Negotiations Or Bust!

The Bush administration ought to send a mission to Iran to directly negotiate the nuke issue. Up until now the US has had no good ideas for how to stem the Islamic Republic's lust for the nuclear tipped big "B". Using ineffectual European negotiators like guinea pigs and throwing around threats through pro forma UN Security Council resolutions ain't gonna' do the trick. Only a one on one between the Great Satan and the Ayatollah's men will provide traction.

Even if Russia and China veto Security Council article 7 which allows for a big explosion in the sky if a member nation contravenes international law, the US, France and G.B., the remaining Security Council members, might still choose the military option. The mushroom cloud  is a nearing and pigheadedness reigns supreme. Write your congressman to propose direct negotiations with Iranian officials. Otherwise, stock up on peanut butter, get yourself a gas mask and pick up a copy of Godot. Nothing makes sense anymore.

According to this interview with Michael Levi, a fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations on Science and Technology, we've come to an impasse in negotiations. Having recently returned from conferences in Tehran, Levi believes that the Iranians have no intention of discussing the security component of nuclear processing. If this is the case, he says, then the US and Iran are talking on different wave lengths (Iran's interested in limiting negotiation to discussion of the use of civilian nuclear technology; the US, on the other hand, wants a full cessation of production, including military components).

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Before you left the United States you said you were pessimistic. Now you're even more pessimistic about the chances for resolution of the nuclear issues. Why?

I'm pessimistic for a couple of reasons. First, the Iranians seem very confident, and do not act like they want to compromise. Some speak about openings for possible discussions, but they are interested, at most, in discussions about capping their enrichment program at some intermediate level for some time. That's not even something the United States is willing to talk about. The other problem is the Iranians are unwilling to talk about the nuclear program as a security issue, when it fundamentally is one. And the United States can't engage and try to find ways to solve the security problems—even if it wants to—if its counterparts on the other side aren't willing to discuss them as a security issue.

They don't see the possibility of an arrangement where they're guaranteed the right to have nuclear power under very careful safeguards?

When you look at any proposed technical arrangement for keeping the Iranian nuclear program going—but safe—if Iran is interested in it, you have to ask, Why are they willing to accept this? If they want to preserve a nuclear weapons option and they are willing to accept a particular arrangement, that particular arrangement probably preserves a nuclear weapons option, and is then inherently unacceptable to the United States. And vice versa.

Until you change the security situation, if you can, these sorts of technical solutions will miss the mark. Now the particular one that's got a lot of attention is this concept of guaranteed fuel supplies, where another country or consortium of countries would guarantee fuel supplies. That has an extra problem, which is that Iran trusts no one. Iranians, despite the fact these meetings were held a few days before possible Security Council action, had nothing good to say for Russia, nothing good to say for China. Actually, they went on at length about how Russia had double-crossed them in the past and how they couldn't trust those sorts of countries.

On the whole question of U.S.-Iranian security arrangements, a number of experts have said what the two sides need to do is sit down and talk about the whole range of issues, not just Iraq, but all kinds of security issues. The United States has shown virtually no interest in this, or it has shown interest in talking only about Iraq. Do the Iranians have an interest in wide-ranging talks?

I think there is interest in talks, at least in the pragmatist camps. The fact that one day of these meetings was devoted to regional security issues reflects that. There are various varieties of the statement that there should be talks on the full range of issues. One says we'll need those so we can solve all these things together. I think that is—I wouldn't say over-optimistic—but at least it's going to prevent us from finding a solution to the nuclear problem on the timeline we need to stick to. But having these discussions on broader regional issues in parallel with the nuclear discussions would be very useful, and would provide an opportunity to explore Iran's security concerns and ways to address them without explicitly talking about theme in the context of the nuclear deal.

Anyone with a proposal for how best to deal with this issue, please chime in.

Preparing for the Haj

Joe Lockard, professor of English at Arizona State University, wrote the article Iraq, The Anti-War Movement, and  Anti-Romanticism for the Bad Subjects Collective in late 2004. In it he confronts Susan Watkins of the New Left Review, whose essay Vichy on the Tigris links leftist intellectuals alienated by the marketplace and neo colonial injustices wrought on the Muslim world.

Here’s Lockard:

It is one [thing] to demand an end to US violence in and neo-colonial occupation of Iraq; it is another matter entirely to call for solidarity with some of the most retrograde theocratic forces allied with equally retrograde ultra-nationalists and remaindered Ba’athists. They have nothing in common with any progressive politics; indeed, when in power in Iraq the latter forces were responsible for suppressing left-wing political movements and torturing their members. A secular call for solidarity with Shiite theocrats in Iraq is reminiscent of when members of the Western left trailed behind pro-Khomeini demonstrations during the 1970s, but were appalled when Iranian progressives followed immediately after the Shah’s supporters on post-revolution arrest and execution lists.

Euro-american left politics frequently have proved themselves just as capable as right-wing analyses of transposing incongruent cultural references and frameworks to provide explanations. To categorize the socialist-communist alliance that originated the French maquis together with the Islamicist-nationalist alliance that constitutes the Iraqi mutjahid, as do Watkins and Tariq Ali who employs the same phrase, is to misconstrue both past and present inside one political analogy. There is a romantic Gallic presence to the phrase, as if one could imagine Abu Mus’ab al-Zarkawi as Jean Moulin with a beret, dangling Gaulloise and Sten gun, rather than an al-Qaeda captain giving orders to videotape prisoner butcherings. As Michael Bérbubé observes pungently, “’Iraqi maquis’ has a nice ring to it, certainly much nicer than ‘Iraqi theocrats and thugs.’”

There will be a winning side in Iraq, the one fueled and driven by a hatred of American conquerors in Humvees. The US invasion has all but guaranteed this result, whether in a few years or many years on. Romanticizing that bloody process is nauseating.

As free thinking Americans consider the case for war against Iran, it’s important to seperate streams of thought into differentiated parts. In the war of perception the Muslim world will refuse to continue to allow American control over a sacred and heterogenous Middle East. The levelling program that Bush & co. in their Manichean quest to fuck up the planet have in store is unfathomable. That’s not to say that arguments for sanctioning Iran should be taken off the table. But it does mean that invoking Chapter 7 of UN Security Council statutes allowing for the use of military force rests on a dubious foundation. What’s questioned is not Iran’s intention to produce uranium (for nearly two decades, according to the IAEA nuclear watchdog, Iran’s provided conflicting information on its uranium enrichment activities)  but rather the judgement of invoking preventative action. That we fucked up in Iraq should be readily manifest at this point. That some, however, believe that the Iraqi mutjahid has anything in common with the NPR and Air America community is crazy.

Being American means relishing the freedom to post satirical cartoons and wear thigh high skirts. Michel Foucault, homosexual maverick intellectual of the French post-modern persuasion, made this mistake in 1979. Supporting the Ayatollah against the  police state under the Shah then, Foucault didn’t make friends with the new theocratic regime despite his intentions. What transpired in Foucault’s unbridled and imaginative optimism was not only a crackdown on Shah supporters but on liberal intellectuals and even gay men like himself.

Lesson learned: the enemy of my enemy is not always my friend.

What This Blog Is About

Just a reminder about the intention of this blog. The Pecking Order's meant to be a forum to voice your opinions either for or against "the next big idea". Setting up a UN of Religions as was proposed in Seville, Spain last month or the Dalai Lama's idea for a team of Nobel Prize winners to act as arbitrators in international disputes is what we're talking about. Big ideas! Fresh and unbureaucratic! Sizzling!

The world is in crisis, hence, the title of the blog: the  pecking order. A pecking order, as NYU psych professor Howard Bloom describes it in The Lucifer Principle, is another way to say that we're programmed from micro to macro to duke it out. Mice duke it out! Men duke it out. Lovers duke it out! Pundits duke it out! Agencies duke it out! Nations duke it out! The pecking order, to put it succinctly, is the natural competitive drive that makes us ambitious to the point of crisis. How much more money? Burning fuel at what expense? Nuking countries for what reason?

A big idea for conflict resolution like the peace pipeline between Iran, Pakistan and India, for instance, would meet the requirements of a big idea. Two nuclear nations in Pakistan and India (Iran's iffy) have been duking it out for a little more than half a century. To what end? Millions of lives have been lost; tens of thousands in the contested region of Kashmir alone. Building a natural gas pipeline to feed the pressing energy needs of Pakistan and India, despite US opposition, is a big idea that works.

The bigger the better. I, for one, have little power. But I'd assume that if the fundamental argument that blogging collectively produces more creative results holds true than it might make sense for more than a few of you to chime in with peace resolution proposals.

On the brink of war with Iran or in the midst of an internecine conflict in Iraq, desperate for a solution to Sudan's genocide and Chad's refugee crisis, it's a prime time to come up with innovative ideas to steer the pecking order towards a more peaceful resolution.

Beats armageddon!

Iran Redux

On an earlier post entitled "Mud Wrestling with 72 Virgins", I may have gotten a mistranslation of Iran's President Ahmadinajed. Catherine Skelly of Cynical Streak.com writes:

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is clearly crazy and scary. But for the sake of my own committment to nuance, I dare suggest that there’s a distinction between wanting to “wipe Israel off the face of the earth” and wanting to wipe “Israel’s zionist regime off the face of the earth.” He likely would like to obliterate the country in his heart of hearts, but that’s not exactly what he said, even though he’s been so widely quoted as having said it it’s practically fact now.I bring this up because there’s an “occupying regime” that’s taken over the government of my country. As much as I’d like to see the Bush/Cheney junta eliminated, it doesn’t make me unpatriotic. If you have more color on how his comments were translated and whether there’s anything to this, I’d be interested for the sake of debate."

Catherine, my Farsi's pretty crappy but I get the sense that President A.'s made enough threatening statements to deserve some serious consideration. The best resource I've found to sum up the President's words are on the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). The quoted mistranslation, dare I quibble, does come across sounding like a threat. Wiping Israel's Zionist regime away shouldn't be brushed under the rug as yet another Iranian demagogue playing to the masses. Iran has a track record of proxy warfare against the "Zionist regime" through Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad and the PFLP in Southern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, and any call to get rid of Zionists should be considered serious provocation.

We might also want to consider the state of mind of a man who 60 years after the end of WWII is calling on European countries to re-absorb Jews. Here's a quote from Ahmadinajed on YNET.com:

"Due to hatred of Jews in your countries, the Jews left you and came to Palestine. The Jews, like all the peoples of the world, have a right to live in freedom and security. The Western countries must give them back their original citizenship. You are the ones that created the problem by bringing the Jews to Palestine and therefore you must solve it."

That said, taking Iran out militarily is a bad option. Iran has too many nuke sites to count and a direct hit could potentially kill thousands. Secular Iranians, despite popular wisdom in the west, also it seems want nuclear technology. To expect that regime change will change the opinion of the Nike toting set, therefore, is a flight of fancy. The only option is to be reconciled to the bomb and hope that a future secular Iranian state will be more amenable to IAEA oversight.

What do you think cynicalstreak?

A Hasidic War

A shtreimel is a round fur hat made from beaver that hasidic men sport on sabbath and high holidays. If you're a New Yorker and clued into the hasidic scene, you might have noticed the difference between, say, a borcelino fedora, worn by Lubavitcher hasidim like reggae-phenom Matisyahu, and a shtreimel, the preferred hat of Belz, Satmar and Skver hasidic men. If not, here's a site  that should help you catch up on old world shtetl wear.

Strange as it may seem, the passing of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, 91, leader of the Satmar Hasidic sect based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Monday has amounted to nothing less than the choice between two hats–his sons Aaron, 58, and Zalman, 54. Reb Moshe's choice to bypass Aaron and appoint Zalman is being contested this week by members of Aaron's faction. The dispute has been predicted to become more heated in the coming days as nearly 1 billion dollars in assets is put up for grabs.

Currently the factions are divided along community lines–the Williamsburg, Brooklyn community (Zalman territory) and a village, Kiryas Joel, in upstate New York (Aaron country). Yesterday, the younger Teitelbaum submitted a will specifying his appointment upon his father's death. "He shall occupy my position and succeed me without any shortfall, for effective immediately I have granted him the position," the late rabbi was reported to have decreed.

According to Jonathan Marks, a staff writer for the Jewish Week who's covered the Hasidic community for twenty five years, succession battles are rife within the ultra orthodox community. "In the last 15 years almost no major Hasidic group has had a clean succession," he said. That may be why scuffling during the booth holiday of Succoth last October ended up in truncheon toting NYPD riot police being called to the scene. The court case is still pending. Watch out.

Suzanne Goldenberg's article in the The UK Guardian  from today's paper provides and interesting account of the changing of the guard. Also, Ezra Klein's blog "Tommorow's Media Conspiracy Today" weighs in on the "muddied lines of familial succession".

Just another example of why the pecking order continues to have staying power.

White House Protester to Get the Gong

As anyone who's ever seen a Falun Gong die-in knows, the torture tactics Chinese police use on members of the suppressed religious group come across as quite savage. Worthy of Gitmo and Abu-Ghraib minus the leapfrogging, the roped and chained actors invoke a climate of fear. That's why protest by a Falun Gong member last Friday at a White House ceremonial meeting featuring Chinese President Hu Jintao may be worthy of some chatter. (Check wikipedia for more information about the group's origins).

The protester, Wang Wenyi, 47, shouted in Chinese "Stop oppressing the Falun Gong", "Your time is running out" and "Anything you have done will come back to you in this lifetime." And then in English, the protester hollered, "President Bush stop [President Jintao] from killing" and "President Bush stop [President Jintao] from persecuting Falun Gong."

The Falun Gong protester with the lucky press pass claims to have invoked her first amendment right, but the courts see it differently and have charged her with intimidation and harrassment. She faces 6 months in prison. A preliminary hearing for Wang's trial will be held on May 3.

As Chinese peasants, especially the growing migrant labor community of porters, peddlers and construction hands clamor for greater representation from Beijing's pseudo-capitalist regime, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is worrying about its staying power. Desperate to retain power, China's bureaucrats will exact stern measures against villagers seeking more social benefits from China's economic miracle. Any faction wishing to disturb the regime with calls for greater openess, Falun Gong included, should expect problems.

According to a recent report by Amnesty International, China in 2005 executed 1,770 individuals (human rights activists say the real number is probably around 8,000) for crimes against the state. Some of those put to death presumably were practicing Falun Gong's wheel of life as the CCP's willing executioners performed the dirty acts of state. Aside from the Falun Gong's notoriously anti-homosexual stance ("The disgusting homosexuality reflects the dirty mental abnormality that has lost ability to reason at this time."), F.G. is a persecuted minority class that deserves representation from forces for global justice. Even if we disagree with their views, we should at the very least sympathize with their plight.

Three big ideas for ambitious minds:

(1) Bombard Google with messages related to Amnesty International stats. As the company goes ahead with its China business plans, it might be a good time to remind the Googlites that cyber honchos shouldn't divorce themselves from facts on the ground.

(2) Scrutinize Wang Wenyi's case and post blogs related to her hearings. If she goes to prison, let your local representative know that you've read the First Amendment. The intimidation and harrasment charge is bullshit.

(3) Cut and paste Wikipedia articles on Falun Gong in email messages to your local Chinese consulate. The Communist party has banned Wikipedia throughout China.

Team Nobel

The bathroom's a sanctuary from the real world–a cave within a cave in Platonic terms–a pit stop for quiet contemplation and good ol' scatological fun! I give it high ratings. It's also where I get some of my best reading done. Take for example this month's AARP, a journal devoted to the retired, elderly and mostly invisible set of Americans sporting pacemakers and hearing devices. On the cover, "Goldie Hawn at 60" and inside an interview with the Dalai Lama. To the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of the Tibetan community, I turn for the next big idea for ambitious minds.

An excerpt on his proposal for "Team Nobel":

Q: Did you try to use your authority as a Nobel Peace Prize winner   to stop the [Iraq] war?
A: In the period immediately before the violence, there were people who felt that some of us [Nobel Prize winners] should go to Saddam Hussein, talk to him frankly, and warn him of the consequences. That did not happen. I still feel sad it did not. I've participated on many occasions, expressing feelings for peace. But when a real crisis happens, nobody comes forward!

My feeling on this was so strong that later I proposed to some friends an idea. In the future, should some sort of crisis explode, Nobel laureates and individuals who have respect should take a more active role for peace.

Q: So you'd create a "Team Nobel" to nip potential wars in the bud? 
A: Yes. There's nothing to lose, even if we fail. Government representatives, they have something to lose. If something fails, they feel embarrassed and there's criticism. With this, if something is achieved, very good. If not, all right, we've done our best.

What a fantastic idea! Unlike Team America and the A-Team, Team Nobel has the moral standing to sway despots and nuke-crazed boogeymen to put down their arms in the name of peace. Government reps, as D.L. so astutely observes, have too much to lose. Ratings? Votes? Their lives?

On the heel of his recent inter-faith engagement with Muslim leaders this past week in San Francisco, the 70-year old monk advocated better communication with a Muslim community that he feels has been maligned.  

"Nowadays to some people the Muslim tradition appears more militant…I feel that’s totally wrong. Muslims, like any other traditions – same message, same practice. That is a practice of compassion," he said.

The Dalai Lama's persistent message of faith and the Muslim communities willingness to embrace the Tibetan spiritual leader indicates that the great Huntingtonian clash of civilizations may have found a respectable religious ambassador between East and West. God Bless Team Nobel!