Focal Points Blog

Iran Threat Reduction Act Actually Enhances Threat of War

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-IL)

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-IL)

Congress is taking up dangerous legislation which appears to be designed to pave the way for war by taking the unprecedented step of effectively preventing any kind of U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran. The Iran Threat Reduction Act of 2011 (H.R. 1905), sponsored by the right-wing chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, contains a provision (Section 601, subsection (c)) which would put into law a restriction whereby

No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that. . . is an agent, instrumentality, or official of, is affiliated with, or is serving as a representative of the Government of Iran;

Never in the history of this country has Congress ever restricted the right of the White House or State Department to meet with representatives of a foreign state, even in wartime. If this measure passes, it will establish a dangerous precedent whereby Congress would likely follow with similar legislation effectively forbidding any contact with Palestinians, Cubans and others.

Despite not having formal diplomatic ties since 1979, there has been frequent low-level contact between the two governments on such issues as combatting drug smuggling and Salafi terrorists. Recent examples include talks which facilitated cooperation in suppressing the Taliban and freeing three American hikers held in an Iranian prison. Such contacts would no longer be possible under this bill.

More seriously, the legislation appears to be designed to push the country toward a military conflict with Iran. History has shown that governments that refuse to even talk with each other are far more likely to go to war.

The bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week and, with 349 co-sponsors from both parties, is almost certain to pass the House of Representatives as a whole.

As is often the case with legislation dealing with foreign affairs that puts limits on executive behavior, there is clause allowing for a presidential waiver. It is very limited, however, allowing the White House to waive the requirement only

. . . if the president determines and so reports to the appropriate congressional committees 15 days prior to the exercise of waiver authority that failure to exercise such waiver authority would pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the vital national security interests of the United States.

The problem is that diplomatic encounters—particularly with countries with which the United States has tense relations—often need to be arranged in less than a 15-day period. The entire Cuban missile crisis lasted only 13 days, for example. In the event of a crisis that threatens a military confrontation between the United States and Iran, the Obama administration would have to wait more than two weeks before having any contact with any Iranian officials, which by then could be too late.

Another problem is that meetings with governments with which the United States has no diplomatic relations are usually arranged secretly through back channels. Unfortunately, the odds that none of the 26 Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee would leak news of such a meeting to Fox News or some other media outlet are rather slim. The relatively moderate elements within Iran’s factious regime would presumably not want to risk any meetings with Americans becoming known to hard-liners. Indeed, their personal safety could be at risk if found out. Similarly, to avoid attacks from Republicans prior to elections, the Obama administration would presumably want to avoid making such meetings public as well.

Fortunately, senior diplomats and intelligence officials are speaking out against this push for war. As veteran CIA analyst and Georgetown University professor Paul Pillar put it, “This legislation is another illustration of the tendency to think of diplomacy as some kind of reward for the other guy, rather than what it really is: a tool for our side.”

Similarly, veteran diplomats Thomas Pickering and William Luers observed, “Besides raising serious constitutional issues over the separation of powers, this preposterous law would make it illegal for the U.S. to know its enemy,” a principle which has been understood by strategic planners since first articulated by Sun Tzu in The Art of War in the 6th century B.C.

Another problematic clause in the bill, contained in the same sub-section, states that

No person employed with the United States Government may contact in an official or unofficial capacity any person that…presents a threat to the United States or is affiliated with terrorist organizations.

Not only could what constitutes a “threat” to the United States or an “affiliate” with a “terrorist organization” be interpreted rather broadly, it could restrict investigation of possible terrorist attacks. It would have made illegal the recent sting operation that foiled the alleged assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador, for example.

The march to war with Iran appears to have the support a sizable number of liberal Democrats. Indeed, more than 40 members of the so-called “Progressive Caucus” have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including: Karen Bass, Robert Brady, Corrine Brown, Yvette Clark, William Clay, Emmanuel Cleaver, David Cicilline, Steve Cohen, Elijah Cummings, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Sam Farr, Chaka Fattah, Bob Filner, Barney Frank, Janice Hahn, Mazie Hirono, Michael Honda, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Hank Johnson, Marcy Kaptur, John Lewis, David Loebsack, Ben Ray Lujan, Carolyn Maloney, Ed Markey, Jerrold Nadler, Frank Pallone, Jared Polis, Charles Rangel, Laura Richardson, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda Sanchez, Jan Schakowsky, Louise Slaughter, Peter Welch, and Frederica Wilson.

It should be noted that these clauses were added to the bill by committee chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen at the end of October, subsequent to some of the co-sponsors signing on, yet so far no one has withdrawn their co-sponsorship. Unless the public mobilizes against this legislation, then, it will be passed and the risks of a disastrous war will be markedly increased.

Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.

Iran: No Smoking Gun Found for Ticking Time Bomb

At Foreign Policy, Mark Hibbs, the reporter who helped break the AQ Khan-nuclear black market story and is now with the Carnegie Endowment, writes:

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s newest report on Iran’s nuclear program … brings forth evidence that the Islamic Republic has covered a lot of technical ground to develop a nuclear weapon over the past two decades. But it stops short of the most incendiary charge: that Iran’s political leadership masterminded a secret program to possess atomic arms. In view of the wealth of incriminating detail that the IAEA presented in the report, that omission may be the only face-saving argument left to Tehran to permit diplomacy to continue as usual. And because the report draws no conclusions about how far along Iran’s nuclear weapons program is, it will be irrelevant to Israel’s calculus of whether to attack Iranian nuclear installations. ” [Emphasis added.]

In other words

… the IAEA report should certainly not be considered a casus belli.

Arab Spring Takes Back Seat to U.S. Military Aid for Egypt

Some telling remarks buried in a speech (“On Ensuring Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge“) justifying renewal of the annual US$3 billion aid package to Israel by the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs:

I know that the uncertainty over the Egyptian transition has prompted some in Congress to propose conditioning our security assistance to Egypt. The Administration believes that putting conditions on our assistance to Egypt is the wrong approach, and Secretary Clinton has made this point strongly. Egypt is a pivotal country in the Middle East and a long-time partner of the United States. We have continued to rely on Egypt to support and advance U.S. interests in the region, including peace with Israel, confronting Iranian ambitions, interdicting smugglers, and supporting Iraq. Egypt’s well-being is important for the region as a whole.

Conditioning assistance risks putting our relations with Egypt in a contentious place at the worst possible moment. As the Secretary explained, “We support the democratic transition, and we don’t want to do anything that in any way draws into question our relationship or our support.” The Egyptian people, not just the Egyptian government, view our assistance as symbolic of our support for their country and their transition. At this time of great change, we need to maintain the flexibility to respond to events and adjust our assistance accordingly.

As The Arabist notes, “there was reluctance to upset Mubarak and a feeling that arguing with him was a lost battle. The SCAF, Egypt’s governing military council, is playing the same obtuse game of stubbornness.”

So is this Administration. And yet Obama still isn’t good enough for the Israel Lobby and Congress. He threw the Palestinian Authority under the bus at the UN (and continues to do so at the moribund Quartet Talks), and he’s apparently willing to endure SCAF’s troubling actions — sectarian violence, constitutional manipulation, the torture and detention of activists — all in the name of the Camp David Accords.

Bahrain, Shmarain — there’s the Fifth Fleet to consider (Tunisia sure is lucky that it doesn’t host a U.S. naval base). And Yemen is the new Afghanistan. Send in the drones.

Goodness knows what Obama has planned for Libya, though I imagine Bechtel and Halliburton have some ideas (and if not them, others will).

Of course, the fact that Obama is nonetheless willing to do business with Islamists is (somehow) just further proof of his anti-Israel sentiment, even though these people are Israel’s silent partners in the region, thanks to their shared fear of Iran and willingness to throw Palestinian statehood under the bus.

Man, what’s a President got to do to win some love from John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s favorite people?

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

We Have a Responsibility to Protect Responsibility to Protect

“At first glance, the intervention in Libya looks like a textbook case of how the new U.N. doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was supposed to work,” writes David Rieff in a New York Times op-ed titled R2P, R.I.P. In fact

The White House, 10 Downing Street, and, above all, the Elysée Palace, are now patting themselves on the collective back. But a far more qualified reaction may be in order. [R2P is] about protecting civilians, and emphatically not about regime change. The Security Council resolutions that authorized an R2P-based intervention to protect Benghazi did not authorize outside powers to provide air support for the subsequent rebellion against Qaddafi. … for all intents and purposes, R2P was NATO-ized. As a result, everywhere outside Western Europe and North America, R2P is losing what little ethical credibility it ever commanded.

“A doctrine of intervention,” Rieff concludes, that “claims the moral high ground … but under which the interveners are always from the Global North and the intervened upon always from the Global South is not moral progress; it is geopolitical business as usual.”

Looks like before it can be used to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes — defined as genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity — R2P needs to be protected from Western powers that would use it to their own ends.

True Reason for Iran’s Apparent Interest in Nukes Discovered

“Iran regards utilizing nuclear weapons as forbidden in Islam,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, once said. On another occasion, he declared: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”

In 2008 a WorldPublicOpinion.org poll revealed that, while 81% of Iranians favored nuclear energy, 58% agreed with the Supreme Leader’s statement, while only 23% supported a nuclear-weapons program. In fact 63% expressed approval that Iran was still party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Presumably, those polled responded truthfully. But, in light of the International Atomic Energy Agency report presenting more evidence that Iran is acquiring the know-how and technology to build nuclear weapons, who — left or right — really believes the Supreme Leader’s avowals?

Are such statements by the Supreme Leader bald-faced lies? Or is he relying on an obscure Islamic doctrinal point to justify lying to the enemy — not to mention justifying killing millions of them?

In 2003, Robert Collier of the San Francisco Chronicle attempted to divine the truth.

Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, one of the highest-ranking clerics in Iran, said in an interview: “There is complete consensus on this issue. It is self-evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent people.”

But

Some diplomats privately dismiss such statements, pointing to alleged Iranian government support for such organizations as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other groups whose suicide bombings have killed hundreds of innocent civilians. … Asked whether the ayatollahs could simply rip up their fatwa one day and issue a new ruling blessing the development of nuclear weapons, [Fazal Miboudi, a mullah who is professor of political science at Mofid University in Qom] said any reversal of such a high-profile issue would require years of awkward theological maneuvering.

In fact, though, an explanation may actually exist for how the Supreme Leader could declare that nuclear weapons are forbidden by Islam while green-lighting their development. In June of this year, Tehran held its second international conference on nuclear disarmament. Despite hosting delegates from 40 nations, the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it was, for the most part, scoffed at by the West. But, at Asia Times Online, Kaveh Afrasiabi wrote:

What seems more absurd to many is the simple fact that with the tens of thousands of nuclear warheads still in existence … so little attention has been placed in the West on practical mechanisms to achieve the lofty objective of a “world without nuclear weapons”. [The] gathering helped serve a purpose in terms of what [Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar] Salehi has described as cultivating a “popular disarmament culture”.

As you can see, Iran was attempting to put the onus of nonproliferation back on the West for failing to take substantive disarmament measures. Afrasiabi continued.

… the Tehran conference gave the Iranian hosts an opportunity to throw the limelight on Israel’s clandestine nuclear arsenal, its refusal to join the NPT and its lack of support for a Middle East nuclear weapons-free zone — an idea fully endorsed by Iran. [Also] the Tehran conference was important in further integrating Iran in the global disarmament movement. [Emphasis added.]

No doubt, Iran and disarmament are two words you never expected to see in the same sentence. Afrasiabi explained.

Following this line of thought, the outlines of Iran’s ”borderline” nuclear policy, which allows Tehran to insert itself in the global “nuclear game” and thus exert pressure on the nuclear haves to move toward disarmament and avoid proliferation activities, can be understood.

Afrasiabi is justifying (rationalizing) Iran’s flirtation with nuclear-weapons (“‘borderline’ nuclear policy”) as a means to gain “credibility” with the West. Usually, when used in a nuclear-weapons context, the word credibility refers to a perceived need for the West, especially the United States, to initiate substantive disarmament measures to convince states aspiring to nuclear weapons that they don’t need them. Afrasiabi elaborated.

Without the potential capability as a proto-nuclear power, Iran … will be ignored as totally irrelevant. In other words, the … value, for the sake of disarmament objectives, of Iran’s latent nuclear potential and/or threat has completely bypassed Western pundits who … often reduce Iran’s nuclear ambitions to a mere issue of national security.

In other words, Afrasiabi is asserting that Iran is developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons in hopes that nuclear-weapons states will view it as a genuine player on the international stage. It can then institute its hitherto hidden agenda: disarmament. In Afrasiabi’s words, Iran will be “able to play an increasingly vocal role in holding those powers back from the flight of responsibility vis-a-vis their NPT obligations to disarm.”

More and more Afrasiabi resembles an Iranian-American version of North Korea mouthpiece Kim Myong Chol, who writes articles like this — North Korea nears age of affluence — for Asia Times Online. In any event, he thinks he’s demonstrated how the Supreme Leader can be pro and con nuclear weapons at the same time.

The China Divide and the Future of the GOP

Excerpted from IPS Special Project Right Web.

Barring a shocking turn of events, the 2012 election will not turn on foreign policy. The Republican primary debates thus far have focused mostly on economic and cultural issues. Indeed, with the exception of minor candidate Jon Huntsman, the current Republican Presidential field is notable mostly for its lack of experience or interest in foreign policy. Recently, several candidates took the opportunity to criticize President Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq. However, this represented less a positive vision of foreign policy than an opportunistic critique of the incumbent.

Perhaps the biggest long-term foreign policy issue facing the United States is the status of its relations with the People’s Republic of China. Over the past ten years, China has developed into a mature military power, developing advanced technology such as ballistic missile submarines, the J-20 stealth fighter, and the DF-31 Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile. Trade with China has quadrupled since 2001, as the PRC has become the United States’ second most important trading partner after Canada. China also holds holds 36 percent of all foreign-owned U.S. Treasury securities. Put simply, the political and economic relationship with China is absolutely critical for the future prosperity and well being of the United States.

Unfortunately, the current Republican field has given little indication of any serious thought on the future of this critical relationship.

Robert Farley is an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce.

To read the rest, visit Right Web.


Iran: Here We Go . . .

Cross-posted from IPS Special Project RightWeb.

When the International Atomic Energy Agency released its report this week claiming “credible” evidence that Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear weapon since at least 2003, the responses of right-wing demagogues were predictable, if alarming.

The narrative was simple, echoing an old trope most recently rehashed after the United States claimed to have foiled an Iranian assassination plot in Washington: sanctions have failed, Iran will never “respond” to diplomacy, and war is the only option. “Diplomacy has never resolved problems with Iran,” writes Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. “Only overwhelming pain will convince the supreme leader that the Islamic Republic cannot shoulder the costs of his quest.” (Rubin once wrote to Right Web complaining that we unfairly accused him of wanting to attack Iran.)

Rubin’s apparent bloodlust might seem marginal in a less toxic diplomatic environment. But his comments come amid a flurry of anti-Iranian posturing in Washington as well as Tel Aviv, where factions of Netanyahu’s cabinet have reportedly been pressing for a unilateral strike on Iran. Defying the Israeli government’s official silence in response to the report, Defense Minister Ehud Barak insisted that Israel could attack Iran and suffer “not even 500” casualties, and President Simon Peres remarked earlier this week that “The possibility of a military attack against Iran is now closer to being applied than the application of a diplomatic option.”

Meanwhile in Washington, while neoconservative commentators were preparing their remarks that diplomacy doesn’t work with Iran, members of Congress were setting about ensuring that it wouldn’t. Led by the hard-right Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced last week a harsh sanctions bill that would effectively criminalize most contact between U.S. diplomats and Iranian officials. Paul Pillar noted at the National Interest that the bill “would prevent any exploration of ways to resolve disagreement over that Iranian nuclear program that we are supposedly so intensely concerned about,” concluding that it “vividly illustrates how mindless the pressuring and isolation of Iran has become.” Another bill passed by the committee would impose stringent sanctions on Iran’s central bank, something Iran previously said it would consider an act of war.

Even the United Kingdom is reportedly preparing plans to attack Iran.

Although a few doubts have been raised about the report’s findings and implications, John Glaser has ventured a possible rationale for Iran’s nuclear ambitions: namely, the U.S. has invaded and occupied the countries to Iran’s east and west, continues to run warships in the Persian Gulf, has cultivated client states hostile to Iran, and has waged a covert campaign of assassination and cyber warfare against the country. “In such an environment,” Glaser asks, “why wouldn’t the Iranian government want a nuclear weapon?”

Still, Mark Dubowitz of the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies told Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin that “no one can reasonably argue that countries threatened by Iran have not tried all peaceful alternatives.”

Well, by that measure of “peaceful,” all but one.

Playing With Fire on the Korean Peninsula

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak with President Obama.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak with President Obama.

Why is the Obama Administration creating obstacles and throwing cold water on talks with North Korea, and why is it binding itself to right-wing South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose politics just took a shellacking in the recent race for mayor of Seoul?

The answer seems to be a convergence of U.S. concerns over the growing power of China, a desperate battle by American arms manufacturers to fend off military budget cuts, and a fantasy by President Lee of a uniting the Korean Peninsula under the banner of the South.

Consider the following:

The day after Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special envoy on North Korea, described two days of talks in Geneva between the Americans and North Koreans as “very positive and generally constructive,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta dismissed the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough. “I guess the word skepticism would be in order at this time as to what may or may not happen in those discussions.”

Panetta was in Seoul as part of a weeklong swing through Asia firming up U.S. alliances in the region. The Secretary not only blew off the talks, he threatened the use of atomic weapons. The U.S., he said, “will insure a strong and effective nuclear umbrella over the ROK [Republic of Korea] so that Pyongyang never misjudges our will and capacity to respond decisively to nuclear aggression.”

Unless it is raining, President Lee is a dangerous guy to whom to hand an umbrella. According to the Guardian (UK), a Wiki leak cable from the U.S. Embassy says “Lee’s more conservative advisors and supporters sees the current standoff as a genuine opportunity to push and further weaken the North, even if this might involve considerable brinkmanship.”

According to Peter Lee in the Asia Times, “Lee’s dream” is of “unifying the entire peninsula and its population of 75 million under the banner of the democratic, capitalist South in alliance with the United States, replacing Japan as the primary U.S. security and economic partner, and confronting China with the prospect of a major pro-western power on its doorstep while reaching out to the sizable Korean minority in China’s northeastern provinces.”

While at first glance Lee’s “dream” would seem more poppy-induced than policy driven, South Korean-U.S. joint maneuvers have war-gamed scenarios that envision a North Korean collapse and a subsequent intervention by Washington and Seoul. In August of last year, an 11-day drill involving 56,000 South Koreans and 30,000 Americans—Ulchi Freedom Guardian— practiced exactly that.

According to the Korea Times, Gen. Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. forces in Korea, the exercise was aimed at responding “to various types of internal instability in North Korea,” which is a rather different mission than the one that Panetta was talking about during his Seoul visit.

And the North is not the only target in these exercises.

During a visit to Italy in October, Panetta said, “We’re concerned about China. The most important thing we can do is to project our force into the Pacific—to have our carriers there, to have our fleet there, to be able to make very clear to China that we are going to protect international rights to be able to move across the oceans freely.”

Coincidently, naval forces, with their $5 billion aircraft carriers, numerous support vessels, submarines, and high-tech aircraft are expensive, big-ticket items that arms companies are fighting to keep in the military budget.

The month before the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill, the U.S. and South Korea carried out a major naval exercise in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea that included the aircraft carrier George Washington. Certainly China had no illusions about the objective of the war game. “In history, foreign invaders repeatedly took the Yellow Sea as an entrance to enter the heartland of Beijing and Tianjin,” said Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan, deputy secretary general of the Academy of Military Science. “The drill area is only 500 kilometers away from Beijing,” adding a metaphor from Mao that seems to lose something in the translation: “We will never allow others to keep snoring beside our bed.”

It was the second time in less than a year that an American carrier had taken part in maneuvers in an area China considers a “military zone.”

Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have continually put pre-conditions on any negotiations with the north, including ending Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program and accepting responsibility for the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in September, 2010 that killed 46 sailors.

This past January when Kim Jong-il said Pyongyang was “ready to meet anyone anytime anywhere,” U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said that before any talks, North Korea “needs to demonstrate its sincerity” by getting rid of its nuclear weapons and admitting to culpability in the Cheonan incident.

A delegation to North Korea aimed at easing tensions, featuring former president Jimmy Carter, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, former Irish president Mary Robinson and ex-Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, was ignored by Washington and dismissed by South Korean Foreign minister Kim Sung-Hwan as a “purely personal” trip.

According to Seoul, the Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, but that conclusion is hardly a slam-dunk. The team of “international experts” that examined the evidence was handpicked by the South Korean military, and Russian and Chinese experts who examined the evidence are not convinced. Indeed, a poll commissioned by Seoul University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies found that only 32.5 percent of South Koreans were confident in the findings.

North Korea is hardly going to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons while its two major enemies are designing war games to “stabilize” Pyongyang in the advent of major unrest. The recent NATO bombing of Libya certainly caught the attention of the North Koreans, who essentially said that it would never have happened if the Gaddafi regime had not abandoned its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Libya is “teaching the international community a grave lesson” an unnamed Foreign Ministry official told the Korean Central News. “The truth that one should have power to defend peace.”

South Korean President Lee and the U.S. have put the onus for current standoff with North Korea on China. “I think China can do more to try to get North Korea to do the right thing,” argued Panetta, while Lee said he hoped that “China will continue to play an important role in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and leading North Korea to reform and openness.”

According to the New York Times, President Obama told Chinese President Hu Jintao that unless Beijing took a “harder line” toward North Korea, the U.S. would increase its buildup of military forces in Northeast Asia.

There is no question that Beijing has influence in Pyongyang—China is North Korea’s main trading partner—but the theory that the Chinese can simply dictate to the North Koreans is a myth. In any case, since China is convinced that the U.S. military buildup in Asia is directed at them, not impoverished North Korea, why would Beijing expend political capital to aid potential adversaries?

The North Korean regime is an odd duck, with a system of succession more akin to the 12th century than the 21st, and a penchant for bombastic rhetoric. But is it a threat to other countries in the region? By the terms of a 1953 treaty, the U.S. would come to South Korea’s defense if the North attacked, and the Pyongyang government is well aware of what would happen to it in a confrontation with the U.S.

If the U.S. is seriously interested in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, it should ratchet down its joint war games with South Korea and stop threatening to use nuclear weapons on China’s doorstep. The U.S. may view North Korea’s nukes as destabilizing, but it was not Pyongyang that introduced nuclear weapons into the region, but the Americans.

The six-party talks, which collapsed in April 2009, may or may not resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, but they are the only game in town. Instead of throwing up roadblocks, and casting its lot with the increasingly unpopular South Korean president, the Obama administration should be pressing to reopen the discussions as a way to dampen tensions in the region and bring the North Koreans to the table.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

U.S. Government Brushes Aside Threat UFOs May Pose to National Security

In an attempt to make an end run around UFO denial, reporter Leslie Kean got the bright idea of compiling reports by the most authoritative witnesses to and investigators of sightings — the military and government officials. With the support of the Center for American Progress, UFOs: Generals, Pilot, and Government Officials Go on the Record (Three Rivers Press) was published in 2010. In the course of the book, Ms. Kean demonstrates how some governments — such as France and Beligum — encourage and actually investigate UFO sightings.

Then there’s the United States, which strictly observes what Ms. Kean calls the UFO taboo. As I wrote for Focal Points on October 24 in a post titled To the U.S. Government, UFOs Are a Threat to Its Sovereign Rule

The U.S. government neither encourages reporting, not exhibits any interest in investigating and providing credible answers to the public. (Of course, the military investigates for its own purposes.) It inflicts a particularly childish form of denial on the public despite the vast number of Americans who have witnessed three-dimensional objects that fly at thousands of miles and hours and pivot on a dime. As a result, voices of witnesses are silenced and pens of establishment journalists stilled for fear of marginalization at the least and stigmatization at the worst.

This policy continues unaltered to this day. It appears in its latest manifestation. On November 4, at Universe Today, Nancy Atkinson wrote:

The White House has responded to two petitions asking the US government to formally acknowledge that aliens have visited Earth and to disclose to any intentional withholding of government interactions with extraterrestrial beings. … 5,387 people had signed the petition for immediately disclosing the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings, and 12,078 signed the request for a formal acknowledgement from the White House that extraterrestrials have been engaging the human race.

In fact, no doubt referring to Ms. Kean’s book, the second petition read: “Hundreds of military and government agency witnesses have come forward with testimony confirming this extraterrestrial presence.”

Ms. Atkins explained that, by way of response, Phil Larson from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, was quoted at WhiteHouse.gov saying:

The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. … In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.

But he did throw them a couple of bones.

Larson. … pointed out that even though many scientists have come to the conclusion that the odds of life somewhere else in the Universe are fairly high, the chance that any of them are making contact with humans are extremely small, given the distances involved. [He also] mentioned SETI (correctly noting that this at first was a NASA effort, but is now funded privately) keeping an “ear” out for signals from any intelligent extraterrestrials, with none found so far. He also added that the Kepler spacecraft is searching for Earth-like planets in the habitable zones around other stars, and that the Curiosity rover will launch to Mars this month to “assess what the Martian environment was like in the past to see if it could have harbored life.”

Whereas, Ms. Atkinson observes that “it is gratifying to see the White House respond in such a no-nonsense manner,” to those who seek government intervention, it just constitutes a more media-savvy form of a brush-off. In fact, an update to Ms. Atkins’s post adds insult to injury:

The Paradigm Research Group, one of the organizations sponsoring the petitions, has issued a statement saying, “As expected it was written by a low level staffer from the Office of Science and Technology Policy – research assistant Phil Larson. The response was unacceptable.”

Why does the government exhibit no interest in investigating what Ms. Kean reminds us might constitute a national security threat? After all, UFOs have been known to toy with military and domestic jets. In response, pilots sometimes execute abrupt tactical maneuvers to avoid what they perceive might be a collision, thus endangering the lives of themselves and their passengers. Also, while records exist of military jets firing at UFOs, to no apparent effect and with no retaliation, that doesn’t mean we’ll never evoke a hostile response. To find out exactly what might make extraterrestrials angry, see my October 7 post on UFOs: The Extraterrestrial Atomic Energy Agency. To find out exactly why the U.S. government is in denial read this excerpt from my October 24 post (also quoted above).

One chapter of Kean’s book is devoted to the work of Alexander Wendt and Raymond Duvall, two brave social scientists who, in 2008, were, by Kean’s estimation, the first to treat an element of the UFO phenomenon in a scholarly journal. Appearing in Political Theory, Sovereignty and the UFO is the result of Wendt and Duvall’s attempts to discover why a government such as the United States won’t touch UFOs, at least for public consumption, with a ten-foot pole.

Excerpts from the chapter they wrote for Ms. Kean’s book:

The inability to see clearly and talk rationally about UFOs seems to be a symptom of authoritative anxiety [over a threat that] is threefold. On the most obvious level, acceptance of the possibility that … an unknown, very powerful “other” might actually exist, represents a potential physical threat. [The] possibility of colonization or even extermination [thus calls] into question the state’s ability to protect its citizens from such an invasion. Second, governments may also be reacting to the possibility that a confirmation of extraterrestrial presence would create tremendous pressure for a [oh, no, not that! — Ed.] world government, which today’s territorial states would be loath to form. … Anything that required subsuming [the difference between states] into a global sovereignty would threaten the fundamental structure of these states.

The final reason may be even more primal than the first two. (Emphasis added.)

Third, however, and in our view most important, the extraterrestrial possibility calls into question what we call the anthropocentric nature of modern sovereignty. By this we mean that, in the modern world, political organization everywhere is based on the assumption that only human beings have the ability and authority to govern and determine our collective fate. … Such anthropocentrism, or human-centeredness, is a modern assumption, one less common in prehistoric and ancient times, when Nature or the gods were considered more powerful than human beings and thought to rule.

Significantly, it is on this anthropocentric basis that modern states are able to command exceptional loyalty and resources from their subjects. [The] UFO phenomenon. … raises the possibility of something analogous to the materialization of God, as in the Christians’ “Second Coming.” To whom would people [then] give their loyalty?

Thus

… an authoritative taboo on the UFO is functionally necessary for rule to be sustained in its present form. … There is therefore nothing for the sovereign [state] to do but turn away its gaze — to ignore, and hence be ignorant of the UFO — and make no decision at all.

In other words, Wendt and Duvall write, the UFO taboo “is a functional imperative of modern, anthropocentric rule.”

Just as we suspected, UFOs may be a threat to the rule of man.

In short, the U.S. government doesn’t believe that UFOs pose a threat to the national security of the nation, just to itself.

The Phases of the Moon and an Attack on Iran

Cross-posted from Reflexive Fire.

They are beating the war drums again for the attack on Iran. Reports are that sometime after the IAEA report (no doubt bought and paid for) comes out on the 9th that we will see Israel initiate the strike and “drag” the US into the conflict. I’m banking on sometime between 22NOV and 28NOV based on ambient light illumination levels, with the new moon happening on 25NOV with 0% illumination as ideal conditions for stealth aircraft and other bombers.

Source: Moonrise, Moonset and Moonphase for Iran – Tehran – November 2011

Jack Murphy, an eight-year Army Special Operations veteran, served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion and the 5th Special Forces Group and on tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. He posts at Reflexive Fire.

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