Friday, July 17, 2015

Peace With the Ayatollahs in Our Time?

          Times they are a'changin' et plus ├ža change... Little less than three years ago I blogged in support of Israel and Netanyahu, and affirmed that Iran under the ayatollahs (with Ahmanidejad as prez) were an existential threat for the state of Israel and therefore the West should exert max pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear superpower ambition. 
          In the time intervening, a number of things have happened in the region. The foolish jerk at the helm in Tehran was replaced by a generally more acceptable figure - who though maintaining hostile posture to the sliver of Mediterranean referred to as 'the Zionist entity' among the theocratic elders - nonetheless seems to be doing the ayatollahs' bidding in the matter ex obligo rather than out of deeply-held conviction. It could be, as Bibi says, that Rouhani is superbly crafty in disguising the depth of his homicidal intentions, or it could be that the PM of Israel is exaggerating when he is not talking rubbish.  
          No, the tentative agreement with Rouhani which effectively (on paper at least) stops and rolls back (!) the means to build nuclear bombs is not Munich 1938 simply because the deal signed in Vienna was structured (on paper again) a quid pro quo arrangement, and not a unilateral concession to an aggressor. Hitler did not have to give up anything for getting the Sudetenland. He simply gave a vague promise not to seek any further territorial expansion and consult with Chamberlain when something bothered him. 
        There is further issue with the lame comparison.  Iran is expanding its influence in the region, not its territory. That is different from Nazi Germany's aims. Most importantly Iran's gains in prestige came as a direct consequence of the US letting loose its reins in Iraq after it destroyed its political structure without assuring a working administrative model to keep whole the artificial modern entity. Obama acceded to a ham-handed Shia-dominated political elite, without insisting on safeguards for the sizeable Sunnite minority. A little later, the US (and Israel) supported armed and violent international jihad against a relatively stable, even if oppressive, regime of Bashar al-Assad. The strife was against Assad was fueled practically from the start by Islamic sectarianism and terrorism. If Tehran militias showed up to prop up an ally's regime, it is in a very different scenario than Hitler's minions blowing up neutral Austria, and foisting unrest in the German-speaking borderland of Czechoslovakia. For most part, Iran's influence in the region grew in the mirror of  the current US administration's hapless evacuations and dithering.  Iran has been only filling a power vacuum created in the region by Obama's ill-advised anti-imperialist posturing.

    Naturally, with certified fools at the helm of the juggernaut, I would have my doubts about secretary Kerry's ability to negotiate a very good deal with Iran. Maybe a different US administration might have gotten better terms. Except again: the US is not alone in the world with deeply vested interests in nuclear non-proliferation. This was EU3 + 3, or P5 + 1 negotiating team, and the agreement reflects the shift in the world balance of power.  The deal has accomplished what it set out to do: it has very significantly reduced Iran's capacity to weaponize nuclear energy in the foreseeable future. Mohammad Javad Zarif has solemnly signed a document which says in the preamble: "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons."  That is a significant statement. Would there be any plainer way to denounce the country's  ambition to own a nuclear bomb?  It is only words, true, but certainly a pledge worth testing.  So, the smart money would be on monitoring Iran's compliance, not by trying to scuttle the agreement, as Israel's government  and the GOP have set out to do.   
   I don't buy the heated rhetoric from Jerusalem and the Republicans. The cries of a catastrophic, cataclysmic miscue of the part of Obama, the EU, Russia and China, are way too ...well, let's say it, 'flakey'.  And if you listen carefully, the complaint is all over the place. Mark Steyn says that the Vienna accord is far worse than Munich because Chamberlain's motives were honourable!  Iran can't be trusted - everybody is supposed to know that. But can US be ?  Susan Rice admitted to Wolf Blitzer that some of the unfrozen funds could be used to support terrorism. Krauthammer wrings hands over the giveaway  in lifting the conventional arms embargo that is years away.   Wake up idiots !  The ayatollahs are not behind the shooting in Chattanooga yesterday.  Yes, there is Iranian terrorism. But the Iranian brand of terrorism also - and for the moment prevalently -  terrorize ISIS (in Syria, Kurdistan and Anbar province of Iraq), and al-Qaeda (in Yemen) from which the US and the rest of the world benefits.  And it appears that the Iranian troopers (beside the Kurdish Peshmerga) are the only credible ground force in the region fighting the real scourge that butchers tens of thousands, enslaves millions and destroys priceless and irreplaceable cultural treasures in the cradle of human civilization. And they will be, at least until the next president of the USA wakes up and realizes that ISIS has to be destroyed immediately, and Iraq needs to be "maintained" pacified by a credible US threat capable of smashing within weeks any sectarian nonsense that bubbles up.  The Armageddon-thumping ayatollahs have become the symbol of American weakness. But they too are mortal. Let us give ourselves a chance to see the next thing that comes out of the great civilization of Persia.      

Friday, July 10, 2015

United by lower Grexpectations

Catching up the last two weeks with the history of the Greek debt, I am left with the strongest hunch that ‘crazy’ is the new mainstream. It appears that if some nonsense overwhelms the body politic, the antidote will almost certainly be product of another politicized form of craziness.

The most informing thing about the €380 billion that Greece owes is that the country does not have the means not just repaying, but servicing it in a meaningful way. All fiscal plans by the Greek government, including the one currently under consideration by the EU, project a magical turn in the country’s economy and the filling of state coffers as a result of minimum additional funds Athens can wrestle from the financiers, in return of promise to implement an effective austerity regime, the very thing that the majority of Greeks have vehemently opposed ever since it was set as a condition of further aid in 2009. The electorate first opposed it covertly, then openly, by voting in a radical Left government which considers the lenders blood-sucking terrorists.  By all appearances, the EU banksters and the Left lunatics have come to an amicable agreement this week, thanks mainly to France’s left liberal cave-in to the Syriza’s implied suggestion that Angela Merkel is a new incarnation of Inspecteur Javert 

In times of reason, premier Tsipras’ dealing hand would be in laughed off and he would be exposed as a hopeless s**t-disturber and demagogue.  But in times of ‘crazy’ he holds the high card. The ace in his hand is Greece-is-a-victim psychobabble.  To be sure, there are some things in his posturing in which I find more than a grain of truth. The financial crisis in Greece has started as toxic private, not public, debt. The fable that the financial collapse originates in Greek civil servants’ retiring en masse with full pension in their mid-fifties, is just another example of counter-crazy. I don’t subscribe to the theory that high unemployment is a contagious outbreak of mass laziness among the drinking classes. I really do feel sorry for the ordinary, below-euro-average Greek sweating hours in the ATM lineups. But all the same: Tsipras’ complaint doesn’t work for the same reason Senator Mike Duffy’s hope for sympathy is vain. As one cannot claim to be manipulated into accepting bribes, one cannot wash one’s hands of money one accepts as loans, by simply arguing that the lender has too much of it.  But for now, it looks Tsipras’ gamble has paid off and his referendum, if not wishing away the debt, means more bailouts and another postponement in paying it.

So, what gives?   Tsipras’ victory may be short-lived.  He made Germany dance to his tune but the anger and frustration with Greece remains. The country is by all accounts bankrupt. Anything, at this point – and under the prevailing rules of engagement – will be but a band-aid and short pause to government IOU’s and the return to drachma.  The retardant of the Greek collapse (or better, the end of masking it) is now the IMF following the crazy policy of the US (and EU) towards Russia.  The illusion of unity seems of paramount importance in trying to wall off Russia from Europe. But reality has a way of asserting itself. Europe is divided, not united.  Greek is bankrupt with minimal prospect of recovery in the continuing charades around its debt. The volatile Middle East and Africa pose the real security danger to Europe, not Russia. So, as always, it is pay me now or pay me later.

ETA (Jul 13):  Tsipras' 'victory' was short-lived indeed.  It appears that Wolfgang Schauble's view of Greece won the day when it came to the nitty-gritty of actual negotiations and Syriza had to back out of the negotiating 'mandate' it claimed was given to it by the referendum. In the end, the Hansa concept of EU prevailed over the Mediterranean bazaar view. Greece - for the time it remains in the Eurozone - will operate as German banking protectorate.  Will Tsipras' politically survive this?  The cynic would say, 'no problem, the Greeks understand the nature of the comedy, in which it does not really matter who leads it.'  The outcome will be the same.