Monday, June 29, 2009

The Real Struggle in Iran and Implications for U.S. Dialogue

George Friedman
June 29
Speaking of the situation in Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama said June 26, “We don’t yet know how any potential dialogue will have been affected until we see what has happened inside of Iran.” On the surface that is a strange statement, since we know that with minor exceptions, the demonstrations in Tehran lost steam after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for them to end and security forces asserted themselves. By the conventional wisdom, events in Iran represent an oppressive regime crushing a popular rising. If so, it is odd that the U.S. president would raise the question of what has happened in Iran.
In reality, Obama’s point is well taken. This is because the real struggle in Iran has not yet been settled, nor was it ever about the liberalization of the regime. Rather, it has been about the role of the clergy — particularly the old-guard clergy — in Iranian life, and the future of particular personalities among this clergy.

Ahmadinejad Against the Clerical Elite
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ran his re-election campaign against the old clerical elite, charging them with corruption, luxurious living and running the state for their own benefit rather than that of the people. He particularly targeted Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an extremely senior leader, and his family. Indeed, during the demonstrations, Rafsanjani’s daughter and four other relatives were arrested, held and then released a day later.
Rafsanjani represents the class of clergy that came to power in 1979. He served as president from 1989-1997, but Ahmadinejad defeated him in 2005. Rafsanjani carries enormous clout within the system as head of the regime’s two most powerful institutions — the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guardian Council and parliament, and the Assembly of Experts, whose powers include oversight of the supreme leader. Forbes has called him one of the wealthiest men in the world. Rafsanjani, in other words, remains at the heart of the post-1979 Iranian establishment.
Ahmadinejad expressly ran his recent presidential campaign against Rafsanjani, using the latter’s family’s vast wealth to discredit Rafsanjani along with many of the senior clerics who dominate the Iranian political scene. It was not the regime as such that he opposed, but the individuals who currently dominate it. Ahmadinejad wants to retain the regime, but he wants to repopulate the leadership councils with clerics who share his populist values and want to revive the ascetic foundations of the regime. The Iranian president constantly contrasts his own modest lifestyle with the opulence of the current religious leadership.
Recognizing the threat Ahmadinejad represented to him personally and to the clerical class he belongs to, Rafsanjani fired back at Ahmadinejad, accusing him of having wrecked the economy. At his side were other powerful members of the regime, including Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani, who has made no secret of his antipathy toward Ahmadinejad and whose family links to the Shiite holy city of Qom give him substantial leverage. The underlying issue was about the kind of people who ought to be leading the clerical establishment. The battlefield was economic: Ahmadinejad’s charges of financial corruption versus charges of economic mismanagement leveled by Rafsanjani and others.

When Ahmadinejad defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi on the night of the election, the clerical elite saw themselves in serious danger. The margin of victory Ahmadinejad claimed might have given him the political clout to challenge their position. Mousavi immediately claimed fraud, and Rafsanjani backed him up. Whatever the motives of those in the streets, the real action was a knife fight between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani. By the end of the week, Khamenei decided to end the situation. In essence, he tried to hold things together by ordering the demonstrations to halt while throwing a bone to Rafsanjani and Mousavi by extending a probe into the election irregularities and postponing a partial recount by five days.
The Struggle Within the Regime
The key to understanding the situation in Iran is realizing that the past weeks have seen not an uprising against the regime, but a struggle within the regime. Ahmadinejad is not part of the establishment, but rather has been struggling against it, accusing it of having betrayed the principles of the Islamic Revolution. The post-election unrest in Iran therefore was not a matter of a repressive regime suppressing liberals (as in Prague in 1989), but a struggle between two Islamist factions that are each committed to the regime, but opposed to each other.
The demonstrators certainly included Western-style liberalizing elements, but they also included adherents of senior clerics who wanted to block Ahmadinejad’s re-election. And while Ahmadinejad undoubtedly committed electoral fraud to bulk up his numbers, his ability to commit unlimited fraud was blocked, because very powerful people looking for a chance to bring him down were arrayed against him.
The situation is even more complex because it is not simply a fight between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, but also a fight among the clerical elite regarding perks and privileges — and Ahmadinejad is himself being used within this infighting. The Iranian president’s populism suits the interests of clerics who oppose Rafsanjani; Ahmadinejad is their battering ram. But as Ahmadinejad increases his power, he could turn on his patrons very quickly. In short, the political situation in Iran is extremely volatile, just not for the reason that the media portrayed.
Rafsanjani is an extraordinarily powerful figure in the establishment who clearly sees Ahmadinejad and his faction as a mortal threat. Ahmadinejad’s ability to survive the unified opposition of the clergy, election or not, is not at all certain. But the problem is that there is no unified clergy. The supreme leader is clearly trying to find a new political balance while making it clear that public unrest will not be tolerated. Removing “public unrest” (i.e., demonstrations) from the tool kits of both sides may take away one of Rafsanjani’s more effective tools. But ultimately, it actually could benefit him. Should the internal politics move against the Iranian president, it would be Ahmadinejad — who has a substantial public following — who would not be able to have his supporters take to the streets.
The View From the West
The question for the rest of the world is simple: Does it matter who wins this fight? We would argue that the policy differences between Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani are minimal and probably would not affect Iran’s foreign relations. This fight simply isn’t about foreign policy.
Rafsanjani has frequently been held up in the West as a pragmatist who opposes Ahmadinejad’s radicalism. Rafsanjani certainly opposes Ahmadinejad and is happy to portray the Iranian president as harmful to Iran, but it is hard to imagine significant shifts in foreign policy if Rafsanjani’s faction came out on top. Khamenei has approved Iran’s foreign policy under Ahmadinejad, and Khamenei works to maintain broad consensus on policies. Ahmadinejad’s policies were vetted by Khamenei and the system that Rafsanjani is part of. It is possible that Rafsanjani secretly harbors different views, but if he does, anyone predicting what these might be is guessing.
Rafsanjani is a pragmatist in the sense that he systematically has accumulated power and wealth. He seems concerned about the Iranian economy, which is reasonable because he owns a lot of it. Ahmadinejad’s entire charge against him is that Rafsanjani is only interested in his own economic well-being. These political charges notwithstanding, Rafsanjani was part of the 1979 revolution, as were Ahmadinejad and the rest of the political and clerical elite. It would be a massive mistake to think that any leadership elements have abandoned those principles.
When the West looks at Iran, two concerns are expressed. The first relates to the Iranian nuclear program, and the second relates to Iran’s support for terrorists, particularly Hezbollah. Neither Iranian faction is liable to abandon either, because both make geopolitical sense for Iran and give it regional leverage.
Tehran’s primary concern is regime survival, and this has two elements. The first is deterring an attack on Iran, while the second is extending Iran’s reach so that such an attack could be countered. There are U.S. troops on both sides of the Islamic Republic, and the United States has expressed hostility to the regime. The Iranians are envisioning a worst-case scenario, assuming the worst possible U.S. intentions, and this will remain true no matter who runs the government.
We do not believe that Iran is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, a point we have made frequently. Iran understands that the actual acquisition of a nuclear weapon would lead to immediate U.S. or Israeli attacks. Accordingly, Iran’s ideal position is to be seen as developing nuclear weapons, but not close to having them. This gives Tehran a platform for bargaining without triggering Iran’s destruction, a task at which it has proved sure-footed.
In addition, Iran has maintained capabilities in Iraq and Lebanon. Should the United States or Israel attack, Iran would thus be able to counter by doing everything possible destabilize Iraq — bogging down U.S. forces there — while simultaneously using Hezbollah’s global reach to carry out terror attacks. After all, Hezbollah is today’s al Qaeda on steroids. The radical Shiite group’s ability, coupled with that of Iranian intelligence, is substantial.
We see no likelihood that any Iranian government would abandon this two-pronged strategy without substantial guarantees and concessions from the West. Those would have to include guarantees of noninterference in Iranian affairs. Obama, of course, has been aware of this bedrock condition, which is why he went out of his way before the election to assure Khamenei in a letter that the United States had no intention of interfering.
Though Iran did not hesitate to lash out at CNN’s coverage of the protests, the Iranians know that the U.S. government doesn’t control CNN’s coverage. But Tehran takes a slightly different view of the BBC. The Iranians saw the depiction of the demonstrations as a democratic uprising against a repressive regime as a deliberate attempt by British state-run media to inflame the situation. This allowed the Iranians to vigorously blame some foreigner for the unrest without making the United States the primary villain.
But these minor atmospherics aside, we would make three points. First, there was no democratic uprising of any significance in Iran. Second, there is a major political crisis within the Iranian political elite, the outcome of which probably tilts toward Ahmadinejad but remains uncertain. Third, there will be no change in the substance of Iran’s foreign policy, regardless of the outcome of this fight. The fantasy of a democratic revolution overthrowing the Islamic Republic — and thus solving everyone’s foreign policy problems a la the 1991 Soviet collapse — has passed.
That means that Obama, as the primary player in Iranian foreign affairs, must now define an Iran policy — particularly given Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s meeting in Washington with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell this Monday. Obama has said that nothing that has happened in Iran makes dialogue impossible, but opening dialogue is easier said than done. The Republicans consistently have opposed an opening to Iran; now they are joined by Democrats, who oppose dialogue with nations they regard as human rights violators. Obama still has room for maneuver, but it is not clear where he thinks he is maneuvering. The Iranians have consistently rejected dialogue if it involves any preconditions. But given the events of the past weeks, and the perceptions about them that have now been locked into the public mind, Obama isn’t going to be able to make many concessions.
It would appear to us that in this, as in many other things, Obama will be following the Bush strategy — namely, criticizing Iran without actually doing anything about it. And so he goes to Moscow more aware than ever that Russia could cause the United States a great deal of pain if it proceeded with weapons transfers to Iran, a country locked in a political crisis and unlikely to emerge from it in a pleasant state of mind.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Iranian Elections and the Revolution Test

George Friedman
June 22
Successful revolutions have three phases. First, a strategically located single or limited segment of society begins vocally to express resentment, asserting itself in the streets of a major city, usually the capital. This segment is joined by other segments in the city and by segments elsewhere as the demonstration spreads to other cities and becomes more assertive, disruptive and potentially violent. As resistance to the regime spreads, the regime deploys its military and security forces. These forces, drawn from resisting social segments and isolated from the rest of society, turn on the regime, and stop following the regime’s orders. This is what happened to the Shah of Iran in 1979; it is also what happened in Russia in 1917 or in Romania in 1989.
Revolutions fail when no one joins the initial segment, meaning the initial demonstrators are the ones who find themselves socially isolated. When the demonstrations do not spread to other cities, the demonstrations either peter out or the regime brings in the security and military forces — who remain loyal to the regime and frequently personally hostile to the demonstrators — and use force to suppress the rising to the extent necessary. This is what happened in Tiananmen Square in China: The students who rose up were not joined by others. Military forces who were not only loyal to the regime but hostile to the students were brought in, and the students were crushed.

A Question of Support
This is also what happened in Iran this week. The global media, obsessively focused on the initial demonstrators — who were supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s opponents — failed to notice that while large, the demonstrations primarily consisted of the same type of people demonstrating. Amid the breathless reporting on the demonstrations, reporters failed to notice that the uprising was not spreading to other classes and to other areas. In constantly interviewing English-speaking demonstrators, they failed to note just how many of the demonstrators spoke English and had smartphones. The media thus did not recognize these as the signs of a failing revolution.
Later, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke Friday and called out the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they failed to understand that the troops — definitely not drawn from what we might call the “Twittering classes,” would remain loyal to the regime for ideological and social reasons. The troops had about as much sympathy for the demonstrators as a small-town boy from Alabama might have for a Harvard postdoc. Failing to understand the social tensions in Iran, the reporters deluded themselves into thinking they were witnessing a general uprising. But this was not St. Petersburg in 1917 or Bucharest in 1989 — it was Tiananmen Square.
In the global discussion last week outside Iran, there was a great deal of confusion about basic facts. For example, it is said that the urban-rural distinction in Iran is not critical any longer because according to the United Nations, 68 percent of Iranians are urbanized. This is an important point because it implies Iran is homogeneous and the demonstrators representative of the country. The problem is the Iranian definition of urban — and this is quite common around the world — includes very small communities (some with only a few thousand people) as “urban.” But the social difference between someone living in a town with 10,000 people and someone living in Tehran is the difference between someone living in Bastrop, Texas and someone living in New York. We can assure you that that difference is not only vast, but that most of the good people of Bastrop and the fine people of New York would probably not see the world the same way. The failure to understand the dramatic diversity of Iranian society led observers to assume that students at Iran’s elite university somehow spoke for the rest of the country.
Tehran proper has about 8 million inhabitants; its suburbs bring it to about 13 million people out of Iran’s total population of 70.5 million. Tehran accounts for about 20 percent of Iran, but as we know, the cab driver and the construction worker are not socially linked to students at elite universities. There are six cities with populations between 1 million and 2.4 million people and 11 with populations of about 500,000. Including Tehran proper, 15.5 million people live in cities with more than 1 million and 19.7 million in cities greater than 500,000. Iran has 80 cities with more than 100,000. But given that Waco, Texas, has more than 100,000 people, inferences of social similarities between cities with 100,000 and 5 million are tenuous. And with metro Oklahoma City having more than a million people, it becomes plain that urbanization has many faces.

Winning the Election With or Without Fraud
We continue to believe two things: that vote fraud occurred, and that Ahmadinejad likely would have won without it. Very little direct evidence has emerged to establish vote fraud, but several things seem suspect.
For example, the speed of the vote count has been taken as a sign of fraud, as it should have been impossible to count votes that fast. The polls originally were to have closed at 7 p.m. local time, but voting hours were extended until 10 p.m. because of the number of voters in line. By 11:45 p.m. about 20 percent of the vote had been counted. By 5:20 a.m. the next day, with almost all votes counted, the election commission declared Ahmadinejad the winner. The vote count thus took about seven hours. (Remember there were no senators, congressmen, city council members or school board members being counted — just the presidential race.) Intriguingly, this is about the same time in took in 2005, though reformists that claimed fraud back then did not stress the counting time in their allegations.
The counting mechanism is simple: Iran has 47,000 voting stations, plus 14,000 roaming stations that travel from tiny village to tiny village, staying there for a short time before moving on. That creates 61,000 ballot boxes designed to receive roughly the same number of votes. That would mean that each station would have been counting about 500 ballots, or about 70 votes per hour. With counting beginning at 10 p.m., concluding seven hours later does not necessarily indicate fraud or anything else. The Iranian presidential election system is designed for simplicity: one race to count in one time zone, and all counting beginning at the same time in all regions, we would expect the numbers to come in a somewhat linear fashion as rural and urban voting patterns would balance each other out — explaining why voting percentages didn’t change much during the night.
It has been pointed out that some of the candidates didn’t even carry their own provinces or districts. We remember that Al Gore didn’t carry Tennessee in 2000. We also remember Ralph Nader, who also didn’t carry his home precinct in part because people didn’t want to spend their vote on someone unlikely to win — an effect probably felt by the two smaller candidates in the Iranian election.
That Mousavi didn’t carry his own province is more interesting. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett writing in Politico make some interesting points on this. As an ethnic Azeri, it was assumed that Mousavi would carry his Azeri-named and -dominated home province. But they also point out that Ahmadinejad also speaks Azeri, and made multiple campaign appearances in the district. They also point out that Khamenei is Azeri. In sum, winning that district was by no means certain for Mousavi, so losing it does not automatically signal fraud. It raised suspicions, but by no means was a smoking gun.
We do not doubt that fraud occurred during Iranian election. For example, 99.4 percent of potential voters voted in Mazandaran province, a mostly secular area home to the shah’s family. Ahmadinejad carried the province by a 2.2 to 1 ratio. That is one heck of a turnout and level of support for a province that lost everything when the mullahs took over 30 years ago. But even if you take all of the suspect cases and added them together, it would not have changed the outcome. The fact is that Ahmadinejad’s vote in 2009 was extremely close to his victory percentage in 2005. And while the Western media portrayed Ahmadinejad’s performance in the presidential debates ahead of the election as dismal, embarrassing and indicative of an imminent electoral defeat, many Iranians who viewed those debates — including some of the most hardcore Mousavi supporters — acknowledge that Ahmadinejad outperformed his opponents by a landslide.
Mousavi persuasively detailed his fraud claims Sunday, and they have yet to be rebutted. But if his claims of the extent of fraud were true, the protests should have spread rapidly by social segment and geography to the millions of people who even the central government asserts voted for him. Certainly, Mousavi supporters believed they would win the election based in part on highly flawed polls, and when they didn’t, they assumed they were robbed and took to the streets.
But critically, the protesters were not joined by any of the millions whose votes the protesters alleged were stolen. In a complete hijacking of the election by some 13 million votes by an extremely unpopular candidate, we would have expected to see the core of Mousavi’s supporters joined by others who had been disenfranchised. On last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, when the demonstrations were at their height, the millions of Mousavi voters should have made their appearance. They didn’t. We might assume that the security apparatus intimidated some, but surely more than just the Tehran professional and student classes posses civic courage. While appearing large, the demonstrations actually comprised a small fraction of society.

Tensions Among the Political Elite
All of this not to say there are not tremendous tensions within the Iranian political elite. That no revolution broke out does not mean there isn’t a crisis in the political elite, particularly among the clerics. But that crisis does not cut the way Western common sense would have it. Many of Iran’s religious leaders see Ahmadinejad as hostile to their interests, as threatening their financial prerogatives, and as taking international risks they don’t want to take. Ahmadinejad’s political popularity in fact rests on his populist hostility to what he sees as the corruption of the clerics and their families and his strong stand on Iranian national security issues.
The clerics are divided among themselves, but many wanted to see Ahmadinejad lose to protect their own interests. Khamenei, the supreme leader, faced a difficult choice last Friday. He could demand a major recount or even new elections, or he could validate what happened. Khamenei speaks for a sizable chunk of the ruling elite, but also has had to rule by consensus among both clerical and non-clerical forces. Many powerful clerics like Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani wanted Khamenei to reverse the election, and we suspect Khamenei wished he could have found a way to do it. But as the defender of the regime, he was afraid to. Mousavi supporters’ demonstrations would have been nothing compared to the firestorm among Ahmadinejad supporters — both voters and the security forces — had their candidate been denied. Khamenei wasn’t going to flirt with disaster, so he endorsed the outcome.
The Western media misunderstood this because they didn’t understand that Ahmadinejad does not speak for the clerics but against them , that many of the clerics were working for his defeat, and that Ahmadinejad has enormous pull in the country’s security apparatus. The reason Western media missed this is because they bought into the concept of the stolen election, therefore failing to see Ahmadinejad’s support and the widespread dissatisfaction with the old clerical elite. The Western media simply didn’t understand that the most traditional and pious segments of Iranian society support Ahmadinejad because he opposes the old ruling elite. Instead, they assumed this was like Prague or Budapest in 1989, with a broad-based uprising in favor of liberalism against an unpopular regime.
Tehran in 2009, however, was a struggle between two main factions, both of which supported the Islamic republic as it was. There were the clerics, who have dominated the regime since 1979 and had grown wealthy in the process. And there was Ahmadinejad, who felt the ruling clerical elite had betrayed the revolution with their personal excesses. And there also was the small faction the BBC and CNN kept focusing on — the demonstrators in the streets who want to dramatically liberalize the Islamic republic. This faction never stood a chance of taking power, whether by election or revolution. The two main factions used the third smaller faction in various ways, however. Ahmadinejad used it to make his case that the clerics who supported them, like Rafsanjani, would risk the revolution and play into the hands of the Americans and British to protect their own wealth. Meanwhile, Rafsanjani argued behind the scenes that the unrest was the tip of the iceberg, and that Ahmadinejad had to be replaced. Khamenei, an astute politician, examined the data and supported Ahmadinejad.
Now, as we saw after Tiananmen Square, we will see a reshuffling among the elite. Those who backed Mousavi will be on the defensive. By contrast, those who supported Ahmadinejad are in a powerful position. There is a massive crisis in the elite, but this crisis has nothing to do with liberalization: It has to do with power and prerogatives among the elite. Having been forced by the election and Khamenei to live with Ahmadinejad, some will make deals while some will fight — but Ahmadinejad is well-positioned to win this battle.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

News from Iran

On Facebook, at 6.37, it was annouced Mousavi and his wife were arrested, the source not clear.
Mousavi was warned to stop the protests, unclear when
At least ten people were killed during Saturday protests - information on Facebook on Twitter are mentioning 13, AP "at least 19" and the Israeli media - 20
The daughter of a top Iranian cleric was arrested, together with other relatives of Hashemi-Rafsanjani
Sen. Richard Lugar - a very brutal action will it end up the protests?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The state of the modern-day slavery

Trafficking in Persons Report 2009

Iran, again

Excerpts from Khamenei's Friday address
Distrust rooted in history
A suicide bomber at a Tehran shrine
Police clash with protesters

Somali appeal

for more foreign troops.

Europe's lost battle

A complacent strategy focusing on slow change rather than pressing crises is losing the EU its battle with Russia for influence in the eastern neighbourhood, according to a new report by the European Council on Foreign Relations. The report predicts dire consequences for the six eastern neighbours of the EU - Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia - as well as for the EU itself unless EU leaders improve their act and stop placing a lazy bet on a strategy of "enlargement-lite" - ignoring that the six countries are deep in the worst political and economic crisis since their independence. This irresponsible lack of attention means Europe risks another "August surprise" with Russia, like last year's Georgian war - this time over new elections in Moldova or another gas crisis in Ukraine. Yet the EU continues to pursue a strategy of incremental, long-term reform in the region, as most recently with the "Eastern Partnership" launched in May.
The report, entitled The limits of enlargement-lite: European and Russian power in the troubled neighbourhood, is based on extensive work by researchers mapping EU and Russian power in each of the six neighbourhood countries. The authors, Andrew Wilson and Nicu Popescu, argue that the EU urgently needs to rethink its approach to eastern Europe or face a ring of failing states and an increasingly active Russia rebuilding its sphere of influence.
Wilson and Popescu say:
The EU has reached the limits of its transformative power in eastern Europe. Without the accession carrot, the countries of the eastern neighbourhood will not naturally gravitate towards the EU, as Brussels policymakers seem all too often to assume. It's time for the EU to understand that if they do not help eastern European states to deal with the crises ravaging the region, Russia will.
Distrust and fatigue increasingly cloud the EU's relationship with its eastern neighbours. With Russia's influence growing, the EU must work to save the region from turning into a quagmire of half-reformed or failing states.
While the EU dithers, Russia has drastically overhauled its foreign policy since Ukraine's Orange Revolution in 2004 and has developed new and effective ways of using soft and hard power in the neighbourhood. All neighbourhood countries, other than Belarus, trade more with the EU than Russia. But Russia skillfully uses its smaller economic muscle to gain bigger political clout through strategic investments and realist politics. Countries can do without IKEA, but they can't do without gas.
The single biggest factor identified for tarnishing the EU's soft power and standing in the neighbourhood is the restrictive, discriminatory, and opaque nature of its visa polices. Whereas Russia provides visa-free access and encourages migration, citizens of Ukraine and Moldova can no longer visit Schengen EU without visas. The EU does nothing to act on its vague long-term promise of eventual visa-free travel. For many migrant workers from the neighbourhood, it is Russia not "fortress Europe" who provides an opportunity for a better life.

The report's findings include:
Distrust between the neighbourhood and the EU is on the rise. Polling data analysed for the first time in this report shows that the EU needs to regain hearts and minds in the region. Moldova is the only neighbourhood country in which a majority of the population clearly favours integration with the EU over Russia. In Ukraine, the linchpin state of the region where EU approval is rapidly waning, 42% of the population is now in favour of integration with Russia, as opposed to 34% with the EU.
The neighbourhood is blighted by crises. Moldova's parliament has burned, Ukraine lives in fear of a Crimea flare-up, and Russian soldiers are less than 100 kilometers away from the Georgian capital. The damage caused by the economic crisis means there is a real risk of failed economies, if not failed states, on the EU border.
The consequences of the neighbourhood's crises for the EU are profound. A prolonged contest between the EU and Russia's ambitions for a "sphere of influence" over the neighbourhood is likely to increase tensions in EU-Russia relations and lead to further conflicts. Re-ignited hostilities and economic collapse could cause an influx of migrants. Several EU member states, notably Austria and Italy, are heavily exposed to the neighbourhood's imploding economies.
For the full text of the report:
Recommendations to EU policymakers:
Bureaucratic strategies like the Eastern Partnership urgently need to be complemented by dynamic, country-specific measures, to help the neighbourhood states resist short-term political and economic pressures. In Ukraine, an EU "political troubleshooter" should be tasked with resolving the political conflict that is paralysing the country. In Georgia, the EU must maintain its monitoring mission and step up efforts to resolve the crippling tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi. In Moldova, which is in danger of sliding into authoritarianism following contested elections in April, the EU should couple generous offers of aid with tough demands for reform of security agencies and an end to harassment of the media and opposition groups.
The EU must rekindle its appeal to neighbourhood states. Visa regimes for citizens of the neighbourhood countries urgently need to be liberalised. Sweden - which along with Poland was the inspiration for the Eastern Partnership - should use its EU presidency to get a high level EU troika to embark on a "listening tour" throughout the region and initiate a "27+6" foreign ministers meeting. To counter the perception that it is the motherland of bureaucracy and red tape, the EU should invest in innovative ways of supporting media freedom, such as a "new media school", and offer financial assistance for wireless internet access in Moldova and Georgia.
Without sacrificing its own interests or principles, the EU must look for ways to work with Russia to make the region more stable. This will help quell notions that the EU, by striving for influence in the Eastern neighbourhood, is essentially waging an ideological war against Russia. The EU should express its support from Medvedev's proposals for a "new European security architecture".
Nicu Popescu is a Research Fellow at ECFR. He holds a doctorate in International Relations from the Central European University in Budapest. In 2005-2007, Nicu was a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels and was previously a visiting fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies, Paris. Nicu runs a blog on the EU's neighbourhood and Russia for the EU Observer (in English) and a foreign policy blog in Romanian. He can be reached at or, or on +44 7795 312467 .
Andrew Wilson is a Senior Policy Fellow at ECFR. Previously he was a Reader in Ukrainian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), University College London and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. His most recent books include Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World. He can be reached at or, or by telephone on +44 7920 421066 .
This report, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its authors, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members.
For all media enquiries please email or telephone +44 20 7031 1623 .
The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values based foreign policy.
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The state of art

of the Middle East blogosphere.

German politics

and e-campaign, the missed opportunity.

Blogging all over the world

- the dangers, opportunities and the networks.

Reading Khamenei

The World View of Iran's Most Powerful Leader, by Karim Sadjadpour, March 28 2008 - Carnegie Endowement for International Peace

Online Revolutions: A Glimpse of the Future in Iran?

Politics online
June 19

For several years now, the Internet and new technology has been planning an important role in various people-powered 'revolutions' around the world - from South Korea to Ukraine, to Lebanon and beyond. However, not since Obama's campaign have we seen the Internet and new technology play such a large political role as in Iran today. There were a number of key ingredients that all came together in Iran that further demonstrate what's required for a 'successful' formula for online political activism around the globe.
Success in the Past - During the 2005 presidential elections, Iranian reformers used SMS messages and blogs to send information about rallies and campaign updates. Although they had little success, the reformist bloggers who actively followed the elections online came from the ranks of Iran's opinion- makers and intellectuals. In 2005, blogging crated a different information ecology with new types of pre- election news that was then available and the election seemed, according to one Iranian blogger, to be "much more transparent".
A Well- educated, Tech-savvy Young Populous - Various student led movement have been fighting for democracy and freedom in Iran for years. Their desire for such basic rights such as free expression of opinion and an open press and media stirred similar uprisings in 1999 and 2003. In essence, these were test runs among students of a larger tech fuel movement that has moved to a wider population in today's protest.
Limited Success by a Repressive Regime - According to the Open Net Initiative, "Since 2000-in the midst of a media crackdown that has seen the judiciary close more than 100 publications, inspiring widespread self-censorship-the Islamic Republic of Iran has installed one of the most extensive technical filtering systems in the world." Despite the enduring threat of government censorship and imprisonment of journalists and activists, online activists have managed to find a way around this technology of oppression. With proxy servers, code hacking and other techniques, the protesters have managed to avoid a complete shut down of traffic that could have choked off their ability to communicate.
Twitter and New Tools - The use of Twitter may well have been the breakthrough technology in Iran. Used more extensively than every before, mobile technology and micro-blogging site Twitter has been the technology of choice used to organize street protests. Twitter has been used to report on real-time events with pictures, videos, statements and first- hand accounts not being shown by the state-owned media. Tehran was become the Twitter capital of the world. It importance was evidenced in a front page NY Times story of how a 2/? year old State Department employee asked Twitter to defer shutting down for a brief period for scheduled upgrades so the demonstrators would not loose this important communications tool.Every tech powered 'revolution' is different - but they are all learning from each other and some basic patterns and strategies are emerging. Iran is another giant leap forward.
Iran's Young and High-Tech Population
According to the CIA World Factbook, Iran's population is estimated at more than million by July 2009 and has a median age of 27. Of the almost 70 million Iranians, 47 million have cell phones and 21 million have Internet access.
See also:
Personal Democracy Forum - Iran Roundup: Facts and Framing

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What are the Iranians Dreaming About?

by Michel Foucault.
First published in Le Nouvel Observateur, October 16-22, 1978

The Unfinished Revolution

Monday, Apr. 02, 1979

For Iran's women, the real struggle goes on
Three weeks ago, in the wake of the upheavals that deposed the Shah, Iran's women took to the streets once again. As they saw it, the new Islamic regime was threatening to deny them freedoms they thought they had already won. TIME'S Jane O'Reilly went to Iran for a look at the "women's revolution." Her report:

As suddenly as they had begun, the women's marches ended. Three weeks ago, thousands of women spontaneously rose up to protest the Ayatullah Ruhollah Khomeini's apparent opinion that women should return to the veil, or chador (a shapeless garment that covers a woman from head to toe). When they shouted, "In the dawn of freedom, there is no freedom," they were supported by many others who feared that the promises of the revolution were not being kept: workers, ethnic and religious minorities, landless peasants, middle-class men.
By last week the protesters were off the streets. For one thing, Khomeini had backed down, saying that he had merely been suggesting modest dress. Also, the women were reluctant to endanger the already hard-pressed government of Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan, who has been receptive to their complaints.
But the chief reason the marches ended may have been that the women felt they had presented their case. Said one: "The point of the marches was freedom to choose. We have nothing against the chador; we are only against compulsion. We marched for everybody's rights." Harder-line elements of the new government condemned the marchers as "CIA inspired" and "counterrevolutionaries." When Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, director of national radio and television, called for a counterdemonstration, 100,000 people flooded into the spring sunshine, half of them in chadors. Earnest men passed out leaflets to uncovered women reading: "Sister, I value your modesty above the blood I have given." Women marched under banners supporting the Islamic republic and shouted support for Ghotbzadeh, under whose tenure unveiled women have disappeared from TV screens.
Was the women's protest, then, a short-lived eruption, a minor blip in the revolution? No. Many who protested against the chador respect Khomeini, are devout Muslims and believers in an Islamic state, and above all fear being separated from the revolution and divided among themselves (as they have been traditionally). But for them the anti-Shah revolution and the outbreak against the new regime's edicts proved an experience that, in the West, would be called consciousness raising. "We women don't yet know who we are," says Lily Mostafavi, a government worker. But, she adds, "we have begun a great dialogue."

Thousands of Mousavi supporters head for TV building

EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters coverage is now subject to an Iranian ban on foreign media leaving the office to report, film or take pictures in Tehran.
TEHRAN, June 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of Iran's defeated presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi marched on Tuesday towards the state television building, despite his call for them to call off a planned rally.Mousavi has disputed official results of Iran's election, which showed a landslide win for hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and many tens of thousands of people marched in his support on Monday.But he urged them to call off a second rally on Tuesday after pro-Ahmadinejad supporters announced a rival demonstration.Mousavi supporters marching on Tuesday said they planned to assemble in front of the state television IRIB building in northern Tehran. Witnesses said some supporters had already gathered close to the building, which was ringed by riot police.Wearing wristbands and ribbons in his green campaign colours, the Mousavi supporters carried his picture and made victory signs. Unlike Monday's demonstration where marchers chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans, they walked largely in silence.Some were passing on messages to others to meet again on Wednesday for a rally at Tehran's central Haft-e Tir Square.Dozens of riot police, flanked by Basij militia forces, watched them as they passed through one major square. Near the marchers a riot police motorbike lay on the road in flames, but the demonstration appeared to be peaceful.Earlier on Tuesday, tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters gathered at the site where Mousavi supporters had planned to assemble.
See also:

Iranian elections, Israel and United States

a Stratfor video analysis.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cuba: Friends in High Places

Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 4, 2009, Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, Gwendolyn Steingraber Myers, were arrested by the FBI and charged with spying for the government of Cuba. According to court documents filed in the case, the Myers allegedly were recruited by the Cuban intelligence service in 1979 and worked for them as agents until 2007. On June 10, 2009, a U.S. Magistrate Judge ruled that the couple posed a flight risk and ordered them held without bond.
The criminal complaint filed by the FBI in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on June 4 and the grand jury indictment returned in the case have been released to the public, and these two documents provide a fascinating and detailed historical account of the activities of Kendall and Gwendolyn Myers. Perhaps more importantly, however, these documents provide an excellent opportunity to understand how the Cuban intelligence service works and serve as a primer on Cuba’s espionage efforts inside the United States.

Case Details
According to the criminal complaint filed by the FBI, Kendall Myers served from 1959 to 1962 in the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), which was the Army’s signal intelligence branch at that time. Myers reportedly worked for the ASA as a linguist who was assigned to work translating intercepted messages from Eastern Bloc countries in Europe.
In 1972, Myers earned a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), in Washington, D.C. Myers then worked as an assistant professor of European Studies at SAIS and became a part-time contract instructor in August 1977 at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI) teaching European studies.
While employed as a contractor at the FSI, Myers attended a lecture at the FSI on Cuba that was presented by a Cuban intelligence officer assigned to the Cuban permanent mission to the United Nations. The intelligence officer (identified in the complaint only as co-conspirator “A”) then reportedly invited Myers and two of his colleagues to travel to Cuba on an academic visit. According to the FBI, Myers traveled to Cuba for a two-week trip in December 1978. The complaint contained several entries from a journal that Myers allegedly kept during the trip, and was obtained during a search of Myers’ residence. In the journal entries, Myers fawned over the Cuban revolution and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom Myers said was “certainly one of the great political leaders of our time.”
According the complaint, approximately six months after Myers returned from his trip to Cuba, he and Gwendolyn were visited at their home in South Dakota by “A” who, according to the FBI, pitched and recruited the Myers to work for the Cuban intelligence service. While they were recruited in 1979, the couple stated that they did not begin actively working for the Cuban intelligence service until 1981. This timeline seems to match Myers’ job search efforts.
After being recruited, Kendall Myers was allegedly instructed by his handler to move back to Washington and seek government employment in order to gain access to information deemed valuable to the Cubans. In 1981, he applied for a job at the Central Intelligence Agency and in 1982, he returned to working as a part-time contract instructor at the FSI, and became the chairman for Western European studies. In 1985, he applied for a full-time job at the FSI teaching Western European studies, and in 1999, Myers took a position at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), as the senior European analyst. Myers stayed in that position until his retirement in 2007. After his retirement from the State Department in 2007, Myers returned to SAIS and worked there until his arrest.
On the afternoon of April 15, 2009, Myers was approached by an FBI undercover source while leaving SAIS. The undercover source told Myers that he had been sent to contact Myers by a Cuban intelligence officer (identified in the complaint as co-conspirator “D”). The undercover source told Myers that the reason for the contact was because of the changes taking place in Cuba and the new U.S. administration. The source also wished Myers a happy birthday and gave him a Cuban cigar. Myers, convinced the undercover source was authentic, agreed to bring his wife to a meeting with the source at a Washington hotel later that evening.
Spilling the Beans
According to the complaint, the FBI undercover source met with the Myers on three occasions, April 15, April 16 and April 30, at different Washington-area hotels. During these meetings, they divulged a great deal of information pertaining to their work as Cuban agents. They provided information regarding what they passed to the Cuban government, how Kendall obtained the information and how they passed the information to their handlers. They also detailed their meetings with handlers and the methods they used to communicate with them.
According to the complaint, Kendall Myers proudly told the source that he provided information at the Secret and Top Secret levels to the Cubans. When asked by the source if he had furnished information from the CIA, Kendall Myers responded “all the time.” He said that he preferred to take notes on classified documents rather than smuggle them out directly, but at times, he smuggled classified material out of the State Department in his briefcase, only to return the documents the next day after he had duplicated them. This information was then passed to handlers during meetings or by brush passes. Many of the meetings took place in New York, and the Myers felt those meetings were very dangerous. Gwendolyn admitted to having passed documents by exchanging shopping carts in a grocery store. The Myers also told the source about a shortwave radio set that they used to receive coded messages from their handler.
After the September 2001 arrest of Ana Montes, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) senior Cuba analyst (who admitted to spying for Cuba for ideological motives), the Myers became much more careful about contacts with their handler, and most face-to-face contact after that time was accomplished outside of the United States. They told the source that between January 2002 and December 2005, they traveled to Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico in order to meet with Cuban handlers. The FBI was able to verify all these trips through official records.
After a confrontation with a supervisor at INR after returning from a 2006 trip to China, the Myers became very concerned that they had been identified and placed on a watch list by the INR supervisor. At that time, they told the source, they destroyed all their clandestine communications equipment, except for their shortwave radio and their false travel documents. They refused to travel to Mexico after this point because they believed it was too dangerous.
The Myers continued to receive periodic messages from their handler, who had begun to communicate via e-mail, following the Montes case. They also passed encrypted messages to their handler via e-mail. Gwendolyn noted that they would never use their own computer for such communication but used computers at Internet cafes instead.
The complaint provided the details of two e-mail messages the Myers received in December 2008 and March 2009 from a Cuban intelligence officer in Mexico, who asked for a meeting with them in Mexico. The intelligence officer was operating under the guise of an art dealer named Peter Herrera. The e-mails asked the Myers to come and see what he had for them. They responded to the e-mails saying they were delighted to hear from Peter and to learn that his art gallery was still open to them, but that they had not yet made travel plans for the coming year. The Myers told the source that they thought traveling to Mexico for a meeting with Peter was too risky. They also confirmed that Peter was a pseudonym used by a Cuban intelligence officer.
When the source asked the Myers during the third meeting if their trip to Mexico in 2005 had been “the end” (meaning the end of their work for the Cuban intelligence service), Kendall Myers replied that their work would continue, but that he wanted to work in more of a reserve status, where he would talk to contacts, rather than resume work as a full-time U.S. government employee. When the source told the Myers he was going to send a report to Cuba with information pertaining to them, Gwendolyn reportedly said, “be sure and tell them we love them.”
They arranged to meet with the source on June 4, at yet another Washington-area hotel, and were arrested by the FBI when they appeared for that meeting. If the recordings of the three meetings have been accurately represented in the complaint, they are going to be very damaging to the Myers. Additionally, several of the physical items recovered during a search conducted on the Myers residence will also be strong evidence, such as the shortwave radio set and a travel guide printed in Cuba in the mid- to late-1990s, which would seem to substantiate their illicit 1995 visit.

‘I’ — The Cuban Staple
When discussing espionage cases, we often refer to an old Cold War acronym — MICE — to explain the motivations of spies. MICE stands for money, ideology, compromise and ego. Traditionally, money has proved to be the No. 1 motivation, but as seen in Kendall Myers’ journal entries and in the meetings with the source, the Myers were motivated solely by ideology and not by money. In fact, the complaint provides no indication that the Myers had ever sought or accepted money from the Cuban intelligence service for their espionage activities.
According to the complaint, the Myers were scathing in their criticism of the United States during their meetings with the source. In addition to their criticism of U.S. government policy, they were also very critical of American people, whom they referred to as “North Americans.” Myers said the problem with the United States is that it is full of too many North Americans.
The Myers also expressed their love for Cuba and for the ideals of the Cuban revolution. In the first meeting with the source, Kendall asked the source, “How is everybody at home?” referring to Cuba. Gwendolyn expressed her desire to use the couple’s boat to “sail home,” meaning travel to Cuba.
The couple also provided the source with details of a January 1995 trip they took to Cuba. According to the Myers, in addition to receiving “lots of medals” from the Cuban government (something commonly awarded to ideological spies by the Soviet KGB), the best thing they received was the opportunity to meet Fidel Castro. The couple stated they had the opportunity to spend about four hours one evening with the Cuban leader. According to the FBI complaint, Kendall told the source that Castro was “wonderful, just wonderful” and Gwendolyn added, “He’s the most incredible statesman for a hundred years for goodness sake.”
During the third meeting, the couple also allegedly talked to the source about Ana Montes. Kendall told the source that Montes is a “hero … but she took too many chances … in my opinion … she wasn’t paranoid enough.” Gwendolyn added “but she loved it, she did what she loved to do.” Kendall added, “We have a great admiration for Ana Montes.” Gwendolyn also noted that, “I envy her being able to love what she was doing and say what she was doing and why she was doing it ‘cause I can’t do that.” This is significant because during her trial, Montes was unrepentant and railed against the United States when she read a statement during her sentencing hearing. Gwendolyn appeared to be responding to Montes’ public statement.
In view of the Myers’ case, the Montes case and other cases, like that involving Carlos and Elsa Alvarez, the Cubans clearly prefer to use agents who are ideologically motivated.
In addition to the Cuban preference for ideologically motivated agents, perhaps one of the greatest lessons that can be taken from the Myers’ case is simply a reminder that espionage did not end with the conclusion of the Cold War. According to the FBI complaint, a Cuban intelligence officer attempted to contact the Myers as recently as March 2009.
This case also shows that the Cuban intelligence service is very patient and is willing to wait for the agents it recruits to move into sensitive positions within the U.S. government. It took several years for Myers to get situated in a job with access to highly classified information. The Myers investigation also shows that the Cuban agents are not always obviously people working on Cuban issues — Myers was a European affairs specialist. There is also a possibility that the Cubans sold or traded intelligence they gained from Myers pertaining to Europe to their Soviet (and later Russian) friends.
While at INR, it is significant that Myers not only had access to information collected by State Department employees in the field, but also was privy to all-source intelligence reporting from the rest of the intelligence community (CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA, etc.) According to the complaint, an analysis of Myers’ work computer revealed that from August 2006 to October 2007, Myers looked at more than 200 intelligence reports pertaining to Cuba; 75 of those reports made no mention of countries within Myers’ area of interest (Europe), and most of the documents were classified either Secret or Top Secret.
The government will have to conduct a damage assessment that will attempt to trace everything Myers had access to during his entire career, which will no doubt encompass thousands of documents. As the State Department’s representative to the intelligence community, INR is also involved in crafting policy papers and national intelligence estimates. Myers began working at the State Department before there was electronic access to records, so it will be very difficult to identify every document he had access to. But in addition to the actual documents he viewed, Myers also had the opportunity to chat with many colleagues about what they were working on and to ask their opinions of policies and events, so the damage goes much further than just documents, which complicates the damage assessment. He was also in charge of training new INR analysts, which could have allowed him an opportunity to assess which analysts were the best possible targets for Cuban recruitment efforts.
The information Myers could have provided while at the FSI is more subtle, but no less valuable from an intelligence operational perspective. Myers could have acted as a spotter, letting his handlers know which officers were moving through the institute, where they were going to be assigned, and perhaps even indicating which ones he thought were the best candidates for recruitment based on observed vulnerabilities. He could have served a similar function while at SAIS, pointing out promising students for the Cubans to focus on — especially students who agreed with his view of American policy, and who might be targeted for recruitment using an ideological approach. While Montes did graduate with a master’s degree from SAIS in 1988, she was already working at the DIA (and for the Cubans) by the time she began her graduate work there, so it is unlikely that Myers was involved in her recruitment. In the end, it will likely take months, if not years, for the government to do a full damage assessment on this case.
One of the other interesting factors regarding this case is that in spite of Myers’ strong anti-American political beliefs — which were reportedly expressed in his classes — none of the background investigations conducted on him by the State Department provided any indication of concern. Furthermore, he was cleared for access to Top Secret material in 1985 and Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (SCI) in 1999 — 20 years after he was recruited by the Cubans. Apparently the agents and investigators who conducted his background investigations did not dig deeply enough uncover the warning signs of his radical beliefs, or the people they interviewed knowingly withheld such information.
With Montes arrested at DIA, and now Myers from INR, it certainly makes one wonder where the next ideologically driven Cuban agent will be found inside the U.S. intelligence community

The meeting of the "emerging giants"

it's about to start in Yekaterinenburg, Russia. BRIC is made of Brazil, Russia, India and China and are aiming to be recognized as big player in the economic and political international stage.

Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality

George Friedman
June 15

In 1979, when we were still young and starry-eyed, a revolution took place in Iran. When I asked experts what would happen, they divided into two camps.
The first group of Iran experts argued that the Shah of Iran would certainly survive, that the unrest was simply a cyclical event readily manageable by his security, and that the Iranian people were united behind the Iranian monarch’s modernization program. These experts developed this view by talking to the same Iranian officials and businessmen they had been talking to for years — Iranians who had grown wealthy and powerful under the shah and who spoke English, since Iran experts frequently didn’t speak Farsi all that well.
The second group of Iran experts regarded the shah as a repressive brute, and saw the revolution as aimed at liberalizing the country. Their sources were the professionals and academics who supported the uprising — Iranians who knew what former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini believed, but didn’t think he had much popular support. They thought the revolution would result in an increase in human rights and liberty. The experts in this group spoke even less Farsi than the those in the first group.

Misreading Sentiment in Iran
Limited to information on Iran from English-speaking opponents of the regime, both groups of Iran experts got a very misleading vision of where the revolution was heading — because the Iranian revolution was not brought about by the people who spoke English. It was made by merchants in city bazaars, by rural peasants, by the clergy — people Americans didn’t speak to because they couldn’t. This demographic was unsure of the virtues of modernization and not at all clear on the virtues of liberalism. From the time they were born, its members knew the virtue of Islam, and that the Iranian state must be an Islamic state.
Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.
There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand — but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran.
Last Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected with about two-thirds of the vote. Supporters of his opponent, both inside and outside Iran, were stunned. A poll revealed that former Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi was beating Ahmadinejad. It is, of course, interesting to meditate on how you could conduct a poll in a country where phones are not universal, and making a call once you have found a phone can be a trial. A poll therefore would probably reach people who had phones and lived in Tehran and other urban areas. Among those, Mousavi probably did win. But outside Tehran, and beyond persons easy to poll, the numbers turned out quite different.
Some still charge that Ahmadinejad cheated. That is certainly a possibility, but it is difficult to see how he could have stolen the election by such a large margin. Doing so would have required the involvement of an incredible number of people, and would have risked creating numbers that quite plainly did not jibe with sentiment in each precinct. Widespread fraud would mean that Ahmadinejad manufactured numbers in Tehran without any regard for the vote. But he has many powerful enemies who would quickly have spotted this and would have called him on it. Mousavi still insists he was robbed, and we must remain open to the possibility that he was, although it is hard to see the mechanics of this.

Ahmadinejad’s Popularity
It also misses a crucial point: Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn’t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.
First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization — whether from the shah or Mousavi — as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.
Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs — who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this — have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.
Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don’t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war — something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war.
Perhaps the greatest factor in Ahmadinejad’s favor is that Mousavi spoke for the better districts of Tehran — something akin to running a U.S. presidential election as a spokesman for Georgetown and the Lower East Side. Such a base will get you hammered, and Mousavi got hammered. Fraud or not, Ahmadinejad won and he won significantly. That he won is not the mystery; the mystery is why others thought he wouldn’t win.
For a time on Friday, it seemed that Mousavi might be able to call for an uprising in Tehran. But the moment passed when Ahmadinejad’s security forces on motorcycles intervened. And that leaves the West with its worst-case scenario: a democratically elected anti-liberal.
Western democracies assume that publics will elect liberals who will protect their rights. In reality, it’s a more complicated world. Hitler is the classic example of someone who came to power constitutionally, and then preceded to gut the constitution. Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s victory is a triumph of both democracy and repression.
The Road Ahead: More of the Same
The question now is what will happen next. Internally, we can expect Ahmadinejad to consolidate his position under the cover of anti-corruption. He wants to clean up the ayatollahs, many of whom are his enemies. He will need the support of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This election has made Ahmadinejad a powerful president, perhaps the most powerful in Iran since the revolution. Ahmadinejad does not want to challenge Khamenei, and we suspect that Khamenei will not want to challenge Ahmadinejad. A forced marriage is emerging, one which may place many other religious leaders in a difficult position.
Certainly, hopes that a new political leadership would cut back on Iran’s nuclear program have been dashed. The champion of that program has won, in part because he championed the program. We still see Iran as far from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, but certainly the Obama administration’s hopes that Ahmadinejad would either be replaced — or at least weakened and forced to be more conciliatory — have been crushed. Interestingly, Ahmadinejad sent congratulations to U.S. President Barack Obama on his inauguration. We would expect Obama to reciprocate under his opening policy, which U.S. Vice President Joe Biden appears to have affirmed, assuming he was speaking for Obama. Once the vote fraud issue settles, we will have a better idea of whether Obama’s policies will continue. (We expect they will.)
What we have now are two presidents in a politically secure position, something that normally forms a basis for negotiations. The problem is that it is not clear what the Iranians are prepared to negotiate on, nor is it clear what the Americans are prepared to give the Iranians to induce them to negotiate. Iran wants greater influence in Iraq and its role as a regional leader acknowledged, something the United States doesn’t want to give them. The United States wants an end to the Iranian nuclear program, which Iran doesn’t want to give.
On the surface, this would seem to open the door for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Former U.S. President George W. Bush did not — and Obama does not — have any appetite for such an attack. Both presidents blocked the Israelis from attacking, assuming the Israelis ever actually wanted to attack.
For the moment, the election appears to have frozen the status quo in place. Neither the United States nor Iran seem prepared to move significantly, and there are no third parties that want to get involved in the issue beyond the occasional European diplomatic mission or Russian threat to sell something to Iran. In the end, this shows what we have long known: This game is locked in place, and goes on.
See also:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ahmadinejad enjoys second surprise triumph

Jun 13
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shook off accusations from moderate opponents of economic mis-management and criticism of his confrontational foreign policy with the West to win a second term as Iranian president.
While his re-election was not a major upset, the scale of his first-round victory stunned his main challenger, Mirhossein Mousavi, whose campaign had drawn tens of thousands onto the streets of Tehran during three weeks of campaigning. Ahmadinejad won twice as many votes as Mousavi.
It was not the first time Ahmadinejad, a blacksmith's son and former Revolutionary Guard, defied predictions. Four years ago the relative unknown stole the show by defeating powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off vote.
In his first term in office Ahmadinejad became known to the outside world for his fierce rhetoric against the United States and Israel, his proud promotion of Iran's nuclear programme, and persistent questioning of the Holocaust.
But Friday's election was also seen as a referendum on his handling of an oil exporting economy which enjoyed a surge in petrodollar revenues on his watch -- a boom which critics say he squandered.
Ahmadinejad, 53, championed Iran's devout poor, especially those in rural areas, who felt neglected by past governments and helped sweep him to power in 2005.
He promised to put oil wealth on the table of every family in a nation of over 70 million people, distributing loans, money and other help for local projects on his frequent provincial tours.
But critics say his free-spending policies fueled inflation and wasted windfall oil revenues without reducing unemployment.
Since he took power, prices of food, fuel and other basics have risen sharply, hitting more than 15 million Iranian families who live on less than $600 a month, according to official figures.
He blamed the inflation, which officially stands at 15 percent, on a global surge in food and fuel prices that peaked last year, and pursued unorthodox policies such as trying to curb prices while setting interest rates well below inflation.
In a series of bitter television debates with his three election rivals, he was repeatedly accused of lying about the extent of price rises.
Mousavi also accused Ahmadinejad of undermining Iran's foreign relations with his fiery anti-Western speeches and said Iranians had been "humiliated around the globe" since he was first elected.
Modest lifestyle
Born in the farming village of Aradan, 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Tehran, his family moved to the capital in his early childhood. He studied engineering and has alternated between teaching and administrative posts.
Ahmadinejad, a small man who wears open-necked shirts and windbreakers, plays on his modest origins and lifestyle. After the 1979 revolution, he joined the elite Revolutionary Guard.
His rise to power appeared to signal a return to the stern revolutionary roots of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after hardliners snuffed out the reformist challenge when Mohammad Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005.
Ahmadinejad often denounces Western "hegemony" as well as the U.N. and U.S. sanctions that have raised trade costs and deterred Western investment in Iran's oil and gas sector.
During his term, the U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects has military aims, not merely civilian ones as Tehran insists.
Ahmadinejad's moderate rivals say his fiery anti-Western talk has helped isolate Iran diplomatically.
The incumbent has basked in support from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called on Iranians to vote for an anti-Western candidate. Khamenei ultimately calls the shots in Iran, where the president can only influence policy, not decide it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Highlights of North Korea Resolution


A look at some key points in the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea for its second nuclear test in defiance of an earlier ban.
The resolution:
_ "Condemns in the strongest terms" North Korea's second nuclear test on May 25 "in violation and flagrant disregard of its relevant resolutions."
_ Demands that North Korea "not conduct any further nuclear test or any launch using ballistic missile technology."
_ Orders North Korea to suspend all activities related to its ballistic missile program and re-establish a moratorium on missile launches.
_ Demands that North Korea immediately retract its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and return "at an early date" to the International Atomic Energy Agency's nuclear safeguards regime.
_ Orders North Korea to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
_ Calls on North Korea "to return immediately to the six-party talks without precondition."
_ Bans North Korea from exporting all arms and weapons-related material and providing technical training, advice, services or financial assistance related to such arms and material.
_ Bans countries from selling or supplying arms and weapons-related material to North Korea except for small arms and light weapons, and orders states to notify the U.N. committee monitoring sanctions at least five days before any transfer.
_ Calls on all states to inspect, consistent with national and international law, all cargo to and from North Korea at their airports, seaports and on land if the state has "information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains" banned items.
_ Calls on all states to inspect vessels on the high seas, with consent of the country whose flag the vessel is flying, if there are reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains banned items.
_ Orders member states to prohibit the supply of bunkering services such as providing fuel or supplies to North Korean vessels if there are reasonable grounds to believe they are carrying banned items.

Red Alert: Iran's Election Results

June 12
The Iranian election is currently in turmoil. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi are claiming to be ahead in the vote. Preliminary results from the presidential vote show Ahmadinejad leading; Iranian Election Commission chief Kamran Danesho held a press conference at 11:45 p.m. local time and announced that with some 20 percent of the votes counted, the president was leading with 3,462,548 votes (69.04 percent), while his main challenger, Mousavi, had 1, 425,678 (28.42 percent). Sources tell STRATFOR that these preliminary numbers pertain to the votes from the smaller towns and villages, where the president has considerable influence, as he has distributed a lot of cash to the poor.
However, Iran’s state-run Press TV is saying that only 10 million of 24 million votes, or around 42 percent of the vote, have been counted. At the same time, they are also claiming that 69 percent of the vote has been counted. Obviously the numbers are not adding up, and the agencies themselves appear to be in chaos.
Prior to the announcement of the results, Mousavi held a press conference in which he said he was the winner of the election. The opposition camp is greatly concerned about fraud, and STRATFOR has been told that Mousavi has vowed to resist any fraud, even if it entails taking to the streets. This means there is considerable risk of unrest should Ahmadinejad emerge as the winner. But so far there is no evidence that the government is mobilizing security forces to deal with any such eventuality.
The situation is being monitored carefully, as it is potentially explosive.
See also:
Robert Fisk, from The Independent, about the vote