The sirens and shouted curses from Charlottesville resounded all too audibly even here in far-off Germany. Little imagination was required; how well we know such brutal faces, twisted with hatred, the racist epithets and threats! Sometimes we even heard the ugly words in German: Sieg Heil!
Scenarios like that, not only as echoes from the past, have become a part of life in today’s Germany. Almost every weekend, in some town or city, we see the racists and neo-Nazis march, with their hard boots, their flags and fearsome banners, so much like those in Virginia. Sometimes just a small, hard core or private gathering with nationalist songs escalating to texts about gas and Jewish blood. But also big crowds; four weeks ago, in Themar, a hitherto unknown little town in Thuringia, 6000 gathered for a “rock concert”. One sponsor, who runs a Nazi restaurant nearby, sold T–shirts marked “HTLR”. The full name is officially taboo but, he explains with a twisted grin, it means only “Homeland-Tradition-Loyalty-Respect”. Who can object to that? Or to prices of 8.80 euro – when everyone knows that 8 is letter H in the alphabet, and 88 is code for Heil Hitler! Or ”1933” – the year the Nazis seized power. It’s all legal, OK’d by the court. Even a big parking lot was reserved for them.
Even very decent-looking citizens may join the marching, like in Dresden every Monday for two years. “Who us? Racists? We only want to defend ‘German culture’ against the inroads of those ‘Islamists!’” With slogans, songs, only now and again with torches and weapons. They called themselves PEGIDA – “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West”. Then a party was founded by an attractive young entrepreneur and an elderly, respectable professor; AfD – Alternative for Germany. It is already treated oh so fairly by some in the media – just short of favorably – and will soon have several dozen seats in the national Bundestag; it is already represented in many local and state legislatures. Like the booted men or the T-shirt singers, its main voters, its basic program is “Hate the enemies”! In Charlottesville the enemies are sometimes Jewish, but mostly Black or Muslim, but always if possible weaker, poorer – and somehow different – in color, clothing, faith. And in Germany the same: sometimes Jewish but mostly Turkish or, with the recent refugees, Arab, African, Afghani. A hijab head-covering is sufficient: “A Muslim, an Islamic enemy!”
While the rabble of Charlottesville finds traditions like those of Robert E. Lee or Gen. Nathan Forrest to defend, some Germans have more recent models. This Saturday in Berlin marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess, who “Stuck to his principles till the end” as one T-shirt proclaims. The Nazi march is to recall the (demolished) site where he was imprisoned. He is honored every year, but this time, very big, in Berlin. How many are arriving for the march? The police, who will protect them, have estimated 1000, and stress their strict rules: only one flag for every 50 marchers, only one drum for every hundred. No loud listing of the names of anti-fascists! And no explicit praise for Hess. But there is little doubt as to their intentions, for now or the future!
How many will be there to oppose them? The anti-fascists usually outnumber the Nazis! But in that out-of-the-way little town in Thuringia only 1000 were there to oppose the 6000. As ever the police try to keep the two groups apart, but somehow often seem to protect the right of way of the disciplined, orderly marching Nazis while swiftly arresting unruly antifascists trying to block their path.
Compared with Charlottesville, there are differences but too many similarities. No prominent German official risks praising the pro-Nazis; Hitler, Hess and the swastika are legally taboo, and there are hardly any “beautiful statues and monuments” to be rescued.
But here, too, not on Twitter but in very respectable media, there are statesmen who denounce not only pro-Nazis but ”extremists on the left and the right”. Those “Antifas” are also a bad bunch. They sometimes break windows and set cars on fire.
Indeed, such things occur now and then, and represent a genuine problem, especially because there is a suspicion, occasionally backed up by facts, that behind the masks and balaclavas are not only angry anti-nazis but some who love wreckage, some who love alcohol and perhaps, throwing the first stones or torches, some agents provocateurs granting the media what they require while ignoring or smearing a great majority marching to oppose racism and fascism – and who may even, very peacefully, tear down a racist flag or statue here and there.
Behind carefully-worded denunciations of “both the left and the right” some elderly German survivors hear fearsome echoes, recall Germany’s past with dread and look forward with anxiety, not only for Germany. They know where such boots, straight-arm salutes – and “neutrality” can lead.
In the German elections on September 24th our smiling, sensible and good-natured Angela, so long friendly to refugees and motherly to all good Germans, seems very likely to help her party win again. She is very much an opposite to Trump; she even disagrees openly with him.
But oh, her lieutenants! While Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt bows low to his friends in a pollution-friendly auto industry, Finance Minister Schäuble continues squeezing every last euro from the poorer countries of southern Europe and breaking all resistance. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen calls for more billions for defense, sends troops to the deserts of Mali, the mountains of Afghanistan and, more dangerously by far, to the borders of Russia within earshot of Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg. With every new scandal about Nazi-era traditions in her Bundeswehr she calls for renewed cleansing – which somehow never succeeds. And Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, after false, distorted reports on the “riots” in Hamburg, denounces demonstrators, stresses only the few violent ones and proposes that “we should require them to report to the police at regular intervals and if, need be, wear electronic ankle monitors” while he moves toward the extension of lasting monitoring of everyone – to the last telephone call, Email or visit to a public place. Recent leaks indicated mysterious ties between police or FBI-equivalents with anti-foreigner murders. Who in the end would be defined as “leftist extremists”? Also those who demonstrate on climate, for peace and solidarity?
No, Germany has no exact equivalent of the White House cabal; its leaders are highly educated and circumspect in their speeches. But growing threats in both countries are far too similar. The dangers, especially if some great crisis should hit again, are cause for alarm.
In both countries – and elsewhere – there is courageous opposition to such threats. Many organizations resist racism, repression, massive armament build-ups and provocations – and the suffering of those hit by deprivation at home or abroad. There are many heroic models in the past – in Germany and the USA. Growing unity – in their spirit – is perhaps the only key to locking the door on the forces of hatred and bloodshed, from Charlottesville to Thuringia, from Washington to Berlin.
The Nazis came to memorialize the Nazi leader Hess, far fewer than expected. The anti-fascists – LINKE (Left), Greens, SPD, church and anti-fascist groups – failed to gather the hoped-for huge crowd in this spot on the city outskirts, but did achieve a clear majority, big enough to stymy the plans of the Nazis, who marched less than 500 yards and had to stop, call off their meeting at the Hess site and retreat to the station. Except for a minor few fist fights there was no violence. The day was a genuine defeat for the Nazis.
Unequivocally opposing white supremacists in all their manifestations: Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and militias should be a moral reflex. Terms like “white nationalism” and “Alt-Right” are fuzzy euphemisms. Blunt clarity is required. What we saw in Charlottesville, Virginia are white supremacist domestic terrorists.
In May, the FBI warned of the rising tide of far-right extremists.
Since September 11, 2001 through the end of December 2016, white supremacist domestic terrorism have been far higher than domestic terrorism by Muslims: 74% white supremacists vs. 26% by Muslims.
Racist violence has always been essential to maintaining a system privileging white, rich men and put everyone else in a descending order, with people of color (especially African-Americans and the almost-always invisible Native Americans) at the bottom. Men in 3-piece suites, legislators, businessmen, and media benefit from violent white supremacist“shock troops”, enforcers of the racist order structuring a class system.
After Charlottesville, the easiest call is condemning Nazis. Many of our grandfathers and fathers fought in WWII. What’s often not recognized is that that includes African-Americans, Latino and Native Americans. The most decorated battalion was native-born Japanese-Americans who signed up to fight from inside U.S. concentration camps that held 120,000 Japanese-Americans (mostly citizens) from spring 1942 to April 1946.
How many Americans know that Adolph Hitler modeled his concentration camps on U.S. forced relocation of Native Americans to reservations? How known are pre-WWII American Nazi-sympathizers—including Minnesota’s own favorite son, aviator Charles Lindberg, visiting Germany in the 1930s, praising their airplanes? Minneapolis was the most anti-Semitic city in the 1930s and ’40s. Today, by every measure, Minneapolis has one of the worst racial disparities.
It shouldn’t be hard to condemn the American-made KKK—the world’s oldest, ongoing terrorist organization. Starting in 1866. KKK’s violent waves reversed free Black people’s gains during Reconstruction, established and maintained Jim Crow in the 1890s through 1960s. This wasn’t just in the South: Klan membership peaked in the 1920s at one-million with 80,000 in Detroit alone. The 1950s and ’60s Black civil rights movement faced Klan terrorism. Election of the first African-American president, white supremacist terrorist groups surged again.
Facts of history and events in Charlottesville disprove Trump’s brazen false equivalence between the white supremacists and counter-protesters. Violence has always been central to the Klan, Nazis and militias—while anti-racism has primarily been a non-violent movement. American-made white supremacist groups’ tactics have always been arson, brutal assaults, rape and murder. They’ve targeted Black people, immigrants, any religion except fundamentalist Protestants: Jews, Catholics and today Muslims face assaults, murder and attacks on their mosques;less well-known is the targeting of white anti-racist allies—termed “race traitors—- like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
The Klan, Nazis and militia came to Charlottesville armed with weapons: shields had razor-sharpen points, pop cans filled with cement, baseball bats and guns, concealed and displayed.
Antifa and anarchist youth (a minority of the counter-protesters) came with thin sticks, pepper-spray and their fists.
Friday, August 11th, the racist mob’s torch-lit march echoed Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies and Klan cross-burnings. They yelled 1920s Hitler brown-shirts’ slogan “Blood & Soil” along with anti-Jewish and anti-Black chants. This mob surrounded a Black church, filled with counter-protesters at a prayer service, trapping them inside for 30 minutes.
Saturday, August 12th, fifty peaceful clergy-members linked arms at the park’s entrance when the white supremacists attacked them. Anti-fa stepped in and as Black theologian Professor Cornel West said, “They saved our lives.”
It bears repeating that since September 11th—and increasing, since 2008—the majority of domestic terrorists are white supremacists.
Yet, Trump has eliminated federal focus on all terrorism except by Muslims—-part of a long history of ignoring far-right and white supremacist extremists.. This is yet another green light to racist violence—which continues to target Black people, immigrants (and Latinos mistaken for immigrants), and Muslims (along with Sikhs who are mistaken for Muslims). This violence that has a long history of infecting law enforcement, past and present. One of the most infamous examples was the murders of three civil rights workers Goodman, Schwerner (both white) and Cheny (Black) registering Black people to vote, during Freedom Summer 1964 in Mississippi: local sheriffs who were KKK-members participated in kidnapping and murder. Like so much impunity for police, it’s rare to investigate white supremacist group membership in police departments. But, the DHS released a report on it.
Behind white supremacist violence are policies carried out by elected officials, government employees and businesses—and these policies are not in some distant past. Since the 2000 presidential election, a growing attack on voting rights, that’s already purged hundreds of thousands of legal voters from the rolls; Trump’s so-called Voter Integrity Commission continues Republican attacks on voting rights, to eliminate Democratic-leaning voters (which the Democratic Party has only weakly resisted). The 2007-8 economic meltdown had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino home-owners who Big Banks targeted for mortgage fraud and sub-prime loans—most blatantly by Wells Fargo with what they called “ghetto loans”. As Dodd-Frank is undermined (with the aim to repeal it), Wells Fargo and others are reviving fraud that stole billions in wealth from communities of color. Like Republicans, the Democratic Party is awash in campaign contributions from Big Banks and Wall Street promoting legal robbery. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reversing decades-old civil rights protections, with passive aiding and abetting by Democrats that’s colluded with policies like No Child Left Behind and for-profit charter schools. These are just three examples of policies benefiting from white supremacy violence.
Right-wing media, on the air and online, fuels white supremacist mob violence—and its silent white supporters, who call themselves “Tea Party” or “Libertarians” (in Congress’ “Freedom Caucus” mold) or simply “conservatives”. Right-wing radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh ( given air-wave access that liberals (much less the Left) can only dream of and propagandists like Ann Coulter, Dennis Prager, and many others, along with Fox TV, are the creators of actual “fake news”. Often they take their talking points from more obscure white supremacist websites, giving a megaphone to false stories, made-up statics and outright lies—that work to dehumanize and make “enemies” of people of color, immigrants, LGBT people and Muslims.
Once you term any group of people to be less than human, to be a danger, it becomes acceptable to do anything to them. History shows us the reality of this and that reality is playing out today with Donald Trump getting all his “information” from these same racist brainwashing media.
Days before Charlottesville, a mosque in a Minneapolis suburb was bombed. Luckily, no one was injured or killed. Unlike Trump, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton immediately called the attack “a dastardly act of domestic terrorism”. Trump didn’t even have the decency to call Heather Heyer’s mother until the day of her daughter’s funeral.
People defending Confederate monuments should consider this: there are no statues honoring Hitler, his generals or other Nazi officials in Germany; no parks are named for SS or Gestapo leaders . Yet, in the U.S., Nathan Bedford Forrest, slave trader, Confederate general and Grand Wizard of the original KKK is honored by over 32 statues , with parks and high schools named after him. General Robert E. Lee owned slaves and committed treason leading the Confederate Army. John C. Calhoun was a political architect of Southern secession and philosophical justifications for slavery. This isn’t “heritage” but, a history that should be damned as the Germans have the Third Reich.
While racists demanded continued white supremacist dominance in Charlottesville, the renamed Lee Park expressed aspirations any decent American should fully embrace: Emancipation Park.
Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis independent journalist, winner of the Premack Award for Public Interest Journalism and producer/host of “Catalyst” on KFAI Radio kfai (dot) org
Qatar says Saudi claims that it has refused to allow Saudi Airlines flights to land in Qatar are 'baseless'
As I contemplate the significance of International Women’s Day, I wonder about the plight of women, not just in the developing world but in the developed world as well, who have been socialized to play second fiddle, demure, passive, and not seek either political or cultural empowerment.
I ask myself and my readers the following questions:
Can women play an important role in establishing a more inclusive democracy and new forums for citizen cooperation? Can female leaders lead the way by offering new ideas, building broad-based political coalitions, and working to bridge organizational divides? Should women active in politics must aim not just to improve the position of their particular organizations but also to forge connections between the group’s agendas for revival of democracy and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other groups in the population, who have also been deprived of empowerment? Can women’s groups, in this way, pave the way for sustainable peace, universal human rights, and security from violent threats of all kinds?
It is the peripheralized, of whom women form a large portion, that are concerned about structural changes that would enable transformations within entrenched structures and appropriate the peace building mission from the elitist national security constituency.
In contemporary Kashmiri society, the question of the role of women in the nationalist scenario remains a vexed one. Women, as evidenced by the work of constructive and rehabilitative work undertaken by political and social women activists in the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir during both turbulent and peaceful times, have more or less power depending on their specific situation, and they can be relatively submissive in one situation and relatively assertive in another. Assessing women’s agency requires identifying and mapping power relations, the room to maneuver within each pigeonhole and the intransigence of boundaries (Hayward 1998: 29).
The level of a woman’s empowerment also varies according to factors such as class, caste, ethnicity, economic status, age, family position, etc. Also, structural supports that some women have access to bolster their commitment to action. In 1950, the government of J & K developed educational institutions for women on a large scale, including the first Government College for Women. This institution provided an emancipatory forum for the women of Kashmir, broadening their horizons and opportunities within established political and social spheres. Higher education in the state received a greater impetus with the establishment of the Jammu and Kashmir University (Misri 2002: 25–26). The mobilization of women from various socioeconomic classes meant that they could avail themselves of educational opportunities, enhance their professional skills, and attempt to reform existing structures so as to accommodate more women. The educational methods employed in these institutions were revisionist in nature, not revolutionary. But the militarization of the political and cultural discourse in the state in 1989–90 marginalized developmental issues and negated the plurality of ideologies through a non-negotiable value system.
I reinforce that in Kashmir there has been a dearth of secular women’s organizations working toward structural change that would enable gender equity.
Why is gender violence such a consistent feature of the insurgency and counterinsurgency that have wrenched apart the Indian subcontinent for decades? The equation of the native woman to the motherland in nationalist rhetoric has, in recent times, become more forceful. In effect, the native woman is constructed as a trough within which male aspirations are nurtured, and the most barbaric acts are justified as means to restore the lost dignity of women.
In one instance, the crime of a boy from a lower social caste against a woman from a higher upper caste in Meerawala village in the central province of Punjab, Pakistan, in 2002, was punished in a revealing way by the “sagacious” tribal jury. After days of thoughtful consideration, the jury gave the verdict that the culprit’s teenage sister, Mai, should be gang-raped by goons from the wronged social group. The tribal jury ruled that to save the honor of the upper-caste Mastoi clan, Mai’s brother, Shakoor, should marry the woman with whom he was accused of having an illicit relationship, while Mai was to be given away in marriage to a Mastoi man. The prosecution said that when she rejected the decision she was gang-raped by four Mastoi men and made to walk home semi-naked in front of hundreds of people. The lawyer for one of the accused argued the rape charge was invalid because Mai was technically married to the defendant at the time of the incident (“Pakistan Court Expected to Rule on Gang-Rape Case,” Khaleej Times, 27 August 2002).
Such acts of violence that occur on the Indian subcontinent bear testimony to the intersecting notions of nation, family and community. The horrific stories of women, in most instances attributed to folklore, underscore the complicity of official and nationalist historiography in perpetuating these notions. I might add that the feminization of the “homeland” as the “motherland,” for which Indian soldiers, Kashmiri nationalists in Indian-administered Kashmir and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are willing to lay down their lives, serves in effect to preserve the native woman in pristine retardation. Although this essentialist portrayal of the Kashmiri woman in J & K is clearly suspect, it is embedded more deeply in quasi-feudal cultures of South Asia. Such cultures have been fiefdom of feudal lords whose only concern is with the impregnability of their authority and the replenishment of their coffers. Women in the quasi-feudal cultures and societies of South Asia are still confined within the parameters created by the paternalistic feudal culture that disallows the creation of a space for distinct subjectivities.
An increase in female representation, not just token women, in the Parliament, Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council, and Judiciary would facilitate a cultural shift in terms of gender role expectations, legitimizing a defiance of the normative structure. The intrusion of women into traditionally male domains would cause a perceptible erosion in the structural determinants of gender violence. Such a form of empowerment would “frame and facilitate the struggle for social justice and women’s equality through a transformation of economic, social and political structures” (Bisnath and Elson, “Women’s Empowerment Revisited”).
In the present scenario in Jammu and Kashmir, no thought is given either by the state authorities or by the insurgent groups to the pain of women who have been victims of the paramilitary forces and/or militant organizations.
Shares of A.P. Moeller-Maersk AS rallied 5.1% in Copenhagen on Monday after the Danish oil and shipping giant said it has agreed to sell its oil and gas unit to French energy major Total SA for $7.45 billion. Total will pay for Maersk Oil with a mix of $4.95 billion worth of shares and $2.5 billion in short-term debt, giving the Danish conglomerate a 3.76% stake in Total. With the sale, Maersk has now started the process of divesting its energy units and will instead focus on its transport business. Maersk is the world's biggest shipping company. Shares of Total were down 0.6% in early European trade.
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On July 14, 2015, the United States and its partners—China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom, collectively known as the P5+1—signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. The JCPOA is a detailed document comprising over 150 pages of carefully curated diplomatic language. It aims to limit sensitive Iranian nuclear fuel cycle activities, while placing Iran’s entire nuclear program under intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in exchange for sanctions relief. The agreement came at a time of upheaval in the Middle East and received harsh criticism from U.S. allies in the region.1 U.S. critics of the deal also joined forces with Israel, Saudi Arabia, and some other Arab states in the Persian Gulf, to oppose the agreement.2 The emerging Republican candidate, Donald Trump, denounced the deal as “the stupidest” one ever made.3 In Iran, too, the JCPOA faced intense pushback, even though it enjoyed broad support within the populace.4
Today, two years after the JCPOA’s signing, the deal remains as divisive in Tehran as it is in Washington. President Trump had promised to “dismantle” the deal once in office and to check Iran.5 That pledge was made, and later reiterated, despite the fact that, by the Trump administration’s own admission, Iran has complied with the deal’s restrictions so far.6 Although Trump has adopted more hawkish rhetoric and has sent mixed signals, his administration has essentially continued many aspects of President Barack Obama’s Iran policy, including the JCPOA.7 However, some of the tangential benefits of the deal—particularly the various channels of communication it had opened between high level officials in Washington and Tehran—no longer exist.8 In Iran, conservatives continue to criticize the deal, but most have accepted it as the law of the land. In the United States, even critics of the JCPOA have asked the new administration to avoid tearing it up.9 Two years after the deal was first signed, with the Trump administration’s Iran policy under review and President Hassan Rouhani starting his second—and final—term in office, this policy analysis takes stock of the JCPOA’s implementation process.What the JCPOA Does and Does not Do Limiting a Nuclear Program: Redlines and Provisions
The JCPOA is a complex document. Its language was carefully crafted to be acceptable to both sides and to allow them to successfully sell the agreement at home. It aims to close off the two pathways for Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon domestically: using highly enriched uranium or using weapons grade plutonium. The JCPOA severely restricts Iran’s potential uranium path to the bomb, while virtually closing off its plutonium one. It also strengthens the monitoring and verification regime in place, thus placing the Iranian nuclear program under the most intrusive inspections regime ever voluntarily agreed to by any party.10
Given the politicized and visible nature of certain components of Iran’s nuclear program, the negotiators had to carefully manage both those at the negotiating table and their constituents. Ultimately, they were able to sell the agreement by presenting it as respecting the country’s priorities, framed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as several key redlines.11 Those included ensuring the talks be exclusively about the nuclear program; allowing continued research and development; keeping all facilities open and running; and allowing Iran to work toward meeting its practical needs, such as the ability to fuel its nuclear reactors in the future.
For its part, Obama’s team had to navigate Congress, foreign negotiating partners, and the Iranians. To that end, Obama administration officials framed much of the discussion around several key ideas. First, the deal was not, as U.S. officials and negotiators often put it, built on trust but on verification.12 Second, the United States would lift only nuclear related sanctions. Third, the Obama administration’s aim was to extend Iran’s so called breakout time—or the time it takes to produce enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon. Ultimately, both the Obama administration and the Iranian leadership were able to sell the deal as having met their own respective requirements.
Under the JCPOA, the United States and its partners agreed to forgo the notion of “zero enrichment” and to allow Tehran to preserve its uranium enrichment program, while imposing several limits to cap its capabilities for a number of years. Iran scaled back its enrichment program by moving all such activities exclusively to the Natanz complex, a partially underground fuel enrichment facility in central Iran, while repurposing its Fordow facility, just north of Natanz in the city of Qom, to only conduct research and development. At Natanz, Iran limited its uranium enrichment to 5,060 first generation centrifuges, reducing by about half its operating centrifuges at the time. It also agreed to only use those centrifuges to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent for 10 years, well below the 90 percent enrichment needed for a nuclear weapon. And for 15 years, Iran agreed not to surpass a stockpile of 300 kilograms of 3.67 percent enriched uranium hexafluoride, making it very difficult to surreptitiously enrich excess uranium. The country also agreed to limit research and development pertaining
Although the JCPOA only scales back Tehran’s enrichment program, it effectively closes off its plutonium path to the bomb. Under the agreement, Iran reiterated its long standing position that it would not seek plutonium reprocessing capabilities, which would be vital to its ability to use plutonium in a nuclear weapon. It also agreed not to build any more heavy water reactors, instead exclusively acquiring light water reactors—which are not optimal for the production of plutonium for use in a nuclear weapon. The country is also redesigning the problematic Arak heavy water reactor, which was a source of concern to the international community because of its ability, once completed, to produce a considerable amount of weapons grade plutonium.13
These steps effectively extended Iran’s so called breakout time. To make it more difficult for Tehran to pursue weaponization, the IAEA now has unprecedented access to inspect and monitor virtually every single stage of the fuel cycle, from milling and mining to centrifuge workshops and all declared facilities.
In exchange for the steps Iran takes toward increasing transparency and scaling back key components of its fuel cycle activities, the P5+1 agreed to lift nuclear related sanctions. The deal also provided for Iran’s being able to procure dual use items—or goods that have both military and civilian applications—through a specific channel designated for increased transparency, as well as civilian aircraft, allowing the country to update its aging fleet.What Are the Deal’s Shortcomings?
Despite these important steps, the JCPOA suffers from a number of shortcomings, stemming from domestic politics in the countries involved and their respective bottom lines, as previously outlined.
First, Iran’s ballistic missile program was declared off the table from the outset.14 As a result, one of the three key stages of building a bomb—the development of delivery vehicles—is not covered by the JCPOA. Critics have argued that other parts of Iran’s nefarious activities, including human rights violations and support for terrorism, should also have been addressed by the JCPOA. But the JCPOA’s limited scope was essential to reaching agreement.
Second, the sunset clause of the agreement is another shortcoming. Key provisions within the JCPOA are set to expire after a number of years—different lengths of time are associated with different items, as in the case of limitations on enrichment. As a result, once all of the JCPOA’s provisions expire in 25 years, Iran’s nuclear program will be considered as that of a normal non nuclear weapon state under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)—provided that the IAEA can successfully verify full compliance by Tehran. However, although many of the provisions of the deal will expire gradually, some important checks will remain permanently in place under the NPT and IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (and Additional Protocol, which Tehran pledged to take steps to ratify through its legislative process). In other words, Iran’s nuclear activities will still be under close scrutiny by the IAEA, which will retain access to key sites, and Tehran will still be obliged to restrict its nuclear program to a civilian one under the NPT.
Third, during the talks, it was already clear that sanctions relief would be a key sticking point in attaining and implementing the deal.15 After it was signed, the JCPOA revealed the limitations of sanctions relief. Because the JCPOA singles out nuclear sanctions, it does not allow the Iranian economy to fully normalize and reintegrate into the international financial system. The remaining sanctions—imposed by the United States, primarily, for Iran’s human rights abuses and regional activities, including support for terrorism—combined with pending and proposed sanctions have stymied Iran’s economic recovery and discouraged businesses from investing in Iran. That situation has further undermined support for the deal in Iran.
Fourth, arguably the most significant shortcoming of the JCPOA stems from the fact that it merely caps Iranian fuel cycle activities rather than stopping them altogether. Indeed, it was clear to U.S. negotiators and their P5+1 partners that the zero enrichment policy pursued by the United States in the past was neither viable nor conducive to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the negotiators sought to place limits to extend Tehran’s breakout time and to tighten the verification and monitoring regime.
Some of these shortcomings have undercut support for the deal in Iran and the United States. But they also made the agreement possible and its implementation sustainable. Ultimately, both sides were able to argue that they gained more from the agreement than they conceded and to present it as a “good deal” to their respective constituents.How Do Iranian Domestic Politics Play Into the JCPOA? The Iranian Political Landscape
Contrary to Beltway conventional wisdom, the Iranian political landscape is fairly dynamic and complex. Far from being a unitary and monolithic actor, the Islamic Republic is deeply divided. One faction, supported by much of the populace, wants to open up the country and integrate it into the international community. The other strives to preserve the core values of the revolution.16
The first group, typically known as the reformist bloc, is led by former president Mohammad Khatami, Hassan Khomeini (the grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), and the leaders of the Green Movement—a grassroots movement that emerged during the contested 2009 presidential elections. The bloc strives for more liberal policies at home and greater openness to the outside world. It has the support of many key constituencies in Iran, particularly youth, women, and minorities.
It is important not to mistake the reformists for liberals, however. Even though they tend to attract the more liberal and progressive factions of the Iranian electorate, the reformists still subscribe to the basic principles of the Islamic Revolution. Many reformists have been criticized for changing their positions on critical issues, such as civil rights, only after having partaken in a system that cracked down on them in the formative years of the revolution.
Next are the moderates or pragmatists, the bloc led by President Rouhani. They also favor international engagement and far reaching domestic reforms, as evidenced by the platform that candidate Rouhani ran on during the 2013 and 2017 presidential campaigns. The moderates have integrated many reformists, creating a de facto bloc against the conservatives in recent years. In fact, virtually all key reformist figures supported Rouhani’s candidacy in 2013 and 2017. And Rouhani himself has shifted further left since his first presidential bid.17 But although the moderates share the vision of the reformists for a more open Iran, they distinguish themselves thanks to the political capital they possess in the post 2009 era—because while key reformists were subsequently put under house arrest or sidelined, the moderates maintained their presence in the political landscape. Indeed, although many reformists have become toxic as a result of the Green Movement and are unable to run for office, the moderates are able to do so. The moderates enjoy wide public support, as demonstrated by the 2017 presidential elections, which led to a landslide victory for Rouhani, and by the 2016 parliamentary elections, in which they gained considerable ground, with 42 percent of the seats going to the moderates and roughly 30 percent to independents, including reformists.18
Lastly, the conservatives or “principalists” are the bloc striving to preserve the core values of the revolution. They strongly favor a more independent and self reliant Iran, are deeply suspicious of negotiating with the United States, and seek more restrictions on civil rights. Today, they are divided into two groups. The moderate conservatives adopt a tougher line than the pragmatists on most issues but still favor some flexibility where needed. They supported the nuclear talks. In contrast, the hard liners are the most ideologically driven part of the Iranian political landscape and are strongly opposed to the nuclear talks. They are typically represented by figures such as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who saw the negotiations as one sided and was notorious for his delaying tactics.19
After a period of deep division, the principalists are now seeking to unify to oppose the moderate and reformist agenda more effectively. To that end, they have proposed the creation of a “shadow government” that would try to frustrate Rouhani’s vision.20
However, it is important to note that support and opposition to the nuclear talks, and ultimately the JCPOA, also crossed party lines. Some hard liners favored them and some reformists rejected, or at least criticized, them. Khamenei, typically a hard liner, favored the nuclear talks and played a critical role in shielding the Rouhani government and negotiating team from hard line pushback. Likewise, key Revolutionary Guards commanders also supported the talks, despite being associated with the more conservative or hard line camp.21The JCPOA and the Future of the Islamic Republic
Iranians’ perceptions of the JCPOA have evolved over the past two years. Initially, the populace enthusiastically welcomed the deal, which it saw as the key to its country’s economic and political reintegration into the global community. Within the regime, the nuclear talks enjoyed broad support, especially among its key figures. And once signed, the JCPOA received some criticism but was hailed as both necessary and satisfactory by the majority of the establishment.
Khamenei and Revolutionary Guards commanders cautiously praised the negotiators but also warned that America could not be trusted. Throughout the process, Khamenei was careful not to implicate himself too directly, even though he was made aware of every detail of it. As a senior Iranian negotiator noted, the supreme leader is not one to micromanage foreign policy issues, but in the case of the nuclear talks, he was very much involved every step of the way.22
In the weeks and months after the deal was signed, Khamenei gradually distanced himself from the agreement. That move opened the door to substantial criticism by hard liners, who accused the Rouhani government of having negotiated with the United States for nothing.23 Rouhani had made too many concessions and achieved too little, hard liners argued. And as most Iranians did not feel the trickle down effect of sanctions relief, the broader population also began to shift from its initial enthusiasm to a “wait and see” approach, before becoming more pessimistic that the deal would not lead to economic recovery.
Two years later, the JCPOA has lost some support, for several reasons. First, the Rouhani government initially oversold its ability to generate economic recovery after the deal and failed to manage expectations properly.24 The slow pace of sanctions relief reinforced the idea that the United States is unlikely to change its policies toward Tehran, regardless of what Iranians do. The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control, for example, has been slow to issue licenses to companies like Boeing and Airbus, delaying planned deals to update Iran’s aging and unsafe commercial airline fleet.25
Second, to make matters worse, some of the rhetoric and reports coming out of Washington only exacerbate the feeling in Iran that the United States is not pursuing the deal in good faith, instead looking for “excuses” to further isolate Iran. For example, President Trump’s visit to Riyadh in May 2017 and his statement there, largely focused on Iran, sent a clear message of animosity to Iranians, who were voting in the 2017 presidential elections at the time. The president stated, “Until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace, all nations of conscience must work together to isolate Iran, deny it funding for terrorism, and pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they deserve.”26 Likewise, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “White House officials said they expect the U.S. won’t withdraw from the nuclear deal, but enforce it to the letter and possibly reinstate sanctions that were lifted as part of the accord under different reasons, such as human rights abuses or Iran’s ballistic missile tests.”27 As a result, even though many in Iran do not see eye to eye with their government, and mock and criticize its anti American stance and rhetoric, they increasingly see sanctions as indiscriminate, targeting the entire population regardless of Iranian policy. And the “sticks and carrots” approach is merely seen as “sticks and more sticks” by Iranians. They blame the United States, not their own government, for antagonistic U.S. policies and rhetoric.28
The Rouhani government has taken steps to remedy lingering economic grievances by highlighting the importance of cleaning up Iran’s financial and business sectors. As a result, it has announced plans to tackle regulatory reform, corruption, mismanagement, the lack of transparency, and the extensive political and economic influence of the Revolutionary Guards.29 Rouhani has also argued for the “JCPOA 2,” which would allow the country to seek additional sanctions relief to further boost the economy.30 But these are not quick fixes.
Despite the drop in enthusiasm, Iranians accept the JCPOA as the law of the land. Iranians of all stripes, including hard liners, recognize that even though the agreement is flawed, it is here to stay and should be implemented properly. Where conservatives differ from moderates and reformists today is on the future approach to the JCPOA.
Notwithstanding the fraught politics around it, the JCPOA has opened some venues for engagement and cooperation, welcomed by Iranians. Since 2015, the European Union, led by High Representative Federica Mogherini, has held a series of talks with Tehran on a number of vital issues of contention between the Islamic Republic and the international community, including its ballistic missile program, regional activities, support for terrorist groups throughout the Middle East, and human rights abuses.31 These talks have been approved, and even welcomed, by all quarters of the regime, including hard liners. For example, the hard line head of the Iranian judiciary, Sadeq Larijani, has been kept informed on the human rights discussions and has accepted them.32 This type of engagement, especially with buy in on this level, is critical in helping change Iranian behavior in various areas.Policy Recommendations
The United States should take a number of steps to sustain and build on the JCPOA:
Continue implementation of the JCPOA. Continuing to implement the JCPOA is vital for the future of U.S. leadership and its ability to effectively pursue arms control and nonproliferation agreements. Failure to implement the JCPOA would send a signal to U.S. partners and adversaries alike that America cannot be relied on as a negotiating partner. Abandoning the deal would render sanctions ineffective as a tool of foreign policy, as sanctions cannot be viewed as an end but as a means for the United States to achieve a given policy objective. Maintaining the JCPOA also allows the United States to enforce the agreement more strongly. Indeed, if Washington is seen as upholding its end of the bargain and remaining consistent, it will have more leverage and support from its P5+1 partners, particularly the Europeans, to respond to any violations by Tehran.
Clearly reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the JCPOA and avoid muddying the waters. Reaffirming our commitment to the JCPOA would help reassure America’s negotiating partners. It would also help empower Rouhani and his team and undermine the hard liners’ message that the United States is not trustworthy. Clearly stating Washington’s intention to uphold the deal would also help alleviate the concerns of businesses and would incentivize Iranian policymakers to reform their financial infrastructure, clean up their regulatory landscape, and institute policies to deliver economic recovery. Iran could then be more compliant with international regulations, which would benefit the United States and its allies.
Help Iran reintegrate into the international economy. A more integrated Iran will have more incentive to minimize its nefarious activities. It would also help empower the more moderate factions within Iran, which have had to choose between the country’s economy and other struggles, such as human rights, over the past decade. Moreover, a more integrated Iran would make economic coercion, should it become necessary in the future, more effective.
Engage Iran, rather than isolate it. By engaging Iran, the United States can undermine the hard liners, empower the moderates, and secure U.S. interests. The United States should also encourage its Gulf Arab allies to engage in dialogue with Tehran to settle regional conflicts and decrease tensions.
Re-create official channels of communication to avoid misperception, which can in turn lead to miscalculation. Washington can use those channels, as former secretary of state John Kerry did, to deescalate and put an end to unwarranted crises that can torpedo the JCPOA and even drag the United States into conflict with Iran. Formalizing official channels of communication is easier now, because some officials on both sides who worked on the negotiations are still in government. It will be increasingly difficult to re create those channels of communication the longer the two sides are allowed to drift apart. The two sides have to maintain a working relationship as part of the JCPOA, and sustaining those channels will enable more effective implementation. Lastly, for the channels to be sustainable, it is critical that they involve career diplomats, at lower levels.
Support the work of the European Union and High Representative Mogherini. The European Union seeks to build on the achievements of the JCPOA and to engage Tehran on its more nefarious activities, including support for terrorist groups, its missile program, and its human rights violations. Mogherini and her team have direct access to Iranian leaders and have a level of trust in Iran that the United States lacks. This advantage affords them the ability to discuss a range of issues and to do so effectively. Washington should continue to work closely with Mogherini to find ways to engage Tehran more productively.
Identify areas where U.S. and Iranian interests converge. The United States should not try to contain Iran at any price and oppose Iranian policies at every turn. Instead, Washington should look for ways in which Tehran’s regional influence can be leveraged to advance U.S. interests. For example, Iran has a strong interest in a stable Afghanistan and may be willing to work with the United States, as it did in unseating the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks, to achieve a lasting political settlement there. In addition, Iran is fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which may suggest another area of cooperation for the United States. It is critical to assess and respond to Iranian activities on a case by case basis rather than to view them all through a single adversarial lens.Conclusion
Two years after it was signed, the JCPOA remains one of the most controversial agreements in recent history. In Iran, despite losing some support from the population and political and security establishments, the deal is still viewed as the law of the land. In the United States, its future remains uncertain. On the one hand, the president and various members of his administration have made conflicting statements about the future of U.S. Iran policy and commitment to the JCPOA. On the other hand, even critics of the deal are pushing to preserve it. But simply keeping the JCPOA in place, without strengthening it and building on it, is unlikely to achieve U.S. objectives. Instead, stasis can be counterproductive.
Rouhani enjoys renewed political capital as a result of his landslide victory, and he has expressed interest in engaging the West and Iran’s neighbors to settle other contentious areas. The United States has an opportunity to capitalize on this renewed political momentum, and even though Rouhani’s ambitious agenda will inevitably be stymied by his opponents, Washington stands to gain from any overture and progress made with Tehran. Continued diplomacy would allow the United States to send a clear signal to the Iranian population and ruling elite that America is not “out to get them” and that their compliance with international norms and laws will be rewarded. Under this approach, Washington can have a larger impact than if it consistently keeps the pressure high. A commitment to diplomatic engagement would also strengthen U.S. credibility and leverage in the international community, which are vital if the United States wants to have the option of imposing multilateral sanctions on Iran if it does not uphold its end of the bargain.Notes
- Author interviews with Gulf Arab officials in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait City, and Muscat, 2014-17; Ben Hubbard, “Arab World Split over Iran Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 14, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran nuclear deal provokes sharp reactions across the arab world.html?_r=0; “The Complete Transcript of Netanyahu’s Address to Congress,” Washington Post, March 3, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post politics/wp/2015/03/03/full text netanyahus address to congress/?utm_term=.2f7788961e0b.
- Cristina Marcos, “House Rejects Obama’s Iran Deal,” The Hill, September 11, 2015, http://the hill.com/blogs/floor action/house/253370 house rejects iran deal; Peter Baker, “G.O.P. Senators’ Letter to Iran about Nuclear Deal Angers White House,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/10/world/asia/white house faults gop senators letter to irans leaders.html; David Nakamura, Sean Sullivan, and David A. Fahrenthold, “Republicans Invite Netanyahu to Address Congress as Part of Spurning of Obama,” Washington Post, January 21, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/in state of the union obama takes credit as republicans push back/2015/01/21/dec51b64 a168 11e4 b146 577832eafcb4_story.html?utm_term=.8925dc4291a7.
- “Full Transcript: Third 2016 Presidential Debate,” Politico, October 20, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/full transcript third 2016 presidential debate 230063.
- Ariane Tabatabai, “Don’t Fear the Hardliners,” Foreign Policy, April 4, 2015, http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/04/04/dont fear the hardliners iran nuke deal zarif khamenei/.
- Carol Morello, “Iran Nuclear Deal Could Collapse under Trump,” Washington Post, November 9, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national security/iran nuclear deal could collapse under trump/2016/11/09/f2d2bd02 a68c 11e6 ba59 a7d93165c6d4_story.html?utm_term=.f63c968c895f.
- Evelyn Rupert, “Trump Admin: Iran in Compliance, but Nuclear Deal under Review,” The Hill, April 18, 2017, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/329425 trump admin iran in compliance but nuclear deal under review.
- Ariane Tabatabai, “Trump and the Iranian Elections,” Foreign Affairs, February 7, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2017 02 07/trump and iranian elections; Gardiner Harris, “Tillerson Toughens Tone on Iran after U.S. Confirms Nuclear Deal Compliance,” New York Times, April 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/world/middleeast/trump administration grudg ingly confirms irans compliance with nuclear deal.html; Josh Lederman, “Trump Says Iran Violating ‘Spirit’ of Nuclear Deal,” Boston Globe, April 20, 2017, https://www.boston globe.com/news/nation/2017/04/20/trump says iran violating spirit nuclear deal/iV1GWDW6wera798CUqy5pI/story.html; Kevin Liptak, Jeremy Diamond, and Brad Lendon, “White House National Security Adviser: Iran Is ‘on Notice,’” CNN.com, February 2, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/01/politics/michael flynn condemns iran actions/.
- Ariane Tabatabai, “How to Ensure the Iran Nuclear Deal Survives the Next President,” New York Times, October 20, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/20/opinion/how to ensure the iran nuclear deal survives the next president.html.
- Nahal Toosi, “Iran Deal Critics to Trump: Please Don’t Rip It Up,” Politico, November 16, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/don ald trump iran nuclear deal 231419.
- See the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, July 14, 2015, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/245317.pdf.
- For more on Khamenei’s redlines, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Where Does Iran’s Supreme Leader Really Stand on Nuclear Negotiations?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 13, 2015, For more on Khamenei’s redlines, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Where Does Iran’s Supreme Leader Really Stand on Nuclear Negotiations?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 13, 2015, http://thebulletin.org/where does iran%E2%80%99s supreme leader really stand nuclear negotiations7987; Ariane Tabatabai, “Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Many Iranian Centrifuges?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 27, 2014, http://thebulletin.org/hitting sweet spot how many iranian centrifuges7763. Ariane Tabatabai, “Hitting the Sweet Spot: How Many Iranian Centrifuges?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 27, 2014, http://thebulletin.org/hitting sweet spot how many iranian centrifuges7763.
- Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen with Time,” New York Times, July 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/15/world/middleeast/iran nuclear deal is reached after long negotiations.html.
- For more on the Arak heavy water reactor, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Can Nuclear Talks Overcome Arak?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September 23, 2014, http://thebulletin.org/can nuclear talks overcome arak7643.
- For more on the politics surrounding the Iranian missile program during the nuclear talks, see Ariane Tabatabai, “The Missile Impasse,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July 11, 2015, http://thebulletin.org/missile impasse8500.
- Author interviews with EU, U.S., and Iranian officials, New York, Washington, Tehran, Paris, London, Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Geneva, Lausanne, 2014-17.
- For a comprehensive analysis of the Iranian domestic political landscape, see “Iran after the Nuclear Deal,” Middle East Report no. 166, International Crisis Group, December 15, 2015, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/166 iran after the nuclear deal.pdf.
- Mohammad Ali Kadivar, “Iranian President Rouhani Won Reelection. Here’s How Reformists Got Him There,” Washington Post Monkey Cage (blog), May 23, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey cage/wp/2017/05/23/iranian president rouhani won reelection heres how reformists got him there/?utm_term=.b52939392cf5.
- Thomas Erdbrink, “Rouhani Wins Re Election in Iran by a Wide Margin,” New York Times, May 20, 2017; Thomas Erdbrink, “Iranian President and Moderates Make Strong Gains in Elections,” New York Times, February 29, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/01/world/middleeast/iran elections.html; “Iran Elections: Hardliners Lose Parliament to Rouhani Allies,” BBC News, April 30, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world middle east 36178276.
- Author interviews with EU and U.S. officials, Washington, New York, Brussels, Vienna, 2014-16.
- For more on the proposed shadow government, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Iran after the Election,” Foreign Affairs, May 26, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/iran/2017 05 26/iran after election.
- For more on the Guards’ stance on the talks, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Where Does the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Stand on Nuclear Negotiations?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 11, 2015, http://thebulletin.org/where does islamic revolutionary guard corps stand nuclear negotiations8084.
- Author interview with senior Iranian official, Vienna, June 2015.
- For more on Khamenei’s evolved stance on the deal, see Ariane Tabatabai, “As the Iranian Nuclear Deal Loses a Crucial Backer, Is It in Danger of Disintegration?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, August 3, 2016, http://thebulletin.org/iranian nuclear deal loses crucial backer it danger disintegration9700.
- Zachary Laub, “The Impact of the Iran Nuclear Agreement,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 11, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/impact iran nuclear agreement; Scott Peterson, “In Iran Election, Lackluster Economy Opens Door to a Populist Push,” Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2017, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle East/2017/0517/In Iran election lacklus ter economy opens door to a populist push.
- Rick Gladstone, “Trump Faces Test as Boeing Announces Deal to Sell Jetliners to Iran,” New York Times, April 4, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/04/world/middleeast/iran boeing 737 trump.html.
- “Transcript of Trump’s Speech in Saudi Arabia,” CNN.com, May 21, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/21/politics/trump saudi speech transcript/.
- Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, “White House Intervened to Toughen Letter on Iran Nuclear Deal,” Wall Street Journal, April 25, 2017, https://www.wsj.com/articles/white house intervened to toughen letter on iran nuclear deal 1493151632.
- Author interviews in Iran, 2009-17.
- For more on the first quarterly report on the JCPOA implementation presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Majles, see Ariane Tabatabai, “Iran Issues First Progress Report on Nuclear Deal,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 19, 2016, http://thebulletin.org/iran issues first progress report nuclear deal9350.
- Najmeh Bozorgmehr, “Iran: Inside the Battle to Succeed Supreme Leader Khamenei,” Financial Times, October 24, 2016, https://www.ft.com/content/5fbc8192 321a 11e6 bda0 04585c31b153.
- Author interviews with EU and Iranian officials, Washington, New York, Brussels, 2016-17.
related publications from the cato institute
Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror by A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner, Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 814 (June 26, 2017)
Obama’s Foreign Policy Legacy and the Myth of Retrenchment by John Glaser and A. Trevor Thrall, Cato Institute Working Paper no. 43 (April 24, 2017)
Millennials and U.S. Foreign Policy: The Next Generation’s Attitudes toward Foreign Policy and War (and Why They Matter) by A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner, Cato Institute White Paper (June 16, 2015)
Friends Like These: Why Petrostates Make Bad Allies by Emma Ashford, Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 770 (March 31, 2015)Preserving the Iran Nuclear Deal: Perils and Prospects was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:52 pm.
Throughout history, the state has justified itself on the grounds that it is necessary to protect us from others whose habits and beliefs — we are meant to believe — are dangerous. For millennia, this fiction was easy to maintain because most people interacted so little with people outside their nearly autarkic — and therefore impoverished — communities.
But, with the rise of industrialization and international trade in recent centuries, the state’s claim that it is necessary to keep us “safe” from outsiders has become increasingly undermined.
Much of this is thanks to the fact that in order to benefit from the market, one must engage in activities designed to serve others and anticipate their needs. As a result, trade increases our understanding for both members of our community and even the stranger; it also makes us realize that other people are much like us. Even if they speak strange languages or have odd customs and traditions.The Market Order and Civilization
This is in essence Say’s Law, or the Law of Markets, which states that in the market we produce in order to trade with others so that we can thereby, indirectly, satisfy our own wants: our demand for goods in the market is constituted by our supply of goods to it. In order to effectively satisfy other people’s wants we need to not only communicate with them, but understand them. If we don’t, then we’re wasting our productive efforts for a random result. Obviously, we’d benefit personally from learning what other people want, both their present wants and anticipated future wants, and then produce it for them.
So far so good. Most people (except for Keynesians) grasp this very simple point about the market — and how it contributes to civilization and peaceful interaction. But all people aren’t saints, so good, hard-working people risk being taken advantage of as they have nothing to set against such actions. Without a central power such as the state, who will protect us from such people?
Answer: the web of voluntary transactions aligns people’s interests. In the market, “bad people” are not only defrauding, stealing from, or robbing a single person or family. They are, in effect, attacking the community of interdependent producers and network of traders.
Imagine a town with a baker who specializes in baking bread that people in the town like, but that he doesn’t necessarily fancy himself. Instead, he sells the bread in order to earn money that he uses to buy from others what he truly wants. Others similarly specialize their production to produce what others want, including the baker, so that they can use part of their income to buy bread. When a thief steals from this baker, he negatively affects the town’s bread supply — and thereby also makes the baker unable to effectively demand goods from others. This affects a lot of people, not only the baker: it affects all people who wanted to but now can’t buy bread and all those who expected to but no longer can sell their goods to the baker.
The network of exchanges and the specialized production for others thus creates a community of interdependent producers whose interests are generally aligned: they have all increased their productive effort by supplying a single good that is in high demand, and thereby made everybody better off. But it also means it is in their own interest that no one is unjustly treated and disadvantaged, whether the victim of a “bad person” is an existing or potential supplier of goods they desire or existing or potential customer of the goods they produce.
They all benefit from this order, since their productive efforts are used where they do most good. But they are also all in it together — they are all affected if things go wrong. It is not strange, then, to see how towns used to spontaneously organize to deal with crime. Robbing the baker involves not only a robber and his victim: an attack on one is an attack on the community. The robber has by his very actions chosen to not partake in community — to be an outcast.Effect of the Welfare State
What’s happened over the course of the last century with the rise of the democratic welfare state is that these market-based bonds between people within a community have been severed. With the growing state, more and more people have found positions in the economy and society where they do not need to serve others. In other words, the state has made it possible to live off what other people produce rather than contribute to satisfying everybody’s wants.
As these bonds between people are severed, the threshold to engage in criminal behavior becomes lower. But more importantly, as people do not need to rely on their ability to satisfy the wants of others, they don’t understand other people: they have no incentive to learn about their needs and wants, and they have nothing to gain personally from satisfying them. In other words, there is no interdependence and therefore less of a reason to stay away from destructive behavior.
This is exactly what we’ve seen over the course of the past century when the very large state has replaced civil society with centralized systems and market with power. The problem is that when people stop learning about each other, it is easier to resort to conflict rather than cooperation — and it is much easier to see other people as obstructions to your own happiness. Getting rid of them thus increases your share of the (now diminishing) pie, and using and exploiting others for your own benefit appears a means toward satisfaction of one’s own wants.
We increasingly see examples of this type of thinking among entrepreneurs and those who want to be entrepreneurs. They start businesses not as a means to make a living — that is, to indirectly benefit themselves according to the Law of Markets — but in order to do “what they like.” It’s a lifestyle choice that many seem to think they have a “right” to make. Even worse, sometimes they even blame their entrepreneurial failure on “society” for not being supportive enough and not appreciating what they’re offering at the price they’re demanding.
This is exactly backward: to be able to do what you like for a living is a privilege that you can enjoy only if you, by doing so, satisfy others. If you create value for others, you gain value for yourself.
In this type of society where the bonds between people are weakening, it is not strange that people find the idea of a decentralized, spontaneous order outrageously naïve. Competition is here not the sound striving to better serve others by trying different and differentiated ways of satisfying wants, but rather a zero-sum game where there are winners and losers. In this situation, whoever is willing to cut corners, lie, and deceive is immediately better off. The incentives, in other words, are for destroying value and to prioritize short-term gains even if they come at high long-term costs — because those costs may be another’s burden. It’s the very opposite of civilization and an existence that will, if left unchecked and unchanged, eventually degenerate into a Lord of the Flies-type tribalism.
It is not strange that people have a hard time understanding the harmony argument for markets in a time when the state has alienated them from productive interdependence as explained by Say’s Law. The market’s informal, spontaneous cooperation for mutual benefit has been replaced by a statist mindset, which seeks guarantees — and finds it only in formal power.
But it should be obvious from the discussion above that this is not in any sense a guarantee — especially against bad behavior. It is the opposite. Yet it should be recognized that the market also offers no guarantee, strictly speaking. But do we need one when people’s interests are aligned? All we need to trust is that people do what is good for themselves. That’s hardly naïve.How Welfare States Make Us Less Civilized was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:50 pm.
Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening by Manal al-Sharif
A book Review by Juliet Annerino
Cairo Egypt, May 2001. The ambassador’s lounge at the Intercontinental Hotel. I was on break after my first set. It was the first month of my three-month contract as their resident jazz singer. The low-lit room had a long bar stretched across the back where a few affluent businessmen gathered to enjoy the music over a cocktail. I was wearing one of my silk evening gowns, sitting comfortably in a leather chair at a small table, having a drink with two business partners from different countries. The Intercontinental was a hub for meetings between men like this, who traveled frequently and spoke several languages. I took a sip of my martini trying not to look too alarmed at what the two men were talking about.
“…So if I were to drive a car in Saudi Arabia I’d be arrested? And then – what?” I asked.
The man from Istanbul wearing a pristine grey suit, leaned back into his leather seat, deferring to his British friend.
“Well, you would disappear,” the Englishman said crisply.
I lifted an eyebrow. “Disappear where?”
The Turk replied this time, slowly in hushed, measured words.
“They don’t tell you that.”
“And what do people say?” I asked, putting my drink down.
“They say she is gone.”
I felt a subtle chill run down my spine.
In her new book Daring to Drive, A Saudi Woman’s Awakening, Manal al-Sharif shares her personal, harrowing story of life as a woman in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a country ruled by brute force under an elite “royal” family, protected, sanctioned and heavily subsidized by the powers that be in Washington D.C., courtesy of the taxpayers in the USA, for whom the average Saudi citizen has complete disdain or perhaps only bitter resentment and fear. Most Saudis see the U.S.A. as the world’s occupying military power and the source of Western decadence and cultural corruption. If you are an American curious about what life your tax dollars support for a typical Saudi woman in this country receiving hundreds of billions of USD in “foreign aid,” then this book will give you a painful yet eye-opening experience.
Manal grew up the daughter of a poor taxi cab driver. In her memoir, she tells us how she is held down by three shrouded strangers in her own home with the tacit consent of her mother and father. Manal al-Sharif becomes a victim of the dreaded practice of genital mutilation when she is a mere child. This violent butchery nearly kills her as she almost bleeds to death. She is fortunate to survive, though left disfigured for life.
Manal boldly admits a time in her life when she adheres to the strictest Salafi extremist dictates against even the most basic sources of joy, such as music. As a teenager, she also imposes these bizarre restrictions upon her family members.
Upon finding her little brother’s Backstreet Boys cassettes, she eagerly melts them in a bonfire on the roof to save her brother from such sinful pleasures.
Yet another day, she walks into her family’s living room and by accident hears a song by the band, while her brother is listening. She stops and is “ struck by the beauty of the words and the music,” astonished by a sudden sense of longing that touches her heart. She hears the lyrics, “show me the meaning of being lonely… There’s something missing in my heart.”
Into the dark world of this poor, indoctrinated, sheltered and abused young girl, a sweet ray of hope enters, in the form of music, as “the dreamiest, most beautiful thing…ever heard.”
Her mind is opened and she realizes she “could not understand how something so beautiful could be the work of the devil.”
She tells us, “The lyrics struck a chord with me; I felt truly lonely and closed off in my closed-off world of rigid beliefs, and I too felt there was something missing in my heart.”
Manal al-Sharif’s arduous and frustrating journey presents her with such an insane array of bureaucratic, religious and societally-imposed obstacles, that it is a wonder she maintains her resolve to attend and graduate college, and to win a prestigious position in IT security at the Aramco national oil company. Since women have no socially recognized Independence from their male guardians, such as a husband, father or even younger brother, it becomes almost impossible for a single Saudi woman to even rent an apartment for herself. Finally, living on the special Aramco compound, a separate, closed-off community where foreigners live with Saudis in a more American-style suburban atmosphere, she still cannot even take the male-only bus to her place of work and cannot drive her own car. Instead, women are forced to hire male drivers, who may not even have a license to drive. In some cases, the drivers do not even speak English or Arabic, since they are of the lower working class of laborers from poorer countries such as India or the Philippines.Manal al-Sharif holds a sign in Arabic: “Freedom is to live with dignity”
She explains to the reader how these stifling restrictions are imposed upon women by government and religious authority who claim these complex and sometimes arbitrary rules are only for the “protection” of women, yet how often they endanger women. For example, by forcing them to be alone in a confined space with a strange man such as a professional driver, a woman risks verbal and physical abuse, and even rape.
The degree of repression and fear of expression of sexuality in Saudi Arabia is truly outrageous. The stringent segregation of the sexes in Manal’s college has the unintended consequence of encouraging a subculture of women who dress in men’s clothing, pair off with other women and accompany each other around campus. These are called the “Boya,” a feminized Arabic version of the English word “boy.” In fact, Saudi society is so sexually repressed and fearful of any sexuality that Manal’s mother actually calls her daughter by her son’s name “Mohammed” when they are in public together so as not to sexually arouse any man who may hear a female name.
While working at Aramco as an IT security specialist, Manal discovers a previous demonstration where women took videos of themselves while driving. Her research shows no official law in Saudi Government code prohibiting women from driving, however, the religious secret police are known to show up in the middle of the night, knock loudly at the door of a woman who has dared to drive, and drag her away. After much planning and consulting with others who have tried to change this “tradition” Manal organizes a day of demonstration. What ensues is truly terrifying.
The overcrowded prisons where not only women, but small children are held in horrible, unsanitary conditions, the complete uncertainty of her situation, not knowing if she can ever see her five year-old son or even the outside world again, the forced signing of secret papers, the demeaning treatment by staff – it is all completely unnerving. Manal’s true story is wrought with a level of terror and suspense beyond any dystopian fantasy.
The author reveals aspects of oppressive Saudi enforced “tradition” and its accommodating perverse economics that might surprise even those such as myself, who have spent time in more open countries of the Middle East like Egypt and Lebanon. Every Muslim country is unique in its culture. A common misunderstanding by Americans in particular, is the assumption that they are all alike.
I was surprised to learn that the Saudi Arabian government was the largest investor in the transportation company Uber, contributing a total of $3.5 billion from the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund. (The director of the fund, a member of the royal family, was of course given a seat on Uber’s board.) In a strange turn of governmental, religious and societal hobbling, what should have meant more and better choices for those desiring transportation, only meant an entire nation using a smart phone app as a means to enforce a long-standing ban against women seeking the simple right to drive their own vehicles.
The story of Manal el-Sharif, her childhood, her school years, her bold career at a male-dominated company, her forbidden romance and her unflinching bravery in the face of a cruel authoritarian ruling class, serves as an inspiration as well as a sad commentary on the state of a strange society built on the unstable sands of fear and suffering, through the use of force.
Ultimately, most fearful in her story as in all of life, are those who cling most desperately to their authoritarian traditions. For, in the end, joyful freedom of the individual, dazzling like music in harmony and beauty, will always be terrifying to those who cannot comprehend such heights, and will sing the clarion call of freedom to those who will hear it.Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:42 pm.
In a recent column, I celebrated the phenomenon of “Social Preferencing” and the boost Charlottesville gave to an online, crowdsourced, social media version of it, @YesYoureRacist,” which makes it easy for everyone to “ostracize a Nazi.”
That column received quite a bit of pushback from readers with a darker view of the situation, pointing to the likelihood of shattered innocent lives (due to mistaken identity or intentional fraud) and predicting an era in which unpopular views are suppressed by the digital equivalent of lynch mobs.
Those readers are right: Both scenarios are indeed playing out even as I write this.
University of Arkansas professor Kyle Quinn received death threats and demands that he be fired after he was mistakenly identified as one of the “white nationalist” marchers in Charlottesville. He’s still dealing with the fallout. Presumably others are in the same boat. But mistaken identities and false accusations are not unique to social media. They’re just magnified by it. And the tools which create that magnification can also be used to correct the errors and falsehoods. This is just a matter of scale, not a new or insoluble problem.
On the other hand “guilty” individuals like Christopher Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer web site are losing access to their soapboxes (and their livelihoods) as they’re dropped by web hosts (GoDaddy), payment processors (PayPal), social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter), intermediary utilities (Cloudflare) and even, in Cantwell’s case, dating sites (OKCupid).
As vociferously as I disagree with people like Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer, I agree that this is a problem.
It’s not a problem with the Wakfer model of Social Preferencing, which explicitly calls for “accessible personal disclosure” of the kind being prevented by these exclusions from, effectively, the public square. But it’s a problem nonetheless.
While the actions of these large firms are not, strictly speaking, censorship (the parties involved are not owed platforms by any particular providers and are free to seek the services they need elsewhere), it’s a simple fact that they hold market positions which can at least temporarily create the same effect. They are using those positions to create that effect.
John Gilmore famously noted that “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Libertarians like me view the market in much the same way. This situation is a practical, nuts and bolts test of those views. There’s a great deal riding on the outcome.
If GoDaddy, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal et al. are in effect creating damage to the public square — and I say they are — can the Net and the market effectively route around that damage?
Usable publishing platforms (Diaspora, Steemit, Minds.com, Gab.ai, and so on) and processors (Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) are already in place and there’s nothing to stop others from launching.
Will the big players pay a preferencing price (to the benefit of those other platforms) for their attempts to decide for us what and whom we may view and hear? Here’s hoping they do.Charlottesville Haters: Test Case for the Internet as Public Square was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:21 pm.
So President Trump closed down his “Manufacturing Council” and no one cheered?
What a shame.
Why was there a “Manufacturing Council” to begin with? It’s not the job of the president to meddle with our economy. His job description says nothing about benefiting “manufactures” or “scientists” or “Silicon Valley” or anyone else.
These “Councils” are breeding grounds for the cronyism that has virtually destroyed the American Dream.
If a CEO has the ear of the president, do you think he’s going to “advise” the president to do anything that will hurt his own business?
On the other hand, would the CEO be tempted to advise the president to hurt his competitors, both foreign and domestic? Would the CEO advise the president to make it hard for start-ups and entrepreneurs to compete? Would he advise for subsidies? Strict licensing laws?
The president doesn’t need Advisory Councils, Czars, or any other destroyer of our economic liberties.
Let the CEO’s be “counciled” themselves by free market prices. Let them deal with economic reality as it is, not massage the president for unconstitutional interventions. Let them stand on their own.
Either satisfy consumers profitably, or fold up so that other people can.
The president, at the same time, should stop pretending that he can push buttons and pull levers to make the economy run. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Government intervention only stifles the economy.
The economy continues to function despite the political intrusions that exist. Fortunately, entrepreneurs are creative enough to always find ways around so-called government “regulations.” There’s always a loophole somewhere. But why make it hard on entrepreneurs to begin with? Just get the heck out of the way!
But alas, the government and multi-national corporations are attached at the hip. One scratches the back of the other.
Mr. President, close down all the “Advisory Councils,” and keep your hands off the economy.Mr. President: Close Down More ‘Advisory Councils’ was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:20 pm.
I haven’t seen many miracles in my decades of travel around the globe, particularly not in the strife-torn Mideast.
But last week I participated in a real miracle in Jordan as the splendid Four Paws International group staged a daring rescue of 13 wild animals trapped in the wartime hellhole of Aleppo, Syria.It appeared to be a mission impossible.
Syria has been torn apart for the past six years by a bloody civil war that has killed over 400,000 people and reduced many parts of this beautiful country to ruins.Half the population has become refugees.The ancient northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest, was laid waste.
Just outside Aleppo lies a wrecked 40-acre amusement park cum zoo that once held hundreds of imprisoned wild animals to entertain children.The animals were abandoned in their cages in the midst of constant gunfire and shelling.Many were killed; the rest were left to starve to death or die of thirst.Some starving Syrians shared their meager rations with the animals.
No one else cared about these abandoned creatures that included five lions, two tigers, two Asian black bears, two hyenas and two Husky dogs.
But the Vienna-based Four Paws Charity did, and so did I.Four Paws had rescued a majestic lion named Simba and a charming honey-colored bear named Lula from Iraq’s abandoned Mosul zoo. Both had been starving.I agreed to sponsor much of the rescue operation in Aleppo.
I spent a morning in the New Hope Refuge outside Amman, Jordan, presided over by Jordan’s Princess Alia, the king’s sister.Over lunch, she showed remarkable compassion and understanding for wild animals.
Previously, Four Paws, led by its veterinarian, Dr. Amir Khalil, had rescued numerous starving or sick animals from the ghastly zoo in Gaza, Palestine.
Last week, a security team engaged by Four Paws International finally entered war-ravaged Aleppo which is besieged by feuding jihadist bands supported by competing outside powers that include al-Qaida and even Israel. Throw in Kurds, Turks, the Syrian government, Iranians, Hezbollah and the US for a total madhouse – and a very dangerous one.
Risking their lives, the security team managed to get around the jihadists and then into the Aleppo zoo.Over two trips, the thirteen remaining animals were coaxed into cages, then lifted onto flatbed trucks.Then the convoy headed for the Turkish border.This was the second attempt.A previous one had been held at the border, then forced to turn back.
The daring rescue team had to negotiate with the bands of trigger-happy jihadists surrounding them.A team of well-armed ‘security consultants’ came in to guard the convoy escaping from Aleppo. There was talk that the Israeli army might come to aid the animals, or a Turkish-backed militia. In any event, the little mercy convoy finally got to the Turkish border under the cover of darkness.
But the gate leading into Turkey was locked. Four Paws, with the help of Turkish volunteers, managed to talk the guards into opening it – yet another small miracle.
The animals were then driven for over 24 hours to an animal sanctuary near Bursa, south of Istanbul.There, one of the tigers, an imposing male that I named Sultan, went into cardiac arrest.Another wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Frank Goeritz, got into his cage and managed to bring him back to life, warning his aides ‘leave the gate open in case he wakes up.’Sultan was saved.
Wheels had to be cut off the cages to fit them into a commercial aircraft.Finding the right tool to do this in the middle of the night in Istanbul was another challenge.
After long delays, the mercy flight finally got to Amman where we met them at 5:30 am.Four Paws director Heli Dungler was waiting with us.Thanks to the patronage of Princess Alia we got the animals through border controls and then onto flat-bed trucks for a two hour journey north to the al-Ma’wa animal refuge near the ancient Roman city of Jerash.Drivers on the road could not believe their eyes as our convoy of big predators rolled by.
After a labor of Hercules, the heavy cages were unloaded from the trucks and the 13 new residents were gently introduced into their new enclosures.The animals were of course confused, exhausted and testy, but we were thrilled that our wards were finally safe in their new homes.
We humans were also exhausted, but elated. I had slept no more than a few hours for days and was groggy from jet lag and fatigue.But Four Paws had achieved the impossible and shone a beacon of humanity into the boiling darkness of Syria’s civil war.
As a final sign of good karma, lioness Dana gave birth to a feisty little girl who begins her life in a far better place.
Reprinted with permission from EricMargolis.com.Escape from the Aleppo Zoo was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:12 pm.
In the summer of 1975, I took off hitchhiking from the mountains of southwest Virginia to visit a college girlfriend in New England. Less than 300 miles into the trip, my thumb lost whatever magic it once possessed. After striking out for six hours on an Interstate ramp in Hagerstown, Maryland, I hoofed to the nearest Trailways bus station and bought a ticket to Connecticut.
Seventy-five miles later, the first bus I took expelled all passengers in the Trailways station in Charm City, USA — Baltimore, Maryland. The clientele there were not like the hipsters who ride MegaBus or Vamoose nowadays. Instead, many folks in the waiting room were borderline-down-and-out types who had somehow scraped together enough change for a bus ticket. On the other hand, with my scruffy red beard and battered railroad engineer cap, I could not have passed for a Brooks Brother model.
I was 18, and my philosophical pretensions were at high tide as I surveyed the desolate scene. I pulled out my spiral notebook and jotted in my journal that cities are “a mental wasteland” where “eyes are strictly avoided.”
It never occurred to me that judging all metropolitan life on the basis of one dingy bus depot was not the fairest test of all. And Charm City was not quite representative of urban America. A few years earlier, John Waters’s film Pink Flamingos had luridly portrayed Baltimoreans competing to win the title of “Filthiest Person Alive.” Baltimore was in the third decade of its decline, a plummet greatly accelerated by the riots of the late 1960s.
Since my soul was untainted by urban blight, I was not aloof like almost everybody else there. I soon had a guy with a brown bag and a bottle sitting next to me telling me his life story. He offered me a swig from the bag, but I declined, obeying the old maxim to never drink what I couldn’t see. Other people in the bus station shunned this guy; perhaps they were prejudiced against drunks who sporadically sang loudly to themselves.
His name — as he printed it in my notebook — was “Bobie.” I didn’t quibble with his spelling, or with the four different names he called me over the next few hours. (He sat next to me on the bus ride to New York City.) He was a fortyish, gaunt white guy with sunken cheeks and tousled hair. Though he was haggard, he clearly had had a solid build in earlier decades. The Baltimore mailing address he wrote down matched that of an alcohol detox center.
He was an Army veteran who talked of being pinned down for weeks in Korea after the North Korean Army launched a surprise attack in 1950 that threw American foreign policy into chaos. Bobie finally got respite on that campaign after Gen. Douglas MacArthur carried out a massive landing at Inchon, outflanking the North Korean army. He did not say much else about the Korean War — which might have seemed like a thousand years ago to him (and to most contemporary Americans).
But it was in Vietnam where Bobie’s soul got shredded. He was on patrol one day — part of the Johnson administration’s strategy to use U.S. troops as bait to flush out the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars into firefights. Bobie said he saw a young Vietnamese girl standing nearby knee-deep in a river. He feared she had a grenade behind her back so he cut her down with his M-16. He wept uncontrollably after he and his buddies searched the scrawny ten-year-old’s corpse and discovered she was unarmed. That girl achieved eternal life in Bobie’s nightmares.
He said that such incidents were commonplace in Vietnam and that his own actions “make Calley look like a Boy Scout.” (Lt. William Calley had recently been convicted for massacring Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.) I had no way to verify Bobie’s statements, but it was not like people received prizes for confessing to war crimes in bus stations. Almost 30 years later, David Hackworth, a retired colonel and the most decorated officer in the Army, declared, “Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go…. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.” American soldiers faced more legal perils for reporting atrocities than for committing them. Rank-and-file whistleblowers would be threatened with criminal charges if they tried to inform higher-ups about a massacre or other abuses.
Bobie spoke as if every waking hour was a supreme torment that made him wish he was dead. His mind was probably fairly sharp until he boozed his brain to obliteration. He passed out a couple times during the trip to New York, but he didn’t vomit or die, so he was tolerable company.
The bus finally arrived in Manhattan’s Port Authority bus terminal. Back then, the Port Authority was a dumping ground for all the maggots on the East Coast. Or maybe they weren’t maggots — maybe they were only wastrels. It seemed fully stocked with beggars, muggers, and casting directors for plotless porn movies. Spending time there gave me new respect for Baltimore.
Bobie was wobblier in New York than in Baltimore — the second pint of whiskey he chugged on the ride did nothing to improve his gait. He had told me he was heading for a Veterans Administration treatment center in Albany so I tried to help him find his connection. Eventually, I had to bail to catch a bus to Connecticut. The last I saw Bobie, he was riding up an escalator, slump-shouldered and looking utterly bewildered and forlorn.
Tales of war
I had always been intrigued by war stories from combat veterans. My first girlfriend’s father was one of the few American survivors of the Malmedy massacre carried out by S.S. troops during the 1944 Battle of the Bulge — the best-known clash after D-Day. When I was 16, I worked one summer on a road crew for the Virginia Highway Department. In one backwater of the county, an aged World War One veteran would drop in and regale us with stories from his time in France almost 60 years before. The older guys on the crew warned not to put much credence in anything the geezer said, but listening to his tales was better than working. Few of the American veterans of that war experienced the long-term trench warfare that permanently traumatized many British, French, and German troops.Anti-War Awakening on a Bus Trip from Baltimore was first posted on August 20, 2017 at 11:05 pm.