Everybody has understood that Iran is the number one power in the world," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to families who lost loved ones in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.
"Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful and it puts them in their place," he added in the address broadcast live on state television.
Last fall, Passport noted that more sex-change surgeries are performed in Iran than in any other country except Thailand. Ayatollah Khomeini approved them for "diagnosed transsexuals" 25 years ago, and today the Iranian government will pay up to half the cost for those in financial need. Former FP researcher David Francis wrote, "In a country that shuns homosexuality, this makes perverse sense, as after a sex-change operation, one technically isn't attracted to one's own sex and therefore isn't gay."
Now, Iranian-born, American-raised, director Tanaz Eshaghian has made a provocative documentary, Be Like Others, about young Iranian men who undergo sex-change surgery. It premiered earlier this year at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. Check out some clips here, including one of a 20-year-old man who laughingly remarks, "It's so difficult," in reference to wearing a head scarf outside.
The gleeful spin from Tehran ahead of the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear activities, due any day now, is that the IAEA will declare Iran "clean." In other words, the agency will say that Iran has answered all the tough questions and that, as per the controversial U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, the country has no secret weapons program. Such predictions can be fairly dismissed as Persian bluster coming from the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but no less a figure than powerful Iranian cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani seems confident the IAEA will exonerate his country.
There have been rumors of a dispute within the IAEA over the technical findings of the report, though the organization denies any serious internal disagreements. If anything, the dispute is likely to come from the United States and its European allies, who want to see a third round of U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran. A clean bill of health would obviously undermine that push. TFB, one anonymous IAEA offical told Reuters:
If the facts are at odds with the policy objectives of some people who are keen to impose further sanctions on Iran, that's too bad.
In all likelihood, the IAEA's forthcoming report will not clear up all the remaining issues, especially when it comes to weaponization. But that won't stop the Iranians from declaring victory.
The liberal blogosphere is all in a tizzy over John Bolton's endorsement of John McCain, leading some to speculate that the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations would be tapped to serve as secretary of state in a McCain administration.
I doubt it. Is McCain a neocon? Maybe. Maybe not. Supporting the surge does not a neocon make, friends. It's true that since the late 1990s, McCain has increasingly surrounded himself with foreign policy minds sympathetic to the neocon cause, including Bill Kristol, Mark Salter, Daniel McKivergan, Marshall Wittmann, and Randy Scheunemann. His closeness to Kristol, in particular, has been well documented. But McCain casts a wide net. He also seeks advice from Henry Kissingers and Brent Scowcrofts, and occasionally -- gasp -- Democrats, too. And any way you slice it, McCain and Bolton don't exactly see eye to eye.
Here was McCain's answer to a question posed in 2006 by the New Republic's John Judis on a preemptive strike against Iran:
We haven't taken the military option off the table, but we should make it clear that is the very last option, only if we become convinced that they are about to acquire those weapons to use against Israel.... I think that if they are capable with their repeatedly stated intention, that doesn't mean I would go to war even then. That means we have to exhaust every possible option. Going to the United Nations, working with our European allies. If we were going to impose sanctions, I would wait and see whether those sanctions were effective or not. I did not mean it as a declaration of war the day they acquired weapons."
That doesn't exactly sound like John Bolton to me.
Recent reports from European diplomats have revealed a worrisome development: Iran is testing a new, more sophisticated type of centrifuge for enriching uranium. On a technical level, this demonstrates the skills of Iran's engineers, who appear to have applied "considerable technical creativity" to solve problems caused by manufacturing limitations along with export controls and sanctions. Politically, it demonstrates that Iran has, for now, no intention of bowing to U.N. Security Council demands and ceasing its enrichment activities.
Dubbed the IR-2, Iran's new centrifuge model is an Iranian-designed variant of the P-2 centrifuge used in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. The original P-2 design, obtained by
Even though the IR-2 appears to be easier for
While not proof that
That said, relatively little concrete information on this development is in the public domain. Watch this space for more detailed commentary when the IAEA releases its next report, hopefully at the end of the month.
A couple years ago, FP published an article about an Iranian magazine called Zanan ("Women," in Farsi). Written by Haleh Esfandiari of the Wilson Center, who was imprisoned in Tehran for several months last year, "Iranian Women, Please Stand Up" told the tale of Shahla Sherkat, who bravely courted controversy as the founder of a glossy women's magazine that covered topics both political and personal. Esfandiari wrote:
Zanan has run articles on the latest theories of feminism in the West, the unjust treatment of women in Islamic societies, and the significance for Iranians of international conventions on human rights and the rights of women and children. ... Not all articles in Zanan incite such strong reactions. The glossy has [also] published stories about Iran's first woman pilot, its first female cab driver, and the country’s first woman racing car ace.
Despite harassment from government officials, periodic censorship, and budget woes, Sherkat managed to keep the magazine open for 16 years. But last week the government shut down Zanan, this time for good. Iranian authorities, according to an editorial in the New York Times, claim "the magazine was a 'threat to the psychological security of the society' because it showed Iranian women in a 'black light.'"
A "black light"? Give me a break! Zanan was one of the very few media outlets in Iran dedicated to women's issues, and one of the only places where women could actually be heard. Because of numerous run-ins with the government in the past (past contributors to Zanan had been jailed at various times for their writing) Sherkat was always very careful to toe the line with the magazine's editorial content. The shuttering of the magazine is an outrage, it's a tragedy, and most of all, it's a crime against Iranian women. Tehran should realize that by closing down Zanan, it's only displaying its own weakness and fear.
What was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing last month when he donned these funkadelic shades?
UPDATE: And the winning entry, sent in by reader LHE—
The press awaits Ahmadinejad's review of "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour in 3D."
Thanks to all those who participated. Good stuff!
Lots of bloggers have already commented on this New York Times story about how U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Zalmay Khalilzad is catching flak for—the horror!—sitting next to an Iranian in Davos. But the Iranians have their own demons to exorcise:
When Timothy Garton-Ash, an Oxford professor, arrived at a lunch on the theme of "Political Islam and Democracy," he was seated where Samare Hashemi Shajareh [the close personal advisor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] was originally supposed to sit. But Samare Hashemi Shajareh had refused to be seated opposite an Israeli journalist.
It's stupid when Iran plays these kinds of games, and it's stupid when the United States does, too.
UPDATE: I see that the FT's Gideon Rachman has a similar Iran anecdote from Davos:
Eventually I struggled downstairs and sat through the press conference. But a nap might have been a better use of my time. [Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr] Mottaki said almost nothing. The only amusing moment came when he said, gallantly, that he would like to take a question from one of the ladies. Unfortunately, the woman he motioned to turned out to be an Israeli journalist - so he refused to answer the question. Refusing to talk to people usually makes you look silly, I think - which is perhaps a lesson the White House should bear in mind, when thinking about Khalilzad's appearance in Davos.
Commenting on U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the Persian Gulf, Shibley Telhami argues that the Arab governments are essentially using the Iran issue to pressure the United States to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front:
Israel and the Bush administration place great emphasis on confronting Iran's nuclear potential and are prepared to engage in a peace process partly to build an anti-Iran coalition. Arabs see it differently. They use the Iran issue to lure Israel and the United States into serious Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking, having concluded that the perceived Iranian threats sell better in Washington and Tel Aviv than the pursuit of peace itself. [...]
Arab governments are less worried about the military power of Hamas and Hezbollah than they are about support for them among their publics. They are less worried about a military confrontation with Iran than about Iran's growing influence in the Arab world. In other words, what Arab governments truly fear is militancy and the public support for it that undermines their own popularity and stability.
I think that's right, but it raises the question: Who's fooling whom? Very few analysts expect much forward progress on Middle East peace during the last year of Bush's presidency. Why shouldn't both the Israelis and Palestinians wait him out to see if they can get a better deal from the next U.S. leader? That also goes for Gulf states' relations with the Iranians. The next American president might well be less confrontational toward Tehran. Why risk Iranian retaliation now by going along with the U.S. containment approach, only to have to reverse course in 2009?
What's more, the strategy of punishing Iran works against the pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. An isolated Iran has a major incentive to lash out and disrupt the peace process via its local allies, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Olmert's governing coalition is shaky, and a few well-timed terrorist attacks within Israel could throw even the most promising negotiations off course. And with Olmert now saying that there will be no peace unless Hamas-ruled Gaza ceases to be a threat, you have a recipe for paralysis.
In the U.S. Navy's footage of the Iranian speedboat incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the video cuts off at the end, the screen goes black, and a voice comes on in accented English "I am coming to you. You will explode after a few minutes."
For the crews onboard the U.S. vessels, it must have been a pretty chilling thing to hear. But now, a spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet says nobody's sure where the voice came from:
We're saying that we cannot make a direct connection to the boats there," said the spokesperson. "It could have come from the shore, from another ship passing by. However, it happened in the middle of all the very unusual activity, so as we assess the information and situation, we still put it in the total aggregate of what happened Sunday morning. I guess we're not saying that it absolutely came from the boats, but we're not saying it absolutely didn't."
As the New York Times noted this morning, the recording doesn't include the kind of noises you might expect to hear in the background as someone gallivants around in a speedboat. Iran released its own video, in which a voice says in English, "Coalition warship number 73 this is an Iranian patrol." So the situation has gotten murky, which makes for great political theater.
And yet, the dispute over the warning is kind of beside the point. Threatening voice aside, the Iranian patrols shouldn't have been messing around the way they did (if anything, the U.S. Navy crews showed admirable restraint, given what was going on), but nor should the U.S. military and President Bush have made such a big deal of this incident without knowing all the facts. At first, the Iranian Foreign Ministry was quick to downplay the incident, which ought to have been a clear enough signal of the regime's intentions. But now that national pride is on the line, hardliners in the Republican Guard—whose local allies may have deliberately provoked this incident—are the only ones who will benefit from continued confrontation. Don't feed the beast.
Radio Free Europe has the scoop on an announcement from the government of Kyrgyzstan that they are holding radioactive material seized from a train that was headed to Iran. A small amount of Cesium-137—which experts say can be used in the production of dirty bombs—was detected by Uzbek border guards on Dec. 31st. Despite the fact that radiation levels were so high within the car that officers of Kyrgyzstan's Emergency Situations Ministry wore hazmat suits to remove it, the material manage to pass through three checkpoints in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before being discovered on the Uzbek border and sent back. The train is owned by a Tajik company but the cargo was loaded within Kyrgyzstan.
The train's ultimate destination inside Iran could be a coincidence, but that's unlikely to quell fears in the West. It's also unclear why the Kyrgyz government waited nine days to make the announcement. The story is a troubling reminder of just how difficult this type of material can be to police.
CNN is reporting that, according to U.S. officials, "5 Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats harassed, provoked 3 U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday." There's no story yet, but I think it's a safe bet that hardliners in the Guard are seeking to create an incident on the eve of U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to the region. Why would they do that? Well, it makes for good distraction from their sinking popularity ahead of March's legislative elections. It forestalls the admittedly dim prospects of a U.S.-Iran rapprochement. It complicates Bush's efforts to buck up the United States' Arab allies (though depending on how they react to this news, it may simplify his mission). And as an added bonus, it'll probably send oil prices upwards for a short while. We can't exclude the possibility that some Guard higher-ups are speculating in the oil markets and turning a tidy profit from these sorts of incidents.
UPDATE: Reuters has more:
A radio transmission from one of the Iranian ships said, "I am coming at you. You will explode in a couple of minutes," CNN reported, citing a U.S. official.
Much more here from Mike Nizza at the NYT's Lede blog.
UPDATE2: Iran's Foreign Ministry is playing down this encounter:
That is something normal that takes place every now and then for each party, and it (the problem) is settled after identification of the two parties," he told the state news agency IRNA.
The incident was "similar to past ones" that were resolved "once the two sides recognized each other."
As blogger "Cernig" notes, this explanation doesn't pass the smell test, but it does indicate that the provocation was not official Iranian policy.
We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups," Col. Boylan said. "We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran."
Interestingly, Boylan makes a point of tying "the senior Iranian leadership" to this change in policy. U.S. military leaders are pragmatic people. They no doubt realize at this point that winding down the surge successfully will require Iranian cooperation. If the United States could partner successfully with former Sunni insurgents, why not the Iranians? (It's doing both at once that will be the real feat.)
UPDATE: The story appears to be wrong. Boylan tells Wired's Noah Shachtman that the Washington Times "made a leap of faith logic that was not discussed between the reporter and me." He sent the following to the paper's editor:
The January 3 article "Iran no longer aids Iraq militants" is inaccurate. We do not know if there has been a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons. It is not clear if Iran's leaders stopped supplying weapons or training to extremist elements in Iraq. We hope that they have, but until we can confirm it, we are in the wait and see mode. We have seen a decrease in the attacks using four specific types of Iranian weapons. However, this should not be misunderstood as anything other than lowered levels of attacks using these specific weapons.
Thanks to Passport reader MCJ for bringing this to my attention.
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) thinks the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran ain't right. "We just see politics injected into this," his spokesman, Tory Mazzola, says. "When it comes to national security we really need to remove politics." The way Ensign plans to "remove politics" is by—wait for it—creating a panel of politicians, House and Senate members, to rewrite the intelligence community's work. Only in Congress, friends, only in Congress.
It's always struck me as funny that people get all worked up over the NIEs in the first place. As anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the intelligence community will tell you, they are notoriously flawed. Remember the U.S.-Soviet "missile gap"? That was a bunch of nonsense cooked up in an NIE in 1958. The Iranian revolution of 1978? An NIE predicted it wouldn't happen. Then, of course, there's the now infamous NIE 2002-16HC, which made it sound as though Saddam Hussein was weeks away from having nukes.
NIEs are guesses, plain and simple. Just ask the Bush Administration. Even they agree that Ensign's plan is silly. "The President respects sixteen of the intelligence agencies got together to produce the National Intellligence Estimate. I don’t believe that there's any need to have an additional one," White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino told John Gizzi of the ultra-conservative rag Human Events.
Exactly. What is conveening a panel of politicians going to accomplish? The de-politization of the process? Um, right. I'm all for Congressional oversight. Too bad, for instance, that Ensign and his colleagues weren't equally worked up over the 2002 NIE on Iraq, or we might not be in the mess we're in now. But Ensign's plan to waste a bunch of Congress's time and money politicizing the latest NIE will accomplish nothing. I'm nominating this as the dumbest Congressional idea of 2007.
I had lunch this week with Condoleezza Rice. OK, so it wasn't exactly an intimate tête-à-tête; the secretary of state was the keynote speaker at the Women's Foreign Policy Group's annual luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, where she spoke to a crowd of about 400, including yours truly. Condi was pretty much as expected: polished, pleasant, unflappable, and on message.
Her speech began with a bland discussion of general U.S. foreign-policy issues. Yawn. Rice did draw laughs from the crowd when she got in a little dig at Thomas Jefferson, mentioning that the first secretary of state would have never anticipated that the 66th secretary of state would be an African-American woman. She had a little slip of the tongue, saying that when her 12 years in office were over, it will have been 12 years since a white male occupied the top office in Foggy Bottom. Then she laughed, said that it "only feels like 12," and gave a nod to Madeline Albright and Colin Powell, "trailblazers also in their own right."
Basically, there was not much of real substance to her speech, but at least the Q&A session, moderated by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, touched on some real items in the news. She refused to answer questions about the CIA interrogation tapes scandal, saying that she didn't know about their destruction in 2005, but not commenting on questions about what she knew about the actual interrogations, which occurred when she was national security adviser in 2002. Asked about Guantánamo later, she did mention, "no one would like to close it more than I and, I think, the president."
She handled a question about Iran with characteristic aplomb, and reiterated an offer to meet with her Iranian counterpart, anytime, anywhere ... as soon as Iran scaled back and complied with international standards. As far as the greater Middle East goes, Rice expressed her personal faith in Abbas and Olmert (conveniently not mentioning their weak domestic status in their respective homes), and said that peace talks would not have been feasible even three months ago.
What struck me the most about Rice's lunchtime talk was what she didn't say. She barely mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq. She never uttered the name "Osama bin Laden." In 50 minutes, the word "terrorism" crossed her lips but twice, and then only to muse about the challenges her successors would face. The war on terror has been the centerpiece of Bush's foreign policy, and yet she didn't mention it once in her prepared remarks. Could it be a reflection of a changing mindset inside the administration?
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't have a very good day today. First, Hassan Rowhani, a cleric who heads an influential Iranian think tank and is the former chief of the country's Supreme National Security Council had this to say about the Iranian president's big talk over Iran's increasing influence in the Middle East and the conclusions of the NIE:
To discuss this, we should see the proof of power.
The fact that we cannot open a letter of credit, is this power?
The fact that an Iranian student cannot study abroad in (his or her) chosen field, is that power?
The fact that the economic risks have grown, is that power?
The fact that banking activities have been restricted, is that power?"
Also today, popular former President Mohammad Khatami piled on with this gem before a packed hall of more than 1,000 students at Tehran University, where he delivered remarks on Ahmadinejad's anti-poverty strategy:
It is not right to reduce justice to economic justice. Such a justice spreads poverty and empties the purses of the people who should be used to make the country more powerful and more rich. We need to fight for economic justice but what is more important is the right of people to decide their own fate. These are the reforms that the people want."
The new conventional wisdom in Washington is that the NIE was a boost to Ahmadinejad. But these kinds of attacks on Ahmadinejad are likely to increase in the run up to the March 14 parliamentary elections. And they're an important reminder that, despite his blusterings, Ahmadinejad is anything but an all-powerful leader who reigns without dissent.
James Fallows thinks Hillary Clinton's supporters need to come to terms with what the harsh realities of gender politics would mean for her foreign policy if she were elected president:
[H]aving voted five years ago for the war in Iraq, which she then continued to support for years, she went ahead this fall and voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which however you slice it was essentially a vote for legitimizing military action against Iran....
If she is sworn in as the first female president, she will still have to remove doubts about her "toughness." There will be the 2010 midterms to think of. And of course the 2012 reelection campaign. And if she is tough enough to get through that, then concerns about her legacy. Over the long run, is there any difference between a candidate who needs to "seem" hawkish on questions like Iraq and Iran, and a candidate who is an actual hawk?
I sympathize completely with her predicament: dealing with those atavistic voter emotions about the "weakness" of female candidates is a terrible problem. But here's the predicament it creates for voters. If I don't want the next president to be someone who had a hawkish outlook on both Iraq and Iran, do I say: Never mind, she's not really a hawk, she just has to vote like one?
This is the kind of phony trumpeting of the "gender issue" that is at once disappointing and completely unwarranted. Legitimate, substantive questions can and should be asked about Clinton's positions on Iraq and Iran. But to insinuate that as president she would attack Iran with no motive other than the fear of being called a sissy is preposterous. Andrew Sullivan apparently agrees with this cacophony, too. I know it's a boys club over at The Atlantic's blog shop, where just one of the seven "voices" is a woman, but come on, fellas. What century are you boys living in? It certainly hasn't played out that way with Condi Rice on North Korea and Iran. Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor, helped convince Bush to exhaust all peaceful efforts with Tehran before seeking punitive steps. And when was the last time you saw Nancy Pelosi calling for a military strike lest she be considered weak? If you want to discuss Clinton's qualifications for the presidency, fine. But let's talk about the things that matter.
On his new blog, Stratfor's George Friedman endorses the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, and he has an unorthodox view of the Bush administration's motives for releasing it now:
We have always regarded the Iranian weapon program as a bargaining chip to be traded for concessions in Iraq. We repeated that ad nauseum I know, but we always thought it true. The NIE agrees with our view so we aren't going to take issue with it. We think it correct.
We also think there was a political component to it being announced. This was not the intelligence community sinking Bush's plans to attack Iran. The U.S. doesn't have the force to attack Iran, as we have argued in the past. Rather, it as [if] Bush [is] taking away [Iran's] bargaining chip. If Iran has no nuclear program, the U.S. doesn't have to make concessions to get rid of it. In an odd way, the NIE weakened the Iranian bargaining position.
This is too clever by half. The simple fact of the matter is that the case for punitive action against Tehran will be far harder to make now. And sure enough, the Chinese already appear to be taking their toe out of the water on a third round of U.N. sanctions. We may yet see a quiet turnaround in U.S. policy toward Iran, since, as Friedman says, the United States won't feel it needs to trade away the store in order to get a grand bargain. There is certainly the North Korea precedent. But that will be a second-best strategy. Somehow, I doubt that NSC staffers were high-fiving each other when the NIE hit the wires. That certainly seems to be what happened in Ahmadinejad's camp, though.
This doesn't exactly inspire confidence, now, does it?
DES MOINES - Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said Tuesday he was unfamiliar with the National Intelligence Estimate that reported that Iran had not had a program to develop nuclear weapons since 2003, and he questioned the intelligence work behind it.
Asked by reporters if he had been briefed on the summary of the report, which was declassified and released Monday, Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said "No." Informed of its content by reporters, he said he agreed with President Bush, who said that Iran remains a threat.
I mean, it's only been front-page news for a few days. And who has the time to actually be informed about the issues when you're busy trying to be the next leader of the free world?
(Hat tip: CFR)
The commentariat has, understandably, gone apoplectic about yesterday's news that Iran stopped its nuclear-weapons program in 2003. And several Democratic candidates, hoping to score points against frontrunner Hillary Clinton, are having a field day:
Barack Obama: "[T]he new National Intelligence Estimate makes a compelling case for less saber-rattling and more direct diplomacy."
John Edwards: "The new NIE finds that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing a nuclear weapon through diplomacy."
The problem is, the NIE doesn't actually go that far. It strongly suggests that the threat of sanctions and military action is actually helpful, but makes no promises about what can be achieved through diplomacy:
Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs. This, in turn, suggests that some combination of threats of intensified international security and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways might—if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible—prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program.
The NIE's conclusion here is remarkably similar to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley's statement, dismissed everywhere as pure spin:
The estimate offers grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically - without the use of force - as the Administration has been trying to do. And it suggests that the President has the right strategy: intensified international pressure along with a willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests while ensuring that the world will never have to face a nuclear armed Iran. The bottom line is this: for that strategy to succeed, the international community has to turn up the pressure on Iran - with diplomatic isolation, United Nations sanctions, and with other financial pressure - and Iran has to decide it wants to negotiate a solution.
Matt Yglesias cries foul and says that the Bush administration has been hyping the threat, and that's certainly true. And it may well be that Vice President Dick Cheney discounts the intelligence community's assessment. But there may also be a defensible reason for the hysteria. If we take Hadley's statement at face value, the past year of bluster coming from the administration makes sense. The fundamental problem is that the Europeans, the Chinese, and especially the Russians are skittish about enacting U.N. sanctions. But the sanctions seem to be working! Yet to get others on board, the United States has had to sound the alarm about the program and threaten that if sanctions fail, it will turn to its Air Force for solutions. In order to be effective, this threat has to be credible: The Iranians have to believe it, and the other members of the Security Council have to believe it. In other words, the Bush administration has to convince the world that the alternative to sanctions is war, rather than a nuclear Iran that might be unpalatable but is ultimately a manageable problem.
Of course, what the administration hasn't done is offer Iran a credible package of inducements that includes security guarantees, economic incentives, and so forth. In the words of the NIE, "opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways." Hadley's mention of a "willingness to negotiate a solution that serves Iranian interests" hints that such a package might be in the offing. The trouble is, Iran's negotiators are much more irascible now than they were in 2003, so the price will be far higher than it was back then—assuming a deal is still even possible.
It's been rumored for a while that someone—perhaps U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney—had been holding up the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program. And it's not hard to imagine why, given this explosive finding:
A new assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains on hold, contradicting an assessment two years ago that Tehran was working inexorably toward building a bomb. [...]
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran's ultimate intentions about gaining a nuclear weapon remain unclear, but that Iran's "decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."
"Some combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige and goals for regional influence in other ways, might - if perceived by Iran's leaders as credible - prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear weapons program," the estimate states. [...]
The new estimate does say that Iran's ultimate goal is still to develop nuclear weapons. It concludes that if Iran were to end the freeze of its weapons program, it would still be at least two years before Tehran had enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear bomb. But it says it is "very unlikely" that Iran could produce enough of the material by then.
Instead, the estimate concludes that it is more likely Iran could have a bomb by early to the middle of the next decade. The report says that the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research judges that Iran is unlikely to achieve this goal before 2013 "because of foreseeable technical and programmatic problems."
Remember, the State Department's intelligence shop was the group that had the honor of being least wrong about Iraq's WMD programs.
On Saturday, China indicated it was ready to play ball on U.N. sanctions. There's no word yet on how the Russians will vote. But if they get on board and the new Iran NIE is right—and I imagine it will be hotly debated—perhaps it will be possible to convince Iran to give up its goal of nuclear weapons through diplomacy after all.
UPDATE: Download the pdf of the NIE report here.
Oh, Iran. When will you learn to loosen up and not interpret everything coming out of the West as a threat? This week, the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance began a campaign against rappers, announcing that illegal studios would be closed and artists "confronted." Normally, musicians in Iran who want to record an album or stage a performance have to apply for permission from the government. But as the hip-hop movement in Farsi has continued to grow, driven by links between Iranians and exiled Persians in places like Los Angeles or Paris, many rappers have chosen to bypass official protocol, choosing to distribute their music on the Internet instead.
If only Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and other power brokers in Iran read FP. Then they would see that the globalization of hip-hop isn't evil; it's just the continuation of a long history of youths using music and poetry to express themselves.
On Wednesday evening at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley spoke broadly about freedom and the Middle East. His prepared remarks (pdf) weren't too surprising—the key point was that the time is right to push for peace because Israel is becoming more receptive to the idea of a Palestinian state, the Palestinians are being more cooperative, and Arab states are engaging in the debate.
Hadley did go off script a bit during the Q&A session, though. A SAIS student asked a question about why some Arabic states would support democracy in Iraq when those states are not democracies themselves. Hadley's answer was pretty standard until he began taking about elections in Iran. But Hadley replaced the "l" in elections with an "r" and instead began to speak about Iranian erections (The audio is here. Right click and save as. It's around the 38:30 mark).
Not enough Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in your life? The Iranian president has been blogging on and off for about two years—and now he's looking for feedback. In his latest post, Ahmadinejad asks for more readers write to him about Iran's relationship with the rest of the world:
As you know, the purpose of running this blog is to have a direct and mutual contact and communication with the viewers and even though I have received many messages from the viewers to update the blog and write new notes, I preferred to write less and spend more time on reading the viewers' messages – and not let this communication tool become just a one-way medium.
And apparently, people are responding. Here are some of the more colorful comments, both in agreement with and opposition to Mahmoud. All errors of grammar and spelling original:
I in fact think you are a great leader and I am actually contemplating moving to Iran because of the ignorance of people and the harsh things they say about all middle eastern countries... - Adara in Canada
Mr. President Allow me to express my admiration for your policy. You are a great example of how one should stand up to the bullies of the world. Keep up the good fight. You are a spoksmen to all the free people, not just Muslims. - Filip in Macedonia
After watching video of your experience at Columbia University I felt tryly ashamed to be an American. The ignorance and intolerance exhibited by Mr. Bollinger in his introduction speech was totally unacceptable and certainly not a befitting welcome for a world leader and scholar such as yourself. - Allison in the United States
Hey! Do all you non-Iranians realize that if you were in Iran, you wouldnt have any rights?! You couldnt serve in the military or police force...youd be discriminated against!!!! Why the hell do you support someone like this?! - Xochitl in the United States
You are a terrible, despicable human being. You WILL be attacked by the US or Israel and will be destroyed! - "Your gone" in the United Kingdom
How does it feel to be the most hated person on the planet? - Martha in the United States
If you read other languages, you can also check out the comments made on the non-English versions of the site. Translations of "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Personal Memos" and their respective comments are also available in Arabic, Farsi, and French.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said something dumb. I know, dog bites man. In this case, it's a comment that shows his misunderstanding of the U.S. political system:
If the White House officials allow us to be present as an observer in their presidential election we will see whether people in their country are going to vote for them again or not," he said.
Of course, President Bush isn't running. He's already served the maximum two terms.
On a private listserv, Columbia professor and Iran expert Gary Sick shares his thoughts on U.S. policy toward Iran (posted with permission):
ALI AL-SAADI-ALI HAIDER/AFP/Getty Images
Over the past several weeks, there has been a quiet process of apparent concessions and small gestures of approval between the United States and Iran in Iraq. General Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal that Iran "made promises at the highest levels of the Iranian government to the highest levels of the Iraqi government. These were unequivocal pledges to stop the funding, training, arming and directing of militia extremists in Iraq. It will be hugely significant to see if that's the case." Only a few weeks earlier, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had noted that the discovery and use of improvised explosive devices (IED) of suspected Iranian origin in Iraq had declined, along with the general decline of violence associated with the U.S. military surge and new counter-insurgency tactics.
In between these two announcements, the U.S. military released nine Iranians who had been arrested and held for many months. [...]
I withhold judgment for now, but I think this series of unexpected events that got very little media attention was important in several ways. First, it tends to put the lie to all the heated speculation that the United States is about to bomb Iran. [...] Second, it lays a more constructive background for the next round of U.S.-Iranian talks in Baghdad, which should convene in the near future. [...]
Finally, I note that U.S. foreign policy is increasingly in the hands of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is showing herself to be a consummate realist, particularly as the neo-conservative ideologues increasingly find themselves without government employ and quarantined from the policy process, and as the Office of the Vice President watches its policy influence evaporating almost by the day. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that administration policy toward North Korea and the Palestinian issue have effectively reversed in the past year (regardless of pro-forma administration claims that the policies remain steady and unchanging).
Is there room in these last months of a lame duck presidency to craft a modest opening to Iran, while maintaining a stout anti-Iranian coalition?
Well, if we are to heed the cries of alarm emanating from the neo-conservatives as they watch their grandiose plans to add a third front to the War on Terror crumple into the dustbin of history, perhaps there really is something going on here.
As I noted earlier, these diplomatic openings with Iran have a way of falling apart. Sick goes on to note that any rapprochement with Tehran will proceed under the radar to minimize the risk for both sides:
Nevertheless, since this is a policy that dare not speak its name, even if these titillating signals are true, no turning point will be announced in blaring trumpets, and the message about Iran will be cloaked in vitriol and bile to prevent creating undue alarm among American conservatives and among the Arabs who are only now signing on to a long-term strategy to counter the "Iranian threat" but who also deeply fear the possibility of a sudden deal between the United States and Iran....
Watch this space.
It now appears that the Bomb Iran! crowd is just making it up as they go along. The latest case in point is Joshua Muravchik's column in this morning's USA Today. Let's take a look at Muravchik versus reality:
Our choice is stark. Accept Iran with an atom bomb or cripple its nuclear program by force. Nothing else will stop Tehran. States rarely get talked out of instruments of power, especially not fanatic ones."
Reality: No nation in history has ever -- ever -- been forced to give up its nuclear weapons. Many, however, have been persuaded to do so. Ambitions and scientific know-how die equally hard. This includes North Korea, an Orwellian nightmare of a state where Kim Jong Il, a fanatical dictator if ever there was one, has spent the last couple decades starving millions of Koreans.
The dangers an Iranian bomb would present are intolerable. Iran is the pre-eminent sponsor of terrorism. Iranian weapons are responsible for a large share of U.S. casualties in Iraq.... The list goes on."
Reality: Iran appears to be behind much of the reduction in violence in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, deputy commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq: "We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq. We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up."
Iran also might launch a nuclear missile at Israel, which Ahmadinejad wants 'wiped off the map.' Israel could strike back, but so what?"
Reality: As Blake noted earlier today, Israel has second-strike capability in its submarines. A nuclear strike by Iran would mean its complete destruction. So, please, someone in the Bomb Iran! crowd logically explain to me why Iran is the first nation in history to defy more than a half century of mutually assured destruction (MAD) theory? Give me a break. Rhetoric from politicians is one thing, but there's absolutely nothing to suggest ordinary Iranians are prepared to die by the millions in order to "wipe Israel off the map." Get real.
Only strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities can forestall these terrible scenarios.... We would send no troops, conquer no land. Rather, we would act in pre-emptive self-defense."
Reality: I'll believe this when someone in the know tells me that our intelligence on Iran is far better than our intelligence was on Iraq. So far, I have yet to meet such a person from inside the U.S. government. I have met Israelis who say their intelligence on Iran is good, and it's not improbable they would share it. Still, what exactly will airstrikes accomplish? Setting Iran's program back another five years? Or does the Bomb Iran! crowd intend to send special ops in to assassinate Iran's scientists? That's what it would really take to "eliminate" their program. It's laughable that the same people who criticized Bill Clinton's cruise-missile approach to national defense now want to mimic it.
"Stark choices" make for good newspaper copy. But reality is far more complicated. Mao, Stalin, Kim — they were all far worse than the wanna-be dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. We negotiated with all of them. And in the end, we won.
Anne Applebaum airs the familiar complaint that the Iraq mess has made real sanctions on Iran less likely. She then goes on to say:
What, then, are we left with? Fingers crossed, that those who say Iran's nuclear bomb is years away are right. Fingers crossed, that maybe Iran really does just want a civilian nuclear program. Fingers crossed, that if Iran gets nukes, its government will behave responsibly.
Fingers crossed? Anne, like many other pundits, seems to have forgotten about a well-developed doctrine called "deterrence." During the Cold War, math whizzes at places like the Rand Corporation churned out reports and game-theory matrices on the subject; in other words, we know a lot about it, and it's a lot more sophisticated than a pundit's "fingers crossed."
But you don't have to have a black belt in deterrence theory to understand the issues when it comes to Iran's would-be nukes. Let's take the case of Israel, which would theoretically be the country most threatened by an Iran with nuclear weapons. Israel reportedly has upwards of 200 nuclear bombs and/or warheads and second-strike capability. Notably, Israel has three nuclear-armed submarines; Iran has no technology that can detect them.
In the extremely unlikely event that the mullahs are foolish enough to launch their unreliable missiles on Tel Aviv and/or Jerusalem (most likely killing tens of thousands of Muslims and destroying several major Islamic holy sites in the process), Israel will annihilate Iran. With their submarines, the Israelis can do so even if their entire country is destroyed first. Boom. That's deterrence.
It's that simple. And the United States offers another order of magnitude of deterrent power. Sanctions and negotiations may yet prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; there is plenty of time, and there is no hard evidence that Iran has even made the political decision to weaponize. But even if diplomacy fails, as no less a personage than former CENTCOM commander John Abizaid said recently, "Nuclear deterrence would work with Iran." Just like it worked with the Soviets, who were vastly more powerful and much more aggressive. This is not to say that there wouldn't be problems, but they would be manageable.
For whatever reason, some folks are just desperate to believe the Iranians. Take the FP Passport blog for example, which found "plausible" the Iranian explanation for how the country had accidentally ended up with blueprints for a nuclear weapon.
He then goes on to quote selectively from Eric's post, omitting entirely the part where Eric airs his concerns:
Even if Iran did not actively seek out information that could only be used in nuclear weapons, though, the real question is why the country's leaders would wait two years to comply with the IAEA's request to relinquish the documents. At best, the Iranians were holding the blueprints in reserve for situations like today's, as a bargaining chip. At worst, they were holding them to eventually use them in a weapons program. Either way, Iran was not cooperating fully with the IAEA in its attempts to ascertain the true nature of the country's nuclear program—not a good sign.
Eric can defend himself, but that doesn't sound at all like desperation to me. So, I just want to make two things clear. One, "Passport" is an inanimate object that doesn't have views. Individual contributors to the blog have views, and they often differ. Two, Goldfarb's selective quotation misleads his readers. Read Eric's post—or all of his posts, for that matter—and judge for yourself.
Finally, Goldfarb writes, "the IAEA is all trust, and no verify."
This is just false. I'm not in the business of shielding the IAEA from reasonable criticism, but this simply is not true. As the report (pdf) states, "Since March 2007, a total of seven unannounced inspections have been carried out" at Iran's enrichment facility at Natanz."
More: "From 15 to 18 September 2007, the Agency performed a physical inventory verification at PFEP."
More: "The Agency has continued monitoring the use and construction of hot cells at the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), the Molybdenum, Iodine and Xenon Radioisotope Production Facility (theMIX Facility) and the Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40) through inspections and designinformation verification."
More: "On 11 November 2007, the Agency conducted design information verification at the IR-40 and noted that construction of the facility was proceeding. Satellite imagery appears to indicate that the Heavy Water Production Plant is operating. The Agency must rely on satellite imagery of this plant as it does not have routine access to it while the Additional Protocol remains unimplemented."
More: "The Agency has made arrangements to verify and seal the fresh fuel foreseen for the Bushehr nuclear power plant on 26 November 2007, before shipment of the fuel from the Russian Federation to Iran."
Get the picture? As a result of this work, the report concludes:
The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material, and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran concluded a Facility Attachment for FEP. However, it should be noted that, since early 2006, the Agency has not received the type of information that Iran had previously been providing, pursuant to the Additional Protocol and as a transparency measure. As a result, the Agency's knowledge about Iran's current nuclear programme is diminishing.
Read the whole thing (pdf) if you want; it's only nine pages long. As Elaine Sciolino and William J. Broad characterize it, it's a mixed bag, neither a whitewash nor a full-throated denunciation. It may not be enough to get Russia and China on board the sanctions train. But it's simply not the case that the IAEA is "all trust, and no verify."
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