Friday, April 30, 2010

Egypt gives light sentences to Hezbollah cell and calls Israel enemy

I was surprised by Egypt's foreign minister describing Israel as Egypt's enemy and claiming Egypt would support Syria and Lebanon if Israel decided to attack them again. Not impressed, because Egypt's actions to enable Israel's restriction of food and supplies to Gaza, which is causing Palestinian children to go hungry is a tangible action that Egypt is undertaking on behalf of the US congress in exchange for its directing money to his government. Egypt is in the purest sense of the word a traitor to the Arab world and to the religion Egyptians profess. An Egypt that announced that it vigilantly opposes "the Shiite crescent" but that allowed adequate humanitarian supplies to pass through Rafah would be respectable. Mubarak's Egypt, that helps Israel punish the people of Gaza for voting for Hamas while making statements that Israel is its enemy, is a disgrace.

However, Egypt's foreign minister could have been more silent. Possibly there is some meaning to this pronouncement.
Israel's Ambassador to Cairo Yitzhak Levanon has protested on behalf of the Jewish state over statements made by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, who described Israel as an "enemy state" during a visit to Lebanon.

In a press conference in Beirut on Tuesday, the Egyptian minister was asked whether the visit was intended as a warning message from Israel to Lebanon. Aboul Gheit denied and said the purpose of his trip was not to relay messages "from the enemy to a sister Arab state."

He stressed that Egypt would stand by Syria and Lebanon should they be attacked.
I read somewhere else that it is notable that none of the people recently convicted for operating a cell under Hezbollah control in Egypt was given the death penalty.
An Egyptian court Wednesday convicted 26 men of spying for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and planning terrorist attacks in Egypt, handing down prison terms ranging from 25 years to six months.

The trial — commonly referred to as the "Hezbollah cell trial" — involved two Lebanese, five Palestinians, a Sudanese and 18 Egyptians. It was held in the heavily guarded State Security Emergency court whose verdict can be reversed only by a presidential pardon.
There may be some truth to an interpretation that Mubarak does not favor increasing tension with either Lebanon or with Syria or Iran. This does not extend to tangible policies. Mubarak still is accountable to AIPAC through the US congress far more than he is to any Egyptian constituency, and that will continue for as long as the United States is able and willing to contiue its purchase of the Egyptian political system. But Mubarak seems willing to take symbolic steps away from tension with regional parties that are outside of the US Middle East colonial structure.

I do not expect a war between Israel and Lebanon this year. My guess is that Egypt agrees. Egypt does not want there to be a war. A war would not benefit anybody, just as the 2006 war did not benefit Israel, Lebanon or Egpyt. When there is talk about war, when tensions seem to be rising because of the supposed scud missile story, but Egypt has better private information that no war is imminent, it presents Egypt's rulers with an opportunity to do what indirect-puppet leaders are installed to do - which is make symbolic statements exactly opposite of the tangible policies they are directed to follow by their United States sponsors.

So if there's no strategy that will stop Iran's nuclear capability, can we move on now?

The importance of publication of the memo by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the United States does not have any strategy options that the US can expect to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable is that it raises the question: under what terms will the United States live with a nuclear capable Iran.

If Iran is going to be nuclear capable any way, does the US benefit from attempting, even if its attempts are not fully successful, to sabotage the Iranian economy? Or even worse, to support separatist organizations on Iranian territory?

The common sense answer is no. The United States has painted itself to some degree into a corner, in that it promised repercussions if Iran did not agree to export its uranium stock and further to forswear a Japan-like nuclear capability. But this principle that Iran should be punished for not submitting to US demands is the only interest the US has in steps that will increase hostility. The US has more tangible interests in decreasing hostility, for example, it is possible for Iraq's political process to become very chaotic over the next few months while a cooperative Iran has a lot of resources that could stabilize the situation.

We see the US hesitation in getting UN sanctions passed. US strategists do have some degree of common sense. There are pressures that push away from an admission that the US must live, either cooperatively or in an environment of hostility with a nuclear capable Iran now. But it is very likely that Washington has reached the obvious conclusion by now and has decided to begin to roll it out.

Clinton says Iran has an anti-Semitic president - the key slander against Iran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has planned to come to the United Nations for the review conference of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. For Ahmadinejad to spend an extended period in the United States offers a valuable opportunity to communicate with the people of the United States and to present Iranian positions on the region directly and without re-interpretation.

The United States foreign policy community, the community that presents information to Americans about the Middle East ranges from extremely hostile to Iran to somewhat neutral. There is no mainstream anti-Zionist voice in the US foreign policy community - and parties supportive of Zionism, even liberals such as Juan Cole and Flynt and Hillary Leverett, while better than their most rabidly anti-Iranian colleagues, are unable to present Iran's view of the region sympathetically.

Because of this, it is more important for Ahmadinejad to present Iran's views in his own words - preferably in formats that will produce full transcripts in English - whether interviews or speeches. Hopefully we will see a lot of communication by Ahmadinejad with people in the United States recorded during his next visit.

The single most important piece of the anti-Iranian platform being constructed by supporters of Israel in their efforts to cause the United States to confront Iran and to limit Iran's development is the idea that Iran is anti-Semitic, the idea that Iran, or its president hates Jewish people.
Iran, with its anti-Semitic president and hostile nuclear ambitions, also continues to threaten Israel, but it also threatens the region and it sponsors terrorism against many
It is very important for Ahmadinejad to address this idea directly.

When Ahmadinejad is asked about the Holocaust or about Israel, he is really being asked - and unfortunately because he did not grow up inside of the US or Western European political culture he may very well not realize what he is really being asked - "do you hate Jews?"

If he is well advised, he will address the question of whether or not he has hostility against Jewish people directly. To do so would very effectively blunt an effort that aims to convince the people of the United States that the people of Iran deserve economic sanctions and even that Iranian civilians can justifiably be killed in defense of Israel.

He will be asked about the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad has said, repeatedly, that he does not make any assertion about the number of people killed or the extent of the Holocaust, but that his questions are was the Holocaust carried out by Europeans, why should Palestinians pay the price for it and does it justify the oppression of Palestinians today.

It is important to also include in his response that there are people, such as Hillary Clinton, who accuse him of hating Jewish people - and this slander has dangerous implications because it motivates the people of the United States to favor hostile policies against the people of Iran.

When Ahmadinejad is asked about the Holocaust, he is being asked whether or not he hates Jewish people. It is very important that he answer both questions. If he is to answer only one, the question of whether or not Clinton is right that he is an anti-Semite is the more important one.

He will be asked whether or not he believes there should be an Israel. Ahmadinejad routinely says that the people of the territory, including the refugees whose removal was an injustice, should be able to vote, and if they do not want a Jewish their wishes should be respected.

When he is asked about Israel, he is really being asked whether or not he is an anti-Semite. It is important that he deal with that question. US audiences have been conditioned to believe he is calling for the death of all or nearly all Jewish people in the territory of Palestine. It is important that he take note of what many people in the US already believe, refute that belief and the people who encourage that belief and then answer the literal question being asked.

Statements like "before I answer that question, I want to talk about the claim that some people make, claiming to defend Israel, that I somehow hate people who are Jewish, or that I support Adolf Hitler or the German's during World War II" and then refuting that underlying claim could seriously damage the campaign to present Iran to the people of the United States as a nation deserving of hostility.

Ahmadinejad's public communications with English-speaking audiences, as they always are, will be very important during his trip to New York City. Assuming the trip is approved by the US State Department, which I'm sure is looking for any pretext to deny it if possible. If the opportunities to speak to the United States are used well, it can mark a substantial improvement in US understanding of Iranian principles.

Brazil and Turkey working on medical reactor deal

So we have another reason sanctions are supposedly being delayed contrary to the wishes of the United States. The Washington Post reports that negotiations with Brazil and Turkey on reviving the medical reactor fuel deal will prevent a sanctions resolution from occurring quickly.
Western diplomats made clear they were not happy about a development that will likely delay a U.N. sanctions vote in New York. Washington had hoped to have a final draft ready ahead of a May 3-28 meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but diplomats say negotiations could run into June at least.
Sanctions are not good for the United States, they increase hostility with Iran which has ramifications in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they do not accomplish any tangible objective that advances US strategic interests.

Rhetoric aside, the United States is not eager to impose sanctions, or certainly would have accomplished sanctions by now. And if the United States wanted confrontation with Iran it could stop Iranian shipping at any time, claiming it is doing so to enforce existing UN resolutions.

In the absence of information about what is being discussed, it is possible to invent scenarios that match the known positions of the major parties in the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Maybe Iran wants an international fuel bank to be on Turkish soil, which the US would oppose.

If a Brazilian/Turkish/Iranian proposal is presented and the US does not accept it, it will not prevent the US from getting the votes it would need on a resolution that in itself would have little or no impact on Iran's economy - but would it would do in practical terms is give the US an excuse to "delay" sanctions for a few more months. That may be where we are headed.

Over the next few months, possibly the US will continue public discussion, for the first time by US officials, of the difference between an Iranian nuclear capability and Iranian nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Allawi may be the new Mousavi - rejecting the legal electoral process and calling people to the streets

I've always been suspicious of the Iraqi electoral system. Votes are taken, and the reports are released up to two weeks later. As far as I can tell, between when the vote is made and when its result is reported, there is no opposed oversight, nobody who can say "that vote count does not match the results I saw". I'm not sure how it is even possible to justify a two week delay. What purpose could it serve other than to provide opportunities for vote-rigging?

But I've always had confidence in the resources of parties in Iraq that are not under US-control. If the US added votes to Allawi's roll, given that Allawi is an open though supposedly former CIA asset, Sadr and Maliki would not have to ask college students and young people to risk their lives in protests. They have resources to investigate, get to the bottom of the matter and correct it. They can guarantee an outcome in line with the Iraqi idea of justice. They can ensure that one way or another, there will not be an election result implemented that is wildly out of line with the preferences of the Iraqi people.

But now Allawi is claiming that a recount may lead him to ask his supporters to go outside of Iraq's legal structures to protest.
The Sunni-backed Iraqiya political party, which won the most seats in recent parliamentary elections, said Wednesday that it might call for the establishment of a caretaker government to oversee a new election -- escalating a political crisis.


The prime minister and other Shiite leaders have called the recent challenges to the election results lawful processes that must run their course. Allawi said Wednesday's statement would be Iraqiya's final appeal for fairness. He ominously warned that the party would henceforth "revert to the Iraqi people to implement their will."
A couple of things here. First, there is not going to be a caretaker government. One of the interesting things about Iraq's political system is that the current leader remains in place until a new leader is agreed on by enough Parliament voters, but Maliki has enough support to block an agreement about any new leader.

Second, if a manual recount, this time done transparently, where there will be a direct and easily traceable connection between the votes and the vote reports, does not show that Maliki has enough voter support to gain the seat of Prime Minister, then Allawi also does not have the support to win any civil war and can not claim to represent the will of the Iraqi people.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What would a war between Syria and Israel look like

Israel has surprised me with its last two wars in 2006 and 2008. I didn't expect either.

The lesson of both wars is that Israel's military is capable of killing civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure and not much else. Israel pathetically did not even try to hold territory in Gaza, facing a literally smuggled-in armed opposition.

Gaza was a unique situation because it is surrounded by Israel and an Egypt ruled more by AIPAC than by Egyptians. Israel, through the US Congress is able to order Egypt, under pain of withholding effective bribes to Mubarak's family, to prevent Hamas from importing both rebuilding materials and basic food and clothing. This has increased the impact, in this unique situation, of the expertise Israel has developed in destroying civilian infrastructure from the air.

Syria is surrounded by Iraq and Turkey and has free access to the sea. There is absolutely no chance Syria will not, one year after the bombing stops, pose much more of a threat to Israel than it does now.

So how would a conflict look? Israel is not going to put tanks onto Lebanese or Syrian territory. If it does, it will lose more soldiers than its opponents. Israel will bomb Territory, Syria and Lebanon will fire missiles back, Iran and Turkey will rebuild Syria and Lebanon and the one change will be that the people of the middle east will have a new reason to hate the US.

Is this something Israel would do? I'm not sure. There will not be a green light from Washington, which may answer the question right there.

This is not something Syria or Lebanon want, but anti-American forces in both countries would be strengthened. The entire Middle East would veer further against the US. Which is to say that the overall effect of the conflict would be positive for Syria and the resistance countries and negative for the US and it's controlled countries.

One question, if a war happens, is how many missiles will reach major Jewish population centers this time and how much damage they'll do. The easy answer is more than has ever been done and enough to make safety a primary concern of people deciding if they wasn't to live in that country.

An attack on Syria is a bad idea for Israel, but Israel is in an interesting position, managing a decline in its strategic position that may well end in there no longer being a Jewish majority state. There is no guarantee or even strong expectation that Israel can behave rationally under these circumstances.

I can't predict that a war will happen, I can easily predict that Israel's rivals will emerge from any war in a better regional position than Israel's supporters. I hope it does not come to pass. Not for Syrians sake in a strategic sense but for the sake of the thousands if civilians who would die and have their lives disrupted by the conflict.

What happens when Hosni Mubarak dies?

Some things we know. There its going to be a big funeral ceremony. Barack Obama will be there. He will probably even speak. He'll talk about what a great man Mubarak was. Netanyahu may give a speech in which he concurs that Mubarak was a critical part of the American colonial structure that Israel depends on for survival.

We are also relatively sure that the US and Israel, Mubarak may think as payment for the Gaza blockade, will support Gamal Mubarak as his successor. That will be enough to put Gamal into office. Americans have themselves convinced that Iran's elections are not fair and that therefore Iran is just as despotic as Egypt. In fact, the comparison with Egypt and Saudi Arabia is an important element of why it is so important to Westerners to believe Iran's elections are not fair. Americans who insist, against all evidence, that a stupendous fraud occurred in Iran in June 2009 do so in part to deflect questions about the regional colonial structure that the United States rules.

What I'm not sure of is how the people of Egypt will react to the death of Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has not captured the hearts and imaginations of Egyptians the way Nasser did, but he is, and has been for a long time, the embodiment of Egyptian political power. Hosni Mubarak represents Egypt itself as much as any person.

Anwar El-Sadat's funeral was well attended by Western dignitaries, and dramatically attended by Israel's Prime Minister Menachem Begin who walked to the tomb and away from it rather than ride in a car to avoid violating the Jewish Sabbath. The people of Egypt were barred from attending the funeral.

I expect Mubarak's funeral to have some Egyptian popular participation. People who are concerned with the lack of Egyptian independence under Mubarak's rule will not be loudly sobbing, but every society has many people who are less concerned with politics and more concerned with patriotism and belonging to a group. It will be clear from the proceedings though, that the man who died was not a national hero.

But Mubarak will be dead, no different than if he had lived his life as a janitor. The only benefit from accepting a relationship where he pathetically followed the orders of the US Congress will be that his son will have the opportunity to do the same. One reason Gamal will succeed his father is that hereditary dictatorships work very well for subservient leaderships. For Gamal to break Egypt's relationship with AIPAC would be to disclaim his own father who accepted the relationship. There are strong psychological reasons that make such a break more difficult than it would be for a new leader.

My best guess is that Egypt will have a hereditary string of pro-American dictators that lasts as long as Israel remains a Jewish state. Egypt does not have Jordan's land borders with Iraq and Syria but it, like Jordan, is thoroughly saturated in its political and military establishments with ties to Israel and the United States.

When Mubarak dies, not much will change, but it will be slightly more clear the degree to which Sadat and Mubarak traded the future of their country for their personal and familial aggrandizement.

Stratfor on Iran and Iraq: Misses important part of US mission and its relation to Israel

Statfor has published an analysis of the rivalry between Iran and the United States in Iraq.

One thing Statfor misses is that Iran has no interest in instability in Iraq for its own sake. The US also has no interest in stability for its own sake. A stable Iraq that reflects the sensibilities of the Iraqi people will be reliably pro Iran, from the US point of view. It would be a member of the resistance camp as much as elected Hamas or Hezbollah which won the most popular votes in Lebanon's election.

The problem is that Stratfor makes a slight mistake in formulating US objectives in Iraq and that mistake compounds through the article.
The United States invaded Iraq on the assumption that it could quickly defeat and dismantle the Iraqi government and armed forces and replace them with a cohesive and effective pro-American government and armed forces, thereby restoring the balance of power. When that expectation proved faulty, the United States was forced into two missions. The first was stabilizing Iraq. The second was providing the force for countering Iran.
That’s not two missions, that’s three missions: stabilizing, providing force and hardest, getting Iraq’s government to be, in any meaningful sense “pro-American”. There is no guarantee or even valid reason to hope a stable, cohesive Iraq would not join Iran as opponents of the US vision of a Middle East that poses no threat to Israel.
An unchecked Iran, quite apart from its not-yet-extant nuclear capability, represents a profound strategic threat to the balance of power in the Persian Gulf. Assuming the nuclear issue was settled tomorrow either diplomatically or through attacks, the strategic problem would remain unchanged, as the central problem is conventional, not nuclear.
Friedman is absolutely right that the US dispute with Iran is not primarily over the nuclear issue. I’ve read that Iran’s leaders believe the nuclear issue can only be settled as a side effect of a wider settlement with the United States. If they do hold that belief, they are right.

I’ll point out, though Friedman does not connect this dot, that creating and maintaining a balance of power in the Middle East is relatively easy. A balance of power in which none of the countries can threaten Israel is much much more difficult. The United States is really restrained by the fact that Saudi Arabia has to both be strong enough that it can withstand pressure from Iran but weak enough that it cannot withstand pressure from Israel or even worse, independently pressure Israel itself.

This balance, because of Iran's growth, is basically in danger of breaking relatively quickly, as in this decade – and when it breaks, if Israel is not at peace with the Palestinians, the US will not be able to sustain the regional advantages that allow Israel to continue as Jewish-majority state despite the fact that most people in the region do not consider it legitimate. For the US this is a major concern, that dwarfs the issues, like settlement permits in Jerusalem, that seem to captivate Israel’s current leadership.

But because Stratfor leaves out the US mission that Iraq be pro-American, or not anti-Zionist/anti-Imperialist/anti-American it is left posing the dispute in Iraq between Iran and the US has between a US side that favors stability and an Iranian side that favors chaos. That could not be more inaccurate. Iran has no interest in chaos. Iran will have a reliable ally in any coalition that anywhere near reasonably reflects the choices of Iraq’s voters.
The United States plans to withdraw its combat forces by the summer. Leaving aside how well-protected the remaining 50,000 noncombat troops will be, the question persists on who will hold the country together. The Iranians certainly are not eager to see the Iraqi situation resolved in favor of a government that can block Iran’s ambitions. The Iranians have longstanding relations with any number of Iraqi Shiite groups, and even with some Kurdish and Sunni groups. Iran would have every reason to do what it can to destabilize Iraq above and beyond any indigenous destabilization of Iraq in order to help shape a government it can dominate. In our view, Tehran has the tools to do this effectively.
The US mission in total is misrepresented by Stratfor as something that is just barely plausible – that Iraq will end up both coherent and powerful enough that it could repel any form of destabilization Iran might try to attempt - instead of something that simply will not happen – that Iran will end up coherent, powerful-enough and also willing to align with US regional sensibilities, including a Jewish state that is more powerful than any other in its neighborhood. This misrepresentation has important consequences.
It is now April, meaning we are four months from the deadline for the completion of the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq. In the balance is not only Iraq, but also the Iranian situation. What happens next all comes down to whether the mass of parties in Baghdad share a common foundation on which to build a nation — and whether the police and military would be loyal enough to this government to die for it. If not, then the entire edifice of U.S. policy in the region — going back to the surge — is not merely at risk, but untenable. If it is untenable, then the United States must craft a new strategy in the region, redefining relationships radically — beginning with Iran.
So what does it mean that as things are moving now, the US cannot get an acceptable outcome in Iraq? The US is now applying as much pressure as it can muster to get Allawi in Iraq’s government. That won’t work without Iranian agreement and there will be no Iranian agreement if the US commits to increasing hostility. That, more than Chinese hesitation, is why the US has not gotten a UN Security Council resolution against Iran’s nuclear program yet. A UN resolution, once it is in tangible and not theoretical form, will mark the end of any viable US effort in Iraq.

If Iraq cannot be kept out of the anti-Zionist camp that Iran today holds a prominent place in, the regional threat to Israel will increase in many different ways and by amounts that US strategists are hesitant to even fully consider. If Israel does not come on board and reach an agreement with Palestine very soon, as in during this presidential term, the Palestinians, backed by at least Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon will be in too strong a position for Israel to bargain with again.

The United States does not want to decide between Iran and Israel. It is putting off such a decision for as long as possible because of domestic concerns. However, this is a decision that cannot be put off forever, and the US is coming, slowly and reluctantly, into understanding the long-term regional situation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Gates and Mullen say memo leak is misleading

The plot behind the Iran nuclear capability memo has become thicker. I assume that Thom Shanker and David Sanger of the New York Times got an administration-authorized "leak" that was designed to allow the idea that Iran cannot be prevented from achieving nuclear capability to enter the US national dialogue.

Whether that was the intention or not, that will be the ultimate effect of the memo. But US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is now claiming that the idea, reported in the previous New York Times article, that the memo represented a "wake up call" is wrong.
The New York Times article quoted one senior official as saying the document was a “wake-up call.” But Mr. Gates said, “The New York Times sources who revealed my January memo to the national security advisor mischaracterized its purpose and content.”

Senior administration officials, asked Sunday to give specific examples of what was mischaracterized in the article, declined to discuss the content of the memo, citing its classified status. In his statement, Mr. Gates offered no details on the issues he raised in his memo.
The content of the memo is really not notable. We've known for a long time that the US does not have options to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear capability. We've even known that the Obama administration knows, or should know this because we've seen the results of multiple elaborate war-gaming exercises none of which presented an option that meaningfully effects Iran's acquisition of nuclear capability.

What is notable about the memo is that it was released, that we hear in the administration's own voice 1) that Iran's program cannot be stopped and 2) that Iran's program is not expected to aim for a weapon but for weapons capability. 1) and 2) together mean that the US commitment to ensure that Israel has a monopoly among its neighbors of nuclear capability is over. To hear that in a report both authored by the administration and released to the public is very notable. In fact it is a huge change in the strategic environment.

The way the memo was leaked, on Saturday night, too late for the Sunday news presentations to schedule an administration representative to speak on them - along with the fact that this Sunday it so happened that no members of the administration were scheduled to appear on any of the Sunday television news interview shows indicates that it was a deliberate leak by the administration, and that the New York Times published the account with the blessing of the White House.

The New York Times does have a history of withholding news stories at the request of the President's office. Surely Obama could have had this story withheld.

Gates claims that the memo was not a wake up call - was not a spur to request that the White House create some new military option that didn't exist before. That claim by Gates is correct but also not surprising. Gates does not claim that the memo's conclusion, that the US does not have a policy option that will prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability is false. If there is news in the later report, that is it.

Gates is now confirming, on the record, under his own name, that Israel, contrary to its perceived strategic necessities, is going to have to adjust to an Iranian nuclear capability. In the article, Admiral Mike Mullen adds his voice in confirmation.

We have not seen a response from Israel, and it may take time for Israel to fully come to terms with these developments, but this weekend Israel's strategic situation, at the level of what it can expect from its patron and sponsor has shifted in a fairly dramatic way.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

US admits, to New York Times, that it has no strategy to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable

It is not new, at all, that the United States does not have plausibly effective options to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear capability. If Iran had agreed in October to limit its uranium stock to less than a ton as a long term arrangement in exchange for effectively ending the nuclear portion of its dispute with the West, that possibly would give the US weak but acceptable grounds for claiming victory. Iran would still in the time it would take for a crisis to emerge, have time to build a weapon, but its path to weaponization may, depending on the scenario, have been somewhat less credible than it will be a year from now. On that reed the US would have attempted to hang a claim that Iran has successfully been prevented from becoming "nuclear capable".

It looks as if that will not happen. More importantly it looks as if the US is no longer willing to lose credibility to an effort to pretend that it hopes to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable.
In an interview on Friday, General Jones declined to speak about the memorandum. But he said: “On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.
This admission to the New York Times is striking, this release of a supposedly secret document from January. It raises the possibility that the reason Obama spoke directly about nuclear capability two weeks ago, along with Gates and Clinton allowing themselves to be questioned on that issue was to prepare for a climbdown by the US.

Israel cannot be happy about this, but what can it do?

The impact of this is that once the US admits it cannot prevent an outcome, it is free to limit the damage to other objectives that could have been caused by efforts to prevent that outcome. If there is no effective strategy that will prevent Iran from becoming nuclear capable, what is the purpose of a sanctions drive? More pointedly, how many US troops in Iraq or Afghanistan is the US willing to sacrifice by taking this a sanctions-step towards escalation with Iran given that the US does not expect to achieve the goal of preventing nuclear capability.

The US has carved out, or is in the process of carving out, a space in which it can negotiate over other issues with a nuclear capable Iran. We cannot be sure that the US plans or is going to take advantage of the space, but the space now exists.

Will there actually be sanctions? It's April. China may have abstained, but would not have vetoed a UNSC resolution if one had been tabled in February. It is clear there is an element of acting going on here. The US is not eager to get a sanctions bill, and for good reason, what would sanctions accomplish if the US assessed in January that it has no effective strategy to prevent an Iranian nuclear capability.

Maybe there will be sanctions. It is difficult to predict no sanctions at all when every single story in the news about Iran contains another assertion about how determined the US is to get sanctions. But why have they not happened yet? If there are sanctions, Iran will respond, Iran's nuclear program will certainly progress faster because Iran will certainly use the sanctions as an opportunity to announce a defiant escalation. But overall the strategic situation, even if there are sanctions, will remain the same.

Sanctions or not, this is a step forward for the US and the fact that the US allows its assessment to become public is more important that it may seem. It looks as if the US is finding a modus vivendi with Iran for the time between now and when the US hopes the dispute over Zionism will be resolved.

Foreign Policy Magazine explicitly links "Western camp" with support for authoritarianism

There are elements of US Middle East policy that are contrary to US stated goals and ideals but that the US foreign policy establishment avoids discussing.

One is the connection between the US position that Iran and other potential rivals of Israel must not be nuclear capable, though the NPT is clear that non-weapons members of the treaty do have the right to have the capability - as demonstrated by Japan and Brazil among many others and Israel's unique security needs.

The US position that Iran must not be nuclear capable has nothing to do with any violations, evidence, suspicions or questions about Iran's program. The US position has been as it is today ever since the Shah lost power. But members of the US foreign policy establishment tend to change the subject when the connection is drawn rather than try to defend it.

Another element of US foreign policy that the US foreign policy establishment tends to avoid is the connection between US support for authoritarian dictatorships and the cooperation those dictatorships give to Israel. This policy is really indefensible in terms of US values. It amounts simply to an assertion that the five million or so Jewish people who live in Palestine have rights that outweigh those of the over 60 million people under the pro-US Egyptian dictatorship. It is pure and plain bigotry, the only way to avoid describing it as racism is to claim that Jewish people are not a race.

But Foreign Policy magazine has taken a step toward putting this US policy out into the open:
Despite all the Syrian bravado about Hezbollah's strong showing against Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, surely Bashar al-Assad knows that his creaking Soviet weaponry would fare badly in any conflagration -- and that his presidential suite is well within the range of Israel's F-15s. For all the figures you read in the press about the size of Syria's military and its vast arsenal of tanks, the country is essentially a tin-pot dictatorship with little ability to project power beyond Lebanon, where for decades it has dominated its smaller neighbor's domestic affairs.

If you think in regional terms, the (alleged) move makes marginally more sense. Iran, Syria's ally and patron, is looking to show the West that any strike on its nuclear facilities would be extremely costly for the United States and its allies. With pressure escalating, it's not hard to imagine that the powers that be in Iran leaned on Bashar to lend a helping hand next door. (Syria expert Andrew Tabler offers some other plausible motives here.)

The insane thing about all this is that Syria would be much better off by joining the pro-Western camp. It could get the Golan Heights back, get the sanctions lifted, and attract foreign assistance and investment -- while fending off pressure to open its deeply authoritarian system, just as Egypt has. It could reap billions in tourism revenue, thanks to its incredible archaeological and cultural riches. And it could finally bury the hatchet with other Arab states, which have long been frustrated by Syria's close ties to Iran, its support for militant groups, its meddling in Lebanon, and its intransigence on all things Israel.
Now the opinion piece gets a whole lot wrong, mostly by overestimating the potency of Israel's ability to threaten its neighbors. Israel's military is, until further notice, unable to impact the situation on the ground in any direction. Israel cannot project power. Israel can cause civilian suffering. That is something to avoid, but none of Israel's neighbors any longer fear losing power or even further territory to Israel.

Lebanon can be armed, it will be done in a gradual way that avoids an Israeli attack on Lebanese civilians, and if such an attack is not avoided, there will be retaliation against Israeli civilians, but there is no fear that Israeli tanks will capture and hold the territory on which Lebanon is building installations.

The notable thing about the piece though is how clearly the author presents joining the Western camp as a strategy for avoiding pressure on an authoritarian dictatorship. (As Egypt has.) The fact that the United States has to choose between democracy and support for Israel is becoming increasingly unavoidable since the Iraq occupation. A United States that openly opposes democracy goes against the core national self-conception.

As the United States is further forced to admit that it is not the country it pretends to itself to be, the consequence will be a deterioration in the US' own sense of self confidence and morale. Barack Obama's June 2009 interview, along with this article in a mainstream foreign policy outlet are steps along the way in that process.

Why does Iran not just submit to US demands?

An interesting comment was left by Roger, noting that the United States has an unusually violent and destructive history and asking why, given that history, Iran does not find a place within the US dominated world system to focus on internal growth avoiding conflict with the United States on matters the US considers important.

I have a couple of responses. 1) The United States does have a violent history. In fact a list of examples of uniquely violent policies carried out by the US does become quite impressive. It is certainly a defensible statement that "the United States is the most violent and warlike country in the history of the human race". However, the United States is also a nation that can be deterred from war and violence. The United States did not attack either Russia or Russia's most important defensively aligned territories now for more than 50 years during which there has been an intense rivalry and battle of interests.

The United States can be deterred exactly the way Iran has deterred the United States so far, by ensuring it has a capability of harming US interests more than the US could benefit from any intervention against it.

2) Lysander in a comment response points to this: Iran simply does not have the option of growing the way Japan and Germany were under US tutelage. Japan and Germany do not have countries in their region, one tenth their size in terms of population, that the US believes must necessarily be militarily, economically and technologically dominant over them.

If you want an example for an Iran that accepts US domination, you cannot look to South Korea. You have to look to Egypt or Saudi Arabia. For all of Iran's problems, nobody in Iran looks to Egypt or Saudi Arabia with envy. Or you have to look to Iran when it was under US domination, before 1979. Again, there are some Iranians who were doing better before the revolution, but many who were not.

The last thing I'm realizing is very difficult for Westerners to understand. Westerners think Iran was following a very reasonable foreign policy under the Shah, and wonder why Iran is not willing to return to that arrangement. Even worse, it is sometimes presented as a novel idea: here's something for Iran to try - do what the US tells it to do. Cooperation with the US is something Iran has very familiar experience with. Unless and until the United States is willing to cooperate with Iran on terms different from those offered in 1978, Iran has demonstrated very emphatically that it is not interested in that kind of cooperation.

I almost feel like re-writing the last paragraph. It is amazing how difficult it is for Westerners to understand that Iran does not want to return to its 1978 foreign policy. Iran is not eager for this. If an Iranian accomplishes easing tension with the US by returning to 1978 foreign policy, that Iranian would not be a hero who accomplished a victory, that Iranian would be a traitor against Iran's values and ideals.

The Shah of Iran and Sadat of Egypt are not seen as models for emulation by mainstream Middle Eastern political thinkers. They are seen as such by Westerners. This is a major disconnect that results in unnecessary suffering by Americans and people in the Middle East alike.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Does Benny Morris really believe Iran calls for murder

Israel really is in a dispute with Iran. Iran really believes there should not be a Jewish majority state in Palestine. Because of that, people who disagree with Iran, especially people who disagree vehemently, and who intensely identify with Israel have a strong incentive to present Iran in as demonic a light as possible.

When Benny Morris claims Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for murder, he is lying, he is making a statement that is a falsehood.
I take it personally: Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wants to murder me, my family and my people. Day in, day out, he announces the imminent demise of the "Zionist regime," by which he means Israel. And day in, day out, his scientists and technicians are advancing toward the atomic weaponry that will enable him to bring this about.
But there is a question of whether he has deluded himself or if he is cynically attempting to mislead or take advantage of the lack of familiarity of his audience. That raises a further question. If a person is driven by some form of intense emotional drive to delude himself, is that more noble than to be aware that one's statements are false and to make them in that knowledge?

Morris absolutely has enough access to information to have accurate reports of Ahmadinejad's statements, and as a researcher can be expected to have the intellectual curiosity to care. It is safe to say that Morris is aware that he is unable to produce an example of Ahmadinejad expressing any desire to murder him, his family or his people.

Does it matter? Not too much. Morris' statement hurts his case more than it helps. Just something to note.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Iran's motivation behind its nuclear program

It is true that Israel believes it needs a nuclear monopoly in its region to ultimately ensure its long term strategic security. It is also true that this Israeli strategic need is the primary motivation for the US to violate the NPT in a way that denies Iran the rights both guaranteed by the treaty and also given with little or no controversy to many other countries including Japan and Brazil.

But it does not follow that the ultimate reason Iran wants to build a "Japan option" - the capability, in theory, to weaponize its nuclear program in an emergency is related to Israel. The reason for that is, primarily, defensive. In simple terms, if Iran has a Japan option, it is safe from regime change led by the US and threats of regime change.

Here we have the Council on Foreign Relation's Ray Takeyh describing this.
... [N]uclear weapons, by definition, are such a narrow category of arms that they can accomplish only a limited set of objectives. They do offer a deterrent capability: unlike Saddam's Iraq, a nuclear Iran would not be invaded, and its leaders would not be deposed.
We also have John Bolton saying about the same thing. (Also demonstrating the reflexive habit of Western commentators to deliberately and misleadingly conflate weapons with capability.)
Having that nuclear weapon would make a big difference. For example if Milosevic had had nuclear weapons as Yugoslavia was disintegrating Bosnia, Kosovo could have turned out very differently simply from the threat or the risk that he would use them

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

Exactly. That's why it's so critical to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Once it actually has the capability the equation changes dramatically.
A Japan option, even without leaving the NPT or building a weapon, gives Iran very real strategic benefits. Takeyh actually describes this as "limited" but he's describing independent protection from regime change, even from military intervention. That is not limited at all, that is a huge benefit.

One may ask, "can't the US offer economic incentives to compensate Iran for giving that up?" Keep in mind now that what the US would be asking Iran to give up is a huge strategic advantage. It is a mistake to think of Iran's nuclear program primarily in terms of the threat it poses to Israel. As a side effect, Iran's program threatens Israel's strategic position but it primarily deters US and foreign attacks on Iran's own sovereignty.

So for this huge strategic advantage that the US would ask Iran to relinquish, the US cannot offer huge rewards because Iran still does not accept Israel, still acts to weaken Israel's position. If the US was to offer to end all sanctions in exchange for Iran giving up domestic enrichment, or keeping its LEU stock permanently below the threshold necessary in theory for a weapon, and Iran was to accept that, Iran would both be giving up a large amount of its security and at the same time would become more of a threat to Israel.

If the sanctions were to be lifted for the nuclear issue, Iran would have more resources that it could use to strengthen the positions of Palestinians in Gaza and the already intolerably fast build-up of Lebanon as a military force. An Iran without sanctions would be far more dominant in Iraq and would have resources to do some "democracy promotion" in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia that would be good for the people of those countries but would destroy the colonial structure the US holds in place and that is also critical for Israel's survival.

The United States is severely limited in what it can offer Iran to end its nuclear program while at the same time Iran's nuclear program has great defensive value that Westerners do not even realize they admit to. Because of this, we are not going to see a nuclear deal that satisfies the US and Iran at the same time, at least until the US decides that the status quo is worse than accepting Iran's nuclear capability or manages to install a new Shah in Iran.

Lebanon getting scud missiles - rapidly growing into a substantial strategic liability for Israel

Rumors are spiraling around about the amount and types of weapons being transferred to Lebanon by Syria and Iran. Among the latest is that Lebanon is receiving or has received shipments of scud missiles that would put large amounts of Israeli-controlled territory within range for attack by Hezbollah or Lebanese forces.
Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday accused Syria of supplying Scud missiles to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah while publicly talking peace.
"Syria claims it wants peace while at the same time it delivers Scuds to Hezbollah whose only goal is to threaten the state of Israel," Peres told public radio.
According to Arab media and specialised think-tanks, Syria has been sending some of its arsenal of Scud missiles to Lebanon, an allegation denied by Damascus.
There are also rumors that Israel has been actively considering attacking Lebanon but so far has refrained.
At the same time, according to the Wall Street Journal, the IDF came very close recently to attacking a convoy carrying weapons from Syria to Lebanon, but at the last moment decided against it.
Lebanon is growing into a full-fledged strategically unbearable situation for Israel. Probably faster and more directly than Iran's nuclear program. Israel's problem, like the US/Israeli problem regarding Iran's nuclear program, is that bombing won't work. In the case of Iran, what an attack would really do is move the threat up from about ten years from now to about five years from now. The time when Iran's nuclear capabilities must seriously be considered in practical strategic evaluations of the region will not arrive until Iran has or could make a deliverable weapon, and attacking would cause (or maybe allow) Iran to devote more resources to that to bring that time forward.

In the case of Lebanon, an attack on the Lebanon/Syria border will clearly be an unprovoked attack. Lebanon can respond as it chooses and likely will launch a salvo at Israel. What does Israel do then? Does it overrun the UN troops on Lebanese territory so that it can face Hezbollah as it did in 2006? Also important is the question of how much diplomatic support the US will be able and inclined to offer Israel given an unprovoked attack.

Like the US and Israel with Iran, an attack on Lebanon is deterred right now. What Israel can do is find some way to rationalize waiting, as the US is doing with this supposed sanctions drive and containment strategy.

Lebanon will get effective anti-aircraft before the end of Obama's term in office. The US and Israel claim that such a step would lead to war, but war is not the overwhelming threat the US and Israel are used to thinking of it as. If there is a war, then Lebanon will attack Israel also, push any Israel occupying force off of its territory while causing both unacceptable casualties and leading to increased emigration from Israel and then, critically, still take delivery of the anti-aircraft systems later after the fighting.

Lebanon does not want war, Lebanon does not need war, but Israel threatening war has a smaller and smaller impact as time goes on.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ambassador Chris Hill claims all the US wants for Iraq is for it to be strong, stable, peaceful and democratic

The United States has, by far, the biggest embassy in the world in the US embassy in Iraq. The tens of thousands of US workers who will staff this embassy likely have very American ideas about what exactly it means to be strong, stable, peaceful and democratic. The last one is not as important to Americans as being "good for the region", which means "sustaining peace with Israel, which is a very difficult thing to do in that region".

The United States is certainly working feverishly to improve the standing of its intelligence asset, Iyad Allawi, in Iraq's political system. Fortunately for everyone, the United States is not hemming itself in with public displays of support that will be difficult to back away from when Allawi is out-maneuvered.

The United States remains with two direct ways to apply leverage to Iraq. Neither is particularly impressive. One is foreign aid. The other is "diplomatic support", which means the US purposely has not lifted the Saddam Hussein-era Chapter 7 sanctions on Iraq. By now it is clear that it will not lift them because they are more valuable held over the heads of Iraq's leadership than dismantled.
But coming back to what you were saying earlier, the future role of the US in Iraq, then, is up to the Iraqi people?

Yes, we will work together - you cannot force a relationship. We are prepared to do some things, we are prepared in particular to implement our part of the strategic framework agreement, which we reached with Iraq at the end of the Bush administration.

We are prepared to see that strategic framework agreement is implemented. It involves a number of areas, including diplomatic co-operation, which is why we're trying to help the Iraqis through some of their diplomatic challenges, including helping them get out of Chapter VII (of the UN charter). It also involves economic activities, and other things.

So we have a complete blueprint of what that relationship should look like in the future and I'm going to see if we can get that thing implemented.
"Helping them get out of Chapter VII" If the US wanted a resolution lifting Iraq from those sanctions tomorrow morning, it would have one with plenty of time to spare by lunchtime. No, instead these sanctions are going to remain in place indefinitely but they'll be ignored. When Iraq is ready to think about nuclear energy these clearly outdated sanctions will prove in effect more of an embarrassment for the US than a hindrance for Iraq, but that day is years away from now.

Sarkozy: The world is too dangerous. In my duty to protect my state, I could never give up nuclear weapons

Nicolas Sarkozy is the French-speaking George Bush. This is not coherent enough to even refute, but I'll leave it here so that it can speak for itself.
Couric: Under what circumstances would France agree to give up its nuclear weapons?

Sarkozy (translator): Well, France I said-- and I want to say this to American friends who probably don't-- in fact, they don't know this. We've stopped nuclear testing. We ratified a treaty. The Nuclear Test-- Treaty with the (UNINTEL). So, we closed our-- the sites whereby we-- which we used for launching. As a matter of fact, for launching nuclear weapons. We've announced how many nuclear warheads we have, which has been considerably drawn down.

I feel that if I were to go any further, I could go in fact jeopardize the security of my country, and as head of state, I-- I am the guarantor and guarantee of that security. Now, of course, with the United States, we are combating proliferation-- the-- the Iranian question just as the North Korean question is very worrisome. We will do everything we can to avoid and prevent nuclear pro-- proliferation. We support the drawdown of nuclear weapons-- but we need what we need in order to ensure the safety of our country.

Couric: Having said that, let me just ask you the question I asked you a few minutes ago. Not now, but down the road, maybe in many years, can you conceive of a nuclear free world?

Sarkozy (translator): Well, a virtual world where there would be no nuclear weapons, I think everyone would applaud that. But-- but I cannot jeopardize the security and safety of my country. You have to realize, we're a country of 65 million inhabitants. We have fewer conventional weapons than the U.S. and Russia and China, for that matter.

Now, I have inherited the legacy of the efforts made by my predecessors to-- build up arms as a nuclear power. And I could not-- give up nuclear weapons, insofar as I wasn't sure that the world is-- was a stable and safe place. What is the role of a head of state. To ensure the safety of his country-- and the fate of the citizens that have entrusted him with the task of being President. Which is why entirely recognize my thinking, and that-- of President Obama. So-- and I believe that President Obama said he probably wouldn't be around when the world is-- has divest itself of its nuclear weapons.

Couric: But do you think it's a realistic goal? And I won't ask you this again.

Sarkozy (translator): It's a dream. An awesome dream that can turn into reality. But I will not give up that nuclear weapon because it underpins my country's security. I will not do so on a unilateral basis, in a world as dangerous as the one in which we live in today.
Couric: What about a multilateral basis?

Sarkozy (translator): Yeah, my ties (UNINTEL) the U.S. and France are both democracies. We will never use these weapons in order to attack anyone. And you see that (UNINTEL) in that world as it is to them, that is why it is so important that the summit-- today are-- are so important. We need to put our heads together, we need to talk to one another, we need to be cautious. And that is my duty as head of state.
I'm not going to make the obvious points. I'll just move on to Sarkozy on Iran.
Couric: Let's move to Iran. You have very passionately advocated stronger sanctions against Iran. What exactly do you mean by stronger sanctions and to what end?

Sarkozy (translator): I consider the fact that Iran should get its hands on a nuclear weapon-- a military nuclear weapon, together with the many statements made by Iranian leaders against the democracy that is Israel is dangerous and unacceptable. Unacceptable, quite simply. President Obama has wanted to stretch out his hand in order to show clearly to the Iranians that it was not they who were the target, but their leadership.

He extended his hand in order to guarantee the unity of the international-- community in particular, but the security council, which I endorsed, but patience has its limits. And we have come to a time now where we need to vote sanctions. Not against the Iranian people, but against the leaders who are leading the country to the wall. The-- very idea that-- existing leadership should get its hands on a-- nuclear weapon is unacceptable.

Iran reaches out to Iraq's Sunnis

Iraq's Shiites have enough votes to rule the country with very minimal Sunni participation. However, Iraq's Sunnis are very important regionally. Iraq's Sunnis have extensive and increasing connections with Jordan and Syria. It is therefore a matter of strategic importance for Iran that Iraq's Sunnis not see Iran as their enemy.

After Iraq's stabilization as a neutral to friendly country with Iran, Iraq may play an important role in strengthening representative or anti-colonial forces in its neighbors. In many cases, though Iran would not use these terms, the idea of Arab unity and independence from outside control, the founding idea of the Baathist movement when it was born in Syria, will actually coincide with Iran's perception of regional matters. This despite the fact that Baathism is a strictly, and even militantly secular ideology.

Iran calls for a unity government in Iraq. Certainly not one in which the US would retain substantial influence through Iyad Allawi's office, but also not one in which a politician rightly or wrongly perceived to have won overwhelming Sunni support is humiliated.
"None of the successful lists should be pushed aside," Iranian ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi told reporters at a press conference in Baghdad.

"We wish to say that the government should be formed from these lists," he said, according to an Arabic translation of his remarks in Farsi.

"It is clear that none of the successful lists can form a government on its own and that requires an agreement among the various lists," he added.

The ambassador rejected accusations that Shiite-dominated Iran was trying to influence its neighbour through its influence with Iraq's Shiite majority community, which won its way to power in the wake of the 2003 overthrow of now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime.

"The decision must be an Iraqi one and Iraqis ... will take only advice from others," the Iranian ambassador said.
We're seeing the emergence of the post-US Iraq. A country that the US is no longer actively working to break apart or to guarantee a long-term military presence.

It is interesting that as a country neutral or friendly with Iran, it will be another democratic winner, along with Lebanon's largest vote-getters and the winners of Palestine's last election in Iran's camp of anti-colonial forces in the region. Syria is actually the lone embarrassing exception. Moving Syria towards representative government may, at latest by the time more pressing issues have been resolved, be the next internal priority for that bloc.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How does a US cold war with Iran end?

Recently looking at the Soviet Union's plans to capture Western Europe if a crisis developed, a question was raised of what exactly marked the end of the Cold War? Which is related to the question, what was the Cold War?

There was a dispute. I'm not sure if I should characterize it as an ideological dispute between Western Liberalism and Communism which is an offshoot of the ideological trend of Western Liberalism. Or if it was a dispute between Western owners of capital, who rationalized their motivations using Liberalism against a different power-group based primarily in Russia who rationalized their motivations using Communism. Or if it was just competing nationalisms, US/American against Russian.

The dispute came to an end, to the degree that it did, when the Soviet Union was clearly no longer in a position to impose or threaten to impose its sensibilities or views outside of territory it already controlled, and in fact when the West became able to impose its views on formerly Soviet controlled territory.

I've long held that the United States leads the West in a war against the Muslim world over the question of whether or not Israel is a legitimate state. The over one hundred million Muslims who live under US-supported dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and others, along with the tens of millions of Muslims now under direct US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the over one hundred million Muslims who live under various degrees of US-directed economic sanctions today aimed at punishing populations for anti-Israel policies are victims of this war, as are US travelers who are cavity searched when flying from Denver to Atlanta.

It has been pointed out to me that a person, especially in Israel's region, does not have to be Muslim to oppose the legitimacy of Israel. The US is not at war just with the Muslim world, but because Muslims comprise such a high proportion of the people who bear the brunt of US policies to ensure Israel's security, in a lot of ways it makes sense to focus on the Muslim world. This is not to exclude, for example, Palestinian Christians who are also opposed to Zionism in many cases.

We are now seeing the US shift into a formally declared cold war with Iran. It is a cold war because Iran has successfully deterred any direct military intervention in its territory and likewise the US would be able to deter any direct Iranian intervention in either Israel or in the US-controlled indirect colonies.

The United States could attack Iran, but there are two things to remember: Iran is not like Iraq - Iran has retaliatory options Iraq did not have and Iran would require vastly more resources to subdue than Iraq did; secondly, the US establishment now correctly perceives Iraq itself to have been a mistake. US strategic goals could have been better met leaving Hussein in place or negotiating his exit without actually invading.

The United States is deterred from a military attack because US generals correctly calculate that five years after the attack, the US will have seen strategic losses great enough and strategic gains small enough that it would have been better off not attacking. The US fundamentally differs from Israel on this issue. The US invasion of Iraq actually has helped, for now, Israel's strategic situation and Israel expects that it would benefit overall from an attack on Iran. Unfortunately for Israel, pro-Israel elements of the US political system do not have to power decide to attack Iran against the calculations of the US military.

An Israeli attack would be an American attack. This really deserves its own post and I've been meaning to write it, but if Israel attacks Iran, I expect a nominal response against Israel, a few missiles and most of the retaliation to be against US positions, mostly in Iraq.

I find why that is to be very interesting. Iran has resources in Lebanon, but Lebanon's capabilities are growing relative to Israel. Lebanon will have a bigger and more credible threat against Israel in 2012 than it does today. There will come a time, if the situation develops as it is now, that Lebanon reaches parity with Israel, when Lebanese threats against Tel Aviv and Jewish population centers are about as credible as Israeli threats against Beirut.

A war between Lebanon and Israel sets that process back. If Lebanon is attacked by Israel, it has to respond and there will be an escalation from there, but I take Iran to be comfortable with Lebanon developing as it is developing now. Lebanon will not attack Israel unless Israel attacks Lebanon first. Lebanon has a better option of just waiting.

Iraq is different. In 2012, the US is likely to be less vulnerable to Iranian attack in Iraq than it is today. The around 100,000 US troops in Iraq today are in a use them or lose them situation for Iran. If there is an attack, Iran has to attack them or else it will wait for this means of inflicting pain on the US to disappear.

Israel is not independent. Nobody in the region thinks it is independent, it makes sense for Iran to treat an Israeli attack as a US attack, except that if there was an Israeli attack it would be of far more limited scope than a direct US attack. If Israel attacks Iran, Iran will respond against the US, primarily in Iraq for now, if the attack comes later the response may be oriented more toward US and Western assets in the Persian Gulf or in the US colonies closest.

By the time the US leaves Iraq, that will give Iran additional options, better coordination with Syria since there will be a land connection by then and geographical closeness to, especially, Jordan which seems to me to offer very interesting opportunities to harm US regional interests after the US has left Iraq. There will also be new situations with respect to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that will deter a US attack on Iran when there are no longer US soldiers effectively hold as hostages in Iraq.

The point of all of this is to say that Iran expects the US, based on US strategic interests, to prevent in Israeli attack. I've not seen anything to indicate that the US is not fully capable of preventing an Israeli attack on Iran. If the US was to fail, the US would pay a steep price and the US military is well aware that when the dust settles the US will believe, even more than was the case with Iraq, that it would have been better to prevent the attack.

Nobody is buying this crazy or uncontrollable Israel act. If the US lets an Israeli attack happen, it was a US attack. But my feeling is that a US attack is, for the foreseeable future deterred which is why we are moving to a cold war.

The US cold war with Iran is part of the larger war the US is waging against the Muslim world - the large majority of whose members do not consider Israel a legitimate state.

The cold war with Iran can end with an Iranian capitulation. There is not much chance of a Green movement success now, and this is widely acknowledged though it was not six months ago. However the US strategy is now to wait for years, decades, even generations if necessary. Perhaps a new pro-Western movement can be developed that builds on the lessons of the Green movement. Essentially somebody has to come to power in Iran who is willing to play the role the Shah played.

Some Western analysts believe that if we just talk to Iran, Iran will be willing for its own reasons to go back to the relations Iran had with the West and Israel under the Shah. That strikes me as really crazy. We have to be clear. The US wants Iran to be ruled by someone whose foreign policy will match that of the Shah, the person Iran overthrew in a popular revolution at least partly because of domestic disgust with his foreign policy. No we will not talk Iran into resuming 1978 Iranian foreign policy. No. Please give that idea up.

The cold war could also end if the US was to no longer be deterred militarily. If something happens that would allow a decisive military intervention in Iran at much lower cost to the US than the invasion of Iraq imposed, the US might be inclined to pursue that. This scenario is not on the horizon, but will clearly take shape for people observing the situation long before it has arrived. Meaning that we can be sure we will not wake up one morning surprised that the US actually attacked. We will see it coming as conditions change probably gradually.

Short of an Iranian capitulation, there is no resolution to the cold war with Iran until the greater US war against the Muslim world over Israel is settled. The US hopes the war can be settled with a two state solution relatively quickly. It turns out that as a referendum would be impossible, the US hopes to maintain the option of Palestine endorsing the Bantustan resolution the Israel would like to impose through an act of the Palestinian parliament.

This is what the US hopes for, and if it works, it will also end the cold war with Iran. The problem is that if there is a significant portion of Palestinians who do not believe the results were fair and non-coerced, then nothing changes, the US still needs its dictatorships, sanctions and occupations to prevent the region from acting on its rejection of Israel despite what would be seen as a flawed and coerced acceptance process. It is very possible for the US to be convinced that the Palestinians have accepted Israel, but the war the US leads against the Muslim world not to change at all.

The larger war can also be solved by a US withdrawal from its role as Israel's protector. Over time protecting Israel is becoming more expensive and the expense has already reached the point that there is officially voiced reservations about the impact of Israel on US strategic interests.

Or the larger war can be solved by a Zionist capitulation, by a one state solution that is not necessarily Jewish majority. The threat of US withdrawal from its role as Israel's guarantor would cause Israel's Jews, as South Africa's Whites did in the 1990s, to negotiate a resolution that while ceding political control maintains rights and security of Jewish individuals and their property. This scenario is actually just the conclusion of the previous scenario in which the US comes to question its ability or the desirability of its role as Israel's guarantor.

There is no military option for the US, so we are waiting. In this cold war, the United States will try to put as much pressure as it can on Iran. Iran will respond to US measures. If Iran was to give up its nuclear program but not its support for groups opposed to Israel, the cold war would not fundamentally change. This is not a cold war over Iran's nuclear program, but Iran's nuclear program does play an important role in diminishing Israel's strategic advantage over its region and as a very last resort is another factor that makes deters US military intervention in Iran, so Iran is very unlikely to restrain its nuclear program to a degree acceptable to the United States.

We will fall into a pattern that is largely stable, but in which Israel's position is likely steadily declining, possibly for a matter of decades. The cold war will end either when the US gets a new Shah to rule Iran or when the dispute over Israel's legitimacy is resolved.

But how do we know they haven't assembled?

A transcript will be released later, and it will offer more depth about US Defense Secretary Robert Gates' thinking on Iran's nuclear program, but the AFP article released early points to two of his statements that are interesting:
"I'd just say, and it's our judgment here, they are not nuclear capable," Gates said in an interview. "Not yet."

Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press," Gates said that Iran was "continuing to make progress" in a nuclear program that Washington suspects is a clandestine effort to develop an atomic arsenal.

"It's going slower... than they anticipated. But they are moving in that direction," he said.
I argue that in a practical strategic sense, Iran is nuclear weapons capable, has been nuclear capable for months and has had an ability to become nuclear capable without plausible options for the US to stop Iran from reaching that status since mid-2007 at the very latest. Which is to say that if there is any fault for allowing Iran to become nuclear capable, it does not actually belong with the current US administration.

In any plausible scenario, Iran will not be suddenly faced with a situation where having an option to produce a weapon will be decisive on an issue of importance to Iran. In the year or so it takes for a crisis to develop, Iran has options - that the US cannot prevent - when it notices tensions or hostilities increasing, to put itself into a position from which it can make nuclear weapons as the situation progresses, even without leaving or violating any reasonable interpretation of the NPT.

Gates says Iran is not nuclear capable for two reasons: Israel still has not publicly come to accept that it will have to proceed from now on without a regional monopoly of nuclear capability and the United States has no way to reverse Iran's nuclear capability, so denying it exists is a way to justify the fact that the US can not take tangible action against it.

The next interesting excerpt from the interview is that Gates and the Obama administration, including Obama, are far more up front with their policy of conflating nuclear weapons capability with actual nuclear weapons.
Asked to compare the danger posed by Iran armed with an atomic bomb or with the ability to produce one, Gates said: "How far have they gone? If their policy is to go (to) the threshold, but not assemble a nuclear weapon, how do you tell that they have not assembled?

"So, it becomes a serious verification question."
How do you tell they have not assembled? Well, there is this treaty called the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. Gates likely has heard of it. That treaty is how South Korea knows that Japan has not assembled, even though Japan is nuclear capable. That treaty is how Argentina knows Brazil has not assembled. That treaty is how Germany knows the Netherlands have not assembled. More? That treaty is how Angola knows South Africa has not assembled.

That's what the Non-Proliferation Treaty is, especially the safeguards agreement at the heart of the agreement. A way to ensure that the fissile material in a country is not diverted to assemble a weapon. Iran could leave the treaty in an emergency, but as long as Iran remains in the treaty, there is no reasonable question that Iran has not actually built a weapon.

The strategy of the safeguards agreement, which is to keep track of all of the fissile material in the country with the idea that without fissile material, it is impossible to make a weapon, is sound. It would be impossible for any NPT member to amass the relatively huge quantities of uranium, plutonium or thorium required to make a weapon without detection. Certainly Iran could not. No nation ever has. No nation has ever even made a serious attempt to build a weapon while in the NPT. If there was a crisis, Iran would have to pull out of the treaty, that limits Israel's strategic options but it is not a verification problem.

Gates is lying, by that I mean being deliberately deceptive and misleading an audience less informed than he is. There is no issue with verification. The issue is that Israel cannot tolerate a neighbor with the capabilities of Japan, Brazil, the Netherlands, South Africa or the other dozens of nuclear capable countries in the world.

The United States, on Israel's behalf, is devoting a huge amount of resources to prevent Iran from reaching a status that is legal for NPT non-weapons signatories. Fortunately, Obama and Gates' efforts on that front seem now very unlikely to succeed. Instead, it looks like the current US strategy is to redefine "capability" so that no matter what Iran's program reaches, Iran is still not called nuclear capable and in the meantime basically wait - possibly with some degree of sanctions but not with any expectation that Iran's nuclear progress will be reversed.

EDIT: The complete transcript has been released. The earlier excerpts seem like fair representations of what was said. In the full transcript we see a fuller dynamic of Clinton making statements on foreign policy and Gates cleaning up after her.
Q Is a nuclear-capable Iran as dangerous as a nuclear state of Iran?

SEC. CLINTON: Well, clearly, weapons are more dangerous than potential. Potential is troubling too.

Q Are they capable now?

SEC. CLINTON: They're -- you know, that's an issue upon which intelligence services still differ. But our goal is to prevent them from having nuclear weapons.

Q Secretary Gates, I want to ask you about --

SEC. GATES: I'd say that it's our judgment here --

Q Yes.

SEC. GATES: -- they are not nuclear-capable.

Q They are not nuclear-capable.

SEC. GATES: Not yet.

Q And is that just as dangerous as being a nuclear state, to your mind?

SEC. GATES: Only in this respect: How you differentiate, how far -- how far have they gone. If they -- if their policy is to go to the threshold but not assemble a nuclear weapon, how do you tell that they have not assembled? So it becomes a serious verification question. And I don't actually know how you would verify that.

So they are continuing to make progress on these programs. It's going slow -- slower than they anticipated, but they are moving in that direction.
And because I'm here again, I'm a little bothered by "slower than they anticipated" for two reasons. 1) Gates has no way of knowing what Iran anticipated and more importantly 2) Iran does not need a nuclear capability until there is a crisis, and probably until there is a crisis but there are not tens of thousands of vulnerable US troops in neighboring states. There is no problem with Iran's nuclear program moving forward slowly at this point.

On the other hand, if the US had anticipated that Iran would be approaching two tons of LEU by mid 2010, the US may have made better offers in 2006 and 2007 that could have forestalled this outcome.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mohamed ElBaradei's interview with the Washington Post

Interesting interview. ElBaradei sees himself as part of a gradual process by which Egyptians will eventually apply pressure on its authoritarian government. He seems very impressed with the twitter messages he sends out criticizing the government.
But my role is not to run in every little demonstration around Cairo or in the countryside. That's not my role.

I tweeted and said it's offensive what happened yesterday. That goes everywhere now. I realize the tweets are translated in every newspaper. All the opposition newspapers have it in the next day. I did one on torture. I did one on emergency law. I did three tweets today. I discovered this is a very good way to communicate with people. I started, and will continue to use, viral videos.
My take on ElBaradei is that he is non-ideological and because of that he will not be able to generate the moral force necessary to unsettle an established regime like Mubarak's. The interview does not even present a passionate Egyptian nationalist. As far has he goes, his points that if he participates in the political system now, it would benefit Mubarak; that there are fundamental changes that could be made quickly in Egypt's political system that would enable representative elections; that the political system in place is ineffective, are all valid points and demonstrate a degree of cleverness on ElBaradei's part.

But there is no psychological requirement that he must sacrifice whatever he has to sacrifice to introduce a new vision for Egypt. ElBaradei is content watching, waiting, delivering true but impactless criticisms of the current regime. Only an ideology can consistently justify significant sacrifices for a political goal, and Westerners are really increasingly stripped of ideology.

However, Janine Zacharia, his Washington Post interviewer raises the idea that perhaps ElBaradei's agitation has set back any effort by Egypt's regime to put Gamal Mubarak forward as a replacement for his father.
WP: Have you scuttled President Mubarak's plans to have his son Gamal succeed him, if there is such a plan?

ElBaradei: That's what people say. This idea of inheritance, succession from father to son has been dealt a heavy blow because they have been presenting themselves everywhere that the alternative to the current system is the Muslim Brotherhood and again presenting the Muslim Brotherhood as the equivalent of Bin Laden. Our friends in the West, in many ways, bought this. I consider a system that is afraid of its own people, as I tweeted now, because of this demonstration, is a system that won't have any stability. You can only have stability if you are supported by your people.
I expect him to be quite surprised to see Gamal inherit the throne after all. ElBaradei is right not to run, win 40% of the vote and be presented by the Egyptian regime as a validation of Egypt's political process. But what he is doing now is not very dissimilar to that. He is criticizing the government, fairly ineffectively, not being arrested and advancing the idea that Egypt tolerates dissent.

Where ElBaradei is most disappointing is in his failure to confront Mubarak's US and European supporters:
WP: What about the international community's role?

ElBaradei: If you want to be credible on human right -- freedom of speech, freedom of assembly -- you cannot just say mum's the word when the regime's a friend of yours.

Every day you see three articles on the Iranian election, was it fair, was it fixed. But I have not seen one single article talking about an election in the Arab world. How could you be credible? I said that to many of my friends in the U.S. and Europe. If you want to be credible, human rights is a global issue. You have to talk about it in a systematic way.

What I see in the Arab world, in Egypt, everywhere is increasing radicalization.

If that situation will continue you will continue to get more radicalization, not only in Egypt, throughout the Arab world. Egypt is the beacon for the rest of the Arab world.
It is not well enough understood that change that is not violent and not revolutionary but also not inside of current political mechanisms for adjusting policy can only happen when local regimes lose necessary distant support or gain distant opposition.

Nelson Mandela and his ANC would never, ever have white South Africans to give up power based on pressure he could apply. His movement reached and influenced countries whose cooperation white South Africans needed but who ultimately were not nearly as wedded to Apartheid as white South Africans were.

Gandhi did not and could not convince local Indian governors to relinquish power, but London even though distant was both necessary for its continuation and able to emotionally separate itself from Indian colonialism. The US Martin Luther King Jr. convinced white US citizens largely outside of the South to repeal legal segregation against the will of most voters directly involved in applying the policies.

ElBaradei's talking to many of his friends in the U.S. and Europe is far too mild. He seems to miss both how critical Western, especially US, support is for Mubarak. How vulnerable Egypt would be to any anti-government campaign of a fraction of the intensity of the one the US is currently waging against Iran. He also seems not to understand that Egypt's autocracy is ultimately not as important to the US as it is to Mubarak.

ElBaradei is not a revolutionary. He is not ideologically motivated to take the risks necessary to build a movement in Egypt capable of violently removing Mubarak from power. Because of that, ElBaradei is going to watch Egypt's autocracy continue. But without being a revolutionary, he could still cause the end of the regime by working to remove the distant support necessary for the regime to maintain power.

I wish he would say, from Egypt or from the US, that the United States, through its cash payments that end up in Mubarak family accounts and through its encouragement of Egypt's government, is responsible for the denial of rights to over 60 million Egyptians.

Rather than mildly attempting and failing to lobby Egypt's ruling power apparatus to institute six reforms, he would be far more successful lobbying the US to make these reforms a requirement of continued US aid to Egypt, as the Egyptian construction of a wall to starve Gaza was a requirement. Egypt's power apparatus is strongly tied to not implementing these kinds of reforms. The US power apparatus is also tied to Mubarak on Israel's behalf, but a lot less strongly and a lot less openly.

The process that will free Egypt is not yet in view. Unless we see some visible changes we can be sure that process does not involve Mohamed ElBaradei.