Monday, June 29, 2009

After six years of military occupation, US forces have finally handed over sovereign control to the Iraqis of their major cities, including Baghdad. Prime Minister Maliki is said to declare tomorrow National Sovereignty Day. Two huge issues remain: the status of Kirkuk, the oil-rich Kurdish-dominated city in the north, and the Embassy in the Green Zone. I do not have any prescriptions, as I am not one to issue or advocate policy, nor am I in any position to do it. All that my capacities can lead me to do is try to report what appears to be happening, with respect to Iraqi affairs and whatever else. The troops have been over there for a long time, and it is good that we have really begun to let the Iraqis take back their own country, which is something that should have taken place immediately after the overthrow of Saddam.
The Beeb reports today that “Israel has approved the construction of 50 new housing units in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank,” a decision that “came hours before Defence Minister Ehud Barak was due to fly to the US.” This follows the snub by Netanyahu to George Mitchell and his non-offer to the Palestinians of quasi-statehood. This is all either deliberately provocative or simply unreasonable. In either case the US government ought to rethink its special relationship, and soon. Words are nice but actions speak louder.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Western journalists have been more or less banished from Tehran for the time being. Michael Slackman reports from Cairo:

Iran’s government said Sunday that it had arrested Iranian employees of the British Embassy, while the police in Tehran beat and fired tear gas at several thousand protesters who joined a demonstration at a mosque in support of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Moussavi.

This is said to be an escalation between the Iranian authorities and Britain (which incidentally played a major role in the 1953 MI-6/CIA coup against Mossadegh). The United Kingdom has been accused, on the basis of no evidence, of instigating the demonstrations of the past two weeks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A ribald look at our news media complex from across the Pond.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Religious fanaticism and worship of force equals this.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dreyfuss anticipates “the next explosion,” following the current lull as Baseej have stamped out much of the recent unrest with swift incredible brutality. Hope is still there.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What we know about Iran can be cleverly packaged into convenient dichotomies. Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, breaks it down:

Highly educated, pro-Western and progressive Iranians are … placed on Mir Hossein Moussavi’s side, while backward villagers and urban poor are on Ahmadinejad’s. The fact that in North America and Western Europe, usually unveiled and fluently English-speaking women are brought to speak on behalf of the women demonstrators further intensifies the impression that if women are veiled or do not speak English fluently then they must be Ahmadinejad supporters.

This is a deeply false dichotomy that projects a flawed picture to the outside world. It is predicated on the spin that a very limited pool of expatriate academics are putting on a movement that is quite extraordinary in Iranian political culture, one whose full dimensions have yet to be unpacked.

…Moussavi is universally known as a hard-core socialist in his economic platform and a social reformist in his politics. Mehdi Karrubi is far to Moussavi’s right in his economic neo-liberalism and social conservatism. Mohsen Rezaie, meanwhile, is even more to the right of Karrubi in his social conservatism but to his left in his economic platform.

What above all challenges the reading of this event as a middle-class revolt against ‘uncouth radicalism’ is a crucial statistic that professor Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, one of the most reliable Iranian economists in the U.S., provides in the same set of responses that The New York Times solicited from experts. ‘Young people ages 15-29,’ Salehi-Isfahani reports, ‘make up 35 percent of the population but account for 70 percent of the unemployed.’

The overwhelming majority of the people pouring into streets of Tehran and other major cities in support of Moussavi are precisely these 15- to 29-year-olds. How could this then be a middle-class uprising if the overwhelming majority of those who are supporting it and putting their lives on the line are in fact jobless 15- to 29-year-olds who still live with their parents — who cannot even afford to rent an apartment, let alone marry and raise a family and join the middle class in a principally oil-based economy that is not labor-intensive to begin with?

Another crucial statistic that Salehi-Isfahani does not cite is the fact that more than 63 percent of university entrants in Iran are women, but only 12 percent are part of the labor force. That means that the remaining 51 percent are out of a job, and yet the most visible aspect of these anti-Ahmadinejad demonstrations is that women visibly outnumber men. How could jobless men and women be participating in a massive middle-class uprising against their ‘uncouth’ leaders?

If we were to look closely at Moussavi’s campaign commercials, his social and economic platforms since he entered the race, and the presidential debates with all the other candidates, we see that a sizable component of his supporters are indeed university students, young faculty and the urban intellectual elite — such as filmmakers, artists and the literati.

But the fact is that a major constituency of Moussavi is also the urban poor and particularly the war veterans who have no respect for Ahmadinejad, believing he had an inglorious war record, but are full of unsurpassed admiration for Moussavi because of his role as a fiercely dedicated prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988).

Conversely, there is a significant segment of the traditional middle class, the bazaaris, that is in fact the beneficiaries of Ahmadinejad’s economic policies of governmentally subsidized commodities and services, and thus supports him.”

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The heart-rending news of the martyrdom of yet another group of protesters to the recent fraud in the elections put our nation in shock and sorrow. Shooting at the people, militarizing the city, scaring the people, provoking them, and displaying power are all the result of the unlawfulness we’re witnessing today. How surprising it is that the people who instigate all this, accuse others of these very events.” — Mir Hossein Mousavi, referring to Iranian state media that has branded the opposition movement as terrorist

Juan Cole has more information on the events yesterday.
It is interesting to see the nexus between the Old Guard in Iran and its neoconservative sympathizers in my country.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Supreme Leader Khamenei spoke, declaring Ahmadinejad the rightful winner and the protests illegitimate. Things appear to be getting to a head, as Tehran continues to explode, according to the news accounts, and there are also dispatches about acid being sprayed from security helicopters overhead the demonstrators. The other meme that is developing is that Mousavi is not interested in fundamental change. But it is too soon to see all of this clearly.

Friday, June 19, 2009

An even more basic question for Joe Klein: Why does anyone still take Wolfowitz and Krauthammer seriously?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Still in Teheran, Roger Cohen points out the rather obvious:

I don’t doubt that his [Ahmadinejad’s] piety, patronage and populism secured him many millions of votes. He personifies a defiant nationalism, symbolized by Iran’s nuclear program. But a genuine victory with almost two-thirds of the vote would not require the imposition of near-martial law to secure it.

Wired reports that Twitter may not be the medium de rigeur, much noise to the contrary notwithstanding.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The groundswell waves of democratization and popular activism in the West during the late 60s-early 70s have spread to the industrializing Mideast. It is a different time, but oddly resonant. So that leads me to this.

Andrew Sullivan keeps the coverage going.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Time says it is not so simple:

We're told that a young and restless Facebook generation has arisen in Iran, text-messaging and Twittering away at the fabric of a conservative clerical rule that it is no longer willing to accept. Ranged against it are the dogged defenders of a decrepit regime that has outlived its purpose, surviving only through brute force and its ability to convince the unsophisticated, mostly rural poor folk in their ragged suits and black chadors that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is their champion against corrupt politicians and the treacherous intellectuals and amoral rich kids who support them.

Obviously these are stereotypes — and highly misleading ones at that.
Robert Dreyfuss reports that, according to former Iranian Foreign Minister Ibrahim Yazdi, it really was rigged:

A coup d'etat? They've already made one! They've created a dictatorship, in fact. Do you know that last night the security forces occupied the offices of many newspapers, to make sure that their reporting on the election was favorable? They changed many headlines. They fixed the election.

The Guards are taking over everything, including many economic institutions. The ministry of the interior is increasing its control in all the provinces.

We have information that Ahmadinejad is thinking about changing the Constitution to allow the president to serve more than two terms, to make his presidency more or less permanent.

The revolution is being twittered.
The Green Revolution?

Monday, June 15, 2009

From Roger Cohen, our man in Tehran:

As dusk comes, people gather on the roofs of their apartment buildings and the haunting sound of “Allah-u-Akbar” — God is great — and “Death to the dictator” echoes across the megalopolis.

The Iranian yearning in these cries is immense, a measure of all that was not delivered by the 1979 revolution, when the same cries went up and liberation was promised.
Juan Cole: 100,000 people in the streets. Photo montage here.

It is difficult to keep up; such is the nature of this medium. I wonder how other revolutions would have looked like had blogging existed then...
From Independentista, 25 June 2005:

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, mayor of Tehran and reported hard-liner, defeated alleged reformist Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in yesterday’s run-off election. Marred by accusations of fraud, Ahmadinejad’s victory (a big surprise) is observed to "complicate" U.S.-Iranian relations — in the words of the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Iranian Interior Ministry’s figures give Ahmadinejad nearly 62% of the vote and Rafsanjani 36%, with the official turnout of 60%.

Moussavi is not under house arrest. According to CNN:

Reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi, whose claims of fraud in Friday's vote have fueled three days of unrest and prompted authorities to launch a probe, was cheered through Tehran's streets as he apparently drove to meet thousands of supporters.

The crowd is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
As a reporter, I know that my observations are supposed to be impartial, but in the case of the Green Revolution that is currently underway in Iran, I cannot refuse to take sides: my sympathies and hopes lie with the students who are trying to change the regime, as they are being savaged in the streets and attacked in dormitories. Moussavi appears to remain under house arrest, and Khamenei indicates that he wants some kind of recount or investigation into alleged (and highly likely) fraud and intimidation. In his latest speech, Bibi Netanyahu said not one word about the students and their good fight, but instead the same tired hash about the threat from Iran. If by Iran he means the old theocratic thugs, he would be correct. But a new Iran is emerging, slowly and fitfully for sure, but it is happening, live. More as it develops.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

According to virtuoso pollster Nate Silver, the election may not have been rigged after all.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hopes have been quickly dashed to bits in Iran. Tehran rigged the polling; riots in the streets have been brutally put down. Ahmadinejad will have a second term.

Andrew Sullivan has done an excellent job covering the events as they unfold: here, here, here, and here.

James Spencer reports that the toll may have neared 100 arrested.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the wake of economic turmoil for which many Iranians attribute to the disastrous rule of Ahmadi-Nejad, and the historic opening that the US has offered, the 30-year-long reign of the Islamic Republic appears to be drawing toward a fateful shift, away from the rigidity of the recent past and toward a Khatami-like reformation in its politics toward the West, its own grappling with social values, and its place in the region.

The challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, is a former premier. And the incumbent is a clownish demagogue who has borne so many parallels with our own preceding leader that many commentators have seen echoes of the Obama campaign in that of Moussavi, who has tapped into the energy and organizational acumen of the youth (who comprise the strong majority of the population).

Iran has a long way to go, and so does my own country, although we have more formally democratic institutions and do not vet our candidates by a board of theologians (one could argue about the Republican primaries in certain states). Four years ago, the forces of reaction were victorious in both Iran and the United States. Now, after so much, maybe the tides are finally shifting, if just by a bit, one small step toward a better place for these two nations to repair relations after the mutual bitterness and suspicion of the recent past.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An update on the madness of Von Brunn, who remains in custody (and alive).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

From the Washington Post LiveChat, now:

Arlington, Va.: Is this indicative of a larger problem? It seems like far right wing violence is occurring fairly often lately, or is that just the media making it bigger than it is?

Heidi Beirich: This is not a media phenomenon. We have had two incidents involving cop killings by anti-government extremists, two white supremacist plots against the president and a guy in Maine was actually found, after his wife shot him, to have had the components of a dirty bomb in his home, according to the FBI. There was also a racist rampage by Keith Luke in Massachusetts that involved rape and murder of African immigrants. So these are real things that are sadly occurring.
The shooter has been identified as James von Brunn, alternately aged 88 or 89 according to different press accounts, with reported links to neo-Nazi groups. This ghost of the ghastly past, in a flash, scandalized the area. Ironically, my thoughts centered this morning on the opinion piece that Michael Gerson wrote about denial of the Nazi Holocaust. This violence is denial made incarnate.

The security guard has been confirmed dead.

This is what we should anticipate, nor should it engender surprise; still shocking, but what the CIA would call blowback. Above: another gem from Mr. Fish, terrible and true beyond ink-stained words.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Monday, June 08, 2009

The March 14 coalition has prevailed in Lebanon, dealing a blow to the Hezbollah-led bloc. Good news for US and Israeli interests and those of moderate Lebanese. Perhaps his widely-lauded appeal in Cairo is doing the trick. Or it is simply an internal matter to Lebanon. Either way, as elections in Iran come up later this week, we will all see which way the winds are blowing throughout the Mideast. In Europe, however, the polls are swinging decisively to the rightist parties, according to news reports.

ALSO: Good development in Pakistan.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Friday, June 05, 2009

The other day the NY Times reported that a highly confidential nuclear report had been leaked, detailing in its 267 pages the locations of every single atomic facility in the United States, which was only hitherto seen by the IAEA. Experts quoted agreed that no serious breach of security had been dealt, but in this reporter’s opinion it is a very impressive (in the negative sense) disclosure. The news report did not provide the link, surely their prerogative as a responsible conveyor of news and not state secrets.

But I was curious at this point, so I went ahead and emailed Steven Aftergood, who releases a bulletin called Secrecy News with the Federation of American Scientists. It was a simple request: is the report available online, and where can one find it. To my surprise, he gave me a hyperlink and I downloaded the whole thing, completely unredacted. It’s a stunning document, and quite disturbing. Maybe Iran should disclose its own inventory and then we’re on the up-and-up.

It is indicative of the information environment we have today that such an important document can be so easily accessed. I didn’t even have to file a FOIA request, which surely would have been rejected had the document not already been declassified, for reasons that remain obscure. With such universality that the Internet provides, it is extremely difficult to make sure that “the wrong hands” don’t get a hold of this kind of information. The document shows the actual addresses of our nuclear fuel stations and processing/enrichment plants, even with maps.

The aim of journalism is to get the public’s right to know in line with the state’s right to protect the public from those who would use knowledge that may be in the public interest into the very private interest of malevolent individuals and organizations. It’s a fine line, for sure, and the best strategy may be to approach it case-by-case. In this case, I think it was correct for the Times and other news organizations to not include the link that is still readily available to any fifth-grader with a dial-up anywhere in the world. For that reason, my decision here to omit Aftergood’s email address, much less the link he gave me, are strictly on a need-to-know basis. And to be honest, I’m not sure I need to know.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some good moves from the State Department about Tiananmen. Hopefully we will not lose our most-favored-nation status and their holding of Treasury bonds for a simple call to recognize that a massacre took place.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An excellent question in the wake of the Tiller case: would it be okay for the advocates of untrammeled executive power to fight terrorism at the price of due process if anti-abortion extremists were detained and tortured? Doubt it.
The big news stories are that General Motors, for now, is a bankrupt and nationalized corporation; an extremist pro-lifer murdered a late-term abortion doctor; and an Air France flight may or may not have plunged to a terrible fate over the Atlantic from an electrical storm. I want that audacity of hope thing again, and that promise of change. Folks on the Randian right, like Glenn Beck among others, are very good at rallying people for a common cause. Why must the left-liberal-progressive groups remain so fractured, reliant too much on the latest dictates from the administration? Why is citizen action on the right so predominant, and left-of-center energy so passive?