Posted on 02-11-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Yglesias links a post about a surprised neo-con who discovers that the Iranian reformers are patriots not American puppets in the making.  For all the blather directed at President Obama’s alleged naiveté, it is still surprising (even after the debacle in Iraq where they thought that they would magically convert Iraq into a pro-Israel country full of American military bases that spurned OPEC to give the United States cheap oil) that they cannot grasp that the interests and desires of other countries do not neatly align with American wishes.

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Posted on 23-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

The New York Times has a profile on Mehdi Karroubi, one of the 4 presidential candidates in the rigged elections this summer.  Since I have been following the news coverage he has also been the most vocal critic of the torture and repression that followed the quasi coup.  While a lot of hopes were placed in former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s behind the scenes machinations, the Green Revolution confirms a depressing truth on the underpinnings of power originally articulated in the deathbed advice of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus to his sons.  “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men.”

When the soldiers stay neutral or switch sides tyrants like Marcos, Ceausescu and Milosevic fall.  When the regime buys their loyalty the result is what was displayed at Tiananmen, on the streets of Rangoon and in the student dorms of Iran’s universities this summer.

Just how long the iron fist can control Iran’s youth remains to be seen.  China purchased political stability with an economic boon.  Burma’s junta got it though sheer repression and a willful disregard for the condition of its people.  Iran lies somewhere in the middle.  Its economy is a mess and over dependent on its oil industry.  But it is far too culturally integrated with the world to lapse into a North Korea or Burma like isolation.  Time is not on the regime’s side.

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Posted on 17-10-2009
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

As noted before the neo-cons have been urging military action against Iran.  The fact that a ground invasion is impractical without a neighboring country willing to allow the United States to use it as a staging area, the exhausted United States army has no troops for an invasion and subsequent occupation, allowing Israel to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites is unlikely to have much practical effect and any bombing campaign would force the Iranian public that hates the regime to rally around the flag are mere technicalities to be dismissed in their fantasy world.

Now the man George W. Bush insisted on appointing as ambassador to the United Nations has revealed that there is no limit to his bombing fetish.  Earlier this week Bolton raised the possibility that the only solution may be for Israel to preemptively nuke Iran.

By all accounts Iran is still some distance from actually getting the Bomb.  Even if it gets the ability it is unclear whether Iran wants the expense of keeping an active arsenal or getting a quick trigger ability like Japan.  Even if Iran did get the Bomb it is not a given that a nuclear strike on Israel will follow.  Regardless of the focus on the theocratic aspects of the regime and the rewards in the afterlife, the Iranian regime has displayed time and again that its primary motive is survival.  Israel’s second strike ability and Washington’s nuclear shield guarantees the annihilation of Iran should it strike with nuclear weapons.

Even Saddam Hussein in 1991 held back from using chemical weapons in his Scud strikes against Israel, knowing that the result would be annihilation.  An Israeli nuclear strike against a nation without nuclear weapons would be sheer insanity.  I agree with Daniel Luban, that this rhetorical escalation is intended to shift the contours of the debate further to the right.  But the lack of rational boundaries for Bolton’s warmongering raises the question why exactly George W. Bush thought this man could be a diplomat.

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Posted on 01-10-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

The regime change debacle in Iraq has not chastened the neo-cons. First they foolishly called for Obama to grant Messers. Khamenei, Ahmedinejad and the ruling clique in Iran a gift by intervening in the protests this summer. Now the public disclosure of the new secret reactor near Qom is bringing the predictable calls for regime change from Republican Senators to armchair hawks.

Just how this miracle is to be achieved is not clear. Then there is the amnesia of America’s regime change history in Iran, notably the toppling of Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 which the Iranians have not forgotten. While the right-wing gets caught up in the rhetoric of the President being “the leader of the free world” there is a general lack of appreciation that most of the free world is generally looking for America to lead by inspirational example rather than diktat.

The naiveté about the willingness of proud historical cultures to accept American sponsored puppets led to the ill advised attempt to install (convicted bank fraudster) Ahmad Chalabi in Iraq. Even when he was replaced by the more acceptable Ayad Allawi, neo-cons seem to have forgotten that he was swept out of office the moment a free election was held.

The prescription of sanctions toppling governments is also flawed. South Africa is the only country in recent memory where they worked, and they worked because the apartheid regime needed the white minority to stand solidly behind it. In other countries like North Korea, Zimbabwe and Burma the ruling clique has continued to feather its nest, passed on the suffering to the population and blamed foreigners for the economic mess. There is also the question of whether China which will do business with any autocrat who turns on the oil spigot will comply with any sanctions regime.

Iran is in the middle of revolutionary ferment that threatens the regime. However, as Joe Klein notes the reason there is such a broad coalition in place is because they speak of reforming the regime rather than eviscerating the structure established in the revolution. With a mass of people stewing in discontent and the ideological underpinnings of the regime revealed to be a sham Iran does not need the intervention prescribed by the neo-cons.  Clumsy American meddling may give the beleaguered Supreme Leader the means he needs to get the disaffected theocracy to rally around the flag. The bayonets of the revolutionary guard and the batons of the Basij hold the regime in place for now. As Serbia’s Milosevic discovered, they find it hard to keep the pot from boiling over indefinitely.

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Posted on 30-09-2009
Filed Under (Current Affairs, Foreign Policy, Religion) by Rashtrakut

One of the fascinating (and disturbing) after effects of 9/11 has been the willingness in the West to present Islam as a faith inherently violent and antithetical to peaceful co-existence with other religions. This ignores the bloody history and bouts of intolerance of the other Abrahamic faiths. The deeper irony is that the ones preaching the evils of Islam in the West, particularly in America, are often the ones who fail to recognize or appreciate why America and Europe are not theocracies in the Iranian mold. Early American colonies were founded for the religious freedom of only its founders. The Puritans did not extend the same courtesy to others.

It wasn’t until the Enlightenment and the separation of church and state (something hated by Christian fundamentalists today) that many of the freedoms we take for granted in the West occurred.

The history of any religion is amazingly consistent in its patterns – whether there is an Episcopal hierarchy like the Catholic Church or whether it does not have a formal organization or structure like Hinduism. The priestly class tries to stick itself at the top of the hierarchy, the secular class pushes back. Translating the holy books into the language of the common man causes concerns – from legitimate ones regarding the quality of the translation to the more cynical power grab deeming it blasphemy. Even if Rulers do not want priests dictating to them they are more than willing to use it as a matter of state policy.

It wasn’t until the Enlightenment that states of Western Europe and America would stop seeing to “make windows into men’s hearts and secret thoughts.”   The reduction of religion’s role in political life (something the right wing is furiously trying to overturn) has been a big part of why Christianity and Judaism seem more tolerant today. It is also unfortunate that the Hindutva brigade in India instead of embracing the ecumenical tradition of its faith is intent of emulating the worst bigotry of the monotheistic faiths they despise.

In addition to the secularism encouraged by the Enlightenment there is the social revolution in the West in the aftermath of World War II when women entered the professional workforce in droves (in spite of the attempt turn the clock back in the 50s) followed by the sexual revolution of the 60s. That social transformation caused immense cultural dislocation in the West. It is hardly surprising that the Islamic world which was not subject to the same social transformation time table and hade more traditionalist societies to begin with has not kept up.

Ironically it is the Islamic Republic of Iran that may ultimately convince the Islamic world of the benefits of separating church and state. It is the living example of the axiom that combining religion and politics tarnishes both. Even though the Green Revolution this summer was crushed by what was essentially a coup d’état it is unclear whether the regime is sustainable. By all accounts the power hungry mullahs are widely despised by a populace mostly born after the fall of the Shah. The Chinese regime survived by quietly morphing into fascists and providing double digit growth in exchange for freedom. The Iranian economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

Unlike the Baathist regime in Syria and previously in Iraq the mullahcracy does not appear to have a similar iron grip and has not yet displayed a willingness to mete out a Hama or a Halabja.

If the regime does fall, a relatively secularized Iran will be a far more appealing and enduring symbol of secularism in the Middle East than the to-down variety imposed by Ataturk in Turkey. For every Ataturk, there are many King Amanullahs.

While the Obama administration has had its missteps, it is refreshing to see leadership in Washington that understands that it should not step in when its enemy is doing a good job hanging itself. Given the debacle of regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan, the shortage of troops and the absence of any staging sites to launch an invasion, it hard to understand what the bomb Iran crowd expects its belligerence and desire for machismo will achieve.

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