Monday, November 30, 2009

Obama's Letter to Lula about Ahmadinejad

The content of the letter apparently leaked in Brazil.
On the eve of the visit to Brazil of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the White House made it clear to the government Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva that values the Brazilian initiative to promote dialogue and mediate between Iran and Western countries on the nuclear issue. The United States' position was expressed by President Barack Obama in three-page letter sent Sunday to the Brazilian president.

In the text, the U.S. admit to dissatisfaction with the government's decision to receive the Iranian, but recognize that Brazil is a sovereign country, with the right freely to orient its foreign policy. Before the decision, Obama asked Brasilia address the following issues with Ahmadinejad: human rights and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The letter also dealt with the negotiations on climate change, the crisis in Honduras and the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO). At the reception, Monday, the Foreign Ministry, the President discussed the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad encouraged to keep the negotiations with the IAEA, and human rights.

After noting that Brazil staff its foreign policy "by the commitment to democracy and respect for diversity," Lula added: "We defend human rights and freedom of choice of our citizens with the same vehemence with which repudiate any act of intolerance or the use of terrorism. " The information is the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.
I'm not sure what the point of this letter would have been. I worry that Obama isn't self-aware enough to realize that Ahmadinejad believes his positions on human rights and cooperation with the IAEA are right, and will joyfully discuss his positions on these for as long as Lula would like. Ahmadinejad routinely challenges Obama to debates on these issues, and if the debate is presented to any non-Jewish Middle Eastern audience, or nearly any audience in the developing world, Ahmadinejad will certainly score a crushing victory.

The US foreign policy establishment, including Obama would reach its own goals more effectively if it could better empathize with its adversaries. But I guess it is not meant to be.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Iran escalating its dispute with the West

I believe, and I can only guess Iran believes, that in the final analysis, if the conflict with the West goes to war, Iran will win the war. Iran will win the war at high cost to itself. In both relative and absolute terms Iran will lose vastly more than its distant enemies, but its enemies will retreat first and leave Iran with a more powerful regional position than it has today.

The United States admits it cannot invade Iran because Iran has very good terrain for defending against invasion, good morale and an industrial base that can keep its defenders supplied. But if the US cannot invade, and capture or remove Iran's leadership as it did Hussein, in short it cannot win a war. The war will relatively quickly resolve into a stalemate where Iran and its allies execute asymmetric attacks against US forces in one huge zone at least from Pakistan, through Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. "At least" that zone because there's a good chance Saudi Arabia and Jordan will see fighting and other forms of turmoil as well.

I expect that Israel would respond to attacks from Gaza and Lebanon from the air, but would not attempt to take or hold territory in either. In that case Israel would suffer the psychological damage of being exposed as vulnerable to missiles to a degree greater than it has ever been in its history, but after that would not be a main front in the war, unless it tries to hold Lebanon in which case it would. There also would be attacks on oil installations and against the regional string of pro-US dictators.

How long would the American people be willing to sustain a wide scale war throughout the Middle East? One that would require several times the modest effort the US is exerting currently in Iraq and Afghanistan? Over what? To make sure Israel remains the only nuclear capable country in its region? I don't believe the US would get into such a war at all, but once in I'd expect the first election to provide a candidate calling for ending hostilities and I'd expect that candidate to win. If not the first, then the second election. Iran surely calculates that it will outlast the voters of the United States.

This would be a tremendously expensive war for the US that would substantially harm its global standing relative to its rivals, and would very likely lead to a re-examination of its policies in the Middle East. For Iran it would be a second Iran-Iraq war, a national project of survival that, if it's like the previous major war, indoctrinates the next generation of leaders, gives operational experience to its armed forces and purifies the country - giving Iran's citizens a tangible reason to focus on aspects of life bigger and more important than their personal gain or comfort.

I can be wrong. I don't see Iran as eager for war, but not afraid of it either, not afraid at all. This is about the same way I see Iran's view of sanctions. There'll be a cost, but Iran will end up with more enriched uranium if they happen. Not eager to get them, but if they're imposed, they'll be acceptable.

So we see two things in the aftermath of the IAEA report against Iran. One is Iran mirroring the US public policy of allocating funds to support democracy movements in Iran by allocating funds to resistance movements in the US and UK.
Under the proposal, whose outlines were approved by the legislature, $20 million from Iran's Oil Stabilization Fund will be allocated to help "progressive movements" report on rights abuses by the United States and Britain.

IRNA did not say which movements would receive the money, but the use of the word "resist" could be an implicit reference to militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, which Iran supports and often refers to as "resistance groups."
The other is that Iran claims it will open 10 more uranium enrichment centers.
Iran's government announced plans on Sunday to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants and said work would start within two months, state broadcaster IRIB reported.
Both of these are symbolic slaps in the face of the West that surprise me in their stridency. We're looking at an angry but defiant Iran. Angry over the Balochistan attack that took Iran's leadership by surprise and went against what the Iranians had hopefully believed had been a different direction in US policy under Obama. Defiant because if it comes to it, Iran does not expect to lose overall in a conflict with the West regardless of the level at which the West chooses to engage.

If I was to make one policy suggestion to the Obama administration it would be to issue a Presidential finding that support for armed separatist groups is against US policy and to in some way, even if not fully officially, admit that it had been in effect when he came into office so he can credibly assert that he has stopped it. If not that, then somehow or other, there has to be something more tangible than the statements we've heard so far that the US condemns the Balochistan attack.

It seems like the US position is that this can be on the table after Iran exports its LEU, and the US will be willing to trade it for changes in policy regarding Hamas and Hezbollah. If that's the US position, it prevents further discussion as effectively as Bush's requirement that Iran suspend enrichment.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gary Sick and Juan Cole believe there has been a Revolutionary Guard coup in Iran

Gary Sick seems to believe that there has been a coup that has toppled Iran's Supreme Leader from power. Sick goes further to assert that because he and other Americans do not know who leads this coup, Iran has no address - there is nobody in Iran with whom Americans who want to make a deal are able to negotiate.
I am personally convinced that the Revolutionary Guard Corps is now rapidly becoming the dominant force in Iranian politics—greater than President Ahmadinejad, and greater even than Ayatollah Khamene`i himself, though the pasdaran and others continue to pay lip service to his “leadership.” I base this judgment, among other things, on the fact that senior leaders of the pasdaran no longer have any compunction about taking positions that differ from those of the President or the Supreme Leader; yet neither the President nor the Supreme Leader ever dare disagree with the pasdaran. But if that is true, who exactly is calling the shots?
I'd be curious as to what positions he's talking about. I have not seen any public disagreement between Khamenei and members of Iran's security establishment. I can't even imagine what they would disagree about.

Gary Sick is claiming the coup was completed in Iran's June election. Really, that's just what he wants to believe - he's seen the most recent poll of Iranians who say they voted for the person who was reported as winner and they believe the results were fair, he doesn't have any indication that the reported results in the election are different from how Iranians actually voted. He thinks it is a coup because for some reason he finds the idea that Iran is a dictatorship or military junta comfortable.

Juan Cole makes a somewhat similar claim that the Supreme Leader was over-ruled by the Revolutionary Guard on the issue of the October proposal to export Iran's LEU in exchange for fuel for a medical reactor to be delivered at least a year from now. The idea that Iran's Revolutionary Guard understands the value of nuclear-capability but Khamenei and his negotiators do not is indefensible. Something happened in October, but definitely not a Revolutionary Guard veto over policy favored by Iran's Supreme Leader.

While we're here, I'd like to take a second to acknowledge that Juan Cole's explanation of the issues around Iran's reach for nuclear capacity are the clearest I've seen from any member of the mainstream US foreign policy establishment.
My own position is that, in addition, Iran's leadership is seeking what is sometimes called the "Japan option" or a "rapid breakout capability." Unlike North Korea, India and Pakistan, I think Tehran genuinely does not want to actually construct and detonate a nuclear device. India and Pakistan are such large and important countries that they defied the First World nuclear club successfully and so joined it. North Korea, much smaller, weaker and poorer, has made itself an international pariah in this way, and is suffering more and more severe UN sanctions. I think most senior Iranian leaders wish to avoid those heavy sanctions, having seen what they did to Iraq.

But having a rapid breakout capability-- being able to make a bomb in short order if it is felt absolutely necessary to forestall a foreign attack-- has a deterrent effect. So Iran would have the advantages of deterrence without the disadvantages of a bomb if it could get to the rapid breakout stage.


I personally suspect that most Western officials involved in this matter know perfectly well that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and does not want an actual bomb. I think the Western leaders do not want Iran to have nuclear latency, either, because it would change the balance of power in the Middle East and would take forcible regime change off the table as an option for the West.
But Cole and Sick are both vastly overcomplicating a fairly simple issue with their beliefs that Iran's Revolutionary Guard has taken power in some secret way. If there was a coup, Barack Obama also came to power in the US though a coup, and the word coup no longer has any meaning.

The Balochistan separatist attack on Iran's Revolutionary Guard was a major event. At least six high-ranking Iranian officers were killed. It is clear that the US has provided resources to the Balochistan separatists in the past. It is not clear that the US ever stopped providing resources to this armed anti-Iranian organization. That is enough to both rationally convince the Iranians that the Americans are not trustworthy and to create an environment of hostility and anger among Iran's decision-makers that did not exist before the attack.

Iranian behavior did change over the course of October. Not because of the June election, but because of the October attack that killed several ranking members of Iran's security establishment. Certainly personal friends of some of the people who would weigh in on making a deal with the Americans over the nuclear program were killed.

There's no reason to think the decision of the Supreme Leader was overruled in October, or that he has been removed from power. In the post-Balochistan environment, Khamenei is just as distrustful and angry at the West as everyone else in Iran's leadership. If the United States is looking for someone to negotiate with as if Balochistan had never happened, Sick is right that the US will never figure out who it can negotiate with.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Israel's threat - or maybe bluff - to attack Iran

I got a little chuckle out of this section of David Sanger and William Broad's article in the New York Times about Iran's nuclear program:
Israeli officials, meanwhile, have said that they will not consider taking military action until Mr. Obama’s deadline runs out, leaving hanging the suggestion — maybe the bluff — that they are preparing for that possibility in 2010.
Yeah. Maybe the bluff.

The Times is signaling that they aren't complete morons. Every expert says a military attack would not on balance slow Iran's drive towards nuclear capability but would carry an immense cost, for the US even more than for Israel. Israel is making the same threats it's been making for years, even though it has never made a public threat when it actually intended to strike in the past.

I would say that the US should accept Iranian enrichment, but I'm pretty sure it already has in private. The deal broke down because six senior Iranian generals were killed. Now Iran is working to embarrass the Obama administration by putting it into a position to either escalate hostilities when right now Iran has better cards or to back down.

The problem at this moment is less enrichment than the fact that once the US establishes a relationship with a separatist group in Iran, and it certainly has put a lot of resources into forming relationships with anti-Iranian groups during the Bush administration and likely into the Obama administration, Israel is ingrained in the US security establishment deeply enough that it has access to any relationships the US established.

In a wag the dog sense, the United States is not able to effectively cut anti-Iran projects without Israel's permission, but Israel has a much different view on making Iran so angry it decides to humiliate the Obama administration than the Obama administration does. This seriously, even fatally, detracts from US credibility when dealing with Iran.

What I'm saying is that even if there was an order from Obama to stop funding the Balochistan rebels, or an order to discourage or prevent attacks during negotiations, the funding would continue through Israel directly, or through France, England, Canada or another country that could maintain military support at Israel's request or direction without the Obama administration necessarily knowing.

It is a very unhealthy relationship between the US and Israel, but Iran is not going to bear the cost of the US' inability to control its client by continuing negotiations as if the deaths of six senior generals didn't happen. Just an unfortunate reality. A deal that was possible early in October was impossible by late October.

Baradei's efforts to salvage it couldn't address the root issue which is that Iran blames the US, with some justification, for an event that the US cannot deliberately control. The attack was a structural symptom of the US identity and priorities in the region.

So there'll be no bombing, the Times is right that Israel "maybe" bluffing. Obama will decide if he wants to accelerate the Iranian enrichment program by introducing new sanctions or if he wants to pay the price the Iranians are asking for the lives of the Iranian generals - that price may well be a larger Iranian domestic LEU stockpile than had been agreed in early October.

The second choice makes more sense from the US point of view than the first. But Obama will make his own choice. If Obama makes or has made the second choice, we would still be hearing sanctions posturing until a new deal has been nearly finalized, just as we heard sanctions posturing from Hillary Clinton all summer and through September before the last deal was made public.

One interesting fact is that either way, Iran will have a larger stockpile by the time the Obama administration ends than it would have had if the deal had gone through. The option of Iran remaining below the one ton threshold is now, possibly permanently, off the table. The US could probably get an agreement below two tons now but next year at this time, sanctions or not, even two tons may well be off the table.

Sanctions, or even the status quo with no agreement are leading to a situation where Obama's first term ends with Iran possessing 5 tons of LEU dispersed and effectively bomb-proof. 2012 can close with Iran truly in possession of a practical, effective and irreversible nuclear weapons capability. Iran at that point would have no need to actually build a weapon unless an unlikely specific emergency comes into view. That would be a tremendous, even historic victory for the Iranian revolution and would guarantee immunity from outside military threats to its survival.

Neither bombing or sanctions could prevent that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dennis Ross claims he got China to agree with US position on Iran

I still maintain we will not see new sanctions against Iran in 2010. I honestly don't think we'll see any new sanctions at all, but I guess it's possible there will be, on paper, an extension of the sanctions already present but extended in a way that nobody in Iran would be able to tell the difference from what is there now.

I don't even expect a minor increase in sanctions, but something as drastic as a ban on fuel import or export is far more preposterous. "Crippling sanctions", I think even those who believe some limited sanctions are plausible will admit, are just not in the cards. I really do not expect new sanctions at all. If I'm wrong, I'll admit it and then we'll see if Iran responds the way I predict Iran would respond, which would be a significant increase in the rate of production of LEU.

But until then, the claims that sanctions are imminent are getting more and more strident. The Washington Post reports that Dennis Ross went to China and may have scared the Chinese into supporting sanctions in an article by John Pomfret and Joby Warrick.
The Chinese were told that Israel regards Iran's nuclear program as an "existential issue and that countries that have an existential issue don't listen to other countries," according to a senior administration official. The implication was clear: Israel could bomb Iran, leading to a crisis in the Persian Gulf region and almost inevitably problems over the very oil China needs to fuel its economic juggernaut, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Chinese were told that "this could shake the entire framework of the international nonproliferation regime," said the official who was familiar with the lengthy analysis Ross laid out.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt could start their own nuclear programs, the Chinese were told. "And once Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey go, what's left?" the official said. The implication again was clear: Japan, China's biggest competitor for influence in the region, could go nuclear as well, the official said.
My goodness, where to start? The Chinese are unlikely to have believed a single word of this.

Israel is not going to attack Iran without US permission. Nothing has changed since George W. Bush denied Olmert permission to attack Iran except that the US now has a President elected with a mandate to reduce aggressiveness in foreign policy.

If Israel was to attack Iran without US permission, it only has a small number of planes and missiles that it could deliver, would set Iran's nuclear program back to some degree, but the program would be reconstituted to build a weapon at a faster pace and the net would be Iran both with a weapon capability and an actual weapon sooner than if Israel had not attacked.

In the meantime, Israel's patron the United States would begin taking intolerable losses both in Iraq and Afghanistan while Israel would come under the most thorough missile attack of its history. Thorough enough that wealthy, comfortable Israelis would really have to wonder if it might not be smarter to move to London, Miami or Sydney.

Israel attacking Iran is the most effective way to end the Zionist project in the medium term. If it was not for the loss of innocent life involved, I would favor and advocate an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear program.

But that's not going to happen. Bombing Iran poses far more of an existential threat to Israel than not bombing Iran.

It is true that once Iran has solidified its nuclear capability, there will be pressure on Egypt and Turkey to match that capability. Iran will be willing to help them match Iran's nuclear capability. The spread of nuclear capability in its region is a strategic nightmare for Israel. We're still talking about a theoretical ability to create a weapon, none of these countries would in any plausible scenario actually build a weapon and violate the NPT that they've all signed.

It is an interesting point that Israel actually manufactured weapons but in an important sense Israel's weapons are also virtual. Israel didn't build its weapons to use them. Israel built its weapons so that their presence would impact the actions of its neighbors, most importantly deter them from trying to engage Israel in a conventional arms race where their larger populations could give them an advantage.

Iran's, and later Turkey's and Egypt's capability to build weapons, their virtual weapons, would neutralize Israel's also-virtual weapon. Even if, as would be the case in all plausible scenarios, none actually manufactures a weapon that would violate the NPT. That's fine with Iran, Turkey and Egypt because it leaves them where they are today relative to each other and removes their disadvantage relative to Israel.

Yes. Israel really does not like that idea. It's hyperbole to describe losing this virtual nuclear deterrent as an "existential threat" but it is something Israel would love to see the US expend a lot of resources to prevent. It is always interesting to see how generous Israel is when helping itself to US resources.

Then Ross went on to claim that once Egypt became nuclear capable, who would be next? Implying next would be Japan. Is this guy serious? Japan is already nuclear capable. Is this guy serious?
Japanese Liberal Party leader Ichiro Ozawas recent statement that Japan could easily produce thousands of nuclear warheads using plutonium recovered from the spent fuel of its commercial nuclear power reactors is technically accurate, the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI) confirmed today.

Ozawa stated in a lecture delivered Saturday that "if [China] gets too inflated, Japanese people will get hysterical. It would be so easy for us to produce nuclear warheads we have plutonium at nuclear power plants in Japan, enough to make several thousand such warheads. [I]f we get serious, we will never be beaten in terms of military power." His remarks were widely reported in the Japanese press.
Bringing Dennis Ross into the administration was one of the biggest foreign policy mistakes Barack Obama has made, second only to the, possibly related, direct or indirect funding of the Balochistan rebels who killed several Iranian Republican Guard commanders.

Would a unified Palestine be a binational state?

Whenever I hear the word "nation" used as distinct from "state" I feel as if I'm looking into a time capsule from 1850. In modern language, "nation" and "state" are the same thing. I've heard them used differently in the past several years in one context only: the Zionist idea that Jews form a "nation" independent of a state.

It is a very weird viewpoint that applies nowhere else on earth. South Africa didn't become a multi-national state. South Africa is a nation with multiple ethnic groups. There are Jewish South Africans who are members of the South African nation, along with Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaaner South Africans.

There are people of visually apparent African descent, East Asian and South Asian descent who are citizens of Germany. As citizens of Germany, they are members of the German nation. Nobody in Germany defines "nation" in a way that denies membership to citizens of the country. I can't think of any country that either has citizens that are excluded from the definition of "nation" in that country or that restricts citizenship to a single ethnic group.

I guess it's kind of a conceit that even in 2009, Zionists consider Jews in some sense more than an ethnic group. It is a racist viewpoint that was common two centuries ago but as far as I know extinct in every contemporary case except Zionism.

So no. No normal person calls for a "binational" state in Palestine. What kind of weird colonial-era concept would that be? What would be the status of a person who gains citizenship who is not a Jew or Palestinian? However, a single state that respects the rights of Jews and non-Jews equally as members of a single national entity - as we've seen in South Africa - is the way to resolve the conflict over Zionism most in line with modern values and that requires the least imposition of misery on innocent people in the region.

Obama wrote a letter to Lula asking for help with Iran

Did everyone catch this?

Obama Writes to Brazil’s Leader About Iran
Mr. Obama did not explicitly criticize Mr. da Silva for hosting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, implying instead that he hoped Mr. da Silva would use the occasion to express support for the international effort to forge a compromise on Iran’s nuclear ambitions, according to two American officials.
What is Lula da Silva supposed to do with this letter?
A Brazilian government spokesman said late Tuesday that Mr. da Silva had not yet responded to Mr. Obama’s letter and was considering telephoning him, rather than replying by letter.
Ahmadinejad knows what offer is on the table. What could a letter to the President of Brazil possibly accomplish?

One side is groveling and the other is not. The President of the United States writing a letter to the President of Brazil asking for help convincing the President of Iran to accept a deal is a strange and desperate measure that surely provoked laughter in Brasilia and Tehran. My best guess as to what is happening is that there is a deal that was acceptable to Iran in early October that is not acceptable today. Elements of the deal have been made public, but these elements are not the entire deal. If they were, the deal would never have been acceptable to Iran. In fact, if the deal was once acceptable that indicates that it included enrichment.

My guess as to what changed is Balochistan, the attack on the Iranian Guards commanders. I don't believe any longer that the US changed its deal at the last moment because US policy right now seems sincerely puzzled with and disoriented by Iran's response. I also do not believe public statements from any party, including France which has been working to make the deal as publicly unacceptable to Iran as possible, have any impact.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stratfor believes sanctions provide way to avoid military attack

Stratfor recently predicted an attack on Iran in the near future if Iran is not forced by sanctions to suspend its nuclear program. At the time it was a just laughable prediction, that would be clearly disprovable after however long we define as "near future".

Now, Stratfor has adjusted its model of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program in a way that accepts both that Iran will continue to enrich uranium and there will be no military attack.
The ultimate virtue of sanctions is that they provide a platform between acquiescence and war. The effectiveness of that platform is not nearly as important as the fact that it provides a buffer against charges of inaction and demands for further action. In Sudan, for example, no one expects sanctions to work, but their presence allows business to go on as usual while deflecting demands for more significant action.
Stratfor's explanation of sanctions is that they provide a way to act as if a country is working to solve a problem that while ineffective removes pressure to take further action. One thing I believe that misses is that every single anti-Zionist country in the region, save Turkey which is a special, recent case is currently under sanction.

Sanctions seem almost like the West's way to punish Middle East populations for having leadership, whether elected or not, that is overly hostile to Zionism. It is expensive, but the cost is not being borne by Israel's Jews and it puts off, for some amount of time, the tragic to them fate of being forced to live like White South Africans, without a political majority.

I still have not seen a fundamental change in the situation that prevented George Bush from pushing for more sanctions for the last year of his presidency. More sanctions still means faster enrichment for Iran and I believe that is a deal Iran would accept. The claims that sanctions are becoming inevitable are becoming more shrill and more insistent and I continue to believe they are wrong.

My best guess as to what's happening is that behind the scenes the US and Iran are discussing, but have not yet agreed on exactly how nuclear capable Iran is to be allowed to become. I'd expect the US has made an offer that Iran could continue to enrich uranium but in a way that would leave it 18 months or so away from building a weapon. That's my impression of the deal presented by Matthew Bunn in a paper "Beyond Zero Enrichment: Suggestions for an Iranian Nuclear Deal"
Here is one example of what a compromise with Iran could look like:

  • The P5+1 agrees to allow some operational centrifuges in Iran.

  • Iran agrees to limit enrichment to 2-8 centrifuge cascades (other centrifuges in place, but not operating).

  • All centrifuge operations, R&D, manufacture (also other sensitive nuclear operations) are shifted to international ownership with a 24/7 international staff.

  • Iran agrees to the Additional Protocol and broad transparency measures.

  • The P5+1 implements an incentives package (trade, nuclear assistance, etc.).

  • Bilateral and multilateral dialogues are established to address other issues over time—including recognition and an end to sanctions if these other issues are successfully addressed.

  • The United States pledges not to attack Iran and not to attempt to overthrow the regime as long as (a) Iran complies with its nuclear obligations, (b) Iran does not commit or sponsor aggression or terrorist attacks against others.
Essentially, under this plan, if Iran was to export is current stockpile, then considering the time it would take to restart its enrichment program it would take, I'd guess, about a year for Iran to get enough uranium for a weapon together. I'd also guess that the deal the US actually presented to Iran was either on the low end or less favorable to Iran than what we see here.

The US will not officially accept Iranian enrichment until an actual deal has been reached behind closed doors. But Iran likely has red lines the US has not committed to respecting, for example that any deal must not restrict future generations of Iranians.

Talks of sanctions have a little value in increasing pressure on Iran and more importantly the talks also calm supporters of Israel who are actually buying them. Iran is perfectly willing to accept another round of sanctions that will allow faster enrichment. Enriched uranium and nuclear capability are permanent strategic assets for Iran that it's willing to sacrifice a lot for in the short term. Sanctions would just mean that Iran would achieve on the ground and then demand in any future deal more nuclear capability. The "threat" is just not a threat. But the US is not going to publicly back from it until it has traded its position for an agreement.

So Stratfor is right that we will not see an attack on Iran next year and also that Iran will not stop enriching uranium. Stratfor is wrong in expecting to see sanctions.

As a gesture to match Iran's gesture of exporting its LEU, the US could allow Russia to ship the missile defense system. Assuming it really is impossible to produce the fuel for the medical plant quickly enough, I imagine that would satisfy Iran's fears that given what is said publicly by the US, there is still an active possibility that after shipping its uranium, the US can change its terms leaving Iran with nothing. The deal presented by the West in public is not acceptable to Iran, but the more important negotiations are certainly occurring without public knowledge.

Somehow it's very likely a deal will be reached not very long from now that will allow Iran to continue enriching at some level less than now, but more than 2 cascades, and after that deal is reached we'll see Iran make the type of gestures the West is asking for.

But we're not going to see sanctions.

Bill Clinton to Israel: The trajectory of technology is not your friend

Bill Clinton adds his voice to American concern about trends facing Israel:
The missile projects have their critics in Israel, who question their effectiveness and say they are too costly. And many Israelis would probably agree with U.S. former President Bill Clinton's recent warning to an Israeli audience that the country could achieve true security only by making peace with its enemies, who he said would always be able to improve their ability to attack.

"The trajectory of technology is not your friend," he said. "You need to get this done."
He's only restating what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have said earlier.

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 creates a very interesting situation where Israel seems not to act as if it shares any American anxiety about the future.

This creates a very interesting situation where Israel seems not to act as if it shares any American anxiety about the future.

This is a situation where the Israelis understand something the Americans do not. The Americans have this very naive belief that if Palestinian "leadership" - widely understood to be appointed by and to serve at the pleasure of Israel and the United States - can be persuaded to accept a peace agreement, and then the Palestinians can be threatened, sanctioned and starved until they succumb to the pressure to vote for the agreement, that the agreement would increase Israel's strategic security.

It would not. No poll to date has shown any support for the type of "state" the Israelis and Americans are willing to offer the Palestinians. A "state" without control of its own borders, barred from fielding a military, without control of its natural resources and the Palestinians would have to cede any right to return to the territory they or their forebears left during an armed conflict. The Palestinians would not vote for this except under duress, and a positive vote under those circumstances would not be regionally accepted as valid.

There would still be a large proportion of Palestinians who believe there remain grievances to be resolved, and those Palestinians would still have the support of large portions of every non-Jewish population in the region. In other words, the US would, as long as it prioritizes the security of Israel, be forced to support dictatorships throughout the region and to sanction any government that, for any reason, pursues or threatens to pursue the consensus foreign policy objectives of its population.

Israel understands, in a way that its Americans supporters will not allow themselves to, that the current status quo is the best case scenario for Israel. The moral system of Americans cannot accept the situation in Israel except as a temporary and unfortunate stop along a path to a fair resolution somewhere over some horizon. The American value system cannot accept that there is no fair agreed resolution that maintains a Jewish state over a horizon and so Americans block that fairly easily demonstrated idea from consideration in an example of cognitive dissonance.

Americans understand, in a way that Israelis will not allow themselves to, that the current status quo can not be maintained indefinitely. The Israelis do not believe that if they starve some of the Palestinians into voting to accept a Jewish state that it will lead to actual acceptance. From Israel's point of view, even if a Jewish state is unsustainable, it is better for a one state solution to prevail in 2030 than in 2015. Every year that such a resolution is put off is a victory for Zionism, and who knows? Maybe some miracle will occur that is totally unforeseen now.

The fact of the matter is that keeping the Middle East safe for a Jewish state is a very expensive proposition. A huge amount of military, diplomatic and political resources have to be expended to keep a ring of corrupt dictatorships strong enough to be balanced against each other but weak enough not to threaten Israel. US policy goals are drastically more difficult to achieve given this constraint than they would be otherwise. Balancing Iraq and Arabia would not have required an invasion and occupation of the country by any stretch of anyone's imagination if not for the constraint that Arabia must not be allowed to be a threat to Israel.

Further, the expense of rendering the region non-threatening to a Jewish state is increasing - as the US privately comes to terms with the idea that preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons capability is no longer possible. Simultaneously, the US ability to absorb this expense is decreasing as the relative economic position of the US and the West continues its slow but essentially inevitable decline from its apex immediately after World War II.

Fears that a nuclear capable Iran will lead to nuclear capable Arabia, Egypt and other nations are correct, as are fears that the US' ability to persuade regional countries to pursue unpopular and illegitimate foreign policies will decline until the US is no longer effective playing that role for Israel.

Americans delude themselves into believing this situation is only temporary because they must. Israelis either delude itself into believing either that this situation can continue indefinitely or or that the 100 million people living under dictatorship, the 100 million people living under sanction and the huge costs in money, diplomacy and soldiers' lives that the US pays to maintain this situation a price well worth other people paying to prevent them from having to tolerate not being a majority the way White South Africans must.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why the US should support one state

The most important thing the United States can do to solve the problem in Afghanistan is publicly support a South Africa style, one person one vote resolution to the Palestinian conflict over Zionism.

Until that happens, the United States will be in a legitimate conflict with the Muslim world. Not a PR conflict or a misunderstanding or propaganda conflict but a real conflict in which Muslims, in self defense, will attack the US from somewhere, if not Afghanistan, then Arabia, if not, then Sudan, if not then Muslim communities in the West.

There are over 100 million Muslims living under pro-US dictatorships in Jordan, Egypt the West Bank and Saudi Arabia - where the US supports and is publicly tied to the denial of people's rights to participate in their own politics because democracies in these countries would be dangerous to Israel keeping its Jewish majority.

There are nearly 100 million Muslims that have anti-Zionist leaderships, in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza where the people are punished for living under anti-Zionist rule, whether elected or not, by sanctions that cruelly harm the populations and leave the leaderships intact.

I don't think much need be added about the suffering of the 25 or so million Iraqis who committed the crime of being ruled by the anti-Zionist Saddam Hussein.

The idea that over 200 million Muslim people should suffer so 6 million Jews in Israel can have a Jewish majority state leads to conflict between the West and the Muslim world and there is no way around that.

Americans have been slow to understand that this is a real conflict. This is not a matter of George Bush using more aggressive language than Barack Obama. The United States is, with most Americans not fully aware, gravely harming large numbers of Muslims continuously for the purpose of keeping the region safe for a Jewish state.

Stop supporting Zionism and Al-Qaeda and the Muslim world will no longer be in conflict with the US and the West.

That can and should be done in a way that respects the religious, personal and property rights of those Jews living in the region.

Once that's done, Muslim grievances against the US will dissipate steadily and whether Bin Laden is caught or not, the lack of anger, which is now justified, that fuels his recruits will render the conflict he believes he's fighting irrelevant.

But giving the Palestinians Bantustans worse than those the Blacks of South Africa rejected, even if the Palestinians can be starved into accepting them, will not end or even decrease the conflict.

The alternative to US support for one state is decades of conflict that will just become more expensive in terms of money and lives and will hasten the decline of the US as a superpower.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Support for democracy in anti-Zionist dictatorships

This blog often rails against the pro-US dictatorships, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia the rest of the Gulf dictatorships and others. I describe them as relatively pro-Zionist because other than Egypt and Jordan, none has recognized Israel or interacts with Israel publicly and officially.

I describe them as relatively pro-Zionist because they depend for their security of their regime on a country, the United States, that sees its primary obligation in the region as the protection of Israel as a Jewish majority state. Where that dependency leads is to a situation where Saudi Arabia, for example, nearly never fails to support the same side in regional disputes as Israel.

On the anti-Zionist side there is Iran - which contrary to those who viscerally hate that country, does have transparent elections with distinct political factions who represent interests and policies at least as different from each others' as the major political factions of the United States. If you consider the about four million Palestinians on occupied territory and living subject to Israeli rule, but without any influence over Israel's government, Israel cannot be considered a democracy. That leaves Iran, despite its ongoing conflict with the world's most powerful country, as the most democratic nation in the Middle East.

There is also Lebanon which holds electoral contests that are structurally biased toward pro-Israel factions but within that constraint does hold contested political contests. Contrary to the vigorous efforts of the US, Israel and their Saudi and other subjects, the results of these political contests are respected.

Then there is Turkey, which until very recently had a democratic system subject to be overruled at any time by a pro-Western military establishment, and whose foreign policy was insulated from its democratic political system. Recep Erdogan, Turkey's political genius is methodically reorienting Turkey's political system and the outcome may yet be that Turkey's political system ends up both independent of the military and fully in control of foreign policy. There is also Iraq, a country over which the United States exerts a tremendous amount of leverage because of its direct military occupation, but whose ties with Iran makes it unlikely to ever be as subservient to US interests as Saudi Arabia. Iraq has not stabilized yet. We do not see yet how we are going to characterize Iraq's foreign policy.

But beyond those countries lie the anti-Zionist dictatorships. Nasser's Egypt fell in that category before Sadat's later decision to put Egypt under US control. Saddam Hussein fell into that category before being removed at a nearly unmeasurable cost to the people of Iraq. Today that category is held to some degree by Libya's Muammar Gadaffi and most prevalently by Syria's Bashir Assad.

Syria poses real but not fatal questions to the connection between support for Zionism and opposition to democracy in the Middle East. The most important difference between Syrian policy and Egyptian is that Egypt's alliance with Israel is contrary to the views of 92% of Egyptians people who saw Israel as an enemy of their country in 2006, and 87% who viewed the country negatively in 2008 before Israel's attack on Gaza.

A democratic Syria would more effectively and legitimately pursue similar policies to those it now follows with respect to Israel. A democratic Egypt would more effectively and legitimately pursue policies closer to Iran's than to Hosni Mubarak's. An opponent of Zionism can and should support democracy in Syria in a way that a supporter of Zionism cannot for Egypt.

The US concern, at least as of 2005, that working to remove Assad from power would likely yield a replacement as hostile or more towards Israel as its current government is the same concern that causes the US to encourage the dictatorships in the more pliant states.
But such is the concern over destabilizing Syria that even Israel — its bitter enemy — has urged the Bush administration to proceed cautiously.

The new intelligence assessment was compiled in late September by the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte.

The classified document concludes that if Assad is overthrown, he's likely to be replaced by someone from the ruling leadership who'd pursue the same policies or even more confrontational ones, according to officials who've read it or been briefed on its contents.
So where does that leave us concerning the comparison between anti-Zionist support for Syria's leadership and pro-Zionist support for Egypt's leadership?

Bashar Assad is an authoritarian dictator who I'd like to see removed from power and replaced with competitively selected leadership by a process that reflects the views and sensibilities of the Syrian people. This is a statement that supporters of Zionism, such as Barack Obama, are unable to make regarding Egypt.

The key point, that support for Zionism requires opposition to democracy for the over 200 million non-Jews in the region does not have an analogue on the other side. Opposition to Zionism is compatible with support for democracy, not only in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other pro-US stooge dictatorships. It is also compatible with support for democracy in Syria and Libya, not to mention Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, and the all of the territories currently under Israeli control.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Any questions?

The format of commenting on a pre-existing interview of piece in question-answer format is becoming a favorite of mine because there are a lot of questions I would never think to ask but that have interesting answers once presented.

I ask any reader who finds an interview or question-answer formatted piece involving the Middle East on the internet to direct my attention to it in this comments section.

Also, if you have a question or list of questions, put it into the comments section of this post and I'll try to make posts out of as many as I can.

US policy, even under Obama, encourages radical Islam

Reading about the problem of radical Islam's availability in websites in English reminded me of Barack Obama's June interview with BBC where he expressed his support for Egypt's dictator:
Justin Webb: Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?

President Obama: No, I tend not to use labels for folks. I haven't met him. I've spoken to him on the phone.

He has been a stalwart ally in many respects, to the United States. He has sustained peace with Israel, which is a very difficult thing to do in that region.

But he has never resorted to, you know, unnecessary demagoging of the issue, and has tried to maintain that relationship. So I think he has been a force for stability. And good in the region. Obviously, there have been criticisms of the manner in which politics operates in Egypt.

And, as I said before, the United States' job is not to lecture, but to encourage, to lift up what we consider to be the values that ultimately will work - not just for our country, but for the aspirations of a lot of people.
There is a real structural problem here. US support for Israel puts the US, in any objective sense, into conflict with the Muslim world, a conflict that is more intense the closer a country is to Israel, either geographically or empathetically, but not a misunderstanding or PR problem, a conflict.

Two specific phrases of Obama's somewhat stun me. One is "unnecessary demagoging of the issue", the other is "And good in the region." What stuns me about them is that these statements could not be made by someone who does not understand the opposition between democratic ideals and support for Israel in the Middle East.

There are over 60 million people in Egypt that Obama thinks is "good for the region" that they live under a dictator who doesn't "unnecessarily demagogue" the issue of the conflict against Zionism. It says something disgusting about Obama's perception of the value of the lives and interests of Arabs compared to Jews in Israel (a tenth in number just of Egypt) who insist they must form a permanent political majority if necessary at the expense of the Palestinians.

That was just a hideous answer. I'm grasping for words to capture how evil it was. "I don't use labels" is just an affront. "Criticisms of the way politics operates." Obama, from an Arab or Muslim point of view, is a monster. No worse than any other plausible US national leader, but absolutely indefensible.

But Obama didn't make it up. Given that American policy is that it is good for the people of Egypt and many other countries to live in dictatorships for the benefit of Israel, it is not hatred or even unreasonable that there will be Arab messages that are anti-American.

The truth of the matter is that a US soldier fighting for Obama's vision of the Middle East is fighting for the subjugation of the Egyptian people in favor of a ten times smaller group of Jewish people in Israel. If that soldier has a connection with Egypt, that soldier is committing an act of betrayal. Or Palestine, or Jordan, or Arabia, or Islam.

This is a structural problem that the United States brings on itself through its support for the Zionist project. A problem that could be solved with fewer resources and more in line with US values by supporting the establishment of a South Africa-style resolution to the conflict over Zionism. Instead the United States has tasked its subject dictatorships with reprogramming Arabs who oppose the US within their jurisdictions.

It does not seem sustainable over any long period of time.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A pretty good Q&A on Iran's nuclear program by BBC

I'm late to write about this BBC summary, in question-and-answer format, about the October 2009 deal in which Iran was to trade some of its low enriched uranium for fuel for a medical reactor. It is a pretty good summary, clearly not written from my point of view, but far less in line with a Mossad point of view than we are used to seeing in Western press.

If I could change the article, I would add more focus on what the reader should expect in the future, and the measures each side has at its disposal to ensure that it prevails in this conflict. That taste may well be a result of my perception of the strength of Iran's position now in practical terms, which these questions do not address as well as they address each side's theory.

Anyway, the original questions are left in bold. Several questions do not strike me as needing anything added to the BBC response and are left out entirely.

Iran is now considering an offer to have much of its enriched uranium converted into fuel abroad.

What is the significance of this offer?

The BBC points out that if Iran accepted this deal, there would be a period during which Iran has less than roughly a ton of LEU in its domestic possession, but at Iran's current rate of enrichment, that period would end at some point over the year. The deals the West intends to offer Iran would have to involve Iran's domestic LEU stock freezing while still below the one ton level that could be used to build a weapon in theory for it to be valuable to the West's negotiating position to reach such a situation.

One way Iran's domestic stock could freeze would be for Iran to suspend enrichment. Iran has refused all suggestions, requests or demands that it suspend enrichment since early 2006. Another could be that the West might have offered to implement some "internationalization" of Iran's effort that could see Iran's domestic enrichment diverted to a fuel bank. Hints that discussions of a scenario of this type were under discussion include that Ahmadinejad began speaking of such an arrangement publicly and discussions El Baradei held with Tehran were leaked in a hostile fashion by some party that opposes such an arrangement.

It is admitted that only an outline of a deal that is more detailed has been released to the public. The details which are under discussion are what separate an agreement from a situation where each side would prefer leaving the table. If the proposed details involve an Iranian suspension of enrichment, then it is safe to predict Iran will reject the deal. If the details are such that Iran would retain enrichment and a nuclear capacity, Iran may accept such a deal, though that would mean the US and West have retreated from the position they took under the previous administration and from the position articulated by Clinton and Obama recently.

What is known about the second enrichment plant?

The BBC's reporting of the Fardo facility is accurate for what it is. The acknowledgment of a second enrichment plant that could potentially be stocked with enrichment capacity does not change the situation in any important way. The West has assumed that if Iran's enrichment facilities were bombed, Iran would reconstruct them quickly and there is a chance Iran would go as far as to build a weapon under that circumstance. The Fardo facility, or one better hidden, would be one of Iran's potential means for doing what everyone basically expects Iran to do if attacked.

Why is Iran refusing to obey the Security Council resolutions?

The Security Council resolutions would have the effect of preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear capability and, if Iran followed them, would effectively give the US a veto over every aspect of its nuclear program. Iran refuses to either give the US a veto over its nuclear program for reasons of sovereignty and refuses to give up a nuclear capability for strategic reasons.

Why has the Security Council ordered Iran to stop enrichment?

For a question of motivation, the BBC misses entirely why the West does not want Iran to have a nuclear capability. The reason is that Israel believes having a monopoly of nuclear capability in its region is an important element of its strategic position. This question, will Israel's monopoly be broken, is really the core of the dispute between the West and Iran. I've discussed why Israel opposes the prospect of another country gaining a nuclear capability at length elsewhere.

What precisely does the Security Council and the IAEA want Iran to do?

The NPT and safeguards agreement that Iran ratified spell out what is to happen if safeguarded material is discovered that had not been disclosed. Essentially under the agreements Iran ratified, the IAEA is to expands its inspections until it can verify that no material (uranium, plutonium or thorium, i.e. material that could be the "nuclear" part of a nuclear weapon) has been diverted to a military program.

In 2003, Iran began implementing, on a voluntary basis because they were unratified, the Additional Protocols, which give the IAEA a mandate to make a more thorough inspection and to search for elements that are not related to fissile material but to inspect a wide swathe of a country's military establishment for evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

The IAEA had spelled out a number of steps, beyond the NPT and safeguards requirements, that it requested Iran take on a "voluntary and non-legally binding" basis to meet the mandate the IAEA would have if Iran had ratified the Additional Protocols, and until that mandate could be met, to voluntarily refrain from the use or acquisition of technologies that could give Iran an military nuclear capability.

The Security Council resolutions take these explicitly voluntary and non-legally binding steps the IAEA requested Iran take, and make them mandatory. These steps are well beyond those required by the NPT and safeguards agreement Iran ratified. They include answering questions beyond the scope of Iran's ratified agreements, suspending enrichment and actually ratifying a the Additional Protocol, which is a separate treaty that countries are able to voluntary ratify in addition to the NPT.

President Obama offered an "extended hand" to Iran. What happened to that?

While John Kerry, likely speaking with the knowledge of the Obama administration, has called the Bush position that Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium "ridiculous on its face", Obama has not publicly moved away from the previous administration's position. In his public position on Iran's nuclear program, Obama is identical to Bush. Bush also had unofficial discussions with the Iranians. In practical terms, there has not been a difference in US Iran policy under Obama from US policy under Bush.

What new sanctions are possible?

I take the very unusual position that I do not expect to see any new sanctions pressed against Iran because of Iran's position that new sanctions cause it to accelerate its program. I consider the calls for sanctions to be a performance that ignores the underlying reality that sanctions hurt those who would slow Iran's attainment of a military nuclear capability more than it hurt proponents of Iran's attaining the capability. Bush did not get, or make any attempt to get, any new sanctions by his last year in office. Iran is enriching at approximately the same rate it enriched during Bush's last year and the sanction situation has not changed. I do not expect the West to break this equilibrium, despite increasingly shrill statements from some inside and outside of the Obama administration.

Incentives are being offered to Iran. What are these?

The West has a strange idea of what an incentive is. The incentives offered are of the form "first you stop enriching, then we'll talk about what we can offer if you make other policy changes". I originally thought this was some weird idea Condoleeza Rice and George Bush came up with, but see Hillary Clinton and Obama making the same "offer". An offer for talks is not an offer at all. Iran can talk for free. Iran could offer to stop funding Hezbollah right now and the US would come to the table, just as it would have under Bush, suspension or no suspension.

Behind the scenes, the US is presenting Iran with options under which Iran could continue to enrich but to a limited degree and with a uniquely restrictive inspection regime. If a deal is reached that both sides find acceptable, it will be made public. Until then, we just see the public offer which is "ridiculous on its face" as well as an insult to the intelligence of the Iranian side. But this public offer is not very important for understanding the true situation.

Doesn't Israel have a nuclear bomb?

At some point, this topic should probably get its own blog post. The BBC's answer is that Israel has not signed the NPT. The West's demands on Iran go far beyond Iran's NPT requirement. The Security Council resolutions demand Iran to ratify a new treaty, the Additional Protocols.

Iran's justifiable contention that there is a double-standard is not weakened by the fact that Israel has not signed the NPT. The Security Council has found Iran's failure to ratify the Additional Protocols to be a threat to peace and security, but did not find Israel bombing civilian targets in Lebanon and Gaza to be so. Does not find Israel's current policy of restricting the import of food to Gaza's civilian population for political reasons - a war crime - to be a threat to peace.

The Security Council would be just as justified in demanding Israel relinquish its sovereign right to choose which treaties it ratifies and ratify the NPT as it does to demand Iran ratify the Additional Protocols.

The BBC's careful stepping around the Additional Protocols issue in its answer to an earlier question suggests that it is aware of and prefers not to address this issue.

But it is almost a cliche that European news sources are better balanced on Middle East matters than US news sources. That holds here as Iran's position was explained more fairly than is customary in the West. That does not mean its readers would get an unbiased view of the issues, but this is less craven in its elevation of Israel's issues than most US new sources are when attempting the same thing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

John Whitbeck: Palestinians should push for a one state solution

In the Christian Science Monitor, John Whitbeck, who is presented as "an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel" advises that Palestine's leadership commit to a one state solution to the conflict over Zionism if two states have not been agreed to by some specifically set date.

Throughout the long years of the so-called peace process, deadlines have been consistently and predictably missed. Such failures have been facilitated by the practical reality that, for Israel, "failure" has had no consequences other than a continuation of the status quo, which for all Israeli governments has been not only tolerable but preferable to any realistically realizable alternative. For Israel, "failure" has always constituted "success," permitting it to continue confiscating Palestinian land, expanding its West Bank colonies, building bypass roads for Jews only, and generally making the occupation even more permanent and irreversible.
In this context, Israelis might wish to talk with some white South Africans. The transformation of South Africa's racial-supremicist ideology and political system into a fully democratic one has transformed them, personally, from pariahs into people welcomed throughout their region and the world. It has also ensured the permanence of a strong and vital white presence in southern Africa in a way that prolonging the flagrant injustice of a racial-supremicist ideology and political system and imposing fragmented and dependent "independent states" on the natives could never have achieved.
The problem is that Abbas, Fayad, Erekat and Dahlan do not work for the Palestinians, they work for the Americans on behalf of the Israelis. He also says the Arab league should threaten to abandon its offer of accepting Israel in favor of one state. Unfortunately, Mubarak and the Abdullahs of Jordan and Arabia do not work for the Arabs. They work for the Americans on behalf of the Israelis.

A competitive political process in Palestine would produce leaders and organizations, like Hamas that call for a single state. The process that produced Abbas, where the US directs money to the personalities it chooses and who sometimes, if the result can be determined in advance, are put before the Palestinians for stage-managed elections produces leaders who call for what Israel tells them to call for.

This means though, that Hussein Ibish' big point that Palestine's leaders do not call for one state really just means that Israel does not call for one state. Based on this, and only this fact, it appears to me that Ibish is an apologist for Zionism.

Anyone, including Barack Obama, who says that the only imaginable way for the conflict over Zionism to be resolved is through a two-state solution, while they are saying that, is an apologist for Zionism.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Debkafile mocks Abbas

This open mockery while Abbas flails around is painful to watch.
Our sources report that Monday, he was this week promised a grant of$131 million to pay for four brigades that would double the size of his presidential security guard in Ramallah. If the Palestinian leader withdraws his resignation, US Gen.Keith Dayton will go straight into training the incremental troops. If not, the plan will be set aside.

Long familiar with Abbas' great strength, i.e. his weakness, Netanyahu and Barak have often propped him up before and may be expected to chip in with a fresh batch of concessions for the Palestinians to bring him round.

However, neither the US nor Israel will countenance a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence. Netanyahu has said Israel would counteract to this step in kind, including annexations of West Bank territory and the suspension of existing accords.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Obama, the United States and Israel against the world of demons

It is often said that the US or Western opinion shapers have attempted to demonize, most recently Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Saddam Hussein, and previously Muamar Khadafi, Yasser Arafat and Gamel Nasser. This is actually wrong in a subtle but important way and the implication is much broader than immediately apparent.

Most Americans consider the idea that there should not be an Israel to be an evil idea. By most Americans I include most otherwise liberal members of the US foreign policy establishment. Every indication is that Barack Obama is a member of this group. For most Americans a person who does not believe there should be a Jewish state is an anti-Semitic monster - and does not require further demonization.

This is important because this belief creates a world of demons for those who hold that belief. Most non-Jews in the Middle East do not believe there should be a Jewish state in Palestine. For most Americans, including Obama, that means that most non-Jews in the Middle East are animals, more worthy of death than democracy.

Obama has no qualms with supporting dictators who routinely torture their political oppositions in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt because of Obama's conception of the people of Arabia, Jordan and Egypt as likely opposed to the existence of Israel and therefore not worthy of democracy.

There are some Iranians who believe some accommodation should be reached between the United States and Iran over Israel. The same is, of course, also true in many other places in the Middle East. I just want to point out that two thirds of Iranian people did not believe Israel was a legitimate state in 2006. Those Iranians who disagree and want to find common ground with Americans should understand that Americans see two thirds of your country as demons.

The United States is just as opposed to democracy in Iran as it is in Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, and for the same reasons that Americans perceive as moral. Americans involved in foreign policy believe, and you can ask them, that a pro-Israel dictator such as the Shah is preferable to lead Iran than an anti-Israel democratically elected leader.

American believe, if they have the opportunity, that imposing a pro-Israel dictatorship over Iran is their moral duty. Regardless of the cost in lives and suffering of the people the pro-Israel leadership is to be imposed upon, just as it is, if at all possible, in Egypt, Lebanon or Iraq.

Iran, Israel and the Palestinians

The United States has, in the last half of 2009, and seemingly accelerating now, been going out of its way to reassure Israeli security concerns. When Clinton went well beyond anything necessary to express US support for Israel, and described Israel's rejection of the terms expressed by the Obama administration emphatically earlier this year as an "unprecedented" advance, it seemed that the US is working to prove to Israel that it is not abandoning it.

Knowing, and knowing that by now Israel has been made to understand, the probable cost of a new sanctions project against Iran, if the US truly had plans to undergo such a project, Israel would be working to reassure the US that it can be helpful, instead of the other way around.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration presented Israel with a proposition that was false, that if it took tangible steps towards peace with the Palestinians, that would give the US more options to address Iran's nuclear program. If Israel had stopped all settlement building, or even if it had gone to talks and made an offer of full withdrawal from territories captured in 1967, that would not have had an impact on Iran's refusal to suspend enrichment.

This mistake came from Obama's sincere belief that an Israeli withdrawal, even a partial one, has some property of fairness that would move the hearts of everyone in the region, including the Iranians. Creating reservations for the Palestinians with fewer rights than US Native Americans, or the Bantu-stans that were offered to and rejected by South Africa's Black people, even on 93% of the land captured in 1967, would not satisfy either a majority of Palestinians or the rest of the region. This is a concept the Obama administration does not allow itself to understand.

Obama hopes that under extreme duress, the US will be able to coerce a Palestinian referendum accepting permanent defeat, and this acceptance will be accepted throughout the region. He is wrong the way the US leadership has been wrong since the foundation of Israel, and eventually the gap between the beliefs of the US foreign policy community and reality becomes unbridgeable.

So Iran turned down US "generous" offers to pressure Israel to give the Palestinians an official reservation in exchange for Iran's agreement to stop enrichment. This was an unexpected development to the US administration, which left the US without its best plan to stop Iran's nuclear program.

I can only guess what next year will bring. The US is not acting like a country that is going to impose punishing sanctions on Iran in order to maintain Israel's monopoly of nuclear capability in its region. The US is acting like a country that is in the process of giving up that quest and because of that working to reassure Israel that it will have the support needed to survive in a post-nuclear monopoly environment.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Proxy war in Yemen?

I generally oppose secessionist movements in the global South. Yemen's apparent president-for-life Ali Abdullah Saleh, as far as I can tell, is far from unusually bad by the standards of Arab leadership in the Middle East.

I've read allegations that Iran is supporting Yemen's Houthi rebels against Yemen's government and Saudi Arabia. I don't have enough information about Yemen to form an opinion about that allegation or the merits of either of the sides in the conflict.

A democratic Arabia would likely deal with events such as a civil war on its borders much more effectively than the Saudi monarchy, just because monarchies of the Saudi type consistently produce poor leadership and dulled incentives to ambition which permeate the entire society.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Karim Sadjadpour is somewhat America-centric and probably overestimates the strength of Iran's opposition

We have a Q&A about Iran produced by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Qantara publication. Qantara titled the piece "The Iranian Regime Is Now More Vulnerable Than Ever Before" which is probably exactly wrong. Laughably so actually. More vulnerable than when Iraqi troops were on Iranian territory supported by what looked to the Iranians like the entire world?

In fact, It seems the factions that won the June election are much more secure in place than they were before the election. This point is parenthetical but If you look at Ahmadinejad during the debates, you see a man who considers himself being ganged up on by a vast array of power represented by the three candidates who each posed as an anti-Ahmadinejad candidate and supported behind the scenes by Iran's richest man, a friend the of Supreme Leader and better politically connected than any Iranian other than Khamenei. Ahmadinejad did not go into the debates as a relaxed person who knew the fix was in, he went into the debates panicked that he may not be able to convince Iran to go his way. We see none of that panic in Ahmadinejad now.

Karim Sadjadpour, providing the answers, demonstrates the common Western misperception that the opposition protests are stronger than any evidence shows them to be and also gives what is probably unwarranted emphasis to anti-Americanism as a motive for Iranian policy.

On the first misperception, what is happening is we have a whole corps of Western-based foreign policy analysts who viscerally dislike the Iranian regime, with a particular animus for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. If a poll shows that 80% of Iranian people believe Ahmadinejad is honest, I'd guess 5% of Sadjadpour's peers share that impression. Sadjadpour's peers have a strong tendency to project their own feelings onto Iran's people. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the demographic groups most hostile to Ahmadinejad are also the demographic groups with the greatest access to people like Sadjadpour. Finally Sadjadpour and his peer reinforce each other's biases and thereby perpetuate a process that leads their analyses further and further away from any objective evidence.

The second misperception is also a problem of projection, the United States, as such, is a more important issue for a US-based analyst than it is for an Iranian leader. US-based analysts might find themselves reading speeches and focusing on the issues the analysts find most important, even potentially skipping over issues that an Iranian speaker considers most important. Iran does not define itself as an anti-US nation. There is no benefit to opposing the US just to oppose the US. An analyst may get an inaccurate impression of Iran's motives by over-focusing on the subject of greatest interest to the analyst himself.

But I'll put the questions in bold and provide what I think are more accurate answers and discuss Sadjadpour's answers.

The political situation in Iran is tense. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the United States Embassy in Iran on November 4th tens of thousands of protesters were on the streets of Tehran despite severe warnings from Iranian security forces. The demonstrations took place not only in Tehran but also in various other cities around the country. Mr. Sadjadpour, for how long do you think will the opposition be able to keep up the pressure against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government?

John McCain could get much larger protests against Barack Obama today if he called for them. There is a strong tendency to overestimate the amount of pressure the street protests are providing. During the protests, for the most part life went on as usual in Tehran. If we remember China's Tienanmen Square protests they were much more broadly supported and thrown against a government that did not have Iran's support (at least according to the best polls we have) and did not throw elections. Maybe there will be protests from now on. But these protests are not increasing, haven't captured Iran's popular imagination and it is difficult to describe them as pressuring Ahmadinejad's government.

Sadjadpour's contention that there will not be change overnight is correct. Next election, where Mousavi almost certainly will not be allowed to run, there will be a whole new set of issues. Ahmadinejad, the most popular politician in his faction also will not be able to run. In terms of looking for change in Iran, the next election is more a more important event to look at than any of the protests that might happen between now and then.

What do you think is going to happen over the next few months?

A few months is a tiny amount of time. Iran in June 2010 will look a lot like it looks now. The opposition will be able to get maybe thousands of protesters onto the streets. Not enough to be disruptive.

Sadjadpour implies without saying that he expects the protest movement to gain steam. That scenario is very unlikely. We'll see who's right in a few months.

During the demonstrations on November 4th we heard for the first time people chanting "Obama, Obama – either you're with them or you're with us" along with the slogan "Down with the dictator". Do you think the Obama administration responded in an apt manner to the developments in Iran?

This is an interesting, interesting question. It is well known, Obama has said himself, that he believes speaking for the opposition would delegitimize the opposition. He's right about that, but because it is so well known that he is being silent as his way of assisting the opposition, his silence does not help the opposition.

His Secretary of State is another issue entirely. The episode where the State Department asked Twitter not to perform maintenance in order to help the protesters, and then publicized that it made that request just left me shaking my head incredulously. I still can't figure out what the US was aiming for with that. She has also publicly said that while the administration knows speaking in its favor could harm the opposition, "behind the scenes, we were doing a lot".

The administration need not try to be too clever. If it believes the opposition protesters are more popular among Iranians than the than the ruling regime, in theory the administration should just say that. Conspicuously holding silent, with the openly stated intention of supporting the opposition that way does not help the opposition. Unfortunately for the Obama Administration, there is a small problem and a big problem with speaking out in favor of Iran's opposition.

The small problem is that once you claim most Iranians want the government to stop supporting Hezbollah, recognize Israel and accept "peaceful nuclear power" without domestic enrichment, a poll can come out that shows 80% or even greater majorities of Iran on the opposite side of each of those issues. By being silent Obama can remain in the realm of the unfalsifiable, which is better than being indisputably wrong.

The big problem is that once you say the US stands for democracy in the Middle East, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia come up as subjects. Now, worse than being indisputably wrong, Obama would be exposed as a liar. More than the consideration of whether or not public support is helpful or harmful to the opposition, Obama's policy has to take the constraints of its own credibility into account.

So it is strategically sound for Obama to remain silent. His silence is not helping the opposition, but there is not much Obama can do to help the opposition. Given these constraints Obama has not actively worsened the US position the way others in his administration have.

Sadjadpour's suggestion would only backfire.

Does the opposition feel betrayed by the West?

We have to understand about Iran's politics that there are two major factions, Rafsanjani's that I call clerics and Ahmadinejad's that I call the security establishment. There are clerics in Ahmadinejad's camp and military people in Rafsanjani's camp but these labels are broadly accurate.

The liberal pro-Western Iranians are not naturally represented by either camp, but the last election Mousavi aligned himself with both pro-Western Iranians and Rafsanjani's camp.

Here's the problem. Mousavi immediately declared that the elections were fraudulent and called for big disruptive protests before there was convincing evidence of fraud. Mousavi's strongest supporters don't need much convincing. Sadjadpour's peers in the Western analysis community don't need much convincing. Most Iranians do need convincing. Most Iranians do not believe a claim of fraud by Ahmadinejad must be true unless it is proven false.

With many, likely most Iranians, Mousavi's behavior may or may not have been influenced by foreigners, but it was not helpful for Iran and Mousavi discredited himself. All elements of that coalition have been discredited relative to May of this year. Rafsanjani is much weaker, Mousavi is barely relevant if at all in Iranian politics now.

The opposition does not need anything from Obama. It needs time to put its claims that did not pan out behind them. Or it needs evidence that it was right all along. (Not somebody in England saying they doubt Ahmadinejad could have gotten this many votes in that district, or the there aren't enough ballot counts with "2" as the last digit, but a witness willing to say "when we counted my polling location, Mousavi won, but it was reported that Ahmadinejad won".)

Iran's opposition needs to reconnect to the Iranian people. The fact is that there is no consensus in Iran that religion plays too much a role in government, (some believe there is too much role, about the same amount believe there is too little role) so the opposition has to make its case to the Iranian people. If there is corruption in Ahmadinejad's camp, and there may well be, the opposition need to find it and publicize it. Right now there is no consensus in Iran that Ahmadinejad's camp is the more corrupt. Rafsanjani is notorious in Iran as the single exemplar of state corruption. This is an issue the opposition will have to address one way or another.

Sadjadpour's idea that the will of the people is opposed to Iran's regime is wrong. At least it is not supported by any poll and there is no tangible reason to believe the election results were not correct. The will of Sadjadpour and his peers is opposed to Iran's regime, but that really does not matter.

The Obama Administration shows first signs of patience running low. First Tehran seemed to have agreed to send its Low Enriched Uranium to Russia and France in order to get it back in a higher enriched form for use in a medical reactor. Then the Iranians backpedalled. For how long will Obama keep committed to the diplomatic talks?

Forever. The Obama administration does not have a better alternative than talks. The US is vulnerable in both Iraq and Afghanistan and could lose both at huge cost, a cost the US can hardly calculate or imagine, if it turns Iran outwardly and actively hostile. This idea is difficult for Israel and its supporters to accept, and we are seeing some degree of performance for those parties by the Obama administration, but the US will come up with a formula that is acceptable to Iran or it will allow the status quo to continue. Every other alternative is worse for the US and the US knows that quite well.

Sadjadpour says the US has gone further than the Bush administration. Publicly, Obama has not said anything Bush did not say. Clinton has not said anything Condoleeza Rice didn't say. When Obama publicly actually goes further than Bush. When he officially endorses John Kerry's statement from June that trying to stop Iran from enriching was stupid, that will be a clear indication that the issue is close to being resolved.

People like Sadjadpour though, may have convinced Obama that Iran is moments away from buckling so Bush's goal may still be realistic. If Obama believes that, we'll see the status quo until the Obama administration is convinced that its goal actually is unrealistic.

If no compromise can be found on the basis of the International Atomic Agency's proposal increased sanctions will be on the agenda. How do you rate the chances that such sanctions will lead Ahmadinejad to change course?

I think there very high chance that if there are substantial sanctions, Iran will immediately substantially increase the speed of its enrichment. Iran would not suspend or submit to US demands even under threat of war. There are no sanctions that Iran fears nearly as much as it values its enrichment program - for good reason, Iran achieving nuclear capability, even if it never builds a weapon, would be a very valuable strategic asset for Iran, and would deter threats of US or Israeli military hostility long after the US troops have left Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadjadpour thinks if Russia and China agree with the US position on sanctions, that might change Iran's calculations. That's wrong, but the reason Russia and China have not come around is because those countries calculate, correctly, that sanctions will accelerate, not slow, Iran's nuclear program.

The Obama administration hasn't taken the military option off the table. Under which circumstances do you think a US military operation would be possible?

Sadjadpour is exactly right that there is a very low chance of a US attack on Iran. He overestimates the independence of Israel. Israel, even if it did not have to pass US airspace to attack Iran, could not do so because if Israel was to harm US interests as much as it would by attacking Iran without permission, it would seriously risk losing its superpower patron, which is a far bigger existential threat to Israel than an Iranian nuclear capability.

The IAEA chief until end of November, Mohammed ElBaradei, told the New York Times "there is total distrust on the part of Iran". Mr Sadjadpour, you have authored a study on the speeches and writings of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader in Iran. Is the most powerful man in Tehran indeed viscerally opposed to the US?

Iran is primarily a religious fundamentalist nation. Iran believes it is a far better proponent of Islamic values than the US and opposes the US only to the degree that it perceives the US as contradicting those values.

It is important to understand that Iran does oppose US support for Israel, and the string of pro-Israel dictatorships Iran perceives the US to be propping up in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others but it does not oppose the US beyond its policies.

In theory, the US could change policies, embrace religious values and be Iran's best ally. In practice, US support for Israel is deeply entrenched in the US political system and the US identification with Zionism is not reconcilable with the Iranian identification with the Palestinians.

But Sadjadpour is wrong in his contention that Khamenei or any Iranian leaders opposes the US per se. But as long as the US perpetuates with Iran sees as the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians - as well as the disenfranchisement of over 100 million Arabs in states (like Jordan and Egypt) that could pose the same threat to Israel that Iran does if they were democracies - then Iran will see the US as an evil nation. A nation that opposes the Islamic values of justice and equality of all people before God.

Sadjadpour's mistake comes from an understandable over-focus on the US in his readings of Khamenei's speeches. What is important is Islam, the US only takes on importance as far as its agreement or conflict with Islamic values. Like Sadjadpour, I am not a religious fundamentalist, but in communicating with or even predicting Iran, it is more effective to have a more accurate understanding of its motives.

What do you think he is most worried about?

Right now Iran is beating expectations. From an Iranian point of view, I worry that the US will lose its vulnerability in Iraq and Afghanistan before Iran has had a chance to consolidate its gains. I'm not sure what Iran's actual calculations are as far as that issue.

Sadjadpour is right that the Iran believes the US wants to foment a velvet revolution in Iran. If it was tried in June, it failed. I doubt Khamenei worries much about that now. US support for separatist forces in Iran is a bigger concern. Terrorist campaigns like the October attack in Balochistan risk pushing Iran over the edge and moving to open hostility without any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. On a day to day basis, I'd guess that is Iran's biggest concern right now.

Rapprochement with the US is not a threat to Iran, but could not happen unless an acceptable formula is reached regarding Israel. If Iran considered its regime's survival in doubt, it would be more willing to adopt a Malaysian profile, in which it does not recognize Israel but does not actively support those who are combating it. If Iran is stable as today, rapprochement would require US toleration of Iranian support for Hamas, Hezbollah and others.

The US is free not to accept that - Iran considers the US an evil nation that accepts and advances the oppression of the Palestinians - but if the US was to accept that, rapprochement would pose no threat at all to Iran.