Faults Underlying Exercise Vigilant GuardStory by: (Author NameStaff Sgt. Raymond Drumsta – 138th Public Affairs Detachment Dated: Thu, Nov 5, 2009 This map illustrates the earthquake fault lines in Western New York. An earthquake in the region is a likely event, says University of Buffalo Professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. TONAWANDA, NY — An earthquake in western New York, the scenario that Exercise Vigilant Guard is built around, is not that far-fetched, according to University of Buffalo geology professor Dr. Robert Jacobi. When asked about earthquakes in the area, Jacobi pulls out a computer-generated state map, cross-hatched with diagonal lines representing geological faults. The faults show that past earthquakes in the state were not random, and could occur again on the same fault systems, he said. “In western New York, 6.5 magnitude earthquakes are possible,” he said. This possibility underlies Exercise Vigilant Guard, a joint training opportunity for National Guard and emergency response organizations to build relationships with local, state, regional and federal partners against a variety of different homeland security threats including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks. The exercise was based on an earthquake scenario, and a rubble pile at the Spaulding Fibre site here was used to simulate a collapsed building. The scenario was chosen as a result of extensive consultations with the earthquake experts at the University of Buffalo’s Multidisciplinary Center for Earthquake Engineering Research (MCEER), said Brig. Gen. Mike Swezey, commander of 53rd Troop Command, who visited the site on Monday. Earthquakes of up to 7 magnitude have occurred in the Northeastern part of the continent, and this scenario was calibrated on the magnitude 5.9 earthquake which occurred in Saguenay, Quebec in 1988, said Jacobi and Professor Andre Filiatrault, MCEER director. “A 5.9 magnitude earthquake in this area is not an unrealistic scenario,” said Filiatrault. Closer to home, a 1.9 magnitude earthquake occurred about 2.5 miles from the Spaulding Fibre site within the last decade, Jacobi said. He and other earthquake experts impaneled by the Atomic Energy Control Board of Canada in 1997 found that there’s a 40 percent chance of 6.5 magnitude earthquake occurring along the Clareden-Linden fault system, which lies about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester, Jacobi added. Jacobi and Filiatrault said the soft soil of western New York, especially in part of downtown Buffalo, would amplify tremors, causing more damage. “It’s like jello in a bowl,” said Jacobi. The area’s old infrastructure is vulnerable because it was built without reinforcing steel, said Filiatrault. Damage to industrial areas could release hazardous materials, he added. “You’ll have significant damage,” Filiatrault said. Exercise Vigilant Guard involved an earthquake’s aftermath, including infrastructure damage, injuries, deaths, displaced citizens and hazardous material incidents. All this week, more than 1,300 National Guard troops and hundreds of local and regional emergency response professionals have been training at several sites in western New York to respond these types of incidents. Jacobi called Exercise Vigilant Guard “important and illuminating.” “I’m proud of the National Guard for organizing and carrying out such an excellent exercise,” he said. Training concluded Thursday.
The threat of nuclear warfare is back to the forefront following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But how would modern nuclear weapon detonations impact the world today? A new research study published today (July 7, 2022) provides startling information on the global impact of nuclear war.
Cheryl Harrison, the study’s lead author LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences Assistant Professor, and coauthors ran multiple computer simulations to examine the effects of regional and larger scale nuclear warfare on the Earth’s systems given today’s nuclear warfare capabilities. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, nine countries currently control more than 13,000 nuclear weapons around the world.
In all of the scientists’ simulated scenarios, nuclear firestorms would release soot and smoke into the upper atmosphere that would block out the Sun resulting in crop failure around the world. In the first month following nuclear detonation, average global temperatures would plunge by about 13 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), a larger temperature drop than in the last Ice Age.
“It doesn’t matter who is bombing whom. It can be India and Pakistan or NATO and Russia. Once the smoke is released into the upper atmosphere, it spreads globally and affects everyone,” said Harrison, who has a joint appointment at the LSU Center for Computation & Technology.
Even after the smoke clears, ocean temperatures would drop quickly and would not return to their pre-war state. As the planet gets colder, sea ice expands by more than 6 million square miles and 6 feet deep in some basins blocking major ports including Beijing’s Port of Tianjin, Copenhagen, and St. Petersburg. The sea ice would spread into normally ice-free coastal regions blocking shipping across the Northern Hemisphere making it difficult to get food and supplies into some cities such as Shanghai, where ships are not prepared to face sea ice.
The sudden drop in light and ocean temperatures, especially from the Arctic to the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans, would kill the marine algae, which is the foundation of the marine food web, essentially creating a famine in the ocean. This would halt most fishing and aquaculture.
The researchers simulated what would happen to the Earth’s systems if the U.S. and Russia used 4,400 100-kiloton nuclear weapons to bomb cities and industrial areas, which resulted in fires ejecting 150 teragrams, or more than 330 billion pounds, of smoke and sunlight-absorbing black carbon, into the upper atmosphere. They also simulated what would happen if India and Pakistan detonated about 500 100-kiloton nuclear weapons resulting in 5 to 47 teragrams, or 11 billion to 103 billion pounds, of smoke and soot, into the upper atmosphere.
“Nuclear warfare results in dire consequences for everyone. World leaders have used our studies previously as an impetus to end the nuclear arms race in the 1980s, and five years ago to pass a treaty in the United Nations to ban nuclear weapons. We hope that this new study will encourage more nations to ratify the ban treaty,” said co-author Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University.
This study shows the global interconnectedness of Earth’s systems, especially in the face of perturbations whether they are caused by volcanic eruptions, massive wildfires or war.
“The current war in Ukraine with Russia and how it has affected gas prices, really shows us how fragile our global economy and our supply chains are to what may seem like regional conflicts and perturbations,” Harrison said.
Volcanic eruptions also produce clouds of particles in the upper atmosphere. Throughout history, these eruptions have had similar negative impacts on the planet and civilization.
“We can avoid nuclear war, but volcanic eruptions are definitely going to happen again. There’s nothing we can do about it, so it’s important when we’re talking about resilience and how to design our society, that we consider what we need to do to prepare for unavoidable climate shocks,” Harrison said. “We can and must however, do everything we can to avoid nuclear war. The effects are too likely to be globally catastrophic.”
Oceans take longer to recover than land. In the largest U.S.-Russia scenario, ocean recovery is likely to take decades at the surface and hundreds of years at depth, while changes to Arctic sea ice will likely last thousands of years and effectively be a “Nuclear Little Ice Age.” Marine ecosystems would be highly disrupted by both the initial perturbation and in the new ocean state, resulting in long-term, global impacts to ecosystem services such as fisheries, write the authors.
Reference: “The new ocean state after nuclear war” 7 July 2022, AGU Advances. DOI: 10.1029/2021AV000610
The Air Force officer responsible for all aspects of contracting for the service has issued a stark warning about China’s rapid gains in defense acquisition, with the result that its military is now getting its hands on new equipment “five to six times” faster than the United States. This is the latest sobering evidence from a U.S. defense official suggesting that the Pentagon needs to urgently overhaul the way it goes about fielding new weapons, while China increasingly appears to be jockeying for the lead in the development of all kinds of high-end military technologies as part of its broader drive to become a preeminent strategic power.
As well as the sheer speed with which Beijing is able to acquire new weapons, Holt contends, the Chinese are also operating far more efficiently. “In purchasing power parity, they spend about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability,” he told his audience. “We are going to lose if we can’t figure out how to drop the cost and increase the speed in our defense supply chains,” Holt added.
For Holt, the big issue behind America’s inability to match China in this field is the way it goes about actually buying what its military needs in terms of defense equipment, logistics, and support. While the budgetary framework that actually funds these purchases may be unwieldy (“slow and stodgy” in his words), the greater problem, Holt contends, is the resourcing system.Official portrait of Maj. Gen. Cameron G. Holt. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo
“If we don’t change our resourcing system, none of the rest of it matters,” Holt said. In fact, the budgeting process could remain the same as it is today, he argued, “If you just change the execution year flexibilities and modernize Congress’s oversight of it to be more patient.”
The current model, however, has delays more or less built into it from the start, with a painfully slow process of getting budgets signed off for each phase of a program, from writing up a formal requirement all the way to sustainment and lifecycle costs. This means that, at any stage in a given program, those that control the budgets can intervene and potentially entirely change its direction — and speed — based on how they think funds should be allocated. So even if a weapons program, for example, makes rapid progress in its early stages, funding decisions further down the line can actually stop it from reaching the troops as quickly as it could.Experience of past programs has shaped the approach to the B-21 bomber program. This has been tailored to avoid the requirements creep, spiraling costs, and massive developmental timetables that have characterized some previous big-ticket programs. U.S. Air Force
And even if Congress is happy to allocate a certain amount of funding to a new program, the Pentagon retains the ability to move funds around, possibly hindering the potential of promising new developments in favor of continuing to throw money at legacy programs.
Instead, Holt advocates what he described as the “cash flow” model, which includes provision for some Pentagon movement of funds, but which seeks to ensure Congress retains more oversight over this process and has the option to intervene in a more timely manner.
Ultimately, Holt argues, the U.S. defense acquisition process will continue to fail to move as quickly and responsively as it needs to as long as there is no reform. After all, he contends, the current system dates from the Cold War security environment, and a very different set of threats and challenges.A seemingly endless line of B-36 bombers take shape on the Convair assembly line in 1951. Some aspects of the current acquisition cycle date back to the Cold War and are increasingly facing criticism from officials frustrated by the slow pace at which new technologies are adopted. Tony Landis/U.S. Air Force
“We also have gotten a very centrally and micromanaged system of appropriations that have served the Cold War well,” Holt said. “In this environment today, it is absolutely going to kill us. We cannot have a system where the appropriations — where it’s in statute that the name of the program is on that money, and the phase within the program is on the statute, so it’s illegal for a program executive officer inside of execution year to look at that and say — ‘No, there’s a better way to allocate those resources.’”
Ultimately, the current defense acquisition architecture was set up to field technologies and capabilities that are identified four years in advance. That means they are of limited or degraded use in today’s fast-moving world, where new technologies rapidly appear and eclipse older ones. This is a reality that China has been able to embrace, but one that the U.S. system has so far failed to adapt to.Launched this year, China’s third aircraft carrier is a dramatic indication of the speed with which the country is moving toward fielding a home-grown carrier fleet that will only be eclipsed by the U.S. Navy. Chinese Internet
There is a growing willingness to talk about the particular challenges presented by China’s technological prowess and the lengths its willing to go to harness this to help drive rapid military change.
Back in 2019, the then head of Strategic Command, Gen. John Hyten, used the Air Force Association convention as the opportunity to alert America to the fact its defense-industrial complex had lost the ability to “go fast.” You can read our reporting at the time here, while Hyten’s remarks on the topic begin at 25:48 in the following video:
“We have adversaries now, and we see proof in those adversaries that they’re going faster than we are,” Hyten said. “Slow, expensive, that’s the way it is … I’m criticizing the entire process … the entire process is broken … We have to go faster, and we’re not, and it is frustrating the heck out of me. Look at the threat, if we’re not going faster than the threat than it’s wrong.”
Hyten also pointed to an example of when a U.S. defense procurement program goes right. This was the Cold War-era Minuteman I ICBM program, which not only met or exceeded all its expectations and objectives but did it in just five years at a cost of less than $20 billion in today’s dollars.This successful launch of a Minuteman I ICBM took place at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on November 17, 1961. Minuteman became operational less than a year later. U.S. Air Force photo
And, as a counterpoint, at the time, The War Zone highlighted what things look like when they go very wrong with the example of the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker. Despite nearly three years having passed since that article, the tanker is still struggling and is years away from meeting its promised capability goals — if everything goes right.A KC-46A refuels a U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet off the coast of Maryland, July 1, 2020. This marked the first time the aircrew utilized the KC-46A centerline drogue system to refuel an aircraft. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Zach Fisher
Since then, there have been Pentagon initiatives that have aimed to tackle these underlying problems in the acquisition system.
Perhaps the most high-profile example was the raft of cutting-edge programs and disruptive concepts introduced by Dr. William Roper, who served as the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics beginning in 2018. But Roper left that position surprisingly last year, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
Among the various complaints leveled at the U.S. military’s approach to modernization, Chaillan highlighted what he sees as a lost battle between the United States and China in the field of cyber capabilities, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, or AI.Nicolas Chaillan, center, the then Air Force chief software officer, poses for a group photo during a visit to the Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachussetts. U.S. Air Force photo by Lauren Russell
“We have no competing fighting chance against China in 15 to 20 years,” Chaillan told the FT. “Right now, it’s already a done deal; it is already over in my opinion.” He also called upon the United States to become “smarter, more efficient, and forward-leaning through agility, rapid prototyping and innovation.”
The frustration of these officials is telling. So too is the fact that some of them, at least, seem willing only to talk frankly about Pentagon failings as they prepare to depart their military jobs.
All of this becomes more worrisome when seen alongside repeated concerns that the ongoing rivalry between the United States and China could ultimately lead to some kind of military confrontation. Clearly, this reality has been proving highly influential on U.S. military planning and posture. Arguably, however, the issue of potential conflicts between these two powers could ultimately be rendered a sideshow. After all, the speed with which China is able to introduce new military technologies is only likely to increase and points to the growing dominance that Beijing hopes to assert across geopolitics, reflecting ambitions far larger than the military procurement process.
Author’s Note: A major hat-tip to the Acquisition Talk blog that first alerted us to this video.
Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia has conducted an intense campaign of nuclear signalling and threats designed to provide it with a strategic advantage. The Kremlin aims to not only deter the West from directly interfering in its attempts to conquer Ukraine but also to limit Western political, economic, and military support for the country.
In contrast, the Soviet Union supplied fighter jets in large quantities to North Korea and Vietnam when each country was at war with the US, and to Egypt and Syria when they were at war with Israel. None of this triggered nuclear escalation or threats from the US in response.
Slovakia now plans to donate its Mig-29s to Ukraine. And such support will not cause NATO to stumble into a third world war. This was true in March and will remain true.
Current Western efforts to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons are just enough to keep it in the fight
The Biden administration has restricted the range of ammunition it provides to Ukraine with the M-142 HIMARS multiple rocket launcher to 80km (the M-30 series of munition), withholding longer-ranged MGM-140 ATACMS. The administration has also demanded that Ukraine avoid strikes on targets in Russian territory (even though facilities supporting the Russian war effort there would be legitimate military targets under the Hague and Geneva conventions).
Fear of nuclear escalation is even more apparent in some western European capitals than in Washington. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated in April that “there must not be a nuclear war” as a defence of his reluctance to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons. He decided that Germany would only deliver certain systems – main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles – to its eastern European allies so that they could provide Soviet-era systems to Ukraine. Militarily, these swap deals make no sense, as they only delay assistance to Ukraine and provide it with inferior materiel.
French President Emmanuel Macron later statedthat it was “almost” NATO policy not to supply certain weapons systems to Ukraine, hinting that other Western European governments shared Berlin’s views. But this is an incoherent approach to the challenge. A modern Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer of the kind Germany has now supplied to Ukraine is far more lethal than a 1970s-era Leopard 1 main battle tank. The former has a much greater range than the latter, potentially allowing it to strike targets in Russia. Nonetheless, Germany will not provide Ukraine with the Leopard 1 because it is a particular class of weapon. Such arbitrary restrictions cannot have come from military advice or from independent risk-benefit calculations. Rather, they seem to have come from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threats to escalate if the West supplied Ukraine with certain systems.
Current Western efforts to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons are just enough to keep it in the fight. But they will not allow the country to recapture its territory and defeat the Russian military. Privately, politicians and officials from various European countries have told this author of their belief that Russia could or would use nuclear weapons if it faced the prospect of defeat in Ukraine. It is conceivable that this fear is the main restraint on their support for Kyiv.
However, these fears are unjustified. Nuclear warfare against Ukraine makes no sense. A single nuclear strike would not alter the military balance in the war. The use of multiple nuclear weapons would do so, but would also inflict huge and lasting damage on Russia. Nuclear attacks on a NATO country would begin escalation that Russia could not control. And the Russian military would be unable to respond to any other contingency, because it would be bogged down in Ukraine. Russia could only respond to retaliation for a nuclear strike with further nuclear escalation – which would be suicidal. Putin is certainly not concerned with morals or ethics, but he is far from crazy or suicidal.
One could always have anticipated that Putin would use a nuclear scare to influence the West’s position. However, it is surprising how successful his approach has been. This is the first time a state has used the threat of nuclear weapons to engage in a colonial conflict or a war of expansion. France did not threaten to use nuclear weapons against states that backed Algerian nationalists or the Viet Minh. Nor did the United Kingdom threaten Argentina in this way during the Falklands war. The Soviet Union did not resort to nuclear threats during its Afghanistan campaign. Nor did the US in Vietnam, Iraq, or Korea. None of the diplomats who negotiated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – be they Western, Soviet, or non-aligned – appeared to consider that a state would use nuclear threats as cover for expansion into the territory of a non-nuclear state.
Putin’s threats will fundamentally alter cost-benefit calculations on nuclear non-proliferation in many capitals. For example, Iran – which is slowly developing the capability to produce a nuclear weapon at short notice – now has a pretext to rethink its nuclear commitments.
Meanwhile, Western countries’ overly cautious approach to military assistance will concern countries that have tried to strengthen their political and economic ties with them in exchange for security. Sweden and Finland could quickly join NATO, a nuclear alliance. But many other countries cannot. They now know that the world outside formal defence pacts will be brutal and cynical. European non-nuclear states – some of which abandoned nuclear weapons programmes in the 1970s and joined the NPT in good faith – have not emphasised this point enough when calling on countries such as Argentina and South Africa to isolate Russia. They need to explain to them, and to voters at home, why a world in which great powers build empires in the shadow of the bomb will be even more dangerous one than one in which Russia loses its war on Ukraine.
SEATTLE — A tsunami triggered by a major earthquake beneath Puget Sound would arrive at the shores sooner and reach further inland than previously understood, according to a study published Thursday by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Models showed a tsunami following a magnitude 7.5 quake would inundate Seattle’s shoreline under more than 20 feet of water, and reach parts of Bainbridge Island, Elliott Bay and Alki Point within three minutes.
Waves could reach a staggering 42 feet at the Seattle Great Wheel and reach as far as Lumen Field and T-Mobile Park.
“Three to five minutes is all that separates a seismic event from the arrival of tsunami waves,” said public lands commissioner Hilary Franz on Thursday during a press conference on the Seattle waterfront. “Which is why we do this research now so everyone is aware of it, so our local state government is aware of it, and we can start to prepare and plan and take all precautions necessary.”
The new study used newer data on topography and elevation, spanning a larger area, than did previous studies of the Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas published in 2003, 2009 and 2014 respectively.
While Tacoma is projected to see less water inundation than in previous studies, the new report said waves could travel further inland.
Water along parts of the northeast coast of Harbor Island could rise 15 feet, the study showed, while waves could reach up to half a mile inland from Smith Cove to Sodo, and closer to a mile near the Port of Tacoma.
North of Deception Pass, the waves grow smaller, to a projected average height of five feet.
Franz urged residents to learn more about the risks facing their area, sign up for earthquake and tsunami warnings, and to prepare an emergency kit with at least two weeks of water, food and other necessities — and to do all of that now, before it’s too late.
“We will not be able to design away all of the risks stemming from earthquakes and tsunamis, but we can take this new modeling to help us develop plans ensuring our resiliency when it happens,” she said.
In the study, researchers from the department’s Washington Geological Survey division used projections modeled after the last major earthquake under the Seattle fault — a magnitude 7.5 that occurred about 11,000 years ago — to estimate the height, arrival time and inland reach of a subsequent tsunami if, or when, the disaster repeats itself.
Research shows the fault has triggered smaller quakes, mostly around 6.5 magnitude, five times in the past 3,500 years.
The quake that happened 11,000 years ago was likely the biggest in the past 16,000 years.
While it’s likely future earthquakes will be smaller than what was modeled, the projections were still “shocking,” said Alex Dolcimascolo of the geological survey division, an author of the report. “We really wanted to emphasize this scenario so people can prepare.”
IRGC Detains Foreigners Spying on Iran Missile Drill Sites
The Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) arrested a number of foreign nationals, including the British deputy ambassador in Tehran, for espionage activities in deserts at restricted areas or near the sites of missile exercises.
A video shot by Iranian drones and released by the IRGC’s intelligence arm on Wednesday clearly shows the suspects visiting restricted areas with ‘no entry’ signs.
“One of those identified is the British deputy ambassador who has gone to Shahdad desert in Kerman with his family as a tourist, but as the recorded images show, he is taking soil samples when a missile exercise is being conducted by the IRGC Aerospace Force at the time,” the televised report said.
The video showed Giles Whitaker, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy in Tehran, and his family. “Whitaker was expelled from the city to which he had traveled after apologizing,” the report said.
Whitaker was reportedly an army officer before a long career with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
One of those detained was identified as the husband of Austria’s cultural attaché in Iran. He had traveled to a village in central Damghan in Semnan province and sampled the area’s soil. He had already been caught filming a military district in Tehran, Press TV reported.
The clip also showed a picture of a third foreigner, identified as Maciej Walczak, a university professor in Poland, who was visiting Iran as a tourist.
“He enters the country under the guise of a scientific exchange with a university, but as tourists, they go to Kerman and Shahdad region at the time of a missile test, where they take samples of soil, water, rock, salt and mud. He is the head of the biological and biotechnology department of the Copernicus University in Poland, which is associated with the Zionist regime,” the report said.
In May, Iran’s intelligence ministry said it had arrested two European nationals who plotted to foment chaos, social disorder, and insecurity across the country.
A half-century ago, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger reconfigured the State Department to devalue regional expertise. As Robert Kaplan detailed in The Arabist, his masterful account of the American diplomats who dedicated their careers to the Middle East in decades past, prior to Kissinger’s move, the State Department would hire and cultivate those who had deep linguistic knowledge and cultural ties to the region. Many of the most influential State Department Arabists, for example, grew up as the sons of missionaries in the region and were fluent in both the language and cultural nuances lost on most American officials. The problem with such deep knowledge, Kissinger believed, was that it led to warped perspectives. Too often, he observed, American diplomats would advocate on behalf of the country in which rather than for which they served.
Kissinger envisioned a diplomatic corps staffed by highly capable men whom the State Department could use interchangeably. He and his successors have generally limited the tenure of American diplomats to two or three years in any country, long enough to develop expertise but not too long to go native. In hardship posts like Iraq or Libya, an American diplomat’s tenure might be closer to a single year.
While such frequent shuffles may reduce clientitis, they come at the expense of institutional memory. Consider Iraq, where the political elite has been stable since 2003. The Barzani and Talabani families dominate Iraqi Kurdistan, while Nouri al-Maliki, Muqtada al-Sadr, Hadi al-Ameri, and, to a lesser extent, Ammar al-Hakim and Haider Abad, remain powerbrokers among Iraqi Shia. The Sunni leadership is more fluid, largely because its roots are shallower, though any aspiring politician in al-Anbar must pay homage to Mohammed al-Halbusi or the Nujaifi brothers, if no longer the Kabouli brothers.
Each of these Iraqi figures has an institutional political memory going back decades. Feuds, fights, and business deals from years past color interactions in a way that diplomats new to Baghdad cannot fathom. This is especially true with American diplomats, whose tenure is just a fraction of their Iranian or Turkish counterparts and who tend to remain within the embassy walls, summoning Iraqis to them rather than refreshing contacts or seeking out Iraqis across the country.
This dynamic distorts reality. Americans inherit both rolodexes and assessments from their predecessors. American biographies of counterparts meant to prepare diplomats for meetings are legendary. If an Iraqi politician sneezes during a meeting, the CIA assessment read by American diplomats twenty years later might still conclude that he has a cold. To use a specific example, Americans may see Mustafa al-Kadhimi as a Western-oriented liberal based on his anti-Saddam activism and his work chronicling human rights abuses. That may have been true of Kadhimi before he was in power, but today it is divorced from reality. Kadhimi is directly responsible for the regressionof pressfreedom in Iraq. To pretend otherwise simply plays into Kadhimi’s hands. Likewise, while the interim Iraqi prime minister projects an image of close cooperation with Western intelligence agencies, he cultivates close ties to Iran behind the scenes and, at a minimum, trades Iranian support for his tenure with promises of inaction.
An American tendency to read sincerity into stage-managed affairs compounds inaccuracy. The Kurdistan Democratic Party, for example, is famous for lavish spreads laid out for visiting American officials that, quite literally, could feed a village. During these dinners and meetings, the Barzanis will criticize Iran and badmouth various Shia political and militia leaders. When the visiting American is of sufficient rank, the Barzanis will discuss their hope for a more Western-oriented Iraqi Kurdistan over $75,000 bottles of whiskey and cigars, even as they plead poverty to those whose salaries they default on. Students I taught more than two decades ago who are present at such meetings as translators, not only in Iraqi Kurdistan but also in Iraq as a whole, tell me how these same politicians often ridicule their American interlocutors when they step out of the room. Iraqi politicians generally look at meetings with American diplomats or other visitors as a chore. The real business in Iraq gets done not in an office but rather at home, often after midnight. Sometimes Iranian diplomats are present; seldom if ever are American diplomats invited into the room.
Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, who represents the Kurdistan Regional Government in Washington but in reality only represents the Kurdistan Democratic Party and its business interests, completes the illusion by projecting an image of an empowered, progressive woman even as she shills for a family in which bigamy and honor killings are far too common. Note to American officials: if the Barzanis are progressive and Western-oriented, where are their wives? Where are their daughters?
The Barzanis will also further their influence by working with alumni of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, to whom they dangle shares in lucrative oil companies and other partnerships. The Barzanis do not demand Richard Olson-style corruption among sitting diplomats. Instead, they expect self-censorship and then calibrate opportunities to the actions these former officials took while in government service.
Fast forward to Iraq’s current political crisis. Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the scion of a Najaf clerical family, sought to recast himself as a reformer, though this was always tenuous. While few if any Iraqis foresaw his decision to order his parliamentary plurality to resign, his political volatility and frequent policy reversals always merit taking his positions with a grain of salt. Nor was it wise to believe Sadr was an anti-corruption crusader. Put aside the opacity of his own finances as well as his seizure by force of prime Najaf real estate. No official who truly prizes clean government or seeks to fight corruption would ally with the Barzanis, Iraq’s most corrupt family.
Sadr’s departing action, a law demanding the death penalty for those who would meet with or seek normalization with Israel, is a throwback to the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1991 Madrid Conference, for example, even ardent Syrian rejectionists sat with Israelis to talk peace. That the Barzanis were Sadr’s chief allies should be cause for introspection in Washington. That the Barzanis subsequently signaled that they would even accept Hadi al-Ameri, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-trained Badr Corps, as Iraq’s prime minister so long as he can get them the majority needed to install their own pick as president, should raise alarm further.
America’s so-called friends in Iraq play Washington for fools. It is time to put an end to such games. The path to a moderate, responsible Baghdad does not pass through Erbil. Further, Barzani’s backroom shenanigans should clarify the U.S. position: a Kurdistan Democratic Party presidency in Baghdad would be a grave danger to American interests throughout the country.
Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.