Friday, July 24, 2009

Netanyahu's Myth of an "Iranian Threat:" An Israeli View

An Israeli political scientist has courageously denounced Israeli politicians for using the myth of an Iranian threat as a "political tool."

As Israeli politicians hype the “Iran threat” in order to cement their tenuous hold on power, remain in the limelight, distract Washington from resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and pressure naïve Congressmen into providing more weapons, an Israeli professor* has the following to say in the Israeli Israeli press about Netanyahu’s myth of Iran threat:

There is no need to hear the repeated declarations by Benjamin Netanyahu, his political allies, his aides (particularly Uzi Arad) and senior officers to know that the state of the Iranian regime and the perception of the looming Iranian nuclear threat has become a political tool for them….

Does Iran indeed pose a real existential threat rather than an imagined existential threat against those states that are threatened by it, particularly Israel?

The answer is that there are three basic reservations regarding these much-talked-about concerns over

First, like other small states,
Iran seeks to attain nuclear weapons in order to deter other nuclear-armed states from attacking it. So if Iran is not attacked, it will not attack.

Iran's goal is primarily to boost its influence in the Muslim world.

Third, and most important, with the exception of two atomic bombs that were needlessly used by none other than the democratic and liberal United States - since Japan was very near surrender - no other country possessing nuclear weapons has used them.

The other reasons for not using nuclear weapons are numerous. The main reason is these states' fears, including
Iran's, of a response by other nuclear-armed countries. Even if any country, including Israel, were to be attacked by an Iranian nuclear weapon, other countries would respond with force. This is not because of the damage that would be caused to the attacked country, but particularly due to the fear that they too would be harmed.

Other reasons for refraining from using nuclear weapons include moral considerations, fear of mistakenly striking allies in the region, concern over widespread destabilization and other related factors.

The conclusion is that even if
Iran attains nuclear weapons, it does not pose a real existential threat to other countries, Israel included. It would behoove Israeli politicians and defense officials to take these considerations into account and cease disseminating statements about the existence of this threat and military operations against Iran.

* The author is Professor Emeritus Gabriel Sheffer, political scientist, retired from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Pakistan Trumps Afghanistan

Losing Pakistan would be far too great a price to pay for any imaginable outcome in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Frontier Post, in an editorial lamenting Washington’s attitude toward Pakistan, has asked a fair question:

President Barack Obama's anointed viceroy for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke says militants are crisscrossing between the two countries of his domain. Then, why is the American army in Afghanistan not stopping their trafficking on its side? Why too are not the NATO forces and the Afghan army? Isn't it their job? Or is it written in scriptures they all will sit in their secure bases away from the border, keep munching on burgers, expect the Pakistani military to do this job all alone and pass judgements on its act?

This question is not only reasonable but important because it must be in the minds of many Pakistanis. The absence of a good answer from Washington can only undermine U.S.-Pakistani relations. For the U.S. to fight a war in Afghanistan may or may not be rational; the answer, I admit, is debatable. But what is not debatable is the vastly greater significance of Pakistan. To wreck US ties to Pakistan and, worse, to wreck Pakistan in the process of fighting an inept American-style war in Afghanistan would make the Afghan war a disaster regardless of who ends up in control of that country.

Washington Creating Wall Street Frankenstein

Washington is merrily creating a new Wall Street Frankenstein that will rob you blind…and cause another recession as the impoverishment of America accelerates.

The corrupt bailout deal Washington made with Wall Street is simple: Wall Street can play games with your money just like before, except that this time, if they lose your (investors’) money, you (taxpayers) have to compensate them (Wall Street – not the investors, who might be you). So Wall Street is free, indeed encouraged, to make all the same irresponsible gambles that created the current recession all over again, only this time “Wall Street” is even more centralized than before, which makes it more dangerous and make further political corruption (i.e., bailouts without financial transparency) more likely. Bottom line: before we even get out of the current mess, we are busy paving the way to a repeat performance…and the road to this hell is not paved with good intentions. Tighten your belt: for the average American, the good times are not coming back.

For the details, consider the following assessments of our predicament by Robert Reich and Paul Krugman.

Robert Reich:

The resurgence of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs gives both banks more financial clout than any other players on the Street -- allowing both firms to lure talent from everywhere else on the Street with multi-million pay packages, giving both firms enough economic power to charge clients whopping fees, and bestowing on both firms even more political heft in Washington.

Where are the antitrusters when we need them? Alternatively, why isn't the government charging Goldman and JPMorgan a large insurance fee for classifying both firms as "too big to fail" and therefore automatically bailed out if the risks they take turn sour? Instead, we've ended up with two giants that now have most of the casino to themselves, are playing with poker chips backed by taxpayers, and have a big say in what the rules of the game are to be.

When JP Morgan repaid its federal bailout of $25 billion last month it was, like Goldman, freed from stricter government oversight. The freedom has also allowed JP, like Goldman, to take tougher and more vocal stands in Washington against proposed financial regulations they dislike.

JP is mounting a furious lobbying campaign against regulations that would funnel derivatives trading through exchanges where regulators can monitor them, and thereby crimp JP's profits. Now the Street's biggest derivatives player, JP has generated billions helping clients navigate these contracts and assuming counter-party risk in such transactions. Its derivatives contracts were valued at roughly $81 trillion at the end of the first quarter, representing 40 percent of the derivatives held by all banks, according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. JP has played down its potential risk exposure from these derivatives contracts, of course, but anyone who's been paying attention over the last ten months knows that unregulated derivatives have been at the center of the storm.

Paul Krugman:

…by rescuing the financial system without reforming it, Washington has ... made another crisis more likely.

Let’s start by talking about how Goldman makes money.

Over the past generation — ever since the banking deregulation of the Reagan years — the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” The business of moving money around, of slicing, dicing and repackaging financial claims, has soared...

Such growth would be fine if financialization really delivered on its promises — if financial firms made money by directing capital to its most productive uses, by developing innovative ways to spread and reduce risk. But can anyone, at this point, make those claims with a straight face? ...

Goldman’s role in the financialization of America was similar to that of other players, except for one thing: Goldman didn’t believe its own hype. ... Goldman, famously, made a lot of money selling securities backed by subprime mortgages — then made a lot more money by selling mortgage-backed securities short, just before their value crashed. All of this was perfectly legal, but the net effect was that Goldman made profits by playing the rest of us for suckers.

And Wall Streeters have every incentive to keep playing that kind of game.

The huge bonuses Goldman will soon hand out show that financial-industry highfliers are still operating under a system of heads they win, tails other people lose. ... You have every reason, then, to steer investors into taking risks they don’t understand.

And the events of the past year have skewed those incentives even more, by putting taxpayers as well as investors on the hook if things go wrong. ... Wall Street in general, Goldman very much included, benefited hugely from the government’s provision of a financial backstop — an assurance that it will rescue major financial players whenever things go wrong.

You can argue that such rescues are necessary if we’re to avoid a replay of the Great Depression. In fact, I agree. But the result is that the financial system’s liabilities are now backed by an implicit government guarantee.

Now, the last time there was a comparable expansion of the financial safety net, the creation of federal deposit insurance in the 1930s, it was accompanied by much tighter regulation, to ensure that banks didn’t abuse their privileges. This time, new regulations are still in the drawing-board stage — and the finance lobby is already fighting against even the most basic protections for consumers.

If these lobbying efforts succeed, we’ll have set the stage for an even bigger financial disaster a few years down the road. The next crisis could look something like the savings-and-loan mess of the 1980s, in which deregulated banks gambled with, or in some cases stole, taxpayers’ money — except that it would involve the financial industry as a whole.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Washington's Mideast Nuclear Policy Poorly Conceived

Washington is playing an unnecessarily weak hand in its nuclear dispute with Tehran by relying on threats and failing to think through its options for a more nuanced and fair-minded policy. Clinton’s recent remarks make things worse.

Secretary of State Clinton said in Bangkok:

We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that, if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it's unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer because they won't be able to intimidate and dominate as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.

Curiously, these ill-chosen words do not appear to be on the State Department website. On that website, she is quoted as saying in Thailand “we are committed to the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” Now that is a formulation that, if applied to the Mideast, would put the U.S. on the moral high ground.

The words she used regarding the Mideast, however, were unfortunate words, filled with misconceptions and logical fallacies that are likely to further complicate the nuclear dispute between Tehran and Washington.

Clinton did indeed make a “fair assessment” that a defense umbrella would counterbalance an Iranian nuclear weapon and leave Iran no better off. But where does the assumption that Tehran believes it can intimidate the region with a nuclear weapon? How could one or a few or even many Iranian nuclear bombs enable it to intimidate an Israel that, according to Iran, already has some 200, plus, by the way, the delivery systems, plus the pipeline gusher of additional weapons from the U.S.?

If we are going to make assumptions about Iran, rather than looking at facts, the far more obvious assumption is that Israel, which repeatedly threatens to attack, is intimidating Iran. The far more logical conclusion is that the surest route to solving the problem is not to further threaten Iran but to eliminate the threat to Iran. What is the purpose of egregiously underscoring the overwhelming odds against Iran and thus lending further credence to the argument that only nuclear arms will enable Iran to obtain national security or respect?

Any assumptions may of course be wrong. But starting with the assumption that one’s allies are good and one’s opponents are evil, and then putting all one’s eggs in that single basket, is hardly a professional way of designing foreign policy. More specifically, a defense umbrella of nuclear allies and everyone else against a single outsider that is either non-nuclear or armed with a primitive nuclear capability does not constitute a very thoughtful plan for the future.


Dissenting Opinion

An alternative interpretation, offered by a colleague who shall go unnamed unless he requests that he be named (and also expressed in Israeli media), suggests that the real meaning of Clinton's remarks is that Israel has been trapped. Whereas I argued that her remarks constituted Israel and the US ganging up on Iran, my colleague's interpretation is that she implicitly took away Israel's freedom of movement and effectively took away the value of Israel's nuclear capability. I'm not sure that anything really would prevent Israel from firing "through" an American nuclear umbrella, and I suspect Iran is not sure either. Nevertheless, there's one dissenting opinion.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Iran: Mideast Model of Reform?!?

Is Iran the model for reform in the Mideast? To anti-democratic regimes, is Iran frightening not because of its nuclear ambitions but because it offers a model of, by regional standards, a relatively moderate, modern, democratic state?

Consider: despite all the viciousness of the regime toward mostly very peaceful and very moderate protestors expressing very minimal demands, the fact remains that by the standards of Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel (as far as Palestinians are concerned), Iran looks very modern and democratic.

  • In Iran, intense criticism of the regime and of individuals is printed in the mass media.
  • In Iran, there are a parliament, elections, open organizations that while not quite modern political parties nevertheless express political positions.
  • In Iran, checks and balances against dictatorship are assiduously built into the state structure.

It is wonderful to measure countries against the standard of perfect democracy and not so bad to measure the laggards against the high achievers, either. But let's be a little more fair about our day-to-day metric for judging a country that has only been allowed to figure things out for itself for a generation. Compare Iran to the U.S. if you wish, but the relevant comparison might be Iran today vs. the U.S. a generation after it was formed. Does anyone remember the Alien and Sedition Laws, slavery, or the vote for men only? Or perhaps we should compare Iran today with the U.S. today: say, treatment of protestors in Iran jails today vs. treatment of prisoners at Bagram or Guantanamo.

But much more relevant would be to compare neighbors. Compare the treatment of elite dissenters in Iran with Egypt's treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood or Saudi Arabia's treatment of the leaders of Riyadh Spring or Jordan's treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Compare Iran's treatment of Majlis criticism with Israel's treatment of Palestinian members of Knesset.

And while you're at it, compare the number of people in Iran willing to put their personal safety on the line by going into the streets unarmed and peaceful to protest injustice with the number of Saudis or Egyptians or Jordanians...or Israelis or Americans willing to protest the faults in those countries.

Iranian Opposition Under Threat

Khamenei was less neutral than the Press TV summary suggested, leaving the opposition exposed.

Following up on yesterday’s post about Khamenei’s response to Rafsanjani, Juan Cole had access to the full text of the speech, from the US government’s Open Source Center (which is closed to the public).

Cole identifies the following as Khamenei’s key remarks:

The people can only reach their goals in the light of security and tranquility. If security is maintained, education, science, progress, industry, assets, welfare, and worshiping can be achieved. .. .Disturbing the security of a nation is the biggest sin that could be committed by someone. Of course, if some one is linked to the foreigners will not listen to [this advice] and I am not going to address such groups.

I am going to address the elite. The nation is vigilant, our elite should be vigilant too. The elite should know that any remarks, action, and analysis, which help them (the enemies), will be against the direction the nation is moving. All of us should be very cautious. We should be very cautious. . . There are things that should not be said and uttered. If we speak about them, it means that we have acted against our responsibilities.

The elite are undergoing a test, which is a big one. If we fail in this test, we will not only fall behind for one year, it will also lead to downfall. In order not to have that fate, we should use the yardstick of reason, which invites mankind to worship God.

Khamenei is evidently in competition with Rafsanjani to see who can be the vaguest and most oblique. “All of us should be cautious” certainly puts the spotlight on the protestors but could equally be seen as an attack on some of the vicious statements being made by Iranian military leaders and the extremist remarks of Khamenei’s followers Jannati and Shariatmadari.

However, Khamenei’s remark that “disturbing the security of a nation is the biggest sin that could be committed” seems plain enough. It is the classic statement of a would-be dictator, and indeed could have come straight from the Cheney White House. More thoughtful people might offer leadership corruption, undermining of free speech, or threats by a country’s military to kill protestors as much larger sins. This one sentence seems to put Khamenei solidly in the Ahmadinejad camp, which explains the confidence and extremist nature of Yazdi, Jannati, and Shariatmadari: they feel they are on the winning side.

The Press TV report on which I relied for my previous post omitted this statement. It is not clear why, but the result was clearly to misrepresent Khamenei’s message.

Khamenei may not publicly be calling for the extreme measures his supporters are advocating but neither is there any evidence that he is doing anything to reign in the movement to charge Mousavi, Karoubi, Khatami, and now Rafsanjani with sedition. This would destroy much of a whole generation of Islamic Revolution leaders and destroy, once and for all, the democratic pillar ambiguously established by Khomenei along with his new concept of veliyat-e faqih (oversight by Allah’s representative).

The logic of events suggests that the lives of the protest leaders are now firmly on the line. With the regime refusing even to contemplate (in public at least) any compromise, it is hard to see how the protestors can afford to back down, so no option other than intensifying their opposition seems very rational. However, opposition also seems a poor choice. The relatively solid (though not perfect) unity of the instruments of state control (IRGC, Basij, regular army, intelligence, judiciary) and the split among the clergy (not to mention the apparent submissiveness of most of the clergy) may leave the legitimacy of the regime in tatters, but it nevertheless leaves the regime very much in control. The longer the arrests and torture and extreme rhetoric of regime supporters continues without the opposition being able to affect it, the more powerful the regime will grow.

Today's reports of "dozens" of protestors arrested in Tehran constitute a case in point: tiny protests, apparently less than protests at recent Republican National Conventions, are (again, as with recent Republican National Conventions) effortlessly suppressed by totally unsympathetic authorities. What is happening on the streets in Iran does not hold a candle to, say, the Seattle protests against globalization. It is no threat to the regime. The parallel admittedly is not exact, however. The protests in Iran are news because of the incompetance of a extremist regime that could easily afford to be civil, to make some gestures to democracy, to seek compromise. That regime has a very strong hand; if it overplays that hand, it will have no one to blame but itself.

A second way of measuring the significance of the Iranian debate is to notice the degree of balance. So far, there is none at all.

Protestors, who are after all demanding nothing but a convincing case that the election was legal, are denounced as traitors, physically abused, and jailed. This behavior is the mark of a primitive state. Iran cannot ask to be respected as long as it fails to condemn and try to eliminate such behavior. Such behavior happens in the U.S., as well (e.g., police brutality toward demonstrators at national party conventions, the scandalous stopping of Katrina refugees trying to cross the bridge into Louisiana by Louisiana police, the torture of untried prisoners of war in Guantanamo and Bagram), but such actions are clearly recognized as violations of the American way, as shameful acts. But in Iran, it is those who call for fair treatment of these protestors who are attacked.

There are people undermining Iran: they are the extremists like Shariatmadari who deny Iranians the right to voice their disagreement or even their criticism and like the general who bragged that his soldiers would fight to the death against the protestors.

I will be impressed with Iran's progress when I see people like Shariatmadari attacked by name in the Iranian mainstream media and told clearly that Iranians are a free people who have a right to voice their opinions.

The regime’s foundation has been weakened by its rejection of the democratic pillar. Democracy has nothing much to do with voting (except in the sense that cars have something to do with grease). Democracy is about the absolute right to express dissent. The Iranian regime has, by both blunt rhetoric and vicious behavior, rejected that right, in the process destroying the democratic pillar supporting the Islamic Republic. The other pillar was velayat-e faqih, but the split among the top clerics pretty much discredits that as well. Khomenei's revolution has pretty much rusted away.

In its place, the regime has its rising reliance on oppression via the organs of state security. In return for short-term control, it is sacrificing long-term stability. As the Shah discovered, when misused, all that power can melt away very quickly. But the timing of such tipping points is always a mystery and the regime's "short-term control" may last far too long to save the current opposition leaders. After all, despite the Riyadh Spring of 2003, the Saudi dictatorship remains in power. Like the opposition in Iran, the reformers who led the Riyadh Spring movement were not challenging the regime but simply calling for its reform. Nevertheless, they ended up in jail.

Monday, July 20, 2009

One Small Step Toward Peace in Palestine

The settlement issue as being argued between the U.S. and Israel remains a tempest in a teapot, carefully avoiding the real issue, which is the presence in Palestinian territory of half a million Israelis. But the debate just moved one small step closer to that issue.

According to Haaretz:

The United States views East Jerusalem as no different than an illegal West Bank outpost with regard to its demand for a freeze on settlement construction, American sources have informed both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Finally, impressive words from Washington, assuming the report is correct, and in a way more impressive because private. On the other hand, being private, they can be disowned, and since the key obstacle to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies in the U.S., the very privacy of these remarks—suggesting that Obama still does not dare make such statements in public—is their weakness. This is not a criticism at this point; just a warning. One step at a time is fine, as long as the next step is promptly taken. And the next step would seem to be something substantive.

A minimal step could be the convening of a conference of reformist Israelis, of which there are still some very fine thinkers, vastly more sophisticated and thoughtful and patriotic than the politicians in charge (e.g., Uri Avnery, Ilan Pappe, Bernard Avishai). Kudos to Plato, when the politicians absolutely cannot come up with a single positive, creative thought, turn to academics. Let the group prepare a roadmap for returning Israelis to Israel.

A more ambitious substantive step could be for Washington to make the point in some low-key manner that all those weapons it sends are for defense, not stealing Palestinian land or starving Palestinian civilians. Any time in the next five minutes, Israel is certain to misuse those weapons, justifying a cutoff of the supply. Given Israel’s huge military advantage over every nation in the region, this would in no way endanger Israel, but it would send a crash of thunder across the political landscape. No big public noises would be necessary.

Think of US weapons as a pipeline for Israeli defense (not Israeli expansion). Clearly, that pipeline has a big leak. It’s time to fix the leak. Just turn off the pipeline.

What Might Pakistan's Tribal People Actually Want?

I suppose the “good news” is that Pakistan’s mainstream media are discussing all the bad news in the tribal regions, rather than simply ignoring those areas. Now, for some of the bad news…

A recent article summarized the challenge in these words:

Fata is part of Pakistan in name alone. It is not subject to the laws of the land and the writ of the state holds no meaning in large swathes of the tribal belt. What’s more, Taliban ‘rule’ in recent years has transformed the power equation in the region. The militants have killed or quelled the tribal maliks who once called the shots. True, the old order was also iniquitous but the maliks at least had a stake in a state that awarded them status and privilege. The militants and clerics who now rule the roost are under no such obligations.

A few details make the point more clearly:

Money must and can be found to develop the tribal belt, create employment opportunities, and cater to basic needs such as schooling and healthcare. For far too long, the notion that tribal people just want to be left alone has given the centre a pretext for doing nothing for their uplift. Nobody wants to travel 100 miles to get to a hospital.

The paper then astutely raises another question:

What the residents of Fata want must be ascertained first and foremost. Are they ready to accept a social contract under which they willingly relinquish some of their freedoms in exchange for protection by the state and the rights and privileges of citizenship?

Now, we have reached the nub of the issue.

It is all too easy to argue that past injustice and lack of governance led to the rise of the Taliban, which must now be defeated by a combination of judicious, precision military might (so far a concept that appears to exist only in the minds of “leftwingers”) and a powerful reform of that old bad governance. But if the old society of local chieftains has been destroyed by the combination of Taliban murders and government military destruction, what do the locals—many now in refugee camps—want? The option of returning to the old days seems no longer possible. They have little evidence that anything good will come from a new, close association with “those people in the plains,” as the much mistreated mountain people may think of the somewhat alien society of Pakistan.

So far, neither government nor Taliban seems to be asking the locals what they might actually want. Some vote with their feet and flee…but don’t get much of a welcome in Pakistan. Others vote with their feet and fight against the Taliban…but don’t get much Pakistani support so they tend to get slaughtered. Still others vote with their feet and join the Taliban. I wonder what type of government the people of Waziristan might adopt if they actually had a free choice?

Khamenei Plays the Moderate

The dangerous (both to regimes and participants) debate over the source of legitimacy in Islamic states rages on in Iran.

Apparently getting at least part of Rafsanjani’s message, Khamenei reverted publicly to his formal role as neutral arbiter today, observing:

The political elite should maintain great vigilance because they currently face a significant challenge; their failure to rise to this challenge will lead to their collapse.

The part of Rafsanjani’s message he got, then, was that Iran’s governmental structure faces a crisis; the part he continues to evade is the emphasis by Rafsanjani and his allies that the threat to the political system comes from the weakness of the democratic pillar. At least as summarized by Press TV, Khamenei’s remarks were so abstract and neutral that each side can read them as a criticism of the other, though his moderation certainly sounds like a rejection of calls by Ahmadinejad allies for “gouging out the eyes” of opponents and putting other members of the elite on trial.

Meanwhile, former president Khatami called for a referendum on what Press TV called “the legitimacy of the government,” a stark contradiction with the view of Deputy Chairman of the Assembly of Experts Mohammed Yazdi, who responded to Rafsanjani’s emphasis on democracy by saying, “The legitimacy in Islamic government comes from God and popularity comes from people.”

Reminiscent of the Sunni debate in Saudi Arabia between the regime that demands strict observance of Wahabbite ideas as the foundation of its secular power vs. reformers such as Professor Abdullah al-Hamid and Sheikh Hasan al-Maliki who defend the right of people to participate in government and criticize authority, this debate over whether the Iranian regime’s legitimacy rests on its own self-serving claims that it represents God’s will or on a popular mandate strikes at the heart of secular political power. As in Saudi Arabia, regime defenders are not content to debate but want to marginalize if not murder their opponents.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Recession Tremors

Do you think the recession is ending? The CIT saga suggests otherwise.

Here’s a rather technical issue on which I have virtually no knowledge and only one opinion: namely, that it sounds important for its broader implications. The topic is the fate of the financial firm or, if you prefer, the bank for small companies, CIT. Consider:

CIT was one of the largest nonbank lenders in the world, a big part of the so-called shadow banking system that collapsed when the global financial crisis erupted last year. It became a bank-holding company to get more than $2 billion from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program in December. But that hasn't solved its liquidity problems, forcing it to seek more government support.

This report inspires me to ask the following questions:

  1. Assuming this report is correct, what does it imply about the utility of Washington’s controversial bailout of the rich that a company no one ever heard of could get aq $2 billion gift and now be collapsing?

  1. What does it imply about the likelihood that the recession might be ending?

I suggest these questions are important. Anyone have answers?

From the field: Netanyahu blows off U.S. demand that construction be stopped on a site in occupied East Jerusalem

From the field: Netanyahu blows off U.S. demand that construction be stopped on a site in occupied East Jerusalem

Hezbollah expert Professor Richard Norton gave a nice overview of the Jerusalem issue in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in his blog today, concluding pointedly that:

If the Obama administration is silent on Jerusalem, it will be making a major mistake in terms of resuscitating U.S. credibility as an honest broker.

The Meaning of a Democratic Iran

Make no mistake! A democratic Iran would not become an American colony. It would be a proud emergent regional power, willing to resist Israeli regional hegemony, deeply involved in Iraqi society, and insistent upon a better deal for the non-Western world.

With all the thoughtless accusations flying around obfuscating the real issues that separate Washington from Tehran, perhaps it would be useful to take a moment to consider what a truly democratic Iran would be like.

First, (Warning: Sit down; this may take your breath away.) a democratic Iran will still defend itself. As long as it remains ringed by hostile American military bases and as long as nuclear-armed Israeli Zionists insistent upon retaining their military domination over the region remain in power, Iran will still want the option of a nuclear deterrence.

Second, a democratic Iran will still be proud of its glorious past, will remember the injustice of Russian and British and American interference, and will demand to be treated with respect. Washington will still be seen as owing Iran a truly sincere apology for the coup that destroyed Iran's nascent democratic movement in 1953, supporting a dictatorial shah, supporting Saddam's invasion, and shooting down an Iranian airliner.

Third, a democratic Iran will still be Muslim and will therefore find Israel's repression of the Palestinian people repugnant. Depending on the degree to which Washington moves back toward a less biased position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the degree to which Zionist extremists continue to hold power in Israel, a democratic Iran may or may not remain leader of the anti-Zionist front, but it is hardly likely to copy the Shah's willingness to ignore Israeli repression of fellow Muslims...any more than a democratic Saudi Arabia or Egypt would.

Fourth, a democratic Iran will still feel entitled to be a regional leader. It will not necessarily be a crusading Shi'ite revolutionary state, but it will still be Shi'ite and will therefore retain a special relationship with Iraq and Lebanon, just as the U.S. has a special relationship with Canada. It will still feel that it has a natural interest in the security situation along its borders and will thus pay attention to events in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Fifth, a democratic Iran will still want to reform the global political system to distribution resources and power more equitably. It will be energetic, articulate, and involved.

A democratic Iran could be a real blessing for a deeply sick global political system...provided that it is welcomed, rather than threatened, by the global elite. But do not expect it to kiss up or kneel down, any more than those 13 colonies of yesteryear did.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Experienced Technocrat Appointed to Head Iran Nuclear Agency

MIT PhD Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA under Khatami, has been appointed Iran’s new Atomic Energy Organization chief. Appointment of a technocrat familiar with international negotiations, rather than a partisan hack, suggests Iran takes its nuclear dispute with the West seriously.

His initial remarks were firm but businesslike, avoiding the rhetoric that both sides have frequently indulged in:

Legal and technical discussions about Iran's nuclear case have finished and there is no room left to keep this case open. We hope that more efforts be made by the West in order to obtain mutual confidence instead of the past six year's hostile era and this case will be closed as soon as possible.

Although evidently making no reference to the possibility of Iran offering more transparency, he at least expressed the hope that relations with the West would improve, albeit by further Western efforts. Given the highly threatening “good cop-bad cop” game now being played by the U.S. and Israel, as well as the high level of domestic tension in Iran, a more accommodating statement could hardly have been expected.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rafsanjani Calls for Compromise; Security Forces Answer With Violence

Security forces attacked the crowd at Friday prayers in the regime's rapid response to Rafsanjani's call for compromise.

Leading Friday prayers, Rafsanjani adopted a conciliatory tone of compromise and national unity. He did not, in the Iranian media’s English-language summaries, come across as a visionary, but he at least sounded like a leader, distancing himself from the arrogant tone of Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and a long list of security and military officials.

Rafsanjani left no doubt that his call for compromise was a warning to the regime, noting, according to a rapid translation by a blogger, that, “The guardian council, the expediency council, everyone gets their legitimacy from the vote of the people.”

The existence of two distinct camps in Iranian politics was clear from the media.

IRIB identified Rafsanjani merely as Friday prayer leader and focused on his call on all to obey the law – which could be read as criticism of protestors or of the regime for its alleged electoral corruption and violent post-election crackdown and alleged torture of protestors.

Press TV highlighted the fact that Rafsanjani “heads both the top political arbitration body called the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, the top clerical body which chooses and supervises the Leader of the Islamic Revolution.” Press TV quoted Rafsanjani stating:

Our key issue is to regain the trust which the people had and now to some extent is shattered.

The article also quoted Rafsanjani saying that “the Islamic Republic is not a ceremonial term. Should one of the two be tarnished, we will no longer have the Revolution."

Driving home the point that the Islamic Republic rests on the two pillars of Islamic rule and electoral legitimization of that rule, the article noted:

Recalling the perspectives of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Revolution, on democracy, Rafsanjani urged the authorities to cherish the "the people's vote and opinion" as the most important aspect of the establishment.

It has become clear since the election that many in the Iranian elite would disagree with this assessment of the balance between the Islamic pillar and the democratic pillar.

ILNA featured his remark that “we are all members of a family,” a statement in stark contrast to the recent comment by Sayyed Hassan Firouzabadi, chief of Iran's Joint Armed Forces, that his troops were ready to fight to the death against demonstrators. Rafsanjani’s full comment clearly pointed the finger of blame:

We have to allow for an atmosphere that is calm and free There is no need for force, if military, security and intelligence forces allow. We are all part of one family.

Unfortunately, the regime wasted no time giving its response, implicitly slapping Ayatollah and ex-President Rafsanjani down by tear gasing and allegedly knifing post-speech demonstrators* from the enormous crowd that was listening to his speech on loudspeakers. One family no longer.

* See Demosthenes for a report with an eloquent discussion of what political legitimacy means.

The Negative-Sum Permanent War Against Islam

Forget rhetoric. Think about what is actually happening in the world. With the neo-cons kicked out and, in the minds of thinking people, utterly discredited, has anything changed? Or is Washington still fighting a war against Muslims?

The U.S. military has not left Iraq; on the contrary, it has consolidated itself out of sight. The threats against Iran have not only not ended; they have intensified. How else does one interpret the impatient remarks of Secretary Clinton and the highly public movements of Israeli nuclear-capable ships into better positions from which to attack Iran? U.S. forces are not withdrawing from the Muslim world; they are building up. Supply lines are shifting from ground to aerial. Deaths on both sides are rising. The main campaign under the neo-cons was in Iraq, a country of some 30,000,000, including the several million refugees and the 1,000,000 who died as a result of the U.S. invasion. Now the main campaign is in Pakistan and Afghanistan, an area with a population of some 190,000,000. The refugee flow in Pakistan is rising so fast it cannot even be calculated. That is not progress.

The war on Islam, or, to be more precise, the war against activist Muslims who talk back, demand their rights, and refuse to kowtow, is slowly becoming institutionalized. It is being transformed from an emergency response to a deadly threat from a small but evidently vicious, immoral, and possibly uncompromising group into a permanent policy of aggression toward all Muslim societies that refuse to submit.

Washington does not discriminate between extremist Muslim enemies and Muslim social reformers. Not just Hamas, in itself no enemy of the U.S., but the whole half-starved civilian population of tiny, helpless, half-starved Gaza is treated the same as anti-Western terrorists in their training camps. Moslems who talk back are threatened with the same military response as Moslems who shoot back.

This attitude toward Islam is irrational and self-defeating. Condemning Muslims to submission or resistance is a fool's game with endless unpredictable opportunities for disaster that only multiply as the game continues to be played. Even if the West managed to survive and maintain such a policy, eventually the side-effects of endless war would encompass the decline and fall of Western democracy: endless war and democracy are mutually exclusive. Western arms may, conceivably, always win, but Western society can only lose a zero-sum military conflict with Islam. If that tragedy occurs, it will come as no satisfaction to Westerners that Muslim society will also end up a loser. Nothing is more tragic than a negative-sum outcome.

Self-Destruction of Israeli Society

Many thanks to the reader who submitted the videos by the terse Israeli thinker Gilad Atzmon in the comment to the previous post. Here is more of Atzmon's trenchant analysis of what is really happening in Israel and the dangers that it poses for Israeli society:

The issue I am going to discuss today is probably the most important thing I’ve ever had to say about Israeli brutality and contemporary Jewish identity. I assume that I could have shaped my thought into a wide-ranging book or an analytical academic text but instead, I will do the very opposite, I will make it as short and as simple as possible.

In the weeks that have just passed we had been witness to an Israeli genocidal campaign against the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza. We had been witnessing one of the strongest armies in the world squashing women, elderly people and children. We saw blizzards of unconventional weapons bursting over schools, hospitals and refugee camps. We had seen and heard about war crimes committed before, but this time, the Israeli transgression was categorically different. It was supported by the total absolute majority of the Israeli Jewish population. The IDF military campaign in Gaza enjoyed the support of 94% of the Israeli population. 94% of the Israelis apparently approved of the air raids against civilians. The Israeli people saw the carnage on their TV screens, they heard the voices, they saw hospitals and refugee camps in flames and yet, they weren’t really moved by it all. They didn’t do much to stop their “democratically elected” ruthless leaders. Instead, some of them grabbed a seat and settled on the hills overlooking the Gaza Strip to watch their army turning Gaza into modern Hebraic coliseum of blood. Even now when the campaign seems to be over and the scale of the carnage in Gaza has been revealed, the Israelis fail to show any signs of remorse. As if this is not enough, all throughout the war, Jews around the world rallied in support of their “Jews-only state”. Such a popular support of outright war crimes is unheard of. Terrorist states do kill, yet they are slightly shy about it all. Stalin’s USSR did it in some remote Gulags, Nazi Germany executed its victims in deep forests and behind barbed wire. In the Jewish state, the Israelis slaughter defenceless women, children and the old in broad daylight, using unconventional weapons targeting schools, hospitals and refugee camps.

This level of group barbarism cries for an explanation. The task ahead can be easily defined as the quest for a realisation of Israeli collective brutality. How is it that a society has managed to lose its grip of any sense of compassion and mercy?

The Terror Within

More than anything else, the Israelis and their supportive Jewish communities are terrorised by the brutality they find in themselves. The more ruthless the Israelis are, the more frightened they become. The logic is simple. The more suffering one inflicts on the other, the more anxious one becomes of the possible potential deadly capacity around. In broad terms, the Israeli projects on the Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and Iranian the aggression which he finds in himself. Considering the fact that Israeli brutality is now proved to be with no limit and with no comparison, their anxiety is as at least as great.

Seemingly, the Israelis are fearful of themselves being the henchmen. They are engaged in a deadly battle with the terror within. But the Israeli is not alone. The Diaspora Jew who rallies in support of a state that pours white phosphorous on civilians is caught in the exact same devastating trap. Being an enthusiastic backer of an overwhelming crime, he is horrified by the thought that the cruelty he happens to find in himself may manifest itself in others. The Diaspora Jew who supports Israel is devastated by the imaginary possibility that a brutal intent, similar to his own, may one day turn against him. This very concern is what the fear of anti-Semitism is all about. It is basically the projection of the collective Zio-centric tribal ruthlessness onto others.

The extraordinarily high quality of Israeli self-criticism, in comparison to the utter superficiality of most American commentary on the subject never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Israel Intimidates but Does Not Bomb Lebanon

Nothing happened in Lebanon today - just the normal Israeli belligerency to show who's boss.

In an act that anywhere else on earth would be considered an act of war, Israel today violated Lebanon's airspace with two jet fighters. This belligerent event of course neither deserved nor received any notice elsewhere because it is so routine. In the global crusa...sorry...war to teach Muslims a lesson, this is the type of trivial event no serious professional analyst of global affairs would bother mentioning.

Except...isn't there a principle here? If one country is allowed endlessly to violate international law with impunity, does that not establish a dangerous precedent? What if a less "advanced" country...say, Iran...were to follow this precedent? What if an IRGC general, perhaps one not well versed in the rules of global affairs, were to argue that the precedent of Israeli aerial violations of Lebanese territory justified Iranian placement of IEDs in Iraq where American military vehicles were expected to pass?

Yes, Israel owns victimhood. No, we, the rest of mankind, will never, ever be able to compensate Israelis for the harm done to their ancestors. Nevertheless, will Israel be grateful and wise in its use of its privileges if allowed to do what is permitted to no other nation? Will it use its privileges only when necessary, apologize for doing so, and go out of its way to offer to relinquish its privileges at the earliest possible moment?

Or might Israel actually cause harm to itself by too frequent indulgence? How much unprovoked violence can a state indulge in without becoming addicted? What are the impacts on a democratic society of becoming addicted to violence as the means of choice for resolving international disputes? Does it ever affect how society resolves domestic disputes?

I don't even enjoy the odd local police helicopter buzzing over my rooftop. If that aircraft were a loaded jet fighter/bomber sent by an enemy state that had repeatedly invaded my country and destroyed my home town, I wonder, how would I feel?

Iranian Governance: Collapse of the Compromise

A very nice overview of the impressive structure of the Islamic Republic has been published by Persicus Maximus. The author also points out the Western bias that both ignores the impressive Iranian effort to structure a workable system and ignores the democratic features of that system. Iran deserves credit for creating governing mechanisms that look rather good in comparison with those of other regional countries. Americans in particular should also have the honesty to admit that Iran's long effort to understand and adopt the Western concept of democracy would have been far more successful if the U.S. had helped instead of fomenting a coup that destroyed Iran's democratic movement in the early 1950's in order to preserve Western control over Iran's oil resources.

But back to the state structure, which is now under such stress. As I see it, the founders of the Islamic Republic consciously faced the same problem America's constitutional fathers faced: how to prevent dictatorship. They answered in essentially the same way, as well: checks and balances.

Of course, practice has never been perfect. In the US, corporations, government-allied media, and the emerging imperial presidency undercut the democratic structure laid out in the Constitution; in Iran, the Supreme Leader (imagine an imperial president who talks to God) had so much power that the temptation to interfere in politics by screening opponents out before they can even run for office has proven irresistable. As Khomenei was evidently well aware, power corrupts.

This process of power corrupting has now, it seems to me, led to exposure of the great secret compromise on which the Islamic Republic's state structure is based. The compromise is that it is based on two pillars - the Islamic leadership of Allah's representative (velayat-e faqih) and electoral legitimization. The "secret" is that these two concepts are directly contradictory.

Khamenei has exposed the secret by giving in to corruption (i.e., by interfering in the electoral process). This has caused the collapse of the compromise and made it necessary for all the members of the elite who had previously avoided looking too closely at this compromise to choose sides, i.e., do they now support Islamic dictatorship or electoral legitimization? Supporting the former risks the emergence of a harsh dictatorship that will strip them of their privileges (political access, status, and extreme wealth). Supporting the former risks the fall of Islamic rule altogether.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Politics by Prayer

Attention over the Iranian electoral dispute is shifting to Friday prayers in Tehran, which will be led by Rafsanjani. It is normal for him to lead prayers on rotation with about three other leaders, but he missed his rotation--perhaps because he saw that as an effective protest, perhaps because Khamenei managed to sideline him.

Uskowi on Iran has a nice summary of the latest based on Persian sources:

Qalam news website reports that the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi will attend the Friday’s Prayer which will be led by Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani [Qalam, 15 July 2009].

Mousavi, in a letter published in Qalam, declared his readiness to join his supporters in attending the service, characterizing the move as the best way to protest the “unjust” suppression of the freedoms by the government.

It is expected that Mousavi supporters will also attend the gathering, potentially creating a protest atmosphere on Tehran streets after the service.

Countering the opposition, Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of the ultra-conservative Kayhan, in an editorial to be published in Thursday's edition of the newspaper, has called on government supporters to attend the prayer services as well and has instructed them to chant pro-Khamenei slogans, such as “Khamenei, we are your soldiers; Khamenei, we are at you command!” [Kayhan, 16 July 2009].

So Mousavi has apparently finally discovered a forum--public prayer--from which even the regime sees no way to exclude him. Therefore, to compete, the regime feels it must meet him on his own chosen ground and compete on his chosen terms.

Details on typical atmosphere for such a meeting would be very interesting.
  • Have they been politicized before?
  • What typically happens on the street after prayers?

As for Friday:
  • will the Basij be out in force on the street when prayers end?
  • what will be happening in Friday prayers in other cities, especially Qom, where a lot of leading clerics--supposedly the conscience of the nation--are still trying very hard to remain invisible?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fissures in Ahmadinejad's Coalition?

Mousavi has been mulling the establishment of a modern political party to institutionalize the so-far loosely organized electoral protest. He just received an endorsement from within Ahmadinejad’s own camp.

Highly placed conservative cleric and party activist Habibollah Asgaroladi has supported Mousavi’s plans for establishing a political party, saying:

Establishing a party to voice one's ideas and political perceptions is a wise move.

The establishment of a modern, permanent, institutionalized political party by Mousavi would constitute a permanent challenge to the hierarchical and subservient political system envisioned by both the IRGC and conservative Shi’ite clergy, though it is not clear how his plans for a potential new party differ from the numerous political organizations that already exist in Iran. However, in the current context, hardline regime supporters, such as Mesbah-Yazdi and Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, would probably consider the mere establishment of such an opposition party, regardless of its platform or the behavior of its members, as an act of sedition.

Habibollah Asgaroladi, secretary-general of the Islamic Coalition Party, is a member of the Expediency Council and former head of the Iranian Secret Service and Homeland Security Agency. (The Expediency Council, with about 28 members, advises the Supreme Leader and supervises the conduct of the elected portion of the government.) It would seem difficult for the regime to label him as a traitor.

Asgaroladi, labeled by Press TV a “vocal supporter” of Ahmadinejad, is general secretary of the pro-Ahmadinejad Imam and Leadership Front (or Principalist faction). He is also a central council member of the Islamic Coalition Party (Motalefeh), an old conservative organization. Reputedly extremely wealthy, he is a member of the Bazaar Merchant Coalition society.

His previous support for Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, he sternly admonished Ahmadinejad on June 18 for sneering at the protestors, saying:

If we imagine that the preferences of ourselves and of those around us are Right and all others are Wrong, and we look at the others as flotsam and jetsam, whoever has such concept, irrespective of his rank, that person has ceased to be a servant of God, for God has told His servants to have the best dialog with each other.

Whether Asgaroladi is criticizing Ahmadinejad out of respect for democracy, to defend his personal privileges as a wealthy cleric with close ties to the bazaar, or perhaps because he sees Ahmadinejad’s uncompromising hostility toward his opponents as dangerously destabilizing, remains unclear. Whatever the mix of reasons, his voicing of support for a reformist party strengthens the principle that parties have a legitimate role and sends a message to would-be centralizers that even conservatives can oppose dictatorship.

What influence Asgaroladi may have personally is also hard to say, although his attitude can hardly help but buttress his boss, Rafsanjani, who heads the Expediency Council (and who will lead Friday prayers this week after suspiciously missing his normal rotation last week), and make the effort to paint Mousavi as seditious all the more difficult. More serious for Ahmadinejad is the implication that Asgaroladi’s sudden disenchantment with the man whose candidacy he supported might herald a broader revolt within Ahmadinejad’s own coalition.


Sure enough, hardliners are saying that Mousavi cannot have a political party:

According to the state run newspaper Kayhan, Mohammad Reza Mir Taj al-Dini, member of the principalist faction has said “in the Islamic Republic system, a person who does not accept the guardianship of the jurist and the Guardian Council is not qualified to form a party.”

The Deputy of the Council for Coordination of the Forces of the Revolution said, “Mousavi must first prove that he does not have enmity and hostility towards the regime and accepts the existing laws and then think about forming a party.”

“I believe that given current circumstances Mousavi wants to impose his illegal words by using partisan force and this in not acceptable and he should not be given a permit.”

Kayhan also quoted the speaker of the Society Loyal to Islamic Revolution who said “creating a party by people like Mousavi whose loyalty to the regime has not been proven is against the constitution.” Mohammad Azimi added “Mousavi’s behavior after the announcement of election results has risen doubts about his loyalty to the constitution…therefore he is not qualified to form a party.”

Thanks to NiacINsight website for this comment and translation from the Persian.

Israeli Violence Undermining the Peace Process

Washington is quite right that violence is undermining the peace process between Palestinians and Israel, but the main source of that violence is Israel...because peace would undermine the Israeli regime's goals. How long must we endure Washington's hypocrisy?

In order to overcome the biases taught by the politically subservient mainstream U.S. media, try reading the Israeli press, which offers several revealing English-language papers. If you think Israelis are the innocent victims, try, for example, this very recent Haaretz commentary:

Every time Gazans sit down for a meal, they face a depressing reality. The selection of foods available to them is dictated almost entirely by a harsh policy imposed by the Israeli government, which, as of late, has even refused to allow such innocuous-seeming foods as pumpkins, pasta or beans to cross the border. The goal behind Israel's tight control of Gazans' dietary regime is definitely not improving their health. Rather, the government argues that allowing "luxury" foods into Gaza would only add to the popularity of Hamas' leaders, enabling them to better feed their constituency. But, in the eyes of many observers, Israel's policy of limiting foods that enter the Strip is almost tantamount to starvation, and comes dangerously close to collective punishment, both of which are not only illegal and immoral methods to use in pursuit of Israeli security, but also do little to improve that security.

Washington has repeatedly expressed its opposition to countries that “support violence” designed to undermine the Mideast peace process. I totally agree. If Washington wants to put its money where its mouth is, it will have to realize that the primary offender against this principle is Israel. When Israel stops using violence—collective semi-starvation of the population of Gaza, brutality toward Gaza fishermen, military incursions into all of Palestine, army-backed settler terrorism against Palestinian homeowners, then progress toward the peace process will begin.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Western Media Bias Against Opponent of Western Regimes

According to a puzzling, if not downright racist, Reuters report:

A group of hardline Iranians gathered in front of the German embassy in Tehran on Saturday to protest against the murder of an Egyptian woman inside a German courtroom, a Reuters witness said.

Outraged Iranians protesting an unbelievably irresponsible crime by a German who stabbed an Iranian witness in court eighteen times are labeled "hardline." No attempt was made in the report to justify why people outraged at the fact that a German court cannot protect its witnesses or the fact that the murderer had time to stab the witness 18 times before being subdued might be considered "hardline."

Does this mean that in the opinion of Reuters, all Westerners who oppose violence by, say, Iranian authorities against pro-democracy demonstrators are "hardline?" Was the beautiful Neda, who allegedly put herself in the way of a Basij bullet, "hardline?" Did Hitler slaughter six million "hardline" Jews? Are Human Rights Watch analysts documenting Israeli killings of civilians in Gaza "hardline?" I suppose the victims of the military suppressing resistance to the recent coup in Honduras were also "hardline."

No, no, no. I'm getting carried away. The truth is very simple: Western media have rules. One of the rules is that when Western regimes oppose a certain country, then the organizations and people of that country are no longer "Iranian" but "hardline Iranian;" they are no longer "Hamas" but "terrorist Hamas." The first word, you see, is no longer an adjective but simply part of the name. If you are demonstrating against a Western crime, you are a "hardline Iranian." Who else but a "hardliner" would go out of their way to call attention to the murder in court of a witness? Who else but a "terrorist" would go out of their way to defend their people from Israeli collective punishment than a "terrorist?"

I'm feeling very depressed. Would a reader kindly write in and encourage accusing me of being "hardline?" I would take that as a great compliment.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Historical Analogies for the Iranian Predicament

Finding Iran confusing? So is everyone else. We (i.e., Westerners threatening Iran and Iranian politicians who threaten it in their own myriad ways) might all just want to calm down and consider for a moment the lessons we might learn from history.

Zionist politicians intent on expanding Israeli territorial control and defeating any country (and Iran is the last) willing to defy Israeli regional military domination are doing their best to make the case the Iran is sui generis. On this one point, Khomenei would certainly have agreed. But Khomenei has been dead for a long time, and Iran looks more and more like other countries every day.

It is almost impossible to view the Basij without thinking of the Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution: naïve and no doubt frequently sincere youths full of indignation, minds crammed with ideology and played for fools by corrupt leaders. So far, they remain under control, but Mao ended up having to call out the army to control his teenage bully boys, and that pretty much trashed his revolution.

It is also almost impossible to view the IRGC without seeing that model of military kleptocracy, the Pakistani Army (see Alyesha Siddiqa’s Military Inc. on the latter). Pakistan and Iran are similar in many ways, not the least because both have politicized and educated publics that have demonstrated the will and capacity to take charge of their own fate and defend their rights. The impressive overthrow of Musharraf and the Lawyer’s Movement in Pakistan as well as the courage of protestors both against the Shah in 1978-9 and today in Iran hold lessons in democratic action that put complacent Americans, whose democracy is also under domestic attack, to shame. In Pakistan, the masses concerned about civil liberties tamed the military only to see corrupt and incompetent politicians slip back into power. Are senior clerics in Qom right now considering how Iran might do better?

There is no embarrassment in admitting that we foreigners don’t have a clue about what is happening in Iran. Events strongly suggest that Khomenei, Ahmadinejad, the IRGC, the Qom clerical establishment, and the Iranian populace don’t either. After all, while you were reading this article, the situation changed. But there are historical precedents worth contemplating while we all (hopefully) take a deep breath and calm down.

Clerics Take Exception to Regime Consolidation of Power

Elite maneuvering sparked by the Iranian electoral dispute continues to intensify. The regime is not backing down, but opposition to the regime’s hardline stance of depicting dissent as sedition appears to be coalescing and deepening.

Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, mayor of Tehran and former IRGC general and fierce critic of Khatami, called for revision of the electoral law on June 24. Today, Interim Friday Prayer Leader Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, a member of the Assembly of Experts, urged the Majlis to take action. Given the insistence of Ahmadijad, Khomenei, and other regime spokesmen that nothing was wrong, this implicitly undermines, at least somewhat, the legitimacy of the whole regime and strengthens the argument of the protestors. The Fars News Agency report omitted reference to his call but noted that he said "All the four presidential candidates also shared the very same spirit (of honoring Iran),” further undermining calls for trial of Mousavi and Khatami. The Fars report also curiously noted that Ahmedinejad’s electoral victory “could” secure him a second term…so this is now suddenly a question to be decided by…whom?

So far, the IRGC appears to be united. The comments of ex-general Qalibaf and the initial protest by ex-commander Rezaei suggest the possibility that some IRGC reservations may exist about the course of its rapid politicization.

In a significant display of media freedom, Iran’s Press TV displayed the thoughtful faces of Mehdi Karroubi, Mohammad Khatami, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi side-by-side in an article noting their strong call for the release of those arrested for protesting and the return of the country to a normal security situation.

Rafsanjani, head of the Council of Experts and the Expediency Council, leads a key faction independent from both Ahmadinejad and the opposition and has been taking a cautious public position, though it is rumored that he has been actively trying to support the protestors behind the scenes. On July 5, the same day that the military leaders said no middle ground existed, he said:

I do not believe that any alert conscience could be content about the circumstances that have unfolded.

This statement leave him wiggle room but appears likely to be read as an implicit attack on the regime's post-election behavior. He also insisted that no power struggle was occurring, which undermines regime efforts to portray Mousavi as a traitor.

A number of factors may explain the intensifying elite conflict. First, the harsh and uncompromising attitude of regime figures puts the lives of all current and potential opponents on the line in a country where the execution of political opponents is common. Second, while all members of the elite may not be focused on power, from power flows money, and the traditional clerical elite, which comes from a rich landowner background, may see the rise of a military kleptocracy as a direct threat to its own privileges. Finally, the tradition of a clerical right to admonish political leaders is an honored and heroic one going back at least a century in Iran, but recent comments by IRGC leaders could be interpreted as challenging the right of anyone to talk back to the IRGC, and some in the clergy may find this going a step too far.


See also this interesting article arguing that Iran's clerical establishment has been coopted by the regime and presents little threat.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Netanyahu: Dangerous Adversary

According to Haaretz,

Netanyahu appears to be suffering from confusion and paranoia. He is convinced that the media are after him, that his aides are leaking information against him and that the American administration wants him out of office. Two months after his visit to Washington, he is still finding it difficult to communication normally with the White House. To appreciate the depth of his paranoia, it is enough to hear how he refers to Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod, Obama's senior aides: as "self-hating Jews."

One out of three isn’t bad! But just because Americans are desperate to get rid of this warmongering obfuscator who knows he needs a nice little war with Iran to keep his job (I will not, absolutely will not, name other recent Western leaders who used war against Islam to keep their jobs) does not mean he isn’t paranoid. Netanyahu is paranoid because he thinks destroying the Palestinian people is the only way Israel can survive. Netanyahu is paranoid because he sees Hitler mirages coming at him across the burning sands of Arabia every time he looks out the window.

Jews who want peace and justice are “self-hating?!?” Then what do you call a person like Netanyahu?