Just before the election this fall, the US war in Afghanistan will pass its fifteenth birthday, making it old enough to obtain a driving learner’s permit in most states. Despite the fact that the Taliban government fell after only eight days of the war, the US has inexplicably stayed in the country, ostensibly maintaining peace, eliminating a small force of al Qaeda and “training” Afghan defense forces to take over. During that time the US has expended an ungodly amount of money, lost thousands of US troops and been present for much larger losses of life throughout a country that also has seen unacceptable numbers of internally displaced people. All of this has taken place while Afghanistan has continuously been found at or near the top of the list of the most corrupt nations on the globe.
Now, nearly fifteen years into the misadventure, we see that conditions in Afghanistan are deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction today issued its 30th in its series of quarterly reports to Congress (pdf). Nothing in the report provides any hope that Afghanistan will emerge from the US war nightmare as a functional country any time soon.
Violence levels in Afghanistan are at an all-time high. SIGAR relied on UN data to provide this illustration of violence levels over time:
Although sources and methods of reporting on violence levels in Afghanistan have changed over the years, consultation with posts here and here shows that since the days when troops were diverted from the misadventure in Afghanistan to the even bigger misadventure in Iraq, violence has trended only upward.
Another key feature of the US “activities” in Afghanistan has been the “training” of Afghan forces to step up and take over primary responsibility for defense of the the country. The US has disbursed over $56 billion in this training and equipping effort. After years of SIGAR reports carefully documenting the numbers of Afghan troops trained and the capabilities of those forces, we suddenly encountered a wall of classification of Afghan troop capabilities last year as the US effort in Afghanistan was “ending”.
Today’s report states that Afghanistan reports a fighting force of 322,638 out of a target size of 360,004. However, SIGAR notes that AP has seen through the ruse that Afghanistan uses in its self-reporting of troop numbers:
However, a January Associated Press report alleged that the actual number of ANDSF security forces is far less because the rolls are filled with nonexistent “ghost” soldiers and police officers. In that report, a provincial council member estimated 40% of the security forces in Helmand do not exist, while a former provincial deputy police chief said the actual number was “nowhere near” the 31,000 police on the registers, and an Afghan official estimated the total ANDSF number at around 120,000—less than half the reported 322,638. The success of military operations is at risk, because as one Afghan soldier in Helmand said, they do not have enough men to protect themselves. Additionally, an Afghan lawmaker claimed the government is not responding to the crisis because a number of allegedly corrupt parliamentarians are benefiting from the “ghost” security forces salaries.
SIGAR points out that they have long questioned the reliability of ANSF size and capability reporting, so the AP report should be of no surprise to anyone. Given these issues of the real fighting force size for Afghanistan, it also should come as no surprise that the Pentagon has cut back on how much information it releases. In today’s report, that is marked by this statement:
This quarter, details of ANDSF force strength at corps level and below remained classified. SIGAR will report on them in a classified annex to this report.
A key aspect of what remains classified is most of the information on Afghan troop capabilities. However, the abject failure of these troops can be seen in the assessment of how much of the country has fallen back into Taliban hands:
USFOR-A reports that approximately 71.7% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of November 27, 2015. Of the 407 districts within the 34 provinces, 292 districts are under government control or influence, 27 districts (6.6%) within 11 provinces are under insurgent control or influence, and 88 districts (21.6%) are at risk. In a report issued in December, DOD stated that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated. There are more effective insurgent attacks and more ANDSF and Taliban causalities.
And yet, the mass delusion within the Pentagon persists, as that bleak paragraph above ends with this unbelievable sentence:
However, DOD remains optimistic that the ANDSF continues to improve its overall capability as the capabilities of the insurgent elements remain static.
This completely unfounded and contrary to all available data assessment by DOD of the situation in Afghanistan says everything we need to know about how these geniuses have failed at every step of the way in a mission that has mired the US in a quagmire that anyone could have predicted before the first bomb fell.
Although the progressive community has been aware, for more than a year, of the water quality crisis in Flint that was created when the state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint from Detroit’s water system to a supply from the nearby Flint River, national attention is only now starting to focus on it. Today’s New York Times features an editorial denouncing the “depraved indifference” Governor Rick Synder’s administration showed toward Flint as the crisis unfolded.
The basics of what happened are clear. Water from the Flint River is much more corrosive than that from the Detroit water system (from Lake Huron). Even though this water leaves the Flint processing facility fairly clean and appearing to meet most standards, its corrosive nature results in the pipes in the aged Flint distribution system corroding. Both iron and lead leach into the water as a result of this corrosion, leaving the water with a reddish-orange tint and unsafe levels of lead. Children in the area have already shown elevated levels of lead in their systems. Sadly, lead damage is irreversible.
A bit of digging shows that the corrosive nature of the Flint River water comes from its high chloride content. [Note: free chloride ions (Cl–) are distinct from intact molecular chlorine (Cl2) and have very different chemical effects in the systems being described here. For brevity, they will be referred to as chloride and chlorine, respectively.] That high chloride content very likely results from heavy application of salt to roads during winter and subsequent runoff of the salt into tributaries and the river. The Flint River has a chloride content about eight or nine times higher than Lake Huron.
Technical documentation of the Flint water crisis is almost entirely the work of a group of researchers directed by Professor Marc Edwards of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virgina Tech (frequently updated at their website, flintwaterstudy.org). As the Times editorial noted, the Snyder administration tried to dismiss one group of critics as “anti-everything”. That won’t work with Edwards, who won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (often called a Genius Grant) in 2007 for his work on water quality.
One very simple and elegant study carried out by Edwards and his team is described in this post from August 24 of last year. The team took a clean-looking sample of Flint water and put it into a glass jar along with a piece of iron. The iron is present to mimic the effect of the Flint water coming into contact with iron pipes as it flows through the distribution system into people’s homes. An otherwise identical sample was prepared with water that came from the Detroit water system. After only five days, the jars looked dramatically different:
The water in the Flint jar looks just like what we have seen in countless photos of exasperated Flint residents wanting something done about the poor quality of the water coming out of their taps. Leached iron by itself could well be the cause of this discoloration that is common in Flint. We will come back to this same study in a bit.
In addition to the dire issue of unsafe lead levels in homes (and subsequently documented in children) that received Flint River water, another problem may relate to the changed water source. Writing at Huffington Post earlier this week, Erin Schumaker documented an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in Flint. Remarkably, in a graphic created by Alissa Scheller, we see that the outbreak coincides quite precisely with the change in water source:
How could there be a pathway connecting the water source to a Legionnaires’ outbreak? Continue reading
Craig Whitlock has a long read in today’s Washington Post, digging into the issue of US drones suffering problems while in flight. These problems often result in the pilots having to steer the drones into remote locations to crash because they are unable to return to base:
A record number of Air Force drones crashed in major accidents last year, documents show, straining the U.S. military’s fleet of robotic aircraft when it is in more demand than ever for counterterrorism missions in an expanding array of war zones.
Driving the increase was a mysterious surge in mishaps involving the Air Force’s newest and most advanced “hunter-killer” drone, the Reaper, which has become the Pentagon’s favored weapon for conducting surveillance and airstrikes against the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
The Reaper has been bedeviled by a rash of sudden electrical failures that have caused the 21/2-ton drone to lose power and drop from the sky, according to accident-investigation documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Investigators have traced the problem to a faulty starter-generator, but have been unable to pinpoint why it goes haywire or devise a permanent fix.
Whitlock goes on to tell us that the Air Force alone saw 20 drones either destroyed or suffer major damage in 2015. Later he also tells us that the Army has its own smaller fleet of drones and it has suffered similar drone catastrophes, with four major crashes last year. Remarkably, if we go to the 20 year history of the Predator drone, Whitlock informs us that about half of the 269 Predators the Air Force purchased have crashed or suffered major damage.
As mentioned above, most of these crashes involve the starter-generator failing. The search for an underlying cause for the starter-generator failures has not been successful:
Working with engineers from General Atomics, investigators identified three parts of the starter-generator that were susceptible to breakdowns. But they couldn’t figure out why they were failing.
No pattern was apparent. Older units had failed, but so had brand-new ones. There was no correlation with operating locations or conditions. The Customs and Border Protection investigation blamed an “unknown factor” that was “likely external.
Oh my. What sort of “external” causes might be at work here? Surely it couldn’t be anything like what Iran experienced in its nuclear program, could it? In a remarkable coincidence, David Sanger has an interesting article today, speculating that US sabotage of Iran’s nuclear program may well have played a role in getting Iran to the P5+1 negotiating table. And, of course, no dirty hippies have ever suggested that US drones might be vulnerable to “external” shenanigans.
Meanwhile, the US is busily installing backup starter-generators on Reapers. Whitlock tells us 47 Reapers have gotten the retrofit and that the backup system so far has been credited with 17 “saves” where the backup kicked in to allow a drone to safely return to base when it otherwise would have been ditched.
The main editorial in today’s New York Times puts into proper prospective the momentous events of this past weekend. The declaration of Implementation Day for the deal negotiated over the past two years between the P5+1 group of nations and Iran merits the title of the editorial: “A Safer World, Thanks to the Iran Deal“. Just consider the import of what has been accomplished through this incredible feat of diplomacy:
This is a moment many thought would never come: Iran has delivered on its commitment under a 2015 agreement with the United States and other major powers to curb or eliminate the most dangerous elements of its nuclear program. The world is now safer for this.
The International Atomic Energy Agency verified on Saturday that Iran has shipped over 8.5 tons of enriched uranium to Russia so Iran can’t use that in bomb-making, disabled more than 12,000 centrifuges and poured concrete into the core of a reactor at Arak designed to produce plutonium.
On Sunday, President Obama hailed these steps as having “cut off every single path Iran could have used to build a bomb” and noted that engagement with Iran has created a “window to try to resolve important issues.” Most important of all, he said, “We’ve achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resorting to another war in the Middle East.”
Yet, as long-time commenter lefty665 pointed out this morning, in response to Implementation Day and the exchange of prisoners between the US and Iran, most of the chatter in the press (and especially its dominant conservative voices) dealt with the prisoner exchange:
Can you believe that most of the chatter has been about prisoner exchange and not the actualization of the nuclear deal and dropping of sanctions on Iran? Suppose they just happened in conjunction during a weekend news vacuum? Or was it a conscious, “Here, watch this hand” to distract attention. Either way we sure got a boatload of plain old American bozos baying at the moon as usual.
Perhaps peak “American bozos baying at the moon” over the prisoner exchange came in this editorial from the Wall Street Journal:
Now we know that Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three other Americans were hostages held by Iran in return for U.S. concessions, in case there was any doubt. And on Saturday we learned the ransom price: $100 billion as part of the completed nuclear deal and a prisoner swap of Iranians who violated U.S. laws. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps should call this Operation Clean Sweep.
The timing of Iran’s Saturday release of the Americans is no accident. This was also implementation day for the nuclear deal, when United Nations sanctions on Tehran were lifted, which means that more than $100 billion in frozen assets will soon flow to Iran and the regime will get a lift from new investment and oil sales. The mullahs were taking no chances and held the hostages until President Obama’s diplomatic checks cleared.
All of this shows that the nuclear accord is already playing out as critics predicted. The West will tread gingerly in challenging Iran’s nonnuclear military and regional ambitions lest it renege on its nuclear promises. Iran has again shown the world that taking American hostages while Barack Obama is President can yield a diplomatic and military windfall.
Ah, but the Wall Street Journal is far from alone. Consider this fine baying at the moon from Senator Tom Cotton:
But in our elation over their safe return we must be careful not to forget the dangerous circumstances of their release. President Obama has appeased Iran’s terror-sponsoring ayatollahs, this time with a ‘prisoner’ swap to secure the overdue release of four innocent American hostages in return for which Iran gets seven lawfully convicted terrorists and criminals, fourteen terrorism prosecutions halted, $100 billion in sanctions relief, and an industrial-scale nuclear program-and Iran gets to keep Americans Siamak Namazi and Robert Levinson to extract future concessions. While we exult in the return of American hostages, one must also wonder how many more Americans will be taken hostage in the future as a result of President Obama’s shameful decision to negotiate with these terrorists.
Clearly, nothing but all-out war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands will appease Cotton and his blood-lust for Iran.
The anti-Iran echo chamber also fired up against the deal and even moved beyond just the prisoner exchange. Consider this fine bit of echo, which I found when United Against Nuclear Iran retweeted David Albright’s “The Good ISIS” retweeting Josh Rogin promoting an article he wrote (by himself this time, rather than with his usual Partner in Keeping the Neocon Flame Alive Eli Lake) warning us that now Iran is going to arm Assad (somehow I can’t get the full level of retweeting echo to embed…):
Another unintended effect of Iranian prisoner release https://t.co/SCn8OZ9OOp
— ISIS (@TheGoodISIS) January 17, 2016
Remarkably, though, there were a couple of usually reliable voices in the anti-Iran rhetoric who did not come through. AP’s George Jahn seemed fresh out of “diplomatic sources” to smear Iran, as he co-authored a piece of straight up reporting on Implementation Day. Similarly, fear-monger Joby Warrick briefly returned from his Washington Post exile to environmental reporting this morning to write about the deal, but gave as much of his analysis to a likelihood of reformers forging ahead in Iran as hardliners bringing more peril. As with Jahn, David Sanger also wound up only writing straight reporting of Implementation Day without finding much smear material to leak against Iran.
Essentially simultaneous with the lifting of sanctions against Iran due to its nuclear technology, the US imposed new sanctions because of Iran’s recent testing of ballistic missile technology. I confess to not having followed the ballistic missile controversy as closely as the nuclear technology issue, but it did strike me as unfortunate to implement new sanctions right away. This could be an attempt by Obama to provide a bit of comfort to Iran haters in our government. I also haven’t looked deeply, but these sanctions are likely to be much more limited in scope and shouldn’t produce the same widespread damage to Iran’s economy as the nuclear sanctions.
Finally, we also saw a demonstration that Hillary Clinton is indeed now a candidate running for office and no longer the diplomat she was as Secretary of State. Her statement this weekend, published after the announcement of the prisoner exchange but before the prisoners actually left Iran, was overly belligerent in its call for the new ballistic missile sanctions. She almost certainly had to have known that the ballistic missile sanctions had been held in abeyance to finish the prisoner exchange negotiations, so her statement could be seen as a late threat to the prisoners actually being allowed to leave Iran.
It is now just over six months to the day since the historic P5+1 agreement with Iran was reached, dramatically decreasing Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon in return for dropping economic sanctions. Although some small amounts of cash have been freed up for Iran in this intervening period, this period has consisted almost exclusively of actions by Iran while the P5+1 group of nations awaits IAEA certification that Iran has met its obligations under the agreement. Only once this certification is in place will the sanctions against Iran be dropped. Removal of many of the existing sanctions (some that don’t relate to nuclear technology will remain in place and hawks in Congress are doing their best to keep or replace the ones due to be dropped) will be a huge development for Iran, as the sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy. We are hearing that Implementation Day will arrive any moment now, perhaps later today or tomorrow (maybe even before I finish writing this overdue post).
We are now over two years into the P5+1 process, and so it should come as no surprise that an agreement this long in the making is very long and quite detailed. This post will be quite long and dry, as what it will do is to set out the language from the agreement that describes just what has taken place to get us to Implementation Day and what will take place as a result. Many steps have been taken to get us to this pivotal moment, and it is important that we see them laid out in orderly fashion.
From the White House document (pdf) providing us excerpts of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), we have this:
Implementation Day is the date on which, simultaneously with the IAEA report verifying implementation by Iran of the nuclear-related measures described in Sections 15.1 to 15.11 of Annex V, the EU and the United States takes the actions described in Sections 16 and 17 of Annex V.
Links to the various documents that make up the text of the agreement itself can be found here.
Iran’s Actions Under JCOPA
As mentioned above, sections 15.1 to 15.11 describe the actions by Iran that the IAEA will certify to have been completed. I have put the topic for each of these entries into bold text and then provide the referenced material from the other parts of the agreement:
Joseph Goldstein broke a devastating story this afternoon in the New York Times:
In his last phone call home, Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr. told his father what was troubling him: From his bunk in southern Afghanistan, he could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base.
“At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it,” the Marine’s father, Gregory Buckley Sr., recalled his son telling him before he was shot to death at the base in 2012. He urged his son to tell his superiors. “My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.”
Goldstein goes on to reveal that Gregory Buckley, Jr’s killer was in fact one of those boys whose screams he heard. The killer, Ainuddin Khudairaham, was one of many “tea boys” being held by the police commander on the base, Sarwar Jan. But Jan came to the base with a history. Again from Goldstein:
Lance Corporal Buckley and two other Marines were killed in 2012 by one of a large entourage of boys living at their base with an Afghan police commander named Sarwar Jan.
Mr. Jan had long had a bad reputation; in 2010, two Marine officers managed to persuade the Afghan authorities to arrest him following a litany of abuses, including corruption, support for the Taliban and child abduction. But just two years later, the police commander was back with a different unit, working at Lance Corporal Buckley’s post, Forward Operating Base Delhi, in Helmand Province.
Lance Corporal Buckley had noticed that a large entourage of “tea boys” — domestic servants who are sometimes pressed into sexual slavery — had arrived with Mr. Jan and moved into the same barracks, one floor below the Marines. He told his father about it during his final call home.
As if that’s not enough, Goldstein goes on to note that the only person punished over the killings by the tea boy was one of the officers who had gotten Jan arrested previously and contacted the new base where Jan was assigned to warn them of his pedophilia.
Goldstein’s report blows the lid off a disgusting practice by the military to allow Afghan officers to engage in what they refer to as “bacha bazi”, or “boy play” and to ascribe it to cultural differences rather than calling out criminal behavior. This practice of looking the other way has gone on for a very long time. An article Goldstein linked had this to say:
With the agreement on an action plan to combat the problem, the government will for the first time officially acknowledge the problem of child sex slaves. As part of the Afghan tradition of bacha bazi, literally “boy play,” boys as young as 9 are dressed as girls and trained to dance for male audiences, then prostituted in an auction to the highest bidder. Many powerful men, particularly commanders in the military and the police, keep such boys, often dressed in uniforms, as constant companions for sexual purposes.
Asked about the military’s policy regarding commanders who abuse children, a spokesman for the NATO-led military alliance, Lt. Col. John L. Dorrian, said that if any members of the military encountered such abuse they would be obliged to report it. But in the past year, he said, he was not aware of any such reports.
When we go back to the reports on the trial where Ainuddin Khudairaham was convicted for the killings, we have the military scrambling to cover up the pedophilia that may well have prompted Ainuddin to act, as they provided a list of different accusations against Jan:
The investigation into what happened at FOB Delhi has been dogged by allegations that the police chief, Sarwar Jan, the shooter was working for was closely aligned with the Taliban. He previously had been removed as the police chief in another district in Helmand province in 2010 after Marines suspected he was providing supplies to the Taliban.
Nevertheless, Sarwar Jan was installed by the Afghan government as the police chief in Garmsir district in the months ahead of the shooting. A Marine officer who worked with him in 2009 and 2010, Maj. Jason Brezler, sent a warning to deployed Marines in 2012 about the police chief, but he kept his position. To do so, Brezler sent classified information over an unclassified network, and reported himself.
Yes, Brezler is the person mentioned above as the one person to be punished over the killings. And in the Washington Post piece (from July, 2014) quoted above, we see that the real meat of Brezler’s warning about Jan and his entourage of young boys is completely left out. And that seems to be as a product of the policy that Goldstein revealed today where the US military actively avoids calling out or punishing the abuse of young boys. But why would the military avoid calling it out? One hint comes from the the 2011 piece Goldstein linked and I quoted earlier: Continue reading
On August 19, AP’s George Jahn set off a firestorm of controversy when he published an article on how Iran’s Parchin site would be inspected as part of the P5+1 agreement reached earlier on Iran’s nuclear technology. Iran deal opponents jumped onto the story instantaneously and quickly claimed that Iran would be doing its own inspections of the Iran site.
In the intervening time, much has happened on the issue of the story and Jahn’s reporting of it. Jahn claimed to base the story on a draft of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on how the inspections would take place and AP even eventually published what it said was a hand transcription of the document shown to Jahn. The link I used in my original post now goes to a short “correction” of Jahn’s story.
On August 20, I wrote a post with the title “Washington Shocked! Shocked That AP’s George Jahn Is a Tool for Iran Deal Opponents“. Based on several years of reading and commenting on Jahn’s reporting on Iran’s nuclear technology and the diplomacy surrounding it, I pointed out how the article fit Jahn’s usual pattern of being told something by “diplomats”, with that something always seeming to put Iran in the worst possible light. In other words, his stories usually consist of him being used as a tool to put out information that makes Iran look bad.
Today, we have a story from Louis Charbonneau and John Irish of Reuters that informs us (via diplomats, presumably not the ones Jahn listened to) that IAEA inspectors will in fact be present when Iran takes samples from the Parchin site, so Iran will in no way be inspecting itself:
United Nations inspectors will be present with Iranian technicians as they take samples from a key military site, two Western diplomats said, undercutting an objection by U.S. Republicans to the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Irish and Charbonneau waste little time in pointing out that Jahn was wrong:
An August report by the Associated Press, in its original version, said the agreement on Parchin suggested that IAEA inspectors would be barred from the site and would have to rely on information and environmental samples provided by Iranian technicians. The AP later published what it said was the text of an early draft of the agreement that remains unconfirmed.
The report was seized on by Republicans in the U.S. Congress as proof that President Barack Obama’s administration gave in to Iran on the sensitive issue of inspections to check on Tehran’s suspected ambition to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano rejected the report as “a misrepresentation”, though he declined to provide details of what some Republicans described as a “secret side deal” between Iran and the IAEA on Parchin. Amano said on Aug. 20 that the arrangements with Iran were technically sound.
If we want to go as far as we can to see how Jahn could have been acting in good faith, it is worthwhile to concentrate on the fact that he said from the start that the document he was shown was an early draft of the agreement between the IAEA and Iran. Then, when we get to this in the Reuters report, we can see that perhaps the IAEA inspectors being present was a later addition (or a filling in of detail as Cheryl Rofer seems to suggest) to the agreement:
But the Western diplomats told Reuters that while Iranians would be allowed to take the samples themselves, the agency’s inspectors would be physically present and would have full access to their activity.
“There was a compromise so the Iranians could save face and the IAEA could ensure it carried out its inspections according to their strict requirements,” said one of the diplomats.
If Jahn was shown a document that differed so substantially from the final arrangement, it is at least possible that he was completely manipulated by whoever showed him the document. He can save a considerable amount of face by publicly identifying who brought the document to him. His promise of confidentiality should not apply to information that turned out to be false. If he stands by his reporting, however, then we must seriously consider that he intentionally put Iran in the worst possible light and assumed he would never be called out on it.
Greg Sargent this morning walks us through the latest math from the Washington Post on Congressional war hawks trying to obstruct the breakthrough P5+1 agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear technology. Not only does the Post find that Congress has very little chance of overriding a Presidential veto of a vote of disapproval, but as Sargent notes:
It’s not out of the question at this point that opponents will fail to muster 60 votes in the Senate to stop the deal — which would mean that President Obama would not even need to veto the expected measure disapproving of the accord, sparing us a veto-override fight.
So, of course, with the deal looking like it has smoother than expected sailing, opponents have been forced into a desperation move. That hit yesterday afternoon, when known tool of Iran opponents George Jahn (see my posts about his dismal track record here) published an AP story (try that link, but God knows what version of the story you’ll get, see below) that fits his normal pattern. He cites a “draft” of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran on inspection of the Parchin site. Much controversy has surrounded allegations of previous work there. Jahn describes what he saw in the draft agreement and says that “one official familiar with its contents said [it] doesn’t differ substantially from the final version”.
Further complicating matters, Jahn’s story went through several changes in the hours after its release. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk you through all of that or the details of what Jahn claimed. This excellent piece by Max Fisher at Vox walks you through the baffling evolution of the story. The Fisher piece relies heavily on Jeffrey Lewis, who was very quick to note the level of duplicity coming from Jahn even before Fisher talked to Lewis:
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) August 19, 2015
In the Fisher piece, Lewis provides us with the perspective that is needed to understand Jahn’s move:
“The oldest Washington game is being played in Vienna,” Lewis said. “And that is leaking what appears to be a prejudicial and one-sided account of a confidential document to a friendly reporter, and using that to advance a particular policy agenda.”
What Fisher completely missed, though, is that George Jahn is the poster child for this behavior that Lewis describes. At the end of the piece, Fisher expresses shock that AP would take part in such a ruse:
But it is disturbing that the AP allowed itself to be used in this way, that it exaggerated the story in a way that have likely misled large numbers of people..
Jahn has been playing precisely this game at AP for years, so it has “allowed itself to be used in this way” many times before by Jahn.
In reading about how events evolved after Jahn put up the first version of the story, it pays to look at these events in the light of the usual process of hurling the lopsided accusation out there and then watching the propaganda develop around it. Iran deal opponents were so fast to to jump on the story that we are left to wonder if they had a heads up as to when it would go live. Republicans in Congress were able to get their condemnation of this “secret side deal benefiting Iran” into some of the earliest revisions of Jahn’s article. And that was the precise reason Jahn was given the copy of the draft agreement in the first place, because it was seen as the last and best chance for Congress to disrupt the deal.
One more point needs noting in this context. Deal opponents, as mentioned above, are quick to spin the agreement between the IAEA and Iran as being kept secret because it is such a sweet deal for Iran. That paints the picture that the IAEA is on Iran’s side. As noted in the Vox piece, though, confidentiality in agreements of this type are the norm. Further, as virtually nobody discussing these developments points out, the Director General of the IAEA, according to WikiLeaks documents, made it known while he was being considered for the position that he “was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program”. [Note that the cable is from July, 2009, so early in the Obama Administration that US strategy on Iran’s nuclear weapons was primarily still that of the Bush Administration.] So, far from being someone to cut a sweetheart secret deal with Iran, perhaps we might want to see Amano more in the light Iran sees him when they accuse the IAEA of leaking the identifying information on Iranian nculear scientists that allowed them to be targeted for assassination.
Seventy years ago today, on August 6, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. By November of that same year, approximately 130,000 people were dead because of that single bomb, which targeted a civilian population. Three days later, the US deployed a second nuclear weapon in Nagasaki. It appears that these horrific weapons were not needed, despite the prevailing myth surrounding their use. Even with the subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons, the US remains the only country to have ever used them outside a testing scenario, while countries as unstable as North Korea and Pakistan have achieved nuclear weapons capability at some level.
As might be expected, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is using the occasion of this anniversary to call for an end to nuclear weapons. Last week, Javad Zarif made an excellent move, in suggesting that now that Iran has signed an agreement with the P5+1 group of countries on its nuclear technology, there should be a push to remove nuclear weapons and all WMD from the Middle East. Recall that Iran has agreed to the most intrusive inspections regime ever put into place in a country that didn’t first lose a war, making their call for inspections of Israel’s nuclear weapons program especially strong. These two calls together represent an appeal to those who prefer peace over war while placing the highest possible value on civilian lives.
That attitude of favoring peace over war and putting civilians first stands in stark contrast to those who oppose the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed by the P5+1 and Iran. As Barack Obama pointed out yesterday, those who are opposing the deal are the same people who were so tragically wrong about the decision to invade Iraq in 2003:
President Obama lashed out at critics of the Iran nuclear deal on Wednesday, saying many of those who backed the U.S. invasion of Iraq now want to reject the Iran accord and put the Middle East on the path toward another war.
While calling the nuclear accord with Iran “the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated,” Obama also seemed to turn the vote on the deal into a referendum on the U.S. invasion of Iraq a dozen years ago, a decision he portrayed as the product of a “mind-set characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy.”
Obama said that when he first ran for president, he believed “that America didn’t just have to end that war. We had to end the mind-set that got us there in the first place.” He added that “now, more than ever, we need clear thinking in our foreign policy.”
One of the saddest aspects of this push for war over diplomacy is that much of it comes from deep within the US government itself. In many of my posts on the path to the P5+1 accord with Iran, I have noted the nefarious process of anonymous “disclosures” coming sometimes from “diplomats” and sometimes from “intelligence sources” that get transcribed into the press by a small handful of “reporters”. Usually the worst offender on this front is George Jahn of AP. A recent retiree from this fold is Fredrik Dahl who now, ironically, appears to be the primary press contact for the IAEA. But never fear, rushing into the void created by the departure of Dahl (or perhaps his insertion into an operative role further inside the apparatus), we have the dynamic duo of Eli Lake and Josh Rogin. Their blather being put out as “journalism” is not worthy of a link here. If you want to find it, try going to Marcy’s Twitter and searching for “not The Onion”.
Of course, the high point of this process of manufacturing nuclear charges against Iran and then getting them into the media is the notorious “laptop of death“. Running a close second, though, are the charges that Iran has engaged in developing a high explosives trigger device at the Parchin site. Showing that those who engage in this level of deceit have absolutely no pride, the charges of this work have proceeded despite an equally plausible explanation that the high explosives chamber could just as easily have been used to develop nanodiamonds. Further, those making these charges have allowed themselves to be baited into a ridiculous level of “analysis” of satellite photos of the site, with hilarious results from how Iran has played them.
Despite this level of embarrassment, one of the primary tools in this process, David Albright, couldn’t resist one last try on the satellite photo front. Yesterday, he breathlessly informed us that there are a couple of new sheds on the Parchin site and there is even some debris. And, get this, a crate has been moved! Seriously, here is the “meat” of Albright’s analysis (pdf): Continue reading
While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his whinging campaign that the West capitulated on a non-existent earlier demand for “any time, anywhere” snap inspections in Iran under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by the P5+1 group of nations with Iran on its nuclear activities, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has come forward with a proposal that brilliantly turns the tables on Israel. Writing in the Guardian, Zarif calls on Israel to join in a plan to remove all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East. Such a plan, of course, would require Israel to give up its poorly-held secret of an arsenal of their own nuclear weapons:
We – Iran and its interlocutors in the group of nations known as the P5+1 – have finally achieved the shared objective of turning the Iranian nuclear programme from an unnecessary crisis into a platform for cooperation on nuclear non-proliferation and beyond. The nuclear deal reached in Vienna this month is not a ceiling but a solid foundation on which we must build. The joint comprehensive plan of action, as the accord is officially known, cements Iran’s status as a zone free of nuclear weapons. Now it is high time that we expand that zone to encompass the entire Middle East.
Also in the Guardian, Julian Borger provides some perspective on Zarif’s proposal:
Israel does not officially confirm its nuclear arsenal, but it is believed to have about 80 warheads. Zarif’s remarks also represent a rebuke to the five permanent members of the UN security council, all armed with nuclear weapons – the US, Russia, France, the UK and China – as well as the three other nuclear-armed states which, like Israel, are not NPT signatories: India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
Since a cold war high in 1986, when global stockpiles of nuclear warheads topped 65,000, the main weapons states have reduced their arsenals considerably. There are now thought to be fewer than 16,000 warheads worldwide, of which 14,700 are held – roughly equally – by the US and Russia. But the disarmament is now approaching a standstill. The Obama administration wanted to follow the 2010 New Start agreement with another, more ambitious, arms control treaty, but the dramatic worsening in relations halted progress. Russia and the US are modernising their nuclear arsenals.
That last bit about the US and Russia modernizing weapons rather than removing them is especially upsetting, but for now I’d like to concentrate on Zarif’s Middle East proposal. Insterestingly, Zarif points to Iran’s history of restraint on weapons of mass destruction when it came to the Iran-Iraq war. While widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq in that war is indisputable, Zarif claims that Iran “never reciprocated in kind”. The record seems to bear that out. While Iran did develop their own chemical weapons program late in the war, the evidence that they ever used it is murky at best.
Zarif correctly depicts Israel as openly flaunting the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while at the same time noting how ironic that position is considering Israel’s rabid attitude towards Iran’s nuclear program:
One of the many ironies of history is that non-nuclear-weapon states, like Iran, have actually done far more for the cause of non-proliferation in practice than nuclear-weapon states have done on paper. Iran and other nuclear have-nots have genuinely “walked the walk” in seeking to consolidate the non-proliferation regime. Meanwhile, states actually possessing these destructive weapons have hardly even “talked the talk”, while completely brushing off their disarmament obligations under the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
That is to say nothing of countries outside the NPT, or Israel, with an undeclared nuclear arsenal and a declared disdain towards non-proliferation, notwithstanding its absurd and alarmist campaign against the Iranian nuclear deal.
Borger gives us a concise summary of Zarif’s proposal:
Zarif makes three proposals: for negotiations to begin on a nuclear weapons elimination treaty; that this should lead initially to nuclear arsenals being taken off high alert readiness (for example, by removing warheads from missiles); and for the creation of a zone in the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Again, the irony of Israel’s actions are brought into full light here. Another front on which Israel has been vocal regarding the JCPOA relates to restrictions on Iran’s missile program. At the same time Israel wants to severely restrict any further development of missiles in Iran, Israel has an arsenal of missiles already fitted with nuclear warheads and ready for launch.
But there is one more point that Zarif puts into his piece that I can’t stop marveling at. In his description of how negotiations on his plan could start, we have this:
One step in the right direction would be to start negotiations for a weapons elimination treaty, backed by a robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism.
What better spokesman could the world have for a “robust monitoring and compliance-verification mechanism” than the man who just agreed to submit his own country to history’s most intrusive inspections program for a country that hasn’t just been defeated in a war. He is definitely “walking the walk” when it comes to inspections and compliance. But I can’t help wondering if, should such negotiations actually get underway (note: yes, I realize that the chances are much less than zero), Zarif would allow himself, at least once, to call for Israel to submit to “any time, anywhere” inspections of its nuclear program.