Time to Islamicize the condemnation of Iran

by Brian Vogt | December 29th, 2009 | |Subscribe

As massive anti-government protests have reignited in Iran, the Obama administration has strongly condemned the brutal actions of this repressive regime.  This past summer amidst widespread protests over election fraud, the Obama regime was more measured in its response.  There was still hope then that Iran would be open to American overtures for engagement that might limit its nuclear program.  These overtures have since been rebuffed and it looks like the administration is now turning from the carrot to the stick.  The next step is to get some new faces on board.

The administration was right to make the effort to engage the regime.  During the campaign this had always been candidate Obama’s promised policy.  However, as Tehran continues to stall, reject American overtures, and brutalize its own people, the President correctly concluded that it may be time to change course.

Yesterday the president said,

The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens…. For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights.  Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.

After Western condemnation of the violence that has taken place in Iran, Tehran answered with the predictable response.  Iranian government spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, “Some Western countries are supporting this sort of activities…. This is intervention in our internal affairs. We strongly condemn it.”

The Obama administration must do more than just explain that what is happening in Iran is not about the United States.   It’s time to get other Muslim countries on board to speak out against the brutal repression taking place in Iran.  For too long the narrative told by the Iranian regime is one which pits the Iranian regime against the “aggressors” – the United States and Israel.  Of course, few in the West buy this response.  However, there’s nothing like a common enemy to motivate the masses in Iran, particularly if there is limited access to media sources to counteract the propaganda.

This is why it’s critically important to internationalize and “Islamicize” the condemnation of these acts of violent repression.  It’s quite predictable that countries such as the United States, England, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and the EU quickly responded.  Even Russia released a weak statement calling on the Iranian regime to exercise restraint.  What were missing were Muslim-majority countries.  Where were U.S. allies such as Indonesia and Turkey?  What about Pakistan?  No response from the Middle East countries of Jordan or Kuwait.  Although all these countries have had their own difficulties with democratic development and respect of human rights, strong statements by them could make a real difference in the Iranian narrative.  (more…)

Picking Up the Pieces in Copenhagen

by John Prandato | December 23rd, 2009 | |Subscribe

By almost any standard, the outcome of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last week fell well short of its increasingly humble expectations. Copenhagen was considered pivotal because the “Bali Roadmap” laid out in 2007 circled this meeting on the calendar as the conclusion of the negotiating period which was to create a legally-binding post-Kyoto agreement. But by the beginning of the conference, the goal had been reduced to just establishing a politically-binding framework that would set the world on a course toward reaching a comprehensive international agreement in 2010.

Modest yet politically significant emissions reduction pledges by the US, China, and others prior to the conference contributed to a mood of cautious optimism at the outset of the two-week summit. But on just the second day, the massive rift between developed and developing countries was exposed with the leak of the so-called “Danish text” – drawn up by delegates from Denmark, Australia, the UK, and the US – which would allegedly place most of the power in the hands of developed countries at the expense of developing countries. The text was dismissed by the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, as just an “informal” draft. But China quickly fired back with its own draft text, flipping the blame and the burden onto wealthy countries. A day later, delegates from the US and China traded barbs as the US State Department Envoy Todd Stern told reporters that “there’s no way to solve this problem by giving the major developing countries a pass,” to which Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei responded that Stern either “lacks common sense” or is “extremely irresponsible”.

The controversy stirred up in the first few days served as a precursor for the deep division between rich and poor countries that would plague the remainder of the negotiations. The next week was remarkably unproductive. Countless controversial draft texts fluttered around the Bella Center amid a walkout by African countries and thousands of angry rioters – impatient with the lack of progress – taking to the streets. With the looming arrival of over a hundred heads of state, the symbolic dichotomy of rich vs. poor countries had grown ever clearer and was threatening to derail the negotiations. (more…)

Goodbye to 2009: The year in review

by David Isenberg | December 22nd, 2009 | |Subscribe

This is my last post for 2009 I thought I would write about Afghanistan but on second thought I will, no doubt, be doing that quite a lot during 2010. Thanks to the Obama Administration’s surge strategy Afghanistan will, from a blogging viewpoint, be the gift that keeps on giving.

So, as we contemplate whether 2010 will be better or worse let’s take a moment to consider 2009. In the spirit of Dave Barry’s classic annual year in review column let’s acknowledge, albeit with some poetic license commentary by moi, a few of the significant events that made, however briefly, the headlines.

Although it started on Dec. 28 2008 the month of January saw massive Israeli air strikes and a ground force invasion of the Gaza Strip. Heavy fighting took place in Gaza City between the Israeli forces and Hamas. At least 1300 Palestinians were killed. On Jan. 17 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, declaring that Israel has achieved the goals it set when launching the military operation. On Jan. 21 Israel completes its troop withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Also that month President Barack Obama signed executive orders closing the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year; closing the CIA’s secret prisons; requiring a review of military trials for terror suspects; and requiring all interrogations to follow the non-coercive methods specified in the Army Field Manual.

Of course, nobody knew back then that the camp would end up in Illinois. One can only hope that the inmates are not too acclimated to the Caribbean climate to adjust to a midwest winter.

On Jan 27 Hama declared that it previously was just kidding and broke the ceasefire by attacking an Israeli frontier patrol. Israel immediately responded that it lacks a sense of humor and renewed its air strikes on the Gaza Strip border with Egypt.

On Feb. 3 Iran launched its first domestically built satellite into orbit. Iran stated that the satellite is meant for research and telecommunications purposes, but Western states express concern that the technology could be used in the development of ballistic missiles. The U.S. intelligence community, estimating that Iran will show the same swift progress with its missiles that it did with its nuclear program, predicted the next flight will be in 2040.

On Feb. 6, renewing their classic rivalry, a British and a French nuclear submarine collided in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Political leaders from both countries sighed in relief that it was merely submarines and not their respective football fans that collided. (more…)

Holiday Ode to Bipartisanship

by PSA Staff | December 21st, 2009 | |Subscribe

Bipartisanship, do tell me, where has it gone?
I’ve been trying to find it for ever so long
I’ve looked on the left, and glanced on the right
And friendship ‘tween parties is nowhere in sight

Bipartisanship, though a word not oft heeded
May be the very concept most direly needed
As tempers flare in the Senate and House
Bipartisan principles we must try and espouse

The country has traveled too far down the path
Of angry and bitter partisan wrath
We must take a step back and somberly assess
Before policy turns into a horrible mess

Though the left and the right don’t always agree
And locked in opposition they oft may be
For the good of the country they must try to transcend
And working together, broken fences must mend

For one-sided policy does never quite last
New Commanders in Chief toss it out with the past
And back and forth our legislation does go
Until the public’s quite sick of the to-and-fro

So Republicans and Democrats, come forth, unite!
Cease with the bickering, the hatred, the spite
Reach over and shake hands across the aisle
Meet your comrades in legislature with a welcoming smile.

This holiday, let friendship reign all
And peace spread forth in the Capitol’s halls
With 2010 could come meaningful reform
If only we help good relationships form

Night and day, PSA shall tirelessly toil
Until Congress rests free of partisan turmoil

Partnership for a Secure Europe?

by Volha Charnysh | December 17th, 2009 | |Subscribe


There are two ways to do away with the Cold War past. One is to adapt the existing security institutions to the 21st century threats and challenges. Another is to start from the pre-Cold War scratch, looking back to the times of imperial Russia’s heyday. Although its draft of the European Security Treaty favors the latter approach, Moscow deserves credit for trying to draw attention to the weaknesses of the European security architecture. Too bad its proposal was so bold and unrealistic that it failed to elicit a thoughtful response from the West.

The draft treaty appeared on the Kremlin’s official website on Nov. 29, on the eve of both the OSCE summit and the first ministerial meeting between NATO and Russia since the war in Georgia. President Dmitri Medvedev also sent the proposal to the heads of states and international organizations in the Euro-Atlantic region.

The ambitious document aims for nothing less than to “do away with the Cold War legacy” and the outdated institutions like NATO and the OSCE and to ensure that “no one state and no one international organization could strengthen their security at the expense of other countries and organizations.”

Ironically, Moscow appears to be doing just that. Not only do its troops continue to violate Georgia’s territorial integrity, but it is also about to change its military doctrine authorizing military interventions to protect Russians abroad and allowing the use of nuclear weapons in regional and local conflicts. (more…)

Not time to throw out those fluorescent light bulbs

by Brian Vogt | December 15th, 2009 | |Subscribe

On Friday President Obama will attend the Copenhagen climate change conference.  There will be much anticipation about what commitments the United States and the other participating countries will make.  While the big whigs discuss issues like “carbon caps” and “emission targets”, some folks back on the home front will probably feel relieved that they are doing their part – perhaps by driving less or turning to “green” technologies.

Mike Tidwell, however, tells these people in a column published last week to think again.   It’s time to “stop going green” he says.  No, he’s not a global warming denier.  He’s a climate activist fed up with piecemeal contributions made voluntarily by individuals.

Tidwell writes,

December should be national Green-Free Month. Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions, we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change…..surveys show that very few people are willing to make significant voluntary changes, and those of us who do create the false impression of mass progress as the media hypes our actions.

Tidwell is right that the sum of the voluntary actions taken by Americans probably make little difference in the overall progress of global warming.  The incentives in our society are set up to promote the exploitation of resources.  A ton of coal not burned has no financial value.  Most polluters pay little of the cost of the environmental damage they create.  All the best intentions by well-meaning people can do little to overcome the power of the marketplace.  Yes, Tidwell is right that broader systemic change is needed.  This recognition, however, should not lead one to dismiss individual efforts. (more…)

Al Qaeda and the Taliban Still Tied in a Knot

by Michael Lieberman | December 11th, 2009 | |Subscribe

President Obama has now presented the nation with a sober, solemn assessment in explaining the need for an additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan: Al Qaeda remain in “common cause” with the Taliban; they have metastasized into Pakistan; they have again infiltrated our shores.  Answering those who have grown complacent, the President reminded America that “this is no idle danger; no hypothetical threat.”

Yet many are unconvinced.  Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), for instance, responded to the President’s address that more troops would not make America more secure because “Al Qaeda can go any place. They don’t have to be in Afghanistan.”   Senator John Kerry stated that many members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, “either don’t see the nexus or don’t accept” that al Qaeda and the Taliban remain in league with one another.


Copenhagen Conference Kicks Off

by PSA Staff | December 8th, 2009 | |Subscribe

COP15Yesterday in Copenhagen, 15,000 delegates from 192 countries filled the cavernous meeting room of the Bella Center to commence the much-anticipated UN Climate Change conference. In the months leading up to the conference, hopes were slowly lost that a legally-binding global agreement would be reached in Copenhagen. By the time the conference began, world leaders had lowered expectations – due in no small part to the stall of U.S. legislation in Congress – to merely creating a politically-binding blueprint for concluding a comprehensive international agreement in 2010.

In September, PSA released a statement signed by 33 prominent Republicans and Democrats urging Congress and the Administration to “develop a clear, comprehensive, realistic and broadly bipartisan plan to address our role in the climate change crisis.” The signatories warned that “if we fail to take action now, we will have little hope of influencing other countries to reduce their own harmful contributions to climate change, or of forging a coordinated international response.” The Senate has already failed to deliver legislation prior to the conference, but it is not too late for the U.S. to take the lead in the negotiations, especially since it will be impossible for a global consensus to emerge from Copenhagen without strong U.S. support. (more…)

Fiscal Sociopathology

by John Eden | December 7th, 2009 | |Subscribe

Most of what I have written on this blog has focused, in one way or another, on the relationship between civil liberties and the war on terror. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been turning my mind to the financial crisis – trying to understand its causes, get a sense of how long we will feel its effects, and so on – and I cannot get past how many people believe that bankers are in a very real sense holding the government and the country hostage. And as more and more Americans lose their livelihoods and homes, it is easy to see why wealthy bankers would end up in the crosshairs of our country’s most talented public intellectuals and social critics. But I think something genuinely new is afoot, something much more interesting and important than populist rage at income inequality.

The basic criticism of the bankers is easy enough to sketch. If you have had the pleasure of reading Matt Taibbi, who writes for Rolling Stone, or have casually glimpsed at any of the major economic blogs, outrage literally jumps off the page. The critics usually ascribe to four claims about modern investment banks. These powerful institutions: (more…)

Should We Engage Iran Out of the NPT?

by Michael Landweber | December 3rd, 2009 | |Subscribe

Last Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a direct rebuke to Iran’s nuclear program, demanding that Iran cease construction of a new enrichment plant.  The final tally on the censure was 25-3, with Russia and China casting critical votes in favor of the motion.  Iran responded to the vote by suggesting that it might withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Maybe that would be a good thing.  No one in the Obama Administration would ever say that Iran withdrawing from the NPT is one of the U.S.’s policy goals, but it might just be the best achievable outcome.  I don’t see a problem if our engagement policy pushes Iran out of the NPT.

Of course, our main objective is a reversal in Iranian policy.  We want Iran to admit that it has been pursuing a nuclear weapons program and then verifiably dismantle it.  The Obama Administration is willing to engage directly with the Iranians to make this happen.  The problem is that, given Iran’s history of stalling public negotiations to buy time for covert nuclear programs, there is no reason to believe that the Iranians are going to change.

However, Obama’s engagement policy can be successful with either a positive or a negative response from Iran to our offers.  This is because by offering to engage Iran we are actually engaging Russia, China and the rest of the international community.  The more Iran spurns U.S. and global engagement, the most extreme instance of which would be withdrawal from the NPT, the closer our position aligns to necessary allies.  Russia and China’s votes on the IAEA censure are a clear sign that this is already happening.


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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.