What growing Iranian ties to Russia?

Criticizing a column by Charles Krauthammer is an action roughly akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but today's offering contains a particularly egregious distortion:

On Tuesday, one day before the president touted passage of a surpassingly weak U.N. resolution and declared Iran yet more isolated, the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran gathered at a security summit in Istanbul "in a display of regional power that appeared to be calculated to test the United States," as the New York Times put it. I would add: And calculated to demonstrate the hollowness of U.S. claims of Iranian isolation, to flaunt Iran's growing ties with Russia and quasi-alliance with Turkey, a NATO member no less. 

Growing ties with Russia? Not so fast, Chuck.

First, need I point out that Russia did, in fact, vote for the resolution in question?

Second, back in May, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ticked off the Russians when he strongly implied that Russia was becoming an enemy of the Iranian people. Here's how Reuters characterized the Russian response:

The Kremlin swiftly chastised the Iranian leader for "political demagoguery" and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday described Ahmadinejad's tirade as "emotional".

He said Iran had for years failed to respond to Moscow's efforts to resolve the dispute over nuclear work seen by the West as having military purposes, a charge Tehran denies.

This is not to say that Moscow is ready to overthrow the mullahs or simply go along with U.S. plans to put the hurt on Tehran. Russia's interests in Iran are primarily commerical, as was clear from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments this week. (''We ensured the absolute protection of all the vitally important trade channels that exist between Russia and Iran ... The U.N. resolution doesn't create any barriers in this sense.'') He also indicated, however, that Iran wouldn't be allowed to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Beijing-led security group focused on Central Asia.

Ahmadinejad has an interesting personal history with Russia. Back in 1979, according to the Atlantic's Mark Bowden, he voted against occupying the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, favoring a demonstration in front of the Soviet Embassy instead. A fellow student radical later described the future president's thinking in a BBC documentary thusly: "Mr. Ahmadinejad said it will boost the Soviets’ influence -- the real threat to the revolution is Russia and the Marxists."

There is a long history of Russian interference in Iran, including one of the first crises of the Cold War -- Joseph Stalin's refusal in 1946 to end the Soviet occupation of vast swaths of the country. It was only after the massive application of pressure by then U.S. President Harry Truman that the Soviets agreed to withdraw. This history is no doubt widely remembered in Iran today, even as the regime looks for lifelines wherever it can find them.



Oiled birds: To clean or euthanize?

Of all the photos documenting the effects of the oil spill (and there are some true stunners), the images of oil-soaked pelicans are among the most arresting and disheartening. One shows an immobile bird making a futile attempt to flap its wings. Another captures a brown and slimy creature opening its beak wide in what looks unmistakably like a shriek -- the avian equivalent, perhaps, of the desperate expressions on the faces of Gulf fishermen. At least, you tell yourself, these poor pelicans get picked up, cleaned up, and sent on their way -- feathers ruffled, daily routing upended, but not all that worse for wear (oil contaminates the birds but, if properly removed, doesn't cause permanent damage).

If you've been reassuring yourself with this rosy rescue story: think again. Silvia Gaus, a German animal biologist, has spoken out to advocate a "kill, don't clean" approach to handling the damaged birds. She's been joined by a chorus of scientific and environmental experts, including spokesmen for the World Wildlife Fund, who say that the low rates of survival for the birds -- estimated by Gaus to be a mere 1 percent -- mean that life-saving attempts just aren't worth the effort. The stress experienced by birds, they say, is simply too much: most, they predict, will go on to die of kidney or liver failure.

An editor at the Anchorage Daily News offered a less scientific perspective:

"Somewhere in America today, a child is going hungry while well-meaning people go to great lengths trying to save oiled Alaska birds destined to die shortly anyway...Why? Because rescuing these birds makes some people feel better about themselves."

If you don't buy either argument (and many don't: the executive director of the International Bird Rescue and Research Center called them "completely bogus"), there are a few facts you might bear in mind about the challenges of cleaning and saving oil-contaminated birds. In order to wash a single pelican, you'll need four pairs of hands (one bird rescue expert says with horror that she'd "never wash a bird alone"), a soft baby toothbrush, a handful of q-tips, a bottle of Dawn detergent (proven through "twenty years" of research to be the most effective de-oiling product), 300 gallons of hot water, and 45 minutes of your afternoon. Now multiply that by about a thousand.

This debate is just one of many unfolding between experts of all kinds in the aftermath of the spill. But it isn't hard to imagine how this tug-of-war between optimism (think "Save the Pelicans" bumper stickers) and fatalism ("just euthanize") might start to infiltrate other dimensions of the response effort. That is, if it hasn't already.

Win McNamee/Getty Images