Thursday, December 31, 2009

William O. Beeman--Iran's Uncertain Future (New America Media)

Iran’s Uncertain Future

New America Media, News analysis,
William O. Beeman, Posted: Dec 31, 2009 Review it on NewsTrust

It is now clear that the population of Iran is in full revolt against its leaders. There is a better than even chance that the government will fall before summer. Sadly, there is no clear successor leadership on the horizon. This may prove to be the worst of all possible revolutions—a leaderless coup often leads to a regime that feeds on itself.

The current governmental regime in Tehran, including spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have made error after error in dealing with the opposition. Iran is a hierarchical society. Persons in high positions are paradoxically in the most fragile positions. Either they must support their followers, or be toppled from power.

The government has, in the face of the questionable presidential elections in June, repressed, murdered and incarcerated thousands of legitimate protestors. They have jailed former architects of the Revolution of 1978-79 that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and former government officials such as ex-Foreign Minister, Dr. Ibrahim Yazdi. These actions are a betrayal of the social ties that bind political leaders to their followers. In essence, Iran’s political elite has utterly lost its public support. There is no other possible result than that they leave the scene.

The situation has been exacerbated by the confluence of this repression with the annual observances of the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. Hossein’s legitimacy to rule the Islamic community was opposed by the Umayyid Caliph, Yazid. Yazid then ordered his army to Kerbala where Hossein was encamped with his family. The male members of Hossein’s clan were beheaded and the women and children led into captivity in the Umayyid capital, Damascus.

Now the public is equating opposition candidate Mir-Hossein Musavi with Imam Hossein. They chant “Ya Hossein, Ya Mir-Hossein” in their opposition marches. Ayatollah Khamene’i is now equated directly with the Caliph, Yazid in street slogans and banners. Currency is being defaced with insults against the government. As veteran Middle East commentator, Robin Wright, has noted, the current Iranian resistance “is arguably the most vibrant and imaginative civil disobedience campaign anywhere in the world today.”

However, should Ayatollah Khamene’i, President Ahmadinejad and other high officials be toppled from power, it is unclear who will replace them. The opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has proved to be utterly feckless as a leader. His fortunes only improved shortly before the June election when he suddenly was seen as a viable opponent for the increasingly unpopular President Ahmadinejad. Since the election he has been more a follower than a leader. In fact, his wife, the intrepid Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, who apparently organized his campaign, emerged as a greater political force.

Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former President and supreme political operative also engineered Mousavi’s campaign. Usually outspoken, he has been exceptionally cautious in recent weeks, and his relatives have been terrorized by Tehran’s leaders. Now in his 70’s, it is unclear that he could emerge as a strong leader in a new government.

There is also the sticky business of the bedrock principle of the Islamic Republic, the “Velayat-e Faqih,” or “Regency of the Chief Jurisprudent.” It is this principle that legitimizes the supreme authority of Ayatollah Khamene’i, who is said to be ruling as regent, or substitute for the 9th Century Imam, Mohammad al-Mahdi, who is believed to be alive, but “in occultation,” until the Day of Judgment. This doctrine was established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1978-79 Revolution and is ensconced in the Iranian Constitution. If Ayatollah Khamene’i is toppled from power, either the constitution must be scrapped, or a successor must be found. Most religious leaders reject this doctrine today—a fact that has already created a de facto constitutional crisis.

Humanity has seen leaderless revolutions before, and they don’t turn out well. Those vying for power early on are condemned by those who arise after them. There is a perpetual scramble for both power and control of the ideology of the revolution. Much blood flows, and decades can pass before order is restored.

In light of this situation, the Obama administration is wise to stand aside and wait before making any commitments to the present power elite. More importantly, it behooves the administration to start preparing for a post-revolutionary phase, making sure that U.S. actions do not alienate the Iranian public or those who will accede to power.

Sadly, the U.S. Congress is not as wise as the executive branch. Still stuck with a crude and inaccurate fetishization of Iran’s nuclear energy program, they are on the brink of approving economic sanctions that will only cement the Iranian public’s already fixed notion that America only wants their nation to sink in misery and failure.

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).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

IRAN: Story of martyr Imam Hussein fires the protest drama (Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times

IRAN: Story of martyr Imam Hussein fires the protest drama
December 29, 2009 | 8:37 am

It was a political slogan soaked with Iranian history, religion and cultural identity.

"This month is a month of blood. Yazid will be defeated," they chanted on the streets of Tehran last weekend in a popular uprising that roiled the Iranian state and spurred a massive ongoing crackdown.

Beeman-Cov-011The rallying cry referred to one of the Iranian nation's founding myths, the story of Imam Hussein, who fought against the despised Caliph Yazid for the throne of Islam in a 7th century battle.

The story is so central to Iranian national identity that it is reenacted regularly before and during the holiday of Ashura in plays called tazieh that have been explored for years by William O. Beeman, an Iran expert and professor of theater and anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

"People live with this very central event in their religious life," said Beeman, who has written a book on tazieh called "Iranian Performance Traditions," due out next year.

"They’re encouraged to personalize it," he said in an interview this week. "It’s been recast in symbolic terms. Imam Hussein is the central figure in Twelver Shiism, He occupies the same role as Jesus in Christianity. It’s a perpetually recited story, pervasive throughout society."

Iran's street-protest traditions have long been laced with elements of theatrical drama, as explored by The Times a few days ago. More explicitly than ever last weekend, the protests were fueled by the tradition of tazieh and the story of Imam Hussein, who Shiites believe was robbed of his rightful leadership role, just as Iran's opposition believes Mir-Hossein Mousavi was robbed of the presidency.

Iran-ashuraWhen protesters chant, "Ya Hossein, Mir-Hossein," they're directly "equating Mousavi with Imam Hussein," Beeman said.

Last weekend, some protesters held aloft green flags of Islam commemorating the first 10 days of the Islamic month of Muharram, when Hussein was matyred in battle on the fields outside the Mesopotamian city of Karbala.

According to Beeman, anthropologists believe all societies are interlaced with such founding myths, social dramas that people fall back on at times of grave crisis.

"In order to restore social order, they have to go through a ritual period," Beeman said. "People gravitate quite naturally to the ritual expressions that already exist in their cultural vocabulary."

But as far as myths go, Hussein's is particularly powerful when it comes to galvanizing the Iranian public at this particular time.

Iran-beeman Just as Hussein fought under the green banner of Islam and the family of the Prophet Muhammad, the opposition has adopted the color as its own, in contrast to the red worn by Yazid.

And these colors have become identified with Mousavi -- green -- and his hardline opponent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- red.

During the tazieh plays, the audience is encouraged to identify with the people of Karbala, who did not come to Hussein's aid during the fateful battle, just as protesters today are calling upon ordinary Iranians and members of the security forces to join in the struggle against Iran's establishment.

"By their inaction, the people of Karbala were less than admirable people," Beeman said. "In present-day mourning rituals, they’re asked not to just stand by."

Iranian authorities tried hard to avoid being cast as Yazid but ultimately failed, according to Beeman.

"When you start beating on people who support you, you break a bond between leader and follower," said Beeman (pictured), who speaks fluent Persian and has traveled frequently to Iran.

If Iran's history is any guide, the current group in power is doomed, Beeman said. "I think that the chance that this leadership group is going to be changed or out of office is very strong," he said.

But Beeman and others worry that Iranians will hue too closely to the Hussein narrative.

On the fields of Karbala in AD 680, one relative of Hussein after another was slaughtered by the mighty army of Yazid. One was an infant. Another was killed on the day of his wedding.

"Every possible tragedy you could imagine is projected onto the Karbala story," Beeman said. "In this situation on the street, if you identify with the Karbala story and you’re a protester, you’re emboldened to go up against anyone who is attacking you."

So far, Iranians have been adept at protesting while avoiding being killed. But some worry that could change. Hussein's myth may be powerful as theater and as a cultural backdrop to social change, but it also is a tough act to follow.

"Hussein knows he was going to be martyred," Beeman said. "He rejects all attempts to save him because he submits to the will of God. In his death and refusal to compromise, he serves as an example for the rest of us. But it's an unattainable example. Nobody can be as good as Imam Hussein."

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photos, from top: The cover of "Iranian Performance Traditions." Credit: Mazda Publishers. A still from amateur video footage showing a protester holding a green flag during Ashura protests in Tehran. Credit: YouTube. Portrait of the author. Credit: University of Minnesota

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bomb, Bomb Iran: Lessons From Iraq Unlearned

Note: Alan J. Kuperman of the University of Texas wrote a 1500 word op-ed for the New York Times on December 24 calling for the United States to bomb Iran. This astonishing essay has been widely attacked, but the following long essay by Jeremy Hammond is the best response that I have seen so far. I myself have made all of the points included in this essay in the past, but the skillful presentation here makes it extremely important reading.

William O. Beeman



Sunday, December 27, 2009

Bomb, Bomb Iran: Lessons From Iraq Unlearned
December 26, 2009
by Jeremy R. Hammond

In a New York Times op-ed this week that advocates bombing Iran, the author, Alan J. Kuperman, director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin, begins by suggesting that President Barack Obama should “sigh in relief that Iran has rejected his nuclear deal”.

In fact, Iran has said it is still open to discussion with the U.S. about its nuclear program, but that if meaningful dialogue is to continue, the threats of sanctions and military aggression must first cease.

The U.S., however, continues to threaten yet further sanctions, while also insisting that the threat of force must remain “on the table” — a threat of aggression that itself violates the U.N. Charter, which forbids member nations from threatening the use of force as a tool for leverage in international relations.

Kuperman’s reason for why Obama should be happy is that the deal, under which Iran would export uranium to Russia, which would enrich it to 20 percent (not the 90 percent required for weapons-grade uranium) and return it as fuel rods for use in Tehran’s research reactor, “was ill conceived from the start” since Iran would “thus be rewarded with much-coveted reactor fuel despite violating international law.”

His reference is to U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran halt its uranium enrichment activities. The problem with these resolutions, as Iran is not hesitant to point out, is that they themselves directly violate the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), which clearly states that parties to the treaty have an “inalienable” right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and that the international community may take no action prejudicial towards that right.

The U.N. resolutions, needless to say, prejudice that “inalienable” right, particularly given the fact that there is no credible evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program – as both the U.S. intelligence community and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have pointed out.

In other words, under U.S. influence, the Security Council in this case has acted as a rogue body itself in violation of relevant treaties constituting international law and the very Charter under which it ostensibly operates.

Iran, on the other hand, remains in compliance with the terms of the NPT and is meeting its obligations in allowing the IAEA to monitor and inspect its nuclear program, despite much talk to the contrary.

Take the most recent example, the charge that Iran’s uranium enrichment facility near Qom, still under construction, was a violation of its obligation to declare any such facility prior to the beginning of construction. We’re told that Iran agreed to an updated version of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA containing a clause specifying that obligation.

What we’re not told is that at that time, Iran had agreed to implement the terms of the Additional Protocol and revised safeguards agreement on a strictly voluntary basis. The voluntary nature of Iran’s implementation of these measures was explicitly, and in writing (see the so-called Paris Agreement), recognized by the IAEA. Iran was under no legal obligation to do so and had done so simply as a “confidence-building measure”.

In return, Iran got nothing but further threats of sanctions and bombing. So it ended its voluntary observance of measures above and beyond that which was legally required of it.

The fact is that Iran has never ratified the revised safeguards agreement, as would be required for the revisions to be legally binding upon Iran. Under the safeguards agreement Iran has formally and legally obligated itself to, it need only declare such facilities six months prior to the introduction of nuclear material (i.e., introduction of uranium into enrichment centrifuges), which is exactly what Iran did in declaring the site several months ago.

In response to meeting its obligations under its safeguards agreement, the West responded by declaring that the “secret” site (an adjective irreconcilable with the fact Iran voluntarily declared it to the IAEA, but obligatorily used in the media anyways) was evidence of Iran’s intentions to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Summarily dismissed was Iran’s quite credible explanation for the site it voluntarily disclosed, which was that it was attempting to diversify its uranium enrichment capabilities under the threat of certain countries to bomb their nuclear facilities.

The demonization and punishment of Iran for its compliance with its obligations under international law is not entirely unlike the charges against Iraq that it was in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it disarm because it had not disarmed, when in fact it had disarmed, and when in fact there was no credible evidence that it still possessed stockpiles or was still in production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The IAEA, for its part, has continuously and consistently reported that it has verified Iran has diverted no nuclear materials towards a weapons program. Former Director General of the IAEA Mohammed ElBaradei, whose term ended just last month, has repeatedly said that there is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program. His successor, Yukiya Amano, has made the same observation.

Then, of course, there is the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) from the U.S. intelligence community that stated Iran today has no nuclear weapons program, which according to Newsweek, is an assessment analysts still stand by. The NIE did claim that Iran once had such a program in the past, but that it ended it in 2003. The IAEA, on the other hand, recently issued a statement saying there is no evidence Iran ever had a weapons program.

Kuperman continues by suggesting that the goal of the international community should be to “compel” Iran “to halt its enrichment program”, which, he claims, the proposal to send its uranium abroad would not have done. It’s worth noting the fact that this is an explicit rejection of the NPT.

He adds, “In addition, the vast surplus of higher-enriched fuel Iran was to get under the deal would have permitted some to be diverted to its bomb program”, claiming that taking uranium from the fuel rods for further enrichment to weapons-grade “is a straightforward engineering task requiring at most a few weeks.”

The truth of the latter assertion aside, which is contrary to most reports on the subject and contrary to the whole supposed point of the deal, what’s notable here is the assumption that Iran has a “bomb program”, despite, as was the case with Iraq, the total lack of credible evidence to support the claim.

It’s enough in the mainstream corporate media simply to take Iran’s “bomb program” as a matter of faith. Evidence is simply not required, and it’s considered perfectly acceptable by the editors of the New York Times and other mainstream sources to print assumptions expressed as statements of fact.

Again, for those who don’t suffer from selective amnesia and aren’t prone to intentional ignorance, the kind of reporting we saw from the Times, et al, prior to the invasion of Iraq might perhaps serve as a lesson about the nature of the role U.S. corporate media play in “manufacturing consent” from the American public for U.S. foreign policies.

Kuperman next begs the question, “if the deal would have aided Iran’s bomb program, why did the United States propose it, and Iran reject it?” Oblivious to the fallacies underlying the question, his own answer is that “The main explanation on both sides is domestic politics.”

Obama simply wanted to “blunt Republican criticism that his multilateral approach was failing” and was seeking a short-term gain.

Iran, for its part, “rejected” the deal that, by Kuperman’s own account, would have helped it towards the presumed goal of achieving the bomb because “such a headlong sprint” towards that goal “is the one step most likely to provoke an international military response that could cripple the bomb program before it reaches fruition.”

In other words, while Israel regularly threatens that it won’t wait much longer for the U.S. to come to some agreement with Iran before it launches an attack against Iran’s nuclear sites that Iran’s possession of the bomb would surely deter, Iran is willing pass up an offer that would constitute “a headlong sprint” towards such a deterrent because doing so could actually jeopardize the possibility of it obtaining the bomb, since if Iran accepted the deal ostensibly designed to prevent it from being able to enrich uranium to weapons-grade, Israel would be even more likely to bomb their nuclear sites even sooner than if it Iran just rejects the proposal.

Truly, Kuperman has a dizzying intellect.

“In sum,” writes Kuperman, “the proposal would not have averted proliferation in the short run, because that risk always was low, but instead would have fostered it in the long run – a classic example of domestic politics undermining national security.”

In sum, Iran is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

Thus, the bombing of Iran is a foreseeable and unavoidable consequence of the present U.S. policy towards Iran. This consequence, admittedly, might very well be disastrous, but the obvious solution – to alter U.S. policy – is simply inconceivable. A change of policy is off the table. The resort to violence is not.

It’s worth noting that Kuperman acknowledges that the “risk” of Iran obtaining the bomb anytime soon (assuming it actually is seeking it) “always was low”. This is an interesting admission given the tendency of Western media to portray Iran as being practically right on the verge of being able to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

Returning to Iran’s “rejection of the deal”, Kuperman suggests the so-called “rejection” was “likewise propelled by domestic politics – including last June’s fraudulent elections and longstanding fears of Western manipulation.”

The “fears of Western manipulation” is a valid enough observation, the fears warranted enough. But again, as with the presumption of an Iranian bomb program, it’s enough in U.S. mainstream media to assert the claim of “fraudulent elections” as fact, despite the spurious nature of the evidence for fraud and many strong indications that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad legitimately won, including polls conducted by Western organizations both prior to the vote and since showing strong support for his presidency.

Like the “rejection” of the deal, Kuperman goes on to repeat what has become another unquestioned part of the official narrative. Suggesting that President Ahmadinejad “initially embraced the deal because he realized it aided Iran’s bomb program”, he adds, “But his domestic political opponents, whom he has tried to label as foreign agents, turned the tables by accusing him of surrendering Iran’s patrimony to the West.”

The possibility that Iran has not accepted the deal because it consists of an implicit rejection of their right to enrich uranium for themselves is, like the thought of changing U.S. policy, simply inconceivable.

The claim that Ahmadinejad “initially embraced the deal”, only to “renege”, has become standard. But the claim, though widely reported, cannot stand up to scrutiny based on the actual facts that have been reported about the talks. Every indication is that Ahmadinejad himself was open to the proposal, which he continues to be, on the condition that the West cease its threatening and aggressive posture towards Iran, and that the Iranian negotiators during the talks agreed with the proposal on principle, in anticipation of further talks, without formally accepting the deal – something, Iran has pointed out, the negotiators were given no authority to do.

This is part of a larger narrative in Western media in which the Iranian leadership is fractured and the regime in a state of crisis due to the enormity of the opposition to Ahmadinejad’s rule (part of the “fraudulent elections” narrative). While there are elements of truth to this story line, it’s chiefly a product of wishful thinking and the willingness of commentators to succumb to their own propaganda.

Take, for example, reporting on the massive gathering of people honoring the influential Grand Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri upon his death just last week. The opposition, we were told, of whom Montazeri was a leader, effectively took over the rally and was able to turn it into a massive anti-regime protest. Evidence for this was given in the form of amateur videos apparently from cell phones posted to opposition websites showing close-up shots of protesters shouting anti-regime slogans and holding up anti-regime banners.

Wider video shots of the actual funeral march, however, showed only an enormous crowd solemnly and respectfully marching along with the casket, holding up only photos of the cleric, not anti-regime banners. (The London Times, a leading outlet for anti-Iran propaganda, acknowledges that, with no journalists in the country due to restrictions on foreign media operations, much of its reporting comes from anti-regime elements, but insists that its sources are trustworthy, essentially a “just trust us” assertion that depends upon the questionable trustworthiness of the Times itself as a source for news on Iran.)

“Under such domestic pressure, Mr. Ahmadinejad reneged”, claims Kuperman, and then “threatened to enrich uranium domestically to the 20 percent level.” Notice how remarks from Iranian leaders that Iran would do what it has an “inalienable” right to do as a party to the NPT is characterized by the verb “threatened”.

The underlying and familiar assumption is that the rules are set by Washington, not by treaties comprising the body of international law. A dubious enough assumption, but unquestionable in the mainstream.

Iran’s “rejection” of the proposal shows that it “cannot make even temporary concessions on its bomb program”, and therefore, “Since peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work,” – (more the stick than the carrot) – “and an invasion would be foolhardy, the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

There are numerous and obvious other options: to assume that evidence should be required of an Iranian nuclear program rather than establishing confrontational and aggressive policies based on the assumption that this is so; to cease from violating international law with threats of military aggression; to cease from deliberately isolating and provoking Iran and instead meaningfully engaging the country in a dialogue that actually recognizes Iran’s rights under the NPT; to live up to the additional obligation under the NPT for the U.S. and other nuclear-armed countries to provide member nations with nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, etc.

But it is simply inconceivable that mainstream sources like the Times would actually find “fit to print” such elementary alternatives.

Without reading further, the conclusion Kuperman would like his readers to draw (and here the headline, “There’s Only One Way to Stop Iran”, is relevant) is clear: obviously, we cannot acquiesce to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons; therefore the only logical choice is to bomb Iran.

To underscore the unacceptability of Iran obtaining the bomb, Kuperman employs a theme that should not be unfamiliar to Americans: “If Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal,” he writes, “the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon”.

He draws just short of saying that if we don’t bomb Iran, the consequences could come “in the form of a mushroom cloud”, the familiar official refrain prior to the invasion of Iraq – which had no nuclear program at all, much less a weaponized one (Kuperman states further in the article that this fact “eluded American intelligence until after the 2003 invasion”. U.S. intelligence analysts, we are apparently supposed to believe, never bothered themselves to read IAEA reports noting that the agency had completely dismantled Iraq’s nuclear program by the mid-90s).

And so we must bomb Iran. Now, “admittedly, aerial bombing might not work.” It could “backfire” by “undermining Iran’s political opposition, accelerating the bomb program or provoking retaliation against American forces and allies in the region.”

All three are credible consequences widely predicted among analysts. Iran may not have a nuclear weapons program now, but if it is bombed, the likelihood that it would withdraw from the NPT, move its nuclear weapons program underground, and begin work towards obtaining a nuclear deterrent to further such attacks would be increased in no inconsiderable measure.

Again, Iraq provides a useful lesson. It was a direct consequence of Israel’s bombing of Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, according to the U.S.’s own intelligence assessments, that prompted Saddam Hussein to begin pursuing his nuclear program clandestinely and also to begin his pursuit to obtain nuclear weapons.

Kuperman actually mentions the Israeli attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor to support his assertion that bombing Iran – the very thing he advocates – might actually result in Iran “accelerating” efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon, but he obscures the obvious lesson to be had from it by suggesting an opposite and much more dubious conclusion: that the bombing slowed down, rather than accelerated, Saddam’s efforts to obtain the bomb.

In other words, bombing Iran might predictably and admittedly result in the very thing the bombing would ostensibly be aimed at preventing. The obvious corollary is that the bombing would not really be carried out in order to prevent that end.

Again, further lessons from Iraq are instructive. Consider that the war ostensibly fought to make the world safer from WMD and to fight terrorism resulted in the single most probable situation, had Iraq actually had WMD, under which Saddam Hussein would have provided them to terrorists. Again, that was the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community prior to the invasion.

Fortunately, Iraq didn’t have WMD and so this never occurred. But among the direct consequences of the war that did occur was a considerable increase in the threat of terrorism, again according to the U.S.’s own intelligence assessments. Whereas prior to the invasion, terrorist attacks within Iraq were virtually unknown, since the war began, the Iraq people continue to be plagued by terrorism as a direct consequence of the war.

The war, analysts have observed, served as a virtual billboard for terrorist organizations to recruit individuals willing to commit acts of violence in response to U.S. foreign policy – just as U.S. support for Israeli crimes against the Palestinians was a principle causal factor for the 9/11 attacks, if we are to believe the stated grievances of the originally accused mastermind of those attacks himself.

Again, the corollary is obvious: the official reasons for committing such acts of aggression against foreign nations, if we presume leading policymakers are sane and rational, cannot possibly be the actual rationale for them. That is perfectly elementary, albeit a virtual heresy to actually point out in respectable circles.

The war against Iraq had nothing to do with WMD or terrorism. Equally elementary is the observation that U.S. policy towards Iran has nothing to do with preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons.

A further example is NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999 against Yugoslavia, which was ostensibly carried out to end atrocities on the ground, but which instead resulted in a sharp escalation of the violence – a consequence of the bombing predicted by the NATO leadership.

Kuperman also happens to mention that campaign, but, again, as with his mention of Osirak, arrives at other conclusions. Here, ignoring perhaps the most obvious lessons from his own argument and examples, his conclusion is that “Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Bombing once won’t work, so Iran must be bombed repeatedly. This logic is akin to arguing that since poking a snake with a stick once might cause it to strike, it must be poked continually in order to prevent it from being able to do so.

Similarly, Kuperman draws other lessons from Iraq. “If nothing else,” he writes, “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to.”

Indeed. But if we set aside intentional ignorance, other relevant lessons just might perhaps be drawn. Kuperman, rather like the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy and friends to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, goes to extraordinary efforts to deflect attention away from these, though.

Casting aside some of the most obvious lessons from Iraq, Kuperman, having acknowledged the, shall we say, “drawbacks” of his proposed solution, concludes simply that air strikes “are worth a try.”

One might note the rather cavalier attitude towards the use of violence against civilian targets for political ends (the very definition of “terrorism”), an incitement to violence that might raise questions about the nature of American intellectual culture, and the moral values (or lack thereof) of the intelligentsia, if we bother to ponder on the subject.

Kuperman, needless to say, doesn’t. Instead, he has just one “final question”: “who should launch the air strikes?”

The obvious answer is Israel, which “has shown an eagerness” to bomb Iran, the option “some hawks in Washington favor” in order “to avoid fueling anti-Americanism in the Islamic world” – a rationale of astounding ignorance; the Islamic world surely would recognize that were Israel to bomb Iran, it would be with a “green light” from Washington, a wink and a nod. But never mind that.

Kuperman continues, however, with “three compelling reasons that the United States itself should carry out the bombings”, the obvious fueling of anti-Americanism and other predicted and potentially disastrous consequences aside. The U.S. has better equipment to do the job, could more credibly threaten “to expand the bombing campaign” (that is, to repeatedly bomb the country), and it would be an opportunity to send “a strong warning” to other countries.

This latter rationale for the U.S. bombing of Iran provides a more credible explanation for what the actual purpose of such a bombing would be.

Kuperman, in line with the official rationale for keeping the military “option” “on the table” – an explicit rejection of principle that force should be used only as a last resort, as well as a direct violation of international law – suggests the “strong warning” would be for “other would-be proliferators”.

Proliferation being obviously of little to no consideration to U.S. policymakers – an elementary observation drawn even from the arguments provided here – “proliferators” clearly isn’t the right word here. “Nations seeking to act independently from and in opposition to Washington” might be more accurate.

“The sooner the United States takes action” – that is, the sooner it bombs Iran – “the better”, concludes Kuperman.

At stake is U.S. “credibility”, in the Mafioso sense of the word. Washington simply can’t have a country defying its orders. That’s the bottom line. That’s the underlying foundation of the policy of the Obama administration, carried over from the policy of his predecessor.

But, of course, just as the war in Iraq couldn’t be sold to the American public on the basis of its actual rationale, expanding U.S. global hegemony, neither can the true reasons for Washington’s policies towards Iran be mentioned. It just wouldn’t do.

Better, as with Iraq, to construct nonsensical arguments dependent upon an extraordinary level of intentional ignorance and consisting at the most fundamental level of claims for which there is little, if any, evidence to support.

Whether the American public has learned the more obvious and crucial lessons from Iraq and has the moral integrity to act on them remains to be seen. But what is for certain is that without massive public pressure on Washington to alter its Iran policy, the U.S. will maintain a course the consequences of which might very well prove, as with Iraq, to be disastrous.
Jeremy R. Hammond
Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent journalist and editor of Foreign Policy Journal, an online source for news, critical analysis, and opinion commentary on U.S. foreign policy. He was among the recipients of the 2010 Project Censored Awards for outstanding investigative journalism, and is the author of "The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination", available from

© 2009 Foreign Policy Journal

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Minnesota Public Radio--Three detained American hikers will be tried in Iranian court.

Three detained American hikers will be tried in Iranian court.

Minnesotan Shane Bauer and two friends Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal were arrested after crossing the Iran, Iraq border in July.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the three Americans accidentially crossed the unmarked border. But, Iranian officials claim that the three had "suspicious aims."

University of Minnesota anthropology professor William Beeman talked with All Things Considered about the situation. Beeman is an expert in Iranian culture and is the author of "The 'Great Satan' vs. the 'Mad Mullahs': How the U.S. and Iran Demonize Each Other."

Monday, December 14, 2009

William O. Beeman--American Hikers in Iran—Too Useful to Release

American Hikers in Iran—Too Useful to Release
William O. Beeman

Three Americans, journalist Shane Bauer and his companions, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for entering the Islamic Republic from Iraq at a remote mountain border without visas. Now Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manoucher Mottaki has announced that they will be tried in Iranian Courts. It is likely they will be charged with espionage.

The three Americans appear to have strayed innocently into Iranian territory, but they have provided an unusually strong opportunity for the Iranian government to continue to engage the United States in tit-for-tat attacks.

Superficially, the detention and eventual trial of these three individuals resembles the earlier detention of a number of Iranian-Americans traveling in Iran, the most recent being journalist Roxana Saberi, who was released last summer after having been charged with espionage. Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh remains in custody facing a 12 year jail sentence after his espionage conviction.

The case against Shane Bauer and his friends provides many political advantages to the Iranian government.

First, there can be no question that people who stray over international borders without proper documentation are subject to scrutiny and legal action. Here the Iranians have an open and shut justification for holding the three hikers, and can claim indisputable high legal ground for their actions.

Second, Iran wants to make the point that foreign spies are operating in its sovereign territory. The United States has admitted to maintaining operatives in Iran, as has Israel. Israel has even bragged about assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Thus, although the three Americans are probably not spies, they serve as reminders to the Iranian public and to the international community of the real spies that Iranian authorities have not caught.

Third, Iran has reportedly linked the American detainees to eleven Iranians that have been held by U.S. Federal officials as reported by Laura Rozen in the blog, Politico . These individuals are charged with violating export laws—essentially by supplying arms and military equipment to Iran. They were arrested in several European countries, and have been held incognito and incommunicado for more than a year in some cases. The Iranians certainly hope to see movement on releasing these detainees.

Iran also charges the United States with engineering the disappearance of nuclear researcher Shahram Amiri during his pilgrimage to Mecca last spring.

Finally, the Iranian government is desperate for a distraction from the unprecedented opposition disturbances in protest of the June 12 presidential elections. December 18 marks the beginning of the month of Muharram, when Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, murdered by the Umayyid Sunni dynasty in 680 C.E. There will be street processions, religious demonstrations and ritual mourning for 10 days. This is the perfect smokescreen for anti-government demonstrations.

To add to the government consternation, sections of the regular Iranian military have threatened to emerge from their barracks to protect “the people” from the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Basij units that have been attacking the anti-government opposition. A big show trial against “foreign spies” will reinforce the Iranian government claims to its own citizenry that all the troubles in the Islamic Republic today are being fomented by foreign agents.

It clear that both the United States and Iran have a lot of human traffic to account for on each others’ soil. The real impediment to sorting out these matters is that the United States and Iran still have no comprehensive way to talk to each other. Moreover, there is too much to be gained in both nations by mutual demonization to move forward toward rational discussion. Iran’s non-existent nuclear program remains a red-herring preventing any real progress in reaching accord between the two nations.

For the hapless hikers, the worst case scenario is one where they get caught up in the maelstrom of events that have nothing to do with their meager crime, and end up as object lessons in the mutual hostilities between Iran and the West.

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 Assocation. 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).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Culture and Rituals of Eating

Culture and Rituals of Eating

University of Minnesota anthropology department head William Beeman explains how eating together is a universal tradition around the globe and is used to bring people together. The customs that surround eating are part of a universal pattern of rituals that shape the human habit of eating together, because communal dining is more than just eating; it's an event full of transitions, both material and symbolic. And while table manners around the world might be different from one another, they all share the common bond of making the process of eating more focused on rituals and the gathering of people.