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U.N. Human Rights Council votes to probe legality of drone strikes

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The US objects, naturally enough. And yet the high civilian death toll and questionable legality of the attacks makes the inquiry perfectly natural. The US generally adopts a one-sided view of things and seems disinclined to approach things with equity—equal treatment—in mind, part of the idea of US exceptionalism, I suppose: “We can do as we want, and we reserve the right to condemn strongly and even punish other nations who do as we do.” What would the US think of some other nation kidnapping a US citizen from within the US, spiriting him out of the country, torturing him for months, and then releasing him in some backwoods spot? Would we think that was okay, particularly if the citizen was innocent of any wrongdoing? The US seems to think it was fine when we did it, but I bet the US would object to being on the receiving end.

For example, the US is (petulantly) refusing to issue a visa to Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, so he will be unable to travel to the UN. (This also shows the lack of wisdom in placing an international body on territory controlled by one government, which can then restrict access as it pleases.) TIME magazine notes:

Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.

However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.

It’s very strange that the US refuses to provide a reason for its refusal, but presumably the Ambassador either represents a security threat, or is a terrorist, or it’s a foreign policy reason (though the US is in fact attempting to negotiate an agreement with Iran). But the (unanimous) Congressional vote offers a clue:

Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.

And the NY Times reports:

The vote sent what sponsors called a blunt rejoinder to the Iranian government for having selected a nominee who played a role, however minor, in the 1979 American hostage crisis in Tehran.

Let’s think about that. In 1953 the US, using the CIA, covertly overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran. The US deliberately destroyed their government and put in place puppets (in effect). The reason: we wanted their oil, and we were willing to destroy their government to get it.

In the light of that, and of the atrocities visited on Iranians by the SAVAK, is it any wonder that the average Iranian had little love for the US. Possibly the US citizenry, if a foreign power overthrew our government and put in place a puppet government to seize our national resources, would have no objection and would welcome the rape of their country. But Iranians apparently didn’t like it, and in 1979 seized the US Embassy and held the occupants hostage for 444 days. None were killed. (8 servicemen died by accident in a rescue attempt; one Iranian was killed.)

So: a reasonable provocation, no deaths, and 33 years later the US bars the Iranian Ambassador because he was one of the students who particpated in that uprising. He was 22 years old at the time. Have you ever heard of college-age youth rising in protest about a cause they see as important? (Cf. Occupy Wall Street.)

A lot has happened since then, and holding the Ambassador responsible for understandable actions more than 30 years ago seems excessive, especially given the US’s own responsibility in creating the situation (by illegally overthrowing a democratically elected government).

You can see how other nations might view the US in a negative light, in part because the US tends to skip over its own faults and its responsibility for bad actions.

Now, back to the UN Human Rights Council: John Zorocostas reports in McClatchy:

The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed Friday, over the strong objections of the United States, to study whether American drone strikes comply with international law.

The resolution, which was drafted by Pakistan and co-sponsored by Yemen, both countries where the U.S. has undertaken multiple drone strikes, was adopted on a 27-6 vote, with 14 abstentions. The United States, Great Britain and France all voted no, but several NATO allies abstained.

Human rights advocacy groups, led by New York-based Human Rights Watch, mounted a strong campaign to garner support for the the motion.

In a letter circulated to the 47-members of the council on Thursday, the advocacy group argued that while currently only the U.S., Great Britain and Israel use armed drones in operations against alleged terrorists, it cautioned “that other states, and non-state actors, may acquire them in the future.”

Human Rights Watch also said it has “serious concerns that some if not many U.S. drone attacks may violate international law.”

A report published earlier this month, by Ben Emmerson, the U.N. independent expert on the promotion and protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms found that a U.S. drone strike in October 2006 at a religious seminary in Chenagai in the Bajaur tribal region of Pakistan killed up to 80 people instantly, 69 of whom were children.

The report also said that in December, a U.S. drone strike on a convoy of vehicles making their way to a wedding celebration outside the city of Rada in Yemen killed as many as 15, the majority of whom may have been civilians.

The resolution urges that all “states” using drones should ensure that they are complying “with their obligations under international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in particular, the principles of precaution, distinction and proportionality.” . . .

Continue reading.

US drone strikes are killing civilians in countries who, naturally enough, object to a foreign power arbitrarily dealing out death to citizens simply because it has the power. It seems perfectly logical to bring the issue to the Human Rights Commission, and the only reason the US objects is that in this case the US is the transgressor. (If another nation were doing such things to the US or US allies, the US would certainly demand a review and action.)

The utter hypocrisy of US foreign policy is repugnant. And yes, I know that doubtless there are other nations who are worse. That does not lessen, and is not relevant to, the US idea of fairness, justice, and international law, which seems to be mostly “might makes right,” and anything the US does is good. This is a child’s view.

Toward the end of Zorocostas’s report, he notes:

But a large number of U.S. allies abstained rather than oppose the resolution, including Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Romania, Austria, and Montenegro.

Moreover, neutral European Union member Ireland, and neutral Switzerland voted in support of the motion, along with China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

The EU does not have a common position on the use of armed drones, but there is growing political opposition to them.

In February, the European Parliament, voted 534 to 49 to declare drone strikes “outside a declared war” to be “a violation of international law and of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of that country.”

The US response seems unreasonable, unfair, and inappropriate. In a word, the US does not play well with others. If the nations were children in a sandbox, the US would definitely be the bully.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2014 at 1:19 pm

GOP willing to keep veterans from their benefits in order to get a war with Iran

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The GOP seems hell-bent on having a war with Iran, our other recent wars having gone so well and enriched the country. Take a look at Sen. Marc Rubio’s position and statements. And the veterans’ benefits? Alex Leichenger reports at ThinkProgress:

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a bill that sought to provide veterans with greater access to health care and education over an amendment aimed at increasing sanctions on Iran.Democrats failed to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome the GOP obstruction.

Republicans have been trying to get a vote on an Iran sanctions measure, which has stalled after experts and Obama administration officials convinced most members of the Democratic caucus that it would derail talks with Iran over its nuclear program and could lead to war.

After numerous attempts failed, the Senate GOP used Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) veterans’ benefits bill to bring the issue up again but Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) refused to go along. “Republicans say they want to help veterans. They have a strange way of showing it. We introduced a bill that would do just that. Republicans immediately inject partisan politics into the mix, insisting on amendments that have nothing to do with helping veterans,” Reid said on Wednesday.

One of the nation’s largest veterans groups, the American Legion, agreed. “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement this week. “This comprehensive bill aims to help veterans find good jobs, get the health care they need and make in-state tuition rates applicable to all who are using their GI Bill benefits.”

“There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way,” the American Legion tweeted on Thursday.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also called on senators to take irrelevant issues like Iran out of the vets bill debate, and on Thursday called the GOP’s obstruction “shameful.”

“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said IAVA founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff, according to the Washington Post.

Sanders’ bill paid for the benefits by using some funds that would have otherwise been earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Senate Republicans like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who had no objections using those funds to pay for the wars, called it a “bogus gimmick.”

“How can we afford $100 billion in tax breaks for the wealthiest three-tenths of Americans, but we can’t pay for veterans benefits?” Sanders tweeted.

A bipartisan expert group said in a recent report that new Iran sanctions now would undermine the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said last month that “right now the imposition of more sanctions would be counterproductive.”

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2014 at 6:15 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

Why a war with Iran is a horrible idea

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Juan Cole writes at Informed Comment:

40 Republican senators are making a last-minute push to bring further Iran sanctions up for a vote despite the opposition of senate majority leader Harry Reid. Some 59 senators signed on to a plan to increase sanctions during President Obama’s negotiations with Iran, which Iranian leaders have argued could derail the talks. Among the steps these Republicans favor is reversing the minor easing of sanctions implemented by Obama as a quid pro quo to Iran for steps it has taken to make its nuclear enrichment program more transparent and less amenable to weaponization (Iran says the program is purely for civilian purposes).

It is absolutely outrageous and very rare that Congress would interfere in diplomatic negotiations of the president. They let Bush go around invading countries but won’t let Obama try to forestall a war.

The GOP is acting for its own reasons, since it wants to take the senate in the fall and thinks making vulnerable Democrats explicitly vote against further Iran sanctions will hurt them with the public. But the further sanctions have been pushed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, other Israel lobbies, and the far right wing Israeli government of Binjamin Netanyahu, and some of the impetus for further pushing them likely is coming from AIPAC donors (who skew much further to the right than the mainstream of the American Jewish community– which after all contains many peace activists).

But the GOP and AIPAC are playing with fire, and it is the American people who will get the third degree burns if they succeed. Here’s why:

1. If the new sanctions derail the negotiations of new President Hasan Rouhani with the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, Rouhani’s enemies among the hard liners will be strengthened.

2. If Rouhani loses power and looks weak, the hard liners could make pursuing further negotiations difficult.

3. If the negotiations collapse, Iran’s enrichment program may well become less transparent.

4. Hawks (i.e. war criminals) in the US have used the pretext of lack of transparency in foreign countries’ research projects to foment war (as happened most notoriously in Iraq).

5. The current US sanctions and financial blockade on Iranian oil sales are so severe that they have raised tensions with Iran to a new level of intensity, and could lead to hostilities very easily.

6. If the Iranian enrichment program cannot be made transparent through negotiations, pressure will build on US administrations to bomb the facilities at Natanz.

7. Such an attack could well spiral into all-out war.

8. Iran is three times more populous than Iraq was when the US invaded it in 2003. It is also geographically three times Iraq’s size (it is the size of continental Western Europe– i.e. Germany, France and Spain combined). Gen. Shinseki estimated that based on the Balkans experience the US would have needed 800,000 troops in Iraq to pacify it post-invasion. He was proved right (US viceroy in Iraq Paul Bremer admitted that there were never enough US troops on the ground there). This estimate suggests that the US would need 2.4 million troops on the ground in Iran (hint: it does not have them).

9. If we figure in the cost over their lifetimes of caring for the some 30,000 Iraq War veterans who were injured badly enough to go to hospital, the true cost of the Iraq War is at least $3 trillion. The US is currently $16 trillion in debt, about the amount of its annual gross domestic product, which is a very dangerous economic posture that has led to its credit rating being cut. Iran could be three times as costly as Iraq, given the demographic and territorial considerations, and therefore could cost $9 trillion. That kind of debt burden (the money would have to be borrowed) would certainly bankrupt the country, causing the cost of borrowing money for small businesses to skyrocket and leading to a Great Depression.

10. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 February 2014 at 11:26 am

Posted in Congress, GOP, Iran

Iran Breakthrough a Triumph for Pragmatists and a Defeat for the Warmongers

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Juan Cole writes at Truthdig.com

The implementation of the Iran accord Monday signaled a modest but still important sea change in that country’s relationship with the world. As with all good diplomacy, the deal is a win-win for Iran and the United Nations Security Council’s permanent members. The breakthrough is seen as a setback for Saudi Arabia and Israel, and also for the Israel lobbies on Capitol Hill, which fear it announces an end to attempts to contain Iran as a revolutionary force in the region. But in most world capitals, the agreement is being celebrated as a vindication of pragmatism and transparency, and European companies are lining up to get back into the Iranian market. Two pragmatists are at the center of the negotiations: Hasan Rouhani and Barack Obama.

Iran negotiated the deal with the UNSC permanent members plus Germany (called the P5 + 1). It provides for frequent and transparent inspections of the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities. In addition, Iran has ceased enriching uranium to 19.25 percent for its medical reactor, which produces isotopes for treating cancer. It can, however, continue to enrich to 5 percent for its nuclear reactors, which produce electricity. The measures are confidence-building steps, intended to reassure the West that Iran has no intention of producing a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear weapons first came to the Middle East when Israel began conspiring with supporters in France and Britain in the 1950s to import the technology. Despite attempts by President John F. Kennedy to forestall this development, by the late 1960s Israel had the bomb. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan even allegedly wanted to use it in the 1973 war against Egypt. Israel now has a secret stockpile of several hundred warheads, perhaps as many as France or Britain. At the same time, Indian scientists began working on nuclear technology, with an eye on China, which achieved nuclear weapons in 1964. The Indian bomb in turn determined Pakistan to construct its own, with Islamabad detonating its first device in 1998. The Israeli and Pakistani nuclear weapons programs encouraged Iraq to seek a bomb, though its program was never very successful and was dismantled by United Nations inspectors after the Gulf War of 1990-91. The lesson in the Middle East seemed clear. Actually having an atomic bomb equals deterrence from being attacked. Trying to get a bomb and taking too long opens your country to foreign aggression.

By the late 1990s, Iran was in a very dangerous neighborhood. Iraq had used chemical weapons, with U.S. backing, against Iranian troops at the front during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988; the U.S. categorizes these as “weapons of mass destruction.” Iranian intelligence knew that Saddam Hussein wanted a nuclear weapon, and U.S. and Israeli politicians maintained that there was still an active weapons program in Baghdad (this allegation was untrue). Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia and China—all neighbors or near neighbors—had the bomb.

The ayatollahs in charge of Iran for the most part have had a horror of nuclear weapons. Ruhollah Khomeini, who became Iran’s religious ruler in 1979, called nuclear weapons “un-Islamic” and initially forbade even reactors for electricity generation. His successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly condemned atomic bombs in a written fatwa and many oral statements that have the force of law. (Fatwas, or considered opinions on Islamic law, are often given in oral form by prominent Muslim jurists, just as “responsa” or legal opinions are given orally by rabbis in Judaism.) Khamenei says that making, stockpiling and using nuclear weapons are all forbidden in Islamic law, because they cannot be used without killing hundreds of thousands of innocent noncombatants.

Some Iranian hawks and engineers appear to have decided that even though they would never get permission to construct a weapon from the supreme theocrat (who is named by the Iranian constitution as commander in chief of the armed forces and of the security agencies), a nuclear program would still be useful. They appear to have believed that Iran would benefit from what has been called “the Japan option” or “nuclear latency” or “a breakout capacity.” This is the condition of being able to construct a nuclear weapon without actually doing so. Producing a nuclear weapon could make a country a pariah, as happened to North Korea, unless it had the firm backing of a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, which could veto sanctions (thus the U.S. holds Israel harmless, and Russia protected India after its 1974 test). Iran was too much of a maverick to hope for such a superpower patron. But just getting close enough to being able to make a bomb to deter an invasion or attempts at regime change was unlikely to provoke the same degree of isolation.

In addition, Iran was in danger of using so much of its own petroleum at home as to lose the income from exporting it. Unlike in the U.S., electricity in Iran is often generated by petroleum. As Iran industrializes, urbanizes and people begin driving more, all of Iran’s oil could end up being consumed domestically (as had already happened to Indonesia, formerly an exporter). Constructing nuclear plants to generate electricity, the route France, Japan and South Korea took, would ensure Iran’s energy independence and thus its political independence.

The nuclear program thus had two benefits, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2014 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Iran

I don’t understand the 16 Senate Democrats who want a war with Iran

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Because slapping on additional sanctions at this juncture of the negotiations is an unconcealed effort to kill the negotiations (which allow UN inspections, offer trade with the country, and so on). Indeed, the outcome seems, so far as I can tell, better than we had hoped for. It’s a real, major breakthrough agreement—with verification.

So why would the 16 Senate Democrats try to kill it? Because they prefer to have a war with Iran. Never mind our most recent unprovoked war of aggression, Iraq: hundreds of thousands kill, the professional military almost broken by repeated tours of duty, no planning for the occupation and withdrawal—none, zero, bupkis, zip, nada. We got there, said, “Now what do we do?” and presiding over the collapse of a nation and an increase in the number of willing volunteers for terrorism: those with family or friends killed, whether by us or by others: we broke it, we own it. Exactly the words with which Colin Powell warned George W. Bush.

So the Senate Democrats want more of that? And not to mention the horrendous pure cost of the war: around $2 trillion, all told, which makes it strange that Republicans would want it—except, of course, that it’s something President Obama wants, so the Republicans have no choice but to oppose: it’s a complete bind for them. If they don’t oppose, they face likely defeat at the hands of an even crazier candidate in the primary. (Take a look at some who came to Congress via exactly this route.) So the GOP no longer has choices. The choices are Obama’s to make, and that forces opposition—to the degree if he speaks out in favor of a proposal from the Republicans, the Republicans will immediately disown and oppose their own measure. This actually happens.

So with all that in mind, 16 Senate Democrats are trying to kill a diplomatic solution in favor of waging war. Because we have such a great track record at that sort of war, they must think.

I don’t get it.

UPDATE: By the way, an interesting column on Iran.

UPDATE 2: James Fallows has a must-read call to action.

UPDATE 3: Wow. Israel certainly seems to want the US to go to war with Iran.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 January 2014 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Congress, Democrats, Iran

Optimism on Iran

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At Informed Comment Juan Cole has an excellent summary of the Iran situation:

The decade-long Neoconservative plot to take the United States to war against Iran appears to have been foiled.

In response for a loosening of sanctions, worth some $7 billion to Iran, President Hasan Rouhani undertook to freeze enrichment activities at their present level. He also pledged to cast Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.75% for the production of medical isotopes in a form that makes it impossible to further enrich it. Nor will Iran produce more 19.5% low enriched uranium. (Uranium enriched to 95% is suitable for a bomb, and the Western diplomats figure that 19.75% is closer to 95% than is the stock of uranium enriched to 3.5% to serve as fuel for the three nuclear power plants at Bushehr. Iran also agreed to do no further work on its proposed heavy-water reactor at Arak. (Heavy-water reactors produce plutonium, with which bombs can easily be constructed).

Iran’s nuclear facilities have been being inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the inspectors have repeatedly certified that no uranium has been diverted to weapons purposes. This agreement will increase the frequency of the inspections and widen their scope somewhat.

The agreement did not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the right was implicit in the agreement (which does not forbid enrichment to 3.5% for reactor fuel) and in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In a press conference on Sunday morning, Iranian president Hasan Rouhani reaffirmed that he understands the agreement to recognize Iran’s right to enrich. But he strongly reaffirmed that Iran does not want and never will want to build an atomic bomb (nuclear weapons are forbidden in Shiite law according to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s fatwas, but it has been hard to get suspicious Westerners to take these theocratic pronouncements seriously).

The agreement is actually an agreement to negotiate, and the hard bargaining is yet to come. The terms agreed upon are more confidence-building measures than anything else.

In 2003, the Neocon chickenhawks, most of whom had never worn a uniform or had a parent who did, joked that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran.” When people have to talk about being “real men,” it is a pretty good sign that they are 98-pound weaklings.

The “everyone” who wanted to go to Baghdad was actually just the Neocons and their fellow travelers. Most of the latter were hoodwinked by the Neocon/Cheney misinformation campaign blaming Saddam Hussein of Iraq for 9/11. A majority of Democratic representatives in the lower house of Congress voted against the idea of going to war. The Iraq War, trumped up on false pretenses and mainly to protect the militant right wing in Israel from having a credible military rival in the region and to put Iraqi petroleum on the market to weaken Saudi Arabia, cost the United States nearly 5000 troops, hundreds more Veterans working as contractors, and probably $3 or $4 trillion– money we do not have since our economy has collapsed and hasn’t recovered except for wealthy stockholders. Perhaps George W. Bush could paint for us some dollars so that we can remember what they used to look like when we had them in our pockets instead of his billionaire friends (many of them war profiteers) having them in theirs.

Binyamin Netanyahu was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. He is now deeply wounded that the US is making peace with Iran. He seems to see the US as his personal doberman pinscher, which he is used to siccing on his rivals in the region whenever they complain about his aggressive land thefts.

The irony is that in early 2003, the reformist Iranian government of then-President Mohammad Khatami had sent over to the US a wide-ranging proposal for peace. After all, Baathist Iraq was Iran’s deadliest enemy. It had invaded Iran in 1980 and fought an 8-year aggressive war in hopes of taking Iranian territory and stealing its oil resources. Now the US was about to overthrow Iran’s nemesis. Wouldn’t it make sense for Washington and Tehran to ally? Khatami put everything on the table, even an end to hostilities with Israel.

The Neoconservatives threw the Iranian proposal in the trash heap and mobilized to make sure there was no rapprochement with Iran. David Frum, Bush’s speech-writer, consulted with eminence grise Richard Perle (then on a Pentagon oversight board) and Irv Lewis “Scooter” Libby (vice presidential felon Richard Bruce Cheney’s chief of staff), and they had already inserted into Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech the phrase the “axis of evil,” grouping Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Iran had had sympathy demonstrations for the US after 9/11, and, being a Shiite power, feared and hated al-Qaeda (Sunni extremists) as much as Washington did. But the Neoconservatives did not want a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda or against Saddam Hussein. Being diplomatic serial killers, they saw Iran rather as their next victim.

All through the Cheney-Bush administration, repeated leaks from the Pentagon to Sy Hersh and other investigative journalists warned that machinations were afoot to draw the US into a war against Iran, as an outgrowth of the illegal and aggressive attack on and occupation of Iraq. The Neocons plotted against the lives of our children until their last day in office, in January of 2009.

After seeing what Bush did to Iraq, Tehran ramped up its nuclear enrichment program, in hopes of making the point that if the US looked like it might try to invade (which it often looked like), Iran might go for broke and come up with a small nuclear device. In 2003 when Khatami made the peace proposal, Iran had just declared a small set of nuclear experiments. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2013 at 7:06 am

Posted in Iran

What killed the diplomatic solution to the Iran problem

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Some people (and countries) simply want to make war, not find ways to avoid war. I do not understand that. Juan Cole describes the collapse of the deal with Iran, thanks to the French:

The Iranian newspaper Tabnak printed a minute-by-minute account of Saturday’s dramatic on-again off-again push toward a diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. It contains little editorializing but by the key placement of news items, it tells a story about French and Israeli bad faith.

Catherine Ashton of the European Union and Secretary of State John Kerry had worked for months with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on a text, which put forward a set confidence-building steps. They were careful to have no details leak, but apparently Iran would freeze its nuclear enrichment program for six months in return for very slight, and “reversible” reductions of international sanctions. Further steps would then be pursued.

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denounced this step as a fool’s bargain, maintaining that Iran was getting something for nothing. Tabnak says that the Israeli Finance Minister warned that even a slight reduction in Iran sanctions would lead to a gold rush on the part of Western corporations seeking business in Tehran (Iran is an oil and gas state with a population of 77 million, so there are trillions to be made there if it is opened up). Apparently the Israelis feel that any chink in the sanctions armor would lead inexorably to their collapse, impelled in part by world capitalism hungry for a major new market and for Iran’s enormous resources. They fear that once the international momentum moves in that direction, Iran would dig in its heels and keep its most significant enrichment capabilities and its breakout capacity whereby it could construct a bomb at will if it wanted to.

There was no sign that any of the diplomats in Geneva were willing to pay the slightest attention to the squawking from Tel Aviv. Indeed, the momentum was toward an inking of the confidence-building measure on Saturday itself. Russian and Chinese representatives were abruptly summoned to Geneva.

Tabnak doesn’t instance the Saudis, but their refusal to take up their seat on the UN Security Council is in part a protest against American diplomacy with Iran, which they fear will leave the kingdom in a weak position vis-a-vis their Persian Shiite rival for power in the Gulf (which they call the Arabian Gulf and Iran calls the Persian Gulf). Some 22% of proven world oil reserves are in that region.

Then French foreign minister Laurent Fabius showed up and threw cold water on the whole process. He clearly was attempting to torpedo the agreement, rejecting the whole notion of a six-month confidence-building period without substantial Iranian concessions. In the French system, the foreign minister doesn’t typically have a lot of autonomy, so Fabius was almost certainly acting at the orders of Socialist President Francois Hollande, who is way down in the polls and may feel the need to seem strong internationally, asserting himself against the US and Iran. The arrogance of the US and the perfidy of the far right religious government in Tehran are two things that both center-right and center-left French can agree upon. Hollande, having intervened in Mali, seems to want to throw his weight around in the Middle East. He may see an opportunity for France to come up in the world now that much of the Arab world and Israel is angry at Washington for its opening toward Iran. The US for decades has pulled off a balancing act of allying both with Israel and Saudi Arabia, in part by pointing to the danger of Iran to both. Since Obama seems to be abandoning that ploy, Paris may think there is a vacuum that it can fill.

Because Iranian president Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif were deeply concerned that their opening toward negotiations with the West would be sabotaged by hard liners in the Revolutionary Guards and around theocrat-in-chief Ali Khamenei, they had stipulated that no details of any agreement be leaked during the negotiations.

Fabius blatantly disregarded this rule. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2013 at 11:44 am

Posted in Iran

The nuclear bomb situation, Israel v. Iran

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Juan Cole has a thoughtful post at Informed Comment:

Rightwing Israeli politicians like Binyamin Netanyahu are squawkingfuriously about the prospect that Sec. of State John Kerry might reach an agreement with Iran over its civilian nuclear enrichment program.

The US is trying to convince Iran to scale back its program to the point where it cannot be used to produce a weapon in a short time period, and is solely a fuel-producing program. Nuclear fuel is typically enriched to 3.5-5%, whereas a bomb typically requires over 90% enrichment. Any gas centrifuge enrichment program theoretically could be ramped up to produce a bomb, but limitations on the number and kind of centrifuges used could make such a project time-consuming (at least a couple of months) and more easily detected by inspectors.

Why is the Israeli Right really apoplectic about such a deal? Here is my analysis of the faux and hypocritical outrage (Iran has no nuclear weapons program, but Israel has hundreds of nuclear warheads).

1. Since they broke their word to President John F. Kennedy and went for broke to produce their own bomb, the Israeli leadership can’t imagine that Iran won’t cheat on any deal. This is an example of mirror thinking. But Iran is being inspected, unlike Israel, and no country under active UN inspection has ever developed a bomb.

2. A US-Iran deal that involves the UN Security Council would make it impossible for Israel unilaterally to attack Iran. It would therefore reduce Israel’s range of options and detract from its position as Middle East regional hegemon.

3. A remaining Iranian nuclear program would always imply a “break-out” capacity for Tehran. Being known to be able to make a nuclear weapon has some of the same deterrent effects as actually having one, increasing Iranian clout in the region. (This is on analogy to Japan in East Asia).

4. Israel’s Likud Party still has designs on annexing southern Lebanon, deeply regretting Ehud Barak’s 2000 withdrawal, but is blocked by Hizbullah backed by Iran. An Iran with a break-out capacity would permanently end Israeli expansionist ambitions to the north and permanently deny Israel the waters of the Litani River, which its leaders covet.

5. Much of the Israeli public isn’t that wedded to being in Israel, a big problem for hawks like PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Probably a million or so first and second generation Israeli immigrants live in Europe and North America; it is not even clear that some of them aren’t being counted in the 5.5 million Israeli Jews claimed by Israel. Around 20,000 Israelis now live in Berlin! Nearly a third of Jewish Israelis have said in polling that they would consider emigrating if Iran developed a nuclear weapon. Keeping Iran weak is key to winning the hardliners’ psychological war in the Middle East.

6. Netanyahu uses the supposed threat of Iran, a poor weak global South country with a military budget somewhere between that of Norway and Singapore, to distract attention from Israeli colonization of Palestinian territory. A Western deal with Iran would throw the spotlight on the Palestinian West Bank, where Netanyahu is engaged in grand larceny on a cosmic scale.

7. If Iran is widely viewed by the international community to have stepped back from nuclear ambitions, Israel’s own nuclear arsenal will come to the fore as a focus, since it is the only Middle Eastern country with an arsenal of warheads, and that arsenal clearly drives a regional arms race (starting with Iraq in the 1980s).

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2013 at 11:25 am

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

Juan Cole lays out 10 ways the US could avoid a catastrophic war with Iran

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Worth reading. With the budget fight off the table, Iran will surface soon.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2013 at 10:42 am

Posted in Iran

Interesting dynamic: Israel wants conflict between US and Iran

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The fact that we may be making major progress diplomatically—which to me seems a good thing and a step on the road to nations getting along, which is the goal, right?—-Israel becomes agitated that the US and Iran may find a way to make peace and co-exist harmoniously. Which I thought was the ideal goal toward which we were working/hoping.

At any rate, Juan Cole at Informed Comment notes:

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made no secret of his dismay that the Obama administration is entering into what look like serious negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear enrichment program.

Israeli hawks such as Netanyahu want the US to bomb the Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities in Natanz near Isfahan and in Fordow near Qom. Sometimes they threaten to carry out the bombing raid themselves if the US won’t act. They regularly issue dire prediction that Iran will have a nuclear weapon in six months (Netanyahu has been making such predictions since the early 1990s).

But former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak admitted that Iran has not decided to use its civilian enrichment program, which makes fuel for nuclear reactors, to also produce a bomb. Making a bomb is far, far more difficult than enriching uranium to 5% for fuel or 19.75% for medical isotopes. A bomb would require enrichment to 95% or so. Nor is the case that just running the centrifuges longer would be sufficient to enrich to bomb grade. Technical problems have to be solved that the Iranians give no sign of having solved.

The danger of the Netanyahu bombing run is great. Such a bombing raid from 30,000 feet is highly unlikely to destroy the enrichment facilities. US generalshave pointed out to Congress that in any case, Iran could fairly quickly recover from a loss of centrifuges to bombing, and just make or import more. Only by occupying Iran militarily, as was done to Iraq could the US be sure of mothballing Iran’s nuclear program.

Since the program won’t be destroyed but only somewhat damaged, such a raid will merely push Iran to rebuild the enrichment facilities. In the aftermath, the Iranian authorities could well decide to reverse their public stance and go for a bomb, since their airspace would have been violated and their sovereignty violated.

That is the real lesson of the 1981 Israeli bombing of the Osirak reactor in Iraq. The Osirak reactor was built by the French and was a light water reactor.Light water reactors either can’t be used to make a bomb at all or it would take 100 years to collect enough fissionable material from them.

So Osirak simply was not a threat to Israel. But in bombing Osirak, the Israelis threw a scare into the regime of Saddam Hussein, which tried to use magnets (a magnetatron) to enrich uranium to bomb grade in the period from the early 1980s through 1991. The UN inspectors rolled up this nuclear program after the Gulf War of 1990.

It is not practicable to invade and occupy Iran, which is three times as populous as Iraq (and we all remember how well that went).

Therefore, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 September 2013 at 2:15 pm

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

Is Iran out of the US War Queue? The Twilight of the Hawks

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My previous post ended with some stuff on Iran, which was included because of the main point of the post: the US press serving as a propaganda arm of the government. Juan Cole has a very interesting post on the Iran situation:

The short telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday may or may not lead to a successful diplomatic resolution of US-Iranian conflicts, especially over Tehran’s nuclear enrichment program. But if it does, how will the hawks in Washington survive?

The US is an unusually war-like country. Since 1963 it has launched a military action on average every 40 months. It is to the extent that the US is still at war in Afghanistan after 12 years, and many Americans may not even realize it.

Washington hawks always have a war queue, knowing that their campaign supporters in the war industries expect it of them. Iraq was in the war queue in the 1990s. Since the fall of Baghdad in 2003, Iran has been the number one state in the war queue. This is so even though Iran is not a superpower or even a regional power. It hasn’t invaded another country in at least a century and a half. Its annual military budget is on the order of Singapore and Norway. It has a population slightly larger than France.

The point of having an enemies’ list is only in part in order to curb an enemy. It serves to scare the public and rally them around the politicians and make them willing to give up personal liberties or forget about being upset at being ruled on behalf of a handful of large corporations.

Putting a country in the war queue requires demonizing its leader, twisting his words to make him seem aggressive, and exaggerating his capabilities versus the US. Even Nikita Khrushchev, who denounced Stalin’s crimes, was depicted in the US as a menace who pledged, “We will bury you!” What Khrushchev actually had said was, “We’ll still be here when your capitalist system is dead and buried.” He was wrong but he wasn’t threatening to bury anyone. The Soviet Union’s economy was never more than half that of the US, and its military was no match for the American, but Americans were taught to be mortally afraid of the Soviets, what with their challenge to … gasp … the supremacy of private property.

Likewise, former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s quotation of an old statement by Ruhollah Khomeini that “The occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time” — a hope that Zionism would collapse the way Communism had in 1991, was transformed by American “journalism” into an aggressive threat to wipe Israel off the map. This, despite repeated Iranian assertions that they had a no first strike policy, and that they would never slaughter noncombatants, and despite the laughable character of the proposition that a weak country very distant from Israel could menace it despite Tel Aviv’s stockpile of hundreds of nuclear weapons, and its poison gas and other weapons capabilities. Iran does not have an atomic bomb or chemical weapons.

The significance of Friday’s phone call is that Iran may be removed from the war queue. Current president Hassan Rouhani is harder to demonize than his quirky, populist predecessor. Twenty years of breathless allegations that Iran is 6 months from having an atomic bomb have raised questions about why the Israelis and the American hawks keep being wrong (not to mention, why the kettle is calling the oven black– Israel and the US are nuclear powers but Iran is not).

The Israeli hawks have been promoting Iran as among the top challenges to the West since the early 1990s, aware that the loss of the Soviet Union and then Iraq left them nothing with which to frighten the American public. The Israel lobbies are horrified that they might now lose the Iran bogeyman.Likewise, the US war industries that back right wing senators and congressional representatives are putting their sock puppets such as Lindsey Graham up to seeking authorization for a war on Iran.

The unacknowledged elephant in the room is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 10:48 am

Posted in Iran

Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the ‘pathetic’ American media

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Lisa O’Carroll has an interesting post on a Guardian blog:

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider.

It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as “the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist”.

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth.

Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends “so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would” – or the death of Osama bin Laden. “Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,” he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an “independent” Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. “The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,” he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

“It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],” he declares in an interview with the Guardian.

“It used to be when you were in a situation when something very dramatic happened, the president and the minions around the president had control of the narrative, you would pretty much know they would do the best they could to tell the story straight. Now that doesn’t happen any more. Now they take advantage of something like that and they work out how to re-elect the president.

He isn’t even sure if the recent revelations about the depth and breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency will have a lasting effect.

Snowden changed the debate on surveillance

He is certain that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden “changed the whole nature of the debate” about surveillance. Hersh says he and other journalists had written about surveillance, but Snowden was significant because he provided documentary evidence – although he is sceptical about whether the revelations will change the US government’s policy.

“Duncan Campbell [the British investigative journalist who broke the Zircon cover-up story], James Bamford [US journalist] and Julian Assange and me and the New Yorker, we’ve all written the notion there’s constant surveillance, but he [Snowden] produced a document and that changed the whole nature of the debate, it’s real now,” Hersh says.

“Editors love documents. Chicken-shit editors who wouldn’t touch stories like that, they love documents, so he changed the whole ball game,” he adds, before qualifying his remarks.

“But I don’t know if it’s going to mean anything in the long [run] because the polls I see in America – the president can still say to voters ‘al-Qaida, al-Qaida’ and the public will vote two to one for this kind of surveillance, which is so idiotic,” he says.

Holding court to a packed audience at City University in London’s summer school on investigative journalism, 76-year-old Hersh is on full throttle, a whirlwind of amazing stories of how journalism used to be; how he exposed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, how he got the Abu Ghraib pictures of American soldiers brutalising Iraqi prisoners, and what he thinks of Edward Snowden.

Hope of redemption

Despite his concern about the timidity of journalism he believes the trade still offers hope of redemption. . .

Continue reading.

And, speaking of the American media, Glenn Greenwald points out a totally false statement made by Brian Williams on NBC news: a fabrication that is nothing other than propaganda. Truly, when the media starts simply running propaganda, we are in a bad place.

And, speaking of Iran, check out this post by Juan Cole on Informed Comment a couple of days ago. It provides some evidence that in fact Iran has indeed been working toward nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons. And if it is open to UN inspections (something that Israel, for example, has never allowed), then I would say that things are on a very good path indeed. That post begins:

The United States, France, Germany, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE form a bloc that are convinced that Iran’s nuclear enrichment program is intended ultimately to produce a bomb. Iran maintains that the program is solely intended to produce fuel for nuclear reactors, which will allow it to avoid using its petroleum for domestic energy and earn the kind of foreign exchange with it that will allow the country to remain independent.

Iran is demonstrating that it wants to reduce tensions with the West over its nuclear enrichment program, which it insists is meant for solely peaceful purposes. President Hassan Rouhani will address the UN today, and John Kerry will meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the highest-level contact the two countries have had since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

One sticking point was Iran’s stockpile of nuclear material, which it is reducing by turning it into fuel rods that can only be used to power its medical reactor.

Iran has a medical reactor that uses plates enriched to 19.75%, the highest grade of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). The medical reactor produces isotopes for treating cancer. Iran had purchased fuel for it from Argentina, which has since mothballed its enrichment program, and when Iran ran out, it began enriching to that level itself. It accumulated 240 kilograms (550 pounds) of high grade LEU, which made the West nervous. It is marginally easier to turn uranium enriched to 19.75% into bomb grade, or 90% enriched.

It isn’t an entirely rational nervousness. Iran does not have the capacity to enrich to bomb grade, and anyway couldn’t carry out such an operation while being actively inspected by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency. The Western press often reported that Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to 19.75% could be made into a bomb in only a year. But they neglected to report that there is nada, zilch, zero evidence of Iran being anywhere near able to pull such a thing off technically. Moreover, Iran’s nuclear facilities are under international inspection, and no country being actively inspected has ever developed a nuclear weapon.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, has confirmed that Iran has turned 40% of its stock of high-grade LEU into fuel rods for the medical reactor. Once made into fuel rods, the material cannot be weaponized. So Iran only has 140 kilograms left of the 19.75% enriched uranium left. That isn’t enough for a bomb even if Iran knew how to make one and had the facilities to do so, which it doesn’t.

Read the whole thing. It sounds somewhat as though the “axis of evil” bit was mainly propaganda. But read the entire post.

UPDATE: And the comments as well. The comments on Informed Comment generally do seem to be informed. For example, this one to the post last mentioned:

Charley James
09/24/2013 at 6:02 am

Dexter Filkins wrote a brilliant piece in the current New Yorker (www.newyorker.com/reporting/2013/09/30/130930fa_fact_filkins?mbid=social_retweet%3Fmbid%3Dsocial_retweet) on how Qassam Suleimani – who Carlie Pierce at Esquire described as “the Zelig of Middle East spookdom” – was quietly working with the Americans before and during the Afghan invasion until David Frum put the useless, meaningless and inflammatory “Axis of Evil” phrase in George Bush’s mouth.

Basically, the Filkins article describes how Iran, through Mr. Suleimani, was helping the US with intelligence and other information about al Qaeda and the Taliban after 9/11, holding regular meetings with Ryan Crocker at the US Embassy in Kabul until The White House lumped iran, Iraq and North Korea together. Although Mr. Suleimani was no do-gooder, he was Tehran’s vehicle to attempt to begin a normalization process until the neo-con’s cut him off at the knees.

Hopefully, this time around the US will be a bit more subtle – and accurate – in its assessment of the intentions of the Iranians. It’s about time that AIPAC and Jerusalem stop dictating American policy in the region, which I say as both an American and a Jew.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 September 2013 at 10:23 am

Posted in Iran, Media

I don’t get it: Chemical weapons dept.

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Jack Goldsmith has a very good op–ed in the NY Times on the legal issues surrounding a US attack on Syria—it would be highly illegal, in fact. Read his column for details. One very weird thing: He does not even mention how the US helped Saddam Hussein launch chemical weapons attacks on Iran in 1988. I do think that is relevant, and I can’t figure out why it’s not mentioned. Note that in the US case, the attack was on another sovereign nation and thus completely illegal according to all sorts of agreements the US has signed. Syria, in contrast, is not attacking another sovereign nation, but its own citizens.

Shane Harris and Matthew Aid report on the US-supported chemical-weapons attack in Foreign Policy:

The U.S. government may be considering military action in response to chemical strikes near Damascus. But a generation ago, America’s military and intelligence communities knew about and did nothing to stop a series of nerve gas attacks far more devastating than anything Syria has seen,Foreign Policy has learned.

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

According to recently declassified CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials like Francona, the U.S. had firm evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks beginning in 1983. At the time, Iran was publicly alleging that illegal chemical attacks were carried out on its forces, and was building a case to present to the United Nations. But it lacked the evidence implicating Iraq, much of which was contained in top secret reports and memoranda sent to the most senior intelligence officials in the U.S. government. The CIA declined to comment for this story.

In contrast to today’s wrenching debate over whether the United States should intervene to stop alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian government, the United States applied a cold calculus three decades ago to Hussein’s widespread use of chemical weapons against his enemies and his own people. The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.

In the documents, the CIA said that Iran might not discover persuasive evidence of the weapons’ use — even though the agency possessed it. Also, the agency noted that the Soviet Union had previously used chemical agents in Afghanistan and suffered few repercussions.

It has been previously reported that the United States provided tactical intelligence to Iraq at the same time that officials suspected Hussein would use chemical weapons. But the CIA documents, which sat almost entirely unnoticed in a trove of declassified material at the National Archives in College Park, Md., combined with exclusive interviews with former intelligence officials, reveal new details about the depth of the United States’ knowledge of how and when Iraq employed the deadly agents. They show that senior U.S. officials were being regularly informed about the scale of the nerve gas attacks. They are tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link.

Why is this not being discussed as Obama pushes the US to launch military attacks on another nation for the heinous crime of using chemical weapons when it seems perfectly okay for us to do it? Shouldn’t that at least be discussed?

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2013 at 11:07 am

Top 10 Reasons Americans should Dismiss Israel’s Netanyahu on Attacking Iran

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Juan Cole writes at Informed Comment:

The Iranian electorate did about the most cruel thing possible to uber-hawk Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It replaced former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an eminently reasonable and personable successor, Hasan Rouhani.

The Israeli and American politicians who desperately want to fall on Iran the way a hungry lion does on a lamb had made hay with Ahmadinejad’s quirkiness and foot in the mouth disease. They also deliberately mistranslated him to make him seem menacing, even as he kept saying Iran would never launch a first strike.

Here are the reasons not to pay attention to the recent round of saber-rattling by Netanyahu, who never met a war (including the illegal one on Iraq) he didn’t love:

1. Everyone knows that the real reason Netanyahu keeps squawking about Iran is that he is trying to take the focus off the Israel campaign of ethnic cleansing and Apartheid policies toward the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Likewise, Netanyahu takes attention off of Israel’s own 400 nuclear warheads.

2. Everyone in the international community agrees that the new president of Iran will have to be given at least a year, and maybe more, to prove he is an earnest negotiator for Iran. You can’t just attack a presidential administration that only recently got into office and before taking the measure of it. The European powers and the countries of the global South would never accept it.

3. Iran is not proved to have a nuclear weapons program, as opposed to a civilian nuclear enrichment program aimed at making fuel for nuclear reactors.

4. Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly affirmed that Iran’s theocracy cannot accept the production, stockpiling or use of nuclear weapons, since they cannot be deployed without killing hundreds of thousands of innocent non-combatants (e.g. women and children), and killing innocent non-combatants is illegal according to the Qur’an and Islamic law.

5. President Rouhani is proposing increased transparency for its civilian nuclear enrichment program, so as to ease Western fears.

6. Contrary to what Netanyahu says, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2013 at 11:45 am

Posted in Iran, Mideast Conflict

The US Navy’s effort to wag the dog

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Fascinating article by Jeff Stein in the Washington Post:

Gwenyth Todd had worked in a lot of places in Washington where powerful men didn’t hesitate to use sharp elbows. She had been a Middle East expert for the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. She had worked in the office of Defense Secretary Dick Cheney in the first Bush administration, where neoconservative hawks first began planning to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

But she was not prepared a few years later in Bahrain when she encountered plans by high-ranking admirals to confront Iran, any one of which, she reckoned, could set the region on fire. It was 2007, and Todd, then 42, was a top political adviser to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Previous 5th Fleet commanders had resisted various ploys by Bush administration hawks to threaten the Tehran regime. But in spring 2007, a new commander arrived with an ambitious program to show the Iranians who was boss in the Persian Gulf.

Vice Adm. Kevin J. Cosgriff had amassed an impressive résumé, rising through the ranks to command a cruiser and a warship group after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Following a customary path to three stars, he had also spent as much time in Washington as he had at sea, including stints at the Defense Intelligence Agency and as director of the Clinton White House Situation Room.

Cosgriff — backed by a powerful friend and boss, U.S. Central Command (Centcom) chief Adm. William J. “Fox” Fallon — was itching to push the Iranians, Todd and other present and former Navy officials say.

“There was a feeling that the Navy was back on its heels in dealing with Iran,” according to a Navy official prohibited from commenting in the media. “There was an intention to be far more aggressive with the Iranians, and a diminished concern about keeping Washington in the loop.”

Two people who were there said Cosgriff mused in a staff meeting one day that he’d like to steam a Navy frigate up the Shatt al Arab, the diplomatically sensitive and economically crucial waterway dividing Iraq and Iran. In another, they said, he wanted to convene a regional conference to push back Iran’s territorial claims in the waterway, a flash point for the bloody Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Then he presented an idea that not only alarmed Todd, but eventually, she believes, launched the chain of events that would end her career.

Cosgriff declined to discuss any of these meetings on the record. This story includes information from a half-dozen Navy and other government officials who demanded anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, many parts of which remain classified.

According to Todd and another witness, Cosgriff’s idea, presented in a series of staff meetings, was to sail three “big decks,” as aircraft carriers are known, through the Strait of Hormuz — to put a virtual armada, unannounced, on Iran’s doorstep. No advance notice, even to Saudi Arabia and other gulf allies. Not only that, they said, Cosgriff ordered his staff to keep the State Department in the dark, too.

To Todd, it was like something straight out of “Seven Days in May,” the 1964 political thriller about a right-wing U.S. military coup. A retired senior naval officer familiar with Cosgriff’s thinking said the deployment plan was not intended to be provocative.

But Todd, in an account backed by another Navy official, said the admiral “was very, very clear that we were to tell him if there was any sign that Washington was aware of it and asking questions.”

For the past year, the air had been electric with reports of impending U.S. or Israeli attacks on Iran. If this maneuver were carried out, Todd and others feared, the Iranians would freak out. At the least, they’d cancel a critical diplomatic meeting coming up with U.S. officials. Todd suspected that was Cosgriff’s aim. She and others also speculated that Cosgriff wouldn’t propose such a brazen plan without Fallon’s support.

Retired Adm. David C. Nichols, deputy Centcom commander in 2007, recalled in an interview last year that Fallon “wanted to do a freedom-of-navigation exercise in what Iran calls its territorial waters that we hadn’t done in a long time.” Nothing wrong with that, per se, but the problem was that “we don’t understand Iran’s perception of what we’re doing, and we haven’t understood what they’re doing and why,” Nichols said. “It makes miscalculations possible.”

Todd feared that the Iranians would respond, possibly by launching fast-attack missile boats into the gulf or unleashing Hezbollah on Israel. Then anything could happen: a collision, a jittery exchange of gunfire — bad enough on its own, but also an incident that Washington hawks could seize on to justify an all-out response on Iran.

Preposterous? It had happened before, off North Vietnam in 1964. In the Tonkin Gulf incident, a Navy captain claimed a communist attack on his ship. President Lyndon Johnson swiftly ordered the bombing of North Vietnam, touching off a wider war that turned the country upside down and left more than 58,000 U.S. servicemen dead.

Don’t tell anybody? No way.

Todd picked up the phone and called a friend in Foggy Bottom. She had to get this thing stopped. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2012 at 8:00 am

Patience in weight loss and war

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Weight loss first: my weight has been dropping nicely, as expected, and I realized that I was applying some skills I learned from my earlier efforts.

First: go with the meal template (basically, the template I used as the basis of the grub idea: for a meal, use 3-4 oz protein, a small serving of starch (do not omit, but try for a slow-digesting starch like whole grains), not more than 2 tsp oil, a large serving of leafy greens, and vegetables as desired.

Second: do not miss mid-morning and mid-afternoon fruit snacks (a peach for each for me today). When I have omitted those, I have stopped losing weight.

Third: patience. Follow the plan, and take your weight daily. If you don’t see pounds dropping, look at what you’re eating and plug the leaks that allow more foods to enter. Some leaks I’ve found: beverages (even though it’s liquid, it can have calories: check how many); bites (just a quick bite… and then another… and another, and pretty soon you’ve eaten another whole meal—this leak is plugged by the rule “no food enters mouth save at meals and the two snacks); and so on.

Just keep with the plan, weighing, and making sure you’re eating. The weight should fall, and when it stops falling, that seems to indicate that some exercise is in order. So try walking.

In all this, keep plugging away, day by day, at the meal plan, avoiding bites, eating the snacks. The weight then comes off.

I needed a food log initially, because (a very bad sign) I was unconscious/unaware of exactly what I was eating how much I was eating. If you don’t know what you’re eating each day, and how much you weigh, you’re flying blind. The exercise comes in naturally enough: when you stop losing and you know your diet’s in hand, then start walking.

Those who lack patience do not know, in their bones, if they just keep up the drill, the weight will come off. It’s not rocket science at the daily meals level.

Second, war: Things we think are really great when the US is doing them—drones under remote control, killing people from the skies; computer viruses tailored to damage specific installations; kidnapping people and taking them to other countries to be tortured—have a very different appearance when they’re done to the US. And, unfortunately, daily life eventually catches up with highly advanced technology and it becomes widely available. Indeed, many third-world nations have much better telephone technology than the US because they got into the game late and so could get the most recent technology, while US firms are still depreciating assets that are now technically backward (cf. US “high-speed” broadband: extremely slow in comparison to other nations).

James Fallows points out some salient articles:

Steve Clemons has posted an Atlantic item just now on David Ignatius’s timely novel Bloodmoney, which deals among other things with how much less appealing drone warfare will seem to most Americans when we no longer monopolize the technology. The Atlantic’s Robert Wright made a similar point yesterday. There is another novel coming out this summer on the same theme, which I’ll say more about as its publication date nears.

I have just five minutes at the computer now, but I wanted to say that in this vein it is worth reading a new story in Russia Today, concerning the leaks/reports about the U.S. and Israeli success in using the Stuxnet virus against Iran’s nuclear labs. I am all in favor of unconventional means to dissuade or delay Iran from building a nuclear weapon, if the alternative is the Israeli leadership deciding to launch a (ruinous for all sides, including Israel) preemptive strike. But it is worth noting this paragraph far down in the Russian account, emphasis added:

The report says American cyber attacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus was overwhelmingly on Tehran’s nuclear program. Obama reportedly was hesitant to expand the use of the new brand of weapon. In fact, the US is arguably the one country in the world most vulnerable to cyber attacks on its infrastructure. Pioneering such operations would give other countries and power groups a justification to target America.

For now I have to leave it at that. No weapon remains the unique property of any one country forever.

The US walked very tall when we were the only nation to possess atomic bombs—then quite a few others got them, and atomic bombs didn’t look so good to us any more, much less thermonuclear bombs.

Blowback is a bitch.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2012 at 4:19 pm

Damaging virus software discovered in Iran

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One problem with malware is keeping it from spreading. And, of course, every new malware program offers a model for further development—i.e., we haven’t seen anything yet. Thomas Erdbrink reports in the NY Times:

The computers of high-ranking Iranian officials appear to have been penetrated by a data mining virus called Flame, in what may be the most destructive cyber attack on Iran since the notorious Stuxnet virus, an Iranian cyber defense organization confirmed on Tuesday.

In a message posted on its Website, Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Centre warned that the virus is potentially more harmful than the 2010 Stuxnet virus, which destroyed several centrifuges used for Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. In contrast to Stuxnet, the newly identified virus is designed not to do damage but to secretly collect information from a wide variety of sources.

Flame, which experts say could be as much as five years old, was discovered by Iranian cyber experts and described by Kaspersky Lab, a Russian producer of anti-virus software, which published a description on its Website on Tuesday saying “the complexity and functionality of the newly discovered malicious program exceed those of all other cyber menaces known to date.”

The virus bears special encryption hallmarks that an Iranian cyber defense official said bear strong similarities to previous Israeli malware. “Its encryption has a special pattern which you only see coming from Israel,” he said. “Unfortunately, they are very powerful in the field of I.T.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2012 at 12:35 pm

Attacking Iran would surely accelerate their nuclear bomb development

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Extremely interesting (and important) paper by James Dobbins, Dalia Dassa Kaye, Alireza Nader, and Frederic Wehrey. Who they are:

Ambassador James Dobbins directs the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center. Dalia Dassa Kaye is a RAND senior political scientist and a faculty member at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. Alireza Nader is a RAND senior international policy analyst focusing on Iranian political dynamics and foreign policy. Frederic Wehrey is a RAND senior policy analyst focusing on Persian Gulf security.

Their report begins:

The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran has stoked tensions around the world. We argue that diplomacy and economic sanctions are better suited than military action to prevent the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran, that Israeli security will be best served by military restraint combined with greater U.S.-Israeli cooperation, and that the Iranian people offer the surest hope for a future Iran that is more amenable to U.S. interests.

An Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence.

It is, after all, not Iranian aggression that its neighbors principally fear, but Iraniansubversion. It is Iran’s ability to appeal to potentially dissident elements within neighboring societies — to the Shia populations of Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Persian Gulf states, and to the more radical elements within Palestinian society — that is of most concern to these states. It is Iran’s appeal throughout the Islamic Middle East as a bastion of anti-American and anti-Zionist activity that most disturbs other regional regimes. This is true even of Israel, whose principal vulnerability is not to Iranian military pressure but to attacks by Iranian-supported Hamas and Hezbollah.

Containing this sort of influence would almost certainly become more difficult in the aftermath of an unprovoked American or Israeli military attack. Reaction among neighboring populations would be almost uniformly hostile. The sympathy thereby aroused for Iran would make containment of Iranian influence much more difficult for Israel, for the United States, and for the Arab regimes currently allied with Washington. This would be particularly true in newly democratizing societies, such as Egypt, where public opinion has become less fettered and more influential. International sanctions would erode, and Iran would likely redouble its efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

At this late date, the proximate objective of Western policy must be to dissuade Iran from testing and deploying nuclear weapons. Doing so will require that Western officials go beyond declaring such a step unacceptable and rather begin to illustrate how crossing this threshold will only increase Iran’s isolation, reduce its influence, and increase the regime’s vulnerability to internally driven change. Making such warnings credible will require broad international solidarity in support of ever-tighter sanctions. Threats of military action, and even more its actual conduct, would have only the opposite effect: reducing Iran’s isolation, increasing its influence, promoting domestic solidarity, and reinforcing the case for building and deploying nuclear weapons as soon as possible.

To prevent the rivalry between Israel and Iran from escalating into armed conflict, the United States should continue to discourage an Israeli military strike while strengthening Israeli capabilities in preparation for a future in which Iran may have managed to acquire nuclear weapons. U.S. leaders should bolster security cooperation and intelligence sharing with Israel while maintaining pressure on Iran, thus weakening its capacity to project power and fueling the debate within Iran over nuclear weapons.

A future Iranian regime may view Israel differently. Fundamentalists appear to have consolidated power since the 2009 Iranian presidential election, but the regime exhibits severe fractures and faces critical vulnerabilities. The potential emergence of a more democratic Iran or of more moderate leadership may diminish Iran’s hostility toward Israel as well as Israel’s heightened threat perceptions of Iran. The United States should pay close attention not only to Iran’s nuclear program but also to such issues as human rights abuses, signaling to the Iranian people that the United States cares about Iran as a nation, not merely as a problem to be solved.

Diplomacy and Sanctions

Iran and the United States have substantial grounds for their mutual antipathy. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 May 2012 at 10:41 am

Taxing the wealthy at a reasonable rate

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For some reason, many of the wealthy seem greedy—I guess it makes sense: that’s probably why they became wealthy—but a reasonable marginal tax rate is something the country needs, and I seriously doubt that it will cause any suffering on the part of the wealthy. Stephen King has a good rant, pointed out by The Eldest:

Chris Christie may be fat, but he ain’t Santa Claus. In fact, he seems unable to decide if he is New Jersey’s governor or its caporegime, and it may be a comment on the coarsening of American discourse that his brash rudeness is often taken for charm. In February, while discussing New Jersey’s newly amended income-tax law, which allows the rich to pay less (proportionally) than the middle class, Christie was asked about Warren Buffett’s observation that he paid less federal income taxes than his personal secretary, and that wasn’t fair. “He should just write a check and shut up,” Christie responded, with his typical verve. “I’m tired of hearing about it. If he wants to give the government more money, he’s got the ability to write a check—go ahead and write it.”

Heard it all before. At a rally in Florida (to support collective bargaining and to express the socialist view that firing teachers with experience was sort of a bad idea), I pointed out that I was paying taxes of roughly 28 percent on my income. My question was, “How come I’m not paying 50?” The governor of New Jersey did not respond to this radical idea, possibly being too busy at the all-you-can-eat cheese buffet at Applebee’s in Jersey City, but plenty of other people of the Christie persuasion did.

Cut a check and shut up, they said.

If you want to pay more, pay more, they said.

Tired of hearing about it, they said.

Tough shit for you guys, because I’m not tired of talking about it. I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts.Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2012 at 10:23 am

Posted in Iran, Law

Peter Beinart has some people upset

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I blogged earlier about Peter Beinart’s new book The Crisis of Zionism, which looks at the effects Israeli politics and practices, and now the attacks on Beinart are mounting. M. J. Rosenberg at the Huffington Post takes a look:

Almost all the criticism (and controversy surrounding) Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism comes down to two major complaints.

The first is that he is a “liberal Zionist” which, by some definitions, means he is just as indifferent to Palestinian rights as a rightwing Zionist. He believes in the idea and reality of a Jewish state and is primarily motivated by his sense of urgency about preserving it. He also does not support the right to return to Israel of all the Palestinian refugees (dating back to 1947) and their millions of descendants, viewing full return as a means to ending Israel’s existence. And, worst of all to some on the left, Beinart favors the so-called “two-state solution” which, although repeatedly thwarted primarily by settler-supporting Israeli governments, Beinart sees as the only means to achieve a solution fair to both peoples.

The second source of complaint (fury, actually) emanates from the “pro-Israel” right and its intensity dwarfs the criticism of those who attack from the left. The anti-Zionists primarily view Beinart as misguided and naïve, still a prisoner of the Zionist ideology on which he was raised. The “pro-Israel” right (and that includes virtually the entire “pro-Israel” establishment) views Beinart as evil, as a traitor and, as ridiculous as this sounds, an enemy of the Jewish people. No matter, that his goal is a secure Israel living side by side next to a secure Palestine. No matter that his love for Israel suffuses his entire book or that he is an observant Jew. For the “pro-Israel” right, Beinart is the enemy.

Understanding the right’s feelings about Beinart may be more the job of a psychologist than a pundit because it is so irrational that it cannot be addressed merely by citing facts. It is a mark of how crazy the debate over Israel has become in this country that it exceeds anything that goes on in Israel, which itself has more than its fair share of right-wingers.

For instance, take a look at this video from the top-rated Israeli show Big Brother, a television reality show in which a group of young people move into an apartment and live their lives on camera. These shows are popular worldwide but the brilliant exposition of the evils of the occupation that one character made on the Israeli show last week is unimaginable here. (U.S. reality shows avoid politics like the plague. But this is Israel).

Striking this about this video (besides the fact not even a Jewish Community Center would dare show it in the U.S) is the young man making the case against the occupation. He is the kind of person Zionism was supposed to produce: a proud Israeli, afraid of nothing. These are the kind of Israelis we don’t see much of in the United States anymore in contrast to the period before Israel became obsessed with maintaining the occupation and confronting Iran. You know, the Paul Newman (Exodus) kind of Israelis which, although a stereotype, is rooted in reality. The reason we don’t see them is because an Israeli government that is always making the case for the status quo based on fear would be ill-served by proud, unafraid Israelis speaking to Americans. It prefers fear mongering.

Take Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for instance, whose mind seems to be in 1938 Europe.

In 2006, speaking of Iran, Netanyahu told an audience in Los Angeles. “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany.” He said that the Iranian president who “denies the Holocaust” is “preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state.”

Note: Netanyahu’s warning of the imminent danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon was delivered six years ago and it was far from the first Netanyahu warning that Iran was on the brink of achieving a nuclear bomb. It was also not the first time he said that the present day was reminiscent of 1938, although he has sometimes invoked 1942 or 1944.

The difference between Netanyahu and the young Israeli in the video (and most Israelis, I believe) is that . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2012 at 9:33 am

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