June 29, 2009

Home from the End of the Earth

Next Services 240 Miles.JPG

I’m home again after a nine-day road trip from Anchorage, Alaska, to Prudhoe Bay on the shore of the Arctic Ocean. It was an extraordinary journey beyond civilization, during the time of the midnight sign, on the last and loneliest road that doesn’t stop until the end of the world.

I need a day or so to re-acquaint myself with the land of life, darkness, and warmth.

Thanks to Howard Baskerville for keeping the blog going while I was off the grid. I have two dispatches from Iraq to knock out before they’re out of date. Then I’ll publish a photo-rich travel essay from the end of the earth.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:46 PM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2009

Not over yet

The protests in Iran have subsided because of regime violence. Despite that, some people are willing to take the risk of demonstrating. Here is footage of the latest protest from Raye man kojast? Where is my vote?.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:46 AM | Comments (2)

June 27, 2009

Iran's abuse of technology

Graham in the comment box below mentioned a useful article on Iran's use of high-end AMD chips for missile research. The presence of western high-tech in Iran is sadly not a new development. In late 2007 it emerged that Amir Kabir University in Tehran had built a super computer using sanctioned AMD Opteron chips. Computerworld had a great story on this.

There is a world of difference between AMD, on the one hand, and Nokia and Siemens, on the other. The Iranians purchased AMD products illicitly. Nokia and Siemens directly and knowingly did business in Iran, aided a country that they knew was a serial human rights violator. More on Nokia and Siemens here.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 7:08 PM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2009

They only know the languages of menace and violence

The foreign ministers of the G-8, meeting in Italy, have something to say about the atrocities in Iran. The Italian foreign minister said: "We will adopt a particularly tough and clear position." The Iranian ambassador in Japan, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, warned them not to saying it would be "their biggest mistake." He also said that there is "no legal problem" with what Iranian police have been doing, such as this (thanks to Raye man kojast? Where is my vote?). The key footage begins 56 seconds in.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:26 PM | Comments (1)

More on Nokia and Siemens

Eli Lake had a great story in The Washington Times about Nokia and Siemens in Iran. If you have a 401k (or equivalent) or own mutual funds, then you probably own Nokia and Siemens. For example, Vanguard Global Equity Fund (ticker: VHGEX) has holdings in Nokia and Siemens. If you own this, then you own Nokia and Siemens. Nokia investor relations can be contacted through this page and Siemens Investor Relations is here.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 11:41 AM | Comments (1)

An important campaign

The American Islamic Congress is a serious human rights organization. Headed by Zainab al-Suwaij, they have run a series of important campaigns. Their latest is against Nokia, which has been assisting Iranian regime repression.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 9:01 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2009

More on Roger Cohen

There have been some very interesting comments on Roger Cohen. His support for ordinary, decent Iranians is welcome. What is interesting is how he covered Iran previously, which is separate from the question of why he covered it that way (a question that too easily becomes ad hominem).

Here is the example of when he covered Ayatollah Khamenei’s speech in March, during which Khamenei responded to President Obama’s Iranian New Year message. Roger Cohen wrote that:

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, responded to Obama with a scathing speech at the country’s holiest shrine in Mashad, recalling every past U.S. misdeed, describing prerevolutionary Iran as “a field
for the Americans to graze in,” and demanding concrete steps — like a lifting of sanctions — rather than words.

View all that as an opening gambit. Khamenei also quieted the crowd when it began its ritual “Death to America” chant and he said this: “We’re not emotional when it comes to our important matters. We make decisions by calculation.”

That’s right: the mullahs are anything but mad. Calculation will demand that Iran take Obama seriously.

Here is Khamenei’s speech from his official website. What is interesting is that official English translation changes "Death to America" to "Down with America." Here is the relevant section (Persian is here and clearly includes the words "Marg bar Amrika"):

The new US President insulted the Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic right after he was inaugurated as President and delivered his inaugural address. Why? If you really believe there has been a change, show us. We cannot see any change. I would like to tell everybody - including US government officials as well as others - that the Iranian nation will neither be deceived nor intimidated.

First of all, verbal change is not enough. Of course I have not noticed much verbal change either. There must be genuine change. I would like to tell American government officials that the kind of change to which they only pay lip service is a necessity for them. You have no other choice: You must change. If you do not change, the divine laws of nature will force you to change. Nature will force you to change. You must change, but this change must not be in words only and there must be no ulterior motives. You cannot talk about change if you only change your policies and pursue the same goals. This kind of change does not constitute genuine change: That is deception. If there is any genuine change, it must manifest itself in action. I advise the US government officials or whoever makes the decisions there - be it the President, the Congress, or other people - that the situation in which the US government is involved is harmful to the American nation as well as the US government. You ought to know that you are one of the most hated countries in the world. Other nations burn your flag. Muslim nations shout "Down with the US" throughout the world. [Howard Baskerville note: at this point the crowd shouted “Death to America”]

What is the reason behind so much hatred? Have you ever tried to investigate this issue? Have you ever scrutinized it? Have you learnt any lessons?

That's right. Khamenei did not quieten his listeners' chants of "Death to America." He incited them.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 7:37 PM | Comments (6)

June 24, 2009

Theocratic crowd control

Hat tip: Rayeman kojast? (Where is my vote?)

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 3:03 PM | Comments (7)

Ouch!

Emanuele Ottolenghi simply and effectively takes apart a newly minted friend of Iranian democracy.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 2:35 PM | Comments (7)

But is it news?

The Iranian interior ministry claims that its recount of some ballot boxes found "no discrepancies." The discrepancies could have been minor or or insignificant. That would have been a very slightly credible but unsatisfactory claim. Instead, they have stuck with the notion that this is a clean election.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 2:28 PM | Comments (0)

Shy and retiring

The Financial Times claims that Ahmadinejad is remaining in the shadows temporarily to calm things down. If true, this means has had finally had a good idea. He can make this a great idea: make it permanent.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 2:05 PM | Comments (4)

A partial record of the suffering in Iran

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has a partial list of those killed and arrested in Iran. The roll call of names is long, the sadness worsened by the knowledge that there are many more unaccounted for.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 1:44 PM | Comments (0)

Targeting a journalist

The Iranian regime is now targeting Iason Athanasiadis (aka Jason Fowden) of The Washington Times. According to Hossein Mohseni Ejeii, Iran's intelligence minister:

"Some people with British passports were involved in recent riots," he said. "One of the detainees collected information needed by the enemies under the guise of a reporter."

Such an unfair focus on one person, without regard to their rights or due process, is deeply worrying and authentically totalitarian.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 1:13 PM | Comments (1)

We will take that as a compliment

Boris Johnson, the untidy haired Mayor of London, has a good laugh at Ayatollah Khamenei's expense. Johnson is flattered that Khamenei considers Britain still to be a superpower:

Doesn't it make you almost burst with pride? For decades, we have got used to the idea that we are a dowdy middle-ranking sort of country that long ago abandoned any pretensions to influence east of Suez. We thought we were wholly dependent on America for our nukes and our cryptography--and here's this top mullah who seems to think that the Tehran protests are being staffed by swarms of burka-wearing Bonds, and that the whole thing is being orchestrated by Dame Judi Dench from her lair on the South Bank.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:56 PM | Comments (1)

President Obama's letter to Ayatollah Khamenei

Barbara Slavin at The Washington Times has a great story: that the Obama Administration sent a letter to Iran's theocratic dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in May. The text is not yet available, but knowing Washington D.C. soon will be. (By the way, CNN has the same story but ungraciously does not source The Washington Times).

What was Iran's response to the letter? Silence, until the Iranian people stood up against the theocracy's tawdry practice of electoral theft. Then, with the sound of gun fire and breaking bones in the background, Ayatollah Khamenei derided the letter in his sermon on June 19, 2009.

The State Department also invited Iranian diplomats in countries where Iran and the U.S.A. have embassies to attend July 4 parties. The offer was a waste of time. The Iranians were never going to attend. Today, the State Department withdrew the invitations. More Bud for everybody else, but a pointless charade in the interim.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2009

What is the problem with this picture?

Thumbnail image for 23iran2-600.jpg

The gentleman has omitted the definite article: "Down with the British" not "Down with British."

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 5:14 PM | Comments (5)

Confused in Tehran

Press TV, one of the Iranian regime's slimey organs, is confused. The headline on a report about President Obama's comments today is:

US supports street rallies in Iran

The report states:

US President Barack Obama has criticized the Iranian government's response to street rallies but rejected that US was instigating the protests.
...
Obama dismissed accusations that the US was instigating massive protests as 'patently false and absurd'.

So which is it?

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 5:10 PM | Comments (0)

How much do taxpayers spend on them?

There is an organization out there that competes with the Iranian regime for the clueless gold medal. Not clueless in the treatment of its citizens/democracy sense, but in its understanding of the world beyond its shores. It is called the U.S. government. Billions of dollars on intelligence later and they still don't know.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 4:59 PM | Comments (2)

Rounding up the usual suspects

Here is a list of some of the journalists under arrest in Iran. As we now know (and that for the comment on this), all Iranians are now journalists. Still, there is somebody in the Iranian secret police methodically working his way down the list of journalists: "40 arrested, 70 million to go."

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 4:54 PM | Comments (0)

Who is helping the bad guys?

Eli Lake at The Washington Times had this article in April how some European companies have been helping the Iranian regime. He also reports the same companies do a lot of business with the United States government (i.e. your taxes). Maybe they should choose between the dollars of a democracy and the blood money of a dictatorship?

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 3:31 PM | Comments (0)

Are we worried?

Iran's Guardian Council has asked for an extra five days to review the election (full text here). The Guardian Council had previously said the election was just fine, there having been "no major polling irregularities."

So what's happening? Maybe, they are cooking up an explanation. Maybe there is behind the scenes quarreling. Or maybe, there is some sad guy sitting there filling in the extra ballots to justify Ahmadinejad's supposed victory. Here's what the conversation was probably like:

Scene: a smoke filled room, loads of empty candy packets and empty coffee cups.

Boss: How are the ballot papers coming along?

Sad dude: Fine.

Boss: When will those 20 million papers be ready?

Sad dude: Soon

Boss: How soon is "soon"?

Sad dude: Next week

Boss: Are you nuts? What am I gonna tell the Ayatollah?

Sad dude: Five more days?

Boss: Let me see what I can do. By the way, no need to put "Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," just put "Ahmadinejad"

Sad dude: Now you tell me

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 2:47 PM | Comments (2)

June 22, 2009

Musavi's latest message

From Raye Man Kojast? (Where Is My Vote?) who pulled it off his twitter page:

be persistent in defending your rights also don't adhere to violence

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 2:35 PM | Comments (2)

The lights are on, but is anybody in?

Iran will not attend the upcoming G-8 summit in Italy. Not because Iran refused to. Because Iran simply has not answered. Here is what the Italian foreign minister said:

"With three days to go, I still do not have a reply: I must consider that Iran has declined the invitation," Frattini, who will host the summit, told Italian television. "Iran has lost an opportunity by not participating in the conference."

This was Iran's first opportunity to respond to President Obama's offer of engagement, an opportunity to demonstrate that Iran might be able to play a positive role in Afghanistan. Clearly the Iranian regime has another engagement that is more pressing.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 1:40 PM | Comments (6)

Welcome Daily Dish readers

Andrew Sullivan kindly linked to this blog. Thank you and thank you for visiting. More soon.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:39 PM | Comments (1)

You cannot be serious--now with update!

A commenter suggested this was a more appropriate video for the post "You cannot be serious!" Enjoy.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

June 21, 2009

More eyewitness reports

Thanks to RFE/RL.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 12:07 PM | Comments (4)

You cannot be serious!

How else can you react to Reza Aslan’s notion that the Iranian regime’s electoral system allows for "greater diversity of religious and political thought" (thanks to Michael Goldfarb at TWS)?

The Iranian constitution’s article 115 contains many discriminatory elements.

The president must be from a defined group of “religious and political personalities.” The word for “personalities” is regal. It has until recently been interpreted to mean a man. Certainly no woman has ever been allowed to run. That means 50% of Iran's population is excluded from running for the presidency.

Article 115 also states specifically that only members of the official madhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence) can run for the presidency. That is a religious test which excludes the 20% of Iranians who are not Shia Muslims. Such a religious test is illegal in the U.S.A. according to article VI of the constitution.

You cannot be serious!

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

It is about Iran, not about America!

There is a silly debate starting about the impact of President Obama on the Iranian election. It is worth noting that President Obama is making no such claims. Here are some examples:

“'Whereas the Bush administration united Iran's disparate political factions against a common threat, Obama's overtures have accentuated the deep divisions and incongruities among Iran's political elites,'' said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (from the BBC).

Could there be something to all the talk of an Obama effect, after all? A stealth effect, perhaps?

And in his Cairo address June 4, he accepted responsibility for America’s part in the enmity between the United States and Iran.
“In the middle of the cold war, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government,” Mr. Obama said — a reference to the 1953 coup in which an Iranian prime minister, under whom Iran had nationalized its oil industry, was overthrown and the now-despised Shah was restored to power. (from The New York Times).

So is there “an Obama effect” in Iran?

Short answer: No

Long answer: No

Why? Because the Clinton Administration made the same overtures. Here and here are links to stories from 2000 in which Madeleine Albright acknowledged the U.S. role in the 1953 coup in Iran. President Obama is saying little different from his last Democratic predecessor.

What has changed is Iran. Back in 2000 Iran was run by a so-called reformist who was running into opposition from the same forces that have recently showed just how dishonest Iran's system is. Today Iranians are on the streets in protest against that act of massive electoral fraud and the regime's violent response.

It is about them. It is not about us.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 11:06 AM | Comments (4)

What they are chanting in Iran

Here is a video from yesterday's protests in Tehran with a translation of the chants.

"Death to the Dictator" (see earlier post)
"As long as Ahmadinejad is in power, the situation will be the same"
"Allahu Akbar" (God is Great)
"People why are you sitting...Iran is becoming Palestine" (The Iranian regime never tires of talking about the Palestinians)
"Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein" (A reference to Hossein and then to Musavi, whose first names are Mir Hossein)
"Do not fear...we are all together"

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:45 AM | Comments (1)

Pictures from the front line

Here is a remarkable Flickr gallery on Iran. Here you will see Iranians setting fire to a poster of Ayatollah Khamenei. The Iranian regime's favorite words are "Marg bar [insert name of enemy]"-- "Death to [insert name of enemy]." Generally the "enemy" is America and Israel. Recently it has been those who oppose Khamenei. So now the demonstrators are turning that around with cries of "Marg bar diktator." No translation needed.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 9:58 AM | Comments (2)

Electoral fraud for dummies

Here is a youtube video that explains why the Iranian election result is problematic--even the interior ministry's own figures do not add up. Also, Josh Muravchik takes apart a Washington Post article that tried to claim that the June 12, 2009 election reflected the will of the Iranian people. One of the authors of that article, who organized the so-called opinion poll, Ken Ballen, will be speaking at the New America Foundation tomorrow. With him will be Flynt Leverett, a leading light in what should be called the American Friends of Ahmadinejad.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 9:32 AM | Comments (2)

Europeans behaving well

Yesterday embassies of EU countries opened their doors to casualties. They were near the clashes and there were rumors that the Basij vigilantes were waiting at the hospitals. EU countries have also been vociferous in their criticism of Iranian regime violence.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 9:20 AM | Comments (1)

Weep for Iran, cheer the Iranians

The news from Iran is overwhelming and overwhelmingly tragic. The Islamic Republic was never, as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claimed on June 19, 2009, a "religious democracy." It was always a dictatorship with some window dressing of constitutionalism and representative government.

As Samira Makhmalbaf, an Iranian filmmaker said on the same day:

“Until Friday we had 80 percent dictatorship and 20 percent democracy, and since Friday we have 100 percent dictatorship.”

Iran is bleeding. Iranians are, however, demonstrating great courage. They are on the streets defying a bloody regime. They know that their government will stop at nothing to stay in power. Yet still they turn out on the streets and absorb the blows of the police and the vigilantes.

For some Americans, Iran can seem a place only of menace and darkness. If you are worried by the conduct of the Iranian regime, you have understood the country better than many commentators. What Americans now see is that Iranians are a people with spirit who are not easily broken. For all the claims that Americans are an unsophisticated bunch, they know that a regime and its people are not one and the same. What has happened in recent weeks has confirmed that instinct.

Are those protesting true believers in democracy? We do not know, because they have never been given the chance. What we do know is that they reject the dishonesty of a repressive theocracy. For that reason alone, we should stand with them.

Let us weep for Iran. Let us cheer the Iranians.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 8:25 AM | Comments (6)

June 19, 2009

Confrontation looms

The Iranian activist blog Raye Man Kojast? reports that the authorities have denied Musavi permission to march tomorrow. Sounds like Iranians will have to defy the Islamic Republic again--as they have done for the last week.

P.S. Raye man kojast means Where is my vote?

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 11:57 AM | Comments (14)

Who says Iranian regime media has no sense of humor?

Only Press TV (beautifully mocked by Harry's Place) could come up with this headline:

Ahmadinejad to 'improve world'

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 11:16 AM | Comments (0)

Iranian demonstrators ignore threats

Iran’s protesters are ignoring the intimidation handed out by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei this morning.Instead, Musavi has chosen not to comment, but will instead rally people tomorrow afternoon in Tehran. Below is a statement from an Iranian reformist blog Campaign 88 (this year is 1388 in the Iranian calendar).

Reformist Blog: 'Destiny-Making' Protest March To Go On in Tehran 20 Jun 09
The destiny-making march will take place at 1600 [1130 gmt] on Saturday [20 June] in the company of Messrs [Mehdi] Karrubi, [Mir-Hoseyn] Musavi and [Mohammad] Khatami from Revolution Square towards Azadi ["Freedom" Square].

We call on all the supporters of reform and change to have an overwhelming presence so that their cries are a protest at cheating and lying and backing for it at the highest levels of the system. May the massive crowd make all officials, who do not attach the slightest value to the people's votes, tremble.

Posted by Howard Baskerville at 10:07 AM | Comments (5)

June 18, 2009

The Ghost of Howard Baskerville

Howard Baskerville was an American from Nebraska who died fighting with the Constitutionalists against Iran’s despotic King Mohammad Ali Shah in the Azeri-Iranian city of Tabriz in 1909. He was only 24 years old when he was shot through the heart and buried there. You might not have heard of him, but many Iranian nationalists consider the man a hero even now.

Baskerville.jpg
Howard Baskerville

For the next nine days, Howard Baskerville’s ghost will be filling in for me on this blog.

Let me explain: Nine months ago I planned a short nine-day vacation -- my first in almost four years -- with some friends. Most of it has been paid for already. I would not have chosen such an electrifying time in history to drop off the face of the world had I known what was going to happen. (In case you just woke up from a week-long nap, there is an uprising in Iran that may change the country forever.) And I certainly don’t want to leave this Web site without fresh material on it for much of the remainder of June.

So please welcome “Howard Baskerville” who will keep you apprised of events while I am away. He’s a friend who needs to write under a pen name right now, he knows more about Iran than I do, so I think you should trust him.

And don’t forget to be nice in the comments.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:58 PM | Comments (18)

June 17, 2009

Don't Forget

I'm posting a huge amount of material on Iran at Commentary's Contentions blog. I'll be posting there through tomorrow. Just click here and keep scrolling.

See also Why We Should Support the Green Revolution by David Hazony.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:13 AM | Comments (0)

Party Like it's 1979

Kevin Sullivan at RealClearPolitics and I were interviewed about developments in Iran on the Rick Moran show last night. You can listen to the podcast here.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2009

The Iranian Revolution

I'm posting a huge amount of material on the Iranian revolution (and yes, it's a revolution now) over at Commentary. I'll be posting there for the next couple of days so I can get paid without having to ask for donations from readers here. So please don't neglect to follow me there.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:08 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2009

Blogging at Commentary

Commentary asked me to cover the upheaval in Iran on the Contentions blog during the next couple of days, and you can click here to read what I'm publishing. I know it's slightly less convenient for you read my work over there, but this means I don't have to rattle my tip jar over here.

I'm mostly finished with my next dispatch from Iraq, but I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on it right now. It's a bit "off topic" anyway, so I'm thinking of holding onto it for a bit. Maybe Iran will settle down soon.

In the meantime, you can click this link and read only my blog posts at Commentary, or you can click this link and read everyone's blog posts at Commentary.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:52 PM | Comments (7)

An Enemy of the World

The Islamic Republic regime in Iran is vividly revealing itself as an enemy of the entire world.

“Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei’s police and the Basij militia are using violence and terror to suppress the Iranian people at home. His terrorist proxies fire missiles at Israel while torturing, maiming, and murdering Palestinians. He sponsored a violent coup d’etat against the elected government in Beirut last year with his Hezbollah militia. He sponsors a terrorist insurgency against the elected government of Iraq, while his fanatical proxies shoot and kill American soldiers. A car bomb cell belonging to the regime’s Lebanese franchise was recently arrested in Azerbaijan, and more cells were rolled up in Egypt. Terrorists sponsored and encouraged by him and his predecessor, Ruhollah Khomeini, have murdered civilians from Argentina to Japan.

The regime’s only allies in the world are terrorist armies and Bashar Assad’s Baath Party state in Syria. Assad himself, like Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, is a pariah among the Arabs, Persians, Turks, Kurds, Azeris, and Israelis who make up the region.

Iranian civilians risk violent beatings and worse by the thousands for standing up to the regime in the streets and treating it as the enemy it clearly is. There is no better time for the rest of us to do so, as well, especially since such gestures carry far less risk for us. The Pasdaran have no divisions in Washington, Paris, or London.

Obama Administration officials still hope they can talk Khamenei out of developing nuclear weapons and supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. This is delusion on stilts. Khamenei can’t even compromise with his own regime or his hand-picked presidential candidates. He placed them under house arrest, along with a Grand Ayatollah, and deployed thousands of violent enforcers into the streets. Not only does he confront the world, he is at war with his very own country.

Understand the mind of a totalitarian. “Probe with a bayonet,” Vladimir Lenin famously said. “If you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.”

The Khomeinists in Iran likewise only stop when they meet steel. In his book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution
, Amir Taheri describes how since 1979 the regime has always continued to push until, as he put it, it hits something hard. It’s hitting something hard right now within its borders. This is no time for mush from everyone else. The regime today is weaker than it has ever been. If the insurrection continues, a fast hard shove might well push it over. If the regime survives, it may well feel invincible.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:44 AM | Comments (10)

June 14, 2009

Insurrection: Day 2

Insurrection in Tehran Day 2.jpg

The great Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski witnessed and wrote about dozens of revolutions in the course of his life. He has, perhaps, seen more revolutions than anyone in the history of the world. He knew, while he lived, revolutions better than anyone.

In his book Shah of Shahs, about the Iranian revolution in 1979, he describes the beginning of the end for the Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Now the most important moment, the moment that will determine the fate of the country, the Shah, and the revolution, is the moment when one policeman walks from his post toward one man on the edge of the crowd, raises his voice, and orders the man to go home. The policeman and the man on the edge of the crowd are ordinary, anonymous people, but their meeting has historic significance.

They are both adults, they have both lived through certain events, they have both their individual experiences.

The policeman’s experience: If I shout at someone and raise my truncheon, he will first go numb with terror and then take to his heels. The experience of the man at the edge of the crowd: At the sight of an approaching policeman I am seized by fear and start running. On the basis of these experiences we can elaborate a scenario: The policeman shouts, the man runs, others take flight, the square empties.

But this time everything turns out differently. The policeman shouts, but the man doesn’t run. He just stands there, looking at the policeman. It’s a cautious look, still tinged with fear, but at the same time tough and insolent. So that’s the way it is! The man on the edge of the crowd is looking insolently at uniformed authority. He doesn’t budge. He glances around and sees and sees the same look on other faces. Like his, their faces are watchful, still a bit fearful, but already firm and unrelenting. Nobody runs though the policeman has gone on shouting; at last he stops. There is a moment of silence.

We don’t know whether the policeman and the man on the edge of the crowd already realize what has happened. The man has stopped being afraid – and this is precisely the beginning of the revolution. Here it starts. Until now, whenever these two men approached each other, a third figure instantly intervened between them. That third figure was fear. Fear was the policeman’s ally and the man in the crowd’s foe. Fear interposed its rules and decided everything.

Now the two men find themselves alone, facing each other, and fear has disappeared into thin air. Until now their relationship was charged with emotion, a mixture of aggression, scorn, rage, terror. But now that fear has retreated, this perverse, hateful union has suddnely broken up; something has been extinguished. The two men have now grown mutually indifferent, useless to each other; they can now go their own ways.

Accordingly, the policeman turns around and begins to walk heavily back toward his post, while the man on the edge of the crowd stands there looking at his vanishing enemy.

-

Now take a look at this video uploaded from the city of Isfahan. A ferocious-looking unit of armed riot police officers is shown running away in terror from civilian demonstrators.

-

Reza Shoja reports for The Media Line.

Car horn protests could be heard throughout the city, as could chants of "Bye bye dictator", "Ahmadi Nejad is the biggest liar in Iran," and "The president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him".

-

Listen to the chants on Tehran's rooftops in the middle of the night.

-

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

I’ve argued for engagement with Iran and I still believe in it, although, in the name of the millions defrauded, President Obama’s outreach must now await a decent interval. I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.
-

Defrauded opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi belongs to the establishment. The regime is coming apart and turning on itself. Even clerics are turning against the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei.

Grand Ayatollah Sanei in Iran has declared Ahmadinejad's presidency illegitimate and cooperating with his government against Islam. There are strong rumors that his house and office are surrounded by the police and his website is filtered. He had previously issued a fatwa, against rigging of the elections in any form or shape, calling it a mortal sin.

-

Kevin Sullivan at RealClearWorld:

What's emerging here could be interesting. Iran hawks prefer to label the Iranian police state as simply "The Mullahs," but the legitimate clerics in this dispute are the ones standing with Mir-Hossein Mousavi against ONE Mullah and his secular police apparatus. If the election has been rigged in such a fashion, then what you are in fact seeing is the dropping of religious pretense in the "Islamic" Republic of Iran. This is a secular police state in action.

Iranian poet Sheema Kalbasi agrees with Sullivan's analysis:

Today is the day that the Islamic Republic officially transformed from a theocracy supported by Pasdaran to a Junta supported by a handful of clerics.

-

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sounding like Baghdad Bob again today.

The situation in the country is in a very good condition. Iran is the most stable country in the world, and there’s the rule of law in this country, and all the people are equal before the law.

-

According to a Twitter post from inside Iran, the army announced it will not use force against Iranians, only foreigners. The army is made up of conscripts. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Basij Militia, though, are separate armed forces loyal to the regime.

I don’t like relying on Twitter feeds. Rumors are bound to get posted this way. But things are moving so fast. You can follow Twitter feeds yourself here here and here. (Thanks to David Hazony at Commentary for the pointer.)

David also points to a YouTube channel where dozens of videos have been uploaded.

-

A reader comments at niacINsight:

“I am in Tehran. Its 3:40 in the morning. I’ve connected with you [by hacking past the government filter]. It’s a big mess here. People are yelling from their houses – ‘death to the dictator.’ They are setting up a military government. No one dares to go out. No one has seen Mousavi today. Rumor has it that they have arrested him. I don’t have an email but I will contact you again. Help us.”

-

This isn’t encouraging:

According to our private phone conversations with people in Tehran, hundreds of parents have gathered by a police station in Yousef Abad, now known as Seyyed Jamal Aldin Asad Abadi, with their hands raised to the sky saying “Obama, please help us, they are killing our young children.”

-

The United States will not help. Senator Joe Lieberman, though, at least thinks we should say something.

[T]hrough intimidation, violence, manipulation, and outright fraud, the Iranian regime has once again made a mockery of democracy, and confirmed its repressive and dictatorial character.

We as Americans have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with people when they are denied their rights by repressive regimes. When elections are stolen, our government should protest. When peaceful demonstrators are beaten and silenced, we have a duty to raise our voices on their behalf. We must tell the Iranian people that we are on their side.

For this reason, I would hope that President Obama and members of both parties in Congress will speak out, loudly and clearly, about what is happening in Iran right now, and unambiguously express their solidarity with the brave Iranians who went to the polls in the hope of change and who are now looking to the outside world for strength and support.

-

Policemen aren’t massacring civilians in the streets. At least not yet. The police are restrained. Who can say if their hearts even warm to policing right now? Take a look at the video below. Riot police officers ride into a crowd on motorcycles. The demonstrators set one of the bikes on fire, then help a wounded policeman to safety.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some defections in the ranks of the police. But what about Hezbollah, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij Militia? It will take something extraordinary to get them to back down.

-

Ardeshir Arian:

There are widespread reports of police and security forces, around Tehran and other big cities where there have been demonstrations, who are not Iranian and either speak Persian with a very pronounced Arab accent or speak no Persian at all.

I've read reports for a couple of years now that the regime hires Arabs as mercenaries from outside the country because it can't even pay enough Iranians willing to suppress their countrymen.

Arian adds:

Reports are circulating that Venezuela has sent anti-riot troops to Tehran to help Ahmadinejad, joining Hezbollah members from Palestine and Lebanon who are employed by the Islamic government as anti-riot police — the reason such forces are being brought in is that some of the Iranian police are unwilling to hit people as ordered and some are even joining the protesters.

Maybe. It's hard to separate fact from rumor right now.

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The regime may well yet survive, at least for a while. I wouldn’t bet against it just yet.

Barry Rubin nails the bottom line if it does:

The only logical explanation for why the regime did this is that Ahmadinejad's opponents got so many votes that it frightened the regime. It also shows that the regime is wedded to Ahmadinejad and his approach.

Is a regime that just committed itself irrevocably to the most extreme faction, most radical ideology, and most repressive control over the country going to compromise with the West on nuclear weapons or anything else?

Of course not, like Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s, Syria's rulers in the 1970s, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein in the 1980s (and many examples elsewhere in the world) it is going to use foreign adventurism and mobilizing hatred against the West and Israel to consolidate its hold on the country.

-

And finally, see my own piece just published in Commentary Magazine about the Islamic Republic regime in Iran: An Enemy of the World.

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting regular updates and analysis at the Commentary Magazine blog.

-

Stay tuned for another long dispatch from Iraq after the weekend. And if anyone feels like hitting my tip jar today, I promise not to get mad.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 12:58 PM | Comments (46)

June 13, 2009

Iran on Fire (Continuously updated)

The BBC says clashes between demonstrators and police in Tehran are the most violent in a decade.

Video below shows a human wave of demonstrators chasing frightened police officers.

Here is another video. These protests are huge.

Below are thousands of Iranians chanting not "Death to America" or "Death to Israel," but "Death to the Government."

Oppressive governments that face ferocious resistance in the streets often don't last very long. The Islamic Republic regime has been durable so far, and reports of its imminent demise have been premature, but there is only so much it can withstand.

Tehran Riot Post Election 1.jpg

A reader writes to Andrew Sullivan, who is doing an excellent job covering Iran this weekend.

Why did the clergy panic? Because they saw something much larger than just Mousavi being elected. They saw the beginnings of a wave that would sweep them out of power. This started with Khatami. and it won't stop today just because they declared a fraudulent winner. Mousavi would have been the crowbar with which to pry open the tangled nest of corruption that came into power soon after the 1979 revolution. There is enough pent-up anger in Iran's youth to fuel a complete wipeout of the regime. If the thugs were so utterly ham-fisted in their attempt to usurp power, they surely will commit scores of idiotic errors in the days to come. I cannot imagine Rafsanjani staying quiet for much longer; the theocracy is about to break wide open. Resistance will take many forms, and now will not stop until the mullahs are permanently out of power. Iran is headed for civil war.

Tehran almost looks like a war zone already. A heaving volcano, indeed.

Car Burning in Tehran.jpg

Hundreds of insurrection photos are uploaded right here on Twitter.

Haaretz is now reporting that Mousavi has been arrested. Yesterday's report turned out to be false, but maybe this one is accurate. Who knows? We're in the fog of "war" here.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounds like Baghdad Bob right about now: "It was a free and healthy election," he said.

"Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei, the real power in Iran, sounds even more like Baghdad Bob than Ahmadinejad. He said the "election" was "an artistic expression" of "the joy and excitement of a nation." Good grief.

From the Huffington Post:
"My next door neighbor is an Iranian immigrant who came here in 1977. He just received a SAT phone call from his brother in Tehran who reports that the rooftops of nighttime Tehran are filled with people shouting 'Allah O Akbar' in protest of the government and election results. The last time he remembers this happening is in 1979 during the Revolution. Says the sound of tens of thousands on the rooftops is deafening right now." It's almost four in the morning in Iran.

Andrew Sullivan writes: "The last time a news event gave me chills like this was the Soviet coup. It ended the regime." Yes, it did.

You know what this reminds me of? The convulsion that shook Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, Iraq.

Here's an excerpt from a dispatch I filed from there a few years ago:

“Jassim was pissed off because American artillery fire was landing in his area,” Colonel Holmes said. “But he wasn’t pissed off at us. He was pissed off at Al Qaeda because he knew they always shot first and we were just shooting back.”

“He said he would prevent Al Qaeda from firing mortars from his area if we would help him,” Lieutenant Hightower said. “Al Qaeda said they would mess him up if he got in their way. He called their bluff and they seriously fucked him up. They launched a massive attack on his area. All hell broke loose. They set houses on fire. They dragged people through the streets behind pickup trucks. A kid from his area went into town and Al Qaeda kidnapped him, tortured him, and delivered his head to the outpost in a box. The dead kid was only sixteen years old. The Iraqis then sent out even nine year old kids to act as neighborhood watchmen. They painted their faces and everything.”

“Sheikh Jassim came to us after that,” Colonel Holmes told me, “and said I need your help.”

“One night,” Lieutenant Markham said, “after several young people were beheaded by Al Qaeda, the mosques in the city went crazy. The imams screamed jihad from the loudspeakers. We went to the roof of the outpost and braced for a major assault. Our interpreter joined us. Hold on, he said. They aren’t screaming jihad against us. They are screaming jihad against the insurgents."

By the way, everyone should order and read The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution by Amir Taheri immediately. I'm just about finished reading it now, and it is absolutely electrifying.

The Persian Night by Taheri.jpg

And finally, see my own piece just published in Commentary Magazine about the Islamic Republic regime in Iran: An Enemy of the World.

Over the next couple of days I'll be posting regular updates and analysis at the Commentary Magazine blog.

Stay tuned for another long dispatch from Iraq after the weekend. And if anyone feels like hitting my tip jar today, I promise not to get mad.


Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:11 AM | Comments (40)

June 12, 2009

A Heaving Volcano*

Iran’s presidential election isn’t real. The four candidates were hand-picked by the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei. It’s turning into something more than he bargained for, though, even if his regime is rigging the outcome for Mahmoud Admadinejad.

Take a look at Martin Fletcher’s piece in the Times of London.

Whatever the reason, Mr Mousavi's campaign took off. The youth of Tehran and other cities took to the streets in huge numbers. They flocked to Mousavi rallies in their tens of thousands. They turned the capital into a seething sea of green with their ribbons, headscarves, balloons and bandanas. They festooned the city with posters and banners. Until the small hours of each morning they packed squares, blocked junctions and careered around town in cars with horns blaring and pop music blasting.

The Islamic republic has never seen such sights before. It was almost open rebellion, an explosion of pent-up anger after four years in which the fundamentalist President and his morality police cracked down on dissent, human rights groups, and any dress or behaviour deemed unIslamic. “Death to the dictator,” young men and women roared at Mousavi rallies. “Death to the Government.

[…]

Mr Mousavi is an unlikely champion for such people. He is no reformist. He promises some social and economic liberalisation, and to do away with the hated “morality police”, but he is not challenging the political system. At 68, and distinctly lacking charisma, he is more Bob Dole than Barack Obama. Mousavi-mania is less a reflection of his popularity than of the loathing most educated, urban Iranians feel for a messianic President who has curtailed freedom, embarrassed Iran internationally and squandered record oil revenues through reckless spending.

In 2005 many liberal Iranians refused to vote, partly because they did not want to legitimise a political system that they abhor, and partly because they were profoundly disillusioned at how the conservative establishment had thwarted the reform efforts of their previous champion, President Khatami. But they will turn out in huge numbers today because they cannot contemplate four more years of Mr Ahmadinejad. “Now you and I vote so he will be defeated,” was the text message sent to millions of mobile phones after campaigning ended yesterday.

[…]

It is possible that violence will erupt if Mr Ahmadinejad is declared the victor and Mr Mousavi's supporters cry foul. It is likely that Mr Mousavi will fail to meet his supporters' sky-high expectations, partly because the Supreme Leader remains the real power in the land and partly because he is, in truth, a flawed vehicle for their hopes and aspirations.

Only one thing is certain. Iran will never be quite the same again. “We are in a new phase in this country and civilisation,” Saeed Laylaz, a respected political consultant, said as his compatriots prepared to vote.

All this reminds of me a piece I published a few years ago in Reason magazine about exiled Iranian revolutionaries in Iraq called The Next Iranian Revolution. Here are some excerpts:

More encouraging than Komala’s moderation and political evolution is its plausible claim—backed up by most Iranian activists, expatriates, and dissidents—that Iranian society as a whole is far more sensible and mature than it was in 1979, at least at the level below the state, on the street. The aftermath of an Iranian revolution, Mohtadi said, will not resemble the postwar occupation of Iraq with its civil war, insurgency, kidnappings, and car bombs.

“We have an internal opposition,” he said. “We have an internal movement against the regime. Women were warned not to celebrate 8 March, Women’s Day. They did. There are demonstrations in Iran. There are movements in Iran. You have the intellectuals, the political activists, the human rights activists, then the Kurds, Arabs, Azeris, Baluchis, different nationalities. There is a movement in Iran, unlike in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, where you had Kurds and nobody else.” (Iraq’s Shia did rise up against Saddam in 1991, but they had been quiet since Baghdad’s brutal response to that insurrection.) “It’s not like that in Iran.”

[…]

“You can complain about the government,” Mohtadi said. “You can insult them. But America is a red line. Khomeini himself is a red line. The Israelis are a red line, absolutely.” Iranians can’t buck the party line on certain topics, but they are brave enough, or just barely free enough, to protest the government to its face. “When [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad spoke to students,” Mohtadi pointed out, “hundreds of students stood up and called him a fascist and burned his picture.”

[…]

Islamist law is so widely detested and flouted in Iran that it’s a wonder the regime even bothers to keep up the pretense. In June 2005 Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair that every person he visited there, with the exception of one single imam, offered him alcohol, which is banned.

Everyone I met at the Komala compound said the Iranian regime itself wallows deep in the post-ideological torpor that inevitably follows radical revolutions. Except for the most fanatic officials, the government cares only about money and power. “Followers of the regime are not ideological anymore,” Sanjari said. “They are bribed by the government. They will no longer support it in the case that it is overthrown. Even among the Iranian military and Revolutionary Guards, there are so many people dissatisfied with the policies of the regime. Fortunately there aren’t religious conflicts between Shias, Sunnis, and different nationalities.”

Mohtadi concurred. “The next revolution and government will be explicitly anti-religious,” he said.

The Iranian writer Reza Zarabi says the regime has all but destroyed religion itself. “The name Iran, which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism,” he wrote. “When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.”

The regime is claiming Ahmadinejad won, and there are unconfirmed reports that Mousavi has been arrested.

Interesting times are ahead in Iran.

UPDATE: It turns out that Mousavi wasn't detained.

UPDATE: Haaretz is now reporting that he has in fact been arrested.

*I stole the title of this post from Amir Taheri’s new book The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:47 PM | Comments (4)

June 10, 2009

No Divine Victory for Hezbollah

Lebanese voters went to the polls on Sunday and gave Hezbollah an unexpected shellacking. The anti-Syrian “March 14” coalition led by Saad Hariri’s Future Movement won 71 seats in the parliament. The Hezbollah-led “March 8” bloc won 57. Hezbollah itself only has ten seats in Beirut out of 128.

Most observers and analysts were surprised by the March 14 victory, but I could never figure out where Hezbollah’s additional support was supposedly coming from. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah strapped a suicide bomb vest around his own country when he picked a fight with Israel in 2006. Mounting an armed assault against the capital, as he did last May, was no way to win the hearts and minds of new voters. Until recently, I was certain Hezbollah and its allies had no chance of winning, but they grew so sure of their own propaganda that they managed to persuade even their enemies that they might come out on top. The March 14 side was rattled, and some of their analysts convinced even me that Hezbollah might pull it off. But Hezbollah lost, and Nasrallah conceded.

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad also lost big when his most powerful proxy in Lebanon was rejected by the majority. “So much for Bashar’s ‘imaginary majority,’” wrote Lebanese political analyst Tony Badran, “in spite of all his terrorism, bombing, murder, violence, intimidation, coup attempts and information warfare over the last four years.”

“Sanity prevailed,” an unnamed Obama Administration official said after the results were made official. Indeed, it did. The press may be getting slightly carried away with crediting President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech for the March 14 victory, but Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Beirut recently and said everything that needed to be said before voters went to the polls. Biden rightly warned the Lebanese that American aid to their government and military would be reevaluated if the Hezbollah-led coalition emerged victorious.

The president himself said the United States will “continue to support a sovereign and independent Lebanon, committed to peace, including the full implementation of all United Nations Security Council Resolutions.” Everyone in Lebanon knows exactly what this means. A “sovereign and independent” Lebanon cannot be a vassal of Syria and Iran. “Committed to peace” is a slap against Hezbollah’s interminable armed “resistance” against Israel. The relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions demand the disarmament of every militia in Lebanon – including Hezbollah and those in the Palestinian refugee camps.

Some leftists are kvetching about Obama’s explicitly anti-Hezbollah position. I was slightly worried myself about other potential aspects of the president’s Lebanon policy before it developed, but he deserves support here from conservatives as well as from Democrats who understand that the United States can’t support a terrorist army that says, “Death to America is a policy, a strategy, and a vision.”

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:52 AM | Comments (7)

June 8, 2009

Hezbollah Concedes Defeat

Hezbollah lost the election in Lebanon, and its Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah conceded defeat.

These guys drank their own Kool-Aid recently. They were so certain they were going to win that they even convinced some "March 14" analysts, who then convinced me. I could never figure out how Hezbollah and its allies supposedly increased their support while starting a war with Israel, attacking Beirut, and lining up with the Syrians and Iranians. And as it turned out, they didn't.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:36 PM | Comments (32)

June 5, 2009

Pay the Writer!

Thanks to Max Boot at Commentary for pointing me to this fun rant from a cranky old favorite.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:33 PM | Comments (11)

On the road

I'm out of town for a few days and have no time to write and little time even to read. Blogging will therefore be slow. I'll be home in a few days. Thanks for being patient in the meantime.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 4:31 PM | Comments (2)

June 3, 2009

Advice for Barack Obama from Lebanon

I received an article in my inbox this afternoon from the terrific folks at the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation, and they gave me permission to publish it.

*

As Obama addresses Muslim world; a struggle to win Christian hearts and minds in the Middle East

In preparing to deliver his much-awaited speech from Cairo tomorrow, President Barack Obama may want to keep in mind that future American prestige and influence in the region depends not only on how his message is received by Muslims, but also by the region's Christians.

After all, just three days after the speech, the voters of Lebanon go to the polls in parliamentary elections, and Christians there are likely to determine the results. Virtually everyone in the region - and especially Iran, America's archenemy for influence throughout the Muslim world - has a vital interest in the outcome.

If the ruling majority wins, it will be a victory for Western interests; but if the Hizbullah-led coalition ekes out a victory, Iran will stand the victor. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- whose country arms and finances Hizbullah - recently said the outcome of the Lebanese elections "will change the Middle East." Should Iran's proxies win, Obama's message to Muslims, no matter how hopeful and proactive, will be drowned out as Iran and Islamic fundamentalism will be seen as ascendant.

Whereas the majority of Lebanon's Sunni population is expected to vote in favor of the Western-leaning March 14 coalition and the majority of Shia are expected to back the Iranian and Syrian-supported March 8 coalition, the Christians remain split.

This goes against past experience. Lebanon's Christians historically have led the effort to protect Lebanon's sovereignty against Syrian and Iranian meddling. Yet since the 2005 Cedar Revolution, which brought together Lebanese of all communal backgrounds to demand an end to Syrian occupation, both Syria and Iran have succeeded in making significant inroads into the Lebanese Christian communities, which include Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, and Catholics.

This follows several years of effort by Iran and Syria to build influence among Lebanon's Christians - often by intimidation and violence directed at Christian leaders who backed the March 14 coalition. But there's been a soft side to this influence-building: Christian leaders who acquiesced to Syrian and Iranian interference in Lebanon and yielded to Hizbullah's powerful paramilitary force were rewarded with generous financial, political and military support. In landmark visits to Tehran and Damascus earlier this year Michel Aoun -- leader of the largest Christian parliamentary bloc and formerly a staunch opponent of Syria and Iran -- was received with honors usually reserved only for heads of state. Both countries described Aoun not only as the leader of Lebanese Christians, but as a leader of Christians throughout the Middle East.

The message from Syria and Iran to Lebanon's Christians is clear: Stick with us and you will reap the benefits and gain protection; side with the West and you will pay a heavy price.

To its credit, the Obama administration recognized the importance of Lebanon's upcoming vote, recently sending both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to Beirut. Congress has been equally engaged as Senator John Kerry, Congressman Gary Ackerman and a number of other congressional leaders have met with Lebanese officials and expressed support for Lebanese sovereignty. These gestures are important, but they may not be enough to avert a Hizbullah victory at the polls.

If the U.S. is determined to prevent Iran from further expanding its influence in the Middle East, American officials must focus not only on winning Muslim hearts and minds but also those of Lebanese and Middle Eastern Christians. There needs to be a concerted effort to win back this community, which has historically been friendly to America but is now at risk of being co-opted by Iran.

So in his address from Cairo tomorrow, President must not only reassure Muslims that America has their long-term interests at heart. He must also reassure Christians throughout the region that the U.S. remains committed to freedom, national sovereignty, and peace. And three days later, we will know whether that message was received among Lebanese Christians, or whether Iran takes a major step towards "changing the Middle East."

Lebanon Renaissance Foundation

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 1:22 PM | Comments (7)

June 2, 2009

A Tall Order for Saudi Arabia?

The New York Times inadvertently highlights how much more intransigent than Israel most Arab states are. President Barack Obama is soon heading to Saudi Arabia, where he will present wish-lists from the U.S. government, from the Israeli government, and from the Palestinian Authority. Israel isn’t asking for much – just a few symbolic tourist visas, meetings between Saudi officials and their Israeli counterparts, and the opening of a Saudi interests office in Tel Aviv. “These would be a tall order for the Arab kingdom,” the Times says.

Good grief. The Obama Administration expects Israelis to stop building houses in Jewish neighborhoods in suburban Jerusalem that they never intend to abandon, yet the Saudis won’t even _talk _to Israelis or let a few Jews visit the beach.

Once in a while, it’s wise to refuse meetings with enemies. President Franklin Roosevelt didn’t negotiate with Adolf Hitler or Emperor Hirohito during World War II. President Obama won’t hold a summit with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar or with Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Israel, though, isn’t a threat to Saudi Arabia. Israel has never attacked Saudi Arabia. Israel almost certainly never will attack Saudi Arabia. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace and normal relations with Saudi Arabia now. Saudi Arabia’s refusal to even speak to Israelis under these circumstances makes its government more reactionary than Israel’s would have been had then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin refused to meet with then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1979.

The idea that Saudi Arabia “can’t” have diplomatic relations with Israel until the Palestinian question is resolved has become mainstream, even axiomatic, but it’s nonsense.

Azerbaijan has an overwhelming Muslim majority, but Israel has an embassy there. Relations between the two countries are not only good, they’re improving. Most Turks, including those in the government, sympathize more with Palestinians than with Israelis, but Turkey remains an ally of Israel. Seventy percent of Albanians are at least nominal Muslims, but Albania gets along just fine with Israel.

None of those Muslim-majority countries are Arab, to be sure, but that shouldn’t make any difference. Egypt and Jordan are Arabic countries. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they fought deadly hot wars with Israel. Yet they both signed peace treaties years ago. There is no iron law of geopolitics that requires Saudi Arabia to remain in a state of cold war with Israel. The only reason the Saudis don’t have normal relations with Israel is because they prefer hostile relations.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:43 AM | Comments (7)

June 1, 2009

Around the Web

I posted the following over at Instapundit today while Glenn Reynolds is goofing off at the beach:

THE TALIBAN abduct up to hundreds of students in Pakistan.

PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas: No, no, and no. Even the New York Times is losing patience with him.

JOSHUA MURAVCHIK: Islamists Lose Ground in the Middle East

YAACOV LOZOWICK: High-quality Political Cynicism Galore.

[N]o matter how childish the politicians-media-NGO activists are, the foreign reporters who eagerly take only part of the story and use it to damn Israel shouldn’t be exonerated. They could tell the same story I’ve just told you, but scrupulously won’t, ever.
Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:53 PM | Comments (0)

One Third of Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds is on vacation this week, so I’ll be guest-blogging at Instapundit again with Megan McArdle and Ann Althouse.

In addition to writing, I’m working on a speech this week that I’ll be giving in Washington DC this weekend. Megan and Ann may be a bit busier over there than me, but I’ll do what I can.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)