Archive for the ‘nuclear’ Category
North Korea’s shopworn game of bluster, threaten, bully, violate international norms and eventually be rewarded with concessions and bribes has stopped working, which is why there now is a crisis. With the suckers (ROK, USA and Japan) refusing to play three card monty and with even Pyongyang’s confederate China wearying of the scam when they have their own fish to fry, Kim Jong Eunhas few options to save face except to double down on painting himself into a smaller and tighter corner. There are some who would like to play the game of appeasement for a temporary respite but both Seoul and Washington are taking a harder line on North Korean antics.
One gets the impression that -unofficially, mind you – Beijing would not mind “Fatty the Third” getting a comeuppance that could push him from power and lead to the ascension of a more mature, more reasonable, more seasoned and more Sinicized leader of the Kim dynasty.
Here is a round up of more intelligently thought out (or at least interesting) articles and posts about the Nut of the North and possible war with North Korea:
Colonel Maxwell is an area specialist on the DPRK, these are the “must read” pieces
Robert Baer -Viewpoint: North Korea’s Gaddafi Nightmare
Gordon Chang -Is Kim Jong Un’s Bluster Really a Prelude to Reform?
Thomas PM Barnett -The Tricky Thing about Kim Jon Eun
Patrick Cronin – Tell me How this Starts
Let me try my hand at reading the tea leaves. I don’t know that much, relatively speaking, about the “sovietology” of analyzing North Korean nuances which I will leave for experts like Colonel Maxwell to concentrate on other angles. Some points i no particular order:
- First, any hope of an internal coup against Eun is probably nonexistent. Not only for the the consistent ruthlessness and lavish bribery which the Kim Family regime has treated it’s military, but the fact that coups of this nature have a poor track record in Communist states, even weird ones like the DPRK. From the inception of Communist power in the USSR, Soviet leaders fretted about “Bonapartism” by counterrevolutionary generals on white horses from Kornilov to Tukhachevskii to Zhukov. That these plots were mostly imaginary did not matter and Communist rulers neutralized this threat by binding the military leadership into the Party leadership at a level subordinate to the Politburo and periodically shooting likely upstarts. The political space for successful military coups do not exist in Communist regimes even for the key insiders, just ask Lin Bao. The North Korean military does not have the will to do this except in conjunction with massive Chinese intervention. Perhaps not even then.
- For all the talk of irrationality, North Korea has been been playing this game as a survival strategy for sixty years and only miscalculated once, with the original invasion of South Korea in 1950 – which only happened, after Kim Il-Sung received the blessing of Stalin and promise of massive support from Mao ZeDong – and it was an unmitigated disaster for North Korea and China. Pointedly, the North has not initiated a war since and their subsequent violent provocations, while infuriating, have been quixotic and weird rather than existential threats that would guarantee a crushing military response.
- The “win” for the US and ROK here is in frustrating the regime’s grasp for status, however self-deluded, in extorting more material concessions by acting like the international community’s equivalent of a crazy, menacing, homeless person ranting on a street corner. We need to make this charade appear to be a diplomatic sure-fire loser this time in the eyes of Pyongyang’s elite with an endgame where the North emerges empty handed and Eun feels that pressing further risks a greater loss of face. We do this by making moves where the spillover costs of North Korean intransigence and public lunacy drift in China’s direction; a tightly constrained North Korea out of diplomatic and economic options is really Beijing’s problem.
- The strategic equation for “victory” from the North’s perspective depends heavily upon the reaction of the US and ROK governments to get drawn into tiresome negotiations before the North ceases it’s behavior, something they ultimately cannot control. Washington and Seoul cold hold firm or even (conceivably) take a harder line. If frustrated in their quest for concessions, the regime could exercise several options a) shift gears to a different propaganda campaign to distract internal audience b) engage in an act of terrorism elsewhere in the world, such as against a ROK embassy c) engage in a military demonstration that while provocative, like ballistic missile test, is not a casus belli d) all of the above e) undertake a military strike under the mistaken impression the ROK will not retaliate.
[ by Charles Cameron -- who's giving advice to the head of CENTCOM these days? -- a "prophetic" thriller novelist whose latest book concerns nuclear weapons and Iran ]
Here’s the advice apocalyptic thriller writer and political consultant Joel Rosenberg gave GEN Mattis, just two days ago:
I have deep respect for General Mattis as a military leader. Thus, I would encourage him to consider the role eschatology is playing in Tehran’s calculus. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad and their inner circle of advisors are not being driven by normal geopolitical and economic calculus, but rather by a Shia Islamic End Times theology.
I’m very interested in Islamic end times theology myself, and have a question:
What does Rosenberg claim that theology is, and what does he see as its ramifications in terms of CENTCOM — whose remit most notably includes Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen?
Here’s what he says:
They believe the End of Days is at hand. They believe their messiah known as the Twelfth Imam or the “Mahdi” is coming soon.
That’s the theology as he describes it — the rest is geopolitical interpretation, no doubt favoring as well as influencing his own political ideas:
They believe that the way to hasten the coming of the Mahdi is to annihilate Israel (which they call the “Little Satan”) and America (which they call the “Great Satan.”) I wrote about this in detail in my non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution. And I factor this thinking into my current novel series, including The Twelfth Imam, The Tehran Initiative, and Damascus Countdown to consider how it could play out in real life. Such eschatology requires Iran’s leaders to acquire nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver it in order to please Allah and their coming messiah and king. As a result, the international is unlikely to convince them to disobey their most-deeply held religious beliefs through diplomacy or sanctions. A credible military threat might work, but we’re nearly out of time. Actual military action may soon be the only option. No one wants a war. I don’t. But we don’t want to have a genocidal cult to obtain and use nuclear weapons.
Hey, I don’t want a nuclear war, either. But does the Ayatollah Khamenei? Really?
Do you think nobody in DC listens to Rosenberg? Even before he wrote his books, when he was still only 27 and a “legman” for Rush Limbaugh, the New York Times carried a feature on him calling him “a Force in the Capital” which quoted a Senior VP at the Heritage Foundation:
I’ve been at meetings of conservative activists, and they have paid extraordinary deference and have been solicitous of him.
– but you can read the whole piece. And now, eighteen years later, he has a strong of NY Times best-sellers to his name, both fiction and non-fiction — and for his latest thriller, Damascus Countdown, published this week, Porter Goss, ex CIA Director, writes:
Whenever I see a new Joel Rosenberg book coming out, I know I need to clear time on my calendar. His penetrating knowledge of all things Mid-eastern — coupled with his intuitive knack for high stakes intrigue — demand attention.
So it’s worth asking — just how penetrating is that knowledge? And in particular, just how penetrating is it about the Iranian Twelfth Imam or Mahdi, who features prominently in his most recent series of books?
Three years back, Glenn Beck interviewed this same Joel Rosenberg, who writes about end-times Christianity and Islam and the need to support Israel from an end-times perspective — and the pair of them put out a sadly and dangerously muddled message. This excerpt from the transcript is worth noting for the significance it attributes to Mahdist eschatology and thus insinuates into the minds of millions of Americans:
BECK: OK. So, the Ayatollah Khomeini and the revolution of ‘79, he said these 12ers are too crazy for even him. What happened, because — is Ahmadinejad the only one? Are there a lot of them? It’s my understanding that the government now is full of these people. Is that true?
ROSENBERG: That’s right. Well, the Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader, was a disciple of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
ROSENBERG: Apparently, it’s turned out that he has been a secret closet 12er, because he clearly believes the same thing as Ahmadinejad.
Here’s what’s wrong: both Beck and Rosenberg seem to have confused “Twelvers” (the Ithna’ashariyya who make up about 85% of all Shi’a, though there are important smaller sects such as the Ismai’li) with a small and secretive faction within the Iranian Shi’a, almost certainly the Hojjatieh.
I want to talk to you about something that nobody seems to ever notice when they talk about Iran. When we’re talking about Iran, we’re talking about people, the leaders, that are called, they’re called “Twelvers” — they believe in the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi. This is one spooky dude. Twelvers are so dangerous that the Ayatollah Khomeini at one point banned them, said we’ve gotta kill ‘em all because they’re too crazy — the Ayatollah Khomeini said that.
It makes absolutely no sense to say that the Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the Twelvers — he was their leader in Iran — but he did oppose the (arguably extremist) Hojjatieh, which was basically a secret society — and that is almost certainly the group that Beck was thinking of.
But then Joel Rosenberg seems to get swept up in Beck’s confused and confusing rhetoric, and goes on to call the Ayatollah Khamenei “a secret, closet Twelver” — a phrase he also uses in his 2010 book, The Twelfth Imam (pp. 178, 259), and which is particularly inept since Rosenberg knows enough to have discussed the Hojjatieh in his book Inside The Revolution (copyright 2009, 2011), in which he writes (pp. 161-62):
During this same period, it appears Ahmadinejad was also involved in a shadowy Islamic society known as the Hojatieh, whose leaders taught that the Twelfth Imam was coming soon and whose members believed they were required to take spiritual (but not political) actions to hasten his coming. … the movement discouraged people from being fully devoted to creating an Islamic state, preferring instead to wait for it to come from the sky. In 1983, therefore, Khomeini actually banned the Hojatieh, and Ahmadinejad seems to have subsumed his sympathies for the group to protect his opportunities for career advancement.
I am happy to report that Joel Richardson, the other Joel currently writing about Islamic apocalyptic from a Christian end-times perspective, corrects Beck and Rosenberg on this point in his blog, Joel’s Trumpet:
Beck needs to have me on sometime. He gets a lot of his info wrong. Ayatollah Khomeini never banned “Twelvers”, as he himself was one. He banned the Hojjatieh of which Ahmadinejad is arguably a member of and which Mesbah Yazdi below is as well.
Beck’s the one Joel Richardson was addressing, but his critique applies equally to both Beck and Rosenberg. But this post is getting overlong, so I’ll continue with background from a scholar friend in a continuation of this post…
[ by Charles Cameron -- two clashing quotes about Gandhi that followed one another in my RSS feed today, funny & strange ]
Strange, to say the least.
Gandhi was a strategist — as a friend of mine once wrote, “he achieved self determination for the largest number of individuals with the lowest cost in human life” of any rebel known to history —
He managed this feat by holding a position of non-violent non-cooperation, while showing that the ‘civilized’ opponent of the United Kingdom could not live up to its own imposed standards of conduct or law.
And at least some of the time, he was notably unwilling to romanticize himself — he once said:
My nonviolence does not admit of running away from danger and leaving dear ones unprotected. Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice. I can no more preach nonviolence to a coward than I can tempt a blind man to enjoy healthy scenes. Nonviolence is the summit of bravery. And in my own experience, I have had no difficulty in demonstrating to men trained in the school of violence the superiority of nonviolence. As a coward, which I was for years, I harbored violence. I began to prize nonviolence only when I shed cowardice.
So he’s not the total pacifist he’s sometimes portrayed as.
But nuclear weapons? “Much more dangerous than, say, Xerxes and Alexander the Great. Or Genghis Khan, for that matter”?
Not in India, not back then. In one of Hugh Everett‘s “many worlds”? — perhaps. And in Civ2, the game? — apparently, yes.
[ by Charles Cameron -- first part of a post on misreading Mahdism in Iran ]
Our blog friend Pundita has been relying on Reza Kahlili, the pseudonymous Iranian author of A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran, quite a bit recently, pointing to his recent discussion with John Batchelor and some reports of his on World Net Daily.
There are a number of people whose views on the religious issues surrounding an Iranian nuclear weapons program interest me — I leave other aspects of the problem to others better informed than I — some because they have insight, some because they have megaphones, and so on.
I’m not the person you’d want to ask whether Reza Kahlili was a CIA source, whether he was trusted, and if so, on what issues – issues which might range from troop movements to popular opinion of the IRG rank and file to theology and apocalyptic, a range that no single source is likely to be omnicompetent in – but WND is a media source I’ve followed off and on for a dozen years, it’s strongly associated with one of the strands of recent Christian apocalyptic with its own messianic take on Islam and Mahdism, and it isn’t necessarily a source I’d trust without verification…
So I did some checking of my own on Reza Kahlili, and found that he, or more likely some ghost writer employed to write his book for him (along with his publisher’s copy editor), simply doesn’t know what a hadith is. A hadith is a statement attributed to the Prophet (or in the Shi’a case, one of the infallible Imams who succeeded him) and passed down through an authoritative train of transmission (isnad). For a practicing Muslim, the corpus of hadith is second only to the Qur’an, and knowing what a hadith is is like knowing what the Epistles are for a practicing Christian: basic. For a theologically nuanced scholar from Qom or Najaf, it’s kindergarten.
Kahlili gets the use of the word “hadith” right early on in his book, but when he starts talking about the return of the Twelfth Imam or Mahdi he writes (p. 334.):
Like others who think as he does, Ahmadinejad believes that many of the signs of Mahdi’s return have emerged. Known as hadiths, these signs include the invasion of Afghanistan, the bloodshed in Iraq, and the global economic meltdown. According to prophecy, the hadiths will grow increasingly furious as Mahdi’s return comes closer, including “persecution and injustice” engulfing the earth, “chaos and famine,” and “many wars.” The hadiths predict that “many will be killed and the rest will suffer hunger and lawlessness.” People like Ahmadinejad so completely believed that these conditions would hasten the return of the twelfth Imam that they were willing to foment universal war, chaos, and famine to bring it about.
That’s at best very sloppy writing — the signs are known as ayat (as are the verses of the Quran), and the Quran states (28.59):
Nor was thy Lord the one to destroy a population until He had sent to its centre a messenger, rehearsing to them Our Signs; nor are We going to destroy a population except when its members practise iniquity.
Some translators actually render what this translation calls “signs” as “verses”.
Giving this passage from Kahlili a charitable reading, it could be understood to mean that signs as described in reliable hadith “include the invasion of Afghanistan, the bloodshed in Iraq, and the global economic meltdown” – though there’s a lot of interpretive scope in there, as there is in locating Gog and Magog (are both place names, or is one a prince of the other?) in comparable Christian eschatological circles.
Taliban recruiters (Sunni) certainly take “Khorasan” as mentioned in some Mahdist hadith as referring to “Afghanistan” – see Ali Soufan‘s book, The Black Banners – but an Iranian would read “Khorasan” as referencing the region of that name in Iran, or perhaps a wider zone that includes it, but also encompasses portions of Afghanistan and other neighboring states – it was, after all, the name of Iran’s largest province until divided in three parts, North, South and Razavi Khorasan in 2004:
Interestingly too, the hadith traditions in question are considered likely to have been written by and for the Abbasids. David Cook, for instance, in his magisterial Contemporary Islamic Apocalyptic Literature writes of Khorasan (p. 173.):
The ‘Abbasids sought to present their movement as the fulfillment of messianic expectations, and so they produced a great quantity of materials given in the form of hadith traditions to indicate that the Mahdi would come from this region.
– not that scholarship of this kind is liable to influence popular apocalyptic sentiment…
Okay, so with a little creative forgiveness, we can read that first passage of Kahlili’s as saying that within the hadith can be found signs such mentions of Afghanistan / Khorasan, bloodshed in Iraq, and economic woes. But then we read this (p. 337.):
With the eyes of the world on them, the mullahs and the thugs who took orders from them fought mercilessly to hold on to the power that had never been their right, using extreme force to deny that their time was over. In their minds, Mahdi was coming and the blood they shed now was yet another hadith.
C’mon, now, has Kahlili even read his own book? Blood shed equals hadith?
The most charitable thing I can find to say is that Reza Kahlili may or may not have been some level of CIA source, but his credibility in matters involving any aspect of Iranian theology is utterly unconvincing.
Jeff Stern, in a WaPo piece from 2010, doesn’t sound any too convinced that Kahlili is worth our trust in other matters either, writing:
Reza Kahlili, a self-proclaimed former CIA “double agent” inside Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, appeared in disguise at a Washington think tank Friday claiming that Iran has developed weapons-grade uranium and missiles ready to carry nuclear warheads.
The pseudonymous Kahlili, whose previous accounts have been greeted with widespread skepticism, also said Iran was planning nuclear suicide bombings with “a thousand suitcase bombs spread around Europe and the U.S..
Several current and former U.S. intelligence officials in the audience “rolled their eyes” at Kahlili’s claims, said one observer who was present.
Some in attendance compared Kahlili with Ahmed Chalabi, the former Iraqi exile who helped convince the George W. Bush administration that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the claims were proved false.
My personal knowledge-map features huge areas of ignorance where many others have strong opinions. On matters religious, Kahlili is not to be believed. On the siting of nuclear labs, or weapons development and deployment, we’re in areas that bear the legend “Here there be Smoke and Mirrors” on my map.
Thus endeth my blog-epistle to Pundita, whose knowledge of many of the other moving parts in the wider geopolitical situation far exceeds my own.
I’ll follow up with part II of this essay, in which I’ll talk a bit about Glenn Beck and Joel Rosenberg, and some other significant ways in which Shi’ite eschatology is being misrepresented via popular media in the west.
For those following the development of my book / media project, I am hoping the project will include a section of longer essays such as this one, in which I pull apart some of the myths currently surrounding western understanding of Islam, while pulling together major strands of a more nuanced view.