One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Iran more impotant to Saddam than the U.S.

Brian Fung of FP Passport uncovers some fascinating tidbits from U.S. interrogations of Saddam Hussein. I found the following extremely interesting.

saddamhusseinHussein continued the dialogue on the issues relating to the significant threat to Iraq from Iran. Even though Hussein claimed iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allow the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions o the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq. In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iarq. [sic, and emphasis mine]

What’s most shocking is how completely U.S. policymakers seem to have missed this angle. So obsessed were they in Hussein’s “terrorist” threat — or, more accurately, in selling the fear of this threat to their political constituencies back home — that they entirely misunderstood motives that, with any serious study of the reason, would have been eminently clear.

Combined with something else I read recently (I think it was this) about the corresponding futility of trying to understand the Iranian nuclear program without reference, first and foremost, to the Iraq-Iran war, this information proves to me the preeminence of regional dynamics over the big “anti-American” confrontation that American politicians always seem to assume is the driving force of everything. This is hubris, certainly, but it is also just supremely short-sighted. And it’s the kind of thing that torture definitely won’t help you uncover.

(image from flickr user iDip under a Creative Commons license)


July 6, 2009 Posted by | Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy, U.S. politics | , , | 1 Comment

A Potemkin everyone already knows about

Of all the commentary and analysis of Iran’s upcoming elections that I have read, this strikes me as definitively the worst.  Titled “Iran’s Potemkin elections” and penned by Con Coughlin, of London’s Daily Telegraph, the piece ledes off (pun intended) with this bombshell: “Only candidates vetted by the ruling clerics have been allowed to stand.”  No!  You mean that the Ayatollah had some say in determining who was allowed to run for election?  I am shocked.  Shocked.

Sarcasm aside, it is indeed puzzling why anyone would be surprised by the one part of Iran’s power structure that seems relatively transparent.  Twelve members of what is called the Guardian Council — six picked directly by the Ayatollah, six more or less indirectly so — are the ones to pre-approve candidates.  This year, though more than 400 offered their name — including women, who were allowed to do so for the first time — only four survived the cut.

iran electionThis is far from democratic; I don’t know of anyone who argues that it is.  But one of the odd aspects of the Iranian political system is that much of what follows is, in fact democratic.  And partially due to the actual ability of Iranians to vote, partially because we don’t know what un-democratic dynamics are operating behind the scenes, the foregone conclusion that Coughlin assumes, without evidence — that Ahmadinejad is “widely expected to win re-election” — is simply not substantiated.

While many Iran hawks spend the bulk of their time pointing to Ahmadinejad’s hostile and ham-handed provocations, others contend that Iran is the plaything of the “mad mullahs.”  Neither of these oversimplifications is accurate.  The Ayatollah and his clerics exercise a good deal of power, for certain.  But, in a telling example, Khamenei did not, by all accounts, prefer Ahmadinejad to win the first time around — nor was he at all expected to do so — and it is not clear whether Ahmadinejad or Mir Hossein Moussavi (who is not, as Coughlin calls him, a “conservative hard-liner”) will prevail this year.  That all we can expect out of what has been a very interesting election campaign is “more of the same” is also very much not necessarily true.

And I know the phrase “Potemkin” has come to mean any sort of façade, but Coughlin definitely has his history backwards.  The original Potemkin village was designed to deceive the Empress Catherine the Great; in this case, it’s the Supreme Leader who knows more about what’s going on than anyone else — though not, most probably, who’s going to win this election.

(image from flickr user Shahram Sharif under a Creative Commons license)

(cross-posted, hopefully soon, at Dispatch)

June 10, 2009 Posted by | Iran | , , | Leave a comment

We torture terrorists like you torture bloggers

Which country could this be?

Over the next seven years he was arrested nine times, imprisoned six, flipped between “official” and secret prisons, surveilled and harassed by the secret police, subjected to endless interrogations, held both in overcrowded cells and incommunicado in solitary confinement (for a total of nine months), beaten while blindfolded and subjected to extreme sensory deprivation.

Only when you torture bloggers.

Only when you torture bloggers, that is.

Well, it’s Bret Stephens writing in The Wall Street Journal, so, you guessed it, it’s gotta be Iran. But forgive me if, after reading Mark Danner’s review of the ICRC reports on CIA black sites, the description didn’t sound strikingly similar to U.S. treatment of the erstwhile “enemy combatants.”

For conservatives, making this comparison naturally means that I am a heretical, terrorist-coddling America-hater. But still, I like to think that they might take some unintentionally perverse solace in the fact that, whereas the Iranian torture described above was applied to a mere blogger, we save our torture for the much bigger (alleged) fish.

(image from flickr user takomabibelot under a Creative Commons license)

March 24, 2009 Posted by | Iran | , , , | Leave a comment