22 October 2015   Leave a comment

As the media focuses on the Russian activity in Syria, we all would be wiser to focus on the Iranian support for Assad which is far more critical.  Dexter Filkins has written an excellent essay on Iran’s strategy for the New Yorker which is definitely worth a read.  He focuses on the role of Major General Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Quds force which is actively supporting Assad’s forces.  The fascinating part of the essay is the way he exposes all the possible options for a US-Iranian alliance on a host of issues and how those options have not been acted upon.  Perhaps the nuclear agreement with Iran will finally break open the impasse between the two countries.  Wikileaks has published a memo from John Brennan the Director of the CIA entitled “The Conundrum of Iran” which reads, in part:

“The gratuitous labeling of Iran as part of a worldwide “axis of evil” by President Bush (date?) combined with strong U.S. criticisms of Iran’s nascent nuclear program and its meddling in Iraq led Tehran to the view that Washington had embarked on a course of confrontation in the region that would soon set a kinetic focus on Iran. Even Iran’s positive engagement in helping repair the post-Taliban political environment in Afghanistan was met with indifference by Washington. According to James Dobbins, the Bush Administration’s first U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, Iranian diplomats made important contributions to the success of U.N. sponsored negotiations that resulted in the inauguration of the Karzai Government in Kabul. But unlike the foreign ministers of other nations involved in those negotiations, Iran’s foreign minister did not receive a personal note of thanks from his U.S. counterpart, despite, according to Dobbins, the fact that he ‘may have been the most helpful.'”

It is truly unfortunate that the US has not been more receptive to the common interests of both countries.

The primary concern of many in the climate change debate has been over the role of carbon dioxide as a major culprit in the process.   There is another greenhouse gas, methane, which is a more powerful agent in the process which has not received as much attention because it is not something that is largely emitted in the normal burning of fossil fuels.  But methane is trapped in permafrost which is soil that is more or less permanently frozen because of the low temperatures in the polar regions.   And there is accumulating evidence that as global temperatures rise, more of the permafrost is melting, releasing tremendous amounts of methane.  The Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost  has been studying the problem of melting permafrost, and, according to one of the researchers, “the recent rate of warming of this frozen layer of earth is ‘unbelievable’.”

Permafrost

One of the under-appreciated elements of power is what IR analysts call “soft power”.  Unlike “hard” power like military weaponry or economic heft which is fundamentally coercive, “soft” power refers to a state’s attractiveness to other states in matters primarily of culture.  Thus, rock music or Levis were part of America’s soft power in the Cold War: people in other countries liked rock and roll and/or jeans, and thus had a degree of affection for American culture.  Perhaps the most dynamic manifestation of American (and Indian) “soft” power is movies.  American films often have very large international audiences.  But sometimes there are deep cultural problems with some movies,  and countries often block the showing of some movies.  China apparently does not like references to spiritual matters such as ghosts and Chinese censors have blocked the recent American movie, “Crimson Peak”.  In anticipation of such moves, some American producers edit specific scenes in and out of their movies to appeal to international audiences.

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Posted October 23, 2015 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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