Tag: Iran

Iranian Thugs Take Crackdown Worldwide

Political repression is old news.   Thuggish regimes have been holding their citizens prisoner for centuries.  But Iran’s government now is borrowing an innovative Soviet and Nazi tactic:  targeting family members of dissenters, even those living in the U.S.

Reports the Wall Street Journal:

His first impulse was to dismiss the ominous email as a prank, says a young Iranian-American named Koosha. It warned the 29-year-old engineering student that his relatives in Tehran would be harmed if he didn’t stop criticizing Iran on Facebook.

Two days later, his mom called. Security agents had arrested his father in his home in Tehran and threatened him by saying his son could no longer safely return to Iran.

“When they arrested my father, I realized the email was no joke,” said Koosha, who asked that his full name not be used.

Tehran’s leadership faces its biggest crisis since it first came to power in 1979, as Iranians at home and abroad attack its legitimacy in the wake of June’s allegedly rigged presidential vote. An opposition effort, the “Green Movement,” is gaining a global following of regular Iranians who say they never previously considered themselves activists.

The regime has been cracking down hard at home. And now, a Wall Street Journal investigation shows, it is extending that crackdown to Iranians abroad as well.

In recent months, Iran has been conducting a campaign of harassing and intimidating members of its diaspora world-wide – not just prominent dissidents – who criticize the regime, according to former Iranian lawmakers and former members of Iran’s elite security force, the Revolutionary Guard, with knowledge of the program.

Unfortunately, there is little the West can do.  Despite the seemingly common belief in hawkish circles that Washington merely need speak the word and other nations will obey,  there is no magic wand that President Obama can wave to democratize Iran.  And refusing to engage Iran over its nuclear program would do nothing to aid human rights activists while losing the admittedly faint hope of resolving the issue diplomatically.

However, there is reason for hope.  The crackdown bespeaks desperation.  The militarized regime continues to lose credibility, including religious backing.  Reports the New York Times:

Iran’s most senior cleric denounced the role of the volunteer militia force known as the Basij in the crackdown against protesters, saying the force’s actions were against religion and “in the path of Satan.”

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, condemned the force in a statement posted on an opposition Web site, mowjcamp.com, decreeing that “the assailants have acted against religion and must pay blood money” to those who were wounded or to their families.

Ultimately, the Iranian people can count only on themselves to achieve freedom.  But people of good will around the world should offer their support in the continuing battle against tyranny.

Weekend Links

  • “Government should not subsidize health insurance — for the uninsured, the poor, the elderly or anyone else — or regulate health insurance markets.” Here’s why.
  • An update on the EU Lisbon Treaty.
  • Skepticism over nuclear diplomacy with Iran. (PDF) Subscribe to the Nuclear Proliferation Update here.

Bush v. Obama on Diplomacy

The Hill’s Congress blog has a regular series that provides policy experts a forum to discuss current topics of the day. This week, the editors posed this question:

President Obama has taken a very different approach to diplomacy than President Bush. Does the new approach serve or undermine long-term U.S. interests?

My response:

What “very different approach?” Sure, President Bush implicitly scorned diplomacy in favor of toughness, particularly in his first term. But he sought UN Security Council authorization for tougher measures against Iraq; a truly unilateral approach would have bombed first and asked questions later. By the same token, President Obama has staffed his administration with people, including chief diplomat Hillary Clinton and UN Ambassador Susan Rice, who favored military action against Iraq and Serbia in 1998 and 1999, respectively, and were undeterred by the UNSC’s refusal to endorse either intervention.

There are other similarities. George Bush advocated multilateral diplomacy with North Korea, despite his stated antipathy for Kim Jong Il. President Obama supports continued negotiations with the same odious regime that starves its own people. Bush administration officials met with the Iranians to discuss post-Taliban Afghanistan and post-Saddam Iraq. In the second term, President Bush even agreed in principle to high-level talks on Iran’s nuclear program. President Obama likewise believes that the United States and Iran have a number of common interests, and he favors diplomacy over confrontation.

This continuity shouldn’t surprise us. Both men operate within a political environment that equates diplomacy with appeasement, without most people really understanding what either word means. Defined properly, diplomacy is synonymous with relations between states. As successive generations have learned the high costs and dubious benefits of that other form of international relations – war – most responsible leaders are rightly eager to engage in diplomacy. Perhaps the greater concern is that they feel the need to call it something else.

Could the U.S. Stop Israel from Bombing Iran?

Last night, Chris Matthews presided over an odd, staccato interview with AEI’s Michael Rubin and Time magazine’s Bob Baer that was enough to make one feel sorry for the interviewees.  Matthews was wildly whipping questions at Rubin and Baer, but they both did an admirable job returning Matthews’ volleys.

One interesting topic that came up was whether the Obama administration should discourage Israel from attacking Iran.  Rubin and Baer agreed that at this point an Israeli attack would be unhelpful and should be discouraged, but Baer noted that our ability to prevent such an attack is “zero.”  They agreed that the likelihood of an Israeli strike in the next year was “greater than 50-50” and Rubin suggested that the Israeli timeline for an attack was “months if not weeks.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski recently broached the subject of Israeli overflight of Iraqi airspace in an unfortunately provocative manner, telling the Daily Beast that the United States ought to make clear to the Israelis that there was a real danger of “a Liberty in reverse,” meaning the prospect that Israeli aircraft overflying Iraq may find themselves under fire from the United States, the de facto owners of Iraqi airspace.  (The Iraqi government that we have helped obtain power almost certainly would be under great pressure to respond militarily to Israeli overflight.)  Neoconservatives predictably pounced on this framing.

Readers interested in the technical questions surrounding a potential Israeli strike can find an optimistic assessment here. [.pdf] But this larger issue of whether the United States could stop Israel from doing something contrary to American interests reminded me of this passage George Kennan wrote about U.S. involvement in the Middle East more generally in 1977.  In The Cloud of Danger, Kennan called on U.S. policymakers to

kennanbring about an early clarification–not just vis-a-vis the Israelis themselves but also vis-a-vis the Arabs–of the limits of our responsibility for Israeli policy.  We have allowed the impression to become established throughout the entire region that we have it in our power to make the Israelis do almost anything we want, and that this being the case, we are really responsible for Israeli policy.  This assumption is reflected in a host of Arab statements.  It is, of course, wholly incorrect.  Not only can we not dictate to the Israelis, who are very well aware of the strength of their bargaining power vis-a-vis us, but it is a real question whether we ought to do it even if we could.  (More about that in a moment.)

[…]

[W]e have allowed ourselves to be maneuvered into a position where each of the two parties believes it can use us for its own ends, where each has the impression that it is primarily through us that its desiderata can be achieved, with the result that we are always first to be blamed, no matter whose ox is gored; and all this in a situation where we actually have very little influence with either party.  Seldom, surely, can a great power have got itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.

I stand firmly with [George] Ball on the need for an attempt to reach an understanding with the Soviet Union with relation to the larger problems of the region, but not on the details of a possible Arab-Israeli settlement.  That, it seems to me, should be left for direct negotiation between Israel and her Arab neighbors.  Our own role should be confined to assuring that the Israelis are strong enough militarily so that the idea of crushing them by force of arms does not offer promising prospects to anybody, and so that they have an adequate measure of bargaining power in any negotiations on these subjects they may enter into.  But we should not try to tell them, or the Arabs, what the terms of a settlement should be.  It is they, after all, not we, who would have to live with any settlement that might be achieved.  Many of us can think, I am sure, of concessions which, in our personal opinion, it would be wise for the Israelis to make; but for the United States government to take the responsibility of urging them to make such concessions is quite another matter.  There are many who would think, for example, that it would be wise for them to give up the Golan Heights.  They may of course be right.  But how can we be sure?  What would our responsibility be if we urged this upon them and it turned out to be disastrous?

A couple of thoughts.  First, obviously the repeated references to “the Arabs” reflect the book’s authorship pre-1979.  Second, Kennan is clearly uncomfortable with a situation in which a foreign country, fairly pursuing what it perceives to be its own interests, can pull America along for the ride.  (This is a mainstream position in U.S. views of Israel today: the idea that the United States should write Israel a blank check and allow that country to do what it may, with lockstep American support.)  Third, and I think most interesting, is Kennan’s discomfort at the prospect of directing Israel’s foreign policy ourselves.  (This is an increasingly mainstream position in the foreign-policy debate today, where U.S. analysts decide that they can perceive Israeli interests better than the Israelis can, so we should intervene and pressure them to act as we think they should.)

Kennan recognized that the Israelis, unlike the United States, live in a rough neighborhood and that they simply have different national interests than we do.  But the idea that we ought to demand various concessions from the Israelis, or attempt to dictate their foreign policy to them, appears to have horrified Kennan.  Decisions about Israeli security could have serious consequences for the people who live there, and for Kennan this seems to have been a strong argument for putting the weight of costs and benefits squarely on the shoulders of the Israelis themselves, beyond the (unlikely, even in 1977) prospect of Israel being militarily overrun.

To listen to the Matthews-Baer-Rubin discussion today, the Israelis are preparing to do something contrary to U.S. national interests about which we can do nothing.  As Kennan wrote, “Seldom, surely, can a great power have got itself into a more unsound and unnecessary position.”

Limited Options in Dealing with Iran

IranThe revelation last week of a second secret Iranian nuclear facility, and Iran’s test firings over the weekend of its short and medium range missiles, bring a new sense of urgency to the long-scheduled talks between Iran and the P-5 + 1 beginning on Thursday in Geneva. Many in Washington hope that a new round of tough sanctions, supported by all of the major powers including Russia and China, might finally convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear program.

Such hopes are naive.

Even multilateral sanctions have an uneven track record, at best. It is difficult to convince a regime to reverse itself when a very high-profile initiative hangs in the balance, and Iran’s nuclear program clearly qualifies. It is particularly unrealistic given that the many years of economic and diplomatic pressure exerted on Tehran by the U.S. government have only in emboldened the regime and marginalized reformers and democracy advocates, who are cast by the regime as lackeys of the United States and the West.

But whereas sanctions are likely to fail, war with Iran would be even worse. As Secretary Gates admitted on Sunday, air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities would merely degrade and perhaps delay, not eliminate, Iran’s program. Such attacks would inevitably result in civilian casualties, allowing Ahmadinejad to rally public support for his weak regime. What’s more, the likelihood of escalation following a military attack – which could take the form of asymmetric attacks in the Persian Gulf region, and terrorism worldwide – is not a risk worth taking.

The Iranian government must be convinced that it does not need nuclear weapons to deter attacks against the regime. It is likely to push for an indigenous nuclear-enrichment program for matters of national pride, as well as national interest.

The Obama administration should therefore offer to end Washington’s diplomatic and economic isolation of Iran, and should end all efforts to overthrow the government in Tehran, in exchange for Iran’s pledge to forswear a nuclear weapons program, and to allow free and unfettered access to international inspectors to ensure that its peaceful nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes.

While such an offer might ultimately be rejected by the Iranians, revealing their intentions, it is a realistic option, superior to both feckless economic pressure and stalemate, or war, with all of its horrible ramifications.

Wednesday Links

Tuesday Links

  • Is the president’s speech part of a sinister plan to create a socialist Obama Youth movement? Hardly. However, let us not forget that our Constitution’s framers thought schooling was too important to be left to a federal government.
  • The Supreme Court will rule Wednesday on whether the government can ban political speech during election time. Here’s the back story.
  • Podcast: The real problem with Obama’s speech to schoolchildren.