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Notes and Comments

This Week 11/14/2011

This Week 11/14/2011

Table of Contents

The Iranian Front

Reuters reports:

Iran is the biggest threat to the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, surpassing al Qaeda, a senior military official said on Friday.
“The biggest threat to the United States and to our interests and to our friends, I might add, has come into focus and it’s Iran,” said the official.

Has this really been so hard to see up to now? More here

FDD senior fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht notes that Iran’s Supreme Leader

lives in two worlds: In one, his minions work arduously to build nuclear weapons; in the other they do research on medical isotopes. In one, he sends his minions abroad to slaughter Jews in Argentina, blow up Americans at Khobar Towers, liaise with al Qaeda, and in all probability assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C.; in the other, he’s defending the Palestinian people and all Muslims against aggressive Zionists, peacefully deploring the presence of American troops in Arabia, condemning the bigotry of Sunni extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and revealing to all the long track record of American terrorism inside Iran. Khamenei moves between these two worlds effortlessly, without friction, without awareness that he’s crossed the border between fiction and fact.

The Iranian media’s coverage of the IAEA report reflects Khamenei’s most cherished conception of himself and his country. That conception is dangerous because it is insular, disconnected from and at odds with reality as understood in the West. When the supreme leader gets his hands on a nuclear weapon, this self-centeredness may get much worse. If the United States and the Islamic Republic ever go to war, this will surely be why.

More here

The Wall Street Journal reminds us that the regime that rules Iran

took 52 American diplomats hostage and dared the Carter Administration to do something about it. It used its surrogates in Beirut to kill 258 American diplomats and Marines in 1983. The FBI believes it was behind the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen. It supplied IEDs to anti-American militias in Iraq, killing hundreds of U.S. soldiers. And only last month, the Obama Administration accused Iran of seeking to blow up the Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C., restaurant.

These acts were perpetrated by Tehran without a nuclear umbrella. What would Iran’s behavior look like if it had one? …

One certain result would thus be a nuclear proliferation spiral in the Middle East, in which Saudi Arabia, Turkey and probably Egypt would acquire nuclear arsenals of their own. That would be an odd outcome for an Administration that has made nuclear arms control a cornerstone of its foreign policy.

Then again, not every country in the region would have the will or wherewithal to stand up to Iran. Some could no doubt be bullied or induced to cooperate with it, especially as the U.S. presence in the region diminishes after withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. Those Iranian neighbors could fall into its orbit, thereby extending Tehran’s strategic reach from Kabul to Beirut. …

Iran’s regime was born in revolutionary religious fervor and routinely vows to annihilate Israel and its “Great Satan” protector, the U.S. Iran is also a regime shaped by a messianic cult of martyrdom, one that sent thousands of children to clear mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war. Sometimes such governments mean what they say even if the rest of the world won’t believe it. The Nazis did. …

All of this adds up to far more dangerous world—in which Iran becomes a regional hegemon, Israel faces a threat to its very existence, the Middle East embarks on a nuclear arms race, America’s freedom of action is curtailed, and the dangers of a nuclear exchange rise to levels above what they were even during the early Cold War. …

No U.S. President could undertake a strike on Iran except as a last resort, and Mr. Obama can fairly say that he has given every resort short of war an honest try. At the same time, no U.S. President should leave his successor with the catastrophe that would be a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran on Mr. Obama’s watch would be fatal to more than his legacy.

More here

Wall Street Journal columnist (and FDD advisor) Bret Stephens writes:

The 2007 NIE now joins a September 1962 NIE—which claimed, just a month before the Cuban Missile Crisis, that the Soviets were unlikely to station missiles on the island—in the intelligence community’s long hall of infamy. But Wednesday’s IAEA report should at least put to rest the intel debate about Iran’s drive to build a bomb. What remains is the policy debate. …

[A] debate needs to weigh the inevitable unforeseen consequences of a military strike against the all-too-foreseeable consequences of a nuclear Iran. Among the former: more Iranian meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan (particularly as U.S. troops withdraw), efforts to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, and perhaps an opportunistic war with Israel. Among the latter: all of the above, except this time with the added security of a nuclear umbrella, as well as a nuclear proliferation death spiral involving Saudi Arabia, Turkey and soon-to-be Islamist Egypt. If you thought the Cold War was scary, imagine four or five nuclear adversaries in the world’s must unstable region, each of them at daggers drawn with one another.

Finally, any debate must take into account what the West can do to hasten the regime’s demise. Opponents of military strikes argue that they would help the regime consolidate power. Perhaps. But the regime seems to have succeeded in re-establishing its domestic grip without the alibi of foreign intervention. And it bears wondering what a nuclear Iran might do with its weapons if faced with a slow-motion revolt on the Syrian model. Gently into that good night is not this regime’s way.

Those are the contours of a real debate.

More here

FDD’s Emanuele Ottolenghi observes:

The IAEA report also discredits the European Union’s dual-track approach to Iran. European leaders assumed that dialogue and sanctions could persuade the country’s leaders to change course. Sanctions might have slowed Iran down, but failed to change its leaders’ minds. By all evidence, Iran is still building a nuclear weapon and trying to fit it on a long-range missile.

The IAEA report comes late. But better late than not at all. This truthtelling exercise might finally motivate the international community to emerge from its slumber and act before it is too late.

More here.

More Ottolenghi here.

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin writes:

Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute concurs that this is confirmation of just how derelict has been the U.S. intelligence community: “Well, this certainly makes mincemeat out of the previous National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program — the one that concluded ‘with high confidence’ that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.”

Having failed to identify the ongoing threat of an Iranian weapons program, those same voices now are concerned the West might experience an “overeaction.”

Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy e-mailed me: “The Iranian regime has faced damaging economic pressure from energy and financial sanctions. We still however are a long way from the crippling sanctions on Iranian oil sales that could have made a difference to the regime’s strategic calculus. Despite this economic pressure, [Supreme Leader] Ali Khamenei appears to have decided that a nuclear bomb is a guarantor of regime survival and seems in no mood to compromise. After years of sanctions and diplomacy, and an IAEA report that suggests that Iran is now on the brink of nuclear capability, no one can reasonably argue that countries threatened by Iran have not tried all peaceful alternatives.” …

I asked Schmitt’s AEI colleague Thomas Donnelly if we should be alarmed by this report. He answered: “What’s really scary is how poor our intelligence is. Even if it’s not politicized, although you have to wonder about that, the idea that we know and will know with precision what’s going on with Iran’s program, and therefore can have a finely calibrated policy in response, is silly. Not just silly but dangerous; our ability to miss the forest for the trees will yield the traditional ‘strategic surprise.’ Then we will be forced to try to deter Iran, but in reality we’ll be the object of deterrence all across the region.”

More here

The Jerusalem Post asks Mark about Chinese companies supplying refined petroleum to Iran in violation of US sanctions:

“The Obama administration has assured Congress that Beijing has agreed to do no new deals, and to slow-walk its existing deals,” he told The Jerusalem Post by e-mail from Washington. “Given that Chinese companies signed over $40 billion in new energy deals in recent years, it’s unclear whether this commitment to do no new deals covers these billions of deals already in the pipeline, and how quickly China is moving ahead in implementing what it considers to be existing deals.”

More here

Mark debates Iran on the CBC’s Power and Politics here

Mark co-authors an op-ed with FDD’s Sheryl Saperia arguing that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps thrives

in significant part because only the U.S. has designated the organization as a whole for its role in terrorism and in building Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

To its credit, the Canadian government has not taken the Iranian threat lightly. Yet Ottawa has not yet outlawed the entity that directs both Iran’s nuclear program and the many terrorist acts Tehran sponsors around the world. Designating the IRGC as a terrorist organization would represent a small policy change with a big impact. …

If and when Canada acts, other countries -- perhaps benefiting from political cover from precedent by a country that is not the United States -- may be more likely to follow its lead, resulting in increased pressure on companies around the world to limit any financial dealings with the IRGC.

The IRGC is not just a political or military organization. It is also, according to Emanuele Ottolenghi, an IRGC expert and the author of The Pasdaran: Inside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a multi-billion dollar conglomerate which is a dominant player in Iran’s economy, especially in its critical energy industry. It is also heavily involved in the sale of Iranian oil to international companies, which accounts for 75 per cent of the Iranian government budget and 80 per cent of hard-currency export earnings.

More here

Iranian-born author Roya Hakakian recently noted that an Iranian Ministry of Intelligence official who defected testified that he knew of a 

list of 500 individuals, “enemies of Islam” who Tehran had systematically pursued to annihilate. Several dozen on the list had already been killed by 1996. The decision for each killing was made in the meetings of a small group called “the Committee for Special Operations.”

More here

FDD held a “Leading Writers” conversation with Roya last week. More on that, including video, here.

Con Coughlin theorizes:

The widely held national desire of Iranians to reassert the influence their country once enjoyed, when the mere mention of the Persian empire struck fear into the hearts of its enemies, is a factor that should not be discounted lightly.

More here

Amir Taheri concludes:

Khamenei’s analysis is that the US would simply sit back and watch as Iran becomes a nuclear power, wipes Israel off the map, imposes the rule of the “Supreme Guide” from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and uses Middle East oil as a weapon in global jihad against the Infidel.

More here

Jeff Jacoby on Ron Paul on Iran here

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama addministration

has quietly drawn up plans to provide a key Persian Gulf ally with thousands of advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and other munitions, part of a stepped-up U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran.

The proposed sale to the United Arab Emirates would vastly expand the existing capabilities of the country’s air force to target fixed structures, which could include bunkers and tunnels—the kind of installations where Iran is believed to be developing weapons

Really? The UAE is going to attack Iran? More here

Time magazine reports:

Israeli newspapers on Sunday were thick with innuendo, the front pages of the three largest dailies dominated by variations on the headline “Mysterious Explosion in Iranian Missile Base.” Turn the page, and the mystery is answered with a wink. “Who is Responsible for Attacks on the Iranian Army?” asks Ma’ariv, and the paper lists without further comment a half-dozen other violent setbacks to Iran’s nuclear and military nexus. For Israeli readers, the coy implication is that their own government was behind Saturday’s massive blast just outside Tehran. It is an assumption a Western intelligence source insists is correct: The Mossad — the Israeli agency charged with covert operations — did it. “Don’t believe the Iranians that it was an accident,” the official tells TIME, adding that other sabotage is being planned to impede the Iranian ability to develop and deliver a nuclear weapon. “There are more bullets in the magazine,” the official says.

More here.

Brave New Transnational Progressive World

In my column this week, I call attention to the Transnational Progressives who

are not so much anti-democratic as post-democratic. They believe that in the 21st century, democracy should be updated to include the enforcement of “universal principles of human rights” that they, of course, will enumerate and define. They talk not of surrendering sovereignty but of “sharing” it “collectively.” The result, they assert, will be a new age of “global authority” that will produce “global justice” under a “global rule of law.” …

Curiously and ominously, transnationals have been working hand in glove with Islamists to achieve such goals as a global prohibition of “Islamophobia” — which would represent a historic abridgement of free speech.

More (with an audio link) here

The Jordanian Front

FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer writes:

Last week’s announcement of the Jordanian outreach to Hamas was a jarring change in tone and policy. The regime is now yielding on ideology because it cannot deliver on real political change, which would weaken its ability to maintain control of this fragile country.

More here

The Syrian Front

The Washington Post reports:

The Arab League has voted to suspend Syria from all meetings until an agreement to end its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters is implemented, AP reports.

More here.

The Financial Times reports:

Money has been streaming out of Syria as fears for the unstable economy lead Syrians to seek a safer place for their assets, according to members of the country’s business community. …

Samir Seifan, a Dubai-based Syrian economist, estimated Syria’s middle and upper classes had moved between three and five billion dollars out of the country since unrest broke out in March, alarmed by pressures on the currency and the dearth of investment opportunities.

More here

Syrian dissidents are being arrested in Lebanon – in some cases directly by Hezbollah. FDD’s Tony Badran has more here

Mark Dubowitz discusses Syria on Canada’s Sun TV here.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Daniel Pipes sums up the West’s policy dilemma vis-à-vis the Middle East:

- Democracy pleases us but brings hostile elements to power.

- Tyranny betrays our principles but leaves pliable rulers in power.

As interest conflicts with principle, consistency goes out the window. Policy wavers between Scylla and Charybdis. Western chanceries focus on sui generis concerns: security interests (the U.S. Fifth Fleet stationed in Bahrain), commercial interests (oil in Saudi Arabia), geography (Libya is ideal for Europe-based air sorties), the neighbors (the Turkish role in Syria), or staving off disaster (a prospect in Yemen). Little wonder policy is a mess.

Policy guidelines are needed; here follows my suggested triad:

Aim to improve the behavior of tyrants whose lack of ideology or ambition makes them pliable. They will take the easiest road, so join together to pressure them to open up.

Always oppose Islamists, whether Al-Qaeda types as in Yemen or the suave and “moderate” ones in Tunisia. They represent the enemy. When tempted otherwise, ask yourself whether cooperation with “moderate” Nazis in the 1930s would have been a good idea.

Help the liberal, secular, and modern elements, those who in the first place stirred up the upheavals of 2011. Assist them eventually to come to power, so that they can salvage the politically sick Middle East from its predicament and move it in a democratic and free direction.

More here.

The Israeli Front

The Associated Press reports:

The Palestinian foreign minister admits for the first time there is not enough support in the U.N. Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state. …

[The Palestinians] can still apply to the General Assembly.

More here

Jane’ Intelligence Review reports that the

putative state of Palestine might not even meet all the international legal requirements to qualify as a self-created state. For example the long-standing schism between Gaza and the West Bank may undermine the requirement for “a well-defined population”. Jonathan Schanzer, the author of Hamas Vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (2008), has noted that the difference between the West Bank and Gaza is the difference between two countries.

More here.

FDD’s Jonathan Schanzer reports:

In a move that should startle members of Congress, a Palestinian sovereign wealth fund that has long received American taxpayer support will soon begin building houses for convicted members of terrorist organizations. …

It’s time for Congress and the U.S. Treasury to determine … whether the Palestine Investment Fund should be targeted with terrorist sanctions like the terrorist groups it supports.

More here

FDD’s Lee Smith writes:

Many foreign-policy experts, even as they acknowledge that the United States has a moral responsibility to stand with the sole democracy in the Middle East, argue that Israel is a strategic liability. Robert Blackwill, a high-level diplomat in Republican administrations and a self-described Kissingerian realist, is someone who you’d safely assume shares that view. But Blackwill wanted to see if that way of looking at things was actually true.

Along with Walter B. Slocombe, who served as undersecretary of Defense for Policy under President Bill Clinton, Blackwill detailed his findings in a paper just published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Israel: A Strategic Asset for the United States” argues that the United States not only shares national interests with the Jewish state—like preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and combating terrorism—but also reaps numerous advantages from the alliance. …

The core of Blackwill and Slocombe’s argument is that the alliance with Israel is vital to U.S. interests regardless of how the Arabs see it, or how it’s interpreted by any given American administration or Israeli government. “Israel’s people and politicians have a deeply entrenched pro-American outlook that is uniformly popular with the Israeli people,” they write in their paper. “Thus, Israel’s support of U.S. national interests is woven tightly into the fabric of Israeli democratic political culture, a crucial characteristic that is presently not found in any other nation in the greater Middle East.”

More here.

Caroline Glick asks

[W]hy do the likes of Sarkozy and Obama hate Netanyahu? Why is he “a liar?” Why don’t they pour out their venom on Abbas, who really does lie to them on a regular basis?

The answer is because they prefer to blame Israel than acknowledge that their positive assessments of the Palestinians are nothing more than fantasy. And they are not alone. The Western preference for fantasy over reality was given explicit expression by former US president Bill Clinton in September.

In an ugly diatribe against Netanyahu at his Clinton Global Initiative Conference, Clinton insisted that the PA under Abbas was “pro-peace” and that the only real obstacle to a deal was Netanyahu. Ironically, at the same time Clinton was attacking Israel’s leader for killing the peace process, Abbas was at the UN asking the Security Council to accept an independent Palestine in a de facto state of war with Israel as a full member.

So too, while Clinton was blaming him for the failure of the peace process, Netanyahu at the UN using his speech to the General Assembly to issue yet another plea to Abbas to renew peace talks with Israel.

More here

Keystone Cop-Out

The Wall Street Journal reminds us:

President Obama used to be fond of “shovel-ready projects.” He’s also demanding that Congress pass his jobs bill immediately because 9% unemployment is a crisis, and, by the way, he’s for making the U.S. less reliant on energy from tyrants. So how about putting 20,000 Americans to work on a North American energy project that’s as shovel-ready as they come? Sorry, Mr. Obama is voting present.

The $7 billion project is TransCanada’s Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile underground pipeline that would deliver 830,000 barrels of heavy crude oil a day from Alberta to refineries in Oklahoma and Texas.

TransCanada filed an application to build the pipeline in September 2008 with the State Department, which must approve it because the pipeline would cross the 49th parallel. In April 2010 and again this August, State produced multivolume environmental impact statements that concluded the pipeline would have “no significant impacts” on the environment. That should have ended the matter.

But the President’s environmentalist friends have decided to make Keystone a test of his green virtue. “We’ll see if [Mr. Obama] is an oil guy or a people guy,” eco-agitator Bill McKibben recently warned at an Occupy Wall Street event, and the Sierra Club has threatened that it won’t “mobilize the environmental base” in 2012 if he approves the project. Various Hollywood worthies have marched in front of the White House in protest.

And, what a surprise, suddenly the government is finding new reasons to delay its decision.

More here

A New York Times story (pretty balanced) on the pipeline here

The Pakistani Front

Jeffrey Goldberg and Marc Ambinder write:

Pakistan is an unstable and violent country located at the epicenter of global jihadism, and it has been the foremost supplier of nuclear technology to such rogue states as Iran and North Korea. Pakistan might not be the safest place to warehouse 100 or more nuclear weapons.

Pakistan would be an obvious place for a jihadist organization to seek a nuclear weapon or fissile material. Pakistan’s military and security services are infiltrated by an unknown number of jihadist sympathizers; and many jihadist organizations are headquartered there already.

More here

The Campaign to Criticize Walid Phares

Cinnamon Stillwell writes:

Phares’s moral clarity on Islamism and jihadism do not sit well with those who would rather engage in apologetics and obstructionism. This explains why his fiercest opponents have included some of the worst from the field of Middle East studies. …

The Middle East studies establishment -- and especially its leading body, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) -- is not particularly welcoming to academics who stray from the post-colonial, Edward Said-originated Orientalist narrative.

As Phares put it in his 2007 book, The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracy:

In the West, the central battlefields over the perception of the world remain academic and educational... Even as the war with Jihadism is raging in the real world, and America is facing off with the most dangerous enemy infiltration it has ever known, the bulk of its students are being educated today by an elite that refuses to teach the real history and politics of the jihadists.

Fortunately, we have academics such as Phares himself and alternatives to MESA such as the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), for which he often lectures, to help turn the tide. The usual suspects should indeed be afraid.

More here.

-Cliff May