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Monthly Archives: January 2012

When Did the War Start? Or Did It?

January 30th, 2012 - 3:16 pm

Almost everything you read about the “increasing tension” between Iran and the United States revolves around the rhetorical question, “will there be a war?”  Whether it’s our own pundits or the Europeans who watch us, “war” seems closer every day. Look at the Guardian’s Simon Tisdall, for example:

This is how wars start, through a process of hostile rhetoric, mutual ignorance and chronic miscalculation. Anybody in Tehran following the impassioned US debate on Iran will be aware that an influential Washington constituency, aided and abetted by leading Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, favours military action sooner rather than later. For these American hardliners, it is no longer merely a question of destroying Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities. Regime change is the name of the game because, it is argued, that is the only way to ensure Iran never gets the bomb.

If Mr. Tisdall knew as much about American politics as he should, he wouldn’t have credited Romney and Gingrich with the notion that “regime change is the only way to ensure Iran never gets the bomb.”  That actually comes from the editorialists at the Washington Post. And if he knew as much about the origins of war as he should, he’d pay more attention to the Iranians’ messianic vision of global power — the quest for power being the central element in a nation’s decision to go to war, as the great historian Donald Kagan writes in his magisterial On the Origins of War.

But no matter, Tisdall is certainly right to say that war talk is abundant nowadays, in Washington and Tehran. And it often includes Israel, as well.  It’s a depressing spectacle, because the pundits have systematically blinded themselves to the real context in which current events are unfolding, and this deflects otherwise serious people from thinking about the real world, which in turn means we do not have a serious strategy.

Serious thinking, and a serious strategy, must begin with the fact that the war is on.  To repeat:  the war is on.  It’s been on for three decades.  Ayatollah Khomeini declared war on the United States in February, 1979, and the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have been killing Americans ever since.

When they demonstrate in the streets and chant “Death to America!” what do you think they mean?

When they call us the “Great Satan,” do you think that’s the opening gambit in a negotiation to “normalize relations”?  Iran and the United States had very warm relations before the 1979 Revolution, after all.  The Carter administration desperately sought warm relations with Khomeini et. al.

The Iranian regime was not interested then, and there is no good reason to believe they are interested now.  Yes, from time to time they are prepared to execute tactical retreats, but their war against us continues, yesterday in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania and Somalia, today in Afghanistan and throughout Africa (if our experts look carefully, they will see the Iranian claw at work in Nigeria, for example), and tomorrow in Latin America and within the homeland, in tandem with their friends in Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, and others.

To date, we have had various documented responses.  On the battlefield, we have defended ourselves against Iranian-trained and -equipped terrorists and their IEDs and EFPs.  We have spent billions of dollars to try to thwart or mitigate the effects of these “roadside bombs.”  As a visit to a military hospital will demonstrate, we continue to see terribly maimed soldiers and Marines under medical treatment, so, while we have made some progress, this remains a very real problem.

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World War

January 22nd, 2012 - 12:54 pm

Speaking at the Pentagon on January 5th, President Obama proclaimed: “Even as our troops continue to fight in Afghanistan, the tide of war is receding.”

He could not be more dangerously mistaken. As he spoke, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was packing his bags for yet another foreign sortie, not, as you might imagine, to Damascus to bolster the morale of Bashar Assad — alongside whom Iran’s killers are conducting mass murder in Syria’s cities and villages — but rather to Latin American capitals much closer to us, including Caracas, Quito, Guatemala City, Havana, and Managua. The Nicaraguan visit was on the occasion of the inauguration of our old enemy, Daniel Ortega.  The others are to discuss matters of “mutual interest.”

Venezuela is far and away the most important, but each of the others is significant, and shows that we are engaged in a global war that is advancing, not receding.  The “matters of joint concern” feature military and “asymmetrical” projects aimed directly at the American homeland. And that is only the Western hemispheric dimension of the real war. Ahmadinejad and his cohorts have worked very energetically to forge a global network that includes Russia, China, (sometimes) Turkey, Syria, and the Western hemisphere gang. In part, the network helps Iran bust the sanctions that have recently catalyzed a spectacular drop in the value of Iran’s currency. Money, weapons, refined petroleum products, and even crude oil get laundered through foreign banks, shell companies, and ports.

Sanctions-busting is the least of it. Al-Qaeda terrorists of the stature of Saif al Adel (acting AQ chief between bin Laden and Zawahiri) fought against us in Mogadiscio, and lived for years in Iran.  Zarqawi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, operated from Tehran for a long time.  Hezbollah, an arm of the Iranian regime, sends killers to Syria to massacre protesters.

The Latin American network sends Iranians (or their surrogates, as in the plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington) into the United States.  CBN reports that 28 Iranians were detained, arrested and released by Homeland Security in the first two years of the Obama presidency, and promptly vanished.  And numerous reports refer to joint Iranian-Venezuelan ventures, including weapons and missile manufacture and assembly in Venezuela.

The administration is not happy to paint this picture for the American people.  State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, asked on January 6th about Ahmadinejad’s trip, warned that “now is not the time to be deepening ties, not security ties, not economic ties, with Iran,”  But Ms Nuland did not wish to point to the well-established pattern.  Instead, she carefully misdescribed the network as if it were something brand new, as if it were a panicky response to Obama’s tough policies:  “As the regime feels increasing pressure, it is desperate for friends and (is) flailing around in interesting places to find new friends.”

Yes, Iran is under a lot of pressure, both from without and within.  Its currency is in free fall (as of yesterday it had dropped 50% against the dollar since September), there are open rifts within the governing elite, and some of the Revolutionary Guards’ most important bases have been bombed in the recent past.  For extras, the Latin network is not all it can be, since the Iranians are so unreliable.  They’ve promised many things, but delivered only some of them, and the Latinos have complained openly.  But the unkept promises haven’t slowed down the military programs, or the quest for uranium, which, along with the expanding terror network, are the most threatening to us.

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They run the banks, the press, all Western governments, the universities, the spooks (most everywhere).  And if you can’t find any evidence for it, well, that shows how diabolical the Jews are, right?

I’m talking about the latest assassination in Tehran, in which a young chemist, who worked in the acquisitions department of the Iranian nuclear project at Natanz, was killed by a “sticky bomb” attached to his car in the middle of rush hour traffic.

None of those writing about this event has any evidence for their theories, but many of them are quite confident that the Israelis did it.  The Times of London, which presents a mixture of circumstantial evidence and some “information” from “a source,” at least has the honesty to say what all these self-proclaimed experts should say:  “…said a source who released details, impossible to verify, to the Sunday Times.”

An unnamed source provides information that cannot be verified.  But the journalists write it, and the paper prints it.

Before getting into the details, let me caveat this whole thing:  I don’t know who did it, and neither does anybody else writing about it.  The Iranian regime, which usually claims to know everything about everything, has so far accused the Brits, the Americans, the MEK, and the Israelis.

However, I think that I do know this:  If the Israelis (or the Americans, or the Brits) are actually capable of operating at will in the midst of the virtual military occupation in Tehran,  we do not have to worry about the Iranian nukes, because if the Israelis, the Brits or the Americans can do that, they can do anything they want to.

Tehran is an armed camp.  There are security forces, check points, men with weapons and cell phones, and countless informers, all over the place.  If a citizen makes a phone call that is the least bit suspect to the regime, that citizen is located, on average, in less than half an hour, and sometimes in a few minutes.  Several Iranian officials and scientists involved in the nuclear project have been blown up in the last two years, and the killers have always gotten clean away.  Indeed, the latest assassins killed their man just a few feet from the headquarters buildings of the Intelligence Ministry.  That’s quite an accomplishment.  If agents of a foreign intelligence service are doing it, they’re better than Tom Cruise’s fictional operatives in the Mission: Impossible movies.

But it might be CIA, Mossad or MI6, despite the daunting security situation in Tehran.  Maybe they ARE better than anything Hollywood can imagine.  What would be the motive?  Here, the “experts” are pretty much unanimous:  the motive is to disrupt the Iranian nuclear weapons program.  Over the years, plenty of non-Western nuclear physicists have turned up dead, some in the Middle East, some in our part of the world (France, for example).

And here the picture gets a bit foggier, because the Iranian victims don’t really fit that picture.

My friend Potkin Azarmehr, a thoughtful British-Iranian who blogs in London, has been writing about these events for years, and he makes a lot of sense (to repeat, I don’t know who did it and neither does Potkin.  He’s just thinking out loud).  He points out a few details about the four targets of bombing attacks in Tehran prior to the latest assassination:

  • The first was an academic with no apparent connection to the nuclear project.  He was a political activist who supported the Green Movement, the main group in opposition to the regime.  He attended international meetings, and was a member of a group that included Israelis.  He was blown up by a significant quantity of explosives, not a sticky bomb.  The explosives were planted in or on a motorcycle parked outside the victim’s house;
  • The second was apolitical, was also a theoretical physicist, and belonged to the same international scientific organization (including Israelis) as the first.  He was killed by a sticky bomb;
  • On the very same day, another physicist was attacked.  He was also a political activist, a regime supporter, and a member of the revolutionary guards.  Unlike the first two, he was certainly an active participant in the nuclear program, as shown by the fact that his name was on official sanctions lists.  The news stories spoke of a bomb, but the photographs of the crime scene don’t show evidence of an explosion (they do show some bullet holes in his car).  There’s another big difference:  he wasn’t killed.  Shortly after the event, he was promoted to head the nuclear program.  To which Potkin asks a good question:

If these assassinations were the work of highly sophisticated Western/Israeli sent hit squads, how is it that a theoretical research physicist not on the sanctions list is eliminated so efficiently but the more obvious target who is clearly connected to the nuclear program and is on the sanctions list, is not even hurt.

Potkin suspects the first guy was killed by the regime, and the second attack was staged so that the regime could blame foreign espionage agents.

The fourth case was the oddest of all, a university student who was gunned down in front of his house, where he’d just returned after collecting his young daughter from kindergarten.  He wasn’t a nuclear anything, he was studying electrical engineering,. working for a Master’s degree.  There is an Iranian nuclear physicist with a similar name (and his picture was published all over the Iranian press), but that man — who might well have been a logical victim for anyone targeting key people in the nuclear project — was out of the country.  The victim was not a shadowy figure, he had a Facebook page on which he spoke warmly of a well-known dissident singer.

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Josef Skvorecky

January 16th, 2012 - 5:38 pm

I haven’t seen much in print — although the late Michael Kaufman of the New York Times prepared a worthy obit that was duly published — on the recent death of the great Czech emigre writer Josef Skvorecky, who died on January 3rd in Canada,  his adopted country.  Another bad sign for the state of the culture, because Skvorecky was a major writer, perhaps even a great writer, and for extras he contributed mightily to the salvation of Czech culture, and when nobody was looking he wrote a series of mystery books, and even a mystery book about mysteries.  I was a big fan of his, and some years ago I tried and failed to get his mysteries on television.

Every few years I reread his masterpiece, The Engineer of Human Souls.  It’s one of the most important books ever written about culture and freedom, and it’s as contemporary as tomorrow morning.  The English language edition was appropriately published in 1984, and it moves back and forth between the University of Toronto, where a young Czech refugee is teaching English Lit, and Communist Czechoslovakia.  The university class includes specimens from various corners of the multiculti universe, from an Arab Marxist to a pleasant and totally uncultured local rich kid who excels at hockey.  He dates a pretty Czech girl who tries to get him interested in the struggle for freedom in her native land, but he doesn’t get it.  In her words, “he knows nothing from nothing,” and she can’t keep up the relationship.

The book’s chapters are one word each, the last name of great writers of English, and the key chapter is “Conrad.”  At a certain point, the professor delivers an impassioned analysis of Heart of Darkness – and points out that the description of Kurtz’s house, with the skulls on the fenceposts, is a perfect description of Stalin, even though it was writeten before Stalin even came to power.  He looks at the students, and sees glazed-over eyes and blank faces.  They have no idea what he’s talking about.

Skorecky tells this tale so elegantly that you can’t resist laughing out loud, even though you know it’s tearing him up.  Those who fled totalitarian regimes and came to North America went through such scenes repeatedly, and he’s got the perfect words, delivered with the perfect touch, to describe what and how they felt.  The counterpoint scenes in Prague drive home the point:  if the West knows nothing from nothing, you can’t expect Western countries to fight for the freedom of the poor bastards “over there.”

The title, The Engineer of Human Souls,” comes from Stalin himself, who used it to describe the intellectuals’ proper mission in a Communist state:  indoctrinate the masses so that they accepted the tyrant’s every order.  It turned out that Western intellectuals did this without being asked, and Western citizens, by failing to inform themselves about the real facts of the world, joined the herd of docile sheep.

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Pissing on the Enemy

January 12th, 2012 - 6:42 pm

Some Marines seem to have pissed on the cadavers of some Taliban in Afghanistan.  We don’t know when or exactly where.  It may well have taken place some time ago;  a military friend suggests that at least two of the alleged miscreants are no longer in the Corps, and a spokesman at Camp Lejeune said that some of the four have left the battalion in which they served — last year — in Afghanistan.  But no matter.  Our leaders are in a panic.  Hillary and Panetta are horrified, and their public comments verge on hysteria (Panetta called the behavior “utterly deplorable” and Hillary expressed “total dismay”).  Afghan President Karzai, a noted humanitarian,  declared it “inhumane.”  Our full military investigative apparatus, last seen prosecuting Marines subsequently found innocent, is in full activity, and no doubt heads, if not other parts of the anatomy, will be figuratively sliced off.

I wonder if they know there’s a war on, and what sorts of things routinely happen in wartime.  It may well be that they are so involved in trying to extend yet another outstretched hand to our enemies, that they are really shocked at the very idea that men on the battlefield aren’t devotees of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette, and even violate the Geneva Convention’s strictures against desecrating dead bodies.

Yes, I condemn the pissing.  It violates the Marines’ own rules, and, as a two-time Marine dad, I want to be proud of my Marines, and I want them to follow the rules.  For extras, these guys — assuming, as I do, that the video is “real” — were monumentally stupid when they made the video, and supermonumentally stupid when they put it online.  So by all means punish them.  And while you’re at it, haul their commander in front of a JAG tribunal and find out what he knew, when he knew it, and why he didn’t lead his men as he’s supposed to.

But our leaders’ tone is all wrong, and needless to say, the media feeding frenzy is typical of the breed.  I’ve been telling friends for months now that the Marines are winning in Afghanistan.  I always add, “it’s obvious, isn’t it?  You don’t read much of anything about their activities, which obviously means they’re doing well.”  The media pack doesn’t want you to know that, so they don’t report it, and it’s not mainly because they don’t have correspondents willing and able to do it.  It’s not even because the news is hard to come by.  All you have to do is read the material coming out of ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) in Kabul, for example this photo essay that’s headlined “Afghan, Marine forces clear remnants of insurgency in southern Helmand.”  That’s the area from which the Brits — who are plenty good fighters — withdrew because it was just too bloody.  The Marines cleaned it up, and they are now advising the Afghans how to conduct a mopup operation.

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Back when I was even younger, and living in Rome, the main topic of conversation was of course Communism.  Italy had the largest Communist Party outside the Soviet Union, and it was forever on the cusp of becoming the biggest party in Italy, thus forming the government, thus taking over.  (Marginal comment for those who aren’t up on 20th century Italian political history:  it never happened.)

Although the deep thinkers at the European and American universities were eager for the West to lose its “inordinate fear of Communism” (a phrase conceived by then-National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and pronounced by Jimmy Carter in an unfortunate speech at Notre Dame early in his first and last term), most of the Italians I knew were very much concerned (they would have to endure it, while the American intellectuals could stay safely in the States and comment on it), and while many intellectuals dreamed of a reformed “Communism with a human face,” everyone in Italy knew that the model for a Communist Italy was the USSR itself.

Back then — we’re talking mid-to-late seventies — the hot topic was “Eurocommunism.”  An amazing number of highbrows were convinced that Western Communists, such as the Italians, were capable of being democratic, pro-NATO, and even anti-Soviet.  The unfortunate Zbig was one of them, as were almost all the “scholars” at Harvard gathered around Stanley Hoffmann.  Those of us who knew the Italian Communists first hand (local party HQ were a few doors down from us, and we knew them well) were harder to enchant, and when Washington Post owner and one of her star journalists, James Hoagland, came to Rome to praise Italian Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer, we were appalled.

A good friend, the brilliant philosopher (and ex-Communist) Lucio Colletti, used to put the essence of the matter very well:  “Communism can’t be reformed.  Either you’ve got it or you don’t.  If the Soviet Union actually reforms, then I will confess to failure to understand the whole phenomenon.”

I agreed, we made some bets with those who thought Communism could be democratized, and that there could be a reliable NATO government in the clutches of the Italian Communist Party. Years later,  I got plenty of free food when the Soviet Empire collapsed, and the Italian Communist Party crawled onto history’s dust heap.

Lucio, who had spent many years inside the Party, understood that a totalitarian system cannot be changed.  Either you’ve got it, or you don’t; you can’t humanize it, because its very essence is the elimination of freedom and the total domination of all those who come under its sway.  And so it was.  Communism was defeated, not reformed.

Which brings us to today’s sermon, containing three main themes:

First, those who believe that today’s most virulent totalitarian movement — radical Islam — can be reformed and democratized understand neither the Reformation nor Islamism.

Second, totalitarianism is what binds together the radical Muslims and the radical Leftists.  Those who purport to be surprised at the marriage of the two groups need a refresher course in twentieth-century mass movements.

Third, the fight for freedom is both domestic and global, and we’re going to have to defeat our totalitarian enemies from Islamist Iran to radical Leftist Nicaragua, and our own would-be oppressors of free Americans.  It’s a single, global, war.

The Illusion of Reforming Radical Islam

The whole point of radical Islam is the domination or destruction of all those who don’t accept the Islamists’ dictates.  It’s not, as some suggest, a demand that non-Muslims bow to Islamic supremacy;  it’s also directed against those Muslims who believe in a different version of the holy writ (indeed, apostates are generally hated far more intensely than non-believers).  There are variations in “sharia” and the radical Islamists won’t tolerate any departure from their version, any more than Stalin tolerated Trotsky or Bukharin or Lovestone, or French Catholics tolerated the Huguenots, or the Lutherans put up with Anabaptists, or Hitler made room for the SA.

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Big news today from Iran, confirming once again that the hapless regime in Tehran proceeds down its death spiral. The first is the spectacular collapse of the national currency, which has lost 35% of its value since September. The second headline, in an extraordinary press conference by the effective commander of the revolutionary guards, is the admission that the incarcerated leaders of the green movement have so much powerful support that the regime dares not prosecute them.

The crash of the rial him has been linked to the latest round of sanctions, the ones aimed against the Iranian central bank. These are, at least for the moment, unilateral American sanctions, but their import is global, since they are aimed at anyone doing business in Iran’s oil sector. Those transactions invariably go through the central bank, and the American sanctions confront would-be purchasers of Iranian crude oil with an unpleasant choice: either do business with America or do business with Iran.

The ayatollahs, in their usual blustery way, have pooh-poohed the effect of the sanctions, insisting that Iran is so strong that even such harsh measures will have little effect.  But nobody in Iran believes that.  There are long lines at the money changers, and one leading government supporter puts the matter in chilling perspective:   Iranian industry “cannot continue to exist” with the rial at today’s level.

As the Washington Post’s man in Tehran says, this is a devastating blow to the regime, both because it further exposes their inability to cope with the Great Satan—whose destruction, after all, is the core mission of the Islamic Republic—and because the Iranian people know that their oppressors are making  out like bandits, as Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen explains:

The 39 percent difference between the central bank’s official rate and market rates on Dec. 21 was the largest in almost two decades, economists in Tehran and Washington said in interviews.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said the gap between the two rates has provided an arbitrage opportunity exploited by officials and businesses affiliated with the IRGC, the elite military arm that’s under international sanctions for suspected nuclear weapons work and terrorism. They are among regime elements able to obtain foreign currency at the favorable official exchange rate and sell it for a profit in exchange bureaus at the market rate, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in written testimony Dec. 1.

“Ordinary Iranians are urgently seeking out foreign currency such as dollars or euros for safety, yet they are having trouble accessing hard currency, and when they can, they have to pay the unofficial market rate,” said Cohen, the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

There are stories from Tehran about people desperately trying to buy commodities, from gold to steel,  about people selling cars and motorcycles to get cash they can convert to hard currency, and, inevitably, about people offering their kidneys for sale (a story we’ve heard about desperate people everywhere from Africa to China.  Is it true?).

So the regime is failing to meet the basic needs of the Iranian people (nothing really new there; strikers at the Shiraz Telecommunications Factory haven’t been paid for 26 months), and the people don’t like it.

This debacle coincides with an amazing confession of weakness from the highest level of the regime:  Ali Saeedi is the supreme leader’s representative to the Revolutionary Guards, and since Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei commands the Guards, Saeedi’s words are authoritative.  Asked why Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi–the two Green Movement leaders who have been held in isolation for more than ten months—Saeedi publicly stated that it can’t be done, because the two have such powerful support. The opposition leaders can’t be prosecuted, he said,  “because they have supporters and followers” as well as “a few turban-heads [clerics] who continue to back elements within the sedition.”

Indeed, Karroubi’s wife has been released from captivity, and she communicates her husband’s thoughts to the Green Movement.  Most recently, this consisted of instructions to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for March.  This is yet another direct challenge to Khamenei, who has always boasted (often falsely) that Iranian elections produce huge turnouts.

Those who believe the Green Movement has been crushed need to reflect on these developments, which seem to me to prove the opposite:  the regime fears the movement, doesn’t dare take decisive action against its leaders, and faces further protests against a background of mounting failure.

And yet, Khamenei’s killers continue to attack us in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we still have not openly supported his opponents, any more than we have supported Assad’s opponents in Syria.  How many Americans have to die at the hands of this wicked regime before we help the Iranian and Syrian people put an end to their long national agony?