“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The United States can negotiate with Iran on items of mutual interest, accepting that Iran has different interests and will continue competing with the U.S. on many fronts

Failure to Cooperate with Iran Against ISIS Will Open the Door To Greater Risk

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson
September 17, 2014

Council for Foreign Affairs
This commentary comes courtesy of Major Ben Fernandes, U.S. Army, a CFR term member and PhD candidate at George Mason University. He argues that the issues of Iranian nuclear weapon development and the anti-ISIS effort cannot be viewed in isolation. A push to arm “moderate” Syrian rebels without Iranian consultation could quickly antagonize Iran, whose leaders do not draw the same distinctions between the Sunni militant groups. This could result in a renewed Iranian push for nuclear deterrent—and increase the risk of regional destabilization.
By Ben Fernandes
Recent media coverage and U.S. policy pronouncements focus heavily on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) without effectively addressing how it relates to other regional security concerns.  Many foreign policy experts and senior U.S. officials acknowledge that ISIS, Iranian nuclear weapon development, and regional instability threaten U.S. interests.  However, several foreign policy experts seem to misunderstand Iran and the underlying causes for security problems in the Levant.  Furthermore, senior U.S. officials including Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, understand that preventing Iranian nuclear weapon development represents a “number one goal.”.  Regardless of which challenge is greatest, failure to prioritize and link the various issues makes defeating or containing ISIS less likely, Iranian nuclear weapon development more likely, and declining regional instability almost assured.
The current U.S. strategy to defeat ISIS unintentionally incentivizes Iran to build a nuclear weapon by increasing Iran’s perception of external threats and a need for the protection afforded by the possession of nuclear weaponry.  The U.S. intent to arm “moderate” Sunni groups in Syria to fight ISIS will simultaneously (if inadvertently) increase the “Sunni threat” to Iran and Iranian allies like the Assad regime.  Iran perceives all Sunni groups in the Levant as threatening regardless of a Sunni group’s views of the United States as the enemy.  Just as Saddam Hussein prioritized potential threats from Iran and internal dissidents far above the threat of external attack from the United States, Iran acts similarly towards internal dissidents, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni groups vis-à-vis the United States.
ISIS credibly threatens regional stability, Iranian interests, U.S. interests, Iraq, and many others.  As such, there may be a way to find common ground with Iran in the fight against ISIS.  Iran will not become a reliable U.S. partner, but can be a transactional partner for specific issues of mutual interest just as the U.S. partnered with the Soviets in World War II.  A grand U.S.-Iran bargain over Syrian governance, ISIS, Iranian nuclear weapons, and sanctions may be more practical than dealing with each of these issues in sequence, per the current “ISIS first” approach discussed in GEN Dempsey’s testimony.  While Iran wants Assad to remain in power, Iranian leaders might be willing to discuss Assad’s departure with the right incentives and assurances protecting Iran’s high priority interests in Syria.  After all, the Assad regime’s brutality helped create ISIS, which is not in Iran’s interests.  In a grand deal that puts the various issue on the table holistically, both sides can give more on issues of less importance while holding firm on their highest priorities.  This assumes different prioritization by each side, which has potential in this case.
Both sides seem to recognize the need to cooperate, but are having a hard time finding the right means.  Iran openly rejected U.S. invitations to cooperate, but then were insulted when they were left off the Paris summit guest list. U.S. overtures to Iran have been somewhat contradictory as the U.S. indicates a willingness to talk with Iran (which Iran rejected) but unwillingness for Iran to attend the Paris talks.
Successful cooperation with Iran will be difficult and a grand deal may fail.  However, achieving U.S. goals in the region and defeating ISIS is even less likely than successfully negotiating with Iran due to the constraints of questionable partners, “no U.S. ground combat troops,” and little ability to address the root causes for ISIS’ rise.  The Obama administration has rightly noted that long-term success against ISIS requires an inclusive Iraq government.  There is no guarantee the new Iraqi government will be more inclusive than Maliki’s administration.  Additionally, Iran will play a significant role in all future Iraqi governments and likely have influence with Shiite militias.
Although working with Iran may fail, dealing with the various regional issues separately offers even less chance of success and hinders the U.S. ability to pursue an integrated regional strategy.  The United States has worked well with Iran in the past.  After 9/11,thousands of Iranians held a candlelight vigil and Iran was working to overthrow the Taliban long before 9/11.  Furthermore, during the 2001 Bonn Conference, Iran supported U.S. policy in Afghanistan, suggested the idea of democratic elections, and helped secure the U.S.-desired Karzai government.  Relations with Iran declined precipitously after the U.S. labeled Iran as part of the “axis of evil” and proceeded to surround Iran with military forces by invading Iraq (another “axis of evil” member) on what Iran likely perceived as fabricated evidence.
The U.S. should view Iran as a state with its own interests, domestic politics, and perceptions.  As a state, the United States can negotiate with Iran on items of mutual interest, accepting  that Iran has different interests and will continue competing with the U.S. on many fronts.  There are risks, but also rewards.  Nonetheless, there will be issues where a negotiated settlement will benefit both parties.
U.S. policy should prioritize and link the Levant issues (nuclear weapons, ISIS, Syrian governance, and Iraqi governance) and make Iran part of the way forward where interests align to advance the highest U.S. priorities, which may come at the expense of less important interests.  The United States will achieve far more at a lower cost by working with others whenever interests align and properly focusing our efforts on the most important issues.  Ultimately, in the Gulf Region, the United States has no permanent allies or enemies—only permanent interests of varying import.
Major Benjamin Fernandes, U.S. Army, is a CFR Term Member and PhD student at George Mason University.  His studies focus on security assistance, principal-agent theory, and grand strategy.  He is currently assigned to the Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC).  The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government, U.S. Army, or ARCIC.


  1. Let's see, the two major allies of the US, in that region Saudi Arabia and Israel both prefer ISIS to President Assad.
    Neither have any fear of ISIS, they are ISIS, they fund. Both fund and supply the radical Islamists and in the case of Israel fly combat air operations in support of ISIS.

    The dismemberment and fragmentation of both Iraq and Syria are long term goals of the Israeli, see the "Yinon Plan".

    One would have to ask ...

    Does the failure of the US to even acknowledge that Iran is involved in the anti-ISIS coalition an indicator that the entire anti-ISIS campaign is 'eyewash'?
    That ISIS is really an extension of US, Saudi and Israeli policy?
    That the anti-ISIS rhetoric by US is just a false flag propaganda campaign?

    The people of the US are being lied to, again.
    Maybe it is just the nature of those that gain the White House to fly those false flags, to misinform, misdirect and mislead the people of the United States.

    To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.
    George Santayana

  2. (Newser) – Dozens of Turkish hostages seized by Islamic militants in Iraq three months ago were freed and safely returned to Turkey today, ending the nation's most serious hostage crisis. The 49 hostages were captured from the Turkish Consulate in Mosul, Iraq, on June 11, when ISIS overran the city in its surge to seize large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Their release contrasts with the recent beheadings of two US journalists and a British aid worker, but it wasn't immediately clear what Turkey had done to secure the safe return of the hostages.

    Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the hostages are 49 Turkish consulate employees—46 Turks and three local Iraqis. Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency said the hostages had been held in eight separate addresses in Mosul, their whereabouts monitored by drones and other means. Turkey had been reluctant to join a coalition to defeat the Islamic State group, citing the safety of its 49 kidnapped citizens. The United States had been careful not to push Turkey too hard as it tried to free the hostages. "After intense efforts that lasted days and weeks, in the early hours, our citizens were handed over to us and we brought them back to our country," said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

  3. I was just posting the same thing from VOA;

    Dozens of Turkish hostages being held by the radical Islamic State group have been released. The hostages arrived in Turkey in the early hours of Saturday, local time, after being held for 101 days.

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in a written statement that 49 Turkish hostages held by Islamic State had been released through the efforts of Turkey’s intelligence agency.

    The Turkish Foreign Ministry says all the hostages are in good condition.

    The hostages are Turkish diplomats and their families, including women and young children, who were taken in June when Islamic State militants overran Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and seized the Turkish consulate.


    You do wonder,how is it that the Turk captives kept their heads while other less fortunates lost theirs’?

    Could it be...

    1. Meanwhile, no U.S. Missions are flying out of Increlik. :)

    2. .

      Could it be what?

      There are a number of scenarios that could be entertained; however, until the beans are spilled it remains speculation. The fact is there is no uniform policy on terrorism, hostages, or paying ransom. For instance Some EU nations do while the US does not. The same for prisoner exchange. Some do, the US does not (officially) until it does.


  4. I doubt there are very sharp divisions to the various groups that fight against the government of Syria. They include everything from naive idealists to psychotic criminals, anarchists, adventurers and every form of religious fanatic. Turkey has been deeply involved with supporting the FSA and still has contacts at every level within the organizations of ISIS. The release is a clear indication of the relationship.

    1. .

      Possibly. On the other hand, there is always some type of quid pro quo involved when dealing with IS other wise the 49 diplomats would have come back as 98 diplomat pieces. What that quid pro quo involved is the question.


  5. Here is how the Turkish news sources are dying it went.

    Forty-six Turkish hostages were rescued from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants and brought to Turkey on Saturday as a result of an “entirely national" operation conducted by the foreign operations department of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), according to the state-run Anadolu news agency Anadolu.

    The hostages, including Turkey's consul-general, diplomats' children and special forces soldiers, were seized by ISIL militants in June and brought back to Turkey after more than three months in captivity. They were brought to the southeastern Turkish city of Şanlıurfa in the early hours of the morning.

    According to a Reuters report, the hostages were released at the town of Tel Abyad on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey after traveling from the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa, ISIL’s stronghold.

    Citing no sources, Anadolu said in a report on its website that the hostages were saved in an entirely national operation in which no foreign element was involved. According to the report, MİT's foreign operations unit has relied on its own operatives, local elements in the region, unmanned aerial vehicles and electronic communication devices as part of its rescue strategy. That strategy, said the state agency, was formed after a careful analysis of “previous kidnappings by ISIL in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    The agency also stated that no ransom was paid and that no ISIL condition was accepted in exchange for the release of the hostages. The captives were kept at eight separate addresses in Mosul during their 101-day captivity and that their movement throughout this period was monitored by unmanned aerial vehicles and “other instruments.”

    There were five or six other opportunities to free them prior to their eventual release, but regional developments, including most recently clashes between ISIL and Syrian Kurdish forces near the town of Kobane, delayed the rescue.

    "I thank the prime minister and his colleagues for the pre-planned, carefully calculated and secretly-conducted operation throughout the night," President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a statement he released after the release of the Turkish captives. “MİT has followed the situation very sensitively and patiently since the beginning and, as a result, conducted a successful rescue operation."


    1. .

      A confusing statement. They talk of a 'successful rescue operation' and drones monitoring, etc. giving the impression it was a military operation; yet, just above that they talk of the hostages being 'released'.

      I suspect the rescue was a diplomatic op rather than a military one. And if they did not pay a monetary ransom or accede to ISIS demands as stated in the article, then it could be as you pointed out Deuce, Turkey offering to continue covert aid or something of the sort.



  6. The Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) oft-quoted promise of a “new Turkey” is a scary place, where rights violations and threats against opponents are common, according to Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the winner of the International Hrant Dink Award and head of the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TİHV).

    In an interview with Today's Zaman, Fincancı shared her opinions about the government's new slogan -- "new Turkey.” She said: “The new Turkey rhetoric is very scary. This means new violations and more threats, and we are already seeing the signs of this. We know about the actions of this government that promotes the new Turkey. The new Turkey is about having crowds jeer at the mention of a mother who has lost her son.”

    The TİHV head was referring to a rally speech by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had his audience boo at the mention of the name Gülsüm Elvan, the mother of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan. Berkin died last year after being in a months-long coma that was caused by a tear gas canister being fired at him by the police during last year's Gezi protests when he was out buying bread. The canister struck him in the head.

    The International Hrant Dink Award was presented to Professor Fincancı on Sept. 15 -- Hrant Dink’s birthday -- for her activism regarding the plight of the Saturday Mothers, a group of women whose children disappeared while under state custody.

    In response to a question about what she felt about the Dink award, Fincancı said: “I am flattered and humbled because I have been given an award that was earlier given to the Saturday Mothers. I am also a bit heartbroken. They are the ones who have suffered and are still suffering. What would our murdered brother [Dink] have done if he were with us at this time? I felt confused emotions that day.”
    She also shared her opinions about the future of the murder trial of Hrant Dink, who was shot dead by an ultranationalist teenager outside the offices of the Turkish-Armenian Agos newspaper in İstanbul in January 2007.

    “I don't think the murder will be illuminated at this time. It looks like it will become one of the many trials that will be stonewalled with one trial after another. The course of the trial and the stance of the government on this issue indicates that. Temizöz’s release gives an idea about the future of the Hrant Dink trial.”

    The activist was referring to the release of Col. Cemal Temizöz on Sept. 12. Temizöz, notoriously known as the "death well colonel" due to his role in the death of more than a dozen people in acid wells in the early ‘90s, was released by a high court. The trial against him was launched after investigators found human bones in wells in the Cizre district of Şırnak province, believed to be the remains of people killed by the illegal structure established by Temizöz.

    She also said that she has no hopes that the current government will take steps to improve Turkey's human rights records because "we know that they [the government] are the main actors who commit rights' violations.”

  7. Fincancı said activists and democrats should make their best efforts to change this course. “Detentions period were shortened because people demanded this. That was a result of the fight for human rights. We have to keep the government and the state at work. There can be reversals at times, and there can be disappointments, but we should continue to speak out about the negatives,” she said.

    A medical doctor, Fincancı has dedicated her professional career to the struggle against torture in Turkey. She has been the president of TİHV since 2009. In the 1990s, when torture was prevalent in Turkey, she was subjected to oppression at the hands of the state since she wrote articles on medical ethics and penned reports documenting torture. Fincancı currently teaches and serves as a dissertation advisor at the graduate and postgraduate levels in the department of forensic medicine at İstanbul University’s medical faculty, and she teaches in Galatasaray University's faculty of law.

    The International Hrant Dink Award is presented annually by the International Hrant Dink Foundation at a ceremony held on Dink's birthday.

  8. Activists say hundreds of Kurdish fighters are crossing into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area under attack by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants.

    The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local Kurdish official Nawaf Khalil said Saturday that the fighters were streaming into the Kobani area in northern Syria.

    Fighters from ISIL group have been barreling through the Kobani area over the past week, seizing villages and forcing thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee.

    ISIL fighters backed by tanks captured 16 Kurdish villages over the past 24 hours in northern Syria near the Turkish border two days ago, prompting civilians to flee their homes amid fears of retribution by the extremists sweeping through the area.

    Turkish troops on the border with Syria allowed Syrian Kurds fleeing the advance of the ISIL to cross into Turkey after skirmishes with residents on the Turkish side of the border who wanted to help the displaced.

    A call to fight ISIL came from pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, who said on Friday that the youth of Turkey, including Turkish, Kurdish, Alevi and Sunni people, should join the fight in Kobane, as international powers and Turkey have remained silent against the terrorist group.

    ISIL militants took over the 16 Kurdish villages in Syria's northern Kurdish region of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, since Wednesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It said there were casualties on both sides, but that Kurdish civilians were fleeing their villages for fear that ISIL fighters “will commit massacres against civilians."

  9. More Energy per Dollar invested from Solar and Wind than from Oil.

    More Bang for the Buck

    1. And, Ethanol was wholesaling for $1.60 / Gallon, yesterday.

  10. Overlooked in the Russian assault takeover of Crimea is the significant Tatar (Turks) population:

    The building of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, a civil society organization of Tatars in Crimea, was emptied and then sealed off late on Friday.
    The building that is located in Simferopol, which is called “Akmescit” by the Tatars, was raided by some Russian police and soldiers on Sept. 16. Those Russian security forces, whose faces were covered according to the media reports, searched the building for 12 hours. One day after the raid, federal court officials came to the building and warned the Crimean Tatar National Assembly members that the building would be closed down. Those officials gave time to Crimean Tatar National Assembly members for empting the building.

    After this warning, the members of Crimean Tatar National Assembly decided to empty the building.

    According to QHA (Crimean news agency) report, the Crimean Tatar National Assembly members emptied the building and started to wait for the federal court officials to close down the building on Sept. 19 as scheduled earlier by the officials. However, those federal court officials did not show up at the planned time. Thus, the Crimean Tatar National Assembly members had to close down the building themselves.

    In an earlier press statement, Crimean Tatar National Assembly Chairman Rıfat Çubarov had stated that the assembly did not have the power to confront the Crimean government, thus they we obligated to empty the building. Çubarov stated that the main issue is not the building, adding that the real problem is that the Crimean Tatar National Assembly was being eliminated.

    On Sept. 17, Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed concern over what it called “growing pressure” on the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, stating: “We condemn such actions that are aimed at cowing the Tatar community, Crimea’s native people, and urge that these actions be ended immediately.”

    Turkey said in the statement that it does not recognize a vote in Crimea, the first election in the Black Sea peninsula after Russian annexation, that was held on Sept. 14.

    A statement from the Foreign Ministry said Turkey does not recognize the “illegal annexation” of Crimea. “In this framework, ‘elections’ held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea have no validity for our country,” it said.

    Critics slammed Sunday’s regional and local elections as unfair and undemocratic, with many complaining that the campaigning was characterized by favoritism toward the ruling United Russia Party that is loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March. Turkey has watched the annexation process warily, especially because of concerns for the fate of Crimea’s Turkic Tatar community.

  11. About 1 1/2% of the cars on Iowa roads, yesterday, were powered by corn stalks, cobs, etc. from Poet's new, Emmetsburg cellulosic bio-refinery.

  12. .

    Uncle Pootie seems to want to give the impression he is batshit crazy.

    A Russian Internet-Exxon Exit-Scrambling Jets


  13. The effects of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision are spreading, influencing a child labor investigation in Utah:

    The Sept. 11 decision by U.S. District Court Judge David Sam says Vergel Steed, who belongs to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), doesn't have to comply with a federal subpoena because naming church leaders would violate his religious freedom. [...]
    "It is not for the Court to 'inquir[e] into the theological merit of the belief in question'," Sam wrote, citing Hobby Lobby. "The Court's 'only task is to determine whether the claimant's belief is sincere, and if so, whether the government has applied substantial pressure on the claimant to violate that belief.'"
    Vergel Steed believes it would violate his religion to name the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leaders who may or may not have sent children to harvest pecans, so investigators looking into that child labor issue will just have to find another way to find out which FLDS leaders might be involved. Because religious freedom! Bear in mind when we're talking about the sacred religious importance of keeping FLDS leadership a secret that:

    FLDS, a . . . . . .

    The effects of the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision are spreading, influencing a child labor investigation in Utah:

    Batshit Crazy? The U.S. Supreme Court will give you some serious "batshit crazy."

  14. "It is not for the Court to 'inquir[e] into the theological merit of the belief in question'," Sam wrote, citing Hobby Lobby. "The Court's 'only task is to determine whether the claimant's belief is sincere, and if so, whether the government has applied substantial pressure on the claimant to violate that belief.'"

    1. Some of you thought that it was a great idea to subjugate the Law of the Land to Catholic "beliefs."

      Let's see how That plays out for you.

    2. Let's see how it looks when a federal court rules that your local ISIS branch doesn't have to comply with a subpoena, because of their "deeply held religious beliefs"

      (the "deeply held belief" that you should be separated from your head, for instance.)

    3. .

      Private Hyperbole once more walks that narrow line between batshit crazy and catatonia.