February 25, 2010

Christian Terrorists

Rarely a day passes in which I don’t at some point feel a sense of shock at the huge number of American Christians who so fervently support war and torture. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t get over it. Which I guess is why I keep this blog. When most people see this kind of shit, they shake their heads in frustration but then manage to move on with their lives. But we bloggers live in a state of perpetual shock and disgust, screaming about the same shit week after week, month after month, year after year.

How in God’s name do Christians not see their hypocrisy? It’s right there in the Sixth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Kill. And then Jesus talks about turning the other cheek and loving your enemies. And yet Christians, seemingly sincere, Bible-reading Christians, continue encouraging their children, or at least other people’s children, to join the military so they can go overseas and kill a bunch of innocent brown-skinned people. For their country. Somehow killing people for the United States of America—with its history of committing genocide against the Native Americans, firebombing German and Japanese cities, supporting evil dictatorships, etc., etc.—is justified in God’s eyes.

I recently read an article by a guy named Frank Fleming. A professing Christian, Fleming suggests that we fight terrorism by proselytizing Muslims. As he writes, “I think if we could convert many in the Middle East to Christianity, we would have a lot fewer problems with the region. First off, I don’t know of any Middle East Christians who have tried to blow us up. So if we can convert people over there, we could be removing enemies from the battlefield without violence.”

Fleming goes on to write that many Muslims think “blowing people up is the best way to express their religious devotion, and not many of us have really read the Koran and the supporting hadiths to come down on one side or the other in that debate. There are still debates in Christianity I’m trying to figure out. Who has time to learn an entirely different religion? But if the people in the Middle East were saying, ‘We’re blowing you up for Jesus,’ we actually know pretty well where to point to in the Bible to show them that’s wrong.”

You see what I mean? You see why I’m such an angry guy, why the shock just won’t go away?

The United States government is currently engaging in actions that plainly contradict the teachings of Jesus. We torture people, we drop bombs in civilian neighborhoods, we support the Israeli government as it literally starves the people of Gaza. Yet Christians cheer on these actions more enthusiastically than anyone else in our society. A small number of sincere, levelheaded believers keep pointing to the Bible and explaining these murderous actions are wrong, but it makes absolutely no difference.

Fleming doesn’t “know of any Middle East Christians who have tried to blow us up.” But I’m sure he knows of many American Christians who have tried to blow them up. But somehow it never crosses his mind that that, too, might be wrong. Blowing Muslims up—no problem. Blowing Americans up—well now we have a problem, now we need to bomb the shit out of their homelands, torture anyone we capture, keep bombing the shit out of their homelands, keep torturing, keep bombing, and so on ad infinitum. All for the sake of our country. All in the name of Jesus.

February 22, 2010

The name’s Obama, George W. Obama

For some time now, I’ve been arguing that Barack Obama might as well be a Republican. Yes, I know there’s a D after his name, but he governs like a Republican. In fact, had George W. Bush stayed in office, I imagine things would be almost exactly the same as they are now.

But amazingly—well, maybe not amazingly—I guess I should say predictably—predictably—disturbingly—sadly—nauseatingly—Republicans refuse to accept him as one of their own. They continue seething with rage over his “radical leftist policies,” his “coddling of terrorists,” his “disdain for Israel,” etc., etc.

I visited my grandparents the other day, and, as usual, my grandpa was watching Fox News. Also as usual, whenever Obama’s picture came onto the screen, my grandpa would start shaking his head and muttering, usually saying something like, “Goddamn Muslim.”

At one point, he asked what I thought about Obama. He always does this, not just about Obama but about lots of things. It’s always a test. If I pass, he’ll tell me how glad he is that I’ve reached that conclusion. If I don’t pass, he’ll shake his head and tell me that I’m a liberal (in his world, the worse thing one can be) and that now he knows everything he needs to know about my character.

Anyway, I told him that I didn’t like Obama. He nodded his head, expressed his happiness. (I wasn’t a liberal. Whew.) But then, thinking I might be able to teach him something—because, no matter how old we get, we never stop believing that we might be able to teach our elders something—I told him that I disliked Obama for the same reason I disliked Bush.

“Two sides to the same coin,” I said, or something like that. My grandpa shook his head, brushed me away with his hand, uttered something I couldn’t quite make out. I hope it wasn’t worse than “liberal.” Wait, what am I thinking? There is nothing worse than “liberal.”

Now I imagine some of you reading this might be like my grandpa. You appreciate my anti-Obama tirades but think I’m a total dipshit whenever I attack the Republicans. Also like my grandpa, I imagine many of you just don’t believe me when I say that Obama governs like a Republican. After all, your trusted conservative writers, those geniuses who grace the pages of Townhall.com and Human Events, tell you that Obama’s nothing more than a raging left-winged piece of scum, and they must be right. Right?

Well you don’t have to take my word for it any longer. Finally one of your own, none other than Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC official who was caught spying for Israel, has come out and admitted that, far from being a liberal, Obama is a neoconservative, an Israel-firster, an imperialist. In sum, an evil, racist, warmongering piece of slime, just like the rest of you.

As evidence for this, Rosen notes that Obama has “increased the Bush defense budget from $513 billion in fiscal year 2009 to $537 billion for fiscal year 2010 and $549 for 2011.” Rosen comments: “If defense budgets are one of the best indicators of the direction of policy, Obama’s defense budgets mark him as no leftist.”

More evidence that Obama’s no leftist is his “willingness to accept human life costs for national security goals.” In other words, he has no problem murdering brown-skinned people. Rosen writers: “Obama is putting American soldiers at risk in Afghanistan, and he seems to accept that some level of civilian casualties is a regrettable but unavoidable reality if global security objectives are to be achieved. Obama has greatly increased drone strikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan, undeterred by frequent reports of civilian casualties. In December, the president personally issued the order for U.S. airstrikes in Yemen, killing 35 suspected Al Qaeda agents but also, collaterally, dozens of civilians.”

And there’s more...

While conceding that, yes, Obama did win the Nobel Peace Prize, Rosen quickly points out that his acceptance speech “could have been written by a conservative.” Something I lamented at the time.

Regarding Iran, Rosen notes that Obama has made it clear that his days of reaching out to the regime are over. And regarding Israel, he reminds us that Obama accepted Netanyahu’s settlement non-freeze and insistence that, contrary to international law, Israel will continue building settlements in East Jerusalem. And, like a true Likudnik, Obama has made it clear that he’s not going to negotiate with Hamas.

Given all this, Rosen concludes that, not only is Obama not a liberal, but that he never was one. Turns out that Obama “merely postured as a progressive candidate in 2008 to outflank Clinton in the Democratic primaries.” Wow, imagine that.

So there you have it, all you red-state fascists out there. I know some of you might feel disappointed; it is, after all, fun having an enemy. But despair not. There are other people out there you can hate. Last time I checked, there were still many real liberals out there, as well as real conservatives and real libertarians, people who actually have moral values and believe in the Bill of Rights.

But please, for the sake of my own sanity, stop attacking Barack Obama. Welcome him into your hate-filled family. He is you. You are him. Get it straight.

February 17, 2010

Has Obama really “bent over backwards” for Iran?

In a recent press conference, Barack Obama said:

“I think that we have bent over backwards to say to the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are willing to have a constructive conversation about how they can align themselves with international norms and rules and reenter as full members of the international community.

“The most obvious attempt was when we gave them an offer that said we are going to provide the conversion of some of the low-enriched uranium that they already have into the isotopes that they need for their medical research and for hospitals that would serve up to a million Iranian citizens. They rejected it—although one of the difficulties in dealing with Iran over the last several months is it’s not always clear who’s speaking on behalf of the government, and we get a lot of different, mixed signals. But what’s clear is, is that they have not said yes to an agreement that Russia, China, Germany, France, Great Britain and the United States all said was a good deal, and that the director of the IAEA said was the right thing to do and that Iran should accept.

“That indicates to us that, despite their posturing that their nuclear power is only for civilian use, that they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization.”

The president’s narrative here is partially true. Just as he claims, the West made Iran an offer regarding its supply of low-enriched uranium. But by no means did the West “bend over backwards” or show its willingness to have a “constructive conversation.” Yes, there was a deal, but no, it wasn’t a good deal, at least not from Iran’s perspective; it certainly wasn’t a deal that anyone should have expected Iran to accept.

The two sides first met in Geneva last October. At issue was what to do about Iran’s supply of low-enriched uranium. At the time, Iran had been enriching its uranium to 5%. It had long made it known that, in order to continue operating a reactor that produces medical isotopes, it would need to start enriching to 20%. (Iran is running out of its existing supply of isotopes, which it purchased from Argentina in 1993. Sanctions prevent it from purchasing any more uranium from abroad.)

But the West didn’t want Iran enriching at all. So it proposed that Iran send three-fourths of its uranium to Russia and France, where it would then be enriched to 20% and finally sent back to Iran. The Obama administration told reporters that “forestalling Iran would allow time to negotiate a more comprehensive and difficult agreement, one intended to end all of Iran’s production of new nuclear material.” Iran said it would accept the deal, and the two sides planned to meet in Vienna later in the month to work out the details.

But the devil proved to be in the details, and to date the two sides have still not reached a deal. According to Mohamed ElBaradei, who headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until November 30, Iran wants a simultaneous swap. In other words, instead of having to wait around a year to receive back its uranium, it wants to receive a batch of 20% uranium as soon as it ships out its own stock. According to ElBaradei, Iran doesn’t believe that France can be trusted to return the uranium.

Iran’s lack of trust is certainly well-founded. As Muhammad Sahimi explains, in the 1970s Iran, under the rule of the Shah, paid France over $1 billion for enriched uranium. But then the 1979 Revolution occurred, and ever since then, France has refused to hand over the uranium or refund the money Iran had paid for it. Sahimi explains that Iran has even more reasons to distrust Russia.

Although Iran refuses to send out the bulk of its uranium all at once, it continues affirming that it’s willing to send out its uranium to be further enriched by another country. It’s simply insisting upon a simultaneous swap.

Not an unreasonable demand, if you ask me. As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) [.pdf], Iran is entitled to keep and enrich its uranium to 20%. And lest anyone fear that Iran might try to make a nuclear weapon, it should be remembered that, in accordance with the NPT, Iran has established a safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Which means that Iran cannot produce weapons-grade uranium (that is, uranium enriched to over 90%) without the Agency, and thus the entire world, knowing about it.

But none of this matters to President Obama. He wants Iran to get rid of its uranium supply pronto, and that’s all there is to it. And if Iran doesn’t comply, he’s made it clear that it will face a “significant regime of sanctions.” “Bending over backwards”? Trying to have a “constructive conversation”? Only in Obamaland.

February 15, 2010

So you really want another revolution in Iran?

Many neoconservatives are beginning to realize that there’s not going to be a war with Iran, at least not anytime soon. Give the neocons a couple years to replace the evil but rational Barack Obama with an evil but not so rational Republican, and they might get their wish. But until then, they’re being forced to look for different, less violent ways to topple the Islamic regime.

Along with pressuring Obama to impose “harsh sanctions” on Iran, many continue insisting that the president needs to do more to show his support for the Green Movement. Bill Kristol, for example, writes that Obama should support “The Iran Democratic Transition Act.” Recently introduced in the Senate by John Coryn (R-Texas) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), the bill which would authorize the president “to support a transition to democracy in Iran by providing non-military assistance to Iranian democratic opposition organizations.” The Iranian people, Kristol believes, might be able to prevail without “a champion in the White House. But it would be easier if they had a champion.”

The assumption here is that a democratic Iran would be an American-like, American-friendly Iran. Just get rid of the ruling regime, Kristol believes, and the United States, and by extension Israel, will gain an ally in the Middle East.

As you might remember, Kristol gave us this exact argument in the months preceding the Iraq invasion. Echoing Dick Cheney’s prediction that Iraqis would greet American forces as “liberators,” Kristol claimed that removing Saddam Hussein would cause the United States to be “respected in the Arab world,” that it “could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East,” starting “a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy.”

Of course, none of these predictions came to pass. While Iraqis were happy to be rid of Saddam, most of them viewed American troops as occupiers. A 2006 poll showed that the vast majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to leave their country within the year; more than 60% supported insurgent attacks against U.S. forces. At the same time, America’s popularity throughout the Muslim world plummeted [.pdf]. And none of those other “terrifically good effects” ever ensued. What did ensue was a new police state in Iraq, one that, unlike Saddam’s regime, is closely allied with Iran.

Similarly, there is no reason to believe that regime change in Iran would serve America’s interests. Although there was certainly some vote-rigging in last summer’s presidential election, polls conducted before and after the election reveal that a majority of voters did in fact support Ahmadinejad. Moreover, 87% of Iranians are satisfied with the current “system of government” (41% are very satisfied, 46% somewhat satisfied), and “[l]arge majorities, including majorities of Mousavi supporters, endorse the Islamist character of the regime such as having a body of Islamic scholars with the power to veto laws they see as contrary to sharia.”

According to a 2009 poll, only 29% of Iranians hold a favorable view of the United States. Another poll shows that less than 5% [.pdf] hold a favorable view of Israel. The same poll found that 62% oppose a peace treaty with Israel and favor “all Muslims fighting until there is no State of Israel in the Middle East.” Similar numbers believe Iran should continue arming Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah.

And it’s not as though removing Khamenei and company will put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The vast majority of Iranians share the ruling regime’s view that Iran has the right to a nuclear program, a full 91% believing it’s important to have a “full-fuel-cycle nuclear program.”

I don’t write any of this to justify the Iranian government or to downplay the grievances of the reformists. I just think it’s important to better understand what the Iranian people believe and the probable consequences of a new revolution. Their anger against the United States is real and deep, and if we really want to gain a new friend in the Middle East, then we need to change our foreign policy. Ending our current (harsh) sanctions against Iran and recognizing the nation’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes would be a good start.

February 11, 2010

A Tale of Two Regimes: Political Repression in Iran and Israel

The New York Times reports:

In recent weeks, Iranian security officials have unleashed a wave of arrests across the country in an effort to neutralize the political opposition, silence critical voices and head off widespread protests when the nation marks the anniversary of the revolution on Thursday.

The article goes on to describe the extent of this repression. Needless to say, it’s a very disturbing read, offering yet more evidence of the regime’s ruthlessness.

But what I find most interesting about the article—what I kept thinking as I read through it—is how almost everything the article says about Iran can also be said about Israel. Just substitute “Israel” for “Iran” and change around a few details, and you’d have a pretty good description of what’s been happening in the West Bank.


Reports have filtered out from across Iran of people being roused from their beds during midnight raids and disappearing into the penal system without an official word to family and friends.


A leader of the most persistent Palestinian protest movement against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier was asleep in his home when troops broke down his door and arrested him (Washington Post, 12/11/09).

Israel has long argued that Palestinians should pursue their political objectives in a non-violent way. However, several prominent Palestinian peace activists have recently been arrested and jailed for doing just that (Inter Press Service, 01/18/10).

Apparently concerned that the protests could spread, the Israeli Army and security forces have recently begun clamping down, arresting scores of local organizers and activists here and conducting nighttime raids on the homes of others (New York Times, 01/28/10).


Though the government does not report the numbers of those arrested, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, a group based in New York, calculated that in the past two months alone at least 1,000 people have been put in prison, many arrested under a blanket detention order issued in June that empowers the police to take anyone into custody for any reason.


A report published last week by Adalah, an Arab legal rights group in Israel, said 830 Israeli demonstrators, the overwhelming majority of them Arab citizens, were arrested for participating in mostly peaceful demonstrations during the 23 days of the Gaza operation. According to the report, the police broke up protests using physical violence; most protesters were refused bail during legal proceedings, despite the minor charges; the courts treated children no differently from adults, in violation of international law; and Arab leaders were interrogated and threatened by the secret police in a bid to end their political activity (The National, 09/28/09).

Hundreds of Palestinians are kept behind bars in Israel without charges having been filed and with no access to a fair trial. Not even their lawyers are allowed to look at the evidence. Some governments in the West have expressed their concern, but the Israelis haven’t budged (Spiegel, 10/23/09).

In recent weeks, the police has made [sic] dozens of false arrests of demonstrators in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah (B’Tselem, 01/16/09).


At least 10 people were killed when government forces opened fire on unarmed protestors.


A resident has been killed by Israeli forces during a demonstration. Basem Abu Rahme, 29 years of age, was shot in the chest with a high-velocity tear gas projectile…According to eyewitnesses, Basem was on a hill with several journalists to the side of other demonstrators. Soldiers opened fire from 40 meters, aiming directly with the tear-gas projectiles (ISM, 04/17/09).

Israeli forces have killed a demonstrator in the West Bank village of Ni’lin. The Israeli army shot Yousef Akil Srour, aged 36 years in the chest with 0.22 caliber live ammunition (ISM, 06/05/09).

At least 19 Palestinians have been killed in the last six years alone during nonviolent demonstrations against Israel’s apartheid wall that is confiscating Palestinian cropland and imprisoning Palestinian people. Many others have been killed in other parts of the Palestinian territories while taking part in nonviolent activities (Counterpunch, 01/08/10).


In the most recent crackdown, the government has rounded up scores of journalists.


Four separation fence security guards fired at a group of five journalists who tried to approach people demonstrating against the fence near the West Bank settlement of Efrat on Monday afternoon. Photos taken by AFP photographer Moussa al-Shaer clearly show one of the guards using an Uzi submachine gun to fire at the demonstrators. The other guards fired with live ammunition in the air, although they were not in danger at any stage (YNet, 05/21/07).

Israeli troops manning the wall and its gate that cuts off the villagers from their land showered the protesters with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets immediately after the protesters reached the gate. 17 people were injured including seven journalists (International Middle East Media Center, 03/28/08).

Filming at the site of shelling in Gaza earlier in the day, Fadel Shana was himself targeted by shelling from the very tanks he was filming (ISM, 07/01/08).

Video footage that aired Friday shows an Al-Jazeera reporter covering an anti-separation fence rally in the West Bank dodging a tear gas grenade fired by Israel Defense Forces troops (Ha’aretz, 09/05/09).


The government response has been to try to intimidate, Iran experts and opposition leaders said. That has included imposing the death penalty on 11 prisoners, and hanging two. Another five death penalty cases are currently being prosecuted.


Israeli authorities are increasingly targeting and intimidating nonviolent Palestinian grassroots activists involved in anti-occupation activities who are drawing increased support from the international community. Several weeks ago masked Israeli soldiers stormed the home of Ehab Jallad from the Jerusalem Popular Committee for the Celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture for 2009 (IPS, 10/28/09).

Israel is arresting a growing number of prominent opponents to its policies toward the Palestinians, say critics who are accusing the government of trying to crush legitimate dissent (Washington Post, 01/19/10).

Thirteen Israeli human rights organizations sent an urgent letter to the president, the Knesset speaker and the prime minister, protesting the increasing and systematic campaign against human rights organizations in Israel: “A democracy must not silence critical voices; protecting human rights is vital” (B’Tselem, 02/02/10).

Although these two regimes treat their dissidents similarly, the American media gives far more attention to the situation in Iran. As illustrated above, both the New York Times and Washington Post have recently reported on Israel’s repressive actions, but such stories have been extremely rare. Consequently, I doubt that more than one or two percent of Americans have any idea what’s happening in the West Bank.

The Palestinian cause, of course, is no less just than the Iranian cause. Both groups share the goal of political self-determination, an ideal which ought to resonate with Americans. And make no mistake about it, according to international law [.pdf], the West Bank is occupied Palestinian territory. Which, among other things, means that Israel has no legal right to build its own roads, walls, or cities in this area, something it’s been doing for over forty years now.

Also like the Iranians, the Palestinians mostly engage in non-violent protests. Israeli forces often try to break up these protests by firing “teargas, stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets and sometimes live ammunition at the crowd.” Sometimes protestors respond by throwing back stones. I can’t say I blame them.

But despite all this, the American media continues reporting on the plight of the Iranians and all but ignoring the Palestinians. And so most Americans remain clueless as their tax dollars continue funding Israel and its colonization of the West Bank.

February 8, 2010

Barry and Sarah sitting in a tree…

Sarah Palin’s Tea Party speech felt like something out of a romantic-comedy.

We’ve seen it a thousand times before. The guy and girl meet each other, fall madly in love, but before long there’s a misunderstanding. There’s always a misunderstanding. Like the guy gets jealous after seeing the girl with another guy—even though, unbeknownst to him, the other guy is really just the girl’s brother. Or the girl sees the guy kissing another girl—turns out that the other girl forced herself on the guy and he was actually trying to push her away.

Yes, there’s always a misunderstanding, one that prevents the protagonists from getting together until the film’s last five minutes—at which point everything gets cleared-up, they say their sorries, and end up passionately necking as the closing credits begin to roll.

Well the Sarah Palin love story is no different.

Cast as the female lead is, of course, our girl Sarah, cute hockey mom, killer legs, major league milf. Her counterpart is played by none other than our Harvard-educated, cigarette-smoking stud of a president, Barry Obama. Everyone knows it’s just a matter of time before these two get together, hook up to form some political action committee or something like that. But, as in all good love stories, before they connect, there’s a misunderstanding.

Turns out that Sarah profoundly misunderstands Barry's policies. For instance, she thinks Barry wants to give constitutional protections to terror suspects. And she thinks Barry has turned his back on Israel and that he’s been playing softball with Iran and that he opposes having a strong national defense.
Because of these misunderstandings, Sarah is getting nasty with Barry, lashing out at him in public. She lambasted him for all these things during her speech on Saturday. Kind of reminds me of that scene in Bridget Jones 2 when Bridget sees Mark drinking wine with his lesbian secretary, but, of course, Bridget doesn’t know the secretary is a lesbian, so she gets really jealous and blows up at Mark. Remember that? Well that’s essentially what’s going on here. Just a big misunderstanding.

If Sarah would have done her homework, she would have learned that Barry is just as much of an evil, racist, warmongering imperialist as she is. She thinks Barry wants to give constitutional protections to terror suspects? Hah! Doesn’t she follow the news? Doesn’t she know that Barry’s policies are essentially the same as George W. Bush’s? Doesn’t she know that, like Bush, Barry believes he has the right to indefinitely detain suspects, preventing their cases from ever being tried in court? Doesn’t she know that he has continued Bush’s extraordinary rendition policy? Doesn’t she know that, under Barry, detainees continue getting tortured? Doesn’t she have a clue that Barry reviles the Constitution every bit as much as she does?

And she thinks Barry has turned his back on Israel? She must not know that he’s done his part to block the Goldstone Report, you know the UN report documenting Israeli war crimes in Gaza. And she must not know that US aid to Israel has grown since he’s taken office.

And of course Barry hasn’t played softball with Iran. Had he being playing softball with Iran, he would have honored the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—which, by the way, he’s legally required to abide by—and recognized that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But instead he’s denied it this right and spent the past several weeks pushing for sanctions.

And of course Barry believes in a strong national defense. Strong national offense really, which should really get Sarah all wet between the legs. Since taking office, he’s escalated the war in Afghanistan, escalated drone strikes in Pakistan, and increased spending on national defense—I mean, national offense.

So enough, Sarah. Enough of this name-calling. Like I said, it’s all just a big misunderstanding. Barry’s your man. You’re his girl. When you get down to it, ya’ll are just a couple of peas in a pod. So will you just stop you’re fighting and make up already?

February 3, 2010

The Bomb Iran Crowd Returns (part 1)

Daniel Pipes has a surefire way to save the Obama presidency: Bomb Iran.

Pointing to polls which show that most Americans would support an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Pipes argues that such a campaign would “dispatch Obama’s feckless first year down the memory hole and transform the domestic political scene. It would sideline health care, prompt Republicans to work with Democrats, and make the netroots squeal, independents reconsider, and conservatives swoon.”

Of course, Pipes doesn’t want to bomb Iran for the sake of Obama’s presidency. “I do not customarily offer advice to a president whose election I opposed, whose goals I fear, and whose policies I work against.” Rather, he argues that it’s essential for the security of both the Middle East and the United States. As he writes, “if the apocalyptic-minded leaders in Tehran get the Bomb, they render the Middle East yet more volatile and dangerous. They might deploy these weapons in the region, leading to massive death and destruction. Eventually, they could launch an electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States, utterly devastating the country.” If you follow the hyperlink for apocalyptic-minded leaders, you’ll see that Pipes actually just means one leader, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Now this is more or less the same argument neoconservatives gave for the Iraq War: He (Saddam Hussein/Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) is crazy, and if we don’t stop him, he might use his weapons of mass destructions (which might or might not actually exist) against other countries in the Middle East and possibly even the United States.

There were, of course, many problems with the argument as it pertained to Iraq, and there are many problems with the argument as it pertains to Iran. Most significantly, even if Ahmadinejad were crazy, even if, as Pipes has argued elsewhere, he really believed in the imminent return of the Mahdi (a messiah-like figure that some Muslims believe will usher in the end of the world), and even if this actually affected his policies, it wouldn’t matter. For Ahmadinejad is not an autocrat; rather, he is just one player in a fairly complicated political system [.pdf], at the top of which resides the Supreme Leader. So Ahmadinejad couldn’t authorize a nuclear strike against Israel and/or the United States even if he (1) had nuclear weapons and (2) was crazy enough to use them.

And even if we suppose that Ahmadinejad had control over a non-existent Iranian Nuclear Football, there wouldn’t be any compelling reasons to believe that he would make use of it. Whether he sincerely believes the Mahdi will soon return is subject to debate. From everything I’ve read, it seems just as likely that Ahmadinejad uses religious language in his speeches for the political advantages it affords him. But even if he did believe that the Mahdi was about to return and usher in the Last Judgment, it’s not clear why this would impel him to launch a nuclear war, for doing so would kill innocent people, something which is clearly condemned by the teachings of Islam. In other words, if Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called for a global nuclear disarmament, truly believed he were about to be judged by his creator, then it’s hard to understand why he would undertake an action that would result in the death of thousands, perhaps millions, of civilians, thus putting his own soul at risk of eternal condemnation.

Pipes goes on to argue that no one other than “the Iranian rulers and their agents denies that the regime is rushing headlong to build a large nuclear arsenal.” As proof for this, he references a January Reuters article which, he writes, shows that “U.S. intelligence agencies have reversed their preposterous 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, the one that claimed with ‘high confidence’ that Tehran had ‘halted its nuclear weapons program.’”

The problem with Pipes’ reasoning here is that the unnamed officials in the Reuters story, along with some unnamed officials quoted in a September Newsweek story, do not believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The officials quoted in the Reuters story merely believe that Iran has been conducting research into nuclear weapons. As one official put it, “Basically, we’re talking about research (resuming)—not about the Iranians barreling full steam ahead on a bomb program.” This, of course, completely contradicts Pipes’ claim that Iran is “rushing headlong to build a large nuclear arsenal.”

This cannot be emphasized enough. Although Iran is currently enriching uranium, there is absolutely no evidence that it is building nuclear weapons. To the contrary, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has had a safeguards agreement [.pdf] with Iran since 1974, continues verifying that Iran has not diverted any of its uranium to non-peaceful purposes.

The best explanation for Iran’s nuclear-related activities seems to be that it intends to achieve nuclear latency. In other words, rather than actually building nuclear weapons, Iran wants to achieve the ability to build such weapons in a short amount of time. As Juan Cole writes, this explanation makes sense of Supreme Leader Khamenei’s fatwa against nuclear weapons in 2005, Iran’s apparent interest in knowing how to build a bomb, and its refusal to actually do so. Iran’s leaders understand that developing a bomb would result in more sanctions, but they evidently believe, and understandably so, that having nuclear latency would deter an Israeli/American attack.

Seeing the way the U.S. has dealt with North Korea has no doubt justified this approach. After expelling IAEA inspectors, North Korea faced an onslaught of harsh sanctions. And yet, because Kim Jong-il’s regime has nuclear weapons, nobody seriously believes that the U.S. is going to launch a military campaign against Pyongyang. So Iran probably reasons that achieving nuclear latency is the best way to (1) minimize sanctions and (2) thwart an Israeli/American attack.

Stated differently, if Iran really is trying to develop the capacity to build nuclear weapons, it’s only doing so as a defensive measure. And who can blame it? Three countries over sits Israel, which has a long history of threatening, bombing, and invading neighboring countries. And then in Iraq and Afghanistan there are a total of two hundred thousand soldiers from the United States, which also has a long history of threatening and attacking foreign nations. So it’s understandable why Iran would want a deterrence. Who wouldn’t?

February 1, 2010

Japan Stands Up to the Empire

One of last week’s more important news stories involved a mayoral election in the city of Nago, Okinawa. Nago is a small coastal city (population 60,000), known by many tourists for its beautiful beaches.

As some of you might remember, back in 2006, the Bush administration reached a deal with the Japanese government to move a US air base from Ginowan City in northeastern Okinawa to Nago. Though initially resistant to the move, Nago’s then-mayor, Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, finally came around, having no doubt been pressured by the national government, which had always acquiesced to American demands.

But last August, Japanese voters elected a new government, one which had campaigned on the promise to move the air base out of Okinawa altogether. And then last week, Nago voters elected Susumu Inamine as their mayor, a man who adamantly opposes relocating the base to his city.

The presence of American troops has never played well in Japan, especially in Okinawa, where locals have had a long history of being victimized by GIs. The most well-known example of this occurred in 1995 when three American soldiers assaulted and gang-raped a twelve-year-old Japanese girl.

“Other incidents of bodily harm, intimidation and death continue in Okinawa on an almost daily basis,” Chalmers Johnson writes, “including hit-and-run collisions between American troops and Okinawans on foot or on auto bikes, robberies and assaults, bar brawls and drunken and disorderly conduct.”

To make matters worse, these wrongdoers often walk away with complete impunity. The military has an abysmal record prosecuting soldiers involved in such incidents, and a supplement to the 1953 American-Japanese Status of Forces Agreement severely restricts Japan’s jurisdiction in these matters. Johnson notes, “The U.S. argued strenuously for this codicil because it feared that otherwise it would face the likelihood of some 350 servicemen per year being sent to Japanese jails for sex crimes.”

Following last week's election, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said that the people of Nago had clearly spoken, and he insisted that his government now had no choice but to reconsider the 2006 accord. “The country will start from scratch on this issue and take responsibility to reach a conclusion by the end of May.”

Empires, of course, don’t like being told what to do, and the US has maintained there’s nothing to reconsider. Spokesmen from both the Pentagon and State Department have made it clear that the US has no intention of renegotiating a deal. And Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has “reiterated his stance on the Futenma base issue, saying the current plan is the only one that can be achieved and it should be implemented as soon as possible under the current agreement.”

So much for those American ideals of democracy and self-determination. When the Empire wants to station its troops in someone else’s country, then that’s exactly what it’s going to do. Never mind the sentiments of the people actually living there.

But Hatoyama, undoubtedly realizing the political fallout that could result from succumbing to the Americans, has so far continued standing strong. Having been an American my entire life, I’ve learned not to put much hope in politicians. But, who knows, maybe this one will be different.