Posted on 23-10-2012
Filed Under (Politics) by Rashtrakut

In a Palinesque display of geographic knowledge, Mitt Romney asserted yesterday that Syria provided Iran access to the sea. This overlooks the fact that the two countries do not share a border and that Iran has its own coastline along with a World War I caliber navy conducive to Romneyesque ship counting. This evidently is not the first time Romney has uttered this geographic whopper. Iran can access the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez canal in any case. The argument about Iran getting bases in Syria (allegedly the intent of the quote) can be made without resorting to alternative cartography.

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Posted on 11-09-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

To the likely delight of the stumbling Romney campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu threw a temper tantrum, after a week of warnings from his allies, bulldozing his way into the Presidential race and attempting to blackmail the American political establishment into joining him in an unnecessary war of aggression against Iran.  The last three years have been an amazing case of the tail wagging the dog.  The United States is committed to the preservation of Israel.  But both are sovereign nations with independent interests.  Yet the entire Republican party and a large chunk of the Democratic party have essentially sworn fealty to Israel and given Netenyahu carte blanche in the West Bank.  Even worse they have backed the Obama administration into a position likely to lead to a premptive war.

The war drums on Iran are insane.  Nobody has proven that Iran actually wants to build a nuclear weapon.  Many people think, what Iran actually wants is what Japan has – the ability to build one if needed.  And that unfortunately is not explicitly barred by the ridiculous Non Proliferation Treaty.  Maintaining a nuclear arsenal is expensive and if that is the goal, it would be a smart one.  Iran having a nuclear weapon or the capacity is highly undesirable, because it would remove a check on their actions and would trigger a domino effect in the region.  Yet it would not be the end of the world.  The far more psychotic North Korean regime has one and has been contained.

Contrary to propaganda, Iran’s Ayatollahs have shown a high sense of personal preservation.  During the Iran-Iraq war the actually issued a decree allowing deviation from Islamic tenets when national interest was at stake.   This is not a behavior of a bunch of suicidal zealots.  Oh and one other thing – Israel has nuclear weapons and is under the United States nuclear umbrella.  Iran would have to be batshit crazy to launch a strike on Israel.

The other problem is that a military strike almost certainly will not work.  For one thing, Israel may not have the capacity for such a long range strike even if it wanted to.  In that case Netanyahu’s statement that “[t]hose in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel,” is even more offensive.  Because it requires active American assistance in a war he wants to start even if America does not want to join.  And by pulling this stunt just before a presidential election he is counting on the craven Mitt Romney attacking President Obama for “abandoning” Israel.  Worse, even an American bombing campaign would at best delay Iran’s program, would likely make up their mind to actually build the bomb, would make it easier for the mullahs to make their countrymen rally around the flag and could send the global economy into a spiral.

Its not as if the Israeli establishment is united around the war drums.  Israeli Defense Minister (and former prime minister) Ehud Barak is a hawk on Iran too.  But he appears to have recognized the wisdom of trying to blackmail the United States at such a delicate time.  Netanyahu is playing a dangerous game here.  Most Americans oppose a war with Iran.  Israel has benefited from bipartisan political support in the United States.  If Netanyahu’s gambit helps throw the election to Romney (or is perceived to have done so), the backlash for Israel will be severe.

Increasing numbers of Americans (and for that matter American Jews) are no longer willing to give Israel free rein with the Palestinians.  Netanyahu’s tendency to refer to such critics as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews does not help matters.  The brazen gambit by Netanyahu also reaffirms why all of his western allies – including the last 3 American presidents – distrust and dislike him.

It appears that calmer heads may be prevailing for now.  However, I am pessimistic that this will be the last war gambit before the election.

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Posted on 25-03-2012
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The neo-cons, theo-cons and other clowns who helped generate the Iraq fiasco are back with a vengeance.  This time the target has shifted east to a country with five times the population.  The world will be a better place without Iran’s loathsome regime.  It dispensed with its veneer of popular support and democracy by rigging the presidential election three years ago.  It has cheerfully backed entities such as Hezbollah.  And the nuclear program is a cause for concern and could start a nuclear domino effect in an unstable neighborhood.

Yet the clamor for war is profoundly misguided.  Iran is a third rate military power with a crumbling economy.  The recent round of sanctions have all but brought its economy to its knees and almost made it impossible for Iran to conduct foreign exchange transactions.  Iran’s mullahs may speak in apocalyptic terms but have never displayed suicidal instincts.  Ayatollah Khomeini wrote an open letter in 1986 to the present Supreme Leader (who was at the time the president of the Islamic Republic) asserting that if the survival of the Islamic regime was at stake, even the basic tenets of the religion could be shut down to protect the Islamic system from destruction.  Like tyrants everywhere the ayatollahs have a fine sense of self-preservation.

Almost no military expert has asserted that a surgical strike like Israel’s 1981 attack on the Osirak reactor in Iraq and its 2007 attack on a Syrian nuclear project would stop Iran’s nuclear program.  The distances are too great, the sites are too spread out (and many are buried deep underground beyond the reach of Israeli bombs) and Israel may not have the military capacity to pull off such an assault.  The result of such a strike would probably simply delay the Iranian march to the bomb (a popular policy goal that has been an Iranian dream since the reign of the last Shah) and convince the regime that only a nuclear device will protect it from future assaults (a lesson that the North Koreans appear to have taken from Saddam Hussein’s demise).  Eliminating the current nuclear program would probably require a sustained bombing campaign (which would require American help), lead to far greater civilian casualties and further rile anti-American sentiment in the Arab world.  And then there is the added economic shock of spiking oil prices and Iran unleashing its proxies in the region.

Finally the American army needs a break.  The United States army was trained to fight the Red Army tank divisions in the plains of Central Europe.  Yet for the last decade it has been fighting two draining counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Even the best trained army in the world can only take so much.  It is a factor that must be considered before the chickenhawks send the army into yet another poorly thought out war.

There has been a tendency in the past decade to compare every nasty regime to Hitler.  Hitler ruled the most populous and industrialized state in Europe whose industrial regions (unlike France) had not been damaged by World War I.  He had an extremely well trained army and the industrial complex to support rearmament and conquest.  Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad and the Iranian mullahs do not come close to measuring up.  The Iranian army has never recovered from the purges after the fall of the Shah.  Iran’s domestic politics force the regime to shower goodies on the revolutionary guard at the expense of the army at large.  Barring the rally around the flag effect from a foreign attack, Iran’s youth despises its regime.  With much of the world rallied around the United States in enforcing sanctions against Iran, a war makes no sense at this time.

The loudest cheerleader for war has been Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu – over the advice of many of his own military advisers.  This blogger’s inner cynic notes that banging the war drums has allowed Netanyahu to avoid tough decisions on illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank that is slowly strangling what remains of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  At present the Iranian regime is on its knees, the Syrian regime is struggling to survive, Hezbollah’s enthusiastic embrace of Assad is destroying its domestic support base and Hamas appears to have lost its Syrian support.  A far sighted statesman would seize the favorable strategic environment to finalize a deal with the Palestinians (who do need to come to terms with the fact that the right of return is simply not happening).  But then other than his enablers in the United States and the irredentist wing in Israel, nobody has accused Mr. Netanyahu of visionary statesmanship.

Barack Obama has held off the war cries for the last three years.  Here’s hoping he holds strong in the face of a media campaign from people whose credibility should have been shot after Iraq.

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Posted on 20-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The regime of the longest ruling non-royal in the world is crumbling and the amount of blood likely to be spilled in its death throes should easily surpass that shed so far in the other Arab states.  Used to pariah status in the west, Muammar Gaddafi was always unlikely to bow to international pressure of the type that cowed Baharain’s al-Khalifas.  True to form, his regime reacted to protests this week with bullets.  With limited media and internet access, distinguishing fact from fiction in Libya is hard.  But it does appear that the regime’s forces shot to kill and the death toll was high.

And then things appear to have spiraled out of Gaddafi’s control.  Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Libya is still a tribal society.  Gaddafi’s tribal balancing act appears to have collapsed when he ordered his troops to open fire.  Reports indicate that parts of his army switched sides enabling insurgents to seize control of Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, and the fighting has now spread to Gaddafi’s home turf of Tripoli.  The Warfala tribe, one of Libya’s largest, may have turned on Gaddafi as well.

The cornered dictator sent the respectable face of his regime, his son Saif, on state television to broadcast paranoid stories of foreign attempts to split Libya and the impending civil war.  That civil war appears to have already begun.  There may be no Saudi (or as rumored Venezuelan) exile for Libya’s long time autocrat.  He has indicated that he will fight to the “last man standing.”

Western countries who allowed the lure of Libya’s oil reserves to seduce them into rehabilitating Gaddafi can only sit and watch as this bloody denouement plays itself out.  The fall of Gaddafi would be truly momentous and will cause more and more Arab autocrats to doubt the fealty of their armies.  A sign of the times is a letter sent by senior commanders of Iran’s revolutionary guard to their commanding officer promising not to open fire on demonstrators.  If true, and if it holds up, Iran’s rulers may soon be faced with a popular revolution instead of the reformation sought by the Green Revolution two years ago.  In the latest bout of Iranian protests, the vitriol is increasingly directed at the true leader of Iran’s autocracy, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, instead of the President Ahmadinejad.

Protests also appear to have spread to Morocco.  The still popular King Mohammed VI once allegedly indicated that he wished to emulate Spain’s democracy bringing King Juan Carlos rather than his own father King Hassan II.  While Morocco may have eased up on the worst excesses of Hassan’s reign, it is time for the still absolute monarch to emulate his political idol more completely.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s worried rulers have promised to support the al-Khalifas of Bahrain.  The nature of that support is still unclear and for now Bahrain appears to have walked back from the brink.

With the Middle East convulsing, it will be interesting to see if the virus of unrest casts a wider web.  China’s rulers are on edge and Venezuela’s caudillo appears to be uncharacteristically quiet.  The next wobbly domino should emerge soon.

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Posted on 14-02-2011
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

The fall of the Pharaoh raises the question whether the Middle East tumult will subside, or if this is the beginning of an avalanche not seen since Eastern Europe in 1989. While it is easy to get carried away, regime change in Tunis and Cairo occurred because the men with the guns did not act against the protesters. As Iran showed a couple of years back, unfortunately that is not always true. When the generals obey their masters and when the grunts obey the generals, democratic hopes come to a bloody end.

It is also still not clear whether Tunis and Cairo were soft coups, where the public face of the regime changed but little else did. However, some local despots do need to be more scared than others.  On cue the days of rage have commenced in three of the most vulnerable autocracies in the middle east.

  • Iran – When Egypt erupted, the mullahs hypocritically cheered the right of Egyptians to protest.   They should have known that their restive masses were looking at Cairo and drawing encouragement.  Now the embers of the Green Revolution are reigniting.  The opposition leaders are already in preventive house arrest and the riot police are cracking skulls.
  • Algeria – Algeria was the rare Arab country that held free elections in the early 1990s.  When it appeared the Islamists won, the military quashed the results (taking their cues from the Burmese junta who made the similar error of not rigging their elections a couple of years before).  The next few years saw a brutal and bloody civil war.  Though violence died down the last few years, unrest has always simmered underneath.  Now it has erupted.
  • Bahrain – The Gulf monarchy’s presence in this list may seem unusual to people who do not follow the Middle East, but the Sunni monarchy ruling a 70% Shiite population has had periodic bouts of unrest.  After promising to respect peaceful rallies, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has opted for bullets.  Warning:  Violent video below.

The protests in all three countries already highlight one huge difference with Tunisia and Egypt.  These autocracies are willing to spill blood.  The men with guns and batons will have to refuse to take orders for these tyrants to fall or give way.  The list above is also not exhaustive.  Yemen, Jordan, Sudan and to a lesser extent Syria (where you have to frankly be foolhardy to publicly protest) have faced protests.  Then there is the longest ruling autocrat in the region who has seen his fellow dictators on either side of his country fall.  The recent cables leaked by Wikileaks revel how the 41 year regime of Muammar Gadaffi has been tarnished by his licentious progeny.  Even Libya may be facing the unthinkable, public protests.

It is very likely that no more dominoes will fall this go around, but the yearnings for freedom and respect on the Arab street will be harder to bottle up again.  And if one can dream, if Egypt actually manages to create a constitutional democracy the clock will start running out for the remaining autocracies in the region.  The 1990s saw the demise of assorted military juntas in Latin America.  Even though the Chavezs and Ortegas are threatening democracy in the region, by and large military rule is passe in the region.  Lets hope this decade sees similar change from the Maghreb to the Fertile Crescent, and beyond.

As a final note, do notice how quiet the murderous thugs of Al-Qaeda have been at the sight of the Pharaoh being toppled without suicide bombers.

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Posted on 09-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Daniel Larison’s column discussing Barack Obama’s endorsement of India’s dreams of permanent security council membership notes the following:

The more interesting question is whether the U.S. is able to acknowledge that major and rising powers do not share its preoccupations and to adjust expectations of their cooperation with U.S. policy accordingly. Washington isn’t likely to abandon its fixation on Iran’s nuclear program, but it should give the administration some pause that it has just publicly endorsed permanent Security Council status for what is, in fact, one of the chief “rogue” nuclear states in the world. This is not a criticism of the administration’s engagement of India. On the contrary, the administration’s correct dealing with India stands as a rebuke to the administration’s Iran policy. Further, the favorable treatment shown to nuclear-armed India confirms that states that never join and flatly ignore the requirements of the NPT and go on to build and test nuclear weapons are not censured or isolated in the least. Instead, they are rewarded with good relations and high status.

The assignment of “rogue” status to India and Iran based on pursuit of nuclear weapons is a false equivalency.  For one major reason – India refused to sign the NPT because of its arbitrary limitation of nuclear powers to the five who got there first.  Iran (and North Korea – which has since withdrawn from the treaty) signed the NPT and by pursuing nuclear weapons violated its treaty obligations.  Larison fails to explain why a country falls into rogue status for not abiding by the requirements of a treaty it never accepted in developing its own nuclear weapons.  I make the distinction because non-signatory Pakistan earned its rogue status not for testing its own nukes, but for selling them to North Korea and Libya.  The stark contrast to Pakistan along with Indian assurances that they would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in any conflict (a commitment not offered by the United States which during the Cold War felt itself to be at a conventional weapons disadvantage) is among the factors contributing to India’s special treatment (a booming economy does not hurt).

Left unsaid is the fact that the third non-signatory to the NPT, Israel appears to have been developed its own nuclear arsenal through NPT violations by Western Powers and apartheid South Africa (which renounced the bomb shortly before the transfer of power to Nelson Mandela).

That said Larison has a point in noting an element of hypocrisy in the wailing about Iran’s nuclear program.  However that does not stem from the treatment of India.  It is ultimately rooted in the NPT’s arbitrary designation of permitted nuclear weapon states that has miserably failed to stop the domino effect of countries seeking the bomb.

Larison closes out his column with the following:

More to the point, if the administration had what it wanted and India were on the Security Council as a permanent member with veto powers, how much weaker would U.N. sanctions against Iran have had to be to satisfy India? Put another way, if India is ready to be considered such an acceptable and responsible power, what does Indian indifference to Iran’s nuclear program tell us about the rationality of our government’s obsessive hostility towards the same?

The Indian posture is not very different from that of the Russians and the Chinese.  None of the three shares America’s hostile relationship with Tehran.  While none is eager to see an Iranian nuke they are not hyperventilating about it like the United States or Israel.  It is not clear that India would have diluted the sanctions against Iran even further than the Russians and the Chinese.  Most likely and in the finest traditions of modern Indian diplomacy, it would have abstained  – a posture that will have to gradually change if India wants to be taken seriously as a great power.

It is about time Washington appreciated that countries have different interests and policies – something that was lost in the first George W. Bush term as the Cheney/Rumsfeld duo went out of the way to alienate anybody who did not kowtow to American policy.  If the United States wants a puppet in the Security Council, it already has the United Kingdom.  It is also important to note that while Obama endorsed India’s permanent membership of the Security Council, he did not say anything about the veto power.  Frankly granting another 4 members (Japan, India, Brazil and probably South Africa) the veto power would make the Security Council even more irrelevant than it already is.

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Posted on 01-11-2010
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Maybe I should not be surprised that the Washington Post published this blather from David Broder.  The last couple of years it has cheerfully published factually inaccurate or outright propaganda columns from George  Will, Charles Krauthammer and (the torture supporter) Marc Thiessen.  It also published Dinesh D’Souza’s garbage about the roots of Barack Obama’s ideology.

Somehow Broder seems to forget that we already fought two expensive wars in the last decade and primarily managed to blow up the deficit (with a lot of the money wasted abroad it produced almost no stimulative effects back home).  Saber rattling with Iran will also drive up oil prices which could lead to a double dip recession.  Even though Broder does not actually advocate bombing Iran he seems to assume that Iran will remain motionless while we ramp up preparations for war.  It has proxies in Iraq and Lebanon that can be unleashed against the United States and Israel.  The threat of war will also allow Iran’s isolated autocrats to rally support at home.

Since Broder’s column is essentially calling for more government spending to stimulate the economy, maybe he should call for spending on our infrastructure and education instead of fueling an already over-bloated military-industrial complex.

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Posted on 09-02-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Iran has now come out and repeated India’s position on Afghanistan vis a vis the good Taliban.  See link.  Iran’s motivations are pretty clear since there never has been any love lost between Iran and the Taliban, the former considering the Taliban as backward fanatics and the latter considering the Iranians as schismatic heretics.  Given Washington’s inclination to disregard anything Iran says, this will not prevent the Karzai government from seeking a rapprochement with elements of the Taliban.  But any increase in Taliban influence in Kabul raises the chance of Iranian meddling and counter-meddling from Pakistan.  The vicious cycle continues.

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The LA Times has an article about the emerging showdown between the next round of the confrontation between the Iranian regime and the opposition on the 22nd of Bahman (February 11), the 31st anniversary of the Iranian revolution.  See link.  In recent days the regime has tried to decapitate the opposition with executions, arrests and attempts to suggest that opposition Presidential candidates Mousavi and Karroubi had conceded defeat.  But as previously noted the strength (and weakness) of the Iranian protests is the absence of a leader whose removal will demoralize the protesters.  While the regime has not hesitated to use batons and occasionally bullets to disperse the crowds, it has not yet brought (or has been unable to bring) tanks on the streets to decisively crush the opposition like the Syrians did at Hama and the Chinese did at Tiananmen.  Till then the world can draw inspiration from the dogged protesters in the street and hope that the men with the guns will have a change of heart.

Meanwhile neocons are still equally dogged in their determination to bomb Iran, however pointless and self-defeating the attack will be.  See link to the latest by Daniel Pipes. Also see link.  One of the lines of attack seems to be to keep referring to the Iranian regime as “apocalyptic” even though since its inception the Iranian regime has been ruthlessly pragmatic in its primary goal – survival.  A regime allegedly rooted in Islam has even given itself the right to suspend Sharia law in the interests of the state (a marked difference from the Saudis and the Taliban).  Even North Korea, whose actions are significantly more irrational and unpredictable, has demonstrated that nuclear weapons are primarily being used as a deterrent.  There seems little evidence (other than verbal broadsides) that the Iranian regime with its lust for power and keen eye for survival would not do the same.

UPDATE: Here is a link to the latest Juan Cole column about the scaremongering and hyperbole that American policy makers (Hillary Clinton) and neo-con pundits keep coming up with to inflate the military threat from militarily weak third world countries.  When Barack Obama pointed out this fact in the 2008 eight presidential campaign, that Iran is hardly the existential threat that the Soviet Union was he was pilloried for it.  Here is one blogger who is glad that the occupant of the White House has the ability to keep things in perspective.

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Posted on 29-01-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Here is an amusing story from Iran.  In a seeming reaction to the “Green Revolution” that brought thousands of protesters into the streets this summer, Iran’s regime seems to have reacted by taking the green band in Iran’s flag and turning it to blue.  See here and here.  Before rigging the elections this summer, the regime had warned the opposition not to attempt a “color” revolution as seen in other parts of the world (Orange in the Ukaraine, Rose in Georgia, etc.).  This is a move steeped in multiple ironies.  Green is the representative color for Islam and is now possibly being disowned by a putative Islamic regime.  Replacing green with blue turns would result in the Iranian flag sharing the red, white and blue combination of the two “Great Satans” of the regime – the United States and the United Kingdom.  For additional humor inherent in this situation, see the cartoon below that ran during the summer and was reposted on Andrew Sullivan’s site today.  See link.

Khamenei tears the green stripe off the Iranian flag

'Khamenei Tears Green Stripe (Associated with Mousavi) Off Iranian Flag' Cartoonist: Jihad 'Awartani, Source: Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), June 26, 2009.

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Posted on 30-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

In the week long hiatus taken in my blogging activities, the expected protests in Iran have taken place.  The obtuse decision to treat all mourners at Ayatollah Montazeri’s funeral as protesters and shedding blood on Ashura, the Iranian regime is providing further proof of its ideological bankruptcy.  However, as has been noted many times in this blog the tipping point will not come until a sizable portion of the security forces refuses to shed further blood of their countrymen.

In the meantime the regime tries to brutally send a message by targeting relatives of some of the leaders of the protest – like killing the nephew of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi or arresting the non-political sister of Shirin Ebadi.  However, neither of them or even the brave Mehdi Karroubi appears to be the driving force behind the protests.

Iran’s youth (70% of the population is under 30) is making its displeasure felt.  Unlike 1979 there is no charismatic figure like Ayatollah Khomieni waiting in the wings.  While this could make it harder to topple the regime, it also makes it harder for the regime to scuttle the protests by eliminating a select leadership.

In some ways the Rubicon was thoroughly crossed this week.  The Supreme Leader can no longer count on the presumed sanctity of his office to protect him.  The crowds in the street are now baying for his blood.  With some people talking of an Iranian intifada, even the crushing of the current round of protests will only trigger more ferment down the road. The regime can only hope for some external action (of the sort that Messers Netenyahu and the neo-cons would love to provide) that will save their regime.  Here’s hoping they do not get an excuse to force the protesters to rally around a regime they despise.

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Posted on 22-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

As expected the death of Ayatollah Montazeri has brought the crowds back on Iranian streets and the regime predictably tried to tarnish his memory.  Abbas Milani at TNR has a great profile of the man would have been Supreme Leader but for the fact he had a conscience.  The trauma caused to the United States by the embassy takeover and the international loss of face has often blinded Americans to the fact that the Islamic revolution toppled a tyrant (albeit one who ultimately flinched at the thought of firing at the crowds in a manner that did not faze Hafez Assad in Syria or the Chinese regime in the next decade) and that the new regime had broad public backing at inception.

However, the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran ultimately fell prey to the same moral vacuum that stained past revolutions and led to the Reign of Terror, the Great Purges, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  Like the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions before it, the Iranian regime replaced a repressive regime that was far more brutal and had fewer qualms in killing its own citizens.  Montazeri deserves credit for having the moral authority to stand up for to Ayatollah Khomeini and protest the wanton massacre of the regime’s opponents.  For this he suffered house arrest and political exile but earned the respect of his countrymen. It is hardly surprising that the morally and ideologically bankrupt regime is desperately trying to tarnish his name and disrupt his funeral services.  However, by turning him into a martyr they are generating a backlash against the Supreme Leader.

Just how much force the regime is willing to use and whether the mobs will peter out will be evident in the coming days.

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Posted on 20-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri has died.  One of the intellectual creators of the Islamic revolution and originally the designated successor to Ayatollah Khomeini, he was exiled from political power in 1989 for daring to question the abysmal human rights record of the regime and warning that it was using Islam to create a dictatorship.  A concerned regime placed him under house arrest in 1997 only releasing him a few years later when he fell ill to avoid the backlash that his death under arrest would cause.  Many Iranians considered him to be the legitimate “Supreme Leader,” particularly since he outranked the current Supreme Leader Khamenei in the religious hierarchy.  Montazeri came to the forefront this summer when he condemned the blatant rigging of the Presidential election.  His death and his funeral will likely become another occasion for the tensions simmering in Iran to reappear on the street.  More lies turmoil ahead for Iran.  A brave man who dared stand up to the repression of the Shah and the Ayatollahs and who dared question the legitimacy of the Supreme Leader, Montazeri will be missed.

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Posted on 15-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

After an unexpected hiatus from blogging activities, kick starting the first post of the week with some thoughts on events that would have merited longer posts at the time.

  • I liked the general tenor of Barack Obama’s speech but was amused to see some of the blinders come off on the left and the right as a result.  Liberals unhappy about the decision on Afghanistan saw the president expound a doctrine of just war which in some ways could have been delivered by George W. Bush. Conservatives who had convinced themselves that Obama was a weak anti-war liberal seem to have heard for the first time that the President does not rule out war (they seem to have forgotten his comment in the campaign that he was only against “stupid wars” (though he left may argue that the Afghan escalation IS a stupid war).  Time will tell whether the “Obama Doctrine” fares better than the “Bush Doctrine.”  With its understanding of the limitations of American power, it does have a greater chance of success.
  • The Indian government dropped a bombshell with the creation of a new state.  Will discuss the virtues and pitfalls of smaller states in the Indian constitutional context later this week, but words cannot describe how badly the decision making process was bungled.  First the government gave in to emotional blackmail of a hunger strike, then nobody seems to have discussed the decision with the local government and laid the groundwork, and the critical question of who gets Hyderabad still remains unanswered.  The abrupt decision making process has also suddenly brought to the forefront demands for at least 9 new states.  Before the virtues of these demands are assessed, first the Indian government deserves brickbats for sheer incompetence.
  • The Iranian regime returns Shirin Ebadi’s Nobel peace prize medal.  Previous blog here.
  • One of the two Chicago men arrested for planning a terrorist attack in Denmark seems to be singing about his involvement in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.  Not surprisingly, India wants him extradited.

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Posted on 09-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

More unrest on Iran’s streets and campuses.  See here, here, and here.  As the protests have dragged on they have become more brazen in insulting the Supreme Leader Khamenei.  The desperate regime has started targeting the protesters globally, arresting mothers mourning their children killed in the protests, and lately assaulting presidential candidate Mousavi and his wife.  And even in the face of the batons of the Basij and the guns of the revolutionary guard the brave students of Iran continue to march and protest.  The hope for Iran is that as the protests continue and the support base of the regime weakens the men with guns start to waver, and messers Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and their bomb first ask questions later enablers in the United States do not do something stupid to prop up an intellectually bankrupt regime.

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Posted on 02-12-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Economics, History) by Rashtrakut
  • Christopher Hitchens complains about how the saga of the party crashers overshadowed the visit of Manmohan Singh to the United States and vents about the state of media coverage.  This is hardly a new phenomenon, though it seems to have got worse in the last 20 years.  From my viewpoint the O. J. Simpson circus, I mean trial, was the start of this nonsense.  It showed when the media cut away from Clinton’s state of the union address to announce the civil verdict against OJ.
  • The Economist’s Banyan on how North Korea in the finest traditions of bankrupt regimes “revalued” its currency and robbed its citizens.
  • More Afghan perceptions on Obama’s speech.
  • A depressing read on how the Taliban is wrecking the rich Buddhist heritage of the region and threatening museums in Pakistan.
  • The Economist cites a Stephen Walt column on how German unifier Otto von Bismarck’s realism may be a guide on a realistic foreign policy to ease tensions in the world and tackle Iran.  It is an interesting theory, but historical analogies don’t always fit.  Bismarck’s concert of powers was ultimately doomed because Russia and Austria-Hungary’s ambitions (along with their proxies Serbia and Bulgaria) clashed in the Balkans and an over-powerful Germany clashed with the traditional British agenda since the Spanish Armada of preventing any one power from dominating the European continent.  These tensions were already evident by the time of Bismarck’s unceremonious dismissal.
  • How far will Dubai’s woes rein in Sheikh Makhtoum’s ambitious agenda?  It gives conservative Abu Dhabi a lot more leverage.

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    Posted on 30-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Reacting to the recent IAEA censure, the Iranian regime has reacted with a show of petulance announcing 10 new uranium enrichment plants for uranium it does not have.  The IAEA vote was significant in that Iran got no support from countries it could rely on in the past including Russia, China, India and South Africa.  Even though Brazil has resisted joining the international chorus, more reactions like the one this Sunday could fritter away any goodwill Iran possesses for its legal position that even the Non Proliferation Treaty allows Iran to enrich uranium for civilian use.  However, the NPT requires transparency in Iranian actions which has not been forthcoming.  The Iranian reaction may also point to continuing tensions within the regime on how to proceed without losing face.  The question is whether this back and forth forces Russia and China to join in a meaningful sanctions regime (which is useless without them) and how soon, if ever, this happens.

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    Barack Obama’s recent trip to China has received much criticism for its failure to achieve much of substance, giving a short-shrift to human rights issues and even raising a minor storm in India from an otherwise innocuous press release.  However, the trip may not have been entirely wasted.  Richard Wolfe notes that lost in the press coverage (and he charitably does not mention the American media’s obsession with Sarah Palin’s new ghost-written book) were agreements reached regarding emissions targets.  This along with talks held with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his state visit last week (which also helped defuse the brouhaha over the joint statement with China) could help break the deadlock at the upcoming Copenhagen talks.

    The Chinese visit may have also contributed to the China joining the recent censure of Iran by the IAEA.  The deliverables may not be as groundbreaking as previous presidential visits abroad but address two upcoming issues on the President’s foreign policy slate.  Success in Copenhagen could reaffirm the goodwill that exists for the administration on the ground in Europe.  Bringing India and China into any global agreement to cut emissions will blunt one of the major criticisms of the Kyoto Protocol.  Likewise any Chinese help on Iran is to be welcomed.  These are small steps at present, but they could lead to greater rewards down the road.

     

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    The latest gambit by the Iranian regime in its attempt to squash dissent.   In what appears to be a first, they have now seized the Nobel Peace Prize medal awarded to Shirin Ebadi.  The official justification appears to be back taxes owed for the $1.3 million award, which Ebadi claims is no subject to tax.  The regime has now frozen her bank account and may try to seize her home.

    Inflicting financial pain is hardly a new tactic for repressive regimes.  However, seizing the medal smacks of pettiness that will hold up the Iranian regime to deserved ridicule.

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    Posted on 25-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut
    • George Gavrilis suggests a closer look at the resolution of the Tajik civil war for the type of state system that may eventually emerge in Afghanistan.  While it is an interesting thought, Tajikistan did not have the same ethnic and sectarian tensions Afghanistan did and nor was it a proxy playing grounds for its neighbors.
    • Another look at the relative unknowns chosen as Europe’s President and Foreign Minister.
    • How the fears of a swine flu epidemic may have been cynically used as a gambit in Ukraine’s presidential election.
    • How Hezbollah has used a loophole in Shiite marriage law to satisfy the libido of its foot soldiers.
    • Time for the gathering of the Muslim faithful in Mecca for another Hajj, this event being overshadowed by swine flu fears and the political drama from Iran.
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    The New York Times reviews the recent air strikes conducted by the Saudi Air Force in Yemen and the risk of a proxy fight with Iran.  The article also has a brief but good overview of the complex religious schisms within Islam at play in Yemen.  It has been close to 50 years since the Saudis had to deal with a proxy fight on their southwestern flank.  In the 1960s the Saudis were sucked into a civil war in Yemen after Nasser inspired rebels toppled the Yemeni monarchy.  Unlike Nasser, the Iranians will not be able to send ground troops into Yemen.  For them it will be a proxy fight akin to their arming of Hezbollah – relatively low cost but high rewards from the likely Yemeni and Saudi overreaction.

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    A 2,500 year old mystery based on a Herodotus story sometimes dismissed as a fable may have been solved.  The Persian Emperor Cambyses II has generally not received good press from historians.  Some of it comes from the difficulty of being the successor of Cyrus the Great, a man who turned a nation of goatherders subject to the Median Empire into what was the largest empire the world had ever seen.  Media, Babylon and Lydia with the famed wealth of Croesus fell before Cyrus.  Cambyses finished the job by conquering the last remaining empire of antiquity, Egypt.

    This is when things started to go south and the legend of the lost army begins.  After his initial victory Cambyses failed to subdue Kush in the south and had to give up his plan to attack Carthage because his Phoenician subjects refused to fight their ethnic kin.  The frustrated emperor decided to vent his rage at the Oracle of Amun located in the Siwa Oasis which refused to recognize him as Pharaoh of Egypt.  According to Herodotus the army of 50,000 disappeared in a sandstorm.  An army that size generally leaves behind some traces.  But for 2,500 years nothing was found.  If true, this solves one of the two major location mysteries of Ancient Egypt (the other is the location of the tomb of Alexander the Great which disappears from the historical record in the early third century AD).

    To sum up on poor Cambyses, he came to a sticky end.  Forced to leave Egypt to deal with the revolt of his brother Bardiya, he died suddenly.  His eventual successor Darius I would say it was suicide.  Darius, a cousin, who usurped the throne from Bardiya and ruled successfully for 36 years lavished a lot of effort in blackening the reputations of the sons of Cyrus.  Cambyses comes down as a bloodthirsty and moody tyrant who initiated a tradition of royal incest in violation of Persian norms.  Bardiya suffers a worse fate.  The man deposed by Darius was dismissed as an impostor, a Magi priest named Gaumata, who killed the real son of Cyrus.   All of this justified the bloody path of Darius to the throne, sealed by his marriage to the daughters of Cyrus.  As is often the case, the winner got to write history.  In this case the victor inscribed his version in stone.

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    Posted on 08-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    David Ignatius on the Iranian regime’s need to keep America as the Great Satan to survive.  This is also why Barack Obama who is not as easily caricatured and demonized is an existential risk to the regime.  It also reflects the fundamental bankruptcy of the Iranian regime that at present can muster broader support by rallying people around the flag against a real or mythical enemy (Think Wag the Dog or Canadian Bacon).  Another reason why military strikes would be just the medicine the mullahs ordered.

    Iran is hardly unique in this.  Ever since the creation of Bangladesh, the strongest glue holding Pakistan together (and used by its army to justify its expenditures) is reflexive anti-India sentiment.  In the United States the military-industrial complex has desperately searched for a new conventional threat to justify America’s obscene military spending, from talking up the Chinese military threat in the mid 1990s, to exaggerating the threat posed by the ramshackle militaries of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and now Iran.  Sadly the tactic works all too often.

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    Posted on 06-11-2009
    Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

    Kevin Drum on the practical limitations the United States has on sanctioning Iran.  With Iran repeatedly backtracking on the recent nuclear deal, recent opinion pieces have touted harsh sanctions to change the regime’s behavior.   The problem with sanctions in recent years from Burma to Zimbabwe has been their limited utility in changing behavior.  But, Iran is more tied into the world, economically and culturally, than either of those two rogue states.   A smart sanction regime could have some effect.  But that is feasible only if Russia and China go along with them.  At present that does not seem likely.

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    Posted on 02-11-2009
    Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

    Time posts about the looming confrontation in Iran on the anniversary of the siege of the US embassy.  Even though the Iranian dictatorship will not face imminent collapse until the men with guns switch sides, it is impressive to see the Iranian youth stand up in defiance.  Particularly one like Mahmoud Vahidnia who rebuked the supreme leader to his face.  Here’s hoping the bloodshed is kept to a minimum.

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