Syria-Iran tussle over Iraq?

As the US withdrawal from Iraq become an increasingly firm prospect, the tussle is now quite predictably intensifying among the war-shattered country’s neighbors for influence over what remains of it.
One intriguing example of this is the very serious spat that erupted yesterday between largely Iranian-backed Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, and the government of Syria.
At issue are Maliki’s allegations that the extremely deadly bombings of last Wednesday were the work of Baathist networks whose leaders have been sheltered by Syria, and his demand that Syria hand them over to Iraq for trial. The Syrians deny that the wanted men, Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed and Sattam Farhan, are in their country, and point out that they have roundly condemned the bombings.
This new conflict between Baghdad and Damascus is serious– and its timing seems very surprising. Just last week, Maliki undertook a seemingly very successful and lovey-dovey visit to Damascus. He and his Syrian counterpart agreed to set up a “strategic cooperation council”. They agreed to ” establish a mechanism for high-level military dialogue” and pursue many joint economic opportunities.
And in a joint statement, they said,

    “The fraternal relationship between Syria and Iraq is characterized by strong social and pan-Arab ties, as well as common history, culture and neighboring relations of both countries.”

Well, so much for that “fraternal relationship”, eh?
What seems to have happened is that Baghdad’s relationship with Syria has gotten tangled up in the internal power struggle now going on inside the Iraqi regime over how closely it should align with Iran.
When I was in Damascus in June, several of the close-to-power people we talked with there were at pains to note two significant things about Iraq: (a) that the Syrian government considers stabilizing the regime there to be a high priority for them, and (b) that despite Damascus’s long and close strategic relationship with Iran, Syrians see their goals for Iraq as very different from, and sometimes clearly at odds with, those of Iran.
Damascus’s goal for Iraq, they said, is that Iraq should be stable, Arab, and basically secular. Iran’s goal, they allege, is that Iraq should be Shiite-dominated and basically follow Tehran’s theocratic model of governance regardless of whether this threatened the unity and stability of Iraq as a whole.
Damascus’s policy on all this is also influenced by the degree to which the Syrian government, which is basically secular and depends a lot for its internal stability on its pan-Arab credentials, feels it is getting support from other significant Arab powers, principally Saudi Arabia. When Syrian-Saudi relations are tense– as they were from 2005 until about three months ago– then the Syrian government feels less confident about risking a rupture with Tehran.
Right now, both Syria and Saudi Arabia probably feel they have a shared interest in minimizing the amount of influence Tehran can exercise over the Baghdad government– though I doubt if policymakers in either of those governments feel they can eliminate Iran’s influence completely, in the same way that Saddam Hussein was able to do, through the exercise of great internal repression, so long as he was in power…
That there is a huge internal tussle going on right now in the heart of the Iraqi regime is quite evident– though the actual line-ups and interests at work there are still extremely murky.
Last Wednesday’s bomb blast came six years to the day after the fateful August 19 bomb blast of 2003 that killed UN envoy Sergio Vieira De Mello and inaugurated a new period of considerable post-invasion political instability within the country. This year’s August 19 blast killed more than 100 people and left the finance and foreign ministry buildings pertaining to the Maliki government substantially wrecked.
Shortly after the blasts, the ethnically Kurdish Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, voiced the serious allegation that they were the work of senior security officers within (other parts of) the regime. I find Juan Cole’s logic in claiming that the bombings were aimed at the blocs/parties in control of the targeted ministries to most likely be valid.
The education ministry was also targeted, though not I think as badly hit. It is controlled by a branch of Maliki’s own Daawa Party. The finance ministry has been in the hands of ISCI (whose leader Abdel-Aziz Hakim died in Iran earlier today.) Foreign affairs has, obviously, been largely run and staffed by ethnic Kurds.
I disagree, however, with Juan’s other main conclusion: that the bombings were likely the work of former Baathists, rather than Qaeda-related networks. I also think his allegation “Iraqi Sunni Arab resistance in exile in Syria… are running terrorist cells inside Iraq”, and that these networks were connected withe August 19 bombings, is a serious one that he does nothing whatsoever to authenticate or provide a source for.
But it is, certainly, murky. And all the more so because of the political developments that have been erupting within the coalition that’s been more or less “running” Iraq since 2007, under the different forms of tutelage provided by both the US military and the Iranian theocrats.
On Monday, Raed Jarrar had this fascinating analysis of what’s been going on.
In his view, it was Maliki who took the initiative in breaking his links with what Raed calls the “gang of four”: that is, the two Kurdish parties, ISCI, and the (Sunni) Islamic Accord Party. In his view, Maliki was doing this for these reasons:

    1- Demographic cleansing: Al-Maliki is against partitioning Iraq now. The gang of 4 have been following and promoting a separatist agenda aimed at creating sectarian/ethnic/religious regions that are self governed instead of having a strong central government in Baghdad running the country. The gang of 4 have been supporting the cleansing campaigns directly and indirectly for years. Al-Maliki’s recent attempts to reverse ethnic and sectarian cleansing and remove all walls in Baghdad were faced by fierce criticism by the gang of four. Following last week’s organized attacks in Baghdad, Hoshyar Zibari (a kurdish separatist who happened to be Iraq’s minister of foreign affairs) claimed the reason behind the attacks is Al-Maliki’s plan to remove the partitioning walls!
    2- Central government vs. regional powers: Al-Maliki is now for keeping and even increasing the powers of the central government. Mainly because he’s fighting for his own position’s authorities, and because he’s catering to the Iraqi public opinion that, according to numerous polls, favors a model where the central government runs a united and sovereign nation.
    3- Ending foreign intervention(s): Al-Maliki’s support for a plan where ALL U.S. troops must leave Iraq has been against the gang of four’s interests. They realize that the U.S. is there protecting them and supporting their weak and unpopular regime, and more importantly, the US is fighting their fight against other Iraqis.

(Raed also expressed this important conclusion: “There is a lot of violence coming ahead, but this does not mean in anyway the US occupation should last for an extra day… There is nothing that the US can do to fix the situation other than leaving Iraq completely and stopping all forms of intervention in Iraq’s domestic issues.”)
The WaPo and NYT accounts of the political split inside the Baghdad regime both seem to attribute much more of the momentum for the split to the non-Maliki side than to him… But I tend to respect Raed Jarrar’s feel for intra-Iraqi politics more than I do that of any of those western journos.
And meanwhile, from Syria, came this analysis piece today from the always well-informed Sami Moubayed.
First of all, Moubayed lays out a very well argued refutation of the accusations of Syrian complicity in last week’s bombings. Then he asks,

    why blame Syria? Clearly, from the contradicting remarks of Iraqi ministers, Black Wednesday puts many top officials in very difficult positions. It proves just how weak and divided they are – exposing them before ordinary Iraqis who are furious at the rising death toll and want answers from their elected representatives.
    … Nobody in Iraq wants to know who carried out the Wednesday attacks, because reality would expose dramatic mismanagement of government office. That in turn would drown many parliamentary hopefuls in January’s elections. It therefore suits all officials to cover up for their shortcomings by blaming Syria.
    Nobody in the Iraqi government would dare blame Iran or Saudi Arabia, because of the financial and military clout these countries have in Iraq, along with their respective army of followers. Left standing is Syria, which happens to be Ba’athist and still has Iraqi fugitives on its territory.
    In recalling their ambassador from Damascus, the Iraqis will have to deal with the aftershocks in their relationship with Syria. Iraq needs the Syrians much more than Damascus needs Baghdad. Iraq needs it for economic issues related to the pumping of oil and rebuilding of the war-torn country. It needs it to mediate explosive conflicts between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, whose leaders were all one-time residents of Damascus and still have excellent relations with the Syrians.
    Iraq needs it to police the Syrian-Iraqi border, and to continue playing host to over 1 million Iraqi refugees based in Syria since 2003. Iraq needs Damascus to mediate talks between Maliki and both Ba’athists and Sunni tribes. It also needs the Syrians to legitimize the Maliki regime, or whatever succeeds it in January, in the eyes of ordinary Iraqi Sunnis who have historically looked towards Syria for shelter and support.
    When Syria decided to open an embassy in Baghdad in late 2008, this greatly legitimized Maliki in the eyes of ordinary Iraqis, who until then saw him as nothing but a sectarian clown who had nothing but animosity for the Sunni community and wanted to punish it collectively for having produced Saddam Hussein.
    It is one thing when countries like Jordan or Egypt recognize Maliki and legitimize his administration, but a completely different matter when this is done by Syria, a country that remains dominated by a strong brand of Arab nationalism that is appealing to the Iraqi street.
    In as much as the sending of an ambassador was symbolic for the Syrians, recalling him is equally symbolic, and will cause plenty of damage for the prime minister, who needs a broad constituency among Sunnis and Shi’ites in preparation for the elections.

Well, let’s see how this plays out.
I just wish we had some kind of leading body in the international community who could get the leaders of Iraq and all its neighbors into one room together and get them to agree on strict codes for non-intervention, nonviolence, and de-escalation of tensions among them.
But alas, we have no such body. After many years of systematic US downgrading of the role and efficacy of the UN, the UN is just a shadow of what it should be today. And the US itself is clearly incapable of playing a neutral, calming role like this.

What’s up in Iranian Kurdistan?

At the very end of a long news report from Tehran in today’s WaPo came this intriguing tidbit:

    Also on Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces killed 26 members of Iranian-Kurdish insurgent groups, said Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
    The groups operate mainly from Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, and Iranian officials often accuse the United States of supporting them with weapons and money.

You would think that at a time of intense American interest in the internal stability of Iran, that news would have gotten a bit more prominence?
Also, of course, because the Iranian province of Kurdistan is where the three US hikers who had crossed the border, apparently by mistake, were arrested by the Iranian border security on July 31.
They have since been interrogated. Obama’s national security adviser, Jim Jones, has described them as innocent and called for their speedy release.
The news of the recent RG crackdown there underlines the risks the three US citizens were taking when they chose to hike in that mountainous region, where the exact national border is at many points not clearly demarcated.
AFP had more details of the latest Revolutionary Guards crackdown in Iranian Kurdistan.
It said that Pakpoor,

    said the operation had delivered a “massive blow” to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) and other Kurdish rebel groups.
    He gave no indication of the period in which the killings took place but said that no guards forces were killed in the operation.
    The commander vowed a further “crackdown on any instigators of insecurity directed by foreign or internal counter-revolutionaries” in the region.
    Western Iran, which has a sizeable Kurdish population, has seen deadly fighting in recent years between Iranian security forces and PJAK rebels operating from rear-bases in neighbouring Iraq.
    The group is closely allied with the Turkish Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community.

The sources referred to in this Wikipedia entry on PJAK, which include Sy Hersh’s November 2006 article on various Bush administration efforts to foment regime change in Iran, also show (Reuters) that one of the earliest steps the Obama administration took after coming into office was to put PJAK onto the US terrorism list.
That was done on February 4, based on a judgment that PJAK is a front organization for the Turkish-Kurdish guerrilla/terrorist group, the PKK, which has been on the list for many years.
Anyway, I wish we could get better coverage in our big media here in the US of developments– whether in Iranian Kurdistan, Iranian Baluchistan, or elsewhere– that might well be linked to the US government’s continuing or past funding of efforts aimed at regime change in Iran.
One final note. With the US designation of PJAK as a terrorist group, I’m assuming that from that point on no US funds would go to PJAK or to any organizations affiliated with it. But how about before February 4? If there was indeed some US funding for PJAK-related bodies before February 4, it is very possible those groups might still have been operating till now on the basis of that funding…
Anyway, all such funding ought immediately to cease as it is a gross interference in the internal political life of another country. In addition, by nearly all the accounts of Iranian democrats, US government funding or the allegations thereof have seriously undermined the success of their efforts.

Iran: Ready or not to talk? Washington: Ready or not?

In an amazing display of very late-night– or very early-morning– blogging, Laura Rozen put a post up this morning showcasing a Reuters report that Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna Ali Asghar Soltanieh had “announced Iran’s readiness to take part in any negotiations with the West based on mutual respect.”
She walked her first report back a bit, after Iran’s Press TV reported that Soltanieh said “”There have been no comments or interviews with TV networks on nuclear talks or conditions.” (Which is not a complete rebuttal of what Rozen first reported.)
Rozen has more about all the “will they, won’t they?” speculation about Iran’s future actions that is rife in the Washington political elite that’s both inside and outside the administration. (Sometimes, outside, but close to it.)
The current focus is whether Tehran will send someone to the proposed talks on the nuclear issue that Washington wants to see held before the UNGA session opens at the end of September.
As usual, one of the smartest remarks comes from Trita Parsi, whom Rozen quotes as saying,

    I don’t think worst case is that they don’t show up… They’ll show up. The worst case scenario is that they show up but they are incapable of making any big decisions because of political infighting in Iran.

This is precisely the fear I’ve had since I first articulated it eight days after the June 12 elections.
The “end of September” deadline is one the Obama administration has been pretty insistent on. It is related primarily to the “understandings” the administration seems to have reached with the (nuclear-armed) government of Israel, to the effect that Washington will try to squeeze significant concessions out of Tehran before the end of the year… and if that doesn’t work, then Washington will push hard for much tighter international sanctions against Iran and possibly other potentially even more hostile acts.
The end of September deadline does not, however, take into account either the now-imminent incidence of Ramadan or the continuing, long-drawn-out deadlock in the internal power struggle inside Iran’s theocratic governance institutions.
Insisting on the deadline, or taking concrete policy steps that further escalate the west’s tensions with Iran, would be most likely to strengthen the hardliners inside Tehran/Qom.
Another inescapable factor in this is, of course, that Washington no longer occupies the uncontested Uber-power position at the pinnacle of the global system that it occupied even three or four years ago. To get any significant strengthening of the international sanctions regime against Tehran requires the concurrence of, at the very least, all the other members of the Security Council’s P-5.
At a time of increasing American dependence on (inter-dependence with) both Russia and China– not to mention the NATO allies– that is far from a foregone conclusion.
Rozen does some good reporting (and some that’s not so good.) But she does seem to operate these days almost totally within the DC policy bubble, and too seldom looks at the broader dimensions of world affairs within which the US’s foreign policy operates.

Up on the Roof…. in Tehran

From the rooftops of Tehran, “Laleh Azadi” sends us an extraordinary essay, a “scream” into the darkness, rich with irony and insight, sadness and hope. Worth pondering in full, consider these excerpts:

“We put all our emotions into screaming “Allahu Akbar” into the night from the rooftops. We must stay under the radar during the day but the night brings a small sense of freedom. The streets are quiet and the heat has subsided so we can breath and use our voices. The calls that begin around 10 p.m. each night have gained strength since last Friday. There are more voices — both desperate and defiant — from young and old, men and women. It is the way we remind each other not to give up all hope, and it is our call for a leader.”

There’s something haunting here. In the west, we tend to associate darkness with fear, foreboding, even evil. The darkness is something we “curse.” Yet for Iranian reformists, the night becomes a sanctuary, a source of courage.
Laleh gives us more than raw emotion; she provides a different window for the outside world to comprehend the terms of the struggle:

“For many, this movement is about reclaiming the spirit and intent of the Islamic Revolution — even if most of us were born after it. We want to fight for the principles our parents fought for thirty years ago — the right to be free from tyranny, the right to choose, and the right to a voice. We see Khamenei and Ahmadinejad moving the Islamic Revolution away from democratic pluralism and towards authoritarianism.”

By day, the loudest voices of protest presently come from senior clerics, something Laleh wishes to explain:

“It might seem surprising to outsiders that the loudest voices of dissent are coming from the religious seminaries and Muslim clerics in Qum, but this is not unusual for Iran. Since the revolution, human rights activists, feminists, and even left-leaning politicians have found their greatest ally in Islam. Hence, the use of the color green — the color of Islam — for this resistance movement. It is as if to say to the conservative clerics who rule the country, “You cannot suppress us with religion. The martyred Imam Hussein is our example and Islam is our religion. It protects us, gives us a voice, and compels us to be compassionate for all humanity.”

In Laleh’s real world, all is not black and white, nor is it velvet. It’s green.

Iran battle lines 101

Quick items for keeping up with the ongoing legitimacy crisis within Iran:
1. Excellent IPS review by Farideh Farhi of the fault lines in Iran, as revealed in Rafsanjani’s Friday Prayers speech and blistering reactions.

It is now clear that the Islamic Republic’s ever-present political frictions and cleavages can no longer be managed in ways they have been in the past, either through behind-the-scenes lobbying at the top or selective repression or some combination of the two….
Adding to the drama was the immediate appearance on Rafsanjani’s personal website of a headline in which he recalled the early years of the revolution. “The term fear has no meaning for us,” it said. “For every generation, there is a test. Issues related to society and people are the most important tests.”

Note especially Farhi’s emphasis on the eclectic and yet unified nature of the opposition movement. Echoes of 1979.
2. Further quotes and analysis by Muhammad Sahimi of critiques from Leader Khamenei and reformist rebuttals.
For the Leader, it seems “the real people… those with real intellect…. think about and follow God….” the riotous corrupt by contrast are castigated as slaves to the foreign body. For Musavi,

“Many of the prisoners are well-known and have served the political system and the country for years. Who is going to believe that they colluded with foreigners to sell out the country’s national interests? Is this not an insult against the nation?”

3. Call by ex President Khatami for a “referendum” as the only way to resolve the crisis:

“I would like to add a point here and declare explicitly that, the only way out of the present crisis is relying on people’s vote and holding a referendum.”

4. Ayatollah watch: Sahimi’s run-down this morning of hotly contradictory clerical statements regarding the recent elections. Contrary to an absurd commentary put out by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy earlier this month, Iran’s clerical centers have neither been silent nor unified.
5. For the puzzled, I highly recommend a lively hour with my mentor, Professor R. K. Ramazani, available via podcast here. Many of the questions are basic — yet profound.

Tehran Showdown: Rafsanjani Speaks (full text)

The fissures that have opened up at the center of the Islamic Republic are again much on display.
Influential Iranian politician Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani’s appearance today as Tehran’s Friday Prayer leader was even more profound and stunning than billed. As I’ve posted here before, when Rafsanjani speaks, people listen. And today, he had much to say.
Officially, the former President, Parliamentary Speaker, and close aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now heads both the Expediency Council, a body that often reconciles log-jams within “the system,” and the Assembly of Experts, the body entrusted with appointing and even supervising the Supreme Leader.
Yes, he’s controversial. Many of the same reformists and leftists who today count the “pragmatic” Rafsanjani as an ally four years ago could not bear to support him against current President Ahmadinejad. Times change. In one of the debates just prior to the election, Ahmadinejad threw mud at Rafsanjani, hoping to taint reformist candidate Mir Hossein Musavi with the corruption smear by extension.
Since the controversy over the June 12th Presidential elections, Rafsanjani has been largely silent, and skipped a turn or two as Friday Prayer Leader. But not today.
As there are several very “thin” instant translations circulating, I post to the extension below a complete translation of Rafsanjani’s second sermon, as provided by BBC/OSC.
Last night, I’d heard from friends in Tehran who were worried that Rafsanjani “would pull a Khatami” — and talk about unity and preserving the revolution, while selling short the ongoing disquiet over the elections..
Quite the contrary, Rafsanjani’s speech was remarkably bold and unprecedented (for him). Rafsanjani has set out markers about legitimacy, “the people” and Islamic governance that will be of interest not just for Iran’s system, but for Islamists everywhere to consider.

“Everything depends on people…. The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality…. If it looses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it looses its republican aspect, it [The Islamic Republic] will not be realized. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system.”

Rafsanjani goes on to emphasize the plausible presence of “doubt” in the minds of Iranians about the legitimacy of the recent elections. This “bitter” doubt, “the worst disaster” — “a plague” – was not put there by foreign media, but by shameful behavior from within, by Iran’s own supervising Guardian Council and its state controlled TV media.:

“We are independent… Do we not have 30-year experience of running the country? Do we not have ulema? Why should our Sources [of Emulation, meaning senior clerics], who always have been supportive, and our seminary schools, which have never had any expectations for their efforts, be upset today.”

This is a not so subtle challenge to the very legitimacy of Supreme Leader Khamenei — in referencing the fact that several of Iran’s most senior Grand Ayatollah’s have been letting their displeasure be known. (a fact woefully missed or ignored in a recent WINEP essay)
Rafsanjani’s suggestions for restoring “trust” in the system (something hardliners don’t admit is lacking) boil down to:

1. Act strictly within the law. (e.g., especially law enforcement)
2. Promote dialogue and foster climate for free thinking and reason to prevail.
3. Free all those arrested amid protests.
4. Compensate those harmed in the disturbances.
5. Ease up on the media.

Rafsanjani does reference the need for unity, and he hopes his words will be “a turning point for the future,” to resolve the present “crisis.” That may be optimistic.
Ball now back to Leader Khamenei’s court.
(Full text in extension below:)

Continue reading “Tehran Showdown: Rafsanjani Speaks (full text)”

Obama reading JWN, responding well?

Back on Sunday (July 5), I blogged about Joe Biden’s “loose lips” statements that seemed to many Middle Easterners to give Israel a green light to attack Iran.
I ended the post saying,

    Obama now needs to go to some lengths, first to clearly restate that any Israeli strike against Iran is perilous for US lives and interests, and second, to try to get Biden to be a lot more disciplined when he speaks about momentous matters in the future.

Yesterday, Pres. Obama went forcefully on the record to (re-)state that,

    “It is the policy of the United States to try to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a peaceful way through diplomatic channels.”

From my lips to Obama’s (interestingly sized) ears? Well, maybe, one way or the other.
Of course, a few other Americans also made the same appeal to Obama about Biden’s statement. Including Marc Lynch, who wrote Sunday,

    the administration urgently needs to come forward quickly with a restatement of its policy — and make sure the Israelis and others in the region understand it clearly — or else it risks paying some extraordinarily serious costs.

Marc also did a good job there in pulling together the bad effects the Biden statement was already having by then, within the Arabic and Hebrew-language discourse in the Middle East. Which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is a very important part of the audience for any US leadership pronouncements on matters in that region. (That is, it actually matters a lot more how Israelis, Arabs, and Iranians themselves interpret such statements than it matters whether Juan Cole or others of us here in the US might manage to massage– or not– Biden’s words into a more ‘reasonable’ interpretation.)

Molavi’s question

In a July 4th Washington Post oped, the excellent Iranian-American journalist Afshin Molavi writes of how Iran’s fitful struggle for freedom is well in-grained within Iran’s history and political culture.

“It’s important to recognize the Iranian struggle for what it is: a grass-roots, vital movement for greater liberty enriched by more than a century of struggle against foreign powers, autocratic kings and repressive theocrats. Iran’s rulers would have the world believe that the protesters are a minority inspired by foreigners, but this denies a fundamental piece of Iranian history.”

I agree. Molavi then asks the question of the day — “Who will stand with Iranians?”

“Last month I attended a candlelight vigil to honor those who died fighting for freedom. The gathering was somber yet hopeful, but it was still too narrowly Iranian. We need more Americans… If there is one issue that politically polarized America ought to be able to rally around, it is the gallant struggle of Iranians.”

I concur in part; most of the protests thus far are far too… “Iranian,” perhaps because of the organizational model of most Iran focused interest groups. (To get invited, it helps to be “Iranian.”) In the western protests thus far, we often can see demonstrators splitting along factional lines, sometimes violently, as largely incompatible political agendas of monarchists, mujahedin, komali, liberals, secularists, etc. come to the fore.
Yet if such divides could be surmounted in common support for Iranians, what exactly would Molavi have us do?
Human rights groups are planning mass rallies in the west for July 25th. What exactly will be the message of such solidarity? How will such rallies help?

Continue reading “Molavi’s question”

Joe Biden’s loose lips

When Barack Obama first named Joe Biden as his running-mate, Washington insiders noted that what Biden is best known for running is his gab-too-much motor-mouth. Too often it seems there is no brain-filter operating to control what comes out of it.
Yesterday, Biden (three-peatedly) told George Stephanopoulos that if the Israeli government chooses to launch a military strike– that is, an act of war– against Iran, then that is quite up to them.
Here’s the first part of the exchange, as transcribed by Politico:

    BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.
    STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?
    BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that…

Actually, no, Joe. “Any nation” is certainly not entitled to undertake an unprovoked act of war against another nation…
Biden should have remembered, too, that our country has its own direct interests and responsibilities in this matter, for at least three excellent reasons:

    1. The hardware the IDF would use to strike Israel would certainly include US-supplied items, all of which are supplied on the basis of explicit agreements that they will be used only for defensive purposes.
    2. As Stephanopoulos was smart enough to point out, the US controls the air-space in Iraq, Saudi, Arabia, and other countries that Israel would need to overfly in any air-launched attack on Iraq.
    3. Finally– and this for me is the clincher–It is US forces, not Israeli forces, that are “on the front-lines” against Iran. If Israel attacks Iran, the Iranian government can justifiably assume, based in part on points 1 and 2 above, that it did so with at least US collusion, if not active US partnership. On this basis Iran would be entitled to respond to any Israeli attack by counter-attacking against not only Israel but also the many, very vulnerable military assets that the US has very near Iran’s borders and coastline– whether in Iraq, in and around the Gulf, or in Afghanistan.

It is not clear to me why Biden has suddenly become so irresponsibly mouthy about Iran. Back in early April, soon after Benjamin Netanyahu’s inauguration as Israeli PM, Biden was the administration’s point-man in issuing a clear warning that Netanyahu would be “ill-advised” to carry out a military strike against Iran. (Also reported here.)
And today, even as George Stephanopoulos’s show was airing in the US, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was openly warning about the very “destabilizing” effects of any Israeli attack on Iran.
Here’s his exchange with ‘Face the Nation’ host John Dickerson:

    DICKERSON: OK, let’s go back to something also that Vice President Biden said about Iran. He said that if Israel wants to launch a strike to stop Iran’s nuclear capability there’s nothing the U.S. can do. Is that right?
    MULLEN: Well, I have been for some time concerned about any strike on Iran. I worry about it being very destabilizing not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that.
    At the same time, I’m one that thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons. I think that’s very destabilizing…
    So it’s a very, very narrow window with respect to that. It’s something I’m engaged with my counter — my Israeli counterpart on regularly. But these are really political decisions that have to be made with respect to where the United States is. I remain very concerned about what Iran is doing…
    DICKERSON: But a strike is not a military — I mean that’s not a political decision if the Israelis make a strike, that’s a military consequence you’ll have to deal with.
    MULLEN: I think actually, you know, should that occur obviously all of us will have to deal with that.

Mullen’s position is considerably more in line with the one that has been sustained since Obama’s inauguration by his own immediate boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Gates’s boss, the president, than the one that Biden blurted out yesterday.
Bottom line: If it is still true that– as the old WWII adage had it– “loose lips sink ships”, then the ships that are likely to be sunk if Netanyahu takes Biden’s latest motor-mouthing as giving him a green light to go ahead and bomb Iran are much more likely to be American ships, than Israeli.
Bidens apparent gaffe is all the more notable because since the early days of the recent political crisis in Iran, the many US naval vessels in the Gulf have been under strict orders to hang back and take extra precautions against getting into any confrontation with the Iranian navy and military, since the hardliners in Tehran could then use any such confrontation to rally more Iranians behind their cause.
Obama now needs to go to some lengths, first to clearly restate that any Israeli strike against Iran is perilous for US lives and interests, and second, to try to get Biden to be a lot more disciplined when he speaks about momentous matters in the future.

Reading Independence Day in Iran

(this is Scott Harrop writing)
Keyed to Ameica’s 4th of July celebration, I have the pleasure of publishing an essay with R.K. Ramazani that is appearing in multiple outlets via Agence Global. One version can be found here. Between us, we’ve condensed about eighty years of studies of the American and Iranian revolutionary experiences into a few short paragraphs.
Our core observations in this essay boil down to:

1. Americans and Iranians have much more in common with each other than either side realizes.
2. Both nations have “revolutionary” traditions that first and foremost were about achieving independence. I wrote in greater detail about the American side two years ago here at justworldnews.
3. Even as both countries over time believed that their revolutions stood for distinct values that they’ve offered to the world, both America and Iran have painful track records of not fully living up to their own norms. Professor Ramazani recently wrote about Iran’s freedom deficit here.
4. International legitimacy… matters. Both societies care deeply about their reputation in the world, even as leaders in both countries have conducted themselves in manners than have hurt their nation’s prestige before the world. The world indeed is watching.
5. Howard Baskerville was right; Americans and Iranians do share many ideals, of independence, constitutionalism, justice, faith, and yes, liberty. (See my backgrounder on the 100th anniversary of his “martydom” in Tabriz)
6. Iran’s present crisis is home grown; lasting solutions to the present crisis must come from within. Yet it’s one Americans can recognize and empathize with from the outside.

Consider reading the actual whole text and give us your feedback. This is just the first hints of larger works being hatched.