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January 24, 2006

Comments

I'm just headed out to my aikido practice, so I did want to pass on a link to Dr. Jeffrey Lewis' guest post at Wampum blog, which is part of a series. It also appears at the blog Lewis runs atarmscontrolwonk.com. Highly recommended before we start tossing each other across the room (get enough of that at aikido, thank you very much)

Pure paranoia, Charles, full of "could bes" "possiblies" etc. We've no real evidence that Iran is even trying to get a bomb (though I certainly would if I was in their place - you see they're faced with this openly aggressive imperial superpower that's just invaded two of the neighbours). The Iran-al Quaeda links are as tenuous as the Saddam-al Quaeda links and probably as imaginary (do you seriously expect anyone to take the US government's word on this stuff after the Iraq fiasco?). And the links to Syria are an alliance made necessary by that superpower's actions.

This particular war scare has more to do with the US mid-term elections than any real casus belli.

Who'd have thought the Bush administration, having lied the US into one disastrous war, would be able to get away with lying the US into another war? Yet, judging by how their propaganda about Iran has worked on both Von and Bird, they will get away with it.

I used to think the cartoons of Lucy and Charlie Brown and the football were funny. Then, after a while, they stopped being funny: it just got sad and predictable. I never thought that, nearly 30 years after I stopped getting a giggle out of Charlie Brown yet again running up to kick at the football and falling on his back after Lucy pulls it away, I'd see it played out in real life at such bloody cost.

All I get from the Iran-Venezuela comparison is that they both like building ships and hating Jews. As disturbing as any form of institutionalized anti-semitism is, that doesn't seem like enough for Iran to give Venezuela trade agreements, let alone a nuke.

Are there any other example of countries handing out nukes with the abandon that is suggested of Iran?

We live in a far different world than the one of 1960, and I no longer have the complete confidence that the annihilation of Iran would be the best or even the most likely response to a limited nuclear event. But there seems to be so much emotional investment in our nuclear arsenal as deterrent that objectivity and realism is nearly impossible. The whole concept of MAD, that if you kill a million Americans we will blow up the world, was never tested;and the goal of a missile defense is in part because those who are paid to think seriously realize MAD may be an idle threat.

In a parallel thought-experiment, if Saudi Arabia had been provably and obviously responsible for 9/11, would an effective response have been the overthrow of the Saud family and the occupation of the peninsula? I think there are assymetries with the situations of NK and Iran that did not exist with Russia and China.

The possible costs and consequences of a nuclear strike on Iran have to be more carefully calculated before we know that we really will have a deterrent.

"What else am I missing?"

Iran's reaction to any of our steps. International relations are not solitaire; there's an opposing side whose actions and reactions one needs to take into account. For example:

Does the threat of airstrikes make it more or less likely that Iran will hand nuclear bombs (or even radioactive substances to make dirty bombs) to Al Qaeda? Would their reaction be the same to sanctions?

Would Iran respond to airstrikes by cutting its oil flow off? Would it try to blockade the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of Suadi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq's oil flows? Would it do the same in response to sanctions? Contrary to Charles Krauthammer's recent op-ed, I think Iran can live with no oil revenue far easier than we could live with sustained $100+ per barrel oil.

Would Iran seek to influence the Shiite parties in Iraq to push to have American troops leave that country immediately? If so, would that cripple an attempt to place sanctions on Iran?

Would placing sanctions or engaging in airstrikes encourage or discourage Iranians who seek a change in government? Would they be seen as collaborating with the American forces?

I don’t think the US will invade Iran. US interests in the area would be best served if Iran's current government crumbles under its own weight, much like the former Soviet Union. Any use of US force outside of Iraq will lend additional relevance to Radical Islam and strict esoteric theocracies like the current regime in Iran. It would draw even more support for local insurgency groups. And of course all of this would further erode our global reputation. This administration has to see that.

And so long as you are considering fun scenarios - have you considered what would happen in the event of a nuclear exchange between Pakistan and India?


Iran judged to be 10 years away from the bomb. I wonder what percentage of the American people, after a prolonged exposure to hype, will think that they either already have one or will have one in a couple of months.

Charles:

"And it’s not just Syria. There is a certain communist megalomaniac in South America who has recently strengthened ties with Iran."

Charles, I'm going to have to call 'liar!' on this one. Chavez isn't communist, and isn't megalomaniac (by standards of your party).

The rest of your post is just a bunch of pre-Iraq propaganda, reheated with Tabasco sauce.

Somewhat to my surprise I agree with a lot of what Charles has to say. (I don't regard the verdict of the 9/11 Commission as evidence of anything, but that's not crucial.) The key point for me is this:

If we’re serious about non-proliferation, we take the unprecedented move of negotiating directly with the mullahs.

The corollary of that is that if Bush won't negotiate, he isn't serious. At a minimum, he would need to renounce regime-change. That's hard to do if you have (however justifiably) labelled a regime as evil.

As to military options, has any of America's many retired four-star generals publicly endorsed the idea of a "massive series of precision strikes, done nearly simultaneously"? If the Pentagon knows enough about the targets then maybe it's feasible, but that's an awfully big "if".

Good post, Charles. (I recommend you try the experiment sometime of getting Von or Sebastian to publish one of your posts under their name, & see if you get all the knee-jerk CBS&IRTB stuff.)

There are 2 points I think I'd disagree with you on:

(1) It's hard to imagine Iran giving away its hard-won nukes to Syria or anyone else. Much easier to imagine the cash-strapped North Koreans selling theirs. If anything, sanctions vs. Iran might make such sales more likely, assuming that Iran hunkers down & builds its Bomb anyway.

(2) Iran has lots of ways to retaliate against conventional strikes. Hezbollah hasn't really been out to get us---that could change real fast. How deeply is Iran into Iraq? We would soon find out. And god knows, we might as well offer cash incentives for joining al-Qaeda & its wannabes, as attack Iran (Shiite heretics or not).

But all this is debatable, & I'm happy to see someone at ObWi inviting debate on the subject.

Shinobi:
Actually, the remarks of Chavez and the (alleged) anti-semitism in his speech are a topic of debate, at least that's what this suggests ..

Dunno what Iranian "non-zionistic" Jews have to say about their president, but I think it's safe to say he's in a somewhat different category.

Take US and Iran and flip their location in the structure of the arguement. With a few small modifications of details the argument runs equally as well, yet no one will think it holds any water so what is the difference? Are we more sovergien than they are?

Seems to be might makes right is the underlieing philsophy. I had thought we had left such things behind.

And the concept of "war on terror" is an example of a rhetorical tool being taken too literally.

Five years from now, after years of enriching uranium to get enough for maybe two weapons, they are going to give half of their armory to Syria or Venezuela? This wouldn't even work as a plot for 24.

I also question that a massive bombing strike would work. Remember that in the two Iraq wars there were periods of a week and four days when the planes did nothing but go after air defenses. You're not going to have that with a surprise attack. And centrifuges are hard to completely destroy if they're protected at all.

Is Bush capable of executing a major military strike? I think so, but needs a career-best performance.

George W. Bush's "career-best"? Wow, now that's the soft biogtry of low expectations. He couldn't give his "career-best" in the last war and you think this entitles him to another one? Are you his mother?

"Dork"?

"We live in a far different world than the one of 1960, and I no longer have the complete confidence that the annihilation of Iran would be the best or even the most likely response to a limited nuclear event."

Ugh. Iran hasn't even set off the 'only' three hits it would take to hit 2/3 of the population of Israel yet and we already see that the 'mututal' part of mutual assured destruction won't hold. Iran knows this, which is why two out of the last three presidents have alluded to the fact that Iran could destroy Israel and survive.

What possible reason would Iran have to give a bomb to Syria? Or Venezuela? Where the hell did that one come from?

Do you know how silly you people sound?

Anderson: (I recommend you try the experiment sometime of getting Von or Sebastian to publish one of your posts under their name, & see if you get all the knee-jerk CBS&IRTB stuff.)

...Actually, what would likely happen would be a succession of comments inquiring "Von? Did you turn into Charles Bird?"

But it would be an interesting experiment, and speaking as a HOCB kinda person, why not do it, a few months down the line?

Can we foment an Iranian revolution?

"we" ?

not when Bush is busy demonizing them. you might as well ask if Iran could foment a revolution in the US or Israel.

Iran is downwind of Israel, if I were Iran I don't know that I'd want that fallout raining down on me the next day, this regardless of any retaliation.

I have to concur with others: this post is filled with speculation, and it veers into libel when Venezuela and communism is broached. The anti-semiticism charge also I find suspect, as the "English translation" seems very selectively cited. However, because I don't speak Spanish I am willing to listen to the translation of those that do. The original Spanish is:

El mundo tiene para todos, pues, pero resulta que unas minorías, los descendientes de los mismos que crucificaron a Cristo, los descendientes de los mismos que echaron a Bolívar de aquí y también lo crucificaron a su manera en Santa Marta, allá en Colombia.

There seems to be more going on here.

Curious as to why the "Does the United States accept a nuclear Iran or not? If we do, how do we proceed?" section contains advice about how we can impotently protest and piss off the Iranians...
Why would we even consider a policy that "doesn't do us much good or Iran much bad", but costs us a bunch of political capital? It seems that ignoring Iran completely would be superior to the course you suggest here... and the second half of this section just more stuff about how it'd be really bad if Iran got the bomb.

I think you're trying to honestly assess the sitaution, but you're already committed to the conclusion (consciously or not) that we need to deny Iran the bomb before you begin. So your 'devils advocate' position is a hollow shell of an argument, more of a placeholder to show good faith than an actual policy.

It's a very difficult thing to do, to evenhandedly present a policy position that you strongly disagree with. I think that you would be better off finding a bright person on the other side of the issue and cite their policy suggestions & predicted outcomes to contrast with your arguments.

Why all this worry about Iran? Chirac isn't the head of Iran.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/19/AR2006011903311.html

"Could they [Iran] give a nuke or two to al Qaeda?"

Yes, 'cos al Qaeda really luuuurves Shi'ites. When Zaqawi called Shi'ites apostates and more evil than the West, he was only joking.

Your scenario is about as likely as Ian Paisley dying and leaving his church in his will to Gerry Adams.

Charles, I'm going to have to call 'liar!' on this one. Chavez isn't communist, and isn't megalomaniac (by standards of your party).

Barry, this is a warning.

Not communist? He was a Marxist insurgent before he decided to run for office. In office, his paranoia and his ambition has spoken for itself.

There is a risk of Iran giving Venezuela a nuclear weapon? What's the link between the two countries?

"Venezuela and Iran have agreed to explore a joint shipbuilding operation."

No! A joint ship-building operation? Well, shit, you've convinced me.

Hey, British troops were involved in putting in place the current government of Sierra Leone. How's that for a link? I suppose you think a Trident missile submarine is going to turn up in Freetown any day now.

Just ask yourself this: how many US allies received their nuclear weapons capability from the US during the cold war?
Answer: none. The UK was part of the Manhattan Project and developed its own. The French bomb was a French production. Other close cold war allies - Germany? No. Japan? No. Turkey? No. (Stationed there, but under US control.) Australia? No. Canada, for heaven's sake? No.

Maybe the US was being really careful. So: How many Soviet allies received nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union? None.

But maybe Iran isn't as rational. Okay, let's try China. Did any Chinese allies get given nuclear weapons? Not as far as I know.

Any French allies suddenly gone nuclear after a big box arrives labelled "Un Cadeau de Paris"? No.

Any friends of Britain now strutting around with a British-made equaliser? No.

So, do nuclear powers tend to give away nuclear weapons to their allies? Not really, no. Not even ones run by very unpleasant people like Stalin and Mao? No, not even then.

He was a Marxist insurgent before he decided to run for office.

And George Bush was a drunk and drug user before he decided to run for office,,,,.

Actually, Chavez was a Bolivarist, not a Marxist. You really uindermine yourself making statements like this.

"Iran is downwind of Israel, if I were Iran I don't know that I'd want that fallout raining down on me the next day, this regardless of any retaliation."

Not to pun, but the radioactive fallout issue is overblown considering the number of bombs it would take to pretty much destroy Israel. Assuming they didn't target Jerusalem, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have any trouble living as close as there--much less Iran. When a continent-levelling MAD strike was contemplated between the US and the USSR, the fallout issue becomes more relevant than when we are talking about maybe to large bombs in each of three major cities in Israel.

Just to recommend additional reading materials: the full series lj mentioned is here, here, and here. (The first on how close Iran is to having nukes; the second on its missile delivery systems; the third on how hard it would be to strike Iran's targets.) Full of wonky details.

TPMCafe is having Iran and arms control experts, including the author of the posts above, to discuss Iran this week. It has just gotten started, but should be interesting.

I also want to second Dantheman above: this omits Iran's response to whatever we do. This is especially important since we have large chunks of our army right next door, pinned down as inviting targets for Iranian mischief.

Iran's response is crucial. We want, after all, to produce good results with whatever policy we choose. And their response has everything to do with that.

Chavez was a socialist/Bolivarian, but I would hesitate to describe him as a Marxist. That is, unless your subscribing to the right-wing definition that has everyone to the left of Goldwater as a 'socialist' and everyone to the left of Lieberman as a 'communist'...

He was a Marxist insurgent before he decided to run for office.

More accurately, Charles, Chavez was (and is, as far as I know) a Bolivarist - the Revolutionary Bolivarian Movement-200 is founded on the ideals of Simon Bolívar (1783-1830), aka El Liberator and the "George Washington of South America". (BBC: Profile: Hugo Chavez)

In office, his paranoia and his ambition has spoken for itself.

Perhaps you could give some examples of what you think of as Chavez's "paranoia" and "ambition". As I recall, last time you tried to write about Chavez, you got a number of basic facts wrong.

meglomaniac? Well, Ill buy that, if we use this declension:
Our Glorious Leader Exudes Self-Confidence
The President of France is Arrogant
The Quasi-Elected Dictator of Venezuela is a Dangerous Meglomaniac

this post is filled with speculation

[Takes deep breath ...]

Of *course* it's filled with speculation. We are contemplating events in the FUTURE. No one KNOWS what happens in the future. That is why we must SPECULATE.

I am as suspicious of this White House as anyone; I personally think Iran's going to get the Bomb no matter what, & we need to be thinking how to live with that situation; I agree with Hilzoy & Dantheman (as I've already noted in my 1st comment) that Iran's retaliation to any attacks would be quite dangerous; and I think Pakistan's having the Bomb is much more dangerous to the U.S than Iran's having it. I mean, anybody want to talk about demonstrated Qaeda/Taliban ties? Iraq & Iran are PIKERS compared to Pakistan. (But ooh, wait, Pakistan is our "friend." Ah well then.)

BUT, these are SPECULATIVE ideas, and it is good to compare notes with other people's SPECULATIONS.

No wonder we poor Dems can't win any elections. Sheesh.

See the Nelson Report as quoted at Washington Note. Short version: Iran is years away from nukes, we face at most a nuclear regime crisis not a nuclear bomb crisis, diplomacy is called for, & strikes would not only not stop Iran, they would likely speed up its program.

Of *course* it's filled with speculation. We are contemplating events in the FUTURE. No one KNOWS what happens in the future. That is why we must SPECULATE.

Dude....usually when you speculate on something, you're basing it on some sort of "evidence". Past incidences of similar behaviour, credible current intelligence, etc....

It seems to me that insufficiently challenging similar [reckless & empty] speculation in the past is why Democrats haven't done better in elections.

Christian and Spartikus -

Thanks for the additional information regarding Chavez. I had suspicions regarding the characterization of the Chavez as a communist anti-semitic megalomaniac. I figured that there were criticisms to be made of Charles' reasoning even taking his assumptions regarding Chavez at face value. That, and I'm too busy to do the research at the moment.

Maybe I've been watching too many movies, but my fear about some other country getting the bomb isn't that they'll give it away, but that they'll lose it. I know that people dealing with nuclear weapons are generally very cautious, but the more there are out there, the greater the chance of some mistake.

I'd be careful of speculation about how far Iran is from getting a bomb for the simple reason that the way the current nuclear powers build bombs is very high tech. South Africa (the only nuclear power to unilaterally disarm, btw) managed to build nukes without access to some of the high tech gadgetry the US believed was necessary by improvising around the problems. In particular machining the elements of the physics package was done by hand, despite a general assumption that the tolerances required demanded computer controlled machine tools.

The pacing item for nuclear weapons is almost certainly the fissionable materials, and we don't know for certain how much Iran has. If they've been creative they may well have obtained material from other sources, such as the FUSSR during the transition from communism, when the control over nukes was quite poor.

Charles Bird: "Barry, this is a warning.

Not communist? He was a Marxist insurgent before he decided to run for office. In office, his paranoia and his ambition has spoken for itself."


This has been adequately debunked further up, saving me the trouble (thanks, all!).

As to you, Charles - you can ban me from this blog, but you (and Sebastian) are lying, to forment yet another unjustified war for the sake of this administration.

What really freaks me out is that (I think that) neither of you are paid for this garbage. You do it for kicks.

I'm really stumped by why Hilzoy and Edward associate with you. Von I can understand; he's leaked enough stuff that it's clear that he's really a Republican, albeit semi-sane.

I wonder if Hilzoy's and Edward's thinking is skewed by the influence of Tacitus. I guess that it's hard to admit that one's (blog)father is a loon.

Adios, or in your case, Charles, to another destination entirely.

How vulnerable is the US's oil infrastructure? I know we get a lot of oil from Venezuela; I think it's far more likely that the Iran/Venezuela talks are about boycotting the US in the event of US airstrikes on Iran.

But what about domestic supply? Could iranian agents cut the Alaska Pipeline in a way that would shut down that supply for years? What about attacking infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico?

And the big one -- would Iran dare attack Saudi oil facilities? Instead of trying to close the Strait of Hormuz with anti-ship missiles, would the Iranians strike at the pipelines and transfer points along the Gulf?

Not to pun, but the radioactive fallout issue is overblown considering the number of bombs it would take to pretty much destroy Israel. Assuming they didn't target Jerusalem, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have any trouble living as close as there--much less Iran.

A little time with Wikipedia shows that the fallout from Bikini (15MT) went 500 KM downwind. Granted that any Iranian nukes will be smaller, but large areas of the Middle East would be contaminated from any nuke.

"As to you, Charles - you can ban me from this blog, but you (and Sebastian) are lying, to forment yet another unjustified war for the sake of this administration."

Can you please identify precisely what I am lying about? I can't defend myself if I don't know what statement you think is a lie.

Francis, it depends. It's quite reasonable for any Iranian government not wholly owned by the US/Israel to assume that it's crunch time. That the administration wants to trash Iran, and needs to do it soon, to distract the American people with another war. Also, that such a war isn't a skirmish; that it'll continue until one side is defeated (them, totally; us, less so).

They saw the results of the first Gulf War. The US won, got an armistice, spent the next decade strangling Iraq, and then finished it off. It'd be rational to assume that the US will have similar goals in any conflict with Iran. Since the only power Iran really has is to cause an oil crisis, that's what they need to do. And they need to do it while the US is still tied up in Iraq, and Iraqi oil production is still compromise.

What's up with you, Charles? I thought that I'd be banned by now.

Too busy writing the 'Protocols of the Elders of Iraq?'

There is no question in my mind that our leaders feel that there is a nuclear threat posed by Iran. It's all coming together now. Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Pakistan are just strategic positions to intercept and retaliate against an Iranian attack. And that's been the truth all along.

Agh. 'Secret Protocols of the Elders of Iran', of course.

C'mon, Barry. Dial it back a bit, for the rest of us, please?

"A little time with Wikipedia shows that the fallout from Bikini (15MT) went 500 KM downwind. Granted that any Iranian nukes will be smaller, but large areas of the Middle East would be contaminated from any nuke."

These are technically true but imprecise statements. People freak out over radiation and even non-radioactive things that they associate with radiation (see for example the complaints about depleted uranium). The radiation would of course kill any immediate survivors of a blast in Tel Aviv, but the difference between detectable levels of fallout downwind and dangerous levels of fallout downwind are enormous. I haven't found a good definitive source on the number of grays per hour you can expect at different places downwind, but it drops off very quickly.

Furthermore lots of people have the idea that huge swaths of land would be uninhabitable for long periods of time. That just isn't true. The directly hit areas would have some persistent radiation, but the fallout is not persistent.

I do note however that uranium bombs typically spread more radiation than plutonium bombs.

Ahh, on preview I see that Barry has definitely gone too far now. I will ban him for 24 hours per our posting rules.

Charles, the EU3 is the only reason that a Security Council resolution is even on the table. Without their prolonged talks with Iran, the European SC members would have no reason to vote with America. More importantly, nor would Russia, whose proposal to move parts of the uranium enrichment process out of Iran was a direct consequence of the negotiation process led by the EU3. With their offer rebuffed by Tehran, Russia actually seems to contemplate backing some amount of sanctions in the SC.

The EU3 has not only kept Iran's enrichment programme in stasis, but has slowly isolated an increasingly stubborn-looking Iran from those who would normally be its willing allies.

The radiation would of course kill any immediate survivors of a blast in Tel Aviv, but the difference between detectable levels of fallout downwind and dangerous levels of fallout downwind are enormous. I haven't found a good definitive source on the number of grays per hour you can expect at different places downwind, but it drops off very quickly.

Again, look at Wikipedia.

At Bikini they had 1000 roentgens (a little less than 10 grays, a mostly fatal dose) 140 miles downwind.

Arghh.

Wikipedia

Testing.

Charles: Ahh, on preview I see that Barry has definitely gone too far now.

In accusing Sebastian of lying? Yes, absolutely: that was a random jibe with no relevance to this post or this thread.

I'm banned for truth; Sebastian and Charles lie like dogs. Awwwwww.

G*dd*mn, Sebastian, aren't you faster than Charles, at least?

Actually it was the "Secret Protocols of the Elders of Iran" which did it for me. Barry your wish is granted.

Barry, the martyrdom thing is just kinda silly. I'd have preferred you staying around to talk about risks to US oil supply.

I'm obviously a bit late on this, but there is now a dedicated space to hate on Charles.

Damn, I hate being late for the party.

Barry, while I'm generally not in love with many of Charles' posts, you are so far over the line that I won't shed any tears should you be banned. This is one of the few civil spots on the web, and I for one can do without you urinating on the rug.

Regarding the post, which I enjoyed more than usual, I found that it omitted one of the more obvious reasons that Iraq might want to develop nuclear weapons, and why the US might wish to prevent them from doing so. Iran is a nation in a resource-rich region that is hostile to the US. Often, the only way to exercise political influence over a hostile nation is through threat of military action, and nuckes are an effective deterrant to military action.

Therefore, development of Iranian nukes equals a direct decrease in US political influence in the region.

I would say this blog gives a good guess on Iranian capacity. If you skim down there is a 3 part series.

http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/

Trying to gauge the degree of danger is a basic. For example many on the right talk about suitcase nukes. I looked them up, it's unlikely Iran could build them and the equivalents we and the Russians have built have the blast power of about a 100 tons of TNT. Ugly for sure, but not like people like "The Belmont Club" and other rightwing strategists claim is enough to level city centers.

Personally I worry about Pakistan changing government. I also think ignoring N. Korea while they possibly built bombs was a mistake. We are now in negotiations we could have had years ago, but the ruler there is truly a nut and desperate for money with sophisticated smuggling enterprises.

Sebastian, "Secret Protocols of the Elders of Iran" did it for you? I thought that was quite funny. But calling you a liar wasn't. Barry should have stuck with pointing out that Chavez is not a communist nor a megalomaniac - just a democratically-elected President with far more popular support than George W. Bush.

Anna: Personally I worry about Pakistan changing government.

This is scary enough, but there are enough Qaeda-sympathetic elements in the present army & its intel arm, that even w/out regime change Pakistan is still pretty scary.

As for "suitcase nukes," too much trouble. My pet scenario is an A-bomb on a freighter that pulls into NYC, Seattle, or whatever (used to name N.O. as a target ... not so much now).

Chavez can call himself what he wants, but if he walks and quacks like a duck, then it's fair to call him a duck. I have a hard time believing that it's just a coincidence that Chavez's closest ally is Fidel Castro, not to mention his growing authoritarian streak and increasing number of collectivist acts. He won't call himself a Marxist or communist (look where that got Allende), but his words otherwise and his actions practically always lean in that direction. From that right-wing rag Foreign Policy:

A favored Chavez tactic is funding left-leaning [always left] civil society groups with political aspirations. In Nicaragua, he stumped for Marxist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and offered him cheap oil. Chavez has supported Brazil's Landless Workers Movement, which is pushing for dramatic land redistribution. The Venezuelan president has also been active in Bolivia, where he funded the cocaleros, a powerful group of small-farm owners that opposes coca eradication efforts. Evo Morales, the Bolivian leftist leader, has even taken to calling Chavez "mi commandante".
Quack. Always moving left and always becoming more authoritarian, but we don't dare call him a Marxist or communist.

Charles, the EU3 is the only reason that a Security Council resolution is even on the table.

How has EU3 slowed down Iran? They pasted together an agreement last year which accomplished little. If it's reason-for-being is to hold together a coalition, that's really not saying much. I wrote last year that the U.S. should be part of the negotiating team, and I still believe that because that's the only an agreement can have teeth in it.

Supporting landless workers and small farmers. Sheesh...the man is practically the reincarnation of Marx himself.

For an interesting critique of the article CB cited, see here.

Charles: Chavez can call himself what he wants, but if he walks and quacks like a duck, then it's fair to call him a duck.

Fine. So, it's fair to call him a democratically-elected President with considerable popular support: a believer in independence (see Simon Bolivar), and a socialist. But calling him a Marxist or a communist just makes you look ignorant.

The suitcase nuke thing is definitely an overblown threat. They are difficult to make and not worth the trouble (cost/benefit ratio) compared to all sorts of other weapons.

But on the other side of the argument, I wouldn't be so sure that the EU3 negotiations slowed things down at all. It is equally likely that they provided cover for the only thing Iran really needs--time.

Quack. Always moving left and always becoming more authoritarian, but we don't dare call him a Marxist or communist.

Well, being authoritarian hardly makes one a Marxist or communist. As for "left-leaning", surely you realize that one can be a socialist without being either a communist OR a Marxist?

Regarding relations with Cuba and Ortega - well, Canada managed to do the same without being labelled as commies.

Eh, call them what you will if it makes it easier to wrap your head around them. Just don't anticipate much respect for doing so.

The EU3, at the very least, managed to provide a diplomatic framework for the negotiations that allowed the IAEA to inspect facilities and that proposed technical solutions to the problem of good faith. The EU-3 framework enabled the Russian offer of supplying enriched uranium and taking away the spent fuel, the refusal of which could be taken as Iran's unwilling to compromise enough to obtain the nuclear energy program that it allegedly sought.

Remember, nobody has hard evidence of a nuclear weapons program. Iran has a long history of developing nuclear energy facility: the Shah developed a nuclear energy program (in coordination with, at different points, the US, France, Germany, and Russia) back into the 1950s. The negotiations with the EU-3 have been about justifying the pervasive suspicion of Iran: proving that the West doesn't just hate the Islamic Revolutionary Rebulic, for example. The US and Israel needed a more neutral arbiter--especially after the monumentally disastrous Iraq Adventure.

Yes, I agree that the US should have involved itself more in the negotiations--but not as the lead actor. My understanding is that the Americans were letting the Europeans do the negotiating, providing them with only the barest of public support, while doing things like drawing up attack plans behind the scenes. Perhaps the Iranian negotiators felt that the EU negotiations were only the preliminary step before negotiating more directly with the US, the real long-term threat to Iranian interests; it's hard to say.

Anyway, we haven't, as far as I know, attempted any serious negotiation with Iran in many years. Maybe it's time to put some real offers on the table.

Charles: Not communist? He was a Marxist insurgent before he decided to run for office. In office, his paranoia and his ambition has spoken for itself.

Are you suggesting paranoia and ambition are Marxist traits? Bush has 'em in spades.

Charles: I have a hard time believing that it's just a coincidence that Chavez's closest ally is Fidel Castro.

Both have the US government wanting them gone, I can see why they'd make common cause. It no more proves he's a Marxist than the US backing dictatorships makes us a dictatorship. Or the Republican's embrace of Pat Robertson--who discussed how a cabal of Jewish bankers is taking over the world in "The New World Order"--makes the party antisemitic.

As for "Protocols of the Elders of Iran," I'll be using that one in conversation very soon (but in reference to the White House--while I strongly disagree with your post, Charles, I think you're wrong, not wilfully deceptive).

We now have 2 posts in the last 2 weeks about Iran. In both cases, the authors (CB here and von here ) actively comment in their threads. Sebastian in both cases also takes an active role in the comments.

Yet in each case, in spite of no shortage of persons noting what is missing from the commentary is thoughts as to what Iran will do in response to our actions and whether we are prepared to pay the likely cost in increased terror directed at our nearby troops or even our homeland and in economic hardship, from myself and others, there is total, absolute, you-can-hear-a-pin-dropping silence from the proponents of tougher actions against Iran.

But of course the post-war consequences were handled so well last time, that we should never, ever, doubt the wise and sagacious leadership of our President. We should rush to war, assuming we have well-prepared plans to win the aftermath.

And I am Marie of Romania.

And I am Marie of Romania.

You were reading DeLong, right? It's just too spooky, this spate of Dorothy Parker quotations.

Let me join with this recently discovered draft verse from "Résume":

Invasions get mired,
Airstrikes miss,
Diplomacy's tired--
Let's give up on this.

this recently discovered draft verse from "Résume"

beautiful :)

Anderson,

While I do read DeLong regularly, I use that line in my private conversations, as well. The virtues of classic put-downs are insufficiently appreciated, IMHO.

Always moving left and always becoming more authoritarian, but we don't dare call him a Marxist or communist.

Moving authoritarian doesn't make one a marxist or communist, until one reaches a certain level of authoritarianism - say, complete restriction of the press, elimination of domestic opposition, elimination of private property.

Bush has moved in a number of authoritarian ways, as discussed in previous posts on this blog - the wiretaps, the attempt to suspend habeus corpus, the declaration of "enemy combatants" outside both the geneva convention and general american law. However, to label him a 'dictator' or 'facist' would be incorrect (and strongly criticised) because those authoritarian tendencies have not been implemented to the level commensurate with a facist or dictatorial government.

Surely Chavez deserves the same benefit of the doubt that Bush does in this circumstance. When there is no domestic opposition to him, call him a communist; until then, he is the president of a democratic country implementing popularly-supported socialist reforms.

My best guess as to Iranian response to US airstrikes:

High Probability:

upsurge, both in lethality and frequency, of attacks against US troops in Iraq.

upsurge in hezbullah attacks against israel.

upsurge in Iranian nationalism and Iraqi Shia support for Iran and a religious state in Iraq.

medium probability:

missile and small-boat warfare against US Naval assets in Persian Gulf with limited success.

low probability:

sophisticated multi-prong attack against US oil assets, including Alaska pipeline, US oil refineries, secondary boycott from Venezuela, closure of Strait of Hormuz, attacks on pipelines and transfer points of other Gulf nations.

massive US troop losses in Iraq as improved insurgency overruns key US positions, including Green Zone.

v. low probability:

Iran detonates (but denies) a ship-borne nuclear device previously acquired from N.Korea or Pakistan or former USSR somewhere in world -- Tel Aviv, D.C., Los Angeles (being the largest port city on the Pacific). Iran blames Al Qaeda which cheerfully claims credit.

US response to all of these except the last two: Stay The Course. As to oil war, suffer massive economic depression, then invade Iran, depose govt. As to massive troop losses, invade Iran, depose govt. As to the last, who the hell knows.

cheery, ain't it?

Francis, I'd move this element--"sophisticated multi-prong attack against US oil assets, including Alaska pipeline, US oil refineries"--to the very low probability column. Unlike the other low probabilities you mention, those two count as direct and nuclear-answerable attacks.

This is one of Charles' better posts.

Regarding regime change: attacks from the outside usually strengthen the current regime.

While I do read DeLong regularly, I use that line in my private conversations, as well.

Excellent news. Parker's wit deserves to survive outside the quotation books.

It's Marie of "Roumania", not "Romania".

Rilkefan is of course right; those wondering what we're talking about may see my earlier quotation at DeLong's blog, or the differently misquoted version at Wikipedia (tho I guess I should fix the double "can").

There's nothing wrong about a cancan. Unless say Katherine Harris is performing it.

Dantheman - thanks for flying the Dorothy Parker flag. Rilkefan - you beat me to it. I bow to no-one in my Parker snobbery, but to you I tip my hat.

On Chavez - I'm befuddled by the hatred of Chavez on the right, particularly from people who aim to export democracy to the middle east. Does it not occur to any of you that people like Chavez are exactly the ones the Arab world is likely to vote for? Anti-Imperialist, pro-big government, hostile to foreign powers hungry for their oil, with the added bonus of hating Israel and probably mollycoddling islamists. The hostility to France is flat out laughable in light of the probable foreign policy posture of democratically elected Arab governments. France has been working towards secular democracy with full protection for individual rights for two+ centuries. The Arab world has been preoccupied with getting rid of foreign interference for about the same length of time, with nothing but a polite nod towards secularism, democracy, and free markets. You'd think that conservatives would have a good grasp on the importance of culture in shaping society, but apparently that's gone by the wayside.

Oh - one final note: Barry - enjoy your banning. You've earned it. You could of course have simply stopped commenting and stopped reading ObWi, with net benefit to all involved. Please don't try to get banned again - spare us all the pointless waste of time and just go read something else.

Let me get this straight. Charles considers it a credible risk that Iran--a Shi'ite fundamentalist regime--would give nukes to al Qaeda--a Wahhabi Sunni terrorist organization with a proven track record of, shall we say, friendly fire?

That tells me all I need to know about how seriously to take the rest of the analysis.

For an interesting critique of the article CB cited, see here.

Sparti, the guy lost me when he wrote that "there is little evidence that Venezuela today is less democratic than it has ever been."

Reporters Sans Frontieres is chronicling worsening press conditions, and Caracas Chronicles has the latest info. The RSF 2005 report here.

Chavismo price controls are resulting in food shortages (shades of Soviet Russia), particularly coffee, and Chavez has threatened to take over the coffee industry. The Guardian:

In response, President Chávez has said that he might be forced to nationalise the coffee industry.
Chavez has frozen electricity rates since 2003 and, lo and behold, power failures rose by 69%. Shades of every other failed communist country.

More confiscations for the good of the proletariat:

Year 2005 started with the official strategy of fighting against large estate and enforcing the Lands Law. Beyond the actions of the National Lands Institute, the government broke down on idle or under-productive private facilities. Several companies were taken over and seized for the purposes of co-management. Concomitantly, the Parliament announced the legal reforms needed to give private property a social character. In addition, the year was marked by high public expenditure, purchase of debt from other nations in the hemisphere and the government political expansion through foreign investment by state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa.)
Chavez is confisating ranch land without just compensation, and squatters are taking over (although the government retains fee ownership).

Human Rights Watch:

Since winning a national referendum on his presidency in 2004, Hugo Chávez and his majority coalition in Congress have taken steps to undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary by packing the Supreme Court with their allies. They have also enacted legislation that seriously threatens press freedoms and freedom of expression. Several high profile members of civil society have faced prosecution on highly dubious charges, and human rights defenders have been repeatedly accused by government officials of conspiring against the nation. Police violence, torture, and abusive prison conditions are also among the country’s most serious human rights problems.
Venuezuela's economy is repressed and getting more so:
In the wake of a failed—and hotly contested—2004 recall attempt, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez Frías has clamped down on civil liberties, property rights, and Western foreign oil companies that are still operating in this impoverished South American country. He has decreed new laws that define public protest as a crime, has imposed media restrictions that encourage substantial self-censorship under threat of operating license confiscation, and has begun to seize large rural farms and ranches that he claims are not sufficiently productive.
More on Chavez and his embrace with another "democratic" nation.

Chavez and his embrace with China-esque 5-year plans. Poverty in 2011? Gone!

Chavez has set up Bolivarian Circles, akin to the communist workers' councils in pre-revolutionary Russia.

A communist publication refers to Chavez as a "self-proclaimed communist". My mistake calling Chavez a Marxist.

Wikipedia on Hostages

From Latin hostilis in Feudal times, a noble child living as a guest in order to secure a treaty and/or a peace agreement. Like half a million troops in Germany during the Cold War. Just saying, deterrence and peace ain't cheap or easy, but usually cheaper than war.

Bush is not a serious person.

Charles, would it be too much to suggest that you write a separate post about Chavez? Not that I have anything against thread drift, but it seems like you have a lot to say about it and it would be easier to evaulate those comments in a separate thread rather than any conflation with the problems with Iran.

Reporters Sans Frontieres is chronicling worsening press conditions

Also from Reporters Sans Frontieres:

The press freedom situation was extremely confused in January 2003. For the past month, much of the privately-owned press had been backing a strike called by the opposition with the aim of forcing President Hugo Chávez to resign. By carrying spots inciting civil disobedience, appeals for an army uprising and misinformation, this press was not just supporting the strike, it was taking part in it and was thereby sacrificing adherence to the most fundamental professional principles.

Which is to say, the situation is a little bit more complicated than you would have us believe.

Chavismo price controls are resulting in food shortages (shades of Soviet Russia), particularly coffee

As in, per your cite, only coffee. Labelling a coffee shortage, because coffee producers would rather sell their produce in richer markets (Hello, Starbucks), a food shortage is - I'm sorry, patently dishonest.

Chavez has frozen electricity rates since 2003 and, lo and behold, power failures rose by 69%. Shades of every other failed communist country....

...or possibly California. I'm sorry, but how is this policy particularily, you know, "communist"?

More confiscations for the good of the proletariat

Perhaps, CB, you could tell the audience at home whether that land was being used? Or not. Which is the answer, btw. Still I don't see how this policy is "communist", given that land reform has been carried out by many nations at many times. Are collectivized farms being set up on this empty land?

Re: Human Rights Watch

Chavez does not get a free pass, CB, and in this matter criticism is warranted. Funnily enough, though, HRW wrote a memorandum that sought to clarify "questions and misconceptions" about the report you just cited. It concludes:

Is Venezuela today a democracy?

Yes. However, by undermining the autonomy of the Supreme Court and the independence of the judiciary, the new Supreme Court law represents a serious threat to the country’s democracy.

Perhaps you should emulate HRW and focus your criticism on the facts at hand.

Venuezuela's economy is repressed and getting more so:

While I am instantly suspicious of anything the Heritage Foundation produces, I think a more appropriate answer is "so"?

Chavez and his embrace with China-esque 5-year plans

To eliminate poverty, no less! The fiend! Make him stop!

Many countries have "5-year plans". Planning for the future, Bush Administration aside, is often considered a good thing.

Chavez has set up Bolivarian Circles, akin to the communist workers' councils in pre-revolutionary Russia.

Workers getting together doing crazy stuff like getting involved with their communities and voting on things. OOoo...scary.

A communist publication refers to Chavez as a "self-proclaimed communist".

And if the American Nazi Party labelled George Bush as their man, would that be definitive evidence too? Other wisdom from that cite:


No, Communism is not dead in Cuba. Neither is it dead in Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, and the other countries of Latin America. On this score, Senator Boxer and many other like-minded "experts" are, as usual, dead wrong. If we close our eyes to the Communist resurgence throughout our hemisphere and to the forces that are propelling this revival, we will soon find ourselves isolated and surrounded by nations controlled by hostile regimes.

You can almost hear the Internationale playing in the background!


My mistake calling Chavez a Marxist.

Yes, your mistake.

There is so much wrong with Chavez' government from an objective good-government sense that writing posts which could be characterized as defending it is painful. That is part of the point, of course.

HRW is uncompromising and their reports are almost always worth reading. The executive summary, perhaps. If you are going to propose measures like toppling of governments based on executive summaries, perhaps not. http://www.hrw.org/doc?t=americas&c=venezu>This href> is the country-specific page. The court-packing brief, for example, is primarily focused on the structural implications of the changes - which of course do not constitute good government and do erode citizens' rights. They do note the political rationale for the event, however:

Chávez supporters have justified the court-packing effort largely as a response to pro-opposition rulings in a deeply divided court, such as a highly questionable decision that absolved military officers who participated in the 2002 coup.
Comment on press freedom nuances deleted on preview. See Spartikus' post.

Reforms in these cases objectively worsen the foundations of Venezualan civil society. But an attempt must be made to understand (which is not to say condone) the impetus for changes like this, else how will you be able to make even a guess at the likely repercussions of the actions you take?

It also should be necessary for purposes of arguing that regime change is necessary to show not only that decreased oil industry production, in Venezuala or elsewhere, is detrimental to U.S. interests -which may not a hard case to make- but that it also is detrimental to that country's interests. If not, they are being entirely rational in placing their interests above ours - as we place ours ahead of theirs. We have more options in dealing with rational actors.

As an only partly-related request, could you PLEASE refrain from harvesting arguments about unjust compensation for land speculation from http://news.scotsman.com/features.cfm?id=412062002>Rev. Moon's paper? I'm more than willing to entertain them from other sources, just not that one.

After previewing, I worry that the last paragraph could be construed as dismissal of the general claim of unwise use of eminent domain. That Chavez' government has unwisely used it would surprise me not at all. However, the fact that the government still currently holds title to confiscated land now occupied by squatters is not in and of itself sufficient to damn it. Is there any verifiable intention one way or the other to keep or pass title(s)? I'll do some looking. My point is only that responsible use of eminent domain isn't inherently impossible, even if better methods exist.

As to the actual post topic, this administration has my permission to initiate new military action against actual Al Qaeda members. With respect to any and every other possible target for new military action, I'm an unapologetic "party of no" constituent for the next eleven months. I'll reconsider in the event of non-AQ attacks on us by someone operating outside of their national borders; or mass firings within our administration.

Charles, would it be too much to suggest that you write a separate post about Chavez?

I almost front-paged this, LJ, but I've got other stuff on Venezuela that I'm putting together.

I'm more than willing to entertain them from other sources, just not that one.

That's why I also included the Guardian link, CMatt. The BBC also covered it in a similar vein. The issue is that, even though chains of title can be traced back to the 1800s, the Chavistas are taking land, claiming that it was fraudulently obtained way back when and is non-productive. Certain landowners have been initially targeted, and it's likely that more property confiscations will continue. It's a nifty way to take property without paying for it. In the meantime, the socialists are partying in Caracas, and Cindy Sheehan is a guest of honor. No surprise there.

"We need to bring our troops home immediately," Sheehan told the crowd. "We need to hold someone responsible for all the death and destruction in the world."
Of course that special someone is George W. Bush. Socialism yes! Imperialism no!

I almost front-paged this, LJ, but I've got other stuff on Venezuela that I'm putting together.

Well, perhaps a marker saying that it is in the works (I take you to mean that you've got a front page post on Venezuela in the pipeline) might be a good idea, cause I think getting back to Iran and discussion on that would be good. Just a suggestion.

CB: He won't call himself a Marxist or communist (look where that got Allende)

Overthrown and murdered by a CIA-backed coup, right?

Is it just me, or is CB sounding here a bit like those tough-looking guys who come into your premises with a friendly warning: "Nice looking country you've got here. Be a shame if something happened to it ..."?

Charles considers it a credible risk that Iran--a Shi'ite fundamentalist regime--would give nukes to al Qaeda--a Wahhabi Sunni terrorist organization with a proven track record of, shall we say, friendly fire?

Just as it was considered a credible risk that Saddam Hussein would give nukes to al Qaeda.

That is, any excuse for war will do: this is a replay. There isn't even the excuse of not being able to believe the Bush administration would say that they thought a country was a threat to the US and that the US must attack, if they knew that country wasn't a threat to the US. We know now that the Bush administration will say anything to get the war it wants, and it appears that there are still enough Charlie Browns in the US to take that run at the football.

I almost front-paged this, LJ, but I've got other stuff on Venezuela that I'm putting together.

Oh, that should be interesting. I'll get my scissors ready. Someone can set up a post on Hating On Charles Bird, and we'll unpick your "facts" here and mock it there.

I almost front-paged this, LJ, but I've got other stuff on Venezuela that I'm putting together.

Oh, that should be interesting. I'll get my scissors ready. Someone can set up a post on Hating On Charles Bird, and we'll unpick your "facts" here and mock it there.

Since winning a national referendum on his presidency in 2004, Hugo Chávez and his majority coalition in Congress have taken steps to undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary by packing the Supreme Court with their allies.

If you replace 'Hugo Chavez' with 'George Bush', doesn't this entire paragraph still hold true?

If you replace 'Hugo Chavez' with 'George Bush', doesn't this entire paragraph still hold true?

Not really. In 2004, Chavez won with approximately 60% of the vote: international observers endorsed the election as free and fair. Chavez really did win a national referendum on his presidency. The same can't be said for George W. Bush, so the entire paragraph doesn't hold true.

so the entire paragraph doesn't hold true.

As Scooby-doo used to say, rut row...

On those communist worker councils--weren't those the kinds of organizations Lenin eventually dissolved once he had power? They have a democratic flavor that is incompatible with a totalitarian regime. Ah, yes, here's a couple of relevant passages from Orlando Figes's "A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924"---

page 724--

"While soldiers were being turned into workers, workers were being turned into soldiers. Linked with this was a general shift of power in the factory from the collegiate management boards, which had been partly elected by the workers, to the system of one-man management with managers increasingly appointed by the party hierarchy."

A couple of lines later--

"Trotsky even went so far as to advocate the complete subordination of the trade unions to the party-state apparatus: since this was a "worker's state" there was no longer any need for the workers to have their own independent organizations."

It sorta sounds like the road to totalitarianism involved the dismantling of things like worker's councils.

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