Monday, January 31, 2011

Remember Arnon Soffer said that every day Mubarak and Jordan's Abdullah remain in power, Israel has earned another day?

About 85 million Egyptians live under a dictator today so that Israel can continue earning days. Instead, maybe the 7.5 million Israelis should live under a dictator who accepts Palestinian refugees and doesn't demand an ethnic majority state. Then 85 million Egyptians can peacefully have a democracy. Fortunately South Africa provides a model where a group can give up an ethnic majority state without a dictator but the callousness, the racism of the idea that Egypt under a dictator is a good thing is breathtaking. Even more so when it comes from someone named Barack Hussein Obama, who is the president of the United States.

But here, mainly so it will be easier to find this quote later, again is Mr. Soffer speaking on Egypt:
Every morning, when I read the papers and see that Jordanian King Abdullah II is healthy and Mubarak is still alive, I know we've earned another day. I live with the sense that one day we will wake up to the news of a coup in Jordan and Egypt. And woe is the day when insane Islam takes over those two countries. In other words, in spite of everything he does, Mubarak is still among our friends. He's also got problems.
The people of Egypt are now demonstrating that they are no longer willing to be held under tyranny for the comfort of a small number of people like Arnon Soffer.

Ross Douthat from the New York Times: If it wasn't for US support for Mubarak, 9/11 might not have happened

We have what I guess can be considered an admission in the form of an approved editorial in the US' New York Times:
As the world ponders the fate of Egypt after Hosni Mubarak, Americans should ponder this: It’s quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing.
Further along in the article, we see the typical contortions the US policy class makes to avoid using the word "Israel" in describing US motivations in the region.
These sound like good reasons to welcome Mubarak’s potential overthrow, and the end to America’s decades-long entanglement with his drab, repressive regime. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern politics is never quite that easy. The United States supported Mubarak for so long because of two interrelated fears: the fear of another Khomeini and the fear of another Nasser. Both anxieties remain entirely legitimate today.
The United States has one fundamental dispute with Khomeini and one fundamental dispute with Nasser, and they are the same dispute. No non-Jewish population in the greater Middle East believes Israel is a legitimate state. Khomeini's people did not believe Israel is a legitimate state. Nasser's people did not believe Israel is a legitimate state. Mubarak's people do not believe Israel is a legitimate state - so keeping him in power requires the policies that led Egyptians to organize terrorist attacks on the United States.

But for that dispute, there is not reason an independent Egypt or Iran with foreign policies consistent with the sensibilities of their own people, whether ruled by Khomeini, Nasser or any of either's successors would have difficulty maintaining good relations with the United States.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Joe Biden says Mubarak is not a dictator - because he sustains peace with Israel

The Obama administration is unsurprising supporting Hosni Mubarak. The US position is that decisions such as relations with Israel must be kept outside of democratic control until the US believes Egypt's population would make decisions on these issues that it would approve.

The United States very openly now, opposes democratic control of foreign policy, or policy that is important to Israel, in its colonies of Egypt, as well as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. To supposedly support democracy as long as it does not extend to subjects chosen by an outside power is to oppose democracy.

Let us be clear today. The United States opposes democracy in the Middle East.

But here is a fuller quotation from Biden on Mubarak:
JIM LEHRER: The word -- the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator?

JOE BIDEN: Look, Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things and he's been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interests in the region: Middle East peace efforts, the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing the relationship with Israel.

And I think that it would be -- I would not refer to him as a dictator.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Stability" "Political,Economic and Social" "Reform" - Israel's supporters lie about democracy in the Middle East

Listening to Israelis, Americans and Westerners discuss the Middle East, there are some words and phrases that you will hear repeatedly. These words and phrases are designed to guide the audience away from the core issues of the region.

Stability - This word means acceptance of Israel. When Barack Obama or PJ Crowley say Egypt is a force for stability, what they are saying is that Egypt has acceptable relations with Israel, regardless of the sentiments of its people.

Political, Economic and Social - This phrase is used to introduce or advance the idea that authoritarian dictatorships can make progress without becoming accountable to the people governed. The dictatorships of the US colonies in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait are not to be fundamentally challenged, but asked to make small changes in different areas as long as they do not impact the important condition that the people of those countries do not have control over foreign policy, particularly foreign policy in matters related to Israel.

Reform - This corresponds to the observation that government of the US colonies could be somewhat less repressive while still isolating policies important for Israel's strategic interests from popular accountability.

It is important to the United States, to Barack Obama, to Hillary Clinton that the people of Egypt are not able to shape Egypt's policies regarding Israel. The people of Egypt must not decide whether or how to cooperate with the siege on Gaza, or the isolation of Hamas. The people of Egypt must not decide which countries in the region Egypt aligns its foreign policy with. "Stability" means that Egypt is accountable to the United States in its foreign policy decisions.

"Political, Economic and Social" "Reform" means that as long as Egypt fulfills the requirement that its foreign policy is accountable to Tel Aviv and Washington DC and not to the people that it rules, Egypt and the other US regional colonies should make gestures in other areas of less importance to the United States.

Fundamentally what these formulations do is dodge the question: Should a country's policies that are of strategic importance to Israel be determined by the people of the country or by Tel Aviv via the United States?

Barack Obama lies when he claims the US supports democracy. He supports democracy as long as US colonies such as Egypt are accountable to the US and not to its own people regarding policies that Israel cares about. There is no such thing though, as democracy where a country is accountable to a foreign power and not its own people on issues of the foreign power's choosing.

We are starting to see US figures directly questioned on this. Barack Obama's phrase "let us be clear", before he lied about supporting democracy for all people indicates that he has, in some way and to some degree, been made aware of this contradiction in between US claimed values and US policy.

US policy, the idea that Egypt's policies regarding Israel should be isolated from the political will of Egyptians is not defensible by US values. It continues because it is rarely questioned or challenged directly. Every time a US or Western figure is forced to address the issue directly is a blow to the modern colonial structure the US maintains in the region for Israel's strategic benefit.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

PJ Crowley confronted on US support for Egypt. Gives very poor answers

Americans are able to muddle forward in this naive fantasy that their country is not an enemy of democracy because questions directly challenging that fantasy are rarely posed. Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi does a great job questioning US press secretary PJ Crowley. It would be great if he could interview Barack Obama. Unlike Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has given hours and hours of interviews to hostile western news organizations, we will never see Barack Obama stand for even 15 minutes of questioning from anyone like Rattansi.

A great excerpt begins at 5:42.
Shihab Rattansi: But you have more leverage than that. Surely you can think of, the President or the Secretary of State can speak to Mr. Mubarak and say: "Call off your repressive security forces, now begin a transition to true democracy and stop torturing people while you're at it."

PJ Crowley: But again, you're casting this in zero sum terms and I reject that. We respect what Egypt contributes to the region. It is a stabilizing force. It has made its own peace with Israel and is pursuing normal relations with Israel. We think that's important. We think that's a model that the region should adopt broadly speaking. At the same time we recognize that Egypt, Tunisia, other countries do need to reform. They do need to respond to the needs of their people and we encourage that reform and we are contributing across the board. Across the region to that reform.

Shihab Rattansi: Finally there must be a discussion that if in a time of austerity a repressive client regime can't guarantee stability for the billions of dollars Washington is spending, what's the point of all this expenditure?

PJ Crowley: Well we have a, Egypt is an ally and we have, rely on Egypt as an ally to be a stabilizing force in the region and that's exactly what they are and we contribute in terms of military and security assistance to help Egypt because that has benefits across the region as a whole

Shihab Rattansi: Because democracy would be destabilizing to the region wouldn't it?

PJ Crowley: Well again, we want to see the region reform. We believe that as countries develop, as countries prosper, they are likely to become more democratic. We want to see those kinds of reforms. We want to see greater political economic and social opportunity. And we are

Shihab Rattansi: So Egypt's not ready for democracy?

PJ Crowley: We are investing in that. But again, how these countries develop will be on a case-by-case basis. This will not be a cookie-cutter approach for all of the Middle East. We have to evaluate the dynamic in Egypt and look for ways to contribute to that just as we look individually at the dynamic that is happening in Tunisia or other countries.

Today let us be clear: Barack Obama was lying about US support for democracy in the Middle East

The only reason Barack Obama's mention of Tunisia in his state of the union address was not disgusting is because it was exactly what he's proven that we can expect from him and from the United States regarding the Middle East. I've and I expect most observers of the region have become desensitized to US hypocrisy and the racist US proposition that democratic representation and accountability of government to the governed for hundreds of millions of people in the region is a reasonable and acceptable sacrifice for the strategic security of the Zionist project.

So here we have Obama on Tunisia:
And we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people. (Applause.)
The place to start looking at this brazen claim of Obama's that the US supports the democratic aspirations of all people is Obama's 2009 refusal to describe Mubarak as authoritarian or to say anything about his government other than that he appreciates that he maintains peace with Israel.
Justin Webb: You're making this speech in Cairo. Amnesty International says there are thousands of political prisoners in Egypt. How do you address that issue?

President Obama: Right. Well, look - obviously, in the Middle East, across a wide range of types of governments, there are some human rights issues. I don't think there's any dispute about that. The message I hope to deliver is that democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion - those are not simply principles of the west to be hoisted on these countries.

But, rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity, the danger, I think, is when the United States, or any country, thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture.

And I think the thing that we can do, most importantly, is serve as a good role model. And that's why, for example, closing Guantanamo, from my perspective, as difficult as it is, is important.

Because part of what we want to affirm to the world is that these are values that are important, even when it's hard. Maybe especially when it's hard. And not just when it's easy.

Justin Webb: Do you regard President Mubarak as an authoritarian ruler?

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

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

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

And, as I said before, the United States' job is not to lecture, but to encourage, to lift up what we consider to be the values that ultimately will work - not just for our country, but for the aspirations of a lot of people.
"There are some human rights issues." "There have been criticisms of the manner in which politics operates." Obama doesn't give any other reason for offering the mildest possible criticism of Egypt, which by any objective standard is more brutal, repressive and undemocratic than Iran, than that it sustains peace with Israel.

Sustaining peace with Israel is more important than democracy to Barack Obama. If he can only have one, it is clear that he chooses the ability of about six million Jewish people in Palestine to have an ethnic majority state over the ability of seventy million Egyptians to have a government accountable to them.

For another look at the words of the Obama administration, let's quickly look at Hillary Clinton's response to the protests in Egypt.
Our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people.
Obama brazenly lies and says the US supports the democratic aspirations of all people when he supports the democratic aspirations of people on the condition that they sustain peace with Israel. Hillary Clinton, more subtly has taken for the United States and for herself the right to determine which needs and interests of the Egyptian people are "legitimate" and declares that Mubarak is "looking for ways" to respond to only to Egypt's legitimate needs and interests.

Guesses about the nuclear negotiating positions of the US and Iran

The offer that Robert Dreyfus thinks the US, thinking it is being generous, may be willing to make to Iran, that allows some enrichment is probably less than the minimum Iran would be willing to agree to. It is also, at the same time, probably more than the United States can commit to giving, as the unresolved nuclear issue is Israel's single greatest piece of leverage against Iran in their regional conflict.

The bottom line, the reason any discussion about the Iranian nuclear issue is probably pointless is that if it is up to Israel, the status quo will continue indefinitely. In that case working against Iran will continue to be the United States' single biggest global diplomatic and strategic priority. And the Obama administration from its very beginning has never given any reason to believe it is not up to Israel.

So any discussion about Iran's nuclear issue has an aspect of "let's pretend" about it. This one is the same. Let's pretend Israel could not veto any accommodation at all that the US and Iran could reach and talk about what elements the US would require and what elements Iran would require, if a deal was possible.

A future US presidential administration may be more independent of Israel than Barack Obama is at which point, taking into account changes in the situation on the ground, discussions like this may actually be useful.

For this post, I plan at least for a while to add terms to all of the categories as I think of them and as commenters suggest them.

What the US would be comfortable offering:

1) Airplane parts - the US is willing to end its, objectively illegal and immoral, ban on repairs for Iran's fleet of aircraft

2) Ending nuclear-related sanctions - the US does not want to end most of the US sanctions that were already in place when the nuclear issue arose with the exceptions listed here, but would remove its opposition to Iranian pipelines such as to India and would be willing to remove its most recent sanctions

3) Ending direct sabotage of Iran's nuclear program - the US and its would stop killing Iranian scientists. The US would be free to continue the ban on Iranian acquisition of nuclear-related materials

4) Ending support for separatist movements - the US would be willing to cut off MEK, Kurdish and Balochi separatists, and to end current plans to increase its support for them

5) Non-strategic nuclear power - the US will allow third parties such as Europe or Korea to build nuclear power plants in Iran in any amounts that Iran wants, as long as Iran disclaims control of its fuel cycle. Bushehr would also be put on line under its current fuel arrangement.

6) Guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel - the United States claims that it will provide guarantees that all of Iran's power plants will be fueled. These guarantees, of course, are entirely meaningless, as the guarantees Iran already has for Bushehr, for the S-300s and in fact, the NPT's guarantee of nuclear technology "without discrimination" is. But the US foreign policy community has adopted a posture of deliberate naivete regarding these supposed guarantees and considers them a valid part of US offers

7) Diplomatic engagement - the US is willing to go as far as put a US embassy into Tehran if Iran was to want that. The US believes it is offering prestige to Iran of the privilege of publicly communicating with the US.

8) Military accommodation - the US is willing to stop constantly claiming that an attack on Iran is on the table. Every time you hear a US official say this, they think they are increasing pressure on Iran to accept US conditions on its nuclear program. It is not working, it is more likely backfiring, but members of the US foreign policy community like to do what they like to do. It makes them feel powerful and virile, but they are willing to stop in the context of a deal.

What the US would want from Iran:

1) An Iranian accepted limit to its domestic stock of LEU - The US, in its preferred case, would still formally oppose all Iranian LEU enrichment, but would just end the sanctions it has imposed using the enrichment as a pretext. This is important because the US would try to deny Iran materials and try to ensure, beyond Iran's agreement, that it cannot build an efficient enrichment program. But in the US' preferred case, Iran would agree that its domestic stock of LEU would permanently be less than the one ton level that could possibly be made into a nuclear weapon. Iran's LEU would all be enriched to a maximum of 3.5%.

2) The most restrictive inspection regime ever conceived - The US would want Iran to go far beyond the Additional Protocols and may go as far as to make Iran a precedent for a new more restricted class of NPT signatories that allow inspections for any activity related to any nuclear or weapons related program on their territory

3) An effectively permanent US veto over Iranian nuclear activities - The US would want Iran to not only disclaim the NPT right to withdraw from the treaty but to disclaim any right to unilaterally alter any of the terms of the agreement at any time and under any circumstances. The US is willing to have the terms reviewed periodically, but these reviews must leave the US with the option to deny any change requested by Iran.

I consider the above the basic outline of what the US would, in theory, be willing to offer Iran. In 2011 Israel has a veto and even if Iran was willing to accept this offer the US could not actually make it. This offer would be bad for Iran, but it would take the nuclear issue off of the table and thereby remove an effective way for the US to harm Iranian interests despite the fact that Iran's regional conflict with Israel is not primarily or even importantly nuclear.

This is an offer the US cannot make, but once again, in a posture of willful naivete, US officials and members of the US foreign policy community envision the US making and Iran accepting an offer like the one described above.

What Iran would be comfortable offering:

1) A more stringent inspection regime - Iran is willing to implement the Additional Protocols and to go further. Iran is probably not willing to open as much of its military sector as the US would want in the name of nuclear-related inspections, but it is willing to go farther than any country is required to go today

2) A limit to its domestic enrichment - A decent stock of 3.5% LEU, along with ongoing and improving enrichment is likely enough for now. The US preference that the stock be less than one ton is probably not acceptable any more. It probably was a few years ago. There certainly are factions in Iran that now demand more than that. A limit of three tons of only 3.5% enriched LEU is probably acceptable all around, with Iran, for now, willing to export its current 40 or so kgs of 20% LEU and agree not to make more. Once Iran passes 100-150 kgs of 20% LEU, which is about the same milestone as 1 ton of 3.5%, then the Iranian position will harden and it will be much more difficult to get Iran to relinquish that.

3) Non-hostility in Iraq and Afghanistan - I think Iraq is deceptive right now. Iran is waiting to see how it falls into place and not putting any unnecessary stress on that situation. Iran does not want to alarm the US into canceling the withdrawal or sending more cargo-planes full of money to bribe Iraq's legislature. But once the US is out, and the required measures are voted for, Iraq does not have to be a safe place for Americans. If at the point that Iraq is no longer in flux the US and Iran are as hostile as they are today, the US may resume taking very heavy losses of its military, civilian and mercenary personnel there. Afghanistan is similar but Iran does not have as incredible an array of assets there as it has in Iraq. But Iran can make the US' life in Afghanistan, including a dignified and respectable exit, much easier than it would be facing Iranian opposition.

What Iran would want from the US:

1) Future unilateral flexibility on its nuclear program - The US' demand that any agreement commit future generations of Iranians to more stringent terms than other countries is not acceptable. Any agreement would have to revert to the regular NPT, or NPT plus AP after some set time period, regardless of any US decision. The period could be as much as ten or even 15 years, but could absolutely not be into the unforeseeable future. The idea that Iran will still be limited, at the US' discretion, to a maximum of one ton of LEU in its domestic stock in 2035 is outrageous and not acceptable.

2) Relaxation of the recent sanctions - I have not seen objective information about what impact the current sanctions are having. So far Iran is able to advance its economy despite them. For example, the India deal has been canceled and now Iranian gas is staying in the ground so that it can be pumped later and maybe sold for a higher price then. Russia canceled the S-300s, but the US isn't attacking anyway. Maybe Iran will just save the money. We don't have objective indications that US recent efforts are unambiguously hurting Iran. On the other hand, harming Iran is certainly the intention. The US stopping would have at least some value one would presume.

3) Ending of nuclear sabotage and US support for Iranian separatism - Iran would expect US support for Kurdish and Balochi as well as the attacks on Iranian scientists to stop

I think today Iran would accept a deal broadly consistent with the above, if one could be offered. As I said earlier, the Barack Obama administration cannot offer the above, or even the much more favorable terms for the US that are outlined in the previous section. If Obama wins reelection, which is the safest bet for now, then this can be revisited in 2016. By that time Iran will certainly require a stock of several tons of 3.5% and several hundred pounds of 20% LEU. By that time, it won't make sense to discuss limits on Iran's stock since they wouldn't be meaningful.

By the time the Barack Obama is out of office, the most likely situation is that the US will have to just adjust to the fact that Iran is essentially fully nuclear capable.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Robert Dreyfus hears rumors of the US accepting Iranian enrichment

Interesting post from Robert Dreyfus of the Nation where he reiterates an idea that the US is willing to accept Iranian uranium enrichment that he mentioned earlier. We have a relatively unknown columnist for a relatively minor publication reporting rumors, without reference to either the name, position or location of any source or sources. But this report as a rumor is, as tentative and unreliable as it is, a weak sign that the US is testing out the idea of accepting Iranian uranium enrichment.
The scuttlebutt in Washington is that the Obama administration is prepared, going into the talks, to present Iran with a very favorable offer. According to insiders, they’ll ask Iran to ship nearly all of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for reprocessing into fuel rods. (Last year, the deal was for Iran to ship the bulk of its LEU to Russia and France, but the French have acted so annoyingly obstreperous that this time they’re being shut out of the deal.) Some of the LEU would be further enriched for use in the medical-use Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). But since the TRR doesn’t really need very much fuel, the rest of Iran’s LEU would be transformed into fuel rods for the just-opened, Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant. That’s important, because it allows Iran to claim that its enrichment program is designed to produce fuel for Bushehr, not for a weapon. If Iran does this, the United States will agree to allow Iran to keep its current centrifuge program spinning, producing more LEU, which could be recycled into fuel in Russia, as long as Iran doesn’t add more centrifuges or expand its centrifuge program. (Right now, Iran is having trouble keeping those centrifuges operating, and according to one source the international sanctions against Iran are effective in preventing Iran from acquiring the materials it needs to build more, anyway.) And, of course, Iran would have to accede to the stricter IAEA oversight.
This strikes me as similar to what I thought was a possible US proposal last year. It is also consistent with the John Kerry statement during the summer of 2009 that George W. Bush's idea that Iran should be prevented from enriching uranium was stupid and counterproductive.

My best understanding of what this proposal would mean is that Iran could effectively enrich uranium with these conditions: 1) the US would still formally oppose Iranian enrichment, but would not oppose it in effect. This means that the US would still work to prevent materials from reaching Iran 2) Iran would have to keep its uranium stock below the level of one ton under the pretext that it exports uranium to fuel Bushehr 3) Iran would not be allowed, under any circumstances to enrich beyond 3.5% and would have to relinquish its current stock of 20% LEU 4) Iran would accept an IAEA inspection regime to be negotiated that goes beyond the AP and would be the most invasive inspection regime in the world 5) (And critically) the US would also want each condition to be permanent with a US veto over any alteration of it even generations from now.

In exchange for accepting these conditions, 1) Bushehr would be put on line, 2) the TRR fuel would be supplied, 3) there would be no new sanctions and the current sanctions would be relaxed to some degree, 4) Iran could probably get the Russian S-300 anti-air missile systems if it still wants them and 5) tensions between the US and Iran would be relaxed to some degree, for example the US would stop exclaiming that it may attack Iran, and Israel would as well.

Let's for this post assume this is on offer and discuss it.

What this deal would prevent is Iran from maintaining a stockpile of multiple tons of LEU as it has now. The alternative to this deal is that Iran continues to endure US sanctions and adds more tons of LEU to its stock during the Obama administration. So that it faces the next US president with around five tons in its stock if Obama loses in 2012 or more than ten tons if he wins and stays until 2016.

It is difficult to say that what the US is offering is worth more than five tons of LEU enriched to 3.5%, along with over 100 kgs of 20% LEU by 2012 and probably over 300 kgs by 2016.

A very interesting thing about this offer is that the US considers itself generous to make it. There clearly is debate within the United States over accepting Iranian enrichment at all. Meanwhile, this offer would actually represent a fairly dramatic concession on the part of Iran. A concession that I actually probably would recommend Iran not accept, assuming sanctions continue to be unable to impact Iran's core economy as reflected, especially, in Iran's unemployment levels.

For this post, let's assume that an offer more or less along the lines of this is acceptable to Iran. I think this is a wrong assumption, but there is a question, assuming it is acceptable, of how a deal could be reached.

Iran cannot be expected to export any of its uranium, much less the 2800 kgs now asked without the US acknowledging all of the terms of the deal publicly. A simple rule is that a government that cannot even describe a deal cannot fulfill the terms of that deal. If US domestic opposition to even tacitly accepting Iranian enrichment is so strong that the Obama administration is unable to discuss it in public, then it is certain that once Iran's uranium has been exported, the deal will collapse at that point. Of course, in that case it will appear to Iran that this had been the US intention all along.

The primary threat Iran poses to Israel and to the string of anti-democratic colonial dependents that the US maintains in the region for the strategic security of Israel, identified by Eric Margolis as "Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Yemen, Oman and some of the Gulf states" is primarily ideological, secondarily conventionally military and only lastly its nuclear potential.

Accepting the terms offered by the US, and neutering its nuclear program would leave Iran in a position to build on its more important strategic advantages and would lead it to pose a greater threat to Israel. Israel's US supporters understanding this, there is a serious question of whether or not they would be able to prevent it. If Obama is not able to publicly outline the terms of any agreement before Iran commits to it, then the most likely outcome will be that Iran will receive no benefits.

But while today Iran's nuclear potential is low on the list of its strategic assets, there is no reason to believe it will be 20 years from now. A mechanism over which the US does not effectively have a veto would have to be developed to reduce Iran's requirements to those of states like Japan if not now, then at latest by 15 years from now. A permanent US veto, de jure or de facto (formally or just effectively in place - for example by US influence over IAEA board of governors), over the expansion of Iran's nuclear program could not be accepted by any Iranian leadership.

It is very difficult to envision such a mechanism. Pretty much either an agreement has an automatic termination or it has an effective US veto. Unless the US can agree to a time period after which Iran's extra obligations are released a deal likely cannot be reached. This is another issue that the US would have to commit to, publicly, before Iran exports uranium.

This deal represents a new cost for Bushehr. The Russians have said that the facility was damaged by Stuxnet. It seems that now repairing it will cost whatever it takes, in addition to the 1200kgs for the TRR fuel, to get Iran's stock down to about 300 kgs of 3.5% LEU. Bushehr is not important in a long-term strategic sense in itself, but what this demonstrates or confirms is that Russia cannot reliably remain independent of US pressure which is important.

If a deal like this is on the table, then as reluctantly as it is being offered by the US, there is a very good chance that it could not work and that it would not be accepted by Iran. Both because the US has serious structural credibility problems in making such an offer and because accepting such a deal is likely not in Iran's long term strategic interests.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rice: US army presence in Iraq protects Israel

A Jerusalem Post article that requires little, if any, comment.
Former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice reassured Israel that the US military presence in Iraq should calm any Israeli security concerns "from the east," minutes from a 2008 trilateral meeting between Rice and the Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams reveal.

Discussing the needs of Israel regarding Palestinian security forces in a future-Palestinian state, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni expressed concern over a third-party military force protecting a Palestinian state's external borders. Secretary Rice inserted, "At this time there is no threat from the east because our forces are in Iraq and will stay there for a long time." Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat added, "For a very, very long time."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ahmadinejad as a Holocaust denier and the Holocaust as a religion

I think Western readers could benefit from some context or background about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statements regarding the Holocaust that are easy to miss but very important.

The idea that Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust has its origin in an argument he made in a speech in 2005 or 2006 (somebody ask and I'll look up the exact date of the speech and add the unsympathetically translated quote). I’ll paraphrase what he said at the time as “They’ve created this story of the Holocaust and elevated it above the story of God. They put people in jail for denying that story but not for denying God.”

Juan Cole and others put the word “myth” where I first put the word “story”. I’ll just say that no matter which word, the argument of the sentence is in neither case that the story of the Holocaust is factually false. The argument is slightly more subtle and much more clever.

The argument is that the West condescends on Iranians and on Muslims with the claim that Muslims have faith where Westerners have rationality. But then, by this argument, it turns out that the West – even non-observers, agnostics and atheists – does have a religion. That religion is the Holocaust.

Even if there was no such thing as Palestine or Israel this would be a tremendously powerful argument for a Muslim audience. Muslims in interacting with the West are often put on the defensive regarding faith. Ahmadinejad says wait, people are free to deny God in Europe, but they are not free to deny the Holocaust. So instead of a comparison between rationality and faith, between progress and blind backwardness, we have a comparison between two different sacrosanct narratives, and in this contest Muslims have a good hand that if you must believe in something it is better to believe in God, in the Koran, than in the Holocaust.

I want to add some things that Ahmadinejad could have said but didn’t. There is a wide variation in estimates of the amount of Native Americans killed by the European conquest of the American continents. But nowhere in the world will you go to jail if you assert that the number is zero. There is wide variation in estimates of the number of Africans killed during the trip from Africa to be slaves in the Western Hemisphere. Nowhere in the world will you go to jail if you say the number was zero. There is wide variation in the amount of natives of Tasmania who were killed when European colonists killed every single native-born man, woman and child on the island. Nowhere in the world will you go to jail for saying the number is zero. There is wide variation of the number of Palestinians killed or the number displaced to create Israel. There is a wide variation in estimates of the number of people the United States killed in Afghanistan this year. There is nowhere in the world that you’ll go to jail for claiming the number is zero.

People have been imprisoned for insinuating that the number may have been anything other than 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The Holocaust for the West is a sacrosanct narrative in a way that many other atrocities and massacres, before and since, are not. Westerners usually can not fully appreciate the power, before a Muslim audience conditioned by Western accusations of backwardness, of Ahmadinejad’s observation that the West is hypocritical in its accusations. This would be true even if there was no Palestine.

But there is a Palestine.

The narrative of the Holocaust, that Ahmadinejad argued is treated with the reverence that Muslims apply to the Koran itself, is used to justify the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians. For a somewhat defensive Muslim audience, that takes a powerful argument for Ahmadinejad and makes it sublime.

The West doesn’t believe in God, in the commandments of the holy books to love and treat each other equally. It believes in the Holocaust, and that the Holocaust justifies expelling hundreds of thousands of innocent people from their land, it justifies propping up colonial dictatorships over scores of millions of Muslims. The Holocaust justifies sanctions aimed at denying technological, scientific, industrial and economic progress for scores of millions of Muslims and it justifies directly killing, right now, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the region, occupying nations and creating conditions of chaos and destruction today.

This is not an argument Ahmadinejad feels a need to back down from. If the West is going to present the Holocaust as a religion, he sincerely believes, along with essentially every Muslim, that he has a better religion. A religion that is more consistent with the West’s own declared values.

I want to give you that context so that you can understand what happens when a Western reporter asks Ahmadinejad if he denies the Holocaust.

Imagine a truly well meaning devout US Christian, someone like, Rick Warren, in a Muslim country asked by a somewhat hostile interviewer whether or not he denies Muhammad.

What does that question mean? The interviewer can get indignant – "it is a simple question. Do you or do you not deny Muhammad?" Of course, it is not a simple question. The word "Muhammad" specific meanings beyond the name itself to a person raised in the Muslim faith that Rick Warren would have no way of being familiar with.

“I do not say and have never have said that there was no Muhammad. Historians, scientists, religious scholars should be free to determine who he was and the truth of what he taught and his impact. I will say that these historians should be free of any threat of punishment for reaching the wrong conclusion and I’ll insist that the truth of Muhammad does not diminish my right as a Christian to believe in Jesus Christ and even further that the story of Muhammad does not justify the killing of Christians or their oppression anywhere in the world.”

I'd like to suggest that the above response while reasonable to me or to a Westerner might be perceived as an evasive answer to a Muslim. To a Muslim that answer could be uncomfortably and even dangerously close to "Muhammad denial". Ahmadinejad dozens of times has given equivalent answers about the Holocaust. But is it reasonable for a Muslim questioner to expect Rick Warren to recite the Koran’s treatment of Muhammad in response to that question?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Late to write about Tunisia

There are two things missing before I feel comfortable writing about Tunisia. The first is that we haven't seen how the situation will settle. The second is that I have not seen an ideologically based movement positioned to take power.

It takes an ideological reason for any leader or prospective leader to make any sacrifice. Communism will do. Any religion, including Islam will do. Tunisian nationalism will do. Anti-colonialism will do. Democracy will do if it is a specific vision rather than a vague aspiration. There has to be some goal that the leadership is willing to sacrifice for. That goal has to have some application to the many small decisions that must be made by many many people, especially upon a change of power.

A leadership or a prospective leadership without any ideology will do what is easiest. And the United States, France and Israel have substantial resources to convince Tunisia's next leadership that the easiest course is to effectively replicate the policies of Ben Ali.

Which is to say I'm cautiously happy with Ali's flight from the country. I don't have much confidence, though I do have some hope, that he will be replaced with any substantially different leadership than the outgoing administration.