Sunday, August 30, 2009

Confusion Paves the Road to War

As one disastrous war founded on falsehoods winds down, it is even more important now than a decade ago to ensure that another war—this time between Israel and Iran and a war in which Israel would most likely use nuclear weapons to commit aggression for the first time in human history—does not break out…again on the basis of falsehoods. Unfortunately, people are remembering unproven allegations and forgetting the details of the historical record.

Unless you truly have a private agenda entailing the provocation of nuclear war between Iran and Israel, you will presumably agree that the world needs to know the truth about what both countries are doing in the nuclear field, specifically including the possibility that Iran is pursuing militarization of nuclear technology and the possibility that Israel intentionally misleads the world about its opponents’ activities as a cover for aggression simply designed to maintain Israel’s military and technological supremacy in the Mideast.

Many examples of forgetfulness and confusion about critical details in the rhetorical war between Iran and Israel could be noted, and it is in fact critically important that they all be compiled and evaluated. A case in point for the former possibility is the inaccuracy of Iranian estimates of Natanz’ rate of production of uranium being enriched to low (i.e., electrical-production) levels. A case in point for the former possibility is the failure of Israel or the U.S. to provide the IAEA with evidence about the alleged Syrian reactor before it was bombed.

Israel’s disputes with its neighbors have been transformed over the past 60 years from local issues, albeit with profound moral implications, to global security issues. The well-being of all of mankind, in an era when Israel’s disputes could easily provoke war of unpredictable scope and nuclear fallout of global scope, depends on knowing the truth.

Israeli/U.S. Failure to Provide Evidence Concerning Alleged Syrian Reactor.

In December 2008, IAEA Spokesperson Melissa Flemming wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

The way the international nonproliferation system is meant to work is as follows: If states, many of which have surveillance capabilities, have any suspicions of clandestine nuclear activity, they should report them to the International Atomic Energy Agency. Armed with this information, the IAEA investigates its veracity. In the case of Syria, instead of providing the IAEA with images of a building alleged to be a reactor, Israel unilaterally bombed the installation. Meanwhile, information was withheld from the IAEA for more than six months, by which time Syria had cleaned away the rubble and built a new facility. This made the agency's verification work difficult and complex.

The results, so far, are inconclusive and the verification process continues. To aid his inspectors, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is calling on Syria to provide maximum transparency. He is also calling on other states, including Israel, that have inexplicably withheld critical information on the site, particularly the images from the immediate aftermath, to provide that information to the IAEA.

Israeli Atomic Energy Commission spokesperson Nili Lifshitz responded a few days later with a letter noteworthy not only for its accusatory tone of attack on the IAEA but for its complete avoidance of the issues at hand. Lifshitz made no effort to justify (or deny) Israel’s alleged decision to attack Syria without first calling on the IAEA for an inspection or to justify Israel’s failure to provide photographic evidence of Syria’s alleged transgression.

Iranian Estimates of Natanz LEU Production.

In February 2009, IAEA spokesperson Melissa Flemming stated:

The (IAEA) has no reason at all to believe that the estimates of LEU produced in the (Natanz) facility were an intentional error by Iran. They are inherent in the early commissioning phases of such a facility when it is not known in advance how it will perform in practice.

These details constitute essential lights being shed on the truth of issues at the core of global security. This week the world is trying to sort out the truth of two other issues: the significance of Iran’s sudden permission for the IAEA to inspect the Arak reactor that could one day be producing plutonium and the significance of Iran’s failure to resolve questions that the U.S. and Israel claim to be outstanding on the basis of some alleged intelligence that A.) is several years old and B.) has not been fully shared with the IAEA. The pattern of such details provides the road to both the truth and to global security. The details must not be forgotten.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Trapping American in a Muslim Quagmire

What follows are just some thoughts, designed to provoke more thoughts, about the state of what one might call the Western crusade against Islam. Is it? And who is winning? And, should the West think about other methods, or even other goals?

Despite the change in administrations, Washington continues to fight a war against, if not Islam, then at least the specter of anti-American Islamists, and perhaps against Muslim reformers. Lots of questions follow. For one, is American behavior (aiding Muslim dictatorships, allowing Israel to oppress Palestinians and dominate the region militarily, and using the military as the key weapon against a networked opponent) making the situation worse?

According to Harvard terrorism specialist Jessica Stern:

Bin Laden has described his goal as bringing America into conflict with Muslims along "a large-scale front" which it cannot contain and al Qaeda strategists report that they want to expand what they call the "jihadist current," eroding American power and prestige and separating the United States from its allies.

If that’s the enemy’s goal, it is doing quite well. The U.S. still has a monstrous 300,000-man force in Iraq (half mercenaries more-or-less outside the law, half uniformed soldiers under the legal authority of Congress) and another 120,000 (more than half mercenaries) in Afghanistan (according to the Pentagon).

Afghanistan is clearly the hotspot of the moment, so how are we doing over there, nine years into the war? According to CSIS analyst Anthony Cordesman, who may or may not draw reliable policy conclusions but is the man to go to for the basic analysis of current military realities:

Over the last seven years we have had almost no coherence in our strategy, in our civil-military planning. It took us more than half a decade to begin to seriously resource the war. Most of the aid money has gone outside the country and wasted, or been corrupt. We found ourselves only seriously beginning to create Afghan forces, in terms of actual flows of money, in 2006. Our troop levels have never approached the troop levels we’ve had inside Iraq....We have not provided any transparent or honest reporting on the growth of threat. The closest we have are metrics which came out in a Department of Defense report issued in July, that does not show the expansion of the threat area anywhere in the document. And up till January we were still reporting as if there are only 13 out of 364 districts threatened by the enemy. That was flatly dishonest. It did not reflect any of the maps which showed the penetration of threat influence.

Admiral Mullen recently had some further choice words.

Iraq remains a mess of feuding tough guys. Somalia is a disaster. Palestinians remain in their concentration camp; Washington did not even have the grace to thank Hamas for rooting out an al Qua’ida cell! And Pakistan? Why do I get the impression that the disarray in the Taliban is being taken by Islamabad as an opportunity to sit back and relax?

Then there’s that new front in Yemen…(well, I seem to recall something going on there with Nasser, so not really new). Anyway, the point is that Side A feels mistreated by Side B and, guess what? Washington thinks force is the answer! It’s not being applied by the U.S. or even Ethiopia (as in Somalia) but, this time, by the feared forces of Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Iran has made three moves that could be taken as conciliatory gestures on the nuclear front in the last week (not counting the effort by one official to invite talks that his masters promptly squelched), and the IAEA has just issued a report that seems at first glance quite positive. Is anyone going to take advantage of this opportunity to try to break some ice? Well, no, Netanyahu is on a diplomatic crusade in Europe to freeze the Western stance into a solid glacial front, and the great leaders of the Western world are tripping over themselves to line up behind him, with Obama positively on his knees.

Hastening to open his mouth without doing his homework,

“Based on what we have seen in press reports … it seems clear that Iran continues to not cooperate fully and continues its enrichment activities,” US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly said, according to Reuters.

Perhaps the State Department spokesperson should read press reports from sources not approved by Israel or even read the IAEA report itself before making public comments. But I do understand. I have read the IAEA report and must confess that, yes, the evidence does confuse the issue. So perhaps the department spokesperson was wise to reach his conclusions without bothering to take the evidence into account.

Be that as it may, based on the evidence considered here (and I did not even mention the brutal tactics of U.S. soldiers that result in a steady stream of innocent deaths or the radicalization of Sunni Lebanon or the convenient pretense that Russian injustice toward Moslems of the Caucasus does not exist, just to cite three further examples), it does appear that bin Laden is moving smartly toward his goal of “bringing America into conflict with Muslims along ‘a large-scale front’ which it cannot contain.”

Listen to Your Enemy

Whoever your enemy, opponent, antagonist, partner may be at the moment, never ignore them. Listen to every word. Americans are so impatient to twist everything Ahmadinejad says that they hardly listen to his actual words. Americans are so quick to trust their presumed “friends” that they don’t listen to them either – taking their “good faith” for granted.

Netanyahu has absolutely no intention of accepting Palestinian liberty. Here are the recent words of Netanyahu to an Israeli audience:

Therefore, our demand for effective demilitarization is a fundamental demand for establishing a real and stable peace with the Palestinians. I use the term effective demilitarization because we desire practical and effective arrangements. We all have experience with ineffective demilitarization. Effective demilitarization means that there will not be a foreign army west of the Jordan. A police force, a counter-terrorism mechanism by all means, but there is no reason for such a force to have tanks, artillery or other types of weapons. The second thing is that we will have control of our airspace. This is vital for ensuring our security.

Read those words, President Obama, and know thine enemy. What separates the vision of a two-state solution from Netanyahu’s idea of a solution is not a gap, it is a Political Grand Canyon. Netanyahu makes crystal clear what he wants: an Israeli state plus a Palestinian Bantustan, disarmed and helpless – “effective demilitarization.” Palestine, facing the most over-militarized (nuclear submarines, nuclear cruise missiles, nuclear bombs, one of the world’s great air forces) and aggressive state on the earth today has no reason to possess “tanks, artillery or other types of weapons”!!! The Palestine Netanyahu envisions will not even be able to defend itself against the kind of settler terrorism that the colonized Palestinians are facing today.

Then there’s that cute little aside about control of airspace. Forgive my cynicism, but today Israel controls the airspace of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. After “peace” comes to the Levant, exactly what “airspace” does Netanyahu plan to control?

It is time to face the fact that Netanyahu is personally the enemy…the enemy of American policy, the enemy of a durable Levantine peace (as opposed to a temporary extension of Israeli domination), the enemy of real security for Israel. It is time for Obama to take off the kid gloves, discard the trivial discussions about settlement freezes, and make clear that the U.S. is no longer willing to continue propping up the Netanyahu regime with military and economic support.

The truth is that Hamas is much closer to the political center (which must be defined as the willingness to live and let live) than Netanyahu is. Hamas has been signaling a willingness to accept Israel’s existence for a long time now; the problem is that Americans aren’t listening. And Hamas is not even demanding the demilitarization of Israel. Perhaps it should…and then suggest that the topic might be open to bilateral negotiations.

Obama should point out that Israel is a free country…and so is America. America is free not to support regimes that are hostile to its policies and America is free to speak with anyone it wants to speak to. Obama should unwrap himself from Netanyahu’s little finger and tell Mitchell to take a small delegation (plus a large force of Marines with anti-aircraft missiles) to Gaza to “gather ideas from civil society.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Iran Factions Agree: Sky Is Falling

Pasdaran political division chief Javani said on August 24:

This is the most critical test of our era. The consequence of being negligent is not that we will fall behind for a year or two, but that the whole government may collapse.

Dissident Grand Ayatollah Montazeri reportedly (I did not see anything on the English version) wrote on his website on August 25:

The biggest oppression is the despotic treatment of the people in the name of Islam. I hope the responsible authorities give up the deviant path they are pursuing and restore the trampled rights of the people. I hope authorities have the courage to announce that this ruling system is neither a Republic nor Islamic, and that nobody has the right to suppress opinion or criticism.

Mr. Can’t Pin Me Down, in his moderate way, came close to the same conclusion, warning about “a very complex conspiracy” allegedly being fomented by Ahmadinejad’s best buddy, recently appointed Presidential Office Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaii, to “create conflict among the pillars of the establishment,” as Tehran Times put it.

My best guess is that all the accusations of plots are true and that in fact the reality is yet more convoluted.

An Umbrella for Peaceful Nuclear Installations

Iran’s proposal to ban attacks on peaceful nuclear installations, whatever its merits in avoiding fallout or minimizing global tensions, is certainly a fascinating chess move. It makes perfect sense; only a warmonger wanting to keep his options open could reject it. Given what nuclear installations contain, how could anyone want to blow one up, releasing those contents into the air? (Well, some folks do.)

Note, however, that Israel’s Dimona, which most certainly is not for peaceful purposes, would not be covered.

Perhaps all this is just a smooth Iranian attempt to confuse global debate over the West’s latest sanctions threat. Whatever the purpose, Iran’s proposal raises numerous serious questions:

  1. If only peaceful nuclear installations are to be protected by this ban, how are they to be defined as “peaceful?” The obvious answer is via IAEA inspections! So, to get your local reactor protected, you have to accept IAEA inspections.
  2. Can we get the concept of legal vs illegal nuclear installations accepted as part of international law? At this point, Arak and Dimona, not to mention certain Indian and Pakistani sites, would clearly be “illegal.” Here’s a chance to develop a process for declaring them legal…and a reason why countries would want their sites declared legal.
  3. Is there a useful distinction to be made between legal and illegal military nuclear installations?
  4. The only country that actual has attacked nuclear facilities is Israel. If Israel were forced to comply, what would the effect be? Should we assume this would amount to licensing every state to develop nuclear technology with impunity or would the distinction between legal peaceful installations and illegal ones (i.e., subject to attack) be workable in practice? Might the clear legal option of, for example, getting Arak certified as immune to attack suffice to persuade Iran to permit unconstrained inspections? Might the knowledge that Iran could go that route persuade Israel to shift from “security through force” to “security through compromise?”
  5. Pushing Question 3 a bit further, is there a useful distinction to be made among three categories: for peaceful purposes (i.e., protected from attack), questionable (e.g., Arak), and for military purposes (e.g., Dimona; i.e., open to attack)? This would encourage those with questionable installations to get them verified. It would also answer those who claim that nuclear arms is the path to security: maybe not, if military installations only are open to attack.

Washington should say, “Absolutely. We would love to cooperate with Iran to institute this policy. We propose the following strict inspection process for licensing a nuclear site as “peaceful.” Whether you are a member of the NPT or not, you may name a site, request protection for it, and submit to the inspections (which will be intense, permanent, without notice). If Iran chose not to offer Arak, that would tell the world something. Such an international control regime would also send a message to New Delhi and Islamabad and Pyongyang.

For the West automatically to oppose a good idea just because it came from Iran and might have been suggested for nefarious purposes will simply confirm the impression many already have that “Washington only understands the language of force.” That is the ultimate rationale for weak countries to develop a military nuclear capability; it is exactly the opposite of what Washington wants.

It would behoove the West to behave more professionally, stop the endless threats, and try to figure out a rational global non-proliferation policy.

Israel Runs Away from Good News on Iran (Again)

Everything labeled "Iran" must be sneered at. The automatic effort by Israelis to portray Iran always in a negative light is more serious than just the bias it obviously reflects. It sends a clear message to Iran that Israel "only understands the language of force."

Coming on the heels of a negative interpretation of Iran's opening of Arak to inspections, the latest is rumors from IAEA (why don't they just report these things?) that Iran has, for unexplained reasons, given another gift to the West: ending, for the moment, the production of refined uranium. Once again, the immediate Israeli response is to twist it into something negative.

We do not know the reason. Given the tension and the recent Iranian concession on Arak inspections and Natanz inspections, there is every reason to consider the possibility that this represents one more Iranian signal.

If the West is stubborn enough to slap Iran every time it does something positive, there will be plenty of Iranian officials more than happy to say, "You see! The West only understands the language of force."

Wisely, given the historical track record of Western duplicity, Iran is continuing to expand the number of available centrifuges; momentarily, it is just not using the new ones.

Given the political conflict within Iran, you could almost imagine that a cautious national security faction might be saying to the hardliners: "If you are so certain that compromise with the West is hopeless, then prove it! Make a concession and we will see if the West responds in a positive, professional manner." In the last week, Iran has made three concessions. Exactly what has Iran received in return?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shared Iranian-Israeli National Security

Just imagine an Iranian-Israeli diplomatic meeting in which each side says, “Tell me how I can help you feel more secure. Let’s just see how far we can go.” This earthshaking little idea was broached here and slightly expanded here. Note also the perspective of former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami on “Owning Up to Israel’s Bomb” and my comment to that article. Further thoughts follow.

In a simple-minded zero-sum competition, anything good for you is bad for me. In a nuclear world, we need decision-makers smart enough to realize the madness of such a competition. When we pile up weapons even as we raise the probability of nuclear war, our "security" is declining. Simply put, we can each eat our own little "security pie" (filled with nice, crunchy tanks and missiles but lacking protection against nuclear chaos) or we can share a single much larger security pie that includes nuclear security.

In a positive-sum competition, we can both win. Can Israel and Iran both win?

If the goal is military hegemony over the Mideast, then the answer is obviously “No.” Is there some less ambitious goal that might satisfy the leaders of those two states? That is a tough question to answer, not the least because the ruling coalition is constantly evolving and the opinions of the individuals in it may be as well. Even if some leaders adamantly demand hegemony (or some fundamentalist “end of days” carnage), their power depends greatly on the degree to which normal desires for national security can be addressed by some less extreme approach.

So, can Iran and Israel both truly enhance their long-term national security simultaneously?

If one side wants to dominate, then it will oppose anything that strengthens the opponent. For example, to the degree that Israel wants to dominate the Mideast, it will oppose Russian short-range, ground-to-air missiles being placed around Iranian nuclear sites to protect those sites from attack. By the same logic, to the degree that Israel wants to dominate the Mideast, it will oppose Iran’s call for an international agreement to avoid attacking nuclear installations. But protecting Iranian nuclear sites from attack does not affect Israeli national security. Indeed, a world in which all nuclear sites are safe from attack would be a world safer from nuclear fallout and would address the Israeli need to protect its own nuclear infrastructure. Moreover, it would diminish international tensions by reassuring insecure Iranians. Any Iranians intent on war would see their political support undermined.

This argument seems pretty elemental, but there are several possible explanations for the willingness of politicians to pursue confrontational paths of incredible danger. Some politicians clearly cannot resist the personal career benefits of waving the bloody flag of fear. In Iran, some may feel they are so surrounded by implacably hostile and vastly stronger enemies that they have no choice. In Israel, some may calculate that they have no need to compromise when they enjoy Washington’s blank check (with the ironic result that American friends of Israel, by virtue of the unrestrained nature of their support, end up undermining Israel’s long-term national security).

So the mutual commitment to a suicidal zero-sum vision continues.Yet there clearly is another way, and I can't help but wonder what some current or future Iranian leadership team might offer in return for international acceptance of some measure of Iranian national security.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two Emerging Powers Spoiling for a Showdown

The following is not a prediction. I would be the last to make linear extrapolations about the Mideast. It's just a totally unscientific scenario of the near future that may be developing in the Mideast, making the huge assumption that no surprises occur. A ridiculous assumption for sure, but it is still worth thinking about current trends...

At the moment, Netanyahu appears to be tying Obama in knots, Iran appears to be taking over Iraq, and a crusading military dictatorship appears to be winning total control in Iran. One can easily make arguments about how Obama is really very patient and will not allow Israeli extremists to manipulate him; how Iraqi Shi'ites are patriotic opponents of Iranian control; how a broad moderate coalition is gaining power inside Iran (indeed, I just made the latter argument myself).

That said, appearances at the moment suggest that in five years, Israeli hardliners will have crushed the Palestinian people completely and solidified control of what will be a messianic, racist, apartheid, fundamentalist, and aggressively militant Greater Israel. Similarly, an alliance of superpatriotic military and fundamentalist clerics will have solidified control of Iran.

Israel will have intimidated all its neighbors except possibly a very cautious Hezbollah. Iran will have organized Iraq into a combination cordon sanitaire plus roadway for Iran into the Mideast. There will be no more Iranian arms ships to Palestine. If any Palestinians still exist to accept aid, Iran will be able to drive truck convoys through Iraq and Syria right up to the border of Jordan, assuming it still exists as an independent state.

The U.S. will be thoroughly cowed by the Israeli lobby and the unrestrained violence of crusading Israeli settlers completing ethnic cleansing with no apologies. Vis-a-vis Iran, the U.S. will not know which way to turn because it will be so mired down in Central Asia that it will be too dependent on Iran to fight it. And Iran will not be alone. Iran will have a nice little gas cartel sinecure running with Russia and expanding influence in Pakistan, which will be dependent on its new gas pipeline from Iran.

Bottom line: current trends suggest the ominous possibility that in five years both Iran and Israel may be emerging regional powers controlled by highly confident, militant religious movements run by extremist politicians believing that they talk to God and that God is telling them that war is the road to victory.

Iranian-Israeli Nuclear Accord: Focus on Mutual Benefit

This post follows yesterday's introduction of the concept of simultaneously strengthening the national security of both Iran and Israel. The fundamental question, broached yesterday, concerns the possibility of this being conceivable.

Here I wish to point out an advantage to proceeding with small steps, several of which were suggested in yesterday's post, that are nevertheless sufficiently large so that each side considers them to be beneficial. Each side would say, "Sure; if my adversary were to accept international controls over Weapons System X or Technology Y, that would make me more secure."

One advantage of such an incremental approach is that it avoids the highly contentious Israeli issue of telling the truth about its nuclear capabilities and avoids the unanswerable Iranian issue of what their ultimate intentions are. Whether or not Israel has its reputed 200+ nuclear bombs, if its AWACS are grounded under international observation, it will have more difficulty committing aggression, so Iran should be willing to pay something to achieve that. Whether or not Iranian leaders' ultimate intentions are aggressive, if its research into nuclear warheads is constrained and under international inspections, a future Iranian regime will have more difficulty committing aggression, so Israel should be willing to pay something to achieve that as well.

Democracy Under Siege

Peaceful demonstrators opposing dictatorial tendencies on the part of their government are being beaten in a government-supported policy of police brutality: Iran? Well, sure…but also Honduras, where a vicious rightwing dictatorship appears to have returned from the last century. In Israel the approach is different – instead of using the police, the government is encouraging a campaign of anti-Palestinian terrorism by extremist illegal settlers who, intent on retaining the land they have stolen, hardly need much encouragement. Rather than stopping the terrorists, the Israeli government seems more concerned about the recent call by one courageous Israeli professor to support the global anti-Israeli boycott in protest of an apartheid system he fears will destroy his country. In war-torn and occupied Afghanistan, one of the most vicious war criminals of the post-communist civil war is openly supporting Karzai. As for the Afghan election, whether the Afghan or Iranian election was more corrupt seems to be an open question. Meanwhile, in Washington, everyone is pretending that the previous administration, none of whose leading members has yet been brought to trial, never did anything that was less than pure and holy.

If democracy was reputed to have spread during the 1990s, today it is everywhere under siege. Burning olive groves is OK. Promoting coups is OK. Torturing prisoners is OK. Making war on civilian populations is OK. Promoting the idea of preventive war in the absence of a clear and present threat, even of nuclear war, even of nuclear war against a non-nuclear power is OK. Undermining constitutional guarantees of civil liberties is OK.

But don’t think all is chaos. Oh, no. There are rules for sure. Thou shalt not say anything embarrassing about the powers that be. Thou shalt not defend the poor, the weak, the underprivileged. Thou shalt not criticize the house religion. And of course thou shalt never ask Israel to play by the same rules as the rest of the world.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Conceiving of Iranian AND Israeli National Security

Both sides in the Iranian-Israeli nuclear dispute have gotten themselves into the mental trap of visualizing the dispute as zero-sum. That might of course be true; the trap is assuming it to be true and thus no longer thinking about it. Were decision-makers to start thinking, they would quickly realize it also might not be true.

If we open our minds to alternate possibilities, questions start popping up.

Can we define a situation in which Iran and Israel both simultaneously increase their national security?

Beginning of an answer:

The global community of relevant players agree that Iran shall have Russian defensive ground-to-air missiles in return for accepting verifiable constraints on its technical capabilities in long-range missiles, plutonium production, and warhead design. Israel, for its part, accepts verifiable controls over its nuclear-capable submarines, AWACS, and aerial refueling capabilities, while returning its bunker-buster bombs to the U.S.

The issue of how Israel and Iran will share regional power remains, but each country has become more secure because the other has less ability to commit aggression.

Note: All are encouraged to use this idea with citation, with one exception. Obama can use it in his next Mideast address for free.

Washington Wades Through Central Asian Swamp

If the road to Afghanistan goes through Uzbekistan, then the road to Uzbekistan goes through Iran. Sorry, Zionists!

Uzbek-American military ties are once again warming up, which will inevitably strengthen the Uzbek dictatorship’s hand against its own people. Does anyone recall the term “blow-back?”

Uzbekistan’s Ferghana Valley is in social ferment for plenty of good domestic reasons not to mention the possibility of some international ones, raising the possibility that Uzbekistan will go the way of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the U.S. has its hands full, and time can always be presumed to favor indigenous forces rather than foreign ones. One could postulate that Washington might want a deal with neighbors that would solve its Afghan problem by cutting the country into regions of strategic interest, with Pakistan running the south, Uzbekistan running the north, and India playing some sort of undercover role balancing the others off against each other. But first, this would work much better with Iran part of the deal, and second, this whole line of thinking risks pulling the U.S. so deep into Uzbekistan that it becomes the next front in the global war on Islam. Put simply, to the degree that we work with the Uzbek dictatorship, Washington becomes the enemy of reformist Islam Uzbek society and reformist Islam becomes that much more radicalized (radical = marginalized reformer).

A further consideration is the impact of American entrenchment in Uzbekistan on Moscow. Revenge may be way too emotional a word; shall we say that Moscow will want to “rebalance the strategic global relationship?” In a world of revenge politics, one could write a wild novel about Moscow funding Mexican drug lords, but in the actual world of today, there appears to be one obvious way in which Moscow can smoothly, logically, safely “rebalance” things after a rude U.S. push into the former Uzbek SSR and that is of course Iran.

Moscow could simply carry out its promises re civilian nuclear technological support; continue moving forward the lucrative, emerging Russian-Iranian gas cartel (which will be far more effective than the hydra-headed OPEC); and take the eminently reasonable step of providing those promised land-to-air defensive missiles to protect Iran’s nuclear establishment, perhaps supported by missile mechanics who would need support from Russian troops who would of course need Russian air cover and voila! it would be 1948 all over again. It could even announce the defensive move in the U.N., bragging about how providing Iran with a defensive shield will make nuclear war in the Mideast far less likely (A. Israel won’t be able to start one; B. Iran will no longer be tempted or scared into building nuclear bombs). True or not, such arguments would be hard to dismiss, and Moscow would look to any dispassionate observer like a peace-maker even as it cemented an alliance with Iran.


Chess-Playing Iranians

For one example of skilled chess playing by Tehran, take a look at international affairs not from the perspective of "big diplomacy" discussed in this post but from the perspective of what might be called "real-world diplomacy:" pipeline construction. Contemplate the meaning of Pakistan and India relying on Iranian gas for the next quarter century. Dare I enunciate a new theory of international affairs, namely, that countries linked by major hydrocarbon pipelines don't go to war with each other?


And if…IF…Tehran were ruled by skilled chess-players, it might then announce that since it was now protected from the Israeli threat, that it was ready for total nuclear transparency and throw open its doors to the IAEA. Moscow would have neutralized Israel’s threat, leaving Iran striding the regional stage with a big grin on its face. Washington would have a hard time complaining since it would have gotten exactly what it has been demanding for a decade (albeit not in exactly the way it had dreamed). Tehran could go one better by then saying it hoped the way had now been cleared for full resumption of friendly U.S.-Iranian relations, cautioning its (small potatoes) Hezbollah & Hamas allies that the time for military action had passed, and offering "all possible support" to pacifying Afghanistan. That would just make the Moscow-Tehran victory all the harder for Washington to criticize without altering the fact that Moscow and Tehran would remain in the driver’s seat.

Lots of points might follow from this little scenario, but the one that is relevant here is simply this: throwing Iran into the hands of Moscow in return for embroiling the U.S. in a civil war in Uzbekistan (in which the U.S., with its usual foresight, gets to defend a vicious dictator against a popular protest movement) is not a good deal.

So if Washington wants to cut a deal on Afghanistan that risks stimulating Russian pride, it better cut one with Tehran first.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Iranian Moderates Gaining Moral Vision

A broad coalition is emerging in Iran favoring moderation and the strengthening of democracy within the system of the Islamic Republic that goes from senior revolutionary clerics and the opposition through Rafsanjani to, perhaps, the Larijani brothers. It may lack guns, but it possesses moral clarity and is spreading.

The combination of unrestrained inhumanity and moral leadership, with the press reporting both sides, in Iran today is simply astounding. What is one to think of a society that has never experienced true democracy (except for a few moments in 1979) where leaders murder and torture without restraint or penalty while people put their lives on the line and old revolutionaries provide a level of moral guidance that Americans can only dream of in an age when our officials think nothing of discussing nuclear aggression as though it were a rational policy option for sane and decent human conversation?

Grand Ayatollah Sanei said a few days ago:

No one is allowed to torture prisoners. Even if by law, a criminal is condemned to a certain punishment, we are not allowed to punish him if he is sick. Read the words of Imam Ali. Imam Ali said that any prisoner who is being held captive, is tortured or hurt, and who has no access to the outside world, can not be forced into confession. Torture is not allowed.

Qom Friday Prayers Leader Ayatollah Ebrahim Amini said on August 21:

You, as the elite, must sit down and talk. If injustice has really been done to people, deal with it. If an innocent has been incarcerated, release him. And if someone has been shamed [publicly], apologize to him, and properly deal with those who are really guilty.

The 84-year-old Amini, prayer leader in Qom, has been deputy head of the Assembly of Experts and a member of the Expediency Council. In 2002, he asserted that "The regime cannot maintain itself in power by force. Society is on the verge of an explosion."

I see no contradiction between Amini’s remarks and those of Rafsanjani the day after:

To deal with the current situation in the country, everyone must follow the Supreme Leader’s guidelines, abide by the Constitution, and obey the law, lawbreakers must be dealt with properly, the current emotional atmosphere must be replaced with a rational atmosphere, freedom of speech must be allowed, and suitable responses must be made to constructive criticism.

Rafsanjani is trying very hard to steer a middle course, but then, everyone in Iran aside from the extremists behind Ahmadinejad is doing the same, judging from media reports. () No one is calling for revolution (unless you consider advocating a regime that follows the laws of the country, upholds the constitution, and forces its officials to take responsibility for their actions to be revolutionary).

An excellent review of his full speech sees him as standing firm in support of free media, if not actually trying to box Khamenei into such support as well. Press TV concurs, summarizing Rafsanjani as having:

said the current situation needs everyone to observe the Leader's decrees and guidelines and the Constitution and to create a free atmosphere for giving legal responses to fair criticism.

Mehr News reported Rafsanjani saying that “officials and citizens must maintain unity,” and “also” saying that people should heed Khamenei’s guidelines. While the phrase about maintaining unity could conceivably be read two different ways (either “don’t be divisive by protesting” or “don’t be divisive by arresting protestors), it is hard to see how it leaves room for the “gouging out of eyes” favored by some IRGC spokesmen or the rape of jailed protestors or the accusations that opposition leaders are traitors. Moreover, in the context of veliyat e-faqih, placing the heeding of Khamenei’s guidelines second to maintaining unity sounds to me like a slap in his face.

So, Khomenei can continue to represent the will of Allah…as long as he does not violate the constitution or inhibit a free atmosphere. What a beautiful merging of legitimacy from God and from the people. Cheney would have had a fit if he had ever been held to such a high standard of democracy; just imagine how the poor representative of Allah must feel!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Israeli Support for "Boycott Israel" Campaign

Israeli professor, peace activist, historian, and IDF veteran Neve Gordon has announced his support for the campaign to boycott apartheid Israel:

Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country's future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews -- whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel -- are citizens of the state of Israel.

…the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005…

Friday, August 21, 2009

Responding to Iran's Nuclear Concession

In the midst of vicious domestic political infighting and regime attacks on alleged Western interference, Iran has quietly granted a huge concession to the IAEA--allowing them to inspect the controversial Arak facility that is designed to produce plutonium. Iran does not owe the West such a concession. Certainly Israel is not allowing IAEA inspection of its Dimona plutonium facilities, and, to my knowledge, neither is Pakistan.

One can only hope that Washington has responded with an appropriate concession of its own. Since Iran evidently wants to keep this low-keyed, one would expect Washington professionals to behave accordingly, so we may not see any headlines. But what would constitute an appropriate response?

Not that I expect it, but to my mind, an invitation by Israel for the IAEA to inspect Dimona would have symbolic value (and anyone following the ridiculous issue of whether or not the Jewish Holicaust ever occurred is aware of the importance of symbols). An Israeli statement that they appreciate Iran's formal renunciation of nuclear arms and that the elimination of regional nuclear arms is also Israel's long-term goal would also be a nice move. A quiet berthing of Israeli nuclear-capable subs would be more appropriate, because Iran has made a concession of military significance and Israel needs to respond in kind. From the U.S., release of impounded Iranian funds would be an easy but noticeable gesture.

Update: This was a misguided U.S. response; one hopes there was more behind the scenes. Iran made a concession, but by itself, it does not seem to go far. The right to inspect Arak at will, without notice would be far more meaningful, but Iran took the first step and should be enticed to take another, not slapped in the face publicly. When will Obama learn to stop acting like Bush?

Technical Note: An IAEA slideshow states that an inspection agreement with a country:

Confers upon the Agency the right and obligation to ensure that safeguards will be applied on all nuclear material in all peaceful nuclear activities of the State.

How convenient! It is the military application of nuclear controls that matters and therefore the military nuclear activities that need to be inspected. While the world gets itself all upset over the possibility of one Iranian bomb sometime, the steady buildup of Israel, Pakistani, and Indian bomb stockpiles gets a pass?!?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Making Plutonium, Secretly & Openly

European diplomats have indicated that Iran is now willing to allow inspections of its sensitive Arak heavy water reactor. These rumors are reported by Press TV, still a step short of official Iranian confirmation. It would do no harm to laud Iran’s cooperation and suggest an Israeli or Pakistani quid pro quo. If true, this encourages Iran; if false, this pressures Iran. Seize the moment.

According to an ISIS summary,

Iran’s heavy water production plant was commissioned in August 2006. The location of this facility was first revealed publicly by the opposition group, NCRI, in August 2002. Iranian officials speaking at a March 5-6, 2005 conference in Tehran said that the first stage of the plant was operating. As of 2008, imagery of the heavy water production plant analyzed by the IAEA indicates that it is operating.

Under traditional safeguards, heavy water production facilities are not subject to IAEA safeguards or inspection. Under the IAEA Additional Protocol, however, they are subject to declarations and complementary access. Because Iran does not adhere to the Additional Protocol, the IAEA monitors the status of the facility via satellite imagery.

Beneath the Surface

We may wish the NNP had been written with more care, but if “traditional safeguards” do not cover heavy water production facilities, we cannot blame Iran for refusing to grant coverage for nothing. Rather than condemning Iran, when nuclear Israel offers no transparency at all, effort to determine Iran’s price should be made. Logically, mutual Iran-Israeli inspections would seem a reasonable price.

What kind of inspections would be significant?

The Press TV report refers only to the reactor (still under construction), not the heavy water production plant (working).

Israel, Pakistan, North Korea, India, the U.S., and Russia have, according to Wikipedia, all used heavy water reactors to produce plutonium

The visit reportedly occurred a week ago, but the IAEA is not talking. Why the secrecy? Is Ahmadinejad embarrassed?

Is there a standard procedure (yes, I am joking) for inspecting plutonium production facilities around the world? Well, whether a country joins the NPT or not, might this be a reasonable idea, with sanctions? There really is not much purpose in creating plutonium except to permanently poison some portion of the biosphere.

Iranian Opposition Takes Initiative

The Iranian opposition seems suddenly bolder, their use of legal channels more sophisticated, and public discourse more outspoken in challenging the regime.

On August 19, Deputy chief of Karroubi’s Etemade Melli (the National Confidence Party) Rasool Montajabnia effectively challenged the new head of Iran’s Judiciary to serve as the defender of democracy:

Failure of law enforcement authorities to respect the law themselves would only encourage some officials to continue their illegal and ugly practices.

In case his point was missed, the Mehr News report added the following explanation:

Elsewhere, Montajabnia referred to actions by plain clothes, attacking demonstrators who protested the results of the June 12 election including a night attack on Tehran University dormitory, urging the Judiciary chief to bring to justice the perpetrators of such acts.

Recalling the unfortunate death of detainees in the notorious Kahrizak prison and the conditions of detention centers, Montajabnia said, “All detention centers should come under the close supervision of the Judiciary to prevent repeat of such ugly incidents in the future.

In spite of the harsh attacks of regime supports such as Ahmad Khatami, the critiques of torture by opposition leaders Karroubi and Mousavi, as well as civil society spokesmen such as Grand Ayatollah Sane’i appear to be having a fundamental impact on public political discourse in Iran. Montajabnia could be expected to support his boss, but the treatment of his remarks in Mehr News was supportive to the point of treating the opposition charges as fact.

On August 20, the opposition masterfully adopted one of the regime’s favorite methods of oppression, suing to have a defamatory newspaper banned. In a perfect response to the closing on Sunday of Etemade Melli, the opposition selected Kayhan, mouthpiece of Khomenei, and, far more surprising, won their case by default when Editor Shariatmadari, longtime nemesis of moderates, did not even bother to show up in court. It is hard to imagine that this ruling could stand, but the mere fact that it has gotten this far changes the political landscape of Iran. Regime defenders have repeatedly charged the opposition with being outside the law; now the opposition is using the system against the regime.

Will new Judiciary chief Larijani countenance the arrest of the offending judge just as he takes office or might this just possibly lead to a compromise strengthening freedom of the press in Iran? And exactly how can a regime claiming its legitimacy comes from god survive in a land with real freedom of press?

Conceiving of Peace (Iran & Israel)

Here is a proposition to consider:

The key to resolving the Iranian-Israeli nuclear dispute is to shift from demands for unilateral Iranian concessions to bargaining: namely, a long-term process of joint, low-keyed, incremental steps to discover a mutually-acceptable compromise.

People tend to react with fear (concealed by sneering or pretend outrage) when confronted with new ideas. Breathe slowly, and give the above proposition some thought.

If anyone knows of a time when Israel made a serious effort to negotiate a positive-sum outcome to its dispute with Iran, please inform me. In fact, for a generation Israel seems to have followed a fairly consistent policy of trying to back Iran into a corner from which it would have no choice but to accept a humiliating defeat...without even attempting the obvious alternative approach of trying to cut a mutually beneficial deal.

Do you agree? Do you disagree? Can you cite any evidence?

Second proposition:

Israel has such overwhelming military superiority that at this moment it could attempt to negotiate a deal at no security risk to itself.
So, why not?

Honesty in Debate (Yeah, About the Mideast)

Some American politicians make no bones about their pro-Israeli feelings: they want Israel to own Palestine and probably to rule the Mideast (at least to the degree of having total military dominance). Call this racism, religious bias or whatever, at least you know where they stand. Several recent gubernatorial and Congressional visitors to Israel belong to this club. They define "Israel" as all the land the current clique of rightwing Israeli politicians (backed by the fundamentalist faction of Israeli rabbis) want - certainly all of Israel, certainly all of Palestine except Gaza (which Israel is trying to erase from the earth or at least destroy and pass off to Egypt for clean-up). There is no point in trying to reason with this group; they are committed to one side and uninterested in justice or compromise; they want victory. Fair enough. We understand their position. Many Muslims have the mirror-image position: al Qua'ida, perhaps the Mesbah-Ahmed Khatami types in Iran, probably some Taliban although certainly not all, probably a faction within Hamas.

More dangerous is another group, those who pretend to be fair, reasonable, moderate but then make arguments such as this:

"Israel is an independent country; who are we (Americans) to tell it what to do, where its citizens should live, how it should negotiate?"

That, we must all admit, is a perfectly beautiful sentiment. If those who mouth these words to conceal their obsequiously Likudnik beliefs only believed what they say!

If the U.S. adopted a neutral position, then this might indeed be a logical and just stance for the U.S. to take. But that would require either that we stop fueling the Israeli military machine and stop underwriting the Israeli economy (not to mention making up for all the advantages Israel has accrued through past U.S. pro-Israeli bias). Then, yes, who would we be to tell independent Israel what to do?

But the reality is that there is no such entity as "the independent state of Israel." When Israeli storehouses are stocked with American bunker-buster weapons of mass destruction provided by the U.S. and U.S. long-range jet bombers; when the U.S. rushes jet fuel to Israeli jets attacking Lebanon; when the U.S. pretends it does not see Israeli collective punishment of 1.5 million Gazan civilians under the thumb of speak of an "independent" Israel is simply mendacious.

There are Israelis who would like to be independent. There are Israelis who recall the original pioneering spirit. There are even Israelis who at least know that far in the past (the 1930s and even in 1948 as the Zionist military units were starting the ethnic cleansing campaign), Jews and Arabs lived together as neighbors in villages across Palestine.

To care about Israel is not the same as to support a rightwing, bellicose military machine demanding hegemony over the Mideast. And if the U.S. is determined to sponsor such a machine, then it absolutely has the right to tell it what to do. If Israelis prefer independence, then let them stop asking for handouts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shi'ite Morality at Its Best

Grand Ayatollah Sanei has set a standard for moral critique of abuse of authority...and done so in an elegant and dispassionate manner the likes of which is seldom seen in the "advanced" democracies of the West.

Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sanei, who retired from his official position in government in 1988, has denounced the Iranian regime, placing himself squarely in the camp of the opposition, despite the threats of bodily harm that they have come under from regime supporters. The eloquence of his speech puts to shame not only the morally compromised Iranian hardliners but also those American politicians who have in recent years tried so hard to find excuses for torture and military brutality toward Islamic societies.


  1. Dear clerics, you know Arabic, go read our texts. No one is allowed to torture prisoners. Even if by law, a criminal is condemned to a certain punishment, we are not allowed to punish him if he is sick. Read the words of Imam Ali. Imam Ali said that any prisoner who is being held captive, is tortured or hurt, and who has no access to the outside world, can not be forced into confession. Torture is not allowed.

  1. I told one of the officials who came to see me, who was there on behalf of a very high official, I told him: annul the election result. Hold a new election. The sky isn’t going to fall. This is a knot that is easily undone. A knot that can be undone with the hands, we don’t undo with our teeth. He said no, there’s been no fraud. I told him, there’s been no fraud, o.k. This sounds like the story of the man who told another man, I’ll give you 70 reasons why there’s no water in the pool. The other said, I’ll give you only one reason that there is, and he picked up the first man and threw him in the pool. They’ve acted so horrifically that now, even an election annulment will not do them any good.

  1. I remember going to Tehran from Qom when I was a student, to protest. The friends of the Imam were careful to see where they could go that would be in the benefit of the Imam. Now you must do the same. You must see where you can be present that can help you achieve your aims. Go there, participate.

  1. Pity the nation whose daily news is not that of their pain and suffering. The pain today is the suffering of the prisoner who is held hostage by the tyrants. The pain is that confessions are forced. Pain is not letting them sit at the grave of their loved ones to say a prayer. Pain is attempting to free these prisoners. That is what we must focus on.

In a world where Western politicians try to justify nuclear aggression, Sanei stated in a 2003 interview:

There is complete consensus on this issue. It is self- evident in Islam that it is prohibited to have nuclear bombs. It is eternal law, because the basic function of these weapons is to kill innocent people. This cannot be reversed.

He also stated in the same interview:

You cannot deliberately kill innocent people.

Both remarks could have been interpreted as following a self-serving party line at that time, but they are consistent with his recent remarks in a completely different and much more threatening context.

Transparency Is a Two-Way View

Israeli critics of Iran's alleged lack of nuclear transparency would have a very strong case if Israel were not itself the world's master at nuclear obfuscation. "Plausible deniability," albeit now a bit long in the tooth, has been Israel's official nuclear policy for decades; too cute by half, Israeli leaders amuse themselves by pretending that "don't ask, don't tell" is a legitimate policy for the region's only nuclear power (if we define Pakistan as being out of the region).

If the IAEI is concealing information that would show or even suggest Iranian deception, then it is undermining its critical role as a neutral agency working for the interests of mankind and it should be forced to amend its ways. But Israel has no grounds for complaints until it amends its own ways and starts working for a non-nuclear Mideast rather than Israeli nuclear hegemony.

Mideast nuclear transparency would be a goal worth striving for. The lack of transparency on the part of both Israel and Iran provoke widespread distrust and stimulate destabilizing armament efforts by antagonists. Transparency could offer a basis on which to negotiate a stable regional national security agreement. Israel could make history and seize the initiative (not to mention the high moral ground) by realizing that you can look through a transparent window from both directions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lifting an Extremist Stone to Drop on One's Own Foot

To understand how hardline Israeli policies are self-defeating, you simply must read the details in this hard-hitting, taboo-breaking Israeli review in Haaretz by Nehemia Shtrasler of the last four years of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:

Analysis / Israel wrecked Arafat, crowned Hamas, and gave birth to Al-Qaida in Gaza

Shtrasler's key analysis for an international audience:

This week marked four years since the Gaza disengagement, and it seems that the Strip is becoming increasingly radical - that peace is more distant and the settlers who were removed from the enclave are more embittered. Did Ariel Sharon and the majority of the Israeli public that supported the move make a bad deal? …
The evacuation could have been handled differently. It could have been used to enhance the status of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but Sharon didn't agree to speak with him. He didn't allow Abbas to gain any advantage from it and carried out the evacuation in an arrogant and unilateral manner, even though Abbas is the most moderate Palestinian leader ever.

At a meeting of the Kadima party leadership a few months after the disengagement, Sharon confidant Dov Weissglas said: "We will put the Palestinians on a diet, but not make them die of hunger." Everyone present burst into laughter. But when the Palestinians discovered that Abbas hadn't managed to ease the suffering and that there was no chance of a normal life on the horizon, they opted for a more extreme leadership - Hamas.

During the entire period of our rule in the territories, we have destroyed the existing leadership, which led to the rise of more extreme leaders. We destroyed the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, who had agreed to a two-state solution and was capable of "delivering the goods." And we brought about Hamas' seizure of the Gaza Strip. Now we are cultivating the third stage: Al-Qaida.

That's because on our side people don't want to understand that when the oppression increases and there is nothing to lose, the adversary doesn't surrender and grovel. Just the opposite. He becomes more radical. Hate wins out and the desire for revenge becomes the only hope. So when poverty in Gaza increases and unemployment is on the rise, Al-Qaida will take control. It will happen either in a coup or through elections, and we will long for that terrible Hamas.

The Gaza withdrawal was the right decision. It relieved us of a huge burden and could have been a significant step leading to a permanent peace agreement. But the withdrawal was wasted because we carried it out negligently and poorly. But maybe all this was planned in advance, because when Al-Qaida people from Pakistan and Afghanistan take over Gaza, we will be able to say with full confidence that there is no one to talk to. Then we can live by the sword until the end of days, because, in the words attributed to early Zionist leader Yosef Trumpeldor, "it's good to die for our country."
The parallels between Israeli policy toward Palestine and Israeli policy toward Iran are mind-boggling: the empowerment of extremism blindly used to justify more of the same in an endless insistence on lifting stones and dropping them on one's own feet.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Iran Nuclear Crisis: A Matter of Psychology

Voicing an important and seldom considered perspective, two years ago, Armand Erchadi, a Sorbonne researcher, described the nuclear crisis between Iran and the West as psychological, a result of a culture of fear:

la crise nucléaire actuelle entre l’Iran et la communauté internationale repose entièrement sur une question psychologique. La véritable urgence est de dénouer ce psychodrame fondé sur la peur et dont les acteurs se situent aussi bien au Moyen-Orient qu’en Occident.

His thesis is ever more persuasive. Ahmadinejad and his allies have played the fear card to the max since the recent election in Iran. Fear is the centerpiece of the Netanyahu clique. And in the U.S. since 9/11, fear has sold so well that the nation seems to have accepted a permanent war against it, a war that has never let Iran out of its sights, regardless of the lack of evidence of connections between that country and the gang of fearmongers that brought the terror to New York.

Erchadi describes Iran as filled with fear:

La peur est devenue depuis 1979 le fondement de la société iranienne. Malgré les mille et une résistances qu’elle oppose à l’État - des mouvements étudiants aux émeutes contre le rationnement de l’essence, des résistances ouvrières aux luttes féministes - les mollahs ont partiellement réussi à créer ce dont les régimes fascistes avaient à peine rêvé : un « homme nouveau ». Encadré, rééduqué, intoxiqué, l’homo iranicus est soumis à une constante surveillance biopolitique, qui vise, par la violence et par la peur, non seulement à remodeler son esprit, mais jusqu’à son corps même et sa façon de se vêtir. À l’intérieur des appartements, c’est la liberté d’expression, l’ouverture aux autres cultures, la chaleur des rapports humains. Mais dès que le seuil de la porte est franchi, les peaux se couvrent, les visages se ferment et les bouches deviennent muettes.

Perhaps he is overstating his case just a little. Now, two years later, we see thousands of Iranians rejecting that culture of fear. Nevertheless, Erchadi makes a serious and important point that merits careful consideration.

He makes the same general point about the West:

La peur ne se trouve pas d’un seul côté. Dans le monde occidental, elle est nourrie par l’ignorance de va-t-en-guerre néo-conservateurs…. Avec, comme souvent, un temps de retard sur leurs collègues américains, une coterie d’intellectuels français en appelle à mots couverts à la reprise des saintes croisades.

I won’t spoil the rest of his essay; read it all – especially the last paragraph.

We are all trapping ourselves in psychoses of our own making.

Government Lying to "Preserve Our Way of Life"

Governments lie to conceal embarrassing truths and justify it as "preserving our way of life." This justification is quite sincere. The confusing comes from misunderstanding the word "our." The officials are, of course, not referring to the national way of life but to their own personal way of life. Be it Obama and the neo-cons hiding pictures of U.S. torture of Muslims arrested without being allowed trial, earlier U.S. administrations "classifying" news reports about the American crime of dropping nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Ahmadinejad's boys denying the rape of female demonstrators in Iranian jails, both the thinking of officials and the excuse for concealing information from their own people are the same.

The issue is clear: is transparency about political actions so that the people can judge their leaders more important or is the avoidance of "embarrassment" more important? The word "democracy" is just so much hot air without information.

Some politicians in Israel and the U.S. even go so far as to say that nuclear war is justified against a country that does not provide the international community with sufficient "transparency." I support the goal of transparency. National security is not possible without nuclear transparency; similarly, democracy is not possible without political transparency. No one claims Iran is actually doing anything warranting an attack; rather, the claim is that we lack the evidence that it might not be developing the capability to do something. Nuclear war, the ultimate crime that a human is capable of committing, is justified as a response to the lack of information!

At least the extremist politicians in Iran are consistent: they oppose transparency about their nuclear research and about their abuse of Iranian protestors. It is harder to understand American politicians who claim that photos of bomb damage, photos of torture, photos of the caskets of dead soldiers should be concealed from the American people but demand nuclear transparency from Iran. They demand that Iran freely share critical national security information with the world (as it should, as should Israel) while claiming the right to conceal information about their abuse of authority.

They would be on much firmer ground demanding transparency from others if they provided transparency about themselves.

Ahmadinejad Consolidates Security Agencies

Ahmadinejad is steadily building his structure for political dominance, his proponents able to insult the opposition freely (reminiscent of Republican behavior toward Democrats after 9/11). The opposition seems slightly strengthened by a reaction to the viciousness of Ahmadinejad's supports but remains on the defensive, just barely retaining access to the media.

The way to run a government is to get the military, the intelligence (the part that spies on citizens), and the judiciary all working together: that way, you can find out what your enemies are doing, beat them up on the streets, and safely convict them in show trials. The process of governing is clean, secure, and free of surprise. Li Si, minister to the man who unified China two thousand years ago, knew that long before Machiavelli, as did many others, from Stalin to Saddam.

Ahmadinejad nominated a guy connected to both Khomenei and the IRGC to head the Ministry of Intelligence and Security – defining the core of a nice, tight little coalition to dominate the political process. Presumably this will be a winner, so it will be interesting to see what the reaction of the Majlis will be. Folks might be uneasy about the power that is emerging at the pinnacle of Iranian power, but who’s going to challenge this?

Hojjatoleslam Heydar Moslehi, nominated to head the Intelligence Ministry, is a representative of the Leader of the Islamic Revolution in the ground forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as the Iranian Charity Organization. Press TV

Meanwhile, the judiciary, now under new management, will investigate the incendiary charges of prisoner abuse, even though former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Shahroudi, Majlis speaker Ali Larijani (since the election Iran’s most meticulously silent leading figure), and hardline cheerleader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami have all ominously prejudged the issue by flatly dening it.

Amid a persistent volley of opposition allegations that protestors had been raped in Iranian prisons, Iran's Judiciary tasks a committee to obtain evidence on the claims.

Iran’s Judiciary will now be under Hojatoleslam Mohammad Sadeq Larijani (replacing Mahmoud Shahroudi), a member of the Guardian Council and the Assembly of Experts, as well as a brother of Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani. Since Speaker Larijani voiced some very pointed criticism of Ahmadinejad’s policies during the campaign, this appointment seems out of step with the tightening of IRGC wagons. Media highlighting of Rafsanjani’s attendance at Larijani’s swearing-in ceremony further suggests distance between him and Rafsanjani. Does Larijani’s appointment have anything to do with Speaker Larijani’s post-electoral circumspection? Does it hint at further in-fighting within conservative ranks, with a potential split between Intelligence and the Judiciary?

Larijani is assuming a delicate position, given that Prosecutor General Ghorban Ali Dorri Najafabadi has already admitted that abuses have occurred. The attitude of the IRGC, whose leaders have felt that it was their duty to speak out regularly since the election on politicial and judicial issues, was made crystal clear by Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, head of the IRGC's political bureau. Javani called for the trial of Khatami, Mousavi, and Karroubi.

At his swearing-in ceremony, Larijani advocated the rights of oppressed people. His actual remarks were apparently even stronger than the quote carried by ILNA:

Nobody should dare ... to violate rights or security of citizens….I announce that I will not forgive anybody in this regard and violators will be put on trial.

Although safely vague, in the current Iranian domestic context, that would appear to put him on the side of the arrested protestors. Nevertheless, with a reputation as a conservative critique of ex-President Khatami, Larijani seems more like a smooth talker than a reform leader. It may be worth noting as well that a third Larijani brother, Mohammed-Javid, is a Judiciary official and recently issued a harsh condemnation of the opposition, evidently calling the whole Reformist faction traitors. The Larijani brothers may or may not be cooperating, and on the whole seem a likely base for an anti-Ahmadinejad faction, but they hardly represent defenders of democracy, much less any sort of pro-Western attitude.

In his effort to consolidate control, Ahmadinejad cannot forget the Ministry of the Interior, which, in Iran, runs the police, not parks, though the Basij serve a similar purpose and much more effectively. Last year he appointed an ally, Sadegh Masouli, to head Interior, which also controls elections.

While Ahmadinejad consolidates power, the opposition seems barely holding on to its access to the media. In an Aug. 16 report sympathetic to the opposition, Press TV quoted ex-President Khatami claiming that the opposition are the “real protectors” of the Islamic Republic and alleging that “certain ongoing moves run counter to legal principles.” The report stated:

Among the opposing voices are influential cleric Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, whose credentials are well-known since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, as well as Khatami, a two-time former president, and Mehdi Karroubi, a former Parliament speaker.

In a separate report, Press TV quoted Moussavi saying:

We are confident that an atmosphere of mistrust would not have been created in the country if a fair attitude had been adopted (during the election course), to the demands of the Iranian people, and if the media had been prevented from attributing the nation's will to foreigners and diverting facts.

It is notable that in contrast to the explicit accusations by name and harsh rhetoric of the pro-Ahmadinejad partisans, opposition spokesmen still seem afraid to speak clearly and charge individuals by name. Pro-Ahmadinejad speakers are pushing bluntly for the political destruction if not death of their opponents, while the opposition is merely advocating its right to participate. For example, Hassan Bayadi, the Young Developer Society’s chief, called the factions of the right and left two wings of a bird and asserted that “no government can be run by only one faction, unless it is a dictatorial regime.” The report, in Tehran Times, concluded with a strong defense of a free media:

Nowhere in the Constitution is mentioned that the national television must be used only by one special party, but it is emphasized that the media belongs to the public and that it must serve national unity and interests.

Clues to watch for:

  • Sadeq Larijani’s attitude toward pre-trial torture of arrested protestors;
  • Ali Larijani’s public remarks relative to the electoral and torture controversies;
  • The outcome of the official investigation into torture;
  • Whether or not regime spokesmen assert the right to control the media;
  • Whether or not anyone makes a distinction between protestors arrested by the judicial system and protestors arrested by the IRGC/Basij;
  • Whether or not the Etemed Melli newspaper owned by opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, just banned by the Judiciary from publishing in a clear administration attempt to coerce the media, will be allowed back on the streets. (Note that a US website with contacts inside Iran is reporting rumors that Etemed Melli just had “printing problems,” which have already been corrected; perhaps Larijani greased their wheels.)
For further details on Iran's Judiciary, see Muhammad Sahimi's Iran's Crumbling Judiciary. Sahimi notes:

By law, all the jails and detention centers must be controlled by the judiciary. In practice, this has not been the case. The Ministry of Intelligence and the intelligence unit of the IRGC have their own detention centers, completely out of the judiciary’s control. The reformist leaders who are not jailed have accused the judiciary of total incompetence.