Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

If the Iranians Are So Smart, How Come the Place Is a Wreck?

April 12th, 2015 - 8:46 pm

I’m sick and tired of hearing about the Iranians’ brilliance, about what fabulous negotiators they are, about what great game players they are (some say, falsely I believe, that the Persians invented chess, even) and so on and so forth.  Frankly, I think Supreme Leader Khamenei, President Rouhani, and the rest of the mob are dolts.

Why?  Because they’ve taken a country that’s got everything going for it, and wrecked it.  They’ve got abundant resources, an educated population, a real middle class, all manner of commercial skills, and favorable location astride some of the world’s most important land and sea shipping routes.  Yet the country is beset with poverty, a crashing birth rate, runaway drug abuse and prostitution, and widespread protests, even in the oil fields where the Ahwazis live.

You may think that all this misery is the result of Western sanctions, but the crashing misery index was evident before any sanction bit the Iranian people, and the wreckage of the country’s water system doesn’t have anything to do with sanctions.  The sanctions certainly hurt them, but the mullahs didn’t need the West to ruin the country.  They’ve done that all by themselves,  and the place would still be a mess if all the sanctions were lifted tomorrow morning.

Is that smart, or doltish?

The latest round of praise for the mullahs’ alleged brilliance regards the nuclear negotiations, where it is said they are getting their way.  But it’s an odd definition of diplomatic brilliance, since they’re dealing with an American president who so passionately wants détente with Iran that he doesn’t appear to care about the conditions.  Any self-respecting American government official would have walked out when Zarif shrieked at Kerry, but our secretary of state sits and takes the punishment.  I’d be more inclined to call this “intimidation.”  And it’s more the result of our fecklessness than their elegant brilliance.

Moreover, what are we to make of the various “fact sheets” about the “understanding” with the Iranians, and Khamenei’s apparent gainsaying of at least some of its elements?  Khamenei has three basic requirements: an immediate and complete end to sanctions, the continuation of the nuclear program, and acquiescence to his imperial projects, from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to Yemen, Nigeria and Latin America.  Unable to get explicit approval for any of these, he simply reasserts his position.  Yes, it buys time, but that’s the result of the American refusal to take “no” for an answer, not the product of brilliant maneuvering.

Khamenei et. al. are very worried about the hostility of their own people, as well they ought to be.  The clearest evidence of their fear is the massive repression under way.  If they thought they had sufficient popular support, they wouldn’t have to resort to systematic terror.

Their attempt to portray the latest “understanding” is based on a big lie, namely that the sanctions are about to end.  But the Iranian people don’t seem to be fooled.  They’re telling jokes along the lines of “oh good, now the Iraqis and Syrians will get some good drinks.”

The Khamenei regime is despised by most Iranians, and the regime has certainly earned it.  The next time somebody tells you how clever the Iranians are, tell them the ayatollahs have yet to produce a world-class game player.  In fact, the last avid Iranian bridge player was probably the shah, and I don’t see anyone in a turban challenging Gary Kasparov to a high-stakes chess match.

Iran: Now What?

April 6th, 2015 - 5:27 pm

Red Queen shouts, “Everybody has won and all must have prizes!”

The bottom line on Lausanne, pace all those diligent analysts who thought they could uncrew the inscrutable “framework,” was best expressed by the Red Queen:  “Everybody has won and all must have prizes.”

But there’s really only one winner, and the Red Queen will announce his name.  When the time comes.  Which is not before the end of June, and probably afterwards.  If at all.

Got that?  I hope so, because that’s all there is.  The single most surprising outcome of the very long diplogame was revealed by Amir Taheri: 

First, we have a joint statement in English in 291 words by Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif and the European Union foreign policy point-woman Federica Mogherini, who led the so-called P5+1 group of nations including the US in the negotiations.

Next we have the official Iranian text, in Persian, which runs into 512 words. The text put out by the French comes with 231 words. The prize for “spinner-in-chief” goes to US Secretary of State John Kerry who has put out a text in 1,318 words and acts as if we have a done deal.

As a general rule, these statements are crafted in English and then translated into other languages, and the translations invariably run longer than the original.  All the translations of my books are longer than the originals, sometimes significantly.  Yet in this case, the English version of the “framework” runs some seven times the length of the French, the Farsi text is nearly three times as long, and the American English version is four to five times the length of the EU-Iranian English version.

That surely means that there was no agreed-upon agreement, on whose basis the various versions were written or translated.  Everybody won, so everybody produced his preferred language.  So ignore the texts.  Just listen to what Zarif said to the Iranian people, namely that nobody signed anything, that whatever may have been agreed has no legal standing, and that the only thing that matters is yet to come, which may well be very different from whatever was agreed in the agreement.

So now what?  The short answer is “same old, same old.”  They all keep talking.  Perhaps some day there will be a real agreement.

What else?  Now we get to the real issues, and they are three, which correspond to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s conditions for the grand bargain Obama is trying desperately to forge between the United States and Iran:

● First, all sanctions must end.  All sanctions, all together.  That is why Zarif keeps saying that the lifting of all sanctions was agreed;

● Second, Iran is not going to stop its nuclear program.  Never mind the details.  The march toward nuclear Iran will continue, both in Iran and, apparently, in North Korea and perhaps also Syria;

● Third, Iran must be recognized as the dominant power wherever it chooses to advance, whether that be the Middle East, Africa, or South America.  Today.  And, no doubt, elsewhere tomorrow.  The Iranian messiah, aka the Twelfth Imam, isn’t just a local hegemon, he will lead a global jihad.

Those are the real issues.  There’s now a substantial cottage industry micromanaging every little detail of the nuclear “agreement,” but it’s an industry without a product, aside from yards of ink and hours of talk.  It’s interesting sometimes, but it really can’t be sustained.  Sooner or later Khamenei’s three damands will have to be addressed.  This hapless administration would no doubt like to just say yes.  But, judging from the domestic and international fireworks all across the political horizon, it doesn’t seem likely to be approved.

Which is a good thing.  Maybe it will occur to the next president that the only acceptable response to the three demands is one of our own:  regime change in Tehran.

Obama of Arabia

April 1st, 2015 - 8:57 pm


Just last night, a friend referred to Obama’s desperate pursuit of an alliance with Iran as “Lawrentian” (as in Lawrence of Arabia), which I like. It helps us focus on the current embarrassment, with Kerry tenaciously talking day after day to Jarif (the “charming” one who had to be asked to stop shrieking at the secretary of State), obviously desperate for something that could be called an agreement.

Sure, Kerry wants a Nobel Peace Prize, and no doubt believes an Iran deal would win it for him, but there’s more to it than that. There’s the president’s long-standing passion to embrace the Islamic Republic. Much like Lawrence’s passion for the Arabs, it’s not just a geopolitical conviction, as you can see from this WaPo piece by Greg Jaffe, which is one of the best I’ve read that tries to explain Obama’s passion in terms of a serious world-view:

The Iran negotiations also reflect Obama’s abiding belief that the best way to change the behavior of hostile governments with spotty human rights records isn’t through isolation or the threat of military force, but persistent engagement. In recent years, Obama has pushed to open up trade and diplomatic relations with countries such as Cuba and Burma.

“He believes the more people interact with open societies, the more they will want to be part of an open society,” said Ivo Daalder, Obama’s former NATO ambassador and head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

As if the Iranian people needed to “interact” with us to want to be part of an open society! They know that already, as demonstrated by the regime’s increasingly violent repression. But Obama doesn’t talk about Iranians’ desire for freedom, as he would if that were a central element in his Persian passion. Instead, as Jaffe tells us in useful detail, this is an intensely personal matter:

As the negotiations have progressed, Obama has become more personally involved in the talks, said current and former aides. He can describe in minute detail the number and type of centrifuges that Iran would be allowed to retain under a deal…

The negotiations are…personal for the president. Obama was dismissed as dangerously naive in 2007 by then-candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton for suggesting that he would engage in “aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran…

“There’s a determination to prove the Republicans wrong,” said Smith, “and to prove the world wrong.”

Of course it’s personal, it’s very laurentian. It’s not just the leftist myth that all that’s wrong with the Force is America’s fault, and thus, carrying the illogic to its wild conclusion, the way to make things right is to castrate America and turn from old allies to the enemies we’ve wronged in the past. If that were the driving principle, Obama (as he promised, lest we forget) would be working much harder to embrace Vladimir Putin.

But no, his heart is with Khamenei and Rouhani.

I wish I knew why…but then, perhaps there is no “why.” In affairs of the heart, explanations really don’t apply, do they?

Yes, that Jeffrey Goldberg, the one who told us, a couple of years ago, that Israel was getting ready to bomb Iran.  Which may yet happen, but as forecasts go, that one was way off target.  Now he’s scrubbed the crystal ball and is asking whether the European Jews should pack their bags and get out of Europe (the answer is yes).

In order to reach his unhappy conclusion, Goldberg gives us a long disquisition in the Atlantic on French antisemitism, and a few little pastiches of the state of affairs elsewhere in the Old World:  Belgium, Germany, Holland, England, Sweden and Denmark.  Like most Americans who claim insight into “Europe,” Goldberg doesn’t give the Mediterranean countries much coverage (there’s one passing reference to some graffiti in Italy, nothing on Spain, nothing on Greece).

The focus on France, and to a lesser extent on Great Britain, is certainly legitimate, since they are the two largest Jewish communities on the other side of the Atlantic.  If there were massive Jewish emigration from those two countries, it would be an important phenomenon.  As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has famously and melodramatically said, the departure of a hundred thousand Jews would be a major event, an historic failure of the French Republic.  Both French and British Jews tell pollsters they are frightened of the antisemites, and are thinking about leaving.  Moreover, greater numbers of French Jews actually are leaving, although the absolute numbers–seven thousand went to Israel last year, and some of those still work in France — do not bespeak a mass movement.  Nor is there reason to believe the British Jews are leaving en masse.

Goldberg thinks they should go, because of the growing strength of the “new antisemitism,” which he attributes to a blend of old-fashioned “fascist antisemitism” and the Islamist Jew-hatred that has certainly grown dramatically in recent years:

But what makes this new era of anti-Semitic violence in Europe different from previous ones is that traditional Western patterns of anti-Semitic thought have now merged with a potent strain of Muslim Judeophobia.

True enough, but something funny happened to “traditional Western patterns of anti-Semitic thought” in Goldberg’s account.  Its left side magically disappeared.  In Goldberg’s telling–and it’s quite a long telling, so he wasn’t under severe length restrictions–there are no leftist antisemites, only right-wing “fascists.”  Indeed, he argues that Muslim antisemitism wouldn’t be nearly as big a threat without the active involvement of the rightists:

…the new anti-Semitism flourishing in corners of the European Muslim community would be impoverished without the incorporation of European fascist tropes.

This remarkable claim flies in the face of a considerable literature about the abundant Jew haters on the left, and is even at odds with some of the material in Goldberg’s own article.  When he discusses the shameful Dutch pretense that the Anne Frank museum is not treated as a specific symbol of antisemitism (an official there tells Goldberg ““We want people to be interested in this issue, people from all walks of life. So we talk about the universal components of Anne Frank’s story as well. Our work is about tolerance and understanding”), and that it has never had a Jewish director, it’s obviously the result of political correctness, one of the left’s prime cultural weapons, or, to use Goldberg’s language, it’s a primary leftist trope.

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There’s a profound disgruntlement in the Force over the impending Iran deal, ranging from the Israelis to the Saudis, and from the French to the Gulfies.  It isn’t just words, apparently — there are rumors suggesting that some of the disgruntled Arabs are arranging to get their own nukes, just as Netanyahu foresaw (or perhaps even knew), and as Kissinger warned (and perhaps knew).

The powers-that-be have bought into the false option of either making a deal or going to a war footing. It was once known as the Sarkozy Option:  Iran with the bomb, or bomb Iran.

It need not be, and everybody knows it.  Deep in the subtexts, and every now and then in public, we hear about the White House’s not-so-secret dream that the Iranian regime will either moderate or fall.  It’s worth recalling that Gorbachev managed both.  First he reformed, via glasnost and perestroika, and then he fell.  There was never a fatal choice between a deal and war.

Indeed, regime change is a constant leitmotif of the world today, having reshaped Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, threatened Syria and Venezuela, aimed at Jordan, and raged across Africa.  Just this past weekend the Wall Street Journal ran a long analysis proclaiming the impending fall of the Chinese Communist state.

Regime change doesn’t just happen, even if we are invariably surprised when a regime falls.  We — including the gurus in the intelligence community — imagine that regimes are stable, despite Machiavelli’s categorical statement that tyranny is the most unstable form of government.  Nor has regime change been driven primarily by economic misery.  The most distressed oppressed societies, such as Cuba or North Korea, aren’t threatened by masses of desperate citizens.  The Soviet Union failed nonstop from Lenin to Gorbachev, but only imploded when the United States actively supported the internal opposition.

At the time of Gorbachev’s defeat, most policy makers believed a version of the Sarkozy option;  hardly anyone took seriously the possibility that such a tyrannical regime could be brought down without massive violence.  Only leaders like Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Margaret Thatcher could imagine the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  No bombs, no marching armies, just the end of the regime.

In all likelihood, a similar implosion was pending for Iran after the phony presidential elections in the summer of 2009.  But there was a decisive difference:  whereas Reagan and his allies supported the tyrant’s enemies, Obama, dreaming of a grand bargain even before entering the White House, supported the tyrant.  Khamenei’s opponents did not believe they could defeat both the regime and the United States, and the Islamic Republic survived.  On the other hand, in countries where the Obama administration supported regime change — think Tunisia and Egypt — it succeeded.

This suggests that external support, and above all American support, greatly empowers internal opponents and can be decisive if the regime is ready to go.  It turned out that the Soviet Empire was hollow, and thudded onto history’s rubbish heap with very few fireworks.

Is Iran also a hollow regime?  There’s no way to quantify this, and social scientists aren’t much help in answering it.  One needs a good nose to sniff it out.  But one key indicator is counter-intuitive:  vicious crackdowns on the people are a sign of weakness, not strength.  As David Shambaugh, writing about the recently intensified political repression in China, noted:  “A more secure and confident government would not institute such a severe crackdown. It is a symptom of the party leadership’s deep anxiety and insecurity.”  One might say the same about President Rouhani, under whose guidance the tempo of executions, torture and incarceration has dramatically increased.

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A Manhattan trial has produced a few more documentary fragments from Osama bin Laden’s computer, and, among other things, they show he was in regular contact with the group’s terrorist commanders until shortly before we killed him.  And guess what?  AQ was working in cahoots with Iran all along.

So how come we didn’t hear about that when we were fighting AQ in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How was Obama able to talk about “decimating core AQ” without dealing with the Iran link? Didn’t we know it?

It’s a big question, and the answer is bigger than “because Obama.”  The documents presented at trial in New York go back to the Bushitlercheney era, and the cooperation between AQ and Iran goes back to the long runup to 2001.  Is this yet another intelligence failure?

Remember that the 9/11 Commission famously called for deeper investigation and analysis of precisely that link between Sunni al Qaeda and Shi’ite Iran.  Did the “intelligence community” do it?  If so, what are the results?  If not, why weren’t they all fired?

I was a very passionate kibitzer of that game, having worked on things Iranian ever since the 1979 revolution, and I had some great Iranian sources, as events demonstrated, first in late 2001, and then again in 2003 and thereafter.

In December 2001, one of my Iranian friends arranged for a top intelligence official to fly from Tehran to Rome to meet with me and two Pentagon officials.  Among the things he gave us was a particularly dramatic claim:  that the regime had sent a team of assassins to Afghanistan to operate against American special forces. He gave us detailed information about the would-be killers, including their orders and likely location.  We passed the information to the appropriate special forces people, who found it was accurate.  The assassins were decisively dealt with.

You might think that the powers-that-be in Washington would have been pleased, and that our spooks would have maintained contact with the proven source high and deep in the Iranian regime.  Not at all.  They—including CIA chief George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell–were furious (saying they hadn’t been informed about the meeting).  They ordered an end to all contact with the Iranian intelligence officer, and fed all manner of nonsense about the meeting to friendly journalists. Not one of those officials and journalists has shown the slightest remorse.  Meanwhile, we were being told that the Iranians had been most helpful in resolving the unpleasantness in Afghanistan.

A similar pattern unfolded around the invasion of Iraq two years later.  My Iranian sources told me in considerable detail about the Iranian preparations to fight our troops in Iraq, and I passed on the information.  It soon became clear, above all to anyone fighting or working on the ground in Iraq, that the information was solid.  But the (Bush) administration was not interested.  I knew a high-ranking Pentagon official who was repeatedly told by his CIA counterparts that the stories weren’t true.  They were so intent to gainsay my sources’ claims that, even as hundreds of Americans were blown up by IEDs that were tracked back to Iran, they denied the evidence.

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An Intelligent Citizen’s Guide to Iran Policy

February 20th, 2015 - 12:10 pm

We are on the eve of Secretary Kerry’s latest foray into creative diplomacy with Iran, and thus, as on past occasions, inundated by leaks and rumors.  So let’s clear the chalkboard of the many deceptions, lies and confusions that surround the talks.  Here are the basic principles to keep in your frontal lobes as the information flows:

The Iranians do not need a deal.  Even if you believe they were so crippled by sanctions that they swallowed their pride and sat down to talk with us, by now the sanctions are greatly reduced, and the regime has innumerable ways to get around them anyway. Moreover, the Iranians believe they are winning right now, and why shouldn’t they?  Think Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and big chunks of Africa.

And remember that Khamenei does not want a deal with the satanic Americans.  If he gets most everything he wants without a deal, why make one?

To put it a bit differently, what if the Iranians came to the negotiations NOT because they were groaning under the burden of sanctions, but because they believed the American will was broken?  That would mean that the negotiating room would be the site of American surrender, not Iranian agreement to Western restrictions.

We know that Zarif treats Kerry with contempt, yelling at him frequently.  Does that not suggest the Iranians are in Geneva to dictate the terms of OUR surrender?

Obama desperately wants a deal, which he has always considered the greatest possible foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency.

Indeed, Obama has already made a deal with Iran, but it isn’t only, and not primarily, about nukes.  In essence, he’s given Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, a veto over U.S. Middle East policy.  Obama has embraced the two pillars of Iranian ambition:  he’s in full support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and he’s in full opposition to Israel and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

This is the strategic alliance Obama has been secretly negotiating since the presidential election campaign of  2008. We don’t know the details;  hell, we don’t even know the contents of the interim deal (aka JPOA).  State has a version, the Iranians have a different one.  Whatever is said publicly needs to be checked, but the “agreement,” being secret, is uncheckable. Alas, even the most pugnacious congressional investigators have not managed to pry loose this fundamental information.  And yet we know the names of the back channels, from Jake Sullivan to Valerie Jarrett.  Some senator or congressman should arrange for public testimony.  If we knew more about the negotiations we’d be better placed to evaluate whatever oozes out of Geneva in coming days.

There IS a Syria strategy.  It’s part of the Iran strategy:  make Khamenei happy, maybe he’ll make Obama look good by agreeing to the nuclear deal.

Hostages.  You can be sure we’re dealing with the Iranians about American hostages in their clutches, from the Marine to the priest to the WaPo correspondent.  But none of the bigtime journalists has taken an active interest in this very important component of the U.S.-Iran “relationship.”  Back in the eighties, when Reagan’s dealings to free U.S. hostages seemed a gigantic scandal, every scribbler in town was digging for details.  Not today.  I want to believe there will be an accounting for these accomplices to the big coverup.  But who will blow the whistle?

I hope that helps.  Don’t be surprised if there is no deal.  As the last two times around, the most likely outcome is that Khamenei pockets his gains and keeps on wheeling and dealing.

And we say “we’re making great progress.”

The hell of it is that Iran is very vulnerable, its citizens waiting for some signal from the West that time has finally run out on this cruel regime of fanatics and mass murderers.  When that moment arrives, everyone will be amazed at how hollow the Islamic Republic really is.  Remember Gorbachev?  Gone in a microsecond…

Are There Two Obamas?

February 15th, 2015 - 9:18 am

Still trying to sort out who he is.  Take the massacre at the Paris kosher market.  At the time, he (in official White House statements) blamed it on Jew-hatred, and then, in what he obviously felt was a friendly interview, uttered the now-infamous phrase about how “some folks” got killed in a “random” attack..

What are we to make of this?  Were the earlier statements put out, without his personal attention, by the PR underlings in the West Wing?  Did he forget what he had said by the time the interview took place, and just said the first thing that popped into his head?  Or was he focused on something else, something that made him think “don’t say anything about anti-semitism”?

There is no doubt that he gives great speeches. People don’t swoon at his presence as they did for John F. and Robert Kennedy, but they are certainly inspired.  Charisma he’s got.

On the other hand, when he’s not scripted, he says some amazing things.  A few examples:

–When he said he’d campaigned in 57 states, leaving just one more to go.

–When he bolluxed up the logic of the argument when, in support of government-run health care, he said  “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

–When he showed he didn’t know how to pronounce “corps,” saying “corpse” when referring to a Navy corpsman.

–The classic line, at a San Francisco fundraiser, about voters not inclined to support him:  “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

–His remark in Vienna that he didn’t know how to say something “in Austrian.”

The mispronunciation was written down (but didn’t save him).  The others, like the “random” killers horror, were ad-libbed.

To be sure, even his scripted lines often contain shocking errors of fact, as when he credited Muslims for importing printing to the Middle East (the first printing technology was brought to Cairo by Portuguese Jews).

Such blunders document the poor quality of the president’s staffers, as well as his own ignorance of history and geography.  No surprise there;  he’s the product of a failed educational system after all.  But I think the unscripted ad-libs are rather more than that, they open the channel to the inner Obama.

That’s why the “random” remarks are so alarming, and are well worth the attention they’ve been given.  They tell us a great deal about his core convictions.

I think they also point to his ongoing concerns about the long-sought deal with Iran.  I think he’s very careful to avoid saying or doing anything that might conceivably annoy Supreme Leader Khamenei.  If he strongly denounced anti-semitic terrorism, wherever it occurs, it would challenge one of the Islamic Republic’s core principles.  So Obama dances around it.  He doesn’t go to the Auschwitz ceremony.  He doesn’t talk about Islamic terror.  So when a questioner asks him about such things, the avoidance mechanism takes over and he slides into jive.

That is also why he won’t do anything to threaten Assad, who is the lynchpin of the Iranian security system, and why he isn’t more outspoken about American hostages in Iran.

Khamenei knows all this.  So why should he make any deal short of total American surrender?  He’s already getting most everything he wants from Obama right now.

There was nothing particularly new about President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast the other day, and most of the opinion makers and shapers who feigned outrage are late to the issue.  Not that it’s unimportant.  It’s extremely important.  But the unfortunate notion that all religions, and indeed all cultures, are morally equivalent has been with us a long time, and it’s very fashionable.  It’s now the conventional wisdom, as a matter of fact.

I’m not going to dwell on the silly anachronisms and false parallels in the speech–Governor Jindal did it best, I think, when he told the president to relax about medieval Catholicism and focus his concerns on contemporary Islamism–but rather on what we’re supposed to do when we encounter religious views that offend us, or seem threatening to us.   Obama basically said we should just shut up:

…If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.

These remarks weren’t made in a theoretical debate.  They come shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and other barbaric acts in the name of radical Islam.  They are part of the doctrine of multiculturalism, which has been well described by two Danish writers.  It started as “culturalism,” early in the last century:

 (It) is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realize him or herself within it. (It) also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections, even if they violate individual rights at the same time.

It purports to defend all cultures against all alien depredations. Starting in the first half of the 20th century, most famously in the work of celebrated anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, its advocates gushed about the genuineness and beauty of tribal cultures in the Third World, and urged the West, and particularly the United States, to respect their cultural integrity.  Indeed, the movement went so far as to enlist an amazing number of philosophers and anthropologists in a campaign against the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It was only a short step from cultural relativism to moral relativism, and some anthropologists, philosophers, and politicians took that step very soon after the Second World War  The relativists came from both ends of the political spectrum, the main difference being that those on the left talked about “community” and “oppressed peoples,” while those on the right tended to use the language of traditional nationalism, claiming sanctity for national values and traditions. Universal human rights had little living space in these ideologies, and the culturalists adamantly rejected any attempt to criticize any culture from anyone outside that culture.

There’s a lot of this around, especially on college campuses, and it’s got a lot of popular support.  More than you might imagine.  A recent private poll showed a bare majority–a mere 51% of Americans–believed that media should publish images of Mohammed, including cartoons.  Interestingly, that number drops to 43% for Evanglicals, while 55% of Catholics favor it.

Many world leaders, and some countries (Canada and Malaysia, for example) are similarly multiculti.  Pope Francis put it in typically colorful language.

Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

Throwing a pretend punch, the Pope said: “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Obama concurs.

And then there’s Tony Blair.  When prime minister, he proposed legislation  that would criminalize any criticism of any religion. He had considerable support, even from the Anglican church. The proposed legislation called for punishment of “abusive” and “insulting” language, even if there were no intent to abuse or insult. Fortunately, there was enough resistance – and Blair himself missed the crucial vote – to defeat the measure, although two years later a somewhat milder version was passed, resulting in a considerable tightening of free speech.

As I was working on this post, a visiting rabbi at our synagogue gave a dazzling commentary on this week’s Torah portion (which includes the Ten Commandments).  His main point was that we had to keep challenging our own views of what God expects from us, and he reminded us of all the changes–some ancient, some in course today–in Jewish doctrine.  Calling on us to refrain from criticizing religious doctrine, whether our own or others’, prevents us from getting wiser, and getting closer to God.

That the president of the United States, the prime minister of Great Britain, and the Catholic pope, along with very nearly half of all Americans, have all called for silence about religious content should be very worrisome, especially to people of faith.



The past few days have produced at least three excellent articles on Obama’s secret agreements, or would-be agreements, with Iran. At the Daily Beast, Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent put it in the framework of the fight against ISIS, explaining how our constant catering to Iran’s desires makes it virtually impossible for us to defeat the Islamic State.  Mosaic’s Michael Doran lays out the history of Obama’s Iran dealings (still mostly secret, including the details of the currently-operative interim agreement), which, as Doran puts it, has resulted in the Iranians having “bested the most powerful country on earth on their terms.”  Finally, there’s Jeffrey Goldberg’s musings at the Atlantic, which more or less conclude that, while Obama hopes to strike a deal with Iran that will both end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and moderate its international behavior:

Iran seems as interested as ever in becoming a regional hegemon, on its own terms. And its supreme leader, and his closest confidants, have made it clear, over and over again, that he is not interested in normalizing relations with the United States.

Those who have followed this space over the past several years will not be shocked or even surprised at these revelations, but the fact that four authoritative analysts–and Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies should be added to the list of clear-eyed observers — have all concluded that Obama has been in thrall to Iran for several years now, with frightening consequences for our national interest, is news.  And there are others:  Eli Lake at Bloomberg and Kyle Orton on his own blog, for example, are two of the best.

All of these have done outstanding work, and it’s encouraging that they have all come to agree with my essays over the past several years, going back to the earliest days of the Obama administration.  It’s worth dwelling on this point, as Michael Doran of Mosaic, for example, has still not accepted it.  He thinks that the secret American talks with Iran revolve around the 2012 elections, which gave Obama greater freedom in pursuing his Iranian scheme.  But that is wrong.  The secret talks began in 2008, before Obama was even elected, and the back channel, as I was the first to reveal, was retired U.S. Ambassador William Miller, who confirmed the story to me and others.

In other words, Obama entered the White House with the intention of forging an alliance with our most dangerous enemy in the Middle East.  That fact has to be the baseline of any serious analysis of our government’s policies.

Which takes us straightaway to the great unanswered question:  Why does the president want this alliance?

I don’t know the answer.  I suspect there is no single answer, but many components.  No doubt one component is Obama’s well-documented conviction that American misbehavior is responsible for many, if not most, of the world’s problems.  He probably believes the myths about the 1953 events that restored the shah to power in Tehran.  He may well share at least some elements of the Iranian regime’s hatred of past American actions.

But those fairly widespread, basically secular, and quintessentially leftist convictions don’t get us there.  They don’t begin to explain the president’s passion to embrace the Islamic Republic, the world’s biggest killer of Americans, a regime that slaughters and imprisons and tortures its own citizens in record numbers, especially in light of its consistently anti-American behavior throughout the Obama years.

The president is apparently immovable on this matter, regardless of advice from his own people, from our military leaders, and from allies.  Doran elegantly sums up Obama’s Syria policy:

Clearly, the president viewed the anti-Assad movement in Syria just as he had viewed the Green Movement in Iran three years earlier: as an impediment to realizing the strategic priority of guiding Iran to the path of success. Was the Middle East in fact polarized between the Iranian-led alliance and just about everyone else? Yes. Were all traditional allies of the United States calling for him to stand up to Iran? Yes. Did the principal members of his National Security Council recommend as one that the United States heed the call of the allies? Again, yes. But Obama’s eyes were still locked on the main prize: the grand bargain with Tehran.

What is the reason for such relentless pigheadedness?  Most all his people were on the other side, he wasn’t getting any diplomatic cooperation from Zarif and Rouhani, American hostages were suffering in Iranian captivity, yet the president pursued his dream.

Past American sins aren’t nearly good enough.  It seems to me there must be something about Iran itself that draws him into the web of the mullahs.  Perhaps if we knew more about his life it would at least provide a clue.  Did he have a Persian lover?  Did one of his professors glorify Shi’ism?  I haven’t seen a trace of helpful evidence.

I don’t believe the theory that he’s a closet Muslim.  For this “explanation” to work, he’d have to be a closeted Twelver Shi’a, and there’s no good reason to believe that.

Other theories point to Valerie Jarrett, who was born in Iran.  Perhaps the dream comes from her?  She’s the president’s closest adviser, after all, and she’s a central player in the secret talks.  But we know a lot about her, and what we know paints a convincing picture of an American pol, an Obama friend and loyalist, a friend of Michelle, and a practitioner par excellence of Chicago School Politics.  Not a lover of the world’s leading sponsor of terror.

None of his many interviewers has pressed Obama on this central question, nor have our congressional bigwigs seen fit to investigate it.  Maybe that will change, as the media mood evolves toward bafflement and criticism.  It seems to me that we are entitled to know a lot more about the secret talks, and about the White House guidance under which the talks have been conducted.  I am still baffled that Congress has not demanded the text of the current agreement with Iran on the nuclear matter, and I am frustrated that no leading journalist has the slightest interest in the hostage question, which may well be linked to Obama’s dream (maybe he doesn’t want to escalate pressure for hostage releases because he doesn’t want trouble from Khamenei).

I do know that it’s a very big question, and I wish we knew the answer.  It’s urgent.