Tuesday, September 15, 2009
For the Israeli right wing and its American supporters, the answer seems to be that both the personal humiliation of Iran's leaders and the broader humiliation of the Islamic regime constitute the minimally acceptable goal.
That is a dangerous strategy, risking either war or a nationalist reaction in Iran that will only work to the benefit of Ahmadinejad and his IRGC backers. Netanyahu is fond of making comparisons between Ahmadinejad and Hitler to pressure historically-challenged Americans into coughing up more political and military support for his expansionist program, but there really is at least one valid comparison between the two...indeed, among all three. Hitler rose to power on a wave of nationalist reaction to the international humiliation inflicted on Germany after World War I, and Ahmadinejad is betting his career that he can ride the same wave in Iran.
First, a politician get voters riled up, focusing on real or imagined foreign insults. The military supports the politician because it is a good way to get a bigger budget and perhaps free arms from foreign patrons. There may or may not be any intention whatsoever of starting a war, but adversaries get nervous, and tensions rise. The more tensions rise, the more self-important (with some reason) the military feels, and the cycle continues...until one way or another, war occurs.
We have just this summer all had a taste of some of the political passions flowing through the veins of Iranians. This society of 70,000,000 has experienced extraordinary events in comparison with the calm lifestyle of Westerners. Provoking a wave of Iranian nationalist outrage would not be good for the world and would certainly not be good for the Israeli people, who number barely a tenth as many.
For those who want to resolve the nuclear dispute with Iran, humiliation is not a rational way forward.
Friday, September 11, 2009
While I would normally hesitate to quote the highly biased Zionist website DEBKA, its analysis of Yemen is very revealing of the Zionists' ethnocentric perspective on the world. It is, according to DEBKA, of course all about Israel, or at least, that is what they would have us believe.
"The latest paroxysm of Yemen's five-year war with the rebel Houthis has left more than 2,000 dead in less than a month and up to 150,000 homeless. Yemeni government troops are battling around 15,000 Iranian-armed and trained Houthi rebels dug into the northern Sadaa mountains on the Saudi Arabian border. Saudi air force bombers are pounding the rebels and the Egyptian air force and navy are ferrying ammunition to the Yemen army with US encouragement and funding.
This is the second war in less than a year in which US allies are pitted against Iran-backed forces. The first was Israel's three-week campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which ended last January.
This strategically-located, poor Red Sea country, for years a critical stage for the war on Islamist extremists, has now become a key arena where the United States and Iran jockey for regional primacy. In that respect, the Yemen conflict compares in importance with the 2006 Lebanon War and the Gaza conflict. Its outcome will bear heavily on the relative strategic positions in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea regions of the US - as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and indirectly Israel too - vis-à-vis Iran."
There are two obvious alternative reactions one might have to this analysis. The first is that it is true: Iran is opening a new front against the world (or at least against Israel). If that is the case, then the obvious questions that need answering include:
* What is there about the regime in power in Yemen that might justify giving it support?
* If support is justified, should that support be military or, perhaps, encouragement to expand democratic rights and broaden enfranchisement with an eye to bringing the disaffected Yemeni Shi'a into the political system?
The other obvious candidate reaction to this piece is that it represents what the Zionist party in Israel (i.e., those who believe in the elimination of the Palestinians in favor of a religious state and the expansion of the Israeli state and a policy of "security through strength" rather than living in peace with neighbors) want the West to believe. According to DEBKA, the Yemen conflict, like Gaza(!), is a war against Iranian influence, all part of one big "war on Islamist extremists." Whether Sunnis or Shi'a, all Muslims who oppose Israel and all Muslims who accept Iranian aid to resolve local squabbles are part of a "war on Islamist extremists." It is, no doubt, supposed to follow from this that we should be glad Israel exercises nuclear hegemony over the Mideast and that its settlers are rapidly stealing all the Palestinians' land in the West Bank.
The West needs to take a hard look at what is occurring in Yemen before pouring gasoline on yet another Muslim fire. Whatever extremists (i.e., those favoring the use of force to achieve foreign policy goals) in Iran are up to in Yemen, it is very clear that extremists in Israel are exploiting the problems in Yemeni society to get Congress to open the spigots of military aid even wider.
Monday, September 7, 2009
It is wrong to think that possible talks with (the six world powers) would be about Iran’s nuclear program….Iran’s nuclear issue can only be examined at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
One possible reaction to this is to read negatively. Indeed, it does sound as though the speaker wants to define the two tracks separately as a means of obstructing progress. Nothing would be easier in the hostile and one-sided political environment of the West than to pretend this simple quote represents the sum total of Iran’s official position and the sum total of its capacity for national security thinking. If one is searching for an excuse to discard moderation, dismiss negotiations, and move toward war, such a reaction would certainly be the way to go.
Another possible reaction is to see what advantage can be derived from this Iranian proposal for two-track negotiations about the state of global affairs. It is not only logical that Iranians concerned about their country’s national security would be capable of considering a policy other than frontal confrontation, the historical record demonstrates that they have done so. One need not go back to Iran’s cooperation with the U.S. in 2001 when it invaded Afghanistan; leading up to the recent Iranian presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad was criticized for his provocative stance toward the West…and not just by those currently known as “opposition” candidates. For Westerners seeking a solution to the nuclear dispute with Iran, it would quite simply be self-defeating to overlook this opportunity.
The argument that Iran’s two-track position represents an opportunity can be argued on many levels, but just consider one: the bureaucratic level. It is now surely obvious to everyone who watches Iran that the national government is highly factionalized. Beyond that, any government that engages in a political process sets up bureaucratic organs of some sort to implement the details. The longer the process lasts, the more entrenched these organs become and the more concerned the members naturally become in “looking good” at home by engaging in some sort of notable, distinguishing behavior.
If Iran engages in prolonged talks about “global disarmament” at one international venue and similarly prolonged talks about “Iran’s nuclear development” at another international venue, two bureaucratic organs will be established – one for each venue. The more serious and complicated the Western approach to such talks, the more bureaucratic resources Iran will be likely to devote. Each organ will be to some varying degree accessible to a range of domestic political pressures. Westerners who think a finely tuned Iranian diplomatic engine will run both processes in precise lockstep simply do not understand the internal cleavages in the Iranian political system. It does not take a genius to predict that opportunities for diplomatic progress will occur…and evaporate if not perceived.
It is to the advantage of everyone on both sides who support a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute between Washington and Tehran to take the two-track approach seriously, investing significant diplomatic resources and putting on the table significant potential concessions that will appeal to like-thinking moderates on the opposite side. Cheney did not represent all American thinking on relations with the Muslim world over the last decade; Jafari does not represent all Iranian thinking on relations with the West.
America is becoming a two-class society - the rich are booming, and the rest are declining toward third world status.
Don’t believe the hype about the recession ending. Note carefully how much money is being earned by those who call for patience. The elite wants you to think the economy is doing well because, for the elite it is. The rich really are getting richer, as a result of that nice trillion dollar buyout, although these days there may perhaps be fewer of them.
The reality unfortunately appears to be that the
As for the overall economy, the recession is deepening. A quarter of a million new job losses occurred in August, to which you must add the roughly 125,000 per month required to keep up with population growth, for a real deficit of about 375,000. A big chunk of that came from construction, which contracted despite it being summer. One can only imagine what we may face in February.
More importantly, the gap between the rich and the rest, growing since the days of Reagan, is continuing to grow despite the recession. This gap undermines American democracy but was (barely) tolerable when the whole economy was booming. With the government skimming trillions – literally! – off the top of a declining earning base to reward Wall Street billionaires, the widening gap between the rich and the rest is no longer tolerable.
The proper way to manage a recession is not to enrich the rich but to keep people employed doing useful work and staying in their homes. Today, the politician/banker team would rather see homeowners on the street and their homes in foreclosure, slowly rotting away. Would it not be better for the banks to hire the homeowners to maintain the houses in return for being allowed to live in them? But no, the banks are just letting the vacant houses pile up. Ever wonder what will happen to the value of your home when the banks finally put all those houses on the market?
FDR’s visionary efforts to regulate banks and hire the unemployed to build hiking trails are forgotten in this economic catastrophe. Instead, protected by its
Why Americans are having such a hard time waking up to this social grand larceny is a mystery. It is shocking enough that Americans are in denial about the behavior of Washington in distant places like Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia (hint: Iraq, Iran, and Somalia have oil; Gaza has gas that the Israelis are stealing; Afghanistan/Pakistan is proposed as a pipeline route from Central Asia; can’t have those places acting independent). But oil isn’t the only issue; policy toward such regions is surely complicated.
However, the mismanagement of the
Forget it. Don’t get yourself upset. Just go watch TV…until the sheriff comes to kick you out of your house. After all, you can always get a job in
Sunday, September 6, 2009
Accepting and taking advantage of the current Iranian tactic of proposing six-party talks with the West including general global disarmament while reserving specific discussions of Iran's nuclear program to IAEA auspices might be a useful approach.
The Iranian approach is superficially logical. The IAEA is the place for nuclear discussions, after all. How can Washington oppose that? The IAEA is a key institution supporting the American-dominated global world order.
The oddity of Iran's tactic is that one cannot in practice intelligently discuss global disarmament without including Iran's aggressive program of nuclear research. To implement such a two-track process would provide limitless opportunities for the six-party discussions and the IAEA discussions to overlap, one venue competing with the other. Perhaps this would be all to the good, providing Washington and Iranian moderates with the ability to pick what they like from each track.
The double-track approach would also provide two alternative ways of eliciting Israel cooperation. If Israel wants to be accepted as a legitimate member of the international community, it can hardly refuse to participate in a discussion about global disarmament. Perhaps Iran can be persuaded that sincere participation can enable it to achieve serious national security goals.
The threats and bluster of the last decade have only made the situation worse. Why not try a little creative diplomacy?
Friday, September 4, 2009
On the issue of Iranian nuclear arms, the U.S. imperils its own national security by continuing to function in a dreamworld, denying the unfairness of its position, which is based on Likudnik propaganda rather than reality. Only after opening its eyes will Washington be able to devise a negotiating position that will attract the serious attention of Tehran.
George Perkovich, director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carneige Endowment for International Peace, has given an interview on the U.S.-Iranian nuclear dispute that deserves attention as it represents an effort to present to an American audience a relatively thoughtful analysis of a subject that is usually, for Americans, filtered through a highly biased Likudnik perspective. Unfortunately, even this interview remains fundamentally colored by cultural biases. Nuclear war is a fairly serious topic; our national security requires that it be discussed dispassionately and fairly. On this topic, the
Perkovich begins with a flat statement that fault in the dispute lies with
The question isn't our willingness to negotiate or to try to find some resolution with this government in
. The real question is whether this government in Iran is at all willing to make compromises on its current posture and take the steps that are required by the Security Council. Iran
Actually, it’s not quite that simple. First, he ignores the 50-year-long record of
Iran is just doing what any number of other countries have done: trying to master nuclear technology that Pakistan and Israel already have in spades, force the world to pay attention to it by a policy of nuclear ambiguity taken straight from the Israeli playbook, and enhance its security via some version of mutually assured destruction.
That is certainly not to say that the
What might constitute a reasonable offer?
Perkovich is absolutely correct that the critical question is whether or not
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Bolton referred to "hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it."
On its face, that may not be very useful, but think about the logic of the fundamental underlying question.
Should the U.S. employ force to create a nuclear-free Mideast?
If the U.S. created a level playing field by enforcing a Mideast nuclear-free zone, no country would have a legitimate reason for acquiring nuclear arms. The Mideast would be free of that particular source of tension.
All regional countries would be justified in asking why the U.S. had the right to tell them what to do, but in return the U.S. could reasonably argue that it was protecting them from a very expensive fool's errand. Nuclear weapons in South Asia, for example, have enormously undermined the security of the people of that region, where nuclear wars have almost begun several times.
Is the U.S. a "mature and responsible" country that, after managing the Cold War for all those horrifying decades, has demonstrated a sufficient maturity so that it "deserves" to hold the fate of other countries in its hands? In the Cuban missile crisis, the U.S. did manage to avoid a war; its record in the last 10 years is of course a bit less stellar. Nevertheless, perhaps there is a case to be made that the Mideast would be better off with the U.S. imposing a nuclear-free zone than allowing continuation of the insane situation that exists today.
If the U.S. were to make such a choice, it would do well to make it quickly, however. Having to force one Mideast country to relinquish nuclear arms would be a lot better than having to force two of them. And today, there is only one. Bolton is looking at the wrong country.
This approach would make sense, and not just because the danger of Israeli aggression against Iran is very real. This approach also makes sense because in fact Iranian relations with the West go far beyond the nuclear obsession.
The potential exists for Iran to be drawn tightly into the international system.
1. The need for Iranian gas is urgent, not just for Pakistan and India but for Western Europe, now dangerously subject to Russian blackmail each winter.
2. The war between the West and independent Islam (i.e., that portion of the Muslim political world that demands the right to follow its own independent course) seems impossible to resolve either on its Iraqi or Central Asia fronts without the cooperation of Iran.
3. Persuading Israel to adopt the path of justice and moderation depends in great measure on persuading Iran to accept Israel’s existence. An extremist, racist, expansionist Israel both provokes and is provoked by an extremist, crusading Iran.
So Washington should embrace Iran’s new tactics and try to weave the strongest network of ties that it can. The more Iran becomes integrated with the rest of the world, the more benefits it derives, the more respect it receives, the less interest it will have in angering the West by building a few nuclear bombs that will almost inevitably be pitiful and backward in comparison with Israel’s stockpile. The larger Iran’s gas profits, the stronger will become the gas bureaucracy, which will argue against risking it all in a vain race to compete with Israel.
Gas exports will not trump national security, but the existence of such benefits of international cooperation will pave the way for Iran to buy into whatever new and more balanced regional security regime that Washington may be prudent enough to persuade Israel to accept.
All the major players are composed of multiple factions. Short of genocide, the extremist factions are not likely to be eliminated, but the factional balance—in the U.S., Iran, and Israel—is delicate. Skillful international diplomacy slowly constructing a mutually beneficial network of ties can marginalize the neo-con war parties so eager to profit from destruction.
If Iran announces willingness to negotiate, call its bluff. Respond to its complaints. When it offers a tidbit (e.g., a single visit to Arak or Natanz), express thanks, offer an equivalent response on some issue of concern to Iran, and push for a further step. Consider the potential bureaucracies (e.g., gas exporters) to which cooperation might give rise. Try to build momentum. Hostility has gained a lot of momentum over the last generation of Western insults, threats, and aggression. Reversing course won’t happen overnight; it will take commitment to build a cooperative relationship with Iran, to persuade Israel to become a good neighbor to those in its crowded neighborhood, and to create a regional security regime acceptable to rational moderates in both Iran and Israel. Iran took the first small step by allowing inspection of Arak. Iran took the second small step by allowing expanded inspections of Natanz. Iran took the third small step by slowing the rate of low-level uranium refinement. Iran took the fourth small step by announcing that it will present a plan for talks with the West. The White House is losing the initiative by remaining silent.