Morning Report: January 3, 2007

Khamenei dead? AKI recently reported that 'Iran's top spiritual and political figure, Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei is seriously ill and will have to be replaced in the coming months as he is no longer capable of holding office, according to Assembly of Experts member Ayatollah Nasseri. The powerful clerical body appoints and oversees the country's supreme leader.' Khamenei succeeded Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. AKI adds: 'The names of three possible successors to Khamenei are currently on the lips of Iranians: Khamenei's son, Mjtaba; Iran's former reformist president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; and Gholam Ali Mesbah Yazdi, the ultra-conservative ayatollah who is considered the spiritual father of Iran's current hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.' Pajamas Media is now carrying conflicting reports of Khamenei's condition. Winston at The Spirit of Man says: 'I just talked to my folks and my mom said TV is showing video clips and music. Nothing extra ordinary out there at 7:30 am of 5th of Jan, 07. And you know what, if the regime wanted to prepare the masses for khamenei's death, they had to ask people to pray for him just like the way they asked people to do the same for khomeini in 1989 and before he died. Nothing of this sort is going on inIran right now but I keep my fingers crossed... '

Captain Jamil Hussein found? Via Little Green Footballs, the AP reports:
Ministry spokesman Brig. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, who had previously denied there was any such police employee as Capt. Jamil Hussein, said in an interview that Hussein is an officer assigned to the Khadra police station, as had been reported by The Associated Press.

The captain, whose full name is Jamil Gholaiem Hussein, was one of the sources for an AP story in late November about the burning and shooting of six people during a sectarian attack at a Sunni mosque.

The U.S. military and the Iraqi Interior Ministry raised the doubts about Hussein in questioning the veracity of the AP’s initial reporting on the incident, and the Iraqi ministry suggested that many news organization were giving a distorted, exaggerated picture of the conflict in Iraq.

Pakistan: Marriage without family approval a serious offense. The Muslim Woman: 'Rural areas of the Province are still drenched in dogmatic existence. Many men consider it an insult if their female relatives marry without their consent. Killing or attacking women and their partners in such cases is assumed to reinstate family honor. And to make the situation more worse, the offenders escape the lariat of justice just because of poor policing, corruption and legal loopholes. Lately, a young chap of 22 year old was severely battered by his wife’s relatives. His crime was that his wife belonged from so-called ‘upper caste’ family and they got betrothed against their wishes. The girl’s male relatives, around 30 in number, assaulted the man and slashed his nose and ears. Hundreds of women are killed in Pakistan every year in the name of ‘honor killings’.'

Belmont Club on Islamic insurgency in the Philippines. The Belmont Club: 'The story of the Islamic insurgency in the Philippines is the story of the gradual and partial reversion of Philippine territory, originally incorporated by the American wars against the Moros in the early 20th century, to its former state. Prior to the US pacification campaign against the Moros between 1899 and 1913 the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao and Buayan -- Muslim Mindanao -- were effectively independent from Spain. Although the Spaniards nominally claimed the entire extent of what is now called Palawan, Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, they did not exert effective control over it, anc could not have bequeathed it to a successor Filipino state. It was the Americans who accomplished that. ...' Read the full article at the link.

CTB on Bangkok bombing. Counterterrorism Blog:
With no claims of responsibility for the eight New Year’s Eve bombings and two confirmed defused bombs, that killed 3 and wounded 42, Bangkok is awhirl with speculation and rumors. Here are the different hypotheses that attribute the bombings to the deposed prime minister, his government, the police, the military and southern separatists.

In a three-page hand written letter faxed to his lawyer on 2 January, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra denied any role in the bombing. He attributed it to southern insurgents, which is interesting because for the past three years he almost denied that there was an insurgency, laying the unrest on drug gangs, and by denying that there could ever be bombings in Bangkok. In his letter he asserts that he warned government officials that the insurgents “will go to Bangkok” if they are not stopped. It is unlikely that Thaksin had any direct involvement: though unhappy with the 19 September coup that ousted him from power, he wants to return to Thailand and he clearly doesn’t want to give the authorities to go after his family’s assets, especially the illiquid fixed real estate holdings.

Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party (TRT) likewise and unsurprisingly denied any involvement. All eyes at first were on them. Thaksin was corrupt, but he was smart enough to spread his wealth widely and a lot of people made their fortunes because of him. The coup led to a lot of lost earnings potential.

On Thursday, the interim Minister of Defense, Boonrawd Somtas, revealed that the bombers “were in uniform,” without elaborating. Rogue members of the police have been suspected. Thaksin, himself a former police, favored his former colleagues. After the coup, the police stood to lose a lot and were unhappy with the proposed reforms that the army was going to begin to impose on them.

But rogue elements in the military could also be blamed ...

Read the rest at the link.

Bush names new national security team. Fox News: 'President Bush named a new intelligence chief Friday morning during an official announcement that his current top spy man is stepping down. John Negroponte, an Iraq specialist, who oversees the nation's 16 intelligence agencies and reports directly to the president, resigned from his position to move over to the State Department. Bush tapped former National Security Agency Director Mike McConnell, a retired Navy vice admiral, as his replacement.' It's a good week for the Navy: ABC reports that 'the president intends to nominate Admiral William J. Fallon to replace General John Abizaid at Central Command. The announcement is expected next week, before the president gives his Iraq strategy speech, according to US officials. ... Fallon, who is in the Navy, is currently head of Pacific Command; he will be overseeing two ground wars, so the appointment is highly unusual.' Indeed. Iraq has very little coastline, and Afghanistan has none at all. So, what's with the Navy presence? Via Pajamas Media, Astute Blogger Reliapundit has an idea:
Could it really be because the NAVY would lead any military move - like an embargo - against Iran, and also launch any preemptive military attack on IRAN? I think so.The Navy would likely be our lead force against Iran: The Gulf Cooperation Council plans to launch its largest ever military exercise:
GCC sources said the six Gulf Arab members would conduct an exercise by the regional Peninsula Shield force over the next two months. They said the exercise, hosted by Oman, would contain air, ground and naval components in the Gulf region. "The exercise is designed to begin a serious effort at interoperability and regional defense," a GCC source said. "We have been planning this exercise carefully with our allies."

The source said Britain and the United States have been advising Peninsula Shield on the forthcoming exercise. The six GCC militaries employ mostly U.S. and British weapons platforms and also receive training from London and Washington.

More links at the post. See also Middle East Newsline.

Hamas critic shot dead outside of mosque. Fox News: 'A local religious leader who was a frequent critic of the Islamic militant group Hamas was killed in a drive-by shooting Friday as he walked out of a Gaza mosque, witnesses and medical officials said as violence seemed to be spiraling out control in the area. There was no claim of responsibility in the death of Adel Nasar, who was shot by gunmen who were waiting in a car outside the mosque in the Mughazi refugee camp in central Gaza. Nasar was not openly affiliated with any political party, but he was a well-known in the refugee camp and often spoke against Hamas in his sermons.'

Saddam hanging hijacked? As pleased as I was to report the execution of Saddam Hussein, some disturbing aspects of the hanging have come to light. FDD: 'Iraqi law provides that no executions shall be carried out on a major public holiday. This was the principal reason behind the rush to hang Saddam Hussein on Saturday December 30th, before the holy day of Eid al-Adha. Except, and shockingly, it is Shiites who celebrate Eid on the 31st; most Sunnis, however, celebrate it the day before, the very day Saddam Hussein was executed.' Sandmonkey:
Ok, so the timing made me a bit queasy. To kill him on the feast of sacrifise is disturbing and offensive. Think of it as Hitler getting crucified on Christmass Morning. Not exactly celebratory, is it?

And then I saw the video of his execution, and it just turned my stomach: They pulled the lever as before he finished the recitation of faith, as if to gurantee that he doesn't go to Heaven on something. The people executing him were screaming to Hell all the way through, and then started screaming Muqtada's Al Sadr's name afterwards. It looked like A Shia lynch mob more than anything. Add to this the fact that the people executing him, supposidly representing the legitimate authority of the Iraqi government were hiding their faces under masks but had the courage to chant to hell as they killed him, well, yeah. Not good.

This wasn't a professional execution of a man by the power of a state. This was personal. I am more and more convinced that the story that the US tried to delay the execution for 2 more weeks so it wouldn't co-incide with the feast to be true. This was Muqtada's little party. It was his men in the government who pushed for it, his men who hung Saddam and he is the one who now owns the rope Saddam was killed in. The message is clear: There is a new leader in town who is as crazy and brutal as the one he just killed.

Big Pharaoh:
* Readers of this blog know how I regard the Arab street. However, every now and then I find myself understanding a certain reaction emanating from the Arab street. I fully understand the repulsiveness many felt here towards executing Saddam on the first day of the Muslim feast. It was like executing a person on Christmas eve and airing the process instead of Christmas carols.

*No matter what evidence available indicating that it was solely the Iraqi government who executed Saddam, the average Middle Eastern (minus Kuwaitis) in the street believe that it was the US who executed the guy on the first day of the feast to continue its "ridiculing of Islam" and "humiliation of Muslims".

Counterterrorism Blog: 'According to the Saudi daily Al Riyad, citing a witness to the execution of Hussein, one of the masked men was indeed Moqtada Al Sadr. Knowing that Saddam Hussein had Moqtada's father killed, this would not be surprising. In fact the son would want to take part in taking revenge. But if this turns out to be true, this would be another major faux pas for Iraqi authorities.' IraqPundit: 'The cellphone footage of Saddam Hussein's hanging reveals that Iraq's government was content to let the execution become a circus. For example, it features a chant of "Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!" as the dictator is being led to the gallows. Who allowed the miserable, ignorant thugs who follow Moktada Al Sadr to participate in the execution? Was Al Maliki's government afraid that the execution might be a solemn event?' Healing Iraq: 'It utterly disgusts me that Sadr's supporters have infiltrated every level of the state, and that the witnesses, including Iraqi government officials, have made this look like a sectarian issue. They were doomed to repeat Iraqi history by hanging their former oppressor and labeling it as justice. In a perfect situation, Saddam's execution would have united Iraqis, but thanks to the actions of the new Iraqi rulers, it will only serve to divide further. I doubt any of them will prevail as much as Saddam did, though. ... Some Iraqis are saying this was part of the deal for the Sadrist bloc to return to parliament, that they would take care of Saddam's execution themselves.' Big Pharaoh notes this report from CBS indicating that the US tried to pospone Saddam's execution, but to no avail. LightningBaron has more.

Commentary. I've maintained from the beginning that the war against the jihadis and against Middle Eastern fascism is too important to be left to one ideological camp alone. As events progress in both the West and the Middle East, it becomes increasingly clear that Western liberals must see this as their battle too. Fortunately I think this is beginning to happen - and fortunately (but not coincidentally) the number one item on the agenda is Iran.

The Spirit of Man links to Andrei Codrescu who makes a similar claim: 'The Iranian drama is a great opportunity for American liberals to reassert their proud tradition of defending human rights at a time when radicals on the left and the right can’t see past their hatred of each other.'

Codrescu's claim, and that of Danny Postel whose book Codrescu cites, is that the neocon warmongers are using human rights as an excuse to pick fights with Middle Eastern countries. Now this simply isn't true, nor would it explain why Rolling Stone misrepresented the position of Michael Ledeen, who opposes armed intervention in Iran, or why Time Magazine misdirects its readers from an anti-regime website. But let's set all that aside and look ahead.

The objective is regime change in Iran. I suppose I could split hairs and talk about "changing the nature of the regime" but I think you get the point. And as to how this objective can be achieved, I'm going to say "whatever works best". We can come back to this point later.

I think it will be easier to get Western liberals on board for Iran (as compared to Iraq) for several reasons. First, Iran is not Iraq and its recent history with the West is different from Iraq's. No one who was alive at the time can forget the "444 days", and Ahmadinejad's rhetoric to this very day is a message of direct threats to the West. Even now, Iran is at war with America in all but name on the battleground of Iraq. It is simply impossible to claim, as the Iraq-era antiwar movement did, that the country in question does not pose a direct threat to the West.

Second, the facts on the ground are different. Saddam's Ba'athist regime was hated and despised, but its iron grip on the Iraqi people utterly precluded the possibility of an uprising from within. But Ahmadinejad's hold on power is questionable, and even the regime itself - though still firmly in command - is showing signs of stress. Over the last two years, anti-regime demonstrations and even riots, while not widely publicized by the Western media, have spooked the mullahs pretty good. Add to that the fact that Iran now has an American military presence across both its Afghan and Iraqi borders. (An Iraq hawk might point out that this is a consequence of the Iraq war.)

Third, there's Iran versus the Arab world. The neighboring Arab states will be the first ones threatened by Iran's nukes if it gets them. As much as those regimes may dislike dealing with America, they're going to prioritize. Add to that the ethnic aspect - for all the rhetoric of "we're all Muslims", it's clear that the Arab world is not keen about having a non-Arab (i.e. Persian) superpower in its midst.

Fourth, there's Iran versus Israel. Despite the impression you might have gotten from the Democratic Party of Howard Dean, there are pro-Israel Democrats out there. And there's a significant portion of the liberal world (not necessarily the folks you'll see at Zombietime) who are pro-Israel and who opposed the Iraq war mainly because they believed Iran's threat to Israel was the more urgent priority.

Fifth, the humanitarian case is easier to make becase (at least in my observation) the repressive nature of the Iranian regime has been better known to Westerners. And finally, politically speaking, there seems to be something about religious fundamentalism that stirs the ire of Western liberals on a visceral level that secular dictatorshops simply do not. It sucks that it's that way, but it is.

And the domestic picture in America is different from what it was a couple of years ago. George W. Bush, a "lightning rod" (as Michael Totten put it to me) for so much animus from the Left, is nearing the end of his presidency, and there's a Democratic majority in Congress. People often behave very differently when they acquire responsibility, and a majority Democratic Party may turn out to be a very different animal from the minority party of the same name.

What to do about Iran? This is the challenge before America and the West. But it is in particular a challenge to Western liberals, because their answer will shape the course of the liberal tradition in the future. If the West's liberals are truly liberal, they should embrace the cause of freedom and democracy in Iran, and the only debate should be about means, not ends. Do you oppose an American invasion of Iran? Very well - and you might be surprised how many "neo-cons" agree with you. So let's talk instead about what we can do, working together, to help the Iranian people topple the sadistic fundamentalists in Tehran ... and bring about a free, secular, liberal Iranian nation.

Personal note. As I posted earlier today, I'm going on hiatus. I need some time away from dealing with the day-to-day battles of the current conflict, and I want to broaden and deepen my understanding of the world. I enjoy maintaining this site, but it takes time: one Morning Report alone typically takes me about two hours to compile and post. That's two hours out of my morning that I don't have for doing other stuff.

It should be obvious that I'm not a Middle East expert. My only direct involvement in American foreign policy has been the few years I spent in the enlisted ranks of the Air Force and the Marines. (My day job is working as an office clerk for twelve dollars an hour.) What I can do is to speak as an interested layperson and direct you to the folks who do know what they're talking about, and occasionally throw in a few thoughts of my own.

As I've indicated in this post, I believe Western liberalism can and should play an important role in the struggle against the dangers of terrorism, jihadism, and secular Arab fascism - but only if it chooses. The blurb for this blog - "culturally liberal, politically neoconservative" - is a clumsy but descriptive way of saying where I'm coming from on this.

People who don't fit neatly into one political/ideological camp are going to take their lumps. Look at President Bush - the Left loves to portray him as a "right-wing fanatic" but that's only because they need their enemies to be right-wing fanatics. Meanwhile the conservatives are hitting Bush for his insistence on reaching out to moderate Muslims, and his administration's pursuit of a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Do the liberals give Bush any credit for the things he's liberal on? Ha!

I make a continuing effort not to get so attached to one faction or ideology that I can't think for myself. I never jumped on the neocon bandwagon about Keith Ellison because, frankly, if he wants to take the oath of office on the Jefferson Qur'an then that's fine with me. Sandmonkey thinks it's cool. He also wonders if you've read Ellison's statements on Israel and the Middle East:
The template set forth by the roadmap for peace currently provides the best outline for achieving a two-state solution to bringing about a lasting settlement. Right now Hamas represents the greatest obstacle to this path, and until Hamas denounces terrorism, recognizes the absolute right of Israel to exist peacefully and honors past agreements, it cannot be considered legitimate partners in this process. Sensible and moderate elements in Palestinian society could possibly provide credible negotiating partners. The United States should encourage dialogue with peaceful Palestinian leaders that recognize Israel, condemn terrorism, and honor past accords.

Terrorism is the greatest impediment to peace. At this point the Palestinian Authority (PA) has yet to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank. ...

The other serious threat to the security of the region is Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. This must be stopped. A nuclear-armed Iran would upset the strategic balance in the region and pose a clear threat to world peace. Iran's sponsorship of international terrorism as well as financial aid to terrorist organizations endangers peace around the globe. I believe that the United States must engage Iran in a diplomatically meaningful way, through direct or multi-lateral negotiations, before resorting to military force.

Iran is the leading sponsor of international terrorism as well as the major financial supporter of many radical groups that threaten moderate regimes throughout the Middle East.

I'm going to let you read the rest at the link.

Have a great new year in 2007, and please keep an eye on this spot. I'll be posting updates periodically, and regular posting will resume before too long. Meanwhile, keep working for freedom, peace, and a better world.