Tag Archives: iran

Chris Collins’ Iranthmetic

3 Dec


The image to the left of this text shows my Congressman’s Facebook reaction to a deal that the “P5+1” countries reached with Iran over its nuclear weapons and energy program. 

The deal was a modest thing, significant for the fact that Iran came to the table in apparent good faith at all. It would dilute existing nuclear material so that it could only be used for energy, and not weaponry, and there would be a 6 month halt to its nuclear weapon program altogether. The aim would be a final deal within 6 or 12 months, allowing for one 6 month extension of the pause. 

Iran’s economy has been absolutely devastated by international sanctions over its nuclear program, and it has a huge incentive to roll back its pariah status. The world benefits if Iran has no nuclear weapons to use against its myriad enemies. To my mind, the whole thing should be rolled into deal whereby Iran ends its support of Hezbollah and recognizes Israel, but diplomacy is often about baby steps. 

So, turning to the representative of NY-27, we could certainly fisk his simplistic statement to kingdom come – e.g., it wasn’t an “Obama Administration” deal, it was a deal between Iran on the one hand, and the US, Russia, China, and the European Union (read: the UK, France, and Germany – it’s called “P5+1” because it includes the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council, meaning it would be veto-proof in that body, plus Germany) on the other.  Germany, for its part, does huge business with Iran, and all of these powers – working together – have the ability together to put great pressure on Iran to behave and comply. 

I could snarkily comment on Collins’ recent praise of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, or the fact that Collins chooses to manufacture his tchotchkes in China, but I also realize that his public pronouncements are not meant to be taken seriously. I think that we’re witnessing an Andy Kaufman-like comedic performance art that is, unfortunately, unfunny and predictable. Collins is a caricature of a closed-minded conservative backbencher. 

The point of diplomacy, of course, isn’t just to talk with friends. The diplomatic process involves talking with our sworn enemies, as well; to work out differences in a peaceful way rather than war. 

So, why would our caricature be so knee-jerkedly opposed to a rather contextually modest, temporary deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the easing of some sanctions? Because he’s effectively been paid to oppose it

Just this past August, Collins took his son on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel. The trip was financed by a private lobbying group, the American Israel Education Foundation. It paid for transportation, lodging, meals, and all incidentals for Collins (who is well able to afford spending $18,000 to visit Israel) and his son, who visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. 

WGRZ called Collins out on it

Dr. Craig Holman with the government watchdog group Public Citizen said the trips are designed to influence and lobby members of Congress.

“These types of travel junkets have long been one of the favorite means for special interests and lobbyists to use to try to influence members of Congress and peddle their wares on Capitol Hill,” Dr. Holman said.

While AIEF is a non-profit, it is simply the charity wing of the AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC is the largest pro-Israel lobby in America.

AIPAC and its lobbyists are prohibited from giving lawmakers or staff members gifts, including trips. So the group’s charity wing does it for them.

“(The ethics committees) have allowed a lobbying organization — any lobbying entity — to set up a 501(c)3, a charity wing even just on paper,” Dr. Holman said. “And if that (c)3 itself doesn’t employ lobbyists, then it can pay for these congressional travel junkets.”

Neither Congressman Reed nor Congressman Collins would speak with 2 On Your Side either on camera or by phone. They each emailed statements through their spokespeople.

“Congressman Collins’ trip – vetted and approved by the House Ethics Committee – was paid for exclusively by private donations at zero expense to taxpayers,” Collins Spokesperson Grant Loomis said by email. “The bipartisan effort involves both Democrats and Republicans and is critical to educating Members of Congress on the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting American interests in the Middle East.”

Israel, for its part, has slammed the Iran nuclear deal, and her Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it an “accommodation” and “political theater” that will “wreak havoc” in the region. Well, not all of Israel. For instance, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni has taken a much more conciliatory tone, arguing that the 6 month Iran deal gives Israel an opening to solve the Palestinian crisis so that Israel and the Arab world can be united in putting pressure on Iran. The opposition Labour Party has blasted Netanyahu, as has at least one of his former associates, 

On April 27, former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were not fit to stand at helm of the Israeli regime. 

“I will tell you things that might be harsh. I cannot trust Netanyahu and Barak at the wheel in confronting Iran. They are infected with messianic feelings over Iran,” Diskin said. 

Later on Sunday, Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan expressed support for Diskin, saying he was stating his “internal truth.” 

Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz said on April 25 that he does not believe Iran will pursue nuclear weapons after years of efforts made by Tel Aviv and its allies to convince the world otherwise. 

Gantz described Iran’s leadership as “very rational” who would not make such a decision. 

There hasn’t been a havoc-free day in the last 3,000 years anywhere surrounding Israel, given its neighbors’ insistence that it be eliminated. Yet with careful diplomacy, Arab and Islamic enemies have succumbed and recognized Israel. It happened with Egypt and Jordan, it could happen with others if talks would take place, but as with all things in the Middle East, it’s just too complicated and fraught with peril. 

If Chris Collins was so effusive with his praise for Putin’s supposed out-maneuvering in Syria, which pledged to destroy its chemical weapons to avoid American military action, his heart should be just as full of praise for the Iran deal, because there isn’t a damn reason why anyone would trust Syria’s Bashir Assad more or less than any of Iran’s mullahs. 

The Morning Grumpy – 1/11/2012

11 Jan

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. Last night in his victory speech, Mitt Romney asked Americans to reject the “bitter politics of envy” and to not be “dragged down by a resentment of success”.  As Paul Krugman put it yesterday,

“Romney evidently has no sense of what it’s like NOT to be the very wealthy son of an already wealthy father; no idea how the fear of unemployment or medical bills afflicts ordinary Americans.”

Of course, Romney advocates for massive tax cuts for the wealthy while sticking it to regular schmoes.

According to an analysis by Citizens for Tax Justice, the average tax cuts received by the richest 1 percent of Americans under the Republican plans would be 270 times as large as the cut received by the middle class.

So, please, don’t resent him for his money or his 1% politics of money hoarding. That would be class warfare. And shut the hell up or he’ll buy your company and fire your ass, cubicle slave!

2. Hey, remember friend of Jimmy Griffin and Operation Rescue christian nutjob, Randall Terry? He’s running for President and he plans to air Super Bowl ads in 40 cities across the country.

Anti-abortion ads showing graphic images of aborted fetuses covered in blood and surrounded by religious icons will air during the Super Bowl in February, courtesy of Democratic Presidential candidate Randall Terry. Terry, who has spent a year in jail and been arrested 50 times for his anti-abortion efforts, is using a Federal Election Commission loophole that ensures ads for political candidates cannot be prohibited within 45 days of an election. Apparently, primaries count, so Terry will be running ads on local stations during Super Bowl XLVI February 5

It’s a crazy fucking country.

3. When Republican candidates want to increase turnout amongst the base, they usually warn about “socialism” (code word for ‘black people wanna take your stuff’), warn that pinko Democrats are coming for the guns and that ZOMG, TEH GAYS WANNA GET MARRIED!

If Democrats need a social issue to rally around this year for some good, old-fashioned fear mongering, how about this? Republicans are coming for your porn. 

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich in a face-to-face meeting: When asked by MIM staff if he will enforce existing laws that make much hard-core adult pornography illegal, he responded, “Yes, I will appoint an Attorney General who will enforce these laws.”

If we’re the godless secularist humanists they claim we are, we need to GET TO THE VOTING BOOTHS!

4. Here’s a few facts to use next time you find yourself talking with someone who doesn’t get why those “damn, dirty hippies” are still Occupying around the country.

The rich have gotten richer, thanks to the stock market and the Bush tax cuts, a recent report has found.

Growth in income from capital gains and dividends has widened the divide between the wealthy and the poor in recent years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. It supplanted wage inequality as the primary driver of the growing income gap, which helped spur the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall.

After-tax income for the top 1% of taxpayers soared 74%, on average, between 1996 and 2006. The top 0.1% benefited even more, nearly doubling their income over that decade.

By comparison, the bottom 20% of taxpayers saw their income fall by 6%, while the middle quintile experienced a meager 10% gain.

I know this is, as Mitt Romney says, “the bitter politics of envy”, but I like to call it “the middle class keeps getting ‘f’d in the a'”. Read the full report here.

5. In case you’re not one of the 17 people who watched Face The Nation on CBS this past Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta let us in on a little secret. Panetta admitted that despite all the rhetoric, Iran is not pursuing the ability to split atoms with weapons, saying it is instead pursuing “a nuclear capability.” That “capability” falls in line with what Iran has said for years: that it is developing nuclear energy facilities, not nuclear weapons.

“I think the pressure of the sanctions, the diplomatic pressures from everywhere, Europe, the United States, elsewhere, it’s working to put pressure on them,” Panetta explained on Sunday. “To make them understand that they cannot continue to do what they’re doing. Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.

Maybe this might chill some of the rapidly increasing rhetoric about going to war with Iran, right? Probably not.

Fact Of The Day: Calling the death penalty process “arbitrary and capricious, and therefore immoral,” Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of 167 condemned inmates, clearing his state’s death row two days before leaving office.

Quote Of The Day: “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.” – Christopher Hitchens

Bible Verse Of The Day: “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife–with the wife of his neighbor–both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” – Leviticus 20:10

Song Of The Day: “Take Your Whiskey Home” – Van Halen

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]gmail.com

U.S. Midterm Elections, Obama and Iran

28 Oct

By George Friedman

We are a week away from the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. The outcome is already locked in. Whether the Republicans take the House or the Senate is close to immaterial. It is almost certain that the dynamics of American domestic politics will change. The Democrats will lose their ability to impose cloture in the Senate and thereby shut off debate. Whether they lose the House or not, the Democrats will lose the ability to pass legislation at the will of the House Democratic leadership. The large majority held by the Democrats will be gone, and party discipline will not be strong enough (it never is) to prevent some defections.

Should the Republicans win an overwhelming victory in both houses next week, they will still not have the votes to override presidential vetoes. Therefore they will not be able to legislate unilaterally, and if any legislation is to be passed it will have to be the result of negotiations between the president and the Republican Congressional leadership. Thus, whether the Democrats do better than expected or the Republicans win a massive victory, the practical result will be the same.

When we consider the difficulties President Barack Obama had passing his health care legislation, even with powerful majorities in both houses, it is clear that he will not be able to push through any significant legislation without Republican agreement. The result will either be gridlock or a very different legislative agenda than we have seen in the first two years.

These are not unique circumstances. Reversals in the first midterm election after a presidential election happened to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. It does not mean that Obama is guaranteed to lose a re-election bid, although it does mean that, in order to win that election, he will have to operate in a very different way. It also means that the 2012 presidential campaign will begin next Wednesday on Nov. 3. Given his low approval ratings, Obama appears vulnerable and the Republican nomination has become extremely valuable. For his part, Obama does not have much time to lose in reshaping his presidency. With the Iowa caucuses about 15 months away and the Republicans holding momentum, the president will have to begin his campaign.

Obama now has two options in terms of domestic strategy. The first is to continue to press his agenda, knowing that it will be voted down. If the domestic situation improves, he takes credit for it. If it doesn’t, he runs against Republican partisanship. The second option is to abandon his agenda, cooperate with the Republicans and re-establish his image as a centrist. Both have political advantages and disadvantages and present an important strategic decision for Obama to make.

The Foreign Policy Option

Obama also has a third option, which is to shift his focus from domestic policy to foreign policy. The founders created a system in which the president is inherently weak in domestic policy and able to take action only when his position in Congress is extremely strong. This was how the founders sought to avoid the tyranny of narrow majorities. At the same time, they made the president quite powerful in foreign policy regardless of Congress, and the evolution of the presidency over the centuries has further strengthened this power. Historically, when the president has been weak domestically, one option he has had is to appear powerful by focusing on foreign policy.

For presidents like Clinton, this was not a particularly viable option in 1994-1996. The international system was quiet, and it was difficult to act meaningfully and decisively. It was easier for Reagan in 1982-1984. The Soviet Union was strong and threatening, and an aggressive anti-Soviet stance was popular and flowed from his 1980 campaign. Deploying the ground-launched cruise missile and the Pershing II medium-range ballistic missile in Western Europe alienated his opponents, strengthened his position with his political base and allowed him to take the center (and ultimately pressured the Soviets into agreeing to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). By 1984, with the recession over, Reagan’s anti-Soviet stance helped him defeat Walter Mondale.

Obama does not have Clinton’s problem. The international environment allows him to take a much more assertive stance than he has over the past two years. The war in Afghanistan is reaching a delicate negotiating state as reports of ongoing talks circulate. The Iraq war is far from stable, with 50,000 U.S. troops still there, and the Iranian issue is wide open. Israeli-Palestinian talks are also faltering, and there are a host of other foreign issues, ranging from China’s increasing assertiveness to Russia’s resurgent power to the ongoing decline in military power of America’s European allies. There are a range of issues that need to be addressed at the presidential level, many of which would resonate with at least some voters and allow Obama to be presidential in spite of weak political support.

There are two problems with Obama becoming a foreign policy president. The first is that the country is focused on the economy and on domestic issues. If he focuses on foreign policy and the U.S. economy does not improve by 2012, it will cost him the election. His hope will be foreign policy successes, or at least the perception of being strong on national security, coupled with economic recovery or a plausible reason to blame the Republicans. This is a tricky maneuver, but his presidency no longer offers simple solutions.

The second problem is that his presidency and campaign have been based on the general principle of accommodation rather than confrontation in foreign affairs, with the sole exception of Afghanistan, where he chose to be substantially more aggressive than his predecessor had been. The place where he was assertive is unlikely to yield a major foreign policy success, unless that success is a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. A negotiated settlement will be portrayed by the Republicans as capitulation rather than triumph. If he continues on the current course in Afghanistan, he will seem to be plodding down an old path and not pioneering a new one.

Interestingly, if Obama’s goal is to appear strong on national security while regaining the center, Afghanistan offers the least attractive venue. His choices are negotiation, which would reinforce his image as an accommodationist in foreign policy, or continued war, which is not particularly new territory. He could deploy even more forces into Afghanistan, but then would risk looking like Lyndon Johnson in 1967, hurling troops at the enemy without a clear plan. He could, of course, create a massive crisis with Pakistan, but it would be extremely unlikely that such an effort would end well, given the situation in Afghanistan. Foreign policy presidents need to be successful.

There is little to be done in Iraq at the moment except delay the withdrawal of forces, which adds little to his political position. Moreover, the core problem in Iraq at the moment is Iran and its support of disruptive forces. Obama could attempt to force an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, but that would require Hamas to change its position, which is unlikely, or that Israel make massive concessions, which it doesn’t think it has to do. The problem with Israel and the Palestinians is that peace talks, such as those under Clinton at Camp David, have a nasty tendency to end in chaos.

The European, Russian and Chinese situations are of great importance, but they are not conducive to dramatic acts. The United States is not going to blockade China over the yuan or hold a stunning set of meetings with the Europeans to get them to increase their defense budgets and commit to more support for U.S. wars. And the situation regarding North Korea does not have the pressing urgency to justify U.S. action. There are many actions that would satisfy Obama’s accomodationist inclinations, but those would not serve well in portraying him as decisive in foreign policy.

The Iranian Option

This leaves the obvious choice: Iran. Iran is the one issue on which the president could galvanize public opinion. The Republicans have portrayed Obama as weak on combating militant Islamism. Many of the Democrats see Iran as a repressive violator of human rights, particularly after the crackdown on the Green Movement. The Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia, is afraid of Iran and wants the United States to do something more than provide $60 billion-worth of weapons over the next 10 years. The Israelis, obviously, are hostile. The Europeans are hostile to Iran but want to avoid escalation, unless it ends quickly and successfully and without a disruption of oil supplies. The Russians — like the Iranians — are a thorn in the American side, as are the Chinese, but neither would have much choice should the United States deal with Iran quickly and effectively. Moreover, the situation in Iraq would improve if Iran were to be neutralized, and the psychology in Afghanistan could also shift.

If Obama were to use foreign policy to enhance his political standing through decisive action, and achieve some positive results in relations with foreign governments, the one place he could do it would be Iran. The issue is what he might have to do and what the risks would be. Nothing could, after all, hurt him more than an aggressive stance against Iran that failed to achieve its goals or turned into a military disaster for the United States.

So far, Obama’s policy toward Iran has been to incrementally increase sanctions by building a weak coalition and allow the sanctions to create shifts in Iran’s domestic political situation. The idea is to weaken President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and strengthen his enemies, who are assumed to be more moderate and less inclined to pursue nuclear weapons. Obama has avoided overt military action against Iran, so a confrontation with Iran would require a deliberate shift in the U.S. stance, which would require a justification.

The most obvious justification would be to claim that Iran is about to construct a nuclear device. Whether or not this is true would be immaterial. First, no one would be in a position to challenge the claim, and, second, Obama’s credibility in making the assertion would be much greater than George W. Bush’s, given that Obama does not have the 2003 weapons-of-mass-destruction debacle to deal with and has the advantage of not having made such a claim before. Coming from Obama, the claim would confirm the views of the Republicans, while the Democrats would be hard-pressed to challenge him. In the face of this assertion, Obama would be forced to take action. He could appear reluctant to his base, decisive to the rest. The Republicans could not easily attack him. Nor would the claim be a lie. Defining what it means to almost possess nuclear weapons is nearly a metaphysical discussion. It requires merely a shift in definitions and assumptions. This is a cynical scenario, but it can be aligned with reasonable concerns.

As STRATFOR has argued in the past, destroying Iran’s nuclear capability does not involve a one-day raid, nor is Iran without the ability to retaliate. Its nuclear facilities are in a number of places and Iran has had years to harden those facilities. Destroying the facilities might take an extended air campaign and might even require the use of special operations units to verify battle damage and complete the mission. In addition, military action against Iran’s naval forces would be needed to protect the oil routes through the Persian Gulf from small boat swarms and mines, anti-ship missile launchers would have to be attacked and Iranian air force and air defenses taken out. This would not solve the problem of the rest of Iran’s conventional forces, which would represent a threat to the region, so these forces would have to be attacked and reduced as well.

An attack on Iran would not be an invasion, nor would it be a short war. Like Yugoslavia in 1999, it would be an extended air war lasting an unknown number of months. There would be American POWs from aircraft that were shot down or suffered mechanical failure over Iranian territory. There would be many civilian casualties, which the international media would focus on. It would not be an antiseptic campaign, but it would likely (though it is important to reiterate not certainly) destroy Iran’s nuclear capability and profoundly weaken its conventional forces. It would be a war based on American strengths in aerial warfare and technology, not on American weaknesses in counterinsurgency. It would strengthen the Iranian regime (as aerial bombing usually does) by rallying the Iranian public to its side against the aggression. If the campaign were successful, the Iranian regime would be stronger politically, at least for a while, but eviscerated militarily. A successful campaign would ease the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, calm the Saudis and demonstrate to the Europeans American capability and will. It would also cause the Russians and Chinese to become very thoughtful.

A campaign against Iran would have its risks. Iran could launch a terrorist campaign and attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz, sending the global economy into a deep recession on soaring oil prices. It could also create a civil war in Iraq. U.S. intelligence could have missed the fact that the Iranians already have a deliverable nuclear weapon. All of these are possible risks, and, according to STRATFOR’s thinking, the risks outweigh the rewards. After all, the best laid military plan can end in a fiasco.

We have argued that a negotiation with Iran in the order of President Richard Nixon’s reversal on China would be a lower-risk solution to the nuclear problem than the military option. But for Obama, this is politically difficult to do. Had Bush done this, he would have had the ideological credentials to deal with Iran, as Nixon had the ideological credentials to deal with China. But Obama does not. Negotiating an agreement with Iran in the wake of an electoral rout would open the floodgates to condemnation of Obama as an appeaser. In losing power, he loses the option for negotiation unless he is content to be a one-term president.

I am arguing the following. First, Obama will be paralyzed on domestic policies by this election. He can craft a re-election campaign blaming the Republicans for gridlock. This has its advantages and disadvantages; the Republicans, charging that he refused to adjust to the electorate’s wishes, can blame him for the gridlock. It can go either way. The other option for Obama is to look for triumph in foreign policy where he has a weak hand. The only obvious way to achieve success that would have a positive effect on the U.S. strategic position is to attack Iran. Such an attack would have substantial advantages and very real dangers. It could change the dynamics of the Middle East and it could be a military failure.

I am not claiming that Obama will decide to do this based on politics, although no U.S. president has ever engaged in foreign involvement without political considerations, nor should he. I am saying that, at this moment in history, given the domestic gridlock that appears to be in the offing, a shift to a foreign policy emphasis makes sense, Obama needs to be seen as an effective commander in chief and Iran is the logical target.

This is not a prediction. Obama does not share his thoughts with me. It is merely speculation on the options Obama will have after the midterm elections, not what he will choose to do.

U.S. Midterm Elections, Obama and Iran is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Obama’s Presser 6/22

24 Jun

The MI6 and the CIA overthrew a democratically elected Iranian government in 1953 and installed the Shah. Had that not happened, it’s quite likely that Iran wouldn’t be run by Ayatollahs right now, and who knows? Maybe there wouldn’t be a Hezbollah either. Since the Shah was deposed, the US has been the Great Satan. Obama’s measured response, which is fluid in response to reality on the ground in Iran, is exactly appropriate.

“If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality healthcare…then why is it the government, which they say can’t run anything, is suddenly going to run them out of business?”

A Dwindling Iranian Revolution?

22 Jun

Some are willing to make predicitions for Iran. Stratfor, a private intelligence company, sometimes called a shadow CIA, produces unclassified intel summaries for military professionals and serious amateurs. This week, its founder, George Friedman, an unabashed geo-politicist that I am greatly enamored of,  talks about the revolt in Iran. In his opinion, Iran has not passed the revolution test, and this is all going to go very badly.

He starts with discussing the three stages a revolution must go through:

Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Unfortunately, according to Friedman, other segments have not joined the main Mousavi-supported segment, so we have never gotten out of Phase II. Instead, the security forces, in the form of the Basij, re-establish control.

His proof:

1) Those in the streets are still primarily students and Mousavi supporters. Foreign media have been amazed at how all of the demonstrators speak English, carry smart phones, and Tweet. Friedman sees this as a weakness, as the crowds are too homogeneous.

2) The security forces are not the Twittering classes, and remain loyal to the central government. They will not side with the demonstrators, and let Yeltsin crawl on top of the tank. Instead, its a much much worse version of the riots in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention in 1968. Then the students protested in support of the poor and down trodden. In the meantime, the poor and down trodden had gotten jobs with the Chacgo Police Department, and beat the students.

3) The protestors are alleging that 13 million votes were stolen. If there was broad support for an uprising, a much larger number of those millions, and voters for other candidates, would have gotten involved. But they didn’t. While the demonstrations look large, they are mostly in Tehran, and mostly among core Mousavi supporters.

So what will happen instead? Friedman sees the real strife not on the streets, but in the clerical class:

That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution.

Martyrdom Has a Name and Face

20 Jun

Every revolution, whether successful or not, has an iconic moment. It might end up being a symbol, like the lone man standing in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square. It might be Vaclav Havel giving a speech in Wenceslas Square. It might end up being a turning point, like Ceausescu’s final speech.

The cold-blooded murder of a young girl today in Tehran at the hands of the volunteer Basij militia is an iconic moment. A young woman martyred because she was watching the demonstrations on the sidewalk next to her father. She was taken out by a sniper, and someone’s camera captured her last breath.

It’s an extraordinarily moving and disturbing video, mostly because our news media tend to sanitize news for mass consumption. We tend to look at things like war, rebellion, revolution, and fighting as an abstract idea rather than something that causes people’s blood to run. Because we seldom see the blood.

I won’t embed the video, but I’ll link to it. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not for people who can’t stand the sight of blood or who suspect they might be haunted by the image for a long time. But it’s real life, and frankly you’ve seen a whole lot worse simulated on the big and small screen.

This is what real life looks like. This is what martyrdom looks like. This is a turning point in the Iranian revolution, where an innocent is murdered by the government in cold blood for the crime of standing on the corner.

On Twitter, people say her name is Neda. In Farsi, it means “voice” or “call”. May she rest in peace and may her murder not be in vain.

The NY Times’ Lede blog has a rundown of today’s news out of Iran, and one commenter notes:

Make special note of that unarmed innocent Girl shot and bleeding from her mouth, nose, eyes, ears…..hundreds of copies just went up on Youtube. The tide of the ‘79 revolution was turned overnight by a similar front-page photo of a Soldier at point blank range shooting an un-armed protester.

Sullivanpublishes Mousavi’s speech today, which is a response to Ayatollah Khamenei’s reactionary speech yesterday.

President Obama has also issued a new statement in response to Khamenei’s speech, and the threat and reality of increased anti-protest violence by the government.

Amazement in Tehran

20 Jun

Like many, I am entranced by the current events in Iran. A couple thoughts:

1) Twitter seems to have fulfilled the dream promised by Radio Free Europe and Voice of America: completely democratic organized mass movement. As the protests have evolved from anger of an election to anger over the system, Mousavi has stopped being the leader or even a figurehead. Dictators around the world long ago learned to control traditional media: newspapers, television and radio. Voice of America was meant to break news into this echo chamber, but it has had mixed, and only incremental success. The internet posed new challenges for dictators, but by limiting access, and censoring websites, they still had a lockdown. But Twitter is different. It is a US company, and vulnerable to some  US political influence. To shut down Twitter, Iran has to shutdown its cell phone network and cripple the country and their own government. It is organic, and completely “flat” instant communication between large groups of people. Was this uprising possible before Twitter? Possible, yes, but clearly more difficult.

2) While the Bush Administration has taken much deserved criticism for encouraging democracy without regard to possible outcomes, there is a new lesson to be learned here. Many on the Left have chided that elections do not equal democracy. But clearly elections get people thinking about democracy, and when an election appears tainted, that can have transformative effects.

3) I find it fascinating that no one has any idea how the hell this going to turn out. Pundits normally pontificate, and are often wrong, but rarely admit that they have no way to predict the future. I have found few commentators willing to predict the end of this mess. For myself, I hope it is more Berlin Wall than Tiananmen Square. But that is only a hope.

Leaked Letter Purports to Show Actual Iranian Election Results

18 Jun

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There is a document being circulated that purports to reveal the actual results of last week’s Iranian election. While obviously some people suspect that it’s a forgery, under these results, a runoff would have been needed, Independent notes that Mousavi sure didn’t want that. Anyhow, here are the (possibly) actual results of the election:

Salaam Aleikum.

Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmedinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organised in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance. Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:

Mirhossein Mousavi: 19,075,623

Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417

Mohsen Rezai: 38,716

Emphasis mine.

The Iranian Opposition Platform

17 Jun

1 (Girl in street): Defending civil rights
2 (Boy next to old man): Counterbalancing poverty/deprivation
3 (Boy pushing away donation box): Nationalizing oil income
4 (Man standing on rooftop): Reducing tension in international affairs
5 (Boy sitting next to satellite dishes): Free access to information
6 (Girl sitting besides her mother): Supporting single mothers
7 (Girl with cast):? Knock down violence against women
8 (Boy): Education for all
9 (Boy infront of man locking car): Increasing public safety
10 (Girl on rooftop): Ethnic and religious minority rights
11 (Man on rooftop): Supporting NGOs
12 (Girl in front of wall): Public involvement
13 (Boy and girl): We have come for? change
14: Change for Iran

I always find political campaigns in foreign countries to be fascinating, to see the issues that matter most to them. In any event, HT to Andrew Sullivan on this. The man has been unstoppable posting about Iran.

From the Damned if You Do File

17 Jun

To the people whinging that Obama should be more vocal in his support of the Iranian protesters:

It goes without saying that if Obama had taken a more ardently pro-Mousavi line, he would be catching flak from many of the same people who would attack his response as naive “Yes We Can” idealism detached from harsh realities. What is striking is how many of Obama’s more hawkish critics are prepared to argue that U.S. policy should be defined by syrupy sentimentality, hope and a lot of empty talk (all of the things they have accused Obama of offering in the past), while Obama has so far opted for caution, humility and restraint.

In other words, a traditionally conservative foreign policy. Not an extreme reactionary neoconservative one.