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Max Blumenthal: Expulsion and Revulsion in Israel

10:00 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

Editor’s Note: Max Blumenthal and his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will be featured in FDL’s Book Salon November 2nd. Philip Munger aka Edward Teller will host.

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

An unidentified visitor in the Negev Desert village of Umm Al Hiran

In case you hadn’t noticed, Israel has been in the news a lot lately. After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at the U.N. in the midst of an Iranian “charm offensive,” just as presidents Obama and Rouhani were having the first conversation between Iranian and American heads of state since Jimmy Carter’s day, and gave the usual hellfire sermon. He said Israel would, if necessary, “stand alone,” implicitly threatening to launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities without Washington’s support (an act that is, in reality, increasingly unlikely), and generally acted like the odd man out. Soon after, he made a comment reflecting his ignorance of life among the Iranian young — “If the people of Iran were free, they could wear jeans, listen to Western music, and have free elections ” — and the next thing you knew, indignant Iranian tweets were going up along with photosof jeans and Western music albums. And so another round of news stories hit the wires.

Only one problem: just about all the “Israeli” news here is focused on its future policy toward Iran, and remarkably little of it on the way Israel continues to eat up Palestinian lands and displace Palestinians on the West Bank and elsewhere, or the way in which Israeli control over so much of the West Bank is stunting the Palestinian economy. Fortunately, Max Blumenthal, who previously slipped inside the Republican Party and produced a bestselling book, has spent four years researching the on-the-ground realities of Israel. Today, he offers us a powerful, if grim, glimpse of just where Israel has been and where it’s heading, the sort of up-close-and-personal reporting you’re not likely to see in the American mainstream media (not, at least, since President Obama tried — and failed — to get the Israelis to stop building new settlements and other housing on Palestinian or contested lands). But think of today’s TomDispatch post as just a snapshot. The full picture can be found in Blumenthal’s new blockbuster of a book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. It’s an odyssey of a trip into a largely unknown Israel and a remarkable, as well as riveting, piece of reportage. Tom

The Desert of Israeli Democracy
A Trip Through the Negev Desert Leads to the Heart of Israel’s National Nightmare
By Max Blumenthal

From the podium of the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seamlessly blended frightening details of Iranian evildoing with images of defenseless Jews “bludgeoned” and “left for dead” by anti-Semites in nineteenth century Europe. Aimed at U.S. and Iranian moves towards diplomacy and a war-weary American public, Netanyahu’s gloomy tirade threatened to cast him as a desperate, diminished figure. Though it was poorly received in the U.S., alienating even a few of his stalwart pro-Israel allies, his jeremiad served a greater purpose, deflecting attention from his country’s policies towards the group he scarcely mentioned: the Palestinians.

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Tom Engelhardt, Putting War Back in Children’s Culture

8:44 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Teenagers in Space 
Star Wars, G.I. Joe, Rambo, Red Dawn, and How a Tale of American Triumphalism Was Returned to the Child’s World (Part 2) 
By Tom Engelhardt

[The following excerpt from Tom Engelhardt’s book The End of Victory Culture is posted with permission from the University of Massachusetts Press.  Part 1, “The Secret History of G.I. Joe,” can be found by clicking here.]

1. “Hey, How Come They Got All the Fun?”

The End of Victory Culture cover

An excerpt from Tom Engelhardt’s new book.

Now that Darth Vader’s breathy techno-voice is a staple of our culture, it’s hard to remember how empty was the particular sector of space Star Wars blasted into. The very day the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, Richard Nixon also signed a decree ending the draft. It was an admission of the obvious: war, American-style, had lost its hold on young minds. As an activity, it was now to be officially turned over to the poor and nonwhite.

Those in a position to produce movies, TV shows, comics, novels, or memoirs about Vietnam were convinced that Americans felt badly enough without such reminders. It was simpler to consider the war film and war toy casualties of Vietnam than to create cultural products with the wrong heroes, victims, and villains. In Star Wars, Lucas successfully challenged this view, decontaminating war of its recent history through a series of inspired cinematic decisions that rescued crucial material from the wreckage of Vietnam.

To start with, he embraced the storylessness of the period, creating his own self-enclosed universe in deepest space and in an amorphous movie past, “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Beginning with “Episode IV” of a projected nonology, he offered only the flimsiest of historical frameworks — an era of civil war, an evil empire, rebels, an ultimate weapon, a struggle for freedom.

Mobilizing a new world of special effects and computer graphics, he then made the high-tech weaponry of the recent war exotic, bloodless, and sleekly unrecognizable. At the same time, he uncoupled the audience from a legacy of massacre and atrocity. The blond, young Luke Skywalker is barely introduced before his adoptive family — high-tech peasants on an obscure planet — suffers its own My Lai. Imperial storm troopers led by Darth Vader descend upon their homestead and turn it into a smoking ruin (thus returning fire to its rightful owners). Luke — and the audience — can now set off on an anti-imperial venture as the victimized, not as victimizers. Others in space will torture, maim, and destroy. Others will put “us” in high-tech tiger cages; and our revenge, whatever it may be, will be justified.

In this way, Star Wars denied the enemy a role “they” had monopolized for a decade — that of brave rebel. It was the first cultural product to ask of recent history, “Hey! How come they got all the fun?” And to respond, “Let’s give them the burden of empire! Let’s bog them down and be the plucky underdogs ourselves!”

Like Green Berets or Peace Corps members, Lucas’s white teenage rebels would glide effortlessly among the natives. They would learn from value-superior Third World mystics like the Ho-Chi-Minh-ish Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back and be protected by ecological fuzzballs like the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. In deepest space, anything was possible, including returning history to its previous owners. Once again, we could have it all: freedom and victory, captivity and rescue, underdog status and the spectacle of slaughter. As with the Indian fighter of old, advanced weaponry and the spiritual powers of the guerrilla might be ours.

Left to the enemy would be a Nazi-like capacity for destroying life, a desire to perform search-and-destroy missions on the universe, and the breathy machine voice of Darth Vader (as if evil were a dirty phone call from the Darkside). The Tao of the Chinese, the “life force” of Yaqui mystic Don Juan, even the political will of the Vietnamese would rally to “our” side as the Force and be applied to a crucial technical problem; for having the Force “with you” meant learning to merge with your high-tech weaponry in such a way as to assure the enemy’s destruction. Looked at today, the last part of Star Wars concentrates on a problem that might have been invented after, not 14 years before, the 1991 Persian Gulf War: how to fly a computerized, one-man jet fighter down a narrow corridor under heavy antiaircraft fire and drop a missile into an impossibly small air shaft, the sole vulnerable spot in the Emperor’s Death Star.

Here, Lucas even appropriated the kamikaze-like fusion of human and machine. In Vietnam, there had been two such man-machine meldings. The first, the bombing campaign, had the machinelike impersonality of the production line. Lifting off from distant spots of relative comfort like Guam, B-52 crews delivered their bombs to coordinates stripped of place or people and left the war zone for another day. The crew member symbolically regained humanity only when the enemy’s technology stripped him of his machinery — and, alone, he fluttered to earth and captivity.

At the same time, from Secretary of Defense McNamara’s “electronic battlefield” to the first “smart bombs,” Vietnam proved an experimental testing ground for machine-guided war. Unlike the B-52 or napalm, the smart bomb, the computer, the electronic sensor, and the video camera were not discredited by the war; and it was these machines of wonder that Lucas rescued through the innocence of special effects.

In James Bond films, high-tech had been a display category like fine wines, and techno-weaponry just another consumer item for 007. For Lucas, however, technology in the right hands actually solved problems, offering — whether as laser sword or X-wing fighter — not status but potential spiritualization. This elevation of technology made possible the return of slaughter to the screen as a triumphal and cleansing pleasure (especially since dying “imperial storm troopers,” encased in full body carapaces, looked like so many bugs).

The World as a Star Wars Theme Park

Not only would George Lucas put “war” back into a movie title, he would almost single-handedly reconstitute war play as a feel-good activity for children. With G.I. Joe’s demise, the world of child-sized war play stood empty. The toy soldier had long ago moved into history, an object for adult collectors. However, some months before Star Wars opened, Fox reached an agreement with Kenner Products, a toy company, to create action figures and fantasy vehicles geared to the movie. Kenner president Bernard Loomis decided that these would be inexpensive, new-style figures, only 3 ¾-inch high. Each design was to be approved by Lucas himself.

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Pepe Escobar: Obama in Tehran?

7:53 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Tehran at night

A glimpse of Tehran at night. Can we change the nature of our dialogue with Iran?

Imagine, for a moment, a world in which the United States is a regional power, not a superpower.  A world in which the globe’s mightiest nation, China, invades Mexico and Canada, deposing the leaders of both countries.  A world in which China has also ringed the Americas, from Canada to Central America, with military bases.  A world in which Chinese officials openly brag about conducting covert operations against and within the United States.  A world in which the Chinese launch a sophisticated and crippling cyber attack on America’s nuclear facilities.  A world in which the Chinese send spy drones soaring over the United States and position aircraft carrier battle groups off its shores.  What would Americans think?  How would Washington react?  Perhaps something like Iran’s theocratic leadership today.  After all, Iran has seen the United States invade its neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan, announce covert operations against it, surround it with military bases, fly drones over it, carry out naval operations off its coast, conduct a gigantic build-up of military forces all around it, and launch a cyberwar against it.

Imagine again, in this alternate universe, that China forged military alliances throughout the Americas, pulling Mexico and Canada, as well as Caribbean and Central American nations into its orbit.  Imagine that it started selling advanced military technology to those countries.  How might the U.S. government and its citizens respond?

It’s a question worth pondering given Washington’s recent actions.  Last month, for instance, the U.S. quietly announced plans to further flood the Middle East with advanced weaponry. According to November notices sent by the Pentagon to Congress, the Department of Defense intends to oversee a $300 million deal with Saudi Arabia for spare parts for Abrams Tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and Humvees, and another for $6.7 billion in new advanced aircraft.  Add to this a proposed sale of $9.9 billion in Patriot missiles to Qatar, a $96 million deal with Oman for hundreds of Javelin guided missiles, and more than $1.1 billion in Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missiles for the United Arab Emirates.  And this was on top of deals struck earlier in the year that include a $63 million sale of Huey II helicopters to Lebanon, $4.2 billion in Patriot missiles for Kuwait, a $3 billion agreement to arm Qatar with advanced Apache attack helicopters, more than $1 billion in upgrades for Abrams tanks belonging to Morocco’s military, and the sale of $428 million worth of radar equipment and tactical vehicles to Iraq.

All this is worth keeping in mind while reading the latest assessment of U.S.-Iranian relations by that peripatetic reporter extraordinaire and TomDispatch regular Pepe Escobar who conjures up a very different alternate reality in which President Obama morphs into President Richard Nixon heading for Beijing, and Washington acts far less bellicose. Nick Turse

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall
Washington’s Iranian Future
By Pepe Escobar

In Election 2012’s theatre-of-the-absurd “foreign policy” debate, Iran came up no less than 47 times. Despite all the fear, loathing, threats, and lies in that billionaire’s circus of a campaign season, Americans were nonetheless offered virtually nothing substantial about Iran, although its (non-existent) WMDs were relentlessly hawked as the top U.S. national security issue. (The world was, however, astonished to learn from candidate Romney that Syria, not the Persian Gulf, was that country’s “route to the sea.”)

Now, with the campaign Sturm und Drang behind us but the threats still around, the question is: Can Obama 2.0 bridge the gap between current U.S. policy (we don’t want war, but there will be war if you try to build a bomb) and Persian optics (we don’t want a bomb — the Supreme Leader said so — and we want a deal, but only if you grant us some measure of respect)? Don’t forget that a soon-to-be-reelected President Obama signaled in October the tiniest of possible openings toward reconciliation while talking about the “pressure” he was applying to that country, when he spoke of “our policy of… potentially having bilateral discussions with the Iranians to end their nuclear program.”

Tehran won’t, of course, “end” its (legal) nuclear program.  As for that “potentially,” it should be a graphic reminder of how the establishment in Washington loathes even the possibility of bilateral negotiations.

Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall

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Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett: Playing for Time on Iran

6:56 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Recently, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta finally said it.  The U.S. is “fighting a war” in the Pakistani tribal belt.  Similarly, observers are starting to suggest that “war” is the right word for the American air and special operations campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in southern Yemen.  (There have already been 23 U.S. air strikes there this year.)  Call that a war and you’re already up to three, including the Afghan one.

But consider the possibility that a fourth (partial) American war is underway in the shadows, and that it’s in Iran.  This seems more evident today because of a recent New York Times report on the release of Stuxnet, the advanced cyberworm President Obama ordered sent to destroy Iran’s nuclear centrifuges.  Since the Pentagon has defined such a release as an “act of war,” it’s reasonable to suggest that the U.S. is now “at war” with Iran, too.

In fact, you could say that, since at least 2008, when Congress granted the Bush administration up to $400 million “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran,” including “cross-border” operations from Iraq, war has been the name of the game. Meanwhile, U.S. special operations forces were secretly training members of M.E.K., an Iranian opposition-group-cum-cult that’s still on the State Department’s terror list, at a Department of Energy site in the Nevada desert; the CIA was running a large-scale drone surveillance operation against the country — and that just touches on the shadowy American (as well as Israeli) state of war vis-à-vis Iran.

Having relabeled those conflicts, it might also be worth considering the way we describe our ongoing nuclear mania about Iran.  After all, the world is already chock-a-block full of nuclear weapons, including the thousands the U.S. and Russia still possess, as well as those of Pakistan, a country we seem intent on destabilizing.  And yet, the only nuclear weapon that ever seems to make the news, obsessively, repetitively, is the one that doesn’t exist — the Iranian bomb.

In times long gone, when a Chinese dynasty took over the “mandate of heaven,” one of the early ceremonies carried out by the new emperor was called “the rectification of names.”  The thought was that the previous dynasty had fallen into ruin in part because the gap between reality and the names for it had grown so wide.  We are, it seems, now in such a world.  Some renaming is surely in order.

This, in a sense, is the task Iran experts Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, who run the Race for Iran blog, take on in their first appearance at TomDispatch.  They remind us, among other things, that an American president did once decide to bring names and reality back together when it came to another rising regional power (which actually had nuclear weapons) — and he traveled to China to do it, startling the world.  Unfortunately, though our planet has its surprises, it’s hard to imagine that a second-term Obama or a first-term Romney would be among them when it comes to our country’s Iran policy, which, in terms of reality, is the saddest story of all. Tom

Deep-Sixing the China Option: How the Obama Administration Is Stalling Its Way to War with Iran
By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Since talks with Iran over its nuclear development started up again in April, U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that Tehran will not be allowed to “play for time” in the negotiations.  In fact, it is the Obama administration that is playing for time.

Some suggest that President Obama is trying to use diplomacy to manage the nuclear issue and forestall an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear targets through the U.S. presidential election.  In reality, his administration is “buying time” for a more pernicious agenda: time for covert action to sabotage Tehran’s nuclear program; time for sanctions to set the stage for regime change in Iran; and time for the United States, its European and Sunni Arab partners, and Turkey to weaken the Islamic Republic by overthrowing the Assad government in Syria.

Vice President Biden’s national security adviser, Antony J. Blinken, hinted at this in February, explaining that the administration’s Iran policy is aimed at “buying time and continuing to move this problem into the future, and if you can do that — strange things can happen in the interim.”  Former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy — now out of government and advising Obama’s reelection campaign — told an Israeli audience this month that, in the administration’s view, it is also important to go through the diplomatic motions before attacking Iran so as not to “undermine the legitimacy of the action.”

New York Times’ journalist David Sanger recently reported that, “from his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons” — even though he knew this “could enable other countries, terrorists, or hackers to justify” cyberattacks against the United States.  Israel — which U.S. intelligence officials say is sponsoring assassinations of Iranian scientists and other terrorist attacks in Iran — has been intimately involved in the program.

Classified State Department cables published by WikiLeaks show that, from the beginning of the Obama presidency, he and his team saw diplomacy primarily as a tool to build international support for tougher sanctions, including severe restrictions on Iranian oil exports.  And what is the aim of such sanctions?  Earlier this year, administration officials told the Washington Post that their purpose was to turn the Iranian people against their government.  If this persuades Tehran to accept U.S. demands to curtail its nuclear activities, fine; if the anger were to result in the Islamic Republic’s overthrow, many in the administration would welcome that.

Since shortly after unrest broke out in Syria, the Obama team has been calling for President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, expressing outrage over what they routinely describe as the deaths of thousands of innocent people at the hands of Syrian security forces.  But, for more than a year, they have been focused on another aspect of the Syrian situation, calculating that Assad’s fall or removal would be a sharp blow to Tehran’s regional position — and might even spark the Islamic Republic’s demise.  That’s the real impetus behind Washington’s decision to provide “non-lethal” support to Syrian rebels attacking government forces, while refusing to back proposals for mediating the country’s internal conflicts which might save lives, but do not stipulate Assad’s departure upfront.

Meeting with Iranian oppositionists last month, State Department officials aptly summarized Obama’s Iran policy priorities this way: the “nuclear program, its impact on the security of Israel, and avenues for regime change.”  With such goals, how could his team do anything but play for time in the nuclear talks?  Two former State Department officials who worked on Iran in the early months of Obama’s presidency are on record confirming that the administration “never believed that diplomacy could succeed” — and was “never serious” about it either.

How Not to Talk to Iran

Simply demanding that Iran halt its nuclear activities and ratcheting up pressure when it does not comply will not, however, achieve anything for America’s position in the Middle East.  Western powers have been trying to talk Iran out of its civil nuclear program for nearly 10 years.  At no point has Tehran been willing to surrender its sovereign right to indigenous fuel cycle capabilities, including uranium enrichment.

Sanctions and military threats have only reinforced its determination.  Despite all the pressure exerted by Washington and Tel Aviv, the number of centrifuges operating in Iran has risen over the past five years from less than 1,000 to more than 9,000.  Yet Tehran has repeatedly offered, in return for recognition of its right to enrich, to accept more intrusive monitoring of — and, perhaps, negotiated limits on — its nuclear activities.

Greater transparency for recognition of rights: this is the only possible basis for a deal between Washington and Tehran.  It is precisely the approach that Iran has advanced in the current series of talks.  Rejecting it only guarantees diplomatic failure — and the further erosion of America’s standing, regionally and globally.

George W. Bush’s administration refused to accept safeguarded enrichment in Iran.  Indeed, it refused to talk at all until Tehran stopped its enrichment program altogether.  This only encouraged Iran’s nuclear development, while polls show that, by defying American diktats, Tehran has actually won support among regional publics for its nuclear stance.

Some highly partisan analysts claim that, in contrast to Bush, Obama was indeed ready from early in his presidency to accept the principle and reality of safeguarded enrichment in Iran.  And when his administration failed at every turn to act in a manner consistent with a willingness to accept safeguarded enrichment, the same analysts attributed this to congressional and Israeli pressure.

In truth, Obama and his team have never seriously considered enrichment acceptable.  Instead, the president himself decided, early in his tenure, to launch unprecedented cyberattacks against Iran’s main, internationally monitored enrichment facility.  His team has resisted a more realistic approach not because a deal incorporating safeguarded enrichment would be bad for American security (it wouldn’t), but because accepting it would compel a more thoroughgoing reappraisal of the U.S. posture toward the Islamic Republic and, more broadly, of America’s faltering strategy of dominating the Middle East.

The China Option

Acknowledging Iran’s right to enrich would require acknowledging the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity with legitimate national interests, a rising regional power not likely to subordinate its foreign policy to Washington (as, for example, U.S. administrations regularly expected of Egypt under Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak).  It would mean coming to terms with the Islamic Republic in much the same way that the United States came to terms with the People’s Republic of China — another rising, independent power — in the early 1970s.

America’s Iran policy remains stuck in a delusion similar to the one that warped its China policy for two decades after China’s revolutionaries took power in 1949 — that Washington could somehow isolate, strangle, and ultimately bring down a political order created through mass mobilization and dedicated to restoring national independence after a long period of Western domination.  It didn’t work in the Chinese case and it’s not likely to in Iran either.

In one of the most consequential initiatives in American diplomatic history, President Nixon and Henry Kissinger finally accepted this reality and aligned Washington’s China policy with reality.  Unfortunately, Washington’s Iran policy has not had its Nixonian moment yet, and so successive U.S. administrations — including Obama’s — persist in folly.

The fact is: Obama could have had a nuclear deal in May 2010, when Brazil and Turkey brokered an agreement for Iran to send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad in return for new fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.  The accord met all the conditions spelled out in letters from Obama to then-Brazilian President Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan — but Obama rejected it, because it recognized Iran’s right to enrich.  (That this was the main reason was affirmed by Dennis Ross, the architect of Obama’s Iran policy, earlier this year.)  The Obama team has declined to reconsider its position since 2010 and, as a result, it is on its way to another diplomatic failure.

As Middle Eastern governments become somewhat more representative of their peoples’ concerns and preferences, they are also — as in Egypt and Iraq — becoming less inclined toward strategic deference to the United States.  This challenges Washington to do something at which it is badly out of practice: pursue genuine diplomacy with important regional states, based on real give and take and mutual accommodation of core interests.  Above all, reversing America’s decline requires rapprochement with the Islamic Republic (just as reviving its position in the early 1970s required rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China).

Instead, three and a half years after George W. Bush left office, his successor continues to insist that Iran surrender to Washington’s diktats or face attack.  By doing so, Obama is locking America into a path that is increasingly likely to result in yet another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East during the first years of the next presidential term.  And the damage that war against Iran will inflict on America’s strategic position could make the Iraq debacle look trivial by comparison.

Flynt Leverett is professor of international affairs at Penn State. Hillary Mann Leverett is senior professorial lecturer at American University. Together, they write the Race for Iran blog.  Their new book, Going to Tehran: Why the United States Needs to Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic of Iran (Metropolitan Books), will be published in January 2013.

Copyright 2012 Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Pepe Escobar: A Full Spectrum Confrontation World?

6:51 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Brazilian coast. Photo by Rhys Asplundh

Last December, a super-secret RQ-170 Sentinel, part of a far-reaching program of CIA drone surveillance over Iran, went down (or was shot down, or computer-jacked and hacked down) and was recovered intact by the Iranian military.  This week, an Iranian general proudly announced that his country’s experts had accessed the plane’s computer — he offered information he claimed proved it — and were now “reverse-engineering” the drone to create one of their own.

Most or all of his claims have been widely doubted, derided, or simply dismissed in our world, and for all I know his was indeed pure bluster and bluff.  But if so, it still managed to catch an urge that lay behind a couple of hundred years of global history: to adapt the most sophisticated aspects of the West to resist the West.  That urge has been essential to the way our planet has developed. After all, much of the last two centuries might well be headlined in technological, economic, and even political terms, “The History of Reverse-Engineering.”

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Juan Cole: The Iran Conundrum

6:25 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Negotiators for Iran, the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany are to meet in Turkey this Friday, face to face, for the first time in more than a year. There are small signs of possible future compromise on both sides when it comes to Iran’s nuclear program (and a semi-public demand from Washington that could be an instant deal-breaker). Looking at the big picture, though, there’s a remarkable amount we simply don’t know about Washington’s highly militarized policy toward Iran.

Every now and then, like a flash of lightning in a dark sky, some corner of it — and its enormity and longevity — is illuminated. For example, in 2008, the New Yorker’s indefatigable Seymour Hersh reported that the previous year Congress had granted a Bush administration request for up to $400 million “to fund a major escalation of covert operations against Iran,” including “cross-border” operations from Iraq. Just recently, Hersh offered a window into another little part of the U.S. program: the way, starting in 2005, the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command spent years secretly training members of M.E.K., an Iranian opposition-group-cum-cult that’s on the State Department’s terror list, at a Department of Energy site in the Nevada desert.

Similarly, from time to time, we get glimpses of the U.S. basing and naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, which is massive and ongoing. As for the skies over Iran, last year the Iranians suddenly announced that they had acquired — downed, they claimed (though this was later denied by the Americans) — an advanced U.S. spy drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel. Indeed, they had the photos to prove it. Until then, there had been no publicity about American drones flying over Iranian territory and initially the U.S. military claimed that the plane had simply strayed off course while patrolling the Afghan border.

Last week, however, a range of typically anonymous officials leaked to Washington Post reporters Joby Warrick and Greg Miller the news that the CIA’s drone surveillance program over Iran was more than three years old, large-scale, and itself just part of an “intelligence surge” focused on that country. According to their sources, “The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts, and an expanded network of spies.” In addition, under former CIA Director Leon Panetta, “partnerships” were built “with allied intelligence services in the region capable of recruiting operatives for missions inside Iran.”

Such reports and leaks give us at least the bare and patchy outlines of a concerted military, covert action, spying, surveillance, and propaganda program of staggering proportions (and that’s without even adding in the Israeli version of the same, which evidently includes the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists). All of this, we have to believe, is but part of an even larger set of intertwined, militarized operations against a modest-sized regional power with relatively limited military capabilities. It’s a program that we’re sure to know less about than we think we do, filled with what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would have called “known unknowns” as well as “unknown unknowns.”

TomDispatch regular Juan Cole, who runs the always invaluable Informed Comment website, does a remarkable job of offering us a full-scale picture of the complex economic underpinnings of the present Iran-U.S.-Israeli crisis and the unnerving dangers involved. But for the full, grim story of Washington’s campaign against Tehran, we are reliant either on the next Bradley Manning, a future WikiLeaks, or declassification of the necessary documents in time for our grandchildren to grasp something of the folly of our moment. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Cole discusses the consequences of sanctions on Iran, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

Why Washington’s Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster
What History Should Teach Us About Blockading Iran

By Juan Cole

It’s a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians — and possibly in the long run among Americans, too. It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own. Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program. It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.

The United States is already effectively embroiled in an economic war against Iran. The Obama administration has subjected the Islamic Republic to the most crippling economic sanctions applied to any country since Iraq was reduced to fourth-world status in the 1990s. And worse is on the horizon. A financial blockade is being imposed that seeks to prevent Tehran from selling petroleum, its most valuable commodity, as a way of dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program.

Historical memory has never been an American strong point and so few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States. The tactic is just as dangerous today.

Iran’s supreme theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly condemned the atom bomb and nuclear weapons of all sorts as tools of the devil, weaponry that cannot be used without killing massive numbers of civilian noncombatants. In the most emphatic terms, he has, in fact, pronounced them forbidden according to Islamic law. Based on the latest U.S. intelligence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has affirmed that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear warhead. In contrast, hawks in Israel and the United States insist that Tehran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program is aimed ultimately at making a bomb, that the Iranians are pursuing such a path in a determined fashion, and that they must be stopped now — by military means if necessary.

Putting the Squeeze on Iran

At the moment, the Obama administration and the Congress seem intent on making it impossible for Iran to sell its petroleum at all on the world market. As 2011 ended, Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that mandates sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran’s Central Bank or buy Iranian petroleum (though hardship cases can apply to the Treasury Department for exemptions). This escalation from sanctions to something like a full-scale financial blockade holds extreme dangers of spiraling into military confrontation. The Islamic Republic tried to make this point, indicating that it would not allow itself to be strangled without response, by conducting naval exercises at the mouth of the Persian Gulf this winter. The threat involved was clear enough: about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum flows through the Gulf, and even a temporary and partial cut-off might prove catastrophic for the world economy.

In part, President Obama is clearly attempting by his sanctions-cum-blockade policy to dissuade the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. He argues that severe economic measures will be enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table ready to bargain, or even simply give in.

In part, Obama is attempting to please America’s other Middle East ally, Saudi Arabia, which also wants Iran’s nuclear program mothballed. In the process, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has even had Iran’s banks kicked off international exchange networks, making it difficult for that country’s major energy customers like South Korea and India to pay for the Iranian petroleum they import. And don’t forget the administration’s most powerful weapon: most governments and corporations do not want to be cut off from the U.S. economy with a GDP of more than $15 trillion — still the largest and most dynamic in the world.

Typically, the European Union, fearing Congressional sanctions, has agreed to cease taking new contracts on Iranian oil by July 1st, a decision that has placed special burdens on struggling countries in its southern tier like Greece and Italy. With European buyers boycotting, Iran will depend for customers on Asian countries, which jointly purchase some 64% of its petroleum, and those of the global South. Of these, China and India have declined to join the boycott. South Korea, which buys $14 billion worth of Iranian petroleum a year, accounting for some 10% of its oil imports, has pleaded with Washington for an exemption, as has Japan which got 8.8% of its petroleum imports from Iran last year, more than 300,000 barrels a day — and more in absolute terms than South Korea. Japan, which is planning to cut its Iranian imports by 12% this year, has already won an exemption.

Faced with the economic damage a sudden interruption of oil imports from Iran would inflict on East Asian economies, the Obama administration has instead attempted to extract pledges of future 10%-20% reductions in return for those Treasury Department exemptions. Since it’s easier to make promises than institute a boycott, allies are lining up with pledges. (Even Turkey has gone this route.)

Such vows are almost certain to prove relatively empty. After all, there are few options for such countries other than continuing to buy Iranian oil unless they can find new sources — unlikely at present, despite Saudi promises to ramp up production — or drastically cut back on energy use, ensuring economic contraction and domestic wrath.

What this means in reality is that the U.S. and Israeli quest to cut off Iran’s exports will probably be a quixotic one. For the plan to work, oil demand would have to remain steady and other exporters would have to replace Iran’s roughly 2.5 million barrels a day on the global market. For instance, Saudi Arabia has increased the amount of petroleum it pumps, and is promising a further rise in output this summer in an attempt to flood the market and allow countries to replace Iranian purchases with Saudi ones.

But experts doubt the Saudi ability to do this long term and — most important of all — global demand is not steady. It’s crucially on the rise in both China and India. For Washington’s energy blockade to work, Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would have to reliably replace Iran’s oil production and cover increased demand, as well as expected smaller shortfalls caused by crises in places like Syria and South Sudan and by declining production in older fields elsewhere.

Otherwise a successful boycott of Iranian petroleum will only put drastic upward pressure on oil prices, as Japan has politely but firmly pointed out to the Obama administration. The most likely outcome: America’s closest allies and those eager to do more business with the U.S. will indeed reduce imports from Iran, leaving countries like China, India, and others in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to dip into the pool of Iranian crude (possibly at lower prices than the Iranians would normally charge).

Iran’s transaction costs are certainly increasing, its people are beginning to suffer economically, and it may have to reduce its exports somewhat, but the tensions in the Gulf have also caused the price of petroleum futures to rise in a way that has probably offset the new costs the regime has borne. (Experts also estimate that the Iran crisis has already added 25 cents to every gallon of gas an American consumer buys at the pump.)

Like China, India has declined to bow to pressure from Washington. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which depends on India’s substantial Muslim vote, is not eager to be seen as acquiescent to U.S. strong-arm tactics. Moreover, lacking substantial hydrocarbon resources, and given Singh’s ambitious plans for an annual growth rate of 9% — focused on expanding India’s underdeveloped transportation sector (70% of all petroleum used in the world is dedicated to fuelling vehicles) — Iran is crucial to the country’s future.

To sidestep Washington, India has worked out an agreement to pay for half of its allotment of Iranian oil in rupees, a soft currency. Iran would then have to use those rupees on food and goods from India, a windfall for its exporters. Defying the American president yet again, the Indians are even offering a tax break to Indian firms that trade with Iran. That country is, in turn, offering to pay for some Indian goods with gold. Since India runs a trade deficit with the U.S., Washington would only hurt itself if it aggressively sanctioned India.

A History Lesson Ignored

As yet, Iran has shown no signs of yielding to the pressure. For its leaders, future nuclear power stations promise independence and signify national glory, just as they do for France, which gets nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear reactors. The fear in Tehran is that, without nuclear power, a developing Iran could consume all its petroleum domestically, as has happened in Indonesia, leaving the government with no surplus income with which to maintain its freedom from international pressures.

Iran is particularly jealous of its independence because in modern history it has so often been dominated by a great power or powers. In 1941, with World War II underway, Russia and Britain, which already controlled Iranian oil, launched an invasion to ensure that the country remained an asset of the Allies against the Axis. They put the young and inexperienced Mohammed Reza Pahlevi on the throne, and sent his father, Reza Shah, into exile. The Iranian corridor — what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called “the bridge of victory” — then allowed the allies to effectively channel crucial supplies to the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany. The occupation years were, however, devastating for Iranians who experienced soaring inflation and famine.

Discontent broke out after the war — and the Allied occupation — ended. It was focused on a 1933 agreement Iran had signed with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) regarding the exploitation of its petroleum. By the early 1950s, the AIOC (which later became British Petroleum and is now BP) was paying more in taxes to the British government than in royalties to Iran for its oil. In 1950, when it became known that the American ARAMCO oil consortium had offered the king of Saudi Arabia a 50-50 split of oil profits, the Iranians demanded the same terms.

The AIOC was initially adamant that it would not renegotiate the agreement. By the time it softened its position somewhat and began being less supercilious, Iran’s parliamentarians were so angry that they did not want anything more to do with the British firm or the government that supported it.

On March 15, 1951, a democratically elected Iranian parliament summarily nationalized the country’s oil fields and kicked the AIOC out of the country. Facing a wave of public anger, Mohammed Reza Shah acquiesced, appointing Mohammed Mosaddegh, an oil-nationalization hawk, as prime minister. A conservative nationalist from an old aristocratic family, Mosaddegh soon visited the United States seeking aid, but because his nationalist coalition included the Tudeh Party (the Communist Party of Iran), he was increasingly smeared in the U.S. press as a Soviet sympathizer.

The British government, outraged by the oil nationalization and fearful that the Iranian example might impel other producers to follow suit, froze that country’s assets and attempted to institute a global embargo of its petroleum. London placed harsh restrictions on Tehran’s ability to trade, and made it difficult for Iran to convert the pounds sterling it held in British banks. Initially, President Harry Truman’s administration in Washington was supportive of Iran. After Republican Dwight Eisenhower was swept into the Oval Office, however, the U.S. enthusiastically joined the oil embargo and campaign against Iran.

Iran became ever more desperate to sell its oil, and countries like Italy and Japan were tempted by “wildcat” sales at lower than market prices. As historian Nikki Keddie has showed, however, Big Oil and the U.S. State Department deployed strong-arm tactics to stop such countries from doing so.

In May 1953, for example, sometime Standard Oil of California executive and “petroleum adviser” to the State Department Max Thornburg wrote U.S. ambassador to Italy Claire Booth Luce about an Italian request to buy Iranian oil: “For Italy to clear this oil and take additional cargoes would definitely indicate that it had taken the side of the oil ‘nationalizers,’ despite the hazard this represents to American foreign investments and vital oil supply sources. This of course is Italy’s right. It is only the prudence of the course that is in question.” He then threatened Rome with an end to oil company purchases of Italian supplies worth millions of dollars.

In the end, the Anglo-American blockade devastated Iran’s economy and provoked social unrest. Prime Minister Mosaddegh, initially popular, soon found himself facing a rising wave of labor strikes and protest rallies. Shopkeepers and small businessmen, among his most important constituents, pressured the prime minister to restore order. When he finally did crack down on the protests (some of them staged by the Central Intelligence Agency), the far left Tudeh Party began withdrawing its support. Right-wing generals, dismayed by the flight of the shah to Italy, the breakdown of Iran’s relations with the West, and the deterioration of the economy, were open to the blandishments of the CIA, which, with the help of British intelligence, decided to organize a coup to install its own man in power.

A Danger of Blowback

The story of the 1953 CIA coup in Iran is well known, but that its success depended on the preceding two years of fierce sanctions on Iran’s oil is seldom considered. A global economic blockade of a major oil country is difficult to sustain. Were it to have broken down, the U.S. and Britain would have suffered a huge loss of prestige. Other Third World countries might have taken heart and begun to claim their own natural resources. The blockade, then, arguably made the coup necessary. That coup, in turn, led to the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter-century later and, in the end, the present U.S./Israeli/Iranian face-off. It seems the sort of sobering history lesson that every politician in Washington should consider (and none, of course, does).

As then, so now, an oil blockade in its own right is unlikely to achieve Washington’s goals. At present, the American desire to force Iran to abolish its nuclear enrichment program seems as far from success as ever. In this context, there’s another historical lesson worth considering: the failure of the crippling sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1990s to bring down that dictator and his regime.

What that demonstrated was simple enough: ruling cliques with ownership of a valuable industry like petroleum can cushion themselves from the worst effects of an international boycott, even if they pass the costs on to a helpless public. In fact, crippling the economy tends to send the middle class into a spiral of downward mobility, leaving its members with ever fewer resources to resist an authoritarian government. The decline of Iran’s once-vigorous Green protest movement of 2009 is probably connected to this, as is a growing sense that Iran is now under foreign siege, and Iranians should rally around in support of the nation.

Strikingly, there was a strong voter turnout for the recent parliamentary elections where candidates close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominated the results. Iran’s politics, never very free, have nevertheless sometimes produced surprises and feisty movements, but these days are moving in a decidedly conservative and nationalistic direction. Only a few years ago, a majority of Iranians disapproved of the idea of having an atomic bomb. Now, according to a recent Gallup poll, more support the militarization of the nuclear program than oppose it.

The great oil blockade of 2012 may still be largely financially focused, but it carries with it the same dangers of escalation and intervention — as well as future bitterness and blowback — as did the campaign of the early 1950s. U.S. and European financial sanctions are already beginning to interfere with the import of staples like wheat, since Iran can no longer use the international banking system to pay for them. If children suffer or even experience increased mortality because of the sanctions, that development could provoke future attacks on the U.S. or American troops in the Greater Middle East. (Don’t forget that the Iraqi sanctions, considered responsible for the deaths of some 500,000 children, were cited by al-Qaeda in its “declaration of war” on the U.S.)

The attempt to flood the market and use financial sanctions to enforce an embargo on Iranian petroleum holds many dangers. If it fails, soaring oil prices could set back fragile economies in the West still recovering from the mortgage and banking scandals of 2008. If it overshoots, there could be turmoil in the oil-producing states from a sudden fall in revenues.

Even if the embargo is a relative success in keeping Iranian oil in the ground, the long-term damage to that country’s fields and pipelines (which might be ruined if they lie fallow long enough) could harm the world economy in the future. The likelihood that an oil embargo can change Iranian government policy or induce regime change is low, given our experience with economic sanctions in Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere. Moreover, there is no reason to think that the Islamic Republic will take its downward mobility lying down.

As the sanctions morph into a virtual blockade, they raise the specter that all blockades do — of provoking a violent response. Just as dangerous is the specter that the sanctions will drag on without producing tangible results, impelling covert or overt American action against Tehran to save face. And that, friends, is where we came in.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History and the director of the Center for South Asian Studies at the University of Michigan. His latest book, Engaging the Muslim World, is available in a revised paperback edition from Palgrave Macmillan. He runs the Informed Comment website. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Cole discusses the consequences of sanctions on Iran, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

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Copyright 2012 Juan Cole

Tom Engelhardt: War as the President’s Private Preserve

6:41 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.


Obama Breaks New Ground When It Comes to War With Iran

By Tom Engelhardt

When I was young, the Philadelphia Bulletin ran cartoon ads that usually featured a man in trouble — dangling by his fingers, say, from an outdoor clock. There would always be people all around him, but far too engrossed in the daily paper to notice. The tagline was: “In Philadelphia, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin.”

Those ads came to mind recently when President Obama commented forcefully on war, American-style, in ways that were remarkably radical. Although he was trying to ward off a threatened Israeli preemptive air strike against Iran, his comments should have shocked Americans — but just about nobody noticed.

I don’t mean, of course, that nobody noticed the president’s statements. Quite the contrary: they were headlined, chewed over in the press and by pundits. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich attacked them. Fox News highlighted their restraint. (“Obama calls for containing Iran, says ‘too much loose talk of war.’”) The Huffington Post highlighted the support for Israel they represented. (“Obama Defends Policies Toward Israel, Fends Off Partisan Critiques.”) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu pushed back against them in a potentially deadly U.S.-Israeli dance that might bring new chaos to the Middle East. But somehow, amid all the headlines, commentary, and analysis, few seemed to notice just what had really changed in our world.

The president had offered a new definition of “aggression” against this country and a new war doctrine to go with it. He would, he insisted, take the U.S. to war not to stop another nation from attacking us or even threatening to do so, but simply to stop it from building a nuclear weapon — and he would act even if that country were incapable of targeting the United States. That should have been news.

Consider the most startling of his statements: just before the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, the president gave a 45-minute Oval Office interview to the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg. A prominent pro-Israeli writer, Goldberg had produced an article in the September issue of that magazine headlined “The Point of No Return.” In it, based on interviews with “roughly 40 current and past Israeli decision makers about a military strike,” he had given an Israeli air attack on Iran a 50% chance of happening by this July. From the recent interview, here are Obama’s key lines: Read the rest of this entry →

Noam Chomsky: Imperial Hegemony and Its Discontents

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

On Tuesday, Part 1 of Noam Chomsky’s piece on American decline, “‘Losing’ the World” was posted at this site. It can be read by clicking here. Now, Part 2 begins. When you’re done, you might check out Chomsky’s earlier TomDispatch piece, “Who Owns the World?” which could be considered a companion to this one. (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeat in the Greater Middle East, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

The Imperial Way
American Decline in Perspective, Part 2

By Noam Chomsky

In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all U.S. military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the U.S. and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard.”

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries — Middle East/North Africa — which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.

To be sure, if the projections of a century of U.S. energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome — so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to U.S. influence and control. Read the rest of this entry →

Michael Klare: No Exit in the Persian Gulf?

7:32 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

(image: adnan_ali, flickr)

(image: adnan_ali, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

When it comes to U.S. policy toward Iran, irony is the name of the game.  Where to begin?  The increasingly fierce sanctions that the Obama administration is seeking to impose on that country’s oil business will undoubtedly cause further problems for its economy and further pain to ordinary Iranians.  But they are likely to be splendid news for a few other countries that Washington might not be quite so eager to favor.

Take China, which already buys 22% of Iran’s oil.  With its energy-ravenous economy, it is likely, in the long run, to buy more, not less Iranian oil, and — thanks to the new sanctions — at what might turn out to be bargain basement prices.  Or consider Russia once the Eurozone is without Iranian oil.  That giant energy producer is likely to find itself with a larger market share of European energy needs at higher prices.  The Saudis, who want high oil prices to fund an expensive payoff to their people to avoid an Arab Spring, are likely to be delighted.  And Iraq, with its porous border, its thriving black market in Iranian oil, and its Shiite government in Baghdad, will be pleased to help Iran avoid sanctions.  (And thank you, America, for that invasion!)

Who may suffer, other than Iranians?  In the long run, the shaky economies of Italy, Greece, and Spain, long dependent on Iranian oil, potentially raising further problems for an already roiling Eurozone.  And don’t forget the U.S. economy, or your own pocketbook, if gas prices go up, or even President Obama, if his bet on oil sanctions turns out to be an economic disaster in an election year.

In other words, once again Washington’s (and Tel Aviv’s) carefully calculated plans for Iran may go seriously, painfully awry.  Now, in all honesty, wouldn’t you call that Kafkaesque?  Or perhaps that’s a question for the Pentagon where, it turns out, Kafka is in residence.  I’m talking, of course, about Lieutenant Commander Mike Kafka.  He’s a spokesman for the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command — believe me, you can’t make this stuff up — and just the other day he was over at the old five-sided castle being relatively close-mouthed about the retrofitting of a Navy amphibious transport docking ship as a special operations “mothership” (a term until now reserved for sci-fi novels and Somali pirates).  It’s soon to be dispatched to somewhere in or near the Persian Gulf to be a floating base for Navy SEAL covert actions of unspecified sorts, guaranteed not to bring down the price of oil.

Certainly, the dispatch of that ship in July will only ratchet up tensions in the Gulf, a place that already, according to Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of the upcoming book The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources, is the most potentially explosive spot on the planet. Tom Read the rest of this entry →

Tom Engelhardt: Iran Through the Looking Glass

7:27 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

(photo: kevinwburkett, flickr)

(photo: kevinwburkett, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Iranian Aircraft Carriers in the Gulf of Mexico
It Can’t Happen Here

By Tom Engelhardt

Exclusive: New Iranian Commando Team Operating Near U.S.

(Tehran, FNA) The Fars News Agency has confirmed with the Republican Guard’s North American Operations Command that a new elite Iranian commando team is operating in the U.S.-Mexican border region. The primary day-to-day mission of the team, known as the Joint Special Operations Gulf of Mexico Task Force, or JSOG-MTF, is to mentor Mexican military units in the border areas in their war with the deadly drug cartels.  The task force provides “highly trained personnel that excel in uncertain environments,” Maj. Amir Arastoo, a spokesman for Republican Guard special operations forces in North America, tells Fars, and “seeks to confront irregular threats…”

The unit began its existence in mid-2009 — around the time that Washington rejected the Iranian leadership’s wish for a new diplomatic dialogue. But whatever the task force does about the United States — or might do in the future — is a sensitive subject with the Republican Guard.  “It would be inappropriate to discuss operational plans regarding any particular nation,” Arastoo says about the U.S.

Okay, so I made that up.  Sue me.  But first admit that, a line or two in, you knew it was fiction.  After all, despite the talk about American decline, we are still on a one-way imperial planet.  Yes, there is a new U.S. special operations team known as Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council, or JSOTF-GCC, at work near Iran and, according to em>Wired magazine’s Danger Room blog, we really don’t quite know what it’s tasked with doing (other than helping train the forces of such allies as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia).

And yes, the quotes are perfectly real, just out of the mouth of a U.S. “spokesman for special-operations forces in the Mideast,” not a representative of Iran’s Republican Guard.  And yes, most Americans, if they were to read about the existence of the new special ops team, wouldn’t think it strange that U.S. forces were edging up to (if not across) the Iranian border, not when our “safety” was at stake.

Reverse the story, though, and it immediately becomes a malign, if unimaginable, fairy tale.  Of course, no Iranian elite forces will ever operate along the U.S. border.  Not in this world.  Washington wouldn’t live with it and it remains the military giant of giants on this planet.  By comparison, Iran is, in military terms, a minor power. Read the rest of this entry →