Tag: Iran

Twitter and Iran - It’s Not About the U.S. Government

It’s fascinating to watch developments in Iran via Twitter and other social media. (Notably, when I turned on the TV last night to look for Iran news from a conventional source, there was nothing to be found - just commercials and talking heads yapping about politics.)

It was laudable that Twitter delayed a scheduled outage to late-night Tehran time in order to preserve the platform for Iranian users, but contrary to a growing belief, it wasn’t done at the behest of the State Department. It was done at the behest of Twitter users.

Twitter makes that fairly (though imperfectly) clear on its blog, saying, “the State Department does not have access to our decision making process.”

As Justin Logan notes, events in Iran are not about the United States or U.S. policy. They should not be, or appear to be, directed or aided from Washington, D.C. Any shifts in power in Iran should be produced in Iran for Iranians, with support from the people of the world - not from any outside government.

People are free to speculate that the State Department asked Twitter to deny its involvement precisely to create the necessary appearances, but without good evidence of it, assuming so just reflects a pre-commitment that governments - not people and the businesses that serve them - are the primary forces for good in the world.

Why Obama Should Stay Silent on Iran

President Obama should keep quiet on the subject of Iran’s elections. At least two pernicious tendencies are on display in the Beltway discussion on the topic. First is the common Washington impulse to “do something!” without laying out clear objectives and tactics. What, after all, is President Obama or his administration supposed to do to “support protesters” in Iran in the first place? What would be the ultimate goal of such support? Most importantly, what is the mechanism by which the support is supposed to produce the desired outcome? That we are debating how America should intervene in Iran’s domestic politics indicates the sheer grandiosity of American foreign policy thought.

The second, related tendency is that of narcissism: to make foreign countries’ domestic politics all about us. In this game, American observers anoint from afar one side the “good,” “pro-Western” team and the other the “bad,” “radical” one and urge Washington to press its thumb on the good side of the scale. But doing so would risk winding up Iranian nationalism, a very real force that binds Iranians together more tightly than their differences pull them apart.

If Iran’s government has overreached, the right response is schadenfreude. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer group of guys. Meanwhile, President Obama has a full plate of problems to deal with in his own country. Whatever government emerges from the Iranian political process, we’re going to have to deal with it. Until then, whatever President Obama’s personal prayers or wishes are for Iran, he ought to keep them to himself.

C/P The Hill Congress Blog

Week in Review: A Speech in Cairo, an Anniversary in China and a U.S. Bankruptcy

Obama Speaks to the Muslim World

cairoIn Cairo on Thursday, President Obama asked for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” and spoke at some length on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Cato scholar Christopher Preble comments, “At times, it sounded like a state of the union address, with a litany of promises intended to appeal to particular interest groups. …That said, I thought the president hit the essential points without overpromising.”

Preble goes on to say:

He did not ignore that which divides the United States from the world at large, and many Muslims in particular, nor was he afraid to address squarely the lies and distortions — including the implication that 9/11 never happened, or was not the product of al Qaeda — that have made the situation worse than it should be. He stressed the common interests that should draw people to support U.S. policies rather than oppose them: these include our opposition to the use of violence against innocents; our support for democracy and self-government; and our hostility toward racial, ethnic or religious intolerance. All good.

David Boaz contends that there are a number of other nations the president could have chosen to deliver his address:

Americans forget that the Muslim world and the Arab world are not synonymous. In fact, only 15 to 20 percent of Muslims live in Arab countries, barely more than the number in Indonesia alone and far fewer than the number in the Indian subcontinent. It seems to me that Obama would be better off delivering his message to the Muslim world somewhere closer to where most Muslims live. Perhaps even in his own childhood home of Indonesia.

Not only are there more Muslims in Asia than in the Middle East, the Muslim countries of south and southeast Asia have done a better job of integrating Islam and modern democratic capitalism…. Egypt is a fine place for a speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict. But in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, or Pakistan he could give a speech on America and the Muslim world surrounded by rival political leaders in a democratic country and by internationally recognized business leaders. It would be good for the president to draw attention to this more moderate version of Islam.

Tiananmen Square: 20 Years Later

tsquare1It has been 20 years since the tragic deaths of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, and 30 years since Deng Xiaoping embarked on economic reform in China. Cato scholar James A. Dorn comments, “After 20 years China has made substantial economic progress, but the ghosts of Tiananmen are restless and will continue to be so until the Goddess of Liberty is restored.”

In Thursday’s Cato Daily Podcast, Dorn discusses the perception of human rights in China since the Tiananmen Square massacre, saying that many young people are beginning to accept the existence of human rights independent of the state.

A few days before the anniversary, social media Web sites like Twitter and YouTube were blocked in China. Cato scholar Jim Harper says that it’s going to take a lot more than tanks to shut down the message of freedom in today’s online world:

In 1989, when a nascent pro-democracy movement wanted to communicate its vitality and prepare to take on the state, meeting en masse was vital. But that made it fairly easy for the CCP to roll in and crush the dream of democracy.

Twenty years later, the Internet is the place where mass movements for liberty can take root. While the CCP is attempting to use the electronic equivalent of an armored division to prevent change, reform today is a question of when, not if. Shutting down open dialogue will only slow the democratic transition to freedom, which the Chinese government cannot ultimately prevent.

Taxpayers Acquire Failing Auto Company

After billions of dollars were spent over the course of two presidential administrations to keep General Motors afloat, the American car company filed for bankruptcy this week anyway.

Last year Cato trade expert Daniel J. Ikenson appeared on dozens of radio and television programs and wrote op-eds in newspapers and magazines explaining why automakers should file for bankruptcy—before spending billions in taxpayer dollars.

Which leaves Ikenson asking one very important question: “What was the point of that?

In November, GM turned to the federal government for a bailout loan — the one final alternative to bankruptcy. After a lot of discussion and some rich debate, Congress voted against a bailout, seemingly foreclosing all options except bankruptcy. But before GM could avail itself of bankruptcy protection, President Bush took the fateful decision of circumventing Congress and diverting $15.4 billion from Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to GM (in the chummy spirit of avoiding tough news around the holidays).

That was the original sin. George W. Bush is very much complicit in the nationalization of GM and the cascade of similar interventions that may follow. Had Bush not funded GM in December (under questionable authority, no less), the company probably would have filed for bankruptcy on Jan. 1, at which point prospective buyers, both foreign and domestic, would have surfaced and made bids for spin-off assets or equity stakes in the “New GM,” just as is happening now.

Meanwhile, the government takeover of GM puts the fate of Ford Motors, a company that didn’t take any bailout money, into question:

Thus, what’s going to happen to Ford? With the public aware that the administration will go to bat for GM, who will want to own Ford stock? Who will lend Ford money (particularly in light of the way GM’s and Chrysler’s bondholders were treated). Who wants to compete against an entity backed by an unrestrained national treasury?

Ultimately, if I’m a member of Ford management or a large shareholder, I’m thinking that my biggest competitors, who’ve made terrible business decisions over the years, just got their debts erased and their downsides covered. Thus, even if my balance sheet is healthy enough to go it alone, why bother? And that calculation presents the specter of another taxpayer bailout to the tunes of tens of billions of dollars, and another government-run auto company.

Why We Shouldn’t Bomb Iran—From an Unlikely Source

Many of the same people who were telling us what a cakewalk invading Iraq would be are now lobbying to bomb Iran.  They assure us it would be another cakewalk which would restore American prestige around the world.  Indeed, North Korea and other rogue states would come groveling.

Right.

But an unusual opponent of launching another war has emerged.  Reports the Jerusalem Post:

There is no viable military option for dealing the Iranian nuclear threat, and efforts by the Israeli government and its supporters to link that threat to progress in peace with the Palestinians and Syria are “nonsense” and an obstacle to the Arab-Israeli and international cooperation essential to changing Iranian behavior.

That’s the conclusion of Keith Weissman, the Iran expert formerly at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), speaking publicly for the first time since the government dropped espionage charges against him and his colleague, Steve Rosen, earlier this month.

There’s no assurance an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities - even if all of them could be located - would be anything more than a temporary setback, Weissman told me. Instead, a military strike would unify Iranians behind an unpopular regime, ignite a wave of retaliation that would leave thousands dead from Teheran to Tel Aviv, block oil exports from the Persian Gulf and probably necessitate a ground war, he said.

“The only viable solution is dialogue. You don’t deal with Iran with threats or preaching regime change,” said Weissman, who has lived in Iran, knows Farsi (as well as Arabic, Turkish and French) and wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago on Iranian history. That’s where the Bush administration went wrong, in his view.

“President Bush’s demand that Iran halt all nuclear enrichment before we would talk with the regime was an excuse not to talk at all,” Weissman said. “And the administration’s preaching of regime change only made the Iranians more paranoid and told them there was no real desire to engage them, only demonize them. The thing they fear most is American meddling in their internal politics.”

His arguments would have had no effect on the previous administration.  But his judgment offers powerful and welcome backing for President Barack Obama, who seems determined to pursue diplomacy.

Roxana Saberi Was Released

This is fairly old news, but in the event anyone had been hearing about the story only at C@L, I failed to note that last week the U.S. reporter I’d been posting about was released from prison in Iran.  She has left the country, flying to Austria with her family.

Interesting back story on the circumstances surrounding her arrest here.  Whatever the details, it’s good news that she was released.

Haass: Defining ‘Success’ Down

Richard Haass’s op ed in today’s Post is worth a read. Sure, it amounts to a well-placed advertisement for his new book, War of Necessity, War of Choice. And it’s not like Haass, current president of the Council of Foreign Relations, and former director of policy planning at the State Department, lacks for exposure. But while I would quibble with his characterization of the first Gulf War as “necessary”, it is refreshing for a man so firmly fixed in the foreign policy establishment to focus not on the United States’ supposed capacity for refashioning the global order, but rather on the limits of our power.

He urges President Obama to resist the impulse to expand our objectives in Afghanistan, and should not dedicate far more resources to the effort if we appear to be falling short of a few modest goals. He wisely counsels that the United States is unlikely to convince Iran to forego nuclear enrichment or North Korea to give up its weapons, and we should therefore focus on the more essential and achievable tasks of intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities and pressure on North Korea (in concert with China) to prevent material and technology from being diverted to others.

He concludes:

Some will argue that defining success down is defeatist. And certainly, one can imagine an Afghanistan or an Iraq that becomes a Jeffersonian democracy and an Iran or a North Korea that gets out of the nuclear business. But such outcomes are improbable at best and more likely fantasy. Moreover, far greater involvement and investment would still fail to bring them about.

The alternatives are outcomes that are good enough and commensurate with interests and costs. The moment calls for defining success down. The United States is stretched economically and militarily. Better partial success we can afford than expensive failures we cannot.

Les Gelb, CFR’s former president, makes similar arguments in his latest book, Power Rules.

Few people in Washington rise through the ranks by talking about what we can’t or shouldn’t do, which partly explains why the voices of restraint are almost always drowned out by the vocal few calling for action. (For more on this point, see Steve Walt’s recent commentary at FP.com and Justin Logan’s observations on this blog.)

At the end of the day, therefore, I’m not convinced that Haass or Gelb, or anyone else, can consistently prevail with their judicious counsel to not act. Haass was on the inside when the second Bush administration was spoiling for a fight with Saddam Hussein, and neither he nor Colin Powell was able to stop that disastrous war. (Haass told NPR’s Robert Siegel yesterday that he was only 60 percent opposed to the war, so it is not even clear that he tried that hard to stop it.)

As I explain in my book, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous and Less Free, because even sensible people who are strongly opposed to foreign military intervention will often lose the intellectual battles within the executive branch, we should return to the Founders’ prescription that the war powers be controlled by the people, through the Congress, not the president. We also need to understand before we go to war how a particular military mission advances U.S. national security, and that our men and women in uniform have been given a clear and achievable objective.

If we were to get away from the dangerous and counterproductive notion that the United States is – and should forever be – the world’s policeman, we could maintain a much smaller military. It would be designed to defend vital U.S. interests, not to fight other people’s wars, and build other people’s countries. And this smaller, focused military would constrain the president’s propensity to do something, and make it easier for him to turn aside the interminable requests for U.S. assistance.

All states, even enormously powerful ones, need to make choices. Haass makes this point eloquently, and I welcome his important contribution to the debate.

Republicans Tell America: Trust Us with Your National Security Again

The Republican Party hasn’t been doing well as of late.  A botched governing majority, a lost reputation, two lost legislative elections, two lost congressional majorities, a lost presidential election, a lost Pennsylvania senator, and no relief in sight.  So what does the GOP congressional leadership do?  Play the national security card.

Reports the New York Times:

Stymied in so many of their efforts to put President Obama and Democrats on the defensive, Republicans are returning to national security, an issue that has served the purpose well for them in the past.

Trying to raise doubts about Mr. Obama’s ability to protect the nation, they have raised the specter of terror suspects transferred from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to prisons in American communities, issued warnings that the release of memorandums detailing secret interrogation methods has put Americans at risk, and presented a video montage ending with the Pentagon in flames on Sept. 11, 2001, and the question, “Do you feel safer?”

“I think what I’m trying to do here,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said in defending the video he and fellow Republicans have been circulating, “is push the administration to tell us, What is the overarching strategy to take on the terrorists and defeat them and to help keep America safe?”

I have a lot of bad things to say about both parties on foreign as well as domestic policy.  But it’s hard for me to imagine the previous eight years of Republican governance as a golden era for national security.  First there was 9/11.  Perhaps it is too much to expect the Bush administration to have prevented the terrorist atrocity, but the administration did nothing over the Clinton administration to improve American defenses to prevent such attacks.

Then there was diverting troops and attention from Afghanistan before that war was finished, to invade Iraq.  The Iraq debacle occupies a category all its own.  Policy towards North Korea was spectacularly misguided and incompetent:  refusing to talk to the North for years as it generated nuclear materials, before rushing to embrace Pyongyang while offering few immediate benefits to entice the North to change its behavior.  The results of this strategy were, unsurprisingly, negligible.

Refusing to talk to Iran had similar consequences.  Washington refused to engage Syria, even though Israel was willing to talk to Damascus.  The Bush administration further tightened the embargo against Cuba, again achieving nothing.  The administration also continued the Clinton administration’s policy of estranging Russia by expanding NATO ever closer to Moscow, incorporating countries that are security black holes, offering geopolitical conflicts with no corresponding military benefits.

In the midst of all this, the GOP in both the executive and legislative branches led a sustained assault on civil liberties and limited, constitutional government even when doing so did nothing to forestall another terrorist attack.

Given all this, is should surprise no one that the Republicans are no longer in control of government.

The Democrats may prove to be worse on all counts. I’ve long learned not to assume that things could not get worse.  Still, it is hard to take seriously Republican demands that the American people trust them with the nation’s security.  After all, look at what the Republicans did when they actually held power.