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Monday, June 22, 2009

Two contrasting viewpoints on Iran.

These two viewpoints are both from Asia Times.



Bhadrakumar has from the beginning downplayed the significance of the demonstrations and seen the whole affair as a tempest in a teapot and as a fractious bit of infighting between members of the Iranian elite. His viewpoint will be found wildly different from most of the commentary and reportage in most western mainstream media.
The US media for example does not find it even worth taking notice of what Saudi Arabia might be saying about what is happening! What is significant is its own reactions to all the twitterings from Iran.
Bhadrakumar looks to Israeli commentary to confirm his view that the "twitter revolution" as he calls it has fizzled. The head of Mossad obviously has decided that Ahmadinejad is winning and is quite ready to deal with him. As a matter of fact his winning is a plus for Israel because he is already demonised and Israel can argue even more strongly for an attack on the madman dictator's nuclear programme if diplomacy fails. Of course if Mousavi won then the US and Israel might be able to come to some accommodation since Rafsanjani might favor this. But as Bhadrakumar puts it what the head of Mossad says shows that he accepts that Ahmadinejad will win the struggle.
Bhadrakumar feels that Mousavi could not make the concessions that the US might demand but I don't really understand that. Giving up the nuclear program would pave the way to opening up the economy and withdrawing sanctions that would very much benefit many of the people who support him. Bhadrakumar claims that Mousavi does not have a genuine constituency. Surely he does but it may not be as powerful at the moment as Ahmadinejad has.
Bhadrakumar goes into detail on the background connections of Mousavi with the west, material you just don't find in other accounts of what is happening.
While Bhadrakumar is right that Khameni did not accuse Rafsanjani of corruption in his speech his remark about the possibility of legal proceedings against his relatives was a strong rebuke of Ahmadinejad for publicly charging Rafjani's relatives in a speech he had made. He also had high praise for Rafsanjani which might explain why the Assembly of Experts that Rafsanjani heads supported his remarks! The relationship between Khameni and Ahmadinejad does not seem all sweetness and light.
Note that Bhadrakumar praises Obama for his handling of the situation. However, there are strong pressures both within the Democratic Party and without for him to take a stronger position siding with the protesters. Note too that since Bhadrakumar wrote this Iran has specifically criticised CNN coverage.

'Color' revolution fizzles in Iran

By M K Bhadrakumar
Israelis are realists par excellence. This is why it is always gainful to buttonhole an Israeli counterpart over a single-malt on the diplomatic circuit. He will invariably weave into the tapestry of the plain tale a nylon thread until then obscure to the naked eye. Thus, the first warning that the adventurous project to mount a "Twitter revolution" in Iran was doomed to fail had to come from the Israelis. It meshes well with the indications that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's capacity to command the seemingly explosive political situation was never really been in doubt, no matter the hype in the Western media that Tehran was on the 'knife's edge". If any doubt lingers, that also is dispelled by the fury in the state-controlled Saudi Arabian media's unprecedented, vicious personal
attack on both Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad - of a kind alien to the culture of ta'arof (politesse) or even taqiyah (dissimulation) in that part of the world. Riyadh's fond hopes of witnessing the Iranian regime debilitated by a protracted crisis have been dashed. Its principal interlocutor, former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, has vanished from the chessboard. Riyadh seems bracing for Tehran's wrath. Israel's faultless prognosis In an extraordinary media leak at the weekend, just as Khamenei's historic speech at the Friday prayer meeting in Tehran ended, Meir Dagan, head of Israel's Mossad, let it be known that a win by Iranian opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the presidential election on June 12 would have spelled "big problems" for Israel. Israelis have a way of saying things. It was a subtle acknowledgement of political realities in Tehran. Speaking to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset (parliament) last Tuesday, Israel's spymaster could foresee that the protests in Iran would run out of steam. According to Ha'aretz newspaper, Dagan said: "Election fraud in Iran is no different than what happens in liberal states during elections. The struggle over the election results in Iran is internal and is unconnected to its strategic aspirations, including its nuclear program." He explained: "The world, and we, already know Ahmadinejad. If the reformist candidate Mousavi had won, Israel would have had a more serious problem, because it would need to explain to the world the danger of the Iranian threat, since Mousavi is perceived in the international arena as a moderate element. It is important to remember that he is the one who began Iran's nuclear program when he was prime minister." The assessment is faultless, perfect. By a masterstroke in "back-channel" diplomacy, Israel signaled to Tehran it had nothing to do with any "color" revolution. It was a timely signal. Indeed, divisions have come to surface that have existed for years within the Iranian regime. But it is very obvious that there is no scope for a "color" revolution in today's Iran. Even a trenchant, relentless critic of the regime like veteran author Amir Taheri admits:
The regime's base has benefited from Ahmadinejad's largesse, and the rest of Iranian society is not sure anyone could do better. Ahmadinejad's principal weakness is his failure to bring the rich and corrupt mullahs to justice, as he had promised. His supporters say that would be the priority in his second term. ... Today, he is the authentic leader of the Khomeinist movement in a way that Mousavi, or [former President Mohammad] Khatami, or any of the other half-way-house Khomeinists could never be. Mousavi's limitations Nonetheless, Mousavi kindled hopes in the West - notably London, Paris and Berlin - and some "pro-West" Arab capitals. But then, that was because he was a known factor as foreign minister and then prime minister during 1981-89. The issue was never that he was a modernist or reformer. To quote Taheri, the well-informed chronicler of the Middle East, Mousavi when he was in power, "developed a wide network of contacts in the US, Europe and the Arab countries". Taheri, who rubs shoulders with the Arab and Western political elites with elan, offers insights into the Mousavi camp. He recalls that the man who led the lengthy Algiers talks, which resulted in the release of the American hostages in 1981, Behzad Nabvi, is still assisting Mousavi. So is Abbas Kangarioo who held secret negotiations with the Ronald Reagan administration in what came to be known as the Iran-Contra deal. Kangarioo, a key advisor and friend of Mousavi, also has the distinction of having "developed a network of contacts in intelligence and diplomatic circles in Europe and the US". Unsurprisingly, Taheri estimates that while Mousavi's fame might have spread far and wide in the Western intelligence circles, his principal appeal at home is confined to the urban middle classes who wish the "Khomeinist revolution would just fade away ... People like Mousavi and former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani have long ceased to be regarded as genuine revolutionaries". From another direction, Taheri came to virtually the same definitive conclusion as the Israeli intelligence chief reached. Namely, that a weak interlocutor without a "Khomeinist base" like Mousavi could never make concessions that the US, the Europeans and the Arabs demanded, whereas Ahmadinejad can afford a softening of position as it will only seem a clever maneuver. Paradoxically, negotiating with Ahmadinejad might prove easier for the West, as he has a genuine constituency. Looking back at the past four years, the fact remains that Ahmadinejad restored the connectivity of the regime with the radical populist discourse. "Four years ago", Taheri writes, "the image of the regime was one of a clique of mid-ranking mullahs and their business associates running the country as a private company in their own interest. The regime's 'downtrodden' base saw itself as the victim of a great historic swindle. Under Ahmadinejad, a new generation of revolutionaries has come to the fore, projecting an image of piety and probity, reassuring the 'downtrodden' that all is not lost." Ahmadinejad's populism is a double-edged sword. If carried too far, it may undermine the legitimacy of the regime, which included corrupt sections of the clerical establishment. But Ahmadinejad is a clever politician. He has certainly grown while on the job these past four years. Although he self-portrayed with gusto as a locomotive that charges ahead without brakes or reverse gear, he knew where to stop and when to glance over his shoulder. Thus, he hit at many corrupt practices and threatened to bring key figures to justice, but stopped short of landing the big catch. The big question is whether Ahmadinejad will cast his net wide in his second term. Rafsanjani outmaneuvered However, Khamenei remains the ultimate arbiter. Ahmadinejad publicly acknowledged the locus of power by expressing in a formal letter "his gratitude" to Khamenei for his "helpful remarks" at the Friday prayers. Last week's power-play showed that Khamenei effectively thwarted Rafsanjani's attempt to rally the clerical establishment in Qom. The turning point was reached on Thursday when the majority of the 86 members of the powerful Assembly of Experts (which Rafsanjani headed) openly rallied behind Khamenei. The Assembly of Experts is the most powerful organ of the regime, invested with the authority to elect and dismiss the supreme leader and to supervise his functioning. Around 50 members of the Assembly of Experts said in a statement that "enemies of Iran" were masterminding the "unrest and riots" over the presidential vote through its "hired elements". Rafsanjani conclusively lost the war when the majority of the members of the Assembly of Experts expressed confidence that with the "sagacious directions of the [Supreme] Leader", the machinations of Iran's enemies will be defeated. Armed with this decisive support, Khamenei came to deliver his historic Friday prayer speech where he ruled out any rethink about the election result. Rafsanjani failed to show up at the prayer meeting, even as Khamenei made clear his support for Ahmadinejad, stressing how closely their viewpoints coincided. Significantly, Khamenei referred to Rafsanjani by name even in his absence. The message was loud and clear: Khamenei's supremacy is unchallengeable. Most ominously, while Khamenei graciously absolved Rafsanjani of any personal corruption, he left open the possibility of legal proceedings being initiated against his family members. Rafsanjani will now need to weigh his options very carefully. He cannot but factor in the Sword of Damocles hanging over his family members who have allegedly amassed huge wealth through corrupt practices. Also, Khamenei made no effort to specifically contradict the grave charge leveled by Ahmadinejad during the election campaign that Rafsanjani conspired with the Saudi regime to overthrow his government - an allegation that the president couldn't have made without input from Iranian intelligence, which comes under the supervision of the supreme leader. On Saturday, the Assembly of Experts went a step further by expressing its "strong support" for Khamenei's speech. It called on the nation to obey Khamenei's guidelines. Also on Saturday, the Iranian armed forces headquarters and the Qom Seminary Teachers Society and several influential voices in the regime publicly rallied behind Khamenei. The so-called reformist clergy aligned with Khatami changed their mind and called off their planned demonstration on Saturday. The hard reality, therefore, is that Khamenei's awesome powers are in no way under challenge. He can afford to let demonstrations by Mousavi's middle-class followers continue to let off steam, as he has the authority to command the situation in a holistic way. That is to say, even if protests may continue for a while - which seems improbable as Mousavi finds himself in a tight spot - that does not erode state power. As Taheri put it, "So-called 'Iran experts' did not realize that Mousavi was a balloon that a section of the Iranian middle class inflated to show its anger not only at Ahmadinejad but also at the entire Khomeinist regime. Otherwise, there is nothing in Mousavi's record ... to make him more attractive than Ahmadinejad." At the end of it all, the international community can only heave a sigh of relief that while this complex and extremely confusing political drama unfolded, George W Bush was no more in the White House in Washington. United States President Barack Obama could grasp the subtleties of the situation and adopted a well-thought-out, measured policy and broadly stuck to it despite apparent pressure from conservatives. His remarks have not even remotely called into question Ahmadinejad's locus standii, let alone Khamenei's, to lead the country. Nor has Obama identified himself with Mousavi's call for a new poll. If anything, he ostentatiously distanced himself from Mousavi. Certainly, not once did Obama threaten to go back on his offer to directly engage Iran in the near future. Meanwhile, Obama has just done some thoughtful fine-tuning in the lineup of the Iran hands in his administration, as the countdown begins for the commencement of direct talks. He shifted Dennis Ross to the National Security Council as special advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia instead of appointing him as the special envoy to Iran on the lines of George Mitchell's portfolio covering the Palestinians and Israel. Tehran will no doubt welcome the shift, given Ross' hawkish views. Now, it will be the right thing to do if Obama asks Richard Holbrooke, special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, to hold additional charge of Iran. Clearly, the Iranians took note that Obama's statements remained carefully modulated, although Voice of America might have meddled in the turmoil, as Tehran alleges. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's broadside on Saturday in Tehran singled out Britain, France and Germany, but omitted any reference to the US (or Israel). Among European countries, Tehran trained its guns on Britain. Mottaki said British forces in Iraq trained saboteurs and infiltrated them into Iran. But even then, it is a measure of Tehran's self-confidence that he elected to mock, saying it's time London forgot the adage that the "sun never sets on the British Empire". Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.


Now a quite different viewpoint by Pepe Escobar also in Asia Times.

Escobar is a regular contributor to Asia Times and his remarks are almost always interesting and often incisive as well. Escobar sees the protests as a powerful example of people power. However he is also aware of the struggle at the top. But he never discusses the relationships of those in the Mousavi camp to the interests of the US. His analysis is punctuated with paeans to people power. Somehow or other Rafsanjani and Mousavi et al whom he recognises as accepting the system are to be swept away in the amazing flood of people power. But then to a large extent it is these very people who are orchestrating events.
It is interesting that Escobar should call Ahmadinejad the Shah. There is at least one minor difference. The Shah was placed in power with the help of the US. and was subservient to US policy. Ahmadinejad on the other hand is a demonised opponent of US policies and the US is trying to help remove him.




THE ROVING EYE

Meet Shah Ali Khamenei
By Pepe Escobar
Amid blood in the streets, cries in the rooftops and daggers drawn at silky corridors, the 30-year-old Islamic Revolution in Iran has a date with destiny: the challenge is to finally celebrate the marriage of Islam and democracy. Former president Mohammad Khatami, the man of the dialogue of civilizations, revealed once again his moral stature when he praised the massive silent street protests (before the bloody repression); and stressed that almost 40 million Iranian voters, including those who dispute the final, "official" result, are "the owners" of the revolution. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on the other hand, preferred to brand the sea of protestors as "terrorists". Khatami also brushed off the leader of the Guardians Council, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad-friendly Ahmad Jannati, as "a
referee who is under suspicion and complaint". The "only solution", said Khatami, to "settle the crisis in the best interests of the Iranian people and the principles of the revolution" would be for an impartial commission to fully examine the evidence for ballot rigging. Losing presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, for his part, depicted the work of such a commission as "a given right", capable of "achieving a new type of political life in the country". As it stands, there's no evidence the theo-political oligarchy which has just solidified its power in Iran will even contemplate the possibility of appointing such a commission. Montazeri to the rescue The key move for the next few days revolves around Grand Ayatollah Husayn Montazeri's call for three days of mourning for the dead, from Wednesday to Friday. The progressive view in Tehran - and among the exiled Iranian intelligentsia - is that this is a very sophisticated, back to 1979, civil disobedience code, suggesting citizens should go indefinitely on strike. To strike is safer, and much more subversive, than hitting the streets and being bloodied by the paramilitary Basiji. Strikes were a fundamental element for the success of the revolution 30 years ago. Montazeri is also subtly signaling the strategy to seduce Iran's silent majority - which may hover around 30% to 40% of the total population. This strategy, judiciously applied over the next few days and weeks, may expand the people power river into a formidable ocean. It's as if an irresistible force might be whispering in his ear - "Mr Montazeri, tear down this [Islamic] wall." Meanwhile, at street level, people power will be grieving the dead but at the same time fighting the state's implacable crackdown on all forms of modern technology by resorting to ... paper. Welcome to the 21st century return of the samizdat (distribution of government-suppressed literature or other media in Soviet-bloc countries). In only one week, the green revolution, then people power, in Iran, has morphed into an entity way beyond Mousavi. The anger, rage, sense of having suffered a tremendous injustice (never underestimate this feeling in a Shi'ite society), the pent-up resentment; these emotions were so phenomenal, the regime so lost control of the arena of political debate, and the repression has been so brutal. A very simple idea underneath it all has finally revealed itself: we are fed up. You are liars. Death to the dictator. Allah-O Akbar. And we will cry every night, across our rooftops, at the top of our lungs, and we will not be silenced, until you get the message. Blame foreign "terrorists", blame the United States, Britain, France and Germany - the theo-political oligarchy's panicky reaction is totally beside the point. As are vast, proselytizing sectors of the Western progressive left - bound by the iron chains and faulty logic of "everyone fighting US imperialism is my friend". They have been duped - uncritically swallowing regime propaganda, blind to the complexities of Iranian society, and unable to identify a completely new political equation for what it is. To believe that "Western puppets" are crying Allah-O Akbar all over Iran's rooftops, or being shot at by Basiji in the streets, is criminally absurd. Mousavi, Khatami, Montazeri - they are not neo-revolutionaries (much less counter-revolutionaries). They are all accepting the principles and institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basiji, but criticizing "deviations and deceptions", in the language of Mousavi and Khatami. They want nothing else but the "return of the pure principles of the Islamic Revolution". And they are keen to stress this implies every single form of freedom of expression. People power in Iran now dreams of a constant, no-holds-barred dialogue taking place within civil society. And this step ahead does not necessarily have to do with Iran adopting Western liberal democracy. Persians are way too sophisticated; the whole thing goes way, way beyond. It's as if a road map was being laid out not only for Iran's post-modern remix of the French Revolution, but for Islam's Reformation as well. This is as serious as it gets. Rafsanjani's Qom game Meanwhile, mundane palace intrigue goes on. Not surprisingly, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani's whole game is taking place in Qom. He may not co-opt the IRGC - which fears and hates him - but he may well unbalance many an influential ayatollah and have a go at illlegitimizing Khamenei. Niceties apart, it goes without saying that the supreme leader's entourage has told Rafsanjani that if he keeps on scheming, he and his whole family will land in deep trouble. Qom is being microscopically monitored by the supremacist Khamenei Leader/Ahmadinejad/IRGC faction. They all know that many important ayatollahs have traditionally promoted their leadership as vehicles for wider social grievances. The "papacy" in Qom supports mostly pragmatic conservatives and reformists. People like Mousavi and Khatami. Definitely not people like Ahmadinejad. The widow of Mohammad Rajai, a former prime minister assassinated in the beginning of the revolution, went to Qom to talk to some key ayatollahs. Not surprisingly, she was arrested. According to the informed Iranian blogosphere, there are quite a few ayatollahs under house arrest and practically incommunicado. It's easy to forget in the West that millions of Iranians do not fundamentally agree with political power submitted to religion. Public pronouncements of ayatollahs in favor of the separation of church and state may not be too far away. Rafsanjani wants an emergency session of the 86 clerics-strong, no women, Council of Experts. Another crucial point: Qom as a whole is also not very fond of Khamenei. Khamenei was and remains an ultra-minor scholar; he was a mere hojjatoleslam when, through a white coup, he was installed as the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's successor. He's not a revered marja (senior spiritual leader) or a source of imitation. The problem is Rafsanjani is fighting a formidable foe - the apocalypsist, Mahdist Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's spiritual mentor who lost influence to - who else? - Rafsanjani in the last election for the Council of Experts, in late 2006. So this, once again, is an (invisible) battle between the "shark" and the "crocodile", as Rafsanjani and Yazdi, respectively, are known in Iran. Al-Arabiya is relying on sources according to which Rafsanjani is trying to come up with a collective leadership to replace the supreme leader. No Iranian blogger has confirmed the possible emergence of an ayatollah politburo. Meet Shah Ali Khamenei For now, the theo-political oligarchy (Khamenei/Ahmadinejad/IRGC) that has solidified its power and privilege has made it abundantly clear it wants an Islamic government where popular sovereignty is reduced to zero. The divine legitimacy of power is self-sufficient. That's the meaning of Khamenei's speech last Friday. This oligarchy won't let go of their power - not by a long shot. But amid all the crackle and static coming out of Iran, one thing is certain. It's too late to turn back now. All the evidence points out to people power hanging in for the long haul, no matter how desperately violent the scruffy working-class Basiji, despised by the Iranian-educated, urban middle and upper middle class, behave. The key message will remain simple and modest. And cracks at the top are bound to emerge. The other option is an illegitimate, brutal military dictatorship of a (fractured) mullahtariat, supported by legions of Basiji. This arrangement can't possibly last. There are insistent rumors in Tehran that the theo-political oligarchy supremacists are receiving crack counter-insurgency help from both Russia and China. Khamenei/Ahmadinejad/IRGC can always insist on turning Tehran into Tiananmen and prevail - for now. But Iran in 2009 has nothing to do with China in 1989. As for Mousavi, hurled in spite of himself into the eye of this historic hurricane, he now follows the human flow. The human flow has indicated that the supreme leader is illegitimate. His credibility as a religious scholar was and remains shaky. Now his credibility as supreme leader is shaky as well. Khamenei's central thesis of velayat-e-faqih (the rule of jurisprudence) was never a divine revelation (by the way, it was influenced by Khomeini's reading of human, oh-so-human Plato and Aristotle). It's just a particular Shi'ite interpretation of political Islam, according to which an Islamic jurisprudent has divine powers and rules absolutely surrounded by guardians. (Influential ayatollahs in Najaf, for instance, simply don't buy it). Now people are saying, "We have had enough of guardians". And they're also saying that the answer, my friend, is blowing in the rooftops. That's what people power is collectively thinking: if God is great, he's got to allow us democracy within Islam. As for the supreme leader, he is now naked. Mousavi may not be Khomeini. But Khamenei increasingly is remixing himself as the shah. Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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