Great Iran Backgrounder

If you’re curious about the dynamics and actors in the drama, go read this:

[TEHRAN BUREAU] The rigged presidential election in Iran – a coup d’etat, according to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a spokesman for the main reformist challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi and other analysts – has prompted protests both inside and outside Iran. There is, however, little understanding about the ideology and motivation behind the operation.

Along with Twitterfall (looking at #iranelections, #g88, #iran9), Tehran Bureau is a site that I’ve been reading compulsively for the last three days…

Don’t Forget There Are Still Troops Over There

I’m late to the party, but I agreed this weekend to help Move America Forward gather people to send boxes to the troops. We send boxes to a soldier we’ve connected with via Soldier’s Angels (and btw, take a moment and help them get a new social media website by clicking on a contest link), but this is a chance to simply click a button, give a card, and let a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan get some stuff and be reminded that – even for a moment – you were thinking about him or her.

So click here and spend the price of a moderate dinner to send some useful swag to a serving soldier; take a moment and write a few words and let them know you’re paying attention.

Because while all of us are worrying about the SP500, M1 and CDO – they are worrying about staying alive, defending innocents, and taking it to the bad guys.

I’m trying to gather other bloggers to help out and creating a team – “COINs” – to see how many packages we can send. Suggest it to other bloggers you know (they can just copy and paste the link at ‘click here’), and pass the word – please.

Send at least one, and say a few words when you do.

Maybe Matt Took Pottery At Harvard (Instead Of US History)

So Memorandum leads me to a post by my favorite whipping post, Matt Yglesias, in which matt is shocked – SHOCKED – to discover that a) Senators do not represent equal populations, and b) that the U.S. Senate presents a meaningful check to the U.S. President’s power in setting domestic policy.

Now, while I’m always amused when he gets the vapors, I’m especially amused since I finished a history section with my 12 year old going over pretty much exactly this ground about 6 months ago. And he’s at a free public middle school in an upper-middle class neighborhood, not an undergraduate at Harvard. James Joyner seems to have a similar reaction

So if Matt would like to get some reading recommendations – like, say, Federalist #10 – I’d be happy to oblige. Or I could ask Littlest Guy to help him out…

Admissions In Interest – Flynt Leverett And Our Sorry-Ass Commentariat

There’s an old legal term – “admissions against interest” which is something a witness reports that is ‘an admission of the truth of a fact by any person, but especially by the parties to a lawsuit, when a statement obviously would do that person harm, be embarrassing, or be against his/her personal or business interests.’ In other words, something that undermines you. One thing I look for in commentators is an occasional admission against interest; it tells me someone is honest, and gives their words more credibility.

So today, over on Politico, the New America Foundation’s Flynt Leverett rehashes his Spiegel interview and flatly states “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it.

Now, personally, I know for a fact that I don’t know enough about the Iranian elections to state any position with certitude. I do know a few things, though, and one of them is that the US commentariat’s dance around this issue is only slightly less complex than the actual politics within Iran itself. Second-intention positions seem to be commonplace, and I’m spending way too much effort trying to read through the actual words and understand what the commentator is really doing.

In Leverett’s case, I did a fast Google, and came up with a list of his articles, and read them.

Let’s see what he has to say about the North Korean missile and nuke tests:

As for Iran, the leadership’s motives may be more mixed. U.S. foreign policy expert Flynt Leverett says Washington needs to do more to reassure Iran, because despite President Obama’s calls for improved relations, Tehran believes the U.S. is still pursuing the policy track of former President Bush.

“What I’m concerned about is that the promise of this early rhetoric will be undermined by this lack of new initiatives, and particularly if the administration continues to try and use its professed willingness to engage Iran, to muster more international support for intensified sanctions, I think that’s going to undermine the credibility of any diplomatic initiative,” he explained.

Let’s see what he has to say about Bush’s policies:

We got into this dilemma because we essentially don’t have a strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue. By “we” I mean the United States and the Bush administration. The Bush administration has deliberately ruled out direct negotiations with Iran either over the nuclear issue or over the broad range of strategic issues that you would need to talk to Iran about if you were going to get a real diplomatic settlement on the nuclear issue.

The administration has, literally for years, ruled out that kind of strategic dialogue with Iran. In the absence of that sort of approach, that sort of channel, the administration is left with two options, one of which is to try and get something done in the Security Council. It has been foreseeable literally for months, if not for longer, that Russia and China at a minimum were not going to be prepared to support serious multilateral sanctions or other serious multilateral punitive measures on Iran. This is not a surprise. As I said, it’s been foreseeable literally for months, but the administration, without a strategy, is going down this feckless road anyway.

(He goes on in this interview to extol the apparently fraudulent Swiss Memo)

And what does he have to say about the Obama Administration?

President Obama…should not be excused for [his] failure to learn the lessons of recent history in the Middle East – that the prospect of strategic cooperation with Israel is profoundly unpopular with Arab publics and that even moderate Arab regimes cannot sustain such cooperation. The notion of an Israeli-moderate Arab coalition united to contain Iran is not only delusional, it would leave the Palestinian and Syrian-Lebanese tracks of the Arab-Israeli conflict unresolved and prospects for their resolution in free fall. These tracks cannot be resolved without meaningful American interaction with Iran and its regional allies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

…What is hard about the Iran problem is not periodic inflammatory statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or episodes like Ms. Saberi’s detention. What is really hard is that getting America’s Iran policy “right” would require a president to take positions that some allies and domestic constituencies won’t like.

To fix our Iran policy, the president would have to commit not to use force to change the borders or the form of government of the Islamic Republic. He would also have to accept that Iran will continue enriching uranium, and that the only realistic potential resolution to the nuclear issue would leave Iran in effect like Japan – a nation with an increasingly sophisticated nuclear fuel-cycle program that is carefully safeguarded to manage proliferation risks. Additionally, the president would have to accept that Iran’s relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah will continue, and be willing to work with Tehran to integrate these groups into lasting settlements of the Middle East’s core political conflicts.

It was not easy for President Richard Nixon to discard a quarter-century of failed policy toward the People’s Republic of China and to reorient America’s posture toward Beijing in ways that have served America’s interests extremely well for more than 30 years. That took strategic vision, political ruthlessness and personal determination. We hope that President Obama – contrary to his record so far – will soon begin to demonstrate those same qualities in forging a new approach toward Iran.

So, basically, he’s all about giving the Iranian regime whatever they want. OK, that’s fine – but let’s weigh that as we look at his somewhat sketchy claims about the election.

First, to the poll. Flynt says:

But the one poll conducted before Friday’s election by a Western organization that was transparent about its methodology – a telephone poll carried out by the Washington-based Terror-Free Tomorrow [A.L. – his employer ,which he doesn’t mention] from May 11 to 20 – found Ahmadinejad running 20 points ahead of Mousavi. This poll was conducted before the televised debates in which, as noted above, Ahmadinejad was perceived to have done well while Mousavi did poorly.

Then go read the ABC demolition:

An outfit called Terror Free Tomorrow claims in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post that the contested Iranian elections likely were not fraudulent, since a pre-election poll it sponsored showed the declared winner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with a big lead.

TFT’s own data, though, tell a different story – as, oddly, did its own previous polling analysis.

The poll, done by telephone last month, found 34 percent support for Ahmadinejad vs. 14 percent for Mir Hossein Mousavi. The incumbent led by “a more than 2 to 1 margin – greater than his actual margin of apparent victory in Friday’s election,” today’s op-ed says. “Our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran’s provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.”

Strange, then, that TFT’s analysis of these same data last month predicted a runoff.

Then he claims that the result – 60+% for Ahmadinejad – is almost exactly what he got in the last election:

They ignore the fact that Ahmadinejad’s 62.6 percent of the vote in this year’s election is essentially the same as the 61.69 percent he received in the final count of the 2005 presidential election, when he trounced former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Um, he got 61.69% of the vote in a two person runoff, after getting something like 20% of the vote in the preliminary, multiparty election – the one like this one.

Look we could go on, and in reality all of the evidence we’re talking about is indirect, circumstantial and incomplete. And none of us – not even the vaunted Juan Cole – really understand the pre-Copernican insane complexity of Iranian politics.

I do know about one subject that’s close to this issue, and that’s counting votes.

And the claim that tens of millions of hand-written paper ballots were counted in three hours is, like Leverett’s flimsy arguments above – simply bullshit.

There are doubtless good arguments made by legitimate commentators supporting the legitimacy of the election outcome. This wasn’t one of them.

The Whole World Is Watching

I’ve spent much of the weekend trying to subtly keep up with the news from Iran on my Blackberry (I made a family commitment to keep the laptop off – a matter of unfortunate timing on my part). Patterico has a good roundup of sources, but if you can’t follow anything else, I’d go to Twitterfall and look at #iranelections. This is raw rumor right now, but the analysis can – and should – wait.

I firmly believe that the right thing for the US and Western governments to do is to make encouraging noises about the will of the people and do, exactly, nothing. Any action in these next weeks by us as a nation will have far more unintended consequences than we can imagine.

But we, as a people, can do quite a bit. If there ever was a time to let activists, media, and leaders in the Middle East know that “the whole world is watching” that time is now. Follow Twitter, read blogs, share them with your friends. Accept that much of what you read is wild rumor and try as best you can so sift through it for grains of truth.

Find sites where pro-freedom (and by that I mean simply ‘pro-fair-elections’) Iranians are communicating, read them, and let them know with comments and emails that you are watching.

Let’s see how 20th Century repression, in the interests of 14th century ideology, reacts to 21st century open communication tools.

I don’t believe that Twitter and Youtube will bring down the repressive religious oligarchy in Iran. I’m not that much of anoptimist. But it will weaken the hold they have on the Iranian people – and in time, that may allow the Iranian people to find their own path to their own brand of freedom.

And – as a side note – all of us will know a whole lot more about the Iranian state a month from now than we know today. So let’s reserve the policy suggestions until some dust has settled – please.

Graduation Day

I’ve written a lot about the adventures of Biggest Guy (about to get a heck of a lot more adventurous this summer, I’d say) and maybe not as much about my other sons. Middle Guy’s real adventures start this weekend as he graduates with distinction from Thurgood Marshall College at the University of California at San Diego.

The economy seems to have dented his plans to go get an entry-level finance job in Hong Kong or Singapore (there don’t appear to be any…) but I have a feeling that by Fall he’ll be in a time zone far away starting his own very real adventures.

I want to take a second and publicly praise him for his hard work, smarts, and most of all for the empathy and heart that he displays every day. He’s a helluva human being, and as my goal in life was always to raise better men than me, I can say with confidence that I’m 2/3 of the way there.

Another Mucker

So we’ve got another mucker, this one a right-wing nutjob with a long criminal history.

And as sure as the sun rises, we’re seeing the political slinging and dodging begin. The lefties are wagging fingers and saying “see!! The DHS report you all slagged was soooo correct!” and the righties are bobbing weaving and covering up.

This is a boring and stupid game, and it has one point only – to delegitimize one’s political opponents.

Look, if you can’t tell the difference between Michelle Malkin and some unemployable whackjob who walked into the Fed with a shotgun, may I suggest that whatever you’re using as a discriminator may need some serious work?

Having said that, there is a toxic sludge in our public life – that comes up in a variety of ways – on the right, on the left, around issues like animal rights, the environment, gun rights, etc. – that we all need to see, identify and isolate.

Jesse Walker actually has a very good post on this over at Reason:

Why did the DHS report come under such fire? It wasn’t because far-right cranks are incapable of committing crimes. It’s because the paper blew the threat of right-wing terror out of proportion, just as the Clinton administration did in the ’90s; because it treated “extremism” itself as a potential threat, while offering a definition of extremist so broad it seemed it include anyone who opposed abortion or immigration or excessive federal power; and because it fretted about the danger of “the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities.” (Note that neither the killing in Kansas last month nor the shooting in Washington yesterday was committed by an Iraq or Afghanistan vet.) The effect isn’t to make right-wing terror attacks less likely. It’s to make it easier to smear nonviolent, noncriminal figures on the right, just as the most substantial effect of a red scare was to make it easier to smear nonviolent, noncriminal figures on the left. The fact that communist spies really existed didn’t justify Joseph McCarthy’s antics, and the fact that armed extremists really exist doesn’t justify the Department of Homeland Security’s report.

Let’s start talking – all of us – about what it is that distinguishes someone who is vocally unhappy with fiscal policy direction from someone who walks into the Fed with a shotgun. When we get that sorted out, let’s see how well that distinction applies across the political spectrum.

And as a side note, let me pass a virtual beer to the guard who shot the whackjob – making a head shot against an active shooter armed with a rifle is good shooting. One for the good guys.

Wait – A Pro-Gun Rights Editorial In The LA Times??

I read this and almost choked on my Morning Thunder. Here are the closing grafs of an editorial in today’s LA Times:

It’s tempting for supporters of gun control — including this page — to hope that the high court will rule that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to the states. That would be a mistake and would give aid and comfort to conservative legal thinkers, among them Justice Clarence Thomas, who have questioned the incorporation doctrine.

We were disappointed last year when the Supreme Court ruled that the right to keep and bear arms was an individual right, giving short shrift to the first part of the amendment, which refers to “a well-regulated militia.” But we also believe the court has been right to use the doctrine of incorporation to bind states to the most important protections of the Bill of Rights. If those vital provisions are to be incorporated in the 14th Amendment, so should the right to keep and bear arms.

Holy Cow.

I give them full credit here for intellectual honesty and consistency. One of my frustrations has been the willingness of organizations like the ACLU to pick-and-choose among the rights enumerated in the Constitution; it devalues the claims they make about the sanctity of certain rights that they are willing to pick and choose which rights should be sanctified.

Freedom doesn’t mean much if it’s only the freedom to do what each of us agrees with.

So attaperson, LA Times.