Focal Points Blog

Unlikeliest of Bedfellows: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and a Mexican Drug Cartel

“Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes”

These are the opening lines of a Protestant hymn, which long ago a roommate of mine used to sing when he had one too many beers. As that happened more than once on those bygone days, I heard the refrain rather frequently. Today it rings a certain bell as the Obama Administration appears to be trying to resurrect its anti-Iranian coalition against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Let’s see…we are being told that a used car salesman in Texas of Iranian-American descent holding both Iranian and U.S passports, working in tandem with a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s security force, was about to pass $1.5 million to the Zeta Mexican drug cartel so that the latter could assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in his favorite restaurant in Washington D.C.

Hmmm… and here I thought that Colin Powell’s pathetic claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the United Nations (to justify the U.S. led invasion) in 2005 was an intellectual low point of U.S. foreign policy virtually impossible to match. Wrong again!

The Limits of Gullibility

Is it only in America that the public could swallow and take seriously such unmitigated nonsense with hardly a second thought? After all, this is the country where Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (or here in Colorado, their local clone, Mike Rosen) can pontificate daily to audiences of millions who take their words as something approaching gospel?

Does gullibility know no limits? Apparently very few!

Is it enough for the likes of Beck and Limbaugh to start the ball rolling, combined with a page 1 piece in the New York Times to assure that the allegation, regardless how farfetched, receives the blessing of credibility? Adding fuel to the fire, the next day Hillary Clinton (bowing to AIPAC once again), Joseph Biden and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joined a chorus of neo-conservatives to add legitimacy to “the cause. ”

But all that was simply a prelude to the main act: with an eye on the 2012 presidential elections (what else?) on Thursday (October 13, 2011) President Barack Obama picked up the baton from Hillary and bought into the hysteria created over the past few days. Rather than neutralizing the nonsense, Obama only added to the demagoguery with his own intemperate comment that “Iran will pay the price” for the (alleged) assassination attempt.

Obama Joins Hands with Beck and Limbaugh

Metaphorically joining hands with Beck and Limbaugh – and obviously intimated by their war-mongering and sensitive to being tagged as a foreign policy wimp – Obama has concluded that Iran-bashing will help his re-election campaign. A pity, but given how many times and in how many ways this president has disappointed – even those of us who didn’t expect much from him – it was not necessarily a surprise.

Of course not everyone has swallowed this particular pill. While one or two otherwise thoughtful commentators are taking the bait, there are some pretty sharp skeptics (Jim Lobe, Glen Greenwald – internationally, Pepe Escobar) already deconstructing these allegations, nay, ripping this particular Washington created fantasy to shreds. Certainly more will follow.

It’s all enough for me to scratch my now balding head in wonder. Concerning the allegations themselves, they are rather curious and pretty flakey. They don’t add up but the shadow of suspicion that they cast concerning Iran helps to further poison international relations in a number of ways.

The most disturbing suggestion is that Iran is planning an attack on the United States a la 9-11; suggesting, on this the 10thanniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The “plot” tries to link the Iranian government with elements of the Mexican drug mafia – a curious attempt at linkage, about as valid as linking Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda. Spurious perhaps, but nonetheless effective.

Needless to say all this is yet a further effort to de-legitimize Iran before the world and to create the pretext for further intimidations, sanctions, covert military actions in preparation for the “big one” – still on the books – to invade Iran and over through the Islamic Republic.

What’s the Deal?

The timing of this particular ideological offensive is rather curious. It comes at a time when:

  • The Iranians had recently announced that they would not enrich uranium to anything more than a 20% level. (Weapons grade uranium is enriched more than 90%.) Thus pulling the rug out from under the allegation – once again – that they are enriching uranium for a nuclear weapons (rather than power). Iran’s refusal to develop a nuclear weapons program has been particularly unsettling to U.S. neoconservatives and Israeli Likudniks. Since it is becoming increasingly difficult to make much of Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama Administration has needed to find a different – if convoluted – avenue of attack: the Texas-Mexican mafia-Iranian revolutionary guard “threat.”
  • The House Foreign Relations Committee is considering further sanctions against Iran. AIPAC’s point-woman on that committee, committee chair Ros-Lehtinen was quick to jump on the band wagon claiming that “the multi-faceted threat posed by Iran becomes more severe with each passing day.” Lehtinen, whose main base of support includes Cuban anti-Castro elements and Likudniks, is introducing legislation which, if approved, would include banning all transactions with Iran’s Central Bank. The “plot” will help Lehtinen pass the punitive legislation a little more easily.
  • Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran had temporarily subsided, the Saudis being consumed with freezing and reversing the democratic regional surge triggered by the Arab Spring throughout the region for fear the monarchy is next in line. To show how liberal and reformist they have become, the monarchy, in an act filled with human pathos and solidarity, intervened to stop a public lashing of a woman who had, the nerve of her, challenged Wahhabist Islam by taking to the steering wheel of an automobile. Apparently there are some in Washington that feel that the Saudis have “lost focus”…giving too much attention to Arab developments and not enough to the “anti-Iranian” coalition that the Obama Administration has been doing everything in its power to keep afloat. It was amusing how in the first days after “the plot” was revealed, it was the U.S. and not Saudi Arabia who began to make a big deal out of this incident. Until prodded by Washington the Saudis apparently didn’t understand their national honor was under assault.
  • The Israelis can only welcome Washington’s effort to refocus political momentum away from Israel’s growing regional isolation (with Turkey, Egypt and the upcoming UN vote over Palestinian statehood) and mounting unpopularity. Netanyahu’s American supporters, long confusing U.S. national interests with those of Tel Aviv, can now breathe easier about contributing to Obama’s presidential campaign. I mean how bad can he be for Israel if he’s returned to the drumbeat of attacking Iran?

Mohammed Bouazizi Derailing U.S. Regional Plans

All the above is true enough and probably adds fuel to the fire, but I would venture that the heart of the matter is somewhere else. Since the Arab Spring burst forth in the Middle East with the self-sacrifice by immolation of the young Tunisian, Mohammed Bouazizi, U.S. Middle East policy has been thrown into disarray. Still is in large measure. The approach to the region was to build an anti-Iranian alliance among such diverse allies as Israel and Saudi Arabia with the goal of undermining and eventually overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Iran one way or another.

At the heart of this offensive was the U.S. ability to portray Iran as a destabilizing influence in the region; not merely a destabilizing influence but THE destabilizing element. The Arab Spring itself undercut Washington’s main assumption. It isn’t a threat of some form of Shi’ite political fundamentalism emanating from Iranian mullahs which has been stalking the region but poverty, political oppression and corruption of regimes which for decades had been propped up by the United States and its allies.

The Arab Spring, the Second Arab Revolt, took the wind out of the sales of the anti-Iranian coalition, its constituent elements scattering to the winds. Although not entirely clear where it is all headed, the Arab Spring has already upset the U.S.-shaped political apple cart. U.S. Middle East policy has yet to recover. Alignments are shifting; there is uncertainty in Washington, nothing short of panic in Israel as to how it will all play out. But one thing is pretty clear – to a great extent, the United States has lost control of the process (if it ever had it)!

Cryonic Suspension and U.S. Middle East Policy…

How to regain the political initiative?

  1. Put the brakes on the Arab Spring especially where it concerns the oil producing countries. It’s one thing for little Tunisia bereft of oil and natural gas to democratize, quite another for Saudi Arabia’s neighbors Bahrain and Yemen to do likewise.
  2. Try to patch up (unsuccessfully so far) the spats between Israel and Turkey, Israel and Egypt.
  3. Freeze any momentum on Palestinian statehood and the creation of an independent, viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem.
  4. Gain a foothold in oil and resource rich Africa through taking advantage of the Libyan events.
  5. Assemble as many countries as possible into the U.S.-led NATO alliance against whomever (Russia, China, etc.).
  6. And last but not least attempt to re-establish the dead fish that is the anti-Iranian alliance to bring those former silent partners in crime (Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, etc.) back into a working relationship.

Reviving the “Iranian Threat” is not old wine in a new bottle. It’s more akin to thawing a body that has been in a state of cryonic suspension. Problem is that patient died months ago and cannot be revived by normal means. Only a miracle can revive it… or a surrealistic pretext like a Texas used car sales man being run by an Iranian secret service spy in cooperation with the Mexican drug mafia. If reality won’t work, why not try fantasy? And since denial is as much a part of the American political tradition as football or apple pie, who knows, maybe it will work.

Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Relations. He also runs a blog, Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

The Price of the Libya Intervention: Surface to Air Missiles for All

SAM“In 1979, when Soviet troops swept into Afghanistan, an angry Jimmy Carter organized an unofficial alliance to give the Soviets ‘their Vietnam’ (which Afghanistan became).”
New York Times, 11/9/11

The writer of the above paragraph is Marvin Kalb, a former network correspondent, Harvard professor emeritus, co-author “Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama.”

It is false history.

As Paul Jay of the Real News (and before him, the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur) discovered, the Carter administration made the decision to intervene in an Afghan civil war fully six months before the Soviet invasion. In a July 1979 “finding” the White House authorized U.S. military and intelligence agencies to supply the anti-communist mujahideen fighters with money and supplies.

The “finding” was the beginning of “Operation Cyclone,” a clandestine plan aimed at luring the Soviets into invading Afghanistan. From a relatively modest $23 million down payment, Cyclone turned into a multi-billion behemoth—the most expensive intelligence operation in U.S. history—and one that eventually forced the Soviets to withdraw.

Cynics might shrug and respond that isn’t truth always the first casualty of war? Except in this case the casualties are still coming in as the U.S. marks its 10th year occupying Afghanistan. And when one totes up the collateral damage from that July 1979 memo, which led to the eventual victory of the Taliban, it chills the soul.

When the mujahideen went home, they took the war with them, to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Central Asia, North Africa, and a host of other places. They also permanently altered the skyline silhouette of New York City. In the annals of disastrous “blowbacks”—unintended consequences flowing from a policy or event—U.S. support for overthrowing the Afghan government and supporting the mujahideen has little competition.

Ancient history?

On Mar. 18, President Obama told the U.S. Congress that U.S. involvement in the war in Libya would be a matter of “days not weeks.” It turns out, lots of days, 227 and counting.

“It’s really quite interesting how resilient and fierce they’ve been,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Ralph J. Jodice II told the New York Times. “We’re all surprised by the tenacity of the pro-Qaddafi forces.”

Besides the rather creepy use of the word “interesting” to describe people you are trying to blow up with 500-pound bombs and Hellfire missiles, the key word in the general’s statement is “surprised.” Aside from destruction, about the only truth of war is surprise. As Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Army chief of staff, and one of the great military minds of the 19th century, once noted, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.”

It appears that when the President made those comments, he had been listening to generals, always a very bad idea. President Johnson listened to generals in Vietnam, and they told him some variation of what our current generals obviously told Obama: Piece of cake. We’ll bomb the bejesus out of these Arabs, and in a few days they’ll turn tail and run for the sand dunes.

Except they didn’t.

In the long run the combination of bombing, ground support by British Special Forces, and the unpopularity of the regime will eventually defeat the pro-Qaddafi forces, but because this has turned into a war of some 34-plus weeks, there is going to be some very serious blowback.

For starters, take the 20,000 mobile ground to air missiles, most of which have gone missing. There are two basic kinds that someone—we haven’t the foggiest idea who—has gotten their hands on.

The SA-24 “Grinch,” or Igla-S, is a very dangerous character. It has a range of some three miles, a powerful warhead, and a guidance system that lets it find targets at night. It is similar to the U.S. Stinger that so distressed the Soviets in Afghanistan. Introduced in 1983, it can hit a plane at 11,000 feet. It can also down drones and cruise missiles, and helicopters are toast.

The other ground-to-air is the older Russian SA-7 “Grail,” or Strela-2, originally deployed in the 1968, but upgraded in 1972. It has an infrared detection system—it homes in on an aircraft’s engine heat—and the upgraded model has a filter for screening out decoy flares. The SA-7 is similar, but considerably superior, to the U.S. Redeye. The SA-7 has a range of a little over two miles and can reach up to 16,000 feet.

“We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya,” according to Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights emergencies director, who says that “in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles.” According to Bouckaert, “They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone.”

One prediction: Niger has recently been using helicopters to attack the Tuareg-led Movement of Nigeriens for Justice in the Sahara. Tuaregs are demanding compensation for rich deposits of uranium that French companies are currently mining, and the Niger government has responded with military force. The Qaddafi government supported the Tuaregs in their fight with Niger, and supplied them with weapons. Want to make a bet that the Tuaregs end up with some of those missiles and that the Niger military is about to lose some helicopters?

And the fall of Qaddafi may not end the fighting. Libya is a complex place with strong crosscurrents of tribe and ethnicity. For instance, it is unlikely that the Berbers in the south will accept continued domination by the Arab north.

As for false history: journalism, as the old saw goes, is history’s first draft. According to the mainstream media, the U.S. and NATO got into the Libyan civil war to protect civilians, and indeed, one of the reasons the war has gone on so long is that NATO is reluctant to attack targets in Qaddafi strongholds, like Sirte, because such attacks might result in civilian casualties.

Which makes it hard to explain the Agence France Presse story entitled “NATO, NTC [National Transitional Council] deadlier than Kadhafi diehards: Sirte escapees.”

Sirte, Libya (AFP) Oct. 6, 2011-Fine words from NATO and Libyan new regime fighters about protecting civilians means little to the furious residents of Sirte, whose homes are destroyed and relatives killed in the battle to capture Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown.

“Why is NATO bombing us?” asks Faraj Mussam, whose blue minivan was carrying his family of eight jammed in beside mattresses and suitcases as they fled the city this week.

According to the AFP story, the greatest danger civilians face in Sirte is from NATO bombs and shelling by NTC forces outside the city. A Red Cross official told AFP that there are still tens of thousands of residents in Sirte—it was a city of 100,000 before the February revolution—and they are under constant danger from artillery and bombs.

When asked if NATO was fulfilling its mission to protect civilians, one aid worker, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, replied: “It wouldn’t seem so.”

“There’s a lot of indiscriminate fire,” he said, adding that many of the Sirte residents and doctors he had spoken to had complained of the deadly results of NATO air strikes.

According to AFP, NTC soldiers say that firing artillery and rockets into Sirte doesn’t endanger civilians because they are all gone. It is a contention aid workers heatedly dispute.

The UN resolution that authorized the NATO intervention was supposedly aimed at protecting Libyan civilians. It quickly morphed from saving lives to regime change, and somehow the “protect civilians” only seems to apply to those who are on one side of the civil war. Sooner or later that narrative is going to come out, and the next time “protecting civilians” comes up in the UN, it is unlikely to get serious consideration.

More than 30 years ago the U.S. intervened in the Afghan civil war in order to goad our Cold War enemy into a fatal mistake (and then lied about it). We are still paying for that policy.

Eight months ago the U.S. and its allies engineered an intervention in Libya’s civil war behind the cover of protecting civilians, a rationale that is increasingly being challenged by events in that country.

What the “blowback” from the Libyan War is still unclear, it might be a bad idea to invest a lot of your money in commercial air travel, particularly anywhere in Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia. Qaddafi’s days may be numbered, but those SA-24s and SA-7s are going to be around for a long time.

For more of Conn Hallinan’s essays visit Dispatches From the Edge. Meanwhile, his novels about the ancient Romans can be found at The Middle Empire Series.

UN Origins Project Series, Part 6: The Things We Fight For

War and Peace AimsIn the early days of World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his famous Four Freedoms Speech, in which he articulated those fundamental freedoms that should be realized by people the world over. The first two freedoms, freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion, were drawn directly from the United States Constitution. The third and fourth, freedom from want and freedom from fear, articulated FDR’s desire to forge a lasting peace predicated on a structured international system institutionalized as the United Nations.

Key to this new international order was the need to fundamentally re-order the global economy. Indeed, it was the economic deprivation of the 30s that allowed fascism and totalitarianism to metastasize and shatter the fragile peace that followed the first Great War.

The following statement, made by Vice President Henry A. Wallace to the Chicago United Nations Committee to Win the Peace on September 11, 1943, seeks to further articulate the third of the Four Freedoms – the Freedom from Want.

The time has come for a new declaration of freedom, which adds to and makes secure, in an age of airplanes, radio and abundance, the freedoms for which our fathers fought. Our new declaration must go on to cover freedoms we haven’t got now but which we must have.

Three of the President’s famous four freedoms deal with freedoms which we in the United States have long enjoyed. The fourth freedom, which must be the essence of the new declaration of freedom, is freedom from want, which I would spell out as follows:

  1. Freedom from worry about a job.
  2. Freedom from worry about a dependent and poverty-pinched old age.
  3. Freedom from unnecessary worry about sickness and hunger.
  4. Freedom from strife between workers and businessmen, between farmers and businessmen, and between workers and farmers.
  5. Freedom from strife between the races and creeds.
  6. Freedom from fear of bankruptcy caused by overproduction of necessary materials.
  7. Freedom for venture capital and for inventors of new ideas to expand production of needed goods without fear of repressive cartels, excessive taxation or excessive government regulation.

Above everything, we are fighting for peace. But the peace will not last long if it doesn’t bring to the Common Man everywhere these seven freedoms. Neither will it last long if it is made before the Allied Armies reach Berlin and Tokyo.

    The preceding passage was taken from the publication: War and Peace Aims: Extracts from Statements of United Nations Leaders, Special Supplement No. 3 to the United Nations Review, April 30, 1944.

    Greg Chaffin is a research assistant for the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London.

    Pakistan’s Little-Known Payback to the U.S. for Drone Attacks on Its Soil

    In the course of an October 3 article at MEMRI titled The Failing U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan, Tufail Ahmad and Y. Carmon puncture the myth that the Taliban is negotiating, or preparing to negotiate, with the United States. (MEMRI is the Middle East Media Research Institute.) Even more of a revelation — at least to me –they report that Pakistan mounted a series of military attacks on Afghanistan this year. Here’s a sample:

    In February 2011, Pakistani planes also bombarded Afghan Border Police posts and civilians’ homes in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar and Khost provinces. … In June 2011, Pakistan launched a series of missile and artillery attacks on the Afghan provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, Khost and Paktia, killing dozens of civilians which were described by the Afghan government in a resolution as an “act of invasion” by Pakistan. On June 26, 2011, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of firing 470 missiles into the eastern Afghan provinces. … In a July 2, 2011 testimony before the parliament, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak confirmed that two Pakistani helicopters entered the Afghan territory sometime in the summer of 2011. On July 5, 2011, Afghan border police commander Aminullah Amarkhel reported that hundreds of fighters from the Pakistani Taliban crossed the border into Afghanistan’s Nuristan province, where they attacked police outposts and torched homes. … on the eastern borders of Afghanistan with Pakistan, and that Pakistan has established 16 security checkposts inside Afghanistan’s territory; 31 Pakistani security checkposts on the border with eastern Afghanistan were also seen as a threat to Afghanistan.

    It’s embarrassing enough for the United States that Pakistan not only refuses to clamp down on, but enables, the Haqqani network’s campaign in Afghanistan. But when Pakistan’s military itself invades Afghanistan, it nudges our campaign there into the realm of the farcical. At least, though, it permits Pakistan a degree of payback for our drone attacks on Pakistan’s soil, as well as the raid on Abbottabad.

    Iran Alleged Assassination Plot: Emboldened by Nuke Program?

    Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution is the author of the 2002 book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, which he’ll probably never live down. Weighing in on Iran’s alleged attempt on the life of the Saudi ambassador to the United States yesterday at the Daily Beast, Pollack wrote:

    … while this plot—a mass casualty attack on U.S. soil—would go well beyond what Iran has attempted in the past, it would represent an extrapolation of another pattern, namely the emergence of a more aggressive, risk-tolerant Iranian regime over the past two years.

    Be that as it may, part of the case those who are skeptical of the plot’s plausibility make is that Iran wouldn’t dare because it would be concerned with retribution even more crippling than the “crippling” sanctions we’ve already imposed on it. Pollack’s view is …

    That the regime may no longer be concerned about a massive American conventional military retaliation. In the past, that fear has been an important restraint on Iranian action against the United States. Again, if true, this plot suggests that the Iranians may believe either that the United States is so consumed with its own internal problems and so determined to avoid another war in the Middle East that the American people would not countenance any action that might risk escalation with Iran. Alternatively, it may suggest that Iran believes its nuclear program is far enough along to deter conventional American military retaliation.

    Hold on a minute — a program that’s at least a couple of years from producing nuclear weapons is capable of deterring an attack from another country, even if it’s not via nuclear weapons? Granted that might be true if Iran had reached the point where it wasn’t necessarily manufacturing nuclear weapons but was capable of building them (known as virtual deterrence).

    But even Israel and the most rabid American hawks don’t believe Iran has either built any nuclear weapons, nor is capable of it. It’s gives Tehran little credit to infer that it was operating under the delusion that just the intention to develop nuclear weapons would deter an attack. Suggesting it only makes Pollack appear ignorant.

    Is Iran’s Alleged Cash-for-Assassinations Plot Too Implausible to Be True?

    Today, US Attorney General Eric Holder reported that an FBI-DEA action, “Operation Red Coalition,” has successfully prevented a campaign of Iranian terrorist attacks in the US and Argentina. Attorney General Holder and law enforcement personnel all assert that the operations were approved at highest levels of the Iranian government, but refer to “factions of the Iranian government” rather than “the Iranian government” as being responsible. Despite the saber-rattling, it appears that the US government does not want to completely assign blame for the attack on Iran’s top leadership.

    A criminal complaint has been filed, based off of an FBI affidavit presented to a New York judge, charging five Iranians, including several Iranian-Americans, with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, Adel Al-Jubeir. They are also suspected of seeking to bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies in both DC and Buenos Aires.

    Purportedly undertaken in the spring with the blessing of high-level Iranian officials, an Iranian-American naturalized citizen named Mansour Arbabsiar approached a DEA informant (referred to only as “CS-1”) masquerading as a member of “Drug Cartel #1,” which ABC reports is probably the Mexican-based Los Zetas Cartel. As to why Mansour approached cartels, he is said to have been ordered to by his superiors “because people in that business are willing to undertake criminal activity in exchange for money.”

    US media reports that Mansour also promised CS-1 to supply his/her cartel with “tons of opium” as part of their deal, though this has not been mentioned in any of the papers made public by the Justice Department.

    CS-1 is described as “a paid confidential source” who, in exchange for having unspecified State Department charges dropped against him/her, agreed to become a mole for the DEA. The report discloses that CS-1 is on federal payrolls and is regarded as a “reliable” source of intelligence, and that some of the exchanges between Mansour took place in Mexico. The DEA’s informant policies are extremely well-kept secrets, and also very expensive and controversial. And like the FBI’s informant programs that have exposed numerous alleged terrorist plots, this plot was, apparently, held together by the informant, who presented himself as an explosives expert and promised to deliver C-4 for the operation.

    Working through Mansour, the group in Iran was said to have sent US$100,000 (obtained from the Iranian government) to CS-1 as a “down payment” on a US$1.5 million assassination contract. When CS-1 suggested that an attack on the ambassador in a restaurant would also kill US civilians, Mansour replied that “sometime [sic], you know, you have no choice,” a point that US officials have (somewhat hypocritically, as Glenn Greenwald points out, given our “collateral damage” record overseas) reiterated time and again to try and demonstrate that the Iranians are somehow unbalanced psychopaths.

    Regarding this portrayal, one is reminded of how in the late 1980s Batman comic series “A Death in the Family,” the writers were able to end the storyline where the Joker — yes, the Joker –became the Iranian ambassador to the UN (in order to kill UN ambassadors, of course!). You see, the Iranians are crazy, and so’s the Joker! Batman and Superman, of course, stop him (kind of), just as the DEA and FBI stopped the Quds Force (kind of).

    The complaint asserts that one of the alleged plotters, Gholam Shakuri, is a colonel in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), specifically in the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC the US designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2007. Mansour also made allusions to CS-1 that he also had a “high-ranking” cousin in the Quds Forces, “a general” with covert ops experience in Iraq “wanted” by the US. Gholam is said to be this man’s deputy. Other Quds Force members were also involved and allegedly identified by Mansour, though the US government refuses to publicly disclose specific information about such individuals.

    Mansour was recently arrested at JFK airport and, according to the complaint, waived his Miranda rights to give interviews to US authorities, which form the basis of the testimony in addition to statements by CS-1.

    The allegations of this plot surface at a very tense time in US-Iranian relations. With a presidential election approaching, candidates are grandstanding to “show” their “toughness” towards Iran. The IRGC is being accused of having a hand in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Bahrain’s civil conflicts, the later two of which Saudi Arabia has intervened in, partly in the name of “containing” Iran. Furthermore, US politicians and media outlets are increasingly questioning Iran’s alleged ties to al Qaeda, support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and the progress of Tehran’s nuclear program. The Israeli government is also rattling sabers over the program, which the last US National Intellignece Estimate on concluded Iran is years away from producing nuclear weapons.

    The announcement also comes at a tense time for Attorney General Holder, who has recently come under fire over the failure of a US government gun-running program involving Mexican cartels called Operation Fast and Furious. Undoubtedly, Operation Red Coalition will boost his standing among members of Congress. Whether it deters them from their investigation of his part in Operation Fast and Furious is another thing entirely. Even with the arrest of Mansour, we can likely expect to see more complaints from US politicians that the Obama Administration is “undermining” US security by being “weak” in the face of Iran.

    Secretary of State Clinton told reporters that this plot “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for.” Attempting to perhaps inject a bit of levity into what is, by any standards, an outlandishly roundabout, Blofeld-esque plot, said in a press conference that “The idea that they would attempt to go to a Mexican drug cartel to solicit murder-for-hire to kill the Saudi ambassador, nobody could make that up, right?”

    The Iranian government has not tried to make light of the incident, though. They have refuted the allegations, accussing the US of running “a comedy show” and of trying to drive a wedge between Riyadh and Tehran (as though there wasn’t one a mile thick already). Saudi Arabia will be recalling its ambassador to Iran, Reuters reported.

    The Cable reports that executive branch departments are “developing new measures against the Iranian government that are to be announced ‘within hours,'” including new international sanctions. Members of Congress are reported to be pushing for a new round of sanctions against Iran as well.

    Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

    The Real Nuclear Threat From Iran May Not Be Nuclear Weapons

    Because it appears on the websites of local Fox News stations, one instinctively takes an article titled Insider: Iran Will Be ‘Next Chernobyl’ with a grain of salt. But its plausibility is undeniable. See if you agree.

    The first Iranian nuclear power station is inherently unsafe and will probably cause a “tragic disaster for humankind,” according to a document apparently written by an Iranian whistleblower. There is a “great likelihood” that the Bushehr reactor could generate the next nuclear catastrophe after Chernobyl or Fukushima, says the document. … It claims that Bushehr, which began operating last month after 35 years of intermittent construction, was built by “second-class engineers” who bolted together Russian and German technologies from different eras; that it sits in one of the world’s most seismically active areas but could not withstand a major earthquake; and that it has “no serious training program” for staff or a contingency plan for accidents. The document’s authenticity cannot be confirmed, but nuclear experts see no reason to doubt it.

    More about the Russian-German incompatibility:

    “The Russian parts are designed to standards that are less stringent than the Germans’ and they are being used out of context in a design where they are exposed to inappropriate stresses,” the document says. It goes on to claim that “much of the necessary work for Bushehr is outside the competence of the Russian consulting engineers,” who consider the project a “holiday.”

    What’s ironic about this article is that Fox types no doubt view the shoddy-sounding state of Iran’s nuclear-energy program as a force multiplier to add to Iran’s alleged development of nuclear weapons. Operating in synergy, theoretically they should make the case for attacking Iran. To others though, Iran’s possible nuclear-energy troubles eclipse the nuclear weapons threat. Thus is Iran reduced from malevolent to incompetent and not worth attacking. Given enough time, its nuclear program may well blow itself up.

    Hawks Used Test Ban Treaty as Justification for Expanding Nukes

    Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) has still not yet been activated, or, in treaty talk, “entered into force.” As of September 2011, 155 states have ratified the CTBT and another 27 states, not least among them the United States, have signed but not ratified it.

    According to the Basic Obligations under ARTICLE I, the CTBT requires that:

    Each State Party [as in “state that is party to the treaty”] undertakes not to carry out any nuclear weapon test explosion or any other nuclear explosion, and to prohibit and prevent any such nuclear explosion at any place under its jurisdiction or control.

    On September 23 of this year, the Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was held, spurring calls in support. At the conference itself United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said

    We gather at a moment of action. On the international front, the calls for bringing the CTBT into effect are growing. … We must face facts. Until we have universal adherence to a legally binding global norm against nuclear testing, there is no guarantee that nuclear tests will not happen again. We need no more reminders. We need political will. We need concrete action.

    Meanwhile, former Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary and Hazel O’Leary and Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

    The treaty is an essential tool for dealing with today’s security threats. … Countries with nuclear weapons, such as China, India and Pakistan, cannot create advanced nukes without further nuclear test explosions. Without nuclear tests, Iran could not confidently build warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles. By ratifying the treaty, the United States would put pressure on these nations to shelve their nuclear programs and engage more productively with the international community.

    Most important, by ratifying the treaty, “the United States would gain the political and moral leverage to end nuclear testing worldwide.”

    In a December 2009 article for Z Magazine, Darwin BondGraham shows how the United States gained a different kind of political leverage, and at the expense of moral (emphasis added).

    According to Ray Acheson [of the disarmament group Reaching Critical Will, a nation that] “pursues nuclear weapons, such as North Korea, must do so based on the tried-and-true path of setting off a nuclear detonation. But to do so under the CTBT would almost reflexively entail sanctions and military strikes.” Acheson and others point out that the “virtual testing” advances at the U.S. labs—particularly in the areas of flash-ray and laser technologies—provide it with an exclusive, high-tech route around the CTBT. The U.S. remains free to continue developing qualitatively new nuclear weapons … without violating the letter of the agreement.

    In the current subscription edition of Counterpunch BondGraham provided additional insights into how a treaty such as the CTBT is not all it’s cracked up to be. He explains that the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program (SSM)

    . . . came about largely because of the Clinton administration’s counterproductive obsession with ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). … The nuclear weapons complex and its allies in the Pentagon, Congress, and industry [claimed that] an end to testing … would require huge funding increases to build complex virtual testing facilities to use in lieu of nuclear shots under the desert. Even though Clinton approved SSM, setting in motion a decade of trough-feeding for the nuclear complex, the CTBT was never ratified by the Senate. Republicans balked.

    In any event, U.S. ratification of the CTBT isn’t exactly impending. Global Security Newswire reports that a U.S. official explained that the Obama administration

    … “cannot simply negotiate treaties and put them into force. … Every treaty we negotiate must be ratified. That is 67 votes [in the Senate] and always requires a major effort.” So far that effort has not been officially launched in Washington. While other nations are “very keen” on CTBT ratification, [Jarmo Viinanen, chairman of the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee, which handles disarmament] said, “if you expect there is going to be any movement from the U.S. side, I don’t think so. … One year before the [presidential] election, I’m not counting on that.”

    Not that the United States is the only one dragging its feet. Among the other nine nations “that must still ratify the treaty before it can become a global rule of law [are] nuclear-armed … China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.”

    Bono’s African Philanthropy Could Use a Remix

    BonoPaul Hewson, better known as Bono, has become arguably as famous for his alleged philanthropy as for his day job as front man for veteran Irish rockers U2. Within the past week, he unveiled a new publicity campaign through his organization, the ONE Campaign, intended to draw attention and direct aid towards the humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa by referring to famine as “The F Word.” It’s a clever idea, but something absolutely crucial is missing, without which the campaign is largely missing the point. While Bono’s own writings and the website of the ONE Campaign do mention violence and political instability afflicting the region, and even refer to the famine as “man-made,” the actual causes of this disruption are completely ignored.

    At the end of 2006, Ethiopian military forces invaded Somalia, quickly routed the amateurish militia fighters of the governing Islamic Courts Union, and seized control of Mogadishu. They did this at the behest of the Bush Administration, whose role in encouraging and funding the invasion was stated openly at the time. More information has come to light recently thanks to Wikileaks, however, specifically the extent to which the Bush Administration had to cajole and essentially twist the arms of a very reluctant Ethiopian government. The motive was simple: the United States has always supported the Transitional Federal Government, a group of exiles who purport to rule Somalia from their headquarters in Kenya. Under the Islamic Courts Union, Somalia had seen impressive (if wildly uneven) economic growth, but this did not deter Washington. The Islamic Courts Union had usurped the position of Washington’s favored partners, plus they had the word “Islamic” in their names, so they were targeted for overthrow.

    The result has been catastrophic. A swift Ethiopian victory quickly became a draining counterinsurgency as Somali forces regrouped, leading to a withdrawal of Ethiopian forces in 2009. Civil war has raged in and around Somalia ever since, with hundreds of thousands of people (at minimum) displaced and thousands killed by the conflict, along with a near-complete collapse of the country’s recent economic progress. The Obama administration has continued the policy of intervention, with a series of recent drone strikes and alleged involvement of covert elements, all in an effort to bolster favored factions.

    As a result of all of this, the people of the Horn of Africa have been completely unable to manage a particularly bad drought, leading to the catastrophe now occurring. This pattern of cause and effect is completely absent from the rhetoric of the ONE Campaign, leading observers of their work to conclude that the man-made famine was entirely made in Africa. Bono may be well aware of this, but his pattern of activism since the mid-1980s makes it clear that he seeks to curry favor with politicians of various ideological stances around the world, in order to better ameliorate the results of the actions of these same politicians. To use the terminology of Bono’s own industry, his own philanthropy could use a remastering, if not a complete remix. The present, longstanding path of his activism is not only possibly self-defeating, but ominously could be leading to apathy and “donor fatigue” as the same story repeats again and again.

    Americans Too Creeped Out by Nuclear Attack to Prepare for It

    Never fear — Global Security Newswire reports:

    Major cities and other communities in the United States can take a number of preparedness measures to drastically reduce the number fatalities and illnesses that would follow a nuclear strike, a leading nongovernmental organization declared.

    Something called Rad Resilient City was created by the Center for Biosecurity of UPMC (the University of Pittsburgh). No indication what Rad means, but Global Security Newswire explains that it’s

    … a seven-point checklist … that communities can implement to better protect residents from radioactive fallout after an atomic blast. … starting with obtaining broad community support for nuclear incident preparedness; conducting an ongoing public education campaign on … how people can protect themselves. … The plan also calls for establishing a rapid system for mapping and monitoring radioactive fallout [and] developing strategies and logistics for a large-scale, phased evacuation of a municipality.

    … Monica Schoch-Spana, a senior associate at the center. … rejected the assumption that lives cannot be saved after such a catastrophic event. “We must reverse this fatalistic thinking.” she said during the panel discussion.

    Here’s a testimonial “Rad Resilient City” from its website.

    “UPMC has presented us all with a gift today — they’ve given us this preparedness checklist that can help us go back to our families, our communities, our businesses.” Tammy Taylor, Leader, Nonproliferation Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory

    New York City dad to his family: “The Center for Biosecurity has brought us all a wonderful gift.”

    Little Emma: “What is it, daddy?”

    Dad: “Why, it’s a plan to help us survive and recover from a nuclear attack.”

    Emma: “Oh, daddy. We don’t ever have to be afraid of anything again.”

    Dad: “Actually, we won’t be 100% secure, Emma, until America is completely protected by missile defense.”

    Emma: “I’ll put that on my Christmas list and send it to Santa!”

    Mom: “What’s most important is that we’ll be together as a family, even as we die a slow death by radiation poisoning.”

    Yes, Ms. Taylor, cities and regions might find the Center for Biosecurity preparedness plans a useful gift. Though where they’ll find the funding is another question. But if yours is like most American families, the silence with which the checklist is met will be deafening.

    Failing to demonstrate an interest in preparing for an attack might seem fatalistic to the Center for Biosecurity’s Ms. Schoch-Spana. But, one suspects that most Americans have no stomach for thinking about and preparing for a nuclear attack with all that it implies about living through the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse. In fact, preventing the attack would be the gift that keeps on giving.

    Besides, what’s truly fatalistic is when the United States can’t envision a national security policy without weapons which can’t be used lest they invite retaliation that condemns us to, if not obliteration, a kind of living death for a generation or two.

    Meanwhile, the Center for Biosecurity and the government might count 100,000 dead in a nuclear terror attack on a city rather than 400,000 a triumph of civil defense. But to the inhabitants of the city it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Especially considering the hell that the 300,000 who were “saved” will be living through.

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