geopolitics

Your Morning Buggery

Detail of 'Bug Martini' by Adam Huber, 22 May 2015.Sometimes you just need filler for a post. Sometimes you like the idea of giving a thumbs-up to a repression-loving killbot, and want the image detail for some future occasion when it might come up. And, you know, sometimems you just want to chuckle at Kim Jong Bug-Un.

And sometimes it all works out perfectly in the end.

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Huber, Adam. “Kim Jong-Unbelievable”. Bug Martini. 22 May 2015.

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Iran and the Obvious Question

In this picture released by an official website at the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sits under a portrait fo the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini prior to his speech in a meeting with Iranian ambassadors in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014.  Khamenei on Wednesday dismissed the value of direct talks with the U.S., his first comments touching on meetings that officials from the Islamic Republic had with Americans dating back to secret talks that began in 2012.  (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

There is, of course, much going on with the P5+1 that really doesn’t have anything to do with the #GOP47 except for their determination to meddle and even tank the deal. That said, the larger American discourse can be a bit thin on details.

I think a realignment is happening in Iranian politics. The 2000s were a period of right wing populism under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei had his hands burned by the Ahmadinejad faction of hard line populists. They provoked all that trouble in 2009, and mismanaged the economy with massive subsidies. By 2012 Khamenei was openly slapping Ahmadinejad down. Then the US kicked Iran off the bank exchanges and took Iran oil exports down from 2.5 mn b/d to 1.5 mn b/d. Since prices were high, it didn’t hurt the regime that much, but must have been concerning given what was done to Mosaddegh in 1953, when similar int’l oil sanctions prepared the way for a CIA coup.

Khamenei hates the reform camp but seems to have realized that he can’t count on simply being able to crush them. He can, in contrast, live with a centrist like Rouhani. Domestically, Rouhani is his way of deflecting what’s left of the Green Movement (which really shook Khamenei, perhaps even moreso after Mubarak et al were toppled by the Arab youth 18 months later). Internationally, Rouhani holds out the possibility of escaping the severe sanctions but keeping the nuclear energy program, which is Khamenei’s baby and which he sees as a guarantee that Iran can’t be held hostage by the international energy markets and great powers. But deploying Rouhani means slapping down Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) hard liners, which he did in February.

Hard liners are jumping up and down mad about what Rouhani & Zarif are alleged to have given away to the West, and my suspicion is that Khamenei’s demand for immediate end of sanctions is a way of tossing them a bone for the moment. If you read the whole speech he comes back and is still supportive of the process at the end, saying he is not for or against the deal since there really is no deal yet, just a framework agreement for negotiating the deal. But then that means he did not, contrary to the headlines, come out against the deal today.

(Cole)

In those brief paragraphs, Juan Cole gives basic questions about the Iranian perspective more consideration than most Americans would think to give. To the other, one such analysis is hardly definitive.

Still, though, the problem facing the American discourse is that so few acknowledge Iran’s reasons for distrusting our government, and there is also a larger question about the implications of what we have done. Jon Schwarz offers a look into some of the―well, this is the part where we are supposed to say “complicated”, but that really is a way of euphemizing―insidious history of how the United States and other Western nations have gotten along with Iran over the years.

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A Wartime Prayer?

Editorial cartoon by Stavro Jabra, 6 April 2015, via Cagle Post.Look, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about this one. Netanyahu came to the United States and tried to scuttle the P5+1. And no, we ought not forget the #GOP47, but that’s an awful lot of people to fit in the frame. Besides, it’s probably fair to say that this is the more pressing angle for Stavro Jabra, a bit closer to home for the Lebanese cartoonist.

But, yeah, we’re starting to get a little bit pissed off about Congress, too, over on this side of the Pond. No, seriously, it’s like, “Holy shit! A chance at peace? Quick, we need to change the law so we can find a way to screw this up!”

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Jabra, Stavro. “Deal”. The Cagle Post. 6 April 2015.

Strobel, Warren. “Republicans push demand for a vote on Iran nuclear deal”. Reuters. 5 April 2015.

The Senate GOP in Crisis

Mitch McConnell

“It is a useful thing when a political party reveals itself as utterly unsuited for national leadership.”

Fred Kaplan

In a way, everyone else is taking it well. That is to say, even the Iranians are trying very hard to enjoy themselves in the moment, and why not? It is not every day the United States Senate goes out of its way to afford a foreign nation the opportunity to school it on American constitutional issues. Or, as Akbar Shahid Ahmed explains, for Huffington Post:

After sparking a furor in Washington Monday with a letter signed by fellow Republican senators warning Iran against nuclear diplomacy with the Obama administration, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) went to the extra trouble of having his message translated into Farsi for Iranian leaders. Among his targets: foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Cotton needn’t have bothered with the translation. Zarif is more than capable of reading the Republicans’ letter in English. He attended prep school in San Francisco, San Francisco State University, Columbia University, and the University of Denver’s School of International Studies (where, Zarif told The New Yorker’s Robin Wright, a professor who had taught GOP foreign policy icon Condoleezza Rice once quipped to the young Iranian, “In Denver, we produce liberals like Javad Zarif, not conservatives like Condi Rice.”)

Zarif, leading his nation’s negotiations with the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China, put that education to use in his response Monday to the Republican message, which suggested that Iran’s leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Zarif answered that it was Cotton and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter who suffered from a lack of “understanding.”

“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations,” Zarif said, according to Iran’s government-controlled Tasnim News Agency.

He suggested that the Republican warning that a successor to President Barack Obama could undo any agreement with Iran was baseless. Zarif said the “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor.”

Yeah. See, it’s one thing to say there is a problem in that Mr. Zarif has a point. But the problem isn’t that an Iranian foreign minister has a point, rather that he needs to make it at all.

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That Brilliant Florida Sunshine

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) considers the involvment of Pope Francis in the release of Alan Goss, an American held in a Cuban prison, and further plans by the Obama administration to normalize diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation, at the U.S. Capitol on 17 December 2014.  (Image: Politico)

Then again, the idea of an American Catholic disdaining what the Pope has to say isn’t exactly news.

Still, as we read through the explanation of what the Florida Republican is on about from Lauren French and Seung Min Kim of Politico

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Catholic, criticized Pope Francis on Wednesday after the pontiff played a key role in helping the United States and Cuba forge an agreement that resulted in the release of American Alan Gross from Cuba.

Rubio said he would “ask His Holiness to take up the cause of freedom and democracy.”

The Florida Republican said he didn’t criticize Francis’ personal appeals to help facilitate Gross’ release, but was speaking in response to the White House’s announcement about talks to normalize relations with Cuba after a nearly 50-year embargo with the country.

—it seems nearly inevitable to wonder if Sen. Rubio is up for his job chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Affairs. What, after all, is his objection?

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¡A Puti-Toots Bonanza!

"I understand why he has to do this—to prove he's a man.  He's afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this."  (Angela Merkel)

When it rains ....

And that’s not a Weather Girls joke.

Apparently the story is famous, which is why Max Fisher has to explain it to Americans, complete with a headline that tells us what it means.

The incident of Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, and the dog is a famous one. It was 2007 and Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, was visiting Putin at his presidential residence in Sochi to discuss energy trade. Putin, surely aware of Merkel’s well-known fear of dogs, waited until the press gathered in the room, then called for his black Labrador to be sent in. The Russian president watched in unconcealed glee as the dog sniffed at Merkel, who sat frozen in fear.

Later, in discussing the incident with a group of reporters, Merkel attempted an explanation of Putin’s behavior. Her quote, reported in George Packer’s recent profile of Merkel in the New Yorker, is one of the most pithily succinct insights into Putin and the psychology of his 14-year reign that I have read:

“I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man,” Merkel said. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”

And who else but Puti-Toots would try to dog the German Chancellor … with an actual dog?

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Fisher, Max. “This quote about Putin’s machismo from Angela Merkel is just devastating”. Vox. 2 December 2014.

Even More Puti-Toots (Bill Day Ltd. Ed. Mix)

Detail of cartoon by Bill Day, 2 December 2014, via Cagle Post.

What? We couldn’t resist. Attribute this one to Bill Day of Cagle Cartoons, via Cagle Post.

Speaker Boehner at His Finest

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH8)

Here’s a quote from the Speaker of the House:

“Does anybody think that Vladimir Putin would have gone into Crimea had George W. Bush been president of the United States? No! Even Putin is smart enough to know that Bush would have punched him in the nose in about 10 seconds!”

Laughter is certainly acceptable at this point.

After all, Bush had his chance in 2008, and didn’t take the swing. Why Speaker Boehner feels the need to make up random excrement is not really a mystery; he’s a Republican operating in a post-policy, post-fact political mode. This is what Republicans do. For them, the greatest triumph of the American people would be if the people chose to believe in lies and ignore facts. There is a difference between acknowledging human frailty and exploiting it.

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Bookman, Jay. “Boehner: ‘Bush would have punched Putin in nose'”. Atlanta Journal Constitution. 28 October 2014.

Boehlert, Eric. “Flashback, 2008: When A Russian Invasion Made Fox News Shrug”. Media Matters for America. 4 March 2014.

The Latest Poop From Puti-Toots

Emperor Puti-Toots the Last looks bored upon his throne.

It is important enough to not allow that John Sweeney’s report for BBC Panorama should pass unnoticed or unmentioned. Then again, neither is it such bad news that we should panic.

Three eyewitnesses, all civilians, separately told Panorama that they saw a missile-launcher in rebel-held territory a few hours before the Boeing jet was hit.

One eyewitness saw the missile-launcher roll off a low-loader at Snezhnoye, around ten miles from the crash site, at around 13:30 local time (10:30 GMT).

“We just saw it being offloaded and when the BUK started its engine the exhaust smoke filled the whole town square,” he said.

The eyewitness told the BBC that the crew struck him as Russian soldiers: “Well-disciplined, unlike the rebels, and not wearing the standard Ukrainian camouflage uniform sported by government and rebel troops alike.”

“They had pure Russian accents. They say the letter ‘g’ differently to us,” he said.

In eastern Ukraine, most people speak Russian but the BUK crew did not speak Russian with a local accent.

Sweeney also reports that the testimony has been corroborated by a second witness “who added that an officer in a military jeep escorting the BUK spoke with a Muscovite accent.”

It seems beyond question that Vladimir Putin wants a war; a really, really big war. What remains unanswered, though, is why.

Meanwhile, there really is no point in panicking. Indeed, mere daily fretting might be overkill. This isn’t the sort of thing, like bad groundwater or poor nuclear safety, that the politicians can overlook. And, plus, wars are spectacular, whereas bringing nuclear plant safety up to par isn’t; it’s the nuclear accidents that are spectacular. That is to say, war will come or else it won’t, and if Putin intends to light up the sky, it would seem reasonable to suggest that he won’t give much immediate warning. In the question of why, it seems more and more evident that Vladimir Putin has simply lost his mind. At this point, expecting the ordinary geopolitical jousting would be the extraordinary expectation.

But the line of the day goes to Mikhail Khordokovsky, the former oligarch and present staunch foe of the Putin regime, who asserted:

“The prospect of democratic change of power in Russia does not exist anymore. There will be more blood in the future.”

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Sweeney, John. “MH17 disaster: Russians ‘controlled BUK missile system'”. BBC. 8 September 2014.