AIPAC puts Menendez-Kirk on the shelf

Now that AIPAC has backed off from Mendendez-Kirk, are we going to hear that the orgnization is indifferent to the survival of Israel?

As 42 Senate Republicans push for a quick vote on the Mendendez-Kirk Iran sactions bill – guaranteed to derail the current negotiations if it were to pass – Sen. Menendez follows most of his Democratic co-sponsors in asking that consideration of the bill be delayed to give the diplomats a chance. And guess who’s on his side? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee:

We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.

Considering the hate mail I got when I suggested that RBC readers should oppose Menendez-Kirk, I am no less puzzled than pleased to find AIPAC taking essentially the same position. Has the organization been taken over by a bunch of kapos? Is it now headed by self-hating Jews indifferent to the survival of Israel?

Footnote Commenting on that earlier post, an RBC reader wrote:

I think that you cannot underestimate the power of the incumbent Jewish establishment on people like me.
I live in a mid-sized city with a compressed and insular Jewish community.  I practice law.  I require clients to practice law and make a living. I am fairly open about my progressive political views and probably lose clients as a result.
But, were I to be as open about my views on the Mideast, which views are just a tad to the left, but would certaintly be within the mainstream in Israel, I would lose many friends and a significant portion of my referral/client base. A great disincentive to speaking out.
Or, as Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller once said, “You can remain in good standing as an American Jew if you doubt the existence of God, but not if you doubt the wisdom of Bibi Netanyahu.”


Iran sanctions and the awesome power of the RBC

Senate Democrats no longer rattling sabres at Iran.

Due, no doubt, to the flurry of emails, phone calls, and faxes generated by my earlier post, it now appears that Senate Democrats are backing away from the Kirk-Menendez bill. (I refuse to entertain the notion that this is simply common sense settling in, without any help from RBC readers.)

Ben Cardin, for example, says that he’s willing to leave the timing of a vote up to Harry Reid, who has made it clear he intends to bring the bill up on the Twelfth of Never. Michael Bennet and Joe Manchin say they co-sponsored the bill so the threat of its passage could strengthen the President’s hand in Iran negotiations, not with the intention that it actually pass.

Now are we going to hear Ben Cardin denounced as insufficiently pro-Israel? Probably. (At least Commentary, which misrepresents the earlier post by suggesting that I had called on only, rather than especially, those with “Jewish-sounding names” to call for sanity, states my reason correctly: “these calls would seem to carry extra weight and legitimacy if they appeared to be coming from those who are assumed to be pro-Israel.”)

Footnote Now that the Reality-Based Community has demonstrated its power to shape national policy, all of us – however we spell our last names – must be careful to use that power responsibly. Let us astound the world with our moderation! For example, rather than demanding a return to Eisenhower-era tax rates on high incomes and large estates, we should be prepared to settle for the Reagan-era rates, along with Nixon-era policies on drug sentencing.


Concerning lies, hatred, Jewish ethnicity, and the word “especially”

Asking my readers, “especially” Jews, to protest against the Iran sanctions bill is not the same as saying that *only* Jews should so protest.

This is a long, sad, and (except to me) fairly boring story about hate-mongering and its stable-mate, dishonesty. It’s about the word “especially,” and about the difference between being a Jew and responding to something, on the one hand, and responding to it based on one’s Jewishness on the other. It’s posted mostly in self-defense.

If the intricacies of idiocy and mendacity don’t interest you, I suggest skipping to any other item on the blog, guaranteed to be more uplifting and edifying.
Continue reading “Concerning lies, hatred, Jewish ethnicity, and the word “especially””

Iran: Time to say “enough, already!”

If your Democratic senator co-sponsors the Kirk-Menendez war-with-Iran bill, ask him or her to back off.

If you’re a constituent of, of contributor to, Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (CO), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Cory Booker (N.J), Ben Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Chris Coons (Del.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.),Charles Schumer (N.Y.), or Mark Warner (Va.), please consider making a phone call or sending a fax or email telling that Senator to back off the lunatic piece of warmongering legislation known as the Kirk-Menendez bill, designed to torpedo the nuclear deal with Iran. As of now, they’re all co-sponsoring it. Please consider making your voice heard especially strongly if you’re Jewish, or have a Jewish-sounding name.

When I see Ben Cardin’s name on the list, I want to weep. As a young political junkie in Baltimore, I admired Cardin intensely. He was a great state legislator and has been a fine Congressman and Senator. And maybe – I hope – his support for the bill is just for show, or for tactical advantage, or because he’s afraid of Sheldon Adelson and the AIPAC goon squad. Surely he must be smart enough to figure out that war with Iran is as much of a losing proposition for Israel – not for Bibi, but for the Zionist project – as it is for the U.S. He, and his weak-kneed colleagues, need to hear from the rest of us, loud and clear.

I don’t think the message needs to be very complex. How about:

Dear Senator X:

President Obama and Secretary Kerry seem to have pulled off a diplomatic miracle by negotiating Iran out of its nuclear-weapons progam. Please refrain from making their job harder.

Very truly yours,

Every Senator’s website has a fax number on it. I’m told that makes a bigger impact that email. But email is better than nothing. (Snailmail is almost worthless; since the anthrax scare, it gets held up forever.) Phone calls are also good. Be direct, but polite and respectful. Don’t give the staffer on the other end of the phone a hard time. If you’ve been a supporter in the past, say so, and say why. And make it clear that this issue is a priority for you.

Update Cory Booker’s co-sponsorship is especially heartbreaking. If, like me, you once looked forward to voting for Booker for President, and if, like me, you’re deeply unhappy about what he just did, you might want to tell him so. Kirsten Gillibrand might be in the same category.

Second update On the other hand, if you’re a Californian you should let DiFi and Boxer know you’re proud of them.

Does Richard Falk actually exist?

Or is he a piece of Breitbart fakery?

Or is he just a sick figment of Glenn Beck’s twisted imagination, in which “leftists” hate America and root for the people who kill Americans?

As faithful readers will know, I demonstrated years ago that there is no such person as “Governor Sarah Palin”; she’s just a Tina Fey character. Surely the same must be true of “Professor Richard Falk.”

Not only would an actual Princeton IR professor who had peddled the Ayatollah Khomeini to the American people as a freedom-loving friend of “moderates and progressives” have certainly shriveled up and died of shame when the truth came out, rather than writing incomprehensible tracts in self-justification, but even someone stupid enough to confuse Khomeini with George Washington couldn’t possibly have written this drivel, which mostly amounts to saying “Since I lack the guts to murder my fellow citizens, all I can do is cheer for those who have the guts, while celebrating the imaginary ‘decline’ of the country I so despise.”

Seriously. “Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return”? What “evil” was done to the Brothers Tsarnaev by anyone in the United States? When their family was driven from Russia as part of the Chechen wars, the U.S. gave them asylum. They then turned around and murdered three people and wounded hundreds, none of whom they had ever met. Neither Israeli policy toward the Palestinians – of which I heartily disapprove – nor Falk’s loathing of Israel has anything to do with their actions. There’s simply not a word of logic in the entire piece; it’s just the script for a two minutes’ hate directed at America and Israel.

Since no one as loathsomely foolish as Falk could possibly exist, let alone get tenure at Princeton, I conclude that Falk does not, in fact, exist, and that someone at Breitbart simply invented the “Richard Falk” persona and website.

As I tried to explain to Tina Fey, you need to keep your satire within the bounds of plausibility, or it stops being funny.

Centrifuge failures

Ryan’s odd claim that Iran is speeding up its centrifuges.

Paul Ryan, in the debate with Biden:

Let’s look at this from the view of the ayatollahs. What do they see? They see this administration trying to water down sanctions in Congress for over two years. They’re moving faster toward a nuclear weapon; they’re spinning the centrifuges faster.

(My emphasis.)
I suppose we have to give Ryan a pass on this as a metaphor, but taken literally it makes little sense. Ex hypothesi Iran has competent nuclear engineers, otherwise there’s no major risk from its ambitions. For this reason, Gaddafi’s abortive nuclear weapon programme, abandoned in 2003, was taken seriously to be sure but never rose to an existential threat to anybody. So the Iranian engineers are surely running their centrifuges to their design limits.

According to the competent-seeming folks at

The primary limitation on rotor wall speed is the strength-to-weight ratio of the rotor material. […] At present, maraging steel is the most popular rotor material for proliferants. With maraging steel, the maximum rotor wall speed is approximately 500 m/s. Fiber-reinforced composite rotors may achieve even higher speeds [advanced design carbon fiber rotors can exceed 600 m/sec]. However, the needed composite technology is not within the grasp of many potential proliferants. Another limitation on rotor speed is the lifetime of the bearings at either end of the rotor.[…]

Speeding up enrichment centrifuges isn’t like overclocking your PC processor – oops, reboot. You risk explosive failure, disruption of your cascade, and leaks of small but nasty quantities of corrosive and radioactive uranium hexafluoride gas:

The casing is needed both to maintain a vacuum and to contain the rapidly spinning components in the event of a failure. If the shrapnel from a single centrifuge failure is not contained, a “domino effect” may result and destroy adjacent centrifuges.

However, it’s a hopeful and pleasing image for the Romney-Ryan campaign. As their advanced mystification-enrichment machine spins faster and faster, it may explode, spreading fragments of radioactive BS all over the GOP ticket.

Iran and the Nuclear Eventide Home Tour

Let’s disabuse the Iranian public of the nuclear power fantasy.

Some of you asked for something completely different.

Iran proudly switched on its first civilian nuclear reactor at Busheyr in 2011. It justifies its nuclear enrichment programme as needed for the development of civilian nuclear power. The USA, Israel, Europe and the IAEA do not believe this. Iran has turned down offers from Europe and Russia to guarantee supplies of reactor fuel and in 2010 announced it had achieved enrichment up to 20%, allegedly for a special reactor to manufacture medical radioisotopes, but well above the typical 2-3% enrichment of power reactor fuel. To the outside world, the objective of Iran’s enrichment programme must plainly be to allow to build atomic weapons if it chooses. I’ll go along with the CW.

But that’s not how the Iranian public sees it. According to Wikipedia:

Interviews and surveys show that the majority of Iranians in all groups favor their country’s nuclear program. Polls in 2008 showed that the vast majority of Iranians want their country to develop nuclear energy, and 90% of Iranians believe it is important (including 81% very important) for Iran “to have a full fuel cycle nuclear program.”

Polls on nuclear weapons give more mixed signals. Remember that officially, for both domestic and foreign consumption, the government claims not to be developing them. So a very large number of Iranians believe their government’s story that the enrichment is to develop civilian nuclear power. Their opinions matter in this strange constitutional theocracy: Ahmadinejad was re-elected President in 2009, with plenty of irregularities but a convincingly large majority. Iran is far from North Korea.

It’s time to open Iranian eyes to the hopelessly geriatric state of nuclear power in the world.
Continue reading “Iran and the Nuclear Eventide Home Tour”

Beat the drum slowly

A protest at Iran warmongering.

Campaigning Republicans are banging the patriotic and Israel-first drums for a preventive war against Iran, allegedly to stop it from deploying atomic weapons: though how this is supposed to work without a full-scale invasion and 20,000 American dead is left studiously unclear. “Surgical” air strikes, perhaps? Pillar:

As Richard Betts remarks in his recent book about the American use of military force, anyone who hears talk about a surgical strike should get a second opinion.

All that would do is make Iran absolutely determined to get the bomb.

(Back-of-envelope guesstimate: coalition military casualties in Iraq from Gulf War II and the occupation stand at 4,804, all but 300 or so American. Iran has 2½ times Iraq’s population and 4 times the area. Its armed forces have not been degraded by any equivalent of Gulf War I and the subsequent sanctions. There’s no equivalent of Kurdish secessionism or the Sunni/Shia split, and the Iranian army and populace would be united. An invasion of Iran would not aim at the simple decapitation of an autocracy in its capital, but would need to secure and destroy a good number of dispersed and concealed nuclear facilities, fighting over far more rugged and defensible terrain.)

At the same time the Republicans are treating a gasoline price of $3 a gallon as a shameful assault on the American Way of Life. What do they think would happen to the world oil price when Iran closes the Straits of Hormuz to commercial shipping (they can’t easily close it to the US Navy, but they can make tankers uninsurable), and launches a wave of sabotage attacks on US refineries, LNG terminals and other oil and gas infrastructure? They would, IMHO, be entirely justified in doing so, in response to a naked act of aggression.
[Update 9/04: Matt Yglesias dots the i’s on oil prices.]

This project is nuts.

Recalling Moynihan’s Wisdom When Analyzing Iraq and Iran

The great scholar-senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted correctly that ethnicity was too powerful a centrifugal force for even the Soviet Union to contain. Similar perspicacity is nowhere in evidence in all the recent predictions about the emergence of an Iran-Iraq Kingdom of Greater Shi’a.

The U.S. media bears part of the blame for consistently getting wrong for more than a decade of Iraq coverage the distinction between a religion and an ethnicity. How many articles have you read discussing the “tensions within Iraq between the Sunnis and the Kurds”? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Most of the Iraqi Kurds are Sunni Muslims, meaning that analyses that shorthand “Sunni Arab” as “Sunni” tend to be misleading. If ethnicity dissolved in religion, the Sunni Kurds and Sunni Arabs in Iraq would have a close and trusting relationship.

All the overstated “Iran and Iraq unity” commentary likewise ignores the fact that an Arab is not a Persian, even in those cases when both happen to be Shi’a Muslims. The two ethnic groups have different cultures, languages, outlooks and history (indeed, a history of imperial domination which breeds resentment among Iraqi Arabs and snobbery among Iranians). Tellingly, the closest ties across the Iran-Iraq border are between people with the same ethnicity: Kurds (who on the Iranian side are about 50% Shi’a).

I am reminded of the great fear of 1960s foreign policy “experts” that Viet Nam and China would become strong allies because, after all, they were both “Communist”. This ignored the imperial history of China in Viet Nam and the different languages and cultures of the two countries. For whatever reason, even smart people tend to forget that just because two groups of people are different from us does not mean that they perceive each other as similar.


Ahmadi-nejad doesn’t like the clerics, and they, apparently, feel the same way about him.

Apparently Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad is growing restive about clerical domination, as represented by Ali Khameini. (And yes, it’s possible to be an anti-clerical religious fanatic: ask Jan Hus or Martin Luther.)

As a result, Khameini’s folks are talking about “apostasy” (that’s a capital crime) on Ahmadi-nejad’s part and “sorcery” among his followers.

Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as “a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds.”

That’s scary, of course, but at least he’s not accused of skills in epistemology.

Perhaps if the lunatics fall out, the sane folks will get their chance.