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Monthly Archives: November 2010

Cablegate? I Kinda Like It, Actually

November 29th, 2010 - 7:13 am

Shortly before I went to work at the State Department, back in the last century, I asked Henry Kissinger for advice, and he had quite a bit of it.  One terse statement has stayed with me:  “the only reason to write a memo is to have it leaked.”

He wasn’t the first to say that (I’m sure Talleyrand said something very similar), and I have no doubt that some of the “classified” cables were written specifically for that purpose.  But even though some of the reported remarks of foreign leaders were undoubtedly given to Americans in order to deceive us or manipulate us, still and all I find the cables I’ve read so far to be very helpful to anyone trying to understand the world.

It will no doubt annoy the Israel haters no end to discover that Arab leaders seem to be even more concerned about Iran than the crowd in Jerusalem, for example.  And it’s very helpful for everyone to see that the “Axis of Evil” was real–the strategic cooperation on missiles and nukes between Iran and North Korea (with Chinese complicity) was intense.

No surprise that the cables have been denounced as “mischief” by Ahmadinejad, since they document the fraudulent electoral “results” that gave him a second term, and present the ghastly details of Iran’s use of the Muslim version of the Red Cross for espionage and murder in Iraq.  Indeed, if I wanted to invent evidence to document the case against Iran that I have been making for twenty years or more, I could not have done better than the State Department cables just released.

Two thoughts:

First, it would save the world a lot of time and trouble if most of this stuff were published, rather than classified.

Second, the leakers should be punished violently.  It has to be possible for our leaders to talk privately, both among themselves and with foreigners.  If it’s all going to be leaked, candor will vanish and we will be locked into a wilderness of mirrors.

More later.

Harvard Endorses Iran on ‘Arab Weekend’

November 24th, 2010 - 12:00 pm

Last Thursday-through-Sunday was “Harvard Arab Weekend” in Cambridge, Massachusetts, featuring a glittering array of speakers from Harvard President Drew Faust and Queen Noor of Jordan to Saudi Prince Turki al Faisal al Saud.  The event unfolded in two stages, first at the Kennedy School and then, on Sunday, at the Business School, where, rather surprisingly, there was a distinctly non-Arab panel discussion entitled “Business Success in Iran: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Opportunities.”

What was Iran doing in the middle of an “Arab weekend”?  Certainly the organizers know that there are only a very few Iranian Arabs, and that more than 90 percent are non-Arabs like Persians, Azeris, Balouch, Kurds, Azerbaijanis and so forth.  The description of the session on Iran sounded like an appeal to businessmen to get involved in the Islamic Republic.  The program notes remarked that “the global business community has often times shied away from understanding and exploring opportunities in today’s Iran,” and the panel promised to “highlight success stories and draw lessons learned from entrepreneurs who have overcome the country’s unique obstacles.”

Two of the three panelists (Siamak Namazi and Rouzbeh Pirouz) could certainly have been expected to paint an optimistic vision of money-making opportunities in the Islamic Republic.  The third, the Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour, has compared the Islamic Republic with Stalin’s Soviet Union, and likely sounded a more critical note.  Messrs Namazi and Pirouz work in Tehran, and both have stoutly defended the Iranian regime against Western critics.  Indeed, Mr. Namazi, who has a consulting firm in Tehran, is the cofounder of the National Iranian American Congress (NIAC), which has long pushed for American détente with the Iranian regime and opposed American sanctions.  NIAC has been accused of receiving money from the Tehran regime, and lobbying on its behalf. Mr. Pirouz runs a small fund for foreign investors, and has every interest in presenting a benign image of Iran.  I was unable to find out precisely what was said, since Harvard claimed the whole thing had been run by students and their numbers were unavailable.  Mr Sadjadpour didn’t return a phone call, and none of the students responded to emails.  But, barring an amazing conversion, the two long-time supporters of the regime undoubtedly…supported the regime.

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Sex Scandals

November 22nd, 2010 - 6:57 pm

Many years ago, il Corriere della Sera, Italy’s leading newspaper, ran a column in which the author ruminated about the grim news coming out of Great Britain:  some leading politician was caught in a sexual liaison and his career was ruined.  The Italian columnist remarked bitterly that this was only the latest in a long series of wonderful such scandals, going back to the John Profumo-Christine Keeler saga (1963).  Imagine ! he said, the Brits were drowning in sex at the highest level of society, while in Italy — the home of the “Latin lover” — there hadn’t been a decent sex scandal for years, maybe decades.

I quoted that column in 1983, when the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi became prime minister of Italy.  “Now there is hope,” I wrote.  The years of boring, sexless Christian Democrats were finally over, and Italy had a PM worthy of the national stereotype.  Very little was written about Craxi’s strong affections for the opposite sex, but it played a small role in a famous event in 1985 known as the Achille Lauro affair.  An Italian cruise ship of that name was hijacked by a gang of Palestinian terrorists, and one of the passengers, an American Jew by the name of Leon Klinghoffer, was pushed overboard in his wheelchair.  Subsequently, the terrorists forced the ship to Egypt, where they commandeered a plane and took off for Tunis, where the Palestinian Liberation Organization was headquartered. We sent some fighter planes to intercept the flight, and forced it north, towards a NATO base in Sigonella, Sicily.  The plan was to have the terrorists either arrested and held in Italy, or turned over to US Special Forces and brought to Washington for trial.  Either way, Craxi — who was very pro-Palestinian — would have to give his ok for the planes (the terrorists’ and ours) to land on Italian soil.

It was late at night when the American Embassy in Rome tried to reach Craxi by telephone, but they couldn’t get through.  Hours went by, and the planes were running out of gas.  Robert McFarlane, the national security adviser, ordered me to “do something” (Craxi was a close personal friend of mine), and I called the Raphael Hotel in Rome, where he occupied the penthouse.  I managed to get his personal assistant on the phone, who told me Craxi wasn’t there and couldn’t be reached.  “Listen,” I said (I’m paraphrasing here), “this is a serious matter, and if people die tonight because you’re telling me he isn’t there, when in reality he’s in bed with the usual [woman] in the next room, your picture will be on the front page of every newspaper in the world tomorrow….”  And just like that, Craxi was on the line.  Problem solved.  (Well, kinda solved;  the top terrorist was smuggled out of Italy, but the others served jail sentences.)

You needed to know about the passions of the PM.

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Things are tough for the regime in Iran, and are likely to get tougher.  The latest sign of concern at the top is yet another delay in canceling the subsidies on gasoline, a clear sign of concern that the country’s long-suffering drivers might demonstrate their unhappiness.  The end of subsidies is supposed to be mitigated by direct cash payments to “all” citizens, but nobody believes that the regime will be fair;  odds are very long that friendlies will get the cash, while critics will get stiffed.

Meanwhile, the paranoid tyrants have just banned lighting candles at birthday parties (really), because it’s one of those subversive “western” things that a proper Islamic Republic won’t tolerate.  And thirty of the celebrated dervishes of Isfahan –gentle souls who spin themselves into mystical trances — have just been locked up to protect Iranians from … well, I don’t really know from what.  So, no music, no dancing, no candles.  I suppose there will still be a bit of chanting in Arabic.

This sort of frantic and senseless brutality is justified by an appeal to danger.  Last week the defenders of Iranian soil announced that

unidentified foreign planes violated its airspace six times as the country kicked off its biggest ever air defense drill but that the intruders were intercepted and forced back by Iranian jets.

The remarks by Gen. Hamid Arjangi, a spokesman for the exercise, were the first Iranian claim of an intrusion. Initially, he had only said that foreign reconnaissance planes had approached Iran’s air space.

Not surprisingly, there was no confirmation, and in the recent past such announcements have been accompanied by shoot-downs of “enemy aircraft” that turned out to be the Iranians’ own planes.

No foreign power was blamed for the intrusion, and so far as I can tell, the regime fears most everyone on the planet.  It’s hard to find a foreign country this side of Pyongyang that meets with the approval of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader denounced “Zionist India” as part of his Haj message to the world’s Muslims:

Today the major duties of the elite of the Islamic Ummah is to provide help to the Palestinian nation and the besieged people of Gaza, to sympathize and provide assistance to the nations of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Kashmir, to engage in struggle and resistance against the aggressions of the United States and the Zionist regime, to safeguard the solidarity of Muslims and stop tainted hands and mercenary voices that try to damage this unity .…

The Europeans are not only denounced, but their citizens are attacked: French diplomats were beaten up in Tehran, and two German journalists from Bild am Sonntag were snatched on the street and are now facing espionage charges.  And two Africans — a Nigerian and a Ghanaian — were executed for no apparent reason, although there may be some connection with Nigeria’s highly publicized discovery of significant quantities of arms and drugs in the port of Lagos.  The shipments were apparently supposed to be routed through The Gambia, and while there has been some speculation that the cargo would then move on to some other hot spot (Afghanistan?), it’s more likely that it, and other shipments that were not discovered, were headed for contending factions in the upcoming Nigerian elections.  As they did in Iraq, the Iranians love to arm both sides in ethnic conflicts, in order to increase their own political leverage.  The drugs serve a dual purpose:  to pay off the recipients, and to stimulate fighters to take risks that no sober person would consider.

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I sometimes wonder where some of our smartest people get their ideas.  Take Defense Secretary Bob Gates, for example.  Discussing the possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear weapons facilities, he said: “And if it’s a military solution, as far as I’m concerned, it will bring together a divided nation, it will make them absolutely committed to attaining nuclear weapons and they will just go deeper and more covert.”

I don’t get it.  Is there some sort of evidence? What could it possibly be, aside from the sort I get from my Ouija board?  So I try to imagine one of the tens of millions of Iranian opponents of the regime. Perhaps he’s got a relative in prison; he probably knows people who have lost a family member or two to the regime’s killers and torturers.  He dreams of a free Iran, of an end to the humiliating circumstances in which Iranians now find themselves: widely considered to be terrorists, barbarians, and savages. And then one day somebody blows up a bunch of nuclear labs, some secret military installations, and RG headquarters in the major cities. Does that guy now rally round the supreme leader? I don’t think so.

Not that I’m trying to talk Gates into bombing Iran;  quite the opposite, in fact.  Our greatest weapon is political, and consists in the overwhelming majority of Iranians who hate the regime.  If we supported them with vigor and a sense of humor, I think the regime would be overthrown and we wouldn’t have to worry about the “military option.”  But we don’t hear any vigorous support for the democratic opposition from this administration.  And more to the point, nothing concrete is done for them.  (I can tell you a few stories about OFAC’s refusal to permit would-be supporters to help the Green Movement, for example).

In the old days, Gates was a great analyst, but I think he has decided to be a blind man when it comes to Iran.  He said a few other astonishing things as well.  “We even have some evidence,” he said, “evidence that Khamenei is beginning to wonder if Ahmedinejad is lying to him about the impact of the sanctions on the economy, and whether he’s getting the straight scoop in terms of how much trouble the economy really is in.”

I think I can help the secretary of Defense here:  Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei doesn’t believe anything President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says about anything.  He knows he is not going to get the straight scoop from the man most Iranians refer to, not with great affection, as the chimpanzee.  Khamenei only listens to a handful of people, including his son and designated successor, and members of his inner circle who have names like Larijani and Jaffari.

For the record, Khamenei said today that he and the Chimp get along famously, and the sanctions aren’t affecting much of anything in the Islamic Republic.

Khamenei’s lying.  He knows that the country’s going to ruin. Just read this, which tells of a secret analysis prepared for Khamenei, and which predicts the total collapse of the national economy in the near future.

  • According to Les Echos, oil income, which constitutes two thirds of the country’s income, was harmed by the departure of the Western companies after they were forced by the United States Treasury to choose between their interests in the U.S. and those in Iran. The French Total, Dutch Shell, Norwegian Statoil, and Italian ENI companies suspended their investments, and the Japanese Inpex may do the same shortly. Lack of foreign maintenance and spare parts affected oil production, the rate of which decreased from 4.2 million barrels per day in the middle of 2009 to 3.5 million barrels in the summer of 2010.
  • Even the Turks are failing to deliver on their promise to supply gasoline (of which the Turks normally provide half);  they stopped deliveries at the end of August. The fuel now comes from Turkmenistan, China, and Venezuela, or is smuggled in from Iraq.
  • At the end of September, the Korean Kia and German Thyssen followed Daimler, Toyota, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard, and suspended their activities. Munich Re, Allianz, and Lloyds now refuse to insure cargos and planes that transfer supplies to Iran, while funding foreign trade is becoming more complicated, since most of the banks avoid all contact with Iran.
  • The banks in the UAE, which half of the Iranian import goes through, broke off all connections with the country two weeks ago, leading to a shortage of dollars (and a sudden increase of the dollar rate to 10.900 rial). On Saturday, the regime warned that it will suppress the demonstrations and strikes by the merchants that will most likely break out after the costly subsidies on consumption of food and fuel products (10 percent of the GNP) are cancelled…
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235 Years Young (The Marines)

November 10th, 2010 - 8:51 am

We have two sons and both decided to become Marine officers.  Being a Marine dad is the most intense mixture of pride and anxiety I can imagine, and in fact you (or at least I) couldn’t imagine it until you actually experience it.

On the one hand, your child has become a legend, because there really is nothing like the Marine Corps (not, as our uneducated president once put it, the Marine “corpse”). Just ask our enemies.  During the first battle of Fallujah (2004) an intercepted radio transmission from an al Qaeda terrorist to his commander said it all:

“We are fighting but the Marines keep coming…We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop.”

I could have told them that the Marines are trained to attack if ambushed.  Hell, they’re trained to attack, period.

On the other hand, precisely because they are always attacking, it’s very hard to sleep, or to get your blood pressure anywhere near normal.  You know that  old saw, there are no atheists in the foxholes?  Well it’s true of their parents too.  We pray a lot.

But today we celebrate.  And we drink beer (the Marines were founded in a bar, and the tradition lives on;  beer is served in the Marine Museum down in Quantico, which you should visit).

Happy 235th, guys and gals.


All Politics Is Global

November 3rd, 2010 - 8:38 pm

It’s fashionable for the political consultants and their media co-conspirators to say that “all politics is local,” but they are beating their own professional drums.  Much of the time — and especially in revolutionary moments like this one — politics is global.

Step back a few few paces and look down at the Western world from the moon.  Don’t you see a political pattern?  Most everywhere, the right is gaining and the left is losing strength.  England went from left to center-right.  Canada went from left to right.  France has been right for quite a while.  Italy has been mostly right, and Germany went from left to right a few years back.  In Australia, Kevin Rudd, the leftist Labor Party’s prime minister, went from the most popular leader in the country’s history at the beginning of the year, to a loser purged by his own colleagues in the summer.  His successor, Julia Gillard, squeaked through an election and holds a wispy 2-seat majority.  Portugal’s Socialist Prime Minister Socrates (not to be confused with the great Brazilian soccer star of the same name) lost about 10 points in the last election, and Spain’s Zapatero lost votes in his reelection.

Prior to Tuesday, the most dramatic example of this trend was in Holland, where a new center-right government has been formed, and where the previously tarred and feathered Geert Wilders is now making policy.  Our legislative elections took the process a step farther.

The dimensions of the shift towards the right make it what historians call a paradigm shift.  We are somewhere in transition from a world we understood and whose rules were fairly well established — the bipolar world of the Cold War in which the two great powers made most all the key decisions — to a world we cannot yet define.  Yes, it’s said to be “globalized,” but that doesn’t tell us how the key decisions will be made or who the main actors will be once the new paradigm is in place.  We do know that there are more global players than before, we suspect that the welfare state has got to go, and we certainly know that the wildly self-indulgent version of the nanny state is too expensive, even for rich countries like the United States.  Right now we’re trying to get a grip on things, from our budgets to our national security, but we do not yet know the new rules.  And how could we?  They haven’t been written yet.

And that’s what the fighting — political at home, military and spooky around the globe — is all about.  We want to shape the new world, not passively wait for it to take form, right?  And that’s true of the competing and conflicting forces from the jihadis to the Jews, from the libertarians to the advocates of soft tyranny, from the Chinese to the rednecks.

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