Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resume nuclear negotiations on March 15, 2015
Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif resume nuclear negotiations on March 15, 2015.

By: Harry C. Blaney III

It is now agreed that the Iran nuclear talks will resume on March 15th and this session will be focused on the remaining key “macro” political issues that are still outstanding. There are indications on both sides that a deal may at last come together. However, they all say “but nothing is agreed upon unless everything is agreed on,” that there are a lot of difficult issues that remain, and that there are strong opponents of any deal on both sides.

This weekend we have been seeing statements from the “P-5 plus one” (The United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom), that some progress is in the cards during the next meeting. President Barack Obama said “We have made progress in narrowing the gaps, but those gaps still exist.” On the European side, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at a meeting in Latvia, “I believe a good deal is at hand. I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal.” She added the “last mile” of the nuclear talks would involve political will more than technical negotiations.

On the Iranian side, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said we believe we are ‘very close’ to a nuclear deal during an interview with Anne Curry of NBC News on March 4th. Further, in an interview with a weekly affiliated with the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting published on Saturday 7th March, Zarif said, “I believe there are more chances of success than failure,” adding “the odds of [reaching] a [final] deal is more than 50 percent.” He said, as noted earlier: “but nothing is agreed upon unless everything is agreed on.”

All of these statements are contingent on the final requirement that both sides desire a “good” agreement and are willing to pay the political price for such an agreement.  Iran especially needs to accept that a nuclear “option” is not in its fundamental interest.  The administration has said that this agreement does not require Senate ratification since it is not a treaty but an executive or political agreement between governments.  The president can wave some of the sanctions but not all of them and this issue is a sticking point.  On the Iranian side there remains opposition from hard liners, but I doubt that Zarif would be able to proceed unless he was given authority to do so from the highest authorities. Yet any “political” or “framework” agreement would still have to be sent back to the “experts” for specific drafting and review before a formal agreement was signed. This could take months, not weeks.

In Congress the Republicans seem determined to veto any agreement they do not like. It looks sadly like many Republicans will oppose even a “good and strong” agreement. They were stopped from pushing forward a GOP plan to act before the March 31st negotiating deadline by the Democrats since the fear was  that by before the negotiations ended, Congress would act on a draft anti-agreement legislation that would undercut and indeed put up a series of barriers against any realistic agreement coming into existence. The question now is whether the Democrats can hold together against such a plan should an agreement be settled.

The more recent news is the surprising and most duplicitous action by 47 Republican Senators who have interfered and intervened into on-going delicate negotiations with Iran to limit their nuclear program. This was done on the brink of the start of new high level meetings of the key powers in Geneva and is a direct affront to the President who under our constitution has responsibility for foreign affairs.

As the New York Times Tuesday March 10th front page story reporting characterized it: “The letter appeared aimed at unraveling a framework agreement even as negotiators grew close to reaching it.”  The partisan effort was criticized by President Obama, and very strongly by Vice President Biden who denounced the Senate Republicans. Click here for the Vice President’s Full Statement.

President Obama’s statement was: “It is somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. … It’s an unusual coalition.”  I was for 25 years a diplomat and have never experienced such a direct effort by one party to directly deal with undermining a major sensitive and important to our national security high level nuclear negotiations.  Click here for the full text of President Obama’s Statement in Reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech regarding Iran Nuclear Negotiations.              

The Iranians reportedly said they were not moved by the letter. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said in response: “In our view, the letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. He added: “It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”

From a macro strategic perspective, such an agreement could have major implications upon the possibility that limited rapprochement could ensue, and a broader set of regional issues, not least how to deal with ISIS, and a effort to reconcile the Shia-Sunni divide and even get Iraq unity back on track.  As with all such deep and historic acrimony, nothing is certain and unpredictable change is always lurking on the sidelines to reappear when it is politically expedient for one side or another. But if America and our allies are to help a process of reconciliation in the region, they need to take the long-view and work very hard at it despite any setbacks.

Below is the list of Republican Senators who signed and didn’t sign the Open Letter to Iran that was written to undermine the President’s negotiations.

Senators who did sign:
2016 Possible Presidential Candidates are highlighted                                                    

Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR

Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT

Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA

Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY

Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL

Senator John McCain, R-AZ

Senator James Inhofe, R-OK

Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS

Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL

Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY

Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC

Senator John Cornyn, R-TX

Senator Richard Burr, R-NC

Senator John Thune, R-SD

Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA

Senator David Vitter, R-LA

Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY

Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS

Senator Jim Risch, R-ID

Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL

Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO

Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS

Senator Rob Portman, R-OH

Senator John Boozman, R-AR

Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA

Senator John Hoeven, R-ND

Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL

Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI

Senator Rand Paul, R-KY

Senator Mike Lee, R-UT

Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH

Senator Dean Heller, R-NV

Senator Tim Scott, R-SC

Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX

Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV

Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA

Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO

Senator James Lankford, R-OK

Senator Steve Daines, R-MT

Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD

Senator David Perdue, R-GA

Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC

Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA

Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE

Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK

Senators who did NOT sign:

Senator Lamar Alexander, R-TN

Senator Susan Collins, R-ME

Senator Bob Corker, R-TN

Senator Dan Coats, R-IN

Senator Thad Cochran, R-MS

Senator Jeff Flake, R-AZ

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-AK

Comments are welcome!!! 


President Obama with Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco (Photo: White House)
President Obama with Counterterrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco (Photo: White House)

By Harry C. Blaney III

There is an ongoing debate about how “dangerous” our world is today compared with some earlier and often undefined period. But in place of cool and dispassionate analysis we are getting a lot of ideological and partisan strife and accusations (especially from the Right) which is aimed more at gaining power by using this “idea” as a battering ram to gain power and money.

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Crisis at Home, Crisis Abroad: Can we solve both or must we choose one?

What will our America become? That is the question of our age and one that will likely present us with real choices in the debates leading up to the election next November.

There is already debate in Washington and on Main Street about whether or not we should pull back from our overseas commitments and turn our back from the ills of our planet to focus on our domestic problems instead, while ignoring the dragons and humanitarian disasters at our borders.

The same voices that are arguing that we should not, and indeed need not, care for our elderly, our young, our ill, or our unemployed at home, are also arguing that we should not care for the many challenges we face abroad.

Many Americans now buy into this doctrine of indifference and greed; it has been pounded on for so long by the conservative media and politicians–so now many believe it. It has become part of the doctrine of the Tea Party types and thus of the GOP.

They argue that the massive famine in the Horn of Africa is not our business — that it is just the way the world is. They argue that we should not care about the proliferation of nuclear weapons— that too is the way the world is. They care not a bit about and say they do not believe in climate change. The depletion of the seas’ fish and other species and its pollution bothers them not a bit, so long as they can still buy their swordfish steaks.

Nor does it bother them that poverty is widespread around the world, that children lack any kind of health care.  Why should they care about children dying in Somalia since they want to deprive fellow Americans and children of affordable universal health care at home?

One argument that is being made is pure mendacity: we can’t afford to help our own and thus we can’t afford to help those in need abroad nor can we afford to address the national security threats to our nation emanating from around the world.

Some argue we only need a strong military, yet most of the world’s true dangers have no simple military solution. The head-in-the-sand approach to our needs at home and abroad is frankly both nonsense and pure deceit.

The reality is that we are an extraordinarily rich nation controlling some 40% of the world’s effective resources with the capacity to grow at rates of 4-5%, which can bring unemployment down to reasonable levels, fund our debt and growth in large part through higher taxes on those who have 6 homes around the world, private planes, and billions in income that the average taxpayer has help them build by cheap US government subsidies. All this can be accomplished without taking away our nation’s safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid, and social security and above all the provision of good education for our children.

The only thing that stops us is the overarching goal of the conservative Republicans to stop Obama and to control our nation’s government to benefit the very rich. What we need is a major stimulus package along the lines of the FDR recovery plan. We can’t grow our nation by a policy of depression as dictated by Rep. Cantor and crazies like Rand Paul.  Such a grand policy would also give us a sense of purpose that would move us to engage again in global multilateral solutions to our international challenges.

America will be defined in history as either the nation that faced its challenges and overcame them or it will be seen like Rome, as a great civilization that by inner corruption and indifference to the forces forming beyond its borders, succumbed to decline and destruction…bringing most of Western civilization to the “Dark Ages.”

We welcome your comments.

By Harry C. Blaney III.


National Security and Crazy Economics: The Debt Debacle: Further Reflections on Our Downfall Without Firing a Shot

Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Klaus but the bad news is that self-destruction is coming and it is called the GOP! That could be a literary answer to the “crazy economics” that I wrote about earlier on this blog. Now it has gotten to the point where we have further proof – if any was needed – that we are in the hands of those who act like they seek the destruction of our nation for narrow political gain.

We have heard from an array of top economists that we are facing a major financial disaster if America defaults on its national debt. Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, both Nobel Economics laureates, have pointed to the disastrous global consequences of a default on our debt. Even the likelihood would do long-term damage to our currency and our economy.

As I have noted, there are many dimensions to “national security” as well as military security, and our nation’s security is clearly threaten by “crazy economics.” These crazy economics are motivated by greed and not by concern for the unemployed nor for the average, struggling citizens. But it manifestly greatly degrades America’s leadership abroad.

The contemplated GOP Congressional proposals that threaten to not pay our debt unless depression type cuts are made to our nation’s vital programs will make financing that debt greatly more expensive. It will entice other nations to give up holding dollars as their reserve currencies, which will undermine our global leadership, and it will make some forego taking our bonds. It will likely contribute to a second, and possibly worse, global recession that will further destroy the industrial, technological, and scientific base of our economy, which may take decades if it is ever to fully recover. Unemployment will undoubtedly grow, which seems to be a conservative Republican goal.

With the “pro-depression” economic policies already enacted in the EU and severe budget cutting approaches already enforced in Europe, including in the UK, the knock-on effect will likely be devastating.  It will not grow us out of our financial difficulties, but we will be digging our deficit and unemployment holes deeper by the rapid lowering of our GDP. Lower taxes do not help employment; they make it worse when budgets are cut now and in the future. The wholesale laying off of public servants, teachers, and road construction workers and others in the States has once again only proved the point.

Our ability to provide resources and funding for vital global challenges will diminish, if not disappear, making these global problems far worse, hurting global security by exacerbating conflicts and poverty across the entire globe. Budget cuts will make humanitarian disasters worse through lack of resources to respond. It will affect the spread of disease and poverty when we cut foreign assistance. And it will undermine our “soft power” diplomacy to address nuclear proliferation, threats to democracy, and regional conflicts and terrorism.

Finally, mindless cuts will unnecessarily undermine American leadership just when the world needs it the most as we face multi-crises. That will be the legacy of an unneeded debt default and its consequences. What are they thinking!

We welcome all comments and views! Join the debate!

By Harry C. Blaney III.

The Silly Season for Right Wing National Security Wonks

We are getting to the season when the conservative think tank types try to paint the more wild conservatives as potential “isolationists” and then use the same paintbrush against liberals who are critical of wasteful defense spending.  They imply that if one questions how and why we have gone to war in Iraq (a war based on a lie), and Afghanistan (better reason but perhaps more misguided in strategy and execution).

The real aim of this smearing is to pump up the DOD dollars for their “fellow travelers” and supporters in the defense industry.  At exactly the same moment they try to spend many more tax dollars on defense, their non-national security colleagues deride government spending and bemoan high taxes on the rich, who are profiting off this war. Proof of this can be found in the op-ed cited below.

There are a number of convenient conservative myths in the op-ed article “Is freedom’s price too high for the right?” by Danielle Plaetka and Thomas Donnelly (Washington Post, September 24, 2010). While they cite some interesting poll figures about American attitudes about American leadership and a strong defense, the fact remain there is a increasingly larger number of people who question the efficacy of our military involvement especially in Afghanistan and also Iraq.  But the issue at hand is not polling figures but U.S. national interests and global security.

The biggest fallacy in this article is the assumption that American leadership is largely defined just by our military intervention. Many experts, including myself, are of the opinion that often military intervention acts as a counter-weight to the effective management of security. For example, instead of defeating terrorism our military action has too often acted as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups.

The old argument that those who oppose excessive military spending are isolationists is a red herring dating back to the McCarthy era.  I am no isolationist, but I support wise engagement not stupid ones nor those based on falsification. As to DOD budget numbers, the authors again apply twisted arguments when they say “In the longer term budgetary shortfalls in defense inevitably affect our willingness and ability to take on challenges.” First, our current defense expenditures are equal to the expenditures of the next ten countries including our close allies.  And some of the money still goes to systems more appropriate to the cold war than to 21st century realities. Continue reading