Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Serious Strat: BO's move
on: September 28, 2009, 06:04:16 PM
Obama's Move: Iran and Afghanistan
September 28, 2009
by George Friedman
During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, now-U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said that like all U.S. presidents, Barack Obama would face a foreign policy test early in his presidency if elected. That test is now here.
His test comprises two apparently distinct challenges, one in Afghanistan and one in Iran. While different problems, they have three elements in common. First, they involve the question of his administration’s overarching strategy in the Islamic world. Second, the problems are approaching decision points (and making no decision represents a decision here). And third, they are playing out very differently than Obama expected during the 2008 campaign.
During the campaign, Obama portrayed the Iraq war as a massive mistake diverting the United States from Afghanistan, the true center of the “war on terror.” He accordingly promised to shift the focus away from Iraq and back to Afghanistan. Obama’s views on Iran were more amorphous. He supported the doctrine that Iran should not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, while at the same time asserted that engaging Iran was both possible and desirable. Embedded in the famous argument over whether offering talks without preconditions was appropriate (something now-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attacked him for during the Democratic primary) was the idea that the problem with Iran stemmed from Washington’s refusal to engage in talks with Tehran.
We are never impressed with campaign positions, or with the failure of the victorious candidate to live up to them. That’s the way American politics work. But in this case, these promises have created a dual crisis that Obama must make decisions about now.
Back in April, in the midst of the financial crisis, Obama reached an agreement at the G-8 meeting that the Iranians would have until Sept. 24 and the G-20 meeting to engage in meaningful talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1) or face intensely increased sanctions. His administration was quite new at the time, so the amount of thought behind this remains unclear. On one level, the financial crisis was so intense and September so far away that Obama and his team probably saw this as a means to delay a secondary matter while more important fires were flaring up.
But there was more operating than that. Obama intended to try to bridge the gap between the Islamic world and the United States between April and September. In his speech to the Islamic world from Cairo, he planned to show a desire not only to find common ground, but also to acknowledge shortcomings in U.S. policy in the region. With the appointment of special envoys George Mitchell (for Israel and the Palestinian territories) and Richard Holbrooke (for Pakistan and Afghanistan), Obama sought to build on his opening to the Islamic world with intense diplomatic activity designed to reshape regional relationships.
It can be argued that the Islamic masses responded positively to Obama’s opening — it has been asserted to be so and we will accept this — but the diplomatic mission did not solve the core problem. Mitchell could not get the Israelis to move on the settlement issue, and while Holbrooke appears to have made some headway on increasing Pakistan’s aggressiveness toward the Taliban, no fundamental shift has occurred in the Afghan war.
Most important, no major shift has occurred in Iran’s attitude toward the United States and the P-5+1 negotiating group. In spite of Obama’s Persian New Year address to Iran, the Iranians did not change their attitude toward the United States. The unrest following Iran’s contested June presidential election actually hardened the Iranian position. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained president with the support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, while the so-called moderates seemed powerless to influence their position. Perceptions that the West supported the demonstrations have strengthened Ahmadinejad’s hand further, allowing him to paint his critics as pro-Western and himself as an Iranian nationalist.
But with September drawing to a close, talks have still not begun. Instead, they will begin Oct. 1. And last week, the Iranians chose to announce that not only will they continue work on their nuclear program (which they claim is not for military purposes), they have a second, hardened uranium enrichment facility near Qom. After that announcement, Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy held a press conference saying they have known about the tunnel for several months, and warned of stern consequences.
This, of course, raises the question of what consequences. Obama has three choices in this regard.
First, he can impose crippling sanctions against Iran. But that is possible only if the Russians cooperate. Moscow has the rolling stock and reserves to supply all of Iran’s fuel needs if it so chooses, and Beijing can also remedy any Iranian fuel shortages. Both Russia and China have said they don’t want sanctions; without them on board, sanctions are meaningless.
Second, Obama can take military action against Iran, something easier politically and diplomatically for the United States to do itself rather than rely on Israel. By itself, Israel cannot achieve air superiority, suppress air defenses, attack the necessary number of sites and attempt to neutralize Iranian mine-laying and anti-ship capability all along the Persian Gulf. Moreover, if Israel struck on its own and Iran responded by mining the Strait of Hormuz, the United States would be drawn into at least a naval war with Iran — and probably would have to complete the Israeli airstrikes, too.
And third, Obama could choose to do nothing (or engage in sanctions that would be the equivalent of doing nothing). Washington could see future Iranian nuclear weapons as an acceptable risk. But the Israelis don’t, meaning they would likely trigger the second scenario. It is possible that the United States could try to compel Israel not to strike — though it’s not clear whether Israel would comply — something that would leave Obama publicly accepting Iran’s nuclear program.
And this, of course, would jeopardize Obama’s credibility. It is possible for the French or Germans to waffle on this issue; no one is looking to them for leadership. But for Obama simply to acquiesce to Iranian nuclear weapons, especially at this point, would have significant diplomatic and domestic political ramifications. Simply put, Obama would look weak — and that, of course, is why the Iranians announced the second nuclear site. They read Obama as weak, and they want to demonstrate their own resolve. That way, if the Russians were thinking of cooperating with the United States on sanctions, Moscow would be seen as backing the weak player against the strong one. The third option, doing nothing, therefore actually represents a significant action.
In a way, the same issue is at stake in Afghanistan. Having labeled Afghanistan as critical — indeed, having campaigned on the platform that the Bush administration was fighting the wrong war — it would be difficult for Obama to back down in Afghanistan. At the same time, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has reported that without a new strategy and a substantial increase in troop numbers, failure in Afghanistan is likely.
The number of troops being discussed, 30,000-40,000, would bring total U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan to just above the number of troops the Soviet Union deployed there in its war (just under 120,000) — a war that ended in failure. The new strategy being advocated would be one in which the focus would not be on the defeat of the Taliban by force of arms, but the creation of havens for the Afghan people and protecting those havens from the Taliban.
A move to the defensive when time is on your side is not an unreasonable strategy. But it is not clear that time is on Western forces’ side. Increased offensives are not weakening the Taliban. But halting attacks and assuming that the Taliban will oblige the West by moving to the offensive, thereby opening itself to air and artillery strikes, probably is not going to happen. And while assuming that the country will effectively rise against the Taliban out of the protected zones the United States has created is interesting, it does not strike us as likely. The Taliban is fighting the long war because it has nowhere else to go. Its ability to maintain military and political cohesion following the 2001 invasion has been remarkable. And betting that the Pakistanis will be effective enough to break the Taliban’s supply lines is hardly the most prudent bet.
In short, Obama’s commander on the ground has told him the current Afghan strategy is failing. He has said that unless that strategy changes, more troops won’t help, and that a change of strategy will require substantially more troops. But when we look at the proposed strategy and the force levels, it is far from obvious that even that level of commitment will stand a chance of achieving meaningful results quickly enough before the forces of Washington’s NATO allies begin to withdraw and U.S. domestic resolve erodes further.
Obama has three choices in Afghanistan. He can continue to current strategy and force level, hoping to prolong failure long enough for some undefined force to intervene. He can follow McChrystal’s advice and bet on the new strategy. Or he can withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Once again, doing nothing — the first option — is doing something quite significant.
The Two Challenges Come Together
The two crises intermingle in this way: Every president is tested in foreign policy, sometimes by design and sometimes by circumstance. Frequently, this happens at the beginning of his term as a result of some problem left by his predecessor, a strategy adopted in the campaign or a deliberate action by an antagonist. How this happens isn’t important. What is important is that Obama’s test is here. Obama at least publicly approached the presidency as if many of the problems the United States faced were due to misunderstandings about or the thoughtlessness of the United States. Whether this was correct is less important than that it left Obama appearing eager to accommodate his adversaries rather than confront them.
No one has a clear idea of Obama’s threshold for action.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban takes the view that the British and Russians left, and that the Americans will leave, too. We strongly doubt that the force level proposed by McChrystal will be enough to change their minds. Moreover, U.S. forces are limited, with many still engaged in Iraq. In any case, it isn’t clear what force level would suffice to force the Taliban to negotiate or capitulate — and we strongly doubt that there is a level practical to contemplate.
In Iran, Ahmadinejad clearly perceives that challenging Obama is low-risk and high reward. If he can finally demonstrate that the United States is unwilling to take military action regardless of provocations, his own domestic situation improves dramatically, his relationship with the Russians deepens, and most important, his regional influence — and menace — surges. If Obama accepts Iranian nukes without serious sanctions or military actions, the American position in the Islamic world will decline dramatically. The Arab states in the region rely on the United States to protect them from Iran, so U.S. acquiescence in the face of Iranian nuclear weapons would reshape U.S. relations in the region far more than a hundred Cairo speeches.
There are four permutations Obama might choose in response to the dual crisis. He could attack Iran and increase forces in Afghanistan, but he might well wind up stuck in a long-term war in Afghanistan. He could avoid that long-term war by withdrawing from Afghanistan and also ignore Iran’s program, but that would leave many regimes reliant on the United States for defense against Iran in the lurch. He could increase forces in Afghanistan and ignore Iran — probably yielding the worst of all possible outcomes, namely, a long-term Afghan war and an Iran with a nuclear program if not nuclear weapons.
On pure logic, history or politics aside, the best course is to strike Iran and withdraw from Afghanistan. That would demonstrate will in the face of a significant challenge while perhaps reshaping Iran and certainly avoiding a drawn-out war in Afghanistan. Of course, it is easy for those who lack power and responsibility — and the need to govern — to provide logical choices. But the forces closing in on Obama are substantial, and there are many competing considerations in play.
Presidents eventually arrive at the point where something must be done, and where doing nothing is very much doing something. At this point, decisions can no longer be postponed, and each choice involves significant risk. Obama has reached that point, and significantly, in his case, he faces a double choice. And any decision he makes will reverberate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cluess babble from Pravda on the Hudson
on: September 28, 2009, 12:16:10 PM
By CLIFFORD J. LEVY
Published: September 27, 2009
MOSCOW — The Kremlin has long responded to proposals for tougher sanctions against Iran with arms folded and a scowl. Last week, that attitude began softening, bringing the Obama administration closer to a diplomatic coup in its efforts to contain the Iranian nuclear program.
President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Friday at the Group of 20 meeting in Pittsburgh.
But the relatively conciliatory statements by Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, present an opening to the administration that could turn out to yield little. Russia, a neighbor of Iran, is far more intertwined with it geopolitically than any other world power, and has more concerns about upsetting relations.
Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington’s behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran.
Moreover, the Kremlin might go slowly because it senses that in a world where it has less influence than it did during Soviet times, it can use its veto power in the Security Council to ensure attention and respect. If Russia were to accede right away to calls for a crackdown, it would risk becoming just another country lining up behind the United States. The Kremlin’s pride would almost certainly not allow that.
Already, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, appears to be positioning Russia to back away from the supportive stance suggested by Mr. Medvedev’s comments.
Asked about the announcement on Friday by the United States, Britain and France that Iran had failed to disclose a secret uranium enrichment plant, Mr. Lavrov said it was not evident that Iran had done anything wrong. He said it was premature to assert that new sanctions were necessary.
“As I understand it, there is no clarity regarding the legal issues,” Mr. Lavrov said.
He also chided the Western powers for not telling Russia earlier that their intelligence agencies had discovered the Iranian enrichment plant.
Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader, who tends to be more hawkish than Mr. Medvedev toward the United States, in recent days has not echoed Mr. Medvedev’s views on sanctions.
Still, Moscow’s overall outlook toward the United States has unquestionably warmed in recent months, largely because of President Obama’s drive to “reset” relations, and that could ultimately be pivotal.
Mr. Obama’s decision this month to cancel an antimissile system in Eastern Europe proposed by the Bush administration has achieved a particularly galvanizing effect. The Kremlin had deemed the antimissile system a direct threat to Russia, though the United States had said it was intended to protect against attacks from countries like Iran.
Mr. Medvedev regularly expressed his appreciation for Mr. Obama last week, drawing a contrast with the tensions between Moscow and Washington in the later Bush years. Obama administration officials cited Mr. Medvedev’s remarks as proof that their attempt to engage Moscow was paying off, and could lead to action against Iran.
“We do have various doubts about what Iran is doing,” Mr. Medvedev said last week. “If all possibilities for influencing the situation have been exhausted, we could consider international sanctions.”
“Sometimes, there is no other option,” he added.
Russia has said that it does not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but it has also articulated misgivings about Western assertions of Iranian nuclear advances. While Russia is not one of Iran’s largest trading partners, it does sell military hardware to Iran and is building a civilian nuclear power plant there.
What is clear is that Russia considers sanctions as not solely an Iranian issue, but one of several that revolve around its dealings with Washington. It is negotiating a treaty to reduce the size of strategic nuclear forces, and remains alarmed by the possible expansion of NATO into former Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia.
If those issues are handled to the Kremlin’s liking, then it will be more apt to agree to stiff sanctions.
“For Russia, Iran is a very good bargaining chip,” said Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior research associate at the Center for International Security in Moscow. “And that is why, for now, I don’t think that Russia is going to be ready to wholly support major new sanctions.”
The dynamic is complicated by China, another sanctions opponent with a Security Council veto. The Kremlin can publicly show more leeway toward sanctions — in essence, offering gratitude to Mr. Obama for canceling the antimissile system in Eastern Europe — while knowing that China may continue standing in their way.
China trades heavily with Iran, and its skeptical comments on Friday after the announcement about the new enrichment plant indicated how reluctant it may be on sanctions.
At the same time, though, if China senses that Russia is more amenable, the Chinese may feel that they have to shift because they do not want to be isolated.
And Mr. Medvedev’s criticism of Iran last week has put more pressure on its leadership before nuclear talks on Thursday in Geneva between Iran and the United States and five other powers, including Russia.
Even so, in interviews over the weekend, experts in Moscow were somewhat unconvinced that the Kremlin would back forceful steps against Iran, though they did not rule it out.
Vladimir Sazhin, a commentator at the state-run Voice of Russia radio and one of the nation’s leading Iran analysts, said it was important to understand that Russia considered Iran to be a vital ally on regional issues. After the disputed Iranian presidential election in June, in fact, Mr. Medvedev congratulated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Both countries are on the Caspian Sea and have territory in the Caucasus Mountains. (The Soviet Union had a border with Iran, but Russia is now about 100 miles away, separated from Iran by another former Soviet republic, Azerbaijan.) Both Russia and Iran want to prevent NATO from setting up bases in the region.
Mr. Sazhin said Russia had been pleased that Iran had not questioned Russia’s actions in Chechnya, a Muslim region in the Caucasus where the federal authorities have fought two brutal civil wars to put down a separatist Muslim insurgency.
“The Kremlin’s politics come down to the fact that they do not want to inflame relations with Iran, because of Russia’s regional interests,” Mr. Sazhin said.
Mr. Sazhin said he would not be surprised if Mr. Medvedev continued to imply that he was open-minded toward sanctions, in large part because the Russian leadership realizes that China may not relent and Iran will find a way to prolong the dispute.
“The Kremlin can play a good game because it knows that nothing will probably come of it,” he said.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Washington
on: September 28, 2009, 10:59:10 AM
"No country upon earth ever had it more in its power to attain these blessings than United America. Wondrously strange, then, and much to be regretted indeed would it be, were we to neglect the means and to depart from the road which Providence has pointed us to so plainly." --George Washington
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / China goes green?
on: September 27, 2009, 03:25:28 PM
The New Sputnik
THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Published: September 26, 2009
Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China.
Yes, China’s leaders have decided to go green — out of necessity because too many of their people can’t breathe, can’t swim, can’t fish, can’t farm and can’t drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive businesses without smokestacks, China will die of its own development.
What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.
I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the U.S. was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.
Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The view of China in the U.S. Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products. It still badly lags U.S. innovation. But research will follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar research facility — in Xian, China.
“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win,” says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy. “If we both invest in 21st-century technologies, challenging each other, we all win.”
Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1, and where the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hat’s off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its “obstructionist tactics.” All shareholders in America should ask their C.E.O.’s why they still belong to the chamber.
China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, E.T. — or energy technology — will be as big as I.T., and China intends to be a big E.T. player.
“For the last three years, the U.S. has led the world in new wind generation,” said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0.” “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by.”
I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.
“After this disaster,” explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible.’ He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realized it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution.”
Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals. Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / JCVD, WTF?
on: September 27, 2009, 12:57:54 PM
From: Too Old for Action, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,...8:b27966834:z0
Jean-Claude Van Damme, 49
At 49, Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn't put as many butts in seats as he used to. His 2008 release "JCVD" (that stands for Jean-Claude Van Damme for those of you on whom the subtlety of the title was lost) had a domestic gross of $470,691. But is this due to his inability to kick as high as he used to or the fact that audiences realized his movies just aren't that great? The "maturing" action star still appears to be in fighting shape. We hope so, for his sake at least. Not only is he costarring in 2010's "Universal Soldier: A New Beginning" with fellow faded actioner Dolph Lundgren, but he's also returning to the ring in real life in March 2010. He'll be going for five two-minute rounds against Thai Olympic boxing gold-medalist and muay thai fighter Somluck Kamsing.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / A bit more info than you may want LOL
on: September 27, 2009, 10:45:08 AM
Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri has a big anus
AQAP: Paradigm Shifts and Lessons Learned
September 2, 2009
By Scott Stewart
On the evening of Aug. 28, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister — and the man in charge of the kingdom’s counterterrorism efforts — was receiving members of the public in connection with the celebration of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. As part of the Ramadan celebration, it is customary for members of the Saudi royal family to hold public gatherings where citizens can seek to settle disputes or offer Ramadan greetings.
One of the highlights of the Friday gathering was supposed to be the prince’s meeting with Abdullah Hassan Taleh al-Asiri, a Saudi man who was a wanted militant from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Asiri had allegedly renounced terrorism and had requested to meet the prince in order to repent and then be accepted into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Such surrenders are not unprecedented — and they serve as great press events for the kingdom’s ideological battle against jihadists. Prince Mohammed, who is responsible for the Saudi rehabilitation program for militants, is a key figure in that ideological battle.
In February, a man who appeared with al-Asiri on Saudi Arabia’s list of most-wanted militants — former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mohammed al-Awfi — surrendered in Yemen and was transported to Saudi Arabia where he renounced terrorism and entered into the kingdom’s amnesty program. Al-Awfi, who had appeared in a January 2009 video issued by the newly created AQAP after the merger of the Saudi and Yemeni nodes of the global jihadist network, was a senior AQAP leader, and his renouncement was a major blow against AQAP.
But the al-Asiri case ended very differently from the al-Awfi case. Unlike al-Awfi, al-Asiri was not a genuine repentant — he was a human Trojan horse. After al-Asiri entered a small room to speak with Prince Mohammed, he activated a small improvised explosive device (IED) he had been carrying inside his anal cavity. The resulting explosion ripped al-Asiri to shreds but only lightly injured the shocked prince — the target of al-Asiri’s unsuccessful assassination attempt.
While the assassination proved unsuccessful, AQAP had been able to shift the operational paradigm in a manner that allowed them to achieve tactical surprise. The surprise was complete and the Saudis did not see the attack coming — the operation could have succeeded had it been better executed.
The kind of paradigm shift evident in this attack has far-reaching implications from a protective-intelligence standpoint, and security services will have to adapt in order to counter the new tactics employed. The attack also allows some important conclusions to be drawn about AQAP’s ability to operate inside Saudi Arabia.
Militants conducting terrorist attacks and the security services attempting to guard against such attacks have long engaged in a tactical game of cat and mouse. As militants adopt new tactics, security measures are then implemented to counter those tactics. The security changes then cause the militants to change in response and the cycle begins again. These changes can include using different weapons, employing weapons in a new way or changing the type of targets selected.
Sometimes, militants will implement a new tactic or series of tactics that is so revolutionary that it completely changes the framework of assumptions — or the paradigm — under which the security forces operate. Historically, al Qaeda and its jihadist progeny have proved to be very good at understanding the security paradigm and then developing tactics intended to exploit vulnerabilities in that paradigm in order to launch surprise attacks. For example:
•Prior to the 9/11 attacks, it was inconceivable that a large passenger aircraft would be used as a manually operated cruise missile. Hence, security screeners allowed box cutters to be carried onto aircraft, which were then used by the hijackers to take over the planes.
•The use of faux journalists to assassinate Ahmed Shah Masood with suicide IEDs hidden in their camera gear was also quite inventive.
•Had Richard Reid been able to light the fuse on his shoe bomb, we might still be wondering what happened to American Airlines Flight 63.
•The boat bomb employed against the USS Cole in October 2000 was another example of a paradigm shift that resulted in tactical surprise.
Once the element of tactical surprise is lost, however, the new tactics can be countered.
•When the crew and passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 learned what had happened to the other flights hijacked and flown to New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, they stormed the cockpit and stopped the hijackers from using their aircraft in an attack. Aircraft cockpit doors have also been hardened and other procedural measures have been put in place to make 9/11-style suicide hijackings harder to pull off.
•Following the Masood assassination, journalists have been given very close scrutiny before being allowed into the proximity of a VIP.
•The traveling public has felt the impact of the Reid shoe-bombing attempt by being forced to remove their shoes every time they pass through airport security. And the thwarted 2006 Heathrow plot has resulted in limits on the size of liquid containers travelers can take aboard aircraft.
•The U.S. Navy is now very careful to guard against small craft pulling up alongside its warships.
Let’s now take a look at the paradigm shift marked by the Prince Mohammed assassination attempt.
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Attacking Iran?
on: September 27, 2009, 08:56:19 AM
To the many challenges discussed by this article I would add rocket attacks (there's tens of thosands of them) from Lebanon by Hezbollah.
By ANTHONY H. CORDESMAN
When the Israeli army’sthen-Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Halutz was asked in 2004 how far Israel would go to stop Iran's nuclear program, he replied: "2,000 kilometers," roughly the distance been the two countries.
Israel's political and military leaders have long made it clear that they are considering taking decisive military action if Iran continues to develop its nuclear program. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned at the United Nations this week that "the most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
Reporting by the International Atomic Energy Agency and other sources has made it clear that whether or not Iran ties all of its efforts into a formal nuclear weapons program, it has acquired all of the elements necessary to make and deliver such weapons. Just Friday, Iran confirmed that it has been developing a second uranium-enrichment facility on a military base near Qom, doing little to dispel the long-standing concerns of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S. that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
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.Iran has acquired North Korean and other nuclear weapons design data through sources like the sales network once led by the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, A. Q. Khan. Iran has all of the technology and production and manufacturing capabilities needed for fission weapons. It has acquired the technology to make the explosives needed for a gun or implosion device, the triggering components, and the neutron initiator and reflectors. It has experimented with machine uranium and plutonium processing. It has put massive resources into a medium-range missile program that has the range payload to carry nuclear weapons and that makes no sense with conventional warheads. It has also worked on nuclear weapons designs for missile warheads. These capabilities are dispersed in many facilities in many cities and remote areas, and often into many buildings in each facility—each of which would have to be a target in an Israeli military strike.
It is far from certain that such action would be met with success. An Israeli strike on Iran would be far more challenging than the Israeli strike that destroyed Iraq's Osirak reactor in 1981. An effective Israeli nuclear strike may not be possible, yet a regional nuclear arms race is a game that Iran can start, but cannot possibly win. Anyone who meets regularly with senior Israeli officials, officers and experts knows that Israel is considering military options, but considering them carefully and with an understanding that they pose serious problems and risks.
One of the fundamental problems dogging Israel, especially concerning short-ranged fighters and fighter-bombers, is distance. Iran's potential targets are between 950 and 1,400 miles from Israel, the far margin of the ranges Israeli fighters can reach, even with aerial refueling. Israel would be hard-pressed to destroy all of Iran's best-known targets. What's more, Iran has had years in which to build up covert facilities, disperse elements of its nuclear and missile programs, and develop options for recovering from such an attack.
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A sign reading “Atomic Power Plant” points the way to a nuclear power plant that was built in the Persian Gulf city of Bushehr, with Russian help.
.At best, such action would delay Iran's nuclear buildup. It is more likely to provoke the country into accelerating its plans. Either way, Israel would have to contend with the fact that it has consistently had a "red light" from both the Bush and Obama administrations opposing such strikes. Any strike that overflew Arab territory or attacked a fellow Islamic state would stir the ire of neighboring Arab states, as well as Russia, China and several European states.
This might not stop Israel. Hardly a week goes by without another warning from senior Israeli officials that a military strike is possible, and that Israel cannot tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran, even though no nation has indicated it would support such action. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to threaten Israel and to deny its right to exist. At the same time, President Barack Obama is clearly committed to pursuing diplomatic options, his new initiatives and a U.N. resolution on nuclear arms control and counterproliferation, and working with our European allies, China and Russia to impose sanctions as a substitute for the use of force.
BATTLE STATIONS: Israel has to carefully consider its options.
.Mr. Ahmadinejad keeps denying that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and tries to defend Iran from both support for sanctions and any form of attack by saying that Iran will negotiate over its peaceful use of nuclear power. He offered some form of dialogue with the U.S. during his visit to the U.N. this week. While French President Nicolas Sarkozy denounced Iran's continued lack of response to the Security Council this week, and said its statements would "wipe a U.N. member state off the map," no nation has yet indicated it would support Israeli military action.
Most analyses of a possible Israeli attack focus on only three of Iran's most visible facilities: its centrifuge facilities at Natanz, its light water nuclear power reactor near Bushehr, and a heavy water reactor at Arak it could use to produce plutonium. They are all some 950 to 1,000 miles from Israel. Each of these three targets differs sharply in terms of the near-term risk it poses to Israel and its vulnerability.
The Arak facility is partially sheltered, but it does not yet have a reactor vessel and evidently will not have one until 2011. Arak will not pose a tangible threat for at least several years. The key problem Israel would face is that it would virtually have to strike it as part of any strike on the other targets, because it cannot risk waiting and being unable to carry out another set of strikes for political reasons. It also could then face an Iran with much better air defenses, much better long-range missile forces, and at least some uranium weapons.
Bushehr is a nuclear power reactor along Iran's southwestern coast in the Gulf. It is not yet operational, although it may be fueled late this year. It would take some time before it could be used to produce plutonium, and any Iranian effort to use its fuel rods for such a purpose would be easy to detect and lead Iran into an immediate political confrontation with the United Nations and other states. Bushehr also is being built and fueled by Russia—which so far has been anything but supportive of an Israeli strike and which might react to any attack by making major new arms shipments to Iran.
The centrifuge facility at Natanz is a different story. It is underground and deeply sheltered, and is defended by modern short-range Russian TOR-M surface-to-air missiles. It also, however, is the most important target Israel can fully characterize. Both Israeli and outside experts estimate that it will produce enough low enriched uranium for Iran to be able to be used in building two fission nuclear weapons by some point in 2010—although such material would have to be enriched far more to provide weapons-grade U-235.
Israel has fighters, refueling tankers and precision-guided air-to-ground weapons to strike at all of these targets—even if it flies the long-distance routes needed to avoid the most critical air defenses in neighboring Arab states. It is also far from clear that any Arab air force would risk engaging Israeli fighters. Syria, after all, did not attempt to engage Israeli fighters when they attacked the reactor being built in Syria.
In August 2003, the Israeli Air Force demonstrated the strategic capability to strike far-off targets such as Iran by flying three F-15 jets to Poland, 1,600 nautical miles away. Israel can launch and refuel two to three full squadrons of combat aircraft for a single set of strikes against Iran, and provide suitable refueling. Israel could also provide fighter escorts and has considerable electronic-warfare capability to suppress Iran's aging air defenses. It might take losses to Iran's fighters and surface-to-air missiles, but such losses would probably be limited.
Israel would, however, still face two critical problems. The first would be whether it can destroy a hardened underground facility like Natanz. The second is that a truly successful strike might have to hit far more targets over a much larger area than the three best-known sites. Iran has had years to build up covert and dispersed facilities, and is known to have dozens of other facilities associated with some aspect of its nuclear programs. Moreover, Israel would have to successfully strike at dozens of additional targets to do substantial damage to another key Iranian threat: its long-range missiles.
Experts sharply disagree as to whether the Israeli air force could do more than limited damage to the key Iranian facility at Natanz. Some feel it is too deeply underground and too hardened for Israel to have much impact. Others believe that it is more vulnerable than conventional wisdom has it, and Israel could use weapons like the GBU-28 earth-penetrating bombs it has received from the U.S. or its own penetrators, which may include a nuclear-armed variant, to permanently collapse the underground chambers.
No one knows what specialized weapons Israel may have developed on its own, but Israeli intelligence has probably given Israel good access to U.S., European, and Russian designs for more advanced weapons than the GBU-28. Therefore, the odds are that Israel can have a serious impact on Iran's three most visible nuclear targets and possibly delay Iran's efforts for several years.
The story is very different, however, when it comes to destroying the full range of Iranian capabilities. There are no meaningful unclassified estimates of Iran's total mix of nuclear facilities, but known unclassified research, reactor, and centrifuge facilities number in the dozens. It became clear just this week that Iran managed to conceal the fact it was building a second underground facility for uranium enrichment near Qom, 100 miles southwest of Tehran, and that was designed to hold 3,000 centrifuges. Iran is developing at least four variants of its centrifuges, and the more recent designs have far more capacity than most of the ones installed at Natanz.
This makes it easier to conceal chains of centrifuges in a number of small, dispersed facilities and move material from one facility to another. Iran's known centrifuge production facilities are scattered over large areas of Iran, and at least some are in Mashad in the far northeast of the country—far harder to reach than Arak, Bushehr and Natanz.
Many of Iran's known facilities present the added problem that they are located among civilian facilities and peaceful nuclear-research activities—although Israel's precision-strike capabilities may well be good enough to allow it to limit damage to nearby civilian facilities.
It is not clear that Israel can win this kind of "shell game." It is doubtful that even the U.S. knows all the potential targets, and even more doubtful that any outside power can know what each detected Iranian facility currently does—and the extent to which each can hold dispersed centrifuge facilities that Iran could use instead of Natanz to produce weapons-grade uranium. As for the other elements of Iran's nuclear programs, it has scattered throughout the country the technical and industrial facilities it could use to make the rest of fission nuclear weapons. The facilities can now be in too many places for an Israeli strike to destroy Iran's capabilities.
Israel also faces limits on its military capabilities. Strong as Israeli forces are, they lack the scale, range and other capabilities to carry out the kind of massive strike the U.S. could launch. Israel does not have the density and quality of intelligence assets necessary to reliably assess the damage done to a wide range of small and disperse targets and to detect new Iranian efforts.
Israel has enough strike-attack aircraft and fighters in inventory to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in rebuilding, but it could not refuel a large-enough force, or provide enough intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities, to keep striking Iran at anything like the necessary scale. Moreover, Israel does not have enough forces to carry out a series of restrikes if Iran persisted in creating and rebuilding new facilities, and Arab states could not repeatedly standby and let Israel penetrate their air space. Israel might also have to deal with a Russia that would be far more willing to sell Iran advanced fighters and surface-to-air missiles if Israel attacked the Russian-built reactor at Bushehr.
These problems are why a number of senior Israeli intelligence experts and military officers feel that Israel should not strike Iran, although few would recommend that Israel avoid using the threat of such strikes to help U.S. and other diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to halt. For example, retired Brigadier General Shlomo Brom advocates, like a number of other Israeli experts, reliance on deterrence and Israel's steadily improving missile defenses.
Any Israeli attack on an Iranian nuclear target would be a very complex operation in which a relatively large number of attack aircraft and support aircraft would participate. The conclusion is that Israel could attack only a few Iranian targets—not as part of a sustainable operation over time, but as a one-time surprise operation.
The alternatives, however, are not good for Israel, the U.S., Iran's neighbors or Arab neighbors. Of course being attacked is not good for Iran. Israel could still strike, if only to try to buy a few added years of time. Iranian persistence in developing nuclear weapons could push the U.S. into launching its own strike on Iran—although either an Israeli or U.S. strike might be used by Iran's hardliners to justify an all-out nuclear arms race. Further, it is far from clear that friendly Arab Gulf states would allow the U.S. to use bases on their soil for the kind of massive strike and follow-on restrikes that the U.S. would need to suppress Iran's efforts on a lasting basis.
View Full Image
Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility is seen behind Imam Ali mosque just outside the city of Isfahan. This picture was taken on April 9, Iran’s recently created National Nuclear Technology Day.
.The broader problem for Iran, however, is that Israel will not wait passively as Iran develops a nuclear capability. Like several Arab states, Israel already is developing better missile and air defenses, and more-advanced forms of its Arrow ballistic missile defenses. There are reports that Israel is increasing the range-payload of its nuclear-armed missiles and is developing sea-based nuclear-armed cruise missiles for its submarines.
While Iran is larger than Israel, its population centers are so vulnerable to Israeli thermonuclear weapons that Israel already is a major "existential" threat to Iran. Moreover, provoking its Arab neighbors and Turkey into developing their nuclear capabilities, or the U.S. into offering them a nuclear umbrella targeted on Iran, could create additional threats, as well as make Iran's neighbors even more dependent on the U.S. for their security. Iran's search for nuclear-armed missiles may well unite its neighbors against it as well as create a major new nuclear threat to its survival.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: Volcker says
on: September 26, 2009, 03:02:00 PM
President Obama's economic advisers are struggling to sell their financial reform plan to . . . an Obama economic adviser. Paul Volcker, the Democrat and former Federal Reserve chairman who worked with President Reagan to slay inflation in the 1980s, now leads President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. He warned in Congressional testimony Thursday that the pending Treasury plan could lead to more taxpayer bailouts by designating even nonbanks as "systemically important."
"The clear implication of such designation whether officially acknowledged or not will be that such institutions . . . will be sheltered by access to a federal safety net in time of crisis; they will be broadly understood to be 'too big to fail,'" Mr. Volcker told Congress.
Rather than creating broad bailout expectations destined to be expensively fulfilled, the former Fed chairman wants Washington to draw a tighter circle around commercial banks with insured deposits. Those inside the circle get heavy oversight and are eligible for assistance during a crisis. Assumptions that various other firms also enjoy the federal safety net "should be discouraged," said Mr. Volcker.
We don't agree with all of Mr. Volcker's prescriptions—nor he with ours—but on too big to fail he's exactly right. As he also told Congress, regulators are unlikely to correctly guess which firms will pose systemic risk, and the implicit protection by taxpayers could put firms not deemed important by Washington at a market disadvantage. He also pointed out that, while Team Obama pushes its plan to address firms that are "systemically important," Treasury still hasn't said what exactly that means.
Mr. Volcker's comments won't endear him to Administration officials due to receive more power under the Treasury plan, but taxpayers should be cheering his counsel.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Spengler back in June
on: September 26, 2009, 11:13:16 AM
Obama creates a deadly power vacuum
There's a joke about a man who tells a psychiatrist, "Everybody hates me," to which the psychiatrist responds, "That's ridiculous - everyone doesn't know you, yet." Which brings me to Barack Obama: one of the best-informed people in the American security establishment told me the other day that the president is a "Manchurian Candidate".
That can't be true - Manchuria isn't in the business of brainwashing prospective presidential candidates any more. There's no one left to betray America to. Obama is creating a strategic void in which no major power will dominate, and every minor power must fend for itself. The outcome is incalculably hard to analyze and terrifying to consider.
Obama doesn't want to betray the United States; he only wants to empower America's enemies. Forcing Israel to abandon its strategic buffer (the so-called settlements) was supposed to placate Iran, so that Iran would help America stabilize Iraq, where its influence looms large over the Shi'ite majority.
America also sought Iran's help in suppressing the Taliban in Afghanistan. In Obama's imagination, a Sunni Arab coalition - empowered by Washington's turn against Israel - would encircle Iran and dissuade it from acquiring nuclear weapons, while an entirely separate Shi'ite coalition with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would suppress the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the worst-designed scheme concocted by a Western strategist since Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery attacked the bridges at Arnhem in 1944, and it has blown up in Obama's face.
Iran already has made clear that casting America's enemies in the leading role of an American operation has a defect, namely that America's enemies rather would lose on their own terms than win on America's terms. Iran's verbal war with the American president over the violent suppression of election-fraud protests leaves Washington with no policy at all. The premise of Obama's policy was that progress on the Palestinian issue would empower a Sunni coalition. As the president said May 18:
If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians - between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat.
Israel's supporters remonstrated in vain. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Obama supporter, wrote, "If there is to be any linkage - and I do not believe there should be - it goes the other way: it will be much easier for Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank if Iran does not have a nuclear umbrella under which it can continue to encourage Hamas and Hezbollah to fire rockets at Israeli civilians."
No matter: America made clear that it had annulled the George W Bush administration's promise that a final settlement would allow most of Israel's 500,000 "settlers" to keep their homes, in order to launch the fantasy ship of Iranian cooperation with America.
That policy now is in ruins, and Washington has no plan B. David Axelrod, Obama's top political advisor, told television interviewers on January 28 that Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who spent the last week denouncing the United States, "Did not have final say" over Iran's foreign policy and that America still wanted to negotiate with Iran. This sounds idiotic, but the White House really has painted itself into a corner. The trouble is that Obama has promised to withdraw American forces from Iraq, and Iran has sufficient influence in Shi'ite-majority Iraq to cause continuous upheaval, perhaps even to eventually win control of the country.
By a fateful coincidence, American troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's urban centers on June 30. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein left Iraq open to Iranian destabilization; that is why the elder George Bush left the Iraqi dictator in power in 1990.
Offering Iran a seat at the table in exchange for setting a limit to its foreign ambitions - in Lebanon and Gaza as well as Iraq - seemed to make sense on paper. But the entity that calls itself revolutionary Islam is not made of paper, but of flesh and blood. It is in danger of internal collapse and can only assert its authority by expanding its influence as aggressively as it can.
After the election disaster, Iran's revolutionary leadership urgently needs to demonstrate its credibility. Israel now can say, "A country that murders its own citizens will have no compunction about massacring its enemies," and attack Iran's nuclear capacity with fewer consequences than would have been imaginable in May. And if an Israeli strike were to succeed, or appear successful to the world, the resulting humiliation might be fatal to the regime.
Israel may not be Tehran's worst nightmare. Iraq's Sunnis are testing the resolve of the weakened mullahs. The suicide bombing that killed 73 people at a Shi'ite mosque in Kirkuk on June 20 and a second bombing that killed another 72 Shi'ites in Baghdad's Sadr City slum most likely reflect Sunni perceptions that a weakened Tehran will provide less support for Iraqi Shi'ites. Although Shi'ites comprise more than three-fifths of Iraq's population, Sunnis provided the entire military leadership and are better organized on the ground. America's hopes of enlisting Iran to provide cover for its withdrawal from the cities of Iraq seem delusional.
What move on the chessboard might Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei venture to pre-empt an Israeli air raid against the nuclear facilities? Iran has the rocket launchers of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, and terrorist sleeper cells throughout the world. Iran might seek to pre-empt what it anticipates to be the next move from Israel by demonstrating its capacity to inflict injury on Israel or on Jewish targets elsewhere. That would require careful judgment, for a heavy handed action could provide a pretext for even more serious action by the Israelis and others. The same sort of consideration applies to Iranian support for Pakistan Shi'ites, for Hezbollah, and other vehicles of Iran's program of imperial expansion.
The Obama administration has put itself in a peculiar bind. It has demanded that the Pakistani army suppress the Taliban, after Islamabad attempted a power-sharing agreement that left the Taliban in control of the Swat Valley. To root out the largely Pashtun Taliban, Pakistan's largely Punjabi army has driven a million people into refugee camps and leveled entire towns in the Swat Valley. Tens of thousands of refugees are now fleeing the Pakistani army in the South Waziristan tribal area. Punjabis killing Pashtuns is nothing new in the region, but the ferocity of the present effort does not augur well for an early end to the conflict.
While the Pakistan army holds nothing back in attacking the Taliban, American troops in Afghanistan have been told that they no longer can call in air strikes if civilians are likely to suffer. That will put American forces in the unfortunate position of the Pirates of Penzance, who exempted orphans. Once this became generally known, everyone they attempted to rob turned out to be an orphan.
The Taliban need only take a page from Hamas' book, and ensure that civilians are present wherever they operate. The US has made clear that it will not deal in civilian blood, the currency of warfare in that region since before the dawn of history. It will not be taken seriously in consequence.
What will the administration do now? As all its initiatives splatter against the hard realities of the region, it will probably do less and less, turning the less appetizing aspects of the fighting over to local allies and auxiliaries who do not share its squeamishness about shedding civilian blood. That is the most dangerous outcome of all, for America is the main stabilizing force in the region.
The prospect of civil wars raging simultaneously in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer improbable. The Israel-Palestine issue is linked to all of these through Iran, whose credibility depends on its ability to sustain such puppies of war as Hezbollah and Hamas. Whether or not the Israelis take the opportunity to strike Iran, the prospect of an Israeli strike will weigh on Iran's proxies in the region, and keep Israel's borders in condition of potential violence for the interim.
America's great good fortune is that no hostile superpower stands ready to benefit from its paralysis and confusion. When Soviet troops landed in Afghanistan in December 1979, America was in the grip of an economic crisis comparable to the present depression. American diplomats at the Tehran Embassy were still hostages to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. The price of gold doubled from around $400 to $800 after the Russian invasion because most of the world thought that Russia would win the Cold War. If America lost its dominant superpower status in the West, the dollar no longer could serve as a global reserve currency. To the superpower goes the seigniorage, the state's premium for providing a currency.
By contrast, the gold price barely fluttered all through the present crisis. America remains the undisputed global superpower for the time being. America's creditors express consternation about its $1.8 trillion budget deficit and many trillions more of guarantees for the banking system, but there is nothing they can do about it for the time being but talk. That is how one should interpret a June 25 Reuters report that a "senior researcher with the ruling Communist Party" had urged China to shift some of its $2 trillion in reserves out of dollars and into gold.
Li Lianzhong, who heads the economic department of the Party's policy research office, said China should use more of its $1.95 trillion in foreign exchange reserves to buy energy and natural resource assets. Speaking at a foreign exchange and gold forum, Li also said that buying land in the United States was a better option for China than buying US Treasury securities.
"Should we buy gold or US Treasuries?" Li asked. "The US is printing dollars on a massive scale, and in view of that trend, according to the laws of economics, there is no doubt that the dollar will fall. So gold should be a better choice."
There is no suggestion that Li, even though he is a senior researcher, was enunciating an agreed party line.
The last thing China wants at the moment is to undercut the US dollar, for three reasons. First, as America's largest creditor, China has the most to lose from a dollar collapse. Second, Americans would buy fewer Chinese imports. And third, the collapse of the dollar would further erode America's will to fulfill its superpower function, and that is what China wants least of all.
America remains the indispensable outsider in Asia. No one likes the United States, but everyone dislikes the United States less than they dislike their neighbors. India need not worry about China's role in Pakistan, for example, because America mediates Indian-Pakistani relations, and America has no interest in a radical change to the status quo. Neither does China, for that matter, but India is less sure of that. China does not trust Japan for historical reasons that will not quickly fade, but need not worry about it because America is the guarantor of Japan's security. The Seventh Fleet is the most disliked - and nonetheless the most welcome - entity in Asia.
All of this may change drastically, quickly, and for the worse. Obama's policy reduces to empowering America's enemies in the hope that they will conform to American interests out of gratitude. Just the opposite result is likely to ensure: Iran, Pakistan and other regional powers are likely to take radical measures. Iran is threatened with a collapse of its Shi'ite program from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and Pakistan is threatened with a breakup into three or more states.
Obama has not betrayed the interests of the United States to any foreign power, but he has done the next worst thing, namely to create a void in the region by withdrawing American power. The result is likely to be a species of pandemonium that will prompt the leading players in the region to learn to live without the United States.
In his heart of hearts, Obama sees America as a force for evil in the world, apologizing for past American actions that did more good than harm. An example is America's sponsorship of the 1953 coup in Iran that overthrew the left-leaning government of Mohammed Mossadegh.
"In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," the president offered in his Cairo address to Muslims on June 5. Although Iran's theocracy despises Mossadegh - official Iranian textbooks call him the "son of a feudal family of exploiters who worked for the cursed Shah, and betrayed Islam" - Iran's government continues to reproach America for its role in the coup. "With a coup they toppled the national government of Iran and replaced it with a harsh, unpopular and despotic regime," Ahmadinejad complained in a January 28 speech.
It is s a bit late to offer advice to Obama, but the worst thing America can do is to apologize. Instead, it should ask for the gratitude of the developing world. Weak countries become punching-bags in the proxy wars of empires. This was from the dawn of history until the fall of the last empire - the "evil" empire of Soviet communism.
The Soviets exploited anti-colonial movements from the 1917 Bolshevik coup until the collapse of the Afghanistan adventure in the late 1980s. Nationalists who tried to ride the Russian tiger ended up in its belly more often than on its back. Iran, Chile, Nicaragua, Angola and numerous other weak countries became the hapless battleground for the contest of covert operations between the Soviet Union and America - not to mention Vietnam and Korea.
The use of developing countries as proxy battlefields and their people as cannon fodder came to an end with the Cold War. As a result, the past 20 years have seen the fastest improvement in living standards ever in the global south, and a vast shift in wealth towards so-called developing countries.
By defeating Russia in the Cold War, America made it possible for governments in the global south to pursue their own interests free from the specter of Soviet subversion. And by countering Soviet subversion, America often averted much worse consequences.
Many deficiencies can be ascribed to the Shah of Iran, but a communist regime in the wake of a Mossadegh administration would have been indescribably worse. The septuagenarian Mossadegh had his own agenda, but he relied on the support of the communist Tudeh party. The US feared a Soviet invasion of Iran, and "the [Harry S] Truman administration was willing to consider a Soviet invasion of Iran as a casus belli, or the start of a global war", according to Francis J Gavin's 1999 article in The Journal of Cold War Studies.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with help from British intelligence helped the shah overthrow the left-leaning regime. But this was no minor colonial adventure, but a flashpoint with the potential to start a world war.
It is painful and humiliating for Iranians to recall the overthrow of a democratically elected government with American help. It would have been infinitely more humiliating to live under Soviet rule, like the soon-to-be-extinct victims of Soviet barbarism in Eastern Europe.
The same is true of Chile, where the brutal regime of General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, with help from the CIA. Allende was surrounded by Cuban intelligence operations. As Wikipedia reports:
Shortly after the election of Salvador Allende in November 1970, the [Cuban Directorate of Intelligence - DI] worked extremely closely to strengthen Allende's increasingly precarious position. The Cuban DI station chief Luis Fernandez Ona even married Salvador Allende's daughter Beatrice, who later committed suicide in Cuba. The DI organized an international brigade that would organize and coordinate the actions of the thousands of the foreign leftists that had moved into Chile shortly after Allende's election. These individuals ranged from Cuban DI agents, Soviet, Czech and North Korean military instructors and arms suppliers, to hardline Spanish and Portuguese Communist Party members.
My Latin American friends who still mourn the victims of Pinochet's "night and fog" state terror will not like to hear this, but the several thousand people killed or tortured by the military government were collateral damage in the Cold War. Like Iran, Chile became the battleground of a Soviet-American proxy war. The same is true in Nicaragua. (Full disclosure: I advised Nicaragua's president Violeta Chamorro after she defeated the Cuban-backed Sandinistas in the 1990 elections; I did so with no tie to any government agency.)
Obama's continuing obsession with America's supposed misdeeds - deplorable but necessary actions in time of war - is consistent with his determination to erode America's influence in the most troubled parts of the world. By removing America as a referee, he will provoke more violence than the United States ever did. We are entering a very, very dangerous period as a result.
Spengler is channeled by David P Goldman, Associate Editor of First Things (www.firstthings.com
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor: A commitment to postpone a commitment
on: September 26, 2009, 05:30:17 AM
A Mutual Commitment to Postpone a Commitment
IN THE LAST LEG OF THIS WEEK’S GLOBAL SUMMITS MARATHON, world leaders made their way to Pittsburgh for a G-20 meeting after a lively U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York drew to a close Thursday.
What the assembly lacked in substance, it certainly made up in entertainment value. Highlights included U.S. President Barack Obama chairing a rare U.N. Security Council meeting, where all members adopted a toothless resolution on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, a fashionably dressed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi delivering a 90-minute monologue on topics ranging from sodomy to the number of U.S. warships used to invade Grenada in 1983 — and finally, a charged face-off between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Unsurprisingly, the focus has turned to the growing crisis between Israel and Iran. After a long-winded Wednesday night speech by Ahmadinejad, in which he reiterated Iran’s refusal to curb its nuclear program, Netanyahu took the podium Thursday with a forceful speech that not only condemned the Iranian regime for its denial of the Holocaust and “dangerous” polices, but also condemned the rest of the United Nations for allegedly failing to take a stand against Tehran. In a nutshell, Netanyahu was saying that, given the track record of failed or nonexistent U.N. resolutions, he does not trust the Security Council to protect Israel from an existential threat: a potentially nuclear Iran.
This message is loaded with implications. In less than a week, leaders from the P-5+1 group – made up of the five permanent U.N. Security Council states, along with Germany — will be meeting with Iranian officials to discuss the nuclear program. And so far, the Iranians have given every indication that they do not intend to concede enough to satisfy Israel’s concerns about the nuclear program. Israel therefore is left with few options – especially since it appears the wheels are already coming off the United States’ threatened sanctions regime, which would target Iran’s gasoline imports.
“Not only can Russia completely destroy the effectiveness of a U.S.-led sanctions regime, but it can provide Iran with critical weapons systems that could seriously complicate an attack against Iran down the road.”
The Israelis also understand the Russia factor. Russia is engaged in an ongoing struggle to win Washington’s recognition of its influence in the former Soviet region. So far, the United States hasn’t given Russia what it wants. Consequently, Russia continues to flaunt the leverage it has with the United States over its ties to Iran. Not only can Russia completely destroy the effectiveness of a U.S.- led sanctions regime, but it can provide Iran with critical weapons systems that could seriously complicate an attack against Iran down the road. The Israelis simply are not seeing the value in delaying much longer.
Israel therefore is leaning heavily on the United States to reach some sort of compromise with Moscow and bring the Russians in line on the Iran issue.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made a statement on Wednesday that might indicate that such a compromise has a chance — however slight — of happening. “I told the president of the United States that we think it necessary to help Iran make the right decision,” Medvedev said, with just the right touch of ambiguity. “As for various types of sanctions, Russia’s position is very simple, and I spoke about it recently. Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, the use of sanctions is inevitable. Ultimately, this is a matter of choice, and we are prepared to continue cooperating with the U.S. administration on issues relating to Iran’s peaceful nuclear program, as well as other matters.”
This is a notable shift in tone coming out of Moscow, but does not yet signify that a deal has been made between the Americans and the Russians that would alleviate the crisis over Iran. Our Russian sources are hinting that something bigger may be under way, but they also have made it clear that this is just the beginning of negotiations. One source in particular has indicated that thus far, Washington is at least considering a Russian demand to postpone the U.S. deployment of a Patriot air defense battery in Poland. In return, Moscow would stick to its pledge to delay delivery of the S-300 strategic air defense system to Iran. In essence, this would be a mutual commitment to postpone commitment to their strategic allies.
But, would that be enough to satisfy Israel?
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The Poz
on: September 25, 2009, 07:41:30 PM
Chris "The Tree that Walks" Poznik (a.k.a. "the Poz") has a gig tomorrow working as a referee on some reality tv show for a boxing match between two guys to see who gets a date with a Playboy Playmate.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Sex Ed
on: September 25, 2009, 07:06:39 PM
You’re teaching my child what?
Miriam Grossman | 24 September 2009
The following is an interview with Miriam Grossman, MD, author of the recently-released You’re teaching my child what? A physician exposes the lies of sex education and how they harm your child. The interview was conducted by Peter Jon Mitchell, Research Analyst, Institute of Marriage and Family Canada and is published here at Mercatornet with permission.
IMFC: What was your motivation for this new book?
Miriam Grossman: Frankly, I wrote it because I was fed up. As you know, I worked for twelve years as a psychiatrist for students at the UCLA campus here in California. During that time, thousands of kids came through my office. I was alarmed at how many of them had sexually transmitted infections and concerned about students, mostly young women, whose sexual lifestyle placed them at risk for disease, emotional distress and even infertility later in life. I was frustrated to see patient after patient in similar situations, yet my hands were tied. There wasn’t much I could do for them. These were young people who were otherwise well informed and proactive about their health. They were careful about what they ate, they exercised, avoided tobacco, and so on. But in this one area, in their sexual behaviour, they took alarming risks, and that was perplexing. I began to question these students carefully, and I examined how campus health and counselling centers approach sexual health issues. Those findings were discussed in my book Unprotected: A Campus Psychiatrist Reveals How Political Correctness in Her Profession Harms Every Student.
This new project was an extension of that. I went deeper into the field of sex education, looking at exactly what kids are taught, and at the history of sex education in the United States. I went online and explored the websites, books, pamphlets and videos created for kids and young adults. What I discovered was deeply disturbing, and that’s what this book is about.
IMFC: In the book you argue that sex educators and activists dismiss the fundamentals of child development, and omit critical findings of neurobiology, gynaecology and infectious disease. You suggest this has profound consequences, particularly for girls. How so?
MG: Absolutely. We have a wealth of new science that’s omitted from sex ed. For example, in the past decade our understanding of the teen brain, and how it reasons and makes decisions during moments of high stimulation has grown tremendously. We didn’t know until recently that the brain area that is responsible for making rational, thought-out decisions, the area that considers the pros and cons and consequences of decisions, is immature in teens. The circuits aren’t complete; the wiring is unfinished. Sex educators insist that, like adults, teens are capable of making responsible decisions, they just lack information about sexuality and access to contraceptives. So the way to fight sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies, these authorities argue, is to provide teens with information and contraceptives, and teach them skills like how to say “no” and how to put on a condom. But current neuropsychological research does not support this stance. We know now that teens’ poor decisions are likely due not to lack of information, but to lack of judgement. And there is only one thing that will bring that: time.
Another example of critical information omitted from sex ed: a girl’s biological vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections. The cervix of teen girls is covered by a layer that is only one cell thick. That area is easily penetrated by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer. (The human papillomavirus is the STI we now have a vaccination against, and that’s another controversial issue.) With time, the surface is covered by cells that are 30 to 40 layers thick, and is therefore much more difficult to infect. Girls need to understand this from an early age. We have dramatic images [of the immature cervix] that we must show girls so they can grasp the importance of delaying sexual behaviour. These kids must be informed that putting all questions of morality aside, if they are sexually active at a young age, they are at risk for infections that could impact their physical and emotional well-being over the course of their lives.
A third point is kids aren’t told that oral sex is associated with cancers of the throat. Needless to say this is important, and indeed life-saving, information yet it is withheld from kids, and that is the height of irresponsibility. One of the points I make in the book is organizations such as Planned Parenthood and SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US) claim to be providing up-to-date, medically-accurate information. But they do nothing of the sort.
Instead, these organizations teach kids that they are “sexual” from cradle to grave, that adolescence is the natural time to explore sexuality and that kids have the right to express their sexuality in whatever manner they choose. This message promotes sexual freedom, not sexual health. This is ideology, not science. When sexual freedom is the priority, sexual health suffers. And indeed, the statistics in the US on sexually transmitted infections, HIV, teen pregnancy, and abortion are mind numbing.
IMFC: Where do these organizations place the role of parents in their ideology? What are they saying to kids about parents?
MG: This is another disturbing feature of the sex ed fiasco. I discovered a duplicity exists. When speaking to the media, and in their material for parents, sex educators state that sex education should start at home and that parents should be the primary sex educators of children. But in material directed at kids the message is altogether different. Here’s what SIECUS says in an online booklet for kids called All About Sex. It opens with eight pages on sexual rights: “Every human being has basic rights. Still, adults may say and do things that make young people feel like they don’t have rights. It’s important for you to know your rights so you can stand up for yourself when necessary.” Then a bit later: “You have the right to decide how to express your sexuality at every point in your life. You can choose if and how to express your sexuality.”
Ninety per cent of parents want their kids to delay sexual behaviour, and they expect sex educators to enforce that message. Organizations like SIECUS promise to do so, but they don’t. All About Sex is a good example of what really goes on. The goal is for the young person to realize that, sure, adults may have their opinions, but kids of all ages have the right to their own ideas about sexuality, as well as the right to behave in any way they like. Nowhere in this pamphlet are kids told: we urge you to delay sexual behaviour because that’s the healthiest choice.
IMFC: The book will be an eye opener for parents. What can concerned parents do?
MG: The situation is sobering but my overall message is positive. The good news is that all these sexual health problems are 100 per cent avoidable. And there is so much parents can do to protect their kids. We know that young people are profoundly influenced by their parents, the messages they get from their parents, their perceptions of what their parents believe in, their parents’ values, and what their parents’ expectations are. There are many studies that I go through in the book that demonstrate that a parenting style of being warm and supportive and yet having high expectations and firm rules has profound influence on children and teens and the decisions they make. Obviously parents need to be informed. They need the information in this book; they are not going to find it anywhere else. I’m a medical doctor and I scoured the literature for the latest on sexually transmitted infections, how girls are more vulnerable emotionally and physically than boys, what kids are told about same-sex attraction, gender identity, and many other topics. My book is not politically correct, but it is medically accurate. I explain biological truths that are not discussed elsewhere. For example, kids are being told that they can be male, female or something else; that there are more than two genders and that it is natural to question who you are at any time in your life. This is madness. It’s not only medically inaccurate, it confuses our kids and it leads them into a minefield of emotional and physical hazards.
IMFC: What would you say to government policy makers?
MG: They must find the courage to challenge the status quo. People need to stand up, be politically incorrect, and acknowledge the truth of biology. Certain groups will object, because what is seen under the microscope and on brain scans contradicts their vision. It’s going to take that courage to change policy, to have an extreme makeover of our approach to sex education. You see, sex educators have institutionalized 20th century theories and social agendas, but hard science from this century completely discredits those theories and agendas. Sex education needs to come into the 21st century and leave behind ideas that are remnants of the sexual revolution and feminism.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / The Insanity of Same-Sex Parenting
on: September 25, 2009, 07:01:00 PM
The insanity of same-sex parenting
David van Gend | 14 September 2009
I was at Pizza Hut with my three primary-age sons just after an Australian children's program, Play School, aired its lesbian "two mothers" episode. My youngest son asked very seriously, "Daddy, can two boys marry?" and the middle son stepped in, "No, but two girls can marry. They were talking about it at school".
I do not like strangers messing with the minds of my children. I object to anybody inserting disturbing notions into their sanely happy understanding of marriage and family.
Yet the disturbance is becoming all-pervasive, with an Australian Senate enquiry into the Greens-sponsored Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009, and the launch this week of a national television campaign for gay marriage. From the commanding heights of culture come strange decrees that two women, or two men, are just as good as a mother and father when it comes to raising a child. Who are these surreal city-dwellers, so out of touch with nature?
In the northern state of Queensland it was Premier Anna Bligh who announced last month that two men will be allowed to get a baby of their own by surrogacy. In Western Australia two homosexual men have already been given a child by adoption. In the southern state of Victoria two women are allowed to obtain a child using a stranger’s sperm, and be named as that child’s "two parents" on the birth certificate.
Think from the child’s perspective. A little girl should not have to look up and see two erotically involved men posing as her "parents". No matter how competent and caring a lesbian partner may be, she can never be a Dad to a young boy. Little children must not be subjected, by the law of the land, to a prolonged and uncontrolled experiment on their emotional development.
Anger with such governmental child abuse is entirely consistent with neighbourly friendliness to those fellow citizens afflicted with same-sex attraction. All privacy and respect is to be given to adults who have to live with this profoundly complex condition, but no little child is to be made to participate in their affliction.
A baby needs the love of both her mother and her father! How can anyone with normal experience of life question that? Certainly there are tragedies of a parent’s death or desertion which destroy the foundation of many a child’s world -- but that is a tragedy nobody would ever wish upon a child. Yet here the state deliberately inflicts this tragedy upon an innocent baby by decreeing that he or she will enter the world without even the possibility of both a Mum and a Dad.
No politicians have the authority to so violate the primal needs of a child or mess with the deep sanity of nature.
In such a debate, evidence from social science has only a secondary role. Certainly the best-designed studies confirm the obvious -- that a child does best in every respect when raised by his or her own parents, or in the nearest equivalent context of an adopting mother and father. In the light of this research, the American College of Pediatricians in 2004 concludes: "The environment in which children are reared is absolutely critical to their development. Given the current body of research, the American College of Pediatricians believes it is inappropriate, potentially hazardous to children, and dangerously irresponsible to change the age-old prohibition on homosexual parenting, whether by adoption, foster care, or by reproductive manipulation. This position is rooted in the best available science."
However, nobody needs to resort to "the best available science" to defend the obvious insight that a little child needs both a mother and a father. The judgment of anyone who cannot see this as a self-evident fact of life, as the most commonsense and necessary condition of a child’s wellbeing, is suspect.
As for political strategy, pro-family activists sometimes forget that defending marriage is meaningless if they cannot defend the right of a child to a natural upbringing. If homosexual adults are disallowed from calling their union "marriage" but are still allowed to obtain children by artificial means, then marriage is a dead word.
That is because marriage is primarily a license to form a family, not merely a license for sexual relations. As atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in Marriage and Morals (1929): "It is through children alone that sexual relations become of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution." Homosexual acts cannot create children; therefore the State has no interest in regulating homosexual relationships.
The legal institution of marriage buttresses a biological phenomenon for the sake of social stability. It is society’s way of binding a feral-by-nature male to his mate and his child, in order that a child can benefit from the complementary nurture of both a mother and father.
As David Blankenhorn wrote in The Future of Marriage (2007): "Marriage is fundamentally about the needs of children… Redefining marriage to include gay and lesbian couples would eliminate entirely in law, and weaken still further in culture, the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child."
Nothing less is at stake than that an innocent child, first opening her eyes in this world, should see the faces of those two people, her own mother and father, who together gave her life, not the faces of two men who will be her technologically-contrived, State-decreed "parents".
Time is running out to restrain the social vandals who write laws in our land. As Blankenhorn warned: "Once this proposed reform (of gay marriage) became law, even to say the words out loud in public -- ‘Every child needs a father and a mother’ -- would probably be viewed as explicitly divisive and discriminatory, possibly even as hate speech."
For the sake of all children yet to be born we must despise threats of "hate speech" and say out loud that every child needs the love of a father and a mother.
Dr David van Gend is a family doctor in Toowoomba, Australia.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 3.5
on: September 25, 2009, 12:16:56 PM
The Iranian government continues to make bold claims about its ability to
massively ramp up its refining capacity and become self-sufficient in
gasoline production within four years, but this is mostly hot air. Iran
simply doesn't have the capability to meet its gasoline production goals on
its own without the necessary foreign investment. And even if Iran had
willing partners in places like Central Asia, it would still need to
overcome its extreme reluctance to actually foot the bill for such projects.
It may strike some as odd that Iran has acquired a capability to develop
nuclear technology but still struggles to build and operate refineries on
its own. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simple answer is
that the technology for a nuclear program dates back to the 1930s and 1940s
and has not changed much since, while refining technology is continually
updated and Iran has been out of the global oil-and-gas mainstream for 30
years now. A nuclear weapons program requires a couple dozen or so highly
trained scientists and engineers to operate it, and these personnel can be
trained in any number of institutions around the world. On the other hand, a
permanent staff for a refinery producing around 300,000 bpd would require
some 1,200 highly trained technicians and petroleum engineers, and most of
Iran's intelligentsia - particularly the group with strong technical
skills - left the country following the Iranian Revolution. Iran's stated
energy goals are full of delusion as well as ambition.
Confronting the Subsidy Problem
Iran thus has little choice but to figure out a way to reduce gasoline
consumption at home. The Iranians started on this initiative in June 2007
when the regime implemented a rationing system. Though the move was
extremely unpopular and instigated a spate of riots in Tehran, the backlash
was swiftly contained and, according to energy industry sources, Iranian
gasoline imports dropped from 40 percent of total domestic consumption to
about 25 to 30 percent.
The next step is for the regime to start cutting untenable subsidy rates by
raising the price of gasoline. This is a plan that has long been in the
works but has been put off time and time again due to the regime's
deep-rooted fear of sparking major social unrest. This especially became a
concern following the June presidential election debacle, which gave scores
of Iranian citizens the courage to pour into the streets to voice their
dissent against Ahmadinejad. Though the protests have dramatically dwindled
in size, they continue sporadically and are a persistent irritant to the
regime. Iranian sources claim that the coming gasoline price hike will not
be that dramatic in the beginning. The government would likely continue to
subsidize domestically produced gasoline while allowing the cost of imported
gasoline to rise so it can pass along a portion of the costs to the consumer
and further dampen demand.
Besides the potential political fallout, there is another significant issue
with this gasoline price-hike plan. Since gasoline prices are heavily
subsidized in Iran and are, therefore, much cheaper than the gasoline sold
in neighboring countries, Iran has a major problem with gasoline smuggling
to these countries. Iranian sources claim that more than 750,000 barrels are
smuggled every month from Iran to Turkey, Afghanistan and Iraq, and this
puts a considerable drain on Iran's energy revenues. The smuggling rings are
run by a variety of actors, from Iranian organized crime entities linked to
the IRGC to Balochi tribesmen to Kurdish smugglers, and they are extremely
difficult for the regime to dismantle. Moreover, Iranian officials tend to
turn a blind eye to these smuggling practices in order to buy political
patronage from non-Persian minorities (Kurds, Balochis and Azeris) in the
borderlands who could otherwise cause serious trouble for the regime. With
the political situation at home particularly dicey right now, the Iranian
government will have to proceed cautiously with any future price hikes,
which are sure to be applied unevenly across the country.
Natural Gas Relief?
Iran also has an alternative-fuel plan under way that capitalizes on the
country's natural gas resources and reduces its reliance on refined crude,
but the results have so far been limited. The plan involves encouraging the
use of compressed natural gas (CNG) for Iranian motorists. Cars that can run
on CNG, which are prevalent in South Asia and Latin America, can be more
economical and environmentally friendly. In fact, the price of CNG retails
at around 4 cents per cubic meter (roughly equivalent to one liter of
gasoline). Moreover, the technology used to compress natural gas is far less
complex than that needed to refine crude. Considering that Iran is the world's
fourth-largest producer of natural gas, the switch to CNG makes sense, but
there is one big drawback. Vehicles must be modified to run on CNG, and CNG
stations would have to be built across the country. None of this would be
quick or cheap for Iran.
Nevertheless, Iran has made notable progress since kicking off its CNG plan
in 2007, when Iran Khodro Industrial Group - Iran's leading automaker -
invested $50 million in low-consumption, flexible-fuel engine production
lines. Former Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari said in July that
there are currently 880 CNG stations in Iran, with plans to build an
additional 400 within the next several months. Since Iran Khodro started
ramping up production of CNG-capable vehicles, Iran has become the world's
fourth-largest CNG-vehicle producer following Argentina, Pakistan and
Brazil, according to the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles.
As of May 2009, Iranian government officials claim the official count of
CNG-capable vehicles on the road totaled 1.4 million. The total number of
cars in Iran was estimated to be 11.7 million in 2008, according to the
Global Market Information Database. All in all, estimated fuel replacement
by CNG is currently around 7 percent of Iran's total automobile fuel
consumption, up from zero five years ago. While Iran seems to be making
steady progress in the CNG arena, it still has a way to go before the switch
to CNG would make a significant dent in the country's gasoline imports.
Responding to Pressure
When STRATFOR speaks to Iranian sources, we get the sense that the regime is
feeling fairly confident in its ability to slip the sanctions noose while
continuing to work on its nuclear program, using the same rhetoric it has
used for the past seven years to drag negotiations into a stalemate. This
continued confidence may be due to the fact that the Iranians have yet to
feel the pinch of Washington's quiet campaign against Iran's gasoline
suppliers. Though the energy majors appear to be dropping out of the Iranian
gasoline trade, the numbers we have seen indicate that Tehran is importing
surplus amounts of gasoline in preparation for tougher days to come.
However, should Iran fail to outmaneuver the P-5+1 come Oct. 1, those
tougher days could arrive sooner than it thinks.
In the weeks and months ahead, Israel will likely determine whether Iran and
the United States are headed for a collision course in the Persian Gulf. The
Israelis were promised "crippling" sanctions against Iran by the Obama
administration. If that promise goes unfulfilled, and the Iranians (as they
are expected to do) refuse to freeze their enrichment activities, the
Israelis are likely to turn to the military option and demand Washington's
cooperation. Israel understands Russia's leverage over Iran - particularly
its ability to arm the Iranians with critical defense systems and sabotage a
gasoline sanctions regime - and would rather deal decisively with the
Iranian nuclear issue while the program is still several steps away from a
Israel, unlike the United States, never had much faith in the sanctions to
begin with. The U.S. administration appears to be operating under the
assumption that severe sanctions against Iran will create a dire economic
situation in the country, galvanize the masses against the clerical elite
and thus coerce the regime into making significant concessions on its
nuclear program. More imaginative policymakers believe that such economic
sanctions could build on the dissent that followed the election and produce
a third front to challenge and topple the regime. But Tehran's actual
actions are unlikely to mesh nicely with Washington's preferred perception
of the regime's mindset. Iran - at least for now - has no intention of
meeting the West's demands to curb its nuclear program and takes the idea of
resistance very seriously.
A Doomsday Scenario
Israel is willing to see how the sanctions regime plays out, but it also
knows that it has a limited menu of options. If the sanctions are blown
apart with Russia's help, the Iranians will obviously feel little pressure
to negotiate seriously and the Israelis will have to turn to alternative
options. If the sanctions prove effective because of Russian cooperation, a
U.S. willingness to risk trade spats to enforce the sanctions or a
combination of the two, the Iranians will be left feeling extremely
vulnerable. However, that vulnerability would not necessarily bring Iran to
the negotiating table. On the contrary, the Iranians are more likely to turn
increasingly insular and aggressive with their nuclear ambitions. While
extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice for national solidarity, the Iranian
regime would begin to seriously threaten to use its "real" nuclear option -
closing the Strait of Hormuz with mines and its arsenal of anti-ship
This is an option of last resort for the Iranians, but if Tehran feels
sufficiently threatened, either by sanctions or potential military strikes,
it could wreak havoc on the global economy within a matter of hours.
Setting ablaze the Strait of Hormuz would undoubtedly inflict intense pain
on the Iranian economy, but this may be a pain that the regime is willing to
bear while it watches energy prices soar and the world's industrial powers
plunge deeper into recession. At such a level of brinksmanship, the United
States would have to seriously consider a military campaign to preempt an
Iranian move to close the strait, providing Israel with an opportunity to
strike at Iran's nuclear facilities. If the United States failed to act in
time and Iran succeeded in mining this critical energy chokepoint, then the
U.S. military would have to clear the strait. Either way, the Persian Gulf
would become a war zone and the global ramifications would be immense.
This may be a doomsday scenario, but it is one of increasing credibility
given that the main players - Iran, the United States, Russia and Israel -
continue to raise the stakes in pursuing their respective national
imperatives. A number of questions remain: Will the United States put its
trade relations on the line and aggressively enforce sanctions? Will Russia
go the extra mile for Tehran and bust the sanctions regime? Can the United
States and Russia reach a strategic compromise that will leave Iran out in
the cold? Has Israel's patience regarding Iranian diplomatic maneuvers run
out? Will Iran resort to its real nuclear option and threaten the Strait of
STRATFOR does not know the answers, and neither do the main stakeholders in
this saga. However, come Oct. 1 these stakeholders must begin making some
critical decisions that could dramatically alter the geopolitical landscape
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 3
on: September 25, 2009, 12:16:09 PM
Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 3: Preparing for the Worst
Stratfor Today » September 25, 2009 | 1203 GMT
Iran has long been preparing itself for U.S.-led sanctions against gasoline
imports and is confident in its ability to circumvent them. But even if the
sanctions did get Iran's attention, they would not necessarily bring it to
the negotiating table. Iran takes resistance very seriously, and while
extolling the virtues of self-sacrifice it could close the Strait of Hormuz,
which would wreak havoc on the global economy.
Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series on what sanctions
against Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the
a.. Click here to download a PDF of this report
a.. Click here to download a PDF of the entire Iran Sanctions Series
Related Special Topic Page
a.. Special Series: Iran Sanctions
As the Iranian regime continued apace with its nuclear program, it
understood that it was only a matter of time before the West would aim for
its gasoline imports, a potential Achilles' heel for Iran. Although Iran may
be one of the world's top-five crude-oil producers and exporters, its rogue
reputation isn't exactly good for business. The Iranian energy industry has
been sagging under the weight of sanctions for decades as the foreign energy
majors with the technical skill Iran so badly needs wait for the
geopolitical storm clouds to clear before tapping the country's vast energy
To contain domestic political dissent, the Iranian regime has heavily
subsidized the population's energy needs. The drawback to such a policy is
that ridiculously cheap gasoline prices (gasoline in Iran costs around 9
cents per liter) tend to fuel rapid consumption and rampant smuggling. As
Iran's population continued to grow, so did its appetite for gasoline, and
the regime has now reached a point where it simply cannot keep up with
domestic demand without importing at least one-third of its fuel.
So, while Iran's Arab rivals, such as energy heavyweight Saudi Arabia,
profited immensely from record-high crude prices in 2008, the Iranian regime
was still struggling to balance its accounts. Then came the global economic
collapse, which sliced the country's oil revenues in half. And given the
sponsorship by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of militant and
political proxies in Iraq and Lebanon, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's
repeated raids on the country's rainy-day oil funds for his political
campaigning, and funding for the Iranian nuclear program, Tehran does not
have much cash to spare.
Iran is not oblivious to its gasoline vulnerabilities, but it also isn't
left without options should Washington become more aggressive with its
sanctions campaign. As discussed in detail in part two of this series,
Russia - for its own strategic reasons - has developed a contingency plan,
most likely involving Russia's former Soviet surrogate, Turkmenistan, to
cover the gasoline gap should Iran start experiencing shortfalls. The
Russians are certainly not planning to do this out of the goodness of their
hearts and sincere loyalty to their allies in Tehran. On the contrary,
sabotaging Washington's sanctions regime against Tehran is yet another way
Moscow can turn the screws on the United States if the Obama administration
refuses to take seriously the Kremlin's demand that the West respect its
influence in the former Soviet sphere. Since the Obama administration backed
down recently from its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plans in Central
Europe, there could be more room for Russia and the United States to engage
in serious negotiations. That said, there is no guarantee that Washington
would be willing to pay the price of Russian hegemony in Eurasia in return
for Russia's cooperation on Iran, and Moscow will drive a hard bargain
before it even thinks about sacrificing its leverage with Iran.
Iran could certainly use Russia's help in maintaining its gasoline supply,
but Tehran is also quite wary of becoming that much more dependent on Moscow's
good graces for its energy security. Russia and Iran have quite a tumultuous
history (the Soviets briefly occupied Iran during World War II), and the
Iranian leadership is fearful of being abandoned by Russia should Moscow
reach some sort of compromise with Washington.
Iran's other energy-producing ally hostile to the United States is
Venezuela, which recently announced it would come to Iran's aid in the event
of sanctions and supply its Persian friends with 20,000 barrels per day
(bpd) of gasoline starting in October for an $800 million annual fee.
Beneath the revolutionary rhetoric of oppressed regimes sticking it to their
imperialist foes, this Venezuelan-Iranian energy deal is filled with holes.
For starters, Venezuela - much like Iran - is facing serious refining
problems due to mismanagement and a severe drop in foreign investment. Also
like Iran, Venezuela's populist regime heavily subsidizes its constituents
(gasoline in Venezuela is even cheaper than in Iran at 4 cents per liter),
sending consumption soaring over the past four years. While Venezuela is
currently refining around 420,000 bpd, it still needs to import gasoline to
help meet domestic demand.
Caracas could always go through a third party to supply gasoline to Iran
from a source closer to the Persian Gulf, but finding a willing supplier
could prove difficult and costly when insurance premiums and political risks
are taken into account. Moreover, should push come to shove, Washington has
substantial leverage over the Venezuelan regime given the abundance of
assets that Citgo, the refining unit of Venezuelan state oil company
Petroleos de Venezuela, has spread throughout the United States. The United
States also is the largest recipient of Venezuela's crude exports and one of
the few markets in the world with the technological capabilities to process
Venezuela's heavy crude, leaving Venezuela without much of a viable
Iran has already turned to China to help backfill its gasoline supply.
Latest estimates show that starting in September, China began to directly
supply up to one-third of Iran's total gasoline imports. Until now, Chinese
involvement in the gasoline trade had mostly been limited to shipping
companies. In the run-up to the Oct. 1 talks, China now has the extra
incentive to poke the United States and profit from these gasoline shipments
to Iran. After having boosted its refining capacity this year, China has
surplus gasoline to sell on the international market. In August alone China
exported 140,000 barrels of gasoline per day. Like Malaysia's Petronas,
which began supplying Iran with gasoline in August, China sees an
opportunity to profit off of Iran's gasoline trade at a time when political
tensions are rising and major energy firms, such as BP, Reliance and Total,
have already stopped or are cutting back their shipments to Iran. But Iran
may not be able to rely on Chinese aid over the long term.
China currently is in a heated trade spat with Washington over a recent U.S.
tariff on Chinese tire imports and could push back against Washington even
further by flouting the threatened sanctions regime. However, this is a
decision with major strings attached. Washington still has a great deal of
leverage over Beijing in the form of Section 421, a U.S. law that was
incorporated into China's accession agreement with the World Trade
Organization in 2001 and allows the United States to legally impose tariffs
on nearly any Chinese export until 2013. Now that Obama has put Section 421
to use in restricting tire imports, the Chinese have to think twice before
making any moves that could compel Washington to go even further in slapping
trade restrictions on China. Additionally, China is a massive energy
importer itself, so shipping any sort of energy product to the Middle East,
where its supply lines are unprotected, is something that works directly
against most of China's energy security strategies.
The United States has not yet formalized the gasoline sanctions against Iran
in the form of legislation or a U.N. Security Council resolution, and this
may be providing Beijing a limited opportunity to hit back at the United
States during the trade spat and demonstrate the limits of Beijing's
cooperation. However, Beijing will be far more cautious than Russia when it
comes to blocking sanctions against Iran and will keep a close eye on Russia's
intentions in deciding its next steps. China has long been noncommittal when
it comes to sanctions against Iran and will align itself with Russia in
forums like the U.N. Security Council to demonstrate its opposition to
punitive U.S. economic measures. Of course, if Russia folds and reaches some
sort of compromise with Washington, China will comply with the sanctions and
avoid being left in the spotlight as the sole sanctions-buster allied with
In short, Iran has friends that it can turn to if necessary, but the
reliability of those friends is by no means guaranteed.
Fending for Itself
In the spirit of self-sufficiency, Iran has long been preparing itself for a
U.S.-led offensive against Iranian gasoline imports. Over the past two
years, as talk of gasoline sanctions intensified, Iran sought out willing
suppliers to help stockpile its gasoline reserves. Iranian gasoline
consumption currently stands at around 300,000 to 400,000 bpd, but over the
past several months, Iran has been importing well in excess of that amount
from mostly Swiss suppliers and now newcomers like Malaysia's state-owned
Petronas, which are looking to replace the energy majors that are dropping
out of the Iranian gasoline trade while political tensions are high. Iranian
and U.S. intelligence sources claim that Iran currently has at least three
months worth of gasoline needs (estimates average around 30 million barrels)
stockpiled. The director of the National Iranian Oil Refining and
Distribution Company claims Iran's gasoline storage capacity is about 15.7
million barrels, which gives Iran about four months of in-storage capacity.
Some of the surplus gasoline is sitting on tankers off Kharg Island, but the
bulk of the supply is stored on land, where it is less vulnerable to
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 2
on: September 25, 2009, 12:13:57 PM
Iran Sanctions (Special Series), Part 2: FSU Contingency Plans
Stratfor Today » September 24, 2009 | 1209 GMT
Russia has been using its relationship with Iran as leverage against the
United States. In the face of the very real possibility of sanctions
targeting Iran's gasoline imports, Russia could continue using Iran to upset
U.S. plans by supplying the Islamic republic with gasoline. However, Moscow
knows that such a move would come with a political price.
Editor's Note: This is part two in a three-part series on what sanctions
against Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the
a.. Click here to download a PDF of this report
a.. Click here to download a PDF of the entire Iran Sanctions Series
Related Special Topic Page
a.. Special Series: Iran Sanctions
Russia, having found its strength again, has been pushing back against U.S.
influence in the former Soviet Union while the United States has been
preoccupied with its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even with its success
against the Western geopolitical offensive in many places on its borders,
Moscow still demands that Washington put an end to its plan to expand NATO,
drop its backing of Georgia and Ukraine, and abandon any military buildup in
One of Russia's favorite pieces of leverage to use against the United States
has been its relationship with Iran. Since 1995, Russia has been helping
Iran build its nuclear power plant at Bushehr, though Moscow has refrained
from completing work on the plant in order to keep the issue alive and in
the Russian arsenal of threats against the United States. Russia has
continually delayed the delivery of advanced military technology to Iran,
like variants of the S-300 air defense system that would complicate a
potential military strike. Russia also has routinely blocked hard-hitting
sanctions on Iran in the U.N. Security Council. All of this has served to
bog Washington down in another Middle Eastern foreign policy dilemma while
Russia coaxes the United States into separate negotiations over Russian
interests, such as the West backing away from Russia's near abroad.
This arrangement has not only given Russia a trump card in its negotiations
with the United States; as long as Russia can use Iran against the United
States, Tehran is more capable of deflecting U.S. pressure.
But now the United States has devised a relatively robust sanctions plan
that will bypass the United Nations, so Russia will not have a chance to use
its veto power. Yet Russia could create a massive breach in the sanctions.
The new U.S. sanctions plan targets Iran's gasoline imports, which make up
at least a third of the country's consumption and most of which are shipped
to Iran through the Persian Gulf. Such a supply cut could devastate the
Iranian regime and economy, forcing Tehran to make real concessions on its
nuclear program. Venezuela, another state hostile to Washington, has offered
to step in and fill some of Iran's gasoline needs despite the sanctions, but
Venezuela's shipments to the Persian Gulf theoretically could be interrupted
by even a minor U.S. naval blockade. Therefore, if Iran is to circumvent
U.S. sanctions and get its gasoline, it will have to look closer to home.
Russia and several former Soviet states bordering Iran have one of the few
alternative supply options - sending gasoline in by rail or ship from the
north - which neither the United States nor Israel could block militarily.
Moreover, these countries have spare gasoline refining capacity.
Iran's gasoline imports fluctuate frequently but average about 176,000
barrels per day (bpd) - although the Iranians currently are importing more
than 400,000 bpd as they are stockpiling in preparation for possible
sanctions. Russia - and quite a few other former Soviet states - would be
able to fill Iran's basic import needs.
In this discussion, an understanding of gasoline refining capacity is
necessary. Every refinery typically has facilities that convert oil into
several different products, ranging from gasoline to diesel fuel to
kerosene. For most refineries in the former Soviet states, gasoline accounts
for about 10 to 15 percent of their total refining capacity. However, it is
rather simple to increase that percentage. Refineries do it frequently, such
as when gasoline inventories get built up in preparation for peak season
demand. At the higher end of refining gasoline, most refineries produce at
45 percent, but theoretically refineries can scale up gasoline production to
up to 70 to 85 percent of total refining capacity before the feedstock
becomes "over-cracked" and gasoline yield falls. Since gasoline refining can
fluctuate over such a wide range, STRATFOR will simply report the total
refining capacity for each country.
Russia is currently the world's largest oil producer (it recently surpassed
Saudi Arabia) at 9.9 million bpd. Russia exports 7.4 million bpd of that oil
in either crude or refined products, mainly to Europe. But Russia is also
one of the largest refiners in the world, with a capacity to refine 5.5
million bpd of oil products.
Russia's oil production has been declining, mainly because market demand has
slumped following an economic slowdown, but Russian refineries are still
working at about 80 percent of their capacity. Considering the size of
Russia's refining sector, increasing their refining closer to capacity could
cover Iran's basic import needs many times over.
Russia is not the only energy giant in the region. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan
and Turkmenistan are all net crude and gasoline exporters. STRATFOR sources
have indicated that Kazakhstan is not considering any gasoline sales to
Iran, due to the large U.S. economic presence in the Central Asian country.
This leaves Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, both of which are among the top 20
global oil producers, both of which border Iran, and both of which have
plenty of spare refining capacity.
Azerbaijan currently produces about 1 million bpd of crude and has a
domestic refining capacity of 442,000 bpd. However due to a lack of global
demand, Azerbaijan is only refining at 27 percent of its capacity, leaving a
spare capacity that could cover Iran's import needs twice over. Turkmenistan
is in the same situation - producing about 195,000 bpd of crude, but only
refining at 20 percent of their 286,000 bpd capacity. This means that
Turkmenistan's spare capacity alone could easily cover Iran's import needs.
Between Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, there is plenty of spare
capacity to produce the gasoline that Iran would need in the event of
sanctions. The next issue is how to get the gasoline to Iran.
The former Soviet states have a vast series of rail interconnections, and
their close proximity to Iran makes this transit option one of the most
likely. Russia's southern belt of refineries lining the northern Caspian
region is along a series of rail networks that could transport gasoline to
Iran in the matter of a few days. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan's refineries
are along rail networks that could transport gasoline to Iran in less than a
day. A typical gasoline-carrying train in the former Soviet states is
capable of transporting approximately 40,000 barrels of gasoline. For any of
the former Soviet states to fulfill Iran's current gasoline needs, the
trains would have to be sent four or five times a day.
(click here to enlarge image)
One problem with this is that the former Soviet Union's rail network is on a
different rail gauge from most of the rest of the world - a leftover from
Soviet times, when Josef Stalin wanted to prevent any potential invader from
using the Soviet Union's rail network to sustain an offensive inside Soviet
territory. The rail gauge in Russia and the former Soviet states is 1,520
mm. Iran is on the standard 1,435 mm gauge that most of the world uses. In
the past, any cargo traveling from one of the former Soviet states by rail
would have to be off-loaded from the Russian train cars and reloaded onto
foreign cars with a different gauge - wasting days on the journey. However,
since 2003 Russia has been mass-producing rail cars with an adjustable
gauge, allowing for the gauge to be shifted in mere hours.
Due to increasing oil prices, the Russians also mass-produced liquid tank
cars, increasing their fleet from 100,000 cars to more than 230,000. Since
demand for crude and gasoline declined, most of these tank cars are sitting
idly in Russia, so there would be no shortage to send to Iran.
But for Russia to get its gasoline to Iran, it would have to go south along
the Caspian via Azerbaijan or through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and
Turkmenistan. Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan could also use the Russian rail
cars to send gasoline to Iran.
There is a problem with either Azerbaijan sending gasoline to Iran via rail
or Russia using rail connections via Azerbaijan to supply Iran: The rail
lines in the region do not actually run into Iran. Of the two rail lines
from Azerbaijan to Iran, the most extensive runs from Azerbaijan to Armenia,
to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan. This line was severely damaged
during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and remains in disrepair, so it cannot
handle any traffic. The second rail line runs along the Caspian Sea from
Russia to Iran via Azerbaijan, with multiple refineries along the way.
A rail line near the Iran-Azerbaijan border on May 28, 2009
However, this line ends once it reaches the Iranian border; all cargo has to
be trucked into Iran. Azerbaijan has used this line to send gasoline to Iran
before, and there has been much talk about expanding the line farther into
Iran (though no progress has been made on construction). This line is
running at approximately 27 percent capacity, which means it has room for a
surge of rail cars going to Iran.
Azerbaijan's rail lines might be problematic, but Turkmenistan has rail
lines that connect with Iran's rail network. However, for Russia to send
gasoline to Iran via Turkmenistan, the trains would have to transit
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan's relationships with Russia and
Turkmenistan are deteriorating, and STRATFOR sources in Kazakhstan have said
the country has taken part in discussions on allowing such a transit. There
is no indication, however, that Uzbekistan has been approached about the
There is also much discussion of shipping gasoline to Iran on the Caspian
Sea, which is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and
Iran - five countries that have continually bickered about dividing up the
sea among them.
Currently, only a nominal amount of gasoline is shipped across the Caspian,
but such shipping could be accelerated very easily as the basic technology
of ports and pipelines that ship crude oil can be quickly converted to
handle gasoline - particularly when considering the very limited
infrastructure of a port. Iran's northern port on the Caspian, Neka, for
example, can currently handle 300,000 bpd of crude. Even with a 50 percent
loss rate from a switchover, this one port could theoretically handle all of
Iran's import needs (and Neka also boasts the necessary road, rail and
pipeline infrastructure required to then distribute any imported gasoline
supplies to the rest of the country).
(click here to enlarge image)
The problem with Russia shipping gasoline to Iran is that Russia's northern
Caspian ports - Astrakhan and Makhachkala - are frozen over for more than
four months out of the year. Kazakhstan has been expanding its capacity to
ship crude and gasoline at Aktau, though Astana is not planning to fulfill
this particular supply request for political reasons.
The ports in Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, however, are equipped to ship
gasoline or crude to Iran. Azerbaijan's Baku port has a 301,200 bpd liquid
cargo capacity. In 1996, Baku sent 50,000 bpd to Neka when its gasoline
exports to Russia were cut off due to war in the Caucasus. The capacity at
Turkmenistan's Turkmenbashi port is unknown; it is only known that there is
Iran's port at Neka can handle 300,000 bpd of liquid cargo - more than
enough to fill the Iranians' demand for gasoline. Neka also has crude and
gasoline storage, though only for 45,000 barrels.
The Russian Dilemma
Russia and the former Soviet states are clearly able to fill in Iran's
gasoline needs should the United States successfully cut off supplies. But
Moscow is weighing the political decision on whether to do so very
carefully. The Russians have said continually that they feel the United
States' new push for sanctions would not be successful, though it is Russia
itself that would prevent that success. The new sanctions are designed to
pressure the companies involved in operating in Iran, supplying Iran with
gasoline or insuring those supplies, but with Russo-U.S. relations in
decline, Russia will weigh the benefits of successfully crushing U.S.
sanctions plans against the pain any U.S. economic pressure could create.
STRATFOR sources in the region have confirmed that Russia is taking this
issue very seriously. Currently it is unclear whether Azerbaijan would take
part in defying the sanctions since the United States has such a large
economic presence in the country. Azerbaijan does have energy swap deals in
place with Iran and has also made more plans to increase other energy
supplies, like oil and natural gas, to Iran. But Baku has not made a
decision yet on the specific issue of gasoline supplies, though STRATFOR
sources have indicated that Baku has at least been included in talks with
Moscow and Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan is the more likely player to create gasoline supply contracts
with Iran. Turkmenistan is still one of the most isolated countries in the
world, despite the government's proclaimed push to change that fact. The
United States has no real leverage it can use to force the country to not
supply its neighbor with gasoline. Moreover, Turkmenistan is in a financial
crunch because Russia stopped receiving energy supplies from the Central
Asian state, and Turkmenistan is looking for a new source of income. But
Moscow has ensured that it holds enough influence over Turkmenistan in the
realms of the military and social stability to keep Ashgabat from making
such a move without its consent. Russia wants to make sure that no other
country will usurp its ability to ruin U.S. sanctions.
Overall, the decision for any of these states to deliver gasoline to Iran
comes down to Moscow. Russia is using this threat in order to pressure the
United States into recognizing its sphere of influence. This trump card
could force the United States to act against Iran militarily, as all the
U.S. "diplomatic" efforts will by then have been exhausted. Then again, if
Russia plays this card, it could also force the United States to act more
aggressively against Russia, which will have proven its willingness to
support Iran through its actions, not just its rhetoric.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Sanctions 1
on: September 25, 2009, 12:12:35 PM
Editor's Note:This introduces a three-part series on what sanctions against
Iran could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russian relations, Israel and the global
On Oct. 1, Iran will sit down for negotiations with six global powers - the
United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany. The
Western powers in the group are hoping that these talks will in some way
tame Iran's nuclear ambitions, but Iran, having already flouted a Sept. 24
deadline to negotiate, has thus far sent mixed signals on whether it will
even agree to discuss its nuclear program when it comes to the table.
This may seem like a familiar routine: the United States threatens
sanctions, Israel hints at military action, a deadline is set for Iran to
enter serious negotiations, Iran does its usual diplomatic song and dance,
another deadline passes and negotiations end in stalemate.
But whether the main stakeholders in the conflict realize it or not, things
could turn out very differently this time around.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear that should the postponed
negotiations fail to produce any real results - and the Obama administration
has already conveyed that it doesn't have high hopes for the talks - then it
will have little choice but to impose "crippling sanctions" against Iran.
What makes the sanctions so "crippling" is the fact that the United States
already has a campaign under way to pressure major energy, shipping and
insurance firms to curtail their gasoline trade with Iran. Since Iran must
import at least one-third of its gasoline to meet its energy needs, such a
sanctions regime could have a devastating effect on the Iranian government
and (theoretically, at least) coerce Tehran into making real concessions on
its nuclear program.
No sanctions regime, however, is airtight - and this one is no exception.
Iran has a few limited contingency plans in place to prepare for a gasoline
deficit, but the real vulnerability in the sanctions comes from Russia. Iran
has become a major pressure point in Russia's ongoing geopolitical tussle
with the United States, and Moscow has signaled in a number of ways that it
isn't going to be shy about using its leverage with Tehran to turn the
screws on Washington. Moscow has a list of core demands that revolve around
the basic concept of the West respecting Russian influence in its former
Soviet periphery. As long as the United States continues to rebuff these
demands and write off Russia as a weak power, the Russians not only can
refuse to participate in sanctions but they can also blow the entire
sanctions regime apart. The more bogged down the United States is in the
Islamic world, after all, the more room Russia has to maneuver in the
The United States may have gained more room to maneuver with Russia
following a leaked announcement Sept. 16 regarding a complete revision of
U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plans in Central Europe. The BMD
issue - which symbolizes a deep U.S. military footprint on Moscow's
doorstep - has long been a sticking point for Russia in dealing with the
United States. Russia remains unconvinced of Washington's apparent retreat
in Central Europe and has thus far refrained from changing its tune on Iran.
Instead, Russia has treated the BMD change in plans as part of a debt
Washington has owed since Russia agreed to provide the United States with
alternate transit rights for the war in Afghanistan. The atmosphere may now
be slightly more conducive for negotiations between Moscow and Washington,
but unless the United States makes a more concrete concession that
recognizes Russian hegemony in former Soviet territory, Russia will continue
to hold onto its Iran card.
Israel understands what Russia is capable of when it comes to Iran. From the
Israeli point of view, even if Iran is still years away from the bomb, a
potentially nuclear Iran poses a fundamental national security threat better
dealt with sooner rather than later - especially if Russia can prevent the
successful implementation of sanctions, and complicate any potential
military strikes against Iran by providing strategic air defense systems.
In other words, the Israelis have lost their patience with U.S.-Iranian
merry-go-round diplomacy. The Americans promised the Israelis crippling
sanctions against Iran, and if those sanctions don't happen or prove
ineffective, other options are likely to be explored that would necessarily
involve the skills and services of the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Iran -
whether faced with the threat of crippling sanctions or military strikes -
has the ability to wreak havoc on the global economy by going so far as to
mine the critical Strait of Hormuz, through which more than 40 percent of
seaborne globally traded oil passes. This is the "real" Iranian nuclear
option, if you will.
In this special series, STRATFOR examines in depth what a sanctions regime
could mean for Iran, U.S.-Russia relations, Israel and the global economy.
Part one will describe the nuts and bolts of an innovative U.S.-led
sanctions campaign and reveal the major energy firms, insurers and shippers
who are either already cutting back trade with Iran or are insulated enough
from the United States to pick up some of the slack for the Iranian regime.
Part two will discuss the array of options available for Russia to satisfy
Iran's gasoline needs and neutralize the sanctions. Russia can do so
directly by rail or sea, or it could enlist former Soviet surrogates like
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, all of which have more than enough
spare capacity to cover Iran's gasoline needs but also varying political and
economic constraints to consider. Part three will focus on Iran's likely
response to these sanctions, including its contingency plans to reduce
gasoline consumption at home and its last-resort options designed to stave
off a military strike or retaliate against one.
Come Oct. 1, the world's major powers will be engaged in a high-stakes round
of diplomacy. Israeli patience is wearing thin, Russia is prodding
Washington with the Iran issue, and Iran is looking at its options of last
resort. This geopolitical panorama does not leave Washington with many
options, especially when a number of other issues are already competing for
the administration's attention. It does, however, have the potential to
break the Iranian nuclear impasse.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / AELE journal
on: September 25, 2009, 12:10:02 PM
Note: If you would like to read this e-mail in color with live links, go to http://www.aele.org/alert-email.html
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1. The August 2009 issue of the AELE Monthly Law Journal is online, with four new articles.
Persons interested in contributing an article should contact AELE.
* Public Protection: Injured Crime and Accident Victims
What are a police officer's legal obligations when encountering a member of the public who is an injured victim of a crime or accident?
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ101.html
* Validity of Settlement Agreements Containing a "Will Not Reapply for Employment" Provision
If a settlement is successfully negotiated, management sometimes insists that the plaintiff resign and promise not to reapply.
Without such an agreement, if the person's subsequent reemployment application is denied, it will inevitably result in another lawsuit.
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ201.html
* Transsexual Prisoners: Medical Care Issues
Issues raised in litigation have included requests for sex change surgery, requests for beginning or continuing hormone therapy, and what medical and psychological services are necessary and appropriate to provide.
Viewable at http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ301.html
* Civil Rights Liability for Intentional Violations of Miranda - Part Two: Criminal Admissibility
In 2003, the California Supreme Court held that a coerced confession is inadmissible for impeachment purposes in a criminal trial. In 2008, the Ninth Circuit concluded that a confession was coerced even though adequate Miranda warnings were given. By Michael P. Stone and Marc Berger. http://www.aele.org/law/2009-08MLJ501.html
2. The August issues of AELE's three periodicals have been uploaded.
The current issues, back issues since 2000, three 30+ year case digests, and a search engine are FREE. Everyone is welcome to read, print or download AELE publications without charge.
The main menu is at: http://www.aele.org/law
Among the 90 new cases summarized under 67 different topics, there are several that warrant mention here:
*** Law Enforcement Liability Reporter ***
Officers acted reasonably with respect to the force used while handcuffing an arrestee. While he contended that their actions had caused him shoulder injuries, the court noted that he refused to put his hands behind his back, and merely explained that he thought it would "hurt." He did not tell the officers about any purported infirmities or pre-existing injury that could be aggravated by handcuffing. Stainback v. Dixon, #08-3563, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 14115 (7th Cir.). http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/7th/083563p.pdf
* Stun Guns/Tasers
UCLA has entered into a $220,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by a student who a campus police officer repeatedly shocked with a Taser after he refused to show his identification card upon request. The student, who is Iranian-American, argued that he was treated this way because of his Middle Eastern appearance. Tabatabainejad v. Univ. of Cal. L.A., #2:07-cv-00389, U.S. Dist. Court (C.D. Calif.). http://www.aele.org/law/2009all08/tabatabainejad.pdf
*** Fire and Police Personnel Reporter ***
* Disciplinary Punishment - Sexual Misconduct
In an appeal where an FBI agent was fired for videotaping sexual encounters with women without their consent, a federal appeals court remanded the case to the Merit Systems Protection Board for further adjudication. One judge wrote that he would have reversed the Board outright on the ground that the agency failed to establish a nexus between the charged conduct and the efficiency of the service.
The majority held that the Board failed to articulate a meaningful standard as to when private dishonesty rises to the level of misconduct that adversely affects the "efficiency of the service." The articulation of a meaningful standard is necessary particularly in light of the apparent conflict between the FBI's policy on investigating personal relationships and its policies requiring their agents to act with integrity and honesty. Doe v. DoJ, #2008-3139, 2009 U.S. App. Lexis 10031 (Fed. Cir.). http://www.cafc.uscourts.gov/opinions/08-3139.pdf
*** Jail and Prisoner Law Bulletin ***
* Inmate Funds
The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that state prison officials can take money from inmate trust accounts to collect court fees owed and other costs without first notifying a prisoner. Due process was not violated, as the prisoners received "contemporaneous" notice of the withdrawal of the money, and the Constitution does not require pre-withdrawal notice. Harrell v. State of Texas, No. 07-0806, 2009 Tex. Lexis 321.http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=tx&vol=/sc/070806&invol=1
Report of the American Medical Association (AMA) Council on Science and Public Health on "Use of Tasers by Law Enforcement Agencies."
View at http://www.aele.org/law/2009all08/06-15-09_AMA_TASER_ECD_Resolution
AELE has a free search tool covering our database of 28,000 case summaries, since 1975.http://www.aele.org/htdig/common/search.html
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Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Stratfor Intel Guidance
on: September 25, 2009, 11:45:39 AM
Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): Sept. 25, 2009 - Iran's Nuclear Program
September 25, 2009 | 1326 GMT
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown leave the summit on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons during the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 24Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.
Related Special Topic Pages
Special Coverage: The Global Summits (Fall 2009)
Iran’s revelation of a second enrichment site is not critical in a military sense. The West always knew the Iranians were playing a shell game. What it does do, however, is highlight that one of the challenges of the situation is simply that Western intelligence does not know how good its intelligence is — until it is used. So the Iranians are attempting a smoke-and-mirrors strategy in the hope of deterring an attack. But they also don’t know how much the West does or does not know either.
Far more important was the decision by the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom and France to condemn Iran’s partial unveiling of this new site, and to demonstrate clearly that the time for talks is almost over. The round of talks beginning Oct. 1 has been portrayed by the Israelis as the final round. Now the United States is publicly saying the same thing, although Obama continues to say it prefers a peaceful settlement.
There are four issues we need to drill into:
First, will the Russians come on board with gasoline sanctions in this context or do they continue their opposition? We need to reassess the Russian mood and see what their lowest possible price is for assistance.
Second, we should start seeing some overt movements by the U.S. military to spook the Iranians. This will not be the typical watch for carriers moving toward the Gulf. Between forces participating in the Iraq and Afghan conflicts, the United States already has more than what it needs to attack Iran. Watch and evaluate activities in the region itself.
Third, are there any statements out of Israel? They have been forcing this issue to a head. A lack of statements from them is ominous.
Finally, Iran has the “use it or lose it” option with mines. If they feel attack is imminent, will they use the mines? The United States must act against the mines before anything else if this is not to cause a global recession on its own.
Bottom line: If the Iranians indicate that they will not cooperate and the Russians do not budge on their opposition to imposing sanctions, then war could come suddenly — and from the United States. All the pieces for that war are already in place. It is just a question of nerve — for all parties.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post: Honduras
on: September 25, 2009, 10:40:00 AM
It seems there really is no rest for the weary Hondurans. Nearly three months after the country's major legal institutions determined that former President Manual Zelaya had committed treason with his Hugo Chavez-esque grab for power, the tiny nation is still being pressured to allow Zelaya to resume his role as leader.
Now, Zelaya, likely aided by Venezuela's Chavez, has snuck back into the Honduran capitol of Tegucigalpa where, from the safety of the Brazilian embassy, he has called for his supporters to converge on the city with "peaceful" demonstrations. And they have done so, despite interim President Roberto Micheletti's declaration of a curfew, roadblocks and a closed airport. Meanwhile, Zelaya bizarrely complains of assassination attempts by "Israeli mercenaries" who he claims are using toxic gases and high-frequency radiation to torture him. Apparently, the "gas" has gone to his head.
The Obama administration has repeatedly ignored Honduras' right to self-determination with measures that make the Left's cry of "American imperialism" during the Bush years seem like child's play. The U.S. State Department has cut off vital aid to Honduras and has denied its citizens U.S. visas, all to make it bend to the will of Obama, Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. "It is imperative that dialogue begin," Hillary Clinton declared, and "that there be a channel of communication between President Zelaya and the de facto regime in Honduras." Memo to Hillary: Zelaya is no longer president, his legal term in office has expired, and the "de facto regime" is a legitimate transitional government until elections can take place.
Regardless, the U.S. State Department has declared that it will not recognize the outcome of the upcoming elections on Nov. 29 unless Zelaya is returned to power.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Patriot Post
on: September 25, 2009, 10:37:58 AM
From the Leftjudiciary: Indiana Court Tosses Voter ID
Despite a significantly higher voter turnout last year than in most previous presidential elections, as well as Barack Obama's narrowly carrying the state, the Indiana State Court of Appeals threw out the state's voter identification law -- a statute that had already passed muster with the U.S. Supreme Court -- claiming the law wasn't equally applied to those casting absentee ballots. The 3-0 ruling, made by a panel of judges appointed by Democrat governors, was blasted by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels as "an act of judicial arrogance" and "transparently" partisan.
Predictably, state Democrat leaders hailed the ruling, claiming, even in the face of those increased turnout numbers, that the law requiring voters to present a form of identification bearing their photo "disenfranchised hundreds if not thousands of voters." Heaven forbid, after all, that voters are who they say they are and vote only once.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: Afghanistan-Pakistan
on: September 25, 2009, 07:37:04 AM
Commit to Afghanistan or Get Out
We shouldn't send Americans to fight and die if we're not in it to win.
By KORI SCHAKE
In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy said the United States would “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend” in defense of liberty. Less than three months later, he decided not to supply air support to U.S.-trained Cuban exiles who tried to overthrow Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It wasn’t a shining moment for American foreign policy. But JFK was right to turn off the spigot of American assistance if he wasn’t committed to the fight.
President Barack Obama now faces a similar tough decision. The war in Afghanistan is not going well. The rebuilding effort isn't going well. The effort to create a competent government isn't going well. So should he commit American support if he isn't committed to doing what is needed to succeed?
Mr. Obama owns the war in Afghanistan. He bought it, on credit. But he is fulminating at the cost now that the bill is coming due. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made clear what the bill will be in terms of additional troops. And the president now wants a review to determine whether we're pursuing the right strategy.
It is disappointing that this review comes after the president decided to keep 68,000 Americans risking their lives in Afghanistan. But Mr. Obama is right to give himself a chance to decide whether he is willing to follow through on this war, given what it will cost in blood, treasure, and other things.
What the president's review will reveal is a shocking incapacity by the nonmilitary parts of our war effort. Its talk of the need for "smart power" notwithstanding, right now the administration has only a military strategy for Afghanistan. What's more, the administration appears to only be debating the military requirements of the war, not the much bigger challenges—the nonmilitary pieces of the Afghanistan strategy.
When Mr. Obama announced his current Afghanistan policy in March, he said it was "a stronger, smarter, more comprehensive strategy" that would build schools, hospitals, roads, and enterprise zones, addressing issues like energy and trade. Where are those efforts?
He said "to advance security, opportunity and justice—not just in Kabul, but from the bottom up in the provinces—we need agricultural specialists and educators; engineers and lawyers." Where are those specialists?
The president said "I am ordering a substantial increase in our civilians on the ground." He directed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to develop a diplomatic plan to parallel Gen. McChrystal's military plan. Where is that plan?
The administration has done virtually nothing in these areas. Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, sent in a plea for funding for some of these civilian projects last month. It was dismissed as premature. The administration has not named a director for the Agency for International Development. And only 56 additional civilians as part of the "civilian surge" were in place before Afghanistan's August elections.
If the president turns off the spigot of American assistance in Afghanistan, he will pay a substantial price for it. He'll be going back on his rhetoric about Afghanistan as the "good war," a war of necessity. He will cast the withdrawal from Iraq in a different light, endow the jihadist with a public victory (which will only encourage future attacks), and make it more difficult to achieve positive change in Afghanistan as well as collect intelligence on terrorists. He may turn Hamid Karzai's government into an adversary. He will diminish our ability to help Pakistan fight terrorists, and will likely make the U.S. less trusted in the world. But those prices will be less than the cost of sending young Americans to fight and die in a war the president is not committed to winning.
The military is doing its job in Afghanistan. It's time the rest of the government does its job. We need to turn our attention to the failures of the nonmilitary parts of our strategy and bring them up to the standard at which our military is performing. Otherwise we will not be doing what is needed to win.
Ms. Schake is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and an associate professor at the United States Military Academy.
The Afghan Imperative Recommend
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LinkedinDiggFacebookMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalinkBy DAVID BROOKS
Published: September 24, 2009
Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.
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There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.
The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.
To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.
These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy — all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it’s not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. ... You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”
Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither.
Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan. As Stephen Biddle noted in a recent essay in The American Interest, the Taliban is a transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime.
Pakistan has a fragile government with an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons. A Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst.
A Taliban reconquest would also, it should be said, be a moral atrocity from which American self-respect would not soon recover.
Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.
Amidst all the problems, the NATO coalition has a few things going for it. First, American forces have become quite good at counterinsurgency. They have a battle-tested strategy, experienced troops and a superb new leadership team. According to the political scientists Andrew J. Enterline and Joseph Magagnoli, since World War II, counterinsurgency efforts that put population protection at their core have succeeded nearly 70 percent of the time.
Second, the enemy is wildly hated. Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.
Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions. The National Solidarity Program was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist.
We have tried to fight the Afghan war the easy way, and it hasn’t worked. Switching now to the McChrystal strategy is a difficult choice, and President Obama is right to take his time. But Obama was also right a few months ago when he declared, “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. ... This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Dickinson & Jefferson
on: September 25, 2009, 07:21:02 AM
"With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers, which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than to live as slaves." --John Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of the Cause and Necessity of Taking up Arms, 1775
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Iran hiding nuke site
on: September 25, 2009, 07:19:51 AM
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Fri, September 25, 2009 -- 4:12 AM ET
U.S. Preparing to Accuse Iran of Concealing Nuclear Site
President Obama and the leaders of Britain and France will
accuse Iran on Friday morning of building a secret
underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, charging that
Iran has hidden the covert facility for years from
international weapons inspectors, according to senior
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / WSJ: The battle back home
on: September 25, 2009, 07:18:44 AM
By LAURA LANDRO
In World War I, it was known as "shell shock," in World War II, "battle fatigue." The British Royal Air Force called it LMF, for "lack of moral fibre." Only after the Vietnam War was a concerted effort made to understand the effect of combat on the human mind. These days, the lexicon of mental health includes the phrase "post-traumatic stress disorder," referring to a crippling condition that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event.
In "Shadow of the Sword" Jeremiah Workman, a Marine staff sergeant who won the Navy Cross for gallantry under fire in Iraq, offers a searing account of his own struggle with the demon now known simply by its acronym, PTSD. A small-town boy from Ohio who enlisted in the Marines after high school, he gets the warrior ethos drilled into him at Parris Island, the Marine Corps' boot camp, and heads to Iraq in 2004.
Soon enough, Sgt. Workman is assigned to a "mop-up crew" after the battle for Fallujah in Iraq's turbulent Anwar Province. But the mopping up proves to be an ordeal in itself. Sgt. Workman and his platoon come across a building in which fellow Marines are trapped by insurgents. In the firefight that ensues, he kills more than 20 of the enemy but loses three of his own men. The memories of the experience haunt him long after the fighting ends.
In its depiction of combat, "Shadow of the Sword" ranks with Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor," the tale of the Navy Seals and Special Forces who died in a battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan. At one point in the Fallujah mop-up, Sgt. Workman's squad leaves a house they have just searched: "The volume of fire has spiked even higher. Now long automatic bursts from multiple AK's overlap each other into one sustained cacophony. I can't tell how many there are, but it has to be at least a half dozen, maybe more. A bullet skips off the roadbed a few feet in front of me. Another one smacks into the wall and gouges out a little pit from the concrete."
But the greater theme of "Shadow of the Sword" is the aftermath—the wounds that hurt from the inside. When Sgt. Workman returns from Iraq, he suffers from nightmares and unpredictable meltdowns that wreak havoc on his personal life.
“The dream was bad, the worst in weeks. The ceiling comes into focus. I blink the sleep out of my eyes. My heart races, sweat stains my sheets. I'm burning up.
Read an excerpt from 'Shadow of the Sword'
And he is not alone. A recent study by researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Administration medical center found that 37% of soldiers returning Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from a mental-health problem, most often PTSD or depression. Efforts are under way to provide better counseling and to train troops in coping skills, but there is a barrier. As a New York Times reporter put it in a story about the Army's new mental-stress training: The challenge is to "transform a military culture that has generally considered talk of emotions to be so much hand-holding, a sign of weakness."
Not surprisingly, Sgt. Workman is troubled when he finds himself diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. "All that PTSD nonsense," he writes, "was for pussies who couldn't hack a warrior's life." The acronym itself feels like "a stigma."
Still, Sgt. Workman can't help re-living the fatal day, often in flashbacks. He asks himself why he lived and others didn't and whether he could have done more to save his platoon members.
Back in Parris Island as a drill instructor, Sgt. Workman says that he is told push at least two recruits into suicide attempts, in an effort to weed out the weak. This is the only part of the book that sounds implausible, given the standards that define the Marines. One recruit slashes his wrists, he claims, which makes him feel despicable. During one drill, he has a flashback that results in a meltdown in front of the young men he is charged with making into Marines.
The flashbacks are part of the physiology of PTSD, as Sgt. Workman learns. Once the brain receives an overdose of trauma, its neurochemistry changes. Sgt. Workman likens the effect to a record gouged with scratches, causing the needle to replay the same passage again and again. Time does not heal all wounds; it can often make them worse.
.Victims of post-traumatic stress disorder often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Some turn violent. In the middle ground there is anger. "A misplaced toy, a casual remark, a wayward glance or a traffic jam is all it takes to trigger the overreaction," Sgt. Workman writes. One day he gets so angry that he nearly kills a neighbor's dog. He is prescribed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs that numb him so much that he thinks: "I could watch my mother die right now and just shrug it off." He swallows a bottle of pills and puts a gun in his mouth before his frightened family intervenes—then doesn't remember the incident.
Sgt. Workman has other problems weighing on him, including a troubled marriage. He begins to seethe over his maltreatment as a kid by a brutish stepfather. Ultimately, though, he comes to realize that if he can't integrate his wartime experience into his life he will be a "fractured and malfunctioning human being." It is a gruff sergeant who begins to set him straight, enabling him to understand that he did everything he could to save his brothers-in-arms. "It was a terrible story, but that's war," he tells Sgt. Workman. "Men die despite our best."
Light at the end of the tunnel appears as Sgt. Workman begins to embrace his future; there is a reconciliation with his wife and a new son. He soon leaves the Marines but continues to work with a group called the Wounded Warrior Regiment. He meets many other veterans who suffer as he has suffered but who don't always want to admit they are hurting. The shame, he tells them, is not in PTSD but in refusing help: "Giving in, disgracing those we left behind and dying here at home after all we've gone through is simply not acceptable." Semper Fidelis, Sgt. Workman.
—Ms. Landro writes The Informed Patient column for the Journal. Her brother is a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Cash for the Clueless
on: September 24, 2009, 08:14:59 PM
W H A T A D E A L !!
Here’s what my friend had to say about “Democratic Math”:
It’s worse than that. Ignore all the gas crap and just look at how the stupid car buyer got taken to the cleaners:
If you traded in a clunker worth $3500, you get $4500 off for an apparent "savings" of $1000.
However, you have to pay taxes on the $4500 come April 15th (something that no auto dealer will tell you). If you are in the 30% tax bracket, you will pay $1350 on that $4500.
So, rather than save $1000, you actually pay an extra $350 to the feds. In addition, you traded in a car that was most likely paid for. Now you have 4 or 5 years of payments on a car that you did not need, that was costing you less to run than the payments that you will now be making.
But wait, it gets even better: you also got ripped off by the dealer.
For example, every dealer here in LA was selling the Ford Focus with all the goodies including A/C, auto transmission, power windows, etc for $12,500 the month before the "cash for clunkers" program started.
When "cash for clunkers" came along, they stopped discounting them and instead sold them at the list price of $15,500. So, you paid $3000 more than you would have the month before. (Honda, Toyota, and Kia played the same list price game that Ford and Chevy did).
So lets do the final tally here:
You traded in a car worth: $3500
You got a discount of: $4500
Net so far +$1000
But you have to pay: $1350 in taxes on the $4500
Net so far: -$350
And you paid: $3000 more than the car was selling for the month before
We could also add in the additional taxes (sales tax, state tax, etc.) on the extra $3000 that you paid for the car, along with the 5 years of interest on the car loan but lets just stop here.
So who actually made out on the deal? The feds collected taxes on the car along with taxes on the $4500 they "gave" you. The car dealers made an extra $3000 or more on every car they sold along with the kickbacks from the manufacturers and the loan companies. The manufacturers got to dump lots of cars they could not give away the month before. And the poor stupid consumer got saddled with even more debt that they cannot afford.
Obama and his band of merry men convinced Joe consumer that he was getting $4500 in "free" money from the "government" when in fact Joe was giving away his $3500 car and paying an additional $3350 for the privilege
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / The UFC soap opera continues
on: September 24, 2009, 06:59:16 PM
Rampage claims he’s ‘done fighting’ in UFC
By Kevin Iole, Yahoo! Sports Sep 23, 2:38 am EDT
Former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is no longer part of the UFC’s “A-Team,” according to a post on his blog.
Jackson, one of mixed martial arts’ biggest stars, wrote “I’m done fighting” in a post on his official blog and expressed displeasure with UFC president Dana White.
White, who bailed Jackson out of jail last year after an incident in which Jackson was driving his truck on the wrong side of the street, was angry with Jackson for accepting a role as B.A. Baracus, made famous by Mr. T on NBC, in “The A-Team” movie. Jackson pulled out of a planned Dec. 12 fight with Rashad Evans because it conflicted with the movie’s filming schedule.
In his post, Jackson wrote of a series of disagreements with management, which he said began shortly after he signed with the UFC. He said he was rushed into a championship fight with Chuck Liddell in 2007 before he was known by American fans. He said after the win over Liddell, the UFC arranged a fight with Dan Henderson without asking him and then pressured him earlier this year into fighting Evans instead of taking a championship shot against Lyoto Machida.
Jackson said he wanted to take the movie role because he used to watch the television show with his father and it brought back fond memories.
“Dana went on the Internet and mocked me because of that and I still did nothing,” Jackson wrote. “Dana and I finally talked and we made up and then after that he went back on the Internet and said some [expletive] and he was talking bad about the movie, when information is not even supposed to be released … My body has been getting so many different injuries that I won’t be able to fight until my 40s and neither do I want to fight that long. So I feel like my second career could be in jeopardy. So I’m done fighting. I’ve been getting negative reviews from the dumb ass fans that don’t pay my bills or put my kids though college. So I’m hanging it up.”
White declined to comment Tuesday. He had made no secret of his displeasure with Jackson for taking the role and said prior to UFC 103 on Saturday that he had not been speaking with Jackson.
But White told reporters at the postfight news conference that he and Jackson had mended fences and were speaking.
“We kind of made up,” White said. “We’re going to figure it out. [Jackson] wants the Rashad fight. He’s in Vancouver doing this movie. It is what it is. Now we just have to figure out when. We’ll see what happens.”
Jackson and Evans are coaches on the current season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which airs on Spike TV. They were scheduled to fight Dec. 12 in Jackson’s hometown of Memphis, Tenn., at UFC 107.
The UFC’s stance has been that it has offered Jackson a choice after his victory over Keith Jardine at UFC 96 in March. He would have been able to fight Machida for the title at UFC 98 or to fight Evans. Jackson was angry that Evans came into the cage after his win over Jardine and Jackson reportedly chose the Evans fight.
At a media day in June in Las Vegas to promote the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Jackson said he took the opportunity to coach on the show because of the exposure it would give him. He was clearly angry that some fans suggested he was afraid of Machida and said he wanted to fight Machida after he met Evans.
But in his post Tuesday, Jackson said that wasn’t the case. At the time Jackson defeated Jardine at UFC 96 in March, Evans held the UFC’s light heavyweight belt. Jackson fought Jardine with a jaw injury that would later require surgery and he declined to fight Evans in May.
Instead, Machida got the bout and knocked Evans out to claim the title. After that fight, White announced that Jackson had chosen to fight Evans and the two agreed to meet at UFC 107 after the conclusion of TUF.
Jackson supported that position publicly in numerous interviews but wrote in his blog Tuesday that White told him what to say.
“ … When Rashad got knocked out [by Machida at UFC 98], I told them I wanted to fight Machida for the belt, but Dana told me if I coach TUF against Rashad that I could fight Machida afterwards cause this was a different type of Ultimate Fighter show they were doing,” Jackson wrote. “After I signed the contract, Dana then changes his mind and says I have to fight Rashad and even told me what to say in the press and so my fans think I was scared to fight Machida. After all that, I still never complained and I did it all.”
Copyright © 2009 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / Self Pity
on: September 24, 2009, 12:44:26 PM
Print this Page
By Tzvi Freeman
Self-pity is nothing less than an impulse to destroy yourself. And this is its script:
"This is the way you were made. These are the facts of your situation. It's bad. Worse than anybody else in the whole world. In fact, it's so bad, it's impossible to do anything about it. And therefore, you are free from any responsibility to clean it up. Nobody can blame you for anything."
Self-pity is a liar and a thief. A liar, because everyone is granted the power to clean up his own mess, if only he will try. A thief, because as long as it sits inside you, it is stealing away the days of your life.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / Re: September 20, 2009 Gathering
on: September 24, 2009, 11:11:18 AM
Even though I don't fight any more, for me too there is still the post-Gathering altered space.
This Gathering was a deeply satisfying one for me on many levels. The strength and spirit of our Tribe is strong. I now feel support in putting on the Gathering from so many people -- props in particular to Pappy Dog and his buddy Eric the Trainer, Kaju Dog and so many more-- that I did not feel so much sometimes in the past.
For me the day is a blur: watching someone who has struggled fiercely with his chatter finally step through the portal; feeling the vibrations of the altered states produced by the silence of a stick buzzing by your head; and so much more , , ,
What a magical trip this is!
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / WSJ: Charters do not cream
on: September 24, 2009, 11:06:48 AM
'Creaming" is the word critics of charter schools think ends the debate over education choice. The charge has long been that charters get better results by cherry-picking the best students from standard public schools. Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford economist, found a way to reliably examine this alleged bias, and the results are breakthrough news for charter advocates.
Her new study, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," shows that charter students, typically from more disadvantaged families in places like Harlem, perform almost as well as students in affluent suburbs like Scarsdale. Because there are more applicants than spaces, New York admits charter students with a lottery system. The study nullifies any self-selection bias by comparing students who attend charters only with those who applied for admission through the lottery, but did not get in. "Lottery-based studies," notes Ms. Hoxby, "are scientific and more reliable."
According to the study, the most comprehensive of its kind to date, New York charter applicants are more likely than the average New York family to be black, poor and living in homes with adults who possess fewer education credentials. But positive results already begin to emerge by the third grade: The average charter student is scoring 5.8 points higher than his lotteried-out peers in math and 5.3 points higher in English. In grades four through eight, the charter student jumps ahead by 5 more points each year in math and 3.6 points each year in English.
Charter students are also shrinking the learning gap between low-income minorities and more affluent whites. "On average," the report concludes, "a student who attended a charter school for all of the grades kindergarten through eight would close about 86% of the 'Scarsdale-Harlem achievement gap' in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English."
The New York results are not unique. In a separate study, Ms. Hoxby found Chicago's charters performing even better than the Big Apple's. Using the same methodology, other researchers have seen similar results in Boston.
Charters are also a bargain for taxpayers. Nationwide on average, per-pupil spending is 61% that of surrounding public schools. New York charters spend less than district schools but more than the national average because, unlike district schools, they generally have no capital budget and must pay rent from operating expenses.
Little wonder President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are pressuring states to become more charter-friendly. Why the Administration can't connect the dots from the evidence to other effective school choice reforms, such as vouchers, can only be explained by union politics. Caroline Hoxby has performed a public service by finally making clear that "creaming" is a crock.
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Science, Culture, & Humanities / P. Henry; Wilson; Hamilton; etc
on: September 24, 2009, 10:33:53 AM
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave." --Patrick Henry, speech in the Virginia Convention, 1775
"The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it." --James Wilson, Of the Study of Law in the United States, 1790
"As riches increase and accumulate in few hands, as luxury prevails in society, virtue will be in a greater degree considered as only a graceful appendage of wealth, and the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard. This is the real disposition of human nature." --Alexander Hamilton
"[T]here is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust." --James Madison
"I think we have more machinery of government than is necessary, too many parasites living on the labor of the industrious." --Thomas Jefferson
"The executive branch of this government never has, nor will suffer, while I preside, any improper conduct of its officers to escape with impunity." --George Washington
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Krauthammer
on: September 23, 2009, 08:24:37 PM
I'm afraid to see what His Kittiness came up with today.
Anyway, here's this:
Does He Lie?
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, September 18, 2009
You lie? No. Barack Obama doesn't lie. He's too subtle for that. He . . . well, you judge.
Herewith three examples within a single speech -- the now-famous Obama-Wilson "you lie" address to Congress on health care -- of Obama's relationship with truth.
(1) "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future," he solemnly pledged. "I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future. Period."
Wonderful. The president seems serious, veto-ready, determined to hold the line. Until, notes Harvard economist Greg Mankiw, you get to Obama's very next sentence: "And to prove that I'm serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don't materialize."
This apparent strengthening of the pledge brilliantly and deceptively undermines it. What Obama suggests is that his plan will require mandatory spending cuts if the current rosy projections prove false. But there's absolutely nothing automatic about such cuts. Every Congress is sovereign. Nothing enacted today will force a future Congress or a future president to make any cuts in any spending, mandatory or not.
Just look at the supposedly automatic Medicare cuts contained in the Sustainable Growth Rate formula enacted to constrain out-of-control Medicare spending. Every year since 2003, Congress has waived the cuts.
Mankiw puts the Obama bait-and-switch in plain language. "Translation: I promise to fix the problem. And if I do not fix the problem now, I will fix it later, or some future president will, after I am long gone. I promise he will. Absolutely, positively, I am committed to that future president fixing the problem. You can count on it. Would I lie to you?"
(2) And then there's the famous contretemps about health insurance for illegal immigrants. Obama said they would not be insured. Well, all four committee-passed bills in Congress allow illegal immigrants to take part in the proposed Health Insurance Exchange.
But more important, the problem is that laws are not self-enforcing. If they were, we'd have no illegal immigrants because, as I understand it, it's illegal to enter the United States illegally. We have laws against burglary, too. But we also provide for cops and jails on the assumption that most burglars don't voluntarily turn themselves in.
When Republicans proposed requiring proof of citizenship, the Democrats twice voted that down in committee. Indeed, after Rep. Joe Wilson's "You lie!" shout-out, the Senate Finance Committee revisited the language of its bill to prevent illegal immigrants from getting any federal benefits. Why would the Finance Committee fix a nonexistent problem?
(3) Obama said he would largely solve the insoluble cost problem of Obamacare by eliminating "hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud" from Medicare.
That's not a lie. That's not even deception. That's just an insult to our intelligence. Waste, fraud and abuse -- Meg Greenfield once called this phrase "the dread big three" -- as the all-purpose piggy bank for budget savings has been a joke since Jimmy Carter first used it in 1977.
Moreover, if half a trillion is waiting to be squeezed painlessly out of Medicare, why wait for health-care reform? If, as Obama repeatedly insists, Medicare overspending is breaking the budget, why hasn't he gotten started on the painless billions in "waste and fraud" savings?
Obama doesn't lie. He merely elides, gliding from one dubious assertion to another. This has been the story throughout his whole health-care crusade. Its original premise was that our current financial crisis was rooted in neglect of three things -- energy, education and health care. That transparent attempt to exploit Emanuel's Law -- a crisis is a terrible thing to waste -- failed for health care because no one is stupid enough to believe that the 2008 financial collapse was caused by a lack of universal health care.
So on to the next gambit: selling health-care reform as a cure for the deficit. When that was exploded by the Congressional Budget Office's demonstration of staggering Obamacare deficits, Obama tried a new tack: selling his plan as revenue-neutral insurance reform -- until the revenue neutrality is exposed as phony future cuts and chimerical waste and fraud.
Obama doesn't lie. He implies, he misdirects, he misleads -- so fluidly and incessantly that he risks transmuting eloquence into mere slickness.
Slickness wasn't fatal to "Slick Willie" Clinton because he possessed a winning, nearly irresistible charm. Obama's persona is more cool, distant, imperial. The charming scoundrel can get away with endless deception; the righteous redeemer cannot. firstname.lastname@example.org
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: The electoral process, vote fraud (ACORN et al), corruption etc.
on: September 23, 2009, 07:43:05 PM
ACORN Sues Filmmakers
ACORN has filed a lawsuit against the makers of a hidden-camera video that showed employees of its Baltimore office giving tax advice to a man posing as a pimp and a woman posing as a prostitute.
The liberal activist group contends that the audio portion of the video was obtained illegally because Maryland requires two-party consent to create sound recordings.
The two employees seen in the video were fired after it was posted online. The lawsuit says the employees, Tonja Thompson and Shera Williams, suffered "extreme emotional distress."
The multimillion-dollar lawsuit seeks damages from James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles, who played the pimp and prostitute in the videos, and from conservative columnist Andrew Breitbart, who posted the videos on his Web site.
BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press Writer (© 2009 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
DBMA Martial Arts Forum / Martial Arts Topics / DBMA DVD: "The Bolo Game"
on: September 23, 2009, 01:58:30 PM
We will be releasing the long secret "DBMA Vid-lesson: The Bolo Game" as a DVD.
One reason for the secrecy is that amongst the material taught is a variation of the Kalimba Dodger and I had promised Manong Kalimba not to share what he had share with me until after his passing. Now that he has passed, I am free to help the Art survive and reproduce.
Walk as a warrior for all our days,
Politics, Religion, Science, Culture and Humanities / Politics & Religion / Re: california
on: September 23, 2009, 01:47:31 PM
There are several variables unique to our situation which should come down one way or the other by next summer.
In addition to obvious variables if we move, I will want a place where my daughter can have a horse and Conrad can continue his lacrosse.
Texas (Fort Hood/Austin area perhaps?) is an option.