Commentary Magazine


Posts For: June 17, 2009

A Man of the Cities

Cities everywhere in the world are more broadly liberal and cosmopolitan than small towns and villages. Rural areas in the Middle East are often startlingly conservative, especially from the point of view of Western visitors like me and my colleagues in the media.

This does not mean, however, that country people are more likely to support fascist political movements. Egypt’s Bedouin, for instance, are far more open-minded about and friendly toward Jews and Israelis than are the denizens of cities like Cairo. Backers of the Iraqi insurgency were based primarily in urban areas like Baghdad, Ramadi, and Fallujah.

And as Nate Silver documents with hard data at FiveThirtyEight, urban voters were more likely than rural voters to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This strange meme in many media reports that Ahmadinejad has a “base” of support in the countryside is not only wrong, it’s backwards. The uprising we’re all watching on YouTube is taking place inside Ahmadinejad’s “strongholds,” such as they are.

Ahmadinejad is a “conservative” in the relative sense of the word, as he resists any and all reform of the 1979 revolution. He is not, however, a conservative in the traditional sense. Khomeinism and radical Islamism are 20th Century totalitarian ideologies. Traditional village people, conservative as they may be, have little use for them.

Cities everywhere in the world are more broadly liberal and cosmopolitan than small towns and villages. Rural areas in the Middle East are often startlingly conservative, especially from the point of view of Western visitors like me and my colleagues in the media.

This does not mean, however, that country people are more likely to support fascist political movements. Egypt’s Bedouin, for instance, are far more open-minded about and friendly toward Jews and Israelis than are the denizens of cities like Cairo. Backers of the Iraqi insurgency were based primarily in urban areas like Baghdad, Ramadi, and Fallujah.

And as Nate Silver documents with hard data at FiveThirtyEight, urban voters were more likely than rural voters to support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This strange meme in many media reports that Ahmadinejad has a “base” of support in the countryside is not only wrong, it’s backwards. The uprising we’re all watching on YouTube is taking place inside Ahmadinejad’s “strongholds,” such as they are.

Ahmadinejad is a “conservative” in the relative sense of the word, as he resists any and all reform of the 1979 revolution. He is not, however, a conservative in the traditional sense. Khomeinism and radical Islamism are 20th Century totalitarian ideologies. Traditional village people, conservative as they may be, have little use for them.

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Commentary of the Day

Groupmember, on Jennifer Rubin:

I think the movement is probably hard to characterize. Perhaps many of them haven’t even developed their political instincts sufficiently to identify with any one political party. Maybe its just the pervasive stifling of freedoms, professional, personal and spiritual, that motivates them to seek change. Over here, we’re all preoccupied with defining ourselves. Isn’t there a sense that these protests, spontaneous as they were, are expressing things that are more fundamental than can be captured in any one slogan or policy position? That’s why the Obama business about likening Mousavi to A’jad seems ridiculous to me; who knows how the people might have voted had there been a genuine spectrum of options from which to choose. And ultimately, it’s the people who will matter, not the man they’ve chosen to make their champion, in the absence of any other officially sanctioned candidates.

Groupmember, on Jennifer Rubin:

I think the movement is probably hard to characterize. Perhaps many of them haven’t even developed their political instincts sufficiently to identify with any one political party. Maybe its just the pervasive stifling of freedoms, professional, personal and spiritual, that motivates them to seek change. Over here, we’re all preoccupied with defining ourselves. Isn’t there a sense that these protests, spontaneous as they were, are expressing things that are more fundamental than can be captured in any one slogan or policy position? That’s why the Obama business about likening Mousavi to A’jad seems ridiculous to me; who knows how the people might have voted had there been a genuine spectrum of options from which to choose. And ultimately, it’s the people who will matter, not the man they’ve chosen to make their champion, in the absence of any other officially sanctioned candidates.

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Brace for An Escalation

I am frankly surprised the last few days in Iran have not been more violent, but I doubt the relative “peace” is sustainable.

The New York Times says the regime is now explicitly issuing death threats.

The sense of threat against the opposition was growing. Reuters reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.

“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency.

Nico Pitney published an email at the Huffington Post that indicates at least some of the demonstrators are willing to take casualties.

I spoke with my father last night who is [in Iran]… [He] told me the common sentiment among the protestors is that of incredible resolve. He said that from what he’s heard, this will not stop until the Ayatollah himself is overthrown. As he put it, “Even if a million people (Moussavi supporters) die, they will not back down”.

And Ramin Ahmadi wrote something in Forbes that I’ve been worried about but reluctant to come out and say:

The expulsion of foreign journalists is another ominous sign indicating that more bloodshed is planned. The government has made a calculated decision to confront demonstrations with pure force. It believes that the excitement of the people over the election results will be short lived. That the movement can be contained and the majority’s will can be subdued using massive force and unimaginable brutality. In preparation for that scenario, it plans to isolate the country from the rest of the world as much as possible.

UPDATE: Michael Ledeen adds:

The regime is massing two Revolutionary Guards divisions for an assault on the dissidents–something like twenty thousand soldiers from outside Tehran–and the Mousavi people don’t want to give them time to organize and prepare their attacks. No doubt there are all kinds of secret meetings going on, as the various military, militia, religious and political leaders try to read the chicken entrails and guess their destiny.

[…[

The most powerful leaders in Iran are facing a life or death showdown. Both Khamenei and Mousavi–the two opposed icons of the moment, at least–know that they will either win or die. After nightfall, millions of revolutionaries chant from their rooftops “Allah is Great” and they are chants of defiance hurled at the Islamic Republic. I cannot imagine a soft landing.

UPDATE: But then there is this in the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more perilous for authorities is the possibility that some soldiers, security officials and Revolutionary Guardsmen might refuse orders to fire on protesters, creating a dangerous rift within the security apparatuses.

“I would never do it,” said Hossein, a 23-year-old member of the security forces who said he and many of his friends at the military base where he serves supported the marchers. “Maybe someone would, but I would never fire on any of these people myself.”

I am frankly surprised the last few days in Iran have not been more violent, but I doubt the relative “peace” is sustainable.

The New York Times says the regime is now explicitly issuing death threats.

The sense of threat against the opposition was growing. Reuters reported that Mohammadreza Habibi, the senior prosecutor in the central province of Isfahan, had warned demonstrators that they could be executed under Islamic law.

“We warn the few elements controlled by foreigners who try to disrupt domestic security by inciting individuals to destroy and to commit arson that the Islamic penal code for such individuals waging war against God is execution,” Mr. Habibi said, according to the Fars news agency.

Nico Pitney published an email at the Huffington Post that indicates at least some of the demonstrators are willing to take casualties.

I spoke with my father last night who is [in Iran]… [He] told me the common sentiment among the protestors is that of incredible resolve. He said that from what he’s heard, this will not stop until the Ayatollah himself is overthrown. As he put it, “Even if a million people (Moussavi supporters) die, they will not back down”.

And Ramin Ahmadi wrote something in Forbes that I’ve been worried about but reluctant to come out and say:

The expulsion of foreign journalists is another ominous sign indicating that more bloodshed is planned. The government has made a calculated decision to confront demonstrations with pure force. It believes that the excitement of the people over the election results will be short lived. That the movement can be contained and the majority’s will can be subdued using massive force and unimaginable brutality. In preparation for that scenario, it plans to isolate the country from the rest of the world as much as possible.

UPDATE: Michael Ledeen adds:

The regime is massing two Revolutionary Guards divisions for an assault on the dissidents–something like twenty thousand soldiers from outside Tehran–and the Mousavi people don’t want to give them time to organize and prepare their attacks. No doubt there are all kinds of secret meetings going on, as the various military, militia, religious and political leaders try to read the chicken entrails and guess their destiny.

[…[

The most powerful leaders in Iran are facing a life or death showdown. Both Khamenei and Mousavi–the two opposed icons of the moment, at least–know that they will either win or die. After nightfall, millions of revolutionaries chant from their rooftops “Allah is Great” and they are chants of defiance hurled at the Islamic Republic. I cannot imagine a soft landing.

UPDATE: But then there is this in the Los Angeles Times:

Perhaps more perilous for authorities is the possibility that some soldiers, security officials and Revolutionary Guardsmen might refuse orders to fire on protesters, creating a dangerous rift within the security apparatuses.

“I would never do it,” said Hossein, a 23-year-old member of the security forces who said he and many of his friends at the military base where he serves supported the marchers. “Maybe someone would, but I would never fire on any of these people myself.”

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Shhh… Don’t Tell ‘Em What’s In It

As generalities give way to stark details, healthcare reform is going wobbly. The Hill reports:

Congressional Democrats and the White House are scrambling to regain their footing after a series of setbacks has stalled political momentum to reform the nation’s healthcare system. Despite having a popular president in the White House and comfortable majorities in Congress, the Democratic rollout on healthcare reform has encountered significant bumps in the road.

A cost estimate hanging a $1 trillion price tag on an incomplete bill, salvos from powerful interest groups and great uncertainty among key Democrats on what will actually be in the legislation that moves through Congress have emboldened Republican critics.

[. . .]
The CBO also threw cold water on a promise by a coalition of healthcare industry groups to reduce healthcare spending by $2 trillion over 10 years. Obama announced their promise to much fanfare, but the CBO found that while a few of the cost-cutting measures would save money, others would cost money. In sum, they would not have a big impact on federal spending, the CBO concluded.

Marc Ambinder is quite perturbed that CBO put out a cost estimate for healthcare on a bill that isn’t going to be the “real” bill and is, in any case, incomplete because it neglects key elements of the plan. Now the sneaky Republicans will make use of the figure to, you know, scare people:

Given the ease with which the CBO numbers are digested on Capitol Hill, the GOP now has a significant talking point, one that’s reflected in news coverage already: the President says health care will be revenue-neutral, but the Kennedy plan in the Senate would add at least $1.3 trillion to the deficit…and wouldn’t cover half of the uninsured!   Sure, the bill’s a work in progress, but it could get worse, right?  You can see the ads now: a melifluous voice asking “Can we really afford to spend 1.3 trillion dollars?”

The reason we don’t have the “real” bill is the White House won’t put its cards on the table. What does it want and how much will it cost? All we get are platitudes because once people find out the actual costs and what we are likely to get in return, they will realize we don’t have a trillion or more to spend on something that doesn’t even represent that much progress on the problem of the uninsured.

It might be irksome to the president and his spinners in the media, but as information comes out in bits and pieces and as the public becomes more educated on this topic, support for this monstrosity may decline. And when we learn, as James Capretta points out, that we are taking a chain saw and not a scalpel to Medicare to cut hundreds of billions in “indiscriminate, across-the-board price controls that do nothing to change the underlying cost structure of health-care,” people might get the idea, correctly so, that the end result will be worse care, and less of it.

Whenever information comes out about the designs of healthcare, the president and his media handmaidens say the critics are trying to “scare” people. Yes, the most transparent administration in history objects strenuously to the public getting hold of any dollar figures and specifics which might undermine support for a yet-to-be determined but sure-to-be-hugely-expensive plan. Given that, you understand why the White House would rather co-opt a TV news network than tell us the specifics of its plan.

As generalities give way to stark details, healthcare reform is going wobbly. The Hill reports:

Congressional Democrats and the White House are scrambling to regain their footing after a series of setbacks has stalled political momentum to reform the nation’s healthcare system. Despite having a popular president in the White House and comfortable majorities in Congress, the Democratic rollout on healthcare reform has encountered significant bumps in the road.

A cost estimate hanging a $1 trillion price tag on an incomplete bill, salvos from powerful interest groups and great uncertainty among key Democrats on what will actually be in the legislation that moves through Congress have emboldened Republican critics.

[. . .]
The CBO also threw cold water on a promise by a coalition of healthcare industry groups to reduce healthcare spending by $2 trillion over 10 years. Obama announced their promise to much fanfare, but the CBO found that while a few of the cost-cutting measures would save money, others would cost money. In sum, they would not have a big impact on federal spending, the CBO concluded.

Marc Ambinder is quite perturbed that CBO put out a cost estimate for healthcare on a bill that isn’t going to be the “real” bill and is, in any case, incomplete because it neglects key elements of the plan. Now the sneaky Republicans will make use of the figure to, you know, scare people:

Given the ease with which the CBO numbers are digested on Capitol Hill, the GOP now has a significant talking point, one that’s reflected in news coverage already: the President says health care will be revenue-neutral, but the Kennedy plan in the Senate would add at least $1.3 trillion to the deficit…and wouldn’t cover half of the uninsured!   Sure, the bill’s a work in progress, but it could get worse, right?  You can see the ads now: a melifluous voice asking “Can we really afford to spend 1.3 trillion dollars?”

The reason we don’t have the “real” bill is the White House won’t put its cards on the table. What does it want and how much will it cost? All we get are platitudes because once people find out the actual costs and what we are likely to get in return, they will realize we don’t have a trillion or more to spend on something that doesn’t even represent that much progress on the problem of the uninsured.

It might be irksome to the president and his spinners in the media, but as information comes out in bits and pieces and as the public becomes more educated on this topic, support for this monstrosity may decline. And when we learn, as James Capretta points out, that we are taking a chain saw and not a scalpel to Medicare to cut hundreds of billions in “indiscriminate, across-the-board price controls that do nothing to change the underlying cost structure of health-care,” people might get the idea, correctly so, that the end result will be worse care, and less of it.

Whenever information comes out about the designs of healthcare, the president and his media handmaidens say the critics are trying to “scare” people. Yes, the most transparent administration in history objects strenuously to the public getting hold of any dollar figures and specifics which might undermine support for a yet-to-be determined but sure-to-be-hugely-expensive plan. Given that, you understand why the White House would rather co-opt a TV news network than tell us the specifics of its plan.

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The Elder Bush’s Second Term

President Obama has now adopted a position that many critics of his commitment to “engagement” with Iran were articulating before the Iranian election, namely that there isn’t much difference between the reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi and the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It’s true that had Moussavi been allowed to win, the result would not have advanced peace in the region or increased the chances of Iran halting its nuclear program. By the same token, those who say that having Ahmadinejad in power is in the interests of both the United Sates and Israel are not thinking clearly. Ahmadinejad’s shameless anti-Semitism makes appeasement of Iran a less attractive policy in the West. But to make this the central consideration is to mistake tactics for strategy. Given the stakes involved in that nation’s quest for nuclear weapons, having a slightly saner Iranian government is preferable to the status quo — though both alternatives are pretty bad.

Yet Obama’s plague-on-both-their-houses attitude toward Moussavi and Ahmadinejad would have more credibility if the administration were not so clearly determined to make nice with Iran, no matter who becomes its next president. The growing pro-appeasement sentiment of the Iran lobby has been momentarily flummoxed by the drama in Tehran. But there is little doubt that following a “decent interval” (as the now slightly contrite Roger Cohen put it) Washington’s determination to avoid confrontation over the genocidal threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel will not be changed.

Though the administration’s spin masters are trying to avoid painting the president as a cynical observer who couldn’t care less about the beastly behavior of his proposed “engagement” partner, the meaning of his failure to speak out is becoming more and more obvious. After six months in office, it is time to face up to the fact that what Americans got when they elected Barack Obama last November is the second term of the first President George Bush’s foreign policy.

The first Bush presidency was, of course, the heyday of foreign policy “realism.” It was the elder Bush who was unmoved by the Tiananmen Square massacre. Making a stink about the snuffing out of a movement for Chinese liberty would have interfered with his friendship with the Beijing gerontocracy behind the slaughter. And it was the elder Bush who opposed freedom for the Baltic states and Ukraine when the Soviet Empire was tottering.

Obama’s refusal to “meddle” in foreign quarrels may have its origins in a belief in America’s unworthiness and past sins (for which he has ceaselessly apologized since his inauguration) rather than the pure cynicism about human rights that seemed to characterize the James “f___ the Jews” Baker school of diplomacy. But the bottom line here is the same.

Indeed, like Bush, the one nation Obama feels free to “meddle” with is the one true democracy in the Middle East: Israel. The only difference is that while it might have been argued in 1991 — when Bush I pioneered the Walt-Mearsheimer critique of pro-Israel activists — that peace might be the outcome if Israel were pressured to make concessions to Palestinian terrorists, today, after many attempts on the Jewish State’s part to do just that, such a position has been exposed as utterly fantastic.

What the president’s legion of admirers must admit today is that though Obama is much better at articulating the sort of “vision thing” that Poppy Bush was incapable of doing, his foreign policy is in this respect virtually indistinguishable from the elderly Republican. Opposition to the younger President Bush’s democracy promotion agenda has become the keystone for Obama, even if it means that the world’s greatest democracy must clam up when Tehran’s tyrants stifle hope for change. The sad truth is that appeasement of tyranny has never been the sole preserve of either the Left or the Right. It is, however, the default position for cynics and cowards of all political persuasions.

President Obama has now adopted a position that many critics of his commitment to “engagement” with Iran were articulating before the Iranian election, namely that there isn’t much difference between the reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi and the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It’s true that had Moussavi been allowed to win, the result would not have advanced peace in the region or increased the chances of Iran halting its nuclear program. By the same token, those who say that having Ahmadinejad in power is in the interests of both the United Sates and Israel are not thinking clearly. Ahmadinejad’s shameless anti-Semitism makes appeasement of Iran a less attractive policy in the West. But to make this the central consideration is to mistake tactics for strategy. Given the stakes involved in that nation’s quest for nuclear weapons, having a slightly saner Iranian government is preferable to the status quo — though both alternatives are pretty bad.

Yet Obama’s plague-on-both-their-houses attitude toward Moussavi and Ahmadinejad would have more credibility if the administration were not so clearly determined to make nice with Iran, no matter who becomes its next president. The growing pro-appeasement sentiment of the Iran lobby has been momentarily flummoxed by the drama in Tehran. But there is little doubt that following a “decent interval” (as the now slightly contrite Roger Cohen put it) Washington’s determination to avoid confrontation over the genocidal threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel will not be changed.

Though the administration’s spin masters are trying to avoid painting the president as a cynical observer who couldn’t care less about the beastly behavior of his proposed “engagement” partner, the meaning of his failure to speak out is becoming more and more obvious. After six months in office, it is time to face up to the fact that what Americans got when they elected Barack Obama last November is the second term of the first President George Bush’s foreign policy.

The first Bush presidency was, of course, the heyday of foreign policy “realism.” It was the elder Bush who was unmoved by the Tiananmen Square massacre. Making a stink about the snuffing out of a movement for Chinese liberty would have interfered with his friendship with the Beijing gerontocracy behind the slaughter. And it was the elder Bush who opposed freedom for the Baltic states and Ukraine when the Soviet Empire was tottering.

Obama’s refusal to “meddle” in foreign quarrels may have its origins in a belief in America’s unworthiness and past sins (for which he has ceaselessly apologized since his inauguration) rather than the pure cynicism about human rights that seemed to characterize the James “f___ the Jews” Baker school of diplomacy. But the bottom line here is the same.

Indeed, like Bush, the one nation Obama feels free to “meddle” with is the one true democracy in the Middle East: Israel. The only difference is that while it might have been argued in 1991 — when Bush I pioneered the Walt-Mearsheimer critique of pro-Israel activists — that peace might be the outcome if Israel were pressured to make concessions to Palestinian terrorists, today, after many attempts on the Jewish State’s part to do just that, such a position has been exposed as utterly fantastic.

What the president’s legion of admirers must admit today is that though Obama is much better at articulating the sort of “vision thing” that Poppy Bush was incapable of doing, his foreign policy is in this respect virtually indistinguishable from the elderly Republican. Opposition to the younger President Bush’s democracy promotion agenda has become the keystone for Obama, even if it means that the world’s greatest democracy must clam up when Tehran’s tyrants stifle hope for change. The sad truth is that appeasement of tyranny has never been the sole preserve of either the Left or the Right. It is, however, the default position for cynics and cowards of all political persuasions.

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Chait Speech, Part Two

Jonathan Chait thinks my “rebuttal” of his blog item about Robert Kagan is lacking. That’s because it was not a rebuttal; rather, I was making a point about the bizarre nature of publishing a rather personal and ad hominem attack on someone who is on the masthead of his own publication. If Chait wishes to explain why that conduct is appropriate, that would be interesting to read. It would be one thing if, sharing Chait’s disgust with the argument posed by Kagan, the magazine’s editor, Martin Peretz, removed Kagan from the masthead and then let Chait have at him. But short of that, one might think Chait would owe a colleague a minimal measure of respect. Or is that expecting too much?

Jonathan Chait thinks my “rebuttal” of his blog item about Robert Kagan is lacking. That’s because it was not a rebuttal; rather, I was making a point about the bizarre nature of publishing a rather personal and ad hominem attack on someone who is on the masthead of his own publication. If Chait wishes to explain why that conduct is appropriate, that would be interesting to read. It would be one thing if, sharing Chait’s disgust with the argument posed by Kagan, the magazine’s editor, Martin Peretz, removed Kagan from the masthead and then let Chait have at him. But short of that, one might think Chait would owe a colleague a minimal measure of respect. Or is that expecting too much?

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Stealing the Election All Over Again

According to the New York Times, Fars News Agency reports a partial “recounting” of votes has begun in Iran. But they are not being counted. They were not even counted the first time. Fars says the “recount” in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah shows “no irregularity.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has almost no support among Kurds whatsoever. Claiming he “won” 70 percent in Kermanshah is as outlandish as Dick Cheney winning San Francisco and Berkeley in a landslide.

A few years ago I profiled Abdulla Mohtadi, the commander of a heavily armed Kurdish revolutionary army just on the Iraq side of the Iran-Iraq border near Kermanshah. He spent his young adulthood fighting the Shah’s regime in 1979 and was accordingly arrested and tortured by the SAVAK. Now he’s spending his middle age fighting the Khomeinists who liquidated his liberal and leftist comrades in the post-revolution struggle for power.

He sent me the following message by email:

What happened in Iran is in fact a coup d’etat, by the Pasdaran (the Revolutionary Guards) and the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) himself. We in Kurdistan did not participate in the elections, not because we did not want to participate in the political process for change, but exactly because we knew that it could only play in the hands of dictators in Tehran. We frequently emphasized that we deeply sympathized with the people who desperately wanted change and thought going to vote would bring about that change, but repeatedly warned that dictators would take it as their source of legitimacy while they would never allow any change in the government by whatever means and at whatever costs. Now this has come true.

UPDATE: The The British Ahwazi Friendship Society provides a detailed look at the politics of Kermanshah and other ethnic minority regions.

According to the New York Times, Fars News Agency reports a partial “recounting” of votes has begun in Iran. But they are not being counted. They were not even counted the first time. Fars says the “recount” in the Kurdish province of Kermanshah shows “no irregularity.”

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has almost no support among Kurds whatsoever. Claiming he “won” 70 percent in Kermanshah is as outlandish as Dick Cheney winning San Francisco and Berkeley in a landslide.

A few years ago I profiled Abdulla Mohtadi, the commander of a heavily armed Kurdish revolutionary army just on the Iraq side of the Iran-Iraq border near Kermanshah. He spent his young adulthood fighting the Shah’s regime in 1979 and was accordingly arrested and tortured by the SAVAK. Now he’s spending his middle age fighting the Khomeinists who liquidated his liberal and leftist comrades in the post-revolution struggle for power.

He sent me the following message by email:

What happened in Iran is in fact a coup d’etat, by the Pasdaran (the Revolutionary Guards) and the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Khamenei) himself. We in Kurdistan did not participate in the elections, not because we did not want to participate in the political process for change, but exactly because we knew that it could only play in the hands of dictators in Tehran. We frequently emphasized that we deeply sympathized with the people who desperately wanted change and thought going to vote would bring about that change, but repeatedly warned that dictators would take it as their source of legitimacy while they would never allow any change in the government by whatever means and at whatever costs. Now this has come true.

UPDATE: The The British Ahwazi Friendship Society provides a detailed look at the politics of Kermanshah and other ethnic minority regions.

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Elections Have Consequences

Whether you are puzzled or appalled or even delighted by Obama’s timidity on Iran, it is worth remembering that Obama did, after all, run for president on a “talk to anyone, anywhere” sort of foreign policy platform. True, many of us might not have expected that to include those who  violently repress their citizens. But still – he didn’t run on a platform advocating democracy and freedom for repressed people around the globe. That was the other guy.

Speaking of whom, CNN reports on John McCain’s reaction:

“On this issue, I do not believe that the president is taking a leadership that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom — and free elections are one of those fundamentals,” the Arizona Republican told John Roberts on CNN’s American Morning.

President Obama Tuesday said that he has deep concerns over the election results in Iran, but stressed that “it’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.”

McCain disputed that assessment. “We’re not meddling in any country’s affairs when we call for free and fair elections and the ability of people to exercise their human rights,” he said Monday. “And when they disagree with a flawed or corrupt election, as the Iranian people have, [not] to be beaten and even killed in the streets.”

Once again, we see that elections have consequences in America — where elections are free and the results respected.

Whether you are puzzled or appalled or even delighted by Obama’s timidity on Iran, it is worth remembering that Obama did, after all, run for president on a “talk to anyone, anywhere” sort of foreign policy platform. True, many of us might not have expected that to include those who  violently repress their citizens. But still – he didn’t run on a platform advocating democracy and freedom for repressed people around the globe. That was the other guy.

Speaking of whom, CNN reports on John McCain’s reaction:

“On this issue, I do not believe that the president is taking a leadership that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom — and free elections are one of those fundamentals,” the Arizona Republican told John Roberts on CNN’s American Morning.

President Obama Tuesday said that he has deep concerns over the election results in Iran, but stressed that “it’s not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections.”

McCain disputed that assessment. “We’re not meddling in any country’s affairs when we call for free and fair elections and the ability of people to exercise their human rights,” he said Monday. “And when they disagree with a flawed or corrupt election, as the Iranian people have, [not] to be beaten and even killed in the streets.”

Once again, we see that elections have consequences in America — where elections are free and the results respected.

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Bizarre, Indeed

Charles Krauthammer zeroes in on just how odd the president’s language and stance throughout the Iran uprising have been:

I find the president’s reaction bordering on the bizarre. It’s not just little and late, but he had a statement today in which he welcomed the Iranian leader’s gesture about redoing some of the vote, as you indicated.

And the president has said “I have seen in Iran’s initial reaction from the supreme leader.” He is using an honorific to apply to a man whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution.

So he uses that honorific, and then says that this supreme leader — it indicates that he understand that the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election. Deep concerns? There is a revolution in the street.

And it is not about elections anymore. It started out about elections. It’s about the legitimacy of a regime, this theocratic dictatorship in Iran, which is now at stake. That’s the point.

What we have here is a regime whose legitimacy is challenged, and this revolution is going to end in one of two ways — suppressed, as was the Tiananmen revolution in China, or it will be a second Iranian revolution that will liberate Iran and change the region and the world.

His first point, that Obama quite gratuitously expresses respect for the “Supreme Leader,” provides evidence to support the analysis of Bob Kagan and others that Obama is not simply exercising some seasoned judgment in figuring out how to help the protesters, but actively working to maintain the legitimacy of the regime. At a time when Iranians are questioning the authority of the mullahs, Obama appears utterly tone deaf and obsequious.

And Krauthammer’s additional point — that Obama seems oblivious to the Iranian situation having fundamentally changed — is a telling one. There is something nearly desperate about the president’s frequent affirmations that, yes, he’ll negotiate with anyone left standing. Really, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. A Grand Bargain is still in the offing.

If this ends poorly — in a brutal crushing of the protesters — the lack of moral leadership will haunt the president. Why didn’t America do more? And if the regime is upended, Obama’s dreams of a deal with the mullahs will fade and there will be great upset and turmoil. Either way, Obama’s fondest hopes for a return to the status quo will be dashed — and with it the mythology that his aura can motivate, inspire, and change events on the ground.

Charles Krauthammer zeroes in on just how odd the president’s language and stance throughout the Iran uprising have been:

I find the president’s reaction bordering on the bizarre. It’s not just little and late, but he had a statement today in which he welcomed the Iranian leader’s gesture about redoing some of the vote, as you indicated.

And the president has said “I have seen in Iran’s initial reaction from the supreme leader.” He is using an honorific to apply to a man whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution.

So he uses that honorific, and then says that this supreme leader — it indicates that he understand that the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election. Deep concerns? There is a revolution in the street.

And it is not about elections anymore. It started out about elections. It’s about the legitimacy of a regime, this theocratic dictatorship in Iran, which is now at stake. That’s the point.

What we have here is a regime whose legitimacy is challenged, and this revolution is going to end in one of two ways — suppressed, as was the Tiananmen revolution in China, or it will be a second Iranian revolution that will liberate Iran and change the region and the world.

His first point, that Obama quite gratuitously expresses respect for the “Supreme Leader,” provides evidence to support the analysis of Bob Kagan and others that Obama is not simply exercising some seasoned judgment in figuring out how to help the protesters, but actively working to maintain the legitimacy of the regime. At a time when Iranians are questioning the authority of the mullahs, Obama appears utterly tone deaf and obsequious.

And Krauthammer’s additional point — that Obama seems oblivious to the Iranian situation having fundamentally changed — is a telling one. There is something nearly desperate about the president’s frequent affirmations that, yes, he’ll negotiate with anyone left standing. Really, nothing has changed. Nothing at all. A Grand Bargain is still in the offing.

If this ends poorly — in a brutal crushing of the protesters — the lack of moral leadership will haunt the president. Why didn’t America do more? And if the regime is upended, Obama’s dreams of a deal with the mullahs will fade and there will be great upset and turmoil. Either way, Obama’s fondest hopes for a return to the status quo will be dashed — and with it the mythology that his aura can motivate, inspire, and change events on the ground.

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A Regime Propagandist in Great Britain’s Parliament

It isn’t enough for Britain’s fascist Member of Parliament George Galloway that he gets to host a show on Iran’s regime-controlled Press TV. (He actually brags about that, by the way.) He’s also cutting and pasting its propaganda into Britain’s Daily Record.

Although the western media largely did the usual thing – not straying far from their five-star hotels, talking to those who would happily talk to them and especially if they spoke English – it’s clear they mistook the plusher parts of the capital for the country at large. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad commands the loyalty of the poor, the working class and the rural voters whose development he has championed.

He lives like them, looks like them – he’s never worn a suit since becoming president – and there’s more of them than the English speaking more liberal elites now on the streets demonstrating.

It will soon fizzle out.

This election almost mirrors the class composition of the recent polls in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has exactly the same friends in his country. And the same enemies.

Some well-meaning people who aren’t flacks for the regime still believe poor and rural Iranian citizens are Ahmadinejad’s base. But there are solid reasons to believe it’s no longer true. Opposition to Ahmadinejad in Iran not only extends far beyond Tehran, but beyond all Iranian cities.

Eric Hooglund explains at Tehran Bureau:

I do not carry out research in Iran’s cities, as do foreign reporters who otherwise live in the metropolises of Europe and North America, and so I wonder how they can make such bold assertions about the allegedly extensive rural support for Ahmadinejad.

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock.

It isn’t enough for Britain’s fascist Member of Parliament George Galloway that he gets to host a show on Iran’s regime-controlled Press TV. (He actually brags about that, by the way.) He’s also cutting and pasting its propaganda into Britain’s Daily Record.

Although the western media largely did the usual thing – not straying far from their five-star hotels, talking to those who would happily talk to them and especially if they spoke English – it’s clear they mistook the plusher parts of the capital for the country at large. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad commands the loyalty of the poor, the working class and the rural voters whose development he has championed.

He lives like them, looks like them – he’s never worn a suit since becoming president – and there’s more of them than the English speaking more liberal elites now on the streets demonstrating.

It will soon fizzle out.

This election almost mirrors the class composition of the recent polls in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has exactly the same friends in his country. And the same enemies.

Some well-meaning people who aren’t flacks for the regime still believe poor and rural Iranian citizens are Ahmadinejad’s base. But there are solid reasons to believe it’s no longer true. Opposition to Ahmadinejad in Iran not only extends far beyond Tehran, but beyond all Iranian cities.

Eric Hooglund explains at Tehran Bureau:

I do not carry out research in Iran’s cities, as do foreign reporters who otherwise live in the metropolises of Europe and North America, and so I wonder how they can make such bold assertions about the allegedly extensive rural support for Ahmadinejad.

Take Bagh-e Iman, for example. It is a village of 850 households in the Zagros Mountains near the southwestern Iranian city of Shiraz. According to longtime, close friends who live there, the village is seething with moral outrage because at least two-thirds of all people over 18 years of age believe that the recent presidential election was stolen by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

When news spread on Saturday (June 13) morning that Ahmadinejad had won more than 60 percent of the vote cast the day before, the residents were in shock.

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Chait Speech

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic just published a vicious blog slam at Robert Kagan, calling his complex and interesting column today “fairly embarrassing.” Robert Kagan, as it happens, is a contributing editor of the New Republic and sits on the same masthead as Jonathan Chait. The person who is “fairly embarrassing” in this situation is not Kagan.

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic just published a vicious blog slam at Robert Kagan, calling his complex and interesting column today “fairly embarrassing.” Robert Kagan, as it happens, is a contributing editor of the New Republic and sits on the same masthead as Jonathan Chait. The person who is “fairly embarrassing” in this situation is not Kagan.

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Re: Why We Should Support the Green Revolution

David, as someone who has previously written “the worse the better” for our enemies, I want to make clear that, while still holding to that position, I completely agree with your arguments in favor of supporting the “Green Revolution” (If that’s not a premature label).

I still believe that the Moussavi who ran in the election would have been a terrible leader from our perspective (and from the perspective of ordinary Iranians) — someone who would not, could not, have made real changes in the nature of Iran’s regime but would have camouflaged its true nature to the West. I still believe that the ham-handed repression and vote stealing of recent days have been a positive development insofar as they have opened the eyes of the Roger Cohens and Fred Kaplans of this world to what the mullahs are all about.

But I also believe that it is imperative to support the protesters even though Moussavi is their head. The protesters’ demands, after all, have escalated: They are now calling for not just Ahmadinejad’s dismissal but also for Ayatollah Khamenei’s. In addition, they want to revise the constitution, release all political prisoners, and dissolve “all organs of repression.” That’s a revolutionary agenda and if Moussavi is cool with that, then he is moving, Gorbachev-like, to become much more of a challenge to the regime than he had been before the vote.

This is a situation in which we should all “think green.” Wasn’t green Obama’s favorite color before this weekend?

David, as someone who has previously written “the worse the better” for our enemies, I want to make clear that, while still holding to that position, I completely agree with your arguments in favor of supporting the “Green Revolution” (If that’s not a premature label).

I still believe that the Moussavi who ran in the election would have been a terrible leader from our perspective (and from the perspective of ordinary Iranians) — someone who would not, could not, have made real changes in the nature of Iran’s regime but would have camouflaged its true nature to the West. I still believe that the ham-handed repression and vote stealing of recent days have been a positive development insofar as they have opened the eyes of the Roger Cohens and Fred Kaplans of this world to what the mullahs are all about.

But I also believe that it is imperative to support the protesters even though Moussavi is their head. The protesters’ demands, after all, have escalated: They are now calling for not just Ahmadinejad’s dismissal but also for Ayatollah Khamenei’s. In addition, they want to revise the constitution, release all political prisoners, and dissolve “all organs of repression.” That’s a revolutionary agenda and if Moussavi is cool with that, then he is moving, Gorbachev-like, to become much more of a challenge to the regime than he had been before the vote.

This is a situation in which we should all “think green.” Wasn’t green Obama’s favorite color before this weekend?

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When Self-Righteousness is Only a Click Away

Tom Friedman is bullish on virtual revolution:

What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today – and in Lebanon – the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.

For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold – which is why the government is now trying to block these sites.

But here’s the hitch. The Facebook group “1,000,000 For Obama To Grow An Afro!” has 181,025 members. And the group “If 1,000,000 People Join I’ll Legally Change My Name To Mclovin” is at 465,001 members, halfway toward getting its administrator to file the papers. Are Facebook groups really forums in which people come together to project power or are they among the most ineffectual distractions in a world brimming with ineffectual distractions?

Forget about the overtly absurd groups; what has ever been accomplished by the activist ones? Earlier in the week I received an invitation to a group condemning the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter. I was instantly depressed. The “virtual” condemnation of an obvious monster turns outrage into farce. Just as acknowledging one’s solidarity with Iranian protesters by virtue of a mouse click trivializes the spirit of revolt.

Moreover, there’s a sense in which signing on to a virtual or symbolic cause absolves one from actually doing anything to further real-world progress. Joining a “Free Iran” group is no different than slapping a “Free Tibet” sticker on your car: it let’s the world know your heart is in the right place while you go about your day-to-day existence devoting little thought and no effort to the cause of liberty in far-off lands. Just ask Tibetans how bumper-sticker activism has worked out for them.

As for those protesters themselves who attempt to organize through Facebook, Egypt’s April 6th reform movement provides a sad cautionary tale. As Eric Trager noted, the Mubarak regime simply cracked down on the electronic organizing or figured out what was coming next by accessing Facebook. At the same time the movement itself lost focus — the way so many Internet phenomena do. We also know that Iranian Tweeting has been at least as contradictory and incoherent as it has been compelling.

What’s needed is not virtual revolution, but revolution. The harnessed “power” of Facebook can’t rival real physical force, real money, real training, real safe havens, and real support from an outside democratic government (Yes, Mr. President, that means “meddling.”) But since none of those are forthcoming, Facebook will continue to serve as the premier showcase for sympathizers looking to advertise the rightness and earnestness of their convictions.

Tom Friedman is bullish on virtual revolution:

What is fascinating to me is the degree to which in Iran today – and in Lebanon – the more secular forces of moderation have used technologies like Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, blogging and text-messaging as their virtual mosque, as the place they can now gather, mobilize, plan, inform and energize their supporters, outside the grip of the state.

For the first time, the moderates, who were always stranded between authoritarian regimes that had all the powers of the state and Islamists who had all the powers of the mosque, now have their own place to come together and project power: the network. The Times reported that Moussavi’s fan group on Facebook alone has grown to more than 50,000 members. That’s surely more than any mosque could hold – which is why the government is now trying to block these sites.

But here’s the hitch. The Facebook group “1,000,000 For Obama To Grow An Afro!” has 181,025 members. And the group “If 1,000,000 People Join I’ll Legally Change My Name To Mclovin” is at 465,001 members, halfway toward getting its administrator to file the papers. Are Facebook groups really forums in which people come together to project power or are they among the most ineffectual distractions in a world brimming with ineffectual distractions?

Forget about the overtly absurd groups; what has ever been accomplished by the activist ones? Earlier in the week I received an invitation to a group condemning the Holocaust Memorial Museum shooter. I was instantly depressed. The “virtual” condemnation of an obvious monster turns outrage into farce. Just as acknowledging one’s solidarity with Iranian protesters by virtue of a mouse click trivializes the spirit of revolt.

Moreover, there’s a sense in which signing on to a virtual or symbolic cause absolves one from actually doing anything to further real-world progress. Joining a “Free Iran” group is no different than slapping a “Free Tibet” sticker on your car: it let’s the world know your heart is in the right place while you go about your day-to-day existence devoting little thought and no effort to the cause of liberty in far-off lands. Just ask Tibetans how bumper-sticker activism has worked out for them.

As for those protesters themselves who attempt to organize through Facebook, Egypt’s April 6th reform movement provides a sad cautionary tale. As Eric Trager noted, the Mubarak regime simply cracked down on the electronic organizing or figured out what was coming next by accessing Facebook. At the same time the movement itself lost focus — the way so many Internet phenomena do. We also know that Iranian Tweeting has been at least as contradictory and incoherent as it has been compelling.

What’s needed is not virtual revolution, but revolution. The harnessed “power” of Facebook can’t rival real physical force, real money, real training, real safe havens, and real support from an outside democratic government (Yes, Mr. President, that means “meddling.”) But since none of those are forthcoming, Facebook will continue to serve as the premier showcase for sympathizers looking to advertise the rightness and earnestness of their convictions.

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You Can’t Stop the Signal

The big lie was inevitable. There is nothing the White House can do to get this message off state broadcast media in Iran.

Iran has accused the United States of “intolerable” meddling in its internal affairs, alleging for the first time that Washington has fueled a bitter post-election dispute.

A state television channel in Iran says the government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An English-language state-run channel quoted the government as calling Western interference “intolerable.”

We’ll know soon enough whether this is something we should actually worry about.

The big lie was inevitable. There is nothing the White House can do to get this message off state broadcast media in Iran.

Iran has accused the United States of “intolerable” meddling in its internal affairs, alleging for the first time that Washington has fueled a bitter post-election dispute.

A state television channel in Iran says the government summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests in Iran, to complain about American interference. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. An English-language state-run channel quoted the government as calling Western interference “intolerable.”

We’ll know soon enough whether this is something we should actually worry about.

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Still Decoding Obama

I recently devoted a piece to trying to decode President Obama. In reading more of his comments, I’ve noticed a tendency that now almost qualifies as a reflex: the more strongly the president denies something — and especially, the more he mocks his critics and feigns amusement at what they say — the greater the odds are that he will do what he denies.

In an interview yesterday, the president said, “I think the irony … is that I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government.”

Of course; examples of his “light touch” abound during the first five months of his presidency.

During his press conference discussing his first 100 days in office, Obama said, “And that’s why I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, ‘Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.”

Why would anyone think Obama wants to “grow government”? Isn’t it clear by now he wants to limit it?

While speaking at a town hall forum in New Mexico last month, Obama insisted that the “long-term deficit and debt that we have accumulated is unsustainable.”

They are, and they certainly seem to be a primary concern of the president, who is clearly doing everything humanly possible to reduce the deficit and the debt.

At a June 1 White House Press event, Obama asserted, “What I have no interest in doing is running GM.”

Why would he even need to say that? Why would anyone think he wants to run GM?

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I recently devoted a piece to trying to decode President Obama. In reading more of his comments, I’ve noticed a tendency that now almost qualifies as a reflex: the more strongly the president denies something — and especially, the more he mocks his critics and feigns amusement at what they say — the greater the odds are that he will do what he denies.

In an interview yesterday, the president said, “I think the irony … is that I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government.”

Of course; examples of his “light touch” abound during the first five months of his presidency.

During his press conference discussing his first 100 days in office, Obama said, “And that’s why I’m always amused when I hear these, you know, criticisms of, ‘Oh, you know, Obama wants to grow government.’ No. I would love a nice, lean portfolio to deal with, but that’s not the hand that’s been dealt us.”

Why would anyone think Obama wants to “grow government”? Isn’t it clear by now he wants to limit it?

While speaking at a town hall forum in New Mexico last month, Obama insisted that the “long-term deficit and debt that we have accumulated is unsustainable.”

They are, and they certainly seem to be a primary concern of the president, who is clearly doing everything humanly possible to reduce the deficit and the debt.

At a June 1 White House Press event, Obama asserted, “What I have no interest in doing is running GM.”

Why would he even need to say that? Why would anyone think he wants to run GM?

During a health care event in Green Bay, Obama said: “And the reason [he supports his so-called "public insurance option"] is not because we want a government takeover of health care — I’ve already said if you’ve got a private plan that works for you, that’s great.” And speaking to the AMA, Obama said, “Health-care reform is the single most important thing we can do for America’s long-term fiscal health.”

It is; and we all know Obama is doing everything he can to oppose a government takeover of health care.

During his presidential campaign, Obama ridiculed those who said he was interested in reading Miranda rights to terrorists. During a “60 Minutes” interview with Steve Kroft, Obama was emphatic: “Now, do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter down the block? Of course not.”

No-sir-ee; such a thing would never happen on his watch.

Here’s the thing, though: in every one of these instances Obama is not only doing something different than what he said, he’s doing very nearly the opposite of what he says. Obama’s “light touch” is turning out to be as intrusive a set of actions by the federal government as we have seen. He is “growing government” in record-shattering ways. Facing a staggering deficit and debt, Obama has decided to hit the accelerator rather than pump the brakes when it comes to federal spending. Facing a deficit and debt he calls unsustainable, Obama is adding trillions to them. He actually is running GM. He really is trying to engineer a government takeover of health care. His health-care plan may be the single worst thing he could do for America’s long-term fiscal health. And his Justice Department has acknowledged that FBI agents have read terrorist suspects their Miranda rights.

Let’s stipulate that most politicians use words in an elastic and imprecise manner, that often their account muddles rather than clarifies things, and that what they say doesn’t always correspond to what is. Even with all of that, President Obama seems to be carving out some fairly exclusive rhetorical real estate for himself.

No one doubts Obama speaks exceedingly well; he uses soothing words that come across as reassuring and reasonable. The problem comes when you examine what he says versus what he does. And by that standard, Mr. Obama is turning out to be almost promiscuously misleading. He is not yet Bill Clinton, who belongs in a category all his own — but Obama is taking up residence in the same zip code, which is troubling enough. And for those of us who thought Obama, whatever his political ideology, would bring intellectual integrity to his words and his tenure, it is disappointing. It is hardly the change we were promised. But I imagine that it will catch up with him sooner or later — and when it does, the man who promised to be the antidote to cynicism will only deepen it.

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Financial Regulation: Quick and Dirty

Today’s big story from Washington will be the release of a “comprehensive plan” for re-regulating the world of finance. The White House floated out an 85-page paper evidently meant to serve as a blueprint for a new regulatory structure. In keeping with this administration’s model of management-by-trial-balloon, the report appears in this morning’s New York Times and Washington Post.

It may not be worth examining the document in great detail, because (again in keeping with Obama standard practice) it most of the implementation details to Congress. So what is in here isn’t going to be close to what we’ll eventually get. But there are several things to note about the process and the philosophy at work.

The single most illustrative thing isn’t in the document at all, but in Obama’s own remarks, delivered in his trademark halting, somewhat diffident manner. The New York Times quotes him as saying:

Did you know, any considerations of sort of politics play into it? We want to get this thing passed, and, you know, we think that speed is important. We want to do it right. We want to do it carefully. But we don’t want to tilt at windmills.

In other words, it’s more important to get something out there and move on than it is to get it right. The president wants to do this quick and dirty.

You heard the same thing in January about the economic stimulus package. You heard it with the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy. You can see it in the president’s impatient desire to disengage from the truly hard problems in foreign policy, which have no quick and dirty solutions. And most of all, you see it in health care, which the president wants to completely reform before the end of July.

What was the process by which this paper was produced? It bears absolutely no marks of authorship. If Tim Geithner is the principal architect, his fingerprints don’t show. What Obama evidently did was to give every stakeholder in the financial industry a chance to express their desired outcome. Then he applied a political filter (“who are the people with the most powerful Senators on their side?”). And then he averaged the result.

What is the operative philosophy at work here? It’s evident from the paper that the blame for the financial crisis is being placed squarely on a lack of proper oversight by Federal regulators, of both financial firms and of financial markets. There’s no recognition of the role played by a powerful combination of low global interest rates caused by emerging-market reserve accumulation, together with rampant technical innovation that sharply increased the liquidity of financial instruments. There’s tangential recognition of the conflicted position of rating agencies, and also that there is such a thing as a “shadow banking system.”

But the real emphasis in the White House report is that there weren’t enough regulators minding the store, so they want to add a lot more of them. There is also a lot of talk about “protecting consumers and investors from financial abuse.” Now that’s so loaded that I don’t know where it really wants to go.

The bottom line is that the White House intends to tighten regulations on the financial system in accordance with the priorities of newspaper headline writers, while being careful not to step on the interests of the financial industry too much. An alternate, and preferable, approach would have been to take the time (even if measured in years) to actually understand the roots and the dynamics of the crisis and respond appropriately.

Today’s big story from Washington will be the release of a “comprehensive plan” for re-regulating the world of finance. The White House floated out an 85-page paper evidently meant to serve as a blueprint for a new regulatory structure. In keeping with this administration’s model of management-by-trial-balloon, the report appears in this morning’s New York Times and Washington Post.

It may not be worth examining the document in great detail, because (again in keeping with Obama standard practice) it most of the implementation details to Congress. So what is in here isn’t going to be close to what we’ll eventually get. But there are several things to note about the process and the philosophy at work.

The single most illustrative thing isn’t in the document at all, but in Obama’s own remarks, delivered in his trademark halting, somewhat diffident manner. The New York Times quotes him as saying:

Did you know, any considerations of sort of politics play into it? We want to get this thing passed, and, you know, we think that speed is important. We want to do it right. We want to do it carefully. But we don’t want to tilt at windmills.

In other words, it’s more important to get something out there and move on than it is to get it right. The president wants to do this quick and dirty.

You heard the same thing in January about the economic stimulus package. You heard it with the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy. You can see it in the president’s impatient desire to disengage from the truly hard problems in foreign policy, which have no quick and dirty solutions. And most of all, you see it in health care, which the president wants to completely reform before the end of July.

What was the process by which this paper was produced? It bears absolutely no marks of authorship. If Tim Geithner is the principal architect, his fingerprints don’t show. What Obama evidently did was to give every stakeholder in the financial industry a chance to express their desired outcome. Then he applied a political filter (“who are the people with the most powerful Senators on their side?”). And then he averaged the result.

What is the operative philosophy at work here? It’s evident from the paper that the blame for the financial crisis is being placed squarely on a lack of proper oversight by Federal regulators, of both financial firms and of financial markets. There’s no recognition of the role played by a powerful combination of low global interest rates caused by emerging-market reserve accumulation, together with rampant technical innovation that sharply increased the liquidity of financial instruments. There’s tangential recognition of the conflicted position of rating agencies, and also that there is such a thing as a “shadow banking system.”

But the real emphasis in the White House report is that there weren’t enough regulators minding the store, so they want to add a lot more of them. There is also a lot of talk about “protecting consumers and investors from financial abuse.” Now that’s so loaded that I don’t know where it really wants to go.

The bottom line is that the White House intends to tighten regulations on the financial system in accordance with the priorities of newspaper headline writers, while being careful not to step on the interests of the financial industry too much. An alternate, and preferable, approach would have been to take the time (even if measured in years) to actually understand the roots and the dynamics of the crisis and respond appropriately.

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Ahmadinejad’s “Millions”

Iranian state media are now using Photoshop to make rallies for Ahmadinejad look bigger than they really are.

Iranian state media are now using Photoshop to make rallies for Ahmadinejad look bigger than they really are.

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Reports of Hamas in Iran

I’ve seen dozens of reports that Hezbollah fighters have been imported from Lebanon as instruments of internal repression. This has happened before, and I seriously doubt these reports are just rumors.

A few Iranians are now saying thugs from Hamas are being imported. It’s too soon to say for sure, but it’s possible.

“The most important thing that I believe people outside of Iran should be aware of,” the young man went on, “is the participation of Palestinian forces in these riots.”

Another protester, who spoke as he carried a kitchen knife in one hand and a stone in the other, also cited the presence of Hamas in Teheran.

On Monday, he said, “my brother had his ribs beaten in by those Palestinian animals. Taking our people’s money is not enough, they are thirsty for our blood too.”

It was ironic, this man said, that the victorious Ahmadinejad “tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel.” His hope, he added, was that Israel would “come to its senses” and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

I’ve seen dozens of reports that Hezbollah fighters have been imported from Lebanon as instruments of internal repression. This has happened before, and I seriously doubt these reports are just rumors.

A few Iranians are now saying thugs from Hamas are being imported. It’s too soon to say for sure, but it’s possible.

“The most important thing that I believe people outside of Iran should be aware of,” the young man went on, “is the participation of Palestinian forces in these riots.”

Another protester, who spoke as he carried a kitchen knife in one hand and a stone in the other, also cited the presence of Hamas in Teheran.

On Monday, he said, “my brother had his ribs beaten in by those Palestinian animals. Taking our people’s money is not enough, they are thirsty for our blood too.”

It was ironic, this man said, that the victorious Ahmadinejad “tells us to pray for the young Palestinians, suffering at the hands of Israel.” His hope, he added, was that Israel would “come to its senses” and ruthlessly deal with the Palestinians.

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Re: Overstating the Rift on the Right

Max, that’s rich that the focus of the Politico’s “conflict rages!” story should be on the Republicans. What about the huge cognitive dissonance between the idealistic followers of the president and the president himself, who can’t be bothered to say the simple words “there was fraud” or “America stands with those who want to vote, not those who prevent full and fair elections”? What about the elite liberal opinion and open rooting for Ahmadinejad that John points out?

In fairness to Politico, none in the Obama fan club, which is now cheering on the Iranian protesters, can bring themselves to say the obvious: this is a shabby showing indeed for the candidate from hope and change. But then again, no one in the media is asking them how they feel about a president who seems to be more intent on covering his bases with the mullahs than supporting those who might topple them. But it is interesting that it is Republican Mike Pence who has introduced a bill declaring support for the protesters. (Hmm, wonder why Smith didn’t inquire of the Democrats what their reaction to the bill is. I eagerly await Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s response.)

Let’s see how the Democrats resolve their cognitive dissonance. Maybe Politico could even ask someone how they plan on doing so.

Max, that’s rich that the focus of the Politico’s “conflict rages!” story should be on the Republicans. What about the huge cognitive dissonance between the idealistic followers of the president and the president himself, who can’t be bothered to say the simple words “there was fraud” or “America stands with those who want to vote, not those who prevent full and fair elections”? What about the elite liberal opinion and open rooting for Ahmadinejad that John points out?

In fairness to Politico, none in the Obama fan club, which is now cheering on the Iranian protesters, can bring themselves to say the obvious: this is a shabby showing indeed for the candidate from hope and change. But then again, no one in the media is asking them how they feel about a president who seems to be more intent on covering his bases with the mullahs than supporting those who might topple them. But it is interesting that it is Republican Mike Pence who has introduced a bill declaring support for the protesters. (Hmm, wonder why Smith didn’t inquire of the Democrats what their reaction to the bill is. I eagerly await Nancy Pelosi’s and Harry Reid’s response.)

Let’s see how the Democrats resolve their cognitive dissonance. Maybe Politico could even ask someone how they plan on doing so.

Read Less

The Revolutionary Guards Threaten Bloggers

The Iranian regime has effectively placed foreign correspondents under house arrest, but has worse in store for Iranian citizens who publish news.

Iran’s most powerful military force is warning online media of a crackdown over their coverage of the country’s election crisis.

The Revolutionary Guards, an elite body answering to the supreme leader, says Iranian Web sites and bloggers must remove any materials that “create tension” or face legal action.

“Legal action.” That’s one hell of a euphemism.

The Iranian regime has effectively placed foreign correspondents under house arrest, but has worse in store for Iranian citizens who publish news.

Iran’s most powerful military force is warning online media of a crackdown over their coverage of the country’s election crisis.

The Revolutionary Guards, an elite body answering to the supreme leader, says Iranian Web sites and bloggers must remove any materials that “create tension” or face legal action.

“Legal action.” That’s one hell of a euphemism.

Read Less




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