Monday, March 29, 2010

US military is hopefully expecting a western-leaning secular nationalist (Allawi) victory in Iraq

I'm not sure what to say. We saw what happened in Lebanon. Every fundamental reality on the ground favored Hezbollah and its affiliates, but in a colossal waste of effort the US and its regional subordinates pressured their allied parties in Lebanon to hold out for an arrangement that would limit Hezbollah's political stature. In the end, of course, Hezbollah kept its veto and the delay served no purpose at all except increasing the anxiety of those uninvolved in the process.

Here we go with Iraq:
By Col. Gary Anderson (USMC, ret.)
Best Defense west Baghdad bureau chief

What is happening in Iraq is far from American style horse-trading. Nor is this about simple sectarianism. What we will see in Iraq in the immediate future will be a naked power struggle among the three main elements in the Shiite community:

  • Secular nationalists [note: he means Allawi's faction]
  • Islamic nationalists [he means Sadr's faction]
  • Islamic pro-Iranians [he means Maliki's faction in which he includes Chalabi]

I'm betting that one of the nationalist groups will eventually win, but that it will not be without a good deal of bloodshed. The winning party will likely be the one that the army backs, which will be the secular side, as the Iraqi army doesn't like Sadr, who is the leading Islamic nationalist. I would also bet that Chalabi ends up in exile or worse.

The result will be a regime that is more authoritarian than we will like, but it is to be hoped, western leaning.
A western-leaning regime that is "more authoritarian than we'd like", in other words an Egypt, Jordan or Saudi Arabia-like regime for Iraq. One worrying aspect is Anderson's expectation of bloodshed. Assuming Anderson's perceptions match those of the US foreign policy corps in Iraq there is an intention, and likely plans to impose Allawi on the country by force.

Where the US expectation likely fails is that Sadr and Maliki fight each other, but not to a degree or in a way that would allow Allawi and the Americans to walk into power after they've defeated each other. But the expectation of violence is the type of prophecy that, if made by the Americans in Iraq, fulfills itself.

The United States is not a neutral or indifferent party in Iraq today. The United States is willing to expend substantial resources to add Iraq to the colonial structure that currently holds Egypt, Jordan and many other Middle East countries. If the United States had the means to report more votes for its favorite, Allawi, than he actually got from Iraq's people, it is not plausible that the US refused to do so. And given the long and opaque period between when the votes were cast and when they were reported, as well as the election commission's refusal to recount any of the ballots, it is very likely that the US did have the means to fabricate votes to give Allawi the "slim lead" that was reported.

I expect a coalition of what Anderson calls Islamists to retain power in Iraq, but the stubborn US insistence in attempting to install an authoritarian regime that is western-leaning will cause unnecessary time, resources and lives to be wasted.

Why Iran is nuclear capable today: sketching out a scenario

There was a time when nuclear capability was generally defined as having a domestic stock of the technology and material to build a nuclear weapon. By that standard, Iran is nuclear capable. Recently, Western news organizations, seemingly following Western or at least US policy-makers have discarded that definition and replaced it with a new one whose terms are not publicly known. Here is a recent example from the New York Times:
In any case, no new processing site would pose an immediate threat or change the American estimates that it will still take Iran one to four years to obtain the capability to build a nuclear weapon. Given the complexity of building and opening new plants, it would probably take several years for the country to enrich uranium at any of the new sites.
To understand nuclear capability, it may be helpful to invent a hypothetical scenario where it may come to play and from that example see what "nuclear capable" means.

Let's imagine that in April 2010, Hosni Mubarak dies. That's actually plausible, but let's add two implausible elements. Let's imagine that Gamal Mubarak also dies and that there emerges in Egypt an anti-American or anti-Western politician or political group that after capturing the imagination of Egyptians, is able to remove any US influence on Egypt's political/succession system. In this scenario, by July 2010 we have an Egypt that has escaped the US' Middle East colonial structure.

This independent Egypt, of course, will not participate in the US/Israeli project of starving Gaza as a way to punish or pressure Hamas and allows humanitarian aid to flow freely into Gaza across the Egyptian border. What this leads to though, is a hostile Hamas that is securely in power, regaining popularity and an increasing threat to Israel.

Inevitably reports will begin surfacing that Gaza is developing less crude military systems: longer ranged rockets and air defenses. If the situation continues on its current course, Gaza will become a base from which anti-Israeli forces could, in any future conflict, render Tel Aviv unlivable by current first world standards.

For this exercise, let's say that by April 2011, the situation is intolerable and Israel's military and strategic community has as a primary objective preventing the current situation from continuing. But without an Egypt that is willing to take orders from Israel transmitted through the United States, Israel does not have good options. One option is to invade and seal Gaza itself. But the July 2006 and December 2008 wars have shown that Israel is not good at holding hostile territory at acceptable cost.

An independent Egypt in this situation would, by images of starving and bombed Palestinians, be pushed by these events toward hostility with Israel. And a hostile Egypt can make life very difficult for the Israeli occupation from the Sinai. If the Sinai becomes a base from which hostile forces can harass and impose costs on the Israelis in Gaza, Israel is forced to either accept the losses or capture the Sinai.

This is the point - April 2011 according to the scenario being drawn - where Israel's nuclear weapon comes into play. Israel has the option of having retired intelligence or military officers say that Egypt is playing a dangerous game that could result in the destruction of Cairo. By making the hint, Egypt's strategists have to decide if they are willing to take the risk that Israel's leaders may be crazy, genocidal, enough in this situation to actually use nuclear weapons on Egypt's capital.

Israel's ability to make the threat puts tremendous pressure on Egypt's strategists, even if they are hostile, to restrain their support for Gaza. An Israeli objective of holding Gaza may well move from the realm of impossible to the realm of possible just because of this restraint. In fact without ever using a nuclear weapon, Israel's weapon can shape decisions in its region in its favor.

That is the point of Israel's nuclear monopoly. Because of Israel's weapon, and it does not have to actually be used, Israel can avoid a situation such as a hostile Egypt arming Gaza or preventing an Israeli occupation of Gaza. This is the type of situation that could, if not avoided, render Israel non-viable.

But we have not considered Iran in this scenario.

If the hint of a nuclear attack aimed at deterring Egypt was made in April 2011, it has been clear that hostility between Israel and Egypt would rapidly increase one way or another by April 2010 or July 2010 at the latest. Under these circumstances Iran's strategists would recognize that Iran, to support Egypt and Gaza's Muslims, should begin tangibly improving its nuclear capability. Not in a theoretical sense as now, but in a practical sense.

In July or August 2010, Iran can both silently push its uranium production to the maximum capacity at Natanz and publicly announce to the IAEA that is it moving its current stock of uranium to three sites, two under mountains and one deep beneath Tehran. The IAEA will resist the move of the uranium, but Iran really does not need IAEA permission to do it and there is nobody who can stop Iran if it makes the decision.

Will the US bomb Iran over a legal and disclosed move of its uranium stock? In the middle of a developing crisis in Egypt? No. But Iran would be prepared to retaliate if it was attacked. Iran's government and almost all Iranians would still consider it an unprovoked attack and respond accordingly.

By April 2011, an Israeli retired intelligence officer says in a newspaper interview that Egypt is courting the destruction of it capital by behaving provocatively in support of Gaza. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that the days of Israel bullying the region are over. Its capital could be destroyed just as Egypt's can.

In this scenario, not only has neither Israel or Iran used a nuclear weapon, neither has even explicitly threatened to use a weapon. The power of nuclear weapons is not primarily that they can destroy cities, it is mostly that they allow their owners to make hints and threats that impact the decision-making of their adversaries. In an important sense, all nuclear weapons are virtual their value is less in their use than in their impact on the calculations of the adversaries of their holders. Iran can have a virtual weapon effectively close to the equivalent of Israel's without paying to build one or even leaving the NPT. Even if Iran has ratified and implemented the Additional Protocols.

But the scenario in which Iran can issue a counter-threat is significantly different from the scenario in which it cannot. Egypt's decision makers do not have to wonder only if Israel's leaders are genocidal, but also are they suicidal. The pressure on Egypt to submit to Israel's demands and restrain their support for Gaza is drastically reduced. Without an Iranian counter-threat, Israel could, with difficulty, hold Gaza despite a hostile Egypt. With an Iranian counter-threat Israel could not.

In this scenario, it takes time for a crisis to develop to the point where any threat is made. This is plausible. If a crisis begins unfolding today, Iran does not have to have a credible nuclear option today. Iran has to be able to consolidate its nuclear capability over the months during which the crisis escalates.

It is possible to draw comparable scenarios for any of the three critical colonies - Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. If one or more becomes independent of US indirect colonial rule, Israel's nuclear monopoly gives Israel additional if crude options to deter them, preventing unacceptable strategic situations from developing.

But if a crisis involving one of the three critical colonies or any state in the region were to develop at a plausible pace today, then Iran will be able to issue a somewhat credible nuclear counter-threat, neutralizing any threat Israel could issue, by the time the crisis has fully erupted. Because of that, there is no reasonable sense in which Iran is not nuclear capable today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Two secret enrichment sites disclosed by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation

Now, seriously, are we sure they're secret?
New suspicions among UN weapons inspectors and intelligence agencies of Iranian plans for two more secret sites were disclosed in The New York Times yesterday. It quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, saying that President Ahmadinejad had ordered work on two plants. “God willing, we may start construction” in the Iranian new year, which began on March 21, he said.

Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to Barack Obama thinks Iran will back down

There is a real sense in which US overconfidence is good for Iran. In 2006 or 2007, Iran would have accepted the deal the West put on the table, based on the hints that have emerged about the terms of discussion. The US would rather try sanctions than present an offer Iran will be willing to accept in 2010. That means we'll try this again in 2012 with a starting offer much more generous than what the West is willing to produce today.
TAPPER: You're talking about we're going to have a coalition that will do that. The President Obama set a deadline for President Ahmadinejad of Iran of the end of 2009. We're now about a quarter of the way through 2010, still no major international cooperation putting pressure on Iran. You know a little bit about Iranian culture. Don't you think that this in some ways conveys weakness or the inability to rally international support?

JARRETT: Quite the contrary. In fact, over the last year, what we've seen, when the president came into office, there was a unified Iran. Now we're seeing a lot of divisions within the country, and we're seeing steady progress in terms of a world coalition that will put that pressure on Iran. So no, I think that we have a strong force in the making, and Iran will back down.
There really are no signs of division in Iran on the nuclear issue, and the Mousavi's faction rather than being a formidable opposition, is closer to being discredited and in shambles leaving Ahmadinejad's faction of Iranian politics in firmer control of the country possibly than it's ever been.

But if Obama's advisers are telling him that the current course is a good one for the US, I'm quite happy to have him getting that advice. This tendency to over-estimate the potency of limited sanctions is like new claims to adopt a strategy of "containment". It is a euphemism for doing nothing given that there are no effective measures that the US has as options for dealing with Iran's nuclear program.

Stratfor misunderstands the relationship between the United States and Israel

Strator published its take on the dispute between Obama and Netanyahu, including the snub of Biden with Israel's announcement of the housing permits in East Jerusalem and the snub of Netanyahu who was not given some of the diplomatic courtesies that Israeli leaders usually can expect when visiting Washington.

Stratfor begins by claiming that anti-Americanism in the region does not come from Israel. The argument is that the United States did not begin supporting Israel until after 1967 but there was anti-Americanism in the region before that.
In 1956, Israel invaded the Sinai while Britain and France seized the Suez Canal, which the Egyptian government of Gamal Abdul Nasser had nationalized. The Eisenhower administration intervened — against Israel and on the side of Egypt. Under U.S. pressure, the British, French and Israelis were forced to withdraw. There were widespread charges that the Eisenhower administration was pro-Arab and anti-Israeli; certainly no one could argue that Eisenhower was significantly pro-Israel.

In spite of this, Nasser entered into a series of major agreements with the Soviet Union. Egypt effectively became a Soviet ally, the recipient of massive Soviet aid and a center of anti-American rhetoric. Whatever his reasons — and they had to do with U.S. unwillingness to give Egypt massive aid — Egypt’s anti-American attitude had nothing to do with the Israelis, save perhaps that the United States was not prepared to join Egypt in trying to destroy Israel.
I guess Stratfor imagines Britain and France as independent powers in 1956, completely separate from the United States. We can be clear that if it had been Poland and Czechoslovakia that - in a joint attack with Israel - captured the Suez canal, nobody in Egypt would fail to see this as an attack by the Soviet alliance. If it had been Poland that supplied Israel with materials for its nuclear program and was otherwise its primary sponsor, that certainly would have pushed Egypt and the rest of the region toward the United States.

This is an argument we see often, and it is always wrong. Nasser believed, before the June 1967 war, that the United States had for a long time been aligned with Israel. Stratfor is saying Nasser was wrong. Even if Stratfor somehow has a better understanding of the Middle East during Nasser's reign than Nasser did, what is important is still Nasser's perception. It is completely clear what Nasser believed, before the 1967 war, about the relationship between the United States and Israel.
We must know and learn a big lesson today. We must actually see that, in its hypocrisy and in its talks with the Arabs, the United States sides with Israel 100 per cent and is partial in favour of Israel. Why is Britain biased towards Israel? The West is on Israel's side. General de Gaulle's personality caused him to remain impartial on this question and not to toe the US or the British line; France therefore did not take sides with Israel.

The Soviet Union's attitude was great and splendid. It supported the Arabs and the Arab nation. It went to the extent of stating that, together with the Arabs and the Arab nation, it would resist any interference or aggression.

Today every Arab knows foes and friends. If we do not learn who our enemies and our friends are, Israel will always be able to benefit from this behaviour. It is clear that the United States is an enemy of the Arabs because it is completely biased in favour of Israel. It is also clear that Britain is an enemy of the Arabs because she, too, is completely biased in favour of Israel.
Stratfor can make the valid point that US support for Israel grew even greater after 1967 and 1973, however that does not detract from the truth that the hostility the United States faced in the Arab world was directly resultant from the perception in the Arab world that the US favored Israel.

Another point though is that we almost always can forget historical arguments because what is important is the situation today. Stratfor, to its credit, does not try to argue that Israel's relationship with the United States today does not impose burdens on both its relationships with the rest of the region and its efforts to achieve tangible strategic objectives in the Middle East today.

I do not think it can be reasonably doubted that the United States is more hostile to democracy in the Middle East than it is today in any other region in the world. The threat posed to US interests by a democratic Egypt, a democratic Jordan or a democratic Saudi Arabia all resolve to the fact that they would be hostile to Israel. Actions taken by the US in support of Middle East dictatorships are reasonably seen as aimed ultimately at supporting Israel. Retaliations against US actions in the region, for example on 9/11/2001, are part of the cost the US paid for its support for Israel. Resources the US expends in preventing future attacks, such as the occupation of Afghanistan, the destabilization of Pakistan, and the check-in lines in US domestic airports are further costs to the US of its relationship with Israel.

The fact of the matter is that absent Israel, the United States does not have any strategic dispute with the people of the Middle East. No more than it does with the people of West Africa or the northern coast of South America. (Regions that are not perfect, but drastically less problematic for the US than the Middle East.) But given a US commitment to Israel's viability, the United States has a huge dispute with the people of the Middle East who do not share the dominant US assumption that Israel's security is the primary moral consideration of the region.

Israel is a delicate state whose long term survival depends on vigorous ongoing efforts to ensure that the much more populous states around it are not able to impose what they see as justice by forcing Israel to accept the refugees and give up its status as a majority Jewish state. The US has historically been wealthy enough be bear that burden, and more-or-less achieve its objectives while also ensuring that Israel's region remains weak enough for Israel to survive. It is not clear, and in fact US leaders are beginning to say that it is not clear, that the US will be willing and able to do so indefinitely.

Stratfor argues that the US has an interest in balances of power in the region, between Israel and its neighbors, between Iraq and Iran and between Pakistan and India. If Palestine did not contain a state with a Jewish majority, it is very difficult to imagine how that would harm US interests or what balance of power it would necessarily upset.

The US does want relatively balanced oil producing states - however Israel imposes another constraint, that not only should they be balanced with each other, they must each be weak enough that they do not threaten Israel. This is a severe constraint. Japan, South Korea and China have a sort of balance, as do Brazil, Argentina and Chile. A regional balance between Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran in which all are industrialized and some or all are capable of producing even nuclear weapons in an emergency is uniquely intolerable in Israel's region because Israel has a tiny population, is universally seen in its region as illegitimate, and must still, to be viable, be dominant over all of its neighbors.

Stratfor imagines that somehow Israel helps the United States by not being dominated by Egypt or something. I'm not sure how that is supposed to work, but a Palestine without a Jewish majority state still would not be dominated by Egypt but with the advantage to the United States that Egypt would in that case not require billions of dollars in bribes to a corrupt dictatorship in order to remain at peace with an Arab-majority Palestine.

Americans really want to believe that the relationship between the United States and Israel is not purely sentimental. That Israel is doing the US some service. It is very difficult for Americans to face the idea that there is only one direction in which support is flowing in this relationship. But as much as Americans do not want to accept it, this is no alliance. Israel receives a tremendous amount of assistance directly and indirectly on its behalf from the United States - quite possibly more than every other country in the world combined. And in return Israel's supporters contribute lobbying efforts and political campaign resources and refrain from charging most US political figures with anti-Semitism.

Contrary to what Stratfor would assert, this is how the "alliance" between the United States and Israel works.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

How did the US oust Jaafari in 2006? Because that is how the US hopes to install Allawi today

In 2006 after the previous election, the US decided that Ibrahim Jaafari was not acceptable as Iraq's Prime Minister, announced that publicly and set about having his name withdrawn.

Condoleeza Rice flew into Iraq along with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and they were able to convince Iraq's parliament to remove Jaafari from consideration, despite the fact that Jaafari had the votes in his coalition necessary to win the seat. The question of how that was done was never answered.

The primary means by which the US could, in theory, influence individual votes of Iraqi parliamentarians is suitcases of money, but the Western press has not shown any curiosity about the methods by which the US exerts influence on Iraqi politics. What we do know is that Iraq was headed toward awarding the premiership to Jaafari and somehow Condoleeza Rice prevented that.

Will the US be able to achieve a greater feat in the aftermath of this election? Actually putting substantial power into the hands of its asset Iyad Allawi? The safest answer is clearly no. Allawi's opponents have at least three advantages: 1) They are in power today. 2) Together they have more votes than Allawi's allies 3) The shock of the Allawi showing allows them to tap into the emotions of anger and indignation that will help them hold firm lines in the negotiating process.

Allawi has the advantage of whatever process occurred behind the scenes that the US used to oust Jaafari - and it is not known but plausible that there is a greater commitment of resources on the part of the Obama administration than there was under the Bush administration.

Will the US attempt to flood Iraq's political system with money in order to produce an Allawi victory? The point has been made that a similar process was attempted by the US and its Saudi colony in Lebanon after Lebanon's 2009 election, and that ultimately the effort failed. I consider that good point and a good indication of what will happen in Iraq, which is that someone more like Maliki than Allawi will ultimately take the seat, just as Maliki was more like Jaafari than the US favorite Mehdi in 2006.

But a counter point is that the fundamentals in Lebanon favor Hezbollah so strongly that it seems to be madness for anyone to even make an effort to marginalize that group. It has more guns, it has a bigger population, it won a greater overall number of votes, it has the advantage of being opposed to the country that bombed Lebanese civilian targets three years ago.

If the US made an attempt in Lebanon to influence the political system, it is not imaginable that the US will not attempt the same in Iraq. I think the US attempt likely extended to a fraudulent vote report. Maliki has named specific regions he would like to see recounted, it would be trivial in any honest electoral system to do so and Iraq's election commission is suspiciously adamant in insisting that there be no recount at all.

The safest bet is that the United States is headed toward another Lebanon-style defeat. The Shiites have tremendous resources today in Iraq. But because we do not know the extent of US efforts to interfere in Iraq's political system, only that such efforts have been made with some success in the past, I cannot discount the possibility that the US will pour enough money in, make enough bribes and threats, to actually have Allawi assume a position of substantial power in Iraq, possibly even as Prime Minister.

The tension between being a US colony and being humiliated by Israel

I really do not see a substantive difference between today's rulers of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others in the region and the late 1800s indirect rulers of the British Raj in what is now India and its neighboring countries. Eric Margolis, I believe, coined the term "American Raj" which strikes me as fitting.

But the Arab League, in reaction to Israel's refusal to make significant symbolic concessions to the Palestinians, feels pressure to respond, at least symbolicly.
"We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," Moussa said. "It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning point," he said.

"The peace process has entered a new stage, perhaps the last stage. We have accepted the efforts of mediators. We have accepted an open-ended peace process but that resulted in a loss of time and we did not achieve anything and allowed Israel to practice its policy for 20 years."
The whole point of indirect rule, whether practiced by the British or the Americans, is symbolism. A native face of the ruler provokes less intense feelings of rebellion among, especially, the young, educated and idealistic portions of the ruled population who play an important role in organizing and orchestrating changes of leaderships.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has a better feel than a direct US governor would for which symbolic measures would be counter-productive affronts against local sensibilities and which measures can be quietly acquiesced to. In return for the service of preventing revolt against US rule, Abdullah lives a comfortable life aided by imported Western luxury items. He also trains his children to accept the US as the masters of his family and the country to extend the relationship into the future.

However, in no sense can Saudi Arabia, led by colonial King Abdullah, "face Israel". Instead he can coordinate with the US State Department symbolic displays of displeasure which is what we are going to see over the next year from the US-controlled countries of the region.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why an Iranian nuclear capability really may be an existential threat to Israel

It is often claimed that Iran is not an existential threat to Israel because Iran's leaders would not lightly attack Israel and risk the own destruction. This claim misses part of the point because there Iran does not have to actually build a weapon and destroy Jerusalem or Tel Aviv to threaten Israel's existence, especially in the minds of Israel's strategic planners. Israel's planners have, with the at assistance of the West, built and maintained a regional nuclear monopoly precisely because they believe having such a monopoly is necessary for Israel's continued existence.

Israel sees Iran having a nuclear weapons capability because Israeli strategists believe Israel's long-term survival depends on its neighbors believing Israel cannot be countered militarily. Ariel Roth of the Council on Foreign Relations puts it this way:
Israel fears that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could undermine its qualitative superiority of arms and its consistent ability to inflict disproportionate casualties on adversaries -- the cornerstones of Israel’s defense strategy. Although some idealists dream of reconciliation in the Middle East based on a genuine and mutual recognition of all parties’ legitimate rights, most Israelis believe the key to enduring peace in the Middle East is convincing Israel’s adversaries that ejecting Israel through force is an impossible task not worth pursuing.
If Iran has a nuclear capability, it can adopt the policy that if Israel was to use nuclear weapons on Cairo, Mecca, Riyadh, Beirut Baghdad or Damascus it would rush to build a weapon it could use to retaliate.

Even though this scenario is very unlikely to actually play out, how scenarios play out in theory impact how parties calculate and act in the real world. For example, if hostility between a theoretically independent Saudi Arabia and Israel would escalate to the destruction of Saudi resources with Saudi Arabia unable to retaliate, then the Saudis could be restrained much further down the escalation ladder.

Israeli strategists who believe a credible if extreme last resort threat to use nuclear weapons on its adversaries is necessary for Israel's survival necessarily believe that anything that removes that Israeli option is a threat to Israel's survival.

When Netanyahu describes Iran as an existential threat, I assume this is what he means. The Israelis who devoted tremendous resources to establishing a nuclear threat for Israel did so because they believed this threat, and also Israel's regional monopoly on the ability to make this threat, is existentially necessary for Israel.

Allawi reported biggest vote getter in Iraqi election

My feel is that the results likely have been tampered with at some point during the process between when the votes were cast and when they were reported weeks later, but so far I have not seen persuasive evidence that this is the case. I don't give Iraq the same presumption of fairness I give Iran for several reasons, one being that Iran is not under foreign occupation with an asset of the foreign power's security establishment on the ballot. Another being that Iran's system, where votes are counted locally with representatives of the candidates able at each station to witness the counts, which are then publicized, is actually very transparent.

So far I have not found a reasonable explanation of what has been happening for the over two weeks between when the votes were cast and the report of the results. This is not proof that results were being doctored over this time, but unlike in Iran's case one cannot say that specific people from multiple factions would know if a particular voting district was reported incorrectly. I'm not sure Iraqi results have been released with sufficient detail that if the numbers have been altered the people who actually counted the votes would even know.

On the other hand, what I think about Iraq's election does not matter any more than what I think about Iran's election. Assuming the Shiites are victims of electoral fraud, what is important is the resources they can bring to bear to salvage their political situation. The situation is still fluid. We do not know if there is going to be an attempt to seat Allawi as Prime Minister or what seats in what positions he'll ask to be filled by people favorable to the United States.

What we do know is that the United States does not intend, if it can help it, to leave Iraq to parties sympathetic to Iran. The US under Obama, in this and several other respects, is actually more confrontational with Iran that the US was towards the end of George W. Bush's term.

Bush was moved away from his confrontational stance at the urging of the military because Iran's help was needed to restrain Shiite anti-US armed organizations. It seems that until Iran re-establishes a credible threat to damage US interests in a way that the US military will respond to, which unfortunately means deaths of US soldiers, the United States will not seek cooperation and agreement with Iran regarding Iraq.

The process is still too fluid for me to begin to see what is going to emerge as Iraq's post 2010 election power structure. The Shiites have been put on notice that their control of the country is being challenged with the support of the United States. We have to see how they will respond to this challenge.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Will we ever see a debate between Ahmadinejad and Obama?

There is a serious fundamental disagreement between the United States and most people of the Middle East that most Americans do not understand even exists. The United States holds a position, that Israel's security is the paramount consideration in Middle East policy - if necessary to the detriment of far greater numbers of people who do not happen to be Jewish, that is not defensible in terms of American values.

This is the exact situation in which public debates, public discussions with formal rules to ensure that each side is able to present its points can actually produce progress. Ahmadinejad against any member of the Obama administration. Barack Obama against any member of the Iranian foreign policy establishment, any official member of one establishment against any official member of the other. These are events that have the potential to accelerate the process of reshaping US regional priorities.

I hope to see more calls for debate and discussion made by Middle Eastern opponents of Zionism.

Hillary Clinton's AIPAC speech. Racist in favor of Jews and difficult to read, but maybe worthwhile

Hillary Clinton comes from a world where the only human beings in the Middle East are the five or so million Jewish people in Palestine. If that is somewhat of an exaggeration, at least it is true that the concerns of those five million are vastly more important than anyone else's in the region. Those five million Jews' objective of having a state with a Jewish majority is, in Clinton's world, a constraint before which every other objective must yield.

Reading a speech about the Middle East by a person like Hillary Clinton, delivered to an audience that holds her skewed perspective in many cases to even a greater degree than she does, for a person who is not from that moral universe, can be stressful. I feel an urge to see evil, callousness, naivete or stupidity in her words from my perspective these are there, but what is really happening is that she comes from a different and incompatible moral universe from mine.

Her moral world starts from different postulates - different basic assumptions - than mine. Specifically, she starts from the assumption mentioned earlier that a majority state for 5 million Jews is either the only, or the vastly overarching regional moral consideration. The rights, objectives, sensibilities of numbers of people far greater than those five million are outweighed to the point of irrelevance. In truth, Clinton's world view, and that of her audience, and that of Barack Obama, is racist or bigoted in favor of Jewish people by any definition except one held by people who share her bigotry.

But let's read parts of her speech and see if we find anything to learn from.
And to all of you, all of AIPAC's members, thank you once again for your example of citizen activism. Petitioning your government, expressing your views, speaking up in the arena - this is what democracy is all about. And I am particularly pleased to see that there are, once again, so many young people here. You recognize that your future and the future of our country are bound up with the future of Israel. And your engagement today will help to make that future more secure.
This is somewhat defensive. Clinton is saying that the pro-Israel lobby, which has become more controversial since the failure of the occupation of Iraq, is a good thing. The fact that she says it reflects a small shift in US discussion away from the interests of that lobby.
Given the shared challenges we face, the relationship between the United States and Israel has never been more important. The United States has long recognized that a strong and secure Israel is vital to our own strategic interests. And we know that the forces that threaten Israel also threaten the United States of America. And therefore, we firmly believe that when we strengthen Israel's security, we strengthen America's security.
Now of course Israel, opposite of vital for US strategic interests, is the single biggest discretionary strategic liability that the United States supports. (As it has been since its foundation, including throughout the Cold War.) I find interesting how she asserts it is true, with no more argument than that she firmly believes it. Maybe argument by repetition of the conclusion. There is a perceptual box that she cannot see outside of, and in that box not only is her statement true, but she is making a valid argument.

Now we come to an important observation:
And if you ever doubt the resolve of President Obama to stay with a job, look at what we got done for the United States last night when it came to passing quality affordable healthcare for everyone.
Obama's political fortunes, unless something unpredictable happens, have been greatly improved by the passage of health care reform. The swing has been so great that two weeks ago it was safe to plan for a one term Obama presidency and now it is safe to plan for a two term presidency. This is bad for the Middle East if, as I suspect, the United States will have to cycle through changes in political party control of the presidency before it can make fundamental policy changes. That process will take longer now.

On the other hand, Obama is again a political figure that is nearly impervious to attack by the Israel lobby. Attacks on Obama as not sufficiently pro-Israel today, unlike last month, will harm Israel's image in the United States far more than Obama's. Health care and the strengthening of the Obama presidency will impact the Middle East indirectly. It is not clear exactly how yet.

Back to Clinton:
And let me assure you, as I have assured you on previous occasions with large groups like this and small intimate settings, for President Obama and for me, and for this entire Administration, our commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future is rock solid, unwavering, enduring, and forever.

And why is that? Why is that? Is it because AIPAC can put 7,500 people into a room in the Convention Center? I don't think so. Is it because some of the most active Americans in politics and who care about our government also care about Israel? That's not the explanation. Our countries and our peoples are bound together by our shared values of freedom, equality, democracy, the right to live free from fear, and our common aspirations for a future of peace, security and prosperity, where we can see our children and our children's children, should we be so lucky - and as a future mother of the bride, I'm certainly hoping for that - (applause) - to see those children, those generations come of age in peace, with the opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potentials.
Clinton's explanation of US support for Israel. Is she really implying that Israel's opponents do not believe in freedom, equality, democracy? This is a really important point because supporters of Apartheid were not able to make this argument. The United States had during the Apartheid struggle a politically mobilized population of African Americans who identified with the anti-Apartheid side of the dispute and simply would not tolerate any implication they were morally defective. They would rightly decry it as dehumanizing and racist.

Arab Americans and Muslim Americans are not politically effective in the United States. If they were this type of statement could not be made. There are serious efforts made by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who are confronting a far more resourceful adversary than the pro-Apartheid lobby in the United States, but there is also a lot of room for US-based groups that identify with Middle Eastern populations to have more of an impact on the terms of discussion in the United States. This is an area where we will hopefully see improvement in the future.

There is an obvious contradiction between her claim that she values equality and her position that authoritarian dictatorship for 60 million Egyptians is good for the region if it helps secure a majority state for 5 million Jews. Her claim to value democracy is also contradicted by a wide range of policies she supports on Israel's behalf.

But an explanation of US support for Israel that does not require an audience that already assumes that Israel's security is the greatest if not only moral consideration of the region does not exist. She would have made it if she could have.
The United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel's legitimacy. We did lead the boycott of the Durban Conference and we repeatedly voted against the deeply flawed Goldstone Report. This Administration will always stand up for Israel's right to defend itself.
We have an interesting rhetorical maneuver here. "Anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel's legitimacy." Are these two different ideas the US is fighting, or are efforts to challenge Israel's legitimacy, according to Clinton, anti-Semitism in themselves? If she had made an explicit assertion, if she had said it is anti-Semitic to challenge Israel's legitimacy, then even though she would not be challenged there, her statement would have been dismantled later.

An argument that it is anti-Semitic to say that 60 million Egyptians, over 20 million Saudis and millions more in the region living under dictatorship is too high a price to pay for a Jewish majority state for 5 million Jews cannot be sustained if exposed to opposition. Opponents of Zionism do have to go out of their way to make the argument because even before the most friendly audiences supporters of Israel only hint at the connection.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and those that think like them have to be openly challenged to either defend or abandon the argument that challenges against Israel's legitimacy are anti-Semitic. If they are not challenged directly, they will make the assertion in hints, using phrases that may or may not have that meaning as Clinton does here.
And for Israel, there is no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. Elements in Iran's government have become a menace, both to their own people and in the region. Iran's president foments anti-Semitism, denies the Holocaust, threatens to destroy Israel, even denies that 9/11 was an attack. The Iranian leadership funds and arms terrorists who have murdered Americans, Israelis, and other innocent people alike. And it has waged a campaign of intimidation and persecution against the Iranian people.

Last June, Iranians marching silently were beaten with batons. Political prisoners were rounded up and abused. Absurd and false allegations and accusations were leveled against the United States, Israel, and the West. People everywhere were horrified by the video of a young woman shot dead in the street. The Iranian leadership denies its people rights that are universal to all human beings, including the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear, the right to the equal administration of justice, to express your views without facing retribution.
Of course, by nuclear armed, Clinton means nuclear-capable. Iran may be making a mistake in its communications with the West by not more often directly saying, as Ali Larijani did, that Iran has the right to be as nuclear capable as Japan.

"Silently ... batons ... false allegations ... horrified." This segment that she shares with Obama's Nowruz speech, word for word, except that she adds Israel to the list of allegation targets certainly works better for her talking to AIPAC than they would have worked for Obama speaking, ostensibly, to an Iranian audience.

More on Iran:
We've made extensive efforts to reengage with Iran, both through direct communication and working with other partners multilaterally, to send an unmistakable message: Uphold your international obligations. And if you do, you will reap the benefits of normal relations. If you do not, you will face increased isolation and painful consequences.

We took this course with the understanding that the very effort of seeking engagement would strengthen our hand if Iran rejected our initiative.
I've long believed that the US has calculated, from before the 2007 NIE was released, that decreasing tension with Iran was a US national interest. If that was the case, then the US would have struck an informal agreement with Iran that Iran would hold its rate of enrichment steady and there would be no significant increases in sanctions. Clinton says the US hand is strengthened if Europe, Russia or China agree that Iran is being intransigent. I don't believe that. The US hand is strong to the degree that it can tolerate Iranian responses to increase hostilities, and weak to the degree that it cannot.

The US could have gotten some sanctions by now this year if it wanted to, or could have gotten sanctions last year, or could, at any time, unilaterally interpret existing sanctions to permit inspections of Iranian shipping. The United States is deterred not by diplomacy but by Iran's retaliatory capabilities, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in other places as well. I take talk about sanctions as theater for exactly the audience Clinton was facing here.

It has taken until now to get to the heart and soul of Clinton's speech:
It is true that heightened security measures have reduced the number of suicide bombings and given some protection and safety to those who worry every day when their child goes to school, their husband goes to work, their mother goes to market. And there is, I think, a belief among many that the status quo can be sustained. But the dynamics of demography, ideology, and technology make this impossible.
Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have all said this before, but never in as detailed a way as Clinton does here.
First, we cannot ignore the long-term population trends that result from the Israeli occupation. ...

Second, we cannot be blind to the political implications of continued conflict. ...

And then finally, we must recognize that the ever-evolving technology of war is making it harder to guarantee Israel's security. ...
This is an important section. The US, faster now than Israel though still too slowly, is moving toward the conclusion that it will not have the resources to permanently sustain Israel in a conflict against its region given that conflict's current shape. Clinton is wrong in believing that the type of state she would give the Palestinians would change the situation, but she is right in understanding that unless the situation changes the US will fail or refuse to commit the necessary resources further to defend Israel.

Hillary Clinton expressed the beginnings of this recognition before AIPAC and not in hints, but in great detail. She skipped over the part that the US is not confident that it can prevent Iran from acquiring and maintaining a nuclear capability but other than that was actually brutal in her delivery.

Maybe this section should be its own post. Clinton after this section reverts to usual framing of issues involving Israel in ways most favorable to Zionism, but despite her protestations that US support for Israel is unlimited and eternal, the fact is that if the US could commit to unlimited support, it would not be as irrationally eager to attempt to reach two states as it is.

The speech was nothing new. I'm not sure it was worth the psychological price of a journey into the mind, into the the unspoken assumptions of a person with such an offensive ability to minimize the human value of every non-Jewish person in the Middle East. On the other hand there are clear signs that the US is seeking greater strategic independence from the very lobby Hillary Clinton was speaking before.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fiancé of slain Iranian protester Neda Soltan meets Peres

Not much to say. Caspian Makan is a grieving fiancé, nobody expects him to take into consideration the public relations impact of his moves. Shimon Peres is a professional politician, one of the most successful in Israel. Peres just made a breathtakingly stupid move in meeting Makan.

Israel is a tiny country. All of its positions of authority and decision-making are drawn from a small pool of competitors. It is possible to become prominent in Israeli politics without being particularly talented by world standards.

Ranking Historical Claims to Palestine by Juan Cole

In reaction to an AIPAC speech in which Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu claimed that Israel's Jews have a historic connection to Jerusalem, Juan Cole does a very thorough job reputing the idea that some historical connection gives Jewish people the right to political control of part or all of Palestine. The whole article should be read, and perhaps saved because so far it is the best historical evaluation of the claims of Zionism that I've come across. But one excerpt follows:
8. Therefore if historical building of Jerusalem and historical connection with Jerusalem establishes sovereignty over it as Netanyahu claims, here are the groups that have the greatest claim to the city:

A. The Muslims, who ruled it and built it over 1191 years.

B. The Egyptians, who ruled it as a vassal state for several hundred years in the second millennium BCE.

C. The Italians, who ruled it about 444 years until the fall of the Roman Empire in 450 CE.

D. The Iranians, who ruled it for 205 years under the Achaemenids, for three years under the Parthians (insofar as the last Hasmonean was actually their vassal), and for 15 years under the Sasanids.

E. The Greeks, who ruled it for over 160 years if we count the Ptolemys and Seleucids as Greek. If we count them as Egyptians and Syrians, that would increase the Egyptian claim and introduce a Syrian one.

F. The successor states to the Byzantines, which could be either Greece or Turkey, who ruled it 188 years, though if we consider the heir to be Greece and add in the time the Hellenistic Greek dynasties ruled it, that would give Greece nearly 350 years as ruler of Jerusalem.

G. There is an Iraqi claim to Jerusalem based on the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, as well as perhaps the rule of the Ayyubids (Saladin's dynasty), who were Kurds from Iraq.
I've never found historical arguments necessary or persuasive. They are far less important, in my way of evaluating than the fact that the US is willing to starve 1.5 million people in Gaza on so that 5 million Jewish people in Palestine can have a majority state, willing to impose or at least maintain an authoritarian dictatorship over the more than 60 million people of Egypt on behalf of Palestine's Jewish population, deny technology and sabotage the economy of over 70 million people of Iran on for the sake of those 5 million people. We could go on and on, to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Sudan, and on and on and in each case present a stronger moral argument against Zionism than refuting Zionist historical claims.

But the historical arguments do come up from time to time, and when they do, this is a very good resource.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tzipi Livni says Iran should be treated like a child

Israeli and US statements about the Middle East often seem arrogant. These statements are arrogant, but there is something else going on that may be more subtle. Livni, Netanyahu, Obama live in a world where there is no opposition to the idea that there should be an Israel. No opposition to the idea that the rights, priorities and sensibilities of everyone else in the region should be considered secondary in importance to ensuring that the five million Jewish people of Palestine have a majority state.

Any interference in that opposition-free world they've constructed for themselves and each other is met with the most vigorous and hostile reaction, until they convince themselves again that opposition to their ideal of Zionism, at least reasonable opposition, does not exist. This is the process that comes before the arrogant and insulting statement that Tzipi Livni made at the AIPAC summit in Washington DC.
(On Iran, Livni drew furious laughter by saying the world ought to tell the Iranian government, “Stay in your room until you learn to behave.”)
I think the correct response to such statements is not to point out the arrogance or degree of insult in the statements, but to challenge the underlying idea. If a majority state for five million Jewish people in Palestine requires limiting who can hold office in Egypt with its over 60 million people, then a majority state for Jewish people is too expensive. If a majority state for 5 million Jews means Iran's over 70 million people cannot have the same technology Japan and Brazil have, then a majority Jewish state is too expensive, there should not be a Jewish state.

Could missile defense make the US invulnerable to nuclear attack?

This is moving off of the main topic of this blog, and well outside of the areas that I've been watching the most closely, but there is a connection because one of the easiest places for a US/Russian rivalry to play itself out is the Middle East, where the US is still tied to a colonial structure that includes Israel and a host of illegitimate US-aligned regimes.

Russia has certainly not reacted to its knowledge of US plans to extend its missile defense systems to the Russian border as if it feels assured that any defense can be more cheaply overcome than it can be implemented. Russia, unanimously in what its leaders and experts say, see a real threat to Russian interests in this extension. A threat serious enough that Russia warned Poland and Czech Republic that they would be early targets in any conflict with the US if they proceeded.

I don't know exactly what threat the Russians interpret, but I can see trends they may find troubling. At the height of the Cold War, Russia and the United States reached strategic parity. Neither has a distinct nuclear advantage over the other. After Russia lost the cold war, Russia still has the same strategic parity.

The United States did, at least for a moment, though it is now decreasing, have an economic advantage over Russia post-Cold War that did not translate into an adjustment in the strategic situation in favor of the US. If the US becomes able to sprint to solve the difficult engineering problems associated with intercepting missiles, it will have an advantage that it will, as it was before Russia's first nuclear bomb in the 1950s, be able to attack but not be attacked itself.

If such a strategic position is feasible, the United States structurally cannot pass it up. The US military will demand it and modern US Presidents are not able to (and of course have no reason to want to) deny a strongly held strategic objective of the military. The US military is far more influential in forming US military/strategic policy than any domestic lobby or other governmental constituency.

That missile defense is difficult is an advantage, not a disadvantage in that it offers the hope that it can be put in place by the US and will be difficult for adversaries to copy to catch up.

The question is "is missile defense unfeasibly difficult." Russia is acting as if it is not. We're talking about a tremendous strategic advantage, and also an advantage that the US benefits from the public and its adversaries having an exaggerated idea of its difficulty and an understated perception of any progress already made.

I'm comfortable saying missile defense is not feasible today. I'm not comfortable saying the US will not be able to implement reasonably effective global missile defense 20 years from now, while the US will be hoping to have a monopoly at that.

Russia and China are the countries whose strategic situation would be threatened the most by such a US monopoly at missile defense. If Russia and China are producing more engineers and scientists than the US by that time, they may be able to neutralize the US advantage either by developing ways to overcome the US defenses or building their own - but if the US is able to develop missile defenses over time without suspicion, there may be a lot of ground for its adversaries to cover by the time they realize the change in the strategic situation.

The advantage the US has today, in the post-Cold War world is that the United States is the country most able to allocate the tremendous amount of resources missile defense would cost. So far the US advantage in ability to finance huge military projects has not resulted in a change in the strategic situation. The US military is simply not able to allow the US to just fail to press a huge advantage like that. US diplomats can say the US has no intention to build missile defense, but if it is at all feasible, those US diplomats are either lying or misinformed. It is impossible for it to be feasible and the US not to reach for it.

Is there a connection between missile defense and the Middle East at all? If the US was to have an operational global missile defense it could put Israel under it and leave adversaries such as Iran outside - effectively restoring Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear capability.

The US-Middle East colonial structure is expensive to maintain, but is fundamentally in strategic terms a vanity project for the United States. If Russia or China threatens it, the worst they could do is relieve the US of the expense of holding it together. There is no threat there.

If Russia or China could maneuver the US into a broader war with Iran, that war could drain the US of the resources it hopes to use to reshape the global strategic environment in its favor. If a war actually was to happen, Russia and China have internal supply lines that they could use to keep Iran armed and equipped indefinitely. It would be a total nightmare for the US, and with troops already in the region that the US military cannot just leave to die, the US would have no choice but to increase its commitment there, increasing both its losses and the amount of troops that remain for it to lose while unable to leave without an agreement from Iran and its supporters. A war with Iran would change everything. A war with Iran would end US hopes of extending, much less increasing, any strategic advantage anywhere.

But every indication is that the US military has calculated its expectations from war with Iran and concluded that a war is to be avoided. Not only because it would give Russia the opportunity to grind the US down the way the USSR was ground down by the US in Afghanistan, but because there is no point where there are clear advantages to the US of war with Iran, the US is just not going to war with Iran.

Because the US has enough understanding of its situation that it will not be drawn into a war with Iran, the Middle East plays very little part in the dispute over either missile defense or the strategic environment that will prevail in the next generation between Russia, China and the US/Western Europe.

Russia seems to me to be acting as if it perceives, and I think it is right to perceive, that there is a real threat of the US greatly improving its strategic environment with respect to its main rivals over the next 15 or 20 years.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Larijani explicitly said Iran wants Japan option on its nuclear program

Not sure how I missed this, but Ali Larijani, speaker of Iran's parliament told his counterparts in Japan's parliament that Iran seeks a nuclear profile comparable to Japan's.
Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has stated that Iran will follow the Japanese model in its nuclear program. Japan has nuclear technology but does not possess any nuclear weapons and Iran will follow the same path in its nuclear program, Larijani said in a meeting with Japanese House of Councilors President Satsuki Eda in Tokyo.
Japan does not have a weapon, but could make them, and has said so openly.
"If Japan desires, it can possess thousands of nuclear warheads. Japan has enough plutonium in use at its nuclear power plants for three to four thousand (of them)," Ozawa said. "If that should happen, we wouldn't lose (to China) in terms of military strength. What would (China) do then?"
Ariel Ilan Roth of the US Council on Foreign Relations has explained why an Iranian nuclear capability - the Iranian attainment of the type of capabilities Japan has - though legal, is intolerable to Israel:
Israel fears that Iran’s nuclear ambitions could undermine its qualitative superiority of arms and its consistent ability to inflict disproportionate casualties on adversaries -- the cornerstones of Israel’s defense strategy. Although some idealists dream of reconciliation in the Middle East based on a genuine and mutual recognition of all parties’ legitimate rights, most Israelis believe the key to enduring peace in the Middle East is convincing Israel’s adversaries that ejecting Israel through force is an impossible task not worth pursuing.

Essential to inducing that sense of despair is Israel’s ability to continuously trounce its enemies on the battlefield and suffer far fewer losses than it inflicts. The Iranian nuclear program threatens Israel’s ability to do this in two ways. First, an Iranian nuclear capability would likely force Israel to restrain itself due to fears that Iran’s nuclear weapons could provide an implied security guarantee to other anti-Zionist forces -- the sort of guarantee that would prevent Israel from causing the massive losses it has in the past, while giving anti-Israel forces the confidence to keep up the fight.
The even greater threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program is its potential to unleash a cascade of proliferation in the Middle East, beginning with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. For both of these states, the idea that Jews and Persians could have a monopoly on nuclear weapons in a region demographically and culturally dominated by Arabs is shameful.
Iran with a Japan option, while legal under the NPT, poses a threat to Israel. The US is expending a tremendous amount of diplomatic resources, probably more than any other issue, in what looks like a failing effort to prevent Iran from exercising its right to attain this status. This is the first time I've read an Iranian figure expressly saying that this status is Iran's goal.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Putin and Lavrov claim Bushehr will start this summer

It is being said that Russia is angry with the United States, possibly because the US has not fully scrapped missile defense plans. I've never thought the US could or would scrap its missile defense plans because an unanswerable global first strike threat would be too valuable for the United States to pass up if it is feasible.

The United States knows that it will lose cooperation with Russia on Iran if it pursues those plans, but there are some strategic objectives for the United States that are bigger than Israel and its nuclear posture is one of them.

But for whatever reason, Russia is speaking far more aggressively in favor of completing Bushehr than it ever has:
Yet only recently it seemed all differences on Iran were resolved. Experts believe the sudden falling-out was provoked by a recent revival of U.S. plans to deploy anti-missiles in Europe.

On Thursday, when the future of the Bushehr plant came up for discussion, Lavrov said with certainty that "the project will be finished" and "the steps to meet all technological requirements are entering the decisive stage."

The minister was not expected to give a different answer: a few hours earlier, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had told a meeting with nuclear experts in Volgodonsk that the first generating unit in Bushehr would go on stream this summer. But Lavrov's words clearly upset Clinton and she rushed to say that the U.S. was opposed to the commissioning of the Bushehr plant, considering it premature.
I do not expect to see Bushehr start until Iran is in formal negotiations with the United States, and therefore, until the United States has committed to allow a degree of enrichment that Iran accepts.

If Russia believes the United States is attempting to end its mutually assured destruction equilibrium, it will respond with a broader counter than just Iran. On the other hand, with two occupations in the Middle East, it is not clear that the US is capable of prioritizing its association with Israel. It is possible that the Russian strategy for punishing the US, should US/Russian relations fail, will involve maneuvering the US into a painful, destructive and pointless war in the Middle East.

There is a structural problem between the United States and Russia. The two countries are at an equilibrium today that is acceptable to Russia. Russia and the US each could destroy the other with a first strike, but not without being themselves destroyed in retaliation. At some point in the future, the US will be able to thwart an attempted Russia first strike, or strike Russia with the understanding that Russia does not have an option to retaliate. That would shift way conflicts between the US and Russia can escalate, giving the US an advantage even given the expectation that the weapons will never be used.

Interestingly, the US would be gaining with respect to Russia the virtual nuclear superiority that Israel will be losing in its region as Iran's nuclear capability becomes more established. Earlier this year, the US pulled back from its plans to site missile defenses in former Warsaw Bloc countries, but by now Russia must see that the long term objective still exists to be fulfilled in other ways.

This is a bigger problem than Bushehr. Bushehr will be solved by cash payments from the US to Russia or something comparable, though the price may be higher than usual. Bushehr didn't open under Bush, when Bush openly was pushing for expansion of US missile defense. But the rivalry between the US and Russia looks as if it may flare with Russia looking to balance US capabilities, perhaps by reasserting influence over the former Western bloc countries, perhaps by elevating its relationships with Cuba and Venezuela.

Russia's opposition is the most active, but China also does not want to see the US with a global unilateral first strike capability. The worst case for the US is that just maybe Russia and/or China will try to embroil the US in another war in the Middle East, this one broad and expensive enough that the US will no longer be able to afford or be able to focus to move to the next generation of missile technology. The prospect of losing MAD is that serious to Russia, unless Russia is convinced the danger can be delayed and acted upon later.

I give less of a presumption of fairness to Iraq's elections than to Iran's

From the most recent results over at the, which is a US blog, Allawi has a lead in Iraq's votes and there are more uncounted votes in his strong areas than in his weak areas. The trend as of now is that Allawi's list will be the one with the most votes and he will be the first candidate presented to be Iraq's next prime minister.

We're talking about an open long-term CIA asset. One who did very poorly in the previous election, and one that the United States favors clearly over his opponent as it did last time. Last time, if memory serves, Sadr and Maliki ran on one list, and if they had done so this election would have again had a commanding lead in number of seats.

As it is, the Prime Minister and President require two-thirds backing to be seated so between them Sadr and Maliki have a veto over the next government if they choose to use it.

More interesting to me is the question: was the election fair? One similarity between Iran and Iraq is that the opposition is resourceful and can be expected to make its case using formal levers of power. Rafsanjani had no need to call college kids to protest in the streets, risk their lives and confront the security forces. There are institutional factions loyal to Rafsanjani throughout the country who would be able to detect and report irregularities. Rafsanjani also is connected enough that if there were convincing irregularities, he could make sure they were acted upon.

Maliki, assuming Allawi is awarded more votes, also has connections and resources that he could use to uncover electoral fraud. If there was fraud, I expect Maliki to be able to make a reasonable argument as to what happened, including a plausible explanation of how it could have happened. Rafsanjani and Mousavi never were able to present such an explanation in Iran.

But the votes are counted centrally and released in a crawlingly slow process. Without any more information, this seems like a process that offers opportunities for fraud. I'm not sure what oversight procedures exist to guarantee the integrity of the vote count, but if Maliki and/or Sadr challenge the results, we'll get a very close look at the procedures over the next few weeks.

Iraq is under occupation today, and the general rule is that fair elections are impossible under foreign occupation. Iraq might be a special case because there are two hostile factions that compete in the country. Iran has the resources to detect outright fraud in Iraq's elections and then to apply pressure for fraudulent results to be reversed.

I do not trust the Obama administration not to try to fix the results. I do trust that Maliki, Sadr, Sistani and the Iranians have the resources necessary to prevent Iraq from becoming a new Egypt with Allawi playing the role of Sadat or Mubarak. If the United States did try, and Allawi is reported to have gotten more votes than there are Iraqis who really support him, and I consider this a very plausible possibility, then I'm pretty sure it will backfire and leave the US in a weaker position in Iraq than if they had not done so.

The next few weeks in Iraq may be eventful.

Obama's 2010 Nowruz message: Lying by omission more than commission

Significant speeches really encapsulate and summarize the US view on the Middle East and in the case of Barack Obama's Nowruz message to the Iranian people, on US perceptions of and relations with Iran.

Obama immediately starts his speech with a very commonly held Western misconception about Iran:
Iran’s leaders have sought their own legitimacy through hostility to America.
This is one of many American cliches about the Middle East. Legitimacy for Iran's or any other government does not flow from hostility to America. Legitimacy flows from doing what the people of a country consider to be the right thing. Ronald Reagan did not get legitimacy from his opposition to the USSR as a country, Kwame Nkrumah did not get legitimacy from his opposition to South Africa as a country. Ronald Reagan led a country that had come to perceive communism as its enemy. Nkrumah led a country whose people opposed the institutionalized White supremacy embodied in Apartheid.

Iran's leaders rule a country whose people do not share with Americans the belief that Israel's security - a strategically invulnerable majority state for about 5 million Jewish people in Palestine - is the overarching moral consideration of the entire region. And if America's leaders, including Obama but unlike Iran's leaders, were not afraid to discuss that topic directly then this would be the single disagreement that must be resolved to end the war the US is leading, to some degree unknowingly, against Israel's region and to a greater or lesser extent against the entire Muslim world.

It is really difficult for Americans to understand that US policies generate hostility. There is an intense egocentrism reflected in this difficulty, an idea that opinions, priorities and sensibilities held in America are held universally. Obama's statement that Iran's leaders have sought legitimacy from hostility to America is his echo of George Bush's statement that "they hate us for our freedoms". It is difficult to believe anyone is that naive to believe an idea this unserious and silly, but then you hear it repeated again and again.

Iran's leaders have not sought legitimacy from hostility to the US. Iran's leaders have sought legitimacy by advancing the idea that other things - such as Iran's own right to technology, Iraq's independence, Lebanon's right to majority rule and Palestine's right to leadership that are accountable to Palestinians rather than Americans and Israelis - are more important than permanently ensuring that 5 million Jewish people in Palestine never suffer the indignity of non-Jewish majority rule. The United States, as a matter of policy under Democrats and Republicans, opposes Iran, along with most people in the region, on all of those counts.

Obama then moves to Iran's nuclear program and is no more or less insulting to the intelligence of the Iranian people than he always is when he talks about this.
Together with the international community, the United States acknowledges your right to peaceful nuclear energy – we insist only that you adhere to the same responsibilities that apply to other nations.
"Apply to other nations." Compare to a speech given by Obama in November 2009:
We have made clear that if Iran lives up to the obligations that every nation has, it will have a path to a more prosperous and productive relationship with the international community.
At that time he falsely claimed that the obligations he would impose on Iran apply to "every nation". He's cleaned that up a little but is still being deceptive. Japan, Brazil and many other nations have peaceful nuclear energy and also have technology and materials domestically that could be used in theory to make a weapon.

When Obama says international responsibilities, he believes the US has created a "responsibility" that Iran suspend enrichment. The fact that he does not say "suspend enrichment" shows his lack of confidence in the strength of the US argument. It is not clear exactly what he means when he says other nations have that responsibility, which other nations he's talking about and what it became a responsibility for any of them.

US and Israeli strategists believe Israel requires a sense of despondency in Israel's neighbors - a belief that Israel could destroy them but they cannot destroy Israel. Iran having a nuclear program like that of Japan or Brazil would counter this strategic advantage for Israel and the US is willing to abuse the NPT, IAEA and UN Security Council to prevent Iran from attaining such a program.

Fortunately, it seems US decision-makers are in the process of realizing their efforts have failed and are adjusting to the idea that the US is not willing or able to expend the resources that would be necessary to provide Israel with what had until now been considered a necessary element of Israel's strategic posture. We will see in the coming years what the ramifications are of this new US realization that it cannot afford to provide everything Israel needs.

More typical Obama follows:
We are familiar with your grievances from the past – we have our own grievances as well, but we are prepared to move forward. We know what you’re against; now tell us what you’re for.

For reasons known only to them, the leaders of Iran have shown themselves unable to answer that question. You have refused good faith proposals from the international community. They have turned their backs on a pathway that would bring more opportunity to all Iranians, and allow a great civilization to take its rightful place in the community of nations. Faced with an extended hand, Iran’s leaders have shown only a clenched fist.
That is a ridiculous question. If Iran is against US domination of Iraq, it is for Iraqi independence from the US. If Obama knows anything that Iran is against, then there is an obvious counterpart that Iran is for. Iran has stated repeatedly what it is for regarding Zionism: a freely held referendum in which Jews and members of all religions in the territory can vote, as well as the refugees - and if they choose, then the democratic dismantlement of the Zionist state.

There was no good faith proposal. The United States understands that Iran does not intend to relinquish its right to enrich uranium, but structured its fuel-swap proposal so that it can withhold delivery of medical fuel for Iran's reactor until Iran relinquishes that right.

The question this part of Obama's speech brings to mind is "why so vague?" Why not say "if you give up enrichment, or the capability to make a weapon in theory we offer talks about economic incentives"? Why talk about a pathway when you can say what's really on the table? Saying "pathway" without mentioning enrichment is a lot like Obama's earlier mention of "differences" without mentioning Israel. It indicates that Obama and his speech-writers understand that they do not have persuasive specific arguments and so reach for increasingly vague language.

Now we get to Obama's most specific endorsement so far of the arguments of Iran's Green Movement:
Last June, the world watched with admiration, as Iranians sought to exercise their universal right to be heard. But tragically, the aspirations of the Iranian people were also met with a clenched fist, as people marching silently were beaten with batons; political prisoners were rounded up and abused; absurd and false accusations were leveled against the United States and the West; and people everywhere were horrified by the video of a young woman killed in the street.
Obama is no longer speaking to the majority of Iranians who do not believe that Iran's election results were fraudulent. He is free to make that choice, but it only limits the effectiveness of his address, to the degree his audience is Iranian.

Obama's speech gets worse from there:
The United States does not meddle in Iran’s internal affairs. Our commitment – our responsibility – is to stand up for those rights that should be universal to all human beings. That includes the right to speak freely, to assemble without fear; the right to the equal administration of justice, and to express your views without facing retribution against you or your families.
Now, we know the United States is not going to stand of for these supposed "universal" rights in its colonial holdings of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, Obama says specifically that keeping peace with Israel is more important. But I'm confused that Obama would even say the United States does not meddle in Iran's internal affairs.

We have a steady stream of reports of US support for Iranian separatist groups. We have administration officials proudly discussing covert operations against Iran's nuclear program. We have a $400 million allocation towards Iranian "democracy promotion". We have opposition members communicating to the administration to recommend sanctions against specific Iranian political factions. We have the US secretary of state claiming that somehow one faction of Iranian politics has undetectably orchestrated a coup. Given that all of this is well known, what sense does it make to claim not to meddle in Iran's internal affairs?

It is just weird. It just detracts from Obama's general credibility regarding Iran. More:
I want the Iranian people to know what my country stands for. The United States believes in the dignity of every human being, and an international order that bends the arc of history in the direction of justice – a future where Iranians can exercise their rights, to participate fully in the global economy, and enrich the world through educational and cultural exchanges beyond Iran’s borders. That is the future that we seek. That is what America is for.
"An international order that bends the arc of history in the direction of justice"? What does that mean? Why so vague? The United States stands for ensuring Israel's strategic security by maintaining colonially subservient countries in its region, administered, if necessary, by corrupt pro-US dictators. The United States, across its political spectrum, is comfortable with such dictatorships - and even hopes to expand this relationship to include Iran - until the US is satisfied that the region no longer considers Israel illegitimate or an injustice.

If Iran joins such an order, it will have access to the benefits it had under the Shah, or that Egypt has access to now. He mentions educational and cultural exchanges. In this order, through sanctions or through imposed counter-productive economic policies, Iran, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have to remain technologically, industrially and economically undeveloped compared to the 5 million Jewish people of Palestine despite its vastly greater population and natural resource allocation.

This is what Obama means when he says "direction of justice". Obama has been conditioned to accept that the creation, maintenance and security of Israel has been demonstrated to be cosmically necessary because of the Holocaust. It is not something he is prepared to discuss with a skeptical audience in clear terms so we get this misdirection.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is Allawi going to win the election?

Oh goodness.

We'll see. If Allawi wins, there will be claims of fraud by the occupying US forces on behalf of the acknowledged CIA asset. As of now, I don't know what anti-fraud measures exist in the Iraqi vote-counting process. The idea that it takes a week to count the votes strikes me as somewhat suspicious, but more important is the transparency. Who is there when the votes are counted? What opportunities would a party that wants to fabricate results have?

Iraq may become a very messy situation over the next couple of months. Sistani, of course, would be outraged at the idea of Allawi becoming prime minister. Hopefully the process will move forward in a way that most Iraqis trust and produces a legitimate government. For now, I'm hopeful.

"Containment" of Iran is unlikely to lead to war

The United States is not well served by its tendency to use the most belligerent terms to describe its policies with Iran. The US foreign policy consensus has fairly rapidly over the last two or three months come to terms with the fact that there is no practical military option over Iran's nuclear program. This has been a fact for years, but US analysts, decision-makers and spokespeople have insisted on using "on the table" language long after nobody observing closely was fooled.

Now the United States is calling for "containment" of Iran. Containment means keep the status quo, possibly add moderate sanctions beyond those already in place, and wait. Yet US policy-makers insist now that while the US waits, there are lines that will lead to a US attack on Iran if they are crossed. These lines, that Iran must not transfer nuclear technology to other states, put its nuclear forces on alert, or militarily intervene conventionally in neighboring states, are lines either that Iran has no inclination in crossing, or (in some cases also and) things Iran is doing to some degree already and that there is no credible scenario in which they would meet a military response.

We'll see what sanctions happen. I'm not convinced the United States even seriously wants more sanctions. Whatever sanctions the US is able to get in June it could have gotten by now. But it is widely known by now that any sanctions will be relatively small additions to the sanctions already in place. Waiting under sanctions is what the United States is calling "containment" today.

The long term result of containment is more likely that the US will eventually reevaluate its relationship with Israel than that Iran will fall to a pro-US regime. The containment talk is a good sign for Iran, because it represents the US slowly coming to accept that it cannot force outcomes in Iran either through sanctions or through military attacks.

Monday, March 15, 2010

US/Israel ties are at an historic low: Is this temporary or permanent?

It is difficult to interpret the importance of events like Israel's recent snub of Joe Biden. On the one hand, there is no fundamental change related to the Israeli decision either to approve new settlements or to announce them. On the other hand, there may be fundamental changes in the region. It may be that an event like this can be used as a pretext to bring US policy into alignment with new realities.

Not long ago, I felt a sense of hopeful denial on the part of most Western analysts in discussing Iran's nuclear program. The idea that sanctions would not be sufficient to cause Iran to give up its right to nuclear capability led analysts to cling desperately to the idea that maybe a military strike would solve the problem, or funnier, while admitting that a military strike could not solve the problem, maybe convincing Iran that the US thinks a military strike could solve the problem would by itself solve the problem. The last gasp, which died in mid-February was the idea that a pro-American regime change might solve the problem.

For the last month, and in some cases longer, things I read increasingly demonstrate an acceptance that the US does not have options that plausibly may cause Iran to give up a nuclear weapons capability. But the reason Western analysts clung to the idea that a miracle would save Israel from having a nuclear-capable neighbor is that it really is an Israeli strategic necessity that it have an overwhelming military advantage over its neighbors.

(My thoughts on the colonies are also changing because of this. The US first choice with respect to Iraq, it seems to me, was for Chalabi or Allawi to play the role of Mubarak in Egypt. However, Iraqi resistance made that impossible and the US now seems willing to accept an Iraqi representative government that more-or-less reflects the sensibilities of the Iraqi people. I do not believe the United States could have accepted a democratic Iraq as Iraq was in 1989, however after twenty years of severe sanctions and bombings, Iraq is weak enough, and can be kept weak enough with minimal new intervention, that the US does not oppose democracy as vigorously as it does elsewhere in the region. I'm coming to think that Arab colonial-type dictatorships are not an objective for the United States, only one way among others to keep Arab states weak enough that they do not threaten Israel.)

But with the realization that Iran cannot be prevented from attaining a nuclear capability necessarily also comes the realization that Western analysts have been working so hard to avoid - the US generally is not able to restrain Israel's region at a cost consistent with US priorities. Iran's nuclear capability alters the strategic environment not only as a virtual weapon that weakens Israel's strategic ability to threaten to use its weapons, but also, and possibly more importantly, as a symbol of the limits of US coercive power in the region.

By setting a line before Iran's nuclear program and marshaling tremendous resources to prevent Iran from crossing that line, the United States has to deal itself with the fact that it could not hold that line. The anger the US is expressing toward Israel today may carry elements of frustration that despite its maximal effort to unilaterally rewrite the NPT to increase Israel's regional strategic advantage, it failed.

(We also have to be clear that the idea pursued by the US, that Iran does not have the right to a nuclear capability despite the fact that Brazil has it, Japan has it, dozens of other countries have it and the NPT explicitly says its rights are held "without discrimination" was immoral and illegal as soon as it was implemented by the US shortly after the Iranian revolution.)

Keeping the Middle East safe for Israel is expensive, and US analysts, it seems, are now beginning to understand the cost. In that light, an Israeli snub of a US official is more egregious of an insult than it would have seemed without that realization. More importantly, snubs like this give the US an excuse, if and when it decides to take it, to make adjustments in the amount of resources it is willing to expend on Israel's behalf.

I expect relations to recover, for the most part. But the fundamental trend of US support for Israel I expect to be a decline overall. This time it was Iran's nuclear program. Next time it may be Egypt's dictatorship, or Iraq's rearmament or one-person/one-vote in Lebanon or something else in Israel's region where Israel depends on US expenditures to prevent threatening strategic outcomes. It is no longer clear that the US has the ability to keep making these expenditures, and as the US realizes it is losing its ability, it is not clear that the US will maintain the will to keep making them.