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Foreign Affairs

In Iran, The Beat Goes On

Literally. The NY Times reports:

The authorities showed little inclination to heed chastisement by outsiders as a senior cleric called for demonstrators to be punished “ruthlessly and savagely.”

At Friday Prayer in Tehran University, the senior cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, referred to the demonstrators as rioters and declared, “I want the judiciary to punish leading rioters firmly and without showing any mercy to teach everyone a lesson.”

Reuters quoted him as saying that demonstrators should be tried for waging war against God. The punishment for such offenses under Islamic law is death, Reuters said.

As for the murder of the woman named Neda, now a symbol of Iranian resistance worldwide, Khatami also dismissed that as propaganda ploy:

Khatami said Neda was shot by government opponents for propaganda purposes. “By watching the film, any wise person can understand that rioters killed her,” he said.

Any hope for a new election, or even a recount were dashed by the Guradian Council:

The 12-man Guardian Council’s statement leaves little scope for more legal challenges to the election result, short of an attack on the position of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has expressed strong support for Ahmadinejad.

“The Guardian Council has almost finished reviewing defeated candidates’ election complaints … the reviews showed that the election was the healthiest since the revolution … There were no major violations in the election,” said Kadkhodai.

And while government thugs have been pretty successful in keeping protesters off the street, other signs of resistance are still evident:

There were other signs of continued resistance. A few conservatives have expressed revulsion at the sight of unarmed protesters being beaten, even shot, by government forces. Only 105 out of the 290 members of Parliament took part in a victory celebration for Mr. Ahmadinejad on Tuesday, newspapers reported Thursday. The absence of so many lawmakers, including the speaker, Ali Larijani, a powerful conservative, was striking.

This is by far the most serious challenge to the present regime since the 1979 revolution which put them in power. And I’ll remind you again that it took a year from the initial protests for enough pressure to build (as other elements of the society joined the original dissidents) to the point that millions took to the streets and overthrew the Shah. And at this point, the mullocracy has nothing on the Shah’s regime in terms of brutality, oppression and totalitarian control.

~McQ

Will Waxman-Markey Inspire A Trade War?

Apparently it will according to some who have actually beaten their way through the entire bill and read the contents:

The Ways and Means Committee’s proposed bill language (pdf) would virtually require that the president impose an import tariff on any country that fails to clamp down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Of course in this full bore onslaught of major life changing legislation which the Democrats seem determined to push through the Congress as quickly as they can (citing the imminent crisis it will foment if they don’t), this issue seems to be lost in the shuffle:

“This is a sleeper issue that lawmakers have not been paying enough attention to,” said Jake Colvin, vice president for global trade issues at the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinational corporations like Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. advocating for an open international trading system.

“The danger is, you focus so much on leveling the playing field for U.S. firms, that you neglect the potentially serious consequences that this could have on the international trading system,” Colvin said.

Ya think?

Nancy Peolosi is aiming for a vote in the House this Friday, before the July 4th recess. That obviously will mean very, very limited debate, if any. As NRO notes:

Not content to tempt political fate by imposing huge carbon taxes on the American middle class, Democrats have added a provision which imposes stiff tariffs on our trading partners if they don’t adopt aggressive carbon restrictions of their own.

You heard correctly: progressives have authored a bill that earns the mortal enmity of domestic energy consumers and our most crucial trading partners at the same time. Economy-killing climate policies and a trade war — together at last!

The devil is in the details:

Leaks from Hill offices indicate that the president would now be forced to impose the carbon tariffs — and could only opt out of doing so with permission from both chambers of Congress. Carbon-intensive imports would be subject to penalties at the border unless the country of origin requires emission reduction measures at least 80 percent as costly as ours. (The original Waxman-Markey bill had a threshold of 60 percent.)

Brilliant. Of course, some are going to argue that such measures surely will not be in the Senate version and not survive the reconciliation process when the two versions are merged. With this Congress I wouldn’t bet the farm on that.

There’s some talk that the blue dogs are going to oppose this bill. Obviously you would expect the GOP to oppose it as well. Are there enough other Dems to oppose so as to defeat it? Pelosi may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to many things, but over the years she has learned to count votes I’m sure.

Bottom line: this bill is an economy killer, plain and simple. But it is also a progressive wet-dream shared by Pelosi. She is going to do everything in her power to push it through the House.

~McQ

No Hot Dogs For Iran

It took almost two weeks of brutalizing their own people, but the invitation for Iranian diplomats to attend Fourth of July parties at U.S. Embassies around the world has finally been rescinded. Of course this was done about a day after President Obama gave this mealy-mouthed answer to a question on the subject:

Q: Are Iranian diplomats still welcome at the embassy on the Fourth of July, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think as you’re aware, Major, we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with — we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with Iran. I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years, in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations. But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.

For those of you who need a translator, the answer was “yes”. Today the answer is “no”.

I’m glad they’ve awakened up there to the reality of what is happening in Iran and finally made some sort of move, no matter how trivial or symbolic, to show their disapproval. But it has taken unrelenting pressure to get them to move off of their “engagement at any cost” policy.  In the case of 4th of July celebrations, it would have been a travesty to have representatives of the present brutal regime present.  Ed Morrissey asks what they’d have been present for anyway:

Besides, what Independence Day values would the Iranian regime want to celebrate with us? Freedom of speech? Freedom of religion? The freedom to peaceably assemble or petition government for a redress of grievances?

Obama rather arrogantly reminded us that “only I am President of the United States”. But as former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger reminded Obama, that means he represents the people of the United States when he speaks and in the case of the Iranian violence, he hasn’t represented them very well at all.

~McQ

The Irony of Obama

In the wake of President Obama’s presser yesterday, Walter Shapiro makes an observation:

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally – very occasionally – the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president’s public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.

When it comes to Iran, Obama has at times spoken in particularly mealy mouthed fashion because he is fearful (as he has repeatedly explained) that his words could be hijacked by the Iranian theocrats. Even during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama ducked condemning the Iranian election as totally fraudulent by carefully saying, “We didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitely what happened at polling places throughout the country.” Obama – who more than most leaders understands the power of inspirational rhetoric – has been forced to keep his most potent weapon (his moral outrage) sheathed through most of the Iranian crisis.

It’s kind of ironic isn’t it? The man whose primary political resource is his rhetorical abilities is rendered essentially speechless when it is only speech which is required to stand strongly by Iranians fighting for their freedom and rights and condemn their oppressors.

But let a CEO get a bonus he doesn’t like and he can muster both anger and eloquence.

Truly a strange world we live in.

~McQ

The “Bullet Fee”

Shades of the Chicoms and Saddam Hussein.

A protester is shot dead in Iran. His father learns of his death:

Upon learning of his son’s death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a “bullet fee”—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

But we don’t want to be the “foil” so we’ll withold saying anything that might be misinterpreted. Well, except this:

But privately Obama advisers are crediting his Cairo speech for inspiring the protesters, especially the young ones, who are now posing the most direct challenge to the republic’s Islamic authority in its 30-year history.

Ed Morrisey calls this “despicable”. I say he’s being very understated in his criticism.

Pass the hot dogs.

Please.

~McQ

Mullahs Mulling New Governing Body

The political fallout within Iran of the protests against the regime and the election seems to be pretty dramatic. For the first time in 30 years, the mullahs who actually run the place are split and are looking closely at their method of ruling the country and considering what they would see as some rather drastic modifications.

One thing that some of the mullahs are unhappy with (finally) is the power concentrated in the position of “supreme leader”.

Iran’s religious clerics in Qom and members of the Assembly of Experts, headed by Ayatollah Rafsanjani, are mulling the formation of an alternative collective leadership to replace that of the supreme leader, sources in Qom told Al Arabiya on condition of anonymity.

As mentioned before, the Assembly of Experts has the power to remove both the president of the country and the “supreme leader”. Rafsanjani has been at loggerheads with the current supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. 5 members of Rafsanjani’s family were arrested (and later released) during last week’s protests.

Members of the assembly are reportedly considering forming a collective ruling body and scrapping the model of Ayatollah Khomeini as a way out of the civil crisis that has engulfed Tehran in a series of protests,

The discussions have taken place in a series of secret meetings convened in the holy city of Qom and included Jawad al-Shahristani, the supreme representative of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is the foremost Shiite leader in Iraq.

Serious stuff. And again, going back to what I mentioned in another post, a very large crack in the foundation of “divine authority” the regime is supposed to have.

The reformist clerics are calling for the protesters who’ve been arrested to be released as well. They claim that will help ease tensions. My guess is it will refuel the protests. No word on the clamp down on the media or the internet.

A couple of interesting quotes from protesters:

“The robocops beat us up badly,” one protestor told AFP. “Men and women were beaten up…. My whole body is bruised…. They confiscated my camera.”

Another witness said: “Lots of guards on motorbikes closed in on us and beat us brutally. “As we were running away the Basiji were waiting in side alleys with batons, but people opened their doors to us trapped in alleys.”

According to statements posted by witnesses on the social networking site Facebook, foreign embassies even opened the doors to injured protesters, among them the Danish embassy. The report was not confirmed by the Danish foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, in the US, the phrase of the day is “pass the hotdogs”.

~McQ

Hitchens “Gets It” Concerning Iran

He sets it up with these observations:

1. There is nothing at all that any Western country can do to avoid the charge of intervening in Iran’s foreign affairs. The deep belief that everything—especially anything in English—is already and by definition an intervention is part of the very identity and ideology of the theocracy.

2. It is a mistake to assume that the ayatollahs, cynical and corrupt as they may be, are acting rationally. They are frequently in the grip of archaic beliefs and fears that would make a stupefied medieval European peasant seem mentally sturdy and resourceful by comparison.

3. The tendency of outside media to check the temperature of the clerics, rather than consult the writers and poets of the country, shows our own cultural backwardness in regrettably sharp relief. Anyone who had been reading Pezeshkzad and Nafisi, or talking to their students and readers in Tabriz and Esfahan and Mashad, would have been able to avoid the awful embarrassment by which everything that has occurred on the streets of Iran during recent days has come as one surprise after another to most of our uncultured “experts.”

And he brings it home with this:

That last observation also applies to the Obama administration. Want to take a noninterventionist position? All right, then, take a noninterventionist position. This would mean not referring to Khamenei in fawning tones as the supreme leader and not calling Iran itself by the tyrannical title of “the Islamic republic.” But be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed. [emphasis mine].

For those of you who continue to miss this point, there it is, perfectly stated.

And, for those who find “hot dogs on the 4th” still acceptable for members of a regime presently engaged in viciously and murderously silencing their own people, one has to assume you believe in rewarding bad behavior by pretending it hasn’t happened. That’s not “diplomacy”, that’s simply an abysmally poor choice that signals weakness.

~McQ

“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats” (Updated)

There have probably been moments where I’ve been more disgusted with my country’s leadership, but I’m having great difficulty bringing them to mind. Somehow, having repressive and murderous regimes over for lunch clouds my memory of indiscretions gone by:

The United States said Monday its invitations were still standing for Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at US embassies despite the crackdown on opposition supporters.

President Barack Obama’s administration said earlier this month it would invite Iran to US embassy barbecues for the national holiday for the first time since the two nations severed relations following the 1979 Islamic revolution.

“There’s no thought to rescinding the invitations to Iranian diplomats,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

“We have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran,” Kelly said. “We tried many years of isolation, and we’re pursuing a different path now.”

The only thing I can think to say is, how dare you?

How dare the representatives of a country founded on freedom from tyranny and the principles of inalienable rights not give any thought — no thought whatsoever — to reexamining its invitation to theocratic sponsors of terrorism who violently deny their own people access to any say in how their lives are governed?

How dare the supposed leader of the free world not ponder, even for a moment, that perhaps treating thuggish dictators as legitimate state actors, on our nation’s birthday no less, might be sending the wrong signal?

How dare the supreme ambassadors of everything we hold dear as a country extend anything more than a single, firmly-flexed digit in the direction of a bully state that clearly has no business pretending to represent the interests of its citizens?

President Obama, how dare you slap your own countrymen in the face with such a rude and thoughtless gesture?

How dare you forgo “thought” on the matter; aren’t you supposed to be the intellectual president … y’know, The One who thinks about things?

I can only hope that our government hasn’t become so comfortable with its own power-grabbing that it fails to recognize blatant state repression when it’s invited over for hot dogs and fireworks.

It’s one thing to hold one’s tongue, or to speak in moderate tones when addressing momentous historical events as they unfold. It’s entirely another thing altogether to look tyranny in the face and smile as you invite it into your home. Even more significantly, our duly elected representative to the world is doing all this on the day to commemorate the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears our forefathers spent in casting off the yolk of dictatorial control so that we might have a nation of laws, and freedom to pursue our own individual happiness — freedoms that our “guests” routinely spit upon. President Obama should be ashamed.

[HT: Hot Air]

UPDATE: Bruce helpfully makes the point I was trying to get at above, but somehow failed to include in my rant:

And, for those who find “hot dogs on the 4th” still acceptable for members of a regime presently engaged in viciously and murderously silencing their own people, on has to assume you believe in rewarding bad behavior by pretending it hasn’t happened. That’s not “diplomacy”, that’s simply an abysmally poor choice that signals weakness.

Obviously we’ve coddled repressive regimes before, to our and their people’s detriment, but I’m not trying to suggest that we simply disengage from any discussions whatsoever. There are times and places for diplomatic discussion, even with tyrannical governments such as Iran’s. While that regime is busy slaughtering peaceful protesters and on a national holiday celebrating our hard-won freedoms is not such a time.

Foreign Policy OJT

Frankly, that’s precisely what’s going on with the developing situation in Iran. Our President is both inexperienced and naive, and in the world of foreign relations, that can be a fatal mix.

As I pointed out about Gitmo below, the president hadn’t done his homework when he announced his pre-election decision to close the prison there. And, as mentioned, his decision has been a fiasco.

Iran is the same sort of problem for him. He announced a policy of engagement as though nothing of the sort had ever been put forward before. And, in so announcing his policy, he apparently didn’t understand or chose to overlook the fact that two of the regimes about which he spoke (Iran and NoKo) had absolutely no real desire to engage him.

Part of the problem is Obama believes the hubris about his abilities. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime doesn’t and has no real reason or necessity to actually engage him. Professor Faoud Ajami takes Obama to task over his performance so far:

Mr. Obama may believe that his offer to Iran is a break with a hard-line American policy. But nothing could be further from the truth. In 1989, in his inaugural, George H.W. Bush extended an offer to Iran: “Good will begets good will,” he said. A decade later, in a typically Clintonian spirit of penance and contrition, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came forth with a full apology for America’s role in the 1953 coup that ousted nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh.

Iran’s rulers scoffed. They had inherited a world, and they were in no need of opening it to outsiders. They were able to fly under the radar. Selective, targeted deeds of terror, and oil income, enabled them to hold their regime intact. There is a Persian pride and a Persian solitude, and the impact of three decades of zeal and indoctrination. The drama of Barack Obama’s election was not an affair of Iran.

Obama obviously thinks more of his abilities to persuade than are proven on the world stage. Again hubris. The magic “Cairo speech” which is assumed to have done in a week or so what wasn’t possible for decades in the region:

That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to “cheat” — an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers’ cynicism and utter disregard for their people’s intelligence and common sense — and we were caught at it. Mr. Obama’s statement that “the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as had been advertised” put on cruel display the administration’s incoherence. For once, there was an acknowledgment by this young president of history’s burden: “Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons.” No Wilsonianism on offer here.

Mr. Obama will have to acknowledge the “foreignness” of foreign lands. His breezy self-assurance has been put on notice. The Obama administration believed its own rhetoric that the pro-Western March 14 coalition in Lebanon had ridden Mr. Obama’s coattails to an electoral victory. (It had given every indication that it expected similar vindication in Iran.)

But the claim about Lebanon was hollow and reflected little understanding of the forces at play in Lebanon’s politics. That contest was settled by Lebanese rules, and by the push and pull of Saudi and Syrian and Iranian interests in Lebanon.

Mr. Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo did not reshape the Islamic landscape. I was in Saudi Arabia when Mr. Obama traveled to Riyadh and Cairo. The earth did not move, life went on as usual. There were countless people puzzled by the presumption of the entire exercise, an outsider walking into sacred matters of their faith.

As someone said, it’s 3am and Obama is continuing to hit the snooze button. He needs to learn very quickly, and especially when it comes to foreign affairs, that you can’t vote “present” when you’re the President of the United States.

~McQ

Is It Different In Iran This Time?

I believe the answer is “yes”. It has to do with the breaking of the aura of divine authority coming from the ruling mullahs  and casting doubt, among the people, on the belief that the theocracy is divinely sanctioned.

Fareed Zakaria offers an excellent summary of the point:

CNN: Do you mean you think the regime will fall?

Zakaria: No, I don’t mean the Iranian regime will fall soon. It may — I certainly hope it will — but repressive regimes can stick around for a long time. I mean that this is the end of the ideology that lay at the basis of the Iranian regime.

The regime’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, laid out his special interpretation of political Islam in a series of lectures in 1970. In this interpretation of Shia Islam, Islamic jurists had divinely ordained powers to rule as guardians of the society, supreme arbiters not only on matters of morality but politics as well. When Khomeini established the Islamic Republic of Iran, this idea was at its heart. Last week, that ideology suffered a fatal wound.

CNN: How so?

Zakaria: When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a “divine assessment,” he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran’s supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today — legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.

CNN: There have been protests in Iran before. What makes this different?

Zakaria: In the past the protests were always the street against the state, and the clerics all sided with the state. When the reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, was in power, he entertained the possibility of siding with the street, but eventually stuck with the establishment. The street and state are at odds again but this time the clerics are divided. Khatami has openly sided with the challenger, Mir Hossein Moussavi, as has the reformist Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. So has Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament and a man with strong family connections to the highest levels of the religious hierarchy. Behind the scenes, the former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of the Assembly of Experts, another important constitutional body, is waging a campaign against Ahmadinejad and even the supreme leader himself. If senior clerics dispute Khamenei’s divine assessment and argue that the Guardian Council is wrong, it is a death blow to the basic premise behind the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is as if a senior Soviet leader had said in 1980 that Karl Marx was not the right guide to economic policy.

Once the genie is out of the bottle in this sort of a situation it is pretty much impossible to get it back in. The split among the mullahs, who have, in the past, always sided with the regime, is a critical point. Someone comes out of this being declared “wrong” (whether they actually are or not). And the split will remain even of those declared “wrong” are replaced. As Zakaria points out, the very fact that some mullahs have acknowledged that there may be some credibility to the charges of vote fraud and are willing to investigate it is a huge blow to the legitimacy of “divine authority” (which originally supposed “approved” this election), the power of the mullahs and Ahmadinejhad.

I agree with Zakaria that it is indeed a mortal blow to the basic premise behind Iran’s government. How long it will take for that blow to finally kill the regime is, as of yet undetermined. But I think the assumption that it is merely a matter of time is basically correct.

Certainly the regime may muster the force necessary to put the protests down at this moment. But the powder keg will remain, just waiting for the proper detonator event to blow it sky high. I don’t think these protests are going to stop any time soon. And at some point, if the protesters keep the pressure on, the tide is going to begin to turn. The ability of the regime to muster the will and the thugs to do this over and over again is, at some point, going to fail.

It always does.

My question is, will whatever government eventually takes the helm there see the US as a supportive ally in their quest for freedom or a country that sat on the sideline, mouthing platitudes and trying to keep their options open with the oppressive regime now gone (on this particular question, Fareed Zakaria and I seem to disagree)?

~McQ