Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Iran freezes expansion of enrichment and increases IAEA monitoring

Its becoming more difficult to get a sense of the interaction between the US and Iran about Iran's nuclear program because so much is obviously going on behind the scenes.

Iran has around 7,000 centrifuges in Natanz, about 5,000 operational and 2,000 in preparation. This is the same configuration in place since May and there can be no explanation other than that Iran has decided not to put in line the centrifuges that are in place and ready for vacuum testing or to install new centrifuges. One possible explanation for Iran not putting new centrifuges in line is that the US does not know how many centrifuges Iran has in reserve, that could be diverted to a different undeclared enrichment facility if, for example, the US bombed Natanz. But not activating already declared centrifuges is clearly a voluntary gesture on Iran's part. Another gesture is that Iran has expanded IAEA access to Natanz and allowed inspections of Arak had been suspended when the IAEA board reported Iran to the security council.

Possibly there is an agreement coming into view that will preserve Iran's right to enrich uranium and will not harm Iran's long term aspiration for a status of nuclear weapons capability comparable to those of Japan, Brazil or the Netherlands.

Once again, I'll point out that Iran having a nuclear weapons capability like that of Japan or Brazil is completely legal under the NPT. Iran sees the UNSC resolutions demanding Iran cede its rights as invalid just as Israel would see a UNSC resolution demanding it sign and ratify the NPT as another resolution to be ignored. In fact, for the UNSC under the pretext of protecting international peace and security, to demand Iran ratify the additional protocols and stop enriching uranium while not demanding that Israel ratify the NPT, dismantle its actual nuclear weapons, and stop military operations against neighboring civilian populations is reasonably seen in Iran as clear hypocrisy that decreases the legitimacy of the security council more than it decreases the legitimacy of Iran's nuclear program.

Hossein Askari and Trita Parsi wrote an interesting article for the New York Times that gasoline sanctions may actually benefit Iran from Iran's perspective by giving an excuse for ending expensive subsidies on gasoline and increasing the incentives for conversion to natural gas-run automobiles.

Even assuming that a gasoline embargo would be effective, what would be its result? Consumption would decline by 40 percent and government revenues would go up, because no payment would be needed for gasoline imports.

If Tehran allowed the reduced supply of gasoline to be sold at a price that would equate demand to supply, the price would increase to a level that would eliminate the subsidy, meaning no subsidy for imported gasoline and no subsidy for domestically refined gasoline. The government would have more revenue to spend elsewhere. The sanctions would have done what Tehran has wanted to do for years and the government would not be held responsible!
Anyway, Iran maintains the option of putting more centrifuges into production and increasing the rate of enrichment. That it has not is an indication that contrary to reports, Iran believes progress is being made on resolving the nuclear issue in a way acceptable to Iran's leadership. I wish I understood better what form any progress is taking, but nothing is being published.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi deals with election fraud allegations

A consensus is forming now, there never had been evidence of massive result-changing election fraud in the 2009 election. This hasn't been in serious doubt since maybe a week after the results were announced in June. Anyone who wants a point by point refutation of the claims of vote fraud should read this.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why won't Iran just suspend enrichment? Iran's and the US plans for Iran's nuclear program

Iran believes that the generation of Iranian leaders that is in power 30 years from now will, because of the sacrifices, work and planning of todays leaders, find themselves with a nuclear stature comparable to Japan's.

Iran likely will not have actually produced a weapon, but will be able to. If other Muslim countries want assistance in also achieving that stature, Iran will be willing and able to offer it and for all intents and purposes, if Israel is still a Jewish-majority state, and the Palestinians are still dispossessed, then it will not have a monopoly of either nuclear power or the ability if necessary to produce a nuclear weapon in its region.

This is not a vision of hopeful thinking. Iran is headed in this direction today and an Israeli or US attack on Iran's nuclear program today likely will have no impact at all on the question of will Iran have Japan's nuclear stature in 30 years.

For Iran to trade this position for trade incentives, even if those trade incentives were real, would be the height of foolishness, because in any scenario those incentives will be a memory in the medium-term, but if Iran commits to give the US a veto over its nuclear program, that veto will be permanent.

But there is every reason to believe there are no serious incentives on offer just by the structure of the US negotiating position. The US position is that once Iran stops enriching, the US will tell Iran specifically what it can offer for making the stop permanent. If there were incentives that the US believes the Iranians would accept, it could just name those incentives publicly, and allow the Iranians to pressure their leaders to accept it. A structure of "first you commit, then we can tell you our offer" only makes sense for an offer that the US knows is unacceptable.

Iran has also taken an interesting position that if the US increases sanctions, Iran will not only accelerate its enrichment, but it will consider its increased capacity non-negotiable, as if it has already "paid" for this capacity with the sanctions already imposed and will not give it away.

The US could have frozen the Iranian program at a few dozen centrifuges for a prolonged period of time in 2006. Now it will have to accept 7000 centrifuges, likely the number will increase if another round of sanctions is imposed. But even if the US had accepted a very small number of centrifuges, Iran intended and still intends to be fully nuclear capable in the medium term, in 20 or 30 years. Iran would not have accepted that the US could impose limits on its long-term program in 2006 and will not accept that now.

From the Iranian perspective, there will be no US veto, in any form, over Iran's nuclear program. That will make the situation difficult for Israel. So what. Israel will have to deal with it.

The US is really not able to come to terms with exactly how little leverage it has over Iran.

David Albright's plan is to impose on Iran a siege loose enough not to escalate to war, but tight enough to force Iran to give up a policy that has a very strong national consensus.

Long before Iran begins considering suspending its enrichment program, it will suspend its cooperation with the US in Iraq and Afganistan. US military losses will begin increasing and from there either the US will retreat or go to war.

The fact of the matter is that Iran can claim, and will for a long time continue to be able to claim that the IAEA is able to verify that there is no imminent danger of Iran building a weapon. If the US goes to war, there is no hiding that instead of going to war to prevent a weapon, it is going to war to prevent Iran from having Japan or Brazil's ability to create a weapon in theory.

The US will not be able to hide that it is going to war to prevent Iranian enrichment, and it will not be able to hide the fact that Argentina can tolerate nuclear-capable neighbors but Israel cannot. More than Iraq, which actually invaded Kuwait, it will be difficult to hide that the US soldiers who die and the US resources that are being wasted in that case would be openly being wasted for Israel. And while mid-2007 levels of US deaths were enough to cause popular revulsion against that war, Iran will be able to get much higher US death rates for a war that will be harder to initially sell to the American people.

The Albright plan, impose whatever sanctions the US can and wait, will see Iran reorient its economy away from any countries that ally with the US in this program, but continue to grow and find itself a generation from now still nuclear capable, and still with a manageable economy. Many countries do not have oil and are able to produce good standards of living. Iran's oil helps buttress it against US economic hostility, but the sanctions may have the benefit of preventing Iran from getting the resource-producer's curse - which is that commodity exporters have a very difficult time industrializing under any circumstances.

Bolton's plan is to bomb Iran and hope that in a few years the US is able to successfully get a pro-US regime in place. I'm not sure if he just hasn't thought this through, if he's very unintelligent or if he's making a statement he knows is false because it serves some other purpose.

He's never even given a bad rationale explaining how bombing could lead to a pro-US administration in Iran, given that he acknowledges that the US is not able to invade and occupy the country. He's said it's possible Iran will give up enrichment after a regime change because after a regime change South Africa disavowed nuclear weapons. South Africa though has never disavowed having Japan or Brazil's nuclear stature. He cannot explain what would make regime change happen and he cannot explain why after regime change Iran would change its nuclear policy.

Bolton is advocating bombing Iran with no reason at all to believe it would further any US interest, even significantly slowing Iran's reaching a stature of nuclear capability. Bolton would guarantee a large number of dead US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. In theory he should care about that, but I don't understand what motivates his position.

The best the US can hope for is a face-saving way to accept Iranian domestic enrichment. Possibly with Iran voluntarily agreeing on a slower pace for the growth of its program in exchange for some relief of the unilateral sanctions the US had in place before the nuclear controversy.

Iran responded to US offer for talks

The most recent US offer for talks with Iran, the terms of which have not been released to the public, most likely are very similar to the Bush era 2008 Freeze for Freeze proposal, which envisioned talks beginning in phases, with the third phase including an Iranian suspension of enrichment.
Phase III, “Formal Negotiations,” were envisioned as starting with a meeting of Foreign Ministers of all involved countries, provided that 1) The IAEA had verified that Iran had suspended all enrichment‐related and reprocessing activities; and 2) the U.N. Security Council had suspended discussion of Iran’s nuclear program and the implementation of measures adapted under UNSCR 173, 1747, and 1803.
Iran has said it would reject any talks contingent on suspension of enrichment since 2005. Roger Cohen says that the US found the Iranian response to its most recent proposal disappointing.
In early May, Obama sent Khamenei a secret personal letter, as The Washington Times reported. The letter proposed a framework for talks on the nuclear issue (which Khamenei is believed to control) and regional security. I was reliably informed by more than one knowledgeable American that Khamenei had answered in writing, but the reply was disappointing.
I'm sure the answer was more than just disappointing. The answer was "no." But if the requirement for a suspension has been lifted, there is a good chance that progress is being made as we speak.

NIE 2: FOIA report that Iran is four years away

When the 2007 NIE came out, saying that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapon program in 2003, this was a clear indication that progress was being made in the secret talks between Iran and the US.

The effect of the report, which was immediately apparent to everyone, was that the United States deliberately gave up any pretext for any military attack. By doing that, it also reduced any pressure on Russia and China to cooperate with sanctions.

How this effect was accomplished was that the NIE used a definition of weapons program that had never been used by the US before. The US had never said that Iran's enrichment program was a civilian program, separate from its ability to create weapons, but is said that here.

The recent release of the state department report that Iran cannot produce enough highly enriched uranium for four years strikes me as similar. And makes me suspect that there has been movement in discussions behind the scenes. It seems that this conclusion is possible because the report assumes Iran will not use Natanz to make HEU.

Here is Jacqueline Shire discussing it:

INR believes that for a variety of reasons, Iran will not have the means to produce enough HEU [highly enriched uranium] for a bomb until mid-this decade (or 2013).

The reason for that is that they believe Iran would not use the facility at Natanz to produce HEU, that they would pursue a covert program - that they would do it in secret. So if you build a secret enrichment facility you need more equipment, you need a location, you need time, and INR concludes, for reasons that kind of escape me, that it would take Iran a long time to build this covert enrichment facility.
Shire believes that people are misreading the report to say Iran does not have breakout capability. I suspect the point of the report, the reason the report was produced and released, is so that people will "misread" it exactly that way.

The NIE was implausibly presented as something that went against Bush's wishes. Actually, the President has every right to order his intelligence subordinates to revert to the US standard position that Iran's enrichment is inherently nuclear which would have made the NIE's conclusion unreachable. The Bush administration wanted that conclusion and after the NIE was released, Iran's clients in Iraq quieted down and US killed in action in Iraq reached historic lows.

If US/Iran talks had reached that point year earlier, there likely would have been far less of an anti-war backlash in US politics and Republicans would be in a stronger position today. There would also be hundreds of US servicemen and thousands of Iraqis alive who unfortunately died because the US was late to see the value of cooperation with Iran.

We have not seen yet what agreements the US' most recent gesture may be an indicator of. The impact of the report is that the US is at least willing to define Iran's nuclear program as four years away from being nuclear capable continuously.

I think there is a fairly good chance that there will be a breakthrough this year in which the US commits to accepting Iranian domestic enrichment and an Iranian nuclear capability.

Nuclear capability vs having a nuclear weapon: What is really the problem?

When Iran has the capability to produce nuclear weapons, it is legally in the same category as Japan, the Netherlands and many other countries. Iran would get strategic benefits from this, but these are legal benefits that Iran expected to have access to when it ratified the NPT.

Israel's strategists believe Iran will hold "all the cards"
if it has enough material to make several weapons even it it upholds its NPT obligation to refrain from actually building weapons.
The question whether Iran will have nuclear weapons in 2012 or 2014 is simplistic. If Iran really wants to, it will have nuclear weapons next summer. But Iran is aware that running helter-skelter to the nuclear bomb is very risky. So it is building its nuclear potential gradually. When the number of centrifuges in Natanz is not 7,000 but 30,000, Iran will be unstoppable. When it has enough fissile material for a dozen bombs, it will hold all the cards.
If this causes Egypt to build a comparable program, and Turkey and some Gulf princelets to follow that path, this is not, except because of Israel's special needs, more provocative than the many countries of Europe each capable of building weapons, or of the situation in South America where many countries could build weapons.

Israel imposes a unique strategic burden on the United States. Israel could not survive if instead of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its neighbors were more like Brazil, Argentina and Chile. So the United States, in order to keep the region safe for Israel, must make increasingly desperate attempts to prevent Iran from taking the role of Brazil in its region.

Iran becoming nuclear capable likely would trigger an arms race, if by "arms race" you mean a move to a new equilibrium where NPT non-weapon states in the region each gain the capability to produce nuclear material, but each does not. Kind of an "arms race" minus the "arms". In this new equilibrium the nuclear capable nations would not be a threat to each other, but would mark an important strategic loss for Israel which currently has a monopoly of nuclear weapons and of nuclear capability.

Nearly every non-Jewish person in the region believes that the creation of Israel was an injustice and while Israel has been fortunate to have weak and corrupt immediate neighbors, Iran becoming nuclear capable is the first step towards Israel losing the luxury of being surrounded by impotent neighbors.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both have recently said that regional trends are very negative for Israel's prospects of long term survival. This is one of the things they were talking about.

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.

John Bolton: We couldn't have gotten regime change in Serbia if Serbia had been nuclear

John Bolton in an interview on the Daily Show (6:15)
I don't think it necessarily follows that it's only the use of the nuclear weapon that really gives them the advantage. In the struggle within the Islamic world between Shia and Sunni many of the Arab states in the region fear not only Iran's continuing quest for nuclear weapons but their terrorist attacks against other Islamic regimes. Having that nuclear weapon would make a big difference. For example if Milosevic had had nuclear weapons as Yugoslavia was disintegrating Bosnia, Kosovo could have turned out very differently simply from the threat or the risk that he would use them

Stewart: (Interrupting) That we would not intervene if they had them

Exactly. That's why it's so critical to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Once it actually has the capability the equation changes dramatically.

Now, moving from "nuclear weapons" to "capability" from one sentence to the next is standard for the US foreign policy community. Jon Stewart, of course, didn't catch it.

More important, Bolton says that a nuclear capability may have prevented the airstrikes and eventual regime change in Serbia. Bolton believes this would have been a terrible outcome. Avoiding US airstrikes and regime change probably does not strike the Iranians as such a nightmare scenario.

Bolton's admission that if Iran reaches the nuclear stature that Japan has, where it can credibly claim that in a crisis it has the ability to build a weapon, the US will not be able to accomplish or threaten with regime change is, by itself, reason enough to expect that Iran will not suspend enrichment or subject its nuclear capabilities in any way to any form of effective US veto.

South Africa and Pakistan are bad comparisons for an NPT member like Iran

At the time of its nuclear program, South Africa was a non-signatory of the NPT as were Pakistan, India and Israel. There is no objective basis to compare Iran, an NPT signatory that has not diverted any nuclear material to a weapons program so far to any of the non-NPT signatories. If you must describe two cases among the non-signatories, South Africa, Pakistan, India and Israel all actually developed weapons. In no case was the nuclear program successfully stopped against an NPT non-signatory.

South Africa built nuclear weapons while facing no effective pressure from the West because just as the West favors Israel today, essentially for racist reasons the West favored South Africa during the Apartheid era. DeKlerk made the decision that since the regime of white rule was ending, he preferred that the next regime not have nuclear weapons. This is no example for any regime that actually continues in place.

The case of South Africa might be analoguous to the US successfully installing a new Shah in Iran, who might, after that regime change, follow US orders to disarm his country to restore Israel's nuclear monopoly. The best analogy for South Africa's dismantling of its nuclear program would be that if Israel realizes it will be forced to accept the Palestinian refugees and realizes that it can not continue as a Jewish-majority state but will soon have a Muslim political majority, its leadership will likely make the same calculation DeKlerk did.

A better analogy for Iran would be Japan and Brazil, or Canada and Romania, or Argentina and Taiwan. North Korea actually developed most of its nuclear capability before signing the NPT but even it would be a better example for Iran's case than any of South Africa, Pakistan, India or Israel who during the relevant periods in their nuclear weapons histories were not NPT signatories.

David Albright insults South Africa

It is not very often that I am offended by members of the US foreign policy community. My priorities and sensibilities are different from most of theirs, and interacting mostly with each other they've developed ways of evading uncomfortable facts that strike outsiders such as myself as deceptive, but usually harmlessly so. For example they love elliding the very big and important distinction between Iran being capable of producing a nuclear weapon in theory and Iran having an actual nuclear weapon. And that works well when they are interacting with people who are either uninformed or who share their point of view. But when an informed opponent points out that there of course is a huge difference, they do clumsily retreat from that point and all is well.

But I was actually stunned when I read David Albright's paper "Nuclear Iran: Not Inevitable" when he discusses South Africa.
In 1989, newly elected President F.W. De Klerk decided that in order for South Africa to end its international isolation it must give up both its oppressive system of apartheid and its nuclear arsenal.

... ... ...

Propelled jointly by worldwide opposition to its nuclear weapons and revulsion to apartheid policies, the de Klerk regime had little choice but to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
How dare he?

The struggle against Apartheid was a struggle against Apartheid. The people who died, who went to prison, who gave their lives, whose families suffered as they fought - they were applying pressure to end South Africa's system of racial discrimination. South Africa's nuclear program, (just as legal as its co-developer Israel's program was) was not even an afterthought in the international pressure.

Albright knows that there was no South Africa anti-nuclear movement. His lie that there was worldwide opposition to its nuclear program that operated jointly with the opposition to apartheid is an insult to all of the people involved in the actual struggle against Apartheid.

Nelson Mandela or any of the freedom fighters would smack Albright across his mouth if in their presence he tried to appropriate the struggle they gave so much for to fit his weird anti-Iran analogy.

He even went so far as to put the nuclear issue first the second time he mentioned these supposed two joint crimes of Apartheid South Africa. It's just ridiculous. Just proof that people in his community only interact with each other and have formed a bubble that grows more and more detached from the reality the rest of the world lives in.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The US' performance on Iran's election was very disappointing

The Obama administration is likely perceived in Iran, with some justification, as having acted outrageously regarding the election. Far worse than the latter part of the Bush administration would have been expected to act. The Bush administration showed that in the final analysis it could constrain its most rabid supporters of Israel's regional interests. The Obama administration has shown that on practical matters, so far it cannot.

The example of the Bush administration demonstrating independence from Israel's agenda that I'm thinking about is that Congress was openly advocating breaking up Iraq which would have furthered Israeli objectives while infuriating Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bush abruptly changed direction, began talks with Iran and released the 2007 NIE declaring that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program (by newly defining enrichment as outside of a weapons program). These actions demonstrated that his administration at least had the capacity to tangibly pursue an agenda in the region independent of Israel's objectives.

Obama is retreating on his signature settlements issue and acquiescing to Israel's policy of starvation of the people of Gaza, neither of which is particularly surprising for any US president, but from the Iranian perspective the US behavior during the aftermath of the elections has been breathtakingly provocative. Far worse than could have been reasonably expected.

It is well known that Obama did not forcefully speak in favor of the protesters, openly explaining that his rationale was his correct assessment that forcefully favoring them in public would hurt their cause. It is also well known that at the same time the US State Department publicly requested that Twitter remain on line to enable the protesters to more effectively organize demonstrations! The only impact of that step was symbolic, but as a symbolic gesture, it was an outrageous one.

Also publicly known is that Hillary Clinton, in her ongoing quest to prove it is possible to be a worse secretary of state than Condoleeza Rice, claims openly that the US was supporting the protesters behind the scenes.

"Now, behind the scenes, we were doing a lot," Clinton said. "We were doing a lot to really empower the protestors without getting in the way. And we're continuing to speak out and support the opposition."

Which brings us to Dennis Ross. The less said about him the better, but unfortunately Obama put him in a position from which he can more than plausibly claim to oversee all US policy regarding Iran. So of course there are rumors, spread by parties sympathetic to the US, that Ross' office has been coordinating efforts to destabilize Iran.

[I]n the build-up to the Iranian elections [Ross] sponsored and organized a program to "electronically invade" Iran with destabilizing messages trying, more subtly to be sure than the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup, to "regime change" it. Whatever else could be said about the "Iran-Syria Operations Group" , it played right into the hands of Ahmadinejad and the rightwing of the ulama and the military, giving them a proof text for American interference in the elections and thus may have backfired since no issue in Iranian politics is as sensitive as the fear of foreign espionage.

The thing is that even if the rumors are not true, these types of rumors are the very best possible outcome of any scenario in which a rabid Israel-first ideologue is charged with making Iran policy. We can consider the US fortunate if Ross, in his anti-Iranian zeal, hasn't clumsily left conclusive proof of an ineffective program to harm Iran's interests.

I also have to note here that massive electoral fraud, in a country with active and resourceful rival political factions, is implausible without tangible evidence, while a secret US program to destabilize Iran - given that funds have openly been allocated for for democracy promotion in a country the US does not consider a democracy - is plausible and even likely given what is known about the US' outlook on Iran and its capabilities. I am going to need to see tangible evidence before I believe Ahmadinejad really got fewer votes than Mousavi and was put into office by fraud. It takes less tangible evidence to make it plausible that the known US covert intelligence apparatus has been active in Iran in ways that reflect the US' historical hostility towards that country. I consider this position fair and hold this position without any bias towards Ahmadinejad's political faction in Iran. In fact, I would have preferred to see Mousavi win.

US public commentators on Iran policy, notably but not only Juan Cole, Trita Parsi and Roger Cohen have seemed disturbingly comfortable with the idea that even without any evidence they can assert as a fact that Iran's election was fraudulent. One might think from reading some of their columns that they believe that if they use the phrase "rigged election" enough times, their use of the phrase itself will serve as sufficient evidence of fraud. (Cole's recent columns have been more careful than those in the immediate aftermath of the election.)

When US policy-makers are not speaking publicly, non-governmental commentators who, as far as is known, share the ideological inclinations of the people in government and who are known to be in communication with policymakers offer something of a window into the administration's attitudes and orientation. What we've seen from these commentators suggests there is a widespread, visceral but irrational bias on the part of the US foreign policy community against Ahmadinejad. If Iran's voters chose Ahmadinejad then sadly Iranian policy-makers will have to factor an expectation of some additional amount of irrational hostility from the US toward their country and plan accordingly.

The United States has not been neutral regarding Iran's internal political situation. It is reasonable to assume that the resources allocated towards removing Iran's current regime from power were actually used, but it is not clear in public exactly how. Beyond the Nowruz greeting Obama sent to Iran, the administration has displayed a troubling degree of hostility towards Iran, and specifically towards Iran's president as an individual which, if it continues will have a real impact on events in the region, to the detriment of both Iran and the US.

My verdict so far on Obama's performance in the Middle East, especially but not only regarding Iran is better rhetoric but worse policy than late-term Bush, better policy than Bush's policy between 2002 and 2007. I guess it is possible that Obama's policy will improve by changing direction as Bush's did, but unfortunately it is possible that it will not. Iran's strategists are likely working from the assumption that US decision-making in their region under Obama is nearly completely dominated by Israel's agenda and therefore cooperation and easing of tensions will be minimal unless something changes.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What was Mousavi thinking?

Mousavi, ever since his announcement that if he lost it was because of fraud just as Iran's polls were closing has been difficult for me to figure out. His actions have been more difficult to understand because they have been coordinated at least with Khatami's if not with Rafsanjani's which makes it difficult to hypothesize that the actions are the result of a personal decision to commit treason against the country. On the other hand, his actions are exactly those that he'd be expected to take if he had been enlisted in a program to harm Iran.

My current guess is that Mousavi, Khatami and Rafsanjani have concluded, most likely with some urging from the Obama administration, that it is a matter of historic national urgency that Ahmadinejad be removed from office. With this belief they may, possibly, even be or have been open to the idea of taking guidance from the Americans or other parties foreign to Iran in accomplishing their shared objective of removing Ahmadinejad.

The nugget of truth upon which the idea that it is especially critical to remove Ahmadinejad from power is built is that Obama seems very unusually willing to make peace with Muslims. The next US president will not have a Muslim name or father. So if the Rafsanjani faction has been made to believe that rapprochement will not be possible with Ahmadinejad in office, then their own personal ambitions for power come in line with this historic opportunity for Iran itself. Iran does not necessarily have to be defined in opposition to the United States, but breaking from that role can only, or at least best, be done, by this way of thinking, during this Obama term in office, with a president other than Ahmadinejad.

If it was just a matter of personal ambition, the Rafsanjani faction would just wait. Ahmadinejad obviously has a great deal of political appeal but cannot run in 2013. Rafsanjani and his faction could spend these years rebuilding their image and making their arguments to the Iranian people. But because by their calculations, removing Ahmadinejad right now has historic significance, they have been willing to take the most desperate gambles in hopes of getting a slight possibility that Ahmadinejad may be pushed out.

It didn't work. Mousavi and Khatami sacrificed their careers. Rafsanjani lost a tremendous amount of political standing and is saved only by his lifetime terms in his political positions. But any dreams of his succeeding Khamenei have been turned to fantasies. I think they truly believe they made noble sacrifices: they were working to save Iran from permanent hostility with America.

While I do believe their private talks with representatives of the Americans encouraged them to believe removing Ahmadinejad is of crucial importance, I do not believe it is true that Ahmadinejad ever posed a singular obstacle to engagement between the US and Iran. The idea that Ahmadinejad stands in the way of important long-term benefits to Iran is also not the kind of idea that would have needed a huge amount of foreign pushing since it is in line with each member of the Rafsanjani faction's political ambitions. But I find it difficult to believe that the Rafsanjani faction is willing to take the desperate actions we've seen at least since June 12 without some form of confirmation, that they believe ultimately comes from Obama's office, that they are correct in their assessment of the urgency of removing Ahmadinejad in order to engage the US.

The US is currently militarily deterred from attacking Iran (or even stupider, from allowing Israel to attack Iran which would have the all of the same costs - or more - but Israel has fewer resources to actually get any results). Iran knows the US is deterred. Russia knows, China knows, Europe knows, Israel knows, the Arabs know. Everyone knows the US has been militarily deterred from striking Iran except the stupid US press corps that hears "all options are on the table" and gets titillated by the idea of US destructive power and begins screaming "please, please Mr. Obama, don't bomb the poor Iranians". It's a stupid dance that makes Americans feel virile so none ask the question: "when did Bush become such a humanitarian and what would have to change to make the Obama administration less 'humanitarian'?"

Actually, there is a balance of power in Iran's region in which Iran can do a lot to hurt the US just as the US could hurt Iran. An attack on IAEA supervised installations would be far more likely to result in the US being ejected from Iraq and Afghanistan and Obama being disgraced and losing reelection than a positive result from the US point of view. Israel is less concerned with the lives of US soldiers in the region or Obama's political fortunes, but even for Israel, a backlash against the US prioritzation of Israeli interests would likely follow an attack, which is the most imminent 'existential threat' Israel faces in real life.

So given that the US does not have a credible way to compel Iranian behavior but has objectives that Iran can help it reach, any US administration has to engage on some level any Iranian administration. The Obama administration has not and cannot offer Iran much more than the Bush administration did. In fact if Mousavi's desperate post election actions were ultimately aimed at improving relations with the US, that is where those actions failed most decisively. US demands on Iran have become more, not less unreasonable and probably more importantly, Iran's leadership perceives the involvement of the US in a regime change attempt - which already has completely nullified the good will Obama gained with the Nowruz greeting and claims that discussions would from now on be held on the basis of mutual respect.

My take is that the behavior of the Rafsanjani faction has had nearly disasterous consequences for its members and also for the US and Iran, despite the fact that the faction was motivated, in a misguided way - likely encouraged in this by sources they believed spoke for Obama - by the belief that what they were doing was critically important for Iran's future.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jonathon Cook on one state solution


Leaving without comment for now.