War in All But Name as US State Department Offers Bribes to Pirates

If at first you don’t succeed, spread some money around. The Financial Times reports that the US State Department is offering cash bribes to captains of Iranian ships if they sail those ships into ports where the US government can seize them.

The offers are funded from a “Rewards for Justice” program authorizing payouts of up to $15 million for “counter-terrorism” purposes. It’s  not about counter-terrorism, though. It’s about doubling down on US President Donald Trump’s decision to violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, usually called the “Iran Nuclear Deal.”

The other parties to the deal —  especially France, the UK, and Germany — don’t want to let the deal go, but also don’t want to enrage Trump by violating the unilateral sanctions he’s imposed on Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, have made it clear that unless those other countries find ways to deliver meaningful sanctions relief, they’re abandoning the deal too. They’ve started taking concrete steps in that direction.

On July 4 — Independence Day in the United States — members of the United Kingdom’s Royal Marines boarded an Iranian oil tanker, the Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. They seized ship, crew, and cargo in an act of open piracy.

The pretext for the seizure was that selling oil to Syria violates European Union sanctions. But neither Iran nor Syria are EU member states, and the tanker was taken in international “transit passage” waters. That’s like giving a speeding ticket to a driver in Hungary for violating  Kazakhstan’s speed limits.

Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, plausibly asserted that the seizure was requested by the US government. The ship was released after Iran agreed that the oil would not go to Syria (its whereabouts and destination remain unknown as of this writing).

In the meantime, a US court had issued a seizure warrant — for an Iranian vessel, carrying Iranian oil, to a non-US destination, clearly outside any reasonable definition of US jurisdiction. And the Iranians had hijacked a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in reprisal for the taking of Grace 1.

So now the US State Department is reduced to simple bribery in its attempts to clean up after Trump’s 2016 campaign promise to get the US out of the “nuclear deal.”

Under the deal, the Iranians went beyond their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to “end” a nuclear weapons program which the US intelligence community didn’t even believe existed. All they got out of it was some relief from sanctions that should never have been imposed, and the return of some money stolen by the US government decades ago. All the US got out of it was an empty propaganda victory.

But electoral politics required Trump to throw even that tiny trophy away. He had to either promise foreign policy belligerence SOMEWHERE or risk establishment mockery as a peacenik. Enter the Israeli lobby and Sheldon Adelson’s millions. Iran drew the short straw.

So did we. This is war in all but name and only likely to escalate as Election 2020 draws nigh.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.


Your Vote, Your Voice: Don’t Waste It


More than a year out from the 2020 presidential election, we’re already starting to see “spoiler” fear-mongering from supporters of America’s two largest political parties and their candidates.

Will formerly Republican congressman Justin Amash of Michigan run for president as a Libertarian or independent in 2020?

How about formerly Republican, formerly Democrat, formerly independent, former Rhode Island governor and US Senator, now Wyoming Libertarian Lincoln Chafee?

Or former Democratic congresswoman and 2008 Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney, urged by some to seek the Libertarian nomination?

What if former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz finally gets off the fence and runs as an independent?

Could one of those candidates “spoil” the election in favor of President Donald Trump or of his Democratic challenger?

The message of the Republican and Democratic parties and their supporters to the rest of us is:

If you don’t like what we’re offering you, tough. Vote for us anyway.

Instead of voting  FOR what you want, vote AGAINST what you hate.

There are only two real options on the menu: Liver and broccoli.

Ignore the prime rib, chicken cordon bleu, and  ice cream. Don’t “waste your vote” on them. You’re getting liver or broccoli no matter what you order (in fact, we work hard to keep those other choices off the menu with our control of ballot access and debate inclusion so that you won’t get “confused” about your real options).

And no matter what you do, don’t stay home. It’s your civic duty to come to the restaurant, choose liver or broccoli, and clean your plate. Because we say so.

Earn your vote the hard way, by convincing you that our ideas and policy proposals are the best on offer? Don’t be silly.  We’re entitled to that vote. Hand it over.

Don’t listen to them.

Whatever value your vote may have (and realistically, one vote isn’t very valuable in terms of affecting election outcomes), that value resides in its power to reflect YOUR preferences.

The only way to “waste” your vote is to cast it for a party or candidate you don’t really support. Better to cast no vote at all than to cast one for someone or something you don’t want.

In an election, your vote is your voice. In next year’s presidential election it will be one shout among 130 million. Shout for what you want, not against what you fear, and let the chips fall where they may.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.