Monday, June 29, 2009

sovereignty restored

Sorta. US troops completed their pullback from the Iraqi cities. Kind of a remarkable moment.

Enjoy your sovereignty, Iraqis. I doubt it will be pretty. But it'll be yours.

Friday, June 26, 2009

methinks Iran doth protest too much

Lesse, a quick rundown of some of the accusations Iran has thrown around as a result of the mass protests is in order. All of the following have, in the past two weeks, been accused of fomenting unrest within Iran's borders:

- America (and, by extension, President Obama and the CIA)
- UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
- the West
- "interfering" Gordon Brown and "most evil" Britain
- the EU
- Voice of America and the BBC
- "unknown vandals"
- "dirty Zionists" and the "Zionist media"
- the MKO
- Iranian dissidents (with CIA backing of course)
- And, yesterday, the Saudis and other US-allied Sunni Arab countries

So it's the grand old UN-US-EU-CNN-Zionist-Sunni Arab bloc oppressing poor innocent Iran. Oh, and the G8 too. No fair.

Monkey pees on Zambian president

With video.

Mental Health Break

Andrew Sullivan does this, so I can do it too... calico kitten in wine glass.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"limbs on trees"

Surreal headline of the day, possibly of the decade, goes to this improbable headline from Reuters:

"U.S. sends arms to Somalia, rebels amputate limbs"

This headline is bizarre, horrifying and unfortunately hilarious on so many levels that I don't know where to begin. First the funny. The ambiguous choice of wording in the headline suggests that the US might be sending replacement limbs to the poor men who were accused of theft by al Shabaab and duly and heinously deprived of a hand and a foot each. Also the Salvador Dali-ish image evoked by the Reuters story of "limbs in trees."

Now the less funny: as the story points out, Somalis are torn about al Shabaab. After two decades of anarchy they're grateful to anyone who can restore law and order, but as a country where people are generally very moderate in their Islamic views, such acts as public limb-lopping as punishment for theft (and, really, this is Somalia: there's a lot of thieves) with shock and abhorrence. It would be easy for them to turn against the likes of al Shabaab were not the central Western-backed government so incompetent and unable to project power even through the capital city, let alone the countryside. Any time your government's title starts with the word "transitional," it's not a good thing.

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy reports that with the Somalia so-called government begging for foreign reinforcements, al-Shabaab responded with appropriately gruesome rhetoric. Said the spokesman:

"We tell you that our dogs and cats will enjoy eating the dead bodies of your boys if you try to respond to the calls of these stooges."

Naturally, Ethiopia, whose 2006 invasion is pretty much responsible for the latest state of affairs, couldn't resist such a challenge. According to the Christian Science Monitor on Sunday, Ethiopian troops are back in Somali territory. The Ethiopians, of course, deny that they're even there, or that they've got any plans to go. The only thing Ambassador At Large is confident about is that if Ethiopian forces return, it won't end any better than it did last time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Richard Cohen gets it

His WashPost editorial makes a terrific point: there's nothing more immoral than egging Iranian protesters on to be slaughtered when we're not going to back them up. Cohen:

The sins of omission [in American foreign policy] are less well-known. They include the failure to redeem the hollow promises to various subjugated peoples -- the Hungarians of 1956, the Shiites of 1991 -- that America would come to their aid. In Iran, the Obama administration is intent on not adding to this list. ... [T]he worst thing the United States could do at the moment is provide the supreme leader and the less supreme leaders with the words to paint the opposition as American stooges -- or, even worse, suggest to the protesters that some sort of help is on its way from Washington.

Iran: Ban "under the influence," interferes

Iran has accused Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of interference in their sovereign affairs. A response statement by Ban will likely be read out in 90 minutes at today's daily press briefing. Ban had called for no force to be used against peaceful protesters.

What's amusing about this is that Ban has always tread very lightly with his public statements -- as opposed to, say, his predecessor Kofi Annan -- and the Iran issue is no exception. Unlike some European countries, Ban has studiously avoided saying the election was rigged (requesting only that "the peoples' will be respected") and has generally kept a fairly low profile on the Iran elections issue. Going after him may work -- the SG has shown himself to be sensitive to criticism -- but it sure makes the Iranian regime look shrill.

The other amusing part of this story is the use of the phrase "under the influence of some powers," as if some powers were like a couple drinks at the bar. Coming from a country where theoretically alcohol is forbidden, it's an excellent choice of words.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Zakaria: Iranian theocracy is finished

Zakaria postulates that this is a "fatal wound" for the Iranian regime:

When the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a "divine assessment," he was indicating it was divinely sanctioned. But no one bought it. He was forced to accept the need for an inquiry into the election. The Guardian Council, Iran's supreme constitutional body, met with the candidates and promised to investigate and perhaps recount some votes. Khamenei has subsequently hardened his position but that is now irrelevant. Something very important has been laid bare in Iran today --- legitimacy does not flow from divine authority but from popular support.

However, Zakaria smartly acknowledges that the regime can linger for a long time, but diminished and constantly threatened at home. It's lost its legitimacy. I hope he's right.

He also says that the US "should continue to do what we have been doing." Contrasting Wolfowitz's WashPost piece Friday, Zakaria says that George H.W. Bush's approach to the fall of the Soviet Union was cautious and wisely so:

I think a good historic analogy is President George H.W. Bush's cautious response to the cracks in the Soviet empire in 1989. Then, many neo-conservatives were livid with Bush for not loudly supporting those trying to topple the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. But Bush's concern was that the situation was fragile. Those regimes could easily crack down on the protestors and the Soviet Union could send in tanks. Handing the communists reasons to react forcefully would help no one, least of all the protesters. Bush's basic approach was correct and has been vindicated by history.

George Will gets it too

George Will calls out fellow conservatives for criticizing Obama's Iran response:

The president is being roundly criticized for insufficient, rhetorical support for what’s going on over there. It seems to me foolish criticism. The people on the streets know full well what the American attitude toward the regime is. And they don’t need that reinforced.

Friday, June 19, 2009

US tracks suspicious North Korean vessel

And of all the ships to send on this mission, the US Navy went with the USS John McCain...

Lieberman: "settlements are not an obstacle to peace"

UNITED NATIONS - Downplaying the US-Israeli dispute over West Bank settlements, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared today that "settlements are not an obstacle to peace," and spoke positively about unconditional peace talks with the Palestinians and Israel's neighbors.

Responding to criticism about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech over the weekend, Lieberman disputed claims that Netanyahu's stipulations for a Palestinian state amounted to self-defeating preconditions or would ruffle ties with the United States.

"We have our position. We don't have any precondition," said Lieberman. "I think we have a right for our position. The Palestinians have right for their position. And what is important is to start talks without preconditions. And every side will try to convince the other side."

Lieberman said he spoke to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about, among other things, "Iran, about proliferation, about the threats that we see in our region." He warned against a "crazy nuclear arms race in all our region," calling it the "biggest threat."

Rush transcript is below:

Avigdor Lieberman, UN Security Council stakeout, 19 June 2009
We spoke about bilateral relations between Israel and the UN. We also spoke about regional problems, especially about Iran, about proliferation, about the threats that we see in our region. We really worry about crazy nuclear arms race in all our region. We think it's the biggest threat, not only for Israel but for the entire world. We also spoke about our relations with the Palestinians, about the last speech of the PM. We think that we have today good chance to start with dialogue with the Palestinians. As the Prime Minister said, we're ready to start with direct talks immediately, and it's necessary to create a positive dynamic between the two sides. And we will continue our cooperation with the UN, we'll continue our dialogue, and we're ready for peace talks, not only with the Palestinians but also the other countries in our region. Thank you.

Q. Why are you positive on meeting with Palestinians when you've put so many conditions? Also, when you met with Secretary Clinton she asked Israel to freeze settlements. You said no. Are you afraid this will impact US-Israel relations?
A. ... First of all, we have our position. We don't have any precondition. I think we have a right for our position. The Palestinians have right for their position. And what is important is to start talks without preconditions. And every side will try to convince the other side. Second point, regarding the settlements, I think ... settlements are not an obstacle to achieve peace. We know that even before '67, before we established one settlement, the situation was the same. During 19 years between '48 and '67, there was bloodshed, there was terror, there was friction. And the opposite was true. During the disengagement [of Gaza] ... we got in return Hamas in power in Gaza strip and Qassam missiles on S'derot. And it's very clear that it's not the settlements are not an obstacle, it's an excuse for those who try to avoid any peace talks.

Q. You say you disagree with settlements with Obama--
A. I don't say this.

Q. What about the other core issues?
A. ... We agree with the President's vision about regional peace. We agree on many points. And we have one dispute. I think it's a very natural that we, even with close friends, we have one disagreement, and I think that even in this point we can formulate understandings, we can achieve understandings. It's not the main issue in our region. ...

Biden and Clinton don't get it

The New York Times reports that Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while generally supporting Obama's position, want him to take a firmer line on Iran.

This was why I felt John Kerry would make a better Secretary of State than Clinton: he's much, much better on foreign policy. Especially compared with Kerry's nuanced piece in the Times opinion piece yesterday, Clinton and Biden's approach looks hubristic and short-sighted, a holdover from the "Bosnia Generation" view of the necessity of American intervention to promote democracy and security of the 1990s.

Here's hoping Obama doesn't heed the call of his own SecState and Veep. It would be disastrous for the Iranian protesters.

Kissinger agrees with Obama on Iran

From Thinkprogress:

KISSINGER: Well, you know, I was a McCain supporter and — but I think the president has handled this well. Anything that the United States says that puts us totally behind one of the contenders, behind Mousavi, would be a handicap for that person. And I think it’s the proper position to take that the people of Iran have to make that decision.

Of course, we have to state our fundamental convictions of freedom of speech, free elections, and I don’t see how President Obama could say less than he has, and even that is considered intolerable meddling. He has, after all, carefully stayed away from saying things that seem to support one side or the other. And I think it was the right thing to do because public support for the opposition would only be used by the — by Ahmadinejad — if I can ever learn his name properly — against Mousavi.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Glorious Compost

The Korean Central News Agency has lately been publishing many flashback pieces to the glorious rein of Kim Il Sung. This one, for humor purposes, is priceless. Hilariously, KCNA's editors (do they even have any?) have not read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, because the story includes this gem:

"He [Kim Il Sung] came up to the heap of compost emitting hot reek."

So, which emitted the hot reek? The compost? Or Kim? Or both? These are the questions we must answer.

Obama is right on Iran

By now it's become quite apparent that the Iranian election was rigged. Mir Hussein Mousavi probably won it outright, but what is certain is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lost decisively.

What to do about it, however, is another question, and US policy basically boils down to this: what feels good vs. what works.

What feels good is to shout to the rafters that the election was stolen, to fund and support and back the Green movement, and to refuse to negotiate with anyone from an illegitimate Ahmadinejad regime.

What works is to do what Obama has been very good at doing so far, and that is to take a subtle hand on foreign policy. Active foreign support for a protest movement like the Green movement would kill it. It would give pro-Ahmadinejad hardliners all the excuse they need to quash the protesters. A light hand -- calling for respect for the people's will but not actively taking sides -- gives the protesters the best chance to succeed, something people who thought invading Iraq was a good idea would not understand. David Ignatius, thankfully, gets it, and says so:

Obama would make a mistake if he seemed to meddle in Iranian politics. That would give the mullahs the foreign enemy they need to discredit the reformers. Obama struck the right tone when he said late Monday: "The world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was." The basic message is: We support the Iranian people and their democracy. Any change in how Iran is governed is their decision, not America's.

John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gets it too:

We can’t escape the reality that for reformers in Tehran to have any hope for success, Iran’s election must be about Iran — not America. And if the street protests of the last days have taught us anything, it is that this is an Iranian moment, not an American one.

Furthermore, as Obama understands (and as everyone used to understand back in the Cold War) there need not be any linkage between legitimacy and diplomacy. Iran's leadership may not be democratic, but they still control the nuclear policy, and therefore -- newsflash to people like Robert Kagan who still, for some reason, get column space in the Washington Post -- talking to Iran is not "siding with the regime." Any more than negotiating arms control with the Soviets was "legitimizing" their rule.

PETA takes a swat at Obama

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals were shocked that President Barack Obama would have the gall to swat a fly in a TV interview with CNBC. The President should use a humane fly-trap next time instead, they said.