Sunday, December 24, 2006

Sanctions on Iran

The press outlet of the National Council of Resistance of Iran wins the prize for first news source on Google to produce the entire text of UN Security Council Resolution 1737 which imposes sanctions on Iran. Later it will get to the UNSC website.

No surprises. Every country is to create its own laws to prevent Iran from getting enrichment, heavy water reactor and nuclear missile technology. No authorization for US interdiction of Iranian shipping. No travel bans. Asset freezes that are the responsibility of each individual country and relatively easy to get around. The first draft had been just a propaganda tool from the start. Of course, the US could have gotten this resolution in September.

The Western press during the summer would say that a Chapter 41 resolution had been committed to, and that Chapter 41 resolutions could include things like travel bans and asset freezes. Chapter 41 resolutions also can exclude travels bans and asset freezes and include sentences such as "we call on every country to impose voluntary sanctions". As I predicted, we got the second kind of resolution.

There is also a provision that IAEA will report in 60 days that Iran has not suspended its program. I have not seen any indication that Russia has made a commitment to new sanctions or to tighten current sanctions. If the price for this resolution was the US promise to come to the table, the price for the next resolution may be that the US has to offer to suspend part of its unilateral sanctions for the duration of talks.

Actually there is one surprise to me. The resolution is more emphatic than I expected on the bans of Iranian exports of technology. It seems to me the targets are Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - two of them Sunni countries that the US press somehow believes are in a life and death struggle against Iran, but that Iran has offered to supply its fuel cycle knowledge to.

I don't think export bans will have any effect on the political situation. The countries would not buy magnets or centrifuges from Iran, they would buy them from Pakistan, China or Europe. There are some people named who, by this resolution, these countries should inform the sanctions committee of personal visits that could help a nuclear program, but these days they can videoconference. Before they could have sent deputies.

When Iran offers the fuel cycle to, for example, Egypt or Saudi Arabia it puts those countries in a bind. The only reason to turn such an offer down is pressure from Israel through the US. Now Iran's mission has been accomplished - a free increase in the cost Egypt and the Saudis bear to maintain their relationships with the US.

Syria on the other hand, will probably take Iran up on this offer next time it has a little cash to work with. The sanctions resolution will have little effect in preventing that.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Explaining Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust conference

To understand the Holocaust conference, most Westerners have to understand one or two other things first.

1- Iran makes Israel nervous. Iran does not border Israel, but is able to establish relations with groups that do. What that means is that Israel cannot seize land from Iran and really does not have a good way to pressure the country. Iran, compared to Israel's neighbors, therefore has an advantage in an assymetrical struggle with Israel. This means that as long as Iran is not ruled by the Shah, or by an unpopular pro-Western dictator, supporters of Israel want to see Iran isolated and contained to whatever degree is possible under any available pretext.

2- Iran is ruled by true believers. There is a cousin to fatalism, which is the belief that all you have to do is tell the truth as you believe it and God will take care of everything else. Ahmadinejad knows that there will be negative press about the conference, but for a religious true believer, in the long term, God will ensure that following this course benefits Ahmadinejad and Iran.

Ahmadinejad's speeches and actions are consistently skewed by supporters of Israel to provide a pretext for increasing Iran's isolation. On the other hand, Iran philosophically cannot retract or hesitate to make statements it sees as true out of fear of the reaction.

Ahmadinejad's basic thesis is that the story of the Holocaust is wrongly used to justify the oppression of the Palestinians. Further, there is a general atmosphere of political intimidation has arisen around discussions of the Holocaust. This atmosphere -- in which there are places where you can legally write a book directly encouraging people to join the Nazi party, but you cannot write a book questioning the number of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust -- victimizes the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Muslim world for whom a main basis for their oppression is a taboo subject.

In true believer thinking, there will initially be a lot of screaming as these taboos are faced head on, but the taboos will break and Iran will be stronger in the end. Belief in this is related to faith in God.

Ahmadinejad has not publically expressed any theory about how many Jews were killed by Germany in WWII. There is a magic number of 6 million that Ahmadinejad has not explicitly endorsed but he has also never said that the actual number was less.

Ahmadinejad made a statement that the West has elevated the story of the Holocaust above the story of God and the prophets so that it is possible to actually be imprisoned in the West for denying the first story. Maybe Ahmadinejad used a term in Farsi that corresponds to "myth", maybe the folks at MEMRI chose the most provocative possible translation. The point of the sentence in any event is not that the story of the Holocaust is not true. The point of that statement is that the West is hypocritical in assigning the questioning of the story of the Holocaust, and only that story, a status other cultures assign only to blasphemy against God.

So now when we read the word Ahmadinejad in the Western press, we read "myth, myth, myth, myth, myth". From that word we are told that Ahmadinejad claims no Jews were killed. He never made that claim. Then we are told that Ahmadinejad believes that if Jews had been killed it would have been a good thing. Ahmadinejad has consistently said the opposite. We are told that Ahmadinejad intends to use nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map. He has said many, many times that Israel will be wiped off the map by refugees returning and voting for a non-Zionist state. He has compared his expected dissolution of Israel more than once to the dissolution of the USSR and of the Shah's government of Iran.

But we never read a response to Ahmadinejad's real points. Is there, and should there be a special status for the story of the Jewish Holocaust that does not extend to, for example the story of slavery, the stories of other genocidal events, the stories of other victims during World War II or the stories of victims of other political movements, for example those victimized by the Zionist political project? Secondly, does the Holocaust justify the position that Palestinian refugees should never be able to return to Israel, and if so, how?

The point of the Holocaust conference to true believers is that the West may avoid Ahmadinejad's real points for as long as it can. But eventually, through Iran's steadfast faith in God and the truth, the West will be forced face his real points. When the actual points Ahmadinejad is trying to make are addressed, Ahmadinejad's position on those points will then win, making Iran stronger than ever.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Selected Poll data from Lebanon

Parts of a poll were released recently. The poll is entitled:

Lebanese Public Opinion Amidst a New Cycle of Violence

First, a word about the questions that do not appear in the summary posted on the web. Obvious ones are missing such as: Do you support Hezbollah? Which domestic leader do you most admire Nasrallah, Seniora, Aoun, etc. Polls are not being made available in English that directly ask Lebanese the most important questions about Lebanon's future. I believe that pollsters at least have an idea of the results these polls would yield and have made a decision to protect their customers from some realities.

Second, I predicted that Nasrallah would not attempt to bring down the government but instead the government in place would support Nasrallah's program. My prediction has turned out wrong. I underestimated the capacity of Lebanon's government to ignore public opinion in favor of pressure from the US.

But now here are some results that are approximations based on bar charts in the linked pdf. Hopefully Brookings will release the entire poll at some point with actual numbers, and hopefully Lebanese answers to the most relevant questions will be on that poll.

After the war, your view on Hezbollah is
More Positive: 40%
More Negative: 28%
Not Changed: 25%

There is international pressure for Iran to curtail its nuclear program.
Iran has a right to its program: 56%
Iran should be pressured to stop its program: 38%

Opinion towards the US:
Very Unfavorable: 53%
Unfavorable: 13%
Favorable: 18%
Very Favorable: 9%

Confidence in the US
No Confidence: 60%
Some Confidence: 27%
A Lot of Confidence: 10%

Democracy as US objective
Not Real Objective: 64%
Real Objective Pursued the Wrong Way: 23%
Important Objective - Will Make a Difference: 12%

Leader you admire most
Chirac: 23%
Chavez: 17%
Ahmadinejad: 10%

One of two countries named that are biggest threat to you:
Israel: 82%
US: 60%
Syria: 37%
Iran: 22%

What party do you support in Palestine:
Hamas: 15%
Fatah/Abbas: 8%
A Unity Government: 56%

While we are at it, pollsters have to have informed estimates of the populations of various groups. It would be nice to release what proportion of Lebanon's population is Shiite, Sunni, Christian and etc. It is a pre-Internet mentality that they choose to protect their readers from that information.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Threat not taken seriously

Not a big story. Just hearing from Iran what how I've suspected they've felt since around this time last year.

United States would not dare to attack Iran and such a threat is not being taken seriously by the Islamic Republic of Iran, Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Ali Larijani said on Saturday.

He told Pakistani media officials in Tehran that the US is weak enough to dare go through another military adventure.

He was responding to a question whether or not the US or Israeli may attack Iranian nuclear sites in an attempt to damage national nuclear program.

"Israel is not in the position to attack us either, things they say are sheer slogans," Larijani said.

"We do not take such slogans seriously and if they do that (attack Iran) they will receive a decisive response."

Western analysts are really pressing the idea that Iran wants security guarantees. I've never heard this expressed by anyone in official Iran. For what it's worth, the US keeping a supposed military option on the table is purely counterproductive. It does not intimidate Iran while it makes Russia China and Europe more reluctant to allow the US to escalate the issue. On the other hand, on the list of stupid things the US is doing in the Middle East, that "on the table" stuff probably places about twentieth or thirtieth.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Kissinger on Iran

An exclusive with the Khaleej Times? That is the only place I could find this editorial in google news. I can only guess a mainstream western news source will pick this piece up later. Henry Kissinger gives his opinions on how the US should deal with Iran in the post-Hussein Middle East.

Kissinger's opinion piece concludes that the United States must retain leverage over Iran. Presumably this leverage should take the form of some military presence - preferably in Iraq but failing that elsewhere - that could threaten Iran. Without that leverage, Iran will not make the other changes Kissinger wants Iran to be induced to make.

What are those changes? We get a lot of vagueness on this issue. That is not just an issue of Kissinger - most Western commentators on the Middle East have a stubborn habit of refusing to say Israel when they mean Israel.

Iran challenges the established order in the Middle East and perhaps wherever Islamic populations face dominant, non-Islamic majorities.

Huh? Iran challenges the established order in France, Canada or the United States where there are non-Islamic majorities? Why not just say Israel? There is a non-Islamic political if not demographic majority in Lebanon at the moment - but anywhere in the world, except in the region of Israel, the United States would be a prime advocate of demographic majorities translating into political majorities. That is kind of what democracy means.

Kissinger presents Iran's opposition to Israel as unnatural, the result of Iran perceiving itself as a cause and not a nation. This false idea seems to be gaining currency. A democratic Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, secular or not, would have very similar policies towards Israel as Iran and it would have very different policies than what we see now. Even if there was a regime change in Iran, if Iran remains at all democratic it will not change its policies towards Israel. Nor would an Iran that is at all democratic change its demand for both enrichment and a theoretical capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Kissinger expresses the hope that through confrontation the United States can pressure Iran into accepting that it is a poor country that cannot influence the world order. Now Iran is too poor to have much influence on Brazil's relations with Argentina. But Iran is not that poor for its region. Israel's leaders seem unanimous that Iran actually does have the potential to influence the regional order to Israel's disadvantage.

Kissinger mentions without arguing the US position that Iran must not only be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon, it must be prevented from having any technology that would give it a theoretical capability to get a nuclear weapon. This is an extreme position that is at odds with the text and the spirit of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That position is seen as an extreme position by many, maybe most, informed observers of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. It is unfortunate if typical that Kissinger does not explain the reasoning behind his position.

Israel's deputy defense minister Ephraim Sneh recently fleshed out the argument:

In the most dramatic comments to date by a senior government member on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program, the former IDF brigadier-general described an untenable scenario of Israel "living under a dark cloud of fear from a leader committed to its destruction."

He said he was afraid that, under such a threat, "most Israelis would prefer not to live here; most Jews would prefer not to come here with their families; and Israelis who can live abroad will. People are not enthusiastic about being scorched."

Thus the danger, Sneh elaborated, was that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would "be able to kill the Zionist dream without pushing a button. That's why we must prevent this regime from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs."

Israel is threatened by Iran even having the theoretical capability of making a weapon, even if Iran never actually makes the weapon. The United States, following Israel's lead, has declared that Iran having technology that would give Iran a theoretical weapons capability to be unacceptable.

Iran's neighbors say the opposite. The Saudis and Egyptians have publically said that they are not threatened by an Iranian nuclear program, even including enrichment, as long as Iran does not actually build a weapon. Russia and China have said the same, the point of no return is when Iran actually builds a weapon. Iran having a theoretical capability to build a weapon, according to Sneh, would kill the Zionist dream. But the capability would not kill the Saudi, Egyptian, Russian or Chinese dream. Iran having that theoretical capability would certainly have no impact on the American dream, unless you consider the role of Israel's defender to be part of the American dream.

Kissinger does what most Western commentators do on this issue. He mentions theoretical capability to build a weapon, then mentions actual weapons, then starts using these two very different concepts interchangeably. For example, he says Russia will take a stronger stand than Europe to prevent Iran from being nuclear capable. This is would probably be true if the issue was Iran having an actual weapon, but by that point in the piece Kissinger feels free to use one term to mean the other. To the degree Kissinger is aware his is doing it, it is dishonest, but it seems to be an entrenched habit or reflex.

Another entrenched habit is confounding negotiations with accepting arbitrary US prerequisites for negotiations. Iran consistently says it is willing to negotiate measures to strengthen the safeguards preventing Iran from diverting nuclear material to use in making bombs. Iran will not suspend its own enrichment research as a prerequisite for talks. Kissinger presents this as Iran's unwillingness to negotiate. Again, it is dishonest if Kissinger is aware he is doing it.

Kissinger presents the sanctions package presented by Europe as "minimal sanctions". These are essentially the same sanctions imposed on North Korea after North Korea's nuclear weapon test. In the context of Iran, which has not diverted any nuclear material away from peaceful processes and for which there is no evidence that any weapons program exists at all, the presented sanctions seem more like maximal sanctions. Either way, Kissinger is right that Iran will not be dissuaded from gaining enrichment technology by these maximal or minimal sanctions.

Kissinger's bottom line is that the United States must confront Iran until Iran no longer poses a threat to the world (Israel). The point of those calling for negotiations with Iran is that Iran may be willing to make Iraq much less expensive for the US in exchange for concessions regarding either the nuclear program or the US unilateral sanctions. An understanding is nearing consensus that any help Iran gives the US in Iraq would not be free and talks would allow Iran and the US to discuss prices.

Those advocating negotiations think once prospective agreements are actually spelled out by both sides, maybe an agreement will emerge that both sides see as beneficial. Kissinger's position that the US should continue its policy of pure confrontation with Iran is sure to prevent any mutually beneficial agreement from being reached. But at this point staying the course on Iran would not do much to restrain Iran's growing power in the region.

Ouch: A PR mistake by Olmert

Israeli Prime Minister Olmert speaking at a White House press conference on the US occupation of Iraq:

PRIME MINISTER OLMERT: Thank you very much. President -- this is nothing to take an edge to the very accurate analysis that you made with regard to these big issues. We in the Middle East have followed the American policy in Iraq for a long time, and we are very much impressed and encouraged by the stability which the great operation of America in Iraq brought to the Middle East. We pray and hope that this policy will be fully successful so that this stability which was created for all the moderate countries in the Middle East will continue.

The argument that Israel was not helped by the US invasion of Iraq cannot be plausibly made any more and the argument that Israel is a primary beneficiary and expected to be so when the operation was being considered cannot be dismissed any more.

So this statement was a fairly serious public relations mistake by the Israeli government, but really isn't anything more than that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

According to US, Iran does not want US withdrawal

Unease in Iran grows over talk of US pullout

By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

On Tuesday night, Tehran's English-language news channel featured commentary from a political scientist, Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, calling for the United States to remain in Iraq until it has established a strong, stable central government capable of providing adequate security.


Analysts familiar with official thinking say there is support for views such as Mojtahedzadeh's within the professional foreign policy establishment, if not within the hard-line circles closest to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a feeling that a drawn-out timetable for withdrawal would be preferable to a quick pullout.

"They've not said it directly and openly as an official policy line, that they'd like the US to stay, but I think there's a sense among the Iranians that they understand that the US cannot just leave immediately," said Hadi Semati, a well-known Iranian political analyst who is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

They've never said it but I think there is a sense?

The media in the West is just too comfortable making up thoughts and putting them into the heads of people in the Middle East.

Big Threat to Jordan

Newsview: Mideast Uneasy Over U.S. Plans

By SALLY BUZBEE, Associated Press Writer

Most Arab governments believe the U.S. has made a hash of the country. It might be expected, then, that they would want the U.S. military to leave -- and some do.

But others worry that if the U.S. pulls out too soon, Iraq's misery will spill over and inflame the Sunni-Shiite split across the region. They also worry about a rise in Iran's influence.

The big fear is over Jordan -- a key ally of the United States whose king faces new vulnerability because of violence in Gaza and floods of Iraqi refugees. Many regional diplomats have said privately in recent months that they fear for Jordan's stability should the United States pull out of Iraq.

Jordan is not a particularly democratic nation. The people living under its rule are probably less concerned for its stability than the US is. But this "fear for Jordan's stability" being expressed openly is an indication that of the pro-Israel triad - Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - Jordan seems to be the most likely to switch sides first.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Winner of Holocaust Cartoon Contest

This is actually a pretty powerful cartoon. According to descriptions I've read, the image on the wall is of Auschwitz.

To describe the cartoon as anti-semitic would, of course, be a stretch, but I can see how supporters of Israel wouldn't like it.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Draft Resolution: The Play with No Audience

The draft resolution that Europe (and the US) are presenting to the Russians and Chinese as their opening negotating position has been released.

I will not reproduce the entire thing here. And I may regret that when a final resolution is passed and I am not able to find this to compare it to. I'm including enough that I should be able to get the draft in a google search if it is there.

16. Decides to establish, in accordance with rule 28 of its provisional rules of procedure, a Committee of the Security Council consisting of all the members of the Council, to undertake the following tasks:
    a) to seek from all States, in particular those in the region and those producing the items, materials, equipment, goods and technology referred to in paragraph 4 above, information regarding the actions taken by them to implement effectively the measures imposed by paragraphs 4, 5,7, 9 and 15 of this resolution and whatever further information it may consider useful in this regard,
The first thing that strikes me about the draft is that the Security Council has to agree to lift sanctions. This would put the US into the Iraq position of getting sanctions, then announcing they will not be lifted without regime change.

The second thing is that this draft does not seem to lack any of the elements of the Korean sanctions, which is to say that accepting this draft would equate Iran's IAEA supervised enrichment with Korea's test of a weapon.

What makes this a play is that nobody thinks the final document will look anything like this. When Rice said the sanctions we get will not look like what the US would produce unilaterally, she meant the sanctions we get will not look like this draft document.

A story is circulating in the Western press that the exemption for Bushehr makes this document a compromise between the Russians who want something less stringent and the US which wants something tougher. The difference is that Russia would prefer nothing to a resolution that is too stringent - and therefore has a credible veto threat. The US will take whatever it gets. So the final resolution will be the lowest common denominator - a little less stringent than the resolution that would provoke a Russian or Chinese veto.

I'm not sure who is supposed to be impressed by this dance over Bushehr.

I'm curious about whether or not the Europeans would present a resolution if they could not count on a Russian veto. The Iranians would take a resolution like this as a declaration of war, not a hot war, but Iran would do everything it could to increase the price of oil throughout the region and it would do everything it could to provoke the US to fire first starting a hot war.

The Iranians would also cut IAEA cooperation to at least the legal minimum. Removing cameras from safeguarded sites for example, and denying visas to inspectors from the West. I would expect Iran to announce it will withdraw from the NPT if after a set period, the sanctions have not been lifted. Iran has a history of making moves in this nuclear contest that are more subtle and clever than I expect though.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Allies in the War Against Terror: Why the US is breaking up Iraq

The leadership of the United States describes victory as an Iraq that is a "strong ally in the Middle East" defeat is described as a situation where extremists govern "a new terrorist state in the heart of the Middle East with large oil reserves that could be used to fund its radical ambitions". But if Iraq is to be democratic, there is a big problem. No population in the Middle East will, given the choice, elect leaders who are US allies in the war against terror. No Middle East population will keep extremists out of power if they fairly choose their own leaders.

Victory in Iraq, as the US defines it, requires the US to have leverage in Iraq sufficient to overrule its voters to ensure that Iraq is an ally in the war, and to prevent "extremists" from being brought to power there democratically. Leverage in Iraq is nearly impossible to maintain without boots on the ground. So the US needs a military presence in Iraq to prevent defeat.

"Extremism" as used by the US in the context of the Middle East means disbelief in the legitimacy of Israel. No group that does not accept Israel's legitimacy, regardless of distinctions such as secular vs. Islamist vs democratic vs tyrannical fails to be described as extemist. No group that does accept Israel, regardless of any other beliefs or policies, is described as extremist. Following the US lead, I use extremism and non-acceptance of Israel interchangeably.

Enter the Kurds. Most Kurds live in Turkey, where Kurdish separatists have been Turkey's primary security concern for over a generation. A wealthy independent Kurdistan from what is now Iraq is a mortal threat to Turkey because there would be no way to prevent it from supporting Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Kurds are viewed similarly by, but are substantially less threatening to Iran and Syria.

The Kurds of Iraq though, landlocked and surrounded by neighbors of various degrees of hostility, can use a US military presence to ensure that the neighbors do not intervene it its affairs. Without that presence, for example, Turkey and Iran would follow the PKK back into its bases and Iraq and flush them out there. The Kurdish militias, good though they would be if put against other Iraqi militias, are entirely unequipped to fend off national armies of Turkey or Iran. Turkey would also intervene to ensure justice for both the Sunnis and the Turkmen in the area of Kirkuk - denying that city and the oil from that area to any Kurdish confederation or state.

The US needs the Kurds because without the Kurds, the US cannot keep a military presence in Iraq, which means the US is defeated when extremists are voted into power. Specifically, the US needs the Kurds to have enough independence that they can host a US and even an Israeli(!) military presence despite the fact that the Sunnis and Shiites of any central government are sure to vote against that. This requirement means that de-facto partition of the country, at least, is necessary to prevent a US defeat in Iraq.

Further than that, the Kurds know the US both needs their assent and intends to remain indefinitely. That gives the Kurds leverage in their dealings with other Iraqis that allows them to make demands that otherwise would be unreasonable. The Kurds want their mini-state to have the power to make oil exploration deals independent of the central government. They want to limit the amount of revenue that is sent back to Baghdad and they want Kirkuk ceded to their region.

The leverage they bring is that if the Kurds feel forced, they can declare independence, and the US is forced to support them, otherwise the US would be defeated in Iraq. Without the knowledge of US support, the Kurds would not have a credible threat to secede. Secession would bring immediate defeat at the hands of Iraq plus Turkey and Iran.

A relationship has formed between the US and the Kurds where the Kurds are free to ask for and get economic arrangments and political and military autonomy that represent a de-facto partition of Iraq in themselves. The fuel of this relationship is the US imperative to avoid defeat, to prevent the acquisition by extremists of unchecked power in Iraq and control of Iraq's resources.

I have earlier commented that a foreign invader alone can be enough to begin a civil war spiral when formerly illegitimate organizations become legitimate fighters of the occupation. I used the example of Crips and Michigan Militia in an invasion of Michigan. In the case of Iraq, that is a very small part of the story.

The US relationship with the Kurds, and the de-facto secession the US must support for the Kurds puts Iraq's Shiites in the position that they are nearly forced to secede themselves.

In Iraq, Shiite areas produce approximately 60% of the oil, Kurdish areas the other 40%. So the Kurds who are about 20% of the population, and have the most oil per capita are going to get to keep their oil. The Shiites, which much less oil per capita are to share theirs with the Sunnis, who have none.

The Shiites are not going to accept that. As much as Iran would prefer Iraq remain stable, there is no way, if Iraq is going to break up anyway, for them to force the Shiites to stay with the Sunnis.

And if Iraq is going to break up, that means there is a new importance for creating facts on the ground. The question of whether the Shiite parts of Baghdad will connect with the Shiite state to the South and similar strategic questions are the major motivation for the current fighting. This race to create facts on the ground is not due to ethnic hatred, nor it is the inevitable result of the defeat of the Baathists, nor is it proof that only a tyrant can rule Iraq. This race, and the violence it brings with it, are due to the US need to effectively partition the country to maintain a military presence.

If the US was willing to accept defeat in Iraq, willing to accept an extreme government having full control or Iraq's resources including oil, then the civil war could be wound down even now. It certainly was never inevitable.

The constitution was negotiated with the understanding that the US intended to maintain a long-term presence in Iraq. If the US was willing to leave now, it could be amended so that oil revenues are divided equally per-capita among all provinces. Kurdistan could maintain cultural, and linguistic independence but its foreign policy would be set in Baghdad. Under those conditions, the Shiites would also remain in Iraq. The Kurds could not refuse this arrangement if the US was willing to leave because if Turkey and/or Iran intervene, which they would be willing to do, the Kurds would end up with less.

But since the US is not willing to accept defeat, Iraq will be violently broken up. This violent civil war is not the unpredictable outcome of a poorly executed occupation. It is the only possible result of an occupation of Iraq by the US given the way the US defines victory and defeat.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Baker going to Iran?

I'm late to get the pretty huge news that James Baker has been authorized to speak with the Iranians. I was directed to that link by way of the page of Trita Parsi, a real Iran expert at Johns Hopkins.

It is tempting to believe we are now watching an adjustment in US policy. The US cannot be a bumbling power whose worldview is entirely divorced from the real world forever.

Much was made of Ahmadinejad's meeting with the US Council of Foreign relations, and the State Department's decription of the meeting as a bad idea.

At the same time though, Bush authorized James Baker to speak directly with the Iranians. James Baker's continues to have close ties with the Bush administration. A meeting would open a direct channel of communication that while unofficial would be essentially as reliable as official communication.

Could this lead to a resolution of either the enrichment program or the dispute between the US and Iran over the legitimacy of Israel? It is hard to say yes to that because the positions are nearly irreconcilable.

Israel wants, and in fact needs, to be able to impose a unilateral resolution on the Palestinians if it is to continue as a Zionist state. There is no possible arrangement that the Palestinians would accept willingly that would leave the Palestinians either unwilling or unable to press Israel for further concessions, ending with the concession that the refugees return to outvote the Zionists.

Iran cannot, as a self-defined Islamic republic, go along with any arrangement that leaves Israel free to impose a unilateral resolution on the Palestinians. At best, this irreconcilable conflict could be resolved with a truce, putting off the end of Zionism for some amount of years with the understanding that after that period there will be rapid change if the Palestinians still want it. "Some amount of years" definitely would not mean 100 years, but something Iran's leaders can expect to see. Thirty years on the outside.

On enrichment, Iran would probably suspend temporarily for a significant improvement in its access to capital, which access is restricted now only by US unilateral sanctions.

The US cannot relax its restrictions given Iran's opposition to Israel because those restrictions are the only tools the US has to both pressure a change in Iran's anti-Israel policies or prevent Iran from becoming a dominant economic power in the region. Iran as a dominant economic power in the region is an equal or greater threat to Zionism than Iran as a nuclear capable military power. Iran though, seems to want to be both.

But Baker is going to Iran, which means the US is effectively ending its policy of non-negotiation with Iran.

The reality is that Iran cannot at this point be stopped from becoming a regional power. Iran also cannot be stopped from protecting the Palestinians from any resolution Israel tries to impose on the Palestinians unilaterally. This means that the Palestinians, if they want to, can expect to be able to end Zionism as an active political movement before the end of this century,

It is good news for the US that it appears to at least understand that reality even though it is most likely that the US has not decided how to deal with this reality.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Al Faisal Stresses Saudi Independence from the US

Condoleeza Rice was recently in the Middle East, trying to see if she could get any cooperation from the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan against Iran. At least the public answer was no. I don't see any reason to believe that was not also the private answer.

But while Rice was speaking there, the Saudi Ambassador to the US decided to give a speech of his own. Just to make sure the United States hears what Rice heard from the allies of the US. It was an interesting speech, and breathtaking at one point.

The speech started in a charming way, a Mark Twain story promising not to speak too long.

Then the speech gets rolling, telling the Saudi side of the story about recent increased communications with the US. To hear the Saudis tell it, they need more communication to tell the Americans to solve the Palestinian crisis and to bring an immediate cease fire to the Lebanon war.

I shall tell you now, how the Strategic Dialogue works. In the beginning of May, President Bush invited me to a "getting to know you meeting" at the White House. During a thorough review of issues, I made the point to the President that solving the Palestinian Problem will allow us to go on to solve the other problems in the area. Three weeks later, the meeting of the Strategic Dialogue took place.

Prince Saud delivered to the President a letter from King Abdullah offering to work with the President in solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The President, then, instructed Secretary Rice to follow up with Prince Saud on the details. Alas, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers led to the Israeli invasion, and destruction of Lebanon. The King sent Prince Saud back in July, to stress to the President the need for an immediate cease fire; and, again, to press for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. (link in original)

That is interesting in itself. Given that the US does not have much freedom of movement on the Palestinian problem - it certainly cannot force Israel to accept the Saudi offer of recognition in exchange for a full pullout to 1967 borders - to say that that is a requirement to solve other problems is to say the Saudis cannot help in other areas.

But then the speech turns devastating:

Americans want to see and hear about reform and change in Saudi society and political culture. This is on the agenda. But we’re not going to change just because you tell us to. We are changing and reforming our society because it is the right thing to do for our country. And we will do so in our own way, in accordance with our traditions and culture. Making dictums leads nowhere. Constructive comments, on the other hand, are more helpful.

We also want to see reform in the United States. Your reform of campaign contributions is essential and needed, yesterday, not tomorrow. Your policy towards the Arab World must change and be reformed in order to overcome the slump in America’s standing in my country, and in every other Arab and Muslim country.


This is the Saudi Ambassador to the US. "Reform of campaign contributions" means "reduction of the power of pro-Israel lobbyists". I find that connection completely transparent. It could have been more explicit if he said that reform would allow the US to change its policy toward the Arab world which according the the Ambassador "must happen". I don't think a diplomat would be allowed to be any clearer than that about a country with which it is friendly.

Then we find that America's standing is in a slump in his Saudi Arabia, as well as in every Arab and Muslim country. "Arab and Muslim" means he is also speaking for Iran, as well as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Iran's standing in Saudi Arabia was in a slump once. But that's over. This quotation is apparently from the question and answer session.

"We have found in our experience that when we did not talk to Iran -- our relations were broken for a period of a few years in the '90s -- we had more troubles with each other. But since then, our relationship has improved dramatically and beneficially for both our countries"

I predict that by this time in 2007, the Saudis will continue attempting to pressure the United States to pressure Israel to fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders - which will fail. But under the cover of that failure, the Saudis will continue sounding more and more like the Iranians.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Negotiations over Iran's Nuclear Program

In the United States, the two most serious newspapers for diplomatic coverage are the New York Times and the Washington Post. By accidents of history, there are two right wing newspapers of ill repute, the New York Post and the Washington Times. The New York Post is owned by Rupert Murdock, the billionaire conservative activist. The Washington Times is owned, last I checked, by Reverend Moon of Korea's Unification Church, a conservative cult organization. Both are more mouthpieces for the Republican party and conservative causes in general than reliable news sources.

The Washington Times recently broke a story that Iran is considering a secret suspension of its enrichment program. That the story was broken by the Times, not the New York Times but the Washington Times is interesting in itself. The US State Department, when it wants to talk to the press, even in confidence, uses the real papers, especially the New York Times.

My suspicion is that this leak is the work of the US pro-war faction, working to expose and invalidate the "secret" suspension and thereby prevent any agreement. On the other hand, a secret suspension does not fit my internal model of how the Iranians do things. It sounds more like an idea the Europeans came up with that the Iranians said they would consider.

It is an interesting idea though. The Iranian position is that Iran will not suspend enrichment before negotiations because if negotiations fail and Iran restarts enrichment then Iran will be worse off, purely in terms of its international image, than if it had not stopped at all. A secret suspension though, can overcome this because then Iran can claim it had never actually stopped enriching.

Iran is more likely to say it is pausing to retool, and then to actually work on the centrifuges during the suspension. Iran is a theocratic government and every theology condemns lying. But the goal may be one Iran can go along with which is a guarantee that if negotiations do not work, Iran will be able to return to where it is now, with no additional penalties.

That brings us to negotiations. Interestingly, Iran has never, ever called for negotiations with the United States over its nuclear program. The Europeans and the IAEA both insist that the US being at the table would have some cosmic significance. Iran has never agreed with that idea. This is a difference that deserves a closer look.

The Europeans claim that what they offered in August 2005 is the most they can offer for Iran to stop enrichment unless they get further agreement from the US. The June 2006 offer is essentially the same offer with the minor change that Iran is not explicitly asked to permanently renounce its ability to leave the NPT.

Other than that, the vague promise of improved trade with Europe, the airplane parts and the vague offer of European help in building nuclear power plants at some point in the future were all in the 2005 offer. Iran rejected the 2005 offer, taking the offer as a deliberate insult. The offer actually was an insult in that Europe went back on several aspects of the agreement that it reached with Iran to start negotiations in the first place. For example, Europe had agreed to find a formula with adequate additional safeguards so that Iran would be able to continue enriching uranium.

The US position is that it will not allow Europe to make a better offer until Iran suspends enrichment. There is no intrinsic link between what the US tells Europe it will accept and Iran suspending enrichment. So the US position is that it will not allow Europe to make a better deal. Period. But it wants Iran to suspend enrichment.

So other than the "secret" suspension, which is just packaging, Iran will not return to the table with Europe until Europe has expressed that, US or not, it is willing to accept Iran having domestic access to enrichment technology, or it is willing and able to commit to substantial compensation for Iran voluntarily foregoing this technology for a limited time. And Iran's voluntary withholding of this technology has to be presented as voluntary and subject to review as Iran's sovereign right.

Iran has a serious issue, if it has a nuclear program, of ensuring security of its fuel supply. Europe is insisting that Russia will provide a guaranteed supply - yet right now, as Europe is promising this, Russia is delaying both the completion of the Bushehr reactor and the delivery of TOR surface to air missiles due to US pressure. My mind boggles at this idea that Europe promises that the US will not successfully pressure Russia in the future, while Russia is succumbing to US pressure right now as Europe is promising this.

If Iran has a domestic enrichment program then Russia can shrug of US pressure by telling the Americans that the alternative is Iran making its own fuel. If Iran does not have the capability of making its own fuel then it will not agree to any guarantee other than enough fuel stored on Iranian soil that it would be able to get its own program running before it runs out.

One key disagreement to be resolved is what constitutes "substantial compensation". Signs are that Europe is willing to commit to terms that are better than the August 2005 offer before talks begin. But this has not been said out loud. Iran believes that if it had accepted the August 2005 offer, it would have suspended enrichment to see the Europeans offer nuclear plants at market price - or even higher - and trade discussions that would not have been much better than what Iran has now. While Europe would have taken steps towards Iran joining the WTO, those steps would have been worthless because the US would still continuously veto that.

Iran is probably right that it would have gotten nothing in return for accepting that agreement. North Korea never did get the light water reactors it was promised in 1993. Concrete hadn't poured in 2000 when Korea called that agreement off and resumed its nuclear program. In that case the US was openly saying that instead of implementing the agreement, it would rather just wait for North Korea to collapse.

So "carrots" may or may not be under negotiation as I write this. But no discussion about Iran's nuclear program is complete without at least a mention of the "stick" of sanctions that the US is waving.

Condoleeza Rice in an interview with the Wall Street Journal editorial board said that sanctions would not look like what the US would write unilaterally. But sanctions would have "collateral effects". Just how much different are the sanctions the US could get from the sanctions the US would write unilaterally? Here is a quote.

Now, to be absolutely fair, any such resolution will not look like a resolution that was written unilaterally by the United States. You can understand that. But it is also the case that a Security Council resolution which puts Iran under Article 41, Chapter 7 has collateral effects on the willingness of private companies, private banks, to do business with Iran. Because if you are making decisions which have a reputational component for instance and you’re facing making those decisions when a state is under Security Council resolutions, particularly Article 7 resolutions, that’s a different environment. And so I wouldn’t also underestimate the collateral effects of whatever resolution there is in the Security Council.

Russia claims it never committed to sanctions. It committed to "discuss" sanctions. The resolution as I read it does call for sanctions but if Russia says it only agreed to discuss, nobody can say Russia is wrong. But these sanctions wouldn't actually be sanctions. US officials keep saying travel restrictions are an example of sanctions. But another example of a "sanction" is a statement that "based on Chapter 7, section 41, the UNSC calls on member nations to refrain from giving Iran technology for use in a weapons program".

The second kind of "sanction" is not actually a sanction at all but it is probably what China and Russia agreed to. China insisted on that type of sanction against North Korea after North Korea's recent missile test. The US says sanctions would be escalating. China and Russia have never said they agree to that.

The US said it would press for a sanctions resolution shortly after the August 31 deadline passed. The US could get a resolution, but has decided that shooting a blank is worse than not firing at all. If the US could get even travel bans plus threats to escalate later, it would have gotten them in September.

We also do not know how committed Russia and China are even to the fake sanctions. Would they vote for sanctions, or would they just not veto sanctions? If Russia and China abstain, the non-permanent members have a good chance of voting down even fake sanctions on their own. If Venezuela joins the Security Council in October, which it expects, that possibility becomes much stronger.

The "stick" is fake sanctions. But that stick hurts the US more than it hurts Iran in this case. Fake sanctions that just barely pass the security council due to intense US pressure - which is the US best case scenario - would validate Iran's position in the eyes of the people Iran cares about.

As far as bombing, Iran does not have anything now to bomb. Even if Iran decides to build a bomb ten years from now, it will not use the facilities in Natanz. So bombing Natanz would cause a surge in popularity for Iran's regime, and allow Iran to leave the NPT and start a secret program with world approval but it would not decrease Iran's ability to build a bomb ten years from now.

Bombing would also strengthen Iran in both Iraq and Lebanon and kill a lot of US soldiers in Iraq in the process. Pro-US governments in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would not fall that month, but straws keep piling on the camel's back. The back will break and the regimes will fall sooner or later. Iran is not in a rush.

Everyone outside the US has known for months that the US threat to bomb is a bluff. It is now becoming apparent that the US threat of sanctions is also a bluff.

I want to make a prediction, but I don't have a good idea of what Europe is willing to put onto the table. If Europe is saying it will give Iran reactors at half price, committing to them being operational by 2012 - with benchmarks for every 6 month period and penalties for missed benchmarks - and with a 5 year reserve of fuel on Iranian soil, along with European assistance in Iran's gas and oil products industries - also benchmarked - then Iran will accept the deal and announce that it is pausing its domestic nuclear enrichment program for five or ten years by the end of this year.

But Europe might be saying it agrees to help Iran with reactors in some way to be specified later, it will liberalize its trade relations in some way to be specified during negotiations and Iran's access to nuclear fuel will be "guaranteed" the same way nuclear fuel has previously been guaranteed and the way Iran's defensive missile shipments from Russia are guaranteed. If Europe is saying this, Iran will force the US to bring on the fiasco of fake sanctions. And have no doubt that the "sanctions" will be a fiasco and that Iran will emerge stronger than if the issue of sanctions had never been raised.

Like in Iraq, the US has painted itself into a corner with this talk of "sticks" against Iran. Iran would rather resolve the issue through negotiations, but would have no problem allowing Allah to cause the Global Arrogance to humiliate itself in Iran's favor on issue after issue.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Myth: Weak Prime Ministers in Iraq

We come across this from time to time. First Jaafari - the US objection to him was supposedly that he was too weak to restrain the militias. Now Maliki is another weak Iraqi Prime Minister. US officials in Baghdad are now wondering out loud to the press whether the US should support a traditional Arab strong man instead of these weak leaders.

The obvious solution to the militias and to insurgent forces is for them to be incorporated into the Iraqi army and put into their command structure. With everyone represented in Parliament and laws regarding political reconciliation with the Sunnis negotiated and passed this would provide Iraq with legitimate force and pose little to no risk of fighting against the government.

This army would not reliably flatten Fallujah or Tal Afar but with the entire political leadership opposed to death squads, it would reliably investigate and curtail those if they remained a problem.

Why not implement the obvious solution?

While these forces are loyal to the people who can actually get votes in Parliament, they are not loyal to the United States and people the United States likes but who cannot get votes in Parliament such as Allawi and Chalabi.

Which brings us back to the weak prime ministers.

The United States insists that these armed groups must be eliminated, not folded into the armed forces. The narrative now being presented is that Iraq's political leadership wants to eliminate the groups but are too weak. Hmmm.

The Shiites, if Iraq remains one country are going to have to live with the Sunnis long after the Americans are gone. Do they really want maximum confrontation with the insurgency and the civilian collateral destruction that means? Do they also want the forces that are already loyal to them disarmed in favor of Iraqi auxiliary units of the US occupation army?

Maybe they are actually telling the Americans in the Green Zone that they really wish they could dismantle every fighting force except the army but they find it impossible. Maybe the Americans in the Green Zone are hearing what they want to hear.

If only Iraq had "strong leaders" like Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But would any of them deny the US it's primary policy objective while their nation was occupied by the US?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The US choosing an outcome for Iraq

The situation in Iraq will stabilize one way or another. What will the world be left with? Here are the possiblities:

1 - Anti-US stable unified country
The US probably could accomplish this in less than 1 year. This would be perceived as, depending on negotiations, between sub-optimal and bad for the Kurds. Of the other groups, it would be considered good if not optimal for the Shiites and nearly optimal for the Sunnis. Among outsiders it would be the fulfillment of a strategic fantasy for Iran, maybe the best possible case for Syria, the best possible case for Turkey tolerable at worst for the Saudis and a strategic complete defeat and nightmare for the US and Israel.

Accomplishing this scenario requires negotiations with the Kurds, but with the understanding that the Kurds' alternative is to be left alone to fight Turkey, Iran, Syria, the Sunnis and the Shiites. With that understanding the Kurds would be quite reasonable. The Shiites are honor-bound to ask for what the Kurds get, but that can be reasonable, not necessarily a partition of any kind.

The Iraqi parliament would end up with sovereignty over the entire country and, as is well known, would have Iran as its friendliest neighbor. The Iraqi parliament would not tolerate a US presence even in Kurdistan. Iran would be relatively free to use Iraqi companies to avoid sanctions, and would be able to reach Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by land and would have safe overflight - which would make it easier to give cash and supplies to, for example Hezbollah and Hamas and to connect with groups in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Saudi Arabia would likely come to an accomodation with Iran and begin weaning itself out of the pro-US camp.

The US and Israel cannot tolerate this scenario, though US official policy is essentially to advocate this scenario. If it was possible in the Middle East to further discredit US attempts to associate itself with democracy and any ideals other than support for Israel, the US would be so discrediting its ideals here.

This scenario is impossible - but only because the US has the will and ability to prevent it. If the US was willing to tolerate an anti-US but stable and democratic Iraq (and again, I understand that it is not) then this would be both the easiest and least bloody outcome to reach.

Other than Al-Qaeda, the United States and Israel, there are no parties in the Middle East that would consider this outcome a defeat.

2 - Pro-US stable unified country
The dream scenario for the US. Iran has a veto over this scenario, as do the Shiites and the Sunnis. Syria would also have to cooperate which it will not.

Iraq's voters, by rejecting Chalabi and Allawi have clearly said they oppose this outcome. There is no way at this point to reconcile this outcome with any semblance of democracy. The voters of Iraq do not have a veto over this scenario, but by voting against it, they have removed any moral support it could have.

The concern of those who oppose this scenario is that the US will try to implement it through a coup. Until that concern is addressed, by a US commitment to leave, all armed groups in Iraq will remain armed and all funders and supporters of Iraq's armed groups inside and outside of Iraq will continue to fund and support them.

It is commonly understood that this preferred outcome of the US can only be accomplished by a coup. The insurgency and militias as non-official military forces are the only thing that prevents the US-loyal army from turning against Iraq's voters, a la Algeria. Voluntarily disarming any of the unofficial armed groups while the US still controls the Iraqi army and plans to control it indefinitely cannot happen. If the US holds out the possibility of a prolonged occupation such as that of South Korea where the US ultimately commands both armies, there will be no voluntary disarmament of the non-official military forces.

When Khalizad and the US media speak of the "need" to disarm the militias I am forced to ask: "Are they joking?" Nobody but the US will see that "need" until they have a commitment that the US will leave.

The US strategy for reaching this scenario then is to outlast the Iraqis. The US has to really defeat all of the other militias and then it will be able to sponsor its coup and get its pro-US stable unified Iraq. It can even then order supervised elections without bothersome Iran-supported political parties and with Sistani out of politics. So there can be a pro-US, stable, unified, "democratic" Iraq. There are a lot of forces stacked against this outcome, including will of the majority of Iraqis.

With the amount of troops the US is able to devote to this, it is unlikely that this scenario can take hold.

3 - Divided Iraq - Two parts - US gets Kurdistan
The main obstacle to this scenario is the Shiites. Every moral and practical reason for the Kurds to leave Iraq is just as valid a reason for the Shiites to leave. The position that the size of confederations should be set at a maximum of 4 provinces is no different from a position that only ethnic groups whose name starts with "K" can form confederations. The Shiites are not going to buy it.

This is not a nightmare scenario for Iran by any means. Iran would still have the rich part of the country that has gulf access as its friend. Iran is probably pretty confident that it could reach an agreement with the Sunnis to "jointly" support Hezbollah and Hamas. A Kirkuk-Haifa pipeline would have to pass through Anbar. That is not going to happen whether Sadr, Hakim or Hussein loyalists make the decision.

The landlocked US forces in Kurdistan would be less vulnerable to Iranian reprisals for any strike but the Saudi oil installations would be more vulnerable. Pretty good trade for Iran.

This is a nightmare scenario for Turkey - a situation that in the long term has a high probability of breaking Turkey apart and will at minimum vastly worsen Turkey's Kurdish terrorism problem.

This is not a good scenario for the US, but I wonder if the US thinks it is. This scenario would result in fighting over Kirkuk and Turkey may enter more vehemently than it has so far. Iran and Turkey will certainly jointly act against Kurdish rebels. The US can only hope this cooperation does not begin to extend to other areas. And it better do some good hoping because very few things are as strategically detrimental to Turkey in the long term as a wealthy Kurdistan that supports the Kurds in Turkey.

4 - Divided Iraq - Three parts - Somehow done peacefully
If the Kurds get their own slice of Iraq, with oil, then the Shiites are not going to share with the Sunnis. Iran doesn't care either way. Sadr, in Baghdad with the Sunnis and without his own oil does not want a division. Hakim, far from the Sunnis with his own oil would be richer without the Sunnis and the Sunnis can have Sadr too for all Hakim cares.

If there is going to be a split, and Hakim, the leader of SCIRI, has anything to say, the Shiites will get the exact same deal the Kurds get.

The problem is that Kirkuk and Baghdad have to be divided. I imagine it is possible to sit down and negotiate this. The Sunnis and Sadr oppose it on principle and would have to be compensated. But they still will not disarm voluntarily unless they have assurances that the US is leaving. If the US continues to refuse to provide those assurances dividing those cities in the midst of armed militias is much more difficult if not impossible.

Iran, still would be perfectly happy with this. Both the Sunni and Shiite sections are reliable anti-US countries. Iran would be still able to ship by ground to Syria, still able to stop any pipelines to Israel.

The Kurds would have as neighbors, Iran, Sunni Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Any US commitment to the Kurds could get very expensive to fulfill, and everybody would know it, including the Kurds and the US.

The Arab world would be livid at the dismemberment of an Arab country. They would blame the US and say it was done for the strategic benefit of Israel. Let's not be too quick to cry anti-semitism. Israeli thinkers have publically called for the breakup of Arab states to reduce the threat they pose to Israel. Serious thinkers in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would ask "are we next?" The US would hope that those countries do not go to China, Russia and Iran asking for assurances against any possible US plans against them.

5 - Civil War - Iraq may end up intact or may not
The good news for the US is that it gets to stay until the war is over if it wants. The bad news is that in the meantime US soldiers will be dying and eventually it will be all over, and everyone involved will still be at least as anti-US as they are now.

As long as the US is there, there are no ground shipments from Iran to Syria and it is a little more difficult than it will be after the US leaves for Iran to reach Iraq's other neighbors. The US can put itself in charge of enforcing any UN sanctions against Iran, if they actually happen.

The best news for the US is that in this scenario Iraq is a disintegrating anti-US state, instead of a developing anti-US state. There is a solid argument that this is the best possible scenario for the US that the US can actually accomplish. Khalizad is far too smart not to know that the US is guaranteeing this scenario by refusing to tell the Iraqis that the US will be completely unable to interfere in Iraq's military by a committed time.

This is not a terrible scenario for Iran. As long as the US troops are there, Iran can threaten to kill more if Iran are attacked. Influencing Iraq's neighbors is a slower process for Iran, but Iran has plenty of time. Meanwhile the chaos in Iraq is a public relations gift to Iran that keeps on giving.

Turkey can live with this as long as it believes in the end there will not be an independent Kurdistan.

This scenario gives Syria leverage with the US and validates its anti-Western orientation.

The US allies, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are all disappointed that the US didn't choose one of the less bloody options. Eventually that disappointment will contribute to one of the allies renouncing the alliance, but that is far in the future. In the meantime, this just exacerbates the gap between these countries and their populations.

This is the worst scenario by far for the people of Iraq.

The US is on some level deliberately forcing all of the Iraq-related actors to choose between a civil war or a situation where the US is able to enforce pro-US policies in Iraq by an Algeria-style coup if necessary.

Given the choice between civil war now or submit to the US in order to postpone a possible later civil war - in this situation where the decision has to be made by the armed militias themselves - I expect many of the actors to choose civil war now.

The Iraqis are not going any where. It is impossible to outlast them. Eventually the US will leave and maybe ten years from now, the Iraqis will get the anti-US, pro-Iran government they elected in 2005.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Myth: Rivalry Between Shiites and Sunnis Part II

Pew Global Attitudes Report:

Oppose or favor Iran acquiring Nuclear Weapons
US: 92% oppose, 3% favor
China: 52% oppose, 18% favor
Egypt: 42% oppose, 44% favor
Jordan: 42% oppose, 45% favor

Agree that Iran is a "great danger" to world peace
US: 46%
France: 31%
China: 22%
Jordan: 19%
Turkey: 16%
Egypt: 14%

I think this should be enough. The idea that Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have populations that feel intense rivalries with Iran because the Iranians are Shiite and/or Persian was ridiculous from the start.

Myth: Iran's Leadership is Despised by Its Population

This one should fold to a simple poll. Fortunately Reader's Digest and Zogby have produced one.

14. Would you like to see Iran's society become more secular and liberal, more religious and conservative or just stay as it is?

More secular and liberal: 30.7%
More religious and conservative: 36.0%
Just stay as it is: 15.0%
No answer: 18.3%

Leaving out people who don't answer, 62% of Iranians who have an opinion either want Iran to become more religious or to stay as it is.

Where do these stories about an overwhelming majority of Iranians eagerly awaiting the opportunity to establish a regime amenable to the Middle East interests of the United States come from? Two places - the first is wishful thinking and the second is sampling error - Iranians who travel and especially Iranian exiles really do despise the clerical regime.

Somebody estimated for Juan Cole that "only some 15-20 percent [of Iranians] support their religious, populist government" and Mr. Cole believed it.

Of people who expressed an opinion, only 18% of Iranians in this poll believe the Iranian society is "just right" but that is grossly misleading since another 42%, twice that many, think Iran's religious leaders should have more influence on Iranian society.

Unlike the dictatorships of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the Iranian clerics do not disagree with their people either on Israel or on their nation's rightful place in the Middle East.

18: Level of Agreement: The state of Israel is illegitimate and should not exist
Str disagreement: 3.9%
2: 4.5%
3 (neutral): 21.1%
4: 14.6%
Str agreement: 51.9%

17: Level of Agreement: Iran should play the dominant economic and military role in the Middle East region:
Str disagreement: 4.4%
2: 7.9%
3 (neutral): 29.5%
4: 24.8%
Str agreement: 31.1%

I will point out that believing the state of Israel should not exist is no worse than Africans believing the state of Apartheid South Africa should not exist or Ronald Reagan believing the USSR should not exist. There is no implication that every Jew or citizen of Israel should be killed or removed any more than opponents of South Africa advocated the murder or dislocation of all Whites or Ronald Reagan advocated the murder or dislocation of all Russians.

The policies pursued by Iran's leaders, especially the policies Westerners have a problem with, are not unpopular with Iranians.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Myth: There is a plan to bring down Lebanon's government

I've seen this one place, at syriacomment.

Another story that has been circulating in the Arab press is that Syria, Iran and Hizbullah have a three step plan to bring down the Lebanese government with the help of General Aoun and other anti-Hariri politicians. The basic idea is: Stage one, stay cool while Israel withdraws its troops. Stage two, create paralysis in the government by opposing all Siniora measures. Stage three, begin large scale demonstrations which will give cover for special inciters to provoke clashes with the police and get people shot. Then push for a vote of no-confidence in parliament and force new elections. The only source quoted in this story is a "high placed" government official. There can be little doubt that opposition figures in Lebanon and their supporters further a field are strategizing to bring down the Hariri coalition that presently governs Lebanon, and which many have already accused of being complicit with Israel and the US during the war. Whether this is their plan is hard to say, but it is hard to think of a different plan.

I don't expect this plan to be followed, instead more like Stage 1: Lay low while Israel pulls out. (This stage is easy because they really are laying low already) Stage 2: Hold talks to implement the end of non-national militias in Lebanon. Stage 2A: Of course this means also giving Shiites full suffrage, instead of 40% of the population having 20% of the vote. Stage 3: The Shiites establish themselves as the permanent government of all of Lebanon and fold Hezbollah into the army.

This is all just guessing. It will be obvious in six months which plan is being followed though. I'll admit if I was wrong.

See, just as 9/11 radicalized the contemporary US government, the July/August War radicalized the Lebanese government in place. Nasrallah can't feel any strong urge to replace parliament immediately because everyone agrees with him now.

Remember the surge of support Hezbollah got in Lebanese polls? The Lebanese Parliament are Lebanese too. They felt the same surge, if not more because members of government are often more patriotic than the general population.

This ties to just how poorly Israel has been conducting foreign policy since at least July. Unbelievably, I am led to believe Israel thought that hurting Lebanese civilians would turn them against Hezbollah. The blockades and destruction of bridges all through the country made the Lebanese mad, but of course they were mad at Israel.

The war was really started by a border skirmish in which Israeli soldiers were captured and killed. Nobody in Lebanon believes Israel had no choice but to destroy the airport. Israel chose to escalate and everyone in Lebanon blames Israel for that decision.

I didn't predict that Israel would fail to advance by land into Lebanon when the attack first happened, but it became obvious to a lot of people when the first town was captured, then recaptured, then never had been an objective at all. By that time, Israeli soldiers on Lebanese soil were just an exercise in stupidity.

I'd say the dumbest move though was maintaining the air and sea blockades after the cease fire. At that point the only way to get goods in was through Syria. Of course Syria and its Lebanese allies would not back down from that "threat", the threat to make Lebanon more dependent on Syria. If it was up to Syria, Israel would impose a permanent blockade. All Israel has done this summer is turned the population and government further and more permanently against Israel towards Syria and Iran.

That leads us back to the government. In 2005 it was relatively pro-Western. Today it is not. Nasrallah does not have to pull the trigger and bring down the government. There is a long term realignment in the works that is so favorable to the Shiites that Hezbollah can afford to be magnanimous.

Myth: There is a serious rivalry between Sunnis and Shiites

What nonsense. How amazing that it even has to be addressed.

Just to start, the mostly Sunni people of Egypt were polled and they claim to respect three different leaders more than they respect their own president Mubarak. Nasrallah of Hezbollah, Meshal of Hamas and Ahmadinejad of Iran. Two radical Shiites are on that list. It is as if US "racists" respected Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere more than they respected Ronald Reagan. I wish that was enough to put this myth to rest.

But there are two opposing data points. One is the civil war in Iraq and the other is statements by the Sunni pro-US dictatorships. Those data points have to be accounted for.

About the civil war. I want to explain how it would be possible to create the same civil war in the United States.

Let's say China invaded and conquered Michigan. Let's say the Chinese proclaim that their intention is just to give the people of Michigan an enlightened Socialist government that provides more justice than they currently have. But let's say the Chinese also while they are there insist on having a say in how cars from Michigan are sold.

Here is the whole key. The Chinese will destroy the legitimate opposition forces - the army and the police - because those forces will never be loyal to the Chinese and they are easy to trace. But the resistance will continue because the people of Michigan will not accept the Chinese. New legitimate opposition forces will form.

Here is the real key. These new legitimate opposition forces will from from the nucleii of what before the invasion were marginal, illegitimate and even illegal groups. When the Crips were a street gang, they had nearly no popular support. When they become one of very few groups actually fighting the Chinese they get access to resources and legitimacy that they never had. When the Michigan Militia was a fringe band of wackos out on farms, they had almost no support. When they are one of few groups actually fighting the Chinese they get access to resources and legitimacy that they never had.

So now you have Crips and Michigan Militia armed, legitimate, flooded with money and in their minds and the hearts of many in the population proven right. A lot of times there will not be Chinese invaders to kill. What will a new Militia member do when after being indoctrinated he sees an interracial couple but there are no Chinese to kill? What will a Crip do when there are no Chinese in sight, but he sees a white man who looks just like that cop who set him up before the invasion?

It is very easy to get these groups fighting each other - even without active Chinese infiltration. (Of course the Chinese would have to be morons to not pay some stooges a little money to discredit the resistance.) Once they start fighting, the fighting may even spiral to the point where the fighting continues after the Chinese leave.

The punchline is that the fighting is not caused by ancient hatreds. It is not the inevitable result of the old Michigan government being overthrown. Marginal groups who were not actively fighting each other before start fighting each other because suddenly extreme groups that did not have resources become legitimate in mainstream thought and get resources.

Sunnis and Shiites before the invasion in Iraq were intermarrying, they were being friends for years and never asking to which group they belonged. Marginal and radical former fringe groups have been demarginalized. That is where the civil war comes from. If the US wanted the war to end as its primary goal, it would announce a timetable, leave and thereby delegitimize these groups.

But would China really invade a state that was not having a civil war with a primary goal of preventing a civil war? There are a lot of myths around the US motivation to invade and remain in Iraq that I hope to address in later articles.

The second data point is the statements by the dictators of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Unpopular dictators are easy to threaten. Nobody can argue that these dictatorships do not feel threatened by Iran. Unlike Iran, whose regime does have popular support (I know, I'll get to the myth that they do not later), a determined outside force that advocates regime change in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia would be a problem.

Do you want to read something funny? This is from the Robert Kaplan of the Wall Street Journal via Syriacomment.

The president may need to pull closer to the Saudi royals, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah. Weakened by America's response to 9/11, terrified by Israeli incompetence in defending their interests in Lebanon, these regimes still demonstrate more enlightenment than their populations. They fear Iran more than do the Europeans.

If you didn't laugh out loud at that then never read anything else I write. Sorry for wasting your time but we don't have enough in common to communicate.

But if you did laugh out loud it is because for some reason Kaplan cannot admit to himself that Iran is not actually a threat to the populations. It is a threat to the unpopular authoritarian dictatorships that have formed an alliance of convenience with the United States and indirectly with Israel.

The thing is that if Iran was not Shiite it would be the exact same threat to these dictatorships that it is now. Anyone who would say the Egyptian people should have a say in Egypt's foreign policy are a threat to Mubarak. It doesn't matter if it is the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood or the Shiite Hezbollah. There is a real rivalry between states in the Middle East led by legitimate governments and states that are not. But this only happens to align with any Sunni Shiite split.

Talk of this supposed rivalry are nonsense. It would be nice for the US if it was true but it just is not.

I will consider myself proven wrong if any poll produces the result that any non-Israeli population in the Middle East considers Iran more of a threat than either the US or Israel. This includes the Sunnis of Iraq which is probably the most anti-Iranian population on Earth outside of the US and Israel. If the Sunnis of Iraq, or anyone else, in a poll consider Iran more of a threat than the US and Israel then I have to retract this entire post.

Introduction to Middle East Reality


Most people in the West do a very poor job empathizing with people in the Middle East outside of Israel.

Part racism, - not all racism but part and it serves no purpose to deny that - part cognitive dissonance, part wishful thinking there may be many reasons. But most commentators consistently get the region wrong. Not just the idiots like Tom Friedman, but even the smart people like Juan Cole and Billmon over at Whiskey Bar.

In this blog, I hope to one by one dissect the many myths held by too many commentators. There is no serious rivalry between Shiite and Sunni per se; Iran has no interest in either an Iraqi civil war or an Iranian satellite in Iraq; The United States and Israel have no interest in avoiding an Iraqi civil war if the alternative is the democratic government the Iraqis voted for; The Iranian regime is not despised by 70% or more of Iranians. Things like that.

One thing I plan to do is make predictions so that it will be possible to test my beliefs against other published beliefs about the Middle East. Whereever it is possible to use polling data I always will. I wish the people of the Middle East were polled as often as people in a contentious region of this importance should be polled and I wish these polls were made more available in English but alas, there will be times when no poll data is available. All I'll be able to do in that case is guess - but we'll see how I do.

OK. Let's get started.