Wednesday, November 30, 2011

New shipments of teargas from the US to Egypt's dictatorship

Indications are growing that the US, with its current client dictatorship in Egypt and supported by the full spectrum of the US political class, from left to right, hopes to impose on Egypt a constrained democracy, where some issues are within the purview of elected bodies, but others, those of importance to the United States, which is mostly to say issues related to Israel, remain under the control of the pro-US dictator.

This is similar to the arrangement, qualified independence, that Imperial Great Britain offered Egypt as reform in 1922. It is also similar to the arrangements in Morocco and Kuwait, that Juan Cole approvingly cites Freedom House as calling "partly free". This arrangement is what Thomas Friedman or Charlie Rose are effectively advocating when they say that the Arab Spring "isn't about Israel".

What they mean, but won't say because of its implications, is that non-Jewish people in Israel's region don't deserve full local control of their governments' policies. They should be satisfied with a "partly free" government that can control issues of less importance to them. This is not a right-wing view, but is the position of the colonialist left, from Juan Cole and Barack Obama across to the colonialist right of George Bush and John McCain.

It is a bigoted position, a racist position. But Juan Cole, Barack Obama, George Bush and John McCain are bigots, racists. No more or less than Winston Churchill and Cecil Rhodes of previous colonial eras.

It is in this context that we look at the United States resupplying the Egyptian dictatorship with tear gas.
A group of employees at the Adabiya Seaport in Suez have confirmed, with the documents to prove it, that a three-stage shipment of in total 21 tons of tear gas canisters is on course for the port from the American port of Wilmington.

Employees say the container ship Danica, carrying seven tons of tear-gas canisters made by the American company Combined Systems, has already arrived at the port, with two similar shipments from the same company expected to arrive within the week.
And the dictatorship, now that the order has been exposed, is moving to receive the teargas.
A shipment of anti-riot material imported by the Interior Ministry from the United States was released upon orders, a senior official in Suez, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.

He added that the employees were reluctant to release the shipment, in solidarity with the victims of last week’s violence in Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street.
This is the evil of our time. The colonialism that is necessary for Israel to be viable is to 2011 what slavery was to 1811. It can be argued that both are or were symptoms of larger phenomena but on their own each extracts too large a cost in human suffering, such as the deaths in Tahrir Square of Egyptians resisting pro-US dictatorships both back in January and last week.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winding down, rather than escalating the violence in Syria

Some quotes and then some thoughts about the violence in Syria.

First, Helena Cobban who is one of the best English-language bloggers on the Middle East on the situation in Syria as of November 25:
Turkey's AK government has shifted into a position of much stronger support for the Syrian opposition, with PM Erdogan now openly calling for the resignation of Syria's President Asad, while leaders and members of the militarized, oppositionist 'Free Syrian Army' have been given considerable freedom to organize in the encampments of Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Attempts by western governments to win a UNSC resolution that would, as with Resolution 1970 in re Libya, have provided a basis for future military action against Syria were rebuffed when both Russia and China vetoed it.

The Arab League has launched its own strong-seeming diplomatic and political intervention that requires the Syrian government to end the use of repression and violence, engage in negotiations with the opposition, and allow the entry of Arab league monitors-- actually, the deadline for that latter step was November 25.

The Arab League-cum-NATO military action against Libya (which was also supported by NATO member Turkey) had been cited as a desired precedent by many in the Syrian opposition. That action was eventually successful in taking over the whole of Libya and killing President Qadhafi. But it took them seven months and a lot of bloody fighting to achieve that; and the outcome inside Libya has been very far from what most pro-democracy, pro-rights activists in the west had hoped for.
Then Eric Margolis, who uses his judgement as a source. His judgement agrees with mine, but without documentation, will not be persuasive to anyone inclined to disagree with him.
Syria’s conflict is confusing. It began a year ago when insurgent groups slipped in from neighboring Lebanon. They were armed, supplied and trained by the CIA, Britain’s MI6, and Israel’s Mossad. Their finances came from the US Congress, which voted in the 1980’s to fund overthrowing Syria’s Assad regime because of its antagonism to Israel and support for Palestinians, and from the Saudis.

In the 1920’s, a leading Zionist thinker, Vladimir Jabotinsky, proclaimed the Arab world was a brittle mosaic of tribes and clans. A few sharp raps, he predicted, would splinter the whole fragile mess and leave a new Jewish state as paramount power of the Mideast and its oil. He was thinking primarily of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

These armed Syrian groups of mercenaries, Assad-hating Lebanese fascists, and CIA-cultivated anti-Assad exiles lit the fuse in Syria. Their attacks, mainly along the Lebanese border, ignited resistance by long repressed Sunni Muslim conservatives, bitter foes of the Assad’s Alawi-dominated regime. Alawi – an offshoot of Iran’s Shia and Turkey’s Alevi –tend to be poor, clannish and disliked by mainstream Sunni as heretics.

Many of Syria’s smaller cities and towns have revolted, but not yet its large cities, Damascus, Latakia and Aleppo but their vital economies are collapsing.
The harshest sanctions ever imposed, those against Saddam Hussein's Iraq that killed more than half of a million people, mostly children and the elderly did not accomplish or even threaten regime change. The economy collapsing, especially when Syria will continue to have some supplies of basic foods would actually make regime survival easier.

More from Margolis:
Syria is a long-time ally of Iran. The Western powers and Israel are avid to tear apart Syria, thus dealing a severe blow to not only Iran, but Syria’s other allies, Lebanon’s Hezbullah and Palestine’s Hamas.

Equally important, if Syria collapses, its highly strategic Golan Heights, annexed by Israel since 1967, will remain unchallenged in Israel’s hands. Golan is Israel’s primary source of ground water.

A splintering Syria will be a catastrophe for the central Mideast. But the US, France, Israel and Britain are so blinded by their anti-Iran passion, they are ready to destroy Syria to get at Great Satan Iranian. That’s like burning down your house to get rid of mice.
And Neelabh Mishra from an Indian publication, Outlook India:
The so-called uprising in Syria lies largely along an arc of towns near the borders—with Lebanon, Iraq or Turkey—indicating a degree of backing from across the borders. Non-western diplomats talk of four strands of opposition: a) Peasants uncomfortable with the recent market-driven policies of the Assad government. It’s an ‘economic resentment’, articulated in the terminology of popular non-fundamentalist Islam. b) Progressive sections of the middle classes, who genuinely want democratic reforms. c) Wahabi hardline Islamists backed by fundamentalist Arab elements, largely from Saudi Arabia. d) People who resented the secularist, Arab socialist Ba’ath party takeover and left Syria for western pastures. They have made their money in the West, live there and want to refashion Syria with western support, in the western image, and allied to western interests.

Government leaders like Bouthaina and foreign minister Walid al-Moallem differentiate between what they call the opposition rooted in the country and the violent armed bands, backed by foreign powers, which infiltrate their peaceful demonstrations. Certain Syria-based opposition groups responded to the government’s negotiation initiative, opened through the offices of the Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun. He told us his son was recently assassinated by fundamentalist Islamists. About democratic reforms, Bouthaina sounds quite candid: “We are serious in recognising that reforms are Syria’s need of the hour.” Hence, she says, the government has lifted the emergency enforced for decades in Syria and announced a timeline for multi-party parliamentary elections in February next year, governorate elections, also in November 2012, and presidential elections in 2014. Therefore the government accepted the Arab League’s proposal for widened talks with the opposition, but it is adamant in not compromising with Syria’s secular ethos.
My position on Syria has not changed much over the last few weeks. The plan presented by Assad according to Outlook India is much more democratic than that presented by Egypt's pro-US military dictatorship. Given that Assad is able to rally large demonstrations of support, it is more likely than not that despite the funds that I (agreeing with Eric Margolis) am sure Saudi Arabia and Turkey are making available to rebels, the Syrian protests will fade out in a manner similar to the eventual fade of Iran's Green protests.

The same basic reason holds. In Iran, there was no compelling argument that the central claim, of electoral fraud, was true, so there was no fuel to sustain increases unrest in the face of government efforts to stifle that unrest. In Syria, in the end I expect to see that support among the population of Syria for what we saw in Libya or Iraq instead of non-violent elections on dates already announced will not remain at high enough levels to sustain the uprising.

An opposition needs a compelling story. The votes were stolen would have been a compelling story in Iran if evidence to support it had emerged. Assad is not respecting the wishes of the majority of Syrians by remaining would have been a more compelling story if Assad had not announced election dates.

What I hope Assad does now is that in February, come what may, the polls remain open long enough that there is no question the regime made an effort to gauge the will of the people in the revolting towns. The central cities are very likely to be open, and enough of the population resides in those cities that if the opposition is able to hamper voting along the border, numerically the election results can still be persuasive.

I guess the US and Israel hope Turkey has invaded by then. An invasion would be a bad move. Turkey would not prove to be better at holding Syrian territory than Israel was at holding Lebanese territory. Hezbollah-style rather than tank-heavy armies are the way of the future in the Middle East. Turkey would be helping Syria revolutionize its armed forces if it tries to take territory. It would be a horrible move for Turkey and I would have been sure six months ago that Erdogan would not make a mistake like that, but am less certain today.

Saudi Arabia is leading the pro-US dictatorships into more active hostility with Syria but short of a war against Turkey, Assad's hold on power is not particularly threatened for the time it will take to reach elections, which will give us a lot of new information about the legitimacy of Assad's regime.

As has become usual from Barack Obama, US policy is squarely on the side of useless preventable loss of human life and a total disregard Arab or non-Jewish life in the Middle East. The US' current policy regarding Syria is as bad Obama's Middle East policies almost always are. Fortunately, Syria has a better than even chance of averting the fate the US has planned for it on Israel's behalf.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Capitalism, imperialism and Zionism

I want to put into one place my thoughts on what is the root cause of what, between capitalism, imperialism and Zionism. There is an argument that the Middle East is so strategically important, or has so much oil, that there is an imperialistic or capitalist impulse to station an outpost there, and Zionism is an expression of that impulse. In other words, either imperialism created Zionism, or capitalism created Zionism.

Maybe instead of "created" the argument can be that imperialism or capitalism sustains Zionism. And maybe instead of "Zionism", the argument can be that imperialism or capitalism sustains what we know of as the enforced Jewish political majority state of Israel.

Underneath that argument, I think, is the idea that international strategy, as practiced by powerful states, empires and power-blocs, is a cold and rational endeavor that should not be explained by sentimentality, emotions or individual biases.

The point of this post is to invite discussion on this topic. So I'll put my position here first.

What I believe the arguments that Zionism is an artifact of a broader phenomenon miss is that Zionism makes other things harder. Capitalist goals are more difficult for Israel's backers to achieve than they would be if there was no Israel. Imperialist goals are more difficult for Israel's backers to achieve than they would be if there was no Israel.

Capitalism first, the US capitalist class would have no problem trading with and profiting from Iran's energy reserves today. The US is foregoing substantial profits for its position with respect to Iran that no US capitalist or strategist believes will ever be recovered.

Iran is also notable in that there has been a clear contest between capitalist interests and Zionist interests in the US political system and Zionism won. An AIPAC lobbyist recounts the story here:
So we get ILSA. It passes overwhelmingly. That same year I brought some Conoco guys to AIPAC's policy conference, where half the House and half the Senate usually attend, and they knew that night that they would never win anything against us. So they began to cooperate. A lot of the oil companies realized, 'We're not gonna beat these guys in Congress, so we might as well try to tailor their activities, where we at least have some room to work.' And I was the go-between. I was the guy.
Not only or even primarily for moral reasons or to be consistent with its professed values, the United States should abandon Zionism for commercial or capitalist reasons. The Middle East would be much different if there had never been an Israel and it would be much different if the US had abandoned Zionism and advocated a one-state egalitarian resolution to the Zionist conflict at any point in its history.

But in those alternative Middle Easts, the United States, it is pretty clear to me, would be collecting more profits in the region rather than less. The huge commercial advantages that US firms enjoyed relative to the rest of the world immediately after World War II would be dissipating more slowly and would today remain larger rather than smaller if the US had not associated itself with Zionism.

Strategically again, the US' goals are more difficult to reach because of its commitment to Zionism than it would be without. The United States does have a strategic interest in ensuring that no one state gains monopoly control over all of the oil in the region. For that reason, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia have to remain in some modicum of balance, with none completely dominant over the other.

But there are other places where the US has an interest in some modicum of balance. For example between France, Great Britain and Germany, between Brazil and Argentina or between South Korea, China and Japan. Those other places are instructive in that the balance does not have to be of artificially weak states.

Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have to, by US strategic goals, be not substantially out of balance with each other, but also - and this is the unique result of the US commitment to Zionism - each weaker than Israel, a country with fewer than six million Jews and no significant natural resources.

Other than the oil states, the United States maintains a string of pro-US colonial dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan and others that provide the US no strategic service at all other than protecting Israel as an enforced majority Jewish political state from those countries' populations.

The US can strategically tolerate popularly accountable governments in Japan, Brazil and France but cannot in Israel's region because its commitment to Zionism poses a more difficult constraint on US strategic policy in the Middle East.

It seems that from a US strategic point of view, the Middle East has worked out for the best. Again, the US was in an unparalleled position of world dominance after World War II and it had enough resources to conduct its strategic policy while bearing the constraints imposed by Zionism. That does not mean Zionism did not make it more difficult.

The United States is actively fighting against the people of the Middle East in a way that it is not fighting against the people of Europe or the people of South America. For the first time that I remember, the administration of the president of the United States, while in office, has begun to admit that it does not believe it can win that fight forever.
First, we cannot ignore the long-term population trends that result from the Israeli occupation. ...

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

And then finally, we must recognize that the ever-evolving technology of war is making it harder to guarantee Israel's security. ...
Looking again at Iran, a plausible-sounding argument can be made that the Shah was trading oil on what for technical reasons, were the best prices he could get. But there was no explaining his relations with Israel. Just as there is no explaining Mubarak's or Tantawi's maintenance of the blockade of Gaza or Jordan's or Saudi Arabia's coordination of their policy regarding the Palestinians with the US and Israel.

Looking at the Cold War, again remembering that the US entered the Cold War with tremendous material and strategic advantages, there should have been no contest for the allegiance of the most religious region in the world for the side that believes that the public sphere should coexist with the separate religious sphere against the side of militant athiests.

Religion should have been one of the US' most powerful weapons for use against the USSR in the Middle East. Zionism instead turned it into a weapon the USSR could use against the US. Nasser, speaking before an audience of trade unionists, justified his relationship with the Soviet Union not in terms of the advancement of workers (and this was a trade union audience) but in terms of the Soviet Union's offers of assistance in overcoming Zionism.
We must know and learn a big lesson today. We must actually see that, in its hypocrisy and in its talks with the Arabs, the United States sides with Israel 100 per cent and is partial in favour of Israel. Why is Britain biased towards Israel? The West is on Israel's side. General de Gaulle's personality caused him to remain impartial on this question and not to toe the US or the British line; France therefore did not take sides with Israel.

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

Today every Arab knows foes and friends. If we do not learn who our enemies and our friends are, Israel will always be able to benefit from this behaviour. It is clear that the United States is an enemy of the Arabs because it is completely biased in favour of Israel. It is also clear that Britain is an enemy of the Arabs because she, too, is completely biased in favour of Israel. On this basis we must treat our enemies and those who side with our enemies as actual enemies. We can accord them such treatment. In fact we are not States without status. We are States of status occupying an important place in the world. Our States have thousands of years of civilization behind them -7,000 years of civilization. Indeed, we can do much; we can expose the hypocrisy - the hypocrisy of our enemies if they try to persuade us that they wish to serve our interest. The United States seeks to serve only Israel's interests. Britain also seeks to serve only Israel's interests.
West ended up militarily overpowering Nasser's Egypt by using resources from its member countries but we should not lose sight of the fact that but for Zionism, the West need have no more reason to defeat Egypt than it ever had to defeat Brazil in war.

Zionism makes dictatorships like Iran's Shah or those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others necessary from a US strategic point of view while at the same time provides a clear, easy to understand and nearly universally agreed-upon popular criticism of the stooge dictatorships the US needs. This is an intrinsically unstable arrangement and US strategists have the luxury of tolerating more stable arrangements everywhere else in the world.

The place where US strategic policy is most likely to go wrong, the place where the most strategic, diplomatic and military efforts must be exerted to prevent US strategic objectives from failing is the Middle East. Because of Zionism.

So I still believe the best explanation for US support of Israel is that US Jews form the heart of an effective lobbying group on Israel's behalf. Because of this lobbying, the United States pays a far higher price to achieve its capitalist and imperialist objectives than it does elsewhere in the world and that it would if it advocated a South Africa-style one state resolution to the conflict over Zionism.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

New Brookings poll of some Arab countries

There are some interesting results. The people of the Middle East are aware of the destructive role the US plays in their region.

More people in the Middle East think the US is primarily motivated by controlling oil than by protecting Israel. This continues a trend over the last two years and is the first of the last three years that controlling oil has overtaken Israel.

The US oil lobby has directly attempted to oppose the Israel lobby and was humiliated.
A lot of the oil companies realized, 'We're not gonna beat these guys in Congress, so we might as well try to tailor their activities, where we at least have some room to work.'
So I hold that many Arabs mistaken impression of US motivation. But the numbers show that impression:

Which TWO of the following factors do you
believe are most important in driving
American policy in the Middle East?
2011 2010 2009
Controlling oil 53 47 39
Protecting Israel 44 50 52
Weakening the Muslim world 32 34 38
Preserving regional and global dominance 29 36 25
Promoting peace and stability 8 6 8
Fighting terrorism 8 5 4

I encourage anyone to scroll through the released results for yourself.

What two countries pose the biggest threat to you?
Israel 71%
US 59%
Iran 18%

There is international pressure on Iran to curtail its nuclear program. What is your opinion?
Iran has a right to its program 64% (53% in 2009)
Iran should be pressured to stop its nuclear program 25% (40% in 2009)

I also note that Brookings was careful not to ask directly what the respondents think about Israel’s legitimacy as a enforced Jewish majority state.

Instead it asks if Israel returns all 1967 territory, which is not even on the table, would the respondents accept Israel. The results were still not positive for Israel, but more positive than a relevant question would have yielded.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Netanyahu is lying, but he is also right about the potential of the Arab Spring

Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking before the Israeli Knesset, explained why Israel opposes pro-democracy movements in its region:
He said the Arab Spring was becoming an "Islamic, anti-western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave".

Speaking to the parliament amid renewed protests and violence in Egypt, Mr Netanyahu said concessions to the Palestinians were unwise in a period of instability in the region.

"In February, when millions of Egyptians thronged to the streets in Cairo, commentators and quite a few Israeli members of the opposition said that we're facing a new era of liberalism and progress … They said I was trying to scare the public and was on the wrong side of history and don't see where things are heading." But, he told the Knesset, events had proved him correct.

When he cautioned Barack Obama and other Western leaders against backing the revolt against Hosni Mubarak's regime, he was told he failed to understand reality. "I ask today, who here didn't understand reality? Who here didn't understand history?"
I've seen several polls asking various Middle Eastern populations whether or not they consider Israel as an enforced political majority Jewish entity a legitimate state.

I've never seen even 30% of any population answer yes.

An Egypt that does not consider Israel legitimate (and that thereby reflects the values, beliefs and sensibilities of the Egyptian people), even if for pragmatic reasons it does not break the treaty or send tanks toward Tel Aviv, makes Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state a lot less viable. For example, just by making it impossible to squeeze the people of Gaza if they elect a party like Hamas.

If Saudi Arabia, which already spends more than 2.5 times as much as Israel on weapons, has a bigger area, and whose location could put all of Israel's territory under a modern anti-aircraft umbrella, had policies that matched the values, beliefs and sensibilities of its people it would render Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state almost immediately non-viable.

Egypt becoming democratic not only threatens Israel directly, but weakens by example the dictatorships Israel needs in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others.

Netanyahu is basically right. Israel needs a region of pro-US colonial-style dictatorships. He uses terms as favorable to his party and to Israel as possible, but looking past those terms, if the US is unwilling to support dictatorships, there can be no Israel.

That puts the questions back on Westerners. Are you willing to support colonial dictatorships for Israel's sake, how much are you willing to sacrifice of your own blood and treasure to do that, and how do you justify your stance?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Aaron Jakes explains Tahrir Square as part of Egypt's ongoing struggle against colonialism

A very important opinion piece to read over at Al Jazeera English. Written by Aaron Jakes, a doctoral candidate in the departments of History and Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University.
Given the extraordinary eventfulness of the present, it is hardly surprising that few, if any, commentators have thought to dwell on so banal a matter as the name of a street. But doing so begins to disclose a bitter and potentially instructive irony in the current moment. The Mohammad Mahmoud in question was one of the four members of the original wafd or "delegation" that sought to represent Egypt at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and thereby to argue before the international community for Egypt's independence from British colonial rule. On March 8, 1919, in an effort to forestall any threat to their Egyptian Protectorate, British authorities arrested all four men and exiled them to Malta. The following day, groups of students began organising demonstrations in the major streets and squares of Cairo; within a week, protests against British rule had spread to Egypt's other major cities as well as hundreds of towns and villages throughout the countryside.

From the earliest days of the January 25 uprising onwards, political analysts both in Egypt and abroad have expressed an eagerness to adduce comparative cases as lenses through which to view the present and, perhaps, glimpse the future. At various points in the last 10 months, we have heard that Egypt today could become Turkey after 1961, France after 1968, Iran after 1979, or Poland after 1989. Lost in the face of this compulsive yearning to conjure the ideal model are the possibilities both that what we are now witnessing might be genuinely new, and that Egypt's own history might in some way help us to understand the significance of the present.

Greater attention to that history reveals that Egypt's current military rulers are the inheritors not merely of the Mubarak regime but also of the colonial order that the events of 1919 failed to fully overturn. Throughout the long decades following the British occupation of Egypt in 1882, colonial rule rested on a rigid logic of security that rejected the very notion that Egyptians themselves might be capable of serious political thought. As a budding nationalist movement mounted its first vocal challenges to colonial occupation in the early decades of the twentieth century, the Interior Ministry became the central node in an increasingly dense network of surveillance and repression. So confident were British officials in the effectiveness of this security apparatus and the superficiality of calls for popular mobilisation that they dismissed the first protests in March 1919 as limited to a mere clique of disgruntled and unemployed youth with no better use for their time.

Unfinished business

The unprecedented movement of Egyptians all across the country that ensued from those early demonstrations quickly overwhelmed British expectations. When at last the combined forces of the occupying army and the Interior Ministry were able to quell months of strikes and protests, the British were compelled to reconsider their position towards Egypt. The eventual outcome of that process was the unilateral decision in March 1922 to grant Egypt a qualified independence. Although the country would be governed thereafter as a constitutional monarchy, the British retained the right to intervene in any matters seen to affect the security of imperial communications, the interests and safety of foreigners on Egyptian soil, the threat of foreign invasion, or the status of Egypt's relationship with the Sudan.
Following the discussion of the Arab Spring in the West, there is a constant and insistent refrain from the the Western Middle East policy establishment. That this is not about the United States and not about Israel. It is kind of defensive and I've always thought mildly wrong being that the US hasn't been randomly supporting these dictatorships for generations. But recent events in Egypt shine new light on exactly what that refrain means.

Hillary Clinton and the Barack Obama administration, even before the Arab Spring began, had begun to claim that the US wants "reform" in its colonies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others. That formulation has always been consistent with a veneer of political participation without government being fully accountable to the people governed.

That would be, of course, the most recent echo of "constitutional monarchy, the British retained the right to intervene in any matters seen to affect the security of imperial communications, the interests and safety of foreigners on Egyptian soil, the threat of foreign invasion, or the status of Egypt's relationship with the Sudan." In Clinton's version, the US would retain the right to intervene in matters seen to affect especially the security of Israel and other possible US regional interests.

Mubarak's successor as Egypt's pro-US dictator, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, proposed to the people of Egypt to stall any transfer of power to civilians until 2013, after the US presidential election is over, to reserve a right for the military to overturn decisions of the civil government and to withhold the military's budget from civilian scrutiny.

Juan Cole presented this stalling and limitation of the power of elected officials as situation as steps that may prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from making Egypt more religious. This was, to him, "co-existence" between the military and civilian government, as opposed to what Cole claimed the Muslim Brotherhood wanted, which is also what the United States has, which is the subordination of the military to civilian rule.

Underlying this, when we hear this refrain from Tom Friedman, or Hillary Clinton, or Charlie Rose or Barack Obama is the idea that the people of Egypt don't really want to control Egypt's policy with respect to Israel. That is not what the Arab Spring is "about". The people of Egypt will be happy, or satisfied with an elected body with some nominal control over purely domestic issues but limited in its authority in the area the US cares about.

That's good enough for them.

This is the US vision for all of its colonies and the people of Egypt this week are saying that the limited authority Egypt's current pro-US dictator has offered is not enough. Once again, the military's proposal did not become unacceptable when people died opposing it. By the values the US claims to uphold, this suggestion never should have been made.

Juan Cole more recently points out that Leon Panetta publicly called for Tantawi to lift the state of emergency. Tantawi seems to have said no. Tantawi did not say no to the US order to maintain the siege on Gaza. He did not say no to the US order to restore the unpopular gas pipeline to Israel that Egyptians have destroyed many times. He did not say no to the order to use special forces to free the Israeli embassy. But in Cole's story, Tantawi suddenly grows an independent spirit when the US suggests he lift the state of emergency. Cole's story is not believable. The same pressure that the US applies to help Israel keep Gaza on a diet, or to ensure that children in Gaza go hungry for their parents' voting for the wrong party, could and by the US' professed values, should have been applied to ensure that Tantawi kept his earlier commitment to elections by September earlier this year.

Instead Egyptians are dying in protest. There is no indication that the predictable and preventable deaths of Egyptians matters to Cole or Obama in the least. There was an explicit attempt by the Tantawi dictatorship to retain for the US, in the spirit of Imperial Great Britain in 1922, the right to override the decisions of any Egyptian elected officials on matters that concern the US.

When Westerners say the Arab Spring is not about Israel, that statement is superficially true, but it is leading in a false, dangerous and condescending direction. The suggestion it makes is that the people of the Arab world should be happy with a different, limited, 1922, form of "democracy". The kind of "democracy" that could see the government of 80 million Egyptians, regardless of the views or sensibilities of those Egyptians, cooperate with a siege on over a million fellow Arabs and fellow Muslims for the sake of the US and Israel.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mohammad Larijani on legal nuclear capability, including sharing with Saudi Arabia

The Charlie Rose Show, on November 18 featured an interview with Mohammad Javad Larijani, head of Iran’s Human Rights Council and close adviser to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that was fairly informative.

Below is the segment regarding the dispute between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program. This transcription is at from about 13:50 until about 19:35 in the interview after which Rose moves to the subject of sanctions.
ROSE: There has been an argument, I think, by Graham Allison and I want to be clear about this, in which he suggests you look at this on a football field and if, an American football field, and if you're advancing down the field that Iran is about at the 30 yard line, so it's already advanced 70 yards. It has 30 yards to go to have a nuclear program on explosive devices and you only have 30 to go and that you can take 20% enriched and over a process of a couple of years make it into weapon grade material

LARIJANI: Well, this is not a good similarity. I mean, we are, right now, if you ask in terms of real work in the field, we are 100% away from the military use. If you ask in terms of capability, hypothetically, is Iran capable to do that if it decides, obviously yes. Any country who has nuclear technology is capable of doing that. I mean the Germans can do it in two months. The Japanese in less than a month or others in

ROSE: Is that where you want to be though? Do you want to be exactly where the Germans and Japanese are?

LARIJANI: We want to be beyond them because this is capability here

ROSE: But you want to have the same capability that the Japanese and the Germans do

LARIJANI: It is a natural outcome. If you are advanced in this area of science, then you will acquire this capability

ROSE: But that's an interesting question. If you're saying, yes you want the same capability that Japan and Germany have

LARIJANI: Beyond that. We even want to get more sophisticated then they

ROSE: Then you want to have the capability that would allow you to, if you decided to take the additional step of making a nuclear device, happen within months, that's the capacity you would like to have?

LARIJANI: So what? Should we be punished because we are advanced?


LARIJANI: It is like a man who has faculty of thinking, then you say "Ok, if you are strong in thinking, you may think in the wrong direction. So, close out your thinking." I mean, this is the natural capacity of a nation. How should we be deprived of that? Is there a limit for Iranians for advancement in science and technology?

ROSE: So you're basically saying, we want the capacity to make a nuclear weapon


ROSE: Even though we don't have a program to actually make a weapon we just want the capacity, which is exactly what the Japanese have

LARIJANI: Even that is not the correct wording

ROSE: What's the wording? The ability, the capacity, the materials?

LARIJANI: The correct wording is that we want advancement in science and technology related to nuclear area, not directed toward the weapon area

ROSE: So you want to be at a level where instantly you could turn it

LARIJANI: It's naturally, it comes. If you are advanced in making a good machine then you can make another machine

ROSE: The problem comes in the debate. There is a great fear of Iran having a nuclear weapon. It would destabilize the region and many other reasons are expressed. It violates the NPT and all of that. If Iran violates the NPT, so will other countries violate the NPT as you well know. They worry about that. Do you worry about that?

LARIJANI: Not at all.

ROSE: You don't worry about that?

LARIJANI: Not at all. Instability in the region is not stemming from Iran. Violating the NPT also is not a big problem for the United States.

ROSE: Would you like to Saudi Arabia have a nuclear weapon? Would you like to see, ah?

LARIJANI: Nuclear weapon or nuclear technology? Two things.

ROSE: Ok. Fair. Nuclear weapon. Would you like to see Saudi Arabia, would you like it to have a nuclear weapon?

LARIJANI: We are a signatory of NPT, we are a sincere signatory to the NPT. We think non-proliferation is a benefit of Iran and all of us.

ROSE: Would you like to see Saudi Arabia have the same kind of capability to produce a nuclear weapon that you say, capability, if you decided to go that last distance

LARIJANI: We are an advocate of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. But in terms of developing nuclear technology for all other peaceful uses, we are even ready to share with them our capability. No problem.

ROSE: All of it?


ROSE: How close are you if you wanted to today, today, to make a nuclear weapon, an explosive device, how close are you if, in fact, you made that decision?

LARIJANI: Well, professionally, I cannot answer that rigorously, only thing, because it depends on a lot of points, but I tell you personally that to build a bomb is not a big deal, I mean from the technological point of view

ROSE: Having the material to build a bomb is a big deal otherwise you wouldn't be engaged in this

LARIJANI: (Nodding no) I mean, you see Pakistan already has a bomb

ROSE: many bombs

LARIJANI: but their technology is far behind us, in nuclear sense. To build a bomb through plutonium, they use a candle-type reactor, but, well, we think the area of science and technology in this area is so interesting. I mean, why would we need a weapon at all? We are so strong in the region. We are capable to deter any eminent threat. Why would we need an atomic bomb?

ROSE: That's a very good question

LARIJANI: We don't need it

ROSE: Ok, but you do need the capacity do to it. You've just said that.

LARIJANI: No. The capacity is natural. When you get strong you can lift heavy weight. I mean, this is obvious.

ROSE: Let's see. I hear you, and I hear you clearly.
I want to highlight this exchange:
ROSE: Would you like to see Saudi Arabia have the same kind of capability to produce a nuclear weapon that you say, capability, if you decided to go that last distance

LARIJANI: We are an advocate of a Middle East free of nuclear weapons. But in terms of developing nuclear technology for all other peaceful uses, we are even ready to share with them our capability. No problem.
The supposed rivalry between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia goes in only one direction: from Israel against Iran. Saudi Arabia takes Israeli orders transmitted through the United States, but this is not an organic dispute.

When Iran and Saudi Arabia were fellow US colonies with Iran ruled by the Shah, the two countries had good relations. When what we call Saudi Arabia gets, like Iran, a political system that reflects the values and positions of the people governed rather than the instructions from the US embassy, they are going to have good relations again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

"2011: An Arab Springtime?" An article by Samir Amin

I've recently read an article by Samir Amin, the director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal mostly about the current anti-dictatorship movement in Egypt called 2011: An Arab Springtime?

Samir Amin does a service in presenting Egypt's current anti-dictatorship movement as part of a particularly long tradition in Egypt of working to free itself from colonial subjugation. It is very thought-provoking to look at Tahrir Square in 2011 as the continuation of a process that began even before 1820 of efforts to render Egypt independent of foreign control.

Amin strikes me though as unjustifiably hostile against Islamism. I don't see the degree of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak that Amin sees, much less his cooperation between Islamists and the West.

Lastly, there are groups in Egypt that Amin supports as a socialist. Workers groups and non-bourgeois religious groups. These are the groups that I understand Amin to want to see gain power. I don't have any particular Egyptian group that I'm rooting for, as long as Egyptians are able to debate policy among themselves and through some mechanism the views and values of the median Egyptian are reflected in policy.

I would agree with Amin that democracy is not everything and that oppression and imbalanced relationships and injustice can and will continue after Egyptians have put into place a process to choose their own leaders. But that is a better problem to have than the problem of being ruled by a foreign-controlled colonial government as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE and others are. I also have a substantial degree of faith that if Egyptians are able to hold their leadership accountable, they will make the best progress I can hope for towards addressing other problems.

In fact, if Egypt has a representative government and I believe it is not solving problems adequately, my opinion by that point is irrelevant. All I want is for Egypt to be ruled by the winners of peaceful and graceful Egyptian political processes. If Egypt's voters make mistakes by my standards or especially by theirs, Egypt's voters have the right to make mistakes and to learn from them as they will.

So that was my impression of the article from memory. I'm going to look over it for quotations that struck me as memorable.
Egypt was the first country in the periphery of globalized capitalism that tried to “emerge.” Even at the start of the 19th century, well before Japan and China, the Viceroy Mohammed Ali had conceived and undertaken a program of renovation for Egypt and its near neighbors in the Arab Mashreq [Mashreq means “East,” i.e., eastern North Africa and the Levant, ed.]. That vigorous experiment took up two-thirds of the 19th century and only belatedly ran out of breath in the 1870′s, during the second half of the reign of the Khedive Ismail. The analysis of its failure cannot ignore the violence of the foreign aggression by Great Britain, the foremost power of industrial capitalism during that period. Twice, in [the naval campaign of] 1840 and then by taking control of the Khedive’s finances during the 1870′s, and then finally by military occupation in 1882, England fiercely pursued its objective: to make sure that a modern Egypt would fail to emerge. Certainly the Egyptian project was subject to the limitations of its time since it manifestly envisaged emergence within and through capitalism, unlike Egypt’s second attempt at emergence—which we will discuss further on. That project’s own social contradictions, like its underlying political, cultural, and ideological presuppositions, undoubtedly had their share of responsibility for its failure. The fact remains that without imperialist aggression those contradictions would probably have been overcome, as they were in Japan.
I consider this very important history to keep in mind when looking at today's anti-dictatorship protest movement. The movement did not start in 2011 but is the continuation of a now centuries-old drive to deal with similar external forces that have been working to control Egypt to advance external agendas.
A first coup d’├ętat in 1952 by the “Free Officers,” and above all a second coup in 1954 by which Nasser took control, was taken by some to “crown” the continual flow of struggles and by others to put it to an end. Rejecting the view of the Egyptian awakening advanced above, Nasserism put forth an ideological discourse that wiped out the whole history of the years from 1919 to 1952 in order to push the start of the “Egyptian Revolution” to July 1952. At that time many among the communists had denounced this discourse and analyzed the coups d’├ętat of 1952 and 1954 as aimed at putting an end to the radicalization of the democratic movement. They were not wrong, since Nasserism only took the shape of an anti-imperialist project after the Bandung Conference of April 1955. Nasserism then contributed all it had to give: a resolutely anti-imperialist international posture (in association with the pan-Arab and pan-African movements) and some progressive (but not “socialist”) social reforms. The whole thing done from above, not only “without democracy” (the popular masses being denied any right to organize by and for themselves) but even by “abolishing” any form of political life. This was an invitation to political Islam to fill the vacuum thus created. In only ten short years (1955-1965) the Nasserist project used up its progressive potential. Its exhaustion offered imperialism, henceforward led by the United States, the chance to break the movement by mobilizing to that end its regional military instrument: Israel. The 1967 defeat marked the end of the tide that had flowed for a half-century. Its reflux was initiated by Nasser himself who chose the path of concessions to the Right (the infitah or “opening,” an opening to capitalist globalization of course) rather than the radicalization called for by, among others, the student movement (which held the stage briefly in 1970, shortly before and then after the death of Nasser). His successor, Sadat, intensified and extended the rightward turn and integrated the Muslim Brotherhood into his new autocratic system. Mubarak continued along the same path.
For all of my admiration of Nasser, he was not an advocate for democracy which I have to see as a weakness or valid criticism of him. Noam Chomsky also says that Israel did the US a service by confronting Egyptian nationalism. Other than Israel, I don't think Egyptian nationalism by 1960 posed a particular threat to the West. If not for Israel, the United States would have had a much bigger advantage in the Middle East in its Cold War contest against the militantly atheist USSR. I don't think of Israel as the West's regional military instrument but rather as a burden the West carries for various reasons that I discuss elsewhere.

But about the idea that Sadat integrated the Muslim Brotherhood into Egyptian society and Mubarak continued that, I'm very skeptical. Many Islamists were tortured after the assassination of Sadat and the Egyptian state could fairly by that point have been said to be at war with political Islam.
The collusion between the imperialist powers and political Islam is, of course, neither new nor particular to Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, from its foundation in 1927 up to the present, has always been a useful ally for imperialism and for the local reactionary bloc. It has always been a fierce enemy of the Egyptian democratic movements. And the multibillionaires currently leading the Brotherhood are not destined to go over to the democratic cause! Political Islam throughout the Muslim world is quite assuredly a strategic ally of the United States and its NATO minority partners. Washington armed and financed the Taliban, who they called “Freedom Fighters,” in their war against the national/popular regime (termed “communist”) in Afghanistan before, during, and after the Soviet intervention. When the Taliban shut the girls’ schools created by the “communists” there were “democrats” and even “feminists” at hand to claim that it was necessary to “respect traditions!”
If the Muslim Brotherhood does take steps to deny voting rights to Egyptians or demonstrates a refusal to accept the results of elections, then those steps or that demonstration will be a valid criticism of the Muslim Brotherhood. So far, I have not seen the Muslim Brotherhood act against democracy and am optimistic that I will not. A government that the Muslim Brotherhood, at the very least, can work with is nearly certain to be the result of any reasonably democratic Egyptian political process. I just cannot go along with Amin's portrayal of the group, in today's context, as an opponent of democracy or ally of the imperialists.
Mao was not wrong when he affirmed that really existing (which is to say, naturally imperialist) capitalism had nothing to offer to the peoples of the three continents (the periphery made up of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—a “minority” counting 85% of world population!) and that the South was a “storm zone,” a zone of repeated revolts potentially (but only potentially) pregnant with revolutionary advances toward socialist transcendence of capitalism.

The “Arab spring” is enlisted in that reality. The case is one of social revolts potentially pregnant with concrete alternatives that in the long run can register within a socialist perspective. Which is why the capitalist system, monopoly capital dominant at the world level, cannot tolerate the development of these movements. It will mobilize all possible means of destabilization, from economic and financial pressures up to military threats. It will support, according to circumstances, either fascist and fascistic false alternatives or the imposition of military dictatorships. Not a word from Obama’s mouth is to be believed. Obama is Bush with a different style of speech. Duplicity is built into the speech of all the leaders of the imperialist triad (United States, Western Europe, Japan).
If you look at South America, or the rest of Africa or the rest of Asia, you will not see that the US is a particularly benevolent influence in any of them. But you will not see the intensity of intervention, the desperate hostility against democracy that you see from the US in the Middle East anywhere else either. Once a post-Zionist Middle East becomes a region not much different from the rest of the world, there still will be a lot of work to do, but the Middle East is a special case where the West has an additional agenda that Amin does not seem to me to be fully taking into account.

Amin is mostly right, but Egypt is not like, say South Korea. Israel would not be viable of Egypt achieved South Korea's levels of industrialization and technology so the Egyptian people are in a more profound conflict with the US as Israel's patron than even the people of South Korea - which is not to deny or belittle the degree that the people of South Korea have been in conflict with the US.

All in all, I found it a good and interesting article. I'm most appreciative that it connects the current movement to a longer struggle. I am not as anti-Islamist as Amin is though.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saudi anger at the US supposedly makes Saudi Arabia work harder for US/Israeli interests

One reads these stories about how Saudi Arabia is upset with the United States - most recently one by David Ignatius in the Washington Post and thinks "he can't be serious".
Saudis describe the kingdom’s growing role as a reaction, in part, to the diminished clout of the United States. They still regard the U.S.- Saudi relationship as valuable, but it’s no longer seen as a guarantor of their security. For that, the Saudis have decided they must rely more on themselves — and, down the road, on a wider set of friends that includes their military partner, Pakistan, and their largest oil customer, China.
So the story apparently is that Saudi Arabia is angry with the United States for not supporting Mubarak and for abandoning its demand that Israel stop its settlement expansion. In its anger, Saudi Arabia is buying more weapons from the United States, giving more money to pro-US dictatorships in the region and taking more aggressive steps against anti-US regimes, most notably Syria.

So what would Saudi Arabia do if it was happy with the United States?

Another part of the story is that Saudi Arabia is going to be more confrontational against Iran. Why? The people of Iran disagree with the people of the United States about whether or not Israel is legitimate. But the people of Iran agree with the people of Saudi Arabia about that. Israel sees Iran as its enemy, but why would Saudi Arabia?

This supposed rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran (that began when the Shah was removed) was concocted entirely in Washington DC and Tel Aviv with instructions issued to the Saudi government through the US embassy. It is really a conceptual mistake to think of Saudi Arabia as an independent agent in the Middle East. The Saudi government is an arm of US Middle East policy. Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others, is effectively a US colony - accountable for policy only to the United States and certainly not to any domestic constituency.
Big weapons purchases have been a Saudi penchant for decades. More interesting, in some ways, is their quiet effort to provide support to friendly regimes to keep the region from blowing itself up in this period of instability. The Saudis have budgeted $4 billion this year to help Egypt, $1.4 billion for Jordan, and $500 million annually over the next decade for Bahrain and Oman. They will doubtless pump money, as well, to Syria, Yemen and Lebanon once the smoke clears in those volatile countries.

“In outlays, we’ve budgeted $15 billion a year just to keep the peace,” says one Saudi source, adding up the economic assistance to Arab neighbors. But that’s hardly a stretch for a country that, by year-end, will have about $650 billion in foreign reserves.
None of the countries in the string of US colonies in the Middle East would pursue policies remotely resembling those we see if domestic voters could remove them for failing to adhere to the values of the people they rule. But Saudi Arabia, in coordination with the United States, is spending huge amounts of money to prevent that from happening.

Which brings us to Ignatius and articles like this - articles that claim that Saudi Arabia is asserting its independence from the United States without pointing to any action that the United States would not approve of. The point of this article is exactly to direct the readers attention away from relationships that, in 2011, does not differ in any tangible way from the relationship the predecessor governments of today's colonies had with Imperial Great Britain in 1911.

What Ignatius is doing is helping Americans behave as colonialists without thinking of themselves as colonialists. Americans are sometimes offended at the suggestion that the relationship between the US and most of the Arab world is colonial, but not offended by the fact that these governments are accountable to the US and not to their own people.

Saudi Arabia spends almost two and a half times more money on weapons than Israel and buys its weapons from a supplier that explicitly commits that Israel will militarily dominate Saudi Arabia and any combination of other countries that might join it. Saudi Arabia does not respond to Israel's nuclear program. Saudi Arabia uses its money to oppose every anti-Zionist organization in its region. Saudi Arabia does these things because the United States tells it to. If instead, the US instructed the Saudi government to hold contested national elections, the Saudi government would submit to that US demand just as easily.

Ignatius, this story and all of these stories that we are reading ultimately are aimed at distracting Americans away from the realities of the relationship between the US and the string of colonial dictatorships that the US maintains for Israel's sake. They are effective because Americans want to be distracted. It is a small piece of good news that the minority of people in the West who don't participate in this multi-sided delusion does seem to me to be growing.

Thoughts on articles suggested by commenters

I often run out of things to write because while most Westerners wildly misunderstand the Middle East, it is only because they misunderstand a small number of specific things:
    1) Right now we're waiting on Egypt, which is by far the current situation with the most potential to reshape the Middle East.
    2) The Western position on Iran's nuclear program is literally indefensible.
    3) There is a string of colonies that the US maintains, for Israel's sake, over Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE and others.
    4) The US' relationship with those countries and with the rest of the region is both indefensible by the US' own values and massively costly.
    5) If the US was to lose its control of those colonies, Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state would not be viable the way South Africa as an enforced White political majority state was not viable.

There may be some other statements I've missed, but from a Western foreign policy perspective, that is a summary of Middle East and I often feel like I'm writing combinations of those five statements in article form over and over. Because of that, I've invited anyone who comments on my blog to suggest articles for me to write about.

Pirouz_2 has accepted that invitation.
By the way, I remember you were saying that you wouldn't mind commenting on any articles we suggest. Recently I read the following article by Samir Amin about Egypt. I was wondering what is your take on it:
I've read the article and will read it again to put my thoughts into a post later today. I reiterate my invitation to anyone reading this who has any suggestion about an article on the internet.

I also wonder, for those who read or comment here, what small number of statements you would present to summarize the state of the Middle East. What you would add to or change in the list I wrote above.

Juan Cole and Egypt's army vs. the people of Egypt

I know that I've recently been writing about Juan Cole too much. Informed Comment is becoming, increasingly, an easy target. During the Bush administration, Cole opposed some of Bush's policies regarding the Middle East and also offered rationales for his opposition that I, maybe mistakenly, interpreted as anti-imperialist/anti-colonialist positions on his part.

So more than other analysts, and maybe more than is fair, seeing Cole now present himself as a full-fledged advocate for the US' nominally indirect colonial control of the region is disconcerting for me. That's my explanation for emphasis I've given here recently to one English-language blog. On the other hand, I don't know of another blogger today as influential on US Middle East policy as Cole. And beginning at latest by the US intervention into Libya, that influence has been pretty much entirely negative. That influence has been used pretty much entirely to justify efforts to sustain the orbit of colonies the US maintains in the region over countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others.

Anyway, Cole once again shocked me yesterday with his rationalization of Egypt's dictator Tantawi's efforts to ensure that Egypt's voters could not alter the relationship the US has established with Egypt's military. Which would mean that Egypt's voters would not be able to overturn foreign or military policies dictated from the US embassy in Cairo.
As the military has taken steps that angered the Brotherhood, that cozy relationship has faltered. The SCAF issued constitutional guidelines, which may make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to change Egyptian law further in a religious direction. And the military postponed the beginning of elections until late November, a step that benefits the secular opposition.

So the protests on Friday demanded not just that the military step down by next May but that it withdraw those constitutional guidelines.

The question of military rule has all along been the other shoe waiting to drop since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February. The Egyptian military hopes for a co-existence with the civilian government once it is established next year. Friday’s protesters want a subordination of the military to the civil state.
"May make it more difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood to change Egyptian law further in a religious direction." A person either respects majority rule or does not. Saying elected representatives should not write the constitution, for any reason, directly contradicts the essence of democracy.

What if the people of Egypt want to change Egyptian law in a religious direction? Who is Cole to say they should not be able to do that? Portugal's voters, analysts or academics cannot impose same-sex marriage on the voters of the United States. And Portugal does not have either the agenda or history of distorting and manipulating political systems that the US has regarding the Middle East.

When the people vote for a different policy is when that different policy should happen. And if you want to see a change in policy, you make your most convincing argument to get the median person in the political system to agree with you. This is not a foreign concept to Juan Cole.

And beyond that, this focus on religious rule is dishonest. Cole has not once said the United States should withdraw cooperation from or take any tangible action regarding Saudi Arabia, today the most restrictive religious-based government in the world. Cole is not justifying popular non-participation in Egypt's constitutional process for the sake of religious rights. He is justifying it for the sake of maintaining Egypt's unpopular cooperation with Israel despite that cooperation being indefensible in terms of the values of the Egyptian people.

But as bad and dishonest as that is, I've seen it before. The stunning statement was "the Egyptian military hopes for a co-existence with the civilian government once it is established next year". "Co-existence"? Cole comes from a country where the highest general salutes the civilian president who often has never served in the armed forces the same way that general would be saluted by any second-month private in the army.

Subordination of the military to civilian rule is widely understood in the West (and by Cole) to be a foundational pre-requisite of democracy. It's actually a cliche. People who don't know anything about politics know that you cannot have democracy without civilian control over the military. To see Cole describe a situation where there is no civilian control over the military as "coexistance" is bizarre.

Juan Cole, just like Barack Obama, has become a great illustration of my contention that across its political and ideological spectrum, the United States is a profoundly negative, even a profoundly evil - in terms of the US' own moral system - influence on the Middle East. This is not a factional problem. Cole and Obama represent the left wing of US policy thought the way Cheney and Bush represent the right wing, but their disdain for the rights of the people of the Middle East is identical.

The United States actively works, constantly and in many ways, to subvert the political rights, sabotage the economic systems and physically attack the over 400 million non-Jewish people of the Middle East ultimately in hopes that fewer than six million Jewish people can more firmly grasp an enforced Jewish political majority state in a region that sees that state's creation and perpetuation as an injustice.

Until at least one faction emerges in the US political system that opposes Zionism, there will be no principled US support of the other values the US claims to uphold. Obama's statement that "sometimes short term interests will not align perfectly with our long term values" is a direct expression of that.

Eventually there will be another Republican US president. Juan Cole's criticisms of that Republican president's policies may give the impression that Cole has any concern at all for the rights, values or lives of non-Jewish people in the Middle East. The same may be true for some future Democratic-party challenger to that Republican president. I won't be fooled again. I regret to admit that it seems I was fooled the first time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Egyptians take to Tahrir Square again

I honestly am optimistic about Egypt.
Tens of thousands of Islamist and secular protesters gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square and Alexandria on Friday for a mass rally to pressure the ruling military council to hand over power to a civilian government.

The demonstration, dubbed the "Friday of One Demand," was called in response to a document of "supraconstitutional" principles floated by the government that declares the military the guardian of "constitutional legitimacy", suggesting the armed forces could have the final word on major policies even after a civilian parliament and president are elected.
The idea that policy should be insulated or protected from the will of the people in the Middle East has a lot of currency in Israel, a lot of currency in the US Congress and a lot of currency in the Barack Obama White House. But it does not have a lot of currency in Egypt.

Despite the parade of US delegations that have been meeting Egypt's current dictator, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in secret, Egypt's military council has not come up with a rationale that they can express in public for why the people of the country should not set Egypt's policy. That is important because there is a limit to how hard anyone will fight for something they do not believe in.

The examples of Iran and Egypt have demonstrated conclusively for the region that the once widely-held idea that Islamism is inherently politically backward compared to secularism is wrong. Turkey's Attaturk and Egypt's Nasser may have subscribed to that idea but history has discredited it.

There still is a fight to come. With presidential elections delayed until 2013 and this weird multi-stage parliamentary election schedule that Tantawi has presented, it is now clear that the dictatorship is stalling on its commitment to relinquish power.

Barack Obama says that short term considerations may override what he claims is some long-term US value for democracy. Every indication is that he is solidly on the side of dictatorship with Tantawi, and that he is on that side for the sake of Israel. I'll say again that Barack Obama is the most spectacular Uncle Tom in world history.

On the other hand, fortunately, Obama and Tantawi cannot alone determine the future of Egypt. I don't think the outcome Obama and Tantawi are aiming for, where there is the veneer of a democratic parliament that not only does not set foreign policy, but that cannot even see the military's budget would be acceptable to the people of Egypt. It seems that Obama and Tantawi want to turn Egypt into Kuwait and call that democracy but I don't think Egypt would be governable by Tantawi if he makes a long-term attempt at it.

Egypt is the one important situation in the Middle East today. Its people have resumed demanding that it leave the colonial orbit Egypt currently inhabits along with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE and others. If the people of Egypt are successful despite the efforts of the United States and the current dictatorship, then a new Middle East will be born.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Stratfor on Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya is more or less right this time

George Friedman from Stratfor's most recent essay about the Middle East is for the most part accurate. It does not make any bold predictions, but does outline the current and coming conflicts.

Iran's best case is that its alignment with the powers in Iraq and Syria will grow closer as US influence in Iraq continues to decline and if Syria does not fall to the current disturbances.

Libya had never been of strategic importance. It was already selling oil, was already not acting against Israel other than purely symbolically. Claims that Gaddafi was a genocidal maniac are just stupid, not worthy of response. What Barack Obama got out of Libya was that he made a statement that leaders who are not pure stooges like Mubarak can also be forced out of power. That statement only cost tens of thousands of unnecessarily lost Libyan lives.

There is currently less focus on the US colonies of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and others when attention is directed toward Libya and Syria. The colonies are more comfortable in this position but again, that is not worth one life. It was a betrayal of humanity for Barack Obama to trade Libyan life as cheaply and easily as he did.

If Syria survives, which still from outside seems the most likely course of events, then Assad's cooperation with Israel and the regional colonies will only decrease. If he falls, that would be a victory for the US and Israel, especially if Syria implodes as Iraq did and becomes unable have an impact on the region outside of its borders.

I'm still hoping this situation resolves relatively gracefully.

Iraq was destroyed by a constant but changing campaign of US hostility that began around 1990. Iraq is now beginning to rebuild but the US has established a presence and vectors of influence on the Iraqi government that though declining, are declining from a previous state of complete dependency. Iraq at its height was more responsive to US direction than even Saudi Arabia. As US influence declines, that is where it is declining from.

The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed there by various US policies since 1990 were killed for a largely successful campaign to prevent Iraq from threatening Israel and the string of colonies the US maintains in the region for Israel's sake. It is interesting that the US also sacrificed over 4400 US troops for this, as well as hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars of costs related to its occupations in the region.

Iraq is now rebuilding, and is somewhat independent. Decades from now when it has restored its ability to influence the region outside its borders it may pose new problems for the US, or the region may by that time be unrecognizable on today's terms.

Egypt's elections remain the crucial event in the upcoming future. The military, certainly with US encouragement, is working to limit the influence Egypt's voters have both on the constitution and on Egyptian foreign policy. But the military does not have a rationale for excluding the people of Egypt that it can say in public and it has active and ideologically coherent opponents. It is not clear that the military will successfully exclude the public from policy after elections now that Mubarak is gone.

The United States continues to make huge sacrifices in diplomatic power, money and lives to remain a negative influence on the region. The net impact of the last twenty years is that after these huge expenditures, the US goal of securing an enforced Jewish political majority state is more difficult to achieve than before.

There is a real question of not only should - which is clearly no from a moral standpoint, even by the professed US moral system - but could the US maintain its commitment to support an enforced Jewish political majority state for twenty more years. By 2031, we'll have seen the answer to that question.

The crazy theory that Israel supports Assad

Our intelligence has been insulted again on Juan Cole's blog, where he claims Israel supports Assad in the current disturbances and says Assad can hang on if Israel provides covert aid. There is no word for this position other than dishonest. Cole knows better and is lying to his readers.

The United States is clearly working to force Assad out. The Obama administration publicly said the opposition should not put down its arms. Obama is not doing this against Israel's wishes.

Where Syria is headed from worst to best case from Israel/US point of view:

1) Assad hangs on and the opposition loses steam and dwindles
2) As in Libya, an opposition council which has made commitments to Western parties takes power by force, holds elections after some delay and maybe, depending on what constitution is written, eventually leaves Syrian foreign policy as independent of US pressure as it is today, but quite plausibly does not.
3) Syria is mired in a deep civil war and internal destruction that makes it unable to influence the rest of the region for an extended period of time, even if hostile forces nominally win. This is what we've seen in Iraq.

If the Muslim Brotherhood completely took over Syria, the worst they could to do Israel is support Hamas and Hezbollah, which is exactly what Assad is doing. Syria is not in a position to wage a conventional war with Israel regardless of its leadership.

Today's Syria, or 2010 Syria is the worst case scenario for Israel. If you disagree, then what specific policy could Syria pursue that would be worse for Israel?

The best case for both the welfare of the people of Syria and for the principle of democracy would be for violence on all sides, particularly against the state to be subdued for long enough for elections to be organized in which anyone, including Assad can campaign and run.

Then after seeing election results it will be clear whether or not Assad has more or less popular support than the very passionate protesters in small cities who have outside support. It is very possible, almost likely, that he does.

If Assad is less popular than some alternative, then a graceful exit should be determined.

US policy, with Cole's support, seems designed to ensure scenario 3 above happens. That is a great outcome for Israel and a horrible outcome for the people of Syria.

Scenario 1 then elections is the only one that could possibly lead to a graceful transition of power even if Assad does not have more popular support than some Syrian alternative. Cole and Obama are doing everything in their power to foreclose this possibility.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dieter Bednarz from Spiegel writes a typically outrageous interview with an Iranian official

Not to learn anything, but as entertainment you may want to read this interview published by Spiegel, a German publication after the recent IAEA report with its much-hyped Annex of Alleged Studies that Baradei refused to include. If I was to guess, the report was written by Gary Samore in the Obama administration and Amano dutifully signed his name onto it.

Here is my favorite moment in the interview, delivered by Dieter Bednarz:
SPIEGEL: Israel's government fears nothing more than a nuclear bomb in your government's hands, and appears to be preparing an attack on your nuclear facilities.

Salehi: We don't anticipate an attack. Israel knows how delicate the situation is. As proof that our nuclear program is peaceful in nature, we have established the conditions necessary for the required IAEA monitoring. I'd also like to point out here that no other country has worked as intensively with the IAEA in this area as the Islamic Republic of Iran.

SPIEGEL: So you claim.

Salehi: During the most recent visit from Herman Nackaerts, the IAEA's head of nuclear inspections, we cooperated with the inspectors beyond the scope of our obligations. Mr. Nackaerts and his boss, Mr. Amano, even thanked us for our cooperation.
I see no indication from the interview that Bednarz understands even the basic outline of the dispute between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear program, but a professional journalist could get up to speed relatively quickly with openly available sources.

One good source would be Daniel Joyner's article "Iran's Nuclear Program and the Legal Mandate of the IAEA", which argues that even if all of the claims of the Annex of the recent IAEA report are true, because that Annex admits the activities do not constitute the construction of any nuclear weapon, those activities are not prohibited by the NPT. This, according to Joyner, is why Amano expresses "concern", but cannot invoke any rule which these activities, if true, violate.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Democracy: Barack Obama's, Juan Cole, and most Westerners' hypocrisy on Syria

The problem with Syria isn’t, or shouldn’t be, that a government kills people it believes threaten its rule. The United States killed 625,000 people on both sides in its Civil War.

The problem is, or should be, that Syria is not accountable to the Syrian people. We don't know if Assad is the most popular political figure in Syria or not. But efforts should be underway to determine his political popularity and to move toward a graceful transition of power, with minimized loss of life, if he is not.

Civil war, which always causes huge losses of life, should be avoided if at all possible. The US should first do no harm. The US should not make statements or take positions that make civil war more likely, as occurred in Libya where that country's tens of thousands of deaths may or may not one day lead to popularly accountable government that may or may not have as much popular support as Gaddafi had.

The US should not actively support dictatorship and should not actively encourage civil war in Syria, just as in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others in the region, most of which have governments that are accountable to the US rather more than to their own people.

Juan Cole, like Barack Obama, should, by the US’ professed values, speak out against all of these governments, and withhold US cooperation for these dictatorial rulerships before hundreds or thousands of people die resisting them. Mubarak did not become a dictator when protesters died occupying Tahrir Square. The United States should, by its professed values, have said Mubarak should relinquish power long before then.

Juan Cole, like Barack Obama, should, by the US’ professed values, say that the dictators of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and others should leave today. Just as much as they say this about Syria.

Neither Obama nor Cole is willing to speak against the pro-US dictatorships in the region. Probably because these pro-US dictatorships are necessary for Israel to be viable, and therefore both of their careers could be threatened by any challenge to US support for these dictatorships.

But the truth is the truth whether or not it appears in speeches by the President of the United States or on the Informed Comment blog.

This leads to the problem (or maybe for Obama and Cole the benefit) with elevating a supposed right to protest above the right to accountable government, or the right of people ruled to government that reflects the values and sensibilities of the majority.

Protests can be manipulated externally, as the US did in Iran in 1953 resulting in the installation of a pro-US stooge dictator. Was foreign assistance covertly used to help establish a liberated territory around Benghazi? What role are foreigners, and what role is the US playing in the conflict in Syria? We may learn a generation from now. Now we know that liberated territory does not happen as the result of peaceful protests. Liberated territory is the result of local armed forces loyal to the state being out-gunned.

If somebody expels all armed forces loyal to the United States federal government from Miami, we can be sure Barack Obama will order columns of tanks with air support to recapture that city. We can also be sure that there will be substantial civilian casualties. Obama will label whoever "liberated" Miami as terrorists in the exact same terms Gaddafi used for the rebels of Benghazi and Assad used for the rebels of Hama.

There are non-violent protests occurring in the United States today. Of course none has established a liberated area the size of a city or town, which is to say a large zone free of security forces aligned with the government. There is no non-violent way to do that.

But because there is no current armed uprising against the pro-US dictatorships of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and others, Obama and Cole are comfortable supporting these governments with their silence.

About Egypt, I hope Egypt escapes from the US colonial orbit that it is in now. But no transfer of power to a civilian government has been committed to this or next year, and there are emerging signs that any transfer, if it does happen, will be incomplete, and will not make Egypt's policy regarding Israel accountable to any government elected by the Egyptian people.

There is no reason to expect Obama or Cole to be more critical of a post-Tahrir unaccountable government than they were of Egypt pre-Tahrir. Or than they are of the other effective US colonies in the region. Not to defend them, but to understand them:

1) They have no choice. Neither could hold their current positions if they did not support, or if it was perceived that their support was even in question for whatever is necessary for there to be a viable enforce-majority Jewish political state in Palestine.

2) They are American. They developed both personally and professionally in environments where it has always been assumed that the interests of the non-White people (as defined by US terms) of the region should be secondary to those of the Whites of the region. This may seem more surprising regarding Obama than Cole, but Obama's childhood home was racially more similar to Cole's than it was to, say, Jesse Jackson's.

With great courage and honesty, both of these two factors could be overcome. Unfortunately great courage or honesty cannot be attributed to either Barack Obama or Juan Cole especially on this issue.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why is it important to Westerners that Iran not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities?

I asked this question over at and got answers that though over-wordy and indirect, essentially confirmed that for Western analysts, Israel has turned the Middle East into a special region where it is important for one country to have a monopoly on both actual nuclear weapons and the technological capabilities to make them. Despite reluctant admissions that it is otherwise legitimate for non-weapons NPT countries to gain those capabilities.

I'll define the term "legal nuclear weapons capability" as I use it as a situation where a country clearly does not have weapons today because there is no fissile material that the IAEA does not have under safeguards, but where that country could make weapons in a few months if it was to make that decision. Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and dozens of other countries have what I describe here as legal nuclear weapons capability.

The fact of the matter is that a position where a country clearly does not have weapons today even though it could visibly make them later if provoked is a good deal. It means that, for example, Argentina does not have to worry that a surprise nuclear attack might come from Brazil tomorrow. This has real value to Brazil's and Argentina's region. Western analysts, when trying to whip up a frenzy over Iran's nuclear program often lose track of or belittle the value of being verifiably nuclear free today, even for a country that could, if it feels it needs to, build nuclear weapons six months from now. Hopefully these nations never will feel they need to.

Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany and many others have not exploited a loophole. They have taken a very serious and solid step towards a world without nuclear fears. The United States, not to mention Israel, is far behind these countries in terms of non-proliferation, is far behind Iran on that subject today since all of Iran's fissile material is accounted for by the IAEA as not in military programs and would remain far behind Iran even if Iran was to attain legal nuclear weapons capability.

The NPT was negotiated and despite not being everything the US might dream of, not demanding permanent subjugation of the rest of the world to a small number of permanent nuclear powers, the NPT as negotiated does a lot to provide security and stability. The world would be a much better place if Israel, the United States and every country that is not an NPT non-weapons state went to legal nuclear weapons capability rather than the positions they hold today.

The reason Iran did not follow the path to legal nuclear weapons capability that Japan did is that the United States very actively and intensely blocked that path from Iran. Every single legal agreement Iran made with European countries, Russia and China during the 80s, 90s and early 00s, was broken by Iran's foreign partners under US pressure.

What if the US had not feverishly worked to prevent Iran from following the path Japan followed? Germany would have finished Bushehr, Iran would have acquired uranium conversion and enrichment technology from Russia and China and would today have what I defined above as substantial legal nuclear weapons capability as well as a substantial domestic nuclear power industry. The United States is the exact sole reason Iran did not arrive at a state of legal nuclear weapons capability fully openly.

Clearly that outcome was not acceptable to the US because the US expended significant political and diplomatic capital to prevent that outcome. Now that that outcome has been averted, it is easy for Western analysts today to say that outcome would have been acceptable to them. But them saying that is not believable, not to me and I don't think to anyone with common sense noting that they were not objecting to that US policy when it was happening, don't say it was wrong today, and do not today call for the US to stop its efforts to prevent Iran from moving to that model.

Despite a lot of fluster and misdirection, it is not Iran's path to legal nuclear weapons capability that concerns Western nuclear policy analysts, it is Iran's acquisition of legal nuclear weapons capability itself.

If Iran's strategy is to accomplish legal nuclear weapons capability in order to undercut the rationale that has supported US efforts to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear power-generating technology that would be a valid and rational strategy. Later the US will be in a weaker position to pressure other countries from providing assistance and Iran will be able to get more nuclear technological assistance, if it needs it. This would be a sound reason for Iran to accomplish a state of legal nuclear weapons capability and to ensure that it never commits future generations to relinquish this capability beyond the intrinsic value of legal legal nuclear weapons capability itself.

But other than pointing out that Iran's path to legal nuclear weapons capability was undertaken more in secret than Japan's we have seen some direct justifications for why Western analysts believe Iran should be held to a different standard.

We've seen a statement that one is sure Iran plans to deploy actual nuclear weapons. We've seen a statement that Iran's "neighbors" think legal nuclear weapons capability is the same thing as actual nuclear weapons and we've seen a statement that the Middle East is different from the West Pacific and South America and so reasonably should be treated differently.

Iran with legal nuclear weapons capability could refrain from leaving the NPT or diverting fissile material away from IAEA supervision unless or until some severe provocation occurred. By severe provocation I mean a bombing attack, a ground invasion or visible preparations for a ground invasion. Such a stance would itself actually deter the types of provocations that would cause Iran to build actual weapons.

This would be the rational course of action, it is the action consistent with every Iranian statement, public or intercepted, at every level for many years.

To say one is sure Iran will deploy actual nuclear weapons sounds suspiciously like saying one is sure the US will bomb Iran, insert ground troops or visibly prepare to insert ground troops into Iran.

I don't know if they are aware, but when Western analysts express certainty that Iran will build an actual weapon, they strengthen the case for Iran building and maintaining a legal nuclear weapons capability.

The United States wants the freedom to make a severe provocation of Iran without the threat that such a provocation would move Iran into a state of nuclear ambiguity or of possession of an actual nuclear weapon.

The US and Israel have that freedom regarding Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait and others but likely would not if these countries, which I describe as US colonies, were more accountable to their own people than to the US embassies in their countries.

The fact that governments that are not accountable to their own people have not responded to Israel's regional nuclear monopoly says more about the directions that have come from US embassies than it does about the strategic interests of the people of those countries.

We also saw a statement that "Iran's neighbors" think legal nuclear weapons capability is the same thing as actual nuclear weapons. Now if by "Iran's neighbors" Western analysts mean Israel, they are close to agreement with me.

Of course Israel can tell the difference between legal nuclear weapons capability and actual nuclear weapons. There is at least one person in that country who can read the NPT. What Western analysts really mean when they say it perceives those different concepts as the same is nothing more than that Israel really does not want Iran to have legal nuclear weapons capability.

Lastly we saw a statement that most people understand that the Middle East is different from the other regions. Other than avoiding the question of exactly what is the difference, this is also similar to what I've written earlier. Why is the Western Pacific more similar to South America than either is to the Middle East, so that Japan and Brazil can have legal nuclear weapons capability but Iran can't?

Well, most of the 400 million people in the greater Middle East disagree with the United States and with most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments about the legitimacy of Israel as an enforced Jewish political majority state.

The enforced Jewish political majority state in Israel is seen as an injustice in its region just as the enforced White political majority state in South Africa was seen as an injustice in Africa. If the rest of the region is strong, such a state is not viable. Most of the US and Western nuclear and policy establishments are ultimately motivated by the idea that Israel cannot be allowed to become non-viable.

Because of that, it is important to the West that the US have a particular freedom to launch provocative measures against Iran in a way that does not have an analog in other regions.

That's pretty much what is driving the dispute between the US and Iran over its nuclear issue. You can read some words by Western analysts themselves over at armscontrolwonk.