Sunday, June 28, 2009

How we know Iran's election was not decided by fraud

There are two ways to change the results of an election by fraud. Either the ballots are changed, or the tallies of ballots are changed. That's it. If ballots are not produced or removed fraudulently or the numbers reported in the final tally are not the numbers of actual counted ballots, then there was no election fraud.

Ahmadinejad's victory by over 10 million votes can only be fraudulent if either 10 million ballots were added to Ahmadinejad's roll or removed from his opponents' rolls or the numbers reported differ from the actual counted results by that amount. (Or some combination, perhaps 5 million one way and 5 the other.)

The problem with both scenarios is that Iran is widely reported to be in the midst of a factional power dispute with resourceful and influential groups on both sides. Creating 10 million ballots would mean weeks of full-time false ballot production by hundreds of people. Creating and distributing a number of ballots that could influence the election would involve too many people to be kept as a secret from some of the most powerful organizations in the country that oppose the declared victor in the election.

In the early aftermath of the election it was widely and falsely reported, including by US-aligned groups in Iran, that, contrary to Iran's normal practice, ballots were removed from local polling places and counted in secrecy. Now that better information is available, there is no indication that this happened. Instead tens of thousands of election observers from every campaign were present in almost all local polling places as the votes were counted.

There are tens of thousands of election officials who transmitted results to Tehran for their districts. For Mousavi to have won the local vote counts while Ahmadinejad won the centrally produced tally would require thousands of officials to know that they reported Mousavi victories while the Interior Ministry reported Ahmadinejad victories in their polling places. It is not plausible that out of these thousands of officials, every one has remained silent as at least dozens of Iranians died.

A massive vote producing operation would have been required to produce a result-altering amount of votes. Also a massive conspiracy of tens of thousands of local election officials, each with decisive information that bears on a current national factional power-struggle, would be required for enough votes to be changed by fraud after they were counted. Either of these massive frauds would have left traces that would have been detected, if not by foreigners or by college students, at least by the very powerful and resourceful faction in Iranian politics that openly and vehemently opposes Ahmadinejad.

Evidence presented for election fraud really should be embarrassing to those that purvey it at this point. There is (paraphrasing) "these result are different from what I expected" that Juan Cole is still presenting as authoritative proof of fraud. Two weeks after the election "evidence" of that form is not worthy of a response. It wasn't worthy two days after the election.

Then there is the argument that Iran's response to the protests somehow is evidence that the election was fraudulent.

This is a mind-boggling argument. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people took to the streets on the basis of rumors, at least with foreign support, if not foreign direction, with the stated intention of removing the government from power. The argument is something like governments only put demonstrations of this type down after false elections. That argument is also ridiculous on its face.

There is the argument that unless there is fraud it is not possible to convince large amounts of people to buy into an atmosphere of rumor and distrust. People seriously make that argument. Once again, it strikes me as an argument that could only be presented with a straight face by someone whose perception is distorted by some emotional bias. Elections are intense times and if a losing candidate says publicly that he does not accept election results, the candidate's supporters will support him. That is what supporters do. Anywhere in the world. Fraud or no fraud.

But for both of the two ways result-changing fraud could have happened in Iran, fabricated ballots or Iran's Interior Ministry ignoring the results transmitted by the localities, there is enough information available now to render each implausible. Ahmadinejad's victory was determined by his getting more votes from Iranians, not by some mysterious and still-unknown plot to steal the election.

The Tehran Bureau: Possibly ground zero for the key lie that fueled Iran's election dispute

By Saturday after the Friday June 12 Iranian election, a story had begun to spread widely that instead of counting votes as usual, Iranian Interior Ministry personnel took the ballots away from the polling stations to count at secret central locations.

Perhaps I remember incorrectly, but if memory serves, Juan Cole directly referenced and linked to the Tehran Bureau report to advance the scenario he invented in which Khamenei panicked at seeing positive results for Mousavi and in a few hours executed a clumsy fraud in which none of the votes were actually counted.

The report has been removed from the Tehran Bureau website.

Links originating with that report are still plentiful on the internet.

By Saturday evening, the shock and disbelief had given way to anger that slowly turned into palpable moral outrage over what came to be believed as the theft of their election. The proof was right in the village: “Interior Ministry officials came from Shiraz, sealed the ballot boxes, and took then away even before the end of voting at 9 pm,” said Jalal. In all previous elections, a committee comprised of representative from each political faction had counted and certified the results right in the village. The unexpected change in procedures caught village monitors off guard, as it did everywhere else in the country.

This is just a complete fabrication, and one that deserves a closer look. As post election lies go, this one, dropped seemingly off-hand in an article about a different subject, was brilliantly conceived. It is very compelling, superficially easy to accept when presented confidently and difficult to disprove in a short time, as any witnesses could be from one of the few places where the votes were not removed. But without further proof, it makes the wildest and most outlandish election fraud scenarios seem possible, like Cole's scenario that Khamenei was so confident of an Ahmadinejad victory and also so terrified of a Mousavi victory that he had to put an entire fraud of 10s of millions votes into place between when he got the first results of Mousavi leading and the announcement of the results later that day.

The report that voting procedures were changed anywhere, much less "everywhere else in the country" of course has not been confirmed by any reliable information source. But further than that, Mousavi submitted a list of election irregularities that he claims invalidate the election. That list includes that Ahmadinejad made statements about himself and about Mr. Rafsanjani during the debate. The list includes that the Interior Ministry announced that Ahmadinejad had an insurmountable lead before the last votes had been counted (though by that point if all remaining ballots had gone to Mousavi, Ahmadinejad still would have won). But the list of irregularities does not include this claim that any ballots anywhere were removed from the polling station contrary to usual practice.

Mousavi had 40,000 election observers. (Google Translate can render the text in English.) None of them reported that ballots were removed. None of them reported any irregularity of enough substance to make it to Mousavi's report. Instead Mousavi reported that Ahmadinejad had an unfair advantage because the state-run media favored him.

So given that there is no indication that votes were processed irregularly, when there would be such indications if widespread irregularities existed, the Tehran Bureau report seems like part of a deliberate, and professionally pre-planned disinformation campaign. The Tehran Bureau is also the source of the, since widely repudiated, "straight line" argument that Iran's election results must have been fabricated. The Tehran Bureau is a US-based Harvard University affiliated institution that looks like it played a critical role in creating the atmosphere of rumor and suspicion that fueled the initial protests and the international response to those protests.

It lends credence to the idea that though the Obama administration made the correct tactical decision to refrain from publicly supporting the protesters as the protests were gathering steam, that well known Bush-era destabilization policies were not halted under Obama, but continued at least through the aftermath of Iran's June election.

Post election US Iran nuclear policy comes into view

US policy, from Bush's term, and even previous to the beginning of Iran's current regime, has been that Iran must be prevented not only from having a weapon, but from having the capability to create a weapon.

This position, at least in terms of the legal responsibilities and guarantees of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has always been indefensible and is just as "ridiculous" now as it was on June 10 when John Kerry seemingly repudiated the Bush position.

While Susan Rice, Obama's Ambassador to the UN has used this "capacity" as opposed to "weapons" language before, her using it now after Kerry's repudiation of it and after the election indicates that US policy has reverted to the Bush policy.

Iranian factions that are more distrustful of the US may conclude that US policy never changed, but instead Barack Obama's job is to lie to Iranians and to the Muslim world in public, luring them into lowering their defenses, while in secret the US continues the same policies, including policies aimed at destabilizing Iran that were pursued by George W. Bush.

Talks without preconditions are not a step forward in resolving the nuclear dispute unless the US has changed its position and is willing to allow enrichment on Iranian soil. Susan Rice seems to indicate that the US perceives the post-election protests to show that there is division in Iran that the US may be able to exploit to accomplish Bush's objective of Iran giving up enrichment.

"Something extraordinary has happened of late in Iran, and the popular discontent, the incredible diversity of the coalition that has come together to demand change, from women to the elderly to youth, the very religious to the more secular, has been quite extraordinary."

It really is not that extraordinary that the supporters of the side of an election that lost could be convinced without any material evidence that they really won, or that the anger from this supposedly stolen victory could lead to large demonstrations.

But beyond being an incorrect reading of the meaning of the protests, if this misreading leads the US to take a more hard-line position on Iran's nuclear program, it will be to the detriment of both Iran's people and the US.

Iran has calculated for a while that if there is to be a confrontation with the US over its nuclear program, Iran will win, even though Iran will have to endure difficulty before it is over. The election has not changed that calculation.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hopefully a wrap up of my thoughts on Iran's election

I say hopeful because, if there are further events to discuss, they will not be good for Iran.

I want to be clear up front that I am in favor of change in Iran and think there are policies of Iran's government that are wrong both morally in respect to its citizens and also in practical terms as in they prevent Iran from being as powerful as I'd like it to be.

I am not a regime supporter on the basis of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

But it seems plausible to me that Ahmadinejad won. The reports of the three million votes came with the explanation that they were the result of people voting away from their home district, which seems plausible in a very-high turnout election. I think it is possible that Ahmadinejad won the debates, despite the effect they had of turning those who oppose Ahmadinejad further against him, and Rafsanjani's letter against him may have made the aftermath of the debates more favorable to him still.

So there are protesters against Ahmadinejad and in favor of Mousavi. Walter Mondale lost a landslide election to Ronald Reagan in the United States in 1984. There was a large number of people who supported Mondale, enough to cripple the country if they organized together to do so. That did not mean they were the majority. I do not believe Mousavi supporters or protesters are the majority of the country.

The reports of Mousavi's claims of irregularities seem unconvincing to me. In his public complaint to the Guardian Council he did not claim that none of the votes were counted or that all local-based counting was suspended and even if he doesn't trust the Guardian Council, that was a place to give his best explanation of what exactly he believes went wrong with the election, why he does not trust it.

I feel that Mousavi is acting very irresponsibly, and that Mondale, in similar circumstances could have acted the same and gotten his supporters, especially his core supporters worked up enough that they would risk their lives, essentially for nothing, but Mondale could claim it is for fundamental change in the government or society or something.

If Mondale did that, I would wonder if he had some organized outside backing, but in Mousavi's case it could well be that his only backing is Rafsanjani and that faction, or it could well be that it is Mousavi's own ego driving this. Or it is possible, I don't claim and don't necessarily believe that it is driven by the US or Western influences. But there are signs that Mousavi's tactics are similar to tactics of previous US-sponsored revolutions. But that could be coincidence. I don't think there is necessarily the connection.

But by design or accident, Mousavi's actions from the day of the vote until today have been exactly what the US would have ordered to get the most possible destabilization of Iran out of the election. There is nothing a party interested in harming Iran could have asked Mousavi to do that Mousavi has not done. There are many things Mousavi could have done, if he was primarily motivated by a genuine concern that there had been electoral fraud that he has not done. In my opinion, Mousavi has joined the Shah and Sadat as great betrayers of the interests of their people. Hopefully, unlike the Shah and Sadat, the damage Mousavi does will be contained.

I thought Mondale's supporters were right, and Reagan was a bad guy. I think Mousavi's supporters have a lot of valid criticisms of Iran's government.

I think Iran's government takes enough input a wide enough swathe of Iranian society that it is capable of change internally, and I do not see indications that Mousavi is more committed to the democratic process than Khomeini was. Khomeini could have transformed Iran into a hereditary dictatorship with no restraints from an elected Assembly of Experts and no input from Iran's people and did not because he felt it would have been religiously wrong to do so. I don't know that I would have trusted Khomeini to do that, but I don't trust Mousavi to do that. I see a Musharraf or Mubarak scenario, of ad-hoc usurpations of power and indefinite suspensions of any limitations on his office as more probable than voluntarily imposing limits on himself under Mousavi if he ever attains power.

To Mondale and Mousavi supporters I say, the vote indicates that you really do not have the popular support to win an election, much less complete a revolution.

Does Iran have a consensus behind a "go west" strategy as opposed to a "go east" strategy? No. If it did, Iran would go west. There is also no national consensus around relaxing religious restrictions, which I think is wrong but Iranians have to be convinced, and I'm sure the pro-Mousavi protests are not the way to convince them.

There is a consensus around reducing corruption, but Ahmadinejad and Mousavi both say they support that. Iran could easily believe Ahmadinejad, the one who carries his lunch from home to work and who very bravely named Rafsanjani by name, saying what a lot of people already knew but wouldn't say in public, is the best candidate to fight corruption.

By my understanding a major motivation behind Rafsanjani's support for a go west strategy is that he would benefit from it personally.

So those are my views on Iran's election and the situation today. I don't see a point in further protests. I expect a general strike to fizzle out, if it is really launched. I mourn all of the deaths. I wish they had not happened and consider them naive sacrifices to either Mousavi's ego or the forces behind Mousavi that I do not consider good, if they are the Western conspiracies or Rafsanjani.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

My agreements with Iran's protesters

Iran's government is in need of reform. And as thankful as I am that there is at least one country in the region that is not either directly occupied by the US or ruled by a pro-US stooge dictator, Iran would be even more effective at standing for the values of its citizens if it offered its people more freedom.

A large amount of Iran's wealth is taken out of its normal economy and redirected towards people and groups with ties to the Iranian government. If I could make one reform in Iran, it would be that this corruption would be cleaned up.

On the issue of the economy, we do have to remember that the US is working as diligently as it can, even under Obama, to hamper Iran's economic growth because US policy-makers correctly see a wealthy but still independent Iran as a strategic threat to Israel. Even countries that at the moment are reliably under US control, Egypt for example, have Western-imposed limits on their access to technology for this reason.

Any independent Iranian government would face economic hostility from the West and it is only partially fair to put the responsibility of every economic shortcoming in Iran on the shoulders of Iran's present regime.

So given that Iran will necessarily be confronted by richer nations that have an interest in keeping Iran poor, it is all the more important that opportunities be spread evenly to the people with the most talent, instead of distorting the economy in favor of those with family in religious or government positions.

Iran is also a country with a large Muslim population. Religious people have a tendency to want their religious views reflected by their government. Iran should and must do a much better job allowing every Iranian to make his or her own personal decisions regarding religion.

Iran's government does, in its constitution and the statements of its leaders, show respect for the institution of voting. Somehow Iran has to come up with a way to produce candidates for office that is open to all Iranian viewpoints but it not subject to foreign manipulation the way the elections of 1953 were. That is a hard problem to solve. The current system where all candidates are vetted by the Guardian Council is in need of major improvements. I'm not sure what specific improvements to suggest though, because there are a lot of resources that would be devoted to installing a new Shah if it was possible.

I'm writing this to be clear that I do not believe the current Iranian regime is beyond reproach, or that I'll always support it because it is the enemy of my enemy. But in a fundamental way, my opinions on Iran's government cannot supercede the views of the Iranian people.

While I do believe Iran's government has many problems and there are a lot of areas that it should reform, I do not want to see Iran's government replaced either by chaos or by one of the region's usual stooge dictatorships. I was worried at points during the election dispute that the road might have lead to one of those outcomes, worse than Iran's current situation.

Serious and not-serious ways we know the conflict in Iran is ending

The serious news, and probably the most decisive piece of news about the election since the returns were announced, Iran's elected Assembly of Experts, chaired by Heshemi Rafsanjani, has issued a statement backing the reported results of the election. (Google translation)

Edit: The previous links have gone down. The report also apparently was not signed by Rafsanjani, but by his deputy on the Assembly. It is still presented as a report of the Assembly of Experts, and still renders it implausible that there are reasonable and unexplainable indications of major fraud in the election as in that case the Assembly could and would have taken much stronger action against Ahmadinejad and any other guilty parties. New link here.

In a statement issued on Saturday the Assembly of Experts expressed its “strong support” for the Supreme Leader’s statements on the presidential elections on Friday.

The 86-member assembly stated in the statement that it is hoped that the nation would realize the current condition and by sticking to the Leader’s guidelines preserve their patience and manifest their unity.

That means in every meaningful way of this conflict is over for two reasons. First it is now unreasonable to entertain the idea that the election results were fabricated from whole-cloth by Iran's Ministry of the Interior on orders from either Ahmadinejad (which had always been impossible as Ahmadinejad never had enough authority on his own) or by Khamenei.

There is no precedent in Iranian politics that the politician who personally insults the chair of the Assembly of Experts, saying he and his family are corrupt, must be allowed to concoct a vote count in his own favor. Ahmadinejad's statement during his debate with Mousavi that Mousavi is supported by people who have used government to enrich themselves and their families was a tremendous breach of protocol. One that Khamenei spoke against directly during his Friday speech. A breach of protocol on a scale that it caused Rafsanjani, who until then had not publicly been involved in the campaign, to write a letter of complaint to Khamenei.

Iran's Assembly of Experts, an elected body with the constitutional duty to oversee the performance of Iran's Supreme Leader, up to and including dismissing the Supreme Leader if necessary, has the resources to give all claims of fraud a fair but informed and resourceful hearing.

It is just not plausible that Khamenei or anyone else gave an instruction to make up the results of the entire election in a way that the Assembly of Experts would be unable to detect. And it is not plausible that if the Assembly of Experts had any indication of fraud, if there were any questions that did not have reasonable answers, that the Assembly of Experts would have validated the election of the person who insulted its chair.

Not only did the Assembly have the option of remaining silent, it had the option of replacing the Supreme Leader with one who would call for a revote if necessary. Actively issuing a statement supportive of the results of the election closes the case. I am now comfortable describing the protesters as representative of a minority viewpoint in Iran.

The protesters are still articulate, still passionate and still numerous. But the protesters are not a majority of Iranian society. And Mousavi's supporters did not outvote Ahmadinejad's.

The second reason the conflict is over is that there is no longer institutional support for the protesters. Mousavi can serve as a focal point for protest, though he has toned down his opposition, and as long as he remains within boundaries acceptable to the state, he will not be able to lead a movement against the state.

The protesters need at least some source of established and organized resources to propel their movement and will not get one since Rafsanjani, up to now their best hope and whose children had reportedly attended rallies, is unable to support the theory that Mousavi was the true winner of the election.

The Assembly of Experts report means the protesters are now left to prove things everyone already knows. There are a lot of Mousavi supporters. A lot of people together could take mass action that would disrupt normal life in their society. The government will act with force if necessary to prevent mass action that would disrupt normal life. None of these things requires street demonstrations to prove, but there is nothing more street demonstrations can prove in Iran at this point.

Walter Mondale lost a landslide election to Ronald Reagan in 1984. There were enough Mondale supporters though, to seriously disrupt the day-to-day function of the US government and society if they had wanted to do so and organized to do so. After the election, it would have been tragic for young Mondale supporters to put their lives on the line to protest Reagan's stolen victory. Because they would have accomplished dying. But they would not have gotten a new election held, much less put Mondale into power.

The less serious news is that US President Barack Obama now has decided that he can give the protesters a little support.

The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching. We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.

Obama until now had remained publicly neutral because he understands that a statement in support of the protesters is far more likely to discredit them than to inspire them. As it has become clear that there is nothing left to lose, Obama is now free to speak to his domestic audience that wants the US president to openly take the side of protest against Ahmadinejad's government.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seven points about Iran's situation

1- I have nothing against Mousavi. If he really got the most votes, I hope he takes the office of President. I preferred Mousavi to Ahmadinejad before the election because his election would have made it harder for anti-Iranian factions of the US to demonize the country. The ultimate issue is that the people of Iran have the right to vote for Ahmadinejad if they choose, regardless of my preference.

2- Supporters of losing candidates are very easy to convince of foul-play and conspiracies, all over the world. I'm completely unimpressed by a large demonstration of supporters of a candidate who is acknowledged to have gotten millions of votes. If McCain supporters believed "the world is watching" and sympathetic to rumors that Obama won by fraud, they could have gotten hundreds of thousands or millions of people to rally. That does not even hint at demonstrating that McCain actually got more votes or has more supporters. Same thing for Mousavi.

3- It is very irresponsible to make charges of fraud before there is any evidence beyond rumors, and it is even more irresponsible to lead protests at least apparently aimed at rendering the country ungovernable before there is solid evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.

4- So irresponsible that I worry about the motivation of a person that does this. I was worried, never convinced but worried, that Mousavi may be acting irresponsibly in a way that is coordinated with outsiders. I am less worried now since it is becoming clearer that Khamenei and Mousavi are coordinating.

5- There never has been presented an explanation of why Khamenei would have allowed Mousavi to run but stolen the election at the last minute. I say again and again, Mousavi winning the presidency, by itself, would not have threatened Khamenei's hold on power. Khamenei knows that a Mousavi presidency would have made Iran's foreign policy goals easier, not harder to reach.

6- Because there are major structural societal forces in Iran aligned with Mousavi, street protests strike me as redundant. When there is real evidence of election fraud, the election will be overturned by establishment factions that have nearly as much power as Khamenei but in that case would have the law and morality on their side. There is no question in my mind that in those circumstances, Rafsanjani's faction would win out, with or without student demonstrations. Unless there is a factor that we don't know about, such as the state having evidence of foreign intervention in the election process, in which case Khamanei probably would win, as he should.

7- An atmosphere of doubt and suspicion pervading over Iran benefits opponents of Iran. Even if there is fraud, this is a circumstance in which people who are not hostile to Iran can wait calmly for reliable information. It is difficult because emotions run high during and immediately after election campaigns, but everyone who cares about Iran should strive to do so.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Here's hoping Iran is not taking on its next Shah

Unless Rafsanjani has been bought out, I don't think the West is a major factor in the confrontation we're now seeing in Iran.

Khamenei, for all of his faults and all of the faults of the Iranian regime, is an idealist. He does believe in elections. The only reason he would have participated in a fraud would have been that between when Mousavi was vetted and when the results came in, he was made to believe that a Mousavi victory would threaten Iranian national security - possibly due to links between Mousavi and foreign powers.

If Khamenei was made to believe that, that does not mean it was necessarily true, and acting on such a belief, as we see now, could predictably have led to Iranian turmoil that favors interests hostile to Iran.

The problems we're seeing in Iran, we've never seen in the constellation of pro-US/Israeli dictatorships, because the Iranians are idealists who believe in elections, while the Jordanians openly disregard the wishes of their people in favor of the foreign US and Israeli powers that they are truly accountable to.

I shudder to think that Rafsanjani really is cynically positioning himself to be Iran's next Shah or Mubarak. Because if he is, Iran will from now on have no more electoral problems than the the Saudis, Jordanians, Abbas or Mubarak do, and this time Iran's dictator will carefully tame the clergy. CIA-aligned intelligence services are also far more efficient, and far less squeamish about applying brutality today than they were in 1979.

The biggest danger to Iran is that just as the West was able to find a weakness in Iran's electoral system in 1953, it has found one today, that is being exploited with the cynical and greed-based connivance of Mousavi and Rafsanjani and the naive connivance of many Iranian students and Western liberal and conservative spokespeople.

I hope this is not the case. I hope this is purely an internal struggle of Iranians determining what the proper balance of power in Iran should be moving forward.

At this point though, I'm slightly worried that Rafsanjani and Mousavi have reached understandings with powers hostile to Iran.

Trying to figure out what's going on in Iran

It is really difficult to see into Iran from outside, and the information that gets out seems terribly biased.

There are indications that there is a struggle going on, with Rafsanjani on one side and Khamenei on the other. I find it exceptionally difficult to identify Rafsanjani's side as the reformers, and while his side is the more articulate and the one which is expressing its views more passionately over the internet, I am not able to say that Rafsanjani's side is more popular.

I'm hopefully believing that the West is not a major factor in this confrontation. Iran's internal parties are certainly capable of producing a contest of wills like this without any outside direction. It is very difficult for me to believe Rafsanjani's faction would pursue foreign policies acceptable to the United States if empowered.

The West prefers paralyzing Iranian turmoil to either a clear Ahmadinejad victory or a clear Mousavi victory. Iran may be in a state of paralyzing turmoil, which may threaten to last for a prolonged period, so whether the US was involved or not, what we see is aligned with US preferences.

The fraud investigation initiated by Khamenei will give one side a somewhat face-saving way to step down. I'm not sure which side it will be, my guess is that this is being negotiated behind the scenes now. Mousavi was allowed to attend a rally today. We are not in a state of maximum hostility.

Hopefully, but also likely, all parties involved recognize that they are Iranians first and are reaching a compromise that is better for everyone than a major disruption of national life. But these efforts to reach compromise are far outside of what anyone who is not an establishment Iranian power-broker would be able to perceive.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What Netanyahu is right about

Netanyahu's speech today set out the Zionist point of view as well and as honestly as could be asked or imagined.

The problem is that most people in the region, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, do not agree with Netanyahu or other Zionists on many points about the legitimacy and necessity of Israel as a Jewish state.

This is an actual dispute between Israel's region and Israel. The US can, at great cost, work to ensure that Israel's side of the dispute prevails. But the cost of propping up Netanyahu's vision of a Jewish state is becoming increasingly expensive. As I've written before, Obama and Clinton are both worried, rightly, that there will come a point where the US is no longer able to bear the expense of ensuring that Israel continues as a Jewish state.

But following are excerpts and responses to Netanyahu's speech given Sunday June 14, 2009:

[Netanyahu] The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been - and remains - the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish People to its own state in its historical homeland.

Yes. This is the root of the conflict. Netanyahu believes that the Jewish People have a right to a state. Obama agrees. Most Egyptians do not believe there is a group right of the Jewish People that supercedes, or ever superceded, either the right of Palestinians to deny the creation of a Jewish state where they lived in 1948 or the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the territory with full rights today.

This simple truth means that Egypt from now on can never have a government that represents the ideals and values of Egyptian people as long as this disagreement with Netanyahu and Obama remains. Keeping the leadership of Egypt under control against the sensibilities of the Egyptian people is far too expensive, by itself, for Israel to do and so it needs constant US assistance. Of course the previous statements are equally true for Jordanians, Iraqis and across the Middle East.

[Netanyahu] The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Eretz Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People.
Wow. A person raised in Israel, who interacts mostly with other Zionists probably has no idea how unreasonable, even crazy, this sounds. This is an idea that can only be sold in Israel's region by force.

[Netanyahu] This is why we are now asking our friends in the international community, headed by the USA, for what is necessary for our security, that in any peace agreement, the Palestinian area must be demilitarized. No army, no control of air space. Real effective measures to prevent arms coming in, not what's going on now in Gaza. The Palestinians cannot make military treaties.

So we are talking about a reservation like that of the US Native Americans, territory with nominal independence but under the military control of its owning power. But at least we are openly talking about that. It will be very difficult to get this passed in a referendum.

[Netanyahu] I call upon Arab leaders and Palestinian leaders: Let's go in the path of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein.
Sadat and Hussein's paths depended on the fact that these dictators did not have to worry about putting their agreements to electorates. Sadat and Hussein are the ultimate examples of dictatorial regimes exploiting the conflict between Palestinians and Zionists to ensure Western, especially US support. It seems as if that is the plan for either Abbas or a successor to be chosen by the US and Israel.

Over the long term, Netanyahu's vision is just not viable in Israel's region. If Egypt is kept under a US financed dictatorship for 60 more years, when Egypt after that comes under control of Egyptians it will render Netanyahu's idea of a state for the Jewish People immediately non-viable.

Netanyahu's speech is actually the best possible argument for a one-state solution that may not necessarily have a Jewish majority but that will not require a constellation of friendly unpopular dictatorships (what Netanyahu describes as a "circle of peace") for its continued existence.

If there was an attempted color revolution it failed

Over at Moon of Alabama, the main blogger is suspicious about Mousavi's sudden return to politics and his indirect ties to the US. And even more than that, his announcement before the polls closed not only that he won, but that if he lost that proved election fraud. Which is actually outrageous behavior.

I'm intrigued by one of his links:

The head of the Civil Society Against Corruption in Kyrgystan is Tolekan Ismailova, who organized the translation and distribution of the revolutionary manual used in Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia written by Gene Sharp, founder of a curiously-named Albert Einstein Institution in Boston. Sharp's book, a how-to manual for the color revolutions is titled ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy.’ It includes tips on nonviolent resistance -- such as ‘display of flags and symbolic colors’ -- and civil disobedience.

Sharp’s book is literally the bible of the Color Revolutions, a kind of ‘regime change for dummies.’ Sharp created his Albert Einstein Institution in 1983, with backing from Harvard University. It is funded by the US Congress’ NED and the Soros Foundations, to train people in and to study the theories of ‘non-violence as a form of warfare.’ Sharp has worked with NATO and the CIA over the years training operators in Burma, Lithuania, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine to Taiwan, even Venezuela and Iraq.

In short virtually every regime which has been the target of a US-backed soft coup in the past twenty years has involved Gene Sharp and usually, his associate, Col. Robert Helvey, a retired US Army intelligence specialist. Notably, Sharp was in Beijing two weeks before student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989. The Pentagon and US intelligence have refined the art of such soft coups to a fine level. RAND planners call it ‘swarming,’ referring to the swarms of youth, typically linked by SMS and web blogs, who can be mobilized on command to destabilize a target regime.

Iran's blocking of SMS and web access may be in indication that Iran is consciously countering publicly known "color revolution" destabilization tactics. My guess is that any threat to the regime from attacks on the legitimacy of the vote are subsiding by now.

Until information is released indicating that, I have no reason to believe a program of destabilizing the Iranian regime beginning with youth protests had been attempted. I do think Iran's government is aware of the possibility and acting to prevent it.

I expect the protests to die down. Any damage to Iran's legitimacy will be minimal, and most likely there will not be any at all. For now I believe Mousavi, in the heat of the moment, believed that votes were being stolen from him and acted as any politician would. The idea that he was working with foreigners is too far fetched for me to assign any possibility to it before I see some direct evidence.

What exactly does reform mean for Iran?

Hussein Mousavi is presented as the reform candidate for Iran. One of Juan Cole's points is that reform candidates have gotten large proportions of the vote in the past, so it indicates fraud that Mousavi did not get a large proportion of the vote.

Westerners such as Cole have this idea that "reform" is the same thing as "open up to the West". Reform is popular in Iran. Making the changes the United States would like to see Iran make is not popular in Iran.

Between Mousavi, who defended Rafsanjani, Iran's icon of corruption and Ahmadinejad who broke protocol and named Rafsanjani and his family as examples of the corruption he offers an alternative to, Ahmadinejad is the reformer. The truth is that Ahmadinejad has not enriched himself. The little details such as his simple choices in clothing, his bringing lunch from home, his meetings with any citizen who wants to meet him, his personally visiting every province twice, and many others all combine to form a picture of a man who is really trying to make government improve the lives of Iranians.

For Westerners, that is outweighed by the Holocaust. In the debate Mousavi asks why Ahmadinejad mentioned the Holocaust. He didn't ask why Ahmadinejad denied the Holocaust, because Ahmadinejad has never denied the Holocaust, at least in the sense of asserting that Jews were not killed by Hitler or that a certain number of Jews or other people was or was not victimized by the Nazis. Ahmadinejad defended his mentioning of the Holocaust, and making the points he repeatedly makes, which are that people are imprisoned for expressing doubt in the story, as if that story is comparable to laws against blasphemy against religion; that the story is used to justify the victimization of Palestinians; and that the proper people to punish for the Holocaust are not the Palestinians who today are starving in Gaza or who were displaced in 1948.

But regardless of one's views on the Holocaust, a politician who is savvy enough about Western media to know to refrain from saying the word "Holocaust" except in the context of how necessary it makes defending Israel's security is not necessarily, by that fact alone, a reformer in the Iranian context.

From there we go to the idea that Mousavi is an economic reformer. The reform Westerners believe Mousavi will bring about is reformed economic relations with the West. This idea is on the line between naive missing an important point and insulting to the intelligence of its audience.

Iran does not have sanctions against any Western country except Israel. Any US company, by Iranian law, is free to trade with any Iranian company, to compete for Iranian business, to invest in Iranian resources. The West, especially the US has sanctions against Iran. These sanctions are not in place because the West disapproves of Iran's economic system. There is no particular way in which the Iranian system is more hostile to US investment than the Russian or Chinese system. These sanctions are in place because Iran rejects the legitimacy of Israel, and in sanctioning Iran the US sets an example warning Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other countries to be restrained in their opposition to Israel, a warning these countries heed, against the sensibilities of their own people.

Westerners have an annoying habit of discussing the damage done by economic sanctions as "mismanagement" not only in the case of Iran, but also in the cases of Cuba, Zimbabwe and others. We are to believe that the very publicly increased sanctions on Iran during Ahmadinejad's tenure, which are imposed with that explicitly stated aim of putting pressure on the Iranian economy to convince them to relinquish any right to enrich uranium without US permission, have no impact on the rate of inflation or unemployment in Iran, that is purely the result of Ahmadinejad's mismanagement.

And then, we never see examples of this supposed mismanagment. Iran is not the only country that provides health care or free education, it is not the only country that subsidizes gas or other staples. There is no specific policy that is discussed openly that Mousavi can change to improve Iran's economic performance.

In order to get improved economic relations with the United States, Mousavi would have to, at least as of now, relinquish any right to a domestic supply of enriched uranium and/or adopt policies as accomodating of Israel as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Both of these possible policy changes have nearly no support in Iran. Refusing to adopt these policies is, unbelievably, described by Western sources as economic mismanagment. It is ridiculous and it is insulting.

In an Iranian context, it is possible for a politician to be a reformer even if Western observers do not perceive that politician as relatively malleable on issues such as Israel and the nuclear program.

There may be a serious lapse in communication around the term reform, relating to Iranian politics. Iran's voters seem to believe reform means act against the corruption that has grown in certain circles of Iran's political establishment. Reform means end the opportunities of the clerics to enrich themselves and their families through their political connections. Reform certainly means to refuse to take part in the project of using politics for personal gain. By the standards of Iran's voters, all indications are that Ahmadinejad was the reformer.

To Westerners reform means to be or at least seem more sensitive to Western concerns about Israel's security, which could lead to greater Western economic cooperation. A politician who gave that impression could retain the mantle of reformer even while aligning himself with the single most notorious personification of status-quo corruption in the country.

Not only is it not unbelievable, as some Western observers claim, that Ahmadinejad has gotten a lot of votes from Iranians who previously voted for reformers, there is a real sense that it is to be expected.

Rafsanjani, Mousavi and election fraud

There is a point that is often missed, which is that if Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei committed a massive fraud, he was not only defrauding the youth who were burning police motorcycles in the streets of Tehran at night. He was defrauding Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the most powerful politicians in Iran and the richest person in the country.

Rafsanjani is an icon of corruption in Iran. And he publicly associated himself with Mousavi by writing a public letter to Khamenei complaining about Ahmadinejad's bold, and possibly foolhardy tactic of naming him during the debate as a example of corruption in the political system.

I believe that millions of youth in Iran or any country would have to powerlessly stand by and watch a monumental fraud take place in which power is denied to the person who earned the most votes.

Rafsanjani, the chair of the elected Assembly of Experts, which has the power to remove the Supreme Leader, is not a youth who cannot coordinate with others because the SMS system in the country has been disabled. I do not believe Rafsanjani would have to powerlessly stand by and watch a monumental fraud against a candidate he is personally associated with.

If there has been systematic vote fraud, the Assembly of Experts has the resources to find it and expose it. It also has the power to remove Khamenei from power, and further has the power to ensure the Khamenei is punished, including with imprisonment for setting such a fraud in motion. Mousavi and Rafsanjani are both well connected enough to ensure that would happen.

Juan Cole's gutsy call

Juan Cole yesterday posted a theory that Iran's Supreme Leader, motivated by a long-held personal animosity towards Mousavi, reacted to early reports of a Mousavi victory by setting in motion a clumsy fraud that reported purely or mostly fabricated vote totals so that Ahmadinejad would be reported to win in a landslide.

There was no serious evidence supporting this at the time. There was the straight line voter tallies throughout the day, in which Ahmadinejad's percentage of the vote remained approximately constant as more votes came in. But large proportions of the vote, unless they necessarily had very large biases (for example reporting one ethnic group at a time) would be expected to exhibit that characteristic.

The rest of Cole's evidence is of the form "I expected Ahmadinejad to do poorly with this group and he did well". I'm not sure this type of evidence even needs to be refuted.

There was a lot of uncertainty yesterday. Charges were being made, it was a result that many people didn't expect. Juan Cole's scenario was implausible, but under the circumstances I agree with the sentiment of making the best claim you can given the information you have, and refining or correcting it as more information comes in. His gut response was that this is a fraud, saying that and giving his reasoning was the right thing to do.

Today, Juan Cole returns reaffirming his theory from yesterday and refuting reports from Iran that Ahmadinejad actually does have popular support, largely in quarters of the society that is in less direct communication with western reporters and bloggers. No new evidence has emerged regarding the fraud that Cole claims was committed.

It seems that Cole has chosen his position and intends to stick to it. My expectation is that time will continue to pass without evidence, and while it is impossible to prove a negative, the absence of any indication that vote tallies were changed, when there would be plenty of it if Cole's fraud scenario had been true, will erode Cole's credibility if in the absence of evidence he continues to advocate for the position that the election was stolen.

There are other factions in US politics that will applaud him for taking this stance, and for holding onto this stance regardless of what comes.

Cole is making a call consistent with his own personal dislike of Ahmadinejad and of Iran's system of government. He has been clear about this dislike even when he was among the earliest to point out that the claim that Ahmadinejad called for genocide against Israelis was a deliberately unfair distortion of what he said.

This call may go some way in undoing the damage caused to his reputation in anti-Iranian circles by the role Cole played in thwarting an earlier campaign to demonize Ahmadinejad and Iran. Among people who do not share Cole's visceral dislike of Ahmadinejad, this call is likely to appear more and more like a mistake.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Straight line vote reports in Iran election

This is a difficult graphic to explain even for someone like me who is willing to believe Ahmadinejad won.

More information will be coming out. We'll see.

The Ahmadinejad Mousavi debate

Really late to post this, but it is still worthwhile to watch.

Ahmadinejad is not somebody who believes a landslide fix is in. He seems defensive and almost paranoid. He believes he is under attack from all quarters, and under attack because he is trying as hard as he can to represent the Iranian people.

Again, the most likely explanation for his victory is that more Iranians agree with him and his positions than disagree.

Wishful thinking from Tehran

While election fraud is possible, the most likely explanation of Ahmadinejad's victory at this point is that over his four years in office he has cultivated a huge base of support among Iran's rural and lower class population. In addition, he presented himself towards the end of the campaign as a candidate willing to oppose Iran's notoriously corrupt old-guard clerical power structure, seemingly at some risk to himself. An article in the Guardian by Abbas Barzegar gives an inside view:

I have been in Iran for exactly one week covering the 2009 Iranian election carnival. Since I arrived, few here doubted that the incumbent firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad would win. My airport cab driver reminded me that the president had visited every province twice in the last four years – "Iran isn't Tehran," he said. Even when I asked Mousavi supporters if their man could really carry more than capital, their responses were filled with an Obamasque provisional optimism – "Yes we can", "I hope so", "If you vote." So the question occupying the international media, "How did Mousavi lose?" seems to be less a problem of the Iranian election commission and more a matter of bad perception rooted in the stubborn refusal to understand the role of religion in Iran.

... ... ...

Perhaps from the start Mousavi was destined to fail as he hoped to combine the articulate energies of the liberal upper class with the business interests of the bazaar merchants. The Facebook campaigns and text-messaging were perfectly irrelevant for the rural and working classes who struggle to make a day's ends meet, much less have the time to review the week's blogs in an internet cafe. Although Mousavi tried to appeal to such classes by addressing the problems of inflation and poverty, they voted otherwise.

I had hoped Mousavi would win. That would have made it a lot easier for tensions between Iran and the US to dissipate. It looks like that was not the primary concern of Iran's voters on Friday. Quite possibly the reason the candidate who clearly would have made Iran's foreign policy objectives easier to reach was not elected is because most Iranian people does not feel threatened by the US or Israel right now, and so felt free to focus on domestic issues. That is their right and they are to be congratulated for exercising it.

Mousavi never posed a threat to Iran's nuclear program or to the legitimacy of Iran's Supreme Leader. If there was to be a monumental fraud, who would orchestrate it and why? Iran's power brokers behind the scenes oppose Ahmadinejad, famously so in that Akbar Rafsanjani, current chair of Iran's Assembly of Experts, actually wrote an open letter to Iran's Supreme Leader asking him to restrain Ahmadinejad.

Westerners are shocked and disappointed by this election, but Iran's voters have every right to shock and disappoint Westerners.

Iran's unelected rulers (and the elected officials who oversee them)

This graphic from BBC fairly clearly explains the Iranian political system. In that political system, the most powerful figures and bodies are not directly elected, however they are appointed by an elected body, the assembly of experts, which can also remove them from power.

There is clearly room in this system for public debate over policy, with the population able to favor candidates with more popular views. The most undemocratic aspect of the system is the vetting process which is not transparent or independent of the people currently in power. While I would like to see reform of that process, I do not know what vetting process I would prefer. I would not prefer a US-style vetting process, where in order to be a candidate one must raise more money than one's opponents both because the US-style vetting process limits the field of debate just as much as the Iranian style, and also because a pay-for-vetting system would introduce the risk that foreign parties, such as the US, could inject enough money into Iran's political process to capture it, and even install another pro-US dictator as was the case with the Shah.

As it is though, Iran's Supreme Leader is not a relative of its previous Supreme Leader, and not the favorite choice of powers foreign and hostile to Iran, but a politician who by the consensus of a wide group of Iranian decision-makers, was at the time of his selection the individual best suited to be the leader of Iran. For this reason, while Iran's Supreme Leader is not directly elected, his tenure in that position is the result of a competitive political process that ultimately takes Iranian popular values and interests into account.

Any comparisons between Iran's system of leadership and the leaderships of members of the constellation of pro-US dictatorships in the region - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and others - are just nonsense, often produced by people who should know better.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Neither violent or non-violent protest works better

Every now and then, Matt Yglesias posts a blog referring to a suggestion that the Palestinians adopt a strategy of non-violent protest against Israel. In these posts, the commenters have reached some non-obvious consensus conclusions about weaker parties protesting policies of stronger parties.

How protest in these situations works, violent or non-violent, is that the target comes to calculate that the repression necessary for continuing its policies is not worth the benefit of these policies. Repressing protest requires a level of brutality that is generally uncomfortable and contrary to the self-image of the stronger party, and so there are situations where the stronger party just lets it go.

One surprising conclusion is that violent and non-violent protest each work in the same way and under the same circumstances. The target policy, what the weaker party is trying to change, has to be non-essential for the stronger party. If that is the case, any organized campaign of protest will cause the stronger party cede the demands protested for.

A corollary, also surprising as it developed, is that a distant but necessary party can be a more effective target than the most directly involved party. In the case of the US civil rights campaigns to end legal racial discrimination southern US whites were more invested in the discrimination than northern US whites. Protests that entered the consciousness of northerners, even those located in the south, caused changes in national policies led by northerners who were not as invested in the system of discrimination whose cooperation was necessary for the south to continue the system.

Comparably, governments other than South Africa's did not feel the investment in the Apartheid system that the White South Africans felt. Protests against Western governments that supported South Africa cause those governments to change policies that supported Apartheid, which rendered Apartheid non-viable.

A continuous campaign of protest against the US and European government policies without which Zionism as a political movement cannot remain viable, likely would cause the US or Europe to change these policies. One difference is that US Jewish citizens are invested in Zionism and have disproportionate influence on US Middle East foreign policy. Jewish Americans though, are a small proportion of the US electorate, this does not seem to be an insurmountable obstacle.

Given that both violent and non-violent protest work, human decency requires a preference for non-violence. But in the case of protest against the United States and Europe, there is another consideration. A campaign of non-violent protest is less likely to be disrupted and thereby can become continuous. One-off attacks, such as the attack on the World Trade Center are not effective at changing policy. Many smaller actions over a longer period of time would have been more likely to change US policy.

Netanyahu to give major speech Sunday

I think we'll see Netanyahu's best effort to get out of the settlement freeze issue without either succumbing or engendering further hostility from Obama. My best guess is he'll make a different but possibly substantial concession, like unilaterally removing settlers from outposts that Israel does not consider important now, while pledging to continue settlement expansion in settlements Israel wants.

Here's hoping Mousavi wins in Iran

The biggest difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad is that Mousavi offers the US a face-saving way to back down, which the US is likely eager to take.

Ahmadinejad would have done well to be more polished. On the other hand, his attacks on Rafsanjani and corruption in the old guard clerics demonstrated both desperation and courageousness. He may even benefit from saying what everyone in the country knows but no viable candidate could say. He's probably more of a reformer than Mousavi, but that's for Iran's voters to decide.

Ahmadinejad losing gives the US all the pretext it needs to open to Iran despite the objections of Israel and Israel's supporters.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kerry: US position of no enrichment was "ridiculous"

It's becoming clear that the US is preparing to admit it has lost this campaign to prevent Iran from having domestic uranium enrichment. The US has not yet made a commitment to give up on it though. I would not be stunned if the US still at this point tries to make an offer that requires an indefinite suspension of enrichment until Iran gets US permission to continue and presses for sanctions when Iran rejects that offer. But that scenario is looking slightly less likely now that John Kerry, well known as well connected to Obama and his administration, has emphatically spoken against Bush's demand that Iran not have one spinning centrifuge.

Certainly [the line should be for Iran] not to be a quote nuclear weapon state. Now some people can argue about when you are a nuclear weapons state. Capability versus, different definitions of that, just leave that there for a minute.

The key here is that, first of all the Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous, on its face, because Iran is a signatory to the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty and whether they are inside or outside their obligations, to ask them to give up something that was within their rights within the treaty assuming they were up to their obligations is a non-starter. It was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will (inaudible).

Because it seemed so unreasonable to people. They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose. But they don’t have a right, obviously, to be outside of the other restraints of the IAEA and of the non-proliferation agreement. And so the key here was to really open a different kind of dialogue with them about where you draw the line.

He's right though. Condoleeza Rice could have accepted fewer than 200 spinning centrifuges in 2006 and there is a solid possibility Iran would have ratified the additional protocols by now. But I suspect the US and Israel also have an interest in sanctions for the sake of sanctions. US sanctions on Iran began long before there was a nuclear issue, and the nuclear issue provided a pretext to get other countries to participate in sanctions the US favors anyway.

Kerry also says a little about a two state solution:

I believe you can work out a two state solution with demilitarisation, with adequate verification, with adequate buffers and it may even involve some kind of force on the ground, in the buffer zone, as a security backup somehow, there are all kinds of modalities that are possible.

"Demilitarization", "buffers", "force on the ground" are each, by themselves, issues I'm doubtful could pass a Palestinian referendum. Abbas, is a discredited obvious US/Israeli stooge at this point, and I'm not sure even he'd put his name on an agreement that Kerry is envisioning.

But the point here is that there is at least a possibility that the Palestinians are going to reject the reservations Israel and the United States are contemplating offering them. What will be the step after that? Obama and Kerry are working with the assumption that Abbas will accept whatever the US offers and can bring the Palestinians along. I think both of those assumptions are wrong, but clearly either assumption can possibly fail to hold.

If the Abbas or the Palestinians do not accept what the US offers, which will be "minimal", and I think they will not and should not, then it is time to begin formulating a single state that protects individual rights but allows a more general return.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hezbollah's March 8 coalition had a bigger popular vote margin than Obama in 2008

A commenter from Moon of Alabama directed me to the vote totals in Lebanon's election. It turns out that March 8 won over 54% of the popular vote in Lebanon's recent election (Barack Obama won slightly less than 53% of the popular vote in 2008).

These numbers do not directly impact the process by which the winning March 14 coalition will form a government (winning with about 45% of the vote), but they do point to the severe distortion caused by Lebanon's ethnicity-based electoral system.

Presumably, because Hezbollah's seats were all safe and uncontested, which meant turnout efforts were not directed towards those seats, a one-person one-vote system would have resulted in a bigger win for Hezbollah and its allies.

Lebanon does not do a census because groups that have lost population share since the current ethnic proportion was emplaced in Lebanese politics do not want an official certification of how much the electoral system shifts the national power balance in their favor. But every election there are election results that do just that. In this case the disparity could not be more stark.

Hopefully the US and Israel will not pressure March 14 under these circumstances to confront the popularly larger March 8 coalition in a way that could damage the country. I'm optimistic but slightly concerned because the US has an agenda for Lebanon that goes against the desires of most Lebanese citizens.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Polling a two state solution

A lot of polling information from OneVoice (pdf), an organization devoted to advancing the idea of a two-state solution.

I've always felt like poll answers to "two state solution" are misleading because Israelis are answering "two states with a demilitarized Palestine that accepts the permanent expulsion of the refugees, while Palestinians are answering "two states both fully sovereign as well as a return of the refugees"

When the terms of a two state solution are spelled out, it is no more popular than a one-state solution.

From this poll, Israel having to agree on the number of refugees to return is unacceptable to 75% of Palestinians despite a "two state solution" being unacceptable only to 24%. While every scenario where Palestinians return has greater than 50% unacceptable for Israelis, but a two state solution is only unacceptable to 21%. The Israeli and Palestinian side are hearing the phrase "two state solution" and interpreting them as different, mutually exclusive concepts.

Then groups advocating a two-state solution announce these misleading results with the sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional concurrent effect of justifying the status quo "while negotiations are underway." This is part of the "fiction that serves U.S. purposes" of pretending to make progress while actually working to ensure nothing changes earlier discussed by George Friedman at Stratfor.

Palestinians are likely to secure a bare minimum of rights while Israel walks off with the rest

Interesting conclusion to a New York Times Op-Ed by Nadia Hijab about the prospects for a peace settlement during the Obama administration.

So, yes, nothing has changed on the ground yet. But because of the way it works, the Obama administration has a much better chance of bringing peace to the Middle East than its predecessors. Still, before breaking out the champagne, remember that Mr. Obama works within the boundaries of the American establishment.

Within those narrow confines and given the present Israeli-Palestinian power imbalance, the Palestinians are likely to secure a bare minimum of rights while Israel walks off with the rest. Unless, that is, the Palestinians can rapidly tilt the balance in their favor — or unless Israel’s intransigence does it for them.

I am not able to envision a scenario in which an agreed peace is reached between Zionism and the Palestinians in the forseeable future, certainly not in a single or two-term presidency of Barack Obama.

Getting a majority of Lebanese Christians to vote with the side associated with the US and Israel was an impressive feat, but getting a majority of Palestinians to vote on a resolution granting themselves "minimum rights" acceptable to Netanyahu would be far more difficult.

Monday, June 08, 2009

So March 14 won big. What does that mean?

I expected a close election, at least markedly closer than the last election that was in the wake of the Hariri assassination. My thoughts about what this unexpected victory for March 14 means in the larger scheme haven't fully formed yet.

The battleground in this election was always going to be the Lebanese Christian community - which on a per-person basis is substantially over-represented in Lebanon's Parliament, but it was never expected that they would go for March 14 as opposed to March 8, the group containing Hezbollah, to the degree they did.

My explanation for March 14th's success in this election is effective political work as well as a flood of resources from, especially, Saudi Arabia. If there is an anti-Iranian alliance between the Saudis and Israel, this is a model of Saudi activity along those lines.

The Saudis have shown they are able and willing to devote a huge amount of resources to impact an election in the Muslim world. This may mean Fatah will have far greater resources in its next electoral competition with Hamas. It is also possible that comparable resources be devoted to getting a yes vote on a referendum. In either case, it is possible that Saudi interventions can effectively sway Arab electoral decisions.

On the other hand, Hezbollah, and its leader Nasrallah, who I still see as one of the best Arab politicians, will learn from this loss, regroup and run in future elections.

The structural disadvantage of the Shiites in the Lebanese electoral system is a problem that will still have to be addressed. Exacerbating the problem is that Israel and the US, for the same reasons they support dictatorships in Egypt and Jordan, favor the disenfranchisement of the Shiites in Lebanon and will consistently intervene to prevent a one-person/one-vote electoral system. Possibly US/Israeli interventions will have more active Saudi assistance than before.

The United States will now pressure pro-Western parties in Lebanon to form a cabinet in which there is no Shiite veto. It is unlikely that the Shiites will go along with this, which means there is a good chance Lebanon will revisit the crisis atmosphere of late 2007. A return to confrontation would hurt Lebanese people a lot more than it would hurt either Israel or the US, so hopefully March 14 will come to a peaceful accomodation.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Obama and Clinton see bad trends for Israel. What are they?

Barack Obama, NPR interview - June 1, 2009:

I believe that, strategically, the status quo is unsustainable when it comes to Israeli security; that, over time, in the absence of peace with the Palestinians, Israel will continue to be threatened militarily and will have enormous problems along its borders.

Hillary Clinton, CNN interview - June 7, 2009:

We see historical, demographic, political, technological trends that are very troubling as to Israel's future. At the same time, there is a legitimate aspiration of the Palestinian people that needs to be addressed.

This sounds like what Obama and Clinton are saying is that the United States does not expect to have the resources to contain Iran indefinitely and with an uncontained Iran, it will not be possible to maintain its string of pro-Israel dictatorships over most of the Arab world indefinitely.

But if they are going make vague references to threats and troubling trends, why wouldn't somebody ask them to spell them out?

The obvious corrollary, either that the Palestinians can get better terms by waiting, or that if they do not accept a state today, they will be able to get one Palestinian-majority state over the entire territory later, is probably too painful for either Obama or Clinton to even contemplate.

Video of drunk Jewish people making fun of Obama

Not much to say, except that the fastest and most effective way to end US support for Zionism is to portray Zionists as anti-African American racists.

It wouldn't take many more of these for the US to wash its hands of Israel, press for one state and get on to the business of convincing the oil states to align with the US against future potential rivals such as Russia, China and to some degree India, Japan and Europe.

Iran's NPT Treaty Obligations

US officials, up to and including the current and former presidents of the United States often discuss Iran's, and other non-weapons states' responsiblities or obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Here's Obama in his Cairo speech:

And any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The United States though, has a drastic, and probably dishonest interpretation of what these responsibilities are.

The actual treaty is fairly clear that the overarching responsibility of non-weapons treaty states is not to build or acquire a weapon or explosive device.

Article II

Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

The US stretches this responsibility past "weapons" to "weapons capability" in its official policy. This policy has not been retracted by the Obama administration, though it is plainly selectively applied. Many nations, including Japan and Brazil have "weapons capability". Here the US interpretation of Article II of the NPT presented in a US statement to the IAEA:

Article II of the NPT requires the non-nuclear-weapon States not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other explosive nuclear devices. As the United States outlined in its Main Committee I statement, fulfillment of this obligation requires that non-nuclear-weapon States refrain from activities designed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Furthermore, they should provide transparency into their activities that is sufficient to demonstrate their peaceful intent, and should have in place the necessary laws and regulations to enforce their Article II obligations.
Wait a second. These other "requirements" that states refrain from activities "designed to develop a nuclear weapons capability", and that they go beyond the ratified terms of their agreements to "demonstrate peaceful intent" are just concocted out of thin air. These requirements, after being invented from scratch by creative US lawyers, are then only to be applied to Iran or other countries that attract US disapproval.

This is not an honest mistake, this brazen lying undertaken in the hope that the only people willing to examine the underlying documents are already ideologically sympathetic to the US' strategic concerns, and therefore willing to help mislead less informed parties.

Iran and parties sympathetic to Iran claim that Iran has fulfilled its NPT requirements and is not now in violation. What those parties mean is that Iran has a requirement that it not have a weapon now, and that the fissile material, Uranium, Plutonium and Thorium, in the country's possession are accounted for and are not being assembled into a weapon.

The NPT does not require that a non-weapons treaty party not build weapons at some point in the future or that such a party not have a nuclear weapons capability. In fact, the treaty explicitly indicates that treaty members can leave the treaty with three months notice after which there will be no guarantees of any continuing non-weapons status.

How the NPT works essentially is that countries give a neutral third party enough information that the party can verify that there it has no weapon today, then neighboring and rival countries can also give enough information to make the same verification, knowing that there will be at least three months notice before a country that is currently verified will be able to produce a weapon.

Israel, the US and parties sympathetic to them claim Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations. One way to make this claim is to consider UN Security Council resolutions to be NPT obligations. The Security Council resolutions are demands that Iran take what the IAEA board called "voluntary and non-legally binding confidence building measures". To the degree the Security Council is able to compel any country to take any arbitrary action, these resolutions are binding, but that does not make them NPT obligations. The Security Council has just as much authority to demand Israel ratify and implement the NPT as it does to make mandatory the voluntary measures suggested by the IAEA for Iran.

Another way to make the claim that Iran is in violation of its NPT obligations is to deliberately conflate "nuclear weapon or nuclear explosive device" with "nuclear weapons capability" as the US does officially in its presentation to the IAEA.

It is an insult to the intelligence of their audiences that US officials, in formal and informal settings, invent the idea - nowhere in any ratified text - that "nuclear capability" is the same thing as a nuclear weapon, or that refraining from having a nuclear capability is in some way a "responsibility" of non-weapons NPT states (but only ones the US does not like).

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Arab lack of candor: A closer look

There is a story I'm hearing a lot, that supporters of Zionism keep making trips to Arab countries and these supporters of Zionism are told that the Arabs really like Israel and want to ally with Israel against Iran, but this opinion has to be kept secret.

Obama touched on this story in his speech:

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true. [Like how "many" turned into "everyone"?]

We see the story again in a reported interview with Thomas Friedman (who famously always seems to find Zionist taxi drivers in every Muslim country he sets foot in.)

A key part of his message, he said, will be: “Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something else publicly.” He then explained: “There are a lot of Arab countries more concerned about Iran developing a nuclear weapon than the ‘threat’ from Israel, but won’t admit it.” There are a lot of Israelis, “who recognize that their current path is unsustainable, and they need to make some tough choices on settlements to achieve a two-state solution — that is in their long-term interest — but not enough folks are willing to recognize that publicly.”

This op-ed added so little value. If would have been much better for Friedman to write the story in question/answer format. Friedman relates himself telling a joke that takes more space than all of Obama's reported statements put together. Not necessary. Not useful.

We see this story a lot though, b over at moonofalabama wrote enough of a take-down of this genre of story that I hadn't thought to go back until I see it from the President of the United States.

But we're here. Let's discuss this idea that the Saudis accept that Israel will always be here according to Obama's speech, and believe Iran is a bigger threat than Israel if we believe what Friedman chooses to relate from his interview with Obama, but are not willing to say what they believe publicly. The question that immediately comes to mind is: why are they keeping their belief secret?

One possible way to look at the question is to ask what secrets does the US hold. Which of Obama's beliefs is he not willing to say in public? Possibly the Arabs have similar motives, but even if they do not, we can establish that when parties say one thing in public and another in private there is a reason for that, it is not just to be needlessly coy.

Barack Obama will not say that Israel has nuclear weapons. Everybody knows it does, I'm sure he admits it off the record, if only to avoid insulting the intelligence of whatever party he is speaking with. Obama mentioned Iran's nuclear program which certainly has not produced a weapon but did not mention Israel's which certainly has. If there is a reason for this lapse in candor, it is part of a fundamental hypocrisy that US policy is that Israel should have a monopoly on nuclear technology in the region, a policy that is indefensible on many different grounds. Not mentioning it prevents Obama and other US officials from having to defend an indefensible policy.

Another lapse in candor. Egypt is more than just an authoritarian dictatorship. Mubarak is more than a dictator who does not succomb to the urge to demagogue the issue of the conflict with Zionism, as Obama said in his recent BBC interview. The Middle East is not a region where the US innocently finds a bunch of dictatorships that it has to tolerate. Abbas hasn't happened to expand his powers beyond Palestinian law when Hamas won the election and he doesn't happen to remain in power, refusing to run for re-election after his legal term in office has expired.

The United States supports dictatorship in the Arab world, and in fact supports them in ways without which they would be unable to survive because if the over 100 million Arabs of the region had democracy, it would be difficult for the fewer than 6 million Jews of the region to maintain the luxury of a political majority in Israel.

Here is a rare moment of candor from prominent US supporter of Israel, MJ Rosenberg - but we'll never see a statement like this from any US official, much less the President:

Personally, I never much cared whether Israel's neighbors were democratic so long as they were willing to live in peace with Israel.

Jordan, for instance, is not a democracy in the western sense but it is precisely the kind of neighbor Israel needs. Egypt is not a democracy but is at peace with Israel. A democratic Egypt probably would not be. So let's lay the democratic crusade aside (which, of course, we do anyway if we don't like the choices made by the voters in these various countries).

So why this lapse in candor on the part of Obama? Because to be candid is to openly contradict the general value system of his society. Obama, when he is less than candid, is not so because he has to hide from the naive stupid naive people he rules over. If he says in public "Israel should be able to threaten its neighbors with nuclear attack but none of its neighbors should be able to threaten Israel" even reasonable Americans will recognize that as ridiculous and unsustainable, to say less of the countries in the region. If Obama says in public "100 million Arabs in authoritarian dictatorships is a small price to pay to ensure Jews have a Jewish-majority state" even reasonable Americans will see that as absurd.

So why do the Saudi not say in public "the Iranians, with whom we have relations, whom we invite to our conferences, are more a threat than Israel" because by Saudi values, that is an indefensible position. By Saudi values. It is not that the Saudis are afraid of their stupid naive "street".

So, with that in mind let's try to figure out what's going on in these meetings. A US official, or even a US journalist - who by Middle East standards is a rabid supporter of Zionism, the type who would describe the connection between the US and Israel as "unbreakable" meets a Saudi or Arab who is somehow connected to some Arab decision-making establishment.

The ruling power structure the Arab is somehow connected to would not be able to remain in place as a dictatorial regime without US support. The Arab, realizing that Israel is very vocally identifying Iran as the most important threat facing Israel, tells his US counterpart: "we hate Iran too, ever since the Shiites split from the Sunnis we've had it in for them. The thing we're most afraid of is their rising to power, but don't tell anyone I said this."

Why this "lack of candor" that Obama is decrying?

The same reason for Obama's lack of candor. Because the statement is absurd by his own value system.

There is another lack of candor. These Arabs never make the obviously true statement: "we oppose Iran at least in some small part because our patrons, Israel and the US, oppose Iran." Same reason. People do not speak candid truths that go against their values.

If we're not deliberately naive, we can see though the lack of candor both in the US side and the Arab side.

Abe Foxman doesn't like Obama's baggage


From the Los Angeles Times:

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti- Defamation League and one of America's most ardent Israel supporters, said Obama's remark that Jewish aspirations for a homeland were "rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied" was incorrect and "legitimizes the Arabs who say Israel has no place there."

Foxman said that Obama's views -- among them seeing lessons for Palestinians in the struggles of oppressed blacks and others with a moral high ground -- stem from his biography. "Every individual brings his own baggage," Foxman said. "He's an African American . . . and he has rediscovered his Islamic roots after two years. I don't like it, but I understand it."

Abe Foxman does not want to fight Barack Obama right now and probably wishes he hadn't put his name on that statement.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Good speech

Barack Obama's Cairo speech did not have any major blunders. It was nearly the best defense and explanation of current US policies toward the Muslim world possible. US policies though were established to conform with US sensibilities and do not match nearly as well with the sensibilities of people in the Middle East. Because of that, even a very good explanation and defense of US policies points out the differences in approach, of sympathies and of values.

I want to go over his six issues.

The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

I'm taking "violent extremism" as a euphemism for terrorism. I'm not sure why he didn't use the word terrorism - except that by inventing his own phrase he gets to define it however he would like. So while violence intended to provoke terror in a civilian population is a definition that would fit numerous activities of the US and Israel, "violent extremism" can had implicitly has been defined as a phrase that only applies, in practical terms, to terrorism committed by Muslims against non-Muslims.

In Iran at least, with the recent spike in terrorist acts in regions bordering US-held territory, this section will seem very cynical. The resources used to organize and orchestrate the recently increased attacks against Iran come from somewhere, and the US and Israel are the most plausible sources.

Obama early in his campaign for president, promised to hold a conference with Muslim states to discuss the issue of terrorism. The problem that would have posed is that he would have given Muslims a voice in offering alternative definitions, examples and rationales for terrorism that would undercut US policy and go against US beliefs and sensibilities. I thought that promise itself made Obama unelectable at the time. He solved that problem by just forgetting about it.

But the way he frames the terrorism issue goes further in making an unspoken assertion that he or the US will define "violent extremism" in a way that the US finds comfortable and there will be no input from Muslims on the terms of discussion. This works well in Washington DC, but will be picked apart in Cairo and other majority Muslim cities.

The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

Possibly there is a plan being choreographed here. Possibly the intention is that US will pressure Netanyahu out of office and his successor will freeze settlement growth, after which Abbas will accept some formula on land presented to him by Obama. The Palestinians still have a right to reject the offer presented to Abbas, and there is at least a possibility that they will exercise that right, for the reason that the offer is insufficient to resolve their claims.

Obama insists that there will always be a Jewish state. He proposes that the claims of both Jews and non-Jews can be simultaneously fulfilled by the creation of a Palestinian state. There is at least a possibility that any state offered by the US and Israel to the Palestinians will not, in the opinion of the Palestinians, satisfy their claims. I say at least a possibility, because while Obama probably disagrees with me that it is impossible to both create a Palestinian state with enough sovereignty that Palestinians approve it and protect Israel's security, even he would have to admit that it is possible that such a Palestinian state will not be proposed.

If these claims turn out to be irreconcilable, then one side will have to win and the other lose. Obama proposes that Israel win. There must be a Jewish state and from there we'll do what we can to address Palestinian interests. A US president would be expected to make that proposal. Most people in the Middle East would make the opposite proposal. If it is impossible to respect the rights of the Palestinians and have a Jewish state at the same time in that territory, there should not be a Jewish state in that territory.

This fundamental disagreement between Obama and the US on one side and most Muslims on the other, is the ultimate cause of nearly the entire dispute between the West and the Muslim world and Obama has not, and cannot do anything to remove or resolve that disagreement.

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

It is clear to me that Obama is willing to move away from the Bush policy of no domestic uranium enrichment for Iran. Depending on how far he is willing to move from that, this is an issue that can be easily resolved. We will not know what is possible until proposals become public.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy.

The US' enemies in the Middle East are, on balance, more democratic, and have shown a greater capacity to relinquish power when they lose elections than the US' allies. This just seems like cynical hypocrisy. Just standing in front of the Muslim world and directly lying. Giving the speech in a country run by an unpopular US stooge and beyond making vague flowery pronouncements about how democracy is a god given right, or something, he actually says there are groups that once in office repress the opposition.

Israel calculated the amount of Hamas legistlators it would require to end the Hamas majority and and captured that amount of Palestinian elected politicians, who are now in Israeli jails, for the crime of getting too many votes. Because Israel's security is of paramount importance to the United States, the US under Obama refuses to even acknowledge this affront to the ideal of democracy.

It would have been better not to even give a speech that mentions democracy than to act as if the groups he supports are not the most egregiously anti-democratic forces in the region.

The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

Here Obama comes down on the Muslim side against those in France and Turkey who ban or discourage the wearing of Muslim clothing. That is an unambiguously good thing, but a small thing.

The sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights.

This is not really a matter of contention between the US and the Muslim world. This section didn't help or hurt much.