Daniel Larison

A Voice of Reason on Iran

Are the Iranians pursuing a nuclear weapon? I don’t know. They say they are not. But they are more or less surrounded by nuclear powers – the United States, Israel, India and Pakistan. Their reasoning for pursuing nuclear plants is feasible. They know their main export, oil, will run out one day, so by using nuclear fuel to produce internal power, they can extend the life of their most profitable export. They are certainly wise to disperse their facilities, given the fact that the Israelis bombed Iraq’s only nuclear reactor in the 1980s.

But let’s assume Iran does develop a nuclear weapon. I don’t care. I’ve lived most of my life 30 minutes from total destruction by tens of thousands of the Soviet Union’s nuclear warheads. The Bush administration’s claim that nuclear deterrence, which worked against a superpower, will not work against a smaller and poorer country is bunk. Israel alone has enough nuclear warheads to pulverize Iran.

Oh, the administration says the Iranians will hand over a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization. Well, where is any evidence of that? The evidence does show that once countries develop nuclear weapons, they keep pretty tight control over them.

But more to the point, if we don’t want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, why not negotiate? Why keep threatening the Iranians? It doesn’t make any sense. If I were an Iranian, I would assume that President Bush intends eventually to attack the country. That would be stupid, but if you look at the stupidity of the Iraqi mess, you can’t rule it out. Never believe that Bush won’t do something just because it’s dumb. ~Charley Reese

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In Hoc Signo Vinces: The Folly of an anti-Iranian

The scaremongering over Iran seems to be unending these days. Victor Davis Hanson has resumed his traditional role as the loudspeaker of jingoism, this time with his latest tiresome, tendentious invective over Iran’s nuclear program, published in today’s Chicago Tribune (sorry, no link). Coming on the heels of North Korea’s claim or ‘admission’ of possessing nuclear weapons already, the continued zeal to ‘do something’ about putative Iranian nuclear plans is more than a little bizarre. It recalls the buffoonish logic of Mr. Bush in 2003: we must avoid any confrontation with the state that apparently has the nuclear weapons, and is therefore immediately much more dangerous, at least to neighbouring countries, and attack the one country everyone can be fairly sure has no nuclear program worth mentioning. Nonetheless, Mr. Hanson wants us to press ahead, because “the very worst alternative” would be for Iran to acquire nuclear technology. Practically every reason he offers for why this is so is either specious in itself or works from the obnoxious assumption that Iran’s energy and security policies are the concern of the United States. Let’s review them briefly.

First, there is the fear of an arms race being started, and the related concern that proliferation is already too dangerous. It is apparently unimportant to Mr. Hanson that all the other regional powers that might acquire nuclear weapons are either reliant on our subsidies or have been traditional allies of the United States for some decades–it is axiomatic for a neocon, or any hard-boiled American militarist, that Arabs must never have nuclear weapons. That would be destabilising, you see, unlike invading other countries or toppling their governments, which is not. The laughable claim that “third-rate states” are more reckless than “traditional world powers” is simply untrue; perhaps Mr. Hanson should stick to ancient Greek history, since he seems completely at sea in modern history: all the great conflagrations of the modern age have been the product of the “traditional world powers.” Almost by definition, “third-rate states” tend to avoid wars because they are so strapped for resources; they are far more prone to internal instability than aggression against other states. Exceptions seem to crop up when U.S.-backed regimes try to play at national greatness, such as the last ill-fated expedition to destroy the Iranian revolutionary regime or the foolish Greek colonels overthrew the Cypriot government and provoked the awful Turkish invasion. It is, of course, the great powers that can afford excessive risks that come with reckless and hasty decisions–no “third-rate state” could have invaded another country as whimsically and carelessly as we have done, nor could it have been as militarily dominant or financially immune from passing on real costs of war to the general population.

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Hostility Already Strengthening Mullahs

Iran, facing mounting U.S. pressure over its nuclear program, promised yesterday a “scorching hell” for any aggressor as tens of thousands marched to mark the 26th anniversary of its Islamic revolution.

A month after President Bush warned that the United States hasn’t ruled out military action against Iran, President Mohammed Khatami responded before a crowd gathered on a snowy square in Tehran.

The U.S. accuses Iran of maintaining a nuclear-weapons program, which Iran says is for peaceful energy purposes.

“Will this nation allow the feet of an aggressor to touch this land?” Khatami asked at the crowd. “If, God forbid, it happens, Iran will turn into a scorching hell for the aggressors.”

His statements drew chants of “Death to America!” from the crowd.

Khatami is widely recognized as a leader of a moderate faction in Iran. Indeed, Khatami himself indicated in his speech that the talk of a possible U.S. invasion was pushing him into a united camp with Iran’s hard-liners against foreign meddling.

“The Iranian nation is not looking for war, violence and confrontation,” Khatami said.

“But the world should know that the Iranian nation won’t tolerate any aggression and will stand united against aggression despite differences,” he said, referring to the internal divide in Iranian politics between reformers and the more conservative clerics. ~The Seattle Times

Braving the cold, around two million people marched to several cities across Iran on Thursday, to show their support for the government against the United States over the latter’s repeated threats to attack the country.

They celebrated the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the secular monarchy of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi and subsequently established the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians from 22 districts flocked to Azadi (freedom) Square in the Iran capital of Tehran for the 26th anniversary celebration, despite heavy snowfall all day, while chanting slogans against the United States and its allies. ~The Jakarta Post

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U.S. Bumbling Towards Iran Attack II

Nobody sees military action as the best way to tame Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons ambitions, but as the rhetoric heats up, mutual miscalculation could suck Tehran and Washington into an unpredictable showdown.

European-sponsored talks have yet to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme, which could help it build a bomb. With postwar Iraq in turmoil, the world is jittery about any fresh instability in the oil-supplying Gulf region.

While U.S. President George W. Bush has emphasised diplomacy in dealing with Iran, he has not ruled out a military option and Vice President Dick Cheney has said Israel might act alone.

“There’s a 50-50 chance of an air strike,” said Ali Ansari, an Iran expert at Scotland’s St Andrew’s University.

“This not because of deliberate policy in the Pentagon or Iran, but the tensions, the sensitivities, the paranoia are so high that the potential for slip-sliding into something is very high,” he said, noting the absence of direct communication between the diplomatically estranged protagonists. ~Reuters

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U.S. Bumbling Towards Iran Attack

Iran’s denials of a nuclear weapons program are not considered credible in the United States or Europe. It has three major nuclear facilities above ground and is thought to have many smaller ones well concealed below ground. Experts estimate Iran is perhaps two years away from achieving a nuclear bomb.

But Iran is in some ways a more complicated target than Iraq. It is four times as big and has three times as many people. Most experts consider a full-scale ground invasion impossible. More likely, most regional and proliferation experts believe, would be a bombing campaign to destroy the nuclear materials.

According to Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who supported the attack on Iraq, an air campaign against Iran would have to last 30 days and would be in serious danger of not eliminating Iran’s nuclear capability because of its many sites. Such a campaign, he and other experts say, would be likely to unite the Iranian populace, now largely alienated from its government, behind its radical religious leaders and might prove counterproductive.

Other experts, such as John Pike, director of the Web site GlobalSecurity.org, say the administration has no choice but to bomb Iran before the end of next year. If they don’t, he says, Israel will, and that would further inflame the Middle East conflict. ~Newsday

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Iran Defiant

Washington will not stop Iran pursuing nuclear technology and should not attempt a military “adventure” in the country, an influential cleric said on Friday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has exhorted Iran to give up what she says is a nuclear weapons program.

U.S. officials have stressed diplomacy but not ruled out an attack against atomic sites, which Iran insists are to meet booming demand for electricity.

“The Persian Gulf is not a region where they can have fireworks and Iran is not a country where they can come for an adventure,” cleric and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday prayers.

“It is not acceptable that developed countries generate 70 or 80 percent of their electricity from nuclear energy and tell Iran, a great and powerful nation, that it cannot have nuclear electricity. Iran does not accept this,” he added. ~Reuters

Anyone with the slightest acquaintance with modern Iranian history (which would probably exclude most everyone in the present administration) must be aware that Iranian constitutionalist, reformist and nationalist politics have been defined in considerable measure in the past by Iranian resistance to foreign impositions on, or exploitations of, Iranian energy resources. To provoke a confrontation over the Iranian nuclear program, which Tehran publicly claims is an issue primarily of energy policy, is bound to stir up unhappy memories of Mossadeq’s fight with the British over Iranian oil resources (and even unhappier memories of our direct hand in his overthrow–so much for Iranian democracy) and the humiliating conditions of national weakness and practical division between the Great Powers under which the British stake in Iranian oil was first established. In short, such a confrontation is likely to strengthen the current government in Iran, force domestic critics of the regime to rally to the flag in a nationalist response and guarantee that, whatever Iran chooses to do with its nuclear facilities, it will regard America as an even more implacable and unreasonable adversary.

This would be a tragedy, as there is no necessary or real cause for conflict between the two nations. It has been fabricated by men of rather dubious loyalty in this country and has served only to play into the worst stereotypes of America that the Iranian regime can conjure up.

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Rice Foolishly Praises Pakistan

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday that Iran’s support of terrorism, nuclear ambitions and lack of democracy are out of step with trends in neighbouring nations, notably Pakistan.

Rice, speaking to reporters after meeting with EU officials, said Pakistan has moved toward internal reforms, better ties with India and has joined the fight against terrorism. “If one looks at where Pakistan was 3 1/2 years ago, (then) those trends are moving Pakistan away from extremism, toward a policy that recognises … that extremism and modernisation in Pakistan cannot exist side-by-side,” Rice said. ~The News (Pakistan)

Let’s all be clear about a few things: the only remotely good reasons why Pakistan should still be our ally is that it has marginally helped in the war in Afghanistan and would make for a much worse active enemy. But this should not confuse us into believing that it is anything other than a much greater sponsor of terrorism and practitioner of nuclear proliferation than Iran has ever been. Gen. Musharraf’s pleasant remarks about opposing fundamentalism aside, and the entirely unintended arrest of A.Q. Khan, master proliferator, his regime has been premised on stirring up Kashmiri militants, encouraging what the Indians properly call “cross-border terrorism” and tolerating the continued support of Taliban and al-Qaeda members inside Pakistan from elements of his security services and the army.

It is, at best, a transparent diplomatic lie on the part of Secretary Rice to claim to see improvement in Pakistani policies, and at worst it is simply a refusal to face the reality of the situation out of reflexive, Cold War attachments to an outdated, pointless hostility to Indian interests. Democracy as a guide to foreign affairs is overrated, but democratic India is manifestly a more trustworthy nation and our legitimate interests in the coming century, if they lie with any country in Asia, lie with them.
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One Good Traitor Deserves Another

The latest such urging was released here Thursday by the Iran Policy Committee (IPC), a group headed by a former National Security Council staffer Ray Tanter, several retired senior military officers, and a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

The 30-page document, “U.S. Policy Options for Iran” by former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Clare Lopez, appears to reflect the views of the administration’s most radical hawks among the Pentagon’s civilian leadership and in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The IPC [Iran Policy Committee] now wants the State Department to take the MEK [Mujahedin e-Khalq] off the terrorist list, a position backed by several dozen members of Congress who have been actively courted by the group and believe that a confrontation with Iran is inevitable.

“Removing the terrorist designation from the MEK could serve as the most tangible signal to the Iranian regime, as well as to the Iranian people, that a new option is now on the table,” according to the report.

“Removal might also have the effect of supporting President Bush’s assertion [in his State of the Union address] that America stands with the people of Iran in their struggle to liberate themselves.”

But most Iran specialists, both inside and outside the government, who agree that the regime is deeply unpopular, also insist that Washington’s endorsement of the MEK will actually bolster the regime in Tehran.

“Everybody I’ve ever talked to in Iran or who have gone to Iran tell me without exception that these people are despised,” said Gary Sick, who handled Iranian policy for the National Security Council under former President Jimmy Carter.

When they invaded Iran from Iraq in the last year of the Iran-Iraq war, according to Sick, who teaches at Columbia University, they had expected to march straight to Tehran gathering support all along the way.

“But they never got beyond a little border town before running into stiff resistance. It was a very ugly incident. They had a chance to show what they can do, and the bottom line was nothing very much. I’ve seen nothing since then to change my estimate,” he said. ~Jim Lobe

It is not so surprising that neocons and their policy allies, men of dubious loyalty at best, would be so eager to take the side of a Marxist revolutionary group that fought against their own country in a war of aggression: the disloyal seek their own kind. If the administration were to make the fatal error of attacking Iran, allying with MEK would be just about the worst thing it could do to convince patriotic Iranians that we intended anything other than their country’s ruin and subjugation. It is yet another indication of how morally warped those in this administration have become that they would conceivably prefer a bizarre cult of Marxists and assassins to the stable and legitimate, albeit unpleasant, government of Iran. Then again, they probably have more in common with the administraton after Mr. Bush’s strange, neo-anarchist inaugural address that promises to consume the world in flames.

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“Tribe or Religion or Whatever”

The liberal cliche of the time was that Third World people care more about food than about freedom. This kind of contempt for the political and spiritual dignity of people who live in different circumstances never goes away. It simply gets applied serially to different sets of patronized foreigners. Today we are assured with confidence that Arabs, consumed by tribe or religion or whatever, don’t really care about freedom either.

On Jan. 30 millions of Iraqis said otherwise. They really do care about the right to speak freely and to vote secretly, the ordinary elements of democratic citizenship. ~Charles Krauthammer

Fervent Bush supporters act as though it’s a miracle to be able to get voters to the polls amid so much unrest. In fact, there are plenty of cases where elections attracted lots of voters despite the bombs and bullets flying around them–El Salvador in 1982, Uruguay in 1971, even Russia during the 1917 revolution. Having a well-attended election, as the Russians can attest, doesn’t guarantee a happy outcome.

It’s also wishful thinking to suppose that the Iraqis who voted share President Bush’s shining vision of a free democracy friendly to the United States. A poll in August found that 70 percent of Iraqis want an Islamic state.

As for the prevailing attitude toward America, the leader of the Shiite coalition that finished first in the election said afterward, “No one welcomes foreign troops in Iraq.” Writes Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan, “Most Shiites who voted on Sunday [Jan. 30] thought they were voting for an end to U.S. hegemony in their country.”

The people who are the real problem in Iraq, of course, are the insurgents, who are not about to be appeased by the chance to vote. On the contrary, the bloodshed has surged in recent days. As of Wednesday, 15 American soldiers and 153 Iraqis have died in attacks since the elections.

The election was inspiring, but an assessment of its effect on the fate of Iraq will have to wait. The self-congratulation should wait as well. ~Steve Chapman

It was interesting that Mr. Krauthammer should mention cliches, since his column was rife with them: there was the “biased liberal media” cliche (this from someone who works for the Post and advised on that most liberal of inaugural addresses this year), the “Arabs want freedom” cliche (beloved of neocons for its impressive power to express their chauvinism in cosmopolitan tones) and, of course, the cliche that an election justifies the Bush Doctrine–we heard that one in November as well. Since Mr. Bush’s own re-election was not directly related to an endorsement of that deformed ‘doctrine’, it is difficult to see how an Iraqi election could endorse the foreign policy of another country’s government.

If Prof. Cole is correct (and he has a much better record on describing Iraqi realities than Krauthammer), the election was no referendum on American policy, except in the way that it very specifically relates to the occupation of Iraq (and then only negatively). Mr. Bush should be grateful that the poll was not a referendum on his policies–he would have lost any such vote in almost any other country in the world.
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Death by Democracy

However, on foreign policy the libertarian, with some exceptions, is an isolationist, fundamentally opposed to foreign involvements and interventions. Let international relations also be free, the libertarians say, which means free trade and commerce, and freedom for other countries to do whatever they want with their people. Not our business.

On this, the libertarians are blinded by their desire for freedom, not realizing that everything, including freedom demands contextual qualification (should those with a dangerous infectious disease remain free, when they could spread it far and wide, killing maybe hundreds with it?). By their isolationism, libertarians are making the world safe for the gangs of thugs (called dictatorships) that murder, torture, and oppress a people, and rule by fear.

Not our business, the libertarian still will say, although his fundamental belief in freedom is being violated in the most horrible ways. By implication, his isolationism is declaring that since it’s some body else that’s suffering, not me, my loved ones, or my friends, it’s okay. But besides this basic human me and mine, it is also a blindness to his own welfare. For in an age of readily transportable biological weapons, such as anthrax, and nuclear weapons, no longer can a country like the U.S. sit back and ignore what goes on elsewhere in the production and deliverability of such weapons. In the hands of those who hate the democracies and their libertarian values, democracies have too much vulnerability to attack. Now, involvement and intervention in the rapacious affairs of thug regimes is of necessity a protection of democracies, not to mention advancing human rights and the freedom libertarians praise. Quite simply, no thug regimes can be trusted with either the possession or the capability of producing such weapons.

So, then what am I? Why, a freedomist (ist is a suffix meaning a follower or believer in certain beliefs, such as is a socialist or feminist). This is a belief not only in freedom at home, but unlike the libertarian, democratic freedom abroad. This is not only for the sake of advancing freedom for others, but also to protect our own freedom. ~R.J. Rummel

One does not know where to begin with this pell-mell of confused concepts and lazy thinking. If his remarks seem unexceptional, it is because we have been so saturated with this sort of tired politics that we can scarcely step outdoors without being assaulted by some cult member chanting, “Freedomdemocracyfreedomdemocracy” at us, as if it will induce a state of enlightenment if repeated often enough.
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