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Monthly Archives: December 2007

Thanks to you all and Happy New Year

December 31st, 2007 - 4:45 pm

You’ve been terrific, thanks so much for your good ideas and high energy, i’m looking forward to 2008!

Yes, Virginia, the Mullahs DO Screw Up

December 26th, 2007 - 6:31 pm

My Pajamas colleague, the brilliant and erudite Meir Javedanfar, belongs to a school of thought–very common among the Iranian diasporah–that sees every event involving the Islamic Republic as yet another proof of the near-flawless cunning and brilliance of the mullahs. My old friend and colleague Claire Sterling once described this forma mentis–in its Italian incarnation–as “dietrologismo,” the science of what lies behind the world as we see it. The handy thing about this approach to the world is that it doesn’t depend on annoying facts, but on one core assumption: that you know who’s behind it all, and he never screws up. Whatever happens, happens according to plan.

So my dear colleague tells us that Iran has–as a State Department official claimed in an interview with the Washington Post over the weekend–that Iran has “reined in” the Shi’ite militias in Iraq it has been supporting for lo these many years. And then he sets out to explain “why.” His explanation is that the mullahs want to keep us buried in an Iraqi quagmire so that we won’t be able to use our ground forces to attack Iran. No matter their call for “America out of Iraq,” that’s just so much propaganda. Their real intention is to keep us there. According to Mr. Javedanfar, the Iranian regime was alarmed when the Democrats won the 2006 elections, fearing that the new majority would actually pull American forces out of Iraq, which in his view would be bad for the mullahs. So Khamenei and Ahmadi-Nezhad bailed out Bush, by making conditions on the ground easier, thereby sabotaging the Democrats.

It’s an elegant theory, except that it leaves out several annoying facts. The first is that the terror war in Iraq rapidly expanded after the 2006 elections. Far from being leashed, Iranian-supported terror groups became considerably more active. So Mr. Javedanfar’s theory that Iran wanted to make life easier for President Bush after the 2006 elections is counter-factual.

Second, the core allegation–that Iran has “reined in” the Shi’ite militias–is itself very dubious. Yes, a State Department official, David Satterfield, said so in an interview with the Washington Post. He gave no proof, he just deduced it from the fact that attacks in Iraq had dropped off. But, just three days earlier, the Pentagon released a report that stated categorically that there had been no detectable reduction in the flow of support and weapons from Iran to Iraq. Secretary of Defense Gates said that “the jury’s out” on all claims that the mullahs were being cooperative, and our ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, also expressed skepticism about the theory.

So the core allegation is disputed by the people who have the best information, namely our military.

Third, we know for sure that American and Iraqi military action has devastated a good deal of the terror network run by the Iranians. Hardly a day has gone by in the past six months without reports of killing and/or capturing elements of “special groups” (the funny talk used to describe Iranian proxies in Iraq). Several of the leaders have been eliminated or are under interrogation, and it’s also clear that our troops have made progress in dealing with the latest generation of Iranian explosives.

Why ignore the performance of Coalition and Iraqi forces? Because it just doesn’t fit the theory that everything in that part of the world happens because the wily mullahs make it happen. Looking at the “mere facts,” one would have to say that the mullahs have been thwarted in Iraq, at least for the time being, and not just on the battlefield. Perhaps their most terrible defeat has come about in the mosques, where the Iranian version of Shi’ism has not taken hold, and where the traditional “Najaf school” of Shi’ism–according to which clerics should stay out of government–is threatening the Khomeinist heresy, even inside Iran itself. That religious defeat is at once a reason for, and a consequence of, their setbacks on the ground. And it’s happened despite the flow of mullah money into Iraq (well described by Mr. Javedanfar, although the bonyads are not the key institutions at work here; the really crucial ones are front companies run by the Revolutionary Guards/Quds Force, which is why the U.S. Treasury is targeting them).

In all this, the mullahs’ setbacks in Iraq have occurred because of our superiority and Iraqi steadfastness and courage, not because of their unlimited cleverness. They’re not ten feet tall, after all. Indeed, they’ve wrecked the country while awash in petrodollars, and that’s evidence of, uh, monumental incompetence.

Darwin Awards, 2007

December 25th, 2007 - 10:08 pm

There’s really no need for my comments here, except to marvel at the fantasy, creativity and colossal stupidity that led these people (all men?) to remove themselves from the gene pool. Here you go:


And once again, it’s time for the Darwin Award Nominees. The Darwins are awarded every year to the persons who died in the most stupid manner, thereby removing themselves from the gene pool.

This years nominees are:

Nominee No. 1: [San Jose Mercury News]

An unidentified man, using a shotgun like a club to break a former girlfriends windshield, accidentally shot himself to death when the gun discharged, blowing a hole in his gut.

Nominee No. 2: [Kalamazoo Gazette]

James Burns, 34, (a mechanic) of Alamo, MI. was killed in March as he was trying to repair what police describe as a “farm-type truck”. Burns got a friend to drive the truck on a highway while Burns hung underneath so that he could ascertain the source of a troubling noise. Burns clothes caught on something however, and the other man found Burns “wrapped in the drive shaft”.

Nominee No. 3: [Hickory Daily Record]

Ken Charles Barger, 47, accidentally shot himself to death in December in Newton, NC. Awakening to the sound of a ringing telephone beside his bed, he reached for the phone but grabbed instead a Smith & Wesson 38 Special, which discharged when he drew it to his ear.

Nominee No. 4: [UPI, Toronto]

Police said a lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a downtown Toronto skyscraper crashed through a pane with his shoulder and plunged 24 floors to his death. A police spokesman said Garry Hoy, 39, fell into the courtyard of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower early Friday evening as he was explaining the strength of the buildings windows to visiting law students. Hoy previously has conducted demonstrations of window strength according to police reports. Peter Lawson, managing partner of the firm Holden Day Wilson, told the Toronto Sun newspaper that Hoy was “one of the best and brightest” members of the 200-man association.

Nominee No. 5: [The News of the Weird]

Michael Anderson Godwin made News of the Weird posthumously. He had spent several years awaiting South Carolinas electric chair on a murder conviction before having his sentence reduced to life in prison. While sitting on a metal toilet in his cell attempting to fix his small TV set, he bit into a wire and was electrocuted.

Nominee No. 6: [The Indianapolis Star]

A cigarette lighter may have triggered a fatal explosion in Dunkirk, IN. A Jay County man, using a cigarette lighter to check the barrel of a muzzle loader, was killed Monday night when the weapon discharged in his face, sheriffs investigators said. Gregory David Pryor, 19, died in his parents rural Dunkirk home at about 11:30 PM. Investigators said Pryor was cleaning a 54-caliber muzzle-loader that had not been firing properly. He was using the lighter to look into the barrel when the gun-powder ignited.

Nominee No. 7: [Reuters, Mississauga, Ontario]

A man cleaning a bird feeder on the balcony of his condominium apartment in this Toronto suburb slipped and fell 23 stories to his death. Stefan Macko, 55, was standing on a wheelchair when the accident occurred, said Inspector Darcy Honer of the Peel Regional Police. “It appears that the chair moved, and he went over the balcony,” Honer said.

Finally, THE WINNER!!!: [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

Two local men were injured when their pickup truck left the road and struck a tree near Cotton Patch on State Highway 38 early Monday. Woodruff County deputy Dovey Snyder reported the accident shortly after midnight Monday. Thurston Poole, 33, of Des Arc, and Billy Ray Wallis, 38, of Little Rock, were returning to Des Arc after a frog catching trip. On an overcast Sunday night, Pooles pickup truck headlights malfunctioned. The two men concluded that the headlight fuse on the older-model truck had burned out. As a replacement fuse was not available, Wallis noticed that the .22 caliber bullets from his pistol fit perfectly into the fuse box next to the steering-wheel column. Upon inserting the bullet the headlights again began to operate properly, and the two men proceeded on eastbound toward the White River Bridge. After Traveling Approximately 20 miles, and just before crossing the river, the bullet apparently overheated, discharged, and struck Poole in the testicles. The vehicle swerved sharply right, exiting the pavement, and striking a tree Poole suffered only minor cuts and abrasions from the accident but will require extensive surgery to repair the damage to his testicles, which will never operate as intended. Wallis sustained a broken clavicle and was treated and released. “Thank God we weren’t on that bridge when Thurston shot his balls off, or we might both be dead,” stated Wallis “I’ve been a trooper for 10 years in this part of the world, but this is a first for me. I can’t believe that those two would admit how this accident happened,” said Snyder. Upon being notified of the wreck, Lavinia (Poole’s wife) asked how many frogs the boys had caught and did anyone get them from the truck???

(Though Poole and Wallis did not die as a result of their misadventure as normally required by Darwin Award Official Rules, it can be argued that Poole did, in fact, effectively remove himself from the gene pool.)

What Times Are These?

December 21st, 2007 - 4:06 pm

Thanks to its brilliant editor, Robert Tracinski, every day I get the TIA Daily (TIA standing for ‘the intellectual advocate’), and believe thee me there is no more stimulating, informative or enjoyable publication on line or on dead trees. Subscriptions cost money, but it’s well worth it.

Today Robert reruns something from a year ago, which featured part of a column from the London Times by Anatole Kaletsky, one of the current stars in the British firmament:

“You Think Our Age Is Turbulent? What Nonsense,” Anatole Kaletsky, Times of London, April 12

We are constantly told by politicians, journalists and business experts that we live in an era of unprecedented change—a dizzying period of technological and geopolitical revolutions, in which every year brings some new and astonishing upheaval for which our nervous, insecure societies are totally unprepared. What nonsense.

Never in human history has life been more predictable, safe and stable—at least for that large minority of the human race who live in the advanced capitalist countries of Western Europe, North America, and East Asia.

This thought overwhelmed me last week as I prepared a tribute for my mother, who was born in Odessa in 1916 just before the Russian Revolution, and died peacefully in London on March 31. Who would have imagined, in the terrible and wonderful 20th century, almost all of which she lived through, that she would end her days peacefully in her own home in London—surrounded by the secure, comfortable family whose prosperity she had created literally from nothing—instead of being carried off by the wars, famines, revolutions, epidemics and state terrors that had dogged the first half of her life?…

Compared with the upheavals of the early 20th century, the challenges we face today—whether as families and individuals or as societies and nations—are almost laughably trivial. Have psychologists who tell us that accident witnesses need grief counselling forgotten about Holocaust survivors and POWs in Burma? Do environmentalists really believe that global warming is the greatest threat ever faced by Western civilisation?…

Anatole Kaletsky is a very smart guy, and Robert Tracinski does well to provoke us with Kaletsky’s thoughts, but I think that the message is wrong. How shall I put this? Yes, life in London is predictable, stable, and pretty easy…until it isn’t. And with regard to Anatole’s mother, her life in London was a lot better than it was in Odessa, until it wasn’t, until Nazi bombs started to fall on her and her children. I think it’s foolish to say that the challenges we face today are “almost laughably trivial,” compared to what the citizens of the 20th century went through. It’s foolish above all because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. And I have to say that it’s pretty clear that there is a great perturbation in the Force.

I have the sensation that everything is somehow up for grabs. I think most of the world has lousy leadership, certainly most of the free world, and I think that our people know that, and are very confused about which way to turn. That confusion translates into unpredictable elections sometimes (I have no clue about the likely candidates from the two major parties, and a third party run, maybe even a fourth party run, does not seem at all unlikely to me, nor does the prospect of real political conventions next year, perhaps for both parties).

This may turn out well; we may get a terrific president in 2009. But we may not, with all that entails.

Ditto for the fundamental conflicts. I believe we’re already in a big regional war in the Middle East, and it can spread quickly all over the place. But I can also imagine events (the fall of the regimes in Tehran and/or Damascus, for example) that would give us enormous opportunities for a dramatic expansion of freedom.

Ditto for the globalized economy. Economists are divided–shocker!–over what the next few months will bring. Recession or worse? Soft landing? Continued growth? Nobody really knows, and indeed I don’t think they CAN know, because, as in the other cases, the outcomes will depend on decisions of men and women who, today, don’t know what they’re going to do. It all depends.

Which brings me back to Anatole Kaletsky, and his happy thought that we are living in a rare moment of tranquility and security. I think that was true for about half a century after the Second World War, but I don’t think it’s true today. Today it’s all up for grabs, and no one can reasonably predict what’s coming.

A few years ago, when I was a member of something called “The U.S.-China Strategic Review Commission” (or so I remember it), we issued reports on China’s economy, military strategy, and political situation. In each of the first two such reports (I left the Commission before the third came out, and confess that I haven’t kept up with them) we took pains to state that the “official” data issued by the Chinese Government were totally unreliable. Indeed, we stated explicitly that the numbers were simply made up.

Now the World Bank has issued a dramatic reevaluation of the dimensions of the Chinese economy, and the Bank says that previous estimates overstated the facts by forty percent, which is a hefty number.

Take a look at this excellent editorial from Investor’s Business Daily, while spells it out very clearly, and draws some very important conclusions.

It seems the Bank may have found a reliable metric for measuring the real output of a society, and I wonder if they’ve done the same for countries like Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia. I’m going to ask them, but you might look around as well. We need what my kids used to call “true facts,” not official numbers, which are sometimes produced on demand to satisfy one audience or another.

Back when I was reporting on Italy–we’re talking mid-seventies–my editor demanded that I get the “real numbers” on the Italian economy, since the “official” numbers showed that Italy was dead on arrival. I told him the Italian economy was fine, based on walking tours of various neighborhoods in Rome, Florence and Bologna. But he wanted numbers. So I visited a friend who was then Minister of Finance, and I explained my mission. He smiled happily and asked me “what numbers would your editor like?”

Ever since, I’ve been touched at the faith people show in official data…

The Failed NIE and Its Defenders

December 11th, 2007 - 4:42 pm

I sent a lot of this to The Corner a while ago, but I added some material here and there and thought you should see it.

I am beginning to feel sorry for the people–the men, that is, since no woman’s name has appeared in connection with the event–who issued the now-infamous NIE proclaiming their near-certitude that Iran “halted” its secret nuclear weapons program in 2006, and their heartwarming belief, at a lower level of certitude, that the mullahs haven’t resumed it. This embarrassingly crafted bit of fluff has failed to pass muster in London, Paris, Berlin and Jerusalem, and in much of Washington and New York. Most of us thought this would put an end to any aggressive policy toward Tehran, but life is full of surprises and if anything the call for tougher sanctions is stronger today than it seemed last week.

And supporters of the NIE–a group that more or less coincides with those who still believe in the likelihood of a “grand bargain” with the mullahs–are resorting to some pathetic attempts to advance their policy. Two of them, Hillary Mann Leverett and her husband, Flynt Leverett–both former Bush Administration dissidents–have an odd oped in today’s New York Times, in which they argue a) that anyone who proposed “engagement” with Iran in the early Bush years was risking her career, and b) that Iran has really tried to cooperate with us in the past, but got nowhere.

As for a), I’m not aware that anyone was ever fired or demoted from the Bush Administration for advancing the “engagement” policy. Indeed, Richard Haas, an intimate of then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and head of State’s Bureau of Policy Planning, vigorously advanced it, and I think he got various high-ranking officials (perhaps Mr. Leverett himself) to go meet quietly with Iranian counterparts to explore the possibility of detente. And, as I have written several times, a bit more than a year ago, Secretary Rice asked former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales to go to Tehran, which he did. He met with Mr. Larijani, who told him to forget it.

So a) seems factually wrong.

As for b), you really have to read the small print. For Leverett and Leverett actually say this:

“Iran has tried tactical cooperation with the United States several times over the past two decades — including helping to secure the release of hostages from Lebanon in the late 1980s and sending shipments of arms to Bosnian Muslims when the United States was forbidden to do so.”

Yes, the Iranians were in a great position to be “helpful” to our hostages in Lebanon in the mid and late eighties. After all, they had instructed Hezbollah to take the hostages in the first place. They were running the old mafia insurance scam, first demonstrating their ability to kill us (as they did to at least two of the hostages, Higgins and Buckley), then showing their control by releasing a handful. If that’s the “grand bargain” that the Leveretts have in mind, I’d rather pay protection money. It saves on travel expenses and time wasted.

As for the provision of weapons to “Bosnian Muslims,” this was one of the Clinton Administration’s most scandalous undertakings. We enabled the Iranians to smuggle weapons into the Balkans in violation of formal international agreements, and it enabled the mullahs to set up a substantial terrorist-training network through which many of the most infamous killers, including some involved in the 9/11 attacks, passed in the eighties and nineties. I wouldn’t hold that up as a great example of “tactical cooperation.” More like “American stupidity combined with Iranian murderous cunning.”

The Leveretts give us yet one more pathetic example of Tehran’s presumed virtue, and America’s meanness in response.

“Tehran’s expectations of reciprocal good will have been dashed by American condemnation of perceived provocations in other arenas, as when Iranian support for objectives in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was rewarded by President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil.”

Do they not know that the mullahs were playing both sides of the table? At the very moment Tehran was sitting at the negotiating table with us to discuss the future of Afghanistan, Iranian-guided terrorists were trying to kill Americans on the ground. Just as they are today, in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s kind of a template for the nuclear program: on the one hand they make a friendly gesture, on the other hand they continue to produce the ingredients of their atomic bomb. Heads they fool us, tails we die.

You Gotta Read “Christopher’s Ghosts”

December 10th, 2007 - 11:34 am

by Charles McCarry, the greatest living Washington writer. Wow!

The Mullahs’ Great Failure

December 10th, 2007 - 10:58 am

I have been arguing for some time now that Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has every reason to be discouraged at events in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East, with a few beams of light in Afghanistan (mostly because some of the NATO countries send people in uniform to that country, but then forbid them to shoot at anybody).

Of these failures, perhaps the most significant, and almost certainly the most unexpected to the protectors of the conventional wisdom, is the religious independence of the Iraqi Shi’ites, and their unwillingness to buy into the doctrines of Iranian clerical fascism.

Now Jeremy Rabkin provides extensive documentation of this important Iranian failure, by discussing something of which I had been unaware: the web sites of the four leading Iraqi ayatollahs. And he adds another fascinating “poll,” this time of Iranians traveling to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, which reveals that the two most popular ayatollahs among the Iranian faithful are: Sistani (the leading Iraqi cleric in Najaf) and Montazeri (the celebrated Iranian who has condemned Khomeinism and continues to denounce the Iranian regime as lacking religious authority, a mortal threat to its legitimacy).

Read Rabkin’s <a href=”http://here.“>excellent piece deserves your full attention.

Chavez goes on Iranian time

December 9th, 2007 - 3:49 pm

This is really interesting: Venezuela is changing its time by half an hour. Yes, it’s nutty, but the only other country I know of (and there may be others, it would be fun to see who else goes for this) that is half an hour different from its neighbors is the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Further proof of the growing intimacy between the two countries?

Well, they both have student demonstrations against The Leader, don’t they?

The Great Intelligence Scam

December 3rd, 2007 - 10:25 pm

Yesterday’s big story was the Intelligence Community’s “Estimate,” according to which Iran unilaterally and secretly suspended its covert nuclear weapons program back in 2003, and hasn’t resumed it to date. We don’t know the sources and methods that underly this analysis, and it may well be that we have acquired some totally convincing evidence that justifies the astonishing conclusions of the IC’s assessment. But the “Estimate” itself is internally unconvincing–different agencies, notably the National Intelligence Council and the Department of Energy, are not convinced we have the full picture, and argue that we may not know whether the “halt” on which the IC hangs its analytical hat applies to Iran’s “entire nuclear weapons program.”

In other words, we seem to know that something was halted, but we don’t know if that’s the whole story. In Rumsfeld’s famous words, we don’t know what we don’t know.

The most interesting part of the “Estimate” is of course its political and policy implications, which National Security Adviser Steven Hadley was quick to spell out. In his view, and in that of many political leaders and pundits, if Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, there is no great urgency to move against the mullahs.

And indeed, those “intelligence professionals” were very happy to take off their analytical caps and gowns and put on their policy wigs: “Although the officials as a rule, respecting the norms of their craft, declined to offer policy prescriptions based on their findings, the most senior official present did cite the finding that the Iranians are susceptible to international pressure and say that such pressure should “continue” as a way to “allow IAEA to have significant visibility into the program.”

This sort of blatant unprofessionalism is as common in today’s Washington as it is unworthy of a serious intel type, and I think it tells us a lot about the document itself. The “Key Findings” published yesterday address the obvious question: why would the Iranians abandon a program that had been in the works ever since the late 1980s? The IC replies: because the Iranians are rational, and they respond to international pressure. They shut down the program because the pressure was too great. They couldn’t take the risk of even more pain from the international community.

At this point, one really has to wonder why anyone takes these documents seriously. How can anyone in his (there was no female name on the document, nor was any woman from the IC present at the press briefing yesterday) right mind believe that the mullahs are rational? Has no one told the IC about the cult of the 12th Imam, on which this regime bases its domestic and foreign policies? Does not the constant chant of “Death to America” mean anything? I suppose not, at least not to the deep thinkers who wrote this policy document.

And as for Iran’s delicate sensitivity to international pressure, just a few days ago, the European ‘foreign minister’ Javier Solana was on the verge of tears when he admitted he had been totally unable to get the Iranians to come clean on their uranium enrichment program, even though he had told them that more sanctions were in the works. Yet, according to the IC, this program–neatly described in a footnote to the “Estimate” as “Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment–really doesn’t have anything to do with nuclear weapons. But if that is so, why are the Iranians so doggedly hiding it from UN inspectors?

This document will not stand up to serious criticism, but it will undoubtedly have a significant political impact, since it will be taken as confirmation of the view that we should not do anything mean to the mullahs. We should talk to them instead. And that’s just what the Estimate says:

…some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways, might–if perceived by Iran’s leaders as credible–prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.

Incredibly, the authors of the document claim they can prove all this: “The impact of international pressure is beyond dispute, the officials said, a “cause-and-effect” relationship backed up by an ‘evidentiary trail.’ “

But any good student who has taken Psych 101 will tell you that it’s nigh unto impossible to determine someone else’s intentions, especially when presented by “analysts” who think that Ayatollah Khamenei and President Rafsanjani are as rational as the rest of us. This is demeaning to the Iranian tyrants–for whom their faith is a matter of ultimate significance–and insulting to our leaders, who should expect serious work from the IC instead of this bit of policy advocacy masquerading as serious intelligence.