King Abdullah, 89: The dangers of Saudi succession (& Leaker-in-Chief)

June 18, 2012

Not his finest moment: President Obama bowing before the Saudi dictator-king

 

* “Much like the Soviet Union in its final years, the Saudis are likely to pass the crown from one old man to another”

* Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-old Saudis, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age

* “What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak?”

* Mossad agents claim Obama not being frank about Stuxnet

 

CONTENTS

1. The death of another crown prince
2. Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea
3. It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can!
4. Ha’aretz: Mossad agents claim Obama not being frank about Stuxnet
5. The Arab “spring” Sunni Egypt vs. Shiite Iran
6. The West ignores the plight of millions of Iranian Kurds
7. “Saudi succession and the illusion of stability” (By Karen Elliott House, Wall St Journal, June 18, 2012)
8. “No Iranian Nukes” (By Jamie Fly and William Kristol, Weekly Standard, June 25, 2012)
9. “Who benefits from the avalanche of leaks?” (By Peggy Noonan, Wall St Journal, June 16, 2012)
10. “After seeing Arab Spring as an opportunity, Iran meets a largely closed door in Egypt” (Associated Press, June 14, 2012)
11. “Dissident leader says plight of Iranian Kurds little known in the West” (By Adnan Hussein, rudaw.net, June 15, 2012)


[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach five articles, on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, the Kurds and White House leaks.

I know many of you are very busy so I have prepared extracts first, for those who don’t have time to read the articles in full

Among the authors of these articles, William Kristol, Peggy Noonan, Jamie Fly and Yossi Melman are subscribers to this email list.

 

EXTRACTS

THE DEATH OF ANOTHER CROWN PRINCE

Karen Elliott House writes:

The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, who has outlived both of his presumed successors, is himself 89 and in failing health. So the looming question is will the ruling Al Saud family pass the crown to yet another geriatric brother of the king? Or will he seize this occasion to jump to a new generation of royals who might be presumed to have more vitality and vision to revitalize the moribund kingdom on which the world depends for so much of its oil? …

Given the royal family’s reverence for age, however, almost surely the next crown prince with be Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, 76, a full brother of the two late crown princes. While change sweeps much of the rest of the Middle East, the Saudi monarchy continues to cling to the status quo.

In the near term, the change from one elderly brother to another will not affect U.S. Saudi relations. For better or worse, the U.S. is wedded to the Al Saud family, not to a particular prince. But we should not confuse stagnation with stability. The fact that the royals continue to rule when autocratic regimes have been swept aside in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and perhaps soon in Syria, doesn’t mean this U.S. ally is stable.

The kingdom faces multiple problems: Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-olds, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, the kingdom’s one-dimensional economy earns nearly 80% of its revenues from oil, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Moreover, the senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age…

The problem is that a growing number of Saudis are no longer content to obey authority. Saudi Arabia boasts 10 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 a decade ago, and it is second only to much-larger Egypt in Facebook users. Young Saudis know what is happening in the rest of the world and are frustrated at what they see as the lack of freedom and opportunity in their own country….

 

IRAN IS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN NORTH KOREA

Jamie Fly and William Kristol write:

Two years ago, we wrote that we were entering with respect to Iran what Winston Churchill called in 1936 a “period of consequences,” in which “the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close.”

And so it finally is. The Obama administration has remained committed to procrastination and half-measures, to soothing and baffling expedients. But even friends of the administration now acknowledge the obvious: After all the diplomatic efforts and attempts at various forms of economic pressure, Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapons capability, with a new enrichment facility, thousands more centrifuges spinning, and enough enriched uranium to produce five nuclear weapons…

This record of Iranian murder and mayhem is the reality of our failed Iran policy – a policy, to be fair, that began under the Bush administration. President Obama sometimes seems committed to ending the era of procrastination. He said in March that U.S. policy “is not going to be one of containment. .  .  . My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” Since that tough talk, however, he and his top advisers have temporized…

But Iran’s nuclear progress marches on. Facts are stubborn things, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. No one seriously believes the talks set to resume shortly in Moscow will stop Iranian nuclear progress. Indeed, the talks look increasingly like the farcical diplomatic process pursued by the Bush and Obama administrations with respect to Iran’s friend, North Korea, a “process” that has resulted in a growing nuclear stockpile in that country and a series of unanswered North Korean provocations. But Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea…

The real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down. So: Isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?

Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable. And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway. … The Obama administration may be committed to leading from behind, but Congress can choose to lead from the front.

 

IT’S A GOOD THING OUR ENEMIES CAN’T READ. WAIT, THEY CAN!

Peggy Noonan writes:

What is happening with all these breaches of our national security? Why are intelligence professionals talking so much – divulging secret and sensitive information for all the world to see, and for our adversaries to contemplate?

In the past few months we have read that the U.S. penetrated al Qaeda in Yemen and foiled a terror plot; that the Stuxnet cyberworm, which caused chaos in the Iranian nuclear program, was a joint Israeli-American operation; and that President Obama personally approves every name on an expanding “kill list” of those targeted and removed from life by unmanned drones. According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama pores over “suspects’ biographies” in “what one official calls ‘the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

From New York Times correspondent David Sanger’s new book, we learn that … the Pentagon has built a replica of Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant. The National Security Agency “routinely taps the ISI’s cell phones” – that’s the Pakistani intelligence agency. A “secret” U.S. program helps Pakistan protect its nuclear facilities; it involves fences and electronic padlocks…

It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can! They can download all this onto their iPads at a café in Islamabad.

It’s all out there now. Sanger’s sources are, apparently, high administration officials… What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak? …

All of this constitutes part of what California Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls an “avalanche of leaks.” After she read the Stuxnet story in the Times, she was quoted as saying “my heart stopped” as she considered possible repercussions…

There is something childish in it: Knowing secrets is cool, and telling them is cooler. But we are talking to the world. Should it know how, when and with whose assistance we gather intelligence? Should it know our methods? Will this make us safer?

Liberally quoted in the Sanger book is the White House national security adviser, Thomas Donilon. When I was a child, there was a doll called Chatty Cathy. You pulled a string in her back, and she babbled inanely. Tom Donilon appears to be the Chatty Cathy of the American intelligence community…

After the killing of bin Laden, members of the administration, in a spirit of triumphalism, began giving briefings and interviews in which they said too much. One of the adults in the administration, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly went to Mr. Donilon’s office. “I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,” he said. What? asked Mr. Donilon.

“Shut the [blank] up,” Mr. Gates said.

 

HA’ARETZ: MOSSAD AGENTS CLAIM OBAMA NOT BEING FRANK ABOUT STUXNET

On the same topic as Peggy Noonan’s article above, Yossi Melman, the respected (and very well sourced) intelligence correspondent for Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper writes:

“Israeli intelligence officials actually told me a different version. They said that it was Israeli intelligence that began, a few years earlier, a cyberspace campaign to damage and slow down Iran’s nuclear intentions. And only later they managed to convince the USA to consider a joint operation – which, at the time, was unheard of. Even friendly nations are hesitant to share their technological and intelligence resources against a common enemy...

“Yet my Israeli sources understand the sensitivity and the timing of the issue and are not going to be dragged into a battle over taking credit. ‘We know that it is the presidential election season,’ one Israeli added, ‘and don’t want to spoil the party for President Obama and his officials, who shared in a twisted and manipulated way some of the behind-the-scenes secrets of the success of cyberwar.’”

 

THE ARAB “SPRING” SUNNI EGYPT VS. SHIITE IRAN

The Associated Press reports:

Iran once saw the Arab Spring uprisings as a prime opportunity, hoping it would open the door for it to spread its influence in countries whose autocratic leaders long shunned Tehran’s ruling clerics. But it is finding the new order no more welcoming. Egypt is a prime example.

Egypt has sporadically looked more friendly toward Iran since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, and the rise of the Islamists here fueled the expectations of Tehran’s clerical regime that it could make inroads.

Instead, it has been met with the deep mistrust felt by many in mainly Sunni Muslim Egypt toward non-Arab, Shiite-dominated Iran…

Mohammed el-Sagheer, a lawmaker from the hard-line Gamaa Islamiya said “Spreading Shiism in Egypt is not an issue of sectarian conflict, it is a question of national security.”

Iran has also invited families of nearly 900 protesters killed during last year’s uprising to honor them in Tehran, but most relatives declined the offer, with only a group of 27 agreeing to make the trip. They flew to Iran last week.

In a wider context, the new order in the Arab world is not going Tehran’s way and it could even erode its influence and leave it more isolated.

“Arab Spring revolts have been a disaster for Iran,” said Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from New York’s Century Foundation. “It wants to ride those revolts as an extension of its own revolution back in 1979, but it is not happening.” …

 

THE WEST IGNORES THE PLIGHT OF MILLIONS OF IRANIAN KURDS

Adnan Hussein writes:

Abdullah Muhtadi says the plight of Iranian Kurds has not received the attention it deserves from Western powers.

“It doesn’t have the voice that it should and has not been able to communicate its demands to the outside world,” says Muhtadi. “As part of our efforts, we try to get that voice heard by the U.S. administration, Congress and public opinion.”

He added that the U.S. does not have a “Kurdish policy” and deals with Kurds only as part of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“In each of these countries, Kurds have become a factor for the U.S. to pay attention to and deal with and sometimes even support. But in general, they don’t have a Kurdish policy in the Middle East,” says Muhtadi.

The Komala leader says that, during his visit to the U.S., he asked the American government to launch a Kurdish language television channel. The U.S. has launched a Persian language channel, called Persian News Network, which is part of Voice of America.

Muhtadi says because Kurds make up only about 12 percent of the population of Iran, they “cannot change Iran alone.”


FULL ARTICLES

SAUDI SUCCESSION AND THE ILLUSION OF STABILITY

Saudi Succession and the Illusion of Stability
Much like the Soviet Union in its final years, the Saudis are likely to pass the crown from one old man to another.
By Karen Elliott House
The Wall Street Journal
June 18, 2012

The death and burial this weekend of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef, the second Saudi crown prince to die in less than a year, demonstrates the inherent instability of the absolute monarchy still being ruled by the geriatric sons of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia.

King Abdullah, who has outlived both of his presumed successors, is himself 89 and in failing health. So the looming question is will the ruling Al Saud family pass the crown to yet another geriatric brother of the king? Or will he seize this occasion to jump to a new generation of royals who might be presumed to have more vitality and vision to revitalize the moribund kingdom on which the world depends for so much of its oil? A formula to select a new crown prince exists in which some three dozen sons and grandsons of the founder would vote secretly to choose the new crown prince. This commission has a majority of grandsons who could vote for one of their generation.

Given the royal family’s reverence for age, however, almost surely the next crown prince with be Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, 76, a full brother of the two late crown princes. While change sweeps much of the rest of the Middle East, the Saudi monarchy continues to cling to the status quo.

In the near term, the change from one elderly brother to another will not affect U.S. Saudi relations. For better or worse, the U.S. is wedded to the Al Saud family, not to a particular prince. But we should not confuse stagnation with stability. The fact that the royals continue to rule when autocratic regimes have been swept aside in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and perhaps soon in Syria, doesn’t mean this U.S. ally is stable.

The kingdom faces multiple problems: Unemployment is 40% among 20- to 24-year-olds, 40% of Saudis live on less than $1,000 a month, the kingdom’s one-dimensional economy earns nearly 80% of its revenues from oil, and 90% of all workers in its private sector are foreigners. Moreover, the senior Al Saud rulers have an average age exceeding 80 while 60% of the country’s population is below 20 years of age.

Beyond all this, the tension level in Saudi society is rising precipitously as the royals vacillate between seeking to satisfy modernizers’ demands for more change and seeking to placate conservatives for whom the only acceptable change is a return to the religious purity of the Prophet Muhammad, which many feel the royal family has abandoned. Saudi Islam increasingly is divided within itself, as is the royal family.

Prince Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister since last November (after nearly half a century as governor of Riyadh), is more energetic and less rigid than the late Prince Nayef, but unlikely to initiate significant reforms. Nayef’s death will please those Saudis who want at least a continuation of King Abdullah’s modest reforms, including trying to curb religious control over education and providing Saudi women scholarships to study abroad, albeit accompanied by a male relative. These Saudis feared Nayef as king would roll back even such small gains to curry favor with the fundamentalist religious establishment.

But Prince Salman is no democrat. In an interview with me in his Riyadh office two years ago, he took pains to explain why democracy couldn’t work in Saudi Arabia. “If Saudi Arabia adopts democracy every tribe will be a party,” he said, adding that the country would be chaotic. Instead, he said, the Kingdom has shura, or consultation. “Government asks a collection of people to consult and when there is no consensus, the leader decides,” he said candidly summing up Al Saud autocracy.

The problem is that a growing number of Saudis are no longer content to obey authority. Saudi Arabia boasts 10 million Internet users, up from only 500,000 a decade ago, and it is second only to much-larger Egypt in Facebook users. Young Saudis know what is happening in the rest of the world and are frustrated at what they see as the lack of freedom and opportunity in their own country. This frustration is producing growing signs of sedition despite government deterrence by punishing those who step out of line.

Recently, a young Saudi woman confronted by the country’s religious police in a Riyadh mall for wearing nail polish told them her nails were not their business. She filmed her confrontation with authorities and posted it on YouTube. Last month, Manal al-Sharif, jailed a year ago for driving her car and posting a video of that forbidden act on YouTube, doubled down on her defiance by going to Oslo to speak at a freedom forum even though her employer warned she would be fired. A young Saudi male dared to film and post on YouTube the grueling poverty in Riyadh, concluding by interviewing a local imam who said young girls in the neighborhood are being sold into prostitution. The film went viral with some 800,000 Saudis viewing it before its youthful maker was arrested.

Clearly, a growing number of frustrated Saudis no longer either respect or fear their leaders. Saudis are not demanding democracy; only transparent, efficient, honest government. They want a leader who can make the sclerotic system function better. Yet, much like the Soviet Union in its final years when power passed from one old man to another – Brezhnev to Andropov to Chernenko—in quick succession, the Saudi royal family continues to pass the crown from one aged son of the founder to the next.

Recall, the Soviet Union was widely assumed to be stable. In the end, it proved brittle. Saudi succession looks very much like a movie we’ve seen before.

(Ms. House, a former publisher of The Wall Street Journal, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for Mideast coverage. She is author of “On Saudi Arabia,” to be published in September by Knopf.)

 

IRAN IS MUCH MORE DANGEROUS THAN NORTH KOREA

No Iranian Nukes
By Jamie Fly and William Kristol
The Weekly Standard
Issue of June 25, 2012

Two years ago, we wrote in these pages that we were entering with respect to Iran what Winston Churchill called in 1936 a “period of consequences,” in which “the era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close.”

And so it finally is. The Obama administration has remained committed to procrastination and half-measures, to soothing and baffling expedients. But even friends of the administration now acknowledge the obvious: After all the diplomatic efforts and attempts at various forms of economic pressure, Iran is closer than ever to a nuclear weapons capability, with a new enrichment facility, thousands more centrifuges spinning, and enough enriched uranium to produce five nuclear weapons.

The last year has also witnessed a foiled Iranian plot to assassinate U.S. diplomats and their families in Azerbaijan, attempts to kill Israeli diplomats in the Republic of Georgia, Thailand, and India, and a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador (and American bystanders) at a Washington, D.C., restaurant. As we have shamefully dithered for more than a year, Iran has sent weapons, troops, and money to support its brutal ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria. All of this is, of course, in addition to years of Iranian complicity in the killing of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This record of Iranian murder and mayhem is the reality of our failed Iran policy – a policy, to be fair, that began under the Bush administration. President Obama sometimes seems committed to ending the era of procrastination. He said in March that U.S. policy “is not going to be one of containment. .  .  . My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.” Since that tough talk, however, he and his top advisers have temporized – claiming that Iran is increasingly isolated and on the ropes, insisting that there is time for negotiations and sanctions to work because Iranian leaders have not yet made the decision to weaponize, arguing that “loose talk of war” only serves to strengthen Iran’s hand, and his administration hints that covert activities against Iran can effectively substitute for real action.

But Iran’s nuclear progress marches on. That fact trumps all the administration’s hopes and wishes and theories. Facts are stubborn things, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. No one seriously believes the talks set to resume shortly in Moscow will stop Iranian nuclear progress. Indeed, the talks look increasingly like the farcical diplomatic process pursued by the Bush and Obama administrations with respect to Iran’s friend, North Korea, a “process” that has resulted in a growing nuclear stockpile in that country and a series of unanswered North Korean provocations.

But Iran is much more dangerous than North Korea. And while it may serve President Obama’s short-term political interests to avoid taking action against Tehran this year, it doesn’t serve the nation’s.

President Obama says a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The real and credible threat of force is probably the last hope of persuading the Iranian regime to back down. So: Isn’t it time for the president to ask Congress for an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iran’s nuclear program?

Instead of running away from it, administration officials could be putting the military option front and center and ensuring it is seen as viable. And if the administration flinches, Congress could consider passing such an authorization anyway. While any commander in chief has the constitutional authority to take urgent action to protect Americans and their interests, such legislation would give weight to the president’s commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It would strengthen the president’s hand. It would show Tehran that America’s policy of preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon is a credible one. Bipartisan support for such an authorization would remove the issue as much as possible from the turmoil of election year politics. And the authorization could also make clear that the United States would come to Israel’s aid in the event that it decides it needs to take action.

We don’t expect the Obama administration to request an Authorization for Use of Military Force. But Congress can act without such a request. By doing so, it would serve the nation’s interest, and, indeed, the administration’s, if the administration means what it says.

At the end of his “period of consequences” remarks in the House of Commons in November 1936, Churchill said:

“Two things, I confess, have staggered me, after a long Parliamentary experience, in these Debates. The first has been the dangers that have so swiftly come upon us in a few years, and have been transforming our position and the whole outlook of the world. Secondly, I have been staggered by the failure of the House of Commons to react effectively against those dangers. That, I am bound to say, I never expected. I never would have believed that we should have been allowed to go on getting into this plight, month by month and year by year, and that even the Government’s own confessions of error would have produced no concentration of Parliamentary opinion and force capable of lifting our efforts to the level of emergency.”

Surely it is time for a concentration of congressional opinion and force capable of lifting our efforts to the level of emergency. The Obama administration may be committed to leading from behind, but Congress can choose to lead from the front.

 

WHO BENEFITS FROM THE ‘AVALANCHE OF LEAKS’?

Who Benefits From the ‘Avalanche of Leaks’?
They seem designed to glorify President Obama and help his re-election campaign.
By Peggy Noonan
The Wall Street Journal
June 16, 2012

What is happening with all these breaches of our national security? Why are intelligence professionals talking so much – divulging secret and sensitive information for all the world to see, and for our adversaries to contemplate?

In the past few months we have read that the U.S. penetrated al Qaeda in Yemen and foiled a terror plot; that the Stuxnet cyberworm, which caused chaos in the Iranian nuclear program, was a joint Israeli-American operation; and that President Obama personally approves every name on an expanding “kill list” of those targeted and removed from life by unmanned drones. According to the New York Times, Mr. Obama pores over “suspects’ biographies” in “what one official calls ‘the macabre ‘baseball cards’ of an unconventional war.”

From David Sanger’s new book, “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” we learn that Stuxnet was “the most sophisticated, complex cyberattack the United States had ever launched.” Its secret name was “Olympic Games.” America and Israel developed the “malicious software” together, the U.S. at Fort Meade, Md., where it keeps “computer warriors,” Israel at a military intelligence agency it “barely acknowledges exists.”

The Pentagon has built a replica of Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant. The National Security Agency “routinely taps the ISI’s cell phones” – that’s the Pakistani intelligence agency. A “secret” U.S. program helps Pakistan protect its nuclear facilities; it involves fences and electronic padlocks. Still, insurgents bent on creating a dirty bomb, if they have a friend inside, can slip out “a few grams of nuclear material at a time” and outwit security systems targeted at major theft. In any case, there’s a stockpile of highly enriched uranium sitting “near an aging research reactor in Pakistan.” It could be used for several dirty bombs.

It’s a good thing our enemies can’t read. Wait, they can! They can download all this onto their iPads at a café in Islamabad.

It’s all out there now. Mr. Sanger’s sources are, apparently, high administration officials, whose diarrhetic volubility marks a real breakthrough in the history of indiscretion.

What are they thinking? That in the age of Wikileaks the White House itself should be one big Wikileak?

More from the Sanger book: During the search for Osama bin Laden, American intelligence experts had a brilliant idea. Bin Laden liked to make videotapes to rouse his troops and threaten the West. Why not flood part of Pakistan with new digital cameras, each with a “unique signature” that would allow its signals to be tracked? The signal could function as a beacon for a drone. Agents got the new cameras into the distribution chain of Peshawar shops. The plan didn’t catch Osama, because he wasn’t in that area. But “traceable digital cameras are still relied on by the CIA . . . and remain highly classified.”

Well, they were.

There was a Pakistani doctor named Shakil Afridi who was sympathetic to America. He became involved in a scheme to try and get the DNA of Osama’s family. He “and a team of nurses” were hired by the U.S. to administer hepatitis B vaccinations throughout Abbottabad. The vaccinations were real. Dr. Afridi got inside Osama’s compound but never got to vaccinate any bin Ladens.

In the days after bin Laden was killed, the doctor was picked up by Pakistani agents and accused of cooperating with the Americans. He was likely tortured. He’s in prison now, convicted of conspiring against the state.

No word yet on the nurses, but stand by.

Mr. Sanger writes that President Obama “will go down in history as the man who dramatically expanded” the use of drones. They are cheaper than boots on the ground, more efficient. But some of those who operate the unmanned bombers are getting upset. They track victims for days. They watch them play with their children. “It freaks you out,” a former drone operator told Mr. Sanger. “You feel less like a pilot than a sniper.”

During the Arab Spring, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was insistent that Mr. Obama needed to stick with Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, even, Mr. Sanger reports, “if he started shooting protestors in the streets.”

King Abdullah must be glad he called. Maybe he’ll call less in the future.

All of this constitutes part of what California Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls an “avalanche of leaks.” After she read the Stuxnet story in the Times, she was quoted as saying “my heart stopped” as she considered possible repercussions.

Why is this happening? In part because at our highest level in politics, government and journalism, Americans continue to act as if we are talking only to ourselves. There is something narcissistic in this: Only our dialogue counts, no one else is listening, and what can they do about it if they are? There is something childish in it: Knowing secrets is cool, and telling them is cooler. But we are talking to the world. Should it know how, when and with whose assistance we gather intelligence? Should it know our methods? Will this make us safer?

Liberally quoted in the Sanger book is the White House national security adviser, Thomas Donilon. When I was a child, there was a doll called Chatty Cathy. You pulled a string in her back, and she babbled inanely. Tom Donilon appears to be the Chatty Cathy of the American intelligence community.

It is good Congress has become involved. They wonder if the leaks have been directed, encouraged or authorized, and by whom. One way to get at that is the classic legal question: Who benefits?

That is not a mystery. In all these stories, it is the president and his campaign that benefit. The common theme in the leaks is how strong and steely Mr. Obama is. He’s tough but fair, bold yet judicious, surprisingly willing to do what needs to be done. He hears everyone out, asks piercing questions, doesn’t flinch.

He is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Slayer.

And he is up for re-election and fighting the constant perception that he’s weak, a one-man apology tour whose foreign policy is unclear, unsure, and lacking in strategic depth.

There’s something in the leaks that is a hallmark of the Obama White House. They always misunderstand the country they seek to spin, and they always think less of it than it deserves. Why do the president’s appointees think the picture of him with a kill list in his hand makes him look good? He sits and personally decides who to kill? Americans don’t think of their presidents like that. And they don’t want to.

National security doesn’t exist to help presidents win elections. It’s not a plaything or a tool to advance one’s prospects.

After the killing of bin Laden, members of the administration, in a spirit of triumphalism, began giving briefings and interviews in which they said too much. One of the adults in the administration, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, reportedly went to Mr. Donilon’s office. “I have a new strategic communications approach to recommend,” he said. What? asked Mr. Donilon.

“Shut the [blank] up,” Mr. Gates said.

Still excellent advice, and at this point more urgently needed.

 

AFTER SEEING ARAB SPRING AS AN OPPORTUNITY, IRAN MEETS A LARGELY CLOSED DOOR IN EGYPT

After seeing Arab Spring as an opportunity, Iran meets a largely closed door in Egypt
The Associated Press
June 14, 2012

CAIRO – Iran once saw the Arab Spring uprisings as a prime opportunity, hoping it would open the door for it to spread its influence in countries whose autocratic leaders long shunned Tehran’s ruling clerics. But it is finding the new order no more welcoming. Egypt is a prime example.

Egypt has sporadically looked more friendly toward Iran since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago, and the rise of the Islamists here fueled the expectations of Tehran’s clerical regime that it could make inroads.

Instead, it has been met with the deep mistrust felt by many in mainly Sunni Muslim Egypt toward non-Arab, Shiite-dominated Iran – as well as Cairo’s reluctance to sacrifice good relations with Iran’s rivals, the United States and the oil-rich Arab nations of the Gulf.

In a sign of the mistrust, Egyptian security and religious authorities have raised an alarm in recent weeks that Iran was trying to promote Shiism in the country.
That brought warnings from the Sunni Islamists that Iran had hoped would be friendly to their religious-based leadership.

“Iran must realize that if it wants good relations with an Egypt that will soon regain its strength, it must bear in mind that Egypt holds high the banner of the Sunni faith,” said Mohammed el-Sagheer, a lawmaker from the hard-line Gamaa Islamiya.

“Spreading Shiism in Egypt is not an issue of sectarian conflict, it is a question of national security.”

Iran has also invited families of nearly 900 protesters killed during last year’s uprising to honor them in Tehran, but most relatives declined the offer, with only a group of 27 agreeing to make the trip. They flew to Iran last week.

In a wider context, the new order in the Arab world is not going Tehran’s way and it could even erode its influence and leave it more isolated.

“Arab Spring revolts have been a disaster for Iran,” said Michael W. Hanna, a Middle East expert from New York’s Century Foundation. “It wants to ride those revolts as an extension of its own revolution back in 1979, but it is not happening.”

Instead, Iran has been losing its allure as an alternative model to authoritarian Arab regimes that fell victim to popular uprisings like Mubarak’s, Moammar Gadhafi’s in Libya or Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Ominously for Iran, it faces the possibility of the fall of its top Arab ally, the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad, and its replacement by Sunni rule.

The Assad dynasty – which belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism – has maintained close ties with Tehran for more than 30 years. But it is now struggling to contain an uprising dominated by Syria’s Sunni majority.

The fall of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who succeeded his father in 2000, would almost certainly weaken Hezbollah, Tehran’s chief ally in Lebanon and a sworn enemy of Israel.

Iran has already seen one friend distance itself over the Syria turmoil. The leadership of the Palestinian militant Hamas group left its Damascus headquarters and relocated to Qatar which, together with Saudi Arabia, is calling for the arming of Syrian rebels.

For the past decade, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been the cornerstones of the anti-Iran faction in the Middle East, trying to roll back its rising fortunes, which peaked with the ascent to power by Iraq’s Shiites in 2003 and Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel, a fight that elevated the Shiite group and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, to heroic status in the mostly Sunni Arab world.

Relations between Cairo and Tehran were tense throughout the 29-year rule of Mubarak, whose regime accused Iran of supporting homegrown militant Islamist groups and involvement in a 1995 assassination attempt against the ousted leader.

More recently, the two regional powerhouses quarreled publicly over Iran’s alleged meddling in Iraq and over its support for Hezbollah and Hamas.

Moreover, Egypt traditionally sees itself as the guardian of Islam’s dominant Sunni branch and as a protector of Arab culture against foreign influence, including that of Persian Iran.

Relations, however, appeared to be heading for a major breakthrough following Mubarak’s ouster on Feb. 11, 2011, with Cairo approving an Iranian request for two naval ships to transit the Suez Canal on their way to Syria. The two vessels sailed through the canal in late February 2011, the first ones to do so since the Islamic Revolution.

In the following month, Egypt’s then-Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi declared Iran was no longer an “enemy state,” a comment the Iranians seized on to express their wish to see closer relations with Egypt.

The signs of a rapprochement worried the United States and Saudi Arabia, allied nations whose largesse and goodwill have for decades been at the heart of Egypt’s foreign policy goals.

Iranian public statements did not ease their concerns.

“A new Middle East is emerging based on Islam ... based on religious democracy,” a hardline cleric, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, said last year during a Friday prayer sermon.

Many Iranian clerics and top officials described Arab Spring uprisings as an indication that “an Islamic Middle East is taking shape” and that Egypt’s own revolt was a replay of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled a pro-Western monarch and brought Islamists to power, much like what has happened in Egypt.

But even as Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and others have gained a stronger political role in Egypt with their domination of parliament, they have proven little more sympathetic to Iran. And Egypt’s military rulers – all veterans of the Mubarak era and close friends of the U.S. military establishment – show little sign of changing their traditional wariness of Tehran.

Last month, Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo offices of Iran’s Arabic-language state television channel, Al-Alam, seizing equipment and closing it down. Police said the station did not have a license. A Cairo-based Iranian diplomat was detained and expelled in May last year on suspicion that he tried to set up spy rings in Egypt and the Gulf countries.

That was followed by a flurry of media reports that Shiite places of worship known as Husseinyahs were springing up across the country.

The leader of Al-Azhar, the world’s foremost seat of Sunni learning, responded sharply.

Grand Imam Sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb said that while Al-Azhar is not an enemy of any Muslim nation, “it declares its categorical and decisive rejection of all attempts to build places of worship that are not simply called mosques that will incite sectarianism.”

Al-Tayeb summoned Iran’s top diplomat in Cairo to complain about the Husseinyahs in an intensely publicized meeting. Photographs of a grim-faced al-Tayeb made front pages the next day along with reports that the diplomat gave him assurances that his country had nothing to do with the construction of the Husseinyahs.

Security officials said authorities were investigating a plan to spread “Iranian Shiism” by 350 Shiite activists who have been able to convert thousands of Sunnis to their faith. They said two Husseiniyahs were already operational, one in the Nile Delta town of Tanta and the other in the October 6 district west of Cairo.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sunni-Shiite divide explains in part Egypt’s resistance. But there are key strategic issues as well.

With a struggling economy, Egypt is in dire need of financial help from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab nations whose relations with Tehran are fraught with tensions over its disputed nuclear program, its perceived support for the majority Shiites in Sunni-ruled Bahrain and occupation of three Gulf islands claimed by the United Arab Emirates.

Egypt is also the recipient of some $1.5 billion in annual U.S. military and economic aid and is dependent on Washington’s support to secure loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Egypt and Iran “are competitors and rivals in the region,” said Middle East expert Samer S. Shehata of Georgetown University. “The natural state of affairs is not for Iran and Egypt to be allies. Egypt’s strategic interests are different from Iran’s.”

 

DISSIDENT LEADER SAYS PLIGHT OF IRANIAN KURDS LITTLE KNOWN IN THE WEST

Dissident leader says plight of Iranian Kurds little known in the West
By Adnan Hussein
rudaw.net
June 15, 2012

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region –A few hundred meters from Zrgwez village in Sulaimani province, a young woman wearing a man’s outfit opens the door to the headquarters of Komala, a leftist Iranian Kurdish organization where we met Abdullah Muhtadi, secretary general of Komala, or the Revolutionary Society of Iranian Kurdistan’s Toilers.

Komala has fought the Iranian regime for decades, demanding Kurdish rights.

Muhtadi recently embarked on a trip to several Western capitals, including Washington, Stockholm and Amsterdam. It was his first trip in six years.

“We set up a representation office in the United States. We wanted to have active representation there to get in touch with other parties, be they Americans or other Kurdish or Iranian opposition groups,” Muhtadi told Rudaw.

Muhtadi says the plight of Iranian Kurds has not received the attention it deserves from Western powers.

“It doesn’t have the voice that it should and has not been able to communicate its demands to the outside world,” says Muhtadi. “As part of our efforts, we try to get that voice heard by the U.S. administration, Congress and public opinion.”

He added that the U.S. does not have a “Kurdish policy” and deals with Kurds only as part of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

“In each of these countries, Kurds have become a factor for the U.S. to pay attention to and deal with and sometimes even support. But in general, they don’t have a Kurdish policy in the Middle East,” says Muhtadi.

Komala is considered one of the major Iranian Kurdish organizations, along with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

The head of Komala says Kurdish groups have “strong relations” with the Iranian opposition. Several armed Iranian Kurdish opposition groups are based in Iraqi Kurdistan. But with the exception of the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), other parties have not had any recent significant military clashes with Iranian troops.

Muhtadi says his party does not receive any assistance from the U.S. “I am not aware if they are giving assistance to other Kurdish parties,” he added.

The Komala leader says that, during his visit to the U.S., he asked the American government to launch a Kurdish language television channel. The U.S. has launched a Persian language channel, called Persian News Network, which is part of Voice of America. Muhtadi says other Kurdish parties need to join the effort to persuade the U.S. government to launch a Kurdish channel.

Muhtadi also urges Iranian Kurdish opposition parties to form a united front, especially now that the region is at a crucial historical juncture.

If Kurdish parties are not ready to form a broad front, he says, they should at least try to “agree on a platform that includes a number of points for now and the future.”

Explaining why Komala and most other major Kurdish parties boycotted the recent parliamentary elections in Iran, Muhtadi says there is no room for democratic participation in Iran.

However, he acknowledges that personal rivalries drew a considerable number of people to the polls, especially in provincial areas.

Muhtadi says his party would like to be allowed to legally work and run in Iranian elections as the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy party (BDP) has been allowed to do in Turkey.

“This is not possible in Iran,” he says. “We’d like it if Iran would allow that. If that possibility existed, we’d have certainly seized it.”

Muhtadi believes despite all the violence it has used, Turkey is closer to democracy and more open to these sorts of things than Iran.

After disputed presidential elections in 2009 saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad resume office, many Iranians took to the streets protesting alleged fraud and vote rigging. But the Kurdish areas of Iran remained mostly calm and did not join the so-called Green Movement.

Muhtadi says the Green Movement’s platform was “not very clear and did not include anything that would please Kurds.”

Moreover, he believes, Kurds were afraid of the government’s excessive use of force. There was no consensus among Kurdish parties as to whether take part in the protests or not. Muhtadi argues that if Kurds had participated in the protest movement, they would have “benefited greatly.”

“It was a sensitive time and the world media was watching Iran. Kurdish participation in the protests would have shown that the Iranian movement was not only the Green Movement, and that the Kurdish movement was part of it.”

He says because Kurds make up only about 12 percent of the population of Iran, they “cannot change Iran alone.”


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.