Why Putin Has His Way with Europe

By Jay Holmes

This past February, Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin ordered his intelligence and military services to invade Crimea in the Eastern Ukraine. Western governments loudly condemned Russia’s aggression, but practical responses have been limited to minor economic sanctions and visa restrictions against major Russian supporters of Putin.

In predictable fashion, Putin responded with symbolic bans on U.S. involvement in Russian energy development. Neither Western responses nor Putin’s counter-measures count for much in the short term. However, in the long term, Russia wants the oil and gas fracking technology that U.S. companies dominate. To get that, Putin is betting that the West will forget about Russian aggression in Ukraine as quickly as it forgot about the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

 

Poster on Rustaveli Avenue, Tblisi, Georgia, 2008 Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Poster on Rustaveli Avenue, Tblisi, Georgia, 2008
Wikimedia Commons, public domain

 

Thus far, there are striking similarities between the Georgian and Ukrainian invasions.

In 2008, Georgia, like the Ukraine of 2014, was expanding its economic and cultural ties with the West while reducing its trade with Russia. That year, Putin quickly seized Georgian territories where there was a significant Russian speaking population. Then he moved more military assets to the Georgian frontier than Russia needed for the intended operations. The propaganda campaign projected an image of Putin’s wild popularity across all segments of Russian society and total approval of his aggression in Georgia. Georgia seemed to be on the brink of complete absorption by Russia.

The West enacted economic sanctions and demanded that Russia withdraw. Putin then announced that his army was withdrawing from Georgia, but, in fact, his army enforced an annexation of Georgian territory. Once it appeared that the crisis was de-escalated, the West quickly rescinded the economic sanctions. Putin got what he wanted and suffered nothing for forcibly annexing part of Georgia.

In Ukraine, we see Putin once again employing this same basic strategy that worked so well in 2008. The Ukrainian people made it clear that they did not want closer economic and political alliances with Russia in exchange for promised Russian financial aid. Protests mounted, and the Russian backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia. Russia responded by sending special forces to invade and seize Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

In response, the West enacted mild sanctions against Russia.

Putin deployed more Russian military assets to the Ukrainian border areas than were needed to take the Crimea and then he asked for and received permission from the Russian parliament to invade all of Ukraine. The propaganda campaign in the Russian media created an image of a nation of one mind and soul ready to invade and annex more Ukraine territory, or even the entire country.

 

Canstock 2014 Bear Market

image from Canstock

 

Underneath Russia’s bravado, we saw the Russian stock market take a major nose dive.

This forced Putin to use ten billion dollars in Russia’s reserves to prop up the Russian currency and avert a credit crisis. Because Putin was certain that the sanctions were temporary, he likely predicted the economic impact of Ukraine invasion and calculated it as a bargain price for the purchase of Crimea.

As the situation in Ukraine appeared to be escalating beyond the Crimea, the U.S., Poland, and Romania asked their European allies to agree to increased sanctions. Most of the E.U. opposed the increased sanctions, so nothing meaningful happened. It became apparent to Ukrainians that many of their European neighbors were not willing to lose profitable business agreements with Russia in order to support them.

About thirty-three percent of Europe’s fossil fuel imports are from Russia. If we add in the ISIS crisis in Iraq, the energy picture has to concern European governments. Even those nations that do not directly import gas or oil from Russia would see steep price increases if Russian fuel imports stopped. That reality undoubtedly figures enormously into Europe’s unwillingness to support Ukraine by enacting meaningful economic sanctions against Russia. Conversely, with fracking operations now in place and growing in the U.S., the U.S. is becoming a significant gas exporter, it is easier for the U.S. to risk economic boycotts against Russia.

One of the most visible and controversial touchstones of the economic conflict of interest for the Western world regarding Russia’s Ukrainian invasion is a pending ship building contract between France’s STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire and the Russian Navy.

In 2011, the Russian Navy contracted and partially funded the building of four high-tech amphibious warfare ships. With the Russian annexation of Georgian territory fresh in their minds, France’s Western allies voiced opposition to the deal because most Western governments did not want to improve Russia’s ability to invade their neighbors. One ship is near completion, and the second is partially constructed. The first ship is due for delivery in October of this year.

 

Shipyard at Saint-Nazaire Unaltered image by Pouick44, wikimedia commons

Shipyard at Saint-Nazaire
Unaltered image by Pouick44, wikimedia commons

 

In addition to four powerful amphibious warfare ships, Russia will gain significant upgrades in electronic warfare systems from the French equipment installed on those ships. France benefits in that the one billion, six hundred million Euro payment from Russia fuels approximately a thousand French jobs. With France’s continuing high unemployment rates, the Paris government is reluctant to abandon the work and refund Russia its deposit.

The U.S., Poland, the U.K., and Ukraine appropriately and frankly criticized France’s ship deal with Russia. Predictably, Putin responded by saying that he looks forward to placing large orders for more naval ships from France once these ships are delivered.

On June 30, 2014, four hundred Russian sailors arrived in Saint-Nazaire for training on the shipboard systems. If and when the Russian sailors are given full access to the newer military systems and technologies, France will have allowed major warfare technologies to transfer to Putin’s navy at a time when Eastern Europeans are frantically trying to improve their security against Russian aggression.

The U.S. has suggested one easy way out for France. Rather than lose the financial value of the contracts with Russia, it could lease the two ships already under construction to NATO to be employed by NATO’s Standing Force, possibly in the Black Sea.

Thus far, Europe has been ambivalent to that idea. If Europe can cooperate amongst itself and with the U.S. enough to prevent the transfer of the French naval warfare technology to Russia, it would be a major achievement for European cooperation and security, but it would not address the deeper underlying problems.

Europe is facing major economic problems and has been relying heavily on large doses of political P.R. driven denial.

Take the U.K. as a simple case. The U.K. is the largest producer of oil and the second-largest producer of natural gas in the European Union. Production from U.K. oil fields peaked around the late 1990s and has declined steadily since then. Domestic production of natural gas is also steadily declining. Although once a net exporter of natural gas, the U.K. now imports more natural gas from Norway each year. Norway is limited in how much and how fast it can increase its gas exports to the U.K. The U.K. is also importing oil from Russia. Soon, the U.K. will have to drastically cut its natural gas consumption or find more import sources. This likely means sharp price increases for gas consumers in the U.K.

Four days ago, I had a polite conversation about the U.K.’s energy needs with a respected economist from London. He assured me that, “We can get most of the gas that we need from Norway, and recent discoveries show that in the future we can get all the gas we need from fracking.” He was unconcerned about the U.K.’s current energy dilemma.

 

Unaltered image by Battenbrook wikimedia commons

Unaltered image by Battenbrook
wikimedia commons

 

Fracking comes with serious environmental concerns.

France and Romania have already outlawed the practice. In light of these concerns, how much fracking will occur in the U.K., and how fast can it can it become a reality? Not fast enough to avoid increased prices at the pump and increased vulnerability to Russian aggression.

The U.K. is just one example of how European nations must juggle conflicting priorities in dealing with both Russian aggression against Europe and the usual turmoil in the Middle East. The U.K.’s powerful E.U. partner Germany, following initial indignation, has been somewhat muted in condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Germany is the one Western European nation that is not on the fast track to bankruptcy, and it cannot afford to ignore its major trade agreements with Russia.

We could go on, but why depress our European readers?

The fact is that North America and Europe must find the political courage to openly face the economic and energy questions that so greatly affect the future of Western civilization. A public that is unaware of energy issues cannot effectively demand that European and North American governments formulate policies that their citizens are willing to accept. Those policies shape how Europe can respond to Russian aggression. As long as the E.U., the U.S., and Canada limit their cooperation to lip service, Eastern Europe will remain at risk of further Russian invasions and energy blackmail.

Dances With Bears — The Putin/West Waltz

By Jay Holmes

On February 23, 2014, with the help of ethnic Russians in Crimea, Russia’s special forces and intelligence services stepped up their pro-Russian campaign to a degree that signaled that a Russian invasion and that annexation of the Crimean region was likely to occur. Emboldened by Russian military support, pro-Russian protesters in the area became more violent and more demanding.

During the last three years, national sentiment in Ukraine has shifted toward closer ties with Europe. How and when, not if, Ukraine would enter the European Union was the topic of daily debate in Ukraine. While Europeans, including most Ukrainians, were forging those closer ties, the infamous Dancing Bear of Moscow, Vladimir Putin, began to formulate a very different view of Ukraine’s future.

Base image from Agencia Brasil.

Base image from Agencia Brasil.
wikimedia commons

 

Prior to February of 2014, as these tensions played out in Ukraine, Western nations were relying on two basic strategies. The strategy pursued by most Western nations ranged from “Where is Ukraine?” to “How soon can they join the EU?”  The US pragmatically pursued a more focused policy—the “I hope that all goes well and nothing bad happens in Ukraine.”  Once a Russian invasion of Crimea was imminent, the West quickly reacted with new strategies. Most European nations seemed to be relying on the US to “do something.” The US responded by upgrading its own strategy to “Gosh, I really, really hope nothing bad happens in Ukraine.”

On February 28, 2014, the not-so-sneaky Russians did their best impersonation of a “sneak attack” in Crimea. All the West’s best hopes and wishes had not prevented the obvious. US President Obama (a.k.a. Dances With Bears) and other Western leaders quickly announced that there would be “consequences” for Russia in response to their invasion of Ukraine. Predictably, Putin responded by claiming that Crimea belonged to Russia all along. He then reminded Europe that they like Russian gas supplies.

As expected, the “consequences” promised by the West have been mild.

Base image by Elizabeth Cromwell, GNU Free Documentation License, wikimedia commons

Base image by Elizabeth Cromwell,
GNU Free Documentation License,
wikimedia commons

Moderate economic sanctions and a list of Russians who will not receive US entry is all it amounted to.  Across Western Europe, the political rhetoric varied from near silence to mild displeasure. Putin is probably thrilled by this lack of a coordinated response on the part of the West.

Since February, Russia has officially annexed Crimea and continues to orchestrate, supply, and partially man protests and riots in Eastern Ukraine. Russian mechanized forces are staged along the Russian Ukraine border.  So now what?

On May 7, Vladimir Putin gave a televised speech to the Russian people. The speech was the usual double talk that we can always count on Putin to deliver. Here is a small, translated excerpt of Putin’s speech. “We must look for ways out of the situation as it is today. We all have an interest in ending this crisis, Ukraine and its people above all. Thus I say that we all want the crisis to end as soon as possible and in such a way that takes into account the interests of all people in Ukraine, no matter where they live. The discussion with Mr. President showed that our approaches to possible solutions to the crisis have much in common.”

Putin meme i don't always invade a foreign country

When he said “Mr. President,” Putin was referring to the visiting president of Switzerland. As far as his claim that they share “much in common,” it’s true in the same sense that the chicken and the fox might momentarily share the same hen house. In case you wonder, the translation is the official translation to English done by the Kremlin media office. As usual, Putin sounds semi-conciliatory, and as usual, his words don’t mean much except to the Russian public. In the same speech, Putin directly contradicted his own foreign minister by claiming that he supports the upcoming May 25 elections in Ukraine as “a step in the right direction.”

Fortunately, most Western leaders are responding to Putin’s speech with muted skepticism.  A few Putin admirers and the occasional innocent have welcomed Putin’s speech as a turning-point in the Ukraine crisis. Putin’s military dispositions on the Ukraine border and his country’s ongoing operations in Eastern Ukraine are a very clear measure of Putin’s actual intentions. In light of that, the West should formulate a united response to Russian aggression. That response should include increased economic sanctions.

Thus far, the economic sanctions have had a small negative impact on the Russian economy. If those sanctions are increased and continue in force, the impacts will be far more significant. Russia has significant foreign debt in the form of bonds. As the trade value of those bonds continues to drop and interest rates rise, Russian companies will find it difficult to finance growth. That will drive up unemployment to levels that will not keep Russians happy with Vlady the Dancing Bear.

Thus far, one positive development has occurred as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Europeans, especially Eastern Europeans, have prioritized finding new sources of natural gas so they can avoid dependency on Russia. This will include the delivery of liquefied petroleum gas from the USA to a new port facility in Lithuania. Let’s all hope that the facility is well designed and safely operated. Don’t buy a vacation home in that neighborhood. New gas supplies will not be prepared quickly. It will take several years to make a sizeable impact in the European gas supply, but there is now more cooperation than ever before in the energy planning of Western states. It’s about time.

So here is my best guess for the near future in Ukraine. Putin is not going to relinquish Crimea—not this month, or any month. Russia will likely not launch an all-out invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Putin has taken the measure of his geopolitical dance partners in the West. He does not want full-scale cooperation against Russia by the US, Canada, and Europe. Russia could all but eliminate the strife in Eastern Ukraine by withdrawing its military and financial support for pro-Russian Ukrainians and by ending its clandestine operations in Ukraine. However, in all likelihood, Russia will continue to direct a smoldering conflict in Eastern Ukraine while pretending to be “seeking peace.” The uncertainty and chaos in Ukraine suits his purposes. From Putin’s point of view, it keeps the West “on the edge” without causing a more harsh Western response.

In my view, the best way for the West to help the Ukraine is to avoid vague threats and present a united front with well-enforced economic sanctions against Russia. That bear dances well, but all bears must eat, and the Russian bear has a big appetite that feeds on cash from U.S. and Western banks. Reasonable sanctions won’t wrestle the Crimea from Russia, but they can prevent Russia from invading and seizing a third of the remaining Ukraine without firing a shot.

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Dances with Bears — The Putin/West Waltz

Ukraine Crisis: Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

By Jay Holmes

If we are to have any chance of understanding the present dynamic of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, we must look to the history of the region and its people. In Part One, we followed the Ukraine Timeline from the founding of the first Ukrainian city in 907 A.D. through the ascendance of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0. In Part Two, the Timeline continues up to the present Russian invasion. Today, we look at current situation and what it means to Europe and the West.

Kiev Protestors February 18, 2014 image by Mstyslav Chernov/Unframe/http://www.unframe.com.jpg wikimedia commons

Kiev Protestors February 18, 2014
image by Mstyslav Chernov
Unframe.com
wikimedia commons

The crisis in Ukraine is the product of many factors. Russian speaking pro-Russian citizens populate the Crimea and other areas of Ukraine. Putin is using this most effectively to satisfy the centuries-old Russian imperial ambitions to expand southward. Russia has well equipped military forces based in the Crimea by treaty with the Ukraine — a treaty that many Ukrainians no doubt deeply regret today. Ukraine shares borders with Poland, Romania, and Moldavia, which are all becoming more “Europeanized” and more “Western-looking” with each passing year. Unfortunately for Ukraine, they also share borders with Russia and with her pro-Putin police state ally, Belarus.

A clear majority of Ukrainians have rejected the police state values of Russia and Russian allies. They have made it clear that they want to be part of Europe. On the surface, this is evidenced by the Ukraine’s attempts to forge a trade agreement with Europe. That trade agreement included provisions for basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary. Vladimir Putin remains opposed to that trade agreement and opposed to those basic human rights because such basic human rights make it more difficult for him to operate as a dictator in Russia and to achieve his goals for the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union.

The Crimea and the region of Ukraine that lies between Russia and the Crimea are of immense value to Putin. If he is able to annex or control those areas, Russia and any members of the Eurasian Customs Union will then have direct access to the Black Sea and hence the Mediterranean. Part of Putin’s timing in taking over the Crimea has to do with the weather. Historically, the winter has meant a decrease in military operations in and by Russia. In a reversal of that trend, Russia now prefers to conduct as much of its military operations in Ukraine while the weather is still cold.

Russian Gas & Oil Pipelines Through Ukraine map by Victor Korniyenko, wikimedia commons

Russian Gas & Oil Pipelines Through Ukraine
map by Victor Korniyenko, wikimedia commons

That’s because Ukrainian gas supplies come from Russia. Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, Moldavia, and Turkey all get between 64% and 100% of their natural gas supplies from Russia.  Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Romania receive between 14% and 48% of their natural gas supplies from Russia.  Those natural gas supplies are more critical during colder months. That basic fact of European life gives Russia important leverage over any European response to its actions in Ukraine.

Given Putin’s naked expansionist ambitions and Western Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas and Russian oil, Putin may be boldly aggressive in Ukraine. Responses from the West will range from muted to lame “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not be without a stiff price.” However, Russia has been trying for a thousand years to rule the Crimea and the greater Ukraine. In spite of ruthless genocides and unbridled brutality, it has never succeeded in the past, and it’s unlikely that the Ukrainian people will bend to Russian will regardless of support or the lack thereof from the West.

Vladimir Putin is telling his audiences in Russia and in Ukraine that Ukraine’s anti-government protestors are led by a Jewish conspiracy. He is simultaneously telling everyone outside of Russia and Ukraine that the protestors are dangerous anti-Semite Nazis. They are neither. The protestors in Ukraine are a broad coalition of diverse affiliations ranging from women’s rights groups and lesbian and gay rights groups to right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. What they share is a desire for Ukraine to be free of Russia and for its citizens to enjoy basic human rights.

Putin may see a victory for himself in Ukraine, but should he be unlucky enough to pursue and achieve that victory, the results will make the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan resemble a picnic compared to dealing with the Ukrainians and their sympathizers in the West. Putin will undoubtedly make his best effort to gain as much territory as he can and as many Ukrainian concessions as he can without instigating a full-scale war in Ukraine.  If he miscalculates, the price will be steep for Ukraine, but it will also lead to a severe decline in the Russian economy, which might further erode Putin’s popularity at home.

March 2, 2014 Protestors against Russian invasion: "Crimea is Ukraine." image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

March 2, 2014
Maidan protestors against Russian invasion:
“Crimea is Ukraine.”
image by BO CBo6ona, wikimedia commons

An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians has made it clear that they want independence from Russia, human rights, and membership in the European community. Their demands are reasonable. For the sake of the Ukrainians as well as Russians and Europeans, let us hope that the power-thirsty Russian dictator does not overplay his hand.

Special Thanks to photographer Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe Photographers for the amazing photographs he made available at Wikimedia Commons. Please visit the Unframe Photographers site at Unframe.com and Mstyslav Chernov’s site at MstyslavChernov.com for more outstanding documentary photos.

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Ukraine Crisis: Vladimir Putin and the Power of Gas

Iraq — Ten Years Later

By Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes

Ten years ago this week, a US led coalition invaded Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. While it is still a bit too soon to see the long term prospects for the post-Saddam Iraq, we have enough hindsight to make reasonable judgments about the overall effects of the Coalition conquest.

Previously, on August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and conquered it within two days. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein then declared Kuwait a province of Iraq and began a barrage of verbal threats against Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi army was then within short striking distance of Saudi oil fields. That mattered to the West for humanitarian reasons and because Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were, and still are, exporting oil to Western nations. Which reason mattered most depends on which Westerner or non-Westerner you ask.

On January 18, 1991, US-led Coalition aircraft and ships began an intense and very effective attack on Iraqi military assets. On February 24, the Coalition attacked Iraqi forces in Iraq and Kuwait for the purpose of liberating Kuwait and destroying the Iraqi elite Republican Guard divisions. By February 27, the surviving Iraqi forces in Kuwait retreated, and by the next day, all Iraqi forces near Saudi Arabia had been destroyed or had retreated north. The Coalition ordered a cease-fire.

The Coalition offered Saddam Hussein a truce based on his willingness to destroy all Scud missiles and to allow unhindered weapons and site inspections by the US and/or by inspectors from Coalition nations. Saddam quickly agreed to the terms. However, once the majority of Coalition forces were gone from the region, Saddam stopped cooperating with UN and Western inspection teams. Neither the UN nor the US could verify what WMDs remained in Iraq.

Saddam Hussein Playing Card public domain

On March 20, 2003, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq with the stated intent of removing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power. A significant part of the US and British justification for that invasion centered on Iraq’s failure to comply with the terms of the 1991 truce. Given that Saddam Hussein’s military had already used nerve gas against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War and against its own Kurdish citizens, the US and some Western allies took the WMD threat very seriously.

When the US Coalition forces invaded Iraq, the US used its air supremacy, its superior mobility, and its superior training and leadership to defeat the numerically superior Iraqi military. The 300,000 strong Coalition made fast progress against the 375,000 demoralized Iraqi military, and on May 1, 2003, US President George Bush announced that combat operations in Iraq were over.

While the war against the Iraqi military was, indeed, successfully concluded, the difficult process of occupying Iraq had only started. “Peace” in Iraq would cost the US and its Coalition allies—the UK principle among them—far more in lives and treasure than the war did.

Most participants and observers on both sides of the conflict were confident that a US-backed coalition would defeat the Iraqi military. However, coalition military and political leaders had three critical questions on their minds:

  1. What will it cost us in lives to destroy the Iraqi military and Saddam’s regime?
  2. What will it cost Iraq in civilian casualties and oil production?
  3. What will it cost Coalition members in both domestic and international political capital?

Leaders in Washington, D.C. and London knew the answer to the third question would be determined by the answers to the first two.

According to a variety of US polls, on the morning of the invasion, over 70% of the US population approved the action. A general anger over the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in which Islamic jihadis murdered approximately 3,000 innocent civilians in the US, fueled that approval. Some of the approval was also fueled by the belief that Iraq still possessed WMDs, intermediate range missiles, sarin gas, and extended range SCUD missiles.

The few adventurous folks who targeted Iraqi chemical weapons facilities on the ground with the assistance of Kurdish allies probably won’t say anything except that they were on vacation some place else that month. The Iraqi war veterans who now suffer from symptoms caused by chemical exposure in the Iraqi tunnels and bunkers usually don’t say much either, and if they did, who would listen?

It was never a question that Iraq had WMDs. As mentioned above, Saddam Hussein’s military had already used nerve gas against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War and against its own Kurdish citizens. That is undisputed fact. Three conditions of the of the 1991 truce, as well as a UN mandate, were that Saddam get rid of the WMDs he had, that he not stockpile any more, and that he prove he was in compliance. However, Iraq routinely blocked UN inspection teams sent to verify that he was abiding by the terms of the treaty. This obstruction created the doubt that Iraq had disposed of its WMDs and ceased its WMD programs.

While blocking these inspections, Saddam continued to finance “secret” WMD programs in Iraq with illegally diverted “oil for food” funds that were administered by corrupt UN leaders. Saddam’s scientists and administrators, in their turn, stole most of the diverted money while sending false reports up the food chain to indicate a level of progress in their WMD research and production that did not exist. However, this façade was enough to convince Saddam that his scientists were succeeding in developing WMDs, including nuclear weapons. Intelligence agencies outside of the Iraq were seeing some of the same overblown progress reports to Saddam, and this created a confusing picture. In addition to those reports, a variety of other anti-Saddam parties, both inside of and outside of Iraq, were doing their best to tell the West whatever it needed to hear in order to get the West to depose Saddam.

Saddam staunchly denied possession of WMDs to the West and to the UN. Simultaneously, he waged an information war against Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria, posturing and puffing up his WMD capabilities. He wanted to scare them. He succeeded.

Saddam gambled. He and most of the other oil-producing Islamic nations pressured the West to stay out of Iraq. Saddam thought that petroleum bargaining chip, combined with the threat that his modified extended range missiles could reach as far as Paris, would keep the US from “pulling the trigger” and launching an attack on Iraq. He was wrong and that bad bet cost him a trip to the gallows and the lives of his two sons.

During the Iraqi War, Coalition forces quickly found the banned Scud Missiles but found little remaining WMD equipment. The few sarin gas artillery shells and the nerve gas manufacturing equipment that were discovered did nothing to overcome most of the public’s perception that “there were never any WMDs in Iraq.”

While Saddam and his regime were easy to dispose of, creating something like a “government” in Iraq to replace the old Baathist regime was far more difficult. The US would pay dearly for the occupation process. In fact, “process” might be the wrong term. Much of the US/UK strategy for the occupation seems to have been based on wishful thinking and a strategy of “spend and pray.”

In a live broadcast interview on April 23, 2003, USAID administrator Andrew Nastios said the rebuilding of Iraq could be accomplished for no more than $1.7 billion dollars in total. He missed by a bit. Before the end of 2003, the cost of the Iraqi occupation had increased to about $1 billion per week. By 2007, the costs had escalated to $2 billion per week.

Visitors to Iraq today would likely wonder precisely where that $2 billion a week went. While the variety of contractors, both US and foreign, will reassure us that every penny was well spent, not being one of those contractor folks, I am a bit less satisfied with the results of the expenditures. If you are a family member or loved one of the nearly 4,500 US troops or 312 British troops who were killed, you might be too busy remembering that fallen soldier to wonder about the money. If you are a family member of one of the 90,000 injured Coalition soldiers, then you might simply be too busy wondering about your own expenses to think about Iraq. But even if the money doesn’t matter to you, and the dead and injured are not directly related to you, it’s still worth wondering why we achieved so little at such a high cost in lives and treasure.

Unfortunately, we are not likely to permanently avoid war in the future. For one thing, as we reach the tenth anniversary of the “Shock and Awe” show, we remain involved in Afghanistan where we are burning more cash and lives to prop up an unlovable hoodlum in the person of Muhammad Karzai. For another, the White House has just stepped up its rhetoric against Iran. So while the Iraq War is over for us, questions about how we managed it remain critical.

Even at the time of the Iraq invasion, my greatest concern was that we were likely to invest heavily in lives and money without demanding anything from whatever group that we would prop up as an Iraqi government. My fears have been realized. How could I have imagined such a thing, you ask? Easily, Viet Nam should have taught us all better. Apparently, it didn’t.

While we spent generously and the Coalition troops fought effectively and efficiently, we have demanded very little from the Iraqi leadership to whom we relinquished control. While the various concerns of the many different Iraqi Peoples deserved consideration, we allowed the Iraqis to muddle along and call the shots while we paid the bills. That was nothing short of insane.

How insane? About a trillion dollars and 4,500 lives insane from the US point of view. The view from the Iraqi side of the equation is much worse. The Iraqi government, the Coalition, and the UN have no idea how many Iraqis were murdered during the chaos that plagued the US occupation. The estimates range from 110,000 to 600,000. The 600,000 figure seems wildly high to me, but 200,000 seems possible. The vast majority of those Iraqi civilians were murdered by Iraqi insurgents and foreign jihadis rather than by Coalition forces. Nonetheless, that’s still a level of human loss that should not be ignored.

If we weren’t willing to take charge during the occupation, then we simply should have shot Saddam when US Army Special Forces troops ferreted him out of his fox hole and then gone home. If we weren’t willing to be seen as being in charge in Iraq while providing some stability for a representative government to form, then we should not have stayed for more than the year that it took to destroy Saddam’s forces and hunt down his key Baathists pals.

In all major theories of war, including the various theories of guerrilla warfare and terror operations, one of the leading critical principles is “the principle of the objective.” Without a clear and viable objective in mind, one cannot achieve anything meaningful in a war.

In my opinion, and I won’t claim that it’s a humble one because I’m an opinionated old SOB and I know it, we failed to identify and pursue a clear objective in Iraq. We succeeded within the year in our original objective of removing the threat against ourselves and our allies by removing Saddam. Those who love to say Saddam never posed a threat to the US have ignored history and must not be paying for the petroleum they consume. But having achieved that objective, we stayed in Iraq while presumably hoping that someone in Baghdad would generously provide us with a plausible objective while we waited for democracy to break out. When we left in 2011, we were still waiting for that democracy. We’re still waiting now, but at least we no longer spend $2 billion a week for the privilege.

To be fair, what exists in Iraq today is probably, from the Western perspective, slightly less horrible than the Saddam regime. From the perspective of most Iraqis, life under the tyrant Maliki is far better than life under the tyrant Saddam Hussein. The Sunni backed kingdom of Saudi Arabia might not agree. The Iranians are thrilled to have a Shia in charge in Iraq, but they are learning that not all Shia believe Iran needs to be the one Islamic Caliphate.

And now we can add a couple of new factors to the Iraqi equation. Turkey has decided that those “disgusting subhuman” Kurds in Iraq have oil and are therefore lovely folks. Turkey finds itself talking to the Iraqi government in Baghdad less and less, and holding hands with the Kurds more and more. But let’s not forget another important neighbor of Iraq. Syria is in turmoil, and the violence is increasing. Iraq’s Maliki regime is supporting Iran’s ally Assad in Syria.

The US, NATO, and Turkey are in no hurry to start an air campaign against Assad. Iran backs some anti-Assad fighters as a hedge against the Syrian dictator. However, Iran needs Assad to stay in power and remain a major concern to the West for as long as possible. If the West is busy being concerned with Syria’s recent attacks against Lebanon and Turkey, it is less likely to invest the considerable military assets and massive political capital required for a meaningful military strike against Iran. Iran is free to pursue its nuclear dreams.

Interestingly, Iran turned down its patented “death to America” rhetoric this week and seems willing to talk. How much of that shift is a response to the economic pain of UN and US sanctions, and how much is a strategy to buy time to assemble a nuclear weapon, is tough to guess at this point. If you happen to live in Israel, you can’t be enjoying this card game at all.

Not everyone will agree on whether the 2003 Iraq invasion should have occurred at all. Many who agreed at the time have changed their minds. What most of us can easily agree on is that the White House and Congress mismanaged the occupation. If we are to learn anything, and if the sacrificed Coalition soldiers and Iraqi civilians matter at all, then we are obligated to examine the Iraq occupation dispassionately and apolitically so that we can do our best to avoid such hideously expensive mistakes in the future.

Special Edition Iran – Part IX, Playing Nuclear Chicken

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, and Part VIII.)

Today, we review Iran’s history from 2005 up to the present in preparation for an analysis of Iran’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West.

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Ahmadinejad and Vladimir Putin

image from the Presidential Press and Information Office of the Russian Federation, wikimedia

August 2005

After the election of ultra-conservative hand puppet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, his boss, the Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei, ordered the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) seals at the Isfahan nuclear site to be broken. The seals had been installed as part of an economic agreement with the European community. Europe responded by quietly attempting to get Iran to adhere to the agreement that it pretended to agree to in 2003.

January 2006

Iran broke the IAEA seals at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Muhammad al Baradei was concerned and showed it publicly. US President George Bush announced that the US would not accept uranium enrichment by Iran. He failed to mention what “non-acceptance” would consist of beyond condemnations.

April 2006

Ahmadinejad proudly announced that Iran had enriched uranium to 3.5% concentration. This level of uranium was concerning, but not anything like the approximately 80% that is needed for a uranium fission weapon. Ahmadinejad understood this, and he knew the US wouldn’t go to war for 3.5% uranium. However, he hoped to show that he defied the US and the West. His minority of supporters in Iran cheered. The majority of Iranians were not thrilled by the news.

July 31, 2006

UN Security Council Resolution 1696 demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium. Russia and China both cooperated with the resolution because both were trying to sell Iran reactor grade enriched uranium at high prices. The resolution proved to be as effective as most UN resolutions. Not at all.

December 2006

The Iranian regime hosted an international conference for Holocaust denial. Ahmadinejad pretended to think that Western allies invented the Jewish Holocaust after World War Two. Iranian apologists in the West would later pretend that Ahmadinejad never said the many hateful things that he frequently said. More than anything, the “conference” showed how ignorant Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei is about how people outside of Iran think.

Iran’s Holocaust denial scheme backfired on Iran. The UN passed a previously stalled resolution blocking all vendors from selling Iran any nuclear equipment and technology that could be used in the development of a nuclear weapon.

February 2007

The IAEA said Iran ignored yet another deadline for ceasing its uranium enrichment and called for more economic sanctions. Hand puppet Ahmadinejad screamed more of his usual nonsensical denouncements against the evil Western World and the Zionists. Everyone wished this guy would get another speech writer. Most Iranians were embarrassed every time he opened his mouth near a microphone.

March 2007

Operating on the principal that one can never have enough enemies to fully enjoy in one lifetime, Iran kidnapped fifteen British sailors from international waters near Iran. The UK protested. Iran thumbed its nose. A few of the UK’s least intelligent journalists questioned how “this disaster could occur.”

It’s always a comfort to know that not all of the West’s most asinine journalists live in the US.

May 2007

The IAEA announced that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within three to eight years if left unchecked in its efforts.

June 2007

Riots broke out in Iran over gasoline rationing. It occurred to Iranians that it takes a truly talented and gifted government to produce a gasoline shortage in a petroleum exporting nation. The various embargos had some impact. Iran couldn’t manage its oil industry well without outside help.

October 2007

The US came to its senses and finally cut off the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and their many lucrative corporations from US banks. The White House admitted what lots of folks knew for a long time. Iran was financing, training, and controlling the most active and best armed insurgents in Iraq. Big surprise. Not.

February 2008

Iran launched a test missile and said it was for scientific research.

Yes. That particular branch of science is called, “Hitting Europe and Israel with nuclear weapons.”

March 2008

Ahmadinejad visited Iraq for a rousing round of denouncements of Zionists and the West. Everyone outside of his Shia radical supporters in Iraq and Iran yawned.

After disqualifying all of the opposition from running for office, the “conservatives” won another round of uncontested elections in Iran. In Iran “conservative” means, “I support Ayatollah Khamenei.”

May 2008

The IAEA announced that Iran was still withholding information about its atomic programs. I was in Washington that day. My friends and I chuckled about the “shocking” news.

November 2008

Ahmadinejad congratulated Barack Obama for winning the US Presidential elections. Obama cringed.

December 2008

The Iranian police state raided the office of the human rights coalition led by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi. Iran said the office was acting as an illegal organization.

This is true. Human rights in Iran are certainly not legal.

March of 2009

Iran’s support for US President Obama ran out. Iran accused him of being another Zionist. Obama was relieved by the denouncement.

Being liked by Iran is even more damaging to an American politician’s reputation than being liked by Fidel Castro. I can only assume the White House considered it a good day PR-wise.

April 2009

Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi was convicted of spying for the US by an Iranian court. She was sentenced to eight years in prison. That it was an eight year sentence rather than hanging was clear proof that the Iranians knew she was not spying.

May 2009

The US State Department announced that Iran was the world’s leading terrorist supporter. The folks over at CIA shrugged. Many employees remembered to be grateful they didn’t work for State and didn’t have to talk to the press.

Iran freed Roxana Saberi and she returned to the US. I’m not sure who got it done. I’m glad they did.

June 2009

After Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated a popular opposition leader named Mir Hossein Mousavi in a rigged presidential election, protests erupted across Iran. Mousavi was hardly a reformer, but he wasn’t Ahmadinejad so the public supported him beyond what the regime had calculated they would. Khamenei ordered crackdowns against the protestors.

After the murder of a female protester named Neda Agha-Soltan was filmed on a cell phone and posted on YouTube, cell service was interrupted in Iran. Approximately one hundred protesters were believed to have been murdered by the Khamenei’s goons. Hospitals reported over a thousand seriously wounded protestors.

The international press caught on to what teenagers with cell phones were aware of for over a week and started covering the protests as well as they could. Several foreign journalists suffered beatings, arrest, and banishment from Iran. Several Iranian journalists and journalism students who covered the protests vanished.

August 2009

Ayatollah Khamenei got tired of Ahmadinejad pretending to be a real president and humiliated him by publicly demanding that he dismiss some of his key appointees. Ahmadinejad was filmed pouting.

Khamenei announced that he decided the “opposition candidate” and his top supporters were not actually foreign agents. Brilliant.

September 2009

Iran stopped denying that it was building another uranium enrichment plant at Qom, Iran. The IAEA was angry, and it only took them two months to formulate a statement denouncing the Qom uranium plant.

The denouncement was so effective that Iran announced it would build ten more uranium enrichment plants. Given that they were already operating 1,300 uranium processing centrifuges, ten more plants would be eleven more plants than they could possibly need for running nuclear reactors for generations of electricity.

December 2009

The death of the one time Ayatollah Khomeini supporter-turned-dissident, Grand Ayatollah Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, triggered a new wave of protests in Iran.  About twelve people were murdered or vanished. Montazeri was once considered Khomeini’s natural successor, but had broken with Khomeini because of the mass murder of opposition members in Iran, and because of Khomeini’s insistence on absolute authority.

January 2010

Nuclear physicist Masoud Ali-Mohammadi was murdered in Tehran. The regime blamed the killing on Israel and the US in an attempt to damage Iran’s nuclear program. However, Mohammadi was not important to Iran’s nuclear program. He likely was murdered for openly supporting opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and for refusing to step back into line. He had told his students to not fear death when considering protest because death can only hurt for a few seconds, but that the regime had hurt Iran for decades.

January 2010

Iran stepped up missile production. The US announced that US Patriot Air Defense Missiles would be deployed to Bahrain and other parts of the Persian Gulf to defend against possible missile attacks.

February 2010

Iran announced that it was “willing to ship its uranium overseas for conversion to fuel rods for peaceful use in Iran.” The offer was welcomed, but not followed by action. Russia had been offering the service to Iran for years. Nobody took Iran too seriously in its announcement. In any event, the process did not prevent them from continuing to enrich uranium beyond the levels needed for fuel rods.

June 2010

The UN imposed its fourth set of economic sanctions against Iran. Iran responded with its standard anti-American/anti-West/anti-Zionist nonsense.

July 2010

The international community condemned Iran for condemning Sakineh Ashtiani to death for “adultery.” Iran changed its mind about the stoning. Instead, it stoned her to death for an imaginary murder plot.

This sort of thing happens frequently in Iran, along with publicly hanging of juveniles who are accused of homosexuality. Few cases make it to the attention of the international community so when they do, some people are shocked. The condemnation means nothing to the police state that runs Iran under the guise of a theocracy.

September 2010

Someone in the Bushehr Nuclear Facility forgot to not open porn on their work computer, and the system was infected with the Suxtnet Worm. The infection spread to other Iranian nuclear facilities. The press said it could have been a “Nation State” that did it. Yeah. Maybe so.

December 2010

Switzerland hosted international talks with Iran. It proudly announced that a diplomatic breakthrough had occurred. The breakthrough? They had agreed to hold more talks in the future.

February 2011

Protests started up again in Iran.

Iran is an old hand at dealing with this now. They have a regular “protest response crisis team.” They beat a few hundred protestors bloody, kill a few more, and the others go home.

Iran sent one war ship and a support ship through the Suez to Syria. This was the first time that an Iranian war ship had transited the Suez since the mullahs came to power in Iran in 1979.

April 2011

In the dark comic opera that we call Iran, the rebellious child Ahmadinejad again made the mistake of pretending to be a grown up president, and again Khamenei publicly humiliated him by flexing his “supreme authority muscles.” Remember, Ahmadinejad ran on a sickening sycophantic political platform of “anyone who suggests disagreement with the Supreme Leader must be stoned to death twice.” The Iranian president’s restrained temper tantrums were rather hilarious to observe. Most Iranians found it the only thing about him that’s funny at all.

September 2011

Iran announced that the Bushehr Nuclear Power plant was on the grid. It was the first Middle Eastern nuclear power plant to go on line. The plant was originally a joint project between Iran and the US during the reign of the Shah. The funny thing was that if Khomeini had not forced Iran back into his personal Dark Age in 1979, the plant would have been on line around 1985.

October 2011

The US foiled a plot by Iranian intelligence forces to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US. Iran denied responsibility.

November 2011

An unexplained explosion occurred at an Iranian Missile Development Center. A Revolutionary Guards General was killed.

The IAEA announced that it had irrefutable evidence that Iran was attempting to build a trigger for a nuclear weapon. The US, Canada, and the UK increased financial sanctions against Iran and froze Iranian assets. The European community did not follow suit.

In its state of financial crisis, the EU could not ignore Iranian oil. The first Iranian missile could fall on Paris some day, but in the meantime, Paris could not survive without the oil. The US and Canada could promise the UK that it would reopen wells and keep the UK supplied, but it could not promise to do so for all of Europe.

Apparently concerned that not everyone on the planet was completely despising his regime, the Ayatollah Khamenei’s thugs attacked the British embassy in Tehran. Some of the younger thugs wanted to attack the US embassy, as well. The old timers had to remind them that the US has no embassy in Iran. The the average person in Iran wondered why in the name of God after thousands of years of seeking to refine a civilization they must endure such madness.

December 2011

European intelligence services anguished over the increase in uranium refinement in Iran. Iran had the missiles. Successive Western politicians had put the day off for “tomorrow” for a long time. Tomorrows ran out. Faced with threats of yet more sanctions, Iran announced it would close the Gulf to oil traffic. It didn’t. Within the confines of White House instructions, the Pentagon tried to answer media questions about “what if.”

January 2012

The EU decided it couldn’t wait any longer to act, and it announced an embargo against Iranian oil. Iran responded by claiming that it would destroy any US naval vessels that attempted to transit the Straits of Hormuz. The US Navy sent another carrier into the Gulf, joined by British and French war ships. Iran did not attack them.

The value of Iranian currency plummeted on world markets. Financial panic set in in Iran. Many Iranians had their accounts frozen.

Oil prices climbed. Saudi Arabia (our “friend”) reduced oil production.

February 2012

Iran denied IAEA inspectors access to critical nuclear sites in Iran. The IAEA gave up and left Iran.

The US and Israel openly held joint meetings. The US started issuing more direct statements concerning possible joint strikes by the US and Israel. At that point, the only substantial, unsettled question between Israel and the US was what would be the trigger to any strikes against Iran.

The White House was told that within two months, Iran could build a nuclear weapon. During the last week of February, doors in the Capitol started opening, and people started talking across the aisle. The political chatter decreased. Congressmen were looking more serious and less theatrical. Hell, they were starting to look like a “government.”

Welcome to the fight, people.

February 29, 2012

The Pentagon entertained the press openly. It announced that it was determined to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. When the press asked if the US had the capability to destroy the deep underground uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo, the Pentagon stated that it could destroy these sites with large, conventional weapons.

Short of a substantial strike, nothing would dissuade Khamenei from seeking nuclear weapons. My best guess was that he was not convinced that Obama would make that strike, and especially not before the 2012 election. So far, Khamenei’s been right.

In the next installment, we will analyze Iran’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West today.

Special Edition Iran – Part VIII, Crossing the Nuclear Rubicon

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, and Part VII.)

Today, Holmes takes us behind the intelligence scene as he walks us through Iran’s Nuclear Age up to the current players.

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image by Semhur, CC-BY-SA-3.0, wikimedia commons

The Year is 1995 . . .

Intelligence agencies from various Western nations voice concern that Iran has started a nuclear weapons program. The Western press is saying that Iran can build a bomb in five years. Western leaders are assured that a bomb will not be produced by Iran within ten years, based on where they are with resources and science. For most Western leaders, ten years is beyond their political shelf life.

The Israelis start whispering a little louder about the US needing to lead a coalition against Iran and destroy their atomic energy facilities. The diplomacy game begins.

I feel sorry for the poor State Department employees who have to take this particular diplomatic initiative seriously.  It’s not my “group,” “team,” “desk,” or “task.” I have plenty to chew on already, but I can’t help but notice the situation. However, when it comes to Weapons of Mass Destruction there are still bundles of loose ends in Iraq. Iran is less urgent in this regard.

During the Cold War, the USSR was, in a sense, everyone’s second task if they weren’t on the USSR full time. In 1955 or 1975, all roads led to Moscow, even the ones that wound through Beijing. Now, in 1995, it feels like most roads lead to a nuclear weapon in Iran or Iraq regardless of whatever other road one might be driving at the moment.

I’m at a casual “only us” party in Virginia. It’s not work, but we rarely leave that “work” very far away. It’s on everyone’s mind.

When a rule needs breaking, I somehow seem to be the natural first choice. I wish I wasn’t. I see myself as the peacemaker not the trouble maker.

I’m getting that expectant “Jay, tell us a story” look. I break the rule, and I ask, “What’s the deal with Iran?” We try, but we can’t envision this thing in Iran getting anything but worse.

I look at the three very good scientific analysts in the room. They decline to offer me any warm assurances. We conclude that the greatest challenge will be getting a politician to take effective action before it’s too late.

Life goes on. There’s no shortage of troubles and dangers in this world. I concentrate on the particular pieces of it that belong to me and “my guys.”

1996

China and Iran announce a joint project to build a uranium enrichment plant in Iran. Iran is feeling pretty cool about being big China’s new little friend. China wants the oil.

Within a couple of months, China has a mysterious change of heart and backs out of the program. I’m not sure who pulled which genie out of which cute little bottle, but I’m glad they did. Somebody will tell me the story when it’s okay to tell me. In the meantime, the Secretary of State swears it was diplomacy that did it. Hell, she might even believe it herself.

1997

Iranian intelligence forces murder four Iranian Kurdish refugees in Germany. Europeans don’t think it’s funny.

Educated people in Iran are looking at the thousands of years of dues their ancestors paid on the long road to civilization, and they are wondering why they are living under an idiot regime lead by a fake cleric with enforcers made up primarily of Iran’s least intelligent people, the Revolutionary Guards.

Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei starts believing his own cooked statistics and mistakenly allows a moderate candidate to run against the hardline lackey that he knows will win. Even with a little help from poll monitors in Tehran, the moderate candidate, a.k.a. the intended sacrificial lamb, roasts the regime favorite in a lopsided election. It turns out that not many Iranians think that the Dark Ages policies of the regime are all that funny.

The new President Mohammad Khatami still has to answer to the unelected Supreme Con Man Khamenei so nobody is expecting him to drag Iran very far back toward this century, but it’s still a victory for hope and reason in Iran.

I’m sitting in a leaky aircraft hangar in rural Florida with close friends enjoying a rain storm when a bright and talented young communications specialist brings us the news from his communications shack in the corner of the hangar. We toast Khatami’s victory with our last two bottles of Gatorade and my personal stash of chocolate. The joke get’s told one more time that Jay can always be counted on for extra water, extra ammo, and extra chocolate. I chuckle as though I haven’t heard it a few hundred times already.

The road is too muddy to drive to town so we sleep in the plane. It’s nice and dry. I don’t pray much, and never for Iranian clerics, but I find myself saying a silent prayer for Khatami before I drift into sleep, right after I ask God to protect my family and loved ones and these guys I’m with tonight.

Khatami struggles against the dictator Khamenei and his goons, but he can’t get much done.

Hoseyn Ali Montazeri, a senior Iranian cleric (a real one with real training), publicly criticizes Khamenei’s dictatorial political power. He is placed under house arrest.

1998

Iranian scientists are ordered to increase Iran’s tunneling technology and skill in order to shield future nuclear facilities.

US intelligence services detect, track, and confirm the launching of a medium range ballistic missile by Iran. The missile has the range to reach Israel.

Israel orders its defense industry to step up efforts on missile counter measures. The CIA reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the President that Israel is now significantly less safe. A few days later, the Secretary of Defense reports to Congress that Iran could build an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to reach the US within five years.

North Korea needs oil and has been selling Chinese missile technology to Iran for oil and cash.

Iran’s new radical pals in Afghanistan, the Taliban, cut the heads off eight Iranian diplomats and send the heads to Iran in a box. Iran is not happy. They send several army brigades to the Afghan border. Iran overflies Afghanistan. The threat doesn’t work. They are Taliban, not Pakistanis or Iraqis. They have no idea that they’ve suffered the indignity of being overflown by a hostile air force. Dignity isn’t really their thing anyway.

1999

The fun continues. Supreme Con Man Khamenei’s press controllers order the closing of a newspaper for being less than 100% devoted to the adoration of Khamenei. Students in Tehran are angered and they protest peacefully. Revolutionary Guard thugs disguised as angry civilians raid the dormitory and beat and kidnap students. Six days of escalating protests ensue. Over 1,200 students are arrested. Some of them are never heard from again.

2000

Iran holds elections for the Majlis (the parliament). In spite of creative, Chicago-style election practices in Tehran, the reformers win an overwhelming majority. Once again, rural (more pure and devout) Iranians show that their devotion to God does not extend to the Khamenei.

Iranian reformer Saeed Hajjarian becomes President Khatami’s political adviser. The Revolutionary Guards suspect him of releasing information to the press about the routine murders of moderates in Iran. Hajjarian is shot in the face on the steps of the city council, but he lives. Khamenei can’t believe his bad luck.

2001

Moderate Khatami wins re-election. Khamenei asks his elections specialists what he is paying them for.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in Germany when I find out. Before long, I get a call from friends in the US. We have a good laugh. We ask ourselves what Khamenei is paying his election specialists for.

2002

US President George Bush accuses Iran of being a member of the Axis of Evil. The Western press frets that Iran will become angry at us . . . As compared to what?

The exiled Iranian National Council of Resistance reports to the Western press that Iran is building a secret underground nuclear facility at Natanz. The President and US allies already know. They’ve already been told.

2003

Iranian Sunni leader Abdolmalek Rigi founds Jundullah to fight against the Iranian regime. Most folks assume that the Saudis and their Gulf State Sunni pals are funding him. When IED bombs produced in Iran for use in Iraq start occasionally blowing up in Iran, Khamenei wonders what he is paying his bomb makers for. Most Iranians hate the regime that they live under, but they are not about to rally to the banner of Sunni brand terrorists.

Students protest in Tehran again. The press coverage is more intense this time, and fewer students vanish into thin air. Protesting in Iran takes more than a little courage. You might not survive.

image by Shahram Sharif, wikimedia commons

Shirin Ebadi becomes Iran’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner. She is a lawyer who had become Iran’s first female judge in 1975, but she was fired after the 1979 revolution. She is a human rights activist in Iran. Even with her family’s many political connections, it’s amazing that she survives.

Forty thousand people are killed in an earthquake in south-east Iran.

2004

A train crash in Iran kills about 260 people. It may or may not have been an accident. It may or may not have been an act of sectarian terrorism.

The Supreme Con Man Ayatollah Khamenei finally stops believing his own propaganda. He accepts that most Iranians hate him and his thugs. He outlaws all candidates except his hand picked lackeys. Finally, the conservatives manage to eek out a victory against themselves in the elections.

2005

One ultra-conservative by the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wins the presidential election after all reasonable adults are removed from the ballot. This guy had run on the most ridiculous, obsequious Khamenei worship platform imaginable. You just know his mother wasted that money she paid for those acting classes.

My pals and I start taking guesses for the month in which Ahmadinejad will try to get off his knees and take a little power for himself. All his pals will want a piece of that imaginary pie he is hoarding, too. That pie pan is empty. He is nothing more than a cheap facade. No one thinks he’s the president of anything.

In the next post, we’ll take a look at Iran’s nuclear development up to President Obama’s inauguration.

Special Edition Iran – Part VI, The Rise of the Ayatollahs

By Jay Holmes

As an intelligence operative, I need a good foundation in history to do my job. After all, if we don’t understand what happened in the past, we can’t understand what is happening today or why. This series outlines Iran’s past as we move toward an analysis of that country’s current nuclear capability and what it means to the West. (See Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V.)

Today, we look at the rise of the Ayatollahs.

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Ayatollah Khomeini, image from public domain

September 2, 1945

In Tokyo Harbor on the deck of the USS Missouri, General Douglas MacArthur, representing the Combined Allied Forces, accepted the surrender of Japanese General Yoshijiro Emezu and Japanese Rear Admiral Tadatoshi Tomioka, ending World War Two. Admiral Chester Nimitz signed on behalf of the United States of America. The War was so vast and hideous that between fifty-five and seventy million people died worldwide, and another fifteen million human beings would remain forever unaccounted.

1946

As a direct result of the political maps drawn up at Potsdam Conference at the end of World War Two by the UK, USA, and USSR, both the Soviet Union and the UK departed from Iran. The agreement did not require the UK to leave, but it choose to voluntarily.

June 26, 1950

Haj Ali Razmara became Prime Minister of Iran. Though he had attempted a better deal, he planned to sign a new agreement with British Petroleum and the UK government that was less favorable to Iran than other agreements in force in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. Razmara also planned on instituting more democratic reforms and granting local authority to locally elected officials. This frightened the Shia religious leaders.

March 7, 1951

A member of the Fadayan e Islam assassinated Razmara. The Shia religious leaders controlled the Fadayan e Islam, but no plot was tied to them.

Nationalist Muhammad Mossadeq became prime minister. He nationalized the oil industry, and Great Britain declared an embargo on Iranian oil. A power struggle brewed between the Shah Reza Pahlavi and Mossadeq.

August 16, 1953

Prime Minister Mossadeq, supported by a growing communist movement, refused an order from the Shah to resign his office. The Shah went into exile in Rome.

August 19, 1953

Before the Shah and his entourage could finish unpacking, the CIA and MI-6 arranged a counter coup against Mossadeq. Because of their fear of communism, the Shia Mullahs quietly supported the coup.  General Fazlollah Zahedi was installed as prime minister. The Shah returned to Iran.

1955

Great Britain, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan signed the Baghdad Pact. The Pact granted Great Britain a leadership role in the region’s fight against communism.

1957

The CIA trained a secret police organization for the Shah named the SAVAK. SAVAK answered directly to the Shah, and not to the elected members of the Majlis.

1963

The Shah announced the White Revolution. The plan was to increase local democratic institutions, build more industry, complete land reforms, and lessen rural Iranians’ dependency on the Mullahs. The White Revolution included voting rights and equal protection under the law for Iranian women. The Mullahs were incensed and did all they could to resist modernization. “Ayatollah” Khomeini was jailed for plotting against the government.

1964

Khomeini was released from jail. He immediately attempted to organize a revolution against the government and against the modernization of Iran. He was exiled to Iraq, where he continued his work against the government of Iran.

1972

US President Richard Nixon agreed to arm the Shah with the intention of preparing Iran to better resist threats by the USSR. Iran purchased $4 billion USD in arms shipments.

1975

Continued military expenditures and a drop in oil revenue caused economic problems in Iran. Khomeini’s forty-nine year old son died, and the Mullahs accused SAVAK of murdering him. Others suspected the Soviet KGB of the murder.

1978

The Shah announced more modernization reforms. The Mullahs were angered and organized more protests. Rioting broke out. The Iranian police killed several hundred protestors in Tabriz, Tehran and Qom. Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to Paris. Khomeini did a great job playing the Western press. He managed to sell himself as a democratic reformer and a supporter of freedom.

January 16, 1979

The Shah and his family fled Iran as the government collapsed.

February 1, 1979

Posing as a religious leader, political con man Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran with promises of new freedoms and democracy. He brought, instead, a new Dark Age of ignorance and oppression to Iran.

Khomeini’s return from exile, image from public domain

February 14, 1979

The Mullahs’ thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran, but withdrew.

April 1, 1979

Happy April Fools Day. The Islamic Republic of Iran was announced. The Ayatollah declared himself “Supreme Leader.” The people of Iran lost judicial protection. Politicians could only run for office if Khomeini approved of them. The “Revolutionary Guards” become the new enforcement arm of the Ayatollah.

The Revolutionary Guards were new in the secret police business, and they used many SAVAK members to build their organization. Women lost their civil rights. The Ayatollah announced that America was the great Satan and kicked off his “Great Satan” PR campaign. He nationalized all foreign assets, and book burnings began. Witch hunts against non-Muslims became a new recreational pastime.

November 4, 1979

After the USA allowed the exiled Shah to enter the USA for cancer treatment, Khomeini’s thugs invaded the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 Americans. Many American reservists started reporting for duty voluntarily. They knew President Carter would likely order a mobilization and attack on Iran. The order never came.

Next time, we will look at the action President Carter did take, which was the attempted hostage rescue, Operation Eagle Claw.