The US and some of its allies managed to get the big shipping firm Maersk to stop serving Iranian ports. Is this a big win for the US against Iran's nuclear program and government?
After two years of failed efforts to entice Iran with diplomatic carrots, the Obama administration is quietly toasting successes at using economic sticks. A series of U.S. and international sanctions imposed over the past year have slowly undermined Iran’s ability to conduct trade by targeting the country’s access to international banking, insurers and transportation companies. Like Maersk, some firms voluntarily cut ties with Iranian companies that U.S. officials say are front operations for the Revolutionary Guard.
How can trade sanctions by Western governments make much of a dent in an era when China is factory to the world? Unless China wants to stop selling Iran stuff (and China needs Iran's oil) whatever the US and its allies decide will have only marginal impact on Iran. That impact will decline with time. This is one of the ways US influence is declining. US export controls mean less and less every year as other countries develop industries of their own that make a growing list of stuff that the US doesn't even make any more.
Iran has 52 drilling rigs active versus Saudi Arabia's 68 rigs. So it doesn't sound like Iran's oil industry has ground to a halt. As long as the oil keeps pumping the Iranians could just buy ships and cruise those ships to south Asian and east Asian ports to buy stuff.
Buying and selling dogs is illegal in Iran, unless they are guard dogs or used by police. Dogs are considered "haram," or unclean, in Islam. Until recently, keeping dogs as pets was limited to a small circle of Westernized Iranians.
But access to satellite television—and American programs depicting families playing with pups—has turned dog ownership into a sign of social status in Iran.
I flash on poor Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis (and how she should have had a dog to hide with her). Dogs in Iran hide from the mullahs. Their owners walk them late at night or drive them out to the country to walk them.
Rather than spend trillions of dollars invading and fighting in other countries the US could far more cheaply and easily transform countries like Iran by giving them free satellite TV. Beam every TV show and movie and documentary into Iran without encryption with subtitles or dubbed voices. The costs of royalties and satellites would be peanuts compared to what the US has spent fighting in the Middle East.
Any measures that would help boost internet access in Iran would also help build up larger subcultures that oppose clerical rule. A good piece in the Washington Post in June 2011 reports on how Iranians live more freely in the virtual realm and in their homes than they do on the street.
Iranians have used special software to bypass government firewalls and maintain access to Facebook, Twitter, Badoo and other Web sites. Iran has one of the largest Facebook communities in the Middle East and is one of the most densely Web-connected nations in the region, according to Internet World Stats, a Web site.
Online, Iranians brazenly show the parts of their lives that they used to keep secret from the state and others. Pictures of illegal underground parties, platinum blond girls without head scarves and couples frolicking on the beaches of Turkey are all over Iranian social media. They illustrate the rapid modernization that the Islamic republic has gone through during the past decade, changes that have left clerics, revolutionaries and many families struggling to understand.
Do Western trade sanctions work against higher speed and cheaper internet in Iran? If so, those trade sanctions should be lifted selectively - along with lifting any sanctions on dog care products.
Among those arrested Wednesday were prominent reform strategist Said Hajjarian, former vice president Ali Abtahi, former foreign minister Ibrahim Yazdi, and prominent critic and editor Saeed Laylaz – adding to the scores of key Mousavi supporters already detained.
The moves are part of a power struggle among Iran's political elite 30 years after the Islamic revolution. Analysts speculate that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Sayed Ali Khamenei is aiming to remove rival first-generation leaders – some of the original leaders of the revolution. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (a second-generation leader) is a useful ally in that effort.
On the other side, the anti-Ahmadinejad camp – motivated by dislike for the president's abrasive style, that they believe has damaged Iran's standing abroad – is striving to topple Ahmadinejad and preserve their own influence, and sometimes wealth, in Iran's opaque system of rule.
Is Ahmadinejad a reformist battling the corrupt old guard?
16 U.S. intelligence agencies can't be wrong. Cancel (or at least delay for several years) the US military's urban renewal program for Natanz Iran.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 — A new assessment by American intelligence agencies released Monday concludes that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and that the program remains frozen, contradicting a judgment two years ago that Tehran was working relentlessly toward building a nuclear bomb.
The conclusions of the new assessment are likely to reshape the final year of the Bush administration, which has made halting Iran’s nuclear program a cornerstone of its foreign policy.
The assessment, a National Intelligence Estimate that represents the consensus view of all 16 American spy agencies, states that Tehran is likely to keep its options open with respect to building a weapon, but that intelligence agencies “do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”
Iran is continuing to produce enriched uranium, a program that the Tehran government has said is intended for civilian purposes. The new estimate says that the enrichment program could still provide Iran with enough raw material to produce a nuclear weapon sometime by the middle of next decade, a timetable essentially unchanged from previous estimates.
Life is just chock full of surprises. If the 2007 NIE is right then the 2005 NIE is wrong. This is a shocker.
There are still hawks in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney chief among them, who view Iran with deep suspicion. But for now at least, the main argument for a military conflict with Iran — widely rumored and feared, judging by antiwar protesters that often greet Mr. Bush during his travels — is off the table for the foreseeable future.
As Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, put it, the intelligence finding removes, “if nothing else, the urgency that we have to attack Iran, or knock out facilities.” He added: “I don’t think you can overstate the importance of this.”
The White House struggled to portray the estimate as a validation of Mr. Bush’s strategy, a contention that required swimming against the tide of Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s occasionally apocalyptic language.
Well, maybe the US invasion of Iraq helped persuade the Iranians to back off of nuclear weapons development. Hard to tell.
Regards intentions: Iran's top leaders probably want nukes. But under what conditions would they make the push to build some?
Iran might not be able to afford a serious nuclear weapons program several years from now because Iran's financial situation is going to decay considerably in coming years. Economic geographer Roger Stern at Johns Hopkins University argued in a PNAS paper that most likely Iran will cease to be an oil exporter by 2014-2015.
The U.S. case against Iran is based on Iran's deceptions regarding nuclear weapons development. This case is buttressed by assertions that a state so petroleum-rich cannot need nuclear power to preserve exports, as Iran claims. The U.S. infers, therefore, that Iran's entire nuclear technology program must pertain to weapons development. However, some industry analysts project an Irani oil export decline [e.g., Clark JR (2005) Oil Gas J 103(18):34-39]. If such a decline is occurring, Iran's claim to need nuclear power could be genuine. Because Iran's government relies on monopoly proceeds from oil exports for most revenue, it could become politically vulnerable if exports decline. Here, we survey the political economy of Irani petroleum for evidence of this decline. We define Iran's export decline rate (edr) as its summed rates of depletion and domestic demand growth, which we find equals 10-12%. We estimate marginal cost per barrel for additions to Irani production capacity, from which we derive the "standstill" investment required to offset edr. We then compare the standstill investment to actual investment, which has been inadequate to offset edr. Even if a relatively optimistic schedule of future capacity addition is met, the ratio of 2011 to 2006 exports will be only 0.40-0.52. A more probable scenario is that, absent some change in Irani policy, this ratio will be 0.33-0.46 with exports declining to zero by 2014-2015. Energy subsidies, hostility to foreign investment, and inefficiencies of its state-planned economy underlie Iran's problem, which has no relation to "peak oil."
While Stern claims this does not have anything to do with "peak oil" it most certainly does. Iran would have a much easier time maintaining oil production if their remaining oil was fairly easy to extract. Also, their subsidized internal consumption is mirrored in Venezuela, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and a few other oil producers. They all have rapidly rising internal consumption that is leading toward declining exports. That effectively means peak oil for the rest of us.
If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are "prepared to impose serious consequences." The vice president made no specific reference to military action.
"We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said.
Bush only has about 15 months left in office. So then will Bush order the US military to carry out air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities in the first quarter of 2008? Or will Bush wait until after the 2008 Presidential elections and do it then?
That's my question for ParaPundit readers today: When will the US Air Force and US Navy begin their air attack on Iran? Also, does anyone doubt whether this will really happen?
n the years after 9/11, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann worked at the highest levels of the Bush administration as Middle East policy experts for the National Security Council. Mann conducted secret negotiations with Iran. Leverett traveled with Colin Powell and advised Condoleezza Rice. They each played crucial roles in formulating policy for the region leading up to the war in Iraq. But when they left the White House, they left with a growing sense of alarm -- not only was the Bush administration headed straight for war with Iran, it had been set on this course for years. That was what people didn't realize. It was just like Iraq, when the White House was so eager for war it couldn't wait for the UN inspectors to leave. The steps have been many and steady and all in the same direction. And now things are getting much worse. We are getting closer and closer to the tripline, they say.
The article provides insights into events that have occurred since 9/11. What bothers me most about it: Bush could have tried a good faith effort to negotiate with Iran (they offered as the article reveals) before deciding on his military path. The negotiations didn't have to cost him anything and he had years in which to conduct them quietly and in earnest. But no. The man hasn't learned a thing from his foolish invasion of Iraq.
Maccabee at The Daily Kos (a left-leaning site fwiw) reports that a US Navy officer of his acquaintance is convinced the United States is going to launch a massive air strike against Iran.
I have a friend who is an LSO on a carrier attack group that is planning and staging a strike group deployment into the Gulf of Hormuz. (LSO: Landing Signal Officer- she directs carrier aircraft while landing) She told me we are going to attack Iran. She said that all the Air Operation Planning and Asset Tasking are finished. That means that all the targets have been chosen, prioritized, and tasked to specific aircraft, bases, carriers, missile cruisers and so forth.
You can argue that Maccabee's correspondent is a figment of his imagination or that this LSO exists but is ignorant and just imagining things. But stop and think about everything you know about George W. Bush. Ask yourself whether you think that, with about 16 months left in office, Bush really feels restrained in terms of what he thinks he can get away with doing.
This LSO says that officers who raise objections to these plans get replaced.
"I know this will sound crazy coming from a Naval officer", she said. "But we’re all just waiting for this administration to end. Things that happen at the senior officer level seem more and more to happen outside of the purview of XOs and other officers who typically have a say-so in daily combat and flight operations. Today, orders just come down from the mountaintop and there’s no questioning. In fact, there is no discussing it. I have seen more than one senior commander disappear and then three weeks later we find out that he has been replaced. That’s really weird. It’s also really weird because everyone who has disappeared has questioned whether or not we should be staging a massive attack on Iran."
"We’re not stupid. Most of the members of the fleet read well enough to know what is going on world-wise. We also realize that anyone who has any doubts is in danger of having a long military career yanked out from under them. Keep in mind that most of the people I serve with are happy to be a part of the global war on terror. It’s just that the touch points are what we see since we are the ones out here who are supposedly implementing this grand strategy. But when you liason with administration officials who don’t know that Iranians don’t speak Arabic and have no idea what Iranians live like, then you start having second thoughts about whether these Administration officials are even competent."
First, does Bush want to attack Iran? I think from his rhetoric the answer is a clear YES. Second, can he order an attack? You might think that Congress will stand in the way. So can President Bush order the US military prepare for and carry out an attack on Iran without even getting a resolution passed in Congress authorizing the attack? I'm thinking he can. Why? Past Presidents have carried out air strikes and other small scale attacks without Congressional approval. Bill Clinton didn't ask for Congressional legislation before shooting off Tomahawks at Afghanistan in order to try to kill Osama Bin Laden. Here, in his own words, Ronald Reagan offers his explanation for why he didn't inform let alone ask for permission from Congress before invading Grenada.
I suspected that, if we told the leaders of Congress about the operation, even under terms of strictest confidentiality, there would be some who would leak it to the press together with the prediction that Grenada was going to become "another Vietnam." We were already running into this phenomenon in our efforts to halt the spread of Communism in Central America, and some congressmen were raising the issue of "another Vietnam" in Lebanon while fighting to restrict the president's constitutional powers as commander in chief.
So Reagan invaded a country and overthrew its government and he did this without Congressional authorization. Reagan also kept Congress out of the loop with a bombing attack against Libya. Bush Sr. kept Congress out of the loop when overthrowing Noriega in Panama if memory serves. Therefore Bush has many precedents he can point to from Presidencies of both Republicans and Democrats. Well, what is to stop George W. Bush from launching a massive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities? I am thinking the odds are greater than 50:50 that Bush will order an air attack against Iran before leaving office. What do you think?
Next question: What will be the aftermath of such an attack?
Speaking at an event organized by the foreign policy journal The National Interest Alexis Debat says the Bush Administration has prepared a 3 day air attack on Iran.
THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.
Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.
What I wonder: Does US intelligence know where all the uranium centrifuges are located? How much of the Iranian nuclear weapons program is reachable with air strikes?
I feel like a spectator in all this. I wonder how it will turn out. Any ideas?
Gideon's Blog author Noah Millman lists several reasons why he's decided that a preemptive attack on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program is a bad idea. His first reason, Pakistan, is by itself very compelling.
1. Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iran, is an Islamic dictatorship. But there are important differences. Pakistan is, arguably, less democratic. Its people are, almost certainly, more anti-American. Pakistan has ties to al Qaeda, a terrorist group actively at war with America, while Iran is the patron of Hezbollah, a terrorist group actively at war with Israel but not with America, and which has only struck Americans as such when America was intervening in Lebanon (whereas they have incidentally struck American Jews in Israel and elsewhere in the world as part of attacks on Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish targets). And, of course, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. America's "alliance" with Pakistan is already on its last legs. But the nuclear terrorist nightmare becomes vastly more likely if Pakistan collapses or is captured by al-Qaeda sympathetic forces. Indeed, the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Pakistan must be rated more highly than the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Iran. I'm convinced that an attack on Iran would mean the end of any prospect of controlling Pakistan and keeping it from going wholeheartedly over to the dark side.
I agree with his reasons and am pleased he's taken the time to articulate them all.
Noah says the United States has not been elected the world's policeman and we will not be appreciated even by our Western allies if we attack Iran.
War on Iran, then, would set a new precedent: that the United States feels it has the right to attack any country that seeks to acquire nuclear weapons. Now, one might be inclined to say: what's wrong with such a precedent? Wouldn't the world be a better place if would-be proliferators feared the wrath of the United States? Perhaps it would - if the United States were immune from any consequences of its behavior. But try to imagine what such a conclusion would feel like in Ankara, or Jakarta, or Moscow - or even in London or Ottawa or Canberra. Even if we want to be the world's policeman, the world has not elected us to the post as yet.
Noah says for demographic reasons we can not use war as a general solution. We do not have a population ratio in our favor big enough to allow us to occupy and subdue hostile populations.
In the heyday of Western imperialism, the West had an overwhelming demographic advantage over a South that was pre-modern, traditional, quietistic, and most of all sparsely populated. Today's South is still under-developed, but it is increasingly modern, politically mobilized and densely populated - and there are just a lot more of them. Strategies that might have worked 100 years ago are simply inapplicable today. I wish more war advocates understood this.
I agree with this argument and this is one really big reason why I favor physical isolation of the West from the Muslim countries. If we go the Open Borders road that many neocons and liberals prefer we are basically setting ourselves up for defeat by immigrant invaders. The battle of the womb will not be resolved in our favor in the foreseeable future. If you haven't so already go back and read my post on Pope Benedict's view that Islam is not compatible with Western societies.
Others have made the demographic argument. Lawrence Auster argues we should separate ourselves from Islam. Steve Sailer modestly suggests Europe should pay Muslims to leave. The further apart our respective societies become the less people from either society will do things that create conflict.
Anyway, read all of Noah's arguments. Are you convinced?
Been wondering how the neoconservatives intend to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons? Writing in the neoconservative's biggest platform, The Weekly Standard, retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, a former assistant vice chief of staff in the USAF, proposes a massive bombing campaign against Iran combined with a covert operation modelled in Afghanistan to overthrow the Iranian regime using non-Persian minority groups in Iran.
The destruction of Iran's military force structure would create the opportunity for regime change as well, since it would eliminate some or all of Ahmadinejad's and the mullahs' ability to control the population. Simultaneously or prior to the attack, a major covert operation could be launched, utilizing Iranian exiles and dissident forces trained during the period of diplomacy. This effort would be based on the Afghan model that led to the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Not only would the overt and covert attacks weaken the ability of Iran's leaders to carry out offensive operations in retaliation, they would cripple the leaders' power to control their own people.
Iran's diverse population should be fertile ground for a covert operation. Iran is only 51 percent Persian. Azerbaijanis and Kurds comprise nearly 35 percent of the population. Seventy percent are under 30, and the jobless rate hovers near 20 percent.
Can this work? Afghanistan was already in a civil war with Mahsood hanging onto a Tajik area in the north and the country had been at war for decades. Plus, the living standards in Afghanistan were much lower and the central government rather simpler in character. Iran seems less amenable to externally funded civil war.
The neocons absolutely have to propose a cheaper and less manpower intensive way to overthrow the Iranian government if they are to have any chance at all of carrying out their next phase. The US military is too small to handle Iraq, let alone Iran which has about 2 hand a half times more people. Iraq has 26.8 million people. Whereas Iran has 68.8 million people.
There are interesting angles here to the idea of using non-Persian ethnics to overthrow Iran's government. Consider:
Bush should have made a huge push for increased energy efficiency in the United States before destabilizing multiple big oil producing countries.
Also see at The Weekly Standard other articles on Iran: To Bomb, or Not to Bomb: That is the Iran question by Reuel Marc Gerecht and Unacceptable? Is the America of 2006 more willing to thwart the unacceptable than the France of 1936? by William Kristol. They are laying it on thick.
I've been paying more attention to the immigration debate than to the Bush Administration's preparations for war against Iran. Bad immigration policy is causing more long term damage to America than bad foreign policy. But the war drums are starting to beat louder on Iran and we've got to start paying more attention to it.
William M. Arkin has an article in the Washington Post on war planning against Iran in the Pentagon.
Various scenarios involving Iran's missile force have also been examined in another study, initiated in 2004 and known as BMD-I (ballistic missile defense -- Iran). In this study, the Center for Army Analysis modeled the performance of U.S. and Iranian weapons systems to determine the number of Iranian missiles expected to leak through a coalition defense.
The day-to-day planning for dealing with Iran's missile force falls to the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha. In June 2004, Rumsfeld alerted the command to be prepared to implement CONPLAN 8022, a global strike plan that includes Iran. CONPLAN 8022 calls for bombers and missiles to be able to act within 12 hours of a presidential order. The new task force, sources have told me, mostly worries that if it were called upon to deliver "prompt" global strikes against certain targets in Iran under some emergency circumstances, the president might have to be told that the only option is a nuclear one.
Here's what I wonder: If Bush is going to attack Iran will he do it before, during, or after the fall 2006 elections?
Also, what is your guess? Will Bush attack Iran? If so, will he succeed in overthrowing the Iranian goverment?
Update: In the comments Razib says the Azeris are highly integrated and prominent in the elite. So peeling off the Azeris to find against the Persians looks like a losing strategy.
Also, to repeat myself: Very high oil prices with reductions in production for an extended period would likely follow from a move on Iran. It sure looks to me like the world is peaking in production of conventional oil. A picture is worth a thousand words. So we already have very constrained oil supplies.
For the price of the Iraq war we could fund both a lot of energy research and the retrofitting of all public buildings for greater energy efficiency. For the cost of an attack on Iran (especially when factoring in the resulting oil price rise) we could build hundreds or thousands of nuclear reactors and insulate lots of houses.
In the mood for some contrarian thinking that steps out of the narrow confines of what passes for mainstream foreign policy thinking in the West? Tyler Cowen sees major benefits from Iran's coming status as a nuclear power.
Iranian nukes will create an Israeli-Iranian alignment of political interests. Iran is more hated by the Arab states than is often let on. Iranian nukes increase the chance that Arab terrorism will be directed against Teheran rather than Tel Aviv or Manhattan.
Iran with nukes will carve out a greater sphere of influence, in part at the expense of Israel and America. But it will seek to stabilize that sphere, and "Israel" and "stability" likely will be seen as complements. Iran won't want Iraq under the control of al Qaeda. Israel and Iran would work together, albeit covertly, to limit further proliferation in the region.
Some of the Arab nations would find themselves forced into a de facto alliance with israel, if only to resist Iranian power. This is not obviously a bad outcome.
Most politicians -- whether religious fanatics or not -- are pragmatic. The status of a nuke could be a substitute for the status earned by Iran from supporting terrorism and bashing Israel. More importantly, nuclear powers do not generally want to transfer much power to decentralized, hard-to-deter terrorists.
Do read the whole thing before you step into the comments below and confidently assert why he's wrong.
I think shallow and intellectually lazy Bush and the deluded neocons shot their wad on Iraq and are powerless to stop Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The American public is dead set against another foreign attack and does not trust Bush and his gang in another misadventure. Plus, the US military is stretched as it is. The best Bush could carry out is an air attack. But how to justify it? The Bushies assured us last time that an invasion was necessary to stop (non-existent) nuclear weapons development.
Anyway, I hope Tyler is right about Iran as a nuclear power. My concern is that even if he's right about Iran that Iran as a nuclear power will provide more impetus for other states to become nuclear powers as well.
Speaking of the Iraq Debacle and where it leaves us today Greg Cochran has this to say:
If the President had decided (because of a stroke with truly interesting side effects) that we could no longer stand idly by in the eternal conflict between penguins and skuas (penguins = Good, skuas = Evil) and sent an expedtionary force to Antarctica, an expedition in which a thousand soldiers froze to death and ten thousand others lost limbs to frostbite - an expedition that cost one hundred billion dollars, a conflict in which the skuas and blizzards left the issue in doubt, one in which we discovered that penguins are thoroughly unlikeable when you get to know them better - if he had done this instead of invading Iraq the country would be substantially better off than it is today.
Political opposition to an arctic attack would no doubt be met with a neocon argument that we could build an alliance with the Arctic Skua (which make me think of Ahmad Chalabi) against the Pomarine Skua.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Wednesday that Israel is a ``disgraceful blot'' that should be ``wiped off the map'' - fiery words that Washington said underscores its concern over Iran's nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad's speech to thousands of students at a ``World without Zionism'' conference set a hard-line foreign policy course sharply at odds with that of his moderate predecessor, echoing the sentiments of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's Islamic revolution.
But would future Iranian leaders try to use their own nukes to destroy Israel? Or would they hide behind the protection of their nukes to allow them to step up efforts to support terrorists against Israel? What would a nuclear Iran do? Or, rather, what will a nuclear Iran do?
"The establishment of Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," Mr. Ahmadinejad said, the news agency reported. "The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of the war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land."
Referring to comments by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic revolution, Mr. Admadinejad said, "As the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map."
He probably believes what he's saying.
Mr Ahmadinejad warned leaders of Muslim nations who recognised the state of Israel that they "face the wrath of their own people".
He added: "Anyone who signs a treaty which recognises the entity of Israel means he has signed the surrender of the Muslim world."
Remember the Cold War where the opposition adhered to a ridiculous secular ideology based on glaringly huge wrong assumptions about human nature? That was no fun at all. There's seemingly no limit to the delusions that humans will jump on and believe in. Will genetic engineering to raise IQs make this problem any less? Surely, conventional religiosity will decline and with it a lot of the enthusiasms for jihad that we see among some true Muslim believers. At the same time, knowledge about human nature will become so detailed that a lot of ideologies will become provably wrong just using neuroscience and genetics. But will smart people start dreaming up very dangerous ideologies that suck in other smart people even once the old myths fall before the advance of science?
Neil MacFarquhar of the New York Times reports from a visit to Iran that the Iranian nuclear development program is very popular with Iranians.
Ehsan Motaghi, a 26-year-old seminary student in Isfahan, cited a parable from Imam Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and the inspiration for the Shiite branch of Islam, which most Iranians follow. "They can offer me everything from the earth and heaven, but in exchange if they want me to so much as take the food from an ant's mouth that is his right to eat, I won't do it," he said. "Achieving the peaceful use of technology is really a matter of pride and we will not stop this for anything."
Such passions were echoed in two weeks of conversations with Iranians across all walks of life. Virtually all supported Iran's defying the West and moving ahead with its uranium enrichment program, which carries the threat of further United Nations sanctions.
Note that the Iranians could use nuclear power for electric generators without developing the ability to handle the full nuclear fuel cycle. The development of uranium enrichment technology strikes me as motivated primarily by the desire to build nuclear weapons. Also, for the Iranians natural gas is probably a cheaper source of power for electric generation. Given the development costs the government would be unlikely to pursue nuclear power solely for civilian purposes.
A nuclear power program could be justified as a bargaining chip to use to get international sanctions lifted. But at this point the popularity of the nuclear program would make a complete abandonment of nuclear power difficult to justify to the Iranian people. On one hand part of the public fears the mullahs would use nuclear bombs on missiles to keep themselves in power. On the other hand many of those same Persians feel pride at the notion of the nation possessing nuclear weapons.
Some Iranians want to use nuclear power for peaceful purposes as a matter of national pride. Others want a nuclear deterrent.
But most Iranians, the experts say, fall into two other groups. One believes Iran should use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Another wants Iran to master the nuclear enrichment cycle both to avoid depending on foreign suppliers for nuclear fuel and to be able to move quickly to weapons development if Iran were threatened, either by Israel, the United States or a regional rival. That group sees nuclear power as an insurance policy against a forced change in the government.
The idea that overthrow of the mullahs will stop Iran's nuclear program continues to strike me as naive. Also see my previous posts "Iranian People Not In Pre-Revolutionary Frame Of Mind" and "Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program Seen As Broadly Popular" and Iranians Too Apathetic To Rebel.
Pseudonymous Gary Brecher (who may actually be two editors at eXile) predicts that Bush will attack Iran because he doesn't have a lick of sense.
So Khameini's right; we can't attack Iran. But that doesn't mean we won't. Khameini was making the same mistake everybody's been making: assuming Bush and his cronies have a lick of sense.
The best way of guessing what Bush will do is asking, what's the worst thing he could do to America? Whatever it is, that's what he'll do. I think he's been possessed by bin Laden, because everything he's done has been exactly what Al Quaeda hoped for. Right now, bin Laden is praying to Allah that we'll be stupid enough to attack Iran. That would be the cherry on his halal sundae, the one thing that could actually finish us off as a Superpower.
Brecher predicts an invasion. I do not see how that is physically possible. Where would the troops come from? The US miltiary is increasingly hard put just to maintain current troop levels in Iraq. By the time the Iraqi government might become a sufficiently efficient police state to lock up all the families of the insurgents Bush's days in office are going to be numbered. Bush couldn't set up an attack on Iran in 2008. I have a hard time imagining he could get approval for an attack through Congress in 2006 (a Congressional election year) and in 2007 seems iffy too.
A bunch of air strikes are, however, are doable logistically. If Rumsfeld's intelligence agency can get enough special forces guys into Iran and find a bunch of nuclear weapons labs and factories to hit then the US Air Force will have a big target list and lots of JDAMs to use. But can Bush get approval for such strikes through Congress? Bush is going to become less popular, not more. Why would Congress want to go along with him? The Senate in particular has some moderate Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee) who'd probably balk at such a prospect. Some moderate House Republicans would balk as well. To compensate for Republican defections would Joseph Lieberman support air strikes in order to prevent Iran from some day pointing nuclear weapons at Israel?
I think Brecher is right to argue that an invasion of Iran would have some large negative unintended consequences. Iran's kids want looser rules to live by far more than they want democracy. A substantial portion of the Iranians would resent foreign invaders kinda like the Sunnis do in Iraq. But the Iranians would be more competent in resistance and there would probably be an order of magnitude or more larger resistance movement in Iran.
Bush squandered the political capital he needed for his big plan for preemptive intervention to stop nuclear proliferation by choosing Iraq (oops, no nukes and no real effort to develop them) as his first target. The US can't financially afford a bigger war without a huge tax increase and cuts in social spending. Well, neither of those sources of more military funding are in the cards. At the same time, even US allies are feeling very (make that extremely) reluctant to get involved in another military adventure.
My take: an invasion of Iran is unlikely. Bush may do air strikes. But can he get together the political support domestically (forget about international) to carry out air strikes? If so, how?
Thanks to Steve Sailer for the reference to War Nerd's latest.
Washington's strategic position in the Middle East is stronger than it has ever been, contrary to superficial interpretation. With much of central Iraq out of US control and a record level of close to 100 attacks a day against US forces, President George W Bush appears on the defensive. The moment recalls French Marshal Ferdinand Foch's 1914 dispatch from the Marne: "My center is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack." To be specific, the United States will in some form or other attack Iran while it arranges the division of Iraq.
An attack on Iran would open up the possibility of a better partitition of Iraq because there are quite a few Kurds in Iran. A chunk of Kurdish Iran could be broken off and united with Iraqi Kurdistan into a larger and stronger entity (unless the Kurds descend into civil war - which can not entirely be ruled out). This would leave both the Iranian Persians and the Iraqi Arabs in weaker positions. However, there are plenty of reasons to doubt this will come to pass.
What is Bush's policy on Iran? The administration hints to neocons, through Bolton's statements, that leave it to them, with a second term, Iran's nuclear program will be taken care of (just don't look at Bush's first term record on Iran for proof.) But Bush won't get reelected by stating clearly that a second term would could likely lead America to a new military engagement in the Persian Gulf, especially after the last one went so disastrously based on the fantasies the Bolton supporters wove about what that would entail, and indeed, about what the very threat Iraq posed was.
The irony of the US invasion of Iraq is that two of the reasons given to justifiy the invasion, nuclear weapons development efforts and support for Al Qaeda (AQ) to carry out terrorism, were pretty bogus against Iraq but as Laura Rozen also points out European intelligence officials see a real case to be made against Iran with regard to support for Al Qaeda. Some of Iran's friendliness toward Al Qaeda is pretty well known such as its past (still present?) practice of not stamping AQ passports on the Iran-Afghanistan border is certainly outright complicity on the part of the Iranians. But can the Bush neocons do anything about it? The Iran hawks in the Bush Administration may lose positions in the Pentagon after the election (assuming Bush wins). Even if Bush wins reelection Iran still looks likely to become a nuclear power because preemption advocates have blown their credibility on Iraq and now look like the boy who cried wolf.
The Iran hawks' position is skeptical (to put it kindly) of the realist-dominated CFR recommendation for more direct engagement with Iran. But there's at least two schools of Iran hawks. The Iran hawk realists, who think the US should offer Iran the threat of bigger sticks, and reward of bigger carrots, in focused negotiations on the nuclear issue. And then the "Faster, Please" school, who think we should further isolate the mullahs, and push for regime change, not by the threat of force, but through financial and moral support to opposition groups, independent broadcasters, etc. The irony of course is that the theory advocated by the "Faster" group borrows lock stock and barrel from the nonviolent revolution policy of Peter Ackerman pursued to great success by none other than Madeleine Albright (who the Iran hawks ridicule) and the Clinton administration against Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, who is now in the midst of his trial on war crimes at the Hague.
My guess is that any set of carrots and sticks presented to Iran is not going to cause them to stop their nuclear weapons development program without the stick of outright invasion made very credible and believable. The Iranians leaders very strongly desire nuclear weapons. It is not even clear that a credible threat of invasion would be enough to make them abandon their nuclear weapons development efforts. But could Bush in his second term put together a credible threat of invasion? I have my doubts. I do not think Kerry would even try. So if Kerry wins I expect Iran to go nuclear.
However, an attack on Iran is highly problematic. One problem (out of many) with an attack on Iran is oil. The price is now as of this writing at about $50 per barrel and may go still higher even without a crisis escalating over Iran. Well, Iran produces 5% of the world's oil. An attempt to bring down the regime may cost far more in terms of higher oil prices (picture $80 or $90 per barrel oil for months and a huge economic downturn ala 1974 perhaps) than it costs in military expenditures to do an invasion. A covert operation to foment a revolution seems like a long shot. But even if it worked it would bring a disruption in oil production as well.
Oil dependence is an Achilles' Heel on the ambitions of the neocons. Even if one accepts the logic and assumptions of the Bush Administration's approach to the Middle East (and I don't) it is hard to see how they can ignore the need for an energy policy designed to lessen the world's dependence on Middle Eastern oil by developing alternatives and using what we use much more efficiently.
Still, the Pentagon is playing lots of war games with Iran as a target. The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reports on Pentagon war-gaming exercises against Iran.
For the past three years the central war game of the U.S. armed forces has been centered on Iran. But what exactly will await them there, even they do not purport to know.
Six divisional task forces of the U.S. armed forces, subordinate to three corps commands arrive simultaneously from six different directions; two airborne expeditionary forces (combat wings, transport, command and control, intelligence, refueling); five aircraft carriers at a distance of up to 1,500 kilometers from their northernmost targets; three Special Forces battalions - all struck at Iran and pushed to seize its capital city.
My gut feeling on this issue is that I do not trust any Muslim country with the bomb. I can hear some Muslims claiming I have a double-standard. Well, cultures and religions differ in important ways and some are far more problematic for civilization and peace than others. However, my guess is I'll have to learn to live with my fears about Muslim terrorists getting nuclear bombs when some Middle Eastern state falls apart or when some government officials mad with religious zeal smuggle some into their hands. Or, at the very least, Iran will treat its status as a nuclear power as a security blanket which will protect it from retribution while it sponsors terrorists.
I think the Bush team has squandered a great many resources and political capital on ill-considered moves and as a consequence I'm still betting on Iran going nuclear. The strategy of preemption has been undermined by incompetent execution.
Update: Note that a wide variety of observers believe that Iran's nuclear weapons development program is widely popular among the Iranian public and with would-be reformers who would like to cut down on the power of the mullahs. Revolutionary upheaval or invasion might delay Iran's development of nuclear weapons. The overthrow of the Shah is seen in some quarters as having substantially delayed Iran's nuclear program. But as long as Iran has the money coming in from oil sales it seems inevitable that sooner or later the country will develop nuclear bombs.
Each country that gains nuclear weapons creates new pressures for additional countries to go nuclear as well. China's nukes created pressure on India to go nuclear which created pressure on Pakistan to go nuclear as well. Iran as a nuclear power might spur Saudi Arabia to buy its way into possession of nuclear weapons. But then Turkey and other countries in the region might then start pursuing the development of nuclear weapons.
My guess is that efforts to stop nuclear proliferation are basically crumbling. Japan and South Korea have got to be thinking about North Korea's suspected nukes and wondering whether they should develop nukes as well. The Taiwanese are looking at the growing power of Chian and some of them have got to be wondering whether going nuclear is the only option they have for maintaining their independence.
The US National Commission On Terrrorist Attacks Upon The United States has released its final report on the 9/11 attack, the history of events leading up to that attack, the performance of US national security-related agencies and departments, the activities of various other countries, and, last but not least, what we now know about Al Qaeda. Among the surprises was a report that many of the 9/11 hijackers passed through Iran on their way to meetings in Afghanistan.
The hijackers' passports were not stamped by Iranian authorities, the report says, but it leaves unresolved the question of whether that reflected a deliberate effort to provide assistance to Al-Qaida. It says Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, believed to be the mastermind of the attacks, has said the hijackers were taking advantage of a well-known Iranian practice of not stamping Saudi passports.
Commission Chairman, former New Jersey Republican Governor Thomas Kean, says that in spite of Iranian leniency toward Al Qaeda in terms of allowing Al Qaeda members to pass through Iran there is no known Iranian government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
"We don't know of any current relationship," said Kean. "We do know that when people wanted to get through Iran to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden, including a number of the [September 11] hijackers, they were able to do [that] without marks in their passports that would indicate they'd been through Iran. But there is no evidence whatsoever, for instance, that Iran knew anything about the attack on [September] 11 or certainly assisted it in any way."
Such involvement can not be ruled out. Short of direct support we also can not rule out the possibility that some top figures in the Iranian government may have known about the 9/11 attacks in advance. There are other associations between Al Qaeda and Iranian officials that are disturbing.
Just eight months before the September 11 terror attacks, top conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh received a four-week visa to Iran and then flew to Tehran—an apparent stop-off point on his way to meet with Al Qaeda chiefs in Afghanistan, according to law-enforcement documents obtained by NEWSWEEK.
The Defense Intelligence Agency has information linking Tehran to two of the September 11 hijackers, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, according to intelligence officials.
Almidhar and Alhazmi stayed at the Kuala Lumpur residence of Iran's ambassador to Malaysia during a January 2000 meeting of al Qaeda operatives, the officials said.
If these Jihadists stayed with the Iranian ambassador it is hard to believe they didn't tell him they were endeavoring to kill a large number of Americans.
Iran-Al Qaeda relations were not closer. Why? Well, it was not because the mullahs in Iran didn't wish it. Bin Laden turned down Iranian overtures because the Iranian mullahs are Shias, not Sunnis.
A preliminary report from commission staff, released last month, stated: "Bin Laden's representatives and Iranian officials discussed putting aside Shia-Sunni divisions to co-operate against the common enemy."
The offer is said to have been turned down by bin Laden, who was reluctant to alienate Sunni supporters in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, in the wake of September 11, Iran sheltered al-Qaeda militants fleeing Afghanistan.
Being mere Shiites the Iranians just weren't good enough to be allowed an important role in the efforts of purist Wahhabi Sunnis to blow up thousands of Americans. That'll teach those Iranians a lesson. There is a cost to their apostasy. They could be fighting alongside Wahhabi Sunni Arab Muslims dying in the battle against the Great Satan. But since they insist upon believing the wrong version of Islam they will be denied that pleasure in this world and in the next world.
But we now know that the price the Iranians paid for being Shiites is nothing compared to the price Saddam Hussein paid for being secular. Secular Saddam was even more distant from Al Qaeda than those Shiite Persians.
One week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, White House counterterrorism director Paul Kurtz wrote in a memo to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that no "compelling case" existed for Iraq's involvement in the attacks and that links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government were weak.Not only did Osama bin Laden resent the Iraqi government's secularism, Kurtz's classified memo stated, but there was no confirmed information about collaboration between them on weapons of mass destruction.
The mullahs had the advantage of geographical proximity to then Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to put them near Al Qaeda even as the mullahs were angry at the Sunni Muslim Taliban for their mistreatment of Shia Muslims. The proximity allowed the mullahs to play bit roles with scraps of help like letting Al Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran without getting their passports stamped. No doubt by being obsequious toadies to the Al Qaeda celebrities the Shia mullahs found other little ways to associate themselves with the big league prestigious global Al Qaeda organization. But the mullahs, saddled with their pariah status as Shias, couldn't get any Persians assigned to really important tasks like, say, the 9/11 hijacker teams. That must remain a bitter disappointment for the mullahs even to this day.
A Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) task force chaired former Carter Administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and former Bush I Administration CIA Director Robert M. Gates and directed by Dr. Suzanne Maloney argues among many other points that the United States should promote democracy rather than regime change in Iran.
Promote democracy, not regime change. "The United States should advocate democracy in Iran without relying on the rhetoric of regime change, as that would be likely to rouse nationalist sentiments in defense of the current regime even among those who currently oppose it." The United States should focus instead on promoting political evolution that would lead to stronger democratic institutions internally and enhanced diplomatic and economic relations abroad.
I have serious doubts that the United States can do all that much to promote democracy in Iran. At the same I think regime change would be extremely costly for the United States. Iran has three times the population of Iraq and an invasion would result in a large domestic insurgency against a US military which is far too small to take on the invasion let alone the post-war occupation. However, regime change might be the only way to stop the Iranians from eventually developing nuclear weapons. Therefore my guess continues to be that mullahs are going to succeed in developing working nukes.
From the body of the CFR report Iran: Time for a New Approach the CFR writers claim Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state. (PDF format)
Ultimately, any U.S. policy toward Tehran must be conditioned by a credible assessment of the current regime’s durability. The breach between the countries began with a revolution, and many argue that it cannot conclusively end without another comprehensive transformation in the nature and composition of the Iranian government. Moreover, recent political ferment within Iran and expectations of a demonstration effect from regime change in Iraq has given rise to persistent anticipation that such a revolution is imminent. Although largely overly optimistic, these forecasts have helped shape U.S. policy toward Tehran, conditioning the administration of George W. Bush to reach out to putative opposition leaders and making U.S. policymakers reluctant to engage with the current regime in order to avoid perpetuating its hold on power.
Inevitably, the distance established by geography and political separation complicates any accurate understanding of Iran’s domestic politics today. Still, certain broad conclusions can be drawn from a careful consideration of the recent patterns of politics in Iran. Most important, the Islamic Republic appears to be solidly entrenched and the country is not on the brink of revolutionary upheaval. Iran is experiencing a gradual process of internal change that will slowly but surely produce a government more responsive toward its citizens’ wishes and more responsible in its approach to the international community. In contrast to all of its neighbors—and to the prevailing stereotypes inculcated by its own vitriolic rhetoric—Iran is home to vigorous, albeit restricted, political competition and a literate, liberalizing society. Even after the recent political setbacks, Iran today remains a state in which political factions compete with one another within an organized system, where restrictions on civil rights and social life are actively contested, and where the principles of authority and power are debated energetically.
I agree with their argument that Iran is not in a pre-revolutionary state and first made that argument here well over a year ago. Even if a domestic rebellion could be fomented so-called moderates who might replace the mullahs would probably continue with Iran's nuclear program anyhow. So nothing short of an invasion and extended occupation would stop Iran's nuclear program if the United States decided to go down the regime change route.
I disagree that the Iranian government is going to gradually become "more responsive toward its citizens' wishes". It might do so in some areas but not in any way that threatens the control of the mullahs or the ambitions of the mullahs. I fail to see how Iran's internal political developments are going to work to our advantage to any substantial extent.
Here is where the CFR folks see signs of hope:
Conservatives’ overriding interest in retaining power means that they have an increasing imperative to avoid provoking international tensions, so as to preserve and expand the economic opportunities available to Iran in general and to their own privileged elite cohort in particular. Some conservatives appear to favor a “China model” of reform that maintains political orthodoxy while encouraging market reforms and tolerating expanding civil liberties.
For this reason, Iran’s economy offers an ever-more important avenue of potential influence by outsiders. High global oil prices have boosted the overall growth rates of the Iranian economy, but structural distortions—including massive subsidies, endemic corruption, a disproportionately large public sector, and dependency on oil rents— severely undermine the strength of the Iranian economy. Iran’s economic woes pose direct, daily hardships for its population, whose income measured on a per capita basis has fallen by approximately one third since the revolution. With as many as one million new job-seekers coming into the market each year, the single greatest challenge for any government in Iran will be generating conditions for job growth. Iran needs a substantial and sustained expansion of private investment sufficient for its productive capacity in order to meet these demands, including as much as $18 billion per year in foreign direct investment.
A "China model" is our hope? Hello McFly! Has China's economic development made it more or less able to stand up to and compete with the United States? Answer: More. Has China undergone much political liberalization as a result of its economic development? Answer: No. If Iran takes off economically that will strengthen the mullahs, not weaken them.
A slightly more plausible model is Libya. Maximal leader Khadafy opted to give up support for terrorism and his nuclear program in exchange for foreign investment and trade. Could the Iranians be induced to accept such a deal? Maybe. Not counting on it though. The mullahs (and a substantial portion of the population as a whole) seem to have a burning desire to become a nuclear power.
The CFR folks admit the Iranians are trapped in their own religious ideology.
Tehran’s approach to Washington remains one of several decisive exceptions to the general trend toward moderation and realism in Iranian foreign policy. In formulating Iranian policy toward the United States, ideological imperatives continue to outweigh dispassionate calculations of national interest. Iran’s strident opposition to Israel is also the product of self-defeating dogma. These exceptions may be slowly abated by erosion of Iran’s revolutionary orthodoxies, the growing importance of public support as a component of regime legitimacy, and the increasing difficulty of international integration.
It is worth noting that Cuba, North Korea, and even Saudi Arabia are trapped in various sorts of wicked ideologies. These sorts of ideological traps can last for decades or, in the case of religious beliefs which find support in cultures, even longer. Heck, look at the ideological trap of the neocons. Their mental trap appears remarkably resistant to empirical evidence that undermines its myths and assumptions.
These new factors have intensified the three-and-a-half-year-old struggle within the Bush administration between the hawks, particularly the neo-conservatives for whom the security of Israel is a core commitment, and the realists, who are led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Powell, in turn, is backed by a number of top alumni of past Republican and Democratic administrations, including Bush Sr's former national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, Brzezinski, and Frank Carlucci, who served as national security adviser and defense secretary for the late president Ronald Reagan (1981-89) and also participated in the task force.
The neocons have a number of factors now working against them when it comes to their ambitions for Iran regime change:
The big wildcard is whether Al Qaeda will succeed in launching another large attack in the United States. If thousands more Americans are killed how will the American people respond? On one hand that will make Americans a lot more hawkish once again. On the other hand an attempt to convince the American public of Iran's role in supporting Al Qaeda will face a much higher standard of evidence than the standard the Bush Administration had to pass for its arguments in favor of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. My guess continues to be that the neocons have so undermined their own credibility with their Iraq misadventure that they have reduced the US threat to the theocrats in Teheran. The irony of this outcome is that for a long time the Israelis have seen the Iranians as a far greater threat than the Saddam. So the neocons have damaged not only US security but Israeli security as well.
Dr. Donna M. Hughes, a women's studies professor at the University of Rhode Island, has written an article for Insight on the toleration and involvement of Iran's government in sex slavery and prostitution.
Joining a global trend, the fundamentalists have added another way to dehumanize women and girls: buying and selling them for prostitution. Exact numbers of victims are impossible to obtain, but according to an official source in Tehran, there has been a 635 percent increase in the number of teen-age girls in prostitution. The magnitude of this statistic conveys how rapidly this form of abuse has grown. In Tehran, there are an estimated 84,000 women and girls in prostitution, many of them are on the streets, others are in the 250 brothels that reportedly operate in the city. The trade is also international: Thousands of Iranian women and girls have been sold into sexual slavery abroad.
The head of Iran's Interpol bureau believes that the sex-slave trade is one of the most profitable activities in Iran today. This criminal trade is not conducted outside the knowledge and participation of the ruling fundamentalists. Government officials themselves are involved in buying, selling and sexually abusing women and girls.
While talk about democracy gets the most press attention the treatment of women in Islamic countries is the most reliable barometer to watch for whether these societies are becoming more modern. Since Iran's government is so powerful the fact that sex-slave trade is taking place on the scale that Hughes describes can only be done with the knowledge and acceptance of top government figures. Hughes argues that this is a logical consequence of the view that the Mullahs have of women.
Interior Ministry figures on Saturday showed conservatives had won at least 55 of the first 106 seats declared, out of 289 contested on Friday, an analyst at the Parliamentary Research Centre said.
The parliament is not powerful at all. The Guardian Council of mullahs routinely rejects legislation passed by the parliament. In spite of the lack of power in the Parliament the mullahs rejected most reformist candiates for the 2004 parliamentary elections in order to ensure a more compliant parliament would be elected.
The Guardian Council, whose 12 members are all appointed directly or indirectly by Khamenei, disqualified more than 2,000 mainly reformist aspirants. A further 1,179 contenders withdrew.
The candidate ban by the Guardian Council left fewer than 250 veteran reformers among nearly 4,500 candidates and provoked one of Iran's most serious political crises in decades.
With the votes tallied from more than half of Iran's 207 districts, the turnout was 43.29 per cent, said Interior Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity. If the trend holds, it would be a noticeable drop from the 67.2 per cent in the last parliament elections in 2000.
However, it has been confirmed that participation in the capital Tehran was just 28 per cent, which could raise questions about the future Parliament's legitimacy.
Nationwide turnout appears to be headed to around the 50 per cent mark.
Thus the Europeans face a stark choice. They can decide to - holding their noses - continue dealing with the Iranian regime because they need its cooperation on a number of issues, notably nuclear non-proliferation, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Or they can orchestrate a set of new diplomatic, economic, and even military pressures on the regime as a means of encouraging the emergence of a genuinely democratic internal opposition.The Bush administration, for its part, needs to develop a coherent analysis of the Iranian situation. It must decide whether or not Iran is, in the words of the State Department's number-two, Richard Armitage, a "sort of democracy" or a despotic regime using religion and violence to remain in power.
Has Taheri just reached this conclusion? This has been obvious for years. The United States can either overthrow the Iranian government by force or try to organize a bigger sanctions regime against Iran in order to try to get the Mullahs to stop developing nukes and supporting terrorists. So far the Bush Adminisration has not shown that it has the stomach for such an undertaking and the European leaders have clung to the belief that diplomacy alone can bring the Iranian government to acceptable terms.
Writing from Tehran David Hirst describes this election as the final stage of a plan by the ruling mullahs to block democratic reformers. (same article here)
Today’s elections, followed by next year’s presidential contest, are the culmination of the conservatives’ strategy to regain their ascendancy over the “popular” as well as the “sacred” sources of sovereignty in Iran. The reformists call it a “white coup d’etat.” This is hardly an exaggeration for what the turbaned sages of the Council of Guardians did in disqualifying 2,500 reformist candidates, including 80 serving deputies, who were judged insufficiently “Islamic” and told that they would be waging “war on God” if they resisted their fate.
Alas, these elections did not raise question marks with respect to their results as much as they raised doubts about previous voting. What did the previous elections mean? What did their slogan, "reform" - should it happen - mean? Was it a lie sold to the Iranians, and marketed to the outside, which desired to believe it as a form of help to Khatami? What does this reform mean if the "pre-reform" practices remain, and even increased their pressures on freedom, silencing the press, suppressing the opponents and the elected people's representatives? One should admit a virtue for these non-elections: they removed the mist, dust, and makeup from the regime's real face. This means that it stayed as it is despite Khatami's charisma, his lenient rhetoric, his adorable smile, honest character and pure intentions. One should also admit that the Guardians Council does not commit mistakes in correcting the situation: the regime in Iran is not democratic, and its elections are nothing more than decorations.
According to diplomats familiar with investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, inspectors have found designs and parts for a G2 uranium enrichment centrifuge - a more advanced version of the G1 system previously declared by Iran.
Some reports said the components were found on an Iranian air force base. If this is confirmed, it would create a possible link between Iran's nuclear programme and the military, despite claims that nuclear facilities are entirely civilian and designed to generate electricity.
Libya's cooperation in revealing what it was able to buy on the nuclear blackmarket has been very valuable for being able to guess what Iran might have. The fear is that Iran may have been able to buy a complete bomb design.
"The inspectors have been matching up everything Libya got with what we know Iran to have," one of the diplomats said. "The concern is, if the Iranians got everything so far, do they have a weapons design? That would be the biggie."
Powell said Iran and other rogue nations should learn from Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi , who realized after years of trying to pursue weapons of mass destruction that it was not making his people better off nor elevating his country's status internationally.
The EU expressed Friday its concern about the conditions under which parliamentary elections are being held in Iran, but underlined that the European bloc's policy to engage the Islamic Republic in dialogue has not changed, IRNA reported from Brussels.
Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is giving Iran until a March 8-10 meeting of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to comply with promises made late last year. If Iran is found not in compliance, the United States could urge that the IAEA board refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions or other options.
Russia's nuclear-energy minister, Alexander Rumyantsev, confirmed yesterday that Moscow will override U.S. objections and ship nuclear fuel to a Russian-built reactor in Iran.
I am still betting on the mullahs turning Iran into the second Islamic nuclear power after Pakistan. The Bush Administration has not yet shown a willingness to either overthrow the Iranian government or do air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. The Bush Administration may yet try to get the Europeans to take the issue to the UN Security Council to seek sanctions. But it is not clear whether this path will be taken.
Writing for The Christian Science Monitor Scott Peterson reports the view of Western diplomats in Teheran that Iran does not want to make the occupation of Iraq more difficult for the United States.
"Iran has no interest in creating, or being linked to, any kind of problems the Americans are facing in Iraq," says a Western diplomat. "They understand the price to be paid for doing that.
"If in some circles, [Iranians] are happy when Americans are killed in Iraq, the government and many conservatives don't share that joy," the diplomat adds. "Every setback for the Americans is bad news, because it lengthens the occupation and delays the moment when the Shiite [majority] will take control."
Peterson claims that the Iranian leaders want to make deals with the United States and improve relations.
By contrast, Philip Sherwell of the London Sunday Telegraph reports that Iran is planting agents and fomenting unrest in Iraq. (or same article here)
NAJAF, Iraq — Iran has dispatched hundreds of agents posing as pilgrims and traders to Iraq to foment unrest in the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and the lawless frontier areas.
Their activities included "support for various people, some of whom have taken violent action against both Iraqis and against the coalition". Asked whether Iranians were suspected of possible involvement in shooting and bomb attacks, he replied: "There's certainly some indication of that, yes."
The Iranians must surely be sending agents into Iraq. The mullahs are going to try to increase their influence now that Saddam is gone regardless of whether they want to encourage attacks. What exactly they see as being in their best interests is hard to say. But the mullahs are not friends of the American occupation. While they probably want to see US forces capture or destroy the last of the Baathists they may be testing whether they could stir up a much larger amount of trouble for the US using Shiites since a Shiite uprising would probably be religious in nature and would decrease the odds that Iraq would become a popular democracy.
It is important to understand what is going on in Iran if we are to have a better chance of guessing what the Iranian government is doing in Iraq. Writing for the Daily Telegraph John Casey has written an excellent account of his travels and conversations during a two week trip to Iran. (free registration required)
And unpopular it certainly is. I was often told that so disliked are the mullahs that people in the ''shared taxis'' of Teheran will never allow the driver to stop to pick up one of the clergy, and even that mullahs will take off their turbans when riding in taxis, lest people shout abuse at them through the windows.
I was also told confidently that one never sees a mullah walking through the Teheran streets for the same reason - although I did see two or three. There is an impasse - a well-educated, assertive clergy, confident in their right to guide the country, and a discontented majority who will hear nothing good about them at all. I felt torn. I liked these men.
Iran itself is torn. The majority wants a change. The ruling minority is willing to be ruthless to maintain their power and the majority knows this. As long as the rulers remain united the prospects for change seem remote. For the US this poses a big problem since the rulers are probably within 2 or 3 years of building working nuclear weapons.
Casey's article is the best of the articles linked to in this post. He talks to a variety of clergymen who are outside of government, ordinary citizens who are very pro-American and pro-British, and manages to have some encounters with what can only be described as thoughtful working class intellectuals of a sort that would be hard to find any more in the West. I strongly urge reading it in full.