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.