Free Markets, Free People

Iran


Iran offers pro-Palestinian activists escort through Israeli blockade

And the tensions are ratcheted even higher. Turkey’s PM is talking about visiting the Gaza Strip (one would assume he’d appeal to Egypt for passage into the area rather than trying to run the blockade) and now Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is being offered as an escort to any wanna-be blockade runners.

“The naval wing of the Revolutionary Guard is ready to assist the peace flotilla to Gaza with all its effort and capabilities,” Khamenei’s Revolutionary Guard spokesman Ali Shirazi stated. “If the Supreme Leader issues an order for this then the Revolutionary Guard naval forces will do their best to secure the ships,” Shirazi said. “It is Iran’s duty to defend the innocent people of Gaza.”

A couple of points. This isn’t coming from Ahmadinejad. This is coming from Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (the offer, per Reuters, was made today in an interview). So this should be viewed with much more credibility, since Khamenei is where the real decision making rests with the Iranian regime.

Second point – it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Iran attempted such a thing. It would help their relations with the Arab world, it would divert attention to their favorite external enemy (besides the US) and, if they can provoke violence, further alienate Israel. It might also help them avoid really harmful sanctions. What are the lives of a few Revolutionary Guard naval forces with that sort of beneficial pay-off in the offing?

And make no mistake, Iran would be throwing their lives away. I’m not sure what the Revolutionary Guard thinks they could do alone against the entire IDF (air and naval forces), but my guess is if they opened fire on an Israeli vessel it would end up being a short, nasty and very one-sided battle affair. Having total air dominance of the area where the fight would take place, as the Israelis most likely would, tends to make the outcome almost pre-ordained – and perfect for Iran.

Depending on how the world (and media) views the outcome (and my guess is that in certain parts of the Arab world, the story would be written before the battle was ever waged) Israel might end up winning the kinetic battle handily and losing the broader media and opinion war.

Whether or not such an escort ever comes to pass, I think Iran sees a real win-win for them developing in this situation. Consequently, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them try to mount such an operation.

~McQ


Why it is hard to take the UN seriously

I often call it the “third world debating club” because it gives visibility and a platform for such third world “notables” as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.  And it often does bizarre and totally absurd things like this:

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, handing a four-year seat on the influential human rights body to a theocratic state in which stoning is enshrined in law and lashings are required for women judged “immodest.”

How do you take seriously a body which elects to its “Commission on the Status of Women” – a commission “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women” -  a country which openly and proudly oppresses its women?

Only the UN can answer that question.

~McQ


When are sanctions not sanctions?

When enforcement is an option, I suppose.  Tell me how brilliant this is:

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to provide an exemption from Iran sanctions to companies based in “cooperating countries,” a move that likely would exempt Chinese and Russian concerns from penalties meant to discourage investment in Iran.

[...]

The “cooperating countries” language that the White House is pressing would allow the executive branch to designate countries as cooperating with the overall strategy to pressure Iran economically.

According to three congressional staffers familiar with the White House proposal, once a country is on that list, the administration wouldn’t even have to identify companies from that country as selling gasoline or aiding Iran’s refinement industry.

Even if, as current law allows, the administration can waive the penalties on named companies for various reasons, the “cooperating countries” language would deprive the sanctions of their “name-and-shame” power, the staffers said.

The bill in committee now doesn’t have this provision.  Essentially what this amounts to is the administration saying “if you’ll sign on to the sanctions (against the importation of gasoline), we won’t enforce them” to “cooperating countries”.  Pure symbolism over substance.

“We’re pushing for a ‘cooperating-countries’ exemption,” the White House official said. “It is not targeted to any country in particular, but would be based on objective criteria and made in full consultation with the Congress.”

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, however, said the exemption “is aimed at China and Russia specifically.”

“The administration wants to give a pass to countries for merely supporting a watered-down, almost do-nothing U.N. resolution,” she said.

This isn’t coherent foreign policy – this is pure politics mostly designed for domestic consumption.  This is about the ability to claim to have made progress against Iran by rallying the rest of the world to our side and imposing “tough new sanctions” via the UN when the intent is to never enforce them.

Of course Iran hasn’t been idle either.  They’re not doing “in-kind” bartering with regional neighbors which circumvents any sanction regime.  Swap oil for refined petroleum products and they’re not liable to such sanctions.  And of course Hugo Chavez and others in the socialist South American cabal have also said they’d ignore such sanctions anyway.

Last, but certainly not least, a gasoline sanction hits those that can’t afford it the most the hardest in Iran.  The regime?  It will always have plenty of gasoline.  The poor Iranian trying to feed his family – not so much.

Instead of playing these sorts of games, which are clearly doomed to failure (or irrelevance), maybe it’s time to reconsider putting back on the table some of the options the administration unilaterally took off the table last year.

~McQ



 


NYT: In secret memo Gates complains US has no strategy to stop Iran nukes

The NY Times continues its recent tradition of publishing the contents of secret memos with information from one about our strategy, or lack thereof, for dealing with Iran:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.

If true, it certainly isn’t unexpected.  In fact, the US has spent more time saying what it won’t do (i.e. taking things off the table) than what it will (“serious” sanctions).  However it appears that may be changing, finally.  If the Times is to be believed (which, anymore, is not an automatic) it is beginning to dawn on the brain trust that a) Iran isn’t at all intimidated by the prospect of sanctions b) feels no serious threat to their intentions and c) doesn’t plan on discontinuing them.

So this memo, if reported correctly,  is an apparent effort to ramp up a more coherent and comprehensive approach to dealing with Iran – an actual strategy.  And that includes some military options should “diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.”

Is there really anyone out there holding out hope that “diplomacy and sanctions” will have the desired effect?

Of course, and as expected, White House officials deny the absense of a strategy. National security adviser Gen. James Jones claims:

“On Iran, we are doing what we said we were going to do. The fact that we don’t announce publicly our entire strategy for the world to see doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy that anticipates the full range of contingencies — we do.”

Except -according to the NYT  – the Secretary of Defense, certainly someone who would be privy to any military options, doesn’t seem to think we do.

For instance:

But in his memo, Mr. Gates wrote of a variety of concerns, including the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.

In that case, Iran could remain a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty while becoming what strategists call a “virtual” nuclear weapons state.

Then what?  Testing nuclear weaponry’s design no longer requires actually detonation of a nuclear device.  Sophisticated computer simulations now serve that purpose.  So Gates’ point – if he made it – is entirely credible.  They could indeed become a “virtual” nuclear state without us ever knowing about it (although I doubt their arrogance would allow the Iranian government to pass up an opportunity to rub the world’s nose in it).

The Times also contends:

According to several officials, the memorandum also calls for new thinking about how the United States might contain Iran’s power if it decided to produce a weapon, and how to deal with the possibility that fuel or weapons could be obtained by one of the terrorist groups Iran has supported, which officials said they considered to be a less-likely possibility.

But if we’re talking the “full range of contingencies” certainly one which has to be taken seriously and for which a strategy has to be formed.

In fact, other than “senior officials” and the NYT, there’s not much to verify the memo exists or the strategy doesn’t.  And a Gates spokesman has even gone as far as to claim, in the Secretary’s name, that such a strategy does exit:

“The secretary believes the president and his national security team have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort considering and preparing for the full range of contingencies with respect to Iran.”

So does the Gates memo actually say what the NYT says it says?

I’m inclined to say yes, despite the statement of the Gates spokesperson because of this:

Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed. Separately, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote a “chairman’s guidance” to his staff in December conveying a sense of urgency about contingency planning. He cautioned that a military attack would have “limited results,” but he did not convey any warnings about policy shortcomings.

“Should the president call for military options, we must have them ready,” the admiral wrote.

That clearly indicates that at least Adm. Mullen didn’t believe the strategy included the necessary and appropriate military options.  And, as the NYT further reports, that seemed to be confirmed recently in some Senate testimony.  Speaking of the military contingencies against Iran, the Times says:

Administration officials testifying before a Senate committee last week made it clear that those preparations were under way. So did General Jones.

So I think it is fair to conclude that Sec. Gates may have written this memo that the NYT is reporting on and, in fact, that there isn’t yet a comprehensive long-range strategy to deal with a nuclear Iran.  To translate that a bit more, what that means is the administration’s focus has been almost exclusively on diplomacy and sanctions and Gates is making the case that those don’t appear they will yield the desired results and a more broad spectrum strategy which includes military contingencies be included and seriously considered.

He’s right.  But this may also be an effective way to get the word to Iran that time is running out and the military guys are beginning  be taken more seriously in discussions about how to react to Iran’s nuclear intransigence.

~McQ


Mission Impossible

Yesterday, in the New York Times and other media outlets:

President Barack Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.

In a 90-minute conversation before the opening of a summit meeting on nuclear security, Obama sought to win more cooperation from China by directly addressing one of the main issues behind Beijing’s reluctance to confront Iran: its concern that Iran could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments to China. The Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran.

Obama assured Hu that he was “sensitive to China’s energy needs” and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions.

U.S. officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon.

Today in the Jerusalem Post, via AP:

A state-owned Chinese refiner plans to ship 30,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran after European traders halted shipments ahead of possible new UN sanctions, according to Singapore ship brokers.

[...]

A deputy Chinese foreign minister, Cui Tiankai, said Tuesday that China is ready to discuss all ideas that UN Security Council members put forward to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. But he said any agreement on Iran must involve all parties, not just one or two countries.

Cui said Iran’s legitimate right to have energy trade with other countries should not be undermined as the world pursues a settlement of the nuclear standoff.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is explain how today’s actions by China reconcile with the claim Obama made yesterday.

~McQ


Different country, different reaction

You have to wonder why this announcement as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her visit, wasn’t treated the same was as a recent announcement in Israel was treated:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran’s Russian-built nuclear power plant will be launched this summer, even as the United States called for Russia to delay the start-up. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in Moscow on an official trip, urged Russia not to launch the plant until Tehran proves that it’s not developing atomic weapons.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a joint press conference with Clinton, immediately responded that Russia would put the reactor online.

 All smiles in Russia.

No courage in the face of an enemy, but willing to kick an ally at the first perceived “insult”.

Amateur hour in the US and the Kremlin knows it.  I mean, look at the “respect” the American position was given.

~McQ


Brazil says “no” to Iranian sanctions

So far this South American swing has been a real tour de force for Hillary Clinton – first she manages to anger one of our more stalwart allies by giving false Argentine claims legitimacy and now Ms. Clinton has managed to get Brazil to publicly refuse our attempt to increase sanctions on Iran.

Brazil.

We can’t even get Brazil to go along with us:

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva pre-empted Clinton even before she could make the case for new United Nations Security Council penalties. Silva is an outspoken opponent of sanctions, and his country currently sits on the Security Council, which will be asked to approve its toughest-ever penalties on Iran later this year.

“It is not prudent to push Iran against a wall,” Silva told reporters hours before meeting with Clinton. “The prudent thing is to establish negotiations.”

Clinton told a news conference she respects Brazil’s position but thinks if there is any possibility of negotiating with Iran, it would happen only after a new round of sanctions.

So that’s at least one no vote on the UN’s Security Council. China and Russia are no fans of the idea. That could mean up to 3 no votes. Yup, this sanctions thing is really taking off.

The U.S. officials said that despite clear differences at the moment, the Brazilians assured Clinton their current position was not “etched in stone.”

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private diplomatic exchange.

That’s diplo speech for “yeah, had a great time and I promise I’ll call you tomorrow”.

~McQ


Russia: How’s that “reset button” working?

The push for international support for tougher sanctions against Iran seem to be going well with our good friends in Russia:

Russia will not support “crippling” sanctions against Iran, including any that may be slapped on the Islamic Republic’s banking or energy sectors, a senior Russian diplomat said Wednesday.

[...]

“We are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Oleg Rozhkov, deputy director of the security affairs and disarmament department at Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters.

“What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralyzing the country and paralyzing the regime.”

Well, yeah – that’s sort of the point of sanctions. Short of that, there are few options left to force Iran to comply with the will of the international community – such that it is. And this is one of the failings of the Obama administration’s approach.

You have to sort of root around to find that approach spelled out, but the clearest indication of how the administration approaches foreign policy is actually found in the DoD’s recently released Quarterly Defense Review. One sentence tells it all:

“America’s interests are inextricably linked to the integrity and resilience of the international system.”

In the past, US presidents have realized that, “the integrity of the international system depends upon the resilience of American power.”

The Obama administration (and this explains much of his world apology tour) has flipped that now putting “American power” second to the will and “integrity” of the “international system”.  As the article cited notes, Obama wants a “quiet world” so he can concentrate on his domestic agenda.  One way to do that is cede the US’s leadership role.

You can see how well that approach is working. Russia has just demonstrated the “integrity” of the “international system” by saying “no”. I wonder if Obama will call them obstructionists and “the country of ‘no’.”

Seriously though, this is quite a step back from the American leadership of the past, and it will have consequences. That statement in the QDR cedes our former position as the supposed leader of the free world to organizations like the UN. That has been a dream of the liberal left for decades. And as you read through the article I’ve cited for the QDR quote, look at the analysis that says that the plan reduces the American role in world by “disarming” us and structuring our military for a lesser role.

Russia is just the first of many nations which are going to defy the US’s attempts at pushing its foreign policy throughout the world because, essentially, there is no down side to doing so. We’re a weakened debtor nation (Putin recently consoled EU economic basket case Greece by pointing out the US is in the same boat) that has made it pretty clear that it won’t act without clear consensus from the “international system” this administration seems to love. Russia is obviously a part of that system and doesn’t mind at all stepping up and saying no. And China? Well, if Russia is this blatant and blunt about denying what the US wants, you can imagine China’s position.

Like I said, 2009 was the year of taking this administration’s measure on the foreign policy front. 2010 is the year that those sensing a power/leadership vacuum inherent in this US pullback attempt to fill it. Russia’s just the first to step up to the plate. We’ll hear from China soon.

~McQ


Iran: Foreign Policy Naivete Yielding To Reality?

Apparently “engagement”, at least when it comes to Iran, seems to be headed to the scrap heap of foreign policy ideas. That’s primarily because such a policy requires both sides to be willing to engage, something many experts tried to point out that Iran has never shown any willingness to do in the past. Candidate Obama wanted to point the finger of failure at the previous administration. But his administration has fared no better. Now, it appears, that administration has finally realized confrontation with Iran serves it best:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

That’s not to say the spin factory in the White House isn’t trying to claim it’s failure to engage Iran isn’t a “success”:

Instead, administration officials say, the biggest benefit of Mr. Obama’s engagement policy now is not dialogue or understanding with adversaries, but simply a defusing of a worldwide view that the United States is part of the problem, a demonstration that the problem is Tehran’s intransigence, not Washington’s pique.

“What the president has achieved is that he has outed Iran,” a senior administration official said Friday. He said Iran, by refusing to respond positively, had exposed itself as uninterested in a better relationship with the United States.

They honestly think any objective person would believe that the 31 year refusal to “engage” with the US and the rest of the world was the US’s fault? Really? A country which took hostages from an embassy and held them for 444 days while calling the US “the Great Satan” was seen as the “good guy” in this? The intransigence isn’t just a product of the last 8 years. It is a product of the last 31 years. No one with any sense has ever considered the problem there a result of “Washington’s pique”.

However, that brings us to how the term “engagement” is now redefined by the White House:

At a news briefing on Thursday, the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, presented this latest metamorphosis of the administration’s thinking: that engagement is not necessarily about the two adversaries, but rather, about the worldview on America.

Of course it is. That was clearly  what was meant in Obama’s “unclenched fist” speech, wasn’t it?  Apparently the administration’s gameplan is to refuse to admit the failure of its policy and instead just redefine words to fit the present situation.  I can’t say that comes as much of a surprise.

~McQ


Where Is Our Secretary Of State On This?

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has spoken out about the violence in Iran and the repression of the protesters, calling the violence against them by the state “disturbing” and hailing the “great courage” the protesters have demonstrated.

He further stated:

“The tragic deaths of protesters in Iran are yet another reminder of how the Iranian regime deals with protest,” he said.

“Ordinary Iranian citizens are determined to exercise their right to have their voices heard. They are showing great courage.

“I call on the Iranian government to respect the human rights of its own citizens – rights which Iran has promised to respect.”

Of course speaking out like this in support of freedom and democracy – something US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently said would remain the policy of the United States – has drawn an expected reaction from Iran’s Manouchehr Mottaki:

Mr Mottaki said the protesters “should not be encouraged by a few… statements by certain countries”.

He added: “They should not pin their hopes on them. Britain will get slapped in the mouth if it does not stop its nonsense.”

Mr Mottaki’s speech was broadcast on Iranian television with an English translation on screen.

“The lowly and downgrading remarks by some foreign officials show the black stain on their record in their… contradictory interactions.”

Oh, my. A “stern rebuke”. How ghastly. I’m sure Miliband is forever scarred.

Obviously, it is this horrific toll that is keeping our brave Secretary of State from speaking out on the violence and injustice now occurring in Iran. Instead it is left up to an NSA spokesman to make the denunciation.

NSA? So they’re now conducting our foreign affairs.

Where in the world is Carmen … er, Hillary Clinton?

~McQ



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