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Topic: Iran (Read 166966 times)
Reply #100 on:
September 27, 2007, 08:55:16 AM »
Caveat lector: NY Times
WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — A year and a half after President Bush told top aides that he feared he might be forced someday to choose between acquiescing to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and ordering military action, the struggle to find an effective alternative — sanctions with real bite — is entering a new phase.
The speech at the United Nations on Tuesday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is already being used by American officials in an effort to convince European allies that Iran’s leadership will respond only to a sharp new wave of economic pressure, far greater than anything it has endured so far. Mr. Ahmadinejad, trying to make the case that no additional sanctions would derail Iran’s uranium enrichment program, declared that “the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed.”
Until now, Washington has relied on gradually escalating sanctions, including convincing a growing number of banks that it is risky to lend new funds to Iran for major oil projects. Yet in interviews, American diplomats, White House officials and military officers acknowledge that the strategy has been largely ineffective.
So have veiled threats of military action. While President Bush and his aides insist that “all options are on the table,” senior officials say there is little enthusiasm in the White House or the Pentagon for military attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities, though they acknowledge that such war plans are always being refined.
The officials say the Iranians fully understand that while the United States could destroy Iran’s major nuclear facilities, it would be far harder to manage the probable response, which could include heightened attacks on American forces in Iraq, possible retaliation on Israel or the destabilization of governments from Lebanon to Pakistan.
Administration officials say that the chances appear slim that the United States can enlist Russia and China behind really tough sanctions against Iran, and that it could take several months for such sanctions to emerge, if they do at all.
But for the first time, administration officials say, the European allies are talking about a far broader cutoff of bank lending and technology to Iran than any tried so far. The lead is being taken by the new government in France, whose president, Nicolas Sarkozy, issued a starker warning to the United Nations this week about a nuclear Iran than did Mr. Bush.
That has created a new initiative between Washington and Paris unlike any since they split over the invasion of Iraq. The effort, said Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, is intended to convince Iranians that the nuclear program is “taking us into the ditch,” and to make the pressure so great “that they finally have to make a strategic choice.”
In a meeting on Tuesday with editors and reporters for The New York Times, Mr. Hadley conceded that the United States was still struggling to understand how much pressure it would take to force Iran to make what he called a “strategic choice” and said that intelligence estimates “vary widely” about how much time remained before the Iranians could have a weapon.
One senior European official who is taking part in conversations in New York this week to design sanctions that the entire European Union might agree to said it was now “a race between how fast they can build centrifuges and we can turn up the pain.”
So the discussions now center on cutting off even more lending to the Iranians and — for the first time — supplies of technology and other goods. But that would require severing, one by one, deep ties between European and Iranian businesses, and necessitate what Mr. Hadley called a consensus for “aggressive action, even if that means compromising their commercial interests.”
A range of officials acknowledged the difficulty of designing a military strike option effective enough to set the Iranian program back for many years.
While many of the sites have long been known — especially the giant underground complex at Natanz, where just shy of 2,000 centrifuges have been installed — there is no certainty that military action could destroy the entire system of well-disguised factories and laboratories, some known and some hidden.
And the turmoil certain to follow such an attack may not be worth military action that simply delays nuclear development, officials say.
That probably explains why Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both vowed to pursue the diplomatic track, saying that military action is a last resort. But those comments have not silenced the speculation here, in Europe and in the Middle East that America is planning for an attack.
“This constant drumbeat of war is not helpful, and it’s not useful,” said Adm. William J. Fallon, the senior American commander in the region.
Page 2 of 2)
In a telephone interview this week as he visited various regional capitals, Admiral Fallon pledged that the United States would “maintain our capabilities in that region of the world in an attempt to make sure that if they opt for military activity there, that is not going to be very useful to them.”
At the same time, he said, “we will pursue avenues that might result in some kind of improvement in Iranian behavior.”
“I am not talking about a war strategy, but a strategy to demonstrate our resolve,” Admiral Fallon said. “We have a very, very robust capability in the region, especially in comparison to Iran. That is one of the things that people might want to keep in mind. Our intention is to make sure they understand that, but we are being prudent in our actions and certainly not trying to be provocative.”
In recent days others have begun to speak openly about what the United States would face if Iran successfully fielded nuclear weapons or manufactured enough uranium to make clear that it could produce weapons in short order. It is that second possibility — in which Iran would stay within the strict rules of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty — that worries many intelligence officials.
Gen. John P. Abizaid, who retired this year as senior American commander in the Middle East, said that while the United States must do all it can to prevent Iran from going nuclear, the world could live with a nuclear Iran and could contain it.
“I believe that the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran, that the United States can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that makes it clear to them that while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons, they’ll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power, and they should not underestimate either our resolve or our ability to deal with them in the event of war,” General Abizaid said in a speech last week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington policy institute
He said the broad rules of deterrence that kept a nuclear peace between the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war, and remain in effect with nuclear Russia and China today, would be effective against a nuclear Iran.
“I believe nuclear deterrence will work with the Iranians,” General Abizaid said.
Inside the administration, senior officials say they have also considered organizing a regional forum to confront Iran, using as a model the “six party” talks with North Korea, an effort to put pressure on that country from all its neighbors. But in the Middle East, officials say, the idea has hardly gotten off the ground.
“As we talk to the regional leaders, we have yet to hear a single good idea for ways to find common ground, or a forum or framework for dealing with Iran,” said one senior official involved in Iran policy. The problem, officials say, is that none of Iran’s neighbors are willing and able to play the decisive role alongside the United States.
Reply #101 on:
September 27, 2007, 03:10:18 PM »
Second post of the day:
Bush and Iran
Tehran has been told it will pay a price for killing Americans, but it never has.
Thursday, September 27, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
The traveling Mahmoud Ahmadinejad circus made for great political theater this week, but the comedy shouldn't detract from its brazen underlying message: The Iranian President believes that the world lacks the will to stop Iran from pursuing its nuclear program, and that the U.S. also can't stop his country from killing GIs in Iraq. The question is what President Bush intends to do about this in his remaining 16 months in office.
Over the last five years, Mr. Bush has issued multiple and sundry warnings to Iran. In early 2002, he cautioned Iran that "if they in any way, shape or form try to destabilize the [Afghan] government, the coalition will deal with them, in diplomatic ways initially." In mid-2003, following revelations about the extent of Iran's secret nuclear programs, he insisted the U.S. "will not tolerate the construction of a nuclear weapon."
In January of this year, as evidence mounted that Iran was supplying sophisticated, armor-penetrating munitions to Shiite militias in Iraq, Mr. Bush was tougher still: "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
In February, he added that "I can speak with certainty that the Qods Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops." And as recently as this month's TV speech on Iraq, the President alerted Americans to the "destructive ambitions of Iran" and warned the mullahs that their efforts to "undermine [Iraq's] government must stop."
We belabor this rhetorical record because it so clearly contrasts with how little the Administration has done about it. As with Syria, the Bush Administration has repeatedly told Iran that it would have to pay a price for its hostile behavior while in the end demanding no such price. This undermines U.S. diplomacy, but in the case of GIs in Iraq it is worse: It means the Commander in Chief is letting an enemy kill Americans with impunity. And the Iranians have got the message: Mr. Ahmadinejad felt confident enough to declare this week at the U.N. that the issue of its nuclear program was "closed."
From 2003 to 2005, Mr. Bush outsourced his Iran policy to France, Germany and Britain, which wooed Tehran with trade concessions, security guarantees and promises of technical assistance. Iran rejected those offers, as it did a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on its own soil--but not without drawing out talks as long as possible.
The Administration finally succeeded in having Iran's Non-Proliferation Treaty violations referred to the U.N. Security Council in 2006, though by then Iran had mastered the technology of enriching uranium in a "cascade" of centrifuges. Many nuclear analysts consider this the point of no return toward a bomb. Intelligence reports also suggested that Iran had designs for casting uranium into hemispherical shapes--essential for making a bomb--and for marrying a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile.
So far there have been two "binding" U.N. resolutions on Iran's nuclear project, both notable mainly for their weakness. When Resolution 1747 passed this March, U.S. officials said the Security Council would move quickly to the next round. Instead, it has done nothing, even as Iran has moved to install industrial-scale (3,000-plus centrifuge) enrichment facilities.
The U.S. has also exerted some financial pressure on Iran, in part by pressing European companies to scale back their investments. This is useful, but only on the margins. The U.S. is now talking with France and others on developing sanctions outside the U.N., to avoid a Russian or Chinese veto. But these sanctions will apparently not include an embargo on Iran's imports of refined gasoline, which account for 40% of its domestic consumption.
The failure to act is similar regarding Iran's support for terror in Iraq. As early as August 2003, Paul Bremer noted Iran's "irresponsible conduct" in Iraq's affairs. In 2005, even Time magazine was reporting "Inside Iran's Secret War for Iraq." It was not until last summer that the U.S. began taking any kind of action against Iranian operatives in Iraq, most of them working under diplomatic cover.
This month U.S. forces arrested Mahmudi Farhadi, whose job description, according to the Iranian government, is head of "cross-border commercial transactions" for the western Iranian province of Kermanshah. Translation: Mr. Farhadi smuggles IEDs into Iraq. Wire reports say Mr. Farhadi's arrest is only the third such action against Iranian nationals this year.
According to information from an Iranian opposition group with a record of being right, Iran's Qods (Jerusalem) Force operates under the aegis of the Al-Najaf Al-Ashraf Al-Saqafieh Establishment, based in Najaf and run by Iranian mullah Hamid Hosseini. Arms deliveries are organized by a group called the "Headquarters for Reconstruction of Iraq's Holy Sites." Iran orchestrates these efforts from the Fajr Base, in the Iranian city of Ahwaz.
Administration officials tell us that Iranian-backed militias using Iranian-supplied arms now account for 70% of U.S. casualties in Iraq. U.S. forces also recently intercepted a shipment of shaped explosive devices that Iran was smuggling to insurgents in Afghanistan. This is at least the third time such shipments have been seized by coalition forces. Dan McNeill, NATO's senior commander in Kabul, notes that "it would be hard for me to imagine that they come into Afghanistan without the knowledge of at least the military in Iran."
The Administration seemed prepared last month to name the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (which runs the Qods Force) as a terrorist organization, a designation that would be amply justified. But once again, the State Department is equivocating amid Russian, Chinese and European opposition.
Meanwhile, on the nuclear issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad declared this week that he'll no longer cooperate with the U.N. Security Council, but only with Mohamed ElBaradei, the accommodating Egyptian who runs the U.N. nuclear agency. Our readers will recall that former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton warned Mr. Bush about Mr. ElBaradei and tried to block his wish for a third term. But Mr. Bush sided with State Department officials who supported Mr. ElBaradei, and now the U.S. has to live with his pro-Iranian machinations.
The Bush Presidency is running out of time to act if it wants to stop Iran from gaining a bomb. With GIs fighting and dying in Iraq, Mr. Bush also owes it to them not to allow enemy sanctuaries or weapons pipelines from Iran. If the President believes half of what he and his Administration have said about Iran's behavior, he has an obligation to do whatever it takes to stop it.
Reply #102 on:
October 06, 2007, 09:29:16 AM »
Insights into Iran can be gleaned from these masterly works.
BY MICHAEL LEDEEN
Saturday, October 6, 2007 12:01 a.m. EDT
1. "The Strangling of Persia" by W. Morgan Shuster (Century, 1912).
Iranians tend to believe that their destinies are shaped by powerful forces beyond their reach--and it's not just a collective fantasy. In the early 20th century, control over Persia was brutally exercised by Russia and Britain. Desperate Persian rulers of the time turned to the U.S. to find an expert who could sort out the kingdom's ransacked treasury. The man they chose, W. Morgan Shuster, fell in love with Iran and worked feverishly to introduce virtuous financial practices. He never had a chance; the Russians and Brits sent him packing. "The Strangling of Persia" is a remarkable account of life in a failed, corrupt state and a tale of heartbreak for an American who foolishly believes that he can prevail by force of will and hard work. Lessons for strategists abound.
2. "Know Thine Enemy" by Edward Shirley (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997).
When Reuel Marc Gerecht worked for the CIA as a Middle Eastern specialist (1985-94), the agency would not allow him to venture into Iran. But when he left the CIA to become a scholar (he is a colleague of mine at the American Enterprise Institute), he decided to sneak into the country by hiring a driver and hiding in a padded box on the floor of a truck. In "Know Thine Enemy," written under the pen name Edward Shirley, Mr. Gerecht describes the trip and what he found. "An Iranian can scream 'Death to America!' one moment and ask you sincerely a minute later to help his sister get a visa to the States, a land they both adore," he writes. "Those feelings are not contradictory; they are sequential. Commitments come and go, then return." Given Iranians' similar love-hate feelings about the mullahs who rule them and the West's decadence, he asks: "How do you know when Iranians aren't lying to themselves?" Mr. Gerecht doesn't know. How could he? They themselves don't.
3. "The Adventures of Haji Baba of Ispahan" by James Morier (1824).
James Morier, a British diplomat in Persia in the early 19th century, published "The Adventures of Haji Baba of Ispahan" to great success in 1824. Morier's tale, about a barber's son who seeks his fortune, is a delightful series of encounters that cut to the heart of Iranian society. We see the Chief Executioner explaining to Haji: "Do not suppose that the salary which the Shah gives his servants is a matter of much consideration with them: no, the value of their places depends upon the range of extortion which circumstances may afford, and upon their ingenuity in taking advantage of it." The culture of corruption is little changed in contemporary Iran. And the religious fanaticism that Morier tweaked also echoes down the years: A character named Nadan who wants to become Tehran's religious leader, Morier writes, has no peer "either as a zealous practiser of the ordinances of his religion, or a persecutor of those who might be its enemies."
4. "The Persian Puzzle" by Kenneth M. Pollack (Random House, 2004).
Kenneth M. Pollack spent years at the CIA, then migrated to the National Security Council during Bill Clinton's presidency. Like every other government official who has tried to normalize relations between Iran and the U.S., he came to grief. And like most such failed dreamers, he continued to believe that there must be a way. His odyssey is the best account we have of recent Iranian history and U.S.-Iranian relations. "The Persian Puzzle" is remarkably candid about the illusions and failures of the men and women for whom Mr. Pollack worked--people he often admired.
5. "Prisoner of Tehran" by Marina Nemat (Free Press, 2007).
Marina Nemat was arrested at age 16 in 1982 and held in Tehran's infamous Evin Prison for more than two years, accused of antiregime activity. She was not an activist but a friend of leftists and a Christian. In prison, she was interrogated and tortured, then sentenced to death. But a guard named Ali had fallen in love with her and saved her from execution. She remained in prison, though, and Ali became her husband--as well as a new source of menace when he forced her to convert to Islam by threatening her family. In "Prisoner of Tehran," her gripping, elegantly written memoir, Ms. Nemat, who now lives in Canada, reminds us that it is through the details of daily life that the evils of a regime such as the Islamic Republic are best understood.
Mr. Ledeen is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book, "The Iranian Time Bomb" (St. Martin's), has just been published.
Iran's foreign policy debate
Reply #103 on:
October 25, 2007, 08:39:27 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Intense Foreign Policy Debate
Iran is at a stage where friction in its policymaking is to be expected. Iran survives by having a very conservative foreign policy, but conservative does not mean quiet. During the past century all of Iran's meaningful regional rivals -- the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire, the Soviet Union, the Taliban and Iraq -- have collapsed. For the first time in centuries, Tehran has the opportunity to venture out of its redoubt in the Zagros Mountains and establish a buffer in Mesopotamia. Deciding the pace, tone and force to use in that task is the stuff of high policy, and Iran is understandably of many minds over which specific path to follow.
These debates are now coming to a boil within Iran. The confusion surrounding the surprise resignation of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, followed by false rumors of a resignation by Iran's foreign minister are all manifestations of an intense policy debate brewing in Tehran over the course Iran should take in pursuing its Iraq policy. The Iranians can either move toward a comprehensive agreement with the United States over Iraq that would come with security guarantees and involve a capitulation of sorts on its nuclear program; or it could choose to align with the Russians for some short-term, albeit shaky, security guarantees against a U.S. attack while it stays the course and tries to make things difficult enough in Iraq that the United States will change its mind and withdraw. In any case, the Iranians have clearly not made up their mind, and this debate is getting more intense by the day.
And the debate is not taking place in a vacuum. On Oct. 23 in Prague, Czech Republic, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates informed the Russians that the United States -- in order to reach an accommodation with the Russians over National Missile Defense (NMD) policy -- would not "activate" its planned Polish/Czech system until Iran's ballistic missile program was more clearly a threat. Russia feels that the system is the first step toward the United States nullifying the Russian nuclear deterrent. The United States insists it is about preparing for the day that Iran's missile program is ready for intercontinental prime time.
While subtle, Gates' offer is nonetheless a policy shift. Washington has moved from "we have to complete NMD because Iran is an immediate threat" to "we have to complete NMD, but we do not need to switch it on until Iran is close to having ICBMs." All Gates has really done is note that there is a little wiggle room in the construction schedule -- a move so subtle that Stratfor would brush off a single mention of it as unimportant. But Gates has persisted in offering and reoffering the deal, most recently in front of the Czechs. Place that repetition in the context of relations among the United States, Russia and Iran and it becomes of critical importance -- and the friction in Iran's inner circle is brought into sharp focus.
Russia is offering itself to Iran as a sort of informal security guarantor in order to gain influence with the Americans. The Iranians are seeking out Russian backing in order to gain influence with the Americans. Now the Americans are in essence telling the Russians that if they can keep Iran from developing intercontinental missiles, then the United States does not necessarily need to complete the NMD system that so concerns the Kremlin.
The Russian response came from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who -- in the middle of an agonizingly long speech -- noted that Russia wanted "the joint work of Russian and American specialists to be more efficient." For those of you not fluent in Russian bureaucratese, that translates to, "Interesting. Let's talk details."
So we have the Russians and Americans groping toward some sort of talks on the NMD issue, something that by definition would involve the two powers actively putting limitations on Iranian weapons development. And we have a fierce debate in Tehran -- likely over how far it can trust the Russians, who are perfectly willing to sell Iran out if it means brokering a deal with the United States. To complete the picture all that is needed is a sudden change in the American-Iranian impasse over Iraq.
And that happened in an interview Gen. David Petraeus gave the British Broadcasting Corp.'s Baghdad bureau. Since testifying to the U.S. Congress in September, Petraeus has more or less spouted on about how evil the Iranians are for their anti-American efforts in Iraq. In the interview published on Wednesday he flatly called for a new round of talks with Iran on the topic of Iraqi security questions.
So the Russians and Iranians are baiting each other while the Americans are sounding out the Russians, and now the Iranians are entertaining an American offer to negotiate on Iraq. Where all this will develop is of course entirely up in the air. An American-Russian deal would isolate Iran just as easily as an American-Iranian deal would cut out Russia or a serious Russian-Iranian deal would hamstring Washington. But for the first time in several weeks there is a hint that Russia and Iran are not actually in lockstep and that there is room to maneuver on the American side. This could still all go straight to hell, but Washington is still in the game.
Reply #104 on:
October 25, 2007, 10:36:46 AM »
Some details exemplifying the preceding:
IRAN: Iran has commissioned Imad Mughniyye, Hezbollah official for foreign operations, to organize cells of Shiite operatives in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to operate against U.S. and pro-U.S. Arabs in the event of war against Iran, a Stratfor source in Lebanon said. Trainees from the Persian Gulf region reportedly have arrived in Lebanon and are conducting drills in the Bekaa Valley.
CZECH REPUBLIC, RUSSIA: The Czech Republic could allow Russia to inspect a site where the United States plans to construct a radar as part of a proposed missile shield in Europe, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said. Russian experts would not be allowed to maintain a permanent presence either during the radar's construction or after the base becomes operational, but they could be given specific dates for inspections, Topolanek said in an interview with Czech television.
U.S., IRAN: New U.S. sanctions aimed at punishing Iran for missile sales, nuclear activities and support of "terrorist organizations" will cut off Iranian entities from the U.S. financial system, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. The sanctions target the Quds Force, Bank Melli and two other state-owned banks, and companies controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. U.S. companies are prohibited from doing business with the designated groups, and any assets the groups have in the United States will be frozen.
CHINA: China denied reports that it had agreed to sell two squadrons of J-10 fighter planes to Iran. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman called the reports "irresponsible" and said no talks had taken place. Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported the deal Oct. 24.
The French straddle the fence
Reply #105 on:
October 29, 2007, 02:06:46 PM »
FRANCE, IRAN: French Defense Minister Herve Morin dismissed earlier comments by International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei, who said there is no evidence Iran is building nuclear weapons. Morin said France has conflicting evidence that matches information gathered by other countries. However, he added, "The prospect of a war is a prospect which does not exist for France."
Reply #106 on:
October 30, 2007, 04:08:10 PM »
War Plans: United States and Iran
By George Friedman
A possible U.S. attack against Iran has been a hot topic in the news for many months now. In some quarters it has become an article of faith that the Bush administration intends to order such an attack before it leaves office. It remains a mystery whether the administration plans an actual attack or whether it is using the threat of attack to try to intimidate Iran -- and thus shape its behavior in Iraq and elsewhere. Unraveling the mystery lies, at least in part, in examining what a U.S. attack would look like, given U.S. goals and resources, as well as in considering the potential Iranian response. Before turning to intentions, it is important to discuss the desired outcomes and capabilities. Unfortunately, those discussions have taken a backseat to speculations about the sheer probability of war.
Let's begin with goals. What would the United States hope to achieve by attacking Iran? On the broadest strategic level, the answer is actually quite simple. After 9/11, the United States launched counterstrikes in the Islamic world. The goal was to disrupt the al Qaeda core in order to prevent further attacks against the United States. The counterstrikes also were aimed at preventing the emergence of a follow-on threat from the Islamic world that would replace the threat that had been posed by al Qaeda. The disruption of all Islamic centers of power that have the ability and intent to launch terrorist attacks against the United States is a general goal of U.S. strategy. With the decline of Sunni radicalism, Iran has emerged as an alternative Shiite threat. Hence, under this logic, Iran must be dealt with.
Obviously, the greater the disruption of radically anti-American elements in the Islamic world, the better it is for the United States. But there are three problems here. First, the United States has a far more complex relationship with Iran than it does with al Qaeda. Iran supported the U.S. attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- for its own reasons, of course. Second, the grand strategy of the United States might include annihilating Islamic radicalism, but at the end of the day, maintaining the balance of power between Sunnis and Shia and between Arab and non-Arab Muslims is a far more practical approach. Finally, the question of what to do about Iran depends on the military capabilities of the United States in the immediate future. The intentions are shaped by the capabilities.
What, therefore, would the U.S. goals be in an attack against Iran? They divide into three (not mutually exclusive) strategies:
1. Eliminating Iran's nuclear program.
2. Crippling Iran by hitting its internal infrastructure -- political, industrial and military -- ideally forcing regime change that would favor U.S. interests.
3. Using an attack -- or threatening an attack -- to change Iranian behavior in Iraq, Lebanon or other areas of the world.
It is important to note the option that is not on the table: invasion by U.S. ground forces, beyond the possible use of small numbers of Special Operations forces. Regardless of the state of Iranian conventional forces after a sustained air attack, the United States simply does not have the numbers of ground troops needed to invade and occupy Iran -- particularly given the geography and topography of the country. Therefore, any U.S. attack would rely on the forces available, namely air and naval forces.
The destruction of Iran's nuclear capabilities would be the easiest to achieve, assuming that U.S. intelligence has a clear picture of the infrastructure of that program and that the infrastructure has not been hardened to the point of being invulnerable to conventional attack. Iran, however, learned a great deal from Iraq's Osirak experience and has spread out and hardened its nuclear facilities. Also, given Iran's location and the proximity of U.S. forces and allies, we can assume the United States would not be interested in a massive nuclear attack with the resulting fallout. Moreover, we would argue that, in a world of proliferation, it would not be in the interest of the United States to set a precedent by being the first use to use nuclear weapons since World War II.
Therefore, the U.S. option is to carry out precision strikes against Iran's nuclear program using air- and sea-launched munitions. As a threat, this is in an interesting option. As an actual operation, it is less interesting. First, the available evidence is that Iran is years away from achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon. Second, Iran might be more interested in trading its nuclear program for other political benefits -- specifically in Iraq. An attack against the country's nuclear facilities would make Tehran less motivated than before to change its behavior. Furthermore, even if its facilities were destroyed, Iran would retain its capabilities in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, unless the United States believed there was an imminent threat of the creation of a deliverable nuclear system, the destruction of a long-term program would eliminate the long-term threat, but leave Iran's short-term capabilities intact. Barring imminent deployment, a stand-alone attack against Iran's nuclear capabilities makes little sense.
That leaves the second option -- a much broader air and sea campaign against Iran. This would have four potential components:
1. Attacks against its economic infrastructure, particularly its refineries.
2. Attacks against its military infrastructure.
3. Attacks against its political infrastructure, particularly its leadership.
4. A blockade and sanctions.
Let's begin in reverse order. The United States has the ability to blockade Iran's ports, limiting the importation of oil and refined products, as well as food. It does not have the ability to impose a general land blockade against Iran, which has long land borders, including with Iraq. Because the United States lacks the military capability to seal those borders, goods from around Iran's periphery would continue to flow, including, we emphasize, from Iraq, where U.S. control of transportation systems, particularly in the Shiite south, is limited. In addition, it is unclear whether the United States would be willing to intercept, board and seize ships from third-party countries (Russia, China and a large number of small countries) that are not prepared to participate in sanctions or might not choose to respect an embargo. The United States is stretched thin, and everyone knows it. A blockade could invite deliberate challenges, while enforcement would justify other actions against U.S. interests elsewhere. Any blockade strategy assumes that Iran is internationally isolated, which it is not, that the United States can impose a military blockade on land, which it cannot, and that it can withstand the consequences elsewhere should a third party use U.S. actions to justify counteraction, which is questionable. A blockade could hurt Iran's energy economy, but Iran has been preparing for this for years and can mitigate the effect by extensive smuggling operations. Ultimately, Iran is not likely to crumble unless the United States can maintain and strengthen the blockade process over a matter of many months at the very least.
Another option is a decapitation strike against Iran's leadership -- though it is important to recall how this strategy failed in Iraq at the beginning of the 2003 invasion. Decapitation assumes superb intelligence on the location of the leadership at a given time -- and that level of intelligence is hard to come by. Iraq had a much smaller political elite than Iran has, and the United States couldn't nail down its whereabouts. It also is important to remember that Iran has a much deeper and more diverse leadership structure than Iraq had. Iraq's highly centralized system included few significant leaders. Iran is more decentralized and thus has a much larger and deeper leadership cadre. We doubt the United States has the real-time intelligence capability to carry out such a broad decapitation strike.
The second option is an assault against the Iranian military. Obviously, the United States has the ability to carry out a very effective assault against the military's technical infrastructure -- air defense, command and control, aircraft, armor and so on. But the Iranian military is primarily an infantry force, designed for internal control and operations in mountainous terrain -- the bulk of Iran's borders. Once combat operations began, the force would disperse and tend to become indistinguishable from the general population. A counterpersonnel operation would rapidly become a counterpopulation operation. Under any circumstances, an attack against a dispersed personnel pool numbering in the high hundreds of thousands would be sortie intensive, to say the least. An air campaign designed to impose high attrition on an infantry force, leaving aside civilian casualties, would require an extremely large number of sorties, in which the use of precision-guided munitions would be of minimal value and the use of area weapons would be at a premium. Given the fog of war and intelligence issues, the ability to evaluate the status of this campaign would be questionable.
In our view, the Iranians are prepared to lose their technical infrastructure and devolve command and control to regional and local levels. The collapse of the armed forces -- most of whose senior officers and noncoms fought in the Iran-Iraq war with very flexible command and control -- is unlikely. The force would continue to be able to control the frontiers as well as maintain internal security functions. The United States would rapidly establish command of the air, and destroy noninfantry forces. But even here there is a cautionary note. In Yugoslavia, the United States learned that relatively simple camouflage and deception techniques were quite effective in protecting tactical assets. The Iranians have studied both the Kosovo war and U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have extensive tactical combat experience themselves. A forced collapse from the air of the Iranian infantry capability -- the backbone of Iran's military -- is unlikely.
This leaves a direct assault against the Iranian economic infrastructure. Although this is the most promising path, it must be remembered that counterinfrastructure and counterpopulation strategic air operations have been tried extensively. The assumption has been that the economic cost of resistance would drive a wedge between the population and the regime, but there is no precedent in the history of air campaigns for this assumption. Such operations have succeeded in only two instances: Japan and Kosovo. In Japan, counterpopulation operations of massive proportions involving conventional weapons were followed by two atomic strikes. Even in that case, there was no split between regime and population, but a decision by the regime to capitulate. The occupation in Kosovo was not so much because of military success as diplomatic isolation. That isolation is not likely to happen in Iran.
In all other cases -- Britain, Germany, Vietnam, Iraq -- air campaigns by themselves did not split the population from the regime or force the regime to change course. In Britain and Vietnam, the campaigns failed completely. In Germany and Iraq (and Kuwait), they succeeded because of follow-on attacks by overwhelming ground forces.
The United States could indeed inflict heavy economic hardship, but history suggests that this is more likely to tighten the people's identification with the government -- not the other way around. In most circumstances, air campaigns have solidified the regime's control over the population, allowing it to justify extreme security measures and generating a condition of intense psychological resistance. In no case has a campaign led to an uprising against the regime. Moreover, a meaningful campaign against economic infrastructure would take some 4 million barrels per day off of the global oil market at a time when oil prices already are closing in on $100 a barrel. Such a campaign is more likely to drive a wedge between the American people and the American government than between the Iranians and their government.
For an air campaign to work, the attacking power must be prepared to bring in an army on the ground to defeat the army that has been weakened by the air campaign -- a tactic Israel failed to apply last summer in Lebanon. Combined arms operations do work, repeatedly. But the condition of the U.S. Army and Marines does not permit the opening of a new theater of operations in Iran. Most important, even if conditions did permit the use of U.S. ground forces to engage and defeat the Iranian army -- a massive operation simply by the size of the country -- the United States does not have the ability to occupy Iran against a hostile population. The Japanese and German nations were crushed completely over many years before an overwhelming force occupied them. What was present there, but not in Iraq, was overwhelming force. That is not an option for Iran.
Finally, consider the Iranian response. Iran does not expect to defeat the U.S. Air Force or Navy, although the use of mine warfare and anti-ship cruise missiles against tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz should not be dismissed. The Iranian solution would be classically asymmetrical. First, they would respond in Iraq, using their assets in the country to further complicate the occupation, as well as to impose as many casualties as possible on the United States. And they would use their forces to increase the difficulty of moving supplies from Kuwait to U.S. forces in central Iraq. They also would try to respond globally using their own forces (the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), as well as Hezbollah and other trained Shiite militant assets, to carry out counterpopulation attacks against U.S. assets around the world, including in the United States.
If the goal is to eliminate Iran's nuclear program, we expect the United States would be able to carry out the mission. If, however, the goal is to compel a change in the Iranian regime or Iranian policy, we do not think the United States can succeed with air forces alone. It would need to be prepared for a follow-on invasion by U.S. forces, coming out of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Those forces are not available at this point and would require several years to develop. That the United States could defeat and occupy Iran is certain. Whether the United States has a national interest in devoting the time and the resources to Iran's occupation is unclear.
The United States could have defeated North Vietnam with a greater mobilization of forces. However, Washington determined that the defeat of North Vietnam and the defense of Indochina were not worth the level of effort required. Instead, it tried to achieve its ends with the resources it was prepared to devote to the mission. As a result, resources were squandered and the North Vietnamese flag flies over what was Saigon.
The danger of war is that politicians and generals, desiring a particular end, fantasize that they can achieve that end with insufficient resources. This lesson is applicable to Iran.
Reply #107 on:
November 02, 2007, 11:14:08 AM »
How Europe Can Pressure Iran
By PATRICK CLAWSON and MICHAEL JACOBSON
November 2, 2007
The U.S. ratcheted up the financial pressure against Tehran last week, unilaterally slapping sanctions on Iran's powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp, three state-owned banks, and a number of key officials for their involvement in the regime's terrorist financing and WMD-related activities. Realizing the leverage that American financial markets give Washington, senior U.S. Treasury officials have been telling global financial institutions in the last couple of years that doing business with Iran could do great harm to their reputation and complicate their access to the U.S. market. As a result, a number of global institutions -- including Switzerland's UBS and Credit Suisse and Germany's Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank -- have either terminated or dramatically reduced business with Iran.
There are limits to this unilateral strategy, though. Companies and financial institutions that do not operate in the U.S. may be willing to ignore Washington's warnings. But being cut off from New York and the world's other leading financial capital, London, is a risk not too many of these firms would be willing to take. Few could afford to relocate to a smaller financial hub and miss out on the opportunities only the City of London or New York could offer just to continue doing business with Iran.
It is therefore encouraging that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown immediately backed Washington, noting that "we endorse the U.S. administration's efforts to apply further pressure on the Iranian regime." But while public support from the U.S.'s closest ally will undoubtedly help bolster the impact of the unilateral actions, the U.K. could do far more.
If the British government were to send a similarly strong warning to banks, it could dramatically increase the financial pressure on Iran. More than 550 international banks and 170 global security houses have a presence in London. Between $50-100 billion of Middle Eastern money will enter London in the next few years, estimates Peter Weinberg, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs International. Coordinated visits by top U.S. and U.K. officials to major financial institutions could be a particularly effective way to get the message across that business with Iran is risky so long as Tehran ignores the U.N. Security Council orders about its nuclear program. A joint U.S.-U.K. effort might carry particular weight coming on the heels of the Financial Action Task Force's Oct. 11 statement on Iran. Founded by the G7, the 34-country body instructed financial institutions to use "enhanced due diligence" when dealing with Iran to avoid inadvertently contributing to terrorist financing and money laundering. As U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said after Washington's latest step against Tehran: "In dealing with Iran, it is nearly impossible to know one's customer and be assured that one is not unwittingly facilitating the regime's reckless conduct."
While the U.K. wields particularly powerful tools, there may also be other European countries now willing and ready to ramp up financial and economic pressure against Iran. Ideally, this would be done at the European Union level -- something that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been pushing for. But in the absence of a third U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing additional sanctions, many EU countries, primarily Germany, Austria and Spain, appear reluctant. The French have thus suggested that those European countries willing to act need not wait for unanimity. In fact, France has already announced that it is pressing large French companies to refrain from investing in Iran.
A combined initiative by the U.S. and individual European countries to press Iran may strengthen the hand of those in Tehran arguing for accommodation. It would also be a good way to show China, Russia and laggard European governments that with or without them, action will be taken against Iran. If they are dissatisfied with this approach, they should first spell out a realistic alternative that could bring Iran to suspend its enrichment program.
Mr. Clawson is the Washington Institute's deputy director for research and author of several books on Iran. Mr. Jacobson, a senior fellow in the institute's Stein Program on Terrorism, Intelligence, and Policy, previously served as a senior advisor in the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.
Reply #108 on:
November 04, 2007, 10:32:30 AM »
Holocaust Denial and Tehran
By ROYA HAKAKIAN
November 3, 2007; Page A8
Dictatorships bear paradoxes. I came across a set of them 10 years ago, when I hosted a dinner for two female Iranian medical students who'd come to Yale Medical School on a rare academic exchange program. These impressive women had climbed to the top 10th percentile in a man's profession, in a man's country. But I was stunned to learn that -- despite 16 years of education at some of Iran's premiere schools -- neither had ever heard of the word "Holocaust," or thought of Hitler as anything but the German equivalent of Napoleon.
Tehran's Holocaust denial did not begin with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It began in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent miseducation of the entire post-revolutionary generation. The Holocaust did not exist in the textbooks of my two young guests, and there was hardly any literature about it in Persian.
Now, millions of Iranian youths are hearing about the Holocaust for the first time through the airing of a government-sponsored soap opera called "Zero Degree Turn." In it, the Islamic Republic's handpicked director, Hassan Fatthi, breaks the regime's taboos. Beautiful women appear without the Islamic dress code. Men and women also come together, hold hands, and even fall into a fleeting embrace.
In the end, however, the program offers little more than an aesthetically pleasing venue for the regime's usual diatribes. Its linchpin is a conspiracy theory: Two Israeli agents assassinate the chief rabbi of Tehran to frighten the Iranian Jewish community into leaving Iran for Israel. The noble chief of the Iranian embassy in France, Abdol Hossein Sardari, who facilitated the escape of hundreds of Iranian and French Jews by providing them with Iranian passports, is portrayed as a mere opportunist motivated by bribes.
The good news is that Iran is now home to a highly rebellious young generation that is deeply disenchanted with the status quo and suspicious of government propaganda in all its forms, including misinformation about Jews and Israel. Iranians actually possess a healthy curiosity toward Israel. In the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, for example, young Iranians were reportedly not interested in supporting Hezbollah, and were vehemently against their government's investment in it.
Unfortunately, Mr. Ahmadinejad steals the spotlight. With his threats toward Israel and his dreams of a nuclear Iran he has engendered a fear, however legitimate, that too often blinds Western and Israeli leaders of the broader, more complex realities of the Iranian people. American, European and Israeli media are full of dire warnings about the threat of a nuclear Iran. There is little mention of the plight of the Iranians themselves, or the ripe opportunity presented by a nation disenchanted with 30 years of theocratic rule: A people that has historically been friendly to Jews, can, with some effort, be so once again.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, along with his coterie of fundamentalist radicals, is already a threat to Israel and the region. But they do not represent everyday Iranians. And as much as the regime in Tehran would like to deny it, a more accepting, rational view of Israel was once held by Iranian leaders.
In the early 1960s, several leading Iranian intellectuals traveled to Israel on the invitation of the Israeli foreign ministry and for the most part, the travelogues of their trips amounted to what may be the longest love letter to Israel ever to be penned in Persian. That sentiment, of course, would change dramatically. But for several years at least, it seemed that it would determine the attitude of an entire generation toward Israel.
Iran's Holocaust education could begin in Iran itself. Through the Port of Pahlavi in 1942, tens of thousands of Polish refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish, escaped the Nazis found a safe haven in Iran. Eventually, the majority of them relocated to other parts of the world. Yet, hundreds fell in love with "Persia" and stayed. Iranians could learn of their shared history with the Jewish people by visiting the hundreds of Polish graves in Tehran's Doulab cemetery alone.
Despite the regime's anti-Semitic rhetoric, the people have held fast to the values of their ancient civilization. They pride themselves on the idea that they have accepted members of other religions and ethnicities as equals, and as Iranians.
Ms. Hakakian is the author of "Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran" (Three Rivers Press, 2005), a memoir of growing up Jewish in Iran.
Reply #109 on:
November 12, 2007, 07:32:18 PM »
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called domestic critics of his nuclear policies "traitors" who spied for Iran's enemies, The Associated Press reported Nov. 12. Ahmadinejad also warned that he would expose the critics. "If internal elements do not stop pressures concerning the nuclear issue, they will be exposed to the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to students at Tehran's Science and Industry University. "We have made promises to the people and believe anyone giving up over the nuclear issue is a traitor."
Reply #110 on:
November 13, 2007, 11:05:05 AM »
IRAN, CHINA: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi arrived in Iran for talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki regarding Tehran's nuclear program, state news agency IRNA reported. Ahead of the visit, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying, "We urge Iran to respond to the concerns of the international community and take a more flexible stance so as to promote a resolution on the issue."
U.K., IRAN: The United Kingdom plans to push to curb investments in Iran if the Iranian government fails to address the nuclear issue, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Nov. 12, according to media reports. Unless EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the International Atomic Energy Agency provide positive reports on Iran's activities, Brown said his country "will lead in seeking tougher sanctions both at the United Nations and in the European Union, including on oil and gas investment and the financial sector."
Reply #111 on:
November 14, 2007, 11:36:48 AM »
This Asia Times article (below) makes an amazing observation on Iran demographics. The fertility rate in Iran has fallen to only 0.66 children per female, a third of the population replacement rate of 2.1. A generation ago, it stood at 6.5. One tenth of what it was.
First my own quick comments on the previous two posts in the Iran thread: 1) The Chinese visiting Iran is definitely interesting. We will know how it went when it comes time for China to vote on sanctions. But China's vote will tell more about the state of Chinese relations with the US than about Iran's nuclear program. 2) Iran President 'Nut-job' may call protesters "traitors", call for wiping Israel off the map, deny the holocaust, build explosive devices that kill Americans, pursue nuclear weapons, etc. but the mainstream here didn't take notice until he denied there are gays in Iran. Go figure.
Why Iran is dying for a fight (excerpt)
Iran's demographic catastrophe in the making, I have long argued, impels Tehran to stake its claim for regional empire quickly, while it still has the manpower to do so. Now one of the world's most attentive students of the global South, Prof Philip Jenkins, has taken notice of Iran's population bust and come to a conclusion diametrically opposite to mine. Writing in the November 9 New Republic, he opines, "there's a good chance that [Iran's] declining fertility rates will usher in a new era of stability...".
It pains me to take Prof Jenkins to the woodshed - I gave his last book a glowing review  - but it does not seem to have occurred to him that things which make peace inevitable in the long run may propel countries into war in the short run. The textbook example (if we had a competent textbook) would be France in 1914, which sought a quick war because its falling birth rate ensured that it could not beat Germany unless it did so immediately.
Population decline eventually leads to stability, but not necessarily by a direct path.
Before Iran is buried, it will have occasion to command the undivided attention of the West. The rulers of the Persian pocket-empire know better than Jenkins that today's soldiers will become pensioners a generation hence, turning a belligerent and ambitious country into an impoverished, geriatric ruin. They believe that Iran has a last opportunity for greatness, on which they will stake their last dinar. I summarized the evidence in a series of essays in this space, including The demographics of radical Islam (Aug 23, 2005) and Demographics and Iran's imperial design (Sept 13, 2005).
As Jenkins reports, Iran's fertility rate has fallen to only 0.66 children per female, a third of the population replacement rate of 2.1. A generation ago, it stood at 6.5. In other words, Iran presently has a bulge of military-age men as cannon-fodder. In a generation it will not be able to fill the ranks.
Reply #112 on:
November 14, 2007, 12:44:33 PM »
The birth rate numbers stated in the article are quite extraordinary-- working from memory here of my reading of Mark Steyn's "America Alone", Germany is a disaster at 1.3 and Spain is in a virtual spiral down the drain at 1.1 (2.1 is the level at which a population maintains), but .66?!? After 6.5?!? If I calculate correctly, at 6.5 rate means that there was a population growth rate of 4.4%!!! Still working from memory, when I studied Mexico in the seventies its pop growth rate was 3.6 or so (which was considered off the charts, and 4.4% is roughly 4/3 of that rate!!!) and that the numbers cranked out to half its population being 16 years of age or less.
I must say that I find both numbers highly unusual and would like to see some sort of confirmation elsewhere.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards
Reply #113 on:
November 15, 2007, 09:52:28 PM »
Who Are Iran's Revolutionary Guards?
By AMIR TAHERI
November 15, 2007; Page A25
The scene is a board meeting of Bank Sepah, Iran's second-largest financial institution, in Tehran. The directors are waiting for the sardar (literally "head-owner") to arrive. But the sardar is in a changing room, shedding his uniform for a civilian suit. The man in question is Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the new commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which owns and controls the bank.
Most Americans already know more about the IRGC than they'd like to. In September the Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a nonbinding resolution urging President Bush to label the IRGC a terrorist group. He did so a month later and has since implemented harsh new sanctions targeting the business interests of the IRGC. As Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson told the press recently, "It is increasingly likely that if you are doing business with Iran you are doing business with the IRGC."
Still, there is much about this organization that is misunderstood. The IRGC is a unique beast. It is an army answerable to no one but the "Supreme Leader" of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is also a business conglomerate that controls over 500 companies active in a wide range of industries -- from nuclear power to banking, life insurance to holiday resorts and shopping centers. By most estimates, the IRGC is Iran's third-largest corporation -- after the National Iranian Oil Company and the Imam Reza Endowment in the "holy" city of Mashhad, northeast of Tehran.
The Islamic Republic established by the Ayatollah Khomeini after the ouster of the Shah in 1979, is often labeled a "mullahrchy" -- a theocracy dominated by the Shiite clergy. The truth, however, is that a majority of Shiite clerics never converted to Khomeinism and did not endorse the Islamic Republic. In the past few years, especially since the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, those mullahs who converted to Khomeinism have lost some of their power and privileges. Today, the IRGC is the dominant force within the ruling establishment in Tehran. It is not a monolith, and to label all of it a "terrorist" organization as the Bush administration has done, may make it difficult to strike deals with parts of it when, and if, the opportunity arises.
A thorough analysis of the IRGC must take into account a number of facts. First, the IRGC is not a revolutionary army in the sense that the ALN was in Algeria or the Vietcong in Vietnam. Those were born during revolutionary wars in which they became key players.
The IRGC was created after the Khomeinist revolution had succeeded. This fact is of crucial importance. Those who joined the IRGC came from all sorts of backgrounds. The majority were opportunists. By joining the IRGC, they could not only obtain revolutionary credentials, often on fictitious grounds, but would also secure well-paying jobs, at a time that economic collapse made jobs rare.
Joining the IRGC enabled many who had cooperated with the ancien regime to rewrite their CVs and obtain "revolutionary virginity." Membership of the IRGC ensured access to rare goods and services, from color TVs to more decent housing. As the years went by, IRGC membership provided a fast track to social, political and economic success. Today, half of President Ahmadinejad's cabinet ministers are members of the IRGC, as is the president himself. IRGC members hold nearly a third of seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis), the ersatz parliament created in 1979. Twenty of Iran's 30 provinces have governors from the IRGC. IRGC members have also started capturing key posts in the diplomatic service. Today, for the first time, the Islamic Republic's ambassadors in such important places as the United Nations in New York and embassies in a dozen Western capitals are members of the IRGC.
But it is as an economic power that the IRGC weighs so heavily on Iranian politics. In 2004, a Tehran University study estimated the annual turnover of IRGC businesses at $12 billion with total net profits of $1.9 billion. The privatization package prepared by President Ahmadinejad is likely to increase the IRGC's economic clout. Almost all of the public-sector companies marked for privatization -- at a total value of $18 billion -- are likely to end up in the hands of the IRGC and its individual commanders.
The crown jewel of the IRGC's business empire is the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, which has cost the nation over $10 billion so far. This is part of a broader scheme of arms purchases and manufacture, which in total accounts for almost 11% of the annual national budget.
The IRGC also controls the lucrative business of "exporting the revolution" estimated to be worth $1.2 billion a year. It finances branches of the Hezbollah movement in at least 20 countries, including some in Europe, and provides money, arms and training for radical groups with leftist backgrounds. In recent years, it has emerged as a major backer of the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas and both Shiite and Sunni armed groups in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The vehicle through which the IRGC "exports" revolution is a special unit known as The Quds (Jerusalem) Force. This consists of 15,000 highly trained men and women specializing in "martyrdom operations," a code word for guerrilla war, armed insurgency and terrorism. The Islamic Republic has invested some $20 billion in Lebanon since 1983. In most cases, the Lebanese branch of the Hezbollah is nominally in control. However, a closer examination reveals that in most cases the Lebanese companies are fronts for Iranian concerns controlled by the IRGC.
The IRGC is divided into five commands, each of which has a direct line to the Ayatollah Khamenei. To minimize the risk of coup d'etat, IRGC's senior officers are not allowed to engage in "sustained communication" with one another on "sensitive subjects." Of the five commands in question, two could be regarded as "terrorist" according to the U.S. State Department's definition that, needless to say, is rejected by the Islamic Republic.
One command is in charge of the already mentioned Quds Corps, which is waging indirect war against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Apart from Hezbollah and Hamas, it also runs a number of radical groups across the globe.
The second command ensures internal repression. It operates through several auxiliary forces, including the notorious Karbala, Ashura and Al Zahra (an all female unit) brigades, which are charged with crushing popular revolt. Many Iranians see these as instruments of terror.
As a parallel to the regular army, the IRGC has its ground forces, navy and air force. It also controls the so-called Basij Mustadafin (mobilization of the dispossessed), a fanatical, semi-voluntary force of 90,000 full-time fighters that could be built up to 11 million according to its commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Hejazi. The IRGC's own strength stands at 125,000 men. Its officers' corps, including those in retirement, numbers around 55,000 and is as divided on domestic and foreign policies as the rest of society.
Some IRGC former commanders who did not share the Islamic Republic's goals have already defected to the U.S. Hundreds of others have gone into low-profile exile, mostly as businessmen in the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Turkey. An unknown number were purged because they refused to kill anti-regime demonstrators in Iranian cities.
Many prominent IRGC commanders may be regarded as businessmen first and military leaders second. Usually, they have a brother or a cousin in Europe or Canada to look after their business interests and keep a channel open to small and big "satans" in case the regime falls.
A few IRGC commanders, including some at the top, do not relish a conflict with the U.S. that could destroy their business empires without offering Iran victory on the battlefield. Indeed, there is no guarantee that, in case of a major war, all parts of the IRGC would show the same degree of commitment to the system. IRGC commanders may be prepared to kill unarmed Iranians or hire Lebanese, Palestinian and Iraqi radicals to kill others. However, it is not certain they would be prepared to die for President Ahmadinejad's glory. These concerns persuaded Ayatollah Khamenei to announce a Defense Planning Commission last year, controlled by his office.
A blanket labeling of the IRGC as "terrorist," as opposed to targeting elements of it that terrorize the Iranian people and others in the region and beyond, could prove counterproductive. It may, in fact, unite a fractious force that could splinter into more manageable parts given the right incentives.
Inside Iran, the IRGC is known as pasdaran (vigilantes) and inspires a mixture of intense hatred and grudging admiration. While many Iranians see it as a monster protecting an evil regime, others believe that, when the crunch comes, it will side with the people against an increasingly repressive and unpopular regime.
Mr. Taheri is author of "L'Irak: Le Dessous Des Cartes" (Editions Complexe, 2002).
Reply #114 on:
November 16, 2007, 08:32:18 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iranian Nuclear Questions
A lot of discussion is circulating about just how cooperative the Iranians are when it gets down to coming clean on their nuclear program. Earlier this week, it is significant to note that Iran decided to hand over a set of blueprints to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that detail how to shape weapons-grade uranium into a form usable in a nuclear warhead. After all, there has been a lot of talk about the Americans and the Iranians getting together for another round of negotiations over Iraq. And these Iraq negotiations are intrinsically linked to the Iranian nuclear program. If Tehran expects to negotiate effectively over Iraq, it makes sense to throw out such confidence-building measures in order to set the mood.
But this is still not enough for the IAEA, much less the European Union and United States. In fact, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei -- under heavy pressure from the Europeans and Americans -- admitted on Thursday that Iran has only offered selective cooperation in providing access to its program. He said the agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear program is diminishing since it has not received the type of information that Iran had been providing since early 2006. Not coincidentally, the first part of 2006 was an extremely heated period of assassinations, defections and abductions in the ongoing covert intelligence war involving the United States, Israel and Iran.
So, was this latest concession from Iran to the IAEA simply a failed attempt to sweeten ElBaradei into putting out a report lauding Tehran for its cooperation (and thereby give Iran more bandwidth to skirt sanctions)? Or is Iran seriously trying to pursue talks with the United States over Iraq by putting the nuclear issue on the negotiating table? The two possibilities are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but it is important to see through the blustery rhetoric on all sides to make sense of what these nuclear negotiations are all about.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, according to a Reuter's source close to him, has instructed his Cabinet to draft proposals on how Israel will cope with a nuclear Iran. The prime minister's office denies the report. But it makes perfect sense for Israel to be drafting such contingency plans. Nonetheless, Israel does not want to give the impression that it sees a nuclear Iran as inevitable.
Quite to the contrary, the United States and Israel could even be ramping up efforts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear experiment. A report cropped up earlier this week on a "series of explosions" that took place in southern Iran at the Parchin military complex, about 19 miles southeast of Tehran, where Iran is suspected of housing a nuclear weapons research and development facility. Though Iran's semi-official Fars news agency is reporting in an almost defensive tone that the site where the explosion took place is a "nonmilitary area at a tire and wastes storage place," Iran's principal exiled opposition organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is going to great lengths to suggest the incident was a covert attack that the Iranian regime and its media outlets are covering up. Though allegations from this organization can often be dubious, it would not be beyond the pale of certain intelligence organizations to shake up the Iranians in this fashion. The Israeli Mossad has been conducting a covert campaign to take out key Iranian nuclear scientists for some time, and these operations, according to our sources, are continuing.
That said, we do not yet have any evidence to back up this claim. And if the Iranians were actually being sincere about their cooperation on the nuclear issue, the United States and its allies would likely be taking some care to not rock the boat too much. In any case, the Fars report should not be taken for granted; this is one "accident" worth investigating.
Reply #115 on:
November 27, 2007, 07:57:19 AM »
1245 GMT -- IRAN -- Iran has constructed a new missile with a range of 1,240 miles, Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Nov. 27, media reported. The weapon, named "Ashura," has a long enough range to reach Israel as well as U.S. bases in the Middle East, according to the reports.
Reply #116 on:
December 05, 2007, 08:28:07 AM »
There are several very important posts on the NIE revision in the "Big Picture WW3" thread in the last few days, but now I begin posting on this subject in this thread, beginning with a very important timeline by Stratfor:
Iran's Nuclear Gambit: A Timeline of Events
The release of a new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that says Iran quit work on its nuclear weapons program four years ago marks a momentous shift in the dynamics of the Middle East, as well as in the relationships among the United States, Iran and Iraq. This timeline shows how events have played out in recent years.
On Dec. 3, the United States released a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that says Iran halted work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003. This is an extremely significant development.
At first glance, it might appear that this report -- a compilation of information from all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- is an attempt by the intelligence community to undermine the Bush administration's dealings with and position on Iran. Its contents negate the rationale for any future U.S. military action against the country, and directly contradict many of the past assertions of the U.S. leadership, which has repeatedly said that Iran is a dangerous nation bent on building up its nuclear arsenal.
In reality, this document marks a momentous shift in the dynamics of the Middle East, as well as in the relationships among the United States, Iran and Iraq. As Stratfor has said many times, Iran's nuclear program primarily represents a bargaining chip to be used as leverage in Tehran's talks with the United States in order to gain it concessions in Iraq. The NIE indicates that Washington and Tehran have made significant progress in this back-channel back-and-forth, and that the positive signs coming out of Iraq lately have culminated in some sort of agreement.
The battle over Iran's nuclear plans and the future of Iraq has not been an easy one. Stratfor has carefully monitored its development, and we have explained the intrinsic link between Tehran's nuclear program and the U.S.-Iranian negotiations. Following is Stratfor's account of the events that have shaped this process since the lead-up in 2002 to the Iraq war:
October 2002: As U.S. military intervention in Iraq seems increasingly inevitable, Iranian-U.S. back-channel meetings accelerate while Iran looks to extract political concessions from the United States over Iraq in return for its cooperation. With the aid of Ahmed Chalabi, Iran coaxes the United States into Iraq with intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
January 2003: A top Iranian official says his country supports U.S. efforts to disarm Iraq. The announcement signals that Iran has implicitly approved a U.S. war, despite its concerns of U.S. military action spilling across its border. Stratfor believes such support will open the door to U.S.-Iranian cooperation.
March 2003: The United States invades Iraq, and swiftly topples the Iraqi regime. In return for cracking down on al Qaeda fugitives in Iran and guaranteeing Shiite cooperation during the invasion, Iran is expecting Washington to allow Baghdad to fall in Tehran's hands.
April 2003: Iran, fearing that the United States will renege on its end of the deal, sparks a major Shiite uprising to remind Washington of its ability to send Iraq up in flames. U.S.-Iranian relations are on the decline.
May 2003: With some nudging from the Russians, Iran feels out the United States for a deal, with strong indications that Tehran has agreed to hand over al Qaeda suspects to the United States or a third country. Iran follows up with a letter to the U.S. government calling for a comprehensive deal over Iraq in which it would cooperate on its nuclear program. Still confident in its ability to handle the insurgency and unwilling to be held hostage to Iran's geopolitical ambitions, the United States rebuffs the offer and concludes that the Iranians and Iraqi Shia are undependable allies, and that a deal with Iran is no longer necessary to bring order to Iraq.
June 2003: Angered by the U.S. double-cross, Iran creates a crisis with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over its nuclear program and wavers back and forth in its nuclear negotiations with the Europeans.
July 2003: Still evaluating its next steps, the United States reconsiders the need to negotiate with Iran, and calls in the services of former Secretary of State James Baker in Iraq.
October 2003: Progress is again seen on the U.S-Iranian negotiating front as Iran opens the doors to the IAEA and British, French and German foreign ministers for talks on nuclear facility inspections. Arab governments, concerned about a possible U.S.-Iranian alliance in Iraq, look to establish a common policy to curb both Washington and Tehran.
Fall 2003: Iran halts its nuclear weapons program, according to the NIE released Dec. 3, 2007.
January 2004: In the wake of a massive December earthquake that destroyed the Iranian city of Bam, the United States offers to send a humanitarian delegation to Tehran led by Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C. Iran rejects the offer, saying the timing is not right. Tehran also says Washington must respect Iran before contacts between the countries can take place.
February 2004: After months of issuing paradoxical statements on its nuclear program, Iran emerges out of February parliamentary elections with a conservative-controlled parliament. With the ability to look beyond the domestic front, the Iranian government once again signals it is ready to do business with the United States.
May 2004: Iran demonstrates its cooperation by getting involved in negotiations between Washington and Shiite rebel leader Muqtada al-Sadr.
June 2004: The United States looks favorably upon Saudi Arabia's increased involvement in the Iraq war, much to Iran's chagrin. The Iranians seek added leverage in the negotiations and engage in several tit-for-tat diplomatic spats, including the seizure of three British patrol boats along the Iraq-Iran border. The ensuing months follow the same theme of increased tensions between Washington and Tehran.
November 2004: Iran agrees -- for the time being -- to comply with IAEA demands to halt enrichment activity in the interest of securing a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad for the December and January legislative elections.
February-March 2005: After a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is established, the Iranian nuclear issue flares up again as Iran works to keep the United States out of its nuclear talks with France, Germany and the United Kingdom in order to maintain its leverage. U.S. war rhetoric against Iran picks up steam in the coming month, prompting Iran to come clean on its nuclear program.
June-August 2005: Mysterious explosions occur in Tehran and the Arab-majority town of Ahwaz, sparking Iranian suspicions that Western intelligence agencies are riling up an anti-regime movement. Iranian presidential elections yield a surprise result, in which Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani admits defeat and black-horse candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rises to power.
September 2005: By now it is clear that Ahmadinejad's election was part of Iran's nuclear bargaining strategy to project a carefully honed image of irrationality to convince the Americans of the utility of dealing with Iran. Ahmadinejad's fiery anti-Israeli rhetoric leads to division within the ruling ranks in Tehran over how to deal with the United States. The United States also returns the Iranian snub over the Bam earthquake aid offer by rejecting an Iranian offer of 20 million barrels of oil in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The offer was made on the condition that Washington lift trade sanctions against Iran.
December 2005-January 2006: The United States attempts to re-create Iran's worst nightmare by throwing its support behind Iraq's Sunnis. Sources in Lebanon reveal major preparations by Hezbollah for a military conflict, suggesting Iran could soon play its Hezbollah card in the negotiations.
February 2006: After the IAEA passes a resolution to present the nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, Iran returns to a belligerent stance on its nuclear program, threatening to resume industrial-scale enrichment and pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
March 2006: Just as things could not look any darker for the United States and Iran, the Iranian government offers to take bilateral back-channel negotiations over Iraq into the public sphere, and the United States accepts. Iran is not ready to sacrifice its nuclear leverage just yet, and reiterates that these talks will address Iraq only.
April 2006: U.S.-Iranian negotiations appear to have hit a snag. The United States proceeds with plans to strip Iran financially and Iran makes a major announcement regarding its nuclear program.
May 2006: Ahmadinejad makes another offer for talks with the United States by sending a peculiar letter to U.S. President George W. Bush proposing fresh ways to mend relations. At the same time, Iran continues its rhetorical blitzkrieg about its nuclear program.
June 2006: Iraq's Sunni camp makes an apparent down payment on a political settlement when al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is killed in a U.S. airstrike. The ball is now in Iran's court to get the Shia to reciprocate. Iraq has reached a break point.
July 2006: Realizing it could push for a better deal with Washington, Iran decides to pull out all stops and flip the negotiating table over by reactivating Hezbollah in Lebanon and drawing Israel into a costly war. Iran sends a clear message that it has assets throughout the region to help it achieve its demands in Iraq.
August-September 2006: Emboldened by its success in Lebanon, Iran strikes a conciliatory tone with the United States again.
October-November 2006: The perception is that the Bush administration is weak and disintegrating. With an aim to shape the November U.S. congressional elections to force a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran activates its proxies to ensure November is the deadliest month to date for U.S. casualties since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
December 2006: The Iraq Study Group releases its report calling for a U.S. dialogue with Iran. Iran still assumes it has cornered the United States into implementing a withdrawal plan, leaving Tehran to pick up the pieces in Iraq.
January 2007: Bush throws off Iranian expectations with his announcement of a new strategy to surge troops into Iraq. The United States couples this strategy with an offer to the Iranians to talk. The Iranians return to the drawing board.
February 2007: The U.S.-Iranian covert intelligence war heats up, as both sides engage in saber-rattling to shore up their negotiating positions. Once again Iran makes a power play in the waters when it seizes a group of British marines and sailors in the Persian Gulf.
March 2007: Realizing their busted flushes in Iraq, U.S. and Iranian officials meet in Baghdad to discuss Iraq.
May 2007: Iran and the United States engage in publicly announced bilateral talks over Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. At the summit, Iran presents a groundbreaking proposal to stabilize Iraq. Iran is careful to keep the nuclear issue out of the negotiations. There are doubts, however, as to whether the regional players can deliver on their end of the deal.
June 2007: The United States considers meeting Iran's demand to unlink the nuclear and Iraq issues in order to move the negotiations forward.
August 2007: U.S. and Iranian diplomats meet in Baghdad to hammer out a security agreement on Iraq. Later in the month, the latest NIE makes it apparent that the U.S. surge strategy is not yet yielding sufficient results and that the strategy must begin to shift. Iran gets excited at the thought of a pending U.S. withdrawal, claiming it will fill the vacuum in Iraq. Bush, however, follows up with another surprise, saying the United States will maintain its surge strategy.
September 2007: Iran issues another feeler for talks with the United States and replaces its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps chief. Washington increases the heat concerning war and sanctions.
October 2007: Iran gets some added leverage when it looks to Russia for a sponsor in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq. For its own interests, Russia acts as Iran's backup and makes more promises to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr facility. An intra-Iranian debate over next steps in Iraq erupts with the resignation of Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani.
November 2007: With violence dropping in Iraq, the United States feels it is in a strong enough position to move forward in negotiations with Iran. Iran says it will participate in a fourth round of talks on Iraq with the United States. Iran makes a major conciliatory move on the nuclear front when it hands over a set of blueprints to the IAEA that details how to shape weapons-grade uranium into a form usable in a nuclear warhead. Though no date has been set, it looks as though the atmosphere is being set for a serious round of negotiations between the United States and Iran.
December 2007: In a massive reversal of U.S. policymaking, the U.S. intelligence community releases an NIE report that claims Iran had stopped work on a nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003, though its intentions still remain unclear. With the rationale for U.S. military aggression against Iran gone, negotiations between Washington and Tehran are more serious than ever.
Reply #117 on:
December 07, 2007, 12:57:08 PM »
Pissing the whole world off, one person at a time.
Posted December 06, 2007 12:00 PM Hide Post
The Flaws In the Iran Report
By John R. Bolton
Thursday, December 6, 2007; A29
Rarely has a document from the supposedly hidden world of intelligence had such an impact as the National Intelligence Estimate released this week. Rarely has an administration been so unprepared for such an event. And rarely have vehement critics of the "intelligence community" on issues such as Iraq's weapons of mass destruction reversed themselves so quickly.
All this shows that we not only have a problem interpreting what the mullahs in Tehran are up to, but also a more fundamental problem: Too much of the intelligence community is engaging in policy formulation rather than "intelligence" analysis, and too many in Congress and the media are happy about it. President Bush may not be able to repair his Iran policy (which was not rigorous enough to begin with) in his last year, but he would leave a lasting legacy by returning the intelligence world to its proper function.
Consider these flaws in the NIE's "key judgments," which were made public even though approximately 140 pages of analysis, and reams of underlying intelligence, remain classified.
First, the headline finding -- that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 -- is written in a way that guarantees the totality of the conclusions will be misread. In fact, there is little substantive difference between the conclusions of the 2005 NIE on Iran's nuclear capabilities and the 2007 NIE. Moreover, the distinction between "military" and "civilian" programs is highly artificial, since the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's "civilian" program that posed the main risk of a nuclear "breakout."
The real differences between the NIEs are not in the hard data but in the psychological assessment of the mullahs' motives and objectives. The current NIE freely admits to having only moderate confidence that the suspension continues and says that there are significant gaps in our intelligence and that our analysts dissent from their initial judgment on suspension. This alone should give us considerable pause.
Second, the NIE is internally contradictory and insufficiently supported. It implies that Iran is susceptible to diplomatic persuasion and pressure, yet the only event in 2003 that might have affected Iran was our invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, not exactly a diplomatic pas de deux. As undersecretary of state for arms control in 2003, I know we were nowhere near exerting any significant diplomatic pressure on Iran. Nowhere does the NIE explain its logic on this critical point. Moreover, the risks and returns of pursuing a diplomatic strategy are policy calculations, not intelligence judgments. The very public rollout in the NIE of a diplomatic strategy exposes the biases at work behind the Potemkin village of "intelligence."
Third, the risks of disinformation by Iran are real. We have lost many fruitful sources inside Iraq in recent years because of increased security and intelligence tradecraft by Iran. The sudden appearance of new sources should be taken with more than a little skepticism. In a background briefing, intelligence officials said they had concluded it was "possible" but not "likely" that the new information they were relying on was deception. These are hardly hard scientific conclusions. One contrary opinion came from -- of all places -- an unnamed International Atomic Energy Agency official, quoted in the New York Times, saying that "we are more skeptical. We don't buy the American analysis 100 percent. We are not that generous with Iran." When the IAEA is tougher than our analysts, you can bet the farm that someone is pursuing a policy agenda.
Fourth, the NIE suffers from a common problem in government: the overvaluation of the most recent piece of data. In the bureaucracy, where access to information is a source of rank and prestige, ramming home policy changes with the latest hot tidbit is commonplace, and very deleterious. It is a rare piece of intelligence that is so important it can conclusively or even significantly alter the body of already known information. Yet the bias toward the new appears to have exerted a disproportionate effect on intelligence analysis.
Fifth, many involved in drafting and approving the NIE were not intelligence professionals but refugees from the State Department, brought into the new central bureaucracy of the director of national intelligence. These officials had relatively benign views of Iran's nuclear intentions five and six years ago; now they are writing those views as if they were received wisdom from on high. In fact, these are precisely the policy biases they had before, recycled as "intelligence judgments."
That such a flawed product could emerge after a drawn-out bureaucratic struggle is extremely troubling. While the president and others argue that we need to maintain pressure on Iran, this "intelligence" torpedo has all but sunk those efforts, inadequate as they were. Ironically, the NIE opens the way for Iran to achieve its military nuclear ambitions in an essentially unmolested fashion, to the detriment of us all.
John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad." He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
I hadn't thought of that , , ,
Reply #118 on:
December 10, 2007, 03:50:27 PM »
George Friedman of Stratfor:
We also think there was a political component to it (NIE) being announced. This was not the intelligence community sinking Bush’s plans to attack Iran. The U.S. doesn’t’ have the force to attack Iran, as we have argued in the past. Rather, it as Bush taking away their bargaining chip. If Iran has no nuclear program, the U.S. doesn’t have to make concessions to get rid of it. In an odd way, the NIE weakened the Iranian bargaining position.
Reply #119 on:
December 10, 2007, 06:16:20 PM »
John Bolton's piece here explores the NIE flawed product possibility based on among other things the over-reliance on the most recent information and the pre-existence of bias in the writers. It's funny how quick people are to trust the conclusions now right as we learn they were wrong last time. Also wrong were intelligence conclusions in Iraq and they completely missed foretelling other events such as the Iranian revolution, Saddam invading Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Reply #120 on:
December 11, 2007, 03:09:51 AM »
Speculation: Was there a motive here on the part of a certain faction of the CIA to pre-empt/prevent any risk that President Bush would pre-empt Iran?
I'm reading that not only the Israelis, but also the Brits are doubting the NIE's current conclusion , , ,
Reply #121 on:
December 11, 2007, 10:15:31 AM »
'Was there a CIA motive to keep US from striking Iran?'
Yes. 1) CIA careerists disagree with preemption and any other policy if it originates from this administration, and 2) they don't want the humiliation of being wrong again. So they took a mixed report and picked the risk-gone headline. Same report could just as easily have been titled 'Iran shifted uranium enrichment to civilian facilities'.
The Stratfor statement that "The U.S. doesn’t have the force to attack Iran" is strange to me. Certainly we would not attempt a million troop ground force occupation in Iran, but more importantly we don't have the accurate and compelling intelligence combined with the necessary will to perform Osiraq-like target strikes on facilities in either Iran or North Korea before Bush's term expires. I doubt we lack the equipment.
In this case and with the missile defense concessions handed to Putin, I would like to think that we are not always on the losing end of the mind games played with tyrants. In order to move an adversary's position in difficult negotiations, it's necessary to hand them something for saving face or to change the stakes. My estimation of the current Iran strategy is that we contain them best by winning right now in Iraq.
Reply #122 on:
December 12, 2007, 08:36:15 AM »
Geopolitical Diary: Iran Responds to the NIE
Iran's Fars news agency on Tuesday reported comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in response to the Dec. 3 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate. The statements were, to say the least, interesting. Ahmadinejad called the document "a positive step forward." He went on to say, "If one or two other steps are taken, the conditions will be ripe and will lose their complexities, and the way will be open for interactions between the two sides."
One of the things he wants is for the United States to acknowledge that Iran never had a nuclear program. However, it is clear from the context that he doesn't expect or actually care about this. He said, "We do not say that in the report there is no problem and there is no imprecision or error. We welcomed the report as a whole and as a step forward. A part of the report approved the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities. There was, of course, another part which made some references to the past, and if the U.S. intelligence body conducts a more precise study, it will confirm the views of Iran."
His second point was more fundamental. "One of the steps that need to be taken is a major change in [the U.S.] regional position. They need to respect the rights of the countries in the region. Regional nations have rights and want to fully use their rights. Respecting these rights is a serious change in strategy. This is the next step. If this happens, you will be able to see the results."
It seems to us that he was talking about Iraq, saying that this is the next set of changes Iran wants to see. But Ahmadinejad's summation was this: "The main body of the problem has been resolved. There are no ambiguities, and the ground has been set for cooperation on different issues."
Most interesting of all was Ahmadinejad's claim that Iran has been approached by the U.S. government for permission to send emissaries to Iran. He said, "Many requests reach us from American officials for dialogue and travel to Iran, and we are studying these requests." This is an interesting assertion, and there has been enough time for the White House or the State Department to deny it. Neither one has. It is altogether possible that these were simply requests from U.S. scholars or minor government employees for visas to travel to Iran, and that Ahmadinejad is trying to make them into something more. Or it might well be that the Bush administration is seeking more contacts with Iran, in addition to the two upcoming meetings that have been agreed upon by both sides.
Ahmadinejad is going to make everything he can of this. If diplomacy goes forward, he will want it to appear that the United States unilaterally initiated it -- hence the claim that the United States is asking to send officials. When asked what else the United States should do, Ahmadinejad said, "Let us not get into a hurry. Let [the Americans] follow and stabilize the step they have taken. Our addressee understands our words."
Obviously, Ahmadinejad is trying hard to spin this into a triumph. But the interesting parts of the Fars interview are that Ahmadinejad, for all his posturing, regards the shift in U.S. policy as significant; that he is considering further contacts with the Americans; and that there is something he wants Washington to do above all else, which we assume is remove sanctions. There is implied here an Iranian openness to something.
In any case, Iran has issued a response, and two meetings will be held. Certainly, this weird honeymoon could collapse overnight, but for the moment, there is clearly a diplomatic probing going on that has to be watched carefully.
Reply #123 on:
December 14, 2007, 08:22:08 PM »
So much for that modesty campaign , , ,
Can we actually be up to something intelligent?
Reply #124 on:
December 17, 2007, 02:43:05 PM »
IRAN: Russia's first shipment of fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant gives Iran one more reason to suspend its uranium enrichment program, a White House spokesman said. He added that if Iran is getting fuel from Russia, it does not need its own program.
Reply #125 on:
December 18, 2007, 01:30:09 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: The U.S.-Iranian Dance
The Russians said on Monday they have delivered their first fuel shipment to the Iranian power plant at Bushehr. This fulfills a long-standing Russian agreement with Iran, which was reaffirmed at the meeting of Caspian Sea nations held in Tehran in October. The same day, U.S. President George W. Bush said at a press conference, without prompting, "If the Iranians accept that uranium for a civilian nuclear power plant, then there's no need for them to learn how to enrich." A White House spokesman later said, "There is no doubt that Russia and the rest of the world want to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon." Monday's announcement provides one more avenue for the Iranians to make a strategic choice to suspend enrichment.
The Iranians also have said they will continue to enrich their own uranium. The Israelis have pointed to the uranium enrichment program as proof that the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapon, saying enriched uranium constitutes the essence of a nuclear weapons program; Bush also focused on uranium enrichment.
If the intelligence community imposed the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Bush against his will, this would be the perfect time for him to reverse it. That the Iranians are continuing to enrich uranium in spite of Russia's decision could easily be construed as part of an Iranian weapons program. Bush so far has not done that. In fact, aside from assertions by others that the NIE blindsided him, there is no evidence whatever of it. Both Bush and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney publicly endorsed the NIE and no steps have been taken to reverse it. If the president had wanted to reverse it, this was the time to do so. He has not, at least not yet.
Apart from everything else, there is the basic assumption that enriching uranium constitutes a weapons program. Enriched uranium is a necessary condition for building one sort of device, but it is far from being a sufficient condition. As we have said before, there are multiple, non-nuclear technologies needed to build a weapon that can be mounted on a missile, attached to an aircraft or stowed in the hull of a ship. First the weapon must be miniaturized, which is far from easy to do. It then must be ruggedized to withstand the extraordinary stresses of delivery. For example, a nuclear weapon must be small enough to fit on a missile but rugged enough to withstand the high Gs of launch, vibration, vacuum and extreme temperatures -- not to mention moisture. These are not trivial technologies. It is the difference between having a device that can be exploded under special conditions, and one that can take out a city.
But the technology is not the key -- it simply is the analytic justification for Bush to support the NIE as he has, and to be much calmer with the Russian action and Iranian response than he would have been a few months ago. The key is to be found in a scheduled Dec. 18 meeting the Iranians postponed. The Iranians and Americans were supposed to meet in Baghdad to discuss security in Iraq. The United States is looking for reciprocity from the Iranians. So far it has not gotten it; on the contrary, the Iranians have been publicly uncooperative and truculent.
Bush has certain room to run with this strategy. But the more truculent the Iranians, the more he will be under pressure to revert to his prior position, which is that Iran has a nuclear program and is a danger to the world. The same rationale that allows the NIE to state that there is no nuclear program in spite of an enrichment program allows a reversal of a finding. The definition of a nuclear program is more than a little complex, and, as the NIE proves, is subject to reinterpretations depending on political necessity. Bush went with the redefinition expecting reciprocity on other issues from Iran. If it does not happen, he can again change course.
The Strait of Hormuz incident
Reply #126 on:
January 16, 2008, 08:26:16 AM »
The Strait of Hormuz Incident and U.S. Strategy
By George Friedman
Iranian speedboats reportedly menaced U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 6. Since then, the United States has gone to great lengths to emphasize the threat posed by Iran to U.S. forces in the strait — and, by extension, to the transit of oil from the Persian Gulf region. The revelation of an Iranian threat in the Strait of Hormuz was very helpful to the United States, coming as it did just before U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to the region. Washington will use the incident to push for an anti-Iranian coalition among the Gulf Arabs, as well as to push Iran into publicly working with the United States on the Iraq problem.
According to U.S. reports and a released video, a substantial number of Iranian speedboats approached a three-ship U.S. naval convoy moving through the strait near Iranian territory Jan. 6. (Word of the incident first began emerging Jan. 7.) In addition, the United States reported receiving a threatening message from the boats.
Following the incident, the United States began to back away from the claim that the Iranians had issued threats, saying that the source of the transmission might have been hecklers who coincidentally transmitted threats as the Iranian boats maneuvered among the U.S. ships. Shore-based harassing transmissions are not uncommon in the region, or in other parts of the world for that matter, especially when internationally recognized bridge-to-bridge frequencies are used. And it is difficult if not impossible to distinguish the source of a transmission during a short, intense incident such as this. The combination of Iranian craft in close proximity to U.S. warships and the transmission, regardless of the source, undoubtedly increased the sense of danger.
Two things are interesting. First, the probability of a disciplined Iranian attack — and, by U.S. Navy accounts, the Iranian action was disciplined — being preceded by a warning is low. The Iranians were not about to give away the element of surprise, which would have been essential for an effective attack. While the commander on the scene does not have the luxury we have of dismissing the transmission out of hand — in fact, the commander must assume the worst — its existence decreases the likelihood of an attack. Attacking ships need every second they can get to execute their mission; had the Iranians been serious, they would have wanted to appear as nonthreatening as possible for as long as possible.
Second, the U.S. ships did not open fire. We do not know the classified rules of engagement issued to U.S. ship captains operating in the Strait of Hormuz, but the core guidance of those rules is that a captain must protect his ship and crew from attack at all times. Particularly given the example of the USS Cole, which was attacked by a speedboat in a Yemeni harbor, it is difficult for us to imagine a circumstance under which a ship captain in the U.S. Navy would not open fire if the Iranian boats already represented a significant threat.
Spokesmen for the 5th Fleet said Jan. 13 that the U.S. ships were going through the process of determining the threat and preparing to fire when the Iranians disengaged and disappeared. That would indicate that speed, distance and bearing were not yet at a point that required a response, and that therefore the threat level had not yet risen to the redline. Absent the transition to a threat, it is not clear that this incident would have risen above multiple encounters between U.S. warships and Iranian boats in the tight waters of Hormuz.
The New York Times carried a story Jan. 12, clearly leaked to it by the Pentagon, giving some context for U.S. concerns. According to the story, the United States had carried out war games attempting to assess the consequences of a swarming attack by large numbers of speedboats carrying explosives and suicide crews. The results of the war games were devastating. In a game carried out in 2002, the U.S. Navy lost 16 major warships, including an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious ships — all in attacks lasting 5-10 minutes. Fleet defenses were overwhelmed by large numbers of small, agile speedboats, some armed with rockets and other weapons, but we assume most operated as manned torpedoes.
The decision to reveal the results of the war game clearly were intended to lend credibility to the Bush administration's public alarm at the swarming tactics. It raises the issue of why the U.S. warships didn't open fire, given that the war game must have resulted in some very aggressive rules of engagement against Iranian speedboats in the Strait of Hormuz. But more important, it reveals something about the administration's thinking in the context of Bush's trip to the region and the controversial National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program.
A huge controversy has emerged over the NIE, with many arguing that it was foisted on the administration against its will. Our readers know that this was not our view, and it is still not our view. Bush's statements on the NIE were consistent. First, he did not take issue with it. Second, he continues to regard Iran as a threat. In traveling to the Middle East, one of his purposes is to create a stronger anti-Iranian coalition among the Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula. The nuclear threat was not a sufficient glue to create this coalition. For a host of reasons ranging from U.S. intelligence failures in Iraq to the time frame of an Iranian nuclear threat, a nuclear program was simply not seen as a credible basis for fearing Iran's actions in the region. The states of the Arabian Peninsula were much more afraid of U.S. attacks against Iran than they were of Iranian nuke s in five or 10 years.
The Strait of Hormuz is another matter. Approximately 40 percent of the region's oil wealth flows through the strait. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the tanker war, in which oil tankers moving through the Persian Gulf came under attack from aircraft, provided a sideshow. This not only threatened the flow of oil but also drove shipping insurance rates through the roof. The United States convoyed tankers, but the tanker war remains a frightening memory in the region.
The tanker war was trivial compared with the threat the United States rolled out last week. The Strait of Hormuz is the chokepoint through which Persian Gulf oil flows. Close the strait and it doesn't flow. With oil near $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would raise the price — an understatement of the highest order. We have no idea what the price of oil would be if the strait were closed. Worse, the countries shipping through the strait would not get any of that money. At $100 a barrel, closing the Strait of Hormuz would take an economic triumph and turn it into a disaster for the very countries the United States wants to weld into an effective anti-Iranian coalition.
The revelation of a naval threat from Iran in the Strait of Hormuz just before the president got on board Air Force One for his trip to the region was fortuitous, to say the least. The Iranians insisted that there was nothing unusual about the incident, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said that "Some political factions in the U.S. are pursuing adventurism to help Bush to spread Iran-phobia in the region. U.S. officials should apologize to Iran, regional countries and the American people." This probably won't happen, but he undoubtedly will be grateful that the Iranians said there was nothing out of the ordinary about the incident. If this incident was routine, and if the U.S. war games have any predictive ability, it means that the Iranians are staging routine incidents, any one of which could lead to a military confrontation in the strait. Bush undoubtedly will be distributing the Iranian statement at each of his stops.
Leaving aside the politics for a moment, the Iranian naval threat is a far more realistic, immediate and devastating threat to regional interests than the nuclear threat ever was. Building an atomic weapon was probably beyond Iran's capabilities, while just building a device — an unwieldy and delicate system that would explode under controlled circumstances — was years away. In contrast, the naval threat in the Strait of Hormuz is within Iran's reach right now. Success is far from a slam dunk considering the clear preponderance of power in favor of U.S. naval forces, but it is not a fantasy strategy by any means.
And its consequences are immediate and affect the Islamic states in ways that a nuclear strike against Israel doesn't. Getting the Saudis to stand against Iran over an attack against Israel is a reach, regardless of the threat. Getting the Saudis worked up over cash flow while oil prices are near all-time highs does not need a great deal of persuading. Whatever happened in the strait Jan. 6, Bush has arrived in the region with a theme of widespread regional interest: keeping the Strait of Hormuz open in the face of a real threat. We are not certain that a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier could be sunk using small swarming ships. But we are certain that the strait could be closed or made too dangerous for tankers for at least a short period. And we know that, as in land warfare, finding the bases that are launching ships as small as speedboats would be tough. This threat had substance.
By dropping the Iranian nuclear threat and shifting to the threat to the strait, Bush moves the Iran issue from being one involving the United States and Israel to being one that excludes Israel but involves every oil producer in the region. None of them wants this to happen, and all of them must take the threat seriously. If it can establish the threat, the United States goes from being an advocate against Iran to being the guarantor of very real Arab interests. And if the price Arabs must pay for the United States to keep the strait open is helping shut down the jihadist threat in Iraq, that is a small price indeed.
This puts Iran in a tough position. Prior to the issuance of the NIE, the Iranians had shifted some of their policies on Iraq. The decline in violence in Iraq is partly because of the surge, but it also is because Iran has cut back on some of the things it used to do, particularly supporting Shiite militias with weapons and money and urging them to attack Sunnis. It also is clear that the limits it had imposed on some of the Iraqi Shiite politicians in the latter's dealings with their Sunni counterparts have shifted. The new law allowing Baath Party members to return to public life could not possibly have been passed without Iranian acquiescence.
Clearly, Iran has changed its actions in Iraq as the United States has changed its stance on Iranian nuclear weapons. But Iran shied away from reaching an open accommodation with the United States over Iraq following the NIE. Factional splits in Iran are opening up as elections approach, and while the Iranians have shifted their behavior, they have not shifted their public position. The United States sees a shift of Iran's public position as crucial in order to convince Iraqi factions, particularly all of the Shiite parties, to move toward a political conclusion. Reining in militias is great, but Washington wants and needs the final step. The NIE shift, which took the nuclear issue off the table, was not enough to do it. By raising the level of tension over a real threat — and one that has undebatable regional consequences — the United States is hoping to shape the internal political discussion in Iran toward an open participation in reshaping Iraq.
Iran doesn't want to take this step for three good reasons. First, it wants to keep its options open. It does not trust the United States not to use a public accord over Iraq as a platform to increase U.S. influence in Iraq and increase the threat to Iran. Second, Tehran has a domestic political problem. In the same way that Bush saw an avalanche of protest from his supporters over the NIE, the Iranians will see resistance to open collaboration. Finally, the Iranians are not sure they need a public agreement. From their point of view, they have delivered on Iraq, the United States has delivered on the NIE and things are moving in a satisfactory direction. Why go public? The American desire to show the Iraqi Shia that Iran has publicly abandoned the quest for a Shiite Iraq doesn't do Iran a bit of good.
The Iranians have used the construction of what we might call a guerrilla navy as a lever with the United States and as a means to divide the United States from the Arabs. The Iranians' argument to the Arabs has been, "If the United States pushes us too far, we will close the strait. Therefore, keep the Americans from pushing us too far." The Americans have responded by saying that the Iranians now have the ability to close the Strait of Hormuz, potentially regardless of what the U.S. Navy does. Therefore, unless the Arabs want to be at the mercy of Iran, they must join the United States in an anti-Iranian coalition that brings Iran under control. In its wooing of the Arabs, Washington will emphasize just how out of control the Iranians are, pointing out that Tehran is admitting that the kind of harassment seen Jan. 6 is routine. One day — and the day will be chosen by Iran — this will all get really out of hand.
The Iranians have a great deal to gain from having the ability to close the strait, but very little from actually closing it. The United States is putting Iran in a position such that the Gulf Arabs will be asking Tehran for assurances that Iran will not take any action. The Iranians will give assurances, setting the stage for a regional demand that the Iranians disperse their speedboats, which are purely offensive weapons of little defensive purpose.
The United States, having simplified the situation for the Iranians with the NIE and not gotten the response it wanted, now is complicating the situation again with a completely new framework — a much more effective framework than the previous one it used.
In the end, this isn't about the Strait of Hormuz. Iran isn't going to take on the U.S. Navy, and the Navy isn't quite as vulnerable as it claims — and therefore, the United States obviously is not nearly as trigger-happy as it would like to project. Washington has played a strong card. The issue now is whether it can get Iran into a public resolution over Iraq.
The Iranians appear on board with the private solution. They don't seem eager for a public one. The anti-Iranian coalition might strengthen, but as clever as this U.S. maneuver is, it will not bring the Iranians public. For that, more concessions in Iraq are necessary. More to the point, for a public accommodation, the "Great Satan" and the charter member of the "Axis of Evil" need to make political adjustments in their public portrayal of one another — hard to do in two countries facing election years.
Podhoretz: Stopping Iran
Reply #127 on:
January 22, 2008, 07:57:05 PM »
The political will here in the US for this would seem to be near zero, and if I read the tea leaves correctly, not a lot more than that in the US military , , , Still, what to do?
Why the case for military action still stands.
By NORMAN PODHORETZ
January 23, 2008
Up until a fairly short time ago, scarcely anyone dissented from the assessment offered with "high confidence" by the National Intelligence Estimate of 2005 that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons." Correlatively, no one believed the protestations of the mullahs ruling Iran that their nuclear program was designed strictly for peaceful uses.
The reason for this near-universal consensus was that Iran, with its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, had no need for nuclear energy, and that in any case, the very nature of its program contradicted the protestations.
Here is how Time magazine put it as early as March 2003--long before, be it noted, the radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had replaced the putatively moderate Mohamed Khatami as president:
On a visit last month to Tehran, International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei announced he had discovered that Iran was constructing a facility to enrich uranium--a key component of advanced nuclear weapons--near Natanz. But diplomatic sources tell Time the plant is much further along than previously revealed. The sources say work on the plant is "extremely advanced" and involves "hundreds" of gas centrifuges ready to produce enriched uranium and "the parts for a thousand others ready to be assembled."
So, too, the Federation of American Scientists about a year later:
It is generally believed that Iran's efforts are focused on uranium enrichment, though there are some indications of work on a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear-fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear-weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.
And just as everyone agreed with the American intelligence community that Iran was "determined to develop nuclear weapons," everyone also agreed with President Bush that it must not be permitted to succeed. Here, the reasons were many and various.
To begin with, Iran was (as certified even by the doves of the State Department) the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it was therefore reasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists who would be only too happy to use it against us. Moreover, since Iran evidently aspired to become the hegemon of the Middle East, its drive for a nuclear capability could result (as, according to the New York Times, no fewer than 21 governments in and around the region were warning) in "a grave and destructive nuclear-arms race." This meant a nightmarish increase in the chances of a nuclear war. An even greater increase in those chances would result from the power that nuclear weapons--and the missiles capable of delivering them, which Iran was also developing and/or buying--would give the mullahs to realize their evil dream of (in the words of Mr. Ahmadinejad) "wiping Israel off the map."
Nor, as almost everyone also agreed, were the dangers of a nuclear Iran confined to the Middle East. Dedicated as the mullahs clearly were to furthering the transformation of Europe into a continent where Muslim law and practice would more and more prevail, they were bound to use nuclear intimidation and blackmail in pursuit of this goal as well. Beyond that, nuclear weapons would even serve the purposes of a far more ambitious aim: the creation of what Mr. Ahmadinejad called "a world without America." Although, to be sure, no one imagined that Iran would acquire the capability to destroy the United States, it was easy to imagine that the United States would be deterred from standing in Iran's way by the fear of triggering a nuclear war.
Running alongside the near-universal consensus on Iran's nuclear intentions was a commensurately broad agreement that the regime could be stopped from realizing those intentions by a judicious combination of carrots and sticks. The carrots, offered through diplomacy, consisted of promises that if Iran were (in the words of the Security Council) to "suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA," it would find itself on the receiving end of many benefits. If, however, Iran remained obdurate in refusing to comply with these demands, sticks would come into play in the form of sanctions.
And indeed, in response to continued Iranian defiance, a round of sanctions was approved by the Security Council in December 2006. When these (watered down to buy the support of the Russians and the Chinese) predictably failed to bite, a tougher round was unanimously authorized three months later, in March 2007. When these in turn failed, the United States, realizing that the Russians and the Chinese would veto stronger medicine, unilaterally imposed a new series of economic sanctions--which fared no better than the multilateral measures that had preceded them.
* * *
What then to do? President Bush kept declaring that Iran must not be permitted to get the bomb, and he kept warning that the "military option"--by which he meant air strikes, not an invasion on the ground--was still on the table as a last resort. On this issue our Western European allies were divided. To the surprise of many who had ceased thinking of France as an ally because of Jacques Chirac's relentless opposition to the policies of the Bush administration, Nicholas Sarkozy, Mr. Chirac's successor as president, echoed Mr. Bush's warning in equally unequivocal terms. If, Mr. Sarkozy announced, the Iranians pressed on with their nuclear program, the world would be left with a choice between "an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran"--and he left no doubt as to where his own choice would fall. On the other hand, Gordon Brown, who had followed Tony Blair as prime minister of the U.K., seemed less willing than Mr. Sarkozy to contemplate military action against Iran's nuclear installations, even as a last resort. Like the new chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, Mr. Brown remained--or professed to remain--persuaded that more diplomacy and tougher sanctions would eventually work.
This left a great question hanging in the air: when, if ever, would Mr. Bush (and/or Mr. Sarkozy) conclude that the time had come to resort to the last resort?
Obviously the answer to that question depended on how long it would take for Iran itself to reach the point of no return. According to the NIE of 2005, it was "unlikely . . . that Iran would be able to make a nuclear weapon . . . before early-to-mid next decade"--that is, between 2010 and 2015. If that assessment, offered with "moderate confidence," was correct, Mr. Bush would be off the hook, since he would be out of office for two years at the very least by the time the decision on whether or not to order air strikes would have to be made. That being the case, for the remainder of his term he could continue along the carrot-and-stick path, while striving to ratchet up the pressure on Iran with stronger and stronger measures that he could hope against hope might finally do the trick. If he could get these through the Security Council, so much the better; if not, the United States could try to assemble a coalition outside the U.N. that would be willing to impose really tough sanctions.
Under these circumstances, there would also be enough time to add another arrow to this nonmilitary quiver: a serious program of covert aid to dissident Iranians who dreamed of overthrowing the mullocracy and replacing it with a democratic regime. Those who had been urging Mr. Bush to launch such a program, and who were confident that it would succeed, pointed to polls showing great dissatisfaction with the mullocracy among the Iranian young, and to the demonstrations against it that kept breaking out all over the country. They also contended that even if a new democratic regime were to be as intent as the old one on developing nuclear weapons, neither it nor they would pose anything like the same kind of threat.
All well and good. The trouble was this: only by relying on the accuracy of the 2005 NIE would Mr. Bush be able in all good conscience to pass on to his successor the decision of whether or when to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. But that estimate, as he could hardly help knowing from the CIA's not exactly brilliant track record, might easily be too optimistic.
To start with the most spectacular recent instance, the CIA had failed to anticipate 9/11. It then turned out to be wrong in 2002 about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction, very likely because it was bending over backward to compensate for having been wrong in exactly the opposite direction in 1991, when at the end of the first Gulf war the IAEA discovered that the Iraqi nuclear program was far more advanced than the CIA had estimated. Regarding that by now notorious lapse, Jeffrey T. Richelson, a leading (and devoutly nonpartisan) authority on the American intelligence community, writes in "Spying on the Bomb":
The extent that the United States and its allies underestimated and misunderstood the Iraqi program [before 1991] constituted a "colossal international intelligence failure," according to one Israeli expert. [IAEA's chief weapons inspector] Hans Blix acknowledged "that there was suspicion certainly," but "to see the enormity of it is a shock."
And these were only the most recent cases. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a close student of the intelligence community, offers a partial list of earlier mistakes and failures:
The CIA was established in 1947 in large measure to avoid another surprise attack like the one the U.S. had suffered on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. But only three years after its founding, the fledgling agency missed the outbreak of the Korean war. It then failed to understand that the Chinese would come to the aid of the North Koreans if American forces crossed the Yalu river. It missed the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956. In September 1962, the CIA issued an NIE which stated that the "Soviets would not introduce offensive missiles in Cuba"; in short order, the USSR did precisely that. In 1968 it failed to foresee the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. . . . It did not inform Jimmy Carter that the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan in 1979.
Mr. Richelson adds a few more examples of hotly debated issues during the cold war that were wrongly resolved, including "the existence of a missile gap, the capabilities of the Soviet SS-9 intercontinental ballistic missile, [and] Soviet compliance with the test-ban and antiballistic missile treaties." This is not to mention perhaps the most notorious case of all: the fiasco, known as the Bay of Pigs, produced by the CIA's wildly misplaced confidence that an invasion of Cuba by the army of exiles it had assembled and trained would set off a popular uprising against the Castro regime.
On Mr. Bush's part, then, deep skepticism was warranted concerning the CIA's estimate of how much time we had before Iran reached the point of no return. As we have seen, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, had "discovered" in 2003 that the Iranians were constructing facilities to enrich uranium. Still, as late as April 2007 the same Mr. ElBaradei was pooh-poohing the claims made by Mr. Ahmadinejad that Iran already had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. A month later, we learn from Mr. Richelson, Mr. ElBaradei changed his mind after a few spot inspections. "We believe," Mr. ElBaradei now said, that the Iranians "pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich. From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge."
We also learn from Mr. Richelson that another expert, Matthew Bunn of Harvard's Center for Science and International Affairs, interpreted the new information the IAEA came up with in April 2007 as meaning that "whether they're six months or a year away, one can debate. But it's not 10 years." This chilling estimate of how little time we had to prevent Iran from getting the bomb was similar to the conclusion reached by several Israeli experts (though the official Israeli estimate put the point of no return in 2009).
* * *
Then, in a trice, everything changed. Even as Mr. Bush must surely have been wrestling with the question of whether it would be on his watch that the decision on bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities would have to be made, the world was hit with a different kind of bomb. This took the form of an unclassified summary of a new NIE, published early last December. Entitled "Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities," this new document was obviously designed to blow up the near-universal consensus that had flowed from the conclusions reached by the intelligence community in its 2005 NIE. In brief, whereas the NIE of 2005 had assessed "with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons," the new NIE of 2007 did "not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."
This startling 180-degree turn was arrived at from new intelligence, offered by the new NIE with "high confidence": namely, that "in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program." The new NIE was also confident--though only moderately so--that "Tehran had not restarted its nuclear-weapons program as of mid-2007." And in the most sweeping of its new conclusions, it was even "moderately confident" that "the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran's entire nuclear-weapons program."
Whatever else one might say about the new NIE, one point can be made with "high confidence": that by leading with the sensational news that Iran had suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, its authors ensured that their entire document would be interpreted as meaning that there was no longer anything to worry about. Of course, being experienced bureaucrats, they took care to protect themselves from this very accusation. For example, after dropping their own bomb on the fear that Iran was hell-bent on getting the bomb, they immediately added "with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons." But as they must have expected, scarcely anyone paid attention to this caveat. And as they must also have expected, even less attention was paid to another self-protective caveat, which--making doubly sure it would pass unnoticed--they relegated to a footnote appended to the lead sentence about the halt:
For the purposes of this Estimate, by "nuclear-weapons program" we mean Iran's nuclear-weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran's declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.
Since only an expert could grasp the significance of this cunning little masterpiece of incomprehensible jargon, the damage had been done by the time its dishonesty was exposed.
The first such exposure came from John Bolton, who before becoming our ambassador to the U.N. had served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, with a special responsibility for preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Donning this hat once again, Mr. Bolton charged that the dishonesty of the footnote lay most egregiously in the sharp distinction it drew between military and civilian programs. For, he said, "the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses. Indeed, it has always been Iran's 'civilian' program that posed the main risk of a nuclear 'breakout.' "
Two other experts, Valerie Lincy, the editor of Iranwatch.org, and Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, followed up with an explanation of why the halt of 2003 was much less significant than a layman would inevitably be led to think:
Reply #128 on:
January 22, 2008, 08:00:51 PM »
Two other experts, Valerie Lincy, the editor of Iranwatch.org, and Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, followed up with an explanation of why the halt of 2003 was much less significant than a layman would inevitably be led to think:
The new report defines "nuclear-weapons program" in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear-weapon design. But the halting of its secret enrichment and weapon-design efforts in 2003 proves only that Iran made a tactical move. It suspended work that, if discovered, would unambiguously reveal intent to build a weapon. It has continued other work, crucial to the ability to make a bomb, that it can pass off as having civilian applications.
Thus, as Ms. Lincy and Mr. Milhollin went on to write, the main point obfuscated by the footnote was that once Iran accumulated a stockpile of the kind of uranium fit for civilian use, it would "in a matter of months" be able "to convert that uranium . . . to weapons grade."
* * *
Yet, in spite of these efforts to demonstrate that the new NIE did not prove that Iran had given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, just about everyone in the world immediately concluded otherwise, and further concluded that this meant the military option was off the table. George Bush may or may not have been planning to order air strikes before leaving office, but now that the justification for doing so had been discredited by his own intelligence agencies, it would be politically impossible for him to go on threatening military action, let alone to take it.
But what about sanctions? In the weeks and months before the new NIE was made public, Mr. Bush had been working very hard to get a third and tougher round of sanctions approved by the Security Council. In trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to sign on, Mr. Bush argued that the failure to enact such sanctions would leave war as the only alternative. Yet if war was now out of the question, and if in any case Iran had for all practical purposes given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, what need was there of sanctions?
Anticipating that this objection would be raised, the White House desperately set out to interpret the new NIE as, precisely, offering "grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically--without the use of force." These words by Stephen Hadley, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, represented the very first comment on the new NIE to emanate from the White House, and some version of them would be endlessly repeated in the days to come.
Joining this campaign of damage control, Messrs. Sarkozy and Brown issued similar statements, and even Ms. Merkel (who had been very reluctant to go along with Mr. Bush's push for another round of sanctions) now declared that it was "dangerous and still grounds for great concern that Iran, in the face of the UN Security Council's resolutions, continues to refuse to suspend uranium enrichment. . . . The Iranian president's intolerable agitation against Israel also speaks volumes. . . . It remains a vital interest of the whole world community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. "
As it happened, Mr. Hadley was right about the new NIE, which executed another 180-degree turn--this one, away from the judgment of the 2005 NIE concerning the ineffectiveness of international pressure. Flatly contradicting its "high confidence" in 2005 that Iran was forging ahead "despite its international obligations and international pressure," the new NIE concluded that the nuclear-weapons program had been halted in 2003 "primarily in response to international pressure." This indicated that "Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs."
Never mind that no international pressure to speak of was being exerted on Iran in 2003, and that at that point the mullahs were more likely acting out of fear that the Americans, having just invaded Iraq, might come after them next. Never mind, too, that religious and/or ideological passions, which the new NIE pointedly neglected to mention, have over and over again throughout history proved themselves a more powerful driving force than any "cost-benefit approach." Blithely sweeping aside such considerations, the new NIE was confident that just as the carrot-and-stick approach had allegedly sufficed in the past, so it would suffice in the future to "prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear-weapons program."
The worldview implicit here has been described by Mr. Richelson (mainly with North Korea in mind) as the idea that "moral suasion and sustained bargaining are the proven mechanisms of nuclear restraint." Such a worldview "may be ill-equipped," he observes delicately, "to accept the idea that certain regimes are incorrigible and negotiate only as a stalling tactic until they have attained a nuclear capability against the United States and other nations that might act against their nuclear programs."
True, the new NIE did at least acknowledge that it would not be easy to induce Iran to extend the halt, "given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear-weapons development and Iran's key national-security and foreign-policy objectives." But it still put its money on a "combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways."
It was this pronouncement, and a few others like it, that gave Stephen Hadley "grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically." But that it was a false hope was demonstrated by the NIE itself. For if Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons in order to achieve its "key national-security and foreign-policy objectives," and if those objectives explicitly included (for a start) hegemony in the Middle East and the destruction of the state of Israel, what possible "opportunities" could Tehran be offered to achieve them "in other ways"?
* * *
So much for the carrot. As for the stick, it was no longer big enough to matter, what with the threat of military action ruled out, and what with the case for a third round of sanctions undermined by the impression stemming from the NIE's main finding that there was nothing left to worry about. Why worry when it was four years since Iran had done any work toward developing the bomb, when the moratorium remained in effect, and when there was no reason to believe that the program would be resumed in the near future?
What is more, in continuing to insist that the Iranians must be stopped from developing the bomb and that this could be done by nonmilitary means, the Bush administration and its European allies were lagging behind a new consensus within the American foreign-policy establishment that had already been forming even before the publication of the new NIE. Whereas the old consensus was based on the proposition that (in Sen. John McCain's pungent formulation) "the only thing worse than bombing Iran was letting Iran get the bomb," the emerging new consensus held the opposite--that the only thing worse than letting Iran get the bomb was bombing Iran.
What led to this reversal was a gradual loss of faith in the carrot-and-stick approach. As one who had long since rejected this faith and who had been excoriated for my apostasy by more than one member of the foreign-policy elites, I never thought I would live to see the day when these very elites would come to admit that diplomacy and sanctions had been given a fair chance and that they had accomplished nothing but to buy Iran more time. The lesson drawn from this new revelation was, however, a different matter.
It was in the course of a public debate with one of the younger members of the foreign-policy establishment that I first chanced upon the change in view. Knowing that he never deviated by so much as an inch from the conventional wisdom of the moment within places like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, I had expected him to defend the carrot-and-stick approach and to attack me as a warmonger for contending that bombing was the only way to stop the mullahs from getting the bomb. Instead, to my great surprise, he took the position that there was really no need to stop them in the first place, since even if they had the bomb they could be deterred from using it, just as effectively as the Soviets and the Chinese had been deterred during the cold war.
Without saying so in so many words, then, my opponent was acknowledging that diplomacy and sanctions had proved to be a failure, and that there was no point in pursuing them any further. But so as to avoid drawing the logical conclusion--namely, that military action had now become necessary--he simply abandoned the old establishment assumption that Iran must at all costs be prevented from developing nuclear weapons, adopting in its place the complacent idea that we could learn to live with an Iranian bomb.
In response, I argued that deterrence could not be relied upon with a regime ruled by Islamo-fascist revolutionaries who not only were ready to die for their beliefs but cared less about protecting their people than about the spread of their ideology and their power. If the mullahs got the bomb, I said, it was not they who would be deterred, but we.
So little did any of this shake my opponent that I came away from our debate with the grim realization that the president's continued insistence on the dangers posed by an Iranian bomb would more and more fall on deaf ears--ears that would soon be made even deafer by the new NIE's assurance that Iran was no longer hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons after all. There might be two different ideas competing here--one, that we could live with an Iranian bomb; the other, that there would be no Iranian bomb to live with--but the widespread acceptance of either would not only preclude the military option but would sooner or later put an end even to the effort to stop the mullahs by nonmilitary means.
* * *
And yet there remained something else, or rather someone else, to factor into the equation: the perennially "misunderestimated" George W. Bush, a man who knew evil when he saw it and who had the courage and the determination to do battle against it. This was also a man who, far more than most politicians, said what he meant and meant what he said. And what he had said at least twice before was that if we permitted Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people 50 years from now would look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they would rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did at Munich in 1938. It was because I had found it hard to understand why Mr. Bush would put himself so squarely in the dock of history on this issue if he were resigned to an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, or even of the ability to build them, that I predicted in the pages of Commentary, and went on predicting elsewhere, that he would not retire from office before resorting to the military option.
Reply #129 on:
January 22, 2008, 08:01:55 PM »
But I could not for the life of me believe that Mr. Bush intended to fly in the face of the solemn promise he had made in his 2002 State of the Union address:
We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.
To which he had added shortly afterward in a speech at West Point: "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long."
How, I wondered, could Mr. Bush not know that in the case of Iran he was running a very great risk of waiting too long? And if he was truly ready to run that risk, why, in a press conference the day after the new NIE came out, did he put himself in the historical dock yet again by repeating what he had said several times before about the judgment that would be passed on this generation in the future if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon?
If Iran shows up with a nuclear weapon at some point in time, the world is going to say, what happened to them in 2007? How come they couldn't see the impending danger? What caused them not to understand that a country that once had a weapons program could reconstitute the weapons program? How come they couldn't see that the important first step in developing a weapon is the capacity to be able to enrich uranium? How come they didn't know that with that capacity, that knowledge could be passed on to a covert program? What blinded them to the realities of the world? And it's not going to happen on my watch.
* * *
"It's not going to happen on my watch." What else could this mean if not that Mr. Bush was preparing to meet "the impending danger" in what he must by now have concluded was the only way it could be averted?
The only alternative that seemed even remotely plausible to me was that he might be fixing to outsource the job to the Israelis. After all, even if, by now, it might have become politically impossible for us to take military action, the Israelis could not afford to sit by while a regime pledged to wipe them off the map was equipping itself with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. For unless Iran could be stopped before acquiring a nuclear capability, the Israelis would be faced with only two choices: either strike first, or pray that the fear of retaliation would deter the Iranians from beating them to the punch. Yet a former president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, had served notice that his country would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation:
If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession, . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.
If this was the view of even a supposed moderate like Mr. Rafsanjani, how could the Israelis depend upon the mullahs to refrain from launching a first strike? The answer was that they could not. Bernard Lewis, the leading contemporary authority on the culture of the Islamic world, has explained why:
MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic [like Mr. Ahmadinejad]. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [the mullahs ruling Iran] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.
Under the aegis of such an attitude, even in the less extreme variant that may have been held by some of Mr. Ahmadinejad's colleagues among the regime's rulers, mutual assured destruction would turn into a very weak reed. Understanding that, the Israelis would be presented with an irresistible incentive to preempt--and so, too, would the Iranians. Either way, a nuclear exchange would become inevitable.
What would happen then? In a recently released study, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that Mr. Rafsanjani had it wrong. In the grisly scenario Mr. Cordesman draws, tens of millions would indeed die, but Israel--despite the decimation of its civilian population and the destruction of its major cities--would survive, even if just barely, as a functioning society. Not so Iran, and not its "key Arab neighbors," particularly Egypt and Syria, which Mr. Cordesman thinks Israel would also have to target in order "to ensure that no other power can capitalize on an Iranian strike." Furthermore, Israel might be driven in desperation to go after the oil wells, refineries, and ports in the Gulf.
"Being contained within the region," writes Martin Walker of UPI in his summary of Mr. Cordesman's study, "such a nuclear exchange might not be Armageddon for the human race." To me it seems doubtful that it could be confined to the Middle East. But even if it were, the resulting horrors would still be far greater than even the direst consequences that might follow from bombing Iran before it reaches the point of no return.
In the worst case of this latter scenario, Iran would retaliate by increasing the trouble it is already making for us in Iraq and by attacking Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological and/or chemical weapons. There would also be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own. And there would be a deafening outcry from one end of the earth to the other against the inescapable civilian casualties. Yet, bad as all this would be, it does not begin to compare with the gruesome consequences of a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran, even if those consequences were to be far less extensive than Mr. Cordesman anticipates.
Which is to say that, as between bombing Iran to prevent it from getting the bomb and letting Iran get the bomb, there is simply no contest.
* * *
But this still does not answer the question of who should do the bombing. Tempting as it must be for George Bush to sit back and let the Israelis do the job, there are considerations that should give him pause. One is that no matter what he would say, the whole world would regard the Israelis as a surrogate for the United States, and we would become as much the target of the ensuing recriminations both at home and abroad as we would if we had done the job ourselves.
To make matters worse, the indications are that it would be very hard for the Israeli air force, superb though it is, to pull the mission off. Thus, an analysis by two members of the Security Studies Program at MIT concluded that while "the Israeli air force now possesses the capability to destroy even well-hardened targets in Iran with some degree of confidence," the problem is that for the mission to succeed, all of the many contingencies involved would have to go right. Hence an Israeli attempt could end with the worst of all possible outcomes: retaliatory measures by the Iranians even as their nuclear program remained unscathed. We, on the other hand, would have a much bigger margin of error and a much better chance of setting their program back by a minimum of five or 10 years and at best wiping it out altogether.
The upshot is that if Iran is to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power, it is the United States that will have to do the preventing, to do it by means of a bombing campaign, and (because "if we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long") to do it soon.
When I first predicted a year or so ago that Mr. Bush would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities once he had played out the futile diplomatic string, the obstacles that stood in his way were great but they did not strike me as insurmountable. Now, thanks in large part to the new NIE, they have grown so formidable that I can only stick by my prediction with what the NIE itself would describe as "low-to-moderate confidence." For Mr. Bush is right about the resemblance between 2008 and 1938. In 1938, as Winston Churchill later said, Hitler could still have been stopped at a relatively low price and many millions of lives could have been saved if England and France had not deceived themselves about the realities of their situation. Mutatis mutandis, it is the same in 2008, when Iran can still be stopped from getting the bomb and even more millions of lives can be saved--but only provided that we summon up the courage to see what is staring us in the face and then act on what we see.
Unless we do, the forces that are blindly working to ensure that Iran will get the bomb are likely to prevail even against the clear-sighted determination of George W. Bush, just as the forces of appeasement did against Churchill in 1938. In which case, we had all better pray that there will be enough time for the next President to discharge the responsibility that Mr. Bush will have been forced to pass on, and that this successor will also have the clarity and the courage to discharge it. If not--God help us all--the stage will have been set for the outbreak of a nuclear war that will become as inescapable then as it is avoidable now.
Mr. Podhoretz is the editor-at-large of Commentary and author of "World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism" (Doubleday, 2007).
Reply #130 on:
February 09, 2008, 07:30:31 AM »
NY Times: Caveat Lector
MADRASA kojast?” Where is the religious school?
Leaving my hotel on the tree-shaded boulevard of Chahar Bagh Abbasi in Esfahan, Iran, I had ducked down a small lane just south of Takhti Junction, made a couple of turns, and gotten lost. I was trying to follow a seven-mile walking route recorded in my Lonely Planet guidebook — and nowhere else, it seemed, not on signs or on any local map — and wandered into a maze of alleys flanked by tawny walls.
A man repairing a motorcycle in a small garage smiled and gave me directions. “Madrasa,” he said, pointing to the right.
If you’re going to get lost, Esfahan (also spelled Isfahan), a city of 1.3 million about 200 miles south of Tehran in central Iran, is an extraordinary place to do it. There’s a centuries-old saying that Esfahan is “half the world,” meaning it contains fully half of the earth’s wonders.
Jean Chardin, a 17th-century French traveler, wrote that Esfahan “was expressly made for the delights of love”; in the 1930s, the British travel writer Robert Byron rated it “among those rarer places, like Athens or Rome, which are the common refreshment of humanity.”
I had arrived in Iran two weeks earlier, last May, considerably less venturesome and more anxious. “Excuse me, ma’am,” I sputtered in phrase book Farsi to the first person I met — a bearded soldier.
I knew only the news-report version of Iran: renegade developer of nuclear technology, member of the Axis of Evil, and mortal enemy of the Great Satan, the United States. I was hoping to learn what the country was actually like; I wanted to know how it would feel to be an American in Iran.
“Where are you from?” a German tourist asked on my first day in Tehran.
When I said, “The United States,” her eyes bulged. “Ssssh, I won’t tell,” she said.
Tehran didn’t dispel negative stereotypes, at least not at first. Braving streets jammed with pollution-spewing motorcycles and Paykan sedans, I walked under the watchful eye of my Iranian guide, who said that it would be dangerous for me to leave his sight. We passed a billboard showing the glaring visage of the Ayatollah Khomeini and reached the former United States Embassy. Site of C.I.A. plotting — including for the 1953 coup that installed the Shah — and of the 1979-81 hostage crisis, the compound is now a museum and historical site known as the Den of U.S. Espionage.
I walked past a painted slogan in rough English — “United States of America Ghods Occupier Regime Is the Most Hated State Before Our Nation”— and another that read “Down With USA.” A young man stood smiling in front of it. I snapped a photo; discreetly, or so I thought, but he ran down the sidewalk after me.
“I don’t hate America,” he said plaintively. “I love America.”
Nearly three decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran is undergoing a quieter transformation, this one in tourism. Last July, a government official announced a worldwide campaign to boost tourism, with new tourist offices to be opened in 20 countries.
This closely followed the news that Iran would offer cash bonuses to travel agents who can attract certain categories of tourists, especially those from Europe and America. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, probably hoping to convey peaceful intentions, has even announced that foreign tourists will soon be able to visit the country’s controversial nuclear sites.
This charm offensive hasn’t translated yet to an easy process for Americans hoping to visit. Independent travel is all but impossible — you need a host, typically a commercial outfitter — and the wait for a visa often lasts several months. I traveled with the photographer Greg Von Doersten, and despite the fact that he made arrangements well in advance with a company called Iranian Mountain Guides, he was forced to travel to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington, which handles Iranian interests in America, on the morning of our flight to pick up our visas. He barely made it back to New York in time for our evening departure.
Iran has sprawling pre-Islamic ruins, mosques glittering with kaleidoscopic mosaics of tile, and cities that present both a stern theocratic face and a glitzier Western one set to a ring-tone soundtrack. Its deserts are vaster than those of the American Southwest, its mountains higher than the Rockies.
Our itinerary would take us from Tehran to the highest summit in the Middle East, 18,606-foot Mount Damavand, to Persepolis, the 2,500-year-old masterpiece of the Achaemenids, the first Persian Empire. The highlight of the entire trip, though, was the long walk I took in Esfahan.
After following the motorcycle mechanic’s directions, I stood before a set of hulking wooden doors with peeling paint and dangling chains. This was the entrance to the Madrasa-ye Nimurvand, a small school known for being friendly to foreign visitors.
Robed students with books under their arms crossed the leafy interior courtyard; there was a low murmuring of voices and pleasant chirping of birds. A mullah, his beard flecked with gray and his head wrapped in a white turban, walked by, and we wound up in an hourlong discussion through a translator.
The mullah, Abdullah Dehshan, didn’t shy away from asking meaty questions: Do you think Islam is violent? If you could have one wish for the world what would it be? Do you believe in God? Maybe, I said, but people often get in the way.
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Do we need priests, rabbis, mullahs? I asked him. Mullah Dehshan smiled at this theological softball. If you want to go to Shiraz, he said, you would need a car, a road and a map. It is difficult to reach a far-off destination without help. “And so it is with God,” he said.
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Leaving the madrasa, I followed an alley to the northeastern edge of the Grand Bazaar Bazaar, one of the country’s largest. Built primarily in the 16th century, with some parts dating back to A.D. 700, the covered passages extended for miles and presented a maze even more convoluted than the alleyways that had preceded it.
The ceiling was high and vaulted. Star-shaped portals admitted spears of sunlight that cut through dusty air. Vendors and their wares were crammed into tiny stalls, selling spices, jeans, toiletries, soft-serve ice cream and cheap plastic toys. The atmosphere was souk meets 99-cent store.
Many booths, however, sold the very sort of handmade crafts that one would hope to find: ornate Persian carpets, many woven by nomadic peoples like the Turkmen and Lors; finely painted miniatures depicting hunting trips and polo matches; lacquered vases and bowls; and copper, silver and gold platters.
The passage ahead grew brighter. I passed through the Qeysarieh Portal, a faded but still colorful fresco overhead showing Shah Abbas I battling the Uzbeks. Esfahan owes much of its greatness to Abbas, who, after driving the Ottoman Turks out of Persia in the 16th century, began an architectural campaign to glorify his new capital city. Abbas’s verdant gardens, glittering palaces, grand ceremonial square, arched bridges and resplendent mosques still stand and are easily connected on a walking tour — one from a guidebook or, even better, one of your own invention.
I emerged from the portal onto a grand plaza under brilliant sunshine. Measuring 1,680 feet long by 535 feet wide — over 20 acres —Iman Square is one of the largest plazas in the world, and holds what is possibly the most stunning assemblage of Islamic architecture. A procession of arched bays enclosed a grassy esplanade and long reflecting pool.
At the far south end, twin minarets guarded the towering alcove entryway to Imam Mosque, which was capped by onion-shaped domes. To the right was Ali Qapu Palace. Six stories high, it had thin wooden columns supporting a roof over the elevated terrace, the royal vantage point for watching the polo matches that were played below hundreds of years ago. To the left was the broad, colorful cupola of Sheik Lotfollah Mosque, dedicated to Abbas’s father-in-law.
Trotting horses towed carriages. Families picnicked on the grass. If a traveler had any lingering doubts about the hospitality of Iranians toward Americans, this was the place to dispel them. Making a new friend required no more effort than standing still for 30 seconds.
I was approached first by a trio of giggling girls in black chadors. Next came an older man who invited me to have tea with three of his friends. Everyone wanted to know why I had come to Iran, and wondered what people back home thought of this undertaking. They had a pretty good idea about the answer.
“People think that we are all religious extremists with nuclear weapons and beards down to our stomachs,” said a carpet vendor named Vahid Mousavifard. “But Iran is actually very safe for tourists.”
Many people wanted to talk politics, though this, I knew, was to be done with caution. Members of the secret police are known to circulate in crowds, I was told by a guide; visitors have been detained for saying the wrong thing.
The people I met, as one might expect, weren’t big fans of President Bush. “You have troops in Afghanistan and troops in Iraq,” one young man said. “How long before you invade Iran?”
But I also heard comments that could have been scripted by Karl Rove.
“In Iran we have no wine, no music, no dancing, no disco, no loving,” said a ranting middle-age neuroscientist. “We want your government. We want your freedom.”
The Imam Mosque is the larger of the two at Imam Square; Sheik Lotfollah is the more beautiful. Its tiled dome was covered by twirling black-and-white vines and turquoise flowers, a design with the precision more of fine china than of monumental architecture. A high, honeycombed arch known as an aivan, decorated with Koranic inscriptions and complex arabesques, capped the entryway.
Inside, a cool, dim passage led to a prayer sanctuary beneath the dome. Light filtered in through screened windows, revealing glass and tile mosaics even more colorful and elaborate than those outside.
Iranians are proud of these 17th-century monuments, as they are of much of Persia’s history over the millennia. In the course of my travels, people complained more frequently and vigorously about the American movie “300,” which was perceived to portray ancient Persia in an unflattering light, than about any contemporary political issue.
In Shiraz, 225 miles south of Esfahan, I had met a young Iranian tour guide, Maziar Rahimi, who had just spent the day at Persepolis. “When I went there I saw how big we were back then and how small we are now,” he said.
He believed that there was great dissatisfaction with the current state of the country and that it was time to live up to the glories of the past.
“You see it everywhere,” he said. “The young women are wearing their scarves far back and more makeup. Change is coming.”
LATE one afternoon in Esfafahan, I strolled from Imam Square down to the Zayandeh River, which snakes through the heart of the city. Yet more of the legacy of Shah Abbas and his successors is on view there, a series of stunning old bridges spanning the broad, calm waterway. Following a path along the bank, I saw people spread out on blankets for picnic dinners, groups of laughing girls, even some couples boldly holding hands.
I reached the Si-o-Seh Bridge, the Bridge of 33 Arches. The sun was setting, and lights came on to fill each of the alcoves with a golden glow. Silhouetted figures gazed out from the portals.
Farther east, near the base of the Chubi Bridge, stood a small teahouse. The inside was packed with men sitting shoulder to shoulder smoking qalyans, or water pipes. Spotting the visitor, they squeezed even tighter to make room. A waiter brought tea, sugar and a qalyan. The smoke was sweet and rich; there was so much in the air that the people across the room were hazy.
The man on my right asked where I was from. “America,” I said.
The room got quieter. Everyone seemed to be looking my way. Then the man clapped my shoulder and smiled.
“Our governments are bad,” he said. “But the people are good.”
Reply #131 on:
February 12, 2008, 09:15:07 PM »
The U.S.-Iranian Negotiations: Beyond the Rhetoric
February 12, 2008 | 1943 GMT
By George Friedman
Tehran has announced that Iran and the United States will hold a new round of talks on the future of Iraq at some point next week. The Iranians said that the “structure of the discussions have been finalized but the level of participation has not yet been agreed.” Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expected to visit Iraq before March 20, the Iranian New Year. The United States has not denied either of these reports. There thus appears to be some public movement occurring in the U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq.
These talks are not new. This would be the fourth in a series of meetings; the most recent meeting happened last August. These meetings have been scheduled and canceled before, and because who will attend this go-round remains unsettled, these talks may never get off the ground. More significant, no Iranian president has visited Iraq since the Khomeini revolution. If this visit took place, it would represent a substantial evolution. It also is not something that would happen unopposed if the United States did not want it to; by contrast, the Iraqi government lacks much of a say in the matter because it does not have that much room for maneuver. So we can say this much: Nothing has happened yet, but the Iranians have repositioned themselves as favoring some sort of diplomatic initiative from their side and the Americans so far have not done anything to discourage them.
U.S.-Iranian negotiations are always opaque because they are ideologically difficult to justify by both sides. For Iran, the United States is the Great Satan. For the United States, Iran is part of the Axis of Evil. It is difficult for Iran to talk to the devil or for the United States to negotiate with evil. Therefore, U.S.-Iranian discussions always take place in a strange way. The public rhetoric between the countries is always poisonous. If you simply looked at what each country says about the other, you would assume that no discussions are possible. But if you treat the public rhetoric as simply designed to manage domestic public opinion, and then note the shifts in policy outside of the rhetorical context, a more complex picture emerges. Public and private talks have taken place, and more are planned. If you go beyond the talks to actions, things become even more interesting.
We have discussed this before, but it is important to understand the strategic interests of the two countries at this point to understand what is going on. Ever since the birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq has been the buffer between the Iranians and the Arabian Peninsula. The United States expected to create a viable pro-American government quickly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and therefore expected that Iraq would continue to serve as a buffer. That did not happen for a number of reasons, and therefore the strategic situation has evolved.
The primary American interest in Iraq at this point is a negative one — namely, that Iraq not become an Iranian satellite. If that were to happen and Iranian forces entered Iraq, the entire balance of power in the Arabian Peninsula would collapse. Whatever the future of Iraq, U.S. policy since the surge and before has been to prevent a vacuum into which Iran can move. The primary Iranian interest in Iraq also is negative. Tehran must make sure that no Iraqi government is formed that is dominated by Sunnis, as happened under the Baathists, and that the Iraqi military never becomes powerful enough to represent an offensive threat to Iran. In other words, above all else, Iran’s interest is to avoid a repeat of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Obviously, each side has positive goals. The United States would love to see a powerful, pro-American Iraqi government that could threaten Iran on its own. The Iranians would love to see a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Neither side is in a position to achieve these goals. The United States cannot create a pro-U.S. government because the Iranians, through their influence in the Shiite community, can create sufficient chaos to make that impossible. Through the surge, the United States has demonstrated to the Iranians that it is not withdrawing from Iraq, and the Iranians do not have the ability to force an American withdrawal. So long as the Americans are there and moving closer to the Sunnis, the Iranians cannot achieve their positive goals and also must harbor concerns about the long-term future of Iraq. Each side has blocked the other’s strategic positive goal. Each side now wants to nail down its respective negative goal: avoiding the thing it fears the most.
Ever since the 2006 U.S. congressional midterm elections, when President George W. Bush confounded Iranian expectations by actually increasing forces in Iraq rather than beginning a phased withdrawal, the two countries have been going through a complex process of talks and negotiations designed to achieve their negative ends: the creation of an Iraq that cannot threaten Iran but can be a buffer against Iranian expansion. Neither side trusts the other, and each would love to take advantage of the situation to achieve its own more ambitious goals. But the reality on the ground is that each side would be happy if it avoided the worst-case scenario.
Again, ignoring the rhetoric, there has been a fairly clear sequence of events. Casualties in Iraq have declined — not only U.S. military casualties but also civilian casualties. The civil war between Sunni and Shia has declined dramatically, although it did not disappear. Sunnis and Shia both were able to actively project force into more distant areas, so the decline did not simply take place because neighborhoods became more homogeneous, nor did it take place because of the addition of 30,000 troops. Though the United States created a psychological shift, even if it uses its troops more effectively, Washington cannot impose its will on the population. A change in tactics or an increase of troops to 150,000 cannot control a country of 25 million bent on civil war.
The decline in intracommunal violence is attributable to two facts. The first is the alliance between the United States and Sunni leaders against al Qaeda, which limited the jihadists’ ability to strike at the Shia. The second is the decision by the Iranians to control the actions of Iranian-dominated militias. The return of Muqtada al-Sadr — the most radical of the Shiite leaders — to ayatollah school and his decision to order his followers to cease fire dramatically reduced Shiite-on-Sunni violence. That would not, and could not, have happened without Iranian concurrence. If the Iranians had wanted the civil war to continue unabated, it would have. The Iranians cannot eliminate all violence, nor do they want to. They want the Americans to understand that they can resume the violence at will. Nevertheless, without the Iranian decision to limit the violence, the surge would not have worked.
If the prime Iranian threat against the United States was civil war in Iraq, the prime American threat against Iran was an air campaign against Iranian infrastructure. Such a campaign was publicly justified by the U.S. claim that Iran was developing nuclear weapons. With the Iranians having removed the threat of overwhelming civil war in Iraq, the United States responded by removing the threat of an air campaign. The publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that Iran does not have a nuclear program at present effectively signaled the Iranians that there would be no campaign.
There was intense speculation that the NIE was a “coup” by the intelligence community against the president. Though an interesting theory, not a single author of the NIE has been fired, none of the intelligence community leaders has been removed, and the president has very comfortably lived with the report’s findings. He has lowered the threat of war against Iran while holding open the possibility — as the NIE suggests — that the Iranians might still be a threat, and that a new NIE might require airstrikes.
The Iranians reduced Shiite violence. The United States reduced the threat of airstrikes. At various points, each side has tested and signaled to the other. The Iranians have encouraged small-scale attacks by Shia in recent weeks, but nothing like what was going on a year or two ago. During Bush’s trip to the region, the United States triggered a crisis in the Strait of Hormuz to signal the Iranians that the United States retains its options. The rhetoric remains apocalyptic, but the reality is that, without admitting it, each side has moved to lower the temperature.
Clearly, secret negotiations are under way. The announcement that an agreement was reached on the structure and subject of a public meeting this week by definition means that unpublicized conversations have been taking place. Similarly, the announcement that Ahmadinejad will be visiting Iraq could not have come without extensive back-channel discussions. We would suspect that these discussions actually have been quite substantial.
The Iranians have made clear what they want in these negotiations. Mottaki was quoted in the Iranian media as saying, “We did express our readiness for entering into negotiations with the U.S. when the talks were held by the five Security Council permanent members plus Germany over Iran’s nuclear program.” He also said that, “Revising its policies toward Iran, the U.S. can pave the way for us to consider the circumstances needed for such talks to be held.” Since talks are being held, it must indicate some movement on the American part.
It all comes down to this: The United States, at the very least, wants a coalition government in Iraq not controlled by Iran, which can govern Iraq and allow the United States to draw down its forces. The Iranians want an Iraqi government not controlled by the United States or the Sunnis, which can control Iraq but not be strong enough to threaten Iran. Iran also wants the United States to end sanctions against Iran, while the United States wants Iran to end all aspects of its nuclear program.
Ending sanctions is politically difficult for the United States. Ending all aspects of the nuclear program is difficult for Iran. The United States can finesse the sanctions issue by turning a blind eye to third powers trading with Iran and allowing U.S. companies to set up foreign subsidiaries to conduct trade with Iran. The Iranians can finesse the nuclear issue, maintaining limited aspects of the program but not pursuing all the technologies needed to build a weapon.
Rhetoric aside, we are therefore in a phase where there are ways for each side to get what it wants. Obviously, the political process is under way in both countries, with Iranian parliamentary elections on March 14 and the U.S. presidential race in full swing. Much domestic opposition is building up against Ahmadinejad, and an intensifying power struggle in Iran could be a fairly large distraction for the country in the short term. The Iranians also could wait a bit more to see how the U.S. presidential campaign shapes up before making any major decisions.
But then, a political process is always under way. That means the rhetoric will remain torrid; the public meetings few and low-key; the private discussions ongoing; and actions by each side sometimes inexplicable, keyed as they are to private discussions.
But it is clear from this week’s announcements by the Iranians that there is movement under way. If the Iranian president does visit Iraq and the United States makes no effort to block him, that will be the signal that some sort of accommodation has been reached. The United States and Iran will not recognize each other and will continue to condemn and even threaten each other. But this is truly a case where their rhetoric does not begin to reflect the reality.
Reply #132 on:
February 20, 2008, 05:13:12 AM »
Mr. President, Don't Forget Iran
By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
February 19, 2008; Page A19
Dear Mr. President: A few months ago, it became possible to hear members and supporters of your administration going around Washington and saying that the question of a nuclear-armed Iran "would not be left to the next administration." As a line of the day, this had the advantage of sounding both determined and slightly mysterious, as if to commit both to everything and to nothing in particular.
That slight advantage has now, if you will permit me to say so, fallen victim to diminishing returns. The absurdly politicized finding of the National Intelligence Estimate -- to the effect that Iran has actually halted rather than merely paused its weapons-acquisition program -- has put the United States in a position where it is difficult even to continue pressing for sanctions, let alone to consider disabling the centrifuge and heavy-water sites at Natanz, Arak and elsewhere.
Over the course of the next year, you will have to decide whether this question will indeed be left to become a problem for the succeeding administration. As matters now stand, the U.S. is in the not-unfamiliar position of appearing to be more bellicose than it actually is. The picture is complicated by the fact that, unlike Iraq in the past or North Korea today, Iran can boast quite an impressive "civil society" movement, which would like both to replace the current ramshackle theocracy and to adopt better and closer relations with the U.S.
In other words, Iran is running on two timetables. The first one -- the gradual but definite emergence of a democratization trend among the young and the middle class -- is something that we can gauge but not determine. The second one -- the process by which a messianic regime lays hold of the means to manufacture apocalyptic weaponry -- could move rather faster, and is partly designed in any case to insulate the mullahs from regime change.
Is it possible that these two apparently discrepant elements can be brought into a more, shall we say, synergistic relationship, and that the U.S. can regain the initiative that has (yet again!) been lost to it by the actions of its own intelligence bureaucracy? The answer is yes.
Consider our advantages. To begin with, all visitors to Tehran report an extraordinary level of sympathy with the U.S. among the general population. On my own visit to the country, I was astonished by the sheer number of people who had relatives overseas, and who wished they could join them. Most especially among the young, pro-American cultural and musical "statements" are as common as they were in Eastern Europe before 1989.
We have removed from power the two most hated enemies, not of the Iranian mullahs alone, but of the Iranian people. It is true that many Iranians feel nervous about having American forces on their Afghan and Iraqi frontiers, but it is equally true that our ability to demolish the Taliban and the Saddam Hussein tyrannies has greatly impressed many Iranians. Iranians are acutely aware of the backwardness of their country. Iran may be floating on a lake of oil, but still conducts much the same backward, rug-and-pistachio economy that it was operating when the mullahs seized power almost 30 years ago.
Changing my gear and tone a little, I want to mention another kind of advantage altogether. Iran is scheduled to suffer from a devastating earthquake in the very near future. Its capital, Tehran, is built on a cobweb of fault-lines: a predicament not improved by the astonishing amount of illegal and uninspected construction that takes place, thanks to corruption and incompetence, within its perimeter.
I want to underline what might be called a seismic imperative. A serious earthquake in Iran could wreak untold damage not just on the Iranian people but on their neighbors, and the clerical regime is doing nothing to prepare for this eventuality or to protect against it.
In the aftermath of the 2003 earthquake that rocked Bam, American search-and-rescue teams performed prodigies of valor and skill and became so popular locally that the news of their achievements had to be hushed up by the regime's less-than-perfect censorship. Consider, then, the "public diplomacy" impact of a serious public offer to Iran, made through international media and from the podium (so often usurped by the clownish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) of the United Nations. The U.S. could propose the following: a commitment to help Iran protect its centers of population and its key installations against an earthquake. Along with the provision of expertise and advice would come a request for inspections of key facilities, especially those which might, if ruptured, pose a Chernobyl-type threat to neighboring countries.
At one stroke, this would make a strong appeal, on a matter of urgent material interest, to the general Iranian public. It would point a contrast between our priorities and those of the regime. And it would position us, before the fact, for something not unlike the well-improvised post-tsunami operation mounted by the U.S. Navy in Indonesia.
In the same speech it ought to be said that the U.S. and its allies -- committed as they are to assisting Iran to acquire a peaceful nuclear energy capability, and alarmed as they are by signs of a deceptive strategy in this regard -- would like to be sure that our negotiating partners truly represent the Iranian people. It could even be said that our intervention in Iraq, and the consequent liberation of the Shiites, will prove to have long-term positive consequences.
I have heard it argued that any carrot-shaped initiatives directed at Tehran constitute a reward for the regime's bad behavior, and might even encourage the harder-line mullahs to believe that their intransigence had paid off. But I don't think that this can be said for the proposals outlined above, which are directed at the Iranian people, and which in effect offer them considerable benefits in exchange for something that the majority of them appear to desire in any case, namely political and social transparency.
It's eternally fashionable in Washington (and elsewhere) to contrast "diplomatic" initiatives with "saber-rattling" ones. What this naïve dichotomy overlooks is the plain fact that without the known quantity of the American saber, few if any diplomatic movements would be possible. If the moment comes when you, Mr. President, feel that a "Nixon-in-China" initiative is required, and an offer of direct dealing with Iran and the Iranians is warranted, it will be important for you to find some telling words in which to phrase an acknowledgment of those facts.
The current period of suspended animation cannot be protracted indefinitely. In our own current election, every serious candidate has stated that the outcome of a nuclear theocracy is simply not acceptable. It will indeed need to be decided, and in the lifetime of your administration, whether we aim merely to negate that intolerable ambition, or whether we have the ingenuity to make this the occasion for a wider and deeper engagement, consummating the progress made in Iraq and Afghanistan and confirming it in the keystone society that lies between them.
Mr. Hitchens is a Vanity Fair columnist. An expanded version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of World Affairs.
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Reply #133 on:
March 04, 2008, 11:27:05 AM »
Iran's Nuclear Threat
By ZALMAY KHALILZAD
March 4, 2008; Page A17
The United Nations Security Council has passed another resolution concerning Iran because its nuclear program is an unacceptable threat. Iran's violations of Security Council resolutions not only continue, but are deepening. Instead of suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities as the council has required, Iran is dramatically expanding the number of operating centrifuges and developing a new generation of centrifuges, testing one of them with nuclear fuel.
Once again, Iran has not made the choice the world had hoped for; once again, the Security Council has no choice but to act. At stake is the security of a vital region of the world, and the credibility of the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as they seek to hold Iran to its nonproliferation commitments.
The latest report from the IAEA states that Iran has not met its obligation to fully disclose its past nuclear-weapons program. On the core issue of whether Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful, the report showed no serious progress.
The IAEA presented Iran with documents assembled over a period of years from multiple member states and the agency's own investigations. The documents detailed Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear warhead, including designs for a missile re-entry vehicle, and showed other possible undeclared activities with nuclear material.
Iran dismissed these documents as "baseless and fabricated." But the IAEA does not share that conclusion.
Instead of slogans and obfuscations, the international community needs answers from Iran. The international community must be able to believe Iran's declaration that its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes. Iranian leaders must as a first step fully disclose past weapons-related work, and implement additional safeguards to ensure no continuing hidden activities. We agree with the IAEA that until Iran takes these steps, Iran's nuclear program cannot be verified as peaceful.
The latest IAEA report also states that Iran is not suspending its proliferation-sensitive activities.
For almost two years now, the Security Council has required Iran to suspend all of its enrichment-related, reprocessing, and heavy water-related activities. I want to ask the Iranian leaders, "If your goal is to generate nuclear power for peaceful purposes, why do you court increasing international isolation, economic pressure and more, all for a purported goal more easily and inexpensively obtained with the diplomatic solution we and others offer?"
I want the Iranian people and others around the world to know that the United States recognizes Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. They should know that the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany have offered to help Iran develop civil nuclear power, if it complies with the Security Council's demand -- a very reasonable demand -- to suspend enrichment. They should know that the package of incentives includes active international support to build state-of-the art light water power reactors, and reliable access to nuclear fuel.
Iran should do what other nations have done to eliminate any doubts that their nuclear program is peaceful. Many states have made the decision to abandon programs to produce a nuclear weapon. Two of them sit on the Security Council today: South Africa and Libya.
Other countries that have stepped away from past nuclear-weapon aspirations include Brazil, Argentina, Romania, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. These countries did not see their security diminished as a result of their decisions. Indeed, one could easily say their security has been enhanced. Nor did they lose their right to develop nuclear energy. We urge Iran to take the same path these other states have chosen.
The international community has good reason to be concerned about Iran's activities to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability. The present Iranian regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose a greater potential danger to the region and to the world.
The Iranian government has been a destabilizing force in the broader Middle East and beyond. Contrary to its statements, Iran has been funding and supporting terrorists and militants for operations in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. Their lethal assistance has harmed countless innocent civilians. The president of Iran has made many reprehensible statements -- embracing the objective of destroying a member state of the United Nations.
Because of all these factors, the international community cannot allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. If Iran continues down its current path, it would likely fuel proliferation activities in the region, which, in turn, could cause the demise of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime itself.
The U.S. remains committed to a diplomatic solution. If Iran shares this commitment, it will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities and let diplomacy succeed. We call on Iran to engage in constructive negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Such negotiations, if successful, would have profound benefits for Iran and the Iranian people.
The message from the U.S. to the people of Iran is that America respects you and your great country. We want Iran to be a full partner in the international community. And as President Bush has said, if Iran respects its international obligations, it will have no better friend than the United States of America.
Mr. Khalilzad is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Reply #134 on:
March 07, 2008, 08:17:40 AM »
Irresolution on Iran
March 7, 2008; Page A14
The Bush Administration is hailing as a diplomatic triumph Monday's 14-0 Security Council resolution further sanctioning Iran for its nuclear programs. For its part, Tehran calls the U.N. action "worthless," and unfortunately the Iranians are closer to the mark.
For a resolution in the making for a year, it turns out to be an astonishingly hollow document. It adds a handful of names to the list of Iranians who are subject to travel bans and asset freezes. It calls on states to exercise "vigilance" in dealing with two Iranian banks -- Melli and Saderat -- implicated in Iran's nuclear programs, but falls short of sanctioning them. And it allows states to inspect Iranian-bound cargoes suspected of transporting prohibited items, but only if those cargoes are being moved by Iran's national air and shipping lines. Good luck enforcing that.
This is all the more remarkable given what the U.N.'s own inspectors at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are saying about Iran -- that is, the evidence on which the Security Council based its decision. In a report released late last month, the IAEA focuses on what it calls "alleged studies" Iran conducted on nuclear weapons development. For example, it notes Iranian studies of the "schematic layout of the contents of the inner cone of a re-entry vehicle," which the IAEA assesses "as quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device."
Elsewhere, the report states that "during the meetings of 3-5 February 2008, the Agency made available documents for examination by Iran and provided additional technical information related to: the testing of high voltage detonator firing equipment; the development of an exploding bridgewire detonator (EBW); the simultaneous firing of multiple EBW detonators; and the identification of an explosive testing arrangement that involved the use of a 400 [meter] shaft and a firing capability remote from the shaft by a distance of 10 km, all of which the Agency believes would be relevant to nuclear weapon R&D."
Iran insists the documents are "fabricated," presumably by the Zionist conspiracy. Yet last week, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen gave a technical briefing to IAEA member states in which he noted that the information on Iran "came from multiple member states and covered a wide range of activities," according to a U.S. official familiar with the briefing. The official added that Iran "was first confronted with questions on these weaponization activities in 2005, thus putting the lie to Iranian claims that it did not have sufficient time or opportunity to respond to the IAEA's inquiries."
Meanwhile, Iran continues to flout the Security Council's chief demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. The production of sufficient quantities of fissile material is one of three key components in any nuclear weapons program, a fact that was relegated to a footnote in December's U.S. National Intelligence Estimate claiming Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.
Nor did that NIE make any mention of Iran's ongoing ballistic missile programs, the second key component. Instead, its chief claim was that Iran had suspended work on weaponization, which by all expert accounts is the least challenging part of a nuclear-weapons program. The IAEA report does not make clear if its own information corroborates the NIE claim about the suspension of this work. But it is a fresh reminder that Iran almost certainly lied about its previous weapons work, and continues to lie today.
That alone ought to be reason for stepped up pressure on the Islamic Republic. Instead, the weakness of this week's resolution, though masked by the show of unanimity, demonstrates that the "international community" has reached the outer limit of what it is prepared to do to stop Iran from becoming the world's 10th nuclear-weapons state. There is no more juice to be squeezed out of this lemon.
It has now been nearly five years since the Bush Administration began pursuing a multilateral track on Iran, a course it has followed patiently nearly to the end of its term. That hasn't done much to assuage its usual critics, and it didn't prevent its own intelligence bureaucracy from torpedoing that diplomacy with the December NIE.
What it has done is give Iran vital time to develop its nuclear knowhow and technical skill, perhaps to a point of no return. For President Bush, whose signature promise has been that he would not allow the world's most dangerous weapons to fall into the hands of the most dangerous regimes, this is not a record to be proud of.
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Reply #135 on:
April 11, 2008, 02:47:40 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Bush's Overtures to Iran and a Message to the American Public
April 11, 2008
In his speech on Thursday morning, U.S. President George W. Bush made two clear overtures to Iran, signaling that an agreement over Iraq is possible. The first came as a choice to Tehran, saying it “can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran. If Iran makes the right choice, America will encourage a peaceful relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran makes the wrong choice, America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners.”
The second overture split al Qaeda from Iran, saying “Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century — al Qaeda and Iran.”
These two messages show that the United States does not consider negotiations with Iran to be off-limits — as it does regarding talks with al Qaeda — and that if Iran cooperates (i.e. negotiates with the United States), the issue of Iraq could be settled peacefully to more or less the mutual satisfaction of both Washington and Tehran.
In testimony to the U.S. Senate on April 8, Gen. David Petraeus issued the same kind of message, saying that Iran had a choice on how the situation in Iraq would progress and leaving the door open for cooperation. However, Bush and Petraeus continued to make it very clear that the United States would punish Iran if it chose to continue to support elements of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. Washington has by no means removed any threats of retaliation from the table. While the United States will pause its troop reductions in Iraq this summer to consolidate its gains and hedge its bets, the sustainment of the U.S. military force in Iraq will also resonate strongly in Tehran.
Bush and Petraeus’ statements seem to be responses to an Iranian Foreign Ministry announcement on April 8 that the United States wanted to start another round of talks with Iran. These negotiations have been taking place on and off for the past year. On April 7, al-Sadr announced that he might disband the Mehdi Army, which seems to indicate that Iran is willing to halt its violent meddling in Iraq – temporarily at least. And this might suggest that talks between Washington and Tehran are progressing.
However, too many deal-breakers are still on the table to call this conflict settled. Israel of late has issued warnings to Syria, Hezbollah and Iran and is conducting war exercises, suggesting that something is brewing in the Levant. Israel also is gearing up for an offensive against Hamas in Gaza. Another Mideast conflict in the midst of negotiations over Iran, while not necessarily devastating, would put a U.S.-Iranian deal in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the upcoming U.S. elections are looming: it would be in Iran’s best interest to reach a conclusion with Bush rather than try to negotiate a deal with an unknown quantity — the next American president.
Statements from Bush’s speech and in Petraeus’ testimony acknowledge that Iran is a significant stakeholder in Iraq. Without cooperation from the Iranians, Iraq has no chance of recovering. By insisting that the situation in Iraq has improved, Bush and Petraeus are implicitly saying that, so far, Iran is cooperating. Dual statements — despite all of their caveats — from the president and the U.S. commander in Iraq suggesting that Iran is cooperating with the United States is a significant improvement in rhetoric. This is a signal to Iran that Washington is willing to engage in a final settlement, and it is a signal to the American public to prepare for a more open dialogue between the two rivals. Progress with Iraq does not come without progress with Iran.
It will be interesting to watch Iran over the next few days to see how the leadership there responds to these overtures. More positive signals from Iran could mean that further negotiations are pending. The political situation between the United States and Iran is reflecting the situation on the ground — one that offers the opportunity of a tenable agreement over the future of Iraq.
Reply #136 on:
April 11, 2008, 06:56:04 PM »
Interesting. I would rather have McCain negotiating this with a position of strength than Obama giving away the store with weakness.
"“Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century — al Qaeda and Iran.”
China is clearly the biggest threat we face.
Reply #137 on:
April 13, 2008, 08:39:23 AM »
China is less of an immediate threat. Iran may well do things in the short term that scar the flow of history.
Last Edit: April 13, 2008, 02:28:47 PM by G M
Iran Ballistic Missile sites?
Reply #138 on:
April 14, 2008, 03:10:54 PM »
A new report by The Times of London says that satellite photographs of a site in Iran indicate the location is being used to develop a ballistic missile that could reach most of continental Europe.
The Times writes that the photographs show the launch site of a Kavoshgar 1 rocket that Iran tested on February 4. Tehran claimed that the rocket was intended to further a nascent Iranian space program, but The Times says that the photos suggest otherwise.
Analysis of the photographs taken by the Digital Globe QuickBird satellite four days after the launch has revealed a number of intriguing features that indicate to experts that it is the same site where Iran is focusing its efforts on developing a ballistic missile with a range of about 6,000km (4,000 miles).
A previously unknown missile location, the site, about 230km southeast of Tehran, and the link with Iran's long-range programme, was revealed by Jane's Intelligence Review after a study of the imagery by a former Iraq weapons inspector. A close examination of the photographs has indicated that the Iranians are following the same path as North Korea, pursuing a space programme that enables Tehran to acquire expertise in long-range missile technology.
Geoffrey Forden, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that there was a recently constructed building on the site, about 40 metres in length, which was similar in form and size to the Taepodong long-range missile assembly facility in North Korea.
The Times adds that the rocket launched from the facility in February was based on Iran's Shahab 3B missile, which is in turn based on North Korea's Nodong missile. Geoffrey Forden, a member of the UN team monitoring Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in 2002 and 2003, noted that while the test rocket did not indicate any significant advances in Iran's missile technology, the launch site had "very high levels of security and recent construction activity" and appeared to be "an important strategic facility."
If the Iranian facility is indeed developing a long-range ballistic missile, it would explain NATO's decision last week to move ahead with the missile shield program supported by the US. The Christian Science Monitor reported last week that the Bush administration scored a key success by persuading NATO to approve the missile shield, which is meant to protect against missiles like those that Iran is linked to.
NATO members all supported the US position on missile-shield defense, which is to be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland. "There is a threat ... and allied security must be indivisible in the face of it," read the statement on missile defense.
But Iran has denied any hostile intent behind its rocket program. While Tehran has not yet commented on the Times report, after the February test of the Kavoshgar 1 rocket it stated its intent to use the technology for launching satellites, reported The New York Times.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad... said on state-run television: "We need to have an active presence in space. We witness today that Iran has taken its first step in space very firmly, precisely and with awareness."
Iran has said that it wants to put satellites into orbit to monitor natural disasters and to improve telecommunications, as well as for security reasons.
Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar said Iran would launch its domestically made satellite, called Omid, meaning Hope, in June, Fars News reported.
But US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the launch "troubling," noting that "the kinds of technologies and capabilities that are needed in order to launch a space vehicle for orbit are the same kinds of capabilities and technologies that one would employ for long-range ballistic missiles."
Much of the concern of both the US and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, stems from evidence found on a laptop stolen by an Iranian in 2004 and turned over to US intelligence services. Among other documents on the laptop, investigators found "drawings on modifying Iran's ballistic missiles in ways that might accommodate a nuclear warhead," reported The Washington Post in February. But the problem is proving that the documents are legitimate.
U.S. intelligence considers the laptop documents authentic but cannot prove it. Analysts cannot completely rule out the possibility that internal opponents of the Iranian leadership could have forged them to implicate the government, or that the documents were planted by Tehran itself to convince the West that its program remains at an immature stage....
British intelligence, asked for a second opinion, concurred last year that the documents appear authentic. German and French officials consider the information troubling, sources said, but Russian experts have dismissed it as inconclusive. IAEA inspectors, who were highly skeptical of U.S. intelligence on Iraq, have begun to pursue aspects of the laptop information that appear to bolster previous leads.
"There is always a chance this could be the biggest scam perpetrated on U.S. intelligence," one U.S. source acknowledged. "But it's such a large body of documents and such strong indications of nuclear weapons intent, and nothing seems so inconsistent."
Despite the possibility of Iran developing a long-range ballistic missile in time, Mr. Forden says that they likely still have a long way to go. ArmsControlWonk.com, a blog on WMDs and national security, cites Forden's observations about the flaws revealed by the February launch .
Iran's February 4th launch of a Shahab-3 just keeps on getting more and more interesting; that is if you are interested in just how good of a missile the Shahab/No'dong is. Video from Iran's television show that there is a failure of the missile's thrust vector control system nineteen seconds into its powered flight. At that point, there is a brief flaring at the very end of the missile and an object is seen flying off for several seconds, until it leaves the video's frame as the camera continues to follow the missile. Tellingly, it doesn't just drop off the missile but is given quite a transverse boost.
Forden says that the debris indicates that the missile's graphite jet vanes, used to steer the rocket in flight, are being "eaten away" by the rocket exhaust. Such a problem can knock a missile severely off course, he adds.
So what does this mean for missile proliferators in general and Syria and Iran (and North Korea since they are all involved in the development of these missiles) in particular? It means that they are still having a hard time producing graphite tough and pure enough to be used in large missiles. It also indicates that a top priority for their missile engineers will be to develop other thrust vector control mechanisms.
Oil being stored in tankers?!?
Reply #139 on:
May 16, 2008, 12:51:37 PM »
An Iranian Oil Mystery
May 16, 2008 | 0200 GMT
Iran confirmed on Thursday that it has booked a supertanker to store up to 270,000 tons of crude oil for up to 90 days. The Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) that Iran commissioned from Singapore-headquartered Tanker Pacific are expected to arrive in Iran the first week of June.
Iran already has more than 28 million barrels of oil floating in tankers outside its main export terminal in the Persian Gulf. The fleet of tankers storing this crude is owned by NITC, a subsidiary of state-owned oil firm National Iranian Oil Co. (NIOC), and has a capacity of more than 30 million barrels of crude — the equivalent of more than a week of Iran’s oil output.
There is something very wrong with this picture.
With oil prices soaring above $127 per barrel, any energy-producing country would be jumping at the opportunity to sell its crude and reap hefty profits. The Iranians, however, are choosing to store a huge bulk of their crude offshore in large tankers. Instead of making money off crude sales, Iran is expending loads of petrodollars to store nearly 30 million barrels of crude for weeks. Storing crude in offshore tankers for long periods of time is certainly not cheap.
So, what is Iran up to?
There are several possible explanations to Iran’s curious energy policy. Some energy analysts have speculated that Iran is holding out for a better market price to sell its oil. But with oil prices already hitting record highs, this explanation does not add up.
Another explanation is that the current policy is a result of the NIOC’s inferior management skills — which is certainly possible, given Iran’s poor track record in managing its investment-deprived energy sector. The intent behind such a policy would be for Iran to manipulate global crude prices by reducing exports and driving up demand.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already threw around threats in recent days to cut Iranian oil output, sending jitters through the energy market that ended up pushing oil prices to $127 per barrel. From the standpoint of the Iranian Energy Ministry, the threats to reduce output combined with a reduction in exports could drive up prices further and allow the Iranians to get a better deal on their crude sales.
But it appears that the Iranians already tried this strategy — and failed — in the summer of 2006. Beginning in March of that year, the Iranian government issued threats that it would cut its crude production while storing around 20 million barrels of oil in tankers. But instead of selling at a higher price, the Iranians found that oil traders simply looked elsewhere to make up for the difference. In the end, the Iranians wound up selling the bulk of that crude at a major discount to Royal Dutch/Shell and India’s Reliance.
Moreover, Iran is highly unlikely to follow through with its threats of dropping crude output. The Iranians are already producing oil at capacity at 4.02 million barrels per day (bpd). With the Iranian oil sector accounting for approximately 80 percent of Iran’s total exports (with 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product absorbed in energy subsidies), the country cannot afford to cut production and absorb the loss in income. Despite being the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, Iran is also the world’s second-largest importer of gasoline due to its faltering refining sector; and it is a major food importer. With food prices and inflation rising, Iran is all the more dependent on its oil revenues to maintain internal political stability, and it would be shooting itself in the foot if it took the hit of cutting its oil output.
The more likely reason behind Iran hoarding its oil is a drop in demand for Iranian crude — which spells far more serious consequences for the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s main oil export is a heavy crude that is difficult for refiners to convert into transport fuel. Most of the oil currently being stored off the Iranian coast comes from the Soroush and Nowruz fields, which produce approximately 190,000 bpd of low-quality, high-sulfur crude. Iran has already had a difficult time finding buyers for this heavy sour crude, but still is highly reluctant to cut the price down. The Iranians appear to have now reached a point where they have little choice but to take the hit in income and store the crude, in the hopes that demand for their product will rebound.
The main energy clients for Iranian crude include Japan, China, India, South Korea, Italy and other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations. But as the global food crisis worsens and inflation rates continue to soar worldwide, these countries will be loath to put up with Iran’s high prices for low-quality crude.
Iran can easily disguise its energy woes with rhetoric on how it is punishing the West by cutting output and driving up global crude prices. These threats will continue to send a jolt through energy investors and bump up prices a notch or two. But Iran will have a much harder time reaping the benefits of high energy prices as long as its energy income is strained by a drop in demand for its crude. Oil is the backbone of the Iranian economy, and if Iran is resorting to storing up loads of crude in the Gulf for lack of buyers, its financial — and thus internal political — stability will soon be coming into serious question.
It’s important to remember that Iran has an incredibly delicate social stability index to manage, with only about 55 percent of its population composed of ethnic Persians. The remaining population is made up of ethnic minorities who are kept in check by Tehran through a combination of military force and heavy state subsidies. If it is already having trouble sustaining its oil exports — and its economic problems continue to worsen — Iran runs the risk of losing its ability to function as a state, much less an aggressive one.
Tell Stratfor What You Think
Reply #140 on:
June 08, 2008, 07:48:40 PM »
Unintelligence on Iranian Nukes
Appalling gamesmanship at the CIA.
by Michael Rubin
02/25/2008, Volume 013, Issue 23
During his February 5 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell backpedaled from the December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and its claim that, "in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program."
Not only did McConnell testify that the Islamic Republic was working to master the enrichment of uranium--"the most difficult challenge in nuclear production"--but he also acknowledged that, "because of intelligence gaps," the U.S. government could not be certain that the Iranian government had fully suspended its covert nuclear programs. "We assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons," he testified. "In our judgment, only an Iranian political decision to abandon a nuclear weapons objective would plausibly keep Iran from eventually producing nuclear weapons--and such a decision is inherently reversible."
The NIE was no accident, and McConnell's pirouette does more than confirm the intelligence community's sloppiness. The 2007 NIE was built on geopolitical assumptions as much as any hard intelligence, and historians will deem it important not because it was accurate, but because it made utterly clear the collapse of the intelligence community. While the crudeness of its assault on the president's Iran policy makes it the best example of the intelligence community's agenda politics, it is far from the only one.
My initiation into CIA policy plays came less than a week after Baghdad's fall to coalition forces in April 2003. In the months before the war, U.S. government officials had assessed thousands of Iraqi political activists and technocrats in order to prepare to fill the Iraqi political -vacuum. Representatives from State, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council were meeting to vet invitations for the Nasiriya Conference where Iraqis would discuss post-liberation governance.
Rather than simply present the biographies of the various Iraqi figures, the CIA sought to be a privileged policy player. Its representative announced that not only would Langley be inviting its own candidates outside the interagency consensus, but the CIA would not be sharing the names or backgrounds of its invitees. Putting aside the ridiculousness of the CIA belief that it could invite delegates anonymously to a public conference, more troubling was the principle. Far from limiting its work to intelligence, the CIA leadership was unabashedly involving itself in major policy initiatives.
The reverberations of Langley's policy games haunted reconstruction. CIA officials would promise governorships to Iraqis without any coordination. Often, diplomats, military officials, and Pentagon civilians would learn of such deals only after other Iraqis had been appointed or elected to such offices. (Some U.S. servicemen surely paid the price as spurned Iraqis responded to what they saw as betrayal.) Once the son of a Kurdish leader remarked how ridiculous State-Defense bickering was when the CIA had implemented and funded a decision on the policy issue months before without any coordination whatsoever.
Many of the agency's senior analysts are arrogant after years behind their computers, believing they know far better what U.S. policy should be than the policymakers for whom they draft reports. The recourse of the disgruntled, bored, or politicized analyst is the leak--the bread and butter of any national security correspondent. Journalists who fulfill the leakers' objectives win ever more tantalizing scoops; those who maintain professional integrity and question the agenda behind any leak, find their access cut. The result is a situation in which journalists who might otherwise double-check sources, take a single intelligence analyst at his word, even if he is using them to fight a policy battle.
Iraq again provides a case study. In order to shield themselves from accountability over flawed intelligence or to bolster their Iraqi proxies at the expense of competitors, CIA officials provided a steady stream of leaks to favored correspondents like the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh or McClatchy's Warren Strobel. Such leaks ranged from allegations that the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans--a policy shop--was a rogue intelligence operation to misattributions of the provenance of prewar intelligence.
It was not uncommon, for example, to see false or exaggerated intelligence attributed to the Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi when it had actually come from Kurdish officials. This was never more clear than in a July 17, 2004, New York Times correction. The paper was retracting three stories which alleged a connection between Chalabi and an Iraqi source code-named Curveball, whose information later turned out to be bogus. The editors explained that their correspondent had "attribute[d] that account to American intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity." They continued: "Those officials now say that there was no such established relationship." In other words, intelligence officials lied to a reporter to achieve a policy aim.
Such behavior is not limited to debates over policies impacting countries thousands of miles away. W. Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official, told the American Prospect in 2005 that his intelligence community colleagues used leaks to try to influence the 2004 presidential election. "Of course they were leaking. They told me about it at the time. They thought it was funny. They'd say things like, 'This last thing that came out, surely people will pay attention to that. They won't reelect this man.' " The intelligence leadership did not refer the matter to the judiciary, unlike the leak concerning Valerie Plame.
To deflect criticism of the NIE, intelligence officials reached out to reporters. "Hundreds of officials were involved and thousands of documents were drawn upon in this report . . . making it impossible for any official to overly sway it," the Wall Street Journal was told. Wayne White, a former analyst in State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, suggested it was "absolutely disgusting" that anyone could impugn the professionalism of lead author (and his former colleague) Thomas Fingar. This is disingenuous. Personnel are policy. Half of Washington's battles involve who writes the first and last drafts of any paper or memo.
McConnell's testimony undercut the idea that the intelligence agencies deserve a reputation for either professionalism or integrity. A tolerance for political gamesmanship has besmirched the entire community. With the NIE giving Iran what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared its "greatest victory during the past 100 years," the consequence for U.S. national security is grave.
In the wake of the Iraq war, many Democrats accused the Bush administration of politicizing intelligence. It was a false charge, but good politics. But the fact is, the problem was the opposite: an intelligence community driven by the desire to conduct policy.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, was an Iran country director at the Pentagon between September 2002 and April 2004.
Reply #141 on:
June 11, 2008, 05:42:09 PM »
U.S. President George W. Bush on June 11 raised the possibility of a military strike against Iran to thwart the country’s presumed nuclear ambitions, The Associated Press reported. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking to a crowd in the Iranian city of Shahr-e-Kord, said Bush would not be able “to harm even one centimeter of the sacred land of Iran.”
Iran is calling our bluffs
Reply #142 on:
June 19, 2008, 09:13:24 AM »
I don't know how many times it becomes clear that only military force will work.
BO response IMO will be:
Iran is not a real threat to the US. They are not the Soviet Union. They have no intercontinental missles. I will be tough with them. People who are saying I can't protect the US are descending into personal attacks and disappoint me. I will protect us. I will send the police and an army of $600/hr liberal lawyers to talk some sense into them and out legaleeze them. We are a country built on 200 years of laws. What a joke. His scripted lines are getting so predictable and obnoxious.
We are apparently ready to repeat the same mistakes of history. And the young who are forever idealistic are not old enough to understand this though they think they are smarter. If I recall the line "youth is wasted on the young" was a line from *ancient* Greece. Some things never do change.
***Ahmadinejad says West failed in Iran nuclear crisis
Jun 19 06:54 AM US/Eastern
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday the West has failed to break Iran's will in the nuclear standoff, days after world powers presented Tehran with a new offer aimed at ending the crisis.
"In the nuclear issue, the bullying powers have used up all their capabilities but could not break the will of the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by state television.
World powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- on Saturday offered Tehran a new package of technological and economic incentives in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment activities.
The West fears the process might be used to make an atomic bomb although Iran insists it only wants to generate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Ahmadinejad's comments were his first statement on the nuclear crisis since the offer was presented but it was not clear if they represented a reaction to the proposal.
The Iranian government spokesman has already said Tehran will reject any offer demanding it suspends uranium enrichment.
The UN nuclear watchdog has been investigating Iran's nuclear drive for over five years but has never been able to conclude whether the programme is peaceful.
Iran has said it is examining the package but has so far showed no indication that it will change its defiant course in its nuclear drive.
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh ruled out on Wednesday that the country could freeze enrichment, saying: "Iran will never submit to such an illegal act."***
Reply #143 on:
June 23, 2008, 09:08:38 AM »
Europe fears Obama on Iran
POSTED AT 11:10 AM ON JUNE 22, 2008 BY ED MORRISSEY
One might think that Europe would welcome Barack Obama with open arms, but according to Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post, Obama has them worried. Key European allies fear a rupture between the US and the Continent if Obama attempts to waive the precondition of enrichment cessation in dealing with Iran. While they would like to see a heavier emphasis on team play rather than American hegemony, Obama’s insistence on cozying up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is far out of step with the rest of the West:
European officials are increasingly concerned that Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign pledge to begin direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program without preconditions could potentially rupture U.S. relations with key European allies early in a potential Obama administration.
The U.N. Security Council has passed four resolutions demanding that Iran stop enriching uranium, each time highlighting the offer of financial and diplomatic incentives from a European-led coalition if Tehran suspends enrichment, a route to producing fuel for nuclear weapons. But Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has said he would make such suspension a topic for discussion with Iran, rather than a precondition for any negotiations to take place.
European officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they are wary of giving up a demand that has been so enshrined in U.N. resolutions, particularly without any corresponding concessions by Iran. Although European officials are eager to welcome a U.S. president promising renewed diplomacy and multilateralism after years of tensions with the Bush administration, they feel strongly about continuing on the current path.
Obama’s response? Dr. Susan Rice told the Post that Europe has failed, and a new approach was needed. That ought to kick-start a new era in American diplomacy, eh?
While Europe may not care for the Bush administration’s tendency towards saber-rattling, they do not prescribe to the nonsense that dropping the precondition for ending enrichment would somehow make the Iranians more likely to stop. The EU has been on the front line of this issue for several years, and they have first-hand experience with Iranian lies and double-dealing. They understand that it will take a strong, united, and dominant front to force the Iranians into retreat on uranium enrichment.
At the moment, Europe has its hands full in pushing Russia and China into recognizing this, even with the US on board. An Obama presidency would put the US in a position even softer than that of Russia and China and give the Iranians a breath of fresh air. Obama’s team says such talks would provide the US with more leverage against Iran, but never quite explain how that would work. Supposedly, failed talks at the presidential level would prompt tougher sanctions from Russia and China, but why would they agree to that when their own failed talks with their own client did not? Why would they act tougher when the West acts weaker?
What Europe fears is the Chamberlain effect. When a leader of a democracy gets elected on a peace platform and then meets with the head of hostile states, a tremendous pressure for success grows until the democratic leader starts bargaining to show some kind of victory. After all, if Obama walked away from Ahmadinejad empty handed, he’d look like a buffoon. Ahmadinejad would have little pressure to produce anything from such a meeting, except to remain obstinate.
Europe likes to remind people that the preconditions of cessation are European demands, not American, although the US has supported it wholeheartedly. Obama’s insistence on dropping this precondition in order to score PR points with MoveOn and Ahmadinejad looks a lot less like multilateralism and much more like cowboy diplomacy than anything Bush has done on Iran thus far. If Obama is to Europe’s left on Iran, what does that say about his foreign policy?
EU approves tougher sanctions
Reply #144 on:
June 23, 2008, 02:05:05 PM »
EU Approves Sanctions Against Iran's Largest Bank
Monday, June 23, 2008
BRUSSELS, Belgium — European Union nations approved new sanctions against Iran on Monday, including an assets freeze of the country's biggest bank.
The Bank of Melli is suspected of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in a similar move, was blacklisted by the United States last year.
The EU said it will also announce Tuesday additional financial and travel sanctions — effective immediately — on several Iranian companies and "senior experts" linked to Tehran's nuclear program.
The 27-nation bloc is also studying sanctions against Iran's oil and gas sector — but such a step would probably take several months to implement, diplomats say.
Monday's sanctions were formally adopted without debate at the beginning of EU talks in Luxembourg. EU leaders agreed on the measure at talks in Brussels on Friday.
Western nations fear Iran's uranium enrichment program could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its enrichment work is intended to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity and has vowed to push ahead with uranium enrichment.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, held unsuccessful talks with Iranian officials in Tehran last week in the latest diplomatic overture aimed at convincing them to accept an offer of economic incentives in return for an end to its uranium enrichment program.
In Tehran, independent analyst Saeed Laylaz said the freezing of Bank Melli's assets would lead to the Iranian economy becoming more isolated and more dependent on Chinese products.
But he suggested President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might stand to benefit. Targeting Iran "drives inflation up," Laylaz said, "but it helps Ahmadinejad's government hide its failures behind the sanction."
John Bolton prediction
Reply #145 on:
June 24, 2008, 05:42:30 AM »
In Bolton's opinion:
"An Obama victory would rule out military action by the Israelis because they would fear the consequences given the approach Obama has taken to foreign policy," said Mr Bolton, who was Mr Bush's ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006."
***Israel 'will attack Iran' before new US president sworn in, John Bolton predicts
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Last Updated: 9:50AM BST 24/06/2008
John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, has predicted that Israel could attack Iran after the November presidential election but before George W Bush's successor is sworn in.
John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations
Bolton: 'the argument for military action is sooner rather than later'
The Arab world would be "pleased" by Israeli strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, he said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
"It [the reaction] will be positive privately. I think there'll be public denunciations but no action," he said.
Mr Bolton, an unflinching hawk who proposes military action to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons, bemoaned what he sees as a lack of will by the Bush administration to itself contemplate military strikes.
"It's clear that the administration has essentially given up that possibility," he said. "I don't think it's serious any more. If you had asked me a year ago I would have said I thought it was a real possibility. I just don't think it's in the cards."
Israel, however, still had a determination to prevent a nuclear Iran, he argued. The "optimal window" for strikes would be between the November 4 election and the inauguration on January 20, 2009.
"The Israelis have one eye on the calendar because of the pace at which the Iranians are proceeding both to develop their nuclear weapons capability and to do things like increase their defences by buying new Russian anti-aircraft systems and further harden the nuclear installations .
"They're also obviously looking at the American election calendar. My judgement is they would not want to do anything before our election because there's no telling what impact it could have on the election."
But waiting for either Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, or his Republican opponent John McCain to be installed in the White House could preclude military action happening for the next four years or at least delay it.
"An Obama victory would rule out military action by the Israelis because they would fear the consequences given the approach Obama has taken to foreign policy," said Mr Bolton, who was Mr Bush's ambassador to the UN from 2005 to 2006.
"With McCain they might still be looking at a delay. Given that time is on Iran's side, I think the argument for military action is sooner rather than later absent some other development."
The Iran policy of Mr McCain, whom Mr Bolton supports, was "much more realistic than the Bush administration's stance".
Mr Obama has said he will open high-level talks with Iran "without preconditions" while Mr McCain views attacking Iran as a lesser evil than allowing Iran to become a nuclear power.
William Kristol, a prominent neo-conservative, told Fox News on Sunday that an Obama victory could prompt Mr Bush to launch attacks against Iran. "If the president thought John McCain was going to be the next president, he would think it more appropriate to let the next president make that decision than do it on his way out," he said.
Last week, Israeli jets carried out a long-range exercise over the Mediterranean that American intelligence officials concluded was practice for air strikes against Iran. Mohammad Ali Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said this was an act of "psychological warfare" that would be futile.
"They do not have the capacity to threaten the Islamic Republic of Iran. They [Israel] have a number of domestic crises and they want to extrapolate it to cover others. Sometimes they come up with these empty slogans."
He added that Tehran would deliver a "devastating" response to any attack.
On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, said military action against Iran would turn the Middle East into a "fireball" and accelerate Iran's nuclear programme.
Mr Bolton, however, dismissed such sentiments as scaremongering. "The key point would be for the Israelis to break Iran's control over the nuclear fuel cycle and that could be accomplished for example by destroying the uranium conversion facility at Esfahan or the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
"That doesn't end the problem but it buys time during which a more permanent solution might be found.... How long? That would be hard to say. Depends on the extent of the destruction."***
Reply #146 on:
June 24, 2008, 04:35:38 PM »
IAEA Chief: Iran Could Make Nuke In 6 Months
CBS News Interactive: About Iran
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CBS) ― The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Iran could create a nuclear weapon in six months.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei spoke on Al-Arabiya television on June 20, discussing Iran's nuclear program, and the potential for the Middle Eastern country to produce a nuclear weapon.
"If Iran wants to turn to the production of nuclear weapons, it must leave the NPT, expel the IAEA inspectors, and then it would need at least, considering the number of centrifuges and the quantity of uranium Iran has...It would need at least six months to one year," ElBaradei said.
"Therefore, Iran will not be able to reach the point where we would wake up one morning to an Iran with a nuclear weapon," he said.
His interviewer then asked "If Iran decides today to expel the IAEA from the country, it will need six months to produce [nuclear] weapons?"
The IAEA chief answered, "It would need this period to produce a weapon, and to obtain highly-enriched uranium in sufficient quantities for a single nuclear weapon."
The ElBaradei interview was conducted one day after reports emerged of a large-scale military exercise by Israel.
U.S. officials said they thought the Israeli exercises were meant to warn Iran of Israel's abilities to hit its nuclear sites.
ElBaradei also warned that he will resign as chief of the UN nuclear agency if Iran is attacked by any country.
"I always think of resigning in the event of a military strike...If military force is used, I would conclude that there is no mechanism left for me to defend," he said.
"The reports this week of Israeli military maneuvers, which took place in early June, provoked the IAEA warning," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Pamela Falk, who is based at the U.N., "because atomic energy chief ElBaradei has been pleading with Iran to accept a new package of incentives before another round of sanctions would be imposed."
"The problem in the region is that, as time passes and the clock is ticking on Iran's uranium enrichment program, there is a fear that Israel will act, as it did in Syria last year, to attack at least one of Iran's nuclear facilities," said Falk, who was in Saudi Arabia earlier this week.
"Israel is evidently the most threatened by the last IAEA report, which concluded that there are unanswered questions about Iran's ability to eventually develop nuclear weapons," said Falk, "so it is elBaradei himself who produced the report that is making Israel nervous."
Meanwhile, Iran is reiterating its decision to continue enriching uranium, calling Western pressure to suspend the work "illogical."
The statement by a government spokesman came as Europe waits for Iran's formal answer to an international package of incentives designed to rein in its nuclear program.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham on Saturday as saying that his country will respond to the package at a convenient time.
The package would give Tehran economic incentives, and the chance to develop alternate light-water reactors, in return for dropping the uranium enrichment.
(© 2008 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
Seymour Hersh on Secret Bush moves against Iran
Reply #147 on:
June 30, 2008, 10:11:34 AM »
Its Seymour Hersh, so super caveat lector.
Normally I like to post the content in addition to the URL, but this one is just too long for that.
Reply #148 on:
June 30, 2008, 10:23:58 AM »
**If you see a story with a Seymour Hersh byline, assume that it's weakly sourced and has been spun like cotton candy to fit his very obvious agenda.**
Are we doing cloak and dagger stuff in Iran?
By see-dubya • June 29, 2008 03:14 PM
Well, DUH, I hope so. But it’s not like they tell everybody this stuff, you know. It’s supposed to be a secret.
Seymour Hersh, however, would have us believe a whole bunch of anonymous military, intel, and political people are eager to confirm to him that we’re doing something new and secret over there.
You could read the whole New Yorker article, but why bother? Hersh says a lot of nutty things–usually things that can’t be proven and are never proven. Here’s a Fox News summary instead, and I like this White House response:
The White House did not comment on the article. And one administration official, who asked not to be identified, dismissed the piece: “We’ve declined comment on Hersh’s quarterly articles. You can almost tell time by them.”
The thing about Hersh’s rambling is that if Iran believes it, they could crack down on those minority groups and dissidents that Hersh claims we’re funding. And Iran isn’t exactly bound by Boumediene v. Bush in their interrogations, you know?
For that matter, if there is any truth to what Hersh has written, it may compromise operations enough that we have to go to Plan B.
I hope it was worth it, Sy.
UPDATE: More on “Plan B” at Israel Insider.
Strat on Hersh article
Reply #149 on:
June 30, 2008, 02:10:40 PM »
U.S. President George W. Bush issued a highly classified presidential finding in late 2007 approving the initiation of covert operations focused on “undermining Iran’s nuclear ambitions and trying to undermine the government through regime change,” according to a July 7 article in The New Yorker by Seymour Hersh. Congressional leaders reportedly have been informed of the finding, and approved up to $400 million dollars to fund the operation.
This is, of course, explosive news. What is explosive is not that the United States is spending money on covert operations in Iran, but that someone has leaked a highly classified document to a reporter. The secret is now out; indeed, it was released before the article’s publication date. Hersh said only that the person who gave him the information was familiar with the document’s contents. This means his source is a person with extraordinarily high, code-named clearance — not to mention a criminal.
We would expect the Bush administration to be launching multiple investigations to find the leaker. If he is a Republican or a member of the administration or the intelligence community, then massive damage control is essential. If he is a Democrat who leaked (or an official of an agency deemed unfriendly to the administration), the incident represents a political opportunity. Everyone who had access to that document should be attached to a polygraph right now. Washington should have been in turmoil all weekend.
It wasn’t. Aside from some desultory comments, no one seems terribly upset that a major covert operation has been uncovered in the press and thereby crippled.
We are certain that a journalist of Hersh’s stature, writing for a respected publication like The New Yorker, did not make his story up. Since arrests are not pending, we can only conclude that the information was deliberately leaked to Hersh by the administration. This would not be the first time Hersh has been used as a channel by administration leakers. In 2006, he reported that the administration was carrying out covert operations in Iran for roughly the same end. Hersh is not friendly to the administration to say the least. A story by him carries great credibility because it appears to be an authentic scoop by a major journalist revealing things the administration doesn’t want revealed. Such a story therefore increases the sense of uncertainty in Iran substantially more than if a minor, pro-administration journalist published it. As we have pointed out in the case of the Mediterranean air exercises by Israel, the United States and Israel are intent on increasing the psychological pressure on Iran. This story fits into that pattern.
The only thing interesting in the story is the idea that until late 2007 there had been no presidential finding and the United States was not engaged in covert operations in Iran to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program and foment regime change. Given the administration’s stance on Iran, it is unthinkable that the intelligence community would not have been running operations in Iran for years focused on just these things. Stratfor has regularly reported on various bombings in the southwestern Arab regions of Iran as well as in Sistan-Balochistan, noting that these would be likely areas to foment unrest.
The latest finding could be an intensification in operations, but the authorization to spend up to $400 million to mess with the Iranians is really not all that much money — especially since that is the cap, and the time frame for expenditures isn’t authorized. But as Hersh made clear in 2006, operations already were under way, meaning a finding had to have been in place.
With all due respect to Mr. Hersh and The New Yorker, this is a report on the obvious. The United States regards Iran as a major target for covert operations, urgently wants to know everything it can about Iran’s nuclear facilities and would love to overthrow the Iranian government. A few hundred million, even on a long shot, is the least the United States would throw at this. As for a finding in late 2007, we do not know where the bureaucratic process is right now, but there have been presidential findings on covert operations in Iran for almost thirty years. Still, the details the administration has decided to make available to The New Yorker via Hersh should make worthwhile reading.
The important point is that unless there has been a massive breach of security, the administration has again acted to increase tensions with Iran — and this just a week after floating the idea of increased diplomatic ties with Iran and about ten days since leaking the report on the Israeli exercises. Since this article has been in preparation for weeks or months, and its publication date has not been under administration control, it remains unclear where in the sequence this leak was intended. But psychological warfare with Iran seems the order of the day, and this article is clearly part of it.
Our read of course might be wrong. Grand juries might be convening as we write and the FBI could be ranging all over D.C. taking statements from everyone with access to covert U.S. plans in Iran. But until that happens, we look at this as another attempt to make the Iranians feel insecure.
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