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The Israeli election: in the balance

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the election itself a one day affair, and may even be settled by the time you read this — but the impact lingers, and the complex balancing of forces in the region remains ]
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Calder

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Nothing is ever black-and-white, it seems to me — but there are moment of exceptional clarity, and with the Israeli election (as best I can tell from afar) still in the balance as I write this, two quotes from Herzog (upper panel, below) and Netanyahu (lower panel) strike me as encapsulating the koan facing the Israeli people:

SPEC DQ Israeli elex koan

**

Still in the balance.

I was discussing the Middle East earlier in the day, an the issue of balance came up. Cheryl Rofer had said, “The big issue with KSA and Israel is balance of power” and I commented that if you throw Iran into the mix, the issue becomes one of a “balance of balances of power” — which could then be extended on out to include other interested parties.

This brought me to the idea of Alexander Calder mobiles, and the sense that they offer a kinetic equivalent to the static formalism of my own HipBone Games — their precarious balances and homeostases representing by analogy the tensions and resolutions between stakeholders and / or ideas, ideologies, approaches, in a way that features both “equilibrium and its discontents”. Fascinating.

To which Cheryl responded with gnomic accuracy:

Multibody problems are hard.

Ain’t that the truth!

**

Sources:

  • NYT, Netanyahu Says Never to a State for Palestinians
  • Fathom, We must divide the land: an interview with Isaac Herzog

  • Mobile, Alexander Calder in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
  • It sure Ain’t: Elkus on Why Congress Isn’t Good at Foreign Policy

    Sunday, March 15th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Adam Elkus had a nice post on the sound and fury over the open letter by 47 Republican senators to the government of Iran, asserting Congressional prerogatives regarding contractual relations with in foreign powers:

    “Congress Isn’t Good At Foreign Policy.”

    In the midst of the ongoing fracas over GOP congressional officials’ attempt to undermine Obama’s Iran policy initiatives, Max Fisher made the observation that maybe Congress just isn’t that good at foreign policy after all. Other analysts warned that legislators were “bullying” the US back into another Iraq war,  and others hyperbolically denounce the insistence of GOP hawks that they sign off on the war against the Islamic State. In particular, Foreign Policy‘s Micah Zenko, however, was far more puzzledthan upset about Congress’s apparent desire for an open-ended war in Iraq juxtaposed with its fury over Obama’s initiative to make peace with Tehran: 

    Funny when Congress weighs-in on FP:  Start open-ended airwar, no problem. Broker non-binding nonpro agreement, outrage.Zenko, however, is by no means alone. Other critics have similarly slammed Congress, arguing that it acts as if Obama is no longer the president, and ridiculing GOP insistences that Obama must include a ground war plan in his strategy to defeat the Islamic State. To hear some critics, the opposition-dominated legislature is reckless, irresponsible, even potentially traitors against the state. There was, however, something quite fishy about this. Hadn’t the roles reversed, as we had seen this kind of fight before but in the opposite direction

    The biggest problem with many of these criticisms, however, was their denigration of the legislature. The way it sounded, a disinterested observer might be forgiven for wondering if someone should be exercising, ahem, some oversight over that silly Congress before it really makes a mess of things! But it was not so long ago, however, that Zenko and many othershad a different opinion about the executive branch and its use of power vs. the legislative branch. That, namely, the latter needed to reign in the former. Oversight was the name of the game, and Congress and the Senate apparently really needed to exercise sorely lacking control, opposition, and critical questioning when it came to an President that was about to drone, Navy SEAL, and air-war America into “endless war.” [….]

    Read the rest here.

    My thoughts, in brief….

    The clerical-security regime in Tehran was probably a distant third as a messaging target for Republicans, coming behind activist conservative primary voters and the Obama administration itself. The letter is, in other words, a stupid, meaningless, P.R. stunt to play to domestic politics and indicates Republicans are not serious about stopping or improving any potential Iran deal or forcing the administration to submit any agreement to the Senate.

    Furthermore, the truth is that many Democrats in Congress are uneasy about Secretary Kerry giving away the store to Iran to secure anything he could call “a deal”, are smarting from six years of habitually high-handed treatment from the inept White House staff and the conveniently timed  indictment of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is critical of Obama policies toward Iran and Cuba. If Senate Republicans were intent on peeling away unhappy Democrats into a veto-proof majority for an Iran related bill, the letter was an unneeded jab in the eye to their Democratic Senate colleagues who might otherwise be persuaded to register their discontent.

    That said, the ape-shit reaction of the Obamabot faction of the Left (which is neither the whole Left nor the entire Democratic Party) to the Republican Open Letter is illustrative of the creeping authoritarianism and increasingly illiberal nature of American politics. These people really think down deep that their guy is a kind of King and that Americans can be guilty of Lèse-majesté and that Lèse-majesté is “treason” and the politically treasonous or “mutinousshould be jailed. Essentially, a plurality of one of the major political parties really likes the idea of the US government behaving like a Hugo Chavez-style dictatorship. Really.

    Lastly, my confidence in the Obama administration to negotiate responsibly with Iran is effectively zero. How can an insular group that takes little outside advice and won’t negotiate (or even talk) with their own supporters in Congress (!), much less the majority Republican opposition, get the better of foreigners that they understand even less well?

    Immaturity vs. authoritarianism in service to incompetence. We are headed down a bad road.

    Apocalypse Row: Netanyahu, Nukes, and Iranian Eschatology — Tim Furnish

    Monday, March 2nd, 2015

    [ guest post by Tim Furnish, posted by Charles Cameron ]
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    Blog-friend and occasional guest poster Dr Tim Furnish just posted this very timely piece at his MahdiWatch blog, and I am delighted to post it in its entirety here with Tim’s permission.

    **

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.  If his speech earlier today at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was any indication, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons will be the major topic.  Partisan bickering (about whether the Republican majority in the House and Senate wished to insult President Obama) aside,  the central issue boils down to whether Bibi is correct in his long-held belief that the IRI leadership amounts to a “messianic, apocalyptic, radical cult” which must be stopped at all costs from going nuclear (as he first said six years ago).   

    He is not.  

    Now as my usual friends and colleague sharpen their knives, allow me to explain.  First off, I am a staunch supporter of Israel, as both a Christian and an American, and have been there three times in the last decade.  Also, now that Turkey, under Sultan Erdoğan, has slipped back into Neo-Ottomanism, Israel is the only truly democratic nation in the Middle East.  Along with the Kurds, the Israelis are our closest allies in that region.  

    But that does not mean that everything Israeli is automatically correct.  And this claim that Iran wants nuclear weapons in order to use them on Tel Aviv and thus spark the coming of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi is a gross misreading of Twelver Shi`i doctrines as well as of Iranian politics. 

    I examined this issue in depth for the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis back in 2011, in a paper entitled “A Western View on Iran’s WMD Goal: Nuclearing the Eschaton, or Pre-Stocking the Mahdi’s Arsenal?”  The major points therein follow, after this pictorial message:

    Ismail
    Safavid Shah Isma’il (L), founder of the 16th c. dynasty that converted Iran to Twelver Shi`ism. HE would not have hesitated to use nukes (in fact, his turban itself is weaponized). But Khamenei? Not bloody likely.

    Z  Belief in the return of the 12th Imam from ghaybah, “occultation,” is not “fringe” or “extremist” but a mainstay of this brand of Islam (just as is the doctrine of Jesus’ return for all orthodox Christians).

    Z The 12th Imam’s reappearance is totally up to Allah’s discretion; nothing humans can do will advance his timetable.  “Hotwiring the apocalypse” depends not on WMD usage or any other violent activity but, rather, hinges on creating the Mahdist state in microcosm (i.e., the IRI) and then waiting on Allah to send the Mahdi to rule it.

    Z The anjuman-i hujjatiyeh (“Hujjatiyeh Society”) is not some insane group dedicated to destroying Israel but an organization dedicated to re-converting Baha’is to Twelver Shi`ism—and, furthermore, was banned in the early 1980s for being insufficiently supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini’s clerical rule.

    Z As per the excellent article by Ze’ev Maghen, “Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi`ite Messianism and the Policies of the Islamic Republic,” the ruling ayatollahs are probably the most vociferous opponents of a true Mahdist claim on the planet—because acknowleding anyone as such would end their rule of Iran, and with it their wealth, power and privilege. 

    Z Twelver Shi`i views of jihad mandate that jihad-i ghalaba, “victorious holy war,” be prohibited until the return of the 12th Imam—NOT employed to importune him to appear.  Usage of nuclear weapons is thus really not allowable for the apocalypse-hotwiring which many pundits impute  to Iran.

    Z Yes, some Iranian leaders have spoken, repeatedly, of Israel being “erased from the pages of history.”  But I believe that this means they believe in a gradual demographic disintegration of the “Zionist entity,” and not a mushroom cloud over Israel.

    Z It is possible for men to have long beards, wear turbans, express eschatological beliefs and yet still be rational political actors. The Supreme Leader and his cronies all know that were Iran to use a nuclear weapon against Israel, their nation would be a radioactive ruin about 15 minutes later. The Mahdi has no desire to rule over such a wasteland. Plus, it would deprive the clerics of their wives and Rolls Royces.

    Z All of the above by no means makes the IRI a peaceful or trustworthy state.  The ruling ayatollahs want nuclear weapons not only to hold onto their power (as per the ruling clique in Pyongyang) but to provide immunity against possible American military strikes and to increase Tehran’s regional clout—just not to summon the Mahdi via a nuclear conflagration.  

    President Jarrett, er, Obama and SecState John Kerry are fools to think that any written agreement will disabuse Khameini and his ilk of their lust for nuclear weapons.  But attempting to counter the administration’s naiveté with inane bluster that misepresents our enemy’s beliefs and intentions amounts to falling off the horse on the opposite side.  Instead, let’s try sitting upright on a strong horse and avoiding partisan extremes of misapprehension.  

    Déjà or not? Netanyahu in DC

    Monday, March 2nd, 2015

    [by Charles Cameron — this is all way off to the side of my pay-grade — can I say that? ]
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    A DoubleQuote: upper panel, Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic; lower panel, Adam Silverman at Sic Semper Tyrannis:

    SPEC DQ Netanyahu Begin

    Silverman then quotes President Reagan, from his memoir, An American Life, p 415:

    I don’t like having representatives of a foreign country – any foreign country – trying to interfere in what I regarded as our domestic political process and the setting of our foreign policy.

    **

    Sources:

  • A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing to Israel, upper panel
  • This Has Sort of Happened Before: Mr. Netanyahu’s Meshugana Mystery Tour, lower panel
  • Of morale and angels, Kiev and Ragnarok

    Saturday, January 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — not to mention crushing Khomeini, lubing your M16, and that Afghan powerpoint ]
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    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    Andrei Rublev, The Archangel Michael

    **

    In my previous post, Of morale, angels and Spartans, I raised the question of how our increasingly visual and graphical age could visually represent morale. I noted that the Muslims outfought a larger force at the Battle of Badr, and that the Qur’an suggests that this was because thousands of “angels, ranks on ranks” fought alongside them.

    Dave Schuler suggested the Archangel Michael — which sent me all over in search of a suitable representation. The icon above, by Andrei Rublev, is the most profound and beautiful work I was able to find, but hardly serves our purpose.

    I ran across a politically explicit comntemporary image in which the Archangel wears Airborne insignia:

    Archangel-Michael--airborne

    — but it was this image from the Maidan in Kiev that came closes to the sense of military power in angelic form —

    Archangel Michael Kiev Maidan

    — although I’m not sure that military power or prowess is necessarily the same as morale or esprit de corps…

    **

    Synchronistically — or coinidentally, as sceptics would say — Justin Erik Halldór Smith headed his blog post Ragnarök on the Seine today with an image of Peter Nicolai Arbo‘s Wild Hunt, or Aasgaardreien. Here’s a detail:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt detail

    And here’s “the big picture”:

    Aasgaardreien Peter Nicolai Arbo Wild Hunt 602

    That’s probably closer to “amok” than to “esprit de corps” — although the relationship between them is worth pondering.

    **

    I’m still not convinced that contemporary minds will “get” morale from any graphic image yet devised.. I can’t help remembering the M-16 manual I picked up one day at a library sale or flea market, titled The M16A1 Rifle: Operation and Preventive Maintenance:

    Treat your rifle like a lady

    My guess, however, is that we’ll wind up with something closer to this:

    Powerpoint for McChrystal

    **

    Image sources:

  • Andrei Rublev, icon of Archangel Michael
  • Archangel Michael, Especial Forces graphic
  • Sculpture, Archangel Michael, Kiev
  • Peter Nicolai Arbo, Aasgaardreien
  • M16 manual, DA Pam 750-30
  • Powerpoint, Afghanistan Stability
  • The photo of the Kiev St Michael is by Mstyslav Chernov, used under CC-BY-SA-3.0 license

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