Middle East policy: Start fire, just add gas!


Juan Cole’s Tom Friedman & funding ISIL: Israel/Iran Derangement Syndrome is a pretty compelling read.

I don’t agree with everything Cole says, and haven’t forgotten his support for Obama’s non-Constitutional “kinetic action” in Libya, nor his “letter to the left.” His position was not short on nuance, but Libya is a disaster today, though surely it’s cheering for those who like their middle eastern nations in flames.

Thomas Friedman’s more-puzzling-than-usual column from midweek, in which he wondered aloud whether the West should be arming ISIL, led to more than a few hot takes asserting Friedman had lost it, and was floating that balloon out of ignorance and/or dementia. I beg to differ: I think he knew exactly what he was saying.

Between Obama’s pending rapprochement with Iran and the cooperation between US and allied militaries in bombing ISIL combatants (and countless more collateral persons of no interest), there lurks the possibility of peace breaking out in the Middle East. Well, OK, peace is not really in the works, but there remains the chance the U.S. will stall out on its accidental/on purpose mission to take down every proper country in the region that doesn’t kowtow to U.S./Israeli domination.


What accounts for [Friedman] being in this category of Daesh-supporters when he is not a conservative (in the American political sense of conservative)? It is his Zionism. For Israel, Daesh is just a manifestation of chaos and not threatening to Israel which has the best military in the Middle East. But for many Israelis and supporters of Israel, it is the big conventional rejectionist states and armies with their potential for nuclear weaponry that are the real danger. That is why Friedman supported Bush’s Iraq War, as well. Apparently, for this strain of Zionism, the Middle East has to be in flames and broken up by constant American military invasions and special ops covert actions and coups in order to keep Israel from having any peer militarily in the region. Daesh is just a set of gangs and aids in keeping Syria and Iraq in chaos, so from this point of view, it is a good thing and should be armed to cause more chaos.

It is a monstrous point of view that would come as a surprise to most Americans when put like this, but all Middle Easterners understand that it is exactly the kind of policy Israeli hawks pursue and urge the US to pursue.

Yesterday morning in the Post David Petraeus was not miles away from what Friedman was jokingly-but-not-really suggesting. Suddenly, the ISIL threat has been downgraded from Existential/Kill Them All to Maybe We Should Be Friends.

Watch the pundits go along with this 180-degree turn. Will the prospect of peace breaking out reclaim its rightful place as Public Enemy Number One? That’s been the safe bet for a while now.

The book of laughter and forgetting


At 7:31, I looked up and said, “It’s 7:31” at the same time Lila ran in from the kitchen, shouting, “It’s 7:31.” Heather popped her head out of the bedroom: “7:31, everybody.” It was 7:31.

Call me shallow but I really enjoyed this. Christina’s impressions of Britney and Cher were spot-on. Jimmy Fallons’s Bowie wasn’t bad either. And the Roots are the Roots. I would totally watch a weekly series in which celeb singers mimic one another. I watch the Voice with the family most Mondays, and have to admit to enjoying the bickering among the judges more than the performances of the contestants. It brings up warm memories of watching the Match Game with my mom on a little black and white tv.

I was writing yesterday about how the basic assumption of a U.S. official in a press conference is that there is no history. So, for example, any suggestion that the U.S. is involved, directly or indirectly, in trying to overthrow the Maduro government in Venezuela is outrageous on its face. The ability of reporters or the general public to search for Venezuela Coup 2002 — well, let’s pretend that’s impossible.

Another egregious example of this History Starts Now, or At Least When I Say was John Kerry yesterday baldly stating, without an iota of self-awareness, that Bibi Netanyahu can’t be trusted because of his support for the 2002 invasion of Iraq.

“The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush,” Kerry replied. “We all know what happened with that decision.”

It was a peculiar decision on the part of TPM writer Catherine Thompson not to mention a fairly obvious bit of context:

Of course, Kerry voted for the war in Iraq in 2002 and said he was for the invasion during his presidential campaign against George W. Bush in 2004.

I’m beginning to think the war on AP History in Kansas is not an idea from the fringe. This hatred of history is simply a core part of what makes American thought American.

Yasir and Ariel, get off your asses!

Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Pitts issued this serious statesmanlike call to action in April. Yes, April 2012!

With the global war against terrorism, it is now incumbent on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasir Arafat to clamp down on Palestinian extremists that have perpetuated violence and to restart a peace process that has collapsed.

Meanwhile, Pitts’ only slightly more clued-in esteemed colleagues are about to ram through H Res 568, which contains this astonishing clause:

The House “urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability and opposition to any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat.”

MJ Rosenberg, former AIPAC staffer, draws the obvious conclusion:

Think about that.

The resolution, which almost surely will pass on Tuesday, is telling the president that he may not “rely on containment” in response to “the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Since the resolution, and U.S. policy itself defines Iranian possession of nuclear weapons as, ipso facto, a threat, Congress would be telling the president that any U.S. response to that threat other than war is unacceptable. In fact, it goes farther than that, not only ruling out containment of a nuclear armed Iran but also containment of an Iran that has a “nuclear weapons capability.”

That means that the only acceptable response to a nuclear armed or nuclear capable Iran is not containment but its opposite: war.

Rosenberg notes that “13,000 AIPAC delegates were dispatched to Capitol Hill, on the last day of [AIPAC’s recent] conference, with instructions to tell the senators and representatives whom they met that supporting this resolution was #1 on AIPAC’s election year agenda.” (He also notes that this is a non-binding resolution.)

I would encourage you all to call your Congressman to discourage him or her from supporting this creepy bill, but to be honest I think that’s likely to be about as effective as waiting for Ariel and Yasir to sort it all out.

Iran: Isolated or “more connected than Google”?

AP photo

What to make of the fact that last month the Senate voted 100 to zero (!!!!) to impose a new sanctions package on countries dealing with Iran’s Central Bank. (The House at least had a whopping twelve “no” votes and a smattering of “presents”).

On learning that bit of news in December, my takeaway was not particularly sophisticated, I must admit. There is no hope for Congress when such a craven, demagogic act of bullying (and a possible prelude to another war) is met with pretty much unanimous approval. Our lawmakers are simply not serious people, and certainly are not acting in the interests of their constituents.

But I’ve thought that for a while.

Fortunately, there is Pepe Escobar to bring a more nuanced analysis to bear on the despair-inducing “crisis” (is it still a crisis if it goes on for decades?).

The Myth of “Isolated” Iran: Following the Money in the Iran Crisis at TomDispatch makes a strong case that, in spite of Washington’s wishful thinking and best efforts, Iran is hardly isolated. It is in fact, says Escobar, “more connected than Google” and has been continuing arrangements with long-term (measured in millennia) partners like China and Russia, and is forging new ones with Latin America, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Japan and Korea are already “begging for exemptions” from the new sanctions package scheduled to go into effect in June.

The gist of the article is a little difficult to summarize fairly, so I will leave you with a few paragraphs in which Escobar encourages us to “follow the money”:

That Iranian isolation theme only gets weaker when one learns that the country is dumping the dollar in its trade with Russia for rials and rubles — a similar move to ones already made in its trade with China and Japan. As for India, an economic powerhouse in the neighborhood, its leaders also refuse to stop buying Iranian oil, a trade that, in the long run, is similarly unlikely to be conducted in dollars. India is already using the yuan with China, as Russia and China have been trading in rubles and yuan for more than a year, as Japan and China are promoting direct trading in yen and yuan. As for Iran and China, all new trade and joint investments will be settled in yuan and rial.

Translation, if any was needed: in the near future, with the Europeans out of the mix, virtually none of Iran’s oil will be traded in dollars.

Moreover, three BRICS members (Russia, India, and China) allied with Iran are major holders (and producers) of gold. Their complex trade ties won’t be affected by the whims of a U.S. Congress. In fact, when the developing world looks at the profound crisis in the Atlanticist West, what they see is massive U.S. debt, the Fed printing money as if there’s no tomorrow, lots of “quantitative easing,” and of course the Eurozone shaking to its very foundations.

Follow the money. Leave aside, for the moment, the new sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank that will go into effect months from now, ignore Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz (especially unlikely given that it’s the main way Iran gets its own oil to market), and perhaps one key reason the crisis in the Persian Gulf is mounting involves this move to torpedo the petrodollar as the all-purpose currency of exchange.

It’s been spearheaded by Iran and it’s bound to translate into an anxious Washington, facing down not only a regional power, but its major strategic competitors China and Russia. No wonder all those carriers are heading for the Persian Gulf right now, though it’s the strangest of showdowns — a case of military power being deployed against economic power.

In this context, it’s worth remembering that in September 2000 Saddam Hussein abandoned the petrodollar as the currency of payment for Iraq’s oil, and moved to the euro. In March 2003, Iraq was invaded and the inevitable regime change occurred. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi proposed a gold dinar both as Africa’s common currency and as the currency of payment for his country’s energy resources. Another intervention and another regime change followed.

Washington/NATO/Tel Aviv, however, offers a different narrative. Iran’s “threats” are at the heart of the present crisis, even if these are, in fact, that country’s reaction to non-stop US/Israeli covert war and now, of course, economic war as well. It’s those “threats,” so the story goes, that are leading to rising oil prices and so fueling the current recession, rather than Wall Street’s casino capitalism or massive U.S. and European debts. The cream of the 1% has nothing against high oil prices, not as long as Iran’s around to be the fall guy for popular anger.

As energy expert Michael Klare pointed out recently, we are now in a new geo-energy era certain to be extremely turbulent in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere. But consider 2012 the start-up year as well for a possibly massive defection from the dollar as the global currency of choice. As perception is indeed reality, imagine the real world — mostly the global South — doing the necessary math and, little by little, beginning to do business in their own currencies and investing ever less of any surplus in U.S. Treasury bonds.

Of course, the U.S. can always count on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates — which I prefer to call the Gulf Counterrevolution Club (just look at their performances during the Arab Spring). For all practical geopolitical purposes, the Gulf monarchies are a U.S. satrapy. Their decades-old promise to use only the petrodollar translates into them being an appendage of Pentagon power projection across the Middle East. Centcom, after all, is based in Qatar; the U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain. In fact, in the immensely energy-wealthy lands that we could label Greater Pipelineistan — and that the Pentagon used to call “the arc of instability” — extending through Iran all the way to Central Asia, the GCC remains key to a dwindling sense of U.S. hegemony.

If this were an economic rewrite of Edgar Allan Poe’s story, “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Iran would be but one cog in an infernal machine slowly shredding the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Still, it’s the cog that Washington is now focused on. They have regime change on the brain. All that’s needed is a spark to start the fire (in — one hastens to add — all sorts of directions that are bound to catch Washington off guard).

Remember Operation Northwoods, that 1962 plan drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stage terror operations in the U.S. and blame them on Fidel Castro’s Cuba. (President Kennedy shot the idea down.) Or recall the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964, used by President Lyndon Johnson as a justification for widening the Vietnam War. The U.S. accused North Vietnamese torpedo boats of unprovoked attacks on U.S. ships. Later, it became clear that one of the attacks had never even happened and the president had lied about it.

It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine hardcore Full-Spectrum-Dominance practitioners inside the Pentagon riding a false-flag incident in the Persian Gulf to an attack on Iran (or simply using it to pressure Tehran into a fatal miscalculation). Consider as well the new U.S. military strategy just unveiled by President Obama in which the focus of Washington’s attention is to move from two failed ground wars in the Greater Middle East to the Pacific (and so to China). Iran happens to be right in the middle, in Southwest Asia, with all that oil heading toward an energy-hungry modern Middle Kingdom over waters guarded by the U.S. Navy.

So yes, this larger-than-life psychodrama we call “Iran” may turn out to be as much about China and the U.S. dollar as it is about the politics of the Persian Gulf or Iran’s nonexistent bomb. The question is: What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Beijing to be born?


Oh, Lord, all options on the table–again!

… and here we go again with the tables and Iran.

Biden: ‘Nothing Off the Table’ After Iran D.C. Terror Plot

Apart from an incredibly sketchy plot, the details of which seem skimpier by the hour, has anything changed regarding the Persian Menace ™ since last August? No, not really.

Why bother, then, writing something new? This  recycled story, centering on the brilliant reductio ad absurdum of the whole “table” business from Fafblog, remains as sadly relevant as it was last year (or basically any year since 1981).

Always with the tables

By timmuky, on August 20th, 2010

Few turns of phrase demonstrate the unquestioning dimwittedness of America’s public discourse than “All options are on the table” when it comes to Iran. As far as I can tell, it first came into broad use during the Dubya Administration.  Bush’s successor, Mr.Changey Changey, didn’t see anything worth changing in the formulation. In fact, he rather seems to  like it.  His  Secretary of State is pretty fond of it, too.

Read the whole thing….


More on Iran’s parallel universe nuclear threat

I like to think that I’m up to speed on the subject of Iran’s purported nuclear program, but this RealNews Network interview with former CIA  analyst Ray McGovern serves up some surprising news.

It was surprising to me, anyway, because I wouldn’t be caught dead reading the new Dubya bio, but McGovern did. Apparently even purchased the damn thing.

This entire interview is excellent. The avuncular McGovern stomps all over the Times’ ham-handed and just flat out wrong attempt to claim (over four pages in the print edition) the Iran/Saudi princes wikileak as support for their hysteria over the “sharp distress over a nuclear Iran.”

This in spite of the fact that the last word continues to be the 2007 NIE in which, as McGovern says, “sixteen intelligence agencies declared with great confidence that in 2003 Iran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

The part that surprised me was what McGovern pulled from the pages of Decision Points, Dubya’s bio (at 6:25 or so): that the young Bush threw an absolute hissy about the NIE when it came out, and promptly flew to Israel and Saudi Arabia to apologize!

Why apologize? (one might well ask). Isn’t this good news? Not for the Decider.

Ah, that explains all too well.

Oh, and as for an updated NIE, McGovern says Don’t hold your breath:

Also, an updated NIE on Iran’s nuclear program, completed earlier this year, is dead in its tracks, apparently because anti-Iran hawks inside the Obama administration are afraid it will leak. It is said to repeat pretty much the conclusions of the NIE from 2007.

On Iran, just a tiny disconnect between Arab opinion and that of the princes

Not exactly trembling about Iran, are they? (source: 2010 Arab public opinion poll)

I think I gave too much credit in the previous post to the dubious notion, advanced by the Times and others, that the cables vindicate U.S. and Israeli hawkishness vis à vis Iran.

I should have just cut to the chase, as Mr. Chomsky did on Democracy Now yesterday. The dictators think one thing, and their subjects think the opposite.

So Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel- that’s 80. The second major threat is the United States- that’s 77. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%.

With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority- in fact, 57–say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80, 77, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10 say Iran is the major threat. This may not be reported in the newspapers here- it is in England- but it’s certainly familiar to the Israeli and U.S. governments, and to the ambassadors. But there is not a word about it anywhere. What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership and the Israeli political leadership. These things aren’t even to be mentioned. This seeps its way all through the diplomatic service. The cables to not have any indication of that.

When they talk about Arabs, they mean the Arab dictators, not the population, which is overwhelmingly opposed to the conclusions that the analysts here- Clinton and the media- have drawn.

Here is the summary of the poll results.

The results (PDF).

And Chomsky’s larger point? That “what this reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership”? Can’t really disagree.

That should be paired with Jack Shafer’s sharp observation in Slate yesterday:

International scandals—such as the one precipitated by this week’s WikiLeaks cable dump—serve us by illustrating how our governments work. Better than any civics textbook, revisionist history, political speech, bumper sticker, or five-part investigative series, an international scandal unmasks presidents and kings, military commanders and buck privates, cabinet secretaries and diplomats, corporate leaders and bankers, and arms-makers and arms-merchants as the bunglers, liars, and double-dealers they are.

Secrets, lies, and the threat posed by those sneaky, rug-making Persians

Updated below:

The Pentagon Papers are a thing of the distant past, and the New York Times isn’t exactly giving Julian Assange the Ellsberg treatment. In fact, it gave its war-adoring soldier fanboy reporter the assignment of penning a hatchet job on Assange.

Still, the Times was on board (sort of, and selectively) with the latest wikileaks release, tens of thousands of cables showing the U.S. government in a most unflattering light. To my eyes, the most newsworthy were the ones where Hillary signed off on outright spying on diplomats from other countries, including the secretary general of the UN. Credit card numbers! DNA samples! Oh my  God! How low can you go? “Mr. Secretary General, I notice a stray gray hair there. One sec, I’ll just … Got it! See, that didn’t hurt, did it? Uh, no, I’ll just put it in this little plastic pouch for safekeeping…..”

Pretty shocking, right?

For the Times, not nearly as important as … drum roll, please … what the cables revealed about What a Major Threat Iran Represents! Especially now that we know Arab princes don’t like the Persians, and are afraid of them, and want America to stop them in their phantom nuclear weapon-making.

Three reporters cobbled together a compendium of Iran Threat-related snippets, and wove a narrative about just how hard it has been to convince the Russians and the Chinese and Italians to isolate and confront Iran–in the Tom Clancy-worthy phrase, to “cut off the head of the snake.”

That last quote was from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who has a very low opinion of Iran, for reasons the Times doesn’t quite spell out.

To its credit, the Times does actually use the phrase “Arab obsession with Iran” and briefly mentions “the uneasy sectarian division of the Muslim world, between the Shiites who rule Iran, and the Sunnis, who dominate most of the region,” but in  general takes the worries of the corrupt Gulf oligarchs at face value, as they show how RIGHT the Times has been to pursue its own obsession with Iran (which is, after all, Our Threatiest Threat.)

One would have wished for a little more context here, something like that supplied by the Guardian (bold face mine in all instances below):

Arab-Persian enmity, with a strong undercurrent of rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims, dates back centuries but increased markedly after the overthrow of the shah and the Islamic revolution in 1979 and is now viewed as a struggle for hegemony in the region. The conservative Sunni-ruled regimes in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states detect the “hidden hand” of Iranian subversion, sometimes where none exists.

Or better, like that offered by Jason Ditz at

The calls to attack are nominally presented as about Iran’s civilian nuclear program but seem to center around the king’s belief that Iran is uniquely “evil” and needs to be stopped to save the region. Given that the Saudi King and the Iranian Supreme Leader are extremely influential in two rival sects of Islam, the effort seems more aimed around getting the US involved in a Holy War of sorts than stopping Iran’s modest civilian enrichment program.

That Saudi Arabia is putting forth so much effort to start a major regional war along sectarian lines would be troubling in and of itself, but doubly so as the Obama Administration has just completed agreeing on the largest arms sale in US history to Saudi Arabia.

The $60 billion arms sale was couched as important for regional stability. Yet this is the exact same Saudi government that is pressing for the Obama Administration to start a major, region-wide war which would destroy any such stability. It seems then that the arms sale is more about enabling Saudi Arabia to potentially start this major war themselves.

Yes! You’d think a $60 billion arms sale to an Iranian rival–and the only crazier, more unstable, and religiously unhinged regime in the region–would merit a mention in the Times account, but you would be thinkin’ wrong.

Shockingly, the Times offers the last word to an appalling little piece of racist nonsense offered by Crown Prince bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, who is quoted in one cable as saying:

“Any culture that is patient and focused enough to spend years working on a single carpet is capable of waiting years and even decades to achieve even greater goals.” His greatest worry, he said, “is not how much we know about Iran, but how much we don’t.”

Forget about the carpet weirdness, that last line is PERFECT. Team B thinking at its best.

If you don’t know about Team B, you should spend some time googling around on the subject. Basically, it boils down to this:

Not finding evidence of Something is just more proof that that Something is there, and further, the not finding it just means that the people hiding that Something are incredibly sneaky.

This little exercise in tautology is a recipe for a long and lucrative career in the government of the United States. You are never right, but never wrong!

The track record of Team B is not so good, but these clowns stay in government no matter what. With Russia: embarrassingly wrong. With Iraq. Ditto. And now with Iran.

No matter what intelligence and inspections show, the U.S. government KNOWS those sneaky, rug-making sons of bitches are up to something. And now we have the word of a Crown Prince.

Update: FAIR goes into more detail on just how much spin the Times is putting on the cables, by comparing the Times’ selective excerpting with the cables themselves (which are not available from the Times, but can be viewed at the wikileaks site itself, or the Guardian’s.)

FAIR also has a succinct description of the Times’ behavior in all of this:

WikiLeaks document dumps are largely what media want to make of them. There’s one conventional response, which goes something like this: “There’s nothing new here, but WikiLeaks is dangerous!” But there’s another option: “There’s nothing here, except for the part that confirms a storyline we’ve been pushing.”

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