Monday, December 31, 2012

Post #383 - Now It Makes Sense

A couple of years ago, I had to get dressed one morning in my dark suit and tie, drive into Washington, and spend the day sitting at a conference table being deposed (and videotaped).  Deposition in a legal case is surely a candidate for the tenth ring of Dante's Hell, since it so cunningly combines aching boredom, groaning inanity and a generalized feeling of stress and threat.

The affidavits produced concerned Hassan Daioleslam's meritless defense against the National Iranian American Council.  He claimed that his wild -- and widely-published -- allegations against that group and its leadership were true and therefore he could not be held accountable for them as grounds for slander or libel.

The cause of truth was not served directly in those proceedings, in that it was ultimately impossible to prove malice -- an element necessary to support a charge of defamation -- on Daioleslam's part.  In the long run, though, it is turning out to be a win for NIAC, owing to the pandora's box of electronic traffic that came out in discovery.  See this recent article from Mondoweiss, a blog that concerns the Middle East [links operative on the original publication site]:

Daniel Pipes wants to take down Iranian-American group so he can get a war

Daniel Pipes as seen in the movie "2016: Obama's America." (Screenshot via AP)
The right-wing Middle East Forum has the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in its sights for one reason: it wants a war on Iran, and NIAC is trying to stop that from happening. Details of the smear campaign against NIAC were revealed in a piece by The American Independent’s Eli Clifton. Clifton reports that the Middle East Forum’s Legal Project is “increasingly the go-to funder” for anti-Muslim activists like Geert Wilders who find themselves in legal trouble. The group is headed by leading Islamophobe and neoconservative Daniel Pipes.

In September, Reuters reported that the Middle East Forum funded Dutch citizen Wilders’ defense when he was charged with “inciting hatred against Muslims,” as Clifton writes. But the revelation that the Middle East Forum funded the legal defense of a writer who smeared the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a new one reported by Clifton.

Here’s what Clifton reported:
In one recent case, the Legal Project “coordinated and financed the defense” of a writer who was fighting a defamation lawsuit filed by the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).
NIAC, which is based in Washington, DC, advocates non-military strategies towards resolving tensions over Iran’s nuclear program and opposes “broad sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians,” according to the organization’s website. In 2008, NIAC and its director, Trita Parsi, accused Seid Hassan Daioleslam of writing a series of defamatory articles suggesting that Parsi and NIAC were agents of the Iranian government.
On September 13, U.S. District Judge John Bates dismissed the suit on the grounds that NIAC had failed to show evidence of actual malice but noted he wasn’t assessing the accuracy of Daioleslam’s claims.
Through its journal, the Middle East Quarterly, The Middle East Forum had its own connection to Daioleslam’s attacks on NIAC.
Emails that emerged in the discovery phase of the lawsuit show Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and frequent advocate of regime change in Iran, advising Daioleslam on how best to criticize NIAC and Parsi. NIAC provided the emails to The American Independent.
Pipes and his organization set out to destroy NIAC and smear the organization as shills and lobbyists for the Iranian regime (never mind the fact they frequently criticize the regime’s human rights abuses.) The Pipes-led organization’s focus on NIAC is a departure from its usual focus on Islam, since NIAC is a secular organization. But the Middle East Forum's focus on NIAC does fit into the neoconservative group's leader's larger worldview about Iran.

NIAC has been working doggedly to prevent an American attack on Iran and has spoken out against crushing sanctions harming the Iranian citizenry. They have been attacked because NIAC members have met with White House officials.

So Pipes really wants his war on Iran, and NIAC is working day in and day out to prevent that from happening. In February 2010, Pipes authored a National Review piece calling for President Obama to bomb Iran in order to save his presidency. “He needs a dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a light-weight, bumbling ideologue, preferably in an arena where the stakes are high, where he can take charge, and where he can trump expectations,” wrote Pipes. “Such an opportunity does exist: Obama can give orders for the U.S. military to destroy Iran’s nuclear-weapon capacity...The time to act is now, or, on Obama’s watch, the world will soon become a much more dangerous place.”

Pipes has also advocated for the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the Iranian cult-like group recently taken off the State Department’s terrorist list. The MEK is suspected of working with Israeli intelligence to carry out assassinations of Iranian scientists and has engaged in attacks in the past that have killed Americans. But for Pipes, the MEK is the perfect vehicle to overthrow the Iranian regime. “The argument to maintain the MeK’s terrorist designation is baseless,” Pipes wrote in another National Review piece. “With one simple signature, the Obama administration can help empower Iranians to seize control over their destiny — and perhaps end the mullahs’ mad nuclear dash.” That ignores the fact that the MEK is shunned by many Iranians--including the opposition movement.

And Pipes, amazingly enough, advocated for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to remain in office as Iran’s president because Ahmadinejad’s bellicose rhetoric would make a war on Iran more likely--a war that would have catastrophic consequences, lead to the deaths of innocent Iranians and potentially set off a regional conflagration.

The other part of Pipes’ worldview that explains why he wanted to smear NIAC is his statements indicating that he is afraid of people of Middle Eastern-descent organizing in the U.S. against neoconservative goals. He advocates for the racial profiling of Muslims. And the Institute for Policy Studies project Right Web notes that “after a plot to attack Fort Dix, New Jersey was uncovered, the right-wing National Review Online asked Pipes and others what lessons they drew from the events. Pipes responded: ‘Immigrants seeking refuge in the West must be grilled for their attitudes toward our civilization, our religion, and politics.’” Those statements show that Pipes believes immigrants and Muslims--Iranians no doubt included--need to be watched and be intimidated. 

Pipes and his group’s attempt to take down NIAC and smear them as agents of the Iranian government have not worked, but as Clifton’s reporting shows, they’re working overtime towards that goal. For Pipes, taking down NIAC seems to be an important step on the path towards the neoconservative movement’s wish for a war on Iran.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post #382 - Sticky Wickets...

This piece appeared in a Russian outlet aimed at world audiences:

An Iranian lawmaker said that Russian female technicians working at Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant aren’t properly adhering to the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code, despite receiving extra pay for compliance. The ISNA news agency quoted MP Mehdi Mousavinejad as saying, “Based on contracts signed with female Russian employees at the Bushehr power plant, they receive a hijab allowance. Unfortunately, they don’t properly observe what [the contracts stipulate]“. He also criticised the authorities for lax oversight of Russian employees. Mousavinejad said that he didn’t know how many female technicians worked at the site or how much they’re paid. Women in Iran, regardless of their nationality or religion, are enjoined to cover up everything but their hands and face.

The station began operating at full capacity on 31 August as the reactor of Bushehr’s Unit 1 was brought up to 100 percent of capacity. Construction of Bushehr began in the 1970s, but was dogged by delays.  Russia signed a billion-dollar deal with Tehran to complete the plant in 1998. The plant’s launch in August 2010 prompted Israel and other nations to express fears the reactor could help Iran create an atomic bomb. Tehran denied the allegations, saying the facility was for peaceful power generation only. The plant was connected to Iran’s power grid in September 2011.
26 December 2012

[Note:  the plant at Bushehr, on the Persian Gulf, was first planned under the reign of the last Shah, with U.S. and German assistance; the project was restarted, with Russian help almost twenty years later.  Construction was completed in 2009, at cost exceeding $1 billion. -- AP]
One commentator, a Russian-American blogger who follows politics in the RF, is betting that the subtext of this piece was to provide an indirect "hands-off" warning -- to signal "that Russian techs are on the site, and that any Israeli/US strike on the facility would involve killing Russians."

Seriously, can we find any way at all to make the nuclear impasse any more complicated and confounding?

I only hope that the missive via the media has the desired effect, and the doomsday clock is set back a few seconds...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Post #381 - Truth Matters

In an earlier post, I emphasized that we each have a responsibility not to pass on "information" that we know to be false or misleading, when speaking about life-and-death matters.  A new initiative by the National Iranian American Council will, one hopes, make a contribution in this area; check it out:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Post #380 - Impact of Sanctions

The following link takes you to an article on Fair Observer.  It's a new website to me and may be new to you.  Here are some of the ways they describe the project:

  • "a media platform that focuses on analysis and not news"
  • "a plurality of perspectives from around the world, what we call a 360° view"
  •  "the first truly global media company that the world has seen"
  •  "leading the charge to create a truly global dialogue"

Have a look:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Post #379 - Humans are Humans are Wonderful

You must check out this FaceBook page.  It belongs to something (or someone) called "Humans of New York," a photojournalism or art project that compiled pictures of 10,000 individuals for a kind of visual census of that city.  The photographer is now spending some time (until December 22) in Tehran, Iran, with fascinating results (while you're there, go on down to recent photos of Istanbul and New York itself):

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Post #378 - Eavesdroppers dropping like flies...

This short story appeared on the RIA-Novosti site (12/4/12):
On Tuesday, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards said that they'd captured an American drone, the third reported incident involving Iranian forces and American unmanned aircraft in the past 12 months.  The Revolutionary Guard naval commander, Gen. Ali Fadavi, told Iranian state media that the ScanEagle drone was gathering data over the Persian Gulf.  However, he gave no indication of when his forces captured the drone, saying, "The American drone, which was on a reconnaissance flight gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard's naval air defence unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace.  Such drones usually take off from large warships."
U.S. Navy officials claimed that all their drones are accounted for.
Scaneagle aircraft (Source:  Boeing Corporation)
Last month, the Pentagon said that Iranian forces fired at one of its Predator drones in international airspace.  Irann said the drone violated its airspace.  The incident highlighted continuing tensions between the USA and Iran over the Islamic Republic's disputed nuclear programme, which the West believes is aimed at creating atomic weapons.  Iran says the program is civilian, aimed at energy production.  In December 2011, Iran said it'd captured a CIA spy drone that entered its airspace.  Iran claimed to have extracted top-secret data from the stealth-technology-equipped RQ-170 Sentinel drone.
Will it be an incident such as this that becomes the "Sarajevo assassination" that precipitates the next major war?

Post #377 - Diaspora and Discovery

This piece, by Holly Dagres, an analyst/commentator on Middle East affairs and a researcher at the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, was published on Huffington Post (12/3/12):

Diaspora Blues: Why the Iranian Diaspora in the United States Disappoints Me
It almost seems like a criterion for being Middle Eastern is thinking there is a conspiracy behind every event. As an Iranian-American, I cannot claim to have been immune to conspiracy theories. I spent some time in Washington, D.C., this fall, where conspiracies regarding "the lobby that controls U.S. foreign policy," the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- better known by its acronym AIPAC -- seemed to crumble right before my very eyes. 
During my time in Washington, I attended various conferences and mingled with professionals well-acquainted with U.S. policy on Iran, only to learn that we, the Iranian Diaspora, are the ones who allow this to happen.

There is no dispute that the current economic sanctions on Iran are hurting Iranian civilians more than the Islamic regime. Stories of Iranian students unable to pay for their studies in Canada and Sweden because of sanctions on banks seem to be on the back burner. Certain medical supplies cannot reach patients in Iran because of these same sanctions.

Ali Sofizadeh* comes from a family of doctors who studied in the United States but work in Iran. He says, "There's no anesthesia for surgeries, patients who have multiple sclerosis are also facing all kinds of medical shortages."

As highlighted in a recent article published by the BBC, "Although trade in medicine is exempt from international sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council and the unilateral sanctions announced by the U.S. and EU, Iranian importers say Western banks have been declining to handle it."

Placing restrictions on the Islamic Republic's Central Bank has financially isolated Iran in every means possible, restricting the flow of all forms of money into and out of the country.

Many forget that up until Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, a similar incident troubled the basic lives of the Iraqi people. The United Nations reports an estimated 2,690 to 5,357 infants died of malnutrition-related illnesses every month; many faulting sanctions that restricted food and medicine to Iraq since the Gulf War in 1991. Although there was a loophole in the sanctions, known as the Oil-for-Food Program, which allowed Saddam to sell oil as long as the money was used for non-military purposes.

I know that the Diaspora has its reservations about the regime. Some are Monarchist or regime sympathizers, others are Leftists, and then there are those who are conflicted in the middle or apathetic towards politics, folks who tend not to associate themselves with the political climate. But as people suffer in a homeland many still associate themselves with, whether they call themselves 'Persian' or 'Iranian,' with a longing to go back, how can we allow our political views to get in the way of humanity?

This political apathy on behalf of the Diaspora must end.

According to a study by MIT in 2004, "The 2000 census data suggests that the Iranian ancestral group have educational attainments that greatly surpass the national average... With more than 27 percent of Iranian-Americans over the age of 25 having a graduate degree or above, Iranian-Americans are the most highly educated ethnic group in the United States." Let's not forget how well off we are in terms of income: "The per capita average income for Iranian-Americans is 50 percent higher than that of the nation [United States], while family average income is 38 percent higher."

Pierre Omidyar
Need I mention the number of prominent Iranian-Americans who have 'made it' and which we often refer to by name with pride? Christiane Amanpour, Emmy-winning news correspondent for CNN; Anousheh Ansari, first female private space explorer; Bobak Ferdowsi, NASA's heartthrob engineer also known as 'Mohawk Guy'; Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay; Vali Nasr, Dean of John Hopkins' SAIS; and Cyrus Habib, the first Iranian-American voted into a state congress. Must I press any further?

It is always easier to point fingers at others than solve problems ourselves. This is why I think the Diaspora tends to be seemingly perplexed and perpetuates conspiracies such as how AIPAC dominates American foreign policy.

Trita Parsi, president of National Iranian American Council (NIAC) highlights brilliantly how the system works:
Within the American democracy, the influence of a group directly correlates to the extent and intensity of its participation in all aspects of the political system -- everything from engagement in the public debate to volunteering, voting and political fundraising, and to running for office. The system is geared towards rewarding intense participation and punishing self-marginalization and apathy.

Truth be told, views can be shifted. Given our success as a Diaspora, we have plenty of leeway.

This past October, I attended NIAC's annual leadership conference. I then sat back and watched 150 Iranian-Americans convince twelve members of congress, solely by speaking with their congressional aides "to take the additional steps necessary so that food, medicine, and humanitarian relief can reach Iran." If all it takes is constituents voicing their concerns to their local representatives alongside some donations during election campaigns, do you think we cannot change policy on Iran? I find myself admiring the Jewish community's ability to mobilize and prioritize issues most important to them. Why can't we?

Given a history of authoritarianism in Iran, perhaps it is imbedded in our culture to not meddle in politics. But the fact of the matter is we are no longer in Iran, but in the United States of America. Over are the days of agents of the regime coming door to door and looking for dissidents; now we have the First Amendment to protect our freedom of expression.

As noted in a
report on apathy of the Iranian Diaspora, "If Iranian-Americans don't write their own narratives, somebody else will tell their story for them; and that may be a story they don't like."

It is becoming clear that the generation of my parents and grandparents do not want to get involved, mostly because they spent their time trying to succeed in the United States and provide their children with opportunities, which is completely understandable. Now that their legacy is set, it is up to my generation -- those who were brought up in the United States and continue to feel connected to their parent's homeland -- to stand up for what is right.

IAAB Leadership Camp
There are many organizations to get involved with, for example: the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and Iranian Alliances Across Borders (IAAB). Although their agendas do not have as strong an emphasis on impacting U.S. foreign policy as NIAC's, they are good starting points for the new generation to get involved and raise awareness about sanctions on Iran. It is only a matter of time until the second generation of Iranian-Americans realizes that putting off the plight of Iranians living in Iran is a stopgap. The articles and stories from friends and family will only continue to increase and underline worse issues over time.

As I write this, Ali tells me about his housekeeper in Esfahan, "She has breast cancer, and the chemotherapy medication and all the other medications prescribed for subsiding side effects are not attainable... In general, there's a medicine shortage. Try to see if you can get someone's attention, lots of people are dying."

This is why I have written this, I am trying to get your attention.

* Name changed for the sake of privacy

Monday, December 3, 2012

Post #376 - Fission, Fusion and Confusion

This is a link to a thoughtful and well-considered piece on nuclear proliferation, seen in its global context:

Post #375 - Gentle as Doves or Clever as Serpents?

The following article was published by the Wall Street Journal (12/2/12).  It points up how deadly the sanctions will continue to be -- possibly even for U.S. troops serving in the warzone:


Relations between Iran and the U.S. are poisonous, with one exception: an antidote for snake bites. 

In a surprising—and irony-rich—byproduct of the Afghan war, the Pentagon finds itself dependent on a scientific research arm of the Iranian government to treat bites by Oxus cobras, Haly's pit vipers and other snakes peculiar to the battlefields of southwest Asia.
Despite U.S.-led international sanctions designed to paralyze Iran's trade with the outside world, the Defense Department buys the drugs through a middleman, with orders totaling 115 vials at $310 apiece since January 2011.

Medical guidance issued by U.S. Central Command says drugs made by Iran's Razi Vaccine & Serum Research Institute "should be the first line of antivenin therapy" because they counter venoms of the most-common Afghan snakes, said a U.S. officer who has read it. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers Razi antivenin an experimental drug, and requires military doctors to file a report any time the antivenin is used. FDA-approved antivenins won't work on Afghan snake bites because they are manufactured from snake venom found in U.S. species, say military doctors.

For their part, the Iranians say they are willing to sell Razi drugs to anyone. "We make this to save lives, and it doesn't matter if the person is Iranian or Afghan or American," said Hadi Zareh, lead researcher in Razi's antivenin department. "We are happy to hear we have saved a person's life, even an American soldier." 

Prompted by questions from The Wall Street Journal, Pentagon lawyers are investigating whether the purchases violate sanctions rules and require a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department. "We are working with the Department of Defense to confirm the details of these purchases to ensure compliance" with sanctions regulations, a Treasury spokesman said.

Mr. Zareh said the U.S.-led sanctions campaign, intended to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, has had the side effect of making it harder for Razi to produce the very drugs the American military is purchasing. The institute, he said in an interview, is finding it "very difficult to buy chemical products for the laboratories and some of the equipment that we need. Prices have also increased because of sanctions."

There are 13 species of venomous snakes in Afghanistan, many of which are also found in Iran. There is the Oxus cobra, which can be aggressive when protecting a nest. "When biting they hold on and chew savagely," the Army Public Health Service warns in posters hung around bases in Afghanistan. Haly's pit viper has hinged, tubular fangs that fold back into its mouth. Untreated, its venom causes pain, blistering, hemorrhaging and "digestion of tissue around the bite wound," the Army warns. The Levantine viper is "unpredictable, and they may strike quickly and savagely at any time," the Army says. Saw-scaled vipers are "extremely short-tempered" and, though they will usually slither away from a confrontation, "have been reported to chase victims aggressively."

"If a patient comes in and I don't know the snake they got bit by, I'd give them Razi," said Lt. Col. Aatif Sheikh, the military's top pharmacist at Bagram Airfield, a major U.S. base outside of Kabul. 

The Army warning posters encourage troops to practice "snake-smart" behavior, including shaking out bedding and clothing before use. The posters feature arms, feet and hands black with flesh turned necrotic by venom.

Doctors say in the case of a serious bite, it is urgent to provide treatment within an hour to avoid tissue breakdown. Other effects include hemorrhaging, facial drooping, double vision and paralysis, leading in severe cases to respiratory failure and death.

Razi was founded in 1924 to make vaccines for livestock, operating under the Iranian Ministry of Agriculture. More than three decades later, researchers branched out into antivenins to treat injuries from snakes and scorpions. Razi, a respected organization with ties to the World Health Organization, makes about 95,000 ampoules of snake and scorpion antivenin a year. It is currently researching an antidote for spider bites.

The institute used to keep tangles of snakes on site. Now it has a catch-milk-and-release policy. A Razi team extracts the venom and then releases the snakes to keep up the wild population, Mr. Zareh said.

Technicians inject a tiny dose of the venom into one of the institute's 200 horses. The horses produce antibodies in their blood, which the technicians then refine into antivenin. U.S.-made antivenins won't work in Afghanistan because they aren't made from Afghan species.

The pharmacy at British-run Camp Bastion hospital, adjacent to the Camp Leatherneck U.S. Marine base in southern Afghanistan, stocks Indian and French antivenins, as well as Razi drugs. 

"The Iranian antivenin is the best, and our guys deserve the best," said Col. Rob Russell, the hospital's medical director.
Col. Russell says among the 9,500 British troops in Afghanistan, just a few suffer snake or scorpion bites each year. 

"A lot of the guys who get bitten have been [messing] with a snake," he said. U.S. military doctors in Afghanistan have administered 21 doses of Razi antivenin since January 2011, all of them to Afghan children, say military records. The drug is usually administered via a saline drip. The children survived.

American military doctors urge soldiers to try to identify the offending reptile, as safely as possible. "If the snake is dead, they're welcome to bring the snake with them," said Lt. Col. Sheikh, the pharmacist. "But don't go chasing the snake."

Write to Michael M. Phillips at and Farnaz Fassihi at

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Post #374 - Street Strad

Look at the this:

It's hard to believe it's all coming out of a single instrument played by a single musician.  This is but one small example of the sort of thing that will be totally lost in the shuffle, obscured by the fog of war, if we escalate into a military strike against Iran.  (By the way, at the very end of the audio, a voice says "Dastet dard nakoneh!" -- a Persian phrase that literally means "May your hand not hurt" -- it's meaning here is an expression of praise and gratitude.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Post #373 - A Light Goes Out

The director of the Peace Corps during my time in Iran just died.  May his memory be eternal among those who served with or under him:

Monday, November 12, 2012

Post #372 - Damned If You Don't

Because I am no longer actively affiliated with the National Iranian American Council, I feel free to share this.  It is an unsolicited letter to the founder and manager (Jahanshah Javid) of, a well-respected on-line magazine featuring subjects of interest to the Iranian-American community:

Dear Jahanshah, 

When your blog post was brought to my attention I felt compelled to respond. I am Sarah Shourd, one of the three Americans that was held as a political hostage by the Iranian Government in 2009. I spent 410 days in solitary confinement at the factory of horror known as Evin Prison. When I heard about Sattar Beheshti’s death by torture my mind went back to the screams of pain I would sometimes hear coming from down the hall and the injured women prisoners that I saw limp past my cell.

In my opinion, to say that Trita Parsi and NIAC don’t care about Sattar Beheshti and other political prisoners/ prisoners of conscience in Iran is wrong. This is becasue my own experience was quite different. I spent the year after my release campaigning for my now-husband Shane Bauer and good friend Josh Fattal. During that time, I called Trita Parsi for support and advice on an almost weekly basis. Everything NIAC did for me, they did discreetly, behind the scenes, simply because we didn’t want the Iranian Government to know who our contacts and advisors were. NIAC never once asked for credit for their help on our case, even after Shane and Josh were released and there was no longer any need for secrecy.

What I want to say is that there is a lot more to doing human rights work than releasing statements. The work NIAC does advocating against war and harmful sanctions is crucial because trying to curb harmful sanctions and prevent large-scale death and catastrophe IS human rights work. Also, if NIAC and other organizations were public about everything they do to promote human rights in Iran, they simply wouldn’t be as effective. For these reasons, I would like to ask you, Jahanshah Javid, to reconsider your position on NIAC and Trita Parsi.
Lastly, I would like to make it clear that the real issue here is horrific murder of Sattar Beheshti while in custody at Evin. My heart goes out to his family, his loved ones and to the Iranian community around the world. I pray that justice is still possible. Your loss is a loss for all of us. 

Thank You, Sarah Shourd

NIAC has been criticized, since its founding, from all sides.  The supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) have tried to portray the group as being in league with the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite the fact that NIAC has sponsored a number of events  featuring speakers that are quite critical of that government and its human rights record.  Others have accused NIAC of being too timid in its opposition to sanctions, since its position has allowed for targeted sanctions designed to impact the leadership of the IRI itself. When NIAC has attempted to aid civil society in Iran, it has been attacked for promoting "regime change" engineered from outside.  When it has not, it is attacked for failing to support freedom movements inside Iran.

With Rep. Jim Moran, at a NIAC event
In my opinion, NIAC reflects the great majority of the Iranian-American community, whose members wish to see improvement in governance and respect for human rights in Iran,  a sanctions regime that does not simply penalize the innocent who happen to reside in Iran, and avoidance of military intervention, with all the division, destruction and death that it would inevitably bring.

Walking the center line often means that you have no place to hide, but at least you stay well out of the gutter on both sides of the road. 

Post #371 - Tightening the Screws

This comes from the Associate Director, White House Office of Public Engagement, Paul Monteiro:

FYI:  The State Department just announced a new set of targeted sanctions in response to Iranian efforts to censor the free speech rights of the citizens of Iran. 


11/08/2012 01:48 PM EST
 Designations of Iranian Individuals and Entities for Censorship Activities Under the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act and Executive Order 13628

Press Statement
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson
, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
November 8, 2012

Today, the U.S. Department of State reported to the Congress the designations of four Iranian individuals and five Iranian entities for having engaged in censorship or other activities that prohibit, limit, or penalize freedom of expression or assembly by citizens of Iran, or that limit access to print or broadcast media, including by jamming international satellite broadcasts into Iran, and related activities. These actions were taken pursuant to Section 403 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, signed by the President on August 10, 2012, and Executive Order 13628, which the President signed into effect on October 9, 2012. As a result of this action, U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the designated individuals or entities, and all designated individuals and members of designated entities are subject to a ban on travel to the United States. This action also blocks, or freezes, the property and interests in property of designated individuals or entities.

These actions underscore the Administration’s ongoing commitment to hold Iranian government officials and entities responsible for the abuses carried out against their own citizens. Those designated today include Minister of Communication and Information Technology, Reza Taghipour, who has been found responsible for ordering the jamming of satellite television broadcasts and restricting internet connectivity. Also sanctioned are Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its Press Supervisory Board, which have limited freedom of expression through their censorship and closure of numerous newspapers and detention of journalists. In addition, we are designating key individuals and entities responsible for assisting the regime in its crackdown on and censorship of the Iranian people.

Such abuses demonstrate the Iranian Government’s ongoing campaign to censor its own citizens, curtail their freedoms, and to prevent the free flow of information both in to and out of Iran. Countless activists, journalists, lawyers, students, and artists have been detained, censured, tortured, or forcibly prevented from exercising their human rights. With the measures we are taking today, we draw the world’s attention to the scope of the regime’s insidious actions, which oppress its own people and violate Iran’s own laws and international obligations. We will continue to stand with the Iranian people in their quest to protect their dignity and freedoms and prevent the Iranian Government from creating an “electronic curtain” to cut Iranian citizens off from the rest of the world.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Post #370 - A Letter to the President

 Mr. President,

I'll avoid asking the obvious question: why would any sane person want to take on your job? -- you apparently wished to continue in it, and now you must. Instead, I'll express my congratulations on a successful end to a difficult, protracted (and terribly expensive) campaign, and assure you that you will be in my prayers, and the prayers of many. The morning after your reelection, the front page of a Canadian paper read "Hope Hangs On" -- despite some sobering realities, we hang on.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that the election changed very little -- you're still there, and the numbership of the House and Senate did not shift that radically. But, the country our congress represents is surely changing and those changes will be felt in Washington. The first Muslim-American legislator was sent back for a fourth term. The first openly-Lesbian woman was elected to the Senate from Wisconsin. The first Hindu, from your home state of Hawaii, was elected with nearly 81% of the vote (the fact that she is also the first female combat veteran to serve in the Congress reminds us that we are still at war abroad). Hispanics flexed their muscles at the polls; they gave you 70% of their votes. Despite your difficulties with Mr. Netanyahu, 70% of American Jews also helped vote you back into office.

More than that -- the world around us is rapidly changing: Europe is struggling. Now we have a Middle East where autocrats no longer run all the countries. Hot spots are cropping up faster than we can build drones to dowse them.

Of course, interpretations and analyses of the campaign, the election and the future are as thick as crown vetch beside a freeway. Everyone is telling you what it all means and what you must do next. Status quo it may be in many ways, but new opportunities will also knock at the oval office door. As Rabindranath said, "The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you that must raise your sails." Historian Richard Norton Smith counsels that, in order to beat the "second term curse" you must avoid falling into hubris and cultivate humility. NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said that the message from the American people was, "We think you're trying. Now try even harder." -- that sounds about right to me. But how, exactly, should you try harder? I offer my own suggestions, since everyone else seems to be doing so:

Mr. President, try harder on the "reaching across the aisle" business. Congress has abysmal popularity ratings because they can't seem to agree on even "the proper temperature for ale," much less how to legislate in support of the common good. You need to be the adult in the room; let many take credit, as long as a deal can be struck and disaster averted. We will thank you, and history will thank you.

Try harder on cultivating new ways to supply energy. Mexico has pledged to reach 35% of its energy from alternative sources by 2025. Most of our allies have gone further in developing wind, geothermal and solar than we have. We can pump oil and expand natural gas till the cows come home, but we know that the best-fracked wells and the cleanest of clean coal technology are not going to be the long-term answer, since all this stuff is in finite supply and takes a long time to create. We have to act as though we are going to be around for a while as a race, and maybe we'll make it come true.

Try harder on solving the Middle East conundrum. Passionate people will tell you to embrace and alleviate the plight of the Palestinians, and you should. Equally passionate people will tell you to have Israel's back as its only ally and the only democracy in the region, and I'm sure you will not fail to do that. A peacemaker, though, will go deeper than either of these themes would take him. Recognizing the unconscionable cost of continuing conflict in Israel/Palestine, you should not hesitate to break the mold, think outside the box, change the game. Insist that both Palestinians and Jews must have a homeland to call their own, acknowledged by international consensus and guaranteed by international law, and make it happen. (It won't be easy, but then you aren't worried about reelection now -- take some risks -- you have little to lose and the gratitude of the whole world to win.)

Try harder to reach out to Iran. Common sense says that along with Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt it ought to be a major player in the region. The Iranian people still (God knows why) are a reservoir of positive regard for the American people, despite fifty years of sniping between our governments. Half the population of that country is under the age of twenty-five and is plugged in to the rest of the world, even if their leaders are not. Ratchet down the rhetoric, do some robust visioning about a win-win-win future and start talking turkey. Make the acquisition of nuclear weapons a choice that Iranians can feel comfortable rejecting, because they can get a better deal. Recent signals from Iran indicate that the time may be right and the stars aligning.

Try harder on the abortion question. Virtually all Americans do not want to see any more abortions than necessary -- they simply disagree on what is necessary. Can't we take immediate steps, at the very least, to do what the vast majority can agree upon? Provide contraception to those who wish to use it. Provide pre-natal and post-natal care for any mother who can't afford it. Help the private sector to modernize our adoption system, so that greed and human trafficking have no place in the equation. When there are willing and capable prospective parents and there are needy and neglected infants, why can't they be connected, in this age of on-line everything?

Try harder on immigration reform. We have built a country out of immigrants. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore" -- those lines were written in 1883, but they ring truer now than ever before. Lift your hands to "the golden door," Mr. President, and start polishing. Secure we must be, but we don't want our national epitaph to read, "all relief lay in this room, but now, alas, it's turned a tomb." Rather, let your second term be the time when America had a "new birth of freedom" like the one Lincoln envisioned. Our exceptionalism does not lie in how much better we are than the rest of the world, but in how hard we strive to be better than we are.

Finally, try even harder on addressing the discrepancy of wealth and advantage that has grown in our country over the past few decades.  Some on the right do not seem to view this as a problem, but I have seen life in Johannesburg, where the majority are still living in squalor and the elite are barricaded behind their security fences; in New Delhi, where some folks live rough on a sidewalk for generations, while others inhabit posh digs that recall the princely states of yore; Manila, where floods regularly sweep away thousands of homes less than a mile from high-rise hotels with ballrooms full of fat-cats; and Rio, where the favelas stink and crumble as the rich loll on beachside terraces.  One doesn't have to accept the idea that "everything I have that I don't really need is a theft from the poor" to see that this is not the most efficient, vital and sustainable state of affairs for any society.  It is our fairness, our future-orientation and our fluidity of financial circumstance that has made us different from such places.  May that continue to be so.

May Almighty God bless you and keep you,

Alex Patico, a citizen

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Post #369 - On a War Footing

Check out this article in Ha'aretz regarding the Netanyahu government and its coalition:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Post #368 - Games People Play

White House Situation Room
An interesting exercise was hosted recently in Washington by Newsweek Magazine. Below is a report on tt by Dan Ephron (with Sara Begley), published 10/8/12. It points up several important aspects of the imperfectly-foreseeable future: 1) Israel, through its actions/inaction in the near term, has the ability to hurt President Obama, but not to help either candidate; 2) Iranian response to an attack would likely be not just asymmetrical, but not even attributable, giving that country a "PR" advantage in much of the world, as the victim of a preemptive strike; and 3) (if this is not belaboring the obvious) "Washington could quickly lose control of events after an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities."

Iran War Game  

Will America get pulled into another Mideast war? We hosted a ‘war game’ with former U.S. officials to find out.


It’s 5 in the morning when the phone rings at the beachfront home of Dan Shapiro, the American ambassador to Israel. On the line is Rafi Barak, the head of Israel’s foreign ministry, sounding tense. Israel has struck six Iranian nuclear facilities overnight, causing extensive damage, he says. Israeli’s foreign minister will soon be calling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with details.

Thirty minutes later, Shapiro and a team from the U.S. Embassy that includes the military attaché and the CIA station chief arrive at Israel’s Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv for a briefing. Operation Whirlwind, they’re told, involved dozens of Israeli warplanes; covert landings in Ethiopia, India, and Saudi Arabia; and a complicated choreography of electronic jammings and midair refuelings. One Israeli plane went down during the offensive, but the rest of the operation, a huge undertaking for Israel, went off cleanly.
In Washington, President Obama’s national-security adviser quickly convenes a meeting of top aides and cabinet secretaries. The president is on the campaign trail, but he wants his team to discuss the crisis and make recommendations by noon. Early in the discussion the advisers rule out American military action, for now at least, and agree that Washington’s aim is to lower the flames in the region. “The goal of short-term policy should be not to escalate, to try to contain this,” one of them says. In their memo to the president, they list the administration’s top objectives, including protecting Americans in the region, minimizing the impact on the world economy, and defending Israel from Iranian reprisals.

Open Zion's Peter Beinart offers his prediction on whether Israel will attack Iran soon. 

But as the discussion winds on, the scenarios in which America finds itself dragged into the conflict seem to multiply. By the end of the meeting, one participant puts the odds at 50 percent of the U.S. having to use military force against Iran in the aftermath of Israel’s assault. Others suggest it’s even higher. “We could be at the front end of a major escalation to a Mideast war,” one of the advisers observes.

An Israeli attack on Iran would present the United States with one of the most complicated and vexing situations the country has faced in decades. The scenario outlined above—the outcome of a recent simulation conducted by Newsweek—offers one version of how events might play out. The simulation, known among military planners as a “war game,” aimed to understand what factors would shape the decision-making in the Obama administration. Specifically we wanted to know: what would happen if the Israelis strike before the U.S. election in November?

Although in recent weeks it has looked like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing away from an attack, an October surprise cannot be ruled out. In some ways, the perception that an Israeli operation is no longer imminent makes the coming weeks a more appealing window for Netanyahu to order military action. “The hour is getting late,” the Israeli leader told the United Nations General Assembly in September. “Very late.”

As part of the war game, Newsweek convened seven former political and military officials and staged a mock meeting of the “Principals Committee”—the team the president calls on for recommendations about matters of the highest importance. Assuming the roles of Obama’s key advisers, including his chief of staff, his national security adviser, secretaries of state and defense, directors of National Intelligence and the CIA, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the panel was roughly analogous to the group Obama consulted before ordering the operation against Osama bin Laden last year.

Former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack, now at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Mideast Policy, prepared detailed briefing papers on the Israeli attack, during which Israeli strikes knocked out some facilities but left other key parts operational. The documents indicated that Israel had set back the Iranian nuclear program with its attack but hadn’t managed to destroy it. They also outlined international responses to the operations: denunciations across Europe, rocket attacks on Israel by Iran and the Lebanese Hizbullah group, and small-scale street protests around the Muslim world.

The “principals” filed into a boardroom at the Brookings Institution in Washington at 8 a.m. on a recent Friday, as newspaper headlines announced two new developments in the Persian puzzle: riots in Iran over the plunging value of its currency and heightened tensions between Iran ally Syria and its neighbor to the north, Turkey. The team included two former CIA deputy directors, Richard Kerr and John McLaughlin; two people who served in senior positions at the Pentagon, Rudy deLeon and Bing West; the former Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta and the veteran diplomat Thomas Pickering.

The men had all crossed paths in Washington over the years and seemed comfortable with each other—two of them bantered before the meeting about their experience during the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s. All came in jackets and ties but shed a layer before the discussion got underway.

Running the meeting, in the role of Obama’s national-security adviser, was Bruce Jentleson, a Duke University political scientist who advised the State Department during the Clinton and Obama administrations. In opening the discussion, he compared the Iran situation with the Cuban missile crisis—America’s nuclear standoff with Russia in 1962. “Our predecessors in the Kennedy administration ... had their own pressures in time, with their own huge stakes. Yet they were careful and creative and shrewd,” he said. “We want to do at least as well, if not better.”

Pollack, in his memo to the team, -wanted answers to several questions, including: Should the U.S. join the attack or stay out? What should Washington do to protect Israel from reprisals? And, if the administration decided to hang back, what actions by Iran could essentially press Obama into war in the region—America’s third in 11 years?

Principals Committee meetings often start with assessments by intelligence directors. In ours, Kerr, as the CIA chief, predicted worse things to come: Iran would likely step up its attacks on Israel, and, viewing Washington as implicitly involved, could try indirectly to strike at American targets as well. The easiest ones might involve U.S. troops in western Afghanistan or in Iraq. In both cases Iran would likely operate through proxies, keeping its fingerprints off the operations. Kerr, who in real life helped manage the nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan in 1990, said the administration should also brace for Iranian cyberattacks, another way for Tehran to lash out at Washington from behind a wall of anonymity. “They will be very cautious about a direct confrontation with the United States, but there are a number of things ... they might be able to do,” he said.

In what could easily cause shock waves to the world economy, Kerr also warned about Iranian attacks on ships in the Persian Gulf. (Some 20 percent of oil traded worldwide flows from the Gulf out through the Straits of Hormuz.) “I don’t think they’ll try to close the Gulf, but they can make the Gulf a difficult place to operate in, and raise the cost for everybody,” he said.

McLaughlin, in the role of director of National Intelligence, said street protests in the Muslim world could precipitate the kind of violence that killed four Americans in Libya last month, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Not everyone agreed. Kerr estimated that the Gulf countries would be happy to see Tehran cowed and that Sunni Muslims would not come out for Shia Iran. But McLaughlin pointed out that the ouster of autocrats across the region in the past two years meant the Muslim street was less predictable. “When the street would get a little wild, Mubarak would send out his henchman and would take care of it,” he said, referring to the former Egyptian president. “That doesn’t exist anymore.”

The assessments helped frame a main quandary of the discussion: how to scale back the tension without signaling to Iran that the U.S. was weak or hesitant, a message that might tempt Iran to actually escalate the violence; and how to put distance between the U.S. and Israel, which explicitly defied Obama in launching the operation, without emboldening Iran and, again, potentially raising the flames.

Pickering, as secretary of state, outlined a plan to protect Americans, including locking down U.S. embassies in the region and calling on U.S. citizens to leave Muslim countries at once. The panelist with perhaps the most direct experience in the region, Pickering had served as the ambassador to Israel and Jordan and represented the U.S. at the United Nations. Others around the table discussed how the U.S. would respond if Iranian speed boats attacked American ships in the Gulf. “They can cause a huge tanker to go down, or hit one of our ships and cause us to lose 100 or more Americans in a minute,” remarked Bing West, in the role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He said the military didn’t like the idea of waiting around to be attacked and would rather take the initiative—essentially proposing the U.S. attack Iran preemptively. “If you’re going to say you’re going to defend your citizens, you’re going to defend your forces ... then the military is telling you, you need to do that by operational offense, not defense.”

West proposed a 10-day military campaign to neutralize much of Iran’s offensive capability. Others ruled out such an operation for the time being but agreed that an Iranian attack on an American ship would trigger a broad military response against Iran’s Navy. “We have multiple ways of taking on their assets,” said Rudy deLeon, in the role of defense secretary. Podesta, as Obama’s chief of staff, asked lightheartedly if the uranium--enrichment plant at Fordow was part of the Iranian Navy. In other words, he wanted to know if the U.S. would see an Iranian provocation as an opportunity to destroy those parts of Iran’s nuclear program still standing after the Israeli attack. The question raised chuckles, but Podesta predicted later in the discussion that an escalation would likely result in American strikes on Iran’s remaining nuclear facilities.
So, while the team would urge Obama to focus on de-escalation, it was also acknowledging that much depended on Iran’s actions after the Israeli operation. An Iranian attack on American targets would inevitably lead the U.S. to war.

The participants had some disagreements over how to deal with Israel—no surprise there, given the Obama administration’s difficult relationship with Netanyahu. DeLeon said the U.S. should be ready to resupply Israel with whatever weapons it needed. (The U.S. maintains depots of reserve munitions in Israel and can make them available to Netanyahu on short notice.) He also suggested the U.S. tender to help rescue the Israeli pilot whose plane crashed in Iranian territory—an offer other panelists felt was imprudent.
DeLeon and Podesta argued for a firm statement of support for Israel and its security. “We need to be clear on the security relationship with Israel,” deLeon said. “Even if we’re angry [with Netanyahu], we need to show we have their back.” But Pickering said the U.S. should be careful not to include words that Israel would construe as a blank check for further military action. He advocated a more subtle message emphasizing that de-escalation was in Israel’s interests. “You don’t say, ‘Israel can do anything it wants and we’ll continue to support them and there is no red line.’?”

Their differences aside, the panelists agreed any Iranian reprisal that killed large numbers of Israelis would trigger American military action against Iran—and, again, put the U.S. on a possible path to war. “That Rubicon would be presented to us if the Israelis suffer massive casualties,” McLaughlin said.
In perhaps the most startling remark of the meeting, McLaughlin estimated there was a 10 percent risk Iran would use chemical weapons against Israel in response to Operation Whirlwind, assuming it could mount chemical warheads on its medium-range missiles. In that case, he said, the administration had to take into account the possibility that Israel might launch nuclear weapons at Iran. (Israel is thought to have an arsenal of at least 200 nuclear warheads, though its policy is to neither admit nor deny it.) “I think the Israelis would then have to say, ‘Do we stay conventional?’ And that’s almost unthinkable. But they would have to ask that question.”

A consensus was starting to form around five objectives that Obama should aim to achieve: protecting U.S. citizens, avoiding participation in another war, preventing tremors to the world economy, keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and protecting Israel and other U.S. allies from Iranian reprisals. Jentleson, the national-security adviser, pointed out that some objectives might come into conflict with others and suggested the participants prioritize them. Pickering put protecting U.S. citizens at the top and defending Israel at the bottom, though he said objectives two through five were all closely ranked. “If you’re conveying it in a proper fashion, you put the first one across the top and put each one [of the rest] in a box underneath,” he said. The conversation drifted elsewhere before the others could offer their own prioritizing.

Several participants voiced concern that the Israeli assault would, perversely, undermine Washington’s ability to keep Iran from getting the bomb. They estimated that Tehran would withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) after the attack and expel international observers from their facilities—something Iranian leaders might have been looking for an excuse to do. “I think there’s a chance this is a gift to the Iranians,” McLaughlin said, describing the Israeli operation as a possible “get-out-of-the-NPT-free card” for Iran. Without the observers, the U.S. would have a harder time determining what Iran was doing at Fordow, Natanz, and the other sites, and, specifically, at what level it was enriching uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons. On top of that, given international anger at Israel over the attack, the broad weave of international sanctions against Iran that Washington has pulled together over the past year would likely fray. “We have to avoid the rapid unraveling of sanctions,” Podesta said.

Sometime near the end of the meeting, West offered a catalog of probabilities for the situation the U.S. now faced. He estimated the chances of Israeli deaths in the Iranian retaliation at 100 percent and the likelihood that Israel would strike back at Iran at 50 percent. The odds that the Arab street would erupt were somewhere around 50 or 60 percent, West said, which meant that the risk of “terrorists killing Americans are pretty gosh-darn high.” Those conclusions led West to ponder the chances that the U.S. would end up using lethal force against Iran. “And after listening to the conversation all morning, I put it at ... 50–50, it’s almost a coin toss,” he said. DeLeon’s response: “I think it’s higher.” Pickering: “I agree.”

How closely did the discussion resemble an authentic Principals Committee meeting? Kerr told me in an email later that the simulation took him back to the administration of George H.W. Bush, when advisers had to guide the president through such crises as the invasion of Kuwait or the coup attempt against Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachev. Other participants said it felt genuine with one caveat: in real-life meetings, intelligence analysts might not allow themselves to be so opinionated.

I wondered whether the weight of the pending election would not have asserted itself more directly on the discussion, given how high the stakes were for the president.

Obama is in the final lap of a tight race against Mitt Romney, and though his poll numbers have risen in recent weeks the precariousness of a war or a major foreign crisis could cut his lead overnight. The immediate knockoff effects on the economy (a spike in oil prices, a tremor in world markets) would do further damage. When I asked presidential historians about other commanders in chief who faced wars or major security crises late in their terms, they pointed to three: Harry Truman (the Korean War), Jimmy Carter (the Iran hostage crisis), and George W. Bush (the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan). All three left office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in the modern era (Truman at 32 percent, Carter and Bush at 34 percent).
Jentleson addressed the issue of the election head on, conceding early in the meeting that political considerations were unavoidable. “We know what the date is, we know what the calendar says,” he told the panel. “My sense is that our role is to be politically pragmatic enough not to make recommendations that even we know are politically impossible,” he said, insinuating perhaps that Obama could not realistically turn his back on Netanyahu, no matter how angry the attack made him.

Several analysts I spoke to said that type of discussion would likely come up in smaller forums, between the president and his political advisers, not at a Principals Committee meeting. One Washington insider told me that’s where more hard-nosed considerations might be factored. “You could imagine Obama saying to one or two people that if the imminent election forces him to clean up Netanyahu’s mess, he wouldn’t forget who made the mess,” he said. But Podesta instructed the panelists to ignore the electoral clock. “I think the president will want everyone to be absolutely clear there are no politics in this situation,” he said at the meeting. “There’s going to be an inevitable discussion in the media about what the political effect of whatever we’re going to do is. We just have to largely try to ignore it.”

No matter what role politics play, the upshot of the simulation is a sobering one: Washington could quickly lose control of events after an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. If Iran attacks Americans or goes after Israel too aggressively, even an administration wishing to avoid another war in the Middle East might find itself in the middle of one.