Topic: General News.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this big push by the US and the Europeans to take-Iran-out-to-the-woodshed for their nuclear program of late. The administration has been dithering over a policy on Iran for the past four years, leaving the matter entirely to the EU to take care of, but now all of a sudden there's this big crisis we need to get in the middle of. My question is: what good would imposing sanctions on Iran do at this point anyway? It's a little late in the game, it seems, because the Iranians have been had plenty of time to prepare for such an eventuality and according to Abbas Milani, the director of Iranian studies at Stanford University, the Iranians have been stockpiling food and medicine over the past few years to blunt the effects of any sanctions. [NYT]
They've also been very busy signing up countries like China and India to sell their oil and gas to and the Russians are making a mint from Iranian arms purchases, so it would appear all these three countries, at least, would view sanctions as bad for business. The repeated attempts of the Bush administration to isolate the Iranians diplomatically would appear to be going no-where fast; and, besides, why would Russia or China want to pull America's chestnuts out of the fire for them, when they can instead sit back and watch us crash and burn while they make money?
On Monday, the permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany made a big show of meeting in London to discuss the referral of Iran to the UN, but even after all the behind-closed-doors arm twisting it looked like international unanimity on this burning issue was still a little shaky. Vlad "the impaler" Putin said, "The Iranian nuclear problem requires a very accurate approach without rash or erroneous moves," and he was continuing to hold out the hope that the Iranians might yet go along with the plan to have the Russians enrich the uranium for them.
The new Iranian ambassador to Russia, Gholamreza Ansari, playing the reasonable Iranian said, "We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly." Reports have it that Condi was burning up the phone lines over the past weekend trying to get Russia onboard for a referral to the Security Council in the expectation that China would go along, too---or at least abstain---but the Chinese were still playing their cagey games saying in a statement that, "China believes that under the current situation, all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations."
Even our good friends the Saudis, who are no friends to the Iranians, weren't exactly behind us 100% on taking Iran to the UN. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told the BBC that he was skeptical that a nuclear Iran would really be a threat, particularly to Israel, because if they did try to "wipe Israel off the map" they'd be killing Palestinians too. He blamed the Western countries, partly, for the standoff saying, "The West in allowing Israel to establish its nuclear capability has done the damage. As long as you make one exception, you open the way for logical arguments of why him and not me." Of course, Cheney is over there now, so they might start taking a different tone if the price is right.
[The issue of Israel's nukes leading to an arms race in the Middle East isn't new, by the way. Recently released Nixon papers show that Undersecretary of State Joseph J. Sisko wrote in a 1969 memo to Secretary William Rogers that, "Israel's possession of nuclear weapons would do nothing to deter Arab guerrilla warfare or reduce Arab irrationality. On the contrary it would add a dangerous new element to Arab-Israeli hostility with added risk of confrontation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R.][CBS]
There appears, also, to be some dissention inside the administration itself about this course of action against Iran. An administration official, who wished to remain unnamed, was quoted in an article in the NYT by Steven Weisman as saying, "I've been surprised that so many people are acting like referral to the Security Council is some important event that will bring about change in the government of Iran. I don't buy it." He might be one of those hawks, though; who thinks regime-change or military strikes is the better way to go. That's basically all we've got as far as debate in the administration goes on this issue: Either, we go the "diplomatic" route, or we get aggressive. Both "strategies" offer no carrots or sticks and that's why neither will work.
Not that there's any sanity coming from congress on this issue either. John McCain said on Face the Nation that this standoff with Iran was the "most grave situation that we have faced since the end of the cold war, absent the whole war on terror." The military option he said should be "the last option," but "to say under no circumstances would we exercise the military option, that would be crazy." Democratic Senator Evan Bayh offered his informed opinion that there were elements of the Iranian nuclear program that could be taken out, which "would dramatically delay its development." Oh, really? The Iranians have dispersed their nuclear facilities to some 300 sites around the country making the utility of military strikes highly dubious and even if we were successful in such an attack, whose to say they don't turn around and start giving the insurgents in Iraq some real high tech weaponry?
Just last week three US helicopters were brought down killing 16 Americans and my bet is that the Iranians had something to do with it. Remember, the Russians have a lot of those Streala shoulder-fired heat-seeking missile launchers and they're not too particular who they sell them to. (They sold a ton to Saddam and no one knows where they are now.) If the insurgents can start shooting down our aircraft at will, that makes the job in Iraq a whole lot tougher. Iran also has its tentacles in Lebanon through Hezbollah and in the West Bank and Gaza through Hamas and they could make things really difficult for us if they wanted to. Or, they could stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and all of W.'s SUV driving supporters could really be hurting.
Real men talk to Tehran:
The only solution to the this "grave situation" is to start talking to Tehran. There are people inside the administration that have been pushing for talks with Iran for years, but they've been largely marginalized and we see where this refusal to deal with reality has led. In desperation, W. actually did authorize Zalmay Khalilzad to talk to the Iranians about all the weapons coming over the border, but the Iranians rebuffed the overture because they're not interested in talking about that, they interested in getting a deal on the nuclear issue; with us. The Iranians clearly don't take the Europeans seriously because they figure nothing they agree to will stand unless the US signs off on it first, so all of this "effort" on the part of the US to "engage" through their European partners on the nuclear issue has been pretty much a waste of time. A total lack of a policy isn't a policy.
I still think Mahmoud Amadinejad is just a battering ram that the real powers-that-be inside the Iranian government are using to gain leverage in negotiations. Abbas Milani says, "At this stage, they are convinced that the more hardball they play, the more the West will collapse." In a rare moment of lucidity last week Ahmadinejad said, "We follow our national interests within the framework of international regulations, and have the leverage to defend our interests," which seems to me to be a very concise explanation of their position. They're not breaking international law by opening up their enrichment facilities and they're a powerful country in the middle of a very dangerous region of the world that could either, be helpful in solving many issues roiling the Middle East, from Israel to Lebanon to Afghanistan, or they could make our lives very difficult. As powerful as they are, though, they've got a major inferiority complex that could be exploited by a more open minded administration; not this one obviously.
My guess is all this posturing will come to nothing in the end and we'll be back to square one soon enough. My worry is that if Iran doesn't respond in the way the W. wants them to and "diplomacy fails" again, he just might play some hardball of his own and do something stupid like attempt to take out Natanz or other facilities in an attempt to save face. Preempting Israel from taking matters into their own hands might also be an important calculation in the arithmetic of W.'s bully-politics, too, because that sort of thing would open up a very nasty can of worms and it could stir up a whole world of trouble we don't need, especially when one considers how reliant on a Shiite led government in Iraq we are and you know who they take their marching orders from.
Speaking of our good friends and allies in the Iraqi government: the WaPo reported last week that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Sciri, one of the leading parties in the soon to be government, said the idea of a re-do on the constitution was off the table. He said he would not allow a new government to "change the essence" of the constitution. The Shiites and the Kurds had promised the Sunnis to amend the constitution after the Dec. elections if they'd go along in voting for it, which was seen as a major concession on the part of the majority by our man in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad. The issue of most importance for the Sunnis was that the Kurds and the Shiites not break the country up into autonomous zones rich in oil, leaving them with a whole bunch of desert.
A spokesman for al-Hakim said, "The major points in the constitution were agreed to by all the parties that participated in the drafting of the constitution. As for changes in the powers, some points or details, these are open to negotiation. However, the main principles which were agreed to by all sides, and approved by the people in a popular referendum [just barely] they cannot be touched."
So, that's good, when the Shiites were just another party in a make-believe government, they were willing to promise the moon, but now that they're going to be ruling an internationally sanctioned, legitimately sovereign government; they're saying 'not so fast.' They can do the math and they don't feel like sharing anymore. If they do get their own slice of the country in the south, a USAID paper might point to the type of "democracy" they would practice.
Want to make a cool 3 billion? You sure?
The paper which is describing Iraq for potential bidders to a 1.32 billion dollar reconstruction contract says that in the south of the country, "social liberties have been curtailed dramatically by roving bands of self-appointed religious-moral police." The Post adds, "In cities, women's dress codes are enforced and barbers who remove facial hair have been killed, and liquor stores and clubs have been bombed." Sounds more like Afghanistan, or Iran, than it does the newly freed Iraq.
But, everything will be alright after we handover power to the Iraqis, right? What might such a totally independent Iraq look like, you might ask:
Well, let's take the example of the transfer of some of Saddam's palaces to local Iraqi military units in Tikrit on Nov. 22 of last year. Amidst a brass band and much pomp and ceremony---and a stray dud mortar that sent all the dignitaries running for cover---Col Mark McKnight, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, handed over the keys to the governor of Salahuddin Province with these words, "The passing of this facility is a simple ceremony that vividly demonstrates the continuing progress being made by the Iraqi government and their people."
Ellen Knickmeyer writes in the WaPo that soon after the American's left, though, "Looters moved in, ripping out doors, air conditioners, ceiling fans and light switch plates from some of the compound's 136 palaces, leaving little more than plaster and dangling electric wires." The Governor of the province, Hamed Hammod Shekti, said "The palace was turned over to the Iraqi army units in the presence of Deputy Governor Adullah Naji Jabara. Two weeks later I heard the palace was looted. Now who can I accuse of the looting?" Knickmeyer writes that, "Over several days after the transfer of control from US to Iraqi hands, furnishings from the palaces turned up in one local market for sale by truck load."
The US military when asked about the looting said they "would fully expect the Iraqi authorities to address any criminal activities," now that it wasn't their problem anymore. A local police commander, Lt. Col. Mahmud Hiazza, accused the Deputy Governor of being involved in the looting and was transferred shortly after to Baiji. "The reason they transferred me is definatly I will get killed there," he said. He resigned instead, Knickmeyer writes. Smart guy!
Posted by bushmeister0 at 5:12 PM EST
Updated: Wednesday, 18 January 2006 5:19 PM EST