Thursday, August 24, 2006
Mohammad Khatami: A back channel
At least some conservatives are not happy that the United States has apparently granted a visa to former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. Actually, the wire services report only the application, but Stratfor says that it has been "processed"($). I suspect, however, that we would not even have heard about the application unless the State Department fully intended to grant it -- Khatami would not have run the risk of applying if acceptance had not been wired in advance. Khatami will speak at the National Cathedral as part of a conference on "Global Reconciliation."
Khatami is popularly thought to have been a "reformist," sufficiently so that the Clinton administration specifically decided against retaliating against the Khobar Towers bombing -- which occurred before Khatami's election in 1997 -- because it did not want to undermine him. American hawks disagree most vehemently. My own view is that the debate over Khatami's alleged reformist tendencies is all semantics. Khatami may have been inclined toward a somewhat more liberal conception of the Islamic Republic, but in the end he did not step up to support the reformists when they needed a leader. If he was a reformer, he was of the "best hockey player in Ecuador" variety.
However, Khatami's status as a "reformer" or not is substantially irrelevant to the question of whether it is wise to admit him to speak at the National Cathedral. I think that it is, for at least four reasons, in no particular order.
First, Khatami is, in the end, a separate center of power in a regime that is nothing if not bureaucratic. He will not necessarily -- or even probably -- be carrying Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's water. It will therefore be interesting to hear what he is willing to say. He might tell us something.
Second, our issuance of Khatami's visa shows both the governing mullahs and the Iranian people that it is possible to have a constructive, if unofficial, conversation with the United States, if you are not a crazy radical. There will be many influential people within the Iranian system that will not miss the point. It is in our interests for important Iranians to believe that a relationship with the United States is both desireable and possible.
Third, we will be bolstering one faction in Iranian politics against another. For those of us who believe that our best tactic for dealing with Iran may be to throw constant challenges at its government, this is yet another challenge.
Fourth, whether we want to admit it or not, we need respected channels into the Iranian government. Mohammad Khatami could be an extremely useful back channel.
For these reasons and perhaps others, it is the right time and the right opportunity to show the Iranian people that we respect them enough to listen to the only president the Islamic Republic has ever had who was neither palpably corrupt nor certifiably nuts, whether or not he was a "reformer."
Once again Tigerhawk you are wrong on all counts. Allow me to address you point by point.
First, Khatami goes nowhere without orders from the mullahs. To suggest he is a separate power base in Iran is foolish thinking. He is part and parcel a product of the Iranian theocracy.
Second, the Iranian thugs will only gain one conclusion from allowing his visit: We are weak, stupid and easily manipulated people. Sending in this “peace ambassador” buys Iran more time and helps weaken the hawks here in the US.
Third, please research what Khatami the “moderate” has actually said in speeches, etc. He is just as radical a terrorist bent on irradicating infidels (especially Jews) as the hardline thugs. Yes there are subtle differences, such as Khatami probably wishes not to see young Iranians so severely suppressed and rounded up and killed on a level that the mullahs’ thugs do. But in the end, he still comes down on the side of Iranian theocratic power no matter how you slice it. His whole conduct during his presidency is proof of that. So the “bolstering one faction over another” is just eyewash. (Also see point #1 above: He is a diplomat of the mullah thugs no matter how you slice it)
Fourth, I hardly see how Khatami can be considered a “useful” diplomat to the United States. He is indeed useful, but only to the Iranians. If he even strayed one iota from the mullah’s deceptive master plan, he will disappear just like all the rest.
Khatami represents the worst of Islamic fascism; I am appalled that he will be afforded an honor of speaking at a Christian cathedral. Indeed it galls me that we can be so blinded by wishful thinking about our enemies that we allow them a stage in order to seduce and divide our camp even further. It is so clear to me, how can it not be clear to anyone with a thinking brain and a reasonable grasp of history and a basic knowledge of how Islam will use any means possible to divide and conquer its enemys?
In the end it’s as if we allowed Joseph Goebbels himself or a Hermann Goering or take your pick of Nazi lieutenants to come and speak at Notre Dame in 1939 or Westminster Abbey or yes, the National Cathedral. I am embarrassed by it all and outraged.
We will never learn, we will lose this war.
By K. Pablo, at Thu Aug 24, 11:47:00 AM:
Back channel diplomacy with Iran doesn't exactly have a great track record. Kenneth Pollack has noted that the main reason for this is that the Iranian polity is so fragmented (I believe he used the term "kaleidoscopic").
I agree with you that the main reason for granting his visa would be to "send a signal" but neither Khatami nor Rafsanjani, as the "pragmatists" who preceded Akhmenijad, seem to have much of a power base right now.
K. Pablo you know not a whole lot about what you are saying. Rafsanjani is one evil man on par with Osama Bin Laden. He is indeed worse than Khatami and wasn't very good at playing the "reformer" role (a mere ruse for the West).
Many point out that Rafsfanjani indeed is a major player especially now.
Just who do you think we are referring to when we say "Iranian mullah thugs"? Rafsfanjani fits that perfectly.
You have not read my cooments. There are no other "power base" camps to speak of in Iranian politics. All the true reformers and/or dissendents are either exiled long agao from Iran or in prison or killed.
Do you not hear what I am saying?
Or like many in the West, do you just choose tomake up your own facts and fantasies about what is going on?
By K. Pablo, at Thu Aug 24, 12:34:00 PM:
dan-0 I suspect Kenneth Pollack knows a hell of a lot more than you do. If you can point to any achievements of yours which would equal his I might be persuaded that you are credible. Otherwise, your posts strike me as just rants.
If you actually read MY post, you'd realize that you haven't exactly contradicted it....
K Pablo you are confused. I agree completely with your first paragraph in your first post. And yes Pollack is an expert, I was not arguing that part of your post.
But your second paragraph, "..but neither Khatami nor Rafsanjani, as the "pragmatists" who preceded Akhmenijad, seem to have much of a power base right now. " is what I have a problem with.
You seem to be implyng that Rafsfanjani is locked out of Iranian politics or you seem to be inferring that Rafsanjani's politics is somehow different from the Theocratic thugs? I am not sure what you were trying to infer.
Indeed if you read people like Michael Ledeen and others, he is actually a power player in Iranian politics and very much a part of the current regime, just not publicly.
So indeed he is in fact a thug like all the rest, has always been, and still wields considerable influence. Regardless his goals are the same as the Ayatollah: conquer the infidel West.
Khatami is obviously a useful tool but indeed he is acting as the "moderate face" of the thugs in power. But either way, he too has the same end goal: destruction of the West.
Ultimately what I am saying is that you can paint all the Iranian political camps different colors, but in the end, it is only the shade of color that will be different. They ALL hate the West, and they ALL wish to see us defeated and have Islam spread over all our lands.
Ayatollah, Rafsfanjani, Khatami, or the current thug they have as President now. My point is, whats the difference between them? I argue there is no real substantive difference. And they all support Iran getting nukes.
What is it that you don't understand about my post?
Or do you wish to argue something different?
By Assistant Village Idiot, at Thu Aug 24, 02:58:00 PM:
I don't think the likely payoff is high, but I don't think the risk is high. We can attempt to send "messages," but have little control over how they will be understood. We may mean to say "So long as you're not absolutely nuts we'll deal with you," but the message may be received as Dan-O fears.
Nonetheless, the longshot positive is probably worth a small risk.
We risk having our camp further divided, confused and unfocused. (Alas, this is the primary goal of Khatami's visit.) Just watch how western media will play up to Khatami's "message of peace". Just watch how the war hawks will be pushed further to the side.
We risk losing more time, allowing Iran the time it needs to build an arsenal of nukes.
We risk losing the support of the true reformers we wish to help in Iran. Khatami is now pretty much detested by Iranian youth as is all the mullahs. Allowing him a stage in the West only undermines their faith in the West.
We risk being played the fools that we are in Iranian eyes. And they would be right.
We have a choice of shame or eventual war. We are surely on the road to shame by allowing an Islamic butcher thug a free voice in a Western Christian cathedral of the highest honor.
But in the end war will find us regardless. It is 1938 all over again...
Why the National Cathedral.
I can just see the Arab/Persian/Muslim press accounts - Mullah conquers Christianity. Dhimminitued strikes again.
The Fighting Muslims
Wretched humans destroy the earth after the other,
Seek war to feed their hearts, turn in pleasure,
You do the thing most would reel; kill the brother.
Put him in horror, cry far, every measure.
Say it over again, the same refrain,
Forget peace, kill again—again.
Centuries now has been the call,
No use for any, no more value at all,
Than a dead worm in a small bird’s beak.
While in the veins of cruel time, you seek,
An awful end made certain by man.
Caliphate rule, a curse on every land.
You spew bile, say it over and again,
You know well the full weight,
Take every word and remain,
Swallow your own, full of hate.
Linger only a while in this life,
Your own will and hope in eternal strife.
You are a kind of Muslim, the latest beast,
Who would take all in a bloody feast.
Friends of Judah, lovers of peace,
Pray true for a new blessed lease,
Worry not unseemly tears, guttural noise, remember,
There are words for those who celebrate September.
In the country, get out now and hidden stay.
Take your hate and teachers, boil it up,
Return to your Satan where your heart lay,
In the liar. You drink his blood filled cup.
Without the country, turn away, quit or die,
You’ve filled your bag with blood and hair,
But know the avenger is set, certain to fly,
To put the dogs down in their dark, hollow lair.
Mullah, Mullah, hungry vulture, starving bear,
Is it God you praise, you think? Your fare?
Satan has fooled every generation of curs,
Israel is peace, love—nothing to you but burs,
To be killed off every one of them until,
Your cruel count is finished, your coffers fill.
But do not look behind you, not one turn,
You’ll see it coming, more painful fool,
Than if you were taken in one quick burn,
Instant relief is better; as it is for real men too.
We’ve no desire, hear you squeal, hear you exclaim,
Anything more as the avenger makes her claim.
By MTF, at Thu Aug 24, 05:45:00 PM:
You close with a curious comment: "[we should] listen to the only president the Islamic Republic has ever had who was neither palpably corrupt nor certifiably nuts."
I had thought he was in fact regarded as palpably corrupt during his time as president, and that's why the mullahs threw him aside. As far as I know, there was never a suggestion his political views weren't to their liking.
But whether or not "popular views" of his politics are correct assessments, and I don't believe there is any evidence these views you refer to are correct, one has one piece of incontrovertible evidence as to Khatami's own perspective on the importance of Iran gaining a nuclear capability, for during Khatami's term as president the Islamic government began their avid pursuit of a nuclear bomb. It was during his term that the entire basic infrastructure we are so threatened by today was constructed, and the close relations with the Pakistanis and North Koreans initiated.
Whatever my disagreement of your misbegotten views, one thing is striking about your post. You seem to have a belief the president is a "center of power" in the republic. Why do you think that? It's not for nothing the mullahs themselves elect the "Supreme Leader", and it's not for nothing that all candidates for national office are approved by a board of review appointed by the Supreme Leader; the president isn't any sort of separate "center of power", I had understood he is merely an administrative extension of the Qom powerbase.
As far as direct diplomacy goes, and whether we should or should not engage in it, I think the effort we expend can't necessarily hurt our position, if it doesn't result in any sort of moderation of our present stance. We need absolute confidence Iran does not have the capability to build a bomb. If we do not have that confidence, I would suggest you consider moving a little further from New York than 50 miles.
By TigerHawk, at Thu Aug 24, 06:15:00 PM:
Addendum in light of various comments:
1. Khatami served two terms, and I believe did not run again because that's the limit. My understanding is that he was not considered corrupt. Rafsanjani (spelling from memory) is the guy who is considered in league with what passes for big business in Iran.
2. The mullahs did not elect Ahmadinejad. Without in any way defending the system of the Islamic Republic, it is actually a democracy within the assumptions of the system. The mullahs did winnow the field considerably to just a few candidates that they considered acceptable, but everything I have read indicates that they were also surprised by his election.
3. Virtually all serious scholars of Iran -- including, by the way, very hawkish Iranian exiles -- acknowledge that power in Iran is diffuse among factions and bureaucratic institutions, rather than centered in one person. In this regard, Iran is quite different from Saddam's Iraq or Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union. It is much more like the Soviet Union post Stalin. Just as we devoted enormous resources to understand who was influential in the Soviet Union (remember the arcane art of "Kremlin watching"?), we should be doing the same thing in Iran.
4. War is always an option, and regular readers know that I am not shy about supporting the application of American military power. However, I also believe that virtually any such move against Iran would be very costly on a number of levels. Therefore, I have no problem with other efforts to weaken the resolve of the regime in the meantime. Let's support democracy, let's support factions in the elites who are out of power at the moment, let's get Germany to sell Israel more submarines, and let's think of any number of other ways to put pressure on the Ahmadinejad administration. Who knows? Maybe one of the other powerful people in Iran, mullah or not, will decide it is time to kill the guy, or marginalize him, and open up to the West? Sure, the chances are slim, but we can always bomb them back to the stone age.
Or, is your real concern -- Dan-O -- that we will elect a Democrat in 2008 and the opportunity for a more martial solution will have passed?
By Papa Ray, at Fri Aug 25, 01:00:00 AM:
"We risk losing the support of the true reformers we wish to help in Iran. Khatami is now pretty much detested by Iranian youth as is all the mullahs. Allowing him a stage in the West only undermines their faith in the West."
This is true, I read the Iranian blogs and I can say that they are pissed that we are letting him in the U.S.
They also seem to think that the U.S. is too tight (actually I think they said most times would not) issue visas to Iranians that did not even have a "dark past",like Khatami does.
TigerHawk is right in that the politics in Iran are like the old Soviet style, complete with murders, kidnappings and other behind the curtain operations and intrigue.
It's said in some whispers, that Mad Jad, because of his past membership in the Revolutionary Guards, may be in a position to influence them to fire their missiles (they are the ones that control them).
The Supreme Leader Of Iran is also the Commander In Chief of Iran's Military Forces. On his left hand is the Assembly of Experts, which are clerics and on his right is the Council of Guardians which are "Jurists". This is the triolgy that commands Iran, that controls the Presidency and limits his power.
Can Mad Jad convince the Revolutionary Guards (who control all the missiles) to push the buttons without telling the Supreme Leader and his coharts?
Or do you think it is the Supreme Leader that is the one that will see that the buttons are pushed?
Either way, we can't wait to find out, and letting this thug come into the U.S. and give a speech is just the wrong thing, in so many ways.
By luc, at Fri Aug 25, 01:11:00 AM:
"let's get Germany to sell Israel more submarines"
That sure sounds to me like let Israel take care of Iran like they did of Iraq's reactor.
That is what may eventually happen. But is it fair to have Israel fight our battles? Although I am sure you are not advocating this outcome, never-the-less it is the most likely one unless the US develops some spine and soon!
As the time required by Iran to develop nuclear weapons is an unknown, and judging by the accuracy of predictions in the case India and Pakistan, by delaying our action now, we may leave retaliation after the fact as the only option for Israel.
If you were Israel would you accept that option, because if not, you are automatically implying that Israel should take care of Iran’s nuclear weapons development.
Tigerhawk, yes I am concerned about a Democrat gaining power in 2008. But that is not my driving concern at the moment. In any event, I think things will come to a head prior to January 2009.
Iran has not disguised their intentions. They wish to have a nuclear arsenal. They wish to have Israel destroyed. They wish to destroy the West. The have been at war with the West and particularly the U.S. for 27 years. All these aforementioned facts should not even be debated any longer. Their intentions are clear. You need only review the history, actions and speeches of Iranians since their Islamic revolution. I am exasperated that we are still in the debating stage of Iran’s intentions and that it seems to be going their way. They wish us to debate this issue forever if we must because it ensures that we are divided, unfocused and unsure when in fact they are acting as sure as can be toward their stated Islamic goals.
I can predict what will happen the day Iran announces they have 10 nuclear bombs. Is there any doubt that they will eventually use them? Why are we even debating this? Isn’t it clear that Iran cannot be left to have a nuclear arsenal? Do I need to point out the easily predictable events that would follow? (Nuclear arms race in the Middle East, world markets jittery to point of collapse, Israel threatened to the point of nuclear war, Iran threatening its neighbors into submission, Islamic jihad will advance in scope and power 20-fold worldwide, etc, etc)
Anyone that has studied Islam as I have also realizes (very easily) what their strategies are. They will use deception, feigns and outright lies in order to gain their goals. Islam allows this and even encourages it. Khatami as “peace messenger” fits this perfectly.
It’s the fact that Iranian politics is controlled by a group of clerics and particularly the Ayatollah will also see them through to their goals. Their theocratic system is robust within itself. If the Ayatollah dies who will doubt that another raging cleric will take his place?
Michael Ledeen thinks Iran can go through something akin to an Orange Revolution by supporting their dissidents, students, etc. Although I think we should be doing that approach more than we are, I have very little faith in its ability to overthrow the fanatics. Why? Islamists are not easily deterred and defeated through political means alone. Iraq is proving that. They will fight for their power to the last suicide bomber. Even the Iranian people realize that, hence they have done nothing serious to advance an overthrow of the mullahs. They need more than moral support, they would need military support.
We need to stop debating and start getting hawkish. We need to do this unilaterally if need be. We need to press UN for tough sanctions. If they refuse, we need to do it ourselves. A military blockade would do wonders to bring about hardships on the Iranian people. Only then will they have a chance of gaining enough momentum to overthrow the mullahs. We need to act as if we are the toughest guy on the planet.
Oh you’re worried about what the world would say? Who friggin cares! It matters not when the day Iran announces a nuclear arsenal, huh? Then we will have wished we had acted when we had a real chance.
And Tigerhawk, what makes you so sure that Americans will nuke them back to the Stone Age if they nuke Tel Aviv? What makes you so sure of that? Are you 100% sure we would nuke “innocent civilians”? I rather think not. I rather think we would dither and dather about trying not to make the situation worse. This dithering goes up exponentially if the Democrats are in power. There are a billion socialist/leftists in this world that would rather submit to Islamic power rather than fight to the death for their beliefs. For I think the leftists have made common cause with Islam without even knowing it.
What makes you so sure we would do it? I am not sure of that at all and take no solace that we can always revert to nuclear war or carpet bombing if things get rough. In any event who wants to travel that road anyway?
Tigerhawk, the reality is that the American will to fight has dramatically lowered over the last 50 years. The Romans collapsed primarily because they lost the will to fight in the end. It is in this regard that we are similar to the Roman Empire.
I fear we also have lost this willpower more than we even realize. That is why I cringe when I see posts like yours that have the effect of keeping us dithering about even longer.
By luc, at Fri Aug 25, 12:40:00 PM:
By Dan-0, at Fri Aug 25, 10:11:20 AM
I agree with you 100% and I will add that even assuming that Dr. Ledeen’s strategy is followed and leads to a government change, there is no guarantee that the regime that follows the current one will not also work for Islamic world domination. There is nothing in the Islamic world today that leads me to believe that they would convert suddenly into peace-loving and tolerating-of-others human beings. Look at Afghanistan and see that a few months ago they condemned to death a convert to Christianity.
AlQaeda’s aim is to burry us, Iran’s is the same; we went after AlQaeda, why not after Iran?