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Islamic State ‘poses significant and lethal threat’ to the U.S.

On the morning of President Obama’s final State of the Union (SOTUS) Address, January 12, 2016, the House Armed Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) held the latest in a series of hearing on Combating ISIS. Testimony was heard from a panel of witnesses who are former Obama Administration Intelligence and Diplomatic officials: Former Deputy and Acting Director Michael Morrell, former Defense Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Dr. Michael Vickers and former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford.

Morell’s bottom line: “ISIS poses a significant strategic and lethal threat to the United States of America.”

Morell presented the case that the U.S. could be subject to multiple direct attacks organized and planned from the Caliphate of the Islamic State in Raqaa Syria. He distinguished between direct and indicate attacks such as lone wolf attacks, the latter causing few fatalities as distinct of large mass casualties as in the November 13th Paris massacres that killed over 130. He noted that the San Bernardino attack produced the largest fatalities second only to 9/11. He suggested that simply taking out the leadership of ISIS would not remove the safe haven of the self-declared caliphate that had attracted more than 30,000 foreign fighters and homesteaders from 100 countries He considers ISIS a source of instability in the Middle East threatening allies Israeli and the Gulf Sunni states, the latter he deemed a bulwark against the hegemonic objectives of Iran.

He consider ISIS as fulfilling all of the basic functions of a state with its own executive, Sharia law courts, a virtual army, providing social services to its inhabitants and taxing them. He indicated that ISIS collected tens of millions monthly in taxes outpacing oil sales revenues. Morell indicated that ISIS has outpaced expansion of Al Qaeda from whence it sprang in Iraq. It has attracted the allegiances of extremist Islamist groups in 20 countries. He pointed out the directed attack in Paris that took the lives of 130 innocent civilians and the comments from UK domestic intelligence that they expected multiple direct attacks producing fatalities in excess of the 2005 London bus and underground attacks.

He cautioned to listen to ISIS when it says that it will conduct direct attacks in the U.S. In the near term he predicted that ISIS in Libya may unleash a similar blitzkrieg like the one in Iraq that could result in seizure of vast swaths of that North African country providing another safe haven attracting foreign fighters from Europe. Simply elimination of the leadership of the Islamic state is not enough. A complex military operation would have to be launched to destroy the safe haven of the Caliphate. Ultimately it would require a comprehensive political settlement in Syria dealing with the regime of President Assad and empowering of the disenfranchised Sunni majority.

The contrast between these comments by Morell before the House Armed Service on Combating ISIS with that of President Obama was stark.CNN noted that Obama “underplayed the threat from radical Islamist groups such as ISIS. He mocked the contention that fighters on “on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages” represented an existential threat to America.”

Meanwhile Iran announced that the release today of the 10 U.S. sailors seized along with their patrol boats in the Persian Gulf and taken to Iran’s Farsi Island was “speculation”.  So much for the representations by Foreign Minister Zarif to Secretary Kerry that they would be released within a few hours.

WATCH this C-Span video clip of Morell’s testimony at yesterday’s House Armed Forces Committee hearing on Combating ISIS:

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Archive of Islamic State Administrative Documents (cont.)

Eulogy to Abu Nabil al-Anbari: Islamic State leader in Libya

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iranian Nuke Deal a House of Cards?

Tony Blinken Source AP

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Source: AP

Newly designated Deputy Secretary of State, former Deputy National Security Adviser, Antony “Tony” Blinken testified yesterday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee chaired by California Republican Congressman, Edward Royce. Royce and Ranking Democratic Member, Elliot Engel of New York, were trying to determine the status of the Administration’s P5+1 negotiations on an agreement to rein in Iran’s nuclear program. Blinken’s boss, Secretary of State Kerry, with the assistance of Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz are huddling in Lausanne, Switzerland with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif and nuclear program head, Ali Akbar Salehi, to reach a political agreement by a self-imposed deadline of March 31st.  Moniz and Salehi share an Alma MaterMIT, where they both earned doctorates, one in physics and the other in nuclear engineering back in the 1970’s. Moniz was an Assistant professor at MIT, while Salehi was in the nuclear engineering program.

 The latest press leak indicates that Iran might be given 40% of nuclear fuel enrichment capacity which translates to 6,000 centrifuges. That may be more than ample, Israeli PM Netanyahu, fresh from his Knesset elections victory on March 17th, contends will enable Iran to become a nuclear threshold state, although there are those who contend it may already have achieve that status.  There is debate whether any final Memorandum of Understanding will have a 10 or 25 year sunset term, and whether, Iran’s nuclear program is susceptible to so-called verifiable inspections, given evidence to the contrary compiled by the IAEA inspectors.

It was against this background that Tony Blinken provided testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He roused the skepticism of the house panel with comments that the deal would bar Iran from achieving a nuclear capability in perpetuity. An AFP report on yesterday’s hearing noted this exchange:

The Obama administration insisted before skeptical lawmakers Thursday that any deal with Iran would ensure for “perpetuity” that it could not develop nuclear weapons.

A comprehensive accord would also see “phased, proportionate” relief from tough sanctions that have severely constrained Iran’s economy, but such relief could be swiftly reversed should the Islamic republic violate any final deal, said Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Several members of Congress and other critics have warned that the ongoing negotiations between world powers and Tehran would lead to a deal that would sunset after 10 years.

Once the deal ends, critics fear the Islamic republic could once again freely crank up its nuclear program and develop a bomb.

“That is simply not true,” Blinken told a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“To the contrary, Iran would be prohibited from developing a nuclear weapon in perpetuity — and we would have a much greater ability to detect any effort by Iran to do so.”

He said that while some constraints would be lifted after a “significant period,” others would last “indefinitely, including a stringent and intrusive monitoring and inspections regime” by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency.

And should Iran violate the agreement and begin a rush to a bomb, a process described as “breakout,” Blinken stressed that restrictions on centrifuges and uranium mills would prevent Iran from completing a nuclear bomb for at least a year.

“That would provide us more than enough time to detect and act on any Iranian transgression,” he said.

Blinken said Iran would be indefinitely barred under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty from developing or acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Democrats and Republicans alike scoffed at the suggestion that such NPT restrictions would hold back Iran; with committee Chairman Ed Royce warning that Iranians “have been violating those commitments for years.”

Lawmakers also pointed to the need to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program in any nuclear deal, as reinforcement against the country using such a delivery system for an atomic bomb.

“The critical question of the possible military dimension of Iran’s program… would have to be part of any agreement,” Blinken acknowledged.

Blinken’s colleague at State, Deputy Undersecretary Wendy Sherman, who has been actively engaged in the P5+1 negotiations, has some relevant experience in dismissing Blinken’s assertion that the deal under consideration would bar Iranian’ nuclear breakout. Ms. Sherman was part of the Clinton Administration team that put together the executive agreement in 1994 with North Korea that was also supposed to stop the DPRK’s nuclear program by substituting light water reactors. That agreement was subject to a Congressional hearing.  By 2006, North Korea successfully evaded IAEA inspections, produced a nuclear fuel stockpile and tested a device resulting in collapse of the agreement. The Bush Administration stopped fuel oil deliveries to the DPRK.

Last time I looked at Blinker’s bio, he had a Columbia Law School degree, not in physics, like Energy Secretary Moniz or Iran negotiator, Salehi, both MIT alumni.

Washington Post columnist, Al Kamen, drew attention to Blinker’s obvious qualification enabling to make his perpetuity comment about a deal to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Blinken was apparently a consultant to the HBO series, “House of Cards”.   Kamen revealed:

Sometimes it’s good not to fast-forward through the credits roll. You never know what you’ll find.

So the other evening, when the credits came up for episode nine of this season’s “House of Cards,” this popped up: “Consultant: TONY BLINKEN.”

Whoa! As in the deputy secretary of state and former White House deputy national security adviser? That’s some pretty heavy-duty consulting power. Is Blinken moonlighting for Kevin Spacey?

Well, not exactly.

Blinken, a modest sort, said in an e-mail that “‘consultant’ vastly overstated” his role, which amounted to a “few phone calls” perhaps nine months to a year ago. That would have been when he was working in the White House. The calls came from head series writer Beau Willimon and some other writers for the show who wanted to “test the veracity or not of some foreign policy story lines.”

“At this point, I don’t remember the details or the issues” involved, Blinken said. And, no, he wasn’t paid for the advice. Probably a good thing, because the episode — one of the “Putin segments” — for which he got the credit line involves, even for the “House of Cards,” a wildly implausible shootout in the Jordan River Valley. (We’re not going to say more.)

And, yes, Blinken and wife Evan Ryan, the assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, are binge-watchers.

Watch this C-Span video clip of Deputy Secretary of State Blinken being questioned at the March 19, 2015 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Iran nuclear negotiations:

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The photo shopped featured image is courtesy of the House of Cards TV series.