News India Times

he culture of reflexive conspiracy- theorizing that pervades the Is- lamic Republic can sometimes catch out its own officials. Re- sponding to reports that the Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranianmissile, the head of Iran's civil aviation organization protested that this was out of question, be- cause his country's air-defense systems were too sophisticated tomake such a mistake. This is exactly the kind of absurd reasoning that attended the Iranian regime's narrative of its most famous civil aviation tragedy be- fore this week: the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655 by an American warship, the USS Vincennes, whichmistook the airliner for an Iranian F-14 fighter jet. All 290 lives on board were lost. Viewed through the paranoid lens of the Islamic Republic, the worst accident in the history of the U.S. Navy was not an acci- dent at all - because, surely, the American radar systems were too sophisticated tomake such an error. Just a few days ago, in the aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, President Hassan Rouhani darkly invoked the Flight 655 tragedy while re- sponding to President DonaldTrump's claim that, in the event of an Iranian attack, the U.S. had 52 targets against which to retaliate. "Those who refer to the number 52 should also remember the number 290," the Iranian leader tweeted, along with the hashtag #IR655. Rouhani went on to add: "Never threaten the Iranian nation." That tweet has not aged well. Alas, it might be toomuch to expect the Iran- ian regime to acknowledge that hideous tragedies can and do occur in the fog of war, much less to try and clear the miasma, mostly of its ownmaking, that envelops much of the Middle East. The tragedy of Flight 655 was one of the rea- sons Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decided, a fewmonths after it happened, to accept that Iran was in a hopeless position in its war with Iraq, and agree to end the eight-year conflict. Iran was already taking a pounding from SaddamHussein's forces and Khomeini wor- ried that the U.S. would either get involved directly or equip Iraq with evenmore sophis- ticated weapons. Under his successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, the Islamic Republic continues to threaten "harsher revenge" for Soleimani. Tehran's tame terrorists andmilitias across the region claim to be planning their own re- taliation. This is calculated to thicken the fog, never mind that it might lead tomore tragedy. Simultaneously, the regime is determined to obfuscate the facts around Flight 752's tragic end.While claiming to welcome interna- tional assistance in investigations, it appears to be engaged in a frantic cover-up. A CBS crew that visited the site this morning found the debris had for the most part been re- moved, and scavengers were picking through anything that remained. There was no secu- rity, no effort to cordon off the scene, and no sign of any Iranian investigators. This makes the regime's claims about the plane's flight recorders look highly suspect. After initially refusing to hand the "black box" over to Boeing Co., the aircraft's manu- facturer, Tehran is now saying that it was damaged in the crash - but that it intends to download the recordings. That Iranian officials are unable to keep their stories straight allows little optimism that they will allow the facts of Flight 752's final minutes to come to light. One official has suggested that the investigation would take a year, possibly two. That should give the regime plenty of time to cook upmore elabo- rate conspiracy theories. -B LOOMBERG News India Times January 17, 2020 2 Opinion T Published weekly, Founded in 1975. The views expressed on the opinion pages are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect those of News IndiaTimes. 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Road, 29 Adarsh Society Ahmedabad 380009 Tel. 26446947 F ax. 26565596 Columnist and member of the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board For Trump, ForeignRelationshipsAren't About Strategy. They'reAbout Cash By Marc Fisher G eorgeW. Bush explained his decision to send thousands of additional troops to Iraq, at a time whenmost Americans had soured on U.S. involvement there, as a strategic necessity:Without more boots on the ground, "radical Islamic ex- tremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits." Barack Obama, who came to office promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, justified his "surge" of 30,000 more troops to the Afghan war as a matter of principle: "America will speak out on behalf of . . . human rights, and tend to the light of freedom and justice and opportunity and re- spect for the dignity of all peoples. That is who we are." DonaldTrump, like Obama, campaigned on a pledge to get the United States "out of the nation-building business." But when Iraqi leaders demanded that U.S. forces withdraw after Trump ordered the killing in Iraq of a top Iranianmilitary commander, the president's instinct was to describe the crisis in purely mercenary terms: "We've spent a lot of money in Iraq," he said. "We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that's there. It cost billions of dollars to build. . . .We're not leaving unless they pay us back for it." Trump won the presidency by promising to run the country like a business. He would be the consummate negotiator, driven not by ideology or grand strategy but by his gut, by a plain-spoken, transactional commit- ment to winning. In this, perhaps more than any other realm, he has fulfilled his promise: He possesses a singular focus on transac- tions - deals, not relationships; the bottom line, not long-term goals or foundational principles. In the Middle East, as in Europe, Asia and North America, Trump's approach has hewed closely to his lifelong belief that a per- son is judged by the deals he makes, by a reckoning of wins and losses. Trump believes he wins because he can be purely transac- tional, free from the norms, ideologies and traditions that restrain his rivals. He turned against America's European al- lies because he thought NATO saddled the United States with way more than its share of the cost of mutual defense. He overturned trade deals such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pa- cific Partnership, and then the Iran nuclear pact as well, because he perceived that the United States was giving more than it got in return. He has levied or threatened stiff tar- iffs on China, the European Union, Turkey andMexico, arguing that they provide net profits for the United States, even though nu- merous analyses say they have raised prices for American consumers and cost the coun- try hundreds of thousands of jobs. He argues that North Korea should join the community of nations so it can realize its prime beach- front real estate potential. ("Boy, look at that view," he told reporters. "Wouldn't that make a great condo?" The controversy that got Trump im- peached began when he wanted to withhold aid fromUkraine, in part because of his long- standing resentment of America's tradition of helping other countries with humanitar- ian, military and economic aid: "Why aren't all of these countries - why aren't they pay- ing?Why is it always the United States that has to pay?" This is not an attitude he developed when he entered politics. In 1980, Trump gave one of his most revealing interviews, toTV celebrity interviewer Rona Barrett, saying that winning transactions was the core of his life: "I think about it literally 24 hours a day, and I really enjoy it. . . . I do understand it's all basically a game. . . . The people that enjoy it are the people that have been winners." Trump views existence as a battle tomake the best deals. "I really look at life to a certain extent as combat," he said at the time. His first bestseller described dealmaking as his "art." No unified theory of Trump explains his every provocation or impulsive decision. He has said throughout his life that his primary skill andmotivation is to be a showman. And he struggles to balance his craving for re- spect with his desire to win the spotlight, even when it means alienating the very elites and authorities whose respect he seeks. That's why he talks about hiring"the best people" as aides, yet often turns on advisers who grab the attention of the media. But Trump's obsession with the bottom line permeates his approach to governing, including his current stance toward Bagh- dad:We own you. You owe us. "We had Iraq," Trump said on "Face the Nation" last year. "We spent a fortune on building this incredi- ble base.We might as well keep it." That idea has stuck with the president, and on Jan. 3, he tweeted that "the United States has paid Iraq Billions of Dollars a year, for many years. That is on top of all else we have done for them." -T HE W ASHINGTON P OST