Wednesday, November 18, 2009

William O. Beeman--Attacks on Iran Are Attacks on Obama (New America Media)

Attacks on Iran Are Attacks on Obama

New America Media, News analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Nov 18, 2009 Review it on NewsTrust

In the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of unsubstantiated accusations against Iran. These accusations may seem to be aimed at Iran but, in fact, a pattern is emerging, which suggests that the attacks are really directed at destroying the Obama administration by discrediting its goodwill gesture toward Iran, which is a sharp departure from the Bush-era foreign policy.

One charge, launched against the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), accuses them of illegal lobbying for Iran. This attack has two prongs — allegations made by Iran analyst Hassan Daioleslam (aka Hassan Dai), and a “hit piece” by conservative writer Eli Lake in the Washington Times . NIAC has fought back with a lawsuit against Dai, but the damage has been done.

NIAC has primarily been a voice for Iranian Americans in foreign policy matters. However, they have committed a sin in the eyes of the neoconservatives, by consistently calling for a dialogue between Washington and Tehran.

The attacks on the NIAC and Iran are ultimately directed at undermining the Obama administration for its overtures toward Iran. It has now come to light that neoconservative author Kenneth Timmerman is behind the NIAC attacks, as reported by journalist Josh Rogin on the political blog, The Cable.

Another unsubstantiated claim is that Iran was helping Yemeni rebels from a Zaidi Shi’a sect known as the Houthis, in border attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have been attacking Saudi facilities for decades. The accusations have come largely from Saudi Arabia, but have been promulgated here in the United States as further “proof” that Iran aids terrorists. However, Middle East experts in the United States see no connection whatsoever between Iran and the Houthis.

Nevertheless, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute wrote on October 30 of the Houthi in Yemen: “Perhaps the greatest al-Houthi threat posed to the U.S. is the possibility that Iran has identified them as a potential proxy – similar to Hezbollah or Hamas – on the doorstep of Saudi Arabia, a prospect that could yield the mullahs leverage in international negotiations.”

This remark was inserted in an article claiming that the Houthi served as a “safe haven” for Al-Qa’eda—a group that advocates the assassination of Shi’ite Muslims, the religion of both the Houthi and the Iranians.

Another unsubstantiated claim is that Iran was shipping arms by sea to Hezbollah. On November 5, Israel seized a German-owned, Cypriot-operated cargo ship flying the Antiguan flag, carrying arms. The Israelis immediately announced that this ship was carrying Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah. However, there was no proof that any of the arms came from Iran, and Hezbollah denied that they were being directed to them.

There is also the flimsy FBI lawsuit -- initiated during the Bush administration -- against the tiny New York-based Alavi Foundation, which promotes instruction of the Persian language and culture in American universities and several mosques around the country. The FBI suit claims that the foundation was funneling income to Iran through Bank Melli, the Iranian national bank. Since the income from the foundation is miniscule in international terms, and is committed already to educational programs, it is hard to see how Iran could benefit much from its operations.

Finally, there are the renewed vacuous claims about the empty Iranian facility near Qom, discovered last summer and touted widely as “proof” that the Iranians were making a bomb. The latest IAEA report on the site has now been published, and it asserts that while Iran should have notified the IAEA about its plans to build the facility, Iranian officials, according to the report, “provided access to all areas of the facility. The agency confirmed that the plant corresponded with the design information provided by Iran, and that the facility was at an advanced stage of construction, although no centrifuges had been introduced into the facility.

Thus, the facility was non-operational, and no fissile material (uranium) had been introduced into the plant. 
 


These attacks follow immediately on the heels of the Vienna talks with Iran, which seemed to signal progress on the Iranian nuclear issue, and the appointment of two highly knowledgeable individuals on Iran and the Middle East at the Department of State -- Dr. John Limbert, Deputy Undersecretary of State for Iran, and Dr. Tamara Wittes, Deputy Undersecretary of State for the Near East -- marking a sharp departure from the Bush administration, which made appointments largely based on ideology rather than expertise.

The world has seen these tactics many times now. The moment the United States and Iran have the tiniest success in reaching accord on something, the accusations against Iran crank up. The fact that all of the above events lack substantive proof is of far less importance than their propaganda value. We see the accusations being trumpeted as truth by the press and by senior and seemingly sober politicians. Of course, all this takes place against a background of attempts to show that the Obama administration is "soft on Islam."

Clearly, substantial players in the United States (and Israel) want to make sure that the United States and Iran remain estranged forever. To achieve this, they engage in lies, distortion and misinformation. The effects of these accusations are as strong in Iran, where they are known to be false, as they are in the United States, where they are naively believed to be true.

That this is neither intelligent nor mature thinking, and is ultimately detrimental to U.S. interests, matters not a whit to the accusers. These people may think they are patriots for carrying out these actions, but they are corrupting America's future in the region.

There is, besides, plenty to complain about regarding Iran's leaders and their recent action without resorting to fiction.

William O. Beeman is professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is past-president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is The “Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.” (Chicago, 2008).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Unsubstantiated attacks on Iran are really Attacks on President Obama

In the last few weeks there has been a flurry of unsubstantiated attacks against Iran. These attacks may seem to be aimed at Iran, but in fact a pattern is emerging that suggests that the attacks are really directed at destroying the Obama administration by discrediting the administration's opening to Iran--a sharp departure from Bush-era foreign policy.

One attack has been launched against the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its head, Dr. Trita Parsi. Another the desperate claim that Iran was helping Yemeni rebels in border attacks against Saudi Arabia (The rebels have been attacking Saudi facilities for decades). A third is the unsubstantiated claim that Iran was shipping arms by sea to Hezbollah. Yet another is the flimsy FBI lawsuit (initiated during the Bush administration--likely at the instigation of the Treasury Department's Stuart Levey) against the tiny Alavi Foundation which promotes Persian Language and culture instruction. Finally there are the vacuous renewed claims about the empty Iranian facility near Qom (despite Mohammad el-Baradei's clear statement to the press that nothing of substance existed there).

These attacks follow immediately on the heels of the Vienna talks with Iran which seemed to signal progress on the Iranian nuclear issue, and the appointment of two knowledgeable individuals on Iran and the Middle East at the Department of State (Dr. John Limbert and Dr. Tamara Wittes).

I don't like conspiracy theories very much, but we have seen this before. The moment the United States and Iran have the tiniest success in reaching accord on something, the attacks against Iran crank up. The fact that all of the above events lack substantive proof is of far less importance than their propaganda value. We see the accusations being trumpeted as truth by the press and by senior, seemingly sober politicians. Of course, all this takes place against a background of attempts to show that the Obama administration is "soft on Islam." It is like playing Whack-a-Mole to try to address this avalanche of fiction, and misinformation, and the press plays along.

Clearly substantial players in the U.S. (and Israel) want to make sure that the United States and Iran remain estranged forever, and are not above lies, distortion and misinformation to assure this result. The effects of these accusations are as strong in Iran, where they are known to be false; as in the United States, where they are naively believed to be true. That this is neither intelligent nor mature thinking, and is ultimately detrimental to U.S. interests matters not a whit to the accusers. These people may think they are patriots for carrying out these actions, but they are corrupting America's future in the region, and further calling American reliability into question.

The attacks on the NIAC and Iran are ultimately directed at destroying the Obama administration opening to Iran. It has now come to light that neoconservative author Kenneth Timmerman is behind these attacks. Mr. Timmerman has shown that he has scant interest in the truth when it fails to suit his ideological purposes. His book, "Countdown to Crisis" is riddled with misinformation in order to inflame opinion against Iran. There is plenty to complain about regarding Iran's leaders and their recent action without resorting to fiction.

Timmerman's web site claims that he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Guess what! Anyone can be nominated for the Peace Prize. Anyone affiliated with an academic institution can nominate. It is not a credential.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Iran Charges 3 American Hikers With Espionage (with note by William O. Beeman)

Iran Charges 3 American Hikers With Espionage

By JACK HEALY and NAZILA FATHI
Published: November 9, 2009


Note by William O. Beeman: There is a danger in being too sanguine about the situation of the three hikers (including photojournalist Shane Bauer) who transgressed the Iranian border and were today charged with spying in Iran. However, this follows the same pattern that has been seen now six or seven times. Someone is involved with a minor infraction, or just heightened suspicion. The Iranian government charges them with spying to squeeze the greatest possible propaganda value from the situation. The alleged spies are generally treated humanely and undergo a show trial, and are usually released, or allowed to depart after having posted bail as a sign of Iranian humanitarian generosity. If past experience is any predictor, this is how this situation will play out as well.

The spying charges become believable to a domestic Iranian audience because of the consistent pattern of past interference by the United States in Iranian affairs, and George W. Bush's flat statement that we have agents operating in Iran--something the Iranians absolutely know to be true. Iran is of course trying to make a point to the external world as well--stop spying on us!

We have two new stars at the State Department in Washington--John Limbert (Iran) and Tamara Wittes (Near East), both of whom have superb credentials on Iran. They will have to deal with this. The situation is also variable due to the ongoing nuclear negotiations. One can bet that these three detainees are being presented as chips in the negotiations--or possible signs of "good faith." The three hikers were caught in Iranian territory without visas or documentation. The United States treats similar infractions with utmost harshness, so we have very little to say on this matter from a legal standpoint. Asking for clemency is really the proper way to go, though it is going to stick in the craw of many right-wingers. Certainly condemning the Iranian government is foolish. The United States doesn't have a leg to stand on here.

The case of Iranian-American Kian Tajbakhsh, also charged with spying in Iran, is linked with this case as well.


Three American hikers who were arrested in Iran this summer after straying across its border with Iraq have been charged with spying, an Iranian state news agency reported on Monday.

The Tehran prosecutor told Iran’s official IRNA news agency that Iranian officials were pursuing espionage charges against the Americans, who were detained in late July after trekking through the Kurdistan region of Iraq and toward the Iranian border.

News of the charges drew a quick rebuke from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who reiterated calls for the Iranians to release the hikers, Shane M. Bauer of Emeryville, Calif.; Joshua F. Fattal of Cottage Grove, Ore.; and Sarah E. Shourd of Oakland, Calif.

“We believe strongly that there is no evidence to support any charge whatsoever,” she told reporters in Berlin, according to The Associated Press. “And we would renew our request on behalf of these three young people and their families that the Iranian government exercise compassion and release them so they can return home.”

The spectacle of three American tourists on trial in Iran could add more strain to relations between Iran the United States at a time when the countries are engaged in fraught negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. The United States has been pursuing the release of the hikers through Swiss diplomats who represent American interests in Tehran. The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran after the 1979 takeover of its embassy in Tehran.

There was no immediate comment from family members or friends of the Americans.

Statements from family members and Kurdish authorities have said that the three travelers, all graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, had crossed from Turkey into Kurdistan, where they stayed at a hostel and camped as they headed toward Ahmed Awa, a resort area of caves and waterfalls on the border.

A statement on a Web site set up for the hikers, freethehikers.org, makes a plea for their release: “We hope the Iranian authorities understand that if our children and friends did happen to enter Iran, there can only be one reason: because they made a regrettable mistake and got lost.”

Jack Healy reported from New York, and Nazila Fathi from Toronto.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

William O. Beeman--IAEA Found Nothing Serious at Iran Site

IAEA Found Nothing Serious at Iran Site
Posted on Nov 07, 2009 02:56:00 PM by Andrew Lam
[ filed under: foreign-policy middle-east ]

by William O. Beeman

When a “secret nuclear site” in Qom (Qum), Iran was voluntarily disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by Iran on September 21, 2009, President Obama claimed that the United States forced the disclosure. Indeed, the United States had known about the site for at least three years.

The Qom site was reportedly a second uranium enrichment site, matching the one already in operation at the town of Natanz. However, even at the time of disclosure it appeared to be less than had been reported by President Obama. It had 3000 antiquated centrifuges purchased from Pakistan that had not been even set up for use. It had no nuclear fissile material in it, In short, the site was was not operational in any way.

Iran claimed that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) they were not required to report such sites until 180 days prior to the introduction of fissile material. The U.S. and other nations claimed that Iran was bound by an “additional protocol” to the NPT that required them to disclose planned sites even before they were built. Iran never properly ratified the additional protocol, but observed it voluntarily as a goodwill gesture from 2004 to 2007, formally notifying the IAEA in 2007 that they were suspending this observance. The conversion of the Qum site did not begin until 2008.

The brouhaha over the “discovery” of the Qum site was epic. Israel and numerous American politicians claimed that it “proved” that Iran was building a bomb. Iran immediately invited IAEA inspectors to the site, though they claimed they were not required to do so.

Last Thursday Reuters and the New York Times reported that the IAEA inspectors had visited the Qom site. As can be seen from
the Reuters article, the whole matter proved to be a tempest in a teapot.

According to IAEA Chief, Mohammad al-Baradei, the Qom site contained nothing of any importance, was not operational, and was in effect a bunker—a hole in the ground. The flap over this silly incident demonstrates the extraordinary lengths politicians in Israel and the West will go to demonize Iran’s nuclear energy program.

There is still no proof whatever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reuters: IAEA Found Nothing Serious at Iran Site



Reuters News Service

IAEA found nothing serious at Iran site: ElBaradei
Thu Nov 5, 2009 4:26pm EST

Note from William O. Beeman: When the "secret nuclear site" in Qum, Iran was disclosed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)voluntarily by Iran in September 2009, President Obama claimed that the United States forced the disclosure. The site had no nuclear fissile material in it, and was not operational. Iran claimed that under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) they were not required to report such sites until 180 days prior to the introduction of such material. The U.S. and other nations claimed that Iran was bound by an "additional protocol" to the NPT that required them to disclose planned sites even before they were built. Iran never properly ratified the additional protocol, but observed it voluntarily as a goodwill gesture from 2004 to 2007, formally notifying the IAEA that they were suspending this observance. The conversion of the Qum site did not begin until 2008. The brouhaha over the "discovery" of the Qum site was epic. Israel claimed that it "proved" that Iran was building a bomb. Iran immediately invited IAEA inspectors to the site, though they claimed they were not required to do so. As can be seen from the article below, this was a tempest in a teapot. The Qum site contained nothing of any importance, was not operational, and was in effect a bunker--a hole in the ground. The flap over this silly incident demonstrates the extraordinary lengths politicians in Israel and the West will go to demonize Iran's nuclear energy program. There is still no proof whatever that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors found "nothing to be worried about" in a first look at a previously secret uranium enrichment site in Iran last month, the International Atomic Energy chief said in remarks published Thursday.

Mohamed ElBaradei also told the New York Times that he was examining possible compromises to unblock a draft nuclear cooperation deal between Iran and three major powers that has foundered over Iranian objections.

The nuclear site, which Iran revealed in September three years after diplomats said Western spies first detected it, added to Western fears of covert Iranian efforts to develop atom bombs. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for electricity.

ElBaradei was quoted in a New York Times interview as saying his inspectors' initial findings at the fortified site beneath a desert mountain near the Shi'ite holy city of Qom were "nothing to be worried about."

"The idea was to use it as a bunker under the mountain to protect things," ElBaradei, alluding to Tehran's references to the site as a fallback for its nuclear program in case its larger Natanz enrichment plant were bombed by a foe like Israel.

"It's a hole in a mountain," he said.

The IAEA has declined to comment on whether the inspectors came across anything surprising or were able to obtain all the documentation and on-site access they had wanted at the remote spot about 160 km (100 miles) south of Tehran.

Details are expected to be included in the next IAEA report on Iran's disputed nuclear activity due in mid-November.

The inspectors' goal was to compare engineering designs to be provided by Iran with the actual look of the facility, interview scientists and other employees, and take soil samples to check for any traces of activity oriented to making bombs.

SUSPICIONS

Western diplomats and analysts say the site's capacity appears too small to fuel a nuclear power station but enough to yield fissile material for one or two nuclear warheads a year.

The Islamic Republic revealed the plant's existence to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog on September 21. It said the site, which remains under construction, would enrich uranium only to the low 5 percent purity suitable for power plant fuel.

Enrichment to the 90 percent threshold provides the fissile material that detonates nuclear weapons.

After talks with Iran and three world powers, ElBaradei drafted a plan for Iran to transfer most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France to turn it into fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes isotopes for cancer treatment.

Russia, France and the United States, which would help modernize the reactor's safety equipment and instrumentation under the deal, see it as a way to reduce Iran's LEU stockpile below the threshold needed to produce material for a bomb.

But since the October 19-21 talks, Iran has made clear it is loath to ship its own LEU abroad because of its strategic value, and would prefer buying the reactor fuel it needs from foreign suppliers. Iran has called for more talks.

Western diplomats say the three powers do not want more talks and that Iran's demands are a non-starter as they would do nothing to remove the risk of nuclear proliferation in Iran.

ElBaradei was quoted by the New York Times as saying the problem boiled down to "total distrust on the part of Iran ...

"The issue is timing, whether the uranium goes out and then some time later they get the fuel, as we agreed (tentatively) in Geneva, or whether it only goes at the same time as the fuel is delivered," he said.

"There are a lot of ideas. One is to send (Iran's uranium) to a third country, which could be a friendly country to Iran, and it stays there. Park it in another state ... (for) something like a year..., then ... bring in the fuel. The issue is to get it out, and so create the time and space to start building trust."

(Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Richard Williams)

William O. Beeman--Commensality--Table Fellowship (interview)

http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/taste/69079902.html?elr=KArksUUUoDEy3LGDiO7aiU

Commensality: Table fellowship



Mind your manners, and all is well at the table.


By LEE SVITAK DEAN, Star Tribune
Last update: November 4, 2009 - 2:33 PM

Eating with others at a shared table is one of the most important human activities, says William Beeman, professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota. There's even a word for it: commensality.

"There's not a society on Earth where human beings don't engage in eating together as a really important activity," he said. "The process of eating together actually takes on the quality of a kind of social ritual."

Consider how people, gathered around a table, generally don't start eating until everyone has food. "That little principle of starting at the same time is widespread on the planet and almost universally observed," said Beeman, who will speak Nov. 5 on global table manners and etiquette at the Bell Museum, as part of the "Hungry Planet" exhibit.

Meals often have a ritual that reflects the beginning of the event, be it a toast or invocation as simple as "bon app├ętit!"

Most table manners reflect a transition between the act of eating and other kinds of social life. In many societies, there may be a kind of hierarchical movement to the table, with the most prominent people first and then others following.

Think rank doesn't matter in this country? At the White House, there is a chief of protocol who makes certain that people are placed at the dinner table in the right order. "The person who sits next to the First Lady gets the real place of honor and you might be insulted if you don't get that place," said Beeman.

The act of eating is not particularly pleasant to watch, regardless of culture. Beeman noted that the physical body is an important boundary everywhere, and rituals are set so we make sure there's a clear transition between inside and outside (such as ingesting).

Societies try to make eating as gracious as possible. In cultures where food is to be eaten with fingers, for example, hands are washed in public, as a courtesy to others.

Generally, table manners are intended to facilitate the social event, whether it's a dinner party or a family sitting together at the table.
"The goal is for the meal to go along well for everyone," Beeman said.