Thursday, December 31, 2009

On advertising copy and a request for 2010

The ad says: "Try our product and lose 30 pounds, GUARANTEED!" The small print says, as of course it must: "*Your results may vary." Nope, no great political insight or impassioned indictment of American imperialism in this post, just an observation that those two statements don't really work together.

Anyway, happy New Year faithful reader(s?). And humanity, if you're out there: let's say we refrain from the whole war and exploitation thing we've been trying out for the last couple hundred centuries or so and give that do-unto-others nonsense a shot for, I don't know, a year?

UPDATE: Yeah, that request was swiftly denied.

US gov't report casts doubt on US gov't Iranian nuke claims

If you believed the politicians, one could be forgiven for thinking the end is nigh, the day fast approaching that the opposition-suppressing mullahs of Tehran can ignite a nuclear holocaust even their own president couldn’t deny, with Tel Aviv, Manhattan and Peoria, Illinois, tops on the target list. Inexplicably treated as a respected voice on foreign affairs on this past Sunday’s Meet the Press (brought to you by defense contractor Boeing), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took time away from divorcing whoever his latest wife is to proclaim that “the Iranians have been lying consistently” about their nuclear program. “It's very clear the Iranians want to get nuclear weapons, [and] it's pretty clear the Iranians -- this current dictatorship will use them.”

And it’s not just the usual hawks on the right that are dusting off the arguments about a hostile Middle Eastern nation seeking weapons of mass destruction. Playing the role of Objective Foreign Affairs Reporter to Gingrich’s Elder Statesman, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell provided the unbiased analytical voice on why we all should be very afraid. “The Speaker is correct,” said Mitchell, a series of words that would have prompted immediate self-doubt in any grounded, rational thinker. Iran “is the biggest single threat, I think, that we face," she said, which if true speaks more to the relative security of the United States than its vulnerability, I think.

The Obama administration, took, has joined in on the fearmongering fun. "The Iranians have responsibilities to the international community to walk away from their . . . ballistic nuclear weapons program," White House spokesmen Robert Gibbs lectured in September, stressing the need for Iran to hand away its right to enrich uranium on its soil during the very negotiations Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- an accomplished fearmonger in her own right -- has herself declared won’t succeed. (At this point she is only raising the specter of imposing “crippling” sanctions on Iran rather than the possibility of its total obliteration, so perhaps that’s a baby step in the right direction.)

Obama, meanwhile, has at several turns asserted that Iran is "pursuing a nuclear weapon", convening a dramatic press conference in September to unveil the “secret” Qom nuclear facility that Iran itself had revealed days before to the IAEA, which has since inspected it. Fulfilling its traditional role as the printing press for the powerful, major media outlets dutifully ran with the story, informing the public that This Was It, the proof as-if-we-needed-it that Iran was up to no good, with ABC News' Jake Tapper penning helpful articles like this one, “Why Not Just Bomb the Qom Facility?”, which tellingly never ponders the unthinkable in serious Washington circles: the effect bombing radioactive facilities might have on the innocent Iranians you claim to care so much about. Such articles do drum up support for military action among the public, though, insofar as they suggest preemptive war -- and air strikes, boys and girls, are acts of war -- is just another ho-hum policy option for dealing with the supposed threat posed by Iran.

Congress, in typical me-too fashion, has also gotten into the act, with the House overwhelmingly passing a measure to impose sanctions on Iran’s gas imports, progressives and conservatives alike voting in lockstep to increase the hardship for the average Iranian over their government’s exercise of its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which the U.S. with its massive nuke stockpiles and plans to develop more is arguably itself in violation of.

There's a funny thing about those claims U.S. politicians and journalists seek to pass off as beyond dispute: the folks that make up the U.S. intelligence community -- the very people whose livelihood depends on their finding a never-ending series of foreign hobgoblins -- say Iran abandoned any nuclear weapons program it may have had nearly 7 years ago, issuing a high-profile National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) in 2007 declaring just that, which both Obama and Clinton at the time praised as a welcome rebuke to the Bush administration. And the IAEA, whose inspectors are the ones actually on the ground in Iran examining its nuclear facilities, continues to verify that no enriched uranium is being diverted to a military program, with agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei declaring there to be "no credible evidence" of a covert weapons effort afoot.

But don’t take their word on the lack of a scary imminent Iranian thereat: even the Obama administration privately concedes it.

According to a report (pdf) just leaked from the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a non-partisan arm of Congress, the White House’s own “talking points made public September 25, 2009, stated that the [intelligence] community still assesses that ‘Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.’’ Indeed, “On several occasions, the U.S. intelligence community has reaffirmed the 2007 NIE’s assessment that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program but is keeping its options open,” the report states. “For example, Leon Panetta, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, did so in May 2009. More recent press accounts have also reported that the community does not believe that Tehran has restarted its weapons program.”

The CRS' findings, which one should remember were available to every one of the lawmakers who blindly voted to impose yet further sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, continues:
Other factors also suggest that Iran may not have an active nuclear weapons program. First, the IAEA has resolved several of the outstanding issues described in the August 2007 Iran-IAEA work plan and has apparently not found additional evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Indeed, the agency has not discovered significant undeclared Iranian nuclear activities for several years (although, as noted above, the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities has decreased). Second, Tehran, beginning in 2003, has been willing to disclose previously undeclared nuclear activities to the IAEA (though, as previously discussed, Iran has not been fully cooperating with the agency). Third, Iran made significant changes to the administration of its nuclear program in fall 2003—changes that produced greater openness with the IAEA and may have indicated a decision to stop a nuclear weapons program.
Fourth . . . Iranian officials have stated numerous times that Tehran is not seeking nuclear weapons, partly for religious regions—indeed, Khamenei has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, according to Iranian officials. A change in this stance could damage Iranian religious leaders’ credibility. Moreover, Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued in May 2008 that “given the pervasive religiosity of the regime, it is unlikely that Iran’s supreme leader would be secretly endorsing military activity in explicit contradiction of his own religious edict.”
Iran also has legitimate reasons for not wanting to rely on outsiders for fueling its nuclear reactors, having been screwed over by foreign suppliers in the past, the report notes. And Iran's claim that past attempts to conceal its nuclear procurement efforts were intended to evade Western efforts to deny it technology it had a legal right to under the NPT, not to develop nukes, is one “that appears to be supported by a 1997 CIA report." In sum, the CRS report is a calm and measured analysis of Iran's nuclear program which finds little justification for the bedwetting and warmongering that passes for serious debate on the Sunday morning talk shows. Don't hold your breath waiting for David Gregory to interview the author, though, as actual expertise in the field on which one wishes to opine is an almost certain disqualification.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

War: a laughing matter

Religion and politics are not recommended topics of discussion at the American dinner table. The aerial bombardment of innocent foreigners to be followed, perhaps, by the invasion and occupation of their land, on the other hand, is a matter of casual debate, water cooler talk, just another policy option to elite opinion makers, the prospect bandied about in newspapers and on TV with a solemnity usually reserved for the latest Yankees trade rumor. Even the arguments for war are trodded out with as much conviction and moral suasion as an ad for Ovaltine or a Medicare-qualifying motorized scooter, with former Democratic staffer, humanitarian interventionist and head of a fancy-sounding university “non-proliferation” center Alan Kuperman offering in The New York Times the marvelously weak case for war with Iran on the basis that, hey, it could work at disabling their supposed nuclear weapons program -- actually citing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to demonstrate the effectiveness of U.S. military action -- so, uh, why the hell no give it a go? All we have to lose are a few thousand dead Iranians.

The idea of killing innocent foreigners is also always good for a laugh. Even prior to 9/11, The Day Everything Changed, I recall a girl at my high school donning an uproarious “Nuke Iraq: Just Do It” t-shirt parodying the Nike slogan, an hilarious call for the nuclear annihilation of a people thousands of miles away who had never done the U.S. any harm worn as proudly on her chest as a teenager in a non-psychopathic country might wear a shirt displaying an allegiance to some popular band, perhaps. While the genocidal humor may be forgiven as the antics of an unthinking adolescent not considering its implications -- and I for one am willing to absolve one from much of the blame for views expressed under the influence of a Pennsylvania public school -- some children never grow up, peddling their juvenile interpretation of the world and morning shock jock approach to foreign affairs into gigs as highly paid political advisers and commentators.

The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb, a former campaign spokesman for John McCain, is one such particularly bloodthirsty and brutishly dumb example of the perpetual adolescent approach to foreign affairs, suggesting in a blog post today -- in a line he later thought better off -- that President Obama maybe ought to declare war on Japan if newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama remains in office, or something. You see, “Hatoyama is proving to be a major problem,” Goldfarb writes, pointing to bipartisan agreement on that score (hardly a selling point, I'd think). The source of the friction? Hatoyama’s desire to reassert Japan’s independence from the U.S. and transition it away from its current client-state status, manifested in the new prime minister’s interest in possibly removing American forces from their base in Okinawa rather than relocating them on the island, and his rather well-supported assertion that the U.S.-led war in Iraq has been a failure, a statement apparently beyond the pale ever since Obama himself embraced the surge.

Though the whole problem might be resolved should scandal bring down his government, “if Hatoyama does stay in place and continue on this course, well, perhaps Obama can look to FDR for inspiration in how to deal with troublesome Japanese leaders,” Goldfarb wrote, a line since disappeared from The Weekly Standard blog but still viewable on Google News and other sites. FDR, of course, faced with a very different and expansionist Japan, imposed an oil embargo against the import-dependent country in the months preceding Pearl Harbor. After the attack, he declared war on Japan -- all measures Goldfarb implies the U.S. government should apply to modern Japan because its new leader appears unwilling to act as the editors of The Weekly Standard and The Washington Post would like: as the governor of a de facto overseas American protectorate, a Guam with cooler gadgets. Question that setup and Goldfarb's first instinct is to call in the 101st Airborne.

The scary thing? Goldfarb's rants are merely less refined variations on the concerns of much of the foreign policy establishment, as evidenced by this Post article detailing anonymous "concerns" regarding Japan's new leader on the part of U.S. officials and allies -- the official leaks offering cataclysmic predictions for the security of Asia as a result of the new Japanese government's rather overdue steps towards asserting greater sovereignty over its affairs. Be comforted in the knowledge that no one in the U.S. government is seriously contemplating war with Japan, though: as FDR demonstrated, it doesn't have any oil. Now Yemen, on the other hand . . .*

[*Yemen is actually rapidly running out of oil. Neighboring U.S.-ally Saudi Arabia, which has been bombing parts of Yemen in recent months, still has a rather lot.]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Our police state and theirs

Torture. Extrajudicial killings. Arbitrary detention. The United States and Iran have a lot in common, really. But there’s a key difference: while the Iranian regime tends to undertake its crimes against humanity within Iran, the U.S. does it _all over the world_, from Lithuania to Egypt, and condones and/or enables countless more abuses on the part of its allies. Predictably, though, rather than discuss that uncomfortable truth politicians and major news outlets in America take a keen interest in Iran’s human rights abuses while only mentioning, say, “Gaza” if they mispronounce the name of their kids’ favorite musician -- it helps focus attention on the next Hitler du jour instead of America’s own shaky relationship with the rule of law, providing an easy opening for some shameless moral exhibitionism on the part of the ruling class and its media parrots.

Take State Department spokesman Philip Crowley’s statement at a press briefing on Wednesday that "Iran is increasingly showing itself to be a police state.” Now, there is no question the Iranian government has a horrendous record on human rights. And we are right to laugh when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad's attempts to equate the two, as it would be ridiculous to at all suggest that Iran’s record is in any way comparable to that of the United States. Indeed, their records are as far apart as could be -- after all, here in the U.S. we imprison people at a per capita rate three times that of Iran (pdf), with more than one in 100 American adults behind bars.

And while using illegal drugs is liable to get one thrown in prison in these United States, something called PBS (an acronym for a terrorist organization, most likely) reports the Iranian government has been “remarkably pragmatic” with regard to its drug policy, funding needle exchanges and methadone clinics rather than private prisons for a steady supply of non-violent drug offenders like some other countries. Further, though the U.S. government admits to having had more than 100 of its prisoners die in its custody -- many murdered during the course of one of those infamous we-were-just-defending-freedom “harsh interrogation techniques” -- the Obama administration has generally decided to "look forward, not backward" on such crimes, whereas Iran is set to prosecute a dozen officials in the deaths of several opposition protesters (though let's be honest, both countries would never go after the big guns -- something in common!). And, of course, the U.S. committed the ultimate human rights violation and war crime with the invasion of Iraq, killing at a least a quarter million people and driving millions more from their homes in the name of WMDs, or democracy, or . . . something (in the last two centuries Iran has invaded no one). So again, really, it would be terribly unfair to conflate Iran’s human rights record with that of the United States, with its almost 2.5 million people held as cattle behind bars.

(It should be said, though, that U.S. officials, unlike their swarthy counterparts, are careful not to violate any statutes when they torture or kill someone, a task made a bit easier when the state’s finest legal minds all agree that arbitrarily defined “enemy combatants” are not “persons” under the law.)

But! You know, those Iranians! Don't they know all civilized nations turn to private security firms to do their dirty business?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Off the record, I didn't talk to you

The words "off the record" are thrown about so often in Washington that it's sometimes evident the employer of the phrase is unfamiliar with its actual meaning, instead just habitually repeating savvy-sounding jargon they heard their colleagues or the serious-looking people on TV say. Other times it seems its sheer arrogance -- or perhaps a genuine lack of awareness -- at play, like when an aide to Senator Barbara Boxer declared his comments during a panel discussion before hundreds of policy wonks and energy industry officials were not to be reported by any member of the press.

The latest case clearly falls in the former category: Seeking a comment from an industry trade group for a story, I emailed the group's spokeswoman asking her if she'd like to weigh in. Moments later, I got a response declaring that -- "OFF THE RECORD" -- her organization was declining to comment. Try conveying that in a story.

"A request for comment from the group was received."
"Asked to comment on the controversy, the group's spokesperson responded."
"A spokeswoman for the group replied to a request for comment. Or didn't."

Tempted to go with, "A spokeswoman for the group, responding to a request for comment, became incoherent", I settled with, "A spokesperson for the group declined to comment." I'm confident the journalism gods (gods . . . ha!) won't be sending a lightning bolt my way.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

History, as told by the U.S. government

"We think we have a strategy that will create the space and time for the Afghans to stand up their own security forces and take responsibility.  But we're not going to be, you know, walking away from Afghanistan again.  We, we did that before, it didn't turn out very well.  So we will stay involved, we will stay supportive, and I think that's exactly the right approach."
-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Meet the Press, December 6, 2009
Advocates for a “strong” foreign policy of U.S. empire, beyond suffering the ills of projection and overcompensation, possess a remarkable capacity for ignoring inconvenient aspects of history. That is, while those of the bomb-them-‘till-their-free school of thought can point to a long list of countries and conflicts where they argue an American intervention could have prevented massive loss of life -- Rwanda, Darfur, etc. -- they are remarkably unconcerned with any of the negative consequences befalling a policy of constant war (such as the establishment of permanent and sizable constituency directly benefitting from empire and armed conflict that might agitate for wars not always on the basis of Samantha Power’s superior moral sensibilities) or the demonstrated failings of past U.S. interventions (Vietnam, Cambodia, East Timor, Iran, Iraq...). Conveniently, these are often the same people ordering the bombs to be dropped in the first place.

So when Hillary Clinton, alluding to the presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan before 9/11, suggests that was a result of the U.S. “walking away” from the region, she’s conveniently gliding over more than a decade of American arms and funding that went to groups we now collectively label “the Taliban” -- and a few folks, like Osama bin Laden, that would later on make a name for themselves turning their fire against their former patrons -- as one would expect from a person in her position. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who as a high-ranking CIA official helped direct funding to the Afghan mujahideen beginning in 1979, has made the same self-serving claim, arguing the the hypothetical actions the U.S. did not take in Afghanistan are more responsible for its present state that the demonstrable, having-actually-occurred actions successive American administrations did take. For those who gain power and prestige from the maintenance of a global American empire -- people like Gates and Clinton, and the countless hangers-on at Washington think tanks and within the State and Defense bureaucracies -- it serves one’s interests well to contrast make-believe accounts of interventions that could be with the less than holy interventions of the real world.

Preferring a fairy tale straight out of Hollywood, Gates and Clinton neglect to mention the very real blowback that came about as result, not of some policy of backwards isolationism, but imperial Cold War proxy fighting aimed at undermining the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan by arming and funding -- via the always reliable Pakistani intelligence service, financial backing courtesy of our theocratic friends in Saudi Arabia -- many of those we now call the Taliban and al Qaeda (who, mind you, are not the same thing). Rather than a failure to build more schools and playgrounds following the Soviet exit, it was a proactive U.S. policy aimed at strengthening the mujahideen with money and arms that ultimately led to their being strengthened. One needn't possess a PhD in international affairs to grasp that cause and effect. The staggering number of Muslims the U.S. government has killed since the late 1980s has only further strengthened those groups by fueling opposition to the United States, often labeled "anti-Americanism" by the media as if it were some sort of irrational religious phenomenon and not a perfectly understandable reaction to American policy in the Middle East.

As becomes more obvious the more you observe those in power, it simply pays to be blissfully unaware -- or to appear that way -- if one wishes to rise to the top of the hierarchy. Consider Gates’ comments rejecting there being any historical comparison between the Soviet and American occupations of Afghanistan:
"First of all, the Soviets were trying to impose an alien culture and, and political system on, on Afghanistan.  But more importantly, they were there terrorizing the Afghans. They killed a million Afghans.  They made refugees out of five million Afghans.  They were isolated internationally.  All of those factors are different for, for us, completely different.  We have the sanction of the U.N. We have the sanction of NATO.  We have the invitation of the Afghan government itself.  We have 42 military partners in Afghanistan."
Boiled down, Gates' defense of the U.S.-led war is this: we’ve got more friends, which I doubt would pass good old St. Augustine’s litmus test. And spoken by a man who oversees another U.S. war that has created five million refugees and, by some accounts, led to the deaths of more than one million people -- to say nothing of the very real death and destruction U.S. policy has wrought on Afghanistan in the last decade alone that Gates so blithely elides -- the remarks are offensively asinine. Again, though, that’s just par for the course, to be expected.

And given the historical illiteracy of much of the major media's celebrity journalists, why should Gates be bothered with repeating uncomfortable truths that don't help the preferred U.S. narrative? It's not like he will ever be challenged on his history, certainly not by the likes of NBC's David Gregory, whose idea of a tough question is asking Gates -- no joke -- "Is failure an option in Afghanistan?" Well, David, no it isn't, I suppose. Practicing real journalism isn't one either, from the looks of it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A tax for the military-industrial complex

British economist Arthur Cecil Pigou is famous for arguing that governments should correct perceived "externalities" imposed upon society by the production some good -- think pollution from a coal plant -- by imposing taxes on the producer of said good that, ideally, should be commensurate to the damages caused by the product. Keeping with that logic, it follows that if one thinks wars are something inflicted on society by people like defense contractors, generals and the living dead elder statesmen, then it ought to be they who pays for said wars. So when politicians propose imposing a new war tax on wealthy Americans to pay for the war in Afghanistan, I can't help but think they're a bit off the mark.

First: imposing a new progressive tax on the rich does not a "just war" make. Taxing the rich might please one's liberal sensibilities, but given that money will be used to inflict death and destruction upon innocent Afghans, sacrificing their lives just so some executive at Goldman Sach's pays a few more cents to the IRS would make one kind of a dick. Second: while I grant there's probably a good deal of overlap, a true Pigouvian tax would be one imposed on Lockheed Martin, those who voted for the Iraq war resolution (and those who approve funds for a military escalation in Afghanistan) and the staff of The Weekly Standard, not just the rich in general. Since I'm assuming such a tax would have to be awfully high -- too high for senior fellows at AEI and Brookings -- it would of course also necessitate the return of debtors' prisons, an unfortunate but necessary stick to go along with the carrot of endless war and appearances on Meet the Press, I think.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

NYT: Japanese press corps too much like us

Peter Hart of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting catches The New York Times, the premier vehicle for  disseminating establishment disinformation in the U.S. for the better part of a century -- The Washington Times the preferred outlet for those unable to get their crackpot conspiracies published in respectable papers like the central Georgia Penny Pincher -- reporting on the odd arrangement in Japan between the major media and the state:
". . . in which reporters from major news media outlets are stationed inside government offices and enjoy close, constant access to officials. The system has long been criticized as antidemocratic by both foreign and Japanese analysts, who charge that it has produced a relatively spineless press that feels more accountable to its official sources than to the public. In their apparent reluctance to criticize the government, the critics say, the news media fail to serve as an effective check on authority."
Rest assured, though, dear reader: it could never happen here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The 'conspiracy' to debunk a smear campaign

Taking a page from her allies with the MEK, Jennifer Rubin of the neoconservative Commentary magazine has written what journalist Daniel Lubin accurately characterizes as a “paranoid post” (approvingly linked by Washington Times hatchetman Eli Lake) accusing a range of writers of various ideological stripes – including Andrew Sullivan, Spencer Ackerman, Matt Yglesias and Glenn Greenwald – of engaging in a secret campaign coordinated by some Washington PR firm to defend the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president, Trita Parsi, from the slanderous and unsubstantiated claim from the likes of Rubin and Lake that the group is a front for the Iranian government.

Now, one should never be surprised to read something bat-shit crazy from Commentary magazine, but this is a truly bizarre instance of projection -- mirroring the MEK approach of accusing all their opponents of being Iranian spies -- wherein one of the very right-wing operatives defaming NIAC and Parsi suggests something shady and conspiratorial is at play in the effort to respond to her libels. This after it was well-publicized that the smear campaign against NIAC originated with a coalition of wacky neocons and agents of the anti-Iranian terrorist group the MEK. The only remarkable aspect of her post, really, is that she never gets around to explaining how George Soros was orchestrating the whole defense of NIAC all along from his liberal fortress in the sky (but I guess Michael Goldfarb beat her to it).

“Weeks before the story actually broke, the groundwork for the defense was being laid,” Rubin writes, reproducing a November 2nd email from Parsi alerting supporters to the coming smears. Weeks later, that smear campaign has unfolded, culminating in Lake's remarkably weak hit piece in the Times accusing Parsi of being an Iranian agent based on documents provided him by a neoconservative ideologue and a reported MEK agent – but it is Parsi and the “Left blogosphere” that is engaged in a conspiracy, Rubin says, suggesting those defending NIAC all go their talking points handed them by PR firm Brown Lloyd James (who?).

“That sort of smooth-running rebuttal doesn’t just happen on its own, it is fair to conclude,” Rubin writes, one eyebrow raised, “and you can’t say Parsi and NIAC aren’t getting their money’s worth from their PR team.”

Again we see how these ever-so-brave neoconservatives aren't willing to debate actual facts, like Luban's evidence the source of the Parsi/NIAC smear is a member of a foreign terrorist organization, so they reflexively fall back to the tactic of smearing, suggesting all who disagree with them are controlled by others. NIAC opposes sanctions and war against Iran? Well, then they must be directed by Iran, goes the line. Unimpressed with Lake's pathetic, evidence-free smear of Parsi as a foreign agent? Why, you must be directed by NIAC (and its spooky public relations team). Of course, the tact is juvenile and asinine, and more than a bit played out, but then so is the neoconservative world view.

Writes Luban:
“While I don’t want to get in the way of a good theory, I would suggest that Rubin could benefit from the judicious use of Occam’s Razor. It is indeed possible, I suppose, that every commentator who has disputed the charge that NIAC lobbies for the Iranian regime has only done so because they are receiving talking points and unmarked cash-filled envelopes from Brown Lloyd James. But let me venture what I think is a simpler explanation: commentators from across the political spectrum have argued that NIAC is not a tool of the Iranian regime because, well, it is utterly obvious that NIAC is not a tool of the Iranian regime.”
Obvious, at least, to those with half a brain (agents of Tehran, one would think, wouldn't send out press releases like this).

But Rubin isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the blogosphere, as she demonstrates with her claim that lefty bloggers “struggled mightily to paint Parsi as the innocent victim and somehow the friend of the Greens (neatly sidestepping the conspiracy to defund the same)” in their efforts to defend NIAC, thus their needing to rely on a PR firm's talking points. Except it really isn't so hard to defend Parsi's “conspiracy” to end U.S. aid to Iranian “opposition” groups. In fact, allow me to just quote Iranian dissident and journalist Akbar Ganji on the matter, via the BBC:
"The US democracy fund was severely counterproductive. None of the human right activists and members of opposition in Iran had any interest in using such funds, but we were all accused by Iran's government of being American spies because a few groups in America used these funds."
See? Not so difficult. But people like Rubin don't actually care about facts, the Iranian opposition, or the Iranian people, for that matter. What they care about is U.S. hegemony – that's it – and the Iranian regime's refusal to become a client state. If the mullahs in Tehran allowed a few U.S. bases in their country, then neocons would speak out about Iran's human rights situation about as much as they do Uzbekistan's – which is to say, not at all.

Full Disclosure: This post was dictated by George Soros at the request of Ayatollah Khamenei.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Faux journalism from a quasi-journalist

Few would confuse a publication owned by a messianic cult that requires its editors to attend creepy mass weddings with a credible news organization. And fewer still would mistake a hack reporter who uncritically regurgitates allegations from a reported member of a terrorist organization once closely allied with Saddam Hussein as part of an orchestrated smear campaign with an actual journalist. So it’s with some hesitation that I even bother addressing Eli Lake of The Washington Timesrecent piece suggesting the president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Trita Parsi, is actually a foreign agent working on behalf of the Iranian regime -- a claim Lake, bent on learning only that which he has already concluded, forgets to find any evidence for.

But the article's worth addressing for a couple of reasons, mostly because it provides a case-study in how the militarist right seeks to deflect efforts to engage in actual nuanced, intelligent debate on foreign policy with attacks on their opponents character and motivations -- and demonstrates how, as with the fairy tale about Iraq's fictitious weapons of mass destruction, these right-wing operatives seek to create a narrative by planting dubious stories in the media. That the stories are almost instantly debunked matters not, a headline and a fantastical lede being all that matters when one's seeking to boost a flimsy smear for political ends.

Indeed, the evidence, so to speak, for Lake’s most sensational claim -- that Parsi is a foreign agent lobbying on behalf of Tehran -- is remarkably weak, even by Times standards, amounting to this: Parsi and his organization openly oppose sanctions and military action against Iran -- just like Iran’s government! -- ergo, he is an unregistered foreign agent of Iran. While arguing Parsi is thereby violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Lake doesn’t bother to dig any further than emails handed him by crazed neoconservative Kenneth Timmerman and Hassan Daioleslam, a reported agent of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terror-cult, a group that allied itself with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and which continues to enjoy pockets of support in Washington despite its presence on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. The smoking gun?
E-mail correspondence between Mr. Parsi and Mr. Zarif show Mr. Parsi suggesting that the Iranian diplomat meet with members of Congress.
"Happy to hear that you will meet with [Rep. Wayne] Gilchrest and potentially [Rep. James] Leach. There are many more that are interested in a meeting, including many respectable Democrats," Mr. Parsi wrote in an Oct. 25, 2006, e-mail.
And that’s pretty much it, which shows neither that Parsi was operating at the behest of the Iranian government nor that he received any financing from it. The rest of the story is just obfuscatory filler. The weakness of Lake’s case is further demonstrated by former Bush speechwriter David “axis of evil” Frum’s restatement of it:
Here we have a national of a hostile foreign power [ed. note: Parsi left Iran at age 4]. That national has gained important access to U.S. government and media. He has used that access to advocate an agenda remarkably coincident with the wishes of his home government.
It’s basic curiosity to wonder: Who is this guy? By seeking to answer that question, Eli has committed real journalism.
Of course, real journalism would also seek to differentiate between fact and fiction. A real journalist might also be aware that the MEK and its supporters -- who favor sanctions against Iran and ultimately the installing of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi as Iran's "president" -- are notorious for claiming anyone who doesn't back their warped interpretation of Iranian politics and their specific agenda for bringing down the current regime is an agent of Tehran. When I wrote a piece this summer noting Reps. Bob Filner (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher's (R-CA) avowed solidarity with the MEK despite its status as an officially designated terrorist organization, I was immediately accused by one of the group's outspoken agents of being part of a plot by Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad aimed at "using U.S. media to attack its arch-enemy" the MEK. And I'm a nobody!

An articulate, credible advocate for dialog with Iran like Parsi will naturally attract vociferous, overwrought opposition from these MEK operatives, as we now see unfolding with the attack led by Daioleslam, who first accused Parsi and the NAIC of being Iranian agents back in 2007. A trip to Dailoselam's website reveals he has in fact written little else over the past several years other than purported expose's of the "pro-Tehran lobby", a obsessive fixation in keeping with what one would expect of an MEK member with an ax to grind. It also reveals his ties to the Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI), founded by Timmerman, Joshua Muravchik and other extreme neoconservatives back in 1995, and which once claimed that "sources" -- within the MEK, no doubt -- had informed the group "that the Iranian regime is planning a nuclear weapons test before the Iranian New Year on March 20, 2006." So much for that. And so much for claiming Dailoselam and his cohorts have anything in the way of credibility.

As for the claim that Parsi's activities could loosely be defined as in the "interests" of Tehran, making him a foreign agent, well . . . I don't think Lake and his neocon allies want to go too far down that road, as whatever broad interpretation of the foreign agents act employed against a little known group like NIAC and its president would apply in spades to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which has long been dogged by claims it acts as a foreign agent. Of course, when AIPAC critics have argued just that, its defenders discovered the merits of a limited interpretation of the law.

Examining the question of whether AIPAC could be forced to register as a foreign agent back in 2004, the Jewish daily The Forward reported that legally "it would be difficult" to prove, according to experts.

“Lots of ethnic organizations throughout America are representing Americans who support foreign countries or political parties in foreign countries. None of those have in the past been considered foreign agents or required to register as such,” Tom Susman, chair of the the American League of Lobbyists’ ethics committee (don’t laugh), told the paper. “[AIPAC] doesn’t advocate on behalf of the government of Israel, but the nation of Israel.” Susman also said the law allowed for some coordination with foreign governments: “a substantial independence [of the lobbying group] is all that’s needed. Not total independence.”

If we’re to expand what it means to be a foreign agent, redefining it as merely acting in the “interests” of another country regardless of whether one’s financed or directed to do so or not, then by all means NIAC should register. But so should AIPAC. The likes of Lake and Frum, however, only appear to want to talk about the so-called Iran Lobby and its supposed influence in Washington, an extreme irony I need not elaborate on, almost as if they have an ideological fixation on one country, Iran, to the exclusion of others. I mean, when’s the last time either of them changed their Twitter avatars to express solidarity with human rights activists in say, Gaza, or Colombia?

The focus on Parsi is illuminating, though. Here we have neoconservatives yet again supposing they know what’s best for another country -- and that they of all people are most in touch with the mood on the ground in those other countries the U.S. somehow always ends up needing to bomb -- confronted with an outspoken guy who actually knows something about Iran outside of what you might hearing at an AEI lecture openly opposing sanctions and war based on the well-supported belief they’re likely to harm average Iranians more than their leaders. Knowing they can’t beat him on the merit of their by now discredited arguments, they turn to the only tools left when reasoned discourse is abandoned: venom and bile. One can’t merely have a difference of opinion, one must be a traitor, or a spy!, or another nefarious foreign agent of some sort dedicated to the unmitigated evil of furthering international dialogue. That they haven’t attacked Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner who also believes “sanctions would only aggravate the people’s hardship,” is likely because she isn’t as active in the Washington think tank community as Parsi (though every good neocon knows George Bush was robbed in ’03).

As Kevin Sullivan at the blog Real Clear World writes:
Anyone who could possibly argue that it's somehow pro-regime to support rapprochement and question Western democracy promotion inside Iran isn't really an honest broker in this policy debate. I happen to disagree with Parsi on sanctions, but I'm not about to call him "Iran's man" in Washington. That's irresponsible, and it speaks volumes about how truly disinterested hawkish pundits are in a conversation absent of bombs and regime change. It simply bores them.
In other words, war -- either on another country or on a perceived enemy like Parsi -- is the force that gives neocons like Lake meaning as they battle on the frontlines of Twitter. How very sad.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Misleading headline of the week

. . . courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor: "Irish priest kidnapped in Philippines released by MILF."

Reading the story one finds that the priest was released by the "Moro Islamic Liberation Front", not an attractive mature woman with whom . . . well, never mind.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New game: Is it Fox News or Center for American Progress?

David Swanson recently noted that the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, issued a report arguing that the U.S. government should delay the closing of Guantanamo Bay and transfer some of its prisoners to the Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan -- habeas corpus only applying to a select group of human beings born in certain arbitrary geopolitical regions. Now the think tank's deputy research director Amanda Terkel is casually referring to "Iran's nuclear weapons program" in posts on the popular Think Progress blog, which one would think a research director would know is a claim that's rather hotly disputed, with the IAEA (the folks actually on the ground inspecting Iran's nuclear facilities -- and the ones who were right about Iraq) to the U.S. intelligence community and Obama's director of national intelligence Dennis Blair all reporting that there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Perhaps if Terkel and other professional liberals in Washington focus a little less on how crazy stupid the Tea Party protesters are and a just a little bit more on who is actually in power and the claims they make -- and remember how we all still hate that whole distortion of intelligence thing, right? -- further embarrassing inaccuracies can be avoided in the future.

Friday, November 06, 2009

A final word on the 'U.S.S. New York'

Not that there was much need for further evidence, but this tribute from musician Charlie Daniels (using the term loosely) to the U.S.S. New York -- the warship built using salvaged steel from the World Trade Center -- pretty much proves what I suspected those cheering the vessel were really applauding: mindless retaliation against an ill-defined Other.

As Daniels puts it, the ship's "a bringer of vengeance" and "she's armed and she's ready for war." How a $1.2 billion warship will help guard against men with box cutters hijacking planes is not explored. But similar to a child cheering along a team in a sport they don't really understand -- like a Daily Kos diarist on election night -- uber-patriots of Daniels' ilk embrace a knee-jerk, violent militarism because it just feels right, the way shouting "fight! fight! fight!" does to a group of teenage boys witnessing a scuffle, nationalist pseudo-patriotism and a gut-desire to kick ass taking the place of critical thought and a consideration of the bigger picture. Indeed, the mere process of thought -- like hey, how again does a warship help bring to justice non-state actors who planned their crimes in places like Florida, all of whom are already dead? -- is itself bordering on unpatriotic and a tad effeminate, no?

As if the awful, offensive music wasn't enough, reader "Pangloss" points out that the warship has its very own website -- with a blog! -- where one can buy cheesy commemorative merchandise.

Never forget (for only two easy payments of $19.95)!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The latest (and surely not last) grotesque exploitation of 9/11

Violence and perpetual war are the defining traits of America, so when I read that the U.S. Navy has built a massive, $1.2 billion warship “containing 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the fallen Twin Towers”, I found the news as fitting as I did revolting. After all, within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center government officials such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were eagerly seeking a number of dubious ways to tie the events to Iraq in order to justify an invasion the Bush administration began planning as soon as its first National Security Council meeting (with key principals beginning much earlier). And since that fateful day in 2001, the U.S. government has been bombing poor people around the globe – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia – in a war of terror that has succeeded at little more than sowing the seeds of the next instance of blowback.

I do wonder about the families of the victims of 9/11, though; the ones the president of the September 11th Families' Association tells Newsday were “smiling through [their] tears” at the sight of a floating fortress of death pulling up alongside the shores of New York City, “escorted by four NYPD helicopters and a phalanx of Coast Guard and police boats as sailors and Marines manned loaded machine guns around the decks.” Given that millions of people have either been killed or forced to flee their homes as a result of the U.S. response to 9/11, while Osama bin Laden and his cohorts – the purported targets of the response – roam free, what exactly are these people cheering other than vengeance, a mindless lashing out at those abroad for the crimes perpetrated by 19 terrorists armed with box cutters?

And what does it say about a culture that commemorates – or permits its government to commemorate on its behalf with nary a critical world – the slaughter of 3,000 of its own, not by using scraps from the Twin Towers to build a monument to peace or a school to promote tolerance and understanding, but by building a machine designed solely for inflicting death and destruction on others? To ask, as the saying goes, is to answer.

The pathetic display of gaudy machismo that is the U.S.S. New York is no more sophisticated an expression of masculinity than attaching a pair of truck nuts to an F-150, but its bad taste is compounded by the fact that when the U.S. military builds a warship, you can bet it's not just for display purposes. As Democratic luminary and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once put it, “What's the point of having this superb military . . . if we can't use it?” And so the tragedy of 9/11 will be answered with numerous tragedies still to come, those in far-off lands unfortunate enough to experience the brunt of the American brand of justice at least comforted by the fact that their suffering may provide a sense of closure for the ignorant, exploited domestic victims of U.S. foreign policy.

Your Final Dose of Bad Taste and Criminal Waste of Tax Dollars:
Many on board [the U.S.S. New York] had stayed up late Sunday to watch the World Series with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had ridden out in one of the New York's troop transport hovercrafts to the ship cruising 10 miles offshore.
Nonetheless, the day began as usual with the announcement of "reveille, reveille" and the trill of the bosun's pipe at 4 a.m. But there was also something special, a fitting tribute to the ship's heritage: a recording of Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The not-so-secret proxy war on Iran

Iran is accusing foreign powers -- Britain, Pakistan and the U.S. -- of being behind a recent bombing in its increasingly unstable Sistan-Baluchistan province that killed over 40 people, including at least five commanders of the Revolutionary Guard. Now, the Iranian regime -- like any other government -- has every reason to blame internal unrest on the meddling of some foreign enemies, but in this case their argument is at least plausible.

The New Yorker’s Sy Hersh reported last year that Jundullah, the Pakistan-based group that launched the attack on Iran, was receiving U.S. support -- with the knowledge of the Democratic Congress. According to Hersch, $400 million was dedicated to efforts “designed to destabilize the country’s religious leadership. The covert activities involve support of the minority Ahwazi Arab and Baluchi groups and other dissident organizations.”

Meanwhile, following earlier reports in 2007 from Hersh and others that the Bush administration was backing such militant groups to destabilize Iran -- and doing so in such a way as to avoid congressional oversight -- I asked then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), one of the richest and most powerful lawmakers in the supposedly co-equal branch of government known as the U.S. Senate (ha!), what he made of the news. While saying he'd “seen no intelligence that would verify" claims of covert U.S. support for anti-Iranian terrorist organizations, he conceded the Bush administration would "go to any lengths" to avoid the oversight of his committee, citing the White House's concealment of its illicit warrantless wiretapping program.

When I inquired what he was, you know, going to do about that, Rockefeller became condescending -- while revealing the extent of the executive branch’s control over the state and the Congress' inability (or rather, its unwillingness) to challenge the centralization of power (listen to an mp3 of the exchange):
ROCKEFELLER: Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say 'I want it', and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.
DAVIS: Is there any way someone, maybe not you, they can somehow press the administration to find something—if they're doing something that may be illegal—
ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I don't know that. I deal with Intelligence. That's it. They tend to avoid us.
DAVIS: Well, what do you think about these allegations?
ROCKEFELLER: I'm not—I don't comment on allegations. I can't. I can't afford to.
Though Rockefeller couldn't "afford" to comment on the allegations in 2007 -- and claimed he was powerless to investigate possible lawbreaking on the part of the Bush administration -- he nonetheless agreed to fund just the sort of covert activities we were talking about a year later, if Hersh's reporting is to be believed. And according to former National Security Council staffers Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, such activities continue to this day under the benevolent reign of Nobel laureate Barack Obama. In addition to support for Jundullah from Pakistan's intelligence service, they write that "President Obama inherited from his predecessor a number of overt programs for 'democracy promotion' in Iran, as well as covert initiatives directed against Iranian interests. Obama has done nothing to scale back or stop these programs - a posture that has not gone unnoticed in Tehran."

At the same time, members of both parties -- including the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Bob Filner (D-CA) -- publicly proclaim their support for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a "cult-like" terrorist organization that sided with Saddam Hussein against their fellow Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, as I reported for In other words: while the Iranian regime may in general be no more trustworthy than any other government when it blames foreign meddling for its internal problems, in this case there is plenty of evidence to suggest the U.S. has supported -- and very well may be continuing to support -- groups like Jundullah.

To his credit, though, Obama has yet to label the Jundullah militants "freedom fighters", in keeping with the generally more subtle approach to empire management that characterizes liberal administrations. Who says there's no difference between the parties?

On the need for double standards on human rights

Robert Bernstein has a very silly Op-Ed in The New York Times this morning blasting Human Rights Watch, the organization he once headed for two decades, for the sin of “issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.” Now, one could argue that it is the Israeli government and its penchant for bombing densely populated urban centers that it is turning Israel into a pariah state, but Bernstein never gets around to actually examining the factual basis for Human Rights Watch's reports, instead arguing it improper to speak of the war crimes committed by the U.S. and its satellite Israel – nay, to even examine those crimes – in the same breath as those crimes committed by Official Enemies. We should “draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity on human rights,” Bernstein says, deploying the phrase “moral equivalence,” a favorite of neoconservatives and their liberal interventionist allies intended to demonstrate the absurdity of holding powerful Western countries to the same standards they seek to impose on others. Of course, at other times these very same folks bemoaning “moral equivalence” are busy bashing “moral relativism” – holding people to different standards because of their country or culture – so it's all very confusing.

Bernstein, meanwhile, rather than engage in the laborious process of actually fact-checking the credible claims of Israeli war crimes made by Human Rights Watch and others, or address the fact that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli bombardment of Gaza (about a dozen Israelis died, mostly soldiers), instead chooses to trot off a list of tired talking points about Israel as a shining beacon of liberal democracy – did you know that Israel has “probably more journalists per capita than any other country”? Bernstein doesn't present actual data, but it's “probably” true! – beset on all sides by brutal, despotic Arab regimes. And Iran, one mustn't forget about Iran, which according to Bernstein “has openly declared its intention not just to destroy Israel but to murder Jews everywhere. This incitement to genocide is a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.”

It's at this point one must conclude either Bernstein is either 1) an ignorant hack or 2) just plain stupid. For one, the Iranian regime – despite the often harsh rhetoric from its leadership and the ugly Holocaust denial of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – has never threatened to destroy Israel (intentional mistranslations aside), while the Israeli government and its allies like former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton publicly fantasize about obliterating Iran almost daily, ostensibly over its nuclear program.

But above all, Iran is home to the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel, with Tehran home to more than a dozen synagogues and roughly 25,000 Jews. “In fact I feel deep tolerance here toward Jews,” says Morris Motamed, a Jewish member of Iran's parliament. This suggests that if Iran's leadership really intends “to murder Jews everywhere”, as Bernstein asserts, they're not doing all that good of a job. Bernstein might have known this had he read the paper that published his essay.

It's a bit ironic that an essay implying Human Rights Watch's reports critical of Israeli actions in Gaza and Lebanon are inaccurate is itself based upon nothing but the author's own biases and pro-Israel talking points, but that's kind of the point. Nasty things said about those who refuse to accept U.S. hegemony need not be sourced, that they feel true is reason enough to repeat them. Claims of war crimes made against Israel or Western governments, on the other hand, most be proven beyond all doubt – every civilian casualty personally confirmed by a team of writers for The Weekly Standard – and, even if confirmed, are only allowed to be discussed in the context of Arab or Persian crimes. But covering up, downplaying or -- as is usually the case -- simply ignoring human rights abuses committed by Western democracies is the price of providing “clarity on human rights.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Uncle Sam wants your kids

The AP puts it best: “The U.S. Army wants middle school students.” And indeed they do. According to the article, “The Army is collaborating with the National Association of School Boards to develop a so-called JROTC-plus program that would use the high school JROTC curriculum as a basis for a middle school program.” But the latest effort to instill the value of militarism in today’s youth is more subtle than in the past; rather than training kids to kill “gooks”, for instance, children are taught to kill “our brothers and sisters of the Orient.” Progress.

Still, some parents -- damned Naderites, most likely -- caught in the feverish grip of commonsense are likely to question whether the military’s interest in expanding its Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to 6th and 7th graders might have some ulterior purpose, some raison d'être other than the stated goal of instilling the “values” of “citizenship, service to the United States, and personal responsibility and a sense of accomplishment.”

That’s why the military keeps folks like Colonel John Vanderbleek around. The director of the Army’s JROTC program, Vanderbleek allays parents’ fears, explaining that the program aims solely at inculcating American values in “students at that age before they make decisions that put them at risk.” Like joining the military, presumably.

Also, “If you get into the leadership program and see what it is, you lose suspicion that they are recruiting,” says Vanderbleek, the reason Congress authorized the military to start ROTC/JROTC programs in the 1916 National Defense Act of course being not to recruit officers for the U.S.'s impending involvement in World War I -- heavens no -- but to teach young men basket weaving and how to walk little old ladies across the street.

And the military recruiters that hung around my high school chatting up 14 year olds about the supreme awesomeness that is the U.S. armed forces were there because they just really liked Taco Tuesdays.

Today's mystery

Why is my orange from South Africa? And does this mean somebody out there in Johannesburg is enjoying a sweet, succulent Florida orange right now?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'll repeal 'don't ask', just don't tell

In remarks aimed at reassuring the gay community that the lack of progress under his administration on issues they care about shouldn't be interpreted as a sign he doesn't want their votes, President Barack Obama told an audience at the Human Rights Campaign's Washington headquarters that "my commitment to you is unwavering", promising -- while offering no timeframe for doing -- to repeal the so-called "don't ask, don't tell policy" forbidding gays from serving openly in the military. An as the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons points out, the White House communications office did not hand out embargoed copies of the president's remarks beforehand to the press, breaking with normal procedure, and has yet to post either the video or transcript of the speech online.

It's almost as if Obama wants to reassure an important Democratic constituency -- in terms of financial and electoral support -- that he is on their side, but he doesn't want his potentially polarizing (rhetorical) support for them to be well known amongst the general public. I wonder why?

UPDATE: via Steve Clemons on Twitter: "pleased that White House finally gets out Obama's gay policy speech from HRC dinner - but darn, just in time to miss Sunday news show cycle!"

What an unfortunate coincidence. They really ought to get some professionals over there at the White House to avoid these kinds of . . . mistakes.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The speech Obama ought to give

"I am extremely flattered by the Nobel Committee's decision, but at the same time I can't help but wonder: what have I actually done to deserve it? For far too long these awards have been given to heads of state - people like me - who have more often been obstacles to peace than proponents of it, ignoring the contributions to peaceful cooperation millions of people make in their daily lives; mothers and fathers who teach their children that no, violence is not the answer; the activists fighting alongside the downtrodden for justice; the clergy who commit their lives to helping those less fortunate. These are the people we should be honoring. So while I am flattered by the committee's decision, I must also humbly reject it, asking only that the prize be given to someone more deserving."

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Beware the Islamic Republic of Candyland!

"Fafblog!" -- by far my favorite largely dormant blog -- has a timely rundown of what we know about Iran's covert, super-secret, hidden nuclear Islamo-fascist weapons program, helpfully broken down into a question-and-answer format. A selection:
Q: Is Iran a threat?
A: Oh yes. Even as we speak Iran is potentially starting the beginnings of a very possibly quite almost-real hypothetically nuclear weapons program!
Q: Oh no! How many nuclear weapons does Iran already have?
A: Counting warheads, ICBMs, mid- and long-range missiles, ABMs, tactical nukes, bunker-busters and submarine-based weaponry, the full nuclear arsenal of Iran at this moment is very rapidly just beginning to quite possibly approach a number just short of one!
Q: That makes them almost as deadly as the rogue nation of Whoville or the Islamic Republic of Candyland!
A: And they could be just months away from an actual bomb!
Q: But they've been just months away from a bomb for years now.
A: I know! Which means in terror years, Iran already has a bomb... in your child's precious brain!
Q: But that's where she keeps her sugarplum dreams!
A: That's why it's up to us to already have being stopped them!
Q: What will Iran do with nuclear weapons?
A: Terrible things. For a start, it will have them.
Q: Oh no!
A: And once it has them, it can threaten to use them, if anyone else tries to use them on them.
Q: There would be no defense against their self-defense.
A: They pose an existential threat to our ability to existentially threaten them.
And a question for those of you who have ever spent any time reading the pseudo-scholars at hate sites like Little Green Fascists over the years: "If we say Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's name three times, will the Hidden Imam pop out of our warblog and kill us with his hook hand?"

Ahmadinejad! Ahmadinejad! Ahmadin--

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Breaking: The Washington Post publishes an inaccuracy!

Michael Gerson is not a smart man. A former speech writer for President George W. Bush, his columns for The Washington Post reflect the unthinking acceptance of establishment conventional wisdom that typifies the paper, remarkable only for their consistent, sheer banality -- qualities that make one long for the intellectual ferocity and originality of a Tom Friedman essay. But enough about his qualifications.

In his latest column, a piece that argues President Obama, by "picking public fights on issues such as settlements and adopting a tone of neutrality in other controversies," may be inadvertently encouraging an Israeli attack on Iran. That's right: while his administration hasn't actually pressured Israel to stop it's settlement building on Palestinian lands -- an unambiguous violation of international law -- beyond occasionally noting that the settlements aren't helpful to the peace process (which even the Bush administration asserted from time to time), that Obama's "tone" sometimes implies a greater neutrality on Israel-Palestine issues than his actions would suggest is apparently reason enough for the Israelis to launch a preemptive strike on . . . Iran. That this says more about the aggressiveness and irrationally of the Israeli government is an idea Gerson does not entertain.

In addition to his limited capacity for original thought, Gerson has an extremely limited -- though politically convenient -- knowledge of history. While indicating he believes an Israeli attack on Iran would not be desirable at this moment, he nonetheless repeats a wonderful, fantastically imaginative fairy tale about the 1981 Israeli raid on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, claiming that Israeli "Prime Minister Menachem Begin had no idea whether the raid would stop the Iraqi nuclear program or merely slow it. But slowing it was reason enough." And in case you didn't get the message, later in the column he writes that "high-ranking Israeli officials have been telling American visitors that buying time may be worth it. The Osirak raid, after all, turned out to be an unexpectedly decisive blow."

When dealing with the Post, particularly its editorial page, it's best to assume whatever you're reading is bullshit. Such is this case here.

Far from "slowing" the Iraqi nuclear weapons program -- much less dealing it "an unexpectedly decisive blow" -- the Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor precipitated that weapons program, according to Iraqi scientists. As the BBC notes, "Dr Imad Khadduri, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who witnessed the Israeli bombing, says a full weapons programme began only after the Osirak attack." Before the attack, "he recalls, there was some 'dabbling but nothing sophisticated and focused'."

Further, as the Council on Foreign Relations' Richard Betts wrote in a 2006 article titled, "The Osirak fallacy," contrary to "prevalent mythology, there is no evidence that Israel's destruction of Osirak delayed Iraq's nuclear weapons program. The attack may actually have accelerated it." Obliterating the reactor "did not put the brakes on Saddam's nuclear weapons program because the reactor that was destroyed could not have produced a bomb on its own and was not even necessary for producing a bomb", and "the destruction of the reactor probably increased Saddam's incentive to rush the [weapons] program".

Gerson also cites the example of North Korea to claim "meticulous, multilateral cooperation [resulted] in spectacular counterproliferation failure", a fact that may encourage an Israeli attack on Iran. Of course, the alleged failure of diplomacy with North Korea over its nuclear program that Gerson bemoans was in fact brought about by his former boss; North Korea's nukes, after all, were produced after the Bush administration withdrew from bilateral talks and declared the country a member of the "axis of evil". Whoops.

In fairness, for all the mountain of bullshit his column is based on, Gerson does get around to getting a few things right, observing that, "On Iran, the Obama administration, while differing in some diplomatic methods, has adopted the same basic approach as the Bush administration": dangling a few carrots while seeking to build support for crippling sanctions, all the while fearmongering about a nuclear weapons program that the White House has yet to provide evidence even exists.

Gerson also gets this (almost) right: "A virtual blockade of the Iranian economy -- aggressively cutting off shipping, banking and refined petroleum -- would not be a half-measure. It would be an act close to war." Indeed, except it wouldn't be an act "close" to war, it would be a declaration of one. Here's hoping the Obama administration realizes that -- and that it's aware fomenting another military confrontation in the Middle East would be A Very Bad Thing for all involved, but especially for the innocent civilians who always bear the brunt of the consequences for their governments' actions.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Obama the radical?

Much of the American right is convinced, at least rhetorically, that Barack Obama is something of a radical -- a Marxist, a commie -- intent on fundamentally changing American society in keeping with his far-left vision for the country. Despite all evidence suggesting the opposite is true, that he is a centrist conciliator more interested in aligning himself with the establishment consensus than overthrowing it, a similar phenomenon can be found on the left, with Daily Kos diarists, single-payer advocates and others having convinced themselves that the same guy responsible for ramping up U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, fearmongering about a non-existent Iranian nuclear weapons program and regularly proclaiming his admiration for Ronald Reagan, is secretly -- deep down inside -- One Of Them: a liberal, a progressive, the second coming of FDR.

The reason for this isn't so hard to understand: Democratic and Republican partisans, respectively, want -- need -- to believe that their votes matter, that there truly are meaningful differences between the parties, that they aren't merely useful idiots for those in power. That Obama is extending the Bush administration's record rather than breaking with it is no matter; those on the left can take solace in small but supposedly signal victories -- that their guy speaks in complete sentences, favors stem cell research, doesn't seem to enjoy bashing The Gays so much (even as he maintains nearly all the modes of state-enforced discrimination) -- while those on the right can point to supposed "radicals" like former green jobs czar Van Jones and Obama's preferences in leafy green vegetables (no, seriously) to convince themselves the president is one of them liberal ivory-tower types bent on destroying the nuclear family and America's defenses. Such is politics.

But as Reason's Jesse Walker writes, "Radicals tear down centers of power." Obama, on the other hand, when "faced with a crumbling institution, his first instinct is to prop it up":
That was most obviously true with the bailouts, a series of corporate preservation programs that began before he took office and have only increased since then. Candidate Obama voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the 2008 bailout for failing financial institutions, and he personally intervened to urge skeptical liberals to support it. After Congress refused to authorize a bailout of the car companies, Obama followed George W. Bush in ignoring the plain language of the law and funneling funds to them anyway. Like Bush before him, Obama took advantage of such moments to adjust the institutional relationship between these nominally private businesses and the state: firing the head of General Motors, urging the company to consolidate brands, pushing for new controls on Wall Street pay. But the institutions themselves were preserved, in some cases enriched. The radical thing to do would have been to let them collapse.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Cuba Wars

Inter Press Service has published my latest piece examining U.S. policy toward Cuba in the age of Obama as well as a recent book, The Cuba Wars, by Daniel Erikson, a fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, DC, detailing the bipartisan support for the long-running economic war against the island nation. An excerpt:
WASHINGTON, Sep 21 (IPS) - U.S. citizens of Cuban descent are once again free to travel to Cuba and send an unlimited amount of money to their relatives on the island, but for the most part U.S. policy toward the communist nation hasn't changed under President Barack Obama.

Since taking office, Obama - who called the nearly half-century U.S. embargo on Cuba a "miserable failure" as a candidate for Senate - has largely followed the lead of his predecessors, extending just this month a near total prohibition on trade and travel with Cuba for most U.S. citizens, declaring the embargo "in the national interest of the United States".
Read the rest.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Iran not building nukes, U.S. intelligence agencies tell Obama

Newsweek reports:
The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, two counterproliferation officials tell NEWSWEEK. U.S. agencies had previously said that Tehran halted the program in 2003.
The officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have informed policymakers at the White House and other agencies that the status of Iranian work on development and production of a nuclear bomb has not changed since the formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's "Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" in November 2007. Public portions of that report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had "high confidence" that, as of early 2003, Iranian military units were pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, but that in the fall of that year Iran "halted its nuclear weapons program." The document said that while U.S. agencies believed the Iranian government "at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," U.S. intelligence as of mid-2007 still had "moderate confidence" that it had not restarted weapons-development efforts.
Keep this in mind the next time White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs -- taking his cue from U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Obama himself -- insists Iran needs to "walk away from their . . . ballistic nuclear weapons program."

(h/t to reader Antonio)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The latest in lies on Iran

The Obama administration has agreed to engage Iran in six-party talks with Iran over a range of issues, which, insofar as it serves as a substitute for air strikes, is a good thing. But any hope these talks will promote serious change in U.S.-Iran relations is tempered by the Obama White House’s insistence that Iran’s IAEA-inspected nuclear activities are cover for an active weapons program, a stance taken right from the Bush-Cheney playbook that is even more indefensible in light of the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (pdf) -- which continues to be the official consensus view of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies -- that any weapons program Iran may have had ended more than five years ago.

That Dennis Ross, the administration’s “senior Iran policy maker”, according to The New York Times, who was recently promoted from this position at the State Department to serve on the National Security Council in the executive branch, has argued in the pages of Newsweek that the “more Washington shows it’s willing to engage Iran directly,” the greater the chance the Europeans and “other parties, will feel comfortable ratcheting up the pressure” -- a euphemism for another euphemism, “smart sanctions” -- providing yet another reason to doubt these upcoming talks will yield much progress.

Consider that just a day after the administration announced it would accept Iran’s offer of talks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs declared that the “Iranians have responsibilities to the international community to walk away from their . . . ballistic nuclear weapons program”, adding, “That's what the focus from our side will be in these talks and that's our goal." This isn’t the first time Gibbs, who one presumes chooses his words carefully when it comes to sensitive foreign policy issues, has referred to an Iran “nuclear weapons program” either -- see here, here and here.

Meanwhile, on Friday State Department spokesman Philip Crowley asserted that Iran is “out of compliance with their obligations under the NPT, IAEA, Security Council resolutions," a curious claim given Iran's absolute right under the NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop civilian nuclear technology. Additionally, over the past few months, top ranking U.S. officials -- including ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the president himself -- have all asserted Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

Now, this would all be very strange behavior if one believed the administration is sincere in is stated to desire to open a new chapter in U.S.-Iran relations. After all, the IAEA, which inspects Iran’s nuclear facilities, declares in its most recent report that there’s no sign Iran is diverting its nuclear fuel to a weapons program (pdf). And the incoming head of the agency has said he’s seen “no evidence” Iran is pursuing nukes. Further, Obama’s pick to be Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year when asked whether Iran was seeking to produce highly-enriched uranium for a bomb that “Iran has not yet made that decision” in the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community. In addition, despite Gibbs’ linkage between Iran’s missile and nuclear programs, Blair explicitly rejected the notion that Iran’s ballistic missiles were intended to someday be outfitted with nukes, noting that these “same missiles can launch vehicles into space”.

Rather than a breakthrough, it appears the Obama administration is angling to use talks with a Iran as a show of good faith intended as a pretext for the "crippling sanctions" Secretary Clinton and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are seeking to impose on Iran. In late 2007, based on an interview I conducted with House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT), I reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had reneged on her promise to hold a vote on a measure declaring it the sole right of Congress under the U.S. Constitution, not the executive, to authorize military action against Iran. Perhaps now would be a good time to bring that bill back up for consideration, if only so the Democratic leadership could soothe concerns its anti-war rhetoric during the Bush administration was motivated more by partisanship and a desire to win elections than principle or humanitarianism, while also reasserting Congress' role in guiding foreign policy.

Any bets on whether that will happen?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

WSJ: Iran & Venezuela fight U.S. imperialism . . . and Ecuador?

Rupert Murdoch has made noises about eventually charging for all of his news outlets’ online content. Perhaps he’s planning on using some of that hypothetical money on s fact-checker or two?

Writing in Murdoch's Wall Street Journal, the distinguished Robert Morgenthau, district attorney of New York City since 1974 (jurisdiction: the world), warns of an incipient Iran-Venezuela “axis of unity” -- the word “axis”, or “an imaginary line about which a body rotates”, being super scary -- in a column that fails, in often hilarious ways, to fulfill its overheated rhetoric.

To begin with, Morgenthau writes that signs of an “evolving partnership” between Venezuela and Iran “began to emerge in 2006” and that, a year later, “during a visit by Mr. Chávez to Tehran, the two nations declared an ‘axis of unity’ against the U.S. and Ecuador.”

It would be silly to expect absolute fidelity to the truth from a publication like the WSJ, but errors as glaring as these shouldn’t have gotten past the paper boy, much less the editors. That Morgenthau thinks Venezuela has declared itself in an axis against Ecuador -- whose president, Rafael Correa, was accused in a recent WSJ editorial of being an agent of both Hugo Chavez and the FARC -- is truly stunning in its ignorance. The rest of his piece isn’t much better.

We are all supposed to be very afraid, Morgenthau argues, because “a number of Iranian-owned and controlled factories have sprung up in remote and undeveloped parts of Iran”. We are told these factories are in “ideal locations for the illicit production of weapons,” though he concedes that actual evidence of such production “is limited.” I believe he means nonexistent, otherwise he probably would have led with it.

Moving on, Morgenthau claims that “[i]ntelligence gathered by my office” suggests “Hezbollah supporters in South America are engaged in the trafficking of narcotics.” Repeat: not Iranian agents, not members of Hezbollah (which, by the way, enjoys popular support in Lebanon, suggesting its not merely an Iranian proxy), but merely “Hezbollah supporters”. To propagandists like the New York DA, no doubt drunk off the power of throwing people in prison for more than 30 years, “Hezbollah supporter” = Hezbollah = Iranian government. Back in the real world, though, I can't help but wonder: this is really the best they've got?

A “GAO study also confirms allegations of Venezuelan support for FARC, the Colombian terrorist insurgency group,” Morgenthau continues. And indeed, a July 2009 GAO report (pdf) does state that “Venezuela has extended a lifeline to Colombian illegal armed groups, and their continued existence endangers Colombian security gains achieved with U.S. assistance”. This is, of course, “according to U.S. and Colombian government officials.” Moregenthau’s assertion that a government report citing government officials “confirms” the government’s claims is about as dishonest as Bush administration officials planting a story about Iraqi WMDs in The New York Times and then trotting out Dick Cheney to cite said story as proving the claims they planted.

But as Reuters reports, Morgenthau's apparent lack of evidence -- or a basic understanding of Latin American politics -- is proving to be no obstacle to his plan to investigate Venezuelan banks for allegedly allowing Iran to circumvent economic sanctions (heaven forbid). "The ostensible reason the Iranian-owned bank Banco Internacional de Desarrollo was opened in Caracas was to expand economic ties with Venezuela," Morgenthau said in a speech this week. "Our sources and experiences lead me to suspect an ulterior motive. A foothold into the Venezuelan banking system is a perfect 'sanctions-busting' method -- the main motivator for Iran in its banking relationship with Venezuela."

So again, while there appears to be no firm evidence, Morgenthau nonetheless leaps in one sentence from a suspicion there is “an ulterior motive” in the Iran-Venezuela financial relationship – to beat the sanctions regime – to an unqualified assertion that beating said sanctions is “the main motivator” behind Iran's dealings in Venezuela. Between the two statements is where one would expect to find the facts behind Morgenthau's argument; that they're not present is perhaps indicative of the strength of his case. Like the Obama and Bush administrations' fearmongering about an Iranian nuclear weapons program their own intelligence officials say doesn't exist, there isn't much to Morgenthau's claims beyond speculation and innuendo. But then scaring Americans about the purported threats posed by swarthy and troublesome foreigners has always been a fact-free endeavor.