Tag Archives: iran

Have the Military Responses to 9/11 Been Equal to their Costs?

By Marc Seltzer; originally published on September 11, 2009, at care2.com

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Reflecting on 9/11 includes thinking about eight years of foreign policy. What concerns me is the massive commitment we have made in two foreign wars and the uncertain accomplishments we have to show for it.

In Afghanistan and then Iraq we invested tremendous human and economic resources.  We may in the long run succeed in giving Iraq the opportunity to create a functioning democracy, but the cost was high.

In Afghanistan, it is still not clear that a positive outcome can be achieved, although the committment of sufficient resources may also bring results that were not possible previously.

During President Ronald Reagan’s eight years in office, he responded to various threats without engaging in a substantial ground war.  When he chose to react with force to Libyan terrorism, he bombed Moamar Gadaffi’s compound.  Gadaffi survived, although immediate family members were killed in the attack.  One military act, with small risk to our forces and cost to our economy, backed up by economic sanctions.  We did not attempt to replace a regime or transform a society.

Since then, Gadaffi has renounced terrorism and sought to comply with international norms. Gradually, sanctions have been removed and Libya has begun its return to the community of nations.

President Reagan did commit tremendous national resources to oppose the Soviet Union, the major Cold War threat.  But despite “Star Wars’” failings, the U.S. investment in missile-shield technology fostered American economic and technological superiority, which ultimately forced the Soviet Union to change.  Not all former soviet states are success stories today, but many are, and the 30-year threat of nuclear war subsided.

Since 9/11, the loudest complaints about our use of force have been over justification for our invasion of Iraq.  Those who believe that military action wasappropriate focus on security to be gained from defeating the enemy and establishing stable government.  What about the security to be lost, if we demonstrate that we are unable to accomplish our mission or unwilling to face new threats (Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs), because we have already given too much?

Our military proves itself every day in discipline, bravery, organization and tactics.  But do our political leaders have the strategic wisdom to use force so that we achieve the most for the least expenditure of precious resources?

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Tweeting the News from Iran

By Marc Seltzer; originally published June 17, 2009 at http://www.politicsunlocked.com/index.php/article/tweeting_the_news_from_iran/25911

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Reporting through Twitter while other outlets are banned

A literary theme familiar in the United States is that government may one day use technology to oppress its people. George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four planted the seed of awareness in the Western mind, and as radars have come to watch our speed on the road, cameras look for criminal behavior indoors and satellites listen to our telephone calls, we have become concerned about the growing power of “Big Brother.”

Could Orwell have imagined that the tables may be turned on oppressive governments in the 21st century? Following the June election in Iran, the Islamic Republic is turning off the technology in hopes of restricting communications among its stirring populace. Journalists are restricted from covering protests. Major news organizations are unable to penetrate the events with video cameras and microphones.

However, regular Iranians are reporting from the streets by Twitter. A social networking site popular among celebrities, Twitter conveys short messages, including images and websites by Internet URL link from a cell phone, handheld digital device or computer. Followers around the world receive updates from the homes, offices and streets of Tehran.

To get a sense of what can and cannot be conveyed in the 140 characters that each “Tweet” is limited, to I have copied a recent series of communications (each of the following paragraph blurbs were originally separate “Tweets”):

  • it is now dawn in tehran – streets are quiet – we must move from here – this was good internet connection but not ours – #Iranelection
  • last night thousands stayed in streets between Parkway and Vanak sq until after 2am – #Iranelection
  • unconfirmed – several Generals have been arested – #Iranelection
  • unconfirmed – military has refused orders to shoot protesters – #Iranelection
  • Kamenei is under pressure and fighting for survival – without ANejad his authority is finished – #Iranelection
  • large demo today outside tehran tv-radio headquerters – Karroubi attended – #Iranelection
  • support for Mousavi in Tabriz is v-high – many protests – #Iranelection

While Twitter is not a major news outlet with live reporting and video, it is still contemporaneous to the events reported. There are questions of credibility as a consequence, such as who is really Tweeting, which we cannot always know. In fact, some Twitter communications have warned that the Iranian Government is setting up fake Twitter sites, spreading false information to protesters.

On the other hand, Twitter has been used to guide hundreds of thousands of protesters to rallies and redirect them quickly and efficiently when locations or times are changed. Reports on the arrest of leaders, the number of participants at government and opposition rallies, and action or lack of action by the police and military are also reported.

A few of the hot Twitter sources are: “Persiankiwi”, “Irannewsnow”, and “StopAhmadi”. The U.S. State Department reportedly asked the executives at Twitter, located in California, to forego a scheduled maintenance shut down in order to keep the Tweets coming during the Iranian crisis. Traditional print and broadcast reporters have been told that they cannot report on events in Iran without permission of the government, and that permission is not being given freely. As events unfold, you may be able to piece together facts on the ground in Iran using updates from Twitter sources.

While the outcome of the election conflict in Iran remains to be seen, at this point, the public is using technology to further democratic ends. Where there is no free press, information still flows from person to person through the Internet. Where the government tries to restrict public assembly, instant communication helps people organize and connect in protest beyond the reach of the government. And, where the government tries to control the story, the truth gets out. George Orwell, who wrote during the consolidation of Soviet authoritarianism, might be surprised. He would certainly be pleased.

Changing Global Priorities

Our new foreign policy must prize cooperation over competition.

Barack Obama took office fifty-one days ago, assuming the presidency during a crucial time for American foreign policy. Instability in key areas is on the rise, and the economic contractions around the world are likely to bring unrest, violence, and change to a degree previously thought impossible.

The United States may be tempted to face the nations of the world with the same preferences and policies as before. A different party is in power now, but aside from his position on the war in Iraq, President Obama has not yet voiced foreign-policy positions that differ substantially from those of the preceding administration.

He should.

George W. Bush singled out North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as evildoers early in his presidency. He approached each nation differently, taking regime change to Iraq, sanctions to Iran, and bilateral negotiations to North Korea. Each of these nations had taken positions troubling to American interests. The Bush administration’s actions, most dramatically in Iraq, can be debated and the results evaluated for their long-term effectiveness. But in recent years, the geopolitical landscape in which those three nations stood out as dangers is all but gone.

Today Pakistan looks more precarious than Iran, Iraq, or North Korea ever could have. As Pakistan transitioned toward more democracy in October 2008, it also became less stable. It has always tolerated militants operating within its borders. Recently, a large area in the country’s northern region, known as the Swat Valley, has become a haven for Taliban, giving them opportunities to fundraise, organize, and plan operations in Afghanistan and beyond. The Pakistani government has agreed to bring the entire region under Sharia, the Islamic system of religious law, in a concession to local leaders, and officials have claimed to be negotiating with moderate elements of the populace in order to undermine radical groups.

For now, the United States must decide how to handle events in Pakistan as they affect our goals in Afghanistan. But in the long run, the United States will have to face the fact that Pakistan itself could descend into civil war, state-sanctioned radicalism, or general and indefinite instability. Pakistan is a substantial nuclear power; fringe elements of its population have already, on numerous occasions, exported terrible violence to neighboring India and Afghanistan. The danger of militant possession of nuclear weapons must be mitigated and planned for.

The U.S. has also regarded China and Russia with too much distrust. The corruption and authoritarianism of these nations runs against the fundamental principles of open, democratic society; individual liberties are compromised in both countries, and there is nothing that we would recognize as a free press. Like the United States, these nations have issues of security, but theirs are more dire and occur closer to home — China has North Korea on its border; Russia faces insurgent activity in Chechnya and Dagestan.

Now is the time for mutual cooperation and assistance. The recent skirmish between Chinese and American vessels would not have happened between friendly nations. More can be done diplomatically to find points of agreement, so that these three great powers can be allowed to focus their collective resources on international problem-solving, not rivalry.

Both China and Russia have loosely followed our free-market model, although their economies are informed by far too much authoritarian power from the state. Neither country is a threat to our national security or that of our allies, in the long run. Indeed, it seems reasonable to expect that coöperation between China, Russia, and the West will continue to bring gradual reform to those nations, as it has in the past. China’s government is far more open and its leadership far more accountable today than it was twenty years ago. The forthcoming diplomatic era must be one of accord and common ground, not withdrawal and alienation.