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January 29, 2009

Comments

"Bush famously failed to offer Iran security guarantees, and key figures associated with the Bush administration openly discussed supporting elements in Iran, and outside its borders, in an effort to foment regime change."

I don't feel like collecting links to back this just now, but it's clear, I think, to the careful observer who has been looking in the right places, that the CIA has been conducting various low-level covert actions, supporting various acts of sabotage, and acts of tribal/ethnic violence, in Iran, the last several years, a fact well-known within Iran.

And turning off that sort of thing, which is done through surrogates, not directly by Americans, isn't altogether easy to do. It's probably not even entirely possible; all that can be done is cut off American support for such violent insurgent elements, and that sort of thing isn't quickly or easily confirmable by The Other Side.

Incidentally, over in Iraq, Iraq Won’t Grant Blackwater a License.

"Now, it is possible that even with security guarantees on the table, Iran will refuse to abandon its nuclear program, or agree to third party enrichment or some such other prophylactic measure aimed at keeping Iran a safe distance from weaponization."

I think at this point refusal to abandon it is highly likely: it's a point of national pride, and moreover it's entirely legal under international law, a point the U.S. government has never exactly been quick to note.

The best that can be hoped for might be IAEA oversight -- though I wouldn't count on that -- or some sort of compromise that lets them continue some sort of nuclear program, but reassures us somewhat more that nuclear weapons development might not go forward. What exactly such measures might be, I wouldn't care to guess at.

But I'm very doubtful that any overt stoppage of nuclear programs overall is in the cards, and not all that confident that cessation of nuclear enrichment is likely, no matter what the U.S. does. I'm well inclined to think that at the least they'll keep token enrichment going, to show they haven't been cowed by the Great Satan, or deprived of their rights, etc.

Possible double post because TypePad eated my last comment:

And turning off that sort of thing, which is done through surrogates, not directly by Americans, isn't altogether easy to do. It's probably not even entirely possible; all that can be done is cut off American support for such violent insurgent elements, and that sort of thing isn't quickly or easily confirmable by The Other Side.

At least the Iraqi government is taking care of the MEK on behalf of Iran.

http://obsidianwings.blogs.com/obsidian_wings/2008/12/the-old-flim-fl.html

Because the new Iraq is so hostile to Iran and the neocons won!!!!

And over at one of Iran's neighbors:

KABUL — Afghan officials said Thursday that they had decided to postpone the country’s presidential election until August, saying they needed more time to prepare. But the decision, which appeared to contravene Afghanistan’s Constitution, raised questions about the legitimacy of what could be President Hamid Karzai’s final months in office.

He has littleindependent power within Iran, and less so with respect to setting that country's foreign policy.

So he is a wild card? His nonsense does not reflect the government’s position at all? These all powerful mullahs just let him spout off? They have no control over him? They do not support his views? I’m sorry but I don’t grok how they are the ones really in charge but at the same time they let this idiot spout off nonsense contrary to what they really believe… Help me out.

Iran could have a bomb by the end of the year. That is not our incompetent intelligence services – that is the notoriously war-monger EU.

Are you really comfortable with all this? Ahmadinejad is a distraction, meaningless… Those mullahs are really OK if you just give them a chance?

Christ dude.

//But making such a gesture will force Iran's hand, and get closer to revealing the bottom line positions of all the parties involved.//

As if we don't know what it is. Sheesh. We've been the great satan since 1979. That was before both Bushes if you haven't noticed.

OCSteve, I don't see where Eric ever said the mullahs are OK if you just give them the chance. In fact he went out of his way not to say that.

The reality is that Ahmadinejad does have very little actual power, but he serves a purpose for them. As such, he is somewhat of a representative for them, but only marginally.

Personally, although I would prefer that Iran not get a bomb, it really doesn't worry me. They really aren't about to use it. The main negative consequence would be a race among the other Arab countries to get their own.

Back to what Obama is doing here. Back at the time of the last elections in Iran, there was a real sense that Ahmadinejad would lose in the elections. Then the cowboy in the White House made a lot of very threatening remarks which probably ensured his re-election.

This type of approach, since it bypasses Ahmadinejad entirely and is non-threatening is more likely to result in his defeat.

In terms of whether or not Ahmadinejad or the mullahs are responsible for the problems in Iran, that is somewhat immaterial, if the people put it at Ahmadinejad's feet.

Actually, a major factor in the problems in Iran is the bottom falling out of the price of oil.

By the way Gary, I see you've commented. What exactly are your credentials in regard to knowledge of Iran? Have you been there? Do you speak or read farsi? Do you have a doctorate in Persian studies? Please provide us with certified copies of your transcripts.

John: Understood. I’m just tired of the dichotomy: Pay no attention to what Ahmadinejad says because the mullahs are really in control. Yet the mullahs seem mostly comfortable with what ever Ahmadinejad has to say… Do you really think that Ahmadinejad does not have their tacit if not explicit approval? How many times have they contradicted him? I think I may remember once…

d'd'd'dave: Since you also have posted here, I want to see your list of credentials. You know, like you demanded from Gary.

A question for those more knowledgeable about all this than I am, which is a lot of people:

My impression has always been that Russia and Iran are sort of natural enemies for geopolitical reasons. If this is so, then does concern over Russia give Iran a reason to seek better relations with the US, and vice versa?

I think that you're overapplying the insight that Ahmadinejad lacks power in Iran. He doesn't lack power. He's quite powerful. If nothing else, he can get on Iranian TV and derail the reconciliation process back. There's very little evidence that Ali Khamenei -- why, by the bye, has one of the more sonorous names of any foreign leader -- can curtail him in the short term. I mean it was, what, June or July when last we heard that Ahmadinejad fell out with Khamenei.

Iran is a quasi-democracy and, although the clerics hold disproprotionate power regarding who runs for office, Ahmadinejad was elected in reasonably fair elections. He holds considerable power from his position. His power can be (and frequently is) overstated. But it's equally wrong to think that the fix is in, and the clerics have complete control.

Indeed, the official vonian scale of national complexity ranks Iran as 98 Beiruts. That's a very high score, given that the Beirut score runs from 0 (Canada) to 100 (insanely complex). (Strangely, Beirut itself scores a 106.)

"By the way Gary, I see you've commented. What exactly are your credentials in regard to knowledge of Iran?"

I've read something over sixty books on Iran over the past thirty years. Thanks for asking.

Do you really think that Ahmadinejad does not have their tacit if not explicit approval?

If I remember correctly, Ahmadinejad was a populist candidate who defeated Rafsanjani, who was supposedly more favored by the mullahs. Keeping a lid on things sort of dictates not publically contradicting a populist candidate.

Of course, the mullahs are not a homogenous body, and Ahmadinejad has his supporters there, but you seem to be taking the mullahs as an undifferentiated mass.

LJ: … but you seem to be taking the mullahs as an undifferentiated mass.

Why yes, I do. In that position, do you get a lot of leeway in which doctrines you promote? Can you point me to any (seriously) moderate statements by any of them? I’m sure there are the standard “we denounce all terrorism” statements out there… I mean one of them who consistently offers moderate public statements over a period of time… I admit I could have easily missed it.

Pay no attention to what Ahmadinejad says because the mullahs are really in control. Yet the mullahs seem mostly comfortable with what ever Ahmadinejad has to say

Jeebus OCSteve, I acknowledged as much rather explicitly:

Ahmadinejad's lack of power is not, on its face, a cause for optimism necessarily - that is, to the extent that Khamenei or his successor stays the course as Ganji dimly predicts. But Ahmadinejad's only relevance to the story is ancillary. It will be interesting to observe Ahmadinejad's political fortunes in upcoming elections, and how his success, or failure, might signal a shift behind the scenes.

I mean, isn't that clear?

Let me state: A-Jad serves a purpose, and was otherwise popular and so Khamenei decided to let him have his go at it. But yes, he could yank back on his chain the moment they so desire.

I think that you're overapplying the insight that Ahmadinejad lacks power in Iran.

Well, I was merely quoting Akbar Ganji. His brief bio: an Iranian journalist and dissident who was imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006 and whose writings are currently banned in Iran.

I mean it was, what, June or July when last we heard that Ahmadinejad fell out with Khamenei.

And it was a short time later that we heard that A-Jad fell back in line as per Khamenei's demands. Chain pulled, response gained.

Von, here is how Ganji describes it:

A major lever of power is the supreme leader's ability to appoint and dismiss senior government officials. President Rafsanjani allowed Khamenei to choose his culture minister, interior minister, intelligence minister, higher-education minister, and foreign minister. (Khamenei has always been particularly interested in those ministries as well as in foreign affairs.) From the time of his appointment in 1989, Khamenei has limited his appointees' terms and regularly dislodged the occupants of sensitive military and police posts. It matters little that Khamenei is not likely to sack Ahmadinejad; the point is that he can.

Khamenei also exercises significant control over the Majlis. Officially, the Interior Ministry oversees elections, but in reality that is the work of the Council of Guardians, half of whose members are appointed by the supreme leader. In addition to ensuring that pending legislation conforms to the constitution, the 12 clerics and jurists who sit on the council vet all candidates for the presidency, the Majlis, and the Assembly of Experts (a clerical body that, in turn, elects and supervises the supreme leader). In 1992, after Khamenei said that the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, a left-wing Islamic faction that was behind the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, were "seditionists," the Council of Guardians prevented 41 third-term Majlis deputies from that faction from running for reelection. In all, according to Behzad Nabavi, a founder of the reformist Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution Organization, more than 3,500 people were eventually disqualified from running in the 1992 parliamentary elections, including more than 80 Majlis incumbents. Khamenei frequently criticized the pro-reform sixth Majlis for being "pro-American" and "radical" and for having a "general voice" that was "contrary to many of the regime's interests," and he openly praised the conservative seventh Majlis (2004-8). Months ahead of the March 2008 parliamentary elections, he ordered the disqualification of deputies who had taken part in a sit-in before the 2004 elections. The Council of Guardians also has the authority to veto any law approved by the parliamentarians (the president has no such power). For example, it did not even allow the distrusted sixth Majlis to reduce the state broadcasting organization's budget. Abolghassem Khazali, a former member of the Council of Guardians, has declared that if just four members of the council oppose what 60 million Iranians approve, "that is the end of the matter."

More broadly, Khamenei exercises control over all of Iran's elected institutions by virtue of a constitutional provision (Article 110) that empowers him to set the state's general policies. Khamenei draws up countless military, economic, judicial, social, cultural, and educational policies and conveys them to state bodies for implementation via the Expediency Council. (This council, whose members are appointed by the supreme leader, is tasked with resolving policy disputes between the Majlis and the Council of Guardians.) In other words, even if the reformists could gain control of the elected bodies, any independent policies they tried to implement would be countered in the name of upholding the state's general policies. For example, when Khamenei found fault with the Majlis' budget bill for 2008-9, both he and Rafsanjani, now chair of the Expediency Council, asked the Council of Guardians to alert the Majlis of these flaws. Soon afterward, the Majlis amended the bill, appending proposals from the Expediency Council to it. And this was a conservative-held Majlis; a reformist-controlled parliament would obviously have fared much worse.

The judiciary, too, falls under Khamenei's sphere of influence, and he has long used it as a tool of repression. The Islamic Revolutionary Court, which has wide discretion to try sedition cases, is subject to the supreme leader's whims. Saeed Mortazavi, the judge who presided over the crackdown on the reform movement during the Khatami presidency and now the senior prosecutor in Tehran, has been issuing detention orders for civil-society activists and sending hundreds of them to jail. The intelligence minister, Gholam-Hossein Mohseni Ejeie, has for years been ordering the detention and jailing of opposition figures via the Special Court for the Clergy and the Disciplinary Court for Government Employees, both of which are controlled by the office of the supreme leader. Mehdi Karroubi, the Speaker of the Majlis in 1989-92 and 2000-2004, has said that he won the release of the Majlis deputy Hossein Loqmanian (who had been jailed on charges of insulting the judiciary) by "ask[ing] for an audience with the eminent leader." The banning of newspapers and the jailing of journalists are often the handiwork of the judiciary. In 1998, Khamenei went so far as to instruct then President Khatami to confine the investigations into the so-called chain murders of 1998 to the time of Khatami's presidency (during which only four of the several dozens of killings took place) and not to probe any higher than the level of Saeed Emami, the deputy intelligence minister and the prime suspect in the case.

As the state's head ideologue, Khamenei also has power over religious matters. He has sidelined Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani and Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, two conservative clerics who had enjoyed great influence under Khomeini but occasionally displayed some independence of thought. He controls the mosques and appoints all Friday-prayer leaders. Each week, the prayer headquarters in Tehran (which are controlled by Khamenei) dictate what issues sermons throughout Iran should discuss. Seminaries have historically been independent of the government, but Khamenei has extended his influence over them by increasing their funding from the state. In a break with tradition, he determines who can be a high-ranking jurist with the authority to interpret Islam's foundational texts.

LJ: … but you seem to be taking the mullahs as an undifferentiated mass.

Why yes, I do.

That's not going to help you get very far in having the faintest clue about Iranian politics, then.

It's exactly as clueful as regarding Americans as all one undifferentiated mass.

If you can't tell Rafsanjani's positions, and changes over the years, from, at the most basic level, Ahmadinejad's, or Khatami's, then you're just going to have no idea of what's going on in Iranian politics.

This probably isn't helpful when trying to predict the behavior of Iranian politicians, or make a wise judgment about what American policy towards Iran should be.

"In that position, do you get a lot of leeway in which doctrines you promote? Can you point me to any (seriously) moderate statements by any of them?"

I'd also like to say that you seem to be looking at Iranian politicans on the single axis of how "moderate" they are in regard to America. Which is about as helpful as trying to understand the overall views of American politicians by judging them solely by their statements about a single foreign country.

Strange as it might seem, America isn't the lodestone around which Iranian politics is organized, and defining one's politics, as regards nuclear policy, or any other aspect of Iranian policy, isn't the organizing principle most Iranian politicians or political factions use. Trying to understand them as if it is will result in epic fail.

To be sure, looking at the views of folks in other countries as if it's all about America is a traditional American failing. It's still an epic failing.

I don't mean to pile on, OC, but your data point was that A-jad was a tool of the mullahs, yet the historical fact that he ran against a mullah is discarded as irrelevant. Yet in Eric's thread, you wonder why Obama is poking a stick in Limbaugh's lair. Of course, I'm not asserting an equivalency between A-Jad and Limbaugh, after all, A-jad is not a felony committing drug addict. But if you argue for the domestic political scene to play out in that way, why do you think that Iranian domestic politics plays out in exactly the opposite manner?

Eric: I mean, isn't that clear?

Well, no. Spell it out please. Does Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric mean anything or not? Do the controlling mullahs reject it or not? If not, do they endorse it? Can you cite where they have rejected it? Show me where the Iranian mullahs have consistently rejected Ahmadinejad's BS and then you have a point…

In any case, our ability to force regime change is essentially nonexistant, but the possibilty of working with Iran in some areas is substantial. The main stumbling blocks, our unflinching support of Israel, and the fact that in the competition for influence within the Muslim world, we take the position of their adversaries (Saudi Arabia, and lessor states such as Eqypt). A more dispassionate view of the region would conclude that this regional jockeying for power is not important to the United States. We could just let it go on without taking sides.

And, we have some areas of mutual security interest. The largest of which is the struggle against Al-Qaeda, and militant Sunni fundamentalism in general. Recall that the Shia -of which Iran is the leading power, have been heavily persecuted by Sunnis, and especially arabs for over a thousand years. AlQaeda's secondary target, is Shia muslims, who are considered as apostates. It should be a win-win situation for the US and Iran to team up in the efforts to minimize the danger that radical fundamentalist Sunni Islam represents. But as long as we are beholden to the Likud parties wishes, and are fixated on the insults from 1979 (as Iran is from the damaging coup in 1953), we won't be able to get beyond our mutual demonization of each other. It is time we start acting like grownups. Like all countries, there are some areas where we can work with Iran, as well as some areas where are interests/policies will be in opposition. I hope we cam sieze the opportunities that even partial cooperation would allow.

"...and defining one's politics, as regards nuclear policy, or any other aspect of Iranian policy, isn't the organizing principle most Iranian politicians or political factions use."

Should be: "...and defining one's politics, as regards nuclear policy, or any other aspect of Iranian policy, around America, isn't the organizing principle most Iranian politicians or political factions use.

Gary: This probably isn't helpful when trying to predict the behavior of Iranian politicians, or make a wise judgment about what American policy towards Iran should be.

Well, ya’ know, I’m kind of the stand in for a conservative viewpoint most days around here. So keeping to stereotype – who cares? Once the half-life fades it will make a great parking lot. {not serious}

"Do the controlling mullahs reject it or not?"

There is no undifferentiated "the controlling mullahs." That's the point.

Yes, lots and lots and lots of influential Iranian mullahs oppose lots of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, and policies, on an extremely wide variety of topics. Just as individual American politicians disagree with each other. This is Iranian Politics 101.

"Show me where the Iranian mullahs have consistently rejected Ahmadinejad's BS and then you have a point…"

Good lord, go read any source of Iranian news anywhere, anytime.

Random sample.

Reject. Reject. Reject. Reject.

Steve:

Ahmadinejad's lack of power is not, on its face, a cause for optimism necessarily - that is, to the extent that Khamenei or his successor stays the course as Ganji dimly predicts.

What this says is that even if A-Jad lacks power, that might not be a cause for optimism that policies will get better. Because the Supreme Leader might stay the course even with a different president - although the rhetoric will likely change with a different president.

Speaking of rhetoric, there are many mullahs, and those mullahs espouse a lot of different rhetoric (within a religious, Shiit context of course). Some have differed sharply with A-Jad. There is actually, quite a range of opinion on a number of issues, most importantly to Iran, the method of running Iran's economy (A-Jad's populist policies haven't been working out too well).

As for the Supreme Leader, he does not endorse everything A-Jad says any more than he endorsed everything Khatami or Rafsanjani said. In other words, the Supreme Leader holds the real power, but is willing to tolerate a certain range of rhetoric and policy from the then acting president. But that would not include, say, A-Jad trying to order a nuke strike on another country.

So in some ways, you're questions need to be asked differently.

Gary: Good lord, go read any source of Iranian news anywhere, anytime.

That is kind of the high-point no? They kind of have to refute that? I mean day–to day stuff. Anytime? Really?

"That is kind of the high-point no? They kind of have to refute that? I mean day–to day stuff. Anytime? Really?"

I'm afraid I'm not following what you're saying/asking here.

Gary: I'm afraid I'm not following what you're saying/asking here.

Well, in all fairness, many days I don’t either…

Your “Random sample“ cite – not so random IMO. It is an outlier.


Eric: So in some ways, you're questions need to be asked differently.

OK – fair point. I’ll think about that.

Eric, regarding your first comment, I don't think that we have a significant disagreement on the facts. I am not arguing about the ultimate lines of power in Iran, or who can press the nuclear button. But I do think that you're approaching the problem of Iran from with one clear (and correct) insight that's blinding you to the fact that there is another level at issue here.

It's best reflected in the following comment:

As for the Supreme Leader, he does not endorse everything A-Jad says any more than he endorsed everything Khatami or Rafsanjani said. In other words, the Supreme Leader holds the real power, but is willing to tolerate a certain range of rhetoric and policy from the then acting president. But that would not include, say, A-Jad trying to order a nuke strike on another country.

All of this is true, with one minor caveat: The Supreme Leader is limited in the ways that he can oppose the acting president. You make the point that Khamenei has the power to sack AJ. But how real is this power? As you acknowledge, Khamenei can't, for instance, summarily remove AJ (or throw him in prison) because the practical consequences of that decision would be dangerous -- and highly problematic for Khamenei. The clerics have a strong position in Iranian society, but it's not assured.

The fact is that AJ is more than a dinner jacket, but can make a fair amount of mischief on his own. He has a seat at teh table and a soapbox to stand on. Yes, AJ can't launch a military strike or build a bomb without Khamenei's backing. But AJ can make a speech that makes it impossible for Obama to attempt the kind of outreach programs that Obama might like. That's real power.

One final issue: We're talking as those Khamenei alone holds power. I don't think that's accurate. There are a number of senior clerics who weild substantial influence and can check or limit Khamenei's influence on certain issues. Some of them back AJ.

But AJ can make a speech that makes it impossible for Obama to attempt the kind of outreach programs that Obama might like.

Because of the impact in Iranian politics/society, or because people here in the U.S. have fundamental misunderstanding of who holds the real power in Iran as a result of media laziness and right-wing willingness to portray AJ as some sort of modern day Hitler?

OCSteve:

"Iran could have a bomb by the end of the year. That is not our incompetent intelligence services – that is the notoriously war-monger EU."

End of the year? - the report is from the start of last year. And the assumption there is that all the Iranian centrifuges were kept fully supplied with uranium and were all dedicated to the nuclear program, while the IAEA continues to confirm that no uranium fuel at all is currently known to be missing and none of the centrifuge output has been diverted to the weapons program.


In terms of ignoring Amad, that's a smart thing to do in my estimation. Recall that Amad is also facing re-election soon. Isolating him individually, while cooperating with the rest of Iran will make it a lot easier for him to get booted democratically.

Put it another way, Amad is inflexible by design. But that doesn't mean the mullahs behind him are. While they may have endorsed them in the past, and while he may never change his ways, it doesn't mean that he isn't a mask that can't be discarded and replaced.

To some extent, anxiety about US intentions with respect to pushing for regime change in Iran has motivated some of Iran's efforts to counter our movements in the region (see, ie, Iraq) and, possibly, has spurred on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons (no nation with nuclear weapons has been invaded).

Could you go into a little bit of detail about that "pursuit of nuclear weapons"? What information do you have that was not available to the people who compiled the NIE that said the nuclear weapons program was shelved in 2003?

Von's complexity scale shows a near-complete ignorance of Canadian politics.

Could you go into a little bit of detail about that "pursuit of nuclear weapons"? What information do you have that was not available to the people who compiled the NIE that said the nuclear weapons program was shelved in 2003?

Nell, if a program is shelved in 2003, that presupposes the existence of a program to be shelved, no? If you notice, I did not say "Iran's current pursuit of nuclear weapons." I said "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." I'm agnostic on the former, and certain of the latter.

A shelved program does not necessarily lie dormant forever, and I do not believe that Iran's will - necessarily. It would be myopic to assume that Iran won't ever reignite its weapons program, or that advances on the nuclear power side won't facilitate a fast-track to weaponization down the road.

Not attributing that myopia to you, just explaining my own position.

Thanks for the clarification, Eric.

It's a significant distinction. Without the careful parsing, I took you to have joined in the new conventional wisdom that "everybody knows" Iran has an active nuclear weapons program (which is drearily similar to the phenomenon of people automatically adopting the position that "everybody knew" Saddam Hussein's Iraq had nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in order to be considered serious).

Why do I say it's the new conventional wisdom necessary to be considered serious? Because the President and Secretary of State have been saying it, and, goodness, they wouldn't lie, would they?

Obama January 11, 2009:

...not only is Iran exporting terrorism through Hamas, through Hezbollah but they are pursuing a nuclear weapon that could potentially trigger a nuclear arms race.

Clinton January 13, 2009 (at confirmation hearing):

As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that...that effectively challenges Iran to end its nuclear weapons program.

Those statements seem clearly designed to encourage the U.S. public to believe that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program.

There is no evidence that they do. The IAEA continues to report compliance with Iran's obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

Equating low-level enrichment for nuclear power with the active pursuit of nuclear weapons reminds me a little too much of the administration we got rid of.

Links for the Obama & Clinton quotes, as well as further discussion of the continuing drumbeat of tendentious/lying references to Iran and nuclear weapons in this post at A Tiny Revolution.

On reflection, it is unsettling that you are merely "agnostic" about Iran's having an active nuclear weapons program.

Granting that Iran has done nothing that would close off the option of future active pursuit of an active nuclear weapons program, what evidence causes you not to agree with the NIE conclusion that such a program was shelved in 2003?

Or do you think that IAEA inspections are insufficient to draw that conclusion?

Nell, there's plenty of good reason for Iran to want, sooner or later, nuclear weapons, and there's not so much logical reason to think they have much reason to either strongly develop a domestic nuclear power energy program, nor seek their own enrichment capacity. It's one thing to keep a proper caution about not exaggerating these things, and another to ignore them entirely.

Nell, the post you cite quotes Hayden as saying:

Shifting to Iran, Hayden said that country steadily is producing low-enriched uranium and soon will have enough to create highly enriched uranium - the fuel for a nuclear warhead. The CIA does not have clear intelligence saying that a decision has been made, but the agency is aware of the amount of uranium Iran has produced so far.

Agency officials presume that Iran is seriously considering using its uranium stocks to make nuclear weapons because of its willingness to endure the economic pain of penalties for refusing to agree to international safeguards.

"I'm amazed Iran is willing to run the costs they are running if they are not trying to keep the option open for a nuclear weapon," Hayden said

It's difficult to read this as a claim that we should all ignore the potential of Iran's quite possibly moving ahead to develop nuclear weapons. Similarly, the NIE:
[...] we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.
This isn't "OMG, Iran is about to have nukes on missiles next week, we must bomb them now!"

Well, Nell, from my perspective, we have to accept that it's at least a possibility that Iran has a concealed enrichment program. Hence, some agnosticism.

Also, that Iran is continuing to advance its domestic nuclear program with the intention of getting capacity to a point when they can switchback to the weaponized track with a then-shortened timeline given all the progress on the domestic side.

So, it's not that I don't "agree" with the NIE conclusion. Given the evidence, that's the appropriate conclusion. But the evidence might be incomplete, and I acknowledge that possibility.

However, as I've been saying for some time, the use of military force requires a much higher standard of evidence and burden of proof.

Did I disagree that Iran is "keeping open the option" to develop nuclear weapons?

In fact, any nation with a nuclear power program can be characterized as "keeping open the option" to develop nuclear weapons.

Hayden's CIA produced the NIE in a climate in which people with influence in the Bush administration were saying "ZOMG! They could have a bomb next year!! We should bomb them now!" (The Democrats' position was: "They are working on a bomb. We'll negotiate better than Bush to stop the bomb, and only bomb them if that fails.")

The NIE's conclusion about the state of activity of an active weapons program was going to be very unpopular with those people. One way to deal with that political reality is to make worst-case assumptions about intentions -- conveniently unfalsifiable assumptions that retain one's hawkish cred.

Agency officials presume that Iran is seriously considering using its uranium stocks to make nuclear weapons because of its willingness to endure the economic pain of penalties for refusing to agree to international safeguards.

This presumes that intentions to maintain the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon are the only reason to endure the economic pain of penalties for "refusing to agree to international safeguards" (safeguards that have not been applied to Pakistan, India, Israel, or, restricting the field to NPT signatories, the U.S. itself, and which were abused in the case of Iraq for intelligence-gathering and military attack).

I welcome a genuinely new approach to Iran. I don't have much optimism that the current administration's approach can be successful until its major spokespeople drop the assertion that Iran is developing nuclear weapons (along with the robotic "pro-Israel" talking points and the policy it represents).

Pigs will apparently fly first.

"In fact, any nation with a nuclear power program can be characterized as 'keeping open the option' to develop nuclear weapons."

Some more than others. One set of more than others are these countries:

The following countries are known to operate enrichment facilities: Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Israel and North Korea are also suspected of having enrichment programs.
Of course, a number of these countries already have nuclear weapons. Which brings us down to Argentina, Brazil, Japan, the Netherlands, and Iran. Japan is known to be able to put together a nuclear weapon on short notice.

I'm not too worried about the Netherlands.

Which makes the list of countries to be concerned about very short: Argentina, Brazil, and Iran. And Argentine-Brazilian relations aren't all that bad these days. Specifically, there's ABACC.

Needless to say, the number of countries which use nuclear power, but haven't bothered to pursue enrichment, is much longer.

Some concern about Iran's intentions is not necessarily Crazy Rightwing War-Mongering.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk and Mosul, in Iraq, remain problematic.

Von's complexity scale shows a near-complete ignorance of Canadian politics.

I shall seize upon your concession that my ignorance is "near-complete" (emphasis mine) -- rather than complete -- as containing at least one quantum of support for my claim that Canadadian politics are very simple.

Additionally, I'll point out that the scale measures relative complexity. On a relative scale, Canada and Australia are going to rate relatively less complex than, say, Lebanon or the US based on size and homogenity alone.

Alternatively, I'll concede that I'm totally kidding and have no idea what I'm talking about.

Or Canadian politics, even.

Samantha Power has been quietly rehired.

Gary, thanks. Informative.

My point is: The statements of Obama and Clinton go well beyond some concern about Iran's intentions: they assert an active nuclear weapons program.

This should give pause to anyone who thinks of the new administration's initiative as a wholly different approach than the Bush policy. It is a big improvement, certainly, but it retains a fundamental dishonesty that is connected to the sickening continuity in Israel-Palestine policy.

Making my point still more explicit, and related to your list of enriching countries:

If Iran had the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon quickly -- even if it actually had several along with the missiles capable of delivering them -- it would not pose an existential threat to Israel, which has all the deterrent nuclear weapons it needs to deal with the threat of an attack (at least 200, by best estimates).

What it would be a threat to is Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.

Very few elected officials in the United States will be honest about this; virtually all perpetuate the myth of Iranian-nuke-as-ZOMG-end-of-Israel.

The broad acceptance of this dishonest underpinning for U.S. policy toward Iran poisons the chances for success.

Just as the sameness of Obama's I/P policy -- painting the recent assault on Gaza as "self-defense" and blaming the Gazans themselves, refusing to deal with Hamas while pretending that we can deal only with Fatah, further weakened in the West Bank by its silence and even collaboration -- makes it very difficult to imagine how it is we will succeed at building mutual respect with Arab and Muslim countries.

von: Canada and Australia are going to rate relatively less complex than, say, Lebanon or the US based on size and homogenity alone.

Less complex, yes. Anywhere near zero on the scale? No way. Canada's less homogeneous than many Americans believe.

From what little I know, I'd put Australia closer to the zero end than Canada. But that itself is probably due to my own ignorance of Aussie politics, which is near-total (gleanings from the Road to Surfdom blog aside).

"What it would be a threat to is Israel's regional monopoly on nuclear weapons."

No disagreement about this.

I think it's very premature to pronounce on what Obama's I/P policy is going to be, though.

I am not pronouncing on what Obama's I/P policy is going to be (for which I keep open high hopes, but low expectations). I am responding to what it currently is, from the actions and statements of those in charge of I/P policy.

George Mitchell went to the region, supposedly purely for initial fact-finding, and did not meet with Hamas or go to Gaza.

This is the Secretary of State's recent statement on Gaza, which surely reflects the view of the President; I do not believe that she is going to start articulating policy disagreements one week into the administration:

But of course, we’re concerned about the humanitarian suffering. We’re concerned any time innocent civilians, Palestinian or Israeli, are attacked. That’s why we support Israel’s right to self-defense. The rocket barrages, which are getting closer and closer to populated areas, cannot go unanswered. And it’s, you know, regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.

Again, there is much more continuity in this administration's approach to the issue than there is difference. That is a fair characterization of the policy as it is now.

Let us hope it will not go on as it has begun.

Sorry, left link to Clinton's press conference empty. It's here.

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