Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Radicalization of Iran: How the U.S. Sparked the Islamic Revolution

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1902-1989)

It's difficult to reason with a roomful of hysterical people who are convinced they are about to die. But that's essentially what's happening in the public discussion over the Iranian nuclear weapons agreement, which is called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). For reasons beneath justification, and to the exclusion of virtually everyone else on the planet, a small mob of Israelis and hyperventilating Republicans--along with one or two turncoat Democrats--are beside themselves with terror at the prospect of a negotiated weapons deal with Iran. Congress is acting like a bunch of white-knuckled drunks, and Netanyahu is waving a bottle under their nose. To hear them rant, you'd think Barack Obama's presidential pen is equipped with a doomsday device that'll send Iranian missiles screaming toward Washington the instant the ink is dry. The hysteria would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous and irresponsible.

I won't bore the reader by attempting to mount a point-by-point defense of the agreement. Others have already done a masterful job of it, including President Obama, Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar, Iranian journalist Mohammad Ali Shabani, and New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich. I encourage you to read them and draw your own conclusions. However, it should be pointed out that the JCPOA has already been unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council, the European Union, and the P5+1, which consists of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany. If that's not good enough for the Israelis and the Republicans, I suggest they restrict their apocalyptic fantasies to some kind of online role-playing game, if not in the interests of international harmony, then certainly to avoid further embarrassment to themselves.

I don't know how much simpler to make this. Let's suppose for a moment that everyone in the world except the Israelis and Republicans turn out to be wrong--a profound unlikelihood--and that those sneaky Iranians decide to thumb their noses at us and develop a nuclear weapon anyway. If that occurs, two things will happen in rapid succession: (1) Israel will immediately know it, since they have the best intelligence infrastructure in the Middle East--let's not forget, these are the guys who penetrated and destroyed the Iranian centrifuges with a diabolically clever Stuxnet virus--and (2) the Iranian nuclear weapons facility will surrender its corporeal integrity in massive fireball, thanks to Isreali war planes. Israel has already made it explicitly, abundantly clear that the instant Iran begins developing a bomb, they will launch preemptive airstrikes without the niceties of a coalition approval or U.N. sanction. I take them at their word, as should the Iranians.

We have nothing to lose, but a great deal to gain by building a working diplomatic relationship with Iran, which we have not had in many years.  

I must've dozed off at the precise moment when Iran replaced ISIL as our chief threat to global stability. However, it's worth mentioning that if it weren't for Iran, ISIL would already have swept through Syria and Iraq. The heroic Kurds have fought valiantly against ISIL, and U.S. air strikes have inflicted devastating casualties, however the most effective ground forces in the war on ISIL have been the fierce, Iranian-backed Shi'a militias, without whom the Iraqi army would already have been decimated, and without whose protection Baghdad would long ago have fallen to the black flag. Iran is the most potent enemy of our enemy.

In spite of our adversarial history, Iran is willing to negotiate a nuclear weapons agreement. In spite of the occasional incendiary rhetoric, Iran understands that it has vital interests at stake, and an important role to play in the future of the Middle East. ISIL does not. Unlike Iran, the Islamic State will never negotiate; if they ever manage to obtain a nuclear weapon--or any weapon of mass destruction--they will not hesitate to deploy it against Israel or the United States. ISIL literally views itself as the holy engine of the apocalypse. They simply want to see the world burn. Like the mad tyrant Caligula, they would that all of humanity had but one neck that they might cut it.

Without Iran, we cannot beat ISIL. So, Republicans need to make up their minds. Would they rather defeat ISIL or pucker up to Netanyahu? To me, it's not even a choice. I'd rather have Iranian-backed Shi'a militia boots on the ground than American troops any day. I suspect the Iranians and Iraqis feel the same way.    

But amid all of the high-pitch anti-Iranian rhetoric, what Netanyahu and the Republicans have forgotten is that none of this happened in a vacuum. Iran may once have been a designated "state sponsor of terror," but long before anyone heard of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, the United States sponsored its own kind of terror, which ultimately cost the lives of thousands of innocent Iranians.

In 1952, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency staged a coup d'état in Iran, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh, primarily because Mossadegh was planning to nationalize Iranian oil reserves, which would have been very bad for U.S. oil and business interests. In Mossadegh's place we installed the monstrous Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, a Saddam Hussein-like despot whose notorious secret police--the dreaded Savak--subsequently tortured and murdered thousands of political prisoners.

The brutality, savagery, and corruption of the Shah's U.S.-backed regime eventually sparked a massive Islamist uprising known as the Iranian Revolution, led by prominent opposition clerics such as the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Military and clerical leaders of the uprising later formed a powerful political and military organization called Hezbollah, who would later provide training, weapons, and organizational support for a fledgling, ragtag group of militants known as Al Qaeda. Who, a few years later, would fly a pair of Boeing jumbo jets into the World Trade Center.

Call it what you will. Payback. Karma. What goes around comes around. In any case, the circle of agony was complete.

Now, we have a chance to make amends for our past sins in Iran. We owe it to the Iranians to give them a chance.

Diplomatic agreements, like interpersonal relationships, are rarely all-or-nothing propositions. Life simply doesn't work that way. It involves compromise and finesse, especially among former adversaries. Diplomacy is the art by which civilized nations agree to settle their differences without having to go to war, however in the kindergarten playground free-for-all of American politics, such subtleties are lost on the Luddites.

The object of the Iranian agreement is not simply to dissuade Tehran from developing its nuclear weapons program, but to do so in a way that allows Iran's leaders to save face. This is vitally important, and it is the only way forward. Iran has a potentially vibrant economy that does not depend exclusively on oil. They have enormous human capital, and a highly educated population. Because of their people, they have the potential to come out from under the shadows of the past and become not only a great nation, but the predominant stabilizing force in the Middle East. And we're going to have to help them, regardless of what Netanyahu says.

The government of Iran is slowly, grudgingly, moving into the 21st century. Change is happening within Iran's political system. A lively opposition exists, and many of the Iranian people do not agree with the policies of the current government. We have allies and friends among the Iranian people, but seismic, society-wide changes will not happen overnight, and we cannot force it. It must happen organically, when the Iranian people are ready for it. Hopefully by then, their government will be, too.


"The Historic Deal that Will Prevent Iran From Acquiring A Nuclear Weapon,"

"Israel increasingly isolated as Iran opens up to region," Akiva Eldar, Al-Monitor, Aug. 18, 2015

"The most incredibly lucid explanation, by a US Senator, of why the Iran Deal MUST be supported," flitedocnm, Daily Kos, Aug. 17, 2015

"Nuke deal won't change Iran's approach to region," Mohammad Ali Shabani, Al Monitor, Aug. 7, 2015 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Newly Released Photos Show Dick Cheney's Candid Reactions to 9/11

A bored Dick Cheney shoots a spitball at Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The U.S. National Archives has just released a trove of snapshots taken of Vice President Dick Cheney in the minutes and hours following the 9/11 terror attacks. The photos were captured by the vice president's official staff photographer, and were released on the National Archives' flickr page in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by Frontline filmmaker Colette Neirouz, who previously covered the Bush/Cheney administration in the documentaries, Bush's War, Cheney's Law, and The Dark Side.

Below are a few samples of the newly released photographs. 

Cheney listening to C.I.A. director George Tenet shortly after the 9/11 attacks

The Cheney photographs, many of which were taken in the secure President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) show an extremely calm and composed--one might even say sleepy--vice president.  

Portrait of composure: Vice President Dick Cheney

Cheney demonstrates his legendary calm by napping during the crisis.

Prior to addressing the cabinet, Vice President Cheney takes one of his standing "power naps" (left), a technique he reportedly learned from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The full collection of photographs may be seen here

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why I'm Going Republican and Voting for Donald Trump

It's hard to say anything about Donald Trump that hasn't already been said, but no matter which side of the fence you're on, you must admit, The Donald has livened up the political season in a way that nobody expected. My favorite Donald moment so far was when he dismissed conservative Fox News pundit Charles Krauthammer--a paraplegic--as a "loser," who just "sits there." Whenever I'm having a rough patch, I think about that moment, and it's like a soothing comedy balm on my tortured soul.

In a recent article in the Washington Post, reporter Chris Cillizza points out six inconvenient truths about Donald Trump. Cillizza is right on most counts, however I vociferously disagree with his injunction for the Republican party to "get away from Trump--immediately." On the contrary, with Trump surging even higher in the polls in spite of his uncharitable comments about John McCain, it's clear that Trump is the true populist of the Republican party. The GOP should stop pussyfooting around and just start lovin' up on the man. They know they want to. Republicans have never been afraid to take Trump's millions, and in our post-Citizens United world of "pay to play" politics, Trump has more than earned his right to be the official ̶h̶a̶i̶r̶p̶i̶e̶c̶e̶ mouthpiece of the Republican party.

 Frankly, it's a little hard to buy into the GOP's outraged virtue. The Republican backlash against Donald Trump is a comedy of such soaring hypocrisy, it's like listening to a group of serial killers standing around worrying what to do about this Lecter guy...

Everybody knows--even Donald himself--that Trump can't possibly win in the general election. Which is why he needs to stay in the race as long as possible. Frankly, I'm enjoying the spectacle. Trump is immensely entertaining. But even more important, he's making the Republicans far crazier than any Democrat could hope to do. In fact, I may temporarily switch to the Republican party, just so that I can vote for Trump in the primaries...

Hellzapoppin' when Scalia Meets Obamacare!

American Terrorists

It's the Law...

It's the Law...

Red States

"Chumps on the Bench"

Dr. Obama and the Monster From Hell...

Monday, May 25, 2015

An Open Letter to a Newtown Conspiracy Theorist

The following is a transcription of my response to a Youtube user who vigorously took me to task for criticizing conspiracy theorist John B. Wells' claims that the Newtown massacre was a "false flag" operation calculated to justify a government plot to declare martial law and seize everybody's guns.

You are right, ***** (username redacted), people do have rights to their opinions, and the right to express them. Much as I may disagree with you, I would defend your right to express yours as well. The purpose of the first amendment was not to protect speech that I agree with, but to protect speech that I disagree with.

It's important to challenge authority, and to question those in power, regardless of whether that power is a government or a private corporation. Lord knows, history is full of examples of bad behavior by both. We are living at a time when people are more mistrustful than ever of the rich and powerful, and that's as it should be. Dissent is healthy, and at the end of the day, it's probably good to have the Alex Joneses of the world out there, railing at the powers that be, even if sometimes he's completely wrong.

I should say, by the way, that I'm willing to admit that I could be perfectly wrong. However, the preponderance of empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

When it comes to controversial claims of unusual behavior or phenomena, I'm not on one "side" or the other. I'm only interested in the truth. There's an old saying in the skeptic community that says "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." That's a good rule of thumb for anyone.

If you tell me there's an ant crawling up the outside wall, I will probably believe you without requiring much in the way of proof. Why? Because it's not an extraordinary claim. Ants climb up walls all the time. It's a very common occurrence that I've seen with my own eyes. Moreover, you have nothing to gain by telling me about it. So I'm likely to believe you. And there's also not a lot at stake. An ant crawling up the wall is not going to affect the structural integrity of the house, so even if I don't believe you, the consequences will be minimal.

On the other hand, if you tell me there's a widening crack snaking up the outside wall, I will immediately check it out. Why? Because it's an extraordinary claim, with potentially extraordinary consequences. Based on what I know about walls and cracks (and what causes them), the cost of ignoring your warning could be catastrophic.  The house might be on the verge of collapsing. There's a lot at stake. Lives and property, etc.

In any case, it's easy enough to verify. I'll simply go outside and and look at the wall. If I see a widening crack, I'll immediately evacuate the house and call 911. If there is no crack, I'll assume that you were hallucinating or playing a prank on me.

The point is, before evacuating the house and calling 911, I want to see the crack for myself, to verify what you're saying is true. I'm not going to call Aunt Joan in Chattanooga and ask her if she thinks there's a crack in my wall, or even neighbor Bob down the street. I'll want to see it for myself. And if you knock on the door of any house in America and tell the homeowner there's a crack moving up their wall, he or she will do exactly the same thing. They will want to see it for themselves, to verify that it's true. Why? Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is the essence of skepticism and critical thinking: verification.

Suppose there's a guy in Indiana who claims to be a master engineer. You've never met him, and as far as you know, he's never even been in your state. But a lot of your friends say that he's really brilliant. And one day, he sends you an email saying that your house is about to collapse into a sinkhole. He includes impressive drawings, and graphics, and animations, along with links to videos and articles by other "sinkhole experts" just like him, about the history of sinkhole activity in your area, with a dire warning that your house is sitting directly on top of a giant sinkhole that's about to collapse. He ends the email with a urgent plea to immediately sign over your house to him or one of his colleagues, so that they can do what needs to be done to prevent the disaster.

I'm only guessing here, but I suspect that no matter how convincing his argument (or the arguments of his various "colleagues"), the last thing you'll probably do is sign your house over to him. Why? Because it is an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary proof. Before signing over your house, you're going to investigate the claim. You'll go on the Internet to learn everything you can about sinkholes. You'll contact your state geologist, or local engineers, who have the skill, knowledge, experience and equipment to determine with a reasonable degree of certainty whether there really is a giant sinkhole under your house. But what you won't do is accept the Indiana "engineer's" word as gospel. On the contrary, you'll do everything within your power to find out the truth, one way or another. Terrified as you may be of sinkholes, the last thing you're likely to do is to sign your house over to some guy in another state, sight unseen, simply because he made a frightening and persuasive argument.

Let's say the family next door goes missing, and your neighbor Cecil claims they were abducted by aliens, while the police say that it looks like a home invasion and kidnapping. Knowing that lives are at stake, which line of inquiry should the police pursue: alien abduction or criminal kidnapping?

I'm not saying that aliens couldn't exist, or that if they did, they couldn't kidnap people. But in my entire life, neither I nor anyone I know has ever seen an alien, nor has a single alien abduction ever been reported by a credible agency. On the other hand, home invasions happen all the time. Experience tells us that the missing family was mostly likely kidnapped by terrestrial criminals, not alien interlopers.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Question everything, regardless of whether it comes from the Pentagon or John B. Wells. And especially John B. Wells. Challenge his sources. Contact people in Newtown. But don't accept someone else's claims just because they sound good, or happen to reinforce your mistrust of officialdom. Get rid of the confirmation bias and check it out for yourself, objectively and with an open mind. If you're really, honestly seeking the truth, you will find it. And it may surprise you.

Finally, let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you're absolutely right about the parents of Newtown. Let's say they're making great piles of cash from speaking engagements, and book deals, etc. And let's further assume that, instead of funneling that money into their efforts to stop gun violence against kids (which they're actually doing), they're putting that money into their bank accounts. To that I would say, "so what?" Jesus said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged," and "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

I've never lost a child to gun violence, but I can imagine that it must be devastating. So I'm not going to try and read the hearts and minds of the parents of Newtown, and I'm certainly not going to sit in judgment of them, or what they do with their money. If we condemn the parents of Newtown for exploiting the Sandy Hook shootings in order to stop gun violence, we must also condemn the NRA--the most powerful corporate lobby in America--for exploiting those very same deaths in order to raise money and boost gun sales. Trust me, the NRA has made far more money from the Sandy Hook shootings than those poor parents ever did.

If you're really looking for a worthwhile cause to champion, get involved with the effort to to stop Congress from renewing the Patriot Act, or the urgent struggle going on right now to stop President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which he's trying to "fast track" through the Congress as fast as he can.

These are far more noble and worthwhile pursuits than attacking the parents of a bunch of dead kids...