Trump’s Dream Come True: Trashing Obama and Iran in One Move

Trump, by taking a hard line on Iran, drew some needed attention to Iran’s bad behavior and created an opportunity to improve the nuclear deal. But to do so would have required Trump to admit that there was merit in the deal Obama had forged and to be content with limited, but valuable, fixes that our European allies likely would have embraced.

.. Instead, Trump pushed for the max, torched the whole bridge, separating us from Germany, France and Britain, undermining the forces of moderation in Iran.

.. Color me dubious that a president who has not been able to manage his confrontation with a stripper, or prevent leaks in his White House, can manage a multifront strategy for confronting Iran and North Korea and trade wars with China, Europe and Mexico.

.. Obama’s view of the Middle East was that it was an outlier region, where a toxic brew of religious extremism, tribalism, oil, corruption, climate change and mis-governance made positive change from outside impossible; it had to come from within. By the end of his eight years, Obama was skeptical of all the leaders in the Middle East — Iranian, Arab and Israeli — and of their intentions.

.. It made Obama a policy minimalist on the Middle East: keep it simple and focus on the biggest threat.

.. By lifting sanctions on Iran as part of the deal, Obama hoped Iran would become integrated into the world and moderate the regime.

.. By contrast, Trump’s team is made up of maximalists. They want to limit Iran’s ballistic missile program, reverse its imperialistic reach into the Sunni Arab world, require Iran to accept terms that would ensure it could never ever enrich enough uranium for a nuclear bomb, and, if possible, induce regime change in Tehran.

.. in almost every country the alternative to autocracy turned out not to be democracy, but disorder or military dictatorship. If Iran, a country of 80 million people, was to go the way of Syria, it would destabilize the entire Middle East, and refugees would pour into Europe.

.. Iran has projected its power deep into the Arab world. But that was not because of money it got from the nuclear deal and sanctions relief, as argued by Trump & friends. It was because of the weakness of the Sunni Arab states and their internecine fighting, which created power vacuums that Iran has filled

.. Israel gets censured for implanting settlements deep into the West Bank. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates get censured for contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. But the Iranians have gotten away with murder, mass murder, at home and abroad — with virtually no censure.

.. In Syria, Iran’s special forces and its mercenary recruits — Hezbollah militiamen from Lebanon and Shiite hired guns from Central Asia — have helped President Bashar al-Assad perpetrate a ruthless genocide against Syrian Sunnis, including the use of poison gas, in order to maintain a pro-Shiite, pro-Iranian dictatorship in Damascus.

.. “The aim … is changing the demography” of Syria by settling Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen “from Afghanistan, Lebanon and other countries in the region … to fill the demographic vacuum” left by the hundreds of thousands of Syrians who have fled their civil war.

.. Rather than scrapping the deal, he should have told the Europeans that all he wanted to stay in the deal were three fixes:

1. Extend the ban on Iran’s enriching of uranium to weapons grade from the original 15 years Obama negotiated to 25 years.

2. Europe and the U.S. agree to impose sanctions if Iran ever attempts to build a missile with a range that could hit Europe or America.

3. The U.S. and Europe use diplomacy to spotlight and censure Iran’s “occupations” of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The nerve agent poisoning in England was a message to the rest of the world

‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain’

The nerve agent attack on former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter sends a powerful message to the rest of the world: the assassins aren’t playing by the rules.

.. Still, if the Russian government really was responsible, why use a nerve agent that could so easily be traced back to them? “They’ve had plenty of opportunities to kill Skripal,” says Michael Kofman, an expert on Russian military affairs at the nonprofit research organization CNA. “And there are, frankly, a myriad of much simpler and more practical ways of doing it.”

But using chemical weapons is about more than just killing. These taboo weapons are instruments of terror, and their use is designed to send a message to the world: that the power behind the attack — Russia, according to the UK — doesn’t think anyone else is ruthless enough to retaliate effectively. And to others who might consider betraying Russia to foreign powers, it’s that snitches get more than stitches — they get murdered.

.. Using Novichok as a calling card could be a way of saying that Russia doesn’t care about looking guilty because whatever retaliation the UK and the West might muster isn’t frightening enough. After all, an in-kind response is off the table

.. If only one side is willing to be ruthless, it changes the rules of the game. This “etiquette of espionage,” for example, held that former spies were off limits for assassination attempts

.. And there’s an international treaty against using chemical weapons, so using them for assassination attempts on foreign soil are beyond the pale. “They do things like this intentionally to show that they in no way will be limited by what are considered to be established rules and norms of behavior,”

.. That message is also aimed at anyone considering telling Russia’s secrets to foreign powers, Kimmage says. “One very clear message is ‘If you betray us, we will kill you’ to put it into blunt, mafia-like terms,” he says. “‘You won’t be safe anywhere, even if you’re in Britain.’” The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal made an example out of him, and the theatrical method ensured that the press picked up the message and distributed it around the globe.

.. The threat of chemical weapons not only endures in the 21st century, but is spreading.” In the last few years, the Assad regime unleashed chemical weapons on civilians in Syria; ISIS used mustard gas in Syria and Iraq; state-sponsored assassins used the nerve agent VX to kill Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother. And now, a chemical weapon made for the battlefield was used in a UK cathedral town, in the attempted murder of a UK citizen.

Vestergaard writes: “It seems the chemical peace is not just broken; it is shattered.”

It’s Chicken or Fish

.. are there a few good elected men or women in the Republican Party who will stand up to the president’s abuse of power as their predecessors did during Watergate?

.. But we already know the answer: No.

The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes.

.. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.

.. Are there tens of millions of good men and women in America ready to run and vote as Democrats or independents in the 2018 congressional elections and replace the current G.O.P. majority in the House and maybe the Senate?

Nothing else matters — this is now a raw contest of power.

.. they enjoy, exercising raw power against their opponents.

.. Democrats and independents should not be deluded or distracted by marches on Washington, clever tweets or “Saturday Night Live” skits lampooning Trump. They need power.

.. they have power and are not afraid to use it, no matter what the polls say.

.. they will use that power to cut taxes for wealthy people, strip health care from poor people and turn climate policy over to the fossil fuel industry until someone else checks that power

.. The party has lost its moral compass.

.. Just think about that picture of Trump laughing it up with Russia’s foreign minister in the Oval Office, a foreign minister who covered up Syria’s use of poison gas. Trump reportedly shared with him sensitive intelligence on ISIS, and Trump refused to allow any U.S. press in the room. The picture came from Russia’s official photographer. In our White House!

.. it is a threat to the rule of law,

freedom of the press,

ethics in government,

the integrity of our institutions,

the values our kids need to learn from their president and

America’s longstanding role as the respected leader of the free world.

Just What Is Trump Trying to Do in Syria?

One week after the missile strike, we still don’t know what it was meant to accomplish.

Effective signaling in foreign policy and warfare is both vital and no simple matter, as every president discovers.

.. In the annals of pinprick strikes, Trump’s Tomahawk attack now stands as the pinprickiest.

.. That strike was undertaken in response to the discovery of an Iraqi plot to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush during a visit to Kuwait.

.. Iraq never again attempted to kill a U.S. president, and, indeed, never supported another terrorist attack against Americans

.. the Russians notified the Syrians, who reportedly moved their most important aircraft elsewhere before the strike. The very next day, Syrian airplanes were once again flying from the base to hit rebel targets.

.. from the perspective of international politics, the fact that the airstrip was in the use the next day was not negligible.

.. This attack possibly even eroded the chemical weapons taboo by convincing any would-be transgressors that the worst they could expect would be the loss of a small number of inessential aircraft after an advance warning—in other words, a slap on the wrist.

The clearest signal of all would have required a serious punitive attack on the regime itself, a step whose legality would be open to question and that would risk a dangerous escalation with Russia.

.. The fact that Trump chose the least aggressive option available suggests that the principal audience for the strikes was not in Damascus or Moscow, but in the United States.

.. So was the strike political kabuki

.. Sean Spicer suggested in a news briefing Monday that there was now open-ended U.S. commitment to intervene to stop the killing of civilians.

.. Rex Tillerson added to the confusion by issuing his own series of conflicting signals.

.. the era of Assad family rule was coming to an end—an assessment at odds with most military analysts’ views

.. H.R. McMaster .. suggested that the administration had embraced the goal of regime change in Syria

.. Nikki Haley won the sweepstakes by enunciating war aims more far-reaching than McMaster’s: It is a U.S. priority, she said, “to get the Iranian influence out” of Syria

.. historic conduit to the Shiite community in Lebanon.

.. Trump’s own rhetoric has both echoed and contradicted Haley, as he said on April 11 that “we’re not going into Syria” after asserting just days before that “we have a vital strategic interest in Syria.”

.. boasts of his unpredictability while showing no ability to think one step ahead.