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Tilting at Windmills

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January 8, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

IRAN'S HARDLINERS....Nazila Fathi reports from Tehran that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been losing the support of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei:

There are numerous possible reasons for Mr. Ahmadinejad's loss of support, but analysts here all point to one overriding factor: the United States National Intelligence Estimate last month, which said Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003 in response to international pressure. The intelligence estimate sharply reduced the threat of a military strike against Iran, allowing the Iranian authorities to focus on domestic issues, with important parliamentary elections looming in March.

....Liberal commentators, here and abroad, have long argued that hard-line policies in the West only strengthen hard-line politicians in Iran, and conversely that lowering the threat level enhances the position of moderates. With conservative politicians who supported Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005 increasingly turning into his fiercest critics, and with Ayatollah Khamenei saying recently that Iran's lack of contacts with the United States "does not mean that we will not have relations indefinitely," the pundits would seem, for now, to be on the right track.

This comes via Eric Martin, who comments:

The diminishing fortunes of the respective Iranian and American hawkish sets does certainly add an interesting backstory to the recent showdown in the Strait of Hormuz — as discussed yesterday on this site. There is a definite possibility that one or more groups was/is trying to, once again, ratchet up tensions in order to reassert relevance and influence.

That seems likely. What's more, there's not really much evidence yet that Khamenei is actually ready to ratchet down Iran's traditional anti-American rhetoric, just as there's not much evidence that America's hawks are ready to ratchet down their rhetoric either. And, as Fathi notes, Iran's internal economic problems play a big role in Ahmadinejad's falling fortunes too.

Still, it's hard not to think that the NIE has had a significant effect. If both sides can avoid doing anything unusually stupid over the next year, it's possible that a new Democratic administration might have a genuine chance to reset the American-Iranian relationship. It won't happen overnight, but with the right approach it might happen eventually. Here's hoping.

Kevin Drum 1:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (41)

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Comments

I'm learning Persian (Farsi) in the hopes of working in a U.S. embassy in Iran, to better US-Iranian relations. So I'll second those hopes.

Posted by: Steve W. on January 8, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Right on, Kevin. I dated a guy (American med student)who's parents had come here in the late 60's as Drs. With many family connections still in Iran, he has said the same thing, many times.

Posted by: Keith G on January 8, 2008 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

With Bush and Ahmadinejad around,doing something stupid are 10 points favorites

Posted by: ejpjr on January 8, 2008 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Listened to NPR this morn. Had a report on Iranian-U.S. relations and stated Bush's hard line stance had been "bolstered" by recent Iranian provocations at sea. Got me thinking. There are no independent, verifiable reports of what happened the other day. It's our military (I assume) reporting the provocation. Why is it to be believed? Why is no one suggesting the entire affair is a lie, a sham? After all this administration's track record for telling the truth is scant. Everything I've read reports the Iranians were looking to get shot out of the water. How about NPR reports it's our word against theirs and this in no way bolsters Bush's hard line because the allegations are possibly false and made with ulterior motives?

Posted by: steve duncan on January 8, 2008 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

I want to see the video of the confrontation. I mean. every sailor in the fleet has a video camera...Why isn't it on YouTube yet?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on January 8, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

On Sunday, five speedboats from the naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards menaced three US warships in the Strait of Hormuz, radioing a threat to blow them up. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described the incident as "provocative" and "dangerous", amid fears such an insolated encounter could spark a major confrontation between the two foes. http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iLsBQs4K5Igxi0jzqoEgOnZa2w7Q

This may be the downside of the NIE. The NIE may have convinced Iran that the US can be pushed around. Now they're checking to see just how much pushing we will stand for.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 8, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I suspect it hasn't hit YouTube yet because there are restrictions on, um, giving documentary evidence of, of, uh, US naval ... procedures.
Yeah, that's the ticket.

Just remember, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Or something like that.

In all seriousness, I'd like to see that video footage also. That the DOD hasn't found some they can release, yet, suggests that the neo-cons doth protest too much.

Posted by: kenga on January 8, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK
five speedboats from the naval forces of Iran's Revolutionary Guards menaced three US warships in the Strait of Hormuz,
In other news, 5 pre-schoolers threatened to mug the Pittsburgh Steelers center and two defensive tackles, with plastic sporks. One of the tackles was overheard saying, "you could put an eye out with one of those sporks."


Posted by: kenga on January 8, 2008 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

The provocation was done by the US Navy. It has no reason to have so many ships in the Persian Gulf. If Iranian warships were sailing off of the Virginia coast or the Gulf coast, in international waters, they would be continuously harassed by the US.

What is dangerous, is that the US Navy will probably shoot down another Iranian jetliner filled with civilians, claiming it thought it was under imminent attack. US warships should not be allowed in the Persian Gulf under any circumstances. Any confrontation between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf will be the fault of the US, which was never properly punished for shooting down that airliner back in late Eighties.

Posted by: Brojo on January 8, 2008 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

...it's possible that a new Democratic administration might have a genuine chance to reset the American-Iranian relationship.

Yes, and another benefit might be a ratchet down of oil prices, bad for oil companies, good for us for a change.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 8, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

This may be the downside of the NIE. The NIE may have convinced Iran that the US can be pushed around. Now they're checking to see just how much pushing we will stand for.

Let me ask, when Iran not only harassed but actually captured 15 British seamen last Spring, did they have a crystal ball telling them what the result of the recent NIE would be?

Or are you just posting to spread idiotic propaganda once again?

And if, as you have claimed, Iran was actively killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq (they were not, but you believe they were) and CENTCOM says they have ceased to do this (they never started, but you believe they did) how does this fit into your genius analysis?

Posted by: trex on January 8, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

You have a valid point, trex. American miliatary leaders in Iraq now report that Iran has ceased or reduced their military efforts there, although I believe that Iranian pullback occurred prior to the NIE.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 8, 2008 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Otter: Bluto's right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.

Bluto: We're just the guys to do it.

D-Day: Let's do it.

Bluto: LET'S DO IT!

The proper response to this harassment (assuming it exists,) is not bullets, but...produce.

The next Iranian patrol boat that gets near us does not get a belly full of lead, but a salvo of rotten tomatoes. Or eggs. Seriously. It would make them look like idiots, nobody gets hurt, and it ratchets the tension down about ten notches.

Stupid? Yes. Futile? Yes.
Any more stupid and futile than anything else the administration is contemplating? No.

Posted by: Admiral Cazart on January 8, 2008 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

although I believe that Iranian pullback occurred prior to the NIE

Fascinating, considering there was never a shred of evidence produced, ever, suggesting Iran was actively involved in any kind of military effort in Iraql that the analysis suggesting Iran was helping its Sunni mortal enemies was patently absurd; and all signs point rather to an awkward and ineffective propaganda effort by this administration.

Do you often imagine elaborate schemes that have no basis in reality? And what does your neighbor's dog have to say about all this?

Posted by: trex on January 8, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

The ruling mullahs in Iran realize that the days of theocracy will soon be over if they don't bring some semblance of economic prosperity to the country and make Iran a reasonable player in the region. Problem is, as Kevin mentioned in the post, that certain elements in the military and other political players like Ahmedinejad hold their power by ginning up the specter of external threats, mainly from the US and Israel. My bet is that this little incident in the Gulf was the work of some rogue Revolutionary Guard elements who, frustrated by the recent calm in the wake of the NIE, wanted to see if they could provoke some kind of disproportionate response from the US warships. Thankfully some grownups appear to have been in command aboard our ships and they didn't take the bait.

Posted by: jonas on January 8, 2008 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"certain elements in the military and other political players ..... hold their power by ginning up the specter of external threats, mainly from the......"(insert latest boogieman here)
Posted by: jonas on January 8, 2008 at 3:39 PM
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
jonas, a little snip and some imagination and I'd think you were talking about Bushco.

Posted by: steve duncan on January 8, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Speedboats? Maybe some zodiacs? Don't throw me in that ol' briarpatch.

Posted by: rubberducky on January 8, 2008 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

We need to be in Iraq for 100 years...

There are evil folks out there...

The guy is weak on terror...

Iran poses a very real threat to the free world, they even tried to play tag with our aircraft carriers!...

Democratic administration? How on earth are the repugnacans gonna let that happen?

We need FEAR to determine our future. F__K hope.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 8, 2008 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

I want to know what as in the white boxes?

Posted by: apeman on January 8, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Further elaboration on Sibel Edmonds' recent disclosures -- news you won't get from America's abysmally "compliant" mainstream media:

Sibel Edmonds, Turkey and the Bomb: A Real 9/11 Cover-Up?
By DAVE LINDORFF [Counterpunch]

In a new article just published Saturday in the Times of London based upon information provided by US government whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, we have not only solid evidence of prior knowledge of 9-11 by high up US government officials, but evidence of treasonous activity by many of those same officials involving efforts to provide US nuclear secrets to America's enemies, even including Al Qaeda.

The story also casts a chilling light on the so-called "accidental" flight of six nuclear-armed cruise missiles aboard an errant B-52 that flew last Aug. 30 from Minot AFB in North Dakota to Barksdale AFB in Shreveport, Louisiana. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 8, 2008 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Well maybe there is a future for Karl Rove after all. He can slip a turban on his fat ol’ head sneak into Iran and set up shop working for Ahmadinejad.

There, he can help another unlikely leader continue his leadership based on lies, division and fear. Hell, he can take Chaney, John Yoo and the rest with him where they all could feel right at home with a group of true believers who want to strengthen their rule by misleading the people.

Posted by: Keith G on January 8, 2008 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I can almost smell another Gulf of Tonkin "incident" being fabricated, what with all this alleged Iranian "provocation".

Whatever happened to "... fool me twice, shame on me!"? I mean, do they really think we're that hopelessly gullible?
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 8, 2008 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, yeah, I have to admit the comparison was not entirely unintentional. There are important stakeholders in both countries whose power depends on the imperatives of endless war.

Posted by: jonas on January 8, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Aptly titled:

What Is This 'Iranian Provocation' BS?
by David Lindorff

Not one news story about this week's latest chapter in the administration's ongoing effort to gin up a crazy war with Iran -- the so-called "provocation" caused by Iranian naval speedboats approaching within 200 meters of a US destroyer -- mentioned that the US, which sits some 7500 miles away from Iran, has sent a whole fully-armed armada into the Persian Gulf just off Iran's coast.

Or that the Vice President actually flew out to an aircraft carrier that was part of that US armada, and threatened, from the flight deck, to have the US massively attack Iran.

Just who is provoking whom here? ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 8, 2008 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

In other news, 5 pre-schoolers threatened to mug the Pittsburgh Steelers center and two defensive tackles, with plastic sporks. One of the tackles was overheard saying, "you could put an eye out with one of those sporks."

Kenga: Superb parody! My compliments.
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 8, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

I think when the secret documents are revealed years from now, the role of Putin in getting the blood-thirsty Bush to back off iran will become known. Bush is great in bombing countries without the ability to retaliate but he is less good facing down Russia that has a real concern for iran. Condi, his enabler, who claims to be a russian expert and is not, missed this from the beginning.

Posted by: allie on January 8, 2008 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK

The NIE may have convinced Iran that the US can be pushed around.

Yep. Not being scared of imaginary bogey-men means that ... you're soft. Or something.

Doesn't it hurt to be that stupid?
.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on January 8, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: If both sides can avoid doing anything unusually stupid over the next year..

'Avoid'? Dubya's like a kid alone at home, wondering what would happen if he stuck his metal paper clip into that electrical outlet.

Posted by: grape_crush on January 8, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Still more on Edmonds' startling revelations (not available in any US MSM}.

And I'm intensely curious by now: Since these allegations are indicative of government treason on a grand scale, how many here are actually paying attention to the story? (Or does such perfidious internal treachery only "matter" when the conspirators are said to be "Communists"?)

Nukes, Spooks, and the Specter of 9/11
by Justin Raimondo

... Corruption and a massive cover-up organized at the highest levels of government -- America's nuclear secrets and technology looted on a massive scale, and sold to our enemies via a network set up by our alleged foreign "friends," while the threat of nuclear terrorism hangs over our country like a thick fog of fear, and warmongering politicians scare us into going along with the program -- if even half of what Edmonds alleges turns out to be true, then we are all in some very big trouble. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 8, 2008 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Steve W: I'm learning Persian (Farsi) in the hopes of working in a U.S. embassy in Iran, to better US-Iranian relations. So I'll second those hopes.

Good for you! What a great thing to do. I wish you great success in your studies and career.

Posted by: bob on January 8, 2008 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

Kenga: that was really good, and apt as well. Also, how many times did our planes, ships, and subs play chicken with the soviets during the Cold War. This isn't anything new.

In the meantime, has Condi come out yet to say that we can't afford to wait and see if an Iranian motorboat turns into a mushroom cloud? Or better yet

"Who could have predicted they'd drop white boxes in front of our ships?"

Posted by: tomeck on January 8, 2008 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

"it's possible that a new Democratic administration might have a genuine chance to reset the American-Iranian relationship. It won't happen overnight, but with the right approach it might happen eventually. Here's hoping."

Ha, you are for Obama.

Posted by: Gary Sugar on January 8, 2008 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

Here's the audio at least of the Iranians...

http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2008/01/08/sot.iran.us.defense.dept.DOD

Posted by: SJRSM on January 8, 2008 at 8:39 PM | PERMALINK

Any confrontation between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf will be the fault of the US, which was never properly punished for shooting down that airliner back in late Eighties.
Posted by: Brojo

Were the Iranians properly punished, or were they even properly apologetic for attacking and overrunning our Embassy? Remember, an Embassy is considered to be a part of its parent country. They attacked American soil when they did that.

Stop carrying water for the Iranians.

Posted by: SJRSM on January 8, 2008 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Were the Iranians properly punished, or were they even properly apologetic for attacking and overrunning our Embassy?

I dunno; years of sanctions, frozen assets, harassment by our Navy, arming of a powerful regional enemy -- that's a fair amount of punishment.

Remember, an Embassy is considered to be a part of its parent country. They attacked American soil when they did that.

Funny, when the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and installed a repressive monarch to suit our interests, we weren't too concerned with tender issues of soil and sovereignty.

On that day when we throw off the yoke of a Chinese-installed government, I'll be the one pissing in their embassy courtyard. Feel free to file a grievance with the appropriate authorities.

And refresh my memory: did we not just attack and overthrow the government of a country that not only had not threatened us, but was not a threat to its neighbors, based on false allegations of possessing weapons it did not possess and was allowing us to verify it did not possess?

Did I miss our apology?

Posted by: trex on January 8, 2008 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

All that is about to happen this year in 2008 could have been avoided if Bush and Cheney hadn't stolen the 2000 and 2004 elections, or if they had been impeached for all their criminal abuses of power in the interim.

Bush and Cheney both have apolcalyptic mindsets, and they've now had over seven years to seed sycophants with similar apocalyptic mindsets throughout our federal government.

One can only hope and pray that our nation survives another year under the insane and destructive leadership of these two Fascist Republicans, who sold their souls for corporate greed.

Posted by: The Oracle on January 8, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, when the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and installed a repressive monarch to suit our interests, we weren't too concerned with tender issues of soil and sovereignty.

I must have missed that...our tanks and troops rolling through the streets of Tehran just like they did in Baghdad?

And refresh my memory: did we not just attack and overthrow the government of a country that not only had not threatened us, but was not a threat to its neighbors, based on false allegations of possessing weapons it did not possess and was allowing us to verify it did not possess?

Do you really feel Saddam Hussein, after committing genocide against his own people, was a legitimate ruler of those people? It's guys just like you that guys like Saddam Hussein need in order to remain in power. I am sure you thanked you daily.

Did I miss our apology?
Posted by: trex

Yea, sorry we took so long to finish what we started in 1991.

Ask the Kurda and the Shia, i.e., the majority, if they are upset Saddam is gone.

Posted by: SJRSM on January 9, 2008 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

"Funny, when the U.S. overthrew the democratically elected government of Iran and installed a repressive monarch to suit our interests, we weren't too concerned with tender issues of soil and sovereignty."

"I must have missed that...our tanks and troops rolling through the streets of Tehran just like they did in Baghdad?"

Pretty weak argument to pretend that since the CIA and Eisenhower Administration used less overt methods than "tanks and troops rolling" to overthrow the democratically elected President of Iran in 1953 (who intended to execute the worst sin possible for a foreign leader: keeping out American energy interests), that means we didn't grievously violate Iranian sovereignty by executing a coup to install our guy, the Shah as leader of that sovereign nation.

The means may have been different, but the end goal the same. One does not need troops and tanks to violate sovereignty.

On an unrelated note, how do you guys get all those neat italics and bolds into your posts? Colour me a newbie.

Posted by: Piper on January 9, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Timely report! Another once-avowed "provocation" bites the dust:

Report reveals Vietnam War hoaxes, faked attacks

... probably the "most historically significant feature" of the declassified report was the retelling of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident.

That was a reported North Vietnamese attack on American destroyers that helped lead to president Lyndon Johnson's sharp escalation of American forces in Vietnam.

The author of the report "demonstrates that not only is it not true, as (then US) secretary of defense Robert McNamara told Congress, that the evidence of an attack was 'unimpeachable,' but that to the contrary, a review of the classified signals intelligence proves that 'no attack happened that night,'" FAS said in a statement.

"What this study demonstrated is that the available intelligence shows that there was no attack. It's a dramatic reversal of the historical record," Aftergood said. ...
.

Posted by: Poilu on January 9, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

Piper: Here's a handy, alphabetical reference for those HTML Tags

The <B> entry is for Bold. The <I> entry is Italics.

(Note: Though the examples use all upper case for the tags, the case is qenerally irrelevant -- upper or lower produces the same result. Also, most onlibe forums prudently restrict the number of tags usable in comments to a few only.)

Posted by: Poilu on January 9, 2008 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sweet, thanks I feel so 21st Century, promise to not abuse the power!

Back on point, I appreciate that others have mentioned that reports of these incidents must be taken with the same skepticism that should rightfully accompany any self-serving proclamation from the Bush Administration such as the supposed provocation of Iranian speedboats approaching American destroyers in international waters to increase tensions in the region.

Posted by: Piper on January 9, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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