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Regime Change Is Wrong

Eric Edeleman and Ray Takeyh dispense with the usual hawkish smokescreens and evasions and call for regime change in Iran:

“Regime change” is a toxic phrase in Washington. It conjures up images of the Iraq war, with the United States trapped in a quagmire of its own making. That is why those who favor a coercive U.S. approach to Iran are routinely charged with secretly supporting regime change. In response, the accused almost always deny it. They don’t want regime change, they insist: they just want the Islamic Republic’s theocrats to change their behavior.

But no such transformation will ever take place, because the Iranian regime remains a revolutionary movement that will never accommodate the United States. That is why regime change is not a radical or reckless idea but the most pragmatic and effective goal for U.S. policy toward Iran—indeed, it is the only objective that has any chance of meaningfully reducing the Iranian threat.

Edelman and Takeyh are as wrong as can be, but their article does have the virtue of being a straightforward case for this terrible idea. There is no need to tease out the implications of their position to figure out that they want to destabilize the region and cause more massive upheaval, because they tell us this right from the start. At the very least, it saves us some time.

Regime change is a toxic phrase in that few people want to describe their regime change policies that way, but it is evidently not yet a toxic idea if it can still be openly promoted in the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations. The phrase is closely associated with the Iraq war, but it can describe other kinds of destructive interventions in the affairs of other nations. U.S.-backed coups are examples of regime change, and they are horrible and dangerous without needing an American invasion. Intervention in Libya was another regime change war that threw the country into chaos that it still has not recovered from, but there was no quagmire for the U.S. That will be small consolation for the thousands who have perished in the ensuing power struggles. The U.S. helped to fuel the war in Syria with another attempt at regime change. That one failed, but the attempt still contributed to greater loss of life. The record of U.S.-sponsored regime change is bloody and ugly, and it is has reliably made things worse in the countries that suffer from it. That is the future that advocates of regime change propose for Iran: violence, devastation, and displacement.

Iranians understandably don’t want their country to be turned into the next Syria or Libya, so pushing for regime change in their country has nothing to do with what the Iranian people want or need. The “Iranian threat” is a comically exaggerated one since Iran lacks the capabilities to threaten the United States and our treaty allies, so this also has nothing to do with making the U.S. more secure. Regime changers want to bring down the Iranian government because its existence offends against U.S. hegemony and because regime change suits the interests of U.S. clients in the region. Neither of these is a good reason for destabilizing a country of more than eighty million people. Then again, there is no good reason to do that, because doing that is deeply wrong. Regime change is wrong, and those that advocate for it are advocating for wrongdoing.

It is very unlikely that the U.S. can bring about regime change in Iran short of an invasion, but it would be a terrible idea even if it could. Look around the region, and you will see that the countries that have suffered regime change or attempted regime change are among the most miserable in the world. Regime collapse leaves the population at the mercy of armed gangs, and the fight over who replaces the old regime condemns the people to years of living in hell. This does not make the surrounding countries any safer, because they are then forced to deal with the influx of refugees, the proliferation of weapons to extremists, and increased insecurity along their own borders. Instability in a neighboring country also invites some states to fish in troubled waters by backing this faction or that in order to carve out spheres of influence. A destabilized, chaotic Iran would give all of the worst governments in the region opportunities to make mischief. All of this would expose U.S. forces in the region to more dangers. Depending on what replaced the old regime, it might very well create a state that is more aggressively hostile to the U.S. than the current one. That is made more likely if the U.S. was the one responsible for triggering the chaos in the first place.

If Edelman and Takeyh’s prescription of regime change is terrible, their diagnosis of Iran is also badly flawed. They recycle a very dated, ideological interpretation of the Iranian government that hasn’t been accurate in decades. They continue to insist that it is committed to “a revolution without borders” when it has long since settled into being a reactive and opportunistic actor interested primarily in regime preservation and Iranian security. The way that they describe Iran today is like describing the Soviet Union in the 1970s as if Trotsky were still in charge of the Red Army. No doubt Edelman and Takeyh would have denounced detente, too, and they would have made similarly hard-line arguments against it, because they cannot accept the possibility that the revolutionary bogeyman they have been railing against throughout their careers is not what it used to be.

When Edelman and Takeyh talk about promoting regime change, they mostly mean covertly compromising members of Iranian civil society and labor unions:

Adopting the goal of regime change will not be terribly costly, but it will require a stepped-up program of covert action to aid those elements within Iranian civil society that are contesting the regime’s legitimacy. Chief among those are professional syndicates, such as labor unions and teachers’ unions, which have gone on strike to protest government policies and actions, and student groups, which have organized protests on college campuses.

Few things could be worse for genuine Iranian dissidents than to be associated with U.S. covert operations, and the “aid” that they propose to give these groups amounts to a death sentence. The best thing that the U.S. could do to help Iranian civil society is to stop strangling their economy and stop making the lives of ordinary Iranians miserable, and after that it should stop trying to “help” at all. Iran hawks still can’t or won’t acknowledge that most Iranians view our government very unfavorably, and they resent our constant attempts to interfere in their country. As much as many Iranians dislike their government and wish to see significant political change, there is no desire for U.S.-sponsored for regime change. If regime change “must be undertaken by the Iranians themselves,” then it isn’t going to happen and the U.S. will need to learn how to live with and cooperate with the current government.

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The Shakedown of South Korea Has Failed

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President , Donald Trump in November 2017. By Korea Culture and Information Service/Public Domain

The Trump administration’s attempt to strongarm South Korea into a large increase in spending on the basing of U.S. troops has failed:

Trump, they say, already rejected what was probably Seoul’s best offer ahead of its mid-April parliamentary elections – an increase of at least 13% from the previous accord, two of the officials said.

That offer and decision to reject it by the U.S. president, the details of which have not been previously reported, leaves the United States and South Korea at an impasse, even as outbreaks of the coronavirus threaten to undermine U.S.-South Korean military readiness for any potential conflict with North Korea.

The impasse described in the report is the latest example of how the Trump administration’s inflexible maximalism always leads to diplomatic failure. South Korea was willing to offer a significant increase, but because it was not the exorbitant sum of a five-fold increase in spending that the president initially demanded he wouldn’t accept. No government is going to agree to a 500% increase in cost-sharing all at once, and this has always been a non-starter for South Korea. It is also extremely unpopular with the South Korean public.

As usual, the all-or-nothing approach to negotiations leaves the U.S. coming away with nothing. The administration’s shakedown of an ally was ill-advised from the start, but in addition to straining relations with Seoul unnecessarily the administration can’t even point to any gains for the U.S. The president’s made a preposterous demand that the other government would never agree to, and then refused to compromise on that demand no matter what. This hard-line posturing was no more effective with South Korea than it was with Iran or North Korea in the past. Because the president wrongly assumes all relationships are zero-sum, he uses any concession on the U.S. side as proof that an agreement is a bad one, and so he is incapable of successfully concluding any agreements with allies or adversaries.

The practical effect right now is that thousands of Korean workers on U.S. bases have been furloughed for the first time:

One of the most tangible results of the breakdown in the talks has been the roughly 4,000 South Korean workers on U.S. bases furloughed as a result of the failure to reach a deal by an April 1 deadline. The United States says it needs the South Korean cost-sharing contributions to help pay their wages.

Abraham Denmark, a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said this was the first time furloughs had been carried out since the alliance was created in 1953.

The top commander of American forces in South Korea described the furlough as “unthinkable” and “heartbreaking,” but it was much harder to avoid once the U.S. insisted on an unreasonably large sum from South Korea. The fault for the furloughs lies with the excessive demands from Washington. The absurd thing about this impasse is that South Korea is one of the best allies in terms of providing for their own defense and helping to pay for the cost of U.S. troops. There are many examples of allies and clients that genuinely do “free-ride” on U.S. protection and skimp on their own military spending, but South Korea isn’t one of them. It’s not entirely clear what has motivated the administration’s special animus towards South Korea, but it is an ongoing problem that is undermining the alliance and creating considerable ill-will in Seoul towards the U.S.

Nothing could be worse for the cause of burden-sharing than hectoring one of our most responsible allies and letting the worst free-riders get away with doing as little possible.

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Crozier Should Be Reinstated

Capt. Brett Crozier addresses the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) during a change of command ceremony in November 2019. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean Lynch/Released)

The New York Timesreports on the outbreak on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and their account includes a few important new details. According to the report, the ship’s reactor department was hit first. The ship’s doctors warned the captain that the outbreak could mean more than 50 dead sailors on the ship. When the captain finished composing his letter, the senior officers serving under him wanted to co-sign it, but he insisted on taking sole responsibility for it:

He showed the email to a handful of the most senior officers on the ship. They told him they wanted to sign it, too. Captain Crozier, fearing for their careers, told them no.

The fact that the captain’s senior officers agreed so strongly with his assessment of the situation and his recommendation to evacuate the ship tell us that the captain was not “panicking” under pressure, as the former acting Secretary of the Navy claimed, but was taking what he believed to be the necessary action to protect the crew under his command. He understood the possible implications for himself in sending the letter, but he did it anyway because it was the correct thing to do under the circumstances. He could have allowed his subordinates to sign on and risk their careers alongside his, but instead he shouldered the responsibility alone. If you wanted a better example of outstanding leadership, you would be hard-pressed to find it. The more that we learn about the events of the last two weeks in connection with the outbreak on the carrier, the more it becomes clear that the captain did a hard but necessary thing and removing him from command was a serious error that should be rectified.

Guy Snodgrass recently made the case for reinstating Crozier to command of the carrier in acknowledgment that removing him was a mistake:

Restoring Captain Crozier would demonstrate unequivocally that even senior leaders can make mistakes, learn from them, and correct them when the situation warrants. His restoration to command would also reinforce the U.S. Navy’s desire for commanding officers to make difficult decisions under incredible pressure regardless of the consequences.

The news article’s reference to the doctors’ warning reminded me of something I had seen in the San Francisco Chroniclereport from last week about the lack of protective equipment for the carrier’s cleanup crews. The Chronicle reported this:

San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Chronicle that she was “extremely disappointed” with the Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been told that they have adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), but if they have adequate PPE, why wasn’t there a sufficient amount flown out to the Teddy Roosevelt?” she said.

Speier said she spoke last week with Modly, the former acting Navy secretary, who told her Crozier had been “spooked by the doctors.” [bold mine-DL]

“Well, that’s precisely what he had a responsibility to do, is get spooked by the doctors, and that comment gave me the impression that the secretary was not taking this seriously enough,” Speier said.

In this case, getting “spooked by the doctors” meant taking their warnings about dozens of preventable deaths seriously. If Modly thought that this was a failing on Crozier’s part, that is more evidence that Modly didn’t understand the first thing about Crozier’s position and that he underestimated the danger from the virus. During a pandemic, we should hope that political and military leaders get “spooked by the doctors,” because the doctors are the ones who best understand the nature of the threat. The governments whose leaders were sufficiently “spooked by the doctors” have responded effectively and quickly, and those that ignored the doctors’ warnings or tried to minimize the problem have presided over debacles. Which kind of leader do we want in charge of one of our aircraft carriers? Obviously, it’s the former.

The Times report notes that the ship’s medical department has since come under scrutiny after Crozier’s removal:

The dismissal and subsequent investigation hit the ship’s medical department hard right away. The same day Captain Crozier walked off the ship for the last time, Adm. Robert P. Burke, the Navy’s second-highest admiral, called the senior medical officer aboard the carrier as part of his investigation. Admiral Burke criticized the doctor, saying he had failed as a leader. In interviews, two crew members said Admiral Burke’s tone was hostile.

The only way that the medical officers on the carrier would have failed as leaders is if they had failed to give the captain their honest assessment and advice on a matter affecting the crew’s health. If they are being chewed out and attacked by their superiors for doing their jobs, there is something seriously wrong going on.

A new report from the Chronicledetails the difficult conditions on the carrier:

But some crew members and their parents paint a bleaker picture of the situation on the Roosevelt, which has been docked in Guam for more than two weeks. In that time, infection rates among its crew have soared, the ship’s commanding officer was ousted after The Chronicle reported on his letter pleading for help, and Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned after blasting the captain in an address to the ship’s crew, saying the captain had betrayed them.

On Thursday, the Navy announced the first hospitalization of a Roosevelt sailor. The unidentified crew member, who had tested positive, was found unresponsive. By Saturday, the Navy reported that 550 sailors from the ship have tested positive and 92% of the crew had been tested. Almost 3,700 sailors had been moved off the ship, nearing the limit the Navy has said it would remove.

The dramatic increase in the number of cases in just the last two weeks vindicates the captain’s concerns as legitimate and timely. The evacuation still falls short of what Crozier was calling for, and the remaining crew still doesn’t have the protective equipment they need to clean and run the ship safely. More than five hundred sailors and the captain have tested positive (the latest figure is 585 sailors), and it is not hard to imagine how that number might have been far higher if the captain had not raised the alarm when he did.

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Blessed Is He That Cometh in the Name of the Lord

Lord's Entry into Jerusalem 3 - Holy Trinity Icon Studio

By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the common resurrection, 0 Christ God! Wherefore, we also, like the children bearing the symbols of victory, cry out to Thee, the Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Captain Crozier was right, and his sailors knew it. Andrew Bacevich responds to Crozier’s removal and the crew’s reaction.

How did the U.S. end up with nurses wearing garbage bags? Susan Glasser reports on the federal government’s failure to provide essential equipment to health care workers.

Why the Navy’s coronavirus crisis became a political crisis. Lawrence Korb comments on the controversy surrounding the outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and the removal of Capt. Crozier.

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Contesting the Iranian Revolution: Understanding the Green Movement

Iran’s Green movement was the largest popular protest since the revolution of 1978-79, and it was the most significant domestic upheaval in the history of the Islamic Republic. But what was its relationship to the revolution, and how did it use the imagery and slogans of the Islamic Republic in protest against that same government? These are some of the questions that Pouya Alimagham answers in Contesting the Iranian Revolution: The Green Uprisings, his outstanding study of the uprisings of 2009 and 2010. While the uprisings failed in overturning the results of the 2009 election, they constituted a major mobilization of millions of Iranians who belonged to a long Iranian tradition of demanding their political rights and resisting government abuses. The Green movement anticipated the broader upheavals that took place in the next decade across the region, and to some extent served as an inspiration for those later uprisings. The Green movement is also one of the most frequently misunderstood and misrepresented political movements in recent history, so this book is a very welcome addition to the debate.

Alimagham reviews the Islamic Republic’s founding to show how the Green movement protesters used the earlier protests in the revolution as models, and then he shows how movement activists took over and subverted the slogans and images that were central to their government’s claims to legitimacy. Instead of simply rejecting the state’s slogans and appeals to religious authority, the movement adapted them to their own purposes and used them against the government. Through each successive chapter, Alimagham follows the development of the uprisings from the beginning in June 2009 until the end of the protests the following year, and using the social media and video records created by the activists he details how they took the government’s own revolutionary rhetoric and symbols and made them their own. The result is an informative and subtle account of a significant political movement in recent Iranian history that still has relevance for the internal political debates inside Iran today.

The book begins with an introduction to the history of the Islamic Republic beginning with the events of the revolution and the political developments inside the new system leading up to 2009. The story hinges on the 2009 election, of course, and both the campaign leading up to it and the initial reaction to Ahmadinejad’s questionable “victory” are covered at length. From there we are immersed in the thought and arguments of Green movement activists and writers. The final two chapters show how Green movement activists made use of the government’s official rhetoric and symbolism. The first focuses on the activists’ use of the issue of Palestine and the celebration of Quds Day to challenge the government. One set of activists attacked the government’s support for Palestine because they saw it as hypocritical when the government was abusing its own people, and another group more explicitly likened the struggle of the protesters to that of the Palestinians and cast the Iranian government in the role of the oppressive occupier. It is the second group in particular that Alimagham focuses on and he describes it as the “more consequential” of the two. These activists were engaged in a kind of “political jiu-jitsu,” as he says. Directly comparing themselves with Palestinians, they used slogans such as, “Why are you sitting when Iran has become Palestine?” and “Enough killing–whether in Iran or Gaza.” Alimagham comments:

The power of these slogans and signs lay in the belief that if what was happening in Palestine was unjust, as the Iranian government has stressed for three decades, then how could the injustice transpiring in Iran be acceptable? (p. 184)

Green movement protesters would do something very similar with the official rhetoric and symbolism surrounding the Ashura commemoration of the death of the third imam, Husayn, at Karbala at the hands of the caliph Yazid and his followers. The protesters not only used the occasion of Ashura to organize large protests, but they co-opted the message of resistance to injustice and oppression that was at the heart of the commemoration. The commemoration of Husayn’s martyrdom that year happened to coincide with the mourning days for the Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, who had been one of the original creators of the Islamic Republic and was at one time Khomeini’s expected successor before falling out of favor. In the twenty years since he fell out of favor with the government, Montazeri had been an acerbic critic of the system’s failings and abuses, so it was fitting that protesters against that system mourned for him and transformed that mourning into political action. Montazeri’s own criticisms echoed and anticipated the protesters’ grievances with the government, and they were in some respects picking up where he left off. Before he died, Montazeri had already spoken out in opposition to the election result and the ensuing crackdown, and the protesters then seized the opportunity to speak up for him and their own cause after his death.

Alimagham has done a fine job of understanding and explaining the ideas and motivations of Green movement activists largely on their own terms and using their own words. It is an important work of scholarship, and anyone that wants to understand modern Iran better would benefit from reading it. This study deepened and improved my own understanding of the modern political scene in Iran, and I think it will be a valuable reference work for a long time to come.

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Restraint and Reorienting U.S. National Security

Oona Hathaway makes the case for radically reorienting U.S. national security policy to address the real significant threats to the country. Among other things, that means winding down the endless war and our preoccupation with militarized counter-terrorism:

If one believes, as I do, that the fundamental goal of a national security program should be to protect American lives, then we clearly have our priorities out of place. Just as the 9/11 attacks led to a reorientation of national security policy around a counterterrorism mission, the COVID-19 crisis can and should lead to a reorientation of national security policy. There should be a commission styled on the 9/11 Commission to assess the failures of the U.S. government, both federal and local, to respond to the pandemic and to chart a better course forward. Until then, a few key steps that we should take are already clear:

First, we should spend less time and resources on counterterrorism efforts abroad. The “endless wars” that began after 9/11 should finally come to a close.

The U.S. should be ending the “war on terror” in any case because the threat does not merit the enormous resources devoted to fighting it, and the militarized overkill over the last two decades has helped to create far more terrorist groups than there were before it began. On top of that, the U.S. has much bigger concerns that pose far greater and more immediate threats to the lives of our people and to our way of life than terrorism ever could. A pandemic is a threat that is now obvious to all of us, but for the last two decades it was not taken nearly as seriously as imaginary Iraqi WMDs and potential Iranian nukes. We have been straining at gnats for at least half of my lifetime, and when the real danger appeared many of us were oblivious to it. Not only have other threats been blown out of proportion, but the more serious threat that is now upon us received virtually no attention until it was already upon us. Like Justinian wasting decades waging useless wars, we have been caught unawares by a plague, but in our case we have far less excuse because there were many warnings that something like this was coming and could be brought under control. Nonetheless, we allowed our defenses against it to grow weaker, and the current administration did as much as possible to dismantle what was left.

Once the immediate crisis is over, the U.S. needs to shift its focus away from fruitless military campaigns in Asia. We need to reallocate resources away from the bloated military budget, which has had so little to do with actually protecting us, and plow most of those resources into pandemic preparedness, scientific research, and building up a much more resilient health care system. Pandemics aren’t wars, but guarding against pandemics is an important part of national security and it is arguably much more important than having the ability to project power to the far corners of the world. Because pandemics are global phenomena, guarding the U.S. against them will entail more intensive international cooperation than before. Hathaway continues:

One clear lesson of this crisis is that when it comes to a pandemic, no nation can protect itself on its own. International cooperation is essential. The World Health Organization has played an important role in battling the virus. But it has been hobbled by limited funding, and it’s busy fundraising to support its work even as it’s trying to undertake ambitious programs. The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, has been mostly absent from the conversation. The pandemic is global and it requires a global approach. But these international institutions have not had the funding or the international support to play the role they should have in coordinating a quick global response to the spread of the virus. When this crisis is over, it will be essential to evaluate how to coordinate a faster, more effective global response when the next pandemic arises.

All nations have a shared interest in pooling resources and sharing information to bring outbreaks like the current one under control. As tempting as it may be for some hard-liners to engage in great power rivalry in the midst of such a disaster, the responsible course of action is to pause these contests for the sake of resolving the crisis sooner. The U.N. response has been hobbled by mutual recriminations between some of the permanent members of the Security Council, specifically the U.S. and China, and if there is to be an effective and coordinated global response that sort of demagoguery and point-scoring will have to end.

Scaling back the size of the military budget will necessarily involve reducing the U.S. military footprint around the world. It is not reasonable or safe to expect a smaller military to support a strategy of primacy. Primacy was always unsustainable, and it was just a matter of time before the time came when it would have to be abandoned. It turns out that the time for abandoning the pursuit of primacy came earlier than expected. The U.S. should have started making this transition many years ago, but recent events make it imperative that we begin now.

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The TR’s Cleanup Crews Need Protective Equipment Now

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is moored pier side at Naval Station North Island (2016) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jimmi Lee Bruner/Released)

The story of the coronavirus outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt has not ended. The San Francisco Chroniclereports today that the sailors given the job of running and cleaning the ship lack proper protective equipment, and they are reduced to using T-shirts as masks:

As the Navy races to contain a coronavirus outbreak on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt, sailors left onboard to maintain and disinfect the ship are doing so with minimal protective equipment, fashioning homemade masks out of T-shirts at the direction of the Pentagon.

Some are working while they await test results, not knowing if they are spreading or catching the virus.

Multiple family members of sailors aboard the carrier confirmed to The Chronicle that their relatives were making face coverings of what they had on hand, including torn T-shirts. The Pentagon has ordered military members to cover their faces when they can’t maintain safe physical distance, but has not widely distributed masks or other personal protective equipment.

Roosevelt sailors were given latex gloves to use while cleaning the ship but little else, family members said. Sailors quarantined onshore in Guam also have little or no protective equipment, one Roosevelt crew member said.

The point of evacuating most of the crew and cleaning the ship is to reduce the spread of the virus, but if the sailors that remain on board lack the proper protection that makes it much more likely that hundreds more sailors will be needlessly infected. Getting protective equipment to the sailors remaining on the carrier ought to be a top priority for the Navy, and it is unacceptable that they don’t already have this equipment as they do this dangerous work. You wouldn’t ask people fighting a fire to do it without appropriate protection, but on the carrier and in hospitals all over this country people are being made to work in dangerous conditions without the necessary gear. Failing to provide protective equipment means that many more sailors will likely get sick, and that means that it will take that much longer for the ship to get underway again.

The military does not lack the supplies to provide the sailors with protective equipment, but that equipment is still not getting to them:

San Mateo Rep. Jackie Speier, who chairs the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, told The Chronicle that she was “extremely disappointed” with the Navy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been told that they have adequate PPE (personal protective equipment), but if they have adequate PPE, why wasn’t there a sufficient amount flown out to the Teddy Roosevelt?” she said.

The Chronicle‘s report is a good example of how journalism is often essential to getting sailors and soldiers the equipment and help that they need more quickly. If not for the original report in the Chronicle last week, the situation on board the carrier might not have received the attention it deserved. If not for this report the unacceptable working conditions on board the ship might not have come to light. There needs to be this follow-up reporting to make sure that the help that the sailors were promised last week actually arrives. Unfortunately, the effort to get the crew the help they need seems to have slowed:

“Their jobs can put them in harm’s way at times, but they understand and prepare for those situations. This has been different,” said one family member, who like other relatives spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared reprisals against Roosevelt sailors.

When The Chronicle reported that the Roosevelt’s former commanding officer, Capt. Brett Crozier, had pleaded with superiors for help evacuating the vessel in Guam, “I felt relieved that they would get the resources they needed and things seemed to move forward quickly,” the family member said. “But it feels like it has lost momentum. … I do have faith they will get through this, and I know many are working hard supporting that effort.”

Only 2,000 sailors have been evacuated so far, and more than 200 have already tested positive for the virus. The number of sailors evacuated to Guam is much lower than what the captain was talking about in his letter last week, and keeping so many on board represents an ongoing risk to their safety. Congress and the press need to keep shining a light on this situation until more sailors are evacuated and the sailors working on the carrier get the equipment they need to ensure their safety as the ship is being cleaned.

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The U.S. Is Wrong to Block Iran’s Loan

Iran President Rouhani and U.S. President Trump. Drop of Light/Shutterstock and Office of President of Russia.   

Iran has been seeking a loan from the International Monetary Fund for the first time in almost sixty years to help them fight the pandemic. The U.S. is expected to block the loan:

The U.S. plans to block Iran’s requested $5 billion emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund for funding Tehran says it needs to fight its coronavirus crisis.

Advocates for sanctions relief have also been calling for the IMF to approve this loan request in recognition that Iran needs all the resources it can get to get the pandemic under control. Hadi Ghaemi, an Iranian human rights activist, mentioned it in his appeal for sanctions relief last month:

Time is of the essence. The U.S. government should immediately suspend all sanctions that affect the delivery of humanitarian goods to Iran, including banking sanctions on Iran, and vote yes on the $5 billion emergency funding Iran has requested from the International Monetary Fund.

The official excuse for blocking the loan is that the administration assumes that Iran doesn’t need the loan and granting the loan will allow them to divert other funds to support for proxies. This is a very tired excuse, and one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Iran’s government has every incentive to bring the outbreak under control. The assumption that they will use the loan as an opportunity to send more money to their proxies relies on a cartoonish, ideological view of the country. Iran hawks assume that Iran wants to exploit the pandemic to engage in more “adventurism” because that is what they have been hoping to do. Iran hawks think that this is their best chance to bring about regime change, and they are willing to let the pandemic consume many thousands of innocent lives to that end.

It would be possible to approve the loan while getting assurances from Iran on how the money would be used, and that could then be monitored to verify that the loan was used for its intended purpose:

Brian O’Toole, a former senior Treasury Department official in the Obama administration, said that the U.S. should promise not to veto an Iranian loan from the IMF “to purchase humanitarian goods, assuming sufficient oversight to prevent diversion.”

There are ways to make this loan work in a way that benefits the Iranian people first and foremost, but the administration evidently isn’t interested in exploring them.

Opposition to the IMF loan is consistent with the administration’s ghoulish opposition to sanctions relief, and it makes a mockery of U.S. offers of assistance. When presented with an opportunity to sign off on something that Iran is specifically requesting that would aid them in a pandemic, the Trump administration refuses to get out of the way. The administration doesn’t even have to do anything in this case to allow Iran to get some help. All they have to do is not oppose it, but even that is too much to expect from them.

The Iranian government has handled the outbreak incompetently in the first few months, but they have also been hampered by lack of resources and equipment caused by sanctions. Our Iran policy has contributed significantly to the Iranian people’s suffering, and allowing this loan to go through is an opportunity to repair some of that damage. Of course, the U.S. should lift sanctions as well, but until that happens it should not block this loan. The Iranian people will remember that our government refused to lift a finger for them when they needed help in an emergency.

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