ElBaradei: Iran not an Immediate Nuclear Threat

The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency made some remarkable statements about the non-threat the Iran poses to the world. Mohamed ElBaradei said that Iran does not constitute an immediate threat, and that we should be cautious in how we proceed:

"Our assessment is that there is no immediate threat," the winner of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize told a forum organized by the Monterey Institute of International Studies south of San Francisco. "We still have lots of time to investigate."

"You look around in the Middle East right now and it's a total mess," he said. "You can not add oil to that fire."

I don't think I need to remind anyone who caused that "total mess" in the Middle East. We've set conditions that are far from favorable for overt action against Iran, or anyone else for that matter.

ElBaradei said he believed a majority in the Iranian leadership was still interested in a negotiated solution and normal relations with the world. The United States is pressing for tough U.N. sanctions if Iran does not comply.

"It would be terrible" to try to strengthen sanctions, which could force Iran to retaliate, he said.

"We have learned some lessons from North Korea," he said. "When you push a country into a corner, you are giving the driver's seat to the hard-liners there."

Ouch. Seeing it spelled out like that hurts me. We've made so many terrible mistakes...

Direct Talks? Maybe, Maybe Not.

The Washington Post has an important story about the ongoing nuclear drama with Iran. The United States has moderated its position on direct talks with the Iranians, and is now saying that talks would be beneficial. How they're going to walk back all the rhetoric about direct talks "legitimizing the regime," I don't know. Of course, the stipulation is that Iran halt all nuclear enrichment activities before final agreement to talks will be given.

I must say, I'm a little embarrassed I didn't think of this Administration tack in my previous post relating to direct talks. Effectively, what us clever Americans have done is to start the negotiation before the negotiation begins! In order to talk to us, the Iranians have to make a key concession, thereby moving the goalposts significantly before the real talks even begin and weakening their hand. Pretty clever, I must say, and something that's only partially directed at derailing talks completely, since the Iranians lose only a sliver of time by assenting. They can easily restart their program if they're unsatisfied with the talks.


Wanted Dead or Alive

Bush had a press conference last night which I missed until just now. Famously, he finally talked about mistakes made during the war in Iraq. That's amazing, I suppose. But one of the items he felt regret for was:
Wanted Dead or Alive. That kinda talk. It, uh, I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpretted, and so I learned from that.
Excuse me? What's going on here? Who disagrees with wanting Bin Laden "Dead or Alive?" How is the message that sends a mistake? You're damned right I want him dead or alive. Preferrably alive, sure, so we can squeeze him for information then execute him. The message wanting him Dead or Alive sent was exactly right: "We will rain holy hell down on the people that did this to us, and anyone that helped them. We will continue to defend ourselves aggressively, and if anyone out there does something like this again, we'll get them and their enablers too. No conception of reasonableness will slow us." It's exactly the sort of primordial rage that I require, and more importantly, it evinces the genuine Bad-Assedness that the world needed to see in the wake of of attacks. This exagerated stick serves to make the carrots that much more appealing, and thereby decrease the support worldwide for using terrorism against Americans. Of course, that's assuming there are meaingfull carrots also in the mix, and the Bush Administration doesn't really do that...

Dissent in the Ranks

There's been continued insistence that given the "internal weakness of Iran," we can overthrow them with a little sustained pressure. Or rather, that we can cause the Iranian dissidents to overthrow the government for us. We've all seen the Iranian polls showing popular discontent with the theocratic government.

Granted, what follows doesn't acknowledge American Exceptionalism, but I think it's illustrative all the same. Let's play a game: Imagine you're you. You live in a country where 29% of the population supports the President. You live in a country where just 22% approve of the job the legislature is doing. Where there's growing disparity between the rich elites and the pinched middle and lower classes. Where the populace is allowed almost open access to firearms. Now imagine China bombing something that is ours, and killing our brothers and sisters. "Let's overthrow the government" is not the reaction I would expect.

Iran and Sanctions

So, I've been thinking of what can be done about Iran short of giving them a non-aggression guarantee. Sanctions are the only response that I've seen on the table as possible reactions to an ongoing nuclear program. The common wisdom is that Russia and China would oppose such sanctions in the Security Council, so unified UN member state sanctions are unlikely. That leaves multilateral sanctions via another incarnation of a "coalition of the willing," not including Russia and China. But would such sanctions have teeth? If Iran could weather the sanctions, our negotiating position would be a shadow of its former glory.

Iran has 132 billion barrels in known reserve, and they produce 4 million barrels per day(mbpd), leaving them to export 2.5mbpd. China is a growing economy - if we take ourselves and much of the rest of the world out of the running for Iran's oil, they'll certainly see a price slump, but perhaps not an economic implosion that we'd be banking on. They have over $40 billion in foreign reserves and gold that's been built up over these last few years of skyrocketing energy costs. If China, or other oil hungry countries can take up the slack we leave, then our sanctions will accomplish little of nothing. The Iranian elite might not be able to order their Chippendale furniture from Europe anymore, and they might start using more of the 5 cent junk we're inundated with by China, but they'd survive it. I don't think it would be the tipping-point inducing regime change we hope it would be.


My fear...

During the last post, I fought the urge to just say right out: The Bush Administration doesn't want peace with Iran. Well, Juan Cole is there to embody my doubts given voice.

And we have a charming piece disagreeing with direct talks in the inestimable Charles Krauthammer.
It is not rare to see a regime such as Iran's -- despotic, internally weak, feeling the world closing in -- attempt so transparent a ploy to relieve pressure on itself. What is rare is to see the craven alacrity with which such a ploy is taken up by others.
He begins here with a shot at us who think talks would be a good way of achieving our goals with the assumption that the Iran government is "internally weak," thereby floating the idea that if we keep up the pressure, the regime will fall by itself. Is Iran really weak enough that they might not maintain control of their population? I think not. Plus, there's nothing like the threat of military action against your country to cause a rally around the flag reaction.

Needless to say, Charles is against direct talks with Iran, and darn it, for the life of him he can't figure out how we could even suggest direct talks would be a good thing. Or, excuse me for overstating it. He can think of a reason we support direct talks: because we have no principles.
Just yesterday the world was excoriating the Bush administration for its unilateralism -- on Kyoto, the ABM Treaty and, most especially, Iraq -- and demanding that Washington act in concert with the "international community." Just yesterday the Democratic nominee for president attacked President Bush's foreign policy precisely for refusing to consult with, listen to and work with "the allies."

Another day, another principle. Bush is now being pressured to abandon multilateralism and go it alone with Iran.
Nice play with the false analogies, Charles. The unifying principle on my side of the aisle is to do what's best for the country, putting as much pressure to bear on our problems as is possible. The unifying principle of the Administration seems to be to avoid at every step actions which significantly decrease the justifications for military action. Take the Zarqawi asssination opportunities we had before the Iraq war that were not exercised because we feared it would "anger our allies and thereby decrease the support for the war." Likewise with direct talks with Iran.

Bilateral talks cost America nothing if they are enacted wit' a quickness. While the Security Council track is proceeding and the threat of eventual sanctions becomes more and more real for the Iranian regime, we can talk behind closed doors and come to an understanding of what the Iranians require in order to stop compiling their nuclear know-how. I suspect that a non-aggression guarantee will be required, but we can keep that quiet. Publicly, Russia will handle the enrichment side of their fuel cycle, and the Iranians will ratify the Additional Protocols so that every step the fuel takes will be monitored. At that point, America's publicly stated goals are acheived - an Iran without the possibility of syphoning off nuclear material for clandestine uses, and without the high-enrichment expertise that is so difficult to come by.


Request for Talks

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's first letter to President Bush was written more for the "Arab Street" than as an actual diplomatic opening for the American government. But now, it seems we do have a bona-fide request for talks from the Iranians.

In that request, they put everything on the table that we want on the table, and nothing that we don't. Of course, if a settlement would be reached it would require a compromise on both sides, but the Iranians aren't playing it that way while making the overture - which is smart given the "resolve" of the Bush Administration.

This stikes me as an important development. We've now arrived at the point where, should the Bush Administration refuse talks, there can be no further claim that resolving the nuclear issue is the primary concern of the United States. Instead, it is clear that they're merely angling for further escalation of tensions. There's simply no reason not to engage these talks.

So I think they'll have to embrace this. If they entrench themselves further it is a losing proposition for America, if not for their electoral chances.


Support for Another War

I was speaking to a friend last weekend about politics, as usual, and he brought up Iran. He's retired career Army, now working for a school system doing IT. His position was that we need to" bomb the hell out of them," and that if we did, we could kill the nuclear program and topple the regime. My response was to google the following picture:

I showed him the infamous Strait, told him the shipping lane for deepwater vessels was 2-3 miles wide, and that 30-40% of the world's oil production flowed through it. I asked him what had happened when a few percentage points of supply fell off in America after Katrina, and he didn't seem to see the significance of the question. "Sure, oil prices will go up, but it will be temporary," he said. Oy.

Now, I'm a big believer in the near omnipotence of the US military, having been schooled in the First Gulf War, but after experiencing bitter reality in Iraq, how can you hold the position in your head that "taking out Iran would be no big deal"? Leading up to the Iraq War, I was convinced of its inevitability. But with Iran, the American people at large must have better sense, right? "Fool me once, shame on... shame on you... ifuma can't get fooled again," is my position.

My Immigration Position

This is one of the things that makes me an atypical Democrat, I guess, but I think that something closer to an enforcement only law is what I'd like to see. The ridiculous criminalization bill that the House passed isn't at all what I have in mind, but it's closer than the President's proposal.

If we secure the borders via real and virtual fences, increase the boarder patrol to levels specified by the 9/11 commission, and start enforcing the laws against
employers (which should be easy enough given the Social Security Payments for accounts that don't exist), the problem will largely solve itself. Illegal immigrants will have an increasingly difficult time finding work, and many of them will leave of their own accord. Compliment this with a scientifically-based guest-worker program to protect the industries that swear up and down they can't find Americans, and I'm happy.

In the real world, though, I'm happy that the only law that's passed thus far is the House's. It has almost no chance of becoming law, but the Hispanic groups know which party passed it, which is just as good for the Democrat's electoral chances. Thank god for self-inflicted wounds. The Republican's just can't help themselves these days.

Maybe I'm just a Thicky

So before the big Immigration Speech this week, the press narrative was that it was designed to mollify the conservative base. Since Bush's approval amongst self-identifying conservatives stands at 45%, the quest to bolster the President's approval ratings must begin there. As usual, they leaked the entire contents of the speech before hand, with a special emphasis on the National Guard stop-gap measure. The only thing that ended up being unspecified was the number - 6,000 troops on a 2-3 week rotation. Fine.

So, as I thought about the speech during the preview period over the weekend, I couldn't quite understand where they were going. If the President stuck to his guns, as he always seems to, the speech couldn't possibly please the conservative base. The sticking point in his plan was clearly "amnesty," which there was no way the base would accept. The rhetoric over amnesty and boarder protection has simply been too vehement - there was no way the conservative Representatives and commentators could walk it back. I mean, they had been proposing impeachment over this issue! Clearly, if "amnesty" as they define it was included, the speech couldn't possibly help Bush's numbers. The Democrats are long gone, having been called traitors a few thousand too many times, and he's been polling abysmally amongst independents for over a year.

Watching the speech itself, I kept thinking, "where's the surprise? Where's the play that will actually make someone happy?" It never came.

Surprise, surprise! The conservative base is pissed. So what was the point of the speech? The only way the speech translates into a net positive is if Bush actually gets his plan passed. Then, they can spin a narrative of "fighting his own party to claim the holy middle ground on a contentious issue." But do you think Sensenbrenner and Tancredo in the House are going to have anything to do with it? I can't imagine the arm-twisting that would be required, and with Mr. 29%'s political capital not even registering, I just don't see it happening.

So, maybe I'm just a double-thick Thicky from Thickonia, but I don't get it.


Why on Earth am I a Democrat?

In my head, I feel conservative. I often adore George Will, for instance. But here I am, a Democrat. I was thinking about that this morning, when I realized that this sort of free form musing is right up a blog's alley. "What the hell," I thought, "thinking in public is totally hot right now."

So, why am I a Democrat when so many of the conservative-dreaded social programs that classical liberals support make me uneasy? Affirmative Action and welfare, I suppose, are the two main boogeymen. It is undeniable that giving artificially inflated care to a group results in the members of that group becoming accustomed to that level of subsidy. Living things tends to adapt to their environment, after all - especially living things with a respectable neocortex/body mass ratio (i.e. us). With the onset of that comfortableness, the incentive to genuinely improve your lot in life is diminished, creating what Will calls a Moral Hazard. It is also undeniable that any person in America that can speak English has a chance to succeed, so why "penalize" the succesful to help the less fortunate?

I keep my mouth shut about my doubts because I believe that it is immoral and, more importantly, strategically unwise to allow the ossification of power and resources in a society. Without means of redistributing wealth down the economic ladder, the lower classes are progressively squeezed by those that control the resources and thereby control the society itself. This is the steadily worsening environment that leads to revolution, and I'd like to avoid those unless they're really necessary, because I like being a superpower. Furthermore, dedicated labor is not always enough to ensure success. Irrefutably, hard work is requisite, but luck plays a bigger role in life's success than contemporary conservatives would have you believe.

Ultimately, I think of America as a group comprised of its citizens. What's good for all is good for America, and therefore a personal good in excess of how I personally benefit. What's good for the few is not necessarily bad, but is necessarily less good. Demonstrably, modern conservatives feel as if they have to govern for the elites. As a result, the middle class gets squeezed. That's just plain wrong, but I'm not sure it would have been enough by itself to turn me slowly into a Democrat.

Truly, it was the foreign policy enacted by President Bush that made me a committed member of the Democratic Party. They call it a doctrine of preemption, but it clearly isn't. There are threats around the world that are completely ignored because they haven't elicited a public outcry, or are simply too difficult to tackle in the way that the Bush Doctrine would indicate. North Korea is a sharp example of the latter. Before North Korea had nuclear weapons, the Bush Doctrine demanded preemptive military action - the argument would have been nearly identical to the one used in Iraq's case. I can see it now: "A brutal dictator, who rules with an iron fist of cruelty against his own people, is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons for nefarious purposes. Can we allow ourselves to be held hostage by the threat of this madman extorting the international community? The U.N. is in danger of sliding into irrelevancey if this grave and gathering danger is not addressed." Ultimately, we didn't address North Korea militarily because we could not win such an engagement (reference the 2 million man army). Even if we destroyed the country's burgeoning nuclear facilities, it would only set them back and confirm our hostile, militaristic posture. The consequences of military action can be slow in coming, and so are very difficult to predict.

What pushed me to think of myself as a Democrat was the way we executed the War on Terror. The unfinished job in Afghanistan hurt me. I felt like physically mourning the life we allowed Bin Laden to continue living. I wanted the big gets. I wanted Mullah Omar. I wanted Al-Zawahiri . I wanted them killed, or even better, brought to the dock in American courts, so the world could see the sagacious exercise of Justice. Instead, no such news arrived. Even then, it was clear that we held back for some reason. 15,000 troops in Afghanistan? To capture the most hated villains in American history? Fewer boots on the ground than police in New York City? For the love of god, why would we pursue with such daintiness?

The fog surrounding the answer started clearing soon after the Afghanistan conflict cooled - we needed those troops for Iraq. As we started banging the war drums about Iraq, I read everything I could get my hands on, and unlike Afghanistan, there was some dissent about pursuing "the terrorists" to Iraq. There were no Al Qaeda operating in the Saddam controlled portions of Iraq, I learned. To me, it was automatically apparent that no American would be on the side of Al Qaeda - outside the normal collection of the literally insane. No American could have watched the murder of our brothers and sisters and not felt the same rage and sorrow that I did. So when dissent began, I listened, considered, and came to the conclusion that Iraq was no threat to us and was in no way responsible for 9/11. I didn't conclude that the anti-war types must have been objectively on the side of Al Qaeda. Luckily for me, I opposed the Iraq War from the start. Thank god.

There was a second reason I opposed the Iraq War. I hesitate to even state it, since it is so painfully obvious. If the goal of the War on Terror is to decrease the amount of terrorism directed against Americans, then it's unforgivably immoral and strategically myopic to pursue that goal by bombing the living hell out of people that have nothing to do with terrorism directed against Americans. To paraphrase one of the greats: It's like ordering a pizza and getting a free walrus. Even if the walrus were excellent, I mean truly exemplary, I'm really not in the market for it and it's not why I ordered the pizza. Similarly, no matter what rationale the administration stated or how "fun" and well executed the war would be, ultimately, wars of choice work against the main goal of the war on terror - protecting me and mine. Imagine how you would you react if your father was scattered around the block because of no fault of his own. I know how I would react: exactly the same way I did on the morning of September 11th. I felt Hatred, Rage, and a desire for Revenge so deep it took on a color. And that was for the murder of people I had never even met! Increasing the number of people who feel that way towards America only makes my family less safe.

The response on the Republican side, as I referenced earlier, was to question whether the opponents of the war in Iraq loved the Terrorists more than the United States of America. Whether we were labelled Pro-Al-Qaeda, Pro-Saddam, traitors, cowards, or just "on the wrong side," the rhetoric didn't match the reality I was living since we all want the terrorists dead. I wondered how the Republicans could possibly believe the things they said about us, and that lead down a road of thinking similar to the one Glenn Greenwald has outlined repeatedly. Combined with their attitudes towards science, it was clear that the modern Republican party wasn't interested in rational thinking, or real debate. It seemed that they had been out of power so long that now that they had their chance, no liberally-biased facts would get in their way of ensuring a successful presidency. To them, that meant brooking no dissent, never wavering in their religious support, and being seen as Commander-in-Chief via the Iraq War. The government that enabled was one of desires fulfilled over empiricism applied. They wanted war, so they got one, and forever alienated me.