Bernd Debusmann

America, Iran and mowing nuclear grass

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 15, 2011 18:33 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

In the long-running Western debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, fresh language has been as rare as fresh ideas. But here’s a novel phrase worth noting: “Striking Iranian nuclear sites is like mowing the grass.” How so?

The man who coined the simile, Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller, argues that no strike, or series of strikes, could permanently cripple the Iranian capacity to produce and weaponize fissile material. Absent complete success in wiping out Iran’s hardened and widely dispersed nuclear sites, “the grass would only grow back again.” The Iranians would “reseed” the grass “with the kind of legitimacy that can only come from having been attacked by an outside power.”

The presidential hopefuls of America‘s Republican Party could do worse than take note of that assessment. In the first foreign policy debate of the Republican primary race on November 12, all but one of the nine would-be presidents supported an attack — by the United States or Israel — on Iran to stop it from getting the bomb, if sanctions failed, as they have done so far.

Unlike the presidential candidates, Miller is familiar with the subject. Now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, a Washington think tank, he worked for 25 years in senior roles at the State Department as a Middle East negotiator and adviser. He is not alone in arguing that an attack on Iran would only delay, but not end, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In the United States, a long list of prominent experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation share that view and in Israel, Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, the foreign intelligence service, has called bombing Iraq “a stupid idea” and repeatedly warned that an attack would have disastrous consequences for Israel.

After U.S. departure, a bloodbath in Iraq?

Bernd Debusmann
Nov 4, 2011 18:20 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

As the clock ticks towards the end of America’s military presence in Iraq, there are increasingly dire warnings of a humanitarian disaster unless steps are taken to protect more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents living in a camp in Iraq. How closely is Washington listening?

Gloomy forecasts for the fate of the exiles at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad near the border with Iran, have come from Amnesty International, a long string of prominent former U.S. government officials, retired generals, and members of the European Parliament. One of them, Struan Stevenson, predicts “a Srebrenica-style massacre,” a reference to the 1995 killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War.

Stevenson, who is head of the European Parliament’s delegation on Iraq, issued his warning this week in an op-ed in the conservative Washington Times newspaper. Also this week, Amnesty International said there was a “serious risk of severe human rights violations” if the Iraqi government went ahead with plans to force the closure of the camp by the end of December.

America world’s Number One? Think again

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 28, 2011 15:52 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The United States is the greatest country on earth, different from others and better than the rest in all respects. Or so the great majority of its citizens believe, in good times and bad. Two new reports might dent that self-image.

One is the World Bank’s annual ranking of how easy (or not) it is to do business in 183 countries. The other is from the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German think tank, and examines social justice in the 31 of the 34 countries of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD), often dubbed the rich-country club.

On the World Bank list, the United States came fourth behind Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. In the Bertelsmann study the United States ranked a dismal 27th.

The U.S. border and immigration reform

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 21, 2011 14:30 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Take your pick. Cities and towns on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico are among the safest in the country. Or: Mexican drug gangs have turned the longest stretch of the 2,000-mile border, the line between Texas and Mexico, into a war zone.

The first version is President Barack Obama’s. He has crime statistics on his side. The second comes from an alarmist 182-page report by two retired generals, including former drug czar Barry McCaffrey. Among their assertions: “Living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone in which civil authorities, law enforcement agencies as well as citizens are under attack around the clock.”

(True enough for large parts of Mexican territory south of the border, where more than 42,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug mafias five years ago.)

Obama and America’s culture of secrecy

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 14, 2011 14:38 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Old habits die hard. By the time you read to the bottom of this column, around 1,600 U.S. government documents and communications will have been classified in the name of national security.

If past habits serve as a guide, many if not most of the “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret” markings will fall under the label “overclassification,” a practice that stretches back to the 1940s and has been criticized in a long string of reports by high-powered congressional commissions and academic experts.

The latest comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. It says needless classification actually harms national security because it acts as a barrier to the exchange of information between government agencies and corrodes democracy. “Secret programs stifled public debate on the decisions that shaped our response to the September 11 attacks,” the report notes.

Occupy Wall Street and rose-tinted glasses

Bernd Debusmann
Oct 7, 2011 21:58 UTC

(Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Two weeks into the Occupy Wall Street protests, one of America’s most respected polling firms released an astonishing survey on economic divisions showing that a majority of Americans don’t think their society is divided between haves and have-nots.

That is in sharp contrast with the ideas of Occupy Wall Street, a growing movement whose slogans include “We are the 99 percent.” As opposed to the top 1 percent, whose share of the national income has more than doubled in the past two decades and now is bigger than at any time since just before the start of the Great Depression in 1929. The survey indicates a dose of denial about economic inequality.

According to the poll, by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press (http://tinyurl.com/3u83bvy) and the Washington Post, 52 percent of respondents said it was inaccurate to think of the United States as a country divided between haves and have-nots. Forty-five percent saw a rich-poor gap.

World arms deals and tilting at windmills

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 30, 2011 18:17 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

For the United States, the world’s leading arms merchant, a controversial deal with the tiny island state of Bahrain is negligible, less than half a percent of America’s total sales.  But it helps explain efforts to regulate the global arms trade more tightly.

The proposed sale in question is worth $53 million, involves 44 armoured Humvees, a variety of missiles, and night vision equipment. The Pentagon announced it in mid-September, just three months after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahue, in a speech in Geneva, included Bahrain on a list of governments that “repress dissent with impunity.” Along with Syria, Yemen and Libya, the royal rulers of Bahrain responded to the Arab Spring democracy movement by killing and jailing opponents.

In mid-September, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency told Congress that the deal would “contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”  The advocacy group Human Rights Watch said the U.S. appeared to “reward repression with new weapons.”

The US elections and pandering to Israel

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 23, 2011 16:28 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

So much for charges from conservative contenders for the 2012 U.S. presidential elections that Barack Obama is not pro-Israel enough — the president just won seals of approval from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, and the U.S. lobby that usually reflects their views.

If the elections, as some predict, will include a contest on who loves Israel most, Obama can use their praise to good effect. How much it will contribute to his legacy is another matter.

The plaudits came in response to Obama’s address to the United Nations on Sept. 21, when he rejected the Palestinians’ bid for U.N. membership in what one Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev of the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, described as “probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual U.N. General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none.”

To create U.S. jobs, bring in immigrants

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 13, 2011 15:04 UTC

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — In tandem with the $447 billion jobs plan President Barack Obama announced on September 8, his administration is breathing new life into an old program to draw job-creating foreigners to the United States. It’s known as the EB-5 investor program, has a clouded history, and can’t bring much relief to America’s unemployment misery.

But with 27 million people unemployed or underemployed and Obama’s own job depending on whether or not he can bring down the unemployment rate in time for next year’s presidential election, every job-creating opportunity is worth pursuing.

Which is why Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced “streamlining measures” to America’s complicated immigration laws a few weeks before the president laid out his ideas on how to spur growth, a mix of tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

A Mexican massacre and a war without end

Bernd Debusmann
Sep 6, 2011 14:01 UTC

There’s good news and bad news on the war on drugs in Mexico and the United States. The good news: cooperation between U.S. and Mexican security forces has rarely been closer. “Unprecedented,” President Barack Obama termed it in a message of sympathy for 52 people killed in an arson attack on a casino in northern Mexico.

The unprecedented cooperation he referred to ranges from the United States providing intelligence drawn from wiretaps and aerial surveillance by U.S. drones to taking part in planning operations to capture drug lords.

American agents, according to accounts from both sides of the border, had a role in hunting down 21 of the 37 men on Mexico’s list of most-wanted organized crime chiefs.