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Monthly Archives: August 2011

“So who has been killing all these Iranian nuclear physicists?” I was talking to the spirit of my old friend James Jesus Angleton, the one-time chief of CIA counterintelligence, via my trusted Ouija board. That device had been out of commission for some time, what with all the “natural” disturbances of life in Washington, DC, but it seems to have recovered nicely from the earthquake and the hurricane, and the familiar gravelly voice came through loud and clear.

JJA:  Well, if I had to bet, I would put the family fortune on the regime’s security forces.

ML:  Not on the Israeli Mossad?

JJA:  No, that would be a surprise to me. Those who think that Mossad killed the physicists are simply reasoning from first principles: Israel wants to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program, these guys were working on Iranian nuclear weapons, therefore the Israelis did it. But for the Israelis to do it requires an amazing ability to operate inside an enemy country, and if in fact they have that ability, they would want to keep it secret until such a time that they wanted to deliver a really major blow. Perhaps in the fullness of time we’ll see Mossad’s capabilities inside Iran, but I do not believe we have seen them yet.

On the other hand, the regime had the means and the opportunity to kill them, and it is very easy to imagine possible motives.

ML: You say “motives,” plural. More than one?

JJA:  Oh yes! (He starts to laugh but segues into a short coughing fit. Wherever he is, Mayor Bloomberg is clearly not in charge.)

For starters, in a country like Iran where paranoia is the true national religion and conspiracy the most common form of worship, the physicists might have been suspected of treason. Did they attend international meetings? One or two did, I believe, and the victims may have asked for visas for additional foreign trips. That would have aroused dark suspicions in high places. So that’s one possible motive.

The easiest motive is politics. The country is in constant turmoil; maybe these physicists were friends of the Green Movement or some dissident cleric, or were reading the wrong sort of material online. It seems that the regime was very good at monitoring citizens’ Internet activities, after all.

ML:  You’re talking about the so-called “man in the middle” scheme to read e-mails, right?

JJA:  Right.  And you can be sure that the regime is using other methods to hack into the Internet and identify Iranians who are working against Khamenei and his crowd.   After all, they are being trained and assisted by the Chinese, who so far as I can tell from this distance are world champs.

We also know that the regime is capable of targeted assassinations, not just the kind of mass brutality we’ve seen in the broad repression. And once you start down that road, as Don Corleone will tell you, you can’t rest easy unless you can assure the silence of all the assassins.

ML:  Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead, right?

JJA:  Well it’s not that bad, whatever Benjamin Franklin thought.  There are secrets.  It’s a question of reliability.  And in Iran, trust is in very short supply, to put it mildly.  Take the case of the guy who just confessed to spying for Israel. You know, the kickboxer. Majid Jamali Fashi.

ML:  I remember, he confessed to spying for Mossad and was sentenced to death recently.  What’s that got to do with the assassination of nuclear scientists?

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Iran’s Two-Front War

August 29th, 2011 - 7:33 pm

While you were busy wondering if Obama could manage the hurricane, the Azeris erupted against the regime.  When they riot in Azerbaijan, it’s a big deal.

The Azeris are — by far — Iran’s biggest tribe. About half of the population is ethnic Persian, and half that number, a quarter of Iranians, are Azeri. We’re talking 15-20 million people, many of whom speak their own language in addition to Farsi. In the videos linked below, most of the chants are in Azeri. The Azeris matter a lot: to take the two most famous examples, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is one, as is Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Moussavi. So when they get upset, it’s worth noticing. Azerbaijan is over in the northwestern part of the country, a hot spot for other reasons as well. (Remember the Kurds?)

The proximate cause of the demonstrations (videos here, here, here, here and here) is the failure of the regime to do anything to save Lake Orumiyeh, the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest salt water lake in the world. It is drying up. Sixty per cent of the lake is gone, and the salt flats are expanding, just as they did in the great ecological disaster back in Soviet days, the Aral Sea. The failure of the regime to do anything to stop this looming catastrophe has convinced many of the locals that the regime actually wants the lake to die, as reflected in their chant of “The lake is taking its final breaths and the Parliament issues its death sentence.”

In all likelihood, the explanation is a combination of the usual extraordinary incompetence of the Iranian regime and the usual corrupt profits derived from public works projects like the several dams that block rivers feeding the lake, and a bridge across it. Local deputies to the Parliament have repeatedly asked the government to do something to save the lake — and with it, the future of the area — but nothing has been done. Hence, the demonstrations.

The Iranian regime is so insecure that any protest, indeed any gathering, is treated as a political threat, and security forces were quick to move in. Demonstrators were beaten up, and 40 or 50 imprisoned. This only further inflamed the demonstrators, who now had an additional reason to denounce their leaders, and the Ansar Bank was burned down in the city of Orumiyeh.

Day by day, the evidence of the ruin the regime has visited upon the Iranian people becomes clearer, as does the simmering rage of the people themselves. Water prices are about to go up 20%, and — in an amazing development — it turns out that nearly half of the dairies in Tehran have closed down, allegedly because of the quantity of imported powdered milk. Lots of Iranians view such developments as confirmation of Ahmadinejad’s recent accusation that the Revolutionary Guards have been using ports under their own control to smuggle foreign goods into the country.  That helps explain the ongoing strikes in major bazaars in Tehran and Isfahan. The textile section of the Tehran bazaar has been shut down by strike action for several weeks, and on Sunday the strikers went to other parts of the bazaar to rally support. This, of course, quickly led to the usual thugs, using the usual methods, to reestablish order. But the strike continues.

“Amnesty”

Meanwhile, the supreme leader has exploited the end of Ramadan to pose as a man of mercy. The regime announced that 100 “political prisoners” would be released, apparently forgetting that every major leader in the country has proclaimed that there are no political prisoners in Iran. In any event, no significant opposition leader is to be released, and many of those coming out were at or near the end of their sentence. This sort of trick doesn’t fool anybody in Iran, and I doubt it will greatly impress the American government, especially after the Iranian regime sentenced the two American hikers to eight years in prison.

In like manner, the regime is posing as a would-be peacemaker in Syria, saying that the Assad tyranny should respect the desires of the Syrian people. That, too, is a trick, because no sooner have the words left the mouth of the Iranian foreign minister than he immediately proclaims: ” … but there will be dire consequences if there are any changes in the Syrian government.”  He adds:

Syria has highly-sensitive neighbors and therefore (any) change in Syria will not bring good influence to anyone and can create serious regional crisis which could spread beyond the region.

For those who aren’t used to reading such subtleties, it’s intended as a warning to anyone contemplating a replay of the Libyan scenario in Syria. Never mind all the diplomatic chit-chat, the regime knows that the fall of Syria would be a disaster. The supreme leader and his band of morose men can do their best to gull the gullible, but the whole world sees that the regime is going all out to save Assad. Even Turkey, which sometimes acts in tandem with Iran, has seized Iranian weapons shipments headed for Damascus, and in the last few days the Turks have permitted the creation — on their own territory — of a Syrian opposition organization clearly modeled on the Libyan National Transition Council.

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First, for those trying to figure out what’s going on in Libya: this sort of event does not lend itself to “live”  coverage. Wars and insurrections are very foggy, and reporters cannot possibly check the information they are given.  Pictures on your screen are as likely to deceive as to inform, as you’ve perhaps learned in the past few days. The pictures told you that Gaddafi’s regime had fallen, that the rebels were in control of Tripoli, and that the Gaddafi kids were captured. Not so.

This is not necessarily the result of “bad reporting.” It’s built into the whole business of round-the-clock tv news “coverage.”  The networks have to put video on the screen and they have to say something about the videos. We historians are better placed.  We can wait and then explain it retrospectively. Which is easier, but not automatically more accurate.

So the first lesson is: wait. When it’s over, we’ll probably know that. Meanwhile, there are people with a very strong interest in convincing the outside world that gray is black or white.  Live with the gray. Mostly things are gray in a fog.

Second, a lot of the language used to describe some of the forces in play is quite misleading. You’ll have your own by now;  my own favorite is “elite forces.” Gaddafi’s EF turned out to be just the usual Middle Eastern gunmen/thugs. In older times, he had very sexy East German female body guards, which was much more fun.

Consider Saddam’s EF: the vaunted Republican Guards, who disappeared in a nanosecond when General Mattis’s Marines advanced on Baghdad.  Or consider the Iranian EF that were supposed to take on the Saudi military in Bahrain. They scampered back to mother as quickly as they could.

The other very misleading words are “control,” or “in control.”  How many times was one side or the other said to “control” Libyan territory, only to be told that the situation had flipped within hours?

It’s better to suspend judgment.  Yes, it’s easy for me to say, but the journalists and the policy makers have to reach conclusions. They have my sympathy.  Really.

Part of the confusion comes from bad intelligence, and thus the third lesson is that, if you want to play an effective role in war and/or revolution, you had better get some relationships established before the fog rolls in. We were very late to this game, in part because a succession of American administrations mostly limited their efforts to having good relations with the top guy and his henchmen.  We have virtually zero intimacy with the Iranian opposition (at least the people who matter, the ones inside Iran), and, while we are trying hard to catch up elsewhere (think Libya and Syria), and many of those efforts are well done by talented Americans, we’re at a real disadvantage.

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If we are going to win in the Middle East, we have to get the context right.  As I wrote in The War Against the Terror Masters, long before the invasion of Iraq, we cannot just “do” a country like Iraq, or today, Syria, and then move on.  That’s one of the strategic mistakes Bush, Rice, Hadley, Cheney and Rumsfeld made.  They  viewed Iraq in isolation.  They thought they could just “do Iraq,” and then consider their options.  We then belatedly discovered (even though our enemies publicly announced what they were going to do) that Iraq and Afghanistan could not have decent security so long as Syria and Iran actively supported terrorists in those countries.   American soldiers and countless Iraqi and Afghan civilians have paid a terrible price for our failure of vision.

The regional war has expanded, but we still look at each battle field in isolation, rather than seeing the war whole:

  • Israel has been  invaded, and is under constant rocket attack;
  • The shooting war in Libya, where American pilots and trainers  conducted operations, and others trained and helped organize the anti-Qadaffi campaign;
  • We have declared diplomatic and economic war on the Assad regime in Syria, just as we began with Qadaffi’s regime in Libya;
  • The war against the Kurds:  Turkey now routinely bombs and invades PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan, while Iran shells and invades the same region.  We are directly involved on this battlefield;  we’ve been providing intelligence to the Turks on the Kurds since at least 2007;
  • The violence against our troops, and against our allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, is relentlessly increasing.

To date, insofar as we have had a regional strategy,  it has largely been based on wishful thinking, even when applied to more than one  problem at a time.  The administration hoped that Syria would choose friendship with us rather than strategic alliance with Tehran, that Tehran would accept our “outstretched hand” rather than continue to wage its 32-year old terror war against us, that Turkey would be our proxy ambassador to Syria and Iran, helping us to “peel off’ Assad from the mullahs and to convince Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to be reasonable about nukes, and that Obaman diplomacy would bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  None of it worked.

To be sure, there was nothing new about most of that;  Obama was simply embracing the failed dreams of the two Bushes and the Clintons.  The only difference was timing:  the others slowly came to believe that a Grand Bargain with Iran and Syria was doable, while Obama started with that fantasy.  All believed—and perhaps some of our policy makers still believe—that Turkey was a friend and would support our goals.

What happens when an administration’s dreams are shattered?   In a very important article in the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes and Tom Jocelyn suggest the administration may have drawn the obvious conclusions from the failure of wishful thinking, and may now be changing course.  “With the public accusations that Iran is harboring the next generation of al Qaeda leadership and is facilitating the operation of al Qaeda’s key pipeline for funding and operatives,” they suggest, “the Obama administration seems to be saying that this conciliatory approach has now come to an end.”  It’s a bit clearer with Syria;  we are now publicly committed to regime change in Damascus.

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The War with Syria

August 18th, 2011 - 2:53 pm

So the president finally swallowed hard and pronounced the three words:  “Assad must go.”

Well, not exactly.  That would have been too simple.  Here’s what he actually emitted:

“The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people,” Obama said. “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”

E.B. White is thrashing in his grave at the overuse of the passive voice, but we get the point.  The Administration, following in the footsteps of its predecessors (as far back as I can remember), had convinced itself that Assad was somehow a pal of ours, and, in the face of the Syrian Spring and Summer, would of course “reform.” After months of slaughter, as jaws dropped all over what used to be called The Western World at the spectacle of an American leader who danced all around one of the clearest moral and strategic imperatives EVER, we finally get this.

But not to worry;  he’s not really going to get involved in a serious way:  “The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria,” Obama said.

It’s like Libya 4.0:  First he clucks his tongue.  Then he laments the killing, calling on the killers to act reasonably.  Then he pronounces himself “appalled.”  All of this creates one of those policy vacuums that nature so famously abhors, and various countries (the Saudis, for example) withdraw their diplomats to show their disgust.  Meanwhile, Hillary whispers to journalists that they shouldn’t worry, that of course the United States is going to say “Assad Must Go,” but it will mean ever so much more if other countries join in.

In the end, other countries — the Brits, the French, the Germans and “the European Union” (which I thought already included the previously mentioned trinity, so there may be a missing few words — “the other members” — between “the” and “European,” but it’s probably a typo) didn’t so much join in as pile on.  Their announcements followed ours.  Is it significant?  Could be.  Maybe, in the end, our allies wanted America to take the lead (which would suggest an end to the Obama Doctrine of Leading with the Behind).  Or maybe they were unwilling to join in the sort of sanctions we favored.

Since Hillary unfortunately called the mass murderer of Damascus a “reformer” it was left to her to parse the presidential message.  As so often happens, however, the “explanation” raises lots of questions.  Maybe there are some  journalists around Washington, D.C., and maybe one of them will ask some of the most important matters.

The obvious question is “now that you’ve come out against Assad, how are you going to win?”  This might be asked with a reference to a previous announcement that “Qadaffi must go.”  And, by the way, recent reports suggest that he may indeed have to go, or be killed. Suppose that happy thought comes true;  would it become the template for Syria?  And beyond Syria?

Does the president intend to organize or support a NATO military action against Assad?  Remember he only said that “the United States cannot and will not impose” the “Assad must go” policy;  he didn’t say he wouldn’t join a broader effort to impose it.

Hillary said it would take “words and actions to produce results.” Check.  And Obama has instituted  “unprecedented sanctions,” including a freeze on Syrian government assets under U.S. jurisdiction, a ban on American citizens from having dealings with the Assad regime, and on all Syrian petroleum and petroleum products.

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Front Page News

August 17th, 2011 - 3:17 pm

I can’t do better than pass on to you an email i received today:

 

The Sailor Pictured Below Is,

Navy Petty Officer, PO2 (Petty Officer, Second Class)  EOD2

 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Second Class)

“MIKE MONSOOR”

April 5th, 1981 ~ September 29th, 2006

Mike Monsoor,

Was Awarded “The Congressional Medal Of Honor” Last Week,

For Giving His Life In Iraq , As He Jumped On, And Covered With His Body, A Live Hand Grenade,

Saving The Lives Of A Large Group Of Navy Seals That Was Passing By!
~
During Mike Monsoor’s Funeral,

At Ft . Rosecrans National Cemetery , In San Diego , California .

The Six Pallbearers Removed The Rosewood Casket From The Hearse,

And Lined Up On Each Side Of Mike Monsoor’s Casket,
Were His Family Members, Friends, Fellow Sailors, And Well-wishers .
The Column Of People Continued From The Hearse, All The Way To The Grave Site .
What The Group Didn’t Know At The Time Was,
Every Navy Seal
(45 To Be Exact)
That Mike Monsoor Saved That Day Was Scattered Through-Out The Column!
~
As The Pallbearers Carried The Rosewood Casket
Down The Column Of People To The Grave Side ..
The Column Would Collapse . .
Which Formed A Group Of People That Followed Behind ..
~
Every Time The Rosewood Casket Passed A Navy Seal,
He Would Remove His Gold Trident Pin From His Uniform,
And Slap It Down Hard,
Causing The Gold Trident Pin To Embed Itself
Into The Top Of The Wooden Casket!
Then The Navy Seal Would Step Back From The Column, And Salute!
~
Now For Those,
Who Don’t Know What A Trident Pin Is,
Here Is The Definition!
~
After One Completes The Basic Navy Seals Program Which Lasts For Three Weeks,
And Is Followed By Seal Qualification Training,
Which Is 15 More Weeks Of Training,
Necessary To Continue Improving Basic Skills And To Learn New Tactics And Techniques,
Required For An Assignment To A Navy Seal Platoon ..
After successful completion,
Trainees Are Given Their Naval Enlisted Code,
And Are Awarded The Navy Seal Trident Pin ..
With This Gold Pin They Are Now Officially Navy Seals!
It Was Said,
That You Could Hear Each Of The 45 Slaps From Across The Cemetery!
By The Time The Rosewood Casket Reached The Grave Site,
It Looked As Though It Had A Gold Inlay From The 45 Trident Pins That Lined The Top!

This Was A Fitting End To An Eternal Send-Off For A Warrior Hero!

This Should Be Front-Page News!
Instead Of The Garbage We Listen To And See Every Day ..

People keep asking me how come the Iranian people seem to be missing in action amidst the Middle Eastern insurrection. Fair enough. No matter that the whole process was kicked off, and inspired by, the massive demonstrations in the streets of Iran’s major cities following the electoral fraud of June, 2009. There is fighting in Libya, and there is slaughter in Syria, but so far as we can see from our newspapers and TV coverage, the only thing going on in Iran is continued repression by the regime and not much in the way of pushback from the people. If it is true, I am asked, that the overwhelming majority of Iranians hate the regime, why aren’t they doing more to bring it down?

My first answer is that they are doing quite a bit to bring it down, but it is no longer in the form to which we had become accustomed: big public demonstrations calling for an end to the regime. To be sure, some elements of those protests are still very much with us, such as the chanting of “death to the dictator” from the rooftops in the big cities. But there are no longer large gatherings of protesters, even on university campuses, which have long been centers of protest.

In part, that is due to the repressive terror unleashed by the regime, which extends to increasingly efficient actions against “social networks” like Facebook and Twitter, and also to such things as rooftop satellite dishes that have enabled the Iranians to remain in touch with the outside world. In recent months more than 350,000 such dishes have been taken down by the Basij–here are some pictures of the censors hard at work–and supreme leader Ali Khamenei has been promised that all satellite dishes will be gone by the end of Ramadan. Even if, as is likely, many dishes will remain, it is now very difficult to reach anywhere near the number of Iranians who used to watch Western broadcasts, including the many coming from exile communities in Europe and, above all, Southern California.

The lack of large scale public protest—at least, of the monster crowds we saw for many months– is also the result of a conscious decision by the leaders of the Green Movement.  Once it was obvious that the leaders of the Western world would do nothing to support the uprising against the regime, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi decided it would be irresponsible to continue to call for their people to risk their lives in the streets. They accordingly changed strategy from direct confrontation to sustained pressure, hoping thereby to produce an implosion of the sort that ended Communist rule throughout the Soviet Empire.

That strategy is well underway. We cannot see it in action, but we can certainly see clear signs of internal stresses and strains, and even gaping fissures within the ruling edifice. I have tried to call attention to such phenomena as rebellion within the elite Revolutionary Guards, producing constant turnover within the officer corps, and on occasion the regime has resorted to mass executions of some of the rebels. If there were no real pressure on the regime, we would not be seeing the melodramatic fights involving President Ahmadinejad, one day with members of Parliament, the next with the supreme leader and his entourage. There is pressure, the tyrants are well aware of it, and the people sense the uncertainty within the regime.

A key element in this strategy is well known to the players but almost never discussed in the analyses from the self-proclaimed experts on things Persian: the near total lack of trust among the country’s leaders, combined with the ongoing collaboration of top officials with the opposition. This is a leitmotif of Persian history, as you could see at the time of the Khomeini Revolution of 1979, when no less a personage than General Hossein Fardoust, the head of the shah’s secret intelligence service, was later revealed to have been in cahoots with the enemies of the regime. This was proven when he was entrusted with the central task of organizing Khomeini’s secret service once the shah had fallen.

Meanwhile, it is quite wrong to view Iran as thoroughly pacified by the regime. Strikes are now commonplace, and there is a real shooting war going on in Kurdistan over by the Iraqi border.  There has been a lot of fighting on both sides, as the Kurds and official regime spokesmen have confirmed.  Iraqi Parliamentarians have denounced the invasion of their territory by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

It is hard to get reliable statistics about casualties, but the toll has been significant, including one of the most important Iranian commanders, Abbas Asemi, who was responsible for the repression in the holy city of Qom.

The same area has been the site of the repeated bombing of oil and gas pipelines from Iran to Turkey, a campaign that verges on epidemic proportions.  It may well be that at least some of these are part of the shooting war with the Kurds, although I cannot verify this widely-held suspicion.  Here is a rundown of recent bombings , beginning about two weeks ago:

An explosion struck an oil pipeline in Iran’s oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan early Friday, triggering a blaze that took firefighters hours to put out, news agencies reported.

Abdohossein Rezaeizadeh, spokesman for the provinces’ branch of the Iranian national oil company, told the official IRNA news agency that the causes of the blast and the subsequent fire were under investigation…

The semi-official Mehr news agency said the explosion happened at around 1:30 a.m near Susa, some 430 miles (700 kilometers) southwest of Tehran. The flames rose 130 feet (40 meters) up into the sky, the report said.

The pipeline feeds up to 4,000 barrels of oil a day to the nearby Ahvaz oil processing unit, some 62 miles (100 kilometers) south of the site of the explosion.

Iran’s oil and gas sector has been hit by an increasing number of explosions recently but authorities rarely provide any explanation for them.

Most of the pipelines are decades old and encumbered with lack of maintenance and frequent technical failures. However, there have been occasional cases of sabotage, mostly reported in the northwest.

Last week, an explosion struck a major pipeline carrying gas to Turkey. The blast, which temporarily cut the gas flow, took place in morning hours near a border crossing but no one was injured. Authorities blamed it on Kurdish rebels operating in the area.

In April, three explosions hit gas pipelines near the holy city of Qom in central Iran, briefly cutting the flow of gas from Iran’s gas refineries in the south to the country’s northwest.

Similar explosions rocked the pipeline in the same area in February. Officials at the time said the blasts were not caused by technical failures but did not say if they were acts of sabotage.

And here is a longer rundown from a reliable web site in Farsi.  And here is a report of an explosion today on the Turkish side of the border, which hints at Kurdish involvement.

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The Next President

August 9th, 2011 - 8:41 am

I don’t have a candidate yet, but I do have some traditional requirements.  Most of the time, we elect either state governors or generals who have won wars.  There are good and obvious reasons: We want leaders who have executive experience making difficult decisions, whether on the political or military battlefield, leaders who know how to manage a large and complex enterprise, leaders who have dealt with internal and external criticism, and who have kept together sometimes-fractious teams of advisers, colleagues and subordinates. That’s the overall requirement for me.

Second:  I don’t want someone from business who has no experience in politics or the military;  the worlds are too different, and we don’t have time for the next president to learn the basic rules.

Third:  I don’t want a legislator whose career has been almost exclusively in politics. Congressmen and senators only give speeches. If the speech doesn’t work out too well, they give a different one next time, they rarely pay a meaningful price for getting it wrong. And they don’t have management experience, they’ve never been tested as leaders. The only people they manage are personal (or sometimes committee) staffers, who rarely have the confidence to criticize the boss. But I think  it’s important that our leaders have a good record recruiting and keeping talented staffers. I would have doubts about a candidate whose staff has changed early and often.

Just look at the last two presidents we elevated from the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” the United States Senate:  John F. Kennedy and Barack H. Obama.  Disasters. And Kennedy had some military experience, even. It wasn’t nearly enough. You might be tempted to cite Harry Truman as a case in counterpoint, but he was Veep for a while…

Fourth: I have a strong preference for someone who has failed, learned from failure, and overcome it. One of my heroes is Thomas Edison, whose search for a workable filament for the first electric light bulb produced thousands of failures. He delighted in them, learning from each one. We are fallible; our presidents are going to make mistakes. I want a president who knows that going in, and who is quick to spot his blunder and will look for a better way.

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The Real War, Ignored as Usual

August 3rd, 2011 - 8:29 pm

The Soviets always used to say “if you say A, you must do B,” meaning that words had to have consequences.  Yes, it’s a commonplace banality, one of those things that’s so obvious, it hardly bears mention.  Except if you’re a politician or a pundit (hard to tell the difference sometimes, to be sure). For that small class, words don’t have to have any consequences at all.  They think they can just say things, and when the subjects come up again, they can say other things.  And just move on.

It’s hard to adjust to this, for those of us who were raised to believe that words not only matter, but actually tell you something about future actions.  We take public statements very seriously, especially when they come from government leaders, and it’s hard to break the habit.  Alas, with the current administration, we’ve got to admit that the words are often just words.

Even experienced journalists still fall for the Obama rhetoric, believing — and their belief is evidently reinforced by “inside sources” trying to make themselves and their president look good — that real action is minutes away.  Take David Ignatius, for example.  He’s been around for quite a while, both in Washington and overseas, and he’s got plenty of sources.  Yet, two weeks ago he wrote that Obama and Hillary had (finally!) given up on any “reform” from Bashar Assad in Damascus, and they were stepping up support “for regime change in Syria.”

But there is no such support, so far as anyone can tell.  Indeed, there is such a lack of support that some  Arab writers are deriding the president for his wimpery, while also desperately looking for some deep strategy to “explain” our inaction, and warning that he is making things even worse:

…the lack of consistency in the US position against the Assad regime is creating a perception in the region that the US hopes that Assad would survive these crises bloodied and weakened — where the US really wants him to be.

The US, therefore, is risking placing itself as the one that is encouraging Assad through its silence and inconsistency and thus giving him the impression that the US would not oppose him directly and personally if he used more force against civilians’ protesters.

Ignatius knows that Obama and crew aren’t doing much of anything — hell, he hasn’t said “Assad must go,” as he did with Mubarak and Qadaffi — and he relays their excuses for inaction:  “The puzzle is how to help the Syrian opposition gain power without foreign military intervention — and without triggering sectarian massacres inside the country.”

As if there are a shortage of sectarian massacres in Syria.  Try that one on the citizens of Hama or Hom or Aleppo.

Ignatius quotes various speeches from Hillary to bolster his case that America now supports regime change in Damascus, and if those words actually meant something, he would have been right. But they don’t mean anything except that the secretary of State could not remain silent in the face of the slaughter of the Syrian people. So she posed as a tough guy, perhaps reflecting a similar pose from the president.

Within days, however, Obama pulled the tapestry from beneath Hillary’s feet.  As Lee Smith wrote in the Weekly Standard,

…Obama took Washington out of the equation by saying that it was in the eyes of Assad’s own people that the dictator’s legitimacy had come into question. And even more bizarrely, a White House spokesman told reporters that the administration is still looking to pressure Assad to “meet the aspirations of the Syrian people”—a statement not merely tone deaf, but morally obtuse

There is no reason to believe that this administration grasps the dimensions of the world war in which we are engaged, like it or not. To look at Syria alone is a failure of strategic vision, because the battle of Syria is part of the larger conflict, involving our current major enemy Iran. Indeed, the Syrian slaughterhouse is a repeat performance of the earlier (and still ongoing) massacre in Iran, and is assisted (perhaps even instructed) from Tehran.  From an Israeli analyst:

Reports have emerged about elements of the Iranian IRGC’s Al-Quds Force (responsible for subversion and special operations outside of Iran), advisers from Iran’s domestic Law Enforcement Services, as well as Hizbullah men working throughout Syria to help Assad repress the popular protests. Iran also apparently provided Syria with advanced eavesdropping equipment which enables the identification of activists who converse by phone or use social networks on the Internet.

There are also stories of Iranian snipers on the rooftops of Syrian cities gunning down protesters in the streets, and Iranian intelligence operatives working side by side with their Syrian counterparts to round up potential centers of rebellion.

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The Circle of Evil

August 2nd, 2011 - 12:32 pm

The story of the day comes from Germany.  It’s about comrade Horst Mahler, one of the leaders of the West German Baader-Meinhof Gang that terrorized the country in the latter days of the Cold War.  Mahler was one of the founders of the Red Army Faction, which was one of the most violent terrorist groups in Europe in the 1970s and 80s. He was arrested shortly after the group’s creation, and spent many years in prison. A lawyer with a passion for defending anti-Government protesters, Mahler emerged from jail with dramatically different political convictions: he had moved from the extreme left to the extreme right, and is now serving time because of his activities as a Holocaust denier.

The German story alleges — based on a claim of having read a Stasi document — that Mahler was working for East German intelligence until the time that he joined Baader-Meinhof.  The document in question emerged in connection with a recently reopened investigation into the fatal shooting of a peace demonstrator by a West German policeman in 1967.  For extras, the cop was found to be a Stasi agent.

The link above takes you to an article in the Guardian, and the author quite properly raises questions about the reliability of the report. He does not raise a question that should always be introduced when we are talking about internal intelligence service documents: case officers love to claim that they have recruited people who are not actually working for them, but may be sympathetic to their objectives. It is possible, therefore, that Mahler was friendly with the Stasi but not following their instructions.

That said, there can be no doubt that the Red Army Faction was in cahoots with the Stasi.  I had several conversations with top German intelligence and military leaders in the mid-1980s, and they were positive about the operational links between West German terrorists and East German intelligence.

But that is not what interests me most; that is old news, whatever is eventually found regarding the document in question and Mahler’s connections to his country’s enemies. The most important aspects of the story are: Mahler’s smooth transition from communism to right-wing anti-Semitism, and his own reflections on that transition.

Those few people who have actually studied fascism know that European communist leaders often recruited loyal comrades from the ranks of fascist movements and parties. Much of the time, especially after the second world war, the communists airbrushed the biographies of these new recruits in order to save them the annoyance of having to answer embarrassing questions about their previous loyalties. This is especially noteworthy and extraordinarily well-documented in the Italian case, where, to the great amazement of their admirers, leading left-wing intellectuals have been found to have been loyal fascists and even enthusiastic anti-Semites during the 20-year fascist era.

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