Saturday, April 22, 2006

Iran: An Annotated Archive

For quick reference, here are links to several stories and columns I've done on Iran, dating back to 2003. For more, see The Shadowland Archives:

Shadowland: Most-Favored Terrorists? , 19 July 2003
What's behind the French arrests of Iranian freedom fighters?

Leaders of a controversial Iranian opposition group had been arrested in a small town outside Paris that used to be the home of Vincent Van Gogh:

...Over coffee and sweets inside the headquarters in Auvers, spokesmen for the Mojehedin e-Khalq scoff at the notion their group would carry out terrorist attacks in Europe. They never have, they say, and never would. Some suggest that the arrests and threatened extraditions back to Iran are just France’s way of currying favor—and perhaps winning lucrative contracts—with the Tehran regime. “We condemn this shameful haggling with the mullahs,” proclaim the posters on Rue des Gords.

It’s a muddle, this case. Could the French government be so cynical that it would stage these arrests just to win contracts for oil deals and airplane sales? Or does it really believe the Americans might invade Iran, and thus set off a wave of terror in Europe? As I mulled all this over on the drive back to Paris, I kept thinking about the name the French interior ministry gave the raid on the Mojahedin headquarters: “Operation Théo.” It’s a reference to Van Gogh’s art-dealer brother, who is buried beside him on a hilltop overlooking Auvers. But what perverse sense of culture or history inspired such a rubric for such an action?

When I got home I pulled a copy of Vincent’s letters off the shelf and looked at the last lines—the very last lines of the very last unfinished note to Theo. If there was no clear answer, there was an odd reflection of the question some of the French may be asking themselves right now: “You’re not in the business of selling men as far as I know, and you can take a side, I find, really acting with humanity, but what do you want?”


Shadowland: Countdown Iran, 19 Oct 2003
The United States finally won a diplomatic victory in the United Nations. But
Washington and Tehran are moving toward war. How far will they go?

Look at the date. These tensions have been mounting for long time. But the pattern is well known:

A countdown has started for war between the United States and Iran. It’s quiet but persistent right now, like the ticking of a Swatch. Soon enough though, alarms will start ringing.

When did this move toward war begin? You could say 25 years ago, with the fall of the Shah of Iran, or just this year, when Saddam was deposed. You could make the case that the clock started the moment some of Osama bin Laden’s key aides found sanctuary in Iran, or on the day that Iranian equipment used to make nuclear fuel showed traces of the stuff used in nuclear weapons. But whenever the countdown to war began, it’s already well under way.

Now, countdowns come in a lot of guises. They can be bluffs as trivial as a schoolyard threat, “I’m gonna count to three!” And sometimes they can be stopped, of course. But when it comes to making war, the closer you get to zero hour, the harder that is to do. Expectations rise, political capital is spent, troops are deployed. A crescendo approaches, a point of no return is passed—or is said to be—and the drama of the countdown itself starts to dictate events.

That’s part of the reason we rushed to war in Iraq last spring. The Bush administration didn’t want to lose the momentum it had drummed up for ousting Saddam Hussein, even if it had to fudge the facts about him. So: weapons of mass destruction? “Check.” Links to Al Qaeda? “Check.” United Nations support? A pause there. “Not needed.” U.S. troops in place? “Check.” Ready for action? “Hoo-ah!” Popular support in Iraq? “That’s what they say.” Popular support in the U.S.? “Just look at the polls!” Pliant press? “Yep.” Supine Congress? “Got it.”

In the case of Iran, the first part of that checklist is much the same, except the evidence against the ayatollahs is much more damning. ...


Shadowland: Sandbagged in Baghdad, 21 Jan 2005
As bad as things are in
Iraq, the Americans can thank Iranian influences for preventing a total collapse. Why, for better or worse, Iraq's elections have to be held on time.

By far the most obvious trap for American and regional interests right now is a short-term strategy that could well put the long-term future of Iraqi democracy in the hands of Iran’s mullah-ocracy. Two years ago, this seemed a minor risk compared to the big-picture accomplishment of ousting the dictator and eventually installing majority rule. No longer...


Article: The Spying Game, 14 Feb 2005
Washington calls the MEK a terrorist group. But some administration hawks think its members could help provide intelligence on Iran's quest to develop nuclear weapons.

The MEK, Rajavi says, is the answer to American prayers as Tehran continues to dabble defiantly in both terrorism and nuclear arms. "I believe increasingly the Americans have come to realize that the solution is an Iranian force that is able to get rid of the Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran," she told NEWSWEEK in a rare interview at her organization's compound. ...


Shadowland: Democratic Terrorists?, 24 Feb 2005
Lebanon could emerge as the center of a new Middle East. But first the United States may have to come to terms with Hizbullah.

A look at the role of Iranian-backed political movements in
Lebanon and elsewhere:

...Turn terrorists into democrats? That’s not as incongruous as it sounds. The Palestine Liberation Organization was a terrorist group, by most definitions. Now its leaders are hailed as legitimate elected officials. Twenty-five years ago one of the most infamous international terrorist organizations in the world was a Shiite group called the Dawa Party, many of whose cadres eventually became involved with Hizbullah and carried out terrorist acts that included kidnapping Americans and blowing up the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. (The Dawa was fighting Saddam Hussein, in fact, and Washington and Kuwait were backing him.) Now Dawa Party leader Ibrahim Jafari may well become the new elected prime minister in Baghdad, with Washington’s blessing. So, if politics have made terrorists our strange bedfellows in Palestine and Iraq, why not Lebanon? It’s a tough call, and there’s no guarantee Hizbullah will take on this role. But only if it does is there a real chance Beirut can emerge as the center of the center of the new, democratic Middle East...


Shadowland: Writing Lolita in Tehran, 31 May 2005
Iranian bloggers have harnessed the subversive power of the Web to express themselves politically--and also to find dates in a society that curtails public courting.

…By 2000, in fact, my friend Hossein the Geek and many other young Iranians came to the conclusion they had to emigrate. “We see that our future is canceled if we want to stay in Iran," he told me then, and a few months later he moved to Canada. In September 2001, after the shock of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Hossein started reading the commentaries on U.S. blogs, and decided to start his own ( in Farsi. Soon afterward he posted a how-to guide. By 2004, according to a survey cited in Alavi’s book, there were some 64,000 Persian-language Weblogs: more than in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese or Russian. “The Internet,” writes Alavi, “has opened a new virtual space for free speech in a country that Reporters sans Frontières has dubbed ‘the biggest prison for journalists in the Middle East'.”…


Article: Iran's Nuclear Lies, 2 July 2005
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful uses only. But a history of deception raises doubts.

Iran's concealments have been as vast as a secret underground facility at Natanz that was being readied for 50,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium when it was exposed in 2002. They have seemed as small as some undeclared milligrams of plutonium from a research laboratory. In a cat-and-mouse game reminiscent of the lead-up to the Iraq invasion in 2003, the Iranians have claimed to be cooperating while throwing up what often seem to be petty obstacles in front of inspectors. Iranians have bulldozed suspect sites. They have declined to allow investigators access to some military areas. They say they just can't find key documents that would show where and how they acquired key designs when they started their enrichment program in the 1980s. (Typically, under heavy international pressure this year, they finally produced one page from 1987 for inspectors to look at, but wouldn't turn it over.)…


Interview: Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, 2 July 2005

… “Obviously [Iran] wants to get the maximum technology, and not just nuclear... All the modern technology—Airbus, Boeing. They need the technology to modernize. And I think they understand that the fuel cycle enables them to be part of the "big boys" club, and it's a smart insurance policy, if they can get that, because again, it sends a message to their neighbors. IranMiddle East, which is being reshaped right now... I don't want to speak for them, but they also would like to normalize their relationship, ultimately, with the U.S. Their dialogue with Europe is a bridge toward their ultimate normalization with the U.S.... It is not just the nuclear issue, it is the whole future of the Middle East, it is the whole future of regional security, global security. That's why it makes it more difficult, and that's why it takes time, and that's why people should be patient. As long as they are talking, I'm comfortable. As long as the fuel cycle is suspended, as long as they are making progress, keep at it.” wants to be a major player in the whole


Shadowland: Rita's Revelation 23 Sep 2005
As oil prices soar, so will demands for atomic energy.
Iran knows this and Americans should, too. Why it's time to rethink the global approach to nuclear proliferation.

…The Iranians, for their part, say God doesn't want them to have The Bomb, and they're OK with that. "In accordance with our religious principles," Ahmadinejad told the U.N., "pursuit of nuclear weapons is prohibited." So they claim they're focusing all their attention on the need for nuclear energy as a relatively cheap, efficient and reliable long-term source of electricity. That's why they're conducting their research. That's why they're building their reactors. That's why they're enriching uranium. That's why they are signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is supposed to open the way for them to develop peaceful nuclear energy, and that's why they are very careful to observe the letter (if not the spirit), of the treaty's language…


Shadowland: Confidence Game 10 Jan 2006
Iraq has taught us that 'unknown unknowns' make lousy targets. Will Washington heed that lesson when it responds to Tehran breaking its nuclear seals?

…Do [the Iranians] just want to generate electricity, as they claim? Or are they building The Bomb? "This is a matter of trust," said White House spokesman Scott McLellan earlier this week. "They have shown in the past they cannot be trusted." And if that's the case, then what? McClellan added "that's why these negotiations are so important," with a nod to Europe's diplomatic efforts. But leaks seeping into the press suggesting the United States or Israel—or both—might be planning military action could be testing public opinion, or preparing it. When the Bush administration concluded it just couldn't trust Saddam with those unknown unknowns, the invasion scenario came to seem inevitable….


Interview: Diplomacy and Force 15 Jan 2006
The United Nations' top inspector is prepared to issue a report on
Iran's nuclear program that will 'reverberate around the world.

“No, I'm not angry [with Iran], but I'd like to make sure the process will not be abused. There's a difference. I still would like to be able to avoid escalation, but at the same time I do not want the agency to be cheated; I do not want the process to be abused. I think that is clear. I have a responsibility, and I would like to fulfill it with as good a conscience as I can.”…


Article: Iran's Rogue Rage 15 Jan 2006
Nukes: Iranians want nuclear know-how—and seem to be daring the West to stop them.

…The complex, contradictory game of secrecy and revelation, cooperation and provocation that the mullahs have played since some of their hidden nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002 has revealed just how little leverage Washington and its allies really have. But the Bush administration and European officials clearly hope they can appeal to Iran's supposedly restive masses to somehow oppose the regime. "The Iranian people, frankly, deserve better," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week. She took pains to say efforts to isolate the government would try not to isolate the people. But a senior European diplomat involved with Iranian negotiations, who asked not to be quoted by name because of their sensitivity, pointed out the basic problem with that strategy: "There are millions of people in Iran who want to move ahead with democracy, but unfortunately we have not been able to help them—and at the same time the nuclear issue unifies the country."…


Shadowland: Countdown to a Showdown 23 Jan 2006
The next few weeks of diplomacy on Iran's nukes may be too fast and too furious. What we really need to avoid Armageddon.

…Let’s not let ourselves be rushed toward an apocalypse with too-fast, too-furious diplomacy. Let’s keep our eyes on the IAEA, and keep the message to Iran as clear as Joe Friday’s: “Just the facts, Mahmoud.” …


Shadowland: Countdown to a Showdown: Part II 25 Jan 2006
Two American congressmen have proposed a 'quarantine' they think could stop
Iran’s mullahs from building nukes. It’s a high-risk strategy.

…Using a word borrowed from the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the congressmen proposed a “quarantine” to stop ships taking gasoline to Iran and, in Kirk’s phrase, “quickly implode her economy.”…


Cover Story: Devoted and Defiant 5 Feb 2006
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he doesn't want nuclear weapons. The world is suspicious. How dangerous is he?

Born to a blacksmith, educated as a revolutionary, trained as a killer and derided by rivals as a mystical fanatic, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is easily cast as the personification of everything there is to fear about a nuclear Iran. But he may be worse than that—not because of how he looks to the outside world, but because of what he represents inside his country. Ahmadinejad plays to a nostalgia for war among parts of Iran's leadership, and even some of its young people: a longing for confrontation, a belief that a quarter century ago, when revolutionary Iran was ready to challenge the world, send countless youths to martyrdom in the fight against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, endure missile attacks on its cities, suffer poison-gas attacks against its troops—in those days the regime of the ayatollahs was purer, more noble, more popular and ultimately more secure….

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