Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Post #198 - It's Always the Innocent

The following article ("Iran's Christian pastor alive, execution looming") by Lisa Daftari appeared on FoxNews.com, February 27, 2012:

The Christian pastor sentenced to death in Iran last week for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity was confirmed alive as of early Sunday, sources close to his attorneys told Fox News.

The Naderkhani Family
Iran’s government backtracked over the weekend, stating that no execution order had been announced for Youcef Nadarkhani, and that he was being held not for apostasy, but for rape and “other crimes,” according to the Islamic Republic’s state-controlled Press TV.

Nadarkhani’s attorneys believe the government toned down its rhetoric in response to an international outcry. The execution order, however, remained in effect, they said.

Supporters fear Nadarkhani, a 34-year-old father of two who was arrested more than two years ago on charges of apostasy, fear he may be executed at any time, as death sentences in Iran can be carried out immediately or dragged out for years.

Others fear Nadarkhani will be used in broader political negotiations as Iran endures crippling sanctions and international pressure in response to its nuclear agenda and rogue discourse. The number of executions in Iran has increased significantly in the last month.

“If a human being becomes a bargaining chip for the ayatollah, that’s not a situation that will lead to anything positive,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a human rights advocacy group that has led international campaigns to free Nadarkhani.

“When it’s a high-profile case, they test the international community’s reaction to these stories and how they change as geopolitical priorities shift.”

Iran’s judiciary, fearing its ultimate decision will have far-reaching political implications, has been caught in a bind in determining Nadarkhani’s fate.

Should the court release the pastor, it will appear disrespectful of the tenets of Shariah, or Islamic law, which call for an apostate to be put to death. If it executes him, it will face increasing criticism from the international community that continues to petition for the Nadarkhani’s release.

Dozens of human rights groups along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 89 members of Congress, and leaders from the European Union, France, Great Britain, Mexico and Germany have condemned Iran for arresting Nadarkhani and have called for his quick release.

Last week, the State Department and White House put out statements condemning Tuesday’s execution verdict.

Congress has scheduled a vote as early as Wednesday on House Resolution 556, which condemns the Iranian government and calls for the pastor’s quick release.

Nadarkhani converted to Christianity at 19 and came under the Islamic regime’s radar in 2006 when he applied for his church to be registered with the state. He was arrested and soon released, according to sources.

In 2009 he went to local officials to complain about Islamic indoctrination in his school district, arguing that his children should not be forced to learn about Islam.

He was subsequently arrested and found guilty of apostasy by a lower court in Gilan, a province in Rasht, where he and his family live.

The court gave Nadarkhani a chance to recant and return to Islam, but he refused.

Death sentences for apostates in Shariah Law are prescribed both by fatwas, or legal decrees, and reinforced by Iran’s penal code. Article 225 of the Iranian penal code states, "Punishment for an Innate Apostate is death," and "Punishment for a Parental Apostate is death.”

While all religious minorities in Iran, including Bahais, Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians, have faced various forms of persecution and political and social marginalization, the government saves its harshest retribution for those who have abandoned Islam.

It is not just for the stability of political systems or the security of oil supplies that a sustainable peace in the entire Middle East region is to be sought with unflagging commitment by all persons of good will. It is because individual "civilians" -- those who have actually harmed no one, persecuted no one, subjugated no one -- are the ones who suffer, even when we are technically not at war.

I offer prayers for all those who are collateral damage to the machinations of nations: the children who are impressed into bloody service by war-lords, the women who see their children mutilated by bombs, the journalists who place themselves in harm's way to publish the truth, the believers who wish nothing more but to be left alone, and the peacemakers who put themselves in the cross-hairs of guns to say -- with their bodies, if necessary -- ENOUGH!!

Haleh Esfandiari, Youcef Nadarkhani, the young hikers, the murdered Iranian scientists, the children held at Guantanamo, the bystanders when a car-bomb explodes, and those who die for lack of the necessities withheld because of economic sanctions -- all are scape-goats we send in place of the ones who actually make the decisions that are keeping us at each other's throats. It is for those innocents, too, that we all need to take responsibility, not just soldiers and airmen. Merely averting "war" -- the hot, shooting, cataclysmic kind -- is not enough, because death by a thousand cuts is slower, but every bit as cruel.

Post #197 - Effects of War, Pleasures of Peace

Continuing with the highlights of my 2006 trip to Iran, with the Fellowship of Reconciliation:

Before we left the center that works with victims of the Iran-Iraq War, I spoke with Dr. Rezvan Kahjeh Salehani, Director of the International Relations Office for the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs about the branches all over Iran that provide similar services of rehabilitation, counseling, medical follow-up and family aid.

He told me that chemical and biological agents used against Iranians by Saddam were originally supplied by countries like the United States (e.g. American Type Culture Collection, a Virginia company) and Germany. As Dr. Khateri (the center's director) had noted, despite international conventions to ban chemical weapons going back to the early 1800’s, “the demon [of WMD’s] is not dead, but only sleeping; we don’t know when it might be awakened.”

Delegate Melissa Van (of Peace Action/ New York) put it this way to some of her community back home: [For Iranians] “the idea of another war is not tasteful. It is horrible. Everybody I talked to lost family members in that war – brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews – the war was incredibly devastating to the country. There are 50,000 still suffering from the effect of the chemical weapons Iraq used during the war.”
Our visit was covered by Agence France Presse, European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters News Agency and the Associated Press, but we offered no public statement as a group.

South Tehran kuchehs
For our next appointment, we drove southward to the poorer part of Tehran, and walked half-a-mile through the narrow streets called kuchehs (often mistranslated as “alleys”). The kucheh is an ancient town-planning technique which conserves heat in the winter, provides shade in the summer, protects the pedestrian from the periodic duststorms that used to be quite common in the days before urban sprawl, and allowed for better defense against marauders, as a horseman was unable to turn his horse around in the close quarters of the narrower kuchehs. Another useful invention, still sometimes seen even today, is the baadgir (“wind-catcher”), a narrow tower that has been described as “a chimney in reverse” – a precursor to modern air conditioning, which helped keep the thick-walled abobe buildings cool in summer.

Learning a trade
Khaneye Salaamate ("house of peace") Naser Khosro, an NGO, had been established in what was once a city residence of a Persian prince. Now it houses a community organization that gives counseling and instruction to women who are single mothers and must support themselves and their children. Our group’s trip report for that day read: “The director, Mrs. Lida Bonakdaran, started this program nine years ago, using her own money to buy materials for handicrafts projects. She particularly tries to help these women develop business skills so that they can support their families. They learn practical skills such as rug weaving, making artificial flowers, sewing, and baking. Their products are sold in a cooperative, so that they will have a constant income.”
Our guide, Mr. Avali
Mr. Sadegh Avali, a City of Tehran official, showed us the preserved portions of the grand house that had existed, and walked with me as we toured the training facility. As always in Iran, we were offered tea and sweets before ending our visit.

The Tehran National Museum was notable for two reasons: its wonderful collection of art and artifacts from 5000 BC to the present, and its guard at the front gate – he bore one of only two firearms we saw while in Iran; the other being one held by a guard at the National Carpet Museum.

We flew to Shiraz, about 900 km south of Tehran in the center of Fars Province (which gave its name to the empire (Persia) that once ruled most of the world, in the same way that Rome became more than just a city-name). Kourosh I established the Achaemenid dynasty in this region in 553 BC.

Checking in at the Parseh Hotel, we noted the different and distinctive aroma of Shiraz – flower-gardens and fruit-trees that bloom in the desert of Fars province. It was a welcome change after the urban automotive pollution of Tehran.

Delegate Steven Fryburg (then-director of the Peace Museum in Akron, Ohio) wrote of our landing in Shiraz:

This dreamy desert city, which once greeted travelers on the Silk Road, welcomed us with a full moon and a mild desert breeze. 
Flowers near the tomb of Sa'adi (1195–1226)

“Before I could get on the bus, a young couple stopped me and asked where I was from...I explained that I was from the U.S.A., explained our delegation’s mission, and gave them my business card from the Peace Museum. Their first response was gratitude. They said that it was such a wonderful gesture for us to travel so far to meet them and to learn more about the Iranian people.
Our brief moment was cut short by someone calling from the bus to say that I needed to get on board. So I quickly pressed a couple of peace buttons into their hands and bid them ‘Khoda Hafez’ (May God protect you.). Riding the bus to the hotel, my mind drifted back to the couple at the airport, with so much of their lives ahead of them, and so much to offer the world. If we take time to get to know one another, how can we think of harming each other?”

Monday, February 27, 2012

Post #196 - Evolution of a President

Writing in the Jewish Daily Forward ("Newsweek Gets Inside Obama's Iran Calculations," February 14, 2012), J.J. Goldberg writes about another commentator's take on the evolution of Obama on Iran:

The current issue of Newsweek has a must-read inside look at what drives President Obama’s Iran policy, including the ups and downs of his relations with Israel on the matter. The article, by Newsweek writers Daniel Klaidman, Dan Ephron and Eli Lake (Lake is a former Forward correspondent), reports that Iran was the main topic of Mossad director Tamir Pardo’s secret trip to Washington two weeks ago.

America is pressing Israel to give sanctions time to work before attacking Iran’s nuclear installations. Israel worries that by that time, Iran’s nuke infrastructure will be too secure for an Israeli raid to destroy, and only America will have the capacity. Among other things, Pardo wanted to know whether America is likely to attack, how advanced its preparations are, how it will react if Israel attacks and so on.

Israel has several times sought a promise from Obama to attack if sanctions fail, but hasn’t gotten one. As a result, Israel keeps its own intentions vague. This is an improvement from the total information blackout that Prime Minister Netanyahu imposed on Washington from June to October last year, in pique over Obama’s “based on the 1967 borders” speech. Today information sharing is quite extensive, though Washington keeps a certain amount of intelligence from Israel when it fears it could enable actions that violate U.S. law, like assassinations.

Obama first discussed Iran with Israeli leaders back in 2008, while he was still a candidate, and he “impressed everyone with his determination to stop Iran from going nuclear,” Newsweek reports. His conversation with then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, however, left Netanyahu troubled that Obama “didn’t talk specifically about Israel’s security”:

"Rather, he discussed Iran in the context of a broader non-proliferation policy. 'He showed much command of the issues, even though it was months before he got elected,' says the Netanyahu source. 'It was clear that he read and internalized things. But when he spoke about Iran and his opposition to the nuclearization of Iran … the Israeli factor did not play prominently.'”

Much of Newsweek’s report is devoted to the evolution of Obama’s own Iran thinking, including his initial determination to pursue dialogue so that if and when it failed, skeptics like Russia and China could be brought around to sanctions, having been shown that there really was no other path. Newsweek understates the degree to which this was interpreted in Jerusalem as weakness, which Washington Republicans exploited to the hilt. In any event, Newsweek writes,

"Israeli officials now insist that Obama has undergone what they regard as a positive evolution in his views on Iran. ''The rhetoric from the United States today is different from what it was a year ago,' says an Israeli in Netanyahu’s inner circle. 'Today, when you listen to Obama … you get the feeling the Americans are ready to attack if worse comes to worst.' …"

A grave yard in Natanz, Iran
"American and Israeli officials attribute Obama’s toughening stance to several factors, among them the Iranian regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in June 2009. The discovery the same year of a secretly constructed underground nuclear facility near Qum 'was the real turning point,' says former assistant secretary of state P.J. Crowley, who was in office at the time. 'Whereas prior to 2009 there was hope that there could be dialogue, after Qum significant action shifted toward the pressure track. We’ve never closed the door to engagement, but clearly after September 2009 there was acceleration of other activities.' Then came the news in January of this year that the facility near Qum was being used to process 20 percent enriched uranium. That announcement, combined with intelligence about weapons development detailed in a November 2011 report by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, led many to see the danger as increasingly clear and present.

"Obama is also thinking more broadly—about a possible nuclear-arms race in the region and the reputation of the United States. One of the senior Israeli officials interviewed for this article says he has heard U.S. counterparts express concern that a failure to stop Iran could lead to an eclipse of American power in the Middle East. …"

On the other hand, “Obama’s calculus … has to take in other factors as well,” including:

"…once bombs and missiles start flying, the endgame is hard to predict. What happens if Iran manages to sink an American warship? Or, more likely, what happens if an air assault only consolidates support for the regime while the nuclear program, only partly hidden today, becomes entirely secret? Is there a war of attrition? An all-out invasion? Yet another long, wasting war for America in the Middle East? Already many commentators are pointing out apocalyptic risks. Mike Lofgren, for decades a Republican staffer on the Hill, recently warned of a toxic mix of international tensions and American domestic politics analogous to Europe in 1914, when a relatively small and unexpected event triggered the first war to engulf the world."

Read more: http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/151324/#ixzz1nVr2qQdI

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Post #195 - More than Meets the Eye

The following article on "Why the U.S. is Targeting Iran" (edited for length) was written by an anti-war activist named Sara Flounders. I will stipulate 1) that she strays from the central question, and 2) that she does not spend much time acknowledging the shortcomings and violations of human rights for which the current government of Iran is also accountable, but the information she does include is pertinent and commonly missing from most Western discussions of that country.

Why is Iran increasingly a target of U.S. threats? Who in Iran will be affected if the Pentagon implements plans, already drawn up, to strike more than 10,000 targets in the first hours of a U.S. air barrage on Iran? [This was written during the Bush administration, when the United States, rather than Israel, stood at the head of the queue. AP]...

Two aircraft carriers--USS Eisenhower and USS Stennis--are still off the coast of Iran, each one accompanied by a carrier strike group containing Hornet and Superhornet fighter-bombers, electronic warfare aircraft, anti-submarine and refueler planes, and airborne command-and-control planes. Six guided-missile destroyers are also part of the armada....[Flounders added further information on US military preparations here, but the current U.S. presence is much greater than what she described. AP ]

It is important to understand internal developments in Iran today in order to understand why this country is the focus of such continued hatred by U.S. corporate power...The significance of oil production and oil reserves in Iran is well known. Every news article, analysis or politician's threat makes mention of Iran’s oil. But the impact of Iran’s nationalization of its oil resources is not well known. The corporate owners in the U.S...use all the power of their media to demonize the Iranian leadership and caricature and ridicule the entire population, their culture and religion...The focus of media coverage here is to describe Iran as medieval, backward and feudal while somehow becoming a nuclear power.

It is never mentioned that...more than a third of the doctors, 60 percent of civil servants and 80 percent of all teachers in Iran are women. At the time of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, 90 percent of rural women were illiterate; in towns the figure was over 45 percent. Also ignored is the stunning achievement of full literacy for Iranian youth.

[The] World Bank, in its development report on countries admit[ted] that Iran has exceeded the social gains of other countries in the Middle East. According to that report, Iran has made the most progress in eliminating gender disparities in education. Large numbers of increasingly well-educated women have entered the work force.  Iran’s comprehensive social protection system includes the highest level of pensions, disability insurance, job training programs, unemployment insurance and disaster-relief programs. National subsidies make basic food, housing and energy affordable to all.

An extensive national network going from primary health and preventive care to sophisticated hospital care covers the entire population, both urban and rural. More than 16,000 "health houses" are the cornerstone of the health care system. Using simple technology, they provide vaccines, preventive care, care for respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases, family planning and contraceptive information, and pre-natal care. And they monitor children’s nutrition and general health.

Since 1990, Iran nearly halved the infant mortality rate and increased life expectancy by 10 years.
...A national family planning program, delivered through the primary health care facilities and accompanied by a dramatic increase in contraceptive use, which is approved by Islamic law, has led to a world record demographic change in family size and maternal and child health. All forms of contraception are now available for free.

[W]omen’s education and employment...has alleviated the pressure to have many children to protect security as parents grow older. The fertility rate between 1976 and 2000 declined from 8.1 births per woman to 2.4 births in rural areas and 1.8 births in urban areas.

These social programs...should be compared to conditions in countries in the region that remain under U.S. military and economic domination. In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, only a tiny part of the population has benefited from the vast profits generated by oil and gas resources... Millions are immigrant workers...who have no rights to any representation, participation or any social, health or educational programs or union protection...

In Iraq, which before U.S. attacks began in 1991 had some of the best conditions in the region for women, plus a high level of education, health, nutrition and social services, the conditions of life have now deteriorated...

[Under Mossadegh, and later the Islamic Revolution] the greatest source of wealth--Iran's oil and gas--was nationalized. Nationalization means the transfer of privately-owned assets and operations into public ownership. The exploration, drilling, maintenance, transport, refining and shipping of oil and gas became the national property of the Iranian people. Formerly this entire process was controlled at every step by Western imperialists, particularly U.S. and British corporations.

Most of the administrators, executives, technicians and engineers who controlled the process used to be from the West. Through hundreds of thousands of contracts and sub-contracts, U.S. and British firms extracted a profit not just through the sale of oil on the world markets but at every step of its extraction and refining. The small portion of profit the Shah's government received, as in the Gulf States today, was spent on luxury items imported from Western corporations for the small ruling elite and on infrastructure and weapons systems purchased from U.S. military corporations, again at an enormous profit...

The [Iranian] constitution states that the government is required to provide every citizen with access to social security for retirement, unemployment, old age, disability, accidents, health and medical treatment--out of public revenue...

Today Iran boasts modern cities, a large auto industry, and miles of new roads, railroads and subways. Currently 55 Iranian pharmaceutical companies produce 96 percent of the medicines on the market in Iran. This allows a national insurance system to reimburse drug expenses. Soon to become operational is the largest pharmaceutical complex in southwest Asia, which will produce compound drugs, making Iran a pioneer in biotechnology.

Years of U.S. sanctions and pressure on international financial institutions have had an unexpected result: Iran is free of the crippling debt that has strangled so many developing countries. According to World Bank figures, Iran’s external debt is one of the lowest for its size: $11.9 billion, or 8.8 percent of the GDP. From the point of view of the imperialist world bankers, this means the loss of many billions each year in interest payments to them.

The current leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's first non-cleric president in 24 years, was elected in 2005 in a landslide victory after promising to extend social security and pensions, improve the subsidies for food and housing, deal with rising unemployment and guarantee a monthly stipend.  The Iranian people are determined to protect the substantial gains they have made since the revolution. They are not interested in any effort that turns the clock back.

A Wall Street Journal Commentary by Francis Fukuyama on Feb. 1 [2007] was unusually frank in explaining the growing problem faced by U.S. corporate power on a global scale:

“What is it that leaders like Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increases their local appeal? A foreign policy built around anti-Americanism is, of course, a core component. But what has allowed them to win elections and build support in their societies is less their foreign-policy stances than their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on, social policy--things like education, health and other social services, particularly for the poor….The U.S. and the political groups that it tends to support around the world, by contrast, have relatively little to offer in this regard.”

[Most of the remainder of the article dealt with the impacts of sanctions on Iranian society.]

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Post #194 - By the Bullets (pun intended)

These points were enumerated in a piece done by LeRoy Moore, PhD, for the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center a few years back; I present them, with minor updates as needed, since they remain quite relevant:

Concerns of the US government
  • The administration seeks regime change to create a government more to US liking, one that would facilitate US access to Middle East oil.
  • US, Israel and to a lesser extent France, Germany and Britain say Iran poses a nuclear threat (reminiscent of the WMD claim used to justify war on Iraq).
  • Cooking the evidence: In 9-06 the House Intelligence Committee reported Iran had already enriched uranium to bomb-grade level and was thus a “strategic threat to the US.” The International Atomic Energy Agency refuted this claim. Today (February 2012), reports are that Iran is "approaching" weapons-grade levels.
  • The White House and the Pentagon say Iran has supplied weapons used in Iraq against US troops. Like the WMD claim for Iraq, no irrefutable evidence has been provided.
  • In 2003 Iran sought negotiations with the US re. its nuclear program. It was rebuffed. Bush said he would talk to Iran only after it ceases enriching uranium. Obama is more open to talks, but has also increased sanctions and other economic pressures.
  • Even if Iran intends to make a bomb, specialists say it is anywhere from a year to 10 years away from the accomplishment. (Depending on whom you ask.) There is thus ample time for talk.
The rattling of swords
  • US and UN sanctions look like an effort to gain Security Council support for an attack, which is strongly resisted by China and Russia.
  • US has plans for a 5-day air and naval attack on about 1500 targets, to destroy the possibility of a retaliatory response. No ground war is envisioned, though some experts have said an attack might require some boots on the ground. There has been a large naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, and there are reports that the US will launch air attacks from Bulgaria, Romania, and perhaps elsewhere, if Israel does not do it first.
  • “The war before the war”: According to various reports US covert forces have been on the ground in Iran for several years or longer, defining targets, collecting intelligence, readying dissidents, and engaging in disruptive actions.
  • Bush thought that congressional authorization to attack Iran is not needed, that the post-9/11 authorization to wage war on terrorism covers Iran. To date Congress has done nothing to stay the hand of the occupant of the White House, if an attack is decided upon, with the exception of a letter recently prepared by two members of Congress, urging restraint.
  • The much-discussed nuclear option entails attack on buried nuclear facilities with nuclear bunker busters. Physicians for Social Responsibility estimates that such an attack on two buried sites could kill 2.6 million within 48 hours.
  • The Israeli wild card: The London Sunday Times, as early as January 2007, reported details of Israel’s plan to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities with nuclear weapons. Recent reports out of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv indicate that many think its implementation is imminent.
Iran, the US, Israel and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • Both Iran and the US are signatories to the NPT.
  • Non-weapons states like Iran are permitted under NPT Article IV to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes. Weapons states like the US are obliged under Article VI to move in good faith toward complete nuclear disarmament.
  • Iran insists it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful purposes. The IAEA says it has no evidence of a bomb program (comfirmed as recently as February 25, 2012, in a Washington Post article). The CIA said the same thing.
  • The US, with its persistent failure to disarm and its ongoing push to modernize its nuclear weapons enterprise, is clearly in violation of the NPT.
  • Israel has never been called to account for defying the NPT to create nuclear weapons in secret, nor has the US been called to account for condoning Israel’s violation of international law. Israel has a very sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
  • Today Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers with advanced weapons systems.
Background: Iranians remember things we forget
  • Britain occupied Iran in WW II and controlled its oil until 1951 when newly elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, a strong opponent of foreign intervention in Iranian affairs, nationalized the oil industry.
  • In 1953 the CIA orchestrated a coup to oust democratically elected Mossadegh and replace him with Shah Reza Pahlavi, who could be relied on to assure US access to Iranian oil. The Shah’s SAVAK secret police, trained and aided by the CIA and Israel’s Mossad, enabled the Shah to rule Iran with an iron fist.
  • In 1979 the bloodless Khomeini-led revolution [though it got bloody later one, AP] ousted the US-supported Shah.
  • To counter US meddling in Iranian affairs, Iranian students seized US embassy personnel and held them hostage for 444 days from 11-4-79 till 1-20-81.
  • The US sided with Saddam Hussein in Iraq’s 1980-88 war against Iran.
  • Supreme power in Iran rests with Ayatollah Khamanei, not with President Ahmadinejad, who has been quoted as saying that Israel should be wiped “off the map.” In fact he quoted the deceased Ayatollah Khomeini saying that Israel’s Zionist regime should be replaced by a government willing to make peace.
What Congress should do now
  • Outlaw the use of nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapons state: If Congress fails to act and the US makes a nuclear attack on Iran, members of Çongress will themselves be complicit in crimes of war and against humanity.
  • Forbid a US attack on Iran: Given the consequences, Congress needs to enact legislation that makes a US attack on Iran illegal.
  • Threaten the president with impeachment if he attacks Iran: Rep. Kucinich favored this approach during the Bush administration. Impeaching him after an attack will help no one, and Congress, if it fails to do its duty beforehand, will be complicit in any crime that Mr. Bush commits.
What Congress should do for the long term
  • Require the administration to negotiate all outstanding issues with Iran without pre-existing conditions.
  • Initiate steps, first, to bring the US and Israel into conformity with the NPT and, second, to achieve global nuclear abolition in keeping with the NPT.
Sources and resources:
  • Seymour Hersh on plans for a nuclear strike against Iran, New Yorker 4-17-06 http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/articles/060417fa_fact
  • Physicians for Social Responsibility estimate of effects of nuclear attack on Iran http://www.psr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=security_main_iranfactsheet
  • Physicists petition to President Bush to reject the nuclear option for attacking Iran http://physics.ucsd.edu/petition/physicistsletter.pdf
  • Retired AF Colonel Sam Gardiner on troops already on the ground in Iran http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article15022.htm
  • Independent analysis of Iran’s nuclear program by Institute for Science and International Security http://www.isis-online.org/
  • US plans for attack from Bulgaria and Romania: http://www.sundayherald.com/international/shinternational/display.var.1152839.0.a merica_poised_to_strike_at_irans_nuclear_sites_from_bases_in_bulgaria_and_romani a.php
  • TIME on war plans, including number of targets: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article15020.htm
  • Global economic strategy: http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts02122007.
  • On Ahmadinejad: http://www.counterpunch.org/roberts01252007.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Post #193 - A Mile in Their Shoes

Hon. Donna Shalala
In 2009 (April 24), Howard Cincotta wrote the following article entitled "For Many, Ties to Peace Corps Service in Iran Remain: Former volunteers recall transformative experiences." It began with a focus on former secretary of health and human services (under Clinton), Donna Shalala; she is now president of the University of Miami. She had been a Peace Corps Volunteer from 1962 to 1964, like me a teacher of English. The article captures some of what all of us experienced and what we continue to feel about the country we visited at a young age.

"Donna Shalala felt like many students after graduating from college. 'I was tired of school and I wanted adventure,' she recalled...'I still think of myself as a Peace Corp volunteer...My service in Iran was one of the most important experiences of my youth.'

"Iran was one of the first countries to welcome the Peace Corps in 1962, a year after President John Kennedy announced what would become one of the signature programs of his administration.
Although the Peace Corps has evolved over the years, its three overarching goals have remained unchanged: provide trained personnel for countries requesting them, promote a better understanding of America, and help Americans gain a better understanding of the world and its peoples..."

I have highlighted the last goal, one that is frequently overlooked as a rationale for the establishment and continuance of the Peace Corps. One cannot help but feel that if more Americans had the kind of opportunity that Shalala, myself and nearly 1500 other Americans had -- to know Iranians up-close and personal -- that our foreign policy would be better informed and more balanced. One learns not only language and customs, but the role of history and poetry in Iranian lives and the very way Iranians communicate with one another.

The article continues: "The Peace Corps in Iran initially focused on education, eventually working with more than 150 teachers and teaching more than 6,000 students in subjects ranging from English to science, according to an official Peace Corps summary. Volunteers helped organize evening classes, started kindergarten programs, and established more than 30 school libraries with donated books. In the late 1960s, Peace Corps volunteers began several environmental projects to combat pollution and depleted resources in the Caspian Sea. In Tehran, volunteers teamed with urban planners to draw up guidelines for the city’s rapid population growth and helped create 45 urban parks. By the time the program ended in 1976, a total of 1,748 volunteers had served in Iran alongside several thousand Iranian colleagues."

"For some volunteers, Peace Corps service has been only one chapter in a lifetime of study and engagement with Iran. For Michael Hillmann, professor of Persian studies at the University of Texas at Austin, his Peace Corps years at the University of Mashhad changed the course of his professional and personal life. Hillmann was already headed toward an academic career, but Iran led him to a lifelong engagement with the Persian language, literature and culture. He met his wife, Sorayya, at Mashhad, and their daughter was born in Tehran, where Hillmann was working as a Peace Corps trainer.

“'When I teach [T.S.] Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, the experience and the enjoyment of thinking and talking about poetry seem the same as when I teach the ghazals of Hafez,' Hillmann told America.gov.

Amb. John Limbert with wife Parvaneh
"Retired Ambassador John Limbert [the principal trainer for my own Peace Corps stint, AP] taught English in Sanandaj, the capital of Kurdistan Iran, from 1964 to 1966. Limbert served as a U.S. diplomat throughout the Middle East, including as ambassador to Mauritania. Despite the brutal experience of being an embassy hostage in Tehran from 1979 to 1981, Limbert’s affection for the Iranian people remains undiminished. 'Iran has been part of my life for 40 years,' Limbert said in a 2006 interview on National Public Radio. His wife is Iranian and both his children were born there; he and his wife still speak Persian at home.
"Both Limbert and Hillmann are proponents of increased dialogue between the United States and Iran. Limbert has written a report for the U.S. Institute of Peace called Negotiating with the Islamic Republic of Iran [which became a book of similar title.] Hillmann has proposed a low-key exchange program with former Peace Corps volunteers fluent in Persian.

"Hillmann says, 'The greatest service the Peace Corps provided people like me ... was its readiness to let me do my own thing, my job, my social life, my travel, and, most importantly, my changing into the person I became when my Peace Corps days ended.'

This is not a question of "going native," as the British Foreign Service used to fear regarding their officers posted abroad for extended service. Peace Corps volunteers usually spend only two years on their assignment. The degree of immersion that Limbert had -- he was in-country before and after his Peace Corps service -- is the exception. The impact, however, stays with each of us for a lifetime, because once you have perceived the world through more than one set of eyes, it is nearly impossible to go back to more limited vision. Our State Department and National Security Council are replete with persons that have never had that kind of exposure. Sadly, their policies show it.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Post #192 - Making Real Progress

The following article, which can be found at: www.thenation.com/doc/20070716/afary, was entitled "The Iranian Impasse." Written by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, it deals with contemporary Iran, but also with germane early-20th-century history. Obviously, some changes have occurred since the time of their writing, but I think it remains largely pertinent. (I have edited down, out of space considerations.)

Some "light reading" from the West
"During a visit to Tehran in the spring of 2005, we were impressed by the degree of intellectual freedom Iranians had carved out within the Islamic Republic. The numerous bookstores...across from Tehran University carried an array of newly translated books by Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault, among others...
"Of course, this was not the whole picture. Books on contemporary politics continued to be heavily censored. On the streets, the morality police harassed women who violated the regime's stringent dress codes...Those who fought for social and political freedoms lived under constant threat. A feminist activist told us in a matter-of-fact tone that she feared a return visit to 'Hotel Evin'--the notorious Evin Prison, where she had been tortured.
"We were in Iran during the last days of the presidency of Mohammad Khatami, who had...[promised] to carry out democratic reforms and open Iran to the outside. Some of those promises were kept, but many were not, and the real power remained in the hands of more conservative clerics like Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Even in the spring of 2005, we felt a hint of a chill as we left the country. At the airport, one of us had to go through a security check, a requirement for any Iranian passport holder trying to leave the country. It was during precisely such a procedure that, a year later, reformist philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo...was arrested and forced to make a public "confession." By then, conservative populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been elected to the presidency. Ever since, Iran and the Western powers have clashed over Tehran's nuclear program, leading to threats of military action from the United States and Israel and arrests of Iranian diplomats in Iraq.
"At home, the Islamic Republic has cracked down hard on reformists...Khatami's era of a 'dialogue of civilizations' was over, at least as far as the state was concerned. As if to dispel any doubts about this, the regime arrested several Iranian-American intellectuals who had committed the 'crime' of promoting cultural and scholarly dialogue between Iran and the West, among them Haleh Esfandiari, a 67-year-old scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the wife of Shaul Bakhash, a distinguished historian of Iran. (Esfandiari was in Iran visiting her mother when she was detained.)...
"What went wrong? When reform-minded Iranians discuss this question, the conversation often turns to the 1906-11 Constitutional Revolution, widely seen as a missed opportunity for democratic modernization...[now] as its centenary is celebrated by Iranians at home and abroad.
Key figures in the Constitution movement
"The Constitutional Revolution was the first democratic revolution... in the Middle East, and perhaps the most important. [It] established a freely elected Parliament and a Constitution with civil liberties, severely limited the powers of the shah and promoted the establishment of women's schools and councils. It also set up a state-based judiciary that challenged the traditional authority of the Shiite clerics. As Yann Richard, France's leading Iran specialist, observes in ...Birth of an Islamic Republic, from the late eighteenth century through the mid-nineteenth century the Shiite clergy had provided a counterweight to the monarchy. But with the emergence of two heterodox offshoots of Shiism in the mid-nineteenth century, Babism and Bahaism--both of which challenged social hierarchies, including gender inequality--the clerical establishment drew closer to the state in order to combat these dissident religious movements. When the Constitutional Revolution broke out, some influential clerics sided with the state; one of them, Sheikh Fazlullah Nuri, was executed by the revolutionaries. Yet the leading clerics were by no means united in opposition to the revolution: Quite a few embraced the changes, with some going so far as to endorse Nuri's execution.
"As Hamid Dabashi recounts in Iran: A People Interrupted, this "revolution in the very moral fabric of a nation" was, like most later progressive movements in Iran, marked by the participation of its ethnic and religious minorities--Azeris, Armenians, Bahais and Jews. The revolution also saw an unprecedented flowering of Iranian literature. Hoping to build what Dabashi calls "an anti-colonial modernity," the great writer Ali Akbar Dehkhoda launched a campaign in the press against oppressive social customs (especially regarding gender)...
"The revolution faced two formidable external adversaries...: the British Empire and Czarist Russia...In 1911 Russian troops, with British approval, moved to just outside Tehran and threatened to take over the capital unless the Parliament was disbanded. An internal coup ended the standoff and brought the revolution to an end. Although the 1906 Constitution was retained until 1979, it was reduced to a formality." 

The authors note that "marking the birth of democratic politics in Iran, the Constitutional Revolution remains a source of inspiration for Iranian progressives" and led, in part to the Mossadegh government of the early '50s, its overthrow and the subsequent Western-aligned monarchy, with its repression and modernization, followed by the Islamic Revolution in 1979 -- where we pick up their narrative again:

"The Islamic Revolution broke with the national, political, legal and social ethos of the Constitutional Revolution, though not entirely with its modern institutional apparatus, such as the Parliament, the media and the military, which it harnessed to its agenda. Islamist women attained leadership posts in the state, were recruited for the war effort and joined women's paramilitary organizations that enforced the state's rules of morality on other, more secular women." 

The administration of Khatami the reformer "sought...to moderate the Islamist regime," but "in the summer of 1999, large-scale student demonstrations were crushed by hard-liners after Khatami refused to support them." It is suggested that "the reformists succeeded in changing the public conversation and even 'transformed the mindset of an entire generation' by popularizing phrases like 'public sphere,' 'human rights,' 'rule of law' and 'democracy.'"

Azadi (Freedom) Monument, Tehran
Khatami failed to significantly change Iranian governance and then -- "for the hard-liners who sought to rein in the reformers during the Khatami era, the election of George W. Bush provided an unexpected opportunity. When Bush called Iran part of an 'axis of evil' in 2002, despite its behind-the-scenes assistance in toppling the Taliban, and warned of possible military action against Iran, the reformers, many of whom had campaigned for diplomatic relations with the United States, became easy prey. Hardliners clamped down on the press, arrested ministers and parliamentary deputies, and escalated the kidnapping and murder of reform activists and even some members of Parliament."
"The election of Ahmadinejad to the presidency in June 2005 marked the end of the reform era...Shrewdly exploiting the reformists' failure to address issues of poverty and class, Ahmadinejad promised to reduce unemployment and to provide greater subsidies, especially low-interest loans. Since his election, conservatives have gained a firmer grip on power and cracked down on labor, women and gays."

It gets worse. "Thanks to US interventions in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq, the Islamic Republic's two most formidable enemies in the region, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, have been vanquished, while the Shiite-dominated state emerging under the American occupation in Iraq is poised to become a key ally of Tehran. Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have also turned the nuclear issue into a matter of national pride, comparing it to Mossadegh's fight for the nationalization of Iran's oil. The Islamic Republic's support for Hezbollah during the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon has gained it many admirers internationally, while Ahmadinejad has forged alliances with Latin American leftists like Hugo Chávez and Daniel Ortega."
"...the chief card the regime has played is national unity in the face of external threats--a gift that keeps giving, courtesy most recently of the Bush Administration [now of the Obama administration, AP]. These threats (particularly talk in Washington of 'regime change') have emboldened Iran's hard-liners and driven its vibrant democratic movement into a strategic impasse. The challenge facing progressives in North America is to find a way to give more support to Iranian democrats and feminists even as we oppose the US imperial agenda. The international solidarity displayed by progressive members of the British public during the era of Iran's Constitutional Revolution just might provide us with a model."

Isn't it marvelous ~ in terms of Iranian liberty, we may have worked our way almost to where we were in 1906.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Post #191 - Travelling among the Iranians

The following are some highlights from my 2006 return to Iran, which I will continue in a later post:

This was the first image that confronted us after our drive from the airport – the TV news told us that Ahmadinezhad had reached out to Bush in the form of an eight-page personal letter – what did he say in it?, we wondered. What would it lead to? Could this be the break that was needed? Yet, in the days following we asked in vain for news of a U.S. response, except that the letter was deemed “not on point” with what Washington wanted. We began to understand why there were not going to be negotiations between this administration and the Iranians – our leaders have no interest in listening to anybody. (That would mean that they might have to entertain thoughts contrary to their own, find out their intelligence was wrong, even – God forbid! -- re-examine long-held assumptions.)

Our first substantive meeting was at a university. Their human rights program is in dialogue with many other universities., including The Catholic University of America. The only real hostility we encountered on the whole trip (and this still was couched in very polite terms) was from a British woman who is on the faculty of the center. She was clearly fed up with American/British actions in the Middle East. The faculty was candid about the fact that their country had failings in the area of human rights and much work to be done to improve the situation of women, religious minorities and journalists; they were reluctant to be similarly critical of U.S. practices (as we had expected that they might be). They did not hesitate, however, to advocate diplomacy as a means of solving the nuclear stand-off.

We visited what was once a city residence of a Persian prince. Now it houses a community organization that gives counseling and instruction to women who are single mothers and must support themselves and their children. The director, Mrs. Lida Bonakdaran, started this program nine years ago, using her own money to buy materials for handicrafts projects. She particularly tries to help the women develop business skills so that they can support their families. They learn practical skills such as rug weaving, making artificial flowers, sewing, and baking. Their products are sold in a cooperative, so that they will have a constant income. A City of Tehran official, showed us the preserved portions of the grand house that had existed, and walked with me as we toured the training facility, and their small lending library. As always in Iran, we were offered tea and sweets before ending our visit.

Lest we forget: Saddam Hussein didn't just use chemical weapons on “his own people,” as President Bush reminded us countless times. First and foremost, he used them on Iranians, shelling border towns & villages mercilessly during the six-year war that he instigated with support from the United States and other nations. Many thousands died, and some fifty thousand people are still living with the medical effects of those weapons.
Iraq used mustard gas (1800 tons), nerve agents like sarin (740 tons) and conventional bombs in such numbers that health systems and facilities in the western part of Iran were overwhelmed. The atrocities were repeatedly investigated and documented to the UN and the International Red Cross, but their official findings came (uselessly) in August of 1988 -- after the war’s end. These crimes, second only to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the number of civilians affected, oddly played no part in the judicial proceedings that led to Saddam's execution.
There are lakes in the western region where to this day no fish can survive due to the contamination by residual WMD materials. Our program included hearing from a 19-year-old Kurdish girl and her father whose home had been hit when she was just six months old. Her mother and sister having been killed outright, she survived and had been taken care of by her father through long years of surgeries, treatments and medical crises that have left her a pulmonary cripple. I spoke with her father after the meeting – not that I could find the words to express fully what I was feeling (even if he could have understood English) -- but I told him that I was a father, too, was thankful for my intact, healthy family and my grandchildren, and was so sorry for his losses...he told me about court proceedings in Europe that had exposed the lines of supply for these chemical agents – from the U.S. and German companies to Saddam's weapons facilities.

We listened to the story of Mr. Allatzadeh, who volunteered to go the front at 15 and came back blinded and armless after a landmine explosion on the battlefield. Many of his fellow volunteers lie in a huge cemetery outside Tehran, where their families tend personalized memorials, with photos of the dead – average age 16 at the time of their death on the Iraqi front. And, we heard from a Society volunteer, Sarah Moriarty, wife of the Australian ambassador to Tehran about her work with the victims. Sadly, we haven't had any U.S. embassy staff representing us in Iran since 1979. No wonder we must guess about their intentions.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Post #190 - Some Buck the Trend

Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Walter Jones (R-NC) have introduced the following sign-on letter for their fellow-members' consideration:

Dear Colleague,

Now that the international community has enacted the strongest sanctions against Iran to date, we must redouble our diplomatic efforts to achieve the transparency measures that will ensure Iran’s nuclear program remains a civilian one.

Without a corresponding diplomatic undertaking, pressure alone could lead to unintended and potentially devastating consequences, including war. Top U.S. national security officials have said that a military strike against Iran could lead to a regional war in the Middle East and attacks against U.S. interests.

While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that keeping diplomatic channels open is the best way to avoid a new war and ensure that Iran does not gain a nuclear weapon. Please join us in sending this message to President Obama. 


Keith Ellison and Walter Jones

Dear President Obama:

As tension with Iran continues to escalate, we urge your Administration to utilize all available tools of diplomacy to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program and prevent another costly war in the Middle East.

We have supported your Administration's efforts to unite the international community to bring about the strongest sanctions on Iran to date. Now, we must redouble our diplomatic efforts to achieve robust transparency measures that can verify Iran’s nuclear program is strictly a civilian one. Without a corresponding diplomatic undertaking, we are concerned that a lack of communication with Iran could lead to a dangerous escalation with potentially devastating consequences.

We hold no illusions about the abuses of the Iranian regime and are well aware that it rejected your previous diplomatic overtures. At the same time, we agree with most Americans that the United States should not enter a new war, just as we are finally ending two others. A military strike against Iran could lead to a regional war in the Middle East and attacks against U.S. interests. Even worse, such a strike would likely compel Iran to abandon the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, eject international inspectors, and rapidly pursue a nuclear deterrent.

Top military and civilian leaders have repeatedly issued warnings about the consequences of a military strike on Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned that the United States “could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases,” and that “would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.”

Former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan made a similar prediction when he said that attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.”

Retired General Anthony Zinni said, “If you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And, like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”

To avoid war, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, called for the United States to utilize “any channel that’s open” for engagement with Iran, noting, “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union.”

We strongly encourage your Administration to pursue bilateral and multilateral engagement with Iran. While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war that would be devastating for the United States and our allies in the region.


(Members of Congress)

Some will call this foolish, some may even call it treasonous.  Some will say it does not sufficiently protect the interests of our ally, Israel.  I say, May God bless all who step up to sign this plea for patience, prudence and sanity.  My impression is that large segments of the military brass would agree -- not to mention those whose loved ones would be on the front lines of the confrontation.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Post #189 - Faith-Based Efforts to Forestall War

In earlier posts I listed groups that working on Middle East Peace, and some resources on Iran.  Here are some more references along those lines:

Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)

Non-denominational peace group started in 1919.  Iran peace delegations began in 2005; there have now been about a dozen of them.  Members have included academics, clergy and other "ordinary citizens."  Tours have included substantive meetings with people at universities, NGO's and sometimes with fairly high IRI officials.

National Council of Churches, USA

The Council has been fairly vocal on nuclear weaponry, cluster munitions and some other war-related issues, but has not pronounced itself directly on Iran, to my knowledge.

National Religious Partnership on Nuclear Weapons Danger (includes the Episcopal Church, the Islamic Society of North America and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism) has been similarly involved in policy discussion, if not strongly on record about the situation.  They advocate a nuclear-free world, so the Middle East nuclear-free-zone idea is appealing to some of them.

Mennonite Central Committee and Eastern Mennonite University

Both have cultivated relationships in Iran for many years; they have been involved in arranging meetings in Iran and at the United Nations with President Ahmadinezhad, and delegations of unofficial Iranians to the United States.  A local Mennonite group in Indiana has also organized Learning Tours to Iran.

Quakers:  Friends Committee on National Legislation and American Friends Service Committee

Both groups have aided the people-to-people effort -- AFSC has helped a British-Iranian activist
Abbas Edalat set up meetings on his tours in the U.S.  FCNL was involved (with the Mennonites) in a special religious leaders' delegation to Iran in 2007.

Interfaith Dialogue

Innovators in Cultural Diplomacy (part of Americans for Informed Democracy, which supported a Michael Kinzer book/lecture tour) is helping college students do campus outreach to inform the general population about Islam.

Faith Clubs:  Based on a dialogue between three women (Muslim, Christian and Jew) and the book they wrote, these groups seek to meet one another on a very personal level, to reduce misunderstanding and negative stereotyping.

Orthodox Peace Fellowship

An Eastern Orthodox group with most of its members in North America, OPF has published statements opposing the war in Iraq and advocating diplomacy instead of military options with regard to Iran, and featured articles about Iran on its website and in its quarterly journal. [I am its North American secretary.]

"Progressive Evangelicals"

Leaders such as Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and speaker/writer Tony Campolo, while not specifically focused on Iran, have urged a very different approach to foreign policy and international relations and provide an alternative to the religious right.

United for Peace and Justice

At a Chicago conference that I attended, a special session was set up for Faith-Based Peacemaking, which was chaired by the head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Mark Johnson, and a group of Iranian peace activists was welcomed at the conference and recognized from the podium.

Roman Catholic

One of the strongest voices on Iran has been the Catholic international peace group called Pax Christi, headed (until recently) by Dave Robinson, who was a fellow-delegate of mine to Iran in 2006; and NETWORK, which calls itself a "national Catholic social justice lobby."


Though the Reform movement (with leaders such as Rabbi Arthur Waskow) has been quite open to dialogue on Iran policy, the Holocaust-denial issue is still a "red-flag" issue for many of their members.


Peace coalitions in other countries, such as the U.K. and Australia, have included faith-based groups, and tend to oppose attacks on Iran.

Local Efforts

Groups such as the Whitefeather Peace Community (in Oregon), Faith-Based Peace Coalition (in Illinois) or the Chattanooga Peace Activist Community (in Tennessee) and other groups such as Catholic Worker houses engage in a range of peace activities.