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2003 October 14 Tuesday
Bin Laden Son Protected By Clerics In Iran

Writing for the Washington Post Douglas Farah and Dana Priest report that Osama Bin Laden son Saad bin Laden is one of many al Qaeda members living in and working from Iran.

Like other al Qaeda leaders in Iran, the younger bin Laden, who is believed to be 24 years old, is protected by an elite, radical Iranian security force loyal to the nation's clerics and beyond the control of the central government, according to U.S. and European intelligence officials. The secretive unit, known as the Jerusalem Force, has restricted the al Qaeda group's movements to its bases, mostly along the border with Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden has had on-going contacts with Iran spanning years.

Gunaratna said that an analysis of bin Laden's satellite telephone calls from 1996 to 1998 showed that more than 10 percent were placed to Iran, demonstrating the ongoing contacts with Iran during that time.

What is amazing about this story is that Iran's support for terrorists continues even after 9/11 and even after the overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. So far nothing the United States has done has intimidated the mullahs who rule Iran. To them it is business as usual. The United States still is not openly threatening Iran with a military attack and the Iranians think they can get away with what they are doing both in terms of support for terrorists and in terms of nuclear weapons development.

Once the Iranians manage to build functional nuclear weapons the ability of the US to restrain Iran will decline considerably. The United States will then be in the position of having a nuclear-armed enemy that supports terrorists that have carried out attacks on American soil. It seems likely that more terrorist attacks will have to happen before there is sufficient political will to deal with either North Korea or Iran.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 14 02:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2003 August 24 Sunday
Iran And North Korea Seen As Negotiating Closer Nuclear Cooperation

China eLobby draws attention to a recent report that the North Korean and Iranian regimes are negotiating a deal for more extensive cooperation on nuclear weapons development.

So many North Koreans are presently in Iran working on nuclear and ballistic missile projects, the story said, that a Caspian Sea resort has been furnished for their use.

Then, just two days ago, a story in the Japanese newspaper Sankei reported that the two countries would likely reach an agreement in mid-October to jointly develop nuclear warheads. Also, under the agreement, North Korea will export Taepodong missile components for assembly in Iran.

It isn't called Axis Of Evil for nothing.

By Randall Parker    2003 August 24 12:38 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 June 16 Monday
Iranian Intellectuals Call On Khamenei To Renounce Divine Right To Rule

It is interesting to note that there was a period of European history when Kings proclaimed their divine right to rule as representatives of God on Earth. Some intellectuals in Iran would like to bring an end to their era of divine right to rule.

More than 250 university teachers and writers added their voices to students' bold demands for democratic reforms in Iran, telling supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei he must answer to the people and abandon the idea that he is God's unchallenged representative on Earth.

The biggest destabilizing force in Iran has got to be the relative youthfulness of the Iranian population.

But the tumult in Tehran's streets suggests that the country's youth will not be quieted for long. More than 60% of Iran's 70 million people are under the age of 30.

Old folks do not typically engage in street battles. High testosterone young males with feelings of adolescent rage and rebellion are the best hope for the downfall of the Mullahs in Iran. Whether enough young males can be roused to overthrow the regime remains to be seen. One of the biggest factors weighing against that outcome is the sizeable number of Islamist young males who are eager to fight to maintain the theocracy.

The failure of the previous revolution continues to limit enthusiam for another revolution. The Iranian students would be a lot more motivated if they had a clearer shared goal for their protests. (same article also available here)

But there is no collective vision of a viable alternative. "The problem with reforms is that Iranians know what they don't want, but they do not know what they want," said Muhammad, a 24-year-old student. Many students interviewed did not want their full names or schools published, saying they feared subsequent harassment.

I'm still pessimistic about the prospects for a radical change in Iranian politics. The broader Iranian public is too apathetic. In her visit there for The New York Times Magazine Elizabeth Rubin found widespread feelings of apathy and resignation about politics in Iran. The latest street protests are not yet a sign that the broader Iranian populace are in a pre-revolutionary frame of mind. Even if the Iranians have a revolution many secular reformers want to continue Iran's nuclear weapons development program anyway.

Update: For a more optimistic outlook on the protests in Iran we can count on Michael Ledeen:

Fourth, and perhaps most important, the anti-regime demonstrations are not limited to Tehran. On Sunday night, for example, the biggest demonstrations to date — anywhere in the country — reportedly took place in Isfahan (where my informant said virtually the entire city was mobilized against the regime), and other protests were staged in Mashad, Shiraz (where three distinguished scholars were thrown in jail last Thursday, following an extorted "confession" from a 14-year old) and Ahvaz. This is doubly significant, both because it shows the national character of the rebellion, and because Isfahan has historically been the epicenter of revolutionary movements (and indeed some of the harshest critics of the regime are in and from Isfahan).

I hope Ledeen is correct. This sort of thing is incredibly hard to predict. The regime could make some big mistake and make some move that intensely enrages the populace. Video For instance, footage might capture regime thugs killing children in a demonstration or something else similarly enraging and that footage might be broadcast into Iran via satellite. Some spark could set off a big scaling up of the demonstrations.

Update II: There is one big difference between the prospects for a revolution in Iran now and the period that led to the overthrow of the Shah in the late 1970s: Then the secular and religious forces were both pushing for a change in goverment. But now many Islamists are lined up against the secularists. There could be a brutal civil war if the secularists became sufficiently emboldened to try to bring down the government. It is far from clear which side would prevail. In large part it depends on the level of motivation and ruthlessness of the two sides.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 16 02:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 June 13 Friday
Student Protests In Iran Greatest Seen In 5 Years

Students in Tehran have protested for 3 nights in a row.

ISTANBUL, June 13 (Friday) -- Clashes this week between students and security forces in Tehran appear to be the most significant civic protests inside Iran in almost five years, according to analysts and witnesses who say it remains unclear whether the unrest will spread to the general population.

Hooman Peimani says that protests by only a few thousand do not amount to much. If the protests started pulling in a significant portion of the 1.7 million Iranian students only then would they have the scale needed to offer a serious challenge to the Mullahs currently ruling Iran.

Nevertheless, student protests in themselves are not capable of facilitating the desired change as long as they remain scattered as they can then be easily contained or suppressed. Having said that, the 1.7 million Iranian students attending a large number of higher education institutions, if acting as a united social group, could certainly function as a catalyst of change, encouraging other social groups to join a peaceful movement for the formation of a secular democratic system. If, then, the student protests can continue, they have the potential for growth and consolidation.

Peimani also reports that even as students protest and the United States seeks to isolate Iran to pressure it to halt nuclear weapons development Germany is trying to develop better relations with the current Iranian government.

Visiting German Foreign Ministry official Volker Stanzel's talks in Tehran on Sunday with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Euro-American Affairs, Ali Ahani indicate that while the American government is seeking Iran's isolation, Berlin is moving in the opposite direction.

The Germans are not being helpful.

The demonstrations began in order to protest against rising student tuition fees.

Minister of Science and Technology unveiled a plan to privatize universities requiring the students to pay tuition fees causing dismay among the students who could not afford to.

The student complaints have become more general and aimed at the regime.

"Tanks, artillery and guns no longer have any power," the protesters chanted. "Khatami, Khatami, resign, resign." Others shouted, "Death to dictators."

The government is using paramilitaries to attack the students and the behavior of the paramilitaries is going to make the government even more unpopular.

Often they would ditch their vehicles and attack private homes, smashing lights and exposed windows and screaming at cowering residents to stay indoors. Sometimes the students would get their revenge. At one point, they separated a sole vigilante, wrestled him off his bike, pummeled him and then set his bike afire.

The approach of the anniversary of the July 1999 student protests which were brutally suppressed has Iranian opposition groups promoting the idea of a big demonstration on July 9.

About a dozen US-based television stations run by Iranian opposition groups have been urging people to demonstrate against the clerical system on July 9.

Michael Ledeen continues to say that Iran is ripe for a revolution.

Over the past two years, millions of Iranians have taken to the streets in open rebellion. For the most part, these demonstrations have been led by "students," but these are not the kids in Paris or Berkeley in the 1960s. Iranian "students" are considerably older (some of the leaders are in their late thirties or early forties), and hardened by years of street fighting, imprisonment and torture.

However, AFP reports on the third night of student protests the number of protesters has declined. Count me as continuing to be skeptical about the prospects for a revolution in Iran that will usher in a secular democracy that forsakes terrorism and nuclear weapons development. The broader Iranian public is too apathetic. Even if they have a revolution many secular reformers want to continue Iran's nuclear weapons development program anyway.

Update: Joe Katzman's Iran Regional Briefing has a nice collection of links on recent events in Iran. He includes a link to Iranian blogger ahuramazda about the accuracy of Michael Ledeen's writings on Iran. Note that he believes Ledeen exaggerates the size of street protests and also believes that apathy is the dominant mood in Iran.

By Randall Parker    2003 June 13 02:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 31 Saturday
Reuel Marc Gerecht On Whether Iranian Regime Supports Al Qaeda

Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht examines the very important question of whether the Iranian government is tolerating the operation of Al Qaeda cells in Iran.

Nonetheless, when Tehran wants to make a show of force in any region, it can deploy forces fairly quickly. Also, the internal informant network in clerical Iran, though not nearly as effective as in Saddam's Stalinist Iraq, is good. It is just not credible that Arabic-speaking members of al Qaeda could sustain themselves for any length of time in Kurdistan or Baluchistan (where Arabic speakers are few) without Iran's internal security services getting wind of their presence. Why local Iranian Kurds or Baluchis would want to aid a foreign Arab group like al Qaeda is another question. Fleeing members of al Qaeda are probably not cash-rich, their drug-trade utility since the fall of the Taliban must at best be marginal, and the Kurds and the Baluchis would obviously not want to incur Tehran's wrath or closer supervision for foreign holy warriors unrelated by blood. If Tehran didn't mind al Qaeda in Baluchistan or Kurdistan, then the local reaction would, of course, be different.

This is an article well worth reading in full. The United States faces two big questions on Iran: A) Is Iran trying to develop nuclear weapons? and B) Is the Iranian government providing refuge and an environment which Al Qaeda and or other terrorist groups can use to help them strike at American and other Western targets? The answer to the first question is clearly Yes. Much is known about the nuclear facilities at Natanz and Bushehr. It would be ridiculous to argue that these facilities are not being built to enable nuclear bomb construction.

But the second question is much harder to judge. Certainly the Iranian regime has a track record of state support for terrorism. The regime has even supported attacks against American targets. But is the regime providing sanctuary to Al Qaeda operatives? If it is then the United States can not let Iran get away with it. There is too much at stake in the larger fight against Al Qaeda. Gerecht provides a lot of useful background for anyone who wants to form a judgement on the question.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 31 11:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 29 Thursday
Iranians Too Apathetic To Rebel

Hopes that the United States can foment an internal rebellion in Iran do not seem realistic.

"If anybody took a look at Iranian history, the likelihood of fomenting mass popular uprising in the midst of foreign interference is naïve," said the reformer, an academic who spoke on condition he not be identified by name. "Right now it would result in the opposite, emboldening a sense of collective resentment against a superior outside power.

"This is at the popular level," the academic added. "At the elite level it would be even worse. You would have strong resentments and a closing together of various factions, reformers and conservatives."

The Bush Administration does not know what to do about Iran.

Administration officials say there is a split in the administration over how to proceed with Iran, with some advocating tough measures like cutting off diplomatic contacts and possibly supporting antigovernment opposition groups based in American-occupied Iraq.

US intelligence does not appear to have a clear picture of the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda.

U.S. intelligence sources said last week that al-Qaeda members in Iran included Saif al-Adil, a leader implicated in 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. U.S. officials said it was not clear, however, whether Adil had any responsibility for the Riyadh attacks. It was not known whether he was among those arrested.

A lot of articles have been written lately about Al Qaeda members in Iran. However, the articles are short on specifics. How many of the Al Qaeda people are in Iranian cities? How many are in border regions near Afghanistan and Pakistan? Are they getting support from the Iranian government? It is certainly possible.

Even the Iranian reformists support Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The Bush Administration would like to find a way to deal with Iran that doesn't require a military intervention yet which prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Well, good luck with that ambition.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 29 02:20 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 28 Wednesday
Saddam's Sons Even Worse Than Previously Reported

Time has an in-depth look at Saddam Hussein's sons Qusay and Uday.

Uday was so jealous of his brother, says a senior broadcaster, that he leaned on editors to keep Qusay's picture out of the media and threw tantrums when he couldn't prevent it. Uday's former business manager Adib Shabaan said the competition extended to women. Uday demanded that beautiful women who had had sex with his brother be brought to him. In several cases, Shabaan said, Uday also had sex with the woman, then had her branded on the buttocks with a horseshoe, producing a scar in the shape of a U, for Uday.

Qusay was civilized compared to Uday. Uday kidnapped women from their wedding parties. Uday used the internet to do web searches to look for information about torture practices in other cultures and periods of history. He put much of what he found to use.

Saddam and his sons have something in common with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il (aside from brutal heartlessness): a love of American movies.

According to Izzi, they were fixated on American-made movies, directing their representative at the United Nations, Tariq Aziz, to bring back dozens of videos each time he left New York. And "Pollyanna" these were not: "Silence of the Lambs," "Casino" and "Rob Roy" for Saddam and "From Dusk Till Dawn," "The Mummy" and "Bride of Chucky" for Uday.

Uday's lions are being sent back to Africa.

The lions are expected to arrive in South Africa as early as next month, while the bear will be sent to a reserve in Greece, she said. The cheetahs -- nearly tame -- will stay in Baghdad.

At least Saddam had the sense to realize that someone as vicious and impulsive as Uday shouldn't rule a country. Saddam realized that even vicious killer dictators should place some restraints on their behavior.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 28 01:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 27 Tuesday
Saddam Hussein's Dead Baby Parades Were Charade

The hospitals would collect a month's worth of dead babies and not allow the parents to have them to bury so that they would be available for parades.

But The Telegraph can reveal that it was all a cynical charade. Iraqi doctors say they were told to collect dead babies who had died prematurely or from natural causes and to store them in cardboard boxes in refrigerated morgues for up to four weeks - until they had sufficient corpses for a parade.

Regime supporters were ordered out to line the streets and act out as the dead baby parades passed by. Iraqi doctors now say that the lack of drugs was due to the government taking the money and spending it on palaces and other things for the corrupt regime. Also, Shiites had to live in neighborhoods with poor sanitation because the government would not build infrastructure in areas whose populaces were considered hostile to the regime. Recall that the US support of UN sanctions was blamed for the high infant mortality rate in Iraq before the war.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 27 01:53 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 25 Sunday
Pentagon Hawks Pushing For Iran Regime Overthrow

Writing in The Washington Post Glenn Kessler reports that US intelligence intercepts between Al Qaeda members in Iran and Saudi Arabia relating to the recent terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia are being used to justify support for a proposal to try to destabilize the Iranian government.

The Bush administration, alarm-ed by intelligence suggesting that al Qaeda operatives in Iran had a role in the May 12 suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, has suspended once-promising contacts with Iran and appears ready to embrace an aggressive policy of trying to destabilize the Iranian government, administration officials said.

If there are Al Qaeda members in Iran who were involved in the attacks in Saudi Arabia are they living in areas of Iran that are firmly controlled by the Iranian government? Did any part of the Iranian government know what these Al Qaeda people in Iran were up to? It is not at all clear.

Iran has an elected government and then separately various organs run by the Ayatollahs. Keep that in mind when reading this latest report of arrests of Al Qaeda members in Iran.

Iran has informed the US that it has detained suspected members of the al-Qaeda network, but it is not yet known if they are the same activists thought by the Bush administration to have played a direct role in last week's suicide bombings in Riyadh, a US official said yesterday.

Are these the most important Al Qaeda members who were arrested? Were they arrested under orders of the elected leaders or under orders of the Ayatollahs?

The extent of State Department acquiescence or opposition to this proposal is not clear as different news reports provide different accounts of State's position. The Pentagon wants to use MEK fighters in Iraq as part of the plan to bring down the ayatollahs.

The Pentagon plan would involve overt means, such as anti-government broadcasts transmitted to Iran, and covert means, possibly including support for the Iraq-based armed opposition movement Mojahedin Khalq (MEK), even though it is designated a terrorist group by the state department.

The biggest problem I have with this proposal is that I agree with those who think that Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state. Writer Elizabeth Rubin holds this view as well. I am skeptical about whether the Iranian people are deeply opposed to the regime in large enough numbers to revolt. What happens if the US tries to destabilize Iran and the Ayatollahs respond by jailing all the reformers and viciously opposing street protests? It is quite possible that there will not be enough popular support for an uprising to succeed.

Meanwhile 130 of the 290 members of the Majlis legislature in Iran wrote a letter to Ayatollah Khamenei calling for reform.

Some 130 reformist lawmakers called on Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to accept democratic reforms for the ruling establishment to survive.

This latest letter is signed by fewer people than the 153 who signed another letter calling for reforms a couple of weeks ago. It is not clear to what to make of that.

Update: Coverage in The New York Times reiterates the uncertainties about Iranian government connections to Al Qaeda and also skepticism that a revolution in Iran would stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Among other things, they note that George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence, has testified that even the secular "moderates" in Iran favor development of nuclear weapons.

The secular ideology which the North Korean regime uses to govern can be defeated. Secular ideologies are provably wrong using empirical evidence because secular ideologies are not otherworldly. North Korea's people, given enough information about the world, could be convinced that communism is nonsense. But trying to convince Middle Easterners that Islamic political ideology is wrong effectively requires convincing them to abandon beliefs in the supernatural. That is much more difficult to do.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 25 12:50 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 13 Tuesday
Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Seen As Broadly Popular

While some commentators in the United States point to secular pro-democratic and pro-reform segments of Iran's population as the great hope for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power Paul Hughes of Reuters finds Iran's nuclear weapons program popular even among many of those Iranians opposed to clerical rule.

But for many Iranians, even those staunchly opposed to the system of clerical rule in place since the 1979 Islamic revolution, nuclear arms are a legitimate national aspiration which would boost the country's security and bargaining power.

"I hope they are building nukes," said Ali, a U.S.-educated businessman who inherited a thick Californian accent from 18 years living on the U.S. west coast.

Bear in mind that when India and Pakistan first tested nuclear weapons there were celebrations in the streets of each country. The people of Pakistan were thrilled that Pakistan responded to Indian nuclear tests with their own nuclear tests. If Iran's government explodes a nuclear bomb in a test will the Iranian people respond any less enthusiastically?

Democratic reform will not stop Iran's nuclear weapons program. Therefore, only a military option will stop it. Considering the amount of time the Bush Administration spent on diplomatic efforts and in efforts to build up support domestically for the attack on Saddam Hussein's it is hard to see the Bush Administration building the needed level of support in time enough to be able attack Iran before it becomes a nuclear power.

Update: Gary Sick agrees that the reformists in Iran are not opposed to Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Gary Sick, the Iran specialist at Columbia, noted that under the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970 Iran is legally entitled to build facilities for a full nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment plants and plants for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel that could be used to produce weapons-grade uranium or plutonium.

"They are going about this very systematically, and very rapidly," Sick said. "What's worrisome is that there is no serious debate about this in Iran. The reformers aren't up in arms. There is, in fact, quite a bit of unanimity" that Iran, given its geography, needs to go the nuclear-weapons route.

Reuel Marc Gerecht also thinks the Iranian nuclear weapons development program is broadly popular in Iran.

Michael Ledeen, the influential conservative pundit and moderator of the panel, opened the discussion by sharing his assertion that Iran resembles a country that is experiencing the final stage of its ruling government. Gerecht disagreed on this assertion and maintained that the Iranian regime would not fall anytime soon. A revolution would require a series of events and not a mere spontaneous uprising. As an example, Gerecht mentioned that the 1999 students uprisings were “peanuts” compared to the demonstrations of 1979. Moreover, US meddling in Iran is not helpful, according to Gerecht, who pointed out that “everyone in Iran hates the regime, including the regime itself!”

On the issue of weapons of mass destruction, Gerecht pointed out that Iran’s nuclear policy has widespread support in Iranian society and described a nuclear Iran as an inevitability. Although a targeted military strike against Iran could work, it wouldn’t work well since the CIA’s intelligence (Gerecht’s former employer) is not sufficiently reliable, i.e. chances of missing the targets are considerable. Currently, Iran’s program can be best checked through Israel, in Gerecht’s view.

Note that Gerecht does not think that the Iranian regime is anywhere near to falling.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 13 07:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 May 08 Thursday
Over Half Of Iranian Legislature Call For Reforms

Iran's elected deputies of their Majlis legislature have written a letter calling for reform of the Iranian government.

An open letter, signed by 153 deputies in the 290-seat Majlis and read out in the chamber on Wednesday, said Iran was in "a critical situation" and the ruling establishment risked losing the support of the people, who had overwhelmingly voted for reform.

The US invasion of Iraq has emboldened the elected deputies of Iran's Majlis legislature. These deputies are toothless since any legislation they pass that the ruling Mullahs disagree with can be cancelled by the Mullahs.

The American presence on both borders is emboldening the reformers.

"Following the installation of American forces in Afghanistan and the occupation of Iraq, the threat has arrived at our borders," it said. "We, the reformist parliamentary deputies, have seen these conditions and are of the opinion that to escape from this situation the solution is to push forward reforms and attract confidence at home and abroad," the MPs wrote.

The Majlis deputies may be motivated as much by fear of being voted out of office in the next election.

"The majority of Iranians are waiting for reforms, but have reached the conclusion that their votes are meaningless," the MPs wrote, citing the low turnout in February's municipal elections that saw backers of embattled moderate President Mohammad Khatami suffer an unprecedented defeat.

If only the Islamists are motivated to get out and vote then the reformists are going to be voted out of office in large numbers. You can therefore read their letter as a desperate attempt to improve their chances in the next election.

From that previous passage and this passage here and it is clear that the deputies are telling the Mullahs that unless they do reforms to get more popular support for the government the people of Iran will be unwilling to defend Iran against an American invasion.

The reference to voter apathy was coupled with an observation of the course of the US-led invasion of Iraq, during which "the Iraqi people stood by without any reaction during the occupation of their country".

This is the most powerful argument they can make. Whether the argument will have enough impact on the Mullahs to loosen up their reigns of control any and to give up some power to democratically elected officials remains to be seen. Count me skeptical.

On a related note Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi says Iran wants to have normalized relations with the United States

"Iran wants to expand its relations with all countries, even with the United States," he said after meeting in Luxembourg Wednesday with Lydie Polfer.

He can say that but there are two problems with this statement: First, the ruling Mullahs have to give permission to the elected government to normalize relations. Second, the US has to have some reason to want to agree. Iran is about to become a nuclear power and is in Bush's Axis Of Evil. Unless the Mullahs want to abandon their nuclear program what would be the point of normalizing relations with them?

Update: Some analysts see the US invasion of Iraq and establishment of a democracy there as having an effect mainly in the longer term as the example of the democracy becomes seen by the people in the region.

Bernard Lewis, an emeritus professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University and a well-known expert on Islam and the Middle East, said that a major fear among the ruling theocratic regimes in the Middle East, such as Iran, is that the American effort to bring democracy to Iraq will be successful and spread liberal ideas to their countries.

"A secular democracy in Iraq will be threat to the governments of Syria, Iran and other countries in the region. It is in Iran that this fear of secular democracy in Iraq is most strongly felt and with a variety of reasons," Lewis said at the conference.

Development of a secular democracy in Iraq will take years. Therefore the full impact it will have on people in neighboring countries still lies years into the future. This does little to help the US today deal with Iran's fairly advanced nuclear weapons development program.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 08 11:08 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 May 06 Tuesday
What Do Polls Tell Us About The Iranian People?

Some neocon hawks argue that the threat of nuclear proliferation from Iran can be dealt with by helping the reformist forces in Iran. Most notably Michael Ledeen has repeatedly made the argument that Iran is ripe for the picking to become a liberal democracy if only we'd help out. See here and here and here and here for examples of his views on the subject. By contrast, in my view the Iranian people are not in a pre-revolutionary frame of mind. Now let us look at some opinion polls that have come out of Iran in the last year or two and see if there are any hopeful signs for Ledeen's rosy anti-Mullah pro-liberal democracy scenario.

First of all, slightly over half of the youthful folks in Iran do not approve of the performance of the Iranian government. These 14 to 29 year olds represent about a third of the total Iranian population.

Citing the results of a questionnaire completed by 75,000 14 to 29-year-olds over the past year, the group said "54 percent do not approve of the plans and performance of the government ... although 80 percent approve of Khatami himself".

Does 54 percent seem a lot to you? How often have US Presidents had approval ratings that low or lower? Did the US have a revolution as a result? This hardly seems promising. That Iranians polled had a higher esteem for the Iranian President who effectively serves as a puppet of the Mullahs who have the real power is not encouraging either. Khatami is not going to lead a revolt against the figures who wield the real power.

Most of the Iranian population want better relations with the United States and about half are sufficiently opposed to their own government to approve of US policy toward their country.

In October the judicial authorities closed down the National Institute for Research Studies and Opinion Polls, which found in a poll commissioned by the Parliament that approximately three quarters of the population supported dialogue with the U.S., and close to half approved of U.S. policy towards their country.

Well, you can find Democrats who approved of US policy toward the United States over the Iraq war. Again, this is not earth shattering.

The pollsters who conducted that previous poll were sentenced to jail terms for doing the poll.

A poll conducted last year for a parliamentary committee showed 74 percent of Tehran residents in favor of dialogue with America. An enraged judiciary charged three prominent pollsters with selling classified information to institutes with alleged links to the CIA.

In a bizarre twist, hardliner (see what he says about the Muslim use of nuclear weapons against Israel) former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani favors a referendum to approve normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States.

Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran, suggested recently that a referendum be held for Iranians to decide if they want to reconcile with the United States. A majority of Iranians favor reconciliation, according to numerous opinion polls.

What is his motive? To placate the portion of the Iranian population that is opposed to the regime? To just cause trouble for other factions among the Mullahs?

Previously mentioned conservative columnist Michael Ledeen, a long time observer of Iran and advocate of US support for opposition forces in Iran, reports on a secret poll that showed very deep dissatisfaction with the Iranian government.

Two recent polls suffice to demonstrate the hatred of the Iranian people for their leaders, whether "hardline" or "reformist." The first, a secret survey carried out by the Interior Ministry for the ruling mullahs, found that only six percent of 16,000 people in Tehran said they were satisfied with the regime; the other 94 percent said they were unhappy with it. Moreover, nearly half of those polled — 45 percent — said it was impossible to reform the system and must be totally changed.

It is hard to know what to make of this. Assume this report is accurate. How deep is the dissatisfaction? Does it translate into anger? What is the motive for the dissatisfaction? Ledeen wants to find signs that the Iranian people are so dissatisfied that, appropriately encouraged, they'd rise up and overthrow their rulers and replace those rulers with a new government which will abandon efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Well, how convenient (hear the Dana Carvey Church Lady's voice when you read that). What if they are more resigned and despondent than angry? What if they want a better economic system but want a strong military and see themselves as having every bit as much of a right to nuclear weapons as the United States?

Ledeen also comments that people may have been less than honest with the pollsters out of fear that the government was conducting the poll and could retaliate. Well, would someone who is that fearful answer the first question honestly and say they were unhappy with the government and yet answer the second question dishonestly and say that the system didn't have to be totally changed? Perhaps. But if the fear was that great I'd expect more than 6% would say out of fear that they really were happy with the government.

Ledeen has one secret poll result supporting his view of deep popular dissatisfaction whose accuracy we can not trust. But even if the level of dissatisfaction is as great as he reports that will still not lead automatically to a revolution. As long as the Mullahs have enough enforcers and a willingess to lock up, kill, and torture opponents the prospects of revolution are low unless a large portion of people get very angry. It takes fury to send people out into the streets to put their lives at risk in sufficient number to bring down the regime. But the Iranians already did that once and were disappoionted with the result.

There are other polls reported from Iran that are coming from sources that make them suspect. The Iranian government's own news agency the Islamic Republic News Agency reports a poll showing deep Iranian popular distrust of the United States.

Tehran, April 14, IRNA -- Eighty-three percent of citizens in Tehran distrust US government, a survey carried out by the Iranian Students Opinion Polls Center, has shown.

The polling was carried out on April 10 and 11, using the 'cluster sampling' method, in which 973 people were interviewed, the center said in a statement, a copy of which was faxed to IRNA Monday.

This poll might even be accurate. But I have the sneaking suspicion that the government pretty much went looking for questions to ask that would allow it to portray America in the most negative light. My guess is that the question they were not about to ask (at least if they were going to honestly report their results) is whether the interviewed people trusted their own government. Of course Ledeen's point about fearfulness of the government applies on this poll as well. If the people know that the correct answer is to state that they distrust the government then they'd tend to do so.

But if people in Iran are afraid to answer some poll questions honestly one would expect them to be fearful of anyone who either calls them up or approaches them to ask questions. Therefore one would have to doubt the accuracy of the results of the other polls mentioned above.

Iranian voters are so disillusioned that only 10% of the population of Teheran turned out to vote and conservatives won almost all the contested seats.

Conservatives recovered almost all the local council seats which reformers won in Iran's first ever municipal elections in 1999 , on a tiny turnout amid growing public disillusion with electoral politics.

Can people be unwilling to vote and yet willing to rise up and revolt? Count me skeptical. What I see in Iran is unenthusiastic disillusionment. The grievances are there. But there is no fire-in-the-belly revolutionary fervor. Also, there are religious factions who are fervent who will support the theocracy against the threat of a secular revolution.

By Randall Parker    2003 May 06 03:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 April 17 Thursday
Saddam Linked To African Islamist Terrorist Group

Reporters from The Daily Telegraph (free registration required) managed to get inside the headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service (presumably the newspaper means the Mukhabarat though they do not say) and found documents that link Saddam's regime with the Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces group.

Saddam Hussein's regime was linked to an African Islamist terrorist group, according to intelligence papers seen by The Telegraph. The documents provide the first hard evidence of ties between Iraq and religious terrorism.

The reporters were able to get into the building thru a hole made by shelling. One has to wonder what files are being carried out of the building by whoever decides to try to do so. The US military really ought to be doing a much better job of protecting sites which have valuable intelligence files.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 17 02:37 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 16 Wednesday
US Wants Mugabe Removed From Power In Zimbabwe

A US State Department official says the United States government wants Robert Mugabe to hold another election that is free of the coercion and fraud that helped him win the last election.

"The neighbourhood is starting to realise there is a downside to giving aid and protection to Comrade Bob," the official said, using a derogatory nickname for Mugabe.

"There is stuff happening, there is stuff happening behind the scenes," the official added, declining to elaborate.

US Undersecretary of State for African Affairs, Walter Kansteiner may visit South African countries and pressure Mugabe to hold another election.

The US government wants Mugabe to leave office in advance of the next election and let a transitional government rule while the next election is held.

The campaign comes amid growing international pressure - especially from the United States, which on Monday called on Zimbabwe's neighbours to step up pressure on President Robert Mugabe to hand over power to a transitional government in order to pave the way for new elections.

The US wants Mugabe out in advance of the next election so that he can't steal it again.

"What we're telling them is there has to be a transitional government in Zimbabwe that leads to a free and fair, internationally supervised election," the official said. "That is the goal, he stole the last one, we can't let that happen again," the official said, referring to a widely condemned election last March in which Mugabe won re-election.

The US approach to Zimbabwe provides yet another contrast with French foreign policy. The brutal repressive Zimbabwe regime is another government that the French government caters to. Once again the French government pretends that making nice with a vicious dictator can somehow improve the nature of the dictator's regime. If Mugabe was an enlightened benevolent dictator who just happened to be opposed to democracy it might not be worth it to force him to hold elections. But this guy is running Zimbabwe into the ground. If the United States government can find a fairly low effort way to force him from power then the people of Zimbabwe stand to benefit. If the US is going to make this happen it ought to be done sooner rather than later because under Mugabe the economy and the famine will only get worse.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 16 12:47 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 11 Friday
What CNN Held Back About Saddam's Regime Out Of Fear

Eason Jordan, chief news executive of CNN, reports on what CNN was afraid to report while Saddam was in power.

I knew that CNN could not report that Saddam Hussein's eldest son, Uday, told me in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two of his brothers-in-law who had defected and also the man giving them asylum, King Hussein of Jordan. If we had gone with the story, I was sure he would have responded by killing the Iraqi translator who was the only other participant in the meeting.

Read the full article.

Contrast that with what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says even today about the war.

"I have absolutely no regret about my vote on this war," she told reporters at her weekly briefing yesterday, saying the same questions still remain: "The cost in human lives. The cost to our budget, probably $100 billion. We could have probably brought down that statue for a lot less. The cost to our economy. But the most important question at this time, now that we're toward the end of it, is what is the cost to the war on terrorism?"

How could we have brought down Saddam's statues for less? Does she have in mind pinpoint bombing aimed only at the statues? Or did she have in mind to negotiate with Saddam to buy the statues? Perhaps she thinks a secret CIA team could have gone there and planted some corrosive material in the base of the statues? Its hard to take her delusions seriously at this point.

Others are in rather closer touch with reality. A US soldier viewing the contents of an Iraqi military prison in Zubayr Iraq sees electric cables running into a small cell and sums up the whole place rather cogently: "It's just evil in here."

"I'd hate to think of what those clamped onto," said one U.S. soldier, who speculated the far end would be attached to a generator. "It's just evil in here."

By Randall Parker    2003 April 11 01:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 April 08 Tuesday
Iran Irregular Forces May Attack US Forces In Iraq

The Mullahs in Iran have decided to make life more difficult for American occupation forces in Iraq.

WASHINGTON, April 3 (UPI) -- Iran's senior leadership decided last month to send irregular paramilitary units across their border with Iraq to harass American soldiers once Saddam Hussein's regime fell, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

Iran is playing similar games in Afghanistan. So this shouldn't be too surprising. It will be interesting to see what the Bush Administration does in response. The Mullahs perhaps do not understand that they are increasing the chances that the Bush Administration will decide to either preemptively attack their nuclear facilities or perhaps even try to overthrow the Mullahs one way or another.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 08 12:59 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 April 06 Sunday
Iranian People Not In Pre-Revolutionary Frame Of Mind

Writing for the New York Times Magazine Elizabeth Rubin has written an excellent essay on the democratic opposition to the unelected clerics who rule Iran. She confirms what I've read from other sources: the Iranian populace are not eager to launch a revolution to unseat the Mullahs from power.

As radical and impatient for democracy as the students are, however, most of them do not want to lead Iran into another bloody revolution. I asked Mehdi Aminzadeh, a 25-year-old student leader studying civil engineering, if there was anything brewing in Iran equivalent to Yugoslavia's Otpor, or ''resistance'' -- a grass-roots movement spread by Serbian youth that defeated the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. (One of the opposition satellite television channels that are beamed into Iran by the Iranian diaspora in California constantly replays the chronicles of Milosevic's destruction of Yugoslavia and Otpor's destruction of Milosevic, as if trying to suggest a script for the students to follow.) No, he said. For now there is no social movement or political party tough enough and well financed enough to organize such mass demonstrations.

They had a revolution. It turned out disastrously. They are not eager to have another one. They want gradual change. All of this is understandable.

The United States can not count on an internal revolution to overthrow the Mullahs. The people of Iran are just not up for having a revolution. This is a problem for the United States because the Mullahs are well along in their development of their nuclear weapons program. The development of a democracy by either revolution or internal reform most likely will not happen before Iran becomes a nuclear power. The United States can not afford to wait long enough for the democratic forces to some day get into control of Iran and eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons program (if an elected government in Iran would even decide to do so). International Atomic Energy Agency director ElBaradei has recently toured Iranian nuclear facilities and found the Iranians close to launching the operation of a uranium enrichment facility.

Dr ElBaradei became the first international official to be shown the Natanz site just under a month ago. He reported yesterday that a pilot uranium enrichment plant at Natanz "is nearly ready for operation, and a much larger enrichment facility [is] still under construction at the same site".

In a Natanz Iran facility 160 uranium enrichment centrifuges are tested and ready for operation while more uranium enrichment centrifuges are being assembled.

In a nearby building, workers are assembling parts for 1,000 more centrifuges, part of a constellation of 5,000 machines that will be linked together in a vast uranium enrichment plant now under construction. When the project is completed in 2005, Iran will be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs each year.

Some members of the Bush Administration see Iran's nuclear program as something that needs to be dealt with fairly promptly.

John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, joined national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in warning that the White House sees nuclear-weapons programs in Iran and North Korea as imminent threats.

``The estimate we have of how close the Iranians are to production of nuclear weapons grows closer each day,'' said Bolton, a leading hawk within the administration.

Iran, like North Korea, will not have its regime overthrown by internal revolt. If the United States wants to end the Iranian and North Korean nuclear weapons development programs it must either launch preemptive strikes against their nuclear facilities or it must use military force to overthrow the Iranian and North Korean regimes itself.

By Randall Parker    2003 April 06 02:16 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 March 24 Monday
Uday Hussein Tortures Iraqi Athletes Who Lose

Saddam Hussein's psychopathic son Uday is in charge of Iraqi sports teams.

"I know what they went through," adds Haydar, who escaped from Iraq in 1998 and now lives in London. "I was tortured four times after matches. One time, after a friendly [match] against Jordan in Amman that we lost 2-0, Uday had me and three teammates taken to the prison. When we arrived, they took off our shirts, tied our feet together and pulled our knees over a bar as we lay on our backs. Then they dragged us over pavement and concrete, pulling the skin off our backs. Then they pulled us through a sandpit to get sand in our backs. Finally, they made us climb a ladder and jump into a vat of raw sewage. They wanted to get our wounds infected. The next day, and for every day we were there, they beat our feet. My punishment, because I was a star player, was 20 [lashings] per day. I asked the guard how he could ever forgive himself. He laughed and told me if he didn't do this, Uday would do it to him. Uday made us athletes an example. He believed that if people saw he was not afraid to beat a hero, that they would live in greater fear."

Add the International Olympic Committee to the list of international organizations that turn a blind eye to the brutality of the most evil regimes in the world. The horrible treatment of Iraqi athletes has been well known for years. Yet Iraq is still allowed to participate in international matches. The IOC, by allowing Iraq to participate, has given Saddam Hussein's regime legitimacy that it does not deserve. Plus, it has conducted contests that inevitably have let to the torture of Iraqi athletes once they get home.

Also see previous posts on the brutality of the Saddam and his sons Uday and Qusay.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 24 11:00 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 March 22 Saturday
American Peace Activist Shocked Back To Reality

UPI Editor Arnaud de Borchgrave reports on an American peace activist who fled Iraq for Jordan

A group of American anti-war demonstrators who came to Iraq with Japanese human shield volunteers made it across the border today with 14 hours of uncensored video, all shot without Iraqi government minders present. Kenneth Joseph, a young American pastor with the Assyrian Church of the East, told UPI the trip "had shocked me back to reality." Some of the Iraqis he interviewed on camera "told me they would commit suicide if American bombing didn't start. They were willing to see their homes demolished to gain their freedom from Saddam's bloody tyranny. They convinced me that Saddam was a monster the likes of which the world had not seen since Stalin and Hitler. He and his sons are sick sadists. Their tales of slow torture and killing made me ill, such as people put in a huge shredder for plastic products, feet first so they could hear their screams as bodies got chewed up from foot to head."

Do the peace activists not bother to take the time to do much reading about Iraq before going to all the trouble to take a trip over there? The use of shredders and other gruesome methods to kill political prisoners have been widely documented. At least this one peace activist could come to his senses. I wonder how many learned the same things and remained unpersuaded of the wrongness of their cause.

British Labour MP Ann Clwyd made her case for taking out Saddam's regime in an Times of London article entitled "See men shredded, then say you don't back war".

There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into it and we were again made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and died quickly. Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food . . . on one occasion, I saw Qusay [President Saddam Husseins youngest son] personally supervise these murders.

Update: Writing for the New York Times John Burns find ordinary Iraqis in Baghdad eager for Saddam's overthrow.

Ordinary people here whispered as the week progressed that they were ready for the war, and even welcomed it, as long as it was short, and civilian casualties were limited. Today, as the bombers approached, these whispers became more daring. "What, what, what?" one man said, pointing surreptitiously toward the sky and winking. His meaning, unambiguously, was that he was tired of waiting for Iraq's new era to begin. But these Iraqis, too, continued to be frozen in fear of government retribution.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 22 10:24 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 March 09 Sunday
Iran and North Korea Determined To Go Nuclear

Marc Erikson argues that North Korea's regime is determined to become a nuclear power and is not just trying to extort more aid from other countries.

The standoff, then, is between a US policy of pushing North Korean nuclear disarmament and a Kim policy of developing nuclear weapons for self-preservation. Can or will Kim give up on his goal? That's not a whole lot more likely than Mao giving up on nuclear development in the 1960s. Will the US give up its demand for dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program? That's equally unlikely, as the very logic of its Iraq policy is WMD (weapons of mass destruction) disarmament to prevent proliferation.

Erikson's argument sounds correct. Its implications are staggering. The North Korean regime can survive even if a substantial portion of its population is in total poverty and hungry. It is not motivated by a sense of economic desperation. The regime wants a nuclear capability most of all to be able to deter an attack. The regime's primary goal is to ensure its own survival. Once it has that nuclear capability it will want to try to milk it for more money by extortion and it may try to use it to unify with South Korea with the North playing the dominating role. It may also elect to sell nuclear materials and even nuclear bombs in order to raise money. But its greatest goal is to have a greater deterrent capability.

Meanwhile in Natanz Iran the Iranian regime is scaling up to become a major nuclear power.

In a nearby building, workers are assembling parts for 1,000 more centrifuges, part of a constellation of 5,000 machines that will be linked together in a vast uranium enrichment plant now under construction. When the project is completed in 2005, Iran will be capable of producing enough enriched uranium for several nuclear bombs each year.

The North Korean and Iranian regimes are both determined to become nuclear powers. They can not be bribed out if their ambitions. They can't be threatened out of them. No diplomatic process will dissuade them. Unless the regimes are overthrown or their nuclear development facilities are destroyed they will both become nuclear powers with substantial nuclear arsenals.

The question the people of the Uinited States need to consider is what are risks to the US and the rest of the world of Iran and North Korea as nuclear powers and what price is the United States willing to pay to prevent each of these regimes from becoming nuclear powers.

By Randall Parker    2003 March 09 09:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 February 19 Wednesday
Three Cargo Ships May Contain WMD

The UK Independent reports American and British military and intelligence services are tracking the movement of 3 cargo ships that have been cruising around the Indian Ocean which may be carrying Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

American and British military forces are believed to be reluctant to stop and search the vessels for fear that any intervention might result in them being scuttled. If they were carrying chemical and biological weapons, or fissile nuclear material, and they were to be sunk at sea, the environmental damage could be catastrophic.

Are these ships hiding weapons from the inspectors?

John Eldridge, editor of Jane's Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence, said Saddam Hussein would have been "extremely sensible" to hide weapons at sea.

This doesn't seem likely. Iraq is a big place. Saddam has plenty of places to hide weapons in Iraq. Maybe the ships are weapons development labs. Or perhaps they are carrying weapons that are to be used to strike the US and its allies if Iraq is attacked.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 19 07:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 February 14 Friday
Is Iraq Distracting From Dealing With North Korea?

Some criticise the Bush Administration for preparing to invade Iraq in the face of North Korean moves to develop nuclear weapons. The argument made by many critics is that since North Korea is the greater threat it should be dealt with first. These criticisms are unconvincing for a very basic reason: there is little that would be prudent for the United States to do about North Korea that war preparations and diplomatic efforts against Iraq are preventing.

Lets consider what the US might do to deal with the growing threat from North Korea. Lets start with military options. One could claim that if only the US didn't have so many military assets tied down preparing to invade Iraq that the US could instead be building up military forces near North Korea. In order for a build-up of military force to be credible as a source of pressure to bring against the North Korean regime the US has to really be willing to use it. How many of the critics of the coming attack on Iraq are prepared to instead support an attack against North Korea that would be, compared to the coming Iraq war, much more risky, economically costly, and result in enormously higher casualties? Precious few is my guess.

Another option would be to try to do covert operations to bring down the North Korean regime. Such operations wouldn't necessarily have to be for the short term goal of organizing a coup. Economic and propaganda tools could be used to gradually weaken the regime (and one can only hope that the CIA is running such operations). Surely the CIA is big enough to run operations against Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime while also running operations against North Korea to smuggle in information for propaganda purposes and to bribe well-placed North Koreans for information and to get influence in North Korea. It is hard to see why dealing with Iraq is as big of a problem for the CIA as watching and attacking Al Qaeda. Therefore if the CIA is distracted away from North Korea by anything it is far more likely to be by Al Qaeda than by Iraq. It seems dubious to argue that US intelligence agencies are strained by Iraq and therefore can't deal with North Korea.

If military options against North Korea are not a good idea at this point (and I don't think they are yet) and if intelligence resources aren't being overly strained by the run-up to the Iraq war (again, if they are strained over anything its Al Qaeda) then in what other way might the US be getting distracted by Iraq? One could argue that at the top level of civilian leadership and in the diplomatic corps US officials just don't have enough mental time to think about North Korea properly because they have to spend so much time thinking about Iraq. This argument at least seems possible. Still, it implies a rather low regard for the capacity of diplomats and top national security types to deal with more than one big international issue at a time. My guess is that they can handle multiple big issues at once and that when the National Security Council meets to hash things out in the White House that North Korea gets more attention than the White House gives it in public pronouncements.

An argument that the US is paying too much attention to Iraq and not enough to North Korea ought to be looked at in light of just what exactly the US ought to do to deal with North Korea. Think about whether the Bush Administration tactics toward North Korea make sense. We know that the Bush Administration does not want to get into a direct two-party negotiation with North Korea. Why? First of all, if an agreement could even be reached the North Koreans wouldn't honor any agreement that might come out of such a negotiation. Also, the rest of the world would complain to the US about any outcome from such negotiations (unilateral cowboys that we supposedly are). Negotiating with the North Koreans is a no-win game for the US. We also know that North Korea is trying to escalate the crisis in order to get the US to make concessions. The North Koreans want the direct negotiations for the same reasons that the Bush folks want to avoid them. Democrats in the US who are calling for such negotiations are playing into Kim Jong-il's hands.

Knowing that the US doesn't have enough leverage with the North Koreans, the Bush folks want China to apply pressure to North Korea. China doesn't want to do that and so China is recommending direct talks between the US and North Korea. The most important diplomatic game over North Korea is between the US and China. Bush wants China to accept that it has a responsibility to discipline its client North Korea. China wants North Korea to be free to continue to make problems for the US.

There is one additional card that Bush has set into motion which is the most important reason why North Korea and China are so eager to see the US directly negotiate with North Korea: The US has cut off aid to North Korea and some other countries have done so as well. The North Korean regime is going to feel under increasing economic pressure as a result of this. China may need to step in to help. Given the reduction in foreign aid and current trends North Korea's economic problems are going to get worse.

In public pronouncements Colin Powell, George Bush, Ari Fleischer and other officials say that the US is pursuing the diplomatic route with North Korea. For understandable reasons this is an incomplete and misleading description of what is going on. The US doesn't want to admit that it is probably doing covert operations against the North Korean regime and that the intelligence agencies of some other governments (e.g. Japan, South Korea) are doing likewise. The US doesn't want to dwell on the fact that the aid cut-off is going to help make poor North Koreans even poorer. The US is definitely applying economic pressure (e.g. the cut-off of oil shipments) and trying to convince other countries to apply economic pressure as well.

The most important argument going on at the diplomatic level is surely that between the US and China. The US is trying to convince the Chinese leaders that it is in their interest to prevent North Korea from becoming a serious nuclear power. South Korea and Japan are also surely making the same argument to China. There are compelling arguments that can be made for why it is in China's interest to restrain North Korea. Most notable is that a nuclear North Korea might lead to a nuclear Japan and to Japan joining much more vigorously to help the US develop missile defense systems. Another argument is that if North Korea sells nukes and some cities get vaporized as a result fingers of blame are going to be pointed at China for its failure to control its client. It is by no means certain that the Chinese leaders can be convinced by these arguments. But it is worth it for the US and its local allies to make the argument.

China is in the position of wanting the US, South Korea, and Japan to pay to prop up a regime that is the source of increasing security threats to all of them but China. This has worked for China up until recently. But North Korea's actions and statements combined with a more hawkish US president are making China's expectations of outside help for North Korea increasingly unrealistic. The Bush Administration has to have the patience to wait for China to accept that it has reached crunch time over North Korea. China has to decide whether it wants to step in and spend the money to replace the aid that North Korea used to receive from other countries. China also has to face the anger and possible subtle forms of economic and diplomatic retaliation that a decision to prop up the North Korean regime would provoke from both the US and Japan.

Update: On Fox News on Sunday Colin Powell mentioned some reasons why China holds many cards in dealing with North Korea.

Take China, for example. China has said that it is their policy that the Korean Peninsula not be nuclearized -- in fact, be denuclearized. Well, therefore, China should play an active role in making sure that that is the case. They have considerable influence with North Korea. Half their foreign aid goes to North Korea. Eighty percent of North Korea's wherewithal, with respect to energy and economic activity, comes from China. China has a role to play, and I hope China will play that role.

There is a limit to the amount of economic pressure that the US can bring to bear on North Korea as long as China is funding the continuing existence of the North Korean regime.

Update II: China's San Francisco consulate Deputy Consul-General Qiu Xuejun claims China is trying to get North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons development.

"China has been going through its own channels to convince North Korea to change its (nuclear) stance," said Qiu, admitting it hasn't had much luck.

"North Korea is an independent country. Of course, we can pass along messages to them, but China's influence on North Korea is ... well, they make their own decisions," Qiu said.

It is unlikely that China has reached the point of threatening to cut off aid if North Korea doesn't comply. China's leadership is not yet demonstrating firm conviction that North Korea must be stopped.

Update III: If you want to read more about the problem of North Korea read my Axis of Evil category archive.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 14 01:43 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2003 February 13 Thursday
China, EU want US-North Korea Unilateral Diplomacy

Oh, the irony. China and the EU want the United States to pursue a unilateral course with North Korea while the United States wants a diplomatic negotiation process that involves many interested nations sitting down with North Korea at the same time. Jim Hoagland reports that China and the EU want direct US-North Korean talks.

China's foreign ministry on Tuesday publicly endorsed Pyongyang's demand for talks only with the United States. Astonishingly, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy spokesman and a genuine advocate of strong transatlantic ties, chimed in during the same Beijing news conference to say that "the most important thing at this point is direct dialogue" between Washington and Pyongyang.

Hoagland says that South Korea and China both misread US intentions on North Korea. I'm skeptical on that point. Hoagland doesn't specify what South Korea and China think the US intentions are. A more likely possibility is that both South Korea and China understand US intentions and are opposed to them.

China and the United States have conflicting interests on North Korea. China is not afraid that North Korea might attack China and hence has no fear of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development efforts). At the same time China wants North Korea as a buffer between it and South Korea. Plus, the Beijing regime doesn't want a popular revolt in North Korea giving Chinese people any ideas about doing the same.

South Korea and the United States also have conflicting interests on North Korea. South Korea just wants to buy off North Korea so that South Korea won't have to suffer hundreds of thousands of casualties fighting it (which is certainly understandable). South Korea's interests are parochial and encompass just the Korean peninsula. Of course South Korea's leaders might be misjudging the North Korean regime. It may well be that once North Korea has a large number of nuclear weapons and plenty of missile delivery vehicles that at that point it will greatly up its extortion demands or even demand that South Korea disarm and submit itself to the North Korean regime's political will. But the South Korean leaders do not seem to think this is a likely possibility.

By contrast, the national security thinkers in the United States take a much larger view of the threat from North Korea. The US is worried about the specter of Nuclear KMart and the global risks posed by North Korea. North Korea has so far demonstrated a willingness to sell any military technology it can make and to anyone who has the money to pay. The US is also concerned that once North Korea can deliver nuclear weapons via ICBMs to strike the US that the US will face a greater set of extortion demands from North Korea. Plus, there is the fear that North Korean regime, being so isolated and paranoid, could miscalculate and fire off missiles at the United States. Therefore what we have is a conflict of interests between China, the United States, and South Korea over what to do about North Korea.

US concerns are certainly well justified by the rhetoric that comes from North Korea. North Korea's leaders do not speak calm tones and don't shrink from threatening to wreak havoc on other nations. North Korea is not bashful about threatening to attack the United States.

"Wherever they are we can attack them," Foreign Ministry official Ri Kwang Hyok told France's Agence France-Presse news agency in an interview in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

"There's no limit to our attack ability. The strike force of the Korean People's Army will take on the enemy wherever he is," Ri was quoted as saying.

Out of the three regional neighbors of North Korea the one that most closely shares US concerns is Japan. Japan fears a nuclear armed North Korea could attack Japan.

TOKYO: Japan would launch a military strike against North Korea if Tokyo had firm evidence that the Stalinist state was ready to attack with ballistic missiles, Japanese Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba said yesterday.

"It is too late if (a missile) flies towards Japan," Ishiba told Reuters in an interview.

In another blow to multilateral world government and the fantasy regime of international law as guarantor of security and peace China doesn't want the UN involved with North Korea.

China has warned the UN Security Council against getting involved in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

"The UN Security Council's involvement at this stage might not necessarily contribute to the settlement of the issue," said China's ambassador to the UN, Zhang Yan.

COIA directory George Tenet suggests North Korea wants it all: US acceptance of its existence, more aid, its own nukes, freedom to be a WMD arms dealer.

"Kim Jong Il's attempts to parlay the North's nuclear program into political leverage suggest he is trying to negotiate a fundamentally different relationship with Washington, one that implicitly tolerates the North's nuclear weapons program," Mr. Tenet told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Update: If you want to read more about the problem of North Korea read my Axis of Evil category archive.

By Randall Parker    2003 February 13 01:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2003 January 26 Sunday
Saddam Hussein Popularity Down With Arabs

Saddam's goose is just thoroughly cooked. Even the vaunted "Arab street" has abandoned him.

Baka'a and other Palestinian camps, in Jordan and throughout the Middle East, were hotbeds of support for Iraq and its leader during the 1991 Gulf War. People demonstrated, put up posters of their hero and bought watches and pictures with his likeness.

Now, the narrow streets of the camp are clear of posters and nobody demonstrates. It is a measure of the changed popular as well as official attitudes to Saddam Hussein.

The article provides a very interesting analysis of why anti-American attitudes are growing in governments in the region: they are afraid of regime change. Once Iraq's government has been replaced by the United States the other regimes are afraid that the US will decide that regime change is a good idea and that the US will then proceed to overthrow other regimes in the region.

Note that these governments are far more worried about what the United States might do to them than they are about popular opinion in their own countries. They are confident of their ability to control their populaces. Popular uprisings rarely topple repressive regimes and haven't done so in an Arab country for a very long time.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 26 10:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 21 Tuesday
The Cult and Lifestyle of Kim Jong-il of North Korea

Some objected to George W. Bush's inclusion of North Korea in an Axis of Evil.

Kim has a legendary weakness for women and parties. He's been married four time, coerced many actresses, and funded specially trained females in official "dancing teams," "happiness teams," and "satisfaction teams."

In the 1990s, during a mass starvation that took 2 million lives, Kim continued a costly complex in Pyongyang called the "Longevity Institute," dedicated to research in prolonging his life. He has a set of lavish palaces, including one at the summit of a mountain with an air strip and a system of tunnels that would awe a prairie dog. He enjoys an enormous floating amusement park with two water slides that can be towed to various family coastal resorts.

One couldn't maintain such a sumptuous lifestyle in the face of large scale poverty and suffering without a huge brutal Stalinist prison system to suppress any opposition.

Jan. 15 — In the far north of North Korea, in remote locations not far from the borders with China and Russia, a gulag not unlike the worst labor camps built by Mao and Stalin in the last century holds some 200,000 men, women and children accused of political crimes. A month-long investigation by NBC News, including interviews with former prisoners, guards and U.S. and South Korean officials, revealed the horrifying conditions these people must endure — conditions that shock even those North Koreans accustomed to the near-famine conditions of Kim Jong Il’s realm.

Any attempt to bribe the North Korean regime with aid in exchange for a reduction of its threat to the rest of the world amounts to a willingness to accept a horrible moral price: the bribery payments helps prop up a regime that inflicts suffering and death on a large fraction of its population.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 21 11:19 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 16 Thursday
North Korea, China, and the United States

The press is full of reports about the North Korean nuclear weapons development efforts with lots of statements from government leaders and off-the-record comments of diplomats. But lets keep track of the basics: Which country is willing to do what in order to either restrain or bring an end to the North Korean regime? China is not helping.

Diplomats say the United States would like China, which provides Pyongyang with cheap grain and oil, to put more pressure on North Korea to drop its nuclear ambitions and avoid provocative moves such as missile testing.

China, which has taken a relatively balanced approach to the nuclear dilemma, has been pressing the two sides to negotiate. But two days after China invited the two sides to meet in Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said on Thursday there had been no takers.

What is a "balanced approach"? Reporters ought to be more careful about endorsing the spin that diplomats place on their position. China's idea of balance is to figure out how to block US moves to pressure the North Koreans to stop WMD development and WMD export while also working to keep US markets open to Chinese exports.

China does not want the matter to go to the United Nations.

Administration officials privately complain that regional players, with the possible exception of Japan, have been too wobbly in dealing with the crisis. China has been a roadblock in bringing the matter to the U.N. Security Council, officials said.

Bush has the choice of carrots or sticks. Carrots aren't going to work. Bush Administration doesn't want to try bribing the North Koreans because, as past events have already demonstrated, Kim Jong-il won't stay bought off and permanently stop WMD development. Kim will not accept a bribery deal that includes sufficiently intrusive inspections to allow verification that he's sticking to the deal. The Bush offer of food and fuel should not be seen as a formal attempt at bribery in exchange for a halt to North Korean WMD development. Bush is just trying to buy himself time to deal with Iraq.

This brings us to sticks. China supplies North Korea with a significant portion of its food and fuel. The Chinese leaders have compelling reasons to keep the North Korean regime in power. China doesn't see North Korea's nuclear ambitions as a threat to Chinese interests. At the same time North Korea is a buffer that separates China from a freer and highly affluent South Korea. Plus, much of North Korea's export of weaponry serves China's long-term interests in the Middle East. So the potentially most effective non-military stick that could be used against North Korea is not available. The US could still try to more thoroughly cut off non-Chinese supplies to the North Korean regime but Bush won't seriously consider doing that as long as Iraq is unresolved.

The US certainly is not going to take military action against the North Korean regime while Iraq's fate hangs in the balance. So the military option is off the table. Even once Saddam's regime has been consigned to the dustbin of history Bush still won't want to risk an attack on North Korea because the casualties and damage to the South Korean economy would be enormous.

Without the active support of China the United States will be hard put to force a change in the behavior of the North Korean regime. Therefore expect little action from the United States for now. The only way this crisis could escalate in the short term would be if the North Koreans miscalculated and took some form of military action. The question facing the Bush Administration is just how far is it willing to go to apply pressure to China (e.g. by gradually raising restrictions on exports from China) to make China in turn apply pressure to North Korea. We are not going to find out the answer to that question as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power in Iraq.

Kim Jong-il clearly realises the extent to which he has maneuvering room due to the heavy diplomatic and military involvement of the United States in the Middle East. He's using this opening to use rhetoric to pressure the United States to placate him while he pushes along his WMD development projects as fast as possible. The most immediate consequence of Kim Jong-il's increasingly threatening actions and rhetoric may well be to stiffen Bush's resolve to take out Saddam Hussein's regime sooner rather than later in order to free up US military assets and to get past the need to constantly do diplomatic work on issues relating to Iraq. It can't do that as long as Saddam Hussein is in power. Tony Blair is under considerable domestic pressure to try to delay the attack on Iraq until the inspectors find direct evidence of WMD in Iraq. Under different circumstances Bush might be tempted to try to help Blair by delaying the attack for many months. But the need to move on to dealing with North Korea may convince Bush that he can't let the Iraq situation go on for most of 2003.

There is a lesson here: the inability of the US military to fight and win two regional conflicts at the same time has provided an opening for the North Korean regime to accelerate its WMD development projects and to try to extract diplomatic and financial concessions from the United States and from countries in the region. The US either needs to preempt potential threats at much earlier stages or it needs a bigger military.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 16 01:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 04 Saturday
United States Lacks Good Options On North Korea

Consider some approaches that the United States could adopt to deal with North Korea's WMD development programs and willingness to export WMD technologies.

  • Diplomacy with bribery.
  • Diplomacy with threats.
  • Economic pressures.
  • Military operation against WMD development and storage facilities.
  • Military operation to hurt the North Korean regime economically and militarily but short of overthrow.

Some of these approaches are not mutually exclusive and they can be considered for

The first option of "Diplomacy with bribery" was pursued by the Clinton Administration beginning in 1994 when with Jimmy Carter's help the Clinton Administration negotiated an accord whereby the North Korean regime (Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK hereafter) Even at this late date there are still prominent foreign policy hands arguing for the "diplomacy with bribery" approach to handling the DPRK. Former Clinton Administration lead negotiator to DPRK Robert Einhorn still favors negotiation.

"It's also a gamble that our relationship with our South Korean ally can survive a lengthy period of isolating and pressuring North Korea," Mr. Einhorn said. "Engaging North Korea has its downsides, but those must be weighed against the risks of not engaging."

The United States is unwilling to put enough economic pressure on North Korea to cause a famine. However, even if the US and its allies were willing to do so the previous famine was not enough to bring down the regime.

"My family began selling everything, from the sewing machine to blankets, to trade for a sack of corn," said Lim Hong-keun, 42, a North Korean coal-miner who defected to South Korea (news - web sites) in 2000, describing the situation in the late 1990s. The famine sent tens of thousands of people wandering in search of food, often across the border into China, North Korea's last remaining ideological ally. "Trains often sat idle for two or three days in each station, waiting for electricity," Lim said at a recent lecture to South Korean college students. At the height of the famine in 1997-98, soldiers went around collecting coffins, said Lee Mi-young, a North Korean who also defected to South Korea in 2000.

Famine-related deaths in North Korea from 1995 to 2000 most likely numbered between 600,000 and 1 million, according to a new study by two researchers at the International Center of the U.S. Census Bureau. The study, by Daniel Goodkind and Loraine West, appears in the June issue of Population and Development Review, a peer-reviewed journal published by the Population Council. Acknowledging that "the actual demographic toll of the famine remains uncertain owing to a lack of reliable data," Goodkind and West use demographic models to show how two direct sources of information on mortality—-the figures released by the North Korean government and recent surveys of famine refugees—-produce estimates ranging from 200,000 to 3 million deaths. By analyzing indirect evidence, including China's mortality experience during its Great Leap Forward and recent surveys of child malnutrition in North Korea, the authors are able to narrow the probable range of mortality to between 600,000 and 1 million.

A 2001 report paints a still very bleak picture for North Korea.

A German doctor who had traveled widely in the impoverished communist country described the bleak conditions facing the nation Tuesday. Norbet Vollertsen, expelled by Pyongyang in December after taking Western journalists on unauthorized tours of the North Korean countryside, said that hospitals lacked basic facilities, leaving patients vulnerable to poor hygiene and extreme temperatures. "They have no running water. No electricity…They do not have any medicine, no bandage material, no drugs, no nothing," he told reporters in Tokyo. "Some of the children are in such bad condition, they've no emotional reaction anymore. They can't even scream."

"We expect to continue providing the same level of aid to the [United Nations] World Food Program in Korea as we have in the past," a senior administration official said in reply to questions from Reuters news agency. "We don't use food as a political weapon."

Senior Bush administration officials also say that they would be giving in to blackmail by offering new incentives and that North Korea's clandestine efforts to produce highly enriched uranium demonstrate that the Clinton negotiating approach does not work. But skeptics say the policy of relying on allies will not work, in part because they are not prepared to use their full leverage to press for and possibly encourage the collapse of North Korea, an event that they fear would sow chaos in their region. China, American officials acknowledge, has not pressed the North Koreans as hard as Washington would like and is unlikely to support economic sanctions. South Korea's new president, for his part, has come to office on a platform that called for increased interaction with North Korea, not the increased its isolation.

By Randall Parker    2003 January 04 04:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2003 January 03 Friday
Amir Taheri Interviews Libyan leader Kaddafi's Son

Paris-based Iranian writer Amir Taheri interviews Seyf al-Islam Kaddafi, son of Libya's Muammar Kaddafi. Its a rather bizarre interview which mixes some rather sensible statements along such hard to believe assertions as the idea that his father doesn't really rule Libya. After arguing that political decisions are made collectively he goes on to argue that the Libyan people are still too primitive to be ruled by a democracy.

Taheri: In that case why not have a constitution and hold elections?

Kaddafi: That is the logical direction of our political evolution. But don't forget that transforming a basically medieval and tribal society into a modern democratic one in just three decades is no easy task. We cannot achieve in Libya what older democracies have achieved in centuries. Promulgating a constitution is not a difficult exercise. In fact, all despotic regimes in the Arab world do have constitutions, written by those who intend to, and do, violate them systematically. Holding elections has also become a kind of fashion in the Arab world — largely to please the Americans. But everyone knows that these are fake elections in which people have the right to endorse the rulers, often by the notorious 99.9 percent majorities, but not the right to vote them out. These so-called elections are insults to the Arab people. We in Libya will not accept such an insult. We are honest with ourselves. We realize that moving from tribal monarchy to modern democracy needs more time. We need time to evolve our culture, reform our social habits, and reinterpret our traditions in the spirit of pluralism. We also need a solid middle class without which no democracy is possible. And that, in turn, requires the presence of a large number of educated citizens who can generate enquiry and political debate.

Sure enough tribal societies are not capable of supporting functional democracies. Seyf as-Islam could probably teach Washington power-brokers and the American media and academic elite valuable lessons which they are unaware of their need to learn. One senses from this interview that the son may well understand the world fairly well. But his future is tied to the power of his father and its clear that while some of his statements represent how he sees the world he is also spinning for the Libyan regime while paying lip service to the latest enthusiasms of his mercurial father.

Father Muammar Khadafy/Ghaddafi/Qaddafi has lost his interest in the Arab countries probably as a result of his having lost all influence with them (with the possible exception of deals he may be doing for WMD technology exchanges). So he's turned his attention to Africa as a playground with greater possibilities for exercising his influence. His oil money can buy far more influence in the poorest of countries and Africa has such countries in abundance. This involvement is not doing Africa any favors. He's been helping to prop up Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe even as that regime drives that country into increasingly worse straits. As is noted in the Taheri interview he's so excited by his prospects for greater influence in Africa that he's offering Libyans cash incentives for marrying Africans (presumably only from the Sub-Saharan regions and further south)..

By Randall Parker    2003 January 03 08:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 December 21 Saturday
US Getting No Help From China On North Korea

After the North Koreans put an end to IAEA monitoring of a nuclear reactor the US government is calling on the North Korean regime to stop its nuclear weapons development programs.

"We urge the DTRK not to restart its frozen nuclear facilities including the five-megawatt reactor," U.S. State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said Saturday, adding that to do so would "fly in the face of international consensus."

...

"We call on the DTRK to respond to repeated requests by the IAEA to consult on arrangements for safeguarding the frozen nuclear facilities at Nyongbyong and allow the IAEA to replace or restore the seals and cameras that the North damaged," Fintor said.

The US State Department is just going thru the motions of establishing that it has demanded that North Korea stop and desist. This will have no effect at all on what the North Korea regime does but this sort of rhetoric is necessary for reasons of diplomacy.

Bill Gertz reports on Chinese shipments to North Korea of a chemical used in nuclear weapons production.

U.S. intelligence officials told The Times that North Korea earlier this month received a shipment of 20 tons of a specialty chemical known as tributyl phosphate, or TBP, from China.

The chemical has both commercial and military applications and U.S. intelligence officials believe the TBP will be used to extract material for nuclear bombs from North Korea's stockpile of spent nuclear-reactor fuel.

Bill Gertz reports that China is demonstrating its unwillingness to pressure North Korea to stop its weapons of mass destruction development.

The transfer itself is an indication that China's government, contrary to some public statements, is unwilling to support U.S. efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem, said administration security officials.

...

However, senior administration officials said China continues to export nuclear, chemical and biological weapons material and missile goods, despite claims of curbing exports by Chinese companies to rogue states or unstable regions.

China is not only unwilling to join in pressuring North Korea to stop WMD development but is also continuing to help North Korea pursue its ambitions. The US is faced with the choice of either trying to apply pressure to China to get it to change its position or to pursue other ways to make life more difficult for the North Korean regime.

It is possible that the US government will signal to the Chinese government that the US will launch airstrikes against North Korean nuclear facilities unless China agrees to stop selling supplies that North Korea needs for its WMD programs. The Chinese leaders might be swayed by this threat. However, even if China agreed to cut off the supplies it could still cheat. The fact that the Chinese regime does not see an interest in cracking down on North Korean behavior is paramount here. They have clearly demonstrated their intentions and to attempt to pursue a real change in the position of the Chinese regime is not only futile but would waste time.

The US is left with the choice of either tolerating continued North Korean development of WMD and sales of WMD technology or some form of military action against the North Korean regime. One possibility short of the removal the North Korean regime is to launch B-2 airstrikes against North Korean WMD facilities. B-2 bomber crews train for missions against North Korea. The US military has been working on developing the ability to more rapidly plan and execute bomber missions against North Korea.

Since 1994, the military has continued to improve its adaptive planning capabilities for nuclear forces. Other documents released under FOIA illustrate just how rapid the planners envision nuclear targeting to be in regional scenarios. When the first B-2 bombers replaced the B-1 in the SIOP-98 war plan in October 1997, it took planners “well over” 24 hours to complete the planning and processing of a single SIOP sortie. One year later, in November 1998, Stratcom ordered an update of the B-2 planning documents to reflect shorter timelines for planning new nuclear strike missions, calling for:

• Deliberate planned missions with a timeline of no more than 24 hours, including executable war plans, prepared in advance, for anticipated contingencies. (An example of this is OPLAN 5027, mentioned at the beginning of this article.)

• Adaptive planned missions (directed planning options or theater nuclear options) with a timeline of no more than eight hours.

Under these guidelines, planning for new limited strikes in smaller regional scenarios involving only one or a few nuclear weapons could be carried out in less time than it takes for a B-2 to fly from home base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to North Korea. On the way, the crew would be able to reconfigure existing sorties or build entirely new strike options with the bombs in their payload, revolutionizing the flexibility of nuclear-bomber strike planning.

This planning ability could equally well be used for a conventional weapons strike against North Korean nuclear facilities. The biggest question mark over the idea of conducting such a strike is whether the US knows where North Korea stores any existing nuclear weapons it might have in its arsenal and whether the US could destroy those weapons with a conventional strike using highly accurate guided weapons. Its a fair guess that the information needed to answer that question is highly classified.

The United States needs a workable and effective plan for how to deal with the North Korean regime. So far it does not have one and it is hard to imagine just what a workable plan would look like. Of all the regimes on the Axis Of Evil list how to deal with North Korea is surely the most problematic.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 21 11:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 18 Wednesday
What To Do About North Korea?

Diplomacy will fail. An attack against North Korea is too risky because the North Korean regime could probably attack South Korea with biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. At the same time, the North Korean leadership is so paranoid and isolated that its not inconceivable that Kim Jong-il could launch an attack on his own.

If you match up the dates, North Korea's secret project to produce enriched uranium must have started at the time of Kim Dae-jung's "groundbreaking" visit, while the more accommodating President Clinton was still in the White House.

Aidan Foster-Carter, a North Korea expert at Leeds University, is near despair: "The North Koreans are prisoners of their own world view. They missed their best chance when they had Clinton and Kim Dae-jung in office. And yet it seems they must have begun uranium enrichment around the time Kim Dae-jung was visiting. How is trust possible now?"

The mystery is just what will Bush come up with? Will China play along on economic sanctions? Will the US be willing to create a naval blockade? The North Korean regime could respond by shelling Seoul.

My own modest proposal to try to make a small difference: provide the North Korean people with the means to find out what is going on in the rest of the world. Right now they are incredibly isolated. This widespread ignorance helps to prop up the regime. They need to be able to listen to radios. The US could get together with South Korean electronics firms to build radios that are small and powered by mechanical springs or photovoltaic panels (necessitated by a lack of access to electricity). Put large numbers of them into floating plastic containers and release them near North Korean coastlines. Submarines could release the radios while staying submerged. Some of the radios would be found and destroyed by the military. But even just getting the radios into the hands of regular soldiers could make a difference. Some would hide them and listen to them when alone or pass them along to their families.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 18 04:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2002 December 15 Sunday
Jim Hoagland Expects UN Approval For Iraq Attack

Jim Hoagland thinks Iraq's weapons report is so bad that the Bush Administration may be able to get UN approval for military action.

Having to defend that mess of a report should embarrass even the Russians and the French.

The sighs of relief that U.S. officials exhaled when they got a first glance at the report tell me the administration will alter its strategy and pursue a second resolution actively. This would give Colin Powell a major diplomatic triumph that would be denied him should Washington go it alone.

Would the French, Russian, and Chinese leaders vote for a second resolution to authorize force? That still seems unlikely to me. The other factor weighing against a UN Security Council authorization is time. The US military is going to be ready to invade Iraq in January. If the US goes for UNSC approval that approval could take weeks or months to hammer down. That could delay the invasion till the point where weather becomes less than optimal. Plus, the US really shouldn't waste too much time before attacking Iraq precisely because there are other regimes that need to come under pressure next.

In a similar vein, Tom Holsinger believes that after the US has replaced Saddam's regime it may be possible to get UN approval for sanctions and blockade of North Korea.

Assume the U.S. government seeks a UN Security Council resolution requiring North Korea to deliver all its WMD and production equipment to appropriate international agencies for removal from the country, and to permit effective inspections by UN teams to verify compliance. Such a resolution would probably pass in the climate expected after publication of the incriminating archives of American-occupied Iraq.

Enforcing this hypothetical (for now) resolution if North Korea refuses to comply would be a quite different matter. Economic sanctions aka blockade, perhaps backed by limited military force, would be the most we could possibly obtain, but fuel &food sanctions could be very effective given geography.

Are Hoagland and Holsinger being realistic here? Once the US has control of Iraq the revelations about Saddam's WMD programs will sway a lot of people that preemption really was necessary in the case of Iraq. This will certainly help in an attempt to go after North Korea. But will China go along with such a move? If China doesn't go along then the best the US will be able to do is a cut off of all South Korean, Japanese, and US aid. The US might be able to conduct a naval blockade of North Korean ports and to get Russia to close its border with North Korea. But China might step in to try to prop up the North Korean regime precisely because the United States would be trying to make it fall.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 15 05:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 12 Thursday
China Role In Pakistan-North Korea Tech Swap

Writing in the Washington Times Edward Timperlake and William C. Triplett, II say China has played the role of enabling principal for weapons technology swaps between North Korea and Pakistan.

Looking at the origins and development of the North Korean long-range missile program, we can say that without critical help from Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army scientists, there probably would not be such a program today. In 1994, the Wall Street Journal published a discovery by the American Defense Intelligence Agency that one stage of the new North Korean missile was a copy of the Chinese CSS-2 missile. Quoting the DIA, the Journal wrote, "Presumably, the only way they [North Korean engineers] would know how to build something the size of the CSS-2 is either by physical transfer of such a beast, or of engineers familiar with the program."

The regime in China has an interest in making Pakistan a greater military threat to India but China also wants deniability for its role. North Korea serves a useful role since China can just blame Pakistan's increased military capabilities on that rogue North Korean regime.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 12 07:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 December 01 Sunday
The Problem Of Saudi Money And Wahhabism

Jim Hoagland argues that the Saudis have got to stop the practice of paying what is essentially protection money to the most extremist Islamist factions:

America's war on terrorism and the disappearance of abundant petrodollar surpluses bring the Saudi rulers to a traumatic moment of choice. To survive in the 21st century, they must actively help put the extortionists and terrorists out of business rather than fund and shield them.

The biggest change must come at home: The House of Saud must end the Faustian bargain it originally made with the country's extremist Wahhabist sect, which was given significant sway over the kingdom's social, economic and political life in return for supporting the monarchy. Wahhabi clerics have used Islamic charity as a cover to promote terrorism and hatred in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Saudi monarchy must disown and de-legitimize the extremists or remain mired in a disappearing world.

Claude Salhani points to the increasing pressure on the Saudis to cut off the financial flows that are helping terrorists and to spread Wahhabi Islam.

Amid the continuing anti-Saudi frenzy gripping those inside the Washington Beltway, the Princess Haifa affair is certainly blown out of all proportions -- after all, it is quite obvious she would never finance the Sept. 11 hijackers -- this is simply not in her lifestyle. Still, Saudi Arabia must come to grips with reality and conduct a deeper audit of its finances and eradicate certain money trails or face the consequences.

A National Security Council task force is recommending an action plan to the president designed to force Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorist financiers within 90 days or face unilateral U.S. action.

Jeff Gerth and Judith Miller make the argument that I think explains the Bush Administration's position: Administration can't afford to offend a nation it needs in case of war. Then they go on to report just how much a problem Saudi money is for the US:

Outside experts have been more critical. A report sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations last month said Saudi Arabia was the largest source of financing for al-Qaida, and blamed both the U.S. and Saudi governments for not being tough enough.

Matthew Levitt, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former terrorism analyst for the FBI, said Saudi officials and state-paid religious leaders sat on the boards of charities the American government suspected of supporting terrorism.

Once the US military removes Saddam's regime from power the Bush Administration will be in a much stronger position from which to pressure the Saudis. That is an argument for deposing Saddam sooner rather than later.

Still, people who believe that if we would just pressure the Saudis to stop funding terrorism that the size of the threat would be greatly diminished are not appreciating all the dimensions of the problem. For the US and the West the problem is not just that the Saudi regime is paying money directly to terrorists to buy protection for themselves. If intelligence reports are to be believed there are wealthy private Saudi citizens who are willingly and eagerly supporting terrorists. But even if both sources of support could be cut off the Saudis would still be generating threats for us in part because the Saudis are raising their own children to believe things that make them feel hostility toward us. But that is not the worst of it. They are also financing the spread of their version of Islam and in the process helping to radicalize Muslims all around the world. Our biggest problem is that people are being taught to believe the sorts of ideas that make them want to become terrorists in the first place.

Saudi money funds Islam in America:

Saudi Arabian donations have helped finance more than 1,700 mosques, Islamic centers and schools around the world. The kingdom has fully or partially financed Islamic centers in Los Angeles; San Francisco; Fresno; Chicago; New York; Washington; Tucson; Raleigh, N.C.; and Toledo, Ohio.

Even if all the Saudi money that flows into terrorism and into Islamic evangelism was cut off (and that is very unlikely to happen) we'd still be faced with the continued spread of the more fundamentalist varieties of Islam. Saudi Arabia is not the only source of funding for that spread. Also, money is not the only reason for its spread. Technology is lowering the cost of transportation and communications and thereby allowing the Islam of the Middle East to more easily spread into other areas. At the same time, the threat of Westernism and modernization is causing similar reactions in many Moslem countries.

Our problem is that we are not just fighting terrorists and their financial supporters. We are also fighting a religious ideology. There are few signs of a political willingness to do battle with that.

You can read more about the CFR report on Saudi terror funding here.

By Randall Parker    2002 December 01 08:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2002 November 28 Thursday
FBI Hires Former Pakistani Officers As Agents

Pakistan's ISI is helping the enemy and so the FBI is hiring Pakistanis to form its own ad hoc group of natives to investigate the Taliban in Pakistan. This is making the ISI and the Islamic parties in Pakistan unhappy. This is the sort of thing that could conceivably lead to a crisis in US-Pakistani relations war if, say, the some part of the ISI starts bumping off Spider Group members. Still, the FBI is showing its capable of a gutsy unorthodox response to a difficult situation.

The ISI had deep and long-standing ties to the Taliban and is believed by many to remain beyond the control of the central government in Islamabad.

The Spider Group consists largely of retired officers of Pakistan's army, some of whom had reached the rank of brigadier and colonel, say law-enforcement authorities in Washington and sources in Pakistan familiar with the operation.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 28 11:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 19 Tuesday
Joel Soler Documentary On Iraq On Cinemax

Rufus Jones has written a review of a forthcoming documentary on Saddam by French filmmaker Joel Soler called "Uncle Saddam":

Besides decontamination, Saddam does have other hobbies: he enjoys joshing with his doubles, firing weapons into the air at mandatory-attendance rallies, dancing to traditional Arab music, smoking Cubans (cigars, not people), and going fishing with grenades. Risking life and limb, Soler periodically escaped his state-appointed minders (who he generously mentions in the documentary's credits: "Attempted to be directed by Abou Noor"), to film some of Saddam's palaces.

It begins to feel like an episode of MTV's "Cribs," except instead of the tacky "Scarface" posters typically favored by our nation's leading gangster rappers, Saddam's cribs come with all sorts of extra amenities: private casinos, gold-leaf thrones, escape bunkers, even underground runways. While Saddam does tend toward the ostentatious (after asking his people to donate their gold for the war effort against Iran, he later showed up in a solid-gold carriage), he's not above sharing his wealth. In 1998, we are informed, "When American planes began to bomb some of Saddam's palaces, Saddam invited the Iraqi people to sleep inside."

Also see my previous posts on the conditions in Iraq and Saddam's psychopathic sons. Also, see this link to Mark Bowden's "Tales Of A Tyrant" essay.

Update: Paula Zahn of CNN has interviewed Joel Soler about his documentary and you can see a video on the CNN website of part of the interview.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 19 12:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2002 November 16 Saturday
Booming Attendance At Iraq Trade Fair

France had the large contingent of representatiives and attendance was up 33% over last year:

By all accounts, the 35th annual Baghdad international trade fair was a smashing success. More than 1,200 companies from 49 nations, including France, Germany, Spain, and Denmark, converged on the Iraqi capital, rubbing elbows with Saddam Hussein's regime in the hopes of taking home some lucrative contracts worth millions.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 16 03:37 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 November 13 Wednesday
Arnaud de Borchgrave On Pakistan And Afghanistan

Arnaud de Borchgrave examines the sorry state of Pakistan and Afghanistan where the Islamists are making gains.

If the U.S. goes to war against Iraq, Pakistan may well go the way of Yugoslavia. It could easily blow into four deadly parts and where the country's nuclear arsenal would wind up is anyone's guess. Mr. Musharraf is not an Islamist, but a number of jealous, ambitious generals are. The president has survived six assassination plots. In the event of Mr. Musharraf's demise, ISI would play a major role in the struggle for succession.

ISI's role in supplying North Korea with nuclear know-how for its missile warheads in return for North Korean missile technology for Pakistan's nuclear delivery vehicles had been a closely guarded state secret. So when the New York Times broke the story, it was yet another awkward pause in the make-believe world of a Pakistani-U.S. alliance. The chief of the North Korean Air Force has been a frequent visitor to Islamabad since September 11, 2001. He stays at the Marriott Hotel and doesn't even bother to conceal his identity; he wears his uniform.

We still do not have a credible plan for a way to cause a big shift in the attitudes of the Pakistani people to make them find Islamism less appealing. Assassination plots could easily take out Musharraf in Pakistan and Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. Pakistan could degenerate into a civil war. Not only does it have nukes but it also has helped North Korea get them and may have helped other states in their WMD development projects.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 13 12:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 06 Wednesday
Mark Bowden: Baathism Not The Ruling Ideology Of Iraq

Writing on the Innocents Abroad blog John Coumarianos has written an interesting analysis of David Brooks's essay on Michel Aflaq and the origins of the Baath Party. Says Coumarianos:

This is not "us" against "them" in a "clash of civilizations;" it's us against......us. Islamism embodies both the Left and Right Western critiques of liberalism. The Left says that we lack the equality we espouse and that we foster selfishness; the Right says that we're boring, un-spiritual, and ignoble. We should not be completely surprised about what we are up against and what the perennial points of attack against liberalism are. Given the fact that Islamism already represents a kind of "Westernization," the real question is whether Fukuyama is justified in his hopefulness that this mixture of Marxism and fascism can lead eventually to liberalism, as fascism did in Germany and Marxism did in Russia.

Coumarianos makes a number of good points. But his claim that there is a lack of "clash of civilizations" doesn't hold up. Yes, Arab intellectuals incorporated some of the lousier European political ideas into Arab nationalist thinking. Yes, some of what we are fighting amounts to bad ideas of Western Civilization adopted by members of other civilizations. But the reason these Western ideas were so attractive to begin with is that they provided an intellectual basis (no matter how flimsy or wrong) to oppose other Western ideas that Arab nationalists and Islamists already found objectionable. In other words, fascism and other ideas were attractive because they served as useful intellectual tools for propaganda and for organizing in opposition to other Western influences.

Similarly, one can read too much into Aflaq's presence in the Iraqi government in the latter part of Aflaq's life. I've read elsewhere (and its been too long to recall where) that Saddam invited Aflaq to Iraq basically for window dressing. Saddam wanted the bit of added legitimacy that he'd gain in the minds of Arab intellectuals from having Aflaq serving in some minor government ministry post. Aflaq wasn't in Iraq because Saddam embraced Baathist ideology but rather because Saddam wanted to sucker in the people who did embrace Baathist ideology.

Saddam is far more a tribal leader than a party man. See the essay "Tales Of A Tyrant" written by Mark Bowden in the May 2002 issue of The Atlantic for a good sense of how Saddam has cynically used Baathism as a tool as he built up his base of power using the same old rule by most powerful family clan:

The party seized control in 1968, and Saddam immediately became the real power behind his cousin Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, the president and chairman of the new Revolutionary Command Council. Al-Ali was a member of that council. He was responsible for the north-central part of Iraq, including his home village. It was in Tikrit that he started to see Saddam's larger plan unfold. Saddam's relatives in al-Awja were throwing their newly ascendant kinsman's name around, seizing farms, ordering people off their land. That was how things worked in the villages. If a family was lucky, it produced a strongman, a patriarch, who by guile, strength, or violence accumulated riches for his clan. Saddam was now a strongman, and his family was moving to claim the spoils. This was all ancient stuff. The Baath philosophy was far more egalitarian. It emphasized working with Arabs in other countries to rebuild the entire region, sharing property and wealth, seeking a better life for all. In this political climate Saddam's family was a throwback. The local party chiefs complained bitterly, and al-Ali took their complaints to his powerful young friend. "It's a small problem," Saddam said. "These are simple people. They don't understand our larger aims. I'll take care of it." Two, three, four times al-Ali went to Saddam, because the problem didn't go away. Every time it was the same: "I'll take care of it."

It finally occurred to al-Ali that the al-Khatab family was doing exactly what Saddam wanted them to do. This seemingly modern, educated young villager was not primarily interested in helping the party achieve its idealistic aims; rather, he was using the party to help him achieve his. Suddenly al-Ali saw that the polish, the fine suits, the urbane tastes, civilized manner, and the socialist rhetoric were a pose. The real story of Saddam was right there in the tattoo on his right hand. He was a true son of Tikrit, a clever al-Khatab, and he was now much more than the patriarch of his clan.

Racially and tribally based regimes predate the creation of modern fascism. Absent a European intellectual influence the Middle East would still have regimes that were centered around powerful families and clan loyalty with identification extending further out into ethnic group and religious identity. Consanguinity is the biggest underappreciated factor in Western analyses of Middle Eastern politics. Most Western political theorists seem blind to the importance of pre-ideological kinship-based political bonds in large part because those bonds are not derived from embrace of abstract Western ideological models of how societies and political systems should be organized. Samuel P. Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations argument is therefore demonstrated by the Western inability to understand societies that do not fit into any recognizeable modern Western ideological political category.

Update: Mark Bowden is interviewed here about his article on Saddam Hussein:

Does he conform to some kind of typical pattern? Are there aspects of his personality or situation that stand out as unusual?

Some things about him are different. In modern times tyrants have tended to be motivated primarily by ideology. So you have Pol Pot and Mao and Stalin and Hitler and Castro, all of whom were driven by fantasies of creating a higher social order. And then you have tyrants like Mobutu Sese-Sekou and Idi Amin and Papa Doc Duvalier, who were primarily motivated by greed—who were just trying to amass as much power, and have sex with as many women, and eat as much food as they could. Saddam is different in that he appears to be motivated primarily by vanity. And by this romantic fascination with Arabian history—the glory of Arabia.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 06 02:19 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
Iran Causing Trouble In Afghanistan

Shouldn't the US have enough influence to keep Iranian propaganda off the air in Afghanistan?

Iran continues playing all sides of the Afghan conflict. While aiding al-Qaeda and renegade elements of the ousted Taliban, it's also rearming ethnic factions in northern Afghanistan and penetrating government circles. Tajik generals now controlling Afghanistan's key security ministries, who depended heavily on Iranian support during their decadelong struggle against the Taliban, persistently are courted by Iran, which was the first country to reopen its embassy in Kabul.

"Without Iran, most Northern Alliance commanders couldn't have operated in Afghanistan at a time when they had no other source of international support," says a senior Afghan government source. "Almost every important Afghan commander has family living in Iran and most of them were educated in fundamentalist religious schools, or madrassas."

During the last year, Iran's foreign ministry has organized a series of private trips to Tehran for key members of the Karzai government, including Defense Minister Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Interior Minister Yunis Qanuni and National Security Chief Aref Sarwari.

Iran has supplied high-powered transmitters and funding to re-establish Afghan television and radio, which provide the only news service in a country with 80 percent illiteracy. The broadcasts now are laced with radical Islamic, anti-American propaganda and disinformation spun out by the Iranian government's IRNA news agency. During the last month, broadcasting regulations have been reintroduced that prohibit foreign films showing unveiled women.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 06 08:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 05 Tuesday
Jim Hoagland on Iraq's Involvement With Terrorism

Jim Hoagland lays out some of the evidence for Iraq's support for terrorism:

Here is one publicly available description that rebuts the once-popular view at the CIA that Iraq has not been in the international terrorist business since a thwarted plot in 1993 against former president George H.W. Bush:

"Page after page [of secret Iraqi documents] revealed plans for terrorist operations. . . . A requisition to the army asked for Iranian land mines so that the high explosive could be removed and used in booby traps overseas -- the purpose being to dupe any forensic examiner into concluding that the culprit was Iran, not Iraq. There were designs for mines configured as toys. Plans for ambushing moving convoys. A primer on how to wiretap. Document after document outlined an international program of terror."

The source of this description of a June 1996 discovery of what the author calls an Iraqi "school for terrorists and terrorism" is none other than Scott Ritter, now the star of antiwar rallies but once a fiercely dedicated U.N. arms inspector. You will find it on Page 121 of his informative 1999 book titled "Endgame."

By Randall Parker    2002 November 05 06:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
Rumsfeld: North Korea Biggest Ballistic Missile Proliferator

In the Monday, November 4, 2002 DoD News Briefing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld labelled North Korea "principal ballistic missile proliferater on the face of the earth":

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you. The mines were removed from DMZ in South Korea --

Rumsfeld: Yes, in one area.

Q: Yes, and also North Korea is known to have a nuclear weapon. I believe these are a direct threat to national security of both the U.S. and South Korea. At the same time, 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea are found in harm's way. I think these are a grave problem to the national security of the United States. Can you tell us how to redress the national security arrangement between U.S. and South Korea?

Rumsfeld: Well, Doug Feith, as I said, will be visiting South Korea in the next day or two, and they will be talking about the full range of subjects. You're quite right, North Korea is assessed to have a nuclear weapon or two. They also have a very large army, and they have a large unconventional capability, they have a lot of ballistic missiles. They're the principal ballistic missile proliferater on the face of the earth. And we do have a large number of U.S. forces there. We intend, by our presence and by our force structure, to serve as an appropriate deterrent to any aggressive action by North Korea. And we expect that it has for the past close to 50 years, and we expect that it will prospectively.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 05 04:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
North Korea Threatening Japan With Missile Tests

The North Koreans are making threats in order to pressure the Japanese to normalize relations and return the 5 Japanese kidnappees to North Korea. The Japanese government is signalling that it will not be intimidated:

Quoting a Foreign Ministry official, the North's official Korea Central News Agency said Japan's stance on the abductees and its demands that the North stop developing nuclear weapons "is now creating very serious issues as it is illogical."

Officials from the two countries met in Malaysia on Oct. 29-30 for their first round of normalization talks in two years. The talks followed an unprecedented summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17.

But the talks soon bogged down over Tokyo's demands that the North end its nuclear program and allow five people who were abducted by North Korea in 1978 to train spies be allowed to go back to Japan permanently. The date for the next round of talks has not been set.

The North Koreans are so isolated from the world that they speak with bizarre stilted phrases:

``Upon learning about the outcome of the talks, the relevant organs and people of the DPRK [North Korea] are becoming increasingly assertive that it is necessary to reconsider various points related to security, including the nuclear and missile issues,'' the spokesman said.

``The DPRK should reconsider the moratorium on the missile test-fire in case the talks on normalising the relations between the DPRK and Japan get prolonged without making any progress.''

But Mr Koizumi shrugged off North Korea's reported threat to possibly break its pledge to extend the moratorium beyond 2003.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 05 01:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 November 04 Monday
Michael Ledeen On The Ignored Oppression In Iran

Michael Ledeen, author of The War Against the Terror Masters, says there is a inconsistency in the press and governments about how the same kinds of acts are covered or ignored depending on which country commits them:

Meanwhile, the killing continues relentlessly, with public hangings and stonings the order of the day. And the silence of the West continues apace. Fascinating, isn't it, that the human-rights establishment goes ballistic over the scheduled stoning of one Nigerian woman, but says hardly a word about the three recent stonings in Iran, with more in the works? And it's equally fascinating that neither the Department of State nor the staff of the National Security Council denounces the wave of repression under way in Iran. What can explain the apparent indifference of Colin Powell and Richard Armitage in Foggy Bottom, and Elliott Abrams at the NSC? Do they find Iranians less deserving of human rights than Nigerians? And what can explain the interminable silence of the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, as well as the major news networks, to the butchery of the Islamic Republic? At the time of the Khomeini Revolution, journalists such as Robin Wright and Elaine Sciolino decried the shah's sins. Why do they now blunt their pens?

Meanwhile, some of Iran's political leaders are not taking kindly to Donald Rumsfeld's prediction of a regime change in Iran:

"I suspect that during my lifetime we're going to see a change in that situation over there and that the young people and the women and the people who believe in freedom will overthrow that cleric government and it will fall in some way of its own weight," Rumsfeld, 70, said.

On Friday Iran's powerful former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani said Rumsfeld "will take to hell his dream of seeing regime change" in Iran.

The Christian Science Monitor reports on the increased polarization between the secular and religious factions in response to a firmer US stance toward Iran:

But Iranians savor quietly tolerated American culture as much as any society in the Middle East. Coke and Pepsi are found in abundance, along with pirated versions of American films. Recent polls show that almost 75 percent of Iranians want to renew some contact with the US; just under half said that America's tough policy toward Iran is "to some extent correct."

Those results – and others that show the breadth of support President Mohamed Khatami has for his reform program – led hard-liners to shut down two polling centers in the past month, the second last Thursday. One poll director was jailed on charges of changing the results and of espionage, and the second – former embassy hostage-taker and prominent reformer Abbas Abdi – is also behind bars.

The news further etched the battle lines between unelected hard-liners, who control the judiciary and used security forces to shut down some 80 newspapers in recent years and jailed opponents; and elected reformers, who control the presidency and parliament.

On the bright side not only does Iran now have its first woman bus driver but, and I can only hope you are sitting down as you read this, the financial value of a non-Muslim's life in Iran may go up:

In Iran, a killer can pay "blood money" to his victim's family to avoid execution.

Under Islamic law, the compensation for a non-Muslim man is one-twelfth that paid for a Muslim. The rate for Muslim women is half that of men.

The new measure - which also must be approved by the conservative Guardian Council - is reportedly supported by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

Imagine the international outcry from all the usual suspects if the US had a system whereby someone could get off for murdering someone by paying off their relatives. The US would be denounced as an evil capitalistic place where human life is worth less than the almighty dollar. Such a policy would be considered proof of American spiritual bankruptcy and materialism. But when its the regime in Iran doing it, it being a theocratic dictatorship which is opposed to the US, this policy only merits worth being mentioned when it is proposed to raise the price on the life of third class citizens.

Ariel Sharon says that something should be done with Iran once Iraq is dealt with:

In an interview with The Times of London, Mr Sharon says he wants Iran to be top of the "to do" list once action against Baghdad is completed.

He said: "Iran makes every effort to posses weapons of mass destruction on the one hand, and ballistic missiles.

"That is a danger to the Middle East, to Israel and a danger to Europe. "Iran is behind terror all around the world."

Let us hope that Sharon's optimistic assumption that Iraq really will be dealt with turns out to be the correct so that we can move on to a debate about which country should be treated as the next problem to solve.

By Randall Parker    2002 November 04 09:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2002 October 30 Wednesday
FrontPage: Saudis Trying To Buy Nukes

FrontPage Magazine is reporting that the Saudis are trying to buy nuclear weapons.

It is known that Saudi officials had approached officials of the Government of Pakistan in this regard, on the basis that Saudi possession of such weapons would act as a deterrent to any possible Israeli threat of nuclear force against Saudi Arabia. The sources indicated that Saudi Arabia was not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons manufacturing capability, or weapons-grade raw material, but only in acquiring actual weapons, preferably for missile delivery using Saudi CSS-2 medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) which had been acquired from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

It is believed that the Saudi officials had also approached one or more other states to assist in the provision of nuclear weapons, possibly including the PRC and/or the Democratic People’s Republic of [North] Korea (DPRK).

By Randall Parker    2002 October 30 12:55 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 October 29 Tuesday
David Warren: Korean Greater Worry Than Iraq

North Korea is the greater worry.

We have, in other words, right on the table, exactly what the Bush administration says we will be facing in Iraq, if we don't soon change the regime of Saddam Hussein. I was quite struck, in consulting my usual suspects within the Bush administration, to realize they are now more worried about Korea than Iraq; and by the tone of "trying to remain calm" emanating from Seoul and Tokyo.

Add to this what has just happened in Bali; simultaneous Al Qaeda attacks in Kuwait, Yemen, Afghanistan, and possibly even the suburbs of Washington, D.C. We further know that Al Qaeda and affiliates are doing everything in their power to trigger war between Pakistan and India in Kashmir, and between Israel and its neighbours, from Syria and Lebanon. While the formal diplomatic world may have its eyes focused on the Security Council, that is not where an event of any significance is unfolding.

David Warren says the North Korean regime is mad:

Yet even such "containment", itself ambitious, is a half-measure. The regime is mad -- not merely the smiling unfathomable dumpling who is ruler, but the whole politburo, according to officials of more than one country who have dealt with them. With a common cultural and linguistic heritage, the South Koreans I interviewed while visiting Seoul two years ago seemed just as puzzled by their Northern counterparts' behaviour as any American or European.

"They speak what sounds like the same language, and there are syntactical similarities, but every word has a different meaning," said one learned official in the Blue House (South Korea's equivalent to the White House) who had just participated in talks. "They show no emotion at all when humanity requires at least some small gesture; and then suddenly all of them will be shouting angrily, or even weeping, like members of a chorus or choir. But we have to guess what it is about." (I am paraphrasing from memory and illegible old notes.)

As for North Korea's need for the US support and subsidy to build a nuclear power plant: Its important to consider the North Korean economy's level of economic development. This is easily illustrated by a nighttime satellite photo of Asia. If you go half way down and about 80% over this image you can see the Korean peninsula in more detail. Note how most of North Korea is missing at night. It was the height of folly for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to negotiate the 1994 Framework Accord.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 29 09:59 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 28 Monday
Adam Garfinkle On A Plan For North Korea

Bill Quick has linked to an article in The New Republic written by Adam Garfinkle (editor of The National Interest) on what to do about North Korea's nuclear weapons development program.

The four powers around Korea--Russia, Japan, China, and the United States--should join to put a modulated end to the North Korean state by denying it all aid, except aid with tight strings attached that is aimed at gradually shifting its sovereign prerogatives into South Korean hands. For example, all food aid (which Pyongyang currently receives from Japan, South Korea, China, and the United States) and technical assistance to North Korean agriculture (currently supplied by the United Nations) could be tied to agricultural-sector reform overseen by an ad hoc four-power technical group, with nongovernmental South Korean participation.

The problem with Garfinkle's idea here is that the North Korean regime is going to resist any aid that requires it to surround any degree of internal control. Faced with a choice between impoverishing its own people or losing some control in exchange for aid the North Korean regime may opt for poverty and famine as the lesser threat to its stability. The Dear Leader does not want to suffer the fate of Ceausescu of Romania.

But suppose a denial of aid could bring the North Korean regime to cave in and hand over its nuclear weapons for dismantling. To get to that point would require convincing the Chinese regime to go along with an embargo against North Korea. As I previously posted the Chinese may not be willing to do that. The other big problem we have in going down the sanctions road is South Korea. The South Korean people are not going to be happy with the prospect of a sanctions regime and aid cut-off that caused fellow Koreans to starve.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 28 04:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
China Not Likely To Help Pressure North Korea

Bad news from The Economist:

As the Chinese see it, the real threat emanating from North Korea is a political collapse that could damage stability in the region and prompt American forces to move close to China's border to fill the vacuum. Should Mr Bush call for economic pressure on North Korea, he is unlikely to find China receptive.

If China will not apply economic sanctions to North Korea then the prospects for getting the North Korean regime to drop its nuclear and ICBM development programs and WMD technology sales become fairly poor. The only other option then becomes an invasion. Bush then has a card he might play: tell the Chinese regime they have a choice to either pressure the North Korean regime or the US will carry out air strikes against North Korean facilities and even a strike to decapitate the leadership. But can the US do that without provoking a North Korean response that kills a lot of South Koreans?

By Randall Parker    2002 October 28 11:39 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 26 Saturday
William Safire On Iraq And North Korea

What's different about North Korea and Iraq that warrants an invasion of Iraq? Well, one big difference is that an invasion of North Korea would cost far more lives - especially if North Korea already has nukes. What I want to know is when will the debate shift to the topic of what to do about Libya?

Saddam Hussein is a recent, serial aggressor, while totalitarian North Korea has not launched an invasion in the past half-century. Moreover, the potentially high human cost of wiping out the Korean threat should be an unforgettable lesson to every nation: The world must not allow Iraq to gain the level of destructive power that appeasement and misplaced trust permitted North Korea to achieve.

Our failure to demand intrusive, relentless inspection of North Korea in the past decade has made everyone more vulnerable to the spread of terror weaponry. (Libya's secret nuclear work relies on Korean know-how.)

By Randall Parker    2002 October 26 01:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 23 Wednesday
Why North Korea Is Different From Iraq

The claim here is that an invasion of North Korea would result in many dead South Koreans:

It's not hard to see why the North Korea script is so different from the standoff with Iraq: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed Thursday that the U.S. believes North Korea already has two bombs built from plutonium produced before the 1994 agreement took its reactors offline. It may also have as much as 500 tons of chemical and biological agents. But even without unconventional weapons, North Korea's artillery and medium-range missiles give it the capability to flatten most of Seoul in a matter of minutes. Analysts suggest that an all-out war along the Korean frontier could cost a million lives on both sides. And those in the frontline — the South Koreans and Japanese — have stressed they have no desire for confrontation with Pyongyang.

Will James Baker's suggestion of UN sanctions work to compel North Korea to give up its nukes? Or is it at least possible to use sanctions to force North Korea to stop exporting weapons technology to the Middle East? Will China work to undermine US attempts to stop that trade?

By Randall Parker    2002 October 23 01:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
James Baker: No More Caving On North Korea

In a Washington Post opinion piece former Bush Sr Secretary of State James A. Baker III calls the 1994 Framework Agreement between the US and North Korea one of accommodation, compromise and appeasement:

How "natural and foreseeable" was it that the Framework Agreement would produce a nuclear-armed North Korea, not "an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula"? Consider this: Subject only to editing to change tenses and time references, omit extraneous material and provide logical transitions, the preceding four paragraphs are word-for-word from my diplomatic memoir, "The Politics of Diplomacy," written in 1994, immediately after the Framework Agreement was signed, and published in 1995.

This may seem terribly old fashioned but I think we should look for advice from people who have a track record of accurate predictions. The folks who got it wrong the last time (eg the editorial board of the New York Times) will in all likelihood get it wrong the next time. Baker (and, to be fair, quite a few others mostly on the political Right) saw in advance how the accord with North Korea would turn out. Those who saw the bad outcome ought to be at the top of the list of people we listen to for advice about how to proceed from here.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 23 11:59 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 22 Tuesday
Saddam's Sons: Raised To Be Psychopaths

Some people believe that Saddam can in some sense be trusted to have weapons of mass destruction without using them against the United States. If Saddam is left in power some day one of the sons may rule Iraq. So we need to ask ourselves. what exactly are the effects of youthful trips with dad to torture chambers?

If Saddam is Don Corleone, then Uday is Sonny, the reckless, violent, oversexed heir apparent. And Qusay is Michael, the younger brother who is calmer, colder and ultimately more dangerous. A cornered Uday would not hesitate to lash out with chemical and biological weapons. But Qusay is the greater risk to actually control the weapons and find a way to use them against U.S. forces or the American people.

Also see a more recent post on the brutality of Saddam's psychopathic son Uday toward Iraqi athletes.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 22 03:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2002 October 20 Sunday
North Korea as Nuclear Kmart

North Korea, which probably acquired nuclear technology from Pakistan, is already selling missile technology to Iraq, Syria, and Iran:

An abundance of nuclear technology in North Korea, long known for its ballistic missile sales, anticipates a nightmare domino effect, experts say. That argument is underscored by the likelihood that recent club member Pakistan, despite its denials, helped the reclusive east Asian dictatorship to the door.

''The concern is North Korea becoming a nuclear Kmart, complete with blue-light specials,'' said Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Of course the day will come where somewhere in the world there will be that bright flashing white ligh special. If North Korea is a nuclear KMart does this make Pakistan a nuclear Target?

Despite more than four decades of experience with advanced weapons and nuclear engineering, North Korea lacks the specialized manufacturing capability and know-how to build a gas-centrifuge facility on its own, weapons experts agreed. Many analysts pointed to Pakistan as a possible source of supplies and expertise.

This of course begs the question of just where else Pakistan has sold its nuclear technology. Iran and North Korea are helping each other in nuclear weapons development:

The American discovery that North Korea has successfully developed a nuclear munitions device, despite its international commitments to non-proliferation, has a Middle Eastern aspect. Part of the country's efforts to produce enriched uranium, as well as tests on its long-range missile engines, are being conducted in Iran, in exchange for Pyongyang aid to Tehran in these two areas as well as the concealment of such efforts from the United States' and North Korea's neighbors.

It seems odd that so much fuss is being about about North Korea's admission to having a nuclear weapons development program since the US government already believes that North Korea has nuclear weapons:

According to the Central Intelligence Agency and others, it is believed Pyongyang already has one, and possibly two, nuclear bombs.

U.S. diplomats have said North Korea made no indication why they were disclosing their illicit program. There is some speculation it did so to elicit more aid from abroad.

Why is it that there are people won't believe the obvious until the bad guys admit it right out of their own mouths? Similarly, there are people who will not believe that Saddam is developing WMD until the Iraqi WMD development labs are opened up by invading US troops. Why is that?

Andrew Sullivan has been posting on statements that the media and leaders made about the US-North Korea deal in 1994 on nuclear non-proliferation. Start here and then read here. Sullivan also includes Helen Thomas on Jimmy Carter's involvement in trying to negotiate the 1994 deal with North Korea. Finally, see what Andrew Sullivan just posted Monday morning.

Check out this Google News search on North Korea Iran nuclear if you can stomach more depressing news about WMD proliferation.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 20 11:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 17 Thursday
North Korea and the Nuclear Bee Sting Theory

UPI Analyst Martin Sieff interprets the motive of the North Korean admission that it has an active nuclear weapons program as being to deter an eventual US attack on the North Korean regime. In this interpretation the hope of the North Koreans is that the US will conclude that North Korea may already have nukes and hence the US will decide it is too risky to attack North Korea:

The North Koreans have taken a page out of Israel's deterrence playbook. And like Israel, they did so because they were scared.

North Korean officials have made the bombshell admission to U.S. diplomats that their country for years has continued a nuclear development program in secret, even though this was in clear contravention of its 1994 commitments to the United States, U.S. and South Korean officials told UPI early Thursday.

There are problems with this theory. The first is that as Donald Rumsfeld already stated the US government already thinks North Korea has nukes. The next problem with this theory is that the North Koreans did not admit to their continued active development of nuclear weapons until the US presented them with (still classified for the rest of us) proof that the North Korean regime was in fact doing so. The bottom line here is that North Korea's continued development of nuclear weapons is not a reaction to the Bush Administration's pronouncements against the North Korean regime. The North Korean effort predates Bush's presidency.

Keep in mind that the US sees North Korea as a problem for more reasons than just what North Korea might do with missiles and nuclear weapons itself. North Korea's eagerness to make money as a secondary proliferator is at least as great a problem as North Korea's own possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and delivery vehicles for WMD.

(Martin Sieff link from Steve Sailer's site)

By Randall Parker    2002 October 17 07:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
CFR Report on Terrorist Funding

The Council on Foreign Relations has released an important report on efforts needed to reduce terrorist funding:

October 17, 2002 - After an initially robust attempt to curtail financing for international terrorism, the Bush administration's current efforts are strategically inadequate to assure the sustained results needed to protect U.S. security. This is the core finding of a bipartisan commission chaired by Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO of AIG, and directed by two former National Security Council (NSC) officials who are experts in the field.

To regain momentum and give this issue the priority it requires, the Task Force urges the administration to take two key structural steps:

  • Designate a Special Assistant to the President with the specific mandate and prestige to compel the various diplomatic, law enforcement, intelligence, regulatory and policy agencies to work together to assure a sustained and effective U.S. response.
  • Drive other countries-whose efforts are woefully inadequate-to greater effectiveness and cooperation. To accomplish this, the U.S. should lead an initiative to create a new international organization dedicated solely to curbing terrorist financing.

In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush said, "We will starve the terrorists of funding." The purpose of the report is to evaluate how the United States is doing in carrying out that mission. The Task Force, directed by former NSC officials William Wechsler and Lee Wolosky, commends the progress that the Bush administration and Congress have made in disrupting Al-Qaeda's financial network, both at home and abroad. It warns, however, that "as long as Al-Qaeda retains access to a viable financial network, it remains a lethal threat to the United States."

The Task Force describes the complex nature of the financial network sustaining Al-Qaeda and the obstacles to dismantling it, and it acknowledges that the only realistic goal is to curb rather than completely cut off terrorist funding. It finds that U.S. efforts to curtail terrorist financing are impeded not only by a lack of institutional capacity abroad, but, critically, by a lack of political will among U.S. allies. The Task Force notes, for example: "For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for Al-Qaeda. And for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem."

Confronted with this lack of political will, the Task Force finds that the Bush administration appears to have made a policy decision not to use the full power of U.S. influence and laws now on the books to pressure other governments to more effectively combat terrorist financing. It urges the Bush administration to reconsider the recently announced "second phase" of its policy to curb terrorist financing, which will rely more on foreign leadership and less on blocking orders-which the Task Force calls "among the most powerful tools the U.S. possesses in the war on terrorist finances."

The Council thinks the Bush Administration should be more frank about the lack of cooperation and effort other countries are providing:

Put issues regarding terrorist financing front and center in every bilateral diplomatic discussion with every "front-line" state in the fight against terrorism-at every level of the bilateral relationship, including the highest. Where sufficient progress is not forthcoming, speak out bluntly, forcefully, and openly about the specific shortfalls in other countries' efforts to combat terrorist financing. The Task Force appreciates the necessary delicacies of diplomacy and notes that previous administrations also used phrases that obfuscated more than they illuminated when making public statements on this subject. Nevertheless, when U.S. spokespersons are only willing to say that "Saudi Arabia is being cooperative" when they know very well all the ways in which it is not, both our allies and adversaries can be forgiven for believing that the United States does not place a high priority on this issue.

The report draws attention to the importance of Saudi Arabia as a source of terrorist funding:

However, it is worth stating clearly and unambiguously what official U.S. government spokespersons have not: For years, individuals and charities based in Saudi Arabia have been the most important source of funds for al-Qaeda; and for years, Saudi officials have turned a blind eye to this problem.

This is hardly surprising since Saudi Arabia possesses the greatest concentration of wealth in the region; Saudi nationals and charities were previously the most important sources of funds for the mujahideen; Saudi nationals have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of al-Qaeda's own membership; and al-Qaeda's political message has long focused on issues of particular interest to Saudi nationals, especially those who are disenchanted with their own government.

Significant funds have also come from other pockets of wealth in the Arab world, such as the gulf states, Egypt, and elsewhere. Other moneys have been raised in South Asia, Europe, the Americas (including the United States), Africa, and Asia. Recent reports suggest that al-Qaeda may now be devoting increased resources to its fundraising activities in Southeast Asia, which would be a cause of significant concern. Additionally, in Asia and elsewhere, al-Qaeda has focused efforts in recent years on expanding its system of affiliates and surrogate organizations, such as Laskhar Jihad and Jemaah Islamiyah, many of which have independent financial support networks.

The report makes many other recommendations. You can download the PDF of the full report here.

You can also read the Financial Times coverage and the Washington Post coverage. The Post article has the best coverage I've found so far.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 17 12:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 16 Wednesday
North Korea working on Nukes

Some former Clinton Administration officials have cited North Korea as an example for how engagement with a hostile regime can lead to deals that prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Well, the showcase of their approach for controlling WMD proliferation is developing nuclear weapons:

North Korea has broken pledges made to the Clinton administration to give up its nuclear weapons program and has signaled it no longer will abide by the 1994 anti-nuclear accord, the Bush administration said last night.

And from another report:

At first the North Koreans balked but eventually "they acknowledged they had a secret nuclear weapons programme involving enriched uranium", one official said. "By acknowledging that, the agreed framework was essentially nullified," he said.

It should have been obvious to anyone who doesn't live in fantasy land that the North Korean regime was never going to honor its agreement to not develop nuclear weapons. The two big questions are:

  • Does the North Korean regime already have nuclear weapons?
  • How hard would it be to overthrow the North Korean regime?

Update: Jonah Goldberg provides the text of the original NY Times editorial praising the Clinton Administration's deal with North Korea to prevent the nuclear proliferation that is happening anyhow. See here and here for the editorial in two parts. Clinton Administration officials who thought this was a great agreement are now claiming that a war against Saddam Hussein's regime is unnecessary. I say we should discount the judgement of people who have track records of folly.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 16 11:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 October 15 Tuesday
About The Japanese Abducted By North Korea

The absolutely staggering thing about the five Japanese who were abducted by the North Korean government is that they are not allowed to stay in Japan now that they have been allowed to return. Their kids are being used as hostages. If they don't return will their kids be tortured or starved or killed outright? Will the Japanese government force them to return if they don't want to? When will all the usual suspects on the Left speak out about the monstrousness of the North Korean regime's continued behavior in this matter?

The five -- who were not allowed to bring their children with them and who are expected to return to North Korea in about 10 days -- all wore North Korean flag pins in their lapels and spoke only a few carefully chosen words.

I recall the outrage from the Left in America and from assorted condescending European intellectuals when George W. Bush labelled North Korea as part of an Axis of Evil. His statement was supposedly simplistic. Well, sometimes the true is really simple. Sometimes the truth stares us in the face. North Korea has been holding kidnapped foreign nationals for decades, has finally admitted to it (though its probably lying about how many were kidnapped and perhaps about how many are stiill alove) and yet the North Korean regime still isn't just letting the poor victims go. These victims are still diplomatic pawns being used to try to extort aid from Japan. The fact that the North Korean regime is holding the children of these Japanese kidnap victims to force them to return back into the hellhole that is North Korea is all the proof I need that North Korea's regime is evil. How about you?

By Randall Parker    2002 October 15 09:18 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 11 Friday
Amir Taheri on Saddam's attempt to reshape Iraq

Taheri, an Iranian writer based in Paris, is as always full of insights. Saddam's treatment of the Kurds is part of a larger pattern in which he has been trying to Arabize the entire Iraqi population to make it more capable of supporting his ambition to rule the entire Arab world:

Saddam, however, does not tolerate hyphenated identities. Under him no one can be Kurdish-Iraqi or Izadi-Iraqi. You have to be Arab, period. His problem was how to “Arabize” Iraq. In 1970, Saddam opened the Ottoman archives in which Iraqis were classified as either “Ottoman” or “Persian” subjects. He prepared a policy of mass expulsion against the “Persians” regardless of the fact that many prominent Iraqis, including Rashid Ali-Gilani, the father of Iraqi nationalism, and Al-Jawaheri, the greatest Arabic poet of the 20th century, had been classified as “Persian subjects” during the Ottoman rule.

The mass expulsion of the “Persians” was implemented from 1972. By 1980 nearly a million had been driven out. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of those expelled had been born and raised in Iraq, regarded themselves as Iraqis, and spoke Arabic as mother tongue. To replace them, Saddam decided to “import” a million “authentic Arabs”, especially from Egypt. Very soon, however, he decided that the imported Egyptians, far from being ideal Arabs, were “lazy layabouts” who cared little about his dreams of empire and conquest.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 11 12:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 October 10 Thursday
Thomas von der Osten-Sacken on Iraq

German Marxist journalist and human rights activist Thomas von der Osten-Sacken is interviewed about the Middle East. Note that he has done social work in Iraq and has first hand experience with Saddam's regime:

"The most regressive and dangerous elements in the Arab and Islamic world depend on Saddam Hussein. Really toppling Saddam Hussein means uprooting the Ba'ath regime, with the help of the Iraqi people. This would give the final blow to pan-Arabism in the Middle East. Syria and a lot of very radical factions in Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and the Gulf states would be affected. These factions look up to Saddam Hussein as a pan-Arabist, anti-imperialist hero - although he is anti-imperialist in the tradition of the Nazis, not the left. Also, Saddam is financing organizations like the Arab Liberation Front in Palestine, which is a Ba'ath organization. He is paying the families of suicide attackers. He is directly and indirectly responsible for a lot of terrorism in the Middle East."

By Randall Parker    2002 October 10 10:34 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2002 October 07 Monday
The Iranian Revolution Crumbles

This description of life in the capital of Iran is full of elements not expect to find in an Islamic theocratic state. Writer Tim Judah investigates the Tehran underground:

Drug addiction is rife. While rich kids from the wealthier northern suburbs of Tehran pop ecstasy tabs and smoke dope, heroin and opium addiction are claiming an awful toll in the poorer south of the city. Drugs are freely available (as is strictly illegal alcohol), and the number of addicts is now believed to be between 1.2 million and two million people. Many believe that part of the problem is that corrupt policemen are in league with the dealers in exchange for a share of the profit.

Surprisingly, for a state that trumpets its moral values, prostitution is also now widespread - and, as anywhere else, prostitution and drug addiction are often intertwined. As dawn breaks, it is easy to find chador-clad and probably heroin-addicted working girls sleeping rough in Tehran's parks. (Unsurprisingly, HIV and Aids are now very much on the public health agenda of the Islamic Republic.) Many of these girls are runaways. They have often fled abusive, violent or drug-addicted parents, according to the women's rights activist, Mabobeh Abbasglizadeh, or they might be simple country girls who've seen the bright lights of the city on television and balk at the prospect of an early, joyless marriage to a much older man.

By Randall Parker    2002 October 07 08:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 October 05 Saturday
Saddam: Village Chieftain of a State

A lot of people fail to understand a person like Saddam Hussein because they can not imagine just how much differently someone can think than they do. This essay by Mark Bowden from the May 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly shows Saddam as an absolutely brutal village chieftain who is a student of Joseph Stalin's approach to ruling:

In al-Bazzaz's view, Saddam embodies the tribal mentality. "He is the ultimate Iraqi patriarch, the village leader who has seized a nation," he explained. "Because he has come so far, he feels anointed by destiny. Everything he does is, by definition, the right thing to do. He has been chosen by Heaven to lead. Often in his life he has been saved by God, and each escape makes him more certain of his destiny. In recent years, in his speeches, he has begun using passages and phrases from the Koran, speaking the words as if they are his own. In the Koran, Allah says, 'If you thank me, I will give you more.' In the early nineties Saddam was on TV, presenting awards to military officers, and he said, 'If you thank me, I will give you more.' He no longer believes he is a normal person. Dialogue with him is impossible because of this. He can't understand why journalists should be allowed to criticize him. How can they criticize the father of the tribe? This is something unacceptable in his mind. To him, strength is everything. To allow criticism or differences of opinion, to negotiate or compromise, to accede to the rule of law or to due process—these are signs of weakness."

By Randall Parker    2002 October 05 05:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 30 Monday
Robert Kaplan On Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan

Robert Kaplan has written a nice essay on the politics of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. He has a good realpolitik view of the differences between these countries and the limits of what it is possible to achieve by intervening in each case:

Vastly more developed politically than Iraq, Iran has a system rather than a mere regime, however labyrinthine and inconvenient to our purposes that system may be. Nineteenth-century court diplomacy of the kind that Henry Kissinger successfully employed in China with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai will not work in Iran, simply because it has too many important political players. Indeed, because so many major issues are matters of internal bargaining, the Iranian system is the very opposite of dynamic. Iran's foreign policy will change only when its collective leadership believes there is no other choice.

Iranian leaders were disappointed not to see an American diplomatic initiative in 1991, after the United States bombed Baghdad—which, like the shooting down of the civilian jet, had greatly impressed them. Also likely to have been impressive to them was President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" speech (Iran's orchestrated denunciations notwithstanding). Overtures to the moderates in Iran's elected government, as the White House has already admitted, have not helped us—we will have to deal directly with the radicals, and that can be done only through a decisive military shock that affects their balance-of-power calculations.

By Randall Parker    2002 September 30 12:01 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 29 Sunday
How Saddam Hussein gets his money

As some of you may know, the oil that Saddam Hussein sells from Iraq goes into UN controlled accounts that are then used to only buy goods that help the Iraqi people. Part of the money is set aside for the Kurdish zone. But the UN can not compel Saddam to spend that money and so part of the money doesn't get spent. Plus, Saddam has found ways to work with buyers to kick back money to him instead of having all the money go to the UN. Of course the money is held in French banks and the French are close to Saddam.

So here's another UN program demonstrating the uselessness of the UN:

Making this picture all the more Enron-like is the extent to which Mr. Annan and his crew have winked at Iraq's gross violations of U.N. agreements, and not only on weapons inspections. The U.N. sanctions on Iraqi oil sales were meant to stop Saddam from diverting oil revenues to his own uses. Instead, they provide a facade of control that is dangerously misleading. Saddam has been getting around the sanctions via surcharge-kickback deals and flat-out smuggling, to the tune of $3 billion a year, according to the dossier released yesterday by Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Back in May, The Wall Street Journal's Alix Freedman and Steve Stecklow gave a thoroughly documented account of how Iraq "has imposed illegal surcharges on every barrel of oil it has sold, using a maze of intermediaries to cover its tracks." Last week, the Washington-based Coalition for International Justice released an exhaustively researched 70-page report, detailing Saddam's dodges and how this year alone, despite "smarter" U.N. sanctions, he will rake in billions for his "personal treasury." When President Bush on Sept. 12 addressed the U.N., he charged that Saddam has "subverted" Oil-for-Food, "working around the sanctions to buy missile technology and military materials."

The Coalition For International Justice has just released a 70 page report on how Saddam gets his money. See this link for the PDF of Sources of Revenue for Saddam & Sons: A Primer on the Financial Underpinnings of the Regime in Baghdad (434 KB).

By Randall Parker    2002 September 29 12:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 28 Saturday
Saudi Prince Nayef thinks American hostility unfair

What, is he saying that a couple of large holes in the ground in Manhattan don't have anything to do with it?

"The superpower that controls the world today harbours hostility towards Arabs and Muslims because of the influence of the Zionist lobby in the United States which seeks to distort the image of Arabs and Muslims and accuse them of terrorism," the London-based Arabic daily Al Hayat quoted him as saying.

And of course we shouldn't draw any conclusions from the vitriol spoken from Mosques throughout the Middle East. Its the fault of a few deceivers of a bunch of kids:

Prince Nayef described the hijackers, thought to owe allegiance to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaida network, as "a stray group of adolescents, who were misled by extremist parties in the name of Islam and jihad (holy war)".

By Randall Parker    2002 September 28 10:38 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2002 September 24 Tuesday
Iranian Power Struggle Intensifying

The non-elected clerics have more power than the elected President Khatami and his VP. There are signs that the elected leaders of Iran are less opposed to regime change in Baghdad than the unelected theocrats:

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's moderate President Mohammad Khatami is to present a bill to parliament on Tuesday to clarify his constitutional powers in a move that could lead to confrontation with his conservative rivals.

Khatami said last month he was ready to use all means, even a referendum if necessary, to assert his authority over hard-liners who have blocked and parried his stabs at reform.

Meanwhile, the VP Abtahi is sending ambiguous signals about Iran's position on Saddam's regime:

TEHRAN, Sept 24 (Reuters) - A top aide to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on Tuesday the West should have dealt with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein decades ago.

But Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi said Iran opposes any U.S. strike on its former foe, saying a war in the region would inflict great suffering on the Iraqi people.

Again, Abtahi on Iraqi regime change:

In a prime example of Iran's divided feelings about a possible second Gulf War in Iraq, Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi criticised the "hegemonic and illegitimate wishes of the United States."

But, writing in the state owned Iran newspaper on Sunday, he also said Iran would "prefer the establishment of any regime in place of the present Iraqi regime."

On one hand the official Great Satan America would establish a new regime and have a lot of influence on Iran's border. Plus, a better regime in power in Iraq could become an unwelcome example of better government that the Iranian people would want to see emulated in Iran. On the other hand it was Saddam that caused them hundreds of thousands of dead in a lengthy war that Saddam started. On top of that there are the intrigues of internal Iranian politics between the elected and the theocratic leaders.

By Randall Parker    2002 September 24 04:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
Tony Blair's Iraq Dossier Online

The UK government has released its dossier on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. You can read Tony Blair's Foreword here.

Here is the Full Executive Summary:

Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: Executive Summary

1. Under Saddam Hussein Iraq developed chemical and biological weapons, acquired missiles allowing it to attack neighbouring countries with these weapons and persistently tried to develop a nuclear bomb. Saddam has used chemical weapons, both against Iran and against his own people. Following the Gulf War, Iraq had to admit to all this. And in the ceasefire of 1991 Saddam agreed unconditionally to give up his weapons of mass destruction.

2. Much information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is already in the public domain from UN reports and from Iraqi defectors. This points clearly to Iraq's continuing possession, after 1991, of chemical and biological agents and weapons produced before the Gulf War. It shows that Iraq has refurbished sites formerly associated with the production of chemical and biological agents. And it indicates that Iraq remains able to manufacture these agents, and to use bombs, shells, artillery rockets and ballistic missiles to deliver them.

3. An independent and well-researched overview of this public evidence was provided by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) on 9 September. The IISS report also suggested that Iraq could assemble nuclear weapons within months of obtaining fissile material from foreign sources.

4. As well as the public evidence, however, significant additional information is available to the Government from secret intelligence sources, described in more detail in this paper. This intelligence cannot tell us about everything. However, it provides a fuller picture of Iraqi plans and capabilities. It shows that Saddam Hussein attaches great importance to possessing weapons of mass destruction which he regards as the basis for Iraq's regional power. It shows that he does not regard them only as weapons of last resort. He is ready to use them, including against his own population, and is determined to retain them, in breach of United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR).

5. Intelligence also shows that Iraq is preparing plans to conceal evidence of these weapons, including incriminating documents, from renewed inspections. And it confirms that despite sanctions and the policy of containment, Saddam has continued to make progress with his illicit weapons programmes.

6. As a result of the intelligence we judge that Iraq has:

  • continued to produce chemical and biological agents;
  • military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shia population. Some of these weapons are deployable within 45 minutes of an order to use them;
  • command and control arrangements in place to use chemical and biological weapons. Authority ultimately resides with Saddam Hussein. (There is intelligence that he may have delegated this authority to his son Qusai);
  • developed mobile laboratories for military use, corroborating earlier reports about the mobile production of biological warfare agents;
  • pursued illegal programmes to procure controlled materials of potential use in the production of chemical and biological weapons programmes;
  • tried covertly to acquire technology and materials which could be used in the production of nuclear weapons;
  • sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa, despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it;
  • recalled specialists to work on its nuclear programme;
  • illegally retained up to 20 al-Hussein missiles, with a range of 650km, capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads;
  • started deploying its al-Samoud liquid propellant missile, and has used the absence of weapons inspectors to work on extending its range to at least 200km, which is beyond the limit of 150km imposed by the United Nations;
  • started producing the solid-propellant Ababil-100, and is making efforts to extend its range to at least 200km, which is beyond the limit of 150km imposed by the United Nations;
  • constructed a new engine test stand for the development of missiles capable of reaching the UK Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus and NATO members (Greece and Turkey), as well as all Iraq's Gulf neighbours and Israel;
  • pursued illegal programmes to procure materials for use in its illegal development of long range missiles;
  • learnt lessons from previous UN weapons inspections and has already begun to conceal sensitive equipment and documentation in advance of the return of inspectors.

7. These judgements reflect the views of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). More details on the judgements and on the development of the JIC's assessments since 1998 are set out in Part 1 of this paper.

8. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are in breach of international law. Under a series of UN Security Council Resolutions Iraq is obliged to destroy its holdings of these weapons under the supervision of UN inspectors. Part 2 of the paper sets out the key UN Security Council Resolutions. It also summarises the history of the UN inspection regime and Iraq's history of deception, intimidation and concealment in its dealings with the UN inspectors.

9. But the threat from Iraq does not depend solely on the capabilities we have described. It arises also because of the violent and aggressive nature of Saddam Hussein's regime. His record of internal repression and external aggression gives rise to unique concerns about the threat he poses. The paper briefly outlines in Part 3 Saddam's rise to power, the nature of his regime and his history of regional aggression. Saddam's human rights abuses are also catalogued, including his record of torture, mass arrests and summary executions.

10. The paper briefly sets out how Iraq is able to finance its weapons programme. Drawing on illicit earnings generated outside UN control, Iraq generated illegal income of some $3 billion in 2001.

Download the dossier in full as a PDF
Other sources for the full dossier
PM's statement to Parliament concerning Iraq

By Randall Parker    2002 September 24 11:04 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2002 September 17 Tuesday
Rumsfeld says North Korea has nuclear weapons

The only newspapers reporting this are South Korean (see here and here and here).

But, yes, Rumsfeld really said that North Korea has nuclear weapons:

Rumsfeld: Well, as you know well, the President's remarks to the United Nations and to the country did not address the subject of North Korea or Iran. He did, properly, in my view, characterize those three countries, those two plus Iraq, as the axis of evil. And I think that what's taken place since that speech has been an indication of how useful that speech was because you can clearly see stirrings in various countries, including one or more of those, taking place, and also in some of the other countries in the terrorist list. So it's been -- that speech has been a good thing.

I see distinctive differences in the three myself, as does the President. And the case against Saddam Hussein is encompassed in the President's remarks to the United Nations. He stands in violation of -- 16 times, I think the President said -- resolutions of the world community.

Iran is clearly a country that is harboring al Qaeda. It says it isn't, but it is. It is a country that is developing -- aggressively
developing nuclear capabilities and increasingly longer-range ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. It is also a country, however, that has a population that is in ferment. And there's no question in my mind but that the young people and the women in that country, particularly, as well as others, who are uncomfortable with this tight control by a small clique of clerics that they try to impose on the people of that country -- is increasingly difficult for them to do.

And I have no -- I think most of the world was dumbfounded at how quickly that country turned from the shah to the ayatollahs. I think it's possible that we could be dumbfounded someday to see it turn away from this clique of clerics, because clearly, they're not managing their affairs in a way that's in the interest of the Iranian people.

North Korea is quite a different situation. It is -- all one has to do is look at it compared to South Korea and it just wrings your heart out to see what's happening to those people. They're starving. They're being repressed. They're being treated terribly. There's large numbers in concentration camps and fleeing the country.

I don't know what's going to happen in North Korea, except that we do know that they are one of the world's worst proliferators, particularly with ballistic missile technologies. We know they're a country that has been aggressively developing nuclear weapons and has nuclear weapons. {"The IC judged in the mid-1990s that North Korea had produced one, possibly two nuclear weapons," according to the December 2001 Unclassified Summary of a National Intelligence Estimate.} And we know they're a danger first and foremost to their own people, and second, they're a threat principally because of their proliferating activities, as opposed to being a threat to South Korea.

So I see a different situation, and I think the President's approaching it properly.

By Randall Parker    2002 September 17 09:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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