IPS Blog

Emphasis Added: The Foreign Policy Week in Pieces (5/17)

“When did the economy become more important than life itself?”

In the new way of reckoning, a carbon tax to prevent the atmosphere’s temperature from rising to dangerous levels would be “too expensive.” So too would be a thorough cleanup after a nuclear attack or accident, which is why the White House has endorsed a plan to relax decontamination standards. The health of businesses, not of people, is what newscasters monitor daily, if not hourly — as if the Dow Jones Industrial Average took the pulse of the nation, rather than that of 30 corporations.

Your money or your life, Dawn Stover, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Does Peace Have to Be This Expensive?

… the nation’s nuclear weapons programs … has cost at least $9.8 trillion in 2013 dollars — costlier than all other government expenditures except Social Security and non-nuclear defense programs. … In short: Nuclear weapons have been the United States’ third-highest national priority since World War II, in terms of dollars, and we spend a fortune every year to manage and secure them.

The Prophets of Oak Ridge, Dan Zak, the Washington Post

Democracy in Name Only

At some point shortly after the end of the Second World War, democracy reached its apex in countries such as Britain and the US. … it has been declining ever since [and] have reached the downward slope of the arc. The formal structures of democracy remain intact. People still vote. Political parties vie with each other in elections, and circulate in and out of government. Yet these acts of apparent choice have had their meaning hollowed out. The real decisions are taken elsewhere. We have become squatters in the ruins of the great democratic societies of the past.

There is no alternative, Henry Farrell, Aeon magazine

How Did Austerity Hawks Miss This?

… everybody cannot cut their way to growth at the same time. To put this in the European context, although it makes sense for any one state to reduce its debt, if all states in the currency union, which are one another’s major trading partners, cut their spending simultaneously, the result can only be a contraction of the regional economy as a whole. Proponents of austerity are blind to this danger because they get the relationship between saving and spending backward. They think that public frugality will eventually promote private spending. But someone has to spend for someone else to save, or else the saver will have no income to hold on to. Similarly, for a country to benefit from a reduction in its domestic wages, thus becoming more competitive on costs, there must be another country willing to spend its money on what the first country produces. If all states try to cut or save at once, as is the case in the eurozone today, then no one is left to do the necessary spending to drive growth.

The Austerity Delusion, Mark Blyth, Foreign Affairs

“He knew exactly which ones to push”

[Russian Foreign Minister] Lavrov had a particular knack for infuriating [Secretary of State Condoleeza] Rice: He had “perfected the art of irritating Rice,” wrote Glenn Kessler, who covered her for the Washington Post. “He knew how to push her buttons to get her annoyed,” said Kramer, Rice’s former assistant secretary. “He knew exactly which ones to push.”

Minister No, Susan Glasser, Foreign Policy

Priggishness Does Not Become Us

This isn’t an argument for using military force in Syria, or Iran, or anywhere else — maybe the use of force is justified and useful and maybe it’s not. But if we in fact intend to accept the “unacceptable” and tolerate the “intolerable,” we would be wise to develop a different and more nuanced vocabulary. … our absolutist rhetoric [is] just obnoxious — and its sheer obnoxiousness makes it dangerous. The rhetoric of “unacceptable” and “intolerable” risks generating and reinforcing the very bad behavior we’re trying to stop — not just because each empty threat further reduces our credibility, but because our general stance toward the world has become so hectoring and schoolmarmish.

Would Machiavelli Have Drawn a Red Line?, Rosa Brooks, Foreign Policy

Right-Wing Think Tank’s Racist Report Distorts Prospects for Immigrants’ Future

Jason Richwine, who just resigned from the Heritage Foundation.In 2007 the Heritage Foundation played a major role in derailing immigration reform. This year it tried to replicate its success by publishing a study claiming that unlawful immigration and amnesty would cost U.S. tax payers approximately $6.3 trillion dollars. However, their ploy to sabotage immigration reform failed in dramatic fashion. Not only were their exaggerated estimates on the cost of amnesty resoundingly refuted by both conservative and liberal groups, but their entire report appeared to hinge on a premise that reeked of racism.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s study, one of the primary reasons immigration reform would cost so much is that a typical undocumented immigrant lacks adequate education. And poorly educated individuals, according to the study, “are net tax consumers: the benefits they receive exceed the taxes they pay.”

This notion of the undocumented being “poorly educated” comes directly from Jason Richwine, one of the coauthors of the study. Richwine got his Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard University, where he wrote a dissertation titled IQ and Immigration Policy. In it he claims that Hispanics have on average lower IQs than their Caucasian counterparts. Moreover, he writes, “[n]o one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” In other words, Hispanics will probably never be as smart as white people.

Richwine goes on to say that the IQ disparity between the two races explains why Hispanics have never been able to fully assimilate into American culture and why they are more likely to accept government handouts: “When given the choice between a paycheck from a low-paying job and a welfare check, most intelligent people would realize that the welfare check offers them no potential for advancement. Low-IQ people do not internalize that fact nearly as well.”

There you have it: Hispanics are dumb. Dumb people rely more on government handouts. Therefore, Hispanics will use more government handouts than the average citizen and as a result they will drain the government of its resources. Keep them out!

To the Heritage Foundation’s credit, it is a straightforward argument.

Nevertheless, the argument is horribly flawed. This year Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college at higher rates than whites. There is a substantial income gap between whites and Hispanics, but each successive generation of Hispanics continues to narrow this gap. No to mention the fact that Hispanics have served in almost every U.S. war and have received 44 Medals of Honor, the third most for any ethnic group. Not bad for a people who failed to “assimilate.”

Despite the fact that the Heritage Foundation’s study is faulty at best and racist at worst, it’s still hugely informative. The study offers a genuine glimpse of what many, especially on the right, think about Hispanics. Many Hispanics, including this writer, have generally felt that opposition to immigration reform does not stem from some intellectual argument, but from visceral emotions driven by xenophobia. The study produced by the Heritage Foundation has proven this point to be correct.

Luckily, the Heritage Foundation is in the minority. According to a CNN/ORC international survey, 84% percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

America is known as the melting pot of the world. Immigrants from across the globe call this place their home. The notion pushed by the Heritage Foundation that Hispanic immigrants need to assimilate is not only paradoxical but also deeply offensive. America is a country that embraces immigrants and all the diversity that comes with them; it doesn’t assimilate them into a homogenous stew. E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. Most Americans seem to understand this, even if the Heritage Foundation does not.

Javier Rojo is the New Mexico Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

This Week in OtherWords: May 15, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jill Richardson warns readers gearing up for their summer barbecues about the rise of superbugs. Those antibiotic-resistant bacteria are getting hard to avoid if you buy meat in American supermarkets.

We also have an op-ed by Raul A. Reyes on the Heritage Foundation’s ill-fated report that was supposed to pinpoint the high cost of giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. As Reyes explains, this “study” instead exposed the think tank’s shoddy research standards and the racist outlook of one of its lead authors.

OtherWords normally releases all our newsroom-ready commentaries on Wednesday mornings, but we make exceptions for work tied to breaking news. Following the resignation of disgraced report co-author Jason Richwine, we ran this op-ed on Saturday instead. We’re increasingly tinkering with our timing, so please visit our website more often. When you do, be sure to check out our blog, where we offer bonus commentaries by Jim Hightower. This week, we’re featuring our columnist’s hilarious salute to Rep. Louie Gohmert and other political “nincompoops.”

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. The Swinging Electorate / Marc Morial
    Despite formidable efforts to disenfranchise African Americans in 2012, a larger percentage of black voters than white voters turned out at the polls to assure Obama’s victory on Election Day.
  2. License to Kill / David Reingold
    Without environmental regulations, many companies would gladly poison you to earn bigger profits.
  3. No Junior Partner / Jess Hunter-Bowman
    Could someone please tell Secretary Kerry that Latin America is no longer our “backyard”?
  4. Heritage’s Immigration Nightmare / Raul A. Reyes
    If the conservative think tank’s intent was to derail immigration reform, that’s a losing battle.
  5. Uncle Sam: Please Tax the Titans / Donald Kaul
    Don’t ask me what a hedge fund is — if I knew, I’d manage one.
  6. A Primer for Taming Corporate Power / Sam Pizzigati
    For social change, slow and steady may win the race.
  7. Those Uninvited Guests at Your Barbecue / Jill Richardson
    With most samples of several common store-bought meats testing positive for antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” factory farming practices must change.
  8. The Parched Truth About American Jobs / Jim Hightower
    The recent good news about job creation obscures the bad news facing the nation’s middle class.
  9. Don’t Fence Me In / William A. Collins
    The prosperous are further isolating themselves physically, as well as economically, from the rest of us.
  10. Superbugs at the Supermarket / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Superbugs at the Supermarket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Superbugs at the Supermarket, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

President Obama Tries to Pass Guantanamo Closure Buck to Congress

Cross-posted from the People’s Blog for the Constitution.

GuantanamoAs the hunger strike at Guantánamo has widened to include all of the men held there, President Obama recently announced that he would renew a push on Congress to close the prison and examine his administrative options. However, the implication that Congress is preventing the closure of Guantánamo is at best disingenuous.

Obama has the power to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo right now. The president himself has placed a uniform ban on transferring any prisoners to Yemen, a collective punishment policy that he could reverse immediately. He could also release prisoners by issuing a certification through the Department of Defense and State that the administration has steps to assure the secure release and monitoring of the prisoners.

Moreover, President Obama’s seemingly newfound rhetorical opposition to indefinite detention runs counter to the policies of his administration. While he may have tried to move the prisoners to the United States, he still wanted them indefinitely detained, in violation of the Constitution and International Law. This has left even supporters of his detention policy befuddled.

The Guantánamo hunger strike can only be ended by the administration taking meaningful steps to close the prison. Those steps can begin immediately by releasing the 86 men who have been cleared for release by the government itself. The remaining men should either be given a speedy and fair trial or released as well.

The men at Guantánamo are resolute to peacefully protest through a hunger strike until they receive justice. One of them, Moath Hamza Ahmed al-Alwi put it this way:

I do not want to kill myself. My religion prohibits suicide. But I will not eat or drink until I die, if necessary, to protest the injustice of this place. We want to get out of this place. It is as though this government wishes to smother us in this injustice, to kill us slowly here, indirectly, without trying us or executing us.

Currently, 21 of the men, including Mr. al-Alwi, are being force-fed in violation of medical ethics. The force-feeding process is brutal, as was described by one prisoner in an New York Times op-ed and can constitute torture, if undertaken as a form of punishment.

As the hunger strike continues, people across the world are pushing for the closure of Guantánamo and an end to indefinite detention. A change.org petition started by a former Guantánamo prosecutor, calling for the prison’s closure, has gained over 100,000 signers in less that two days. From May 17-19, people of conscience will stand together to demand that President Obama close the United States’ forever prison.

Michael Figura is a legal fellow for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

Expand Nuclear Weapons Programs to Protect Missileers’ Tender Psyches

On May 8 we posted about an article by Robert Burns of the Associated Press, in which he reported that the Air Force removed authority to control – and launch – nuclear missiles from 17 officers of the 91st Missile Wing in Minot, North Dakota after they were given a poor review for a series of mistakes.

In a follow-up piece, Burns asks Is There a Morale Crisis in the US Nuclear Force? He reports:

Inside the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape, two officers stand watch, authorized to turn the keys enabled by secret launch codes if the presidential order ever comes. … Publicly, the Air Force insists that its missileers, as they are known within the service, are capable, trustworthy and committed. But Air Force Secretary Michael Donley also acknowledged in congressional testimony that he worries that talk of further shrinking the nation’s nuclear force is having a “corrosive effect” on his troops.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said at the same congressional hearing that it’s understandable that young missile officers may be demoralized by the realization that theirs is a shrinking field.

“You say, ‘My goodness, there’s only three (missile wings in the entire Air Force). There’s no opportunity there,'” Welsh said. “That’s actually not the case, but that’s the view when you’re in one of those units.”

While “That’s actually not the case” might be true technically, any opportunity may just be a higher rank and more responsibility in a field that’s, nevertheless, “shrinking.” (Not fast enough to our liking!)

Though it may not be exactly what they mean, one could be forgiven for jumping to the conclusion that Secretary Donley and Gen. Welsh are recommending expanding our nuclear-weapons program to prevent missileers from growing discouraged and help them keep their heads in the game.

I know what you’re thinking: would that their jobs oppressed them because the fate of the world lies on whether or not they push a button. (Or toggle a series of switches or whatever.) But, hey, you’ve got to be pretty hard-hearted towards missileers and their sensitive psyches to deprive them of more nukes.

Burns reports on the real reason for their bleak career prospects (emphasis added).

Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and now a national security scholar at Princeton University, said Friday that morale has dropped in part because the ICBM mission that originated in 1959, deterring the Soviet Union from attacking the U.S. or Europe, is less compelling than it was generations ago.

“This dead-end career is not the result of shrinking nuclear arsenals, but rather because the Cold War ended decades ago and because so few senior commander jobs exist within the missile specialty,” Blair said. “Most crews can’t wait to transfer out of missiles into faster-track careers such as space operations, but the Air Force doesn’t make it easy.”

While they wait for those transfers, maybe the Air Force can take a cue from “the missile launch capsules, so called because of their pill-like shape” and dole out Prozac to their missileers. It’s a lot cheaper and less risky than expanding our nuclear-weapons program to boost their morale.

Spirit of Boondoggle Departs Quashed Los Alamos Project, Finds New One to Possess

Thanks in large part to lawsuits filed by the Los Alamos Study Group, last year the Obama administration halted the construction of the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Nuclear Facility (CMRR-NF) at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The research for which it was earmarked was on plutonium pits, which is where the chain reaction of a nuclear weapons occurs. Even if you believe in nuclear weapons, the need for new pits is nonexistent because they’re noted for their longevity.

How difficult it is to discontinue researching and manufacturing plutonium pits is a microcosm for how the nuclear weapons-industrial complex itself endures. In February at Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman reported that, without the CMRR-NF, Los Alamos would

… instead permanently parcel out work to an array of smaller buildings. [The] institution’s director said. … “I’m concerned that in the current fiscal crisis, it may no longer be practical to plan and build very large-scale nuclear facilities,” Charles McMillan, who heads the New Mexico research site, said at a three-day conference on nuclear deterrence in Arlington, Va. “A new path forward is needed.”

On May 7, a Los Alamos Study Group [LASG] press release stated:

After more than a year since a halt to new funding was announced for [the CMRR-NF], a few details about the latest plan to construct a large-scale “pit” factory complex have begun to emerge.

Note that McMillan’s use of the phrase “very large-scale nuclear facilities” referred to the two main buildings of the planned CMRR-NF. The complex that LASG refers to is smaller buildings, as Ms. Grossman reported. More from the press release:

It is now clear that the “interim” “plutonium sustainment” plan [in lieu of the CMRR-NF – RW] of last year is but the first part of a much larger, multibillion dollar plan spanning approximately two decades, which could easily exceed CMRR-NF in final scope, cost, and possibly in size.

The new plan aims not just to replace the capabilities once envisioned for … CMRR-NF but also to supplement or replace some the most dangerous and demanding capabilities of LANL’s large main plutonium facility.

This year’s plan is certainly much larger than the … “interim” plan … in pit production capacity, physical scale, environmental disruption, cost, and duration [and] includes everything in the “interim plan” plus construction of underground laboratory and production “modules” connected by “tunnels” to the [large main plutonium facility].

Furthermore, states LASG Director Greg Mello:

“There are as yet no firm mission requirements, no project definition, no total estimated cost, no requested line item, no analysis of alternatives, no environmental impact statement [EIS], and no schedule for this project. Despite these deficiencies, despite wasting $500 M and ten years on the last plan, and despite NNSA’s abysmal management record, the agency now claims that hundreds of millions of dollars must be spent each year, starting right now, to get this ‘non-project project’ going.”

Mello then hints at how difficult it is to put the nail in the coffin of these projects. Like monsters or slashers in horror movies, they have a discouraging habit of rising up like phoenixes just when you think you’ve killed them dead.

“No U.S. warhead requires new pits, so none of this is about maintaining warheads. Pit aging is not even mentioned in the April 8 letter as a driver for this project.”

What purpose would new plutonium pits serve then? From the press release again.

The need for new pit production is tied to these two proposed Life Extension Projects (LEPs), which congressional and administration officials have described to us as, essentially, new warheads:

• A proposed W78/W88 “interoperable” Air Force/Navy warhead for land-based and sea-based missiles. Depending on the design chosen and the size of the “build,” [it] might require pit production.

• The proposed “Long-Range Stand-Off” (LRSO) missile warhead [which] too might require pit production.

The spirit of boondoggle flees the dying host of one project, only to seek out another to possess. We can never truly drive a stake may never be drive into nuclear weapons until the Unholy Trinity of waste, pork, and campaign financing is exorcised from the body politic.

Portugal Struggles to Meet Troika Conditions

As the dust settles on the Cyprus bailout, a recent court ruling places the so-called Troika—the European Central Bank (ECB), European Commission (EC), and International Monetary Fund (IMF)—back into the headlines as it finds itself at odds with another Eurozone country.

After months of deliberation, on April 5th the Constitutional Court of Portugal struck down four of nine proposed budget cuts that would have raised 4 billion euros over three years as part of payment plan for a 78-billion-euro bailout.

This includes a ruling against the government’s plan to eliminate one of two extra “bonus” months in the summer and its decision in January to cut sickness and unemployment benefits. This court decision will cost Portugal around 1.2 billion euros in savings.

Following the court’s ruling, foreign creditors decided to withhold further loan payments until the situation resolved itself. In order to qualify for the next loan installment, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho must convince the European Union and the IMF that he can raise the funds lost by the court’s ruling through other means.

The IMF has continued to call for a reduction in state-provided health services and state pensions based on its determination that these sectors resulted in the largest increases in government spending. The IMF also found that there is “excess employment” in the education and security sectors. In order to meet this demand, Coelho has requested that the constitution be revised to shrink the state, thus allowing the originally prescribed cuts.

The opposition Socialist Party has resisted this move, making it unlikely that Coelho will secure the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament to amend Portugal’s constitution. Instead the Socialist Party has called for an early election, convinced it would gain control of the country despite failing to oust Coelho’s center-right government through an earlier vote of no confidence. Once in power the party could then begin negotiations for a new bailout.

Possible Respite

In a surprising show of leniency, the European Union finance ministers agreed to extend the maturity dates of Portugal’s loans by an average of seven years. This decision grants Portugal enough flexibility to issue a 10 year-bond, a move that will once again grant the country access to European bond markets.

However, the plan was still conditional upon approval from the Troika. The ruling by the constitutional court and the subsequent Portuguese scramble to secure funds has caused concern for the Troika. Because of fears that Portugal might not be able to bring its budget back in line, the Troika delayed their approval pending further discussions with the Portuguese government.

Prime Minister Coelho has announced that while he will not raise taxes, he will institute new spending cuts totaling 1.2 billion euros. Although he did not reveal the specifics, Coelho did announce that half would still come from the health and education sectors, cuts in social security and pension benefits, and cuts in other government offered services. The other half would come from cuts in ministries’ budgets.

The Portuguese government met with the Troika on Monday April 13th to discuss the specific cuts it plans to make to meet its 2013 budget. After this meeting Coelho announced that the government plans to raise the retirement age and make public sector employees work an extra hour daily. The government also plans to lay off around 30,000 government workers. The Troika returned to Lisbon this week to determine if this latest round of proposed cuts are enough to once again disburse rescue funds.

The Troika has somewhat relented during the early days of these meetings, granting Portugal permission to sell its 10-year bond. Thus far bond sales have raised around 3 billion euros. However, negotiations to see if the Troika will once again begin to disburse bailout payments are still ongoing.

Underlying Problems

Up until this point Portugal had been an obedient pupil in the Troika’s austerity regime. The Center Right Party was able to push through tax hikes and cuts in social services. Unlike other struggling eurozone countries such as Greece, Ireland, and Cyprus, Portugal merely suffered from years of low growth and private sector investment—not questionable fiscal policies.

And there were brief signs of improvement following structural reforms, at least by the Troika’s standards. For example, unit labor costs have fallen, exports have risen, and the current account balance is moving in the right direction.

However, other economic indicators tell quite a different story. The budget deficit has widened from 4.4 percent of GDP in 2011 to 6.4 percent in 2012, the economy shrank by 3.2 percent, and unemployment is expected to reach 19 percent.

Augusto Praca, international relations advisor for Portugal’s largest trade union confederation, the CGTP, emphasizes that “most of our economy has disappeared. Companies are going bankrupt. There is no investment, and the government is only interested in paying back our loans.” And similar to Cyprus there is a youth brain drain, with one in 10 graduates now leaving Portugal for Brazil. This is not surprising considering how hard young people have been hit in Portugal; the jobless rate for those aged 15 to 24 is 42.1 percent.

Even if the Troika agrees to Portugal’s proposed 2013 budget, most economists and many European officials agree a second bailout may still be necessary.

So what are the implications for the rest of the Eurozone now that one of its star pupils has stumbled? However unlikely it may be, hopefully the situation in Portugal serves as a wake-up call for the Troika. Unless it begins to focus on policies that stimulate demand throughout the entire Eurozone, Portugal may not be the only country lining up for another bailout.

Bryan Cenko is an intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Syria: Great Game or Just a Tug of War?

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

John Kerry and Bashar al-Assad in better times.

The visit by US secretary of State John Kerry to Russia earlier this week gave hope that an imminent diplomatic breakthrough in Syria is on the horizon. The reason for this hope is the realizationthat a military solution in Syria has proven much more difficult than expected. The Syrian army and the opposition are unable to deliver a decisive victory against one another after three years of battle that cost over 70, 000 Syrian lives and millions of refugees.

The Syrian conflict is much more complex than expected because it quickly evolved into a regional and international tug of war between great powers like the US, Russia, China, Iran, and Israel, and minor players like Jordan and the Gulf States. Each of those countries is vying for its own interests in this important regional country.

For China and Russia, the real issue is not just to prevent the US and Israel from dislodging an important ally and converting Syria from an important regional player into a US satellite state, but to challenge the US policies and hegemony around the world as rising super powers.

For Iran, the loss of the Syrian regime would end its historic expansion in the Levant and would isolate its Hezbollah colony in Lebanon. It is very important for Iran, moreover, which views itself as a regional powerhouse with regional interest and allies, to maintain its foothold in the Mediterranean and at Israel’s doorstep.

Its historic alliance with the Syrian regime gave Iran a much-needed Arab face that it used to increase its presence and influence in the region. More importantly, however, Iran uses the Syrian regime as well as Hamas and Hezbollah, as a first line of defense against its arch-enemy Israel.

Israel, in the meantime, sees the Syrian conflict as an important element in its wider conflict with Iran. Moreover, deposing the Damascus regime is a strategic imperative for Israel to ensure its supremacy over all of the Arab states especially after converting Iraq from a powerful Arab state with regional ambitions into an Iranian satellite and failed state.

Within the conservative American and Israeli movements Syria and Iran were supposed to be the next target after the war in Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein. Having powerful unfriendly Arab states in the Middle East can pose a future danger to US and Israeli hegemony in the region and is something that should be addressed according to the neoconservative thinking in the US and Israel.

The war against Iraq that saw the establishment of the Bush doctrine of “preemptive war” was supposed to start the remaking of the Middle East and create surgical chaos before new weakened and fragile states emerge. Such states would depend on the US for their survival and pose no threat to Israel for decades to come.

The administration of President Barack Obama came in to power with the intention to roll back the Bush doctrine of preemptive wars in the Middle East and prevent Israel and its neoconservative allies from completing their overarching strategy of remaking the Middle East into chaotic and fragile states. Ironically, what made this strategy so successful was none other the Arab dictatorial regimes themselves. The regimes of Saddam Hussein and Bashaar al Assad were brutal and oppressive dictatorships and inherently inflexible toward more democratic reform and allowing their citizens breathing space outside their suffocating control. Demolishing such regimes that lack basic legitimacy in the eyes of an oppressed citizenry proved much easier than expected.

Obama’s cautious approach toward Syria put a stop on the US and Israeli drive to remake the Middle East and forced the Israeli leadership to halt its war plans, for now, at least, against Iran.

The biggest prize for Israel is Iran, not Syria, but Syria is a necessary step toward defeating Iran by defanging its Syrian and Lebanese allies. This explains why conservative and powerful American lawmakers like John McCain and Lindsey Graham are pushing the Obama administration toward more active military involvement in Syria that goes beyond diplomatic and financial support for the opposition and the refugees.

While the Obama administration also views Iran, and, to a lesser extent Syria, as a major threat to its interests in the region, its approach toward dealing with it is less confrontational and definitely not through military means. The irony of this is that the Obama administration ended up becoming a lesser threat to Iran and the regime of Bashaar al Assad because it considers clandestine operations, diplomacy, and containment as the best approach toward containing Iran and its Syrian ally. Kerry’s meeting with the Russian leadership is clear evidence that the Obama administration is hoping to coax the Russians and the Chinese to support an international conference to end the conflict in a manner acceptable to all concerned. Unless different kind of variables emerges on the ground, such as a military confrontation with Israel, or large-scale use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, the Obama administration is content with a management approach to the Syrian conflict.

Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: [email protected] and on Twitter at @clearali.

Would Pakistan Respond to India’s Use of Conventional Weapons With Tactical Nukes?

It’s debatable how much nuclear weapons add to national security. But what’s undeniable is that they add layer upon layer of complexity, sprinkled with convoluted and even counterintuitive thinking (such as how missile defense systems are seen as an offensive act), to national defense. By way of example, on April 30, in the Times of India, Indrani Bagchi, wrote:

India will retaliate massively even if Pakistan uses tactical nuclear weapons against it. [It] will protect its security interests by retaliating to a “smaller” tactical attack in exactly the same manner as it would respond to a “big” strategic attack.

Two questions immediately arise.
1. Why did Pakistan develop tactical nuclear weapons?
2. Why would India respond disproportionately to the use of what’s often referred to as “battlefield” nuclear weapons? (Not to diminish their power or, by any means, condone a state’s possession of them.)

First, we’ll quote Ms. Bagchi, who quotes Shyam Saran, the convener of India’s National Security Advisory Board. Speaking for nuclear-weapons policymakers in New Delhi, Mr. Saran “placed India’s nuclear posture in perspective in the context of recent developments, notably the ‘jihadist edge’ that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability have acquired.” (No, jihadis haven’t – yet anyway – insinuated themselves inside Pakistan’s nuclear-weapons program.)

Answering question one, Saran said that Pakistan hopes (according to Indian policymakers), by developing tactical nuclear weapons,

“ … to dissuade India from contemplating conventional punitive retaliation to … cross-border terrorist strikes such as the horrific 26/11 attack on Mumbai. What Pakistan is signalling to India and to the world is that India should not contemplate retaliation even if there is another Mumbai because Pakistan has lowered the threshold of nuclear use to the theatre level. … This is nothing short of nuclear blackmail.”

You can see how nuclear weapons have the power to cloud men’s minds. Pakistan (if the Indian policymakers are correct) thinks that it can keep India from retaliating to yet another terrorist attack. With the same dearth of commonsense that Pakistan exhibits in the above passage (if true), India then declares that it won’t just retaliate with tactical nukes, but with strategic nuclear weapons.

Never mind that the best way to keep India from retaliating is, obviously, to refrain from attacking. Of course, that beggars the question of whether Pakistan can keep its militants from attacking India (except for when it wants them, too).

Providing an answer to question two, Saran says (emphasis added):

“India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary. The label on a nuclear weapon used for attacking India, strategic or tactical, is irrelevant from the Indian perspective.”

Re what’s emphasized: ever notice how often bravado and black humor intersect? To buttress his argument, Saran claims:

“A limited nuclear war is a contradiction in terms. Any nuclear exchange, once initiated, would swiftly and inexorably escalate to the strategic level.”

In any event, another answer to question one may exist. Ms. Bagchi writes that Pakistan may – also? primarily? – have developed tactical nuclear weapons

… to keep its weapons from being confiscated or neutralized by the US, a fear that has grown in the Pakistani establishment in the wake of the operation against Osama bin Laden.

Western policymakers might be inclined to shoot down this line of thinking as a conspiracy theory. But, as historian Agha Humayun Amin, a former major in the Pakistani Tank Corps, writes in a recent ebook

The Pakistani military perception right from 2001 was that the USA was a threat for Pakistan’s nuclear program and US arrival in Afghanistan had more to do with Pakistan and less with the Taliban. Therefore the Taliban had to be supported. As long as the Americans were busy with the Taliban, Pakistan or Pakistani nuclear assets were safe.

This Week in OtherWords: May 8, 2013

This week in OtherWords, Jason Salzman makes the case against the Koch brothers’ potential purchase of the Los Angeles Times and other Tribune Media newspapers while Jim Hightower weighs in on the larger context behind the recent garment worker tragedy in Bangladesh.

Here’s a clickable summary of all our latest commentaries and a link to our new cartoon. If you haven’t already subscribed to our weekly newsletter, please do.

  1. Turning Journalism into a Joke / Jason Salzman
    Obama’s serious comments about the value of journalism stand out as the Koch brothers consider buying the Los Angeles Times.
  2. Ohio’s Poorly Performing School Assessment / Chris Schillig
    Test scores don’t tell the whole story.
  3. Fighting the Foodopoly / Wenonah Hauter
    Only four gigantic companies process 80 percent of the beef we eat.
  4. Middle Eastern Re-Run / Donald Kaul
    Unless you have something better that can replace a brutal regime like Assad’s government in Syria, what can you accomplish with military intervention?
  5. How We Pay for CEO ‘Performance’ / Sam Pizzigati
    A gaping tax loophole pads executive pay and the federal debt.
  6. Hollow Bee Hives May Threaten Our Lives Too / Jill Richardson
    The United States should follow Europe’s example and ban pesticides that may be wiping out these key pollinators.
  7. Fashion Victims / Jim Hightower
    The gravitational pull of corporate greed makes clothing factories prone to disasters like the recent tragedy in Bangladesh.
  8. Our Stake in Guatemala’s Genocide Trial / Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins
    Thirty years after Ríos Montt’s atrocities, U.S. military policy in Latin America remains a human rights disaster.
  9. Made in Bangladesh / Khalil Bendib cartoon
Made in Bangladesh, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Made in Bangladesh, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

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