Friday, December 30, 2011

Mohamed ElBaradei discloses US efforts to limit Egyptian democracy

Reported in the Jerusalem Post, Mohamed ElBaradei says the US has been holding secret talks with Egypt's military dictatorship about Egypt's peace treaty with Israel.
Speaking to the Iranian semi-official Fars news agency on Tuesday, Elbaradiei, the former International Atomic Energy Agency head, indicated that the future of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt was at the center of a recent and secret round of talks between U.S. officials and members of the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

"The negotiations were completely secret and confidential," ElBaradei told Fars, adding that what the ruling military indicated "said was that the talks were about bilateral and mutual relations, but I believe that Americans wanted to ensure that the deals signed between Egypt and Israel will remain intact if Islamists ascend to power."
A couple of things to mention, now that unless ElBaradei is lying, there is no question the US is imposing its influence on Egypt's dictatorship (as it has for more than three decades up to now).

1) The US could have been holding secret discussions about holding elections in September when the SCAS said it would hold them. It is clear that the problem is not that the US does not have leverage over Egypt's military government. The problem is that the US chooses to use its leverage to advance a single agenda, Israel's strategic position.

2) The SCAS has claimed to be an interim government that in theory should not be in a position to make any commitments about Egypt's future relations with Israel - and certainly not any commitments that specifically take into account that Islamists, not the military, is poised to win the elections.

3) The United States has issued a public statement claiming that military dictatorship should transfer power to a civilian government. Afterwards, the US began holding secret discussions with the dictatorship directly aimed at limiting the scope of powers of any future civilian government by retaining the power to set policy related to Israel in the military dictatorship.
The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.
4) We occasionally see claims that Egypt's military holds power despite the wishes of the US because it benefits from control of the country. Instead we see the military agreeing with the United States to relinquish control of the country and to maintain control only over the policies, regarding Israel, that the United States wants to prevent from falling into the hands of Egypt's voters.

The truth about the United States' and Barack Obama's role in preventing Egypt's voters from controlling Egyptian policy is already seeping out.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does the United States have the luxury of being able to do nothing against Iran?

The United States, on behalf of Israel, has taken the position that Iran must not be able to develop a nuclear weapon. The United States, also on behalf of Israel, has deceptively redefined "nuclear weapon" to mean the technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon, whether or not Iran actually does build one.

By the definition the United States uses with Iran; Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other countries have nuclear weapons, even though they are non-nuclear weapons states by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The US' redefinition of "nuclear weapon" has no support in any document and explicitly violates the terms of the NPT which are to be applied "without discrimination".

US leaders, nuclear policy experts and the US society generally justify the US' stance because Iran poses the kind of threat to Israel's viability as an enforced majority Jewish political state that a strong Angola could have posed to South Africa's viability as an enforced majority White political state. US leaders, nuclear and foreign policy experts and society generally have decided that the non-Jewish people of Israel's region should be denied technology and along with being subjected to various forms of warfare or preferably rule by leadership accountable to Israel's allies rather than to their own populations - colonialism - to ensure that the Jewish people of Israel never suffer the indignity of living under a non-Jewish prime minister.

Iran's leaders, policy experts and society generally disagree with their counterparts in the United States about whether the viability of a state for fewer than six million Jewish people should be a determining factor in the access to technology of over 70 million Iranians.

Aside, in the most important development in the recent history of the Middle East, the people of Egypt are poised to break out of the colonial relationship Hosni Mubarak maintained with the United States on Israel's behalf against the interests of the Egyptian people. The United States is certainly working to reduce the scope of Egyptian independence, but it is not at all clear that it will be successful.

But in Iran a question is coming to the fore more quickly than with other countries in the region: what if there is something Israel insists it needs to be viable, but the US just cannot deliver it?

The first problem for the US is that it has a position that is not coherent enough to even express publicly. The US and Israel state in public that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. And then behind closed doors say "by 'nuclear weapon' we also mean what Japan has". Of course Japan does not have a nuclear weapon, but because the United States and Israel cannot even honestly express their position to their own publics, the discussions that would be necessary to reach an informed societal consensus on the way forward can't happen.

The bigger problem for the US is that every action it could take hoping to prevent Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities would have the reverse effect of at least demonstrating to Iran that these capabilities are strategically important while increasing the Iranian sense that it has sacrificed for them while also increasing the value to Iran of presenting the world with a fait accompli and building an actual weapon.

US, Israeli or Western acts of sabotage have literally made martyrs out of Iranian scientists and have increased the political attachment Iran has to its nuclear program. The sanctions that have be placed on Iran since 2006 when it began a pilot program to enrich uranium have made the workshop-level program Iran was willing to accept then unacceptable now since Iran has paid a substantial price for the tons of low enriched uranium now in its stockpile.

Historically, sanctions strengthen central governments rather than weakening them. US efforts could take a toll on Iranian civilians, but Iran's government would be put into the stronger position of directing more limited resources to a population more dependent on it. Sanctions that are damaging also invite Iranian retaliations of various forms that increase the costs on all sides while making legal nuclear weapons capabilities more strategically important for Iran.

An actual attack on Iran's nuclear facilities might or might not cause Iran to leave the NPT, but there is no question that Iran's nuclear program would be brought back at least to the stage it reached before the bombing and that a post-bombing Iran would be more, not less inclined to deploy actual nuclear weapons.

So what if the US really wants Israel to have a monopoly of nuclear weapons in its region, and for every non-Jewish state in the region to be denied legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan has, but the US is unable to fulfill that desire?

Sanctions would be painful for Iran, and Iran's retaliations could be painful for the US, but in the end, they wouldn't work. Directly attacking Iran's facilities also wouldn't work. What if there is no course the US can take that would prevent Iran, ten years from now, from honestly being able to say, as Japan and Brazil can today, that the only thing preventing the deployment of a nuclear weapon is a political decision?

What if the only options available to the US are to do nothing, or to take actions that will only tip the political decision Iran will still ultimately be able to make further in the direction of deploying an actual nuclear weapon?

Some American observers have this idea that there is nothing the United States cannot do. For over a trillion dollars with a maximal occupation, the United States could not establish a pro-US government in Iraq. With a tremendous effort multiple times the scale of that in Iraq, the United States might be able to capture Tehran. Maybe. But ten years after, there very likely would be an anti-US government there that would revisit the nuclear issue.

It is coming into view that one thing on the list of things the United States cannot do is prevent Iran from at least attaining a legal nuclear weapons capability.

Israel really wants to prevent Iran from attaining that. Israel is not going to get its wish. As a consolation, Israel would like Iran to be under harsh economic penalties. The US and Europe would pay a heavy cost to indulge Israel on that issue.

A commenter here recently said that the United States may not have the luxury of doing nothing about Iran's nuclear program. Doing nothing may well be the United States' least counter-productive option regarding Iran's nuclear program. The type of thinking embodied in that comment may very soon crash into the wall of reality.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pentagon: "We have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon"

Filed in the category of things that are well understood by people who follow the Iranian nuclear issue closely, but very often deliberately distorted for more casual audiences.

From the New York Times:
In an interview broadcast Monday on “CBS Evening News,” Mr. Panetta was asked whether Iran could have a nuclear weapon in 2012.

“It would be sometime around a year that they would be able to do it,” he said. “Perhaps a little less.”


But on Tuesday, George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said Mr. Panetta’s comments should not be taken as a prediction that Iran would have a nuclear weapon within a year.

“The secretary was clear that we have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Little said. “He was asked to comment on prospective and aggressive timelines on Iran’s possible production of nuclear weapons — and he said if, and only if, they made such a decision. He didn’t say that Iran would, in fact, have a nuclear weapon in 2012.”

Mr. Little said inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency remained in Iran and had “good access to Iran’s continuing production of low-enriched uranium.” Should Iran choose to “break out” — diverting low-enriched uranium to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium — the inspectors could detect it, Mr. Little said.
As long as the secretary was clear.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

US power in Iraq is now in a freefall

The US, contrary to my expectations, seems to have pulled its troops out of Iraq. There has been talk in the Western press that after the pullout is complete, Iraq and the US would more quietly come up with a way to bring a significant number of troops back into the country. Recent events make that seem either unlikely or irrelevant.

Instead the US now has 20,000 troops in Kuwait, a country that does not have to worry about voters disapproving of foreign policy decisions.

As an aside, the question over Egypt is will that country become more like Iraq, where voters' preferences already significantly influence policy-making, or will Egypt become more like Kuwait, a country leftist commentator Juan Cole and the right-wing US organization "Freedom House" describe as "partly free" because while any preference expressed by voters can be overruled by a pro-US dictator, there is a democratic veneer in the form of a parliament with limited policy power.

But the US has openly been working to find a place in Iraqi politics for former CIA agent Iyad Allawi and his Iraqiya party and in the days after the US withdrawal of troops from Iraq that effort has decisively failed.

Again about Egypt, because the Egyptian conflict is by far the most important event in the Middle East today, yes, I expect US influence over Egypt to decline very quickly after a government accountable to Egyptian voters takes power. But that is what democracy is. The opposite of that is colonialism. The US has to decide, and after deciding it will make even more clear to the world than it already has, whether or not the US intends to remain a colonial power in the Middle East on behalf of Israel. The cost of the US maintaining its current colonial role will only increase.

But there was a recent attempted attack, in the Green Zone, on Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's life, and Maliki seems to believe that parts of the Iraqiya party were behind it. It is impossible that this attempt was not discussed in last weeks' meeting between Maliki and Barack Obama in Washington DC, but I've found no mention of it in press reports of their meeting.

An article in the Telegraph references the claim that there are elements of the country that are working to execute a coup against Maliki's government:
Over the past two months, Mr Maliki has ordered the arrest of hundreds of people connected to Saddam's ousted Ba'ath party after claiming that intelligence documents provided by Libya's transitional government showed they were plotting a coup.
I'm not sure what to make of this connection to Libya, but that country, now that the tens of thousands of senseless and avoidable deaths of civilians and soldiers caused by NATO's intervention are behind us, is going to be another interesting political system to watch over the next year.

The Christian Science Monitor tells a story of Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, a Sunni member of the Iraqiya party being detained but then released on the way to Kurdistan.
Hashimi and several other Sunni politicians were about to fly to Kurdistan Sunday evening for dinner with Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani when Maliki's head of military intelligence ordered them not to depart. According to one account, from a leading politician who declined to be identified due the sensitivity of the issue, Hashimi, vice premier Saleh al-Mutlaq, and Finance Minister Rafie al-Essawi were already aboard the plane when they were ordered to disembark.
After a flurry of phone calls involving political figures from nearly every party, Maliki relented and allowed the men to continue the journey.
The New York Times later introduces the detail that Kurdistan is not under Baghdad's control.
On Monday night, Mr. Hashimi was in the northern semiautonomous region of Kurdistan, beyond the reach of security forces controlled by Baghdad. It was unclear when — or if — he would return to Baghdad.
Effectively Iraq has been dismembered and while I've seen hints, I have not until now seen this spelled out explicitly in a mainstream Western news source.

The freefall in US power in Iraq though is represented by the direct intercession by the US Embassy on behalf of members of Hashimi's security detail who made videotaped confessions again reported in the Christian Science Monitor:
Iraq's Interior Ministry announced Saturday that it would televise the confessions of the first two suspects that night, but the plan touched off a firestorm. The US embassy, silent for most of the past year in the face of other political excesses, objected publicly. It said in a statement that US officials had not yet seen the actual confessions and urged Iraq to investigate all allegations "in a transparent manner in accordance with Iraqi law."

On Sunday, Iraq's supreme judicial authority ruled that the confessions of the alleged "cell" members couldn't be aired until the investigation is completed.
A normal embassy does not expect to see actual confessions before a government makes a decision to report them or not. Ambassador James Jeffrey acted in this case as if the station in Baghdad is not a normal embassy. Which is to say the United States fairly openly and routinely tries to intervene in Iraqi politics in a way that at least somewhat subverts Iraqi sovereignty.

But striking is the total failure of that intervention, reported the next day by the New York Times:
The government made its case against Mr. Hashimi in a half-hour television broadcast that was as aggressively promoted as a prime-time special. In grainy video confessions, three men said they had committed murders on Mr. Hashimi’s behalf. They said they had blown up cars, attacked convoys with silenced pistols and were rewarded with envelopes containing $3,000 in American bills.
The faction of the Iraqi political system most beholden to the United States has not only never gained a secure foothold in power in Baghdad, but now faces eviction from even participating in Iraq's national political system. US leverage over Iraq remains in the form of military and economic agreements and the Saddam Hussein-era Chapter 7 UN Security Council sanctions that the George Bush and Barack Obama have very pettily refused to lift after Saddam Hussein was deposed.

But for the US to have any influence over Iraq at all, there also have to be people inside of Iraq's political system who want to cooperate, to show deference toward the US. This episode shows that the US is losing this very rapidly.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Eric Margolis and Stratfor's George Friedman discuss US policy on Egypt

There are two narratives regarding Egypt that are developing in the United States. One honest, and one dishonest. The United States being the United States, the honest one is probably in the minority. Articles from Eric Margolis and George Friedman of Stratfor illustrate these two narratives.

Let's look at Eric Margolis' article "Time to apologize for the West's shameful support of dictatorship in Egypt"
Egyptians clearly want democracy and parliamentary government, as do people across the Arab world. But Egypt’s mighty military-security establishment and its western backers do not: they are fighting a bitter action to slow down real democracy and to safeguard their privileges and power.

Egypt’s military gets nearly $3 billion in US funds and arms each year, plus millions more in “black” money from CIA and the Pentagon – in addition to millions in economic aid. The US supplies all of the military’s key weapons systems and retains control of the spare parts keeping them operating. The most important US intelligence and security agencies maintain large stations in Cairo to protect the regime. Half of Egypt’s food imports are financed by the US.

Many of Egypt’s key generals “trained” at US military colleges and defense courses where they were vetted by CIA and DIA. As with Turkey’s large armed forces – at least until nine years ago – Egypt’s military was joined at the hip to the US defense establishment and arms industry. In exchange, Egypt agreed to become a tacit ally of Israel.

Given Egypt’s role as a virtual US protectorate, the flood of hypocrisy now issuing from Washington, London, Paris and Ottawa over their alleged support of Egyptian democracy is striking. For the past thirty years, these powers have ardently backed Egypt’s notably ruthless, brutal dictatorship whose security forces used torture, rape, and murder to terrorize its citizens.

While Egyptians want democracy, the military wants political figureheads and the right to intervene in politics to protect its interests aka “national security” – the same demands used for decades by the rightwing Turkish military to block democracy. Egypt’s generals insist there be no investigations of human rights abuses. Washington is trying to sustain the Egypt-Israel alliance that all Egyptians detest.
There is not much to add to Margolis' statement, except that when he says that the Western backers of Egypt's dictatorship are fighting to prevent democracy from arising in the country, it raises the question of how that works, how these Western backers of Egypt's dictatorship justify their efforts to prevent Egyptian democracy.

George Friedman gives us a look into the perspective of current Western colonialism in his article "Egypt and the Idealist-Realist Debate in U.S. Foreign Policy".
Then pose this scenario: Assume there is a choice between a repressive, undemocratic regime that is in the interests of a Western country and a regime that is democratic but repressive by Western standards and hostile to those interests. Which is preferable, and what steps should be taken?

These are blindingly complex questions that some observers — the realists as opposed to the idealists — say not only are unanswerable but also undermine the ability to pursue national interests without in any way improving the moral character of the world. In other words, you are choosing between two types of repression from a Western point of view and there is no preference. Therefore, a country like the United States should ignore the moral question altogether and focus on a simpler question, and one that’s answerable: the national interest.

Egypt is an excellent place to point out the tension within U.S. foreign policy between idealists, who argue that pursuing Enlightenment principles is in the national interest, and realists, who argue that the pursuit of principles is very different from their attainment. You can wind up with regimes that are neither just nor protective of American interests. In other words, the United States can wind up with a regime hostile to the United States and oppressive by American standards. Far from a moral improvement, this would be a practical disaster.
Friedman's basic argument is that an Egyptian democracy would be repressive by Western standards so the United States is in an ambiguous position in that it supports a colonial-style dictatorship, but is, in the minds of US officials such as Barack Obama, saving the Egyptians from a democratic government that would be repressive.

When Westerners like Barack Obama and George Friedman tell the story, the colonial dictatorships that the US implements to save countries like Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and others from repressive democracies just happen also to follow US directions on policies that the US considers important. It just happens that if these countries did not follow US direction in their foreign policy, Israel as a enforced Jewish political majority state would not be viable. Friedman's entire article does not mention Israel. Obama often speaks before Jewish audiences in the United States without whom he could not be elected and tells them that the viability of Israel is his primary foreign policy objective.

Does Friedman believe that a democratic Muslim majority regime in Egypt would necessarily be repressive by his or Western standards? I can't read his mind. It is a stupid thing to believe if he really believes it. More likely this is an example of directed reasoning. The US has to oppose democracy in Egypt for Israel to be viable. He wants Israel to be viable. So he believes what he has to believe to advocate US opposition to democracy in Egypt. It is quite possible that he does not even notice it happening in his thought process.

It's striking how little has changed. Friedman writes an article that could have been used to justify Great Britain's colonialism a century ago. Whether he is lying primarily to us or to himself, Friedman's reasoning is ultimately motivated by the idea that preventing fewer than six million Jews from suffering the indignity of losing their majority state the way white South Africans have outweighs the right of over 80 million Egyptians to control the policies of their government.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The decline of the post-Revolutionary United States

Lidia, one of the commenters here, wrote about the decline in US civil liberties that has been accelerating more rapidly since 2001. Some people are surprised, I admit that I had been one, to see this acceleration in the withdrawal of the US commitment to civil liberties continue under President Barack Obama. From the Patriot Act to US torture facilities to the most recent law that arguably purports to nullify the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution for people accused by the government of aiding terrorism.

That is a topic that I have not written enough about but that is ripe for much more discussion.

I've for a long time believed that the US' pretensions of civil liberties are during the modern era more an artifact of the US' position as a nearly unchallenged power than of any US ideological position, and much less any reflection of US virtue.

As the US becomes less relatively powerful in a global sense, it certainly will give up the rights and protections it could offer when it was more dominant.

That, for most of the seven billion people in the world is probably more a good thing than a bad thing.

The US long ago stopped being the revolutionary country it was when it was founded. The US of 1780, keeping in mind that it was institutionally racist, was a radical nation. Before the formal invention of communism - which is an extension of liberal ideas - the US was one of the most radically liberal nations in the world.

The US of 1780 was a country that could sacrifice the secure execution of power by its government itself to an ideal such as freedom of speech. The US of 1780 was, for its time, a revolutionary country.

Today's US does not believe in sacrifice for ideals. Sacrifice for ideals is close to what it means for a government, an organization or even a person to be revolutionary. The 1780s US, racism aside, was more like 1960s Cuba or 1980s Iran than the 2011 US.

So the freedom of speech we see in the US in 2011 is not like the freedom of speech that existed in the US in 1780. The freedom of speech available in the US today comes only from the fact that the US government now has a lot of resources to securely execute power despite that.

The important thing I'm getting at is that as we see freedom of speech decline, we are seeing an accurate reflection of the decline of US relative global power - according to the perceptions of the US government itself.

From a global point of view, that is more exciting than troubling to me. I certainly welcome it and I'll do what I can to maintain myself as an individual but I as an individual, on a global scale, am very comfortable anyway. I'm nobody to worry about.

I've noticed what you've noticed, Lidia, but my feeling about it is far more intrigued than fearful.

Seeing Syria's conflict through the lenses of Egypt and Iraq

Barack Obama should not have a vote about whether Syria's president Bashar Assad is legitimate. His position that Assad must leave makes a graceful resolution of this dispute nearly, if not fully, impossible.

That US position implies continued support for the foreign supplies of weapons that are entering Syria from the territories of US allies that can only make the situation more deadly.

The US has no problem with what happened in Iraq and the neutered state that is the result of the tremendous death and dislocation that occurred there. Crudely speaking, Iraq is far less of a threat to US regional objectives - particularly Israel's military dominance that the US is committed to maintaining - than it would have been if that violence had not occurred.

We just don't know how much support Assad has. There really is one legitimate way to determine what political grouping has how much support and that is elections.

Barack Obama is not Syria's ally. A foreign demand that elections must be post-Assad amounts to an unacceptable foreign demand for regime change. No government would submit to that. It is really a demand for civil war.

There are widespread attacks on government forces. Ambushes, not defensive actions to protect demonstrations. As long as US allies are willing to pay for them (almost certainly directed by or coordinated with the Obama administration) I guess there is no way to stop them, but they are very unfortunate and are an attack on Syria itself more than on Assad.

The way out has always been elections. There were local elections in Syria that have been very sparsely reported in the West. But whether or how western news agencies cover Syrian elections is only minimally important. Elections can not only generate legitimacy for the Syrian government but probably more importantly, they can establish a legitimate domestic opposition. If Assad either wins the most votes in a national election or loses to a Syrian who is not based in Turkey and supported by the United States and hands power to that person, then that would effectively mark the end of this conflict, at least from the point of view of legitimacy.

This is all playing against the background of the US visions for non-Jewish countries in Israel's region. We have Iraq which was neutered by hugely destructive sanctions, invasion, occupation and civil war and that for some time will no longer be an effective regional power. We have Egypt where a pro-US dictatorship is attempting to retain control of foreign policy to keep the country subordinate to Israel while allowing some veneer of civilian control over domestic issues and we have what are effectively pure colonies. Countries like Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and others have relationships with the United States effectively identical to the nominally independent Princedoms of the Indian Raj of Great Britain.

The United States may well fail in Egypt, but the success or failure of the US to maintain control over at least the aspects of Egyptian policy that are most important to it will either way have an important impact on the apparent legitimacy of the US-backed opposition to Assad.

A year later, the US should still be embarrassed by the death of Mohammad Bouazizi

Ben Ali was a dictator over whom the US held a tremendous amount of leverage long before Mohammad Bouazizi died.

All Americans should be embarrassed by Bouazizi’s death and by the fact that the United States did not act in line with the its own professed founding values long before by making a full transfer of sovereign power to popularly accountable political bodies a condition of US cooperation.

All Americans should be more embarrassed that in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia, in UAE in Kuwait and other countries, the US maintains its relationships with unaccountable pro-US dictators that reflect the colonial relationships many of those same governments had with imperial Great Britain a century ago.

Lastly, Egypt’s current pro-US dictatorship has communicated to the Western news establishment that it hopes to continue to hold Egypt’s foreign policy outside of the control of any elected government.

December 1, 2011 – New York Times:
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the United States’ close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt, though the military has said it plans to maintain a monopoly over many aspects of foreign affairs.
December 18, 2011 – New York Times:
But the generals have insisted that they retain full control of the interim government, and they have sought to carve out permanent institutional autonomy and political powers under the new charter.
The Obama administration calls for the dictatorship to cede “real power” to the civilians. But real power is not necessarily all power and is not necessarily inconsistent with the plans the pro-US dictatorship has expressed. Imperial Great Britain offered “real power” to Egypt in 1922, as long as that power did not impinge on the British prerogative to direct policy on matters Britain considered important.

The US State Department on November 25, 2011:
The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. We believe that Egypt’s transition to democracy must continue, with elections proceeding expeditiously, and all necessary measures taken to ensure security and prevent intimidation. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people, as soon as possible.
Now that Egypt’s dictatorship has publicly expressed to the US news media that it intends to retain control of Egypt’s foreign affairs – which it currently executes under the direction of the United States – after it has fully transferred the powers it intends to transfer to a civilian government, the US has notably not publicly or even off of the record expressed opposition or disapproval of this plan.

The United States has a military that is fully subordinate to its elected government. American presidents, officials, press, analysts and commentators should be embarrassed by the plans of the pro-US dictatorship to deny that sovereignty to the people who elect Egypt’s government.

More than a generation from now, memoirs may be released and records declassified that show the full extent of US involvement in the plans of the pro-US Egyptian dictatorship to deny political power to any elected government. The US and Britain officially denied their role in wresting power from the elected bodies of Iran for decades after 1953.

But even what is known today about US policy in the Middle East should be, by America’s professed founding values, an embarrassment to every aware person in the United States. That embarrassment should have existed long before, while still being greatly magnified by, the death of Mohammad Bouazizi.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The implications of Jeffery Goldberg's Israel/Iran nuclear scenario

Jeffery Goldberg is usually not worth paying attention to but recently, certainly accidentally, he has spelled out the type of scenario that drives Israel's and the West's (on behalf of Israel) desire that Iran not only meet the normal obligations of the NPT to not build a nuclear weapon, but in addition that Iran not have what Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other NPT-non nuclear weapons states have, legal nuclear weapons capabilities.

Examined closely, Goldberg makes an argument exactly opposite from what he is trying to make, but that might merit a closer look.
But I'm beginning to question the seriousness of some of the players in this drama: If Iran's nuclear program is actually unacceptable, then why the hesitancy to sanction Iran's Central Bank? I know the reason, of course: Such sanctions might lead to a spike in gasoline prices. But either you think Iran's nuclear program is the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America, or you don't.
First, Goldberg believes the US should suffer economic consequences of sanctioning Iran's central bank because Iran's nuclear program is the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America. That raises the question of what if the sanctions Goldberg recommends do not actually slow Iran's nuclear program?

It is perverse but the scenario Goldberg later spells out also demonstrates that the more the US is willing to sacrifice to prevent Iran from having legal nuclear weapons capabilities like other countries, the more that US sacrifice confirms the strategic value of those capabilities particularly to Iran.

From Goldberg:
Imagine the following scenario: Hezbollah launches a serious attack on Israel's north. Israel begins to retaliate. Iran, coming to the defense of its Lebanese proxy, makes a not-so-subtle threat: If you invade Lebanon, we will respond, without saying how. At the same time, Israeli intelligence learns that Iran is mating nuclear warheads to their fissile cores. Do you think Israel is going to wait to pre-empt a possible Iranian nuclear attack?
My first observation is that Israel may well not have better options for attacking Iran in the indeterminate future of this scenario than it does today. As of today, Israel does not have any option that would destroy Iran's nuclear program. Even the US, according to bombing advocates, could only set back Iran's program for a short period while also making it more likely that Iran actually eventually would build a weapon.

But let's add more flesh to Goldberg's scenario. Hezbollah's serious attack was prompted by what? An assassination attempt on Nasrallah? Israel bombing Beirut or the Bekaa valley? If Goldberg is imagining that just out of the blue, Hezbollah began attacking Israel's north that just confirms how unserious he is. On the other hand, the scenario Goldberg is spelling out does show how, for Zionists more serious than Goldberg, an Iranian legal nuclear weapons capability could deter Israeli provocations against Lebanon that otherwise would have been considered.

Now let's look at the Iranian threat: "If you invade Lebanon, we will respond."

Goldberg may not realize this, but Israel does have the option of not invading Lebanon.

And now to the core of Goldberg's scenario: "At the same time, Israeli intelligence learns that Iran is mating nuclear warheads to their fissile cores." We see Goldberg is not imagining Iran entering his scenario with deployed nuclear weapons. He is imagining Iran being capable of, in response to what it considers a provocation, producing fissile material that it could use in a relatively short time to produce a weapon. Many states that are non-weapons members of the NPT have that capability right now.

Members of the US nuclear policy community have as far as I've seen been completely unable to produce a coherent justification for their insistence that Iran must not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities. They acknowledge that it is legal and that many other countries have it, but for reasons they refuse to put into words, they believe countries in Israel's region should not have those capabilities. This scenario that Goldberg presents is ultimately their motivation. They believe Israel must be able to attack anyone in its region who opposes Zionism without fear of an eventual response.

So we see the treat Goldberg imagines for Israel. Hezbollah would have more options and Israel's ability to "retaliate" by invading Lebanon would be complicated by Iran having legal nuclear weapons capabilities. Where is the threat to the US though? Goldberg says US consumers should pay higher gas prices, not even expressing confidence that these higher gas prices would actually accomplish the intention of coercing Iran to give up legal nuclear weapons capabilities. But nothing about Goldberg's scenario makes Iran's nuclear program the most serious foreign policy challenge facing America.

What does the United States intend to threaten Iran with that makes it so important that Iran not have a legal stock of fissile material? When Goldberg says that it is worth harming the US economy which is gingerly recovering from a recession he may be speaking solely on behalf of Israel, hoping Israel maintains the ability to invade Lebanon. But if Barack Obama agrees, it is reasonable or at least prudent for Iranian planners to assume Obama agrees because the US hopes to gain the option of attacking Tehran, occupying or militarily breaking Iran apart.

Goldberg's spike in gas prices would be far more likely to cost Obama his second term in office than they would be to cause Iran to relinquish its rights and agree with Goldberg that no country in Israel's region can have legal nuclear weapons capabilities. What does the US have planned that taking such a risk might be worth the cost to Obama? If Obama is willing to take that risk, he is telling Iranian planners that legal nuclear weapons capabilities may one day save their country.

Members of the Western nuclear policy communities from unnamed analysts up the President Barack Obama are constantly lying about the dispute over Iran's nuclear program. When they say "nuclear weapon" in the context of Iran, they are deceptively redefining that term to mean legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan has. But they lie so they don't have to answer the question, why, specifically, is it so important that Iran not have legal nuclear weapons capabilities.

Goldberg comes as close as anyone I've seen to addressing the real question, at least from Israel's point of view.

Until the US side can say to Iran, in public, that this is why we want to prevent Iran from having legal nuclear weapons capabilities that other NPT signatories have, the US is leaving Iran with no choice but to assume that the US is ultimately motivated by a desire to compromise Iran's sovereignty.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Newt Gingrich on Palestine

Newt Gingrich's position on Palestine does not deserve much response. Juan Cole's post on the subject is pretty much all anyone needs to read to thoroughly rebut Gingrich's claims.
The important thing to realize is that Gingrich is not an outlier in Washington, and that the US government consistently acts as though it believes exactly what Gingrich says.
But historically, Gingrich's claims are nonsense.
It is stupid because all nations are invented, and they have all been invented in the past couple of hundred years. There were peoples in pre-modern times, but in the absence of printing, literacy, modern communications, and the new post-empire model of the Enlightenment state with its educational institutions, they weren’t really nations. Those who supposedly spoke a common language couldn’t even understand one another across regions (north and south Italy, e.g.) As Eric Hobsbawm observed, people think that nations created states, but in fact states created nations. States standardized languages, e.g.

So the Palestinians aren’t more of an invented nation than anyone else.

Gingrich said that there had never been a Palestinian state in history. If you want to play the romantic nationalist game of finding ancient forebears for modern nations, it would be easy in the case of the Palestinians, who were mentioned by the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. But today’s Palestinians are equally descended from the ancient Canaanites and as well as from the ancient Jews.


The European Jews ultimately formed a third of the population in Mandate Palestine, and at the end of WW II, they became militant, formed militias, assassinated officials, engaged in terrorism, and ultimately chased the British out and ethnically cleansed some 700,000 Palestinians, allowing them to create the state of Israel. The 1948 war did not necessitate the ethnic cleansing. Jordanian forces never threatened to come into the territory designated for Israel in the UNGA partition plan.
I'd add that what has happened with Gingrich and the Republicans is that Barack Obama is so similar in his Middle East policies to George Bush that in order to differentiate themselves Republicans have to move further out on the ideological spectrum. Obama having black skin makes the effect even more pronounced.

Ray Takeyh, another American colonialist worries about Iran's nuclear program

Ray Takeyh, of the US Council on Foreign Relations and an unfortunately influential part of the US foreign policy establishment seeks to answer the question "why Iran remains defiant on the nuclear bomb". Iran does not remain defiant on the nuclear bomb. Iran has said completely consistently at all levels of its policy apparatus that it intends to gain the types of technologies that countries like Japan have and that it does not need to build a weapon once it is there.

Nobody has ever shown a strategic reason why Iran would not remain in the NPT and verifiably weapons-free once it attains legal nuclear weapons capability. Taking the extra step to a weapon would only make strategic sense if the US or Israel did something stupid and unexpected like attacked Tehran or staged troops for an invasion.

The same level of provocation that would bring leaving the NPT into consideration for Japan would be required for actually building a weapon to make sense for Iran. If the US and Israel do not intend to launch a provocation of that sort, there is no reason for Iran to leave the NPT, or visibly break the seals on its fissile material and make a weapon.

Takeyh knows this. More important than his why is Iran defiant question is the question why do Ray Takeyh and the rest of the US nuclear policy establishment deliberately lie regarding Iran, by describing capabilities that are legal and acceptable in non-nuclear weapons countries such as Japan, Canada, Brazil and many others, as "the nuclear bomb" in the case of Iran.

The answer to that question is that Israel perceives that it needs all of its neighbors to not only lack nuclear weapons, but also to lack the legal nuclear weapons capabilities that are allowed to all countries explicitly without discrimination under the NPT. The United States, today under Barack Obama, earlier under George W. Bush dutifully is exerting extraordinary efforts to deny the over 80 million people of Iran legal technology so that fewer than six million Jewish people in Palestine have less fear of being pressured into abandoning Zionism the way White South Africans were in the 1980s and 1990s successfully pressured into abandoning their enforced White political majority state.

So Takeyh is lying for Israel. Bill Clinton said he would jump into a ditch with a rifle to sacrifice his life for Israel. All Takeyh is doing is being dishonest. If you ask Takeyh does Japan have "the nuclear bomb", Takeyh will, obviously, say no. If you ask Takeyh would Iran have "the nuclear bomb" if it had the exact same nuclear program Japan has, after some dodging and squirming, he'll eventually say yes. He's redefined "the nuclear bomb" in the case of Iran to mislead his audience.

It is not, by now, particularly interesting, but that is what's happening. With that said, let's look at some of the text of his Washington Post op-ed piece.
Instead of conceding to intrusive U.N. resolutions or amending their behavior on issues of terrorism and regional subversion, Iran’s rulers sense that once they obtain the bomb, they can return to the international fold on their own terms.
"Terrorism and regional subversion". There are 22 states in the Arab league. Two of those states have some degree of public accountability over their foreign policy - Iraq and Lebanon, both states that often either vote with Iran on international questions or abstain. The rest, other than Syria, are more accountable to their US embassies and local US military headquarters than they are to any constituency of their people. Most of the region that Takeyh claims Iran wants to "subvert" consists of governments closer to the Shah's Iran than even to today's Lebanon which is more or less democratic despite denying proportional political power to Shiites.

Iran is a threat to US colonies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others if nothing else by its own example of no longer being a US colony. This is what Takeyh is describing as "regional subversion". There is a string of colonies that the US maintains without which Israel would not be viable as an enforced Jewish political majority state. Takeyh worries that if Iran develops legal nuclear weapons capabilities, it will threaten this string of colonies held by Takeyh's government.

By terrorism, Takeyh means Hamas and Hezbollah. Any government in the region that is accountable to its people will support organizations like those, because by the local values of the region, those are the good guys. Those are groups that are opposing among other things, the oppression of the Palestinians. Takeyh disagrees, and Takeyh wants the governments of the region to be accountable to people with his views rather than to people with local views.

This is the connection between legal nuclear weapons capabilities and democracy. Takeyh is concerned that if Iran attains legal nuclear weapons capabilities, the United States will be less able to impose anti-democratic policies on the people of Iran and elsewhere in Israel's region.
A clerical leadership whose sense of confidence is shadowed by its imagined fears sees the bomb as a means of ameliorating its vulnerabilities while escaping its predicament on the cheap.
The predicament that Takeyh fears Iran may be able to escape is that it is no longer effectively a US colony the way it was in 1975 and the way many of its neighbors are today. The local values of Tehran determine Iran's policy with respect to foreign affairs rather than the local values of New York, Florida and Washington DC as was previously the case in Iran and is now the case, for example, in today's Egypt.

Takeyh, if you read between the lines, is clear that the issue with Iran is not nuclear proliferation, but the US gaining and maintaining the ability to impose anti-democratic policies on the people of Iran. This desire to subjugate the people of Israel's region in this way is present throughout the US and Western political spectrums, from the liberal imperialists like Barack Obama and Jon Stewart to conservative imperialists like Newt Gingrich and John Bolton.

Exactly why Barack Obama and Juan Cole are wrong about Syria

This is an edited version of what was originally a comment left at Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog. It may make it past the moderation filter, it may not. But as long as it is published somewhere, I'm not too concerned with Cole's editorial decisions.

Cole: Of course al-Assad has a choice! He could stop shooting demonstrators and hold free elections. That is the way you get a soft landing for Alawites. The path he is on likely ends in tragedy for everyone.

This is both wrong and a topic on which Cole neither specifies his reasoning nor allows discussion in his comments section, which is a detriment to the blog Informed Comment.

Peaceful protests cannot remove state armed forces from territory. Occupy Wall Street, for example, could not create a free or liberated area even in the one square block area of Zucotti Park.

Liberated area, in Homs or Benghazi means armed rebellion. Period. If alongside the armed rebellion there is or has been a peaceful component, the peaceful component is neither the threat to the regime nor the target of regime's armed response.

I've said before, in a comment that was not published, that Barack Obama would absolutely not allow any small town in Texas or anywhere in the US to become liberated territory, territory free of any armed security presence loyal to the US government. He would put down the rebellion that would be necessary to liberate the territory with overwhelming force. He would call the liberators terrorists and would not care at all if Juan Cole or anyone else claimed the movement was mostly peaceful or overwhelmingly peaceful.

Of course, Cole and others calling the Syrian opposition mostly peaceful would not call a movement that created or aimed to create liberated territory in Texas from which it would be possible for forces to stage to fight the government in other places "largely peaceful". It would be an insult to the intelligence of their audience for them to do so, no more or less than it is now in the case of Syria.

The part about free elections. The Turkey-based opposition, supported by Barack Obama's position that Assad is not legitimate, has put severe limits on what it, in coordination with the US would accept as "free elections". Assad and his supporters cannot run as candidates in what Obama has defined as free elections. Once free elections becomes externally directed regime change, as has become the case with Syria, then it is no longer a demand that any sovereign government could accept.

US policy today aims to dismantle Syria, to plunge Syria into a civil war. I can only guess that the US and Israel hope that 1) at least during the war, Syria will be less able to assist Hezbollah and Hamas 2) possibly Saudi money will be able to influence Syria more during and after the war than it can now 3) the US can prevent Russia from modernizing or maybe even keeping a naval base on Syrian territory.

There is no question that from the beginning the opposition sought to create liberated territory inside of Syria that no sovereign state, least of all the US under Barack Obama, would tolerate. There is no question that ambushes on Syrian government forces were present from the very beginning of the uprising. There is no question that the opposition has access to external resources.

We also have to remember that the policies that the US opposes Assad for are policies that themselves are legitimate according to local values. To get a Syria that does not support Hamas means that Syria has to, in the end, be undemocratic. To get a Syria that aligns with the US, while the US pursues its primary regional objective of being the patron of Israel, in essentially anti-democratic.

Which leads to a last point. The right to protest was abused in 1953 in Iran to produce an anti-democratic outcome. The US and Israel transparently hope to accomplish the same in Syria. US commentators such as Juan Cole and US political figures such as Barack Obama, George Bush and Hillary Clinton seem to fetishize the right to protest, much more than they support the more important and more primary right to government that is accountable to the governed.

The US stands opposed to the right to accountable government in Bahrain as well as in what are effectively US colonies of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and others. In Bahrain, for example, a democratic majority could vote to evict the US base from their country.

The US has issued a statement calling for "real power" to be relinquished by the SCAS in Egypt. That is actually consistent with the arrangement imperial Great Britain attempted to impose on Egypt in 1922. The civilian government would have "real power" except in matters of foreign affairs where Britain reserved the right to intervene.

What Obama has not called for is for the military to _EVER_ fully return to the barracks and to be subordinate to the civilian government the way the military of the US is subordinate to the civilian government. Juan Cole noticeably also has never called for that.

So the US position on Syria is wrong - according to the values that the US professes to stand for - in a lot of ways. These do not seem to be innocent mistakes but rather the result of perception skewed by the fundamental idea that the US is justified in preventing over 400 million people in Egypt's region from being able to hold the foreign affairs of their governments accountable for the sake of an enforced political majority state for fewer than six million Jewish people.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Iraq's December 7, 2002 declaration: 12,000 pages that said there were no WMD programs

A story is gaining popularity that Saddam Hussein shares the blame with the United States for the US 2003 invasion because he did not clearly say that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. It is the type of story Americans and other Westerners like to believe but it is completely untrue.
As a result of the U.S. and British campaign, and after prolonged negotiations between the United States, Britain, France, Russia and other U.N. Security Council members, the United Nations declared that Iraq would have to accept even more intrusive inspections than under the previous inspection regime - to be carried out by the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - or face "serious consequences." Iraq agreed to accept the U.N. decision and inspections resumed in late November 2002. On December 7, 2002, Iraq submitted its 12,000 page declaration, which claimed that it had no current WMD programs. Intelligence analysts from the United States and other nations immediately began to scrutinize the document, and senior U.S. officials quickly rejected the claims.
Iraq was completely clear that it had no weapons of mass destruction. The US classified the report and did not allow access to it for non-permanent members of the UN Security Council nor the public.

Then the US fairly transparently resumed lying. This time adding that the report's statements were false. At no point, before the war or to this day, did the US ever point to a specific statement it claimed was false. We know now that the claim that Iraq made in those 12,000 pages that it had no weapons of mass destruction was true.

Iraq was not ambiguous about its lack of WMD. It did not make any effort to create doubts in anyone's mind. What happened in 2002 and 2003 was that the US created a false pretext to invade a country that it considered a threat to Israel and to the string of dictatorships the US maintains on Israel's behalf.

The lying was all on the US' side.

Years later, Condoleeza Rice told Tzipi Livni that the occupation was protecting Israel.
Discussing the needs of Israel regarding Palestinian security forces in a future-Palestinian state, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni expressed concern over a third-party military force protecting a Palestinian state's external borders. Secretary Rice inserted, "At this time there is no threat from the east because our forces are in Iraq and will stay there for a long time." Chief Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat added, "For a very, very long time."
She may have been wrong about that. It depends on what configuration of mercenaries and US troops Barack Obama is able to pressure the Maliki government into retaining. But there is no question about her understanding of the effect of the US occupation at that time.

This is what the United States lied for. Saying that Saddam Hussein was partly to blame is just another lie.

Left I On The News on Syria

Left I On The News is a very good blog whose focus is not mostly the Middle East. I will just repost the key paragraphs of an observation about Western news regarding Syria's unrest:
And who were those 12 "civilians"? Well, they might have been "innocent civilians," killed by Syrian government troops in a wanton slaughter. No doubt that's what most people will believe. But they might also be innocent civilians killed by the blast which blew up the government vehicle, that is, they might have been killed by the rebels. Or, presumably excepting the woman and child, they might not have been "innocent civilians" at all, but armed rebels who were killed as the army counter-attacked after the attack which killed 9 soldiers.

The Syrian Office of Human Rights (per Wikipedia) says 2,738 civilians and 970 security forces have been killed. But that's conveniently nebulous. Who were those "civilians"? Were they all just non-violent "Occupy Syria" protesters, and not a one part of the group responsible for the deaths of 970 security forces? Hardly likely. The Syrian government claims that 1,400 security forces, 716 insurgents, and 700 civilians have been killed, which may reflect its own bias, but at least tries to differentiate between the types of civilians killed.
Given that it is widely understood that armed forces, with resources from sources outside of and hostile to Syria are waging an armed resistance to Syria's government, I've never much or even any stock in these supposed casualty numbers that are being released. Barack Obama would respond to attempts to establish areas on US territory but outside of the control of the US government that were funded, possibly funded or even not funded by external adversaries of the United States at least as ruthlessly.

But Eli from Left I does raise an important point, especially for those who aren't as skeptical of US policy in the Middle East as I am.

First results of Egyptian elections: Egyptian military has promised democracy will be limited

There are indications that Islamists have done well in Egypt's first round of elections. Perhaps better than expected.
The party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s mainstream Islamist group, appeared to have taken about 40 percent of the vote, as expected. But a big surprise was the strong showing of ultraconservative Islamists, called Salafis, many of whom see most popular entertainment as sinful and reject women’s participation in voting or public life.

Analysts in the state-run news media said early returns indicated that Salafi groups could take as much as a quarter of the vote, giving the two groups of Islamists combined control of nearly 65 percent of the parliamentary seats.
Later in the article, the New York Times explains that the Egyptian military dictatorship has given assurances to Westerners that Egypt's voters will not control foreign policy.
The new majority is likely to increase the difficulty of sustaining the United States’ close military and political partnership with post-Mubarak Egypt, though the military has said it plans to maintain a monopoly over many aspects of foreign affairs.
It almost goes without saying that what the New York Times is relieved to report is that for the benefit of Israel, or so that fewer than six million Jewish people can have an enforced political majority state (unlike white South Africans who suffer the indignity of living in a non-white political majority state), more than 80 million people should be denied representative or accountable control over their foreign policy.

Barack Obama lied when he said colonialism is over.
The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.
Many of the states of the Middle East are the exact same states, ruled by the exact same regimes put in place by imperial Great Britain. If colonialism ended in UAE or Jordan, when did that happen? Not only do those regimes not have different relationships with the United States than their acknowledged colonial predecessors had with their global empire, but no event has marked their freedom or independence from imperial control.

Obama is not mistaken. He is lying. He knows his control over the policies of the US empire in the Middle East operates exactly the way Winston Churchill's empire controlled largely the same subordinate political bodies.

It may be instructive to take another look at how Egypt was treated as a colonial subordinate around 100 years ago.
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.
But beyond the fact that Obama lied about the colonial status of the Middle East, it is important to understand why he lied.

The United States is not a proudly colonialist country, even as much as Great Britain was in 1922. By the United States' professed values, the concerns of fewer six million Jewish people do not outweigh those of more than 80 million Egyptians. The idea that US policy should be shifted to that degree is racist even by the US' own currently claimed moral standards.

The idea that the rights of over 400 million people in Israel's region, including in this example 80 million Egyptians, should be limited to ensure that fewer than six million Jewish people never have to live in a non-Jewish political majority state has survived as long as it has in the United States people like Juan Cole and organizations like the New York Times closing discussion to prevent the issue from being raised.

This is a topic that is not even, according to US values, subject to debate. Is a majority Jewish state worth harming 400 million non-Jews in Israel's region? No. By US claimed values there is no coherent argument that could be made otherwise.

Instead gatekeepers have prevented the question from being asked on any substantial scale. But as the power and effectiveness of these gatekeepers decrease, Israel's viability as an enforced Jewish political majority state decreases with it.