Condi's Gambit Condoleezza Rice takes the risk that appeasing the Europeans "one last time" will get them to stop appeasing Iran. But when have the Europeans ever run out of further excuses for appeasement?
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Iran and the "Oil Weapon"
The Real War for Iraq Begins
The Real Immigration Question
Capitalism Versus Socialism at Ground Zero
1. Condi's Gambit The "EU-3" negotiations have never been negotiations between Europe and Iran; they have always been, at root, negotiations between the United States and Europe. The US has been trying to convince the Europeans to back economic sanctions and possible air strikes against Iran—while the Europeans have been trying to convince us to join them in lapsing back into appeasement and passivity.
That is the context for Condoleezza Rice's new gambit in those negotiations. The US will agree to join the negotiations with Iran—not to take up new one-on-one negotiations with Iran, as Iran has proposed, but to join the existing negotiations—if Iran meets a set of conditions that Rice clearly does not expect Iran to meet, based on its past behavior in these negotiations.
The idea is to eliminate Europe's "last excuse" for refusing to take action against Iran. That may work, but she is taking an awful risk—because appeasers never run out of excuses. In granting that maybe the US should make just one more concession, she may allow the EU-3 to come back and say that maybe another concession after this would do the trick, then one more—and so on, until Iran has the bomb.
"Condoleezza Rice Holds News Conference on Iran," Washington Post, May 31 Working with our international partners, the United States is making every effort to achieve a successful diplomatic outcome. But the international community has made clear that Iran must not acquire nuclear weapons.
The vital interests of the United States, of our friends and allies in the region, and of the entire international community are at risk, and the United States will act accordingly to protect those common interests….
The Iranian government's choices are clear. The negative choice is for the regime to maintain its current course, pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community and its international obligations.
If the regime does so, it will incur only great costs. We and our European partners agree that path will lead to international isolation and progressively stronger political and economic sanctions.
The positive and constructive choice is for the Iranian regime to alter its present course and cooperate in resolving the nuclear issue, beginning by immediately resuming suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as well as full cooperation with the IAEA and returning to implementation of the additional protocol which would provide greater access for the IAEA….
President Bush has consistently emphasized that the United States is committed to a diplomatic solution to the nuclear challenge posed by the Iranian regime….
Thus, to underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU colleagues….
The nuclear issue, though, is not the only obstacle standing in the way of improved relations.
If the Iranian regime believes that it will benefit from the possession of nuclear weapons, it is mistaken. The United States will be steadfast in defense of our forces and steadfast in defense of our friends and allies who wish to work together for common security….
I think the last year and half or so—year or so—as really been about creating a climate of opinion about what is demanded of Iran. That we have done.
And now we hope that this offer, this proposal that we would join the talks should Iran suspend, will help to create a climate for action, either in the negotiations or in the Security Council….
This is the last excuse, in some sense. There have been those who have said, "Well, if only the negotiations had the potential for the United States to be a part of them, perhaps then Iran would respond."
So now we have a pretty clear path. We have negotiations if Iran is prepared to suspend. If Iran is not prepared to suspend…there is another path.
2. Iran's Gambit Below, Amir Taheri describes the result of the Europeans' strategy (which the Bush administration has so far gone along with) of granting one more concession to Iran, then just one more, then just one more: Iran has become progressively more intransigent, confirmed in the belief that it has only to hold its ground to get everything it wants.
Incidentally, in a passage not excerpted below, Taheri also does a good job of puncturing the conventional wisdom about JFK's handling of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, which was not a victory for the US but rather a victory for Castro, Kruschev, and the Soviets.
"Religious Fanatic at a Persian Bazaar," Amir Taheri, Jerusalem Post, May 27 What could be the logic behind Ahmadinejad's "preemptive diplomacy"? One answer is that the Islamic leader may be inspired by practices in Persian bazaars that are based on the assumption that whatever offer is made in any bargain is suspect because it may be a trick to avoid an even better offer.
As for "security guarantees," Ahmadinejad knows that successive US administrations refused to consider them as advance payment for normalization of relations with the Islamic Republic. Now that so many prominent American personalities are prepared to promote the idea, shouldn't Ahmadinejad wonder whether he could secure even more concessions?...
The real problem with the Islamic Republic now is that Ahmadinejad, unlike his predecessors, is convinced that, backed by the "Hidden Imam," he can win across the line without making any concessions. The chorus of appeasers in Europe and the US confirm him in his dangerous belief. The message that Ahmadinejad can get more and more by offering less and less has already crushed the realists in Teheran who know that his policy of persistent provocation could lead to war. The more one tries to appease Ahmadinejad, the less he will be appeased.
3. Iran and the "Oil Weapon" One of Iran's big threats against the US is its ability to hold back its oil production, which would cause a sharp increase in our gasoline prices. Ironically, however, the "oil weapon" is a greater threat to Iran than it is to the US, especially since Iran has very little refinery capacity and has to import most of its gasoline—which is already becoming so expensive that it is wrecking Iran's finances.
The article below can be read at the Financial Times site, but a free registration is required. It is also available without registration at the RegimeChangeIran blog, which I have linked to below.
"Iran 'Will Need $5bn Subsidy' to Avoid Petrol Rationing," Gareth Smyth, Financial Times via RegimeChangeIran, May 28 A leading Iranian parliamentarian on Sunday warned President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad he would need to spend an extra 5bn Dollars this year to pay for subsidies on sales to motorists of imported petrol and diesel to avoid politically sensitive rationing.
Kamal Daneshyar, head of the parliament's energy commission, told Reuters the government needed to withdraw the money from the Oil Stabilisation Fund (OSF), which collects windfall oil revenue for contingencies and investment….
But the allocation of OSF funds to maintain subsidies would fly in the face of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's promises to maximise spending on capital projects, especially in Iran's regions….
Despite having the world's second-largest proven crude oil reserves, Iran imports around 40 per cent of its petrol. So while rising global oil prices boost Iranian coffers and are celebrated by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, the subsequent rise in imported petrol prices has become a domestic issue.
4. The Real War for Iraq Begins The real war in Iraq is not against Sunni insurgents in Western Iraq; it's against the Shiite militias in Southern Iraq, who are the most dangerous because they are armed by Iran and supported by their political sympathizers in Iraq's government. So it is good that Iraq's new prime minister has launched a campaign to suppress militias with an "iron fist" in Basra, the Southern city where they hold the most power.
The question is whether Prime Minister al-Maliki actually has the power to make good on this promise, since the militias' political backers have so far prevented his government from appointing ministers for the departments of Defense and Interior—and since the crackdown is supposed to be carried out by Iraq's "security forces," which includes local police who have been predominantly infiltrated by the militias.
"Iraq Premier Vows 'Iron Fist' for Basra Insurgents," AP via New York Times, May 31 Iraq's new prime minister declared a state of emergency Wednesday in the southern city of Basra, vowing to crack down with an ''iron fist'' on rival gangs battling each other for power….
Violence has been escalating in Shiite-dominated Basra, with a wave of kidnappings and the slayings of nearly 140 people—mostly Sunnis but also Shiites and police—in May alone, police said. The tension has been brewing largely due to the growing influence of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army, and the armed Badr organization, both Shiite groups….
"We shall use an iron fist against the leaders of the gangs or those who threaten security," he said earlier in a speech, apparently referring to the militias as well as rival tribal groups. "And we shall ask all security departments to draw up an effective and quick plan to achieve security….
The Badr Organization for Reconstruction and Development maintains it no longer is a militia but is still armed. The group is linked to Iraq's biggest Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq—senior partner in the Shiite coalition that won the biggest number of parliament seats.
Badr is also widely believed to have links to Iranian intelligence. Badr veterans are believed represented in ranks of the Interior Ministry special commando forces that have been alleged to take part in the abuse of Sunni prisoners.
Al-Maliki, meanwhile, still has not persuaded Iraq's ethnic, sectarian, and secular factions to agree on new defense and interior ministers, leaving the key security posts vacant more than a week after his national unity government took office.
5. The Real Immigration Question The recent immigration debate is largely framed in terms of non-essentials. It's framed in terms of "legality"—illegal immigrants are bad because they "broke the law," regardless of whether that law was just or rational. Or it's framed in terms of welfare, as if the most significant thing about immigrants is that they might mooch off of the American welfare state (which, as I and others have argued, is unjust to the vast majority of immigrants who come here to work). And so on.
But the basic questions to be asked are: is immigration, per se, good for America—and do we have a moral right to stop it? Is it good to have more workers coming here to pursue "the American dream"—and do native-born Americans have any inherent right to use government coercion to engage in protectionism for "our" jobs? My answer is "yes" to the first and "no" to the second.
Once those basic questions are answered—once we decide that immigration is good and we reject any collectivist rationale for stopping it—it becomes clear that all of the other issues now being debated are non-essential details. Are you concerned that immigrants are "breaking the law"? Then make immigration legal. Are you concerned that border smugglers trample private lands and might help terrorists or criminals to enter? Then allow immigration at legal, monitored border crossings.
Are you concerned that immigrants will collect welfare checks? Then propose legislation to deprive them of benefits—or, better yet, work to end welfare and entitlements altogether. Are you concerned that immigrants won't "assimilate"? Then fight political correctness.
You may notice that conservatives focus relentlessly on all of these secondary issues—as a way to avoid defending their stands on the fundamental issues. They have what I have reluctantly come to conclude is an unquestioned emotional-level bias against immigration—backed by their acceptance of the collectivist premise of the native-born worker's "right to a job."
Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson is an immigration restrictionist. (He opposes immigration, in essence, because impoverished new immigrants drag down America's aggregate per-capita income statistics.) But he is at least honest in framing the issue: the Senate bill will greatly expand the number of legal immigrants—and the debate should be about whether that is a good thing.
"What You Don't Know About the Immigration Bill," Robert Samuelson, Washington Post, May 31 The Senate passed legislation last week that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed as "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history." You might think that the first question anyone would ask is how much it would actually increase or decrease legal immigration. But no. After the Senate approved the bill by 62 to 36, you could not find the answer in the news columns of The Post, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Yet the estimates do exist and are fairly startling. By rough projections, the Senate bill would double the legal immigration that would occur during the next two decades from about 20 million (under present law) to about 40 million….
If the large immigration projections had been in the news, would the Senate have done what it did? Possibly, though I doubt it.
But if it had, senators would have had to defend what they were doing as sound public policy. That's the real point. They would have had to debate whether such high levels of immigration are good or bad for the country rather than adopting a measure whose largest consequences are unintended or not understood.
6. Capitalism Versus Socialism at Ground Zero I haven't written much about the endless political wrangling and delays of the rebuilding at the World Trade Center site in New York City, partly because it would take an expert political pathologist to follow the Byzantine curlicues of this political struggle, and partly because, as a result, there has been no actual rebuilding to report on.
Fortunately, along comes Deroy Murdock with an excellent summary of this story, and a brilliant overall explanation of its meaning: the building boom in the rest of Manhattan—including just across the street from the World Trade Center site—contrasts to "Pataki's Pit" in the same way that capitalist West Berlin contrasted to communist East Berlin. It is a laboratory of free enterprise versus government control.
"Capitalism v. Socialism on Vesey Street," Deroy Murdock, National Review Online, May 31 Not since I peered over the Berlin Wall from West to East in 1987 has the contrast between capitalism and socialism been as stark as it was last week in Manhattan.
On the north side of Vesey Street, real-estate developer Larry Silverstein led the joyous, May 23 grand opening of 7 World Trade Center—a sleek, sparkling, 52-story high-rise that replaces its namesake predecessor. That building collapsed in flames at 5:20 P.M. on September 11, 2001.
On Vesey’s south side, Ground Zero remains a grim, gaping cavity where the Twin Towers proudly stood until al Qaeda agents demolished them with passenger-filled missiles.
Four years and eight months after Islamo-fascists disfigured this country, Silverstein, a private entrepreneur, delivered a skyscraper that elegantly says, "The barbarians crashed the gates, but we repelled them, with our beauty and prowess intact."
Yards away, a tangle of politicians and bureaucrats—dizzyingly misdirected by New York’s blundering GOP governor, George Pataki—has stalled, squabbled, and spun in circles. The distinction is staggering: Above, a palace of commerce; below, a canyon of tears….
As Silverstein said March 15: "I am a builder. That is all I want to do. And when the Port Authority has not stood in the way, that is exactly what I have done—without any delay."
7. Things of Beauty
Lord Frederick Leighton (1830-1896), oil on canvas, c.1895
Yesterday I wrote about the cooling effect of the dappled sunshine on a woodland path during the glaring summer sun. For the more astute readers among us, you will already have noticed my preference for cool and shady places. Rob in fact, calls me his shade-loving plant. You see, it isn't merely that I grew up in a northern climate or that I am light-skinned and burn easily in direct sunshine. It is more that I tend to wilt in the hot summer sun—as Leighton's girl, Flaming June, does in this painting.
This is perhaps Leighton’s most famous painting. It is often reproduced in garish colors in poorly done reproduction posters. But if you look around carefully, you can fine good-quality reproductions of this painting. For most people, I think it is the glowing orange hue and the languid pose of June that most interests them. And you have to admit that she beautifully captures that feeling of wanting to curl up and take a quick catnap in response to the summer heat. But for me, what I love most about this painting is the quality of the light and the texture of her hair and dress.
The painting is called "Flaming June," which instantly gives us the impression of a hot summer day. Her pose and the colors used in this painting only add to that effect. But let's look a bit closer to discover what other elements of this painting help create the sense of a hot and humid afternoon. First, notice the glare of the sunshine off the water in the background. This detail sets the context for us—we can witness the glowing heat of the sun reflected off of the water.
When looking at June, notice what you do and don't notice about her. Your eyes are drawn to detail, so we see the notice the elaborate folds of her drapery and even of her hair. But have you ever noticed that we see more detail in her arms than we do in her face? Have you ever noticed that her face is actually painted in a slightly blurry manner, as if Leighton was not quite finished working on that part of this painting? But clearly he had completed this detail. So why is her face noticeably less detailed than the rest of her? I think it is because he wanted her face to be less noticeable.
We are so used to looking at and noticing human faces that our eyes are almost always drawn to faces first. But in this case June is sleeping, and it isn't her face that Leighton wants us to notice. What we notice instead is the repeated texture of her lavishly long golden red locks, her glowing orange dress, and the burgundy cloth she sleeps on. All three of these elements, painted in radiant warm hues, have the texture and shape of something that is flowing and moving, in strong contrast to the pose of drowsy June. These ripples of cloth and hair, combined with the glowing, hot colors, look very much like dancing flames.
Leighton uses nearly everything at his disposal as a painter to create the sense of a hot and humid day. The glaring sunshine off the distant water, the flushed sleeping girl, the hot summer colors that glow like embers, and even the texture of flames. Each element recalls our memories of hot summer days and effectively works to create that emotional sense in the viewer.