Thursday, June 25, 2009


"I believe this will only benefit the common cause, the common fight against terrorism,"

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev commenting on the Kyrgyz government's renewal of the American air base, announced on the 23rd of June. See: "U.S. transit center in Kyrgystan to help fight terror," in

"Hah? where? what Angle of the world is this? that I can neyther see the politik face nor with my refinde Nostrills taste the Footesteps of anie of my disciples, Sonnes and heyres as well as my designes as Institution, I thought theyde spread ouer the world by this time couerd the Earths face and made darke the Land like the
AEgiptian Grasshoppers; here's too much Light appeares shot from the Eyes of truth and goodnes neuer yet deflowrde, sure they were neuer here, then is theire Monarchie Unperfect yet, a just reward I see for theire Ingratitude so long to me theire father and theire Founder"

Thomas Middleton, The Game at Chess, 1624. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.

Checkmate indeed! So it appeared earlier this year, when after what appeared to be Kremlin pressure exercised via a massive loan (at least for Kyrgyzstan that is), granted to the near-bankrupt country lead the Kyrgyz government to announce the cancellation of American base rights at the Manas air base. The only remaining American military base in all of Central Asia. And, a key transit hub for American and NATO forces operating out of Afghanistan. So, it is not surprising that the Americans did endeavor in the time between the announcement and Tuesday's decision by Bishkek, to try to get the decision reversed. What is very surprising is that (at least on the surface) they had to offer so little, in return: approximately 130 Million dollars, in direct assistance. Less than ten percent of what Moskva offered. And, while Medvedev's statement tried to make it appear that Moskva approved of the decision, it is more likely that the real Russian reaction to the announcement, is that of Foreign Ministry sources quoted in Novesti: that Bishkek had played a 'mean trick', on Russia, and, that there would be in due course an 'appropriate response'. If one had to surmise a reason for this all in all, surprising decision, my own one would be that Matushka Russia, overplayed its hand, admittedly a strong one, in Bishkek, and, the Kyrgyz government did not wish to be seen or de facto to be, totally under the thumb of Moskva. Which once again points to a truism about the weakness of Russian diplomacy, both in Sovietskaya Vlast and after: an inability to utilize diplomacy in a constructive rather than destructive fashion. At least that is in Europe and now it would appear in Central Asia. Notwithstanding the fact that in terms of 'Soft Power', Russia is still by far the key player in the region. And, do let me state, that I think the Kyrgyz decision is a mistaken one, as it only will lead to futile American attempts to expand its influence in the region at Russian expense. Something which as I have suggested before is a serious and completely unnecessary distraction for American (as well as West European) diplomacy and stragegy. Both now and in the future.

Monday, June 22, 2009


"Necessitas non habet legem." Publilius Syrus, circa 50 BC.

"It is necessary at this point to dispel the current illusion that the policy of those states which are, broadly speaking satisfied with the status quo and whose watchword is 'security', is somehow less concerned with power than the policy of the dissatisfied states, and that the popular phrase "power politics" applies to the acts of the latter but not to those of the former. This illusion, which has an almost irresistible attraction for the publicists of the satisfied Powers, is responsible for much confused thinking about international politics. The pursuit of 'security' by satisfied Powers has often been the motive of flagrant examples of power politics. In order to secure themselves against the revenge of a defeated enemy, victorious Powers have in the past resorted to such measures as the taking of hostages, the mutilation or enslavement of males of military age or, in modern times, the dismemberment and occupation of territory or forced disarmament. It is profoundly misleading to represent the struggle between satisfied and dissatisfied Powers as a struggle between morality on one side and power on the other. It is a clash in which, whatever the moral issue, power politics are equally predominant on both sides".

The 20 Years Crisis, 1919-1939: An introduction to the Study of International Relations. Edward Hallett Carr, 1939.

"Ten months after the “August war” between Georgia and Russia, violent incidents and the lack of an effective security regime in and around the conflict zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia create a dangerous atmosphere in which extensive fighting could again erupt. Russia has not complied with key aspects of the ceasefire agreements that President Medvedev reached in August/September 2008 with French President Sarkozy in his then EU presidency role. Its 15 June Security Council veto of an extension of the sixteen-year-old UN observer mission mandate in Georgia and Abkhazia and its apparent intention to require the removal of the mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by the end of the month are blows to regional security that will further fuel tensions. Most of the on-the-ground conflict resolution machinery is thus being dismantled. Moscow should review its counterproductive position and work for a reasonable compromise allowing the UN and OSCE monitors to continue their important work".
Georgia: The Risks of Winter, Europe Briefing N°51, 26 November 2008

"Georgia-Russia:Still insecure and Dangerous,"
The International Crisis Group, Europe Briefing paper # 53, 22 June 2009, in

Without becoming involved in the respective merits of the clash between Russia and Georgia which occurred last August (if you are curious, please go to the archive section of this online journal and take a quick look), I do believe that the above newly issued paper by the International Crisis Group, deserves a comment. Specifically, I would like to look at the underlying mentality of the authors of this report. Because underneath one can easily spy and see the type of mentality that the late Professor E. H. Carr so roundly and correctly criticized in his magnum opus. Specifically, the idea present in the Crisis Group's view that: a) there is a serious danger of another military conflict in Kavkaz between Georgia and Russia; b) that Russia has something to lose from such a conflict; c) that there is something which the International Community can do to stop this allegedly looming fight.

As per 'a' above, this is a complete non-starter, recognized by even the most partisan Russophobes in the Georgian government. Especially, as the likelihood of NATO membership has in effect gone out of the window. Similarly, following from the above as it relates to 'b', while there does not appear to be a real and present danger of another round of fighting, similarly there does not appear to be anything which would cause Russia to actively avoid such a situation if in fact Tbilisi chose to engage in such a suicidal course of action. Indeed as noted by the Georgian analyst Paata Zakareishvili, Russia is already the de facto hegemonic power in the region, which none of the regional states can dare challenge:

"Russia has, step by step, nudged international institutions such as the OSCE and the UN out from Georgia and cemented its hold on the region....If one day Tbilisi and Sukhumi decide to start talking to one another on whatever issue, both sides will have to ask for Russian consent, and Russia becomes the sole powerbroker in the region."

Giorgi Lomsadze, "Georgia: United Nations to Leave Abkhazia," 16 June 2009, in

As for 'c', what can one say, but that the International community has chosen to recognize the reality of power relations in the Kavkaz region? If the ICG laments the fact that: "Russia has consolidated its position in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the face of relatively little international criticism", this is due to the fact that none of the Great Powers has any interest at this point of time in challenging Russia in this area. With this observation applying in particular to the Americans, who have other, more important points to discuss and negotiate with Moskva, than that of Georgia's lost provinces. Indeed, as predicted here the upshot of the Russo-Georgian war, is that Tbilisi has lost much of its former importance as a diplomatic and military chess piece for both the Americans and their allies. Indeed, some sources are even talking up (the to my mind extremely unlikely) idea that Baku could join NATO instead (see: Shahin Abbasov, "Azerbaijan: Baku can leapfrog over Ukraine, Georgia for NATO membership--source," 4 June 2009, in It seems that in the case of the Russo-Georgian war, for once, even the Americans have learned their lessons in International affairs relatively quickly. May one hope that the good people at the ICG, will do so soon as well?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"I came here tonight to talk about the agreement and security that are broad consensus within Israeli society. This is what guides our policy. This policy must take into account the international situation. We have to recognize international agreements but also principles important to the State of Israel. I spoke tonight about the first principle - recognition. Palestinians must truly recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is demilitarization. Any area in Palestinian hands has to be demilitarization, with solid security measures. Without this condition, there is a real fear that there will be an armed Palestinian state which will become a terrorist base against Israel, as happened in Gaza. We do not want missiles on Petah Tikva, or Grads on the Ben-Gurion international airport. We want peace.

And, to ensure peace we don?t want them to bring in missiles or rockets or have an army, or control of airspace, or make treaties with countries like Iran, or Hizbullah. There is broad agreement on this in Israel. We cannot be expected to agree to a Palestinian state without ensuring that it is demilitarized. This is crucial to the existence of Israel ? we must provide for our security needs.

This is why we are now asking our friends in the international community, headed by the USA, for what is necessary for our security, that in any peace agreement, the Palestinian area must be demilitarized. No army, no control of air space. Real effective measures to prevent arms coming in, not what?s going on now in Gaza. The Palestinians cannot make military treaties.

Without this, sooner or later, we will have another Hamastan. We can?t agree to this. Israel must govern its own fate and security. I told President Obama in Washington, if we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.

Whenever we discuss a permanent arrangement, Israel needs defensible borders with Jerusalem remaining the united capital of Israel.

The territorial issues will be discussed in a permanent agreement. Till then we have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. But there is a need to have people live normal lives and let mothers and fathers raise their children like everyone in the world. The settlers are not enemies of peace. They are our brothers and sisters.

Friends, unity among us is, to my view, vital, and unity will help with reconciliation with our neighbors. Reconciliation must begin now. A strong Palestinian government will strengthen peace. If they truly want peace, and educate their children for peace and stop incitement, we for our part will make every effort, allow them freedom of movement and accessibility, making their lives easier and this will help bring peace. But above all, they must decide: the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas. They must overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit down at conference table with terrorist who seek to destroy it....

I call upon Arab leaders and Palestinian leaders: Let?s go in the path of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein. Let?s go in the path of Prophet Isaiah, who spoke thousands of years ago, they shall beat their swords into plowshares and know war no more".

Benjamin Netanyahu, 14 June, 2009 Speech in

"”Overall, I thought that there was positive movement in the prime minister’s speech,” Mr Obama said while noting ”there were a lot of conditions....

Obviously working through the conditions on Israel’s side for security, as well as the Palestinian side... that’s exactly what negotiations are supposed to be about. But what we’re seeing is at least the possibility that we can restart serious talks.”"

"U.S. sees 'positive movement' in Netanyahu Speech," 16 June 2009, in

It would appear that Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu's 'school day speech' (one of those occasions which as the late British Premier Harold MacMillan once characterized as: 'a bit of a bore, but, it had to be done'), has achieved what it needed to do, from the Israeli diplomatic perspective. The reaction of the American President, being the most concrete evidence of this. With any further effort at this time by the Americans to push Tel Aviv any further on the settlement issue being for now torpedoed. Indeed, now as per Washington, it is Israel's Arab neighbors rather than Israel which needs to make concessions. The fact that Netanyahu and his government, are still, post facto to his speech, further away from any concrete settlement, from almost any Israeli government in the past ten years, id. est., from his own last government in 1999, appears to be lost on the Americans. Unfortunately, it has not been lost on the other parties in the region. Indeed, even the Egyptian government was vociferous in its condemnation of the terms that Netanyahu laid out for his proposed Palestinian statelet, with Egyptian President Mubarak stating openly that: "You won't find anyone to answer that call in Egypt, or in any other place" ("Arab Leaders accuse Netanyahu of 'scuttling' peace hopes," 16 June 2009, in

Indeed, as the unofficial, but influential Arab newspaper, Al-Hayat commented in the aftermath of the speech:

"Every single condition that Netanyahu placed for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state threatens to blast the negotiations from their very foundations, while the sum total of these conditions is the ruin of President Barack Obama’s vision which he set forth in his speech ten days prior to Netanyahu’s. Moreover, this all brings back to memory his lies and deceptive manoeuvres that disrupted the peace process between 1996 and 1999, hence the still ongoing confrontation between Palestinians and Israel. This confrontation is likely to continue for another thousand years as long as the Israeli expansionist thinking and settlement policies are still in place....

More importantly, Netanyahu insulted the intelligence of the whole world, when he said that he wants to immediately and unconditionally negotiate with the Palestinians, then he placed impossible conditions, from recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and accepting settlements to a demilitarized Palestinian state that cannot forge alliances or sign treaties (with the enemies of Israel), with Israel controlling its borders and airspace, while being “generous” enough to grant it its own national anthem and flag".

"There will be no accord with him, neither Today or Ever," in Dar Al-Hayat, 16 June 2009, in

It should be noted however that Netanyahu's speech was not aimed at Israel's Arab neighbors. It was aimed for the most part at the American administration, and, to a lesser extent (I should say a much lesser extent) at Western European governments. And, to no great surprise, Netanyahu's speech did indeed 'do the trick'. The rift, such as it was, with the Americans over his perceived 'extreme' policies has been, `a la magic, healed. With even the issue of the halting of settlements now, no longer on the table apparently. The upshot of all this, is that it would appear that Netanyahu has not lost his ability to diplomatically string matters out, and procrastinate indefinitely. A talent which among other things, helped to ensure that his first premiership, was perhaps the most detested Israeli government from Washington's perspective in the past twenty years. Be that as it may, one does have to admire the man's talent for stalling & delaying. Were that it for a more positive purpose!

Monday, June 15, 2009


"Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.

There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand — but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran.

Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with about two-thirds of the vote. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned. A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different....

It also misses a crucial point: Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn’t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.

First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization — whether from the shah or Mousavi — as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.

Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs — who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this — have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.

Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don’t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war — something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war.

Perhaps the greatest factor in Ahmadinejad’s favor is that Mousavi spoke for the better districts of Tehran — something akin to running a U.S. presidential election as a spokesman for Georgetown and the Lower East Side. Such a base will get you hammered, and Mousavi got hammered. Fraud or not, Ahmadinejad won and he won significantly. That he won is not the mystery; the mystery is why others thought he wouldn’t win.

For a time on Friday, it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad’s security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal".

George Friedman, "Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality," 15 June 2009, in

"In recent years, the global democratic revolution has threatened to run out of steam. Russia has slipped backwards towards authoritarianism and China has made the case for a new form of enlightened one-party rule. The chaos that followed the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan has threatened to discredit the whole case for democratisation.

Some conservative realists have argued that it is, in any case, a mistake to promote democracy in the Middle East, since Islamists are liable to win power and impose illiberal regimes. The joke has been that it would be “one man, one vote, one time”. The best response to this has always been that Islamism is only likely to lose its popular allure when Muslim fundamentalists are allowed to govern – and prove themselves to be incompetent, oppressive and corrupt.

That cycle is now playing itself out in Iran. Even if Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and his cohorts succeed in clinging on to power, their claim to represent a popular Islamic revolution is now in shreds.

In the meantime, how should the outside world react to Iran’s stolen election? The Obama administration has already been criticised for what some conservatives regard as an excessively mild and cautious response to events in Iran.

But heavy-handed intervention by the west would be mistaken at this stage. The Iranian regime has three possible sources of domestic legitimacy: popular support, economic success or an external threat. The economy is doing badly and the stolen election has wrecked the idea that this is a government that rests on a broad popular mandate.

That leaves the possibility that the regime will use the bogeyman of foreign intervention to rally patriotic support and to crack down even harder on the opposition. There is a history of western meddling in Iranian politics – for example the US-backed coup of 1953, acknowledged by President Barack Obama in his recent speech in Cairo. So an appeal by the regime to rally all patriotic Iranians against foreign intervention might resonate.

The crucial lesson of the long wave of democratisation that has rolled round the world since 1979 is that democratic revolutions ultimately succeed for almost entirely domestic reasons. Occasionally, outsiders can influence events. The Russian decision not to intervene in 1989 was obviously crucial to the success of the democratic revolutions in central Europe. America’s decision to spirit away Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 clinched the “people power” revolution in the Philippines.

But these were client regimes. In most cases, democratic revolutions have been driven overwhelmingly by “people power” at home – usually followed by a loss of nerve or cracks in the ruling regime. This might yet happen in Iran.

It is still possible that the country will have a successful “Green” revolution to match the Orange and Rose revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. But the sad truth is that all the outside world can do, for the moment, is offer rhetorical support for Iranian democrats, watch, wait and hope".

Gideon Rachman, "Democracy could still win in Iran," 15 June, 2009 in

According to both Reuters and Agence France-Presse, the protests in the streets of Teheran and other Persian cities are the largest and the most widespread in the last thirty years, aka since the fall of the Shah (see: & What does the well-educated layman, someone like myself who, while somewhat knowledgeable about modern Persian history, does not speak, understand or write Farsi, nor have any familial ties to the place, make of the events of the last few days? Until yesterday, I would no doubt have strongly endorsed the thinking behind Dr. Friedman's article in today's Meaning that: a) Ahmadinejad while unpopular in urban Persia, does enjoy x amount of support in la Persia Profonde; b) that regardless of whether or not a majority of the population, especially in urban areas are behind the challenger, Mr. Mousavi or not, the 'deep Persian state' apparatus would ensure that the incumbent would win. Up to this morning, that was my own opinion of the matter, and, that any protests against the stealing of the election (and contra to Dr. Friedman, va sans doute: it was most definitely a stolen election), would be squashed, `a la the student protests of the 1999-2002 period, without too much difficulty by the regime. However, based upon what was seen today, I am no longer so sure of the matter. Of course, like the 'conservative realists', referred to by Gideon Rachman, I am for the most part, highly skeptical about the possibilities of anything resembling Western forms of governance and pluralism emerging in Persia, or for that matter in the rest of the Near and Middle East. However as a historian, I must also acknowledge that there are times, when what the late, great, Fernand Braudel once characterized as 'mere events', les eventments, can quite suddenly without much in the way of preparation or even a proper prelude, assume the poll position in the march of time. This is particularly the case, when as in the current instance, those making the running are urban groupings: students, educated professionals, and a small portion of the ruling elite itself. Notwithstanding their smaller portion of the population, the fact of the matter is that 'revolutions', are more often than not, made in urban settings, usually by urban, 'middle class' sections of the population. If nothing else, that may means that the sparks of a true upheveal are already present in Persia.Fate - Fatum has a strange and both infuriating and refreshing way of always surprising us bystanders of mankind.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


"While Mr Ahmadinejad’s win underscores support for a defiant position, the Supreme Leader has made clear that he is not interested in Mr Obama’s new tone if it doesn’t signal an end to Washington’s sanctions and its support for covert action against Iran’s regime. Mr Ross’s “bigger carrots, bigger sticks” approach to diplomacy is likely to fail, because most observers of the Iranian regime have concluded that it perceives such an approach as nothing more than going through the motions in the expectation that talks will fail – but that having held them will strengthen the U.S. case for harsher coercive action. And Mr Ross has argued that such efforts will show that the U.S. “went the extra mile”.

Despite sharp differences in their approach to handling the West, the substance of Mr Ahmadinejad’s and Mr Mousavi’s positions on the U.S. nuclear demands may not have been all that different. Both men insist on Iran’s right to nuclear energy, including the right to enrich uranium to fuel its reactors. Iran denies any intention to weaponize its nuclear material, which is currently under the scrutiny of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency – and representatives of the Supreme Leader have, at various points, signaled a readiness to negotiate over extending and tightening that monitoring regime to satisfy western concerns over the potential for nuclear material to be diverted into a bomb program (Thus far, the IAEA certifies that no such diversion has taken place)".

Tony Karon, "No new president - but a new red line for negotiations?", 13 June 2009, in

So, the electoral farce in Persia is most definitely finis. Of that there is no, if ands or buts. The 'supreme leader', aka chief Mullah Khamenei, has spoken and endorsed most overtly the election results. Results which the 'deep Persian state' (to borrow a term much used in Turkish politics) apparatus, ensured would occur as they so wished. A surprise opposition victory `a la that of 1997, was most definitely not something that the regime of Mullahs was interested in happening this time around. Notwithstanding the fact that some, but, unfortunately not enough in the more 'pragmatic' wing of the regime, those for instance close to the ex-President Rafsanjani, would no doubt like to be able to establish more 'normal' relations with the West and with the Sunni Arab countries in the Near and Middle East. For which the ouster of the Ahmadinejad would be a necessity, for reasons of publicity if nothing else. Whether or not such relations would also necessitate the jettisoning of Persia's nuclear enrichment programme is not entirely clear at this time. Either to myself or in fact to anyone outside of the ruling circles in Teheran. And, perhaps not even discernable to anyone outside of the Supreme Leader's immediate entourage.

The upshot of the elections are as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put it: the election results are those which the current Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv and its American friends and supporters could most wish for. It shows that to the outside world the most lunatic and ne plus ultra face of the regime in Persia (see: Amos Harel, "Ahmadinejad win actually preferable to Israel," 14 June 2009, in http:///). Once that divide is crossed however were exactly does that leave us? If one judges the matter more rationally in terms not of hysterics, concerning what Teheran's possible, future intentions are, but in terms of strict realpolitik and machtpolitik, than the matter is a but less stark. So for instance in a new report, the American think tank, The Rand Corporation, punctures the idea that Persia is the future, Near Eastern hegemon, or the it has ambitions (nuclear or non-nuclear) to dominate the region. As it notes:

"The study concluded that the Islamic Republic does not seek territorial aggrandizement or even, despite its rhetoric, the forcible imposition of its revolutionary ideology onto neighboring states. Instead, it feeds off existing grievances with the status quo, particularly in the Arab world. Ideology and bravado frequently mask a preference for opportunism and realpolitik — the qualities that define “normal” state behavior.

Moreover, there are significant barriers and buffers to Iran's strategic reach, stemming from regional geopolitics and from Iran's limited conventional military capacity, diplomatic isolation, and past strategic missteps. Similarly, tensions between the regime and Iranian society — segments of which have grown disenchanted with the Islamic Republic's revolutionary ideals — can also act as a constraint on Iranian external behavior....

As noted above, Iran views itself as a status quo power, preferring to assert a greater role for itself within the existing regional system rather than refashion that system according to its revolutionary vision. This has resulted in an ambitious, activist policy that hinges on three themes: deterrence and homeland defense, support for Islamist militant groups (both for symbolic reasons and as a retaliatory capability), and the currying of favor with publics in the Arab world to circumvent official hostility from other regimes in the region. Within each of these vectors are factors that both aid Iranian power and circumscribe it.

Despite asymmetric doctrinal ambitions, Iran fields a weak conventional force. Iranian leaders have long trumpeted their shift to an asymmetric strategy of homeland defense that would exact intolerable costs from an invader. Much of this rests on notions of “mosaic defense,” partisan warfare, and popular mobilization of Basiji auxiliaries. On the whole, however, Iran’s military remains mired in conventional doctrine because of bureaucratic inertia in procurement and frequent infighting between the Revolutionary Guard and conventional forces. Most of Iran’s military equipment is out of date and poorly maintained, and its ground forces suffer from both personnel and equipment shortages. With its outdated aircraft, the Iranian Air Force, in particular, is no match for its neighbors and certainly not for U.S. airpower".

Frederick Wehrey, et. al., Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the reach and limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East. 2009. See: http:///

The report in essence endorses the current strategy of the American official allegedly in charge of policy vis-`a-vs Persia: the ultra-competent Dennis Ross. Said policy being a combination of engagement and tough-minded containment with an escalating round of sanctions being attached to the regime in hopes of changing its mind on in its nuclear enrichment programme. Will it work? We do not know yet. But, at present is is a much better option than pursuing the military one.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


"The key here is that, first of all the Bush administration [argument of] no enrichment was ridiculous, on its face, because Iran is a signatory to the [nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty and whether they are inside or outside their obligations, to ask them to give up something that was within their rights within the treaty assuming they were up to their obligations is a non-starter. It was bombastic diplomacy. It was wasted energy. It sort of hardened the lines, if you will (inaudible).

Because it seemed so unreasonable to people. They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose. But they don’t have a right, obviously, to be outside of the other restraints of the IAEA and of the non-proliferation agreement. And so the key here was to really open a different kind of dialogue with them about where you draw the line".

Senator John Forbes Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "Transcript: John Kerry Interview," 10 June, 2009, in

"It will always be desirable that the foreign policy of any great country should be carried out by professionals trained in their business. Amateur diplomatists...are prone to prove unreliable. It is not merely that their lack of knowledge and experience may be of disadvantage to their governments, it is that the amateur diplomatist is apt out of vanity and owing to the shortness
of his tenure to seek for rapid successes; that he tends, owing to diffidence, to be over-suspicious: that he is inclined to be far too zealous and to have bright ideas; that he has not acquired the humane and tolerant disbelief which is the product
of a long diplomatic career and is often assailed by convictions, sympathies, even impulses; that he may arrive with a righteous contempt for the formalities of diplomacy and with some impatience of its conventions; that he may cause offence
when he wishes only to inspire geniality; that in his reports and dispatches he may seek rather to display his own acumen and literary brilliance than to provide his government with a careful and sensible balance-sheet of facts".

Sir Harold Nicolson, Diplomacy, 1939.

Senator John Kerry is an honorable, and intelligent man. He was by far a much better Presidential candidate than Bush the Younger. And, would have easily been a better President than his opponent. Regardless of this truism however, it appears that since the junior Senator from Massachusetts, took over the Chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has been afflicted with that uniquely American Congressional illness, which his predecessor, the current American Vice-President, Mr. Biden was particularly sufferer from: a tendency to wish to see his name in print and on the television box all the time. In the case of Senator Kerry, his particular area of the world where he is interested in making his name, appears to be the Near and Middle East. This regardless of the fact that he was never associated with or particularly knowledgeable about this area...

Ordinarily this illness would be of the de minimus variety, a rather minor peccatum.
However given the importance of the ongoing negotiations with the regime in Persia over its potential nuclear aspirations, it is say we say, less than intelligent for the good Senator to let Teheran to know in advance that such an important American personage, is willing to in effect hand-over an important diplomatic bargaining chip, to the Persians. Scott free no less. Let me be clear: I do not in reality necessarily disagree with what Senator Kerry says. I do however disagree violently with his saying it, and, in public. What he blandly is willing to acknowledge, is something which should only be given, in the context of an overall settlement. Something which we are very far away from at the moment. And, which Senator Kerry's comments have made even much more difficult to arrive at.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


"How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world and how much the best!"

Charles James Fox, 30th of July 1789, on the fall of the Bastille.

"Obama's speech in Cairo was a brilliant performance. I think it may come to rank with Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner speech - and for a similar reason. It was based on an appeal to common humanity and the brotherhood of man. In the context of the Middle East, it was an effort to call an end to the "clash of civilisations".

Gideon Rachman, "Obama's skillful Cairo Speech," 5th of June 2009, in

"If there is anything that is new in what we are considering for Greece and Turkey it is the thought that we are being asked here to go beyond a policy of rhetoric and to give flesh and blood for the first time to principles which we have long acknowledged and admired in the comfortable plane of generality. Here we can no longer hide behind a policy of rhetoric and to give flesh and blood for the first time to principles which we have long acknowledged and admired in the comfortable plane of generality. Here we can no longer hide behind language, behind any international policy of responsibility, or behind that smug sense of disentanglement that animates us whenever we dispense sure charity. Here we have to bite [sic] it and chew on the bitter truth that in this world you cannot even do good today unless you are prepared to exert your share of power, to take your share of responsibility, to make your share of mistakes and to assume your share of risks".

George Frost Kennan to Dean Acheson, 17 March 1947.

Away on the bellissima isle of Capri last week, I was shielded a good deal from the rather nonsensical, indeed one is endeavored to characterize it as hysterical, liberal-bourgeois, bien pensant descriptions that the new American President's speech in Cairo last week evoked. One week later, what can one say in fact about the event itself, and, its significance if any? First, that notwithstanding, the rather stupid and historically illiterate comments (Viz: "tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to Muslims". Meaning that there was such things 'rights and opportunities', prior to 'so-colonialism'in the Near & Middle East?), the speech did in fact em>rhetoricallyspeaking, anchor American policy in the Near & Middle East in a somewhat positive fashion as it relates to both the Palestinian issue and to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. So far, as we are discussing matters to rhetoric & speech-making, then all is as it should be. The only issue of course is that once one gets beyond the speech-making, then things become a little bit less than clear and transparent. Unless and until, one sees some coercive diplomacy employed in the effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, there will be and indeed there cannot be any peaceful resolution of this conflict. Pur et simple. Writing in last week's Times of London Literary Supplement (TLS), the British commentator & ex-Ambassador, Oliver Miles, noted that:

"The 'special relationship' between Israel and America, as President Obama called it after his meeting on May 18 with the new Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is facing a critical test. Obama is committed to the two state solution and to stopping Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and he repeated these commitments on May 18. Netanyahu has refused to subscribe to either. He will almost certainly have to make a verbal concession on both, but if he continues to stall in his actions as all Israeli governments including his own have done in the past, Obama will have to decide: will he give in or will he use muscle in a way we have not see since Eisenhower?"

"A face turned East," in The TLS, 29th of May 2009.

Unless and indeed until the above quandary is resolved, then what occurred last week is merely diplomatically speaking, the emitting of so much hot air into the atmosphere.