And So Can They?

Every once in a while, I see a—oh, right. Sorry. Wrong song.

Through the Looking GlassIt is the sort of thing that can actually make me paranoid. Well, kind of. But when you feel that milhouse moment, when the slightest breath of air will shatter the looking glass—or, such as it is, when you finally expect that Rachel Maddow will break character and, at long last, say, “Nah, I’m just fuckin’ wit’cha.”

† † †

(Transcript to come, I suppose; and maybe a screengrab when I figure out how badly I broke everything installing KDE Plasma. Yeah. Too bad about that.)

The Bush success

There is something to be said for the obvious, although we can be sure there is somewhere an economist, politician, or pundit willing to explain why the prescription suggested by Michael T. Klare, writing for the Toronto Star would not be a particularly effective palliative for the spiraling costs of oil:

… the Bush administration’s greatest contribution to rising oil prices is its steady stream of threats to attack Iran, if it does not back down on the nuclear issue. The Iranians have made it plain that they would retaliate by attempting to block the flow of Gulf oil and otherwise cause turmoil in the energy market. Most analysts assume, therefore, that an encounter will produce a global oil shortage and prices well over $200 per barrel. It is not surprising, then, that every threat by Bush/Cheney (or their counterparts in Israel) has triggered a sharp rise in prices. This is where speculators enter the picture. Believing that a U.S.-Iranian clash is at least 50 per cent likely, some investors are buying futures in oil at $140, $150 or more per barrel, thinking they’ll make a killing if there’s an attack and prices zoom past $200.

It follows, then, that while the hike in prices is due largely to ever-increasing demand chasing insufficiently expanding supply, the Bush administration’s energy policies have greatly intensified the problem. By seeking to preserve an oil-based energy system at any cost, and by adding to the “fear factor” in international speculation through its bungled invasion of Iraq and bellicose statements on Iran, it has made a bad problem much worse ….

…. And if this administration truly wanted to spare Americans further pain at the pump, there is one thing it could do that would have an immediate effect: declare that military force is not an acceptable option in the struggle with Iran. Such a declaration would take the wind out of the sails of speculators and set the course for a drop in prices.

Continue reading

Yeah, but … the Iran story?

So it sounds like a bad spy novel, doesn’t it?

She had probably done this a dozen times before. Modern digital technology had made clandestine communications with overseas agents seem routine. Back in the cold war, contacting a secret agent in Moscow or Beijing was a dangerous, labour-intensive process that could take days or even weeks. But by 2004, it was possible to send high-speed, encrypted messages directly and instantaneously from CIA headquarters to agents in the field who were equipped with small, covert personal communications devices. So the officer at CIA headquarters assigned to handle communications with the agency’s spies in Iran probably didn’t think twice when she began her latest download. With a few simple commands, she sent a secret data flow to one of the Iranian agents in the CIA’s spy network. Just as she had done so many times before.

But this time, the ease and speed of the technology betrayed her. The CIA officer had made a disastrous mistake. She had sent information to one Iranian agent that exposed an entire spy network; the data could be used to identify virtually every spy the CIA had inside Iran.

Mistake piled on mistake. As the CIA later learned, the Iranian who received the download was a double agent. The agent quickly turned the data over to Iranian security officials, and it enabled them to “roll up” the CIA’s network throughout Iran. CIA sources say that several of the Iranian agents were arrested and jailed, while the fates of some of the others is still unknown.

This espionage disaster, of course, was not reported. It left the CIA virtually blind in Iran, unable to provide any significant intelligence on one of the most critical issues facing the US – whether Tehran was about to go nuclear.

The excerpt of James Risen’s The State of War goes on to suggest something even more bizarre: a scheme in which … are you ready? … the CIA gave a Russian defector technical data for nuclear weapons to hand over to the Iranians in order to figure out what they knew and had in their nuclear program.

Wait a minute … it doesn’t sound like a bad spy novel, per se. I mean, well, that’s the thing. I never read LeCarre’s The Russia House, but I saw the movie. And, well … yeah. There seems to be something familiar here going on. And while the stories aren’t identical, the outcome of Risen’s seems almost predictable.

The Russian studied the blueprints the CIA had given him. Within minutes of being handed the designs, he had identified a flaw. “This isn’t right,” he told the CIA officers gathered around the hotel room. “There is something wrong.” His comments prompted stony looks, but no straight answers from the CIA men. No one in the meeting seemed surprised by the Russian’s assertion that the blueprints didn’t look quite right, but no one wanted to enlighten him further on the matter, either.

In fact, the CIA case officer who was the Russian’s personal handler had been stunned by his statement. During a break, he took the senior CIA officer aside. “He wasn’t supposed to know that,” the CIA case officer told his superior. “He wasn’t supposed to find a flaw.”

“Don’t worry,” the senior CIA officer calmly replied. “It doesn’t matter.”

And perhaps it didn’t. Perhaps that was the point. Maybe the CIA intended that the Russian defector should tip off the Iranians that the data he was giving them had problems.

In Vienna, however, the Russian unsealed the envelope with the nuclear blueprints and included a personal letter of his own to the Iranians. No matter what the CIA told him, he was going to hedge his bets. There was obviously something wrong with the blueprints – so he decided to mention that fact to the Iranians in his letter. They would certainly find flaws for themselves, and if he didn’t tell them first, they would never want to deal with him again.

The Russian was thus warning the Iranians as carefully as he could that there was a flaw somewhere in the nuclear blueprints, and he could help them find it. At the same time, he was still going through with the CIA’s operation in the only way he thought would work.

The whole thing seems bizarre. James Bamford reviewed the book for Risen’s paper, The New York Times, and noted,

And despite the critical need for intelligence on Iran, Mr. Risen says, a C.I.A. communications officer accidentally sent detailed information to the wrong indigenous agent in Tehran that outlined the agency’s entire network. “The Iranian who received the download was actually a double agent,” Mr. Risen writes. The mistake enabled the Iranians “to ‘roll up’ the C.I.A.’s agent network throughout Iran,” says Mr. Risen, although the details are disputed by the C.I.A.

But while “State of War” has interesting and important new details, it also has almost no named sources – not even the comments of former intelligence or government officials, who might provide perspective, context and credibility. It is an unusual move for someone writing about such an important subject.

So … right. There are all manner of reasons one might do this. Perhaps the information is sensitive. Maybe Risen was shooting for a certain narrative quality that would be marred by footnotes and the usual qualifiers. Walter Isaacson, in a second review for the Times, noted,

So what are we to believe in a book that relies heavily on leaks from disgruntled sources? We are in an age where the consumer of information has to make an educated guess about what percentage of assertions in books like this are true. My own guess is that Risen has earnest sources for everything he reports but that they don’t all know the full story, thus resulting in a book that smells like it’s 80 percent true. If that sounds deeply flawed, let me add that if he had relied on no anonymous sources and reported instead only the on-the-record line from official spinners, the result would very likely have been only half as true.

So the whole thing sounded bizarre, and I wondered if it was even true. I went so far as to look up the book at my local library. And it was there, waiting for me. That was early November. I still haven’t read it. In fact, I forgot all about it. Until I read Glenn Greenwald’s post yesterday at Salon.

Ever since the President’s illegal warrantless eavesdropping program was revealed by the New York Times’ Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau back in December, 2005, there has been a faction of neoconservatives and other extremists on the Right calling for the NYT reporters and editors to be criminally prosecuted — led by the likes of Bill Kristol (now of the NYT), Bill Bennett (of CNN), Commentary Magazine and many others. In May, 2006, Alberto Gonzales went on ABC News and revealed that the DOJ had commenced a criminal investigation into the leak, and then “raised the possibility that New York Times journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information” ….

…. Eighteen months have passed since Gonzales’ threats, and while there have been some signs that the investigation continues — former DOJ official Jack Goldsmith, for instance, described how he was accosted and handed a Subpoena by FBI agents in the middle of Harvard Square, demanding to know what he knew about the NSA leak — there had no further public evidence that the DOJ intended to pursue Risen and Lichtblau. Until now.

Yesterday, the NYT reported that Jim Risen was served with a grand jury Subpoena, compelling him to disclose the identity of the confidential source(s) for disclosures in his 2006 book, State of War. The Subpoena seeks disclosure of Risen’s sources not for the NSA program (for which he and Lichtblau won a Pulitzer Prize), but rather, for Risen’s reporting on CIA efforts to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program. Nonetheless, Risen’s work on State of War is what led to his discovery that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans without the warrants required by law.

Say huh? Really? The Iran story?

The Iran story?

Let me get this straight: Mukasey has issued a subpoena for Risen’s source on the Iran story?

Greenwald reflects on the reasons for such a subpoena, but the clamor for prosecuting New York Times journalists Risen and Eric Lichtblau, and also editor Bill Keller had to do with the wiretapping story. Nonetheless, Greenwald notes, Commentary Magazine‘s Gabriel Schoenfeld gloats and even suggests he’s responsible for nudging Attorney General Mukasey to issue the subpoena.

But, still … the Iran story?

It wasn’t so much that I didn’t believe it. Rather, I didn’t want to believe it. It was at once strange and mundane. Strange because it seemed so much like a movie or novel or something. Mundane because they got screwed in the end, and while I didn’t expect it eighteen years ago watching Connery and Pfeiffer on the screen, LeCarre’s story was the first thing I thought of when I got to the part about the Russian defector tipping off the Iranians. It seemed almost obvious. Like a Dear Abby letter: if he leaves his wife for you, he will leave you for the next one.

I felt like I could see it coming. And if I can see it coming ….

I mean, really, that’s what the subpoena is about? The Iran story.

God damn it.

Ahmadinejad—the Official Blog

This is just one of those times when I’m not quite sure what to think. I mean, it’s amazing to me, in a way, that I could be remotely sympathetic to the President of Iran, but a question does leap to mind. When is President Bush going to get a blog?

I mean, who wants a Christmas wish from Ahmadinejad?

In the Name of Almighty God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Merry Christmas to everyone!

My sincere congratulations to everyone for the Glorious and Auspicious Birthday of Divine Prophet – confirmed and authenticated by Gabriel, the angel of Divine revelation – the Obedient of Almighty God,

Jesus Christ, the Messiah (peace be upon Him)

He was a messenger of peace, devotion and love based upon monotheism and justice. He was raised in His Mother’s hand – Virgin Mary (peace be upon her) – that Almighty God stood her as impeccable and exalted her above the women of the world. The Mother and the Son that in the Divine Sight are reputable and prestigious. And they are positioned by God – The All Wise- at a sublime level.

See? State-sponsored religion is just as annoying coming from the Iranian president as from our own. I’m waiting for Ahmadinejad to write a post about who or what God ordered him to invade, but he’s got one up on our man on that point.

What gets me is that this will work for him on a couple levels at least. Glancing about, I see he’s got a blogroll that includes the official website of the Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khameni, the … um … okay, The Office of the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran News Service, the Islamic Republic News Agency, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting website, and Press TV. Really, I’d make a LOLcatz joke, but … well, no. They’re not funny. The catz or jokes about the damn catz. And I’m a cat person.

Anyway … Ahmadinejad’s blog provides a minor portal for people who are actually interested in knowing who President Bush wants to bomb. For instance, Maryam Torabi interviews Mrs. Fatema Alia head of the Iranian Parliament’s Committee for Women and Family Affairs, as well as an active member of the Majlis Cultural Commission. (Okay, if you say so.)

Q. Islam encourages women to be active members of the society while considering them important pillars of families. Islam also places the central responsibility for the upbringing of children upon women. How can women in today’s world balance family matters against social responsibilities?

A. Women can have social responsibilities without necessarily being employed. The society can greatly benefit from women who voluntarily take part in social activities and influence the culture, politics and economics of their country. What is important is that the position of the family as the main building block of the society should always be cherished.

When employed, women can benefit from features such as flextime and maternity leaves. They can also use technologies like the Internet to continue to work at home while caring for their families.

The main issue here is that the family, which is an abode where love and friendship rule, should never be transformed to a mere dwelling deficient in the spirit of companionship.

Q. Does such balance exist in the world today?

A. In most parts of the world, in the West in particular, women are merely objects of collective materialistic values. The notion of complete equality between men and women with no consideration for their biological and emotional differences has distanced women from their inborn nature.

Many women have traded in family values to be able to work. In the West, people are changing the laws of nature such that family values have been forgotten and even same-sex relationships are emerging.

The modern world seems to be greatly concerned about women and makes favorable promises to them. It promises them freedom from slavery, male-domination, and even the established institution of marriage, but what does it actually have in store? Nothing but exploitation, injustice, oppression, aggression, harassment, neurosis and indignity.

You know, “Revolutionary” language is just annoying. This is part of why the Revolution cannot be forced. I mean, don’t get me wrong. Many American homes have become “mere dwellings” that are “deficient in the spirit of companionship”, and I agree with a certain premise about the problem of promoting women as sexual objects, but I must disagree with Mrs. Alia and note that the solution is not to reduce the humanity of women. And, frankly, that’s how I see the hijab, and how it sounds when I hear how “The notion of complete equality between men and women with no consideration for their biological and emotional differences has distanced women from their inborn nature.”

But I digress. It is, in the end, possible to learn something about our Iranian neighbors/future cannon fodder. Even people who are just looking to complain about Iran can find something to suit their needs, like the interview with Mrs. Alia. And I have to admit, I probably wouldn’t have strayed over to without the official blog. So there’s one. Learning. For instance, I learned that President Ahmadinejad felicitated Kenya for its Independence Day. I figured that would have been illegal in the Islamic Republic, but he is the president, and if there’s one thing the last several years have taught me, it’s that presidents can do whatever they want.

They don’t felicitate in Middle America, do they?

And for some reason I found it odd that the Saudis had to officially invite Ahmadinejad to participate in the Hajj, but then again I’d never really stopped to think about what a pain in the ass that must be for customs. I wonder if Ahmadinejad is at home thinking, “Well, crap, now they’ve invited me. I feel kind of obliged, now.”

But beyond picking up news and perspective from behind the Muslim Veil (okay, that joke sucked), Ahmadinejad scores points for blogging. Some of this is inherent: he gets to put out some sort of official word at will, and it sounds somehow more personal being typed by an underling than being read to the press by an underling. I suppose I should give him the benefit of the doubt. The page does look clumsy in English, although the grammar and punctuation are marginally better than I would expect of President Bush. I mean, at least Ahmadinejad is in the ballpark.

And that PR function has two edges, both of which play to his advantage. The Iranian President can appeal to the world with genteel considerations on life, the Universe, and everything, and can furthermore embarrass Americans just by giving them the freedom to comment. Some of the better comments from Americans:

  • “Colby Brown”— God bless Iran, Bush and Isreal are unfair to Iran. I am sorry for the way you were treated at our university. All americans are not the same as Bush. Peace god bless Iran and the rest of the world!
  • “ken mcfly”—die slow …
  • “Hate You”— Shut up please, would you? I get headache reading your nonsense stuff.‎‎

And my favorite:

  • “Yao Ming”—You are a nigger.

I mean, seriously, what am I supposed to say to that? (“USA! USA! Woot-woot-woot-woot!”) To the other, what if this was just some propaganda bit? Who the hell in Iran would have come up with “Yao Ming” and “You are a nigger”?

And, seriously, can you imagine if Ahmadinejad shows up for commencement or something at Tehran U, and instead of shouting “Death to the dictator!” the students start shouting, “Nig-ger! Nig-ger! Nig-ger!”

Would that not make the best YouTube clip ever? I mean, we could be so proud for having exported one of our deepest-seeded hatreds to Iran.

Because somewhere out there, I know, there’s at least one of my American neighbors who is heartbroken by that notion. “Oh, did they have to go and call him a nigger?”

Oh, ye gads:

  • “John Jacobs”—I hate you. you are retarted. that simple mentally retarted

That’s it. No more reading Ahmadinejad’s blog at not quite half-past four. Goddamn Americans. Must be a propaganda job. And “Yao Ming” is the best joke ever written by an Iranian president.

(Oh, right.)

Welcome to the blogosphere, Mr. President.  Get used to it.

Getting to know Iran

Over at Dissident Voice, Reza Fiyouzat offered last month some insight into Iranian society and politics at a time when Americans might find it interesting:

Naturally, a lot of us pesky Iranian socialists got a good giggle back in October when the Iranian government, just before the fortieth anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara’s assassination in Bolivia, organized a conference with the title, ‘Che like Chamran’, intended to emphasize the similarities between Iran’s Islamic revolution and the socialist revolution in Cuba. Che’s daughter Aleida and his son Camillo were the highlighted guests at the conference ….

…. When it was Che’s daughter who came to speak, the scenario painted by the organizers started to come undone quickly.

Aleida Guevara opened her address thus, “In the name of the people of Cuba”, and swiftly went onto, “We are a socialist nation.” No mincing words for her!

According to the report for Gozareshgaran, Aleida emphasized explicitly her father’s, as well as Fidel Castro’s, belief in communism and socialism, making sure to mention that the people of Cuba were grateful to the Soviet Union and, as to the suggestion of a drift between their two countries, she stated that there never was any discord between them, as mentioned by Ghasemi. She advised that if he really wanted to find out about Che Guevara’s beliefs, Ghasemi had better study the sources in the original language; she also suggested checking the authenticity of the translation in the book Ghasemi was holding.

Fiyouzat also notes that the conference, slated originally to last four days, was quickly wrapped up.

At least they tried.

In a country rich with resources stolen, misspent incompetently or misallocated pathetically, Iranian people’s living conditions are so dire that between a third and a half of the population live under or around the poverty line. Addiction to Class-A drugs, according to conservative estimates, affects four to five million people (in a country of nearly 70 million), and increases in drug addictions are three times the population growth rate.

Iran’s infant mortality rates (38.1/1000) are worse than in India (34.6), Egypt (30.1), Honduras (25.2), and more than twice as bad as in Jamaica (15.7), just to mention a few reference points. By contrast, Cuba’s infant mortality is 6.1/1000, while that of the U.S. is 6.4.

Prostitution, another ‘index’ of healthfulness of social conditions, is rampant, and, in a new survival trend, younger women are finding alternative sources of economic relief in presenting themselves in Gulf countries such as UAE as ‘temporary brides’ (Siqhe), which is legal in Shiite Islam.

One of the things Americans, at least, need to remember is that people are, despite our many differences, very similar in certain ways. Drugs and prostitution are no more to avoid Iran’s theocracy than, say, Ted Haggard’s church.

Er … uh … what, too soon?

At any rate, we ought to take note: no matter how much rope we give the theocrats, they cannot bind the Devil. But Fiyouzat has so much more to talk about than that. Indeed, at a time when some might look at Iran and envision some monolithic “they”, Iranian society seems at present wracked with twenty-first century pangs. Students in October attempted to shout down President Ahmadinejad, and many have been carted off to prison. Transport workers have rallied around the name of Mansour Osanlou, an imprisoned labor organizer, and sent a message of solidarity to their French brethren last month. The women’s movement in Iran is pushing a hard struggle on multiple fronts: advocating equal rights, opposing foreign imperialism, and working against the oppression of various opposition groups:

As reported by Iran Dokht, a newly formed Association of Mothers for Peace, issued a statement on November 4 this year, indicating their opposition to any imperialist attacks on the people of Iran, as well as calling for the release of all Iranian political prisoners from students and workers to women’s rights activists, saying, “We, Mothers for Peace, believe that the inexcusable arrest and imprisonment of those seeking justice and assaults against teachers, university students, nurses, journalists, writers, the clergy, and workers, as well as against activists in the women’s movement, are in fact the kinds of excuses that foreign powers use to attack our country or to impose economic sanctions; while claiming to defend human rights, the foreign powers’ actual goal is the looting of our wealth.”

And in some parts of the world, a sense of solidarity arises. Last month, student groups in Italy and Cuba raised their voices in support of the Iranian people, and as Fiyouzat notes, “This kind of principled solidarity and active international support is the sort that empowers the people in Iran and in the greater Middle East.”

Amen. After all, much of the discussion about Iran among Americans resembles every other woeful attempt to wrap our collective head around such vast concepts as Islam, Muslims, human rights, terrorism, war, peace … whatever. (It’s been a long six years by American standards, though that probably means little to some of those who have endured generations of modern tyranny in Iran. So … er … um … yeah. It’s been a long six years for Americans.)

But let’s review that platform: (1) Equal rights for women and men, (2) No foreign imperialism, (3) Internal political freedom.

You would think that an American politician looking for a cause to justify hostility toward Iran would take quick note of those three planks; as political principles go, we love this sort of stuff. In practice, of course, it’s a matter of degrees. Almost equal rights for women, don’t call it “imperialism”, and you’re free to say nice things about the government. Right, I know. That last isn’t much different except that the Iranians need to learn how to simply discredit or, if necessary, simply ignore the opposition. Just call them unpatriotic, or un-Iranian. Treat them like the Dixie Chicks. Remember, it’s a lot easier to sell the jingoism if you’re not actually cracking skulls and throwing people in jail. Just send the secret service around to harass students about a non-threatening t-shirt or poster, and if you do something embarrassing like accidentally arrest a couple for wearing protest t-shirts to a political rally, just lie about it.

See? Who could disagree with the Iranian women’s three-point protest? All it takes is some tinkering here, some tailoring there … just scale back some hopes and dreams for your daughters and … voila! It’s perfect.

Oh, right. Pile on the DVD players, game decks, SUVs, and crippling amounts of legal drugs like booze and coffee, and you’re set. Since Iranians are all Muslims, they don’t have any black people to deal with. This plan can’t fail.

Er … um … where was I? Oh, right. Anyway, since Iran has been so prominent in the news of late, and since we’re all supposed to be scared of Iranians—a story about watching game shows when I was a kid goes here, but it’s a vague recollection so I’ll skip it for now—I figured we might as well pause to wonder what the hell Iran is. Once upon a time I was led to believe that it is a nation, somewhere overseas, full of human beings called Iranians. But this sounds absolutely absurd, doesn’t it? Couldn’t possibly be.

Right. Something about Reza Fiyouzat’s article goes here. Oh, right … just read it.

Update: Slouching toward Tehran

Further evidence that Armageddon may not be postponed by the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran comes from my own sidebar, a Time article by Mark Thompson, ironically, about how the NIE means there will not be a war with Iran:

The U.S. military contributes nine of the 16 intelligence agencies whose views are cobbled together in NIEs: the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, Army Intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Security Agency, and the Office of Naval Intelligence. Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the Administration.

There was no formal response from the Pentagon. It is evident, however, that the U.S. military, already strained by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has no appetite for a third war. That’s true even if a series of strikes against nuclear and other targets inside Iran were carried out by the Air Force and Navy, the two services who have sat, somewhat frustrated, on the sidelines as the Army and Marine Corps has done the heavy lifting in the two wars now underway. Some Pentagon officials welcomed the new NIE as evidence that the intelligence community is not tied to ideology, as some critics argued was true during the buildup to the Iraq war in 2003.

Still, Pentagon officials made it clear that this was not a political move by the brass — that the military’s lack of desire for another conflict and the conclusions of the new NIE are coincidental. They stress that the military focuses on “intentions, not capabilities” when assessing threats, and that the final unclassified portion of the NIE warns that the intelligence community believes “with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so.”

Pretty lights over Tehran? Be the first to start an office pool on whether and when. I mean, it’s not like the administration will wait for a critical point in the election cycle and then call for missile strikes, but we’ve got a pretty good window to estimate.

Slouching toward Tehran

Yesterday I was discussing life, the Universe, and everything with a friend who is a psychologist-turned-mystery novelist. He expressed a theory about the apparent collapse of conventional wisdom regarding Iran in the face of a new National Intelligence Estimate that seems to indicate something about how misplaced the Bush administration’s truculence toward Iran has been. That theory ran, approximately, that the newspapers in more liberal markets would cover the story from the outset, while others would wait and start their coverage with the White House response; the implication, of course, is that the story would only be covered in certain markets once it was framed by the Bush administration. I like his theories. They’re never entirely damning, always relevant and at least partially correct (nobody’s perfect, right?), and amusing in the sense that, as long as we’re stuck trying to figure out what the hell the administration thinks it is doing, we should not let the neck-deep flood of sewage emanating from the White House depress us too much.

Nonetheless, I confess I did not rush home and test that theory. Consider it a personal failing. (After all, I’m overdue following up on a couple of scandalous political stories from the last couple weeks; I look like an idiot leaving them where they are.)

But I did, while picking through headlines, come across Robert Baer’s piece for Time:

Bombing Iran, it seems, is now off the table. There’s no other reasonable take on the latest National Intelligence Estimate that concludes Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

But there is also no doubt that the Bush White House was behind this NIE. While the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the “intelligence community” contribute to each National Intelligence Estimate, you can bet that an explosive, 180-degree turn on Iran like this one was greenlighted by the President.

Naturally, I dropped the link into an email and sent it flying in a matter of seconds.

A couple of questions suggest themselves, and as politely as possible.

The first issue I would ask of Mr. Baer, a former CIA officer with experience in the Middle East, is, “What do we expect that the president green-lit the report? What was he supposed to do, send them back and say, ‘Bring me a report that tells me what I want to hear’?

After all, cooked intelligence seems to be at the heart of the discussion over the propriety and justice of the Iraqi Bush War. See, the thing is that Baer does not seem to be doing a wash job for the administration. He notes how this NIE will not settle well with neocon hawks, who will accuse the intelligence community of incompetence, and also how National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley claims the administration’s diplomatic efforts forced Iran to back down. And Mr. Baer, to his credit, does not buy either notion.

The real story behind this NIE,” wrote Baer, “is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far.”

What, exactly, does this mean? That the administration has finally realized that extending the Bush Wars to Iran is politically untenable at home and abroad? That it is a bad investment of military resources?

I recognize that we want to believe the best about our leaders, that it hurts us deeply to think that we have invested eight years of our lives in an administration that is either a testament to human stupidity or a new standard in corruption. But what suggestions do we really have that political viability or the general health of our armed services are remotely important to President Bush and his cronies? What bridge is the administration allegedly unwilling to burn? It does not make sense that the administration would come so far only to stop because familiar challenges—especially a lack of credible justification—have returned?

The second question is to wonder if Mr. Baer actually believes that the NIE will bring any significant changes. As Maureen Dowd noted, “ Just because the facts on which he based his white-hot rhetoric about Iran possibly sparking World War III have been debunked, W. said with his usual twisted logic, why should his policy change?

It would seem, also, that Ms. Dowd did not miss Baer’s article:

Even though Sy Hersh claims that the top echelon of the White House has long known of the conclusion that Iran had stopped its nuke program, and that Dick Cheney “has kept his foot on the neck of that report,” the president says he was briefed on it only last week. Others conspiratorially speculate that the president had to have green-lighted the report to take the air out of the hawks’ Iran push.

It would appear that the policy is not changing. Certainly, the helm might make a few corrections, but the ship of state appears to be struggling to keep its original course of a showdown with Iran. Kim Landers reported earlier today for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Two days after a US intelligence report stated Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program, US President George W Bush is calling on Tehran to come clean about it ….

…. “These countries understand that the Iranian nuclear issue is a problem and continues to be a problem that must be addressed by the international community,” he said ….

…. “They can come clean with the international community about the scope of their nuclear activities and fully accept the longstanding offer to suspend their enrichment program and come to the table and negotiate,” he said.

“Or they can continue on a path of isolation.”

And from Peter Baker and Robin Wright of the Washington Post:

President Bush scrambled yesterday to hold together a fragile international coalition against Iran, declaring that the Islamic republic remains “dangerous” and that “nothing has changed” despite a new intelligence report that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago.

While his top diplomats reached out to key counterparts, Bush began calling world leaders and held a White House news conference to argue that the new National Intelligence Estimate only reinforces the need for diplomatic pressure against Iran. Although the report determined that Iran stopped seeking a nuclear bomb in 2003, Bush said Tehran’s secrecy shows it cannot be trusted.

Or we could just go straight to the White House:

Q: Mr. President, thank you. Just to follow, I understand what you’re saying about when you were informed about the NIE. Are you saying at no point while the rhetoric was escalating, as “World War III” was making it into conversation, at no point nobody from your intelligence team or your administration was saying, maybe you want to back it down a little bit?

THE PRESIDENT: No, nobody ever told me that. Having said—having laid that out, I still feel strongly that Iran is a danger. Nothing has changed in this NIE that says, okay, why don’t we just stop worrying about it. Quite the contrary. I think the NIE makes it clear that Iran needs to be taken seriously as a threat to peace. My opinion hasn’t changed.

And I just explained, Jim, that if you want to avoid a really problematic situation in the Middle East, now is the time to continue to work together. That’s our message to our allies, and it’s an important message for them to hear. And here’s the reason why: In order for a nation to develop a nuclear weapons program they must have the materials from which to make a bomb, the know-how on how to take that material and make it explode, and a delivery system.

Now, the Iranians—the most difficult aspect of developing a weapons program, or as some would say, the long pole in the tent, is enriching uranium. This is a nation—Iran is a nation that is testing ballistic missiles. And it is a nation that is trying to enrich uranium. The NIE says this is a country that had a covert nuclear weapons program, which, by the way, they have failed to disclose, even today. They have never admitted the program existed in the first place.

The danger is, is that they can enrich, play like they got a civilian program—or have a civilian program, or claim it’s a civilian program—and pass the knowledge to a covert military program. And then the danger is, is at some point in the future, they show up with a weapon. And my comments are, now is the time to work together to prevent that scenario from taking place. It’s in our interests.

The good news, Mr. Baer wrote, is that “Armageddon is postponed.” How can he tell?

A reminder from the past

I was reading through Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shah of Shahs today. It’s been a while, and since the book stands near the core of my views regarding the political situation in Iran, it seemed worth another go. Almost straightaway, the book’s continued relevance struck true:

…. Even in the remotest corners of the world, knowing a European language was a mark of distinction, testifying to an ambitious upbringing, and was often a necessity of life, the basis for career and promotion, and sometimes even a condition for being considered human. Those languages were taught in African schools, used in commerce, spoken in exotic parliaments, Asian courts, and Arab coffeehouses. Traveling almost anywhere in the world, Europeans could feel at home. They could express their opinions and understand what others were saying to them. Today the world is different. Hundreds of patriotisms have blossomed. Every nation wants to control and organize its own population, territory, resources, and culture according to its native traditions. Every nation thinks it is or wants to be free, independent, cherishes its own values, and insists upon (and is particularly sensitive about getting) respect for them. Even small and weak nations–those, especially–hate to be preached to, and rebel against anyone who tries to rule them or force often suspect values on them. People may admire the strength of other–but preferably at a safe remove and certainly not when used against them. Every power has its own dynamics, its own domineering, expansionist tendencies, its bullying obsessive need to trample the weak. This is the law of power, as everyone knows. But what can the weaker ones do? They can only fence themselves off, afraid of being swallowed up, stripped, regimented into a conformity of gait, face expression, tongue, thought, response ordered to give their life’s blood for an alien cause, and of finally being crushed altogether ….

There is not much to add, no lecture or sermon to attach to the words of the late Polish journalist once called the “Translator of the World”. Simply put, it seems to me that the quotation above reflects an understanding that is missing from the American “War on Terror”, a lack by which we are all diminished.


Kapuscinski, Ryszard. Shah of Shahs. 1982. Trans. Wm. R. Brand and K. Mroczkowska-Brand. New York: Vintage International, 1992