Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Signs of an Indian Spring...., then on to China.....

India. The Plight of the Rural and Urban Poor: In a Land of Facades, Mark the first Signs of an Indian Spring....

Softening Up Iran for the Final Attack....

In many ways, America's and Israel's much-anticipated war against Iran has already begun. It is not the type of war that was expected -- an Israeli textbook style surprise and swift attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, followed by a sustained U.S. and NATO air campaign -- but a covert war with quite an unexpected feature. The covert war, which has seen increased U.S. drone activity over Iranian skies and an increase in suspicious explosions at Iranian military facilities, has been coupled with American support for destabilization efforts against all of Iran's allies and friends, including Syria, Russia, China, North Korea, and Venezuela…

This multi-pronged attack strategy has sent a clear message to Iran, it is not safe from covert sabotage at home and it cannot look to its friends abroad for help as they deal with their own U.S. and Israeli-inspired domestic strife.

Although Libya under Muammar Qaddafi was no friend of Iran, the coming to power of pro-Saudi Wahhabi Salafist-Sunni elements in Tripoli and Benghazi increases the phalanx of Arab states actively opposing the Shi'a government in Tehran. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties in Egypt's parliamentary election also spells problems for Iran.

However, it is the potential loss of power by the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria that poses the worst immediate defeat for Iran. Syria has been Iran's closest ally in the Arab world. The West and the Saudis and Qataris have been supporting Salafist elements, including terrorists, who have committed their own share of atrocities in Syria, much as the same ilk conducted massacres of pro-Qaddafi, as well as black African guest workers and black Libyans, during the Libyan civil war.

On Iran's borders and adjacent waters, countries hosting U.S. military forces -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, and Afghanistan -- are being prepared for a military conflict with Iran. Although the Obama administration proclaimed the end of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, some U.S. forces remain in the country, as well as a group of para-military private security contractors.

With news that Iraq that the predominantly Shi'a and pro-Iranian Nouri al Maliki government in Baghdad has forged a military alliance with Iran and that Iraq's Sunni Vice President, Tareq al-Hashimy, has sought protection from arrest by Maliki's government in Iraqi Kurdistan, the U.S. can be expected to increase its own covert and overt military presence in Iraqi "Sunnistan" in the west of the country, as well as in Iraqi Kurdistan. The first front lines in a U.S. and/or Israel military showdown with Iran could be along the Shi'a-Sunni front lines in Iraq, a nation already so weary and decimated from war.

Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces could end up crossing into Iraq to take on remaining U.S. forces and their Sunni and Kurdish proxies.

The U.S. has pressured Maliki to not take action against the 3,400 Iranian exiles, most of them Mujaheddin-e-Khalq guerrillas, who were once backed by Saddam Hussein. The anti-Tehran regime MEK forces now enjoy the backing of a number of U.S. politicians but they are considered terrorists by Tehran. Since the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the MEK refugees have been under siege at Camp Ashraf. The U.S. has pressured Maliki to allow the Iranians to be resettled at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad, prior to exfiltration from Iraq by the United States. No final agreement between Washington and Baghdad has been signed but the MEK loyalists could end up in one of the Gulf states and be available for future guerrilla operations inside Iran.

The other wild card in any future U.S. is Pakistan, which now has a fractured relationship with Washington after incessant U.S. drone attacks have killed Pakistani border troops and a number of civilians. Pakistan's corrupt President, Ali Asraf Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is seen as a lame duck. Just as with U.S. National Endowment FOR Democracy (NED) "themed" rebellions currently being waged fomented against Iran's diplomatic allies and economic and military partners Russia and China, Pakistan, the Muslim world's only nuclear power, is experiencing a "people's" uprising led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice, PTI) recently saw over 100,000 turn out for a rally in Karachi, where the protesters called for political and economic reforms and an end to the corruption practiced by Zardari and his cronies. The message is similar to the anti-Vladimir Putin forces in Moscow -- anti-corruption and the institution of political reforms. Even the number of protesters is the same between the last protest against Putin in Moscow and the anti-Zardari protest in Karachi: 100,000.

However, Khan is supported by Pakistan's educated and professional, mostly young, elite.

Khan has had to take on an anti-American tone by condemning drone strikes and the U.S. military presence in Pakistan. However, Khan, to be a contender for power, must tack to a nationalist line because America is hated by a wide cross-section of the Pakistani population. Khan is adopting the same wishy-washy political platform that Barack Obama adopted in 2008, even borrowing from the Obama campaign by using "Hope" and "Change" campaign materials throughout Pakistan and even borrowing from another Obama campaign slogan with a slight twist: "Yes We Khan."

U.S. drone unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) drone activity, using intelligence-collection and weaponized drones, can be expected to continue. notwithstanding Iran's capture of a sophisticated jet-powered RQ0170 Sentinel drone that was brought down in Iran. In addition, it is strongly rumored that Israel may have drone and other intelligence bases from which to operate against Iran in Azerbaijan on Iran's northern border. The United States, Britain, and Israel are suspected of being behind covert attacks -- physical and cyber -- against Iran's nuclear development program.

Iranian nuclear scientists and defense officials have been assassinated and kidnapped by Western intelligence agents operating within Iran and abroad. There have been mysterious devastating explosions at an Iranian missile production facility outside of Tehran and at a nuclear facility near Isfahan. The West is also using Iranian minority guerrilla groups to conduct operations inside Iran, including Iranian Arabs in the southwest, Kurds in the north, and Baluchis in the southeast.

Although UAV activity against Iran has been widely reported, the use of Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) against Iran's naval forces, currently conducting a major exercise in the Gulf, cannot be discounted. The U.S. Navy may be using UUVs to conduct targeting activities inside Iran's Bandar Abbas naval base on the Gulf and in the near future may see UUVs conducting sabotage of Iranian naval vessels and in counteracting Iranian mines by blowing them up.

Israel is also known to maintain two of its Dolphin class diesel electric submarines in the Gulf. The submarines carry cruise missiles that are likely tipped with nuclear warheads.

Meanwhile, no stone is being left unturned by the West in neutralizing Iran's support from allies. In addition to supporting themed rebellions against Russia and China, so-called "White" revolutions, Iran's friend in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, is facing charges that he and Iranian personnel are developing nuclear weapons in Venezuela, an old and totally-debunked charge, and that Venezuelans and Lebanese Hezbollah are involved in drug smuggling in Mexico. The latter fairy tale is courtesy of the Spanish-language news network Univision, owned by notorious Israeli-American Hollywood mogul Chaim Saban, a Zionist who bankrolls the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. The Saban Center also provides propagandists from its satellite office in Doha, Qatar to influence the Fox News-style propaganda, masked as "news," that emanates from the Doha studios of Al Jazeera.

Iran's Lebanese Hezbollah allies and the governments of Sudan and North Korea, known to be close to Tehran, are facing renewed pressure from the West, especially North Korea after the unexpected death of Kim Jong Il. With rumors in Seoul and Beijing that Kim Jong Il may have been assassinated by military officers in a power struggle that led to a coup, North Korea as a source for Iranian missiles and nuclear technology may now be in doubt. Sudan, which already lost South Sudan to a pro-Israeli regime, is now facing the possibility that Darfur and North Kordofan could be peeled away from the country, leaving a powerless rump regime in Khartoum.

In the U.S., the Zionist propagandists are spinning the fanciful tale that Iran was involved with "Al Qaeda," the fairy tale organization concocted by Mossad and the CIA, in carrying out the obvious False Flag 9/11 attacks....

One fact remains. Iran is now facing an undeclared war being waged by the West and Israel. It is a war of computer viruses like the Israeli-developed Stuxnet, propaganda, support for armed insurgents, covert assassinations and sabotage, and political pressure against Iran's friends around the world. This softening up of Iran is expected by the West to make a final military assault on the country a "cake walk."....

Without Economic Changes, America Can't Contain China....

China Plans Manned Moon Landings As U.S. Rents Seats On Russian Rockets....

Without Economic Changes, America Can't Contain China....

Andrew Malcolm

Americans better get used to it: Watching China's rockets and astronauts launching from Earth to explore new frontiers in space, near and very far.

With the U.S. space shuttle fleet now fully retired and decommissioned by the Obama administration, NASA must rent $62 million seats on Russian rockets to get Americans up to the International Space Station. And no farther.

On Thursday, the emerging superpower of China, flush with cash from its booming economy and overseas investments, released a major policy paper, announcing far more ambitious goals for its own national space explorations.

It is already constructing its own space station, experimenting with robot spaceships and is expected to launch more crews in the new year, possibly its first female astronaut, just eight years after the first Chinese flew in orbit. This plus ambitious plans for new rockets. fuels and even moon orbiters.

But the big news from China's new white paper was the revelation of plans to land crews on the Moon for detailed lengthy explorations, possibly late this decade. The Moon has not seen new human footprints in 39 years, since the last U.S. lunar mission, Apollo 17 in December 1972.

Bush administration plans to return U.S. astronauts to the Moon to construct a permanent base and explore for mineral deposits, among other things, were scrapped by Obama, ostensibly for financial reasons. This has resulted in thousands of recent layoffs among Florida's highly-skilled space industry workers.

Although Obama's specific long-term goals for an American space program appear muddled at best -- he has, for instance, talked vaguely of someday landing on an asteroid for some reason -- clearly the U.S. will be incapable of launching its own astronauts into space for several years due to development lags in spacecraft and launch vehicles.

Additionally, given the grim, limited outlook for new adventures, the U.S. astronaut corps has dwindled to less than half its original size.

Attempting to sell another ineffective stimulus spending program on infrastructure, the Democrat has talked admiringly in recent months of China's high-speed trains and new airports. Given the crippling of the U.S. space program, chances are slim Obama will speak so gushingly about China's expansive newly-public space plans.

According to the Financial Times' Simon Rabinovitch in China:

"The statement highlights Beijing’s soaring ambitions just five months after the U.S. retired its space shuttle program. 'Chinese people are the same as people around the world,' Zhang Wei, an official with China’s National Space Administration, said at a briefing. 'When looking up at the starry sky, we are full of longing and yearning for the vast universe.'"

Uh, huh.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist, however, to realize that rocket science and satellite development have military applications and implications, which the U.S. was quick to seize after capturing Nazi rocket experts following World War II.

Chinese officials talk of international cooperation, but their country opted to build its own orbiting space platform and not the International Space Station, currently manned by three Russians, two Americans and a European astronaut.

The first two pieces of the unmanned Chinese station were remotely docked together in orbit last month. Other sections will go up in 2012 with completion scheduled within 48 months.

Additionally, China has opted to develop its own global satellite positioning network, called Beidou, as a homegrown and Chinese-controlled alternative to the widely-employed American GPS system. The Chinese alternative will blanket the Pacific region by next December and the world a few years later.

Chinese officials say theirs will be used for fishing and telecommunications.


Of course, a Chinese GPS system could also be quite useful for military applications such as missile guidance and positioning of naval vessels like, say, China's new aircraft carrier now roaming the Pacific.

But Obama gave Chinese President Hu Jintao a special White House state dinner early this year. And in his toast Obama celebrated the extended U.S. stay of a giant Chinese panda. So, clearly we're all friends. No need to worry about China.

For the past 25 years I have made it a routine to visit the States at least once a year .... and I am usually in China visiting friends or former business colleagues every second year. These visits have given me a perspective that is unique .... but also sad. The United States that I learned to love and admire is not the United States of 25 years ago .... it has become something else. And while I am not going to bore you with on why I believe liberalism and statism coupled with union, Washington, and Wall Street cronyism has destroyed the vibrancy that once made America great ....I will instead point out that China .... a poor and confused country with multiple problems has instead embraced in the past 25 years what we have abandoned .... a free entrepreneurial spirit with a view and a determination to embrace the future even though (for most Chinese) they still live a destitute existence. Hope is what gives us the energy to continue ... and I can easily say right now that for the Chinese .... even with all of their problems and poverty .... they have buckets of it.

In the end, I do not know if the Chinese will succeed. The problems over there are incredible .... but I do know that we are failing, and if these trends continue there will be a day when we look at the Chinese as the trend makers, while the U.S. will become like today's Britain ..... a great empire that once was the center of the universe .... but is now just a lousy tourist spot.....

The problem with military planners is that all they know is military stuff. The Pentagon may harbor some of the best strategists who ever gazed at a globe, but they seldom have much grasp of economics or demographics or cultural trends. So when a new threat arises, their natural inclination is to figure out how military force can be applied to deter or defeat it.

Thus it is with the growing challenge posed by a rising China in what used to be called the "Far East." The arc of countries stretching from Singapore to the Korean Peninsula has become the industrial heartland of the new global economy, and it is essential to U.S. national security that those nations not become dominated by China as Beijing's influence grows.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said as much in his first major speech on security policy in October. In Panetta's word's, "The rise of China will continue to shape the international system, and we will have to stay competitive and reassure our allies in the region." Panetta went on, "That means continuing to project our power and maintaining forward-deployed forces in the Asia-Pacific region."

The defense secretary was right to emphasize America's commitment to the region, a commitment some nations in the area had begun to doubt after a decade of American military distractions in Southwest Asia. However, incremental increases in the U.S. military presence aren't going to do much to slow the growth in Chinese influence due to geography and economic trends. The geographical asymmetry between China's and America's circumstances in the Western Pacific is stark: we are operating thousands of miles from home, and they are literally the Middle Kingdom.

U.S. leaders cannot change the geography favoring
creeping Chinese hegemony in the region. But there are many things they could do to reverse the economic trends fueling China's rise, and to date Washington has done little. The simple truth is that America's economy has been in steady decline since the new millennium commenced, while China's economy has rapidly expanded. When the asymmetry in economic performance is combined with the geographical asymmetry, China's dominance becomes inevitable over the long run, given its vast population.

The U.S. intelligence community warned President Obama this might happen even before he took office. A multi-agency global trends assessment that was briefed to the president-elect stated, "In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the global shift in relative wealth and economic power now under way -- roughly from West to East -- is without precedent in modern history." Nothing has happened since Mr. Obama was inaugurated to alter that outlook. In fact, David Ignatius of the Washington Post reported on December 11 that the latest version of the intelligence community's long-term forecast is more pessimistic than the assessment briefed to Obama three years ago.

If you spend most of your time following military affairs, then you may not realize just how far China's economy has come over the last 11 years. In 2001, China's economy was only one-third as big as America's, even though it had four times as many people. Today, the International Monetary Fund is predicting that
it will surpass the purchasing power of the U.S. economy in 2016. In 2001, U.S. exports to the rest of the world were three times greater than those of China; today, China's exports are 50 percent greater than those of America.

The key turning point in China's economic development came only weeks after the 9-11 attacks, when it became a member of the World Trade Organization. The bargain that China made in return for unfettered access to overseas markets was that it would abandon mercantilist policies such as export subsidies and currency manipulation that distorted trade flows. We now know that China took full advantage of its new-found market access without eliminating discriminatory trade practices. By the end of the Bush years, the United States had accumulated a trillion-dollar deficit in its merchandise trade balance with China and Beijing was holding vast currency reserves America needed to borrow to cover federal debts.

But as that latter point implies, the economic chronicle of the new era
wasn't just about China's rise, it was also about America's decline. Policymakers in Washington failed to foster conditions in which the U.S. economy could keep up with the rest of the world, and thus the U.S. share of global output slid from 32 percent the year President Bush took office to 24 percent today. After increasing jobs by 20 percent in each of the two preceding decades, the economy produced no net additional jobs at all during the first ten years of the new millennium. An average of over 40,000 manufacturing jobs disappeared every month for ten straight years, due in no small part to the flood of cheap Chinese goods inundating the market.

Sector-by-sector, the impact of China's economic rise seems even more staggering. In 2001, the year that Beijing joined the WTO, China and America both produced about 100 million tons of steel. Ten years later, China was producing 800 million tons annually and America was producing one-tenth that amount. China had become by far the biggest consumer of cement and copper in the world, and had constructed approximately half of global aluminum-smelting capacity. Chinese competition forced the closure of the last penicillin maker in the U.S. in 2006, and is now gradually wiping out the domestic solar-panel industry (where Chinese global market share has skyrocketed from 9 percent to over 50 percent in a mere six years). China surpassed the U.S. in electronics production in 2006, and a survey conducted the same year found that while U.S. chemical companies were planning to build only one new plant worth over a billion dollars, the Chinese were planning to build 50.

I could go on. But what's really stunning about the Chinese surge is that so much of it was made possible by policies explicitly prohibited in trade treaties. China's national government and its various provincial governments have steadily subsidized and protected exporters in direct contravention of trade rules. Beijing pegged the yuan to the dollar at an artificially low rate that by some estimates gave Chinese companies a 30 percent price advantage over their U.S. counterparts even before labor differentials were factored in. And Chinese authorities have done almost nothing to curb the rampant theft of U.S. intellectual property -- theft which results in nearly 80 percent of U.S. computer software used in China being pirated.

So it isn't hard to understand why China last year sold the U.S. $365 billion in goods and services, while America only sold $92 billion to China. With America gradually reducing its deficit in energy trade due to breakthroughs in extracting oil and gas, China has become the main reason why the U.S. still has a huge trade deficit. Not only has Washington failed to do much about China's trade violations, but it has allowed itself to become dependent on Chinese loans as a way of sustaining federal borrowing without raising interest rates. As some observers have wryly observed, the U.S. will have to borrow money from China to cover its costs the next time Taiwan needs to be defended.

That brings me back to America's military role in the Western Pacific. Although a renewed American defense commitment to the region will undoubtedly be welcomed by local friends and allies, it won't alter the accumulation of power by Beijing because that is driven mainly by China's economic expansion. If America cannot improve its own economic performance and start imposing penalties on Chinese mercantilism, then allies will have good reason to continue wondering how reliable U.S. military commitments are.

The Chinese military buildup that has regional leaders so concerned would not have been feasible in the absence of economic growth rates averaging 10 percent annually over the past decade. And the growth rates in turn would not have been sustainable were it not for easy access to the U.S. and other western markets. We shouldn't penalize China for working hard and investing heavily unless its government becomes overtly aggressive, but there is copious evidence that the country's economic success isn't due solely to virtuous behavior. It is the biggest and most persistent violator of free-trade rules since the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was superceded by the World Trade Organization in 1995.

Among the measures Washington needs to implement are countervailing duties to combat illegal export subsidies, economic pressure to end currency manipulation, and systematic prosecution of intellectual-property theft. Beyond that, though, the United States needs to get its own economic house in order by balancing the federal budget and removing the regulatory burdens that drive U.S. manufacturers offshore in the first place. If Washington cracks down on Chinese trade abuses, that will not automatically bring jobs back to America unless the domestic tax and regulatory climate improves. The United States needs to be more welcoming to miners and manufacturers, otherwise it cannot benefit fully from its competitive advantages.

Obviously, military planners give little thought to such matters when they prepare to bolster the America's defense posture in the Pacific. There is much to be said for developing a new land-based bomber and longer-range naval aviation assets that are suited to the vast distances and emerging military challenges in the Western Pacific. But the core of our problem in coping with China is that the Middle Kingdom has been growing at breakneck speed by breaking the rules, while America has been hobbling its own economic growth through political paralysis and excessive regulation. If the United States can't break out of the cycle of debt and decline it has been in for the last decade, then a few more warships in the Pacific aren't going to stop China from dominating the region.

Loren Thompson

What will happen in Lebanon, will ultimately happen to the rest of the world...

لبنان يحمل رسالة وقال عنه البابا يوحنا بولس الثاني انه رسالة ونموذج للشرق وللغرب

What will happen in Lebanon, will ultimately happen to the rest of the world....Lebanon enjoys the multitude of confessions and religions in an open and most tolerant of ways.

Spread the truth and beauty of Lebanon and its culture and open tolerant Democracy with the world. The world needs to know the truth now more than ever before....

"The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon Lebanon, from the beginning of the year, until the year's end." The eyes of the world are focused on Lebanon - as what will happen in Lebanon, will ultimately happen to the rest of the world, and we have been saying that since the early 70s....

....لبنان يحمل رسالة وقال عنه البابا يوحنا بولس الثاني انه رسالة ونموذج للشرق وللغرب

" دون شك ان الله سبحانه وتعالى يريد ان تكون كل سنة مليئة بالخير والسلام ما يعني ان كل واحد منا مسؤول عن بناء السلام الذي هو عطية من الله وبناء العدالة التي هي الاخرى عطية من الله، وكذلك المحبة التي هي الاخرى عطية من الله ، ولذلك نحن عندما نتمنى لبعضنا البعض ان تكون سنة خير وبركة تعني اننا نلتزم بان نعيش القيم السماوية لانها عطايا من السماء نبني عليها حياتنا اليومية".

" للبنان رسالة ينبغي ان يقوم بها، في الواقع لبنان يحمل رسالة هو الذي يقع جغرافيا بين كل هذا الشرق وبين الغرب، وقال عنه البابا يوحنا بولس الثاني "انه رسالة ونموذج للشرق وللغرب"، للشرق ينبغي لبنان ان يقول لكل ابناء هذا الشرق وعامة معظمهم مسلمون ومسيحيون، ان يقول لهم نستطيع ان نعيش في التنوع، لبنان بلد متنوع، والمساواة بالحقوق والواجبات، وان نبني دولة مدنية ، ديموقراطية تفصل بين الدين والدولة، وتحترم الله وكل القيم، هذه الرسالة ينبغي ان نحملها الى هذا الشرق الذي هو عادة أحادي في التفكير وأحادي في الدين وفي الرؤيا. لبنان يحمل هذه الرسالة الكبيرة ونحن اليوم ابناء هذا الجبل كل من موقعه يحمل هذه المسؤولية وينبغي ان نحافظ على هذا اللبنان بتنوعه ومساواته، تجمعنا المواطنة وتجمعنا الرسالة والتاريخ الذي نحمله جيلا بعد جيل".

" بالنسبة للغرب هذا الغرب الذي ذهب بعيدا في العلمنة اي ذهب بعيدا في الدولة المدنية، لانه لم يفصل فقط بين الدين والدولة بل فصل بين الدولة والله ونراه يتخبط بأزمات وكأن الله غير موجود، ولا رسوم ولا وصاية، لكي يعيش دولة مدنية لبنان يقول لهم، نعم، لبنان دولة مدنية تفصل بين الدين والدولة، لكنها لا تفصل بين الدولة والله، هي تحافظ على ما يريده الله ويوصي ويرسم، هذه الرسالة عظيمة، ونحن نأمل ان نعيشها ولذلك ينبغي ان نعمل جاهدين كلنا من أجل بناء هذه الدولة المدنية، الديموقراطية، العادلة حيث مسلمون ومسيحيون يعيشون معا لبناء هذه الدولة المدنية على أساس من المواطنة، الاحترام المتبادل، بالحوار الدائم

Historians will remember 2011 as the year when the Arabs rose against their dictators. The projection of ‘people power’ has been angry, impatient, astonishingly brave -- and above all young. Exploding demographics have provided the motor of the Arab Spring....

The figures tell the story. High fertility rates across the Arab world have led, within a single life-time, to a doubling, tripling and even quadrupling of populations, resulting in grossly over-stretched government services, in a huge inflation of student numbers and, inevitably, in frustrated expectations.

In country after country, a vast new generation of educated -- or semi-educated -- youngsters has emerged into adult life, only to discover that no jobs are available for them. Hence, they have no access to the consumer goods so blatantly displayed on TV screens, no decent lodgings, no possibility of early marriage, no prospect of a better life. Youth unemployment is the fuse which lit the fires of revolution.

Inevitably, the targets of these frustrated youngsters were the fat cats and crony capitalists who, in every Arab country, have thrived from proximity to the centers of power. The rebels demand an end to corruption and a fairer distribution of wealth. They want their share of the national cake.

It was but a short step from there for them to challenge the political regimes under which they and their parents have lived and suffered: the arrogant, puffed-up ruling families and their patronage networks; the stale one-party systems; the brutal security forces imposing stifling controls; the total lack of basic freedoms. There has been much talk of the revolutionaries wanting dignity – that is, the respect which governments owe their citizens, but which has been sadly lacking.

When economic grievances turn political, regimes begin to crumble. By their very nature, revolutions tend to be violent and destructive. Once they bring down the human and material pillars of a state, they create a void which it is often difficult to fill. A house can be destroyed in an hour, but might take months, if not years, to build. The next phase of the Arab revolutions must surely be devoted -- slowly, painfully and inevitably with many false starts -- to devising and creating the new state institutions which will replace the ones which are being swept away.

Each Arab country will proceed at its own pace. The more violent and prolonged the revolution, the more difficult the reconstruction -- as countries like Syria and Yemen will no doubt discover. Each country has its own history, its own power structures, its own unique characteristics. But one theme seems present in the revolutions of this past year. It could perhaps best be described as a profound desire to express the Arab and Muslim identity of the local populations, free from foreign cultural and political tutelage.

Across the greater Middle East -- from Tunisia to Afghanistan and the many places in between -- one senses a rebellion against foreign attempts to impose on the Muslim world a Western model of society, together with a submission to Western strategic interests. We may indeed be witnessing a new chapter -- perhaps a final one -- in the Arabs’ long struggle against Western imperialism, which began after the First World War, was defeated in the 1920s and 1930s, only to be frustrated again by the emergence of Israel after the Second World War -- and of the Arab dictatorships which followed.

A new phase of the struggle is now beginning. Is not this the explanation of the remarkable electoral success of Islamic parties? These parties are close to the common people and provide welfare services which the state has often failed to supply. But their immense appeal must surely also stem from their defense of Islamic traditions -- social, cultural and religious -- and their expression of an authentic national identity.

We don’t yet know how the Islamists will behave in government. Will they adopt the Turkish model of Islam allied to secular democracy, or will they slip back into Salafi fundamentalism? Whatever the answer, I suspect that their prime goal will be good governance rather than Western-style liberal democracy.

America’s decline in influence and reputation is likely to continue this coming year. It is the inevitable result of Washington’s grave foreign policy errors. Pro-Israeli neoconservatives in George W. Bush’s administration played a large part in launching the destruction and dismemberment of Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan.... Israel wanted Iraq permanently enfeebled: It has been the main beneficiary of the Iraq war. The same forces are now driving the current U.S. confrontation with Iran and the shameful abandonment of the Palestinians. To this catalog of failures should be added America’s costly embroilment in Afghanistan; its quarrel with neighboring Pakistan; and its use of unmanned drones to carry out targeted killings of doubtful legality.

The Arab world -- whether under new or old leaders -- must now assume responsibility for the grave problems it faces. Three require urgent attention: First, the need to protect the Egyptian and Yemeni economies from collapse; second, the need to build bridges across the Sunni-Shi‘a divide so as to protect the region from further civil wars; and third, the need to use every bit of Arab leverage and every ounce of revolutionary fervor to assist the Palestinians in their long-delayed quest for independent statehood.....LOL

In pursuit of these important goals, the Gulf States under Saudi leadership have a vital role to play. They are the new pole of Arab wealth, education, stable government and international influence. Much is expected of them. A union of Gulf Cooperation Council member states -- as recently proposed by the Salafist/Wahhabi King Abdallah, the Saudi crypto-monarch.... -- has much to commend it. It might even provide a model for a divided Europe.....

Disposable friends: India and China.....

Disposable friends: India and China.....

America is baiting China, and India could get sucked into it, warns Ramtanu Maitra.

Washington, 28 December 2011: On 20 December, a trilateral dialogue between India, Japan and the United States took place in Washington. "These discussions," said a joint statement, "mark the beginning of a series of consultations among our three governments, who share common values and interests across the Asia-Pacific and the globe."

Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, was in Washington then. Together with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, he "affirmed that Japan and the United States are deepening [our] strategic relationship with India".

"Strategic relationship" is a loosely conceived phrase. The Americans notoriously use it to further their interests above those of others.

The US media said the trilateral dialogue took place "amid heightened tensions between China and the Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and the Philippines over the issue of sovereignty over the resource-rich South China Sea". This implied the dialogue centred on US concerns, dittoed by India and Japan, over the growing Chinese "threat' in the region.

US president Barack Obama's pugnacious speech in Australia in November flagged such concerns. "With my visit to the region," he said, "I am making it clear that the United States is stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific region."
From next year, US troops and aircraft will operate out of Darwin to quickly respond to humanitarian and security issues in Southeast Asia which is at the heart of the tense stand-off with China. "It is appropriate for us," Obama said, "that the security architecture for the region is updated for the 21st century, and this initiative is going to allow us to do that."

Analysts like James Holmes of the US Naval War College argue that today's strategic questions represent a throwback of sorts to the debate before the First World War amongst strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, and assistant secretary of the navy, Franklin Roosevelt, about stationing the American fleet. The three sea-power proponents agreed it should concentrate in the Pacific, said Holmes.

Holmes says that situation exists today. "A glance at the map," he wrote in The Diplomat online, "reveals two prospective adversaries for the United States and its allies, namely China and Iran. Both worry mainly about managing their own surroundings. Both can mass forces close to home. Neither has compelling interests that disperse its military forces to faraway theatres. And the chances of their ganging up on the US Navy are remote."

Holmes' prescription: The US navy must prepare to face -- or face down in crises short of war -- a single opponent fighting with full force near its own shores. "Cold War theatres like the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea no longer appear that menacing, while the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean could witness exciting times," Holmes concludes.

Many walking the corridors of power in India would like to align with the United States and identify China as an enemy. "Chinese perfidy" in 1962 and since compels them. They do not trust China and prefer the United States.

US-India relations have changed greatly since the time president Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, considered India a "Soviet stooge." Now, Obama, to the great pride of the Indian premier, calls Manmohan Singh his "guru".

In Bali in November on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit, Manmohan Singh confirmed to Obama that "there are no irritants between our two countries." And last year in New Delhi, Obama said the India-US relationship is "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century".

Even so, an Indo-US alliance against China is not a given, much less a trilateral partnership amongst India, America and Japan to contain the totalitarian behemoth. Australia which is key to a common front against China is keen to upgrade strategic ties with India. But New Delhi is cautious not to provoke Beijing.

At the same time, India has a much weaker constitution than it did in the years when it was staunchly non-aligned. Washington's China bogey could suck the Manmohan Singh government into a dangerous situation.

Ramtanu Maitra is South Asia analyst for the Executive Intelligence Review in Washington.
UIGHURS strike again....

At least eight persons----seven Uighurs and a senior police officer of the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang province --- were reported to have been killed on the night of December 28,2011, in Hotan'sPishan county. Pishan county lies on the southern edge of the Taklamakan desert near the border with Pakistan.

2.According to available details from reliable Uighur sources, a police party tried to stop a group of Uighur youth who were about to enter Pakistan near village Mukula.One of the Uighur youth allegedly stabbed AdilAbduveli, the leader of the police party. The remaining members of the Police party allegedly shot dead seven of the Uighur youth who were trying to cross over into Pakistan.

3. The police have alleged that the Uighurs who were killed were terrorists who tried to take hostage two police officers. This led to an exchange of fire during which, according to the Police, the Uighurs were killed. Uighur sources have denied this version.

4.Earlier this month, one Han Chinese was reported killed and several others were injured when an Uighur attacked a group of people with a pair of shears in the streets of Dolebagh township in Kashgar city. Following this, the police rounded up 50 Uighurs of the area for questioning. Thirty of them were released and allowed to go home after the questioning. About 20 remained unaccounted for. There was speculation that they managed to escape from police custody during the questioning and that the police had intensified border patrolling in order to prevent them from escaping into Pakistan.

5.There have been a number of stabbing incidents in the province this year. On April 18, a young Uighur stabbed six Han Chinese and then stabbed himself to death.Four days later, another Uighur allegedly stabbed to death a 39-year-old Han woman.On July 30 and 31, at least 14 persons were stabbed to death in the Kashgar area by two groups of Uighur youth. Previously, there was a ban on Uighurs possessing fire-arms.Now a ban has been imposed on their possessing their traditional knives too, which has added to their resentment against the police.

6.Doletbagh is a small town located in the southeast part of Kashgar with a population of about 14,000, 97 percent of whom are Uighurs.Most of them are unemployed due to preference given to Hans from outside in recruitment.Unable to get jobs locally, the unemployed youth try to escape into Pakistan. Reliable Uighur sources allege that the youths trying to escape are killed either by the Han Police before they cross over or by the Pakistani security forces after they cross over.

7.Officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security, which is responsible for internal security, are attached to Pakistani security posts on the Pakistani side of the border to prevent illegal crossing of Uighur youth into Pakistan.

Iran’s Maritime Geo-strategy in an Unbalanced World, and cold handshakes across the Gulf...

Iran’s Maritime Geo-strategy in an Unbalanced World, and cold handshakes across the Gulf...

If Iran turns into a naval power, its neighbors are estimated to maintain balance via multilateral unions against Iran. Diako Hosseini.

More than 120 years after the publication of the renowned book “The Influence of Sea Power upon History 1660-1783” by Alfred Thayer Mahan, the incredible power of the Navy still shapes global politics. Further, it makes up the main geo-strategic theme of the world’s great powers as well as the up and coming ones. In line with this conventional mode of thinking, powerful countries are somewhat obliged to be armed with modern a naval force that puts them in a superior position in relation to other countries.

A newfound enthusiasm for communications and financial globalization may have temporarily relegated the significance of naval power, yet the compression of time and place has reminded some of a Navy’s importance.

Navy supporters point out that two-thirds of the oil trade and more than 77 percent of the global trade in goods are still carried out by sea. Further, if considering oceans, coastal shores, estuaries of large rivers and island territories, this figure reaches 90%. Additionally, global issues such as marine life and environmental effects on open waters-- as well as the importance of securing sources of energy-- add to the importance of a Navy for the people’s common interests. Frank Huffman of the US Navy pointed out the “arrival of a new age of Mahan”.

With increasing emphasis on the importance of the Navy in Western literature, Iran is increasing its naval technological and strategic operations in the Persian Gulf and the seas beyond. Among Iran’s plans are to increase its maritime influence by deploying fleets to the Mediterranean coasts and plans to create permanent bases in the Gulf of Aden and the Atlantic Ocean. It is often assumed that these measures will lead to an increase in Iran’s influence in open waters.

Arguably, this assumption is not only inaccurate but it also prepares the grounds for disturbing the current balance of power in the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean and beyond. Perhaps the main difficulty in understanding how trans-ocean navy capabilities could threaten Iran’s national security stems from common understanding of maritime history. Before expanding further, first let’s consider whether naval expansion brought more stability and security for Great Britain after 1776, Wilhem’s Germany after 1895, and the US after the 1900s.

The Navy in History

Historically, demonstration of naval strength has been closely tied to great wars, most notably classical wars. The Spanish succession, the Seven Years War, the American Civil War and the Netherlands and Britain’s Second War have all been more or less affected by the countries’ naval strength. Yet rarely (with the exception of the Netherlands and Britain’s war that occurred in the Far East and latter at the battle of Tsushima), navies played a crucial role in instigating the wars.

British author, Julian Corbett -who lived in the same era as Alfred Mahan- elegantly explains: “Humans live on lands and not the sea, hence most fundamental human affairs takes place on lands”. Unlike Mahan, in his book “Principles of Maritime Strategy” Corbett insisted less on wars at sea. Instead he assumed a mutual correlation between war on land and war at sea. Corbett understood that having control over the sea was not limited to having control over the sea level but also at the depths of the sea as well as out in space. In practice it is very difficult for a country to gain such control and to maintain it. Expecting naval mastery from the navy is often an unusual anticipation. Undoubtedly, this has been one of the forces behind the navy’s gradual decline.

Under the best circumstances -thanks to advance technology - a maritime power could build a powerful naval fleet and sailing and logistic facilities in order dominate waters for a limited period of time. However, soon after, rival countries are provoked to disrupt this ability in order to gain dominance. Additionally, the presence of a powerful navy in open waters far away from its home could cause suspicion about its intentions.

This could lead to the unity of other rival countries against a potential common adversary; like the union between Great Britain and France against Germany in 1902; also Japan and Britain against Russia in 1939. Hence, naval actions often result in consequences on land. Rivalry between the British and German navies eventually led to the First World War. In Seventeenth Century Britain, the Netherlands and Spain started their colonization in the heart of China, which lead to the British domination of the West. During the same time it was Germany’s effort to gain dominance that disturbed a 150 yearlong stability. However, the fundamental concern of Great Britain, France and Russia derived from the development of Nazi Germany’s striking ground forces. Imperial Japan had one of the most elite naval forces in the world. It was not only Japan’s losses, but also its victories in Manchuria, the Philippines, Singapore and the Korean Peninsula that reflected the moral and financial rise and decline of its ground forces.

Why is it so difficult to achieve maritime supremacy? As long as there are other powerful rivals on the seas there are only two ways to overcome the enemy and realize dominance: firstly, to gain control over water crossings by physically destroying other countries’ fleets; secondly, naval blockades. Each of these solutions can be costly and often ineffective. John Mearsheimer, an American realist who advocates the supremacy of the army and ground forces, give evidence of the negligible effects of naval blockades in his book “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics”. He points out that since most land-based battlefields consume significant military resources, naval troops are essentially considered as weak, vulnerable, and considered temporary. No military commander is willing to concentrate most of his military resources at sea while the enemy’s ground troops have reached the country’s borders, or may reach it in the future.

The navy still suffers from strategic deficiencies. In contemporary times, a powerful navy seems ineffective without the support of an air force, as a combination of both is essential. Perhaps some experts might say that aircraft carriers, the best combination of both forces, has solved the problem, but these sea beasts seem futile against asymmetric warfare. Besides all of these problems, it is very difficult to be certain whether an enemy’s attack strategy will fail after a decisive defeat at sea, as Napoleon’s defeat in the sea battle of Trafalgar did not prevent him from advancing towards the borders of Russia on the western front. When the land or the interest in dispute is closely related to the sea (such as territorial islands or strategic coasts), success in a sea battle will decide success in war, while if the interests of the two sea forces are situated on land, success at sea is only a ceremonial victory.

Furthermore, there is a great exception when the navies of both sides enjoy nuclear capabilities; in such a situation, a sea battle can be quite decisive. A technologic navy can improve deterrence and can carry out a second strike, while an effective navy is of secondary importance for a nuclear power. The Cold War between two former superpowers showed that the maintenance of international peace depends on avoiding a first pervasive attack. As Lewis Gaddis puts it, the Cold War was governed, to some extent, by the lack of courage to shoot the first nuclear missile, rather than by other balancing factors. Ignoring whether there is a balance of military powers-- including that of sea power-- anywhere in the world, the sea powers with nuclear capabilities can create the safest geopolitical situation in the sea; for these powers, the capability to move on the seas is not that important while the enemy targets the mainland with nuclear weapons.

The Cuban missile crisis is a revealing example: in that critical situation, neighboring the Russian navy to US seas was an advantage for the Russian leaders, while, in case of their progress, would the Russian mainland be targeted by US Pershing missiles?

Finally, the role of navies in maintaining the position of superpowers has been exaggerated. History does not confirm that the world’s most advanced sea forces of Britain, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and the US could not stop their gradual falling from their high position. At least, after the formation of the international economic system, the most important mission of armed forces has been to support the health of a country’s economy.

In earlier times, this obligation was primarily assigned to the imperialist superpowers’ navies, while they fell into colonial rivalries that incur high military expenses, the issue that made armed forces an impediment to economic advances, caused domestic dissatisfaction, introduced political reforms in Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and accelerated the fall of great powers. In the modern era, navies’ support for safe and free shipping securing the flow of the global economy is one of the reasons for the increasing empowering of the navies, while the rivalry between China and the US in the South China Sea and the recent rivalry between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf pose threats, instead of guaranteeing security.

After all, none of these arguments proves that a powerful navy present in coastal seas or the neighboring seas can improve national security, while the navies’ success is directly related to their performance in neighbor seas rather than an extension to the farthest oceans.

The Future of Iranian Navy

Besides the above-mentioned critical arguments regarding a common misunderstanding of the advantages of extending sea forces to far seas, the balance of superpowers’ navies, like land and air forces, depends on their technologies. Currently, although the US enjoys less advanced maritime equipment, qualitatively speaking, it, like military unions, has a particular dominance over and presence in oceans. The US having 12 aircraft carriers, 9 of which are Nimitz class nuclear super-carriers capable of carrying 70 F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft, has formed the most terrifying sea force of the world. The US’s closest rivals are as follows: France with a so-called Charles de Gaulle carrier which is smaller than the Nimitz, Russia with a carrier called the Admiral Kuznetsov which is minor threat to those of the US, and Britain with three small carriers used for carrying helicopters and Harrier perpendicular planes.

The submarine fleet of the US, consisting of 54 nuclear attack submarines and 16 ballistic missile submarines stands in first place in the world, while Russia with 37 of the first type and 14 of the second type stands in second place, followed by Britain, France and China. In this unbalanced situation, the navies rival to the US have no way but to adopt an asymmetric strategy. For example, via improving the production line of Song Class Diesel-Electric submarines, whose production is much less expensive than nuclear submarines, China opened a new market for countries in pursuit of maritime technology.

Although the Chinese submarines, including the Jin and Shong nuclear models and Yu An and Song with diesel propulsion, are not considered as a threat to the US in the short run, they can threaten the maritime hegemony of the US at least in the Pacific Ocean in the long run-- through the Chinese inventing new technologies and selling it to new customers. Using the C-802 Chinese anti-ship cruise missile in the 33-day war between Hezbollah and Israel, the former could manage an asymmetric war well. Considering the success of Iran, the mass production of Noor cruise missiles-- copied from the Chinese model-- has begun, and Iran also has improved Silkworm 2 cruise missile called Thunder, which is capable of carrying warheads weighing approximately 450 kgs.

As the result, considering that Ghadir submarines are well equipped for recognition equipment in coastal territories, Sina combat ships, Bavar stealth aircraft capable of landing on water and a radar system with range of 500 kilometers, Iran, like growing naval powers, has prepared a appropriate collection of observation, attack and defense equipment, enabling it to begin warfare in the Persian Gulf against one of the greatest naval powers ever, but the problem is the country is not well equipped to act in far seas and to continue warfare for a long time.

If Iran turns into a naval power, its neighbors are estimated to maintain balance via multilateral unions against Iran which may be instigated to compete with the country. Among the neighbors, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are more frightened by the rise of Iran, as not only the closeness to Iran increases their vulnerability, but also Iran’s access to a more advanced maritime force is a threat to the power balance, decreasing the range of those countries’ influence. Now, the question is how Iran can solve this contradiction: providing security in the seas besides the Persian Gulf and resolving the threat issue for neighbors. Fortunately, Iran has always followed multilateral cooperation, however limitedly, to resolve this issue: maritime cooperation between Iran and Oman, the joint exercises of Iran and Qatar and that of Iran and Djibouti in combating pirates are revealing examples, while the neighboring regional powers have never been satisfied.

Thus, Iran should make cooperation with the great naval forces of the world such as those of India, Russia and China a priority, through renting various ports to these countries, carrying out joint exercises and exchanging experiences, outcomes and information and sharing the expenses destined to be borne for the extension of the naval forces among the partner powers. Consequently, chances for the formation of a military balance against Iran will not arise and Tehran will be recognized as a powerful naval power in the international community. ....

IRD: The Iranian Minister of Intelligence Heydar Moslehi’s visit to Saudi Arabia has raised debates inside the Iranian diplomatic circles. The chain of events that began with the outbreak of Arab revolutions in the Middle East and Northern Africa and continued with US’ allegation of Iran’s attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington have made Moslehi’s visit to Riyadh a subject of intense speculation by the regional media and Western newspapers, and provoked criticism among certain Conservative mouthpieces inside Iran which called the visit hasty. IRD reviews the matter in an interview with Ali Akbar Asadi, Middle East affairs analyst:

IRD: What was the main goal of Moslehi’s visit to Riyadh considering the security relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

AA: There is not that much security exchange between the two countries; what we have now is only a security pact sealed at the time of Mohammad Khatami, the former president. Seemingly the visit was made due to the increasing tensions between Tehran and Riyadh and also regional developments. These are the only information that have been disclosed about this visit so far. The two countries were already engaged in tense relations, especially caused by the Saudi party, brought to a new level with allegations of Tehran's attempt to murder Adel el-Jubeir, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. Iran and Saudi Arabia, beside Turkey, are the three main actors in the Middle East and any conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia may be followed by dire consequences for both. Although diplomatic interactions are expected to relieve the tensions, the regional rivalry between them won’t abate, especially because of Tehran's and Riyadh’s different policies regarding Bahrain and Syria. Iran and Turkey have also had some differences in their viewpoints about Syria, but they have tried to keep up their interaction within the recent months. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also regional competitors whose challenges have intensified in the recent months, but they try to keep their relations at a certain level. But the story is different when it comes to Iran and Saudi Arabia, as rivalry between them sparks tension and although diplomatic interactions could ease the strain to a certain extent, it cannot be expected to have a long-time stable impact.

IRD: What was the reason to dispatch Moslehi for negotiations with Saudis over Syria?

AA: This is just a minor concern and it relates to intragovernment policies. Two major axes were discussed in the negotiations between Moslehi and Crown Prince Naif; Bahrain and Syria. There is a wide range of regional actors calling for regime change in Syria and Saudis stand at the top of the list. Qatar and Turkey come next in the list, though Turkey has adopted a less hostile position due to certain considerations, while Saudi Arabia persistently follows the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Other countries -including Iraq- are seeking a different solution for Syria via the Arab League channel.

IRD: Western media talk of attempts by the US and Europe to convince Riyadh to tame the oil price in case that boycotting the Iranian oil is activated. Could this have possibly been on the negotiations’ agenda?

AA: Putting Iran under pressure through sanctions has been a regular option for the US in the last few years. For long, Saudis have wanted to increase their oil production to control the oil market. Riyadh has backed the Americans during the US attack on Iraq in 2003, after the 9/11 shock to the oil market and any other occurrence deemed to shock the international oil market. Boycotting the Iranian oil amounts to declaration of war against Iran, as some of analysts argue, since it threatens the country’s security and the likely reaction of Iran may aggravate tensions....

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tactical nuclear arsenals, the new Gordian knot that could sink "Start"....

Tactical nuclear arsenals, the new Gordian knot that could sink "Start"....
Konstantin Bogdanov.
Washington has once again signaled its desire to negotiate reductions in Russia’s tactical nuclear arsenal. According to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, the United States wants Russia to reenter the tangled web of interdependence spun around the issues of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons and antimissile defense. There will be no further progress on nuclear disarmament unless the countries can cut this Gordian knot.

“The president [Barak Obama] made it clear the day he signed the [START] treaty on April 8, 2010, that we would be ready to turn next to further reductions in strategic and non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear weapons, as well as deployed and non-deployed nuclear weapons,” Ms. Gottemoeller said. “Those two categories – non-strategic nuclear weapons and non-deployed nuclear weapons – are categories we’ve never tried to wrestle with in arms reduction negotiations…”

Non-deployed nuclear weapons are a delicate matter, though more or less clear: the idea is to regulate and categorize the existing storage sites. This means determining which stored warheads (or their components) can still be regarded as a non-deployed munition capable of breakout potential. Though there is room for interpretation, the methodology is generally clear.

By contrast, tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) are likely to become an intractable problem in bilateral relations. Why does this class of weapons (nuclear warheads of cruise and tactical ballistic missiles, nuclear torpedoes, nuclear depth bombs and mines, “specially designed” artillery shells and other short-range nuclear weapons) pose so many difficulties?

Key element of containment

Until recently Moscow rejected out of hand any U.S. signals to negotiate an agreement on binding bilateral TNW reductions. Given the mounting disagreements over America’s missile defense system in Europe, Russia is unlikely to relax its stance with regard to TNW.

But why does Moscow refuse to budge on its tactical nuclear arsenal? Oddly, the answer lies in the Russian Federation’s Military Doctrine from 1999, which authorizes Russia to use nuclear weapons first “in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation using conventional arms, if the aggression threatens the very existence of the state.”

The Russian military and expert community makes no bones about this policy. Given the overall superiority of China and the NATO countries in conventional warfare, TNW are the key element of military-political containment.

Simply put, there is no need to stop enemy tanks: none will enter Russia as long as it is able to decimate the forces of potential aggressors using nuclear-tipped Iskander or cruise missiles. A bit coarse, but very practical.

Verification problems

Even if you put aside Russia’s nuclear doctrine and geopolitical considerations, that is not the end of the problems – in fact, it is just the beginning. Registering and monitoring TNW is much more difficult than for strategic and offensive arms.

First, TNW are mostly non-deployed. Strategic nuclear missiles are kept on permanent alert status, whereas nuclear torpedoes, cruise missiles, bombs and warheads for tactical ballistic missiles remain at storage sites until a threat emerges.

Verifying and registering missile silos (or mobile launchers, or missile submarines) is much simpler than regulating storage sites. Should there be a limit to TNW storage sites in accordance with some definitive list? Should a ban be imposed on moving TNW to other bases, including non-specialized facilities (and you cannot do otherwise with tactical weapons)? What is to be done about planned transfers of TNW to units for exercises?

Second, practically all TNW elements are dual-purpose. With some minor exceptions, all these munitions can be use as both conventional and nuclear weapons. The carriers (aircraft, submarines, artillery guns, and missile launchers) can be both conventional and nuclear-capable.

How can you verify TNW non-deployment if there is no coherent method for distinguishing between a nuclear and a conventional bomber? Not to mention the speed with which one type can be converted to another (all you need is the “special munition” itself and a skilled crew).

So, in principle, a TNW could turn up anywhere. You are likely to find a nuclear torpedo at an ordinary naval base’s maintenance area. A nuclear cruise missile may find its way to any air base where carrier aircraft are deployed. Nuclear shells or warheads for Iskanders or Tochkas can be found anywhere the land forces want them.

Nuclear Augean stables

If the negotiation partners want to create a workable verification regime for TNW, they will have to allow unannounced inspections of every slightly important military facility, as well as ships and submarines. Clearly, neither Washington nor Moscow will go along with that.

If they reach the stage of formulating rules for TNW registration, they will face the difficult task of confirming baseline numbers. The problem is that no one other than authorized organizations in Russia and the United States knows even approximately how many TNW units there are in either country. This information is classified, and estimates made by independent experts have an enormous margin of error. As a result, there are numerous gaps and ambiguities.

For example, the Americans have a term, “readied for disposition,” that applies to several thousand nuclear weapons in storage. What does this actually mean? Is there any hint of a breakout potential or are they just storing mothballed weapons that are ready for future use? These and other questions will have to be answered by participants in hypothetical negotiations on TNW reductions.

There are numerous other problems of this kind, including how to register elements of dismantled nuclear weapons. For example, many thousand plutonium rods and thermonuclear-pumped components of dismantled tactical nuclear weapons are stored at Oak Ridge, in the United States. Russia has a similar storage facility called Mayak.

More tangles

Russia’s TNW arsenal makes the U.S. Congress very nervous. After the signing of the New START treaty, senators warned President Obama that Russia’s tactical arsenal was the key to further progress on strategic arms reductions.

As for Russia, it flatly refused to discuss its tactical arsenal, let alone to link START talks to TNW, even at the height of its “reset” honeymoon with America.

For the sake of politeness, experts formulated possible tradeoffs, like information exchanges on the real number of tactical munitions or defensive nuclear arms reductions (special anti-air missile warheads). However, the European missile defense system overshadowed any progress, and it became clear that even preliminary consultations on TNW were a long way off. Both world powers were taking paths that led them away from talks.

The U.S. administration is very meticulous in its approach to tactical arsenals. First, they understand that merely raising the need to verify and register TNW may open Pandora’s box. Second, they heed the position of Congress, which generally reflects the existing state of affairs: strategic arsenals have been reduced to a point where TNW start playing an important role and emerge as a powerful bargaining chip.

But Russia has not budged an inch on TNW even during the warmest period of the timid trans-Atlantic love affair across the Atlantic. Moscow sees TNW as non-negotiable.

It’s unlikely that Russia’s stance has changed. Perhaps this is why Ms. Gottemoeller opted for caution. Washington more or less knows how Russia will respond to a proposal to discuss TNW reductions....

The world is getting more troublesome and increasingly challenging right before our eyes...

The world is getting more troublesome and increasingly challenging right before our eyes...

An unscientific name for the current – and future – state of the world is “jolly dismay.” It is jolly for the people and countries that will prove capable of adjusting themselves to and taking the lead amidst swift changes, as well as making gains on the incessant transformation of the world. For those incapable of re-adjusting to this transformation, it is dismaying.

The majority of people cannot accommodate themselves to the swift change; that is why anxiety, fear and depression have become the predominant moods across the globe today – instead of creative uplift. These sentiments are particularly strong in Russia, a country where today’s structure of society and government does not suggest high competitiveness – even if the current Russian model has potentially – and only potentially – strong assets.

* * *

I would like to start with a brief and rather incomplete overview of the signs of the growing chaos.

This is, above all, an unprecedentedly swift redistribution of power in the economy, accompanied by an increasing redistribution of power in politics. The Europeans, who would until quite recently preach in arrogant tone, have come to the brink of humbly asking financial assistance from the still communist and rather hard-up Chinese.

We are witnesses to an unfolding sharp competition for natural resources, foodstuffs and even territories that resembles that of the 19th century and three-fourths of the 20th century. The old geopolitical struggle is obviously making a comeback – on a markedly new footing.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons goes on unabated. The invasion of Iraq on deliberately falsified charges of the possession of weapons of mass destruction, including nukes, the attack on Gaddafi who surrendered his nuclear potential, and non-aggression against North Korea, which did create a nuclear potential and has maintained it, have made the use of moral and legal arguments against the proliferation of nuclear armaments simply indecent. Only geopolitical arguments remain. This means creating a balance of sticks and carrots: resorting to sanctions and threats, or providing plausible security guarantees and involving Iran in the systems of security and cooperation. Or else, delivering a desperate strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities in the hope that this will delay its then inevitable obtaining of the nuclear bomb. As no one is offering carrots to the Iranians, one has to wait until Teheran obtains the nukes, or to hope that it will stop at the doorstep, i.e. confines itself to creating a capability to produce them. After that, if no reliable systems and guarantees of security are devised for Iran’s neighbors, one will have to wait and see their reaction. Then the time will be ripe for Japan, which is losing the capability to effectively defend its interests in the situation of a briskly changing balance of power.

Here are some more signs indicating a return of history into the customary state of chaos. Practically all institutions of global governance that were established after World War II – the UN, the IMF and NATO – are getting enfeebled. The European Union has slid into a systemic – let us hope, not fatal – crisis.

The age-old rules of international coexistence – respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in foreign countries’ internal affairs, etc. – are collapsing, while there are no new rules to replace them. Instead, there is cold-blooded rationality or something that can be passed off for it. No one gives a damn about unneeded Yemen, although there signals suggesting that a civil war is well underway there. The oil-rich Bahrain regime is pardoned for the atrocities committed against the population, while Syria is given a big time – it is overly big and powerful.

The traditional moral principles in politics (however unpleasant they were, but they did exist) are falling apart, too.

There used to be a principle of never giving out your friends. Or, put differently, “he may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch.” First it was the USSR that gave out its friends, although Moscow had a justification – it was going through a revolution itself. Now the West has given away Mubarak and the Tunisian leaders who, if measured by local standards, were the stronghold of relatively enlightened governance, stability and at least some semblance of democracy, even if authoritarian and corrupt. The regimes arriving in their place are no better – and they have a strong Islamist component. The friendly and genuinely democratic Israel is being betrayed in broad daylight. It gets support from Washington only, as the U.S. administration cannot ignore the still powerful Jewish lobby. And practically no one considers the fact that the regimes remaining afloat in the Arab world are, by and large, the most backward and repressive monarchies. Not the constitutional monarchies of some sort, but genuine absolute monarchies. But, of course, they are diligent exporters of crude oil.

The old morality, whatever its imperfections, is vanishing from politics and has certainly abandoned the economy. The current crisis partly arose from the rampancy of filthy lucre. The Puritan capitalism rooted in frugality and high ethics of labor has been drowned in oblivion in practically all countries, except for Germany and the Scandinavian states. Meanwhile, it was these ethics that made capitalism successful. The lust for enrichment has washed away all the dams as soon as the threat of Communists coming to power, which had kept it in check, was gone. Communism collapsed and the fall of liberalism followed in a matter of fifteen years.

An intellectual vacuum is one more sign of the world chaos. The old recipes and considerations do not work anymore. Yet they are not abandoned, and politicians pretend they know what they are doing. This pattern of behavior is especially conspicuous in the struggle against the economic crisis, as directly opposite strategies are being used simultaneously in a bid to curb it: the Keynesian strategy of pouring in money in the hope that a growing demand will entail economic growth (in the U.S.), and a tough cost-saving regime (in Ireland and, to a smaller degree, in the rest of Europe). Yet neither strategy has yielded fruit.

In international affairs, the old geopolitics and Realpolitik based on sheer interest and a balance of power are verbally rejected. The supremacy of human rights and human values and a renunciation of the spheres of influence are proclaimed. But practical policymaking appears in sharp contrast to what is being said. A fight for the spheres of influence, slightly disguised in the parables about democracy, is clearly underway. Ukraine offers a glaring example in this respect. EU officials have stopped concealing their main goal in what regards Ukraine – to prevent Kiev’s falling into the sphere of Russia’s influence and force it to make the right “European choice” instead. That is, to bring it into the zone of EU influence. The Eurocrats are unscrupulously lying when they say Ukraine may join the EU someday – if it displays obedience.

The same kind of disarray is evidenced in the military-political sphere. At a certain point, Washington, acting with typically American mix of idealism and cold-blooded reckoning, proposed to free the world from nuclear weapons. It sincerely considered the nukes to be immoral and hoped that the movement towards nuclear disarmament would stop the potential proliferators. The problem is these hopes, borne out of the long outdated theory of the 1960s and the 1970s advocating limitations on nuclear arms, have proven to be bankrupt. Another part of Americans supported the “nuclear zero” idea hoping that the world without nuclear armaments or with their minimization will become a safer place for the U.S. conventional superiority.

The rest of the world, including Moscow, have supported the nuclear zero idea almost unanimously, although practically no one believes in its feasibility or even desirability. And no alternative ideas have been offered, as, to quote Mikhail Bulgakov, there is “devastation in the minds.” Or else, no one is willing to accept them.

After talking about the zero option for some time, the Americans realized that the current fiscal constraints will make their conventional superiority fly away soon enough. So, they made a little-noticed somersault backwards last year, as they started consolidating their nuclear potential. Simultaneously, they heightened attention on the antiballistiс missile defense that can augment this potential. Although few people, except for especially diehard Republicans, believe in the feasibility of the strategic missile defense project, these plans add to the general uncertainty and chaos in people’s minds.

Globalization of all economic, ecological, and political processes calls for global governance. However, as global governance is falling apart (see above), societies have rushed for help to the traditional instrument – the state, and a “renationalization” of global politics has began. Yet today the states appear unable to control the informational, economic and financial processes the way they did before. So, along with abortive attempts to harness these processes, different countries begin – covertly or overtly – to rely on military force as an instrument they still control. I am afraid we are again heading for the old strong-arm policy or even for an arms race.

It looks like the operation in Libya was only 20 percent, at best, a means to defend the country’s population against dictatorship. For another 80 percent, it was a rearguard “small victorious war” called upon to demonstrate with the aid or armaments that the old great powers are still doing well and are not losing international competition in the new world. They did win the war, provided the future developments in Libya are viewed as victory. However, under the waves of economic shocks in Europe, everyone has already forgotten it.

The turmoil of social revolutions, or social upheavals as a minimum, adds to the geopolitical chaos. The Arab world has been swept by the Arab Spring that was too hastily labeled as a chain of “democratic revolutions.” This spring is rapidly turning into a chilly winter as the new regimes, which combine the old authoritarianism with Islamism, can offer but a far weaker stability.

Many predicted that the seeds of the Arab Spring will yield crops in Russia or China, yet they started sprouting in places where no one had expected them.

Here is where we come to grips with an especially remarkable phenomenon. Social protests and revolts have burst in the grassroots of affluent Western societies, and although the demonstrators calling for the occupation of Wall Street and other places refer to the example of the Arab Spring, the causes of protests in the West are certainly not rooted in tyranny combined with corruption, or in informational semi-openness and semi-famine evidenced in the Arab world.

The root-causes are many but there are two major ones.

First, social inequality has grown unabated across the Western world over the past two to three decades. It was fuelled in many ways by the disappearance of the Communist threat. Overwhelmed by own problems, we, Russians, would whine about inequality in this country and yet it was growing everywhere – and was tolerable until a certain moment, as the downfall of Communism and the consequent vast expansion of the capitalist market made the slices of the pie bigger for everyone.

Second, the situation started changing fast in the last decade, when dozens of millions of jobs shifted to Asia, which was inexpensive, increasingly better educated and ready to work hard. The traditionally consistent increase of wellbeing in Europe stalled and then recoiled.

The West, awash with the euphoria of victory over Communism and the seemingly endless economic growth, which was largely fed by external factors, failed to embark on the necessary structural reforms (Germany and Sweden are rare exceptions). Instead of reforms, the outward prosperity became more and more heavily reliant on borrowings.

Yet the economic crisis, which burst out in 2008 and is still flaring out, made further good life on borrowed money impossible. The Americans and the Europeans have developed an awareness that neither they nor their children will be able to enjoy the habit of living all the time better in the future. In most probability, their standard of living will deteriorate. The social state, which is so powerful in Europe and strong enough in the more liberal-capitalist U.S., is bulging at the seams. The U.S. political system is getting radicalized, the moderate part of its political spectrum is sagging.

The ultra-right and the ultra-left will be consolidating their positions in Europe, as the middle class, the traditional pillar of the left-off and right-off centrism, is beginning to rapidly dissolve.

I would like to be wrong but I have the misgiving that Western democracy, something we have been pining for, is sinking into a crisis. Its enfeebling cannot but undermine – and is already undermining – the impulses towards modernization and humanization of Russian social and political system.

Some four or three years ago, it was voguish to speak about a challenge that the authoritarian capitalism (this is to say, Chinese, Singaporean, Malaysian, or Russian) has thrown to the liberal democratic Western capitalism. Today, it looks like the problem is greater than this challenge alone. The existing model of Western capitalism based on a society of almost universal affluence and advanced democracy cannot withstand a new competition. Not only will the authoritarian regimes have to drift towards greater democracy in the medium term. Western democracies, too, will have to drift towards more authoritarianism. This will be a retreat, a post-modern theory of convergence. Measured against today’s standards, the democracies of the times of De Gaulle, Churchill or Eisenhower were quite authoritarian. Obviously, the West will have to revert to something of that kind.

The reforms that are essential for raising competitiveness are painful and difficult to implement, as the authorities have to seek electoral consent from the majority whom these reforms unavoidably hit the hardest. As for the minority that has made immeasurable gains over the past three decades of unabated growth, it is very unlikely to lay down arms without fighting. Recall the group of New York-based bankers and the guru of correct capitalism, U.S. multibillionaire Warren Buffett, who together started sagely calling for a rise of taxes on the rich, that is, on themselves. The majority of the rich will surely disagree with them. And this means that polarization will be inevitable. Similarly inevitable will be a temporary – let us hope – strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in the policies of even democratic countries. These policies may display non-linear development. Pullbacks are inescapable, as progress cannot last endlessly. It is important that a new historical downfall be averted. The likelihood of such a course of events increases when new challenges are met with the help of old slogans calling for more democracy and more integration (in Europe).

We should think of the ways to prevent the slide of this polarization into totalitarianism, something that happened in the 20th century. Fortunately, a possibility to avoid the worst exists. Both totalitarian systems of the past – the communist and the fascist one – were borne in societies demoralized by war. That is why all the possible steps should be made to avert the outbreaks of new world wars. The nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging over everyone’s head will help ward them off, but great human effort will be needed, too.

This is becoming especially relevant as the smell of a major war is hanging over Iran. And not only because of possible actions on the part of Israel that has found itself in a desperate situation without the external support and in the wake of “democratization” of – and, consequently, a surge of anti-Israeli sentiments – among its Arab neighbors. A strike of despair at the nuclearizing Iran, to which Iranians will most likely respond in full blast, may serve as a trigger for such a war.

However, the newly emerging world brings not only problems but also huge opportunities. Billions of people in Asia have extricated themselves from half-famine. New markets and spheres for applying one’s intellect, education and labor are appearing every minute. The world has acquired a real multipolarity. True, it is reverting to the state of semi-chaos, which is so habitual for human history. But the centers of power begin to counterbalance each other, thereby heralding in a new creative instability. The nukes hinder the intentions of the former or the rising hegemons seeking to turn back the wheel of history or to speed up its course with the aid of a big war. Openness to information, the increased activity and self-consciousness of billions of people make such scenarios more and more dangerous for those who may begin to plot them. That is why the chances for an uninterrupted relatively peaceful and extremely interesting world development are good enough.

Victory in it will be won by those people and countries that are capable of readjusting themselves in advance. This means that to be the leaders in the permanently changing world, they must play against and even contrary to the old rules instead of complying with them.

This, in turn, requires an efficient and, alas, authoritarian government and an equally efficient elite.

And what does this world has in store for Russia? For the first time in history, this country has had a big enough luck with the geopolitical environment and with external markets. The restoration of governability played an important role, too. However, an efficient elite is needed as never before to go on with the course. Meanwhile, the Russian elite is being washed out by rampant corruption, which entails anti-meritocracy, that is, ousting the best.

If we succeed in reversing the process, most Russians will find the world a jolly place to live in; if not, it may turn on them as an abode of scare and depression.

Precisely one hundred years ago, Russian poet Alexander Blok characterized the then nascent 20th century in his poem Retribution:

And the black earthly blood//
That overfills our veins and destroys all barriers//
Is about to bring inordinate changes//
And unseen revolts to us…

His prophetic verse is fantastically relevant today. Much depends on us in terms of what the 21st century will bring to Russia – the hitherto unseen changes or devastating revolts.....

Sergei Karaganov is Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and Dean of the School of World Economics and World Politics at the National Research University–Higher School of Economics.

By Robert Parry

With the typical backdrop of alarmist propaganda in place, the stage is now set for a new war, this time with Iran. The slightest miscalculation (or provocation) by the United States, Israel or Iran could touch off a violent scenario that will have devastating consequences.

Indeed, even if they want to, the various sides might have trouble backing down enough to defuse today’s explosive situation. After all, the Iranians continue to insist they have no intention of building a nuclear bomb, as much as Israeli and American officials insist that they are....

So, this prospective war with Iran – like the one in Iraq – is likely to come down to intelligence assessments on Iran’s intentions and capabilities. And, as with Iraq’s alleged WMD, the many loud voices claiming that Iran is on pace to build a nuclear bomb are drowning out the relatively few skeptics who think the evidence is thin to invisible.

For instance, the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency about Iran’s supposed progress toward a nuclear bomb was widely accepted as gospel truth without any discussion of whether the IAEA is an unbiased and reliable source.

In framing the story in support of the IAEA, the major U.S. newspapers and TV networks ignored documentary evidence that the IAEA’s new director-general was installed with the support of the United States and that he privately indicated to U.S. and Israeli officials that he would help advance their goals regarding Iran.

These facts could be found easily enough in WikiLeaks cables that the U.S. news media has had access to since 2010. Yet, the Big Media has ignored this side of the story, even as the IAEA report has been touted again and again as virtually a smoking gun against Iran.

This pattern of ignoring – or downplaying – evidence that runs counter to the prevailing narrative was a notable feature during the run-up to war with Iraq. It is now being repeated not just by the right-wing news media, but by the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC and other centrist-to-left-leaning outlets. [Update: The IAEA report was cited again on Friday in another bellicose editorial in the Times.]

The IAEA Cables

Thus, very few Americans know that U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, revealed that the U.S. government in 2009 was celebrating its success in installing Japanese diplomat Yakiya Amano to replace Egyptian Mohamed ElBaradei, who famously had debunked some of President George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq’s supposed nuclear ambitions.

In a July 9, 2009, cable, American chargé Geoffrey Pyatt said Amano was thankful for U.S. support of his election. “Amano attributed his election to support from the U.S., Australia and France, and cited U.S. intervention with Argentina as particularly decisive,” the cable said.

The appreciative Amano informed Pyatt that as IAEA director-general, he would take a different “approach on Iran from that of ElBaradei” and he “saw his primary role as implementing safeguards and UNSC [United Nations Security Council]/Board resolutions,” i.e. U.S.-driven sanctions and demands against Iran.

Amano also vowed to restructure the IAEA’s senior ranks in ways favored by the United States. In return, Pyatt promised that “the United States would do everything possible to support his [Amano’s] successful tenure as Director General and, to that end, anticipated that continued U.S. voluntary contributions to the IAEA would be forthcoming.”

For his part, Amano stuck out his hand seeking more U.S. money, or as Pyatt put it, “Amano offered that a ‘reasonable increase’ in the regular budget would be helpful.”

Amano also rushed to meet with Israeli officials “immediately after his appointment,” consulting with Israeli Ambassador Israel Michaeli and leaving Michaeli “fully confident of the priority Amano accords verification issues.” That was another indication Amano’s IAEA would take a hard line against Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions while ignoring Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Michaeli also revealed that Amano’s public remarks about “no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons capability” were just for show, designed “to persuade those who did not support him about his ‘impartiality.’” In reality, Amano intended to be anything but impartial.

Amano agreed to private “consultations” with the head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, Pyatt reported. The purpose was to hear Israel’s purported evidence about Iran continuing its work on a nuclear weapon, not to discuss Israel’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or to allow IAEA inspectors into Israeli nuclear sites.

In a subsequent cable dated Oct. 16, 2009, the U.S. mission in Vienna said Amano “took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency. Amano reminded ambassador [Glyn Davies] on several occasions that … he [Amano] was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

Amano also continued to indicate that he needed to hide his true intentions. “More candidly, Amano noted the importance of maintaining a certain ‘constructive ambiguity’ about his plans, at least until he took over for DG ElBaradei in December” 2009, the cable said.

In other words, the emerging picture of Amano is of a bureaucrat eager to please the United States and Israel regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Wouldn’t that evidence be relevant for Americans deciding whether to trust the IAEA report? But the Big Media apparently felt that the American people shouldn’t know these facts whose disclosure has been limited to a few Internet sites. [See’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]

Similarly, the U.S. press corps is now reporting the dubious allegations about an Iranian assassination plot directed against the Saudi ambassador as flat fact, not as some hard-to-believe accusation comparable to Vice President Dick Cheney’s claims in 2002 that Iraqi officials had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. [See’s “Petraeus’s CIA Fuels Iran Murder Plot.”]

Dangerous Cascade

There is now a cascading of allegations regarding Iran, as there was with Iraq, with the momentum rushing toward war.

Just as with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the U.S. news media treats Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a designated villain whose every word is cast as dangerous or crazy. Even left-of-center media personalities, like MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, talk tough against Ahmadinejad, just as many “liberals” did regarding Hussein.

Also, as happened with Iraq – when harsher economic sanctions merged with a U.S. troop build-up, making an escalation toward war almost inevitable – tougher and tougher Western sanctions against Iran have pushed the various sides closer to war.

In November, Iranian anger at escalating sanctions and other hostile acts led to an assault on the British Embassy, which then prompted new European demands for a full-scale embargo of Iranian oil. As tensions have grown, the U.S. Senate tossed in its own hand-grenade, voting 100-0 in favor of hitting Iran with ever more stringent sanctions.

In turn, Iran has threatened to retaliate against the West’s economic warfare by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil flows, thus driving up oil prices and derailing the West’s already shaky economies. That threat has led to even more bellicose language from many U.S. political figures, especially the Republican presidential hopefuls who have denounced President Barack Obama for not being tougher on Iran.

With the exception of Rep. Ron Paul, virtually all the leading Republican contenders including Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – have signaled a readiness to join Israel in a war against Iran. Romney has farmed out his foreign policy agenda to prominent neoconservatives, and Gingrich has gone so far as to suggest a full-scale U.S.-Israeli invasion of Iran to force “regime change.”

As the U.S. news media and politicians mostly reprise their performances on the Iraq invasion in regard to Iran, the principal obstacles to a new war appear to be President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Both are said to privately oppose a war with Iran, which was not true of how President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld felt about Iraq.

Though Obama and Panetta have talked tough about “all options on the table,” the Obama administration slipped loopholes into the Senate’s anti-Iran legislation, to allow the President to waive Iranian sanctions if he deemed them a threat to national security or to the economy.

One intelligence source told me that Obama is playing a delicate game in which he must placate hawkish anti-Iranian sentiments in Israel and on Capitol Hill while he continues to seek a broader Middle East security arrangement that would include Iran in the mix. On Wednesday, administration officials sought to tamp down alarmist anti-Iran reports in the U.S. press.

Still, whether Obama can head off a violent conflict with Iran remains to be seen. As the presidential election grows nearer – and the likely GOP’s nominee hammers at Obama as soft on Iran – a preemptive Israeli attack or a miscalculation by Iran could make war unavoidable.

For its part, the major U.S. news media has done its best, again, to line up the American people behind another war.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s....