Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

How Obama’s ‘smart power’ helped seed the Manchester attack

May 26, 2017

Editorial
The New York Post

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The hunt for the terror network behind the Manchester attack is now focusing on Libya, where bomber Salman Abedi’s father and brother were arrested Thursday and from which Abedi himself had only recently returned.

That’s hardly surprising: South Manchester is home to one of the world’s largest Libyan expatriate communities, which in recent years has become a prime recruiting ground for young jihadists.

And Libya itself is the base for an ISIS external-operations wing tasked with plotting terrorist attacks in Europe. Indeed, since the fall of Moammar Khadafy, Libya has become a haven for Islamist terrorist groups.

Such is the result of Barack Obama’s failed policy — which he so confidently announced would prove smarter than his predecessor’s mistakes in Iraq, only to be proved horribly wrong.

Obama (with a huge push from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) effectively brought about regime change in Libya, while avoiding the kind of occupation that proved so deadly and costly to the Bush administration after it ousted Saddam Hussein.

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Yet all that did was create a huge vacuum, rapidly filled by civil war among various militias as well as ISIS and other extremists.

Libya’s anarchy is also responsible for a good part of the refugee flows that threaten to overwhelm Europe.

And it’s not as if no one saw it coming. On the contrary, the State Department’s top Middle East hand warned from the start that Libya’s post-Khadafy leadership was hopeless, leaving the country prey to becoming the failed state it now is.

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In short, Obama and Bush made the same mistake: They had no real plan for what came next after a despot’s ouster.

Bush eventually stabilized Iraq, though it turned south again after Obama withdrew the last few thousand US troops. Obama, by contrast, essentially gave up on Libya after an al Qaeda offshoot stormed the US consulate in Benghazi in 2012, killing the US ambassador and three others.

Now, as Benny Avni notes, Libya is where ISIS’s leaders will likely flee once they’re driven out of Iraq and Syria.

So much for Obama-era “smart power.”

http://nypost.com/2017/05/25/how-obamas-smart-power-helped-seed-the-manchester-attack/

Trump’s Saudi embrace, Iran disdain upend Obama’s vision: analysts — In the Middle East, Trump “succeeded in bringing peace, which in recent years had become a dirty word, back to the centre of Israeli public and political discourse.”

May 23, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Cécile FEUILLATRE | US President Donald Trump (C) praised the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council, specifically Saudi Arabia, for efforts to cut off funding to extremists while lambasting Iran

PARIS (AFP) – 

US President Donald Trump’s emphatic embrace of Sunni Arab regimes and his vilification of Iran mark a stark departure from the vision of his predecessor Barack Obama in the volatile region, analysts say.

Pointedly delivering his first foreign speech in Riyadh on Sunday, Trump praised the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council, specifically Saudi Arabia, for efforts to cut off funding to extremists while lambasting Iran as the “spearhead of terrorism”.

While the unpredictable Trump completed the visit to the region without committing a major gaffe, his approach “swept away the entire Obama legacy with the wave of a hand,” said Thierry Coville, an Iran expert at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs.

“That the United States wants to restore a certain balance in its ties with Saudi Arabia, OK, but to put Iran and the IS group on the same level is false, illogical and counter-productive,” Coville told AFP.

Coville said that removing human rights concerns routinely levelled at Arab states from the centre of US foreign policy was “understandable”.

But he added: “Telling (Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi) that he is doing a ‘fantastic’ job and saying that Saudi Arabia is a ‘magnificent kingdom’, while forgetting that in Iran people are making the effort to get out and vote, is very dangerous.”

Hasni Abidi, head of the Geneva-based Study and Research Centre for the Arab and Mediterranean World (CERNAM), also spoke of a “break in US policy”.

Obama, whose secretary of state John Kerry helped broker the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, “banked on Iran’s moderate forces, (while) Trump has chosen the Sunni camp, starting with Saudi Arabia, a country with unequalled financial means,” Abidi told AFP.

Washington and Riyadh agreed deals totalling some $380 billion (340 billion euros).

“But the price of regaining the confidence of Saudi Arabia and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council is to portray Iran as a threat,” Abidi added.

He noted that Washington still depends on Iran for cooperation in Iraq against IS and in Afghanistan against the Taliban, and Trump has “shown caution so far”.

Coville went further, calling Trump’s speech a “smokescreen” aimed at “making people forget that he is in the process of validating the nuclear accord”.

He also noted that Iran Air, in Tehran’s first deal with a US aviation group since the 1979 Islamic revolution, finalised in December a contract worth $16.6 billion to purchase 80 Boeing planes.

Paris-based political scientist Azadeh Kian said authorities in Tehran had not taken Trump’s Riyadh speech seriously, pointing to a tweet by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying that Washington was “milking” Saudi Arabia.

But she said it was “worrying, especially after an election… that showed that there is a real dynamic towards democratisation and opening in Iranian society.”

– ‘More hope than experience’ –

Meanwhile Trump’s call for Israelis and Palestinians to “make a deal” has drawn praised mixed with a healthy dose of scepticism.

Speaking in Jerusalem, the US leader offered no specifics but said he was “personally committed” to helping to resolve the decades-old conflict.

“Making peace, however, will not be easy,” Trump said. “But with determination, compromise and the belief that peace is possible, Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said Trump had “succeeded in bringing peace, which in recent years had become a dirty word, back to the centre of Israeli public and political discourse.”

But it added: “Trump has the will and motivation, but for now he has no plan.”

Former Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, writing in Politico last week, argued that “strange as it may seem, Trump actually has a Middle East strategy, or at least a reasonably coherent approach.”

The idea is to forge a “US-Israeli-Sunni Arab entente… held together by several objectives they share in varying degrees: destroy ISIS, roll back Iranian influence, and deliver some kind of Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Miller wrote.

It is a “transactional deal” in which the Arab states would help Washington revive the peace process in exchange for a much tougher US policy against Iran, he said.

However, he warned: “But Washington’s approach seems driven more by hope than experience. Trump is likely to discover that the region… is more complicated than he thought.”

by Cécile FEUILLATRE

Rouhani says Iran’s ballistic missile program will continue — “Iran is key to Middle East peace”

May 22, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday Tehran would continue its ballistic missile program, state television reported, striking a defiant note after strong criticism of the Islamic Republic from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The Iranian nation has decided to be powerful. Our missiles are for peace and for defense … American officials should know that whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission,” Rouhani said in a news conference, broadcast live on state TV.

Rouhani also criticized Iran’s arch-foe Saudi Arabia over its lack of democracy, urging Riyadh to allow its people to decide their country’s fate through free elections.

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Cavorting with the Russians?

Kerry and Lavrov. John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. They both played pivotal roles in the Iran nuclear deal.

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry react during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow, May 7, 2013.Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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John Kerry thanks his pal Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for getting all the chemical weapons out of Syria — which turned out to be a hoax….

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before addressing an international press corps on the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.Reuters

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Reuters

Rouhani says regional stability impossible without Iran: TV

Saudi king hopeful over ‘historic’ Muslim-US summit

May 15, 2017

AFP

© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP | Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, in a handout picture provided by the royal palace on April 24, 2017

RIYADH (AFP) – 

Saudi King Salman on Monday expressed hope a “historic” summit to be held Sunday between Arab and Muslim nations and US President Donald Trump will enhance ties and promote tolerance.

The summit will be one of three forums held during a visit by Trump, who is making Saudi Arabia his first overseas stop since assuming office in January.

Trump has frequently been accused of fuelling Islamophobia but aides described his decision to visit Saudi Arabia as an effort to reset relations with the Muslim world.

Along with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), at least 18 other Muslim nations have been invited to the summit, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger and Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran is not invited.

Salman told a cabinet meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah that the meeting “comes in light of the challenges and sensitive situations that the world is going through”.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, “he expressed his hope that this historic summit will establish a new partnership in the face of extremism and terrorism and spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence” while enhancing security.

Trump is to also hold a bilateral summit with Saudi Arabia and talks with the GCC on Saturday.

Washington and Riyadh have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

But US ties with Riyadh and its Gulf neighbours became increasingly frayed during the administration of president Barack Obama.

Saudi leaders felt Obama was reluctant to get involved in the civil war in Syria and was tilting toward Shiite-dominated Iran.

The Saudis have found a more favourable ear in Washington under Trump, who has denounced Iran’s “harmful influence” in the Middle East.

Trump to decide whether to approve thousands more troops back to Afghanistan

May 14, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Thomas WATKINS | US President Donald Trump must decide whether to approve expected requests from the military to send thousands more troops back to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AFP) – 

Hanging in a corridor outside the Pentagon press office, a blow-up of a Time magazine cover shows a weary US soldier drawing deeply on his cigarette. Barbed wire and snowy foothills loom behind him.

The headline: “How Not to Lose in Afghanistan.” The date: April 20, 2009.

More than eight years later, the Pentagon finds itself in the same quandary.

Again.

This time round, it is President Donald Trump looking for answers, just as Barack Obama and George W. Bush did before him.

Having given Afghanistan little more than a passing mention as president, he is now being forced to confront the issue by a grim drumbeat of bad news and warnings from his generals.

Almost any year from its turbulent recent past can serve as a showcase for Afghanistan’s dire predicament.

Take 2016, which marked 15 years since the US-led invasion. Nearly 11,500 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded, according to the United Nations.

Adding to the carnage, local officials say, the Taliban and other insurgent groups killed about 7,000 Afghan security force members — many of whom had been trained and supported by US and NATO experts.

Dan Coats, Trump’s director of national intelligence, hammered home the depressing point this week, warning that the political and security situation will “almost certainly” continue to worsen.

“Meanwhile, we assess that the Taliban is likely to continue to make gains, especially in rural areas,” he said.

Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” platform and a pledge to reduce US overseas involvement, must now decide whether to approve expected requests from the military’s top brass to send thousands more US troops back to Afghanistan.

Administration advisers are reportedly urging him to green light some 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, adding to the 8,400 already there.

The president is expected to make the decision this month, and Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said his own recommendation would come “very shortly.”

– ‘Change something’ –

US troop levels peaked at around 100,000 under Obama, who later embarked on a steady drawdown aiming to completely end America’s combat role in the country.

The United States and NATO handed security responsibility over to Afghan forces at the start of 2015, but the outcome has been brutal.

Local troops have been slain in their thousands, corruption remains endemic and as the Taliban continues to gain ground, even US commanders concede the situation is a stalemate at best.

“Unless we change something… the situation will continue to deteriorate and we’ll lose all the gains that we’ve invested in over the last several years,” Defense Intelligence Agency chief General Vincent Stewart told lawmakers this week.

However, a new troop commitment would stir resentment in America, which has seen about 2,400 troops killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and another 20,000 wounded.

Plus the US government has already spent around $1 trillion on fighting and rebuilding, much of which has been squandered on wasteful projects.

Trump is expected to announce a decision while he travels to NATO in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily later this month.

He will need to outline a coherent Afghanistan policy and explain how a few thousand extra troops will win — or at least not lose — there, when 100,000 troops could not.

“What we will have at the end of this next few weeks here is an opportunity for a much more effective strategy for the problem set in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region broadly,” said Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.

Administration officials acknowledge military gains can succeed only if reforms take place in the heart of the Kabul government.

Mattis this week sounded an optimistic tone on the country’s current leaders, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.

Officials say the government is working to root out the corruption and bad governance that defined Hamid Karzai’s decade in power.

They are “committed to working in a responsive way with their citizens, and therein lies the path forward,” Mattis said.

“When a government wins the affection, the respect and the support of their people, then no enemy can stand against them.”

NATO currently has about 13,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, including the Americans.

They do not typically fight the Taliban, serving a “train and advise” role for the local forces instead.

Extra troops could free up Western advisers to get closer to the fight. While that would help them gain better battlefield understanding, it would also put them at greater risk.

But Americans have little appetite for more deaths in a war that many view as unwinnable and would rather forget.

by Thomas WATKINS

Attorney General Jeff Sessions enacts harsher charging, sentencing policy — federal prosecutors told to seek “the most serious” criminal charges against suspects

May 12, 2017

By 
USA Today

WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions is directing federal prosecutors to seek “the most serious” criminal charges against suspects, a move that would result in severe prison sentences – and is expected to reverse recent declines in the overcrowded federal prison system.

The brief, two-page directive, issued to the 94 U.S. attorneys offices across the country late Thursday, replaces a 2013 memo put in place by then-Attorney General Eric Holder that sought to limit the use of mandatory-minimum sentencing rules that had condemned some non-violent offenders to long prison terms – that proved to be expensive for taxpayers.

Justice officials said the new policy would not target low-level drug offenders, unless they were linked to firearms, gang membership or other aggravating crimes.

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions said in the directive. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial… sentence, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

Under the plan, ten-year mandatory minimum sentences would typically be sought in cases where suspects were in possession of 1 kilogram of heroin (equal to thousands of doses); 5 kilograms of cocaine (about 11 pounds); or 1,000 kilograms of marijuana (more than 2,000 pounds).

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“There will be circumstances in which good judgment would lead a prosecutor to conclude that a strict application of… the charging policy is not warranted,” Sessions said. But such exercises of discretion, the attorney general said, would be subject to high-level approval.

Justice officials already have alerted federal prison officials that the action, in conjunction with the administration’s recently announced increase in immigration prosecutions, would likely result in a larger prison population.

Last month, Sessions directed federal prosecutors to bring felony charges against immigrants suspected of making repeated illegal entries to the United States. Undocumented entry cases have been previously charged as misdemeanors.

During the Obama administration, Holder’s policy had sought to reduce the size of the federal prison system that has long been a financial drag on the Justice Department, representing about 25% of its budget. That policy echoed shifts in law enforcement policy that had been sweeping the states in recent years. State officials have increasingly acknowledged that they can no longer bear the cost of warehousing offenders – many for drug crimes – who were targets of harsh punishments which began decades ago.

The number of sentenced prisoners in federal custody fell by 7,981 inmates – or 5% – between the end of 2009 and 2015, according to a January Pew Research Center analysis. Preliminary figures for 2016 show the decline continued during Obama’s last full year in office and that the overall reduction during his tenure will likely exceed 5%, the center found.

The federal prison population now stands at nearly 190,000 inmates.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/05/12/attorney-general-jeff-sessions-enacts-harsher-charging-sentencing-policy/101571324/

U.S. Wants to Spend Added Billions on Military in Asia

May 8, 2017

Pentagon endorses plan floated by McCain to build up presence in strategically important region

Sailors conducted flight operations aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific on Tuesday.

Sailors conducted flight operations aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific on Tuesday. PHOTO: U.S. NAVY/REUTERS

May 7, 2017 4:38 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.

The effort is seen by backers as one way to signal more strongly the U.S. commitment to the region as Washington confronts an increasingly tenuous situation on the Korean peninsula, its chief security concern in the area.

The Trump administration is still formulating its larger policy for Asia after essentially discarding former President Barack Obama’s so-called Asia pivot, which was disparaged by critics as thin on resources and military muscle, and dropping U.S. support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal.

Given President Donald Trump’s recent overtures to Chinese President Xi Jinping, any plan to expand the U.S. military presence in Asia eventually may require steps to reassure Beijing that new military measures aren’t directed at the Chinese. A spokesman for China’s embassy in the U.S. didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The proposal, dubbed the Asia-Pacific Stability Initiative, was first floated by Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and has been embraced by other lawmakers and, in principle, by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris. Proponents haven’t developed details of the $7.5 billion plan.

“This initiative could enhance U.S. military power through targeted funding to realign our force posture in the region, improve operationally relevant infrastructure, fund additional exercises, pre-position equipment and build capacity with our allies and partners,” Mr. McCain told Adm. Harris in an April hearing.

Dustin Walker, a spokesman to Mr. McCain, described the plan in an email as a way to make the American posture in the region more “forward-leaning, flexible, resilient and formidable.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President Donald Trump in Florida in April.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with President Donald Trump in Florida in April. PHOTO: ALEX BRANDON/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Supporters liken the initiative to an Asia version of the European Reassurance Initiative, or ERI, begun after Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine and funded at $3.4 billion in this year’s U.S. budget.

Backers have not spelled out how they plan to get funding. The Trump administration has asked for additional money for defense spending in the current fiscal year, and are seeking a $54 billion increase for fiscal 2018.

U.S. officials and congressional staffers, citing the uncertainties of federal budget deliberations, said it is unclear how much will be immediately available for the new Asia initiative. But they also point out that the spending would take place over five years.

The Pentagon has, for the first time, dispatched its newest F-35A combat jet to exercise with allies near the Russian border, amid rising political tensions between Washington and Moscow. The WSJ’s Robert Wall hitched a ride to take a closer look. (PHOTO: USAFE)
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Mr. Mattis has voiced support for the concept of the plan. “I don’t understand all the details in Senator McCain’s plan, but I support the themes that he outlined and the importance he assigned to that region,” said Mr. Mattis during a recent congressional hearing.

Cmdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Defense Department “supports in principle” Mr. McCain’s proposal.

“The Asia-Pacific is a top priority for the United States, and the Department is committed to ensuring that U.S. forces are as capable and ready as possible to face the evolving challenges in the region,” Cmdr. Ross said in a statement.

A former top Pentagon policy official in the Obama administration said the initiative could have value if it is used for a specific purpose and is part of a broader American policy in Asia.

“If used strategically, it can help stem the tide of the military challenges we face in the Pacific,” Kelly Magsamen, who was an acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs under Mr. Obama, said in an email. But it has to be tied to specific requirements for U.S. Pacific Command, she said. “It shouldn’t just be a slush fund for PACOM.”

Mr. Obama’s Asia pivot, later termed a “rebalance,” fell short of expectations, experts said.

“Conceptually, it was the right thing,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, and onetime McCain aide who supports the McCain initiative. “The point was to spend more time, attention and resources on our interests in Asia, but the rhetoric also raised expectations there, expectations that were higher than what actually materialized.”

Still, the effort produced visible changes under Mr. Obama. More than 1,200 Marines have been stationed on a rotating basis in Darwin, Australia, the U.S. began the deployment of Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore, and U.S. access to military bases in the Philippines was restored.

In the meantime, the deployment of a Thaad missile defense system to South Korea, years in the making, was just completed days ago, according to U.S. and South Korean defense officials.

Mr. Trump met his Chinese counterpart in Florida last month, discussing a range of economic and security issues and saying afterward that he believes Mr. Xi wants to help address regional problems. Chief among the challenges cited by Mr. Trump is North Korea, which has continued to defy world powers with nuclear weapons and missile tests.

Pyongyang also has continued detaining U.S. citizens in that country, arresting another American on Saturday, the fourth now held.

The U.S. military under Mr. Obama pressured China by conducting “freedom of navigation” operations in which U.S. naval vessels passed through some waters claimed by Beijing near where China has developed military facilities on islands and other land structures.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing that the U.S. would go further, possibly moving to deny China access to disputed islands and other areas. Thus far, however, no such steps have been taken and no new freedom of navigation operations have been disclosed under Mr. Trump, although administration officials have said the operations will continue.

China maintains it is not seeking to militarize the area and that any disputes can be worked out through one-on-one diplomacy.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

Appeared in the May. 08, 2017, print edition as ‘Pentagon Backs Added Spending on Asia.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-wants-to-spend-added-billions-on-military-in-asia-1494189492

China’s take-over of the South China Sea is complete; One Belt One Road project within reach

May 8, 2017

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By T J S George  |

Last Updated: 07th May 2017 08:35 AM  |

A week from today “the biggest diplomatic event of the year” will take place in China with many heads of government in attendance (not India’s). This is the first summit of Xi Jinping’s prestigious signature project—the One Belt One Road (OBOR) enterprise to build a network of railways, ports and powergrids linking Asia, Africa and Europe.

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The sheer sweep of the concept—shall we say, the daring —is a proclamation of China’s ambitions. We will miss the big message underlying the big idea if we see OBOR in isolation. It is part of an awakening that has transformed China into the world’s second most powerful country, poised to overtake the first. The economic muscle that is being built through projects such as OBOR is but an extension of the military and strategic muscles that are continuously being strengthened.

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Consider the South China Sea. Large portions of this expanse constitute the territorial waters of Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. Early on, they had protested against China’s aggressive moves. The Philippines even went to the International Court, which ruled in its favour. China ignored it all and went on strengthening sandbanks, filling up shoals, laying airstrips.

American military sources now say that “hundreds” of surface-to-air missiles are being set up in the now militarised islands. Australian experts have said it is too late to challenge China. Philippine President advised his fellow Southeast Asian leaders to reconcile to the fait accompli. Without firing a shot, China has taken over an ocean and turned a half-dozen littoral states into virtual satellites.
China’s second aircraft carrier was launched

last month, built in China at what is described as amazing speed. (India’s second carrier being built at Kochi is eight years behind schedule). China has announced that six more carriers are being built, two to be deployed permanently in the Indian Ocean.

Note, too, that China has taken over Gwadar port in Pakistan and has set up a military base in Djibouti’s port in the Gulf of Aden. It’s clear that China’s status as a naval power in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific region is already formidable, and steadily becoming more so.
Add to this the headway China has made in strategic alliances. It has significantly improved its relations with Russia, leading to a China-Russia-Pakistan economic partnership. What is interesting here is that Russia was a close ally of India for a long period during which it had kept Pakistan at a distance. The strategic balance of the whole region changed following India’s decision to cultivate America in preference to Russia.

What has India gained? Pakistan is today an integral part of Southeast Asian geopolitics as shaped by China and Russia, while America’s Asia pivot policy of which India was to be a central component has evaporated. Unpredictable as Trump’s America is, the State Department said last week that China would be America’s highest priority in Asia.
China’s attitude to India has changed, too. It seems to have concluded that India is no longer the serious competitor it once appeared to be. On the OBOR issue, China officially stated that “India will have a representative”. (Perhaps a middle rank diplomat or businessman). The Chinese media, however, felt no need to be diplomatic. It said Delhi would be isolated and embarrassed by its stand, that Russia and Iran are “seeking to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which will put India in a more awkward position”.

Iran was initially most interested in building relations with India. Given Shia Iran’s problems with Baluchistan, close ties with Tehran should have been a strategic (besides economic) priority for India. But our responses were tardy.

Iran has since moved away to the warmer China-Pakistan-Russia partnership. Yet another pointer to the altered situation is India’s apparent loss of interest in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. There was a time when India was eager to get full membership. In another month formalisation of full membership, along with Pakistan’s, is to be processed. Despite the fact that this is part of the profound realignments that are taking place in Eurasia, India is sulking.

http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/columns/t-j-s-george/2017/may/07/chinas-take-over-of-the-south-china-sea-is-complete-a-summit-next-week-clinches-its-strategic-gain-1601868–1.html

The ‘Worst Deal Ever Negotiated’ Is the Best Template for Dealing With North Korea

May 7, 2017
The ‘Worst Deal Ever Negotiated’ Is the Best Template for Dealing With North Korea

By ROBERT S. LITWAK
The Atlantic

An agreement Trump has called “the worst deal ever negotiated” may offer a route out of the crisis.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before addressing an international press corps on the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.Reuters

Donald Trump, who campaigned for president promising to bring his unique dealmaking skills to gridlocked Washington, assumed office facing a twin choice. On the one hand, he would have to decide whether, as candidate Trump had repeatedly pledged, to undo “the worst deal ever” with Iran that the Obama administration and the world’s major powers had negotiated in 2015 to block that country’s pathways to the bomb for at least 15 years. Conversely, he would also have to decide whether to do a deal with North Korea to constrain its burgeoning nuclear and missile programs—capabilities that by 2020, if left unchecked, could allow the Kim Jong Un regime to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon mounted on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

A few days past the 100-day mark, the Trump administration’s signals on these urgent nuclear challenges are mixed. On Iran, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reported to Congress that the Tehran regime “is compliant” with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran deal, but President Trump accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement—a reference to the Islamic Republic’s destabilizing regional behavior that is beyond the scope of the nuclear accord. On North Korea, Trump has warned of “a major, major, conflict” with the country if diplomacy fails, while Tillerson has stated that Washington’s precondition for any direct negotiations with Pyongyang is precisely the outcome the United States seeks—North Korea’s denuclearization.

Yet even as an outcome rather than a precondition of negotiations a full rollback of the North Korean nuclear program to zero warheads is simply not an attainable near-term diplomatic objective. After the United States’s regime-changing military interventions in Iraq and Libya, the Kim Jong Un regime is not going to relinquish nuclear weapons viewed as essential to its survival. The Trump administration thus faces the choice of pivoting from the unobtainable objective of denuclearization to the alternative—an imperfect nuclear deal that would freeze North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities at their current level. In short, the template for preventing a North Korean nuclear breakout that could directly threaten the United States is the Iran nuclear agreement—the “worst deal ever negotiated.” That deal constrained Iran’s uranium enrichment program to ensure that a latent capability to produce bomb-grade fissile material remained latent. Tillerson, rejecting the Iran nuclear deal as a relevant precedent, has argued that the accord “represents the same failed approach of the past that brought us to the current imminent threat we face in North Korea.”

That “approach” was a twin strategy of pressure and engagement that the Obama administration pursued to bring Iran to the negotiating table and into compliance with its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The 2013 election of a reformist Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, who had campaigned on a platform of resolving the nuclear issue to win the lifting of economic sanctions, inaugurated an intensive diplomatic effort culminating in the landmark JCPOA agreement of July 2015.

The Iran nuclear accord was a deal, not a grand bargain. As a deal, the agreement blocking Iran’s access to weapons-grade enriched uranium was transactional, not transformational. U.S. hardliners remain critical of the agreement because of this—that is, the JCPOA does not affect Iran’s destabilizing regional role and its human rights abuses. This persisting divide in the U.S. debate—whether transactional diplomacy that is not transformational should be advanced or rejected—explains how Iran can be simultaneously “compliant” with the JCPOA and not living up to the “spirit” of the accord. The same divide will shape the possibilities for nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

The North Korean nuclear challenge is a slow-motion Cuban Missile Crisis—one that is playing out not over 13 days, as in October 1962, but over the next few years. North Korea, which tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006, is now on the verge of a strategic breakout—quantitatively (by ramping up its warhead numbers) and qualitatively (through mastery of warhead miniaturization and long-range ballistic missiles)—that directly threatens the U.S. homeland. Unclassified projections of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal by 2020 range as high as 100 warheads, which is, incredibly, approaching half the size of Britain’s.

Tillerson has declared that the Obama policy of “strategic patience” is over, but what follows remains unclear. The military option that Trump administration officials repeatedly affirm is “on the table” runs the catastrophic risk of escalating into a general war on the Korean peninsula. General Gary Luck, the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea, estimated that such a conflict would result in 1 million casualties and entail economic costs of $1 trillion. If neither using force to eliminate the threat nor acquiescing to a North Korean nuclear breakout is palatable, the remaining “option on the table” is diplomacy.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/05/iran-deal-north-korea-jcpoa/525372/

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway — Politico Investigates

April 25, 2017

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By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

04/24/17 05:00 AM EDT

When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.

“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”

But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.

In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.

A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.

“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.

A SHREWD CALCULATION

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”

Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.

Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.

That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”

But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.

Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”

Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

Read the rest:

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/04/24/obama-iran-nuclear-deal-prisoner-release-236966

Art at Top: Sean McCabe for POLITICO

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Levin: This BOMBSHELL report on the Iran deal is infuriating

Posted April 24, 2017 07:23 PM by Chris Pandolfo

Anton Watman | Shutterstock

Anton Watman | Shutterstock

There was a “blockbuster” story in Politico Monday that Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin wants you to know about.

In “Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway,” Josh Meyer reports that when President Obama released Iranian-born prisoners to secure Iranian support for his administration’s infamous nuclear deal, he portrayed the released prisoners as simple “civilians.” “In reality,” Meyer writes, “some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security.”

Listen:

The bottom line is that President Obama lied to get support for the Iran Nuclear deal. “And his surrogates lied, and therefore the media lied,” Levin said.

“And [Obama] surrendered America’s national security to do it!”

There is Democrat and mainstream media hysteria over possible, unproven, connections between President Trump and Russia, and meanwhile, President Obama released dangerous Iranian fugitives to pass a deal that enabled the nuclear proliferation of the world’s number one state sponsor of terrorism.

And President Trump is somehow undermining American national security? Levin set the record straight:

“Barrack Obama did more damage to our national security, to the United States military, to our border security, to our internal security with our police, than any foreign enemy or opponent could possibly achieve!”

“This is a stunning story! And it gags me to say to Politico, I tip my hat. For once.”

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Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are Conservative Political Philosophy, the American Founding, and Progressive Rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.

https://www.conservativereview.com/articles/levin-this-bombshell-report-on-the-iran-deal-is-infuriating