Category Archives: Domestic News

The Interim Agreement with Iran


The Interim Agreement:

A Fool’s Errand or A Real Opening?

–By Tyrus W. Cobb

Tensions have grown between the United States and Israel over the ongoing negotiations with Iran. On the one hand, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has issued stern warnings advising against reaching any deal with Tehran, arguing that Iran has no intention of halting its march toward obtaining a nuclear weapons capability and is engaging in negotiations only to get the West to lessen the crippling economic sanctions that have been imposed. In short, the Israeli argument revolves around the theme that “While the Iranians keep spinning these hopeful scenarios, the 300 plus centrifuges also keep spinning”. Countering this perception, the vast majority of the American professional national security elite strongly support the Obama administration’s decision to seek an agreement with Iran, particularly since, as former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft argue, “the commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear program needs to be tested”. They believe that an agreement is feasible that would prevent Tehran from having the ability “to rapidly” build a nuclear weapon”.

Yesterday Iran and six of the world’s powers – the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia — agreed on a “first step deal” that is meant to limit advancements in Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing some of the economic sanctions that have deeply hurt Iran’s economy.

According to the White House, the deal stipulates that Iran will commit to halt uranium enrichment above 5 percent and also to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent uranium. The Islamic Republic has also committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity. Iran will also stop work at its plutonium reactor and provide access to nuclear inspectors. In exchange, the United States and its allies have agreed to offer Iran “modest relief” from economic sanctions and access to a portion of the revenue that the country has been denied through these sanctions. No new sanctions will be imposed.

This is an interim agreement, one certainly to be scrutinized closely. But even this modest stopgap agreement will draw severe criticism, alongside strong support.

So let’s take a look at the arguments in favor of and against negotiating with Iran.

The logic behind the “negotiations are a ruse” argument

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren says that Netanyahu is not playing the doomsayer, not the spoiler of efforts to avoid conflict, not someone trying to prevent a peaceful resolution of the nuclear threat. Oren says Israel is the realist here, not falling prey to hopeful scenarios that have characterized previous diplomatic assumptions regarding Iran. He says Israel believes that Iran “wants to and needs the bomb….for hegemonic purposes and for internal security”. Netanyahu argues that lessening economic pressure on Iran sends a message to other countries that the sanctions are ending, so get in fast and win contracts. He warns that Iran could drag out confidence building measures for years while producing fissile material for multiple bombs. Any agreement that does not force Iran to (1) Destroy its centrifuges; (2) Cease enrichment; (3) Close its heavy water plant, and (4) Transfer its nuclear stockpiles abroad, is worthless.

The PM and the Ambassador are joined by a chorus of familiar voices who have strongly supported hard line Israeli positions in the past. The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer demands that no interim agreement be signed that relaxes sanctions while nothing is done except trotting out some “confidence-building half measures”. He says any relaxation of the sanctions would release assets abroad that are frozen, permit Iran to again export its petroleum products, and increase its foreign exchange reserves that are now depleted. He charges that the proposed “deal” would require little in return and “leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact”. “Not a single centrifuge is dismantled”. And while some uranium enriched to 20% may be downgraded to less than 5%, that “process is quickly reversible”. In short, the Mullahs are eager for this agreement, knowing that once sanctions are relaxed, it will be hard to reinstitute them.

The WSJ’s Brett Stephens, not a fan of France, finds Paris to be more stalwart against an Obama administration thirsting for an agreement, possibly to distract attention from its failures connected with the ACA. He finds that a most unusual alliance has risen–between Saudi Arabia, France and Israel–what he calls the “Axis of Reality”, all suspicious of any agreement with Iran and characterizing the U.S. as operating in a fairly-tale world of make believe. The trio, and Stephens, fear that the U.S. is retrenching from its global responsibilities—failing to use force in Syria after Assad crossed the infamous “red line”, restraining Tel Aviv in the face of continued provocations from Hamas and Hezbollah, and lending little or no support to the new military regime in Egypt. Still, Stephens must address the fact that even France signed on to the interim agreement.

The argument for testing Iranian intentions and continuing to negotiate

Former diplomat and President of the Council on Foreign Relations Les Gelb says the arguments against a “full and serious drive to stay the dogs of war are sheer, dangerous nonsense”. He believes that even an interim agreement would be the “Mideast equivalent of ending the Cold War” with the USSR. The deal holds the promise of reducing sharply the “biggest threat to regional peace”, an Iranian nuclear bomb. Such an agreement would also, in Gelb’s view, “open paths to taming dangerous conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan”. No sanctions would be lifted that could not be readily reimposed, he feels.

If we follow the Israeli PM’s advice, Gelb believes, “Iran, Israel and United States would continue their march toward a terrible war in the Mideast. What a great alternative!”. And, he adds, don’t think that toughening sanctions, as some have advocated, would in the end do anything to cause the collapse of the Ayatollah’s regime, anymore than it has in North Korea. He warns that any precipitous military action against Iran would likely be a lonely US-Israeli venture, with no other “allies”—including the Saudis—likely to join in. And certainly not the French!

Former Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, joins Gelb, Brzezinski and Scowcroft in advancing this line of agreement. Crocker argues that a 6-month freeze on Iranian nuclear weapons could lead to a more permanent and more comprehensive agreement. In doing so, the U.S. and the West would be giving up very little in return. Acknowledging that new President Rouhani must always seek the approval of the Mullahs and the Military, he warns that it should be clear to all, “except the ideologically and politically impaired” (to use Gelb’s term), that President Rouhani is the best hope we have for any change in Iran. Failing to permit Rouhani to be successful in these negotiations practically guarantees that those who follow him will be much worse and more difficult to engage.

Crocker warns that the “window for achieving a diplomatic solution is not open-ended”. Both Presidents Obama and Rouhani face formidable domestic opposition, from skeptical members of Congress and anti-American hard liners in Tehran. Crocker notes that Iran has made overtures to the U.S. in the past, particularly after 9/11, when the U.S. and Iran worked closely together to defeat the new Taliban government in Afghanistan and send the Al Qaeda-connected regime back into Pakistan. According to Crocker, who was a key figure in these talks, agreements on various security issues were on track—at least until President Bush’s 2002 speech placing Iran in the “Axis of Evil”. He believes the promising steps toward a rapprochement ended at that point and led to a deteriorating security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, according to Crocker, the cooperation that existed for a time between Washington and Tehran can be reinstituted. He believes, as do many others in the professional diplomatic and military spheres, that in the long term, Iran and the U.S. have sufficient interests in common that a more positive relationship is not only possible, but probable.

A group of nearly 100 former senior diplomats and military officers have endorsed the ongoing negotiations and support an interim agreement likely to emanate (and that has) from the ongoing discussions. They believe that the current government in Iran is prepared to “reverse course on its nuclear activities”. At least that proposition needs to be fairly tested. Echoing the Brzezinski-Scowcroft letter, they argue that an agreement would “advance the national security of the United States”.

Given this, is a comprehensive agreement possible? 

I should underline here that no one on either side of the debate advocates lessening the economic sanctions in the absence of verifiable actions by Tehran. No one is in favor of unilateral measures without tangible concessions from Tehran.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz advocates that in conducting the dialogue with Iran, that the participants keep in mind what he calls “The Gipper’s Guide to Negotiating”. That means do not be anxious for a deal—the side that does so will “get their head handed to them”. He warns negotiators to “be strong” and don’t’ be afraid to “up the ante” if necessary. This means, in his eyes, that any deal must include not only verifiable steps to eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but in the end, concrete steps to “end the regime’s unacceptable behavior” in general. That would mean denying that Iran has any intention to “destroy Israel”, as the preceding President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly demanded. And, for Iran, the world’s “most active sponsor of terror”, directly and through proxies such as Hezbollah, to become a responsible partner in resolving the interminable Mideast disputes.

I think Secretary Shultz’s middle of the road position is the right one. Don’t be afraid to negotiate, but negotiate from a “position of strength”. Don’t permanently loosen the sanctions without concrete, verifiable actions by Iran. Insist that Iran renounce and take visible actions to end its nuclear program, including any enrichment activity beyond what is needed for a civilian nuclear energy program. How the Iranian regime fulfills its commitment to the interim agreement should tell us whether a more permanent treaty can be reached.

Finally, first reach an agreement with respect to the nuclear program, but have a longer term agenda to table soon that demands Iran show it is prepared to exist alongside an independent Israel….and rein in its support for regional terrorist elements.

Along the way, do as the Gipper advised, “Trust….But Verify”! Especially Verify!

Dr./Colonel Tyrus W. Cobb is a former Special Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs and President of the National Security Forum.

Robert Gast on NSA Surveillance Programs

Previously, Gary Hipple wrote a piece very critical of the controversial NSA activities and what he views as serious infringements on our Constitutional right to privacy. He characterized the surveillance and intercept activities as pervasive, but also ineffective. In this piece, Bob Gast defends the programs, describing them as lawful, effective, and certainly under close supervision. 





By Robert S. Gast, II


During the past several months the subjects of freedom, security and privacy have been widely discussed both in the print and electronic media.  Much of this interest was prompted, of course, by revelations from Eric Snowden regarding the extent of data gathering operations conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), coupled with dire predictions from various pundits that freedom from unreasonable government intrusion and personal privacy were being eroded substantially.  I believe, however, that while a healthy level of concern and vigorous examination by Congress is certainly justified, such inquiries must be tempered by a generous dose of common sense and a realistic understanding of the relationship between privacy/freedom and security in modern society.

It is quite clear that we live in a very dangerous world and  threats from various fanatic groups are not only on-going, but potentially even more ominous than the tragic events of 9/11.  Death to westerners and particularly US citizens is a common theme of these groups, and their fervor, oft times justified by extremist religious beliefs, is unrelenting.  Everyone including women and children are fair game. We also cannot assume that any international strictures against the use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons will serve as a viable deterrent to potential attacks.  Furthermore, nearly all of these potential adversaries are found in small, loosely connected groups, frequently from the same clan or even family, making “traditional” methods of investigation such as penetration with informants extremely difficult.  So the question is, “Where and when do our Intelligence Agencies initiate an inquiry”, and how do they gather information that can protect us on a timely basis?

Relying solely upon the results of a future investigation and possible prosecution after a catastrophic attack such as 9/11 is clearly not an option since the American people, the President, and Congress were unanimous in declaring that this was never to happen again. The watchword became, “We don’t give a damn what you have to do to prevent a recurrence, just prevent it“.  Among some of the key actions taken were the passage of the Patriot Act, and enhanced efforts by the NSA to penetrate the communications systems of various terrorist groups and their supporters.

Prior to 9/11 the ability of the Intelligence Community (IC) to monitor communications, and more importantly, share information between various agencies, was severely restricted by Congress.  This had a significant bearing on the IC’s  ability to “ connect the dots”–or as one of my CIA colleagues recently said,  “Hell, we didn’t even know what the dots were”!

Hearings in Congress regarding the NSA Surveillance programs have been concentrated on several issues that deserve comment.  Among these are the “lack of transparency of the program”,  “lack of verifiable data as to the program’s effectiveness” and “the unnecessarily broad scope of the data gathering leading to privacy violations of everyday Americans”.  While frustrating to the media and many in Congress, the manner in which this program is handled is completely understandable and justified when one considers the fact that a full explanation of results and techniques would be a “god-send” to the enemy.  I see little use in giving the enemy our playbook or a summary of our successful counter-terrorism achievements, since they would quickly adjust their tactics accordingly. Indeed, the disclosures to date have allowed adversaries to learn how to avoid detection, and according to GEN Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, have “caused significant and irreversible damage” to our national security.

It should also be stressed that despite the vast amount of raw data that is collected, the NSA and the IC cannot just willy-nilly wander the haystack searching for that elusive needle of data. The agencies, instead, are under rules that restrict their searches for data only “when there is a reasonable, articulable justification, and only those involving communications with terrorists abroad”, GEN Alexander has stressed.

To critics who say our successes have been minimal, we should point to comments from Senator Diane Feinstein, the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who has said repeatedly that the NSA program has been of significant value to our counterterrorism efforts.   However, Senator Feinstein and others “in the know”, such as General Alexander,  are at a distinct disadvantage in defending the program in detail since public disclosure would give valuable intelligence to the bad guys.    Recently there have also been various claims that only “one or two viable threats” have been identified through the NSA program, so the value of these surveillances is questionable.  I rather doubt that these same critics would be so vocal if one of these so-called “viable threats “mentioned the use of biological agents in the subway of a major US city.  Choosing between a vigorous NSA surveillance program with only “one or two hits” and the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans then becomes somewhat more difficult.  Incidentally I have heard from various sources that the number of potential threats that have been identified, and likely foiled, has been much higher – perhaps in the hundreds.

My concern is that the current series of “revelations” about NSA spying and the “hyping” of these stories by the media will lead to an over-reaction by congress and a crippling set of restrictions that will put our country at serious risk.  We should all remember that the enemy is not dumb and will exploit gaps in our ability to gather significant intelligence data on a timely basis.

In summary, I believe we should be very careful of what we wish for. Before terminating or restricting the IC’s ability to collect critical intelligence, think what the consequences of such actions might be.

–Robert Gast of Reno is a former Assistant Director of the FBI.


NSF/NNIC October 8th Event on Human Trafficking

The Northern Nevada International Center and  

the National Security Forum present


Human Trafficking:

 A Movie and Panel Discussion


 Local Experts on Trafficking

UNR, Tuesday, October 8 at 5:00 pm

The Northern Nevada International Center, in partnership with the World Affairs Councils of America and the National Security Forum, will hold an evening of events on October 8, 2013 to increase awareness about human trafficking in Northern Nevada. The evening begins at 5 p.m. with a screening of the internationally acclaimed documentary Not My Life at the University of Nevada, Reno Joe Crowley Student Union (JCSU) Theatre.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with local experts, including Melissa Holland with Awaken, Inc., Brett Kandt with the Attorney General’s Office, Tiffany Short with the FBI, and Ron Chalmers with the Reno Police Department. At 7 p.m., the evening will conclude with an organized flash mob to stop traffic on Virginia Street in front of Lawlor Events Center.

The film Not My Life comprehensively depicts the cruel and dehumanizing practices of human trafficking and modern slavery on a global scale. Filmed on five continents, in a dozen countries, Not My Life takes viewers into a world where millions of children are exploited, every day, through an astonishing array of practices including forced labor, domestic servitude, begging, sex tourism, sexual exploitation, and child soldiering. The film is directed by academy award nominee Robert Bilheimer and narrated by Glenn Close.

“Human traffickers are earning billions of dollars on the backs and in the beds of our children,” says director Robert Bilheimer, “and yet no one knows this is happening.”

Often assumed to be a problem that happens in other countries, human trafficking occurs in the United States and right here in the Reno/Sparks area. Local, state and federal agencies have reported a steady increase in sex trafficking in Northern Nevada in recent years, noting that the average age of victims has decreased from 20 to 21 years old to 16 and 17 years old.  Some victims are as young as 11.  Local law enforcement reports that sex trafficking also increases during popular events such as the Reno Rodeo, Hot August Nights and the Rib Cook-off.

Increased awareness to the issue on a local scale is already having a positive effect. Efforts are currently underway to build a transitional home in our community for trafficked minors, and the Nevada Legislature recently passed Assembly Bill 67, which makes human trafficking a serious offense that carries tougher penalties.

The event is free and open to the public.  Refreshments will be served.  Parking will be provided for NSF participants in the parking meters between Lawlor Events Center and the Brian Whalen Parking Garage.


The Presentation From Our August 22nd Meeting

PowerPoint Presentation available here on

“The Inside Story of

Operation Desert Storm”

Lt. General Marty Brandtner gave a very detailed presentation on the sequence of events, planning phases, decision processes, issues, operational and logistics challenges, and the concept of operations and execution of the offensive air and ground campaign plans for Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-91).

The slides were very thorough and complex—and somewhat hard to read on our AV system—so we are pleased to provide the entire PowerPoint here. For those who were unable to attend, it was a masterful overview of the complexities involved in planning and executing the campaign to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. For those who were there, here is an opportunity to look at the planning slides in more depth.

I am reminded that the VuGraphs Gen Brandtner used in the discussion were the actual ones he and GEN Colin Powell, then Chairman of the JCS, used in briefing the planning and execution to senior officers and to the National Command Authority. Of course, they were highly classified at the time!

“Desert Storm” was a combination of punishing air strikes and finally a ground invasion that drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Although I was vaguely familiar with the operation myself, I must confess that I tended to look back on it with a sense that Saddam invaded, we thought about it, and kinda moved some troops over there and the Iraqis retreated.

How erroneous that viewpoint is. GEN Brandtner laid out the full strength of the Iraqi forces—540,000 troops, including many Revolutionary Guards divisions; Iraq enjoying interior lines of communication (LOCs), possessing advanced tanks, fighter aircraft and air defense capabilities, and hardened by eight years of conflict with Iran. In contrast, the US—and its allies—had to form an effective multi-national coalition, transport enormous numbers of troops and supplies to the war zone, provide replenishment on a daily basis for fighting forces 7,000 miles away, and maintain domestic support for the war. Not easy, as these slides will show.

I was reminded also, during the presentation, of the old military axiom, “Amateurs talk strategy; professionals talk logistics”!

For those who were there, a chance to see the slides in more depth and clarity; for those who were unable to attend, a chance to get an in depth understanding of the complexities of that operation.


  • Ty

Click here (file size 32MB):



Final Reminder! July 9th Meeting

NOTE: An error in the RSVP system may have indicated that there were no spaces available for Tuesday’s meeting. This has been corrected. If you were previously unable to RSVP, please do so now and kindly accept our apologies for the inconvenience!


The National Security Forum presents


Nerve Center of The White House:

A Pictorial History of the

National Security Council


Dr. Tyrus W. Cobb

Former Special Assistant to President Reagan

For National Security Affairs

The Ramada, Tuesday July 9th at 9 AM


The National Security Council has served as the nerve-center for directing American foreign, economic, and defense policy since its inception in 1947. The power of the NSC has ebbed and flowed over time depending on how the President chose to use it and often by the force of the individual serving as the National Security Advisor (NSA).  Ty will take us down Memory Lane as we look at photos of the NSC over time. He will talk about the influence of powerful advisors such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski and the often contentious rivalries between the NSA and the Secretaries of State and Defense.

Join us for a retrospective look back at Truman and Atcheson; Ike and Dulles; JFK and Mac Bundy; LBJ and Rostow; Nixon and Henry; Jimmy and Zbig; Reagan, George, Cap, Haig and Bud, Colin and the Admiral; Bush 41 and Brent, Baker and Cheney; Bubba and the guys; Bush 43 with Rummy, Cheney II, and Condi; and the Obama I and II teams. Ty will also look at the key players in the emerging Obama NSC and the potential impact Susan Rice will have as she assumes the post of National Security Advisor.


Please join us for what will be a very interesting discussion. A full breakfast will be served ($15 for Members, $25  for non-members; $5 for students with ID; free for WWII veterans), so recommend you arrive by 8:30 to enjoy some coffee and conversation.

Note that the new breakfast rates ($15 for members, $25 for non-members) will go into effect beginning with this session on July 9th. Membership forms will be available at the door.

Please RSVP on our website by (clicking hereor you may RSVP by phone (775) 746-3222 or email We are also now accepting credit cards at the door for your convenience.