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« Reply #250 on: June 20, 2009, 04:30:53 PM »

June 20, 2009, 6:00 a.m.

Neutrality Isn’t an Option
You always have a dog in the fight, whether you know it or not.

By Mark Steyn

The polite explanation for Barack Obama’s diffidence on Iran is that he doesn’t want to give the mullahs the excuse to say the Great Satan is meddling in Tehran’s affairs. So the president’s official position is that he’s modestly encouraged by the regime’s supposed interest in investigating some of the allegations of fraud. Also, he’s heartened to hear that OJ is looking for the real killers. “You've seen in Iran,” explained President Obama, “some initial reaction from the Supreme Leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election . . . ”

“Supreme Leader”? I thought that was official house style for Barack Obama at Newsweek and MSNBC. But no. It’s also the title held by Ayatollah Khamenei for the last couple of decades. If it sounds odd from the lips of an American president, that’s because none has ever been as deferential in observing the Islamic republic’s dictatorial protocol. Like President Obama’s deep, ostentatious bow to the king of Saudi Arabia, it signals a fresh start in our relations with the Muslim world, “mutually respectful” and unilaterally fawning.

And how did it go down? At Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayotollah Khamenei attacked “dirty Zionists” and “bad British radio” (presumably a reference to the BBC’s Farsi news service rather than the non-stop Herman’s Hermits marathon on Supergold Oldies FM). “The most evil of them all is the British government,” added the supreme leader, warming to his theme. The crowd, including President Ahmadinelandslide and his cabinet, chanted, “Death to the U.K.”

Her Majesty’s Government brought this on themselves by allowing their shoot-from-the-lip prime minister to issue saber-rattling threats like: “The regime must address the serious questions which have been asked about the conduct of the Iranian elections.”

Fortunately, President Obama was far more judicious. And in return, instead of denouncing him as “evil” and deploring the quality of his radio programming, Ayatollah Khamenei said Obama’s “agents” had been behind the protests: “They started to cause riots in the street, they caused destruction, they burnt houses.” But that wasn’t all the Great Satin did. “What is the worst thing to me in all this,” sighed the supreme leader, “are comments made in the name of human rights and freedom and liberty by American officials . . . What? Are you serious? Do you know what human rights are?”

And then he got into specifics: “During the time of the Democrats, the time of Clinton, 80 people were burned alive in Waco. Now you are talking about human rights?”

It’s unclear whether the “Death to the U.K.” chanters switched at this point to “Democrats lied, people fried.” But you get the gist. The President of the United States can make nice to His Hunkalicious Munificence the Supremely Supreme Leader of Leaders (Peace Be Upon Him) all he wants, but it isn’t going to be reciprocated.

There’s a very basic lesson here: For great powers, studied neutrality isn’t an option. Even if you’re genuinely neutral. In the early nineties, the attitude of much of the west to the disintegrating Yugoslavia was summed up in the brute dismissal of James Baker that America didn’t have a dog in this fight. Fair enough. But over in the Balkans junkyard the various mangy old pooches saw it rather differently. And so did the Muslim world, which regarded British and European “neutrality” as a form of complicity in mass murder. As Osama bin Laden put it:
The British are responsible for destroying the Caliphate system. They are the ones who created the Palestinian problem. They are the ones who created the Kashmiri problem. They are the ones who put the arms embargo on the Muslims of Bosnia so that two million Muslims were killed.

How come a catalogue of imperial interventions wound up with that bit of scrupulous non-imperial non-intervention? Because great-power “even-handedness” will invariably be received as a form of one-handedness by the time its effects are felt on the other side of the world. Western “even-handedness” on Bosnia was the biggest single factor in the radicalization of European Muslims. They swarmed to the Balkans to support their coreligionists and ran into a bunch of Wahhabi imams moving into the neighborhood with lots of Saudi money and anxious to fill their Rolodex with useful contacts in the west. Among the alumni of that conflict was the hitherto impeccably assimilated English public (ie, private) schoolboy and London School of Economics student who went on to behead the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl. You always have a dog in the fight, whether you know it or not.

For the Obama administration, this presents a particular challenge — because the president’s preferred rhetorical tic is to stake out the two sides and present himself as a dispassionate, disinterested soul of moderation: “There are those who would argue . . . ” on the one hand, whereas “there are those who insist . . . ” on the other, whereas he is beyond such petty dogmatic positions. That was pretty much his shtick on abortion at Notre Dame. Of course, such studied moderation is usually a crock: Obama is an abortion absolutist, supporting partial-birth infanticide, and even laws that prevent any baby so inconsiderate as to survive the abortion from receiving medical treatment.

So in his recent speech in Cairo he applied the same technique. Among his many unique qualities, the 44th president is the first to give the impression that the job is beneath him — that he is too big and too gifted to be confined to the humdrum interests of one nation state. As my former National Review colleague David Frum put it, the Obama address offered “the amazing spectacle of an American president taking an equidistant position between the country he leads and its detractors and enemies.”

What would you make of that “equidistance” if you were back in the palace watching it on CNN International? Maybe you’d know that, on domestic policy, Obama uses the veneer of disinterested arbiter as a feint. Or maybe you’d just figure that no serious world leader can ever be neutral on vital issues. So you’d start combing the speech for what lies underneath the usual Obama straw men — and women: “I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal.” Very brave of you, I’m sure. But what about the Muslim women who choose not to cover themselves and wind up as the victims of honor killings in Germany and Scandinavia and Toronto and Dallas? Ah, but that would have required real courage, not audience flattery masquerading as such.

And so, when the analysts had finished combing the speech, they would have concluded that the meta-message of his “equidistance” was a prostration before “stability” — an acceptance of the region’s worst pathologies as a permanent feature of life.

The mullahs stole this election on a grander scale than ever before primarily for reasons of internal security and regional strategy. But Obama’s speech told them that, in the “post-American world,” they could do so with impunity. Blaming his “agents” for the protests is merely a bonus: Offered the world’s biggest carrot, Khamenei took it and used it as a stick.

He won’t be the last to read Obama this way.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is author of America Alone. © 2009 Mark Steyn
National Review Online -
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« Reply #251 on: June 21, 2009, 10:17:04 PM »

- Works and Days - -

“This Is the Moment”?
Posted By Victor Davis Hanson On June 20, 2009 @ 4:10 pm In Uncategorized | 95 Comments

Let Me Count the Ways Why Obama Should at Last Speak Out ( —I write this at around noon on Saturday, and suspect the pressure of public outrage will soon get to Obama, and he soon will recant and start sounding Reaganesque)


(As in something like this:


“Hundreds of thousands of gallant Iranians are now engaged in a non-violent moral struggle against tyranny in Iran-one of the great examples of bravery in our times. All free peoples of the world watch their ordeal, and can only wish them success, while owing them a great deal of gratitude for risking their lives for the innate and shared notion of human freedom and dignity. We in the United States ask the government of Iran—as well as its military and security forces — to recognize the universal appeal of freedom that flourishes among its own remarkable people, to stand down and renounce its serial use of violence and coercion-and to ensure a truly free election where the voices of all can be at last fully heard, so that  Iran can once more properly reenter  the family of law-biding nations”.)


So why speak out louder? (Does not Obama see that the world has been given a rare chance, thanks to brave Iranians—as if the German people had risen up in 1938 in fear of what was on the horizon)


1)   It is the moral and right thing to do to support the brave and idealistic (the Congressional Democrats mostly get this. And, after a week of embarrassment, the “I worship whoever runs the White House” pundits are not far behind and scrambling to retract and revise last week’s obsequious columns.). The dissidents in fact can win in this new age of private instant communications, in which global news is not predicated on elite correspondents and news desks editors, but can flow globally and instantaneously, unfiltered, with unforeseen consequences.)


2)   The theocracy is a fiendish regime that hides behind third-world victimhood while it murders and promotes terror abroad. When it totters, the world sighs relief from Iraq to Lebanon; when it chest-thumps, thousands die at home and abroad.



3)   Of the three ways to stop a nuclear theocracy-(regime change, preemption, embargo), supporting the opponents of the regime is the most logical, peaceful, and cost-effective-and has the best chance of success. (Ask the worried surrounding Arab frontline countries).



4)    There is a long bipartisan American history of supporting dissidents who were fighting for election fairness abroad in Poland, Serbia, Latin America, and South Africa. (Does Obama think Mandela did not wish words of support from America? Why then would he think the Iranians being shot at in the streets would not wish moral clarity from the prophet of Cairo?). The Europeans (and even the Arab world) are way ahead of us.


5)   Obama’s realpolitik is flawed: 1) if the mullahs win, they will have greater contempt for our timidity; 2) if the dissidents win, they will not forget our realistic fence-sitting; 3) you can never believe (ever) anything the mullahs say or do. Negotiating with them is like signing a pact with Hitler. They are afraid of US voiced support for the dissidents, not the dissidents themselves who ask for our solidarity. If anything, the theocrats grasp that their own do not want a nuclear confrontation with Israel in which the people would be sacrificial pawns. Again and again, the dissidents have repeated that they are tired of being hated in the world as Ahmadinejad’s Iranians, not that they wanted Obama’s America to be less critical of Ahmadinejad.

…. And Why He Has Not:


1)   Our President has always been a trimmer-voting present serially in Illinois; proclaiming broad new positions on the campaign trail only to disown them while President; rhetorically always splitting the difference with ‘on the one hand, on the other’, ’some, they, others say’, ‘I don’t accept false choices…’ etc. So now he waits to see who wins. And then will provide the soaring rhetoric postfacto to suggest that he was either the careful realist all along who foresaw the dissidents’ failure-or the enthusiastic moralist who always really did cheer on the mullahs’ demise. Robert Gibbs has both scripts already fed into the bookend A and B teleprompters.





2)   It’s a personal thing that interferes with Obama’s ego, and messianic personal diplomacy.  Obama himself is not comfortable with those abroad who emulate American values and seek to have the freedoms and rights we take for granted. The post-colonial industry mandates that the Other is a perpetual victim of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and racism with justified grievances. Only elite American intellectuals of singular insight and empathy understand the calculus of the oppressed, and so, through apologies, accommodations, and concessions, they alone on our behalf can deal with an Ahmadinejad, Chavez, Ortega, Castro, Morales, Nasrallah, etc. But when we see a purple-finger election, a statue of liberty at Tiananmen, or the current Levi-clad, cell-phoning, English-placard-carrying Iranian grassroots resistance, all the above is rendered null and void. Obama wants to rise above his country; but when his country is not held in disrepute (as is true among the Iranian people), he is an actor without a role.


People abroad really do prefer freedom and true constitutional government to autocratic grievance mongers who loot their country and brutalize the free. In such conditions, old-fashioned Americans, often inarticulate and perhaps clumsy, but honest in their belief in the universal appeal of human freedom, do better than all the nuanced Kennedy School intellectuals (e.g. They laughed at the reductionist  “Tear Down This Wall” and “Evil Empire” and apparently preferred “No Inordinate Fear of Communism”). So a deer-in-the-headlights Obama wonders, ‘Wait, why aren’t they shouting the boilerplate ‘Death to America!’ and invoking, like I did, 1953 and the CIA crimes? Don’t they know the things that we did to them and I apologized for? Don’t they see that I am as separate from the US of the 1950s as they are? What’s this grass-roots rejection of an anti-Western, anti-colonialist indigenous Iranian government all about? (cf. his moral equivalent comparison of Mousavi to Ahmadinejad as equally anti-American).



3)   Obama is clueless. Hillary knows more, but not that much more (Bill knows less as his 2005 Davos disastrous encomium of Iran proved). Biden, well, is Biden. The brighter like Holbrooke serve on the second tier.  In short, no one knows now to whom do you apologize? And if to no one, what then do you do? We’re back to sorta, sorta not shoot the pirates, kinda, kinda not stop the Koreans, maybe, maybe not keep renditions, tribunals, wiretaps, intercepts, and drone attacks-or why didn’t someone brief me on the problems with closing Guantanamo before I promised the world at end to our American Gulag?





4)   He’s addicted to the ossified Iraqi paradigm of “Bush intervened and caused a mess” (Free Iraq is apparently still equivalent to Saddam’s Iraq), so “I don’t want to follow his lead” (as if vocal support now is the same as shock and awe then). Somewhere in stone a lie is chiseled “Iraq made Iran stronger”. He doesn’t see the footnote: “But if Iraqi democracy survives, it fuels emulation in neighboring Iran and does more to undermine the theocracy than all the F-22s in the world”. Who knows-if Iranian freedom spreads, some nut might praise Bush’s commitment to Middle East freedom in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, and not Obama’s apologetics at Cairo? (Free Shiites in Iraq are far better for Iran than either oppressed minorities under Saddam, or Saddam’s opportunistic dictatorship). Bottom line again: Obama needs to forget Ahmadinejad and talk daily with Maliki.




5) His entire anti-Bush foreign policy is then in trouble. We’ve heard for eight years a cheap slur of “neo-cons” did it, not that in the dangerous world abroad there are no good choices, but supporting freedom is usually the better alternative if one must choose. If a peaceful democratic revolution succeeds in Iran, then what happens with “outreach” to Putin, Chavez, and Hamas? The new liberal realpolitik insisted that we don’t offer moral judgment, and was framed instead by winning the hearts and minds of tyrants through humbling ourselves and meae culpae. But if these democracies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and an Iran (?) were to succeed, then what? You would not go to Chavez and promise first to talk about shared colonial racist oppression, but rather say to the Venezuelan people, “We stand with you in your struggle to achieve freedom and dignity and to join the other democracies of Latin America”? That is not just in the cards, and so Iran, is well, a monkey-wrench.


For now, watch the Iranian army and police. If one battalion bolts, then . . .

Article printed from Works and Days:

URL to article:
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« Reply #252 on: June 22, 2009, 04:16:09 PM »

By George Friedman

Related Link
The Geopolitics of Iran: Holding the Center of a Mountain Fortress
Related Special Topic Page
Ongoing Coverage and Updates
Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.

Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated. When the demonstrations do not spread to other cities, the demonstrations either peter out or the regime brings in the security and military forces — who remain loyal to the regime and frequently personally hostile to the demonstrators — and use force to suppress the rising to the extent necessary. This is what happened in Tiananmen Square in China: The students who rose up were not joined by others. Military forces who were not only loyal to the regime but hostile to the students were brought in, and the students were crushed.

A Question of Support
This is also what happened in Iran this week. The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.

Later, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke Friday and called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they failed to understand that the troops — definitely not drawn from what we might call the “Twittering classes,” would remain loyal to the regime for ideological and social reasons. The troops had about as much sympathy for the demonstrators as a small-town boy from Alabama might have for a Harvard postdoc. Failing to understand the social tensions in Iran, the reporters deluded themselves into thinking they were witnessing a general uprising. But this was not St. Petersburg in 1917 or Bucharest in 1989 — it was Tiananmen Square.

In the global discussion last week outside Iran, there was a great deal of confusion about basic facts. For example, it is said that the urban-rural distinction in Iran is not critical any longer because according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized. This is an important point because it implies Iran is homogeneous and the demonstrators representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban — and this is quite common around the world — includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban.” But the social difference between someone living in a town with 10,000 people and someone living in Tehran is the difference between someone living in Bastrop, Texas and someone living in New York. We can assure you that that difference is not only vast, but that most of the good people of Bastrop and the fine people of New York would probably not see the world the same way. The failure to understand the dramatic diversity of Iranian society led observers to assume that students at Iran’s elite university somehow spoke for the rest of the country.

Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as we know, the cab driver and the construction worker are not socially linked to students at elite universities. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. Iran has 80 cities with more than 100,000. But given that Waco, Texas, has more than 100,000 people, inferences of social similarities between cities with 100,000 and 5 million are tenuous. And with metro Oklahoma City having more than a million people, it becomes plain that urbanization has many faces.

Winning the Election With or Without Fraud
We continue to believe two things: that vote fraud occurred, and that Ahmadinejad likely would have won without it. Very little direct evidence has emerged to establish vote fraud, but several things seem suspect.

For example, the speed of the vote count has been taken as a sign of fraud, as it should have been impossible to count votes that fast. The polls originally were to have closed at 7 p.m. local time, but voting hours were extended until 10 p.m. because of the number of voters in line. By 11:45 p.m. about 20 percent of the vote had been counted. By 5:20 a.m. the next day, with almost all votes counted, the election commission declared Ahmadinejad the winner. The vote count thus took about seven hours. (Remember there were no senators, congressmen, city council members or school board members being counted — just the presidential race.) Intriguingly, this is about the same time in took in 2005, though reformists that claimed fraud back then did not stress the counting time in their allegations.

The counting mechanism is simple: Iran has 47,000 voting stations, plus 14,000 roaming stations that travel from tiny village to tiny village, staying there for a short time before moving on. That creates 61,000 ballot boxes designed to receive roughly the same number of votes. That would mean that each station would have been counting about 500 ballots, or about 70 votes per hour. With counting beginning at 10 p.m., concluding seven hours later does not necessarily indicate fraud or anything else. The Iranian presidential election system is designed for simplicity: one race to count in one time zone, and all counting beginning at the same time in all regions, we would expect the numbers to come in a somewhat linear fashion as rural and urban voting patterns would balance each other out — explaining why voting percentages didn’t change much during the night.

It has been pointed out that some of the candidates didn’t even carry their own provinces or districts. We remember that Al Gore didn’t carry Tennessee in 2000. We also remember Ralph Nader, who also didn’t carry his home precinct in part because people didn’t want to spend their vote on someone unlikely to win — an effect probably felt by the two smaller candidates in the Iranian election.

That Mousavi didn’t carry his own province is more interesting. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett writing in Politico make some interesting points on this. As an ethnic Azeri, it was assumed that Mousavi would carry his Azeri-named and -dominated home province. But they also point out that Ahmadinejad also speaks Azeri, and made multiple campaign appearances in the district. They also point out that Khamenei is Azeri. In sum, winning that district was by no means certain for Mousavi, so losing it does not automatically signal fraud. It raised suspicions, but by no means was a smoking gun.

We do not doubt that fraud occurred during Iranian election. For example, 99.4 percent of potential voters voted in Mazandaran province, a mostly secular area home to the shah’s family. Ahmadinejad carried the province by a 2.2 to 1 ratio. That is one heck of a turnout and level of support for a province that lost everything when the mullahs took over 30 years ago. But even if you take all of the suspect cases and added them together, it would not have changed the outcome. The fact is that Ahmadinejad’s vote in 2009 was extremely close to his victory percentage in 2005. And while the Western media portrayed Ahmadinejad’s performance in the presidential debates ahead of the election as dismal, embarrassing and indicative of an imminent electoral defeat, many Iranians who viewed those debates — including some of the most hardcore Mousavi supporters — acknowledge that Ahmadinejad outperformed his opponents by a landslide.

Mousavi persuasively detailed his fraud claims Sunday, and they have yet to be rebutted. But if his claims of the extent of fraud were true, the protests should have spread rapidly by social segment and geography to the millions of people who even the central government asserts voted for him. Certainly, Mousavi supporters believed they would win the election based in part on highly flawed polls, and when they didn’t, they assumed they were robbed and took to the streets.

But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousavi’s supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didn’t. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes posses civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

Tensions Among the Political Elite
All of this not to say there are not tremendous tensions within the Iranian political elite. That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.

The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.

The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them, that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.

Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.

Now, as we saw after Tiananmen Square, we will see a reshuffling among the elite. Those who backed Mousavi will be on the defensive. By contrast, those who supported Ahmadinejad are in a powerful position. There is a massive crisis in the elite, but this crisis has nothing to do with liberalization: It has to do with power and prerogatives among the elite. Having been forced by the election and Khamenei to live with Ahmadinejad, some will make deals while some will fight — but Ahmadinejad is well-positioned to win this battle.
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« Reply #253 on: June 23, 2009, 12:18:04 AM »

Geopolitical Diary: Iran's Battles on the Streets and Behind the Scenes
June 22, 2009
Over the past 72 hours, the city of Tehran has become a glass house. The windows are a bit dirty due to media censorship, but through Web sites like YouTube and Twitter — and simply by word of mouth — the world has gotten a decent glimpse of threats to the Islamic Republic being met with an iron fist.

Most of the Western media coverage of the demonstrations in Tehran has been emotion-driven and focused on a segment of the Iranian population — dominated by educated, young urban elites — that has dared to cross a line by shouting “death to the dictator” against the president and supreme leader, and in calling for a Green Revolution to bring down the system established by the Islamic Revolution. This somewhat distorted coverage not only fails to seriously consider Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s significant and legitimate popularity in the country, but also spreads a perception that a mass revolution has taken root. However, evidence points to the contrary.

A good measure of a revolution is its response to repression. As the weekend progressed, the state’s tools of repression were put to work, and the demonstrations dwindled in size. Just as important, the people protesting on Sunday were from the same social group as those protesting from the beginning. In other words, the bazaar merchants, the socially and religiously conservative lower classes, the labor groups and others lacked a reason for or interest in joining a movement of urban youths.

The world may not be witnessing an overnight revolution, but there is no doubt that the regime is greatly unnerved by the demonstrations. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued an ultimatum at Friday prayers, calling for protesters to end the demonstrations and accept Ahmadinejad as president. That demand was openly defied and only increased the protesters’ fervor. In the longer term, it will become increasingly difficult for the regime to keep a lid on this dissent, but the state has all the tools it needs to put down such uprisings for now.

What is far more concerning for Khamenei is what is happening behind the scenes, among the clerical and military elite. Ahmadinejad has been the catalyst for a political brawl among highly influential figures in the clerical establishment, including Assembly of Experts Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani. These prominent politicians and clerics, among others who hail from the holy city of Qom, view Ahmadinejad — a non-clerical, firebrand president who happens to have the backing of the supreme leader — as a major threat not only to their own political careers, but also to the unity and power of the wealthy clerical establishment.

Each of these figures has battled Ahmadinejad in his own way: Mir Hossein Mousavi, a member of the Expediency Council, has had (relatively speaking) the least to lose as a branded reformist, and therefore put a lot on the line by assuming leadership of the demonstrations on Saturday. Now, Mousavi is nowhere to be found. Rafsanjani has stayed out of sight, but has been extremely active in pressuring Khamenei and using as leverage his position in the Assembly of Experts — an institution that has the power to dismiss the supreme leader. Larijani has moved much more carefully. With visible reluctance, he sat next to Ahmadinejad during last Friday’s sermon, in a demonstration of solidarity requested by the supreme leader himself. However, he has not backed down from demanding probes into violence committed by Basij militiamen against protesters, and on Sunday, he accused the Guardians Council outright of being biased toward Ahmadinejad in this election. Meanwhile, senior cleric Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri (who long was expected to be the successor to Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini) has been trying to energize demonstrators and is rumored to be calling for a national strike.

This power struggle also appears to be nipping at the non-clerical security establishment. Figures like defeated presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie — who was head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for 16 years — and Yayha Rahim Safavi, who commanded the IRGC for 10 years and is now military adviser to Khamenei, are staunch opponents of Ahmadinejad. Given their tenures, they also wield a great deal of influence among those whose duty it is to defend the Islamic Republic. STRATFOR is also getting some indications that fissures are emerging within the military over the election fallout, though the degree of the tension remains unclear.

Altogether, this battle — taking place far from the world of Twitter — is the more immediate threat to Iran’s stability. The level of infighting in the regime’s upper levels is unprecedented and represents a litmus test for a supreme leader who, for two decades, has attempted to rule by consensus among the clerics and military elite. Ahmadinejad looks to have shaken things up more than Khamenei anticipated, and there is no guarantee that Khamenei’s clout will be enough to subdue this growing anti-Ahmadinejad coalition.

Things are looking rocky for the supreme leader, but political warfare among elites is not unique to Iran by any means. Such infighting is part and parcel of any politically competitive environment. Still, the Islamic Republic has never witnessed such deep schisms in the institutions that are designed to safeguard the Islamic Revolution. Khamenei has made a conscious choice in defending Ahmadinejad, but the price of that choice is creeping upward by the day.
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« Reply #254 on: June 24, 2009, 12:09:09 AM »

At this point, only the short-term future of Iran's clerical regime remains in doubt. The current protests could be repressed, but the unelected institutions of priestly rule have been fatally undermined. Though each aspect of the Islamic Republic has its own dynamic, this is not a regime that can last many more years.

When it comes to repression, Iran has a spectrum of security instruments that can be used synergistically. The national police can take care of routine crowd control; riot-police units can beat some demonstrators in order to discourage others; the much more brutal, underclass Basij militiamen enjoy striking and shooting affluent Iranians; and the technical arm of the regime can block cellular service to disrupt demonstrations, as well as stall Internet services.

If the protests were to seriously escalate, the Revolutionary Guard troops with their armored vehicles might also be called in, though at some risk to the regime, given that reformist presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai was their longtime commander. The alternative -- calling in the regular army -- would be much more risky since the loyalty of the generals is unknown. So far the regime has required neither.

What has undermined the very structure of the Islamic Republic is the fracturing of its ruling elite. It was the unity established by Ayatollah Khomeini that allowed the regime to dominate the Iranian people for almost 30 years. Now that unity has been shattered: The very people who created the institutions of priestly rule are destroying their authority.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's leading rival for the presidency, Mir Hossein Mousavi, was prime minister from 1981-89 when the Islamic Republic acquired its administrative structure, including its unelected head, the supreme leader. Though the supreme leader must be obeyed in all things, Mr. Mousavi now flatly rejects the orders of Ali Khamenei to accept Ahmadinejad's re-election. In this, Mr. Mousavi is joined by another presidential candidate, former parliament speaker and pillar of the establishment Mehdi Karroubi, and a yet more senior founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Rafsanjani. President from 1989-97, Mr. Rafsanjani is also chairman of the Assembly of Experts, whose 86 members choose the supreme leader and can ostensibly remove him.

During the campaign, Ahmadinejad accused Mr. Rafsanjani and his children of corruption on live television. So if Ahmadinejad's re-election is to be "definitive" and even "divine," as Supreme Leader Khamenei has declared, Mr. Rafsanjani would have to resign from all his posts and his children would have to leave Iran. Instead, he is reportedly trying to recruit a majority of the Assembly of Experts to remove Khamenei, or at least force him to order new elections.

The other key undemocratic institution of the Islamic Republic, founded in part by Messrs. Mousavi and Rafsanjani, is the 12-member Council of Guardians that can veto any laws passed by the elected parliament and any candidate for the parliament or the presidency. In recent years, the Council has persistently sided with extremists and Ahmadinejad, using its veto powers aggressively. Supreme Leader Khamenei logically chose the Council to deal with the election dispute.

Last week, the Council of Guardians announced that it might recount 10% of the ballots and summoned Messrs. Mousavi, Karroubi and Rezai. All three rejected the recount offer, and only Mr. Rezai showed up before the Council. Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi simply refused to appear, explicitly denying the Council's authority as well as that of the supreme leader.

This is highly significant. Were it not for the office of the supreme leader and the Council, Iran would be a normal democratic republic.

In theory, if Ahmadinejad, Khamenei and the extremists of the Council of Guardians were all replaced by consensus figures, the Islamic Republic could continue as before. But in practice, that is impossible. Huge numbers of Iranians haven't been demonstrating at risk of beatings and worse for the uncharismatic and only marginally moderate Mr. Mousavi. His courage under pressure has certainly raised his popularity, but he is still no more than the accidental symbol of an emerging political revolution.

What's clear is that after years of humiliating social repression and gross economic mismanagement, the more educated and the more productive citizens of Iran have mostly turned their backs on the regime. Even if personally religious, they now reject the entire post-1979 structure of politicized Shiite Islam with its powerful ayatollahs, officious priests, strutting Revolutionary Guards and low-life Basij militiamen. Many Iranians once inclined to respect clerics now view them as generally corrupt -- including the Ahmadinejad supporters who applauded his attacks on Mr. Rafsanjani.

Had Mr. Mousavi won the election, modest steps to liberalize the system -- he would have allowed women to go out with uncovered heads, for example -- would only have triggered demands for more change, eventually bringing down the entire system of clerical rule. In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev's very cautious reforms designed to perpetuate the Communist regime ended up destroying it in less than five years. In Iran, the system is much newer, and the process would likely have been faster.

Some important clerics have long suggested that men of religion should strive to regain popular respect by voluntarily giving up political power. That may provide a way out eventually. But for now, Supreme Leader Khamenei is in the impossible position of having to support a president whose authority is not accepted by much of the governing structure itself. Even the extremist Parliament Speaker Ali Larjani has declared that the vote count was biased.

Therefore, even if he remains in office, Ahmadinejad cannot really function as president. For one thing, the parliament is unlikely to confirm his ministerial appointments, and he cannot govern without them. If Khamenei is not removed by the Assembly of Experts and Ahmadinejad is not removed by Khamenei, the government will continue to be paralyzed.

The great news is that, below the eroding machinery of priestly rule, the essential democratic institutions in Iran are up and running and need only new elections for the presidency and the parliament.

Mr. Luttwak, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the author of "Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace" (Belknap, 2002).
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« Reply #255 on: June 24, 2009, 10:19:17 PM »

Who'd have thought it?  A thoughtful piece from Pat Buchanon:

Ten Days That Shook Tehran

Given its monopoly of guns, bet on the Iranian regime. But, in the long run, the ayatollahs have to see the handwriting on the wall.
Let us assume what they insist upon -- that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 election; that, even if fraud occurred, it did not decide the outcome. As Ayatollah Khamenei said to loud laughter in his Friday sermon declaring the election valid, "Perhaps 100,000, or 500,000, but how can anyone tamper with 11 million votes?"

Still, the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad must hear the roar of the rapids ahead. Millions of Iranians, perhaps a majority of the professional class and educated young, who shouted, "Death to the Dictatorship," oppose or detest them. How can the regime maintain its present domestic course or foreign policy with its people so visibly divided?

 Where do the ayatollah and Ahmadinejad go from here?

If they adopt a harder line, defy Barack Obama and refuse to negotiate their nuclear program, they can continue to enrich uranium, as harsher sanctions are imposed. But to what end adding 1,000 more kilograms?

If they do not intend to build a bomb, why enrich more? And if they do intend to build a bomb, what exactly would that achieve?
For an Iranian bomb would trigger a regional arms race with Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. Israel would put its nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger. America would retarget missiles on Tehran. And if a terrorist anywhere detonated a nuclear bomb, Iran would risk annihilation, for everyone would assume Tehran was behind it.

Rather than make Iran more secure, an Iranian bomb would seem to permanently isolate her and possibly subject her to pre-emptive attack.

And how can the Iranians survive continued isolation?

According to U.S. sources, Iran produced 6 million barrels of crude a day in 1974 under the shah. She has not been able to match that since the revolution. War, limited investment, sanctions and a high rate of natural decline of mature oil fields, estimated at 8 percent onshore and 11 percent offshore, are the causes. A 2007 National Academy of Sciences study reported that if the decline rates continue, Iran's exports, which in 2007 averaged 2.4 million barrels per day, could decrease to zero by 2015.
You cannot make up for oil and gas exports with carpets and pistachio nuts.

If Tehran cannot effect a lifting of sanctions and new investments in oil and gas production, she is headed for an economic crisis that will cause an exodus of her brightest young and quadrennial reruns of the 2009 election.

And there are not only deep divisions in Iran between modernists and religious traditionalists, the affluent and the poor, but among ethnic groups. Half of Iran's population is Arab, Kurd, Azeri or Baluchi. In the Kurdish northwest and Baluchi south, secessionists have launched attacks the ayatollah blames on the United States and Israel.

As they look about the region, how can the ayatollahs be optimistic?

Syria, their major ally, wants to deal with the Americans to retrieve the Golan. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are hostile, with the latter having uncovered a Hezbollah plot against President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamas is laser-focused on Gaza, the West Bank and a Palestinian state, and showing interest in working with the Obama administration.

Where is the Islamic revolution going? Where is the state in the Muslim world that has embraced Islamism and created a successful nation?

Sudan? Taliban Afghanistan? Somalia is now in final passage from warlordism to Islamism. Does anyone believe the Al-Shahab will create a successful nation?

As for the ayatollahs, after 30 years, they are deep in crisis -- and what have they produced that the world admires?

Even if the "green revolution" in Iran triggers revolts in the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia or Egypt, can Iran believe Sunni revolutionary regimes will follow the lead of a Shia Islamic state? How long did it take Mao's China to renounce its elder brother in the faith, Khrushchev's Russia?

When one looks at the Asian tigers -- South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia -- or at the China or India of recent decades, one sees nations that impress the world with their progress.

Iran under the mullahs has gone sideways or backward. Now, with this suspect election and millions having shown their revulsion of the regime, the legitimacy and integrity of the ayatollahs have been called into question.

Obama offers the regime a way out.

They may exercise their right to peaceful nuclear power, have sanctions lifted and receive security guarantees, if they can prove they have no nuclear weapons program and will cease subverting through their Hezbollah-Hamas proxies the peace process Obama is pursuing between Israel and Palestine.

If Iran refuses Obama's offer, she will start down a road at the end of which are severe sanctions, escalation and a war that Obama does not want and Iran cannot want -- for the winner will not be Iran.

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« Reply #256 on: June 25, 2009, 04:44:52 PM »

Iranian diplomats disinvited from Canada Day ceremonies
Iranian diplomats disinvited from Canada Day ceremonies
Updated Thu. Jun. 25 2009 4:12 PM ET News Staff

The Harper government has disinvited Iranian diplomats from attending Canada Day ceremonies in Ottawa to express its displeasure with the Iranian government's bloody crackdown against opposition supporters.

The move follows a similar one by the U.S. for its July 4th celebrations.

Reporting from Ottawa, CTV's Graham Richardson said the government is "trying to send a signal in a very strong way they are not pleased with what's going on in Iran" following disputed presidential elections.

Richardson said a senior government source told him that part of Canada Day "is celebrating Canadian liberties," and that the government "doesn't see a role for Iran to play on that day given what happened in Iran over the last few weeks."

Traditionally the prime minister invites representatives of foreign governments to celebrate Canada Day on Parliament Hill.
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« Reply #257 on: June 26, 2009, 08:21:39 AM »

One casualty of the Iraq war has been the confusion among politicians about the proper place of democracy promotion in American foreign policy. Iran's recent election -- which evoked a very vocal, frustrated opposition -- brings into sharp focus the urgent need for clarity concerning this issue. Do we support those seeking freedom from oppression? And if so, how? It may do well to recall how we got into this confused state.

Sixteen or so years ago a small circle of cold warriors, flush with victory, concluded that with the dissolution of the Soviet Union democracy and free enterprise had been vindicated. To these neoconservatives, the task of future American presidents would be to spread the gospel of democracy -- using force if necessary -- so that governments everywhere would become accountable to their people and thus less likely to wage war. In 2003, it was arguably democracy promotion, rather than the threat of weapons of mass destruction, which triggered the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Throughout his two terms in office, President George W. Bush was an indefatigable advocate of democracy, even when it resulted in the victories of such un-Jeffersonian parties as Hezbollah and Hamas. Thus began the neocon versus realist battle. The current situation in Iran offers an opportunity to turn this debate in a less doctrinaire, more coherent direction.

To oversimplify, in Iran, the wrong man may have won. Yet a strong, vibrant opposition exists there that ought to be nurtured. Ilan Berman, a vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, is one the best analysts of Iranian politics today. Mr. Berman explains the reasons for this opposition:

"Iran is a country in the grip of massive socio-economic malaise. Inflation . . . stands at nearly 30 percent. Unemployment is rampant, officially pegged at over 10 percent but unofficially estimated to be as much as two-and-a-half times that figure. Nearly a quarter of the Iranian population now lives under the poverty line, and both prostitution and drug addiction are rampant. Add to these Ahmadinejad's gross mismanagement of the national economy over the past four years, and it is easy to see why Iran's leaders fear that outrage over a stolen election could spiral into something more."

But will it? What is to become of the aspirations and lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iranian dissidents who are braving police brutality in the name of freedom and accountability? The reason we should care goes well beyond perpetuating Wilsonian principles. It involves upholding realist principles too.

Iran poses a formidable threat to U.S. and allied interests for three principal reasons. Tehran's illegal drive to become a nuclear-weapons state is well underway. The country's 7,000 centrifuges are enriching uranium that could produce enough weapons-grade material for one or more bombs within a year. If Iran continues down that path, whether successfully or not, other Middle Eastern nations will be eager to move forward with their own deterrent nuclear programs. A proliferation cascade would then ensue among countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and perhaps Jordan. Before long, matters will have gone beyond the ability of institutions or statecraft to control.

The very existence of Iran's nuclear program is seen to pose an existential threat to Israel. Even an undeclared yet plausible Iranian nuclear threat gives the country an enormous amount of political leverage in its relationships throughout the region. Its ability to coerce neighbors over any disagreement would rise exponentially.

Another issue is Iran's sponsorship and support of terrorist groups -- Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestinian areas, and less prominently, Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unless Iran ends its support for these organizations, they will ultimately destroy Israel, not to mention their own host countries.

Denying Israel's very right to exist, while openly arming terrorist groups bent on destroying Israel, constitutes aggression by any standard of international law. These deeds ought to be a matter of formal sanction.

President Barack Obama has made clear his wish to engage Iran's government. But he ignores a fundamental question. What, beyond conversation, does engagement mean?

Dealing with Iran, the president needs to use all the tools of diplomacy at his disposal. First, the president needs to strengthen our position by adding partners. Mr. Obama should sit down with moderate Arab states. He should listen to their views and forge an agreed regional security strategy. Such a strategy should include a vigorous program of support for the Iranian opposition, based on a well-funded program of broadcasts and other communications into Iran. This would help the opposition become better organized and grow. Recent surveys reflect that Iran is the most "wired" nation in the Middle East. Nearly 35% of its population is connected to the Internet.

Further, Mr. Obama must raise awareness among our European and Asian allies of how serious a threat to regional peace Iran has become. He should then launch an effort at the United Nations Security Council to impose strong sanctions on anyone supplying gasoline to Iran. This will underline what should be our commitment to defang Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Barack Obama is seeking to craft a doctrine of effective realism, a doctrine that advances our own interests and those of democratic aspirants throughout the world. It will stand or fall on his actions toward Iran in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. McFarlane, who served as President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser (1983-85), is a senior adviser to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
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« Reply #258 on: June 26, 2009, 12:58:54 PM »

This point was already mentioned but glossed over in Tom Frieman's NY Times piece recently and made again in the piece copied below.

The unrest, demonstrations, protests and public outcry in Iran comes directly from the fact that immediately across their borders they are acutely aware that the totalitarian regime is gone, the murderous bloody dictator was hanged, and in its place is an old fashioned (new fashioned?) electoral system out of an obscure and ridiculed  idea from George Bush and Dick Cheney where politicians must campaign and compete for voter approval and citizens receive a basic human right called 'consent of the governed'.  Who knew that such a ridiculed idea could try to spread to other oppressed people in the region??

From Powerline 6/24:

Paul Rahe is the distinguished intellectual historian and professor of history at Hillsdale College. Professor Rahe is the author, most recently, of Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect. If any scholarly study in the history of political thought was ever timely, Soft Despotism is it.

Professor Rahe's new book has inspired much witty and learned commentary. Mark Steyn freely draws on the book in the lead article featured in the current issue of the New Criterion. The reviews by Professor Harvey Mansfield in the Weekly Standard and by William Voegeli in NR are must reading.

Professor Rahe has forwarded us his thoughts on the events in Iran:

    I spent the mid-1980s -- when the Iranian Revolution was young, when Hossein Mousavi was the Islamic Republic's Prime Minister, and the Iran-Iraq war underway -- in Istanbul as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, writing about Turkey primarily and also about Greece and Cyprus (which I visited with some frequency). In previous years, I had closely followed events in Iran, and I continued to do so while residing nearby. I was at the time haphazardly working on a book that would bear the title Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution, and I was fascinated by the progress of a revolution that was at the time same theocratic and republican.

    I can remember thinking that the combination was likely to be unstable. The nascent regime might be led by a Supreme Leader drawn from the Shiite clergy and respected for his understanding of the Koran, and the Council of Guardians, whom he appointed, might veto legislation and carefully vet candidates for office with an eye to protecting the clerical regime, silencing its critics, and suppressing opposition. But the fact that the voters had a choice, that the candidates had to campaign, and that they had to tailor their campaigns with an eye to popular sentiment allowed in a fashion hard to circumscribe for the more or less free formation of public opinion.

    Something of the sort had taken place in ancient Athens under the rule of Peisistratus and his sons -- when the regime had been in form a republic and in reality a tyranny -- and, after the death of its founder, form asserted itself and reshaped political reality. In such a polity, semi-free elections may be necessary for the purpose of rallying popular support, but they also have the effect of confering a measure of authority on the populace and of suggesting to ordinary citizens that they have a role to play in public deliberation and in setting the polity's course. What began as a theocratic republic might easily evolve into something else. So I thought.

    In March, 2002, while on a visit to Istanbul, I had an opportunity to question an Iranian journalist as to the validity of my hypothesis. I had not been in Turkey for some years; I wanted to get a sense of what 9/11 meant in the one Muslim country I knew well; and I had been invited by another former fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs to a dinner to which he had also invited a number of Turkish journalists.

    Michael Ledeen had been suggesting in articles published hither and yon that Iran might be on the verge of a revolution, and I began by asking my Iranian acquaintance what he thought of the likelihood. He responded that many of the men who ran the Islamic Republic had been graduate students in eastern Europe. "They know how to control a population, but they do not know how to control their own children," he observed. "There will some day be a revolution--but not any time soon. Iran will change in the manner in which China did--when a new generation comes to power."

    As I have tracked events over the last few days, I have come back to that conversation again and again. I have no idea whether my Iranian acquaintance was accurate in describing the educational background of many of the Iranian leaders, but I have long suspected that he was correct in his estimation of their ability to keep the population in line and of their inability to control their own progeny. Five things are nonetheless clear.

    First, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not win anything like 63 percent of the vote in the recent election. Over the last four years, he has brought Iran to the edge of economic disaster; many Iranians are fully aware of their plight; and the authorities, fearful that he would go down to defeat, rigged the entire process from the start. Second, the ruling order in Iran is bitterly split over what amounts to a coup d'état. Third, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has put his prestige and that of the regime itself on the line. Fourth, the people of Iran are aware that they have been hoodwinked, and the Islamic Republic is now without a shred of legitimacy. And, finally, if the police and the militia should prove unable to control the crowds in Teheran, and if the Revolutionary Guard is called out and the guardsmen refuse to fire on their fellow citizens, things really will come apart.

    If the authorities manage to restore order (as, I suspect, they will), the pot will nonetheless continue to boil -- unless they resort to severe repression and purge those within their own ranks who lent support, open or tacit, to the demonstrators. But if they do this, they will at the same time seriously narrow the base of the regime's support, and that will only hasten the day of reckoning. As Reuel Marc Gerecht argues in a trenchant piece in the Weekly Standard, we are witnessing a game-changing moment.

    From all of this, the supporters of George W. Bush's policy in Iraq should draw consolation, for the elections that took place in that country under the American aegis contributed mightily to the discontent in Iran. The people of Iran were witness to the emergence within Iraq of a secular republic sponsored by an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, possessed of an erudition and an authority rivalling and arguably surpassing that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were witness to elections that were really free and to public debate open in ways that debate within the Islamic Republic is not. Morever, in Quom, the stronghold of the Shiite clergy, the clerics who most fully command respect have long rejected, as contrary to Shiite tradition and the interest of Islam, the path of direct clerical rule pursued by Khomeini.

    Iran today looks something like England in the wake of Oliver Cromwell's death. There has been a religious revolution; it never commanded full popular support; it is now seen, even by many of its most ardent supporters, to be a failure; and there will be a scramble to attempt to sustain the polity it produced. Ordinarily, American leverage does not amount to much. In this situation, it could nonetheless be considerable. Economically Iran is on the ropes. If we keep the pressure on, following the policy of the Bush administration, the regime may in fact collapse. If, however, in the interests of stability, in the manner of the so-called "realists," the Obama administration opts to take the pressure off and, in effect, bails out Iran's bankrupt regime, it may stumble on for some years to come.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2009, 01:12:10 PM by DougMacG » Logged
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« Reply #259 on: June 26, 2009, 02:09:56 PM »

Thomas Friedman said this?
The Friedman who usually ridicules W?

NYTs too?   Wow.....
I would assume this was on page 500.

I was wondering too if these events in Iran would be happening if Saddam was still there oppressing his people.
*History may yet judge W. (and the neocons) as being correct all along.*

Although as Morris, or was it Bernie Goldberg (I think) said to Hannity on this exact point,
The problem is all the historians are liberal so they will NEVER give credit to W.
Hannity's response, "checkmate!".

« Reply #260 on: July 02, 2009, 12:28:21 PM »

Time for an Israeli Strike?
By John R. Bolton
Thursday, July 2, 2009

With Iran's hard-line mullahs and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps unmistakably back in control, Israel's decision of whether to use military force against Tehran's nuclear weapons program is more urgent than ever.

Iran's nuclear threat was never in doubt during its presidential campaign, but the post-election resistance raised the possibility of some sort of regime change. That prospect seems lost for the near future or for at least as long as it will take Iran to finalize a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.

Accordingly, with no other timely option, the already compelling logic for an Israeli strike is nearly inexorable. Israel is undoubtedly ratcheting forward its decision-making process. President Obama is almost certainly not.

He still wants "engagement" (a particularly evocative term now) with Iran's current regime. Last Thursday, the State Department confirmed that Secretary Hillary Clinton spoke to her Russian and Chinese counterparts about "getting Iran back to negotiating on some of these concerns that the international community has." This is precisely the view of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, reflected in the Group of Eight communique the next day. Sen. John Kerry thinks the recent election unpleasantness in Tehran will delay negotiations for only a few weeks.

Obama administration sources have opined (anonymously) that Iran will be more eager to negotiate than it was before its election in order to find "acceptance" by the "international community." Some leaks indicated that negotiations had to produce results by the U.N. General Assembly's opening in late September, while others projected that they had until the end of 2009 to show progress. These gauzy scenarios assume that the Tehran regime cares about "acceptance" or is somehow embarrassed by eliminating its enemies. Both propositions are dubious.

Obama will nonetheless attempt to jump-start bilateral negotiations with Iran, though time is running out even under the timetables leaked to the media. There are two problems with this approach. First, Tehran isn't going to negotiate in good faith. It hasn't for the past six years with the European Union as our surrogates, and it won't start now. As Clinton said on Tuesday, Iran has "a huge credibility gap" because of its electoral fraud. Second, given Iran's nuclear progress, even if the stronger sanctions Obama has threatened could be agreed upon, they would not prevent Iran from fabricating weapons and delivery systems when it chooses, as it has been striving to do for the past 20 years. Time is too short, and sanctions failed long ago.

Only those most theologically committed to negotiation still believe Iran will fully renounce its nuclear program. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has a "Plan B," which would allow Iran to have a "peaceful" civil nuclear power program while publicly "renouncing" the objective of nuclear weapons. Obama would define such an outcome as "success," even though in reality it would hardly be different from what Iran is doing and saying now. A "peaceful" uranium enrichment program, "peaceful" reactors such as Bushehr and "peaceful" heavy-water projects like that under construction at Arak leave Iran with an enormous breakout capability to produce nuclear weapons in very short order. And anyone who believes the Revolutionary Guard Corps will abandon its weaponization and ballistic missile programs probably believes that there was no fraud in Iran's June 12 election. See "huge credibility gap," supra.

In short, the stolen election and its tumultuous aftermath have dramatically highlighted the strategic and tactical flaws in Obama's game plan. With regime change off the table for the coming critical period in Iran's nuclear program, Israel's decision on using force is both easier and more urgent. Since there is no likelihood that diplomacy will start or finish in time, or even progress far enough to make any real difference, there is no point waiting for negotiations to play out. In fact, given the near certainty of Obama changing his definition of "success," negotiations represent an even more dangerous trap for Israel.

Those who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons are left in the near term with only the option of targeted military force against its weapons facilities. Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that such an attack is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people. This was always true, but it has become even more important to make this case emphatically, when the gulf between the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the citizens of Iran has never been clearer or wider. Military action against Iran's nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently.

Otherwise, be prepared for an Iran with nuclear weapons, which some, including Obama advisers, believe could be contained and deterred. That is not a hypothesis we should seek to test in the real world. The cost of error could be fatal.

The writer, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from August 2005 to December 2006 and is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad."
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« Reply #261 on: July 02, 2009, 07:21:00 PM »

Well, I guess it was long feared the next use of nuclear weapons would be the middle east.
How sad the world has sat back and let Israel be in the position of having to do this.
I can think it through countless ways but the conclusion is always the same - not to do it risks annihilation for Jews in Israel.
It always comes down to this.

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« Reply #262 on: July 20, 2009, 04:25:31 PM »

At Friday prayers July 17 at Tehran University, the influential cleric and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani gave his first sermon since Iran’s disputed presidential election and the subsequent demonstrations. The crowd listening to Rafsanjani inside the mosque was filled with Ahmadinejad supporters who chanted, among other things, “Death to America” and “Death to China.” Outside the university common grounds, anti-Ahmadinejad elements — many of whom were blocked by Basij militiamen and police from entering the mosque — persistently chanted “Death to Russia.”

Death to America is an old staple in Iran. Death to China had to do with the demonstrations in Xinjiang and the death of Uighurs at the hands of the Chinese. Death to Russia, however, stood out. Clearly, its use was planned before the protesters took to the streets. The meaning of this must be uncovered. To begin to do that, we must consider the political configuration in Iran at the moment.

The Iranian Political Configuration
There are two factions claiming to speak for the people. Rafsanjani represents the first faction. During his sermon, he spoke for the tradition of the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who took power during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Rafjsanjani argued that Khomeini wanted an Islamic republic faithful to the will of the people, albeit within the confines of Islamic law. Rafsanjani argued that he was the true heir to the Islamic revolution. He added that Khomeini’s successor — the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — had violated the principles of the revolution when he accepted that Rafsanjani’s archenemy, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had won Iran’s recent presidential election. (There is enormous irony in foreigners describing Rafsanjani as a moderate reformer who supports greater liberalization. Though he has long cultivated this image in the West, in 30 years of public political life it is hard to see a time when has supported Western-style liberal democracy.)

The other faction is led by Ahmadinejad, who takes the position that Rafsanjani in particular — along with the generation of leaders who ascended to power during the first phase of the Islamic republic — has betrayed the Iranian people. Rather than serving the people, Ahmadinejad claims they have used their positions to become so wealthy that they dominate the Iranian economy and have made the reforms needed to revitalize the Iranian economy impossible. According to Ahmadinejad’s charges, these elements now blame Ahmadinejad for Iran’s economic failings when the root of these failings is their own corruption. Ahmadinejad claims that the recent presidential election represents a national rejection of the status quo. He adds that claims of fraud represent attempts by Rafsanjani — who he portrays as defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi’s sponsor — and his ilk to protect their positions from Ahmadinejad.

Iran is therefore experiencing a generational dispute, with each side claiming to speak both for the people and for the Khomeini tradition. There is the older generation — symbolized by Rafsanjani — that has prospered during the last 30 years. Having worked with Khomeini, this generation sees itself as his true heir. Then, there is the younger generation. Known as “students” during the revolution, this group did the demonstrating and bore the brunt of the shah’s security force counterattacks. It argues that Khomeini would be appalled at what Rafsanjani and his generation have done to Iran.

This debate is, of course, more complex than this. Khamenei, a key associate of Khomeini, appears to support Ahmadinejad’s position. And Ahmadinejad hardly speaks for all of the poor as he would like to claim. The lines of political disputes are never drawn as neatly as we would like. Ultimately, Rafsanjani’s opposition to the recent election did not have as much to do with concerns (valid or not) over voter fraud. It had everything to do with the fact that the outcome threatened his personal position. Which brings us back to the question of why Rafsanjani’s followers were chanting “Death to Russia”?

Examining the Anomalous Chant
For months prior to the election, Ahmadinejad’s allies warned that the United States was planning a “color” revolution. Color revolutions, like the one in Ukraine, occurred widely in the former Soviet Union after its collapse, and these revolutions followed certain steps. An opposition political party was organized to mount an electoral challenge the establishment. Then, an election occurred that was either fraudulent or claimed by the opposition as having been fraudulent. Next, widespread peaceful protests against the regime (all using a national color as the symbol of the revolution) took place, followed by the collapse of the government through a variety of paths. Ultimately, the opposition — which was invariably pro-Western and particularly pro-American — took power.

Moscow openly claimed that Western intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, organized and funded the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. These agencies allegedly used nongovernmental organizations (human rights groups, pro-democracy groups, etc.) to delegitimize the existing regime, repudiate the outcome of the election regardless of its validity and impose what the Russians regarded as a pro-American puppet regime. The Russians saw Ukraine’s Orange Revolution as the break point in their relationship with the West, with the creation of a pro-American, pro-NATO regime in Ukraine representing a direct attack on Russian national security. The Americans argued that to the contrary, they had done nothing but facilitate a democratic movement that opposed the existing regime for its own reasons, demanding that rigged elections be repudiated.

In warning that the United States was planning a color revolution in Iran, Ahmadinejad took the Russian position. Namely, he was arguing that behind the cover of national self-determination, human rights and commitment to democratic institutions, the United States was funding an Iranian opposition movement on the order of those active in the former Soviet Union. Regardless of whether the opposition actually had more votes, this opposition movement would immediately regard an Ahmadinejad win as the result of fraud. Large demonstrations would ensue, and if they were left unopposed the Islamic republic would come under threat.

In doing this, Ahmadinejad’s faction positioned itself against the actuality that such a rising would occur. If it did, Ahmadinejad could claim that the demonstrators were — wittingly or not — operating on behalf of the United States, thus delegitimizing the demonstrators. In so doing, he could discredit supporters of the demonstrators as not tough enough on the United States, a useful charge against Rafsanjani, whom the West long has held up as an Iranian moderate.

Interestingly, while demonstrations were at their height, Ahmadinejad chose to attend — albeit a day late — a multinational Shanghai Cooperation Organization conference in Moscow on the Tuesday after the election. It was very odd that he would leave Iran during the greatest postelection unrest; we assumed he had decided to demonstrate to Iranians that he didn’t take the demonstrations seriously.

The charge that seems to be emerging on the Rafsanjani side is that Ahmadinejad’s fears of a color revolution were not simply political, but were encouraged by the Russians. It was the Russians who had been talking to Ahmadinejad and his lieutenants on a host of issues, who warned him about the possibility of a color revolution. More important, the Russians helped prepare Ahmadinejad for the unrest that would come — and given the Russian experience, how to manage it. Though we speculate here, if this theory is correct, it could explain some of the efficiency with which Ahmadinejad shut down cell phone and other communications during the postelection unrest, as he may have had Russian advisers.

Rafsanjani’s followers were not shouting “Death to Russia” without a reason, at least in their own minds. They are certainly charging that Ahmadinejad took advice from the Russians, and went to Russia in the midst of political unrest for consultations. Rafsanjani’s charge may or may not be true. Either way, there is no question that Ahmadinejad did claim that the United States was planning a color revolution in Iran. If he believed that charge, it would have been irrational not to reach out to the Russians. But whether or not the CIA was involved, the Russians might well have provided Ahmadinejad with intelligence of such a plot and helped shape his response, and thereby may have created a closer relationship with him.

How Iran’s internal struggle will work itself out remains unclear. But one dimension is shaping up: Ahmadinejad is trying to position Rafsanjani as leading a pro-American faction intent on a color revolution, while Rafsanjani is trying to position Ahmadinejad as part of a pro-Russian faction. In this argument, the claim that Ahmadinejad had some degree of advice or collaboration with the Russians is credible, just as the claim that Rafsanjani maintained some channels with the Americans is credible. And this makes an internal dispute geopolitically significant.

The Iranian Struggle in a Geopolitical Context
At the moment, Ahmadinejad appears to have the upper hand. Khamenei has certified his re-election. The crowds have dissipated; nothing even close to the numbers of the first few days has since materialized. For Ahmadinejad to lose, Rafsanjani would have to mobilize much of the clergy — many of whom are seemingly content to let Rafsanjani be the brunt of Ahmadinejad’s attacks — in return for leaving their own interests and fortunes intact. There are things that could bring Ahmadinejad down and put Rafsanjani in control, but all of them would require Khamenei to endorse social and political instability, which he will not do.

If the Russians have in fact intervened in Iran to the extent of providing intelligence to Ahmadinejad and advice to him during his visit on how to handle the postelection unrest (as the chants suggest), then Russian influence in Iran is not surging — it has surged. In some measure, Ahmadinejad would owe his position to Russian warnings and advice. There is little gratitude in the world of international affairs, but Ahmadinejad has enemies, and the Russians would have proved their utility in helping contain those enemies.

From the Russian point of view, Ahmadinejad would be a superb asset — even if not truly under their control. His very existence focuses American attention on Iran, not on Russia. It follows, then, that Russia would have made a strategic decision to involve itself in the postelection unrest, and that for the purposes of its own negotiations with Washington, Moscow will follow through to protect the Iranian state to the extent possible. The Russians have already denied U.S. requests for assistance on Iran. But if Moscow has intervened in Iran to help safeguard Ahmadinejad’s position, then the potential increases for Russia to provide Iran with the S-300 strategic air defense systems that it has been dangling in front of Tehran for more than a decade.

If the United States perceives an entente between Moscow and Tehran emerging, then the entire dynamic of the region shifts and the United States must change its game. The threat to Washington’s interests becomes more intense as the potential of a Russian S-300 sale to Iran increases, and the need to disrupt the Russian-Iranian entente would become all the more important. U.S. influence in Iran already has declined substantially, and Ahmadinejad is more distrustful and hostile than ever of the United States after having to deal with the postelection unrest. If a Russian-Iranian entente emerges out of all this — which at the moment is merely a possibility, not an imminent reality — then the United States would have some serious strategic problems on its hands.

Revisiting Assumptions on Iran
For the past few years, STRATFOR has assumed that a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran was unlikely. Iran was not as advanced in its nuclear program as some claimed, and the complexities of any attack were greater than assumed. The threat of an attack was thus a U.S. bargaining chip, much as Iran’s nuclear program itself was an Iranian bargaining chip for use in achieving Tehran’s objectives in Iraq and the wider region. To this point, our net assessment has been accurate.

At this point, however, we need to stop and reconsider. If Iran and Russia begin serious cooperation, Washington’s existing dilemma with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its ongoing standoff with the Russians would fuse to become a single, integrated problem. This is something the United States would find difficult to manage. Washington’s primary goal would become preventing this from happening.

Ahmadinejad has long argued that the United States was never about to attack Iran, and that charges by Rafsanjani and others that he has pursued a reckless foreign policy were groundless. But with the “Death to Russia” chants and signaling of increased Russian support for Iran, the United States may begin to reconsider its approach to the region.

Iran’s clerical elite does not want to go to war. They therefore can only view with alarm the recent ostentatious transiting of the Suez Canal into the Red Sea by Israeli submarines and corvettes. This transiting did not happen without U.S. approval. Moreover, in spite of U.S. opposition to expanded Israeli settlements and Israeli refusals to comply with this opposition, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will be visiting Israel in two weeks. The Israelis have said that there must be a deadline on negotiations with Iran over the nuclear program when the next G-8 meeting takes place in September; a deadline that the G-8 has already approved. The consequences if Iran ignores the deadline were left open-ended.

All of this can fit into our old model of psychological warfare, as representing a bid to manipulate Iranian politics by making Ahmadinejad’s leadership look too risky. It could also be the United States signaling the Russians that stakes in the region are rising. It is not clear that the United States has reconsidered its strategy on Iran in the wake of the postelection demonstrations. But if Rafsanjani’s claim of Russian support for Ahmadinejad is true, a massive re-evaluation of U.S. policy could ensue, assuming one hasn’t already started — prompting a reconsideration of the military option.

All of this assumes that there is substance behind a mob chanting “Death to Russia.” There appears to be, but of course, Ahmadinejad’s enemies would want to magnify that substance to its limits and beyond. This is why we are not ready to simply abandon our previous net assessment of Iran, even though it is definitely time to rethink it.

« Reply #263 on: July 22, 2009, 07:16:57 PM »

FYI-- This was picked up by Salon's Broadsheet

'I wed Iranian girls before execution'
Jul. 19, 2009
SABINA AMIDI, Special to The Jerusalem Post , THE JERUSALEM POST

In a shocking and unprecedented interview, directly exposing the inhumanity of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's religious regime in Iran, a serving member of the paramilitary Basiji militia has told this reporter of his role in suppressing opposition street protests in recent weeks.

He has also detailed aspects of his earlier service in the force, including his enforced participation in the rape of young Iranian girls prior to their execution.

The interview took place by telephone, and on condition of anonymity. It was arranged by a reliable source whose identity can also not be revealed.

Founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 as a "people's militia," the volunteer Basiji force is subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intensely loyal to Khomeini's successor, Khamenei.

The Basiji member, who is married with children, spoke soon after his release by the Iranian authorities from detention. He had been held for the "crime" of having set free two Iranian teenagers - a 13-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl - who had been arrested during the disturbances that have followed the disputed June presidential elections.

"There have been many other police and members of the security forces arrested because they have shown leniency toward the protesters out on the streets, or released them from custody without consulting our superiors," he said.

He pinned the blame for much of the most ruthless violence employed by the Iranian security apparatus against opposition protesters on what he called "imported security forces" - recruits, as young as 14 and 15, he said, who have been brought from small villages into the bigger cities where the protests have been centered.

"Fourteen and 15-year old boys are given so much power, which I am sorry to say they have abused," he said. "These kids do anything they please - forcing people to empty out their wallets, taking whatever they want from stores without paying, and touching young women inappropriately. The girls are so frightened that they remain quiet and let them do what they want."

These youngsters, and other "plainclothes vigilantes," were committing most of the crimes in the names of the regime, he said.

Asked about his own role in the brutal crackdowns on the protesters, whether he had been beaten demonstrators and whether he regretted his actions, he answered evasively.

"I did not attack any of the rioters - and even if I had, it is my duty to follow orders," he began. "I don't have any regrets," he went on, "except for when I worked as a prison guard during my adolescence."

Explaining how he had come to join the volunteer Basiji forces, he said his mother had taken him to them.

When he was 16, "my mother took me to a Basiji station and begged them to take me under their wing because I had no one and nothing foreseeable in my future. My father was martyred during the war in Iraq and she did not want me to get hooked on drugs and become a street thug. I had no choice," he said.

He said he had been a highly regarded member of the force, and had so "impressed my superiors" that, at 18, "I was given the 'honor' to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death."

In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a "wedding" ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard - essentially raped by her "husband."

"I regret that, even though the marriages were legal," he said.

Why the regret, if the marriages were "legal?"

"Because," he went on, "I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their 'wedding' night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.

"I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over," he said. "I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her."

Returning to the events of the last few weeks, and his decision to set free the two teenage detainees, he said he "honestly" did not know why he had released them, a decision that led to his own arrest, "but I think it was because they were so young. They looked like children and I knew what would happen to them if they weren't released."

He said that while a man is deemed "responsible for his own actions at 13, for a woman it is 9," and that it was freeing the 15-year-old girl that "really got me in trouble.

"I was not mistreated or really interrogated while being detained," he said. "I was put in a tiny room and left alone. It was hard being isolated, so I spent most of my time praying and thinking about my wife and kids."
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« Reply #264 on: August 15, 2009, 10:15:52 AM »

Iran’s plummeting birth rates
Despite its fundamentalist Islamic reputation Iran has experimented with birth control with some unexpected, and unwelcome, consequences.
If demography is destiny, the family of Farzaneh Roudi is a snapshot of Iran’s past, present and future. A program director at the Population Reference Bureau in Washington DC, Ms Roudi was born in Iran. Her grandmother had 11 children, her father had 6 and she has 2.

Her profile is not unusual in Iran, where women give birth to fewer than 2 children, on average. This is one of the most remarkable demographic shifts in world history. Its fertility rate has declined from 7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.9 today – a decline of 70 percent in the space of a single generation. And about 80 percent of married women in Iran use contraception -- the highest rate among all the countries in the Middle East.

These staggering statistics confound stereotypes about Iran. Even though the Western media depicts this nation of 70 million as a teeming cauldron of Islamic fundamentalism and social and moral conservatism, the trend to lower birthrates began long ago. In 1967 Mohammad Reza Shah signed the Tehran Declaration. This acknowledged family planning as a human right and programs were quickly established. After the 1979 Islamic Revolution which booted out the Shah, they were dismantled for being pro-Western. But contraceptive use was not totally banned and Imam Khomeini and other Ayatollahs did grant fatwas allowing it as a health measure.

Then came the calamitous eight-year between Iran and Iraq, in which Iran suffered as many as a million casualties. In these drastic circumstances, a large population was regarded as an asset and the government promoted large families.

But after the war, there was a 180-degree turn. Shocked by the rapidly growing population, the government vigorously promoted family planning as a path to economic development. Women were encouraged to space births and to stop at three. Although there was no overt coercion, a 1993 social engineering law penalised large families by terminating family allowances, health benefits and maternity leave for families with four or more children.

The result was unprecedented. Iran’s fertility figures skidded dramatically. The fertility rate for women in rural areas dropped from 8 children per woman in 1977 to 2 children in 2006. According to the leading expert on Iranian demography, Professor Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, of the University of Teheran, simultaneously young couples were delaying having children, married women were spacing births further apart, and older women stopped bearing children.

Even the Shi’ite clergy supported this massive social change. Imam Khomeini and other ayatollahs granted fatwas allowing contraceptive use.

In fact, nowadays there seems to be a national consensus that small families are good families. Back in 2006 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called for a baby boom. "I am against saying that two children are enough. Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. It even has the capacity for 120 million people," he declared. "Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them."

But this fizzled. His advisors had a quiet word with him and Ahmadinejad turned his mind to other ways of threatening the West.

In any case, Iranian families nowadays resemble the despised Westerners, Ms Roudi told MercatorNet. "Life is not easy nowadays. A lot of the time in the cities both husband and wife work. Their kids have piano classes or karate classes. It’s very normal for families to have only 1 or 2 kids. If you see a young family with 3 children -– that’s a big family."

As a result, Iran’s population profile looks remarkably like a Christmas tree, with a huge bulge between the ages of 15 and 30. Ms Roudi believes that this may help to explain the upheaval in Tehran after the recent disputed election. Most of the protesters were young people.

"Unemployment and high costs of living, coupled with social and political restrictions, have made it increasingly difficult for young Iranians. The sudden uprising that erupted following the disputed presidential election of June 12 is a manifestation of all the underlying frustrations," she writes in the PRB’s population blog.

Paradoxically, they may be frustrated by Iran’s extraordinary achievement in educating its youth. "The successful Iranian uphill battle to improve education in spite of exploding numbers of youngsters and without international assistance must be viewed as a major achievement in human development," writes Professor Abbasi in a recent report. And to further shake Western preconceptions, 65 percent of students admitted to government universities in 2007 were women.

Appalling repression and electoral manipulation after the recent election has entrenched the hold of President Ahmadinejad and his conservative allies on power. But eventually the extraordinary bulge of educated youth will transform Iran, Professor Abbasi, who also teaches at Australian National University, told MercatorNet. "The rapid improvement of education in Iran is likely to generate powerful forces toward more democratic rights," he feels. "There is a high probability that over the coming years, Iran will transform naturally into a modern democracy."

The youth bulge could benefit Iran’s economy. Demographers speak of a "demographic dividend" -– a not-to-be-repeated large number of energetic, well-educated young workers who can contribute to economic growth. Unfortunately unemployment amongst 18 to 30-year-olds is running at about 25 percent. This means that the regime is squandering its opportunity.

There are other shadows, as well. One is drug addiction amongst youth.

Even though it sends drug dealers to the gallows, Iran could have as many as 2 million addicts – nearly 3% of the total population. No other country in the world even comes close to that figure.

"Drug addiction is going up by a horrible rate," a doctor told the Los Angeles Times. "When I was young, in a village or a poor neighborhood you'd hear people say, 'I know an addict.' But now drugs are so pervasive, people say, 'I know somebody who is not an addict.' You criminalise beer, you criminalise girlfriends. You close everything to the young, but the young need a way open, an outlet. We doctors are so angry and frustrated at the government."
And then there is the ticking time-bomb of population ageing. By mid-century, these youthful protesters will be frail and elderly as the bulge works its way to the top of the population pyramid. As in Western Europe and other countries with below-replacement fertility, there will be a relatively small working-age population to support them. The question is how Iran’s government will finance their old age. "I’m sure they will not be prepared," sighed Professor Abbasi.

Iran, like many other countries, is discovering that reducing fertility brings unexpected changes.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. For more about demography on MercatorNet, visit our Demography is Destiny blog.
« Reply #265 on: August 16, 2009, 04:15:33 PM »

The Torturers and the Secretary
Posted By Michael Ledeen On August 14, 2009 @ 6:07 pm In Uncategorized | 20 Comments

By now, most people know that the Iranian regime treats its dissidents with unrestrained barbarity.  Even the leading dead tree media have reported anecdotally on the torture of prisoners and the bashing, beating, axing and stabbing of protestors in the streets of the major cities.  But it is not easy to get a clear picture of the dimensions of the savagery.  It’s hard to get the real numbers on the bloody repression the mullahs have unleashed on their people, and one reason–perhaps the most important one–is that the regime is doing everything in its power to conceal the facts, typically using the same cruel methods that filled the prisons in the first place.

Officially, the regime claims only 37 dead since the demonstrations began on the 12th of June, but about 1800 persons remain unaccounted for.  The real figure is very close to five hundred known dead.  And, according to reliable sources, the morgues still have a stockpiles of about 400 corpses. Each day three to four corpses are released to relatives.

The release of the cadavers follows a singularly macabre procedure. Close relatives, such as mothers, are ordered to report to a particular prison. Upon arrival they are immediately – and totally unexpectedly – jailed for two days. After these two days they are told that they can be released but that they first have to sign a secrecy pledge about their treatment and a declaration that their loved one had died of “innocent causes,” such as a car crash. The regime uses several other non-torture related death causes, such as brain injury, heart surgery, etc.

After signing the papers the relative can receive the corpse. Upon receipt of the corpse of the [mainly young] man or woman, the real cause of death–brutal torture–becomes obvious.  They see their loved one totally beaten up,  nails pulled out, evidence of rape, bodies covered with so many burns that it is difficult to recognize the dead person, and the like.

Despite the secrecy pledge, these horrendous details are now emerging and even members of the usually very loyal part of the clergy are now disgusted and upset.  Indeed, there is so much disgust with the supreme leader and his men, that the country is inundated by leaks from the highest level of the regime.

The most famous of these leaks were contained in a letter written by one of the leaders of the opposition Green Movement, Mehdi Karroubi, to his sometime ally, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who still sits in the country’s two most powerful “legislative” bodies, the Guardian Council and the Council of Experts.

Karroubi’s letter was published on August 9th in a newspaper close to his group, and then reprinted on the reformist Norooz web site.  The principal accusation was the sexual torture of prisoners.  Citing “people who hold sensitive positions in the regime,” Karroubi wrote:

Some of the detainees say that [certain] people [in the prisons] are raping girls who have been arrested, causing them vaginal tearing and injuries. They are also raping young boys, causing them depression and severe physical and emotional harm… so that [after their release] they hide in the corners of their homes.

In light of the gravity of [these allegations], I expect you, as head of the Assembly of Experts, [to form] a committee to will investigate and deal with this matter objectively and transparently…

Although the rape of prisoners is a longstanding practice in the Islamic Republic, the letter produced a considerable outcry.  The Parliament appointed a special investigator, who said he could not digest the horrible details (or perhaps face the consequences to himself if he submitted an accurate report), and promptly resigned.  But his resignation was rejected.  Meanwhile Karroubi himself has left Tehran for his native Lorestan, where he can count on the protection of his people.

Iranian Prosecutor-General Ayatollah Qorban Ali Dori Najafabadi  acknowledged that some detainees have been tortured in prison, saying: “Mistakes have led to some unfortunate and indefensible incidents, and those involved will have to be punished.” This includes many reported incidents at Kahrizak prison, where prisoners were killed, and which has [since] been closed on Khamenei’s orders.  According to an August 9th article in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), Mr. Hamid-Reza Katouzian, a member of a Majlis committee formed to monitor the situation of the protest detainees, said that Iranian Police Chief Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam received daily reports about torture at this prison, contrary to his public claims that he had known nothing and that he had believed the prisoners had died of natural causes.

Despite all this, Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani (the West’s favorite Iranian diplomat) announced yesterday (the thirteenth) that a Parliamentary investigation had found Karroubi’s claims to be false, and demanded that he present his evidence.

These horrible events, all in the name of preserving the pure faith, suggest a system that has gone berserk.  The rape of virgin women is justified by a deranged appeal to sharia law, according to which virgins will go to heaven.  Ergo, according to the warped logic of the torturers, it is necessary to ensure that women guilty of capital offenses not be virgins, so that they  will go elsewhere in the afterlife. But, notwithstanding Ahmadinezhad’s celebrated claim in New York that there are no gay people in Iran, homosexual acts carry the death penalty.  Do not hold your breath waiting for the public execution of the rapists  Even many supporters of the regime are now beginning to wonder what has gone wrong with the revolution, and some of them are providing the details to people outside the inner circles.

The Western world, in the face of these outrages, maintains near-total silence.  Well, except when they choose to pretend that things are not what they clearly are.  I just learned that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on CNN last weekend [1], and, when asked about our Iran policy, made an amazing statement.

“We did not want to get between the legitimate protests and demonstrations of the Iranian people and the leadership,” Clinton said in an interview with CNN broadcast on Sunday.

“And we knew that if we stepped in too soon, too hard… the leadership would try to use us to unify the country against the protesters.”

“Now, behind the scenes, we were doing a lot,” Clinton said. “We were doing a lot to really empower the protesters without getting in the way. And we’re continuing to speak out and support the opposition.”

This is the same secretary of state who equated electoral fraud in Nigeria with the presidential elections in the United States in 2000, thereby demonstrating either consummate ignorance of, or a hyperactive fantasy life about, the real world.  Her statement about Iran is cut from the same tapestry.  Let’s parse it, shall we?

“We did not want to get between…the Iranian people and the leadership.”  That is, we didn’t want to take sides.  We didn’t want to get involved.  Because we feared that it might wreck our grand strategy of making a deal, any deal, with the mullahs.

“We knew that if we stepped in…the leadership would try to use us to unify the country against the protesters.”  And just how would the regime “unify the country,” when the vast majority of Iranians hate Khamenei et. al.?  Those nightly chants of “Death to the Dictator” do not continue, “unless the Americans help us, in which case we’ll rally behind the Dictator.”  And here again, as so often with this administration, we have the undergraduate beer party-type pop lefty history, the kind that says the Iranians would be simply furious if we helped them gain their freedom.  The sort of phony blame-America-first history that presumes the Iranian people think it’s better to be raped than supported, I suppose.

“Behind the scenes…we were doing a lot to really empower the protesters without getting in the way.  And we’re continuing to…support the opposition.”

Prove it.  So far as I know, we did–and still do–nothing to help the protesters, and we are certainly not supporting the opposition.  Have you heard a single word from State or the White House in support of Mousavi?  For that matter, have you heard a single word from Hillary decrying mass rape in Iran?  I haven’t.  I’ve heard her denounce rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but not in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

As for Obama, the curtain has fallen over Iran.  He’s going to wait, hoping that the regime kills off the leaders of the Green Movement and silences the Iranian people, so that the glorious deal can be consummated.

He and Hillary had a choice between dishonor and war.  They chose dishonor.  And they have war.  IEDs, many of them from Iran, are the biggest cause of American casualties in Afghanistan, aka Obama’s War.  And he hasn’t heard the last from the Quds Force in Iraq, either, even though our soldiers are now locked in offsite bases.  Iran’s been at war with us for thirty years, and the mullahs are not enchanted by his “special gift.”  They intend to defeat us and eventually dominate us.  We have yet to fight back effectively, and Hillary’s misrepresentations prove we have no intention of doing so.

It’s embarrassing.  And for those of us who have children on the battlefield, as for the Iranians who have children in the nightmare prisons of the regime, it’s awful.

UPDATE:  More details [2], from one of the best blogs on things Iranian.  h/t Banafsheh.

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« Reply #266 on: August 29, 2009, 06:10:56 AM »

Iran and the Question of Sanctions

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Berlin on Thursday, warning Iran that it will face a new round of “crippling” sanctions if it does not back away from its nuclear program. Their admonishments came after French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s call on Wednesday for similarly tough new sanctions. The harsh words point toward the international pressure coming to bear on Iran as Washington’s September deadline for nuclear negotiations approaches.

While it is not yet clear how international sanctions would play out if Iran disregards the deadline, it is worth considering the general nature of sanctions. Sanctions are a tricky policy to enact effectively on anything other than a long-term time frame, and ultimately require one of two things.

First, they require unanimity. Everyone — and we really do mean everyone — must cooperate. As South Africa discovered during the apartheid years, every major country in the world can declare crippling sanctions — even energy sanctions — against another country, but unless they are willing to cooperate on enforcement there is nothing to stop the odd supertanker from dropping off crude oil on its trip around the Cape of Good Hope.

Or, second, the sanctions must take aim at an array of critical goods and services that immediately impact the behavior or stability of the target country. It does no good, for example, for the EU states to place travel sanctions on the leader of Belarus over human rights abuses when he vacations in Sochi, Russia. Nor is it useful to slap sanctions on a government like Myanmar’s, which is hardly a single entity and, lacking in coherence, has no nerve center or bull’s-eye to strike.

“Iran is a tough nut to crack with sanctions from either the export or import side.”
We use the word “or” at the beginning of the previous paragraph for a reason. Sanctions do not necessarily have to have everyone on board if they target a critical commodity. The Arab oil embargo is a great example of how a non-unanimous sanction policy still can have immediate and massive, far-reaching effects. Conversely, a successful sanctions campaign does not have to shut off a critical commodity entirely if it has uniform application: While it did not deprive South Africans of vital necessities, the decision by most states to stop accepting South African passports did go some way toward cracking the foundation of apartheid.

Iran is a tough nut to crack with sanctions from either the export or import side. More than 90 percent of its export revenues come from oil; therefore, universally adopted sanctions would crack it wide open — yet Iran is the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, so the rest of the world would feel the pain right along with Tehran. Unanimity would be next to impossible to achieve. Global support for such actions would be dubious at best. Iran’s only other exports of note are carpets and pistachios — and action against either wouldn’t exactly turn the screws on the mullahs. Here it is possible to achieve unanimity, but not criticality.

On the import side, the situation is equally frustrating for those seeking a change of face. Food sanctions achieve criticality, but not unanimity. Nothing is more damning to social stability than a break in food supplies. But actively pursuing a policy of national starvation is a tough sell in the modern age — and Iran imports only about one-fifth of its food.

For Iran, that leaves only gasoline. Experts estimate that Iran imports roughly 40 percent of its gasoline needs. A total shutdown could grind much of the country to a halt — and thus criticality would be achieved. The problem here — again — is coming up with unanimity. In this case, it would be undermined not only by politics, but also by the nature of the product itself.

Sanctions against gasoline are hard to maintain, for the same reason that it is preferred as a fuel source. It is fungible, compact and full of energy (translation: easy to transport). So it can be shipped cost-effectively over water from any number of states to any number of ports via any number of third parties. When you add in politics, it becomes even trickier, since you involve powerful corporations — such as France’s Total or India’s Reliance — that are integrally entwined with governments that would be expected to comply with the sanctions. Moreover, this assumes that Russia — a long-time guardian of Iran whenever an international coalition is mustered against it — is not clandestinely shipping supplies via road or rail from the north, where Russia’s influence is pervasive and an international cordon would be impossible.

So though France, Germany, Israel and the United States do not wish their deadline to be made into a mockery, the limitations of sanctions are difficult to conceal.
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« Reply #267 on: September 01, 2009, 10:29:07 AM »

Last week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed elBaradei attempted to whitewash Iran's nuclear weapons program by issuing a report ignoring substantial information about weaponization activities and downplaying continued noncooperation.

Even the Obama administration apparently now understands that resuming the long-stalled "Permanent-Five plus-one" negotiations (the U.N. Security Council's permanent members plus Germany) with Iran is highly unlikely to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Accordingly, President Obama is readying two alternatives. One is to characterize "freezing" Iran's nuclear program at existing levels as a "success." However, this less than complete termination of Iran's nuclear program would run contrary to years of determined clandestine efforts. Such a freeze is utterly unverifiable and amounts to surrender. This will result in a nuclear-armed Iran.

The other Obama administration ploy is "strong sanctions" imposed by the United States and other countries. This will also be a "success" only in the sense that it will allow the administration to claim a win. It won't actually prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

One idea for robust sanctions now before Congress is to prohibit exports of refined petroleum products—such as gasoline—to Iran. Today, Iran imports 40% of its daily refined petroleum consumption. Other proposals include international financial and insurance-related sanctions.

View Full Image

Associated Press
A Tehran oil refinery
.These ideas are well-intentioned and worth pursuing. If imposed, they will create shortages that will likely increase internal dissatisfaction with Iran's regime, thereby hopefully contributing to its ultimate demise. But no one should believe that tighter sanctions will, in the foreseeable future, have any impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Six years ago more stringent measures against Iran might have worked, but today they are an idea whose time has come and gone. Their inadequacy stems from several causes.

First, the U.N. Security Council is no more likely now to approve strict sanctions against Iran than in the past. The prospects for Russian and Chinese support are between slim and none, since endorsing sanctions would harm their own economic and political interests in Iran. The most to expect from the council is a fourth sanctions resolution, as weak and ineffective as its predecessors, and only after weeks or months of agonizing negotiations.

Second, for those who understand the Security Council reality, most talk of enhanced sanctions envisages a coalition of the willing, consisting essentially of America, Japan and the European Union. But the EU's record to date, and Japan's likely policy under its new government (soon to be run by the Democratic Party of Japan), are hardly likely to produce a stiff, serious and sustained effort. Iran itself will offer countless reasons why sanctions should be suspended, reduced or ignored, and a disquieting amalgam of Western governments, businesses and commentators will agree at every step. It is very likely that EU resolve will fracture and Japan will follow suit. Moreover, many other countries will use the lack of a Security Council imprimatur to conduct business with Tehran, shredding the coalition's sanctions, and thereby weakening EU resolve still further.

Third, Iran is hardly standing idly by while sanctions that target its refined petroleum products are debated by the U.S. and other countries. Tehran's leaders are acutely aware of their vulnerability and are moving to address it. Iran, with extensive Chinese involvement, has already begun building new refineries and expanding existing facilities with the aim of approximately doubling domestic capacity by 2012. This will more than compensate for its current refining shortfall. Whether Iran can complete these projects on schedule remains to be seen, but the level of effort is intense and serious.

Tehran is also eliminating government subsidies that make retail gasoline cheaper than it otherwise would be. This will raise prices and thereby reduce consumption. Slashing consumer benefits is rarely popular, but this step alone will substantially reduce the pressure on Iran's refineries to produce. One can also be sure that the Revolutionary Guards' access to gasoline will not be diminished. Iran claims to have substantially increased its strategic gasoline reserves over the past year (though that increase has not been confirmed).

Most significantly, Iran's estimated natural gas reserves (948 trillion cubic feet in 2008) are second only to Russia's, and more than quadruple the U.S.'s. Here is "energy independence" for Iran that would make T. Boone Pickens envious, since relatively small capital expenditures can refit large motor-vehicle fleets (such as Iran's military and security services) to run on compressed natural gas. Iran also plans to increase subsidies for natural gas, thus diminishing consumer anger over lost gasoline subsidies.

For Washington, the question should not be whether "strict sanctions" will cause some economic harm despite Iran's multifarious, accelerating efforts to mitigate them. Instead, we must ask whether that harm will be sufficient to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. Objectively, there is no reason to believe that it will.

Adopting tougher economic sanctions is simply another detour away from hard decisions on whether to accept a nuclear Iran or support using force to prevent it.

Mr. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
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« Reply #268 on: September 29, 2009, 07:38:30 PM »

We've Been Talking to Iran for 30 Years
The seizure of the U.S. embassy followed the failure of Carter administration talks with Ayatollah Khomeini's regime..

The Obama administration's talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that "every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed."

After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian "criminals" who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.

President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will seek economic sanctions against Iran, Dec. 21, 1979. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance looks on.
.The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the '70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh's government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.

Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled "Iran and the West."

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran's National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

Negotiations have always been accompanied by sanctions. But neither has produced any change in Iranian behavior.

Until the end of 2006—and despite appeals for international support, notably from Mr. Clinton—sanctions were almost exclusively imposed by the U.S. alone. Mr. Carter issued an executive order forbidding the sale of anything to Tehran except food and medical supplies. Mr. Reagan banned the importation of virtually all Iranian goods and services in October 1987. Mr. Clinton issued an executive order in March 1995 prohibiting any American involvement with petroleum development. The following May he issued an additional order tightening those sanctions. Five years later, Secretary of State Albright eased some of the sanctions by allowing Americans to buy and import carpets and some food products, such as dried fruits, nuts and caviar.

Mr. Bush took spare parts for commercial aircraft off the embargo list in the fall of 2006. On the other hand, in 2008 he revoked authorization of so-called U-turn transfers, making it illegal for any American bank to process transactions involving Iran—even if non-Iranian banks were at each end.

Throughout this period, our allies advocated for further diplomacy instead of sanctions. But beginning in late 2006, the United Nations started passing sanctions of its own. In December of that year, the Security Council blocked the import or export of "sensitive nuclear material and equipment" and called on member states to freeze the assets of anyone involved with Iran's nuclear program.

In 2007, the Security Council banned all arms exports from Iran, froze Iranian assets, and restricted the travel of anyone involved in the Iranian nuclear program. The following year, it called for investigations of Iranian banks, and authorized member countries to start searching planes and ships coming or going from or to Iran. All to no avail.

Thirty years of negotiations and sanctions have failed to end the Iranian nuclear program and its war against the West. Why should anyone think they will work now? A change in Iran requires a change in government. Common sense and moral vision suggest we should support the courageous opposition movement, whose leaders have promised to end support for terrorism and provide total transparency regarding the nuclear program.

Mr. Ledeen, a scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, is the author, most recently, of "Accomplice to Evil: Iran and the War Against the West," out next month from St. Martin's Press.

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« Reply #269 on: September 30, 2009, 08:04:54 AM »

BEIJING — Leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee swept into Beijing last month to meet with Chinese officials, carrying a plea from Washington: if Iran were to be kept from developing nuclear weapons, China would have to throw more diplomatic weight behind the cause.

In fact, the appeal had been largely answered even before the legislators arrived.

In June, China National Petroleum signed a $5 billion deal to develop the South Pars natural gas field in Iran. In July, Iran invited Chinese companies to join a $42.8 billion project to build seven oil refineries and a 1,019-mile trans-Iran pipeline. And in August, almost as the Americans arrived in China, Tehran and Beijing struck another deal, this time for $3 billion, that will pave the way for China to help Iran expand two more oil refineries.

The string of energy deals appalled the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Howard L. Berman of California, who called them “exactly the wrong message” to send to an Iran that seemed determined to flout international nuclear rules.

But some analysts see another message: as the United States issues new calls to punish Iran for secretly expanding its nuclear program, it is not at all clear that Washington’s interests are the same as Beijing’s.

That will make it doubly difficult, these analysts say, to push meaningful sanctions against Iran through the United Nations Security Council, where China not only holds a veto but has also been one of Iran’s more reliable defenders.

“Their threat perception on this issue is different from ours,” said Zalmay Khalilzad, who as the American ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush helped persuade China to approve limited sanctions against Iran. “They don’t see Iran in the same way as we do.”

François Godement, a prominent China scholar and the president of the Paris-based Asia Center, put it more bluntly. “Basically,” he said, “the rise of Iran is not bad news for China.”

To be sure, China and the United States, leading members of the club of nuclear nations, share a practical interest in halting the spread of nuclear weapons to volatile areas like the Middle East. And it is in China’s interest to avoid alienating the United States, its economic and, increasingly, diplomatic partner on matters of global importance.

But beyond that, many experts say, their differences over Iran are not only economic but also ideological and strategic.

The United States has almost no financial ties with Iran, regards its government as a threat to global stability and worries that a rising Tehran would threaten American alliances and energy agreements in the Persian Gulf.

In contrast, China’s economic links to Tehran are growing rapidly, and China’s leaders see Iran not as a threat but as a potential ally. Nor would the Chinese be distressed, the reasoning goes, should a nuclear-armed Iran sap American influence in the region and drain the Pentagon’s resources in more Middle East maneuvering.

“Chinese leaders view Iran as a country of great potential power, perhaps already the economic and, maybe, militarily dominant power in that region,” said John W. Garver, a professor of international relations at Georgia Tech and the author of “China and Iran: Ancient Partners in a Post-Imperial World.”

An alliance with Tehran, he said, would be a bulwark against what China suspects is an American plan to maintain global dominance by controlling Middle Eastern energy supplies.

Beyond that, China relies heavily on Iran’s vast energy reserves — perhaps 15 percent of the world’s natural gas deposits and a tenth of its oil — to offset its own shortages. The Chinese are estimated to have $120 billion committed to Iranian gas and oil projects, and China has been Iran’s biggest oil export market for the past five years. In return, Iran has loaded up on imported Chinese machine tools, factory equipment, locomotives and other heavy goods, building China into one of its largest trading partners.

China scholars say that the relationship is anything but one-sided. Iran has skillfully parceled out its oil and gas reserves to Chinese companies, holding exploration and development as a sort of insurance policy to retain Chinese diplomatic backing in the United Nations.

For its part, China has opposed stiff sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program, acceding mostly to restrictions on trade in nuclear-related materials and orders to freeze the overseas assets of some Iranian companies.

Many experts question how much more punishment Beijing would agree to support. Iran has already been cited three times by the Security Council, with Beijing’s backing, for flouting prohibitions against its nuclear program.

In each case, Beijing agreed to measures only after stronger American proposals had been watered down and after Russia, the Council’s other critic of stiff sanctions and a close ally of Iran, had signed off on the proposal.

One noted Chinese analyst, Shi Yinhong of People’s University in Beijing, said in a telephone interview this week that China would probably follow much the same course should a new sanctions proposal reach the Security Council.

“China will do its utmost to find a balance” between Iran and the United States, Mr. Shi said. If Russia joins the other Council members in supporting a new sanctions resolution, he said, “China will do its best to try to dilute it, to make it limited, rather than veto it.”

But it is unlikely to do so happily. Supporting stronger sanctions might elevate China’s image as a global diplomatic leader, but the United States, not China, would reap the real benefits.

“China is not anxious to jump on this American train,” said one Chinese analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely assess China’s foreign policy.

Li Bibo contributed research.
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« Reply #270 on: October 08, 2009, 06:37:29 AM »

Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, Part 3: The Psychology of Naval Mines
Stratfor Today » October 7, 2009 | 1240 GMT

Relatively cheap, cost effective and easy to deploy, mines are the improvised explosive devices of naval warfare, and the potential variations in the Iranian mine arsenal are practically limitless. Could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz with an impenetrable field of naval mines? Probably not, but it wouldn’t have to. In mine warfare, the ultimate objective is often psychological.

Editor’s Note: This is part three in a three-part series examining Iran’s ability to close the Strait of Hormuz.

Perhaps even less clear than the composition of Iran’s anti-ship missile arsenal is its stockpile of naval mines. Over the years, Tehran has amassed thousands of mines, largely from Russia and China. Many are old free-floating and moored contact mines, which must physically make contact with a ship’s hull in order to detonate. But Iran has also acquired more advanced naval mines that have complex and sensitive triggers — some can be detonated by acoustic noise, others by magnetic influence from the metal of a ship’s hull. When deployed, many of these mines rest on the sea floor (for better concealment) and are designed to release what is essentially a small torpedo, either guided or unguided.

Iran also is thought to manufacture naval mines indigenously, and this is the real problem for mine-clearing operations in the Strait of Hormuz. Naval mines need not be particularly complex or difficult to build to be effective (though a long shelf life ashore and longevity in the maritime environment are important considerations and require a detailed understanding of naval mine design). Relatively cheap, cost effective and easy to deploy, mines are the improvised explosive devices of naval warfare, and the potential variations in the Iranian mine arsenal are practically limitless. The question is not how many modern mines Iran has acquired but what Iran has improvised and cobbled together within its own borders and manufactured in numbers. Although old, poorly maintained naval mines and poor storage conditions can be a recipe for disaster, many of Iran’s mines may have been modified or purpose-built to suit Iran’s needs and methods of deployment.

These methods of deployment extend far beyond Iran’s small number of larger, purpose-built mine-warfare ships. Not only have fishing dhows and trawlers been modified for mine-warfare purposes, but the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is known to have a fleet of small boats not just for swarming and suicide attacks but also to be employed to sow naval mines.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding Iran’s mine-laying capability as well as its naval mine stockpile, it is as impossible to estimate the effort it would take to clear Iranian mines from the strait. It all depends on what plays out, and there are many scenarios. One envisions Iran surreptitiously sowing mines for several days before the U.S. military detects the effort. Another has Iran deploying mines after an initial American strike, in which case Iran’s mine-laying capability would be severely degraded. The question of which side moves first is a critical one for almost any scenario.

But it is reasonably clear that Iran lacks both the arsenal and the capability for a “worst-case” scenario: sowing a full offensive field across the Strait of Hormuz composed of tens of thousands of mines that would effectively prevent any ship from entering the waterway. Though the IRGC and other forces that could be involved in mine-laying operations certainly practice their craft, their proficiency is not at all clear. And though the Iranians have a variety of mine-laying vessels at their disposal, their ability to perform the precise navigation and coordination required to lay a large-scale minefield with its hodgepodge of purpose-built minelayers, modified dhows and barges and small boats is questionable.

Most important — and most problematic for the Iranians — is the fact that the United States has a considerable presence near the strait and maintains close situational awareness in the region. Iran does not have the luxury of time when it comes to sowing mines. Some limited, covert mine laying cannot be ruled out, but Tehran cannot exclude the possibility of being caught — and the consequences of being caught would be significant, almost certainly involving a U.S. military strike. In any Iranian attempt to close the strait, it must balance the need to deploy as many mines as possible as quickly as possible with the need to do so surreptitiously. The former attempt could be quickly spotted, while the latter may fail to sow a sufficient number of mines to create the desired effect.

In addition, the damage that even a significant number of mines can physically do may be limited. Most naval mines — especially the older variety — can inflict only minor damage to a modern tanker or warship. During the “Tanker Wars,” the Kuwaiti tanker MV Bridgeton and the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG 58) were struck by crude Iranian mines in 1987 and 1988, respectively. Though both were damaged, neither sank.

But in mine warfare, the ultimate objective is often psychological. The uncertainty of a threat can instill as much fear as the certainty of it, and Iran need not sow a particularly coherent field of mines to impede traffic through the strait. A single ship striking a naval mine (or even a serious Iranian move to sow mines) could quickly and dramatically drive up global oil prices and maritime insurance rates. This combination is bad enough in the best of times. But the Iranian threat to the Strait of Hormuz could not be more effective than at this moment, with the world just starting to show signs of economic recovery. The shock wave of a spike in energy prices — not to mention the wider threat of a conflagration in the Persian Gulf — could leave the global economy in even worse straits than it was a year ago.

We will not delve here into the calculations of maritime insurers other than to say that, when it comes to supertankers and their cargo, an immense amount of money is at stake
— and this cuts both ways. Even damage to a supertanker can quickly run into the millions of dollars — not to mention the opportunity cost of having the ship out of commission. On the other hand, especially at a time when the strait is dangerous and oil prices are through the roof, there would be windfall profits to be made from a successful transit to open waters.

The initial shock to the global economy of a supertanker hitting a mine in the strait would be profound, but its severity and longevity would depend in large part on the extent of the mining, Iran’s ability to continue laying mines and the speed of mine-clearing operations. And, as always, it would all hinge on the quality of intelligence. While some military targets — major naval installations, for example — are large, fixed and well known, Iran’s mine-laying capability is more dispersed (like its nuclear program). That, along with Iran’s armada of small boats along the Persian Gulf coast, suggests it may not be possible to bring Iran’s mine-laying efforts to an immediate halt. Barring a cease-fire, limited, low-level mining operations could well continue.

Given the variables involved, it is difficult to describe exactly what a U.S. mine-clearing operation might look like in the strait, although enough is known about the U.S. naval presence in the region and other mine-clearing operations to suggest a rough scenario. The United States keeps four mine countermeasures ships forward deployed in the Persian Gulf. A handful of allied minesweepers are also generally on station, as well as MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters, which are used in such operations. This available force in the region approaches the size of the mine-clearing squadron employed during Operation Iraqi Freedom to clear the waterway leading to the port of Umm Qasr, although it does not include a mine countermeasures command ship and represents a different clearing scenario.

The clearing of the Strait of Hormuz would begin with the clearing of a “Q-route,” a lane calculated to entail less than a 10 percent chance of a mine strike. While there may be considerable uncertainty in this calculation, the route would be used for essential naval traffic and also would play a role in the ongoing clearing operation. The time it would take to clear such a route would vary considerably, based on a wide variety of factors, but it could be a week or more. And a Q-route suitable for large supertankers could take longer to clear than the initial route.

The sooner maritime commerce can resume transiting the strait (perhaps escorted at first by naval vessels), the shorter the crisis would be. The more time that passes without a mine strike, the faster confidence would return. But another mine strike could cause another shock to the global economy, even after clearing operations have been under way for some time.

The fact is, the United States and its allies have the capability to clear naval mines from the Strait of Hormuz, technically speaking. But mine countermeasures work is notoriously under-resourced — it is neither the sexiest nor the most career-enhancing job in the U.S. Navy. So while even a sizable mine-clearing operation in the strait would have historical precedent in other locations, it would be wrong to assume that such an operation would go smoothly and efficiently, even under the best of circumstances.

The efficiency of a mine-clearing effort in the strait would be subject to any number of variables. One thing is clear, however: Any Iranian mining effort could quickly have profound and far-reaching consequences — including an impact on the global economy far out of proportion to the actual threat. Naval mines laid by Iran would take a considerable amount of time — weeks or months — to clear from the strait, and their effect would be felt long after an American air campaign ended. Indeed, should hostilities continue for some time, having small boats continue to seed mines may be the most survivable of Iran’s asymmetric naval capabilities.

Ultimately, Iran’s military capabilities should not be understood as tools that can only be used independently. If it attempted to close the strait, Iran would draw on the full spectrum of its capabilities in order to be as disruptive as possible. For example, Iran could hold its anti-ship missiles in reserve and launch them at smaller mine countermeasures ships conducting clearing operations in the strait, since these vessels have nowhere near the defensive capabilities of surface combatants. It would also take a considerable amount of time for Washington to send more countermeasures ships to the area from the continental United States above what would likely be deployed ahead of a crisis (if Washington had the luxury of enough warning).

The bottom line is that there is considerable uncertainty and substantial risk for both sides. But while Iran’s capability to actually “close” the strait is questionable, there is little doubt that it could quickly wreak havoc on the global economy by doing much less.
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« Reply #271 on: October 08, 2009, 08:27:24 AM »

I do not see a long term downside for Iran if they do mine the straight.  If they mined it to make political waves, to force the west's hand, the west does not have the political will to react in a long term damaging way.  There will be gnashing of teeth and rattling of sabers but that is about as bad as it will get.  Iran's weakness is its economy.  The population is young and there is a large number of well educated people.  They are very dissatisfied with the repressive nature of the government.  The way through, assuming we are not drawn in to war by Israel going after nukes, is to blockade and send in humit assets to topple the government.  Of coarse this assumes the will to do so and we are back to the lack of it.  We also lack humit assets thanks to Clinton moving the intell community away from them.  I think we are boinked until the economy gets bad enough or there is a nuke detonated for the west to grow some.

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« Reply #272 on: October 08, 2009, 10:55:23 AM »

"Over the years, Tehran has amassed thousands of mines, largely from Russia and China."

For all the billions invested and bullsh*t exchanged in all these multilateral diplomacies, is there no international law or UN resolution prohibiting China and Russia from conspiring with a terrorist nation to mine international waters for random, massive destruction?

Perhaps the west should detonate one Chinese ship in international waters for each oil vessel damaged until they bring their own central party swimmers in to round up each and every explosive until the waters are clear.

More likely we will have another multilateral commission look blindly into the matter and get back to us with no solution at some later date yet to be determined.
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« Reply #273 on: October 08, 2009, 11:29:23 AM »

For the record the US is by far the world's largest arms merchant and we are not always very careful about to whom we sell.
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« Reply #274 on: October 08, 2009, 04:08:50 PM »

If one does a search for US arms sales by country there is a lot that comes up.  Israel near the top for two years.  Poland fell out of first place.  Iraq and Pakistan now moving up.  Both banned from US arms sales - not too long ago - presumable before Saddan toppled and before 911 and the flight Osama to Pahhhhkistan.

A sample:
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« Reply #275 on: October 09, 2009, 10:59:26 PM »

"For the record the US is by far the world's largest arms merchant and we are not always very careful about to whom we sell."

Can you give an example as egregious as selling mines to Iran for them to terrorize a crucial shipping lane in international waters?
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« Reply #276 on: October 10, 2009, 09:02:37 AM »

If you were to take the time (because I am not going to) I am sure you could find that we have sold to egregious actors many, many times.   I am quite confident of this.

BTW IIRC we sold the raw materials to SH for his WMD attacks on Iran (and the Kurds?)

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« Reply #277 on: October 17, 2009, 05:48:05 AM »

This is from the Heritage Foundation:

Iranian Official Promises a Diplomatic Slowdown and Gloats: “Time is on our side”Share
 Yesterday at 10:22pm
Hopes for a quick diplomatic breakthrough in the long-running stalemate over Iran’s nuclear weapons program have been dimmed by Iranian backtracking on a tentative agreement reached on October 1 in Geneva and Iran’s foot-dragging on future negotiations. Reuters today quoted an anonymous senior Iranian official as saying “Time is on our side” and declaring that Iran plans to slow-walk the diplomatic negotiations that will resume on October 19 by sending junior officials who do not have the authority to make firm commitments.

This confirms previous suspicions that Tehran will exploit the P5+1 talks to engage in a diplomatic filibuster that will defuse momentum for further international sanctions while Iran continues to move forward on its nuclear program.

The value of the “agreement in principle” reached in Geneva on October 1 also has been substantially downgraded by a blockbuster revelation publicized today in a Washington Post column by David Ignatius. Ignatius cited an article in Nucleonics Week that reported that Iran’s supplies of low-enriched uranium appear to be contaminated by impurities that could wreck centrifuges if Tehran tries to boost it to weapons grade fissile material. Ignatius wrote:

You’ve got to hand it to the Iranians, though, for making the best of what might be a bad situation: In the proposal embraced in Geneva, they have gotten the West to agree to decontaminate fuel that would otherwise be useful only for the low-enriched civilian nuclear power they have always claimed is their only goal.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal today reported that U.S. intelligence officials are considering whether to rewrite the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear activities. The findings of that NIE, which concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, have been disputed by intelligence agencies from Britain, France, Germany and Israel. Even IAEA officials, who have long treated Iran with kid gloves and accorded it the benefit of the doubt, have been critical of the NIE’s findings. The recent revelation of Iran’s secret uranium enrichment facility hidden inside a mountain near Qom also has cast further doubt on the NIE.

Congressional pressure is building to review the flawed 2007 NIE. Last week Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, urged Congress to establish an independent “red team” of outside experts to review the 2007 NIE in light of disturbing recent revelations about the Iranian nuclear program. Rep. Hoekstra is right: a re-evaluation of the NIE is long overdue.

For more on the 2007 NIE, see: The Iran National Intelligence Estimate: A Comprehensive Guide to What Is Wrong with the NIE

For more information on the Iran nuclear program see: Iran Briefing Room

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« Reply #278 on: October 17, 2009, 06:37:17 AM »

The US has no sanctions card without the Russians and the Chinese and we have neither of them in favor of sanctions-- so of course the Iranians continue to do what has worked for several years now (which most certainly includes the Bush era)

What are we to do?
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« Reply #279 on: October 17, 2009, 08:40:29 AM »

Well there are 2 obvious courses of action .The first being unleash the Isrealis the second being act like we got a pair.They are simplistic yes but the simplest answer is usually the correct one.the chinese and the Russians are never going to help willingly and now that the obama has shown just how far over his head /naive he is I think the Isrealis are all alone.they are going to have to act and in my opinion the sooner the better.I bet they act or the Iranians have some kind of "accident" before the new year.Or I could be talking out my ass.It wouldn't be the first time. grin

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« Reply #280 on: October 17, 2009, 09:24:05 AM »

Unleash the Isrealis?

As a practical matter, Iran is a long reach for them.  There are rumors that the Sauds have cleared use of their airspace, and there are rumors of the capabilities of Israeli subs.    The Iranian program is spread out and dug in.  Will the Israelis be able to access and destroy it?  To ensure success, do nukes become part of the equation?  Have not the Iranians built in populaution centers?
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« Reply #281 on: October 17, 2009, 11:42:03 AM »

The only other hope has been regime change since we keep hearing how so many "ordinary" Iranians don't like the Mullahs and prefer a more Western style government though I am not clear they love Jews.

Thanks to the One's ridiculously foolish premise that engagement with despots is better than previous tacts we may have missed an opportunity.  Of course when one is a radical, US hating President who surrounds himself with like minded people this is what we get.
OTOH it is not so foolish since in His opinion We are the despots NOT the Mullahs (or whatever they call themselves).

In any case here is Jonah explaining the opinion of a legitimate Nobel Peace prize winner and how the One screwed up an opportunity in her much more expert and "in the know" opinion:

Goldberg: Regime Is Iran’s Disease; Nukes Are Just a Symptom

the government actually promised to stop its nuclear program tomorrow,” Ebadi told the Post. “Would you trust this government not to start another secret nuclear program somewhere else?”

It’s a profound and fundamental point. We’ve gotten many such promises from the North Koreans. They are worthless. Promises from oppressive regimes cannot be trusted any more than promises from Tony Soprano could be. If a government is willing to betray its own people on a daily basis, what makes anyone think that it won’t betray its geopolitical adversaries?

A democratic Iran, Ebadi says, would be unlikely to pursue a nuclear program. The Iranian people fear sanctions more than the country’s corrupt, economically insulated rulers do. Moreover, the Iranian regime needs nukes for its own survival. The Iranian people may like the prestige of being a member of the nuclear club, but they aren’t eager to pay any price to join. More important, the Iranian people aren’t interested in preserving the current regime, as has been demonstrated by the historic protests this summer.

But even if Iran did go nuclear, who really cares as long as the nutty, messianic, totalitarian leadership is gone? A stable, democratic regime concerned with economic growth and normalcy might not be perfect, but which sort of government would you rather see in charge of nuclear weapons?

Democracy is not necessarily a cure-all. Palestinians in Gaza held elections and swept Hamas to power. But the Iranians aren’t Gazans. And while America is despised by most nations in the region, the U.S. is actually popular with the Iranian people.

Ebadi doesn’t want America to topple the Iranian regime the way it toppled Saddam Hussein’s. Or, if she does, she’s certainly smart enough not to say so outright, given that her family is under constant surveillance by Iranian authorities. What she wants is for America to get its priorities straight. Iran, which has been sponsoring terror for 30 years, is a threat because the Iranian regime is a threat. Change the regime and the threat diminishes or vanishes instantaneously. We had a golden opportunity to accelerate regime change in June, but Obama blinked.

Enamored with the idea that “engagement” with evil will produce good, and convinced that a brutal, undemocratic regime is the legitimate representative of the Iranian people, Obama was slow to recognize the moral authority of the democracy movement. By the time he did say what he should have said at the outset, it was clear that his grudging and qualified support for the protesters had no steel to it. The Iranian regime recognized that it would have a free hand to murder and intimidate its own people in order to reconsolidate power after it stole the election. This was a sad moment for the leader of the free world. “Mr. Obama has extended the hand of friendship to a man who has blood on his hands,” Ebadi told the Post. “He can at least avoid shaking the hand of friendship with him.”

There are rumors — unconfirmed at this point — that the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei, is either dead or in a coma. If true, the resulting power vacuum might give Obama the chance for a do-over. That is, if he’s interested in earning a peace prize, not just winning one.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and the author of Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning. © 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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« Reply #282 on: October 17, 2009, 02:10:43 PM »

You are correct when you say Iran is a long reach for them.  but if an accident does occur then did the Isrealis really do it? Now the ideal is a regime change like CCP stated that would be in every ones best interest.However that ship may have set sail already and the obama intentionally missed the boat by not backing the protesters in Iran when he had the chance.It would be unfortunate to have an accident happen in a population center but should Iran get nukes and "blow the heart out of Isreal", to qoute the Iranian president , which would be worse in Isreals eyes? undecided

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« Reply #283 on: October 19, 2009, 11:19:53 AM »

Two blasts in Sistan-Balochistan province killed several prominent members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as dozens of others Oct. 18, and Iran has accused Western powers of aiding the rebel group that has claimed responsibility. While there is currently no evidence of outside involvement in the attacks, a number of parties may view the rebel group as a useful proxy against Tehran, and the attacks have the potential to hamper U.S.-Iranian negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program.

Two coordinated bombings occurred in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Balochistan province the morning of Oct. 18, killing and injuring dozens of people, including high-level commanders of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The first attack was an alleged suicide bombing that targeted a meeting of Sunni and Shiite tribal leaders in Pishin district, close to the Iranian border with Pakistan. Several provincial IRGC commanders were in attendance. When the meeting was about to adjourn, the suicide bomber reportedly detonated his vest. Provincial IRGC commanders Brig. Gen. Nour-Ali Shoushtari, the IRGC’s lieutenant commander of ground forces, and Brig. Gen. Rajab-Ali Mohammadzadeh were among those killed in the attack.

The second bombing went off close to the same time in the same Pishin region along the border. A convoy of IRGC commanders was targeted with a suspected roadside improvised explosive device when the convoy was turning at an intersection between the towns of Sarbaz and Chabahar. The commanders of Sistan-Balochistan province, the Iranshahr Corps, the Sarbaz Corps and the Amiralmomenin Brigade were killed in the blast.

Sistan-Balochistan is a resource-poor, mostly lawless region of Iran that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sunni Baloch tribesmen make up the dominant ethnic group in the province, and are consistently at odds with the Shiite-controlled government in Tehran. Many of these tribesmen make their living off smuggling, drug trafficking and banditry in the lawless border region, making this a particularly troublesome spot for Iran’s security apparatus. Of most concern for Tehran is a Baloch rebel group by the name of Jundallah led by a young man named Abdolmalek Rigi.

According to Iranian state television, Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the attack on the tribal gathering. The group has also claimed responsibility for a series of other bombings, kidnappings and attacks targeting the Iranian security apparatus over the past several years, including a December 2006 kidnapping of seven Iranian soldiers, a February 2007 car bombing that killed 11 IRGC members near Zahedan and more recently, a May suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in Zahedan that killed 25 people. In light of the deteriorating security situation in the province, the Iranian government boosted the IRGC presence in the area in an attempt to clamp down on the low-level insurgency. However, the increased IRGC presence so far appears to have only provided Jundallah with a larger target set.

The Iranians have long accused U.S. and British intelligence of providing military and financial support to Jundallah from positions across the border in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Considering that only about half of Iran’s population is Persian, foreign support to ethnic minorities like the Baloch in the southeast, the Kurds in the northwest and the Ahvazi Arabs in the oil-rich southwest are all obvious levers for foreign intelligence agencies to prod the Iranian regime.

While the United States does not mind applying pressure on Tehran from time to time, the Oct. 18 bombings come at a particularly critical time in U.S.-Iranian negotiations. On Oct. 19, representatives from Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency, France, Russia and the United States are to meet in Vienna to follow up the Oct. 1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program. The aim of the meeting is to reach a compromise among all parties in which Iran would receive the 20 percent enriched uranium it desires for a research reactor in Tehran.

The United States, not wanting to throw these talks off course, has been quick to deny a hand in the latest attacks. In response to Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani’s claim that the bombings were “the result of the U.S. actions,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said such allegations were “completely false” and said that the United States condemns the act of terrorism and mourns the loss of innocent lives.

The United States badly wants the negotiations with Iran to achieve enough tangible results to calm Israeli fears over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and thus stave off a military confrontation in the Persian Gulf. Though it remains unclear whether Jundallah was acting alone in carrying out these attacks, it is not a far stretch to assume that the group has received foreign backing in recent years that has allowed it to significantly escalate its militant campaign against the regime. At the same time, the United States is likely to be more cautious in this delicate stage of negotiations with Tehran. The last thing Washington wants is to give Tehran another excuse to walk away from these talks and Israel an excuse to demand more aggressive action against Iran.

There are, however, a number of third parties that could have an interest in derailing this latest U.S.-Iranian attempt at negotiations. Such parties include groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban, which are trying to divert U.S. attention away from themselves in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan, Russia, which is engaged in its own complex negotiating game with Washington, and even perhaps Israel, which does not have much faith in the current diplomatic process and would like to push the United States into taking a harder line against Iran. The possibilities are vast, but there is no evidence as of yet to suggest that any one of these players had a role in orchestrating the latest attacks. Still, the Baloch insurgency in Iran provides an opportunity for a number of foreign players to stir the pot according to their interests.

Iran has so far pointed the blame at the United States for the attacks, but has not given any indication yet that it is pulling out of the negotiations. The Iranians are on alert for U.S.-Israeli military maneuvers in the region and thus have an interest in handling these talks cautiously. After all, as long as Iran can appear diplomatically engaged, the better chances it will have in staving off a military crisis.
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« Reply #284 on: October 24, 2009, 07:59:42 AM »

Iran, N. Korea supplying weapons to Syria


WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Iran has acted as mediator with North Korea to deliver weapons of mass destruction and missile technology to Syria, a congressional report said.

The U.S. Congressional Research Service said in a report released earlier this month that Iran is one of the biggest customers for North Korean arms, acting as a possible go-between for Syria's arsenal.

"Iran purportedly has acted as an intermediary with North Korea to supply Syria with various forms of WMD and missile technology," the report said.

The Israeli air force in 2007 struck a facility near al-Kibar, Syria, which intelligence officials claim was a nuclear reactor of North Korean design under construction since 2001.

A report from Jane's Intelligence Review in February says commercial satellite imagery of another Syrian site, al-Safir, depicts what are thought to be the defining characteristics of not only chemical weapons manufacturing, but also of heavy construction activity near a missile base.

Iranian officials, for their part, were thought to be on hand when North Korea tested a nuclear device in May and a long-range missile in April, reports South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

The congressional report goes on to say Iran has "several" submarines with sonar-evading technology that were "possibly" connected to North Korea.

Iran this year unveiled several new lines of military
technology, including three stealth submarines and a rapid-fire 40mm anti-Cruise missile canon, dubbed Fath.
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« Reply #285 on: November 04, 2009, 01:52:40 PM »

Sorry freedom seeking Iranians, Obama can only fight Fox News.
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« Reply #286 on: November 09, 2009, 11:36:32 PM »

Backs up GM's post.  Has interesting take from Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi (
« Reply #287 on: November 10, 2009, 07:49:02 AM »
In 1999 agricultural researchers discovered in Uganda a new variety of stem rust—a fungus that infects wheat plants and wiped out 40 percent of U.S. wheat harvests in the 1950s. Millions of spores have spread from Uganda to neighboring Kenya and beyond to Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen, wiping out as much as 80 percent of a country's harvest. In fact, the only thing that has stopped the rust from devastating the breadbaskets of China, India and Ukraine has been several years of drought in Iran.
OTTAWA — Scientists in Canada and around the world are racing to find a way to stop a destructive fungus that threatens to wipe out 80 per cent of the world's wheat crop, causing widespread famine and pushing the cost of such staples as bread and pasta through the roof.

Canadian officials say that the airborne fungus, known as Ug99, has so far proved unstoppable, making its way out of eastern Africa and into the Middle East and Central Asia. It is now threatening areas that account for more than one-third of the world's wheat production and scientists in North America say it's only a matter of time before the pest hits the breadbasket regions of North America, Russia and China.

I do not know if this will greatly impact them to the point of serious blackmail, but consider the fact that we may need to take our own steps for when this stuff gets to us.
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« Reply #288 on: November 10, 2009, 05:29:15 PM »

Iranian weapons in Iraq and Gaza

PJTV Video: "EXCLUSIVE: Blogger Exposes How Iran Arms Terrorists in Iraq & Gaza"
« Reply #289 on: November 13, 2009, 05:12:11 PM »

Who's running our Iran policy?

Ed Lasky
John Limbert, Obama's new man who occupies the Iran chair at the State Department, is now subject to some controversy because of his ties to the National Iranian American Council -- which appears to be illegally serving as a lobby for Iran. Trita Parsi, who heads the NIAC, ridicules claims that Limbert might be amenable to the goals of Iran's regime by pointing out that Limbert was a hostage during the Iranian Embassy crisis and wonders how anyone could think that a hostage would show deference to the very regime that imprisoned him. (and many others). 

Michael Goldfarb  and others have speculated that Stockholm Syndrome may be in play -- that a hostage may come to respect his captors. This video clip, unwittingly provided to Andrew Sullivan by the NIAC, certainly lends some credence to those views.

This clip shows Limbert -- while he was being held "hostage" -- welcoming ( in a deferential and considerate manner) Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president and now its Supreme Leader.

Now some might consider this the appropriate and diplomatic approach; others might wonder otherwise. Andrew Sullivan writes of the clip:

It shows Amb. John Limbert, at the time a hostage in the US Embassy, speaking with Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president (and currently the Supreme Leader).  [...] For non-Farsi speakers, the exchange between Limbert and Khamenei here is incredibly interesting. To paraphrase: Limbert politely welcomed Khamenei, who was being treated as a guest since he was visiting the hostages at their "residence" where they were being held.  Limbert remarked about the Iranian cultural quirk known as "taarof," which characterizes the uniquely Iranian version of hospitality, saying: Iranians are too hospitable to guests in their country, when we insist that we must be going, you all tell us "no, no, you must stay."

I read the superb book Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam a couple of years ago. The book provides an insider's view of what happened to the hostages during their 444 day captivity. Most resisted their captors; most had a defiant attitude. The few who did not were the exception, not the rule. Limbert seems to have been one of the exceptions -- and not in a good way.

Page Printed from: at November 13, 2009 - 06:08:55 PM EST

The clip in question:
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« Reply #290 on: December 04, 2009, 08:45:41 PM »

NEW YORK -- His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn't stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Green in Berlin
Rapper Jay-Z and U2 brightened Berlin's Brandenburg Gate with green lighting during a performance of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," a U2 song inspired by a 1972 altercation between British troops and protesters in Northern Ireland. During the performance, Jay-Z rapped in support of the Iranian protesters. Watch the video on YouTube.
.Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

"When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke," said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.

Tehran's leadership faces its biggest crisis since it first came to power in 1979, as Iranians at home and abroad attack its legitimacy in the wake of June's allegedly rigged presidential vote. An opposition effort, the "Green Movement," is gaining a global following of regular Iranians who say they never previously considered themselves activists.

The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide -- not just prominent dissidents -- who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Part of the effort involves tracking the Facebook, Twitter and YouTube activity of Iranians around the world, and identifying them at opposition protests abroad, these people say.

Interviews with roughly 90 ordinary Iranians abroad -- college students, housewives, doctors, lawyers, businesspeople -- in New York, London, Dubai, Sweden, Los Angeles and other places indicate that people who criticize Iran's regime online or in public demonstrations are facing threats intended to silence them.

Journal Community
Vote: Will Iran quell opposition from Iranians living outside the country?
.View Full Image

Associated Press
Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, third from right, leads actors in expressing support for Iran's opposition movement at the Venice film festival in September.
.Although it wasn't possible to independently verify their claims, interviewees provided consistently similar descriptions of harassment techniques world-wide. Most asked that their full names not be published.

Today's crisis echoes the events of three decades ago, when Iran's Islamic revolution first bloomed. Back then, Iranians around the world pooled their energy and money to help oust Iran's monarch, the shah. This time, the global community is backing a similar effort, using new tools including Facebook and Twitter. YouTube videos providing step-by-step instructions for staging civil disobedience rack up thousands of views.

But now, unlike 30 years ago, Iran's leadership is striking back across national borders.

Dozens of individuals in the U.S. and Europe who criticized Iran on Facebook or Twitter said their relatives back in Iran were questioned or temporarily detained because of their postings. About three dozen individuals interviewed said that, when traveling this summer back to Iran, they were questioned about whether they hold a foreign passport, whether they possess Facebook accounts and why they were visiting Iran. The questioning, they said, took place at passport control upon their arrival at Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport.

Five interviewees who traveled to Iran in recent months said they were forced by police at Tehran's airport to log in to their Facebook accounts. Several reported having their passports confiscated because of harsh criticism they had posted online about the way the Iranian government had handled its controversial elections earlier this year.

Before this past summer, "If anyone asked me, 'Does the government threaten Iranians abroad or their families at home,' I would say, 'Not at all,'" says Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent lawyer inside Iran. "But now the cases are too many to count. Every day I get phone calls and visits from people who are being harassed and threatened" because of relatives' activities abroad.

More on Iran
Fighting a Regime He Helped Create News, video, graphics
.In November, the deputy commander of Iran's armed forces, Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, wrote an editorial in the conservative newspaper Kayhan that "protesters inside and outside Iran have been identified and will be dealt with at the right time."

In Germany, a national intelligence report indicates that Iranian intelligence operatives are monitoring about 900 critics of the Iranian regime within Germany. One German intelligence official, Manfred Murch, said last month that his staff has identified "Iranian intelligence agents" trying to intimidate protesters in Germany by videotaping them. A German foreign-ministry official said Germany rejected requests from Iran to restrict anti-Iranian protests there.

Mohammad Reza Bak Sahraei, a diplomat at Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York, didn't respond to written questions about Iran's intelligence activities abroad. "The allegation that the Islamic Republic of Iran has created limitations and problems for Iranians who are visiting Iran from abroad is false," Mr. Sahraei said.

In recent months, he said, "Many Iranians have returned to Iran and visited their family members. Until now we have no reports of any limitations being imposed on them. Representatives of Iran abroad are doing their utmost to facilitate traveling for Iranians to Iran."

The crisis in Iran started with June's controversial re-election of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Claims of vote fraud spawned massive street protests, and a bloody crackdown.

The post-election violence has turned Iran's relationship with overseas Iranians on its head. Previously, Iran generally enjoyed good relations with its diaspora. Most opposition movements were on the fringe -- for instance, royalists calling for the shah's return. But the violent suppression of street protests "showed people the true nature of Iran's regime," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

There are approximately four million Iranians abroad. The U.S. is home to the largest number, totaling at least several hundred thousand. They rank among the nation's best educated and most affluent immigrant groups.

At first, many protesters inside Iran and abroad simply wanted a vote recount. But after the violence, they began calling for a complete overhaul of Iran's Islamic system, up to and including change that would remove Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei from power. Around the world, Iranians took to the streets to march in protest against the events in Iran.

Associated Press
Iranian police in June chase protesters after the controversial election.
.An Iranian engineer in his 30s who lives in a German-speaking area of Europe, and who attended protests there this year, described having his passport, cellphone and laptop confiscated when he later traveled to Tehran. He said he was called in for questioning several times, blindfolded, kicked and physically abused, and asked to hand over his email and Facebook passwords.

Interrogators showed him images of himself participating in protests in Europe, he said, and pressed him to identify other people in the images.

"I was very scared. My knees were trembling the whole time and I kept thinking, 'How did this happen to me?'" he said recently. "I only went to a few demonstrations, and I don't even live in Iran."

He said he was told he was guilty of charges including attending antiregime protests abroad, participating in online activities on Facebook and Twitter that harmed Iran's national security and leaving comments on opposition Web sites. He said he was given a choice: Face trial in Iran, or sign a document promising to act as an informant in Europe.

He says he signed the paper, took his passport and left Iran after a month. He says he has received follow-up emails and phone calls but hasn't responded to them.

Other Iranians abroad report receiving email threats tied to their online activities. In Los Angeles in June, an Iranian-American graduate student named Hamid said he received an email that read in part: "Stop spreading lies about Iran on Facebook." He said he received it after he changed his Facebook profile picture to a "V" symbol, for victory, dripping with blood to protest the Iran violence, along with a message about wanting to travel to Iran to support the opposition.

The email, written in Farsi, read in part, "We know your home address in Los Angeles. Watch out, we will come after you," according to Hamid.

There is no way to identify the email's anonymous sender, who signed it "Spider." Other Iranians interviewed in the U.S. and Europe reported receiving similar emails in recent months. Some emails were signed "Spider," they said, while others were signed "Revolutionary Hossein," a possible reference to one of the most revered saints in Shiite Islam.

No matter how widespread, the worries are sowing panic in the overseas community. Concerns about the safety of friends and family are so prevalent among younger Iranians that a number have changed their surnames on Facebook to "Irani" (which means simply "from Iran") to be harder to single out.

Omid Habibinia, a dissident Iranian who left Iran seven years ago for Europe, says he has always been harassed, but the pressure has grown this year. He claims Iranian security services early this year created a fake Facebook account for him and tried to "friend" people on his behalf and ask them questions. Other Iranian dissidents, along with some journalists, described similar experiences.

Officials at Facebook said the company often gets reports of fake profiles and will remove them after a review. A spokeswoman declined to comment on specific profiles that have been removed, including the one Mr. Habibinia described. She said deleted profiles no longer reside on Facebook's servers, making it impossible to trace their origins. She said she wasn't aware of complaints of harassment on Facebook at the hands of Iranian security services.

One 28-year-old physician who lives in Dubai said that in July he was asked to log on to his Facebook account by a security guard upon arrival in Tehran's airport. At first, he says, he lied and said he didn't have one. So the guard took him to a small room with a laptop and did a Google search for his name. His Facebook account turned up, he says, and his passport was confiscated.

After a month and several rounds of interrogations, he says, he was allowed to exit the country.

During Iran's historic 1979 Islamic revolution, Iranians abroad played an instrumental role in transforming the movement from a fringe idea led by a frail cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, into a global force that eventually toppled the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Iranians abroad flocked to Mr. Khomeini's side, lending his movement language skills, money and, ultimately, global legitimacy.

In the current crisis, Iran is eager to prevent a similar scenario.

To cut communication between Iranians inside and outside the country, Iran slowed Internet speeds so that accessing an online email account could take close to a half-hour. It blocked access to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. For a while, an automated message warned people making international phone calls not to give information to outsiders.

Tracking Internet crimes -- from political dissent to pornography -- has long been a priority of the regime. Iran's local media openly report on Internet-monitoring centers inside the country's judiciary and armed forces that are staffed with English-speaking, tech-savvy young people.

Late last month, at a military parade in Tehran, intelligence minister Heydar Moslehi announced the training of "senior Internet lieutenants" to confront Iran's "virtual enemies online." This month Iran announced a 12-member unit within the armed forces called the Internet Crime Unit to track individuals "spreading lies and insults" about the regime.

Iran's elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with the intelligence ministry each have their own, separate Internet-monitoring units that track prominent political figures and activists, according to dissidents including Mohsen Sazegara, one of the original founders of the Revolutionary Guard who is now in exile in the U.S. After the June election crisis, these Internet-monitoring units expanded their work to include the online activity of Iranians abroad, these people say.

In the U.S., Koosha, the young engineering student whose father was briefly arrested in Tehran, says he was never politically active before. But this past summer, he said, he watched the turmoil in Iran and "I couldn't just sit and do nothing, I felt too guilty." He watched "people my age getting beaten and killed in the streets for expressing their opinion," he said. "The least I could do was to show my solidarity."

That's when he took steps that attracted the unwelcome attention. He attended a few rallies organized by opposition supporters near where he lives in the U.S. And then, when a prominent human-rights lawyer was jailed in Iran, Koosha created an online petition.

After his father was detained, Koosha took down his petition. "I was terrified and furious," he said. And he doesn't talk politics anymore when he calls his parents in Tehran.

But he's still finding ways to express his views. In September, he biked from Toronto to New York with his brother as part of the group Bicycling for Human Rights in Iran. "They want to control even Iranians who don't live under their rule," he says.

—Jeanne Whalen in London, David Crawford in Berlin and Christopher Rhoads in New York contributed to this article.
Write to Farnaz Fassihi at
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« Reply #291 on: December 10, 2009, 11:12:02 AM »

A month ago, Gen. Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, vowed to stop further antiregime demonstrations in Iran and break what he termed "this chain of conspiracies." But this week the "chain" appeared to be as strong as ever: Students across the nation defied the general and his political masters by organizing numerous demonstrations on and off campus.

The various opposition groups that constitute the pro-democracy movement have already called for another series of demonstrations on Dec. 27, a holy day on the Muslim Shiite calendar. Meanwhile, the official calendar of the Islamic Republic includes 22 days during which the regime organizes massive public demonstrations to flex its muscles. Since the controversial presidential election last June, the pro-democracy movement, in a jujitsu-style move, has used the official days to undermine the regime.

View Full Image

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Antigovernment demonstrators at Tehran University, Dec. 7.
.On Jerusalem Day, Sept. 18, officially intended to express anti-Semitism, the opposition showed that Iranians have no hostility toward Jews or Israel. One popular slogan was "Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah! I give my life for Iran!" Another was "Forget about Palestine! Think about our Iran!"

On Nov. 4, the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, the opposition distanced itself from the regime's anti-American rhetoric. The democrats instead expressed anger against Russia and China, which are perceived as allies of the Islamic Republic. One slogan was "The Russian Embassy is a nest of spies!"

Most significantly, the movement that started as a protest against the alleged rigging of the election that gave a second term to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been evolving. The crowds' initial slogan was "Where Is My Vote?" and the movement's accidental leaders, including former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, tried hard to keep the protest confined to demands such as a recount of the votes and, ultimately, a runoff in accordance with the law.

The slogans of the protestors are no longer about election fraud. Today they include "Death to the Dictator," "Freedom Now," and "Iranian Republic, Not Islamic Republic!" One slogan is a direct message to President Barack Obama: "Obama, Are You With Us or With Them?"

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.In short, the protestors no longer regard the present regime as the legitimate government of the country.

Both Mr. Mousavi and Ayatollah Mahdi Karroubi, another defeated presidential candidate, tried to prevent attacks on the "Supreme Guide" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the hope of eventually making a deal with him. As part of such a deal, they promised to defend the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, according to sources close to the opposition. The crowds have rejected that by shouting: "Abandon uranium enrichment! Do something about the poor!"

It is clear the democracy movement is in no mood for deals with Mr. Khamenei, who they castigate for having betrayed his constitutional role of arbiter by siding with Mr. Ahmadinejad even before the official results of the election were declared. The demonstrators now burn his effigies, tear up posters showing his image, and chant violent slogans against him. One popular slogan goes: "Khamenei is a murderer! His guardianship is invalid!"

By cracking down ruthlessly on the protestors, the regime has only radicalized the movement. Even such notorious dealmakers as Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president now opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad, have made it clear they would not accept any formula that would leave the "landslide winner" in place.

Last week, Mr. Rafsanjani refused to attend a much-publicized "reconciliation event" concocted by Ali Ardeshir Larijani, the speaker of Iran's ersatz parliament. The reason? Mr. Rafsanjani did not wish to be seen under the same roof as Mr. Ahmadinejad. Later, in a speech in Mash'had, Mr. Rafsanjani spoke of the regime's "long, deep and, potentially lethal crisis."

To judge by their most popular slogans, demonstrators across Iran are bent on regime change. Even rumors that the regime is working on scenarios for ditching Mr. Ahmadinejad—ostensibly on "health grounds"—after the Iranian New Year in March, have failed to halt the spread of regime-change sentiments.

Given the nation's mood, Messrs. Mousavi and Karroubi have abandoned their earlier talk of "realizing the full potentials of the existing constitution." An adviser to Mr. Mousavi tells me that "They wanted to make an omelet without breaking eggs. They now realize that [the people] have moved faster than imagined." More significantly, perhaps, Mr. Mousavi appears to have put his plans for an ill-defined "green organization" on the backburner. He is beginning to understand that the antiregime movement is too wide to fit into a centrally controlled framework.

Over the past six months, thousands of people have been arrested and hundreds killed in the streets. And yet, despite promises to squash the movement by Gen. Jaafari, it persists. To make matters worse for the regime, the Shiite clergy, often regarded as the backbone of the Islamic Republic, is beginning to distance itself from the Khamenei-Ahmadinejad tandem. Some ayatollahs, such as Messrs. Montazeri, Bayat, San'ei, Borujerdi and Zanjani, are especially annoyed at Mr. Ahmadinejad's claim of being in contact with the "Hidden Imam"—a messiah-like figure of Shiism whose second coming is supposed to occur at the end of times.

Mr. Ahmadinejad claims that the "return" is imminent and that he, as one of the "pegs" designated by the Hidden Imam to prepare the ground for the advent, has a mission of chasing the "Infidel" out of Muslim lands and liberating Palestine from "Zionist occupiers." In a speech in Isfahan last week, Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed that the pro-democracy movement was created by the Americans to sabotage his mission and thus prevent the return of the "Hidden Imam."

In response, a mid-ranking cleric in Qom tells me: "The way Ahmadinejad talks, he must be a sick man . . . by backing such a man, Khamenei has doomed the regime."

The Ahmadinejad-Khamenei tandem is also coming under attack for its alleged incompetence. The regime is now plagued by double-digit inflation, a massive flight of capital, and unprecedented levels of unemployment. Divisions within the ruling clique mean that the president has been unable to fill scores of key posts at middle levels of government. Rapidly losing its popular base, the regime is becoming increasingly dependent on its coercive forces, especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

Revolutionary Guard commanders appear on TV almost every night, presenting themselves as "guardians of the system." Gen. Jaafari himself says he is attracted by the "Turkish model" in which the army acts as a bulwark of the republic.

However, the general may not have all the time in the world to ponder his next move. The pro-democracy movement is deepening and growing. Much work is under way to connect it to independent trade unions and hundreds of formal and informal associations that lead the civil society's fight against the evil of the Islamic Republic.

Iran has entered one of those hinge moments in history. What is certain is that the status quo has become untenable.

Mr. Taheri's new book, "The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution," is published by Encounter Books.
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« Reply #292 on: December 21, 2009, 09:29:11 PM »

The foundation stones of Iran's Islamic Republic were shaken again yesterday, showing that the largest antigovernment movement in its 30 years may be one of the biggest stories of next year as well. Now imagine the possibilities if the Obama Administration began to support Iran's democrats.

The perseverance of the so-called Green Movement is something to behold. Millions of Iranians mobilized against the outcome of June's fraudulent presidential election, and their protests were violently repressed. But the cause has only grown in scope, with the aim of many becoming nothing less than the death of a hated system.

Yesterday offered a glimpse into the regime's crisis of legitimacy. As in the waning days of the Shah in the late 1970s, Iranians merely need an excuse to show what they think of their rulers. The funeral of a leading Shiite cleric who'd inspired and guided the opposition brought out tens to hundreds of thousands to Iran's religious capital of Qom. Media coverage is severely restricted, but the demonstration's size was impossible to deny.

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Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri
.Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who died Sunday, was no ordinary religious figure. He stood alongside the leader of the Islamic Revolution, his mentor Ayatollah Khomeini, and he was handpicked to replace him. But Montazeri broke with the ruling mullahs in the late 1980s, criticizing their violence and repression. And in recent months, he became a spiritual leader to the opposition.

He knew the regime intimately: "A political system based on force, oppression, changing people's votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate," he wrote.

Ailing at his death, Montazeri leaves behind a legacy Iranian modernizers can build on. Like the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Iraq, he believed that the Shiite clergy should stay out of democratic politics. He also helped shape views on Iran's nuclear program. In October, Montazeri issued a fatwa against developing an Iranian bomb. His statement confirmed the view among Green Movement figures who believe an atomic weapon will only consolidate the regime's hold on power and isolate Iran.

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.Absent religious legitimacy for the so-called Islamic Republic, the current rulers must rely on blunt means of preservation, such as the elite Revolutionary Guards and the Basiji militias. Thus Iran seems to be morphing into a military dictatorship, not unlike the Poland of Wojciech Jaruzelski after the "workers"—the supposed communist vanguard—turned against that regime.

Relying on thugs carries risks. During the summer protests, many protestors were killed, tortured and raped in the regime's jails. Among the dead is the son of a prominent conservative parliamentarian. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei sought to damp public outrage by closing the most notorious prison at Kahrizak, but pressure has continued to build. Reversing months of denials, the government on Saturday acknowledged the abuses, bringing charges against 12 military officials for the murder of three young protestors this summer.

Previously a neutral broker in Iranian politics, Khamenei undermined himself by siding so openly with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after June's elections. The decision to prosecute, which he would have had to sign off on, may be another miscalculation. A trial could help expose the corruption at the heart of this system.

(Another Polish parallel comes to mind: The 1984 trial of the secret policemen who murdered the pro-Solidarity priest, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, that further hurt that government's credibility.)

Which brings us to President Obama. Throughout this turbulent year in Iran, the White House has been behind the democratic curve. When the demonstrations started, Mr. Obama abdicated his moral authority by refusing to take sides, while pushing ahead with plans to negotiate a grand diplomatic bargain with Mr. Ahmadinejad that trades recognition for suspending the nuclear program.

Mr. Obama has since moved at least to embrace "universal values," and in his Nobel address this month he mentioned the democracy protestors by name. The White House yesterday sent condolences to Montazeri's friends and family, which is what passes for democratic daring in this Administration.

But the White House is also still pleading for talks even as its December deadline passes without any concession from Tehran. Meantime, the Iranian opposition virtually begs Washington not to confer any legitimacy on the regime, and the democracy demonstrators crave American support. Iran's civil society clock may now be ticking faster than its nuclear clock. However hard it may be to achieve, a new regime in Tehran offers the best peaceful way to halt Iran's atomic program. Shouldn't American policy be directed toward realizing that goal?
« Reply #293 on: December 24, 2009, 09:53:39 AM »

Roll in with our bombs and help the grass root Iranians stage a Coup d'etat using our fire support?    Hmmmmmmm. evil
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« Reply #294 on: December 24, 2009, 10:08:02 AM »

Intelligence Guidance (Special Edition): Watching Iran for a Breakpoint
Stratfor Today » December 23, 2009 | 2344 GMT
Iranian opposition supporters demonstrate at Tehran University on Dec. 7Editor’s Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus.

Events in Iran will dominate the next several days. We’d like to take a step back and examine the multiple Iran-related crises we see building in parallel to each other, despite the numerous unknowns that remain.

Domestic turmoil in Iran appears to be nearing a breakpoint. Clearly, the Iranian opposition protests that grew out of the June presidential election debacle have not lost their steam. The 10-day Shiite commemoration of Muharram has now provided the anti-regime protesters with an occasion to exploit the religious fervor associated with the martyrdom of Imam Husayn ibn Ali at the Battle of Karbala in A.D. 680, a potent symbol for those who view themselves as martyrs in resisting the regime. The recent death of Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, one of the rare clerical opponents to the regime, has only added more fuel to the fire.

Sporadic clashes have broken out in Qom and Isfahan provinces, with reports of the homes of senior dissident ayatollahs being targeted and their supporters being tear gassed and beaten by Basij militiamen and plainclothes security personnel. These clashes are escalating in the lead-up to Ashura, the 10th and final day of Muharram which falls on Dec. 27 this year. Emotions will be running high on Ashura, and opposition protesters are planning to hold demonstrations in major cities across Iran, a classic example of the lethal cocktail of religion and politics.

The demonstrations already are reaching unacceptable levels for the regime. Thus far, the regime has used a variety of intimidation tactics to try and shut the protests down, but it also has exercised restraint to avoid triggering a greater backlash. In essence, the regime has done enough to enrage the opposition but not enough yet to terrify the opposition into standing down.

Typically, when regimes reach this point, they lay the groundwork for the imposition of martial law. Doors are kicked in, purges ensue, media blackouts are enforced and dissidents are silenced. The regime has done many of these things already but not yet to the degree that would successfully intimidate the opposition. There is, of course, a great risk of backlash in imposing such a crackdown, especially during such a sensitive religious holiday. The regime has thus far been careful not to exacerbate rifts within the regime and security apparatus. While a martial law situation would carry substantial risk of blowback, it would be designed to suppress those rifts through brute force.

When government officials impose martial law it is almost always because there is a split in the regime. The split becomes dangerous to the rival faction. When that faction realizes accommodation is impossible, it has three choices. First, it can accept the split and its consequences. Second, it can turn over power. Third, it can crush opponents. From Burma to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to Argentina, this is a common process. When the pressures become overwhelming, the faction controlling the largest force changes the discussion from political to security. Men who were once enormously powerful are killed, imprisoned, “disappeared” or exiled. The most prominent leader, facing death, can choose capitulation. Such coups have better chances of success when one faction has powerful military support.

While STRATFOR does not have any clear indication yet that the regime is intending to impose some form of martial law, we are keeping the possibility in mind. In examining this possibility, we keep coming back to a statement by Iranian Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi on Dec. 22 that the regime has identified “80 foreign institutes, foundations, and funds that are active” in the opposition protests, including one with a $1.7 billion budget. The Iranian government regularly claims a foreign hand is behind domestic unrest, but this is different. By claiming it has identified specific foreign institutions underwriting the opposition, the regime is providing itself with the justification to declare any member of the opposition an enemy of the state in a martial law-type scenario.

As the internal unrest escalates within Iran, pressures also are building on the external front. The U.S. administration already has signaled that it may extend the deadline for Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program to at least mid-January 2010. U.S. and Iranian sources have reported a surge in backchannels between Washington and Tehran, with rumors circulating of Sen. John Kerry attempting to work out some sort of compromise behind the scenes. At the same time, Iran is sending holiday greetings to U.S. President Barack Obama while throwing out proposal after proposal after proposal to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Even as Iran is playing to its domestic constituency by flatly rejecting the notion of U.S.-set deadlines, it is doing enough both publicly and through backchannels to provide cover to the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Germans and anyone else opposed to sanctions to make the argument for continued diplomacy. As long as Iran shows that it’s not walking away from negotiations, the harder it will be for the United States to build and a coalition against Iran. U.N Security Council members have announced that they will push any discussion on Iran to at least mid-January 2010 and were careful to avoid specifying whether that discussion would entail sanctions, indicating that Iran’s moves on the diplomatic front are thus far bearing fruit.

But Iran also cannot afford to take its eyes of Israel, which intends to hold the U.S. administration to its December deadline and its promise to take meaningful action in neutralizing Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Sanctions are not considered meaningful action by Israel, especially without the Russians and Chinese on board. At the same time, Iran may be calculating for now that the United States will restrain Israel if Israel can’t carry out a successful military strike on its own. The Iranians therefore want the United States to think long and hard about the Iranian reaction to such a strike. In addition to mine warfare in the Strait of Hormuz and terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas, the United States has been served a recent reminder of the damage Iran can do in Iraq. The Iran-Iraq spat over the Dec. 18 Iranian incursion and occupation of an Iraqi oil well is far from over, and now appears to be escalating as Iraq’s sectarian government is fragmenting over how to deal with the provocation.

Between the internal unrest in Iran, tensions escalating over the nuclear program and the ongoing border dispute with Iraq, the Iranian regime has its hands full in maneuvering between these building crises. A number of oddities linking these three issues also have begun surfacing in the past 36 hours in Iran and Iraq that warrant greater scrutiny in this tension-filled environment. STRATFOR will be watching developments closely in the coming days for any triggers that could signal a breakpoint.
« Reply #295 on: December 25, 2009, 07:18:56 AM »

What is in Iraq, where are the carriers and the Gator group?  New Years could be interesting.
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« Reply #296 on: December 25, 2009, 10:15:17 AM »

With a different President, these questions would be relevant.  My prediction is that this one will dither further.

Also, I haven't read it yet, but an article in today's POTH says that apparently the democractic opposition is just as hard line on developing nukes.
« Reply #297 on: December 26, 2009, 10:15:54 AM »

Ah yes, just as hardline on nukes, but with the regime change that just happened as an example, how hardline will they stay?  I think Obama will dither too, or look like he is, and that will not help credibility any which will affect other issues.
« Reply #298 on: December 27, 2009, 06:55:04 PM »

Astounding and graphic video of townspeople storming an execution in the hope of rescuing the condemned. Irani goons soon show up and start shooting.

More info and photos here:
« Reply #299 on: December 28, 2009, 09:18:12 AM »

Iranis stop a police car to free arrested protesters inside:
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