Like the US getting duped into helping “rebels” who are also aligned with Iran:
Iran "discreetly" provided humanitarian aid to Libyan rebels before the fall of Tripoli, Jam-e-Jam newspaper quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday as saying.
"We were in touch with many of the rebel groups in Libya before the fall of (Moamer) Kadhafi, and discreetly dispatched three or four food and medical consignments to Benghazi," Salehi told the daily.
"The head of the National Transitional Council (NTC), Mustafa Abdel Jalil, sent a letter of thanks to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for having been on their side and helping," he added.
Any guess who comes out on the short end of this? Its not that we’re actually bad guys, it’s just that when it comes to us or them, there’s one big problem between us than they share. Islam and the US being in the “other” category, commonly referred to as “infidel”. So while while the US and NATO do the heavy lifting of getting Gadhaffi out of the way, Iran quietly appeals to its “Muslim brothers” with humanitarian aide. Just enough to get them in good stead with the rebels and in position, now, to take that up a notch or two.
Since the Libyan uprising erupted in mid-February, Iran has adopted a dual approach — criticising the Kadhafi regime for its violent assaults on the rebels while at the same time condemning NATO’s military intervention.
On Tuesday, Iran "congratulated the Muslim people of Libya" after rebels overran the capital Tripoli, but it has so far distanced itself from officially recognising the NTC.
And Iran will withhold that until it helps arrange the proper government type after sorting out who should or shouldn’t be involved in the NTC. Just watch and learn.
Egypt continues to make more and more moves indicating that it desires to distance itself from the US and that more instability in the region will probably result from its diplomatic moves.
After decades of no relations with certain countries in the region, with the full approval of the US (and one would assume the lack of such relations would be in the best interest of the US and peace in the region), Egypt has now decided to change that course. They tie to moves to regaining their regional prestige:
Iran and Egypt’s new government signaled Monday they were moving quickly to thaw decades of frosty relations, worrying the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia that the overtures could upset the Mideast’s fragile balance of power.
Iran said it appointed an ambassador to Egypt for the first time since the two sides froze diplomatic relations more than three decades ago, the website of the Iranian government’s official English-language channel, Press TV, reported late Monday.
Also Monday, officials at Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that new foreign minister Nabil Elaraby is considering a visit to the Gaza Strip—an area controlled by Hamas, a militant Palestinian Islamist group backed by Tehran and until now shunned by Cairo.
It would be pretty hard not to see where this could lead.
Additionally, Egypt is reaching out to Syria:
Egypt’s outreach has also extended to Syria, a close ally of Iran. In early March, Egypt’s new intelligence chief, Murad Muwafi, chose Syria for his first foreign trip.
The result of our “hey, Hosni, get out of town” policy?
Amr Moussa, the former Secretary General of the Arab league, owes his front-runner status in Egyptian presidential elections later this year to his forceful statements against Israel when he was Egypt’s foreign minister during the 1990s. Islamist groups in particular have been empowered by Egypt’s abrupt shift to democracy, and analysts expect that Egypt’s next government will have to answer to growing calls that it break with U.S. foreign-policy objectives.
Some Islamist political voices within Egypt have already begun their own sort of diplomacy. Magdi Hussein, the chairman of the Islamist Al Amal (Labor) Party, met with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi earlier this week in Tehran. Both sides encouraged a quickening of the diplomatic thaw between the two countries.
Egypt appears to be following a foreign relations pattern set by Turkey in the past decade—a strong American ally whose foreign policy has nevertheless decoupled from American interests. Regardless of its final position on Iran, the country is likely to be significantly less beholden to U.S. interests, American officials said, if only because Egypt was such a reliable ally under Mr. Mubarak.
"It’s hard to imagine a change that would improve on what we had" with the previous Egyptian regime, one U.S. official said.
If there’s a “Doomsday clock” for Middle East war, it is quickly moving toward 1 minute to midnight.
Meanwhile in Libya, the “days, not weeks” war enters its 2nd month with no resolution in sight.
Talk about chutzpah, check this out from our favorite little Holocaust denying, "wipe-Israel-from-the-map", "no gays in Iran", protest busting, protester murdering, election stealing, nuclear bomb building popinjay, er, "President" of Iran:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday urged Middle East leaders to listen to the voices of citizens who have taken to the streets in masses to demand a change in government — though such protests in his own country have been crushed with brute force.
Ahmadinejad "strongly recommended such leaders to let their peoples express their opinions," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"He further urged those leaders of regional countries who respond to the demands of their nations and their revolutionary uprisings with hot bullets to join their peoples’ movements instead of creating blood baths."
What’s next – a lecture from Fidel on individual rights? Hugo Chavez waxing poetic on the virtues of capitalism?
This, from Austin Bay, does an excellent job of making the point about Egypt that I have been trying to get across in a meta sense. He does it with a look back at the Iranian revolution. It, in many ways, mirrors what is happening in Egypt today. Bay makes the point that in all such revolutions, the key is organization. And unfortunately authoritarians usually do a better job of organizing than do democrats.
A democratic movement will never march in lockstep, but common principles — such as dedication to individual rights — must translate into a common spine to resist, with armed force when necessary, inevitable manipulation, threat and attack by tyrants, terrorists and their vicious partisans.
Recent history bears tragic witness. In the aftermath of their popular rebellion of 1979, the hodgepodge collection of Iranian liberals and nationalists fragmented. The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s radical Islamic totalitarians divided the democratic coalition and attacked them individually. Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, Iran’s first president after the 1979 revolt, identifies the failure to form a unified democratic front as the Iranians greatest strategic error.
In an essay published in the Christian Science Monitor last month, Bani-Sadr said most Iranian political organizations "did not commit themselves to democracy. Lacking the unity of a democratic front, one by one they became targets of power-seeking clergy in the form of the Islamic Republic Party … ."
I remember the Iranian revolution vividly. I remember Bani-Sadr and the hopes he had for a free and democratic Iran. And I also remember the relentless Ayatollahs and their eventual success at the "divide and conquer" strategy they used. Iran has never gotten off the mat since.
Bay is much more optimistic about the outcome in Egypt than I obviously am. I think it is much to early to determine that they are headed in the right direction. Bay says there are hopeful signs. Good. But … and there’s always one of those when talking about an authoritarian regime willingly handing over power … we’re so early in the process it’s impossible to tell if the military is really serious about the handover or whether nationalists, secularists, “moderate” Islamists and activists can indeed form a united front or will instead fracture at various points.
History says “fracture”.
Bay puts the “key” to success in his conclusion:
How the military receives the counter-proposal is crucial. Rejection or ambivalent delay sends the ominous message that there is at least one strong faction of military Bonapartists who prefer pharaoh to freedom. The give and take of sincere negotiations among revolutionary factions and the military, ending in authentic compromise, however, will not only forward the process of building a democratic front but signal the emergence of genuine democratic politics.
You can be guaranteed there are what Bay calls “Bonapartists” within the military. And in Egyptian history it isn’t unheard of for more junior level officers to resort to violence to take over (Gamal Nasser anyone?). In the sort of revolutionary atmosphere now prevalent in Egypt it should be remembered that not all revolutionaries want democracy or freedom. You can rest assured there are power struggles going on within a great number of these factions both within and outside the military.
Given Bay’s quoting of recent history, I’m not sure how he is so optimistic at this early date in the process, but he does seem to think that a united Egyptian democratic front may emerge from all this turmoil. I remain skeptical and doubtful (even if I’d love to be proven wrong). And … I have history on my side.
Discussing the START treaty that right now is being considered by the Senate, the Heritage Foundation’s Conn Carroll reminds us and the Senators considering the treaty of some objective reality:
Senators should keep in mind this Administration’s hostility toward missile defense to begin with. Within months of assuming office, the Obama Administration announced a $1.4 billion cut to missile defense. The successful Airborne Laser boost-phase program was cut, the Multiple Kill Vehicle and Kinetic Energy Interceptor was terminated, and the expansion of ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California were canceled. Adding insult to injury, President Obama then installed long-time anti-missile defense crusader Phillip Coyle as Associate Director for National Security in the White House Office of Science and Technology … by recess appointment. That’s right—this President not only appointed the “high priest” of missile defense denialism as his top adviser on missile defense, but he did so in a way to purposefully avoid Senate consultation on the matter. This is the President some Senate conservatives want to trust? On missile defense? Really?
One way to make nuclear weapons obsolete or less desirable is to make them undeliverable. That’s the purpose of the missile defense technology we’ve been developing over the years. Then, when you negotiate a treaty like START you negotiate from a position of strength.
Instead, we’ve seen a unilateral decision to throw missile defense under the bus, even while rogue nations like Iran and North Korea develop bigger and more powerful missiles every year. Not to mention the fact that both countries are supplying the technology to others and, according to news reports, providing missiles to proxies and planning on basing missiles in Venezuela.
The cuts to these programs is short-sighted and ignores a very real and growing problem. The Airborne Laser boost-phase program, for instance, has successfully intercepted ICBMs in the boost phase in tests and is able to quickly kill and engage multiple targets as they boost out toward their targets (a time when the missiles are at their most vulnerable). It is the first layer in a multilayered missile killing system which would provide this country and its allies a virtually impenetrable shield against rocket launched nuclear weapons.
Instead, we have an administration going around killing off the systems that will protect us all the while telling us that START will do the job and we should just trust the Russians (and Iranians and North Koreans one supposes).
The easiest way for a nuclear weapon to be delivered successfully is via an ICBM. Killing off our successful and front-line missile killers like the Airborne Laser boost-phase program is short sighted and dangerous. If President Obama wants START, make him negotiate. Reinstate the anti-missile programs. Then, the next time he or anyone else (hopefully) negotiates a like treaty, it will be from a position of strength that essentially renders rocket delivered nukes obsolete. That would be a nice change from the obvious unilateral disarmament we’ve seen in the anti- missile shield area and a subsequent negotiating position of weakness.
That’s what our president should be doing, instead of giving away the farm for a piece of paper. I wonder if the new START promises “peace in our time”?
Iran is again upping the ante in the game of brinksmanship it is playing with the US and the rest of the Western world. It’s latest move? An agreement with the anti-US regime in Venezuela to base medium range ground-to-ground missiles there.
Iran is planning to place medium-range missiles on Venezuelan soil, based on western information sources, according to an article in the German daily, Die Welt, of November 25, 2010. According to the article, an agreement between the two countries was signed during the last visit o Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Tehran on October19, 2010. The previously undisclosed contract provides for the establishment of a jointly operated military base in Venezuela, and the joint development of ground-to-ground missiles.
At a moment when NATO members found an agreement, in the recent Lisbon summit (19-20 November 2010), to develop a Missile Defence capability to protect NATO’s populations and territories in Europe against ballistic missile attacks from the East (namely, Iran), Iran’s counter-move consists in establishing a strategic base in the South American continent – in the United States’s soft underbelly.
Some of us are old enough to remember the Cuban missile crisis of the Kennedy era and the fact that we went to the very brink of nuclear war to prevent the USSR from establishing missile bases in the US.
Of course the USSR was a nuclear power at the time and so the possibility of nuclear weaponry being a part of those missiles was both real and likely. Iran, on the other hand, isn’t yet a power with nuclear weapons (or so say it and the rest of the world). But it is anticipated that they will soon have that capability.
So, if the report is true will the US allow the establishment of such missile bases in Venezuela? And with the possibility of the regime in Iran developing nuclear weapons, the possibility they’ll “share” them with Venezuela has to be taken serious. The agreement apparently allows Iran to establish a military base there manned by Iranian missile officers, soldiers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The base with be jointly occupied by Venezuelan military as well.
And then there is this bit of ominous news about the agreement:
In addition, Iran has given permission for the missiles to be used in case of an "emergency". In return, the agreement states that Venezuela can use these facilities for "national needs" – radically increasing the threat to neighbors like Colombia. The German daily claims that according to the agreement, Iranian Shahab 3 (range 1300-1500 km), Scud-B (285-330 km) and Scud-C (300, 500 and 700 km) will be deployed in the proposed base. It says that Iran also pledged to help Venezuela in rocket technology expertise, including intensive training of officers
Not only that, it is through Venezuela that Iran is planning to bypass UN weapons sanctions as well:
Russia decided not to sell five battalions of S-300PMU-1 air defence systems to Iran. These weapons, along with a number of other weapons, were part of a deal, signed in 2007, worth $800 million. Now that these weapons cannot be delivered to Iran, Russia is looking for new customers; according to the Russian press agency Novosti, it found one: Venezuela.
Novosti reports the words of Igor Korotchenko, head of a Moscow-based think tank on international arms trade, saying that if the S-300 deal with Venezuela goes through, Caracas should pay cash for the missiles, rather than take another loan from Russia. "The S-300 is a very good product and Venezuela should pay the full amount in cash, as the country’s budget has enough funds to cover the deal ," Korotchenko said. Moscow has already provided Caracas with several loans to buy Russian-made weaponry, including a recent $2.2-mln loan on the purchase of 92 T-72M1M tanks, the Smerch multiple-launch rocket systems and other military equipment.
If Iran, therefore, cannot get the S-300 missiles directly from Russia, it can still have them through its proxy, Venezuela, and deploy them against its staunchest enemy, the U.S..
So, thus far, this is what the US’s “unclenched fist” has brought. A move by Iran – whether admitted or not – to establish a way at striking at the US should the US strike Iran. Additionally, it has found an ally to help it avoid weapons sanctions and obtain advanced weaponry that would help protect it’s nuclear facilities from air strikes through a proxy (of course, training and maintenance and parts may be difficult to obtain should Venezuela buy them and send them to Iran).
Iran has obviously not been sitting idly by while the West contrived to choke it off from the weaponry it wants. Additionally it has found a way to make any strike on their facilities much more risky for the US.
Anna Mahjar-Barducci of Hudson New York (Hudson Institute) concludes:
Back in the 1962, thanks to the stern stance adopted by the then Kennedy administration, the crisis was defused.
Nowadays, however, we do not see the same firmness from the present administration. On the contrary, we see a lax attitude, both in language and in deeds, that results in extending hands when our adversaries have no intention of shaking hands with us. Iran is soon going to have a nuclear weapon, and there are no signs that UN sanctions will in any way deter the Ayatollah’s regime from completing its nuclear program. We know that Iran already has missiles that can carry an atomic warhead over Israel and over the Arabian Peninsula. Now we learn that Iran is planning to build a missile base close to the US borders. How longer do we have to wait before the Obama administration begins to understand threats?
Her points are dead-on. The unclenched fist, as we predicted, has caused the aggressors of the world to decide to push the envelope. Believe it or not And why not? There’s no penalty evident for doing so. As mentioned here at QandO, 2009 would be a year that the bad guys watched the new guy on the block and assessed him (weak or strong?). If they decide he’s a weak sister, they will begin to test him in 2010 and 2011. North Korea is right now in the middle of doing that and, as this deal indicates, Iran (nor Venezuela) has absolutely no fear of the US’s reaction to basing missiles capable of hitting the US mainland in Venezuela. And START does nothing to address this situation, obviously. Yet that’s the administration’s current priority.
The phone is about to ring at 3am. You have to wonder when it does if it will just go to the answering machine.
I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up with the story about the cyber attack on the Iranian nuclear facilities, but it is both interesting and important.
"Stuxnet" is the name of a worm that has apparently been introduced somehow into the system that controls the Iranian nuclear processes – specifically at those facilities thought to be focused on producing nuclear weapons. This is no ordinary malware worm, but an extremely sophisticated and targeted one which is apparently causing some real havoc in Iran.
Iran admitted Monday, Sept. 27 it was under full-scale cyber terror attack. The official IRNA news agency quoted Hamid Alipour, deputy head of Iran’s government Information Technology Company, as saying that the Stuxnet computer worm “is mutating and wreaking further havoc on computerized industrial equipment.”
Stuxnet was no normal worm, he said: “The attack is still ongoing and new versions of this virus are spreading.”
The mutation continues to infect and infest the Iranian systems causing all sorts of problems. Experts say that such sophistication would require “the backing of a nation-state” to put it together. I have a sneaking suspicion I know who it is, and this is their answer to whether or not bombing the facility is feasible. Uh, no – but when you can do this, why do that?
Lots to comment on, little time in which to do it (it is a holiday weekend after all). But here are some stories that caught my eye that I may do a more extensive commentary on at a future date.
Thomas Friedman pens a column in which he explores what it will mean if America is no longer the superpower of the world. Quoting Michael Mandelbaum, the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert, he makes the case that our debt and the subsequent frugality it will require is essentially going to make us retrench and probably withdraw much of our foreign aid (not just money, but troops and fleets, etc., which have helped keep the peace over the years). He notes that when Great Britain gave up its “global governance role”, the US stepped in. The question is, when the US pulls back and creates the expected power vacuum, what country will try to fill the role?
After all, Europe is rich but wimpy. China is rich nationally but still dirt poor on a per capita basis and, therefore, will be compelled to remain focused inwardly and regionally. Russia, drunk on oil, can cause trouble but not project power. “Therefore, the world will be a more disorderly and dangerous place,” Mandelbaum predicts.
Cast your eyes toward a the Middle East. While Turkey and Iran don’t have what it takes to step into the shoes the US has filled, each certainly feel that the withdrawal of us influence presages a much greater leadership role for them in their respective region. China may feel the same thing about the Far East. Friedman concludes:
An America in hock will have no hawks — or at least none that anyone will take seriously.
That’s true, I believe – at least while a Democrat is in the White House or Democrats control Congress – not because they’re suddenly frugal, but because they’d prefer to spend the money on other things.
But this is my favorite paragraph:
America is about to learn a very hard lesson: You can borrow your way to prosperity over the short run but not to geopolitical power over the long run. That requires a real and growing economic engine. And, for us, the short run is now over. There was a time when thinking seriously about American foreign policy did not require thinking seriously about economic policy. That time is also over.
Some of us Americans have know this was a probable result for years. Welcome on board, Mr. Friedman. It’s about freakin’ time.
If you read no other column today, read George Will’s about the global warming industry.
The collapsing crusade for legislation to combat climate change raises a question: Has ever a political movement made so little of so many advantages? Its implosion has continued since "the Cluster of Copenhagen, when world leaders assembled for the single most unproductive and chaotic global gathering ever held." So says Walter Russell Mead, who has an explanation: Bambi became Godzilla.
In essence, it’s analogous to something else we discussed not to long ago, the UAW is now "management". Will’s point is the former "skeptics" – environmentalists – are now the establishment. Funny how that works.
According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders are in the middle of doing what can only be characterized as “political triage” concerning the upcoming House mid-term elections. Reality, as they say, has finally penetrated the happy talk and leaders are taking a brutal look at the chances of all their House members:
In the next two weeks, Democratic leaders will review new polls and other data that show whether vulnerable incumbents have a path to victory. If not, the party is poised to redirect money to concentrate on trying to protect up to two dozen lawmakers who appear to be in the strongest position to fend off their challengers.
My guess is the Blue Dog contingent is about to be cut loose. The leadership probably figures that losing those seat isn’t as big a problem as losing seats in which automatic votes for whatever the leadership puts forward are assured. That would be members of the Progressive caucus and the Congressional Black caucus for instance. The good news for Democrats is most of them are found in what are considered “safe” districts. So they’ll go in the “will live with minimal treatment” category.
The Blue Dogs will most likely go into the “mortal” category and receive little money or backing. They’ll simply let them die, politically It is those in the big middle, in perhaps marginal districts that could go either way or those who’ve survived tight races previously in districts that may lean slightly to the Democratic side which will get the money. These “critical but can be saved” members will get the lion’s share of the money and support allocated for the mid-terms.
Whether they can save enough of them to avoid the magic 39 seats the GOP needs, however, remains to be seen. My guess is it would require a miracle – and possibly that would require some of the Blue Dogs to squeak out a victory. But if those patients are left to pass quietly away when some might have been saved, the Dems may rue the day they decided to pitch them outside the tent and leave them to be brutalized by the political elements. Or said another way – the Dems may outsmart themselves, this strategy could easily blow up badly in their faces and it may be they that assure the 39th seat by not fighting for all of them.
So now what?
We had the tough talk from Obama and the State Department about “new” sanctions designed to bring Iran to its knees over the development of nuclear weapons.
But now the administration is face with walking the walk concerning those sanctions. And apparently Turkey isn’t at all worried or concerned about the US’s reaction:
Ankara will continue to permit Turkish companies to sell gasoline to Iran, despite US sanctions against fuel exports to Islamic regime, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
"If the preference of the private sector is to sell these products to Iran, we will help them," said Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz.
Tupras, Turkey’s sole oil refiner and gasoline exporter, expressed little fear of retribution from US Treasury officials who have the power to ban sanctions violators from accessing the US banking system or receiving US contracts.
"For us, Iran is more important than America because we get crude oil from them. We don’t get anything from America," a Tupras official was quoted as saying.
It seems that Turkey has figured out that our new motto is “Speak loudly and carry no stick”. No fear and certainly no respect is shown in the statement by the Tupras official. And Minister Yildiz is obviously waving away any official concern with his statement.
Two things are demonstrated by their stance. A) Turkey is “all in” in it’s support of the “Islamic world”. It has obviously made a choice between the being a part of the coalition of Middle Eastern Islamic countries and the West and NATO. B) Turkey has been given absolutely no reason to believe we’ll actually enforce our sanctions and thus demonstrates no respect for them or the US.
I’m not sure that would have been the case 2 short years ago. While Turkey was certainly moving away from the Western orbit at the time, their overt hostility to the US wasn’t at all evident. And my guess is they knew the US would enforce sanctions then. However, they have deduced that the US is a weak horse right now, and they plan to build their credibility in Middle East at our expense. Defying the “Great Satan” is a great way to do that.
And, of course, there’s the China problem. China too is shipping in gasoline. So in order to enforce sanctions against Turkey the US would have to do the same against China. Oh – and our “good friends” the Russians as well. Yeah, that’s right, Russia and China are both selling gasoline to Iran, and have come to no harm. What’s the risk of bucking the US? Turkey figures it to be nil. And, it appears, they’re right.
The tough “new” sanctions, it appears, are a farce and our “friends” see no risk it flouting them. It sort of boils down to the old western adage of “if you’re going to wear a gun, you have to be ready to use it”. Apparently these three have figured out the gun the administration is wearing is empty.
There’s something to be said for respect and fear in foreign policy – but you have to actually do something (or be willing to do it) before the world community will heed what you say. This administration’s weapons are words, not deeds. And the expected result is on display in this little scenario, a scenario that you can expect to see replayed over and over and over again as long as it is in power.
A very interesting poll is out which measures Arab public opinion on a number of questions. Two of them give a damning review of the results of the Obama initiatives in the area.
One question asks: “How would you describe your views of President Barack Obama and the United States”. In 2009, soon after Obama took office among all his promises and in the wake of the Cairo speech, Arab public opinion, as measured by this poll, found 45% to be positive about him and the US, 28% neutral and only 23% negative.
Oh what a difference a year and actually having to do something makes. Now 62% have a negative view, 16% are neutral and only 20% are positive.
On the question of, “How would you describe your attitudes toward the Obama Administration policy in the Middle East?”, a majority of 51% said they were “hopeful” in 2009, while 28% were neither encouraged or discouraged and only 15% were discouraged. Now? 63% say they’re discouraged while only 16% say they’re hopeful.
In 2008, when the evil Bush regime was still in power, 83% of those polled said their general attitude toward the US was somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable. That number is now 85%.
Probably the most telling of all as to the effectiveness of the administration’s foreign policy in the area is the change in attitude about a nuclear armed Iran.
In 2008, most Arabs believed that Iran was pursuing nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Now most believe it is pursuing it for nuclear weapons. When asked in 2008, “If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, which of the following is the likely outcome for the Middle East region?”, those polled replied 44% “more positive”, 12% “wouldn’t matter” and 29% “more negative”. After a year of Obama’s policies toward Iran, Arab public opinion has shifted. Now 57% say it would be “more positive”, 20% “wouldn’t matter” and a mere 21% say “more negative”.
Viewing the results, given the trumpeting by the incoming administration as to how their new approach would improve our image in the area and yield results with Iran, one would have to objectively say it’s been an utter failure.