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June 15, 2009

Comments

Ahmedinejad may have indeed won a landslide.

Sure, he might have won landslides in two opposition hometowns.

Presumably you haven't been paying attention if you believe that, though.

"Ahmedinejad could be a Holocaust-denying tyrant determined to pursue nuclear weapons who seized power in a coup or Ahmedinejad could be a Holocaust-denying tyrant determined to pursue nuclear weapons who has the support of two-thirds of Iran's population"

Of course, he may not be determined to pursue nuclear weapons at all, and unless he actually wrests power from the clerics it doesn't really matter what he wants.

There is little evidence to support the theory that the results as reported of the election are legitimate, which is not the same as saying Ahmedinejad didn't win.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest the results as reported are not legitimate.

There will now be some investigation into the allegations of fraud surrounding Ahmedinejad's election.

it's starting to look like this might a bit of an overstatement.

I await the concerned voices raised against hilzoy and publius' "irresponsible" posts to raise the same objection to the rhetoric here. Because fretting that the election might have been stolen poses a danger to our diplomatic goals and diminishes the self-agency of Iranians, but rattling the saber and making it clear that we're prepared to bomb untold thousands of Iranians is just peachy?

If its choice threatens us, or our friends and allies, all options must be on the table.

If / Then is clearly a dangerous tool. Perhaps you could flesh out how Iran's choice accomplishes all that threatening, again? Because the standard neoconservative line has long been, "If I burn my toast in the morning, all options must be on the table vis-à-vis Iran."

...all options must be on the table.

I remember an old joke which used a line like that. The punchline was : "Shit man, I had to walk all the way home."

i just don't care for the whole "all options" point. all options are always implicitly on the table. you only say that if you really want to aggressively threaten military action, which i think we shouldn't even be considered even ASSUMING they develop a bomb.

the saber-rattling is a key source of A's strength. and threatening iran with force simply harms the people in iran we want to help.

Sure, he might have won landslides in two opposition hometowns.

Actually, Creamy Goodness, the independent polling that was conducted indicates that Ahmedinejad was polling well even in regions and among ethnic groups that would be predicted to go the other way. Click through to see the relevant piece. It may not be correct -- this may be fraud, or a coup, or whatever -- but there is more basis for the "legitimate landslide" claim than we might like to see.

i just don't care for the whole "all options" point. all options are always implicitly on the table. you only say that if you really want to aggressively threaten military action, which i think we shouldn't even be considered even ASSUMING they develop a bomb.

You've just taken an option off the table.

Look, depending on what Iran does, everything has to be on the table. If Ahmedinejad believes only half of the things he claims to believe, he is a remarkably dangerous man. If he believes these things and also has the power to act on them (whether by coup or popular support) then there may be a war with Iran whether we want one or not. Iran gets a say in that, y'know?

An 'investigation' could also be just the sly option, if it is not completely transparent. Otherwise it could be just as US 2000 etc. A 'we printed out the results a second time and the machine said the same as last time' is a zero value statement.

Regarding McLaughlin's piece, a brief hermeneutic tip:

A subtitle of "let the heavens fall" means "war-mongering cant to follow".

Like night follows the day.

Saying "all options must be on the table" is not really saying anything. All options are always on the table. It's just that smart players don't end every public statement with "... or we are going to blow you up!"

I agree that we have little or no idea what's going on in Iran. What is clear to me is that anything we do to interfere, or even appear to interfere, or even appear to want to interfere, will only move things further from our own best interest.

If there is one thing I'm sure the Iranians are united on, it's that they don't want the United States of America big-footing around in their internal politics.

Sullivan just brought up that poll, too:

That poll that Fred Hiatt ran this morning? Showing 2-1 Ahmadinejad support. It was taken three weeks before the vote, before the campaign took off, and it had one huge asterisk in it:

The poll that appears in today's op-ed shows a 2 to 1 lead in the thinnest sense: 34 percent of those polled said they'd vote for Ahmadinejad, 14 percent for Mousavi. That leaves 52 percent unaccounted for. In all, 27 percent expressed no opinion in the election, and another 15 percent refused to answer the question at all. Six percent said they'd vote for none of the listed candidates; the rest for minor candidates.

and what exactly would the point of the war -- what exactly would be trying to do. how many currently-friendly civilians would we kill.

i would have hoped that iraq humbled people on enthusiasm for war. (I'm not accusing von of this, but it's a bit rich to see the neocons who apparently think A is capable of destroying the world cheering his victory).

again - war is always an option. but there's very very very rarely a need ever to say that. the mere fact of saying creates a perceived external threat that helps the people we don't like, and hurts the people we do.

diplomatically (not bloggy), i think it would an extremely irresponsible thing for a public official to say

von: "Actually, Creamy Goodness, the independent polling that was conducted indicates that Ahmedinejad was polling well even in regions and among ethnic groups that would be predicted to go the other way."

The actual poll results are here. Juan Cole:

"The poll did not find that Ahmadinejad had majority support. It found that the level of support for the incumbent was 34%, with Mousavi at 14%.

27% said that they were undecided. (Some 22% of respondents are not accounted for by any of the 4 candidates or by the undecided category, and I cannot find an explanation for this. Did they plan to write in for other candidates? A little over a quarter of respondents did say they wanted more choice than they were being given.)

Here's the important point: 60% of the 27% who said they were undecided favored political reform. As Ballen wrote at that time:

' A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 percent of those who state they don’t know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system.'

That is, supporters of the challenger's principles may not quite have committed to him at that point but were likely leaning to him on the basis of his platform. They were 16% of the sample. This finding suggests that in mid-May, Mousavi may have actually had 30% support."

-- An incumbent leading by 34-14% is not on target to win by 2-1, especially not when a majority of the undecided voters say they want to vote for a pro-reform candidate.

There will now be some investigation into the allegations of fraud surrounding Ahmedinejad's election. A good start, but a far cry from the full probe of election procedures and results urged by the EU. Until that full probe occurs, Ahmedinejad's regime should not be considered legitimate.

Just like George W. Bush's regime shouldn't have been considered legitimate until there had been a full probe of election procedures and results, hm?

Ahmedinejad could be a Holocaust-denying tyrant determined to pursue nuclear weapons who seized power in a coup or Ahmedinejad could be a Holocaust-denying tyrant determined to pursue nuclear weapons who has the support of two-thirds of Iran's population.

Or he could be a Holocaust-denying homophobic President who has consistently denied any attempt to pursue nuclear weapons.

But I guess, you know, given all the intelligence coups of the past eight years, when Washington says without any evidence whatsoever that Iran is "pursuing" nuclear weapons, in the face of their religion opposition to nuclear weaponry and the steady opposition of heads of state to nuclear armament, we should believe what the US intelligence tells us. After all, when have they been wrong before?

"the independent polling that was conducted"

I've always been somewhat dubious about the reliablity of 'independent' polling in unfree nations. We know that even in free nations people can be reluctant to express unpopular opinions to polsters, how much more reluctant must they be when they don't know if the polster is reporting to the secret police?

This is not to say that the polls are wrong, just that I wouldn't rely on them.

Publius is, IMHO, 100% correct that "all options are always implicitly on the table." Nothing a President says ever "removes" an available option. The Doomsday Machine analogy doesn't work, because no world leader would be stupid enough to think that the United States would decline to act militarily if it believed that its interests would be served by such action. Everyone on earth knows about our military abilities, unlike the situation with the Doomsday Machine.

And I don't know how our history over the past half-century could suggest to any world leader that we were shrinking violets when it comes to the use of military force. There's simply no reason to go rattling our sabers all the time. "Speak softly and carry a big stick" once meant something to Republicans.

Iran has a solid fuel surface-to-surface missile program that is only useful for delivering nuclear warheads. Perhaps they'll build their own warheads from scratch, perhaps they'll buy something from North Korea.

So that is our interest in the situation. Well, that and the stability of the oil markets.

However sentimental I might feel about democracy and the people of Iran, practicalities must come first. In this case, though, the practicalities may not collide with sentiments, they may align.

I would like to see the poll that predicted that Ahmadinejad had such strong majority support amongst Azeris when running against an Azeri. It's simplistic to suggest that voting must follow ethnic lines, but... Iranian Azeris pretty strongly tend to vote along ethnic lines. See the 2005 vote, and how Mehralizadeh did in Iranian Azerbaijan vs. the rest of the country.

If Ahmedinejad believes only half of the things he claims to believe, he is a remarkably dangerous man.

I'd repeat "If / Then is clearly a dangerous tool," but in this case the onus is on the consequent. How is he remarkably dangerous, again? To whom?

You've just taken an option off the table.

Hey, you know what, never mind the subtlety about what we say is on the table as opposed to what really is. I'm perfectly fine with taking some options off the table. We can start with, "We will not proactively nuke Iran into a sheet of glass, neither to further neoconservative wet dreams of hegemony, nor to cater to hysterical claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad poses a titanic threat to the Solar System."

Of course, this leaves us defenseless when the smoking gun of Ahmadinejad's intentions comes in the form of a mushroom cloud. Will my face ever be red.

I wrote about this last week. The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who makes all the rules in Iran. He makes all the decisions in the country or controls all the decisions.
In order to even be on the ballot you must be approved by a 12 person panel. 6 of that panel are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other 6 are appointed by a group that is hand picked by the Supreme Leader.
Read more about it here and stick around for more good stuff-
http://libertarianhumor.com/2009/06/12/iran/

von- I don't know why conservatives fail so badly at understanding deterrence, but allow me to educate.

1. Saying "all options are on the table" in this context in anything but the most airy and vague sense is a way of saying "war is on the table" and/or "nuking you is on the table." Everyone understands this.

2. Saying that something is "on the table" means that you actually think there's a plausible and somewhat imminent chance that you'll need to use it. Everyone understands this as well.

3. Saying that something is "off the table" or "not on the table" or "not on the table at this time" or any other permutation does not imply that its gone forever and can never be put back. Should Obama say that invading Iran is "not an option," Iran would not immediately be free to start carting a nuclear device towards Israel in a wheelbarrow. If they did, things that were previously off the table would suddenly leap back on.

The only way to actually take something irrevocably off the table would be to render yourself incapable of doing it. Which doesn't seem to be happening.

This means that the language of "on the table" and "off the table" and its accompanying nonsense is really the language of brinksmanship. It is the language of threats. Threats can produce deterrence, but they can also produce escalation. And which one you get has a lot to do with what threats you make and whether you make them in a timely fashion. If there's no imminent danger and you start trotting out lines like "the military option is on the table, CANADA! RESPECT OUR FISHING RIGHTS IN THE ATLANTIC!" you're just going to make things worse.

Don't mistake a dumb metaphor about a table for reality. There is no table. Nothing is on it or off it. There are only options, and choices about how we speak about our likelihood of using those options.

von: out of curiosity, is there any particular reason why now strikes you as a good time to reiterate that everything is on the table?

"Iran has a solid fuel surface-to-surface missile program that is only useful for delivering nuclear warheads."

Tell that to Nazi Germany. Or Iraq. Conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missiles are pretty nasty as long as what you're aiming for is several miles in diameter. Like, say, London.

As for "all options on the table", please. The one and only way that a legitimate democracy can be established in Iran will be through the popular political will of the people of Iran. We can express our polite concerns; we can express our friendship; but we will accomplish nothing by threatening them except to strengthen the position of the hardliners. Nobody likes being threatened with violence, and nobody reacts well to it. Even if you ensure temporary compliance you just build resentment for the future.

Juan Cole also mentioned this:

Ballen noted in May,
'The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 percent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Moussavi, is likely.'

Some time between when the poll was taken and election day, Ahmadinejad scared up an additional 14-plus percent that he wasn't expected to receive, despite the fact that he performed so dismally in the country's only national debate.

I remember writing about an election four years ago where a certain candidate was declared president. That time, no one really bothered to question the veracity of the outcome, and I was called a warmonger.

"If its choice threatens us, or our friends and allies, all options must be on the table"

Von - I think a great exercise would be to get literal and specific about what the metaphor of "the table" means, and what it means for something to be "on" it.

Without that literalness and specificity, it sounds like fluffy machismo.

Just saw that none other than Ezra Klein is now questioning the fundamental rationality of the Iranian regime.

I don't know if Iran possibly being an irrational actor justifies "putting all options on the table", but is is unsettling.

This post is very strange.

Among the many problems with it is the assertion that we know what is going on in Iran is bad. I know no such thing. It may end tragically, but it could also result in a democratic revolution and a flourishing of Persian civilization.

Now is a good time to "first do no harm."

It is absolutely impossible that 2/3 of the Iranian electorate voted for Ahmedinejad. He only won in 2005 because the majority gave up on the system. To think he won in the face of a huge turnout is to be completely naive about Iran. I wonder how many Iranians von knows.

It's not strange at all. Von is an American conservative who has been taught that Iran is the Big Bad. He's profoundly ignorant about Iran, willing to repeat any lies told to him, but he knows that the US is sufficiently superior and righteous that an American conservative blogger has the moral authority to call for regime change.

Obviously there are some options that should _never_ be on the table, no matter what Iran does. Everything from violations of international law to first-strike nuclear attacks.

Saying "all options are on the table" is just a paraphrase for "I am a dangerous psychopath who will lash out at you no matter unpredictably no matter what I may say or what treaties I may sign, therefore you had better get yourself nukes and consolidate political power as quickly as you can".


Iran must be told that all options are on the table or there will be no possibility of deterrence.

Why?

If we say that "all options are on the table," Iran could assume we were blustering. Given the blustery bombast of most recent American leaders, that could be a logical conclusion.

If we don't say that "all options are on the table" they could still assume some forces within the administration (a right wing nut like McCrystal, or Gates) are advocating for a military strike.

"All options are on the table" tells you very little about a nation's real policy and much about the insecurity of its leaders. If anything, habitually issuing empty threats makes you more likely to get pushed around.

This is unusually poor reasoning based on a bogus metaphor, even for a von post. Sorry, von.

"That time, no one really bothered to question the veracity of the outcome, and I was called a warmonger."

I think the charge of war-mongering has more to do with folks calling for a military response to political events in other countries that we don't like, and less to do with the legitimacy of the outcome in the Iranian elections of either 2004 or this year.

It's kind of the difference between "That sucks!" and "That sucks, and so we will bomb them!".

I'm not looking to pick a fight here, I'm just trying to point out what it is that prompts claims of war-mongering.

"Conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missiles are pretty nasty as long as what you're aiming for is several miles in diameter."

Only true if you're using a guidance system as primitive as was available in Nazi Germany or (I think roughly equivalently) what Scuds are equipped with. I think Iran could lay their hands on something better, if they wanted to. Depends on how deep their wallet is. There are probably some decent Cold-War-era Russian systems for sale that could do a lot better.

Still: long-range missiles aren't your weapon of choice for conventional explosives delivery, IMHO. Too expensive, unless you have money and resources to burn.

Following up on my last comment (1:41)

So I take it no thoughts on whether Iran is still rational or not? Is that because it is now taken for granted? (If so, I'm not fully convinced myself -- being blatant in stealing an election makes some sense if you're trying to demoralize the opposition.)

Is it because the rationality of Iran is irrelevant to whether or not "all options are on the table"? Don't get me wrong -- I'm no fan of the rhetoric or attempt at diplomacy either.

But if you wanted to make the case for acting the crazy man, it helps if you can say that your opponent is already insane.

So, at the least, I think it's relevant. Any thoughts?

since "ALL OPTIONS ARE ON THE TABLE!!!" is our response to everything that Iran does, it's no wonder that they'd want to get some kind of deterrent.

we are a stupid country.

I must say, for citizens of a country that recently started a war that killed a million people for no apparent reason, Americans demonstrate remarkable arrogance. There's a shocking quantity of blood on our hands and given that, I'd expect to see a lot more caution before we talk about "leaving all options on the table." Does anyone really think that the institutional and cultural defects that lead us to kill so many people over nothing have been resolved? If they have not, then surely talking up the military option makes as much sense as using a power tool where the safety mechanisms have been removed.

Introducing notions of military response at this point seems positively clinical: oh no, something went wrong in the world, we'd better start threatening to kill lots and lots of people! This impulse to respond to any and all problems with threats of violence is difficult for me to understand.

the following are my nominees for wise comments:

Publius: the saber-rattling is a key source of A's strength. and threatening iran with force simply harms the people in iran we want to help.

Russell:What is clear to me is that anything we do to interfere, or even appear to interfere, or even appear to want to interfere, will only move things further from our own best interest.If there is one thing I'm sure the Iranians are united on, it's that they don't want the United States of America big-footing around in their internal politics.

Jacob Davies: The one and only way that a legitimate democracy can be established in Iran will be through the popular political will of the people of Iran. We can express our polite concerns; we can express our friendship; but we will accomplish nothing by threatening them except to strengthen the position of the hardliners. Nobody likes being threatened with violence, and nobody reacts well to it.

Pithlord:Now is a good time to "first do no harm."

I'm wondering about Franz F.

At first glance, it looks like a possible Iranian government sock puppet.

But then that looks so obvious that maybe he's an anti-Iran poster trying to make us think the Iranian government is posting propaganda messages?

Or maybe he's just being ironic?

Or maybe -- and this may be a stretch -- he's just that thick or paranoid?

Some observations:

1. For me, the story is not whether there was electoral fraud on Friday, the story is the *story*. Iranian elections are, in any case, rigged long before anyone casts a vote, and it seems extremely unlikely that we'll know what happened that day for many years (i.e., until historians have some hard evidence). What counts now is perception.

2. Following from that, it seems very plausible to me that the US government is already engaged in a war with Iran -- the war over the story. It's practically a matter of record that Washington spends a great deal of money trying to destabilise the Iranian government (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/07/080707fa_fact_hersh & http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/05/bush_authorizes.html), so why not entertain the possibility that the current destabilisation is to some degree of product of those efforts? For example, a lot of the information flying about (see point 3, below) seems to originate with website like tehranbureau.com, which was set up just a few months ago by an Iranian-American 'freelance journalist'. There's a reason why governments like Iran's arrest American freelance journalists -- they're often shady. Obviously I'm not saying these people are CIA assets, I'm just pointing out that everyone needs to ask the basic questions about their sources and approach every source with healthy skepticism.

My takeaway? Anybody offering advice on what the Obama administration should or shouldn't do ought to consider the likelihood that the Obama administration already knows, and possibly is already doing, a whole lot of stuff you have no idea about.

3. Following from that, it's worth pointing out that anybody who knows anything isn't saying anything (with the exception of the Iranian opposition). That includes the Iranian Ministry of the Interior and foreign governments. As far as I can tell, we have no official tallies region-by-region or city-by-city, and nobody has established the provenance of figures claiming to do so (although ultimately I don't think it's terribly important, see point 1). I know a couple of people who ought to know what's going on, and they are keeping mum, presumably because they are waiting on more information (a salutary example), or they have information they can't divulge, or both.

4. We (that is, me and most people I see expressing strong opinions one way or another) don't know anything. We don't know how reliable polls in general or specific polls are in Iran. We don't know which issues were most pressing on people's mind when they voted (it's not always all about America you know). We don't know who most people thought did better in the debates, or if the debates even mattered. We don't know if Mousavi or Ahmedinejad cuts a more convincing reformist figure to most Iranians -- just 'cos CNN, the NY Times et alia have affixed the all-powerful 'reformist' epithet to Mousavi, don't make it so.

5. I don't know if the American bloggysphere and the 24-hour cycle addicted Western media are being manipulated right now, but this whole thing at least proves how easy that would be to do. Given the substantial sums all of our governments spend on trying to manipulate opinions at home and abroad, that should scare us. Andrew Sullivan and the NY Times are just two respectable news outlets unquestioningly reproducing random rumours, twitters (twitters fer chrissake!), and "my cousin's uncle's neighbour works in the Interior Ministry and..." It's Iran -- this is a notoriously rumour and conspiracy-driven society even in the best of times. Get serious, please.

6. Ergo, the internets is ruining journalism.

Turbulence, it's perfectly simple. To make it easy, or downright necessary, to respond that way, you simply refuse to examine the validity of your own belief that those people over there are bad violent people who are going to hurt you if you don't hurt them first.

An additional benefit of this approach is that you never have to face the fact that you yourself are the bad violent people who hurt first to forestall the possibility (however remote) of being hurt later.

Turbulence, so true.
same thinking as during Viet Nam war when Rusk was saying if US didn't stop VC you'd be fighting on the beaches of Hawaii. How North Viet Nam, (or for that matter the People's Republic) were going to traverse the Pacific Ocean was never explained.

The US has such a history of blocking free and fair elections- not only Ohio and Florida- but Korea in the late '40's; Viet Nam in the mid'50's, or overthrowing elected regimes (Iran and Chile),one would think Americans would be too embarrassed to interfere in others' elections.

And particularly a country like Iran where there is such a lingering bad taste from American involvement.

@ Wow: Franz F.'s appearance in the Uighur Fish! thread indicates his concerns extend beyond Iran. Please DNF.

Given the posting history the last couple of weeks, I don't quite see how all options can possibly be on the table. For example, a massively expensive land war/occupation/peacekeeping force can't be on the table outside of an Iranian first strike, unless I fantastically misread some of von's other posts. Given that the deficit seems to be coming to kill us in our sleep, and Ahmedinejad also seems to be coming to kill us in our sleep, perhaps the implied solution is to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities (that are totally there, we promise) *with* our deficits? Maybe they're so large they could do a lot of damage?

Cake / Eat it too.
You may choose *one.*

I was going to engage with the "irrationality" thing, Point, but was interrupted.

Just saw that none other than Ezra Klein is now questioning the fundamental rationality of the Iranian regime.

I'm not sure if I correctly recall young Mr. Klein's stance in 2002, but it might be wisest not to give an enormous amount of weight to his view. It is unlikely he would even have a spot at the Washington Post if he had learned too much from the Iraq debacle.

Anyway, even assuming that this election was stolen doesn't inevitably lead to the conclusion that the Iranian regime is fundamentally irrational. Plenty of fundamentally rational regimes fix elections, believably or not, unless we really want to start questioning the Russian government's sanity. It might not seem to make the most sense, as opposed to simply marginalizing a victorous reformist, but it's not a completely inexplicable course. And neither is re-electing Ahmadinejad despite the state of the economy, unless we want to get into "What's the Matter with Kansas?" comparisons.

Still, it is worrisome that all outcomes at this point could be taken to justify "all options being on the table" even by some so-called liberals. Because, yes, "fundamentally irrational" is relevant, and of a piece with "remarkably dangerous man" and "rogue regime." Why, there's no telling what those insane Iranians might do next! But unless it involves clown noses and performance art, it will almost certainly endanger millions if we don't act first.

What's irrational about fixing elections? Or robbing banks?

What's irrational about fixing elections?

Nothing, but I would think one would want to do it with such subtlety that people wouldn't realize it was fixed, or suspect but not be able to prove. Here it appears that the release of the vote count, the very excessive majority, the departure from normal practice re certifiying results all screamed fixed.

mds

Sorry if I was too eager for a response.

I think the point about blatant election fraud and irrationality is that, when such actions can predictably provoke an energized electorate, it can look like an irrationally large risk.

Like I said, though I'm not convinced -- it may also be that Ahmedinejad* is trying to get violent confrontation with the opposition out of the way early.

And even if its the case that a less rational regime is in place, I don't think that makes "all options on the table" any more helpful", as policy or rhetoric.

*The coup theory is looking pretty convincing right now.

I'd like to tag Jackie M. In the interim, I would strongly advise clicking her link.

I think Point meant strongly advise *against* clicking the link. That wasn't pretty...

It seems somehow appropriate that Von's quote about 'lovers of the beautiful' comes from the leader of a previous democracy that got enthusiastic about empire building and then turned genocidal. Becuase otherwise, it would seem extremely poor taste to suggest that loving beauty involves being prepared to pre-emptively bomb other countries.

I'll give von credit for being a lot smarter than most conservatives, because he gets his politics from good Cold War-era comedies. No Red Dawn around here!

It's practically a matter of record that Washington spends a great deal of money trying to destabilise the Iranian government . . . so why not entertain the possibility that the current destabilisation is to some degree of product of those efforts?

Two responses to this. The first is I don't see US destabalization being able to produce such a subtle result as getting a reform candidate that inspires 85% turnout, and can then mobilize these kinds of rallies. That's particularly true given that, until five months ago, such destabalization attempts were being run by the inept clowns that made up the Bush administration. No one is blowing anything up, except for a few trash dumpsters. It's not their style.

Second, even if what we are seeing is the result of secret US interference, I'm not seeing the problem. This is exactly the result we should want, if our goal is to move Iran towards a freer and more liberal government. The fact that the Bush administration was evil and opposed Khameini/Ahmedinajed doesn't mean that the Iranian regime isn't also evil. If democratic protests overthrow it, so much the better. If I thought for a minute that US intervention in the affairs of other countries could be this well targeted, this effective, this subtle, and directed to good ends, I'd have a much different view of the virtues of US interference in other countries affairs.

Evidence of US intervention would actually manage to improve my view of the Bush administration a very tiny bit, unless it was all orchestrated since January. The downside is that any such credible evidence would likely reduce its effectiveness, so it's best for us all to just sit here speculating on it.

So I take it no thoughts on whether Iran is still rational or not? Is that because it is now taken for granted? (If so, I'm not fully convinced myself -- being blatant in stealing an election makes some sense if you're trying to demoralize the opposition.)

Before we try to figure out how rational the Iranian regime is, can we figure out if the US government is rational or not? I'd say that events in 2003 conclusively demonstrate that the American government was not behaving rationally at that time. Ergo, nations around the world should have made it clear that "all options were on the table" and should have threatened the United States with nuclear attacks until the United States government's behavior improved.

More seriously, is there any criteria by which one can claim that the current Iranian regime is irrational that does not also indicate that the US government is irrational?

More seriously, is there any criteria by which one can claim that the current Iranian regime is irrational that does not also indicate that the US government is irrational?

When we do it, it's not irrational. Plus they're muslims.

I would like to offer my deepest, sincerest apologies for my previous typo -- in particular to antrumf.

My request for a tag stands.

Jackie M all cleaned up, now. Probably our friend the persistent troll. *yawn*

No worries, Point.
Slart, am I right in saying the problem is that the troll is IP hopping? Is there anything you can do about it, or is it just a matter of waiting until he/she gets bored?

Turbulence

I think the question of rationality is important for those who ask what policies the US should pursue to advance their interests, or if a functioning relationship between the US and Iran is possible.

If Iran is fundamentally rational, than the burden lies on the US to act rationally in response (e.g. seek diplomatic relations on key issues). If, however, Iran is not irrational, the question of how the US behaves rationally becomes murkier.

It does not, I believe, follow that "all options are on the table", any more than Iran can definitively be called an irrational regime. (Assuming their is an attempted coup underway, this is all the more so, since the future is still in the air.)

I'd rather not say anything useful to our friend, antrumf. Just let's assume that I'm a very patient man.

My thanks for cleaning up the troll's... well, the situation.

Point, you did not answer my question. Would you please explain what criteria would indicate Iran's regime was irrational while at the same time indicating that the US government is rational? Also, do you believe that the US government behaves rationally?

Hilzoy's comment at 12:17 makes some good points regarding the story in the WaPo regarding the pre-election poll (538 subsequently made some of the same points). I didn't have access to the underlying data at the time I posted -- only the WaPo article -- but I agree with Hilzoy that these are very suspicious figures.

von: out of curiosity, is there any particular reason why now strikes you as a good time to reiterate that everything is on the table?

I didn't say do it now; to the contrary, I praised Obama's decision to distance himself from Iranian politics at the moment. It's the right choice. But one can only wait and see so long. We'll know a lot more within a week, maybe two. If this has been a coup and it's not resolved by the Iranians, we may face a world in which we cannot open our hands to Iran.

we may face a world in which we cannot open our hands to Iran.

What does this mean? That we're going to continue threatening Iran? We've never stopped, so that wouldn't represent a change.

It seems somehow appropriate that Von's quote about 'lovers of the beautiful' comes from the leader of a previous democracy that got enthusiastic about empire building and then turned genocidal. Becuase otherwise, it would seem extremely poor taste to suggest that loving beauty involves being prepared to pre-emptively bomb other countries.

It's noteworthy that Pericles had been dead for more than a decade at the time of the Melian genocide .... and the Periclean state mostly dead with him.

What does this mean? That we're going to continue threatening Iran? We've never stopped, so that wouldn't represent a change.

We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime.

We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime.

Respectfully, it's hard to overstate just how much I disagree with this. Particularly right now.

von,

Are you sticking with your assertion that we know that what is going on is bad. Not that it might turn out bad, but that it is bad?

We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime.

So, does this mean that we're going to start "exercising some options" in Egypt too? As far as I can tell, the Egyptian regime is more corrupt and dictatorial than the Iranian regime. What exactly is the difference that necessitates active disruption in one case and showering money and affection in the other?

Turbulence

First, I never exactly said that I thought Iran was irrational; in fact I was clear that I was less than convinced. But if it's a question of "Why Iran and not the US?" -- remember, the emphasis isn't on the election fraud, but the transparency of the fraud, especially in light of an unusually energized electorate.

The equivalent here isn't the 2000 election -- which was known for voter apathy, a razor thin margin, etc. -- but if McCain had claimed a 60% margin of victory, won California, etc.

That said, the US has acted irrationally before.

We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime.

Because that's worked out SO WELL for the U.S. in the past.

"We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime."

Um, start?

Those of us who remember 1989 can't possibly think that what we are seeing right now is a bad thing. This is what the overthrow of despotic regimes looks like. What we are seeing right, in its whole, now is beautiful. Mixed into it are incidents and images of brutality, evil, tragedy, and horror. Acknowledging those does not alter the fundamental goodness of the overall events.

That said, it could turn very bad. It is possible that Poland in 1980 is a better analogy for what is going to happen than Poland in 1989 is. That would be a tragedy. It would, in short, be bad. Unfortunately, I still think that that's the most likely result, and the reformists are going to end up like the Solidarity leaders.

Even that won't make what's happening today a bad thing. After 1980, the Polish government never recovered. It had lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the population, and the whole country essentially went on strike for the next decade. Martial law guaranteed that eventual collapse of the regime. Had the rest of the Soviet bloc not propped up the Polish economy, the collapse would have come faster. There is also a real likelihood that the imposition of martial law would have worked, had it not been clear that the alternative was a Soviet invasion, as in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

I'm not sure I see a country that could play the same role in this situation as the Soviets did in 1980. Russia maybe, though I doubt that they'll think that this has enough interest for them to really back Ahmedinajed strongly. The Chinese might, out of desire for stability to keep the oil flowing, but I'm not sure that they can. More, I don't think that the Iranian people will find direct Chinese intervention any more acceptable than direct American intervention.

Whatever the outcome this week, I don't give the Islamic Republic all that long to live. I really doubt that it lasts another decade. That's a good thing.

"...or Ahmedinejad could be a Holocaust-denying tyrant determined to pursue nuclear weapons who has the support of two-thirds of Iran's population."

Wait, how would that make him a tyrant?

Mind, I'm not speaking up for Ahmedinejad: I'm just asking how you define a "tyrant" who is, hypothetically, popularly elected, not remotely the most powerful official in the land, and is constrained by a variety of other bodies in the land (the Supreme Leader, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts, the Majlis (or Islamic Consultative Assembly, aka the Iranian Parliament), the Expediency Discernment Council, and the judiciary. What kind of "tyrant" is subordinate to all these groups and individuals?

"... Dan McLaughlin's column on Iran contains advice that President Obama might publicly rebuke, but privately adopt."

You can rebuke people, but you can't rebuke advice.

And, wow, is McLaughlin's piece stupid.

First of all, to utter this with no sense of irony or hypocrisy is amazing: "First, Iran has been a thorn in the side of the United States, both in Iraq and more broadly around the region, and as often as not it has meddled in our and others’ affairs without cost."

To say this lacks a sense of history and context is to understate more than just a little.

Secondly, "[t]here are few principles of international relations more critical than always giving the other guy a downside for making trouble" is extremely stupid: anyone who has read history is familiar with the concept of blowback. Always giving the other guy a downside tends to have a downside.

"There is only one way to find out; if the Iranian people are ready to take the chance, we should do whatever we can in our power to encourage them."

Thirdly, due to the mind-shatteringly huge omission of my first point, the worst thing the U.S. can do is intervene in any way, overt, or that could possibly ever become public; the best thing the U.S. could do is be as ostentatiously hands-off as possible -- that would do more than anything else to strengthen the hands of the opposition, and make clear that it's in no way contaminated by foreign regimes, and worst of all, as seen by Iranians, by the U.S.

"America today has a great opportunity to make trouble for a hostile government while at the same time potentially lending an opportunity for freedom to its oppressed people. We should use whatever resources are at our disposal to make the best of that chance."

Sure, because that's never backfired in Iran or anywhere else before.

Missile Clarification:

Yes, Saddam's SCUD missiles were non-nuclear, but were launched very close to Israel, so they could be launched in much greater numbers. Even so they were ineffectual, and could not be effective unless some sort of WMD was involved.

Envision Iran launching 50 or 100 purely conventional warheads (high explosive) at Israel. What happens? A crisis, some deaths, retaliation, and so on. Israel, however, survives, no matter how many holes Iran drills in the Negev, the West Bank, the Mediterranean, wherever...

This is what I mean when I write that the surface-to-surface missiles imply a WMD program. And the WMDs Iran is working on are clearly nuclear.

This is all pretty clear. And the Iranian youth, especially, do not want the war Iran is headed for. That's the connection.

Iran faces a choice regarding what kind of country it wants to be. If its choice threatens us, or our friends and allies, all options must be on the table.

Yeah let's preemptively blame "Iran" for its "choice", so that we'll find it easier to kill them later. Could we remove this disgusting piece of macho warmongering from the front page and make von eff off to redstate please.

"Crap, I had a bunch of responses written, and somehow accidentally deleted them before posting. Fwowny face.

"Still: long-range missiles aren't your weapon of choice for conventional explosives delivery, IMHO. Too expensive, unless you have money and resources to burn."

They're useful on the political side of warfare: they're useful for threatening to strike an enemy you otherwise have difficulty striking. They're also useful, in a war, for domestic morale.

"We (that is, me and most people I see expressing strong opinions one way or another) don't know anything."

Ditto: those declaring they know for sure how the actual elections went get a FAIL on an intelligence test. (Both meanings.)

"If this has been a coup and it's not resolved by the Iranians, we may face a world in which we cannot open our hands to Iran."

I don't know what "open our hands" means. But we found it very useful to negotiate with Mao, and with the regime of Brezhnev, and I don't see how anyone can rationally claim that the current Iranian regime is somehow more evil than Mao's.

"We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime."

We've been doing that throughout the Bush years, in case you haven't been keeping up on you reading. Do you seriously need pointers? What sort of new covert actions do you think advisable, and how "covert" do you expect them to be?

As a followup, have you ever noticed any downsides to covert actions by the U.S.?"

"This is what I mean when I write that the surface-to-surface missiles imply a WMD program."

This explains the use of hundreds of such missiles in the Iran-Iraq war. Because if a weapon system doesn't totally win a war for you, it's of no use. Merely terrorizing the other side has never been a tactic in war.

Right.

"And the WMDs Iran is working on are clearly nuclear.

This is all pretty clear."

Aside from the whole "nuclear weapon" part. That's as clear as Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program was.

"They're useful on the political side of warfare: they're useful for threatening to strike an enemy you otherwise have difficulty striking. They're also useful, in a war, for domestic morale."

True, Gary. Actually, I may have to turn all the way around and say they may be your only weapon of choice, if it so happens that you lack an air force to deliver bombs. And if people think you might be throwing a few chem/bio weapons along with the HE? So much the better.

And, come to think of it, Israel would rip an incoming airstrike pretty deepy. Missiles might be more doable.

"That it, we must have not only the power to think before we act, we must be able to act as well: "for we are lovers of the beautiful.""

Yeah, but now our global reputation is that we think waterboards and prisoners stacked like cordwood are beautiful.

Oh, also, enough with the Classical warmongering.

It was stupid coming from a wingnut calling himself 'Tacitus', and it's stupid when it's warmed-over Greek quotes that are oh so melodramatic.

Try to grapple with the present reality, please, rather than draping impotent tough talk in Classical drag to make it sound impressive.

""Iran has a solid fuel surface-to-surface missile program that is only useful for delivering nuclear warheads.""

I believe liquid fuel missiles (ala North Korea) sometimes take quite a while to fuel up prior to launch. A solid fuel surface-to-surface missile would thus be useful for a quick retaliatory strike, rather than sitting on the pad for hours and hours during which it would be vulnerable.

von wrote: "We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime."

With all due respect, when you say "all options are on the table", all you're really laying on the table are your man-parts. Please put them away.

And the suggestion of covert action is truly, profoundly ignorant of history.

The military and CIA are not magic wands, von.

Regardless of how things shake out, we may end up needing to use sticks rather than carrots to deal with the Iranian problem. That should not, however, be our first option, because A.)war is an ugly, bloody, morally degenerative mess, no matter how justifiable, well-planned, or well-waged, and B.)there are still other options for containing even a nuclear-capable Iran. As such, threatening military action does nothing except, as publius says, hurt the cause of liberals and reform advocates within Iran. The Islamic Republic is in the credit of discrediting itself and making Iranians forget about our past transgressions against democracy in Persia by committing its own present ones, and we don't want to do anything to disrupt that process.

And, as Russell and others say, saying that we do not wish to use military force to solve this dispute and are not considering it is not the remotely the same as not being ready to use it if necessary. The Japanese have an apt proverb - "a wise hawk conceals its claws when they are unneeded".

"It's noteworthy that Pericles had been dead for more than a decade at the time of the Melian genocide"

More than a decade? That's nothing. He's been dead for about 2500 years now.

I imagine Pericles' ghost is getting weary of being dragged out to prop up everybody's pet excellent democratic adventure.

Let's just let the man rest in peace.

"We consider not only reminding the Iranians that all options are the table, but start exercising some, e.g., covert action and support for the disruption of the Iranian regime. "

Josh beat me to it.

Leaving aside the question of whether it's morally or politically proper to mess with other people's internal politics, has this approach to foreign policy ever, ever, ever worked out to our advantage?

Inquiring minds want to know. Cause I can sure as hell give you a bucket full of examples where it hasn't.

I'm suddenly having unbidden, unwelcome thoughts of John Bolton at Plato's Retreat.

I'm still looking forward to responses from von to my questions here and below. Thanks, von.

I'm still looking forward to responses from von to my questions here and below.

"Get used to disappointment."

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