Tag Archives: Iran

A Month Ago Tunisia, Yesterday Egypt, Today Iran?

Via Andrew Sullivan, back to blogging.

Tehran Bureau liveblog

Scott Lucas at Enduring America liveblog

Alan Cowell at NYT:

Hundreds of black-clad riot police officers, some in bullet-proof vests, deployed in key locations in central Tehran on Monday and fired tear gas to thwart an Iranian opposition march in solidarity with the uprising in Egypt, news reports and witnesses’ accounts from Iran said.

At the same time a reformist Web site reported that phone lines to the home of one opposition leader, Mir Hussein Moussavi, had been cut and that several cars had blocked access to his home, preventing him from leaving. Restrictions have also been imposed on the movements and communications of another opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, and the authorities refused an opposition request for a permit for a demonstration.

In the city center the police gathered in small groups at some intersections but numbered around 200 in the major squares that carry symbolic importance for Iranians and are named Revolution and Freedom. Some security forces were on motorcycles and carried paintball guns to fire at opponents, news reports said.

Despite the presence of security forces, Reuters reported, thousands of Iranians marched toward the central Enghelab, or Revolution, Square, but their way was blocked by the police and security forces. The report quoted unidentified witnesses because the authorities had apparently revived regulations barring reporters from the streets to cover such protests.

The restrictions were first invoked in the tumult that followed Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election, when vast crowds challenged the victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and faced a prolonged crackdown characterized by killings and mass arrests.

Demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator,” a reference to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and were met with volleys of tear gas, news reports said.

Helle Dale at Heritage:

Announced plans by Iranian opposition leaders to hold a rally in support of the Egyptian demonstrators on February 14 have caused the authorities to react strongly, calling the plans “political and divisive.” Communication through Internet and cell phone is already tightly controlled in Iran and in a far more systematic way than in Egypt. Now the regime is making sure that dissidents remain under heavy pressure.

According to The New York Times, Iranian security forces have been stationed outside the home of the reformist cleric an opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi, who is among the organizers of the planned rally. Family members have been barred from visiting him, and there are reports of a crackdown and arrests of reporters and people associated with Karroubi and other opposition figures.

What makes the case of Iran particularly interesting—and as a matter of fact hypocritical in the extreme—is that the Iranian government itself has expressed support for the anti-government demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia. But they are not willing to allow any popular movements challenging the control of the state in their own streets. “If they are not going to allow their own people to protest, it goes against everything they are saying, and all they are doing to welcome the protests in Egypt is fake,” Karroubi said in an interview with The New York Times.

Unfortunately, accusing Iran’s mullahs of a double standard is hardly going to cause them many sleepless nights. However, the thought of the Iranian people exercising their free political rights in their own streets certainly will.

Abe Greenwald at Commentary:

It’s worth remembering that most protests come and go, and it’s the extremely rare historical moment that turns demonstration into revolution. But what could make revolution a possibility in Iran is if the regime were to wildly overreact in its crackdown. Eliciting such overreaction is often the tactical goal of the revolutionary. Fence-sitters are not eager to give up a modicum of stability and a barely tolerable existence; but when there’s a bloodbath, they too take to the streets in disgust. Given the regional political temperature, the Iranian regime’s historical inclination to absolute security, and the new suspicion that Washington is content to be a witness to atrocity, there could be a perfect paranoid storm brewing in the minds of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Amadinejad.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs

Weasel Zippers:

Sorry guys, Obama only supports Islamist-infested uprisings.

Doug Mataconis:

Iran is not Egypt, of course, and the regime has already survived a populist challenge to its rule once the past two years. The likelihood that this will develop into the type of mass protests necessary to bring down a government seems minimal at best. Nonetheless, it is clear  that the spirit of discontent remains alive and well in the Islamic Republic and that may be something worth looking into.

Wonkette:

Whoa, guess where the latest Muslim-land protests are happening? Iran! A funny thing is how Iran’s religious-fanatic leadership first praised the Egyptian revolution (which has been officially been named the January 25 Revolution, which like all date-based revolution names will never be used outside of the country in question), because maybe Egypt would become a theocracy and mercilessly prosecute errant hikers, so hooray? But then it turned out that the Egyptian revolution was pretty much a “college graduates pissed off because life is hard and meaningless” revolution, and that is not looking good for the ayatollahs — who, like all professional frauds, teach that you must put up with endless crap in “this life” so that later, in space, long after you are dead and gone forever, you will have sexytime in paradise and drink so much “clear wine.” Anyway, things are getting crazy in Tehran!

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How Do You Say “Whodunit?” In Farsi?

DEBKAfile:

Prof. Majid Shahriari, who died when his car was attacked in North Tehran Monday, Nov. 29, headed the team Iran established for combating the Stuxnet virus rampaging through its nuclear and military networks. His wife was injured. The scientist’s death deals a major blow to Iran’s herculean efforts to purge its nuclear and military control systems of the destructive worm since it went on the offensive six months ago. Only this month, Stuxnet shut down nuclear enrichment at Natanz for six days from Nov. 16-22 and curtailed an important air defense exercise.

Prof. Shahriari was the Iranian nuclear program’s top expert on computer codes and cyber war.

The Jawa Report

David Frum at FrumForum:

Perhaps Iranian parents should be advising their science-minded youngsters to consider a less hazardous specialty.

Aaron Worthing at Patterico:

The last few days we have seen quite a few interesting stories about the Stuxnet virus/malware currently wreaking havoc in Iran’s nuclear program.  First was this very interesting Fox news reportage on the program:

Intelligence agencies, computer security companies and the nuclear industry have been trying to analyze the worm since it was discovered in June by a Belarus-based company that was doing business in Iran. And what they’ve all found, says Sean McGurk, the Homeland Security Department’s acting director of national cyber security and communications integration, is a “game changer.”

The construction of the worm was so advanced, it was “like the arrival of an F-35 into a World War I battlefield,” says Ralph Langner, the computer expert who was the first to sound the alarm about Stuxnet. Others have called it the first “weaponized” computer virus.

Simply put, Stuxnet is an incredibly advanced, undetectable computer worm that took years to construct and was designed to jump from computer to computer until it found the specific, protected control system that it aimed to destroy: Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

The target was seemingly impenetrable; for security reasons, it lay several stories underground and was not connected to the World Wide Web. And that meant Stuxnet had to act as sort of a computer cruise missile: As it made its passage through a set of unconnected computers, it had to grow and adapt to security measures and other changes until it reached one that could bring it into the nuclear facility.

I mean that passage is so “holy sh-t” I wonder if the correct name for this thing should be “Skynet.”  Of course I urge you to read the whole thing.

But then there was a moment this morning that I liken to the second plane striking the WTC.  Now let me be clear.  I am not about to compare this thing to the evil of the 9-11 attacks, or anything like that.  But like a lot of you, I remember hearing about the first plane striking, and thinking it was an accident, or maybe just one lone crazy pilot.  And then I heard about the second plane and I knew this was an attack, and it had to be more than just one nut.  That was the feeling I had learning the next few facts.

You see, this morning we learn that two of Iran’s nuclear scientists were attacked in car bombs—meaning their cars were blown up.  One died and one is hospitalized.

Tom Maguire:

I suppose that some dissident Iranian faction could have pulled this off but the money bet has to be the Israelis.  (Hmm, might the Russians be on the board?  They could be playing both sides, publicsly sorta-supporting Irana while privately getting worried about a nuclear crazy on their border.)

Roger L. Simon at Pajamas Media:

Ahmadinejad et al, of course, blame Israel and the West, and no doubt this “blame” is deserved. How it should be apportioned may be forever a mystery, but it is unlikely we will find out via WikiLeaks, which have thus far done little more than ratify the obvious and make the Obama administration look foolish for its ludicrously ineffective security. Intelligence work evidently has two levels – a completely incompetent one that produces WikiLeaks and a brilliant one that produces Stuxnet.

Speaking of Stuxnet, some recent reports have added Russia to the list of nations (in this case with the US and Germany, not Israel) who have conspired to construct the malware. Now that’s interesting – and undoubtedly crazy-making to the Iranians.

Instapundit

Moe Lane:

The Iranians are blaming Israel, of course… despite the fact that this would be precisely the sort of cinematic attack that generally stays in cinemas*.  That would be because you don’t start a war to kill two scientists; and if Mossad had done this, it would have been an act of war.

On the other hand: between this situation and the Stuxnet worm, this entire Iranian nuke situation is starting to get an action-movie feel to it.  Which is not actually a good thing, given a). the number of extras that typically die in action movies and b). the amount of real estate that typically gets blown up…

Gateway Pundit

Ace of Spades:

I sure would like to think my government was capable of stuff like this. Or had the balls to do it. But I don’t.

Reza Aslan at The Daily Beast:

Earlier this year, I wrote about a clandestine CIA program to delay or perhaps even derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions by convincing high-level Iranian nuclear scientists to defect to the United States. The program, called Brain Drain and put in place by the Bush administration as early as 2005, came under intense scrutiny after the botched defection of a 30-year-old junior staff member of Iran’s Atomic Agency named Shahram Amiri, who was picked up by U.S. intelligence agents in Saudi Arabia last summer but who later asked to be returned to Iran.

Part of the CIA’s clandestine efforts apparently include selling faulty nuclear components to Iran, some of which have been booby-trapped to explode and destroy the machinery altogether. There have been scattered reports of explosions at various enrichment facilities, including one that destroyed 50 centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz plant. And, just recently, we learned of the so-called Stuxnet computer virus, which seems to have been developed (likely by the U.S. and/or Israel) specifically to target Iran’s centrifuges. The virus reportedly shut down thousands of centrifuges at Iran’s controversial Natanz enrichment facility.

I reported then about the possibility that these covert activities, which seem to have been successful in slowing Iran’s nuclear program, may also include targeted assassinations of high-level nuclear scientists and members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In 2007, the intelligence website STRATFOR claimed that Mossad agents had used “radioactive poison” to kill a nuclear physicist named Ardashir Hosseinpour who was suspected of being involved in Iran’s secret nuclear program. Another Iranian nuclear scientist, Massoud Ali-Mohammadi, was also mysteriously assassinated by a car bomb in January 2010. Add to this a number of high-profile “disappearances,” like that of a former defense minister and general in the Revolutionary Guard, Ali-Reza Asgari, who vanished while on a trip to Turkey, and a distinct pattern starts to emerge.

Reva Bhalla, a senior analyst at STRATFOR, puts it plainly. “With cooperation from the United States, Israeli covert operations have focused both on eliminating key human assets involved in the nuclear program and in sabotaging the Iranian nuclear supply chain.”

If that is true and Monday’s assassination attempt of Iranian nationals signals a shift in U.S. or Israeli strategy toward Iran (perhaps emboldened by what the recent WikiLeaks dump shows is growing Arab government support for a harder line toward Iran’s nuclear program), then we may be entering a new and extremely dangerous phase in the nuclear standoff with Iran—one that could quickly get out of hand. The head of Iran’s nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, sounded a dire warning to the U.S. and Israel. “Don’t play with fire,” he said. “The patience of the Iranian people has its limits. If our patience runs out, you will suffer the consequences.”

Doug Mataconis:

Of course, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever really know who’s behind this, which is of course the point of a covert operation. However, it seems pretty clear that there is an ongoing effort, perhaps international in origin, to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. That in and of itself is a fascinating story.

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Mele WikiLeakmaka Is The Thing To Say

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy:

The subtitle of this blog has been “How the World is Really Run” since the day it was launched, an editor’s play on the title of a book I wrote. But I am today inclined to lend that subtitle out to the publishers of the most recent tidal wave of information from WikiLeaks. Because the 250,000 State Department cables contained in the release offer up no single revelation as striking as the overall message they contain: The dark shadowy world of diplomacy and international intrigue is working just about precisely as you suspect it is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quote of the year: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler.” This from Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed in July 2009. And then there is this very astute comment from the Crown Prince: “‘Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.’ His greatest worry, he said, ‘is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.'” Some of you recall the international kerfuffle that erupted when the U.A.E.’s ambassador to the United States told me at the Aspen Ideas Festival that a military strike on Iran may become a necessity. It turns out he was understating the fear and urgency felt by his government, and other Gulf governments.

3. Since we all know that only Israelis and their neocon supporters in America seek a military attack on Iran’s nuclear program, Bahrain must be under the control of neocons: “There was little surprising in Mr. Barak’s implicit threat that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. As a pressure tactic, Israeli officials have been setting such deadlines, and extending them, for years. But six months later it was an Arab leader, the king of Bahrain, who provides the base for the American Fifth Fleet, telling the Americans that the Iranian nuclear program ‘must be stopped,’ according to another cable. ‘The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it,'” he said.

The Saudis, too, are neocons, apparently: The Bahraini king’s “plea was shared by many of America’s Arab allies, including the powerful King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who according to another cable repeatedly implored Washington to ‘cut off the head of the snake’ while there was still time.”

4. How does Robert Gates know this? In a conversation with the then-French defense minister about the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, the defense secretary “added a stark assessment: any strike ‘would only delay Iranian plans by one to three years, while unifying the Iranian people to be forever embittered against the attacker.'” I am not suggesting that I know this is untrue; I’m just puzzled at how someone could reach this conclusion so definitively.

Spencer Ackerman at Danger Room at Wired:

Foreign potentates and diplomats beware: the U.S. wants your DNA.

If that chief of mission seemed a bit too friendly at the last embassy party, it might be because the State Department recently instructed U.S. diplomats to collect biometric identification on their foreign interlocutors. The search for the most personal information of all is contained in WikiLeaks’ latest publication of tens of thousands of sensitive diplomatic cables.

A missive from the Secretary of State’s office in April 2009 asked diplomats in Africa to step up their assistance to U.S. intelligence. Not only should diplomats in Burundi, Rwanda and Congo collect basic biographical information on the people they talk to — a routine diplomatic function — but they should also gather “fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.”

There’s no guidance listed on how exactly diplomats are supposed to collect the unique identifiers of “key civilian and military officials.” In recent years, the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan has built storehouses of biometric data to understand who’s an insurgent and who isn’t, all using small, portable eye and thumb scanners. But the State Department’s foray into bio-info collection hasn’t previously been disclosed.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

The hype-to-payoff ratio approximated Geraldo’s opening of Al Capone’s vaults. “Leaked Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy,” hollered the headline on NYTimes.com. The latest WikiLeaks document dump, instructed the grey lady, offers an “extraordinary look at” American foreign policy that “is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.”

Then the Times began summarizing the documents, and the banalities began. Bullet Point 1: The U.S. is worried about loose nuclear materials in Pakistan but can’t do much about it. Bullet Point 2: American leaders are “thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea” and hoping China will accept a reunified peninsula. Bullet Point 3: Washington is “bargaining [with various allies] to empty the Guantanamo prison.” Bullet Point 4: There are “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government.” Bullet Point 5: The Chinese regime hacks into foreign computers. Bullet Point 6: Rich Saudis still fund al Qaeda. Bullet Point 7: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin are tight. Bullet Point 8: Syria arms Hezbollah, but lies about it. Bullet Point 9: The U.S. tried to get Germany not to prosecute CIA agents accused of kidnapping. Bullet Point 10: Ireland is having financial trouble. (OK, I made that one up).

But maybe this isn’t fair. Maybe the cables, while mundane when taken in isolation, combine to provide a fascinating synthesis of America’s position in the world. Or maybe not. Overall, explained the Times, “The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world…They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda…They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon—and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.” Valuable insights—if you’ve been living under a rock all century.

Matt Steinglass at DiA at The Economist:

WikiLeaks’s release of the  “Collateral Murder” video last April was a pretty scrupulous affair: an objective record of combat activity which American armed forces had refused to release, with careful backing research on what the video showed. What we got was a window into combat reality, through the sights of a helicopter gunship. You could develop different interpretations of that video depending on your understanding of its context, but it was something important that had actually taken place.

Diplomatic cables are something entirely different. It’s part of the nature of human communication that one doesn’t always say the same thing to every audience. There are perfectly good reasons why you don’t always tell the same story to your boss as you do to your spouse. There are things Washington needs to tell Riyadh to explain what it’s just told Jerusalem and things Washington needs to tell Jerusalem to explain what it’s just told Riyadh, and these cables shouldn’t be crossed. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s inevitable. And it wouldn’t make the world a better place if Washington were unable to say anything to Jerusalem without its being heard by Riyadh, any more than it would if you were unable to tell your spouse anything without its being heard by your boss.

At this point, what WikiLeaks is doing seems like tattling: telling Sally what Billy said to Jane. It’s sometimes possible that Sally really ought to know what Billy said to Jane, if Billy were engaged in some morally culpable deception. But in general, we frown on gossips. If there’s something particularly damning in the diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has gotten a hold of, the organisation should bring together a board of experienced people with different perspectives to review the merits of releasing that particular cable. But simply grabbing as many diplomatic cables as you can get your hands on and making them public is not a socially worthy activity.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

There is nothing positive that can be said about the release of more than a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables by the rogue hacker organization WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has recklessly and inexcusably put lives at risk. Any U.S. person who cooperated with WikiLeaks has committed a crime and should be prosecuted to the maximum extent of the law.

That said, WikiLeaks is not the end of the world. The fundamentals of U.S. relationships with other nations remain unchanged. Leaks are not going to stop nations from cooperating with the U.S., or for that matter sharing secrets with us. Nations cooperate with the U.S. because it is in their interest to do so. And no leak will stop nations from acting in their self-interest.

But what is in our best interest? This has not been a good month for the Obama Doctrine: The President came home empty-handed from Asia, North Korea fired artillery at South Korea just days after revealing nuclear facilities no one knew they had, and Obama failed to get the G-20 to take any action limiting trade imbalances. It was not supposed to be this way. After apologizing for all of our nation’s sins, the world was supposed to swoon at President Obama’s unparalleled charisma. As American military power withered away, President Obama would use soft power and the United Nations to manage world affairs. But like Woodrow Wilson and Jimmy Carter before him, this progressive foreign policy vision has failed.

Moe Lane:

Accused rapist Julian Assange* continued to justify the upcoming backlash against transparency this weekend by promising to illegally release more classified government documents on the notorious site Wikileaks. These documents in particular are apparently State Department diplomatic cables: up until, oh, today, those documents were typically much more blunt and ambiguity-free than the standard State Department bumpf, mostly because nobody out there considered that anyone would be insane enough to release them even if they had access. This will likely change – quickly – now that the diplomatic corps knows that its private communications are insecure; in other words, from now on the folks in the striped-pants brigade are going to be as mealy-mouthed in private as they are in public. As Allahpundit noted above, the Left should keep this in mind when trying in the future to boost State at Defense’s expense: Assange just made that harder for you.

And I will also note that, while I will happily ding President Obama for both his wrong actions and for not living up to his own side’s previously-established standards of behavior, this line of attack by Wikileaks is made up of pure garbage designed to weaken both my country and my government. The President needs his ambassadors to know what he wants; they need to be able to tell him what he can get. So it’s stupid to not be blunt and forthright in private about matters that require a softer public touch. It’s even more stupid for Wikileaks to keep publicly attacking the USA like this.

Because when the backlash comes, it’s going to splatter.

Steve Benen:

I would, however, like to know more about the motivations of the leaker (or leakers). Revealing secrets about crimes, abuses, and corruption obviously serves a larger good — it shines a light on wrongdoing, leading (hopefully) to accountability, while creating an incentive for officials to play by the rules. Leaking diplomatic cables, however, is harder to understand — the point seems to be to undermine American foreign policy, just for the sake of undermining American foreign policy. The role of whistleblowers has real value; dumping raw, secret diplomatic correspondence appears to be an exercise in pettiness and spite.

I’ve seen some suggestions that diplomats shouldn’t write cables that they’d be embarrassed by later if they were made publicly. I find that unpersuasive. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in the nuances of on-the-ground international affairs, but I am comfortable with the notion of some diplomatic efforts being kept secret. Quiet negotiations between countries can lead, and have led, to worthwhile foreign policy agreements, advancing noble causes.

If the argument from the leakers is that there should be no such thing as private diplomacy, they’ll need a better excuse to justify this kind of recklessness.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

The New York Times is participating in the dissemination of the stolen State Department cables that have been made available to it in one way or another via WikiLeaks. My friend Steve Hayward recalls that only last year the New York Times ostentatiously declined to publish or post any of the Climategate emails because they had been illegally obtained. Surely readers will recall Times reporter Andrew Revkin’s inspiring statement of principle: “The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here.”

Interested readers may want to compare and contrast Revkin’s statement of principle with the editorial note posted by the Times on the WikiLeaks documents this afternoon. Today the Times cites the availability of the documents elsewhere and the pubic interest in their revelations as supporting their publication by the Times. Both factors applied in roughly equal measure to the Climategate emails.

Without belaboring the point, let us note simply that the two statements are logically irreconcilable. Perhaps something other than principle and logic were at work then, or are at work now. Given the Times’s outrageous behavior during the Bush administration, the same observation applies to the Times’s protestations of good faith.

Amanda Carey at The Daily Caller:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin took to her favorite mode of communication Monday – Facebook – and harshly criticized the Obama administration’s response to the latest WikiLeaks release.

In a post titled “Serious Questions about the Obama Administration’s Incompetence in the Wikileaks Fiasco,” Palin wrote that the most recent WikiLeaks disclosure of previously classified documents raises serious concerns about the administration’s “incompetent handling of this whole fiasco.”

Palin went on to ask what steps have been taken since the first WikiLeaks release to stop the organization’s director, Julian Assange, from distributing even more harmful material. Palin barely paused long enough for any one of her fans to shout a loud “none!” at their computer screens before going on to classify Assange as an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands”.

“Assange is not a ‘journalist,’ any more than the ‘editor’ of al Qaeda’s new English-language magazine Inspire is a ‘journalist,’” wrote Palin. “His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders?”

Megan Carpentier at TPM

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A Saber Rattle Called An Ambassador

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

Ahmadinejad unveiled his new jet-powered giant dildo bomber one day after Iran began fueling its first nuclear power reactor. The Ambassador of Death has a range of 620 miles and can carry four cruise missiles to “keep the enemy paralyzed in its bases.” Ahmadinejad spoke about his new toy’s dual purpose: “The jet, as well as being an ambassador of death for the enemies of humanity, has a main message of peace and friendship.” How cute!

Israel Matzav:

Hmmm. That ought to make ‘our friends the Saudis’ feel real secure.

Scott Lucas at Enduring America

Weasel Zippers:

Ahmahomo Introduces the “Ambassador of Death”…

Isn’t that the “prophet” Mohammed’s role?…

Keith Thomson at Huffington Post:

Depending on the mission, according to the Iranian Defense Ministry, the 13-foot-long, remotely-piloted aircraft can deliver either a pair of 250-pound bombs, a single 450-pound laser-guided bomb, or a quartet of cruise missiles. The UAV travels 560 miles per hour with 620-mile range. It should be noted that past Iranian defense claims have made fish stories seem reliable, and, among other red flags waving today, cruise missile capability would extend the Ambassador of Death’s range well past 620 miles. But taking the specs at face value, here’s how Ahmadinejad’s new saber measures up:

The poster child of UAVs, the 27-foot-long Predator has a cruise speed of 84 mph and a range of 454 miles. Originally developed for reconnaissance by the U.S. Department of Defense in the mid-1990s, Predators were fitted with a pair of Hellfire missiles after an American general remarked, “I can see the tank. Now I’d like to see it blown up.”

When that worked, the Department of Defense commenced development of the Reaper UAV. In operation since 2006, the 36-foot-long Reaper boasts a cruise speed of around 230 mph, a 3,682-mile range, and a relative arsenal including Hellfires, Sidewinder missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs–a potent enough package overall that the Air Force subsequently decided to train more pilots to fly aircraft from ground operations centers than from cockpits.

Two years later, Israel unveiled the Heron UAV, 43 feet long with a wingspan of 85 feet, or about that of a Boeing 737. Its range is 5,000 miles–or deep into Iran and back twice. The Karrar’s stated range would leave it nearly 500 miles shy of Israel. The Heron’s weapons payload, meanwhile, can be 4,000 pounds, or about eight times that of Iran’s new aircraft.

This April brought the introduction a jet-powered version of the Predator, the Avenger, with a top speed of close to 500 mph and, more importantly, a good deal of infrared and radar-proof stealth design–without stealth, the Ambassador of Death may find itself the jet-powered version of a sitting duck.

James Jewell, President of UAV MarketSpace and one of America’s top unmanned aerial systems experts, speculated that Iran’s new offering is “nothing special,” adding of today’s announcement, “I suspect it has an element of hyperbole since it comes so close to the nuclear reactor fueling announcement.”

Jewell also noted several other countries with UAV systems comparable or superior to Iran’s, notably France, Italy, and South Africa (for a fairly extensive international UAV roster, see Wikipedia’s unmanned aerial vehicle page).

The Ambassador of Death, however, has the scariest name.

Noah Shachtman at Wired:

According to the official word from Tehran, the 13-foot Karrar (’striker”) drone is capable of carrying four cruise missiles. That’s really unlikely. Even smaller-sized cruise missiles, like the Russian Kh-135s, weigh a more than a thousand pounds and are about nine feet long; it’s tough to imagine a relative pipsqueak like the Karrar lugging such a hefty package. [Update: As Pirouz notes in the comments, Iran calls its anti-ship missiles, like the Chinese C-701, “cruise missiles.” Those are compact enough for drone duty.] State television later claimed that the Karrar could carry a pair of 250-pound bombs or a single 500-pounder. That’s more believable (although the single bomb the drone is carrying in the video above looks more like a 250-pound model to me).

Iran has been making its own drones for a while; the U.S. even shot one down over Iraq last year. Since 2004, a small number of those unmanned aerial vehicles have made their way into Hezbollah’s hands. This, however, would be Iran’s first armed robo-plane. In so doing, state television crows, “Iran broke the military advantage of America” — and prepped the country for the looming days of all-robot warfare. That should arrive around 2020, the Iranian Defense Ministry guesstimates.

Tehran’s scientists went “500,000 hours without sleep and eating” while designing the drone, according the state TV report. That figure sounds about as authentic as Iran’s 2007 pronouncement that it had fired off a space-ready missile (which turned out to be nothing more than a modified Scud), or July 2008’s picture of a missile barrage (most of which were Photoshopped dummies).

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Barack, Bibi, And The Bomber Boys

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.

But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.

When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, however, Israel, in addition to possibly generating some combination of the various catastrophes outlined above, will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks (though the public condemnation) of the Middle East’s moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s; and it will have succeeded in countering, in militant fashion, the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is, not irrelevantly, a prime goal of the enthusiastic counter-proliferator who currently occupies the White House.

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note:

In an important article titled “The Point of No Return” to be published in The Atlantic tomorrow, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg recounts something many people didn’t realize at the time and still have a hard time believing. President George W. Bush knocked back Dick Cheney’s wing of the foreign policy establishment – both inside and out of his administration – that wanted to launch a bombing campaign against Iran. In a snippet I had not seen before, Bush mockingly referred to bombing advocates Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer as “the bomber boys.”

George W. Bush was showing his inner realist not allowing his own trigger-happy Curtis LeMays pile on to the national security messes the US already owned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that was several years ago. Today, there is a new US President, more Iranian centrifuges, and a different Israeli Prime Minister – and Bibi Netanyahu seems closer to a Curtis LeMay, John Bolton or Frank Gaffney than he does to the more containment-oriented Eisenhowers and George Kennans who in their day forged a global equilibrium out of superpower rivalry and hatred.

Goldberg, after conducting dozens of interviews with senior members of Israel’s national security establishment as well as many top personalities in the Obama White House, concludes in his must-read piece that the likelihood of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran to curtail a potential nuclear weapon breakout capacity is north of 50-50.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m not sure I miss Bush’s penchant for nicknames (mine was “Joe Boy”): it was far too frat boy by a lot. But occasionally the President struck gold, as Jeff Goldberg reports in a new piece previewed by Steve Clemons today: he called Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer “the bomber boys,” after their obsession with going to war with Iran–an obsession Bush eschewed in his more reasonable second term, when he retrieved his foreign policy from the Cheney Cult.

In the end, Bush was completely overmatched by the presidency. His time in office–the tax cuts, the Iraq war, the torture, the slipshod governance, the spending on programs like Medicare prescription drugs without paying for them, the deficits, the failure to foresee the housing bubble–was ruinous for the country. But I’ve got to say that “Bomber Boys” is a keeper. Kristol and Krauthammer are hereby branded for life.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

Instapundit:

I think some people in Washington — and elsewhere — have been letting the Israelis twist in the wind in the hopes that Israel will solve our Iran problems for us, and take the blame. I don’t think these “leaders” will like the outcome, and if I were the Israelis I wouldn’t be trying too hard to make it pleasant. Irresponsibility can be expensive.

Rick Moran:

Goldberg notes that with success, the Israelis will buy time (probably putting the Iranian program back 3-5 years), earn the secret thanks of most of the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East, and will have stopped potential proliferation to terrorist groups in its tracks.

Is that worth initiating a strike that could lead to World War III?

What will the Russians do if the Israeli’s hit Bushehr? It is likely they will kill Russian technicians in such a strike since they are building the facility under contract with Tehran. Will Vladmir Putin take the death of Russian scientists and technicians lying down? What if he retaliates against Israel? What would be the American response to that?

August, 1914?

Unleashing Hezb’allah against the western world, stirring up trouble in Iraq by ordering the Shia militias into the streets, not to mention a missile campaign against Israel that could kill thousands (at which point Israel may decide that to save its people, it must expand its own bombing campaign, escalating the conflict to the next level) – this alone could ratchet up tensions causing the world to start choosing up sides.

And no America with the will or the self-confidence to step in and assist the world in standing down.

Obama’s foreign policy is not anti-American, unpatriotic, or designed to favor Muslims. It’s just weak. The president has made the conscious decision that the US is too powerful and needs to defer to supra-national organizations like the UN, or regional line ups like NATO or the Arab League when conflict is threatened. “First among equals” is not rhetoric to Obama. He means it. He has been thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that most of the world’s troubles have been caused by a too-powerful United States and hence, only deliberately eschewing the promotion of American interests can redress this sin.

This will be the first world crisis since the end of World War II where American power and prestige will not be used to intervene in order to prevent catastrophe. Obama is betting the farm that his worldview will be more conducive to defusing a crisis than the more realpolitik and pragmatic point of view that has dominated American foreign policy for 65 years.

We are shortly going to find out whether good intentions really matter in international affairs

Allah Pundit:

Somehow it manages to be both harrowing and mundane: No matter what Obama and Netanyahu end up doing or not doing, the Middle East is sure to be a more dangerous place in a year or two than it is even now — and yet we’ve been headed towards that Catch-22 for years, dating well back into the Bush administration. As dire as they are, the strategic calculations have become sufficiently familiar — a bombing run might not disable the program, might only postpone it for a year or two, might touch off a regional war with America in the middle — that I bet most readers will either glance at the piece or pass on it entirely as old news. The Iranian program is like having a bomb in your lap knowing that any wire you cut will detonate it, so you sit there and fidget with it in hopes that it’ll just sort of fizzle out on its own. Sit there long enough and even a situation as dangerous as that will start to seem boring. Until the bomb goes off.

Doug Mataconis:

I honestly don’t know what the answer to the Iranian nuclear question is.

The prospect of the likes of the Islamic Republic possession nuclear weapons is not something I look forward to. Then again, I’m still not all that comfortable with the idea of Pakistan having nuclear weapons, and don’t get me started about North Korea. Nonetheless, Pakistan has had those weapons for more than a decade now and they haven’t used them. Even same goes for North Korea. Both countries, of course, have engaged in nuclear proliferation, and that may be the greatest danger of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, not that they’d use them, but that they’d teach others how to make them.  It’s entirely possible, then, that a nuclear-armed, or nuclear-capable, Iran, may not end up being as much of a threat as we fear.

Israel, however, doesn’t seem to be inclined to wait to find out how things will turn out. Their current leadership views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel and, whether or not that is actually true, they’re likely to act accordingly. Unfortunately, their actions are likely to have consequences that we’ll all have to deal with.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate

Glenn Greenwald

Jonathan Schwarz

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Robin Wright at The Atlantic

Christopher Hitchens in Slate

UPDATE #3: Elliott Abrams at The Atlantic

Greg Scoblete

Dave Schuler

UPDATE #4: Marc Lynch at The Atlantic

UPDATE #5: Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

2 Comments

Filed under Israel/Palestine, Middle East

The Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani Case

Joshua Jamison:

Iran loves to kill its own people.  The country, second only to China (population being a factor), executed 388 people last year – most were hanged.  Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, has already received 99 lashes from a whip, five years in prison, and is allegedly scheduled for stoning as early as this weekend.

Ashtiani’s son has pleaded with authorities to spare his mother’s life on the grounds that there’s no evidence.  Ashtiani’s judge sited “judges knowledge” as an explanation for the sentence-a rule allowing judges to sentence without evidence.  As a last resort Ashtiani’s son reached out to the international community, in the hopes that his mother’s life will be spared.  Explain again how Sharia Law and the U.S. Constitution will coexist here in America?  Newsweek has the full story:

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, convicted of adultery in Iran, may be stoned to death unless a last-minute campaign saves her.

Human-rights campaigners say that Ashtiani, who says she was under duress when she confessed to adultery, could be buried up to her breasts and stoned to death as soon as this weekend.

Ashtiani has been in prison since May 2006, when she was convicted of adultery and sentenced to 99 lashes. Later that year she was accused of murdering her husband. Those charges were dropped, but an inquiry into the adultery charge was reopened. She was, according to The Guardian, sentenced to death under a rule that allows judges to cite “judge’s knowledge” and convict without evidence.

Ashtiani, represented by prominent human-rights lawyer Mohammad Mostafaei, has failed in her appeals. AOL reports that a panel may convene as soon as Saturday to decide her fate. According to Amnesty International, the Iranian penal code specifies that “stones are large enough to cause pain, but not so large as to kill the victim immediately.”

God Bless this poor woman, and may her life be spared.  Sharia law is nothing more than cowardly Muslim men committing horrific crimes against women, and doing so in the name of religion, law or whatever-the United States needs to reject this pathetic ‘excuse’ for a ‘set-of-laws’ and ban it forever.

Nicki Kurokawa at The Washington Examiner:

For the past several days, CNN has been documenting the case of Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani in Iran, who has been condemned to death by stoning. Fortunately, her case has caught the attention of the international human rights community – offering some hope that the sentence will not be carried out (although, to be fair, with Iran having executed 126 people this year already, there’s certainly no guarantee.)

Despite condemnation from countries around the world, stoning is still extremely widespread; Women News Network recently posted on Twitter (follow them at @womenadvocates) that the practice still exists in Nigeria, India, Nepal, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. Even the United Nations has condemned stoning – although they did recently consider Iran for a slot on their Human Rights Council, and gave them a slot on the Commission on the Status of Women – so let’s be honest, they don’t have a lot of gravitas on this issue.

However Ashtiani’s case is settled, it is important that the international community remain vigilant about both the cruel and unusual nature of the punishment and the uneven way that this “justice” is doled out.  Women in particular are singled out for this barbaric punishment – which should be of concern to feminists around the world (of all stripes). According to a (very informative) 2008 Amnesty International report:

“Women suffer a disproportionate impact of the punishment of death by stoning in Iran.

  • One reason is that they are not treated equally before the law and courts, in clear violation of international fair trial standards. …
  • Women are also particularly vulnerable to unfair trials because they are more likely than men to be illiterate and therefore more likely to sign confessions to crimes they did not commit. In addition, women from ethnic minorities are less likely to be able to speak Persian – the official language of the court – so they often do not understand what is happening to them in the legal process or even that they face death by stoning. …
  • Discrimination against women in other aspects of their lives also leaves them more susceptible to conviction for adultery. …
  • Women face strict controls on their behaviour that are imposed and policed by the state, controls that are discriminatory and restrict their right to freedom of expression and movement. …
  • Poverty, drug addiction and domestic violence also play a part in making women more vulnerable to stoning than men. …
  • Finally, the very procedure specified for carrying out executions discriminates against women. Article 102 of the Penal Code states that, during stoning, the man shall be buried in a ditch up to near his waist and the woman up to near her chest. Article 103 states that if the condemned person manages to escape from the pit, they will not be stoned again if they had been sentenced after confession, but clearly it would be harder for a woman to escape than a man, since she would have been buried more deeply.

Many of the countries that still practice stoning are eager for the prosperity (and foreign aid) that accompanies expanded relations with the world; as such, they are particularly sensitive to any international outcry that may jeopardize their standing. The Obama Administration’s efforts to reach out to the Muslim world offer an excellent opportunity for the United States to remind these nations of the priority that we as a country place on human rights – and how seriously we take violations.

Reza Aslan at Daily Beast:

News that Iran has suspended the stoning of a 43-year-old mother of two, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, for the crime of adultery certainly came as a relief. But the case has once again focused international attention on a barbaric and draconian form of punishment that, in some Muslim states, has become an effective and horrific tool of misogyny.

Stoning is a brutally precise punishment with a host of specific procedures and regulations. The convicted person is wrapped in a shroud, placed into a pit, and buried either to the waist if a man or the chest if a woman. If the adultery was proven in court by confession, the judge has the responsibility of throwing the first stone. But if the case was proven through witnesses, they start first, followed by the judge, and then by any others who are present, the number of which cannot be less than three. The stones are then hurled one by one until the accused is killed. And if the person manages to wriggle out of the pit, she or he is set free (which explains why these pits are so often little more than loosely packed holes in the ground).

The Iranian Penal Code is chillingly explicit regarding the proper stones to use. Section 119 states: “The stones for stoning to death shall not be so big that one or two of them shall kill the convict, nor shall they be so small that they may not be called ‘stones.’”

Islamic law considers adultery, or zina, to be one of six Quran-mandated offenses whose punishment is prescribed by God (the other five are false accusations of adultery, theft, robbery with violence, apostasy, and drunkenness). These are essentially a random collection of crimes whose only connection is that their punishment is mentioned somewhere in the Quran. Consequently, these “crimes” receive special treatment in Islamic law.

But the punishment for adultery in the Quran is lashes, not stoning. In fact, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is stoning prescribed for any crime—though this is a point of endless debate for legal and religious scholars.

Although zina literally means adultery, in practice it refers to any unlawful sexual act, whether adultery (illicit sex between married persons), fornication (sex between unmarried persons), sodomy, rape, or incest. However, even the simplest definition of zina can become hopelessly entangled in the complexities of Muslim sexual ethics. For instance, some legal scholars suggest that zina should not be applied in instances in which a married person is unable to enjoy his or her spouse due to legally acceptable conditions, such as prolonged travel or life imprisonment. Then there is the problematic relationship between adultery and rape in some Islamic penal codes. Rape victims can themselves be charged with adultery if they are unable to definitively prove sexual coercion. Indeed, there have been some cases in which the victims of rape, rather than the rapists, are convicted of zina and stoned to death for adultery.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

But the worst joke of all is the United Nations. Here is a headline from April: U.N. Elects Iran to Commission on Women’s Rights.

Without fanfare, the United Nations this week elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women….

Just days after Iran abandoned a high-profile bid for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, it began a covert campaign to claim a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is “dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women,” according to its website.

Buried 2,000 words deep in a U.N. press release distributed Wednesday on the filling of “vacancies in subsidiary bodies,” was the stark announcement: Iran, along with representatives from 10 other nations, was “elected by acclamation,” meaning that no open vote was requested or required by any member states — including the United States.

Fast-forward three months, to today’s headline: Iran human rights chief defends stoning sentence.

Andy McCarthy at NRO:

I wonder if Elena Kagan knows about Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly. Otherwise, it might not make the right impression, as it were, on the victim — the sinner — and the community at large.

Had the solicitor general heard about Ms. Ashtiani’s plight, one imagines, she’d have told her to get herself to the nearest courthouse and seek the protection of the law. Alas, it is pursuant to the law that this barbarity will take place. The stoning of this 43-year-old mother of two has been ordered by a court in her native Iran, where the only legal code is Allah’s law, sharia. It is the Islamic sentence for adultery, the crime to which Ashtiani confessed after serial beatings by her interrogators.

During her a stint at the Clinton White House, we now know, Ms. Kagan struck the pose of a champion of women’s rights — at least if you weren’t an unborn girl. So fierce was her devotion to the cause of “reproductive freedom” that she subverted science in the service of abortion on demand — specifically, to preserve the partial-birth abortion procedure, which exceeds even stoning in its ghastliness. She then went on to Harvard Law School where, as dean, she became the champion of sharia.

Not of stoning and other grotesque penalties, of course — nothing so obviously offensive. To hear progressives tell it, we can do nice, clean, friendly sharia, just like we do nice, clean, friendly Islam. “Lapidations,” they will tell you, are no different from jihadist suicide bombings: outmoded vestiges of a long-forgotten time. Except they’re not. They are undeniably rooted inIslamic scripture, and they are happening today, with frequency, wherever sharia reigns. That is because the “moderate Islam” progressives like to banter about is a mirage in search of a cogent set of principles. There is no moderate Islam that can compete with the mainstream, sharia Islam. Thus the crimes and punishments, in all their ghoulishness, endure.

Paul Waldman at Tapped on McCarthy:

You may have heard of the heartbreaking and outrageous case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman who has been convicted of adultery (which she denies) and sentenced to death by stoning. We might want to note, as we rightly condemn this kind of brutality, that the Old Testament mandates death by stoning for a large number of crimes, including worshiping other gods, not being a virgin on your wedding night (just for the ladies, of course), disobeying your parents, failing to keep the Sabbath, and — you guessed it — adultery. Just something to keep in mind next time you run into someone who says the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the foundation on which the American system was built.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. Predictably, this case has been seized on by some conservatives to argue that liberals are on the wrong side of our war on Islam. What, you didn’t know that liberals support harsh punishments for people accused of transgressing sexual norms? Then you’re just not thinking creatively enough. Take a cue from National Review‘s Andrew McCarthy, who manages (as Adam mentioned yesterday) to argue that Elena Kagan is for all intents and purposes a supporter of this kind of vicious punishment. (Follow the logic: When Kagan was at the Harvard Law School, the university — not the law school, but the university — accepted a large donation from a Saudi prince to establish an Islamic Studies center. Therefore, Kagan is OK with the imposition of Sharia law in the United States, and therefore soft on stoning, like all Democrats. Makes perfect sense, no?) But I have to highlight this passage from McCarthy’s piece:

Ms. Ashtiani is about to be stoned. That’s where they bury you up to your chest and hurl rocks at you until you die. The rocks can’t be too big. You see, this is real torture, religion-of-peace torture. It’s the kind that happens every day but that Democrats prefer not to talk about. With stoning (or “lapidation” as the press gently call it on those rare occasions when it is mentioned at all), the ordeal must not end too quickly.

That’s a very interesting claim: The liberal media, loath to say anything that might reflect poorly on fundamentalist Islam, almost never mention stoning, and when they do, call it “lapidation.” I found that rather striking, since I had never even heard the term “lapidation.” But it couldn’t be that McCarthy is just making this up, based on his general presumption that everything the media does is bad, since they’re a bunch of liberals — could it? Fortunately, this isn’t a statement of opinion but an empirical claim, and one we can test using an obscure instrument called Lexis/Nexis.

As a first try, we’ll go with the U.S. Newspapers and Wires database. And let’s use the last five years, shall we? All right: The number of mentions of the word “stoning” in the last five years in that database was 2,558. That seems like quite a few, but if McCarthy is right, there ought to be at least five or 10 times as many mentions of “lapidation,” right?

The number of mentions of “lapidation” in the last five years was … three. So for every mention of “lapidation,” there were 852 mentions of “stoning.” Incidentally, one of those “lapidations” did come in that most hated liberal media outlet, The New York Times (it was in a book review, but still). How many times in the last five years has the Times mentioned “stoning”? It came up in 120 Times articles.

But wait — maybe it’s on television where McCarthy has seen the liberal media so often refer to stoning as lapidation, in order to make it seem less barbaric. Let’s search the Transcripts database. And the the results are: “stoning,” 2043 mentions; “lapidation,” 0 mentions. Zero.

The Hollywood Gossip:

We put nothing past Lindsay Lohan. Nothing.

That said, she did not overtly compare her legal plight to that of an Iranian woman being tragically stoned in her latest Twitter rant. But you still have to wonder.

Maybe she’s just so moved by Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who may be stoned to death for adultery, that she linked to Newsweek article to draw attention to it.

Or she’s trying to subtly draw a ridiculous parallel to herself, having been sentenced to 90 days in jail Tuesday for repeatedly, brazenly violating her probation.

Come on. Has Lindsay ever cared about anything besides herself? We’re talking about a spoiled brat who walks into court with the words “f–k u” on her nails.

Voice Of America:

A judicial official in Iran says a woman’s sentence of death by stoning is not being carried out “for the time being.”

Iran’s state-run news agency attributes the statement to the head of the Justice Department in East Azerbaijan province, Malek Azhdar Sharifi. He told the news agency that while the guilty verdict is definitive, its application has been halted by Iran’s judiciary chief due to humane considerations.

However, the provincial official said the death sentence will be carried out whenever the judiciary chief deems it expedient, regardless of what he termed Western media propaganda.

Many Western nations and human rights activists have urged Iran not to stone the woman to death.

UPDATE: BBC

2 Comments

Filed under Feminism, Middle East

Going Back To The Green

Reuel Marc Gerecht at NYT:

IN 1985 — when no case officer could even dream of widespread pro-democracy demonstrations in Tehran like those that occurred a year ago this week — I first arrived on the Iran desk in the C.I.A.’s Directorate of Operations. One of my colleagues was an older man who had entered the agency in its early days, when liberal internationalists and hawkish socialists ran most of America’s covert-action programs.

Intellectually irrepressible, softhearted (for an operative) and firmly on the political left, my colleague did not recognize national boundaries when it came to promoting human rights. He could talk for hours about why the Austrian philosopher Karl Popper, the author of “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” was the answer to Iran’s religious tyranny. He was nearly alone within the directorate in his enthusiasm and plans for doing something to help Iranians against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s theocracy.

As it turns out, many of the intellectual heavyweights who’ve driven Iran’s ever-growing pro-democracy Green Movement also love Popper and his defense of liberal democracy. The former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, who is fascinated by (and a little fearful of) Western philosophy and the economic dynamism of liberal democracy, can’t stop writing about Popper. And the much more influential Abdolkarim Soroush, an Iranian philosopher of religion who may be the most important Muslim thinker since the 11th-century theologian al-Ghazali, also pays his respects to the Austrian in his efforts to create a faith that can thrive in a more open, democratic society.

As I consider the changes in Iran over the last year, the people who come quickly to mind are my covert-action-loving colleague, Karl Popper and the army of pro-democracy lay and clerical Iranian intellectuals who’ve been transforming their country’s culture and ethics. They are our guides to what the United States ought to be doing vis-à-vis Iran; they are also a reproach to how President Obama has so far conducted Iran policy.

Whereas the Reagan administration in the 1980s could do little to help Iranians (Ronald Reagan’s determined efforts to engage the clerical regime over the hostages in Lebanon certainly didn’t strengthen “moderates” in Tehran), Mr. Obama could do vastly more. By throwing in his lot with the freedom movement, he would surely increase the odds that we won’t have to live with a nuclear bomb controlled by virulently anti-American and anti-Semitic clerics. Democrats, once the champions of promoting pro-democracy movements, need to understand that the good that they can do for the people of Iran far exceeds the great harm that comes from doing nothing.

Yet for the United States to help, we need to first see clearly what’s been happening in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989 and over the last year. In the 1980s, when Iran’s youth were enthralled by the charismatic Khomeini, it would have been difficult to imagine that in two decades the same Muslim society would engage in the most damning critique of dictatorship ever seen in the Middle East.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

Reuel Marc Gerecht, who knows Iran well, has an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about how President Obama should deal with the Iran’s green movement. He is no less critical than John McCain, but considerably more subtle–and I think his main proposal, of giving tech support to the Iranian people, making it easier for them to access the internet via satellite, is a good one…so long as it is done quietly, without McCainiac bleating.

That said, I do believe that Gerecht overstates the capacity of the Green Movement to succeed in toppling the current, odious regime. To win, the reformers will have to find an alliance with the quietist members of the religious community; the bazaaris, whose businesses are being hurt by Iran’s increasing commercial isolation (not just the sanctions, but the unilateral decision by an increasing number of international corporations not to do business with this regime); and some of the more moderate “principleist” conservatives, who will be favored candidates in the next election.

A wise Iranian once said to me, “The Shah’s problem was that he saw Iran as Persian, but not Muslim. Khomeini’s problem is that he saw Iran as Muslim, but not Persian. We need a government that is both Persian and Muslim.” The regime needs to be changed, but perhaps not the Iranian constitution–if the growing number of not-so-activist and radical clerics, the quietists, can play the same role in Iran that Ayatullah Sistani has played in Shi’ite Iraq. The elements of a politically sane solution exist in Iran…but these elements will have to be both clever and lucky to remove the Revolutionary Guard from power.

Max Boot at Commentary:

Against his points one will hear the familiar argument, made by some Green leaders themselves, that the U.S. government is incapable of running a truly covert program and that the taint of American support will undermine the opposition’s credibility.

Perhaps. But aren’t the mullahs already painting the opposition leaders as American stooges? They don’t need actual evidence to make their charges; concocted evidence and bizarre conspiracy theories will do. After years of such charges, I am guessing that most Iranians are inured to regime propaganda and probably wouldn’t credit it even if it were true.

In any case, aren’t we always hearing about President Obama’s stellar popularity around the world? Surely anointment by The One would not hurt the chances of success in Iran — which, opinion polls suggest, is actually one of the more pro-American countries in the region.

John Noonan at The Weekly Standard:

The idea here isn’t necessarily to create a violent, anti-government insurrection within the Iranian regime; rather, the hope is to fuel the fires of revolution by facilitating messaging and communications. Capsizing the Mullahs can be done peacefully, but it won’t work without significant assistance from the West. That means that democratic nations should provide the technical kit necessary to assist the more isolated Green cells throughout the country, which would make tangible gains in Iran’s rural areas — where the regime draws much of its political backing. As Gerecht notes, supporting dissidents along technical lines would be relatively cheap, effective, and wholly in sync with America’s tradition of bolstering human rights and aspiring democracies throughout the world.

Most importantly, President Obama must start behaving like the leader of the free world, and stand shoulder to shoulder with Iranian dissidents. That means publicly recognizing their struggle, the nobility of their objectives, and the moral corruption and bankruptcy of the vicious Iranian regime.

Andrew Sullivan:

One way to see if an argument is worth its muster is to ask whether it addresses the core points of the best rebuttal. Reuel Marc Gerecht’s op-ed completely fails this test today. The obvious reason that president Obama decided to keep his support for the Green Movement in Iran muted was … to help the Green Movement in Iran. His view – shared in large part by Mousavi and Karroubi – was that too strong a US public stand would backfire. It would allow the mullahs to play the Great Satan card more effectively, and marginalize the message of the Greens. Now, it’s possible to disagree with that and see Iran as more like the old Soviet Union than a Muslim society with deep – and thoroughly understandable – suspicions about US meddling. But if so, you should make that case. Frankly, I remain unpersuaded that we should treat Iran like Czechoslovakia. I have learned something from this past decade which is that history and culture matter, that rhetorical grandstanding is no substitute for diplomacy and strategy, and that neoconservative projections about the Middle East have been proven spectacularly misguided, ill-informed and counter-productive.

Let’s put it this way: Gerecht’s op-ed this morning does nothing to change my mind.

Daniel Larison:

All of the usual baseless assertions are there: Obama can “throw his lot” in with the Green movement (how?), this will increase the odds that a non-existent Iranian bomb won’t be controlled by the current batch of clerics (why?), and Obama can do “vastly more” than Reagan did (what?). It is very much like Stephens’ column in simply presuming that Obama had the ability to help the Green movement constructively and chose not to use that ability.

When the Bush administration basically stood by and watched as the Burmese junta crushed the peaceful protests in Rangoon three years ago, few people were daft enough to claim that Bush had failed to act aggressively enough on behalf of the “Saffron” revolution. Sane people recognized that there was not much that Bush or anyone else in the U.S. could do. Something worth remembering here is that sanctions imposed on Burma to punish the regime have simply suffocated the opposition and destroyed the middle class. Anyone who did attack Bush for failing to “throw his lot” in with Burmese protesters while also urging ever-stricter sanctions on the regime would now look quite ridiculous. Of course, the same ridiculous combination of rhetorical support for Iran’s opposition combined with a vindictive desire for “crippling sanctions” can be found in the writings of practically every Iran hawk.

[…]

Perhaps the most misleading part of Gerecht’s op-ed is the part that seemed at first to be almost a throwaway remark, but which he intended to be central to his argument. Gerecht wants us to side with the “friends of Karl Popper,” and he concludes that the Green movement is filled with “friends of Karl Popper” because some reform leaders and movement intellectuals are interested in Popper’s ideas. This is a quick sleight-of-hand on Gerecht’s part as he mentions how Khatami and Soroush have engaged with some of Popper’s ideas, and then transfers their interest in Popper to the entire movement, and this is supposed to lead us to believe that the entire movement is made up of “friends of Karl Popper.” Leaving aside how shaky a lot of Popper’s own analysis in The Open Society and Its Enemies was, I doubt that the simplistic opposition between the “open society” and totalitarianism that made sense to Popper in the mid-twentieth century will be all that useful and appropriate for Iran’s opposition, many of whose leaders still value the legacy of Khomeini.

For their part, the Iranian “friends of Karl Popper” should be very wary of the heirs of the people that Popper called the historicists, who confidently proclaim that their ideology is going to prevail and that history is on their side. The historicists that Popper was referring to believed that they had gleaned the fundamental principles of history and therefore understood how to implement these principles to create an imagined just society. Perversely, many of the latter-day Western enthusiasts of the “open society” and supposed admirers of Karl Popper regularly indulge in the historicist error that Popper deeply loathed.

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