Friday, November 30, 2007

Everyone Is Saying Suleiman Is In

It sounds plausible to me.

"In order to permit further consultations toward reaching a consensus on the election of a new president, the speaker decided to postpone the session scheduled for tomorrow until Friday December 7 at 1:00 p.m.," said a statement issued by Berri's office late Thursday.

Observers said that the sixth postponement was different from the previous ones, since the identity of the next president is apparently no longer subject to debate, with the focus now shifting to finding the most suitable constitutional scenario for having Suleiman elected.

Suleiman will not try to disarm Hezbollah, will not enter a strategic partnership with the United States and will not interfere with the next parliamentary elections. Lebanon is still in a stalemate until the next elections, but Suleiman's election does not change the situation to either side's advantage.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Olmert Says Two State Solution is Alternative to Losing Apartheid Battle

Olmert is continuing his running series of "let me say something stupider." His first entry: "Israel is glad the US is occupying Iraq and bringing stability" was hard to beat. His second entry: "Iran can't be allowed to become a nuclear power like Israel" was also a classic.

His newest entry: "If the Palestinians do not accept a two state solution, they will win a struggle like that against South Africa"

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Haaretz Wednesday, the day the Annapolis conference ended in an agreement to try to reach a Mideast peace settlement by the end of 2008.

I think the series must be over. There is nothing stupider a sitting Israeli prime minister can say than this.

All three statements were true. The problem is that all three statements are things that critics of Zionism should say, that supporters of Zionism should be able to challenge their opponents to prove without an admission from Israel's elected Prime Minister.

This is nothing like the thousand plus Lebanese civilians and hundreds of Israeli soldiers who died for no Israeli strategic advantage, or the hundreds killed or maimed by cluster bombs Israel rained on Lebanon to Israel's strategic disadvantage (every explosion makes Hezbollah more powerful in Lebanon). But these statements are bad enough that anyone thinking of a career in politics should know to avoid these mistakes.

Olmert is a very bad Israeli prime minister. I can't explain how a person with his lack of talent came to power because he is not a relative of a previous prime minister. Sometimes even countries with competitive political systems get bad leaders.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Refugees Later: Why There Can Be No Peace Agreement

If there was a possible agreement that would satisfy Israel that its status as a Jewish state would not be threatened and would also satisfy most Palestinians, that agreement would have been presented and accepted by now.

There is no such agreement so the US strategy, which has been in place since the foundation of Israel, is to wait for the Palestinians to change their minds about the refugees. Of course this will not happen in 2008 anymore than it did in 1998, 1988 or earlier. Until it happens, there will be no agreement acceptable to both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The US and the rest of the West have been pursuing a hopeless strategy since Israel's inception.

The story of where this strategy comes from is a mixture of weird and interesting. Western supporters of Israel believe the Palestinians changing their minds is the right thing to do. This belief is followed by the belief that since they feel very strongly that its the right thing to do, somehow it will be done. The idea that the Palestinians have a right not to change their minds and actually may not change their minds is just not something Western supporters of Israel are able to put their heads around.

So the Western plans go something like, "we'll give Abbas a lot of guns and he'll shoot every Palestinian who thinks the refugees should return" or "remember those shiny reformed madrassas we're paying Musharaf to build, where we write the curriculum? Let's have Abbas build some in Palestine".

The people shot by Abbas who disagree, the people starved to death to coerce the Palestinians to vote for Abbas? It was the right thing to do, and if the Palestinians have not yet given up on the right to return, it hasn't been done enough. Whenever groups of humans are being evil, as the West is being here, they are using similar reasoning, this concept of "it may seem evil but it is for the greater good" forms the basis of every atrocity in human history. In fact, it probably is the only way any group of human beings anywhere is capable of being evil.

This is not a fringe Western belief. It is a tiny fringe in the West that disagrees with this belief. There is no more complex an explanation for this fact than that Westerners identify, racially or tribally with Jews (whom they perceive as European) than with Palestinians (whom they perceive as racially and religiously more different).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Guess I'm the Gullible One

At the same time the Saudis and Arabs were stupidly assuming that the United States would both publicly present a specific proposal to settle the refugee and other issues ...

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that in inviting his country to the Annapolis conference Washington promised to "use its full influence" to ultimately bring about a peace agreement. He said that meant if the two sides could not agree, "we assume the United States will come up with its own ideas."

and also assuming that the United States would hold Israel to a one year deadline ...

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said ahead of his participation in a Middle East peace summit on Tuesday that the United States had promised that negotiations would be concluded within a year.

even though the United States has never said it would do either,

Here I am believing that Maliki had agreed to a long term presence of 50,000 US troops and a favored investment status for US companies, just because I read that in AP ...

Two senior Iraqi officials familiar with the issue say Iraq's government will embrace a long-term U.S. troop presence in return for U.S. security guarantees as part of a strategic partnership. The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is sensitive, said U.S. military and diplomatic representatives appeared generally favorable, subject to negotiations on the details, which include preferential treatment for American investments

AFP ...

US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki vowed Monday to agree next year on the terms for what could be an open-ended US military presence in the war-torn country.

Guardian ...

Iraq's government is preparing to grant the US a long-term troop presence in the country and preferential treatment for American investors in return for a guarantee on long-term security, it emerged today.

Iraqi officials said that, under the proposed formula, Iraq would get full responsibility for internal security and American troops would relocate to bases outside cities. The proposals foresee a long-term presence of about 50,000 US troops, down from the current figure of more than 160,000.

And many other news sources that have since updated their stories.

Well, the White House released the text of the agreement. Most likely not because of the spirit of openness that permeates the administration, but because they were instructed to by the Iraqis. No 50,000 troops. No long term or permanent bases. No favored investment status. Only vague statements that the US would help Iraq's defense and investment environment.

Instead there are two specific commitments, both made by the US in favor of Iraq. The 2008 UN mandate extension will be the last and Iraq will be released from Chapter VII sanctions and restored to full sovereignty as before the invasion of Kuwait.

The world rarely witnesses the lopsided matchups of political talent that we see today. The US sits at the table across from the Arabs and makes coy statements that carry clear implications, then says "let's not actually put that into the agreement."

The Arabs feel they've accomplished a diplomatic victory, though that victory would have had little to no practical meaning anyway. Then months later the Arabs learn that the coy statements didn't mean what they thought they meant. Now the Arabs are really angry. It's going to take some more coy statements to calm them down now.

At the same time in another mismatch, Iraq's government sits across the table from the US making different coy statements. "But let's leave that out of the agreement." "You know, domestic pressures. We're really on your side though."

Not only the administration, but every news source, and even the gullible blogger at believes this story. That in a stroke the US has secured long term bases and Iraq has agreed to be South Korea.

Oh well. Now I know better. The only change the agreement has made is that there is now no chance that there will be a UN mandate in 2009. What will be in its place? Whatever agreement can get past Sadr, the Sunnis, SIIC and the Iraqi Parliament. I doubt it will be Iraq as South Korea.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Saudis Think the US Will Offer Specific Proposals

The Arab world, which is by far the most politically backward region on earth, has leaders that are far more gullible than bright children.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that in inviting his country to the Annapolis conference Washington promised to "use its full influence" to ultimately bring about a peace agreement. He said that meant if the two sides could not agree, "we assume the United States will come up with its own ideas."

You assume wrong.

An actual specific proposal, especially regarding the refugees but also regarding, for example, water, would be a propaganda setback for the US, because anything Israel or the US could propose would be easy to paint as unreasonable. It would have no impact on the ground though.

Coaxing the US and/or Israel to produce a specific attackable proposal was the entire point of the Saudi/Arab League proposal. It always has been a stupid plan, it was never going to give the results the Saudis hope for. But this is the type of plan monarchies consistently come up with

Declaration of Principles for Long Term Occupation

A setback for both Iraqi nationalists and the anti-US/anti-Zionism parties in the region. How serious a setback depends on the details of the non-binding agreement so far, which are for now secret, and the political situation in Iraq during negotiations.

The Associated Press reported from Baghdad that the proposal would give America preferential treatment for investments in Iraq - a potential bonanza for oil companies - in return for long-term security guarantees, including defence against internal coups.

I have not seen the Iraqi response. Presumably the result of the ultimate negotiations legally would have to pass in Iraq's parliament. That is a legality that the United States will try as hard as possible to ignore.

More information will become available in the coming days, such as the reaction of the Sadrists and the Sunnis which I expect to be angry.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Nawaz Sharif Back: Setback for US/Bhutto

First, does anyone believe Musharraf went to Saudi Arabia last week to ask the Saudis not to release Sharif? And that the Saudis pressured Musharraf to release him?

Under pressure from Saudi Arabia, where Sharif had been living in exile, Musharraf agreed to allow his archrival to come back to Pakistan.

Nobody believes that? Good. Though it might be pleasurable to point out all the different ways that this is a stupid story, what would be the point? On the other hand, why would they even make up a story like that? I bet the Saudis came up with it. Musharraf and Sharif's people must have looked at the Saudis, looked at each other, rolled their eyes and both said "OK" at the same time.

Sharif is back as the final nail in the coffin of the Musharraf/Bhutto alliance. There is one thing certain about Pakistan politics at this point. Bhutto no longer a factor in it.

Sharif says he didn't meet Musharraf when Musharraf was in Saudi Arabia. I believe him only because he didn't have to meet him. There had to have been contact between intermediaries and there have to be conditions.

A likely condition is that Sharif will not call for general opposition to Musharraf remaining president or to the removal of the legitimate supreme court. The acceptance of Musharraf in the presidency is very disappointing. Mostly because if Musharraf didn't give up power this time, he won't next time.

Pakistan would be a lot better off if Sharif had stayed in Saudi Arabia, denounced any conditions of return and called for those loyal to him to select a successor in Pakistan who would represent the party. The single most important factor in effective political systems is a competitive contest for succession. The second most important is predictable term limits. Both Musharraf and Sharif have shown they are unwilling to put these in place.

Very few people would be willing to establish either a succession contest or term limits once in power. But if the people around them understood the importance to the country of these features of government, they would apply enough pressure, from enough directions, that those in power would accept them.

But the US' candidate and the US are now on the sidelines of Pakistani politics. The US still has some leverage in the form of these billions of dollars its throwing around to the Army. Like the money the US has been throwing at Iraqi politicians, in the long term, this money is just wasted.

The chance that Pakistan ever gets a leader that would either send Pakistani troops or support the sending of US troops to fight Islamists on the frontier because those Islamists host extremists, meaning opponents of Zionism who condone violence, are very slim at this point.

Unfortunately the chance that Pakistan gets a stable, effective political system are also slim at this point.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Good Press Article on Iran: Just Two Missing Points

Ok. Maybe a little more than two, but this from AP reporter Sally Buzbee is overall as good as an article covering Iran by an Western news agency is going to get. "Iran: No Smoking Gun but Strong Evidence":

Many other countries agree that Iran's steps so far — especially its enrichment of uranium and its continued secrecy — suggest it seeks the capability to build a weapon. Those more friendly toward compromise, including Russia and China, urge Iran to be more open.

"There's no consensus that Iran's leadership has decided to build a nuclear arsenal," said David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector now at Washington's Institute for Science and International Security. "There's more of a consensus that they've built a set of capabilities" that could be used for a weapon.

The two points that are missing is that a lot of countries have a set of capabilities that could be used for a weapon and that it is legal for NPT signatories, as well as non-signatories and all nations, to have technologies that may give capabilities that could be used for a weapon.

These are two important points because the entire dispute over Iran's weapons program is not a dispute over claims that Iran is building a weapon, it is a dispute over whether the US will successfully deny Iran capabilities that maybe dozens of other countries have.

Capability is the crux of the dispute, and I'm not sure how well Western reporters understand that. I've seen fewer than a half dozen articles that have made that point, but as the main point of contention, more important than enrichment in itself, this should be mentioned if not explained in every article.

Other than that though, this article is moderately well balanced. There are other nitpicks, and the article's headline is more provocative than the article itself, but definitely not bad. Eventually maybe the majority of articles about Iran will present facts and expert opinions as this does.

Would Iran Suspend Enrichment?

First, obviously somebody somewhere in Iran has hacked into the account of prominent young liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias:

And, indeed, it's not clear that a policy of appeasement would be wise. True, we've seen rational leadership even from vicious dictators like Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong, but the contemporary United States is led by religious fanatics, which introduces a new element into the equation. What's more, the USA is the only country on earth to have ever actually deployed nuclear weapons. Indeed, current political elites are so war-crazed and bloodthirsty that they not only engineered the 2003 attack on Iraq -- a country that tried to appease the Americans by eliminating its nuclear program and allowing IAEA inspectors to certify that it had done so -- but they continue to deny regretting it to this day. And that includes not only radicals like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, but so-called "moderates" like Hillary Clinton as well.

I guess there comes a point where the truth is the truth. I wouldn't have written that post any better. But Yglesias also points to a McClatchy article entitled "Iran hints it could halt nuclear enrichment for a quid pro quo":

Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that his country could suspend uranium enrichment if the United States and Western Europe agreed to acknowledge that its nuclear program was peaceful.

But Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said there was a "serious confidence gap" between his country and the United States and Western Europe and that he saw little point in trying to "build confidence" with an American administration that had none in his country.

"We don't trust the United States," he told McClatchy Newspapers after the IAEA Board of Governors finished its latest round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. "We could suspend nuclear enrichment. We did it before for two and half years. But it wasn't enough then, and wouldn't be enough now. We will not suspend enrichment again because there is no end to what the United States will demand."

I don't think Soltanieh was clear about what Iran would expect for a suspension and the McClatchy reporters may have heard something that was not quite what was said.

The quid pro quo Iran would expect is more than that the US acknowledges that Iran's program is peaceful. The US is willing to acknowledge a program that does not enrich uranium and does not have other technologies that can produce fuel for weapons is peaceful, as the US says consistently.

Iran would expect, not this year or maybe even next, but at a committed time or after objective milestones comparable to those of other countries have been reached, to be in the position of Brazil, Argentina, Romania, Taiwan, South Korea, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands - which is that Iran would have technologies that could in theory be used to produce weapons.

In this scenario Iran would not be using the technologies to make weapons even though in theory it could. Having technologies even if not using them would offer strategic advantages to Iran that the US wants to deny Iran as long as its primary dispute with Iran and the people of the Middle East continues - the dispute over the legitimacy of Zionism.

So while McClatchy's headline is that Iran offers a halt, the truth is that Iran said that it would be willing to enact a limited suspension with a set time or at least set objective conditions for resumption. The word "suspension" suffers because for a long time the US side of the dispute has been using "suspension" as a code word for an indefinite cessation of enrichment, to be resumed only if a US veto is lifted. The US version of "suspension" is closer to a "halt". A "suspension" in that sense is just as unacceptable to Iran as ever but the definition-creep that occurs on a lot of terms in this dispute may have distorted the perception of McClatchy's reporters and editors.

Not only is the Iranian position not new, but it would be common knowledge and commonly understood if there was public two-way communication between the foreign policy establishments of Iran and the US.

The Hysterical Case Against Iran's Nuclear Program

Sometimes US and European news sources make their most reasonable case against Iran's nuclear program.

Other times we get the more hysterical version of it. This time from Elizabeth Palmer:

The International Atomic Energy Agency has assumed a difficult dual role: global nuclear policeman -- and honest broker. In his latest report to the IAEA Board of Governors this week, the Nobel Prize-winning Head of the Agency Mohammed el Baradei, gave Iran mixed grades for its nuclear transparency.

A “B plus” for coming clean on how and when its nuclear program secretly began, 20 years ago, when Iran was scavenging for restricted knowledge and equipment in, among other places, Pakistan.

But “C” and “D” marks for not allowing IAEA inspectors to investigate the program thoroughly, especially the parts of it that are under military control.

What just happened? I didn't see any grades in the report. Pdf here. Full text here.

But once Palmer gets rolling ...

The U.S. and its allies, on the other hand, see a paranoid, unstable theocracy with an exploding population and Arab enemies on all sides; a country that might decide it needs nuclear weapons precisely in order to “maintain security in the region,” and will not hesitate to make them if it can -- in spite of Jalili’s professed disdain for them.

"The US and its allies." Why can't Israel be mentioned at all in a report about the opposition to Iran's nuclear program? The reason the Shah's program was encouraged by the US but the current regime's program is a global threat is Israel and only Israel. This refusal to name that regime is more than just an irritant. It reaches the root problem of the presentation of the current conflict between the European and Islamic worlds. That problem is reflected by the D-Squared's acclaimed observation that good policies do not need to be covered in a layer of evasion.

The Israeli, US and European fight against everyone who disagrees about the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state is hopelessly unworkable policy and the impulse to hide it shows that while Palmer and others likely have not admitted it to themselves, they become uncomfortable if the discussion veers too close.

Next Iran is paranoid. There has been a steady stream of threats, direct and implied, to attack Iran. From John Bolton, from Dick Cheney, from George Bush, from every direction in Israel. Iran's response to these threats is that they are bluffs. That is closer to the opposite of paranoia than to paranoia.

And then Iran is surrounded by Arab enemies. Can someone send a map to CBS news? But while most of Iran's neighbors are not Arabs and none of Iran's neighbors are enemies, it is true that many Arab countries have their versions of the Shah in power and these Shahs are far more hostile to Iran than any of the people they rule. Similarly, Iran's Shah was far more hostile to Arabs and far less hostile to Israel than the Iranian people ever were.

And of course, as usual, Palmer can't be made to mention the words "Additional Protocol" when describing Iran's reduction in cooperation with the IAEA starting in February 2006. My current theory is that the word "additional" is too provocative. It is veering too close to the idea that Iran's implementation of them was voluntary and non-legally binding. This refusal to explain that situation does not hurt Iran, it only hurts the less informed among Palmer's readers.

Palmer's essay is slightly worse than average for Western press coverage of the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Today I saw the first mention of the words "Additional Protocol" that I've seen in weeks in a Western press article. The press is capable of being fairer. Reporters generally are not working to be as demonizing as possible, they are just looking through the lenses they are wearing, whether they know they're wearing them or not.

No War Yet in Lebanon

Lebanon has been in a political deadlock, pending new elections since the Shiites withdrew from Lebanon's cabinet in December 2006. Now it is starting to seem that this deadlock will continue until the 2009 elections unless elections are called early.

The 2005 elections, held in the aftermath of the death of Hariri, marked the high point for pro-US/pro-Israeli partisans in the country. They'll never do that well again, and they, Hezbollah, Syria, the US and Israel know it. The aim of the West is to get as much done as possible before the next elections. The aim of the anti-Zionists is to forestall any important decisions until after the public has next spoken at the polls, and the bring that time as soon as possible.

It now looks as if the West will not get an executive in place who will try to disarm Hezbollah or who can be counted on the come up with a reason to cancel or "postpone" elections in 2009 so this stalemate will slog on until then.

The West is adamant that its supporters will not give in to demands for new elections or one-person/one-vote reforms of the electoral system and looks as if it will succeed in forestalling those at least until the elections. The West is hoping that the popular mood shifts against Syria and Iran and toward the Israel and the US somehow before 2009. That seems unlikely.

Hezbollah has several big advantages if there was to be another Lebanese civil war. First it is the only armed force that has actually fought a real enemy. Hezbollah's ranks are now staffed by veterans who've been under fire. Second, Hezbollah can be resupplied over land. In a civil war, Hezbollah will attempt, one way or another to take out the airports and ports and is likely to have some success at least rendering them less effective. Third, Hezbollah has control of the most useful territory. It has a long border with Syria and all of the border with Israel. This means not only that Israel cannot intervene over the ground but also that if nobody wins but instead the country splits Hezbollah gets the parts it would want and can fight a battle of attrition for the rest. Fourth the pro-Western Lebanese are rich and soft. They'll up and leave while Hezbollah's supporters will stay. Every day that there are explosions, the balance of forces will tilt a little more toward Hezbollah.

I do not expect a Gaza-type confrontation. Gaza happened because the facts on the ground were being shifted. Dahlan forces were being armed and might reach a point where they could overpower and outlaw Hamas so Hamas struck preemptively.

There is no amount of arms the US can ship into Lebanon that would allow pro-Western forces to disarm Hezbollah. Hezbollah can afford to wait. If the US crosses a line and installs a president over the Shiite veto, then Hezbollah may ("may" not "will") fight over that. If the president invites foreign troops to disarm Hezbollah, Hezbollah will ("will" not "may") fight over that.

I see the chance of civil war as remote for now. The next Lebanese fireworks are scheduled for 2009. The US needs an executive that will rig, cancel or postpone elections and is not likely to have one by then. If there is not, March 14 loses its majority then and the next parliament will be fine with a one-person one-vote system.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Time May Be On the US Side in Iranian Nuclear Dispute

The US refusal to enter discussions with Iran now does seem to me to be a stalling tactic. Not a good stalling tactic, because it is just as easy to stall during negotiations as without, while negotiations offers at least the possibility of moving towards an agreement. But it is the type of stalling tactic we can expect from the US today.

One interesting development is that Ahmadinejad is relaying what he claims are specific offers made to Iran by the EU.

"They want to get a small concession from us — for instance, that we won't go beyond a certain point within the next four years or we annually make just a certain amount of progress," he said. "This will become a legal precedent. Then, they will come and threaten us to obtain another concession."

If an offer like this was made, it would be interesting to know, according to the proposal, what is to happen after the four years. Four years is enough time for the US to be in a less vulnerable position in Iraq. At which point threats to attack Iran's nuclear program will be more credible.

The US objective today is to impose as stringent sanctions on Iran as possible until it can attack Iran militarily. Iran's objective is to make as much progress as it can until when the US is able to attack, Iran' s program will be more immune. Iran is also using this time to ensure that after the US hostages in Iraq are gone, Iran has alternative deterrents.

While the US is in Iraq, I can't think of a better time for Iran to accomplish the most provocative elements of its nuclear program. If Iran is to make concessions later, it is better to do so with a bigger stock, or with more of a program to partially climb down from.

Additional Protocol. Additional Protocol. Additional Protocol.

Reading current press articles about Iran I read a lot about how Iran has provided less information about its current nuclear program than it did in early 2006.

Elbaradei said that while there was an increased level of cooperation with Iran about its past activities, its knowledge of Iran's current nuclear programmed had "diminished" since 2006.


Muhammad el-Baradei stressed today that the IAEA knows less now about Iran's nuclear activities than it did a year ago.

Inside the meeting, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told delegates that his agency knows less now about Iran's atomic activities than it did a year ago.

But I'm not reading that Iran stopped implementing the voluntary additional protocols a year ago. Of course this is spelled out in Baradei's report and of course the press knew this before the report. The term "additional protocols" is an important detail in this story that is currently being left out by every news organization that covers it.


The thing about the Additional Protocols is that they require giving the IAEA information that the US would use to target Iran's nuclear infrastructure if the US was to attack. Not that there is an imminent threat, but it just would be bad policy to commit to giving this information before Iran has been accepted by the US as nuclear capable. The issue of Iran's refusal to ratify or implement the Additional Protocols is a relatively easy one to resolve when communication begins and will not be resolved before then.

Do I Exaggerate What the Saudis Could Do?

I wonder because I have a mental image of Saudi Arabia with a competitive political system being the lions of the Middle East.

The Saudis have a lot of oil, but they do not have nearly the population of Turkey, South Korea, or Brazil and somewhere around half the population of Argentina if you do not include foreign workers.

Australia has a population close to that of Saudi Arabia. Taiwan and Singapore are also similar in population size with Saudi Arabia. A competent Saudi Arabia could use its position in the oil market to ensure it has access to capital and technology on terms at least comparable to those of Australia and Singapore. An incompetent Saudi Arabia would end up with a position closer to Ghana on the scale of international power.

But a bunch of countries like Ghana together were the most important factor in ending Apartheid while Saudi Arabia is watching Zionism expand. I guess an incompetent Saudi Arabia has ended up in a position lower than Ghana's.

It is clear that all over the world monarchies do very poorly when they have to compete against modern political systems. It is also clear that most people in the world do not tolerate monarchies when they find their countries consistently being outcompeted.

But how much better would the Saudis be specifically? Would it have the powerful and modern high-technology armed forces that would be expected of a small population high resource country? Would it have the manufacturing capabilities of Taiwan or Singapore? And if it was this resourceful, how would a resourceful Saudi Arabia impact the rest of the region of the Middle East?

I wish I did but I don't have a good answer to those questions. I'm sure Saudi Arabia could be a lot more powerful than it is. But a mini-great power like Australia or Taiwan? Maybe, maybe not.

Certainly Saudi Arabia would have far more resources that could be used to handle the problem of Zionism, and the vast reduction of regional instability that accompanied the end of Apartheid would be reproduced to some degree in the Middle East if it did.

Annapolis Mideast Conference Next Week

This conference will have no impact on the ground. It's the type of event that the current Bush administration would hold.

The Arabs, mainly the Saudis, are trying to maneuver Israel and the United States to put their names behind a proposal, especially for the issue of the refugees. That will not happen either before, at or after the conference.

I'm rereading the narrative that the Israelis have become honorary Sunnis from the Saudi point of view. I have not read any statement by the Saudis or seen any action they've taken that implies that.

This conference does not strike me as an important event. It seems safe to say that before Annapolis equals after Annapolis. We'll see the end of the Bush administration not only without a comprehensive peace deal, but also without a proposal from any official Israeli or US source about how to deal with the refugee issue.

Why have these untalented foreign policy communities (in the US and the Arab world) attached such importance to it? Because this is the exact type of event that untalented foreign policy communities attach too much importance too. Communities that cannot wrap their minds around the idea that what happens on the ground is more important than appearances. The idea that appearing clever is different and less important than having an impact on the ground.

Hope There's No Civil War For Lebanon

The term of Emile Lahoud as President of Lebanon ends Friday night. It looks like no agreement that includes a consensus candidate who would have the support of both Hezbollah and March 14 camp will be reached.

Hopefully, and I think most likely, the post will be left vacant until an agreement is reached. Any eventual agreement will include not only the personality of the next president but also the armed status of Hezbollah and possibly early parliamentary elections.

I think and hope its less likely that one side takes unilateral action. March 14 leader Sanyora may assume executive power himself or Lahoud may appoint a successor. This would lead to rival administrations that would fight it out.

I think Hezbollah has more than an edge if there is to be a fight. If the country is to split, Hezbollah will get the border with Israel and much of the border with Syria and its part of the country will move much closer to Syria. March 14's share of Lebanon would be of limited value to Israel or Israel's supporters in the West.

If three more March 14 parliamentarians are removed, for example by assassination, it will be impossible to prevent new elections, and the Parliament elected by these elections will reflect the dramatic anti-Israel/anti-US shift Lebanon has taken since the 2006 war.

New elections is the outcome the Israel's supporters are trying must urgently to prevent. As with Abbas, once there is an election that produces a result Israel is comfortable with, preventing future elections becomes a high priority. This is the cost of Israel, the cost of maintaining an colonial ethnic state against the active wishes of everyone else in the region.

Anyway if shooting starts, March 14 parliamentarians will be targeted and it won't be long until at least four either die, are incapacitated or resign because preventing elections is just not worth this to them. Then Hezbollah gets new elections and gets a new parliament is much less accommodating to Israel.

Between three and four out of every five Lebanese, a majority in every measured ethnic group, consider Israel then the United States the worst enemies of Lebanon. No Lebanese ethnic group, not the Christians or the Druze, considers Syria or Iran a worse enemy than Israel. A Parliament that reflects this general understanding among Lebanese will probably be the ultimate outcome either of a peaceful negotiating process or of war.

I'm hoping we get a peaceful negotiating process, no matter how drawn out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Balance of Repression

The $12 trillion GDP activist United States is a factor to consider in the question of political freedom in countries whose interests and prejudices are not aligned with those of the United States.

Political freedom in Iran would mean Iranians would have the opportunity to install another Mossadegh. But it would also mean the US would have the opportunity to depose another Mossadegh and install another Shah. This is a serious consideration that I've never seen taken into account in discussions about political rights in countries that the US is hostile toward.

The examples of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, Chile under Pinochet and there are many others together provide a strong argument that US hostility is independent of the presence or lack of political freedom in a country.

Some countries have triggered the hostility of the US, as Cuba did by nationalizing US-owned properties; as Iran and Syria do by taking various populist measures that oppose Israel; as Iraq under Hussein did the same way; as Zimbabwe did by nationalizing white-owned farms and as Haiti under Aristide did somehow. (I really can't figure out what Aristide did that sparked the hostility he faced from the US.)

Once that hostility is triggered, the political environment for that country changes. The US has shown it is willing to devote a tremendous amount of resources to remove the government and replace it with one that will not pursue policies that the US does not approve.

If the triggering policy was a popular one, the US historically is certain to curtail democracy in the government it installs at least enough to ensure that it does not undertake the policies for which it overthrew the previous government. In Iraq, the US' solution is a government emplaced by elections, but that does not control either its own borders or its foreign policy. In Egypt, the US supports a more traditional police state that tortures its citizens.

So an interesting question is raised: exactly what kind of political freedoms can or should a government offer if it takes or may take policies that trigger US hostility.

My take on an answer is that measures, harsh or even draconian measures, should be taken to prevent foreign influence on the political system while domestic voices should be as unfettered as possible. It is difficult though, to design measures that an activist nation with two or three orders of magnitude more economic resources than its target cannot get around.

It is an important problem because competitive political systems produce much better leadership than non-competitive ones, but the competitive process must somehow be insulated from US influence or it will lead to Musharraf.

There is a small number of governments that have faced hostility from the United States for 20 years or more and are still intact. North Korea, Cuba, Libya, Syria, Iran, Russia and possibly a few others I've missed. In this small set, only Iran and Russia have passed ultimate leadership of the country outside of a single family. China's solution, though China does not today face the hostility from the US it faced during the cold war or that Iran faces now, seems to be a workable one.

This is a problem Iraq may have to solve, if it is not successfully broken up by the US. It is not trivial to create a stable government with a competitive political process that is able to pursue policies chosen by its population but is not one election or military coup away from a pro-US authoritarian dictatorship.

The US also one day may be less willing to devote its resources to overthrowing governments that undertake unapproved policies, or the set of policies that the US violently disapproves of may one day change. Until that time, the US proclivity to change governments is a factor that should be taken into account in discussions about the political structures of nations that want the freedom to undertake those policies.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Winking Between Iran and the US

An editorial sympathetic with the US view of the nuclear enrichment conflict with Iran in the New York Times.

One European policy maker and friend of the United States says the Iranians want a deal with the Americans. Whatever the lack of specific evidence for this, he says "some Americans" - presumably administration officials - see a possible way forward through working out a cap on Iran's enrichment of uranium. It would be followed by a strong international agreement to keep the mullahs from converting it to nuclear weapons.

... ... ....

The task for those who favor the direct approach is finding the patch of terrain where American-Iranian talks, perhaps called negotiations without conditions, can proceed. The United States needs a signal from Iran, something better than a wink, indicating that a real basis for a settlement exists.

One problem, not the biggest problem but one problem, with not talking with opponents is groupthink. There are certain issues a partisan side of a dispute prefers not to deal with and so they don't. Terms begin to expand to encompass the uncomfortable ideas.

A year or two ago, I would read about the Iranian refusal to "negotiate". Negotiate didn't have its usual meaning. It meant "suspend enrichment and negotiate", but the US community was not comfortable spelling out that requirement so it skipped it. And since everyone anyone in the community spoke to felt the same discomfort, it just never had to be spelled out.

Here I'm struck by "a real basis for a settlement". What does that mean? An Iranian willingness to forego enrichment? An Iranian willingness to cap its store of low enriched uranium below some amount? An Iranian willingness to cancel its support for Hamas and/or Hezbollah?

There exists a set of settlements Iran would accept and there exists a set of settlements that the US would accept. Exactly what are they? The US does not know for Iran and Iran does not know for the US. Besides talks, there is no way to find out. Without talks, Iran has to assume that "a real basis for settlement" refers to some conditions that aren't being spelled out because they are unreasonably drastic.

The idea that talks in themselves are a concession is the type of thing a very untalented leader such as George W. Bush would agree with. It is just purely stupid and counterproductive. The only thing it accomplishes is stalling, as if the US believes time is on its side. Both leading Democratic candidates for president have said their administrations would talk directly to Iran without preconditions, so the stupid Bush no-talks policy will not survive the administration in any event.

If talks had begun last year, Iran would have come to the table and probably accepted something less than it will accept now. In the long term there is not a huge advantage of delaying an agreement for one or two years, but the Iranians very likely expect that ten years from now they'll be slightly happier if they accept limits in 2008 or 2009 than they would have been if they had accepted limits in 2007.

Iran at this point expects to be nuclear capable in ten years. What exact thresholds are passed in 2007 or 2008 are not nearly as important.

But winking. I wonder if this editorial in itself, with a European telling the New York Times that some in the administration are willing to accept a cap on enrichment but with Iran retaining a domestic enrichment program, is the administration winking at Iran.

The Times would have contacted these some in the administration, if it is not in regular contact with them, and asked about the release of this information. This is the first I've seen about anyone in official Washington saying that they will accept an enrichment program of any kind in Iran.

We'll see what happens to this seed. Maybe we'll hear the sourcing of this acceptance of Iranian enrichment come closer and closer to the administration over the next few months. Maybe unnamed senators or military personnel will hint at it, or "some in the administration" will say it themselves, instead of European friends of the administration. At some point this idea may even be attached to a name.

The editorial continues that maybe the Europeans will sanction Iran and add more pressure on them to accept a deal. Of course he is skeptical that it will work. I may be more skeptical. The only way to pressure Iran to stop enriching is to remove Iran's deterrent of 150,000 hostages in Iraq. Until they are gone, I doubt Iran can be intimidated into suspending by any amount of sanctions.

I don't think oil-for-food level sanctions would dissuade Iran, and China is very clear that it will not go anywhere near that level.

"Already there are two sanctions resolutions, and to talk about more sanctions, we have to be careful," Wang said.

"Especially for China, and some others, we made it clear from the beginning that sanctions should not hurt the Iranian people's daily lives," he said.

Iran could be threatened into suspending enrichment if it could not punish the US as it now can, especially in Iraq. But the US leaving Iraq would more than compensate for a suspension of enrichment that Iran could be forced to undertake while to the degree possible retaining its on-paper right to resume enrichment later.

While I'm here, I've thought that just maybe the key to the Saudi proposal was that the Gulf states including Iran can have nuclear plants, ship the uranium in from Switzerland, but still have the spent fuel cooling where it could be reprocessed. No strict return conditions like the Russians have.

Iran expects a reprocessing capability anyway on the long run, and is not trading the uranium enrichment it has now to get it. The Saudi foreign service establishment is as untalented as the US establishment right now. But they may have thought they were being clever.

Unless there is going to be a pull-out from Iraq, Iran is going to win, for lack of a better way to put it, the enrichment conflict. Iran is going to, before Bush leaves office, have a decent store of uranium and the ability to produce more. At some point it will have enough that it feels ready to get the sanctions lifted. Ten years from now nobody in Iran will care if the sanctions were lifted in 2008 or 2010.

The US may be beginning to send small signals that it understands this reality.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What If the US Attacked Iran?

Reading an article What if the US Bombed Iran from the San Francisco Chronicle:

In recent days, I have spoken to a half-dozen Iran experts from across the ideological spectrum, including several Iranians. And while opinions diverge on some key issues, I found important areas of consensus. For one, Iran, unlike Syria, would face an unambiguous political imperative to strike back.

"They would feel a lot of pressure to respond - for their own political survival," said Vali R. Nasr, an Iranian scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations.

What form that would take is a matter of debate, but most of the experts suggest it would be subtle, indirect. The mullahs who rule Iran would not want to give Bush a blatant excuse to launch a "shock and awe" bombing campaign over Tehran. And for all the bluster coming out of Iran right now, "I don't think it would be anything like the Iranians are predicting," Bolton added. On that point there is wide agreement.

Count me outside of the wide agreement.

I don't believe there will be an attack in the near future, meaning the rest of the Bush term and the next US presidential term. So I don't expect that my prediction on this issue can be tested.

When the first explosions are reported in Iran, the Iranians will not know that this is a limited strike. In fact, most likely there would not be a strike of under 20 or so targets because at minimum, the US would aim to take out Iran's air defense systems.

A general attack on Iran means that Iran's missiles are in a use them or lose them situation and I can't think of any possible reason why Iran would not launch everything it can at targets in Israel, Iraq, the Gulf and other regional countries with US bases.

I don't see how Iran could be made to trust a US communication that the current attack is limited and does not warrant a full response.

US soldiers in Iraq and the region would be in or getting to bomb shelters. Iran would take US soldiers going to shelters at the same time as at least a reason to go to high alert and would certainly know about it. So the initial bombing would cause a significant but limited amount of US deaths in the bases.

A few missiles would be shot at Israel. Not enough to cause military-level damage but enough to make a statement. A small number of Israeli deaths would occur, possibly more Arabs than Jews, but maybe the opposite.

The Chronicle claims that Iran would not attack Israel because Ahmadinejad is already popular in the Arab street. This is a totally bizarre argument that relies on a common misconception of Iran's motives in opposing Zionism. Ahmadinejad is not playing to the Arab street. He is doing what he sees as the right thing. If he is playing to a street, it is the Iranian street. The mainstream Iranian view on Israel is that it is an illegitimate state and Zionism is an illegitimate political movement. Polls consistently show that, like the rest of the Middle East, 70 to 90 percent of the Iranian population shares this view.

Israel could retaliate if it wants. But is it going to add the five fighter-bombers that it could get into the area to the hundreds that the US already has there? What would be the point except to validate the argument Iran's leadership makes firstly to its own people and also to the rest of the region that it is the victim of an attack on Islam by the West that uses Israel as a focal point? Any Israeli response to Iran's attack just would not figure into Iranian calculations.

I don't expect an attack. But if there was to be an attack I expect the sequence to be:

  1. Major US strike on Iranian targets that looks like the opening airstrikes of the 1991 Gulf War. Probably hitting at least some highly sympathetic targets like children's hospitals and things. Several thousand Iranian civilian deaths.
  2. Major Iranian attack on US targets in the region plus Israel. Iran is aiming for at least five hundred dead US soldiers. If it gets lucky it could beat that substantially.
  3. US control of Iranian airspace. Communications targets in Iran taken out, severely limiting, but not destroying Tehran's ability to issue orders throughout the country.
  4. Iran periodically launching missiles from Iranian territory to various targets. Iran's leadership decentralizing with local republican guards killing any prospective collaborators.
  5. A substantial ramping up of attacks on US troops in Iraq and in Afghanistan rendering the US troops in both countries unable to protect themselves at current manpower levels.
  6. The US either begins a draft, to watch an anti-war candidates win by landslides until the US leaves the region or skips that step and just leaves the region.

The Chronicle presents arguments that Iraqis would not increase their attacks on Americans after a bombing that strike me as delusional. The people in Basra don't like Iran? Does that mean that the ruling Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (later cosmetically renamed SIIC?) does not like the product of the Islamic Revolution in Iran? Or does it mean they'll turn to Sadr, who in a press conference in Tehran, asked by an Iranian military officer two years ago how he would respond to an attack on Iran said that his Mahdi Army is an army not just for Iraq but for all of Islam and that he'd retaliate for an attack? Or does it mean they'll listen to Sistani - who turned down Iraqi citizenship saying he was born an Iranian, he will die an Iranian?

Please don't let anyone tell you that any large group of native Iraqis, even the Sunnis, like the Americans more than they like the Iranians. Anyway, Iran does not have to order attacks to increase. Iran can just stop ordering the recipients of its arms not to use them on Americans, which Iran is doing now just for the purpose of keeping a deterrent reserve.

I don't see the US actually committing ground troops to invade Iran at any point. Iran will try its hardest to provoke the Americans to come in though. I also don't see the US withstanding the increased casualties in Iraq and remaining there for two years after the attack. Iran would be able to declare Mission Accomplished relatively quickly. This would not be an 8 year Iran/Iraq war.

When the issue is resolved, Iran is certainly going to be in a far stronger position in the Middle East than it is today. It will rebuild Tehran. Hussein rebuilt Baghdad under a degree of sanctions that the US will never get for Iran. An attack would also eventually put an unbearable amount of stress on the US relationship with Israel.

An observation is that there is no policy the US can undertake to regain the dominance of the Middle East it had in 2002. The US choices are between a slow slide and a fast slide out of power in the region. Not only does a slow slide prolong the benefits the US currently gets from dominance of the region, but it gives time for unexpected events that may be favorable to the US to occur.

The difference is so great between the expected outcomes of slow slide policies versus fast slide policies such as bombing that no plausible US strategic community could enact fast slide policies. The US can talk about a fast-slide policy like attacking Iran. And it can hope Iran and other audiences such as Europe, Russia, China and Gulf States feel pressure from that talk. But to actually bomb Iran would require the United States to be a different country than it is.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Israel to Blame For Iraq Mess

I've come across a well argued essay titled "Israel not to Blame for Iraq Mess"

There are a number of plausible explanations, ranging from control of the country's oil resources to strategic interests to ideological motivations. One explanation that should not be taken seriously, however, is the assertion that the right-wing government of Israel and its American supporters played a major role in leading the US to invade Iraq.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its supporters in the United States deserve blame for many tragic policies in recent years that have led to needless human suffering, increased extremism in the Islamic world, decreased security, and rampant violations of the United Nations Charter, international humanitarian law, and other international legal principles. The US invasion of Iraq, however, is not one of them.

Responding to this essay is a good place for me to put to paper my thoughts about the motivations, limits and impact on the US of its support for Israel.

I do not believe that the prime minister of Israel can call either the president of the US or anyone else in the US and dictate foreign policy. Instead the acceptance of Israel as a strategic liability puts constraints on US policy. Advancing other US interests subject to those constraints requires costly policies that otherwise would not be necessary. The invasion of Iraq is an example of such a policy.

We'll come back, but first the motivations of US support for Israel. If I was to use the bluntest terms, US and Western support for Israel is motivated by racism. The same racism that led to US support for apartheid forty years ago. In less blunt terms, I'd instead say tribalism and a deeper empathy for the Jews of the region - who are represented in the minds of Americans by European Jews - than for the Arabs.

Of course Arab and Muslim support for the Palestinians is similar. I hope nobody would argue that Iran is trying to accomplish any rational strategic goal by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran supports them because generally in Iranian society, that is felt to be the right thing to do. Iran could end the sanctions today by agreeing to pursue the Shah's foreign policy. Iran does not pursue the same foreign policies as the Shah because of a societal feeling that it would be wrong that overrules any vulgar quest for resources.

The feeling that supporting the Palestinians against Israel is more important than maximizing resources is shared, but in a stronger form, in the societies of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. So the US, as long as it supports Israel must forever prevent leaders from coming to power in those countries who would be responsive to their own societies' perception of the region.

Not to spend too much time here, but Nigeria and Ghana opposed apartheid because of racism. The US and England supported apartheid because of racism. Were they both equally wrong? Well the side that called for one person-one vote was objectively right. At least objectively consistent with liberal ideals that do not accept racism as a valid motivating factor.

Those who can accept that Iran supports the Palestinians for emotional reasons hopefully can accept that the US supports the Jews for emotional reasons. This does not requires a Jewish conspiracy or Jewish control of anything.

Limits. Iran would not give up its state for opposition to Israel. If regime change seemed to be the only alternative, Iran would recognize Israel as the lessor of two evils. But if Iran believes it can accomplish both survival and doing what it emotionally feels is right it will try for both. The United States is not going to deliberately become England for Israel. The United States will not allow the Saudis to enter a client relationship with Russia for Israel. Nor will it commit to a permanent opposed occupation of Iraq for Israel. But if the costs are smaller, even if they are real, the US will accept the costs.

To look at the impact of support for Israel the question to be posed is what would the Middle East look like without Israel, from a US strategic point of view. The US has a strategic interest in preventing a single power from having secure control of the Middle East. The US prefers some form of balance between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq so that none is able to dictate the terms of access to oil to the industrial world.

A single state with a near monopoly of power in that region would still sell oil, but might offer preferential access to the highest bidder. And the highest bidder could in theory be China, or maybe a coalition including some or all of Russia, China, Japan, India and/or countries in Europe.

The formation of such a regional power is a long-term theoretical threat to the US position as a world power.

For the emotional reasons above, a regional power of this type would not tolerate a Jewish state formed by displacing Muslims or Arabs and would easily correct that situation with, at best for Israel, an imposed one person one vote non-Jewish-state settlement to the dispute.

Israel works to prevent the formation of a regional monopoly power. In that respect its interests are aligned with the United States. For example Israel bombed Osirak to prevent Iraq from being able to threaten Israel and at the same time it ensured Iraq would not threaten a weak Saudi Arabia.

A balance of power is a US interest independent of Israel. Israel though, adds the constraint that it must be a balance of very weak powers. That is an expensive new constraint added by Israel.

A balance like that between Brazil, Argentina and Chile, between France, Germany and England or between Taiwan, the Koreas and Japan would be intolerable for Israel in the Middle East (meaning between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran) because any of the countries named could and would, while balanced with each other, make it unviable for Israel to remain a Jewish state.

A balance of powers could have been accomplished without an invasion of Iraq. A balance of powers could be accomplished without the expensive current attempt to economically isolate Iran.

A balance of very weak powers. Subject to the constraint that none of the powers is strong enough to threaten Israel is much more expensive to emplace and maintain. The US does it for emotional reasons, but will stop when the costs become too high. But the cost of maintaining that constraint is part of the cost of US support for Israel.

US policy in the Middle East is driven by oil and the strategic implications of a large amount of that resource that is concentrated in the region. But the US has accepted, for reasons that have nothing to do with pure strategy, a strategic priority in protecting Israel's status as a Jewish state that imposes heavy and costly constraints on that policy.

That constraint that the balance of powers in the Middle East must be a balance of very weak powers that cannot threaten Israel is what made the invasion and destruction of Iraq a strategic necessity. It also makes support for authoritarian dictators in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Jordan a strategic necessity, contrary to US founding ideals. Sharon didn't have to make a phone call, the Israeli lobby didn't have to dictate anything. There was no need for a media conspiracy.

But Israel is the reason the United States is engaging in the trillion dollar destruction of Iraq.

Israel was Against the Invasion of Iraq Before It Was For It

I've read the story that Israel secretly opposed the US invasion of Iraq on the grounds that it would be a distraction from containing Iran.

The most in detailed report I've come across is Gareth Porter's.

Israeli defense minister Fouad Ben-Eliezer, who was visiting Washington with Sharon, revealed the essence of the strategic differences between Jerusalem and Washington over military force. He was quoted by the Post as saying, "Today, everybody is busy with Iraq. Iraq is a problem ... But you should understand, if you ask me, today Iran is more dangerous than Iraq."

Sharon, who was incapacitated by a stroke last year, never revealed publicly what he said to Bush in the February 7 meeting. But Yossi Alpher, a former adviser to prime minister Ehud Barak, wrote in an article in The Forward last January that Sharon advised Bush not to occupy Iraq, according to a knowledgeable source. Alpher wrote that Sharon also assured Bush that Israel would not "push one way or another" regarding his plan to take down Saddam.

I'm not sure what Sharon's proposed alternative was at the time, according to this story. Did he really advocate that the US allow sanctions to erode with Hussein remaining in power and rebuild Iraq as a strategic threat to Israel?

That doesn't seem to me to make sense. My feeling is that this secret opposition would have remained secret if the US had successfully installed Chalabi as Iraq's Mubarak, Musharraf, Abdullah or Abdullah. In 2002 and 2003 I thought the US might well be able to do that. The cost would have been high, but it did not seem to me at the time to be impossible. I'm sure Washington shared that assessment and I can't see why Jerusalem would not have shared it.

Now, in hindsight, it seems that turning Iraq into another pro-US regional state was impossible all along. A huge, and probably primary factor in rendering it impossible is that Iran is willing and able to support the Iraqis in resisting a US attempt to install a Shah of Iraq.

At the time, not only was Sharon publicly a supporter of the war, every single public pro-Zionism political voice that I remember favored the war. The reason pro-Zionist commentators supported the war is because killing hundreds of thousands or millions or Iraqis to install an Iraqi Shah may be bad for Iraq, it may be costly for the United States, but it would be unarguably good for Israel.

Now that a Shah of Iraq is impossible, continuing the occupation and arming all sides of various civil wars until the country disintegrates to a state that cannot threaten Israel is bad for Iraqis, costly for the US but unarguably good for Israel. That seems to be the US effective policy today.

While I'm here, I'll also link to Olmert's post invasion support for the endeavor.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised eyebrows this week when he praised America’s war in Iraq as a “great operation” that brought stability to the Middle East.

... ... ...

"We are very much impressed and encouraged by the stability which the great operation of America in Iraq brought to the Middle East," Olmert said as he sat next to Bush in the Oval Office.

This is the elected prime minister of Israel speaking. He shouldn't have to say it. A smarter Israeli prime minister would not have said it, but of course the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq are good for Israel, especially compared to the alternative.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Doubts About Peak Oil

I read the term "peak oil" again and again. There are certain concepts that remind me of the hysteria around Y2K in late 1999. There was no arguing against it. We just had to wait. The supposedly imminent US or Israeli bombing attack on Iran that has been months away for years now is one example of a concept that gives me that feel. "Peak Oil" is another example.

Of course, the peak of available oil was the day before the first oil field was exploited. Since then, the amount of oil available has gone down continuously. So "peak" refers to some combination of technology and ease of extraction for oil and I think that is the point where this story that oil is going to run out soon goes wrong. Incidently, while this term "Peak Oil" seems new, the idea that oil would imminently run out has been coming and going for decades.

Technology advances exponentially. Period. That is a counter-intuitive concept but it is a lot more correct than either the Malthusian or the Peak Oil position that technology increases linearly while demand increases exponentially.

Moore's Law for microchip circuitry is an interesting example of technology advance. And semiconductor circuitry is a good candidate for the initial discovery of a more general technological Moore's Law because the generational cycle of semiconductors is so short. That cycle is viewable many times in a single person's career.

How it has worked has been that the amount of brainpower needed to double the amount of transistors on a single chip in a given time has gone up since the 1960's. But the amount of brainpower the world has been willing and able to allocate to transistors has also increased. So that it takes more to double the transistors in 24 months now than it did in 1975, but the necessary resources are available and will be devoted to that task.

How much brainpower will it take to double the efficiency or yield of oil extraction? Oil extraction technology does not cycle nearly as quickly or smoothly as semiconductor transistor technology, but the same basic process is in place. There are plenty of resources to train and allocate problem solvers of different types to the problem.

Increased demand from the developing world, starting with China and India, are going to increase the price of oil for the foreseeable future. But a point where the dynamics of the industry changes? A point where large supplies of oil go off line at or near the same time? That seems like just another hysterical position that cannot be argued with but that time will prove false.

No OPEC Production Increase

The single best indicator harmony in the Saudi-US relationship is Saudi Arabia's oil production policy. That is also the single best indicator of disharmony between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

As a subordinate state to the US, Saudi Arabia delivers two products. The most important is a muted opposition to Israel and the use of Saudi resources to advance Israel's regional aims and restrict Israel's opponents. Saudi funds used to arm Abbas for confrontation with Hamas is one example, funds used to support anti-Hezbollah parties in Lebanon is another. Saudi opposition to Nasser was a previous one, as was the Saudi funding of the mutually destructive Iran/Iraq war, as was the permission obtained by the US to use Saudi Arabia as a base to bomb and invade Iraq during and after the gulf war.

The second product given by the Saudis to the United States is low oil prices. The most effective thing Saudi Arabia, or anyone could do to limit Iran today would be to lower oil prices. Saudi Arabia can do that not only by increasing production, but also by striking a tone in its public statements that it believes the price should be lower.

In that context we see a quote from

In an interview with the Financial Times, Ali Naimi, the Saudi oil minister, said “there will be absolutely no discussion” by heads of states or their oil ministers on short-term supply and demand at the organisation’s summit, which will concentrate on with longer-term strategies of producers.

If someone was to ask what does Saudi Arabia get from its relationship with the United States, the answer is not much. But the Saudis are buffoons. An illustration of the power of a monarchal political system to make a laughing stock out of any nation or religious belief system.

Even as that is the case though, it is also clear that since the invasion of Iraq, Saudi Arabia is steadily becoming a less reliable ally of the United States.

Monday, November 12, 2007

But What About Democracy?

This is a short post to note the universal opposition to democracy in Pakistan exhibited by the entire spectrum of US political thought.

I've read liberal bloggers who say that China is really the foreign force with the most influence. I've read liberal bloggers who say cutting Musharraf off from US funds would be a form of interference in Pakistans politics.

I have not read the US liberal blogger who says the US should take the principled stance and refuse to support Pakistan's politicians unless they hold fair contested elections in which the people of Pakistan decide among the most popular contestants.

I have not read the US liberal blogger who calls for the US even publicly ask the Saudis to release Sharif so that he can participate in Pakistan's elections.

The chain reaction responsible for the abandonment of liberal ideals starts with Israel. Given that the US has and will continue to support Israel, the US will have to broadly and publicly support unpopular dictators such as the Abdullahs of Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Mubarak of Egypt, and also through its trade and technology policies, it must ensure that the Arab and Muslim worlds do not have access to technology comparable to Israel's access.

As the US takes these actions, the necessary manifestation of its support for Israel, broad portions of the populaces of Muslim countries will oppose the US and be sympathetic with violent opposition to the US. Not just Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but in every country with a population that fails to empathize with Israel's Jews more strongly than they do with Arabs - including Iraq and Pakistan.

The chain visibly reaches Pakistan when the US, and the entire US political spectrum, is unable to support democracy in Pakistan. The $10 billion the US has paid Musharraf over the last 7 years as a bribe to fight an unpopular war against Al-Qaeda is as much a cost of supporting Israel as the $15 or so billion the US injected directly into Israel's budget. The cost of the occupation of Iraq, maybe a trillion dollars when its all counted out is another cost of supporting Israel in opposition to the Muslim world.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

US Arguments Against Attacking Iran

Time magazine has published an article claiming tensions between the US and Iran, despite escalating rhetoric, is actually decreasing.

Rhetoric doesn't always match reality in the realm of foreign affairs, and in what may be a further sign that steps are being taken to dial down tensions with Iran, the U.S. military in Baghdad on Friday released nine Iranians in its custody — including two of the five nabbed in Irbil in January, who the U.S. had accused of being linked to Shi'ite militias fighting U.S. troops inside Iraq. There are indications that Tehran may also be acting to cool tensions with the U.S. in Iraq: U.S. officials say the number of deadly explosively-formed-penetrator roadside bombs arriving in Iraq from Iran has been halved between July and October. And while alarmists were quick to note the U.S. Navy's deployment of a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf off Iran's coast earlier this year, they have been largely mute as the two ships were replaced by a solo carrier in August.

Albert R. Hunt, with Bloomberg news, via International Herald Tribune goes much further, saying, based on apparently extensive interviews with experts, that any attack is unlikely.

The military, economic and political climate for action against Iran is infinitely less hospitable than it was five years ago, when the United States was preparing for war with Iraq. The prospects for an attack on Iran in the final 14 months of the administration are somewhere between slim and none.

... ... ...

Conversations with several Republican members of Congress, a couple current administration officials and former top national security advisers yield the same view. Indeed, it's not even clear the vice president is an advocate of action, as opposed to tough talk, on Iran.

... ... ...

In our system, a major military action of choice isn't done without a consensus, and certainly not in the final months of a presidency. That reality is being ignored by even otherwise smart analysts, like the economist David Hale, who predicted this week that if the Democrats win the election next November, the president will strike Iran before he leaves office.

The US has an incentive to claim it is willing to attack even if it is not planning on doing so. I've thought that this incentive was being played out for a long time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Pakistan, Terrorism, Dictatorships and the Global War Over the Legitimacy of Israel

Here is another excerpt from Musharraf's November 3, National Emergency speech:

Then, the madrasas which were engaged in extremism were ordered re-opened by the Court. We want to build madrasas. The government has a plan to construct 'Model' madrasas where the poorest children can go study, live with the finest standards. It is not the case that government is against madrasas. We want them in finest locations, with great education and living quarters. That is our plan being set in motion. But those madrasas where extremists are operating - those were reopened by the Court.

Terrorism is a tactic. The Global War Over Terrorism really is not a war against terrorism. Like the US war against Japan in the Pacific was not a war against naval surprise attacks. The US arming of PJAK and MEK to conduct terrorist operations against Iran (which tragically for US interests, spills over into Turkey) is not inconsistent with the US aims in the conflict. The hypocrisy stems solely from the misleading label the US applies.

The war against terrorism is really a war fought by the West, led by the US, against those that would use force, or condone the use of force to oppose Israel's continuation as a Jewish state. Pakistan is far from Israel, but it is nuclear-armed and it is able to harbor people like Osama Bin Laden. For those reasons, Pakistan is a part of the struggle over Israel's legitimacy.

It is often said that the Islamists are working to reestablish the caliphate and reconquer Spain. That is comparable to the charge that Zionists want to occupy all of the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. It is doubtable that they are even motivated by that in an abstract sense, but that is certainly not the current issue of dispute.

It is true that Saudis like Bin Laden and Egyptians like Zawahiri are working to overthrow the corrupt pro-US dictatorships in their countries. These governments are far more accomodating to Israel and thereby the US than their people want and the leaderships have turned their countries into laughing stocks throughout the Muslim world.

But this is only a matter dispute because of Israel. Without Israel, the West would not need to support corrupt dictatorships in order to persuade these countries to follow acceptable foreign policies. The West offers notably less support to non-Muslim corrupt dictatorships. Removing these dictatorships does not require a Caliphate any more than what Zionists really want, an area with a secure Jewish political majority, requires the conquest of the land from the Nile to the Euphrates.

It is sometimes said that the West is working to ensure that Muslim women don't have to wear veils. I hope nobody reading this takes that seriously. For like one thousandth of the cost of that, the West could stamp out genital mutilation. For the cost of this war, the West could probably eradicate malaria in Africa. I've spent two too many sentences refuting that idea already.

The issue of dispute between the West and the Muslim world is: Should there or should there not be a Jewish state in Palestine - given that establishing a Jewish state required the removal of Palestinians because they were not Jewish and maintaining a Jewish state requires preventing Palestinians from returning because they are not Jewish.

Nearly all Muslims think the answer is no. The West thinks the answer is yes. Those Muslims who think not only is the answer no, but the issue is worth fighting over are what the Western side of the conflict calls "Islamic extremists" or "violent extremists".

Musharraf's closing of madrasas, to later open "model madrasas", that teach a US approved curriculum is an tactic of the West in this fight over Israel's legitimacy. Musharraf, on behalf of the West, is hoping to win the argument by force.

Of course, this tactic can't work in the long run. As Putin says, fighting a people is pointless. But no democracy of people who do not accept Israel's legitimacy is going to close madrasas for teaching Israel's legitimacy is an issue worth fighting against. The US needs a dictatorship to do that.

In a well known blog post, a blogger dsquared, explained how he, against the overwhelming consensus at the time, predicted that the US would find no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It is appropriate to more than just the invasion of Iraq, but to the entire War Over the Legitimacy of Israel.

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

I was first made aware of this during an accounting class. We were discussing the subject of accounting for stock options at technology companies. There was a live debate on this subject at the time. One side (mainly technology companies and their lobbyists) held that stock option grants should not be treated as an expense on public policy grounds; treating them as an expense would discourage companies from granting them, and stock options were a vital compensation tool that incentivised performance, rewarded dynamism and innovation and created vast amounts of value for America and the world. ...

Our lecturer, in summing up the debate, made the not unreasonable point that if stock options really were a fantastic tool which unleashed the creative power in every employee, everyone would want to expense as many of them as possible, the better to boast about how innovative, empowered and fantastic they were. Since the tech companies' point of view appeared to be that if they were ever forced to account honestly for their option grants, they would quickly stop making them, this offered decent prima facie evidence that they weren't, really, all that fantastic.

Application to Iraq. The general principle that good ideas are not usually associated with lying like a rug about their true nature seems to have been pretty well confirmed. In particular, however, this principle sheds light on the now quite popular claim that "WMDs were only part of the story; the real priority was to liberate the Iraqis, which is something that every decent person would support".

Winning the war over the the legitimacy of Israel by force would require Musharraf-like dictatorships not only in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan where they are now. Winning the war requires the same throughout the entire Muslim world, including Pakistan, a new Shah in Iran, and beyond.

Mislabeling this conflict from a war over Israel's legitimacy into a war against terrorism as a tactic is deliberately designed to misdirect attention from both the scope and the implausibility of the endeavor. Deliberate misdirection is a key indicator of a set of policies that is inherently unworkable.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wait, Two Hundred Forty Pakistani Troops Were Captured?

This was kind of big news.

The soldiers, who were taken captive on Aug. 30 as their convoy traveled through South Waziristan near the Afghan border, were freed after talks between militants and tribal elders, army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said.

... ... ...

The militants killed three of the soldiers they abducted, and freed 26 others on Sept. 21.

The remaining 211 troops were released Sunday after the government freed 28 militants, some of whom were allegedly involved in suicide attacks, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make media comments.
Wait a second here. Which one is the regular army and which is the guerrillas?

I say again and again, there is no major dispute between Muslims and the West that does not boil down to the dispute over Israel.

Just a warning as the West contemplates forcibly containing the Islamist political organizations of Pakistan that the Pakistani people will suffer the most, but the West will suffer unnecessarily because of this also.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Problem With Coups

Musharraf, the pro-Western dictator of Pakistan, has declared a state of emergency and has begun removing all constitutional checks to his power. The Supreme Court of Pakistan apparently was preparing to render a verdict that he could not remain as president of the country and Musharraf will not tolerate this. This type of thing is always sad to see.

We have a translation of Musharraf's remarks at Here is some.

Let us move forward. How is the government functioning? In my view, it is in semi-paralysis, stricken. All of the senior representatives of the government are constantly going to the courts - especially to the Supreme Court. They are being giving sentences. They are being shamed publicly in the courts. Hence, they don't want to take any more decisions. At least 100 suo moto cases are currently running in the Supreme Court. And I am being told that thousands of applications are pending. And all of these suo moto cases are concerning the executive branch of the government. Functioning of the government is paralyzed at the moment.

Let us look at law enforcement agencies. In my view, they are demoralized - especially in Islamabad. They have given up hope. Why? Because their officers are being punished - same trips to the Supreme Court. Ten officers - including two Inspector Generals - are suspended or convicted. And so, we have a demoralized force with low morale, afraid to take any action. They don't want to do anything except sit with their arms crossed.

To hear Musharraf tell it, the Supreme Court is an evil group of people.

The US wanted a transition from Musharraf to Bhutto, with Bhutto winning the kind of stage-managed election without real competition that Abbas won. Nawaz Sharif, less pro-American, was expelled from the country. He was at least a threat to defeat Bhutto. I have not seen poll results, but I doubt anywhere in the Muslim world a more pro-American candidate, openly supported by and likely beholden to the West, can defeat a more religious candidate with comparable leadership credentials.

No matter though, the Saudis agreed to imprison Sharif to prevent him from competing against Bhutto. I'm sure the Bush administration along with the Saudis thought they were being clever. As Putin said, trying to fight a people is pointless. If Pakistan wants anti-American leadership, it is going to get anti-American leadership. If America makes the process harder, it only makes the ultimate leadership even more anti-American. (Same for Iraq of course. We saw what happened with Iran.)

In general, coups produce more talented leaders than inheritance. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Syria do not have the brain power to put together a coup. After the coup is over, the same talent leads to more effective pursuit of national interests. Coups that are accomplished using foreign help, for example that of Iran's shah can produce poor leaders but military coups very rarely do.

Military coups though, do not have the safety valve of term limits. I'm coming to the opinion that the single most important element in consistently effective national leadership is term limits. Term limits imply that the current leader is leaving and that there will be a contest for the successor.

The difference between a contest that is a semi-popular national election, as in the United States, or a party convention as in China is not an important one. What is important is that a large body of people starts the contest and there is a skill-based winnowing system from which the most talented at political maneuvering emerges in a position to take leadership.

Term limits imply a contest and a contest implies a talented winner, as long as external factors such as membership in a much smaller group, family relationships or foreign sponsorship are not a significant factor in determining the winner of the contest.

One problem with coups is that nobody in power wants to limit his term. Really, while coup planners have to be at least decent, they often are not the very best and there are often people who are going to beat them in any fair contest as soon as its established. Being in power feels very good. A leader of a country is constantly affirmed and his psyche constantly reinforced. Very few people, especially people desperate enough for power to break the law and risk death fighting the established order can give this up voluntarily.

Instead, coup leaders become Musharraf. They drift out of touch with the country and use force to maintain power.

Regarding Sharif, the Saudis never cared. They did what the United States told them to do. There is no bigger group of buffoons on the international scene. The Saudis are making it so that you can't even say the words "Sunni Islam" without laughing.

The United States did what it has to do. It can't just let the whole Muslim world come under leadership that is hostile to America just because of Israel. Much like breaking up Iraq is bad policy from a US perspective, trying to prevent a popular leader in Pakistan from taking power by installing a puppet is also bad policy. As usual, US interests will not be served by this. In the case of Iraq, Russia will be the long-term winner because of Turkey. In the case of Pakistan Iran, China and Russia and will benefit from Pakistan's surge towards anti-Americanism.

The West's Case Against Iran's Nuclear Program

From Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post, we get about as good a presentation as can be made justifying the US/Israeli/European campaign against Iran's nuclear program.

The presentation is deceptive in subtle ways but often makes statements that are right on the border between true and false. I'll point out what Hoagland calls his headline paragraph:

Iran is working to produce a 20-to-50-pound stockpile of enriched uranium that it can use to build atomic weapons within eight to 10 weeks, once it decides to do so -- and has consistently lied to the United Nations about those efforts.

A 20-to-50 pound stockpile of high enriched uranium could not be produced by Iran as long as Iran remains bound the non-proliferation treaty. Iran is certainly not working to produce that today, as Iran has produced no high enriched uranium. Hoagland doesn't say high enriched uranium, but also doesn't say low enriched uranium. This is the border between true and false statements.

What he means is Iran is working to produce a stockpile of low enriched uranium that could be further enriched to 20-to-50 pounds of high enriched uranium that could fuel an atomic weapon in 8 to 10 weeks after the IAEA learns of this plan. It is an important point that Iran would not be able to make high enriched uranium from its IAEA supervised stock of low enriched uranium in secret.

But "consistently lied about its efforts", is difficult to figure out. I'm not sure what specific lies Hoagland thinks he is talking about, but Iran quite openly is producing low enriched uranium. The problem is that Iran doesn't have to lie about producing low enriched uranium, even an amount that could be converted to 20-to-50 pounds of high enriched uranium because that's legal.

There is a wide-spread misconception of how the NPT works. The NPT is not a vow by non-weapons states to never produce weapons. It is a treaty of mutual information, where every signatory is assured that every other signatory is not, right now, diverting materials from a peaceful program to a military one. The NPT explicitly gives nations the right to leave the treaty at which point other nations can no longer be assured that no material is being diverted to weapons.

The US would like more assurances from the non-weapons states, especially rivals of Israel. Specifically the US would like a vow to never build or have the ability to build weapons from some of these states. But on that subject, the non-weapons states have some extra steps they'd love to see the US take. For example, the treaty requires good faith negotiations between the weapons states to fully disarm. A lot of states would probably like to see that happen.

Moving on to another component of the presentation:

Held over the course of this year in Europe, China and Russia, these unofficial traveling seminars provide a snapshot of international reaction to the unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons and to the threats by President Bush and Vice President Cheney to prevent that from happening.

"Unmistakable effort to develop nuclear weapons"? But the first paragraph said nuclear weapons would come 8-10 weeks after Iran decides to build them. That implies, consistent with the position of every informed commentator who has spoken directly on this issue, that there is no evidence that Iran has, yet decided to build weapons. Building nuclear weapons would require taking LEU stockpiles away from IAEA supervision and effectively leaving the NPT. There is not only no evidence that Iran plans to do so, I have yet to see an argument under plausible circumstances that Iran would ever have any reason to do so.

This is the single most popular deceptive practice used in attacking Iran's nuclear program. A stockpile of low enriched uranium is not a weapon. There is an unmistakeable effort to develop low enriched uranium, that Iran is open about and that is legal. Hoagland, along with Rice and other opponents of Iran's program deliberately slide from one concept to the other, hoping to mislead a less informed audience that often misses it.

More from Hoagland:

This is one basic that Bush critics frequently overlook -- in part because it gets lost in the overheated "World War III" rhetoric of the president: The IAEA and the U.N. Security Council have determined that Iran has lied about its nuclear activities and has therefore at least temporarily forfeited its right to enrichment for peaceful purposes. That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.

The forfeiture of the right to enrich uranium is an invention of US State Department lawyers. There is no clause that says or implies that in the NPT. Also, the right to enrich uranium does not come from the NPT. Israel, Pakistan and India have the right to enrich uranium without being signatories as a sovereign right to technology. The NPT explicitly does not rescind that right but that, by the terms of the NPT, is not subject to forfeiture.

The IAEA has never suggested that Iran did not have the right to enrich uranium for any amount of time. It is interesting what the IAEA did say. It said that in the context of voluntary and non-legally binding steps Iran could take to create an environment of openness and trust, creating such an environment requires a suspension and other steps such as Iran ratifying the additional protocols of the NPT.

The security council has imposed a requirement on Iran that it suspend enrichment indefinitely. That effectively would give the United States a permanent veto over Iranian enrichment, which the US can be expected to exercise until Iran is controlled by someone like the Shah (whose program to enrich uranium was supported by the United States). Iran rejects submitting its nuclear program to a US veto and the other members of the security council, so far, are clear that this requirement will not be enforced either militarily or through broad sanctions.

Iran's rejection of the security council resolutions as at least arguably reasonable. The security council would have at least as much justification in demanding Israel ratify the NPT as it has in demanding Iran to ratify the additional protocols.

The argument against Iran's right to enrich uranium depends on a heavy dose of misdirection and taking advantage of the naivety of an uninformed audience.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Saudi Plan for Nuclear Enrichment

The Saudis have boggled my mind again.

"We have proposed a solution, which is to create a consortium for all users of enriched uranium in the Middle East," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Middle East Economic Digest (MEED).

"The U.S. is not involved, but I don't think it (would be) hostile to this, and it would resolve a main area of tension between the West and Iran," he told the London-based weekly.

"(We will) do it in a collective manner through a consortium that will distribute according to needs, give each plant its own necessary amount, and ensure no use of this enriched uranium for atomic weapons," Prince Saud said, according to MEED's Web site.

Prince Saud, speaking on Thursday during a visit to Britain, said Iran was considering the offer, which envisages building a plant in a neutral country.

"We believe it should be in a neutral country -- Switzerland, for instance," said Prince Saud. "Any plant in the Middle East that needs enriched uranium would get its quota. I don't think other Arab states would refuse. In fact ... other Arab countries have expressed a desire to be part of the proposal."

The amount of points this plan misses. This sounds like something a ten year old child would come up with. I can't see any way that a consortium in Switzerland is better than a consortium in Russia. I'm reaching the point where I don't explain Saudi actions in terms of strategy. They have a leadership cadre that just isn't bright or talented.

It is possible that there is more to this proposal though. Of course Iran is not going to suspend much less disavow permanently uranium enrichment on Iranian soil for this.