U.S. President Obama has issued more statements condemning the government crackdown on Iranian protesters angry with the possibly fraudulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency.
The BBC reports:
Mr Obama said: “The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days.
“I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.”
He said: “The United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran’s affairs. But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society.”
Mr Obama said of the allegations of meddling: “This tired strategy of using old tensions to scapegoat other countries won’t work anymore in Iran.
“This is not about the United States and the West. This is about the people of Iran, and the future that they – and only they – will choose.”
Obama has already endured copious criticism on this issue from the GOP, whose leaders say the President has been too ‘soft’ on Iran since taking office. And the Supreme Leader of Iran has accused both London and Washington of meddling in Iran’s affairs and seeking to foment unrest for political gain.
The U.S. government finds itself in a delicate position with regards to the situation in Iran; from the outset, the Obama White House has pledged to take a less bullish, trigger-happy approach to negotiations with Tehran than the preceding administration. The U.S., already embroiled in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for which stateside support is rapidly dwindling, is struggling through its worst financial crisis in nearly a century. Even if Washington were sure that the Iranian election is fraudulent, it could offer little real support to Ahmadinejad’s opponents. Therefore, we can be relatively sure that what the President has to say about Iran will have scant resonance beyond the Beltway.
One thing that bothers me about diplomatic grandstanding on this issue is the question: What if it happened here? What if, rather than calmly accepting the Supreme Court-mandated first inauguration of George W. Bush, thousands of protesters had taken to the streets in New York, Washington, San Francisco, and elsewhere? Would the U.S. government had been as restrained as it now feels compelled to ask of Tehran? Judging by the harsh civic responses on record to political protests in places like Seattle and Chicago, the answer is probably ‘no.’ It seems unlikely that such questions will ever be other than hypothetical, as the U.S. fosters a society in which copious creature comforts tend to ensure merely theoretical interest in political developments among much of its population.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf, identifying himself as a representative of the purportedly defeated Iranian presidential candidate Hossein Mousavi, wrote in Friday’s Guardian (follow link for full article):
I have been given the responsibility of telling the world what is happening in Iran. The office of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who the Iranian people truly want as their leader, has asked me to do so. They have asked me to tell how Mousavi’s headquarters was wrecked by plainclothes police officers. To tell how the commanders of the revolutionary guard ordered him to stay silent. To urge people to take to the streets because Mousavi could not do so directly.
The people in the streets don’t want a recount of last week’s vote. They want it annulled. This is a crucial moment in our history. Since the 1979 revolution Iran has had 80% dictatorship and 20% democracy. We have dictatorship because one person is in charge, the supreme leader – first Khomeini, now Khamenei. He controls the army and the clergy, the justice system and the media, as well as our oil money.
There are some examples of democracy – reformers elected to parliament, and the very fact that a person like Mousavi could stand for election. But, since the day of the election, this element of democracy has vanished. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won, and that whoever opposed this will be suppressed – a position he affirmed speaking today in Tehran. People wanted to have demonstrations within the law, but the authorities would not let them. This is the first time we have seen millions on the streets without the permission of the supreme leader.
Now they are gathering to mourn those who have died. The people of Iran have a culture that elevates martyrdom. In the period running up to the revolution, when people were killed at demonstrations, others would gather again in the days following the death. This cycle carried on for six months, and culminated in the revolution. Today they are gathering in Tehran for those who were shot on Tuesday, and if there are more killings, this will continue.
So why do the Iranian people not want Ahmadinejad as their leader? Because he is nothing but a loudspeaker for Khamenei. Under Ahmadinejad, economic problems have grown worse, despite $280bn of oil revenue. Social and literary freedom is much more restricted than under his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami. The world views us as a terrorist nation on the lookout for war. When Khatami was president of Iran, Bush was president of the US. Now the Americans have Obama and we have our version of Bush. We need an Obama who can find solutions for Iran’s problems. Although power would remain in the hands of Khamenei, a president like Mousavi could weaken the supreme leader.
According to this BBC article, the circumstances surrounding the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hardline conservative many Iranians see as merely a mouthpiece for the Supreme Leader, are viewed in much of Iran as questionable at best. This election saw a tenfold increase in the use of mobile polling stations, portable voting venues responsible to the Interior Ministry, run by a close ally of Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad also apparently picked up huge, unprecedented gains in areas where he has previously not fared so well. One liberal candidate earned 5% of the vote in a precinct where he had previously earned 55% in an earlier round of voting. And, overall, the election results were published and tabulated far more quickly than usual, with far less regional variation than would be expected.
Things just don’t add up, to put it succinctly. Juan Cole, an established writer on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, told the BBC: “It just seems to me the fix was in.” And, said an official from a Washington think-tank on Middle East policy, “This is something more than a manipulation. This is an outright coup.”
In an address on Friday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini made it clear that protests will not be tolerated. But still they persist, especially in the streets of the capital Tehran, where mounting unrest over police brutality and killings may force senior clerics to rethink their policies if they wish to remain unchallenged in authority.
According to the Iranian news service PRESSTV, former Reformist president Mohammed Khatami has called for an investigation into fraud allegations by an “impartial group.” But such a group may be difficult to find in the Iranian government if it exists at all—for example, the Guardian Council, which is currently in charge of investigating more than 600 complaints of fraud, is headed by a strong ally of the incumbent Ahmadinejad, and this group also safeguards the only legal avenues for removing the Supreme Leader of Iran.
So it is not as likely that protesters are as interested in a recount as in real democracy and transparency in a government which increasing numbers of young Iranians view as a medieval theocracy rather than a functional republic.
In a video message to Iran delivered to coincide with the spring holiday of Nowruz, U.S. President Barack Obama may have departed significantly from Bush-era policies by opening the door to constructive dialog between the two nations. But his overtures disappointed many and were less than warmly received by the government in Tehran largely because they seemed to embody a continuation of carrot-and-stick diplomacy oriented toward rewarding a sovereign nation for “good behavior” rather than truly engaging it as an equal.
The BBC reports on the response from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini:
Speaking to a large crowd in the holy city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran had “no experience with the new American government and the new American president.”
“We will observe them and we will judge,” he said.
“If you change your attitude, we will change our attitude.”
In the speech, which was carried live by Iranian television, he said Iran was yet to see such a change.
“What is the change in your policy?” he asked.
“Did you remove the sanctions? Did you stop supporting the Zionist regime? Tell us what you have changed. Change only in words is not enough.”
Matters were not helped, perhaps, in that Obama preceded his address by extending certain sanctions against the Islamic republic for one year, citing threats to U.S. national security.
Iran is due to hold presidential elections this summer. Former President Mohammed Khatami, a figure widely viewed as more open to reconciliation with the West, was at one point slated to run for reelection but then withdrew from the race. Whether or not current President Amahdinejad, seen as a foreign policy hardliner, is ousted from office, the U.S. and Israel need not expect the election to bring any major changes to the political climate.
It is good that the new White House is willing to engage in dialog with Tehran, but the fact remains that, if the U.S. wishes genuinely to create goodwill and a sense of cooperation with Iran, it must itself take steps toward enacting several policy changes:
- First and foremost, the U.S. must openly rethink its complete and unmitigated support for the government of Israel, particularly as it pertains to the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Since the U.S. is largely responsible for the arming and funding of Israeli military operations, and has traditionally backed Israel diplomatically against all odds, it is seen as a de facto partner in the blockades and military offensives which have recently crushed millions of innocent Palestinians in response to rocket fire from a relatively small number of militants. The U.S. could help matters by intensifying its commitment to a political solution for Palestine.
- The U.S. must recognize Iran’s right to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and must adopt a policy of “innocent until proven guilty” towards its suspicions that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear weapons. There remains no concrete evidence that Iran is working towards a bomb, but the hysteria over the idea continues to mount as Israel considers using missiles to destroy enrichment efforts. Iran may be willing to accept reliance on fuel enriched outside its borders, but not for nothing in return.
- The U.S. must work to end U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Iran. This could be made dependent on eliciting cooperation from Tehran on security issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the government may or may not be willing to give. But as long as such sanctions are in place, Iran is justified in feeling that it is being addressed as less than an equal, and little progress is likely.
In return, the U.S. should expect Iran to soften its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, to tone down its anti-Israeli rhetoric and provocative missile tests, and to become more receptive to cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, to keep realism on the table, we must remember that Iran reasonably views itself as a state under threat, surrounded on both sides by ongoing U.S. military operations and continually threatened by talk of missile attacks from Israel.
Obama’s latest move certainly signifies the hope of change, but it is not yet, for many, change we can believe in.
99 has birthed another cow, and with good reason.
Laura Sonnenmark is a focus group regular. “I’ve been asked to talk about orange juice, cell phone service, furniture,” the Fairfax County, Virginia-based children’s book author and Democratic Party volunteer says. But when she was called by a focus group organizer for a prospective assignment earlier this month, she was told the questions this time would be about something “political.”
On November 1, she went to the offices of Martin Focus Groups in Alexandria, Virginia, knowing she would be paid $150 for two hours of her time. After joining a half dozen other women in a conference room, she discovered that she had been called in for what seemed an unusual assignment: to help test-market language that could be used to sell military action against Iran to the American public. “The whole basis of the whole thing was, ‘we’re going to go into Iran and what do we have to do to get you guys to along with it?” says Sonnenmark, 49.
Soon after the leader of the focus group began the discussion, according to Sonnenmark, he directed the conversation toward recent tensions between Iran and the United States. “He was asking questions about [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad going to speak at Columbia University, how terrible it was that he was able to go to Columbia and was invited,” Sonnenmark says. “And he used lots of catch phrases, like ‘victory’ and ‘failure is not an option.'”
. . .
“Of all the focus groups I’ve ever been to,” Sonnenmark wrote in a subsequent email to a group of fellow volunteers for the 2006 Senate campaign of Jim Webb, “I’ve never seen a moderator who was so persistent in manipulating and leading the participants.” (Webb is lead author of a Senate letter warning President Bush not to attack Iran without congressional approval; see here and here.)) The gist of the event was “anti-Iranian,” says Sonnenmark.
If the group’s organizers were testing the case for military action against Iran—even as a last resort—Sonnenmark believes they could not have been encouraged by the results of this focus group. “I got the general feeling that George Bush didn’t have a shot in hell” of winning public support for an Iran attack, she says. Some members of her group suggested that if Hillary Clinton were elected president she might have more credibility in making such a case. As for the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran, Sonnenmark’s impression was that the group’s members did not believe it was up to them to judge.
The United States is a large and diverse country, and it is as difficult to make reasonable generalities about its people as about its landscapes. There are some awe-inspiring places and spaces to experience, and I believe that people here are, for the most part, what are called good folks—just as, anywhere one goes in the world, there are mostly good folks to be found.
If you’ve never been to America, you should check it out. There are way too many superhighways and supermarkets and superfactories, of course. But I can tell you from experience that having breakfast in New Orleans’ French Quarter and camping on the Oregon seashore are both great things to do, and there are probably plenty of unique, interesting places where you live, too.
Most Americans are as friendly as can be. It’s not Mayberry in springtime everywhere all the time, by any means, but you get what I mean.
There are some Americans, though—a relatively small but increasing number of them—who believe that America is just about the only place on Earth where one can find good things and good folks. They have taken nationalism too far. They mistake warmongering for defensive posturing, confuse marketing desk rhetoric with traditional values, and apparently don’t understand the difference between the worship of symbols and patriotism, between propaganda and news. Perhaps worst of all, they equate freedom with material prosperity and quality of life with creature comfort.
September 11, 2001 was both an ineffably immense tragedy and a green light for these guys to get serious. After September 11, you could ask any question you pleased except for: Why? Why did this happen? Why would anyone want to do this to us? You didn’t have to ask that question, because it had already been answered: You’re American, and they hate your freedoms because they’re violent savages, just like them injuns was.
This crowd is in power now, and they’re enlightening the less privileged as we speak.
To them, those inside the U.S. that disagree with their pomp and bigotry are mentally infirm, treasonous deviants, and outside dissenters are both deviant (since they’re not purebred neo-cons) and subhuman (since they’re not American). They are right about everything not because they are educated and experienced but because they are American—because, by the power of Grey Skull, they are anointed by divinity, in some conceptions. They’re your go-to guys: for the only credible answers to everything from religion, to history, to the diplomatic and economic affairs of other countries, to science and the environment, to whether or not people should be taken off life support regardless of their own wishes, just ask the ultra-nationalist neo-conservative leadership of the United States of America. They’ll take it in stride, no worries.
Let us go, you and I, back in time to February of 2003. Frontline, a program on public broadcast television, aired a piece called “The War Behind Closed Doors.” This was touted as a balls-to-the-wall, nitty-gritty exposé of the “grand strategy” behind Bush’s new foreign policy as America stood at the “brink of war” with Iraq:
As the U.S. stands at the brink of war with Iraq, many are now warning about the potential consequences: the danger of getting bogged down in Baghdad, the prospect of longtime allies leaving America’s side, the possibility of chaos in the Middle East, the threat of renewed terrorism.
But the Bush administration insiders who helped define the “Bush Doctrine,” and who have argued most forcefully for war, are determined to set a course that will remake America’s role in the world. Having served three Republican presidents over the course of two decades, this group of close advisers — among them Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and perhaps most importantly, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein is the necessary first act of a new era.
In “The War Behind Closed Doors,” FRONTLINE traces the inside story of how those advisers — calling themselves “neo-Reaganites,” “neo-conservatives,” or simply “hawks” — set out to achieve the most dramatic change in American foreign policy in half a century: a grand strategy, formally articulated in the National Security Strategy released last September, that is based on preemption rather than containment and calls for the bold assertion of American power and influence around the world.
Through interviews with key Republican insiders, foreign policy analysts, and longtime White House observers, the report reveals how America got to the brink of war with Iraq — and how a war and its aftermath will put these advisers’ big idea to the test.
“The War Behind Closed Doors” follows a long-running policy battle between two of Washington’s most powerful insiders and the philosophies they represent: Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Powell, who held the top military job at the Pentagon under President George H.W. Bush and other powerful posts at the highest levels of government, is a cautious realist who represents the establishment’s abiding belief in diplomacy and the containment of foreign enemies. Wolfowitz, who built a career as a smart and tough hardliner at the Departments of State and Defense, champions the idea of preemption, striking first to defend America and to project its democratic values.
At the time the Gulf War ended in 1991, Powell was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of defense for policy, the third-highest ranking civilian in then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney’s Pentagon. Powell was instrumental in stopping the war short of going to Baghdad and removing Saddam Hussein. Wolfowitz and other hardliners were less than enthusiastic about that decision.
“Paul Wolfowitz believed then that it was a mistake to end the war,” says Richard Perle, chairman of the influential Defense Policy Board and a veteran of the Reagan administration. “They underestimated the way in which Saddam was able to cling to power, and the means he would use to remain in power. That was the mistake.”
Soon after the Gulf War, Wolfowitz supervised the drafting of a set of classified policy guidelines, called a Defense Planning Guidance, for how the U.S. should deal with Saddam Hussein and the rest of the world in the post-Cold War era. Wolfowitz believed containment was an old idea — a relic of the Cold War — and that America should use its overwhelming military might preemptively, and unilaterally, if need be. His draft of these policy guidelines was leaked to the press in 1992.
“Inside the U.S. defense planning establishment, there were people who thought this thing was nuts,” Barton Gellman of The Washington Post tells FRONTLINE. “The first draft said that the United States would be prepared to preempt the use of nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons by any other nation, even, the document said, ‘Where our interests are otherwise not engaged.’ … It spoke of punishing or retaliating for that use, but it also said ‘preempt.’ This was the first time.”
“Wolfowitz basically authored a doctrine of American hegemony,” says historian and foreign policy expert John Lewis Gaddis, “a doctrine in which the United States would seek to maintain the position that it came out of the Cold War with, at which there were no obvious or plausible challengers to the United States. That was considered quite shocking in 1992. So shocking, in fact, that the Bush administration, at that time, disavowed it.”
As the first President Bush left office, Wolfowitz’s draft plan went into the bottom drawer, but it would not be forgotten.
“The War Behind Closed Doors” goes on to recount how the Clinton administration struggled to deal with Saddam Hussein’s defiance of U.S. and U.N. containment policies, while hawks in the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party grew increasingly impatient.
With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, however, the hawks saw a new opportunity to implement a stronger, forward-leaning American stance in the world. Yet during the new president’s first year in office, skirmishing between Colin Powell’s State Department and Rumsfeld’s Pentagon — where Wolfowitz is now the second-ranking civilian — left the adminstration’s foreign policy stalled in a kind of internal gridlock.
All that would change on Sept. 11, 2001.
Four days after the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, President Bush and his Cabinet held a war council at Camp David. “From the first moments after Sept. 11, there was a group of people, both inside the administration and out, who believed that the war on terrorism should target Iraq — in fact, should target Iraq first,” says Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (2002) and a former member of the National Security Council staff in the Clinton administration.
But Colin Powell and Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were determined to rein in the hawks. Powell’s argument — that an international coalition could only be assembled for a war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, not an invasion of Iraq — won the day, and Iraq was put on the back burner.
Yet President Bush had made it clear that the U.S. would not stop at pursuing terrorists and bringing them to justice. “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” the president told the nation on the evening of Sept. 11.
Four months later, with the Taliban defeated and Al Qaeda largely dispersed, Bush was ready to move on to the next phase of the war on terrorism. In his State of the Union address, he laid the groundwork for an invasion of Iraq, tying Saddam Hussein’s regime to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
“States like these,” Bush declared, “and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil arming to threaten the peace of the world. … The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
The stage was set. Phase two was underway, and preemption would get its test case. The president had set a course for the U.S. to use its military power not only to topple Saddam Hussein but to promote democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Wolfowitz and the hawks, by all appearances, had succeeded.
“I wrote a piece in the Post two days after the State of the Union,” recalls William Kristol, editor of the influential neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard, “saying we’ve just been present at a very unusual moment: the creation of a new American foreign policy.”
In the thirteen months since that speech, the Bush administration has moved steadily toward war with Iraq, though Colin Powell was able to convince the president to seek U.N. backing. Whether that approval is won or not, it is clear that this administration intends to alter America’s strategic relationship to the world.
So, let’s take inventory: It was all Colin Powell’s fault for being such a sissy, Paul Wolfowitz was tough and smart, and Saddam Hussein was directly responsible for 9/11 in a Dr. Claw kind of way. No more pushin’ us around with your WMDs and your secret terrorist supersquads, neither of which—if you really had them at all, which we somehow need not conclusively prove—you could possibly have come to possess without our express approval and assistance in the first place—but, hey! That was years ago. It’s the start of a Brand. New. Era. You can just imagine the specter of George Washington smiling down upon its moment of creation, just as he is about to be joined by Jesus Christ, perhaps.
I am sorry that some Americans, academic luminaries, ersatz pundits, and disinterested suburbanites among them, saw the need to make complete asses of themselves and their countrymen and countrywomen during the president of Iran’s recent visit to New York City. Curiously, I get the feeling that most of the worst offenders had, only the day before Ahmadinejad’s speeches (it having been a Sunday, you see), believed in kissing cheeks, loving enemies, universal brotherhood, and altruism to the point of self-immolation if necessary. “Half-truths, canards and lies,” as one friend described the scene, somehow abounded on Monday.
America’s massive occupation of Iraq is being resisted with weapons that may—may—have trickled in from Iran, and Tehran is to blame, even though, when American-built planes drop American-made bombs to churn up the farms, cities, arms, and legs of the Lebanese, Washington whistles absently across the Atlantic. Palestinians resist their colonial overlords with whatever desperate means are available, and Tehran is to blame. Iran wishes to exercise its right to peaceful nuclear energy without having to obtain the permission of the only nation ever to detonate atomic weapons in heavily populated civilian areas, and so Tehran is certainly on the path to a nuclear war against the world. The president of Iran quips outrageously provocative one-liners which are widely mistranslated, and that is inexcusable; the president of the United States sweeps whole nations into an ‘axis of evil’ and warns the international community to back off, and is lauded as a visionary.
Gargantuan military bases are being erected throughout Iraq and on the border with Iran. A great deal of the oil from the Gulf must pass through the Straits of Hormuz. A successful defiance of unilateral imperialism anywhere near Iraq cannot be tolerated by the neo-conservative elite management caste. Just one war could hardly constitute a whole new radiant era of murderous magnanimity, anyway.
We know what to expect, all the same hoping fervently that we must be wrong to expect it. We know who to thank for the policies and propaganda. But we live in a land where free speech is ubiquitous, and enough outcry is to injustice what water was to the Wicked Witch. This time, can there be any excuse for the inaction of concerned citizens?
Thanks to Dandelion Salad for posting this piece from Salon.com in which the always intelligent and incisive Juan Cole discusses the rather xenophobic fanfare with which the U.S. press greeted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to New York City. Ahmadinejad spoke to the U.N. General Assembly and also to students and faculty at Columbia University.
Even if you feel that you’re inclined to disagree, I would strongly recommend visiting Salon and reading up. Like me, you’ll probably learn some things you didn’t know. Cole is always excellent in this regard.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s visit to New York to address the United Nations General Assembly has become a media circus. But the controversy does not stem from the reasons usually cited.
The media has focused on debating whether he should be allowed to speak at Columbia University on Monday, or whether his request to visit Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11 attack in lower Manhattan, should have been honored. His request was rejected, even though Iran expressed sympathy with the United States in the aftermath of those attacks and Iranians held candlelight vigils for the victims. Iran felt that it and other Shiite populations had also suffered at the hands of al-Qaida, and that there might now be an opportunity for a new opening to the U.S. . .
Yon telescreen informs me that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has landed in New York City, where he will speak at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly and will participate in a political forum at the city’s esteemed Columbia University.
Like any sensible American with a brain not yet riddled by the neuro-mange of ideologically enforced hypocrisy, I welcome President Ahmadinejad to my country and gladly await what he has to say about . . . whatever he’s going to talk about.
I’m telling you, though—glancing through the U.S. national and even some of the international media, you’d think that Adolf Hitler himself were going to be parading down Fifth.
Richard Bernstein at the International Herald Tribune writes:
“Necessarily, on occasion, this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even odious,” the university’s president, Lee Bollinger, declared of Ajmadinejad’s impending visit. “We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the power of dialogue and reason.”
There is of course a difference between a grandiose gesture and a dialogue, so it isn’t inconsistent for the New York police to have said “no” on Ground Zero while Columbia said “yes” to a speech.
Still, the funny thing is that the Columbia invitation may actually play more into Ahmadinejad’s hand than the 9/11 gesture would have.
And this, from the AP:
After Columbia said it would not call off the Monday forum, somel local officials, including City Council speaker Christine Quinn, said the Iranian leader did not belong at an academic institution.
“Anyone who supports terror, pledges to destroy a sovereign nation (Israel), punishes by death anyone who ‘insults’ religion … denies the Holocaust and thumbs his nose at the international community, has no legitimate role to play at a university,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement.
Is Ahmadinejad a nutty guy? I believe so. Has he said some outlandish things and made a career of being resistant to change? Definitely. Do his opinions and actions equivocally represent the majority of his people? Not hardly. Could all of these statements equally apply to our own President? Abso-frickin’-lutely, with a fork in it for good measure.
His request to lay a wreath at the 9/11 memorial has been thunderously booed by Hillary Clinton (running for President, are we?) and denied by the city of New York. You see, Dear Leader has already clearly explained that Ahmadinejad is a Grand Wizard of the Axis of Evil. Therefore, at all costs, we must make his actions fit this preconception—so as a world citizen and a human being, Ahmadinejad will not be allowed to make a gesture of sympathy and respect.
While I recognize that welcoming an authoritarian Muslim leader to the Big Apple with a ticker-tape parade is unrealistic, nonetheless I am appalled at the venomous spittle issuing forth from the glands of the U.S. press. Push the little daisies and make them come up, as the song says.
Praise be to Columbia U. for its bold move to open its doors to dialog and reason. What will Ahmadinejad discuss there and at the U.N.? I have no way of knowing. Here, though, are a few high points I’m hoping he’ll touch:
- He should explain that at no point did he ever call for ‘Israel to be wiped off the map.’ Long ago I posted about this despicably well-propagated mistransliteration here.
- He should reiterate Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy under its own auspices and within its own sovereignty.
- He should reaffirm Iran’s commitment to Middle East peace and to Palestinian sovereignty and should express disappointment with U.S. mudslinging and double standards.
Just some ideas.
The United States is reported to be preparing a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states worth $20bn (£9.8bn) over the next decade.
Defence officials quoted by US media said the sales would include advanced weaponry, missile guidance systems, upgraded fighter jets and naval ships.
It is said to be an attempt to counter the regional threat posed by Iran.
The officials said the secretaries of state and defence would discuss the deal on a visit to the Gulf next week.
However, discussions with Congress on the arms package have just begun, and no announcements are expected during the visit, the officials added. . .
. . .To counter objections by Israel and its supporters in Congress, the officials said the Jewish state would be offered significantly increased military aid.
Now, fast forward twenty-four hours:
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has confirmed that the United States is planning a significant increase in military and defence aid to Israel.
The package would reportedly amount to more than $30bn (£14.8bn) over the next 10 years.
Mr Olmert described it as an important element for the security of Israel.
Washington is reportedly preparing a package of major arms sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states because of concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.
US defence aid to Israel currently stands at $2.4bn a year – the new package would amount to a 25% increase.
Mr Olmert said the aid had been agreed at a meeting with US President George W Bush in Washington last month. . .
. . .Mr Olmert said the increased support was a sign of US commitment to maintain Israel’s military “advantage over the Arab states”.
“We understand the need of the US to assist the moderate Arab states which are in one front with the US and us in the fight against Iran, and on the other hand we appreciate the renewed and re-emphasised support for Israel’s military and security advantage,” he said.
Right away, you might notice Olmert’s specious reference to Saudi Arabia and its satellites as “moderate Arab states.” Since the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the least progressive of all the Islamic states in terms of human rights and equanimity of law—it is a place where torture, executions without due process, blatant plutocracy, and the harrowing oppression of women’s rights are rampant even today—it can hardly be objectively considered as a “moderate” Arab state in the traditional sense.
What Olmert means is that Saudi Arabia is a state which follows U.S.-Israeli orders more or less unconditionally. That is the definition of “moderate” you’ll find in the legend of the U.S. “roadmap” to peace in the Middle East. The current government in Tehran has been less than tactful in pursuing its own agenda, but it has not significantly violated the sovereignty of any neighboring state. In Washington’s eyes, the crime of Iran is one of simple indignation—the refusal to cow down in the face of pomp and bluster.
These are tactics straight from the cosa nostra playbook—you back the goons that overlook your sinister motives and play along for whatever it might be worth to them, and you crush the ones that squeal in protest.
From Islamica magazine (April 2007) comes this interview of Noam Chomsky by Amina Chaudary. The subject is the interplay between religion and politics in the U.S. and in the Middle East, and the dialog is most illuminating. Not only is Professor Chomsky in exceptional form—the discourse touches on the sociopolitical and cultural dynamics that are at the heart of the shaping of U.S. public opinion on the Middle East. . .the spoon, if you will, with which the murky brew of U.S. foreign policy in that region is constantly stirred.
I’ve extracted some highlights below, but you may want to check out the article in its entirety.
Chaudary: Do you think religion is exerting a greater influence on foreign policy today, both here in the U.S. and abroad? Would you also address what happens when religion merges with politics – and how this is any different than other forms of identity merging with politics, such as ethnicity?
Chomsky: Well, the major problems of the world are those that appear in the most powerful states almost by definition, because whatever affects them affects everyone. And the most powerful state in the world by orders of magnitude is the U.S., and it also happens to be one of the most extreme fundamentalist countries in the world. Extremist fundamentalist religion may well have a greater hold in the U.S. on the public than say in Iran, though I’ve never seen a poll in Iran. But I doubt 50 percent of the population thinks the world was created 6,000 years ago exactly the way it is now. . .
. . .The contents of the Gospels are mostly suppressed (in the U.S.); they are a radical pacifist collection of documents. It was turned into the religion of the rich by the Emperor Constantine, who eviscerated its content. If anyone dares to go back to the Gospels, they become the enemy, which is what liberation theology was doing. So it’s a mixed story. However in the U.S., the more extremist, by comparative standards, religious movements did become mobilized into a political force for the first time in history really and that’s pretty much less than 25 years. It’s striking that this is one of the worst periods of economic history for the majority of the population, for whom real wages and incomes have stagnated while work hours increased and benefits declined, and inequality grew to staggering proportions, a dramatic difference from the previous 25 years of very high and egalitarian economic growth and improvement in other measures of human development. There is a correlation, common in other parts of the world as well. When life is not offering expected benefits, people commonly turn to some means of support from religion. Furthermore, there is a lot of cynicism. It was recognized by party managers of both parties (Republicans and Democrats) that if they can throw some red meat to religious fundamentalist constituencies, like say we are against gay rights, they can pick up votes. In fact, maybe a third of the electorate – if you cater to elements of the religious right in ways that the business world, the real constituency, doesn’t care that much about.
Chaudary: Why is there more tension among the three monotheistic faiths than other major religions?
Chomsky: Christianity happens to be the religion of the major imperial powers. By far the greatest power and means of violence in the world happen to be in the Christian states. With regards to Judaism, most of its history has been that of repression, leading finally to maybe the worst crime in human history – the Holocaust. Since 1967 in particular, there has been a close link between Israel and the United States, but that is for secular reasons. Of course they make a cover of religion, but it has nothing to do with religion. With respect to Islam, it varies all over the map. The most extreme fundamentalist Islamic state is the oldest and most valued ally of the United States – Saudi Arabia. Take Saddam Hussein, who was secular, not Islamist. For a time he was Washington’s great ally. In the 1980s, when he was carrying out his worst atrocities – the Anfal massacre of the Kurds, gassing of Halabja – U.S. aid was being poured into Iraq including military aid. (Former Defense Secretary Donald H.) Rumsfeld famously went there to firm up the relationship. And the U.S. actually joined the Iraqi war against Iran, in fact entering it so completely that when Iran capitulated, it was because the U.S. had entered the war. Well it was one Islamic state against another Islamic state – the U.S. ally happened to be a secular Islamic state. Later it shifted for other reasons. In fact if you look, the power systems are pretty ecumenical. They all attack and destroy and aid and support. The relationship with the Catholic Church that I mentioned is one clear example. The decisions depend on the perceived interests of the privileged and powerful sectors who dominate policy.
Chaudary: Why is “Islam” seen as the problem coming from the U.S. perspective?
Chomsky: The world’s major energy resources happen to be located in Muslim areas, right around the Gulf, so that has always been of extreme interest to the U.S. as it was to Britain. If the oil wasn’t there, they wouldn’t care if they were animists. That is the main problem and it is mixed. That’s why the U.S. supports radical Islamist tyrannies like Saudi Arabia. That’s why the U.S. sought the most radical Islamist killers it could find anywhere in the world and brought them to Afghanistan, ending up with al-Qaeda on their hands. Take Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim population. Is Indonesia a friend or enemy? Look at the history. Up until 1965, it was an enemy because it was independent nationalist. (President) Sukarno was a nationalist and was part of the non-aligned movement, wasn’t following orders. In September 1965, Suharto came along, carried out one of the major massacres of the 20th century. The CIA compared it to the atrocities of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. The West was euphoric because he massacred hundreds of thousands of landless peasants and eliminated the only mass-based political party, a party of the poor as it is described by scholarship, and opened the country up to Western robbery and extortion. So he was the greatest friend ever, practically to the end. The Clinton administration described him as “our kind of guy,” and meanwhile, apart from compiling a horrendous human rights record at home, he invaded East Timor and carried out the atrocities that probably come as close to genocide as anything in the postwar period, always with strong U.S. support. He was loved. If Indonesia moves more towards independence, it’ll be an enemy again. Religious comments are not the fault lines.