Wednesday, February 28

Iraq strife: civil war or ethnic cleansing?

"A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight against each other for the control of political power."

"Ethnic cleansing is a well-defined policy of a particular group of persons to systematically eliminate another group from a given territory on the basis of religious, ethnic or national origin. Such a policy involves violence and is very often connected with military operations. It is to be achieved by all possible means, from discrimination to extermination, and entails violations of human rights and international humanitarian law
I'm writing in response to your essay on a US civilian reconstruction corps to stabilize US post-conflict military action in other countries. I think your criticism of the corps overlooks the most important problem with the corps idea: The corps would place foreign solutions and workers on a country instead of using the locals.

The worst problems the US encountered in post-invasion Iraq were created by US actions to limit the involvement of Iraqis. Recall the CPA directive about de-Baathification and the decision not to restart Iraqi state-run factories that were shut down due to the invasion and subsequent looting.

Have you seen Fareed Zakaria's most recent article for Newsweek? He argues that the most effective "surge" would be re-employing Iraqis and restarting the state-run factories. I think he has a strong point:
Paul Brinkley, a talented deputy under secretary of Defense, is trying to get the bulk of these state-owned factories up and running. He's already restarted a bus factory in Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad, and the experience has been telling. Hundreds of workers still in the area showed up for work and the machines are now humming busily. There have been no attacks on the factory.

"The insurgents attack people working for the police, Army or the Americans. They do not want to alienate locals trying to make ends meet," said one official working on the project.

Of the original 193 state enterprises, 143 could be restarted soon, says Brinkley. Management and workers are desperate to get jobs
The problem is getting the funds to restart the factories. Here is an amazing fact: "Washington has pledged $18 billion for reconstruction in Iraq but refuses to spend a penny to start up Iraq's state-owned enterprises."

Meanwhile, Iraq's government is in such disarray that it can't move new projects through the system.

According to Zakaria, the total bill for restarting all the factories, which would employ 150,000 Iraqis, would be $100 million -- which is as much money as the US military spends in Iraq in 12 hours!

So if you want a strong argument against the corps, I'd say the outlay considered for the corps is best allocated to restarting factories and other solutions that involve Iraqis.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
I read the article you sent. Mr Zakaria is looking at the situation in Iraq as a manifestation of civil war and asking how the US can best remain neutral in the war while tamping down the violence. His recommendations flow from that interpretation of the situation.

I don't think civil war is the best description of the violence we've seen since the new government was formed in Iraq. I think the violence more closely follows the definition of ethnic cleansing. Entire Sunni neighborhoods have been displaced by Shia militias. In his public comments about the cleansing, Iraq's president strikes me as blowing smoke -- in the way Sri Lanka's president did in the early 1980s in his comments about the violence against the island's Tamils.

Sri Lanka's government set about to systematically cleanse Sri Lanka of the Tamil minority. While this was going on, Sri Lanka's president wrung his hands on the world stage and decried the violence against Tamils, which he blamed on rogue elements in the Singhalese-controlled military and rowdy youths on a rampage.

What happened in Sri Lanka was that the British overlords promoted an educated minority Tamil class to positions of power in the government and in business -- at the expense of the Singhalese majority. When the British pulled out, this left the privileged Tamils (not the stateless ones, which the British imported from India to work on the plantations) at the mercy of the Singhalese majority, which gained control of the government.

By the early 1980s, Sri Lanka's government had launched an unofficial but methodical plan to strip the well-off Tamils of their business holdings and savings. The government froze bank accounts and expropriated property -- the latter by torching businesses under the guise of riots and then reclaiming the property. The government also gave the green light to the military (by then almost purged of Tamils) to engage in ethic cleansing: to drive the landholding Tamils from Sri Lanka by any means necessary, including massacre.

An outsider coming on the situation in Sri Lanka at that time would have said, "There's a civil war going on here." No, it was just that many Tamils on the island had adopted the motto of the Jewish Holocaust survivors: "Never again." They had gotten guns and guerrilla training from outside -- from India and the Tamil expat communities all over the world -- and were fighting for their existence with everything they could muster. I don't think that civilians fighting against massacre by government forces can be called a civil war.

Now if you overlay that situation on today's Iraq, you can find strong parallels. The Sunnis know they have no chance of regaining control of the government; I think at this time most of Iraq's Sunnis engaged in fighting perceive themselves in a simple struggle against extermination and confiscation of their property. So I am unwilling to chalk up their fight to civil war.

In any case, what is happening for certain in Iraq is that a long-oppressed majority is claiming their majority status, and with all that entails in a country with no democratic tradition.

I note that Zakaria's argument ignores the import of one of his observations. He writes that the CPA decision to shut down Iraq's state-owned businesses "crippled the bulk of Iraq's non-oil economy, threw hundreds of thousands of workers into the streets and further alienated Sunnis, who were the country's managerial class."

That last point could be why the US has balked at restarting those businesses. On the face it's a terrible decision but there is a job-training problem, if Shia Iraqis insist on getting hold of managerial jobs that only Sunnis traditionally held.

In short, it's not just about restarting factories and putting "Iraqis" back to work. The question is who gets the jobs at the factories and in particular the plum high-paying ones.

One might say it's hairsplitting to argue whether the present Iraq violence should be termed civil war or ethnic cleansing. Yet at the level of problem-solving it's crucial to nail down what is actually happening. If there is a struggle over which ethnic group gets the jobs, this problem is running alongside the one of widescale unemployment. In that event it would be leaping over a step to simply reopen the state-owned factories.

Maybe the step would be a jobs lottery or throwing together some version of an affirmative action program, or a combination of measures. And the region in which a factory is located could also determine which ethnic group holds greater claim to jobs.

None of these ideas are palatable from the free-market viewpoint, but the first priority is to defuse situations that lead a majority group to cleanse a minority.

So while in the abstract it's a great idea to restart all those factories, in reality the situation could present a good argument for a foreign reconstruction corps. It might be better in this type of situation for the local government to dole out welfare and food programs at the very start of the stabilization phase and have a corps of foreign managers take over the running of industries shut down by war. At least until the greatest power-sharing issues have been hammered out between the majority and minority representatives.

That plan generates problems, which I touched on in the earlier post; namely, who would protect those foreign managers if they weren't wearing guns?

I do not like getting into the position of defending Thomas Barnett's idea for a Department of Everything Else; as I noted in the earlier post, I have reservations about a US civilian reconstruction corps for stabilizing external conflicts. But actually the situation in Iraq is fertile ground for the DEE idea.

This said, I appreciate your point about favoring locals for the reconstruction of their country. Yet every country situation is unique, no matter how many parallels one might find in another situation. So it's dangerous to get too theoretical about how best to stabilize a country that has been wracked by war.

Tuesday, February 27

"The bureaucratic antibodies were immediately activated." Barnett's Department of Everything Else meets Washington's Catch-22

In his State of the Union address last month, President Bush called for the formation of a US civilian reserve corps that would aid in external post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction. So what are the chances for such a corps?

Well, in 2004 Senators Richard Lugar and Joe Biden crafted legislation along the same lines -- for a Response Readiness Corps "to be called upon at a moment's notice to respond to emerging international crises." The legislation crashed and burned.

And the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (SCRS), a version of the readiness corps that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell threw together for the State Department, got hobbled before it left the gate. Then it hobbled smack dab into Washington's version of Catch-22.

Carlos Pascual -- toughened by his service as ambassador to Ukraine -- was put in charge of the office. Thus began his odyssey:
The problem was the price tag: $350 million for the first year [of SCRS operation], Pascual and his staff figured. The White House budget office balked. Pascual's request was whittled down to $100 million.

Congressional appropriators were even more skeptical. Republicans questioned whether the initiative was a priority for the White House. Democrats expressed concern that the reserve corps might encourage the administration to invade another country.

The appropriators chopped so much that in the end the SCRS got just $7 million in 2005.

The message from Congress was clear: If State wanted to fund the corps, it would have to find the money elsewhere in its budget.

"The bureaucratic antibodies were immediately activated," said Michèle Flournoy, president of the Center for a New American Security. "The rest of the State Department tried to kill SCRS because it was a competitor for funds. It never had a chance to succeed."
Pascual is a veteran of Ukraine Oligarch politics, so in 2006 he made another suicide run -- and this time ran into Catch-22, starting at State:
"There was this perverse cycle that began," he recalled. "The legislative staff at State would say, 'The Hill doesn't like this, therefore we shouldn't ask for much because we're not going to get it.' Then you had the Hill saying, 'The administration hasn't made this a priority so we're not going to fund it.' "

The Pentagon was in favor of the idea. "If you don't fund this, put more money in the defense budget for ammunition -- because I'm going to need it," one Marine general warned at the time.

Eventually, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, persuaded Congress to allow the Pentagon to transfer up to $100 million to State for post-conflict civilian deployments.

But Defense and State couldn't agree where to spend the money. Defense wanted much of it spent on stabilization operations in Haiti. State wanted to use it to help in the aftermath of last summer's war in Lebanon, officials on both sides recalled.

And then there was a round of fighting in State over which office should spend the money. Not everyone thought it belonged to the SCRS.

But the money had come with a condition: Spend it before the Pentagon could find other uses for it. By the time it was all sorted out some nine months later, the $100 million had dwindled to $10 million.[...]

Today, the SCRS corps that Pascual envisioned as a rapid-response force with 200 federal employees ready to deploy has just 11 people on active duty
Alert readers will ask why stabilization in Haiti and Lebanon took precedence over the screaming need for stabilization in Iraq and Afghanistan. Several in Washington have asked the same question:
Some current and former SCRS staffers, as well as people familiar with the office, contend that Pascual should have focused his operation on helping with State's two biggest priorities: rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, he and Powell decided in 2004 to use the SCRS to prepare for future crises and to help with smaller-scale stabilization missions.

Pascual said the SCRS would have been "overwhelmed" if it had assumed responsibility for rebuilding Iraq or Afghanistan. "It would not have been able to have done either well," he said. "The intent was to learn from both of those missions."

But some current and former SCRS personnel believe the office should have sought to work on part of the Iraqi reconstruction -- perhaps assuming responsibility for a few provinces -- as a way to make itself more relevant.

"If we had been working on Iraq instead of Haiti and Sudan, we would have had a better chance at getting the money we wanted," a State Department official said.

Had that occurred, the official said, "SCRS could have been producing many of the civilians we need in Iraq today
None of those observations are an answer to the question that any reasonable person would ask. Why Haiti instead of Iraq?

I think at the bottom of it all is the fact that it's not only "Democrats" who fear that a fully functioning Department of Everything Else will encourage the US to more preemptive military strikes. US military supporters of the Powell Doctrine, US NATO allies; the G8 club, an overwhelming majority at the UN, and CEOs of large globalized corporations the world over fear that efficiency at regime change begets regime change.

The bottom line is also a big issue: American fiscal conservatives don't want the US carrying the lion's share of the expense of policing the world. They're already upset that the US is carrying NATO.

Another reason for concern is imbedded in my first reaction to Thomas P. M. Barnett's idea for a US civilian post-conflict corps -- "The Department of Everything Else" he envisions to handle everything outside military action in post-conflict situations.

I blurted, "He's talking about social workers with guns."

The Washington Post article I've quoted above deals in large part with the myriad problems encountered in doing reconstruction work in Iraq, which include security for the reconstruction workers. It's all very well to attempt to avoid just the kind of situation that the Iraqis -- and the Coalition -- are stuck with in Iraq's post-invasion phase. But if a civilian reconstruction corps is to be used in post-conflict regions, it means they don't have firepower. So any such corps needs protection in order to do their job, which bats the ball to the UN blue helmets or a national military/coaltion. Or the corps needs to be armed.

So then the question is, why not simply expand the mission statement for the United States Army Corps of Engineers instead of creating an entirely new layer of bureaucracy?

The answer: because the Department of State doesn't want the Department of Defense to gather any more power than they've wrested from State in the years since 9/11.

So where do things stand now? The civilian corps that Bush asked for last month won't materialize anytime soon because of budget considerations: "The administration's 2008 budget, which was sent to Congress earlier this month, includes no money for it. A senior administration official said the White House plans to wait another year before asking Congress for funding, according to the Post article.

As to the Lugar-Biden legislation, last week the senators reintroduced the bill:
[...] which mandates the formation of a 250-persona active-duty response unit drawn from the federal government and the creation of a 2,000-strong civilian reserve corps. It also authorizes $145 million to fund the operation.

"Hopefully, Lugar said, "we've come to a point where we finally realize the need to do this."(1)
If history is a guide, the point is a dot on the horizon. It might well remain a dot until we tackle the question buried under all the others:

By transforming the very sloppy, painful and mistake-ridden consequences of warfare into an efficient system for reconstruction, are we being Promethean?

If so, we should recall the punishment that Zeus meted out to Prometheus for the offense of teaching humans to make fire. This is not enough reason to jettison Barnett's idea; after all, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are Promethean. But we really need to think before we leap into the process of sanitizing war outcomes. Put another way, do we want to take the lead among countries when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction?

1) All quotes in this post are from Iraq Rebuilding Short on Qualified Civilians by Rajiv Chandrasekaran with contributions by Thomas E. Ricks; February 24, The Washington Post.

Monday, February 26

The best newspaper report on Iran since the blasted country was created. What to make of the data?

"I heard this sort of resentment all over Iran, in the poorest shanty towns and in the wealthy enclaves of north Tehran: Why are we helping the Arabs, why are we spending billions rebuilding Beirut and even more billions winning control of southern Iraq and western Afghanistan, why are we financing Hamas and Hezbollah and Iraq's Mahdi Army, when our own poverty and unemployment is overwhelming?"
Canadian journalists have been denied entry to Iran for two years -- ever since Canada's government made a huge stink about the imprisonment and murder-by-torture death of a Canadian journalist, whose only offense was photographing the outside of an Iranian prison.

So award-winning Canadian journalist Doug Saunders risked imprisonment and torture, not to mention his life, by entering Iran without the knowledge of Iran's government in order to report for his newspaper, Canada's Globe and Mail. He spent two weeks traveling around Iran to gather the news. Saunders emerged in February with the most objective and comprehensive report I've seen on the way things now stand in Iran -- and in particular how Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency is holding up.

You can't make foreign policy, much less run a war, on bits and pieces of data and faith-based journalism. That's just about all we've had on Iran until Saunders's big-picture report.

In mid-December Pundita grumbled about the sorry reporting on Iran: "Much of the intelligence that Americans have taken about Iran has come from urbanized, educated, democracy advocates in the Iranian expat communities who are in close contact with university student activists in Iran."

Having been led down the garden path by rosy reports from such Iranians in the runup to Iran's presidential election, I was unwilling to be led to the assumption that Ahmadinejad had become widely unpopular in Iran. But as I wrote those words a groundswell was forming.

Doug Saunders reports that within the past three months, Ahmadinejad's failure to keep his promises and fix the badly ailing economy has whipsawed him: Iran's rich and poor and conservatives and moderates are seriously pissed off. Maddy is fighting for his political life.

Saunders does not engage in faith-based journalism, so he does not try to answer the big question, which is how the troubled presidency will play out. The most he'll allow himself to observe is that events could fall either way: toward more oppression or liberalization. But Saunders's report does make clear that a change is coming in Iran:
[...] the main effect of [Ahmadinejad's] economic policies, which have maintained the heavily state-owned economy that produces hardly any revenues beyond oil incomes, has been galloping inflation and rampant unemployment.

And in the final insult, Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, has run into severe gasoline shortages. It has had to import billions of dollars' worth of gasoline, because it has neither enough refineries to serve its people nor the investment to exploit its full reserves.

More than 6 per cent of the oil it drills is lost to leakage, and there is no apparent interest in fixing the leaks because the state monopoly has little incentive to do anything. The society, one former Finance Ministry official tells me, is “dying of petroleum poisoning." [...]

“This past year and a half has been very difficult for us,” says Hamid, 20, who with his father runs Istanbul Greengrocers, where the President used to shop. “Prices for all the fruit and vegetables have doubled. It's the inflation that's done it. And people can't afford to buy more than the absolute minimum of produce, because 100 per cent of their salary is taken up with rent, which has doubled."

[...] From its very beginning in 1979, the Iranian revolution has always been an equal mixture of Islamic fundamentalism and Marxist class-struggle rhetoric. The Ayatollah Khomaini won his core support, and most of his revolution's financing, from the moneyed merchants of the Tehran bazaar, and their desire to maintain an import-sale monopoly and tax-free status has been a big part of the revolution's continued support. The bazaaris, as they are known, have long been considered the sine qua non of the regime's hold on power.

Over tea at the bazaar one morning, I speak to two of the merchants who supported the revolution from the beginning. The mood is sour -- there is a sense that consumer spending has dribbled away and is not likely to reappear. And while the conservative families of the bazaar have no objection to Islamism and its social repressions, they become concerned when it starts to interfere with their livelihoods.

Sajjad, who imports Black and Decker tools and T-Fal appliances, says he is feeling the effects of Iran's rogue-state status. “We're having serious problems with making payments for our orders. Whenever the President says something about nuclear weapons or Israel, another European bank stops doing business with Iran. It's getting increasingly difficult to find a way to send money to the exporters. It's really hurting us and, frankly, I don't know what to do if it gets worse.”

His neighbour, who imports Braun and Philips products, fears the sabre-rattling will put him out of business. “The people don't spend money when they are doubtful — and they are doubtful now. They don't know if there is going to be a war.”

In the 1980s, Iran could get by on its own resources. But today its economy is deeply dependent on imports. Most of the cars on the road are Peugeots and Toyotas, with the Iranian-made Paykans rusting on their suspensions. Private homes, even poor ones, are equipped with imported washing machines, satellite dishes and cook stoves.

Mr. Ahmadinejad may want to keep his new Islamic revolution separate and distinct from his new economic nationalism, but the two are headed on a collision course
Many thanks to Doug Saunders and The Globe and Mail for the February 10 report -- and thanks to Regime Change Iran blog for scooping up the report, which is where I found it.

Two big surprises for me in Saunders's article are widespread anger in Iran about the costliness of Ahmadinejad's foreign policy initiatives and disenchantment in Qom (the seat of the Islamic revolution) with the revolution:
[...]But there are two enormous population movements taking place in Qom, and they are microcosms of the Iranian dilemma. For one thing, the young generation is becoming restless.

In Iran, 70 per cent of the population is under 30, because of a huge revolution-inspired baby boom, and it's hard to find a young man or woman here who has anything good to say about the President.

“Our research shows that more than 80 per cent of the young generation of Qom want to leave, ideally for Tehran, as soon as they're married, and that the overwhelming majority of them do not support the revolution any more,” says an Iranian sociologist who has just completed a major survey of Qom's youth. The study will be published in France, because its authors fear government reprisals in Iran.

Much of their anger is directed at another boom in Qom: the 11,000 foreign students who are sponsored by Mr. Ahmadinejad's government to attend Islamic schools, often with their families in tow.

This is a hugely expensive venture, a small part of the massive state effort to spread the Islamic revolution's values across the Middle East and around the world. In Qom, the resentment directed at these privileged visiting students by the local youth is palpable.

“We have no life here, no way to make a living or change our circumstances, and all the money is going to help these Arabs who are already well off,” one young man tells me as he loiters with friends in the centre of an uptown boulevard. Until last year, they would have strolled with their chador-clad girl friends along the sidewalk, but the city government banned window-shopping in order to prevent such socializing.

I heard this sort of resentment all over Iran, in the poorest shanty towns and in the wealthy enclaves of north Tehran: Why are we helping the Arabs, why are we spending billions rebuilding Beirut and even more billions winning control of southern Iraq and western Afghanistan, why are we financing Hamas and Hezbollah and Iraq's Mahdi Army, when our own poverty and unemployment is overwhelming?

This year, that dilemma was expressed for the first time by Iran's spiritual leaders. It began in December, when student protests against the President at Tehran University were broadcast on state television — seen as a clear indication that Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, wanted it shown. He regulates television personally.

Then, this month, the two leading opposition groups, Akbar Rafsanjani's Militant Clergy Association and Mr. Khatami's Militant Clerics League, joined forces to call for the President's impeachment, stinging him repeatedly with accusations that his failure to introduce a market economy had been a betrayal of the revolution's values.

They cited the Supreme Leader in their attacks, and the silence from the ayatollahs who oversee the government seemed to indicate that they were sympathetic.

Mr. Ahmadinejad and his opposition are in the midst of an epic battle for the attention of the Supreme Leader, and it isn't clear who will win
The battle includes a positioning struggle for Iran's top slot. See this report from World Press for a scorecard on who's where in the running for the role of Supreme Leader.

Whether or not the rumor is true that Ayatollah Khamenei is seriously ill (I note that Saunders does not mention the rumor), there's a lot of dirty pool right now. See
this link -- again from Regime Change Iran:
Safa Haeri, Iran Press Service reported that the office of former reformist president of Iran Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has been “raided” overnight by unidentified people who have taken away all the computers, documents, fax machines and other equipments.[...]
Khatamai and other so-called moderates who have been subjected to the same kind of burglaries should count their lucky stars that they haven't ended up like that murdered Canadian journalist.

Which brings me to an understandable shortcoming in Saunders's report: given his precarious situation in Iran, he couldn't very well stroll up to a barracks and ask, "So how ya doin?"

When push comes to shove, I think what really matters is how Iran's military views Mr Maddy. I've seen mentions that there is great tension between the regular military and the Quds force, which reports to the Supreme Leader. But to read into the observation a sign of the government's impending collapse is more faith-based journalism.

All that Saunders has to say about the military is that Iran is a highly militaristic society. Yet I think that one fact, more than any other, could determine the outcome of the power struggle and decide Ahmadinejad's political fate.

Next turn to Signals From Tehran, February 23 report from the Washington Post's David Ignatius (another great reporter who eschews faith-based journalism) to see how things are doing at the other end of the chain of events. If Iranians now feel themselves frying on the griddle of world opinion, Washington and the EU3 are keeping up the sanctions pressure on Tehran -- and now Moscow has added their muscle to the negotiations. As to the result, Ignatius reports:
"We're getting pinged all over the world by Iranians wanting to talk to us," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview yesterday.

The problem, says Burns, is that the Iranians haven't yet said the "magic word," which is that they will actually suspend enrichment in exchange for the suspension of U.N. sanctions.

With Iran still publicly defying the United Nations over its nuclear program, the United States and its allies agreed yesterday to tighten the pressure another notch by preparing a second U.N. Security Council resolution with additional sanctions. Burns said Russia and China agreed to back the new resolution in a meeting yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "It may not be substantially stronger, but it will be stronger," said Burns, who will travel to London [today] to negotiate the details of the new resolution.

U.S. and European officials think Iran's new interest in negotiations is a sign that pressure on Tehran is working. The campaign includes the initial U.N. sanctions resolution, which shook the Iranians because it was backed by Russia and China; tough U.S. banking sanctions, accompanied by a successful Treasury Department push to dissuade European and Japanese banks from lending to Iran; and calculated muscle-flexing by the Bush administration, which has sent an additional aircraft carrier task force to the Persian Gulf and seized Iranian operatives inside Iraq.

"We are hopeful that all these pressure points will influence the internal debate in Iran," says Burns. And they appear to be doing just that.

The multipronged squeeze on Tehran surprised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials, who seemed confident when I visited the country in September that they were in the driver's seat and that it was the United States that was weakened and isolated. "We knocked them off stride and put them on the defensive," argues Burns. A British official who follows the issue closely agrees: "The Iranians have moved from cockiness to division and nervousness."

[...] So does all this mean it's time to go back to the bargaining table? Not yet, say a number of U.S. and European officials. They insist that the Iranians must stop haggling and agree to quit enriching uranium. Russian officials told me in Moscow last week that President Vladimir Putin passed the message to a top Iranian emissary this month that Tehran must agree to a "timeout" in enriching uranium if it wants to settle the nuclear issue.

The Iranians continue to dicker, in what Western officials regard as a tactical ploy to get out of trouble. Their efforts center on paragraph eight of the "Gentlemen's Agreement" their officials have been circulating. That part of the document proposes that if U.N. sanctions are lifted, Iran would agree to a two-month period "during which Iran in a voluntary and non-binding and temporary move avoids installation of next cascades" for enrichment.

In other words, the Iranians wouldn't add additional centrifuges that would allow industrial-scale enrichment but would continue spinning their modest initial cascade of centrifuges.No deal, say U.S. and European officials.

The only way the Iranians can escape sanctions is to suspend enrichment and sit down at the table. If they do so, an array of goodies awaits. Meanwhile, the strategy of confrontation continues, and U.S. and European officials -- who haven't had much to cheer about recently -- seem confident that it's working
Okay, now read the rest of Doug Saunders's report so you can treat yourself to an accurate picture of present-day Iran.

1) Inside Iran, February 10, The Globe and Mail. Here's their reader-friendly one-page version of the report. And here's the one-page version of Inside Iran from Regime Change Iran blog.

Thursday, February 22

The flap over a US anti-missile shield

Once again Pundita has been driven to her Ouija board; this time in the effort to see through the fog of arguments about the US plan to base parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. The plan has touched off strong protests from Russia, and could lead to a full-scale diplomatic crisis. The chief of the Russian military's general staff has stated that if the US carries out the plan, Russia will abandon the 1987 Soviet-American treaty that banned medium-range nuclear missiles. And Russia's generals also threaten to aim missiles at the US antimissile sites if the plan is carried out.

From their side, the US is expressing confusion about why the Russians are bent out of shape about the plan:
Tom Casey, the State Department's deputy spokesman and deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, said [...] "The system that's being put in place is designed to counter threats from the Middle East or from other potential rogue states out there, and it's something that we're sharing with our European friends and allies and, frankly, with the entire international community," he said.

He said the system "is not physically capable of threatening Russia, or threatening any other country for that matter. It's for defensive purposes," adding that the first briefings on the issue began for the Russians in 2004 and 2005 through the U.S.-Russia Missile Defense Working Group.

He said that was then replaced by another series of senior-level meetings in 2006, and that "since March of 2006, at which point Under Secretary of Defense Edeleman briefed his Russian counterparts, there have been more than 10 instances where we've had senior level officials get together to discuss the details of our missile defense plan, including meeting with the head of the Missile Defense Agency and their respective Russian counterparts."

"So, frankly, there's been a lot of information shared back and forth on this issue and again, for that reason I'm having a hard time understanding how those comments are reflective of that broader discussion. Certainly, those weren't the reactions of Russian officials who heard these briefings," he said.(1)
Russia's military advisors don't agree that the antimissile sites would pose no threat to Russia:
"There is a technical aspect to this problem, because according to some reports the third missile defense ring in Poland will have missile silos that are similar to those built for launches of ballistic missiles," [Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov said, adding that it is wrong to ensure one's own security while threatening the security of other countries.

Russia's top military officials earlier issued strong warnings to the U.S. regarding its plans to deploy elements of its anti-missile defense system in Central Europe.

The chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Yury Baluyevsky, said in an interview with the Rossiiskaya Gazeta daily that the unilateral U.S. actions could damage the balance of power in Europe and undermine Russia's nuclear deterrence potential.

"Knowing the potential technical characteristics of fire support and weapons systems, we can confirm that despite numerous assurances that these systems are not targeted at Russia, they could still affect our deterrence capability under certain circumstances," the general said.

Baluyevsky reiterated that Russia is strictly adhering to its nuclear disarmament obligations while the U.S. is driving to base missile shield elements in Europe, which coincides with NATO expansion closer to Russian borders.(1)
The big question is whether the plan makes military sense. Would placing parts of a US missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic protect the United States against a long-range attack from Iran or North Korea? Putin's military advisors say that launching North Korean ballistic missiles against the U.S. across western Europe would be in conflict with the laws of ballistics. "Or, as we say in Russia, it's like trying to reach your left ear with your right hand," said President Putin.

But -- this minute at least -- the US claims that the shield would be to protect America's eastern seaboard from a missile shot from the Middle East (read "Iran") and that it would also protect Poland and the Czech Republic -- from what, it's not entirely clear.

Here is Ouija's fix on how to avert the diplomatic crisis:


When I tried for clarification on why Eskimos might want to lob a missile at Russia and whether a Venezuela site would make ballistic sense, Ouija lapsed into archaic Upper Croatian, which it does whenever I pose a question that could remotely connect with oil politics.

Okay. Let's assume for the sake of argument that it makes good ballistic and military sense for the US to place a missile shield somewhere in the region. According to the Financial Times:
The proposed interceptor sites in Poland, near the Baltic Sea, are on a direct line drawn between northern Iran and New York or Washington.

The proposed siting near Jince in the Czech Republic of the powerful X-Band radar that would home the interceptors on to the US-bound missiles is, according to some scientists, to the west of its ideal location. Other suitable radar locations, from a geographical standpoint, would include Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia.

Philip Coyle, a missile defence expert with the Center for Defense Information in the US, says in practical terms the system poses no threat to Russia since it could not cope with either the number of Russian missiles or their sophisticated decoys and countermeasures. He said the system "has not demonstrated the capability to defend the United States under likely battlefield conditions".

One question is whether the countries concerned have increased risks to themselves by agreeing to site these missiles there. Theodore Postol, a scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has argued that the curvature of the earth would prevent the US early warning radar at Fylingdales in the UK from seeing missiles from Iran aimed at the Czech or Polish sites. Mr Coyle says that, for this reason, US statements that the system would protect people in the Czech Republic and Poland from Iranian missiles are "misleading".
Is there a road out of the impasse -- again, assuming the antimissile plan is sound?

The road could be labeled "technology transfer." Washington has signaled Moscow that the US might abolish the Soviet-era Jackson-Vannick law, which still limits technology exchanges between Russia and the US.

1) RIA Novosti.

Wednesday, February 21

John Negroponte as DNI does the CYA thing

At the end of yesterday's post about the data that surfaced on Saddam Hussein's WMD program, I asked where John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, stood in the matter. During his tenure as DNI, Mr Negroponte was and remains heavily invested in seeing the book closed on the question of Saddam-era WMD programs; as to why: according to John Loftus, President of the Intelligence Summit:
One would think that the Bush administration would have been happy for the Summit to confirm that, despite all the prewar intelligence failures, at least one Iraqi WMD program did in fact exist. However [...] John Negroponte had advised the President to the contrary, and had previously convinced the President to make a public apology.

In 2005-2006, when the Summit began to uncover long-ignored documents indicating that perhaps the nuclear WMD error was Negroponte's, the result was an extreme example of abuse of power by a [...] bureaucrat.

Negroponte tried repeatedly to shut the Intelligence Summit down using inappropriate and even unethical tactics. He secretly smeared one of our leading donors, Mr. Michale Cherney of Israel, as a criminal, knowing full well that the charges were false and had been fully investigated. Apparently it did not matter to [Negroponte] that the Summit members are staunchly bipartisan, patriotic, and extremely professional.

No American charity has ever been a target of such a vicious, prolonged and laughably ineffective attacks from a political hack.(1)
I am afraid Mr Negroponte's attacks have been very successful at keeping Washington officialdom from reexamining the issue of Iraq WMD. The Summit's advisory board "has always consisted of retired generals, heads of intelligence services and other high level executives," according to a Summit press release. The board has their work cut out, if they are to get the WMD case reopened. John Loftus observed:
At the very least, someone should remind Mr. Negroponte that, in America, freedom of speech and association permits the public debate of controversial issues. Whoever turns out to be right or wrong about the WMD does not matter. Congress and the American people deserve to know the truth, and the truth will only emerge if both sides of an issue are allowed to be heard.
1:30 PM Update
Dan Riehl at Riehl World View picked up the link on this post and one of his readers observed in essence that we shouldn't be surprised or upset about another revelation regarding Bush Administration machinations.

The reader was responding to John Loftus's observation that "No American charity has ever been a target of such a vicious, prolonged and laughably ineffective attacks from a political hack."

Pundita is all a-twitter because John Negroponte is not just any old political hack; he is now in the number two position at the US Department of State (as Deputy Secretary of State). So if Condoleezza Rice leaves State to run as GOP Veep in the 2008 presidential campaign, that will put Mr Negroponte in the top position at America's foreign office -- one of the world's most powerful positions -- and during a time of war.

Negroponte has been away from the US for decades and his thinking is steeped in the EU view. And if we dredge up some unpleasant things about Negroponte's earlier career in the service of the United States, it's to be remembered that he is a ruthless operative behind the mask of diplomacy. The history of his actions in the service of State suggests that he will stop at nothing to gain an objective. In one way, that makes him very useful; in another way, it makes him dangerous.

John Loftus's claims about Negroponte's actions to silence the Intelligence Summit on the WMD issue suggest that Negroponte has again acted true to form, in his effort to close the book on the Iraq WMD issue. That could be bad news for the US war effort in Iraq and elsewhere -- not to mention US diplomatic efforts to strengthen support for sanctions against Iran.

While I'm on a clarification kick, I received a question about the intelligence on Iraq WMD that Loftus recounted; in particular this passage:
Saddam constructed four incredibly expensive underwater nuclear storage and production facilities under the Euphrates River during the last six months of 2002. [...]
(See the earlier Pundita post (link above) for more on that intel. The quotes I provided are from a press release that discusses some of the breaking news that will come out of next month's Intelligence Summit conference. I'm sure that once the intel has been formally announced at the conference, more details will be forthcoming. Translation: They are getting their ducks in a row. It might be possible to squeeze out little more information but otherwise, we'll just have a wait.

1) All quotes from an Intelligence Summit press release.

How in hell did a street in Charlotte County, Virginia get named for a terrorist?

Speaking of Jamaat ul-Fuqra (see yesterday's earliest post), last night Pundita visited Gates of Vienna and came across a nightmarish report from Baron Bodissey. Here is an excerpt (links not included); please be sure to read the whole thing if your blood pressure is too low or you have a need to stay up pacing the floor until dawn.
In the recent days The Southside Messenger — a small regional newspaper covering an area that includes Charlotte County, Virginia — has published pair of letters to the editor from residents of the Muslims of America compound near Red House, as well as an uncritical “news” story — dare I say puff-piece? — about the MOA.

Christine, the Operations Manager of the 910 Group, was dismayed by the lack of substantive information in the newspaper about Sheikh Gilani and Jamaat ul-Fuqra. She wrote an email to Averett Jones, the editor of The Southside Messenger, and suggested that he consider some of the available sources on Sheikh Gilani’s terrorist and criminal activities.

Mr. Jones proved an unreceptive audience. At first he suggested that there was no information about any terrorist activities by Sheikh Gilani, that all the allegations floating around on the web were derived from questionable fringe groups such as the Christian Action Network. Only information from the federal government would convince him. If he could be shown any such data, he would be glad to publish a story about it in his paper.

After Christine provided a copious amount of government information, Mr. Jones insisted that he meant that there was none from the State Department, which he considered the authoritative source. When supplied with State Department links, he added a requirement that they be recent documents, not from before 2002.

Christine has now supplied him with recent government documents, both state and federal, State Department and otherwise, detailing the extensive criminal and terrorist activities of Sheikh Gilani and the Muslims of America. But she is convinced that Mr. Jones is not acting in good faith, and will never make good on his promise to publish such material if she were to produce it.

As a result, she has decided to go public with the whole exasperating exchange. She is writing to all her contacts in Charlotte County — local government officials, law enforcement personnel, businesspeople, and ordinary citizens — to let them know that their local newspaper editor has been engaging in de facto censorship concerning Sheikh Gilani, Jamaat ul-Fuqra, and the Muslims of America compound near Red House.

In the process of dealing with a recalcitrant newspaper editor, Christine has managed to compile the web’s most comprehensive collection of links to official documents detailing the activities of Sheikh Gilani. Readers who are interested should save her lists for future reference.[...]
See the rest of the post for the entire series of exchanges between Christine and the editor, the links she compiled, and news on that street name.

Tuesday, February 20

Those pesky nonexistent Iraq WMD surface again

"Apparently Saddam had the last laugh and donated his secret stockpile to benefit Iran's nuclear weapons program. With a little technical advice from Beijing, Syria is now enriching the uranium, Iran is making the missiles, North Korea is testing the warheads, and the White House is hiding its head in the sand."
Here is an item that will be featured at the Intelligence Summit, to be held March 4-7 in St. Petersburg, Florida.* The quotes are from John Loftus, former US federal prosecutor and President of the Intelligence Summit nonprofit educational organization:
Worst intelligence failure since 9/11
[...] "Everybody was a little bit right about WMD, and everybody was a little bit wrong." Saddam may not have had any chemical or biological WMD left on the eve of war, but newly discovered intelligence documents confirm that Saddam did possess extremely active WMD programs for nuclear weapons development during 2002-2003. Saddam constructed four incredibly expensive underwater nuclear storage and production facilities under the Euphrates river during the last six months of 2002.

After the invasion a few months later, Iraqi informants who had worked on the sites led ISG agents to all four plant locations. Apparently as a result of their inspections, the ISG agents were exposed to radiation leaks, as noted on their medical files.

However, word of the WMD discovery never reached Washington. CIA investigators now believe that the most important intelligence discovery of the entire war was simply lost when a computer data base was inadvertently erased in the rush to evacuate American troops from Saudi Arabia.

By the time the White House discovered the computer blunder four years later, the contents of all four WMD plants had been systematically looted and shipped to Syria."

Loftus added, "The GOP is trying to bury the entire Iraqi nuclear looting story to avoid questions from the new Democratic Congress. One would think national security should be a bit more important than political embarrassment.

[US] satellites now confirm that Syria is secretly running advanced P-2 centrifuges. Apparently Saddam had the last laugh and donated his secret stockpile to benefit Iran's nuclear weapons program. With a little technical advice from Beijing, Syria is now enriching the uranium, Iran is making the missiles, North Korea is testing the warheads, and the White House is hiding its head in the sand."
Now where oh where was John Negroponte, our trusty Director of National Intelligence, in all this? Tune in tomorrow.

* See today's earlier Pundita post for another item.

Jamaat ul-Fuqra in Georgia (that's the US state of Georgia, not the country) and our buddies, the Saudis

Now just see what happens when Pundita squeezes in a little vacation. Two important stories landed in my email inbox yesterday and I didn't get around to checking my email until just now. The first is that Gates of Vienna has posted photos of a Jamaat ul-Fuqra compound in Georgia. If you don't know about that particular organization, GOV will fill you in.

The other email is from John Loftus regarding an Intelligence Summit press release about three major breaking US spy scandals. Here's one of 'em, for all you fans of the Saudi royal family:
Usama's car bomb connection. For many years, right under our noses, Al Qaeda has been raising money for terrorism by exporting stolen American luxury cars to the Middle East. Older models get made into car bombs for Iraq. A private investigation has led to several dozen arrests and convictions worldwide. More are expected in the next few weeks. It will be easy for the press and public to understand and verify the connection once the patterns of evidence are revealed at the Summit. One of the contentious points of the upcoming debate is the allegation that the White House never told Congress about the car ring because of the Bush family's personal ties to the Saudi royal family. Loftus noted "Someday we shall have to admit that at least some of our Saudi allies are still on Usama's side. In the meantime, the car ring goes on blowing up American kids in Baghdad with cars that were made (and stolen) in America and smuggled through Saudi Arabia."
Two other items in the press release should be front-page news because they reflect the worst US intelligence failure since 9/11. But don't hold your breath waiting for the mainstream media to mention them because they are a great embarrassment to just about everyone: the Democrats, the Republicans who jumped the Iraq ship, the White House, the US military, the mainstream media, and the US intelligence czar. My post on the first item will be up within the hour.

Friday, February 16

Venezuela's Red Monday and Bernanke's warning about America's income gap

A month ago I wrote about capitalism's threat to democracies that do not have the social and financial infrastructures in place to accommodate radical economic shifts and concentrations of wealth.(1)

Last week, as if to underscore the warning, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech about the growing income gap in America and the threat this poses to America's free market economy and, by implication, our democratic system. Bernanke said, in part:
"No one should be allowed to slip too far down the economic ladder, especially for reasons beyond his or her control. Like equality of opportunity, this general principle is grounded in economic practicality as well as our sense of fairness. [...] If we [do] not place some limits on the downside risk of individuals affected by economic change, the public at large might be less willing to accept the dynamism that is so essential to economic progress."
In his comments about the speech, the Chicago Tribune's Bill Barnhart noted that the warning is not new:
Between 1979 and 2006, those in the bottom 10 percent of wages saw their wages increase just 4 percent, while the wages of those in the top 10 percent rose 34 percent, Bernanke said. After-tax income of those in the top 1 percent of household income increased to 14 percent of total household income in 2004 from 8 percent in 1979.

These statistics are not new. Neither is the subject of the income gap, which President Bush acknowledged recently.

Bernanke's predecessor as Fed chief, Alan Greenspan, expressed concerns in congressional testimony in July 2004.

"This issue has regrettably been going on for 15 years or thereabouts," he said. "I think the effect of increasing concentration of incomes is not desirable in a democratic society."
Bernanke's warning can be seen as a backdrop to Hugo Chavez's recent actions. On February 13 Reuters reported:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is setting a faster than expected pace in his nationalization drive toward self-styled socialism, striking three takeover deals that push out U.S. firms in about a month. [...]

Venezuelan authorities said on Tuesday they would buy the assets of U.S. power company CMS for $106 million, a day after cutting a similar deal with telecom giant Verizon for $572 million.

Last week the government signed an accord to buy the holdings of U.S.-based global power generation firm AES Corp. for $750 million despite analysts' predictions of protracted takeover battles.

"The government has showed it's clearly willing to move at a particularly fast pace to deliver on promises," said Patrick Esteruelas, an analyst with the Eurasia Group.

The deals came two weeks after Chavez received special powers to rule by decree and five weeks after he vowed to nationalize the telecommunications and power utilities.

The announcements on January 8, which Esteruelas dubbed "Red Monday," wiped out a fifth of the Caracas stock exchange's value.

Chavez quickly implemented the nationalizations by avoiding protracted legal battles and outright seizures, and, instead, striking buyout deals.

The companies did not have the choice to hold on to their investments, but they and economists said the buyout terms were tough but fair given the nation's deteriorating investment climate.

New Vice President Jorge Rodriguez, a central player in the nationalization effort, cited the state's purchase of Verizon's 29 percent stake in Venezuelan phone company CANTV as a sign the process was "fast and transparent."

Chavez is in the vanguard of Latin America's resurgent left, which has also swept Bolivia and Ecuador with promises to roll back 1990s' free-market reforms that first brought companies like AES and Verizon to Venezuela.

The nationalization push follows Venezuela's campaign over the previous two years to regain control of its oilfields and boost taxes on industry operations.[...]
The report goes on to observe that Chavez may have a stiff fight when trying to nationalize by May 1 four oil projects in the Orinoco basin worth $30 billion. In any case:
The aggressive nationalization efforts have sparked investor concerns about working in Venezuela, already a tough environment due to double-digit inflation and heavy government regulations.
There are places in Latin America where the indigenous people are not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, which is reserved for descendants of the conquistadors. There are inequalities and levels of corruption and poverty in Latin American countries that are hard for anyone raised in a decent society to comprehend.

One can argue that the indecencies were always entrenched in Latin America simply because of the vast inequalities in power sharing, and that capitalism ultimately works to level out inequalities. This truth is easily shouted down by the effects of cronyism in the wealthiest business class and large-scale foreign investment in a developing country's key sectors.

To put all this another way, Ayn Rand never lived in Mexico City. Very few at the bottom of the social scale have read Atlas Shrugged. They don't understand the connection between capitalism and freedom. All the poorest know is that free market reforms and trade pacts such as NAFTA have not improved their lot one whit and in many cases made things worse for them.

That's not enough reason to toss out capitalism and free trade agreements. But unless a government does a correction along the road to free markets by developing social programs that meet the needs of the worst off, politicians such as Hugo Chavez find a big opening. Then US foreign relations are set back -- along with good US development and aid policies for third world countries.

1) Capitalism vs democracy, Part 1
Capitalism vs democracy, Part 2

Thursday, February 15

Roh on the six party North Korea agreement

So, are the analysts who line up behind John Bolton's opinion right? Well, I sympathize with the naysayers. But anyone who saw the footage that American journalist Lisa Ling brought back from North Korea last year would agree that Pyongyang controls information on their doings very tightly. So at this moment, the US government does not have any choice but to rely on Beijing and Seoul for their opinion of the deal.

There is no question that North Korea will hang onto its nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. And we have no assurance that North Korea won't break the agreement they signed on Tuesday. However, the deal wasn't only about nuclear weapons:
SEOUL (XFN-ASIA ) - South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun says the six-nation deal on North Korea's nuclear programme could lead to a permanent peace agreement on the Korean peninsula.

Roh, in a presidential statement released [2/13] during a visit to Spain, said he expects smooth implementation of the agreement reached in Beijing under which the North agreed to disable its nuclear facilities in return for fuel oil.

'What is quite important in the agreements, aside from the settlement of North Korea's nuclear issue, is the phrase that says talks should start to discuss a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula,' the statement said.

'Furthermore, the agreements call for talks aimed at establishing a multilateral security cooperation system in northeast Asia and this has wide scope,' it added.

The agreement, reached yesterday, calls for participants to hold a ministerial meeting not only to confirm the implementation of measures toward dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme but to 'explore ways and means for promoting security cooperation in northeast Asia.'

It says the six countries will make joint efforts for 'lasting peace and stability in northeast Asia' and 'negotiate a permanent peace regime on the Korean peninsula' at an appropriate separate forum.

'When a multilateral security cooperation system is in place in the northeast Asian region, it will put South Korea's geopolitical position at the nerve centre,' Roh said.

'If a permanent peace system is negotiated and concluded, there will be no non-economic hurdles to South Korea's ascent to the top of the global credit rating ladder,' he added
The big question is whether Beijing is jumping for joy over the prospect of a "permanent peace regime" on the Korean peninsula. We should know by the summer whether Washington succeeded in encouraging Beijing to break out the party hats and champagne.

1) AFP via Forbes

Wednesday, February 14

US-Iran relations: Pundita names winners of her 2007 Silliest Analysis Award

I don't have to wait until the end of the year to bestow the award; nothing can top The Iran Option That Isn't on the Table by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh, which popped up on The Washington Post editorial page on February 8. The entire analysis is loopy but here is the passage that netted the authors a coveted Pundita prize:
... More than sanctions or threats of military retribution, Iran's integration into the global economy would impose standards and discipline on the recalcitrant [Iranian] theocracy. International investors and institutions such as the World Trade Organization are far more subversive, as they would demand the prerequisite of a democratic society -- transparency, the rule of law and decentralization -- as a price for their commerce."
The closer Russia edged toward WTO membership, the more they flouted democratic reforms. If the WTO carrot didn't bring China and Russia to transparency, the rule of law and decentralization, why should it work for Iran?

Messrs Nasr and Takeyh have no answer, no argument to support their observations -- unless they expect the reader to accept as answer their claim that "Iran has a political system without precedent or parallel in modern history."

Even so, the claim is not reason enough to overlook the lessons of China and Russia and embrace the fallacy of a cause-and-effect relationship between increased global trade and the institution of democracy.

Now what would cause two scholars to mount a downright silly argument? The only clue is the point of the opinion piece. What is the option for dealing with Iran that Nasr and Takeyh want the US administration to take up?
"... to liberalize the theocratic state [of Iran], the United States would do better to shelve its containment strategy and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief.
That explains why The Washington Post doesn't mind egg on its face for publishing silly putty; the Post is a conduit for opinion at the US Department of State and we can assume that at least one faction State favors the Iraq Study Group advice that the US should engage Iran in diplomatic dialogue.

As for Nasr and Takeyh, they are associated with the Council on Foreign Relations Cooking School. The think tank, which exists to support Nato doctrine, became a cooking school when a US administration had the temerity to reject a Nato-oriented foreign policy in favor of a US-centric one.

If the CFR was to keep a foot inside the door in official Washington after 9/11, they had to cook up analyses that made a nod to the US-centrics (often wrongly lumped with Neocons) while keeping the Natoists happy. No small feat of fusion cooking but the meals tend to be flavored to Brussels's taste.

Professor Nasr is also closely associated with the US military. He is Associate Chair of Research at the Department of National Security Affairs of the Naval Postgraduate School. Of course the official policy of the United States is to support Nato.

And Nasr is one of the go-to guys whenever the Bush administration wants a lesson on Sunni-Shia affairs. Nasr is considered by many in Washington to be an expert in contemporary Middle Eastern affairs and Islamic politics.

From all this, we can assume two things: 1) Nasr's advice on Iran meshes with the Nato view on whether the US should directly engage with Iran on the diplomatic front and suspend sanctions, and 2) There are factions in State and the Pentagon that favor the carrot approach to US relations with Iran.

Do Nasr and Takeyh present any reasonable argument in favor of rapprochement? Not that Pundita can see; they tend to contradict themselves. They fall back on blaming the US for the power that the Iran's hardliners enjoy; at the same time the authors observe:
The public sector accounts for more than 80 percent of the Iranian economy, and the constitution gives the clerical leadership most of the power.
I think they are correct in drawing a general conclusion that it's not so much the type of people who hold the power in Iran; i.e., clerics, as the amount of power they hold that is the deciding factor in how much they will fight to hold onto power. However, by that argument, the US is simply the handiest excuse for the clerics to keep an iron grip on power. Take away the US, Israel, and Islam, and those who hold vast power will find another excuse to hold onto it.

The authors also mount a very strange argument: After acknowledging the role that containment played in the dissolution of the Soviet Union, they claim that Iran would not buckle to the same pressure. It's unclear why they think Iran would not buckle; all they seem to offer by way of a reason is the following, after telling us that Iran's political system has no parallel in modern history:
The struggle [in Iran] is not just between reactionaries and reformers, conservatives and liberals, but fundamentally between the state and society. A subtle means of diminishing the state and empowering the society is, in the end, the best manner of promoting not only democracy but also nuclear disarmament.
Yet the state is always a perfect reflection of the society (often in the manner of the portrait of Dorian Gray) unless the government has been imposed from the outside. That does not seem to be the case in Iran.

However, from what I recall of the lessons taught by an Iranian author who guested on John Batchelor's program a few years back, it could be that the influx of non-Iranian Arabs to Iran's government during the Iranian revolution, and specifically Arabs who represented the brand of Islam that the Saudis sponsored, injected an element of foreign control into Iran's government, or at least foreign influence.

(Her name escapes me at the moment but I recall the author's account of her childhood in Iran during the revolution. Arab teachers replaced the Persian ones at her school and she was forced to learn to speak Arabic.)

In any case, Nasr and Takeyh do not explain how nuclear disarmament could flow from more power-sharing in the Iranian society. It didn't flow that way in France, India, the US or Israel.

Another tortured argument turns on itself:
[Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's defiant rhetoric and populist posturing did not impress the Iranians who turned out in large numbers to elect city councils and members of the Assembly of Experts. Voters favored pragmatic conservatives and reformers who oppose their president's policies abroad and his economic programs at home.
Two paragraphs down -- and clearly on the assumption that readers of the Washington Post editorial page have the attention span of a gnat -- the authors inform us that:
The clerical regime has also proved to be enterprising in facing demands for reform, particularly by using elections to manage opposition within the bounds of the Islamic republic."
"Managing opposition" includes vote rigging. In other words, if Iran's clerics are now stuffing the ballot boxes against Ahmadinejad, it is not necessarily a sign of the collective will of the Iranian people to censure him or that they're rejecting him. However, it is a very clear sign that Berlin, Paris and Brussels are leaning hard on Iran's clerics to put a muzzle on Maddy.

Iran in the raw does not play well in West Europe's capitals and in particular with the EU. In years prior to Maddy's election Brussels went to great trouble to help Tehran's government present Iran to the world as a modern, forward-looking country that is just trying to make a buck in international trade.

Brussels does not want the entire Iranian society to be revealed to the world. Berlin does not want censure from the US because of Germany's trade with Iran; the same could be said for all EU members that do business with Iran. And New Delhi and Moscow don't want Iran's true face hanging out there for the world to see -- again, for reasons of trade with Iran.

Can the same be said for the technocrats in Iran's government who want to wrest power from the clerics? It is certain that the technocrats want Iran to show a moderate face to the world; I doubt that is the only factor influencing their tussle with the clerics but it's an important one.

What I find astonishing about the blizzard of opinion on Iran during the past year is that it avoids focusing on Iran's military. I don't see Iran's technocrats and theocrats as calling the shots; I look at Iran's government as a thinly disguised military dictatorship.

In any case if Iranians came from another planet, that would be the only reason for the US government to reference sociological studies of Shia-Sunni affairs and political analyses of Iranian society while trying to construct policy toward Iran. But the golden rule for developing foreign policy initiatives is to keep in mind that human nature trumps differences between cultures.

Learning about the sociology stuff and becoming expert on a country's political system is for the diplomats -- those who must help convey policy in a negotiation framework. But first must come the policy, which should be shaped by a nation's self interest and an awareness of the byways of human nature.

The US is confronted with a purely military situation. The bottom line is that no matter how much talking we might do with Iran, the US will not stand down in Central Asia and the Middle East.

Is this enough reason not to talk with Iran? No. It is the height of stupidity for a hyperpower to prod other countries to do their talking for them, and it causes the hyperpower to lose face.

The US practically invented the modern form of multilateralism and our government has clung to multilateralism even if this meant accepting massive contradictions in US defense policy. So the US needs to poop or get off the pot.

If you push multilateralism at all costs you can't tell other countries, "You go talk to that fiend government. I'll make comments on the side."

Life won't let you get away with that much contradiction. If you espouse a multilateral approach to problem-solving in foreign relations, you have to make yourself part of the approach.

So if Washington wants to stick with the multilateral approach, which Pundita does not favor on principle, we should definitely join the EU3 (Britain, Germany and France) at the negotiation table with Tehran. For many reasons, not the least of which pouring oil on troubled waters, the US should also publicly invite Moscow to get more involved the talks and work hard behind the scenes to bring Russia to the negotiations.

Should we ditch the multilateral approach with Iran and offer Iran bilateral talks? I think we have gone too far down the road with the EU3 to ditch them at this point. But if I could turn back the clock to 2003, I'd say that bilateral talks couldn't have done worse than years of the EU3 playing cat and mouse with Tehran -- and certainly, bilateralism in this case would have saved US face.

With regard to sanctions on Iran, check out this development: Iran loses more aid from nuclear agency:
(Associated Press) VIENNA - February 9: The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday suspended nearly half of the technical aid it was providing Iran, carrying out sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council because Tehran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

As the agency's director general issued the report to his 35-nation board, Iran's top nuclear negotiator reversed course on a decision to stay away from a security conference in Germany. After telling organizers earlier Friday that he would not attend for health reasons, the negotiator, Ali Larijani, said in the evening that he would go to Munich, said Klaus Treude, a spokesman for the conference. [...]
The rest of the report is interesting but the above is enough to convey a general rule: if you want a government to engage in serious negotiations with you, you have to give them at least one serious reason to come to the table in a negotiating frame of mind. If Tehran is not yet in a serious frame of mind about negotiations, sanctions should remain and increase.

I've already received letters asking whether I think the recent six-party negotiations with North Korea should serve as a model for US negotiations with Iran. I will reply in tomorrow's post.

Monday, February 12

Money talks in the global warming debate

I think one has to be in the right frame of mind to get a laugh out of Dan Riehl's fascinating coda to the global warming debate. But after spending the weekend immersed in the grim implications of Vladimir Putin's speech at the Munich security conference (see the following Pundita post), I consider the pay-per-scientific opinion machinations to be comic relief. Of course it's not a funny subject:
Amid unfounded and frivolous charges that the Bush administration and the American Enterprise Institute are involved in pay for play science on Global Warming, it seems Theresa Heinz Kerry previously directed an unrestricted cash gift of up to a quarter million dollars to a nuclear scientist become climatologist, now leading the charge of doom-sayers on Global Warming. Additionally, one scientist recently quoted by the New York Times now appears to be disagreeing with his own extensive research and an exclusive preview of a soon to be published research paper from another Harvard scientist raises serious questions about a key item Global Warming proponents have recently enlisted in their cause. [..]
The piece gets even more interesting as it goes along. The clash of opinions on global warming is just why Pundita has been unable to think up policy advice on the matter.

US-Russia relations: On the road to Munich, the US stages a provocation

For months prior to the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, rumors flew in diplomatic circles that Vladimir Putin planned to use the conference as a platform for a major foreign policy speech that would set the direction for his successor.

Instead of a comprehensive speech about Russia's broad aims on the world stage, on Saturday President Putin recounted a list of US actions that he said added up to a frightening abuse of power and a grave threat to global security.(1) And he as much said that the United States was engaging in provocation with Russia.(2)

Putin's criticisms of US foreign policy are not new, and his rebuke was very tame next to his remarks at a press conference he called after the Beslan massacre -- remarks that did not receive mention in the US media outside of a few blogs, including Pundita's. Yet Putin's speech should be taken seriously because he is reacting to what he views as US provocation.

RIA Novosti reported last week that:
Speaking to the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace said: "I think we need the full range of military capabilities. We need both the ability for regular force-on-force conflicts because we don't know what's going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran and elsewhere."(2)
The Moscow Times reported the same comments as coming from Robert Gates before the "House Armed Services Committee," but while I haven't seen a transcript, I tentatively assume that the Moscow Times report is in error. In any case, testimony before an official US body that lumps Russia with North Korea and Iran as much says that Russia now poses a significant military threat to the United States.

In addition, the US government-funded Freedom House's latest Freedom in the World survey places Russia in the "not free" category, alongside North Korea, Cuba and Libya -- "countries where the U.S. is waging or considering military action," as RIA Novosti puts it.(2)

This framing of Russia as a looming military foe has to be seen in light of recent US actions in Russia's neck of the woods:
Russian analysts argue that Washington's consistent efforts to redeploy its missile defense system closer to Russia's borders may be an indication the U.S. administration seeks to revive the "Cold War" against Moscow and its allies. Washington has recently moved its largest sea-based missile defense radar in the Pacific from Hawaii to the Aleutian Islands, not far from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula. It has also announced plans to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site in Poland, which it says it needs to protect itself against a potential threat from Iran.

Gleb Pavlovsky, Russia's most famous spin-doctor, said that U.S. plans to build missile defense sites in Central Europe may spur an arms race.

"This surely is the beginning of an arms race in some sense," he said. "Which is all the more unjustified given that Russia has never, not on a single issue, expressed an intention to confront the U.S. or to deter it."
Add to these military actions, US meddling in Russia's internal affairs has continued -- and to such an extent that Gary Kasparov, who is pro-US and rabidly anti-Putin, recently pleaded with top Bush administration officials to stop the meddling.

Add to this, Washington is attempting to block Russia at the UN over the matter of Kosovo's independence from Serbia -- even though the US has no strategic interest in the matter. (3, 4)

When you put it all together, it's provocation, which couldn't have come at a worse time for the US war effort. If the US is engaging in hypocrisy on Kosovo, Russia is being two-faced on Iran. They claim they're providing weapons to Iran so that Iran won't feel cornered -- a lame excuse if there ever was one.

Putin's Saturday speech has been called aggressive by some Western analysts, and by John McCain. I'd call it unvarnished opinion shorn of diplomatic niceties. After all, it was not very diplomatic to name Russia as a potential military threat to the United States while both countries were on the road to the Munich conference.

Unfortunately, Kasparov's advice falls on deaf ears where it's most needed. In his speech Putin took care to exempt President Bush from the roast, saying that Bush is his friend and a decent man, and that he was unfairly blamed for everything wrong with US policy.

Putin clearly intended to imply that Bush is hostage to cadres in the US government that have run away with US policy on Russia and other ex-Soviet regions.

The implication is on target, but the buck stops at the President's desk. It is up to Mr Bush to call Mr Gates, Ms Rice, and certain congressionals to his office and read them the riot act.

And regarding the UN resolution on Kosovo, this is one vote the US should sit out. That would help pour oil on troubled waters.

1) Putin Castigates U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S. Defense Department and Reuters via The Moscow Times

2) Russian analysts suspect U.S. of intentions to revive "Cold War", RIA Novosti

3) Kosovo independence will open up Pandora's box . . ., RIA Novosti

4) Putin Hints at Veto on Kosovo, The Associated Press via The Moscow Times

Thursday, February 8

Connecting many dots: China, NAFTA, Mexican immigration, global warming, big government, and chicken feed. Chicken feed? Read on.

The other day Dave Schuler wrote a thought-provoking post that connects several dots: China's flooding of Mexico's markets with very cheap goods, the flood of Mexican immigrants to the US, the impact of energy conservation policies on markets, and the impact of global warming-related natural disasters on governments. He notes that "It's a bear how these things are interrelated."

Dave also catches columnist George Will in a misstatement. Will writes:
But now that the government is rigging energy markets with mandates, tariffs and subsidies, ethanol production might consume half of next year’s corn crop. The price of corn already has doubled in a year. Hence the tortilla turbulence south of the border.
Dave notes:
American corn is used mostly in Mexico for animal feed and what white corn (the kind used in tortillas) Mexico imports from the United States has been diminishing due to Mexican price supports for local growers.
Read the post for the rest of Dave's comments on the situation. Dave's good catch helps illustrate that the energy conservation/global warming debates are littered with the kind of errors George Will made. The problem is that one small error in interpreting the data can lead to hugely wrong conclusions, which lead to bad legislation.

The data on energy conservation and global warming are so vast and complex that this is why, out of the more than 600 Pundita posts I've published, I have only discussed the global warming issue once. And that one time was to ask whether anyone has a done a study on the effects on weather resulting from large amounts of steam released into the atmosphere by large-scale use of ethanol fuel. No one wrote me with an answer.

But I digress. Yes, it's a bear how all these things are related. Dave warns that government failures to properly address the impact of global warming on economies will translate to the need for much larger government. Something for fans of small government to think about.

Many situations are driving the flood of immigration to the US from Mexico. Consider this January Washington Post report: In Mexico, 'People Do Really Want to Stay' by Peter S. Goodman.* The report addresses the downsides of NAFTA for Mexico's chicken farmers and the impact on Mexican immigration to the US. The report highlights two factors that haven't received much attention from officials who study the immigration problem: Mexico's population explosion and the great disparity between business efficiencies.
[...] The demographic wave that has carried unprecedented numbers of Mexicans to the United States is the consequence of a baby boom that began in Mexico four decades ago, when improvements in rural health care allowed more infants to survive.

From 1993 to 2006, as those born during the boom reached adulthood, Mexicans of working age swelled from 34 million to 44 million [...]

Population pressure, combined with the lifting of subsidies on the farm, sent rural Mexicans in search of higher wages. They moved within Mexico in vast numbers. Many crossed the border. By 2002, 14 percent of all people born in Mexican villages were living in the United States [...]

An archetype of efficiency, the American poultry industry is dominated by enormous brands that control all aspects of production -- employing computerized feed mills that mix grains, mechanized slaughterhouses, and hatcheries that use genetic science to breed disease-resistant chicks.

At Garcia's feed mill [in Mexico], workers shovel grain by hand. At his slaughterhouse, a man slices throats with a wood-handled blade.
And, as Dave Schuler points out, there is the pesky issue of subsidies, which afflicts both sides of the border:
Feed amounts to nearly 60 percent of the cost of raising a chicken. For the American poultry industry, the cost has been held down, historically, by subsidies for corn production. In 2005, American cropland for corn received a range of subsidies worth more than $10 billion, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Labor, where Mexico has an advantage, makes up only about 5 percent of production costs.
And it's not only China that is flooding Mexico with cheap exports:
Already, Garcia is feeling the pressure. Americans prefer breast meat, while Mexicans opt for dark. So U.S. poultry producers can sell leg quarters -- dark meat -- in Mexico at low prices and still make money.

From January 2005 to January 2006, even though a 59 percent tariff applied to some chicken imports, the wholesale price of chicken leg quarters sold in Mexico City plunged by nearly one-fourth, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Next year, as NAFTA's final provisions kick in, the door opens to unlimited imports.

"The price will fall," Garcia said. "It could drop by half."
With that, I'd say that fans of playing connect the dots have had their fix for the day.

* Goodman's report seems so well researched that I wanted to give a mention to journalism's unsung heroes: the researchers. Washington Post Database Editor Sarah Cohen contributed to the report.

Wednesday, February 7

Sebastian Mallaby blows a gasket over China's policy on Sudan and slams China's foreign aid and development programs

"Chinese understanding of development threatens to undermine the Western one. Western development aid is increasingly linked to measures of good governance, and investment from Western corporations and banks comes with conditions designed to ensure that ordinary people benefit. This promising advance cannot succeed if African dictators can ignore Western conditions with Chinese assistance.

"But then there is an even more disturbing question: What does China's policy toward Sudan say about the West's policy toward China? The West is engaging with China on the theory that economic modernization will bring political modernization as well; otherwise, the West would merely be assisting the development of a communist adversary. China's Sudan policy is an assertion that this link between economic and political modernization is by no means inevitable, even in the extreme case. You can construct oil refineries, educate scientists, build ambitious new railways -- and simultaneously pursue a policy of genocide."(1)
I'm assuming you saw Sebastian Mallaby's Washington Post op-ed yesterday about China's aid to Sudan. What interests me particularly is that his view of China's threat to Western development and aid programs tracks exactly with yours. So now there's two of you shouting at Washington from inside a glass booth, but I think his harsh criticism of China is new for him.
Jan in Reston

Dear Jan:
From what I have read of his columns, I think Sebastian Mallaby "tracks" more with the view in Brussels, which supports the Chirac School's multipolarity doctrine. The doctrine tolerates just the kind of foreign policy that has now greatly upset Mr Mallaby.

Mallaby was out in front of the rest of the media on the Darfur story and his reports on the situation lit a fire in official Washington. The genocide in Darfur is his special cause. So Hu Jintao picked the wrong country on which to make a stand regarding China's foreign policy. Whatever Mallaby thought about China's policy before Hu's trip to Sudan last week, Hu said the magic words when he called on the world to respect Sudan's sovereignty then wrote a check to build a palace for Sudan's president.

Now that Mr Mallaby is hopping mad about China's aid and development programs, the West European media will take note. From there, we could see movement from Brussels; eventually that could translate into the International Monetary Fund working themselves up to a stand about China's aid and development policies.

All that plus 50 cents won't get us far, if Beijing is allowed to make a token bow to world opinion about the Sudan issue while continuing to write big checks to despots. The token bow is China's modus operandi whenever their record on human rights comes before the United Nations.

The only way to deal with China about their development policy toward third world countries is if the major multilateral lending institutions, with the World Bank leading the charge, threaten to scale back China's shareholder status unless Beijing stops overwriting their development policies.

With regard to China's foreign aid policy, the lead has to come directly from the G7 governments. I don't see the eighth member of the club -- Russia -- making a stand against China on such matters, but China's aid policies should be an issue for this year's G8 meeting. The issue should stay on the table, no matter how many token bows Beijing makes in the runup to the meeting.

All this said, I have two disputes with Mallaby's wonderful scorched-earth essay. The first is that he contends that "15 years" ago the West "discarded" the kind of development policy that China now practices. It is true that a consensus started to build in the 1990s, but the World Bank -- the world leader in development policy -- did not put teeth into their anti-corruption policies until Paul Wolfowitz took the helm at the Bank. The uncompromising approach has met stiff resistance from many quarters, even from within the World Bank.

If I sound as if I am nitpicking about the dating of the revolution in development circles, I think Mr Mallaby has been nitpicking about the way in which Wolfowitz has instituted and pushed anti-corruption policies. So now that his pet cause is getting stomped on, maybe he will help put some wind behind Wolfowitz's sails.

And maybe now Mr Mallaby will take a closer look at the fine print in the multipolarity doctrine. If a government makes furthering multipolarity into a guiding principle, it has a toothless argument against despotic governments that demand the same accords as the democratic nations.

My second dispute with Mallaby's essay is more of a question that Pundita has been thinking about for many months. If you remove mention of China and Sudan, how much do you disagree with the statement that a nation's sovereignty should be protected? China argues that it's a slippery slope for nations to intervene in the affairs of other nations in the name of human rights abuses. Do you think that is a valid argument?

Mallaby is correct when he observes:
... since the end of the Cold War, the Western view of sovereignty has grown increasingly contingent. If a nation slaughters its civilians (think Rwanda, Kosovo), harbors terrorists (Afghanistan) or refuses to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors (yes, Iraq), it forfeits its right to sovereignty. It may not be invaded, but it certainly can expect to face sanctions.

Sudan, by these standards, is an easy candidate for sanctions. But China's talk of "sovereignty" is code for the opposite policy. As well as paying for a presidential palace, Hu used his trip to cancel $80 million of Sudanese debt, to announce a plan to build a railway line and to visit an oil refinery that China partly owns, basking in the fact that 80 percent of Sudan's oil goes to his country.

Hu's visit was a statement that, in the Chinese view of the world, the principle of sovereignty trumps even the most appalling human rights abuses: It brushed aside the memory of the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust.(1)
But is the rationale underpinning the contingency a defensible one when governments argue with other governments on the issue? China says no. What do you think?

This is a foreign policy blog, so what Pundita thinks on the matter is that she wants US policy to bash China back over the line yesterday, not sometime in the coming century. From that viewpoint, governments are on thin ice if they fall back on political philosophy arguments in the effort to prod China's government to action on development policy. If they want action, the best course for the G7 governments is to keep the discussion very narrow. For example:

If China belongs to the World Bank while at the same time running development policy that completely works against Bank policy, you can ask Beijing why they bother to belong to the Bank.

This approach does not mean ducking the philosophy questions; it means that you are not going to win an argument that has many shades and sides, which is not even resolved among the developed nations, and which is a sore point among the developing nations. The developing nations don't want the developed countries to attach strings to aid and development if the strings violate their sovereignty. Yet the argument is on solid ground if you limit it to a government's responsibility as a member of a multilateral lending organization.

China's aim is to see that more developing nations have a bigger say in how the World Bank and its Asian and European counterparts are run -- in particular, the ones that stand solidly behind China's policies. In other words, unless the developed nations make China's aid and development policies a battlefield, even the most enlightened development assistance can be forced back into the antiquated model that Sebastian Mallaby decries.

1) A Palace for Sudan: China's No-Strings Aid Undermines the West by Sebastian Mallaby. February 5, 2007; Page A-15, The Washington Post.