Tag Archives: Iran

An Era of Blah-Blah-Blah


One of the many reasons we commemorate the catastrophic death of Abraham Lincoln 150 years ago is to celebrate his incredible style, his ability in a few words to sum up the essence of our hopes and fears at a moment of crisis.
What makes it all the more poignant just now is that we are living through a period when the norm of public discourse is pure and unadulterated – dare I use the most descriptive if vulgar word? We are led in all this by the Blah-er-in-chief who substitutes obfuscation with a so-called golden delivery to confuse almost all the issues facing us.
As a news junkie, glued now alas! to the internet, I wade through a continual swamp of blah-blah-blah every day. One of the most dramatic examples at the moment are the thousands of words that have now flowed concerning the problem of the Iranian mullahs’ pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. But the blah-blah-blah has confused a relatively simple issue:
Iran, with incredible reserves of fossil fuels, has gone for nuclear energy, ostensibly to produce electrical power. But its pursuit of enriched uranium indicates it is really chasing weapons material. Either the world puts a stop to it, or Iranian state terrorism – already plaguing the Middle East and reaching into Latin America – will destroy what little is left of our peace and stability. The muddled negotiations of Pres Barak Hussein Obama with Tehran’s rulers have conceded issue after issue, not the least any real supervision of any agreement with a regime that has a long history of violating all its international commitments That poses a dilemma not only for Washington policymakers, but for its allies. [Note that the French of all people are calling this spade a spade.] Either the Western alliance must use its every weapon to force the issue with Tehran, or lose the game. But that requires determined American leadership in the face of commercial interests at home and among Washington’s allies which see Iran as a rapidly developing market that only with major concessions could now be readily exploited.
The attempt by Obama to withdraw American leadership in this as from other international relations and substitute blanh-blah-blah is creating chaos throughout the world, permitting already exceedingly difficult regional conflicts to become exacerbated as lesser powers attempt to exploit the vacuum.
Little of this is illuminated, however, by the avalanche of blah-blah-blah, often by well meaning observers and self-appointed analysts. The advent of the internet with its access to anyone with a computer has meant the flow of blah-blah-blah — more often than not simple plagiarism from one copying source to another — completes the picture of total confusion.
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Hmmm. Perception vs. reality?


 

Perhaps the most difficult intellectual problem of human consciousness always has been sorting out perception, what seems to be, and reality, what is actually true.

It is clear that the digital revolution has intensified the conundrum. For the internet is a constant flood of false evidence but dressed in a seeming reality that often makes it indistinguishable from the real thing. So, a “photoshopped” picture of a bare-chested Pres. Vladimir Putin riding horseback with a Pres. Barack Obama behind him looks for all the world as an actual event. Although, immediately, in this instance, we know it is a good laugh – a joke, a hoax, perpetrated by one of Obama’s many critics with bitter humor since it is obvious no such meeting could have taken place without considerable publicity we never heard.

The very fact that a still photograph captures only a second in a more complicated scene or action in continuing life can be totally misleading. I marvel now looking at a splendid photograph [even if I do say so myself] I took more than a half century ago, published in my A Sense of Asia [Scribner’s,1969]. It is a serene Madonna-like portrait of a Lao mother and child with mist floating in behind their heads. Idyllic? Yes, but what’s missing, of course, are the terrible smells, the filth, the disease and the generally primitive living conditions that surrounded them in their isolated village in Southeast Asia on the edge of the Ho Chi Min Trail. There was no suggestion of the danger they constantly lived with, both from nature and the North Vietnamese Communists passing through enroute to South Vietnam.

But now an “audioshopped” recording of a human voice can be manipulated to sound, for example, just like a conversation that never took place. Some of those radio “interviews” between talk radio hosts are, in fact, conversations between backroom “producers” and the interviewee with the master’s voice and his questions inserted as an afterthought. [Transparency alert: I recently was inveigled into one.] Not exactly a total hoax but …not reality either.

Since the permanent capture of images began in mi-19th century, photographs have often been responsible, either by being falsely identified or tampered with, for faulty argument. They can play an enormous role in propaganda. The heart-rending photograph of an Arab father unsuccessfully shielding his son from Israeli military gunfire played into the saga of the Palestinians as only victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict. It just happened to have been concocted for a major French TV network which had to finally admit it was a fraud. But probably never wiped out was the effect of the whole affair on world opinion. Or we are still sorting out a photograph of the execution of a group of soldiers in the Syrian Civil War, presented as an atrocity of rebel jihadists but perhaps, in fact, a staged event by the al Assad regime.

In the pre-internet world, newspapers, radio and TV provided a diet of news and comment, at least to some extent vetted by the professionalism of the journalists, who, if for no other reason, were in pursuit of their reputations. But in the anonymous world of the internet, launching a canard of whatever proportions may have no repercussions for the author since only the most technically skilled recipient is capable of detecting subterfuge or even its origin if the author chooses to remain unknown.

It came as something of a shock a few years ago – I hadn’t given the whole issue that much thought – from the head of a business organization for hire to investigate financial and other business fraud that his field had mushroomed. “It is virtually possible to counterfeit any signature, any document and any transaction through the new digital tools”, he said. No wonder he was employed then by a Swiss “private” bank.

Thus, once again technology has proved itself neutral in the battle of ideas and the struggle between good and evil. Islamic terrorists, for example, have now learned not only to use the internet for propaganda of all kinds, but for instruction in terrorist techniques, and recruitment of jihadists. The sheer volume of the flow of the internet with few if any “intellectual” filters is what cascades down on those of us with even a minimum of computer literacy these days.

There was a time when, if you were interested in politics or even just general affairs of the world, you chose a newspaper with something of your “worldview” – and there were in “the good old days’’ a variety to choose from. You left it to the editors to give you their choice, for better or for worse, of what was important – even if as a New York Times Sunday reader that might amount to a heavier load than one hand could lift from your doorstep. Of course, that was when that august periodical was “the ‘paper of record” and not part of the current claque for a failing presidency.

This all comes to mind trying to sort fact from fiction in what is, obviously, whatever else it is, the campaign of the Iranian mullahs to ingratiate themselves with the Obama Administration and a war-weary American public. They have wielded a wide pitch to all and sundry, probably at the behest of their hired American public relations firm, or the instigation of their American-schooled Foreign Minister Javid Zarif who has also been a very busy salesman on TV and radio as well as in the printed media..

Pres. Hassan Rouhani has been interviewed repeatedly by everyone from Christiane Amanpour, herself reared in Tehran of a Muslim Iranian father and British Christian mother, to Ann Curry, who spent part of her childhood in Japan. [Speaking of perceptions: Curry’s interview was dominated — for me at least] — by a grotesque version of the Muslim hejab, a floor length veil which has been a symbol for centuries of the misogyny and subjugation of women in Islam and other traditional pre-industrial societies.]

There were the UN speeches, and in another jerk of Pres. Obama’s zig-zagging Mideast strategies, there was an on and off again scheduled handshake and personal meeting which finally ended in a telephone call by Obama with Rouhani enroute to his departure from New York City. [Was the NSA listening? After all, it was a call from a well-known terrorist to an American citizen.] All this was followed by a report from Obama on the call — all of 15 minutes we are told with time out for translations, one assumes, although both managed a “goodbye” in the other’s tongue.] Obama in a public statement gave assurances progress might be achieved on reaching a settlement of the long-standing issue of the Tehran mullahs’ pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and opposition to it from virtually all its neighbors as well as the U.S. and the European Union..

Mmmm. Perception versus reality? We are told Rouhani is a “moderate” [even if he did publicly brag of outfoxing the Americans, the EU and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency by “negotiating” for some two years while the Persians got another enrichment facility up and going at Isfahan]. And he was met by ]supposed?] protesters at the Tehran airport on his arrival with the 30-year-old slogans of “Death to America” and “Wipe Out Israel”. He even had a shoe tossed at him, that symbol of Muslim disrepute [which once almost caught Pres. George Bush but he ducked]. Yes, it may well be that there is dissension among the mullahs over policy. Yes, the sanctions – particularly the recent third party financial measures of the U.S. Treasury – have impacted on the Iranian economy despite a series of “passes” we have given allies to trade in Iranian oil.

But the question remains whether an authoritarian government, which is the principal support for the bloody al Assad family tyranny in Syria, and Hezbollah [which until 9/11 had killed more Americans in terrorist attacks than any other organization], Hamas, and other American enemies around the world, and which waged bloody war on our troops in Iraq, will give up nuclear weapons in its continued pursuit of hegemony in the Middle East? Is it not far more likely, having seen Pres. Obama march up the hill with flags flying and trumpets tooting, and then march down as quickly, the opportunity for another round of talking while progress continues on a nuclear weapon is not the real goal?.

Hmmm. Perception or reality?.

sws-09-29-13

Hold your horses!


The old cliché has it that history is written by the victors. But the victors’ historians, too, are human. In an effort to write a narrative which the rest of us can follow, they pick up what we diginicks call a “thread”. Until someone identifies a major theme and writes [and rewrites] that narrative, much of the important peripheral events get lost in the shuffle. Or they may get exaggerated beyond their eventual importance. All of this to say that in our world just now of instantaneous communication, everyone and his brother is grasping at straws in an unfolding crisis and drawing conclusions that will not stand the test of the coming historical narrative.

If that sounds wordy and pretentious, dear reader, you are right. What I want to say is, simply, the old-fashioned, “Hold your horses!” Wait out developments because we do not know what is happening or what will happen next before making final or even partial judgments.

I am appalled that radio and TV talking heads – as well as friends – grab a piece of this infinitely complicated geopolitical and humanitarian puzzle and run with it.

At the risk of seeming glib myself, may I just throw out a few of what I hope are helpful if not saving interpolations:

No, I am not an “Arabist” nor have I done more than stick my foot across the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights truce line toward Damascus only 40 [all downhill] miles away. But I have watched the Mideast for half a century out of the corner of my eye and if for no other reason, do think I have some semblance of historical perspective.

Yes, there is a general consensus that the U.S. should not intervene further in what began as a civil war in Syria unless “American national interest” is threatened. But like so many other political concepts, “national interest” is defined in many different ways: the fact that Basher al Assad is increasingly kept in power by the mullahs in Iran while developing their own weapons of mass destruction and a Russian UN Security Council veto camouflages Putin’s arms sales to Assad has changed the nature of the conflict.

No, Pres. Obama does not need a vote in the Congress in order for him to take military action in Syria in pursuit of American national interest and without a declaration of war. Almost every recent U.S. president has done just that. It irony that many of today’s opponents trace their opposition to foreign intervention as “progressives” to Pres. Woodrow Wilson who “unilaterally” used American military power repeatedly including intervention in the Mexican Revolution and, indeed, its civil war..

Yes, there isn’t much chance the U.S. or any one else can stabilize Syria, an artificial state created in the last gasp of British and French colonialism in the 1920s. Before the murdering al Assads arrived on the scene in the mid-1960s with their domination of its airforce by their Alawaite minority, there were some two dozen Syrian [mostly failed] coup d’etats. The Assads established whatever stability the country has had by brute force – including a 1982 month-long artillery shelling of a civilian population in Hamma that killed tens of thousands.

No, there is nothing new about the reluctance of America’s ostensible allies to join in what they generally say is a worthwhile military effort. After years of lobbying the British and the French whose citizens like those of the infant American Republic’s were being held for ransom, Pres. Thomas Jefferson [who had originally opposed any kind of permanent military] in 1802 went to the Congress for permission but no declaration of war to go for a military “strike” against the Barbary pirates.

Yes, there is no telling where Pres. Obama’s request to the Congress would lead were his “strike” against Syria with or without Congressional endorsement to be carried out.  [Please note all the essential subjunctives!]  I recall the old generals’ adage that all war plans and strategies go aglimmering with the firing of the first shot in any military engagement Assad, for example, has chosen not to respond to Israel’s three raids wiping out Russian munitions intended for Hezbollah, Assad’s ally in Beirut and southern Lebanon, who threaten the destruction of Israel, and he might try to ignore any American attack however effective.

No, Washington cannot back away from the Mideast whatever the decision Obama/Congress makes on this current issue. The U.S. has too many interests there including the region’s essential role in the world economy producing about two-thirds of the oil necessary to keep European and East Asian economies afloat even though the U,.S. is now approaching fossil fuel self-sufficiency [no thanks to Obama Administration policy but] because of the new shale technological revolution.

Yes, there is an overriding issue in Basher al Assad’s use of chemical warfare because for a hundred years the world has largely abided by an international agreement not to use this merciless of all weapons in combat, even with occasional violations by such monsters as Saddam Hussein and the Assads. That prohibition has been observe red in no small part because “poison gas” – used by both sides — turned out to be a dubious weapon in World War I for both its user and its victims. That evaluation could be hanging by a thread because of new delivery systems [i.e., medium and long-range missiles].

No, the power vacuum created by Obama’s four year effort “to lead from behind” and his Administration’s flirtation with the terrorist Moslem Brotherhood cannot be used as an excuse now to quit and run. As the saying goes, we are where we are, and unfortunately for an American public tried of war, the U.S.’ overwhelming economic and  military power is as potent when it is not directed and applied as when it is engaged.

Yes, a victory in the civil war would embolden Assad’s principal backer, the mullahs in Tehran moving to dominate the area, and Russia’s Pres. Putin, trying desperately to reassert the Soviet Union’s gone-with-the-wind superpower status. Failure of American resolve to handle this crisis will likely lead to a new and more dangerous breakdown in world stability if and when the Iranians get their nuclear weapon for which “Syria” is their diversionary sideshow or Putin with his oil and gas revenues collapsing tries some new stunt to hang on to power.

No, the U.S. did not start it all when with the British the CIA toppled the government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. It was, indeed, about the nationalization of Anglo-Persian Oil Co. [ancestor of BP]. But it was also about the opening salvos of the Cold War with Mossadegh’s off-and-on-support from Moscow and its Iranian Tudeh-Communist Party. [Read my Christian Science Monitor pieces in mid-summer 1951 from Tehran when, by the way, I was subbing for their Moscow staff correspondent who later turned out to be a Soviet agent!]

Yes, Syrian Christians are caught in the crossfire as almost unnoticed by the U.S. mainstream media and the American mainstream churches 15 million Egyptian Coptic Christians were about to be slaughtered by the former Egyptian Brotherhood regime. But leftwing Christians [e.g., one of the co-founders of the so-called Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party which installed Assad’s equally monstrous father] have been Assad’s collaborators. So much for a propaganda video of a female Syrian Christian spokesman haranguing cornered, hawkish Sen. John McCain at a town meeting.

No, Assad will not be able to write off the effects of any American “strike” although, obviously, it has lost its surprise element and permitted him to move possible targets. Many if not most of the “hard” targets cannot be moved, and while he might fly his aircraft to Iran as Sadaam Hussein did when America attacked, moving his third world command and control operations centered on a family dictatorship won’t be that easy. The mere threat of a “strike” – or its further escalation under pressure from Congressional hawks such as Sen. McCain and Congressman Pete King– is already shaking the regime to its secret police torturing roots.

Yes, it would be a lot better if Obama had an overall strategy in the Mideast before setting out on a rather idealistic rectification of world morality which in a more perfect world should be left tothe UN. But that is not where we are, and the issue is whether the U.S. is to try to reinforce some international standards of decency. It is a question this country cannot escape with impunity any more than it has in the past. It is a choice that the American Republic has had to make, often to its chagrin, many times in the past.

No, historical analogies are odious as some dead white European has said, but it does seem that we are moving from the Spanish Civil War aspects of this conflict to the Munich era. Two oceans and six and a half minutes for an Iranian or North Korean ICBM to reach us no more protect us today than they did in 1939 – nor in 9/11 when a ragtag terrorist band planned and executed the death of some 3,000 innocents at long distance from their hideouts in isolated, backward, primitive Afghanistan.

Yes, we are under fire from propaganda [and conspiracy theorists] from various interests with their own agendas. But rest assured that the confusion is so rampant that just as the issue has cut across nominal Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative lines, it is rearranging normally Mideast and international European and Asian players. Russia wants to protect its old Soviet satellite Syrian Mideast legacy but its nominal UN Security Council partner vetoing American action, China, is more interested in keeping Mideast peace so its growing oil and gas import bill doesn’t go through the roof [as its economy slows].which, in turn, would profit their pal {Ras} Putin.. Ditto various U.S. domestic conflicts.

No, there are no easy explanations nor answers. This is a messy affair.

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Attention America Mainstream Media: get out your lawbooks


 Oxford Dictionary of the English Language
bail 1
the temporary release of an accused person waiting trial, sometimes on condition that a sum of money be l0dged to guarantee their appearance in court
ransom [noun]
a sum of money or other payment demanded for the release of a prisoner
Those American kids were kidnapped and bought out, not bailed — no one in his right mind would go back to Tehran for a trial.

There are sanctions and sanctions


Surprise! Surprise! Our “multilateralist” European allies – never mind the Chinese and Russians — won’t crank up Iran sanctions.

Hypocrisy has reached new heights: during the annual German-Israeli joint cabinets meeting — deciding whether the Jewish state will again be gifted more submarines – comes a billion-dollar German package to stand up the mullahs’ LNG business. That’s the latest in1700 German companies tripling Hermes subsidized exports to $6.5 billion annually between 2000 and 2007. Some 50 German companies sell nuclear tech for Russia’s Iranian Bushwehr plant. And then there’s non-lethal support for Tehran’s ambitious missiles program. Ditto Italy, France.

Meanwhile, Pres. Obama might shade his eyes to survey the scene with the badly chewed open hand he has been extending the mullahs: a nuclear-clad Tehran would not only test the metal of Israel’s “Never Again”, likely producing new Mideast wars. It would redraw the world strategic map.

Just the threat has sent the Saudis again throwing money at Iranian ally Syria. Riyadh is trying to coax the Gulf minipetrostates into appeasement of Big Brother just across their pond. [They don’t call it the Persian Gulf for nothing.] A whirling idiosyncratic Muslimistic regime in Ankara bites its nails.

With nuclear weapons to dominate Arab oil, the mullahs might even halt the escalating erosion of their failed theocracy. [“Munich” not only armed a Nazi division with Skoda weapons for the attack on Poland initiating WWII but fed German nationalism.] Iranian WMD could help stifle nascent domestic dissidence with dreams of a new Persian empire – especially after latecomer Obama’s tepid endorsement of its martyrs.

In this muddle, conventional wisdom holds American unilateral sanctions won’t work.

That’s patently wrong. As always, the devil is in the details.

When Pres. Bush finally went after Pyongyang’s fronts in Macao – threatening Chinese banks dealing with them – Beijing saw to it that decades of counterfeiting $100 bills stopped, and Kim Jong Il had to look elsewhere for laundered money to cover his Danish pork tab.

NYC District Attorney Morgenthau has got the Treasury after years of dithering to move on flamboyant sanctions violators. Probably working around Presidential Adviser Volcker – the Swiss’ favorite American banker – Credit Suisse forfeited a $536-million fine for helping clients evade sanctions, giving up names. The U.K.’s Lloyds paid $567 to the Treasury and Morgenthau’s prosecution for setting up a special unit to flummox authorities. Barclays is under investigation. Morgenthau hints that Washington should do more, warning against Caracas’ growing ties to Iran.

If U.S. sanctions haven’t worked against Burma’s thugs – Sen. Webb’s endless mantra echoing in Foggy Bottom – it just could be because Chevron [successor to UNOCAL] and Total have poured billions into their pockets [receipts from a gas pipeline to Thailand built with slave labor].

The real question, as more often than not, is whether Obama will act. State has done a soft-shoe dance with California Congressman Berman for a ban on Iran’s petroleum product imports. But the legislation is camouflage. Does anyone really believe the always ambivalent Indians and the fragile Gulf states would halt the lucrative trade or that Washington would jeopardize relations to enforce it?

Furthermore, as George Washington University Professor Askari points out, it might have unanticipated consequences: Tehran’s more serious economic planners would welcome reducing extravagant consumption, saving foreign exchange and trimming monstrous subsidies —  all the while blaming it on The Great Satan.

Equally lame is the purported effort to go after accounts of the Revolutionary Guards. Dubai, for example, certainly before its recent near collapse, is happy hunting ground for South Asian embezzling politicians hiding their loot. And what about the VIP thieves running Iran?

But really effective – the operative word — unilateral sanctions against Iran could add one last straw to the mullahs’ camel’s back.

It requires sanctioning the central bank of Iran, cutting off credit lines to other central banks; Malaysia, for example. It means squashing letters of credit from American banks.

Most painfully, it means going after some of the two million Iranian Americans who flout the IRS by not reporting worldwide income. In the former environment no one could blame them – many refugees from the regime itself – for making a buck on the 15-20% interest rates on Iran-based accounts. But the income tax law ought to be enforced, and Berman ought to have a heart-to-heart talk with some of his constituents.

But in Washington, true enough Treasury Secretary Geithner has his hands full. New duty calls in trying to mitigate the scapegoating “populist” strategy of his boss against the banks. Obama now threatens New York City’s role as the world’s pre-eminent financial center. Nor does it help that the nominee for Treasury international assistant secretary hasn’t taken her seat, apparently because of tax and nannygate delinquencies.

Given the high priority Iran holds in the long litany of U.S. foreign policy issues – not the least its state terrorist maneuvers in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Bahrain, Yemen, and most importantly Iraq and Afghanistan – an authentic sanctions route ought to be tried. Tried before it is too late.