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Monthly Archives: February 2012

When mass demonstrations against the Iranian regime erupted in the summer of 2009, the Obama administration found itself facing a totally unexpected problem.  President Obama had gone to great lengths to try to strike a bargain with the regime, and had ignored the internal opposition.  Now he suddenly needed a crash course on the regime’s domestic challengers, and possibly to try helping them.

The president had come to office promising to establish good relations with the Islamic Republic, but no progress had (or has) been made.  Moreover, there was mounting public evidence of the Iranian role in both Iraq and Afghanistan, ranging from the provision of explosives and components of the murderous IEDs (the so-called “roadside bombs”), to training terrorists (who subsequently killed Americans) inside Iran, to supporting and housing al-Qaeda members, including relatives of Osama bin Laden, to sending officers and soldiers of the Revolutionary Guards Corps onto the battlefield (several hundred were in American military detention camps in Iraq).

The president was personally committed to reaching an accord with the leaders of the Iranian regime, and he had pursued this goal with considerable energy, both through traditional diplomatic channels, and more informal discussions.  Over time, the Swiss Foreign Ministry (which, in the absence of formal relations between Iran and the United States, has long served as the official middleman), the sultan of Oman, Iraqi President Talabani, and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan have carried messages, suggested actions, and arranged tactical agreements (such as the release of the American hikers held hostage in Iran starting in July 2009).

American-Iranian relations have always involved a mix of semi-official meetings and secret middlemen, and the Obama administration was no exception.  Some “informal” and unannounced conversations took place (to the annoyance of the other participants) on the sidelines of several meetings between Iranians and the group of EU countries and the United States, dealing with the Iranian nuclear weapons program.  Others were conducted by the so-called “Track 2” teams of American and foreign policy wonks and former government officials, on the one side, and similar Iranians on the other.  These were confirmed by some of the participants, who insist on anonymity, but an American participant stressed that the Obama administration knew in advance of the meetings, and was briefed in considerable detail on the substance of the talks.  Nonetheless, when queried by Sara Carter of the Examiner — who writes today about her own long investigation of these questions — the White House would not confirm knowledge of the Track 2 meetings, even though the existence of the Track 2 channel has been known for years.

There are also reports of a meeting as recently as last November in Turkey, involving a State Department official.  This, too, was officially denied.

Devoted as he was to reaching an agreement with Tehran, the president did not authorize any contacts with the leading component of the Iranian opposition, the so-called Green Movement, whose candidate for the presidency, Mir Hossein Mousavi, almost certainly won the elections of June 2009.  Throughout the eruptions of the summer and early fall, Mousavi and the other top leaders of the Greens received no communication from the U.S. government.

This was undoubtedly due to two factors:

–if such contacts were discovered by the regime, it would have made any deal with Tehran much more difficult;

–the U.S. intelligence community did not believe there was any serious possibility of regime change in Iran.  Top analysts told the policy makers that the regime was strong and stable, and any street demonstrations or labor protests would be ineffective, and short-lived.

This assessment proved erroneous — as would similar evaluations in subsequent uprisings in Arab countries — and as the demonstrations continued to roil the streets of Iran’s major cities, the administration was forced to at least consider the possibility of reaching out to the Iranian opposition.  They accordingly contacted “experts” in Europe and the United States for help.

They decided to try to secretly contact the Greens, and I have learned from persons with first-hand knowledge of the events that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received help from an old friend and Senate colleague, Senator Chuck Schumer.  The New York senator knew a person — a distinguished Iranian-American with no history of political involvement, and with a reputation for impeccable honesty and morality — who had a way to contact the Green leaders.

According to a person familiar with the details of the process, Schumer’s acquaintance was asked to pass two questions to the Green leaders on behalf of the administration:  The Greens were given to understand that the questions came from the secretary of state.  The questions were: “What should we do?  What should we NOT do?”

They were good questions, and they were passed through at least two persons, both known to me, one in the United States, the other in Europe. The person in Europe is well known and admired by the Greens, who now faced a very delicate problem.  It was one of Obama’s problems in reverse:  if any exchange between the Greens and the administration leaked out, the consequences might be very grave.  On the other hand, it would not do to ignore such questions from such a source.

The reply is in the form of a lengthy memorandum, dated November 30, 2009.

You can read it here.

As you will see, it was written very carefully.  It is unsigned, and there is no hint of the author’s (or authors’) identity (I have good reason to believe that several people worked on it).  Instead of answering the two questions directly, the memo presents a snapshot of Iran under a theocratic tyranny, which is described in very harsh terms (“It is as if the ‘Divine Right of Kings’ were to be reestablished in the West,” and, later on, “the regime is a brutal, apocalyptic theocratic dictatorship that tries to survive by means of suppression of its own people, military force, theft of national resources and economic stealth”).  The memo says that the regime cannot change;  like all totalitarian regimes it cannot be reformed.  But the memo insists that the forces for change within Iran are strong and well led.

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Apologizing to Our Killers

February 25th, 2012 - 9:27 pm

When Jimmy Carter was president, I dreaded the morning news, which invariably brought some new embarrassment, whether it was the president boasting that America had “lost its inordinate fear of Communism,” or whispering to the Polish dictator that Carter had not lost hope of bringing the tyrant back to Christianity, or slashing our military strength, or apologizing to the Khomeini regime in Iran for presumed past American sins.

The dread is back.  Worse than before.

The disgusting spectacle of President Obama personally — the usual first-person verbiage again in play — apologizing to murderous Afghan Muslims for the Koran book burning, without condemning the murder of American soldiers, is a new low in failed leadership.

As of this writing, Secretary of Defense Panetta and General Allen — who commands the international force in Afghanistan — have condemned the murders, and various Afghan officials have apologized.  Neither President Obama nor President Karzai has spoken about the murders.

What, if anything, does the president have to say to the parents, orphans and widows of the murdered Americans in Afghanistan? His  silence on those murders suggests, at a minimum, some sort of deranged “understanding” of the killers’ motivation, as if to say, “well, what do you expect?  American soldiers slimed the Holy Koran, so obviously angry Muslims were going to slaughter some Americans.”

Does this mean that the president has issued Muslims a pass on barbaric violence?  Does it mean that he sees a moral equivalence between burning holy Islamic writ and killing infidels?

It was good to hear General Allen and officials at the Pentagon condemn the murders, but once the president decided to apologize for a mistake that didn’t physically harm a living person, it would have been entirely appropriate for him to have led the chorus of condemnation of the deliberate murder of our soldiers.

He is the commander in chief, after all.  But, whereas he was front and center in the apology parade, he did not make an appearance when it came to Americans being killed.  He delegated that one.

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Dear General Dempsey

February 23rd, 2012 - 6:58 am

You too? Another policy wonk at JCS?

Every time I hear some policy maker talk about “destabilizing” (as you did the other day, discussing a possible Israeli military attack on Iran) my heart sinks. For two reasons:

–First, because the Middle East–no, make that the whole world–has been destabilized to a fare-thee-well, and many fuses have been lit.  All the big countries are unstable. Russia is convulsed, China is facing angry Tibetans and frustrated Han, Japan has already blown up, Europe is a mess, and we’re waiting for the next act in the Great Recession. The Middle East follows suit with multiple domestic insurrections and renewed terrorist attacks (Iraq, for example). None of that was caused by any Israeli attack on Iran;

–Second, the United States is a revolutionary country. Our very existence is destabilizing, especially to the tyrants who are trying very hard to kill us.  You know all about that, General, because your guys are getting shot and blown up in Afghanistan every day. A  lot of the mayhem, from the killers to their weapons and explosives, comes from Tehran. Not to mention the Iranian plans to assassinate one of their targets in downtown Washington. Even Senator Schumer is worried about Iranian-backed terrorists in Manhattan.

So when I hear someone with your knowledge and your experience talk as if things were moving along nicely with Iran (sanctions are working, the Tehran regime is “rational”), my heart sinks. As it happens, the Iranians just spat in our eye again, sending the latest crew of UN “nuclear inspectors” packing when they asked to look at a nuclear site. And the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave yet another speech declaring that nothing would deter his Islamic Republic from successfully fulfilling its nuclear dreams.

You say that we know, or “think we know,” that they haven’t decided to go ahead and construct atomic weapons. I don’t read the intel reports that you do, but I believe that the supreme leader made that decision many years ago. I also believe that our intelligence on Iran stinks, as it has ever since the days of the shah. Given that track record, I believe you should work as hard as you can to protect us against the worst case, and not go whistling past the Persian graveyard.

When the Iranians chant “death to America!” just what do you think they mean?

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Freedom and Tyranny

February 15th, 2012 - 7:34 pm

I’m sure Mark Levin would agree that it’s no accident.  This president, who so vigorously asserts and imposes state power against Americans, is much more comfortable supporting dissident movements against American friends than against American enemies.

At a certain point, after unconscionable dithering, he announced that Qadaffi must go, and he ordered our armed forces to help that happen.  Qadaffi wasn’t killing Americans.

Now he has his feckless secretary of state announce that, while Assad must also go, we will  not support–not even from way behind–those fighting against Bashar Assad, who has killed lots of Americans.  With one caveat:  if Assad says it’s ok, then we might do it.  (Really)

Try that again, just to make sure it’s clear:  Assad kills Americans, but we won’t lift an armed finger to bring him down.  Qadaffi wasn’t killing Americans and our air power destroyed him.

And then there’s central issue, which we all know:  Khamenei kills Americans all the time, as has his regime for 33 years, but when the Iranian people rise up against him, the American president assures Khamenei that we still want to make a deal with him.

Remember that this president is presenting himself as a tough guy, because he killed bin Laden, smashed al-Qaeda, and toppled Qadaffi.  Actually the defeat of AQ in Iraq was Bush’s fault, but no matter.  The important point is that this president isn’t interested in bringing American power to bear on the state sponsors of the terrorists who kill our guys.  Obama kills terrorists, the tail of the snake.  He doesn’t go for the head, or rather the heads, which feed in Damascus and Tehran.

The whole macabre Kabuki dance around Assad is shameful.  Humiliating.  Embarrassing.  Poor General Dempsey actually confessed to the Senate that we don’t really know all that much about the Syrian opposition.  (Can you spell “intelligence failure”?) But then he turned around and said:

The Free Syrian Army, which is, generally speaking, the centerpiece of the opposition, is for the most part domestic, although we also know that other regional actors are providing support. That complicates the situation…

As if we had a clear picture of the makeup of the anti-Qadaffi forces, or, for that matter, of the forces driving the crowds in Tahrir Square, Cairo, the masses who acted in Springtime for Arabia, the failed musical to which so many sang and danced just a few yesterdays ago.

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Kissing Assad’s Ass

February 13th, 2012 - 7:04 pm

Lee Smith’s outstanding article about American journalists, producers, and “distinguished citizens” who groveled at the bloody feet of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad shows once again the ease with which citizens of democracies become “accomplices to evil.”

It’s an old story, and we should not be surprised to see the likes of former Ambassador Martin Indyk cozying up to the Damascus regime’s equivalent of Saddam Hussein’s “Baghdad Bob” in an effort to drag a crowd of donors — and Bill Clinton — to the throne of the great man.  It is even less surprising, but no less depressing, to see producers for the major networks’ “stars” (Brian Williams, Scott Pelley, Bob Simon) wooing the Assad regime in a scramble for an interview with the great man (Barbara Walters famously won the blue ribbon), or to find an admiring reference to Charlie Rose, who was apparently generous in his remarks about the recent unpleasantness in the streets of Syria.

It’s not only about Americans.  Mr. Smith quotes extensively from the fawning emails from a reporter for Rome’s La Repubblica, a left-wing newspaper that recently paid me a hefty fine, having been found guilty of criminal libel at my expense.  Assad had no such complaint.

Why does this happen?  First of all, because of the cult of celebrity.  The news business has an insatiable need for “famous people” with which to stuff its pages and broadcasts, and this acts as a multiplier for our instinctive curiosity about other people, whoever and wherever they are.  The great anthropologist Lionel Tiger neatly called Facebook’s entrepreneur, Mark Zuckerberg, “the world’s richest primatologist,” and explained the great success of Facebook by our lust to know ever more about our fellow humans.

The need to fill blank pages and empty broadcast hours is at least partially satisfied by information about all sorts of people, from the rich and famous to the murderously insane.  Inevitably, everyone wanted to become part of this, and, thanks to social media, we can now all become celebrities, posting and tweeting around the clock, telling anyone who’s interested — and there are plenty of folks out there who ARE interested — just what we’re up to.  Even the little things most of us do most of the time.

We’re even more interested in the powerful.  Sometimes really, really interested.  Henry Kissinger was undoubtedly right when he said that power was the ultimate aphrodisiac, so that even ugly men and women became sexually attractive when they got a suitable title.  His own experience seems to have provided the raw data for that theorem.

So it’s quite understandable that the reporters and their producers would scramble to get next to a Middle Eastern potentate, regardless of his murderous activities.  Indeed, the mass murder going on in Syria today makes Assad even more interesting to the bigtime celebrity hunters.  Just think back to the glory days of Saddam Hussein, or the enthusiasm with which interviewers and college students and faculty pursued Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

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February 12th, 2012 - 7:08 pm

Those who like to think that mankind is making progress toward the rule of law should have a look at the considerable number of hostages nowadays.   There are

–American hostages in Iran;

–American hostages in Egypt;

–An American soldier — Bowe Bergdahl - -held hostage by the Taliban, probably in Afghanistan;

–An American aid worker–Alan Gross–held hostage by the Castros in Cuba;

–A Canadian held hostage in Iran and sentenced to death;

Iranian hostages in FSA-controlled Syria and Lebanon;

–Turkish hostages in the hands of Syrian Armed Forces.

To which you could reasonably add large chunks of the populations of Iran and Syria, held hostage by their own regimes.

Moreover, there are the hostages held by Somali pirates (hard to keep track of them, but there are certainly many of these poor souls), and those in Mexico (enough so that the State Department issued a travel warning a few days ago, citing kidnapping as one of the major reasons), and those in Sinai, the latest “wild west” in the region.

Some of them, notably those in Mexico, Sinai, and Somalia, are being held for profit.  Some of those sought-after profits are pretty big numbers, sometimes running into millions of dollars.  Others are part of the war, the global war nobody wants to talk about.

Five Iranians — alleged to be members of the infamous Revolutionary Guards Corps’ foreign legion (the Quds Force) by their captors in the Free Syrian Army — are held as leverage against Iran, which, along with Russia, is the major sponsor of Bashar Assad’s war against his own people.  In addition to these purported Quds Force members, and a number of Iranian “pilgrims,” there are also two groups of Hezbollah killers in the hands of the FSA.  This is still unreported, so far as I can tell, although you can find some reporting on Hezbollah’s very active role in Syria.

The Turks in the hands of the Syrians (reportedly 19, accused of being “intelligence officers” by the Syrians) are held as leverage against the Free Syrian Army, which depends on Turkish help for protection.  The FSA wants the Syrians to stop the attacks against Syrian dissidents and  release political prisoners, while the Syrians  want the Turks to shut down the FSA and turn over its leaders to Damascus.  Earlier this month, the Russian foreign minister and the head of the Russian intelligence service went to Baghdad to broker a swap.

This produced, at a minimum, the release of some Iranian hostages.

The plight of the Americans in Cairo has been well covered in the MSM, but Americans and the Canadian in Iran get only occasional attention.  The latest American, a former Marine with dual citizenship named Amir Hekmati, has been sentenced to death for espionage.  The Canadian/Iranian also faces execution, for the “crime” of writing a software program that was allegedly used by somebody in Iran to download pornography.

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“It’s rather like getting a death threat on the telephone, you know. The nutjob that makes the call isn’t going to do anything, because if he were, he wouldn’t have told you about it.”

I had gotten my freshly-rehabbed Ouija board working again, and had reached the spirit of my old friend James Jesus Angleton, formerly head of CIA’s counterintelligence team (and longtime liaison with Israeli intelligence via his buddy Teddy Kollek, Ben Gurion’s private secretary and then mayor of Jerusalem). I couldn’t think of anyone better to ask about all the war talk involving Israel, the United States, and Iran. He was inclined to downplay the seriousness of the talk.

ML:  “Does that apply to everyone? To all three? Or mainly — maybe exclusively — to the Iranians?”

JJA:  “In a rational world, it would apply to everyone. But you have to wonder how many rational actors there are…”

ML:  “So maybe it’s all a form of geopolitical theater, and nobody really intends to attack anyone else?”

JJA:  “No. But I think that there’s a lot of theater, and much of it is disinformation. Let’s start with the Iranians. A while back there were disturbances in Bahrain, and the Saudis were threatening to send troops to help their neighbor put down the uprising. The Iranians — top officers in the Revolutionary Guards — pounded their chests and proclaimed they would not sit still for it. If the Saudis dared to intervene, the RG guys said, there would be blood in the streets of Bahrain, and the Guards would slaughter the Saudis.”

ML:  “Right.  And the Saudis actually did it.  And the Iranians…”

JJA:  “The Iranians ran away.  Didn’t fire a shot.  Went home.”

ML:  “And so?”

JJA:  “So they phoned in their death threat and did nothing.”

ML:  “And you think this applies to Israel’s threat — a threat that has been given great resonance by a whole series of American officials, from SecDef Panetta to Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and spokespersons from the White House and the State Department — that they will attack the Iranian nuclear project if and when they think they know that the project is dangerously close to fruition?”

JJA:  “No. I think it applies to Iranian public threats, things like threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz. There again, the Iranians said they were now in full control of the waterway, and if the Americans dared set sail without explicit Iranian permission, they’d sink our ships. So we sent a carrier group in. And the Iranians didn’t do anything.”

ML:  “And of course there’s the promise to stop sending oil to some European countries, heh…”

JJA:  “Right.  Followed immediately by ‘but not in the winter because we’re such great humanitarians.’”

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