Trying to make sense of a meshuga planet

Hitchens on Iranian “culture of rumor and paranoia”

I am not a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens, but here he makes a good point and provides a sensible advice to the Obama administration. Maybe a tiny bit of paranoia is healthy, but history shows that societies obsessed with conspiracy theories (exacerbated by hatred) are dangerously insecure and unstable.

Persian Paranoia. Iranian leaders will always believe Anglo-Saxons are plotting against them by Christopher Hitchens (Slate)

One of the signs of Iran’s underdevelopment is the culture of rumor and paranoia that attributes all ills to the manipulation of various demons and satans. And, of course, the long and rich history of British imperial intervention in Persia does provide some support for the notion. But you have no idea how deep is the primitive belief that it is the Anglo-Saxons—more than the CIA, more even than the Jews—who are the puppet masters of everything that happens in Iran.

… the Obama administration [should] be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. (Hint: Don’t make your sole reference to Iranian dictatorship an allusion to a British-organized coup in 1953; the mullahs think that it proves their main point, and this generation has more immediate enemies to confront.)

There is then the larger question of the Iranian theocracy and its continual, arrogant intervention in our affairs: its export of violence and cruelty and lies to Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq and its unashamed defiance of the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nontrivial matter of nuclear weapons. I am sure that I was as impressed as anybody by our president’s decision to quote Martin Luther King—rather late in the week—on the arc of justice and the way in which it eventually bends. It was just that in a time of crisis and urgency he was citing the wrong King text (the right one is to be found in the “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”), and it was also as if he were speaking as the president of Iceland or Uruguay rather than as president of these United States. Coexistence with a nuclearized, fascistic theocracy in Iran is impossible even in the short run. The mullahs understand this with perfect clarity. Why can’t we?


June 25, 2009 Posted by | Iran | , , | Leave a comment

Robert Baer on the post-election riots in Iran (as the nukes draw near)

Robert Baer has an interesting insight on the recent Iranian elections and the ongoing riots: Don’t Assume Ahmadinejad Really Lost (TIME)

The absolute worst things we could do at this point would be to declare Iran’s election fraudulent, refuse to talk to the regime and pile on more sanctions. Hostility will only strengthen Ahmadinejad and encourage the hard-liners and secret police. We should never forget that Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatullah Khameinei, along with Ahmadinejad, have the full, if undeclared, backing of both the Revolutionary Guards and the army, and they are not afraid to use those resources to back up their mandate.

I can only add that totalitarian dictatorships know to lift the lid off the boiling cauldron – meanwhile keeping the watch – only to step up repressions later.

While the Rev. Guard deals with street demos, the regime keeps the grip on what they consider important: Iranian Envoy: We are Seeking Nuclear Weapons

Soltanieh said Iran has the right to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran’s envoy to the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Wednesday that his country has the right to build nuclear weapons, Agence France Presse reported. “The whole Iranian nation are united. on [the] inalienable right of [having a] nuclear weapon,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh said, in an apparent departure from the country’s usual refrain that it is only pursuing nuclear energy for civilian purposes. The International Atomic Energy Agency noted in a recent report that it could no longer “provide credible assurance[s]” that Tehran was not diverting nuclear material for use in a nuclear weapons program. In addition, the report warned that Tehran has sped up its production of nuclear fuel and has increased its number of installed centrifuges to 7,200-more than enough to make fuel for two nuclear bombs per year.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | Iran | , | Leave a comment

NYT’s Roger Cohen cheers up for James “F*ck the Jews” Baker

NYT continues to publish Roger Cohen’s stream of nonsense. The guy simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This time he recommends:

I hope President Obama has been reading James Baker in preparation for his speech Thursday to the Muslim world. It was in the time of the former secretary of state, two decades ago, that the United States last had a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Infamously, during a private conversation in 1992 James Baker remarked: “Fuck the Jews.”

Looking back, here Scott Johnson at PowerLine picked apart Roger Cohen’s case of malice towards Israel, while looking for excuses for and publicly expressing his infatuation with Iranian mullocracy:

In Roger Cohen’s world, Yasser Arafat was a true partner in “the peace of the brave” represented by the Oslo accords. It is a bit difficult to follow Cohen’s train of thought through the tears he sheds. Apparently only the murder of Rabin intruded to prevent the peace that was in the making at his death and apparently only the coming of another Rabin is what is called for now that Israel faces heightened existential threats partly created by Oslo itself. In addition to demonstrating the usual Times malice toward Israel, Cohen’s article showed Cohen himself to be an utter fool.

Most recently, Cohen has displayed his foolishness in a series of columns on Iran, beginning with “What Iran’s Jews say.” Cohen followed up with “Iran, Jews and Germany,” “Iran, Jews and pragmatism” and “From Tehran to Tel Aviv.”

Ronald Radosh reviewed Cohen’s columns and the response to them in “Memo to the New York Times: Fire Roger Cohen!” This week he returned to the subject in “Roger Cohen’s continuing nonsense.”

In his “Iran, Jews and pragmatism” column, Cohen holds himself out as providing “a cautionary warning against the misguided view of Iran as nothing but a society of mad mullah terrorists bent on nukes.” He has sought to examine the “distinctive characteristics of Persian society.” Cohen calls for us to see Iran in full.

Here Jeffrey Goldberg picks apart Roger Cohen’s idyllic “Iranian civility toward Jews”. Only someone who doesn’t have a clue how totalitarian societies work – invariably held on fear – can be so gravely naive.

June 4, 2009 Posted by | Arab-Israeli Conflict, Iran | , , , | 2 Comments

Robert Baer’s proposed solution and UNSCR 242

This is an update to my earlier post about Baer’s book The Devil We Know: Dealing With The New Iranian Superpower.

As with his other books, I enjoyed the parts where Baer describes his own experiences. When he talks about his fallen colleagues (Baer is an ex-CIA who served in the Middle East, including Lebanon in the 1980s), it is truly touching.

He makes some very good points, but at times I find myself questioning his conclusions and recommendations, especially when he attempts to play prophet.

He sees a possible conflict the US vs. Iran as either
(1) a 30-year war, which may turn into a 100-year war, or
(2) the US acknowledging the “devil we know” as a “new superpower” and making peace with Iranian mullocracy/Revolutionary Guard regime according to its new dominating status: guarantee its security, lift the sanctions, jointly patrol the Gulf, give them a role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and basically let them spread their influence as far as they wish, including Iran’s takeovers from Bahrain to Iraq to Mecca to Lebanon to Gaza.

Baer prefers to deal with the Shia (whom he describes as a closed and secretive society, but ultimately rational, pragmatic and disciplined) rather than with the Sunnis (lacking central power/doctrine and often turning radical, e.g. uncompromising “takfiris”, who see the world strictly in black & white). He seems to take a defeatist position: we’ve already lost, and we don’t even know it (book title notwithstanding). According to him, Iran has perfected modern warfare in Lebanon and Iraq via proxies (Hezbollah, Iraq’s Shia majority & the Kurds) and by consorting with Russia and China. Characteristically, ch. 5 is entitled: “Lethal and Elusive: Why Iran’s Weapons and Tactics Make It Unconquerable – Even Without Nukes.”

But the biggest surprise for me was his recommendation for Israel: give up the alleged nukes and implement UNSCR 242 – I italicized the verb because Baer seems to (mis)understand it as endless Israeli concessions. He should know better: the resolution is so short that I will quote it in its entirety here:

The Security Council,

Expressing its continuing concern with the grave situation in the Middle East,

Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security,

Emphasizing further that all Member States in their acceptance of the Charter of the United Nations have undertaken a commitment to act in accordance with Article 2 of the Charter,

1. Affirms that the fulfillment of Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include the application of both the following principles:

(i) Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict;

(ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force;

2. Affirms further the necessity

(a) For guaranteeing freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area;

(b) For achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem;

(c) For guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area, through measures including the establishment of demilitarized zones;

3. Requests the Secretary-General to designate a Special Representative to proceed to the Middle East to establish and maintain contacts with the States concerned in order to promote agreement and assist efforts to achieve a peaceful and accepted settlement in accordance with the provisions and principles in this resolution;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to report to the Security Council on the progress of the efforts of the Special Representative as soon as possible.

Note the absence of “the” in 1(i) and… not a word about the Palestinians, who were not a party in 1967 Six-Day War.
Here is one decent analysis
Here is another.

May 31, 2009 Posted by | Arab-Israeli Conflict, Iran | , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t count on Russia in opposing Iran

WINEP published Will Russia Help the United States with Iran? by Mark N. Katz

To me, this reminds Russia I know (expletives omitted here, emphasis added below).

Russia’s recent decision not to sell the S-300 antiaircraft missile system to Iran (at least for now) raised hopes that Moscow would cooperate more fully in the effort to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Recent statements from Russian leaders indicating that they were on board with the U.S. strategy further buoyed optimism. Despite these promising signs, however, there is strong reason to doubt that Moscow’s cooperation will continue.

Like Europe, Israel, the United States, and most Arab governments, Russia does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. The expectation that this will lead to joint Russian-American cooperation, however, is seriously mistaken. Moscow does not want Iran to either voluntarily renounce or be forcefully prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons if — as Moscow fears — this results in a diminution of Russia’s value to Iran as a protector or partner. Even a nuclear-armed Iran would be preferable to Moscow than this prospect.

Putin & Ahmadinejad


Moscow has little interest in working with Washington to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for two important reasons:

First, Moscow has reasonably good — though not untroubled — relations with Tehran. Russian firms profit from selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, and Russian petroleum firms are actively seeking to invest in the Iranian oil and gas sectors. Moscow is also deeply appreciative that Tehran has not supported Chechen or other Muslim rebels in Russia, or challenged Moscow’s influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Moscow does not want to jeopardize any of this by seriously cooperating with Washington against Tehran. What Moscow would prefer instead is that others — the United States, Europe, Israel, or some combination — take the lead in confronting Tehran on the nuclear issue. If they succeed in getting Iran to halt its efforts, then Russia gains by avoiding the strategic challenge of having another nuclear power in its neighborhood. But if they fail to halt this activity, Moscow prefers that these actors — and not Russia — be the focus of Iran’s ire. This is especially true if Iran actually acquires nuclear weapons.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Russia | , , , | Leave a comment

Iran: Myths and Facts

Nicholas Guariglia’s great post in Hundon NY: Iran: Myths and Facts Here’s an excerpt:

Myth #1: The United States should change its policy of not engaging Iran diplomatically.

Fact: This is the biggest myth of all. As Michael Ledeen reminds us time and again, “Every administration since Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979 has negotiated with the Iranians. Nothing positive has ever come of it.”

We have offered “rapprochement,” “grand bargains,” and “full normalization” — we even sold them weapons. In response, the mullahs blew up our embassies, destroyed our barracks, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered our citizens, soldiers, and diplomats, and sponsored multiple proxy wars against our countrymen and allies. All of this continues to this day.

Myth #2: The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most democratic country the Middle East.

Fact: Theocracy is never democratic. Iran has a political process that is micromanaged by unelected clerical bodies, primarily the Orwellian-sounding “Assembly of Experts” and the “Council of Guardians” — namely, men who pre-approve political candidates, restrict the freedom and liberty of women, and publicly hang children for “sins” like homosexuality (amongst other things). This is all supervised and approved by the “Supreme Leader,” the honorable Ayatollah Khamenei.

Myth #3: Iran needs a reformer.

Fact: Unfortunately, there is no such thing. President Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Khatami, was billed as the “Gorbachev of Iran,” and yet he ended up throwing more dissidents in jail than any Iranian president, past or present. Even Ahmadinejad’s possible successor, the “reformist” Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has long been a part of the regime’s torture-apparatus. The “moderate” Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and perhaps future Supreme Leader, is currently wanted in Argentina for knocking down a large office building.

Looking for reformers and moderates within the existing regime is like deciphering between Khrushchev and Brezhnev, or Himmler and Eichmann: there might be some minor tactical changes to the method of oppression, but the framework of dictatorship remains.

Myth #4: Iran has a rich Persian history, and therefore deserves a place among the family of nations.

Fact: Yes, Iran has a rich history. But the mullahs themselves disdain Iran’s pre-Islamic Persian history. President Obama’s “Happy New Year” olive branch message to the regime last month failed for this very reason: the “ancient ritual” Obama commended (Nowrooz) is a Zoroastrian custom, one brutally repressed by the regime (which the mullahs scornfully reminded him the very next day).

While nobody should deny Iran its rightful place on the world stage, we should deny this regime any iota of international legitimacy. To associate the regime with its citizens is an insult to millions of dissident Iranians. According to the Iranian government’s own opinion polls, most Iranian people oppose the regime and view the clerics as ideological hijackers of their proud history — an interim hiccup of their national trajectory, in other words.

They have good cause for this belief: upon assuming power in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini said, “We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism… let this land [Iran] burn… let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.” Iranians reject such theological extremism and national fatalism, and do not consider it patriotic.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Iran | , , | Leave a comment

Lieberman: “it is not enough to repeat slogans”

Today’s great interview is with Avigdor Lieberman at JPost: The world according to Lieberman.

I had an idea to compile a list of epithets Lieberman has been called in the course of the last few months, but I was too lazy busy. To me, A.L. seems reasonable and sane, unlike many of his critics. As always, I recommend to read the entire thing. A few excerpts:

"Moderate" Abu Mazen brandishes a map of "Palestine" - in place of Israel. (Image courtesy PMW)

"Moderate" Abu Mazen brandishes a map of "Palestine" - in place of Israel. (Image courtesy PMW)

First of all, we must understand why the Palestinian issue is deadlocked, because since 1993 we really made every effort. We had very dovish governments. We can start with Ehud Barak at Camp David, who made a very generous offer to [Yasser] Arafat and he rejected it. As for the Ariel Sharon government, we undertook an insane process called disengagement. We transferred thousands of Jews from the Gaza Strip. We evacuated tens of flowering settlements and we received in return Hamas and Kassam rockets. The last government of Ehud Olmert is the same. From what I saw in the papers, he really made a very very generous offer to Abu Mazen. And the same thing happened: Abu Mazen rejected it.

But more than this offer, more important at the end of the day: what was the final result? This was a very dovish government – without Lieberman, without Netanyahu. It was Olmert, Barak and Tzipi Livni. And the result? The Second Lebanon War, the operation in Gaza, severed diplomatic relations with Mauritania and Qatar, our soldier Gilad Schalit still in captivity.

And we cannot move forward without understanding why.

I know that all of us know some very popular slogans – land for peace, two-state solutions. It would be very easy to win over public opinion or the mass media by talking in slogans. But this is not election time. We’re not during the campaign. We want to bring real results.

I ask only one thing: What was the situation before 1967, before we established a single settlement. What was before ’48 and ’67? Was it peace, was it a heaven here?

It was the same: friction, terrorism, bloodshed. The PLO and Fatah were established before ’67 and the Arab countries controlled Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip for 19 years, from ’48 to ’67. Nobody spoke during this time about the Palestinian state. And even before the establishment of the state of Israel, it was the same: friction, tension, terror, riots, pogroms. People try to simplify the situation with these formulas – land for peace, two-state solution. It’s a lot more complicated.

We must clarify our position. The real reason [for the deadlock with the Palestinians] is not occupation, not settlements and not settlers. This conflict is really a very deep conflict. It started like other national conflicts. Today it’s a more religious conflict. Today you have the influence of some non-rational players, like Al-Qaida. What is Hamas and Islamic Jihad? It’s Iran by proxy.

To resolve this conflict, it is not enough to repeat slogans. I don’t see any short way for any comprehensive solutions.

From my point of view, we’re interested in three things. First of all, as Israeli citizens, the most important thing is security. …

Second, what is most important for the Palestinians? I think it’s also very clear – the economy. … Like all normal peoples, they want, first of all, jobs, to feed their families, to provide education for their children, health services, personal security. …

And the third element, of course, is stability. Economy, security, stability. It’s impossible to artificially impose any political solution. It will fail, for sure.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | Avigdor Lieberman | , , | Leave a comment

Iran: “we also need a nuclear bomb”

Roberta Bonazzi of the European Foundation for Democracy reports in Hudson Institute NY:

The secretary-general of the Iranian Hezbollah, Ayatollah Dr Seyyed Mohammad Baqer Kharazi, has unequivocally admitted his regime’s nuclear plans, saying that there will be no relations with the United States until Tehran has nuclear bombs. According to the Shabestan news agency, he said: “If one is not allowed to have nuclear bombs, one cannot have relations with the United States. And if we are to have relations, then we also need a nuclear bomb.”

The emphasis is mine. Let’s see the reaction of IAEA and the rest of appeasers.

April 28, 2009 Posted by | Iran | | Leave a comment

Becoming an expert on Iran

Yes, yes, I know: one book (or many books) is not enough to become an expert.
Jokes aside, I am reading The Devil We Know: Dealing With The New Iranian Superpower by Robert Baer. It is a captivating and provoking read.

Baer doesn’t seem to have much of a web presence. I already mentioned his recent interview (Mar 2009), here’s another one (Oct 2008).

April 26, 2009 Posted by | Iran, US foreign policy | , , , | 1 Comment

Russian provocative “warnings”

If this is true, it is not the first time Russia warns Israel’s potential enemies.

DEBKA: Iran canceled air show when Russia warned Israel planned to destroy all 140 warplanes

DEBKAfile’s Iranian and intelligence sources disclose that Moscow warned Tehran Friday April 17 that Israel was planning to destroy all 140 fighter-bombers concentrated at the Mehr-Abad Air Force base for an air show over Tehran on Iran’s Army Day the following day. The entire fleet was accordingly removed to remote bases and the display cancelled.

If this provocative “warning” sounds familiar, it should: How The USSR Planned To Destroy Israel in 1967

The Soviet warning to Egypt about supposed Israeli troop concentrations on the Syrian border in May 1967 has long been considered a blunder that precipitated a war which the USSR neither desired nor expected. New evidence from Soviet and other Warsaw Pact documents, as well as memoirs of contemporary actors, contradicts this accepted theory. The author demonstrates that this warning was deliberate disinformation, part of a plan approved at the highest level of Soviet leadership to elicit Egyptian action that would provoke an Israeli strike. Soviet military intervention against the “aggressor” was intended to follow and was prepared well in advance.

The emphasis is mine.

April 25, 2009 Posted by | Arab-Israeli Conflict | , , , , | Leave a comment