Mojo - June 2009

The People vs the Army in Iran on Tuesday?

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:52 AM PDT

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Manchester with extensive contacts in Iran, has been sharing reports he has managed to get from Iran. His latest:

A Baseeji opened fire on four people, two of them young women, in front of
Shariati Hospital on Amir Abad Street, during protest. The enraged people
attacked and snatched the Baeeji and pistolwhipped him with his
Kalashnikov. The Baseeji was killed as a result.

This happened on Saturday. It was a quick call and unfortunately I do not
know exactly at what time the incident happened.

Also, there are reports that Saaydo-Shohda division has moved into Tehran
and deployed tanks in Azadi square in anticipation of Tuesday universal
strikes. This report is still to be verified.

On Monday, it was police forces that were trying to break up ongoing protests in Tehran. But there were media reports on Sunday that military helicopters had replaced police helicopters in the skies of Tehran. Is a street-fight clash coming between the opposition and the Iranian military?
 

 

 

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Who Resurrected the F-22?

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 7:35 AM PDT | Scheduled to publish Mon Jun. 22, 2009 8:17 AM PDT

Last week the House Armed Services Committee approved, by a mere one-vote margin, more money for the F-22 fighter jet. (Too bad the plane's not as invincible in the air as it is in Congress). This is one of the programs that the Obama administration most wants to cut, and so the vote was basically the committee's way of collectively mooning Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his audacious suggestion that we should do something about the bloated defense budget.

Who are the lawmakers keeping the F-22 on life-support? All of the committee's Republican members voted for extra funding for the planes, in addition to six Dems, all from states where some part of the F-22 is manufactured. Travis Sharp at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has the full list here. And for more on how the Gates budget is faring on Capitol Hill, check out our special report on defense spending—first installment here.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for June 22, 2009

Mon Jun. 22, 2009 6:37 AM PDT

Scouts from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), pull overwatch during Operation Destined Strike while 2nd Platoon, Able Company searches a village below the Chowkay Valley in Kunar Province, Afghanistan Aug. 22. (Photo courtesy army.mil).

Best in Blog: 22 June 2009

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 6:22 AM PDT

Was Sunday's calm the beginning of the end in Iran, or just the calm before the storm? This video of a teenage girl being gunned down suggests the latter. Meanwhile, the EPA declared an environmental emergency in Montana, there's beef in KFC chicken, and Tuesday's debut of the film New Muslim Cool shows how Bush-era Islamophobia affected one Latino family's daily life. Happy Monday!

Letter from a Protester in Iran

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 6:21 PM PDT

Another dispatch from Tehran, this one from an Iranian protester, the friend of Iranian American grad student (and former MoJo intern) Matteen Mokolla. Translated in full:

 

Climate Bill Deception

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 11:58 AM PDT

Matt Yglesias relays that the costs of the Waxman-Markey climate bill will be moderate—less than a dollar a day for the richest Americans. In fact, the poorest Americans should see a benefit of about $40/year from the bill. Ryan Avent wonders how long "GOP legislators will continue to use the bogus $1,600 cost per household per year figure they’ve been touting?" and puts his money on "indefinitely." It's worth pointing out that the only way to counter this kind of misinformation in politics is for the Associated Press and similar organizations to report the lie as the news; i.e., "John Boehner said today that the Waxman-Markey climate bill would cost $1,600/year per family, repeating a widely-debunked lie that Republicans have repeatedly cited in their arguments against global warming legislation." That won't happen, of course, because mainstream journalistic organizations seem to believe once two or more people disagree on something, there is no such thing as a fact.

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A Report from Tehran

| Sun Jun. 21, 2009 10:33 AM PDT

Shahram Kholdi, a graduate student in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Manchester, has extensive contacts in Iran, and he just shared the following email report with academic colleagues on a private listserv. He's allowed it to be posted publicly with references to sources excised:

The Iranian Uprising and Its Cold War Precursors

| Sat Jun. 20, 2009 2:37 PM PDT

As demonstrators continue to protest what was clearly a rigged election, police are responding with ”water cannon, batons, tear gas and live rounds,” according to the BBC today. For those who want to follow what’s going on in Tehran’s streets, I’m listing some sources for breaking news and ongoing updates. With the government trying to effect a news blackout, this is first-hand reporting on the fly–and at considerable risk to those providing it. 

Tehran Bureau, which describes itself as “an independent online magazine about Iran and the Iranian diaspora,” is running this Twitter feed, describing developments as they happen.

Our old colleague Laura Rozen is constantly updating a series of news links on Iran on The Cable, the blog she runs for Foreign Policy. It includes on-the-scenes reporting from Tehran Bureau and other on-the-ground sources, as well as a roundup of the best reports from more traditional Western and local new sources, official statements, and the like. She’s heard that in Washington, State and White House officials are glued to it.

Tehran in Turmoil

| Sat Jun. 20, 2009 2:32 PM PDT

UPDATE: On Sunday morning, David Corn received this brief report from an American researcher in Tehran:

It's so quiet here. It feels like a bad movie, as though everyone is pretending to ignore what happened yesterday. But I talked to this one pro-Mousavi supporter. He tells me that they plan to do more demos. I can't get any news from here. The Internet is super slow. State TV is doing a fine job editing the current events into a "US" versus "Them" situation. I have never seen the capital city like this before. Many are just waiting to hear from Mousavi.

In a statement dated June 20, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousvai condemnded the "lies and fraud" of the Iranian leadership. He declared his movement was now dedicated to the "historical mission" of "renewing the life of the nation." He said that he has accepted the "burden of duty put on our shoulders by the destiny of generations and ages." His aim: "to achieve a new type of political life" in Iran.

So people are waiting for Mousavi, and Mousavi has put out a strong statement essentially calling for resistance and regime change (but not overthrowing the Islamic republic). But with the autocrats controlling the media, will Mousavi's message be effectively disseminated, and how will Iranians react to it?

UPDATE II: A graduate student in England with extensive contacts in Iran reports on Sunday that workers were helping protesters escape from police. He notes that in one instance a police commander aided protesters. He also shares an eyewitness account of at least six protesters dying at a hospital after being hit by rubber bullets and notes that people who have brought wounded protesters to hospitals have been arrested. His full report is posted in Mojo blog.

******

Iran was in chaos this weekend, as anti-government protesters defied a ban and rallied in major cities, including Shiraz and Tehran, the capital. Security forces struck back hard, dispersing crowds with tear gas, water cannons, and bullets. The New York Times' Lede blog, which has had excellent coverage of the demonstrations, reports that opposition leader and defeated presidential candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi spoke to the crowds and told them he was "ready for martyrdom," calling for a national strike if he is arrested.

As Nick predicted this morning, the mounting violence has forced President Barack Obama to go further in his criticism of the Iranian regime. On Saturday afternoon, he called the government's actions "violent and unjust," and repeated what seems to be his favorite quote: "Martin Luther King once said, 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples’ belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness." (David Corn wondered earlier on Twitter if the word "unjust" in Obama's statement could cover vote-rigging.)

Also bearing witness today is Tehran Bureau, which describes itself as "an independent online magazine about Iran and the Iranian diaspora." That site is running this Twitter feed, describing developments as they happen. Here's one of the photos it has posted:Meanwhile, David Corn relays this report from a "reliable witness" inside Iran:

...HAS HIT THE FAN...TOHID SQUARE ON FIRE, PEOPLE ARE CHANTING,
ALL ALONG SATTER KHAN STREET CHAOS, THEN SUDDENLY QUIET, PEOPLE EATING ICE CREAM, ETC., THEN MORE CHAOS, ROCKS, FIRE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREETS, CHANTS CHANTS CHANTS AND IT IS NOT YET NIGHT...TEHRAN IS ON FIRE TONIGHT...

Our old colleague Laura Rozen is constantly updating a series of news links on Iran on The Cable, the blog she runs for Foreign Policy magazine. It includes on-the-scenes reporting from Tehran Bureau and other on-the-ground sources, as well as a roundup of reports from more traditional Western and local new sources, official statements, and the like.

There are also clandestine videos being released on YouTube and elsewhere, most of them shot on cell phones, showing the beating, tear gassing, and shooting of protestors. This one, sent to us by an Iranian reporter, reportedly shows how the Ahmadinejad regime prepared stacks of fradulent ballots before the election even began.

The Obama administration is under pressure—mostly from the right—to make a more aggressive response to the situation in Iran. But explicit US government support for the protestors—or for Ahmadinejad’s rival Mir Hussein Mussavi–could be tantamount to the kiss of death. As Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the New York Times: "If we overtly take sides, the regime could well react with a massive and bloody crackdown on the demonstrators using the pretext that they are acting against an American-led coup."

At least one Iran watcher in Washington has a dark view of what lies ahead. Daniel Brumberg, acting director of the Muslim World Initiative of the US Institute of Peace, tells Mother Jones:

The regime seems to have an effective plan for quelling the protests. I think they will prevent any major mobiization inthe streets. All Khatami allies, clerics and lay, will be purged, forced to confess on TV that they are agents of the US. Welcome to Stalinism with an Islamist flavor: Iran moves to dictatorship. Sorry to be so grim, but that is my guess.

Wayne White, a former State Department intelligence analyst and expert on Iran and Iraq, offered this assessment:

Two things have been somewhat unremarkable, given my previously stated perspective: the harsh, ramped-up reaction of the security forces, Basij, etc. to further demonstrations in the wake of Khamenei's sermon and the significant fall-off in opposition turnout on the streets given the increased danger.
 
Something less predictable was the stance adopted by Mousavi (and Karroubi, although that latter clearly is less critical). He now is seemingly more defiant--especially in response to pointed warnings from the Leader--than even Khatami ever appeared to be when the latter was president. This undoubtedly has been considerably inspiring to the opposition and remains a real problem for Khamenei, Ahmadinejad & Co.
 
The situation still remains somewhat unpredictable with ancedotal reports of hesitant or tolerant police [being] too sparse to cite in order to draw conclusions. Likewise, although clearly very belligerent and determined in certain encounters with security forces...demonstrators still seem somewhat scattered, with many others being berated by women especially for cowardly behavior in the face of even a non-lethal government response.
 
Something perhaps worth noting is that so many stayed off the streets, or behaved rather timidly, even though security forces in some instances either do not appear to be brandishing firearms or do not yet have orders to use them more liberally (perhaps because, as noted above, there really hasn't been much of a coherent, more threatening challenge to them).
 
Tonight appears likely to be more interesting. Many potential protestors who held back during the light of day, noticed others were not being shot, and became more enraged over the situation. They could well emerge, swelling the numbers of those already on the streets.

At the moment, though, there is not enough information coming out of Iran--thanks to autocrats' media clampdown--to know what the opposition will attempt and what awaits it.

Portions of this post also appears on Unsilent Generation, James Ridgeway's blog on the politics of aging.

Iran and Us

| Sat Jun. 20, 2009 2:05 AM PDT
 

There's a rally scheduled in Iran today. It should happen around 7:30 EST. I've been up all night thinking about it. The news from that country over the past week has shaken me. As the week wore on and the rallies continued, I feared the hardliners might lose their patience. Yesterday, they seemed to indicate they have. Ayatollah Khamenei's speech at Friday prayers hinted at violence and left little room for compromise. Iranians know what may happen today if they once again march silently by the millions through the streets of their capital: They might not come back. It seems they will go anyway. As you can tell from the (immensely moving) video above (h/t Andrew Sullivan, who deserves an award for his coverage of the past week), the shouts of "God is great" and "death to the dictator" were louder than ever in the city last night. The opposition leaders do not seem to be backing down, despite government promises to arrest any of them who appear at the rally. Defeated presidential candidates Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi and former president Mohammed Khatami have promised to be there, according to the BBC. (Update 7:00 a.m.: The situation is increasingly ambiguous, and the BBC says they're getting "mixed messages," but their Tehran correspondent says the rally will probably still go ahead. Twitter messages seem to confirm it's still on.)

There's a feeling I've had in the pit of my stomach ever since the rallies started in Tehran. I recognize it from every time I have really wanted something to happen despite how unlikely it seemed at the time. It's not optimism, because I know the protesters face overwhelming odds and I know that Ahmadinejad and Khamenei and the hardliners won't go easily. It's hope. Hope is rooting for something you know to be unlikely or impossible, like universal health care or a black man being elected President. Hope is what we hold on to in the face of tough realities. That's why the stories, fictional and not, that move us most deeply are the ones in which the heroes face down enormous odds. Every culture—every family, even—has its own David and Goliath story. In my family, that story is about my grandparents.

My maternal grandmother, whose mother was Christian, converted to Judaism in Berlin in 1937.  She was in love with my grandfather, who was Jewish. When he was deported to the Warsaw ghetto, she could have left Germany with the Peruvian visa she had somehow obtained. Instead, she followed him. They escaped from Warsaw before the liquidation of the ghetto and were married in hiding. On Easter Sunday, 1944, they boarded a train to Berlin, carrying false papers. My grandfather figured that Berlin would be the last place the Nazis would be looking for Jews in 1944, and that Easter would be a good day on which to travel. He was right, and here I am today.

What does any of that have to do with Iran? Just that, in the face of overwhelming odds, people don't always do the rational, self-preserving thing. They go to Warsaw instead of Peru. They risk their lives in the streets instead of going to work. Sometimes things work out, and the underdogs win. My existence is proof of that. But a lot of the time people aren't as lucky as my grandparents. David doesn't always win. The tanks roll into Tienanmen. The neighbors turn in Anne Frank. And seemingly mundane decisions separate the times that the underdogs win from the times that they don't.

This relates to the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt wrote about. Evil doesn't always manifest itself in grand conspiracies or random murders. That's too easy. More often, it's just someone doing his or her job. A soldier following orders. A Basij beating up some people in the street. A bureaucrat making sure the trains run on time. When the underdogs win, it's usually because people don't act the way they're expected to. What's happens today in Iran rides on that interaction between people just doing their jobs—cogs in the machine—and people who, because of their frustration and disappointment, are fighting against that machine. A German soldier helped my grandparents escape. Who will help the protesters today? Will the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij slaughter their own people? Or will some—or all—join with the protesters? What would you do?

I know that even if, by some miracle, the soldiers lay down their arms and the protesters win today's confrontation, the Middle East's problems won't be magically fixed. Mousavi isn't some pro-American friend of Israel—far from it. But it's hard to root against the people marching silently though the streets, demanding a vote and a voice. As Peggy Noonan wrote yesterday, "the uprising, as it moves us, reminds us of who we are: lovers of political freedom who are always and irresistibly on the side of the student standing in front of the tank or the demonstrator chanting 'Where is my vote?' in the face of the billy club."

That's why, as much as I understand how counterproductive it would be for President Obama to speak directly in support of the protesters (because it would help Ahmadinejad/Khamenei to paint them as American stooges), I sometimes harbor the secret, selfish wish he would. We keep hearing that this isn't about us—it's about them. That's right, of course, but it's more complicated than that. We identify with the protesters. I know it's overly emotional and solipsistic to get so involved in the political goings-on in Iran while sitting comfortably in America. But I can't help it, and neither, I suspect, can many people around the world. Their calls for justice and freedom have universal resonance. On Friday, President Obama, constrained as he is by political realities and his own temperament, warned the Iranian government about what might or might not happen today:

I am very concerned... that the government of Iran recognize the world is watching, and how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is - and is not.

I understand Obama's rightly-praised reluctance to hand Ahmadinejad ammunition for his political battle. But if Khamenei cracks down, and the world witnesses another Tiananmen, I doubt that Americans will embrace engagement with the regime. We see too much of ourselves in the protesters. We hope for them. We are watching. If they are murdered, and they very well could be, what will Obama say then?