July 30, 2009

Slow Writing This Week

My hometown of Portland, Oregon, temporarily has the climate of Baghdad because cool marine air stopped blowing in from over the ocean. It has been well over 100 degrees all week, and it's almost 90 degrees in my house. My kitchen was 95 degrees at midnight last night. Most of us who live in the Pacific Northwest have feeble air conditioning because it's rarely this hot for so long. I'm exhausted, and it's hard to concentrate and write. Please bear with me while our weather slowly becomes a bit more civilized.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:55 AM | Permalink | 20 Comments »

July 28, 2009

Culture War Replaces Missile War

In early 2006, shortly before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, an Israeli intelligence officer predicted the future.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:05 AM | Permalink | 17 Comments »

July 23, 2009

The Future of Iraq, Part IV

The Future of Iraq Part IV.jpg

Getting an accurate reading of Iraqi public opinion is hard. It might be impossible. I've seen Iraqis cheer American soldiers, and I've seen some Iraqis hug American soldiers in Fallujah, Ramadi, and Baghdad. A few weeks ago, though, hundreds of thousands celebrated when Americans evacuated Iraqi cities as stipulated by the Status of Forces Agreement.

It's theoretically possible that what we've seen is not contradictory. Some Iraqis are pro-American. Others are not. Those who celebrated when Americans left may very well be, at least for the most part, different Iraqis than those I've seen who greeted Americans warmly.

Iraqi public opinion, though, is famously contradictory. And Iraqi public opinion as stated by Iraqis themselves is notoriously unreliable.

Most Iraqis, like most Arabs everywhere, are extremely polite and hospitable. It's a guidebook clich

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:51 AM | Permalink | 23 Comments »

July 21, 2009

What the West Bank Actually Looks Like

Last week, the New York Times published an article about

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:25 AM | Permalink | 20 Comments »

July 20, 2009

The Gulag of Our Time

I'm about a third of the way through Bradley K. Martin's epic tome Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.

Under the Loving Care.jpg

Just about everything you ever wanted to know

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:21 PM | Permalink | 6 Comments »

July 19, 2009

“Marg Bar Fascism”

Iran's 1979 revolution devoured its children, as revolutions so often do.

At Open Democracy, Fred Halliday suggests the current upheaval in Iran is, in some ways, an attempt to do it all over again -- and perhaps even get it right this time.

Many who know the modern history of Iran - be they Iranian or someone like myself who followed (and in part witnessed) the events of 1978-79 when the Islamic Republic came into being - will be struck by the many parallels, insights, warnings and differences offered by that earlier moment and the post-election upsurge of 2009. The apparel, slogans and precise demands may seem far apart, but at heart the opposed forces are similar.

The urge to repress, and above all the contempt for the peacefully and democratically expressed views of others, were evident in the first months of the Islamic Republic; they reached a critical point in the mobilisations of summer 1979, when left and liberal forces - seeking to defend press freedom, the rights of women and of ethnic minorities - were confronted by gangs of hizbullahi thugs, mass pro-Khomeini demonstrations, and the newly established pasdaran forces, all determined to subdue the yearnings for such freedom and rights.

I recall, in particular, an educative encounter in August 1979 with a Revolutionary Guard who had come with his colleagues to close down the offices of the independent newspaper Ayandegan. When I asked this pasdar what he was doing, he replied: "We are defending the revolution!". "Why are you therefore closing the paper?", I asked. "This newspaper is shit", he declared. When I suggested that 2 million people read the paper, he replied, without reservation: "All right, then these 2 million people are shit too!" Thus was my induction into the political culture of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:43 AM | Permalink | 34 Comments »

Time for a Re-Think

This is really extraordinary:

Throughout the political campaign Barack Obama argued that he was a staunch friend of Israel. In Cairo, in his ground-breaking speech to the Islamic world, he asserted America was committed to the security of Israel. Wherever he goes he says he is committed to upholding America's long history of supporting the Jewish state.

So how come a Jerusalem Post poll conducted late last month says only six percent of Israelis think the Obama administration is pro-Israel, down from almost five times that in the early weeks of the administration? This is such a low number that it clearly cuts across all parties, demographic and social groups within Israel. It effectively says that something that Obama has done in his first six months in office has convinced virtually all the Israeli people (at least to the extent the poll is truly representative of the people of Israel) that he's not what he said he was.

I was in Israel when President Obama was inaugurated. I watched the inauguration on television in Jerusalem at the American Jewish Committee office. Most Israelis in the room seemed deeply moved, much more so than I was. Some were nearly in tears. I wonder how they feel now.

Precious little, if any, good is likely to come from this. Michael Doran lays it all out at the Middle East Strategy at Harvard Web site. I strongly suggest you read the whole thing, but here's the bottom line:

The White House has sacrificed some credibility on the Israeli side, but it surely must have recouped its losses by garnering Arab goodwill. Think again.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:10 AM | Permalink | 61 Comments »

July 17, 2009

A Microcosm of World Politics

Iranians like to shout "death" at countries and governments they oppose. "Death to America" and "death to Israel" have been staples of the bombast belted out by hard-line ruling authorities for three decades. "Death to the dictator" is a recent addition to Iran's political discourse.

Even more recently, enemies and opponents of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Ali Khamenei began chanting "death to Russia" and "death to China" to counter the regime's incessant bleatings of "death to America," and to highlight the Islamic Republic's alliance with Beijing and Moscow.

Iran's internal divisions look more like a microcosm of world politics than they have for some time. Each side is declared a proxy of powerful foreigners. Natrually, each side's "patrons" oppose each other geopolitically. Whether the White House likes it or not, and whether it's a good thing or not, the reformist and revolutionary side in that fight will continue to be associated with the United States and the West.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:39 PM | Permalink | 5 Comments »

Don’t Forget Iran

Iran is in turmoil again. I'm busy with something else at the moment, but Nico Pitney is on it.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 2:43 PM | Permalink | 3 Comments »
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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