Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sunday Reading

The Plans for Iran: Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration is coming up with the political and military rationale for attacking Iran.

In a series of public statements in recent months, President Bush and members of his Administration have redefined the war in Iraq, to an increasing degree, as a strategic battle between the United States and Iran. “Shia extremists, backed by Iran, are training Iraqis to carry out attacks on our forces and the Iraqi people,” Bush told the national convention of the American Legion in August. “The attacks on our bases and our troops by Iranian-supplied munitions have increased…. The Iranian regime must halt these actions. And, until it does, I will take actions necessary to protect our troops.” He then concluded, to applause, “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.”

The President’s position, and its corollary—that, if many of America’s problems in Iraq are the responsibility of Tehran, then the solution to them is to confront the Iranians—have taken firm hold in the Administration. This summer, the White House, pushed by the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney, requested that the Joint Chiefs of Staff redraw long-standing plans for a possible attack on Iran, according to former officials and government consultants. The focus of the plans had been a broad bombing attack, with targets including Iran’s known and suspected nuclear facilities and other military and infrastructure sites. Now the emphasis is on “surgical” strikes on Revolutionary Guard Corps facilities in Tehran and elsewhere, which, the Administration claims, have been the source of attacks on Americans in Iraq. What had been presented primarily as a counter-proliferation mission has been reconceived as counterterrorism.

The shift in targeting reflects three developments. First, the President and his senior advisers have concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign. The second development is that the White House has come to terms, in private, with the general consensus of the American intelligence community that Iran is at least five years away from obtaining a bomb. And, finally, there has been a growing recognition in Washington and throughout the Middle East that Iran is emerging as the geopolitical winner of the war in Iraq.

During a secure videoconference that took place early this summer, the President told Ryan Crocker, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, that he was thinking of hitting Iranian targets across the border and that the British “were on board.” At that point, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice interjected that there was a need to proceed carefully, because of the ongoing diplomatic track. Bush ended by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution.

At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate effort by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”

Meanwhile, according to the Los Angeles Times, the Iraqis are doing their best to make nice with Iranians, hoping to avoid just such an attack.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has secured a pledge from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help cut off weapons, funding and other support to extremist militiamen in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Saturday.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said there were signs of a slight drop in the types of attacks associated with Shiite militants since the deal was reached in August, and he raised the possibility that U.S. and Iraqi officials might be able to do something in return. But he said it was too early to tell whether there had been a real reduction in cross-border support.

“Honestly, and I really mean this, all of us would really welcome the opportunity to see this, confirm it and even — in whatever way we could — to reciprocate,” Petraeus said during a visit to the Baghdad district of Karada. “But it really is wait-and-see time right now still.”

Iranian officials have made no announcement of such a commitment and could not immediately be reached for comment. But they have consistently denied U.S. accusations that members of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are supplying advanced weaponry and other help to Shiite militiamen attacking U.S. troops.

Maliki’s aides characterized the agreement reached during a three-day visit to Iran as a promise to better police the long and porous border between the two countries.

“The agreement included a promise by the Iranian government to increase the number of Iranian forces on the border and to increase the efforts to guard the 1,000-kilometer-long [620-mile] frontier,” said Farooq Abdullah, one of Maliki’s political advisors.

Somehow I get the feeling that regardless of what the Iraqis do, the Bush administration will push for an attack on Iran and not, as noted in the Hersh article, give a rat’s ass about the consequences. It goes along with everything they’ve done so far.

Reporting While Black: What happens when a black reporter covers a story on crime in a black neighborhood in North Carolina: he becomes a part of the story.

The police officer had not asked my name or my business before grabbing my wrists, jerking my hands high behind my back and slamming my head into the hood of his cruiser.

“You have no right to put your hands on me!” I shouted lamely.

“This is a high-crime area,” said the officer as he expertly handcuffed me. “You were loitering. We have ordinances against loitering.”

Last month, while talking to a group of young black men standing on a sidewalk in Salisbury, N.C., about harsh antigang law enforcement tactics some states are using, I had discovered the main challenge to such measures: the police have great difficulty determining who is, and who is not, a gangster.

My reporting, however, was going well. I had gone to Salisbury to find someone who had firsthand experience with North Carolina’s tough antigang stance, and I had found that someone: me.

Except that I didn’t quite fit the type of person I was seeking. I am African-American, like the subjects of my reporting, but I’m not really cut out for the thug life. At 37 years old, I’m beyond the street-tough years. I suppose I could be taken for an “O.G.,” or “original gangster,” except that I don’t roll like that — I drive a Volvo station wagon and have two young homeys enrolled in youth soccer leagues.

As Patrick L. McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte and an advocate of tougher antigang measures in the state, told me a couple of days before my Salisbury encounter: “This ganglike culture is tough to separate out. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the truth.”

Tough indeed. Street gangs rarely keep banker’s hours, rent office space or have exclusive dress codes. A gang member might hang out on a particular corner, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, but one is just as likely to be standing on that corner because he lives nearby and his shirt might be blue, not because he’s a member of the Crips, but because he’s a Dodgers fan.

The problem is that when the police focus on gangs rather than the crimes they commit, they are apt to sweep up innocent bystanders, who may dress like a gang member, talk like a gang member and even live in a gang neighborhood, but are not gang members.

A Familiar Ring: Frank Rich reminds the Democrats that they’ve been down this road before of losing a sure win. (And so have the Republicans.)

The Democrats can’t lose the White House in 2008, can they?

Some 13 months before Election Day, the race’s dynamic seems immutable. Americans can’t wait to evict the unpopular president and end his disastrous war. As the campaign’s poll-tested phrasemaking constantly reminds us, voters crave change above all else. That means nearly any Democrat might do, even if the nominee isn’t the first woman, black or Hispanic to lead a major party’s ticket.

The Republican field of aging white guys, meanwhile, gets flakier by the day. The front-runner has taken to cooing to his third wife over a cellphone in the middle of campaign speeches. His hottest challenger, the new “new Reagan,” may have learned his lines for “Law & Order,” but clearly needs cue cards on the stump. In Florida, even the most rudimentary details of red-hot local issues (drilling in the Everglades, Terri Schiavo) eluded him. The party’s fund-raising is anemic. Its snubs of Hispanic and African-American voters kissed off essential swing states in the Sun Belt and moderate swing voters farther north.

So nothing can go wrong for the Democrats. Can it?

Of course it can, and not just because of the party’s perennial penchant for cutting off its nose to spite its face. (Witness the Democratic National Committee’s zeal in shutting down primary campaigning in Florida because the state moved up the primary’s date.) The biggest indicator of potential trouble ahead is that the already-codified Beltway narrative for the race so favors the Democrats. Given the track record of Washington’s conventional wisdom, that’s not good news. These are the same political pros who predicted that scandal would force an early end to the Clinton presidency and that “Mission Accomplished” augured victory in Iraq and long-lasting Republican rule.

[…]

Senator Clinton may well be the Democrats’ most accomplished would-be president. But we won’t know for certain until she’s tested by events she can’t control. Had Bill Bradley roughed up Mr. Gore in 2000, it might have jolted him into running a smarter race against George W. Bush.

In this context it’s worth noting that Mr. Bush’s desperate lame-duck campaign to brand himself as a reincarnation of Harry Truman is not 100 percent ludicrous. A tiny part of the analogy could yet pan out. In 1948, Washington’s commentators and pollsters were convinced that Americans, tired of 15 years of Democratic rule, would vote in a Republican. Like today’s G.O.P., the Democrats back then were saddled with both an unloved incumbent president and open divisions in the party’s ranks on both its left and right flanks. Surely, the thinking went, the beleaguered Democrats couldn’t possibly vanquish a presidential candidate from New York known for his experience, competence, uncontroversial stands and above-the-fray demeanor.

You don’t want to push historical analogies too far, but it’s hard not to add that the campaign slogan of that sure winner, Thomas Dewey, had a certain 2008 ring to it: “It’s time for a change.”

I’m Here, President Ahmadinejad: A gay Iranian comes out.

I’m one of those people Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says don’t exist. I’m a 25-year-old Iranian, and I’m gay.

I live in Tehran with my parents and younger brother and am studying to be a computer software engineer. I’ve known that I was different from my brother and other boys for as long as I can remember.

I was born in 1982, two years after the start of the Iran-Iraq War, and when I was growing up, most boys loved to play with toy guns, pretending to be soldiers in the war. I liked painting, and playing with dolls. My brother preferred to play with the other boys, so most of the time I was lonely.

I was 16 when I first realized that I was sexually attracted to some of the boys in my high school classes. I had no idea what I could do with that feeling. All I knew about homosexuals were the jokes and negative stories that people told about them. I thought a homosexual was someone who sexually abused children — until I saw the word “homosexual” for the first time in an English encyclopedia, and found a definition of myself.

After that, I started searching the Internet for information about homosexuality. Eventually I came across two Iranian Web sites where I could communicate with other gays. I was 17. At first, I didn’t want to give anyone my e-mail address because I was afraid that I could be abused or that my parents might find out, or that people on the site could be government spies. But I finally decided to exchange e-mails with one person, and after some correspondence, we spoke on the phone. I’ll never forget the first time I heard the voice of another gay man. We arranged to meet at the home of a friend of his, and the three of us talked for hours. I felt so comfortable with them. The next day I learned that the friend was interested in me. His name was Omid, and we became boyfriends.

I also became interested in the gay social movement that started in 2000. Around that time, Iranian society became more open under President Mohammad Khatami’s reformist government. The Internet became common, and everybody started talking about issues they couldn’t even have thought about before.

Until then, the gay world had been underground and secret. Under the Islamic Republic, gays could face the death penalty; they could also lose their jobs and family support. Meetings and parties took place only in the most trusted private homes. Heterosexuals were almost never seen at these gatherings. Even fellow gays were only slowly accepted. It could take years for a homosexual to become known and trusted. Most older gays were married and even had children, and their family and friends had no idea of their sexuality.

There was a handful of gathering places for outcast homosexuals in Tehran, people who couldn’t hide their sexuality and had lost their jobs, or people whose families had disowned them, and who had turned to selling sex for money. Those places were always being attacked by the paramilitaries.

My generation was the first to start the coming-out process. I decided to come out when I was 20. I thought that if I just talked to my parents about it, they would accept my reasoning. I was totally wrong. Their reaction was horrible. They started to restrict me — I couldn’t use the phone or invite any of my friends over, and they cut back on financial support. Part of their reaction was religious; part was their concern that I couldn’t survive as a homosexual in Iran. They were also ashamed to tell the rest of our family and wanted to see me married to a woman.

We argued constantly; they insisted that I wasn’t gay, that I only thought I was. It took me years to calm them down, but over time, they lost any hope of changing me, and they started to change themselves. Now they accept that I’m gay, but they’re not happy about it.

Meanwhile, the gay community has worked to educate people via Web sites and dialogue with our friends and families. But we’ve found that the most effective way of changing people’s minds is coming out. When people see us as reasonable humans, their negative views of homosexuality are shattered. I can honestly say there’s been a change in the way Iranians view us now. Gay life in Iran isn’t as underground as it used to be. We have gay parties with heterosexual guests — and even our parents! We have places where we can congregate — in coffee shops, special park areas and even certain offices. Many more homosexuals are willing to come out these days. Activists estimate that .5 percent of the Iranian population is homosexual, bisexual or transsexual.

But we weren’t surprised by Ahmadinejad’s comments about gays at Columbia University. What else could he say? We stone homosexuals in Iran because that’s what God wants? It was a joke, but he gave the only answer he could.

I wish our president could learn to respect gays instead of denying us. But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, my only response to his remarks is this: Whatever he says, Ahmadinejad can’t change the fact that we exist.

Snark of the Day: Maureen Dowd on nepotism:

Without nepotism, Hillary would be running for the president of Vassar. But then, without nepotism, W. would be pumping gas in Midland — and not out of the ground.

Doonesbury: That’s heavy, man…

Opus: The cold truth.