Iran, Israel, and the Necessity of Political Boogeymen

No matter where or when a politician runs for office, the one thing they will always need is a political boogeyman.  They must have some real or imagined evil taking place that they believe they could fix if we just give them our vote at the polls.  And this is natural since the opposite would sound rather ridiculous.  “Please elect me because things are perfect and I want to continue that by not changing anything and doing as little as possible.”  Despite the fact it probably seems like many politicians do close to nothing at times, they certainly couldn’t win an election with that platform.  (Except maybe in the gerrymandered and uncompetitive districts in America.  They could probably still win those.  Only half kidding, sadly.)

The boogeymen usually have two key characteristics.  The first is that the politician sees the evil being performed as an abnormality from their perception of societal norms.  The second, typically, is that the boogeymen have little to no political power, preferably no voting power.  Take for instance illegal immigrants, criminals, foreign country/ideas influences, or the poor (since their voting turnout is lower than the shrinking middle class and the getting wealthier wealthy).  If you haven’t heard a politician angrily talk about these evils, you haven’t heard a politician talk.

Most will remember Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Looney Tunes-like diagram he held up during his speech at the United Nations last September when he suggested Iran would be most of the way to a nuclear bomb by early-to-mid 2013.  The potential prospect suggested seemed a bit scary while at the same time the presentation was a bit unintentionally humorous.  But Netanyahu was just doing what he needed to help himself as a politician.  He had an election coming and he needed to show why he was the one Israel should choose to continue its fight against its enemies.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, Jacques E. C. Hymans addresses the overall situation between the West and Iran and particularly the numerous failed intelligence assessments by both the U.S. and Israel, at least failed when reality is compared to the rhetoric of each country’s politicians.  Hymans points out the move could be political but strangely dismisses the idea for the exact reason it should, in fact, be seen as political.  Hymans argument:

A second hypothesis is that Israeli intelligence estimates have been manipulated for political purposes. This possibility is hard to verify, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand. Preventing the emergence of a nuclear-armed Iran is Netanyahu’s signature foreign policy stance, and he had an acute interest in keeping the anti-Iran pot boiling in the run-up to last month’s parliamentary elections, which he nearly lost. Now, with the elections over, perhaps Israeli intelligence officials feel freer to convey a more honest assessment of Iran’s status. This theory of pre-election spin is not very satisfying, however, because it fails to explain why Israeli governments of all political orientations have been making exaggerated claims about Iran for 20 years — to say nothing of the United States’ own overly dire predictions.

The reality that Israeli claims about Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been overblown for over two decades now should reinforce the idea these claims have been political.  The idea that the length of time this has been going on nulls the possibility it is political bears no resemblance to history.  Take almost any other common political boogeyman.  Railing about illegal immigrants in the U.S. has gone on since long before anyone reading this was born.  Politicians are still debating the use of marijuana while some states are legalizing it.  Look at the era of Prohibition.  The Red Scare.  The list goes on and on.

In fact, there is an obvious clue in the article that should have tipped the author off to this being political.  Hymans points out Israel has backed off its claim Iran will have a nuclear weapon this year and now projects they will have a weapon around 2015 or 2016.

Take a wild guess when the next parliamentary elections in Israel will likely take place.

“Zero Dark Thirty”: Justifies Torture According to Greenwald

Zero Dark ThirtyA thoughtful piece in The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald imploring that the film “Zero Dark Thirty’s” torture scenes puts forth that American torture was essential to locating and the killing of Osama bin Laden. Also, he explains how both “Zero Dark Thirty” and the Best Picture winner at the Oscars,  “Argo,” with both of their production assistance by the CIA, put the CIA in a terrific light that might not be historically true.

Read Here.

More On Afghan Ban on U.S. Forces in Region

JP-AFGHAN-articleLargeAnother good article in The Post on the reaction by the U.S. and NATO forces regarding Pres. Karzai’s ban of U.S./NATO troops from a key region in Afghanistan due to reports of civilian deaths and other abuses.

Read Here. 

Palestinian Prisoner Dies in Israeli Custody; Palestinians React in the Streets

2013-02-24T171552Z_01_JER27_RTRIDSP_3_PALESTINIANS-ISRAELThis article is about a Palestinian man who died in an Israeli prison after just 5 days of retention and the resulting ignition of a Palestinian protest pitting Israeli soldiers versus stone throwing young people.  But the rest of the reported facts in the article show Israel’s true nature when it comes to handling the Palestinians. This entire article must be read.

Read Here. 

Karzai Orders U.S. Forces Out of Region While Citing War Crimes

wardakThis article in The Post reports that Afghan President Karzai has ordered U.S. special forces out of a particular province in Afghanistan citing incidents of torture and murder. Hopefully these reports will not be true and I think this conflict between Karzai and U.S./NATO forces shows that it’s time to leave.

Read Here.

The West’s Failed Dealings With Iran Continues

The foreign policy debacle that is the West versus Iran continues as both sides plan to meet in Kazakhstan next week to discuss Iran’s nuclear enrichment goals.  The countries trying to stop Iran’s activities are preparing to offer what they call “a substantial and serious” deal hoping to get their way with the Middle Eastern nation.  Just one problem: they already know Iran isn’t interested in their offer.  As reported by Reuters:

Western officials in Washington have told Reuters they plan to offer to ease sanctions barring trade in gold and other precious metals in return for Iran shutting its Fordow uranium enrichment plant – a proposal already rejected by Tehran.

So, the plan is to put something we know will be rejected on the table in order to look like we are trying to negotiate fairly.  This, of course, comes after more economic sanctions have been imposed by the United States.  Hard to see why a country wouldn’t want to jump at an offer they don’t want after being treated even worse in the meantime.

Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Kidding front and center, the West uses its tried and true method of economic sanctions expecting it will bring about the demise of the Iranian government and install a new regime more friendly to the United States.  Economic sanctions have been so successful in the past there really should be no other way even suggested when trying to convince a foreign country to run their government the way the people who don’t live there want it operated.  Just look at how quickly the trade embargo on Cuba took Fidel Castro out of power.  Five meager decades and boom!  A new revolution in Cuba sweeps into power headed by longtime guy-on-the-opposing-side…Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother.  See how well it works!

And how are those sanctions now working in Iran?  Well…they’re not.  Some highlights from Reuters’ report on Iran’s economy:

Shops in the Iranian capital are crowded. Finding a seat at good restaurants can be difficult. And the ski resorts in the mountains north of Tehran continue to attract Tehran’s glamorous and well-heeled.  “The economy has problems with the sanctions, yes. But it’s still working,” he says. “It isn’t as bad as people outside the country think.”

“The government had a long time to prepare for economic war,” said Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iranian political analyst based in London. “If you’re talking about collapse, that is not happening.”

Iranians seeking to escape inflation and unable to move their money out of the country are building new homes, boosting the construction and carpentry industries.  These mini-booms are reflected in flashy new cars cruising Tehran’s streets and luxury apartments going up in its affluent neighborhoods. The stock market hit a record high this week.

All of this sounds bad.  But that’s not the worst part:

The rial’s depreciation has halved the savings of the middle class and destroyed some of their businesses, but “those at the top and bottom of the pyramid haven’t seen a dramatic amount of change”…This uneven distribution of the pain of sanctions is why, for Washington, they could prove counter-productive: they are doing most damage to a group that might be expected to push for political change in Iran.

Ouch!  All of this coupled with the fact that we still have no hard evidence showing Iran is pursuing nuclear enrichment for anything other than peaceful medical research purposes. In fact, Iran has restarted the conversion of more of its stockpile in a way that makes it harder to create weapons in recent months, an act the West should view as rather conciliatory given the sequence of events.  As noted by Julian Borger’s security blog at the Guardian:

At the time of the last IAEA report three months ago, Iran had a stockpile of nearly 135kg of 20% uranium and that figure was growing fast because it had stopped converting a portion of its production into uranium oxide powder for use as reactor fuel. That conversion resumed on December 2, the IAEA reports, and 28% was taken away from the 20% stockpile between in the two months since. Once it is converted into powder, it becomes much less of a proliferation concern.

This is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of Iran’s actions.  As with all nuclear material around the globe we should keep a close eye on it regardless of where it is located, which is what is happening.  But if the West wants to negotiate with Iran, it appears it will have to do so on more of an equal ground instead of the talking down to the country that has been done for many years.

From an outside observer’s perspective, Iran has not backed-down to the West’s threats and it appears they have no immediate reason to do so.  They have stood their ground and have tried to show they are wanting the material for peaceful means.  It is time for the West to get serious about dealing with Iran if it wants to continue working with the country and closely watching its nuclear program through groups such as the IAEA.

Military Industrial Complex on Sequestration: Apocalypse!

517079601-1025A good report in The Post on the hyperbole coming from the military and its industrial cohorts regarding the spending cuts that would be included in what looks like the impending sequestration.

We spend more money on our military more than the rest of the world combined. You cannot believe that this isn’t more than just “the sky is falling” rhetoric by coddled bureaucrats and their associated industries. Our military budget is bloated and though blunt sequestration cuts may not be ideal, I cannot be convinced that we will be any less safe in the U.S. if it the sequester goes through.

Drone Strikes Okay Only Under Obama

obama_drone-620x412A good piece in Salon, dated Feb. 19th, on the differences between those who are “racially liberal” or “racially conservative” when it comes to supporting Obama on many issues. But at the end, and most importantly, the cited study shows that liberals are giving Obama more leeway on authorizing drone strikes rather than if it was Pres. Bush or some other conservative politician. It’s as if they trust Pres. Obama’s judgement more of who is a terrorist and who is not, who needs to be killed and who does not, than they would if a conservative president were in office.

Read Here.

Sequestration A Military Doomsday?

Members-of-the-US-militar-007I, along with Michael Cohen at The Guardian, have both been rather skeptical of this Armageddon talk from the politicians and military officials as they profess that the sequestration will destroy any national security that we now enjoy in the United States. So here is a good op-ed piece in The Guardian by Cohen outlying the ridiculousness behind all of these claims.

Read Here.

Greenwald: Press too Friendly with Obama Administration

IMG_0646Glenn Grenwald has another great column in The Guardian illuminating how the press, and mainly MSNBC of late, are way too friendly with the Obama administration and should take a more adversarial role.

This reminds me of Chomsky and Edward Herman’s point in their great book “Manufacturing Consent” that the press relies too heavily on White House “official” information and then swallows it whole because of the source (a longer explanation of this point can be found in Noam Chomsky & Edward Herman’s book  “Manufacturing Consent”). The press needs to investigate stories and reports more thoroughly themselves to find a truth that is not influenced by the American powers that be. But you will certainly never find this at Fox or MSNBC.

Read Here.