Archive for the ‘Iran’ category

A Comment

June 26, 2007

Because of the apparently short-winded standards at the HuffPost regarding comment length (and my own long-winded nature) I place below my full comment/response to HW’s recent post, “Engaging the Other Iran.”

Is American policy towards Iran aimed at regime change or behavior change? The Bush administration’s approach to Tehran has been hampered by an unwillingness or an inability to explicitly decide on one policy or the other. And yes, they are mutually exclusive.

Westbrook is admirably clear on this most important distinction between the various approaches being advocated. Perhaps chastened by Iraq, Westbrook is outright opposed to undertaking military action to topple the regime in Tehran. “We have already seen the disaster wrought by American-sponsored regime change,” Westbrook writes. “Better not to repeat the mistake.”

Yes, we better not. But the corollary to this position is a willingness to live with a nuclearized Iran. It has long seemed to me that many of the people who are four-square against military action (either by Israel or the USA) to divert the Iranian’s nuclear ambitions fudge the fact that this means they have decided that it would be less dangerous in the long-run to deal with a nuclear Iran than to deal with the ramifications of a (quite reasonably unsuccessful) military strike. It is not an unreasonable position, I just think intellectual honest demands clarity on this point. Too many, particularly on the left, want it both ways.

And yes, though I am not familiar with the Iranian scene, indications for a long time are that a large percentage of the young and urban have an insatiable hunger for American culture and some form of liberalized politics. But as Neil MacFarquhar explained in a harrowing front page story in the Sunday New York Times, these very same people are getting the crap beaten out of them by theocratic thugs doing the dirty work of the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad. But MacFarquhar also noted that this tide of repression “is occurring against the backdrop of an economy so stressed that although Iran is the world’s second-largest oil exporter, it is on the verge of rationing gasoline.”

And so self-interest and solidarity demands that America support these liberalizing forces. It is here that Westbrook’s analysis is so keen, and where it diverges from many on the interventionist right (i.e. hang out at The Corner on National Review Online and in the pages of The Weekly Standard and Commentary) who seem to think a public American embrace is something other than what it is: A Fatal Embrace. Laura Secor got it right in her contribution to a typically top-notch TNR symposium on Iran. And it is equally correct to call on America to greatly expand the number of student visas available to Iranian scholars, journalists and activists. But as The Chronicle of Higher Education has pointed out in a series of recent articles, intellectuals and scholars from a wide variety of countries – including Iran – are having a terrible time getting visas.

The security concerns are real, but the culture at INS and Homeland Security needs to shift from foot-dragging and ass-covering to doing everything possible to open up America to those who are coming for the right reasons, especially from countries like Iran. Because in the end, America itself is its most potent weapon against the forces of theocracy and intolerance.


Man of the Year?

December 17, 2006

I am currently watching a really self-indulgent program on CNN in which they take cameras behind the scenes at TIME magazine while the editors deliberate who should be the TIME Man of the Year. It is kind of a sad personal admission. But there it is.

In any event, right now they are rolling through the finalists and one of the figures being debated as a potential “Man of the Year” is Iranian President and demagogic scourge Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, if selected, the editors think would stand for the rise of Shiism as a force in the Middle East and the growing trend of nations hostile to the United States implacably pursuing nuclear weapons. Fair enough. But it occurs to me, and it is more a hunch than it is borne out by an overwhelming array of facts, that Ahmadinejad will be an historical footnote – at best – in five years. He is a product of the moment, an unfortunate consequence of America being in a weakened position on the heels of the Iraq debacle.

Of course, the important question when it comes to Iran has always been how much power does Ahmadinejad actually wield. The Iranian governing system is notoriously ambiguous. To the outside eye – and maybe the inside eye – it is maddeningly difficult to ascertain who is holding the cards, especially when it comes to forging foreign policy. My completely arm chair, no doubt ill-informed, sense is that the clerical circles who actually control policy see Ahmadinejad’s (completely sincere) madman routine as beneficial in the current political climate. I simply do not think this dynamic can sustain itself. He will become a liability. He is already an embarrassment to many Iranians. Turnout for the city council elections is very high, suggesting strong support for reform candidates. It is not a vote cast with enthusiasm, but it is a significant decision to cast a vote. After the disillusioning reign of Khatami many in the reform movement simply checked-out of politics. Now, as one voter told The New York Times, it is a choice between “bad and worse.” But it is a choice.

On a related note, much of the chatter about the Iraq Study Group report has focused on their recommendation that the Bush administration talk to Iran and explain how it is in their interest to prevent the bloody dissolution of Iraq. Condi Rice made clear in an interview last week with The Washington Post that there will be no new diplomatic initiatives with Tehran, saying the “compensation” required by any deal might be too high. While it is ridiculous to base foreign policy on what “might” be the case (unclear if this was Rice’s language or the Post‘s) it is equally ludicrous to believe that Tehran will do anything to alleviate the American predicament in Iraq. It is unclear what they could even do to help if they wanted to. Iraq is solvable from the outside. It is an Iraqi problem (which is also why the notion that movement on the Palestinian-Israeli front will have any bearing on what happens in Baghdad is ridiculous. More American resources should be invested in that arena, but not because of Iraq, but because it is smart policy and the right thing to do.)

(In the off-chance you care, TIME selected “you” as person of the year.)

Not Reading Lolita in Tehran

November 17, 2006

The Guardian reports today that dozens of literary masterpieces and international bestsellers have been banned in Iran. Perhaps this comes as no surprise. Iran is, after all, a repressive theocracy in which men are executed for the “crime” of homosexuality. But apparently this is indicative of a a broader cultural freeze being orchestrated from the smelly office of Dinner Jacket and his mendacious cohorts. The intensified clampdown is apparently being orchestrated by Mohammed Hossein Saffar Harandi, a former revolutionary guard and close ally of Dinner Jacket.

The Iranian publishing industry is starving (or at least those, one can reasonably surmise, who have not seen fit to use all their ink to print hagiographies of the Iranian president). As The Guardian story notes, “The rise in book censorship mirrors repression in other spheres.”

Irony of ironies: this week is Iran’s annual national book festival. .

A “Disturbing Element”

November 15, 2006

Disturbing indeed. The government of Iran appears to have executed another gay man in its ongoing campaign of persecution against gays and lesbians. The report from Iranian state news agency IRNA, translated and posted by the Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization, is worth reproducing here in full for its android-like Islamo-fascist tone:

A Delinquent Person was Executed in Kermanshah

IRNA: Tuesday, Nov 14, 2006

Shahab Darvishsi, a delinquent person was executed in the Azadi Square of Kermanshah on Tuesday evening.

According to the Communications Department of the Justice Department of the Kermanshah Province, the above-mentioned was found guilty [ by the court of law] of forming a coterie of corruption rings, physical assaults , and the despicable act of sodomy.

According to this report, his death sentence was issued by the Second Court of the town of Sahneh. The verdict was upheld by the Second Appeal Court of Kermanshah and the Twenty Seventh Branch of the Supreme Court.


Hundreds of Kermanshah’s residents were present at the scene of the execution. They were supportive of the Judicial System’s decision and called for adopting a tough stance against criminals and disturbing elements.

The Wise One…

October 5, 2006

…has spoken.

First as Tragedy, Second in Farsi

September 1, 2006

The UN Security Council’s deadline for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program came and went yesterday. I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket has essentially told the world to suck on his centrifuge.


August 11, 2006

As part of an apparently boarder crackdown, the Iranian regime has outlawed Nobel Prize winning dissident Shirin Ebadi’s Centre for Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). “Any activity by this centre is illegal, and violators of this decision will be prosecuted,” the Interior Ministry decrees.