Free Markets, Free People

Iran

Hypocrisy Alert

Steve Benen is “shocked, shocked I tell you”, that some on the right are trying to hang the Iranian election shambles on Obama. He entitles his post:

“WHEN IN DOUBT, BLAME OBAMA…”

Of course, for 8 years, Benen and company made a cottage industry of substituting the name “Bush” for “Obama” while doing the very same thing. Apparently that’s gone the way of an Alzheimer patient’s memory of breakfast and they’ve awakened in a new world which began on January 20th of this year.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so insufferably hypocritical.

~McQ

“Lose” An Election, Go To Jail

It’s kind of hard to protest an election in court when you’re in jail.

Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi was reportedly arrested Saturday following the reformist’s defeat at the polls by hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

[...]

Mousavi’s arrest was reported by an unofficial source, who said that the presidential contender had been arrested en route to the home of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

My guess – and that’s all it is – is this is a move to defuse the protests. It will also remove the last bit of the veneer from the belief that these were “free and open” elections. In some ways this makes Iran easier to deal with. There’s no longer any doubt that it is a totalitarian regime where no “robust debate” is taking place or possible.

Look – the fantasy that these were “free and open” elections was a sham to begin with. 475 people applied to run for the presidency. 4 were approved by the ruling mullahs. That should tell you all you need to know about this election. Even Mousavi had impeccable revolutionary credentials, or he wouldn’t have been one of the 4.

But the election appears to have taken an unexpected turn. It would seem those that voted for Mousavi and perhaps Mousavi himself, took it a little more seriously than the authorities expected. Supporters turned out in record shattering numbers (85% of eligible voters) to vote and simply aren’t buying this supposed “landslide” win the mullahs and IRG had put together to keep their guy in office.

Crude, certainly, but to be expected. Authoritarians don’t believe in the democratic process – never have. But they understand the power of popular approval – even if they have to fake it and fake it poorly.

~McQ

Landslide In Iran?

Electoral, of course.

Given the announced size of the victory (62.6% to 34%), we’re to believe that the majority of the country is quite happy to maintain the confrontational course (and style) set by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not that it makes a particular difference (since the candidates all were approved by the ruling mullahs and in the case of Ahmadinejad, his opponent’s “reform” label was a relative one to begin with) in the long run. But given the reported unpopularity of Ahmadinejad and the vast turnout, it’s hard to believe that he was the first choice of the majority of those voting.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the “opposition” candidate, claims there’s bee widespread vote fraud and he’ll take his case to court:

“I’m warning that I won’t surrender to this manipulation,” Mousavi said in a statement posted on his Web site Saturday. He said the announced results were “shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s sacred system” and represented “treason to the votes of the people.” He warned that the public would not “respect those who take power through fraud.”

[...]

“I would like to inform you that in spite of wide-ranging fraud and problem-making, according to the documents and reports we have received, the majority of your votes have been cast in favor of your servant,” the statement said. It concluded with a veiled suggestion of a possible confrontation, calling his supporters into the streets to celebrate his victory Saturday night and warning that if the votes are not fairly counted, “I will use all legal facilities and methods to restore the rights of the Iranian people.”

Meanwhile the mullahs have signaled the voting charade is over:

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni praised Ahmadinejad’s election and called on his rivals to cooperate with him.

In Iran, that’s as good as the fat lady singing.

So much for the “robust debate”. So much for the “unclenched fist” as well.

~McQ

Short-sighted Partisan Politics Makes For Bad Decisions

And nothing could make that point better than this:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates isn’t ruling out spending more on missile defense than what he’s asked for in next year’s budget if North Korea or other nations increase threats against the United States.

Gates said the missile tests by North Korea over the past week appear to have attracted more support on Capitol Hill for missile interceptors.

Candidate Obama was pretty darn sure that these interceptors just weren’t needed because, you know, they just weren’t! Russia isn’t our enemy anymore and we get along fine with China – where’s the threat?!

Well during the entire lead up to the 2008 presidential campaign, North Korea and Iran were flinging missiles around right and left each, seemingly, with longer ranges and larger carrying capacity.

Ignored. In fact, as I recall, Obama dismissed Iran as not much of a threat at all. Something about Iran being a ‘tiny’ country that ‘doesn’t pose a serious threat.’ Certainly not one that required a missile defense.

Politics. All politics. Nothing based in reality, but instead dismissive rhetorical hand-waves designed to please the base. And those who controlled Congress picked up on the tune and danced to it.

Now, suddenly, by doing almost exactly the same thing they’ve done for some years, North Korea has managed to resurrect the need for a missile defense?

Why now?

Well that’s easy. Now they’re governing, suddenly not having an armed missile land on friendly territory during their watch is a priority.

Politics. The only real reason they opposed it previously is because the other side wanted it.

Of course, if questioned about why this is different than when NoKo and Iran did this sort of thing the last few times, I’m sure they’d find a way to spin it that they think wouldn’t make them seem so short-sighted, petty and partisan (read the article, there’s plenty of spin included).

That won’t change the fact one bit that they were indeed short-sighted, petty and partisan.

~McQ

The Great Obama European Concert Tour

Now that the dust is beginning to settle, what, really, was accomplished in what Anne Applebaum likens more to a sold out concert tour than a diplomatic tour-de-force.

Well in the latter category it was more of a diplomatic tour-de-farce.

The Obama administration had two goals in two important meetings on the continent. The first was the G20 and the goal was to talk the Europeans into buying into increasing government spending to unprecedented levels, as the US has done, in order to “stimulate” the world’s economy. Epic “fail” in that department. However, the Euros did manage to talk Obama out of another 100 billion for the IMF.

The second goal was associated with NATO, and it was to talk our NATO allies into a large commitment of combat troops for Afghanistan. Again, an epic “fail”. As predicted by those who understand Europe, and thus NATO, that was a non-starter from the beginning. NATO instead offered up 5,000 troops, 3,000 on a temporary basis to help with the election, the rest as trainers for the ANA and ANP. But where troops are needed most – in combat positions – none, nada, zip, zero.

So, although you wouldn’t know it given the adoring media reports and the dutiful reporting of the administration spin on the trip, Obama ends up 0-2 in his first attempt at global diplomacy.

Applebaum notes one thing that struck her as “strange”:

Still, someone has to say it: Although some things went well on this trip, some things went badly. The centerpiece of the visit, Obama’s keynote foreign policy speech in Prague — leaked in advance, billed as a major statement — was, to put it bluntly, peculiar. He used it to call for “a world without nuclear weapons” and a new series of arms control negotiations with Russia. This was not wrong, necessarily, and not evil. But it was strange.

Yet, while Obama mentioned nuclear weapons reduction to Russia, he apparently didn’t mention Iran’s nukes or the fact that Russia’s shipment of the S-300 missile system to Iran is likely to destabilize the region by pushing Israel into finally striking Iran before ths system can be installed.

And then there’s North Korea’s decision to launch its ICBM at the very moment Obama was addressing nuclear weapons reduction. A bit of an in-your-face in diplomatic terms, by Kim Jong Il.

In other words, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would be very nice, but on its own it won’t alter the international balance of power, stop al-Qaeda or prevent large authoritarian states from invading their smaller neighbors.

I’ll be interested to see whether anyone gives a more sober assessment of the trip among the talking heads (as Applebaum did) or whether it will continue to be characterized as something it wasn’t.

~McQ

Russia’s New Found “Comrade”

A couple of paragraphs from a story about Obama and Russia’s Medvedev which seem pretty telling to me:

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev hailed Barack Obama as “my new comrade” Thursday after their first face-to-face talks, saying the US president “can listen” — even if little progress was made on substance.

The Russian president contrasted Obama as “totally different” to his predecessor George W. Bush, whom he blamed for the “mistake” of US missile shield plans fiercely opposed by Moscow.

Of course many on the right are making a big, if sarcastic, deal about Medvedev calling Obama “comrade”. To many that seems more than appropriate. However, there’s a lot of diplospeak in this which seems key.

First, although not much of substance was accomplished, note the Medvedev says that unlike Bush, Obama “can listen”. In diplospeak, that means he thinks he can roll Obama, while Bush, not so much.

Note too that it appears that Obama has caved on the missile defense. In his desire to reduce nuclear stockpiles, he’s given up something which our allies such as Poland and the Czech Republic were keen for in order to see warheads dropped from 2,200 to 1,500. That’s a laughably cheap price for Russia to pay to kill the missile defense they opposed so adamantly.

Yup, after a capitulation like that, I’d be clapping Obama on the back and hailing him as my comrade too, if I were Medvedev.

Nothing, apparently was mentioned about Russia’s plan to rearm its military, its pending sale of the S-300 air defense missile system to Iran or it’s bluntly worded warning about Georgia:

Russia sent a strong warning to the United States Thursday about supporting Georgia in the U.S. ally’s efforts to rebuild its military following last year’s war.

The Foreign Ministry said helping arm Georgia would be “extremely dangerous” and would amount to “nothing but the encouragement of the aggressor.” 

Nope, apparently Obama just listened. That’s a comrade any Russian could love.

~McQ

Iran, Hezbollah and the Americas

Iran isn’t just fomenting unrest in its home region, it has found a new area to spread the revolution and fund it:

Iran is increasing its activity in Latin America and the Caribbean, including actions aimed at supporting the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a top U.S. military commander said on Tuesday.

Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who oversees U.S. military interests in the region as head of U.S. Southern Command, also said Hezbollah was linked to drug-trafficking in Colombia.

“We have seen… an increase in a wide level of activity by the Iranian government in this region,” Stavridis told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“That is a concern principally because of the connections between the government of Iran, which is a state sponsor of terrorism, and Hezbollah,” he said.

The U.S. State Department lists the Lebanese-based political and military movement as a terrorist organization.

Stavridis said Hezbollah activities in South America have been concentrated particularly in the border region between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, but also in Colombia.

“We have been seeing in Colombia a direct connection between Hezbollah activity and narco-trafficking activity,” the commander added, without providing specifics.

Of course, one of Iran’s NBFs in the area is Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. And he’s not the only one as reported by Todd Bensman:

But with the exception of my own coverage, there’s been hardly a peep about the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planted the Iranian flag so far north in Nicaragua as soon as the time-tested American nemesis Daniel Ortega took office in January 2007. In fact, Ahmadinejad considered Ortega’s ascension so important that he was in Nicaragua to attend the inauguration. Within months, Iran was promising hundreds of millions in economic projects — and quickly set up a diplomatic mission in a tony Managua neighborhood where it could all supposedly be coordinated. Now Iran is extending its reach even further north, right into Mexico City with equally under-covered proposals to vastly expand tenuous ties to America’s immediate southern neighbor.

Hey, we mess around in Iraq and Afghanistan, they mess around in Mexico. Of course all we have to do talk to them and we can straighten this all out, right?

Russia Freezes Iranian Missile Sale

An interesting story out of Russia via the Jerusalem Post. And while good news, albeit of a temporary nature I’m sure, I’m betting there is much more to this than meets the eye.  This is about positioning in upcoming missile defense talks with the US:

Russia has frozen the sale of the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was reportedly informed of the decision by his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on his visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia said the delivery of the systems would be delayed at least until the upcoming meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his US counterpart, Barack Obama. Kommersant cited Russia’s wish to prevent hindering dialogue with the new US administration.

Military diplomatic sources were quoted by Kommersant as saying that the issue had been the focus of Najjar’s visit.

Of course the important point is the sale is frozen, not canceled. While that’s good news for both the US and Israel (the S-300 system is reported to be a very good air defense system against not just aircraft, but cruise missiles), it may not be any more than a temporary sop to the Americans and a reminder to the Iranians that Russia is their major backer and can pull that backing at any time. And, interestingly, there’s one other reason (or at least so Israel claims):

Israel Radio quoted Moscow sources as saying that apart form the gesture to the Americans, Russia also wanted to avoid ruining a $100 million drone purchase from Israel.

I say interesting because the S-300 sale is an $800 million sale. You jeopardize an 800 million sale for a 100 million purchase? Or do you grab the 100 mil buy because you know the 800 mil sale is in the bag? I’d say the latter, meaning the freeze is most likely for show only. Unless, of course, the Russians are just incredibly stupid businessmen.

I don’t think they are, although they’re not as clever in other areas as they sometimes think. This seems to me to be a very crude (but probably effective) set up for an “aw gee and here we made this great gesture toward working with you and this is how you act?” result of our first meeting with Russia. Absolute world opinion gold for Putin and the boys if they manage it correctly and, of course, the perfect opportunity to then unfreeze the sale.  Can anyone guess who’d end up being embarrassed by such a scenario?

~McQ

Iran And “Negotiating 101″

As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:

Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.

So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?

As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.

That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:

Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.

Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.

The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.

The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.

“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.

Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.

“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:

“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”

Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?

How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?

Well consider the internal politics of the country.  You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate.  You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either.  Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.

Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US.  It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions.  He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change.  The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.

And in the real world, results speak for themselves.

Result?

More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East.  All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.

Go figure.

~McQ

[HT: Gateway Pundit]