Barrie Dunsmore


Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.

We know that during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and the Middle East War of 1973, the United States and the Soviet Union came dangerously close to a nuclear war. This past week we learned that there was another close call in November 1983.

In March of 1983 President Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” Six months later the Soviets shot down a Korean civilian airliner. That autumn the U.S. started deploying intermediate range missiles in Europe. And that November, NATO began an exercise to test its nuclear weapons command structure.

It should come as no surprise that people such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, Republicans seeking the presidential nomination or serving in Congress and FOX News, are virtually unanimous on this subject: Russian President Vladimir Putin is showing bold leadership and strength in Syria - President Barack Obama is clearly indecisive and weak.

The words “Cold War” virtually cover the front page of Tuesday’s New York Post. Normally, I don’t pay too much attention to Rupert Murdock’s sensationalist tabloid. But in this case its fear-mongering is not all that different from much of the foreign news coverage in the main stream media in recent days. In one way or another, most coverage implies the dire warning - The Russians are Coming!

More than a year ago, as reported this week by the New York Times, a large number of corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists and Republican strategists began meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices in Washington. President Obama had threatened to act forcefully to combat climate change. And they were determined to stymie whatever regulations he might propose.

The clock started this week on the sixty days Congress has to examine the agreement reached between Iran and six world powers including the United States. Based on early reaction, we can expect a summer of torrid criticism that will make it seem that this is the worst diplomatic deal in the history of the world.

There could be a final agreement within hours. It might take another week. Or the talks could fall apart completely. Still, the two sides have never been closer to a deal to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon - in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the Iranians by the international community.

We have reached the point where "storms of the century" are happening all the time. Network news programs are now devoting substantial parts of their broadcasts almost every evening to extreme weather related stories.

Turkey’s just concluded elections produced an outcome which is to be applauded as a victory for democracy. This comes at a time when some professed democracies seem threatened by autocratic leadership. Even here in the United States, admiration has been expressed for strong rulers such as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who can impose his will on his people and get things done.

The upsurge of Middle East violence in recent days - particularly the latest battlefield successes of the extremist group Islamic State - has tended to overshadow the fact that time is running short, to finalize a comprehensive Iranian nuclear deal. June 30th is the date that Iran - and six world powers including the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - set for the completion of that agreement. Its purpose is to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon - in exchange for the lifting of the range of economic sanctions imposed by the world community on Iran because of its nuclear activities.

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf have often been at odds over American support for Israel. But otherwise, for decades they shared the same strategic objectives for the region – maintaining stability and keeping the oil flowing.

Two days ago, the Vatican hosted a summit meeting of the Pope’s top advisers, the head of the United Nations, religious leaders of different faiths, Nobel laureates and respected environmental scientists. This was the latest step in Pope Francis’ campaign to take up the battle against climate change.

It’s expected the compromise bill will be submitted to the full Senate some time this month. It gives Congress a vote on the final terms of the nuclear agreement that Iran and six world powers including the United States are seeking to reach by the end of June. It needs to be emphasized that there are many issues to be resolved in the next round of talks with Iran that are to begin next week.

The objective of these negotiations has been to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the lifting of the economic sanctions the international community imposed on Iran because of its nuclear program.

Just four days before Israelis would cast their ballots, normally reliable polls were showing that a new center-left coalition called Zionist Union, was expected to gain four more seats in the Israeli Knesset than Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party. Instead, Likud won four more than the Zionist Union. How did that happen?

Let’s put this into context. Never in the history of the Republic has a foreign leader ever been invited to address the U.S. Congress for the purpose of condemning the foreign policies of the sitting American president. On Tuesday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did so with relish. In describing the international effort to preclude Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Mr. Netanyahu said, “It doesn’t block Iran’s path to the bomb. It paves Iran’s path to the bomb.”

Most of the Arab world welcomed Jordan’s swift decision to execute two convicted terrorists in response to the apparent burning alive of one of its pilots by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. And it immediately raised speculation that this time the Muslim extremists may have gone too far in their savagery. Former CIA counter- terrorist specialist Bruce Riedel was quoted on NPR as saying this incident could be a “tipping point.”

The next deadline in the negotiations between the six major world powers and Iran will be reached in March. By then a frame-work agreement is due which would preclude Iran developing a nuclear weapon - in exchange for the lifting of the crippling sanctions that were imposed by the international community. A detailed agreement is due June 30th. In the meantime an interim deal is in place, which freezes Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited easing of sanctions.

In Beirut in the summer of 1973, some journalist colleagues and I met with a then relatively unknown Arab technocrat. His name was Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia. Yamani had law degrees from NYU and Harvard and spoke perfect English. He was also the leading figure in the oil cartel known as OPEC- the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Barrie Dunsmore speaks at a podrum with a VPR sign behind him at a VPR's 2014 commentator brunch.
VPR File

My late mother never heard an adage in which she could not find a basic truth. For her, the idea of hiding in plain sight was actually contained in the old saying, “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

Now, I have always opposed the notion of sweeping generalizations. I have subscribed to the idea that every human being is unique, I have rejected the impulse to categorize people according to their race, religion, gender, economic status or sexual orientation. That means of course, that I am qualified to be a commentator on public radio.

Just fifteen days after the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001, then Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press. As he discussed the new terrorist threat with Tim Russert, Cheney said: quote: “We have to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence work.” He added, “a lot of what needs to be done will have to be done quietly, without any discussion.” Unquote