Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AJAX REDUX: US Heavy Meddle in Iran

Tehran | August 19, 1953

Tehran | June 13, 2009

The Western press has clearly taken a side and has successfully managed to drag its uninformed audience along with it. News reports all refer to the continuing groundswell of protest to the election results as an "unprecedented" show of courage, resistance, and people power against the government not seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

But what we have seen this past week seems to have far more in common with the events of fifty-six years ago, rather than just thirty.

In 1953, the United States government, at the behest of Britain, tasked CIA operatives Kermit Roosevelt, Jr. and Donald Wilber to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Iran, in order to put an end to the process of oil nationalization by Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. This nationalism "outraged the British, who had 'bought' the exclusive right to exploit Iranian oil from a corrupt Shah, and the Americans, who feared that allowing nationalization in Iran would encourage leftists around the world." The coup d'etat, which took a mere three weeks to execute, was accomplished in a number of stages. First, members of the Iranian Parliament and leaders of political parties were bribed to oppose Mossadegh publicly, thereby making the government appear fragmented and not unified. Newspaper owners, editors, columnists and reporters were then paid off in order to spread lies and propaganda against the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, high-ranking clerics, influential businessmen, members of the police, security forces, and military were bribed, as well. Roosevelt hired the leaders of street gangs in Tehran, using them to help create the impression that the rule of law had totally disintegrated in Iran and that the government had no control over its population. Stephen Kinzer, journalist and author of All the Shah's Men, tells us that "at one point, [Roosevelt] hired a gang to run through the streets of Tehran, beating up any pedestrian they found, breaking shop windows, firing their guns into mosques, and yelling, 'We love Mossadegh and communism.' This would naturally turn any decent citizen against him." In a stroke of manipulative genius, Roosevelt then hired a second mob to attack the first mob, thereby giving the Iranian people the impression that there was no police presence and that civil society had devolved into complete chaos, with the government totally incapable of restoring order. Kinzer elaborates,
They rampaged through the streets by the tens of thousands. Many of them, I think, never even really understood they were being paid by the C.I.A. They just knew they had been given a good day’s wage to go out in the street and chant something. Many politicians whipped up the crowds during those days...They started storming government buildings. There were gunfights in front of important buildings.
After all was said and done, Prime Minister Mossadegh had been deposed and a military coup returned the monarchy to Iran by installing the pro-western Mohammad Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock throne. The Shah's brutal, tyrannical dictatorship - established, supported, and funded by the United States - lasted 26 years. In 1979, the Iranian people returned the favor.

So what have we been seeing in Iran this past week?

Whereas there is scant evidence of any actual voter fraud or ballot rigging in the recent reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the popular movement we've been seeing on the streets of Tehran and elsewhere is being treated by the American media as some sort of new revolution; an energized, grassroots, and spontaneous effort to overthrow the leaders of the Islamic Republic in favor of a secular, pro-Western "democracy."

Yet, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that, whereas there are surely thousands of sincere and committed activists and participants in the recent protests, what we are witnessing may very well be the culmination of years of American infiltration and manipulation of both the Iranian establishment and public.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

In Fraud, We Trust?

Douter de tout ou tout croire, ce sont deux solutions également commodes, qui l'une et l'autre nous dispensent de réfléchir.

To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the need for thought.

- Jules Henri Poincaré, La Science et l'Hypothèse (1901)

By now, we all know the story:

Still high from Barack Obama's Cairo speech and Lebanon's recent elections that saw the pro-Western March 14 faction barely maintain its majority in the Chamber of Deputies, the mainstream media fully expected a clean sweep for "reformist" candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran's June 12th presidential election. They reported surging poll numbers, an ever-growing Green Wave of support for the challenger, while taking every opportunity to get in their tired and juvenile epithets, their final chance to demonize and defame the incumbent Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom they were convinced had absolutely no chance of winning reelection.

The turnout was a massive 85% by most estimates, resulting in almost forty million ballots cast by the eligible Iranian voting public.

Before the polls even closed, Mousavi had already claimed victory. "In line with the information we have received, I am the winner of this election by a substantial margin," he said. "We expect to celebrate with people soon." However, according to the chairman of the Interior Ministry's Electoral Commission, Kamran Daneshjoo, with the majority of votes counted, the incumbent president had taken a seemingly unassailable lead.

And so it was. Ahmadinejad won. By a lot. Some said by too much.

It didn't take long before accusations started flying, knee-jerk reactions were reported as expert analysis, and rumor became fact. As Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei congratulated Ahmadinejad on his landslide victory, calling it a "divine assessment," the opposition candidates all cried foul. Mousavi called the results "treason to the votes of the people" and the election a "dangerous charade." Karroubi described Ahmadinejad's reelection as "illegitimate and unacceptable."

The Western media immediately jumped on board, calling the election a "fraud," "theft," and "a crime scene" in both news reports and editorial commentary. Even so-called progressive analysts, from Juan Cole to Stephen Zunes to Dave Zirin to Amy Goodman to Trita Parsi to the New Yorker's Laura Secor, opined on the illegitimacy of the results. They cited purported violations, dissident testimony from inside sources, leaked "real" results, and seeming inconsistencies, incongruities, and irregularities with Iran's electoral history all with the intention of proving that the election was clumsily stolen from Mousavi by Ahmadinejad. These commentators all call the continuing groundswell of protest to the poll results an "unprecedented" show of courage, resistance, and people power, not seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

To me, the only thing unprecedented about what we're seeing in Iran seems to be the constant media hysteria, righteous indignation, and hypocritical pseudo-solidarity of the West; a bogus, biased, and altogether presumptuous and uncritical reaction to hearsay and conjecture, almost totally decontextualized in order to promote sensational headlines and build international consensus for foreign intervention in Iran.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the Table & Off the Map:
Threats, Lies, and Iranian Elections

Eight days after Barack Obama delivered his much-touted speech in Cairo, Iranians are going to the polls to vote for their own president. Although reelection for incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seemed to be guaranteed just a few weeks ago, there now appears to be growing potential for an upset victory by challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been running a campaign as the candidate of change.

Mousavi is no new-comer to the Iranian political stage. He held the now-defunct post of Prime Minister from 1981 to 1989 (which was, at the time, an executive position much akin to the current presidency) during Iran's brutal eight-year war with Iraq. Currently the president of the Iranian Academy of Arts, the trilingual Mousavi - Farsi, Arabic, and English - served as a presidential adviser from 1989 to 2005 and held a position on the Expediency Council, Iran's highest arbitration body.

In the American and European mainstream media, Iranian supporters of Mousavi are routinely referred to as "more educated," "better off," and "pro-Western" than their counterparts who support Ahmadinejad. The Iranian economy, which has seen rising inflation and slowed growth in the past four years, has become a major point of contention during the campaign process and recent debates. The President has been blamed for three rounds of UN Security Council sanctions, diminishing Iranian prestige and reputation internationally, and Mousavi even chided him as arrogant and driving Iran toward "dictatorship."

Ahmadinejad's detractors point to all these factors as proof of his failed leadership; however, a closer look into the accusations may reveal a different story - or, at least, a different perspective.

Ahmadinejad is a populist who is seen as having "a deep sympathy for the poor" and has worked very hard to redistribute wealth across the wide range of socioeconomic tiers of Iranian society. He has helped the poor and lower middle class by increasing pensions (sometimes by more than doubling them), loans, and government workers’ wages, also increasing and maintaining financial support for the families of those killed or wounded during the Iran-Iraq War. The New York Times reports that Ahmadinejad "has also handed out so-called justice shares of state firms that are selling stock to the public, and provided low-interest loans to young married couples and entrepreneurs."

Still, opponents claim that his focus on redistribution, rather than creation, of wealth within Iran has harmed the Iranian economy and has resulted in increased unemployment, especially in Iran's vast young population. Nevertheless, his supporters disagree. “Who says Ahmadinejad created unemployment?” twenty-five year old market worker Hamid Nassiri told the Times. “It’s not true at all. He is from the people, and he attends to the people’s needs.”

In fact, even though discussion of the Iranian economy seems to be working against Ahmadinejad, Kelly Campbell of the U.S. Institute of Peace has thoroughly debunked many of the myths about Iranian economic turmoil, explaining that the country has "actually performed well in aggregate terms, with a moderate rate of growth in the last ten to fifteen years, including healthy GDP and per capita growth in investment. In the last three years, Iran's actual growth rate has averaged 5.8 percent." Kelly continues,

Nor do economic indicators support assertions by some observers that inflation is much higher than the rate stated by the Iranian government. In the last fifteen years, the consumer price index (CPI) has increased by a factor of forty-two; if the inflation rate were actually twice the reported rate, the CPI would have increased by a factor of 950. Prices have increased by a factor of five in the last ten years, not twenty, as some claim. While this rate of inflation is cause for concern, it is in line with the depreciation of the exchange rate.

[Another] myth is that Iran suffers from widespread poverty and rising inequality. The poverty rate actually declined throughout the 1990s and continues to fall, and is low by international standards—especially when compared to that of other developing countries. Government public service and social assistance programs have helped to reduce poverty, particularly in rural areas. In addition, economic inequality throughout Iran has remained fairly stable and does not appear to be increasing.
Over the past few years, Ahmadinejad has also courted economic alliances with a number of Latin and South American nations, promising $1 billion to help develop Bolivia's oil and gas sector, opening a trade office in Ecuador, and entering into various agreements with Nicaragua, Cuba, Paraguay, Brazil and, of course, Venezuela. Surprisingly, however, not all of these overtures have to do with oil trade. In 2007, Nicaragua received a loan of over $200 million from Iran to build a hydroelectric dam and, in August of last year, Ahmadinejad donated $2 million for the construction of a hospital. The Council of Hemispheric Affairs' Braden Webb reports that "Venezuela and Iran are now gingerly engaged in an ambitious joint project, putting on-line Veniran, a production plant that assembles 5,000 tractors a year, and plans to start producing two Iranian designed automobiles to provide regional consumers with the 'first anti-imperialist cars.'"

Ahmadinejad's inroads into Latin and South American, in order to act as "counter-lasso" to the United States, have certainly upped his anti-imperialism credentials - so much so, in fact, that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the strong relations “disturbing.”

Mousavi, on the other hand, has set his sights closer to home, attacking Ahmadinejad for focusing on the Americas rather than "investing in Iran's neighboring countries...the President has obviously failed to get his priorities right.” Mousavi, on the other hand, favors increased privatization and foreign investment. "We should create an economic revolution to fight inflation," he said during a televised debate. "The private sector is a vital part of our plans to revive the country's economy." Believing that Ahmadinejad squandered excess oil revenue while in office, Mousavi insists, "The oil industry should improve. Right now our economy is solely restricted to oil exports without realizing that the oil industry is dependent on other economic sectors" and that "stable economic policies will help Iran to attract foreign investment."

As a self-described reformist, Mousavi has rallied a strong following by calling for more freedom of the press, freedom of information, more professional opportunities for women, the abolition of the so-called "Morality Police," as well as noting that "blinkered attitudes and false interpretations of Islamic teachings do not satisfy public interests and only trigger the country's backwardness." He wishes to push for more personal freedoms, lifting the state ban on private television stations, and also believes that the supervision of police and law enforcement forces should be handed over to the President, rather than remaining in the hands of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

As to Mousavi's claims that Ahmadinejad is dictatorial, the fact that Ahmadinejad has no control over Iran's military, doesn't have final say on foreign policy matters, has no power over the nuclear energy program, and has often been challenged by both the Majlis (Parliament) and Judiciary, quickly exposes those accusations as campaign rhetoric and name-calling. In fact, the Iranian legislature rejected more than two-thirds of Ahmadinejad's recommendations for ministers which resulted in it taking almost a year before his Cabinet was fully staffed. Hardly the trajectory of a tyrant.

The view from the United States appears to be that, with a Mousavi win on Friday, relations between Iran and America will improve. Mousavi clearly strikes a more conciliatory tone when discussing international affairs than does Ahmadinejad, who has always been consistent in his insistance that Iran has every legal right to enrich uranium under the protocols of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and that sanctions against Iran imposed by UN Security Council resolutions are themselves illegal.

"Our country was harmed because of extremist policies adopted in the last three years...My foreign policy with all countries will be one of detente," Mousavi said after first announcing his candidacy. "We should try to gain the international community's trust while preserving our national interests." He has also said, “In foreign policy we have undermined the dignity of our country and created problems for our development."

Nevertheless, the former prime minister insists that "Iran will never abandon its nuclear right" and echoes the statements of both Khamenei and Ahmadinejad when saying, "If America practically changes its Iran policy, then we will surely hold talks with them."

It is clear that an electoral victory for Mousavi would be seen as a political victory for Barack Obama as well. It is assumed that Mousavi is more "rational and reasonable" than Ahmadinejad and would therefore be more amenable to Washington's demands, regardless of how illegal and hypocritical those demands may be. As such, he is the preferred candidate by Western analysts and politicians.

But how different would the United States treat Iran, really?

Back in 2003, soon after the invasion of Iraq, the Iranian government sent a "proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States" and the fax suggested everything was on the table - including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups." Flynt Leverett, a senior director on the National Security Council staff at the time, described the Iranian proposal as "a serious effort, a respectable effort to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement." A Washington Post report from 2006 revealed that the document listed "a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its 'legitimate security interests.' Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, 'decisive action' against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending 'material support' for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation."

The proposal was roundly rejected by the Bush administration.

The then-government of reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami - now a Mousavi supporter - even voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment from 2003 to 2005 and still received nothing but lies and threats from the United States and its European allies. As Ahmadinejad recently pointed out, "There was so much begging for having three centrifuges. Today more than 7,000 centrifuges are turning," in turn, asking, "Which foreign policy was successful? Which one created degradation? Which one kept our independence more, which one gave away more concessions but got no results?"

Many commentators point to a new approach from Barack Obama's Washington, which they believe should be reciprocated from Tehran. Apparently, Obama's recent Cairo speech appealed to many Iranians, even government officials. Ali Akbar Rezaie, the director-general of Iran's foreign ministry's office responsible for North America commended the new tone coming from the US president, saying, "Compared to anything we've heard in the last 30 years, and especially in the last eight years, his words were very different...People in the region received the speech, from this angle, very positively, with sympathy." He added that the upcoming Iranian election would set the stage for a new chapter in US-Iran relations. "After the election we will be in a better position to manage relations with the United States," he said. "We'll be at the beginning of a new four-year period, and the political framework will be clear."

But what has Obama said to or about Iran that should prompt such positive and optimistic responses? Not a whole lot.

Exactly one year to the day before his Cairo speech, and the day after clinching the Democratic nomination for president, Obama stood before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and stated that "There is no greater threat to Israel — or to the peace and stability of the region — than Iran." He said this about a country that has not threatened nor attacked any other country in centuries and harbors absolutely no ambitions of territorial expansion. The same can obviously not be said about Israel, or the United States. Obama continued,
The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. Its president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.
Obama threatened Iran with ratcheted up pressure, if it did not bend to American demands - demands based on unfounded accusations and outright lies. This pressure would not be limited to "aggressive, principled diplomacy" but would include "all elements of American power to pressure Iran." Just to be clear, Obama promised his audience to "do everything in my power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

In his inaugural address, Obama seemed to calm down and offered the Muslim world "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." A week later, during an interview with Al Arabiya TV, the new president reiterated his insistence that the US was now "ready to initiate a new partnership [with the Muslim world] based on mutual respect and mutual interest."

Two months later, in March, Obama addressed the Iranian people and government directly by releasing a taped message on the occasion of the Iranian New Year. The message urged a "new beginning" in diplomatic relations. Obama said,
"My Administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek, instead, engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect."
Obama's emphasis on "mutual respect" is striking considering the near constant usage of that phrase in Iranian overtures for years. Many Iranian officials, including UN ambassador Javad Zarif, former president Rafsanjani, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidreza Assefi, have been calling for international relations based on "mutual respect." The Mossadegh Project's Arash Norouzi points out, as far back as February 2000, then President Khatami was saying, "We believe in existing alongside, and forging relations with, all countries...on the basis of mutual respect and interests." Then, in early 2004, then Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi said, "We call for positive and constructive dialogue on the basis of mutual respect." In December 2007, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated, "As senior Iranian officials have reiterated, we welcome any rational approach that is based on mutual respect."

Ahmadinejad himself has used the phrase a number of times ever since he was the mayor of Tehran and running for president. More recently, in a July 2008 interview with NBC News, Ahmadinejad wondered if the United States was finally beginning "a new approach; in other words, mutual respect, cooperation, and justice? Or is this approach a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people but in a new guise?"

Some say that where Ahmadinejad is confrontational, Mousavi will be more mollifying. But Ahmadinejad has always been ready for diplomatic engagement with the United States, despite what you may hear constantly in the mainstream media. In fact, the day after Obama's Al Arabiya interview, Ahmadinejad delivered a speech in the Iranian town of Kermanshah. This is how his speech ended:
We welcome change but on the condition that change is fundamental and on a right course, otherwise the world should know, that anyone with the same speaking manner of Mr. Bush, same language of Mr. Bush, the same spirit of Mr. Bush, adventurism of Mr. Bush, even using new words to speak to the nation of Iran, the answer is the same Mr. Bush and his lackeys received over the years.

We hear that they are making plans for Iran. We in turn wait patiently, listen carefully to their words, carefully assess actions under the magnifying glass and if a real change occurs in a fundamental way, we shall welcome it.
In May, at the request of Barack Obama, the Pentagon updated its plans for using military force against Iran. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained that "as a result of our dialogue with the president, we've refreshed our plans and all options are on the table." So much for not advancing threats.

Obama's appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and long-time AIPACer Dennis Ross as top Iran advisor is also troubling. Clinton once threatened to "totally obliterate Iran" if it ever attacked Israel with the nuclear weapons it doesn't have and has suggested that negotiations with Iran, while doubtfully being fruitful, will be primarily useful to garner support for more “crippling” multilateral sanctions. Also, it has long been said that Ross has advocated an "engagement with pressure" strategy of dealing with Iran which, as Ismael Hossein-Zadeh explains, "means projecting or pretending negotiation with Iran in order to garner broader international support for the US-sponsored economic pressure on that country." In a recent New York Times Op-Ed, former National Security Council staff members Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett relate what Ross revealed to them regarding his cynical strategy:
In conversations with Mr. Ross before Mr. Obama’s election, we asked him if he really believed that engage-with-pressure would bring concessions from Iran. He forthrightly acknowledged that this was unlikely. Why, then, was he advocating a diplomatic course that, in his judgment, would probably fail? Because, he told us, if Iran continued to expand its nuclear fuel program, at some point in the next couple of years President Bush’s successor would need to order military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets. Citing past “diplomacy” would be necessary for that president to claim any military action was legitimate.
They also make it clear that, "the Obama administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program, begun in President George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government — regardless of who wins the presidential elections on June 12 — will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile."

Even more recently, during his speech in Cairo, Obama, after once again mentioning "mutual respect," said that "any nation - including Iran - should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." Whereas this sounds like an unprecedented admission by a sitting US president, it's important to remember what Bush said to Charlie Gibson back in 2002 during an ABC News interview: "Matter of fact, I said this in a press conference, that it's the sovereign right of Iran to have civilian nuclear power, and I agree, and I believe that."

As Iran Affairs' Cyrus Safdari points out, "Arguably, Bush's statement is more sweeping than Obama' 'may have some right' to 'has a sovereign right'." He continues,
In any case, Iran's absolute and unqualified and unquestionable right to access the full nuclear fuel cycle is based on international law and not for Obama or Bush to decide. Iran has the same rights to nuclear technology (or any other technology) as Japan, Argentina, Brazil, the USA...

Nor is it up to Iran to "prove that its aspirations are peaceful" (code words for "must give up enrichment and forever rely on us to power their economy".) Iran has signed the NPT and after years of inspections, no evidence has been found of any weapons program. The burden is therefore on Iran's accusers to prove their allegations, and not vice versa.
Meanwhile, not only is Iran's nuclear program legal, it is under heavy scrutiny by the IAEA. Just recently, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali-Asghar Soltaniyeh, confirmed Tehran's continued cooperation with the UN nuclear agency while at the same time it continues its uranium enrichment activities. He told reporters, “After six years of intrusive and robust inspection and issuance of 24 reports, the director general has once again reported to the world that there is no evidence of any diversion of nuclear material or case of prohibitive nuclear activities.“

Nevertheless, Obama presented Iran on Sunday with a "clear choice" of halting its nuclear and missile activity or facing increased isolation.

Maybe the US just doesn't like Ahmadinejad, what with his deliberately being mistranslated and intentionally misquoted by Western media. Blamed for threatening to "wipe Israel off the map" (an idiom that doesn't even exist in Farsi), Ahmadinejad is constantly called a Holocaust denier for questioning why the horrific Nazi genocide of European Jews resulted in the violent displacement and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Ahmadinejad has never threatened to attack Israel, but rather hopes that the people of Palestine can all - Jews, Christians, and Muslims - vote for whatever type of government system they are to live under. Ahmadinejad's willingness to bring up issues pertaining to Zionism without worrying about the delicate sensibilities of Western audiences has made him a pariah.

Obviously, it is seldom remembered that, in 2001, the former Iranian president and putative moderate, Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is now heavily supporting Mousavi's run for office, declared that, theoretically, although Israel would be destroyed by an atomic bomb, the Muslim world would only be damaged by one, opining that "such a scenario is not inconceivable." Nevertheless, the LA Times noted back in 2006, "four years later, when Rafsanjani was running for president, Washington and its European allies were eagerly hoping that he would win."

Still, hopes are that Mousavi will be more tactful in his discussion of Zionism and Israel's continued reliance on exploiting the horrors of the Holocaust for its own existential validation. Recently, when asked about his views on the Holocaust, Mousavi said: "Killing innocent people is condemned. The way the issue [Holocaust] was put forward [by Ahmadinejad] was incorrect," but continued in a manner almost identical to the incumbent president, "Of course the question could be that why Palestinians should be punished for a crime committed by Germans?"

As millions of Iranians flood to the polls today to vote, it may become clear that a vote for Ahmadinejad is more a vote for continued Iranian resistance to US influence and hegemony in the region, whereas a vote for Mousavi is a vote for possible reconciliation based on Iranian fears, American demands, and Israeli paranoia and deception.

And so, it seems that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama's Cairo Speech, Part II
Electile Dysfunction, or Timing is Everything!

While endless analysis of Obama's nuanced words in Cairo is being conducted, it may be wise to examine when Obama chose to deliver his speech to the 3,000 invited guests at Cairo University and millions more worldwide.

Obama's overtures to the Muslim world come as the Middle East is poised for two important elections in the next week - one in Lebanon on June 7th, the other in Iran on June 12th.

Analyst Rannie Amiri explains that "due to the Lebanon’s complex, sectarian-based political framework, understanding the mechanics and dynamics behind its upcoming parliamentary vote is more complicated" than that of Iran's presidential election. There are two main political coalitions in Lebanon, dubbed March 8 and March 14. Amiri clarifies:

The March 8 Alliance is named after the date of a massive 2005 Beirut rally organized by Hezbollah that expressed opposition to its disarmament, support for Syria, and resistance to Israel. The coalition is primarily comprised of Hezbollah, Nabih Berri’s Amal party, and the secular Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of General Michel Aoun. Unlike Nasrallah and Berri who are Shia Muslims, Aoun is a Maronite Christian and thus draws support from this and other Christian constituencies.

The March 14 Alliance is also named after the date of a huge 2005 Beirut demonstration, but one decidedly anti-Syrian. It occurred exactly one month after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and heralded the beginning of the “Cedar Revolution.” This ultimately led to the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon after 29 years. March 14 is the current Western-backed, ruling coalition and is principally comprised of Sunni, Druze, and Christian parties. It is led Saad Hariri, billionaire son of Rafiq, and his Future Movement forms its largest bloc.
While the March 8 coalition wields veto power over cabinet decisions as part of the power-sharing agreement reached through the May 2008 Doha Accord and holds 58 seats in Lebanon's National Assembly, the March 14 alliance has 70 seats. Whereas Hezbollah leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah has encouraged a stable, unified Lebanese government that represents the will of the people, saying, " is in the interest of Lebanon and its stability that there is understanding and partnership among Lebanese in running their country's affairs,” his opponent, Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, remarked coldly, "We will not take part in the government if the March 8 Alliance wins the elections..."

It is suggested that there are only about 30 contested seats, and therefore, "March 8 need only win an additional seven to gain the parliamentary majority." Were this to happen, it would be a frustrating turn of events for the United States, Israel, and their Middle Eastern allies Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, further shifting popular representation in Lebanon against Western influence and toward continued imperial and colonial resistence.

As such, the stakes are high for the Obama Administration. In the past few weeks, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden have dropped by Beirut in order to lend their support to the March 14 faction and assure the Lebanese voters that the United States will not interfere with the upcoming elections. Oh, the irony. Clinton called for an election "fair and free of outside interference" and the White House explained that Biden's visit was meant "to reinforce the United States' support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon."

Hezbollah stated that the surprise visits by the top ranking US officials raised "strong suspicion and amounted to a clear and detailed interference in Lebanon's affairs." This fear appears to be well-founded considering the US view that continued financial and military assistance to Lebanon would be contingent on which Lebanese political faction wins on Sunday.

After meeting with Lebanese president Michel Suleiman, Biden stated, "I assure you we stand with you to guarantee a sovereign, secure Lebanon, with strong institutions" and that "the election of leaders committed to the rule of law and economic reform opens the door to lasting growth and prosperity as it will here in Lebanon." Nevertheless, Biden said that the US "will evaluate the shape of our assistance programs based on the composition of the new government and the policies it advocates."

Parliamentarian Hassan Fadlallah, who is aligned with Hezbollah, was clear about his party's feelings regarding the Biden visit. "It appears that this visit is part of a US bid to supervise the electoral campaign of a Lebanese party which feels threatened light of the expected outcome of the legislative vote," he said.

Not suprisingly, neither Clinton nor Biden mentioned the numerous arrests of pro-Western Lebanese MPs on charges of spying for Israel, as well as the widespread use of voter fraud to tip the scales against Hezbollah. As American journalist Franklin Lamb reports,
Longtime Hezbollah Shia opponent, Ahmad al-As’ad has set up an anti-Hezbollah Shia organization called the Lebanese Option Gathering and has fielded 19 candidates against Hezbollah. He openly admits getting a large quotient of Saudi support to compete against Hezbollah in the south and the Bekaa and is thought to be allied with the pro-US Hariri team. As’ad knows his group cannot win and that the overwhelming number of Shia will vote for Hezbollah. His goal is not so much to get voters to vote against Hezbollah, but to keep them from voting for Hezbollah. Then when the votes are counted, Israel and the anti-Hezbollah centers can declare that “Hezbollah is losing support among its base, because it got fewer votes than in 2005 etc...”

To make this happen, As’ad operatives having been “renting” Voter ID Cards for up to $1000 each. The cards are turned over in exchange for $1000 and are to be returned on Monday June 8 after the votes are counted.
Meanwhile, in Iran, tensions are mounting as the country gears up for its tenth presidential election next week. The four candidates were vetted from a staggering 475 registered applicants - 433 men and 42 women - by the twelve member Guardians Council, tasked with scrutinizing the qualifications of candidates and approving their ability to handle the country’s affairs. While the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Secretary of State Expediency Council and former chief of Islamic Revolution’s Guards Corps Mohsen Rezaei are running on conservative and traditionalist platforms, former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi is being promoted as a "moderate" reformist candidate. The only real challenge to Ahmadinejad's re-election comes from former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who is campaigning as a “reformist who upholds the principles“ of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Mousavi has been gaining support in urban areas while Ahmadinejad has rural backing locked in his favor. Mousavi has stated his commitment to the Iranian Constitution while also promoting increased access to information and a more conciliatory foreign policy. In a recent televised broadcast, he said that Iran "should move towards a state in which the government is bound to provide the citizens with any information - Military and security information should be the only exceptions," continuing that Iran's hopes for further development "is not possible without the freedom of the media and the press."

On the foreign policy front, Mousavi has held firm that the Iranian nuclear program will proceed lawfully, promising that "all the achievements, approaches and progress that have been made should not be abandoned." He articulated his desire for international diplomacy over the nuclear program, stating, "There are two issues regarding our nuclear program: the first is the use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which is in our national interests and thus cannot be abandoned. The second issue is what some countries say about possible diversions in our nuclear program. This is what we are ready to discuss with other countries."

With respect to Iran's tense relationship with the United States, Mousavi sees the new Obama Administration to be a departure from the aggressive rhetoric of the Bush past. "The US has changed its tone," he said. "Starting relations with the US is not a taboo, should they practically change their stance." This statement is consistent with the messages of Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who have both called for the US to act differently in the international arena, rather than just talking about it. Mousavi showed his tempered approach to foreign affairs - a contrast to the consistently confident posture of Ahmadinejad - by saying, "Iran is not a friend of the US, but America is an influential country in the world with great economic and military capabilities. It is right that we are a powerful nation, but our power should not lead us to act unreasonably. We can not face the US alone."

Ahmadinejad, too, has advocated for diplomacy during the campaign. "Washington's political echelons have relentlessly signaled their willingness for a dialogue with Iran's government officials," he said in late May, adding, "If the talks are held on an equal footing, we have no objection. We would like to discus a whole range of international issues." Nevertheless, Ahmadinejad was proud to mention the fact that he never resorted to "currying favor with Western countries" in order to succeed in his goals as the Iranian executive.

As debates and campaigns heat up, violence has also been introduced to the election environment. The Washington Post reported that "Five people died Monday in an arson attack on an Iranian bank in the southeastern city of Zahedan, where a suicide bombing in a Shiite mosque last week killed 25 people." The Iranian government has said that the Islamist separatist group Jundullah, which claimed responsibility for the mosque bombing and regularly carries out attacks and kidnappings in the region, receives support from the United States and is linked to al-Qaeda.

Khamenei called for stability and solidarity in the face of such needless violence. "Shiite and Sunni brothers, various ethnic groups and political and social currents should observe unity in matters related to elections or matters not related to elections," he said Monday, adding that the bombing "is awash with Israeli and US fingerprints." Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying, "The extremist groups in the region are linked with some foreign forces in Afghanistan," while Jalal Sayah, deputy provincial governor of the Sistan-Baluchistan province that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, said that at least three people have been arrested with regards to the terrorist attacks, adding, "According to the information obtained they planted the bomb at the behest of the United States and its allies."

So what does all this Western interference in upcoming Middle Eastern elections have to do with Obama's speech in Cairo?

A lot.

In one of the strongest parts of his speech, Obama discussed democracy and his belief in the value of self-determination. He stated his commitment "to governments that reflect the will of the people," and claimed that "America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election." He continued,
...I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere...America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments - provided they govern with respect for all their people."
Obviously, the United States did not recognize the legitimacy of the crushing Hamas win over Fatah in the US-backed and closely monitored 2006 Palestinian elections. Ever since its parliamentary victory, Hamas has been isolated and demonized by the West. If the operative word in Obama's statement seems to be "peaceful," he should also turn his sights on Israel.

The far-right Israeli government, lead by Netanyahu - and made more dangerous by the appointment of fascist Avigdor Lieberman as Foreign Minister - is not subject to Obama's dictates. While Hamas is told to "play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people" by putting an end to violence, recognizing past agreements, and recognizing Israel's right to exist, the same is not demanded of Israel. The billions of dollars in US aid to Israel is not in jeopardy of being cut off depending on who runs the so-called "Jewish state." The support of the United States, militarily, financially, and diplomatically will not be re-evaluated due to Israel's continued aggression against Palestinians, threats to Iran, denial of Palestinian rights (both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories), refusal of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, and clear contempt for international law that prohibits all settlement activity on occupied land, collective punishment, discriminatory laws, and the construction of the Apartheid Wall that separates Palestinian communities from their own land.

So, while President Obama promotes representative government in a region severely lacking in democracy, American officials, operatives, and proxies are attempting to undermine the integrity of two elections. Their efforts to influence the political outcome in both Lebanon and Iran in order to wind up with more pro-Western leadership seem to be anathema to Obama's own feelings about following "the will of the people."

Obama's Cairo Speech, Part I:
A New Beginning or The Old Hypocrisy?

On Thursday June 4, 2009 - the day before the 42nd anniversary of Israel's conquest of remaining Palestinian land, two days before the 65th anniversary of D-Day, and 425 years to the day that Sir Walter Raleigh established the first English colony in the New World on Roanoke Island - President Barack Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech that many hoped would be an unprecedented historical game-changer for US foreign policy and demonstrate a fundamental shift in America's relationship with the so-called "Muslim world."

Thousands of words could easily be written about whether or not Obama met or dashed these hopes in his wide-ranging speech at Cairo University. Did he rise to the challenge of the century with respect, grace, and compassion? Or did he take the occasion to endorse continued Israeli hegemony, American imperialism, and Western power over indigenous people and cultures?

Are we to laud his Qur'anic quotations, his denouncement of negative Islamic stereotypes, his use of the terms colonialism, occupation, and Palestine? Should we marvel at his understanding that, as a direct result of Western imperialism and the Cold War, many Muslims were "denied rights and opportunities" and that Muslim countries were "treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations"? Should we be thrilled by his acknowledgement that Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has the inalienable "right to access peaceful nuclear power" even though he never mentioned Israel by name when saying that "no single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons" and pointing out "that some countries have weapons" while "others do not." What about his extraordinary admission that "the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government"?

Should we dance the hope-and-change two-step because Obama acknowledged the "undeniable" suffering, displacement, dehumanization, and "legitimate aspirations" for dignity, opportunity, and statehood of the Palestinian people? Should we spend time comparing and contrasting the adjectives "unbreakable" with "intolerable"? Should we be encouraged by Obama's reference to Israel's "right to exist" that deliberately didn't include the usual ethnocentric qualifier, "as a Jewish state"? What about his bold rejection of on-going illegal Israeli settlement activity? His association of the Palestinian resistance to occupation and desire for "full and equal rights" to the African-American struggle against the brutality of slavery and the "humiliation of segregation"? His juxtaposition of the Palestinian narrative with that of Apartheid South Africa?

What are we to make of Obama's soaring rhetoric and inspiring calls for unified humanity? What about the staggering hypocrisy? How passionately should it be pointed out that, as Obama declared his "relentless" commitment to "confront violent extremists" who threaten the American people and his outright rejection of "the killing of innocent men, women, and children," unmanned Predator and Reaper drones, adorned with the stars and stripes, were screeching through the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan, perhaps adding to the appalling death toll already racked up by the young Obama Administration. Should people be reminded that, just one month ago, these murderous air strikes took the lives of over 120 Afghan civilians in the village of Granai in a single day? What about the fact that, in his first 100 days, the new president has managed to create over two million Pakistani refugees?

While mentioning how the events of 9/11 traumatized the American people, claiming that the United States of America is not some "self-interested empire," and declaring that the actions of "extremists" are "irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam," Obama omitted any mention of the 700 US military bases that dot the globe or the four million Iraqi refugees created by the US invasion of that country. He said that al Qaeda has "killed people of different faiths - but more than any other, they have killed Muslims." Obama then didn't mention the one million-plus dead Iraqis that Al Qaeda didn't kill over the past six years, the same million people the United States did kill.

Obama quoted the Qur'an by saying that "whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind" and that "whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind." So then, how many mankinds have the US military obliterated in its attempt to protect Americans half a world away?

Of 9/11, Obama declared, "The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with."

Consider this: if the word "America" were changed to "Palestine" and "al Qaeda" to the "Israeli military," the president would have been talking about Israel's devastation of Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, bombardment of Gaza this past winter, and stated determination to attack Iran. Of course, these connections were not made by Obama.

In one of the most telling sections of his fifty minute speech, Obama stated that "Palestinians must abandon violence...It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered."

Obama's plea for peaceful resistance and denouncement of violence is certainly commendable, especially for a US president. But something doesn't quite seem right. He addressed these remarks only to Palestinians, once again affirming the propagandistic narrative that Arabs engage in immoral terror while Israel acts only in necessary self-defense. This is absurd. Not a single word was said about Israel's deadly attacks on the locked up and starving population of Gaza, during which the Israeli military killed over 1,400 Palestinians - 85% of whom were civilians - including over 400 children. Obama didn't feel the need to condemn the use of US-supplied missiles and bombs, white phosphorus and DIME, tanks, bulldozers, drones, and bullets to murder the sleeping children and terrified elderly of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, and Jabalya. Apparently, Obama doesn't feel as if Israel surrendered its moral authority by keeping Palestinians under military occupation for a quarter century, for arresting and sometimes lethally shooting those who peacefully protest against the continued annexation of Palestinian land (17 Palestinians protesting the Wall have been killed by Israeli soldiers since 2004), or for keeping thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons for years without charges or trials. Israelis who protest their state's aggressive and racist behavior are vilified; the courageous youths who refuse to serve in the occupation are imprisoned.

Nor was the irony more shameful as when Obama asked the "Palestinians to focus on what they can build," without adding that, during the Gaza assault, Israel destroyed over 5,000 homes, 16 government buildings, 20 mosques, and many schools, universities, and hospitals. Israel attacked ambulances, UN installations and shelters, food warehouses, factories, and energy plants. Clearly, although Obama called for an end to illegal settlement activity in the West Bank (and made no mention of dismantling existing Israeli colonies and outposts which are each and every one of them illegal under international law), the continued building and maintenance of Israeli checkpoints, watchtowers, Apartheid Wall, and segregated bypass highways that bisect Palestinian land was not questioned.

True, Obama did declare his support for a Palestinian state and called for Israel to recognize Palestine's "right to exist." He also mentioned Israel's stifling occupation of the West Bank and the suffocating blockade and economic siege of Gaza by saying:

...Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.
These are fine words from the most powerful person on the planet and it should be the hope of all advocates of human rights and international law that Obama follows up these demands and suggestions with action. There is always the fear that lofty goals and pretty speeches serve to strengthen Israeli means to meet American ends. But, with Obama's overtures in Cairo, there may now be the possibility of a better start.