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Monthly Archives: July 2010

The increasingly incoherent leaders of Iran have long claimed that their domestic opponents are taking orders from a secret foreign group. Sometimes I think they make such statements because they really believe them, other times I think they have to say such things because if they admitted the truth – that the vast majority of Iranians hate the regime – they would have to pack up and go to North Korea.

But President Ahmadinejad’s latest sortie seems to me to establish a new standard for dementia, as he has now attacked Paul, the celebrated prophetic German octopus, as an agent of Western propaganda and psychological warfare.

You may have missed the events that propelled Paul to international celebrity. Briefly, he correctly called the outcome of several soccer games in the recent World Cup, including the final. Shortly after of the tournament, Paul was asked to choose the winner between Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and opposition Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.  Paul unhesitatingly chose Mousavi (for those curious about the details, Paul was placed halfway between two mussels, one with Khamenei’s picture on it, the other with Mousavi’s.  Whichever Paul ate first was deemed the winner).

I hope that Paul has good security. Iranians have killed their enemies in Germany before.  The soccer-loving Oracle of Oberhausen deserves a long and satisfying life.

The Brothel Named Iran

July 26th, 2010 - 7:14 pm

I’ll bet you haven’t seen very much news about Iran during the past week or 10 days, have you? And yet there’s lots of news:

First of all, there is still no end to the bazaar strike, even though the regime has taken very violent action against the strikers. A large part of the beautiful bazaar in Kerman has been torched (for that matter, regime thugs have taken to setting ablaze large sections of forest land in the region.) Nor will the bazaar strikes end soon, since this week marks religious celebrations that traditionally close the bazaars all over the country.

The major natural gas pipeline between Iran and Turkey was sabotaged. Enormous damage was done, and the authorities have no estimate as to how long it will be until repair work is finished. Meanwhile the two countries announced plans for a brand-new pipeline.

Saturday – Sunday night there was a serious fire at the old petrochemical plant on Kharq island. That island is very important to Iran, because it is at once the central point from which Iranian crude oil is exported, and one end of the major pipeline that carries crude and refined products to the mainland. So anything that goes wrong there has immediate consequences both for the national economy and for daily life.

You may recall that a bit over a week ago, amidst the continuing strikes at major bazaars around the country, there was a double suicide terrorist attack against the mosque in Zahedan, killing nearly 30 revolutionary guards. That unhappy city is still in a state of virtual military occupation, of the most brutal variety. Innocent civilians have been gunned down for the crime of walking at night, and plainclothes killers have gone door to door among the homes of bazaar shopkeepers, killing anyone who answers the bell.  Here’s an exceptionally well written report:

The IRI kills the Rigi brothers, a few weeks apart, without proper trial, without even considering the possibility that giving Rigi a death penalty together with a pardon and a life term in prison, will have served the country far better than his death. The IRI is behaving like a savage barbarian; one matching the rogue elements of Jundollah; primitive, uncultured, mercurial!

So Jundollah sends suicide bombers and IRI sends thugs to the streets of Zahedan, the city of kind people, open minded people, mountain and desert people, city of smuggled goodies, city of white Sunni mosques, and dusty parks. The thugs, (the) report says, have been kniving people. These knife thrusters would be of the same ilk that was unleashed on Tehranis in Ashura: they are most likely Ahmadinejad’s products from the “rehabilitation program” that found “convicted criminals” a useful job in the society.

According to local observers, these knife-pushers are the worst of all: they seem to target Balouchis randomly, and beat them up for no reason–further fueling the ethnic resentments and convictions that the Balouch are discriminated against.

It has been a very hot summer, and the electrical grid in and around Tehran has given up the ghost many times, especially in recent weeks. Not only have citizens suddenly found their lights and air conditioning out-sometimes for half the day or night–but the two big automobile factories have already reduced production by one full shift a day.  The president has publicly blamed the problem on foreigners, as is his wont, but his problems are local.

As the regime increasingly wages war against itself, the comings and goings of seemingly powerful people have become almost impossible to sort out. There have been repeated purges in the ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, and the supreme commander, Gen. Jafari, has now publicly stated that many senior officers had actively sided with the opposition. Why then, the general was asked, had he not punished them properly (with torture and death)? His answer was telling: it’s better to convince them of the error of their ways.

This is a surprising answer, to be sure, but after all it is the same answer that the supreme leader has implicitly given to the much asked question: why have you not properly punished the leaders of the Green Movement, Mousavi and Karroubi? In both cases, the regime is afraid to move decisively against their opponents. Khamenei & Co. are real tough guys when it comes to torturing and killing students, political activists, homosexuals, Bahais, Christians and women. But even when it comes to their favorite targets — the women — they retreat in the face of strong protests, as in the recent case when they suspended the stoning of a poor woman unfairly accused of adultery.  Her plight has attracted international attention, and the regime backed off.

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Iran and the Plot to Blow Up JFK Airport

July 22nd, 2010 - 7:59 pm

You may recall that back in 2007, some arrests were made in New York City in connection with a terrorist plan to blow up fuel tanks at Kennedy Airport. Now, three years later, the trial is on, and you can read about it – indeed you must read about it — in the — get this! — local news section of the New York Times. It is indeed quite a story, and it is written by one A.G. Sulzberger, a surname that undoubtedly gets due respect at the Times.  But it’s tucked away under local news instead of appearing on the front page, for reasons best left to the editors (although I have a pretty good guess about the main reason).

According to the story, one of the accused, a former official in Guyana by the name of Abdul Kadir, was wired to the government of Iran.  After first denying that he had been in touch with Iranian officials in Venezuela, Kadir admitted the contacts. Indeed, he was arrested in Trinidad three years ago while en route to Iran via Caracas.

Kadir insisted, at least for a while, that his intimacy with the Islamic Republic was religious, not political.  He sent several of his kids to Iran for religious study (someone with a suspicious turn of spirit might suspect they were being indoctrinated and trained to follow in their dad’s clawsteps).

That suspicious soul would find confirmation in the explosive discovery that Amir Kadir had had extensive communications with one Mohsen Rabbani, the Iranian “diplomat” indicted in connection with the terrorist attack on the Jewish Social Center in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the mid-1990s.

That’s quite a connection, don’t you think?   If I were Mr. Sulzberger’s editor, I’d have hammered home that point:  “accused terrorist in cahoots with Iranian terror master,” or some such.

Actually,  the late lamented New York Sun was all over this story at the time of the initial arrests. Eli Lake, now a star at the Washington Times, said it very well back in 2007:

If Iran’s hand is found behind the JFK airport plot, it would raise an alarm about the Islamic Republic’s recent alliances with America’s hemispheric enemies. Since the 2005 ascendance of President Ahmadinejad in Iran, the Iranian regime has strengthened ties with such leaders as President Castro of Cuba, President Chavez of Venezuela, and even President Reagan’s one-time foe, President Ortega of Nicaragua.

Mr. Chavez, for example, has signed a series of cooperation agreements with Iran and allowed Iranian television producers to consult on Venezuela’s plan to offer a Spanish-language satellite television station. The Venezuelans have also allowed the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which receives funds and guidance from Tehran, to operate openly in their country.

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Wanna Fight? How About Sushi at 3 Paces?

July 21st, 2010 - 12:41 pm

I see where the Secret Order of Right-thinking Essayists (SORE), in the happy hours after the election of Obama, thrilled one another by packaging their (wish fulfillment) dreams as fanciful proposals.  One of the clearest signs of their incompetence is the belief–unchallenged in the transcript provided–that I exercise enormous power, even to the point where I am credited with Svengali-like power over Michael Barone.

Trust me, I sit at his feet, not the other way around.  We all should.

There is one little item that might be worth a followup, the one where a Mr Spencer Ackerman proposes that I should be thrown against a wall, or through a plate glass window.  Is that hate speech, by the way?  Is Eric Holder moving to impanel a grand jury?  (Just kidding).

Maybe it would be better to have sushi.  So if Ackerman reads this, he should feel free to set a date.  There’s a good sushi place across the street.  He can buy, and I’ll provide some space and Diet Coke at FDD.

What say?  Yes, there are a couple of suitable windows…

UPDATE:  I got a very straightforward apology from Spencer Ackerman and a dinner invitation.  Well done by him.  I, of course, am holding out for the sushi.  We’ll see…

UPDATE II:  it’s off.  he says his editor wanted the lunch off the record, and I said I don’t talk off the record…so we shall see.

First things first:  so far as I know, the bazaars are still on strike. And yes, I know that the Los Angeles Times said it was over a couple of days ago, but for once I think they have it wrong. As of Sunday night, Iran time, the grand bazaar in Tehran, and those in Isfahan, and above all Tabriz, were all closed. Indeed, even many stores outside the bazaar in Tabriz were shut, and I have been receiving reports for several days claiming that a merchants’strike is spreading throughout East Azerbaijan.  In the last few days, the bazaar in Mashad — a city of enormous religious importance to the regime — has also shut down, at least in part.

It takes a lot of nerve for the bazaaris to go on strike, since they and their families have been repeatedly threatened by regime thugs. Not, mind you, in a general way, but very directly and personally; their houses are visited by security officials and their families are called to warn of dire consequences if they do not open their stores. So far, the threats have failed.

Moreover, in the city of Zahedan — where the murderous suicide attacks took place last week (the best coverage, as usual, was from Banafsheh, who was first with the pictures of the killers) — the Revolutionary Guards control things during the day, but once night falls, anti–regime forces, many of them armed, take to the streets. In short, the people have lost their fear.  The regime may very well arrest them, beat them, torture them, and kill them, but it is getting more and more difficult to control them.

Very few news stories noticed the two most significant aspects of the bombing at the Zahedan mosque. The first was the regime’s panicky reaction: at first they announced, correctly, that the attack had been carried out by Balouch fighters. Then they realized that this was bad for the regime, since they had bragged for some time that the Revolutionary Guards had shut down all possibility of protest, following last year’s devastating suicide bombing of a big RG meeting in the region. So they quickly changed their story, reverting to the party line that anything bad in Iran is the fault of the Satanic forces embodied in the United States and Israel.

The second key feature of the attack in Zahedan was the day on which it occurred: it was Pasdar day, the occasion of celebrating the great strength and virtue of the Revolutionary Guards. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei himself had delivered the official tribute that very morning in the capital.  The suicide bombing showed that the regime is not in control of the situation, and that the people have not accepted its authority.

Not that the regime has stopped trying; in a spasm of repressive regulations that would make even the mayor of New York City jealous, the mullahs announced a new crackdown on un-Islamic dress for the women (leading one commentator to remark that it is now officially a crime to be female in Iran), stipulated permissible hairstyles for the men, forbade smoking in executive branch offices, and, in one of those executive orders that leaves you breathless, banned sexual intercourse during daylight hours. Sex in Iran is now kosher — sorry, halal — only during  the night. Apparently, the authorities have not contemplated the political consequences of sexual frustration among a famously young population, but then this regime has already had devastating effects on the psychology of the Iranian people.  According to an Iranian research institute, Aria,  an amazing 58% of Tehran residents suffer from depression, and the chief of police there announced that nearly half a million are addicted to drugs, while unemployment, which is particularly severe among young people and college graduates, is now at 14%.

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Note to Secretary Gates, General Petraeus, and Admiral Mullen:

Our refusal to see the big war that we are actually fighting is making your commanders in the field very nervous. In another one of those little stories that appear just once and then vanish into the pit of Newspeak, General Odierno pointed out that the Iranians are still after our guys in Iraq, and we are making things easier for them.

The U.S. military is beefing up security around its bases in Iraq in anticipation of Iranian-backed militants looking to score propaganda points by attacking American soldiers leaving the country, the U.S. commander said Tuesday.

Gen. Ray Odierno said the Iranian threat to U.S. forces has increased as Tehran looks to boost its political and economic influence in Iraq in the face of a decreasing U.S. military presence.

Well of course they are. And they are doing the same thing in Afghanistan. And Somalia. And they are going to keep it up until something, or someone, makes them stop. There’s not much doubt about what they’re doing; just listen to Gen. Odierno:

the people that are getting ready to conduct this attack went back, got special training in Iran, they came back (to Iraq), and we knew that there were experts sent from Iran into Iraq to help them to do this in the last month or so…

Let’s put it in simple language: the Iranians are doing everything they can to kill Americans. These are your soldiers and our children, and while the politicians and journalists rarely mention this unpleasant fact, your sworn duty is to defend them, and to strike at our enemies. Your commander in Iraq is obviously trying to get somebody’s attention back here in Washington.

Are you not obliged to underline the seriousness of his words and design a strategy to win the real war, the big war, in which Iran is the central enemy? The regime in Iran is wobbly, the ranks of the opposition are swelling, and yet our government — which has been so eager to talk to the tyrants and killers inTehran– has yet to talk to the leaders of the opposition.  Are you not obliged to make this case to your political commanders?

Perhaps you have.  If so, and we don’t know about it, it’s just about the only thing in town that hasn’t been leaked…you’re going to have to win on that battlefield, too.

Jim Lobe has probably devoted most of his time for the past decade “exposing” what he takes to be the enormous and malevolent influence of “neoconservatives” on American foreign policy.  And yet he doesn’t have the time to listen to what some of us say.  Thus, in his latest sortie, warning that the “neocons” are beating the drums for war with Iran, he writes:

Since the Jun. 12, 2009 disputed elections and the emergence of the opposition Green Movement in Iran, a few neo- conservatives, notably Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), have argued that a military attack could prove counter-productive by rallying an otherwise discontented – and possibly rebellious – population behind the regime.

I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe I ever wrote or said it.  I really can’t imagine that those Iranians who are risking their careers, their limited freedoms and all too often their lives, will rally round the hated regime when somebody else attacks that very regime.

My opposition to a military attack on Iran is quite different.  I oppose it because I think it is the wrong way to destroy the regime.  I favor supporting the democratic revolutionaries, which no Western country has done, and which reactionaries like Jim Lobe either oppose or ignore.  I support the Iranian people against the regime, and I want my government to do the same.  I said that throughout the Bush years–not, as Mr. Lobe would have it, only since the fraudulent Iranian “elections” last June–and I am still saying it in the Obama years.

The Lobes of this world pretend they are “progressives,” but they are the opposite.   It’s intuitively obvious–isn’t it?–that such folks are simply defending a tyrannical status quo, and are therefore reactionary and counterrevolutionary.  True progressives support freedom.

Since he’s so taken with the subject, here’s a question for Jim Lobe:  How did it happen that advocates of democratic revolution are called “conservatives,”  while defenders of the oppressive status quo call themselves “progressives?”  Isn’t it backwards?

Revolution, Iranian and Otherwise

July 12th, 2010 - 7:10 pm

Tell the truth: you don’t really know what a revolution looks like, do you? Chances are that if anybody asked you, you’d conjure up some picture including the storming of the Bastille, or the great assault on the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, or the like. A big, melodramatic scene involving big crowds attacking corrupt leaders and culminating in revolutionary banners flying from the ramparts.

And sometimes it really is just like that, although, more often than not, those big scenes either never happen or come only after a lot of hard work, much of it very undramatic, like drafting documents, debating within the revolutionary ranks, challenging authority within traditional political boundaries, and the like. Revolutions rarely move in a straight line or at a steady tempo; they ebb and flow. The American colonists spent years challenging the King of England — the first protests against English taxation took place more than 10 years before the Declaration of Independence — and there were many times when firebrands like Tom Paine and Sam Adams despaired of winning our freedom. In like manner, the French revolution advanced in spasms, beginning with moderate demands for political power from the middle classes, and only slowly evolving into open revolt and regicide.

Indeed, there is an enormous literature devoted to the subject of the “revolutionary situation,” and this literature extends from academic scholars to policy planners. I remember once talking to a particularly talented CIA officer about the Soviet Empire, and was surprised and delighted to hear him say: “If we made a checklist of the ingredients of social and political revolution in the Soviet Union, we’d probably check off every one.” This was a good 10 years before Boris Yeltsin removed Mikhail Gorbachev from the Kremlin. He was right, but nobody knew when or precisely how that revolution would take place. But we did know that it was destined to happen. It was so obvious that I wrote a book predicting it.

Violence and Revolution

For most of modern history it was taken for granted that you could not go from dictatorship to democracy without a violent conflict. That was because tyrants had fallen either after losing a war (King George, Czar Nicholas, Hitler, Mussolini) or at the hands of a violent insurrection. That changed in the last quarter of the 20th century, first in Spain and Portugal, then in Latin America, and finally in the Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe, and in some African countries. Thereafter it has been taken for granted that violence is no longer necessary for a successful democratic revolution, and there is a growing literature — some of it analytical, some of it of the “how to do it” variety — on nonviolent revolution.

I do not believe that there are any hard and fast rules about violence and revolution. And I believe that it depends more on circumstances than, for example, on culture. In the years prior to the death of Francisco Franco, for example, most any expert on Spain and indeed most any Spaniard would tell you that when the dictator died, there would be a replay of the Spanish Civil War. “After all,” they would say, “in Spain we kill the bulls.” And yet, there was a velvet revolution in Spain, and considerable violence in Portugal, where they do not kill the bulls.

The Charismatic Leader

Students of revolution also love to talk about leadership. Many of them will tell you that you can’t have a successful revolution without a charismatic leader. This is largely a legacy of the 20th century, which saw lots of charismatic leaders, from Hitler to Lenin and from Reagan to Pope John Paul. But even in the 20th century, this rule was hardly observed in every case. Was Havel charismatic? Walesa?  Certainly Boris Yeltsin was the very opposite, and Nelson Mandela’s remarkable appeal was hardly the sort that students of charisma have in mind.

Notice that the theory of the charismatic leader is decidedly un-Marxist. The Marxist view of revolution is that it happens spontaneously, once the circumstances are right. In this view, history makes the man, not the other way around.

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Iran Heats Up: The Bazaar Strikes Back

July 8th, 2010 - 6:03 am

The death spiral of the Islamic Republic seems to be gathering momentum. That big fire at a major oil well I told you about last week continues unabated, with big flames and clouds of noxious black smoke pouring out.  And these are the people who offered to clean up the much larger catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

But mere physical disaster is trivial compared to the events that are taking place in Iran.  In the past week, the regime has been confronted with two direct challenges: a strike in the grand bazaar of Tehran, and the very public battle between conflicting elements of the regime for control over the Free University. The strike in the bazaar — protesting a dramatic 70% increase in their taxes — was taken very seriously by the regime, because the supreme leader and his cronies know that if the merchants turned against them it could prove fatal.  Khamenei capitulated within a few hours, just as he had two years ago when the bazaar shut down for an entire week.  This sudden about-face from the supreme leader did not bring order to the country’s markets; the strike continues, which is big news indeed.

The  Tehran bazaar was closed again on Wednesday, and spread to at least two other major cities, Isfahan and Tabriz. The regime reacted violently, sending Revolutionary Guardsmen and Basijis, all in plain clothes, to attack the merchants who had closed their shops. No bullets or clubs this time — the knife has now become the weapon of choice — and the Isfahan bazaar was placed under virtual military occupation.

While the strikes may have begun as a narrowly defined economic protest against new taxes, they soon took on a clear political hue, with chants of “death to the dictator!” ringing out across the bazaar.  The latest report I have says that the strikes will continue Thursday, a religious holiday in any event.

This is a very big deal, and everyone knows it. That is why there is violence — about 80 persons wounded and an unknown number arrested, along with one victim, a very popular merchant in Tehran. Will it spread from the normally pro-regime bazaars to the long-suffering workers in such vital sectors of the national economy as oil and textiles? If it does, the ability of the regime to craft a rational strategy of self-defense will be tested.

Entrail readers will take note that on Tuesday, electricity went out all over Tehran no less than six times, which the regime predictably blamed on sabotage by enemy agents.  And there is a decidedly negative augury on “regime unity.”  Khamenei ran away from deciding the University issue, bravely deciding to leave things as they have been all along. The Free University is a substantial economic and cultural prize, one of the few really big prizes up for grabs in the Shi’ite kleptocracy — most of the others having been gobbled up by the mullahs or by the top brass at the Revolutionary Guards.  As between physical plant and cash flow, the University is worth several billion dollars. Thus, the battle for control.  Khamenei’s failure to take sides leaves both contenders spitting.

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Happy Birthday, Modern World

July 2nd, 2010 - 10:36 am

That’s what the 4th is, the modern world’s birthday.  Those who signed the Declaration knew it was a revolutionary event–rulers must henceforth be accountable to the people, because the people are endowed with God-given rights–and they were right.  Wave after wave of democratic revolution have swept the world ever since.

Today the basic premises of our revolution are under murderous attack from quintessential counterrevolutionaries at home and around the world.  It is too soon to be able to predict the outcome, but we should take some comfort from the fact that the revolutionaries are fighting back.  The counterrevolutionaries did not expect that;  they thought we were weak and feckless, and maybe even wanted to be dominated.  Wrong, as so often over the past two centuries plus.

So as we celebrate, we must remind ourselves, our families and our friends that we are the only truly revolutionary country in the world, and we must continue to fight for the success of the democratic revolution.

One day, we will pass into history, but this is not that day.  We’ve got a lot left if we fight, and we are fighting.