Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

How to Defeat the Grand Bargain with Iran

July 27th, 2015 - 6:24 am

I think most of those trying to stop the approval of the Iran Deal are going about it wrong.  I don’t believe you can stop this thing by going through the text and pointing out its myriad flaws, nor do I think it’s good enough to expose the many lies Obama, Kerry, Rhodes et. al. told us along the way, nor even to uncover secret deals.  Kerry and Zarif spent 27 hours alone during the negotiations, and we’re not going to get a transcript of those conversations, nor will either of them tell us what they may have agreed.  And even if they did, I don’t think it would produce enough public political rage to stiffen the wobbly spines of our elected leaders.

The critics are quite right for the most part: it’s an awful agreement, the administration has behaved abominably, and the deal should be rejected.  I’m just talking about the best way to do it, the best tactics to use.  Obama understands how to do it:  reduce the issue to a simple choice.  He does that when he says that Congress must either approve the Grand Bargain or plunge the Middle East–or is it the world?–into war.

We should answer it:  Iran has been at war with us for 36 years, and this deal–the latest of its kind–gives Iran lots of money to kill even more Americans.  Indeed, we’ve been doing it for quite a while.

In a single phrase:  the war is already ON, and we’re paying the Iranians to kill us.  You want to pay them even more?  Apparently that’s what Obama wants.

That’s the essence of the matter, but we’re all wrapped up in on-site inspections, complicated annexes and a steady flow of information that’s been withheld from us.  That won’t work.  Just stick to the one-liner.  Americans don’t like our guys getting murdered by Iranians and their proxies, and we don’t like being shaken down by our own killers.

Remember when comrade Lenin remarked that the capitalists would eventually buy the rope and supply it to their hangman?  Well here we are.

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What if Iran Rejects the Deal?

July 20th, 2015 - 1:12 pm

As I predicted some weeks back, the Iranians did not sign on to the Grand Bargain negotiated in Vienna.  They don’t want to make a deal with the Great American Satan, even though they do want the American concessions, above all the huge sums of money we’ve promised them.

Now comes Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, talking as if the agreement itself is in question.

In an (sic) speech at a Tehran mosque punctuated by chants of “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”, Khamenei said he wanted politicians to examine the agreement to ensure national interests were preserved, as Iran would not allow the disruption of its revolutionary principles or defensive abilities.

An arch conservative with the last word on high matters of state, Khamenei repeatedly used the phrase “whether this text is approved or not”, implying the accord has yet to win definitive backing from Iran’s factionalized political establishment.

Concurrently, the head of the Revolutionary Guards announced that the Grand Bargain was unacceptable, and would be rejected.

A UN Security Council resolution endorsing Iran’s nuclear deal that passed on Monday is unacceptable, the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammed Ali Jafari was quoted as saying by the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.

“Some parts of the draft have clearly crossed the Islamic republic’s red lines, especially in Iran’s military capabilities. We will never accept it,” he was quoted as saying shortly before the resolution was passed in New York.

When Jafari talks about Iran’s “red lines” it is at least in part a reference to a law, passed in the Majlis and approved by the Guardian Council, that forbids the government from agreeing to inspections at military sites (and other restrictions).  Foreign Minister Zarif is to brief the Majlis tomorrow, the 21st, at which time we may see just how serious they are.

I know this is dramatically counter-intuitive, since the Grand Bargain is so lopsidedly pro-Iranian.  Why on earth would they even think of rejecting it?  And yet, two of the most powerful tyrants in Tehran are warning they may do it.  Why?

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Blood and Bronze

July 13th, 2015 - 6:46 pm

I recently gave a lecture in the civil service in Reggio Calabria, just across the water from Messina, Sicily.  Reggio is popularly known for two things:  its big, murderous mafia (the ‘Ndrangheta), and its museum, which contains the magnificent “Riace bronzes” and other ancient masterpieces.  They were found by a scuba diver in the salty waters off the coast of Calabria in the early 1970s.

I saw the bronzes about two weeks ago and they are constantly in active memory.  They are very big, much bigger than the Greeks who created them (5th century BC), and so far as the experts have been able to tell, they are not “real” men, they’re ideal types.  As the narrator of this lovely video says, they are truly amazing.  For one thing, the technology has vanished and no modern sculptor could do such statues.  For another, they rank among the true masterpieces in the history of art.  The narrator of the video calls them the greatest statues in the world. 

That’s why I’m still not breathing normally.

The Calabrians have restored the fragile bronzes three different times, and Italian technicians have created special earthquake-proof bases on which they stand, as well as a special room designed to withstand a bigtime seismic event.  Before you are permitted to enter that room, you are zapped and sprayed in a decontamination space.  So there you are, down at the bottom of Italy, where very few visitors ever go, standing at a borderline between the old Greek Empire (“Magna Grecia”) and hypermodern technology.  I wish I could write good fantasy, a la Ray Bradbury, because those big warriors are worthy of it.

And there’s more:  the room also contains two bronze busts, one of which is said to be of Pythagoras.  The curator told me that this is the first known bronze bust of a real person.  Everything preceding Pythagoras is “just art.”

Fittingly, the bronzes have generated many mysteries.  While the date of their creation is fairly well agreed, and it’s clear that they were on a ship that sank in or near the Straits of Messina, there is considerable dispute over just when the shipwreck took place, and there are several theories alleging that what we see today are not the statues as forged by the ancient Athenians, but perhaps works of art that were improved or repaired by later Romans.

There’s a dramatic contrast between the high culture of the museum and the vicious culture of the ‘Ndrangheta.  On the one hand, world-class art;  on the other, world-class crime of extraordinary vulgarity.  It is as if Reggio Calabria had been created as a stage for the best and worst human impulses, a city where our best and worst angels have reached their highest and lowest incarnations.

Which is why it is so fascinating, and at once so frightfully inspiring and frightening.  I’m certainly going back.


July 11th, 2015 - 7:01 am

One day in the mid-sixties I was on a Pan Am 747 from London to Chicago, sitting next to my then-employer, Omar Sharif.  I was a member of the “Omar Sharif Bridge Circus,” an unlikely assemblage of professional card players from France, Italy, Egypt…and, given my presence, the United States.  We played high-stakes exhibition matches against local teams in front of hundreds of spectators.  Mostly my role was pure show-biz;  I explained what the players were thinking, told anecdotes…you know, entertainment.  Every now and then they even let me play a few hands.  Life was spectacularly good,  not least because Omar was such a good fellow, a real buddy well met, easy to be with, easy to laugh with, a very fine card player, a gambling addict, and man did he know his red wine.  And race horses.  The big downside was that no woman was going to pay me the slightest attention.

After a few hours of catching up on sleep, Omar fished a paperback out of his carryon and turned pages quite rapidly.  It was the autobiography of Che Guevara.  He had never discussed politics with me and I was surprised, but it turned out he had agreed to play Che in a movie (1969).  What did he think?  “What an idiot!”  And that’s the way he played the failed revolutionary in the film.

Omar lived between several worlds, from the Middle East to Hollywood, via bridge matches and gambling casinos (he ultimately ran up huge gambling debts and had to show up at several of them, mostly in France and Monaco, to attract other potentially big losers as a way of paying off his bills), to horse racing tracks.  He hated Middle East politics, which got in the way of his close friendships with Jews, and he wasn’t afraid to challenge the antisemites.

In 1968, he was the captain of the bridge team of the United Arab Emirates at the world championships in Deauville, France.  I was working at the tournament, and late one morning (you didn’t see him on his feet much before noon) he cornered me.  “We’re scheduled to play Israel in two days,” he said, “and I’ve just received a cable from Cairo telling me we musn’t play.”  He frowned.  “So how about you and I play a two-handed match?  I can’t ask the other Egyptians to disobey, but the government won’t do anything to me.”

The Israelis agreed, and we did it.  That was Omar.

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The No Deal Deal

July 6th, 2015 - 3:58 pm

I don’t want to be the sole bearer of bad news for Ben Rhodes and his fellow gurus, but here it is:  the Iranians at Vienna won’t sign anything, per their instructions from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Full credit for this diplomatic accomplishment goes to President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Guru Rhodes and the rest of the administration strategists.  Their constant offer of more–more money, more gold, more limits on annoying inspections, more cooperation in the air and on the ground with Iranian forces, etcetera etcetera–solidified Khamenei’s conviction that there is no reason for him to approve a hated deal with the devil.  It’s much better to keep talking until all the sanctions are gone, and Iran’s “right” to pursue its nuclear projects is fully recognized.

Keep reminding yourself that Khamenei has two fixed principles:  no “new relationship” with the Great Satan, and relentless pursuit of the atomic bomb.

Obama/Kerry/Rhodes won’t take “no” for a definitive answer, so we’re probably going to see a new form of creative appeasement.  Short version:  It will be a “no deal deal.”  Iran promises to try really really hard to be nice and we pay for it.  Everyone agrees to commit to a “real” agreement by the end of the year.  Iran gets money–the continuation of the monthly payoff, and under-the-table arrangements like the gold shipment the South Africans delivered to Khamenei–and we get smiles.

There is no deal, per se–nobody signs anything–but we get the worst of it any how.  If John Kerry thinks that’s enough for a Nobel Peace Prize, he’s got an even lower opinion of the judgment of the Oslo crowd than I do.  And he may be right.  Chamberlain was widely praised as a great peacemaker for a while, and Carter was greatly admired when he proclaimed we had given up our “inordinate fear of Communism.”  And we’ll keep talking, won’t we?  And Obama just reiterated–at the Pentagon no less–that guns don’t defeat ideologies, only good ideas do.

If I were a Pentagon official and I heard the president say that, I’d have resigned on the spot.

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Can it get even worse?  Hell yes, just watch.  In the next week or so, I expect Iran, Iraq and Syria to formalize a cooperative federation.  The signing will be in Tehran, and Hezbollah will bless the arrangement.
Why this and why now?  The “why this?” is easy; it’s the way things really are, the regional piece of the global alliance waging war against us.  The “why now?” is explained by the latest Obama/Kerry collapse, that delays enforcement of inspections in Iran and promises speedier lifting of sanctions.
What does it mean?
Just ask the Saudis and the Jordanians.  It advances Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guards to another border, so that Nasrullah and Suleimani cam fulfill Khamenei’s fatwa, ordering the destruction of the Saudi royal family, and advancing Tehran’s strategic objective of bringing down the Hashemite monarchy in Amman.
Yes it’s a real war.  Never mind the negotiating points, we must win the larger war.  Or we will lose it.  If this president wanted to lose, it’s hard to imagine he would behave differently.

Why the Dems Can’t Get It

June 13th, 2015 - 6:07 pm

I am a big fan of John Hinderaker over at Powerline, and you can see why if you read one of his latest, this one about the Democrats’ lack of any sort of coherent national security policy. Here is the essence of it:

Democrats are incapable of devising a coherent strategy for dealing with (our problems), and seemingly don’t even try to do so. The charitable explanation is that they are incompetent. But perhaps it is because they aren’t sure what their desired ends are. Do they want the U.S. to win? Do they want us to be powerful, prosperous, influential and successful? That is not a hard question for most Americans, but it is for leading Democrats like Obama and Clinton. If you don’t know the answer to that question, then coming up with a strategy is tough. That, I suspect, is what we have seen for the last six or seven years.

It’s the basic question about the Obama administration (Hinderaker however is focused on Hillary Clinton and her failed Libyan actions): is the long list of foreign policy failures due to stupidity and incompetence, or to some sort of purposeful malevolence?

I think this question is invariably framed too narrowly. I think that we are dealing with the result of the collapse of an entire world view, and that collapse has left the Democrats without any guiding principles.  Their old templates, from class struggle to capitalist imperialism, no longer apply to the real world.  The most potent forces in play are those the left has never understood.  Religion above all.

They used to favor the poor countries, ergo they advocated foreign aid galore and all power to the UN.  Neither is working out.  They will never forgive us for winning the Cold War, thereby ending their utopian dream that the Soviet Union would truly become the successful incarnation of “real socialism.”  And instead of class interest, most people pursue narrower goals, motivated by passions, like religion, which leftists believe archaic.  You know, redneck stuff like guns and bourbon.  Except that now, religion is the most dynamic force in the world, for good and for ill.  This frustrates and angers them, since, unable to make sense of the world, they can’t craft policies that make sense.

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Who Is IS?

June 6th, 2015 - 2:01 pm

Who are they anyway?  IS, the Islamic State, that is.

There are two big components:  religious fanatics and totalitarian leaders. The secret of IS’ success lies in combining the two ideologies and methods of enlisting and controlling millions of people.  Sometimes the two merge in fanatical leaders, as took place in the latter years of Saddam’s Iraq (the dictator himself had a personal imam, even).  Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seems a case in point.  This appears to be rare, however;  for the most part the Islamic Staters are one or the other, with fanatics populating the rank-and-file and politburo-style regime builders dominating the elite.  We hear a lot about the faithful, but not so much about the nomenklatura.  Here’s a look-see at what we might call the caliphate’s political class.

IS recruits and operate globally, but their leaders are mostly Iraqi, drawn from Saddam’s Baathist armed forces and intelligence services.  The same Saddam who was in constant cahoots with the Soviet Union, whose Baathist rule copied much of Soviet practice, and whose top military officers and spooks were often trained by the Soviets themselves.

The Baathist makeup of IS’ leadership is well known.  Listen to the Weekly Standard:

the last two heads of ISIS’s military council were officers under Saddam, as was the current head of ISIS’s military operations, Adnan al-Sweidawi, also known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who worked as a colonel in Saddam’s air defense intelligence unit. Other former Saddam loyalists have fought alongside ISIS. They include Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshbandiyah (JRTN), a well-trained group of former Iraqi intelligence and army officers, led by Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri, a former high-level Baath party official. Douri was the king of clubs in the U.S.-led coalition’s deck of playing cards of most-wanted Iraqi officials,

Or listen to the Washington Post: “It was under the watch of the current Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that the recruitment of former Baathist officers became a deliberate strategy, according to analysts and former officers.”

If those are the guys running IS, maybe there’s a Russian connection?

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL FOOTNOTE:  In the years following our invasion of Iraq in 2003, as I became aware of the massive Iranian campaign to kill Americans there, I once commented to a senior Pentagon official: “You know, I’ll bet the Russians are involved in this.”  He gave me a very quick, intense look, and said, “Absolutely.  Big time!” Keep in mind that Iraq and Syria constitute a single battlefield.

Recent documentary evidence supports this hypothesis.  The German magazine Der Spiegel recently published a lengthy analysis, based on a set of IS documents dating to the creation (2013) of the organization’s current structure in Syria.  The “architect” of the Islamic State, known mostly as Haji Bakr, laid out his blueprint in considerable detail.  As Spiegel puts it,

What Bakr put on paper, page by page, with carefully outlined boxes for individual responsibilities, was nothing less than a blueprint for a takeover. It was not a manifesto of faith, but a technically precise plan for an “Islamic Intelligence State” — a caliphate run by an organization that resembled East Germany’s notorious Stasi domestic intelligence agency.

Bakr accompanied the blueprint with a set of rules for recruiting the leaders, and it indeed reads like a manual for a Stalinist state.

The group recruited followers under the pretense of opening a Dawah office, an Islamic missionary center. Of those who came to listen to lectures and attend courses on Islamic life, one or two men were selected and instructed to spy on their village and obtain a wide range of information. To that end, Haji Bakr compiled lists such as the following:

List the powerful families.

  • Name the powerful individuals in these families.
  • Find out their sources of income.
  • Name names and the sizes of (rebel) brigades in the village.
  • Find out the names of their leaders, who controls the brigades and their political orientation.
  • Find out their illegal activities (according to Sharia law), which could be used to blackmail them if necessary.

The spies were told to note such details as whether someone was a criminal or a homosexual, or was involved in a secret affair, so as to have ammunition for blackmailing later. “We will appoint the smartest ones as Sharia sheiks,” Bakr had noted. “We will train them for a while and then dispatch them.” As a postscript, he had added that several “brothers” would be selected in each town to marry the daughters of the most influential families, in order to “ensure penetration of these families without their knowledge.”

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(Not) Defeating ISIS and Iran

May 28th, 2015 - 5:11 pm

Policy-making by committee rarely works well, as the five-man team at the Washington Institute demonstrates to near perfection.  The quintet of (truly) distinguished policy-makers has produced something  termed a Strategy to Defeat ISIS and Iran, but it does neither.  I’ve been through it several times and can’t find a single proposal that would “defeat” either one.  In fact, at one point Messrs Hadley, Ross, Jeffrey, Berger and Satloff state quite categorically that while we might prevail militarily against ISIS,

…military action is only one dimension; ISIL cannot be defeated unless it is also discredited. Only Muslims can undermine ISIL’s fanatical ideology, and they must take the lead in doing so.

Whenever I read such language—which is not rare—I have to suppress a scream, because a lot of the history of 20th century totalitarianism shows that fanatical ideologies (fascism, Nazism and communism, for example) were fatally undermined by military defeat.  Both IS and the Iranian regime claim their imperialism is blessed by Allah.  Their military success is attributed to the support of the Almighty.  If they are defeated, especially by infidel American, or American-led fighters, what does that do to the ideology?  Did Allah go over to the other side?

I don’t think we, or anyone else, is going to “defeat” IS or Iran by “discrediting” their crazed ideology.  To be sure, I do think we would do well to endorse Egyptian President al Sisi’s call for a radical transformation of Islamist doctrines.  The Islamists are nuts, they’ve wrecked two big countries in the Middle East so far (Egypt under the Brotherhood, and Iran under the mullahs), and we should say so.  Most Iranians and Egyptians know it, we won’t shock them.

Oddly, given all this attention to the centrality of ideology, when it comes to Iran the quintet retreats into pure, almost pidgin geopolitics:

The most powerful elements in Iran today still see the United States as their enemy. This is not simply because of a conspiratorial mind-set about American determination to subvert the Islamic Republic, but also because they see America as the main impediment to their domination of the region.

This verges on disrespect for the doctrines of the Islamic Republic.  Never mind “death to America!” chanted by people who look at us as the Great Satan.  It’s all about regional hegemony.  Why, then, bother with “discrediting” the doctrines?

There’s still the need for defeating IS and Iran, to demonstrate their doctrinal failures.  But you won’t find any such strategy in the five-handed concerto.  Instead, the language is very diplomatic, as you’d expect from former diplomats and policy makers.  They say we need a new Syria policy, which we certainly do, but instead of “defeating” IS in Syria, they talk about creating a (Sunni) coalition to “marginalize” it.

And what is this strategy? 

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US Hostage on Trial in Tehran

May 26th, 2015 - 6:47 am

To its credit, the Washington Post continues to denounce the Iranian regime’s detention of its Tehran correspondent, Jason Rezaian, and we now learn that the Rezaian family is taking legal action in Iranian courts to gain his freedom.  That’s not likely to help Rezaian;  after all,  it’s the Iranian judiciary that has locked him in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison and will today put him on trial in front of a judge best known for issuing death sentences.

Hostages are valuable negotiating chips, and you can be sure that the three known Americans—including an Evangelical priest and a retired Marine officer, both of dual citizenship—are elements in the US-Iran talks formally about the Iranian nuclear weapons program.  Indeed, when President Obama talked by phone with Iranian President Rouhani a while back, he explicitly raised the hostage question.

Sad to say, taking hostages works for the Islamic Republic, as it does for other terrorists.  Just think for a moment about the various rescue operations by our special forces, and think of the swap of jailed Taliban (?)terrorists for one American soldier of dubious character and loyalty.

I’m often asked why are these poor souls suffering in captivity in Tehran?  The short answer  is, “that’s what they do.”  They stockpile Western hostages, and then make them part of broader negotiations.  At the moment there are several Iranians and Iranian/Americans in US prisons, convicted for the most part of involvement in operations to obtain high tech for the nuclear weapons program.  I’m told that Tehran wants them back home, and that they dangle the American hostages as swaps.  They know, despite all the pious rhetoric to the contrary, that we and most everyone else will negotiate for the release of our hostages.

And they love to kill Americans, don’t forget that, even though dead hostages aren’t worth as much as living ones.  On the other hand, knowing this, they conceal hostages’ deaths, as, I sadly believe, they have in the case of Robert Levinson, the former FBI agent who has disappeared in Iran.

In the case of Rezaian, there may be a more specific motive.  The WaPo editorialists have been very tough on Iran, tougher than those of other leading US newspapers.  Only the Post has said, clearly, that you can’t expect an end to the Iranian nuke program without regime change in Tehran.  The mullahs read our papers quite carefully (they read PJM carefully, too, as reflected in their repeated attacks on me and other critics of the regime), and the Rejaian arrest may well be a simple reprisal.

They arrest their own journalists, too.  And lock them away for years.  And then exile them to remote corners of the country, as demonstrated in the recent case of Ahmad Zeidabadi.  That might well be the template for Rejaian, pending satisfactory ransom.

Or regime change.