Monday, July 20, 2009
Georgian leaders hope the United States will join the European Union’s monitoring effort along the boundary with two breakaway Georgian enclaves, a step they believe could deter aggression from Russian or separatist forces, a senior Georgian official said Monday.The Georgian evidently believe that the inclusion of Americans on their border with Russia would deter any further aggression from the Russians. That is probably an accurate description, though the unarmed EU-monitors already there likely provide a similar deterrent, as is. The most likely outcome of the Georgian proposal is the continued frosting of Russian-American relations to say nothing of stoking Russia’s already acute fears of American encroachment in its near-abroad. Georgia’s proposal would represent needless provocation and would be a strategic mistake. Russia has communicated its red-lines clearly.
Clearly, managing an assertive Russia requires assertiveness on the part of the United States – but it must be intelligent assertiveness, and not indefensible line-in-the-sand drawing. Georgia's proposal fails this test. It is also not very likely to come to fruition.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
I confess, I find it hard to come to Afghanistan and not ask: Why are we here? Who cares about the Taliban? Al Qaeda is gone. And if its leaders come back, well, that’s why God created cruise missiles.And then Friedman writes, “But every time I start writing that column, something stills my hand.”
What stills Friedman’s hand? Does he recognize the folly of ignoring the Taliban? Does he realize that on-going instability in Afghanistan stokes instability in Pakistan? Does he describe the peril inherent in proliferating failed states? Does he recall America’s experience with the limitations of cruise missiles?
No. What stills Friedman’s hand is the opening of a new girls’ school in a remote Afghan village. Doubtlessly, such schools are valuable – both from a humanitarian perspective and from a strategic perspective, which Friedman identifies. But, that Friedman could begin today’s column as he does, requires either a willful disregard of history or a rather complete failing of critical thought.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Unprecedentedly, the prayer-attendees responded to exhortations of “Death to America,” not in kind, but with “Death to Russia” or “Death to China.” Like last Thursday’s protests, the clashes following Rafsanjani’s sermon remind us that the Opposition is alive, vibrant, and defies easily recognizable categories.
The LA Times reports:
Rafsanjani’s sermon will be culled for phrases shedding light on just what his position is. While he called for both unity and respect for the rule of law, he also said “We should let our media even criticize us.” And then
After the sermon, downtown erupted in violence. Security forces attacked
demonstrators, older and grayer than at recent gatherings, who were chanting
"Death to the dictator!" and "God is great."
Tear gas filled streets as protesters sought to enter the gates of the university, which riot police had locked. The crowds swarmed through downtown, chanting slogans, lighting cigarettes and holding them in front of their faces to counter the effects of
the tear gas.
Masked demonstrators also set fire to trash in the middle of roadways to burn off the tear gas, video posted on YouTube showed. One group shut down two highways, while a second handed flowers to smiling policemen and kissed them on the cheeks, witnesses said.
Another large group gathered in front of the Ministry of the Interior, which is under the control of Sadegh Mahsouli, a wealthy ally of Ahmadinejad."Mahsouli! Mahsouli! Give my vote back," they chanted, according to a video posted to YouTube.
People became hopeful about the elections, we should have been proud of this election, because people went to vote, in large numbers, we should thank them for voting, for taking part in the election is such huge numbers, alas, if only that environment continued to this day. What happened after the election was not what we expected it to be. Let us ask ourselves what we want, what does the revolution want? You are listening to someone who has been with the revolution every minute of the revolution we know what Imam Khomeini wanted, what his ideas were, Imam Khomeini always said that you should always listen to the people, see what the people want, if the people are with us, then we have everything. The Islamic Revolution was the way of Mohammed. People should be brought into the system first, this is why Imam Khomeini was successful.Taken together, these two statements strike me as a vague call for an Iranian glasnost and a popular sovereignty. Some might view a call for popular sovereignty as a radical break from the past for such an establishment figure, as Rafsanjani, but it is not. Rather, it is a call for a return to the Revolution, before the June 12 fiasco.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The first thing that springs to my mind is the Church Committee.
I find myself most interested in the last question. If you’ve followed my posts over the years you know that I have a nearly paranoid fear of government and its ever increasing efficiency in limiting our rights by harnessing fear or misdirection. We need to know what happened and how it happened. We need to publically disclose the transgressions of the Bush administration. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there were transgressions of established norms of government during the Bush administration. I personally believe much of what was done was done illegally. At the very least it was done with intellectual dishonesty. Yet, I am reluctant to join the more liberal side in this debate calling for the heads of those responsible.
I think President Obama’s statements on wanting to look forward, not back accurately reflect the will of most of America. I believe the American public does not want to rehash and relive the Bush administration through constant coverage of court cases and periodic revelations of this or that. I don’t mean to trivialize any illegal activity, but the current rancor has the scent of a lynch mob looking for retribution more then closure and understanding. That said, I don’t think he can do nothing. Thankfully people like me, with an internet connection and an opinion, are here to help.
President Obama needs to establish something between a Truth Commission and the 9/11 Commission. He needs to recruit two elder statesmen from both parties that want to find truth, not retribution. He needs to give this commission some teeth to make sure the more insolent members of the Bush administration (hello Mr. Cheney) are compelled to sit down and tell honestly what happened. Of course the counter-point to this is that like many Truth and Reconciliation commissions, there needs to be legal leniency shown to the majority of those who testify. If it becomes clear one individual was willfully responsible for numerous illegal acts then that person can be brought up on charges (hello Mr. Cheney). From the sounds of it John Yoo could very well be disbarred for his memos and the twisting of the law he facilitated.
Above all us, this commission should get to the truth. Does that mean many illegal acts could go unprosecuted? Yes. Will many liberals be bent out of shape that so many of the perpetrators get off scott free? Yes. Will many conservatives protest the notion that anything done could be wrong or illegal in the face of terrorism (despite the obvious fact that Al Qaeda has never and likely will never pose an existential threat to the U.S.)? You bet your NASCAR tickets they will. People on all sides will be angry. No one will be fully satisfied. Isn’t democracy grand?
We need to know what happened. We as citizens of this country are complicit in the wholesale auction, if not theft, of our constitutional protections. We need to shed light into the dark corners of our government, lest we find ourselves banished there later on without recourse. It isn’t about looking back, it’s about knowing the past to inform our future. We need to know, and as the G.I. Joe cartoons taught me as a child, knowing is half the battle.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
[Iran’s uprising] is a confrontation to be measured not in days but in months, or even years. Among analysts of Iran, debates rage over the relative demographic, political, and economic strength of the opposition coalition. We’ll know it by its failure or its success, and not in the immediate short term.She reminds us that
[t]he less we hear from Iran, the easier it is to presume that the regime’s strong-arm tactics have succeeded in putting down the protest movement. But the silence we hear is only our own. The protest movement that exploded into Iran’s streets in June was not a momentary flash of anger.Tomorrow, like last Thursday, has the potential to be both a turning point in the uprising and a reminder to the rest of the world that the Opposition lives. It is clear that Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami intend to use Rafsanjani’s prayer service as a rallying point. It appears the Regime is preparing to punish any Opposition demonstrators that answer the call.
Keep your eyes on NIAC and Nico Pitney tomorrow. And remember to ask, “Where is Bijan Khajehpour?” -- Amnesty International highlights his disappearance yesterday.
OF ALL the economic bubbles that have been pricked, few have burst more spectacularly than the reputation of economics itself.The leader begins, as is often the case with the Economist, humorously and transitions into a serious, strong defense both of the utility of Economics and of the Free Market:
And if economics as a broad discipline deserves a robust defence, so does the free-market paradigm. Too many people, especially in Europe, equate mistakes made by economists with a failure of economic liberalism. Their logic seems to be that if economists got things wrong, then politicians will do better. That is a false—and dangerous—conclusion.But simultaneously takes on financial and macro economics. It is an excellent piece, well worth a read, defending the value of the market, while being honest about its very real limitations and imperfections. It is a strange thing; normally rational, skeptical individuals so frequently place blind faith in the infallibility of the free market. It is not infallible.
Now, go read the Economist.
No, Mr. Rogers, Congress relinquished oversight – not just the opportunity for oversight – for eight years under the Bush administration because none of you had the courage to do your jobs. Rep. Rogers attempts to deflect the real issue here – whether Vice President Cheney instructed the CIA to break the law – indicate not only that he would prefer to play “silly games” over dealing with the matter at hand, but that he is willing to do so to protect former Bush administration officials.
The WaPo effectively rounds-up the varying descriptions of how far the program had progressed, from “concepts and feasibility studies” to “active in fits and starts.”
UPDATE: Saddly, Ignatius buys into the conservative meme that Congressional Democrats are attacking the CIA - this is nonsense. Nonsense that Congressional Democrats are playing into, but nonsense nonetheless. The issue here, again, is (or should be) whether VP Cheney instructed the CIA to break the law.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Instead of attending Friday prayers, Ahmadinejad has elected to take his entire cabinent to the holy city of Mashhad. Mashhad itself has not been free of protests in the wake of the June 12 election.
Rumors abound that the Opposition intends to use Friday's prayer session as a pretext for gathering en masse and pressuring the regime from the streets once again. The use of religious devotion and milestones as an umbrella and pretext for gathering is not unexpected. The Opposition made use of this tactic last week and is likely to continue using it as the uprising persists - just as was done in the 1979 Revolution.
UPDATE: Joe Klein's take on Rafsanjani delivering Friday prayers: here.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency has developed plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists, according to current and former government officials.The Times describes the program as "vague," noting that no operations were conducted and demuring with the list of obstacles that inhibit any covert action:
How could the role of the United States be masked? Should allies be informed andIt is unclear why the Bush administration was unable to overcome these obstacles when, according to Steve Coll's excellent book Ghost Wars, the Clinton administration was able to put into place a similar assassination program, targetting Osama bin Laden, during the 1990s.
might they block the access of the C.I.A. teams to their targets? What if American officers or their foreign surrogates were caught in the midst of an operation? Would such activities violate international law or American restrictions on assassinations overseas?
Not only might this program implicate the National Security Act of 1947, it may implicate the ban, by Executive Order, on political assassinations stretching back to Pres. Ford's administration. The Times defuses this possibility:
That ban [on political assassinations] does not apply to the killing of enemies in a war, government officials say. The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that has attacked the United States and stated that its goal is to attack again, is no different than shooting enemy soldiers on the battlefield.(emphasis added). I'm not sure if that justification is sufficient, particularly given the Bush administration's refusal to apply the "enemies in a war" standard to other facets of the War on Terrorism, like Geneva Conventions to Prisoners of War.
After weeks of remaining in the shadows, Ayatollah Rafsanjani will reportedly deliver Friday Prayers. Mousavi and Khatami will be in attendance.
Mohsen Rezai, former Revolutionary Guard commander and the presidential candidate who apparently bowed to pressure and fell inline with the Khamenei regime, seemed to shift positions once again. Persian language BBC reports that Rezai called that for the Opposition’s election concerns to be resolved. Rezai seemingly criticized both the Regime and the Opposition and warned that continued dissonance could lead to the downfall of the Islamic Republic.
While pro-Ahmadinejad deputies in the Majlis railed that “Representatives who do not believe in the legitimacy of [the Ahmadinejad] government are not qualified to be in the Majlis,” the hard-line Kayhan newspaper declared that Mousavi is legally prohibited from forming a new political party.
After issuing a fatwa decrying Khamenei yesterday, Ayatollah Montazeri was targeted by Raja News. That paper intimated that Montazeri is suffering from memory loss and mental imbalance. Montazeri's son denied the allegations. While Montazeri was once seen as Khomeini's heir apparent, his influence has waned considerably.
From the innuendo that abounds, it appears the CIA’s program (or, series of ideas over 8 years, if you like) involved targeted assassinations. Dick Cheney’s reported involvement in this program – or at least instructing the CIA not to tell Congress – may lend credence to Sey Hersh’s accusations back in 2003 of assassination squads, which he famously repeated this spring.
Cheney’s direction that the CIA not tell Congress is likely illegal – although the outlines of the spin are already clear: 1) the program wasn’t significant and therefore there was no legal requirement to tell Congress; 2) Congress is leaky.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s take on the first deflection is most interesting – he’s linking “significant” to amount spent. The National Security Act’s use of significant is clearly not meant to be read as cost but to be taken as important, this is probably best measurable in terms of “blowback potential.” There have also been deflections that the program was not yet operational, so there was no need to inform Congress, but the National Security Act’s requirement to inform covers “anticipated” intelligence activities, as well.
Finally, the Congress is leaky argument is just nonsense. First, it is not Congress that is informed but the Congressional Intelligence Committees. Second, the National Security Act provides explicitly for “extraordinary circumstances,” when “the President determines that it is essential to limit access,” by providing that the President may inform “the chairmen and ranking minority members of the congressional intelligence committees, the Speaker and minority leader of the House of Representatives, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, and such other member or members of the congressional leadership as may be included by the President.” That exception, it should be noted, is meant to apply to a finding in explicit opposition to “intelligence activities,” including covert action. And, fortunately, the way the United States is set-up, the President (and certainly not the Vice President) is not empowered with ability to disregard the law, that is re-write the law, to suit his purposes – to say nothing of the utter disregard for a co-equal branch of government by refusing to abide by the law in deriding that other branch as “leaky.”
UPDATE: Bobby Ghosh at TIME says that sources have told him:
The program could have required the Agency to spy on Americans. DomesticIt's a bit of an understatement to describe "domestic surveillance" as "outside the CIA's purview." If we're talking about truly domestic surveillance, as in spying on Americans in America, it may be illegal. The National Security Act of 1947 provides: "the [Central Intelligence] Agency shall have no police, subpoena, or law enforcement powers or internal security functions."
surveillance is outside the CIA's purview -– it's usually the FBI's job – and
it's easy to see why Cheney would have wanted to keep it from Congress.
Friday, July 10, 2009
1. a deserter from one faith, cause, or allegiance to another
2. an individual who rejects lawful or conventional behavior
Unfortunately, in America, the renegade – much like the cowboy or the maverick – is a political motif. The renegade is an estimable figure, one not beholden to any party or interest group. The renegade will speak truth to power and damn the consequences.
While Sarah Palin may be a Webster’s renegade (“a deserter from one faith, cause, or allegiance to another”), she is not one to speak truth to power – nor, if you take the fruits of Andrew Sullivan’s obsession, one to speak truth period. She is rather, simply, a prima donna. I doubt anything could do so much to resuscitate her reputation as slapping an image of her on Time Magazine and labeling her renegade.
But that’s ok, there’s no chance that this label will stick and drive the narrative of every news story about her forever. No, that’d be like letting a failure from Connecticut buy a ranch in Texas and transfigure himself into a cowboy, or like describing a party functionary as a maverick, despite his near slavish party-line-toeing.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Bijan Khajehpour, a prominent political economist and CEO of Atieh Bahar Consulting, arrived in Tehran on June 27. When his flight from Britain arrived at Imam Khomeini airport, Dr. Khajehpour was snatched. Dr. Khajehpour’s whereabouts remain unknown, though some assume that he, like many Iranians, has been detained in the notorious Evin Prison.
While Dr. Khajehpour is just one of maybe thousands of Iranians who have disappeared since the June 12 election, his disappearance is particularly disturbing because he was neither a street protestor nor a leader in Mousavi or Karroubi’s campaign. Instead, Dr. Khajehpour was a public intellectual and businessman. His arrest represents a regime striking out at civil society. It is indicative, as if we needed any more indicators, of a regime in distress, acting out of fear for its very survival. Such a regime is very dangerous; it will likely continue to consolidate power not just into institutions but individuals it deems reliable (like Mojtaba Khamenei) and its brutality towards its own people will increase in proportion to the regime’s relative isolation.
The Economist notes without irony that the current leader of the Transitional Federal Government (UN-backed, powerless), Sharif Ahmed, is a moderate Islamist who three years ago headed the Islamic Courts Union. This is ironic, of course, because it was Ethiopian and American firepower that drove out Ahmed’s ICU, and it is Ethiopian and American firepower that protects Ahmed’s TFG. Ironic also because the ICU, which brought a measure of stability to Somalia, was ousted in large measure because of America’s overriding fear of the word Islamista; now the US-backed TFG (and Mr. Ahmed) faces, in the Shabab, a truly barbaric group of Islamists with actual ties to Al Qaeda.
At bottom, though, are the Somali people who have been without governance or peace for nearly twenty years. It is awful to consider that the best hope for stability the Somalis have had in twenty years was snuffed out by the most typically American poor policy choice: short-term solutions, based on superficial understanding, with no regard for consequences or blowback.
The Economist’s periodic update ends on a similarly sour note:
[Muhammad Hassey] finally left Mogadishu when his two brothers and two sisters
were killed by a mortar shell. Kadijo Hassan, an elderly lady, interrupts.
“Mogadishu is unbelievable,” she says. “It is war. Everyone is crying there.”
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Amid the clergy dividing itself between the Regime and the Opposition, other players have likewise hardened their positions. On June 24, Mohsen Rezai, formerly a Major General in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp and candidate in the June 12 election, dropped his complaints of election irregularities and returned to the Regime’s fold. In the last week, there have been reports that the IRGC has assumed responsibility for Iran’s security which may suggest the Regime is attempting to consolidate its position. Over the weekend the Researchers and Teachers of Qom, an organization of clergy, decried the results of the election. Mousavi, Karroubi and former president Khatami have reportedly met to form a political front through which to coordinate further protest action – action which is to begin tomorrow with mass unrest and demonstrates commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the 18 Tir Massacre.
Now, the Guardian reports that Ayatollah Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei, has taken control of the Basiji, the paramilitary thugs nominally under the control of the IRGC and responsible for much of the violence during the crackdown. That Khamenei’s son is taking personal control over the Basiji should be viewed definitively as not just the regime, but the Khameneis as a dynastic force, consolidating its position. Nothing indicates fear for position as relying on your family members for control of the state’s levers of force; nor is anything so indicative of a willingness to use force.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
My firm belief is that we must aggressively use all existing authorities to ensure market integrityThe Times cited volatility in the oil market over the last year and concerns that such volatility was linked to speculators as Mr. Gensler's motivation. While I generally agree that over the last 18 months to 2 years, crude valuation has been significantly impacted, if not outright driven, by speculation, I am left wondering why not bar “purely financial investors” from investing in oil futures all together?
No really, why don’t we? I know market regulation is a favorite bogeyman of the Right, but purely financial investors, or speculators, have absolutely nothing to do with the market for oil -- that is, they do not actually seek to purchase or sell oil. Rather than reflecting the dynamics of supply and demand, these sorts of investors effectively place bets on crude's price and inject a wholly artificial pressure into the market. Never mind the folly of allowing the price of a commodity so vital to our economy and our national security be tortured by the whims of these sorts of investors, limiting the volumes of futures they might hold seems at best artifice and a half-measure.
July 9 – 10 year anniversary of the so-called 18 Tir Massacre, when Basiji ransacked dorms and threw students out windows following days of student protests in 1999.
July 22 – 40 days since the June 12 election.
July 23 – 40 days since the first protests took place.
July 30 – 40 days since Neda Agha Soltan’s death; marks the end of the traditional mourning period.
Monday, July 6, 2009
The top leaders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard publicly acknowledged they had taken over the nation's security and warned late Sunday that there was no middle ground in the ongoing dispute over the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a threat against a reformist wave led by Mir-Hossein Mousavi.This represents a significant, public change in Iranian political order. The Revolutionary Guard is mentioned so frequently that it can be tempting to forget that it is a slightly smaller, separate force from that of the Iranian Armed Forces. The IRGC, formed in the wake of the Imposed War, is generally thought to be more ideologically driven than Iran’s Armed Forces. That said, while it appears that the IRGC is a relatively autonomous actor within Iran, it is far from clear that the IRGC is monolithic.
General Jafari’s comments, as reported in the LA Times, make clear that the dispute between the Khamenei regime and the Opposition continues to be a battle over legitimacy and rightful claim to the mantle of the Revolution:
Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the elite military branch, said the Guard's takeover of the country had led to "a revival of the revolution and clarification of the value positions of the establishment at home and abroad.”The IRGC’s public claim of responsibility for the security of the Islamic Republic may indicate the evolution of the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad coup to the stage of power consolidation. This development, along with the restoration of SMS service in Tehran last week, would seem to indicate that the regime believes that its crackdown has taken a toll on the opposition and that it has established a modicum of control over the situation. That said, Mousavi’s call for a national strike and the statement from the Researchers and Teachers of Qom on Saturday, suggest that the Opposition lives.
While the relative quiet in Tehran might mean that Khamenei-Ahmadinejad are correct in their assessment, their clear failure to properly read the balance of forces before launching their June 12 coup councils against using their actions as indicators of the facts on the ground in Iran.
UPDATE: NIAC reports, SMS service has been disabled in Tehran again.
UPDATE II: Reza Aslan says the strike is on.
That the price of Crude is falling is not particularly surprising. Crude’s upward price trend since the beginning of the year has occurred generally without substantiation in market fundamentals. Demand remains weak and supply remains sufficient. While long-term economic fears at the beginning of the year likely depressed crude below its natural price, it has become over-valued in recent weeks. The most probable explanation for the overvaluation of crude is that it has once again become an investment vehicle, as it did in 2006-2008, its price inflated by speculation.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The point of Bolton’s Op-Ed is that time is out, or is nearly out, and we must, or the Israelis must, bomb now and force regime change. This is also the point of his June 26, 2009 Op-Ed in the L.A. Times. It is the point of he made a year ago in a July 15, 2008 Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal. It is a point he has made frequently – and for quite some time. And every time he makes it, the “time is now” to bomb Iran.
In today’s twist, the time to bomb Iran is now because the uprising in Iran is over and, that the uprising occurred at all, simultaneously demonstrates: that the regime cannot be dealt with; that if we could deal with them, doing so would be an abomination; and in the uprising’s wake, no policy or regime change is forthcoming.
It would be a convincing argument, were it not nonsense. First, given that Mousavi, Karroubi, and Khatami have just gone out on a limb in open defiance of Khamenei, I think they would be surprised to discover that the uprising is over. Moreover, as Colin pointed out in comments to Kennedy’s post a few days ago, the 1979 Revolution took place over more than a year and experienced periods of relative quiet; I am not yet willing to declare this uprising over.
Leaving aside the relatively difficult question of whether the Iranian uprising continues, we are left with this notion that the regime can’t be dealt with, that dealing with it would be an abomination, and that no regime or policy change is forthcoming. As I argued here, it may well be an abomination to negotiate with the Iranian regime in the wake of its crackdown but the crackdown itself changes nothing of the essential calculus governing Iran’s relationships with the United States, Israel and the rest of the world. Iran is and remains a rational actor, self-interested state. Khamenei remains a leader that seeks, at bottom, the preservation of his position and his system of government. Such regimes can be dealt with, have been dealt with, and indeed are the basis for traditional realism.
Finally, Bolton seems to still be gripped with the delusions that pervaded neoconservative circles before the invasion of Iraq. He seems to suggest that a newly installed regime will give up Iran’s nuclear program simply by virtue of it being a new regime. He also explicitly suggests that a public diplomacy campaign will convince the Iranians not to hate us for bombing them. Like the idea that the Iraqi people would greet the US invasion with cheers and roses, this argument ignores Iranian nationalism. It also ignores history. Iran did not begin its nuclear program under the current regime. No, Iran first started its nuclear program under the Shah. Khomeini initially gave up the quest for the bomb, believing it to be anti-Islamic. The current regime began the program in the wake of the devastating Imposed War. Never mind that every nation is entitled to the pursuit of nuclear power – as opposed to nuclear weapons – under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Unpopular leaders whose positions are tenuous will sometimes refuse to the leave their country for fears of a coup. Such fears are not unfounded. In cases like Libya in 1969, Uganda in 1971, and, more recently, Thailand in 2006, the then-leaders left their respective countries for such things as a vacation at a Greek resort or for the Commonwealth Heads of State Conference only to find that the military had removed them from power during their absence.
In that light, does it tell us something about Ahmadinejad’s confidence in his position that he has abruptly cancelled his trip to Libya to attend the African Union summit? Perhaps we should take it as an indication that despite the Guardian Council endorsing his re-election, the pressure from the Street, from Mousavi-who has just, finally called for a national strike-and from clerics of all stripes is taking a toll on Mr. Ahmadinejad.
Or maybe Qaddafi just reminded Ahmadinejad how he came to power.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
11:59 am: According to Ahmadinejad’s website, as of today the following 35 countries have recognized him as the winner of the election:(emphasis mine). That question – why have client states? – I find particularly troubling when a state that receive a great deal of military assistance takes a position, substantive or not, that contravenes U.S. interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan are obvious examples of states that currently receive huge quantities of American military assistance. But they’re not alone. Qatar and Bahrain likewise receive significant amounts of U.S. military aid. All five countries host American troops and their governments benefit from American support – one can argue about the benefit the countries themselves receive, but those regimes doubtlessly benefit from the United States.
-India -Tunisia -Malaysia -Lebanon -North Korea -Kuwait -Nicaragua -Comoros -Cambodia -Senegal -Cuba -Belarus -Sudan -Syria -Libya -Algeria -Turkmenistan -Iraq -Kazakhstan -Indonesia -Bahrain -Yemen -Sri Lanka -Ecuador -Russia -Azerbaijan -Qatar -Tajikistan -Armenia -Oman -Turkey -Afghanistan -Pakistan -China -Venezuela
Of course, the United States has not articulated a clear policy regarding Iran in the wake of the June 12 election. That said, given the United States’ posture towards Ahmadinejad and Pres. Obama’s statements since Iran’s likely fixed election, it would be difficult to mistake a lack of policy for a desire that Ahmadinejad’s fraudulent re-election be endorsed.
What is frustrating about these endorsements is that they have almost no substantive impact or value internationally, but the Iranian regime will certainly play them up domestically as part of its ongoing effort to quell post-election dissent and demonstrate legitimacy. The fight in the streets is over legitimacy; every lever that can be exercised to delegitimize the regime – in both political and spiritual terms – will be of use and benefit to the Iranians in the street.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Last week, Karroubi, the true reformist candidate in this year’s Iranian election, called off a mourning demonstration to honor protestors killed thus far that was set for Wednesday. Karoubi called of the demonstration because he was unable to secure a permit from the government. Apparently, the government refused to issue any demonstration permits to any opposition forces last week.
Karroubi’s willingness to play by Khamenei’s rules strikes a sour note. It seems to me that though the goals of the opposition are still ill-defined and are like disparate if not divergent, Khamenei’s legitimacy was uniformly in question. By submitting to permit requirements-and therefore giving up the street to the regime-Karroubi seemed to simultaneously be confirming legitimacy on the regime and ceding the regime the opposition’s best venue for direct action.
It is as unthinkable to me that the regime would allow any demonstration permits to be issued, as it is that the regime would have let the street demonstration gain a toe-hold after the June 12 election.
But the regime did issue such a permit. And the result, of course, were thousands of Tehranis once again in the street, ostensibly paying tribute to Beheshti, but in fact waving green and holding up V-signs as they continued expressing their outrage at the stolen election. I find it extraordinarily difficult to imagine that Khamenai’s regime will issue any further demonstration permits-but then again, I didn’t think it would issue one for yesterday’s demonstration, either.
Without the street, the opposition’s tactics are severely restricted. The most effective tactic that remains is the strike. Mousavi issued a plain threat to the regime that should he be arrested, the nation should strike. It appears that he is reluctant to play the strike card before or until he is arrested. It is also unclear if the opposition has sufficiently broad-based support to conduct targeted, industry-specific strikes.
The street is the best forum for the opposition to make its strength and determination felt; it provides a means of disseminating information rapidly that does not rely on technology; it is also the best tactic to gain sympathy from factions of the Iranian Armed Forces and the IRGC. Two components necessary to this revolution’s success.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I could be wrong. I have been before, and I really hope I am this time but it would appear that the government of Iran has created an apparatus of control and militancy that it effectively crushed opposition and closed the rest of the world off to its citizens. Operating under this debatable premise I want to focus on two things. With the opposition defeated, what now happens in Iran? What are the larger lessons from this incident for the citizens of other “limited” democracies?
What happen in Iran?
The short answer is I don’t know. Perhaps at not point since the revolution have the political rifts in Iran been more dramatically exposed and pronounced. For the U.S. this brief opposition has exposed potential officials that might be keen to a kind word or an offer of a handshake from the U.S. It’s also clearer who won’t be running to the negotiating table. This might sound insignificant, but from all the folks I’ve read and talked to we are simply blind in Iran. We don’t have good analysis or evidence about the overwhelming majority of operators in the country. We don’t know what their inclinations are and how hard-lined or reformist they might be behind closed doors. The information gained by their actions in recent weeks could exponentially increase our understanding of the government.
For those that participated in the protests and had hoped for change, they now are beginning to understand that change isn’t coming. I would anticipate a dramatic tightening of Islamic social norm enforcement, as happens periodically in the country, in an attempt to further stifle oppositional or revolutionary inclinations. I’d also anticipate some who have disappeared in the night will not be seen again and some will be seen, but only in a kangaroo court providing cursory justification to execute or exile them. It will take years for the opposition to muster the manpower and courage to oppose the government again and any promising voice part of the governing apparatus right now has been exposed and marginalized. Without a leader to rally behind, opposition and reformist groups will find it difficult to gather momentum again.
What have we learn in a broader sense?
We’ve learned that despite the proliferation of information avenues, a functioning and ruthless government can turn off the lights of international scrutiny. We’ve learned that opposition movements can be crushed with amazing expediency and brutality. We’ve learned that revolutions will be much harder to come by, despite the necessity or the will of the people. I’ve long argued that while the appearance of democracy has spread throughout the world, the efficacy of government to crush opposition movements deemed a threat to the existing power structure has become frighteningly advanced. I hold little hope for countries like Iran, or China, or North Korea. No matter the will of the people, the power structure is so entrenched, the security forces so lethal and organized, that no dramatic change will come. Instead the best they can hope for is a slow grind of change and the passage or time would seem to indicate is possible. That is of little solace to those that have lost loved ones in the here and now.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I would add to that the observation that a regime win would simply make me much less confident that engagement will work. The hope behind an engagement strategy was that the Supreme Leader might be inclined to side with the more pragmatic actors inside the system—guys like former president Rafsanjani and former prime minister Mousavi. With those people, and most of the Iranian elites of their ilk, now in open opposition to the regime, any crackdown would almost by definition entail the sidelining of the people who might be interested in a deal. Iran would essentially be in the hands of the most hardline figures, people who just don’t seem interested in improving relations with other countries.On this point, I think Yglesias is wrong. While engagement with a Khamenei regime that, should it survive, will have brutally repressed its people would be unappealing, the fundamental calculus of engagement remains the same. Engagement is not premised on Khamenei reaching out and working with the pragmatists within Iran (domestic pragmatists) but rather on the notion that he is a pragmatist – or, more precisely, self-interested. The first principle underlying engagement are that Khamenei’s-and by extension, Iran’s-most basic goal is to retain power. This goal supersedes all other, ancillary goals like extending Iranian influence in the Middle East or, perhaps, attaining regional hegemony. Indeed, it is Khamenei’s desire to retain power that is driving his brutal repression of his own people and fundamentally upsetting the mechanics of the Islamic Republic.
The engagement strategy basically recognizes that Iran’s regime desires survival. Survival is difficult when the United States and Israel threaten regime change. Reaching an accommodation with the United States whereby the United States recognizes the Iranian government and forswears regime change would do a great deal to ensure the Iranian regime’s survival. This is the carrot.
The stick, of course, is continued instability due to hostility with the United States and Israel, which threaten the regime’s survival. This instability also likely drives Iranian nuclear ambitions.
Thus, though Khamenei’s regime is becoming daily a less appealing partner in negotiations, its brutal repression does not fundamentally alter the forces which drive an engagement strategy. That repression may, in fact, demonstrate how off-base the neoconservatives’ Big Lie about a messianic and unstable Iran was.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
To begin with, I was not arguing that Neda's death in particular was serving as a focal point for collective action but rather, mourning demonstration in general could serve a similar function that which they served during the 1979 Revolution. That said, Bret’s point about Twitter and Facebook being more outwardly directed and only playing a marginal role in terms of organizing within Iran is well taken. In fact, Andrew Sullivan reported that Mousavi’s supporters have been distributing newspapers to disseminate information as was done during 1979 and Roger Cohen's first hand account indicates that crowds have been rallying through word of mouth. As far as how quickly information is being disseminated, I take that the Iranian regime felt it necessary to claim that Neda’s death was staged as a foreign plot and subsequently banned a public funeral to mean the Iranian regime, at least, believes that news of Neda’s death is both powerful and spreading quickly.
Finally, I too fear that this regime will be more adept and disrupting an uprising than the Shah’s regime. I don’t attribute this to the regime’s technological savvy, however. First, the 1979 Revolution occurred without the aid of cellphones and twitter; second, as described above, this uprising seems to be adopting similar low-tech communication methods as well as high-tech modes. The regime, I would say, has been generally ham-handed in its response thus far: Khamenei overplayed his hand at the outset by stealing the election and only compounded this error by declaring the results divine, only to have that questioned and be forced to walk back the outcome’s divinity by allowing the Guardian Council to investigate and acknowledge “irregularities.” Further, it strikes me as a foolish that Khamenei allowed the movement to gain a foothold and momentum before cracking down. Those false steps aside, that security presence in Tehran has, seemingly, effectively prevented gatherings of demonstrators since Saturday’s riots, thereby limiting the use of brutal tactics likely to inflame the populace.
Some shops in the city closed or placed black cloth over their doors as a symbol of condolence. Bazaar workers in Tehran and the city of Tabriz were reported to be on strike in protest at the election result. (emphasis added).
With today’s other events, it is likely that this bit information will be overlooked. Its importance should not be discounted, however. As I noted here, the Bazaaris represent an eminently important demographic in Iran – and one that has historically tolled the success or failure of uprisings. No other reports that I’ve seen have confirmed or elaborated on The Guardian’s report, but should it be true it would represent a significant boon to the Iranians rising in the street.
UPDATE: persiankiwi via Sullivan -- Tehranis to flood the Bazaar in a twist on the classic strike. Not quiet the same as the Bazaaris joining the movement but, I imagine, the Bazaaris have either signed up for this or it will become clear very quickly that they are not with Mousavi's movement.
What do you say at a time moment like that? I was dumbfounded, groping for an appropriate reaction, to say something, to feel something other than fear and anger. I’ve never met her brother but, she often talks about him. He hadn’t attended any of the protests and in fact had been sick, and yet the authorities took him in the middle of the night setting in motion some Kafkaesque nightmare.
Now her parents are concerned that their phone is tapped and their email is being read and they have asked her not to contact them. And so at a time of great civil unrest, when the electorate is rightfully calling for their votes to be counted, not assumed, she can not contact her parents because they are afraid. There is a glimmer of hope for her and her family. Through connections they have it appears her brother will be released soon, but there are no certainties when a government declares war on its citizens.
I have watched, as many have, with incredible interest and quiet solidarity, the opposition movement gain momentum. I will not pretend to be an expert on Iran. I am at best a novice. Ben and Eric bring the intellectual weight to this discussion, but I am sickened by what I was told this morning. I am unable to connect with the experience that someone’s government would declare open war on its citizens. I am fearful for my friend and her family. The only hope is that my fear, my susceptibility to intimidation, is the exception, not the rule. The only hope is that the people of Iran, in the face of wanton violence and intimidation, remain firm in their opposition to a fraudulent election and demand justice.
Today I am hoping for just one thing. I am hoping for the speedy release of my friend’s brother. I am hoping he is unharmed. I am hoping there will be change in Iran.
Monday, June 22, 2009
The first clashes in January 1978 produced two deaths that were then commemorated on the 40th day in mass gatherings, which in turn produced new confrontations with security forces — and new deaths. Those deaths then generated another 40-day period of mourning, new clashes, and further deaths. The cycle continued throughout most of the year until the shah's ouster in January 1979.
The same cycle has already become an undercurrent in Iran's current crisis. The largest demonstration, on Thursday of last week, was called by opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi to commemorate the deaths of protesters three days after they were killed.
Again, because this a cultural and religious expression, it served – and may serve again – an unifying and organizing function for the disparately motivated Iranians who have taken to the street. Its power and efficacy should not be discounted nor overlooked. Indeed, Ayatollah Montazari has already called for another three days of mourning beginning Wednesday.
UPDATE: Karroubi has called for Thursday to be a day of mourning, according to AFP.