Commentary Magazine


Topic: Amir Taheri

Tunisia’s Anti-Israel Eliza Doolittle

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

Christian Ortner, a commentator for the Austrian dailies Wiener Zeitung and Die Presse, picked up a golden journalistic nugget about Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Tunisia’s former authoritarian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Ortner cites a 2002 French radio interview with Trabelsi in which she discussed the economic malaise of Tunisia and her revolutionary austerity program to help the Palestinians.

“She acknowledged certain difficulties,” Ortner writes (and I translate), “but attributed them not to the corruption, patronage and monumental kleptocracy of her husband’s regime, but to the ‘necessary sacrifices ‘ that had to be made for the Palestinian cause. That is — the Jews are responsible for Tunisia’s misery. Who would imagine …”

With his bitter irony, Ortner captures the fundamental madness of turning Israel into a punching bag and thereby cleverly sidetracking critical examinations about the real causes of dysfunctional regimes in the Muslim world.

The former hair stylist Trabelsi — who appears to have had a kind of Eliza Doolittle rise to the top echelon of Tunisian society — reportedly fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia with 1.5 tons of gold. Perhaps she will convert her gold bars into hard currency and fund some of the anti-Israeli and excessively pro-Palestinian NGOs like Human Rights Watch, notorious for its fundraising in Saudi Arabia. Given her avarice, however, one should not hold one’s breath.

All this means is that Tunisian civil society showed the same utter bankruptcy of the explanatory model employed by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Arab world, namely, that the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict is the be-all and end-all of Arab and Muslim economic and political misery. It should be added that the EU endorses a water-downed version of this very model with its bizarre fixation on apartment-complex construction in East Jerusalem and the disputed territories at the expense of confronting the Iranian nuclear-weapons threat.

As Amir Taheri highlighted in yesterday’s New York Post, Tunisia “has cast aside tired ideologies such as pan-Arabism, Islamism and Baathism. Instead, it is calling for democracy, human rights and economic development. ” In short, the protesters reorganized politics by turning inward, rejecting the external nonsense that despots invoke to solidify their regimes.

While I believe Taheri is excessively optimistic about the rock-bottom nature of change in the Tunisian social order, his line of reasoning shows that Leila Trabelsi’s “necessary sacrifices ” for the PLO is a perverse adaptation of Pygmalion that hoodwinked many EU countries, particularly France.

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Morning Commentary

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

It looks like concerns over al-Qaeda wave attacks throughout Europe during the holiday season were justified. Nine men have been charged in connection to a British bomb plot today, just days after Dutch officials also arrested a dozen terrorism suspects: “In recent days, European concerns over terrorism have also seemed to mount after a suicide attack in Sweden by a British resident, a number of terrorism arrests in Spain and France, and other alarms in Germany over fears of a terrorism attack modeled on the 2008 Mumbai killings. The alerts have been given added weight by a warning in October from the State Department in Washington, cautioning of reports of a planned attack in a European city.”

Under mounting public pressure, King County officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision. [Correction: This post originally reported that Seattle officials rejected the metro bus ads, but the decision was made by King County officials. We apologize for any confusion.]

Under mounting public pressure, Seattle officials have rejected the anti-Israel ads that were set to run on city buses. But it looks like the controversy may continue, as anti-Israel activists promise to fight the decision.

Yesterday, the Iranian government halted the execution of a Kurdish student, but there are some indications that the death sentence may be imminent. Several of the student’s family members were reportedly arrested late last night, and the Internet and phone services have slowed noticeably in his home city.

A New York Times reporter gives a rare account of daily life in North Korea, where government officials are trying to boost the economy in preparation for the 2012 centennial of Kim Il-Sung’s birth.

Amir Taheri takes aim at the misguided argument that Iraq is simply a vessel state for the Iranian government. He points out that the money Iran poured into the recent Iraqi elections failed to translate into political power, and also notes that the Iraqi government refused to attend a political conference in Tehran: “The new Iraqi government represents a victory for all those who reject both Islamism and pan-Arabism as outdated ideologies. The biggest winners are those who assert Uruqua (Iraqi-ness) and ta’adudiyah (pluralism.) Today, one can claim that the Iraqi government is the most pluralist anywhere in the Arab world, with elected figures from all of Iraq’s 18 ethnic and religious communities. It includes representatives from 12 blocs formed by 66 parties.”

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Afternoon Commentary

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

With the Democratic party’s major losses in the midterm elections, there were predictions that President Obama wouldn’t win re-election in 2012. But during the lame-duck session, the president has managed to attain practically all of his legislative goals and undergo a remarkable political recuperation. Charles Krauthammer discusses the administration’s “new start” today in the Washington Post.

Tea Partiers have developed a reputation as self-interested individuals who oppose taxes because they don’t want to spread their wealth around. But according to AEI president Arthur Brooks, Americans who oppose wealth redistribution actually tend to be more generous when it comes to giving to charity than citizens who are in favor of government income leveling: “When it comes to voluntarily spreading their own wealth around, a distinct ‘charity gap’ opens up between Americans who are for and against government income leveling. Your intuition might tell you that people who favor government redistribution care most about the less fortunate and would give more to charity. Initially, this was my own assumption. But the data tell a different story.”

Amir Taheri writes that a battle is brewing in Iran, as thousands of workers continue to strike in protest of the government’s cuts in food and gas subsidies. “[F]or the first time, the message of independent trade unionists appears to be finding some resonance among Iran’s working people at large,” writes Taheri, noting growing public anger over rising energy prices and food shortages, increased political activism among young labor-rights leaders and the impact of international sanctions on private businesses.

During the height of the Park 51 controversy last summer, many New Yorkers were angered by Mayor Bloomberg’s vocal support for the mosque leaders. Newly released emails now reveal that Bloomberg aides actually provided political assistance to Park 51 coordinators Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan.

The rape allegations against Julian Assange have prompted some feminists in the U.S. to call for a broader definition of what constitutes rape. In Reason magazine, Cathy Young argues these revisions would be problematic: “Earlier generations of feminists argued that rape should be treated the same as any other violent crime: The victim should not be subjected to special standards of resistance or chastity. These days, the demand for special treatment is so blatant that some activists openly support abolishing the presumption of innocence for rape cases and requiring the accused to prove consent[.]”

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Re: Leveretts Revealed

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

In case you thought Michael Crowley may have gotten it wrong (really, could any two supposedly sophisticated people have willingly revealed themselves to be pawns of a brutal dictatorship?), or in case you thought the Leveretts really hadn’t gone down the rabbit hole of shillery for the butchers of Tehran, think again. They have their own blog, a CONTENTIONS reader informs me. This particular post should be read in full, not so much for the suck-uppery for the University of Tehran or for giddy flattery bestowed on its students, who put American students to shame, tell Flynt and Hillary Mann. No, that’s sort of par for the course for the pair who find Tehran the happiest place on earth. Rather, it is this bit of jaw-dropping propaganda, putting Jane Fonda circa 1972 to shame, which deserves a gander:

Shortly before we arrived in Tehran, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the Islamic Republic is turning into a “military dictatorship”.  As we drove around Tehran, we looked hard to see a soldier anywhere on the street but did not see a single one—except for a couple at the entrance to the Behest-e Zahra cemetery just south of Tehran, where many of the Iranian soldiers killed in the Iran-Iraq War are buried.  Over the years, we have spent a lot of time in a lot of Middle Eastern capitals.  We have never been in one—including in Egypt and Israel—that has fewer guys in uniform on the streets than in Tehran right now.

Brutal military repression? What military repression? Amir Taheri, writing recently and not under the thrall of the Tehran regime, reminded us:

The pro-democracy movement had promised that last Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, would be a turning point for the cause of freedom. But Mr. Khamenei’s regime contained the mounting opposition.The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) controlled Tehran with the help of tens of thousands of club-wielding street fighters shipped in from all over the country. Opposition marchers, confined to the northern part of the city, were locked into hit-and-run battles with the regime’s professional goons. An opposition attempt at storming the Evin Prison, where more than 3,000 dissidents are being tortured, did not materialize. The would-be liberators failed to break a ring of steel the IRGC threw around the sprawling compound…

For the first time the regime had to transform Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry. The IRGC was in total control. Code-named “Simorgh,” after a bird in Persian mythology, its operation created an atmosphere of war in the divided city. Warned that his life may be in danger, Mr. Khamenei was forced to watch the events on TV rather than take his usual personal tour.

Foggy Bottom isn’t exactly home base for aggressive Iran analysis. But really, it’s well accepted at this point that the IRCG has infiltrated and is now controlling government ministries. But the Leveretts, surrounded by evil, see and hear and speak of none.

The comments below the Leveretts’ inanity are worth a read. One of the Leveretts’ readers remarks: “As far as your jab on Iran being a militarized state — only a fool would have derived at the Clinton’s comments and more importantly the actions of Sepah in the past years that what was meant was that if one drives around Tehran with a government guide s/he will see tanks and soldiers! … Are you two really analysts or politicians?” Hmm. Propagandists, I think.

UPDATE: Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank on terrorism and Islamism, reacts to the Leverett’s observations: “It is astonishing that people who consider themselves political scientists have concluded that the Revolutionary Guards are not in control because ‘as they drove around Tehran’ they didn’t see in many soldiers in the streets. One wonders: If they had visited the Soviet Union in the 1960s and not seen members of the KGB in the streets, would they have included the USSR was not a police state?”

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The Obami’s Engagement Dead End

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.'” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

Hillary Clinton is now decrying the emergence in Iran of a military dictatorship. She declares:

“We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament is being supplanted and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship. … I think the trend with this greater and greater military lock on leadership decisions should be disturbing to Iranians, as well as to those of us on the outside,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she flew from Qatar to Saudi Arabia.

There are a couple of problems with this. First, Clinton appears to root for the mullahs. Why in the world are we seemingly bemoaning the plight of the Supreme Leader? Could we perhaps take the side of real regime change and root for the democracy protestors? Too much to expect, I think. Even the New York Times notices the cul-de-sac in which this sort of argument puts Clinton: “But in prodding the clerics and politicians to take action, Mrs. Clinton found herself in the awkward position of celebrating the early days of the Islamic Revolution. Iran today, she said, is ‘a far cry from the Islamic republic that had elections and different points of view within the leadership circle.'” So the current regime isn’t as swell as the old regime, but we’re rooting for ‘em anyway. And this is what passes for smart diplomacy.

But there is another problem here. If the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) is infesting and manipulating the regime, and if its reach extends to the political apparatus, how are itty-bitty, narrowly focused sanctions going to work? Amir Taheri observes that the IRGC essentially turned “Tehran into a sealed citadel with checkpoints at all points of entry” in response to the Feb. 11 protests. He observes of the IRGC:

Their leaders are more strident than many of the regime’s leaders, vetoing countless attempts by mullahs and politicians to reach a compromise with the portion of the opposition still calling for reform rather than regime change. Revolutionary Guard generals frequently appear on television to call for mass arrests and show trials. A weak and indecisive caliph, Mr. Khamenei has so far refused to endorse the kind of “final solution” the generals demand.

Abroad, the Revolutionary Guard pursues an aggressive policy aimed at “filling the vacuum” the generals hope will be created when the U.S. disengages from Iraq and Afghanistan by funding terrorist groups and their political front organizations. The IRGC has reportedly created a special desk to monitor the coming parliamentary elections in Baghdad and Kabul with the aim of helping pro-Tehran elements win power.

Hmm. But the Obami are going to come up with very narrowly framed sanctions, they keep telling us. This is to avoid impacting the rest of the government and to keep the Iranian population at large – the same population that has already pretty much figured out who the bad guys are – from becoming upset with the U.S. (although they are actually already upset with the U.S. for granting legitimacy to the regime).

You wonder how the Obami, such smart and educated folks, got so tied up in knots. Well, it seems like they had not a clue about whom they were dealing when they headed down the regime road. The New York Times tells us:

Ray Takeyh, a former Iran adviser to the Obama administration, said administration officials were learning from experience.

“There was a thesis a year ago that the differences between the United States and Iran was subject to diplomatic mediation, that they could find areas of common experience, that we were ready to have a dialogue with each other,” Mr. Takeyh said, but “those anticipations discounted the extent how the Iranian theocracy views engagement with the United States as a threat to its ideological identity.”

Even the Gray Lady can figure it out: “And if Mrs. Clinton is correct that the Revolutionary Guards, not the politicians or the clerics, are becoming the central power in Iran, the prospects for rapprochement can only look worse. Not that Iran’s political and religious leaders, so far, have demonstrated much interest in Mr. Obama’s outreach.”

There is only one reasonable and viable path out of this: regime change. Not mullah boosterism. Not pin-prick sanctions to get the mullahs back to dickering with us in Vienna. There are Iranians dying in the street to displace the regime — mullahs, IRGC, the whole gaggle of thugs — and that is the horse we should be betting on.

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Why Is Bush in Israel?

There is, alas, vanishingly little to say about Bush’s visit to Israel, the most profound effect of which, I feel safe predicting, will be traffic jams in Jerusalem. I share Yossi Alpher’s take: “This visit, like Bush’s Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality.”

So instead of adding to the verbiage, I’m going to just post some links to what other people are saying.

Michael Oren: “Presidential visits are always characterized as ‘historic,’ but Mr. Bush’s trip to the Jewish state is marked by a lack of momentousness.”

The Economist speculates that Bush’s visit will provide an opportunity for the Israelis to get a read on where America’s commitment to thwarting the Iranian nuclear project stands. I am skeptical.

Amir Taheri: “The president’s tour can acquire a positive meaning only if it is used to shape a new alliance for reform, progress and democratization as the chief guarantor of Middle East peace and security.” I’m a big fan of Taheri’s, but really–is this even remotely plausible?

Jon Alterman, on the excellent new Harvard Middle East Strategy blog: “The Bush administration has been mugged by reality.”

There is, alas, vanishingly little to say about Bush’s visit to Israel, the most profound effect of which, I feel safe predicting, will be traffic jams in Jerusalem. I share Yossi Alpher’s take: “This visit, like Bush’s Israeli-Palestinian peace process in general, looks to be all hype and superficiality.”

So instead of adding to the verbiage, I’m going to just post some links to what other people are saying.

Michael Oren: “Presidential visits are always characterized as ‘historic,’ but Mr. Bush’s trip to the Jewish state is marked by a lack of momentousness.”

The Economist speculates that Bush’s visit will provide an opportunity for the Israelis to get a read on where America’s commitment to thwarting the Iranian nuclear project stands. I am skeptical.

Amir Taheri: “The president’s tour can acquire a positive meaning only if it is used to shape a new alliance for reform, progress and democratization as the chief guarantor of Middle East peace and security.” I’m a big fan of Taheri’s, but really–is this even remotely plausible?

Jon Alterman, on the excellent new Harvard Middle East Strategy blog: “The Bush administration has been mugged by reality.”

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A Response to Andrew Sullivan

In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

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In my article “The Case for Bombing Iran” (COMMENTARY, June 2007), in my book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, and in various public appearances (including a televised debate with Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek), I quoted the Ayatollah Khomeini as having said the following:

We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.

My source for this statement was Amir Taheri, the prolific Iranian-born journalist now living in London, who has also contributed a number of articles to COMMENTARY. Now, however, the Economist, relying on another Iranian-born writer, Shaul Bakhash of George Mason University, has alleged on its blog “Democracy in America” that Khomeini never said any such thing. “Someone,” says Mr. Bakhash, “should inform Mr. Podhoretz he is citing a non-existent statement.”

That “someone” has turned out to be Andrew Sullivan in his widely read blog, “The Daily Dish.” Linking to the Economist post, Sullivan accuses me of intellectual dishonesty for failing to admit that I have made an “error” in relying on a “bogus quotation” to bolster my argument that if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it would not be deterred from using them by the fear of retaliation.

I do not usually bother responding to Sullivan’s frequent attacks on me, which are fueled by the same shrill hysteria that, as has often been pointed out, deforms most of what he “dishes” out on a daily basis. But in this case I have decided to respond because, by linking to a sober source like the Economist, he may for a change seem credible.

The Economist concludes its piece by challenging Amir Taheri to produce “the original source for this quote.” In response to a query from me, Mr. Taheri has now met that challenge. He writes:

The quote can be found in several editions of Khomeini’s speeches and messages. Here is one edition:

Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981).

The quote, along with many other passages, disappeared from several subsequent editions as the Islamic Republic tried to mobilize nationalistic feelings against Iraq, which had invaded Iran in 1980.

The practice of editing and even censoring Khomeini to suit the circumstances is widely known by Iranian scholars. This is how Professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak, the Director of the Center for Persian Studies at the University of Maryland and a specialist in Islamic censorship, states the problem: “Khumayni’s [sic] speeches are regularly published in fresh editions wherein new selections are made, certain references deleted, and various adjustments introduced depending on the state’s current preoccupation” (Persian Studies in North America, 1994).

In any case, Mr. Taheri continues in his letter to me:

Your real argument is that Khomeini is not an Iranian nationalist but a pan-Islamist and thus would not have been affected by ordinary nationalistic considerations, including the safety of any “motherland.” This is known to Iranians as a matter of fact. Khomeini opposed the use of the words mellat (“nation”) and melli (“national”), replacing them with Ummat (“the Islamic community”) and ummati (“pertaining to the Islamic community”).

Thus, Majlis Shuray e Melli (“The National Consultative Assembly”) was renamed by Khomeini as Majlis Shuray Islami (“Islamic Consultative Assembly”). He also replaced the Iranian national insignia of Lion and Sun with a stylized calligraphy of the word Allah.

Thus, too, when he returned to Tehran after sixteen years of exile, Khomeini was asked by a French journalist, who had accompanied him on the Air France plane from Paris, what he felt. “Nothing,” the ayatollah replied. He then rejected the suggestion by his welcoming committee to kiss the soil of Iran. That would have been sherk, which means associating something with Allah, the gravest of sins in Islam.

Finally, Mr. Taheri rightly observes:

What is at issue here is the exact nature of the Khomeinist regime. Is it a nationalistic power pursuing the usual goals of nations? Or is it a messianic power with an eschatological ideology and the pretension to conquer the world on behalf of “The One and Only True Faith”?

Khomeini built a good part of his case against the Shah by claiming that the latter was trying to force Iranians to worship Iran rather than Allah. The theme remains a leitmotif of Khomeinists even today. . . . Those who try to portray this regime as just another opportunistic power with a quixotic tendency do a grave disservice to a proper understanding of the challenge that the world faces.

But this is not new. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Pol Pot also had their apologists who saw them as “nationalists” with “legitimate grievances.”

So much for the allegation that the Khomeini quotation is “non-existent.” But there is another quotation I have cited repeatedly in the course of showing why Iran would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation. This one is a statement by the supposedly moderate former President Rafsanjani:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.

In chiding me for using this statement as well, all the Economist can come up with is the feeble objection that “some say Rafsanjani was misleadingly quoted.” Well, some also say that it is on the basis of a mistranslation that Ahmadinejad has been quoted as calling for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” It is true that Ahmadinejad’s declaration can be translated in other ways. Yet the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), in its own English edition, reported that “Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map.’”

Since the case I make both in my COMMENTARY article and in my book rests on much more than the two quotations from Khomeini and Rafsanjani, it would still stand even if those quotations were in fact “bogus” or “fabricated.” But the truth is that Khomeini and Rafsanjani did say what I said they said. Not that this will silence the growing number of foreign-policy establishmentarians who—having finally recognized that Iran’s nuclear program cannot be stopped by diplomacy and sanctions, but having ruled out military force even as a last resort—are now desperately trying to persuade us that “we can live” with an Iranian bomb. God help us all if the counsels of these apologists and appeasers disguised as “realists” should in the end prevail.

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