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Entries in Stephen Walt (3)


The Latest from Iran (25 April): Build-Up

2020 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. RAHANA reports that detainees in the women’s ward of Evin Prison staged a sit-in and asked the head of the ward to respect the Regulations Law which requires the separation of prisoners.

According to RAHANA, the head of the ward threatened the prisoners and claimed she needs prosecutor’s orders before separating the inmates. The political prisoners have stated that they will continue their sit-in until they achieve their goal.

NEW Iran Special: Tehran, Defender of Women’s Rights (P.S. Don’t Mention Boobquake
NEW Iran: The Green Movement and the Labour Movement (Assadi)
NEW Iran: Hyping the Threat from Tehran (Walt)
Iran: The List of 101 Journalists Who Have Been Jailed
Iran Document: Mousavi on the Green Movement’s Strategy and Goals (22 April)
The Latest from Iran (24 April): Speaking of Rights

1555 GMT:Corruption Watch. Reihaneh Mazaheri, writing for Tehran Bureau, sets out a detailed summary of the corruption allegations against the Ahmadinejad Government.

1550 GMT: Morality Will Be Observed. Tehran Police Chief Ahmad Reza Radan has assured that the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance's moral police will soon restart controls for better security.

1535 GMT: Media Corner. Journalist Zaynab Kazemkhah, arrested on 7 February, was fired by Iranian Students News Agency upon her release from Evin Prison. Her boss allegedly told her that she was "a traitor to the country".

1525 GMT: Mousavi Speaks Again. No doubt about it: both Mehdi Karroubi (see 0600 GMT) and Mir Hossein Mousavi are making a renewed push against the Government. Mousavi told a group of war veterans today, "The only way for Iran to get out of the crisis would be for you (the rulers) to change your approach. May God end the crisis in favor of the nation."

Mousavi again declared that the Government is working against the values of the Islamic Republic, "Islam would not beat anyone, would not take anyone into incarceration ... and would not keep anyone in prison....We can not accept closure of newspapers and jailing those who talk of freedom and people's right. This is against Islam."

The Presidential candidate assured the audience that the opposition has not been vanquished despite the Government crackdown on dissent, "Do not think that the reform movement does not exist anymore. Such measures can not block the reform path."

1520 GMT: Rumour of Day (2). Rah-e-Sabz claims that staged television confessions of reformist prisoners are planned for the eve of the anniversary of the election, 12 June.

1310 GMT: Culture and Political Prisoners. Ten prominent Iranian writers and poets, including Simin Behbahani, Ali Ashraf Darvishian, Shams Langroodi, and Moniro Ravanipour, have published an open letter demanding the release of journalist Masoud Bastani and other political prisoners.

1230 GMT: Boobquake Watch. Protecting Iran from earthquakes by pursuing immorality, Tehran police have reportedly banned tanning salons.

1210 GMT: Another Larijani Warning. Speaker of ParliamentAli Larijani has told President Ahmadinejad that the Majlis' laws should be implemented. The Khabar Online article supplements the warning has lots of detail on the government's alleged mismanagement, especially missing reports on the budget and on state broadcaster IRIB.

1205 GMT: Rumour of Day. The Sunday Telegraph of London claims, "Iran has struck a secret deal with Zimbabwe to mine its untapped uranium reserves in a move to secure raw material for its steadily expanding nuclear programme."

It was this agreement that underlay President Ahmadinejad's visit to Harare this week.

Caution is needed here: the Sunday Telegraph has been known to peddle exclusives based on suspect sources and/or speculation. This story rests on a "government source" and, rather unusually, "a senior official in the Iranian embassy" in Zimbabwe.

1200 GMT: All is Well Update. Minister of Interior Mustafa Mohammad Najar has declared, ''During nine months' efforts (since the 12 June Presidential election), police forces across the country slapped the enemy's conspiracy."
He said, ''Due to proper instruction, police forces used proper contact with people and the forces used less amount of shooting (than in the past).''

1035 GMT: Nuclear Breakthrough? Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has met the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, to discuss the uranium swap proposal. Mottaki told Iranian state television that he expected the discussions to be "decisive and detailed".

1030 GMT: We have posted a very special analysis linking Iran's suddenly-announced candidacy for the International Commission for Protection of Women’s Rights to the "Boobquake" episode.

(Just a thought, however. The Supreme Leader has his own Facebook page and has recently pronounced on Iran's defense of women's rights, so shouldn't he be informed of the Boobquake movement?)

0740 GMT: We have posted two features: an analysis of the Green Movement and labour movement by Jamshid Assadi and an assessment of the international "threat" from Iran by Stephen Walt.

0735 GMT: The Parliament Front. Another intervention by the Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani in the contest with the Ahmadinejad Government: he has criticized administration officials who have reacted angrily to reports released by the Supreme Audit Court (SAC).

The Supreme Audit Court, overseen by Parliament, is mandated to control the financial operations and activities of all ministries, institutions, state companies, and other organizations which receive Government funding.

0650 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. Student activist Milad Fadayi has been sentenced to a year in prison for “propaganda against the system”. Fadayi was detained on 2 December in his home by plainclothes agents.

Mohammad Hossein Agassi, the lawyer for Amir Reza Arefi, has said that Arefi's death sentence for "mohareb" (war against God) has been reduced to a 15-year prison term. Arefi was condemned to death in February.

However, RAHANA reports that Habibollah Golparipour has been sentenced to death by a Revolutionary Court in Iranian Kurdistan.

0600 GMT: We are watching the signs that the opposition, inside and outside Iran, is seeking a renewed challenge leading up to the anniversary of the Presidential election. According to his website, Mehdi Karroubi has told the German magazine Der Spiegel, "Although tranquillity has been restored, society is awaiting a spark....People should know that we will continue the campaign. The campaign is not against the [Islamic] republic. On the contrary, it is aimed at observing the constitution in which freedom of conscience and democracy has been clarified."

Some other bits and pieces to start the day....

Clerical Downgrade

A second cleric in Qom has been stripped of his status by a court. Hojatoleslam Mir Ahmadi was sentenced to forced exile from the city for ten years and banned from clerical activities.

Ahmadi was arrested by security forces days after a memorial service in February for the 40th day of the death of Grand Ayatollah Montazeri. Ahmadi had debated a student who criticised Montazeri and post-election turmoil in the country. The next day, he was arrested and later released.

Seyed Ahmad Reza Ahmadpour, who recently began a one-year prison sentence, also faces a ban on wearing the traditional clerical robe.

No Foreign Talk, Please

The Islamic Republic News Agency claims that the Deputy Minister for Cinema Affairs has directed that no foreign words be used in Iranian movie titles. According to the agency, a letter to officials declared, “Based on an approval by the cabinet to ban foreign words in banners, advertisements, etc…from now on, Iranian movies are not permitted to use foreign words in titles. This ban applies to films currently in production as well.”

International Rumour of Day

Ayoub Kara, Israel's deputy minister for development in the Negev and Galilee, has told a public meeting that an academic with ties to Iran's nuclear programme recently asked for asylum in Israel after it helped him to defect.

"It is too soon to provide further details," Kara said, adding only that the unidentified academic was "now in a friendly country."

The claim follows the resettlement of Iranian physicist Shahram Amiri in the US in March.

Iran: Hyping the Threat from Tehran (Walt)

Stephen Walt writes for Foreign Policy:

Back when I started writing this blog, I warned that the idea of preventive war against Iran wasn't going to go away just because Barack Obama was president. The topic got another little burst of oxygen over the past few days, in response to what seems to have been an over-hyped memorandum from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and some remarks by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, following a speech at Columbia University. In particular, Mullen noted that military action against Iran could "go a long way" toward delaying Iran's acquisition of a weapons capability, though he also noted this could only be a "last resort" and made it clear it was not an option he favored.

One of the more remarkable features about the endless drumbeat of alarm about Iran is that it pays virtually no attention to Iran's actual capabilities, and rests on all sorts of worst case assumptions about Iranian behavior. Consider the following facts, most of them courtesy of the 2010 edition ofThe Military Balance, published annually by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies in London:

GDP: United States -- 13.8 trillion
Iran --$ 359 billion  (U.S. GDP is roughly 38 times greater than Iran's)

Defense spending (2008):
U.S. -- $692 billion
Iran -- $9.6 billion (U.S. defense budget is over 70 times larger than Iran)

Military personnel:
U.S.--1,580,255 active; 864,547 reserves (very well trained)
Iran--   525,000 active; 350,000 reserves (poorly trained)

Combat aircraft:
U.S. -- 4,090 (includes USAF, USN, USMC and reserves)
Iran -- 312 (serviceability questionable)

Main battle tanks:
U.S. -- 6,251 (Army + Marine Corps)
Iran -- 1,613 (serviceability questionable)

U.S. -- 11 aircraft carriers, 99 principal surface combatants, 71 submarines, 160 patrol boats, plus large auxiliary fleet
Iran -- 6 principal surface combatants, 10 submarines, 146 patrol boats

Nuclear weapons:
U.S. -- 2,702 deployed, >6,000 in reserve
Iran -- Zero

One might add that Iran hasn't invaded anyone since the Islamic revolution, although it has supported a number of terrorist organizations and engaged in various forms of covert action.  The United States has also backed terrorist groups and conducted covert ops during this same period, and attacked a number of other countries, including Panama, Grenada, Serbia, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq (twice), and Afghanistan.

By any objective measure, therefore, Iran isn't even on the same page with the United States in terms of latent power, deployed capabilities, or the willingness to use them. Indeed, Iran is significantly weaker than Israel, which has roughly the same toal of regular plus reserve military personnel and vastly superior training. Israel also has more numerous and modern armored and air capabilities and a sizeable nuclear weapons stockpile of its own. Iran has no powerful allies, scant power-projection capability, and little ideological appeal. Despite what some alarmists think, Iran is not the reincarnation of Nazi Germany and not about to unleash some new Holocaust against anyone.

The more one thinks about it, the odder our obsession with Iran appears. It's a pretty unloveable regime, to be sure, but given Iran's actual capabilities, why do U.S. leaders devote so much time and effort trying to corral support for more economic sanctions (which aren't going to work) or devising strategies to "contain" an Iran that shows no sign of being able to expand in any meaningful way? Even the danger that a future Iranian bomb might set off some sort of regional arms race seems exaggerated, according to an unpublished dissertation by Philipp Bleek of Georgetown University. Bleek's thesis examines the history of nuclear acquisition since 1945 and finds little evidence for so-called "reactive proliferation." If he's right, it suggests that Iran's neighbors might not follow suit even if Iran did "go nuclear" at some point in the future).

Obviously, simple bean counts like the one presented above do not tell you everything about the two countries, or the political challenges that Iran might pose to its neighbors. Iran has engaged in a number of actions that are cause for concern (such as its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon), and it has some capacity to influence events in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, as we have learned in both of these countries, objectively weaker adversaries can still mount serious counterinsurgency operations against a foreign occupier. And if attacked, Iran does have various retaliatory options that we would find unpleasant, such as attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf. So Iran's present weakness does not imply that the United States can go ahead and bomb it with impunity.

What it does mean is that we ought to keep this relatively minor "threat" in perspective, and not allow the usual threat-inflators to stampede us into another unnecessary war. My impression is that Admiral Mullen and SecDef Gates understand this. I hope I'm right. But I'm still puzzled as to why the Obama administration hasn't tried the one strategy that might actually get somewhere: take the threat of force off the table, tell Tehran that we are willing to talk seriously about the issues that bother them (as well as the items that bother us), and try to cut a deal whereby Iran ratifies and implements the NPT Additional Protocol and is then permitted to enrich uranium for legitimate purposes (but not to weapons-grade levels). It might not work, of course, but neither will our present course of action or the "last resort" that Mullen referred to last weekend.

Afghanistan: Death And The Prices We Pay for Intervention

Stephen Walt ,  writing on Foreign Policy about the recent Wikileaks release on the killing of civilians in Iraq in 2007 by US forces, touches on the idea that massacres like the one in the Wikileaks video are to be expected as part of the price of our interventionist policies:
Notice that I am not suggesting that the personnel involved failed to observe the proper "rules of engagement," or did not genuinely think that the individuals they were attacking were in fact armed. Rather, what bothers me is that they were clearly trying to operate within the rules, and still made a tragic error. It reminds us that this sort of mistake is inevitable in this sort of war, especially when we rely on overwhelming firepower to wage it. When we intervene in other countries, this is what we should expect.

Afghanistan: The Humanity Missing From Our Debate

It's an excellent point, but unfortunately it's too easily dismissed with the old "war is hell" cliche, as in this piece from Bouhammer:

Soldiers cannot get wrapped around every single life they are forced to take by virtue of being in combat. Soldiers (and I use soldiers generally describing all service-members), use dark humor and take it all in stride when they have to take lives. They can’t be effective by getting wrapped around the axle over taking human lives. So what you hear in this video is soldiers being soldiers. Nobody likes killing innocents, especially children and that is evident when the soldiers on the ground immediately start calling for a MEDEVAC to come get the wounded children.

Clearly not everyone sees killing people as an unacceptable price of war, particularly when it's soldiers doing it. Bouhammer simply took Walt's adviceand expected the horrible deaths as a natural result of the policy.

But there is a bit more to the price of war than just the loss of lives. So let's get a little cold-hearted for a moment and just accept that we need to murder these people as part of our strategy. Even if we're OK with that, the price of this strategy is still astronomically expensive.

Let's start just with the cost of transporting supplies to our troops. Not the supplies themselves, just the cost of transporting them. Tom Engelhardt explains:
Believe it or not, according to the Washington Post, the Defense Department has awarded a contract worth up to $360 million to the son of an Afghan cabinet minister to transport U.S. military supplies through some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan – and his company has no trucks. (He hires subcontractors who evidently pay off the Taliban as part of a large-scale protection racket that allows the supplies through unharmed.) This contract is, in turn, part of a $2.1 billion Host Nation Trucking contract whose recipients may be deeply involved in extortion and smuggling rackets, and over which the Pentagon reportedly exercises little oversight.

That'sthe US taxpayer, paying $2 billion just for trucks run by corrupt warlords and Taliban interlopers who will use them to smuggle  God knows what, possibly drugs or guns used to kill our soldiers. Lovely. But we have to pay that, because in order for our war strategy to work we've got to have soldiers in "some of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan".

That's just for the trucks. How do we get the supplies on to those trucks? Well, they come through an airbase in Kyrgyzstan. The price for that is the usual support for a police state dictator and paying rent with US taxpayers' money. And that price is about to go up:
The news of ongoing unrest in the central Asian republic has been received with concern by Washington. The U.S. embassy in Bishkek said it was "deeply concerned" about "civil disturbances" in the country, in a statement released on Wednesday.

Saying that the situation in Kyrgyzstan was "still very fluid", John Kerry, the chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, expressed "regret for the loss of life" in the country and called on all sides to be "calm and refrain from violence". He called upon Kyrgyz parties to address the "underlying political, economic and social issues" in a "transparent process that brings stability and fundamental rights to all."

The U.S. State Department said that transport operations at the Manas military installation outside Bishkek have been "functioning normally." The U.S. military has used the base over the past several years as a staging post for its operations in Afghanistan. Despite the call for the base’s closure by opposition leaders reportedly in charge now, it remains to be seen whether the new government will take practical steps toward that end.

There are worries in the U.S. that the new opposition-led government may increase the rent for Manas base by renegotiating the terms of its agreement with the U.S., according to Foreign Policy’s Cable blog. Such a renegotiation, Cable said, may offer Russia an opportunity to influence an agreement over the base.

So our pet dictator was ousted in a violent uprising (I won't get into the awful stuff he did to deserve that here), and now the new opposition government is going to be raising the rent, if not evicting us completely. This also apparently gives Russia, who we desperately need in other matters like the Iranian nuclear file, a bargaining chip to play against the US.

But the cost goes beyond rent or trucks or anything you can put a dollar sign on. We're also actively working to subvert European democracies as part of the cost of our war:
A newly leaked CIA report prepared earlier this month analyzes how the U.S. Government can best manipulate public opinion in Germany and France -- in order to ensure that those countries continue to fight in Afghanistan. The Report celebrates the fact that the governments of those two nations continue to fight the war in defiance of overwhelming public opinion which opposes it -- so much for all the recent veneration of "consent of the governed" -- and it notes that this is possible due to lack of interest among their citizenry: "Public Apathy Enables Leaders to Ignore Voters," proclaims the title of one section.

We're paying the CIA to figure out how to screw over the voters of France and Germany, and I wouldn't be surprised if the same chicanery was happening in American politics. We're way past blowing taxpayer funds and into the territory of destroying our own national values. And for what? Who actually stands to benefit from all of these prices that we're paying?
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has slammed Western backers for the second time in a week, accusing the United States of interference, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

In a private meeting with up to 70 Afghan lawmakers Saturday, Karzai also warned that the Taliban insurgency could become a legitimate resistance movement if foreign meddling in Afghan affairs continues, the Journal said, citing participants in the talks.

During the talks, Karzai, whose government is supported by billions of dollars of Western aid and 126,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban, said he would be compelled to join the insurgency himself if the parliament does not back his bid to take over Afghanistan's electoral watchdog

That's right, we're paying a couple billion to Taliban warlords over here, propping up a police state over there, subverting democracies all over the place, and all for a corrupt mountebank like Karzai who wants to join the Taliban. And remember, I'm just picking examples out of thin air here; the cost of trucks, the Kyrgyz airbase, the CIA memos. These aren't even the total cost of the war which will wind up costing in the trillions.

Let's go back to Walt's piece:
It reminds us that this sort of mistake is inevitable in this sort of war, especially when we rely on overwhelming firepower to wage it. When we intervene in other countries, this is what we should expect.

See, Americans do expect these costs. They understand the cliches that "war is hell" and, indeed, expensive. But Americans do question why they're paying these costs only to prop up criminals like Karzai. Why are we paying billions to Taliban smugglers and police states and anti-democratic intelligence operations just to build a country for a guy who wants to join the Taliban? And he's the best thing we've got over there, we've been there for over 9 years, there is no one else.

Americans aren't opposing the cost of this war because they magically turned into pacifist hippies, they oppose the cost because we're paying for nothing over there. The best case scenario for the current price we're paying is we shell out trillions in deficit money, leave our soldiers to keep dying and killing innocent civilians for the next few years, subvert democracies worldwide, and destroy our own national values. All so Karzai will maybe not join the Taliban. Whatever goals we have in Afghanistan are simply not worth the price we're paying.

Josh Mull also writes for The Seminal and Rethink Afghanistan.