Sunday, January 31, 2010

What would a US war with Iran look like?

I really do not believe there will be a direct war between Iran and the United States at least through the end of Obama's term in office. If there is a war, I expect it to be historically disastrous for the United States, and that it will be written in future history books as the war that ended the US empire.

How could a war start? Let's say the US interprets either the sanctions resolutions in place or some new sanctions resolution as permitting US interception of Iranian ingoing shipping, and by holding up supplies arriving to Iran begins seriously hampering the Iranian economy. I use this scenario to point out that the US does not need more Security Council resolutions to impose crippling sanctions if it wants to. The US, right now, just does not want to because they would start a war the US does not want. Alternatively we can start the war by Israel or the US bombing any kind of targets in Iran.

But with the shipping scenario, Iran responds to what Iran, rightly, Security Council resolution or not, interprets as an act of war by escalating its support for anti-US forces in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Because there has not been an overt bombing yet, Iran does not directly use Iranian forces, but provides material and expertise in attacking US supply lines in these three countries.

Now Iran is under crippling sanctions, and eventually US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are also under crippling sanctions. Either the US will allow anti-US forces to hold sanctuary in Iran as they continue their escalating and increasingly effective campaign of preventing supplies from reaching US bases or the US will attack supply depots and training areas in Iran. Iran will become more brazen, though still indirect, in its attacks on US bases and their supplies until the US actually attacks Iran. Once this happens, it is the same as if the US had bombed Iran's nuclear installations as a first move, except that in this scenario, Iran has had more time to establish its connections with anti-US forces in the three countries.

Once the actual overt attack on Iran happens, Iran is able to move its conflict with the United States into the open. Now there are Iranian units operating at least in Afghanistan and Iraq, possibly also in Pakistan, but possibly Iran will continue operating through proxies in Pakistan. Also, because the US escalated hostilities and attacked Iran against the advice and request of the Iraqis and Afghans, Maliki and Karzai, the political will to help the US fend off the Iranians, even if it was possible to do so, does not exist in either country, especially Iraq. The US cannot count on Iraqi troops to supply its bases any more. Now US troops have to come out and defend the convoys.

I don't know if the US is going to try to take and hold Iranian territory, but if it does, it will find a dug-in prepared and resource-rich insurgency pre-positioned that will immediately surpass the worst insurgency-based fighting the US has faced so far in Iraq. If not, US activity in Iran will be limited to air strikes. Air strikes did not remove Hussein from power, did not remove Hezbollah from power, didn't even remove Hamas from power.

All air strikes accomplish practically is build an image of a cowardly armed forces that are only effective when targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure. The US will get some hospitals, some power plants, some water-purification plants but these will outrage the world. There will not be direct consequences for this outrage the colonies of Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but Turkey will be under tremendous pressure to end its alliance with the United States and Israel, possibly irretrievably. That will be the most important immediate diplomatic consequence, but the rest of the free Muslim world will turn against the US in ways that will be harmful later.

There may or may not be attacks on mainland US targets. There very likely will be attacks on Western European allies of the US. These will not be decisive, but will cause the citizens of Western countries to feel some discomfort from this war. I honestly do not think Hamas or Hezbollah would need to be activated against Israel, even if it was Israel that launched the first attack because Iran can attack the US directly more effectively while holding Hamas and Hezbollah capabilities in reserve, so that they can continue to deter Israeli attacks on their territories.

Eventually the situation will stabilize with the US taking constant casualties in defending the supply lines to its forces in Iraq and/or Afghanistan while Iran is under US bombing but not nearly enough to displace the regime. With direct Iranian involvement I think it would be conservative to project a death rate for US troops of twice the peak death rate from the Iraq occupation.

Iran already produces surface to air missiles, but not the most advanced in the world. On the other hand, Russia produces state of the art shoulder fired anti-air missiles. Russian "organized crime" groups could "smuggle" weapons to the Iranians, just because the longer the US remains in a losing stalemate in Iraq and Afghanistan, the less able it is to influence Russia's regions of interest. Hillary Clinton can complain to the Russians about the "smuggling" but the Russian reply would be "or what?".

Once firing starts, Russia wants and likely can achieve a reversal of World War II. The US post war advantage over Europe and Russia, that has been eroding since that war, can be fully dissolved before the US gets out of Iraq and Afghanistan. If Iran needs help to cause this to happen, it has good internal supply lines, connections and resources to do so. Russia also has its own nuclear deterrent. The US has no leverage to prevent Russia from draining it the way the US did when the USSR invaded Afghanistan. This means Russia has an interest in preventing Iran from running out of material to continue its war effort and may well do so.

We have not talked about the Persian Gulf. At some point, shipping is likely to stop because tankers, one way or another, will be destroyed as they try to pass. More importantly though, the US Navy has not come under serious fire in a long time and how it fares under fire is important information that both the Russians and Chinese have an interest in acquiring. If Chinese "triads" "smuggle" anti-ship weapons to Iran, they will be able to experiment on active US Naval defense systems that will provide data for Chinese planners of contingencies involving Taiwan and designers of future weapons systems. Possibly an attack will get lucky and cause huge financial damage and hundreds or thousands of US troop deaths. Clinton will complain but China's reply will be "or what?" The US does not have a credible response to unprovable Chinese activity while it is already engaged in a war with Iran.

In Iraq, the US has to decide to continue trying to supply the troops, or fight their way out of the country. Either way, the US is no longer effectively able to influence Iraq's government or armed forces and Iraq will now be a fully Iran-friendly state bordering Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Israel is committed to defending Jordan and while there will not be a set-piece invasion, Iranian and Iraqi teams will be able to enter nearly at will and apply pressure to the Jordanian colonial dictatorship.

Lastly we have not talked about Iran's nuclear program. Iran certainly will direct all of the country's scientific resources toward building a weapon. Pakistan, outraged by the US' attacks on Iranian civilians will be difficult to deter from assisting in any way they can. It is very unlikely that Iran has not built a weapon two years after the shooting started. It will not use the weapon in this conflict, but once it has it, the situation on the ground has changed permanently. Iran will not give up the weapon once it has it under any circumstances, under any government even if in the distant future somehow the US gets regime change somehow.

Iran will be bombed the way Lebanon, Iraq and Gaza were bombed. Unlike Gaza, the US will not be able to prevent rebuilding. The US will face, conservatively, 200 US deaths a month until US voters decide they've had enough. Leaving means either suing for peace and paying reparations to Iran or the soldiers evacuating under fire, leaving their material behind. Once the US is gone, its positions in Afghanistan and Iraq will be gone with it. It will also have lost Turkey and the colonies in Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be under more pressure than they've ever been under.

Iran will rebuild, be fully nuclear and by the calculations of the Iranians, the war can be expected to produce both national cohesion and in some engineering schools and seminaries will be Khomeinis and Ahmadinejads for who have been radicalized and taught the importance of ideological sacrifice preparing them as leaders of future generations. With the US having no further appetite to intervene in the Middle East, it will be relatively soon that Iran will regain its position as the dominant power of the region.

The US ability to project force into the Middle East will be permanently diminished and US financing of this expanded war will accelerate the US' decline as an economic power. How did this war start again? The US didn't want Iran to have the capability, in theory, the make a nuclear weapon because that would mean Israel would lose what it considers its necessary ability to threaten its neighbors? It is very likely that a generation of Americans further removed from WWII will reconsider the US commitment to Israel after this war.

Russia will be the undisputed winner as it benefits not only from the US losing position relatively and the US' inability to concentrate on Europe or other objectives while fighting Iran, but it will also benefit from the spike in energy prices. Russia may lock in its gains with a nice color revolution in Poland just to complete the symmetry of historical justice being done for US intervention in its previous invasion of Afghanistan.

I'm pretty sure a war with Iran would be the worst mistake in the history of the United States and would set in motion a process that would result in the US being no more globally relevant than Brazil. I'm also pretty sure US strategists are aware of the risks hostilities escalating to war with Iran entail. I likely got some details wrong, I also likely missed some problems a war would cause for the US. I'm fairly confident that a decade after the end of the war, it will be generally acknowledged that between Iran and the US, Iran ended up being the victor.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rafsanjani and the internal political struggle and Iran - and US intervention

From before the dramatic moment in the June pre-election debate when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that his family did not become wealthy because of his political position, unlike Mr. Heshemi it has been clear that there has been an internal factional dispute in Iranian politics, with Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on one side and the Ahmadinejad and his backers on the other.
In a makeshift campaign war room in north Tehran, two dozen young women clad in head scarves and black chadors are logging election data into desktop computers 24 hours a day, while men rush around them carrying voter surveys and district maps.

This nerve center in the campaign to unseat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hard-line president, is not run by any of the three candidates who are challenging him in a hotly contested election on Friday.

Instead, it is part of a bitter behind-the-scenes rivalry that has helped define the campaign, pitting Mr. Ahmadinejad against the man he beat in the last election, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a two-term former president and one of Iran’s richest and most powerful men.
If you remember, Rafsanjani wrote a letter to Khamenei asking that Khamenei repudiate Ahmadinejad's claim. Rafsanjani was already notorious as an embodiment of clerical corruption in Iran long before the debates, but it was a topic most Iranians were afraid to address directly. Ahmadinejad likely got a boost in his popularity both from being willing to say that, and from Rafsanjani's reaction.

When the results that Ahmadinejad won the election were reported, Mousavi immediately, before any evidence even could have been compiled, declared the results fraudulent and called for demonstrations in the streets to protest the result. These demonstrations, which so excited the West for reasons entirely unrelated to the factional struggle between Iranian parties are now, according to Hillary Clinton, being assisted by the United States, with many voices in the United States calling for increased, more vocal and open support for the protesters.

In the meantime, no tangible evidence of fraud has surfaced in the over six months since the election and while the US-supported opposition has not lost the ability to organize protesters, poll results show it to be outside of the mainstream of Iranian thought, much more than it was on election day.

Now Rafsanjani's faction seems to have stooped to openly asking the West to use sanctions to selectively punish its factional rivals in an Iranian political dispute. With many in the West thinking that would be a good idea.
The White House is crafting new financial sanctions specifically designed to punish the Iranian entities and individuals most directly involved in the crackdown on Iran's dissident forces, said the U.S. officials, rather than just those involved in Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. Treasury Department strategists already have been focusing on Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has emerged as the economic and military power behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In recent weeks, senior Green Movement figures -- who have been speaking at major Washington think tanks -- have made up a list of IRGC-related companies they suggest targeting, which has been forwarded to the Obama administration by third parties.
Mahan Abedin in an Asia Times Online article presents an argument that this episode marks the decline and ultimately the end of Rafsanjani as a politically potent force in Iran. This article also includes a very well written history of Rafsanjani's role in the Iranian Revolution.
While the old oligarch - he is 75 - still clings to his official positions as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Discernment Council, the most informed sources in Tehran expect him to be removed from the scene altogether. The impending purge of Rafsanjani may seem unthinkable to many, but it is likely nonetheless.
It is often remarked that the Iranian regime has not been able to stop the protests. The protests have never been a threat to the basic stability of the regime. It was actually a poor strategic move for Rafsanjani, Mousavi and the opposition to encourage them. Internal disputes are probably best resolved internally. Inviting college students into the dispute may have been a mistake, but once the protesters came in, Westerners eagerly decided to try to intervene, which made the entire process even more of a mistake for Rafsanjani.

New splits and new factions probably will develop in Iran over time. I think the Rafsanjani/Mousavi/Khatami faction is no longer an important part of the story of Iranian politics.

Can US pressure eventually collapse Iran's government?

The simple answer is no. But the question comes up in thinking about the exchange between Nick Burns and Gary Sick in their interview with Charlie Rose which offers a more penetrating view of US thinking on Iran than we normally get in public. I'm quoting a lot from the interview here as background.
[Nick Burns] And so in playing for the long term, we assume that there is some kind of solution here short of the use of U.S. military force. That is the hand we played. That happens to be my own view as well.
[Gary Sick] They were so busy trying to get sanctions in place that they never stopped to explore with us whether there was some kind of a deal available. And that was -- that was surprising to us.
[Nick Burns] And there is an option here outside of war, and I would just say that we might want to watch and wait and see how President Obama is able to set up a nonmilitary option that would put enough force on Iran, I think, at some point to have them back to the negotiating table.
[Gary Sick] My argument, not only as an American but -- and as an observer but also as the player of this game is that you cannot bring enough pressure to bear on Iran
by these sanctions.
[Gary Sick] We were negotiating. And basically we -- I said you know, here are -- here is where we want to begin. We’re ready to talk about everything. But we’re not going to start out by saying we’re going to stop our whole enrichment process. And they said, you know, you’ve got to do that or else we’re out of here. And I said, you know, there we are. So we tried, actually. They tried and we tried, but the negotiations really didn’t go anywhere.
[Nick Burns] Sanctions probably cannot work in isolation. But a policy of combining sanctions, both through the Security Council and outside the Security Council, targeted on the Revolutionary Guard and the people working the Iranian nuclear program, followed by international isolation, military containment, while keeping the door open for negotiations should the Iranians want to come back, that seems to me is what the Obama administration is doing.

And frankly, I think it’s the right thing for the United States. This is not going to play out in the next couple of months. It will play out over the next few years.
[Nick Burns] Well, Charlie, I think we ought to look at this as a long-term struggle for the United States. And there a tendency here in these simulations to try to stop the game in the second or third inning and keep score. And I guess that’s the problem I have with some of the comments being made.

It’s a long-term struggle. And the goal is to prevent the Iranians from using force if they acquire it.

I do think, I think the United States, in combination with our partners, allies and even countries like China and Russia, has the ability over the long-term to contain the Iranians. So the key policy question is should we use force in the next year or two to try to stop a program before it can begin, or do we in essence draw a cordon around Iran, contain them, as we successfully contained the Soviet Union and Maoist China.

I vote for the latter. I think the early use of force or the risk of a war is not in the American interest. I have a lot of faith both in the persuasiveness of President Obama, but also the strength of our country in concert with others to limit the Iranians and play for the long-term.
Nick Burns is expressing two positions. One is that the US should continue to press for maximalist demands on Iran's nuclear program, demands that he knows Iran will not submit to unless the regime is under enough pressure that it is folding. These demands that he knows Iran will not accept will provide a rationale for continuing pressure. The other is that the US should seek to impose a cordon around Iran, in the meantime accepting an Iranian enrichment capability until an external game-changing situation arises.

Together these positions create the situation the US would like to see persist for the indefinite future: Iran's economy squeezed to the fullest degree possible, with the nuclear issue providing tools the US can use to increase pressure on Iran's economy but beyond that, the US intends to wait, even if that means waiting with a nuclear-capable Iran.

Leaving Iran with an enrichment capability for an indefinitely long term struggle is clearly not Israel's preference, since for as long as it lasts, Israel's ability to threaten to use nuclear weapons on its neighbors without fear of retaliation is compromised. But with an American understanding that neither sanctions or a military attack will effectively prevent Iran from attaining either enrichment capability or an actual weapon, Israel's preference just has to be ignored.

But as we settle into the situation the US is trying to achieve, maximal economic pressure on Iran for a long term project of containment we have the question of how much economic pressure can the US apply on Iran. Can the US apply enough pressure that the economic pressure itself creates a crisis of Iranian leadership that in some sense dissolves the Islamic Republic.

The answer to that question is that there is a tradeoff between how much difficulty the United States is willing to accept in Iraq and Afghanistan in exchange for increased pressure on Iran. The approximately 100 deaths per month of US soldiers has been demonstrated to cause a reduction in US attempts to pressure Iran. If Iran is able to reach that level again, US pressure on Iran would decrease again.

There is an upper limit to the amount of pressure the US can impose because at some point Iran would stop using proxies and send actual Iranian forces to directly confront US forces in the neighboring countries. This would happen before Iran sacrifices key strategic objectives such as its right to acquire nuclear technology. US pressure sufficient to fundamentally change Iran's government policies is the same thing as war. US calculations that war itself are not in the interests of the US hold also for economic pressure intense enough to re-orient Iran's government.

Burn's examples of the successful containment of the USSR and Maoist China are misleading in the case of the USSR and instructive in the case of China. The USSR made fundamental mistakes in its dissolution that everyone in the world witnessed and that will not be replicated. Yeltsin's submission to Western demands on Russian policy and on its economy were far more drastic than were necessary or in Russian interests. Putin's rise to power was a corrective measure and Russia has recently been working to restore the strategic objectives that Yeltsin gave up.

Maoist China exists today. There has not been a fundamental change in China's government structure or foreign policy priorities since Mao. China today is a more potent threat to US interests in West Pacific sea trade routes, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan than it was under Mao. What happened with China is that the US came to accept that China's rise is more expensive to oppose than it is to accommodate.

Did US economic pressure create Yeltsin who blundered away, if in most cases only temporarily, Russian strategic advantages? Even if so, just upon seeing the Russian example, Iranian strategists are aware of the dangers to Iran's national interest of full compliance with Western demands of their country. Today Russia is independent and effective at opposing Western intervention in regions where its interest is most intense.

Did US pressure alter the course of China? Very clearly not. Taiwan, the weakest US ally and the one most threatened by a rising China, has come to terms with a China that is much stronger than it was when the US rapprochement with China was first contemplated. The US has benefited as hundreds of millions of former Chinese subsistence agriculturalists are now in factories producing goods for US consumers but the pressure China is able to exert on Taiwan has, as a trend, increased since 1972. It is clear now that over the long term, if China wants, it will in a short time by historical terms be able to apply irresistible pressure on Taiwan. The US calculates and hopes that by that time it's interests will be served in some other way and that the benefits of years of increased trade end up being worth it for Americans.

It is pretty clear that US pressure will not end up changing Iran's foreign policy direction or cause Iran to relinquish any important strategic objective, including independent nuclear technology. If, as Burns suggests, the United States "contains" Iran the way it did Maoist China, that means eventually accepting an independent Iran in the midst of Israel and the pro-Israel US colonies of Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the changes to those countries that an independent Iran would render inevitable.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Why Obama cannot go to Tehran the way Nixon went to China

The weaknesses of Barack Obama's state of the Union speech on foreign policy are being widely discussed. I'll look at the parts that deal with Iran here.
That is why the international community is more united, and the Islamic Republic of Iran is more isolated. And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: they, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise.
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.
I do have go far enough off course to say two things, first that while the US supposedly stands with the women marching in Tehran, the women of Saudi Arabia who are not even allowed to drive do not get support in a State of the Union address. Same for the women of Egypt who, unlike the US congress, have no leverage to hold Egypt's leadership accountable to their concerns. Presumably because the dictator of the US colony of Saudi Arabia, like the one of the US colony of Egypt:
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 second, Obama does not mention Israel or Palestine at all, but when asked about them the next say indicates that he is proud of his stance that Gaza should starve until Hamas accepts a majority status for 5 million Jewish people in Palestine.
Here's my view. Israel is one of our strongest allies. It has -- (applause.) Let me just play this out. It is a vibrant democracy. It shares links with us in all sorts of ways. It is critical for us and I will never waver from ensuring Israel's security and helping them secure themselves in what is a very hostile region. (Applause.) So I make no apologies for that.

What is also true is that the plight of the Palestinians is something that we have to pay attention to, because it is not good for our security and it is not good for Israel's security if you've got millions of individuals who feel hopeless, who don't have an opportunity to get an education or get a job or what have you.

[...] As a first step, the Palestinians have to unequivocally renounce violence and recognize Israel. (Applause.) And Israel has to acknowledge legitimate grievances and interests of the Palestinians. We know what a solution could look like in the region, but here's the problem that we're confronting right now, is that both in Israel and within the Palestinian Territories, the politics are difficult; they're divided. The Israel government came in based on the support of a lot of folks who don't want to make a lot of concessions. I think Prime Minister Netanyahu is actually making some effort to try to move a little bit further than his coalition wants him to go. On the other hand, President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who I think genuinely wants peace, has to deal with Hamas, an organization that has not recognized Israel and has not disavowed violence.
But beyond the speech, there is the question of why it is harder for a US president to reach a mutually acceptable arrangement with Iran than it was for Richard Nixon to do so with China in 1972. The answer is that Israel is far more strategically delicate than any US interest regarding China, especially in the Pacific.

The US interest in Israel is fundamentally different from the US interest in Taiwan for two related reasons. I use the US interest in Taiwan as an example that can stand in for other US interests in China's region. The first is that the community of US analysts who examine and interpret Taiwan's region is not as heavily biased towards people who feel an emotional connection to Taiwan. Second policy regarding Taiwan is not associated either with the Holocaust or a precarious environment where charges of bigotry are loosely made. So Iran faces a skew that China did not face.

The United States has an interest in the region of China's east coast. The ability of the US navy to oversee, if necessary prevent, and ensure other parties cannot prevent the passage of goods from Europe and the Middle East to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan and back gives the US leverage over the countries of East Asia, which is a densely populated region with a huge amount of industrial infrastructure and educated and productive citizens who would be difficult rivals for the US to overcome if they pursue interests contrary to those of the US.

But unlike Israel, the necessity of sea lanes, and the importance of Taiwan and South Korea in ensuring US domination of those sea lanes is not part of the US popular understanding of the world. US interests regarding China are generally understood by people who are able to weigh them in a detached and objective way.

But given the differences in the interests are evaluated, the second major difference is that Taiwan can withstand a stronger China than existed in 1972. Taiwan is viable for at least as long as the US is able to prevent a tremendous Chinese amphibious invasion of the island. A Jewish majority state in Israel is far more delicate, requires far more intervention. Any of Israel's neighbors gaining enough technological sophistication to answer the Israel's latent threat to cause catastrophic damage to any opponent would threaten Israel's strategic viability.

The United States could afford to see China industrialize more rapidly and gain more militarily useful strategic resources because the US Navy has a huge lead that puts any Chinese challenge to US domination of the west Pacific ocean decades away. The United States cannot afford to see Iran industrialize more rapidly or gain more resources because the gains Iran has already made are intolerable by Israel's strategic calculations.

The US is pinned by Israel's small population size and the fact that it is widely seen in its region as the result of an historical injustice that should be corrected (what Obama means when he says Israel is in a hostile region) to, at best, cold wars of attrition against any country in the region that have to capacity to pursue foreign policy objectives in line with the perspectives of their people.

A two state solution would not lessen the strategic liabilities Israel imposes on the United States unless it is generous enough that most of the people in the region consider it fair. There is no indication that Israel would accept such an arrangement, and, indeed, a Palestinian state with enough sovereignty to gain regional acceptance would also have enough sovereignty to render a majority state for Israel's about 5 million Jews non-viable.

Instead, the best the US can hope for until it begins to re-evaluate its commitment to the idea that about 5 million Jewish people must have a majority state in Palestine, is to manage an increasingly costly war with the entire rest of the region. This is both morally and materially vastly more costly than negotiating a single state that ensures individual rights to Jewish people but does the same for Palestinians and does not carve out a specific ethnic majority.

Ahmadinejad wears a $30 Chinese-made jacket purchased at a Tehran bazaar

At least according to Time magazine. I don't hate Ahmadinejad the way Gary Sick, Juan Cole and most of the US foreign policy establishment do. I guess liberal Iranians likely hate Ahmadinejad for the same reasons liberal Americans hate George Bush. There are a lot of disagreements on domestic issues and he presents an image that is not sophisticated or smooth which makes the differences in policy seem even more abrasive.

The US foreign policy establishment hates Ahmadinejad largely for a different reason. Ahmadinejad's stance is that the people of Palestine, including refugees should have the right and ability to vote the majority Jewish state for 5 million people in Palestine that is the embodiment of Zionism out of existence. Supporters of Israel hate that position, and hate Ahmadinejad for holding that position.

People who interact regularly with Jewish people who feel an emotional bond to Israel feel discomfort if their feelings toward a figure are out of alignment. So while Juan Cole's commitment to the existence and security of a Jewish state is not as profound as that of Israelis such as Netanyahu or Peres, or especially the US Jewish people who are disproportionately represented in the cadre of experts who concern themselves with Middle East matters, the fact that they hate Ahmadinejad so vehemently exerts a kind of pressure on Gary Sick and Juan Cole to harmonize their feelings, otherwise the feelings of hatred and anxiety associated with Ahmadinejad could be transferred to Cole or Sick which would be uncomfortable. I consider this a human, or even mammalian process more than an intellectual one. Yet it is a process that is fairly clear to see, and it is difficult to argue that the disdain Cole, Sick and other US analysts express for Ahmadinejad are the result of any rational evalution of Ahmadinejad, his statements or positions.

So if you look at Juan Cole's interpretation of a speech by Ahmadinejad that causes Cole to agree with supporters of Israel that Ahmadinejad is anti-Semitic, the logical stretches he is taking are immediately obvious.
Elsewhere he says, "My dear ones, the pretext used to establish the Zionist regime was a lie and a corrupt act. It was a lie based on a fabricated claim that cannot be proven. The occupation of the Palestinian land had no connection with the issue of holocaust. The claim, the pretext, [and the directors [dastandarkaran] and the patrons [hamiyan]] are all fraudulent and corrupt. They are all historical criminals. They are responsible for plundering and colonizing the world for the past 500 years."

I read the Persian phrase, which the government translators dropped, about dastandarkaran (masters, proprietors) and their protectors and patrons (hamiyan) to be a reference to Zionists and imperialists. He then says "all of them" (hamih-'i ishan) are responsible for colonizing and plundering the world for the past half-millennium. I've gone back and forth on this, since Ahmadinejad's speaking style is syntactically sloppy and his referents are not always clear, but I am leaning to thinking that he sees a Jewish/ imperial partnership as having stretched into the distant past.

In other words, he is saying, all of modern history (possibly from the Portuguese conquest of Goa) and certainly the British conquests during WW I, the Nazi persecution of Jews, and last year's American presidential race, has been the unfolding of a secret Jewish plot, wherein "Zionists" control everything that happens.
I read the statement attributed to Ahmadinejad, then read Cole's interpretation of it, then read the statement again, and ask where could that possibly come from? The idea of a Jewish plot appears nowhere in Ahmadinejad's statement. Cole's leaning back and forth reflects the tension between an a priori, or previously existing, disdain for Ahmadinejad that transfers from colleagues who hate Ahmadinejad because of Ahmadinejad's actual and reasonable position that Israel is illegitimate, and Cole's need to rationalize that disdain, against the fact that Ahmadinejad has never made an accusation or statement expressing bigotry against Jewish people - who he says he considers separate from Zionists.

Ahmadinejad has severely struck a nerve in those who strongly hold, as an unchallengable premise, that there must be a majority state for 5 million Jewish people in Palestine at any cost to the region or to the United States. The passion of the reaction against Ahmadinejad's anti-Zionist position has spread, in a way and to a degree that nearly all of its members are not consciously aware, through nearly the entire US foreign policy establishment. I just use Juan Cole as an example because he put his reasoning in public. So much so that a consensus is forming that the US should intervene directly in Iranian politics to assist parties opposed to Ahmadinejad.

Unfortunately, it is obviously clear to those not caught in the emotional anti-Ahmadinejad hysteria that US intervention and US advocacy for intervention only marginalizes Ahmadinejad's opponents more. And protests notwithstanding, they have been severely marginalized because of their behavior after the election results were announced. That is unfortunate because there are some valid points and issues that have to be resolved in a purely Iranian context, and the eagerness of Americans and Westerners to intervene disrupts that process which otherwise would ultimately strengthen Iran.

But for those who do not share the common Western hatred of Ahmadinejad, his modest jacket, made in China and purchased at a Tehran bazaar, has an endearing element to it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Participants in Harvard simulation of US conflict with Iran on Charlie Rose, ends up providing a very informative picture of where we are

We learned about war games, or simulations of how the conflict over Iran's nuclear program could play out in December. The short story was that Iran was projected to continue enriching and would find itself with a stronger nuclear program at the end of the year than at the beginning, despite any action the US could take to prevent that.

More recently, many of the participants conducted a joint interview with prominent US journalist Charlie Rose in which they go into further detail about the motives and possible actions of the participants.

Gary Sick, who like most US analysts on the Middle East has the magical idea that somehow Iran will be prevented from becoming a threat to Israel because it is psychologically painful for him to imagine otherwise, played Iran. To his credit, he seems to have drawn the reasonable, and even obvious, conclusion that the US does not have tools that would prevent Iran from continuing its program. To his detriment, he says that the simulation was conducted before the late-December opposition protests which have convinced him that Iran's regime is in real trouble.

Just so that Americans can understand, Ron Paul today probably has something like ten percent national support in the United States. About the same as the amount of Iranians who doubt Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's legitimacy as president of Iran. Ron Paul's supporters could stage big demonstrations, fighting police, if they wanted to. If they were goaded and funded by foreign parties hostile to the US government they could amount to an annoyance for US security forces. But there is no way that they would pose a threat to the stability of the rule of the current leadership. You can think of Iran's green movement as unusually well organized, with foreign help, Ron Paul supporters.

But if you must, if it kills you to imagine Iran actually emerging as a nuclear capable nation that would end Israel's ability to issue unanswerable threats to cause catastrophic damage to its neighbors, then you can join Gary Sick, Juan Cole, Richard Haass, Robert Kagan most of the US foreign policy community in believing that the opposition will miraculously make Iran more like the US colonies of Egypt and Saudi Arabia today or Iran under the Shah than it is now. The wishful thinking embodied in this belief harms the analysis of its holders more than it harms anyone else.

But back to the interesting interview. I want to excerpt with comments the parts that caught my attention.
When President Obama took office, he committed to a policy of engagement with Iran. He also set a deadline, December 31st, 2009, for Iran’s leadership to respond to negotiations about its nuclear program.
Now this is delivered in Charlie Rose's voice. The United States and its euphemisms. The United States has a much more specific goal than Iran "respond to negotiations" Iran has responded to negotiations. The US has to goal of "commit to suspend enrichment" with its resumption subject to a US veto.

Whenever I read these euphemisms used I wonder who are they trying to fool? If you mean you want Iran to export the uranium it has already enriched and keep its stock beneath a certain level indefinitely, why not say that? In effect the US' position is to demand more than a suspension, it demands that Iran replicate the situation that would prevail if Iran suspended years ago. In actuality, Obama set a deadline not for Iran to respond to negotiations, but to submit to US demands that are no less unreasonable than the demands of the Bush administration.

Here is Nick Burns, who in the game played the US led by Barack Obama.
It’s a long-term struggle. And the goal is to prevent the Iranians from using force if they acquire it.

I do think, I think the United States, in combination with our partners, allies and even countries like China and Russia, has the ability over the long-term to contain the Iranians. So the key policy question is should we use force in the next year or two to try to stop a program before it can begin, or do we in essence draw a cordon around Iran, contain them, as we successfully contained the Soviet Union and Maoist China.
We've seen this idea before, that Nick Burns thinks the US should shift into containment of Iran and wait for Iran to submit to US pressure at some later time. I made the point last time, that if 2010 through 2018 are as difficult for Iran as the years 1980 through 1988, then Iran still is likely to come through. But I see no chance of the US being able to apply nearly the pressure that was applied to Iran's regime in the 1980s. The United States would probably be better served by decreasing hostility with Iran, but while Iran will pay more the US will pay its own cost for keeping the level of hostility elevated.

Containment, trying to stall and wait for the miracle that will turn Iran into Pavlavi Iran, seems to be the effective US policy at this point. The goal of the US is to apply as much pressure as possible on the Iranian economy and Iranian society in hopes that after some number of years Iran will buckle and become ripe for the US-assisted elevation of a leader who will restore Iran to the status of a dependency it had under the Shah.

I do not expect the US strategy to work, but Burns is describing a process under which the US maximizes pressure on Iran over a long time period. If the US is following that strategy then the US cannot reach an agreement over the nuclear issue, as that issue is the most effective lever the US has ever found in getting international cooperation with sanctions to pressure Iran's economy. The drawback of the strategy is that if Iran understands this is what the US is doing, it will make all US activities in its area as difficult and costly as possible. This seems to be how the rest of the Obama administration will play out.

Here's Gary Sick.
Our whole objective was to establish that we had certain rights, which is to enrich uranium, and to have a nuclear capability. A capability not to have a bomb but a capability to have enrichment. And that we should be treated the same as every other country in the region or in the world that had a nuclear capability.

The -- we were surprised that the Americans basically ignored us completely. They were so busy trying to get sanctions in place that they never stopped to explore with us whether there was some kind of a deal available. And that was -- that was surprising to us. And at the end, we actually were -- we were surprised that nobody was actually bringing pressure on us because the Americans never succeeded in getting the sanctions that they were aiming at.
From our perspective, the Iranian case that we were playing, we were actually ready to engage in negotiations that would minimize how quickly we had access to nuclear weapons or nuclear development. But we weren’t willing to just give it up. And basically the United States policy from the beginning has been either do nothing or we’re going to come after you. And the reality is they can never put together with the Russians and the Chinese and others, they can’t get enough people to go along.
And basically we -- I said you know, here are -- here is where we want to begin. We’re ready to talk about everything. But we’re not going to start out by saying we’re going to stop our whole enrichment process. And they said, you know, you’ve got to do that or else we’re out of here. And I said, you know, there we are. So we tried, actually. They tried and we tried, but the negotiations really didn’t go anywhere.
We did get together and decide where we wanted to go and what our strategy should be and so forth, just as the Americans did and others did. And as we did that, we said what is the danger of war? You know, that somebody is going to attack us? And we pretty much discounted that.

Well, for all the reasons because -- this is not Saddam Hussein, it really is a very different situation. And it is -- basically you can attack, you can, no doubt, knock out a good part of Iran’s nuclear capability. But what will happen, one, they will retaliate in ways that are going to be very unpleasant to us in Iraq and Afghanistan. and other places and Hezbollah and all of this. They are also probably going to withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty. They are going to go underground. Then they are going to put all of their efforts not into building a nuclear structure but in building a bomb. And they are going to do it underground, completely out of sight. We will have no inspectors there. And the only way you can stop that is going on the ground with troops. And you know, I don’t think the Americans are really prepared to do that. And I think they are correct in not being ready to do that. So we basically decided at the beginning that when the Americans and the Israelis and everybody else looked at the costs of this thing, they would decide that that wasn’t a good -- that wasn’t a good option.
It is surprising how accurately Sick is able to understand the Iranian negotiating position, and understand the obstacle presented by the US position that it will not negotiate unless Iran is willing to stop its enrichment program. Sick also well understands the inability of any US option to prevent Iran's enrichment program. I'm convinced that these understandings, that sanctions won't work and a military attack won't work to accomplish a goal that Sick considers psychologically necessary, explain Sick's over-estimation of the importance of the green protesters. His view of the protesters is clearly not the result of any objective evidence.

Graham Allison's overview that where we are headed is an increasingly large Iranian stock of LEU is accurate as far as it goes. Burns essentially concedes that and says that over the long run, Iran can still be contained even nuclear capable until the miracle happens that returns someone like the Shah to Iranian leadership. Israel speaks of a military option, but I wasn't paying close attention to that given that the US and Iran both understand that a military option is not feasible.

Whether labeled "engagement" or "two tracks" or whatever, the first thought that comes from this discussion is that US policy towards Iran is, in a cold way, hostile and ultimately aimed at regime change to a "moderate" leadership such as that in Egypt. The fact that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the other US colonies in the region are far less democratic than Iran is an indication that despite the rhetoric, US ambitions for Iran are profoundly anti-democratic.

The second thought, and I've agreed with this when I've seen it expressed in comments to previous posts here and elsewhere, is that Iran is not a threat to Israel only because of its nuclear program, even though that is a threat. Iran's nuclear program gives the US leverage to get international cooperation in applying pressure on Iran's economy that hopefully, from the US point of view, will force Iran to reinstate the equivalent of the Shah.

Netanyahu believes calls to destroy the Jewish state are evil

This is posted just as a straight-forward example of the Zionist moral universe. For me, this just sounds insane. A crime against humanity? One state that does not give 5 million Jewish people a majority state in Palestine is a crime against humanity? Netanyahu is being hyperbolic, but on the other hand, he, unlike I, starts from the premise that the Jewish people of Palestine having a majority state is of over-arching importance.
Netanyahu said that "there is a new call to destroy the Jewish state, it's our problem, but not only our problem."

"This is a crime against the Jews, and a crime against humanity, and it is a test of humanity," the Israeli PM said adding, that "we shall see in the following weeks whether the international community deals with this evil before it spreads.
How this plays in the West is that Netanyahu is so emotional that Westerners often feel uncomfortable challenging his statement, even though what he is saying is absurd for anyone who does not accept his basic premise. It is an argument that is trivial to refute if addressed directly, but often is made in an emotional environment where addressing it directly is uncomfortable, such as Netanyahu here making a speech at a Holocaust museum.

However, simply exposing the argument to skepticism is enough to nullify the effect. Asking was it a crime against humanity to destroy the communist state, was it a crime against humanity to destroy the white-majority state in South Africa undoes the impact that Netanyahu is working to accomplish. A problem with the the formation of US thinking on Israel-related issues is that there too often has not been a skeptical voice to offer a rebuttal. That is slowly changing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Incompatible moral universes: Despicable things are reasonable to Zionists. Reasonable things are outrageous.

I want to look at three statements that I consider true. If the continuation of majority status for about 5 million Jews in a state in Palestine requires the starvation of 1.5 million people, mostly children, in Gaza, then maybe there should not be a Jewish state. If a Jewish majority state requires 100 million people to live in pro-US colonial dictatorships, then maybe there shouldn't be a Jewish state. If a Jewish majority state requires policies that enrage the region so much that the US must occupy two nations two occupations are necessary to prevent retaliatory attacks on Western targets, then maybe there should not be a Jewish state.

The three statements share the same conclusion "maybe there should not be a Jewish state". Supporters of Zionism, essentially by definition, ultimately assert that there is no precedent, the three I presented or any other, for which that conclusion is true. A person who accepts the world-view that there must, at any cost, be a majority state for the 5 million Jewish people in Palestine has a drastically different view of the region than someone who does not accept that world view.

The Zionist moral system includes that there must be a Jewish state at any cost as a premise. The prevailing US Christian moral system, whose fundamental premise is that the Christian bible is unerringly true holds that the bible asserts that there will be Jewish rule of Palestine. We do have to be careful in not overstating the importance of the US Christian moral system in US politics. That abortion should be illegal, that homosexuality should be punished, that evolution is false and should not be taught to children are all propositions more central to the US Christian moral system than that the US should support Israel. In each case secular considerations easily override the US Christian moral system in US politics.

The currently prevailing Western moral system, that I've read described as humanistic individualism, is not compatible with the idea that great sacrifices or any sacrifices should be made to ensure a political majority for a particular ethnic group on a particular territory. The contradiction between humanistic individualism and the Zionist moral system is often resolved in the West, to the detriment of Western interests and especially contrary to the interests of the non-Jewish people of the region, by ethnic identification by Jewish Westerners and a kind of intimidation of discussion in which non-Jewish people in the West are threatened with false accusations of anti-Semitism.

If one accepts as a fundamental premise that there must be a Jewish state, then Hamas' refusal to accept a Jewish state renders Israel's policy of holding the population of Gaza on the brink of starvation reasonable. Zionists accept that premise. Westerners, including, for example, Barack Obama, too often accept that premise without consideration. Unfortunately generally they have come to feel uncomfortable examining the premise because of a steady and unchallenged presentation of the unreasonable idea, in many forms, that to examine the premise is anti-Semitic.

A weak Saudi Arabia is necessary in order to prevent its larger population and larger amount of resources that can be devoted to its military from giving the Saudis an option to render Israel as a majority state for 5 million Jewish people non-viable. A weak Saudi Arabia requires a contained Iraq. If the containment of Iraq requires sanctions that kill over 500,000 Iraqis, mostly children and the elderly then for someone who accepts the Zionist premise, it is worth it.

For someone who accepts that premise, any blame should be assigned to Saddam Hussein who did not go along with the Israeli need, transmitted through the United States and European countries, that Iraq be weak. For a person who does not accept that premise, who does not hold the Zionist moral system - whether instead the person holds the pre-emininent Western individualist moral system, or the Islamic value system - the blame should be applied on the parties that directly imposed the sanctions, knowing what their impact would be.

A person who accepts the premise that there must be a Jewish majority state, even if that person does not know he has accepted the premise, sometimes will not even understand the perception of the region of a person who has not accepted the premise.

Westerners often see non-Jewish people of the Middle East as evil. Or see US puppets as moderate. Most non-Jewish people who do not accept a Jewish state are not evil, they just do not accept a basic premise of US policy. A premise that actually contradicts Western values as much as it contradicts there. Non-Jewish people of the Middle East perceive the US as going out of its way to impose hardship on their people. This perception is accurate, but the motive is not hatred of them or of Islam, Western decision-makers often cannot see past the premise that there must be a secure majority state for the 5 million Jewish people in Palestine regardless of the impact of that proposition on non-Jewish people in the region.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bin Laden connects attacks on the US to its support for Israel, specifically the starvation of Gaza

So Al Jazeera reports that Bin Laden has recently repeated what he has said from before 9/11 - which is that his attacks on the United States are a response to policies the US imposes on the region in the for the sake of Israel.
"America will never dream of living in peace unless we live it in Palestine. It is unfair that you enjoy a safe life while our brothers in Gaza suffer greatly.

"Therefore, with God's will, our attacks on you will continue as long as you continue to support Israel," bin Laden said.

"If it was possible to carry our messages to you by words we wouldn't have carried them to you by planes."
So that is 2010. Here is Bin Laden in 1997.
REPORTER: Mr. Bin Ladin, you've declared a jihad against the United States. Can you tell us why? And is the jihad directed against the US government or the United States' troops in Arabia? What about US civilians in Arabia or the people of the United States?

BIN LADIN: We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation of the Prophet's Night Travel Land (Palestine). And we believe the US is directly responsible for those who were killed in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. The mention of the US reminds us before everything else of those innocent children who were dismembered, their heads and arms cut off in the recent explosion that took place in Qana (in Lebanon). This US government abandoned even humanitarian feelings by these hideous crimes. It transgressed all bounds and behaved in a way not witnessed before by any power or any imperialist power in the world. They should have been considerate that the qibla (Mecca) of the Muslims upheaves the emotion of the entire Muslim World. Due to its subordination to the Jews the arrogance and haughtiness of the US regime has reached, to the extent that they occupied the qibla of the Muslims (Arabia) who are more than a billion in the world today. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God's word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries. As for what you asked whether jihad is directed against US soldiers, the civilians in the land of the Two Holy Places (Saudi Arabia, Mecca and Medina) or against the civilians in America, we have focused our declaration on striking at the soldiers in the country of The Two Holy Places. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country. Therefore, even though American civilians are not targeted in our plan, they must leave. We do not guarantee their safety, because we are in a society of more than a billion Muslims. A reaction might take place as a result of US government's hitting Muslim civilians and executing more than 600 thousand Muslim children in Iraq by preventing food and medicine from reaching them. So, the US is responsible for any reaction, because it extended its war against troops to civilians. This is what we say. As for what you asked regarding the American people, they are not exonerated from responsibility, because they chose this government and voted for it despite their knowledge of its crimes in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and in other places and its support of its agent regimes who filled our prisons with our best children and scholars. We ask that may God release them.

REPORTER: Mr. Bin Ladin, will the end of the United States' presence in Saudi Arabia, their withdrawal, will that end your call for jihad against the United States and against the US ?

BIN LADIN: The cause of the reaction must be sought and the act that has triggered this reaction must be eliminated. The reaction came as a result of the US aggressive policy towards the entire Muslim world and not just towards the Arabian peninsula. So if the cause that has called for this act comes to an end, this act, in turn, will come to an end. So, the driving-away jihad against the US does not stop with its withdrawal from the Arabian peninsula, but rather it must desist from aggressive intervention against Muslims in the whole world.
Hamas itself, which administers Gaza, has a less broad but not contradictory view of its conflict:
Osama Hamdan, a spokesman for the Hamas movement, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinians were focused on ending the Israeli occupation.

"All Arabs and Muslims support our cause. [But] the Palestinian position is clear, the resistance is against the occupation, the Israeli army who is occupying and killing our people," he said.

"Everyone knows that the policies of the US have created huge problems in the region. At this moment, we know who our enemy is - the Israeli occupation."
The starvation of Gaza, the previous starvation of Iraq, the current occupation of Iraq, the littering of Lebanese farmland with cluster bombs, the wars now waged against Afghanistan and Pakistan all make sense if and only if one accepts the idea that the 5 million Jewish people of Israel must have a majority state there, and that it is immoral to believe otherwise.

For those who do not accept that premise, these Israeli policies supported by the US or directly imposed US policies are affronts against justice and against the people of the region that demand a response. There is a substantial problem that many Americans who are involved in US foreign policy have been conditioned to feel uncomfortable questioning or even considering that premise.

But if, for example, Barack Obama would feel uncomfortable admitting that it is reasonable to question the legitimacy of Israel, avoiding this discomfort carries a huge cost not only for the people of the Middle East, but more and more also for Americans.

Michael Hirsh is wrong about what is beneath comment, which is related to Richard Haass' desperate attachment to Mousavi's green movement

We've seen Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations suggest that the solution to Iran's disputes with the United States is to support those in Iran who are protesting supposedly falsified election results. Over six months after the results were reported, no convincing evidence as arisen that the results were falsified, and a poll taken in September showed both that the amount of people who say they voted for Ahmadinejad matches the reported result and that only around 10% of Iranians do not have confidence in the reported results.

Beyond that the changes the protesters want to see apparently are not supported by a majority of Iranians. For example 87% of Iranians polled say they are generally satisfied with Iran's governmental system and 62% of Iranians agree with the government that religious figures should have the power to veto laws of parliament.

Moving away from the protesters in Iran, the changes Haass wants, Iran to give up a nuclear program that would reduce one of Israel's key strategic advantages, as well as ending support for "terrorism", by which he means groups that do not accept Israel's legitimacy, these are far less popular in Iran than even the changes the reformers want.

I've argued that Haass clings to the idea that the green revolution offers some solution to the dispute between the United States and Iran not because there is any indication that it is feasible, but rather because it would cause painful cognitive dissonance for Haass to allow himself to reach the conclusion that Iran will not somehow cease to pose a threat to Israel's existence - that Israel's legitimacy can be successfully challenged by anyone.

Michael Hirsh, in a different opinion piece in Newsweek shows us the process by which Haass has lost his ability to accurately perceive Iran and other parties in the Middle East:
Ahmadinejad-like challenges to Israel's basic right to exist are beneath comment. But as long as all those Arabs and Palestinians remain in its midst, their political status unresolved, critics from all sides will keep questioning how long Israel can endure as both a Jewish state and a democracy. Why not organize a well-funded PR strategy, complete with eminent proxies (retired statesmen of the kind TV producers love to book), to begin to address those questions now? Go on the offensive: a case could be made that, as the only Mideast state actually approved by a vote of the U.N. General Assembly (Resolution 181 in November 1947, partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab sections; Jews embraced it, and Arabs went to war over it), Israel has the right under international law to retain its identity as a Jewish state. By contrast, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon were merely patched together by treaty bureaucrats at around the same time—hardly a global imprimatur.
Hirsh' argument about international law is stunningly weak. I always point out that the 1947 United Nations that voted for partition was openly racist and colonialist. I sometimes feel like refuting Hirsh's argument would be a waste of time because it is clear that for many of the people who matter, including the 200 million non-Jews in Israel's region, the argument Hirsh presents has no persuasive power at all.

Hirsh's argument only matters if over 100 million of the non-Jewish people of Israel's region live under authoritarian American neo-colonies, with over 100 million more under constant economic and often military attack emanating from the West until the region surrenders to Hirsh's reasoning. In other words, Hirsh's argument only matters as long as the US is, on Israel's behalf, willing to prosecute the war on the Middle East that resulted in 9/11 and that now consumes the majority of US foreign policy resources, has killed several thousand US soldiers and will ultimately impose costs of over a trillion dollars on the US economy.

If the US becomes unwilling to pay the price for Israel, a one-state solution will have to be reached that protects the individual rights of Jewish people who decide to remain in a state without a protected Jewish majority and that does not require the rest of the region to live in authoritarian Western colonies as they did 100 years ago or suffer through Western sanctions.

But aside from Hirsh's meaningless argument, the idea that distorts US foreign policymaking is contained in the first paragraph of the quoted section:
Ahmadinejad-like challenges to Israel's basic right to exist are beneath comment.
Hirsh implies, but does not argue that it is somehow immoral to challenge the right of about 5 million Jewish to have a majority state in Palestine. Hirsh claims it is possible to make an argument that the UN gave Jewish people a right to create a state in the territory that at the time had a non-Jewish majority, and to alot Jewish people a disproportionate amount of land with no right of refusal for the non-Jewish people of the territory. Yes is it possible to make that argument. But Hirsh implies that it is immoral, it is beneath comment, to disagree with that argument. That is crazy.

It is a weak argument to start with. The idea that it is immoral to disagree is absurd. A corollary of Hirsh's implication is that the 80% or more of the more than 200 million non-Jewish people who live in the region, over 160 million people, who do not consider Israel legitimate are all immoral. This is another crazy idea that has motivated the West to pursue policies that have caused tremendous damage and imposed a huge amount of misery on the region. This crazy idea is almost directly responsible for the attacks that have come from the region aimed at the West in response.

But the idea that Hirsh hints at, that it is immoral, in some sense anti-Semitic, to challenge the right of about 5 million Jewish people to have a majority state in Palestine, has floated almost entirely unchallenged in the background of the thought processes of people like Richard Haass, Gary Sick and Juan Cole for their entire careers as analysts of the Middle East.

To be exposed to that idea just once has nearly no effect, but with continuous repetition over a period of years the idea becomes an unchallenged premise that impacts the analyst's perception of the entire region. Haass, Cole, Sick and others over time lose their ability to relate to, understand, or perceive as reasonable the thought processes of people who have not received hints again and again that it is immoral to challenge the legitimacy of Israel.

Haass, Cole and Sick believe no reasonable Iranians could support Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad can only possibly have support, as Cole claimed in June, of 20 or 25 percent of the Iranian population. Their belief does not come from polling results. Their belief is the result of an unknowing projection of their experience of accepting without challenge, hundreds or maybe thousands of times, Hirsh's idea that rejecting the legitimacy of Israel is immoral onto people who have not been conditioned as they have.

Hirsh's idea is nonsense when exposed to scrutiny. I've never seen even a half-serious attempt to justify it rationally. Hirsh claims Ahmadinejad's position is beneath comment, which is convenient for him because to comment on it is to expose Hirsh's position as ridiculous. Unfortunately, for too large a proportion of the US foreign policy establishment. And tremendously disappointingly, also for Barack Obama, the idea is never exposed to scrutiny.

The people of the region suffer greatly for this American inability to openly comment on the idea that 5 million Jewish people have a legitimate right to a majority state in Palestine - against the wishes of most of the non-Jews of the territory and wider region. The United States suffers increasingly because of its own inability, among other ways, including the unfortunate losses on 9/11, attacks before and after that and US losses in its military responses to it.

Hirsh is steering his readers away from the idea of one state, to the detriment of America, to the disastrous detriment of the people of the region, including the 1.5 million people of Gaza who are currently being starved and the 60 million people of Egypt who have to live under an authoritarian colonial dictatorship in order to implement that starvation of Gaza. About 5 million Jewish people in Palestine benefit from the US and the region paying the costs necessary for them to have a guaranteed majority in a state in that territory.

Hirsh's implication that to challenge this situation is immoral or somehow anti-Semitic is absurd on its own, but repeated regularly the implication has greatly distorted the US foreign policy-making process and the perceptions of most people who participate in that process.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Why aren't the puppet dictatorships even worse?

There are a lot of actions the United States wishes its string of pro-US dictators would take that have been denied. Egypt's Mubarak did not build an underground wall as quickly as Israel would have liked. Palestine's Abbas does not come to the negotiating table without an Israeli suspension of construction. Saudi Arabia's dictator Abdullah does not recognize Israel.

The indirect rule of these countries, Palestine's West Bank, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE by the United States is enforced by threat and in the cases of Egypt and Jordan by direct bribery, but none of these leaders acts as a part of any US chain of command. Along with torturing its own citizens who display tendencies to oppose the dictatorship, Jordan arms and trains troops to fight Hamas, it tortures suspects on behalf of the United States and it sends translators to assist the US in ventures in places that speak Arabic. For this it is rewarded likely with payments and opportunities directly to Abdullah and his family and with some economic and military benefits designed to strengthen his hold on power in his country.

But how far would he have to go before the US would make its constantly underlying implicit threat explicit? Before the US begins a serious search for an alternative Jordanian ruler who would be more compliant? There is a trade-off and Jordan's Abdullah does have some freedom of movement. On the other hand, even US military personnel in actual chains of command have some freedom of movement. There is an amount that one must overstep before replacement or punishment becomes a consideration even under formal organizational hierarchies.

If Jordan's Abdullah spoke out against the attacks on and starvation of Gaza the way Erdogan does, he would not be replaced the next day. But the US ambassador would express his anger, some benefit would likely be withheld and contingency plans for what to do if Abdullah goes further would be re-examined.

There is a balance. The US would like Saudi Arabia to make concessions to Israel in exchange for Israel suspending construction. The US has surely attempted to present a list of benefits that the Saudis could be offered, and nothing on that list was compelling to Abdullah. The United States is not sure that it could find a replacement Arabian leader who would make further concessions to Israel, and the risk of a bad outcome is too great for only a symbolic benefit.

However, the Saudi Abdullah making the US ambassador angry would begin to set in motion events that if Saudi independence continued, would make the US more indifferent to threats to the Saudi throne.

It is a balance. It is not nearly the balance a democracy accountable to the people ruled would strike, but Saudi Arabia is not ruled the way it would be if the US ambassador sat directly on the throne. It was a late colonial-era advance in which indirect rule began to be seen as preferable to direct rule only because a native figurehead on the throne inspired fewer attempts at rebellion. The British decided that some degree of freedom for the figurehead was worth the reduced cost in maintaining the rule, and the Americans today in their indirect rule of the region are following the same practice.

On important matters, Jordan's Abdullah, Saudi Abdullah, Egypt's Mubarak, Kuwait's Sabah and the UAE rulers have to submit. Any would be replaced if, for example, they attempted to break Israel's monopoly of nuclear threats, they offered anyone training such as Iran offers Hezbollah that actually can be effective in resisting Israeli advances or even if they attempted to introduce popular sovereignty to their countries - giving control of policy, especially of foreign policy, to any decision-making process in which the public has direct leverage.

On symbolic matters, these puppet rulers strike a balance between the direct rewards the US can offer and the cost cooperation with the US and its unpopular project of maintaining a majority state for 5 million Jewish people imposes on their own legitimacy.

How the twin towers were a cost the United States paid for Israel

There is an inconvenient fact that there is a region of over 200 million people who believe a Jewish state should not have been made in the 1940s on territory that at the time did not have a Jewish majority and whose residents never expressed acceptance of the idea that the land they lived on should host a Jewish majority state.

The United States ended World War II as a uniquely wealthy and powerful group of people. The West, more broadly had been since the colonial era the home of a uniquely powerful small group of people. The West together has been able to use the wealth, resources and power it found itself with to support the imposition, essentially by force, of a Jewish majority-state in Palestine against not only the wishes a large amount of the inhabitants and the ideas of what justice represents to the region around it.

Some of the 200 million people now in the region are ruled by pro-Western dictators - many the direct descendants of the rulers of territories that were part of the British Empire upon which the sun supposedly would never set. Others face various degrees of Western embargo on their economies for foreign policies that reflect that basic premise that the creation of Israel was an injustice that should be corrected. These embargoes include both monstrous starvation policies applied against the people of Iraq in the 1990s and the people of Gaza today.

One way or another, nearly everyone in the region suffers because of the Western belief that 5 million people must have a Jewish-majority state in Palestine. And the Western ability to impose that belief on others. 9/11 was a response from the region to this suffering imposed in the name of maintaining a Jewish majority state. The suffering the US imposes, both directly and indirectly in the form of its stable of puppet dictatorships, is what drew the response of 9/11. The suffering in the region is the price the region pays for the idea that 5 million people must have a Jewish majority state in Palestine. Bin Laden's response was part of the price the United States paid for that idea.

Even if Egypt would be an authoritarian dictatorship that tortures its citizens still if it received no Western support, its torture would not be seen, rightly, as done on behalf of the West if the US did not require Egypt to provide the service of keeping any Egyptian populist impulse unable to threaten Egypt's relationship with Israel.

The United States had through the 1990s made a decision, that the people of the region who do not believe 5 million people must have a Jewish majority state are wrong and the 200 million people are to be restrained from challenging that decision. Restraining 200 million people of Israel's region had a cost, far greater than the several billion dollars in direct aid sent to Israel by the US ever year.

The cost the United States pays for Israel will only grow in the future. It is really time to begin - even if without any humanitarian considerations then only for crude cost-benefit considerations - looking at how a single state can protect the individual rights of Jewish people while at the same time allowing the return of refugees and giving the Palestinian people full equal rights.

Dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and UAE: How responsible is the United States?

There is a question of how much responsibility for pro-US dictatorships in the Middle East can be pinned to the United States. And after that there is the further question of to what degree Israel motivates whatever role the US plays in supporting these dictatorships. The relatively pro-US Middle East dictatorships I focus on here are Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. Of these, Egypt threw off colonial rule under Nasser in 1954 while Sadat brought Egypt back under US tutelage by 1978. The others remain under the royal families through which the British Empire indirectly ruled their subjects by the early 1900s. British imperial direction has in each of these cases been transferred to the United States after World War II and the United States today has just as much a vassal-sponsor relationship with these dictators as the British Empire did with the parents and grandparents of these rulers when World War II began.

The short answer to the question about US responsibility is that there has been an historical tide against colonial dictatorships that has been opposed by the United States more enthusiastically in the Middle East than in the rest of the world because these dictatorships rule populations that are hostile to the idea of Israel's legitimacy. These countries certainly would have evolved differently and faster if not for foreign intervention. It cannot be said with certainty that there would be democracies there by now. But it can be said with certainty that the US is acting as effectively as it can to prevent democracy from developing.

It is a fact that the relationship between the United States and the colonial dictatorships of the Middle East generates anger against the United States and the West. Even though it is not certain a US evacuation from the region would necessarily produce greater political freedom inside of a given time-frame, a US evacuation would certainly and necessarily reduce blame that is assigned to the US because of its relationships. So as far as, for example, the destruction of the World Trade Center, even if the United States is not responsible for imposing dictatorships on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, if those dictatorships were to continue without US support, they would not harm the credibility of or generate attacks against the US as they do now.

Let's look at Jordan. Jordan does not produce oil, what it produces is a service for the United States and West in that it has a dictator who rules a population hostile to the idea that Israel is a legitimate state, borders Israel and co-exists with Israel with limited hostility. If Jordan's King Abdullah was to change orientation and become as hostile to Israel as Syria or Iran, the United States would frantically search the ranks of Jordan's military and security establishments for a replacement and attempt, if it is at all possible, to remove Abdullah from power in favor of a different pro-Israel dictator.

The West would have a decent chance of succeeding in replacing Abdullah. Large populations often have someone in their ranks who would be willing to play that role. If Jordan's king was to institute democratic reforms that threaten that an organization hostile to Israel could take power peacefully, Israel, the US and the West would do the same.

What if the United States was not in this equation? The simplest answer is that possibly France or another supporter of Israel, or even Israel itself would attempt to play the same role. Possibly they could play the role with about equal success. In that sense, the United States is not crucial for supporting Jordan's dictatorship. On the other hand, in our world, it is the United States that issues directives to Abdullah and the people of Jordan do, reasonably, hold the US responsible.

Or maybe any substitute for the US could not as credibly threaten to find a replacement for Abdullah's leadership. Possibly a less resourceful foreign interventionist power would "fail" and power in Jordan could fall into the hands of a party with foreign policy sensibilities in line with the sensibilities of the people who are ruled by that government. Or possibly Abdullah himself would feel less pressure to remain in line, and could himself act more like Syria's Assad than Mubarak - which would in itself make Israel less viable as a Jewish majority state. Even though I cannot say without the US, the goal of maintaining a dictatorship over Jordan could not be reached, I can say the US works to achieve that goal and is responsible for that.

What if there was no structural reason that the United States opposes democratic leadership for Jordan? For example what would the relationship between the US and Jordan look like if a one-state arrangement is reached that does not have a Jewish majority but does resolve the issue of refugees and full equality of rights for Palestinians? In that case, the service the dictator of Jordan provides the United States and the West would be of no value. There certainly would not be a Western threat that he would be replaced if he was to put foreign policy under democratic control. The same pressures that have weakened colonial dictatorships around the world, including a general philosophical US and Western disdain for dictatorship, other things being equal, for the last 50 to 100 years would weaken the Jordanian dictatorship.

The rest of the region is about the same. According to multiple polls, the ruled populations of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE do not accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine. The United States opposes control of foreign policy in the region by parties that are democratic or in line with the sympathies and sensibilities of the ruled populations. There is an implied but very real threat that the US would replace the subservient dictators of these nations with more pliable leaders if they were to change their foreign policies. If that was to fail, the US would sanction the countries and attempt to stifle economic growth as they attempt a longer-term project of regime-change.

There is only one dispute between the people of Jordan, or of the other countries named and the US, and that is the legitimacy of Israel. The United States does not have any other reason to oppose democracy in those countries. A string of neo-colonial dictatorships throughout the Middle East is held in place by the United States for the sake of Israel and the over 100 million people who live under these authoritarian dictatorships rightly consider it a US act of unprovoked aggression against their interests.

The support the US gives its clients does take the form of intelligence cooperation, but more importantly the client-patron relationship is held in place by a threat of removal from power and of hostility from the West against their countries like that faced by Nasser and by Iran today. Palestine's Abbas is held in place the same way. He would be isolated and killed, likely more quickly than Arafat was, and replaced by another if he was to act in the interests of his people rather than those of Israel. The United States has also demonstrated a willingness to attempt to starve his people.

The dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would be very unlikely to survive without giving the West, especially the US, the service of non-hostility towards Israel. The US would not, through positive support and more importantly through imposed threats, hold these authoritarian dictatorships in place if not for the fact that they support in Israel a country that is not seen as legitimate in its region.

The United States does bear some responsibility for their continued oppression of over 100 million people, though it is slightly too much to say that the US is oppressing those people directly.

Richard Haass, president of The Council on Foreign Relations wants the US give more support to the Green movement.

The fundamentals of the dispute over Iran's nuclear program remain the same.

1) Israel believes that for its survival it needs to be able to issue threats of catastrophic destruction to its neighbors - and these threats cannot be answerable.

2) Iran having the capability to enrich uranium negates the credibility of Israel's threats because other parties in the region know that in an emergency Iran could construct a weapon it could use to retaliate.

3) It is widely understood in both the United States and in Israel, that military attacks on Iran would carry tremendous costs for the United States, and would not decrease, and in fact would likely overall increase, Iran's capability to construct a nuclear weapon in an emergency.

4) It is widely understood that sanctions will not apply enough pressure on Iran to force Iran to submit to Israeli demands, transmitted through the United States and European countries, that it give up its enrichment program.

These fundamentals impose a kind of cognitive dissonance on US analysts, including Richard Haass, the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations. We see an example of it in his recent Newsweek piece. On the one hand, Israel's survival requires that Iran not enrich uranium. On the other hand, Iran cannot be stopped from enriching uranium. There is nearly a physical inability to conceive that there may one day not be a Jewish-majority state in Palestine the way there is no longer a White-majority state in southern Africa. This inability to conceive of a post-Zionist world is impossible to reconcile with widely understood facts that lead directly to the conclusion that a key element of Israel's security doctrine is not viable over the long term.

Why the idea that there could be a post-Zionist world should be a painful thought to Haass, that he avoids at great logical cost, is a subject that deserves a full post for close examination. In short, I think he's been conditioned throughout his career to reject that entire line of thinking as anti-Semitic. He certainly has had more colleagues who vehemently and intensely identify with the Zionist project than who have opposed it during the period in which his political assumptions and biases were formed and instilled. There has been a subtle but persistent pressure that by now can be seen to completely cloud his judgment by anyone who has, for any reason, not accepted that pressure for the long period he has.

But anyway, Israel needs Iran to give up its nuclear program. Iran is not going to give up its nuclear program. How to resolve that? Haass finds the Mousavi's Green movement to psychologically save the day.

According to the only post-election poll of Iran that has become public in the West, around September, three months after the election, somewhere around ten percent of Iranians believed the election results were not a fair reflection of what the people of Iran decided. Three months later, with no new evidence at all pointing to electoral fraud, we can only surmise that the proportion who believe so is smaller.

Ten percent of the population is enough to hold demonstrations. Enough that on a given corner, protesters may outnumber police, beat them up and burn their vehicles. Ten percent is enough to produce at least one person who chants whatever Haass might hope somebody in Iran may be chanting. Haass shows that ten percent is enough, if a US-based observer desperately needs to believe that Israel will not lose its capacity to threaten its neighbors, to convince that observer that there is a resolution of the problem that Iran poses given an understanding that no action the US takes, sanctions or military, can stop Iran's program.

It is not enough to point out where Haass conclusions do not make sense and do not follow from his or any reasonable premises. What pointing out errors in the article misses is the psychological environment that structurally generates errors of these types. But looking at part of Haass' conclusion:
In this vein, outsiders should refrain from articulating specific political objectives other than support for democracy and an end to violence and unlawful detention. ... Working-level negotiations on the nuclear question should continue. But if there is an unexpected breakthrough, Iran's reward should be limited. Full normalization of relations should be linked to meaningful reform of Iran's politics and an end to Tehran's support of terrorism.
"An end to Tehran's support of terrorism" is actually a specific political objective that has nothing to do with democracy, violence or detention. "Terrorism" in this context means support for Hamas, Hezbollah and other organizations that do not accept the legitimacy of Jewish-majority Israel. This is the core of Haass' dispute with Iran and why he pins such desperate hopes on a movement that every indication shows to be small, politically non-influential and that has never even expressed agreement with him on the issues of Iran's nuclear program or Israel.

If the government of Iran ruled over a nation of people like Juan Cole, Gary Sick, Fareed Zakaria and Richard Haass, it would be in imminent danger of falling. In those circumstances, the best move for the US would be to assist the people of Iran in overthrowing the revolution and creating a government that reflects the wishes of Cole, Haass and the others.

But the people I named, in predicting the demise of the Iranian revolution and projecting their own disdain for Iran's government onto Iran's people cannot understand how different their view of the region is from the mainstream Iranian view. Iran's people do not have Haass' and other US analysts' painful inability to accept the loss of an Israeli strategic advantage over its neighbors. Because of that, Haass cannot be expected to give advice about Iran that is even coherent from sentence to sentence. Unfortunately for the United States, most of the US foreign policy establishment is equally incoherent and thereby unable to map out effective policy in Iran or the rest of Israel's region.