Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Iran 7/7 - The Pot Simmers (Updated)

(A great music video from Cyrus Mafia on Iran's uprising, with some English subtitles / Hat Tip Michael Ledeen)

A summary of the current situation in and about Iran:

1. Mousavi called for a 3-day strike leading up to a major rally planned on Thursday, 9 July.

2. Khameini ordered another crackdown, with hundreds more arrests and orders to confiscate all satellite dishes. He also has ordered most businesses closed, apparently in an effort to prevent a wide scale general strike being portrayed as a show of support for Mousavi

3. Money is flooding out of Iran as Iran's rich read the writing on the wall

4. The Commander of the IRGC has publicly announced that they have taken over all internal security missions since the election

5. A major development two days ago was the decision of Iran's most influential clerical body to condemn the election and the repression of protesters. Christopher Hitchens speculates that the hands of Rafsanjani and Grand Ayatollah Sistani were behind the move. He further ponders whether the example of Iraqi democracy played a substantive role in the current Iranian discontent.

6. The utterly spineless and wrongheaded Obama regime has come out against any international sanctions against the bloody theocrats for their repression, reasoning that any sanctions "might backfire." Fortunately, Congress is acting independently of Obama.

7. Biden has greenlighted Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities and Saudi Arabia apparently will do its role to assist Israel. That said, this should not be Israel's burden to carry alone. Unfortunately, with Obama at the helm, it will be.

Update: 8. Amir Taheri writes on the likelihood that Khameini is likely to be far more brutal than the shah in attempting to put down the current unrest. He also writes on the fact that Ahmedinejad is now unwelcome in most parts of Iran.


1. Mousavi, facing calls from supporters of Ahmedinejad for his arrest and punishment for treason, has called for a 3 day general strike leading up to a major planned protest on Thursday, "the 10th anniversary of a 1999 attack by pro-government militiamen on the dormitories of Tehran University that led to weeks of political unrest." Mousavi is not backing down. While some rumblings are being heard about arresting Mousavi, there can be little doubt that this ham-handed regime would already have done so if they were fully confident of their ability to weather the unrest.

2. According to Michael Ledeen, Khameini has ordered another round of arrests, as well as the confiscation of all satellite dishes:

The Iranian tyrant, Ali Khamenei, told his cluster of top advisers two days ago that it was time to totally shut down the protests, and he ordered that any and all demonstrators, regardless of their status, be arrested (although there is no longer room for new prisoners in Tehran’s jails; they are now using sports arenas as holding areas). He further ordered that all satellite dishes be taken down (good luck with that one; there are probably millions of them in Tehran alone). He ordered that the crackdown be done at night, to avoid all those annoying videos. By Sunday night, hundreds of new arrests had been made, including the regime’s favorite targets: students, intellectuals, and journalists.

His deadline: July 11th. He told his minions that if that were accomplished, the rest of the world would come crawling to him.

He may be right about most of the rest of the world, which has distinguished itself by its fecklessness, but he is certainly not right about his own people . . .

The regime was apparently so worried that the general strike would show massive support for Mousavi that they took the step of ordering the businesses and offices to close for three days. The Telegraph is reporting that most businesses in Tehran's Central Bazaar are closed, though there is no word coming out on the rest of the country.

3. File this one under "rats deserting a sinking ship." Underscoring the continuing seriousness of the unrest in Iran, the Telegraph is reporting on the mass movement of money out of the country:

Millions of pounds in private wealth has begun flooding out of Iran in the wake of mass demonstrations which have paralysed commercial life after the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Fears of a new round of crippling sanctions are also thought to have fuelled the movement of money out of the country.

Western intelligence agencies have reported that prominent private businesses and wealthy families have moved tens of millions of dollars out of Iranian banks into overseas accounts. . . .

4. The IRGC is a corrupt organization whose leadership has a fully vested interest in seeing the theocracy propped up. The leadership of the IRGC is getting as rich from corruption, graft, and business interests as have many of the politicized members of Iran's clerical establishment. Thus it is no surprise to find that the IRGC is now running the internal security to brutally crush the protests. This from the LA Times:

The top leaders of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard publicly acknowledged they had taken over the nation's security during the post-election unrest and warned late Sunday, in a threat against a reformist wave led by Mir-Hossein Mousavi, that there was no middle ground in the ongoing dispute over the reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the elite military branch, said the guard's takeover of the nation's security had led to "a revival of the revolution."

. . . "Today, no one is impartial," Gen. Yadollah Javani said at the Sunday news conference, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. "There are two currents -- those who defend and support the revolution and the establishment, and those who are trying to topple it."

The uniformed Revolutionary Guard leaders, joined by the turbaned cleric Ali Saedi, Khamenei's representative, said they would play a more active role in defending the Islamic Republic's core values . . .

It should be noted that the basij, Iran's version of the Nazi brown-shirts, who have played a central and bloody role in repressing the protests, are under the command of the IRGC.

5. I blogged here on the recent major development of Iran's most respected clerical organization, the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, who issued a statement that condemned the regime for their repression of the protests, called the regime illegitimate, and challenged the Guardian Council for certifying the election. Related to this, Abbas Milani has written an exceptional article at TNR giving the history of the split among Iran's clerics over the theocracy itself that we now see spilling out into the open.

Christopher Hitchens, writing at Slate, makes the point that the impetus for the Association's statement - a group that normally stays out of politics - was likely prompted by Mousavi's backer, Rafsanjani, and the most popular cleric in Iran, Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Hitchens goes on to ask a salient question:

Did the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime, and the subsequent holding of competitive elections in which many rival Iraqi Shiite parties took part, have any germinal influence on the astonishing events in Iran? Certainly when I interviewed Sayeed Khomeini in Qum some years ago, where he spoke openly about "the liberation of Iraq," he seemed to hope and believe that the example would spread. One swallow does not make a summer. But consider this: Many Iranians go as religious pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen the way in which national and local elections have been held, more or less fairly and openly, with different Iraqi Shiite parties having to bid for votes (and with those parties aligned with Iran's regime doing less and less well). They have seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are reported with reasonable fairness in the Iraqi media. Meanwhile, an Iranian mullah caste that classifies its own people as children who are mere wards of the state puts on a "let's pretend" election and even then tries to fix the outcome. Iranians by no means like to take their tune from Arabs—perhaps least of all from Iraqis—but watching something like the real thing next door may well have increased the appetite for the genuine article in Iran itself.

I will be amazed if, once all is said and done, we find out that Iraq's model did not play a significant role in promoting the discontent of Iran's rank and file. I have been saying for years that the greatest single threat to Iran was a border with Iraq's secular, Shia dominated democracy - and indeed, that the two could not possibly coexist. But don't expect Hitchen's question to get asked by our MSM. Instead, we have the MSM regurgitating the Obama administration's laughable claim of credit for being a cause of the uprising, pointing to the Cairo Speech. That would be the speech wherein Obama signalled a retreat from promoting democracy in the Middle East. And it would be the speech that was not broadcast in Iran. The theocracy actually jammed the signal to prevent people from picking it up on satellite dishes.

6. As I posted here, Obama has come out against any international sanctions against the theocrats for their bloody repression because of concern that any sanctions "might backfire." As Robert Averich cogently points out on his blog, such a move could not be more counterproductive, nor more useless.

Fortunately, Congress is acting independently of Obama. McCain and Lieberman announced two weeks ago that they were sponsoring a bill to require the U.S. to assist with the communications into and out of Iraq - perhaps the most critical area where we can assist the nascent revolution in Iran. Unfortunately, that also tells us that if we are having to legislate such actions, Obama must have our covert operators sitting on their thumbs, doing nothing to assist the protests. That, if true, is an atrocity. But it would comport with Obama's simply mystifying continued push to hold talks with this illegitimate and brutal theocracy. The Telegraph also reports on more legislation in the U.S. pipeline:

. . . Republican congressman Mark Kirk has claimed there is growing support for a bill he is sponsoring which would strip American support for foreign companies supplying refined petroleum to Iran.

Iran is a large oil producer but decades of financial isolation means it must import petrol and other end products from abroad.

Reliance, the Indian operator, provides one-third of Iran's daily needs while also enjoying a massive trade loan from the US.

Another bill that would exclude companies involved in the trade from doing business in the US was put on hold earlier this year as a gesture from President Barack Obama to improve relations.

Iran's economic problems are severe. Their per capita GDP is only slightly over $3,100, inflation is running almost 25%, and their unemployment rate is well into double digits. These are not transitory conditions that just came about as a result of the global economic meltdown, but are the result of years of misrule by clerics and now Ahmedinejad. Real sanctions, particularly ones that attack the theocracy's dependence on foreign refined fuel products, could prove very effective in furthering unrest in Iran. But with Obama seeking to derail international sanctions over Iran's brutal repression, it is unlikely he would ever sign such bills.

I recommend that you take a look at how Obama has long approached such issues to evaluate their effectiveness. We learned today that Obama was highly critical of Reagan in 1983 for going ahead with the deployment of new nuclear missiles in the face of Soviet opposition and opposition in Germany - the so-called nuclear freeze movement. Obama was very much on the wrong side of history there, and if his policies were then in place, we might still be facing the Soviet Union. Let us hope Obama does not manage to throw a lifeline to our own modern "evil empire," Iran's bloody theocracy.

7. VP Biden has greenlighted Israel to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, stating that Israel is a "sovereign nation" entitled to make its own decisions on security without U.S. interference. Given the current state of Iran, Israel would be foolish to pull the trigger yet. If they strike Iran, they may put back Iran's nuclear weapons program by a few years but unite a country on the verge of toppling. Conversely, if Iran's theocracy falls, the threat to Israel would likely vanish overnight.

That said, it is also being reported that Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow Israel to overfly Saudi airspace to attack Iran. It is now being denied, but I do not doubt that this is true. For all of the vile hatred Wahhabists preach against Israel and the Jews, the bottom line is that Israel is no threat to the House of Saud. Iran, however, is not only a religious enemy of the Wahhabis because they practice Shia'ism, but Iran also poses a major threat to the Sauds. Iran has long been reaching out to all Shia in the Middle East in an effort to expand their influence. The House of Saud rules over a substantial and strategically placed Shia minority. Anything that the Sauds and most of the other Sunni countries could do informally and covertly to assist Israel against Iran has probably already been considered and discussed.

To go one further, Daled Amos, blogging at Soccer Dad, ponders the question of whether it is time for there to be a Sunni-Israel alliance directed against Iran and what it would take to achieve such an alliance. I doubt that a formal alliance would ever coalesce until the Sword of Damocles visibly appears over the Arab Sunni world. But it is a sign of the times that such an issue is even being discussed with seriousness.

Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon was one issue that President Bush clearly wanted to deal with on his watch. It was only vociferous intervention led by Obama, Reid and Pelosi against even the threat of force, coupled with the release of a highly politicized NIE, that tied Bush's hands. Now Obama owns the Iranian problem and is responsible for countering the mad theocracy's rush for a nuclear arsenal that will threaten the U.S. every bit as much as Israel.

During his campaign, Obama said he would consider using force to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. That was then, this is now. In light of totality of Obama's approach to Iran, it is fair to assume that Biden's statement was, if not a public punting of the ball to Israel, then at least an acknowledgement that Israel is on its own in this.

The Obama administration has given us many things things already - a record debt, rising unemployment, a failing dollar to name but a few. What they haven't given us or the world is anything remotely approaching leadership. Apparently, that is now Israel's job. At least the House of Saud seems to recognize it.

8. Iranian columnist Amir Taheri has several recent articles on Iran. In "For Mousavi: Three Roads Ahead," Taheri points out that Khameini is no longer even making a pretense that Iran has a "republican" system of government and that Khameini will not shirk from using all of the violence necessary to stay in power:

Thanks to Mousavi’s decision to fight back, the current crisis has already produced at least one positive result. It has clarified the situation by exposing the composite noun Islamic Republic as an oxymoron. The space allocated to the "republic" has shrunk to its smallest since the start of the Khomeinist regime.

On Tuesday, the official Islamic News Agency (IRNA) published the text of a long sermon by the "Supreme Guide" in the province of Kurdistan and for the staff of the elite 27th Division, spelling out the nature of the regime.

This is what Khamenei says: "Islamic society is the society of the imamate. This means that the imam is at the head of the system. {The Imam is} a man who exercises power because the people follow him as their leader from their heart and because they have full faith in him."

Khamenei makes no mention of the presidency or any other organ of state because the system he is defending has a single, all-embracing institution: the imamate.

With pretensions about democracy and popular will gone, the current system in Iran is closer to models such as the imamate in Yemen and the "Islamic emirate" in Afghanistan under the Taliban, than to a republic in which Mousavi, or anybody else, could claim a mandate based on victory in an election.

Khamenei's sermon also contains a clear warning that the regime is prepared to provoke a bloodbath to maintain its hold on power. Khamenei says that had the Shah killed half a million people he would not have been overthrown.

He criticizes the Algerian Front for Islamic Salvation (FIS) for not having called the masses onto the streets and provoked a bloodbath by confronting the army. "Had they brought the crowds onto the streets there would have been an Islamic government in Algeria today," he says. "But they were afraid and showed weakness."

With admiration, the "Supreme Guide" recalls the massacre of one million Communists in Indonesia under General Suharto that he claims saved the system in that country.

A reluctant hero, Mousavi has succeeded in drawing the true battle lines in Iran's politics. Whether he wishes to be present on those lines, for how long, and with how much determination remains to be seen.

This throws into stark relief the paucity and imprudence of the Obama administration's decision to minimize sanctions against the regime. Khamieini is set on his path and beliefs. Nothing Obama could possibly do will light a fire in the regime that was unlit before. To the contrary, the best hope of limiting the repression against those braving it in a fight for democracy would be to significantly increase the external pressure on the regime, making the regime's already noticable faultlines into crumbling chasms. As is becoming a regular pattern, Obama is doing the polar opposite.

Taheri also writes in a seperate article, A Suddenly Most Unwelcome Guest, that Ahmedinejad has been cancelling most of his travel plans inside Iran because of the likelihood of his presence leading to mass protests. Ahmedinejad is, writes Taheri, a very diminished figure whose "legitimacy is challenged at all levels of Iranian society, including every segment of the Khomeinist establishment." I don't see this ending well for Ahmedinejad.


cdor said...

Wow GW, quite the comprehensive post! Very well done.

My question, "Who is Mousavi and why is he preferrable to Ahmadinedjad?"

Is your thinking that if the pot boils over, the first thing to go will be the mullahs? Are the protestors yearning for a liberal western democracy or are they just kind of pissed at the world and venting frustration with no direction? Perhaps a more confidant Presidency that actually believes in American values could provide direction for these protestors and take advantage of this turmoil to nudge Iran in the right direction.

It is very tricky because we really don't have a feel for the pulse of the country.

GW said...

Thanks for the kind words, CDOR. To put it in a paragraph, I wrote at http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2009/06/obama-on-iran-broken-moral-compass.html that

"During the Presidential campaign, Mousavi, despite having revolutionary credentials exceeding those of Ahmedinejad, advocated real and fundamental reforms that utterly energized the Iranian populace. Iranian specialist Michael Ledeen took note, writing on July 10, two days before the election, that Mousavi had lit a firestorm in Iran by offering reforms, particularly in the area of women's rights, that threatened "the whole structure of the Khomeinist regime . . .""

The mullahs that have taken part in running the country are, I think, toast. Iran is still a religious country, though the theocracy has done more for the promotion of secularism and atheism that 100 branch offices of the ACLU could have done in Iran. But that said, the theocrats will go and the clerics will once again take up the school of quietism, using their influence from the bully pulpit while staying out of politics, much as we are seeing in Iraq.

The protestors want democracy and they want to be out from under the thumb of the oppressive theocracy. Women want equal rights. Young men don't want to get beaten for talking to a woman in public or holding hands. People don't want to be caned for drinking alcohol. And, of course, they see a corrupt government where the clerics and IRGC get rich while the rank and file suffer ever more. The standard of living in Iran has been generally on a downward slide for three decades.

That said, I think Krauthammer was right a few weeks ago. This nascent Iranian revolution has to have a Yeltsin. I do not know if Mousavi could play that role. I think we are very limited to what we can do, but those limited roles could be of paramount importance - 1. Providing communications support to counter the mullahs attempts to jam all communications in the country; and,
2. Lead the call for international sanctions to put ever more pressure on the regime.
Unfortunately, as I note above, Obama is once more doing the polar opposite.

cdor said...

GW, that helps me a lot. Ever since this situation with the Iranian election started I have been concerned about the call for support of these protestors. For one, I wasn't sure exactly what the protests were about, other than the ballot count (which we have similarly right here in the USA), and secondly, I have been worried that too much encouragemnet might end up in a huge death toll by giving them false indications of how far our support would go. When the POTUS is closer in ideology to Hugo Chavez than George Washington, our support would most likely go to the mullahs. Furthermore, Stratfor indicated that these folks were merely a highly vocal, but relatively small minority. I wouldn't want to bring any more danger to these brave people than they are already enduring.