Belmont Club

Iranian Punch

As the time nears when Iran is scheduled to announce the “punch” which will leave the West “stunned” on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, it is useful to review the broad situation in which it takes place. What are the circumstances under which this ‘stunning blow’ will be announced?

First, it will happen at a time when President Obama’s attempts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by engagement have failed. Adam Lowther in the New York Times says that about all the administration can do now is make lemon out of lemonades. “With Iran having notified the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency that it is now enriching its stockpile of uranium to a higher level, we should admit that Washington’s approach to countering the Islamic Republic is leading nowhere.”  Lowther says that perhaps Washington can turn the resulting fear among the Sunnis to America’s advantage.

Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. …

Second, becoming the primary provider of regional security in a nuclear Middle East would give the United States a way to break the OPEC cartel. …

Third, Israel has made clear that it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. The Palestinians also have a reason for concern, because a nuclear strike against Israel would devastate them as well.

But he is simply looking to find ways to find a silver lining in a dark cloud, a valid exercise, but a damage control exercise withal. The bottom line is that America is on the brink of failing to contain a threat which will alter the whole calculus in the Middle East. A nuclear armed Iran will change many things in the region.

The second thing to consider is that Iran itself is in a period of internal instability unseen since Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Reza Aslan at the Daily Beast says that discontent is widespread.  In fact, some of the largest protests to date have occurred after Mousavi and Karroubi asked supporters not to demonstrate. The protest movement has even disregarded calls from established opposition politicians to stop. This means that in addition to the uncertainty occasioned by the West’s failure to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there is additional variance caused by upheavals within Iran.

The most remarkable aspect of the current uprising in Iran is its lack of coordination from above. As many observers have noted, this is essentially a “leaderless revolution,” one organized by Twitter and Facebook rather than by any individual or group. In fact, some of the largest protests to date have occurred after Mousavi and Karroubi asked supporters not to demonstrate.

The third circumstance is what Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren described as the convergence of factors. It is not just Iran’s impending bomb, nor the unrest within it that is now coming to a head. A whole lot of factors may be converging. In an interview with Roger Simon at PJTV, Oren noted the eerie resemblance of the coming spring of 2010 to the powderkeg situation which preceded the Six Day War. He said that nobody then predicted the series of events which in a matter of hours precipitated a conflict whose results reverberate to this day. Interestingly, Oren asserted that European diplomats have now belatedly realized how grave the situation now is.

Whether Oren is right or not, his observation preceded news that Britain, Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are boycotting Ahmadinejad’s celebration in Teheran, thus validating concerns about Iran’s internal instability and the gravity with which the Europeans now view Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Britain’s Ambassador in Tehran and four European counterparts are to boycott today’s celebrations of the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, which the opposition hopes to turn into another massive demonstration against the regime.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that Simon Gass would not attend the official events in Azadi Square because of a “range of problems” between Britain and the Iran. The regime refused to accept the deputy head of mission instead, and threatened to prevent the ambassador from holding any future meetings with officials or ministers.

In summary, the curtain rises on a scene where 1) Barack Obama has failed to contain Iranian nuclear ambitions; 2) Iran is in a state of turmoil; 3) regional conditions are at a heightened state of tension which even the Europeans are now alive to. But crucially these events are taking place at a time when Washington has paralyzed itself through incompetence so great that even liberals are calling for the dismissal of Barack Obama’s Chicago crew. David Rothkop at Foreign Policy names who he thinks should get the hatchet. He mentions some of the national security team, Rahm Emmanuel and were it in the President’s power to fire him, Harry Reid. Even the Huffington Post can contain itself no longer. It quotes a Financial Times article describing a White House in which cabinet secretaries are treated like “minions” by political operatives.

Administration insiders say the famously irascible Mr Emanuel treats cabinet principals like minions. “I am not sure the president realises how much he is humiliating some of the big figures he spent so much trouble recruiting into his cabinet,” says the head of a presidential advisory board who visits the Oval Office frequently. “If you want people to trust you, you must first place trust in them.”

These small minded men are at the helm of a great state. This petty tyranny is taking place in an atmosphere where a terrified press is afraid to speak out. The Huffington Post article says sources have demanded anonymity because “because the consequences of retribution from this powerful foursome [Rahm Emmanuel, Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod] can be severe in an access-dependent town. John Podesta, president of the powerful, administration-tilting Center for American Progress, had the temerity and self-confidence to put his thoughts publicly on the record. But most others could not.”

The cumulative result of conditions means that whatever punch the Iranians intend to announce today that Washington is leading with it’s chin. It has thrown away every strength and magnified every weakness. It is an extraordinarily inept performance by a small group of men who have so far failed to show they are worthy of the great responsibility entrusted in them. Sometimes the quality of leadership goes beyond the ability to speak mellifluous phrases. It requires the ability to think clearly and act decisively. In times of crisis it is customary to quote Winston Churchill. But in our post-modern world his phrases, echoed in empty minds, can acquire ironic meanings. “Never was so much owed by so many to so few” is probably an apt way to refer to the deficit, and “never give in, never give in” may soon be quoted to spur the passage of Cap and Trade. Some things can’t be run like Chicago.


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