For once, Joe Biden was right – he prophesied that within 6 months of taking office Barack Obama would be tested on the world stage.
Well, we’re a bit early, but thus for his performance has been underwhelming as it pertains to Iran. Even Biden and Hillary Clinton want to see a stronger response.
Instead we got silence, then a mealy-mouthed response and recently a bit stronger but still using language that vaguely supports the Iranian regime.
Today the House and Senate passed resolutions concerning Iran.
The Senate version “”condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones.”
It seems the House version now sounds like the Senate version, because apparently the White House was not pleased with the original version of the House resolution (it was too strongly worded for their taste), and helped the House “tone down” the resolution. Robert Gibbs then said the resolutions were consistent with the administration.
“We made it clear that we didn’t want to make the U.S. a foil in a debate that has nothing to do with us,” a senior administration told me this morning. “This is a debate among Iranians.”
The dangerous naivete? The belief that a totalitarian regime that has made the US their “foil” for 30 years wouldn’t do it at the drop of a hat when there was trouble?
And guess what? They have.
So the US has silenced itself based on the false presumption that Iran would only blame them for meddling if we said something.
Naive. Dangerous. And a sure way to loose any moral leverage in any future negotiations should the regime survive tomorrow.
We may be getting ready to see a repressive regime underestimating the power of the people or we may be on the cusp of another Tiananmen Square.
Ayatollah Khamenei didn’t budge an inch in his speech today:
Addressing Friday prayers at Tehran University, the bearded septuagenarian offered no concessions to the millions of irate Iranians who have taken to the streets this week. Instead he issued an unmistakable warning to Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, the defeated candidates.
“Those politicans who have influence on people should be very careful about their behaviour if they act in an extremist manner,” he said. “This extremism will reach a level which they will not be able to contain. They will be responsible for the blood, violence and chaos.”
“The Supreme Leader has drawn a line in the sand, and he has the muscle to back it up,” one Iranian analyst said. “His speech was a polite way of saying ‘Hey – there’s a coup and we’re in charge.’ It was an absolute declaration of power.”
Indeed it was. And Fox just had a correspondent on now in Tehran who has been seeing armed militias setting up at all the key intersections in the city.
Ayatollah Khamenei demanded the demonstrations stop. “I want to tell everyone these things must finish. These street actions are being done to put pressure on leaders but we will not bow in front of them,” he said. “I call on all to put an end to this method…If they don’t they will be held responsible for the consequences and chaos.”
“Consequences and chaos” seems a pretty clear indication that Khamenei plans on taking action of some type should the planned protests materialize tomorrow.
And the opposition?
But protestors said they would attend today’s rally come what may. “If the crowd is large enough there’s nothing they can do,” Bahrooz, an engineer, said. “If they start killing people that would bring about the fall of the regime.”
“All my friends are coming and they’re bringing their families,” Taraneh, an office worker, said. ”How many people can they arrest or kill?”
Brave words. Courageous intent. I wish them well and pray for their success.
But the bottom line is the guy who presently enjoys the monopoly on the use of force in that country has, in a somewhat nuanced way, announced he’s willing to use it.
But then the protester has a point as well. I believe we’re going to see a violent crackdown. The question then is do those who will have to inflict the violence upon the protesters have the will to see it through to completion – completion being killing and/or arresting enough protesters necessary to completely gut the protest movement.
I’m not sure, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out.
I got a good laugh out of this particular characterization by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, the external spokesperson for Mir Hossein Mousavi. Foreign Policy magazine interviewed him in Paris:
FP: There has been growing criticism here in Washington that U.S. President Barack Obama hasn’t said or done enough to support those demonstrating in the streets of Iran. Do you think Obama is being too careful? Or even that he is helping Ahmadinejad by being cautious?
MM: Obama has said that there is no difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. Does he like it himself [when someone is] saying that there is no difference between Obama and [George W.] Bush? Ahmadinejad is the Bush of Iran. And Mousavi is the Obama of Iran.
FP: Would Mousavi pursue a different foreign policy than Ahmadinejad?
MM: As you may know, former President Mohammad Khatami, who is supporting Mousavi at the moment, was in favor of dialogue between the civilizations, but Ahmadinejad talks about the war of the civilizations. Is there not any difference between the two?
We [Iranians] are a bit unfortunate. When we had our Obama [meaning President Khatami], that was the time of President Bush in the United States. Now that [the United States] has Obama, we have our Bush here [in Iran]. In order to resolve the problems between the two countries, we should have two Obamas on the two sides. It doesn’t mean that everything depends on these two people, but this is one of the main factors.
The only problem is there is nothing to really indicate that concerning the large issues – nuclear weapons, funding terror organizations (Hamas/Hezbollah) and keeping the Palestinian/Israeli situation stirred up, there’d be any difference at all.
As the Times of London reminds us:
Mr Mousavi, 67, is a creature of the political Establishment — a former revolutionary and prime minister who would like to liberalise Iranian politics but has never challenged the system in the way his followers are doing.
So the question remains who is this guy in reality? In fact he may be more like Obama than we imagine. He’s riding a wave of “hope and change” in Iran that may be completely different than what he’s willing or able to deliver. In other words, just as here in the US, he’s letting those who support him decide what “hope and change” mean for the purpose of putting him in power. He’d then govern as an establishment president albeit with a softer and more diplomatic touch.
The first indicator of his true colors comes today:
The moderate Iranian leader who says that he was robbed of victory in last week’s presidential election faces a fateful choice today: support the regime or be cast out.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, has told Mir Hossein Mousavi to stand beside him as he uses Friday prayers at Tehran University to call for national unity. An army of Basiji — Islamic volunteer militiamen — is also expected to be bussed in to support the Supreme Leader.
The demand was made at a meeting this week with representatives of all three candidates who claim that the poll was rigged, and it puts Mr Mousavi on the spot. He has become the figurehead of a popular movement that is mounting huge demonstrations daily against the “theft” of last Friday’s election by President Ahmadinejad, the ayatollah’s protégé.
Will he stand by Khamenei or will he defy him? My money’s on him supporting the regime.
Some fascinating stuff here:
The state owned Data communication Company of Iran (or DCI) acts as the gateway for all Internet traffic entering or leaving the country. Historically, Iranian Internet access has enjoyed some level of freedom despite government filtering and monitoring of web sites.
In normal times, DCI carries roughly 5 Gbps of traffic (with a reported capacity of 12 Gbps) through 6 upstream regional and global Internet providers. For the region, this represents an average level of Internet infrastructure (for purposes of perspective, a mid size ISP in Michigan carries roughly the same level of traffic).
Then the Iranian Internet stopped.
One the day after the elections on June 13th at 1:30pm GMT (9:30am EDT and 6:00pm Tehran / IRDT), Iran dropped off the Internet. All six regional and global providers connecting Iran to the rest of the world saw a near complete loss of traffic.
Graphically, here’s what happened -
Here’s a detailed look at the abrupt stop noted above -
There’s no question, obviously, that internet traffic was almost totally blocked. And you don’t have to be a North Korean rocket scientist to know why.
So why has limited bandwidth been restored since?
I can only speculate. But DCI’s Internet changes suggest piecemeal migration of traffic flows. Typically off the shelf / inexpensive Internet proxy and filtering appliances can support 1 Gbps or lower. If DCI needed to support higher throughput (say, all Iranian Internet traffic), then redirecting subsets of traffic as the filtering infrastructure comes online would make sense.
Unlike Burma, Iran has significant commercial and technological relationships with the rest of the world. In other words, the government cannot turn off the Internet without impacting business and perhaps generating further social unrest. In all, this represents a delicate balance for the Iranian government and a test case for the Internet to impact democratic change.
Events are still unfolding in Iran, but some reports are saying the Internet has already won.
It would seem so, at least in this case, but I’m not so sure that a country which really didn’t care about maintaining the mirage of a “free” country, as does Iran, couldn’t and wouldn’t keep it shut down for a while longer than did Iran. China for instance.
What it does prove is how incredibly powerful and important the internet has become throughout the world, and how, as communications technology expands and networking options become more available (Twitter carried the day after Inet cutoff to the point that it can be asserted that there was no longer any positive reason to keep the Inet shut down), the ability of totalitarian regimes to control communications is degraded to the point of impotence. Someone is going to get the word out by some means, like it or not. And for the most part, Iran likes it not. But the ability of the communications network to bypass governmental blocks by other means may have been instrumental in making the mullahs finally take the sham election seriously and forcing them to finally address the alleged voting irregularities.
Before anyone gets too worked up about this development, it should be noted that there is probably no way to authenticate this alleged letter, and its existence comes to us via Robert Fisk (yes, that “Fisk“). Nevertheless, there is a purported letter from the Ministry of the Interior running around Iran that states the following:
Regarding your concerns for the 10th presidential elections and due to your orders for Mr Ahmedinejad to be elected President, in this sensitive time, all matters have been organised in such a way that the results of the election will be in line with the revolution and the Islamic system. The following result will be declared to the people and all planning should be put in force to prevent any possible action from the opposition, and all party leaders and election candidates are under intense surveillance. Therefore, for your information only, I am telling you the actual results as follows:
Mirhossein Mousavi: 19,075,623
Mehdi Karroubi: 13,387,104
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 5,698,417
Mohsen Rezai: 38,716
(signed on behalf of the minister)
Fisk has this to say about it:
They were handing out the photocopies by the thousand under the plane trees in the centre of the boulevard, single sheets of paper grabbed by the opposition supporters who are now wearing black for the 15 Iranians who have been killed in Tehran – who knows how many more in the rest of the country? – since the election results gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more than 24 million votes and a return to the presidency. But for the tens of thousands marking their fifth day of protests yesterday – and for their election campaign hero, Mirhossein Mousavi, who officially picked up just 13 million votes – those photocopies were irradiated.
In a highly sophisticated society like Iran, forgery is as efficient as anywhere in the West and there are reasons for both distrusting and believing this document. But it divides the final vote between Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi in such a way that it would have forced a second run-off vote – scarcely something Mousavi’s camp would have wanted.
Could this letter be a fake? Even if Mr Mousavi won so many votes, could the colourless Mr Karroubi have followed only six million votes behind him? And however incredible Mr Ahmadinejad’s officially declared 63 per cent of the vote may have been, could he really – as a man who has immense support among the poor of Iran – have picked up only five-and-a-half million votes? And would a letter of such immense importance be signed only “on behalf of the minister”?
That the Independent’s intrepid reporter is cautioning against assuming the veracity and provenance of the letter should tell you something (and, it should be noted, “intrepid” is truly meant here as Fisk is openly and flagrantly defying the journalist ban at great personal risk, for which he deserves great praise and admiration). Whether or not it’s real, the mullahs have their work cut out for them in damage control. If the protesters are fairly enough convinced (and it would appear, for now, at least some of them are), then little more fuel will be needed for the fire. Moreover, others who have been either sitting on the fence, or who thought the election was legitimate, are convinced of a sham due to this letter, then it’s difficult to see how the regime can retain any legitimacy.
In any event, this alleged letter may have a significant effect on the outcome of events in Iran.
President Obama’s tapdancing attempt to avoid taking a stand on Iran has come to naught and made him look weak:
The Iranian government, meanwhile, accused the U.S. for the first time of interfering in the postelection dispute. Iran protested to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. affairs in Iran because the two nations have no diplomatic ties. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that President Barack Obama stands by his defense of principles such as the right of people to demonstrate.
Even had Barack Obama maintained his silence, this was almost a given. Totalitarianism 101 – seek an external enemy to blame your problems on before you crack down hard internally (although the split in Qom among the mullahs is interesting and adds a new dimension to the story).
And I disagree with the talking heads that calling for free and fair elections is “meddling in the internal affairs of another state” such as Moorhead Kennedy was blathering on about on CNN this morning. That’s not meddling nor is it an attack on a state’s sovereignty – its a call for a state to actually do what they’re claiming they’re doing.
Caroline Glick, writing in the Jerusalem Post, seems to have as good a measure of Barack Obama’s “foreign policy” as anyone I’ve read. Discussing that in the context of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Sunday speech (two state solution/demilitarized Palestine), Glick writes of Obama and his advisors:
To be moved by rational argument, a person has to be open to rational discourse. And what we have witnessed over the past week with the Obama administration’s reactions to both North Korea’s nuclear brinksmanship and Iran’s sham elections is that its foreign policy is not informed by rationality but by the president’s morally relative, post-modern ideology. In this anti-intellectual and anti-rational climate, Netanyahu’s speech has little chance of making a lasting impact on the White House.
If rational thought was the basis for the administration’s policymaking on foreign affairs, North Korea’s decisions to test long range ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, send two US citizens to long prison terms and then threaten nuclear war should have made the administration reconsider its current policy of seeking the approval and assistance of North Korea’s primary enabler – China – for any action it takes against Pyongyang. As Nicholas Eberstadt suggested in Friday’s Wall Street Journal, rather than spending its time passing UN Security Council resolutions with no enforcement mechanisms against North Korea, the administration would be working with a coalition of the willing to adopt measures aimed at lowering the threat North Korea constitutes to regional, US and global security through its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its proliferation activities.
But the administration has done no such thing. Instead of working with and strengthening its allies, it has opted to work with North Korea’s allies China and Russia to forge a Security Council resolution harsh enough to convince North Korean leader Kim Jung Il to threaten nuclear war, but too weak to degrade his capacity to wage one.
Similar to Obama’s refusal to reassess his failed policy regarding North Korea, his nonreaction to the fraudulent Iranian election shows that he will not allow facts to interfere with his slavish devotion to his ideological canon that claims that no enemy is unappeasable and no ally deserves automatic support. Far from standing with the democratic dissidents now risking their lives to oppose Iran’s sham democracy, the administration has reportedly expressed concern that the current postelection protests will destabilize the regime.
Obama has also refused to reconsider his decision to reach a grand bargain with the ayatollahs on Iran’s nuclear weapons program that would serve to legitimize their continued grip on power. His refusal to make a moral distinction between the mullahs and their democratic opponents – like his refusal in Cairo to make a moral distinction between a nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed America – makes clear that he is not interested in forging a factually accurate or morally clear-sighted foreign policy.
At that point in her article, she brings it home to Israel and points to why, given her assessment of Obama’s foreign policy tendencies, Netanyahu’s speech will not be met with the approbation it deserves, in her opinion, by the US. And she makes a good case for her point which you ought to read.
But I was far more interested in the general analysis than how it specifically applied to Israel because it is one of the best and most clearly stated I’ve seen yet. While she doesn’t say it directly, the path the administration is taking is an extremely dangerous path in dealing with these problems she points too.
Regimes like NoKo and Iran see any conciliatory or ineffective moves toward them as signs of weakness to be exploited. And NoKo is presently in the middle of doing precisely that. Iran, caught up in its own internal difficulties at the moment, will soon follow once those are resolved (and they will be resolved).
To bring it back to the Israeli question, the same sort of policy is at work there – lean on Israel to come up with the solution and make the concessions while mostly ignoring the Palestinian side of the equation. Netanyahu made a point, in his speech, to remind the Obama administration of the very first thing which must be done before any meaningful peace process can begin:
Netanyahu demonstrated that through their consistent rejection of Israel’s right to exist as the Jewish state, the Palestinians – not us – are the side responsible for the absence of Middle East peace.
Until that is done, nothing will change. Instead of trying to get Israel to accept Palestine and make concessions, this should be the focus of the US effort there. Without it, nothing changes. But, as Glick points out, that isn’t the focus of he US effort and thus, it is doomed to failure (and she assumes when it failure is finally admitted, it will be Israel that is blamed).
A very interesting and disheartening read. Like I said, I think Glick has nailed it, and, to quote someone close to the Obama administration, in a few years, unfortunately, these foreign policy chickens are going to “come home to roost”.
While I’ve been monitoring the upheaval in Iran, I’ve also been fascinated by the debate (and commentary) over what President Obama should or shouldn’t say about what is going on there.
Politico makes the point that the administration doesn’t want to become is part of the story. Consequently the State Department has been studying the situation, the White House was “monitoring” it and Obama had been silent. Finally, when the silence had become awkward, and other world leaders had spoken out, Obama finally commented:
“I am deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television,” Obama said Monday, more than two days after protests began to break out Saturday in Tehran. “I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent — all of those are universal values and need to be respected, and whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled.”
Not exactly the strongest statement in the world. Certainly better than silence, but not much.
You know, here’s a chance to show a little leadership, call on the ruling mullahs to do a careful investigation, invite in election monitors from around the world and have a run off so the world can see “the democratic process” actually works in Iran. Not that any of that would happen, but putting it out there as what should happen calls Iran’s hand, and puts pressure on the regime to respond.
Instead we get a statement that is more philosophical than practical, more general than specific. Something that can easily be waved away by Iran. Obama went on to say:
“I think it’s important that, moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views,” he said.
Again, little of substance, carefully avoiding any condemnation or judgment concerning the events of the election. More talk about a process instead of the claimed irregularities.
The closest he got to actually criticizing the regime came when he talked about the desire to talk with Iran:
Obama reasserted a promise for “hard-headed diplomacy” with any Iranian regime and stressed that he wasn’t trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics, but he also expressed sympathy with the supporters of the opposition, describing “a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy, who now feel betrayed.”
Again, very nuanced, and, at least in my opinion, very weak. Certainly I appreciate the concerns about being perceived as “trying to dictate Iran’s internal politics”, but condemning violence, election irregularities and arrests don’t really do that, do they? And while he hits around those things, he never does, in fact, condemn them. He’s “troubled” by the violence, he’s “sympathetic” with the “opposition”, and he hopes that those with dissenting views won’t be “stifled”.
Meanwhile other world leaders have spoken out more forcefully and specificially:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called for an investigation of the election results, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said flatly that there were “signs of irregularities” in the results.
“Expressions of solidarity with those who are defending human rights, with students and others, are important,” former Czech President Vaclav Havel said Monday.
“We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.”
Really? The US has been the “issue inside Iran” for 30+ years. It has been the “Great Satan” since the revolution. It can’t escape being the issue even when it remains silent.
Leaders who claim to represent democracy step up when a crisis dictates a strong response. Apparently Rahm Emanuel’s “never let a good crisis go to waste” only applies domestically in the Obama administration. With the hope of engaging who ever comes out on top in Iran, Obama is content to only give tepid support to those actually engaged in trying to establish democracy in Iran.
That’s not leadership. But it isn’t unexpected either.
The Iranian government has started making moves to quell the protests that have arisen in the wake of the contested Iranian presidential election.
Move one was for Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to meet with Mir Hussein Moussavi and agree to investigate his allegations of election irregularities. This will again provide the veneer of legitimacy when the “investigation” returns its verdict of minor irregularities but none serious enough to invalidate the election within 10 days.
In the meantime, Khamenei apparently got Moussavi to help stop the protests:
The protesters gathered in Tehran despite a government ban on further demonstrations, and at one point Mr. Moussavi apparently called off the rally. As originally planned, the rally was to begin at Tehran University and reach Azadi Square several miles away.
But it apparently never got under way.
The other reason has to do with what we talked about on the podcast last night. Most of the protests are coming from university student groups. Those groups have been thoroughly infiltrated by police informers. Last night, police moved on the information gathered:
Opposition Web sites reported that security forces raided a dormitory at Tehran University and 15 people were injured. Between 150 and 200 students were arrested overnight, by these accounts, but there was no immediate confirmation of the incident from the authorities. There were also reports of official action against students in the cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Tabriz.
In addition, leaders of the opposition were rounded up:
The opposition members arrested late Saturday and Sunday were from all the major factions opposed to Mr. Ahmadinejad and included the brother of a former president, Mohammad Khatami, opposition Web sites reported. Some were released after several hours.
Meanwhile Ahmadinejhad wrote off the opposition protests as “unimportant” and likened them to disappointed soccer fans. He also invoked the external threat:
He suggested the accusations of fraud were the work of foreign agitators and journalists.
Classic police-state tactics, with a twist. For whatever reason the Iranian mullocracy finds it desirable to have at least the veneer of democratic legitimacy associated with their authoritarian rule. So they will go through this charade of an investigation in an attempt to maintain it. But if anyone thinks that the outcome will be any different than that announced previously by the Interior Ministry, there’s a well-known bridge in Brooklyn you may be interested in buying.
Seriously, if George Bush hadn’t existed, the left would have had to invent him in order to have someone to blame the world’s ills on. CBS has republished a piece by Laura Secor that ran in the New Republic and calls Ahmadenijhad Iran’s “George Bush”. (This on the heels of the Bonnie Erbe piece calling for right-wingers to be rounded up before they can hurt anyone.)
Secor’s comparisons are strained at best, and are a rather simple attempt to fit a very round peg in an extremely square hole (no mention of the mullah’s control, which, of course, completely kills the comparison). Apparently Secor pins her premise on this line:
Ahmadinejad has made a mess of the economy, clamped down on political dissent and social freedoms, militarized the state, and earned the enmity of much of the world.
And in Secor’s world, that essentially makes Ahmadinejhad and Bush twins.
Of course, not to be outdone, “conservative” Andrew Sullivan manages to find even more parallels to the Bush years. If you think Secor’s attempt is strained, you’ll howl when you read Sullivan’s:
Ahmadinejad’s bag of tricks is eerily like that of Karl Rove – the constant use of fear, the exploitation of religion, the demonization of liberals, the deployment of Potemkin symbolism like Sarah Palin.
As an interesting aside, an article mostly ignored by the left has a fairly interesting take on the Bush era in the middle east. And by none other than Thomas Friedman. Even though he can’t bring himself to describe what has happened in complimentary terms, he finds he must give some credit where credit is due:
There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”
In Benen’s piece today, he ends up calling Ari Fleisher a “shameless hack” (as if Benen has any room to call anyone else a “hack”) for essentially saying the very same thing Friedman said. Apparently, Benen and the left are content to believe in the fantasy that it was more likely the “Cairo speech” that determined the results in Lebanon and spurred the protest vote in Iran – because we all know that movements such as those are easily developed within a week of someone like Obama speaking.