Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Complexity of Being Hegemon: America in the Mideast

If Washington decision-makers are having a hard time understanding what is happening to the U.S. position in the world, perhaps they could benefit from viewing the world as it is: as an ever-changing collection of entities, all of which are influencing each other and which are at the same time themselves composed of smaller adaptive units capable of potentially significant self-organized action. “Finger in the dike” determination is not a viable strategy in such a complex world.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dam the River or Steer the Boat?

Both Turkey and Switzerland have discovered that it is hard to teach Washington to steer through the flood of global affairs when its feet are stuck in the mud. What will it take to persuade Washington that it can no longer keep the old world it likes so much?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Safety Requires Your Surrender

Danger: when I am prevented from hitting you. For example, allowing women to defend themselves endangers muggers. Similarly, some countries cannot be allowed to defend themselves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Turkish Air-Defense Shield for Lebanon?

A logical future step in Turkey's emergence as an active, independent player in Mideast affairs would be military moves to enhance regional security. Such a step would constitute a regional political (and perhaps military) gamechanger, with winners and losers surprisingly hard to calculate. But could Turkey even take such a step? Here's one possibility.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Turkish Opportunities

If supported by Washington, could Ankara transform Mideast political dynamics away from reliance on force to resolve all disputes?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mideast Policy Choices

Letting the locals take the lead, promoting common standards, inducing rather than coercing add up to a wiser U.S. Mideast policy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Netanyahu Did Not Say This in Public...

Some things one simply does not say in public, but someday we may read in the Israeli official archives about a discussion concerning the U.S. and Iran that went something like the following...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Make Ahmadinejad's Day

Ahmadinejad, who strides the world stage but cannot manage his country's economy, is under attack from powerful domestic politicians. He has been a good man to work with, and now he needs America's help.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Those Who Provoke Are Guilty

Military exercises on an adversary's border or demonstrations in a neighbor's community are provocations, and when they succeed in provoking, those who held the "peaceful" demonstrations are guilty, as well as those who shoot first. If those conducting the "peaceful" provocations are more powerful, then their guilt is accordingly greater because the danger to the provoked side of not shooting first is correspondingly greater.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Washington and Tehran Can Both Win

Despite the appearance of rigidity, both Washington and Tehran have recently (not to mention historically) shown occasional willingness to be flexible, suggesting that if there were a will to resolve this unnecessary and dangerous conflict, there would be a way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Must-Read on Bush vs. Iran

Iran-Nuke NIE Stopped Bush on War
By Ray McGovern
November 22, 2010

Why should George W. Bush have been “angry” to learn in late 2007 of the unanimous judgment of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon four years earlier? Seems to me he might have said “Hot Dog!” rather than curse under his breath.

If you want to understand the post-9/11 world, McGovern's piece is a "must-read" article.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Evolution of the Washington-Tehran Dispute

Neither Washington's nor Tehran's behavior is fixed in stone; rather, each adapts and each sometimes passes the ball, though the other side usually fumbles it.
U.S.-Iranian relations today are plagued by untested assumptions that constrain policy, effectively putting  decision-makers in a mental box preventing them from seeing alternative tactics that might greatly enhance their side's national security. In other words, these decision-makers are using bad models. Good models are still wrong; model airplanes do not actually carry passengers anywhere. But a good model airplane enables engineers to build better real airplanes. Policy formulation is no different.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

If Policy Fails, Intensify the Policy!

Washington's effort to compel Iran to obey over the last three decades has only alienated Iran and made its regime more extreme. Might there be flaws in Washington's policy?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Modeling U.S.-Iranian Relations

As we move toward yet another round of "negotiations" between a Washington unwilling to grant Iran the right to play by the same nuclear rules as Israel and a Tehran unwilling to lose its new prominent spot on the regional political stage in return for some unspecified reduction in the U.S.-Israeli threat, the fate of the world is in the hands of politicians on both sides who pay more heed to special interests than to true national security. The trading of insults, the certainty that one is completely in the right, and self-inflicted damage to one's own security take the place of serious contemplation of what is being risked and what might be gained. If we built our homes with such abandon, we would all still be living in trees.

The battle between Washington and Tehran is being fought on a terrain filled with the peaks of a high-tension political environment, torrents of ideological commitment, and the precipices of conflict resolution by force. And that is just the simplified view of the model illustrated here. It is easy to understand why the dispute defies solution; what is hard to understand is the abandon with which powerful politicians toss out rash soundbites about a potential nuclear war. Even such a simple model as this might put their feet back on the ground...
Three driving forces propel U.S.-Iranian relations according to this simplified model, generating eight possible outcomes.
The critical question for investigation is where reality lies in relation to the upper left red octant, representing the war scenario, in which actions are based on faith rather than analysis, the political environment is hostile, and the conflict resolution strategy of each side relies on force rather than negotiation.

The two critical scenarios are "Compromise" and "Conflict." These extremes are distinguished from the other six scenarios by their importance and relative stability, the result of their internal consistency.
“Compromise” and “conflict” are words whose meaning is in practice often blurred. Is a country “compromising” when it goes to the negotiating table only to make the same old demands without offering any concessions? Does a “conflict” exist in the absence of military threat when an economic embargo is in place? This chart is designed to focus the mind on the real meaning of these two terms for the case under evaluation. 
Applying the abstract model to U.S.-Iranian relations, the above "Conflict vs. Compromise" Chart would convert into something like the following:
The actual meaning of "compromise" and "conflict" in U.S.-Iranian relations is far more detailed and precise than the mainstream media or glib politicians typically admit.
The fraudulent U.S. debate over whether or not Washington should "compromise" by talking is a red herring that conceals the true meaning of the word. In fact, "compromise" has very precise content for both sides. For the U.S., it implies recognition of Iran's right to play by the same nuclear rules as Israel, Iran's right to national security (which it obviously does not have if ringed by U.S. military bases or if its sea coast is patrolled by U.S. aircraft carriers and Israeli nuclear submarines). Compromise implies that Washington must make strategic adjustments to allow Tehran significantly greater regional freedom of movement, in brief a big step back from empire. For Tehran, it implies accepting a less tense environment that will remove from Ahmadinejad much of the "justification" for repressing domestic political opposition and refocus attention on both his economic record and his civil liberties record. It means relinquishing the nuclear non-transparency card in return for greater national security. For both, it means replacing a zero-sum mentality with a positive-sum mentality.

Washington and Tehran have much to think about between now and the opening of the next round of nuclear talks.
NOTE: For a review of scenario analysis, see Analyzing the Future.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Punishing Deterrence

Nothing irritates an aggressor so much as a weak opponent getting away with deterrence.

In about as concise a description of Israeli foreign policy as one could make, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak stated at the recent Halifax International Security Conference that “the objective is to defy, deceive and deter the whole world.” He was, of course, speaking of Iran, rather than his own country.

Defiance is understandable if one is under threat of aggression, as Iran surely is. Israel is not; Israeli troops are colonizing Palestine, not the other way around, and while Iranian leaders might well like to see Israel disappear, Iran is hardly threatening Israel with aggression; again, it is the other way around.

Deception is charge that does appear to hit the target. Iran always manages to leave at least a little doubt about its sincerity. But for a country that pretends it is not a nuclear power and pretends it is not an aggressor and pretends it is not practicing apartheid and pretends it is not a colonial power and pretends that it is not racist to criticize an adversary for practicing deception is really a bit much.

Barak’s killer point is to charge Iran with deterrence. Yes, here he gets it right. Iran is trying to deter aggression that must indeed feel to Iranians as though it is coming from “the whole world,” with Israel in the region and running submarines presumably carrying nuclear cruise missiles (see Harretz report) off Iran’s Indian Ocean coast while the U.S. is the proud owner of that archipelago of military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

How dare those arrogant Iranians try to deter U.S./Israeli aggression? Let them get away with it, and the next thing you know, Lebanon will start trying to deter Israeli aggression, then Palestinians will…well, you see how things could unravel if deterrence is allowed to go unpunished.

Sliding Toward U.S.-Iran War

Leaders, not societies, cause wars, so any evaluation of the likelihood of war should pay close attention to the nature of the leaders. Concerning the question of whether or not a war may occur between the U.S. and Iran by mistake, the nature of the leaders is of particular concern.

One of the primary factors contributing to the health and functioning of a political system is the nature of the leadership. Attitude toward skeptics, attitude toward new information, attitude toward colleagues, and attitude toward tradition on the part of leadership and opposition circles in the U.S., Iran, and Israel suggest a degree of dysfunctionality serious enough so that it could provoke a U.S.-Iranian war by mistake. The Leadership Cohesiveness chart enumerates half a dozen continua along which a political leadership can be evaluated. These “continua” or “axes” constitute a set of lens that can be used to reveal how effectively the leaders of the U.S., Iran, and Israel can be expected to manage their respective countries’ national security. Several of these axes suggest that the leadership in the U.S., Iran, and Israel will in the next few years be increasingly exclusive, dogmatic, and scornful, posing severe obstacles to any effort to reevaluate strategies, cool tempers, or search for pragmatic positive-sum solutions in a negative-sum national security environment poisoned by the fear of terrorism, the fear of aggression, and religious prejudice.


On the other hand, some politicians apparently actually do want a war between the U.S. and Iran, as suggested by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's barbaric ravings after the U.S. mid-term elections about "taking containment off the table" and "neuter[ing]" Iran.

Attitude Toward Skeptics. The more inclusive the attitude toward skeptics, the more likely a regime will be to give serious consideration to alternative perspectives, thus enhancing its ability to find a solution. In both Iran and Israel, an extreme right-wing regime rules with little evident interest in considering the opinions of actors outside the ruling faction. The present U.S. regime appears much more inclusive, but its policy toward Iran over the past two years has in substance closely adhered to the Neo-Con handbook for intimidating adversaries, and the recent electoral defeat appears likely to strengthen that bias. In none of these countries, does a conciliatory attitude offering the adversary genuine accommodation appear likely to gain even a fair hearing, much less become official policy.

Attitude Toward New Information.  Both stress and ideological commitment are likely to impair the receptivity of leaders to new information that challenges their belief structure. In the U.S. the heating up of the political environment resulting from the combination of unusual levels of hostility between the parties, the approach of the presidential election, and intense factionalism within the Republican Party seem likely to constitute increasingly severe obstacles to open-minded analysis, a trend that can be expected to intensify if the extremist (judging from their rhetoric) Tea Party advocates gain further power. The emergence of a moderate cross-party faction would of course alter this prognosis but currently appears unlikely. In the aftermath of the failure of the Brazilian-Turkish nuclear initiative, the domestic repression of moderates following Ahmadinejad’s reelection, the uncompromising attitude of senior clerics supporting Khamenei, the steady rise in the power of the (anti-Saddam) War Generation, and the failure of Obama to make a convincing case that his administration is ready to deal with Iran in a fair manner, it is likely to take a great deal of new information indeed to overcome Iranian distrust of the U.S. and to make a conciliatory attitude toward the U.S. politically viable in Iran. As for Israel, the rising tide of fascism appears so far to face virtually no serious, organized opposition: rising settler violence with police support; Netanyahu’s successful and publicly insulting defiance of Obama combined with Obama’s timid retreat; the collapse of the Israeli left; the weakening of Israeli democracy and strengthening of overtly racist laws all suggest a declining willingness to consider new information.

Attitude Toward Colleagues:  In all three countries, public rhetoric is enflamed and attitudes toward colleagues in other factions or parties hostile to the point of undermining domestic political stability. In both Israel and Iran, armed groups are using violence to make political points, while demonstrations are held to provoke opponents in ways reminiscent of Ireland in years past. In the U.S., be it accusations that Democrats opposing the neo-con wars were somehow unpatriotic, insulting remarks about Obama, or Tea Party attitudes toward violence as a political tool (also here on immigration and here for a general review), evidence of a breakdown in the norms of political behavior is mounting, as well. Congressional behavior in the health care debate also suggests an increasingly contemptuous attitude toward colleagues based on an assumption that winning, rather than making good policy decisions, has become the primary goal of many.

Attitude Toward Tradition:  Rising racism at the center of the Israeli regime is a clear challenge to the Israeli tradition of democracy. In Iran the post-revolutionary tradition of clerical control is being challenged by the military. In the U.S., a whole range of traditions—protection of U.S. civil liberties, non-use of nuclear arms for aggression against non-nuclear powers, “empire-lite” by persuasion rather than overt invasion—have been undermined since 9/11. In all three countries, tradition is becoming a weaker and weaker bulwark against sudden, emotional shifts in behavior.

The U.S./Israeli/Iranian Ca
To the degree that skeptics are excluded from the debate, new information is viewed with a dogmatic attitude, colleagues are treated with scorn, and traditional values are challenged, policy becomes the captive of the emotional tide of the moment. With numerous political actors in each country pouring gasoline on the fires of national security fears for a host of personal and ideological reasons, massive nontraditional military moves (Israeli threats of aggression against Iran, U.S. armada in the Persian Gulf and its huge Mideast/Central Asian archipelago of new military bases surrounding Iran, and the Iranian nuclear program), and a continuing jihadi effort to provoke civilizational confrontation, the danger of a U.S.-Iranian war by mistake seems only likely to increase in the absence of a fundamental shift in strategic thinking.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

U.S.-Iranian War Even If No One Wants It?

Have the international political context and the respective domestic political contexts of Iran, the U.S., and Israel placed Iran and the U.S. on a slippery slope leading to war, whether or not anyone actually wants it?

Political science theory offers an explanation of how war may occur even when neither side desires it.

Are U.S.-Iranian relations on such a path?

One can of course debate the sincerity of either Iranian or American leaders in professing that they desire peace, but even if we take both sides at their word, does a significant danger of war still exist?

The classic arms race, in which two risk-averse but security-conscious adversaries each arm because they fear the other and in the process convince the other wrongly that they have aggressive intent is one obvious path toward undesired war. Both Tehran’s effort to enhance its nuclear capabilities while minimizing the transparency of its program and Washington’s massing of offensive naval capacity in the Persian Gulf and offensive aerial capacity in Saudi Arabia and Israel are ratcheting up feelings of insecurity on each side and empowering violence-prone politicians. Countervailing steps, be they presidential addresses in Cairo or Turkish/Brazilian efforts to find compromises, seem far from sufficient to outweigh this constant pouring of gasoline on the fire of mutual national security concerns.

An arms race creates an incendiary environment for an undesired clash. Another criterion tosses sparks on the tinder: the degree of “true believer” attitudes, i.e., an orientation toward ideology rather than practical conflict resolution that would impede willingness to search for a genuine positive-sum compromise. If to this dangerous mix is added an actual preference for violence, then war seems predictable. In the diagram, the red octant represents such a situation.

Toward War No One Wants
The Political Behavior Model illustrates a world described by three factors:
  1. Environment
  2. Ideological commitment
  3. Conflict resolution strategy.
The “challenging” extreme of the environmental axis can be viewed as representing an arms race, certainly an example of a fundamental political challenge. The three axes produce eight ideal alternative worlds or scenarios. The red octant, which one might label “war,” represents the most extreme scenario, where ideologically committed actors caught in a challenging security environment prefer to resolve disputes through violence. [For a technical review of scenario analysis, see Analyzing the Future.]

The obvious point of this theoretical construct is that it points out ways for those trying to avoid war to influence the course of events: action along any one of the three axes might suffice to alter the course of events. The question for U.S.-Iranian relations is the degree to which reality is moving toward the war scenario.

Given the continuing high level of U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf and Iran’s continuing development of nuclear capability, the military environment is if anything increasingly challenging. Israel remains under the control of factions that have historically shown themselves to be quite willing to use force and that continue vociferously to defend in public the logic of that dangerous attitude. In Iran and Israel, ideology seems strongly to influence behavior, with religious fundamentalism and zenophobia powerful in both societies. Now the U.S. mid-term elections have emboldened a faction likely to place unusual, for Americans, emphasis on ideology rather than pragmatic problem-resolution and that will be very willing to rely on force.  Along all three axes, the U.S.-Iranian relationship appears to be moving toward the war scenario.

This trend does not make war inevitable; indeed, general recognition of the rising danger might make politicians more sober. However, this analysis suggests that multiple, separate pressures are currently pushing politicians in the direction of war, a situation that will take great commitment to resist. With political careers in all three countries invested in looking tough regardless of the risk, where such commitment might be found is unclear. The easy way forward thus appears to be to continue sliding toward a war that perhaps not a single individual--Iranian, American, or Israeli-- actually wants.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Election 2010: Republican Party Split?

Election 2010 does not feel to me like a Republican victory so much as a fundamentalist coup that threatens to split the Republicans. Democrats should use their slap in the face as a wake-up call, stop chasing the neo-cons, and send the voters a clear message. They won't of course; too many have been on bent knees for too long, ever since 9/11.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Israeli Police Shoot Member of Knesset

Haneen Zoubi, member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament) since 2009, was shot in the back by Israeli police. She was on the June international flotilla to Gaza that the Israeli military attacked and embarrassed the Israeli government by reporting that the Israeli naval vessels had fired on the flotilla before Israeli commandos were lowered from helicopters, that two of the flotilla members killed had been shot in the head (suggesting intent to kill), and that Israeli soldiers allowed passengers to bleed to death.

Details on the highly successful Jewish extremist plot to provoke violence and the support the extremists received from the Israeli police are indeed, as Stephen Lendman pointed out, “reminiscent of Kristallnacht.” For those concerned about the struggle between the forces of democracy and fascism in Israel, the shooting by police of a member of the Knesset must surely be one of the most ominous pieces of evidence.

Of course, the incident just happened, and the evidence could go either way. Israel could launch a serious investigation of its police. Israel could clamp down on rightwing extremist Jewish demonstrations in Palestine designed to provoke violence. Israel could establish and enforce new rules to maintain the right to freedom of expression with police protection for both sides rather than police attacks on liberals. Such steps would alter the balance of evidence.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obama: Secondrate Neo-Con or Master of Change?

Could Obama save his presidency by walking the talk, by--like Clark Kent--actually shedding his neo-con suit so we can see his Master of Change cloak?

If we accept the contentious viewpoint that “10 years is enough”—i.e., that 10 years of neo-con policy in Washington is enough, then what should Obama do to save his presidency?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Obama: Mainstream Republican Leader

Obama, we hear, is losing his coalition - not because disappointed leftwingers are leaving; where else can they go? Obama, the quintessential neo-con light who has frittered away the last two years talking reform while walking rightwing Republican, is losing his former Republican supporters!

Just goes to show, you can't impress people by copying your opponents and then claiming you "do it better."

Obama has continued the war against political Islam, bowed low before the Israeli right wing, given up on health care as a right for all Americans, taken the side of polluters (BP), and protected Wall Street at the expense of American workers. He has avoided bringing neo-cons to court on any charges and has not even forthrightly condemned aggression, lying about the reasons for going to war, war crimes, collusion with corporate leaders despoiling the land, etc. Has the word "immoral" ever even passed his lips in the context of commenting on neo-con behavior? What is there for conservative Republicans to dislike?

He talks like a reformer, that's what. He gives neo-cons everything they could want...but talks like a hero of the people. And of course, he is the one sitting in the White House; that galls.

Since Obama is rapidly losing his credibility as a neo-con-wannabe, perhaps he should actually become what he said he was: the leader of change. Ten years is enough.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Getting What You Ask For

Washington's continuing military presence in Iraq, justified by al Sadr's and Iran's opposition to U.S. influence, in fact aggravates both al Sadr's anti-American tendencies and Iran's interference in Iraqi affairs.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009 Ryan Crocker is quoted today in the New York Times as follows:

I think the Iranians understand that they are not going to dominate Iraq, but I think they are going to do their level best to weaken it — to have a weak central government that is constantly off balance, that is going to have to be beseeching Iran to stop doing bad things without having the capability to compel them to stop doing bad things. And that is an Iraq that will never again threaten Iran. [Michael R. Gorcon and Andrew W. Lehren, “Leaker Reports Detail Iran’s Aid for Iraqi Militias,” 10/23/10.]

This sort of analysis is important not because some former official of the discredited neo-cons believes it but because it is representative of the standard American public line. It assumes and leads gullible Americans to assume that for Iran to defend its own national interest somehow makes Iran different from other more moral(!) countries. In fact, I do not disagree with any part of Crocker’s statement as reported above.

The problem is with what is left out. Whatever Crocker’s own view may be, the standard American government/media line takes the above argument as justification for opposing and threatening Iran as well as justification for remaining in Iraq. (And where, tell me please, is there any evidence that the U.S. government plans to do anything other than remain in Iraq? Is the military pulling out its troops? Only a fraction. Are the city-scale U.S. military bases being closed? Is the world’s largest fortress…ah, embassy…being turned into housing for Baghdad’s poor?)

To the degree that the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, its neighbor Iran will feel compelled for its own security to support its Iraqi assets and do what it can to ensure that Iraq never be used as a base for…well…for exactly what the U.S./Israeli elite repeatedly threaten: a military attack on Iran. Now shift to al Sadr. To the degree that the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, al Sadr will feel compelled to work with Iran and any other force willing to support his effort to free Iraq from U.S. control.

As long as the U.S. tries to prevent Iran’s emergence as a regional power center, Iran cannot but take advantage of its ability to undercut and trap the U.S. in Iraq. As long as the U.S. remains militarily involved in Iraq, al Sadr will build his career on opposition to that presence.

The American military presence that is justified in Washington as a means of resisting Iranian influence instead promotes Iranian influence.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Talking With Adversaries

If the Taliban are ready to talk, Washington should listen carefully, ponder deeply, consult widely, and edge cautiously toward the door. Afghans may love their country, but it is no place for Americans. Try not to step on the flowers as you leave.
With actual talks (cover the ears of the womenfolk!) apparently starting between the Taliban (agent, or apparently so it would appear to some of the originals of the American frontier, of the devil) and the representatives of globalization/capitalism/U.S.-style middle-class capitalism/imperialism, I overheard on the radio a commentary denouncing the very idea of compromise. Evidently, though the speaker did not put it in so many words, there could not possibly, in the minds of the rational, be any room whatsoever for tolerating the concept of the world’s last superpower reasoning together with the people who actually live in the land where the U.S. military is waging war.

To avoid the issue of why Washington should not talk to people who actually live on the ground it marches across, the speaker hastened to make the bald and unsubstantiated claim that bin Laden was leader of the Taliban. It is certainly true that U.S. behavior has been pushing al Qua’ida and the Taliban into each other’s arms over the last decade, but flatly to assert that a local dissident movement and a global terrorist organization constitute a single organization is, to put it very politely, dangerously misleading. Even the speaker felt forced to admit that the Taliban was factionalized, only to slide over that admission and reach a conclusion he himself had just undermined: that no hope of compromise or progress could possibly come from talking.

Note that this speaker, evidently one of those provincials now striding so brashly across the American political landscape who puts all his faith in force as the way to solve problems, evidently believed that it was precisely the tendency of the Taliban to rely on force that made talking with them so useless.  The sad thing is that in the aftermath of a decade of being taught that Americans speak the language of force, the American provincial may understand the Afghan provincials better than I wish to admit.

So not for an instant do I anticipate either an easy chat nor a U.S. victory out of negotiations with the Taliban. But the course the U.S. has been on since 9/11, a course as yet unchanged by that Champion of Change now in the White House, is one of destruction abroad and decline at home leading into a dense fog through which I can see the shimmering vision of helicopters lifting from embassy rooftops. Spare me; once in a lifetime is enough.

The Taliban is a complex and ever-adapting group of more-or-less united local factions stuck in cooperation with an international millenarian movement. Not only has significant evidence of discord between Afghans and Arabs come to view over the years, but the logic of the situation suggests that many will find it in their interest to walk through doors should the U.S. decide to open them.

Talking will admittedly accomplish little on its own. Washington will have to bite some bullets ahead of time and temper its hubris with wisdom. The issue is not what Washington wants from the Taliban but what Washington is willing to concede, and that surely will have to start with that which most firmly pushes the Taliban into al Qua’ida’s embrace: the presence of U.S. forces on Afghan soil.

Speaking only the language of force is like voluntarily tying one arm behind one’s back at the start of a wrestling match. American provincials and American imperialists who advocate such an approach are doing their country no favor. Negotiations are explorations or, if you prefer, poker matches. Tehran’s presence at Western discussions about Afghanistan just put a new card in Obama’s hand. Now the apparent new willingness of senior Taliban officials to talk puts another card in his hand. There will be no results by election day or even by Christmas. It does not matter. Let Obama play his hand with care. And that is as far as the poker analogy goes, because this is not about “winning,” it’s not about a war of religions, it’s not about establishing American Empire whatever the provincials or imperialists may think. This is about finding two paths, one that Americans can travel and one that Afghans can travel.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Pattern of Democratic Decline

It is not about tinkering; it's about making moral judgments.

The ramparts of American democracy remain strong, if subtly undermined by long-term trends I have discussed elsewhere. The gathering hordes stand not at the walls but within and can hardly be called "hordes" at all, though they are, because a rampaging crowd of the rich is not what the term "horde" typically brings to mind. But it is the rich of America, not the poor of the world, who are focusing their energies against us. If American democracy is to be successfully defended against these, well, hordes--for they are multitudinous and they are running amok, then Americans must come to understand the context of events so they can give proper meaning to those events.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Defending Zionism

The Israeli Navy has once again defended Israel against the onslaught of terrorists, provocateurs, and other enemies of Zionist regional military hegemony. In the event, if one cares about the details of this particular case, a handful of saboteurs attacking the permanent state of war against Islam, including Israelis (!), attempted to break the Gaza blockade in a tiny craft containing medicines and other weapons of peace. With overpowering force, as is their wont, the Israeli Navy once again emerged victorious over the forces of peace and understanding. It naturally follows that U.S. military aid to Israel should immediately be increased - and delivered by the usual emergency airlift, following the model of the jet bomber fuel sent during Israel's attempt to destroy the economic infrastructure of southern Lebanon during the hot summer of 2006.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Erdogan Broadens His Diplomacy...Still Further

Erdogan is searching in all directions for a solid foreign policy victory.

The Erdogan International Adventure continues, this time with an initiative to lead the world's Turkish-language states. Just as Erdogan's rejection of Israel's foreign policy reliance on force challenges the regional superpower and his effort to achieve a compromise between the U.S. and Iran challenges the global superpower, Erdogan's effort to carve out a Turkish heritage zone of influence challenges whatever pretensions Moscow may have of reasserting control over Central Asia. Erdogan is challenging a disunited group, of course, and it is not clear that either Washington or Moscow has concluded that his challenge need be met with a frontal rejection.

A Russian perspective, for example, recently noted the shared interest of Russia and Turkey as "Black Sea superpowers" acting as cross-national bridges:

на планете формируются новые центры силы. Один из них — как раз Турция, которая вместе с Россией сегодня принадлежит к числу "черноморских сверхдержав".

Nonetheless, he is pushing against an increasingly large set of resistance forces. His recent domestic political victory may well help, but he needs a foreign policy victory. The ratio of political meetings full of rhetoric to actual solid accomplishments is verging on the embarrassing. If the above-cited opinion represents Moscow's perspective and were Washington to adopt a similar attitude, then Erdogan would indeed be on the way to making history, but that, in both cases, remains highly questionable. Erdogan's rhetoric may be a breathe of fresh air, but somewhere he badly needs to deliver.

Israel & U.S. Security

Is the issue of Israel's impact on U.S. security fading away?

One aspect of this very convoluted issue is the giving of U.S. military secrets to Israel, an aspect encompassing cases of Americans spying for Israel and getting away with it.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

Notes From the Levant: Last of the Combat Troops Leaving Iraq? – Only in your Dreams

If you imagine that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is coming to an end, read the above article. By the way, the author calls the number of U.S. mercenary troops (i.e., armed soldiers employed by the U.S. government but not wearing U.S. military uniforms and NOT under the oversight of Congress) in Iraq as "unknowable." He's pretty much right, since the Pentagon tries to prevent the number from being known, but the last quoted figure I have seen is "100,000" - one of the world's more impressive armies.

Do American Fascists Exist?

Do fascists exist in the U.S.? If they did, how would they behave? Could you spot one in power? (No, I'm not talking about guys who dress up in Nazi regalia.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Democracy or Dictatorship? Rating Your Government

Democracies and dictatorships have distinct preferences. Know the difference, and you can see where your government is headed.

One could…and we should…identify a set of clear distinctions between democratic and authoritarian methods. Today’s news gives an example of one of the most basic such distinctions: democracies aspire to precise legal charges, while authoritarian regimes aspire to the vaguest possible charges. Precise charges are falsifiable (i.e., the guilty get convicted, the innocent set free) and lead to respect for the law. Vague charges make it easy for the dictator to punish his political enemies. Camus called it "une anarchie bureaucratisee." The greatest indictment of vague charges is Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago; for samples see the numerous Solzhenitsyn posts here.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rightwing Attacks Israeli Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is perhaps the core pillar of democracy, and it is today under fierce attack in Israel.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Attributes of Authoritarianism

Keep this simple chart in mind when you are evaluating the performance of your elected officials. Remember, you pay them to protect your civil liberties.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Diagnosing Dictatorship

To defend their freedom, citizens of a democracy need a clear sense of the distinction between acceptable attitudes and behavior in a healthy democracy and signs of authoritarian infection.

When your body is being challenged, you call it being "sick," you check the symptoms and diagnose the cause. For the economy, being sick is called a recession, and the same diagnostic process is undertaken. For the political world, a disease could be discrimination or denial of free speech; the cancer of the political world is war. But where is the rigorous diagnostic process for identifying and curing political disease?

Putting it bluntly, "Is your democracy sick?" The answer will be every bit as complex as asking if you are sick.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Identifying the Black Shoots of Fascism

If any lesson has been learned in recent years, it should be that achieving democracy does not constitute "the end of history." Leaving aside the degree to which any society ever has "achieved" democracy, to do so would be more like a mountain climber gaining the peak - the view is splendid, but living there takes effort. Nothing is easier than sliding back down the peak of democracy.
The weeds of authoritarianism or outright fascism sprout easily in fertile democratic soil. Authoritarian figures like nothing better than to exploit the  civil liberties of democracy in order to kill it. It is not clear that even a perfect democracy would be stable, but certainly no known democratic society--especially one with a population as ignorant and amenable to manipulation by politicians with private agendas as that of the U.S.--can be considered stable. A democratic society is a mountain climber perched on a very slippery slope.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Escaping the Mideast Extremist Trap

Although Erdogan's refusal to grant Israeli right wingers a blank check is to be applauded as a tactical effort to restore some balance to Israeli behavior, Americans should be thinking much more deeply about the subtle threats to both U.S. national security and American democracy that will flow from a collapse of Turkish-Israeli relations. These dangers will be particularly severe if the U.S. blindly sides with an Israel still under rightwing control.

Turkey is a democracy struggling to emerge from the shadow of rightwing military rule; Israel is a democracy sliding into increasingly authoritarian rightwing expansionism. Each society needs the other’s moderating influence to support its own democratic aspirations. Each society suffers from its proclivity to repress an unwanted minority that it nevertheless refuses to free, with the denial of civil liberties to the minority feeding back to undermine the liberty of the majority.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Government on a Rampage

Once again, police overreaction by a repressive and short-sighted regime that assumes without forethought that A) its own position is beyond question and B) that the concerns of a frustrated population merit no consideration is manufacturing a needless crisis.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Theocracy vs.Democracy: The Israeli Case

Democracy is a vision of hope that has never been well implemented in any mass society. Americans should learn the lessons inherent in the missteps of other societies struggling against internal factions that attempt to use democracy in order to destroy it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Responsibility in America

Will the greasing of the Gulf become the 21st century image of the United States...or can the U.S. rise to the challenge and demonstrate it still deserves its old reputation of being a force for good? The answer is deeply entangled with the unpopular notion of taking responsibility.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

One Number on the State of the Economy

Amidst the flood of economic statistics and endless presidential statements that the economy is "on  the right track" (well, it is for Goldman Sachs and BP, neither of which is being held responsible for its behavior), here is the one number you need to pay attention to:

% of US Working-Age Population Employed: 65%.

That is the lowest this century.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

German Jews Planning Gaza Flotilla

The international flotilla to Gaza led by a group of Turks was implementing international law, specifically U.N. Resolution 1860, though one might have a hard time proving that by reading the U.S. media. And the next flotilla may be led by German Jews!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Neo-Con Zionist Opposes Nuclear Transparency

The extremes to which American neo-cons go in their pro-Zionist bias needs to be understood by all patriotic Americans. In Elliott Abrams' own words:

the United States ought not have voted for the resolution that called on Israel to open its nuclear facilities to inspection. This is unacceptable. 

According to one of the most infamous members of the neo-con faction, it is "unacceptable" to support nuclear transparency! Mr. Abrams has obviously spent far too many decades in Washington. Perhaps he should do some traveling (no, not to extremist gatherings in Israel). Nuclear nonproliferation is one of the scourges of the modern world. Opposing nuclear transparency undermines the core of the NPT. Transparency is precisely what we have been pushing Iran to accept all these years!

Abrams made his revealing remark in Israel for print in the Hebrew-language news media as part of an attempt to undermine Obama Administration foreign policy [Coteret 6/2/10].
Need I point out the obvious relevance of this neo-con perspective for the debate over the harm done to the U.S. national security by having an alliance with Israel (as long, that is, as Israel remains under the thumb of its militarist faction)?

Why Did Helen Thomas Apologize?

Helen Thomas had the nerve to say that Israel "should get the hell out of Palestine" and now she has apologized, blandly calling for "mutual respect and tolerance." Why did she apologize?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Turkey: Next Steps vis-a-vis Israel

Ankara faces some hard decisions in its effort to alter Israeli behavior. No easy solution exists, but both diplomatic and military options worth exploring are available, should Ankara wish to go beyond rhetoric and take the kind of actions that will earn Tel Aviv’s respect. Ankara’s best option would seem to be the designing of a common position with Moscow and Tehran. Ankara may even persuade Washington to join.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Israelis On Israel's Gaza Blunder

Attempting to reason with the current regime in Tel Aviv may be a fool's errand, but there are Israeli citizens thinking very hard about their country's circumstances, and their views are being published by the sometimes remarkably open-minded Israeli media. It is too bad that almost no one in the U.S. will ever see these analyses.

Israel Is Its Own Worst Enemy
Bradley Burston [Haaretz 5/31/10 ]:

In going to war in Gaza in late 2008, Israeli military and political leaders hoped to teach Hamas a lesson. They succeeded. Hamas learned that the best way to fight Israel is to let Israel do what it has begun to do naturally: bluster, blunder, stonewall, and fume.
Hamas, and no less, Iran and Hezbollah, learned early on that Israel's own embargo against Hamas-ruled Gaza was the most sophisticated and powerful weapon they could have deployed against the Jewish state.

Here in Israel, we have still yet to learn the lesson: We are no longer defending Israel. We are now defending the siege. The siege itself is becoming Israel's Vietnam.

The Great Leader
Gideon Levy [Haaretz 6/4/10]

Some 7 billion human beings (less about 5 million Israeli Jews ) are wrong. They haven't got a leader like Netanyahu, and that's why they go on thinking that seizing passenger ships in international waters is an act of piracy, no different from the deeds committed by the pirates of Somalia. They think (wrongly of course ) that Israel has no right to stop a fleet of boats; that the victims are the people of Gaza and the bleeding passengers, not the naval commandos who raided the ship and were beaten; and that the aggressors were the troops who were dropped onto the ship from a helicopter, killing nine civilians with live fire and wounding dozens.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Iran's Opportunity

 If Tehran plays correctly the valuable card in its hand, it has the opportunity to weaken U.S. control over the international political system at the same time that it enhances both its security and its prestige.

The unseemly haste of the Obama Administration--after Turkey and Brazil persuaded Iran to compromise--to reaffirm Washington's "neo-con-light" policy of pressuring Iran into a humiliating submission rather than incrementally negotiating a new arrangement allowing both sides to claim partial success has given rise to the sense that America's superpower status is being upset. With America's claim to moral leadership shattered on the rocks of its post-9/11 hostility toward Muslims and its coddling of right-wing Israeli expansionists, its enduring military superiority nevertheless proving to be a crude and ineffective tool for achieving anything beyond destruction, and its policy-making process on all fronts (security, finance, health care, and environment) unimaginative if not self-defeating, the door is clearly open for a restructuring of the international political system.
But no obvious candidate for new leader stands waiting on the edge of the stage. No country in the world has the combination of leadership and power to replace the U.S. The question that remains, then, is whether or not a new coalition of states can overcome the obvious obstacles to stable leadership inherent in any coalition and emerge as the driving force of new thinking.
The only obvious set of candidates is a group of states with gross differences of ideology and goals who nevertheless share common concerns about the threat of a nuclear conflict against Iran. Despite their dedication, Erdogan and Lula can hardly constitute a viable coalition by themselves, and Iran remains more a problem to be resolved than a helpful partner. But if Ankara and Brazilia can persuade Tehran to follow a conciliatory line, might Moscow and Beijing decide this was a bandwagon worth riding?
So far, Tehran has shown little willingness to offer Moscow and Beijing anything in return for their help, making it hard for either capital to resist American persuasion. But Tehran could get much for compromising only a little bit more. Having already agreed to trade low- for medium-enriched uranium, it could surely agree to give up further domestic enrichment to the medical (medium) grade once it was provided with a foreign source. Tehran could also surely take some steps to persuade the IAEA that it was being fully transparent. This would in turn provide cover for Moscow and Beijing to call for a compromise solution and put their money where their mouth is by:
  1. flatly stating that they will veto any further sanctions as long as Iran meets its obligations;
  2. providing Iran with defensive missiles;
  3. urging the IAEA to lay out precise conditions Iran would have to meet to be considered fully compliant with demands for nuclear transparency;
  4. calling for the cancellation of all anti-Iranian sanctions as soon as the IAEA states it is so satisfied;
  5. focusing attention on the new plans to pursue the vision of a nuclear-free Mideast adopted by the NPT Conference.
Such a deal would require no concessions of anything Iran already has while enhancing Iran's national security. This deal would also enhance the security of Israel by making it more difficult for Iran to move further in the direction of militarization. The deal would enhance the security of the U.S., not just by the obvious reduction in the likelihood of war, but also by facilitating bilateral talks with Iran on other issues of interest to the U.S., such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Washington could certainly recognize a good thing and make this policy its own, but if instead it remained insistent on opposing such a compromise, the result could be the emergence of a bloc with sufficient diplomatic, military, and financial clout to redesign Mideast politics.
Is there any evidence that Beijing or Moscow might be interested?
Writing in Xinhua ("Iran deserves a break") on 5/2910, Zhai Dequan, deputy secretary general of China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, hinted that Beijing may indeed be thinking along these lines:
The recent tripartite agreement on nuclear-material swapping among Iran, Turkey and Brazil shows that influential countries other than major Western powers have started helping resolve sensitive global issues.
Such efforts should be applauded and encouraged, especially because last year, US President Barack Obama said that instead of depending on America alone, other countries, too, should try and resolve world issues.
Continuing from this delicate description of a non-American but not anti-American initiative, Zhai turned to the specifics of the situation at the moment:
Since the situation has changed, pre-planned punitive actions, too, should be altered accordingly, meaning there is no longer any rationality in imposing further sanctions on Iran".
Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and blocking their channels of delivery is our common objective, but we should achieve it through justice, legality, equality and rationality.
The very next day, Xinhua reported extensively on remarks made by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani in an article which ended by quoting Larijani saying that when policy does not work, "The logical solution is to find a new way." A report of a new Chinese loan to Iran the same day (May 29) furthers the impression that China will oppose a new round of sanctions at this time.
Tehran seems to have a real opportunity to enhance its position, but trying to have its cake and eat it too by trading for medium-grade uranium from the West even while it continues enriching more domestically may be biting off more than it can chew. Such Iranian behavior does indeed give the impression, as Secretary Clinton has stressed, that Tehran is trying to trick Ankara and Brasilia. A new global center of moderate, flexible policy leadership could be emerging that would leave Iran in a far better position even while calming tensions and lessening the chance of war in a way that would be good for the West as well. But Iran can easily throw away its opportunity. Indeed, the public recriminations now unfolding between Tehran and Moscow are already revealing the delicacy of the current situation.
As in certain other countries, some Iranian politicians seem to relish the global stage they stride more than their own country's national security. To the degree that Iranians genuinely want to reform the international political system, they now have a chance to be part of a broad movement with hope of achieving such reforms. But Iran will have to place the common interests of the emerging reform coalition ahead of certain specifically Iranian goals that may not resonate with their new prospective partners in order for this glimmer of a joint movement to take form and accomplish something.
The agreement with Turkey and Brazil gives Iran an honorable route to compromise...without kowtowing to the U.S. or Israel. Before, Iran was offered only humiliating, one-sided submission to Washington, but now it can play the role of peace-maker by cooperating with the spirit of its new agreement.
Iran has no hope of catching up to Israel in nuclear terms, so the possession of nuclear weapons will only undermine Iranian security. But Iranian nuclear ambiguity is a valuable card that can now be traded for real enhancement in its national security and international prestige, not to mention gaining it significant economic and technological benefits. Iran's road to regional leadership lies not through worrying those from Saudi Arabia to Israel who are concerned about their own national security; it lies not through baiting all the West's extremists, who have repeatedly shown in recent years what they are capable of.
The road to Iranian national security lies through giving up its policy of nuclear ambiguity and its program to enrich uranium past the low levels required for electricity generation in return for membership in a broad coalition of disparate states, all of whom agree that A) members of the NPT have the right to refine uranium and B) nuclear war is something to be avoided. Beyond the numerous immediate benefits to Iran of such a course, it would launch a process of reforming the rigid international political system by spurring the emergence of a moderate middle group of countries that want to replace the hierarchical structure of the global political system under Washington's leadership with a more networked system that facilitates foreign policy independence. This is an outcome Tehran should be able to live with.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Le Paradigme Modérés-Militants

The White House remains, nine years after 9/11, mired in the false paradigm that the Mideast is divided neatly into two opposing camps - "good" moderates vs. "bad" militants, which is exactly why Washington should start listening to the real moderates such as Erdogan and Lula.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Vice and Virtue

Talk about "vice" and "virtue" is just trouble-making. When you are part of a team, your duty is to "be a team player."

Spain in this generation is a fine democracy led by a moderate regime, a place open-minded Americans (Americans not yet addicted to empire) may look up to as something of a model, but today Spain's most famous judge--Baltasar Garzon--is being taken to trial with the threat of being jailed essentially for the rest of his life because he is challenging the Spanish conspiracy to pretend that fascism never existed in that land [Vicky Short, "Judge Baltasar Garzon suspended for investigating Franco's crimes," World Socialist Website 5/27/10].

The case is causing consternation both in Spain and abroad, mainly because it was brought by three ultra right-wing organizations. Among these were the Falange Española, the Fascist party once presided over by Franco himself -- whose military coup of 1936 sparked the bloody, three-year Spanish Civil War, and culminated in a long dictatorship that ended only with his death in 1975. Historians estimate that Franco's postwar reprisals cost the lives of 100,000 people.

Garzón's many supporters have responded to the case with dismay, moved by its outrageous symmetry: a highly respected judge brought to trial, for attempting to try crimes, on an accusation by the disciples of the regime that perpetrated those crimes in the first place.
[Julius Purcell, "Baltasar Garzon, "General Franco's latest victim," The  5/29/10]

In the U.S. today not one former official is on trial for having lied about the reasons for launching a war of aggression, not one person is being forced in court to justify advocating "preventive" war, not one official is being called to account for supporting death squads, not one official is being tried for undermining constitutional guarantees of civil liberties, not one is facing a hearing for attacking a city or providing arms to a state practicing collective punishment against an ethnic minority or a class of poor farmers sitting on land needed by rich cattle barons., not one has even been fired for advocating nuclear war against a non-nuclear country. Hardly a single judicial action exists today against those who cut corners and gambled with the existence of the Gulf of Mexico as a biosphere; hardly a single judicial action is investigating the possible criminal behavior of individuals whose financial gambles put millions out of work and certainly none are hauling to court officials who passed laws designed to facilitate those gambles or officials whose job it was to regulate the gamblers.

There is nothing new about this dilemma.

From the most ancient times justice has been a two-part concept: virtue triumphs, and vice is punished.

We have been fortunate enough to live to a time when virtue, though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed to enter in all its tatters and sit in the corner, as long as it doesn't raise its voice.

However, no one dares say a word about vice...."Why open old wounds?"....

What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body?...

What are we to do? Someday our descendants will describe our several generations as generations of driveling do-nothings. First we submissively allowed them to massacre us by the millions, and then with devoted concern we tended the murderers in their prosperous old age....

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them....But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes....

It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that "past" which "ought not to be stirred up."

We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to oppress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. [Aleksandr SolzhenitsNY: Harper Perennial, 2007, 175-178)]

Meanwhile back in the West, heroic nuclear whistleblower Moredechai Vannunu is going back to jail; his 18-year sentence was not enough. In the U.S., Wall Street fraud-investigating whistleblowers ["Silencing the whistleblowers," Democracy Now 5/20/10] were fired. Protect the guilty; punish the trouble-makers. And we wonder why our country seems so confused.

Superpower Arterioschlerosis Then and Now

The Soviet Union may be long gone, but Americans would do well to remember its weaknesses.  Both military powers short on imagination, the similarities are sobering.

I have deplored more than once the lack of flexibility and creativity in American foreign policy formulation under Obama. Obama's Iran policy is perhaps the most obvious example, in particular in the aftermath of the agreement Iran made with Turkey and Brazil that opened a diplomatic door Obama rushed to slam shut. 

The consequences of American intransigence in this case are likely to be serious. The failure of a reform candidate (Obama) to make a sincere effort at finding a solution different from the old neo-con bullying of Iran will discredit “liberalism,” flexibility, compromise, engagement, and diplomacy even though Obama gives no more than a nod in the direction of any of those concepts as far as Iran policy is concerned. And on the other side of the coin, his policy will lay the groundwork for a resurgence of American bullying, militarism, and empire-building. 

It is ironic, to use the mildest term I can think of, to recall how during the old Cold War days of the 1970s we sneered at “arterioschlerosis of the bureaucratic arteries” in the USSR of the aged Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko. How much more nimble and creative does Washington look today than Moscow back then?

The reasons for this failure of American policy makers to devise ways of piloting the  U.S. ship of state through international waters deserve serious introspection. One clue comes, again, from the Soviet Union. As the old leadership dug its heels ever deeper into the Kremlin floors in the 1970s in an increasingly desperate attempt to retain power, famed Marxist Russian dissident historian Roy Medvedev described the curious inability of Soviet reformers to defend themselves against a resurgence of hard-line, militarist, anti-democratic Stalinism (for clarity, let's call them the Soviet neo-cons). One of his points seems directly applicable to the timidity of the Obama Administration vis-a-vis discredited hard-line American politicians:

A most important determining factor in the activity of the moderate-conservatives of all shades is the desire to avoid any kind of crisis or open conflict and as far as possible to maintain or in any case to prolong the none-too-stable equilibrium which now exists in the top ranks of the party. They are therefore in no hurry to find now long overdue solutions for many economic and political problems, and some very crucial ones they simply try to ignore or hush up. [Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy (NY: Norton Library, 1975), 55-56.]

The Soviet Union of course collapsed less than two decades later, and there is hardly a word in the above description that does not apply to the confused Democratic wing of the American establishment. Every day that Obama avoids clear public condemnation of neo-con innovations such as preventive war, pretending that Iran is the new global threat, and empire-building only further compromises him.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Leaders: Experimenting on Us?

When leaders appear to be promoting a short-sighted, evil, or counter-productive policy, are they in fact simply conducting an experiment, testing an hypothesis (perhaps with you as the test material) they wish to apply to a completely different issue?

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Imperial Presidency's 'Superfluous Imagination'

 The neo-cons were supposed to have lost the election, but the Imperial Presidency's attack on the U.S. Constitution continues...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mideast Nuclear Transparency

Medical-grade uranium is yesterday's issue; it is time for the Mideast to focus on nuclear transparency.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Tiny but Critical Step toward Resolving Washington's Nuclear Dispute with Tehran

 Rational world leaders must recognize that the Turkish-Brazilian-Iranian nuclear agreement is a tiny but essential first step toward overcoming the paranoia and making a place in the world for Iran.

Ankara and Brasilia have achieved with Tehran a tiny agreement on a technical detail about the normal provision of medical grade uranium to Iran, something that, outside of the current atmosphere of paranoia would never have been noticed by the world media. But there is an atmosphere of paranoia, and medical-grade uranium has become entangled with the whole issue of whether or not the Washington-based international political system can incorporate Iranian demands for foreign policy independence. In between those two extremes, Washington sees the exchange of electricity-grade Iranian uranium for medical-grade Western uranium as a means of postponing the day when Tehran will have managed to accumulate sufficient military-grade uranium (of which it presumably has none whatsoever) to build a single test bomb (the testing of which would destroy the uranium, putting Iran theoretically in the nuclear camp but in practice still weaponless until it could refine more. So the tiny agreement about a tiny exchange becomes in fact major news, offering the first substantive ray of hope that the world will be able to step back from paranoia.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Uranium Enrichment: Test of Foreign Policy Independence?

Washington should be careful not to turn domestic uranium enrichment into the test, in the eyes of emerging world powers, of independence. That would be a defeat for the security of the world far more dangerous than Iranian acquisition of the bomb.

The lack of flexibility on Washington’s part regarding its dispute with Iran about nuclear behavior is raising the likelihood that Tehran will succeed in shifting the focus of the international debate over its nuclear program from the question of militarization to the question of rights to uranium enrichment for civilian purposes. Since NPT members already have that legal right, if Iran can make that issue the focus, its position will become far stronger.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Empire: The Neo-Con/Likudnik State of Mind

To learn, read what you disagree with! If you care about world peace and oppose empire, read the revealing expose of neo-con attitudes toward Iran presented by political science professor and former Bush/Cheney consultant Peter Feaver.

Listening carefully to an intelligent but committed conservative is marvelously revealing, but put the emphasis on “carefully.” The recent defense [Palestine Note 5/12/10] of U.S. policy toward Iran by Duke political scientist and former advisor to the Bush/Cheney Administration on strategic planning Peter Feaver exemplifies what can be learned by careful consideration of an intellectual’s defense of empire.

Feaver characterizes the U.S.-Iranian dispute “for over thirty years” as “primarily about behavior,” a dispute that would end “if the regime were to change its behavior.” Read every word with care. This is a refreshingly honest admission from an imperial defender that the U.S. would happily deal with an Iran that would submit. Feaver’s summary effectively dispels any inclination to take seriously his earlier remark in the same paragraph that the dispute concerns “its support for international terrorism, its pursuit of WMD, and its hostility towards Israel.” Only the last—hostility toward Israel—comes close to revealing the truth. Just for the most obvious example, the U.S. works closely every day with Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which vigorously and successfully pursue WMD.

Feaver also reveals in this passage, if only by implication, the clear order of events that Washington requires: first, Iranian change in behavior; second, U.S. acceptance of “more fruitful and cordial relations.” Again, note this carefully: Feaver is clearly not suggesting negotiations. A positive-sum outcome of mutual benefit is not at all what he is referring to; rather, Feaver is indicating about as honestly as any defender of empire is likely to do that the process of obtaining “cordial” U.S. treatment is submission to the rules of the international political system written in Washington.

These rules are significant. It is worth being clear about what the rules require and what they do not.

Rule 1 is acceptance of American international leadership. No campaigns for new leadership, no elections, no competing or reformist visions will be tolerated.

Rule 2 is acceptance of Israeli military dominance over the Mideast. Only Israel, among Mideast states, is to be allowed nuclear weapons; other countries can have arms to the degree permitted by Israel. Israel is to be allowed overflight rights across international borders to enforce the limitations on arms that it sets. Military support for Palestinian liberation or the defense of Lebanon is not only forbidden but will be terms “terrorism.” Only Israel is to be allowed to establish colonies or expand its territory (to be fair, there is now some evidence that this rule is under review in Washington).

Rule 3 is broad acceptance of the legitimacy of the current international political system. Reformers must step very, very lightly, and dissidents—even those only presenting theoretical visions, much less those who take action—are treated with exactly the same contempt with which Moscow treated its own dissidents under the bad old Soviet Union. Where the Soviet Union threw dissident individuals into insane asylums, Washington pillories dissident regimes as “crazy.” Perhaps it was “crazy” for a Solzhenitzen or a Sakharov to demand that the USSR reform; perhaps it is also “crazy” for an Iran, a Hamas, a Turkey, a Brazil, or a Cairo (!) to demand that the international political system be reformed.

Note that no rule about possession of WMD exists. That is decided on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of defense needs but on the basis of…well, Feaver already said it: “behavior.”

The behavioral change Washington demands of Tehran is very simply its acceptance of these rules. There is a word for this, and that word is “surrender.”

Feaver’s revelations continue. Concerning the U.S. double-standard on Mideast nuclear arms, he states frankly: “The United States views the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon to be substantially more destabilizing than the Israeli nuclear posture:” destabilizing to the current power structure in the Mideast, that is. One could of course take issue with the assumption that Israel can be trusted not to knock down the American house of cards by provoking regional war, but Feaver is undoubtedly correct that this is in fact the U.S. elite assumption. Few are the decision makers in Washington with the foresight and independence of mind to consider the danger to American security in an era of long-term recession and a worsening war against global activist Islam that is posed by the threat of an Israeli nuclear strike.

Unfortunately, Feaver’s efforts to put Likudnik propaganda to the side and present an intellectual defense of U.S. policy collapses once he starts trying to justify Israeli nuclear arms. He notes correctly the anti-Israeli challenge posed by “well-armed groups” without making any attempt to explain how nuclear arms will prevent rockets from Gaza or Palestinian efforts to protect their homes and olive groves from Israeli colonization. Does he anticipate small Israeli nuclear strikes on Hamas headquarters in Gaza or to clear Palestinian homes from East Jerusalem? Sliding over the indefensible implications of his reference to nuclear arms as protection from “well-armed groups,” he jumps to the standard neo-con propaganda charge that Ahmadinejad has pledged “to wipe Israel from the face of the map.” As often as Persian readers demonstrate that this charge was created by mistranslation, neo-con & Likudnik propagandists repeat the charge.

Returning the focus of his remarks to Iran, Feaver again becomes interesting. “The United States believes it needs tough sanctions as leverage on the Iranian regime; without such leverage, why would Iran negotiate in good faith. Iran believes that it should negotiate only when there are no such sanctions or leverage in place.” An adversary, Feaver evidently believes, will only negotiate in good faith when under pressure. He wastes no time with such nonsense as positive-sum outcomes; life, to Feaver, is simple: adversaries only understand the language of force. One might wonder how he deals with relatives or students; for a professor of political science to take such a perspective suggests that he skipped a couple of theory classes. But that is unfairly personal. Feaver is presenting the neo-con view and, as such, is quite correct: the language of force does indeed appear to be the only language that the neo-cons understand. Were he to say that the Iranian neo-cons (i.e., the Saddam war generation of secular military leaders that rose up literally in the trenches defending Iranian independence in perhaps the most vicious war since Vietnam) are dangerous because they only understand the language of force, he would be presenting a defensible intellectual position worthy of debate, but, as stated, his remark is useful only if read as revealing the prejudices of the neo-con/Likudnik worldview. Given the tenacity of Iran’s self-defense and the caution with which it has conducted its foreign policy when not under direct military attack, there is in truth every reason to assume that a genuinely conciliatory approach might elicit willingness to compromise on issues where mutual benefit can be identified. One might give Feaver the benefit of the doubt and assume that, as an intellectual, he can see this, but that in his capacity as presenter of the empire-builder’s world view, he would not mention it because such considerations are so far outside such a person’s perspective.

Feaver's presentation of the neo-con/Likudnik attitude toward Iran is a highly valuable explanation of why the world has seen so much war this century.