The PoliBlog

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Tuesday, September 25, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Ezra Klein is on target in regards to the Ahmadinejad:

He’s not being feared. He’s being laughed at. Imagine how the Iranian people feel seeing these clips (and they’re seeing them). Imagine how the rest of the Iranian government feels being made to look so foolish — and all for this jester’s dreams of personal aggrandizement.

Exactly. This clearly underscores why having him come to Columbia was a good thing, not a bad one.

Watch the clip:

Without a doubt the biggest headline has been his denial that there are any homosexuals in Iran. For him to make such absurd statement makes him look foolish and diminishes his international prestige. It also makes his Holocaust denial appear even more cartoonish and ignorant.

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Thursday, September 20, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Perhaps my outrage-o-meter is busted, but I just don’t see the point to the apoplexy that is roiling through certain elements of the rightward Blogosphere today over the fact that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to visit Ground Zero and will speak at Columbia University.

Part of my basic response is to wonder why some think that we are so weak as to be unable to withstand this man’s presence and his words. It seems to me that the whole thing (and the responses of various presidential candidates) just makes us look petty and frightened.

As James Joyner notes:

it’s rather silly to deny him access to public areas out of pique.

Similarly BooMan (via OTB) correctly notes:

Maybe it is just a stunt to make him look good. One thing is for sure…denying him the opportunity doesn’t make us look good.

Now, I can understand the question of whether the NYPD ought to be providing special security, but that doesn’t require a race to outrage.

More than the Ground Zero request, I don’t see the point of the outrage over the visit to Columbia. The fact of the matter is, half of the time that Ahmadinejad will spend will be a Q&A segment, in which his controversial ideas will have to be defended in an open forum.

As James Joyner rightly notes:

highlighting Ahmadinejad’s crazy, evil ideas and forcing him to defend them is the most surefire way I can think of to make students throw off the silly notion that all regimes and ideas are equal.

Further, the event is at School of International and Public Affairs–surely the opportunity to see and hear a key world leader, even one who is antagonistic to the US and who has some repugnant ideas, is a useful educational moment. Any process that could lead to a better understanding of a key state in current global affairs is a good thing.

I will confess: part of my problem is that I long ago ran out of outrage for issues that are ultimately unimportant. I try to reserve my outrage for things that are truly outrageous–and this doesn’t qualify.

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Monday, September 3, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Iranian-American scholar leaves Iran

An Iranian-American academic imprisoned for months and accused of trying to create a “soft revolution” in Iran was permitted to leave the country and rejoin her family, her lawyer and family said Monday.

Haleh Esfandiari, 67, who was released on bail in August, picked up her passport and flew late Sunday from Iran to Austria, where her sister lives, said her daughter, Haleh Bakhash.


Esfandiari was detained Dec. 30 after three masked men holding knives threatened to kill her on her way to Tehran’s airport to fly back to the U.S. from a visit to her mother, the Wilson Center has said.

Certainly that is very good news.


Iranian judiciary officials have not provided answers on Esfandiari’s legal status since the release. She may still have to stand trial or return to Iran to appear in court.

Given that her 93 year-old mother put up the deed to her house to bail her daughter out of jail, Iranian officials have more than enough leverage to force Esfandiari to return if they so choose.

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Sunday, August 5, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iran and Nicaragua in barter deal

Iran is to help Nicaragua develop its infrastructure in return for farm products, according to a trade deal between the two countries.

Under the agreement, Iran will help develop a port and build houses and industrial sites.

In return, Nicaragua will export coffee, meat and bananas to Iran.

The two countries, which have strained relations with the US, have improved ties since Daniel Ortega became Nicaraguan President in January 2024.

Under the accords, Iran will fund a farm equipment assembly plant, four hydroelectric plants, five milk-processing plants, a health clinic, the building of 10,000 houses, and two piers in the western port of Corinto, government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said.

Of course, for one who studied political science and US-Latin American relations in the 1980s, I couldn’t help but immediately think of Iran-Contra when I saw the headline, although I guess now its Iran-Sandanista!

This would appear to be an extension of Iran’s Venezuela strategy, i.e., to forge ties with left-leaning (especially of the more populistic flavor) leaders in Latin America. It strikes me as smart, as Iran can use all the friends it can make and it certainly has to create a positive domestic boost in Iran as these states are in the US’ backyard. From Nicaragua’s point of view, this is certainly a good deal, at least it seems such based on the basic description in the piece.

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Thursday, June 28, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iran bans negative petrol stories

Iran’s top security body has ordered local journalists not to report on problems caused by petrol rationing, a day after its surprise introduction.

Angry motorists have reacted violently to the curbs, attacking up to 19 petrol stations in the capital, Tehran.


The authorities switched off the mobile text messaging system in Tehran overnight to prevent motorists from organising more protests.


Iranian TV initially did not mention the unrest and mostly interviewed people who said they supported the rationing.

The advantages, so to speak, of authoritarian government…

Pro-government newspapers have fallen in line, although some of the opposition press is not, according to the story.

Iranians are being limited to 100 liters of gasoline a month, or 3 liters a day. (That is 26.41 gallons a month or .79 gallons a day). Which, when one is a oil power, is especially problematic.

Also, inflation is in the 20%-30% range.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

The Blotter Reports: Bush Authorizes New Covert Action Against Iran.

There is much buzz on this at Memeorandum at the moment. However, these kinds of stories always cause me to yawn to some degree.

First, this news is about as shocking as a headline that states: “Jerry Sloan Authorizes New Plan to Slow Tim Duncan for Game 3″—of course the administration has covert processes in place to try and destabilize Iran. Could anyone has listened to the administration’s rhetoric and watched its policies and assume that there are no such plans in place? Further, Iran is the US’s major opponent in the region. As such, I would expect that there would be CIA operations going on there.

Second, I yawn because I am not so convinced that such plans will have much effect.

I will say this: the part that doesn’t make me yawn is that I have no confidence that the administration would know what to do if such a plan really worked.

Daniel Drezner is similarly unsurprised by the news. Indeed, he also shares my general concerns and goes on to list some more specific ones (the Haleh Esfandiari angle occurred to me as well).

James Joyner has a good post on this subject as well.

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Monday, May 14, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iran admits detaining US academic

Iran’s foreign ministry has confirmed that the government has detained a leading Iranian-American academic.


Ms [Haleh] Esfandiari, one of Washington’s best known Iran experts, was visiting Tehran to see her 93-year-old mother.


In December, as she was on her way to the airport to return to the US, Ms Esfandiari’s taxi was stopped by three men who stole her belongings, including her Iranian and US passports.

When she went to replace her passport, she was sent to the intelligence ministry, where she was repeatedly questioned about her work as the director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington.

Last week, after being prevented from leaving the country for more than four months, she was taken to the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran by three masked men armed with knives, the Woodrow Wilson Centre said.

Iran’s Kayhan newspaper has accused Ms Esfandiari of spying for the US and Israel and of trying to incite a democratic revolution in the country.


Other Iranian-Americans have also been banned from leaving the country recently, including journalist Parnaz Azima, who works for the U.S.-funded Radio Farda.

Former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in March on Iran’s resort island of Kish.

Apparently the Iranians are willing to detain anyone whom they believe to be potentially linked to US-driven attempts at promoting democratic revolt in Iran. As such, it is clearly dangerous for any American of Iranian descent with any kind of connection to the US government, however tangential, to travel to Iran.

It also shows a paranoid regime taking steps to create what it thinks is security for itself but abusing people it sees as threats. This is a behavior that is easy to recoil at when done by Iran, but it bears noting that the US government has been willing to hold persons it feels are threats as well. For example, Jose Padilla was held in prison for over three years without charges because he was considered a threat to the US by members of the administration. He remains in jail now awaiting trial.

I do not wish to draw exact parallels in these cases, but it is impossible for me to look at a case like Esfandiari’s and not think of Padilla or the overall cavalier way that the Bush administration has addressed the issue of detainees in general.

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Friday, May 4, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Ahmadinejad accused of indecency

Iran’s president has come under fire from a conservative newspaper after he publicly kissed the hand of a woman who used to be his school teacher.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative by the standards of Iranian politics, was attacked by the Hezbollah newspaper for acting “contrary to Sharia law”.

It accused him of “indecency and violating religious values”.

The elderly woman at the centre of the controversy was wearing thick gloves, a headscarf, and a long black coat.

You have to hate it when that happens.

Of course, his radicalism knows no bounds:

He once suggested that women should be allowed to watch football matches. This proved highly controversial and was turned down.

In all seriousness, I have to wonder if criticism in a newspaper is of great domestic significance in Iran or whether it really warrants international coverage. Still, such views do underscore the gap between certain elements in Iran and the West and illustrate why communication is difficult.

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Friday, April 6, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: ‘No deal done with Iran’ - Blair

Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted no deal was done to free 15 Royal Navy crew members, as they arrived in the UK after being held in Iran for 13 days.

They were released “without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature”, he said.

British officials also denied that the UK had apologised over the incident.

One would hope that, in fact, that is the case, as one does not want to see such behavior rewarded. Still, one has to wonder if there was nothing that was done that led to the release. Specifically there has been speculation that access was granted to Iranians being held in Iraq as part of a quid quo pro. The story makes this reference in that regard:

He added that while no deal was done by the UK over Iranians being held in Iraq, it was possible that the Iraqi government might have taken some sort of initiative.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2024
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the BBC: Iranians release British sailors

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says 15 British naval personnel captured in the Gulf are free to leave.

He repeated Iran’s view that the British sailors and marines “invaded” Iranian waters, but said they were being released as a “gift” to Britain.

He said they would be taken to Tehran airport and flown home within hours.


The Iranian leader said no concessions had been made by the British government to secure the releases, but that Britain had pledged “that the incident would not be repeated”.

The solution to the crisis - freeing the Britons while rewarding the Iranian commanders of the operation - appears to be a face-saving compromise, says the BBC’s Frances Harrison in Tehran.

She says speculation is likely to continue over whether it had anything to do with developments in Iraq, where an Iranian envoy has reportedly been given access to five Iranians captured by US forces, and where a kidnapped diplomat was released on Tuesday.

Excellent news. It is what I largely expected when all this started–bluster and then release. However, it took far longer than expected.

And this is a little creepy (although jokes beat threats):

Television pictures showed the Iranian president smiling and chatting with the crew.

He joked to one: “How are you? So you came on a mandatory vacation?”

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