One has to wonder where the Trump Administration is headed with their policy towards Iran. There are, to say the least, a number of contradictions. However, before I get too far into this, I would like to make three comments.
- For almost forty years the Iranians have been nothing but trouble-makers. The government is the number one source of state sponsored terrorism in the world. The leadership continues to try and export the revolution and to thwart U.S. interests in the Middle East.
- I am glad that Mr. Trump called off last week’s planned strikes into Iran. Unfortunately, like so many of his decisions, he did so for the wrong reasons.
- While on active naval service, I made two port calls in the 1970’s to Iran. One to Bandar Abbas and one to Khorramshahr. Interesting places, but maybe not too relevant to this piece. Since then I made several trips through the Strait of Hormuz on U.S. Navy ships in and out of the Persian Gulf, and every time we were tested by Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) armed boats. No shots fired.
As you know, Iran is responsible for a series of attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz, in recent weeks. Five total as of this writing. Additionally, they launched surface-to-air missiles against U.S. military drones, missing once and hitting two including the most controversial last week. Why?
The most obvious reason is that their economy is being crushed by sanctions imposed by the U.S. It is having a direct and profound impact on daily life inside Iran. The sanctions are succeeding in that respect. While the United States is demonstrating its ability to succeed in this effort, it forces the Iranians to respond in order to demonstrate their own resolve, show their citizens that they will not bow to the U.S., and to attempt to get relief from the sanctions. In other words, they are demonstrating that they can have an impact on the world’s economy by stopping all Persian Gulf oil, not just Iranian oil, from reaching the market, thus having a direct impact on countries such as Japan and others that rely on that oil for their own economic well-being. If they cannot totally stop the flow of oil, then they can make it so costly — insurance rates, the price of oil, military requirements to protect tankers, etc. — that it will still have an impact unacceptable to many countries. (As a side note, when I worked Middle East issues in the Pentagon, insurance rates for shipping in the Gulf was one of our measures of effectiveness (MOE). If they went up, we needed more resources. When they went down, we as a military were being effective in keeping the sea lanes open and secure.) The point is, the Iranians are not going to stop meddling with the shipping lanes in and out of the Gulf until they feel some sanctions relief.
Here is the mismatch. The Trump Administration claims that the sanctions will be eased when the Iranians come to the table to renegotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. Mr. Trump pulled us out of it in May of 2018. One may claim that the JCPOA was a good deal or a bad deal, but in the short term at least it did stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. It opened Iran up to verification of its compliance and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducts regular inspections to ensure continued compliance. The other members of the agreement besides the U.S. (the U.K, Russia, China, France, Germany, and European Union) agree that Iran is abiding by the terms of the agreement and all remain in the agreement while working with Iran to keep them from violating its terms. Even the U.S. intelligence agencies as late as this spring testified in open hearings to Congress that the Iranians continue to abide by it.
So why would Iran return to negotiate a deal that they had already agreed to but from which the United States withdrew and is now punishing Iran for complying with that treaty? To be fair, one of the main criticisms of the JCPOA is that it addresses only nuclear weapons and not the development of ballistic missiles or Iran’s continued support of terrorism throughout the region. Fair enough. The original idea behind the negotiations was to take it one step at a time. Solve nuclear weapons and then address missiles in another treaty. Solve missiles and then address stopping terrorist activities. A building block approach that would instill trust as each step takes effect and allows for continued negotiations. It may or may not have worked, but now we will likely never know. More to the current point, why would the Iranians trust the U.S? And if this president can tear up a treaty with malice of forethought then what would keep the next president — elections are in 18 months and we may have a new one — from tearing up the Trump Treaty? There is no trust.
Making matters worse for our current strategy is that our trusted allies and friends no longer trust us either. Some, especially Japan and Germany and France, are not even sure that they can trust us when we say that the Iranians are definitely behind the recent attacks. And if they don’t support us now, they will certainly not support us in an armed conflict in the region. The U.S. does not want to go it alone in this arena.
Making it worse, even it if it sounds logical on one level, is Mr. Trump’s tweet that maybe the U.S. would not protect shipping without being compensated.
“China gets 91% of its Oil from the [Strait of Hormuz], Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world!”
While on one level it is imperative for a coalition effort to thwart Iranian attempts to disrupt the shipping lanes, on another it ignores the number one maritime objective of the United States — to protect shipping lanes around the world to ensure the free flow of commerce at sea. Did that just change because “we don’t even need to be there”?
While Mr. Trump once again made himself the hero of a soon to be catastrophe by fixing the crisis he created, still, calling off the strikes last week was the right call. He made himself into some kind of humanitarian savior by implying that no one told him about possible loss of human life. I find that insulting to the U.S. military. He implies that they aren’t doing the job because he didn’t find out about the number of casualties until 10 minutes before the strikes. Hogwash! The president, any president, is offered a series of options for him to choose. Included in the “pros and cons” of any option is the potential loss of life to Americans and to those under attack when the situation is not all out combat but rather a “message” as these were intended to be. He is either lying or cannot comprehend basic information. (By the way, in that series of tweets Mr. Trump tries to sound tough by saying that “we were cocked and loaded” to attack. Anyone that has served in the military would know that no one talks that way in senior, serious discussions and that besides, the expression is “locked and loaded.”)
But I digress.
The best reason for calling off the strikes is that, according to reports from senior, unnamed officials in the Pentagon but thought to be the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is that there was no second step. There was no consideration for what is called branches and sequels — what happens and what steps do we take when the Iranians inevitably respond. There was no clear understanding of what those strikes would do to enhance our strategy of getting the Iranians to the table. It would in fact, have made that much harder as the Iranians would likely have escalated their attacks and there were no follow-on U.S. plans. Fundamentally, Mr. Trump and his advisers lost sight of the fact that the enemy gets a vote on how things unfold. Without thinking through the next steps, having those strikes go forward would have opened up a potential Pandora’s Box of serious trouble in the Gulf.
Remember this. There is a reason we have fought in Iraq and Syria. They are not Iran. Iran has been a bigger trouble-maker in the region and a bigger counter to our policy goals than the other two ever were or could be. Why haven’t we gone after the Iranians in the same way? Because it will be hard.
In the 1987-88 Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. and other nations escorted tankers to protect them from the Iranians. During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians tried to cut off Iraqi oil shipments through the Gulf. Besides escorting tankers, the U.S. and coalition forces fought the “tanker wars” to punish the Iranians for placing mines in shipping lanes and other hostile acts. U.S. Navy ships were hit by mines (none sank) and other Iranian actions resulted in SEAL raids, and attacks on Iranian warships. Operation Praying Mantis resulted in a number of Iranian ships going to the bottom or being put out of action. The point is, the Iranian harassment of shipping quickly came to a stop. The Iranians also learned some valuable lessons in how to combat U.S. forces through asymmetric means.
The Iranian Navy is basically a professional navy built along the lines of most in the world with a recognizable command and control structure. The real bad guys are the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) that have their own forces, ashore and afloat, and do not answer to anyone in the Iranian government other than the Supreme Leader. Those are the ones to keep an eye on.
So now what? The Iranians probably think that Mr. Trump is all bluster and no action. Will that encourage more dangerous provocations on their side? How will the U.S. respond? If our policy is to corral Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions than how do we do that? No easy answers.
Whether we are officially in or out of the JCPOA, along with the other members of the agreement, it would seem to provide the best frame work for re-engaging with the Iranians. As far as practical, without losing our advantage in the region, talking is better than fighting. Should it come to war, we will prevail. But keep in mind that we are not talking about a few cruise missile strikes into empty air fields in Syria. It will be messy and we will take casualties. They will not be pushovers and they will test our capabilities. Right now, the rest of the world may not be with us. Most importantly, what is the end game? What do we want from the fighting? In 1988 it was for them to quit interfering with shipping lanes. It worked. Today we say it is guarantees about no nuclear weapons. How do we achieve that when everything the Iranians see around them (hello, North Korea) indicates that Mr. Trump responds with love letters to those with the weapons who test them, fire ballistic missiles and threaten the U.S. main land?
The Iranians tried negotiations through the JCPOA and feel like they were tricked. It will not be easy to get them back to the table, no matter how grim their economy. The Trump Administration needs to re-engage with the Iranians, without preconditions, but without easing sanctions until talks resume. Then a measured give and take — known in diplomatic circles as “compromise” — can result in the easing of some sanctions in return for specific Iranian actions. This may be the best way to ease us out of this growing crisis. Without it, expect the Iranians to continue to act out until they find the limit of U.S. patience.
The Constitution is under attack. An attack so brazen that it is likely to do significant long-term damage to our country’s ideals, values, mores, and the rule of law.
Mr. Donald J. Trump is in full attack mode trampling on all that we used to hold dear. In the meantime, the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, sit idly by either endlessly filled with angst over what they should or should not do (hello Democrats!) or aiding and abetting the president in his relentless pillaging of our Constitution (I’m talking to you Republicans).
I just do not get it. Why is no one acting?
While wringing their hands over whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, the Democrats worry about the political implications for the 2020 election. They fear that starting impeachment proceedings will hand Mr. Trump a victory in the next election. I fear that by not acting — hey guys! remember that you won an historic election in 2018 because the majority of voters wanted you to put a check on his shenanigans? — they will hand Mr. Trump the election. Part of their logic is that with the Republican controlled do-nothing cowering Senate Mr. Trump would never be convicted. Perhaps. However, the calculation should be that spelled out in the Constitution — there is abundant evidence that he indeed committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — and not some political calculation on who will or will not get elected as a result. Politics should not play a part in a decision to impeach or one not to impeach.
Congress! Do your job! Nay, it is more than do your job. It is do your duty to uphold the Constitution. Anything less is dereliction of that duty.
What more does it take? Everyday there is a new assault on our values and our laws. The list is too long to enumerate here, but remember a few of Mr. Trump’s greatest hits.
- “Individual 1” — Mr. Trump’s lawyer Mr. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for, among other crimes, violating election laws by paying hush money to two mistresses of Mr. Trump’s to stay silent about their affairs because it could impact the election. The judge in the case, Judge William H. Pauley III said in open court in New York that Mr. Trump directed his attorney (Mr. Cohen) to commit a federal felony. He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
- Obstruction of Justice — In his report, which he followed up with a remarkable public statement from the Department of Justice building, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it abundantly clear that if the president had committed no crime, he would have so reported. As he said in the report and in his remarks, “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
- Russia interfered with the election to aid Mr. Trump — In his report and remarks, Mr. Mueller makes it abundantly clear that the Russians did interfere with the election. A fact that the President resolutely says did not happen. As Mr. Mueller noted, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”
- Collusion — According to the Mueller Report, members of the Trump Campaign met over 100 times with Russians known to be agents of, or to have connections to, the Russian government, including the famous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016. As we all know, the word “collusion” was never used in the Mueller Report. However, yesterday the president said that he would collude again with a foreign power given the chance. In an interview with ABC news in the Oval Office no less, he said in response to a question about receiving damaging information from a foreign power that he would take it. “I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. It’s not interference, they have information. I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d maybe go to the FBI. If I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.” When asked about FBI Director Wray’s testimony to Congress that any political campaign should report foreign interest in that campaign, Mr. Trump replied, “The FBI Director is wrong. Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen that way in life.”
- Actively undermining the Constitution — As explained in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mr. George Conway and Mr. Neal Katyal — both conservative attorneys — on Tuesday the Trump lawyers filed a brief to prevent turning over documents relating to Mr. Trump’s taxes and other financial dealings. Without getting too far into the legal weeds (although maybe all of us should start doing so), the basis of the Trump argument is that Congress has no oversight authority with respect to the president. In particular, the brief argues, Congress has no business “trying to prove that the President broke the law.” They say that the Executive Branch holds the power under the Constitution for law enforcement, therefore Congress can do nothing. This of course denies our country’s history where Congress has exercised oversight, including investigations of law breaking, since its founding.
- Active law breaking — Today, White House Adviser Kelly Anne Conway was found to have consistently and continually broken the Hatch Act. (The Hatch Act prohibits political activities and speech while acting in a government position.) The opinion handed down by the independent Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) says that she should be fired from her position. (It is worth noting that the head of the office was nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by voice vote in the Senate.) The response from the president and Ms. Conway is to scoff at the law and the OSC finding. As Ms. Conway put it when previously asked about her actions under the Hatch Act “Blah, Blah, Blah. If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”
In a country where we like to say that no one is above the law, the president and his advisers are. Mr. Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it as he famously said during the campaign.
I think that we all must remember that Mr. Trump and the president are the same person. I only say this slightly tongue in cheek. What I mean is that we have become so accustomed to Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements — perhaps even amused by them — for so long including before he even considered running for president that they tend to get lost in translation. Mr. Trump saying such things is harmless. The President of the United States saying them is incomprehensible. Or at least it used to be. There is no longer gravitas in presidential statements. There is no longer acceptance of presidential pronouncements as true or binding. There is no longer respect for the office from nations around the world. There is no longer a presumption that the president will follow the Constitution. All of that may be ignored by our fellow citizens. Just remember, however, that he still has the power. And the unencumbered use of that power to follow one of his harebrained ideas could be devastating. Those that know him from long before his presidency say without hesitation that he will do anything to help himself. Anything. Think about that with someone with Mr. Trump’s mind set and the president’s power.
Even Mr. Mueller believes the president is above the law. Certainly Attorney General Barr thinks so. Re-read Mr. Mueller’s remarks last month about his report. He explains in detail why there was no indictment of the president. While a president may be investigated, he said that “under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited. The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
So there you have it. The president is above the law. Mr. Trump knows it. We can expect his behavior to become increasingly autocratic as he continues to eviscerate Congress. (Note the increasing instances of declaring a “national emergency” to circumvent the will of Congress concerning Mexico, Saudi Arabia, immigration, arms sales, tariffs, and other actions.)
But, but…. Mr. Mueller did point out that there is a way to hold a president accountable. In his spoken remarks he said “the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
In other words, impeachment.
Negative precedents are being set almost daily by this administration and especially by the president himself. We as a country will have to live with future presidents that hold themselves above the law should this president get away without being held to account. Whether or not he gets re-elected the precedents he sets, left unchallenged, will stand.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the land behind only the president. She must use that power under the Constitution to articulate why Mr. Trump’s actions are not only abhorrent on their moral face but also that they are crimes.
The president is a criminal. We must hold him accountable. Do your duty.
“You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.” — President Ronald Reagan from his speech “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc” on 6 June 1984
Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces. D-Day. The largest naval and air assault in the history of the world. The beginning of the end of Nazism. I hope all of us were able to take a few minutes to remember the brave men who came ashore that day in order to save a continent and to restore the security and safety of all nations through the destruction of tyranny.
Their determination, fortitude and valor cannot be overstated. While movies such as “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” try to capture the intensity, confusion and terror of that day, none of us that did not experience it first hand can truly know what it was like. Hell on earth.
Why did they do it? In the abstract it was for democracy and our country and the knowledge that our American way of life was threatened. They did it to restore freedom to oppressed people across Europe. They did it because it was the right thing to do. They did it because they understood honor, sacrifice, discipline and taking on the tough jobs. As the doors of the airplanes opened and they jumped into the darkness and the ramps on the HIggins boats dropped, they did it for each other. No one wanted to let their buddies down. Average men rightly honored as the best our country has to offer.
It wasn’t easy. Casualties on D-Day for U.S. forces are estimated at 1,465 dead and 3,184 wounded. 1,928 were declared missing and presumed dead. 26 were captured. The heaviest casualties were on Omaha beach and among the airborne troops. Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing in the course of the Battle of Normandy. 9,387 Americans are buried in Normandy near Colleville-sur-Mer including Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. the son of President Teddy Roosevelt who was in the first wave ashore and including forty-five sets of brothers. All of these lives were sacrificed “for the common cause of humanity” as declared on the inscription over the chapel at the cemetery. Boys mostly. 18 and 20 year old kids that would never make it home to family and friends. Forever young. Those boys that survived are now in their nineties and this is likely the last major celebration of the landing that will include those who were actually there.
Many tragic stories surround the invasion. Perhaps the impact of the dangers that they faced can best be represented by the good citizens of Bedford Virginia. Of the 220 soldiers in Alpha Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, thirty-five were from Bedford. Alpha Company was among those most devastated when the ramps for the landing craft dropped. They lost 103 men that day, of which 19 were from that small town in Virginia. A life changing event for those left behind.
Alongside the Americans came the British and Canadians. Elements of forces from France, Poland, and other nations parachuted into the country or rode the waves to the beach. French Resistance forces came out of the woodwork to harass and delay the German response. It was the best the world had to offer working in concert.
On the beach at Normandy the seeds of the world as we now know it were planted. The cooperation of the Allies in that endeavor begat the creation of NATO, the European Union and other economic and security organizations meant to preclude future wars in Europe and to foster the well-being of freedom loving people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It worked.
None of these men considered themselves heroes. They did not want to let their buddy or their family down. They had a job to do and they did it. They realized that they were part of something bigger than themselves and they were willing to sacrifice anything, including their lives for the greater good and the well-being of others.
Those men understood the dangers. They went forward anyway. To them it was not to put America first, it was to put the freedom of the world first. As a nation, we should take this time to reflect upon the incredible achievements of our “greatest generation” who led the way in war and in peace. They are the soul of our country and they reflect our core values. Well done, men. Rest easy.
Let us pray for our leaders today, that they have the same understanding of sacrifice, honor, and dedication to doing the right thing.