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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Kentucky Fried Chicken in Iran

February 25th, 2012 - 9:06 pm

Apparently it’s no spoof. The IAEA may be out of Iran, but finger-lickin’-good KFC, Persian-style, is in. Here’s Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporting that the Colonel has landed: “100-Percent Iranian” Kentucky Fried Chicken opens in Iran. Reportedly, an Iranian businessman, Amir Hossein Alizadeh, says he has spent years obtaining the required permits to open a KFC, and has just done it, in the Iranian city of Karaj.

What’s going on?

I would not for a moment suggest that the opening of an Iranian KFC means that the Iranian regime — seduced by the joys of deep-fried fast food — is about to can its nuclear program, stop its “Death to America” chants, scrap its terrorist networks, abandon its murderous ways and embrace the West. It isn’t. Nor is it unknown for officials of monstrously repressive and anti-American regimes to enjoy hypocritically watching American movies, chowing down on American food and enjoying American technology. In the Iranian consulate in Dubai, when I stopped by there in 2010, they were typing away on Dell computers. Iranian officialdom has a distinct penchant for trying to illicitly acquire American military technology, munitions and airplane parts.

And how to square a KFC in Karaj with expanding American sanctions on Iran is a question the story does not cover; we await further news. Treasury has issued a lot of “humanitarian” exemptions from sanctions over the years to quite a number of American companies that want to do business in Iran, including Pepsi and Coca-Cola (via an Irish subsidiary); what part of that is current, I don’t know. Keeping up with how the latest sanctions measures affect specific companies has become quite a race.

It sounds from this story as if the Iranian KFC will have little in common with the American version, apart from the “general KFC standards” and the logo. Apparently the menu will be offering 32 items meant to appeal to the Iranian palate. Alizadeh is quoted as saying “We’re not an American brand. We’re not an American company.”

Nonethless, Alizadeh has apparently gone to a lot of trouble to arrange to sell his 100% Iranian food under that oh-so-American Kentucky Fried Chicken name. Evidently he believes that as far as Iranians are allowed to vote with their wallets, they’ll vote for the American Colonel. That implies something about what people really want in Iran.





Fresh from the Los Angeles Times comes a headline that probably wasn’t meant to suggest U.S. intelligence officials are morons, but nonetheless manages to imply exactly that: “U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb“.

Really? To be sure, there’s a bit more nuance in the subhead:

The latest U.S. intelligence report indicates Iran is pursuing nuclear research that could enable it to build a nuclear weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.

If you  start reading the article, you will discover that the “latest intelligence report” is not quite up on the latest developments. That “latest” report is the classified National Intelligence Estimate “circulated to policymakers early last year,” reportedly reprising the view in the 2007 NIE on Iran that “Tehran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003.”

If you continue reading the article, you will discover that to believe in this erstwhile halt, you have to ignore Iran’s panoply of uranium enrichment activities and confine your curiosity solely to the question of whether Iran is right now actively manufacturing a nuclear warhead. Which some experts apparently believe it could do by, say, next Valentine’s Day. There are more estimates and arguments presented, along the lines of “for now, U.S, military and intelligence officials say they don’t believe Iran’s leadership has made the decision to build a bomb.”

The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, is quoted as saying:

I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision. … But there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time.

That’s a baffling statement, if you stop to think about it, since things the Iranians have “not yet done” are presumably things they have never done; not things they “have not done for some time.” Whatever. Clapper and his cohorts are reportedly keeping an eye out for whether Iran is doing these things not yet done, or at least not done for some time. (That might be more reassuring, were this not the same James Clapper who testified to congress that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is “largely secular” and has “eschewed violence.”)

But why cavil? Let us assume that this article provides an accurate picture of what our intelligence community really believes, and that what they believe is true: Iran’s rulers are not trying to build a nuclear bomb.

In that case, however, you pretty much have to assume that Iran’s rulers are just plain nuts.

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You won’t find this information posted yet on the United Nations web site, because when the UN General Assembly “elects” countries to the 47 member seats on the UN Human Rights Council, the Assembly doesn’t inconvenience itself with such norms as transparency, or plenty of advance notice — let alone candidacies based on merit. Seats are first allotted via quotas for regional groups, and all too often these groups produce slates in which there is only one candidate per seat. Candidacies are usually hashed out in backrooms, little or nothing is divulged about what favors were exchanged, or what deals were cut, and by the time the public gets wind of anything, the fix is in. That how the Human Rights Council managed to end up with members such as Qaddafi’s Libya, and why it currently fields such violators as Cuba, Cameroon, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China.

Here we go again. Drawing on information from anonymous sources “close to the UN,” the Geneva-based watchdog NGO, UN Watch, just broke the news that in the next round of “elections” to the Human Rights Council, expected around May, Venezuela and Pakistan have already lined up arrangements to run, unopposed, for seats on the Council.

Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, notes that in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez “throws judges and critics in jail, bullies young student activists and uses his UN vote to shield the atrocities of others.” I’d add that Chavez has also made it his business to be best pals with Iran’s jackboot regime, welcome Hezbollah’s terrorist network into Latin America, and has ushered Venezuela’s oil-rich economy into the 21st century as a thug-ridden wreck. Chavez is ill, reportedly looking again to the vaunted medical care of his buddies in Cuba to save him, but that has not yet translated into the salvation of Venezuela.

Pakistan, says Neuer, “persecutes religious minorities” to the extent that “Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, is on death row…under Pakistan’s medieval blasphemy law. Pakistan’s judicial system punishes women who are victimized by rape instead of the rapists.” Here I’d add that Pakistan during a previous round as a member of the Human Rights Council, was a vociferous cheerleader, representing the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now “rebranded” as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation)  for the anti-Semitic Durban II conference, which met in Geneva in April, 2009, featuring Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as one of the star speakers.

Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. refused to dignify the morally corrupt UN Human Rights Council with U.S. membership. When President Obama took office, in 2009, he overturned that policy. The U.S. became a member, with Ambassador Susan Rice arguing that joining this cabal was the best way to work change from within. This news from UN Watch raises the question of how it happens that the Asian and Latin American regional groups are now planning to put up Pakistan and Venezuela, respectively, as unopposed candidates for seats. Have American diplomats been asleep at the switch? Will anything now be done in the diplomatic backrooms to persuade these groups to produce decent alternatives? Or must we wait until horrors erupt in the next crop of abusers, on a par with that in Libya last year, before the eminences of the UN are persuaded to notice that they still stacking the UN’s erstwhile top human rights body with some of the world’s nastier abusers of human rights?

Rather than preparing to “elect” Venezuela and Pakistan unopposed onto the Human Rights Council, the members of the UN General Assembly could better try cleaning up the mess they’ve already got. Saudi Arabia currently sits on the Council. Saudi Arabia is where 23-year-old blogger Hamza Kashgari, having tweeted comments the Saudi authorities deemed blasphemous, is now facing a possible death penalty, by beheading, for “apostasy.” (For more, see Barry Rubin’s PJMedia post on “Manufacturing Heresy.”) Saudi Arabia’s current term on the Human Rights Council ends with this next round of elections. That means there’s still time to kick Saudi Arabia off the Council, as a good first step toward clarifying why Venezuela and Pakistan should not be welcome to join. Yes, I know — ain’t gonna happen. But let’s at least be clear what the U.S. is dignifying with its company (and its taxpayer money), and what we’re really talking about, when we talk about the UN “Human Rights” Council.



The Mystery of Iran’s Wandering War Ships

February 21st, 2012 - 11:55 pm

Did they dock in Syria, or didn’t they? Last week, two Iranian war ships, a destroyer and a supply ship, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. According to Iran’s government, they docked in the Syrian port of Tartus. According to the U.S. government, they did no such thing.

More specifically, on Saturday Iran’s state-owned PressTV reported that the two Iranian vessels had docked in the Syrian port of Tartus. On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, George Little, told the press, “We have absolutely no indication whatsoever the Iranian ships ever docked in Syrian ports.”

What’s going on here? One day there are two Iranian ships docking in Syria. Three days later, it seems that, like the Flying Dutchman, they never made port. Whatever they did during their swing through the eastern Mediterranean, they are now reported as having left the area, heading back through the Suez Canal.

These are not phantoms, or flyspecks invisible to the hi-tech eye. These are ships, substantial objects, which the U.S. certainly has the ability to track. I can’t claim to know what actually happened, and, alas, I have no inside sources here. So this is pure speculation. But it sounds as if the Iranian ships were indeed heading for Tartus,  and then ran into some reason to back off — leaving the Iranian government to  bluster that the ships had docked, rather than admit they’d chickened out.

If so, what might have blocked those ships? We know this much: There was no “Freedom Flotilla” launched from, say, Turkey, to try to deflect the arrival of Iranian war ships potentially stuffed with supplies for the terror-sponsoring regime of Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, now using heavy weapons against his own people. There was no naval blockade mandated by, say, the United Nations, where China and Russia are now blocking any Security Council resolution on Syria. There was no grand effort put forth by the combined naval forces of the Arab League.

Assuming that something, or someone, intervened in some way to persuade those ships to wave off, that was good work. I’d like to think that the deciding factor was a sharp warning from the U.S. —  though if that was the case, it would have been far better had America found a way to deter Iran before those ships ever entered the Suez Canal. Or, as with too many showdowns on the front lines of Tehran’s aggression, was the job, and the risk, left to the Israelis?

And if the Tartus docking was an Iranian lie, it does not obviate the fact that Iran’s regime felt free to send war ships through the Suez Canal for the second time in a year, and this time felt free to boast they’d docked in Syria. Within the propaganda fog are real ships, real guns, real threats. What next?

How hard was it for the 193 member states of the United Nations General Assembly to vote in favor of Thursday’s resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria? The violations are obvious, and horrific. Since last March, Syria’s regime under dictator Bashar al-Assad has been trying to exterminate open dissent by jailing, torturing, shooting, and shelling its own citizenry. With the Syrian government using heavy weapons against its own people, the death toll is now estimated at roughly 7,000.

If any of the UN’s member states had hesitations over the details of the resolution, which calls for Assad to make way for a peaceful transition to a democratic and pluralistic system, they could comfort themselves that General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding.

The resolution passed, by a vote of 137 to 12, with 17 abstentions (and the remaining 27 presumably out to lunch). By standards of the UN General Assembly, that’s a triumph. But it still means that with Syria’s totalitarian regime trying to keep its dynastic grip on power by murdering its own people by the thousands, 29% of the members of the UN General Assembly could not bring themselves to condemn the process.

That’s quite bad enough. But then there are the dozen states that didn’t just abstain, or duck out of the room, but actively voted against the resolution. The UN, as far as I can discover, has not yet gotten around to posting the voting record. But the BBC has done us the favor of providing a roster. One of those states is Syria itself, which is represented at the UN by the same regime that is butchering its own people — and among its international depredations boasts a horrendous record of terrorist bombings and other variations on murder in Lebanon and Iraq, and support for terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, in Gaza and Lebanon.

On the next page is the full dirty dozen, on this voting roll of dishonor:

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The United Nations hasn’t stopped the carnage in Syria, hasn’t stopped Iran’s race for nuclear weapons, and so far hasn’t even managed to produce financial disclosure forms for its top officials that actually disclose anything about their finances. (For instance, here’s the UN “disclosure” form for the head of the UN Environment Program, Achim Steiner.)

But that’s no bar to the UN proposing to plan the future of the planet. While the headlines focus on upheaval in the Middle East, financial crisis in Europe, and election year politics in the U.S., the UN has been planning its grand summit-level Rio+20 Conference, scheduled for June 20-22 in Brazil. This will mark the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit, which helped spade the ground for climate hysteria, the Kyoto treaty, and the quack vilification of the world’s most productive economies. This round, the UN plans to make even more “sustainable” the things the UN-ocracy would like to see sustained — paramount among them, the UN itself.

As is the way of such UN confabs, the Rio+20 Conference already has a “Dedicated Secretariat,” headed by China’s Sha Zukang, the UN Under-Secretary-General who made news in 2010 for his drunken rant during a UN retreat at an Austrian ski resort — in which Sha declared he had never liked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and he didn’t like Americans either. Also in 2010, Sha served as ceremonial presenter of a “World Harmony Award” to the former Chinese military chief who was operational commander during the 1989 crushing of the Tiananmen Square uprising.

Now, Fox News Executive Editor George Russell reports that Ban Ki-Moon, Sha Zukang and another two dozen or more of the UN’s top Rio+20 planners held a closed-door retreat last October, at a Long Island mansion, where they discussed how Rio+20 could help them reshape the world. The proceedings were meant to be secret (apparently, UN top managers prefer that the world not know the details until their world reshaping is already well underway). But Russell got hold of the confidential minutes of the discussions, which are linked in his story, “UN chief, aides, plot ‘green economy’ agenda at upcoming summit.

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You remember the U.S. sentinel drone that went down over Iran in December? President Obama asked Iran to send it back. According to the Russian RT news site, Iran — via the Swiss embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran — is now sending President Obama a toy model of the American drone, colored bright pink.

Stories about this mocking gesture have been bubbling up for a while. In January the Christian Science Monitor reported that an Iranian toy-maker had begun turning out these model U.S. stealth drones in vivid hues. They come mounted on stands engraved with one of Ayatollah Khomeini’s slogans, still a pet sentiment of the Tehran regime: “We will trample America under our feet.”

Mockery is of course nothing new in these realms, and the Christian Science Monitor story included some details suggesting that this mockery of the U.S. could backfire on the Iranian regime itself. The toy models have been selling for the equivalent of about $4, which is no small sum for many Iranians, in a country where the oil-fed tyranny of the mullahs has warped and stunted the economy, and sanctions are now applying added pressure. The Monitor quoted one unnamed resident of Tehran complaining about the “toy shop tactics” of the Iranian government, saying they are “annoying” when “we have such serious issues to confront.”

What worries me, though, is less the effect of this mockery inside Iran itself, than the message it sends to Iran’s pals about the extent to which it is safe to defy and deride the U.S. The RT story — let’s reprise that link —  ”Iran sent pink drone to Obama,” ran on the English-language version of a Russian news site. Especially in any Russian context, toy tools of foreign policy evoke the embarrassing red “reset” button that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented in 2009 to the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov — complete with the mistranslation with which the State Department labeled the toy button with the Russian word for “overcharged,” rather then the intended “reset.” Photos of Clinton and Lavrov show them laughing together over the toy button. But the real laugh has been Russia’s, at U.S. expense, as the U.S. has ceded one important policy position after another, from dropping the promised missile defense for Eastern Europe, to bowing to Russia and China, over Syria, by taking the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Iran’s regime has specialized from its 1979 inception in mockery of America and America’s allies — from parading American hostages blindfolded before the cameras, to kidnapping British sailors from international waters, holding them hostage and returning them in leisure suits bestowed by Ahmadinejad. And Ahmadinejad, in his yearly visits to the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York (for seven consecutive years now), has taken visible delight in taunting the UN’s host country, abusing diplomatic privilege to bring vast retinues to U.S. shores, and using his time in New York to wine and dine the U.S. media, and recruit support at huge receptions and private meetings (his most recent visit, last September, came during the same stretch in which Iran’s Quds Force was allegedly preparing to bomb the Saudi ambassador in Washington).

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The Surreal World of Asma al-Assad

February 7th, 2012 - 2:43 am

In 2009, the Huffington Post featured a spread of her top fashion looks. A year ago, Vogue profiled her as a “Rose in the Desert,” with her Chanel necklace and Louboutin silk handbag. And just last March, she was patroness and keynote speaker at a Damascus conference of the Harvard Arab Alumni Club.

Then Syria erupted in revolt against the dynastic dictatorship of her husband, Bashar al-Assad, and Syria’s First Lady, Asma al-Assad, pretty much vanished from view. More than 5,000 Syrians have died, as the government has descended to the brute depths of shooting and shelling its own people, in its own cities — this brutality abetted by the Quds Force of Iran. For the past 11 months of mass protest and bloody repression, Asma al-Assad has been an elusive figure, rumored to be in London, then perhaps back in Syria, then reported last month as in Damascus but trying — unsuccessfully — to escape.

Now the Times of London is reporting having received an email from Asma, or at least from an intermediary in her office, saying her husband “is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role.” The Times is a subscribers-only site, but the Telegraph reports on the Times’s story, quoting the unverified email as saying that Asma’s “very busy agenda is still focused on supporting the various charities she has been involved with” as well as “supporting the President as needed,” and “bridging gaps and encouraging dialogue” as she “listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence.”

What to believe? Did Asma al-Assad actually author that email? Or authorize it? Did someone in her husband’s office decide it was time to put the First Lady on the record, again — for the first time in quite a while — as supporting the dictator?

It’s tempting to suggest, yet again, that Vogue apply for a follow-up interview, and this time bring us the real picture, along with whatever details they deem necessary about Asma’s shoe collection. But no one’s expecting that to happen. So we’re left trying to peer into the hall of mirrors that dictatorships become. Is Asma al-Assad, in some New Age version of “Let them eat cake,” really gliding around to her favorite Syrian charities, saying “Let them bridge gaps”?

Right now we simply don’t know. But Syria’s regime was built on repression, secret police, dungeons and torture chambers long before the misery flared into the demonstrations and answering government violence of the past 11 months. To live gaily atop that scene required either a lack of conscience or a level of self-delusion that could, perhaps, extend to interpreting months of mass murder in the streets as reflecting merely an absence of “dialogue.” That’s how dictatorships work. That’s how, sometimes, immersed in their own unrealities, they go right over the edge.

Panetta’s Biggest Worry

February 3rd, 2012 - 1:53 am

So, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta just told told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that his biggest worry right now is that Israel will attack Iran in the next few months. Panetta then spelled out that the likeliest window for an Israeli attack would be April, May or June, before Iran stores enough enriched uranium deep enough underground so that only the U.S. would have the ability to stop the bomb-making. Perhaps Iran should send him a thank you note for the information?

Let’s hope that Panetta had some brilliant hidden agenda in talking like this to the press; perhaps a secret plan for imminent American air strikes that would render an Israeli attack unnecessary, or cover for an Israeli plan to attack tonight. But more likely Panetta simply meant what he said, and he meant to say it. In other words, while Iran keeps building the bomb, his biggest worry is how to stop Israel from acting in its own defense.

That’s fine if you’re dead certain that within the next few months Iran’s regime is either going to collapse, or throw wide open its nuclear program — a la Qaddafi — and invite the U.S. in to pick up the entire nuclear kit and haul it off to be examined at leisure in Tennessee. Does anyone believe that? The immediate collapse of the Tehran regime is a long shot. The notion of the Tehran regime amiably surrendering its nuclear program is utterly improbable, especially after the NATO-assisted demise of Qaddafi — who, had he held on to his nuclear kit, in the manner of North Korea, might have avoided being killed like a rat near a Libyan drainpipe. (Note: Qaddafi survived for years under sanctions. What persuaded him to give up his nuclear program was fear of suffering the fate of Saddam Hussein. What finally brought him down was use of force.)

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