Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

How I Learned To Hate The Bomb Redux: The New York Times Gets In On The Act

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

Another give-war-a-chance Op-Ed about Iran, hitting most of the same bunk talking points I covered yesterday in my post about yet another holiday season hysteria over the ayatollahs (with as many Nazi references as you can get in).

Now, this Op-Ed wouldn’t look out of place at all any time since 2002 on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post, who have been rah-rahing a war with Iran for quite awhile now. The interesting thing is that it is the New York Times running this particular opinion piece.

This leaves Your Humble Author wondering if this is an attempt to mainstream the idea of an Iranian war with moderates and the center-left. Think back to 2002 and the hawkish stance on Iraq expounded upon by Thomas Friedman or Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaraia.

I covered most of the niggling details of an Iranian nuclear breakout and what it means to America and Israel yesterday, so let’s just hit the high points and call it a wrap:

Complete dismissal of diplomacy with a total disregard for the consequences of military action?

Tehran’s rejection of the original proposal is revealing. It shows that Iran, for domestic political reasons, cannot make even temporary concessions on its bomb program, regardless of incentives or sanctions.

Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try.

Check.

Subtle potshots at Obama painting him as an appeaser in the mold of Jimmy Carter or (now officially the most overused analogy in foreign policy) Neville Chamberlain?

This would let Iran run the reactor, retain the bulk of its enriched uranium and continue to enrich more — a bargain unacceptable even to the Obama administration.

Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement.

Check.

Pretending that borderline-crazy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the real leader of Iran and not the pragmatic Supreme Ayatollah?

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad initially embraced the deal because he realized it aided Iran’s bomb program. But his domestic political opponents, whom he has tried to label as foreign agents, turned the tables by accusing him of surrendering Iran’s patrimony to the West.

Check.

Repurposed Iraq War talking points?

Iran supplies Islamist terrorist groups in violation of international embargoes. Even President Ahmadinejad’s domestic opponents support this weapons traffic. If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb.

Check.

Completely destroying your own argument that a preemptive strike will constrain Iranian nuclear ambitions while acting as if it supports your case?

But history suggests that military strikes could work. Israel’s 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq’s rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program. A decade later, the Persian Gulf war uncovered and enabled the destruction of that uranium initiative, which finally deterred Saddam Hussein from further pursuit of nuclear weapons (a fact that eluded American intelligence until after the 2003 invasion).

Checkmate.

How I Learned To Hate The Bomb: The Renewed Campaign To Spark Hysteria Over Iran

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

First up, from Foreign Policy’s article on deterring and containing Iran:

Deterrence in the Middle East, they [policymakers and foreign policy analysts] argue, could be just as stable as it was between the United States and the USSR during the Cold War. “Israel’s massive nuclear force will deter Iran from ever contemplating using or giving away its own (hypothetical) weapon,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in the Oct. 12 edition of Newsweek. “Deterrence worked with madmen like Mao, and with thugs like Stalin, and it will work with the calculating autocrats of Tehran.”

But this historical analogy is dangerously misconceived. In reality, defusing an Israeli-Iranian nuclear standoff will be far more difficult than averting nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. This is true even if those Iranians with their fingers on the nuclear trigger are not given to messianic doomsday thinking. Here are five factors that will make an Israeli-Iranian nuclear confrontation potentially explosive.

Before we dive into these five factors, I’ll just pause to say that comparing a nuclear Iran to the American-Soviet standoff or even comparing Cuba during the Crisis with Iran is pretty specious and silly. And so:

Communication and trust.

The October 1962 negotiations that settled the Cuban missile crisis were conducted through a fairly effective, though imperfect, communication system between the United States and Russia. There was also a limited degree of mutual trust between the two superpowers. This did not prevent confusion and suspicion, but it did facilitate the rivals’ ability to understand the other’s side and eventually resolve the crisis.

Israel and Iran, however, have no such avenues for communication. They don’t even have embassies or fast and effective back-channel contacts — and, what’s more, they mistrust each other completely. Israel has heard Iranian leaders — and not just President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — call for its destruction. Meanwhile, Iranian leaders remain prone to paranoid and conspiratorial views of the outside world, especially Israel and the United States. In any future Iranian-Israeli crisis, each side could easily misinterpret the other’s moves, leading to disaster. A proxy war conducted by Iran through Hezbollah or Hamas against Israel could quickly lead to a series of escalating threats.

This actually is a serious problem. The Cold War MAD-speak for it is “redlines,” a series of negotiated agreements between America and the Soviet Union on what provocations from the other side could cause a nuclear response. The name comes from the Red Line, the teletype device that directly linked the White House and the Kremlin, installed in the wake of several clashes with the Soviets that almost led to nuclear Armageddon.

Of course, comparing the Israel-Iran situation to the Cold War is ludicrous, the best comparison is undoubtedly the India-Pakistan nuclear standoff. Here as in a hypothetical Middle Eastern cold war, there are no redlines and no communication between Islamabad and Mumbai on this issue. And, in the author’s favor, we have come to the brink of a third India-Pakistan war that most likely would have involved nuclear exchanges twice since 9/11.

Both times, both sides were slowly pushed back from the brink by Washington. I’ll pick back up on this in a minute.

Goals.

The Soviets wanted to extend their power and spread Communism — they never pledged the annihilation of America. Iranian leaders, however, have called for Israel to be “wiped off the map of the Middle East.” After the street protests that followed the June presidential election, Iran has entered into chronic instability. In a moment of heightened tension and urgent need for popular support, an Iranian leader could escalate not only rhetoric but action.

There is a strong precedent in the Middle East of such escalation leading to war. Arab threats to destroy any Jewish state preceded a massive invasion of the new Israeli state in May 1948. In May and June 1967, Egypt’s President Gamal Abd al-Nasser loudly proclaimed his intent to “liberate Palestine” (i.e. Israel in its 1949 borders), and moved his panzer divisions to Israel’s border. The result was the Six Day War.

The revisionist history that has sprung up around the Cold War in the two decades since its end is quite fascinating. Does Krushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations and shouting “We will bury you!” count for nothing anymore?

The author of the piece is right that despite all the rantings and threats, the main goal of the Soviet Union was to extend their power and influence into the Third World under the guise of World Socialism and to stay militarily competitive with America. But the same is also true with Iran: Despite the loud, blustery threats from the ayatollahs lo these last three decades, Iran has time and again proved itself to be a ruthless and crafty player of the Great Game, certainly not an irrational actor.

The analogy to the Six Day War is baffling and somewhat deceptive. It wasn’t Nasser’s rhetoric that caused the war, it was him moving his armies to the Israeli border. And the analogy is doubly misleading because Iran has very little conventional capability, their influence in the Middle East is almost entirely based on assymetric power.

And by the way: Panzer divisions? Really? That’s about as subtle as a kick to the groin.

Command and control.

In 1962, the two superpowers possessed sophisticated command-and-control systems securing their nuclear weapons. Both also employed effective centralized decision-making systems. Neither may be the case with Iran: Its control technology will be rudimentary at first, and Tehran’s decision-making process is relatively chaotic. Within Iran’s byzantine power structure, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mounts an army and navy of its own alongside the regular army and navy, and internal differences within the regime over nuclear diplomacy are evidence of conflicting lines of authority. Recent events suggest that the IRGC, allied with Ahmadinejad, has increasingly infringed on the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As a result, no one can be certain how decisions are made and who makes them.

This one’s pretty easy. The entire nuclear program is under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (the Sepha-i Pasdaran), a shadow military and secret police that reports directly to the Supreme Ayatollah Khamein’i. Simple. There is no issue with unity of command despite their recent civil unrest.

Mutual deterrence.

Both the United States and USSR had second-strike capability made credible by huge land masses. They possessed hardened missile silos scattered throughout the countryside, large air forces equipped with nuclear bombs, and missile-launching submarines. In the Middle East, Iran stretches across a vast 636,000 square miles, against Israel’s (pre-1967) 8,500 square miles of territory. This point was made by ex-president Hashemi Rafsanjani in 2001, who noted, “Israel is much smaller than Iran in land mass, and therefore far more vulnerable to nuclear attack.” If this is the way an Iranian pragmatist thinks, how are the hard-liners thinking?

In contrast, by 1962, the two superpowers implicitly recognized the logic of mutually assured destruction. And yet, they still came relatively close to war — in John F. Kennedy’s words, the risk of a nuclear conflict was “between one out of three and even.” When Iran goes nuclear, the huge disparity in size will pose a psychological obstacle for its recognition of mutual deterrence.

All things being equal, Israel’s small size would be a detriment to a mutually-assured destruction strategy. But things aren’t equal. Even if Iran obtains a handful of nuclear weapons and halfway decent missiles to shoot them at people with, Israel will be the only side that has a credible second-strike capability. Combined with the certainty of American assistance, this doesn’t seem like much of an impediment to MAD.

Even assuming the United States promises Israel a retaliatory nuclear umbrella, Iran will doubt U.S. resolve. The mullahs will be tempted to conclude that with Israel gone, the United States would see no point in destroying Iran. Given the criticism leveled today against President Harry Truman for using the bomb against Japanese civilians in World War II, what are the chances of American retaliation against Iran, especially if the Islamic Republic has not attacked the United States?

I seriously doubt the mullahs doubt American resolve when it comes to the Middle East, especially the Persian Gulf. Nuclear missiles exploding near the oil would be seriously bad for business, and if there’s one thing you can guarantee, it’s that America will respond swiftly and strongly to any perceived threat to our energy security. Not to mention, Israel is quite popular here in the States and they have a very vocal political lobby.

And the last sentence presupposes that if Israel is nuked by Iran, that America will have to nuke Iran in retaliation. We just might, but even if we don’t, American conventional power is strong enough to level the entire country in a month (despite its huge size, much of Iran is uninhabitable, and the population is clustered around urban and semi-urban areas). There isn’t a doubt in the world that America would descend upon Iran like the Wrath of God if they were to ever do something so stupid.

Crisis instability.

In view of the above dangers, if and when a grave crisis does erupt, Israel would be tempted to strike first in order to prevent an Iranian nuclear attack, which would devastate its urban core. Iran will be well aware of Israel’s calculations and, in the early years of becoming a nuclear power, will have a smaller and probably more vulnerable nuclear arsenal. This will give it, in turn, strong incentives to launch its own preemptive strike.

This will not happen as long as America has such a heavy military presence in the Middle East. Period. This favorite talking point of war hawk pundits was put to bed decisively in 2007 during the Bush Administration. They came to Washington to ask for the latest generation in nuclear bunker-busters for a strike on Iran (as well as permission to cross Iraqi airspace) and were turned down flat by Condi Rice and Bob Gates, who threatened to end the American-Israeli relationship permanently if they did go ahead and do it anyway.

Yes, you read that right. Israel wants to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program by dropping nuclear weapons on them. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Just a few more points to wrap up:

Once Iran is a nuclear power, the Middle East is likely to enter a fast-moving process of nuclear proliferation. Until now, most Arab governments have not made an effort to match Israel’s  nuclear arsenal.

Already happening. Saudi Arabia doesn’t have all those Chinese ballistic missiles hidden out in the Empty Quarter for nothing. But the fall of Iraq has as much to do with it as Iran’s nuclear program; that’s a whole ‘nother story though.

Contrary to the wishful thinking of some analysts that the possession of nuclear weapons could make Iran more cautious, a nuclear Iran will likely be emboldened. It could press Hezbollah to be more aggressive in Lebanon, flex its muscles in the Persian Gulf, and step up its challenges against U.S. forces in the region.

Iran is pretty bold now. Things really couldn’t be going any better for them if they had tried. Their unconventional warfare power by proxy in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, western Afghanistan and a host of other places makes them the de facto regional hegemon.

The most important point, and the one all these pro-war Iran pieces leave out, is that the critical factor in the Israeli-Iranian relationship is how the American-Iranian one  is doing. And it’s doing very very well, if you’re an ayatollah. With American forces tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan without sufficient numbers to pacify both countries, Iran has become sort of the unofficial peacekeeper in southern Iraq (where in true Iranian fashion they back every side and just wait to see who wins) and Herat in western A-stan. With a phone call they can make life very unpleasant for American soldiers in Iraq or start another Hizb’allah-Israeli conflict.

Bottom line, as long as these conditions persist America has very little influence to stop the Iranian nuclear program, but enough influence to stop Israel from attacking them preemptively, which is going to mean an enforced stalemate until something crazy happens or the strategic calculus changes drastically.

“Caught With Their Hand In The Cookie Jar,” Or Why The World Is Pretending To Be Surprised About Iran’s Nuclear Program

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

From the article  “Obama’s Iran Trap” in Foreign Policy:

The conventional wisdom on last week’s astonishing revelations about Iran’s secret uranium-enrichment site, tucked in a mountainside near the holy city of Qom, holds that Barack Obama has just pulled off a diplomatic coup, raising the pressure on Tehran going into a critical Oct. 1 big-powers meeting and finally getting the Russians to agree to U.N. sanctions with real bite.

First off, you should treat any paragraph that begins with “the conventional wisdom” with deep skepticism, because what it really means is “what the chattering class thinks” and that’s never a good barometer of reality.  Secondly, how in the world is the fact that Iran has multiple sites for its nuclear program an astonishing revelation? Even cable news has been talking about this for four years, how airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear installations would involve hundreds of sorties on dozens of targets. Is the fact that President Ahmadinejad disclosed the existence of just one of the numerous sites that even the public knows exists, let alone the CIA or Mossad, really all that jaw-dropping?

Don’t be so sure. Obama may not have had much choice given that Iran had just notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its new nuke plant, but the U.S. president is the one with a problem now. By revealing this information, he has painted himself into a corner and made an Israeli strike more likely.

Obama has not painted himself into any sort of corner with this declaration. Here’s why. This “astonishing” announcement is just yet another in a series of posturing United Nations pressers that have been going on since former president Bush threw down the gauntlet concerning the Iranian nuclear program years ago, and almost all of it has been for naught.

And the chance of an Israeli strike on Iran  against the wishes of  Washington is virtually nil. A little known story is that at the end of the Bush Administration, then-Prime Minister Olmert had decided that Israel would take out the nuclear facilites at Natanz and other sites with, of all things, nuclear bunker-busters, to reach the facilities deep underground. Apparently oblivious to the irony, the Israelis approached the Bush White House with a request for the latest in air-dropped tactical nukes, and Olmert was told in no uncertain terms by Bob Gates and Condi Rice that the United States would not support it. The strikes, which were far enough along that pilots were already flying practice sorties, were quietly  scrapped.

Besides that, an Israeli attack into Iran would require traversing Iraqi airspace. Under the new Status of Forces agreement, Iraqi airspace actually belongs to the Iraqis again, and their Shi’ite-dominated government is very buddy-buddy with the mullahs.

For one thing, it’s not clear that “the Russians” have really agreed to sanctions. Yes, President Dmitry Medvedev emerged from his meeting with Obama last week to suggest he was on board. And we know that U.S. national security advisor James L. Jones pulled aside Sergei Prikhodko, his Russian counterpart, to tell him the news about the second Iranian plant. (Officially Medvedev’s advisor, Prikhodko is really Putin’s top foreign-policy boss, and chances are he accompanied Medvedev to New York to be the prime minister’s ears and eyes on the ground.)

What we don’t know is what Putin thinks. But as demonstrated last year when the prime minister abruptly left the Olympics to supervise the war with Georgia, he’s still very much in charge. (Right on schedule, a Russian foreign ministry source reportedly said today that everyone should “calm down” over Iran’s latest missile test and “not give way to emotions.”) And then there’s China, which came out with a typically milquetoast statement after Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy made their dramatic announcement Thursday morning at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh. Everyone knows that serious sanctions mean fuel, as Iran, for all its oil, still has to import a great deal of refined petroleum (just how much is disputed) to make its economy run. But the Chinese get 15 percent of their oil from Iran. Needless to say, getting meaningful sanctions through the U.N. Security Council is far from assured.

It really doesn’t matter whether or not sanctions are actually pushed through the Security Council, Iran has been under sanctions for well over a decade and doesn’t seem too distraught about it. The only sanctions that would truly hurt them would be oil sanctions, but there is no way in hell China or especially Britain would ever go for that. The faux-dramatic press conference is just the usual dog-and-pony show while the real action takes place in the smoky back room.

The real dope is that whether or not the Russians will support tougher economic sanctions against Iran, they are in a position to make Iran’s life difficult in much more meaningful ways. They are their main arms supplier and have been supplying them with nuclear tech and know-how. The deal that was struck to scrap the anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe seems to have been a straight-up horse trade with Medvedev (well, Putin really, as the article points out): Russia gets breathing room in the Near Abroad, and America gets transit rights involving Afghanistan and a stronger public stance from Moscow on an Iranian nuclear breakout. How much pressure Medvedev is willing to apply outside the auspices of the UN is the real question.

. . . .[T]he Iran issue is going to become a major headache for Obama. It’s going to strengthen Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s argument that Iran’s nuclear program, not West Bank settlements or the plight of the Palestinians, is the real crisis in the Middle East. It’s going to put wind in the sails of neoconservatives and Republicans in Washington, who are all too eager to paint the U.S. president as weak and ineffectual when Tehran doesn’t buckle. What is Barack going to do then? Bomb Iran himself and wreck his Middle East hopes? Let Iran go nuclear and turn the nonproliferation regime into a sick joke? Give sanctions “time to work” — and consign a generation of Iranians to radicalism, growing ethnic strife, and crushing poverty?

I’m not sure how much of a headache it’s really going to be, considering that no one in any position to affect American foreign policy should give a tinker’s damn what the American neoconservatives or the Likudniks (the Israeli neocons), especially Netanyahu, after seven years of watching that failed ideology drive our country’s national security and international clout off a cliff. Of course, there is a valid point to the observation, because our Very Serious journalists in the op-ed pages and cable news will hang on the prognostications of Bill Kristol et al. as if they have any credibility left after being spectacularly wrong about everything since 2002.

The one thing I wholeheartedly agree with is that Obama does not really have any good options concerning Iran, at least not if people expect the endgame to be Iran giving up their nuclear program. Like chess, where there are scores of possible opening moves but only a few that won’t result in your quick defeat, the president doesn’t have many diplomatic options to choose from. The absolute best-case scenario is that Iran only wants to attain a status like Germany and Japan, with no actual atomic built but the capability to put one together in a couple weeks if necessary. The more likely scenario, given that an Iranian nuclear breakout is virtually assured unless someone goes to war over it, is that America will have to switch its priorities from nonproliferation to counterproliferation, keeping Iran from selling its knowledge to even nuttier and more unstable Third World countries.

Iranian Clerics Defy Regime, Criticize Elections

Monday, July 6th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Just when it seemed the Iranian protests may be running out of steam, some of the most influential clerics in all of Shia Islam have voiced their disapproval of the regime, and criticized the recent elections:

An important group of religious leaders in Iran called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate on Saturday, an act of defiance against the country’s supreme leader and the most public sign of a major split in the country’s clerical establishment.

A statement by the group, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, represents a significant, if so far symbolic, setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is supposed to be final. The government has tried to paint the opposition and its top presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, as criminals and traitors, a strategy that now becomes more difficult.

“This crack in the clerical establishment, and the fact they are siding with the people and Moussavi, in my view is the most historic crack in the 30 years of the Islamic republic,” said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. “Remember, they are going against an election verified and sanctified by Khamenei.”

There’s a lot of ways in which this is important to the situation. The most apparent is the timing; the government has just recently threatened anyone who continues to dispute the election, hoping to be much like a parent who just says “enough” to end some behavior they don’t like anymore. But even after that, this group of clerics have announced their opinion, more or less in open defiance of the regime. Secondly, there’s the problem this creates for whatever shred of legitimacy Khamieni hoped to maintain. Remember that the Supreme Leader is supposed to be the final arbitrer on matters of religion and state, and even if many of the Grand Ayatollahs don’t really believe in the system the Ayatollah Khomieni constructed, they’ve more or less abided by it since the revolution. That’s no longer the case here, and this pronouncement is a blow to the Khamienists, who had been using the specter of divine blessing to bolster the “official” results of the election.

On a more practical account, this creates some real tangiable problems for the regime. We’re not talking about your local priests or country preacher here, these are some of the most learned, most respected scholars in all of Shia Islam, a branch of faith that deeply venerates it’s Grand Ayatollahs. There’s really no good way for the regime to respond here. A self-styled theocracy can’t very well imprison, torture, execute, or even really sanction it’s highest ranking relgious leaders and scholars while still maintaining the facade of religious trappings, and this is a real problem for Khamieni, who must choose between leaving the clerics alone, likely to rouse more headaches for him, or cracking down on them, exposing to everyone that the religious nature of the regime constructed in the Revolution is long gone, and Khamieni is just a typical dictator. Ultimatlely, I think the regime only has those two choices; crack down on all of the dissenters, including the religious leaders, and rule the country as a police state (this assumes that the security services are comfortable adding well respected ayatollahs, or even grand ayatollahs, to their “enemies list,” which shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion), or tamp down their own response some, and just hope that the air leaves the protesters sometime soon. I have no idea what they’ll do, but either way, I suspect the regime’s days truly are numbered now. I just don’t see how you reset things now.

Why America’s Not Ready for an Iranian Revolution

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Just take a look at the nonsense that is being peddled by the right wing today (and the last few days). A lot of empty words attempting to incite a war or something (?!?) against Iran in the aftermath of their election that featured truly horrible stagecraft.

There are many who are “analyzing” the Iranian election results, from the statisticians at fivethirtyeight.com to editorialists and columnists around the world and I don’t want to rehash any of that here, particularly because they have – no doubt – done a better job than I would do, but really. Did they not notice the crowds in the streets supporting the4 opposition candidate when they decided to announce that the incumbent won with 63% of the vote? Laughable. If they had said that it was close, but Ahmadinejad ended up with 51% of the vote, likely very few would have done more than yawn.

But back to our story.

Some Americans seem to want to incite an armed insurrection in Iran (okay, some want to incite an armed insurrection in the United States, but that’s a different post, okay?). They do so without knowing who they are supporting.

They reflexively want to oust the theocracy currently in place. Perhaps they want a military dictator, someone who will rule with an iron hand but ensure that the next Iranian government is secular. Kind of like Saddam, right?

Would the United States be in a position to help a fledgling actual democracy in Iran? Could we “get over’ the fact that they are almost all Muslim in that country – and we “know” that all Muslims just want to kill Americans and Jews (and not necessarily in that order), right?

You would think that we would have learned our lesson from instigating revolution in Iran in 1953 what could happen when you do things like that.

Or Chile.

Or South Vietnam.

Or Guatemala.

Or Pakistan.

Or Iraq…

Point is that unless we know for sure that the next government will be. Unless we can be certain that the next group will in fact be democrats, and will have the best interests of the Iranian people and world peace at heart, why the hell would we get involved?

And the truth is that we CANNOT know what would happen next.

The best we can do is to watch and see what happens, and wait to offer support and aid or to continue our discussions and hope to be able to achieve a level of diplomacy with whatever government ends up running that country.

Oh wait. That’s what the Obama administration is doing…

Never mind.

By Writeside

Iran

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

To state the obvious, the Iranian election was a sham. Even assuming that it is possible that Ahmadinejad won more votes than any of the other 3 candidates, the idea that he won nearly 2/3 of the vote in a 4 way race is simply not plausible. And as Juan Cole helpfully breaks down, the supposed provincial results make even less sense. The question now is, who is responsible for what can only be called fabricating the results of the election.

The first thing of relevance to note is that Supreme Leader Khamieni is pretty clearly in on the conspiracy. He quickly certified the bogus numbers, even though he’s supposed to wait at least 3 days for the Guardian Council to present the numbers to him, and re-affirmed that today. It seems equally unlikely that “the mullahs” are behind the coup, for the simple reason that Ahmadinejad is very unpopular with the regime’s religious leaders. So the most likely scenario is one of coup-by-Revolutionary Guard, with an assist from the Minister of the Interior, an Ahmadinejad ally who’s been significantly advantaged by the past 4 years.

The relevant question now, of course, is how this will wind up breaking down. Mousavi supporters and college students are clashing with “police” (there’s some speculation that the police are actually refusing to confront the protesters, and it’s Basij militia forces carrying out the governmental violence) in a situation eerily reminiscent of the 1979 revolution. People are chanting insults at the Supreme Leader, and there’s actually rumors of a possbile “impeachment” by the Assembly of Experts. Mousavi’s supporters are planning marches tomorrow, with Mousavi planning on leading the one in Tehran, to end at the Khomieni shrine, if a permit is denied for the demonstration. If Khatami and Rafsanjani show up as well, the situation could be very volatile, with a government whose impulse will be violence restrained by the presence of such popular, high profile figures. If violence erupts in such a scenario, we could be looking at a bona fide Lincoln and Concord moment. The smartest play for the government is to ride out the protests in relatively non-violent fashion, but so far they show no inclination to do so.

Iranian elections may be limited, but we’re not talking about a state like Egypt, where everyone knows the voting is a sham. Iranians take their elections pretty seriously, and in the past the clerics have shown a lack of willingness to interfere with the voting. Khatami won 2 elections with overwhelming support, even if the ayatollahs ultimately frustrated the implementation of his espoused policy preferences. Such obvious fraud is an affront, not just to the young liberalizers, but to the mainstream of the Iranian populace, and plenty of players in the Iraqi establishment as well. Such an obvious fraud isn’t likely to be accepted by much of anyone, and the resulting violence, or more appropriately, the government’s response to it, could set off the revolution many of us have been hoping for in Iran.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Jewish Exceptionalism

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Apparently the criticism of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “Amalek defense” of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gotten to the Goldblog, because his latest defense is somewhere between shrill and absurd. In short, the criticism “perverts” the story of Judaism’s obsession with Amalek because, well, because apparently it’s just not possible for Judaism to do/condone bad things:

In any case, this whole debate is a perversion, and not only because genocide is the specialty of other religions, and not Judaism. Iran has called for the elimination of the Jewish state, and seems to be building nuclear weapons that could make that a reality; Israel simply seeks to protect itself from a country that wants to exterminate it. If Israel does strike Iran, it would bomb military targets while trying to minimize civilian casualties. Iran, through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, already has a long and distinguished record of murdering Jewish children. There’s simply no equivalence here. Yes, Israel does various idiotic and immoral things. But it isn’t, even on its worst day, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It’s rare to see this much deplorable nonsense rolled into one paragraph, so let’s unpack it point by point. First of all, and most obvious, is Goldberg’s overt resort to an argument of tautology. Apparently Jews do not commit genocide in the same way that Americans don’t torture; if we do it, it’s by definition not bad. But this is just, well, odd. God commanded Saul to kill every single Amalekite, man, woman, and child, as well as killing all of their livestock. Saul was removed from his kingship for taking the livestock for spoils instead of killing them, and for letting the Amalekite king live. That’s a genocidal order any way you slice it, and a divine punishment for not carrying out the order murderously enough. It would be one thing, I suppose, if Goldberg were taking the orthodox position that this was ok because it was commanded by God, but that would sound rather ridiculous, especially in the context of complaining about religious terrorists who believe they’re carrying out divine orders. So Goldberg resorts to pure Bushist tautology; Jews don’t commit genocide, so if Jews do something, it’s not genocide. And he doesn’t just leave it at that because, instead of just saying “Judaism does not specialize in genocide,” he adds the modifier “unlike other religions.” This begs the obvious question; which religions do Goldberg feel “specialiaze in genocide?” 

What’s really odd about this whole string of posts from Goldberg though is how he’s basically trying to argue that the Amalex reference is irrelevant, even though it was his column that brought it up. Yes, it was an “aide” to Bibi, not the Prime Minister himself, who invoked the specter of Amalek to describe Bibi’s mindset, but it stands to reason that Goldberg thought there was something to that when he put it in the original column. And given this factor, it simply doesn’t make any sense to blithely declare that Israel doesn’t want to harm Iranian civilians; God’s commandment to Saul was not to kill the Amalekite king, but take care to spare everyone else, it was to kill every single Amalekite. There’s not really any way around that. Which isn’t to say that I think Israel does intend to wage some genocidal war against Iran (I don’t), it’s merely to point out how stupid the analogy was, and continues to be. Goldberg is trying to have it both ways; on the one hand, he wants to invoke the ancient bane of the Jews who, in Jewish tradition, epitomizes evil to describe Iran in maximally favorable terms, but at the same time he wants to disavow the implications of that comparison, based on a reading of the scriptures. Shorter, Goldberg is trying to invoke “Jewish tradition,” while at the same time trying to pretend the scripture says something other than, well, what it says. And the increasingly shrill tone being taken more or less belies that Goldberg knows there’s no way out of this for him, short of implied accusations of anti-Semitism, which is all the above quote represents.

Finally, as Matt Duss points out, Goldberg’s off-hand comment that Iran “seems to be e building nuclear weapons” is completely unsupported by facts, as it is the official position of the US intelligence community that Iran has not restarted its weapons program since halting it in 2003. But of course, over-hyping threats based on completely unsupported, sensationalist claims would be par for the course with Goldberg. 

Jeffrey Goldberg: Still a Warmongering Wanker

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I was going to write a nice long post about this drivel from “Goldblog,” but ultimately, it’s just not worth the time. Anyway I’ll just note that Goldberg resorts to the typical neocon tropes of implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war in order to paint their extraordinary measures vis-a-vis the civilian population in that conflict as somehow unusual, and responding to evidence casting doubt on Iran’s desire to develop nuclear weapons with nothing more than a completely speculative claim that they’re lying.

I’d also point out that Goldberg is just completely misrepresenting scriptural references in calling God’s command to commit genocide against te Amalekites an “inoperable commandment, never to be carried out.” TO be sure, Saul found himself unable to commit the brutal act, but in response, God stripped him of his kingship in favor of David, who waged a continuing war attempting to exterminate the Amalekites. Which really just leaves one question; is there anything Jeffrey Goldberg won’t lie about to agitate for war against Muslim countries?

Jeffrey Goldberg’s Continuing Netanyahu Hagiography

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

From today’s New York Times:

Nevertheless, the prime minister’s preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear program seems sincere and deeply felt. I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu’s anxiety about Iran. His answer: “Think Amalek.”

“Amalek,” in essence, is Hebrew for “existential threat.” Tradition holds that the Amalekites are the undying enemy of the Jews. They appear in Deuteronomy, attacking the rear columns of the Israelites on their escape from Egypt. The rabbis teach that successive generations of Jews have been forced to confront the Amalekites: Nebuchadnezzar, the Crusaders, Torquemada, Hitler and Stalin are all manifestations of Amalek’s malevolent spirit.

If Iran’s nuclear program is, metaphorically, Amalek’s arsenal, then an Israeli prime minister is bound by Jewish history to seek its destruction, regardless of what his allies think. In our recent conversation, Mr. Netanyahu avoided metaphysics and biblical exegesis, but said that Iran’s desire for nuclear weapons represented a “hinge of history.”

So let me get this straight; Netanyahu’s fixation with Iran is the result of a belief that the Iranians are the latest manifestation of an ancient malevolent spirit that, according to religious tradition, has been tormenting the Jewish people since the days of Moses, and is responsible for Babylonian conquests, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and Hitler and Stalin…but Iran is the “apocalyptic messianic cult?” Seriously?

Snark aside, this is to be expected from Goldberg, who ultimately is nothing but an AIPAC hack who will shamelessly shill for whatever Israeli policy is at the moment. Some people have taken to referring to the AIPAC wing of the American “Israel debate” as the “Likud lobby,” but this strikes me as being wrong. AIPAC, Goldberg, and company will mostly shill for whatever Israeli policy is at the moment, regardless of who is leading the government at the time. This is, in no small part, because on the question of the Palestinian conflict, there’s really no difference, beyond superficial optics, between the major three parties in Israel.

The real shame here lies with the Times for accepting a submission from Goldberg. Jeffrey Goldberg is the writer who not only savaged Jon Mearshimer and Stephen Walt in one of the most unprofessional, unserious “book reviews” ever printed by a major media publication (eventhulibrul New Republic), he’s the “journalist” who was most loudly running around in “mainstream” outlets trumpeting the connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the run up to the Iraq War. You would think that being that spectacularly wrong about such a critical piece of information, and his obvious lack of objectivity in matters regarding the Middle East, and Israel in particular, would largely disqualify him from getting any further warmongering published in “respectable” outlets, let alone in the week when we’re getting quite a bit of knowledge about the ways in which torture was employed to produce “evidence” of the arguments Goldberg was advancing prior to Iraq.

But that’s not how American journalism works anymore, is it?

It’s the Hegemony

Monday, April 13th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I’m of the opinion that some of Roger Cohen’s reporting regarding Iran has been overly glib, but I suppose that’s somewhat understandable considering the nature of the criticism he’s encountered for it. Still, his column in The New York Times last week was both very good, and very important for the ideas it will hopefully put into the discourse surrounding the new Israeli government, and Israeli foreign policy in general.

First of all, it’s good to see such a reminder that Israel has long been hysterical about Iran. As Cohen points out, a mere 5 years before 9/11, and only 2 years before the al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Africa, Shimon Peres was declaring Iran the “center” of global terrorism, as well as predicting Iran would possess a nuclear weapon by 1999. 10 years later, Iran is still nukeless, and has halted their weapons program altogether according to U.S. intelligence, and no one is asking Peres for betting tips. But Israeli leaders are still hyping the specter of a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. But Cohen takes on that canard as well, by noting that the evidence of the body of action by the Iranian regime since 1979 is one of both realist rationality and a seeming aversion to direct armed conflict. And that’s without noting that it’s been literally centuries since the Persians have waged an expansionary war of any kind.

But most important is the fact that Cohen calls out the real reason Israel has been perpetually worked up about the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran. Simply put, it’s the hegemony stupid. At present, Israel enjoys more or less unchecked dominance in the Middle East. Their military can route any of their neighbors, and can probably fend pretty well against all of the Arabic states working in unison. Additionally, there’s very little in the way of a deterrant on Israeli action present. The closest you get is in Saudi Arabia, where the central importance of their oil production to the global economy means that the world likely would have little patience for an Israeli attack against Saudi Arabia that would send the price of oil to largely unimagined levels, but even that isn’t quite as effective as a legitmate military counterweight. But, a nuclear armed Iran would function as a significant deterrant against Israeli military action. Israel would be constrained by the same principle of MAD that other nuclear armed powers have been vis-a-vis their dealings with Iran, and the Iranians could extend a protective shield to other states in the region, fundamentally shifting the balance of power in the region away from Israel and to, at the least, one that is fundamentally balanced between the nuclear armed Iran and the nuclear armed, highly sophisticated, Israel. Which isn’t t say that this isn’t a legitimate rationale for Israeli positioning, but it’s important that the United States keep this in mind when they hear Bibi implying that Iran was the aggressor in the Iran-Iraq war, or casually asserting that a regime that has managed to last for 30 years now will suddenly become suicidal, in order to justify an Israeli attack that would cause the region to erupt.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s New War

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Personally, my favorite nugget in “Goldblog’s” interview with Bibi has nothing to do with the Israeli Prime Minister whatsoever. Rather, it’s this bit off seemingly off handed framing Goldberg inserts:

Both Israeli and American intelligence officials agree that Iran is moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.

Of course, that’s not true. American intelligence believes that “Tehran halted their nuclear weapons programs in 2003.” And Goldberg seems to let on to this a few sentences later:

American officials argue that Iran has not crossed the “technological threshold”; the director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, said recently that Israel and the U.S. are working with the same set of facts, but are interpreting it differently. “The Israelis are far more concerned about it, and they take more of a worst-case approach to these things from their point of view,” he said.

Of course, what Blair is saying, while putting it diplomatically, is that the Israelis are acting irrationally out of emotion (I’d quibble with the reasoning, but that’s best left for another post). What Goldberg wants you to infer is that Israel is the one interpreting the facts correctly, which is why he so casually misleads his readers with intonements about how American intelligence agrees that Iran is “moving forward in developing a nuclear-weapons capability.” The only way that’s true, based on what Goldberg goes on to lay out, is if Blair is telling the truth that Americans and Israelis have the same set of facts, and Israel is interpreting them correctly. Of course, misleading the public in the name of furthering a march to war is a game Goldberg is quite familiar with.

Not for nothing, it’s things like this that drove the Chas Freeman controversy. More than a few people have remarked on how bizarre it was the see the chairmanship of the NIC raised to such a high stakes position, but what people like Goldberg and Steven Rosen were afraid of was the possibility that Freeman’s “contrarian” realism might lead him to take a much more critical reading of intelligence vis-a-vis Iran, and would likely be unreceptive to the sort of irrational hyping Israel and the Israel lobby prefers, and is necessary to keep the drumbeat for war with Iran going. At this point, the real question is which American leader is going to be brave enough to accurately characterize the opinion of the American intelligence apparatus, and stop genuflecting to the myth of Iranian nuclear weapon development.

Netanyahu Warns; He Will Bomb Iran

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had quite a message for President Obama; attack Iran, or I will:

Netanyahu said he would support President Obama’s decision to engage Iran, so long as negotiations brought about a quick end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “How you achieve this goal is less important than achieving it,” he said, but he added that he was skeptical that Iran would respond positively to Obama’s appeals. In an hour-long conversation, held in the Knesset, Netanyahu tempered his aggressive rhetoric with an acknowledgement that nonmilitary pressure could yet work. “I think the Iranian economy is very weak, which makes Iran susceptible to sanctions that can be ratcheted up by a variety of means.” When I suggested that this statement contradicted his assertion that Iran, by its fanatic nature, is immune to pressure, Netanyahu smiled thinly and said, “Iran is a composite leadership, but in that composite leadership there are elements of wide-eyed fanaticism that do not exist right now in any other would-be nuclear power in the world. That’s what makes them so dangerous.”[…]

Neither Netanyahu nor his principal military advisers would suggest a deadline for American progress on the Iran nuclear program, though one aide said pointedly that Israeli time lines are now drawn in months, “not years.” These same military advisers told me that they believe Iran’s defenses remain penetrable, and that Israel would not necessarily need American approval to launch an attack. “The problem is not military capability, the problem is whether you have the stomach, the political will, to take action,” one of his advisers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me.

Of course, this is a mobius strip at its finest, in so much as all of our intelligence estimates continue to claim that Iran has no nuclear weapons program (although to be fair, US leadership, including Obama, are no better about this) so Bibi is setting up an impossible circumstance that, if worked out, can only end in military action. What’s most interesting about this, however, is that it suggests Netanyahu isn’t really that concerned about the divergence of political opinion in the US and Israel, and he clearly seems to think, for reasons I can’t really figure out, that it’s Israel, not the United States, who holds the dominant position in the alliance between the two. Hopefully the Obama administration won’t prove him correct, and will put meaningful pressure on the new government to moderate their foreign/military policy.

Also, I’ve seen both Massie and Larison flag this section of the interview:

Netanyahu offered Iran’s behavior during its eight-year war with Iraq as proof of Tehran’s penchant for irrational behavior. Iran “wasted over a million lives without batting an eyelash … It didn’t sear a terrible wound into the Iranian consciousness. It wasn’t Britain after World War I, lapsing into pacifism because of the great tragedy of a loss of a generation. You see nothing of the kind.”

He continued: “You see a country that glorifies blood and death, including its own self-immolation.” I asked Netanyahu if he believed Iran would risk its own nuclear annihilation at the hands of Israel or America. “I’m not going to get into that,” he said.

Of course, the idea that Iran is a completely irrational, fanatical state isn’t backed up by any solid evidence, which is why Bibi (like Norman Podhoretz in World War IV, incidentally) has to resort to using the Iran-Iraq war as an example, while declining to remind his audience that it was Iraq who was the aggressor in that war. Of course states often accept higher levels of casualties when defending their own territory from a hostile aggressor, and for the most part, the rest of the world accepts that, even when what would normally be considered “extreme” measures like arming the citzenry are taken. Simply put, no one expects a state to submit to aggression in the name of limiting casualties (have you ever heard someone argue that France was irresonsible in World War I for enduring such a high casualty level?), which is why Netanyahu has to imply that Iran was the agressor in the conflict, and that their behavior was highly unusual. Given this, and the chosen outlet, I’d say Netanyahu isn’t even bothering to play to the American government anymore, he’s playing to the media, hoping that any action Israel may take about Iran will be spun in Israel’s favor, and that the Obama administration won’t be in a position to push back. The implication is clear; the Netanyahu government simply does not care what the United States thinks, unless the US is prepared to support them unequivocally. It would be amusing in it’s presumptuosness, if it weren’t such a dangerous course. For everyone.

On Iran, Peres Defies Obama

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I didn’t have anything original to add when President Obama issued a polite holiday message to Iran, opening the door to rapproachment, so I didn’t bother to say anything. Similarly, the Iranian response was fairly pretty predictable, and the exchange is rather small bore anyway. The Iranians certainly have a fair point that the gesture is meaningless without some sort of change in policy, especially considering it is official US policy to support “regime change” in Iran. What will matter going forward is what, if any, changes the US makes as towards Tehran, and how the rest of the world, particularly Europe and Russia, respond.

That said, the apparent reaction of Israeli President Shimon Peres really is quite interesting. Peres continued the practice of “speaking directly to the Iranian people,” and urging them to rise up against the Iranian government. The move is being taken as a direct slight towards Obama, and, honestly, I don’t know how else to read it. And this is another example, I think, of how truly isolated Israel is willfully becoming in the global community. It’s certainly possible, of course, that Peres assumes that American public opinion is more closely aligns with AIPAC than with the President (and the Weekly Standard certainly leapt to the cause), but I find it rather unlikely that Peres just assumes out of hand that the popular President’s position on a relatively high profile foreign policy matter is wildly out of line with the consensus of American public opinion. Far more likely, I think, is that he doesn’t care, or is hoping to force Obama int a more concillatory (to Israel) position. And yes, this is as reckless as it sounds. Israel can tolerate deep unopularity in Europe, so long as the United States remains an unflinching ally, but it certainly can’t afford to damage relations with the United States. And yet, as the American public, and the American government, becomes increasingly committed to a two-state solution that will require concessions on Israel’s part, and a slightly more sane Middle Eastern policy, at least where Iran is concerned, Israel has moved quite a bit to the right, and will now have a government led by Bibi Netanyahu, who thinks Iran is a more pressing issue than the global economy, and features Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister.

In other words, Israel is really playing with fire, at best assuming the neoconservative position is much more popular than it is in the U.S., at worst deciding their willing to gamble their relations with their only ally of consequence in the name of holding the line on Iran.

Going After Blair

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

After Chas Freeman bowed out of the NIC, I wondered how his opponents would fare with his superior, DNI Adm. Dennis Blair, who likely wasn’t too fond of the people who had forced out his guy. Well, it now appears they’ll be going after him as well. John Cole has the goods.

It’s important to recognize that this all boils down to Iran, and who “controls” the intelligence reports the government puts out. What the Commentary crowd is afraid of in Blair is a Director of National Intelligence that doesn’t have a hard on for a war with Iran, and as such will view the information on their nuclear programs with a higher degree of skepticism, as opposed to being more willing to accept the “worst case scenario” as representative of reality. You could argue as well that given their history of politicizing intelligence reports, they’re worried Blair would do the same thing (although what Blair’s agenda is supposed to be I don’t know). But, in any event, a more skeptical set of eyes digesting information is likely to produce more measured, realistic, pictures of the Iranian situation, which would be bad for those people, both in the United States and in Israel, endlessly agitating for a military strike on Iran.

Talkin’ Geopolitics With Joe Biden: Waiting For The Inevitable Gaffe.

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

By Tommy Brown

One of the things that will be most amusing about the Obama administration in the coming years will be watching Joe Biden stick his foot in his mouth, and then make it worse trying to get it out. This is pretty much a guarantee. But at the Munich Security Conference ten days ago, the Vice President was all business, delivering the first major foreign policy speech since the inauguration.

Reuters compiled a last of significant quotes from the speech, and I taking a look at them one by one would be interesting:

“I come to Europe on behalf of a new administration, an administration that is determined to set a new tone not only in Washington, but in America’s relations around the world. That new tone is rooted in a strong bipartisanship to meet these common challenges. And we recognise that meeting these challenges is not a luxury but an absolute necessity.”

So he’s taking a more conciliatory, if measured, tone towards foreign policy, but it’s not like this is hard to do after eight years of the fuck-you-if-you-don’t-like-it Bush Doctrine.

ASKING MORE FROM PARTNERS

“As we seek a lasting framework for our common struggle against extremism, we will have to work cooperatively with nations around the world – and we will need your help. For example, we will be asking others to take responsibility for some of those now at Guantanamo as we determine to close it. Our security is shared. So, too, I respectfully suggest, is our responsibility to defend it.”

“America will do more. That’s the good news. The bad news is that America will ask for more from our partners as well.”

A nice little one-two punch at our European allies, making good on the promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison but also a put-up-or-shut-up call for help.

AMERICA WILL LISTEN

“We believe that international alliances and organizations do not diminish America’s power. We believe they help us advance our collective security, economic interests and our values. So we’ll engage. We’ll listen. We’ll consult.”

An unsurprising paean to the gurus of the loosely organized Western international order, but again, after Bush, a welcome one. Republicans, of course, will use this as a bludgeon to beat Obama about the head and neck with.

USING FORCE

“Our administration has set ambitious goals … to advance democracy not through its imposition by force from the outside, but by working with moderates in government and civil society to build the institutions that will protect freedom.”

“As America renews our emphasis on diplomacy, development, democracy and preserving our planet, we will ask our allies to rethink some of their own approaches – including their willingness to use force when all else fails.”

This is a pretty fascinating development, because it’s not exactly abandoning the “democracy is great for everyone” aspect of the Bush Doctrine, which was surprising to Your Humble Author;  they should be running away screaming from any of Bush’s policies. Also, the second quote seems to imply that the preemptive war doctrine aspect is also still in effect,  its’ just implied. These are not the improvements I was hoping for: America always has preemptive war in its pocket (though it will be much more difficult now), there’s no reason to state it or even subtly imply that we intend to keep it. Best left unsaid.

IRAN

“The Iranian people are a great people. The Persian civilization is a great civilization. But Iran has acted in ways that are not conducive to peace in the region or to the prosperity of its people; its illicit nuclear program is but one of those manifestations. Our administration is reviewing policy toward Iran, but this much is clear: We will be willing to talk.”

“We will be willing to talk to Iran, and to offer a very clear choice: continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives.”

Hopefully this is the first shot fired across the bow of Iran in efforts to start a dialogue, beginning with the State Department and hopefully ending at the White House. A carrot-and-stick approach is probably the only way to contain Iran’s ambitions nuclear-wise; there’s no way to stop them from developing nuclear weapons, but you can delay it. The focus on Iran’s atomic ambitions is baffling to me, when the already currently nuke-capable Pakistan is the far greater danger.

ISRAEL

“It is long time past for us to secure a just Two State solution. We will work to achieve it, and to defeat the extremists who would perpetuate the conflict. And, building on the positive elements of the Arab Peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia, we will work toward a broader regional peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

More of the usual. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

AFGHANISTAN

“The result must be a comprehensive strategy for which we all take responsibility that brings together our civilian and military resources that prevents a terrorist safe haven, that helps the Afghan people develop the capacity to secure their own future. But no strategy for Afghanistan, in my humble opinion, can succeed without Pakistan.”

If Joe were being honest, this quote would end with, “And Pakistan is not going to help us.” Pakistan’s civilian government is now back in the hands of the folks who created and funded the Taliban to begin with, and the military is run by Pervez Musharraf’s right-hand man; naturally, the deeply Islamist armed forces, secret police and fundamentalist political parties that support them are all covertly aiding the Taliban, if not Al Qaeda.

This statement is also more nation-building nonsense about Afghanistan, where a surge along the borderlands has less of a chance of succeeding than it’s already-improbably cousin in Iraq. Afghans as a whole aren’t too keen about the whole idea of a central government in general, to say nothing about military occupation by infidels.  Admittedly, I do agree that there does need to be a nation-building apparatus in the State Department that coordinates with the military. After all, we’re going to go to war again at some point, and the general consensus these days is that after you blow it up you have to fix it too.

MUSLIM WORLD

“America will extend a hand, as the President has said, to those who unclench their fists.”

“In the Muslim world, a small and I believe very small, number of terrorists are beyond the call of reason. We will and we must defeat them. But hundreds of millions of hearts and minds in the Muslim world share the values we hold dear. We must reach them.”

The VP is of course being polite with the facts, but the truth is that probably ten percent of Muslims (a not-insignificant hundred sixty million people) are at least passive supporters of what we in the West call “Islamism.” The Sunni Ikhwan, the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, is organized politically in at least a dozen Middle Eastern countries and often held down through repressive policies by their host government; Al Qaeda has morphed into a worldwide ideology in the last seven years despite the actual group’s limited resources, based almost solely on Osama bin Laden’s marketing as a latter-day Saladin; The Taliban, their Pakistani franchise and the Kashmir jihadists all enjoy massive popular support; the Shi’ite Hizb’allah in Lebanon is widely admired by Arabs even of other religious persuasions for forcing Israel to end a twenty-year occupation of the Galilee.

These are the exact words the Bush Administration was mouthing for two full terms, so I’ll believe it when it’s backed up with an actually effective hearts and minds campaign.

NATO

“Our Alliance must be better equipped to help stop the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons, to tackle terrorism and cyber-security, to expand the writ of energy security and to act in and out of area more effectively.”

The only worrying part of this is the “expand the writ of energy security” part, because it’s an obvious shot at Russia’s current stinginess with shipping natural gas to Europe and the Near Abroad. One wonders what “acting in and out of area more effectively” really means.

MISSILE DEFENCE

“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost effective. We will do so in consultation with you our NATO allies and with Russia.”

This is just plain stupid, sticking our finger in the Russian’s eye for no good reason. Everyone knows the real reason for so-called missile defense in Eastern Europe is to intimidate the Bear into backing off from the Near Abroad countries. Someone get back to me when we actually have a missile interceptor that can stop an ICBM or IRBM that uses countermeasures.

RUSSIA

“The last few years have seen a dangerous drift in relations between Russia and the members of our Alliance. It’s time, to paraphrase President Obama, to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should work together.”

This doesn’t really mean anything besides, “We are unwilling or unable to discuss our strategy for Russia.”

So out of the starting gate, Obama’s foreign policy is looking like a mixed bag. As a president who’s almost guaranteed to have a doctrine named after him, this needs to be at least as much of a focal point of the administration as the economy. Things cannot be allowed to drift, a la the first Clinton term, because the consequences could be catastrophic. America’s standing in the world means more and more in an increasingly close-knit world, and repairing it better be at least Job Two on Obama’s to-do list. Ending “enhanced interrogation techniques” and closing Gitmo is a good start though, and hopefully picking foreing policy guru Biden as Vice President (where he inherits a national security staff larger than the National Security Council’s thanks to Dick Cheney) means they plan on taking this seriously.