IPS Blog

The Secret to Islam’s Rapid Expansion: Free Love (?)

First CrusadeAs previously noted, Armies of Heaven: The First Crusade and the Quest for Apocalypse (Basic Books, 2011), by American medieval historian Jay Rubenstein, is as readable as it seems credible. (See Sanctifying the Killing of Muslims).

At the turn of the first millennium, Rubenstein explains, Christians often referred to Muslims as Ishmaelites. When the biblical Abraham, childless, suggested that his wife Sarah allow her servant to impregnate her, Ishmael was the result. But when he finally produced an heir himself (Isaac), Abraham drove out Ishmael — called a “savage man” in Genesis — as well as Sarah.

Even before the dawn of Islam, this passage of the Bible was applied to nomads. As for the term Saracen, Rubenstein writes:

The Ishmaelites, Latin authors believed, desperately wished to conceal their base heritage. They wanted to pretend that they were not the illegitimate children of a slave. Hence, they called themselves the “Saracens,” the descendants of Sarah.

Christians stuck with that because

“Saracen” was simply too useful — by itself evidence of that faith’s base ancestry (Muslims were born of a slave), its illegitimacy (they were bastards), and its mendaciousness (they used their names to lie about it).

However, the “origins of the Saracen faith … were almost a complete mystery to Europeans.” How much of a mystery? Rubenstein explains.

The only reliable information about the faith’s origins could be found, perhaps predictably, not in history books or in theological treatises but in … a series of popular prophetic manuals. … Saracens, we learn from these books. … were nomadic warriors who moved like locusts, traveled nude, ate raw meat stored in skins and drank the blood of oxen mixed with milk, desolated cities, and spread their destructive influence all around the Mediterranean.

Surely, in creating them, there was method to God’s madness.

Their arrival would be for the whole world “a punishment without pity.” They would attain power not because God loved them, but because He wished to punish sinners. On account of sexual crimes committed by Christians, “God shall hand them over to the barbarians [Ishmaelites].”

Who would …

… stab pregnant women in their bellies. … murder priests in sanctuaries. … steal priestly vestments and use them to clothe their women and children. … And as the final insult, they would bring beasts of burden into the tombs of the saints and there shelter them as if in a stable.

In their ignorance, Christian writers called Mohammed “Mathomos,” who they found “by looking at Christ through a glass darkly,” as if he were a “negative image” of Christ. Writes Rubenstein:

The various biographies of Mathomos tell roughly the same story. They usually begin with a heretic: an embittered, failed Christian leader who … exiled to the land of the Agarenes. … takes on a pupil [Mathomos]. He trains the boys in the ways of his faith — essentially a complete surrender to libidinous pleasures. According to twelfth-century writers, that was indeed the secret to Islam’s rapid expansion and popularity: free love.

It’s almost needless to point out the irony in light of Islam’s family values today (as well as the puritanism of Muslim extremists). Rubenstein also writes:

As far as some crusaders could tell, there was no real difference among Saracen, Jew, and heretic. They were “equally detestable,” all “enemies of God.”

Never let it be said that Christians, who slaughtered Jews as a warm-up for killing Muslims on the way to Jerusalem, haven’t been equal-opportunity haters down through history.

Trust in Nuclear Weapons Replaces Trust in God

Cross-posted from Other Words.

Indonesia ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) late last year. As the most recent nation to pledge to halt nuclear weapons testing and agree to global monitoring to ensure compliance with that promise, it brought the total number of signatories to 157.

Almost all the world’s governments have agreed to take this first solid step towards eliminating the terrible threat of nuclear warfare. If you don’t test these weapons, they’re much more difficult to develop, build, and rely on.

As Washington threatens to go to war to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, you’d think we’d be card-carrying members of the CTBT club, along with Israel. Not so.

Although the United Nations approved the treaty more than 15 years ago, our own government hasn’t signed on yet.

The United States is the godfather in a gang of eight nuclear bomb test ban holdouts. Together, they hold the rest of the world hostage to their desire to wield the ultimate destructive power. Who are the other atomic bomb-lovers? Israel, Iran, China, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. These are strange bedfellows. All eight spoiler countries must ratify the treaty before it can be enforced.

Proponents of nuclear weapons argue that mutually assured destruction can act as a guarantor of peace. But in the end, relying on the power to destroy and threaten ensures that none of us on this planet can ever fully trust each other, nor re-invest in more creative ways to resolve conflicts. At the most fundamental level, trust in massively destructive weapons replaces trust in God.

The United States, as the world’s undisputed nuclear weapons superpower, has to lead by example on the path to faith and democracy. Saber rattling at the fledgling super-bomb efforts of Iran and North Korea while ignoring our own stockpiles won’t convince anyone.

Work and pray to end the nuclear weapons curse.

Michael McCarthy is a leader of Blue Water Pax Christi, a Catholic peace organization.

Can Spam Solve the Iran-Israel-U.S. Faceoff?

ON THE DECAY OF THE ART OF LYING,” tweets the Russian spam aggregator horse_ebooks, which publishes snippets of junk mail advertising such Pythonesque (but apparently real) offers for topics as varied as addressing the problem of “catfish gunk” and vampire murders to how to make your own greeting cards or a set of drums. This is the new poetry, people.

The aforementioned tweet of theirs — presumably from an email promising to enlarge your lying skills in ten easy installments for all your passwords down — could just as easily have been the title for Foreign Policy’s “top ten media failures in the Iran war debate” list. Stephen Walt, a trenchant critic of the media circus filled with “expert” commentators and politicians’ uncontested soundbytes that helped lead us into Iraq had some particularly harsh words for the media, certain Republican presidential candidates and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren:

Journalists have to let officials and experts express their views, but they shouldn’t let them spout falsehoods without pushing back. Unfortunately, there have been some egregious cases where prominent journalists allowed politicians or government officials to utter howlers without being called on it. When Rick Santorum announced on Meet the Press that “there were no inspectors” in Iran, for example, host David Gregory didn’t challenge this obvious error. (In fact, Iran may be the most heavily inspected country in the history of the IAEA).

Even worse, when Israeli ambassador Michael Oren appeared on MSNBC last week, he offered the following set of dubious claims, without challenge.

[Iran] has built an underground nuclear facility trying to hide its activities from the world. It has been enriching uranium to a high rate [sic.] that has no explanation other than a military nuclear program — that has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency now several times. It is advancing very quickly on an intercontinental ballistic missile system that’s capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Unfortunately, MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell apparently didn’t know that Oren’s claims were either false or misleading. 1) Iran’s underground facility was built to make it hard to destroy, not to “hide its activities,” and IAEA inspectors have already been inside it. 2) Iran is not enriching at a “high rate” (i.e., to weapons-grade); it is currently enriching to only 20% (which is not high enough to build a bomb). 3) Lastly, Western intelligence experts do not think Iran is anywhere near to having an ICBM capability.

In another interview on NPR, Oren falsely accused Iran of “killing hundreds, if not thousands of American troops,” a claim that NPR host Robert Siegel did not challenge. Then we got the following exchange:

Oren: Imagine Iran which today has a bunch of speedboats trying to close the Strait of Hormuz. Imagine if Iran has a nuclear weapon. Imagine if they could hold the entire world oil market blackmailed. Imagine if Iran is conducting terrorist organizations through its terrorist proxies — Hamas, Hezbollah. Now we know there’s a connection with al-Qaida. You can’t respond to them because they have an atomic weapon.

Siegel: Yes. You’re saying the consequences of Iran going nuclear are potentially global, and the consequences of a U.S. strike on Iran might also be further such attacks against the United States…”

Never mind the fact that we have been living in the nuclear age for some 60 years now, and no nuclear state has even been able to conduct the sort of aggressive blackmail that Oren suggests Iran would be able to do. Nuclear weapons are good for deterrence, and not much else, but the news media keep repeating alarmist fantasies without asking if they make sense or not.

Politicians and government officials are bound to use media moments to sell whatever story they are trying to spin; that’s their job. But It is up to journalists to make this hard, and both Mitchell and Siegel didn’t. (For another example of sloppy fact-checking, go here).

Walt’s list is worth reading in its entirety, and should be read alongside this interview by Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson about Iran’s guessed-at nuclear capabilities and intentions. While serving as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s aide he learned firsthand at the UN how easy it is to peddle assumptions presented as “intelligence.” Wilkerson, while not trusting Iran’s professed disinterest in nuclear weapons (I am skeptical of it myself), accepts the consensus that it is not currently developing nuclear weapons. Wilkerson, and former CIA planner and Iraq War critic Paul R. Pillar (as well as a number of other retired national security establishment people in both the U.S. and Israel) do not consider to be an “existential threat.”

But Netanyahu has stated his determination to keep Iran from getting to any “capabilities,” and by ruling out containment in his recent interview with The Atlantic and his 2012 AIPAC speech, Obama has actually inched closer to the Prime Minister’s (and Congress’s) stance because now the U.S. is explicitly committed to taking action when it determines Iran has reached a decision to build a nuclear weapon and it’s not clear if there would be a distinction between Iran actually communicating this in public or the White House receiving a secret briefing that says the Iranians are taking that step.

We’ve been hearing for some time that “Netanyahu’s Real Goal is Not Bombing Iran; It’s Defeating Obama” (by Steve Jonas — echoing claims other commentators have advanced in the past year). And Uri Avnery, an Israeli refusenik and activist, on why the “peace camp” does not think Israel will go to war with Iran because polls in Israel suggest opposition to this course and that he is not so foolhardy as to put the incomplete Iron Dome system up to the challenge of Iranian missiles, or risk tumbling the world economy into an oil shock abyss. Plus, as many commentators have noted, Netanyahu did not get the public declaration he seems to have been hoping for (though he did manage to keep anyone from bringing up the settlements — which may or may not be his real aspiration, according to some skeptics).

To misquote the Duke of Wellington’s character in the 1971 film Waterloo, “the only thing sadder than an election lost, is an election won.” While I agree with Jonas’s assessment that Bibi sees Iran in 2012 as a way to humiliate Obama, keep the White House looking the other way in the West Bank (not that much effort is required to achieve that) and help preferred Republicans do better, I am still unconvinced that Bibi will want to have his cake (a tough-talking super-Christian Republican ousting Obama) and chose to NOT eat it too (attack Iran). He could cut his settlement-expanding bomb-Iran layer cake with a Republican president absolutely willing to commit the USAF and USN to joint or unilateral strikes, yet he still could cut that cake with Obama too, notes Haaretz (not least because for all the ink and interviews shed on Iran, domestic issues are likely to be the main issue in the 2012 elections).

Netanyahu’s apparent failure at AIPAC in early March to get the U.S. government on message with him, and the resumption of talks with Iran are encouraging signs for a diplomatic resolution, but it does not mean Iran, the U.S. and Israel are out the woods yet. The “decapitating” 1981 Israeli strike against Iraq is a poor comparison because that attack enhanced, not hindered, Iraqi determination to pursue nuclear weapons — a determination only put to an end by a humiliating military defeat in Kuwait, a decade of sanctions and, in theory at least, the eventual occupation of the country by the U.S. military. That is almost certainly what it would take in Iran, but few want to accept this and instead focus on the postwar picture (without talking about the war itself).

If winter 2012 comes and goes and both Israel and the U.S. have held their elections, we might not have attacked, but we will have moved closer to eventually attacking if once again diplomacy fails to satisfy any of the three countries’ demands. Iraq wasn’t invaded in a day, and we’ve been engaged in sanctions and shadow wars with Iran for around thirty years now. That’s a long time for abnormal relations, and a long time to go without a consensus finally taking the initiative to make a move either towards normalizing relations (as a handful of Cold Warriors urge) or launching a major military effort (as far more urge). And if the can is just kicked down the road again for another presidential term, then we’re no further from confrontation than we are today. We just end up talking around it and then bam, we’re looking at a “mission accomplished” banner on the carrier deck while everything goes to pot on land.

The Lineup: Week of March 26-April 1, 2012

In this week’s OtherWords editorial package, Salvatore Babones debunks Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare concerns and Fran Hunt makes the case against drilling for oil in the Arctic. Get all this and more in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter. If you haven’t signed up yet, please do.

  1. Ryan’s Medicare Hot Air / Salvatore Babones
    It’s simply not time to hit the panic button.
  2. Greening the Pentagon / Mike Prokosch
    If we want to build up a green manufacturing economy, we should directly invest in it, not plow more money into military spending.
  3. Washington’s Strange Nuclear Bedfellows / Michael McCarthy
    The United States, as the world’s undisputed nuclear weapons superpower, should finally ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  4. Avoiding the Next Arctic Oil Disaster / Fran Hunt
    Exxon’s Valdez disaster had ruinous and enduring impacts.
  5. Grand Old Pedagogy / Donald Kaul
    We’re a diverse nation of many religions and each has the same rights as any other group, including the right to be left alone.
  6. Down and Out on Wall Street / Jim Hightower
    We should all be as broke as they are.
  7. Better Public Schools Require a Stronger Safety Net / William A. Collins
    School segregation by class is the norm in the United States.
  8. Nuclear Alert / Khalil Bendib
Nuclear Alert, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Nuclear Alert, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Current Chief of IAEA Releases Its Brakes on Rush to War With Iran

Yukio Amano“Amano’s director-generalship began under a bad star.”

That’s Julian Borger at the Guardian quoting Mark Hibbs, the journalist who helped take down the AQ Khan nuclear-weapons black market and is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Yukio Amano, the “head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog at the heart of the growing Iranian crisis,” Borger explains, “has been accused by several former senior officials of pro-western bias, over-reliance on unverified intelligence and of sidelining sceptics.”

Some of the controversy around Amano’s management dates to his election in 2009, when he narrowly beat Abdul Minty, a South African diplomat. [Hibbs said] “The election was extremely polarised and bitter. Minty clearly appealed to states who see themselves as underdogs and have-nots. Amano was supported by the US and others who saw him as rolling back the IAEA’s political aspirations under ElBaradei to a more technical agency.”

Previous director Mohamed ElBaradei was noted for his objections to IAEA findings being used as a pretext for ultimatums and/or war with Iran. Borger also reminds us of those WikiLeaks cables that confirmed suspicions about Amano almost too perfectly.

[They] revealed Amano’s assiduous courting of American support. In an October 2009 cable, the US charge d’affaires, Geoffrey Pyatt, wrote: “Amano reminded [the] ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [the developing countries group], which correctly required him to be fair-minded and independent, but that he was solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”

Not sure of the exact motivations for Amano’s bootlicking, but there it is for the world to see. Confirming Amano’s toadyism toward the United States

… the IAEA’s reports on Iranian behaviour have become steadily more critical. In November, it published an unprecedented volume of intelligence pointing towards past Iranian work on developing a nuclear weapon, deeming it credible.

However, some former IAEA officials are saying that the agency has gone too far. Robert Kelley, a former US weapons scientists who ran the IAEA action team on Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, said. … “Amano is falling into the Cheney trap. What we learned back in 2002 and 2003, when we were in the runup to the war, was that peer review was very important, and that the analysis should not be left to a small group of people,” Kelley said. “… Just like [former US vice-president] Dick Cheney, Amano is relying on a very small group of people and those opinions are not being checked.”

Meanwhile …

Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund [said]: “On Iran, the difference is like night and day. ElBaradei constantly sought a diplomatic solution, while Amano wields a big stick and has hit Iran hard and repeatedly.”

And …

Jim Walsh, an expert on the Iranian nuclear programme at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said. … “Amano has been way out in front of the US on [holding Iran's feet to the fire]. … I think if the agency is going to be a neutral player in this — and we need a neutral player to make the sort of judgements that have to be made — it will have to be more conservative [than] the national governments on this.”

And …

Laban Coblentz, ElBaradei’s former speechwriter and a collaborator on [his book] The Age of Deception, said that huge stakes could rest on the nuances with which the IAEA director-general interprets the evidence. … “Amano and ElBaradei were looking at the same allegations. … The other thing that is the same is that so far the most substantial allegations have not been verified. What has changed is the willingness to publish those allegations that have not been verified as a tool to pressure the Iranians to come to the table.”

Compared to Dick Cheney, shamed by WikiLeaks, Yukio Amano is the wrong man for the wrong job at the wrong time. ElBaradei won the Nobel Prize; Amano is angling for the Ignoble Prize.

Central American Presidents Scrutinize U.S. “War on Drugs”

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina

Since former U.S. President Richard Nixon launched the U.S. “war on drugs” 40 years ago, the U.S. government has with rare exceptions dictated drug control efforts across Latin America. It has used threats of aid cut-backs, trade suspensions and international shaming to cajole governments to do its bidding in the so-called drug war. Some countries, like Colombia, became willing accomplices. But drug war strategies in Latin America were clearly stamped “Made in America.” U.S.-backed efforts have ranged from eliminating the only source of income for small coca farmers to putting militaries into a law enforcement role (often in countries only recently emerging from decades of military rule) to exporting harsh drug laws with mandatory minimum sentences that have filled prisons across the region with low-level, non-violent offenders.

Latin American governments are finally saying, “Enough is enough.” This Saturday, March 24, 2012 Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina is hosting a meeting of Central American presidents to discuss alternative approaches to the drug war. Pérez Molina has emerged as the region’s leading advocate for drug policy reform and has achieved what many thought was unthinkable even a few months ago: He has placed legalization at the center of the policy debate. His motivations for doing so remain murky and some would certainly question whether he is a trustworthy ally for drug policy reformers. (WOLA documents allegations of serious human rights abuses in its report, Hidden Powers.) But the stark reality is that Pérez Molina – building on the previous work done by the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy and the Global Drug Policy Commission, as well as declarations by Colombia’s President Santos — has taken on this fight with gusto and in the process has changed the terms of the debate. Latin America is now driving the drug policy discussion across the hemisphere.

Central American presidents go into Saturday’s meeting divided on the legalization issue. Guatemala has received the most support for debating the issue from Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla (not surprising given her academic work on citizen security issues). The presidents of Honduras and El Salvador have been less accommodating. But all of the presidents have agreed on the need for debate. And significantly, all have recognized that present drug control policies have failed to stem drug production, trafficking or consumption and are ill-equipped to deal with the increasing levels of drugs flowing through the isthmus. A consensus has emerged in Central America – and increasingly across Latin America – on the need for a new paradigm for dealing with the drug issue; ideally a paradigm based on public health and human rights principles.

For its part, the U.S. government has reluctantly agreed to a debate. On his recent trip to Central America, Vice President Joe Biden said that the United States would engage in the discussion — how could they say no to that? But at the same time, he reiterated that Washington does not accept drug legalization as an alternative. As noted in a WOLA statement, “The dissatisfaction with the current approach has become so pronounced that the United States can no longer turn its back on the call for a thorough debate.” In a March 21 State Department Twitter Q&A on the upcoming Summit of the Americas, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson responded to a question posed by WOLA stating, “We welcome discussion of new approaches to ensure comprehensive solutions to the problem.”

The outcome of Saturday’s debate is far from clear; but the ball is now in Latin America’s court. Ideally, the meeting will culminate with a commitment from the Central American presidents to continue a rigorous and thorough discussion of drug policy alternatives that they will then take to the Summit of the Americas, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia on April 14 and 15. President Santos of Colombia has already said that the drug issue will be put on the summit’s agenda. There, Latin American leaders should develop a concrete framework to advance the drug policy debate in way that generates an comprehensive and exhaustive discussion that includes drug policy experts, civil society representatives, community leaders and all stakeholders. Four decades after Nixon’s fateful speech, the failed prohibitionist drug policies exported by Washington are finally receiving the scrutiny that they deserve.

Iran Errata: Iran War Hawks Can’t Have It Both Ways

First, Bernard Finel of the National War College writes about how Iran war hawks try to have it both ways.

But what is most interesting to me is the contradictions. The Iranian regime is fanatical and genocidal, and yet it will respond to an attack through limited means. The Iranian regime is unpopular at home, but we can’t wait to allow those dynamics to run their course. Iran is committed to the rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, but their response to a strike will be sufficiently desultory as to buy several years of time. There is a narrow window of opportunity such that in six months Iran’s program won’t be vulnerable, but it take them five years to reconstitute it.

He adds, in a droll understatement: “I’m not sure all of those can be simultaneously true.”

Next, at Foreign Policy, Jason Rezaian writes about a misconception on the part of Tehran (emphasis added):

As some Western and Israeli leaders hold out hope for a domestic uprising that rearranges Iran’s political system, they seem unable to grasp this essential fact. Even in the face of severe economic and political isolation, no existential domestic threat is worrying the Islamic Republic’s leadership as it did in the months following the 2009 presidential election. Air attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, meanwhile, are viewed as a manageable inconvenience.

As well as errata and misconceptions, we also handle Iran irony. Rezaian again.

Iran’s sanctions profiteers also have their choice of luxury goods to choose from in Tehran. An insane proliferation of European luxury cars has been building in the capital for several months — a Maserati dealership is set to open any day now, just off one of central Tehran’s main squares. Some Iranians see their country’s capacity for unchecked consumption as progress, but it’s also a reminder that the economy is still functioning, even if top White House officials insist that sanctions are “working.”

Blame for the suffering that the Iranian public is enduring due to inflated prices caused by sanctions lands squarely in the lap of the West, especially the United States. Nevertheless, it might behoove the Iranian rich to demonstrate some solidarity with the Iranian public and refrain from buying Maseratis, Ferraris, and Western fashion goods.

Finally, James Risen in the New York Times:

And today, despite criticism of that assessment from some outside observers and hawkish politicians, American intelligence analysts still believe that the Iranians have not gotten the go-ahead from Ayatollah Khamenei to revive the program.

“That assessment,” said one American official, “holds up really well.”

The Race for World Bank President Takes Shape with Two More Candidates

The World Bank presidency fight is getting really interesting. There may be two developing country candidates in addition to Jeffrey Sachs and the U.S. candidate. Jose Antonio Ocampo (from Colombia and also now at Columbia University) has a lot going for him. IPSer Sarah Anderson has worked with him on capital controls and trade agreements and he is terrific on that issue. Looks like he’ll become the Latin America candidate, with Brazil in the lead.

The other possible candidate is Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; she is more traditional and a lot less interesting. The U.S. has until tomorrow to name their candidate. Rob Weissman and others have done a great job at knocking down Larry Summers possible candidacy. Here is our latest on the Sachs’ candidacy in the Nation. Thanks to several of you for participating in this debate.

Yesterday morning, I was leafletting outside the World Bank because a Canadian mining firm has brought a case against El Salvador in the Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. A number of us have been leafletting to tell the Bank not to interfere with El Salvador’s decision to stop issuing gold mining permits.

As I was leafletting World Bank employees, I used my growing “friendship” with some of the them to ask who they want to be their next World Bank president. I spoke with 7-8 in more depth. Every single one told me that they don’t want an American. (And, I realized as I spoke to them that I haven’t met one American who works there. This really is a colonial outfit: a largely developing world workforce and an American president.) The don’t like Zoellick and no one I spoke to wants Sachs.

Albright and ISIS Still Believe Danilenko and Parchin Are Radioactive

On March 14 I we posted a piece titled Do Albright and ISIS Buy Parchin Clean-up Story or Don’t They? Excerpt:

The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) refers to itself as a “non-partisan institution that focuses on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.” But it’s sometimes demonstrated a tendency to lean toward, if not the right, the alarmist about nuclear proliferation. As late as 2002, its “ubiquitous” president David Albright, oft quoted in print and on television, issued nuclear warnings about Iraq. In January of this year, Albright and the ISIS staff published a report titled Reality Check: Shorter and Shorter Timeframe if Iran Decides to Make Nuclear Weapons.

ISIS also endorsed the unconvincing story that Iran built an explosives chamber to test components of a nuclear weapon and carry out a simulated nuclear explosion (the Danilenko affair, if you will). Albright told Toby Warrick of the Washington Post in November of last year:

“It remains for Danilenko to explain his assistance to Iran. … At the very least, Danilenko should have known exactly why the Iranians were interested in his research and expertise. The IAEA information suggests he has provided more than he has admitted.”

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter, among others, debunked that story.

ISIS staff person Paul Brannan, presumably noticing the post on Google Alerts, responded. He begins:

For a more comprehensive review of information regarding Danilenko, please see:

ISIS Analysis of IAEA Iran Safeguards Report: Part II – Iran’s Work and Foreign Assistance on a Multipoint Initiation System for a Nuclear Weapon


Vyacheslav Danilenko – Background, Research, and Proliferation Concerns

Then Brannan writes:

It strains credibility to suggest that Danilenko’s assistance to Iran regarding high explosive implosion system design would have been used by Iran for synthetic diamond production. Danilekno was an expert on the physics of a shockwave resulting from the detonation of high explosives and spent a career in the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program. Synthetic diamond production is a commercial application of this expertise. Moreover, Danilenko was hired by Seyed Abbas Shahmoradi, the director of the Physics Research Center, a parallel nuclear program in Iran at the time—separate from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and under the military. For more on the Physics Research Center, please see:

The Physics Research Center and Iran’s Parallel Military Nuclear Program

Regarding the building at the Parchin site, ISIS initially searched through satellite imagery looking for increased activity at the site (as was reported to have been present at the Parchin at various times) as a means to locate the building referenced in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) November 2011 safeguards report on Iran. There is a consistent level of activity at the Parchin site going back many years, however, making the identification of new activity and determining its purpose difficult. ISIS then sought to find the specific building itself. After identifying the building, ISIS published imagery of it the same day.

ISIS is committed to providing the public with accurate and unbiased information about nuclear proliferation worldwide. We will continue to do so, even when that information suggests unsettling acts of proliferation or nuclear weapons research and development. It is crucial that the international community find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue that avoids military strikes, as ISIS most recently advocated in a March 5, 2012 report made possible by the United States Institute of Peace, found here: http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/USIP_Template_5March2012-1.pdf

Kony Case Reveals Millennial Generation’s Evolving Sense of International Justice

Considering the recent quake in interest in Joseph Kony among my fellow members of generation Y, last week’s unanimous decision by the International Criminal Court to convict Thomas Lubanga Dylio is timely to say the least. Lubanga was the president of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UCP), an ethnically based opposition movement with roots in Ituri in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Lubanga also served as the commander in chief of UCP’s military branch, the Patriotic Force for the Liberation of Congo (PFLC). Lubanga oversaw systematic rape, ethnic massacres, and torture. Additionally, he was accused of spearheading child abductions and then using these children, mostly under the age of 15, as child soldiers during the height of the Ituri conflict from September 2001 to August 2003. After over 60 witnesses and over 1,000 pieces of evidence were heard during the three-year trial of Mr. Lubanga, Presiding judge Adrian Fulford announced last Wednesday that the prosecution produced evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that Lubanga, who was commonly accompanied by child soldier body-guards before his 2005 arrest, played a direct role in the conscription of children during this conflict.

As we wait to learn of his final sentencing, we are left wondering what kind of sentence might be expected for the now infamous Joseph Kony if he gets his day in court. While there is something commendable about Invisible Children spreading awareness of Kony’s atrocities, calling for “justice” is terribly vague, especially among millennials. Everyone agrees that Kony’s actions have been horrendous, but there has been little consensus on what bringing him to justice would really look like. The focus has been on getting him (through Africom) with little thought of what to do to him next. The very term “getting him” is itself vague with no clue as to if how or in what state he will be retrieved. The difference between recognizing a clear wrong and identifying a just right could not be plainer.

Considering the way the Kony 2012 video was designed, I wouldn’t be surprised if many newcomers to the movement hadn’t considered this yet. If so, there are several more questions left for them to ponder.

Let us presume that Kony the Barbarian is located. What should happen then? Lubanga’s three charges pertaining to using child soldiers added up to a measly sentence range of 11-30 years with many expecting something close to the maximal sentence. If Kony were to be sentenced similarly to Lubanga, would the movement spurred by Invisible Children feel that justice was served? Or is time in prison somehow getting off easy? Would the 11-17 year old girls who made up the largest cohort of viewers of the Kony 2012 video feel vicariously avenged if Kony was sentenced to death after a trial? Is a trial even necessary? How does one dole out justice that can respond to such terrible acts as those performed by the likes of Kony and his lesser known counterpoint, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni who has also been accused of committing war crimes by the International Court of justice?

In addition to the judicial possibilities, let’s take a moment to explore extrajudicial scenarios. What if, akin to Osama Bin Laden, Special Forces swooped in on an LRA encampment and “took out” Kony before he knew what hit him? This would distract from the gravity of the reality of taking justice out of the courts and onto the battlefield, deploying soldiers to serve as both judge and executioner. How convenient would it be if we could all handily avoid focusing on the action itself of killing Kony by instead dwelling on the flashy scenario that would have surrounded the mission? News media would constantly replace the real action of killing, executing, shooting, with more appealing action-movie euphemisms like “taken out” or “neutralized” not to mention a flashy name like “Operation Wolverine.” The kids these days love Wolverine, right? Surely the soldiers would be far more revered than any ICC prosecution attorney. Many antimilitarists have criticized Invisible Children for encouraging American intervention in the crisis that may lead to just such an eventuality as well as many other unintended consequences regarding Africom. Do the means justify the ends if Kony is captured or killed by Special Forces using drones? Ultimately, if a case could be made for alternative means that empower local officials, are less violent, and less interventionist such as local police relying on informants in order to apprehend Kony, then I would posit that militarist means cannot be so easily justified.

Pew 1Research done by the Pew Research Center shows that military intervention and capital punishment are not as popularly supported by the millennial generation as older generations. The report warned that “the relationships among age, generation and attitudes about national security are complex and defy easy generalization” but did go on to point out two surveys from 2009 indicated that this up and coming generation was less hawkish than its elders. The 2009 report showed that only 38% believed that the best way to ensure peace was through military strength and were also less supportive* of an assertive approach to national security.

Alas, the picture is not entirely clear. There is a clear difference between an assertive approach to national security and humanitarian intervention. After all, Save Darfur drew heavily on support from young people, though this demographic was significantly less outspoken on intervention in Libya and has been relatively quiet in regard to ongoing human rights violations in Syria. Despite being far more likely to identify as liberal, another Pew poll taken in November 2011 showed that the majority of young people still support capital punishment for murder. With 59% approval, millennials were only slightly below the national average of 62%. At the same time, millennials opposed the death penalty as a suitable punishment for murder more than any other age related demographic.

Pew 2

Though capital punishment is supported by the majority of Americans as an appropriate penalty for our own citizens, many U.S. citizens have been significantly less cavalier about executions of foreign criminals, especially among the millennial generation. In the wake of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, what was at first a generally jovial Facebook, news feeds began to see more and more humanistic and religiously inspired quotes about the tragedy of death, violence and killing (many of which were mistakenly attributed to Martin Luther King Jr.).

I was about to start my final semester of my senior year of high school on December 2006 when Saddam Hussein was executed for his crimes committed during his tyrannical rule over Iraq. I attended high school in a conservative rural area in Oregon, a state that had lost a higher than average number of national guardsmen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of my peers planned on joining the military after high school. And while people were generally satisfied that justice had been served, no one I knew had the stomach to watch the video. My closest friend noted admiringly of rumors that even George Bush turned away and did not watch the full video. What does it say about a punishment if it is so horrendous we can celebrate the sentence but not bear to watch it? To watch it is to own it, to take responsibility for it. To Kony 2012 let me just say that if it is justice you want, you might want to be more specific.

*The Pew Research Center’s published research regarding support for assertive national security did not include an enumerated Y radial on their graphic results which made speculation as to the degree of any generation’s support for such action unidentifiable in non-relative terms.

Heath Mitchell is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

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