Saturday, December 08, 2007

Iraq is not bogging us down. So says Robert Gates.

Reuters reports:

Sec Def Robert Gates today at the International Institute for Strategic Studies speaking to a group national leaders from the Gulf in London says:

"Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents — Christians, Jews and Muslims alike . . . There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing."

And as if that isn't bad enough . . .

"Iran delivers arms to terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan," Gates said.

They may not be exactly helping us in Iraq, but we're not doing much better ourselves it seems:

The WaPo reports:

"Pentagon auditors said they could not account for millions of dollars worth of rocket-propelled grenades, armored vehicles, ammunition and other supplies and equipment that were to be used to train and equip Iraqi security forces, because of inadequate paperwork and a lack of oversight personnel. The inspector general said the command was unable to prove that it received 12,712 of the 13,508 weapons . . . The 13,508 weapons were made up of 7,002 pistols, 3,230 assault rifles, 2,389 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and 887 machine guns."

With all the weapons we're providing to both sides in Iraq why would the Iranians even bother wasting their money smuggling them into the country? Between all of Saddam's weapons depots the US Army left unsecured during the invasion; the weapons Blackwater has smuggled in; and all the stuff the Pentagon has lost, it doesn't really make sense to think the Iranians would go out of their way to bring more in.

If I were the Sec Def I'd worry more about the fact that his Pentagon can't seem to find its own ass with both hands.

The same Reuters article reports Gates told the somewhat skeptical crowd at the conference that Iran 'continues to develop long-range missiles that could carry weapons of mass destruction.'

Hmm . . . If I were him I'd be a little more concerned about our good buddy Vlad the Impaler, who is really feeling his oats these days after that big "election" victory last Sunday.

News item:

"Russia tested new strategic and tactical missiles, flexing its muscles amid military disputes with the West and bitter opposition to a US plan for a defensive shield in Europe. First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday that is capable of carrying multiple independent warheads and a tactical cruise missile with an increased range, boasting that the weapons can penetrate any missile defense system." [NDTV]

In another worrying development in the Russia file:

Reuters reports:

"Russia said on Wednesday it would start the first major navy sortie into the Mediterranean since Soviet times, the latest move by an increasingly assertive Moscow to demonstrate its military might. more stories like this 'The aim of the sorties is to ensure a naval presence in tactically important regions of the world ocean,' Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told President Vladimir Putin . . . Serdyukov said 11 ships, including an aircraft carrier, would take part in the sortie and be backed up by 47 aircraft -- including strategic bombers."

This group of ships is to meet up with the Black Sea fleet soon and is expected to have a nice long visit to the Mediterranean, which I thought was sort of our Mare Nostrum. The other one, not the Pacific, which is also our Mare Nostrum.

The Israelis apparently are also kind of concerned about the appearance of a Russian fleet, which they think might be interested in making its new home in Syria.

YNet News reports:

"For the first time since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Russia plans to re-operate the Tartus and Latakia ports in Syria as permanent bases for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean basin, according to recent western media reports. Rumors on the growing Russian activity in the Mediterranean began spreading following a statement by Russian Navy commander, Admiral Vladimir Masorin, as he visited the Russian Navy base in the Sebastopol port in Ukraine. . . Israeli security officials estimated that the renewed Russian activity in these bases, which were active throughout the Cold War, was related to the renewed tensions between Russia and the United States, mainly in light of the American plan to station antimissile missile systems in Europe – a plan Moscow views as a threat to its security."

Lebanon Wire reports:

"So far, Syria has gone out of its way to deny that any such plan exists, insisting that all talk of Russia using Syrian port facilities in Tartus and Latakia is a figment of Israel's propaganda machine. But beyond the statements, Syria is facing a very interesting political decision. Russia sees a window of opportunity in which the United States' attention is absorbed in Iraq and in its intensely delicate negotiations with Iran. Though the thought of Russia sending warships to the Mediterranean could have provoked a strong U.S. response a decade ago, it is no secret that the U.S. military's bandwidth is greatly constrained and there is room for other major powers -- like Russia -- to start playing in the Middle Eastern sandbox again."

Not that Sec Def Gates is worried about any of this, naturally. Iraq is no problemo for us, we can handle anything.


"Gates ended his speech with a grim warning against underestimating the United States.
Some countries, he said, 'may believe our resolve has been corroded by the challenges we face at home and abroad. This would be a grave misconception. Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and the former Soviet Union all made that miscalculation,' Gates said. 'All paid the price. All are on the ash heap of history.'"

Right, that's why we're not saying anything about the Russian navy moving into new digs in the Mediterranean or the fact that the Russian are testing new ICBMs.

What, me worry?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Some musings on Rick Santorum and the dangers of Iran.

New item:

"Senior Israeli officials warned today they were still considering the option of a military strike against Iran, despite a fresh US intelligence report that concluded Tehran was no longer developing nuclear weapons." - The Guardian

Some musings on Rick Santorum's Op-Ed in the Inquirer Dec. 6

For one of the Republican Party's most partisan warriors to now claim "it's vital that we put aside politics to find new and effective ways to confront [Mahmoud] Amadinejad and Iran's mullahs," strains credulity beyond the breaking point. The truth of the matter is Santorum's fixation with Iran is all about politics: the politics of Israel and the money its supporters here at home pour into his party's coffers.

Naturally, as a disclaimer, let me emphasize my belief that every American has the right to lobby the government in the interests of any country, this is not a crime. My family for generations supported the Republicans in Northern Ireland as many other Irish Catholic immigrants did in the last century. But speaking as an American, the national security interests of Israel, though sometimes coinciding with ours, are not always in the best interest of the United States.

Let's call a spade a spade: Israel is not the 51st state and Iran is a threat to Israel's strategic position in the Middle East, not ours.

So on what basis does Santorum contend that Iran is our "greatest national security challenge since the end of the Cold War?" He cites Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust; Iran's backing of Hezbollah and Hamas; and, for good measure, he throws in Ahmadinejad's belief that Shia Islam's Twelfth Imam will return "after an Armageddon in which Islam has conquered Christians and killed the Jews."

All of the reasons he cites are of immediate concern to Israel certainly, but none of them prove that Iran presents an imminent threat to the national security of the United States by any stretch of the imagination.

* The noxious anti-Semitic rhetoric of Ahmadinejad, though unconscionable, is simply him playing to his base. He is most assuredly not the only demagogue and or autocrat in the Middle East that uses Israel as a convenient foil when it comes time to whip up the masses. Many of our closest allies in the Middle East do exactly the same thing when it suits them.

* The very existence of Hezbollah and Hamas are a direct consequence of Israel's occupation of Palestine and are threats solely to Israel. In fact, in the case of Hamas the Israelis themselves encouraged the creation of that organization in a misguided attempt to divide and conquer.

* And as to the this nonsense about the Twelfth Imam: Although the specter of an Islamic zealot with his hand on the button may play well to Santorum's base, the same religious lunacy also prevails among many evangelical Christians, George W. Bush's most ardent supporters, who are also awaiting the return of their own messiah. In the minds of fundamentalist Christians, salvation depends on an Armageddon taking place within the lands of biblical Israel, an outcome they are working for assiduously with their unflagging support of Israel and the belligerent policies Santorum's fellow travelers in the Vice-President's neocon camp advocate against Iran.

For all his huffing and puffing about the dangers of Iran, however, Santorum's strategy for undermining the Iranian regime is oddly pacific, not the usual fire-breathing real men want to go to Tehran stuff out of the neocon playbook. Perhaps, he's awaiting word from Rome on whether a preemptive strike on Iran will get the Papal go-ahead. He supported legislation passed last year that funds pro-democracy groups and allows the administration to impose sanctions on the regime in Tehran. Nothing in there about bombing, though.

Santorum says he's currently working on encouraging pension and mutual funds around the country to divest from terror-sponsoring nations, a laudable effort that all Americans on either side of the partisan divide could support; no one wants to make money off the mullahs or, at least, admit they do anyway. Santorum's position on this issue, though, appears to fly in the face of the Republican Party's core values of government taking a hands-off approach to the market's ability to make as much money as possible no matter how immoral the means.

If Santorum is now is calling for investors to take a moral stand on where they put their money, I hope he would concede that individuals, corporations and universities also have the right to divest their money from other countries with morally questionable policies. Countries such as Israel, for example, where millions of Palestinians have been living under a brutal 40-year occupation that even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert referred to recently as resembling Apartheid. [AP]

And while Santorum is campaigning to prevent investment in terror-sponsoring countries perhaps he should also focus on cleaning up his own Republican house while he's at it. Newsweek reported in its most recent issue that Giuliani Partners, presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s private investment firm, earned $4.1 million between January 2006 and May of this year from a security consulting contract it has with the ruling family of Qatar. This is the same family who in 1996 tipped off 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that the CIA was about to arrest him. Imagine how history might have been changed if Mohammed had been sitting in a jail cell on September 11, 2001 instead of having 5 years to plot the deaths of almost 3000 Americans.

But that's all in the past. The Qatari royal family is now our best buddies, even though the ruler of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Kalifa Al-Thani, created Al-Jazeera the news channel the Bush administration loves to hate (and bomb).

I would agree that Iran is unquestionably a threat to the stability of the Middle East, though not the existential threat to us Santorum portrays it as. We've had to deal with mullahs since 1979, yet some how we've managed to survive as a nation. The politics of the Middle East and our shifting alliances there, as our experience in Iraq has shown to our cost, are somewhat murky. Declarations of black and white certitude favored by Rick Santorum and George W. Bush don't apply there.

I would argue that diplomacy rather than sanctions has the best chance of succeeding with Iran. The futility of the Cuban embargo has clearly shown that sanctions rarely work, especially when there is money to be made by unscrupulous investors. In any event, the ravenous appetite of China and India for Iran's oil and natural gas will render any divestment strategy against the regime in Tehran ineffective. Therefore, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, only more jaw jaw and less war war will lead to a peaceful resolution in the Middle East, one which all Americans, Iranians and Israelis ultimately want.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Another NIE and Iran's bomb, or lack thereof.

The WaPo reports a new National Intelligence Estimate concludes Iran stopped it nuclear weapons program in 2003.

The NIE says: "We do not know whether (Iran) currently intends to develop nuclear weapons."

The WaPo:

"The new intelligence report released yesterday not only undercut the administration's alarming rhetoric over Iran's nuclear ambitions but could also throttle Bush's effort to ratchet up international sanctions and take off the table the possibility of preemptive military action before the end of his presidency."

After this bombshell exploded in DC yesterday, the administration initially canceled all press briefings by the White House and instead sent national security adviser Stephen Hadley out to flak for the administration while W.'s handlers came up with a response to the NIE. Hadley, the same guy who took the fall for Condi over the 16-words in W.'s State of the Union speech on Saddam's yellow cake purchases in Africa, naturally saw nothing but good things in the NIE.

Sure W. just last month was suggesting Iran's WMD program could cause World War III at any minute, but Hadley said, "On balance, the estimate is good news. On the one hand it confirms that we were right to be worried about Iran seeking to develop nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it tells us that we have made some progress in trying to ensure that that does not happen."

This morning W. held a snap press conference which, of course, was already planned long in advance -- even though the White House press office hadn't mentioned it anyone -- where he dismissed the report and remained defiant about his bellicose approach to Iran.


"What happened to them in 2007? How come they couldn't see the impending danger? What caused them not to understand that a country that once had a weapons program could reconstitute the weapons program? . . . What blinded them to the realities of the world?"

I dunno . . . he went on:

"And it's not going to happen on my watch. And so, you know, kind of Psychology 101 ain't working. It's just not working, you know? I am -- I understand the issues, I clearly see the problems, and I'm going to use the NIE to continue to rally the international community for the sake of peace." [the bombing begins in five minutes.]

"Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous and Iran will be dangerous if they have the know-how to make a nuclear weapon."

There we are, back to to Iran having the "knowledge" to build a bomb. Since they aren't actually building a bomb and, in fact, haven't been in the business of building one for the last four years, simply possessing the "know-how" to build one -- in oh say, 2 to 7 years -- is reason enough to keep threatening to blow the world up to stop them. W. wants his European partners to know he thinks diplomacy is the way to go but "effective diplomacy is one in which all options are on the table." [Kaboom!]

For its part the International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement today saying:

"IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei received with great interest the new U.S. National Intelligence Estimate about Iran´s nuclear program which concludes that there has been no on-going nuclear weapons program in Iran since the fall of 2003. He notes in particular that the Estimate tallies with the Agency´s consistent statements over the last few years that, although Iran still needs to clarify some important aspects of its past and present nuclear activities, the Agency has no concrete evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran."

See, again they were right all along. Not to say the Iranians are making it any easier to figure out what exactly they're up to. If they aren't in the process of building weapons why don't they just let the inspectors in and show everyone they're not a threat?

Just as Rummy so succinctly put it:

"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know. There are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things ee do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know." [Slate]

The fact that they apparently ended their program in 2003 is telling. Hadley might want to take credit for it by claiming US pressure or the Iraq invasion caused it, but if you think about it; after we overthrew Saddam we eliminated Iran's biggest threat, so there wasn't any real reason to waste all that money on a bomb.

If you'll recall, also, the reformers in power back in 2003 offered the United States a Grand Bargain, a modus vivendi, to normalize relations between the two countries. Probably, the thinking then was partly influenced by the fact that the US military was firmly planted on both Iran's West, East and Southern flanks, but Mohammad Khatami and the people in power with him weren't exactly the bunch that's in control now.

A slight refresher: Spencer Akerman writes in TPM Muckraker:

"Through a Swiss intermediary, the Iranian regime proposed the basis for comprehensive discussions. If accepted, it would have meant the Iranians would have put on the table ending its support for Palestinian terrorist groups; 'action' on transforming Hezbollah into a 'mere political organization within Lebanon'; 'transparency' that Iran isn't trying to develop WMD; and 'enhanced action against Al Qaida members in Iran.' In return, the U.S. would ultimately lift all sanctions on Iran; ensure 'full access' to nuclear technology (!); and provide, in general, a 'halt in hostile U.S. behavior,' to include action against 'anti-Iranian' terrorist groups."

The line about Iran not trying to develop WMD at least now seems to ring true. Another indicator that they ended their bomb making plan in 2003 is a paragraph in an article in last week's Economist about Ahamadinejad going after the reformers of 2003:

"Following a speech in which he blasted critics of his nuclear policy as traitors, his government announced it would press espionage charges against Hossein Mousavian, who served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator under Mr Khatami. . . . The common explanation in Tehran is that the espionage charge was aimed at tarring the previous administration and reformists in general as dangers to the revolution."

Yes, ending a nuclear bomb making project might qualify.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The new model dictators: Vlad's bad but Hugo's evil.

And the rise of the new model dictators marches on.

This Sunday, Vlad "the Impaler" Putin impaled his opposition in Russia as his political party United Russia swept to power with a landslide win in the State Duma after assuring that international monitors were no where to be seen, opposition figures like Garry Kaspaorv were safely in jail and millions of Russians were told by their bosses who to vote for -- or else. The only "opposition" Vlad has to worry about now is the Communists, who won 11.6% of the vote. [AP]

Vlad says the elections show a "good example of domestic political stability." [Hear that investors, Russia is open for business. BBC]

For its part the Bush administration issued a stern admonishment to Vlad's blatant overthrow of Russian democracy, which now leaves him in a postion to write his own ticket to ensure his continued rule despite his term running out in May. The administration urged the Russian government to investigate charges that the vote was manipulated. [Ha]

National Security Council spokesperson Gordon Johndroe says, "We expressed our concern regarding the use of administrative resources in support of United Russia, the bias of the state-owned or influenced media in favor of United Russia, [and] intimidation of political opposition."

Wow, Vlad must be really shaking in his boots. Right after he gets done counting all his oil money and starts moving his military towards the borders of former Soviet satellite states, I'm sure he and the rest of his Siloviki (the power guys) brethren will put every effort into easing the concerns of Vlad's democratic soul-mate George W. Bush.

Didn't W., by the way, dedicate his second term to spreading democracy around the world? How's that little project going?

Well, his good buddy Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan issued his "emergency decree" last month, setting his security forces armed with batons upon the political opposition, sacked the country's supreme court, which was about to rule his election invalid, and packed the court with his own hand picked judges who threw out all challenges to his election.

Incidentally, in a humorous twist, the legal reasoning the court used for squashing the opposition's petitions was something called "non-prosecution." In other words, the challenges were invalid because those bringing them to the court were not present. They were in fact put in jail by Musharraf. [See more about this at LTAD]

Not that any of that has deterred the Bush administration from still backing Musharraf. If the W. & Co. are content to have Musharraf simply say he's a great democratic leader now that he's taken off his uniform and set a date for elections, then something tells me the administration' hand wringing over Vlad's state sanctioned coup isn't going to keep the Vladmeister up at nights.

Can you smell the sulfer?

This Sunday in Venezuela, meanwhile, that Satan of South America Hugo "can you smell the sulfur?" Chavez tried pulling a Putin-special by presenting to the Venezuelans his plans for life-time rule and complete take over of the country in a referendum. In this case his gambit failed. Chavez used all the tricks that Vlad did but there is still apparently enough of a democratic hangover in Venezuela that he wasn't able to prevail, despite his many electoral victories in the past.

The US State Department issued a statement saying the Venezuealn people didn't "want any further erosion in their democracy and their democratic institutions." [BBC] Unlike the Russian people who apparently embraced an erosion of democracy. In the case of Vlad, though, we're just simply concerned.

In any case, Hugo is still in power for at least another four years, so his chummy relationship with Fidel and his crazy notions about making American oil corporations pay their fair share for Venezuela's natural resources ought to keep him on the administration's most wanted list for a good time to come.

Our good friends and also new model dictators, the one's who rule with the patina of democratic legitimacy but none of the substance of it, like Ilham Aliyev in Azerbaijan and Condi's buddy from her Chevron days, Nursultan Nayzerbyov, are safe for a while longer.

God may have given the human race the desire for freedom and liberty, but he didn't get around to putting oil and natural gas in many countries with Western-style democracies so, you know, those folks unlucky enough to be born in those resource rich countries will just have to wait for God or another American president to come to their rescue. W. is busy working on his legacy in Iraq. . . I mean, Palestine

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