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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Iraq, yes, but also…

June 30th, 2009 - 8:39 am

The papers and airwaves are full of commentary about the end of the American war in Iraq.  Henceforth, aside from soldiers training Iraqis, and perhaps the occasional provision of air support, our troops will sit in bases, outside Iraqi cities, minding their own business.  Rather like Europe.

Many smart people, including former VP Cheney,  are worried that it might be too soon.  Terrorists are still operating in Iraq.  Will the Iraqis be able to manage it?  To put the matter differently, we won the war in Iraq, might we now lose the peace by abandoning the battlefield prematurely?

The trouble with the debate is that, as usual, it ignores the real issue, which is the war itself.  The question about Iraq is the wrong question;  you can’t answer it without addressing the broad war, of which Iraq is just one piece.

The real question is, how are we doing in the broad war (the one that stretches from Afghanistan into Europe, with active battlefields in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine and Lebanon)?

The answer must involve Syria and Iran–the two countries that are providing the bulk of the terrorists’ support–and Saudi Arabia, which funds the global indoctrination of would-be terrorists.  If we’re going to win the war, we have to thwart Tehran and Damascus, and, at a minimum, get the Saudis to stop paying for pre-terrorism radicalization all over the world.

The answer, then is:  we are doing very badly.  Indeed, we’re not doing at all.  Au contraire, we and our feckless Western allies are, for the most part, actively appeasing those whom we should be confronting.  We famously dithered as Iran crushed the incipient revolution (a revolution that would have enormously mitigated the threat Iran represents).  It’s obvious that Obama et. al. were annoyed and embarrassed by the outpouring of passion for freedom all over Iran, because it interrupted their efforts at lovemaking with the regime’s leaders.  Meanwhile, Obama announced he is sending an ambassador to Damascus, where Bashar Assad is Iran’s most faithful friend in the region.  And nothing at all is being done to restrain the Saudis’ multi-billion dollar funding of the global radical Wahabbi madrassas, from which radicalized young muslims emerge.

But nobody is asking the real question, not even Cheney, who behaves as if he just doesn’t want to talk about Iran.  Did he have anything to say about supporting the revolution?  If so, I missed it.  He could authoritatively provide the proper context for the debate, but he doesn’t.

Faster, please.  Sigh.

UPDATE:  From the AP, “The top U.S. military commander in Iraq on Tuesday accused Iran of continuing to support and train militants who are carrying out attacks, including most of the ones in Baghdad. Gen. Ray Odierno said the attacks have fallen in number but are still a problem. He made the comments just after the U.S. relinquished security for Baghdad and other urban areas to Iraqi forces, part of a security agreement that will see all American soldiers out of the country by the end of 2011. ‘Iran is still supporting, funding and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq. They have not stopped and I don’t think they will stop,’ Odierno told reporters at the U.S. military headquarters outside Baghdad. ‘I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been in fact funded or trained by the Iranians.’”

Europe Flexes its Muscles vs Iran

June 28th, 2009 - 3:14 pm

The Iranian regime arrested eight locals who worked in the British Embassy in Tehran, provoking strong words in Whitehall and elsewhere.  This just showed up in an email, quoting the London Times:

Foreign ministers of European states, gathered for a European Union conference in Greece, quickly condemned the arrests… France, Italy, Germany and Britain maintain robust diplomatic missions in Tehran.

“Harassment or intimidation of foreign or Iranian staff working in embassies will be met with a strong and collective EU response,” said a statement issued by the foreign ministers.

Just shows you what’s really important, eh?  Where was that “strong and collective EU response” when peacefully demonstrating Iranians were being butchered in the streets?

No wonder the Iranians feel abandoned by the West.  They are.

Thursday Thoughts

June 25th, 2009 - 6:53 am

I’m going to be out of town the rest of today, back tomorrow afternoon.  The main news is the heightened repression, abundantly documented all over the net.  I won’t take up bandwith to repeat it here.

Some are asking whether the insurrection/revolution is losing steam.  It is a legitimate question, especially in a world of famously short attention spans.  It does not apply to the fighters in Iran, for whom life is no longer doled out in six-minute bytes.  For them, the big issue is winning, and the immediate issue is getting through the day.   And then the night.  They are looking for various ways of fighting, since direct confrontation, at least at the moment, has limited appeal.  Thus we see the hit-and-run attacks about which Eli Lake wrote this morning in the Washington Times, and which the Guardian links to.

There are many things we do not see, and which we would not see even if the regime weren’t trying to isolate Iran from the world.  We still don’t know whether, as widely rumored, Rafsanjani has obtained the signatures of many senior clerics, calling for either the replacement of Khamenei or the abolition of the position of supreme leader (which would be the end of the Islamic Republic).  If he has such a document, what will he do with it?  Hard to know or even to guess.

Mousavi:  instead of shrinking into the background he is becoming more aggressive and more outspoken.  And he is winning some important allies, such as Tehran mayor Qalibaf, who has come out for peaceful demonstrations.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot we should be doing to help the Iranian people.  The two big items are a)build a strike fund, and b) set up a communications system that enables Iranians to report news to an offshore location (whether on a ship, an island, in London or in Los Angeles doesn’t matter) and then relays that information to all Iranians.  They need to know what’s going on.  People in Isfahan need the news from Tabriz, Shiraz, and Tehran, etc.

Those are the main things.  There are others.  But that’s for next time.

Monday Night and Tuesday Morning in Iran

June 22nd, 2009 - 8:58 pm

Let’s review the bidding, shall we?  The “election circus” took place a week ago Friday, and demonstrations began that night, June 12th.   Ten days have passed.  What have we learned?

–First, that a significant number of Iranians hate the regime and are prepared to die to bring it down;

–Second, that the fanatical religious zealots that hold the guns, chains, knives, tear gas cannisters, high-powered water hoses, sniper rifles and (perhaps) chemical weapons (said by some to have been deployed from helicopters), are prepared to order the killing of any number of Iranians in order to maintain their own power and preserve the Islamic Republic;

–Third, that women are playing a key role in the insurrection (a central element of any good analysis of events in Iran, which is invariably overlooked, even by some outstanding scholars).  This was already clear in the “election circus,” in which Mrs. Mousavi played a leading role, thereby threatening the Islamic Republic at its sexist and misogynistic core).  The regime knows this, as  was confirmed by the verbal attacks on Mrs. Mousavi by Ahmadinezhad during the televised presidential debate with her husband, and by the shooting of Neda by a sniper who had a choice of targets.  He picked a girl wearing a very loose scarf.

By the way, the celebrated writer Paolo Coelho reports on his blog that the doctor who tried so desperately to save Neda is a friend of Coelho’s.  That doctor’s revolutionary credentials are in good order;  he served on the battlefield during the Iran-Iraq War.  An interesting footnote to a terrible story.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Women’s Movement has issued a very strong statement:

Alongside civil and political rights activists, labor activists, students, journalists, and ethnic rights activists, a large spectrum of women’s rights activists from several campaigns and tendencies also participated in the election in order to say “no” to a government with a discriminatory orientation and to demand an end to gender discrimination…

We, the undersigned activists of the women’s rights movement, condemn the violence and humiliation that has continued to be perpetrated against Iranian women and men in recent years and which is aimed at repressing them. We emphasize our continued commitment to achieving the demands of the women’s rights movement, which has had a profound role in educating the public and in civil struggles in recent years, and we express our solidarity with those who protest the results of this election. We demand that those arrested in recent days be released without condition and we call for securing and protecting civil and political freedoms.

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A Note to Readers

June 22nd, 2009 - 3:37 pm

Some of you have complained about delays in posting your comments, and it is entirely my fault.  I have to approve comments, and very rarely I find one that is so totally composed of personal insults, either for me or for other commenters, that I delete it.

I have a day job, which takes me offline for hours on end.  I clear the comments as quickly as I can.  Bear with me.

Furthermore, I am getting a new hip in two weeks, so I probably will be sleeping for a bit, heh.  Bear with me.

I’ve received what purports to be a statement from Mousavi’s Office in Tehran.  Like everyone else covering the revolution, I get a lot of material that can’t be authenticated, and one must always take such material with a healthy dose of skepticism.  That said, the person who sent this to me is undoubtedly in touch with the Mousavi people on the ground, that much is certain.  His information has been proven reliable throughout this period.  So while the following open letter carefully puts distance between the author(s) and Mousavi himself, I am quite sure that at a minimum it accurately reflects the state of mind of the Mousavi people.

So here you go:

From  the Office of Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi

To the President of the USA, Mr. Barack Hussein Obama:

Dear Mr. President,

In the name of  the Iranian people, we want you to know that when you recently made the statement “Achmadinejad or Mousavi? Two of a kind,” we consider this as a grave and deep insult, not just to Mr. Mousavi but especially against the judgment of the Iranian people, against our moral conviction and intelligence, especially those of the young generation that comprises a population of 31 million.

It is a specially grave insult for those who are now fighting for democracy and freedom, and an unwarranted gift and even praise for Mr. Khamenei, whose security forces are now killing peaceful Iranians in the streets of every major city in the country.

Your statement misled the people of the world.  It was no doubt inspired by your hope for dialogue with this regime, but you cannot possibly believe in promises from a regime that lies to its own people and then kills them when they demand the promises be kept.

By such statements, your administration and you discourage the Iranian people, who believe and trust in the values of democracy and freedom.  We are pleased to see that you have condemned the regime’s murderous violence, and we look forward to stronger support for the rightful struggle of the Iranian people against the actions of a regime that is your enemy as well as ours.

UPDATE:  From Mousavi’s speech on Sunday:

The great participation in this election was, in the first degree, indebted to the efforts for creating hope and trust among the people, to obtain a befitting response to the existing administrative crises and the widespread social dissatisfaction, whose accumulation can target the bedrock of the Revolution and the Regime. If this good faith and trust coming from the people is not answered by protecting their votes, or the people can not react in a civil and peaceful way to defend their rights, there will be dangerous pathways ahead, responsibility for which lies with those who can’t stand peaceful behaviors.

If the high volume of cheating and vote manipulation, that has put a fire to the foundations of people’s trust, is itself introduced as the proof and evidence of the lack of fraud, the republicanism of the regime will be slaughtered and the idea of incompatibility of Islam and republicanism would be practically proven.

UPDATE II:  Mousavi has called for a general strike on Tuesday.  Meanwhile, the regime is now rounding up Rafsanjani family members.  As Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi tells us:

Tabnak Website from Iran reports: Five members of the Rafsanjani family arrested. It is said that his daughter Faezeh who is very outspoken and has been very active in politics for more than two decades has also been arrested. Reportedy Faezeh, her daughter,Hossein Marashi (cousin of Mrs. Rafsanjani nee Effat Marashi), Marashi’s daughter and Marashi’s sister-in-law have been taken into custody as well

Update III:  From Judith Klinghoffer, the unions are joining the revolution.

Update IV:  From the Guardian’s excellent blog:

More evidence of tensions among the ayatollahs. Hossein Ali Montazeri, an architect of the 1979 Islamic revolution who fell out with the present leadership, said: “Resisting people’s demand is religiously prohibited.” Montazeri, who has been under house arrest for some years, called for three days of national mourning for those killed, in a statement on his website.

This is to be expected, and it’s a tribute to the courage of Montazeri.  There’s a reason he’s been under house arrest, after all.

UPDATE V:  To show you what’s happening in Iran, today the security forces invaded the central election headquarters in Tehran and arrested everybody there.  No doubt because they don’t want any witnesses to the “election circus.”  Normally the staff is about 80, but today, Sunday, only 26 had made it to the office.  All of which reminds me of a great exchange on Twitter.  Somebody had announced an upcoming general strike, and another person replied saying “all you have 2 do is announce a demonstration and Basij will shut down all of Tehran 4 us.”

So Now It’s Saturday in Iran

June 19th, 2009 - 9:00 pm

And Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has banned the big demonstration called for 4 PM in Tehran.  If you follow Andrew Sullivan’s blog–and you should, if you’re interested in what’s happening in Iran, and also in what’s happening in the ranks of the American Left–you will see that many Iranians fear that Saturday is slated to be a day of bloodshed.

Khamenei did not budge at all.  No concessions.  The elections are legitimate, the results are final.  Moreover, he said, the battle is not between “the people” and “the regime,” it’s between four leaders who all believe in the regime.  The people voted, we counted their votes, and that’s that.  If anyone protests after my sermon, he said, whatever violence ensues is on them.

Which sounds like a promise of violence.  As I said earlier, tens of thousands of Revolutionary Guards have been brought to Tehran to put down the demonstrations.  These are older, well-trained and presumably loyal soldiers who will not shrink from attacking the crowds.  So some of the Iranians on Twitter have written messages that sound like “final thoughts,” not knowing if they will survive Saturday.

This is all the regime has left, because the demonstrations have revealed its hollowness, and the nightly chants of  “God is great” from the rooftops of all major cities in Iran have exposed the collapse of its central doctrine:  that the theocratic fascist system is blessed by Allah.  Millions of Iranians are openly rejecting that.

Khamenei recognizes this, which is why he has committed his own power to the defeat of Mousavi’s movement.  This confirms what I have been arguing, namely that, however Mousavi started, he now leads a revolutionary mass movement that is aimed at the dark heart of the corrupt theocratic fascist state.  When Mousavi asked the huge crowd on Thursday “where are our $300 billion?” he and everyone else knew that was a threat to bring the ruling mullahs to justice, to prosecute them for their thievery.

That led to one of the interesting sub-plots in the Khamenei speech:  the kind words for former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is widely believed to have enriched himself more than any other of the ruling elite.  I think Khamenei was telling Rafsanjani to stick with the system, and not (as has been widely rumored) join the revolution.  What will Rafsanjani do?  The “big story” of recent days was that he had gone to the holy city of Qom to get an endorsement for Mousavi from the senior Ayatollahs.  So far as I know, no such endorsement was issued.  Does this mean that Rafsanjani betrayed Mousavi?  Or simply that the clerics decided to stick with Khamenei?  Perhaps we will know the answer some day.

Meanwhile, there were cracks in the regime’s instruments of repression, and reports of action against the Basij thugs in the night time streets of Tehran.  The latter was picked up by the daily blog at the Guardian, in a post on “Basij hunting” by young activists.  The former came from a group of Revolutionary Guards on their own blog (all of the following was translated by Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi).  At the top of the blog, we read a detailed condemnation of IRGC actions in past years, which is described as a betrayal of their values:

This weblog is for all the guards who have stepped in the direction of lovingly serving the people, our nation and Islam but were killed by the deceit of the cowardly or were led astray. This weblog is for all those guards who still stay steadfast to that form and yet with betrayed hearts and as a result of desperation were witness to the plundering of people’s belongings, were witness to the smuggling of arms and drugs, were witness to the gangs of corrupt guards who did sex-trafficking and sold innocent Iranian girls to the Persian Gulf countries, and….

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The Bottom Line, II

June 19th, 2009 - 12:07 pm

Afshin Ellian writes to Khamenei and speaks truth to power.  Tells him it’s time to step down, that he should play De Klerk to Mousavi’s Mandela.  Asks him to avoid the massive bloodshed that will come if he decides to fight for his power.

The money graph:

Excellency Khamenei, you and I know that no tyranny has ever succeeded in creating a political system that lasts. Your advisors have been misinforming you these past years. They have made you deaf and blind to what is really happening. The truth is that the ruling elite is despised by the people. Your puppet Ahmadinejad, who likes to appeal to Iranians in populist terms, is reviled. If you continue to use violence against your people, then you have obviously learned nothing from the tragic fate of the last shah of Persia.

It’s great.  That first line should be memorized by poli sci students (it’s even more important than those graphs you’re studying), along with Machiavelli’s dictum that tyranny is the most unstable form of government.

Thanks to my wonderful friends at Telos for publishing it.

So NOW What’s Going on in Iran?

June 17th, 2009 - 12:43 pm

Ahmadi-Nezhad has left the country, for one thing.  He’s gone off to meet with some of his Russian friends.  Why?  Who knows?  Maybe he’s looking at rental properties.  But no doubt the Iranians have been talking to the Russians and the Chinese about, uh, “crowd control.”  I don’t think either will have particularly useful ideas for the Iranian revolutionary movement, frankly.  Sending in the tanks might appeal to Khamenei et. al., but there seems to be considerable evidence that the armed forces, even the Revolutionary Guards, are unreliable.  Twitter messages abound in little scenes of friendly exchanges between police and dissidents.  There are even stories of police arresting Basij thugs.  And I haven’t seen a single account of Army repression.  Quite the contrary;  the Army seems to be trying to protect the dissidents by separating their would-be attackers from the demonstrators.

It seems that tomorrow, Thursday, will be the first big showdown.  The regime is massing two Revolutionary Guards divisions for an assault on the dissidents–something like twenty thousand soldiers from outside Tehran–and the Mousavi people don’t want to give them time to organize and prepare their attacks.  No doubt there are all kinds of secret meetings going on, as the various military, militia, religious and political leaders try to read the chicken entrails and guess their destiny.  I don’t envy them the very brutal choice they now face, for despite some embarrassingly silly opeds in places like the NY Times

JUST after Iran’s rigged elections last week, with hundreds of thousands of protesters taking to the streets, it looked as if a new revolution was in the offing. Five days later, the uprising is little more than a symbolic protest, crushed by the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

the most powerful leaders in Iran are facing a life or death showdown.  Both Khamenei and Mousavi–the two opposed icons of the moment, at least–know that they will either win or die.  After nightfall, millions of revolutionaries chant from their rooftops “Allah is Great” and they are chants of defiance hurled at the Islamic Republic.   I cannot imagine a soft landing.

Meanwhile, the regime is rounding up political leaders and killing dissidents.  More than two score former VIPs of the regime are now in jail, according to the data given Khamenei, which lists the surprisingly low number of 36 dead over the past four and a half days.  Given their paranoia of young people, and especially educated youth, it is no surprise that university campuses have been invaded, and anyone who looks like a “student” is attacked.  This heart-rending letter has been circulating most of the day online (I posted it on The Corner):

I am a medical student. There was chaos last night at the trauma section in one of our main hospitals. Although by decree, all riot-related injuries were supposed to be sent to military hospitals, all other hospitals were filled to the rim. Last night, nine people died at our hospital and another 28 had gunshot wounds. All hospital employees were crying till dawn. They (government) removed the dead bodies on back of trucks, before we were even able to get their names or other information. What can you even say to the people who don’t even respect the dead. No one was allowed to speak to the wounded or get any information from them. This morning the faculty and the students protested by gathering at the lobby of the hospital where they were confronted by plain cloths anti-riot militia, who in turn closed off the hospital and imprisoned the staff. The extent of injuries are so grave, that despite being one of the most staffed emergency rooms, they’ve asked everyone to stay and help—I’m sure it will even be worst tonight.

What can anyone say in face of all these atrocities? What can you say to the family of the 13 year old boy who died from gunshots and whose dead body then disappeared?

This issue is not about cheating(election) anymore. This is not about stealing votes anymore. The issue is about a vast injustice inflicted on the people.

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So How’s it Going in Iran?

June 15th, 2009 - 7:53 pm

To start with, the BBC, long considered a shill for the regime by most Iranian dissidents, estimates between one and two million Tehranis demonstrated against the regime on Monday.  That’s a big number.  So we can say that, at least for the moment, there is a revolutionary mass in the streets of Tehran.  There are similar reports from places like Tabriz and Isfahan, so it’s nationwide.

For its part, the regime ordered its (Basij and imported Hezbollah) thugs to open fire on the demonstrators.  The Guardian, whose reporting from Iran has always been very good (three correspondents expelled in the last ten years, they tell me), thinks that a dozen or so were killed on Monday.  And the reports of brutal assaults against student dormitories in several cities are horrifying, even by the mullahs’ low standards.

Western governments have expressed dismay at the violence, and Obama, in his eternally narcissistic way, said that he was deeply disturbed by it, and went on to add that freedom of speech, etc., were universal values and should be respected by the mullahs.  I would have preferred a strong statement of condemnation–stressing the evil of killing peaceful demonstrators–but he finally said something.

He probably thinks he’s in a bind (he isn’t, actually).  He probably thinks that if he condemns the violence, and the regime wins, that will lessen his chances to strike the Grand Bargain he so avidly desires.  Somebody might remind him that Ronald Reagan was unstinting in his criticism of the Soviet Union (“The Evil Empire”), but negotiated no end of bargains with them, including quite dramatic arms reductions.

It’s always better to assert American values, both because he’s our president and he should be speaking for all of us, and because catering to the tender sensibilities of the murders in Iran won’t gain anything.  It will only increase their contempt.

What’s going to happen?, you ask.  Nobody knows, even the major actors.  The regime has the guns, and the opposition has the numbers.  The question is whether the numbers can be successfully organized into a disciplined force that demands the downfall of the regime.  Yes, I know that there have been calls for a new election, or a runoff between Mousavi and Ahmadinezhad.  But I don’t think that’s very likely now.  The tens of millions of Iranians whose pent-up rage has driven them to risk life and limb against their oppressors are not likely to settle for a mere change in personnel at this point.  And the mullahs surely know that if they lose, many of them will face a very nasty and very brief future.

If the disciplined force comes into being, the regime will fall.  If not, the regime will survive.  Can Mousavi lead such a force?  If anyone had said, even a few days ago, that Mousavi would lead a nation-wide insurrection, he’d have been laughed out of the room.  Very few foresaw anything like the current situation, although I will claim credit for predicting that neither side in the electoral circus would accept the official verdict.

Does Mousavi even want to change the system?  I think he does, and in any event, I think that’s the wrong question.  He is not a revolutionary leader, he is a leader who has been made into a revolutionary by a movement that grew up around him.  The real revolutionary is his wife, Zahra Rahnavard.  And the real question, the key question in all of this, is:  why did Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei permit her to become such a charismatic figure?  How could he have made such a colossal blunder?  It should have been obvious that the very existence of such a woman threatened the dark heart of the Islamic Republic, based as it is on the disgusting misogyny of its founder, the Ayatollah Khomeini.

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