Greening Iran

Crossposted at The Motley Moose

The pending election in Iran, far more than just a personality quest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, is a sign of potentially serious ructions in the ruling oligarchy:

Mr Ahmadinejad suddenly looks vulnerable. He is being widely criticised, even ridiculed in public, in a manner the regime would normally not tolerate. Yesterday he even accused his opponents of behaving like Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels -- quite an allegation from a man who denies that the Holocaust happened.

Opposition to him is growing among the ruling clergy after he publicly maligned Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful head of the Expediency Council. Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani has demanded an apology. His case has received support in an open letter from 50 clerics in the holy city of Qom.

Richard Beeston - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes from favourite to shaky contender The Times 11 Jun 09

Things started to go wrong for Ahmadinejad in his debate with Moussavi recently when he stepped all over his privates by accusing the past two presidents, and their cliques, of corruption.  Interestingly these included current and powerful members of Iran's ruling oligarchy.  It would seem that there is more going on than meets the eye in an otherwise largely ceremonial election for Iran's presidency.

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Iraqi Violence Clouds US Withdrawal

A car bomb ripped through a market in the town of Bathaa in southern Iraq's Shi'ite heartland. At least 29 people were killed with scores injured. It was the deadliest bombing to hit the Nasiriyah area since November 12, 2003, when a suicide truck bomber attacked the headquarters of Italian forces stationed there, killing more than 30 people. It was the first such bombing directed at civilians in the area around Nasiriya in the past two years. Iraqi officials blamed Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia for the blast.

The blast is the latest in a series of high-profile explosions that have raised concerns about a resurgence of violence as the US military faces a June 30 deadline to withdraw from urban areas in Iraq under the terms of an agreement negotiated between Iraq and the United States late last year. Under the security agreement, American combat troops must withdraw from Iraqi cities by the end of this month and all American troops must be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.

With Iraqi government moving ahead with plans to hold a national referendum on the agreement, US officials are quietly lobbying the government not to hold the referendum because if it is held, it may not pass. Only the Kurds support the pact, other groups are largely opposed for varying reasons. If the Iraqi people vote down the security pact, the American military would have to withdraw all troops within a year from the date of the vote.

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The Dogs of Afghanistan: Obama vs Osama

It's ironic that at the time when the framing 'war on terror' has receded from US public discourse the most telling blows are finally being struck.  The conflict with al-Qaeda was always a war of ideas punctuated by horrible and unexpected violence for no other purpose than to provide tangible evidence of 'legitimacy' for the enemies of the 'Great Satan' who presumed to lead oppressed and potentially militant Muslims across the world.  Our strategy of fighting this 'war' by suspending civil liberties, promoting fear at home and apprehension overseas while unilaterally projecting US military power in the Middle East and South Asia always seemed as likely to play into the hands of the self-appointed enemies of the US as not.  

It almost seemed calculated that Bin Laden struck the US when our leadership was predictably willing to frame the conflict in the convenient medieval narrative of 'crusade.'  But things are different now, we finally understand the field on which this battle will be won:

"Barack Obama is not just trying to reach out to Muslims for the sake of it," says Mr. Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and an authority on modern jihad. "He's trying to hammer a deadly nail in Osama bin Laden's message." What President Obama understood more than his predecessors, Mr. Gerges says, is that it is not a war that can be won militarily, but only ideologically.

Jarret Brachman, a former West Point terrorism expert and author of a recent book, "Global Jihadism," said the speech "was the most important strategic step we've taken in this war."

"That's why Al Qaeda is so nervous," he said.

Rod Nordland - Forceful Words and Fateful Realities NYT 06 Jun 09

Woven within Obama's address to the Muslim world from Cairo was a carefully crafted refutation of the al-Qaeda argument, point by point, presented in the form of classical Islamic scholarly discourse, complete with quotations from the Qur'an:

Senior administration officials say the speech was carefully crafted to rob the Al Qaeda leader and his terrorist network of some of its chief recruiting totems, including fears the United States plans a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials say that the tide may be turning on the world's most wanted man. "For the first time, they're beginning to lose the propaganda war," said a top aide traveling with Obama during his six-day mission to Europe and the Middle East.

The week of high drama featured a showdown of sorts between the two leaders -- Obama vs. Osama -- with Obama's soaring speech and a bin Laden audiotape providing a powerful point-counterpoint as each sought to make his case to the Muslim world.

Mike Allen - Barack Obama takes aim at Osama bin Laden Politico 6 Jun 09

In January Bin Laden threatened to open 'new fronts' against the US and it's allies.  On the eve of Obama's speech his scratchy audio-taped prebuttal was more tactical, and clearly concerned with his own backyard:

In a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, bin Laden said the president had inflamed hatred toward the US by ordering Pakistan to crack down on fighters in the Swat Valley.

He said: "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America.

"He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars."

Bin Laden attacks Obama policies Al Jazeera 3 Jun 09

It is indicative that this message was focused on the Pakistani offensive in Swat, the frontline evidence of the turning tide of Muslim sympathies and aspirations.  The Taliban, having alienated public opinion in Pakistan, have increased popular support for the newly-minted civilian government's leadership and a determined military effort against this militant Islamist threat, including seeking and confronting the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, in their homelands.  Ideological rhetoric is always most effective when the winds of change are blowing in your favour, and they are blowing fair for us right now.

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The President on Iran's Right to Nuclear Energy

"Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region." President Barack Obama in comments to the BBC

The President today in an interview with the BBC asserted that Iran had a right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Additionally, President Obama restated the Administration's plans to pursue direct diplomacy with Tehran to encourage it to set aside any ambitions for nuclear weapons it might harbor.

While Iran has long insisted that its nuclear program, which dates to 1970s, is aimed at generating electricity, the US and other Western governments suspect the Iranians of playing a double game in seeking to self-enrich uranium. More from the Washington Post:

The comments echo remarks Obama made in Prague last month in which he said his administration would "support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections" if Iran proves it is no longer a nuclear threat.

Iranian state television described the news as Obama recognizing the "rights of the Iranian nation," a phrase typically used to refer to Iran's nuclear program.

The president has indicated a willingness to seek deeper international sanctions against Tehran if it does not respond positively to U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Obama has said Tehran has until the end of the year to show it wants to engage.

"Although I don't want to put artificial time tables on that process, we do want to make sure that, by the end of this year, we've actually seen a serious process move forward. And I think that we can measure whether or not the Iranians are serious," Obama said.

No one should dispute the right of the Iranians to nuclear energy development for peaceful purposes. Iran's oil production peaked in 1974 and has been declining ever since. There is little doubt that Iran needs to plan for a post-oil world.

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Obama and a Nuclear Iran

Obama has articulated what a lot of people have been thinking for some time on the illogic of the US position vis à vis Iran's clear ambition for nuclear technology:

LONDON -- President Barack Obama reiterated that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy - provided it takes steps to prove its aspirations are peaceful.

In a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama also restated plans to pursue direct diplomacy with Tehran to encourage it to set aside any ambitions for nuclear weapons it might harbor.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. But the U.S. and other Western governments accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons.

"Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region," Obama said.

The comments echo remarks Obama made in Prague last month in which he said his administration would "support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections" if Iran proves it is no longer a nuclear threat.

Nancy Zuckerbrod - Obama says Iran's energy concerns legitimate Washington Post (AP) 2 Jun 2009

This somewhat startling admission, contrary to the domestic media narrative, makes excellent sense and is aligned with growing conventional wisdom within the foreign policy establishment on the futility of portraying Iran's nuclear programme as an act of aggression in itself.  The Israelis must not be very pleased, on the other hand Europeans, increasingly seeking access to abundant Iranian reserves to meet their natural gas needs in coming decades, are no doubt relieved.  The speech in Prague was intended for a largely European audience.

Assuming Iran renews it's participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accepts International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections there is little the US or Israel can do under international law to prevent them from developing a peaceful nuclear capability under Article IV of the NPT:

The treaty recognizes the inalienable right of sovereign states to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but restricts this right for NPT parties to be exercised "in conformity with Articles I and II" (the basic nonproliferation obligations that constitute the "first pillar" of the Treaty). As the commercially popular light water reactor nuclear power station uses enriched uranium fuel, it follows that states must be able either to enrich uranium or purchase it on an international market.

NPT Third pillar: peaceful use of nuclear energy Wikipedia

The tenor of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va) remarks that this policy is "dangerous" and "misguided" set the tone for this debate in domestic terms:

"I strongly disagree with President Obama's dangerous suggestion that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy." said Cantor in a statement provided to the Huffington Post. "Iran forfeited any right to nuclear energy when it made the decision to illicitly enrich uranium to levels that can be used for nuclear weapons."

Cantor: Obama Mid-East Policy "Dangerous" And "Misguided" Huffington Post 2 Jun 09

Under international law Cantor is clearly mistaken, though Iran now has 'pariah' status it is likely that it would be accepted back to the NPT, with considerable relief, by the international community.  Obama is making a courageous stand domestically but not internationally, many of our allies have been reluctant to impose severe sanctions on Iran and alarmed at the aggressive rhetoric of the previous administration.

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