Tuesday, January 31, 2006

On President Bush's State of the Union Speech

I usually enjoy Bush's state of the union address (with the exception of a couple of years ago where half way through his speech, somewhere between steroid and Iraq, I had switched back to American Idol). What was interesting to me this year (and it went kind of unnoticed by the talking heads) was identification of radical Islam as the enemy in the war on terror (if I am not mistaken it was mentioned twice in his speech). One thing that bothered me all along after 9/11 was that the so called war on terror had no clear enemy. Everyone knew for example that the war was really not against Basque separatists but other than that it was scoped so conveniently broad and vague that allowed targeting secular rogue elements such as Saddam Hussein. His mention of Iran was brief and nothing beyond what he had already said in the previous years. I think the reason that the talking heads jumped on the topic of Iran afterwards was mostly because the word was out earlier that the speech would focus on Iran.

Dianne Feinstein tops my list of irritating senators and tonight was no exception. In an after speech interview with Chris Matthews, she expressed her concern about pushing for elections in the Middle East. Her reason? Democratic election of Ahmadinejad to presidency in Iran (and Hamas victory). To make sure that everyone got it she repeated it twice (with the democratic qualifier in both cases). Being a senator from California, who knows, maybe she once bought a rip off carpet from some sleazy Iranian guy in LA. For some reason, I think Feinstein and lady peace (Shirin Khanome Ebadi) would make a perfect match. Someone should arrange a meeting between the two. And speaking of democratic or semi-democratic elections in Iran: Iranian elections are as much democratic as mullahs' conference on Holocaust is scientific.

But nothing was funnier than the response by the rising star of the Democratic party, Governor Tim Something from Virginia. I didn't pay attention to what he said, except one phrase I could catch repeatedly in between my naps "there is a better way".

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Few articles about Iran provide interesting insight into the complex political and economic system of Islamic Republic. The articles by Tom Porteous in Prospect Magazine and the late Paul Klebnikov in Forbes are among them. According to Porteous "The usual analysis of Iranian politics—favoured by western commentators, journalists and secular Iranian intellectuals alike—follows what one might call the political-science approach, which takes as its starting point the complex constitution and formal institutions of the Iranian power structure." This approach in my view is the source of misreads about Iran. Another way to look at the situation is through the approach called "shadow state" by Porteous or “shadow government” by Klebnikov. According to the shadow state theory political institutions "serve as a façade or as tools that are manipulated, subverted and instrumentalised by an oligarchy of competing networks of politicians, mullahs, senior security officers, speculators and bazaaris (merchants) as a means of accumulating and maintaining wealth and power."

So where am I going with all this you ask? My point is that we lack information about the real political structure. Not even Alireza Nourizadeh’s extremely entertaining and detailed but mostly irrelevant biographical accounts of Iranian political figures helps much. When people like Mohsen Sazegara come to the west, our number one priority should be neither target practicing on them nor worshipping their bravery and analytical skills but rather squeezing them for information. Before then all we can do is speculating and guessing. Here is some which I find more qualified than others. The new regime in Tehran, which is symbolized by Ahmadinejad’s presidency, has its base in a generational (mini) wave whose political experience was shaped by the Iran-Iraq war and insurgency in Kurdistan and other provinces. I call it a mini-wave because the represented time span is rather small in demographic scales. The revolution’s first generation represented by Rafsanjani, Khamenei, and many exile figures are on the way out. As such, I doubt the traditional leaders of IRI (e.g. Rafsanjani) despite their wealth and influence can pose any serious challenge to the new rulers as asserted by Michael McFaul and Abbas Milani in Washington Post. Since it is not clear to me who MacFaul and Milani refer to when they write about challenges from the “embattled democratic movement”, I cannot comment on that one.

The future struggle will be between the government and the revolution’s third and fourth generations who want to live a normal life like their counterparts in civilized societies. They want jobs, security, personal freedoms, and the right to enjoy life or as formulated nicely by the American founding fathers life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The current regime by reason of its corrupt real structure, discriminatory legal construct, and backward ideology is incapable of fulfilling the needs of Iranian young and vibrant society.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Islamic Republic is counting on high oil prices and its lucrative deals with China and Russia to create impasse over its nuclear activities. It is not clear how far away the regime is from the bomb but one thing is clear: the regime in Tehran is playing the nuclear game to raise nationalist sentiments at home and the Holocaust denial nonsense to create sympathy for its cause in the region among Arab masses. Seeing an inevitable conflict looming in the horizon, the regime would like to define the fight on its own terms against its favorite regional opponent Israel. So here is the question: what is the real conflict the regime sees as inevitable? Does it have ethnic flavor? Is it internal opposition, economic plight, or factional dispute? Or is it the fear over US active involvement in regime change which has prompted the regime to raise the stakes in pursuit of a grand bargain that would include security guarantees and nonagression treaty? Unfortunately, the political system is so opaque that it is nearly impossible to answer these questions with any degree of certainty. It is not even clear who really rules in Iran and what the economic interests of this group are. The stories on the influence of Mesbah-Yazdi or Samare Hashemi, narrated by the London circle (Masoud Behnoud and the company) among others, are for entertainment purpose only.

A final comment: one thing that is always overlooked in all analyses is the role of the army (artesh). The army will stay politically neutral as it has during the past 27 years. However if the more ideologically oriented armed forces crumble for any reason (including strikes by the US) the army has the potential to step in and end the conflict. That could be our winning card.
Read the Iran policy recommendations of the Committee on the Present Danger (http://www.fightingterror.org/pdfs/IranPaperJan23.pdf). One of the most interesting recommendations is creation of an international tribunal to try the Islamic Republic leadership. The massacre of the political prisoners in 1988 will most likely qualify as a crime to be considered by such tribunal. This is an area where the exile opposition can make a huge difference.

Monday, January 23, 2006

  • All it will take for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing
  • Benefit of the doubt is appropriate if and only if no words to the contrary yet spoken
  • No Taqiyah (hiding or lying about your beliefs or opinions in order to CYA) exercised or allowed
  • Take what is said at its face value and challenge it the way it is, no less, no more, no excuses, no exceptions

It is rather unfortunate that I have to start my blog on negative notes. But the article in LA Times by Shirin Ebadi and Muhammad Sahimi leaves little doubt in my mind that she is a Trojan horse. The article is dishonest and misleading. It is shameful that 27 years after Shah's fall and his death in exile, she still chooses to attack him for, in her words, creating the Frankstein that the world has to deal with today. Funny that this lady was one of the first female judges under the same regime she hates so much while demoted to the clerk in her own court under the regime she defends so adamantly.

Some other nonsense from her article "instead of backing Iran's fledgling democratic movement, which would have led to nuclear transparency, the U.S. undercut it by demonizing Iran. While Khatami proposed people-to-people dialogue between Americans and Iranians, Washington chose to block Iranian scholars, artists and authors from visiting the U.S. Although Khatami helped the U.S. in Afghanistan, President Bush designated Iran a member of the "axis of evil." By 2003, when it became clear that Khatami's reforms had stalled, the world started paying closer attention to Iran's nuclear program. So, what had demonizing Iran achieved?". Well, lady peace has apparently forgot that the regime crackdown on the students, the press, and other dissidents and its clandestine pursuit of nuclear technology was in full force as Madam Albright was offering apologies to mullahs for US role in overthrowing Mossadegh.

And now listen to the advice of lady peace to the West: "Western nations should help the U.N. appoint a special human rights monitor for Iran. It would remind the General Assembly of Iran's human rights record annually, and strongly condemn it if the record keeps deteriorating. Contrary to the general perception, Iran's clerics are sensitive to outside criticism." Has this (nearly) annual condemnation of mullahs not been happening in the past 27 years? What has it accomplished? Has it stopped mass executions, stoning, public hangings, mutilation, or stopped Iran's nuclear activity for that matter?

In brief lady peace is suggesting the west to waste time engaging in some useless acts as the mullahs develop the bomb. But in the process, lady peace may have decrypted the DaVinci Code for the demise of her beloved regime: Invert exactly everything lady peace suggests and soon we'll be rid of the murderers in Tehran, God willing (inshallah).