Daniel Larison

The Lies Nuclear Deal Opponents Tell

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

John Bolton met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this week and said several ridiculous, dishonest things about the nuclear deal and Iran:

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons was a very high priority for the United States.

“It’s a question of the highest importance for the U.S. that Iran never get a deliverable nuclear weapons capability,” Bolton said, adding: “It’s why we’ve worked with our friends in Europe to convince them of the need to take stronger steps against the Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.”

These remarks are Bolton at his disingenuous worst. If preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons were such a high priority for this administration, Trump would not have reneged on an agreement that ensures that Iran’s nuclear program remains peaceful. Opponents of the nuclear deal place a much higher priority on strangling Iran economically and keeping it internationally isolated, and we have seen that from their eagerness to reimpose sanctions despite Iran’s ongoing compliance with the JCPOA. No one seriously interested in preventing nuclear proliferation would want to scrap a major nonproliferation agreement, but that is what Trump did on Bolton’s advice and with Netanyahu’s enthusiastic support.

There was no need to take “stronger steps” than the JCPOA because it was already working exactly as it was intended. Withdrawing from the agreement put the administration in the position of being weaker on nonproliferation than our European allies. Our allies are helping to maintain an agreement that is successfully limiting what Iran can do with its nuclear program. The U.S. is currently trying to bully our allies into forsaking their commitments and it is demanding that they act against their own security interests. Iran has never really had a full-fledged nuclear weapons program, and it certainly doesn’t have one now. Continuing to paint Iran’s peaceful nuclear program as though it were a threat is an attempt to deceive the public to make them buy into the administration’s self-serving lies about the nuclear deal.

When Trump administration officials said they wanted the nuclear deal to be “fixed,” that was a lie they told to conceal that they really wanted to renege on the agreement. Now that they have reneged on it, they are lying about the governments that are trying to keep the deal alive, and they are lying about their real goal of regime change that the deal prevented. Before the U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, Trump and his officials lied about what the deal did and what it was supposed to do, and after the withdrawal they are lying about their desire for a “better” deal. They feigned interest in the cause of nonproliferation when it was useful to them, and now they feign concern for the Iranian people, but all of these things are just pretexts to justify endless hostility. Opponents of the JCPOA hated the nuclear deal because it stood in the way of pursuing the more coercive and aggressive policies that they have been demanding for years.

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The Massacre of the Innocents in Yemen

Ahmad Algohbary and Faisal Edroos report from Dahyan in the wake of the Saudi coalition massacre of dozens of children on August 9:

Three days after the attack, victims’ families continued to throng to the scene of the attack, hoping to find the remains of their loved ones

“I didn’t find any of him,” said Abdelhakim Amir as he searched the wreckage for his son, Ahmed.

“Not his finger, not his bone, not his skull, nothing.”

CNN confirmed earlier reporting that the bomb used in the attack was sold by the U.S. and manufactured by Lockheed Martin. The attack killed more than 50 civilians, including 40 children, and injured another 79 people. Orla Guerin report here on the massacre and its aftermath.

The attack on the market and school bus in Dahyan was an especially bloody and outrageous crime, but it was unfortunately not unusual for the coalition to deliberately drop bombs on civilian targets in Yemen. It happens often enough that no one can seriously believe that coalition governments are trying to minimize civilian casualties, and in this case there was obviously no attempt to avoid killing civilians at all. The U.S. provides the weapons, refueling, intelligence, and political cover that enable the Saudis and their allies to continue doing these things to the people of Yemen.

The survivors of the attack were fortunate not to lose their lives, but they will have to live with the memory of their slaughtered classmates. Like so many other Yemeni children scarred and traumatized by the war, they will suffer from this attack long after the war ends. Marta Rivas Blanco, a nurse with the Red Cross serving in Yemen, recounted her experience in treating the survivors of the massacre:

Physically, the children will recover. But I worry for their mental state. Many were in shock; they had no idea what had just happened to them. One minute they were on a bus, the next they were in a hospital.

The health system in Yemen is on the brink of collapse and Saada is a very poor area. There is little by way of psychological support. This attack could affect the children long after their wounds have healed.

The Al Jazeera report quotes one of the survivors, Mokhtar, who is still suffering from the trauma he experienced:

Close to him, his son crouches near the bomb site, still haunted by memories of the attack.

“My father says he will buy me toys and get me a new school bag. But I don’t want a new school bag. I hate school bags,” said eight-year-old Mokhtar before adding that his education ended the day his friends died.

“I don’t want to go anywhere near a bus. I hate buses, I hate school and I can’t sleep. I see my friends in my dreams begging me to rescue them.

“So, from now on, I’m going to stay at home.”

An entire generation of Yemenis has been scarred by years of violence, deprivation, disease, and fear. UNICEF now estimates that 66,000 Yemeni children die from preventable causes each year. Those tens of thousands of Yemeni children are being killed by this war just as surely as those boys who were murdered in Dahyan by a U.S.-made, Saudi coalition-dropped bomb, and their deaths are just as senseless and avoidable. The U.S. government has it in its power to cut off the coalition and halt their war effort, and in so doing our government could end a war that it has disgracefully enabled for more than three years. The U.S. should have done this long ago, but in the wake of yet another horrific massacre of innocents it is imperative that our government end all support for the war, cease all arms sales to the coalition’s members, and insist that the Saudis and their allies accept a cease-fire and enter into negotiations to resolve the conflict.

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Bolton’s North Korea Lies

John Bolton (Gage Skidmore/Flikr)

John Bolton keeps doing what he can to derail diplomacy with North Korea. This time, he lied that North Korea had already agreed to disarm within a year:

RADDATZ: And so you think within a year – is that the time frame?

BOLTON: And Kim Jong-un said yes. So the one year period that we’ve talked about from the point where North Korea makes the strategic decision to denuclearize is something that the North and South Koreans have already agreed to.

And – and why is that significant? President Trump has gone out of his way to hold the door open for Kim Jong-un, that’s what the Singapore meeting was about.

North Korea has never agreed to disarm, and it isn’t going to. Bolton’s insistence on wrapping everything up within a year isn’t just unrealistic. It is a deliberate attempt to sabotage all talks with North Korea. Bolton is setting absurd expectations based on his misrepresentations of what happened at previous meetings, and he is doing this to shift blame to North Korea for “violating” agreements they never made. The trouble for Bolton is that no one believes a word he says, and everyone can spot when he is just making things up:

Bolton is so obviously hostile to diplomatic engagement that everyone correctly assumes he is up to no good, and he tells such blatant, easily discredited lies that he isn’t fooling anyone outside the administration. What worries me is that he might very easily fool the president, who has never understood the relevant issues and knows nothing about them. The danger for the U.S. and South Korea is that Trump will listen to Bolton’s destructive counsel and undermine the genuine progress that South Korea has made with its policy of engagement.

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Trump’s Regime Change Policy for Iran

Mike Pompeo, CIA director (Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons)

Buzzfeed reports on the possible implications of the creation of the Trump administration’s “Iran Action Group”:

After Pompeo’s announcement on Thursday, Ali Vaez, the Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, summoned the specter of the George W. Bush administration’s march to war in Iraq. “This has eerie echoes of the White House Iraq Group in the run-up to the Iraq war and [is] another step towards groupthink in this administration,” he said, referencing the arm of the Bush administration that helped make the case for war.

“If the Trump administration was serious about diplomacy with Iran, it would have tapped someone as special envoy who had some constructive history with the Iranians, not a man who in the past 18 months presided over the destruction of all channels of communication and the only diplomatic achievement between the two countries,” he added.

The Trump administration has made it plain over the last year and a half that it has no interest in real diplomacy with Iran. Instead they have insisted on compelling Iran’s government to make huge, unrealistic changes to all of its policies on pain of economic strangulation. As I have said before, Trump is not interested in a “new” or “better” deal that Iran would ever be willing to accept, but rather wants to force Iran’s capitulation across the board. The administration’s demands for Iran are preposterous, and in their maximalism they betray the administration’s real goal to be regime change.

Nicholas Miller explained last week why the administration’s “change in behavior” line isn’t credible:

As Millers says later in his thread, the Trump administration has less leverage over Iran than its predecessor had, but it demands far more than Obama ever did. Obama was focused on the nuclear issue and didn’t try to include all other disputes in negotiations with Iran because it was obvious that would make an agreement impossible to reach. Trump is demanding that they agree to deeper concessions on the nuclear issue and then reverse decades of their regional policies as well, and the only reason to make such sweeping demands is to have them rejected. Iran won’t comply with most of the administration’s demands, and it couldn’t comply with some of them short of surrendering its sovereignty. A great power makes impossible demands of a weaker government because it is looking for a pretext for conflict and/or the overthrow of that government, and that is exactly what Trump has done with Iran.

When the U.S. has sought war and/or regime change with another state, it has been common for the U.S. to deny that regime change was the goal from the start. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration repeatedly claimed that it wasn’t seeking war, but in everything that it did during 2002 and early 2003 the administration made clear that Iraq’s compliance would never be good enough. Obama explicitly said that the U.S.-led intervention in Libya was not aimed at regime change, but in practice the U.S. backed an uprising aimed at achieving exactly that and rejected any negotiations that would have stopped short of regime change. When it comes to pursuing regime change, U.S. actions against the targeted government usually make a mockery of official denials.

Administration officials keep pretending not to want the thing they are obviously seeking because even they know that the U.S. record of toppling foreign governments is a chronicle of disaster and massive suffering for the people in the affected countries. The Trump administration doesn’t want their Iran policy to be compared with the Iraq and Libya debacles, but their overt and intense hostility towards the Iranian government and the Iranian people guarantees that it will be.

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End the War on Yemen

The Washington Post calls for an end to U.S. support for the war on Yemen:

It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war.

Naturally, I agree with the editorial calling for a halt to U.S. support for the Saudi coalition. I have been saying much the same thing ever since the war on Yemen began in 2015. This is an important sign that pressure is building on the administration and the Saudi coalition because of the many documented war crimes that the coalition has committed with U.S. assistance. The call for ending U.S. support for the war is three years late, but it is nonetheless welcome.

The Trump administration will ignore the Post‘s call to end the war just as they are ignoring the conditions set by Congress on U.S. military assistance to the coalition. Congress will have to do much more than that if they are going to force the administration to cut off the Saudis and their allies. Challenging the president on war powers is the only sure way to do this. It is essential that members of Congress recognize that U.S. support for the war on Yemen is both abhorrent and illegal, and they must put a stop to it. The Senate failed both the U.S. and Yemen when they blew their chance to do this earlier this year, and they should make up for that failure now.

No U.S. interests have been served through involvement in this war. On the contrary, the war has undermined U.S. security, bolstered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and made our government complicit in numerous war crimes. U.S. participation in the war has been a shameful, ugly affair that will go down as one of the worst policies in modern U.S. history. Our government has spent the last three years helping cruel despotic regimes devastate and starve a poor country whose people did nothing to us and posed no threat to anyone. Many tens of thousands of Yemenis have already perished, and millions more lives are at risk from starvation and disease as long as the war drags on. The U.S. has it in its power to put an end to it, but our government has to be willing to anger and alienate the reckless clients that it has supported up until now.

U.S. involvement must end at once, but beyond that it is crucial that the U.S. never enable another senseless war like this again. Our government’s relationships with the Saudis and the UAE in particular will have to be reevaluated and significantly downgraded in the coming years, and the baleful influence of their governments on our foreign policy debate needs to be exposed and countered. It will not be enough to halt an atrocious policy if the causes of that policy are left untouched.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

America’s Gulf “allies” are making the world a more dangerous place. Kate Kizer ties together the reckless and destructive behavior of U.S. Gulf clients.

Saudis try to spin the optics of dead schoolchildren. Michael Horton observes that the “price of America’s and Britain’s complicity with the Saudi government is mounting” in the wake of the coalition school bus massacre in Yemen.

Why Iran won’t negotiate with Trump. Mehdy Shaddel explains the Iranian government’s reasons for refusing any more talks with the U.S.

Saudi Arabia’s problem: capital flight. Karen Young reports on the kingdom’s stalled reforms and worsening economic woes.

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Trump’s ‘Iran Action Group’

Then-Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-KS, speaking at a rally in 2013. He faces a senate grilling for his secretary of state nomination today.Mark Taylor/Creative Commons

Earlier today, Mike Pompeo announced the creation of the Iran Action Group in the State Department dedicated to advancing the administration’s destructive and cruel Iran policy. In keeping with the administration’s previous statements about its policy and the nuclear deal, the Secretary’s statement was riddled with lies and misleading comments:

In May of this year, President Trump withdrew from the flawed Iran nuclear deal, which failed to restrain Iran’s nuclear progress or its campaigns of violence abroad. In its place President Trump has instituted a campaign of pressure, deterrence, and solidarity with the long-suffering Iranian people.

As anyone with the slightest familiarity with the nuclear deal knows, Pompeo’s first claim about the nuclear deal is a ridiculous, easily refuted lie and the second claim is irrelevant. The one thing that the JCPOA definitely did was restrain Iran’s nuclear program by putting it under significant restrictions and the most intrusive inspections regime ever. The nuclear deal was never going to change Iran’s other behavior, and there was never any chance that negotiations on the nuclear issue could have been successful if the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 had tried to include other issues in the talks. The Trump administration has certainly started a campaign of pressure, but for that very reason its professions of solidarity with the Iranian people are empty and insulting. The administration’s pressure campaign seeks to strangle Iran’s economy, and that means strangling the population along with it.

The creation of the Iran Action Group formalizes an Iran policy that inflicts cruel collective punishment on the Iranian people while pretending to care about their welfare. Pompeo’s announcement happened to fall on the 65th anniversary of the 1953 U.S.-backed coup. The administration’s Iran policy reflects the same contempt for Iran and its people that our government showed then.

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The U.S. Is Aiding and Abetting Saudi Atrocities in Yemen

There have been dozens of Saudi coalition airstrikes on civilian vehicles in Yemen this year, and coalition investigations almost never fault coalition forces:

The bombing of a bus full of schoolchildren last week was just one of more than 50 airstrikes against civilian vehicles by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen so far this year, according to new data.

The data also shows that the monitoring body set up in Riyadh purportedly to investigate incidents of civilian casualties has supported the Saudi military version of events in almost every case.

The Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) has not issued comprehensive statistics but has instead issued periodic press statements. And according to an analysis by Human Rights Watch (HRW), out of 75 incidents where civilian casualties were reported, JIAT has admitted Saudi rules of engagement may have been broken in only two.

The frequency of coalition attacks on these vehicles confirms their blatant disregard for civilian lives that we have seen repeated again and again over the last three years. As the Yemen Data Project has shown, at least close to a third of coalition strikes hit civilian targets in the last year. That figure has been consistent for the last several years. The number of civilian vehicles attacked by the coalition this year is higher than the year before, so that should put to rest the idea that the U.S. has done anything to “improve” how coalition conducts itself in this war. There can’t be measurable improvement in protection of civilians when all signs keep pointing to the coalition’s frequent, deliberate targeting of civilian vehicles and structures. Perpetrators can’t be trusted to investigate themselves, and the Saudi coalition has proven to be most untrustworthy. When the U.S. and U.N. allow the Saudi coalition to investigate their own crimes, they are aiding the Saudis and their allies in covering up massacres.

Some in Congress see through this charade:

“When the Saudi-led coalition’s investigative process basically says they are not responsible for ninety-something percent of these airstrikes hitting civilians, it calls into question the legitimacy of that process,” said Ted Lieu, a Democratic congressman from California.

This week Lieu wrote to the acting inspector general at the Pentagon calling on him to launch an investigation over whether US service members providing support for coalition air operations, or US officials selling arms to Saudi Arabia, “could be responsible for aiding and abetting war crimes”.

The congressman told the Guardian: “I believe both the US and United Kingdom and other governments providing support to the Saudi-led coalition could be liable for war crimes.”

When the U.S. and U.K. governments are providing coalition forces with the means to carry out these attacks, and when they do so knowing that it is likely that the coalition will use them to kill civilians, it is difficult to see how both governments couldn’t be guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes. The pattern of atrocity and cover-up over the last three years is impossible to miss, and the U.S. and U.K. are complicit in all of it.

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The War on Yemen’s Horrible Consequences

The New York Times reports additional details about the aftermath of the school bus massacre in northern Yemen:

Ali Abdullah Hamlah, a local bakery owner, said he heard the explosion and saw a huge cloud billow from the site before seeing a young man covered in blood dragging himself away. Mr. Hamlah approached and saw the bodies of seven children scattered around.

“In some cases, only the upper bodies of the kids were found,” he said. The mangled body of one child was found on the roof of a building, propelled by the force of the blast [bold mine-DL].

Videos shot in the aftermath show the demolished bus with the lifeless bodies of two boys on the floor. Other boys are on the ground nearby. Some struggle to move. Others are dead and eviscerated, their remains mixed up in the street with the detritus from the explosion.

“It was the first time in my life that I have seen such a horrific massacre,” Mr. Hamlah said.

There can be no justification for the attack on the school bus in Dahyan. A bus in a crowded market is not a military target, but it was deliberately blown up anyway. There is no doubt as to who is responsible, and there is no question that the bombing of a bus full of small children constitutes is a war crime. It also appears that the bomb that killed them was sold to a member of the coalition by the U.S., and it is more than likely that the U.S. military refueled the plane that dropped it. Our military claims that it doesn’t know what the coalition does with the weapons and refueling that they provide, but ignorance is no defense when our government has every reason to believe that our military assistance is being used to kill civilians.

This attack is just one among thousands of other attacks on civilian targets carried out by the Saudi coalition since the war began. It is an especially egregious example of how the war on Yemen is killing the country’s children. Many tens of thousands of Yemeni children are dying each year from preventable causes because of this war, and their deaths go mostly unremarked and unnoticed in the U.S. It is horrifying that it takes the massacre of over three dozen small boys to force our media and our government to pay close attention to what U.S. policy has been making possible for more than three years, but perhaps at least now more Americans will understand the consequences of our indefensible support for this war.

Civilian deaths from coalition airstrikes have risen in the last year, and they are likely to keep rising if the coalition’s offensive on Hodeidah is not stopped. Just this week coalition airstrikes claimed at least another 13 lives and injured two dozen more civilians in Hodeidah. Fatik Al-Rodaini of the charity Mona Relief reported another two dozen killed in airstrikes yesterday:

The Saudi coalition clearly isn’t reducing the number of civilians that they kill in their attacks. As the Times report notes, the coalition keeps doing the same things they have been doing for years:

“The Saudis aren’t learning,” said Larry L. Lewis, a former State Department official who visited Saudi Arabia five times in 2015 and 2016 to help the country’s air force improve its targeting procedures and investigations. “They’re making the same mistakes they’ve been making all along. And we are not pressing the issue. We are letting them get away with it.”

The Saudis and their allies must not be allowed to get away with it any longer. The administration won’t hold them accountable, so Congress and the public have to do it. There is increasing Congressional scrutiny of U.S. policy in Yemen, but there needs to be much more than there has been. If the president is going to ignore the conditions that Congress sets on military assistance to the coalition, Congress will simply have to cut off that assistance entirely.

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The War on Yemen and Everything That’s Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy

Micah Zenko calls for a halt to U.S. support for the war on Yemen:

It is time to phase out and terminate America’s support for the Saudi-led component of this civil war, and, more importantly, never again go to war, or support other’s wars, without purpose or objectives.

Zenko was one of the earliest critics of this policy when Obama started it over three years ago, and he correctly pointed out then just how absurd it was that the U.S. was backing a war because our government supposedly couldn’t stop it from happening. Supporting the Saudi coalition’s intervention was the worst foreign policy decision Obama made as president, and continuing that policy is easily the worst and most destructive decision Trump has made since taking office. The rationalizations for this support may change over time, but they are no more compelling or credible today than they were three years ago. Whether the U.S. is “reassuring” despotic clients or resisting imaginary Iranian “expansionism,” there is no justification for what the U.S. has enabled the Saudis and their allies to do to the people of Yemen.

When the military intervention began, it was called Decisive Storm because it was expected to be successful and quick, but it was never going to be either of those things. Over 40 months later, it has unfortunately become even worse than the horror that opponents of this policy warned that it would be at the start. The Saudi coalition absurdly claimed to be fighting for the stability of Yemen, but it has thrown the country into chaos and worsened all of its existing divisions. Just as I feared it would, outside intervention intensified and prolonged the existing conflict and the civilian population has paid the highest price as a result. An already poor country has been kicked into the abyss of famine and cholera thanks to relentless coalition bombing and a strangling blockade, and all of it has been done with the ongoing blessing and support of our government.

Our government’s support for the war on Yemen exemplifies all of what is worst in U.S. foreign policy. It began with the unthinking, automatic backing for “allies” that we aren’t actually obliged to assist, and it continued with the pathetic refusal to hold those states accountable for their numerous war crimes. The president committed the U.S. to involvement in a foreign war without Congressional debate or authorization, and the U.S. has remained illegally involved in the war ever since. The military intervention itself was a war of choice, and the U.S. then chose to support it when there was nothing requiring our government to do so. U.S. interests have been consistently subordinated to the interests of Saudi and Emirati clients to the detriment of all concerned.

The threat that the intervention was supposedly countering was grossly exaggerated in order to justify attacking a country whose people had done nothing to the intervening governments and who posed no threat to the U.S. Instead of using our government’s considerable leverage to rein in our clients after they committed war crimes, both the Obama and Trump administrations indulged these governments and helped cover for them at the U.N. for fear of losing influence. The government defends its support for these states as both vitally important and therefore beyond question while also claiming that it is so limited that it doesn’t need to be authorized by Congress. When our clients commit war crimes, the U.S. feigns ignorance of what they’re doing with our support, but when Congress tries to cut them off the administration insists that it is far too important to end.

The Saudi coalition war is Exhibit A of what Barry Posen would call “reckless driving” by U.S. clients, and presidents from both parties have encouraged them in that recklessness. Despite more than three years of failure, the U.S. persists in supporting the coalition when it should be obvious that backing the war has been a colossal error. All of this has happened in plain view, and yet it has been mostly ignored at home. The Obama and Trump administrations are able to avoid scrutiny and criticism because Congress can’t be bothered to do its job and most of the foreign policy establishment has no real problem with the policy. Most of the costs are borne by the people of Yemen and therefore those costs remain largely invisible to the American public, but they are no less horrifying for all that.

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