September 04, 2007

The Next Iranian Revolution

Reason Cover Next Iranian Revolution.jpg

Reason Magazine just published an article I wrote this summer called The Next Iranian Revolution, about Kurdish Iranian exiles in Iraq plotting revolution against the regime of the Islamic Republic. There are two groups of armed revolutionaries just outside the city of Suleimaniya; one is liberal, and the other is communist. Both call themselves Komala. I wrote about these people on the blog in the spring but there’s quite a bit of material in the magazine that I didn’t cover here. The article only exists today in the dead tree version, but will appear online later this month. Below is an excerpt.


IN A GREEN VALLEY nestled between snow-capped peaks in the Kurdish autonomous region of northern Iraq is an armed camp of revolutionaries preparing to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran. Men with automatic weapons stand watch on the roofs of the houses. Party flags snap in the wind. Radio and satellite TV stations beam illegal news, commentary, and music into homes and government offices across the border.

The compound resembles a small town more than a base, with corner stores, a bakery, and a makeshift hospital stocked with counterfeit medicine. From there the rebels can see for miles around and get a straight-shot view toward Iran, the land they call home. They call themselves Komala, which means simply Association.

Abdulla Mohtadi, the Komala Party’s secretary general, and Abu Baker Modaressi, a member of the party’s political bureau, hosted me in their meeting house. Sofas and chairs lined the walls, as is typical in Middle Eastern salons. Fresh fruit was provided in large bowls. A houseboy served thick Turkish coffee in shot glasses.

Both men started their revolutionary careers decades ago, when the tyrannical Shah Reza Pahlavi still ruled Iran. “We were a leftist organization,” Mohtadi said, speaking softly with an almost flawless British accent. “It was the 60s and 70s. It was a struggle against the Shah, against oppression, dictatorship, for social justice, and against – the United States.” He seemed slightly embarrassed by this. “Sorry,” he said.

I told him not to worry, that I hadn’t expected anything else. The U.S. government had backed the dictatorship he fought to destroy. Pro-American politics had not been an option.

Read the rest in the October issue of Reason Magazine, which should be available now in book stores and news stands. (Or you can wait for the free online version.)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 12:09 AM
Comments

In my humble opinion, these people do not have a snowball's chance in hell of getting what they want, Michael. The Kurds have a phrase "No Friends But The Mountains" which, if you look at their sad and long suffering history, is pretty much true...

And if these Iranian leftist Kurds are ever foolish enough to accept the curse of "American backing" their odds are even worse.

Believe me, whatever nonsense Neo-con think tanks and bizarre opposition groups come out with, the government and system in Iran is NOT in danger of imminent collapse.

And let me be very clear about one thing: if the US administration was ever foolish enough to launch military action on Iran, the vast majority of the Iranian population would rally round the flag.

That's something that Americans don't seem to understand... when 9/11 happened everyone in the US - whether they liked or loathed G W Bush - became more patriotic and stood together. Well, other nationalities are no different to you guys.

The same thing will happen in Iran, whatever people here think of the powers that be in charge at this time, Iranian people will not tolerate an attack on their country. They, too, will rally round the flag... and any chance of improved relations between our two peoples will be set back 50 years or more.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 4, 2007 06:46 AM

Microraptor: Let me be very clear about one thing: if the US administration was ever foolish enough to launch military action on Iran, the vast majority of the Iranian population would rally round the flag.

Sounds like these rebels have worried the right people.

The Microraptors of Iran are the ones who will lose power, whatever the consequences of a U.S. attack.

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 07:43 AM

Edgar, you have got me all wrong.

I am not some sort of Iranian regime stooge or Ahmedinejad supporter. I have simply been talking to any number of ordinary people in Tehran on a daily basis, and regardless of their political persuasions - whatever they think of the current set up here - they have all told me the same thin: That were the US to attack Iran, they would rally to the cause -- even though many of them have absolutely no time for this government or the system, and would in most cases be natural freinds of the USA.

This is an extremely patriotic and proud nation and they will not take kindly to being assaulted, even if it is supposedly being done "for their own good."

Many of the people I have spoken to who would love to see the back of this system believe that the worst thing that could happen in terms of their long term aspirations would be an external attack on the country.

I am terribly sorry if that's not what you want to hear, but it's simply me telling you guys what people here are telling me.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 4, 2007 08:25 AM

"This is an extremely patriotic and proud nation and they will not take kindly to being assaulted"

That has been the conventional wisdom for some time now. It's just one of many reasons it will fail to assuage, those with the capacity to act, to further their agenda. We must agitate that hornets
nest in order for democracy to have a chance.

Posted by: semanticleo at September 4, 2007 08:48 AM

We must agitate that hornets
nest in order for democracy to have a chance.

Is poking at a hornet's nest ever a good idea?

As always, the best way of getting rid of a hornets nest is to wait until the bugs are dormant (ie. relatively powerless), then remove the whole thing at once. The best way to destroy the Iranian regime is to weaken its sources of power, the economy and their internal and external intelligence agencies.

Even if the Iranian Mullahs were overthrown, the surrounding regimes would send in the insurgents, as they always do. Weakening Iran and those other enemy regimes to the point of powerlessness could be an effective idea if we chose to use it.

Posted by: mary at September 4, 2007 08:57 AM

We must agitate that hornets nest in order for democracy to have a chance.

We must smack the hornet's nest with freedom! With the stick of righteous armed democracy! Only when the furious buzzing of democracy emitting from the tattered remnants of the hive of tyranny reaches a crescendo will liberty be on the march in the form of a big nest-smacking stick!

Stirring. And agitating.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 09:02 AM

Microraptor,

A nation's leadership cannot openly threaten the destruction of other nations without their being a war. Duh! If the mad mullahs wanted peace, they would have acted accordingly. Soon their bluff will be called. Tell your friends their real enemies are Khameini-Imadinnerjacket and Company. It's only the truth.

Posted by: John at September 4, 2007 09:09 AM

"Stirring. And agitating"

Part of the solution is to install legions of cell towers, emitting the screech of microwave Babel, in order to disorient the critters lest they return and commiserate with their nestfellows.

Posted by: semanticleo at September 4, 2007 09:11 AM

Micro, what you say about Iran is probably true. What you say about what "Americans don't seem to understand" is bullshit. Don't act like you're the only person who ever realized any of those things.

Posted by: Gene at September 4, 2007 09:20 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/04/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at September 4, 2007 09:29 AM

Ok, let's all sign an accord.

Nobody is allowed to cite "personal experience" to trump the other person's argument anymore.

(Otherwise I'm the official expert on Palestinian,
Russian and Canadian politics).

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 09:31 AM

Thin line there, Edgar. I always welcome and appreciate the words of someone who is there, has been there, or even has people there. I can see your point should the experiences be sewn into part of an ideological rant. But here with Micro's observations, all I hear is his passing on of personal experience. Followed by his opinion.

I tend to ignore, if I can recognize it, any spin put on such comments. Much like I prefer getting raw data first, and then reviewing the experts' explanations. Maybe that's why MJT's writing is liked. You get the raw first to peruse. Then his opinion spelled out next to it.

Posted by: allan at September 4, 2007 10:11 AM

Microraptor: In my humble opinion, these people do not have a snowball's chance in hell of getting what they want, Michael.

What would you have thought were the odds of Syria being pushed out of Lebanon on March 13, 2005? That seemed even less likely. But it happened, and it happened very suddenly.

I'm tired of the Iranian dissidents and revolutionaries saying the regime is on its last legs. It's like the boy who cried wolf in reverse. But one of these days they will be right. I have no idea when, and neiher does anyone else. It will just suddenly happen, as these things tend to do.

The regime of Shah also looked invulnerable until it very suddenly wasn't.

Related: Victor Davis Hanson says don't bomb Iran.

Also, a very good book on the last revolution is Shah of Shahs by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. Perhaps no on in the history of the world witnessed more revolutions than he did. If anyone gets to cite personal experience in an argument about revolution, he can. (Too bad he died recently. His work is really amazing.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 10:19 AM

MJT: I have no idea when, and neither does anyone else.

I hope somebody has at least somewhat of an idea. What the hell is the CIA doing all day?

allan,

Microraptor said things like "I am terribly sorry if that's not what you want to hear..." before saying he was only reporting what he had heard.

The implication is clear: we're in denial and he's the messenger of truth. It's an obnoxious way to make a point and it's getting extremely fucking irritating that several people are constantly doing the same thing.

I can go to Iran and find many pro-US people that would support an invasion. I guarantee it. And I can find people that will say that everyone who doesn't is just afraid to say it. Then I can "report" back what the Iranian street thinks.

As for Iran, well, nobody wants to get bombed, unless they've reached the point of absolute despair (e.g. inmates of a concentration camp). If Iranians did want the U.S. to invade/bomb them it would be positively astounding.

That said, many Iranians would be quite happy if 90% of the conservative establishment disappeared suddenly.

Daisy-cutters won't do it. We need more finesse; i.e. supporting these revolutionary types. At least they're ideology-driven instead of money-driven like the Chalabis of this world. I wouldn't trust fully, but they're probably slightly more honest than the Iraqi exiles we dealt with.

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 10:58 AM

There was a large international reaction (802 comments) to the Times OnLine article "3 Day Blitz". In the article the following was stated:

Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which uncovered the existence of Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, said the IAEA was being strung along. “A number of nuclear sites have not even been visited by the IAEA,” he said. “They’re giving a clean bill of health to a regime that is known to have practised deception.”

The following are some of the Iranian comments:

I'm so sorry that some people like Alireza from Tehran can't make a distinction between the regime in Iran and their country! If you hate the regime you should not extend this hatred to your country. Many Iranians hate the regime in Tehran but they love their country. The obliteration of the regime should not end in the obliteration of my contry and my future!
Majid, Tabriz, Iran

Another round of the war on terror, huh? "Action is needed now", "we need to do this", "why cant other ppl see sometimes war is needed so we can live in peace?", "Just do it"... So much for the "civilized and developed" east and west! Attack and kill a few thousand more. That'll do it...satisfy your blood lust for now. This place is actually home to millions of human beings. It's not the Mullah's you'll kill, it's the people. War is not the answer. never.
Dany, Mashad, Iran

Ha ha ha realy funny and the Iranians will sit down and view the demolishment of their installation
COME ON YOUR DOOMED IF YOU DO THAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
SAD, TEHRAN, IRAN

Alireza: if you are serious you must be sound crazy! US would love to have you as spy
toutoune, Iran

dont let this disaster happen.because if u do ull be in a big danger ure self. idont support iranian government but i dont support war niether.
pouya, iran, iran

I am a woman of Persian ancestry. My family came to the U.S.A. from Iran in 1980, when I was 11. We are United States citizens. We all fully support President Bush. We all voted for him in 2000 and in 2004. We still support him now.
Members of my extended family in Iran have expressed to me that they welcome any help -- including military intervention -- to help overthrow the Mullahs. The Iranian people, for the most part, love the West and Western culture. They don't like Ahmadinejad or any of the hardline Islamists (i.e. the Mullahs and Ayatollahs) any more than any in the West do.
My family and I are so very grateful to have had the opportunity to come to the U.S.A. when we did and to become citizens and to prosper in the businesses that we have opened here. We find that some people who were born in this country do not appreciate its greatness to the degree that they should, as they have never known anything else. This is a shame.
Nargress Bandari, Lafayette, California

Alireza from Tehran wants this. Does anyone remember a few years ago when an Israeli radio talk show host took calls from people in Iran? Many of them wanted their country to be invaded like Iraq was so they could be free from their government...
Michelle, Seattle,

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 11:01 AM

The implication is clear: we're in denial and he's the messenger of truth. It's an obnoxious way to make a point and it's getting extremely fucking irritating that several people are constantly doing the same thing.

Where is Patrick anyway?

Look, if people have talked to people and want to share what they said, that's fine, and I can even deal with some of the pomposity that goes along with that from some commenters. The more information, the better, right?

Having said that, has anyone ever talked to a revolutionary that didn't think that they could overthrow their society of choice?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 11:16 AM

To follow up my last comment, recently the IAEA
stated that Iran has 2000 centrifuges, and their activities have slowed. The following day, Ahmadinejad stated that Iran has 3000 centrifuges. A 50% increase in centrifuges hardly indicates a slowing. And where are those extra 1000 that the IAEA didn't see, or didn't report?

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 11:33 AM

Microraptor, you have nothing to worry about. America is different from other nations. What you don't understand is that the rally round the flag on 9/11 was a distant memory by 9/12. Tell all the 'natural friends of the USA' to keep on paying taxes to the Iranian regime and giving their sons to its armed forces so Iran can kidnap the British and murder the Americans. We won't do a damn thing about it.

Posted by: bgates at September 4, 2007 11:35 AM

DPU: Has anyone ever talked to a revolutionary that didn't think that they could overthrow their society of choice?

Yes, DPU, I have. Now spare us the armchair analysis and leave the real thinking to pros like me who have been in the field.

You seem to think you can read the minds of these revolutionaries. Stop it. Go ask them in person, then report back to us.

Don't make assumptions from your comfortable Vancouver condo with the ocean view that these people "think" they can "overthrow" their "society of choice."

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 11:42 AM

Now spare us the armchair analysis and leave the real thinking to pros like me who have been in the field.

And there's the pomposity that I referred to earlier. Thanks you for the extremely powerful example of it, your exaltedness. We are truly not worthy.

Bow bow scrape kneel.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 11:48 AM

Oh, sorry, forgot the :-)

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 11:50 AM

DPU,

Try playing one hour of twister with a group of bloodthirsty Iraqi insurgents in a Fallujah safe house.

Then try breakdancing at a Taliban wedding while people fire automatic weapons wildly into the air.

Do one of those two things and maybe I'll begin to take you seriously.

I've done both.

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 12:19 PM

Hey, DPU - smack him with your big hornet stick.

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 12:22 PM

Komala's website is being run from Vancouver:

http://www.komala.org/english/eindex.htm

++ungood could give 'em a call?

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 12:25 PM

Do one of those two things and maybe I'll begin to take you seriously.

Wait, that above comment was serious?

Good lord.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:34 PM

DPU,

First, I don't take comments on my pomposity by people from BC very seriously. People from a one-party system usually don't have much worth listening to.

Most of the commentary on this thread misses the point, and I hope that Michael mentioned it in his article. Both Komala organizations are interested in help, but they are more interested in help organizing than they are in help demolishing. Eventually they are going to need some "demolition aid" from the Navy and Air Force, but first and foremost they want help in networking the resistance in Iran.

I stand by my comments in earlier threads about people not comprehending the reality of military force. Once upon a time, my profession was to use unguided nuclear devices in defense of the United States. I made it a point to learn exactly what I was doing, although many did not. It bothers me when people are unclear on such important matters and go on to speak about them at length.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 4, 2007 12:37 PM

..but my break dancing skills suck. And I hate twister.

Do I have to play party games with Islamists to be taken seriously? Couldn't I just hang around them for a while?

Charades and Trivial Pursuit, maybe?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:38 PM

DPU,

When I play Twister, it's not for fun.

And believe me, it isn't fun for members of any of the Iraqi insurgent groups, either, when I demolish whole squads of them.

Humiliation is a big thing in their culture.

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 12:40 PM

People from a one-party system usually don't have much worth listening to.

We have a one-party system now? Which party are imagining that we have?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:40 PM

TEHRAN, Iran - Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and longtime Machiavellian figure in Iranian politics, was picked Tuesday to head a powerful clerical body — another defeat for the current president's hard-line faction.

Analysts said the election showed that more moderate conservatives like Rafsanjani were gaining ground in Iran, where there is increasing discontent with the ruling hard-liners over rising tensions with the West, a worsening economy and price hikes in basic commodities and housing. Ahmadinejad's allies were humiliated in December local elections, in which moderate conservatives won a big victory.

The rest of the AP story is here

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 12:41 PM

And believe me, it isn't fun for members of any of the Iraqi insurgent groups, either, when I demolish whole squads of them.

Then I suggest airdropping crack Twister teams over Tehran.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:42 PM

First, I don't take comments on my pomposity by people from BC very seriously.

Let's see if we can keep the national/regional insults to a minimum.

Lots of smart people are from BC. (Lisa Goldman for instance.)

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 12:42 PM

Let's see if we can keep the national/regional insults to a minimum.

I can take it. Plus, I'm dying to find out how Patrick's crackerjack analysis skills have determined that we have a one-party system of government.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:46 PM

MJT,

He snarked at me, I snarked back. Yes I know what the immortal Ghandi said, "A snark for a snark and pretty soon the world is snarked..."

Nevertheless, I feel less constrained in this case since it was a swipe at his region's lack of political diversity, which is fair game since his commentary duplicates the political line of the region he represents.

Besides, I try to be vague when talking about people whose parents were only distantly acquainted through "fleet week" associations.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 4, 2007 12:49 PM

Nevertheless, I feel less constrained in this case since it was a swipe at his region's lack of political diversity...</i.

Once again, I am dumbfounded by this assertion. What the hell are you talking about?

I hope your skills at reading the political situation on the other side of the globe are better than your understanding of our political system, because you seem to be seriously missing the boat on this one.

Which party do you imagine is dominating our politics?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:53 PM

Maybe you're confusing Alberta with BC?

Easy enough to do. They're both huge provinces with distinct characters and politics, but they are right beside each other. An easy mistake to make for someone who lives in the country right next door...

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 12:59 PM

DPU,

Once again, I am dumbfounded by this assertion. What the hell are you talking about?

When was the last time the Liberals were out of power in BC? http://www.leg.bc.ca/mla/3-1-5.htm Because right now they have a pretty commanding majority, even if it isn't the 90+% they used to have.

Furthermore: http://www.leg.bc.ca/mla/3-2.htm Don't you have people of color there?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 4, 2007 01:00 PM

Maybe you think that socialists and conservatives are the same thing? Or maybe you think that the BC Liberal Party are actual liberals instead of conservatives that adopted the liberal party for political reasons, and that those are the same thing as socialists?

Help me out here, Patrick.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 01:02 PM

Patrick Lasswell: I try to be vague when talking about people whose parents were only distantly acquainted through "fleet week" associations

First homophobic and misogynist comments, and threatening to beat people up, and then insulting people's mothers.

Your "extreme cubicle aversion" was a very bad thing, in retrospect. It went hand-in-hand with an extreme aversion to growing up, apparently.

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 01:02 PM

Edgar,

You can't take a joke.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 4, 2007 01:05 PM

When was the last time the Liberals were out of power in BC?

2001. When was the last time that the Republicans didn't hold the presidency?

And the Liberals (actually conservatives, surprise) hold 56% of the seats in the Leg, with social demiocrats holding the rest.

This is a one-party system of government?

Bwaa ha haa ha.

Well, that explains the analysis of Iran.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 01:05 PM

I can only imagine from Patrick's remarks that he has imagined that BC has been ruled under the iron fist of the BC liberals for some time.

While I know the issue must be as dull as dishwater to most, they were elected six years ago. Before that, they last held power in, well, not in my lifetime. Sometime in the thirties, I think.

Stellar, Patrick. please tell me it was more of your version of humor.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 01:12 PM

DPU: I know the issue must be as dull as dishwater to most

Yeah. Sorry DPU, but it's boring as hell compared to the issue of cool-looking Iranian revolutionaries living in hilltop compounds planning to topple the Iranian regime.

I'd definitely support them if they planned to topple the Liberals, by the way. They have some sort of Vancouver office, so maybe there's a chance...

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 01:21 PM

Yeah. Sorry DPU, but it's boring as hell compared to the issue of cool-looking Iranian revolutionaries living in hilltop compounds planning to topple the Iranian regime.

Dude, you gotta start putting smilies on stuff.

And it is dull as dishwater. I live here, am active in politics, and I can barely stand it. Much more fun looking over the fence at what you guys are up to.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 01:24 PM

I'd definitely support them if they planned to topple the Liberals, by the way.

If they overthrow the BC Liberals, who are really conservatives, then we live under the iron fist of the socialists (I'm a party member, so I get to say that).

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 01:31 PM

So are you saying the vast majority of civilians in Vancouver would actually be opposed to any Iranian offers to topple the current regime in BC with military force?

Posted by: MIcroraptor at September 4, 2007 02:17 PM

Of course they would be, Microraptor. There is no comparing the elected government in British Columbia with the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Guardian Council. BC's elections are a wee bit fairer than the one that "elected" Ahmadinejad.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 02:19 PM

We are truly not worthy.
Bow, bow, scrape, kneel.
---dpu

Well finally, dpu, finally. I had about given up all hope.

Might I say sir that it's about time. Natural order and all that rot. Now if you can just practise that servile 'forelock-tugging' a bit more, everything will truly be unfolding as it should. ----- :-)

Posted by: dougf at September 4, 2007 02:22 PM

For what it's worth, if I lived under a fascist regime I would support a military invasion of my country by a democratic country. Heck I'd even support an invasion by another dictatorship if it was bad enough, such as the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam. "Anyone but Bush" is silly, but "Anyone but Pol Pot" makes a bit of sense. "Anyone but Hitler" makes sense, as well. East Germany was better off under the Stasi than under the Nazis, though it sucked in both cases.

I have no idea how many Iranians would like to see an invasion, but whatever the number I don't think they're crazy. It makes no sense to compare their situation to that of free Westerners.

I also don't think the ones who don't want an invasion are crazy, whatever their number. Both positions are completely understandable to me, and I have met many reaonable Iranians of both persuasions.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 02:26 PM

If you were an Iranian, and you'd watched the botched US occupation of Iraq, I think you actually would be pretty crazy to want the US to invade.

Posted by: Gus at September 4, 2007 02:55 PM

Gus, I wouldn't want an occupation if I lived in Iran. I don't want an occupation of Iran as an American, either.

Nor am I saying I want an American invasion of Iran as an American. (I don't.) I'm just saying I understand the desire for outside intervention in extreme circumstances. It is a common desire for oppressed people the world over even if it is not universal.

Lots of Iraqis are grateful for both the invasion and occupation despite the current horrorshow in that country. Westerners who ask themselvs if they would want the same thing in their country are not going to be able to understand it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 03:04 PM

"Lots of Iraqis are grateful"

You don't specify an estimate in numbers or percentages, and I guess it follows you would anticipate the same response in Iran
the same response in Iran to outside intervention.

Is there a significant difference in the two cultures in that regard?

Posted by: semanticleo at September 4, 2007 03:27 PM

Regarding BC, I am going to have to start using the smiley :) symbols too....

I think you should make every effort to try and visit Iran, MJT... you will be very suprised: most people here live remarkably ordinary day to day lives and their main gripe is the economy. Outside of the political elite, hardly anyone I've spoken to really gives a fig about what's happening in Israel, Lebanon or whether or not Shia militias triumph in Iraq. They just don't want to get caught up in another war. They had eight years of carnage back in the 1980s... and looking at the situation in Iraq, being invaded by a democratic country like the US has somewhat limited appeal these days.

And do you really still believe that the Iraq adventure was/is about spreading democracy in the Middle East, rather than securing cheap energy supplies? I mean, if you want to go and whack/reform an unpleasant, undemocratic and oppressive regime, why not start with Saudi Arabia?

That is a country so bloody backwards it is actually illegal for women to drive cars... meanwhile I am in Iran to research a project about a certain Laleh Seddigh, who presents a very different picture of Iranian non-political life to some of the nonsense peddled in the US media.

;) mmmmmm.

But no, far from exercising influence over its "forward looking ally" (I put that in Sarc Marks because many observers agree that most of the funding for psycho Al Qaeda types comes from within Saudi) the current US govt. has chosen to recycle petrodollars and offset it's own next generation weapons procurement by equipping these characters with some $20 billion of state-of-the-art weapons. Brilliant.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 4, 2007 03:36 PM

There's a big difference between an invasion and an airstrike.

Is there any doubt that an airstrike against Iran would target quite a few economic targets along with military ones?

There is no such thing as a non-military target in the Middle East these days...so no sane person would desire a Western airstrike being launched against their country.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 03:44 PM

Semanticleo: You don't specify an estimate in numbers or percentages

I don't know what the numbers in Iraq really are. Polls don't work because so many Iraqis contradict their own selves on these kinds of questions. I could guess, but I don't know.

I can't even guess that numbers are in Iran.

I guess it follows you would anticipate the same response in Iran

Why?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 04:00 PM

Microraptor: And do you really still believe that the Iraq adventure was/is about spreading democracy in the Middle East, rather than securing cheap energy supplies?

Yes, although "spreading democracy" is a means to an end, not a purely altruistic point in and of itself. A free and democratic Middle East won't threaten the United States.

As Paul Berman put it, "Freedom for others means safety for ourselves. Let us be for the freedom of others."

The worst attack on American soil in the entire history of our country was launched by Arabs. Those in charge of national security are required by duty to address this problem. If you really believe it's all about oil you are very seriously uninformed about how these people think and what their job requirement is.

If I believed this war was about securing cheap oil I would demand that its architects go to prison immediately.

You're a journalist. Why don't you embed in Iraq? I think you'll see that a war for oil would look very different from the war that is actually being fought there. American soldiers die protecting playgrounds from Al Qaeda, for God's sake.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 04:10 PM

Michael;
"I guess it follows you would anticipate the same response in Iran"

Why?

"I'm just saying I understand the desire for outside intervention in extreme circumstances. It is a common desire for oppressed people the world over even if it is not universal."

Is there a significant difference in the two cultures in that regard?

Posted by: semanticleo at September 4, 2007 04:13 PM

Microraptor: ...the current US govt. has chosen to...offset it's own next generation weapons procurement by equipping these characters with some $20 billion of state-of-the-art weapons.

:-O

I'll certainly acknowledge that greed is the main factor in the international arms trade. :-(

But other things are taken into account. :-)

Giving Saudi Arabia $20 billion in weapons isn't going to help al-Qaeda. :-)

Quite the contrary, actually. Saudi Arabia has a tiny army suitable only for defense. :-)

They're not a threat to anyone. :-D

Posted by: Edgar at September 4, 2007 04:18 PM

There is no comparing the elected government in British Columbia with the Islamic Republic, the Revolutionary Guards, and the Guardian Council. BC's elections are a wee bit fairer than the one that "elected" Ahmadinejad.

Just give us a chance to get the socialist jackboot on the throat of BC business again, though.

Free dope in the rain forest re-education camps and rampant wealth redistribution, that's the ticket. We'll have our credit rating destroyed in quick order, and then business owners will be praying for Iranian intervention.

Please note-> :)

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 04:18 PM

A significant difference between Iraqis and Iranians in that regard? I don't know. All I'm saying is that I have met many reasonable Iranians who want an invasion, many reasonable Iranians who do not, and that I understand both points of view.

My point was that comparing Iranians to Canadians on this question doesn't make any sense. Comparing Iraqis and Iranians make sense, but I'm not an expert on public opinion in either country so I'm not going to pretend to read the minds of all those millions of people.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 04:19 PM

Microraptor:

An international racing license is pretty impresive, but if 1600GT means 1600cc's, that's a pretty mild machine she races.

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 04:20 PM

The worst attack on American soil in the entire history of our country was launched by Arabs.

Then the best method of security, if oil is not an issue, would be to withdraw from the region, would it not?

Then we can concentrate on central Africa and Myanmar, both in need of democratic reform.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 04:21 PM

Michael,

Are you really saying Bush's oil industry cronies are upset that the value of their product has more than tripled since we invaded Iraq?

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 04:27 PM

Are you really saying Bush's oil industry cronies are upset that the value of their product has more than tripled since we invaded Iraq?

Cost, not value.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 04:29 PM

++ungood,

The oil reserves owned by Exxon, Chevron, & Co. are "valued" every finacial reporting period.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 04:34 PM

e: Are you really saying Bush's oil industry cronies are upset that the value of their product has more than tripled since we invaded Iraq?

You are so not worth arguing with if you believe that's what I said.

Did you get an F in English class, or did you eke out a D?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 04:40 PM

DPU: Then the best method of security, if oil is not an issue, would be to withdraw from the region, would it not?

No.

I also didn't say oil "is not an issue." I said the U.S. didn't invade Iraq to get the oil, which is true.

There is a difference, and it's a huge one.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 04:43 PM

DPU,

I live in Portland, Oregon...a one party town if ever there was one. I guess you can't take a joke, either. My point is that one-party areas erode to the lowest bureaucratic denominator, eventually. Without change, there is no progress, especially amongst the progressives.

Now you are being more than a bit disingenuous when you say on this forum that the Liberals are conservative when you place them to the left of the US Democratic party on your own blog. But maybe you think Hugo Chavez is comfortably middle-of-the-road.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at September 4, 2007 04:54 PM

There is a difference, and it's a huge one.

Indeed there is. So are you saying that continued access by the US to Middle Eastern oil was, or was not, a large consideration in the invasion of Iraq?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 04:58 PM

Now you are being more than a bit disingenuous when you say on this forum that the Liberals are conservative when you place them to the left of the US Democratic party on your own blog.

But Patrick, they are conservatives. And so is your Democratic party.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 04:59 PM

And the Liberals on my graph are Federal Liberals, not the provincial ones. The BC Liberals cut all ties with the federal party some time ago.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 05:00 PM

DPU: So are you saying that continued access by the US to Middle Eastern oil was, or was not, a large consideration in the invasion of Iraq?

It wasn't. But it is a major reason why total withdrawal from the region is a bad idea.

Oil played a bigger role in Gulf War I than in this one. That wasn't a war to steal oil either from the U.S. side, but it was intended to prevent a totalitarian dictator from acquiring too much oil that he stole from Kuwait and might have stolen from others if he got away with it the first time.

If Dick Cheney and his buddies just wanted cheap oil they would have been better off cutting a deal with Saddam. It would have been a lot easier, and it's what the oil companies themselves wanted to do. Anyway, "Dick Cheney" didn't invade Iraq. The United States military did with an authorization from Congress.

Those who believe the U.S. invaded Iraq to get cheap oil don't understand the duties of those in charge of national security. Feel free to think a democratization process in the Middle East isn't the best way to counter violent global Islamism, but seriously...try to understand that a response of some kind to the Arab jihadi strike on 9/11, which was the worst attack on this country ever, is the job requirement of those in charge of national security. And the Arab world, not Afghanistan, must be the focus because that's where most of this crap comes from. I'm not going out on a limb here. It's not a stretch, you know, to suggest that those in charge of national security are in charge of national security. Looking for hidden plots there is just silly.

Why not invade Saudi Arabia? Imagine American soldiers in Mecca, where non-Muslims are banned.

No thanks.

If oil did play some role it was, most likely, to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil on the world market so the bogus "alliance" with Saudi Arabia could be allowed to die on the vine. It didn't work out. Sorry! Making it work isn't my job. Anyway, I'm just speculating on that point. I don't really know.

What I do know is that "blood for oil" is a juvenile way of looking at this. That's how I saw it when I was 20 years old, but I was a kid who didn't know anything and I lived in a city (Eugene, Oregon) that was, and still is, stuck in 1968.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 05:36 PM

Michael;

In the previous thread I asked 'how long should we stay in Iraq, 2 years more?'

I don't see a response, but would be interested in the time frame beyond which you see counter-productivity.

Posted by: semanticleo at September 4, 2007 05:46 PM

Michael,

I'm not sure why you are so touchy on this subject.

But can we clear up one point?

Dick Cheney and his cronies don't want "cheap" oil...they want expensive oil.

The more expensive, the better.

Why?

Because they own billions of barrels of it.

As long as we pretend there aren't people(mainly Texans) geting filthy rich off of our occupation of Iraq, we can never have a reasned debate about it.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 05:49 PM

Semanticleo: In the previous thread I asked 'how long should we stay in Iraq, 2 years more?'

I don't know. It depends. If there is slow incremental progress in the surge I'll be more patient than if we end up stuck in stalemate. And if things deteriorate over the next six months I might not have any patience at all.

But, then again, that would also depend on what kind of deterioration we're talking about.

I do not support withdrawal from Iraq as long as we're still fighting Al Qaeda there, nor will I support at any time a withdrawal that throws the Kurds to the wolves.

If the Mahdi Army turns out not to be beatable over time, and if the Iraqi government continues to suck as badly as it sucks right now, and there are no further problems with Al Qaeda, then we should probably strike a deal and get out.

I don't know how to answer your question in one sentence because I don't know what is going to happen. There are several wars going on there at once, some of which are more worth fighting than others.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 06:02 PM

e: As long as we pretend there aren't people(mainly Texans) geting filthy rich off of our occupation of Iraq, we can never have a reasned debate about it.

I'm not pretending that isn't happening. I just don't think that's the reason the U.S. went in there. They would be just as rich if they cut exclusive deals with Saddam in return for the dropping of sanctions. That would have been a lot easier. Those companies were bound to get filthy rich in Iraq no matter what happened as long as the sanctions were dropped. That's all they cared about.

Those in charge of national security have bigger things to concern themselves with. You don't have to agree with their planned course of action to understand that much.

I knew on 9/11 that we would go back into Iraq. It was obvious to me right then and there that a military response somewhere inside the Arab world was inevitable, not because of oil but because Al Qaeda emerged from that world, not from Afghanistan.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 06:08 PM

It wasn't. But it is a major reason why total withdrawal from the region is a bad idea.

I would argue that any US government that isn't working toward both long-term continued access to oil and preventing potential competitors from access would be completely incompetent.

Fortunately for this administration, members like Cheney as aware of this as long ago as 1992 when he said that the first objective of a US administration after the end of the cold war would be to prevent the emergence of a new rival, and that the foremost task toward that end would be to deny potential superpowers (China, Russia, Europe, maybe India) resources by dominating influence within resource-rich regions. That means a long-term military presence in the Gulf.

That view has been reiterated several times over by prominent members of the Bush administration over the last decade.

Part of that dominance needs to be a secure military base. Israel is out, for a variety of reasons, and Saudi Arabia became undesirable and certainly less secure.

A regime-changed Iraq would be a much better location within the Gulf, assuming that everything went well. Everything hasn't gone well.

So while I can certainly empathize with the annoyance caused by simplistic "no blood for oil" slogan, it is all very much about oil.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 06:48 PM

I think the motivations of the people in charge of our "national security" have a slightly more nuanced thought process:

Win, lose or draw in Iraq, we are gonna get rich off it, so what the hell...let's see how long we can keep it going.

Same thing goes for Iran.

There is no way folks from the oil, defense and news industries can credibly advocate war, they have to much to gain from it.

Unless, of course, they are willing to put all the money they make from it into a trust that they would only get if the war they advocated were a success.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 06:49 PM

Not all Texans are getting filthy rich off our occupation of Iraq. I pay the same at the pump as you do. Or is that yall do?

Posted by: Tom in South Texas at September 4, 2007 06:51 PM

Michael: interesting to hear your response to the "war because of oil" believers. I have been engaged in the same discussion in the comments section of the Halifax News. It's a discussion that started from a news report that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is a Christian that attends RockPointe Church. If you care to take a peek at the discussion here in Canada, the URL is:
http://hfxnews.ca/index.cfm?sid=59167&sc=89&comments=submit&#thankyou

Aside from that, I look forward to your full article in Reason. You're the best!

Posted by: Paul MacPhail at September 4, 2007 07:08 PM

Oil played a bigger role in Gulf War I than in this one. That wasn't a war to steal oil either from the U.S. side, but it was intended to prevent a totalitarian dictator from acquiring too much oil that he stole from Kuwait and might have stolen from others if he got away with it the first time.

Well, from all accounts he was more after water access than oil. Iraq has lots of its own oil, but restricted access to a means of shipping it.

And the response wasn't because he was "stealing oil", it was because his move was looked on as a potentially aggressive move toward US ally Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 07:13 PM

DPU,

If all they needed in Iraq were bases, bases would be built in Kurdistan. I think bases should be built in Kurdistan, but it's telling that that isn't happening.

Also, Kurdistan has ~50 percent of Iraq's oil if Kirkuk is counted as Kurdistan. That city would be much more important for the Americans than places like Fallujah and Ramadi that don't have any oil at all if this were primarily about the oil.

I'm not saying oil is a total non-factor, it just wasn't the reason the U.S. went in.

E,

The oil industry doesn't run our foreign policy, national security, or any other part of the government for that matter. They have influence because they have money, but they used that influence to lobby for an erosion of sanctions and a "deal" with Saddam. Their influence was insufficient and they did not get what they wanted. They could not get that after 9/11.

Hardly anyone involved in the planning and execution of this war has any connection to the oil industry. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards didn't authorize it so they could "get rich."

Dick Cheney and his cronies don't want "cheap" oil...they want expensive oil.

Your conspiracy theory is identical to conspiracy theories about Jews from Nazis. The only difference is you replaced with the Jews with oil industry Texans.

I'm not sure why you are so touchy on this subject.

I'm not touchy about it, I just happen to think your money-grubbing warmonger theory is idiotic. It isn't racist or evil or anti-Semitic, but it's no smarter than the original version of this old and discredited "theory."

DPU can talk about this like a grown-up, but you are wasting my time. People who actually work in national security -- in government and in think tanks, liberals as well as conservatives -- do not take people like you seriously. Nor can I.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 07:17 PM

DPU,

Tariq Aziz said Saddam invaded Iraq because he wanted more coastline. That may be partly true (also), but the actual theft of resources and goods from Kuwait is very well documented. The U.S. has done nothing of the kind in Iraq. (I realize you aren't one of the people who believe that's what's happening.)

And the response wasn't because he was "stealing oil", it was because his move was looked on as a potentially aggressive move toward US ally Saudi Arabia.

Sure, but Saddam didn't need to invade Saudi Arabia for more coastline.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 07:22 PM

If all they needed in Iraq were bases, bases would be built in Kurdistan.

That is likely, I think.

Tariq Aziz said Saddam invaded Iraq because he wanted more coastline.

The US ambassador's reports also indicate that Hussein himself said this was the rationale, and was the primary reason for the war with Iran.

That may be partly true (also), but the actual theft of resources and goods from Kuwait is very well documented.

Looting by soldiers rarely is an indication of a nation's foreign policy goals.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 07:28 PM

If oil did play some role it was, most likely, to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil on the world market so the bogus "alliance" with Saudi Arabia could be allowed to die on the vine. It didn't work out.

So while I can certainly empathize with the annoyance caused by simplistic "no blood for oil" slogan, it is all very much about oil.

It wasn't 'blood for oil' or access to cheap oil that inspired the wars in Iraq. It was the Carter doctrine:

"Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force."

In 2002, Dick Cheney said:

“Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop ten per cent of the world’s oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies, directly threaten America’s friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”

Mistaken reports about WMDs were one reason why we went into Iraq (reports that both Democrats and Republicans believed) We also went into Iraq to protect the people our government (again, Democrats and Republicans) call America's 'friends', the Saudi sponsors of 9/11. According to this report, (linked from Richard Landes' Augean Stables):

Bob Woodward of the Washington Post has written one of the most thorough journalistic accounts of the Iraq War. He describes a "top secret" Bush administration memo entitled "Iraq: Goals, Objectives and Strategy," which specifically states that one "key goal" was "to minimize disruption in international oil markets." Woodward details a conversation between Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, and President Bush in which Bandar seeks to get Bush to finish off the historic step begun by his father in 1991, by getting rid of Saddam. A letter from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was delivered at the same meeting with the same request.

Moreover, Richard A. Clarke, a subsequent Bush administration critic who was exposed to internal White House thinking about the Iraq War until March 2003, has concluded that most of the rationales for the decision to go to war reflected "a concern with the long-term stability of the House of Saud." This Saudi angle has not been probed at all in public discourse....

Every statement and action that is generated by the majority of our elected members of the House, the Senate, the Exectutive Branch and the State Department suggests that they would all be happy to chew off their right arms if it would guarantee the continuation of the US/Saudi friendship. It's more than just money or oil. They (Democrats and Republicans) get a lot of money, legitimacy, the ability to keep playing 'great' and cold-war games and misguided peace of mind from our alliance with the Sauds. Every government around the world wants to be buddies with the sauds, including Britain and Canada.

Since most of our information about the Sauds is generated by our government, other governments (who share the same attitude), and by Saudi-sponsored academics, the idea that our 'alliance' with the Sauds is essential is repeated over and over like a yogi's ommm. It's equally meaningless.

Every poll of the American people indicates that we don't believe that the Saudis are our allies, and we are tired of our government's tolerance of Saudi-sponsored terrorism. Our own oil companies are subtly warning us that the Sauds are running low on oil, and they're making much more of an effort to encourage us to develop alternative technologies.

It would have been a great idea to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil, but that idea would never occur to the majority of our or the world's leaders. They can't quit the Sauds.

Posted by: mary at September 4, 2007 07:39 PM

e:
Vancouver? Really? My trace gets this:
Server: www.komala.org
IP Address: 66.218.79.149
Organization: Yahoo!
Country: United States

Iran is eating its seed grain; its oil and all other infrastructure is suffering from 20 years+ of little or no maintenance or upgrade. Including its intellectual and technical infrastructure. The play on A.'s name, "Ah, man, I need a jihad!" has more than a little bite to it.

It sounds like, technically, Rafsanjani could pull down Khomeni.
That might do it!

Posted by: Brian H at September 4, 2007 07:42 PM

I mean, if you want to go and whack/reform an unpleasant, undemocratic and oppressive regime, why not start with Saudi Arabia?
That is a country so bloody backwards it is actually illegal for women to drive cars...

Microraptor - When I was in Britain I saw lots of those bloody backwards folks, spending their ample cash at Harrod's. I saw more full-cover black hijabs in Harrods than i did in Muslim Malaysia. Or Jordan. Apparently they're not allowed to drive in England either, since their chauffers endlessly circle the place. Young Sauds love to spend their cash and party in London.

So, I guess I don't have to ask why Britain loves the Wahhabi hillbillies. But I still don't understand why Britain gave control of Mecca and Medina to the Wahabis of whom Winston Churchill said:

The Wahabis profess a life of exceeding austerity, and what they practise themselves they rigorously enforce on others. They hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children. Women have been put to death in Wahabi villages for simply appearing in the streets. It is a penal offence to wear a silk garment. Men have been killed for smoking a cigarette, and as for the crime of alcohol, the most energetic supporter of the temperance cause in this country falls far behind them. Austere, intolerant, well-armed, and bloodthirsty, in their own regions the Wahabis are a distinct factor which must be taken into account, and they have been, and still are, very dangerous to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and to the whole institution of the pilgrimage, in which our Indian fellow-subjects are so deeply concerned.

The Muslim world feared and hated these genocidal loons, yet Britain has been embracing and empowering them for decades - even before oil was an issue. Why?

Posted by: mary at September 4, 2007 07:53 PM

Michael,

Self-interest is not some "conspiracy theory," it's what's supposed to make America great.

It's under Communism that people are supposed to sacrifice their self-interest for the greater good.

If you don't think anyone involved in the boneheaded decision to invade Iraq didn't weigh how it would effect their income...I think you'd be happier with the other band of Komalas

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 07:56 PM

e:
What would have happened to the price/cost/value of oil if SH et al had taken control of Kuwait and the Straits? News flash: oil is fungible. (Look it up in your Funk & Wagnall's). The US gets its oil from the wide-open world market, mostly from Canada and Mexico. ~1/6 from the whole ME put together. And at present prices, the US shales and Canadian oil sands can be mined and the oil cleared of sulfur profitably. Those reserves are humunguous.

Anent nothing in particular, it turns out SH was suppressing seismic data which shows Anbar has ~100 bn bbl of untouched reserves. Which puts Iraq right up there with KSA and Canada.

Posted by: Brian H at September 4, 2007 08:02 PM

If oil did play some role it was, most likely, to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil on the world market so the bogus "alliance" with Saudi Arabia could be allowed to die on the vine. It didn't work out.

I missed this. What does it mean? That the US would not be importing Saudi oil for PR reasons? It's fungible, who cares which country is supplying it?

Sure, but Saddam didn't need to invade Saudi Arabia for more coastline.

Sure, but Saudi Arabia's substantial Shiite population lives right around Kuwait, and that's where the bulk of their oil is. They're a touch sensitive about that area.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 08:22 PM

If you don't think anyone involved in the boneheaded decision to invade Iraq didn't weigh how it would effect their income..

There are lots of places to invade that have less long-term negative effects. If profit is the motive, that is.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 08:30 PM

++ungood,

I not saying greed (or military career, judgement of history, etc.) is the primary motivation behind national security decisons, just that its a rather large thumb on the scale.

I disagree that there were other countries we could have invaded, though.

America is down to maybe 5 countries around the world that it can plausibly invade now, and none of the others are run by cartoon figures.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 08:42 PM

It would have been a great idea to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil, but that idea would never occur to the majority of our or the world's leaders.

No it wouldn't, it would have made no difference. The world's oil market doesn't work that way. Yet.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 4, 2007 08:42 PM

Mary: It would have been a great idea to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil, but that idea would never occur to the majority of our or the world's leaders.

Yes, you are probably right. Like I said, I was just thinking out loud there.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 08:49 PM

e: It's under Communism that people are supposed to sacrifice their self-interest for the greater good.

Nice try, but you should take a civics class sometime.

Also study up on what "national interest" actually means and what the military is for. Soldiers aren't mercs hired by oil barons, k?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 08:52 PM

I don't think our troops get much say in where they're sent to, Michael.

And I don't think there's such a thing as "national interest" any more.

The best we can muster these days is a pluralty of "special" interests.

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 10:35 PM

If you seriously believe Big Oil controls the Army and Marines we can't have a conversation.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 4, 2007 11:32 PM

That's a bit of a stretch, Michael.

Suppose you were president, and the army was going to sign a contract with an athletic footwear company for $1 billion worth of milspec running shoes, and Nike and Reebok both submitted similar bids.

Would you go with your hometown company?

Posted by: e at September 4, 2007 11:48 PM

MJT: "The worst attack on American soil in the entire history of our country was launched by Arabs."

Indeed. But 19 of those murderous bastards were Saudis, as was/is bin Laden himself.

As for Mary's question about why the British historically empowered certain tribal families in the Gulf and in places like Jordan, I'm not too sure (and I'm sure any history student might be able to explain it better) but I think that these groupings were seen as useful allies against the Ottoman empire during WW1 (TE Lawrence and all that), and then were thought by London to be easy to control... and - once the energy resources in the region became apparent - would grant the UK all the oil concessions it needed in exchange for political and military support against their own (ie. the Saudis'/Hashemites' own) local rivals. Plus ca change...?

As for the 1600 GT cars Ms. Seddigh races in Iran, they are basically very fast, very noisy versions of hatchback street car models. But I beleive that in the Gulf States - like Dubai - where there are more advanced race track circuits, Laleh races Formula BMW, which look much more like conventional Formula 1 type vehicles.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 5, 2007 12:40 AM

Microraptor,

You can embed with the US military without difficulty. Also, you don't have to go to Baghdad. Go to Fallujah or something. Fallujah isn't "Fallujah" anymore, if you know what I mean. It's not very dangerous these days, but is very interesting. That's where I'm going next.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 01:07 AM

Indeed. But 19 of those murderous bastards were Saudis, as was/is bin Laden himself.

Yes, I know. The U.S. Saudi policy is atrociously bad. But I don't want to invade Saudi Arabia. I don't think anyone wants to invade Saudi Arabia.

Middle East politics desperately needs to be opened up, modernized, and liberalized. Invading Iraq might not have been the best way to go about it, but that was its main purpose. WMD was the stated narrow purpose so the UN might go along.

The push for democracy in the Middle East is not at all altruistic from the point of view of the United States government. A democratic Middle East is non-threatening for the same reason a democratic Europe is non-threatening. (We often forget how much of a menace European dictatorships were, and how recently that was the case. My mother, who only just now retired from her job in real estate, lived in Germany during de-Nazification. Her father fought the Nazis with the 82nd Airborne and stuck around for the aftermath, so she was there for that.)

My personal view on the need for democracy in the Middle East is more altruistic and idealistic than the government's, but that's because I am a more or less liberally-minded cosmopolitan person, not an institution charged with national defense.

I remember talking to a March 14 Lebanese two years ago who was suspicious about why the U.S. government took his side in his country's politics. He figured there had to be some "motive" that he couldn't quite figure out, and he didn't like it whatever it was. I tried and tried to explain it, to no avail, until I said this: "Because they know people like you will never fly airplanes into our buildings." Then it clicked for him. States have interests, which he knew very well, and preventing more 9/11 style attacks is an obvious American interest.

It really is that simple.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 01:39 AM

Since when did the US ever want democracy in the Middle East? They've spent the last 60 years opposing it. The same people are crying out for 'democracy' and 'freedom' in Iraq, were the same ones who supported Saddam back in the day and stood idly by while he hammered the Kurds and Shi'ites when they rose up against him after Gulf War one.

Democracy basically means giving Middle Eastern nations a licence to tell the US (and anyone else for that matter) to go shove it. Democracy in Palestine means terrorists like Hamas get elected. Democracy in Egypt means the Muslim brotherhood get elected. Democracy in Iraq resulted in a sectarian Shi'ite dominated government. Democracy in Lebanon means Hezbollah get their share of power. I'm not saying democracy is a bad thing in the long run, provided you ignore the short term blowback effects. But it seems odd given the track record of US foreign policy.

Posted by: EmbersFire at September 5, 2007 02:50 AM

It would have been a great idea to swap Iraqi oil with Saudi oil, but that idea would never occur to the majority of our or the world's leaders.
No it wouldn't, it would have made no difference. The world's oil market doesn't work that way. Yet.

Well, 'swapping Iraqi oil' is just another way of saying that some Americans (myself included) thought that the idea behind the Iraqi invasion would be to swap our alliance with the theocratic terror-supporting Saudis in favor of an alliance with a democratic Iraq. The alliance involves more than oil - the state department has always relied on the Saudis to be a moderating force in the area. An alliance with a democratic Iraq would allow us to loosen our ties to the KSA, and it would give us a chance to diminish Saudi influence in the Middle East.

The KSA has weak defenses, a vulnerable water supply and they produce nothing but oil (and terrorism). The majority of the Muslim world hates them, and they'd welcome the end of Saudi control of Mecca and Medina. (Mecca and Medina should have gone to Jordan, anyway) Without the influence we all give them, they're nothing.

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 06:38 AM

An alliance with a democratic Iraq would allow us to loosen our ties to the KSA, and it would give us a chance to diminish Saudi influence in the Middle East.

I understand the theory, and always have. But it was a flawed theory. And I think that the idea wasn't to lessen dependence on Saudi Arabia, to but to protect the Saudi royals from internal dissent.

At any rate, the whole plan is pretty much a flaming dunghill now. It's just a matter of seeing what can be salvaged.

To get back to the posted topic, Michael, is the photo accompanying your article taken by you? It's a great shot.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 07:20 AM

Since when did the US ever want democracy in the Middle East?

Since September 12, 2001.

Posted by: Dogwood at September 5, 2007 08:17 AM

DPU: Michael, is the photo accompanying your article taken by you?

All the photos are mine except that one. I wish that one was mine because it is a great shot.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 10:39 AM

Damn!

Is it one of the group that you were talking to?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 10:42 AM

It's a picture of an Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter. The flower in the gun barrel is a nice touch, isn't it? None of the other armed groups in Iraq are at that point yet, unfortunately.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 10:45 AM

MJT, regarding spreading democracy:

Invading Iraq might not have been the best way to go about it, but that was its main purpose. WMD was the stated narrow purpose so the UN might go along.

Would you have supported invading Iraq without WMD?

Not me, and I daresay the same holds for many others who supported the invasion.

If proof of your assertion ever emerges, somebody's getting impeached. With my full support.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 5, 2007 11:08 AM

Would you have supported invading Iraq without WMD?

A while back, the wonks at Crooked Timber assembled all of the public dialog from the administration that detailed conditions that Iraq would have to meet in order to avoid invasion. Not a single one had anything to do with democracy.

As a matter of fact, every single one was WMD-related, save for a last minute one that required Hussein to step down and leave the country with his two sons (presumably, power would have been handed over to the next Baathist in the line of succession).

I'm not sure why so many have assumed that deemocratization was high on the list of priorities, especially as little forethought seems to be have been given to the effort.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 12:02 PM

The flower in the gun barrel is a nice touch, isn't it?</i.

Completely missed that. Now I like it even more, although I seem to remember that political power grows from the barrel of a gun, not flowers.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 12:05 PM

Michael Totten said:

A democratic Middle East is non-threatening for the same reason a democratic Europe is non-threatening.

I think your statement needs refinement. A free society is non-threatening because it is based on the notion that government's legitimate function is the protection of the individual rights of its citizens, including everything such protection implies and requires. A government dedicated to protecting individual rights is not a threat to other free societies.

In a democracy, on the other hand, the function of government is whatever the majority wants it to be. And if enough people want it, an Adolph Hitler can be elected and granted total power. (Or Hamas, al-Qaeda, etc.)

Thus, what we need in the middle east (and everywhere else) is not democracy but political freedom. We need free societies based on universal individual rights that government is charged with protecting -- and everything that such protection requires: due process, equality before the law, equal rights for everyone, separation of church and state, etc.

Achieving this in Iraq -- or anywhere else in the Muslim middle east -- is a hell of a challenge. Separation of church and state? Islam won’t suffer that notion easily. But here modern liberalism imposes an obstacle that makes the task all but impossible. Multiculturalism tells us that we have no right to promote such things in the first place. We have no right to “impose our way of life“. Instead, we must grant the Iraqis “the right of self-determination” to “choose their own form of government”.

Bush, unwilling to challenge this dogma, accepted it as a constraint on our actions in Iraq. The result is what you see now in Iraq: the US military acting as a domestic police force while we wait -- fingers crossed -- for the Iraqis to “self-determine”. The only saving grace is that while we are waiting we are killing large numbers of terrorists.

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 5, 2007 12:20 PM

Gosh I get tired of the same old crap over and over.

MJT is absolutely right. Building the institutions of freedom and democracy in the ME have to do with what he told his Leb. friend.

Let's all think back to 9/12...

Virtually EVERYONE thought that Saddam had CBW and was looking to get nukes. AND HE DID/WAS. Read the Duelfer report. Did he have ready to go bombs? Not so much cause they don't have a great shelf life. BUT, as soon as the sanctions were lifted as the incredibly crooked French et al were pushing. He could have started pumping them out almost over night. (Remember the military bases filled with "dual use" chemicals?)

Additionally, there is absolutely no doubt that Saddam (a Sunni, remember?) had contacts with Al-Q (also Sunni). Was Saddam involved in 9/11? Probably not.

After that success, though, if Al-Q had come around to buy some CBW for a follow up would he have sold them? Wouldn't take much to hide his involvement and you can bet your bippy that he would have gone along.

After 9/11 could we take that chance?????

Do a thought experiment....

1) 9/11 happens
2) We do another Clinton on Afghanistan
3) France, Russia etc. break the sanctions on Iraq
4) It's 2005 and Al-Q is alive and well and free as is Saddam.

5) What happens now?

Posted by: AlanC at September 5, 2007 12:49 PM

I don't think anyone thinks democracy in Iraq wouldn't be a good idea, Alan.

The doubt comes from the methods we are using to achieve it.

No government will be seen as legitimate while our troops are occupying Iraq (see:Vichy France).

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 12:59 PM

Since when did the US ever want democracy in the Middle East? They've spent the last 60 years opposing it. The same people are crying out for 'democracy' and 'freedom' in Iraq, were the same ones who supported Saddam back in the day and stood idly by while he hammered the Kurds and Shi'ites when they rose up against him after Gulf War one.
Posted by EmbersFire at September 5, 2007 02:50 AM

What events occurred in 1989 and 1992? How do those events bear relevance on a change in strategic thinking in the United States away from ‘Stability, no matter what’?

What event occurred in 2001 that added momentum in the shift in the strategic thinking of the Unites States away from ‘passive encouragement’?

Come on. Put 2+2 together. The answers to your above questions really are very simple if you would only look for them.

Posted by: Michael in Seattle at September 5, 2007 01:15 PM

Creamy Goodness: Would you have supported invading Iraq without WMD?

Yes. WMD was never part of my reason.

Not me, and I daresay the same holds for many others who supported the invasion.

Fine.

If proof of your assertion ever emerges, somebody's getting impeached.

This was all out in the open before the invasion. It's not something I'm just asserting years later. I don't know where the idea came from that freedom for Iraqis was only a stated purpose after no WMD were found. The war was called "Operation Iraqi Freedom" from Day 1, and it is still called that today.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 01:26 PM

No government will be seen as legitimate while our troops are occupying Iraq (see:Vichy France)

Yes, see the illegitimate governments of South Korea and Germany too.

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 01:26 PM

DPU: A while back, the wonks at Crooked Timber assembled all of the public dialog from the administration that detailed conditions that Iraq would have to meet in order to avoid invasion.

"Democratize now" is not something that could possibly have made a list of that sort. It would not have been possible for Saddam Hussein to transform his fascist state into a democracy by a short deadline (or a distant deadline for that matter, in the real world).

Democracy didn't make an appearance in that dialogue, but it made plenty of appearances elsewhere. I followed it all very closely at the time.

Here is a good place to start.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 01:31 PM

e,

Look at all the "war for oil" crap. Look at all the "we shouldn't have invaded Iraq" crap and then get back to me.

20/20 hindsight isn't. Another thing about this that ticks me off are those people that think because A wasn't perfect, not doing B was a mistake. How do you know B wouldn't have been worse???

People make up "facts" in their arguments (like why didn't we keep the army intact? um, it disappeared when we got there) and then proceed to argue from false premises.

When you're a decision maker you have to make decisions based on the best available information AT THAT TIME. AND the information changes over time! You can't even begin to guess what another set of actions would have led to because each action generates unexpected reactions.

The other side gets a say in how things progress.

We do A they do B we do C they do D....now you have a resulting set of facts on the ground X, BUT, if you change the start of the sequence.....

We do M they do N (not B) we do Q they do B.....Now the set of facts on the ground are Y. You cannot predict the future by looking at changing the past.

Posted by: AlanC at September 5, 2007 01:33 PM

Our troops in Germany and Korea were stationed there to "hold back the Communist hordes," Mary...not to suppress political opponents of an unpopular regime.

When we leave, there will be those Iraqis who cooperated with our occupation and those who opposed it.

We're just ensuring al Sadr and friends takes over once we're gone.

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 01:35 PM

You could also read Natan Sharansky's book The Case for Democracy which George W. Bush has repeatedly cited. It was published after the war started, but this has always been what this is about.

I think it's bizarre how so many lefties say the neoconservatives aren't serious about democracy promotion, but aside from the "liberal hawks," who are also hated by most lefties, no one talks spends any time on the subject. It's their hobbyhorse, and they've been going on and on about it for years. It is the reason many liberal hawks feel an affinity for them, and vice versa.

At some point the critics of neoconservatives are going to have to acknowledge that the one thing they've been obsessing about for years is something they really do care about. At this point, saying otherwise is like saying the Sierra Club only pretends to care about trees.

A reform attempt on the Middle East isn't the only reason Iraq was invaded. Like most big decisions, there were many reasons. (Thomas Friedman once wrote that there was the right reason, the moral reason, the real reason, and the stated reason.) Trying to argue that democracy promotion wasn't one of those is kind of ridiculous at this point.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 01:42 PM

Here is a good place to start.

I made it to page three...

"I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Iraq, properly managed -- and it's going to take a lot of attention, and the stakes are enormous, much higher than Afghanistan -- that it really could turn out to be, I hesitate to say it, the first Arab democracy, or at least the first one except for Lebanon's brief history," he says. "And even if it makes it only Romanian style, that's still such an advance over anywhere else in the Arab world."

This is a notion regarded with deep skepticism at the State Department, where Powell and others tend to see the aftermath of an invasion as a long, world-class headache administered by an American general. Not only within the State Department but elsewhere where foreign policy is discussed and formulated -- including the Capitol Hill offices of leading senators of both parties -- there reigns the view that Iraqi democracy is a utopian fantasy, that the country will fragment like a grenade into ethnic enclaves, that American garrisons will be targets for an eruption of Arab fury, that oil supplies will be endangered, that Americans lack the patience and generosity to midwife a free and pro-Western Iraq.

...and then got too depressed to continue. I'll have to read the rest later. Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 01:57 PM

"Democratize now" is not something that could possibly have made a list of that sort.

Are you saying that if Hussein had met all the conditions that had been set out for him that the invasion would still have taken place?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 02:00 PM

Maybe it was a utopian fantasy. Iraq is a lot more messed up than I realized years ago.

I expected the Arabs to be more like the Kurds. I'm sorry they aren't, especially for their sake. They have to live with themselves and their society for the rest of their lives, not us.

Anbar really is better now, though. I'll have my first report from there published shortly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 02:00 PM

I think it's bizarre how so many lefties say the neoconservatives aren't serious about democracy promotion, but aside from the "liberal hawks," who are also hated by most lefties, no one talks spends any time on the subject.

Sigh.

The neo-conservatives were talking about the need for Gulf dominance and Iraq regime change for about a decade before the talk about democracy started. Wolfowitz was on the team that drafted the 1992 policy document that laid out the need to dominate the Gulf. The tinkering with freedom came later.

And we are concerned with democracy promotion. We just think it's somewhat more complicated than invading and then watching a grateful US-friendly sectarian parliament open in a shower of rose petals.

If you look back over your comment archives, you'll see that was precisely what a lot of us were saying three years ago. I'm not sure how that translates to no interest in democracy promotion.

How about, for example, starting with Jordan and Egypt? They are far more likely nations to host democracies than Iraq. You wouldn't even have to invade.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 02:07 PM

How about, for example, starting with Jordan and Egypt? They are far more likely nations to host democracies than Iraq. You wouldn't even have to invade.

As far as I know, Jordan and Egypt are allied with Canada too. If you're serious about democracy promotion, that sounds like a job you can handle.

If you want something done right...

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 02:33 PM

DPU: Are you saying that if Hussein had met all the conditions that had been set out for him that the invasion would still have taken place?

I'm certain they didn't expect him to meet all the conditions so I think you're question is moot.

If he had met all the conditions by some miracle, I suppose the invasion would have been called off because their stated reason would have been voided, even if the others were not.

They really didn't go about this the right way at all.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 02:34 PM

As far as I know, Jordan and Egypt are allied with Canada too. If you're serious about democracy promotion, that sounds like a job you can handle.

As far as I know, the United States has a vested interest in democracy promotion in the region (the topic of discussion, Mary, see above), and considerably more influence on Jordan and Egypt than Canada does.

Sheesh.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 02:36 PM

DPU: How about, for example, starting with Jordan and Egypt? They are far more likely nations to host democracies than Iraq.

Actually, I have my doubts about that, but it will take me too long to get into it here and I need to be writing about Ramadi.

Both Jordan and Egypt (especially Egypt) are creepy countries that I don't like being in at all. Dark days ahead in both, I think. Egypt is a known basket case, but Jordan is quietly seething under its surface. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it spontaneously combusts in a bad way. I'm not saying it will, but it really won't surprise me if it does.

Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and the UAE are the most likely Arab candidates for democracy, I think. Probably Algeria, too, now that the salafist insurgency there is effectively over.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 02:42 PM

As far as I know, Jordan and Egypt are allied with Canada too. If you're serious about democracy promotion, that sounds like a job you can handle.</i.

And we do have a government department for that, BTW. Not surprising, I suspect we have a government department that monitors toilet paper quality.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 02:44 PM

Why is it so hard for people to understand that if you are going to do regime change, then the most logical place to start is with those countries that are openly hostile to your country.

Last time I checked, neither Egypt nor Jordan are openly hostile to the U.S. If we can use their existing regimes to help us change those of our enemies, great. Once we've eliminated the enemies, then we can turn to our friends in the region and say "your turn."

But first, let's deal with our enemies.

Posted by: Dogwood at September 5, 2007 02:50 PM

++ungood: And we are concerned with democracy promotion.

Yes. There is broad consensus as to the goal — particularly in the wake of 9-11 — and severe disagreement on strategy.

Imposing freedom at gunpoint is really hard. It was hard in Germany and Japan, but we succeeded. It was hard in Viet Nam, and we failed. It's hard in Iraq.

People like myself made the best decision we could back in 2003. Had it been possible to know that Hussein was bluffing, I would have made a different decision, and that's where MJT and I part ways.

Have we learned nothing from our success in the Cold War?

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 5, 2007 02:56 PM

Dogwood:

But first, let's deal with our enemies.

I think this is the wrong criteria. The priority should be to consolidate gains in those countries which are in transition but still shaky.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 5, 2007 03:02 PM

The priority should be to consolidate gains in those countries which are in transition but still shaky.

Well, that would include Iraq, would it not?

I can't remember where I saw it, maybe here, but someone asked the other day if the US were not in Iraq, but they were in the current state that they are in now, would the US public support a 160,000 troop and bajillion dollar aid mission there?

Good question.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 03:11 PM

Whether a country is "friendly" or "hostile" towards the United States is a decision only we can make.

No doubt Saddam would have moved back into the "friendly" column had we'd invited him to.

Same with Iran (and Hamas).

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 03:13 PM

Both Jordan and Egypt (especially Egypt) are creepy countries that I don't like being in at all. Dark days ahead in both, I think. Egypt is a known basket case, but Jordan is quietly seething under its surface. It wouldn't surprise me at all if it spontaneously combusts in a bad way.

I only spent a few days there, but I didn't think Jordan was that bad. It was kind of creepy at times, but the people seemed to genuinely like their King. Like the Thais, they had his picture up everywhere and when they talked about him, it was with genuine admiration. As long as he was on our side, I got the impression that the Jordanians would follow.

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 03:23 PM

Well, that would include Iraq, would it not?

2003: No.

2007: Yes.

Kurdistan looks like a winner and we must do everything we can to support it. I'm not sure that Arab Iraq can pull things off, though. The help that we are able to provide may not be sufficient.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 5, 2007 03:29 PM

DPU,

the problem with your question is that it is a static analysis of a dynamic process based on an hypothetical premise.

First, " if the US were not in Iraq, but they were in the current state "...If we aren't there they never would have BEEN in this state. And as far as that goes this current state is only a point in a long term process, we won't be here again. The best we can do is try and guess what the outcome of decisions will be.

Try out your thought experiment predicated on our not have invading in the first place. What would the state of Iraq and their relations with Al-Q be? How about their WMD development?

Or, if you prefer, construct a scenario where we overthrew Sadam Hussein and then immediately left... (is he in his spider hole or did we stick around long enough to catch him?)

Posted by: AlanC at September 5, 2007 03:33 PM

AlanC, yes, I know, but I still found it an interesting question.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 03:53 PM

Creamy Goodness: Imposing freedom at gunpoint is really hard.

Yes, it is, if the unfree don't want to be free or don't know how to operate in a free environment.

It's easy if the oppressed want to be freed. Just kill or remove the jailer.

It worked fine in Kurdistan. No one needed to point any guns at the Kurds of Iraq and force them to be nice to themselves and others. I expected the Arabs of Iraq to be similar, but it turns out they aren't. That was my biggest error.

The Arabs of Iraq could have gone the way of the Kurds, and if they had we would be having a very different conversation about liberating people from tyrants.

As it turned out the "neocons" and fellow travelers were right about one ethnic group in Iraq, and the skeptics were right about the other. It's too bad for all of us that the skeptics were right about the larger group.

Everyone should learn from their mistake here and realize those on the other side of the argument were right about one part of Iraq and wrong about the other.

Some people really can be freed at gunpoint, even in Iraq. The idea isn't crazy or always wrong. But some people can't be freed at gunpoint, at least not quickly or easily and without massive convulsions.

This is the main reason I don't favor an American invasion of Iran at this time. If all of Iraq were like Kurdistan, I would support the same in Iran, and so would lots of other people. Chaos in Iraq is the best life insurance policy that regime could have bought. It makes skeptics of all of us, and it keeps the United States military busy putting out fires somewhere else.

I'm sorry that it works, but it does.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 04:03 PM

Mary: I only spent a few days there, but I didn't think Jordan was that bad.

It doesn't look that bad from a tourist point of view, but I've talked to people (Americans, Lebanese, and Iraqi) who have spent lots of time there and say the society is completely rotten and downright terrifying under the surface. It doesn't surprise me. I'm sorry to be this way about it, but something like 80 percent of Amman is Palestinian. They aren't exactly the most politically mature Arabs around.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 04:09 PM

It doesn't look that bad from a tourist point of view, but I've talked to people (Americans, Lebanese, and Iraqi) who have spent lots of time there and say the society is completely rotten and downright terrifying under the surface.

There was sort of an undercurrent of that even in Aqaba, and that's Jordan's version of a beach town. And there were the copies of Mein Kampf in the Queen Alia Airport bookstore that Lisa noted.

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 04:27 PM

MJT: [Jordan] doesn't look that bad from a tourist point of view but I've talked to people who...say the society is completely rotten and downright terrifying

It seemed pretty rotten from a tourist point of view, too. I thought Ramallah was a much friendlier place than Amman.

I wonder why that is...?

Posted by: Edgar at September 5, 2007 04:29 PM

I also prefer Ramallah to Amman. It's more dangerous and the craziness is out in the open, but it's also more fun and less backwards. Amman is like a bloated village, and Ramallah is more of a proper city even though it's a lot smaller.

I expected to like Amman better than Ramallah, but I didn't.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 04:43 PM

Everyone should learn from their mistake here and realize those on the other side of the argument were right about one part of Iraq and wrong about the other.

I'm uncomfortable with the way that this keeps being put in overly simplistic terms.

Those (like me) who said that democracy would likely not work in the short term were not simply saying it because they thought it impossible to ever free a people and they would embrace democracy. We said it was unlikely in Iraq's case because there were specific issues that would likely prevent it.

Among those issues were the ethnic divisions within Iraq, the presence of a fair number of political forces that would likely want the process disrupted, the likelihood that this administration was incompetent (some of us were paying attention), and the lack of a broad-based international commitment that would share the burden.

Those were obviously not issues at the time with Kurdistan (although there is some similar pressures on the horizon for that region too, let's keep our fingers crossed for them). I never thought that Kurdistan would not be able to implement some form of democracy, so I'm not sure what mistake I need to recognize.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 04:45 PM

DPU: I'm uncomfortable with the way that this keeps being put in overly simplistic terms.

I was generalizing, obviously. If you brilliantly predicted everything correctly, you can exempt yourself. :)

Did you predict the Anbar Awakening, though? Not even the Marines saw that one coming, and they were there when it happened. Most Westerners still have not even heard of it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 04:59 PM

Did you predict the Anbar Awakening, though?

Sorry, my 6th sense only works on the macro level. Here's a question about the Anbar Awakening, though - what happens when US troops are pulled out, and the former Sunni insurgency is working with (presumably) the Badr Brigade, I mean Ministry of Interior forces?

While I'm glad to see an improvement in relations and a possible political route forward in this area, I don't count it as a success until the US can withdraw from the area.

That, of course, may be in the works, as I'm ignorant of the specifics. I await your article with interest.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 05:06 PM

It seemed pretty rotten from a tourist point of view, too.

I only spent one day in Aqaba, and two days in Petra and Wadi Rum. Petra was amazing, and the Bedouin are cool, so I got a different impression.

Posted by: mary at September 5, 2007 05:14 PM

A serious problem when speaking about Muslim areas is that they have not really progressed beyond a tribal society. It's very hard to think about any kind of pluralistic modern democracy in a multi-tribal area.

Our whole understanding or political organization in the modern western world (despite minor variations) is predicated on individual liberty.

Tribal societies don't act that way so it is hard to imagine a path to modern democracy starting there.

Posted by: AlanC at September 5, 2007 05:44 PM

The last time America armed and trained tribes was the Mujahadeen of Afghanistan, which produced the Taliban.

While it was hard to guess the U.S. would be dumb enough to try it again in al Anbar, it's pretty easy to predict that a similar group to the Taliban will rise up in al Anbar because of us.

Prediction: the Iraqi government will be engaged in combat with Anbar "Awakening" within two years...

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 05:54 PM

e: it's pretty easy to predict that a similar group to the Taliban will rise up in al Anbar because of us.

The situation isn't at all comparable. Afghanistan has always been a very lawless place. That's why law-and-order types like the Taliban appeal to people who want some sort of stablity.

Iraq was always more secular and modern. They won't tolerate anything like the Taliban for long.

Posted by: Edgar at September 5, 2007 05:57 PM

Haha edgar,

Law & order, religious purity and a hatred of "others" has universal appeal.

Let's wait and see what happens when the Shiite government of Iraq asks the tribes of al Anbar to turn in all the guns we gave them, okay?

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 06:10 PM

What the hell is the CIA doing all day?

Having tea with Nigerian officials.....
Actually, undermining the Bush presidency with much more determination than they are doing anything else.

About Egypt - there is a wonderful interview with Hitchens (which I urge everyone to watch) where he points out that Egypt is the only real Arab country - the rest are all created by Europeans.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 5, 2007 06:15 PM

The same people are crying out for 'democracy' and 'freedom' in Iraq, were the same ones who supported Saddam back in the day and stood idly by while he hammered the Kurds and Shi'ites when they rose up against him after Gulf War one.

1) the only reason the Kurds have a society today is our flyovers.

2) Another thing Hitch said in the interview was that the biggest mistake of all was the Bush Sr didn't finish the job when he had a chance. Which would have saved the Shia and the marsh arabs. But part of the reason we stopped and left Saddam in power was that the UN told us to.

And if we had gone on to depose Saddam then, we would still have had to occupy Iraq for awhile and if you think we had no plan for that in 2003, we really didn't have a plan in 1991, because we weren't even thinking about it.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 5, 2007 06:42 PM

Once again, the US did not create the Taliban.
When will this leftist nonsense "fact" finally get buried.

Also, any new Iraq material left Mr. Totten?

If so great, if not I've no right to complain as I've been unable to contribute like I would like to. Thanks for the great stuff

Posted by: Rommel at September 5, 2007 10:22 PM

But part of the reason we stopped and left Saddam in power was that the UN told us to.

No, I'm afraid that while the UN is the ever-convenient whipping boy, the reason was that a successful Shia revolt in the south would have provided a powerful oil-rich and Iran-friendly Shia state in the south, and that upset the balance of power in that region.

Translation - it wasn't the UN that told him to stop, it was the Saudis.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 5, 2007 10:31 PM

Then it was both. But I know Saddam made the Sauds uneasy also. Either way, if we had taken out Saddam then, all the current complaints and conspiracy theories would have been applied to that situation.

Posted by: Yehudit at September 5, 2007 10:35 PM

Also, any new Iraq material left Mr. Totten?

Yes, imminently. I've been slow because I took time off with my wife who will be leaving town for a few weeks shortly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 5, 2007 10:45 PM

It's good to know nothing is ever America's fault, Rommel.

I think that attitude is gonna come in real handy over the next couple of years.

Posted by: e at September 5, 2007 11:25 PM

"It's good to know nothing is ever America's fault, Rommel.

I think that attitude is gonna come in real handy over the next couple of years."

It'll work a hell of a lot better than the
"everything is America's fault including
9-11" attitude, that's for sure.

Posted by: Gary Rosen at September 5, 2007 11:45 PM

MJT: "Some people can't be freed at gunpoint, at least not quickly or easily and without massive convulsions. This is the main reason I don't favor an American invasion of Iran at this time..."

Hey Mike (and a lot of you guys), what about a US invasion of Iran NEVER... Why the bleeeepity bleep don't all you helpful American liberal interventionists and hard headed neo con realists please mind your own business for a change and let Iran work itself out in its own time?

This country has been through and is going through quite enough, thank you, and it really doesn't need more violence. Change may come but - God willing - not through the barrel of a gun again (even a nice photogenic flowery one).

If the argument for a putative intervention or attack is grounded in President Ahmedinejad's caustic musings and GW Bush's recent "impending nuclear holocaust" notions, it's a crap argument.

Personally I think that many of the comments Ahmedinejad has made about Israel, Jews and the Holocaust are deeply offensive, undignified, unnecessary, stupid and cruel - not least to the 25,000 Jews who still chose to live here in Iran, but I also think that these facile pronouncements are now being overplayed and used to justify/further some extremely dangerous strategic agendas in an already volatile region.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue: My personal opinion is pursuing The Bomb, with all the global grief it would/is entailing, is a hugely expensive waste of money for a country with an already shaky economy -- and it could indeed trigger an unnecessary scramble by other regional states for the same thing (notably by everyone's favourite fat bastard Wahhabi chums, the Saudis) - and Bomb or no Bomb, I am not at all keen on the idea Chernobyl-era Russian made nuclear reactors being built all over a country with as many tectonic fault lines as Iran. I have filmed inside a Chernobyl type reactor once, at Ignalina in Lithuania. Not good.

Nevertheless, Iran has a technical and legal right to develop nuclear power as a signitory of the NPT. So why shouldn't it explore alternative energy sources?

Aha... I bet I know the answer.... Iran as a country has no need for alternative energy sources as it is sitting on all that oil and gas – so the nuclear programme must obviously be a cover for making deadly atomic weapons. Am I right, guys?

Well, this stance isn't consistent. In fact, it reeks of hypocrisy. The Iranian quest for nuclear power began under the Shah in 1959 with US assistance, under the so-called “Atoms for Peace” programme. Ultimately, the plan was for Iran to have some 23 nuclear reactors in place by 2000.

Indeed, by 1976 the Ford administration was offering the Shah the chance to buy a facility for reprocessing plutonium from nuclear fuel -- and thus for a complete nuclear fuel cycle. The Ford strategy paper said the "introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran's economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals."

A nuclear powered Iran seemed such a cool idea back then. But who was pushing the plan from Washington's end? There were two main movers.... ah, what fun... There was the White House Chief of Staff, who at the time was none other than… Dick Cheney, and Ford's Secretary of Defense: Mr. Donald Rumsfeld.

So what's changed? Basically we uppity Iroonis had ourselves a revolution and kicked out a vicious, corrupt US puppet regime (sadly replacing it with a turbanned Persian version) and Iran is no longer a compliant partner in US' Israel-centric, Petro-dollar bankrolled plans for the region. Well... So what? Let us Iranians rot in splendid isolation...

No can do. But why?

Aha... is it that Iran is apparently led by a madman anti-Semite who says he wants to kill all the Jews? He's a mini midget Hitler Mark 2, albeit in a cheap looking polyester suit -- and he said all those mean things about Israel, right?

Well excuse me...Are people here seriously advocating yet another a devastating military conflict in this long suffering part of the world because of what one increasingly weak man - with a track record of shooting his mouth off and playing to the gallery - may have said to a bunch of provincial students at some mooky conference, all because he wanted to sound like a tough guy with authentic revolutionary street cred?

You can't start wars just because of what someone says... Let's rewind...

....Back to August 1984 - it's the height of the Cold War and MAD - Ronald Reagan quipped into an open mic "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes..."

Even in jest, this was highly irresponsible language from The Gipper, but would that have been Causus Belli for the Soviets? According to today's thinking, the righteous SS-20s ought to have been ramming into the Eastern seaboard.

Fast Forward...

It's May 8 2006, the day after Ahmedinejad's notorious (disputed) statement, Shimon Peres said in an interview with Reuters that "The president of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map."

Now conventional wisdom has it that Israel already possesses several hundred nuclear warheads – Iran posseses none - and we can assume any number of those Israeli nukes are aimed at Iran right now. Mr. Peres was rightly criticised for these crass remarks by the Israeli media... sitting here, typing away in Tehran, I'm in Shimon's cross hairs, scary stuff when I think about it. But I wouldn't want to start a war over mere words.

And what about John McCain's recent attempts at a humorous cover version of the Beach Boys surfer classic? “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” he warbled. Not big, John, not clever - not even especially funny. But equally, not worth a single human life.

Besides, Ahmedinejad’s toxic ideas are most certainly NOT all shared by significant and powerful sections of the Iranian regime, who sconsider his brand of culturally and historically naive demagoguery an embarrassing liability.

However, for some mysterious reason, these alternative points of view have received scant, if any, coverage in the western media, even though they come from more important people than the President.

For example, Supreme Leader Khamenei`s main foreign policy advisor, Ali Akbar Valayati, refused to take part in Ahmedinejad’s Holocaust conference. In contrast to Ahmadinejad`s remarks, Velayati said that Holocaust was a genocide and a historical reality.

Similarly, back in November 2005 – days after the infamous Ahmedinejad student speech about Israel - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei himself, rejected any attack on the Jewish state, calling instead for a referendum in Palestine. I looked it up for you. He said:

"We hold a fair and logical stance on the issue of Palestine. Several decades ago, Egyptian statesman Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was the most popular Arab personality, stated in his slogans that the Egyptians would throw the Jewish usurpers of Palestine into the sea. Some years later, Saddam Hussein, the most hated Arab figure, said that he would put half of the Palestinian land on fire. But we would not approve of either of these two remarks. We believe, according to our Islamic principles, that neither throwing the Jews into the sea nor putting the Palestinian land on fire is logical and reasonable. Our position is that the Palestinian people should regain their rights.... The Islamic Republic of Iran has presented a fair and logical solution to this issue. We have suggested that all native Palestinians, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews, should be allowed to take part in a general referendum before the eyes of the world and decide on a Palestinian government. Any government that is the result of this referendum will be a legitimate government."

Even Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to downplay the impact of his ill conceived comments. For example, in a very interesting interview with Time magazine in September last year.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1535777-2,00.html

TIME: You have been quoted as saying Israel should be wiped off the map. Was that merely rhetoric, or do you mean it?

Ahmadinejad: People in the world are free to think the way they wish. We do not insist they should change their views. Our position toward the Palestinian question is clear: we say that a nation has been displaced from its own land. Palestinian people are killed in their own lands, by those who are not original inhabitants, and they have come from far areas of the world and have occupied those homes. Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way..."

Maurice Motamed, who is currently the only Jewish MP in Iran's parliament expressed his own sadness at the President's earlier remarks "Denial of such a great historical tragedy that is connected to the Jewish community can only be considered an insult to all the world's Jewish communities, " he said.

It was a theme picked up by former President Mohammad Khatami in February 2006. He said "We should speak out if even a single Jew is killed. Don't forget that one of the crimes of Hitler, Nazism and German National Socialism was the massacre of innocent people, among them many Jews."

Well, "many" is something of an understaement isn't it? Try six million, Mr Khatami. All those innocent people gone for ever. For nothing. What an evil, criminal waste.

And talking of criminal wastes... what about 1,000,000 lives? Not Jewish or American lives, this time. Iranian ones. Iranian soldiers. Iranian volunteer fighters. Don't worry folks.... they are not coming over the hill to get you. They are all already dead. And the American government helped kill them.

I went to Behesht- e-Zahra war cemetary the other day, as I always do when I visit Tehran, To pay repects to my brothers in the mud. This terrible, beautiful place is vast. It's the size of a small city, and I found myself walking through the massed ranks of headstones in tears.

As far as I am concerned those boys were heroes... and many of them were just boys. By the end of the imposed war the conscrition age was 14. But they did the right thing and I, who am of that generation, feel a shitty guilt for being alive while they are not. Believe me, my cyber friends, we have tasted enough of war to never want to see another. But we, the living, would fight for Iran all over again if we have to. I haven't time for Ahmedinejad and his gang and their nasty ways. I like American people, they are so friendly, so polite and so, well, childishly sweet when they are abroad. But this is our country, our land and the US Army is not welcome here. I made my way through the endless avenues of martyrs and I pondered the international situation. Leave us alone, I thought: We'll kill you if you come.

Remember, Iran is a country that was attacked with maximum force by Saddam Hussein in 1980 and yes, the best part of a million men were killed or maimed in 8 years of horrific fighting. Iran seemed to be up against the whole world at times: The Russians provided Saddam thousands of tanks, Hind-B helicopter gunships, Mig jets and Scud ballistic missiles, rocket launchers, artillery pieces -- all on credit. French Exocet missiles, Super Etendard bombers and Mirage fighter planes were also sold on tick (Yes, folks, that’s why the Russkis et Le Fromage Gobbling Surrender Monkeys backed Saddam prior to Gulf Wars 1 and 2 – they wanted their money back). The Brazilians flogged Iraq armoured cars and APCs, the Chinese sold yet more rocket launchers and jet planes, the Czechs APCs and more tanks, London flogged Radar sets, South Africa G-4 and G-5 artillery systems, Poland (Poland?!) sent over 900 tanks and 750 APCs, the list seems endless…

The Germans and US provided the precursor chemicals and technologies to manufacture nerve gas and blister agents (that's WMDs to you) that were used without restraint and dropped on our Iranian troop concentrations, located with the help of American supplied satellite photographs. In November 1983 a US National Security Directive stated that the U.S would do "…whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq from losing its war with Iran. What was"necessary and legal" somehow included illegally shipping Huey and Hughes helicopters, howitzers and bombs to Iraq via 3rd parties: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, all in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. From 1984 the CIA began supplying the Iraqis with the necessary intelligence to calibrate their mustard gas attacks. In March, 1986 the United States along with Great Britain blocked all UN Security Council Resolutions condemning Iraq's use of chemical weapons, and on March 21 1986 the US became the only country that refused to sign a Security Council statement condemning Iraq's use of these Weapons of Mass Destruction. Not surprising really, as between 1985 and 1989 the US had also secretly exported 21 batches of lethal strains of Anthrax and further shipments of weapons grade Botulinum to Baghdad.

The plump Gulf State Sheikhs bankrolled the entire Iraqi war effort, so Iran began to try and hit Kuwaiti oil tankers that were carrying “Iraqi” oil. In March 1987 the US re-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers as US vessels and effectively joined the war as a combatant on Iraq’s side. On May 17th that same year, the warship USS Stark was attacked for no apparent reason. But not by Iran. An Iraqi Mirage F-1 fired off 2 Exocets: 37 American sailors were killed, 21 wounded. "We will not be intimidated," said then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. "We will not be driven from the Gulf." He described the attack on the Stark as a "horrible error." Saddam Hussein was quick to apologize for the "unintentional incident." He paid money to compensate. And the US remained on Iraq’s side.

In 1988 the American guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes, sailing under the robust stewardship of a man called Commander William C Rogers, found itself inside Iranian territorial waters. Rogers was desperately trying to engage some Iranian navy speedboats, so keen was he for his state-of-the-art vessel to see some action. Suddenly the Vincennes' hi tech radar locked onto an approaching target and its "highly trained" crew shot down an Iranian plane.

Unfortunately the aircraft in question was a civilian Airbus, Iran Air 655 on a sheduled flight to Dubai, carrying some 290 civilians – including 66 children. Everyone on board was killed. At a press conference on July 3rd 1988, the then Vice President, George Bush Snr said of the incident "I will never apologize for the United States of America— I don’t care what the facts are."

In 1990 Mr. Bush awarded Commander Rogers the Legion of Merit "for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as commanding officer ... from April 1987 to May 1989." No mention was made of the Airbus incident.

So I think we have had quite enough help from America.

Iran has been accused of “interfering” in Iraq and I have no doubt this is true. But it would be highly surprising if any country didn’t try to influence events in a neighbouring state which had at one time launched an unprovoked war, but was now near collapse and currently occupied by over 100,000 potentially hostile troops.

Besides, seen from Tehran, the US has done more than its fair share of “interfering” in Iraq, and while Washington shrilly accuses the Iranians of backing Shia militias, it is an open secret that the US are aiding and abetting Kurdish, Baluch, Azeri and Khuzestani separatist factions inside Iran’s borders. While Iran’s shadowy IRGC “Qods” force has been accused of black ops in Iraq, we also read that US special forces have been on the ground in Iran for months, selecting targets for possible bombing. The BBC programme Newsnight has reported that Israeli Private Military Companies were subcontracted by the US to train Kurdish-Iranian dissidents (who were, it transpires, not informed of their instructors’ origins).

What’s good for the goose, Tehran might argue, is good for the gander.

But the idea that Iran wants – or will ever be in a position – to liquidate Israel, reinstate some sort of a martyrdom crazed Shi’ite Caliphate and conquer the entire Middle East, whilst merrily handing out James Bond style briefcase sized mini-nukes like candy to any random Salafist nut job who comes begging, all the while aiming its low-tech knock-off North Korean Scud clone ICBMs at Europe is comical. Or rather it would be, were it not for the fact that a great number of people in the West actually believe this scaremongering, dangerous propaganda.

That the US is relying on highly questionable, duplicitous players linked to Maryam Rajavi’s cultish People’s Mojahedeen (MEK/NCRI) for its intelligence on Iran, is resonant of the Ahmad Chalabi debacle. This organisation is still on the State Dept's list of terrorist groups and membership entails unusual features such as female led combat units, compulsory divorces, moral confession cleansing sessions and forced separation of kids from their parents.

The group was armed and supported by Saddam Hussein. Utterly discredited inside Iran, they group fought alongside Iraqi soldiers throughout the Iran-Iraq war. Indeed in 1991 these traitors were used as shock troops by Saddam Hussein during the murderous Anfal campaign against the Kurds. Rajavi exhorted her followers to "save your bullets for the Revolutionary guards -- we can crush these Kurds under our tank tracks."

Being duped into an ill conceived war based on shit “intelligence” and outright lies has got us where we are today in Iraq: decent American and British servicemen and women are being killed and maimed daily for no obvious end benefit, the wretched country has become something of a Jihadi theme-park. Many of those ordinary day-to-day Iraqis we came to liberate – if they are not being slaughtered in cycles of revenge whose origins no-one can remember – are living an imitation of life in a shattered economy, under the constant threat of full blown sectarian civil war.

There is absolutely no need to replicate this tragic situation on an even grander, bloodier scale next door.

Do not worry about Iran, my friends. We are nice, decent and a threat to no-one. Like water, the people here will find their own level.

But this time we'll do it our way and without your help.

Thank You.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 6, 2007 12:44 AM

Hey Mike (and a lot of you guys), what about a US invasion of Iran NEVER...

Never say never.

If Iran nukes Israel, there will be war. I guaran-freaking-tee it.

If Zelzal missiles strike Tel Aviv, there will be war.

If an Iranian-sponsored terrorist group kills Americans in America, there will be war.

I don't expect any of those things to actually happen, but I am far less certain of that than I am certain that Ireland, for example, will not attack the U.S. or Israel.

Iran is already in a state of war with the United States and Israel, and should thank Allah that most of us don't want to fight back at this time.

I am very well aware that the average Iranian isn't hostile, and is actually rather pro-Western, but average Iranians have absolutely no say in foreign policy.

I don't ever want a war with Iran, but if that regime starts a real war with us I will not get in the way.

And I do not take kindly to all that Great Satan and Death to America crap. If the regime doesn't want us to talk about war, they can start by knocking that off and act like a non-psychotic government for a change.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 6, 2007 03:02 AM

Microraptor, I took the liberty of publishing your last entry at my blog. Hope you don't mind.

MJT: Your reporting and opinions are among the most credible I have found. Keep up the good work. And for God's sake, stay safe.

Posted by: Hootsbuddy at September 6, 2007 05:05 AM

Microraptor,

Reagan was joking. Achmadenijad was not.

There's a difference, no?

If Achmadenijad had followed up his comments with an "oh crap, that wasn't meant for the airwaves!" the incident wouldn't have played out quite differently. Instead, he followed them up with a Holocaust denial conference.

Iran's president doesn't get to spew hateful bilge without consequences.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 6, 2007 05:17 AM

Microraptor, a good (and long) comment.

My own view is that the Iranian government is not looking to develop nuclear weapons technology, but instead threshold technology. That allows the greatest flexibility.

While it's conceivable that the technology is being developed for energy purposes (several oil producers also have nuclear power, Russia and Canada, for example), I'd think that Iran would have to be crazy to not develop weapons technology (or at leats threhold technology), given that significant diplomatic overtures were simply ignored by the US a few years back, and given the example of what happened to Hussein.

In terms of the current saber-rattling, well, c'mon. As diplomacy has been rejected, the only means that the US has of influencing Iran politically is the the threat of military force. As it's in the US national interest to dominate this region, and as Iran is a foe in the region, it doesn't take a genius to see that the only way that Iran can assure it's sovereignty is a nuclear deterrence. Look at Pakistan by way of example - the US is not about to invade it at any time soon.

And while looking at Pakistan, let's remember that Iran is bracketed by two nuclear states. Under the same conditions, I'd be thinking pretty hard about developing nukes myself.

Which brings us to the saber-rattling. Iranian nukes are bound to make Israel somewhat jumpy, for a number of reasons. Israel's defense strategy gets messed up, especially if lots of neighboring states are in a nuclear arms race. Plus once Iran has nukes, the genie is out of the bottle, the US cannot use the threat of military force to put it back in.

So sabers will be rattled. It's unlikely that there will actually be military action. The military is stretched too thin to be a credible threat, and the last I heard, bombing war game scenarios could not come up with a situation advantageous to the US.

Once can only hope that this logic actually has some force in the Whitehouse.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 07:47 AM

Microraptor - poor, poor Iran. Why does everyone keep picking on you guys, anyway? Iran is nice, decent, a threat to no one - except to Salman Rushdie, Danish cartoonists, those American hostages at the Embassy, embassies that were burned and otherwise randomly attacked in a fit of pique, and of course those 241 American servicemen in the Marine barracks in Beirut.

Under all laws and guidelines, the acts I've listed above are considered acts of war. But due to our reliance on Jimmy Carter's headless chicken policies in the Middle East, policies that the rest of the world seems to accept and follow too, no one has responded, so far.

Some childishly sweet Americans have a saying, probably borrowed from the leaner predecessors of the fat Saudis, 'the straw that broke the camels back'. Europeans have the same idea when they talk about "the drop that makes the barrel overflow". The Europeans get it right - politics is less like a simple weight-balance ratio, more like the complexity of fluid dynamics. It's hard to know when too much is too much.

I'd guess that most of the Iranians who know how to figure these things out left a long time ago.

Speaking of Beirut, you say:

Iran has been accused of “interfering” in Iraq and I have no doubt this is true. But it would be highly surprising if any country didn’t try to influence events in a neighbouring state which had at one time launched an unprovoked war, but was now near collapse and currently occupied by over 100,000 potentially hostile troops.

So why is Iran interfering in Lebanon by setting aside millions to fund Hezbollah? How are the Lebanese oppressing nice, decent, threat-to-no-one Iran?

Posted by: mary at September 6, 2007 08:37 AM

MJT: "...And I do not take kindly to all that Great Satan and Death to America crap. If the regime doesn't want us to talk about war, they can start by knocking that off and act like a non-psychotic government for a change."

Sticks and stones dude. They's just words... war is war. I can understand how you feel. I don't think being labelled "Evil" by GW was very nice either. But they are just outdated mantras from the revolution.

Interestingly, though, things might be moving in the right direction. In his recently published memoirs, Hashemi Rafsanjani - who is probably the most influential person in Iran today - stirred up a huge controversy here...

He suggest that Ayatollah Khomeini himself (not Khameini) wanted the slogan "Marg bar Amrika" (Death to America) dropped back in 1984.

http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidANA320232150345/SecMain/pagHomepage

Obviously this didn't happen at the time, but the "pregmatic" Rafsanjani is far more nuanced and experienced in international relations than Ahmedinejad, who seems to thrive on controversy - and being the centre of attention: to whit his Holocaust denial conference etc.

I agree that Reagan was joking. But it was a stupid joke. ~Peres wasn't joking, though. My point is more that several more influential people than Ahmedinajad opposed his rhetoric/stance -- and he himself toned it down, but the media (including bloggers) -- and US/Israeli politicians and pundits prefer to stick to the most extreme versions.

He always makes for good copy, I agree. Ahmedinejad with his soundbite lunacies and the "telling it plain, like what the common man finks" approach is far more news friendly than the more reclusive powerbrokers with his soundbite lunacies... but he is NOT the Iranian state and his warblings are not automatically official policy. Iranian politics is a very complicated affair of ever shifting alliances.

Probably too complicated for 1 minute TV neews packages, or intellectuals like GW Bush to readily understand. But I'd like to think that people with a genuine interest in the region, like MJT, would see past this rather than making silly comments like

"Never say never... If Iran nukes Israel there will be war."

What a pointless comment. Obviously if Iran nukes Israel some sort of horrific war will already have started. And if Musharraf gets assasinated and pro Al Qaeda fanatics take over Pakistan and they nuke Israel, there will also be war, but with Pakistan
And if aliens land and they zap Tel Aviv with the laser death ray, there will be intergalactic war.

But I am glad you will not stand in the way if war does break out Mike! ;)

My point is really this: the "Ahmedinejad threatens genocide" is being spun by those whose vested interests it suits... to create a moral and psychological climate where preemtive action against Iran is more acceptable and the threshold lower. This is dengerous and we should all be wary of being manipulated like this after the Iraq fuck up.

I also believe it suits Israel perfectly to posit itself as a brave little victim country under threat from a neo Hitler, but that's simply not the reality.

Israel is the dominant regional military power in the Middle East by a country mile -- and Ahmedinejad is a loudmouth media whore who enjoys his capacity to shock. But a new Hitler? Naaaaaa.

Anyway, one day MJT, I hope that circumstances allow me to show you this country. You will love it.

On a darker rather melodramatic note, however, I was having a meal with a guy who used to be the deputy director of the Shah's Royal Bank and who still lives in Tehran. And he and his friend both told me that although Iran couldn't make its own nuclear weapons as such, it had anyway procured 4 -5 war heads from former Soviet Central Asia. And that the US and Israeli governments both knew this. It was just gossip - these guys were not privy to defence secrets or anything - but I wonder if it's true?

Posted by: Microraptor at September 6, 2007 09:06 AM

MJT: "...And I do not take kindly to all that Great Satan and Death to America crap. If the regime doesn't want us to talk about war, they can start by knocking that off and act like a non-psychotic government for a change."

Sticks and stones dude. They's just words... war is war. I can understand how you feel. I don't think being labelled "Evil" by GW was very nice either. But they are just outdated mantras from the revolution.

Interestingly, though, things might be moving in the right direction. In his recently published memoirs, Hashemi Rafsanjani - who is probably the most influential person in Iran today - stirred up a huge controversy here...

He suggest that Ayatollah Khomeini himself (not Khameini) wanted the slogan "Marg bar Amrika" (Death to America) dropped back in 1984.

http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidANA320232150345/SecMain/pagHomepage

Obviously this didn't happen at the time, but the "pragmatic" Rafsanjani is far more nuanced and experienced in international relations than Ahmedinejad, who seems to thrive on controversy - and being the centre of attention: to whit his Holocaust denial conference etc.

I agree that Reagan was joking. But it was a stupid joke. Peres wasn't joking, though. My point is more that several far more influential people than Ahmedinajad opposed his rhetoric/stance -- and he himself toned it down, but the media (including bloggers) -- and US/Israeli politicians and pundits prefer to stick to the most extreme versions. This is spin.

He always makes for good copy, I agree. Ahmedinejad with his soundbite lunacies and the "telling it plain, like what the common man finks" approach is far more news friendly than the more reclusive powerbrokers... but he is NOT the Iranian state and his warblings are not automatically official policy. Iranian politics is a very complicated affair of ever shifting alliances.

Probably too complicated for 1 minute TV news packages, or intellectuals like GW Bush to readily understand. But I'd like to think that people with a genuine interest in the region, like MJT, would see past this rather than making silly comments like

"Never say never... If Iran nukes Israel there will be war."

What a pointless comment. Obviously if Iran nukes Israel some sort of horrific war will already have started. And if Musharraf gets assasinated and pro Al Qaeda fanatics take over Pakistan and they nuke Israel, there will also be war, but with Pakistan
And if aliens land and they zap Tel Aviv with the laser death ray, there will be intergalactic war.

But I am glad you will not stand in the way if war does break out Mike! ;)

My point is really this: the "Ahmedinejad threatens genocide" is being spun by those whose vested interests it suits... to create a moral and psychological climate where preemtive action against Iran is more acceptable and the threshold for justifying violence lower. This is dangerous and we should all be wary of being manipulated like this after the Iraq fuck up.

I also believe it suits Israel perfectly to posit itself as a brave little victim country under threat from a neo Hitler, but that's simply not the reality.

Israel is the dominant regional military power in the Middle East by a country mile -- and Ahmedinejad is a loudmouth media whore who enjoys his capacity to shock. But a new Hitler? Naaaaaa.

Anyway, one day MJT, I hope that circumstances allow me to show you this country. You will love it.

On a darker rather melodramatic note, however, I was having a meal with a guy who used to be the deputy director of the Shah's Royal Bank and who still lives in Tehran. And he and his friend both told me that although Iran couldn't make its own nuclear weapons as such, it had anyway procured 4 -5 war heads from former Soviet Central Asia. And that the US and Israeli governments both knew this. It was just gossip - these guys were not privy to defence secrets or anything - but I wonder if it's true?

Posted by: Microraptor at September 6, 2007 09:09 AM

Mary: "So why is Iran interfering in Lebanon by setting aside millions to fund Hezbollah? How are the Lebanese oppressing nice, decent, threat-to-no-one Iran?"

Everyone with any sort of interest in the Middle East is intefering in Lebanon, Mary. It's what Lebanon is for, didn't you know?

Why are the Saudis pouring money at the Future Movement? Why are the Americans propping up Siniora's seemingly unconstitutional (Shia-less) cabinet? What are the French and Italians up to with their intelligence corps riddled Unifil "political Officers,"? Why do the Syrians keep blowing people up? What are LF's military relations with Israel like these days? Who the hell was funding the Fatah al-Islam? Who is behind Jund al Shams, Who is Walid Jumblatt in bed with today? Why is the German Navy patrolling the coast when Hezbollah has no water borne force and always smuggles its weapons overland?

Hezbollah is the IRGC's pampered strategic pet. Just like Israel is for America.

You know that anyway, so why ask?

Posted by: Microraptor at September 6, 2007 09:21 AM

Everyone with any sort of interest in the Middle East is intefering in Lebanon, Mary. It's what Lebanon is for, didn't you know?

Microraptor - careful, you're dropping your 'poor, poor pitiful Iran' mask. So, little old colonized, oppressed Iran is playing power games, smuggling weapons to Hezbollah and generally making life in Lebanon miserable because all the other colonizer/imperialist thugs are doing the same thing?

Is Iran really innocent and harmless? Naaaah.

Speaking of new Hitlers, what do you think about British Labour MP Denis MacShane's report on rising anti-Semitism in Britain and around the world? McShane says:

Our report showed a pattern of fear among a small number of British citizens -- there are around 300,000 Jews in Britain, of whom about a third are observant -- that is not acceptable in a modern democracy. Synagogues attacked. Jewish schoolboys jostled on public transportation. Rabbis punched and knifed. British Jews feeling compelled to raise millions to provide private security for their weddings and community events. On campuses, militant anti-Jewish students fueled by Islamist or far-left hate seeking to prevent Jewish students from expressing their opinions.

More worrisome was what we described as anti-Jewish discourse, a mood and tone whenever Jews are discussed, whether in the media, at universities, among the liberal media elite or at dinner parties of modish London. To express any support for Israel or any feeling for the right of a Jewish state to exist produces denunciation, even contempt...

...The president of Iran is the most odious example of this new state-sanctioned anti-Semitism. But from the Egyptian Writers Union to the notorious anti-Jewish articles in the charters of Hamas and Hezbollah, hatred of Jews is an integral element of a new ideology rising to prominence in many regions of the world...

Personally, I think hate ideologies are the most dangerous WMDs. McShane seems to think so too.

When it comes to exporting hate ideologies, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the world's leaders.

Posted by: mary at September 6, 2007 09:36 AM

When it comes to exporting hate ideologies, Iran and Saudi Arabia are the world's leaders.

Them and the LGF commentariate. Peas in a pod.

Is Iran really innocent and harmless?

You might want to read his comments a few times, Mary, paying attention to what he says about Ahmedinejad. And maybe we can dispense with the straw men for a bit.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 09:48 AM

By the way, I don't think that Saudi Arabia has Jewish members of government while Iran does, so I wouldn't class them in the same hate category.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 09:52 AM

Microraptor,

Because Iran's government does not have a clear line of accountability from the electorate to the people who make policy, it is unpredictable. You folks get nukes, who's gonna be calling the shots?

You get perturbed and scared when Shimon Peres makes threatening noises towards Tehran, but you seem completely unable or unwilling to empathize with residents of Tel Aviv who might feel similarly threatened when Achmadenijad sounds off.

Posted by: Creamy Goodness at September 6, 2007 10:23 AM

By the way, I don't think that Saudi Arabia has Jewish members of government while Iran does, so I wouldn't class them in the same hate category.

But you'd put LGF commentariate in the same category?

Going through the list of goofs made in your last two comments would require more effort than it took to make those goofs, so I'll just ask - what do you think about the fact that Jews in Britain have to hire armed guards to protect their wedding ceremonies and other community gatherings? What on earth is going on over there?

Posted by: mary at September 6, 2007 10:26 AM

But you'd put LGF commentariate in the same category?

No, it was a cruel and unjustified slam at LGF. The racism and bigotry might be similar, but LGF has less influence, so it was an unfair comparison.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 10:32 AM

...what do you think about the fact that Jews in Britain have to hire armed guards to protect their wedding ceremonies and other community gatherings? What on earth is going on over there?

I have no idea.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 10:34 AM

DPU,

There is nothing cruel or unjustified you could do or say to the LGF community. You are light years behind even the most unfair and bigoted in that crowd. It is just the truth.

Posted by: John at September 6, 2007 10:51 AM

There is nothing cruel or unjustified you could do or say to the LGF community.</i.

Naw, there is, and comparing them on a par with the bigotry found in S.A. was unfair. Mary was right to call me on it.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 11:05 AM

Microraptor: Anyway, one day MJT, I hope that circumstances allow me to show you this country. You will love it.

That would be great.

Of course I know Ahmadinejad isn't typical of Iranians or in charge of everything. Didn't I say that already?

Anyway, I have never been to Iran but I know many people who have, and I have a decent idea what it's really like. I have no desire, ever, to be involved in a war with that country.

I can't say, though, that I wouldn't grudgingly support one anyway if it comes to that. But it depends. Some wars are necessary. Some aren't. And I won't support every war even against those who might deserve it. It depends.

For example, I didn't support Israel's war against Hezbollah last year, even though Hezbollah deserved it. The reason I didn't support it is because the rest of Lebanon didn't deserve it, and because the Israelis were all but guaranteed to screw everything up because they didn't know what they were doing.

Now that pretty much everyone in Israel agrees with me about that, I no longer catch any flak for it. But I protested it pretty loudly at the time on this site, and even my left-wing anti-war Israeli friend Lisa Goldman (nicely) said I was being hysterical.

So don't put me in any "warmonger" box. We may argue about this, but my opinions aren't the diametric opposite of yours. There is some overlap.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 6, 2007 11:28 AM

Creamy Goodness wrote:

Imposing freedom at gunpoint is really hard. It was hard in Germany and Japan, but we succeeded. It was hard in Viet Nam, and we failed. It's hard in Iraq.

Yes, we did succeed in Germany and Japan -- but Germany and Japan are the only two examples, of the four you mentions, where we actually did "impose freedom at gunpoint". We made war upon the populations of both nations until they were completely subdued and prepared to do whatever we demanded; by the time both regimes surrendered, there could be little doubt in the minds of any German or Japanese that continued survival depended on compliance with our wishes.

And what were our wishes? We demanded they demilitarize and renounce aggressive war forever. In Japan, we demanded the separation of church and state -- state-sponsored Shintoism was dismantled and future state-sponsorship outlawed. In Germany, we demanded denazification.

McArthur wrote a constitution for Japan, including the famous passage forever renouncing aggressive war. The Japanese accepted it because we gave them no choice.

The allies shaped the constitution for West Germany by demanding it include two principles: 1) The total renunciation of the idea that the German people are in any way superior to other people or are born to be leaders or have any right to treat non-Germans as any sort of inferiors or barbarians of any sort, and : 2) An unequivocal and total commitment to the inviobility and inalienability of individual rights. The Germans accepted it because we gave them no choice

We went to both nations and “imposed our way of life” by force -- just as the Northern States in the US in the middle of the 19th century marched into the Southern States and “imposed the Northern States way of life” -- you can see the results in all three cases.

Now, we did nothing of this sort in Vietnam. We did not attempt to impose freedom at gunpoint in Vietnam. Rather, we sought to defend the South Vietnamese from aggression from the north and from an insurgency called the Viet Cong -- while giving the South Vietnamese “the right to self-determination”. It worked as long as we were there. It worked for the first two years after we left, as long as US air power was available to help repel two invasion attempts from the north. It failed when funding for that air power was cut off in 1975.

In Iraq, we are doing the same sort of thing we did in Vietnam: we are trying to defend the Iraqi people from from foreign invaders (al-Qaeda and other foreign terrorists) as well as acting as a police force between warring parties -- while waiting for the Iraqis to “self-determine”. We are not trying to impose freedom at gunpoint.

So far, the historical record as to what works and what doesn’t is clear.

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 6, 2007 11:56 AM

So far, the historical record as to what works and what doesn’t is clear.

But there's a problem if your implication is that the Germany/Japan route needs to be taken. Total war is not an option. It would not be supported by anyone, global community, regional neighbors, allies, or even the US electorate.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 6, 2007 12:03 PM

Everyone seems to forget Panama in these discussions.

Noriega was ousted in a matter of days, and Panama has been a reasonably prosperous democracy ever since.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 6, 2007 12:43 PM

Naw, there is, and comparing them on a par with the bigotry found in S.A. was unfair. Mary was right to call me on it.

Following this odd trend of me agreeing with you, dpu, I should also mention that you were right - Iran isn't in the same hate category as Saudi Arabia.

Posted by: mary at September 6, 2007 01:21 PM

dpu said:

But there's a problem if your implication is that the Germany/Japan route needs to be taken. Total war is not an option. It would not be supported by anyone, global community, regional neighbors, allies, or even the US electorate.

Well, it's clear that you want the total war option off the table, and more -- it's clear that you want people to forget both what total war has accomplished in the past and the fact that in some situations, nothing else will work.

It is also clear that the leftists in control of the US educational system have used the pacifism and multiculturalism you worship to brainwash a significant percentage of the US population into agreeing with you -- brainwashed them to an extent that, had such brainwashing occurred at an earlier point in US history, it would have made our victories in WWII impossible and left the Nazis and the Imperialists unopposed. For that matter, had the brainwashing occurred early enough, the North would never have invaded the South and the blacks in southern US states would still be slaves.

But the fact that a large number of people agree with you doesn't make your pacifism right -- at one time, the majority of the world's population believed the earth was flat and occupied the center of the solar system. They were wrong on both counts.

Let me give you another, more relevant, example of people being wrong on a massive scale. A nation-wide "peace ballot" taken in England in 1935 revealed overwhelming belief, by about a 10 to 1 margin, that the League of Nations would prevent Adolph Hitler from launching aggressive war and that a military build-up by England was unnecessary and inappropriate. The English, too, were wrong on both counts.

So the first issue is not what people happen to believe at the moment. The issue is, what is the proper way for a free nation to defend itself against its enemies.

In some situations -- such as the Panama case that Michael cites -- the use of limited military force is all that is required. However, in other situations, limited, partial, civilian-friendly military effort achieves nothing; by leaving the source of the problem untouched, the problem simply festers and the military effort produces, at most, a temporary lessening of the threat. A good example is what happened with Israel’s limited military effort last year against Hizbullah in Lebanon. That effort may have had some deterrent effect in the short term, but it did nothing to eliminate the problem; Hizbullah is now said to have even more and better weapons than it did before that conflict erupted.

It remains to be seen whether our limited military effort in Iraq will work. I hope it does. But I don’t think it will.

However, I am certain of one thing: limited military efforts have a much better chance of working if the world knows that as far as America is concerned, the total war option is on the table. Unilaterally declaring it out of the question serves only to embolden our enemies and encourage them to keep fighting our limited military efforts.

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 7, 2007 05:02 AM

Well, it's clear that you want the total war option off the table, and more -- it's clear that you want people to forget both what total war has accomplished in the past and the fact that in some situations, nothing else will work.

Actually, no, I haven't said anything about my opinions about total war, so I'm not sure why you are speculating on my personal feelings about it.

Are you counter-arguing that yes, the world, the regionalk powers, US allies, and the American electorate will support this kind of war in the Middle East?

And just out curiosity, who would this total war be against? A total war was not necessary against Hussein, and I'm not sure how to target an insurgency with that kind of war.

It is also clear that the leftists in control of the US educational system have used the pacifism and multiculturalism you worship to brainwash a significant percentage of the US population into agreeing with you...

Oh God, here we go with the leftists under the bed, in the sock drawer, and peeping out of the wife's blouse.

And I'm not a pacifist, so stop trying to guess about my personality. You're very bad at it.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 7, 2007 07:34 AM

dpu said:

Actually, no, I haven't said anything about my opinions about total war, so I'm not sure why you are speculating on my personal feelings about it

And I'm not a pacifist, so stop trying to guess about my personality. You're very bad at it.

My definition of a pacifist is someone who believes the use of military force to be both inherently immoral and impractical. When I see a response like this:

The worst attack on American soil in the entire history of our country was launched by Arabs.

Then the best method of security, if oil is not an issue, would be to withdraw from the region, would it not?

That sounds like the classic pacifist response: if the enemy wants you out of what he considers his territory, go home.

Plus, once I pointed out the achievements of “total war” -- as defined by what we did to Japan and Germany -- you were very quick to declare that fighting in that manner is off the table. Period.

May I take from your declaration that you are not a pacifist, that you agree that what we did to Germany and Japan was proper and may, in certain instances, be necessary again? If so, I apologize for calling you a pacifist.

Oh God, here we go with the leftists under the bed, in the sock drawer, and peeping out of the wife's blouse.

I said the leftists are in control of the US educational system -- are you claiming that such is not the case?

Are you counter-arguing that yes, the world, the regionalk powers, US allies, and the American electorate will support this kind of war in the Middle East?

Now? No. The afternoon of 9/11/2001? Yes, given the proper leadership.

Unfortunately, one of the primary effects of the war in Iraq has been to discredit the very idea of using pre-emptive military force to end threats before they become actions. It will take another huge attack on America before the public’s mind will be open to arguments about the proper way to use our military.

Here is an article that explains what I believe should have been done instead of what we are currently doing: Link

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 7, 2007 08:43 AM

That link doesn't seem to work, now that I've posted the comment. Here is the address:

http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-winter/no-substitute-for-victory.asp

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 7, 2007 08:44 AM

MJT, you predicated your possible support for a war with Iran based on a major attack by Iran against the US or Israel.

To me, the most likely scenario of a war is the situation remaining more or less the same as it is now with Bush ordering heavy air strikes against Iran. Would you support this action?

Posted by: tg at September 7, 2007 09:13 AM

That sounds like the classic pacifist response: if the enemy wants you out of what he considers his territory, go home.

Ah, I see your problem. You aren't thinking it through, or you're not reading the context of the discussion.

May I take from your declaration that you are not a pacifist, that you agree that what we did to Germany and Japan was proper and may, in certain instances, be necessary again.

Yes, what happened with Germany and Japan was unavoidable. Happen again? You may not have heard, but there are these things called nuclear weapons now. They make fighting a total war difficult. The other thing that makes them difficult is that the populations of liberal democracies that are funding these adventures are generally not willing to pay the cost.

Now? No.

Then why all the complaining? We're in agreement.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 7, 2007 09:44 AM

tg: To me, the most likely scenario of a war is the situation remaining more or less the same as it is now with Bush ordering heavy air strikes against Iran. Would you support this action?

If I were president, I wouldn't order such an attack right now. So I can't say I would support it if he did. But I would understand it, and I wouldn't join any ANSWER-led demonstrations against it.

Far better, I think, to support a democratic revolution in Iran, either clandestinely or openly.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 7, 2007 11:32 AM

Yes, although "spreading democracy" is a means to an end, not a purely altruistic point in and of itself. A free and democratic Middle East won't threaten the United States.

Lol. This might be true if at the same time democracy was installed all over the Middle East, the US got rid of its support for Israel and pulled out of Iraq and the Gulf, but I doubt it. Most countries in the region would remember how the US did all it could to keep their former dictatorships in place. A democratic Middle East wouldn't necessarily be anti-western, but it would definitely be virulently anti-American and anti-Israeli.

Be careful what you wish for, because you might not like it when you get it.

Posted by: Momo el-Masri at September 8, 2007 02:15 AM

Most countries in the region would remember how the US did all it could to keep their former dictatorships in place.

Fixing that is sort of the idea here, Momo. If Middle Easterners want to resist the push for democratization, I don't want to hear any complaints about the dictatorships.

If you're against America for supporting dictatorships, and also against America for resisting and pressuring dictatorships, then you're really against America for something else and at least one of those complaints is bogus.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 8, 2007 02:25 AM

Hah. I'm against America being disingenuous and only supporting democracy when it suits their (shortsighted) agenda. If the US were really interested in democracy and its moderating force, then maybe they wouldn't have helped strangle the Hamas-led democratically elected government in Palestine. Or maybe they wouldn't have just sent gobs of weapons money to Mubarak. Or what about the recent moves to freeze the assets of the democratic opposition in Lebanon? And even more weapons to Riyadh?

If the US were genuinely interested in democracy in and of itself, then I'd favor it. W'allah, I would. But if one hand is purporting democracy while the other is arming dictators and stifling democratic opposition in countries where free elections would not be pro-US, then that's not really democracy promotion, is it? It's realpolitik and shouldn't be confused with some noble task to bring liberty and freedom to the Middle East.

Unless the US gets serious about real democracy, I think most of us would prefer it if the US just stayed out of our affairs altogether.

Posted by: Momo el-Masri at September 8, 2007 03:47 AM

dpu wrote:

You may not have heard, but there are these things called nuclear weapons now. They make fighting a total war difficult.

Spare me the patronizing attitude, please. Yes, I know there are such things as nuclear weapons. All the more reason to take out the Iranian regime before they acquire one.

I find it interesting that on the one hand, the anti-war people claim that we shouldn't worry about Iran getting the bomb because its natural for them to want one and besides, Pakistan has one so what's the big deal? Then, on the other hand, we are told no, you cannot attack your enemies with overwhelming force because some of them have the bomb. This is typical of the argument pattern you see from the anti-war crowd: the facts are always twisted into an argument for inaction. The possibility of your enemy getting the bomb doesn't justify using military force to stop them and then the fact that your enemy has the bomb means you can't use military force against them.

dpu followed up with:

The other thing that makes them difficult is that the populations of liberal democracies that are funding these adventures are generally not willing to pay the cost.

In the first place, an all-out offensive takes less time and costs less than the long, drawn-out efforts (such as, for example, Vietnam and now Iraq) that result from half-hearted, limited military efforts -- efforts that resolve nothing and leave problems to fester. In WWII, in LESS time and at a LOWER cost than we have now spent in Iraq, we destroyed a regime vastly stronger than Iraq's; we put the country under a constitution that guaranteed individual rights and seperation of church and state; and we destroyed in its population any hope of ever spreading that country's ideology by force again. We are nowhere near accomplishing anything like that in Iraq. The cost argument doesn't hold water.

In the second place, an overwhelming military offensive for purposes of destroying a deadly threat is not an "adventure" -- that is again the language of a pacifist who seeks to discredit such efforts by diverting attention from their actual purpose.

You may not be a pacifist, dpu, but you certainly seem to be a cheerleader for their position -- you seem all too eager to come up with reasons why America cannot vigorously defend herself.

Posted by: Michael Smith at September 8, 2007 05:37 AM

Momo,

As you can see from reading this comment section, some of us support the democracy promotion agenda, and some of us do not. That's a big part of the reason that our foreign policy makes no sense.

Also, it isn't working very well in Iraq, so those of us who support it are now the minority of Americans.

And Hamas is not democratic just because they won one election. Democratic parties do not throw their opponents off buildings. Gaza isn't a democracy, it's a fascist proto-state.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 8, 2007 10:13 AM

Michael Smith,

Total war doesn't work in a place like Iraq, where the war is asymmetrical and a large portion of the society isn't hostile. And Anbar Province has been mostly won without it.

It would have made even less sense in Afghanistan where the hostile population is smaller than it is in Iraq.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 8, 2007 10:17 AM

I find it interesting that on the one hand, the anti-war people claim that we shouldn't worry about Iran getting the bomb because its natural for them to want one and besides, Pakistan has one so what's the big deal? Then, on the other hand, we are told no, you cannot attack your enemies with overwhelming force because some of them have the bomb. This is typical of the argument pattern you see from the anti-war crowd: the facts are always twisted into an argument for inaction. The possibility of your enemy getting the bomb doesn't justify using military force to stop them and then the fact that your enemy has the bomb means you can't use military force against them.

You complain about a patronizing tone, and then shovel out this patronizing lecture. Please read my comments above about WHY I think a bombing attack on Iran would have a paradoxical effect. Then perhaps you can stop wasting everyone's time with this nonsense about anti-war this, pacifist that, and leftists are controlling the school system.

..that is again the language of a pacifist who seeks to discredit such efforts by diverting attention from their actual purpose.

You may not be a pacifist, dpu, but you certainly seem to be a cheerleader for their position...

Actually, scratch my last remark. You are apparently incapable of getting past the whole ranting about ant-war types and pacifists, so all we can expect from you is more of the same cold dish. A waste of time.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 8, 2007 10:21 AM

Some questions for Michael Smith:

1. Have you ever personally fought in - or been a civilian caught up in - a real total (or partial) war?

2. If so, did you find the experience enjoyable?

3. What aspect of total (or partial) war would you most recommend?

4. Can you make the distinction between defending your own country and violent, cynical power projection designed to protect an imperialist global hegemony?

5. Do you find yourself baffled as to why so many people in the rest of the world despise US foreign policy?

6. Were you ever bullied at school?

7. Badly?

8. What is your favourite sort of tank?

Posted by: Microraptor at September 8, 2007 08:37 PM

8. What is your favourite sort of tank?

Don't know about Michael, but mine has to be the classic Soviet T-34.

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 8, 2007 09:04 PM

MicroRaptor: Perhaps if we had let the USSR take over your country your perspective would be a bit different.

"imperialist global hegemony" Jeez, people still use this term?

Posted by: Ron Snyder at September 9, 2007 08:14 AM

Perhaps if we had let the USSR take over your country your perspective would be a bit different.

Yeah, be grateful you had the Shah and SAVAK. Sure, dissidents were being tortured and killed and SAVAK interrogators were known to saw the limbs off children, but at least it wasn't being done by commies.

Phew!

Doesn't anyone read history any more?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 9, 2007 09:17 AM

Mr. Snyder: Perhaps if a CIA sponsored coup - motivated by a desire to control Iran's recently nationalised oil industry - hadn't overthrown the elected Iranian government in 1953, replacing prime minister Mossadegh with the Shah's corrupt and violent puppet regime, we wouldn't have had a revolution -- and the Mullahs wouldn't be in power now.

Jeez. You lot shit all over the world, then complain about the smell.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 9, 2007 10:52 AM

Where is the article at Reason? I searched for it and couldn't find it.

Mike

Posted by: Mike Nargizian at September 9, 2007 11:43 AM

Mike, it's not online yet. Print version only.

Microraptor, no one here had anything to do with overthrowing Mossadegh. Nor did anyone in the current government.

And for the record I think it was terrible idea.

Israeli-American historian Michael Oren said it was the dumbest thing America did in the Middle East, ever. I'm not sure about that, but it's up there.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at September 9, 2007 12:35 PM

MR, you are selective in your examples. History is full of perhaps; perhaps if Britain and the Soviet Unon had not taken over large parts of your country, perhaps if Iraq (under Hussein) had not killed thousands of Iranians and used WMD against your country, perhaps if your country had not taken over the US Embassy, perhaps if your country was not actively supporting terrorists,.... Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn't it.

DPU -was SAVAK bad? Of course it was. Not as destructive to Iran as say, Pol Pot was to Cambodia, or Castro to Cuba, but it was certainly bad. It was also bad, IMO, to let Khomeini live and move to France. I am reasonably familiar with historical events. I am not vain enough to use hindsight and say "how stupid these people were" and pretend that I would have known better. Maybe, but probably not.

More than a generation has passed since Khomeini took power; where is the Iranian revolt to bring their country into the current century and not be a threat to the world? Oh wait, it is the fault of the U.S. and our policy of imperialist global hegemony, sorry, I forgot.

Instead of complaining about the past MR, why don't you look to the future.

Posted by: Ron Snyder at September 9, 2007 02:16 PM

DPU -was SAVAK bad? Of course it was.

But not as bad as a client USSR state? Was that your implication?

Posted by: double-plus-ungood at September 9, 2007 02:45 PM

Microraptor-
Let me see if I can correctly interpret the REAL meaning in your eight questions you posed to Michael Smith:

1. Have you ever personally fought in - or been a civilian caught up in - a real total (or partial) war?
Actual meaning: if you haven't fought in a war or served in the military, you have no right to determine if/when/how military force is ever exercised.

2. If so, did you find the experience enjoyable?
Actual meaning: People who enter the military (by choice) are either hopeless dullards with poor career prospects or gun crazy psychotics.

3. What aspect of total (or partial) war would you most recommend?
Actual meaning: see #2

4. Can you make the distinction between defending your own country and violent, cynical power projection designed to protect an imperialist global hegemony?

Actual meaning: 9/11 was an inside job... and the perfect pretext for PNAC's insidious plot to enslave the world, force more people to eat at McDonald's and keep SUV sales afloat.

5. Do you find yourself baffled as to why so many people in the rest of the world despise US foreign policy?

Actual meaning: All bad things that happen anywhere in the world are always the fault of the U.S.

6. Were you ever bullied at school?
Actual meaning: I was constantly bullied at school and never once attempted to defend myself; which is why I still wet the bed.

7. Badly?

Actual meaning: so badly that I ended up supporting Dennis Kucinich.

8. What is your favourite sort of tank?

The type filled with nitrous oxide and attached to a rebreather. Next question please.

Posted by: MisterH at September 9, 2007 05:31 PM

Hamas wasn't really given a chance to be democratic, was it? They won fair democratic elections, and were willing to play by the rules of the game. Fatah, on the other hand, did not relinquish the security power to Hamas that was mandated by the rule of law. On top of this, all aid money was cut off by the EU and US (as is their prerogative) followed by the garnishing of Palestinian tax revenues by Israeli collectors (which seems an awful lot like stealing to me). Hamas was never given a chance to succeed or fail in governing, and not surprisingly, a civil war broke out. This is common when you have two separate and competing security apparatuses.

So Israel, Fatah, the EU and the US did their best to disrupt the results of democratic elections. Hamas are far from angels and could have handled the situation a lot less stupidly, but in all fairness, you can't call them the undemocratic ones in this situation. They could have learned the lesson that it pays to play by the rules of the democratic system, leading them to become more moderate. But instead, they learned that no matter what the election results are, they will not be accepted, and that in the future, if Palestinians vote for a party that Israel/US/Europe don't like, then the latter will just put the screws on until they "vote responsibly."

As a result, Hamas is losing support for having tried politics and gained nothing from it despite having won the elections. People are unimpressed with the democracy that's been on offer, and that lost support is not going back to Fatah, it's going back to truly radical terrorist groups that make Hamas look like kid stuff.

That sounds like a funny way of promoting democracy and/or American interests to me.

Posted by: Momo el-Masri at September 9, 2007 10:50 PM

Microraptor (to Michael Smith) 4. Can you make the distinction between defending your own country and violent, cynical power projection designed to protect an imperialist global hegemony?

(MisterH) Actual meaning: 9/11 was an inside job... and the perfect pretext for PNAC's insidious plot to enslave the world, force more people to eat at McDonald's and keep SUV sales afloat.

No, that's not what I meant at all. I think 9/11 was an appalling crime against humanity.

I meant that there is a difference between defending your country and the people who live within its borders if those people or those borders are directly threatened, and engaging in conflicts in other people's countries to defend "American interests," which in my opinion usually means subordinating other peoples' to US economic interests.

You could argue that the current Iraq debacle was in fact launched to fight Al Qaeda types in the Middle East before they got to America proper (weak argument) -- or to create a American friendly (democratic?) oil producing state that could allow the US to reduce its dependence on the duplicitous Saudis (viable argument) -- but whatever the motivation, I think that project has, to date, only made the Gulf region more unstable.

What I find objectionable about Michael Smith's postings is the casual, somewhat throwaway tone he seems to adopt when talking about his concept of "total war." He seems quite blase as to what that means for the humans involved in it (including the US forces who would be at the speartip of his global strategy)

So I wondered if he had any firsthand experience -- or was in fact just a bloodthirsty armchair general.

Posted by: Microraptor at September 10, 2007 04:40 AM

I understand the theory, and always have. But it was a flawed theory. And I think that the idea wasn't to lessen dependence on Saudi Arabia, to but to protect the Saudi royals from internal dissent.

Posted by: Rich at September 10, 2007 08:50 PM

Great stuff as always. Without guys like you, stories like this would never be told.

Posted by: amog at September 12, 2007 05:51 AM

Michael,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the helipad in Ramadi. I lost your business card. I appreciate the story and the photos.

-Eric Holmes

Posted by: Eric Holmes at September 14, 2007 06:26 AM
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