13 June 2019   Leave a comment


The US continues to make the case for war against Iran. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the following statement to the press today:

“It is the assessment of the United States Government that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks that occurred in the Gulf of Oman today. This assessment is based on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.

“This is only the latest in a series of attacks instigated by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its surrogates against American and allied interests, and they should be understood in the context of 40 years of unprovoked aggression against freedom-loving nations.

“On April 22nd, Iran promised the world that it would interrupt the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It is now working to execute on that promise. In early May, the Revolutionary Guard Corps attempted the covert deployment of modified dhows capable of launching missiles.

“On May 12th, Iran attacked four commercial ships near the Strait of Hormuz.

“On May 14th, Iran-backed surrogates attacked by armed drones — struck two strategically important oil pipelines into Saudi Arabia.

“On May 19th, a rocket landed near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“On May 31st, a car bomb in Afghanistan wounded four U.S. service members, killed four Afghan civilians, and wounded bystanders.

“Yesterday, Iranian surrogates fired a missile into Saudi Arabia, striking the arrivals terminal of an international airport, injuring 26 people.

“Taken as a whole, these unprovoked attacks present a clear threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable campaign of escalating tension by Iran.”

Mr Pompeo did not provide any information about the information upon which these judgments are made nor did he take any questions from the press. Note that the last four incidents mentioned by Mr. Pompeo are actions that occurred in an ongoing conflict and are hardly evidence of an unprovoked attack by any party to the conflict.

The first two incidents are indeed troubling because they threaten the flow of oil to world markets and because they were acts committed against civilian actors. But, even if they were committed by agents of the Iranian government, there is a context to these actions. The US has engaged in strict sanctions on the sale of Iranian oil despite the fact that there was no evidence that Iran had violated the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iranian nuclear deal. In that agreement, the US promise to lift sanctions if Iran adhered to the terms of the JCPOA.

The US did not use violence to cut off Iranian oil exports, but the effect of the sanctions is to cut off the most important source of revenues to Iran. If Iran is behind the attacks on the oil tankers, it may be using the only tools available to respond to the US economic sanctions: cutting off oil exports from the Persian Gulf may be the only way Iran may have to respond to what it regards as economic aggression. To shed light on this possibility it is instructive to read the press briefing between the State Department and the press today:

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, related to that, yesterday at the IAEA your ambassador said that Iran was out of compliance, or in violation of the JCPOA, of the nuclear deal, and that it should get back into compliance, and that the other – the remaining parties to the deal should make that a priority. This suggests to me that even though you guys say that this is the worst deal ever negotiated and a horrible failure, that you actually see some value in it. Why would you call for Iran to comply with a deal that you think is essentially garbage if —

MS ORTAGUS: Well —

QUESTION: Is it better than nothing? Is that what the position of the administration is?

MS ORTAGUS: Our position on the JCPOA has not changed. But we, of course, do not want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. We also want them to stop their malign activities, supporting terrorists. There’s a lot of news in the Middle East today, as you saw the Houthis – of course, with more potentially reported missile attacks on civilian Saudi infrastructure. So we look at – whether it’s the JCPOA or our maximum pressure campaign towards Iran – holistically. It’s not – it’s certainly about a nuclear weapon, and I know that our European counterparts would like the Iranians to stay in the JCPOA. We certainly do not want them to have a nuclear weapon.

But more broadly, I mean, can you imagine if all of you were getting ready to fly to Miami airport and there was a group like the Houthis, a militia like the Houthis, that were using – reportedly using missiles in order to attack an airport before you flew in? Can you imagine how the United States would respond to that, how Canada would respond if that was happening in Ottawa? I mean, these are common-sense things here that we want the Iranians to stop terrorizing innocent people.

QUESTION: I get that. But this is specifically about the nuclear deal —

MS ORTAGUS: Yeah.

QUESTION: — which only covered the nuclear deal, and that’s one of the issues that you have with it —

MS ORTAGUS: Sure.

QUESTION: — because you didn’t think it went far enough. But as it relates purely to the nuclear deal, to the nuclear aspect and the centrifuges, which is what the operation of advanced centrifuges, which is what you say they are violating – why do you care if the deal is – if the deal is bad? Saying that – demanding that Iran come back into compliance with a deal that you have withdrawn from because you see no value in it seems to be contradictory to me.

MS ORTAGUS: I don’t think it’s contradictory in the fact that we have stated very loudly since the beginning of this administration that we do not want the Iranian regime to get a nuclear weapon. We think it would be disastrous —

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But are you saying, then —

MS ORTAGUS: — for the Middle East. I – we haven’t changed our position.

QUESTION: But this seems to me that you’re saying that some limits are better than no limits, and so therefore there is value in the requirements – limits that were placed on Iran in the deal.

MS ORTAGUS: Iran is headed in the wrong direction, as evidenced by this now public IAEA report. They pose a challenge to international peace and security, and we will continue this maximum pressure campaign as it relates to their nuclear weapons program, their terrorism and malign activities around the region.

The US position on the JCPOA is indeed ridiculous. Iran did not violate the JCPOA but the US did by ending its commitment without justification. The evidence suggests that the US is ramping up its actions against Iran and that it believes that Iran has no right to respond to those actions. I am not sure that there is any analog in diplomatic history that suggests that this is a workable plan of action.

Vision of Humanity has released its Global Peace Index (GPI) for 2019. The index is a measure of the incidence of violence in societies based upon a number of variables. Like all such indices, one can quarrel with the metrics used, but the GPI uses ones that are familiar and can be measured quantitatively. According to the report:

“The average level of global peacefulness improved very slightly last year on the 2019 Global Peace Index (GPI). This was the first time that the index improved in the last five years. The average country score improved by -0.09 per cent, with 86 countries improving and 76 recording deteriorations.

“Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Austria, Portugal, and Denmark. Bhutan has recorded the largest improvement of any country in the top 20, rising 43 places in the last 12 years.

“Afghanistan is now the least peaceful country in the world, replacing Syria, which is now the second least peaceful. South Sudan, Yemen, and Iraq comprise the remaining five least peaceful countries. This is the first year since the inception of the index that Yemen has been ranked amongst the five least peaceful countries.”

The results are broadly consistent with a casual understanding of world affairs and the GPI is a very useful way to think systematically about trends in violence in the world.

The Uighurs are a Turkic ethnic group clustered in the Xinjiang province in China. Most of them are Muslim and have lived in the region for many centuries. There are about 10 million Uighurs in China and some analysts believe that about 1-3 million of them are currently being held in what China calls “vocational education training centers” but what others call concentration camps. The Telegraph identifies the way the central government in Beijing treats the Uighurs during the holy month of Ramadan:

“Despite mounting international pressure and condemnation, the massive crackdown on the Uighur people and their shrinking culture here shows no signs of abating for the Muslim holy month.

“Widespread intimidation – from inside mosques to family homes – mean residents don’t dare utter the traditional Islamic greeting, “as-salaam alaikum”, while fasting is also banned, with restaurants forced to stay open. 

“At schools and local authority offices, ‘the Chinese government provides water, food – lunch – to force you to drink and eat,’ said Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, an advocacy group.

“Local officials are increasing checks to people’s homes, too, to make sure they aren’t secretly observing the practice, according to a government notice posted online.”

Unfortunately, very few of the primarily Muslim states in the world have openly protested the treatment of the Uighurs.

Posted June 13, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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