The results of free and fair elections

All this commentating in the American media about whether the Iranian powers-that-be have negated the results of the election held there yesterday prompts me to ask about the Palestinian parliamentary elections of January 2006.
How many Americans have ever protested the negating of those certifiedly free and fair elections, that was carried our by our government in coalition with the government of Israel?
… Or, protested other acts like the assassination attempts made by Israel against the political leaders duly elected in Palestine in 2006… or, Israel’s imprisonment without trial of around 40 of the legislators elected in those elections… or, the damaging, collective-punishment siege that Israel imposed on 1.5 million Gazans, and continue to maintain in harsh form until today, in order to “punish” them for the way they voted in 2006… or, the US government project to arm and train an insurgent force tasked to overthrow the results of the elections by force… or, the full-scale military assault Israel launched in December to try to overthrow the results of the 2006 elections with the application of huge amounts of brute force… or, the numerous other moves made to negate the results of those elections and to punish or kill their victors… ?
Just asking.
It strikes me that having a single standard to apply in response to the results of elections in other countries would be a mighty handy thing for a country that aspires to be a worldwide “beacon of democracy” to have.
Actually, if I heard even one peep of protest from the US government or from any MSM commentators here about Israel’s lengthy continuing imprisonment without trial of scores of elected Palestinians legislators, that would already make me just a little bit happy.
Otherwise, all the bloviating about whatever it is that’s going on in Iran these days (and who, actually, knows at this point?) has all the air of hypocritical and decidedly partisan point-scoring.

“Israel’s horse in Iran’s Race” Pt. 2

Nearly two weeks ago, I posted a short question asking if Israel and/or its current leadership would have a favorite in Iran’s elections. While one poster accused me of being a “student of Goebells” for asking such a question, several commenters realized that Israeli and neocon hawks have been quite grateful to the “gift” that Ahmadinejad has presented for them.
Three leading subsequent examples:
From Soli Shahvar, head of the University of Haifa’s Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies, writing in Israeli’s largest circulation paper:

[I]n light of the structure of Iran’s regime it could very well be that an Ahmadinejad win – and as result continued popular bitterness within Iran and the harsh approach to Iran on the international stage – is better for Israel.

Elliot Abrahms in the New York Times:

“a victory by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s main challenger, Mir Hussein Moussavi, is more likely to change Western policy toward Iran than to change Iran’s own conduct. If the delusion that a new president would surely mean new opportunities to negotiate away Iran’s nuclear program strikes Western leaders, solidarity might give way to pre-emptive concessions.”

Daniel Pipes:

“I’m sometimes asked who I would vote for if I were enfranchised in this election, and I think that, with due hesitance, I would vote for Ahmadinejad….” {The reason, Pipes went on, is that he would} “prefer to have an enemy who’s forthright and obvious, who wakes people up with his outlandish statements.”

Just hours ago, Pipes went further on his own blog:

When Mohammed Khatami was president, his sweet words lulled many people into complacency, even as the nuclear weapons program developed on his watch. If the patterns remain unchanged, better to have a bellicose, apocalyptic, in-your-face Ahmadinejad who scares the world than a sweet-talking Mousavi who again lulls it to sleep, even as thousands of centrifuges whir away.
And so, despite myself, I am rooting for Ahmadinejad.

They may get their wish. As I write, Iran’s elections tabulations are reportedly more than half-way complete — with a commanding lead for Ahmadinejad.

Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President

Received wisdom tells us in America that it is too hazardous to predict elections in Iran. Said wisdom, often from prominent think tanks and editorial writers, includes refrains denouncing Iran’s elections as badly flawed, mere “staged democracy,” and/or meaningless in terms of policy. (a tendency echoing Israeli foreign ministry talking points.)
I call it laziness mixed with institutional inertia and pre-set agendas. For those able to go beyond stale analysis and look closely, there are major signs suggesting Iran’s hotly contested Presidential race is leaning strongly in favor of Mir-Hussein Musavi. The tea leaves are decidedly green — Musavi’s campaign color. Musavi could win well over 50% on the first round, thus avoiding a run-off.
Here’s my top ten reasons for seeing green:
10. “It’s the foreign policy, stupid.” As I suggested here on May 23rd, current President Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy has been among the top symbolic issues in the contest. All three of his opponents have repeatedly pounded away at how his confrontational style has hurt Iran’s interests, how it has caused Iranian passports to be “worth less than a Somali’s.” Musavi even tied Iran’s economic troubles to foreign policy failings.
Moreover, Iranians by wide margins in recent polling actually prefer better relations with America — and Ahmadinejad has a credibility problem in saying he’s the best candidate to achieve it. By contrast, a common campaign poster for Musavi proclaims, “A New Greeting to the World.” The days of Marg Bar Amrika may be numbered.
9. Ahmadinejad’s return volleys at his primary accusers are back-firing. First, claims that it was “his” foreign policies that restored Iranian pride have infuriated leading system figures, like Hassan Rowhani, who (correctly) emphasize that Iran’s foreign policy decision-making, including on nuclear issues, is a multi-layered process. Condemning key strategies tried during the Khatami era in effect is a slap at Iran’s Supreme Leader.

Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s populist allegations of corruption of Musavi’s supporters, including “pillars of the revolution” such as former President Hashemi-Rafanjani and his family, produced shock waves in the system that may bite him back. Supreme Leader Khamenei, often presumed to be an Ahmadinejad backer, (a debatable assumption in my view) has strongly rebuked such mud-slinging, and has repeatedly reiterated his neutrality in the race.

Rafsanjani cried foul in a widely re-published poetic letter, accusing Ahmadinejad of “counter-revolutionary” behavior. Khamenei has not commented publicly, yet his silence may also speak volumes. He neither criticized the sensational charges, nor prevented their publication. On election eve, Khamenei received Rafsanjani for a 3 hour private visit. Of note, Rafsanjani also chairs Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which in theory, has supervisory powers over the Leader.

8. Ahmadinejad’s challengers have also made great sport lampooning his charts and graphs of Iran’s supposedly healthy economy. He’s been branded widely as “the liar,” a “delusional fanatic,” the “propagandist” who “squandered the nation’s wealth.” As Musavi put it quite bluntly,

“We are up against a person who says black is white and four times four equals five. He looks into the camera and lies with self-confidence…. There is nothing worse than when a government lies to its own people.” — So much for Iran being a “totalitarian” place that didn’t tolerate criticism of politicians.

While the less affluent rural areas may be swayed by memories of Ahmadinejad’s generous handouts and potato doles when oil revenues were high, inflation is again accelerating and unemployment rising — raising fears across social strata. Even his rural base may be eroding.

7. Women have also played an unprecedented and and even powerful role in this campaign, energized by Musavi’s wife, Zahrah Rahnavard, a politics professor, artist, and former University chancellor. (This will be news to Americans still Reading Lolita in Tehran, but yes Virginia, in the “real” Iran, women do vote, do think, and they’re quite politically aware)

Ahmadinejad’s brazen debate insinuations about Rahnavard’s Ph.D. were widely seen as condescending and insulting. More analogous to Hillary Rodham Clinton than Michelle Obama, Dr. Rahnavard shot back that, “Either [Ahmadinejad] cannot tolerate highly educated women or he’s discouraging women from playing an active role in society.” In Musavi’s wife, Iranian women and activists frustrated by recent set-backs again have hope. As Rahnavard recently put it, “Never have women had so much self-awareness. Women have always been just under the skin of history. Today, we assert ourselves.”
Iranians are also stunned to see the couple campaigning together and even holding hands as they move through crowds. As one amazed Iranian commented to the LA Times, “I’ve never seen a politician who holds his wife’s hand in public. And he holds it with love and respect, not with possessiveness.”

6. The unprecedented sharpness of the nationally televised debates among candidates, and substance packed campaign speeches have stirred tremendous excitement and energy, especially among younger voters. The Musavi camp regularly accused Ahmadinejad of behavior that fosters “dictatorship,” and has campaigned instead for a “civil rights charter” and guarantees for ethnic rights. Iranians nationwide realize that this time, there’s real choices to be made among candidates with sharp differences about real issues that matter profoundly to all Iranians.

Speaking of dictatorships or “sultanistic” behavior, a group of Iranian Interior Ministry employees risked their careers in signing a letter charging that an Ayatollah (presumed to be Mesbah-Yazdi — marja to A/N) had issued a fatwa condoning manipulation of the vote process, to protect the system. While this might seem to be evidence of vote rigging potential, I find it intriguing that the claims have not been denied — and instead we have intense calls for multiple forms of monitoring the integrity of the voting.

5. Evidence: The crowds, the crowds. A “Green Tsunami.”

Continue reading “Top Ten Reasons to Anticipate Musavi as Iran’s Next President”

Israel’s horse in Iran’s race?

Which candidate would Israel favor the most in the upcoming Iranian Presidential contest?
It’s of course a loaded question. No candidate in Iran would wish to be seen as favored by the Islamic Republic’s perceived nemesis.
And we also should add that Israelis, particularly those analysts who follow Iran matters closely, might disagree considerably. So let’s narrow the question to refer to the current Israeli prime minister. :-}

IPS piece on linkage between Iran and Israel-Palestine

… is here, also here.
What I didn’t have room to explore there was the whole idea of positive linkage: that is, the idea that if the US can regularize its relationship with Iran to any significant degree then that might have considerable good effects on the Palestinian-Israeli, Syrian-Israeli, and Lebanon-Israeli peacemaking. It is not a trivial concept.

The Color of Iran’s Elections

Iran’s presidential race is getting quite colorful — literally — as Iran’s two reformist candidates have taken the unprecedented steps of adopting colors for their campaigns. Mir Hussein Musavi’s camp has taken on green, and Mehdi Karrubi’s white — both venerable colors within Islam and Iran. (symbolizing to many joy and peace).
Presidential Ahmadinejad’s team initially thought of adopting “red” (the third color in Iran’s national flag) as their color, but changed their mind, perhaps knowing Iranians are a bit weary of blood red. Ahmadinejad partisans instead complain that campaign painting misuses sacred symbols and darkly implies imposed color revolutions. Reformists counter their colors are “religious, not velvet.”
“Red” though might describe the intense “heat” being generated within Iran’s current Presidential elections, including on policy issues that might surprise western ears. For example, on Tuesday, Musavi told students in Tabriz that he supports free-speech, since that was a key goal of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution:

“The revolution was aimed at guaranteeing us freedom of speech. It is not in our best interest to not tolerate opposition, because this would make it impossible for us to be part of the modern world.”

On related issues, candidate Karrubi recently has even been arguing for reforming the constitution, whereas Musavi has challenged the appeal of that argument by advocating that existing protections of liberties within the Constitution should be better implemented first.
Battling perceived government media bias in favor of Ahmadinejad, Musavi’s strategy has relied upon modern technology to get out his message, especially among younger voters, using e-mail, cell-phone text messaging, twitter, and even facebook. The government briefly tried to block Iran access to facebook, but has since restored it.
As I suggested on Saturday here, foreign policy also continues to loom large, with candidates trading blistering barbs about nuclear negotiations.

Continue reading “The Color of Iran’s Elections”

Does Obama understand Israel’s war goal in Iran?

If Israel launches a military attack (= act of war) against Iran, what would the main goal of this attack be?
There is good reason to believe that the goal would be not the direct physical destruction/incapacitation of Iran’s nuclear programs but rather, to trigger an all-out US-Iran war in the course of which, Israel’s planners hope, the US would do the dirty work in Iran that it is unable to do itself.
This is a course of action of greatest consequence for Americans.
The best assessments available indicate that– under even the “best case” scenario, from Israel’s viewpoint– an Israeli strike force could not itself “destroy” Iran’s nuclear technology program anywhere near completely, and the Iranian program would be set back by at most a couple of years.
But meanwhile, Iran, subjected to this act of war, would almost certainly retaliate. The retaliation would, with equal predictability, include actions against Israel’s prime ally in the region, the United States. (And, as I have written here many times before, Iran would have considerable justification under international law for including US targets in its retaliation.)
Of course, US forces would in turn respond.
Thus, an Israeli strike against Iran would almost certainly trigger a direct, and of course massive, war between Iran and the US. The US could be expected to launch considerably heavier strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities and to try to inflict other substantial– perhaps even fatal?– damage on the Iranian government.
Iran could be expected to counter with attacks against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, against the vulnerable supply lines that support those forces, and possibly– in the event that the collapse of the Teheran regime seems imminent– with actions designed to paralyze US resupply efforts and world oil markets by blocking chokepoints like the Straits of Hormuz.
Triggering this big US-Iran war, rather than the direct ‘destruction’ of Iran’s nuclear capabilities, would most likely be the actual, though never openly stated, main goal of an Israeli attack against Iran.
I have reason to believe that this analysis of the likely course of events and of Israel’s actual war goal in Iran were clearly understood in the Bush White House.
Bush quite rightly also concluded that an all-out US-Iran war would be disastrous for the US’s positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the entire region. For that reason, he and his officials went to some lengths to rein Israel in from launching– or even preparing for– the triggering attack against Iran.
But to what extent is this evaluation of the strategic realities shared by the Obama White House?
As Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett made clear in the excellent op-ed they published in Sunday’s NYT, the present administration has done almost nothing to follow up in practice on the president’s campaign-era promises to reach out in a serious way to Iran.
Secretary of State Clinton has done very little to back away from her campaign-era promises to “obliterate” Iran, and has chosen as her principal Iran-affairs adviser Dennis Ross, a clear hawk on Iranian affairs.
The Mann-Leveretts noted that Obama has meanwhile kept in place a well-funded (and Bush-initiated) program that seeks to overthrow the Iranian regime. As they note, keeping that program in place sends a powerful message to Iran’s rulers that “American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile.”
It also sends a powerful message to the Israeli government that their launching of a “triggering” military attack against Iran might actually be welcomed by all those in Washington– in the administration as well as in Congress– who continue to seek the overthrow of the Islamic republic by some variety of means.
Obama won the election last November; and before that he won the primary against Hillary Clinton. He won both races in good part because the American people supported his approach of making a sincere effort to de-escalate our country’s tensions with Iran, rather than the much more belligerent stances that both Clinton and McCain advocated towards Iran.
He won in good part because the American people are smart enough to see that a policy of belligerency, of hyping alleged threats, and blocking avenues for diplomatic de-escalation served our country very badly in Iraq– and can reliably be expected to be disastrous for our country if it is applied to Iran.
At this point, he needs to take actions through many different means to make sure that all parts of his administration are on the same page, giving clear backing to the stance of sincere diplomatic engagement with Iran that he outlined so eloquently and so correctly during the election campaign.
He needs to axe that destabilize-Iran program immediately.
And he needs to make absolutely clear to the Israeli government and its many remaining supporters in the US Congress, using a whole variety of both public and private means, that he judges that any Israeli military attack against Iran directly threatens our country’s interests, and that therefore he will do whatever it takes to ensure that Israel launches no such attack.
Americans should be quite clear: It is our forces and our interests, not Israel’s, that are on the front-line against Iran. We cannot continue to give Israel the extremely generous support it has had from Washington for the past 40-plus years if Israel takes a single action, at any level, that puts our country’s people at risk.
The Mann-Leveretts argue that “in all likelihood” it is already too late for Obama to correct his administrations policies toward Iran. I am not so pessimistic. But if he is to correct his stance that means taking action not only to correct Washington’s policies but also, equally importantly, to rein in an Israel that on this matter may have interests that are very different indeed than those of Americans.

Newsweek: “Everything you know about Iran is Wrong”

Check out the June 1st Iran-focused issue of Newsweek, which audaciously proclaims, Everything you know about Iran is wrong. (unless, of course, you’re a regular jwn reader)
In editor Farheed Zakaria’s opening “bombshell,”

“Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program.”

Zakaria then briefly outlines why the Iranians might just be ready, for rational reasons on their own terms, to cut a nuclear deal. (See also Newsweek’s short interview with the IAEA’s Mohamed El-Baredei)
Along the way, Zakaria challenges a particularly virulent form of extremism, not in Iran, but within current Israeli propaganda about Iran:

“Iranians aren’t suicidal…. In an interview last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as “a messianic, apocalyptic cult.” In fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary….
[But] One of Netanyahu’s advisers said of Iran, “Think Amalek.” The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Zakari gently notes that, “were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic.”
They’d also be prosecuted by Alan Dershowitz, John Bolton and friends for “incitement to genocide.” They might also be called…. jihadis.
My favorite article in the Newsweek collection is sub-titled, “A Journey through the Heart of Iran” by Hooman Majd. (author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.”) Many of his vignettes remind me of my own journeys inside Iran last decade — many of which are found in “The Iranians.” Majd is quite right to observe that:

Continue reading “Newsweek: “Everything you know about Iran is Wrong””

Iran Politics: It’s the foreign policy, stupid.

Contrary to standard western myths about Iran, citizens of Iran are quite capable of debating the question of ties to America. Indeed, the issue is shaping up to be a “hot,” if not the hottest, issue in Iran’s upcoming Presidential elections.
First, the who: Iran’s “Council of Guardians” recently issued its less-than-transparent ruling — approving just four candidates to run for President: 1. incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad; 2. former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi; 3. former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi; and 4. former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps head Mohsen Rezai.
As Iran does not yet permit a party system, four hundred, seventy or so other individuals who had applied to run were turned away. Never mind that most of these rejected candidates were not serious, Mohammad Seifzadeh, of Iran’s Committee for Free and Fair Elections, contends that the current screening process reduces the election to a “race between government candidates, not people.”
Among the four candidates now running, there’s no surprises; the Guardians merely permitted the four leading, best known candidates into the contest. Yet there are significant differences among the candidates; much is at stake.

Continue reading “Iran Politics: It’s the foreign policy, stupid.”

Thinking on Iran decision-making

This missive offers up ongoing research to colleagues and jwn readers for comment. sh
Lately, I’ve been paying closer attention to various Iranian think-tanks, particularly those that are part of a complex behind-the-headlines foreign policy decision-making process — one rarely written about in the west, much less understood. Even the need to study such a process would be “foreign” to those imbibing the shallow propaganda about the Islamic Republic being a “totalitarian theocracy.”
Yet even serious Western analysts and journalists take fuzzy short-cuts. They commonly start with factional tendencies on various domestic issues and then assume, quite erroneously, that these “divides” translate neatly into similar takes on international affairs. When contrary evidence inevitably arises, analysts revise and (I suspect) often invent, all manner of elaborate sub-factional group labels, which then get reformulated from one book to the next, often by the same author.

Continue reading “Thinking on Iran decision-making”