On a higher tier, one might assess that there may have been senior advisers in Pyongyang who convinced Kim that he could get Trump to eat out of his hand, and in a leap of faith, he tossed everything into an effort to twist Trump’s tail and get him to accept a deal shaped by North Korea’s terms. Additionally, there is the possibility that some self-doubt might have found a place in Kim’s thinking. Despite his leadership through iron rule, one might also politely conclude that Kim possesses a sort of 50-50 mentality. That would mean that Kim can see the potential of all arguments, even those made by the US. From that, it might be considered that he would typically need more time to reach a decision that would best suit North Korea long-term. In whatever way Kim may have been driven, the question now is what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in the aftermath of Hanoi. Having apparently gotten things mixed up in Hanoi, hopefully Kim will not mess things up from this point on with Trump. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

Is Kim Missing the Bigger Picture?

Right on the heels of the summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, essentially to explain why an agreement could not be reached. Trump told reporters that the crux of the matter was sanctions. In summarizing the situation, Trump stated Kim wanted sanctions lifted to a degree in which they would be rendered ineffective. In exchange, Kim would be willing to denuclearize portions of critical areas. Yet, Trump said those testing areas Kim was willing to break down were not the ones the US wanted. They were hardly enough to elicit the cessation of sanctions. Since Kim held firm to that position, Trump explained that there was little choice but to walk away from that proposal. However, Trump never indicated the conversation on the denuclearization had been exhausted.

Indeed, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome has not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.” As for how the parties might move forward with the diplomatic process following Hanoi, Trump explained: “In the meantime, we’ll be talking. Mike [Pompeo, US Secretary of State] will be speaking with his people. He’s also developed a very good relationship with the people — really, the people representing North Korea. I haven’t spoken to Prime Minister Abe yet. I haven’t spoken to President Moon of South Korea.  But we will, and we’ll tell them it’s a process and it’s moving along.”

There was no legitimate cause for any confusion in Pyongyang as to what Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. As one can see, progress made on some of these matters was mentioned by Trump during his Hanoi press conference. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure, sanctions, would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of North Korea. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense of where things stand in North Korea regarding denuclearization. There was also no ambiguity over the fact that the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Alas, at the table, the maximum that Kim could possibly collect about Trump, in order to make a good decision on the deal offered, was put before him, for all answers concerning the US position, concept and intent, ultimately resided in Trump, himself. Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang could not reasonably ask for anything more.

It would say much if Kim could not see that real empathy may have come from Trump, understanding how heavy a burden such a decision might be for the young leader. Previous deals with North Korea of great significance were last reached with his father, Kim Jong-un, and they crumbled under the insistent strain within North Korea, in Kim regime to pursue the goal of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung of developing nuclear weapons. That goal has been achieved.  There may still be the strain within Kim to ignite an economic development akin, or even beyond, the Chollima Movement, as initiated by Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung. There is much that needs to done in North Korea, and as Trump has repeated, great potential exists within its workforce.

Trump’s critics and detractors insisted that Trump was out of court to even attempt to reach agreement with Kim that would meet the requirement of serving the interests of the US and its allies in the region. Surely, the Trump administration would never surrender  the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Those critics and detractors, upon discovering that Trump was unfazed by their persistent negative voices and was going to make the effort anyway, eventually turned to the standby criticism concerning any of Trump’s efforts on foreign and national security policy: he is unqualified. Further, they would also insist that behind everything Kim has done was a hostile DPRK plot, a “Red plot”, to lure Trump and the US to destruction.

The Snare of Insufficient Analysis

Attacks by critics and detractors of Trump have manifested more than elementary cynicism. The dark shadows of their machinations gathered as the Hanoi Summit came near. Their efforts did more more than serve to tear those in the US public who are supportive of Trump away from him. Despite claims from Trump’s political adversaries, and the usual critics and detractors that what was happening in Washington had no impact on what occurred in Hanoi, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it would seem that Pyongyang, unfortunately chose to do what was expedient. That meant believing Trump was stressed from the potential release of a final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters. There have been repeated insinuation that Trump faced the threat of investigations by the Deputy US Attorney for Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General. Pyongyang might have believed that Trump, caught in the wave of excitement concerning the 2020 US Presidential Campaign, mystifying reports of supposed gains by Democrats in polls versus Trump, and the reported mayhem that exists within the mainstream political parties. There may have been the belief that Kim could capitalize on some forecasted by the intelligence services on the impatience on the part of Trump. Reports commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media surely would have rung a bell for Kim’s aides and advisers and analysts in North Korea’s intelligence services. From that, it would follow that Trump’s political difficulties at home would likely distract him. If any of this was the case, it may explain why Pyongyang seemingly went all in on an effort to force Trump’s hand.

What Trump confidently knew, but Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang would have unlikely been able to discern clearly, was that the hearings of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives and in camera testimony before the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives in which Trump’s erstwhile attorney Michael Cohen testified, in essence amounted to vanity projects undertaken by political opponents of Trump in his rival Democratic Party. Although the hearings grabbed headlines in the US news media while Trump met with Kim in Hanoi, the new information gained from them was for the most part already widely known. As it has been repeatedly counseled by greatcharlie, reacting, and much worse, inferring how Trump’s mind moves on an issue from stories, iniquitous commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media. For the most part, US news media houses have done a complete job presenting themselves as Trump’s adversary, not simply critics and detractors. In either case, they are not playing the impartial watchdog role in which the fourth estate is supposed to serve.

Leaders often take unimaginable risks under stress. One could surmise that Kim must have been under some stress at home. Indeed, looking at Kim objectively, the question would be whether Kim was being ambitious or desperate in Hanoi. There is the possibility that in the intelligence services or the Workers’ Party of Korea, it may have posited that Trump could be manipulated into accepting a deal far less than he originally wanted. Lending support for the idea would be that Kim managed to secure a second meeting and that Kim was the actual master at the negotiation table with Trump, and he could take US President down whatever path he wanted. Although it may all sound like daylight madness, it is actually the sort of colorization of policy with delusional notions of an all powerful supreme leader that has underpinned many prior ham-handed decisions by Pyongyang. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Kim’s 50-50 Personality?

One might theorize that Kim’s failure to return home with a constructive answer may not have driven as much by politics but by the possibility that he possesses a 50-50 personality. This is not intended as a disparagement or an affront. It is not to suggest that Kim is a mixed bag, or worse, indecisive. It does not mean Kim is regularly afflicted by the paralysis of analysis. The 50-50 personality is the one able to see beyond black and white to the grey areas of significance. Kim cannot be pegged as one extreme or the other. Kim’s trained ability to project calmness and authority in all circumstances publicly has little relation to what might be stirring within. In private, he may in reality be as much the introvert as the extrovert, he may entertain his sense of things as much as use a honed intuition. He may try to feel through issues and situations coupled with thinking them through ad infinitum. He may be willing to use his perception of matters taking into account his experience and much as making calibrated judgments based on available facts and methods of analysis.

New Problems or a Curious Attempt to Ignite Further Talks?

Kim has created an additional problem himself at this point. Reportedly, he has sought to reconstruct a disassembled testing facility for long range rockets at Tongchang-ri. On first blush, it certainly does seem there is nefarious purpose behind his actions. It is hard to see how anyone could view Kim as anything but an aggressor. Trump has invested in diplomacy to resolve matters in contention: North Korea’s nuclear program and its long range delivery systems. Tactical moves must have payoffs or they are useless exertions, often opening the door for opponent to act. Kim, having met Trump, should not be under any illusion that Trump would not respond fiercely to moves he might find aggressive and or threatening. Kim does not need to extrapolate and infer anything from overt or covert sources that his intelligence services may be relying upon to understand and predict Trump’s moves. The suspension of military exercises should not have signalled to Kim that Trump is not interested in a military option. As he indicated in words he has since set aside in the spirit of negotiating some resolution, North Korea’s aggression would met with “ fire and fury the world has never known!” Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but military exercises with conventional forces would hold less significance on the North Korea front if an attack conceived by Trump would include the use of scores of nuclear weapons.

Does Kim Really Know What Is Best for North Korea?

Even with the notion that he has a type of 50-50 mentality, and with all of his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to the Communist movement taken into consideration, Kim must realize that Trump’s deal was too good to pass on. Nevertheless, he did so. Looking at the matter purely from the perspective of an external observer, Kim made a big mistake. As a national leader concerned with his people’s real future and being much more than a functionary within the system, logic should have driven him toward it. One stands on shaky ground saying anything positive about Kim given the sensitivity of government agencies in the US to such comments, nonetheless, failing to engage Trump for a bit longer in Hanoi on the development of a fitting agreement for both parties was not a surprising error for a national leader who is new to such high stakes diplomacy. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

A logical next step for Kim and his aides and advisers, if they are truly interested in, and dedicated to, this important diplomatic process, might be to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube. A sign that such an effort could already be underway might be official statements by the foreign ministry of North Korea insisting that there was a desire in Pyongyang for a partial denuclearization. Indeed, on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho explained that Kim’s regime sought only “partial” sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main enrichment capabilities for fissile material. As for continued negotiations, Ri stated, “It is difficult to say whether there might be a better agreement than the one based on our proposal at current stage.” He continued authoritatively, “Our principal stance will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed, even though US proposes negotiation again in the future.” Ri also confirmed that the North would be willing to “permanently dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities” at the main Yongbyon nuclear site and allow U.S. nuclear experts to observe. He went on to complain that North Korea had sought an end to “sanctions that hamper the civilian economy, and the livelihood of all people in particular,” citing five out of 11 sanctions packages imposed by the UN Security Council. As mentioned earlier, sanctions relief along those lines would have amounted to a significant easing of the pressure on North Korea.

Although some somber and astute analysts might reach the conclusion that the foreign ministry’s bold, inaccurate statements, with their familiar antagonistic cadence, was simply a pretension, one more dramatic expression of Pyongyang. The odd hope of it all would appear to be influencing opinion among senior officials of the Workers Party of Korea and other elites of business circles of the society that Trump was not sincere about sanctions relief and he failed to respond to what is likely extolled in Pyongyang as Kim’s “generous offer”. It may very well have been the case that Pyongyang had the foreign ministry’s statement “locked and cocked” even before Kim left by train for Hanoi in the event that Trump would not accept the terms he planned to offer him.

The Agony of Negotiating with North Korea

It is interesting how North Korean officials have spoken so obstinately of Trump’s openhandedness toward their country. Perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten that Kim is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. (That is unlikely something anyone in Pyongyang would ever say in Kim’s presence.) Among industrialized countries, ruling out the Russian Federation and China, few governments hold a favorable opinion of North Korea. Pyongyang should rest assured that a number of capable US allies have likely suggested in confidence that Trump should move on from diplomacy and simply use military force on North Korea and indicated the willingness to join that effort. Trump, the one that North Korean Foreign Ministry officials now criticize, is the national leader who truly has the military power to destroy North Korea, yet he has given it a chance to prove its positive intentions to the world. Trump has sought to create the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work well with it. Trump’s description of his contacts and communications with Kim and public statements about his friendship and chemistry with him, have made him far less the threat that deservedly made headlines with angry words and aggressive moves in 2017 when the administration began. Trump kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way as he has become the administration’s talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. More than half way through his term as of this writing, Trump has amassed a record of making things happen; getting things done.

Not under any circumstances would the reconstruction of the testing site fall under the category of a benign act. It would hard to see where Pyongyang, having had two bites at the diplomacy apple, might hope to have some understanding of its move to reconstruct it’s long-range rocket testing site in a positive way in Washington or anywhere in the US for that matter. In reconstructing the testing site, Kim is doing precisely what Trump said he did not want North Korea to do. Nonetheless, taking a second look at the matter of Kim’s move to reconstruct the testing site from another angle purely out of academic interest and with a dose of optimism, one could say that the effort, albeit poorly conceived, was designed to create a position of perceived strength and encourage Trump to talk with Kim again. After all, that step was less threatening than other available options to garner immediate attention, create urgency. Kim could have begun reconstruction on a shuttered nuclear facility or begun building a new one. Kim could have made unsubstantiated public claims of possessing new nuclear technologies to enrich uranium for weapons such as the ability to separate isotopes through laser excitation (“SILEX”). (Note, this is just a hypothetical. There is no effort here to suggest that North Korea possesses such capabilities.) For Pyongyang, the danger in engaging in such tricky stuff is that the wrong signal may be sent to Washington. By and large, Pyongyang has asked the Trump administration to be patient and to recognize that on the world stage, North Korea is going to display a lack of sophistication, savoir faire, and present itself as the isolated, authoritarian “hermit kingdom” it has always been. While it may have hoped to move things in a specific way, it is possible that what might be intended through such moves could be lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps even unknowingly, Pyongyang has placed its best hope in Trump’s willingness to interpret its moves in a somewhat positive way and view the diplomatic effort as being worth the trouble.

It is apparent that Trump along with those foreign and national security policy officials who were optimistic about a deal being reached on denuclearization with North Korea, reasoned that it would be worth giving Kim the benefit of doubt.  However, one could never be completely clear on how denuclearization would fit into the worldview of the Workers’ Party of Korea or Kim’s inner thinking. Shots have not been fired at anger across the border. There has been no testing over nuclear devices and no testing of long-range or short-range rockets. If a chance might be taken in the name of finding a peaceful agreement, right now is certainly the time to take them. It certainly would be a ashame if the positive spirit which had been discern in the White House from Kim’s thoughts, words, and deeds from Singapore until Hanoi, was simply imputed by the administration to greater degree than warranted. Admittedly, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would at this point, hope for peace while reconstructing a testing facility for long-range rockets.

It is worth noting that in a more forceful, less grateful statement than Ri’s on February 28, 2019, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, explained: “The impression I got observing this summit from the side was that our chairman seems to have difficulty understanding the US way of reckoning.” Choe, offering her own assessment, declared: “I felt that our chairman has lost the will to engage in dealmaking, with the US saying that even a partial lifting of sanctions for the civilian economy is hard.” Conditions surely will not change through diplomacy if Pyongyang refuses to negotiate. If anything positive could be gleaned from Choe’s statement, itself, it is the fact that the harshest words were delivered by a vice foreign minister, not Kim or a very senior Workers’ Party of Korea official. That may have left the door open for Kim or a senior officials to walk back from those words, making diplomacy with the hope that cobbling together a denuclearization agreement might still be viable. Apparently, Trump mercifully brushed off pretentious statements by DPRK’s officials on their country’s power relative to that of the US, and the great disproportion between them with reality. It is difficult to determine how long Trump’s patience will last though. Given a third chance, Kim might goof again.

Trump certainly has not indicated that he feels the time has come to tie things off. It may be that Trump is more concerned with the prospect of millions of lives being lost if he does not give it every chance. When asked in Hanoi whether the bridge could be gapped between Kim’s desire to have all or a significant portion of sanctions removed and his desire to more significant denuclearization, he responded: “With time.  It’ll be bridged, I think, at a certain point.  But there is a gap.  We have to have sanctions.  And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.  We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not.  We know every inch of that country.  And we have to get what we have to get, because that’s a big — that’s a big give.” Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Commentary: Border Protection and National Security: Will a Border Wall Be Useful or Useless?

Graphic of US President Donald Trump’s vision of a “physical barrier” for the Southern Border (above). Trump has requested additional funds for its overall approach to border security, to include $5.7 billion for a wall. The wall would serve as an impediment to people and vehicles moving north. Its steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, making it relatively impervious to demolition and hindering excavation. Pointed heads on its steel bars would allow it to function in much as an abbatis. To Congressional Democrats, a physical barrier across the entire border is expensive and ineffective, and insist they will never fund it. The result has been an awful muddle.

While greatcharlie has kept abreast of the debate in the US on building a wall along the US-Mexico border, the matter had not found its way on our radar until it was labelled a national security issue. The matter has been discussed so often and for so long in the US news media that the landscape is already familiar to most. US President Donald Trump, being thoroughly convinced of the need for a “border wall”  or “physical barrier”, is insisting on $5.7 billion for its completion. With his eyes wide open, he leaped into a  protracted struggle with Democratic Congressional leaders, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and  Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, to get that funding. To encourage them to take that step, as of this writing, Trump has allowed a segment of the government to shut down for over a month by refusing to sign any spending bill that would keep it open unless funding for the wall was included in it. Congressional Democrats have refused to provide that funding. As a result, over 800,000 federal employees have either furloughed or have continued working without their salaries. Congressional Democrats paint a picture that is very black on “Trump’s Wall.” They have abrasively called the idea of a physical barrier across the entire border expensive and ineffective, and insist that they will never fund it. They believe an authentic solution to problems on the Southern Border would involve more personnel, drones, and detection technology.

The result has been an awful muddle. Although both sides apportion blame, and responsibility for any ensuing consequences, to one another. One side will eventually need to face the music. On January 4, 2019, President Donald Trump first publicly mentioned using executive authority to build the border wall. That has become a real possibility. It is not an affectation to state that in discussing this matter, greatcharlie does not seek to admire or condemn one side or the other. What is here will hopefully provide, not in an immodest way, some brief, additional facts and ideas deprived from popular public arguments. If it contributes in some way to the policy debate on the border wall, greatcharlie would be satisfied.

During his January 8, 2019 speech from the Oval Office, Trump provided statistics in support of his belief that a worsening problem at the Southern Border was a humanitarian crisis that is now relevant to US national security. In his “Address to the Nation on the Crisis at the Border” on the evening of January 8, 2019, Trump explained that 2,000 inadmissible migrants arrive at our border every day and overwhelm our immigration system. Countries of the so-called “Northern Triangle” of Central America which include Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have shown a significant spike in illegal immigration to the US. Reportedly, many families from the Northern Triangle have rushed from countries with significant levels of violent crime. Data indicates that in 2016, El Salvador had the world’s highest murder rate (82.8 homicides per 10,000 people), followed by Honduras (at a rate of 56.5). Guatemala was 10th (at 27.3), according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Another motivating force for migration from Northern Triangle countries is poverty. Those countries are among the poorest in Latin America. Some reportedly have seen a reduction of extreme poverty in recent years, however, large numbers of their populations live on less than $2 a day (the international poverty line is $1.90).

Indeed terms of impact, Trump pointed out in his January 8, 2019 address that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has arrested 266,000 aliens with criminal records in the last two years. He indicated that statistic includes aliens charged or convicted of 100,000 assaults, nearly 30,000 sex crimes, and 4,000 violent killings. Reports from the Pew Research Center show that among ICE arrestees in 2017 with prior convictions, the most common criminal conviction category was driving under the influence of alcohol (59,985 convictions, or 16% of the total), followed by possessing or selling “dangerous drugs” such as opioids (57,438, or 15%). Immigration offenses, which include illegal entry or false claim to US citizenship, were the third-most common crime type (52,128 convictions, or 14%). Apparently, those arrested can have more than one type of conviction or pending charge so the total number of charges and convictions is greater than the total number of arrestees; ICE counts an immigrant with a prior criminal conviction and pending criminal charges only in the criminal conviction category. Regarding drug trafficking, Trump explained deadly drugs are flowing across our borders, taking far too many US citizens: 300 die every week from heroin, 90% of which comes across our Southern Border. According to the 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the largest share of heroin and methamphetamine comes across the border in trucks and personal vehicles, using secret compartments or hiding the drugs amidst legitimate products.

Trump further explained in his address that the US does not have the resources needed to hold migrant entering the US illegally, and legal loopholes and activist court rulings prevent authorities from promptly returning them. He pointed to Immigration courts are overwhelmed, with a backlog of over 800,000 cases. With the goal of securing the Southern Border, to protect US communities, the Trump Administration has requested additional funds relative to the Department of Homeland Security funding bill that passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. Within that request for funds as part of an overall approach to border security, Trump stated: “Law enforcement professionals have requested $5.7 billion for a physical barrier. At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall. This barrier is absolutely critical to border security. It’s also what our professionals at the border want and need. This is just common sense.”

Remedium irae est mora. (The cure for anger is delay.) Despite their polemic, Trump does not necessarily see Congressional Democrats as misguided or worse, amoral. He feels that they are engaged in the unfortunate game of political brinkmanship, they, too, are allowing the portions of the government to remain closed. He senses that they are presenting an artificial side of themselves by rebuffing his plans for a border wall, and presenting what is simply a preferred position on the matter. As of this writing, Trump hopes Congressional Democrats will eventually face up to how injudicious their choice is and come to his way of thinking given that the national security, even more the sovereignty of the country is at stake. He believes political expediency and private emotion will obey reason and public duty. Still, though his preference is negotiation, Trump may eventually find cause the use his authority as president to declare the situation at the border a national emergency and seek funding for the wall through that process. Trump’s patience has its limits.

Given that they are well-seasoned political figures, it is very difficult to discern whether their arguments against the border wall proffered by Congressional Democratic leaders are allowed to be misleading through an act of omission, whether they simply do not understanding how the wall fits in to the broader picture of border security and purely believe in the rectitude of their argument. One might ascribe greater possibility to the later given how they handled their own efforts to create a wall on the Southern Border through the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As a result of considerable deal making among Congressional Democrats and Republicans, $1.2 million was authorized to construct 700 miles of “border fencing” along the Southern Border. It was the only option at the time, but certainly not the best approach. As a result of the authorization, the US has 649 miles of various types of walls and fences along the border. Some of it to keep pedestrians from crossing, with others meant to stop vehicles. To protect the habitat of the last North American jaguars, an endangered species, barriers are absent on a portion of the border. A good portion of the border is delineated by the Rio Grande with its canyons and bluffs and also lacks barriers. However, the border from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico is nearly 2000 miles long. Much of the border, where barriers could serve the purpose of thwarting penetration, was left unprotected.

On walls and fixed fortifications, the renowned US commander in World War II, US General George Patton, explained in his memoir published posthumously in 1947, War As I Knew It: “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity. If mountain ranges and oceans can be overcome, anything made by man can overcome.” In Appendix D of the memoir, he added: “. . . Study the Siegfried and Maginot Line, remembering that these defenses were forced; that Troy fell; that the wall of Hadrian succumbed; that the Great Wall of China was futile . . . .” The gaping holes in the 649 mile wall that Congressional Democrats were willing to sponsor certainly left the door wide open to penetration by opponents. The limited “border fencing” concept failed miserably. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report concluded that despite 649 miles of completed fencing, the “the southwest border continues to be vulnerable to cross-border illegal activity, including the smuggling of humans and illegal narcotics.” Perhaps their understanding of the utility of a wall is greatly informed by their own unsatisfactory efforts. Yet, engaging in the symbolic act of simply raising a wall, as they did, is not the equivalent of using a wall as an obstacle and part of a larger plan for an active defense against an opponent’s continued effort to penetrate US territory. Ideally, a wall of sufficient, properly placed, should create physically and as well symbolically, a nonpermissive environment for opponents. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Looking from another angle, unacknowledged and undiscussed by Congressional Democrats is the actuality that their approach to securing the Southern Border is a limited approach to managing difficulties there. Implementation of a limited approach to combating problems at the border may very likely lead to limited results. Surely, some truly comprehensive approach to coping with problems at the border would be an considerable challenge. Such an effort might include working effectually with governments of the Northern Triangle to stem the tide of migrants and illegal activities of organized crime from migrant smuggling to human trafficking, much as they cooperate on counter narcotics operations in the Drug War, would be an important element of a plan.  It would means attacking in depth at the root of the problems, such as poverty, crime, and disillusionment at home. One might even consider the starry-eyed notion of Initiating a Marshall Plan type of investment in Central America. The goal would be to economically revitalize countries and to mitigate much of the economic hardship people in them face. Steps might include eliminate financial and other resource deficiencies that have beset national, state, and local governments, hindering their capability and capacity to satisfactorily provide services to their people. There might be efforts to invest in rebuilding infrastructure, available industries, and trade, to tackle housing needs, to improve health and sanitary conditions, and to assure clean water and other natural resources serve the needs of the people. The social justice systems of those countries in the region would be revamped, and civil rights and human rights discrepancies would be addressed. These steps, indeed, only touch the surface of what would need to be done. However, with their plates already piled high with issues, selling the idea of remaking Central America will not be the agenda of any political party in the US any time soon. If securing authorization for the funding of a border wall has been difficult, one can only imagine what trying to secure funds for such a comprehensive development plan would look like. The alternative is combat the problem in a way that makes activities from illegal entry and the establishment of sequitous routes of border penetration.

The Southern Border will unlikely be completely sanitized of illegal activities, but those fighting the problem may be able to make such activities by making them unprofitable with a suite of undefeatable measures and insurmountable obstacles. The identification and neutralization of the varied illegal activities doubtlessly will require the development of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods against the known capabilities and capacities of opponents and those forecast for future. The approach to the opponents should evolve as they invariably will shift their tactics. Use of sophisticated technologies to detect opponents’ efforts will provide border security units with greater abilities to complete their defined, enumerated tasks. Still, while technology may create greater opportunities for success, what is new will work most likely better when it is married to what is tried and true.

Congressional Democrats might argue that the border wall as envisioned by Trump would simply be a supersized obstacle. One must agree that on its face, the border wall is an obstacle. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an obstacle as a thing that blocks ones way or prevents or hinders progress. As a physical barrier, obstacles are typically used by military forces and law enforcement to impede the movement of an opponent on foot or by vehicles to prevent the achievement of their objectives or goals. Among the types of obstacles, those most relevant to discussion of the border wall are constructed obstacles and natural obstacles. The greater part of the wall would be a constructed obstacle, and much as those prepared by the military, it would serve as an impediment to people moving north on foot or in vehicles. The steel bars, embedded deep in concrete, would make the wall relatively impervious to demolition and prevent or at least greatly hinder excavation. The pointed heads of its steel bars would allow the wall to function in a way similar to an abbatis. Natural obstacles such as the Rio Grande, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, are terrain features that severely limit the movement of people on foot and halt the movement of vehicles transporting people and contraband.

Sciant quae optima sunt esse communia. (The best ideas are common property.) A more substantial discussion on the effective use of obstacles in a military fashion is provided by the US Army. For its purposes, obstacles are part of a commander’s larger plan for offensive or defensive operations. Obstacles do far more than just blocking an opponent’s movement on its axis pf advance. Stated as plainly as possible, obstacles serve to disrupt an opponent, turning the opponent into other areas where effective ways and means can be used attack it. The obstacles used for this variety of purposes are integrated into the course of action for an operation as determined by the commander. Field Manual 3-0, Operations (FM 3-0), provides doctrine on how US Army forces, as part of a joint team, conduct sustained, large-scale combat operations with current force structure and capabilities against a regional peer. In terms of opponents, the doctrine focuses on the current Russian threat against which large-scale ground combat operations are possible. To that extent, the manual explains that the Russians integrate the use of obstacles in their operational plans, too! FM 3-0 states, “The enemy typically attempts to slow and disrupt friendly forces with a combination of obstacles, prepared positions, and favorable terrain so that they can be destroyed with massed fires [to include direct and indirect artillery and rockets].”

To simply build a border wall believing the structure itself will perfectly serve to thwart an opponent’s entry onto US territory would be both misguided and foolhardy. Surely, it would be quickly overcome by the opponent’s often unexpected ingenuity, although the border wall is an obstacle, its raison d’être is not serve solely as a static defense against opponents’ efforts. There is a broader picture of a dynamic defense of the Southern Border of which the new wall, the most visible symbol of that defense, would be a part. Indeed, the wall would integrated into the defense in a way that would perfectly support the considerable ongoing operations of law enforcement and military elements protecting the Southern Border. Indeed, the border wall will have a multiplier effect upon those operations.With regard to better supporting those operations, the Trump administration has requested: $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol agents for US Customs and Border Protection (CBP); $571 million for 2,000 additional ICE personnel; $4.2 billion for 52,000 detention beds, personnel, transportation, and detention alternatives; and, $563 million for 75 additional immigration judges and support staff. Law enforcement and military elements at the Southern Border will be enabled to focus on new ways to defeat opponents’ from new angles and do more things to defeat their efforts.

Rather than suggest anyone rely solely on a few offstage meditations and considerations, historical support for some of the ideas posited here can be found from the great military commanders of the past. The world renowned military commander, Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte had a point of view on approaching a struggle with a mindset of limiting ones’ efforts: “If you wage war, do it energetically and with severity. This is the only way to make it shorter and consequently less inhuman.” While the border wall might be characterized as a huge expenditure, that will make little improvement in the struggle at the border, Congressional Democrats might discover that such small things make a big difference as the situation. As the situation on the border evolves, as the criminal elements and other opponent move the goal post for defending the border, the border wall will continue to limit and eliminate their options for movement, action.

Napoleon also explained that when resources are available and they can make difference in the field, one must deprive themselves of them. One must mass upon the opponent in order to optimize chances for success, and victory. Napoleon stated: “When you have resolved to fight a battle, collect your whole force. Dispense with nothing. A single battalion sometimes decides the day.” Using a truncated approach to border security, driven perhaps by back room political horse trading along the way, that cavalierly subtracts available elements from ones operations will nearly ensure an equivalent or worse subtraction from potential success. The problem at the border may never be mitigated. As opponents there constantly shift their strategies and tactics, and many innovative approaches to penetrating the border are revealed, the struggle may prove to be a long hard slog. Continuing with an unsatisfying tack in the face of a proven imaginative opponent, will result in both wasted energy and effort and slow spiral downward toward defeat. There may be no light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, it is always possible that any momentum toward success could shift from the US Government in favor of border opponents who are absolutely determined to succeed, attempting to overwhelm via their efforts, never satisfied with achieving some stalemate with the US Government. They would like to find a sustainable way to make US Government efforts futile.

Given how the desire to thoroughly countering the activities of opponents across the Southern Border have shaped by the Trump administration for the border wall, interesting parallels in the concepts of the King of Prussia Frederick the Great for the use of such an obstacle. Regarding European warfare, Frederick the Great is recognized in the world of military science as the master of forming defenses. While the wordimg may sound somewhat strange to the modern ear, his comcepts were well-outlined in his work entitled: “The King of Prussia’s Military Instruction to His Generals.” Through a late 18th century translation by Lieutenant Colonel T. Foster, in “Article VIII. Of Camps”, Frederick the Great conveyed: “We entrenched a camp, when it is our intention . . . to defend a difficult pass, and supply the defects of the situation by throwing up works so as to be secure from every insult on the part of the enemy.” Expounding on using barriers and walls, Frederick explained: “In camps that are intended to cover a country, [in this case would refer to the positioning of CBP, ICE, law enforcement of border states, local law enforcement and the military on the border] the strength of the place itself is not the object of attention, but those points which are liable to attack, and by means of which the enemy may penetrate. These should all be surrounded by the camp. Not that it is necessary to occupy every opening by which the enemy may advance upon us, but that one only which would lead to his desired point, and that situation which affords us security, and from which we have it in our power to alarm him. In short, we should occupy that post, which will oblige the enemy to take circuitous routes, and enable us, by small movements, to disconcert his projects.”

With regard to discovering as much as possible about an opponent before determining how to effectively employ an obstacle such as the Southern Border wall, Frederick imparted: “The army of the enemy [which in the present case would include the drug cartels, organized crime groups, smugglers, foreign intelligence operatives, economic refugees, and others attempting illegal entry] should be the chief object of our attention, it’s designs must be discovered, and opposed as vigorously as possible.” Similar to the way US border protection elements want those crossing the border to travel to designated points of entry, Frederick stated: “Intelligent generals are well informed how to oblige the enemy to attack those points where the work is made strongest by the ditch being widened, deepened, and lined with pallisadoes, chevaux de frize placed at the entrances, the parapet made cannon-proof, and pits dug in the places that are most exposed.” With regard to the design of a barrier on the Southern Border, Frederick explained: “The rules which a general has to observe in the formation of all entrenchments are, to take advantage of every marsh, river, inundation, and abbatis which may serve to render the extent of his entrenchments more difficult.” Additionally, Frederick continued by making an important point relevant to the nature of any barrier built on the border;  “ . . . The progress of the enemy is not checked by the entrenchments themselves, but by the troops who defend them.”

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. (I shall either find a way or make one.) In the present case concerning the border wall, figuratively,  generals of varied qualifications, insist on implementing their respective plans to win the battle on the Southern Border, when one general, with one set of ends and ways must suffice. Resources authorized will be dependent on who prevails in that struggle at headquarters. Congressional Democrats failed in their border security efforts in the past, and insist that Trump administration efforts will be futile. Still, the synergistic integration of the wall and new technologies, and strengthening the capabilities and capacity of those manning the border, as the Trump administration may actually be far better for the interests of the US. Fresh ideas, that have the potential to yield results are better than old, derivative ones. The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.”

It is difficult to gauge how the US public likely views all of this. Some may believe they are observing the system of checks and balances in their government at work or  other may feel they are witnessing Washington as an erratic bipolar world in which their political leaders bicker incessantly. What is certain to all is that the border security of US matters. If anything, through this debate, or impasse, the Trump administration has sent that message worldwide.

Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?

The US military base in Al Asaliyah village near Manbij, in northern Syria (above). After US President Donald Trump announced that US troops would be withdrawn from Syria, critics and detractors surmised that he reached the decision from thin air, and hastily announced it at the end of 2018 in order to “check off” a campaign promise. It was also said Trump had disregarded US allies and friends in Syria. In truth, the decision was well-mulled over by US decision makers. Far more factors were part of the decision than the short-list reported in the US news media.

There was a storm of disagreement, and in some foreign policy circles in Washington, outrage, following the decision by US President Donald Trump to withdraw US forces from Syria. Fault with the decision was supported by the claim that Trump was acting against the best advice of his top military commanders and other foreign and national security officials. It was also said that Trump was displaying a certain insouciance toward allies and friends on the ground in Syria, to include Kurdish Forces (the People’s Protection Units or YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (Arab and Assyrian fighters, as well high numbers of YPG units). Additionally, it was widely surmised that Trump reached the decision to withdraw US troops from thin air, and hastily announced the decision at the end of 2018 in order to “check off” a campaign promise. Some news media commentators even went as far as to claim that the decision signalled a new US isolationism and the beginning of a contraction under which certain US interests worldwide would be abandoned. In truth, the decision was thoroughly mulled over in a decision making meeting prior to being announced. Moreover, far more factors, in particular factors that tied to reality, were part of the decision, than the short-list reported in the news media. The aim here is to enumerate and examine, from an out of the box perspective, some of the likely considerations made by Trump and his aides and advisers prior to making the Syria decision public. Hopefully, the examination here will contribute in some way to the policy debate in the US on Syria.

The Syria situation was not a problem of Trump’s making. US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced, Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds. Along with the US, European and Middle Eastern countries, have invested troops and other resources in Syria in what has been a successful effort to destroy terrorist groups in particular.

The contradiction between the desire to continue the fight alongside allies and friends, (that resulted in what now appear to have been ill-advised promises by US officials that the US would remain in Syria), and the requirements of force protection and the need to respond to rapidly evolving geostrategic realities in the region, made the decision to withdraw undoubtedly agonizing. Trump, however, was not marginal about the matter. Some of Trump’s top advisers were very disappointed over where the final decision fell. A couple top officials, having determined that continuing to work in support of Trump’s choice would compromise their personal values, their consciences, resigned. Perhaps an effort to keep US allies and friends invested in Syria militarily or otherwise of the decision to withdraw, even in camera, was a missing step. However, the decision will not be judged right or wrong here. Homines enim cum rem destruere non possunt, iactationem eius incessunt. Ita si silenda feceris, factum ipsum, si laudanda non sileas, ipse culparis. (Such is the disposition of mankind, if they cannot blast an action, they will censure the parade of it; and whether you do what does not deserve to be taken notice of, or take notice yourself of what does, either way you incur reproach.)

The announced withdrawal of US military units from Syria came as a surprise when Trump first made it on Twitter and then with a public statement on the White House lawn. There was an immediate rush by critics and detractors of Trump to pure negatives on the decision such as calling it an abandonment of allies and friends in the field. Other observers, uncertain about the future of Syria and uncertain of the future course of the US in the region, joined in the chorus against the decision. As promises were made by US officials other than Trump to stand alongside and support allies and friends, did as much to convince many observers that the US commitment to Syria was essentially open-ended, the disappointment and harsh reactions were stronger when that belief was dashed. Yet, with an assessment made that the main mission of destroying ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria, and correlatively degrading their ability to act elsewhere, reaching toward its terminus, keeping US forces in the combat zones of Syria, keeping them in harm’s way, became questionable to Trump. All along, it was a calculated risk to deploy and allow US  forces to operate in Syria. Having spent months crossing his fingers concerning the well-being of US troops there, Trump made the decision to withdraw. Although US troops, themselves, expect to be in harm’s way whenever they are deployed in combat zones overseas, value judgments must be made by the civilian leadership on the returns or benefits from such dangerous deployments. It would seem Trump determined that the return on the US investment of troops in Syria, no longer justified placing their lives at risk. In making this decision, Trump likely felt some satisfaction knowing that he has robbed potential adversaries of the freedom to include an attack on US forces in Syria in their calculus of how they might hurt the US in the region.

US troops deployed in Syria are among the best trained in the US armed forces. As expected, they accomplished a tremendous amount. Yet, although extremely effectual in their performance, the size of their deployment, 2600 troops, is lean relative to those deployed in Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Their numbers are also meager relative to the presence of potential adversaries in Syria. Expectations from those troops should not be placed too high. For those rightfully concerned with worldwide impressions of Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces, there should be an awareness that the force of 2600 troops was too few to do too much on the ground anyway. Change in Syria in the interest of the US and in a way that reflects US values would mean: allowing for the return of refugees and displaced persons; the establishment of transparent democratic governance in some form at the local, provincial, and national levels in Syria; providing all people of Syria with residences, more than just temporary shelters; an adequate, regular supply of sustenance; a means to sustain the delivery of sustenance; sufficient sources of potable water; continuous power and electricity; a highway and road systems that will allow for freedom of movement; reconstruction bridges, tunnels, airports, harbors, dams, parks, and waterways; schools for children; hospitals and health clinics; sanitation system; law enforcement at the local, provincial, and national level; a courts system; effectual employment bureaus, a secure banking system; the rebuilding of factories and other workplaces; an agribusiness development program; and, a multitude of other necessities that will support the development of a viable society. Given the size of the force, it would not be able to guarantee the top five items enumerated on this list, particularly the safety and security of Syrian returnees from the Assad regime and other potential adversaries. The Assad regime would invariably want all returnees to fold neatly under its cruel subjugation. There would also be the requirement of protecting the Syrian people from Islamic militant groups seeking to reestablish their Caliphate or some new Islamic State from which they could launch terrorist attacks globally.

There is a broader picture concerning US capabilities and capacity to conduct military-style operations. Wars can be fought even when formations of US troops are not present. Other less visible ways and means to support the Kurdish Forces and Syrian Democratic Forces can be provided by elements of the US intelligence community to include the Central Intelligence Agency (“CIA”) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (“DIA”). Invariably, some US troops could be used covertly, in specialized technical role for those agencies. By integrating themselves among local military units, they can provide assistance in the form of supply, training, and guidance to local senior leaders, support special reconnaissance, aid local commanders with command and control of units, and engage in direct action when required. A few historical examples of the success of such operations include: CIA operations in Military Region 3 in South Vietnam; the employment of Special Forces Operational Detachments in Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait; operations in support of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian Defense Council during both Operation Sana and Operation Oluja during Bosnia War; and, CIA and DIA operations in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. Arguably, engaging in a covert operation with paramilitary trained case officers, special activities operators, and special forces soldiers working in tandem with local troops may not be as effective as having US military units perform tasks, but it is a viable option when the decision has been made to no longer make formal use of the US military. On the particular matter of providing forward control for airstrikes to defend allies and friends against attacks, resources would exist among operatives of those agencies on ground to perform that task. Moreover, with concentrations of US troops no longer on the ground in Syria, US air assets and the US-led anti-ISIS Coalition, while still maintaining parameters for safety for allies and friends, could pursue ground targets more vigorously with less concern that retribution from a malign actor against US troops would be possible. That retribution could take the form of a surprise military attack or an act of terrorism.

Many of the immediate impressions expressed about Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from Syria ignored certain realities of the evolving situation in the Middle East. There is a broader picture of foreign and national security policy for the US and other countries in the region of which US troops deployed to Syria had become a part. To understand that bigger picture, one only needs to listen closely to the persistent anti-US grumblings voiced from the capitals of potential adversaries within the region. National leaders and other top officials of those countries insist more directly that they have the will and inclination to assert themselves in Syria. In addition to those grumblings are tests of missiles of considerable range and latent warnings concerning the reinitiation of an ostensibly dormant nuclear weapons program. Perhaps through miscalculation, they might decide to act against US forces not simply to destroy them, but rather as a means to force them out. Fresh in the minds of many in the region are the 1983 attack on the US Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon and the 1996 attack on US troops at the Khobar Towers complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, and the responses by the US. Perhaps a few US political leader, though surely well-meaning, have forgotten that the enemy will have a say in the outcome of the best laid plans of Washington. (With all of the “what ifs” considered, force security has been optimized through the employment of a suite of tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods by US force commanders in Syria. Yet, only the clairvoyants can walk with an assured step in the opaqueness of the Levant. There, one must always expect the unexpected.) Lessons learned from past US military deployments to support allies in the region, which were also relatively limited in scope, have undoubtedly left Trump determined to avoid the disasters that US Presidents have faced in the past. It is far preferable for the US to act, not wait until it must react in response to such possibilities. Further, if Trump, using his experience with, and understanding of, other national leaders has felt vibrations, intimations that US forces were facing an increased danger from a certain direction in Syria, it would only be prudent him to be safe rather than sorry by moving those troops elsewhere. Correlatively, Trump would never be willing to take the chance of having the US plunged into a conflict on an adversaries terms.

The possibility must be considered that a clash between US forces and a prospective adversary on the ground in Syria could put US troops in real jeopardy. True, numbers are not everything, and the outcome of a military engagement that would include very capable US troops cannot be determined by simple bean counting. To avoid such clashes, since 2015, the US and Russia have maintained a “deconfliction line” to communicate the locations of their respective air and ground forces in Syria. Still, US troops have exercised their right to self-defense and clashes have occurred. When pro-Syrian regime fighters, mostly Russian mercenaries, attacked 40 US troops at their military base at a refinery near the town of Deir al-Zour in February 2018, around 200 of the attackers were killed. There were no US casualties. Despite that favorable outcome, circumstances may not stand in the favor of US troops on some other occasion. Russian military forces and the forces of other potential adversaries on the ground in Syria are actually formidable given their size and strength. They are close enough to US troops to pose a danger that should not be dismissed.

The order to withdraw US troops from Syria might have equated to the sounding of retreat if it had occurred following a very public threat from an adversary, or had occurred in the face of an adversary’s deployment of its forces on the ground precisely to threaten US forces. A decision not to withdraw in response to such military threats from adversaries would likely require the deployment of greater numbers of US troops in Syria and perhaps preparation for a larger war in the region. This consideration has rarely been a factor discussed by Trump’s critics and detractors and other observers in the US news media. However, it would only be a natural concern for any US president who has placed US troops in harm’s way. Quod dubites, ne feceris. (Never do a thing concerning the rectitude of which you are in doubt.)

As with other US troops in the region, US forces in Syria face a significant threat from attack by potential adversaries in the region with long-range artillery and rockets in country and precision rockets from their countries or other locations in the region in which their forces are operating. The spectrum of possible attacks indeed goes beyond frontal assaults on the several small US bases in Syria’s northeast. This consideration has also failed to find its way into the  commentaries of Trump’s critics and detractors and other observers in the US news media. The enemy has the ultimate say in how it might strike. Projections that fail to ascribe all probabilities and limit consideration to only some possibilities, perhaps the top five or top ten, while dismissing those they may feel are unlikely or de minimus, are flawed. To make a decision without the complete picture would be akin to walking down a blind alley.

There has always been the reality that Assad could attempt to strike US forces in Syria using his remaining chemical weapons stockpile, the same stockpile that the Russian Federation had confirmed that he had removed. Such an attack could be conducted as a suicide attack or “martyrdom operation”. Assad could potentially conduct such an attack even if his regime was placed in complete jeopardy. Assad is a study in miscalculation and irrationality especially when it comes to military action. A surprise chemical attack against a US base in Syria could have a devastating effect, harming a great number of troops. US troops have guarded against any effort by Assad to put his forces in positions near their bases. Away from the combat zone of Syria, comfort may be found in the thought that US forces could respond to such a chemical strike with an immediate, devastating strike upon the regime, essentially destroying it. Still, a massive retaliatory against the Assad regime would do little to help any US troops lost or injured in such an attack. The US certainly cannot rely upon Moscow to keep Assad in check regarding his chemical weapons. In reality, the door has been left open to his madness for some time. Non omnes eadem amant aut easdem cupiditates studiaque habent. (Not all men love the same things or have the same desires and interests.)

The notion that the presence of US troops in Syria should remain to serve as a barrier or trip wires in case of attacks against US allies and friends by potential adversaries and also by other US allies and friends is abhorrent. With regard to dealing with US allies, the capabilities of US diplomats should not be underrated to the extent that military force posed against allies must suffice for skilled negotiation. As for potential adversaries, it is uncertain what would be the fate of US forces if an adversary launched a swift, concerted attack with combined arms against them. It would appear that many US political leaders, policy analysts, and particularly Trump’s critics and detractors in the US news media are willing to wait and see what happens. Leaving US troops in Syria to continue as they have until the time that they might actually be attacked by an adversary could be called questionable judgment. It would essentially boil down to waiting around until casualties are suffered by US forces. Such thinking does not flow from the concept of America First. If having an available response in Syria is absolutely necessary, US military planners could develop a scheme, for example, to encamp US troops in nearby Iraq, Jordan, or perhaps even Turkey, arrange, determine ways to synchronize surprise deployments or powerful blows from vertical and ground assaults against an attacking force at a time and place of the choosing of US commanders. It might actually be a more effective way to place US forces in a position superior to that of an adversary in order to destroy it as effectually as possible.

If US troops in Syria were attacked in a concerted military way or were hit with some massive terrorist attack and losses were suffered, there is no guarantee that public support would exist nationally and that political will would exist in the US Congress for a large military build up in Syria and perhaps the start of a wider war in the region. Trump administration plans might very well be waylaid by a rebuff from the Congress given that control of the US House of Representatives has gone to the Democrats, the political party in opposition to Trump and his Republican Party, following the 2018 US Congressional Election. All indications are that the intention of the Democrats is to be activist, questioning decisions on foreign and national security policy of the US president and possibly uprooting some. (As these things go, the focus of Trump’s political foes would likely be the tragedy of the attack, itself, and why more consideration had not been given, and why more had not been done, to ensure their safety and security. It might be then that the decision of keeping US troops in Syria would be lambasted as questionable judgment given the mission was so limited.) It would seem best for Trump to act now to ensure the safety and security of US troops, rather than face what could very well be: a tragic situation of unknown consequences; the need to make a decision under duress on whether to remain and fight or withdraw; and, if he decides to remain, almost ensure that he will contend with an enormous political battle over the fight in Syria with Congress. To act now, by withdrawing US troops, rather than wait for an adversary to decide their fate, could be considered prudent. Iniqua raro maximis virtutibus fortuna parcit; nemo se tuto diu periculis offerre tam crebris potest, quem saepe transit casus, aliquando invenit. (Unrighteous fortune seldom spares the highest worth; no one with safety can long front so frequent perils. Whom calamity oft passes by she finds at last.)

Israel, Jordan, Turkey, and other regional actors, as well as European allies such as the United Kingdom and France, are already taking steps through airstrikes, ground incursions, raids, and other direct attacks to degrade well-known terrorist groups lurking in strongholds in Syria. Israel, in particular has focused also on placing severe limitations on the capabilities and capacity of a certain country that is also potential adversary of the US in the region. Yet, while such actions have been useful in curating the diverse ecosystem of military forces and terrorist groups on the ground, they have also increased the chances that those elements would attempt to lash out in retribution against US forces in Syria. Thus, as a result of the US troop presence in Syria, US allies have doubtlessly acted in a manner that would avoid precipitating such retribution. Planning for airstrikes in Syria, for example, was done by allies through the Coalition Air Operations Center at Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and independently at their respective national air operations headquarters with US troops on the ground firmly in mind.

The primary and strongest US ally in the region, Israel, has been somewhat restrained in its operations in Syria against some longtime adversaries, who have been malign actors not only in the region, but around the world. Upon the departure of US troops from Syria, Israel will be provided an opportunity, a freer hand, to engage in more effectual and perhaps more robust action there. No longer hamstrung by the potential misstep of provoking its adversaries to strike against US forces ostensibly in retribution for its attacks, Israel may decide to finally crack the problem of the presence of its adversaries being based so close to its sovereign territory. With likely the same minimum of attention its operations in Syria have attracted so far in the global news media, Israel can engage in concentrated operations to degrade its adversaries and eliminate threats with a tempo and ferocity such that those adversaries could no longer face losses inflicted upon them. To borrow a phrase from former US President Richard Nixon, Israel will have the opportunity to “sock it to them!”  If those adversaries would choose to resist exiting Syria, in order to survive, they would very likely be required to redeploy in a way that would make them ineffective on the ground. Indeed, Israel might be able to create the type of environment in Syria that would cause pause among Islamic militant groups hoping to establish themselves in Syria. The extent to which the US might support or assist Israel with any efforts in Syria is uncertain. That would likely be decided sub rosa. However, the US would most likely step up and provide whatever might be possible. Turkey would also have a similar opportunity to respond more robustly against Islamic militant groups in Syria. Turkey’s military capabilities, though, are somewhat limited in comparison to those of Israel and its increased efforts would likely require incurring greater risks.

With regard to impressions the withdrawal of US troops from Syria might have made upon the global audience, few capitals worldwide would likely equate their sovereign countries, whose nationhood and history they extol, to the autonomous Kurdish areas in Syria. While feelings of empathy may be felt by national leaders toward the Kurds situation, most would hardly commit anything too significant from their own resources in support of them. In fact, some national leaders would likely agree with the notion that US troops should be kept out of harm’s way to avoid at least for now, a greater conflict in the region. Cito enim arescit lacrimal praesertim in alienis malis. (A tear quickly dries when shed for the misfortunes of others.)

The withdrawal of US troops from Syria will ostensibly eliminate all financial costs for the US related to that deployment. At the same time, Russia and other countries remaining in Syria will need to keep a robust military and security presence there in order to reasonably maintain control of the situation, or at control of that area referred to as “Useful Syria”. They would most likely need to engage in many more operations against Islamic militant groups to secure peace as such groups may attempt to violently reestablish themselves in the country. The job of “restoring Syria to its past glory” through reconstruction will be incredibly difficult as Russia and one of the countries remaining in Syria are contending with punishing sanctions for misdeeds on other matters. They would surely be precluded collecting the amount of financial resources necessary to engage in such an undertaking successfully. As months and possibly years pass, the effects of wind and rain will make bomb-damaged, dilapidated buildings and other derelict structures even less appealing to the eye. The same global audience whose views on the US troop withdrawal were a concern for Trump’s critics and detractors, would have an excellent opportunity to observe and assess what might be in-store for them if they too relied on the patronage of those countries. They could judge for themselves what leadership from those countries is really worth.

Removing the conventional US military footprint in Syria would place the responsibility to develop a complex comprehensive plan for reconstruction and peace-enforcement in the country squarely in the court of Russia and other countries who remain there. Any attempt to proceed without such a plan would be a huge blunder. Moving too slowly to repair Syria will allow ideal conditions to exist for an Islamic militant groups to attempt to fill the vacuum of power around the country. That is what occurred in Iraq after US forces were withdrawn. It was all pretty much foreseen by many US intelligence analysts. Unfortunately, the histories of Russia and other countries in Syria include no authentic success in such a reconstruction effort in contemporary times. As mentioned already, the economic circumstances of those countries are dire, shaped in great part by sanctions. That factor might do much to hinder them from gathering resources to engage in such an undertaking.

Conditions in Syria may not be optimal for the US, but Trump recognized that he was in a relatively favorable position to make the decision to withdraw, and he did so. Despite all of the bdelygmia, the decision appears to be the result of an in-depth examination of the realities of the Syria mission by Trump and his closest aides and advisers over time. The factors presented here reflect Trump’s pattern of well-considering the short-term and long-term interests of the US, before taking any steps. With so many actors on the stage in Syria doing so many disparate and discreet things, it is also possible that some rarefied, furtive bit of information marked “for the president’s eyes only” may have been behind the choice made. At the risk of unsettling readers by injecting in a bit of levity in the subject matter, one could say that Trump, the erstwhile owner of a plethora of casinos, is expert at knowing “when to hold up, when to fold up, when to walk away, and when to run!”

Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than Ever to Historic Nuclear Deal: Putin Has Learned Much from This Process

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (center) with Russian Federation Defense Minister and General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left) and the commander of the Western Military District Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov (right). Through Russia’s participation in the Iran Talks, Putin learned much about decision making among the Western powers from the inside and likely feels better able to deal with them diplomatically and militarily.

According to an April 27, 2015 Reuters article entitled, “Kerry Says Iran, World Powers Closer than ever to Historic Nuclear Deal,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told the 191 parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at conference at the UN that the P5+1 was very near to a deal with Iran that would end a 12-year-old stand-off.   Kerry was quoted as saying on April 27th, “We are, in fact, closer than ever to the good, comprehensive deal that we have been seeking, and if we can get there, the entire world will be safer.” He stated further, “If finalized and implemented, [an agreement] will close off all of Iran’s possible pathways to the nuclear material required for a nuclear weapon and give the international community the confidence that it needs to know that Iran’s nuclear program is indeed exclusively peaceful.” Yet, despite progress made, Kerry emphasized “the hard work is far from over and some key issues remain unresolved.”

Such sober comments underlining the considerable amount of negotiating still required to reach a final nuclear deal have come as a reality check for many following the April 2, 2015 announcements by parties to the talks, with flourish, that parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action regarding Iran’s nuclear program were agreed upon. The appearance of reaching a nuclear deal was as potent as actually reaching a final concordance for some. This was particularly true in Iran where ordinary citizens celebrated in the streets after the framework nuclear deal was reached. Public reaction within P5+1 nations was imperceptible. However, there was a significant reaction among foreign and defense policy analysts and others interested in the talks. Their comments were kind of lush, a bit soupy. Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association declared, “The parameters agreed upon by the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany with the Islamic Republic of Iran promises to lead to one of the most consequential and far reaching nuclear nonproliferation achievements in recent decades.” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies affirmed, “[T]he proposed parameters and framework in the Proposed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has the potential to meet every test in creating a valid agreement over time . . . It can block both an Iranian nuclear threat and a nuclear arms race in the region, and it is a powerful beginning to creating a full agreement, and creating the prospect for broader stability in other areas.” Joe Cirincione, President of Ploughshares Fund proclaimed, “The agreement does three things. It blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb. It imposes tough inspections to catch Iran should it try to break out, sneak out or creep out of the deal. And it keeps our coalition united to enforce the deal. Under this deal, Iran has agreed to rip out two-thirds of its centrifuges and cut its stockpile of uranium gas by 97 percent. It will not be able to make any uranium or plutonium for a bomb. Many of the restrictions in the agreement continue for 25 years and some . . . last forever.”

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) Every step toward a final deal has brought US President Barack Obama closer to the legacy-defining foreign policy achievement he has sought. Obama’s desire to establish his legacy during his second term office has been a subject regularly discussed among White House officials and US political pundits. Yet, it is uncertain whether a final agreement can be reached and whether it would hold. The notion of how the P5+1, particularly the US, would likely respond to a violation of the treaty by Iran has gone through a transformation process during the negotiations. It was once understood that the US would inevitably decide to stop Iran from moving closer to developing a nuclear warhead by force of arms. Senior Obama administration foreign and defense policy officials made it clear that military intervention was “on the table.” Threats of regime change and of imposing a US form of democracy on Iran by the administration of US President George W. Bush were still ringing in Iranian leaders’ ears when the Iran Talks began. The idea of being attacked by the US became engrained in the psyche of Iran’s leadership, offsetting any idea Obama lacked the will to take military action following the Syria gas attacks debacle. Tehran’s views have changed since then.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. (It is right to learn even from an enemy.) The P5+1 has served to present a united front to cope with the common danger of a nuclear armed Iran. However, the coalition has not been truly united. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin has actually exploited the comity between Russia and its P5+1 partners to protect Russian interests. (The other P5+1 partners may very likely be aware of this.) Putin did not want the P5+1 to take military action against Iran, Russia’s strongest Middle East partner. During the Iran Talks, Russia and Iran made unilateral deals on matters from agriculture to weapon systems. The talks have helped Moscow better understand how Western powers approach issues as Iran’s nuclear program, making Russia better able to handle the West on issues as Ukraine. Russia, as Iran, is coping with Western economic sanctions. Putin has heard many threats to use force against Russia, albeit defensively, through NATO. However, Putin responds to such threats with an enigmatic face. Putin has Russia on the march, seizing territory in a piecemeal fashion, but he undoubtedly has a sense of how far he can go. Observing the decision making of Western powers up close on Iran, Putin likely believes military action against a capable opponent is the last thing Western political leaders want. (It is the last thing he wants, too!) To that extent, he also likely believes that after he has acquired enough, he will be able to legitimize Russia’s acquisitions through talks.

Initial Russian Concerns about Possible US Military Strikes in Iran

As a Member of the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council, Russia’s role as a party to the nuclear negotiation was essential, but it was also rather extraordinary given its ties to Iran. Russia had a very positive, congenial relationship with Iran unlike Western states in the P5+1. Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan stated “Iran and Russia are able to confront the expansionist intervention and greed of the US through cooperation, synergy and actuating strategic potential capacities.” When the Iran Talks began, Russia was actually working closely with Iran in support of its longtime ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who Western members of the P5+1 opposed. However, despite Iran’s close business and economic ties or ongoing military cooperation with Russia, albeit limited, could not guarantee the US would refrain from moving against its strongest partner in the Middle East. For that reason, Putin likely had genuine concern that Iran would become a target of massive US military action if the Iran Talks did not succeed when they began. Putin had not forgotten that close cooperation between Russia and authorities in Tripoli and Damascus did not deter the Obama administration from promoting and supporting insurrection against them. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1973, multinational forces under NATO command went beyond imposing a no-fly zone and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi as part of Operation Unified Protector. Gaddafi’s regime fell and he was killed. In Syria, the Obama administration responded in support of the Syria Opposition Movement which bloomed during the so-called Arab Spring. The removal of Assad and his regime was the Obama administration’s goal.

Moreover, before the Iran Talks began and during the negotiations, Obama and officials in his administration were unambiguous about plans to act militarily against Iran over its nuclear program. According to a March 14, 2013 article in the Times of Israel, Obama explained that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon in just over a year and diplomatic efforts have just less than that to halt Iran’s drive to the bomb. The Times of Israel determined Obama was intimating that if diplomatic efforts failed this year or early next year, the US would be forced to carry out military action against Iran. Obama also reportedly explained that he had been “crystal clear” that a nuclear-armed Iran was a “red-line,” and that the US was committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon with which it could threaten Israel or trigger a regional arms race. In a September 15, 2013 article in the Guardian, Obama sought to shore up the potency of US deterrence against Iran warning that he was still prepared to take military action against the Iranian nuclear program, which he described as “much closer to our core interests” than Syria’s chemical weapons. A February 26, 2014, Reuters article reported Kerry told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action. Kerry also left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks broke down. The Reuters article further explained that when Obama stated all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, he was using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.

During the talks, urgency was placed on having Iran allow rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place to ensure any movement toward a nuclear weapon would be detected and the West could intervene. If Iran could be kept from moving close to a nuclear weapon, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond militarily to its existence.

Western Allies Prefer Sanctions Over US-Led Military Action

As the nuclear negotiations progressed, it became more apparent to Putin and Russian foreign and defense policy officials that despite their insecurities about US intentions, the threat of military action was a fiction. Russia’s European counterparts in the P5+1 coalition began expressing doubts about the willingness of the US to use military force against Iran. The French were perhaps the first to publicly appraise Obama as unwilling to use military action to respond to Iran’s nuclear program. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius tried to outline what he thought were the reasons for Obama’s tack in a 2013 speech. He stated: “The United States seems no longer to wish to become absorbed by crises that do not align with its new vision of its national interest.” He suggested this explained “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated further that a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and what he perceived as the current “rather isolationist tendency” in American public opinion. Fabius lamented that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” According to a May 2, 2014 Reuters article German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program must be given a chance, but she also said “If Iran does not meet its obligations, or does not meet them adequately, we remain ready to take back the current limited suspension of sanctions.” Merkel’s statement diverged considerably from those of Obama and Kerry who indicated a US readiness to act militarily if negotiations failed. The reluctance of Germany to support US military action sent a message to Russia that there was no unity in the West on it. Sanctions remain the greatest threat European leaders alone can pose to Iran if the talks failed. Only the US can effectively act with force against a nuclear capable Iran, but Obama would never want to go it alone against Iran.

In sessions leading to April 2, 2015, urgency was placed on having Iran agree to keep rigorous monitoring measures to remain in place not just throughout the long duration of the agreement but even after the core limits of the agreement expire. That would ensure any movement toward nuclear weapons will be detected and providing the opportunity to intervene decisively to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There was an apparent belief that if Iran was kept from moving secretly toward a nuclear bomb, Western leaders could avoid facing the decision to respond to its existence. As long as Obama was uncertain military action would achieve all objectives based on his concepts, Putin could imagine Obama refusing to go to war.

Israeli F-16 jets flying in formation. US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israel’s diplomatic reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She explained “the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” For Putin, Sherman’s words ended all guessing on US intentions with Iran.

Military Action Is Sidelined

Ultra vires! (Beyond ones powers!) Guessing over US intentions ended when Putin and his foreign and defense policy officials heard US officials confirm that in which Moscow could not be certain. On April 13, 2015, Haaretz reported US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told Israeli reporters that a military operation against Iran would not stop its nuclear program. She stated, “A military strike by Israel or the US would only set back the nuclear program by two years.” She said further, “You can’t bomb their nuclear know-how, and they will rebuild everything. The alternatives are there but the best option is a diplomatic negotiated solution.” She noted, “There is no difference [between the US and Israel] on the concern about the Iranian nuclear program but on the way to deal with it.” Despite fears expressed in 2013 that Iran would soon have a nuclear weapons, Sherman explained that the US and Israeli intelligence communities agree Iran is not close to producing one and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has made no decision to produce one. Sherman said, “They don’t have enough fissile material and don’t have delivery system or weapon per se.” She proffered, “It would take them a considerable period of time to get all that.”

Even the tone in the US Congress softened. Congress drafted a bill that would require that the administration send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it is completed. Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner stated “Congress absolutely should have the opportunity to review this deal.” He explained further, “We shouldn’t just count on the administration, which appears to want a deal at any cost.” The focus of most observers was the fact that the bill would halt the lifting of sanctions pending a thirty day Congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of sanctions imposed by Congress in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Actually, if Congress rejects the final agreement, Obama could still veto its legislation. It would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail. However, what was most important about the bill for Putin was that Congress accepted more sanctions as means to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, not war.

Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and likely views that as a weakness. Putin undoubtedly wants to find ways to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term.

Reality Check Concerning Putin

Unlike the diverse group of cabinet-level officials and policy makers and analysts that advise Obama, Putin operates within a practically all-male, nationalist, power-oriented environment in the Kremlin. In thinking about Obama, Putin undoubtedly recognizes his US counterpart wants to be an honest broker. He sees Obama is confident in the better side of human nature, and operates under the notion that issues in foreign affairs can be resolved at the negotiating table. Given that, Putin and his advisers undoubtedly view Obama in a way akin to renowned United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “boneless wonder.” Putin very likely hopes to exploit the benign, less aggressive side of Obama to the greatest degree possible before the end of his second term. Putin and Obama are very different men. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and internal chaos of the 1990s, Putin restored order in Russia by reestablishing the power of the state some might say with little regard for human and political rights. Putin’s style of management was shaped by his initial career as an officer in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring. Putin has been assisted by a small group of men who served alongside him during his KGB career. These men are referred to as siloviki (power men). At the pinnacle were those who came from a community of families in Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg whose “roots” go back to first political police of the Communist Party known as the Cheka. Putin’s Cheka heritage includes a father and grandfather who served in the security service. He went to schools and a university Chekisty (Chekist) community progeny typically attended.

Chekists share a view that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. They believe Western governments are driven to weaken Russia, create disorder, and make their country dependent on Western technologies. They feel that under former President Boris Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. As Putin has noted in public statements, Chekists consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Western pressure, as the worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century. In a March 18, 2014 speech, Putin enumerated some actions taken by the West that have fostered his contempt. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice from Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he refers to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally.

Paradoxically, the aggressive behavior Putin attributes to the US has been displayed by him time and again. In 2008, Putin forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the EU, and Moldova was placed under similar pressure. That same year, Putin invaded Georgia. Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. In November 2014, Putin signed a Russia-Abkhazia Treaty of Alliance and Integration which meant in practice Moscow is responsible for the customs, defense, and security of the separatist republic. In March 2015, Putin signed the Russian-South Ossetian Treaty of Alliance and Integration which has similar terms. Georgia has no chance of regaining its territories. In November 2013, using economic influence and political power, he drove then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a deal Ukraine had with the EU that would have pulled it toward the West. When the Ukrainian Parliament removed Yanukovych, Putin grabbed Crimea. Such moves legitimize NATO’s worries.

Putin’s uncongenial attitude toward the West was very apparent while the Iran Talks were still underway. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers (as the one shown above) in US and European airspace prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russia also sold its S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

Lessons Learned Through the Iran Talks Putin May Be Applying

This uncongenial attitude Putin has harbored toward the West was apparent during the Iran Talks. Perhaps he was testing his P5+1 partners. In August 2014, Russia signed a deal with Iran that undermined Western-led sanctions against the two countries. The memorandum of understanding between the two governments envisaged wider economic cooperation to include closer ties in the oil and gas sector, construction and rebuilding of generating capacity, development of a power supply network infrastructure, machinery, consumer goods, and agriculture. It laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar deal between Moscow and Tehran, the so-called oil-for-goods contract. In addition to that contract, there was the sale of the S-300 anti-aircraft missile to Iran. The S-300 would neutralize any possibility that Israel could take unilateral action against Iran. That would remain the case until the Israeli Air Force receives F-35 fighters from the US. Only the US Air Force’s small fleet of B-2 stealth bombers would have a chance of hitting Iranian targets properly now. If the US and Europe repeatedly threaten and levy sanctions, Putin and his advisers may take audacious steps. Sensing his back is up against the wall, and unable to project strength otherwise, Putin might seek to deter further Western action by making extraordinary threats to use Russian military power. The Russian Ambassador to Denmark threatened that the Danes would become a target of Russian nuclear weapons if they participated in any missile defense program. Danish jets scrambled 58 times in 2014 to head off Russian aircraft. Russian strategic nuclear bombers also conducted numerous incursions into northwestern US air defense identification zones. Incursions by Russian Tu-95 Bear H bombers and intelligence-gathering jets in US and European airspace have prompted the scrambling of fighter jets. Russian military aircraft have been flying without transponders over Europe close to civilian aircraft. Putin warned Russia was developing new strategic nuclear weapons that would catch the West by surprise. Russia has moved Iskandar ballistic missiles to its Kaliningrad enclave between Lithuania and Poland and long-range, nuclear-capable bombers to Crimea.

An April 18, 2015 Reuters article stated Putin recently softened his anti-US rhetoric only a week after accusing the US of trying to dominate world affairs and saying what it wanted was “not allies, but vassals.” Putin reportedly said on April 18th, “We have disagreements on several issues on the international agenda. But at the same time there is something that unites us, that forces us to work together.” He then stated, “I mean general efforts directed at making the world economy more democratic, measured, and bilateral, so that the world order is more democratic. We have a common agenda.” Similarly, the BBC reported that on March 6, 2014, after seizing Crimea, Putin told Obama by telephone that US-Russian “relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems.” Regarding Crimea, Putin said Russia could not “ignore calls for help and acts accordingly, in full compliance with international law.” Given Obama’s record on the use of force, and what Russia observed during the Iran Talks, Putin may have calculated he has pushed hard enough, and he now can reap a negotiated resolution from Obama. Perhaps Putin assessed that as with Iran, talks might provide him with the chance to achieve many objectives.

The Way Forward

Fene libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (Men readily believe what they want to believe.) The decay of Europe’s defense came as a result of a lack of commitment of the European countries, and to an extent the US, to the stewardship of NATO, militarily. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, NATO members became weary of investing financial resources in a deterrent force that did not face an apparent threat. There was no change in thinking despite Putin’s aggressive stance and actions against countries that are part of Russia’s “near abroad.” To surmount the impact of what the Western capitals were seeing, they ignored what they saw, made massive military cuts, and failed to meet their military commitments to NATO.

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis! (Not for you, not for me, but for us!) Meetings between NATO allies can no longer simply amount to rhetorical conversations about collective security in Europe, pledges to do more, and proposals to rearrange the meager military resources currently available to face the vast, mobile, hard-hitting Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Decisions must be made now on what will done in the face of a confrontation with Russia over future aggressive moves against Ukraine or any other sovereign state in Europe. Too many ambiguous political speeches and statements on US military power have already been made to create doubt over whether the US might respond at all. There must be clear discussions on a mutually acceptable political rationale for military action, despite its difficulties and horrors, must be established between the US and the Europe. US and European leaders must confirm now what they will commit and exactly how they will act together militarily. In a manner loud enough for Putin to hear, Obama, in particular, must continually confirm at the UN, in NATO, and in its members’ respective capitals that Europe can count on US support if a military confrontation becomes imminent.

Chechen in Syria a Rising Star in Extremist Group; US Must Act in Iraq Now to Eclipse Such Stars!

Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria military commander, Omar al-Shishani, is an ethnic Chechen and one of the many Russians and Europeans fighters that Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in 2013 were going into Syria and becoming part of a dangerous, internationalized Islamic militant group.

According to a July 2, 2014, Washington Post article entitled, “Chechen in Syria a Rising Star in Extremist Group, “ a young, red-bearded ethnic Chechen named Omar al-Shishani has rapidly become one of the most prominent commanders and was the face of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Al-Qaeda linked group as it recently overwhelmed Iraqi security forces and took control of large swaths of Iraq. Al-Shishani, whose real name is Tarkhan Batirashvili, is an ethnic Chechen from the Caucasus nation of Georgia, specifically from the Pankisi Valley, a center of Georgia’s Chechen community and a stronghold for militants. He is also one of the hundreds of Chechens who have been among the toughest jihadi fighters in Syria, hardened from years of wars with Russia in the Caucasus region.

Al-Shishani has been the group’s military commander in Syria, leading it on an offensive to take over a broad stretch of territory leading to the Iraq border. Al-Shishani surfaced in Syria in 2013 with his nom de guerre, which means “Omar the Chechen” in Arabic, leading an Al-Qaeda-inspired group called “The Army of Emigrants and Partisans,” which included a large number of fighters from the former Soviet Union. A meeting was soon organized with al-Baghdadi in which al-Shishani pledged loyalty to him, according to Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper, which follows jihadi groups. He first showed his battlefield prowess in August 2013, when his fighters proved pivotal in taking the Syrian military’s Managh air base in the north of the country. Rebels had been trying for months to take the base, but it fell soon after al-Shishani joined the battle, said an activist from the region, Abu al-Hassan Maraee. He may have risen to become the group’s overall military chief, a post that has been vacant after the Iraqi militant who once held it—known as Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari—was killed in the Iraqi city of Mosul in early June. ISIS began as Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq, and many of its top leaders are Iraqi. But after it intervened in Syria’s civil war last year, it drew hundreds of foreign fighters into its operations in Syria. Now with victories on the two sides of the border, the two branches are swapping fighters, equipment and weapons to an even greater extent than before, becoming a more integrated organization. Its declaration of the caliphate—aspiring to be a state for all Muslims—could mean an even greater internationalization of its ranks. Interestingly enough, in June 2013, at conference in St. Petersburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly stated 600 Russians and Europeans were within the Syrian opposition fighters’ ranks. While the US and European intelligence services expressed concern over the viability of vetting Syrian opposition fighters to discover who among them are Islamic militants, the Russian intelligence service apparently already possessed files on the identities of a considerable number of Syrian opposition fighters.

US power is not only measured by its size, but its moral behavior in the world. The virtues of the US have stood out in the world in the presence of vice. While grave errors in foreign policy decision making during the administration of former US President George W. Bush have been very apparent, the history of US foreign policy did not begin and end in those eight years. There is a greater history of success in US foreign and defense policy and decision making which must not be forgotten. For years as a leader in world affairs, the US has set the standard for performance in international affairs. Its behavior on the world stage manifested US values and principles. Discussion of the ability of the US to meet that standard does mean waxing nostalgically of the past. If it put its mind to it, the administration of US President Barack Obama could very well meet that standard today. What has been promoted instead is a type of international philanthropy proffered by the current administration that scoffs at military power, without realistic alternative options. In speeches, press conferences, and interviews of Obama and administration officials, the discourse on foreign policy appears more as form of pastoral guidance, helping the US public understand and accept a new, less active role of the US in the world. For some in the US public, less desirous of military intervention overseas given the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences, expressions of a reformed approach to foreign policy has been seductive and caused some satisfaction. This approach has also helped to guide the establishment of the defense posture, by providing a further rationale for dramatic cuts in the US military and its capabilities. However, the notion that the US can remain dominant in world affairs by doing nothing is false. In the long run that would require reaching agreements with evil maniacs or turning a blind-eye toward their acts to maintain peace. Lately, when US interests or the interest of an ally or partner have been threatened, questions over the availability of the military means to limit that behavior usually arise. That has been the case regarding ISIS in Iraq. Superficial discussions of facts, use of sensationalism, sophistic arguments on military power, and intellectualized explanations of recent events veiled the growing problem of ISIS in Iraq as well as Syria. The Obama administration has taken the US down a path, requiring it to respond or tolerate Iraq’s unraveling and the emergence of ISIS. Obama has explained that the US isis still the world’s leader. However, the US must act in a manner consistent with that title if the administration wishes to retain it

Managing News on the Islamic Militant Problem in Syria

The situation in Syria was presented as urgent issue by Obama administration officials, yet manageable. Once the anti-regime movement in Syria became an armed struggle, the US considered various ways to support the opposition. Multilateral approaches were taken toward organizing opposition political groups as well as their fighters on the ground   Among steps taken was the establishment of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the umbrella group for the multitude of different opposition fighting units. Its leadership was placed under the Supreme Military Council. As a possible military response in support of policy goals, the idea of the US launching kinetic strikes against targets in Syria was bandied about. However, there was an understanding established that such strikes would be impeded by the lack of intelligence from the ground, and there was the risk of civilian causalities and US losses. Indeed, the idea of “boots on the ground” was soundly rejected from the start. Eventually, it was reasoned that the FSA, with US supplied arms and training would advance against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and pressure him into stepping down at the negotiation table. Pressing this issue with US Congress, the Obama administration sent it senior foreign and defense policy officials to Capitol Hill to promote the matter with relevant committees. Yet, Members of Congress were skeptical of the feasibility of that approach. US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told Congress on September 3, 2013, that “the opposition is getting stronger by the day.” However, Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican, challenged Kerry’s assertions at the House Foreign Affairs Committee on September 4, 2013. McCaul asked Kerry: “Who are the rebel forces? Who are they? I ask that in my briefings all the time.” McCaul then explained, “And every time I get briefed on this it gets worse and worse, because the majority now of these rebel forces—and I say majority now—are radical Islamists pouring in from all over the world.” Kerry replied: “I just don’t agree that a majority are al-Qaida and the bad guys. That’s not true. There are about 70,000 to 100,000 oppositionists . . . Maybe 15 percent to 25 percent might be in one group or another who are what we would deem to be bad guys.”

The administration’s public assessments were captivating and satisfying enough for those who chose not to look deeply and those who chose simple answers. Yet, evidence of the true nature of the situation in Syria was being presented from other sources (i.e., nongovernment policy analysts, journalists, as well as pundits). That information, while not rejected by the administration, was never confirmed. Instead, the administration stated the realities about the Islamic militant presence and growing strength was said to be unavailable. Administration officials proffered the idea that it could not gain a full picture of what was happening on the ground. For the US public, this was a pleasant and unchallenging fantasy. For whatever reasons, perhaps the national elections for the presidency and the Congress were among them, the conscience of the US public appears to have been deemed too delicate for the reality of the situation. There apparently was some fear that a type of upheaval within the US public over Syria would have occurred. However, the truth was not inaudible to the public’s ears. The perpetuation of the inaccuracy that the situation was under control would lead to disappointment for the US public. Indeed, the truth would eventually overwhelm the superficial assessments being offered.

It is now accepted that unlike the secular groups and moderate Islamists in the Syrian opposition, Islamic militant groups as ISIS never intended to cease their struggle with the Assad regime under any peace agreement. The Islamic militants’ goals were never compatible with the concepts and intent of the Syrian opposition’s leadership. While mainstream FSA forces have been directed toward creating the basis for a transition to a democratic style government in Damascus for all Syrians, ISIS and other rogue Islamic militant groups have only wanted to create a separate Islamic state on Syrian territory, under Sharia law. Indeed, before the new Islamic Caliphate was established, in towns and villages of rather large segments of Syria that ISIS and rogue Islamic militant groups control, they have imposed a strict form of Sharia law on inhabitants. Infractions of that law have resulted in merciless abuses and gruesome murders of Syrian citizens. Syrian military personnel and regime supporters are rarely spared by the rogue Islamic fighters. ISIS, while still viewed as part of opposition forces, began regularly attacking more moderate Islamic militant groups and secular units. As the FSA was not truly successful at all on the ground, the added pressure of an additional struggle with ISIS helped to derail the Syria effort of the administration of US President Barack Obama. The US effort in Syria hinged on how it would respond to the Islamic militant presence. The Obama administration needed to see this truth early on. Yet, the administration seemingly closed its eyes to this fact. Without military action, US policy could not be advanced. The administration appeared willing to let the entire Syrian situation fall into stalemate while continuing a small, ineffective assistance effort, projecting toughness through legal maneuvers and military exercise, avoiding military action, and allowing Assad to remain in power.

Sensationalism: The Threat to the Homeland From Syria

Soon enough there was a shift in perspective from the administration. The presence of ISIS and other Islamic militant groups in Syria was recognized as a danger, but far beyond the Middle East. At a US Senate Intelligence Committee hearing held on January 29, 2014, Committee Chairman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, stated: “Because large swaths of the country . . . of Syria are beyond the regime’s control or that of the moderate opposition, this leads to the major concern of the establishment of a safe haven and the real prospect that Syria could become a launching point or way station for terrorists seeking to attack the United States or other nations. Not only are fighters being drawn to Syria, but so are technologies and techniques that pose particular problems to our defenses.” Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center testified the same day to Senator Feinstein’s committee that “a permissive environment, extremist groups like Al-Nusra and the number of foreign fighters combine to make Syria a place that we are very concerned about—in particular, the potential for terrorist attacks emanating from Syria to the West.” The National Director for Intelligence, James Clapper, in his testimony that day explained succinctly, “What’s going on in there [Syria], and the attraction of these foreign fighters is very, very, worrisome.” Given such grim assessments from senior US officials, a decision to take action in Syria would seem inevitable.

These synoptic assessments of potential attacks on the US came from the same sources that had minimized the capabilities and possibilities of the Islamic militants only a few short months before. Evidence of the problem was not being rejected by Obama administration officials, it was, to some extent, being sensationalized. Alerts to threats from Islamic militant groups, even those that were Al-Qaeda linked, no longer create real urgency in the US public. Such alerts came so regularly during the Bush administration that to some degree the US public became desensitized to them.   Moreover, for many in the US public, media reports of such threats came as interesting stories or amusements. Interest was heightened, only to be doused by the next things that came along. In January 2014, the “next things” were events surrounding Super Bowl XLVIII, the Winter Olympics in Sochi, and pop singer Miley Cyrus.

Wielding US Power in the Middle East

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, at one point gravely concerned over the course the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, lamented about the Obama administration’s handling of US foreign policy. He explained that without US engagement, the world would find “major crises left to themselves,” and “a strategic void could be created in the Middle East,” with widespread perception of “Western indecision” in a world less multipolar than “zero-polar.” Fabius was disappointed and discouraged by “the non-response by strikes to the use of chemical weapons by the Damascus regime, whatever the red lines set a year earlier.” Fabius stated a redirection of US interests may be a manifestation of the “heavy trauma of the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan” and his perception of a “rather isolationist tendency” in US public opinion. Yet, despite such pleas from close allies as the French regarding his administration’s approach to foreign policy, Obama confirmed the worst assumptions made by Fabius in his May 28, 2014 Commencement Address at West Point. Obama explained: “For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America, at home and abroad, remains terrorism, but a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naive and unsustainable. I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.” Obama further explained that there was a need for: “a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized Al-Qaeda leadership. Instead it comes from decentralized Al-Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate. And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of US personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi. It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi. So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat, one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin or stir up local resentments.”

Through this mellifluous speech about multilateral approaches to threat to peace and stability and terrorism in particular, Obama presented a world where problems could be handled through cooperation. This is not a new idea. Regional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Central Treaty Organization, and the Organization of American States were created to bring resources of nations together to cope with the “Communist threat.” Even on terrorism, multilateral approaches were viewed as required when modern-era counterterrorism was established during the administration of former US President Ronald Reagan. Yet, the idea that the US can today rely upon multilateral solutions requiring joint action with allies and partners who themselves face drastic military cuts and economic difficulties is unwise. No Western European state with real military capabilities will go into Iraq now, to take on risks while fighting ISIS, especially when its political leaders feel that issue does not fall within their interests. Obama spoke of a hesitancy of the US to act militarily, yet assumes others in the region possessing far less capabilities than the US would subordinate their own interests. concerns, and limitations, to support and defend others. Most states are aware that warfare lately has been asymmetric and not set piece engagements to win quickly. Obama presents this notion of multilateralism to a US public confused about the contrast between the certitude with which Obama speaks, and regular breakdowns in administration foreign policy initiatives that they witness.

The US must look strong. In past cases, what others have thought about the US has deterred them from hostile action. Relative peace was maintained through strength. US diplomacy has been supported in many cases by the credible threat of force. The failure of Obama administration to project authentic US strength globally is not subject to rationalization by its officials. ISIS is unconcerned with US military power and possible US intervention. Among such unenlightened, uncivilized, violent men, reason has little place. Hoping that they might eventually establish some concordance with the government to work toward peace and stability in Iraq and obey international law is absurd. Only the use of force will have a strong educational effect upon them. Given that, the administration’s approach is questionable.

Intellectualization of the Iraq Crisis

ISIS and other insurgent groups have rapidly advanced through the mostly Sunni areas of Iraq. In a matter of days, they have captured several cities including Mosul, Tikrit, Tal Afar, and are driving on Baghdad from two directions. It has declared the captured territory the Islamic Caliphate. The leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, recently appeared in public to make that declaration. As for US airstrikes to reduce ISIS controlled territory, military experts have explained that they would be impeded by the lack of intelligence from the ground. The idea of multilateral action was dead from the start.

Although Obama explained that the goal is to prevent ISIS from achieving a permanent foothold in either Iraq or Syria, for that matter, he proffered that the issue goes beyond security assistance. Confronted with this unacceptable situation, Obama has rationalized that part of the challenge is the lack of representation of Sunni, Shi’a and Kurds in the Iraqi government. Obama blames divisions for Iraq’s inability to cope with ISIS. Administration officials, at least publicly, have focused not on the ISIS assault, but rather on the idea that from the chaos, they can cobble together a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad. In Obama’s view the formation of a new government will be an opportunity to begin a genuine dialogue and forge a government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis. Obama believes leaders who can govern with an inclusive agenda will be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis. It is difficult to understand why the Obama would believe the type of representative government he seeks for Iraq could be designed at the point of an ISIS gun. The majority of Sunnis, Shi’as, and Kurds would never genuinely subsume their interests to satisfy the US regardless of the circumstances. The fact that Maliki came to power evinces the limited US understanding of Iraq’s political situation.

The Way Forward

Obama has been pilloried with scathing criticisms from his Republican Members of Congress and other political rivals over his handling of Syria, Iraq, and the crisis with ISIS. Many of Obama’s harshest critics are former officials from the Bush administration who were themselves directly responsible for plunging the US, unprepared and off-balance, into the Middle East. Polls on the US public’s satisfaction with the Obama administration’s handling of foreign policy rely on snap judgments of a sample of the population. It is easy to say things. Yet, a mature examination of the innermost feelings of the US public would likely yield that there is great disappointment over the handling of US foreign policy.

Obama does not want the US military to intervene on the ground in the Syria. However, the conscience of the US public has been struck by news media reports that ISIS fighters have moved en mass with near impunity through Iraq, a country in which the US, for over eight years, invested so much blood and treasure. Watching reports on mass executions and the establishment of a terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East, many are left with a vapid, noncommittal sadness. Hearing the Obama administration claim that there is little the US can do just makes things worse. Leaving the Iraqis to their own devices against what has appeared as an unstoppable blitzkrieg will somehow return to haunt the US. There is a sense of “Minatur innocentibus qui parcit nocentibus” (He threatens the innocent who spares the guilty). In the long-run, the US public will not concede to this situation. The US public seeks to meet the fullness of its humanity. Where there is a need to act in the name of humanity to defend civilization against darkness, they expect action. That is how the US, as the world’s leader, is expected to behave.

Obama Signs Bill That Bars Iran’s UN Envoy: Hopefully, the Rejection of Abutalebi Hasn’t Jeopardized the Nuclear Talks

The bill that US President Barack Obama signed into law on April 18th blocks any individual from entering the US, including a Member State’s appointee to the UN, who has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity against the US and its allies or if that person may pose a threat to national security.

According to an April 18, 2014 New York Times report entitled, “Obama Signs Bill That Bars Iran’s Envoy,” US President Barack Obama signed into law the bill that prevents the granting of a US visa for Iranian diplomat Hamid Abutalebi.  The bill, itself, was unanimously passed by US House of Representatives and approved by the US Senate on April 10th.  The vote in Congress was supposed to send what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.  Iranian officials have said Abutalebi’s appointment was decided months ago, but it is still believed by US experts that hardliners in Iran urged Abutalebi’s appointment as Iran’s UN permanent representative to create controversy, snuff out reconciliation efforts, and halt the nuclear talks.  Compassion and sympathy should be felt toward the former embassy staff members who suffered during the hostage crisis.  Yet, while Iran might decide upon a candidate based on domestic political considerations, it is not useful for the US officials to reject an Iranian candidate based on domestic political considerations.  Given all that has been articulated so well by the Obama administration the possibilities that could come from newly established diplomatic engagement between the US and Iran, his decision to block the visa does not appear rise up to that same positive spirit.  Obama’s support for the Congressional legislation, that banned Abutalebi and dredged up the many visceral issues associated with the hostage crisis, makes the administration’s statements in support of building better ties seem more as mere lip service to the process rather than a genuine effort. 

What remains to be seen is whether a strong enough communion exists among US and Iranian officials that would allow them to overcome such stumbling blocks as a disputed appointment to the UN.  Unless Iran can use legal means and negotiations with the US to reverse the decision on Abutalebi, the ship has likely sailed on the issue of his appointment.  Before Obama signed the Congressional bill, an April 10th New York Times article informed that some US specialists on Iran said optimistically that despite the sharp language, they did not forsee the dispute over Abutalebi sabotaging the broader efforts at achieving a nuclear agreement.  Cynics, waging a “legislative war” against Iran, are unable to see the value of the improved relations and idealist are unable to discern the capability of provocative statements and acts to effectively derail the nuclear negotiation process. Yet, perhaps this might be a case when cynics and idealists alike in the US are unable to fully discern the situation before them.  In the end, to avoid war and to ensure greater confidence that what is happening both in Iran and the US is known, both cynics and idealists must oddly come together, along with pragmatists, to help establish a sustainable agreement satisfactory to all.  Such steps taken now will facilitate efforts to maintain the agreement by its future stewards.

The Concerns Over Abutalebi

This episode regarding Abutalebi is not the case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing.  In Iran, the selection of Abutalebi to replace the current permanent representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, Mohammad Khazee, hardly could have been made without input from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.  It was undoubtedly tacitly supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and hardline political and religious leaders.  However, when the selection of Abutalebi was made in Tehran, even if months ago, it had to be recognized then, as it is quite apparent now, that his selection would cause a strong response within official Washington, given his connection to the infamous capture of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. In the US, the decision to withhold a visa from Abutalebi gained impetus in the US Congress after legal representatives of the 52 embassy staff members of the captured US embassy in Tehran reported that he was among the revolutionaries, some of whom engaged in acts of mental and physical abuse against many of them during the 444-day hostage crisis.  Misgivings about Abutalebi rapidly built among Members of Congress and were manifested in a bill to prohibit him from entering the US.  Given the significant progress made in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program both in Geneva as well as back channel talks between US and Iranian officials, it was incumbent upon Obama to fully weigh blocking one Iranian diplomat, albeit with a problematic history, against paving a smooth course toward an historic agreement with Iran before placing his signature on it.

Abutalebi is a veteran diplomat who began working in the Iranian Foreign Ministry in the early 1980s.  He has held key European postings in the past.  He served as Iran’s ambassador to Italy, Belgium, and Australia. Abutalebi is said to be connected to circles close to Rouhani as well as former President Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani.  In September 2013, Abutalebi was appointed as deputy director of Rouhani’s political affairs office.  He also headed the Central Asian branch at the research center of the Expediency Council lead by Rafsanjani.  Abutalebi is said to be close to former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist.

Abutalebi stated that while he was a part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, the student group that occupied the US embassy in November 1979, he was not among the core group of student activists and was not inside the embassy during the crisis.  Nothing stated or reported indicates Abutalebi’s actions 35 years ago were of an egregious nature.  In fact, Abutalebi claims he was Ahvaz during the occupation of the US embassy.  It was only when he came back to Tehran that he was asked to help with some translation and he accepted to do it.  Abutalebi was quoted on the Iranian Khabaronline website as stating “I did the translation during news conference when female and also African-American employees of the embassy were released.”

Yet, Abutalebi’s explanation of his involvement in the embassy seizure was never relevant to US officials.  A spokesman and attorney from the legal team representing former hostages who have made compensation claims, Alan Madison, admitted that very little concrete information was available about Abutalebi’s role in the hostage-taking. Madison stated, “After 34 years, it’s difficult to say this was a central character or this was a tangential character. But he was there, and it’s our understanding that having been a participant, he still has some political credibility with some of those folks in Iran.”  Madison also presented a statement from former hostage, Barry Rosen that explained, “It’s a disgrace if the USG (U.S. government) accepts Abutalebi’s Visa as Iranian Ambassador to the U.N.”

The Abutalebi Case Shows US-Iran Relationship Requires Far More Work

Relations between the US and Iran remain far from perfect, however they are at a new stage as a result of the nuclear negotiations.  The talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of each other.  Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US.  For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council. Indeed, progress has been made of the nuclear issue and sanctions.  Key Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with the most powerful revolutionary slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry, the senior US authority on diplomacy, admits that Iran has kept its end of a deal reached on November 24, 2013.  On February 24, 2014, Kerry stated Iran had reduced its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things.  Kerry explained that “They [the Iranians] are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

However, cynics ignore such truths.  The truth, itself, is seemingly viewed as treason for those against the change in relations between the US and Iran.  Despite progress, enough US and Iranian leaders have not moved forward at all in their thinking and they seem determined to have a negative impact on the negotiation process.  As the IRGC General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has stated, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.”  On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.” In the US, it remains dogma among policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program.  The idea that nuclear talks may be the path for new, positive relations between the US and Iran, probably will not gain acceptance among cynics until a final agreement is achieved.  Even then, some will cling to doubts.

Given emnity that surfaced in both Tehran and Washington over the matter of Abutalebi’s selection as Iran’s permanent representative to the UN, it is clear that hardliners in Tehran or Members of Congress persist in viewing policy goals and approaches giving primacy to information developed in the abstract long before the negotiations began.  A new understanding of each other’s ideas on issues and intentions should have been developed given the months of talks between the US and Iran.  If a more positive understanding of respective concepts and intentions is not reached soon, the failure of the direct talks will practically be ensured.  Moreover, with a limited understanding of a counterpart’s thinking, cynics significantly lessen the possibilty of achieving their own policy goals.

The Way Forward

Despite what idealist may hope, how Obama handled this matter will determine what type of confidence he builds among leaders in Tehran.  Having stood with what Iranian officials see as the banality of Congress’ rejection of Abutalebi over his nearly indiscernible role in the US embassy seizure, Tehran may use the signing of the bill to gauge whether Obama would challenge Congress on other issues concerning US-Iran relations, to include the nuclear talks.  Although Obama cannot prevent Congress from passing sanctions or force Congress to remove them, he could greatly curtail or remove sanctions over the nuclear program under a final deal by waiving them until he leaves office if he chooses.  The Iranians probably recognized that was the most they could expect.  Now, even that outcome has been put into question.

At the UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, other senior officials, and even UN Member States most friendly with the US, would unlikely require or expect Iran to repeatedly present candidate after candidate until one would finally be found acceptable to the US.  Some of those friendly states have already accepted Abutalebi as an ambassador in their capitals.  The bill that Obama signed into law blocks any individual from entering the US who has been found to have been engaged in espionage or terrorist activity against the US and its allies or if that person may pose a threat to national security.  From the information that has been presented about Abutalebi so far, it does not seem that by his mere presence in New York City as Iran’s UN permanent representative, he poses any threat to the US.  Interestingly, Abutalebi’s actions during the embassy takeover were undoubtedly far less egregious than that of some diplomats past and present from states whose forces have engaged in combat against the US military since World War II, including China (The Korean War 1950-1953), Vietnam (The Vietnam War 1964-1973), Cuba (Grenada, Operation Urgent Fury  1983), Serbia (Operation Allied Force, 1999), Montenegro (Operation Allied Force, 1999), or Iraq (The Gulf War 1991 and The Iraq War, 2003-2011).  Except in the case of Cuba, the US has normalized relations with those states.  There is plenty of literature available that explains known or detected members of the intelligence services in the UN Missions, embassies, or consulates of states such as Russia, China, or the North Korea are, more often than not, granted visas and not expelled from the US as persona non grata.  Perhaps it should be considered by Congress that if Abutalebi is kept from assuming his post as Iran’s UN permanent representative, perhaps out of spite and due to extraordinary pressure from hardliners, Tehran might just send a new appointee, a very capable government official outside of the Foreign Ministry, who may have a less obvious profile but later may be discovered to have committed acts against the US and interests.

Rather than just deciding on whether to accept or reject the Congressional bill on Abutalebi, Obama could have used the situation as an opportunity to demonstrate what good things can come from thoughtful, direct presidential involvement in foreign policy efforts.  His personal involvement in US policy on Iran should always result in the injection of fresh thinking to the process to keep things moving forward.  The same should be expected of Rouhani.

The nuclear negotiations have meaning for present and future US-Iran relations.  Will and intellectual power is required to recognize the benefit of constructing a satisfactory and sustainable agreement.  True, a healthy dose of cynicism must exist in the process despite the best intentions.  However, the cynics must not be allowed to win the day.  For them, relations between the US and Iran appears to boil down into a competition over who has the upper hand in the relationship outside of the military sphere. Idealists would likely agree that a deal can be reached without the assistance of Iranian hardline political and religious leaders and the US Congress, yet it cannot be successfully concluded without their help.  Perhaps a focus could be placed on encouraging cynics on both sides.  As a result, they just might be helped to see, in a new way, the possibility of an agreement, and appreciate its value would be akin to that of a pearl of great price.

Book Review: Robert Gates, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (above) wrote Duty not to tritely vent anger and disappointment over his recent experience in the US government, but to engage in a sincere effort to improve the government’s handling of defense and foreign policy issues. 

In a March 25, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled, “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia’s global power and influence and to bring the now independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow’s orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases.), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic, and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.”  Gates, an American statesman, a former cabinet member of two administrations, patriotic and dedicated to his country, now out of government, sought to contribute to the US policy debate on Russia by writing this assessment of Putin’s moves in Ukraine.  Much as he was compelled to use his experience as a national security official, and expertise on the former Soviet republics to write his editorial, Gates was inspired to write his latest book, Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014).

Some reviewers have referred to Duty as a tell-all, arguing Gates was motivated write it by the urge to settle scores.  They point to the fact that it would seem impossible for any future president to hire Gates for a cabinet post.  However, Gates intentions were not so banal, and at 70, he certainly is not concerned with gaining a post in any future administration.  Just as when he decided to leave civilian life to take the position of Secretary of Defense in the Bush administration in 2006, Gates saw the possibility of sharing today the benefits of his experience, lessons he learned, and mentoring from those who selflessly protected the US for decades under far more demanding, dangerous circumstances.  As the US heads into dark territory with Russia and perhaps Iran and North Korea, his comments in Duty will prove significant to those who need to know what to do. Never wanting to see his country or president fail, writing Duty, with great passion and candor, was a way for Gates to ignite positive change and improvement.  Undeniably, he has managed to reach administration officials and Members of Congress, many of whom were unwilling to listen to his advice while he was serving in government.  In using this method to reach official Washington, calling attention to what he saw as the error in its ways, Gates put much at risk. Yet, in that way, Duty is truly an articulation of Gates’ generosity.

Some reviewers have found it enough to say Gates rose from the ranks at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), joining in 1967 via the US Air Force, but that is not enough to help readers understand the prism through which he views service in government.  The CIA of the Cold War years was different in many ways for the Agency today.  As he moved through numerous major events in his early career, Gates worked effectively as yeast within wheat flour, quietly, perhaps initially undetected.  Yet, over time, he was seen as having a positive impact through his work, eventually recognized as being part of the process of moving things forward.  He was never the sort to be negative or appear disgruntled.  During his career, Gates likely came in contact with CIA officers such as, Donald Gregg, Robert Ames, Gary Schroen, Jack Devine, Dewey Clarridge, Claire George, James Lilley, William Buckley, James Delaney, William Colby, Richard Helms, and Vernon Walters, with whom dozens of stories of ingenuity, courage, sacrifice, and patriotism are coupled.  Contacts with such associates and a multitude of others helped Gates develop a greater understanding of the world and other ways of thinking, on top of all he was learning directly through his duties as an analyst on the Agency’s Directorate of Intelligence.

As Gates reached the senior ranks of the organization, especially the job of Deputy Director of CIA, his work at headquarters was supplemented by travels worldwide, to establish or ensure understandings and agreements the Agency had with foreign personalities, some with whom most professionals and the average person would never wish to come in contact.  By that time, Gates was also made very familiar with the more esoteric, advanced, and somewhat frightening aspects of the US intelligence community’s activities.  Outside of CIA, he worked closely with Brent Scowcroft, as well as with Colin Powell and James Baker, legends in the world of US foreign and defense policy.  He was Deputy National Security Advisor during the fall of the Soviet Union.  Eventually he would become the Director of CIA. Gates’ counsel was highly valued among senior foreign and defense policy officials and presidents.

Before Gates came back to Washington to serve as Secretary of Defense, he served as President of Texas A&M University and a member of several corporate boards. He moved away from the worries of national security, leaving the job to the capable hands of others.  While developing the minds of young men and women was the concept and intent behind his service at Texas A&M, he also had a chance to reflect on his life and career.  That time of calmness and peacefulness allowed him to sharpen his discernment and see what is really inside himself.  It was likely in that period, that Gates recognized the importance of being candid and forth-right with associates.  Being polite is a virtue; silence is golden. However, remaining silent when change or action is necessary is wrong.  When the flock has strayed, remaining silent is failure.  Having developed a reputation for nearly a century for being discreet, Gates, with Duty, seemingly put the concept of being forthright in full effect in order to repair matters.  He is honest about his associates, appropriately self-critical of his own judgments, and candid in reflecting on issues that might have been handled better.

With much attention being given to Gates criticisms, the fact that Duty is an interesting history of his work as secretary is nearly lost. Gates feels that he met the job’s challenges to include: managing the activities of the armed forces globally; developing the department’s budget, overseeing the research, acquisition, and procurement process for new systems; directing the Defense Department’s relations with allies and partners overseas, managing relations with other departments such as State, Energy, Homeland Security; directing the relationship of his department with the White House and the Congress; and, managing the relationship between the military services and the president.  When Gates arrived at the Defense Department, its bureaucracy was comfortable and resisted pressure to shift to a wartime footing, dragging its feet on urgent military needs as well as neglecting to adequately care for wounded warriors.  Gates explains how he assured $16 billion was in a supplemental budget to get thousands of much needed MRAP troop-carriers built and sent quickly to Iraq and Afghanistan, against objections from the service chiefs.  He produced a budget in the first year of the administration of US President Barack Obama that cut or curtailed 33 weapons programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter.  He changed the Army’s promotion board and thus allowed some of the most creative colonels, whose careers had been thwarted, to advance to the rank of general.  When he discovered the horrors at Walter Reed Army Hospital, he fired the Secretary of the Army and fixed the situation immediately.  He also fired the Air Force Chief of Staff for slowing down production and delivery of reconnaissance drones, which in Iraq helped the troops spot roadside bombs and track down the insurgents who planted them.  In agreement with just about all other reviewers, Gates’ descriptions of how he managed to successfully lead and effectively direct the Defense Department with a combination of cooption and coercion, tempered by decades of government service at the senior level, makes Duty a book that should be read by every future US Defense Secretary, as well as political and business leaders, and defense and foreign policy makers in any country.

Yet, the history of his tenure as Defense Secretary served as background to all of his appraisals of behavioral and attitudinal changes among officials and officers in the government since he left in 1993.  Gates clearly saw it as emblematic of a degraded quality of service to the US.  That apparently startled him the more than anyting else.  At the lower levels, Gates found the behavior of young members of the National Security Council staff unsettling.  The National Security Council (NSC) staff was dominated by young congressional and campaign staffers who had little or no experience in foreign policy.  Gates explains the young staffers would engage in meddling to include making calls to four-star generals.  Having served in similar positions under four previous presidents Gates says such actions would have constituted “a firing offense” in previous administrations.  There was apparently no model for the young staffers to follow that remotely resembled what Gates had known in the past.  Rank and title had lost its meaning.  Perhaps the assumption was made by younger staffers that all were equally finding their way as students in school.  They were likely never told and never consiered  that most older, senior professionals possessed a depth of knowledge tha coiuld have been useful to them.  Interestingly, during the Cold War, the KGB and GRU likely would have avoided any attempt to contact such young staffers as described by Gates, judging them as too erratic, possessing a far greater sense of importance than deserved, and displaying questionable judgment.

While former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was praised by Gates, characterizing her as cooperative and capable, many other senior officials at the White House also drew criticism from him.  Gates appraised Tom Donilon, the second National Security Advisor in the Obama administration as suspicious and distrustful of the uniformed military leadership to the point of stating in a meeting that it was “insubordinate” and “in revolt” against the White House.  At one point in an Oval Office meeting, Donilon was so argumentative about military operations that Gates contemplated walking out of the room in anger.  “It took every bit of my self-discipline to stay seated on the sofa.”  Gates referred to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, as “hell on wheels” and “a whirling dervish with ­attention-deficit disorder.”

Gates’ criticism of US Vice President Joe Biden has received considerable note in the media.  He depicts Biden as being loud and garrulous and a comical “motor mouth,” obsessed with politics over substance.  At the same time, he says Biden is “simply impossible not to like.”  Gates explains how Biden presumes to know more about counterterrorism than an experienced Special Operations general.  However, Gates only assessed that as an aspect of Biden’s “relentless attack” on “the integrity of the senior military leadership.”  Gates noted that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”  What he faults Biden most about is poisoning Obama’s relationship with his generals.  Gates stated, “I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, everyday saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’ ”

Regarding the presidents he served as a Defense Secretary at war, Gates explains President George W. Bush and his aides squandered the initial military victories in both wars by mistakes and short-sighted policies.  He expressed dislike for Bush’s “freedom agenda” as “too simplistic” and his objectives in Afghanistan as “embarrassingly ambitious (and historically naïve).”  He believes that the invasion of Iraq and the revelations about renditions, Abu Ghraib prison, and Guantánamo “fueled further anti-American feeling.”  Yet, Gates admits admiring Bush as “a man of character, a man of convictions, and a man of action.”   Readers may find an incongruity in these statements, Gates understands that presidents also have feelings, make errors, but have the right to be treated respectfully.  Errors on the other hand do not have rights and errors made by authorities should be given attention. Gates successfully managed to assist Bush by accelerating the isolation of Vice President Dick Cheney with a number of political maneuvers.  He clearly saw Cheney’s advice as questionable.  Before he left office, Gates reveals that Cheney advocated bombing both Syria and Iran. Gates explained that he almost singlehandedly kept Bush following through on that suggestion regarding Iran.

Gates served Obama well, encouraging and supporting him.  Gates clearly understood there were enormous gaps in Obama’s background, knowledge, and understanding with regard to national security.  Coming into the administration, Gates let the president know that he would be with him and would stand by him.  He asked Obama to trust him, and promised not to fail him.  Gates hoped there would be a process by which he could impart the best of what he knew for the president to absorb.  Indeed, the president spoke in confidence with Gates, often seeking out his counsel.  For Obama the policy making process on Afghanistan was agonizing and left him wary of his generals.  Concerned over being disrespected by them, Obama asked Gates, “Do they think because I’m young that I don’t see what they’re doing?”  However, Obama eventually became non-receptive to certain reasoning. Gates indicates that was perhaps due to competing messages from Biden and others.  Such competing voices, even worse, were further confusing the situation.  Some officials misunderstood what Gates had learned long before that the weight only falls on the president’s shoulders.  Clarity of thought is especially critical on tough issues.

Gates explains a break occurred with Obama in April 2011, just he was departing the administration.  Obama had previously agreed that Gates would restructure the defense budget but that its size would not be altered. In the face of midterm elections and fiscal pressures across the board, White House Chief of Staff, William Daley, informed Gates that he would need to cut the budget by another $400 billion over the next 10 years. Gates explained “I was furious.”   He writes. “I pointed my finger at Daley and said, ‘This White House’s word means nothing!’ ”  True, the president’s job is to set national priorities, and political changes unavoidably alter those settings; it’s the Defense Secretary’s job to devise the best strategy given his limited resources.  Yet, Gates, well aware of that, perhaps is not recounting the whole story of the agreement.  Perhaps it included a quid-pro-quo that was reneged upon.  Gates disappointment also could have been due to what he recognized as a pattern of mistrust and suspicion plaguing the White House’s relations with the Defense Department since 2009.  Gates already had a deep distrust of Obama’s staff, feeling betrayed on major promises made about the defense budget and about the process of allowing gay soldiers to serve openly in the military.  On top of that, Gates explained being in the White House Situation Room and thinking that “the president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his.  For him, it’s all about getting out.”

If there was a point in the book where Gates could be said to have been aggressive and questionably constructive, it is in his discussion of the US Congress.  Gates sensed a superficiality about Congressional efforts, in which Members were not thinking deeply in the long term interests of US.  He witnessed a senselessness among those seemingly addicted to the insignificant.  He calls Members of the Senate “hypocritical and obtuse” and is angered by the “kangaroo-court environment” in committee hearings.  Gates states that the House of Representatives has “more than its fair share of crackpots” and “raving lunatics.”  He points to “rude, insulting, belittling, bullying, and all too often highly personal attacks” by Members.

Perhaps the real window into Gates soul was his thinking about the troops.  Gates really cares.  He was essentially traumatized by his role in sending US soldiers overseas to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He admits to crying over letters of condolence that he signed, later mulling over in bed the lives of those killed or wounded.  His emotions are genuine.  At one point Gates writes “I did not enjoy being secretary of defense.”  At another, he recalls telling a friend in an email, “People have no idea how much I detest this job.”  He reveals in Duty’s conclusion that he has requested to be buried in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, the resting place of many of those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The 19th century Hanoverian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz stated, “Strength of character does not only consist of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them.”  Duty is not part of an effort by Gates to angrily vent disappointment over the government, but a sincere effort to improve US national security.  Too many have looked at the work from the wrong perspective. Gates understands that US strength was created through patriotism, dedication, hard work, and real sacrifice.  He has asked that those serving in the government now perform in that manner.  For that reason, Gates saves his criticism especially for those professionals and officials who set the example and standard for the young staffers.  With a sense of respect and collegiality toward his president and his associates, Gates was quiet while in government, but silence does not obviate intellectual inquiry or activity of the spirit and of the soul.  Now, Gates has voiced his thoughts.  Hopefully Gates will continue to speak out as loud as he can.  Without question, greatcharlie.com highly recommends Duty to all of its readers.  In time, it will be viewed as one of the greatest Washington insider memoirs ever.

By the way, Gates did more than assess the situation with Russia over Ukraine in his March 25th Wall Street Journal editorial.  He also offered a way forward worth considering. He explained: “The only way to counter Mr. Putin’s aspirations on Russia’s periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.” If negotiations betwee the US ad Russia over Ukraine fail, we shall see if his advice is taken, and see how it goes!

US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War, But If Talks Fail, Iran Will Be Attacked, Eventually!

Pictured above are two of Iran’s most senior leaders, President Hassan Rouhani (right) and IRGC Commander (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (left), in an impromptu discussion of security issues.

According to a February 26, 2014, Reuters article entitled, “Kerry: US Must Pursue Iran Talks Before Considering Going to War,” by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed, US Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly told a group of reporters that the US has an obligation to pursue nuclear negotiations with Iran before attempting to force Tehran to give up its nuclear activities with military action.  Kerry further explained, “We took the initiative and led the effort to try to figure out if before we go to war there actually might be a peaceful solution.”  On November 12, 2013, Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with the P5+1 (US, Britain, France, Russia China, and Germany) to halt what were alleged to be its most sensitive nuclear operations in exchange for some relief from economic sanctions.  The interim deal was completed on January 12th, and the parties set forth to continue negotiations for six months after which, it is hoped, a final accord will be signed.  However, a positive outcome is not guaranteed.  The Reuters article’s authors explained that when he states all options are on the table with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, US President Barack Obama is using diplomatic code for the possibility of military action.  His predecessors and a long line of US officials have held out that same threat.  Yet, when Kerry spoke to the reporters, he apparently left no doubt that the US would seriously consider a strike on Iran if the diplomatic talks breakdown.

Kerry’s public comments concerning the Geneva talks were uncharacteristic of him. Kerry is an extremely capable Secretary of State, and he has a genuine interest in improving relations with Iran.  He is a discreet person who would hardly want to do anything to derail the Geneva process.  The Reuters article’s authors asserted that Kerry’s statements were in reaction to pressure placed on the Obama administration by Congressional Republicans who threatened to revive a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.  The Obama administration has cautioned Congress that such action could interfere with delicate nuclear talks to find a lasting agreement.  The article’s authors also assert that pressure from Republican lawmakers will likely increase with signs that the easing of sanctions is allowing for the boost in Iran’s oil exports.  However, Kerry’s comments on going to war with Iran were doubtlessly also heard in Tehran.  As Iranian Foreign Minister and lead Iranian negotiator for the Geneva talks, Mohammad Javad Zarif, stated in December 2013, “When Secretary Kerry talks to the US Congress, the most conservative constituencies in Iran also hear him and interpret his remarks. So it’s important for everyone to be careful what they say to their constituencies because others are listening and others are drawing their own conclusions.”  Kerry’s comments were very threatening in nature.  Yet, at this point, it is that the leadership in Tehran probably did not become too concerned about US military action.  Indeed, they feel that such action is unlikely.

Among the key power centers in Iran, to include the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, the leadership of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and hard-line political and religious leaders, there was an understanding that Iran would be negotiating in Geneva from a position of strength as a military power.  Such power was in part the basis of their belief that the US needed to negotiate with Iran as an equal.  Iranian leaders likely reached this conclusion as a result of an assessment of the “capabilities and possibilities” for likely US military action.  Certainly, Iranian leaders regularly receive a wealth of detailed reports from official and unofficial sources, including the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, on information such as US approaches to the nuclear negotiations, policy and decision making and statements made by senior US political, diplomatic, and military officials on Iran.  Yet, the consideration of capabilities and possibilities is a standard procedure and favored methodology for foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations in Iran to assess, in the abstract, capability to effectively perform a proposed action and the real possibility for success.  It also allows for an assessment of an opponent’s capability to respond to that action and possible decision making and reaction to it.  By wrongly giving higher meaning to certain facts and assumptions and incorrectly weighing relative strengths and weaknesses of Iran’s military power versus the US, it becomes clear how Iranian policy analysts and decision makers would reach the conclusion that they would not face a military response if talks failed or if they took the step to develop a nuclear weapon.  Based on one member’s experience working with Iranian officials on the nuclear issue, a truncated assessment of capabilities and possibilities, comparable to those done in Tehran, is presented here by greatcharlie.com in order to demonstrate how the Iranian leaders most likely acquired certain views, and why they have taken certain approaches toward the US.  If Iranian leaders decide to drop the Geneva talks and actually develop a nuclear weapon, its decision will be based on a flawed understanding of US capabilities.  There is a real possibility the US will attack Iran.  However, there is also the possibility that as the Geneva talks advance, and greater contacts occur among US and Iranian officials and diplomats, some prevailing views in Tehran on US military capabilities may be modified.  Those contacts may also create interest among Iranian leaders to seek a sustainable final agreement on economic sanctions and their nuclear program, if a final decision on how to proceed on the nuclear issue has not already been made.

“Capabilities”

The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces have declared their willingness to defend Iranian territory with military power, and are convinced that they have such capabilities.  IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari has explained: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.”  Regular displays of military strength through exercises and parades, along with hubristic declarations regarding Iran’s power, serve to assure the Iranian people that their government has the capability to defend them, and are also intended to serve as a deterrent to potential aggressors. Although the impact of US directed international sanctions on Iran’s economy has been considerable, Iranian leaders have vowed not to allow US sanctions prevent Iran from pursuing a nuclear program.  Concerning sanctions, Jafari explained: “Today, Americans and Westerners have understood that pressure on Iran not only does not lead to the advancement of their desires but also has the opposite effect.  Iran has progressed day by day.”  Jafari’s statement is indeed accurate.  Regardless of the state of negotiations between the US and its Western partners and Iran over the years, and the ferocity of the US threats, advances would continue to be made on the nuclear energy program.  Iranian leaders have also appreciated the deterrent effect created by Western intelligence assessments that Iran is close to breakout capacity with its nuclear program; some estimates are that Iran is only six months away from having the technology to develop a bomb.

Iranian leaders feel Rouhani can capture the imagination of the US and its European partners making them more pliant to compromise.  Regarding negotiations, there is a sense among Iranian leaders that Zarif has capabilities as a diplomat and advocate that are superior to his Western counterparts and is capable of driving them toward compromise on sanctions without surrendering nuclear rights.  While rifts between hard-line elements in Iran with Rouhani and Zarif over the Geneva talks have been highlighted in the West, there is actually an understanding among Iranian leaders of the need to support the negotiations team.  Indeed, concerning Zarif and the negotiations team, Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.”

On regime change, a threat posed by the administration of US President George W. Bush against Iran, Iranian leaders are certain their security apparatus is too strong for the US to ever defeat and the US has backed away from that effort.  Addressing the issue of regime change, IRGC Quds Force Commander General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani stated: “the important side of your [US] attempts today have been to confront the Islamic Republic.  Your [Obama] statement [at the UN] that ‘We are not seeking the Islamic system’s overthrow’ is not a statement of kindness, but rather an announcement of incapability.  You have been and will remain unable to be successful in overthrowing the Republic’s system.”

There is a sense among Iranian leaders that Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan’s efforts to revamp and enhance Iran’s advanced defense research programs and strengthen Iranian defense industrial base will greatly enhance Iran’s warfighting capabilities at the present and in the future.  Iran has already made great strides in satellite technology, drone, and stealth technology.   Iran has successfully used a base in Venezuela as a test bed for new technologies.  Regarding application of those new technologies, in the Gulf, Iran believes it can establish dominance with the advent of new anti-ship system and naval technologies.  Ali Shamkani, the new Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council directed the IRGC attempts to realize Iranian dominance in the Gulf while serving as IRGC Commander.  He retains a strong interest in that effort.

On its borders, Iran has demonstrated its capability to effectively combat narcotics traffickers and rogue Islamic militant groups such as al-Qaeda and Jundallah, as well as the Peoples’ Mujahedeen, a group some Western policy analysts suggest that the US use as a means to weaken the government in Tehran.  In Iraq, Iran has trained and equipped Iraqi Shi’a militiamen and sent them into Syria to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Syria, Iran has demonstrated its capability to project power beyond its borders, deploying significant numbers of IRGC, Quds Force and regular Army forces there in support of the Assad regime.  Iran has trained and equipped Syria’s shabiha (militiamen), and organized them into the National Defense Front.  It is known that Iran has sent at least 330 truckloads of arms and equipment through Iraq to support the Syrian Armed Forces in 2013.  An air corridor over Iraq has also emerged as a major supply route for Iran to send weapons, including rockets, anti-tank missiles, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades to Assad.  Iran has also armed, equipped, and enabled Hezbollah to join the fight in Syria.  Further, Iran has facilitated the deployment of Iraqi Shi’a militiamen trained by the Quds Force to Damascus.  To further supplement the Syrian Armed Forces, hundreds of Shi’a, among the Arabs in Yemen and Pashtun in Afghanistan, have been recruited for combat duty in Syria.  In Yemen, Iran’s Quds Force has supplied arms to Houthi rebels fighting government forces in the northern part of the country.  In Bahrain, Iran has capitalized on ties established with Shi’a groups back in the 1990s.  Calling themselves the Bahraini Rebellion Movement, some have carried out small-scale attacks on police.  Bahraini rebels are operationally controlled by Bahraini opposition leaders, but typically trained in Iran.  Iranian leaders feel they could utilize these diverse forces against the interests of the US and its friends and allies in retaliation for US military action.

As events and issues in the Middle East do not align with US President Barack Obama’s new vision of its national interest, some Iranian leaders feel the US has become disinterested in the region.  Most also recite the global mantra that the US has been traumatized by its interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan both in which Iran supported opponents of the US.  Obama, himself, appears to Iranian leaders as being skeptical about the use of the US military anywhere to create desired outcomes other than actions where participation by US personnel is very limited in scope as in Libya.  Iranian leaders observed the Obama administration’s decision to make steep reductions in US conventional forces, leaving them somewhat less able to project robust power, take and hold ground in a non-permissive environment or engage in sustained ground combat operations in defense of the interests of the US, its friends, and allies.  They have also observed Obama administration effort to make steep reductions in its nuclear forces, the crown jewels of its military power, only to be thwarted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Putin refused to negotiate on the matter concerned with the efficacy of taking such an audacious step.  Additionally, they were amused over the way in which the Obama administration buckled under pressure from academics, policy scholars, and activists over drone use.

Iranian leaders have noted the Obama administration’s insistence on deploying a European based missile defense system to defeat an imagined Iranian nuclear-tipped missile attack.  To Iranian leaders, the deployment of the missile defense system indicates that there is a willingness within the US to rely on defense and deterrence rather than offensive military action to cope with Iran’s nuclear program.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration’s behavior has been perceived by Iranian leaders as being very awkward.  Regarding those military operations, Suleimani stated: “What achievements did the American army have with $700 billion budget . . . They expended approximately $3 trillion for the war in Iraq but the American army was unable to gain immunity in Iraq for [even] a single flight and exited Iraq with disgrace.  The result of all war in the region was the Iranian nation’s victory.”  In the view of some Iranian leaders, the Obama administration withdrew from Iraq as a result of a promise made during Obama’s first presidential campaign rather than strategic considerations.  Consequently, Iranian leaders surprisingly found themselves left with an opportunity to strengthen Iran’s position in Iraq.  However, the door was also opened for a growth of al-Qaeda’s presence there.  The initial increase in force in Afghanistan after a long, agonizing decision by Obama in 2009 was made with the goal to create the opportunity for the US and NATO to succeed there.  Iranian leaders have observed how that approach transformed into a decision to withdraw.  Indeed, the US has now declared its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan by December 2014 without a security agreement with the Afghan government.  Iranian leaders have been presented with an opportunity to further Iran’s dominance in the region, but recognize the US withdrawal may open the door to a growth in al-Qaeda’s presence there.

Among experts and advisers on foreign and defense policy in Tehran, the popular view espoused was that the Obama administration was forced into an aggressive stance against Iran with manipulation from Israel.  Senior Military Advisor to the Supreme Leader and Former IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi stated, “It is sad that the US President is under the influence of [Netanyahu’s] pressure and lies about Iran to such an extent, that he changed his tune and stance towards the Iranian issue. This leads to the US President’s weakness of independent thought and policy and has shown the power and influence of the Zionist lobby . . . .”  Jafari stated in September 2013, “We hope that the Americans let go of their intransigence with Iran and become less affected by the Zionist lobby.”  However, Iranian leaders now believe the US has retreated from its aggressive stance toward Iran fearing further military engagement in the Middle East.  Iranian leaders want to believe that the Obama administration has very negative relations with Israel, and has pursued the Geneva negotiation process, despite Israel’s objections.  They are convinced that uncongenial relations between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has served to stymie Israeli plans to take any action against Iran.

In Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s efforts to establish itself as the state with predominant military force on the ground and the complete capability to shape events, with the financial support from Russia and China.  Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Obama administration hesitated and backed away from military action after very publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons.  Iranian leaders’ views of Obama’s unwillingness to take military action anywhere were confirmed when the Obama administration expressed “fears” over placing troops on the ground and was indecisive in choosing targets in Syria for military strikes before eventually declining to act altogether.  That actually compelled many Iranian officials, IRGC commanders in particular, to publicly deride the US government as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands.  Suleimani made the following statement about the US: “There was day when the US used three options: political, economic, military.  Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or the Islamic system is weaker.’  Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world.  The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily.  From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world.  In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

Iranian leaders watched as Democratic and Republican Members of the US Congress failed to support Obama’ s plan to take military action in Syria.  They recognized that as being indicative of a greater problem between Obama and Congress.  Iranian leaders feel the Congress would likely deny Obama support for military action elsewhere.  The willingness of opponents in Congress to inflict harm on the US military, the security apparatus, and the US public, through sequestration and a government shutdown, convinced to Iranian leaders that there is outright hostility from Congress toward the Obama administration akin to an animus toward an enemy.  The Iranian view of the Obama administration were supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his now infamous September 12, 2013, New York Times Op-Ed entitled, “A Plea for Caution from Russia.”  Putin’s negative perceptions of Obama’s motives and the US have very likely found their way into Russia’s dialogue with Iran and have had an impact. Russia’s most recent military action in Ukraine demonstrates to Iranian leaders that there is little reason to be concerned or intimidated by a possible response from the Obama administration.  Iranian leaders’ views on the role of the US in the world as a predominant power were also supported by China.  Chinese views were represented in an editorial by the Chinese official news agency, Xinhua, calling for a “de-Americanized” world.

“Possibilities”

On the Geneva talks, Khamenei from the beginning made statements such as: “We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [US] to deter its evil.”  Maintaining the nuclear program and the right to enrich were the main requirements that he gave to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani when releasing him to engage in a dialogue with the US and Western powers on economic sanctions, and Iran’s nuclear program.  Khamenei viewed the Geneva process primarily as an opportunity to counter economic sanctions while progressing in the area of nuclear technology.  Jafari has stated: “The people expect their officials to demand the complete nuclear rights of the nation of Iran, including the nuclear fuel cycle, complete and official recognition of the right to enrich, and the elimination of all unjust sanctions.”

Given the nature of relations between Obama and Netanyahu, Iranian leaders felt it was unlikely the US would agree to Israeli demands for Iran to cease all uranium enrichment and to remove all enriched uranium from its territory; dismantle its Fordow nuclear facility hidden in a mountain near Qum; dismantle its newest generation of centrifuges at Natanz; and, stop construction of a heavy water reactor at Arak.  They know that the US has engaged in an effort to quell very audible concerns expressed by Israel and other Middle East allies over concessions made to Iran, particularly on sanctions.  Iranian leaders truly believe Zarif is the best diplomat possible to promote the legitimacy of Iran’s positions.  The popular notion, that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was initially driven in great part by the White House’s desire to establish Obama’s legacy, signaled to Iranian leaders that the US may be willing to make concessions in talks to reach an agreement.  Zarif could deliver success at Geneva on Iran’s terms, exploiting the US desire to make a deal.

It may very well be that Iranian leaders want to use the Geneva talks to gain time to make greater advances in the nuclear program.  Continued progress in the program has been a feature of Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the US and its Western partners since such talks`began with the Bush administration despite the ferocity of threats of military intervention and the imposition of sanctions.  From a darker perspective, true conservatives among Iranian leaders may wish to use the diplomatic efforts of Rouhani and Zarif simply to misdirect the US and its European partners, enabling other elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program.  Iran has the possibility to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the US and its Western partners within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility.  Rouhani and the Iranian Foreign Ministry would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the US while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements take a path toward accomplishing the military goals of the nuclear program.

Whether through the current course of research or a covert program, Iranian leaders are aware that once a significant level of competence with nuclear technology is successfully acquired and tested, the genie will be out of the bottle and a new situation will immediately exist. Iranian leaders believe that threats of further sanctions or military action against Iran would unlikely be viewed as constructive internationally, other than by Israel.  Iranian leaders believe particularly that it would less likely face any consequences if it achieves nuclear weapons technology when US mid-term Congressional elections occur in 2014.  Democrats in the US Senate and House of Representatives, especially those seeking re-election, would not want to have to explain a new war in the Middle East declared by a president from their party.

What Has Occurred So Far

Under the agreed pause of its nuclear activities, Iran has suspended its nuclear program to the extent that enrichment of uranium would be halted beyond 5 percent, a level deemed sufficient for energy production but not for developing a nuclear device.  Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a step toward weapons grade fuel, would be diluted or converted to oxide, preventing it from standing prepared for military purposes.  Iran already produced more than 20,000 pounds of enriched uranium gas that is three quarters of the way to weapons grade material.  Iran also agreed not to install any new centrifuges, or start up any that were not already operating. Between 2009 and 2013, Iran’s inventory of installed centrifuges increased from 5,500 to 19,000.  Iran agreed not to build any new enrichment facilities.  An undeclared enrichment facility at Fordow, buried inside of a mountain and outfitted with centrifuges over the last several years, was exposed by US and allied intelligence efforts prior to the negotiations.  Iranian officials indicated that their program had not been curtailed at all. They claimed that Iran by its own volition, reached an interim agreement with the P5+1, but did not give up the right to enrich or the ability to return to enriching at any time.  To them, the interim agreement did not prevent Iran from enriching uranium above 3.5 percent or to dismantle any existing centrifuges.  Iranian deputy foreign minister for legal and international affairs as well as lead negotiator, Abbas Arachi, made it clear that while Iran would separate connections between centrifuges that have been used to enrich uranium to 20 percent, the interconnections could be reconnected in a day.  The entire feed stock for producing nuclear weapons fuel and infrastructure remains intact.  Additionally, the Iranians were able to retain achievements made through their development of a heavy water reactor in Arak which provides a plutonium pathway to producing nuclear weapons fuel.

However, the agreement, more importantly, has reversed the momentum of sanctions and provided some relief from the threat created by the notion of impenetrable sanctions.  Some US policy analysts may believe that Iran may be buying time in order to advance its nuclear program while giving key concessions on the sanctions front.   Yet, what may really be happening is that Iranian leaders are giving new consideration to the Geneva process.  Considering how to proceed against the US and its European partners in the abstract, is quite different from engaging with US officials in actual negotiations.  Information gleaned from US officials and diplomats should provide fresh information about US actions and intentions.  It is difficult to say whether such information from the talks might have an impact on thinking among Iranian leaders.  Nonetheless, while enduring Kerry threats of war, Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24th agreement by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched uranium, not enriching uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things.  Kerry, himself, told reporters that “Generally speaking, they have done I think everything that they were required to do with respect to the reductions.”  Kerry further explained that “There’s no centrifuge challenge. They haven’t put any in. They … have reduced their 5 percent. They have reduced the 20 (percent),” he added. “They are in the middle of doing all the things that they are required to do.”

The Way Forward

Khamenei and other Iranian leaders believed an agreement favorable to Iran’s interests, particularly on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear rights, would be rapidly constructed.  As the negotiation process dragged on, they were recognized as a complicated and deliberate process, the outcome of which is uncertain.  Khamenei began expressing doubts that an agreement acceptable to Iran could be constructed.  Nevertheless, once an interim deal was reached, and Khamenei and Iran so far have adhered to it.  There is real hope among negotiators that a final agreement can be reached.  However, the talks could also fail, and that would not be a simple matter at all.  Iranian leaders may conclude the US will not attack, given the predilection of the Obama administration to shy away from military action, and speculation on the US included in some analysis of “capabilities and possibilities” developed in the abstract by policy experts in Tehran.  Yet, the US military, in reality, possesses the capability to successfully execute a decisive blow against the Iranian nuclear program and effectively deal with Iran in the aftermath of any strikes.

US military planners develop concepts for operations using their expertise based on a long career in their respective branches of the armed forces that includes continuous military education and training and considerable experience warfighting.  They would be the ones responsible for developing plans for military action against Iran for the Obama administration.  They know the capabilities of specific individuals and units, the effectiveness of their weapons systems, and what the real possibility for success of any given operation would be.  All tools, both conventional and nuclear, would be available to them.  If ordered by the president to present a plan for such an attack, senior US military planners will more than likely produce something that displays a high level of acumen and creativity, utilizing advanced technologies in a manner that neither analysts nor the potential opponent could foresee.  A plan to put the full panoply of security measures in place not just in the region but in the US and territories of friends and allies to thwart retaliation would also be produced and implemented.  The worst way for Iranian leaders to discover the US military’s capabilities would be through an attack.

Iranian leaders must realize that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time.  Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term.  Striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president.  To the extent that the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of all its nuclear activities.  The demand could possibly be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action.

Another realization that must be reached is that rather than focus on comments that are meant for domestic political consumption in the US, Iranian leaders must stay focused on what is best for Iran and what can truly be achieved through the nuclear negotiations.  Relations between the US and Iran are at a new stage as are the nuclear negotiations. The P5+1 Talks have provided a unique opportunity for US officials and their Iranian counterparts, through close contact, to acquire a better understanding of various aspects of one another’s thinking.  Much of what has been learned since surely contradicts Iranian leaders’ prior assessments of capabilities and possibilities regarding the US.  For the US and Iran, the improved understanding of mutual positions was further strengthened by back channel talks, some conducted by officials from the US National Security Council.  Those talks also allowed very senior officials to “clear the air” regarding any personal concerns and relations between the two countries.  The new dialogue has built confidence, eliminated many ambiguities about positions, and lessened the guessing over actions, intentions, and motives.  Jafari has been quoted as saying, “Anti-Westernism is the principle characteristic of the Islamic Republic.”  However, Iranian leaders at this point may be able to see, even with such slogans in mind, the real possibilities of a final agreement.  Adhering to the interim deal, as Kerry himself has confirmed, is a good first step and serves as recognition by Iranian leaders that a peace agreement has promise.  Although it has been dogma among US policy analysts and think tank scholars to view Iran as determined to pursue nuclear weapons through its nuclear program, it may very well be that a final decision on how to proceed has not been made in Tehran.  Recall that Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon.  If Iran were trying to develop a nuclear weapon, the effort could only be justified by Iranian leaders as a matter of absolute necessity for Iran’s security.  Evidence does not exist that the nuclear program has been militarized.  Whether Iranian leaders truly believe a nuclear weapon would make them more secure is not certain.  With great expenditure, Iranian leaders may be both creating a nuclear energy program, and simply creating the option to weaponize if it became necessary.

If a final decision truly has not been made on developing a nuclear weapon, it may still be possible, in Geneva and through back channel discussions, to convince Iranian leaders that pursuing a weapon would not be necessary.  Zarif, Kerry, and all parties to the negotiations may very well be able to deliver a deal that satisfies Tehran and all parties to the negotiations.  It is certainly worth the try.  If they fail, then a war will likely be declared, if not immediately, in the near future.