Iran’s “Green Revolution”?
June 14, 2009

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On Thursday, in the wake of a huge Mousavi rally in Tehran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard issued an ominous but cryptic warning that “any attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud”. This warning didn’t make sense to me on Thursday, since all the energy seemed nonviolent and directed towards the democratic election on Friday, not towards revolution. Today (Sunday), the warning makes a lot more sense to me.

For some reason, mainstream news sources have been equivocating on whether the election was rigged or not. On Friday evening, I was pretty dubious that it was rigged, but by now the evidence seems incontrovertible. Juan Cole makes a very convincing case here, and rebuts several counterargumets here. Here’s a nice timeline of events that seems pretty reasonable at the moment, although information is currently very scarce.

The events in Iran right now are truly historic. I don’t have enough information to predict how things will turn out, but all the potential outcomes look like a fundamentally changed Middle East. If you want to read more about the situation in Iran and want some useful links, I’d recommend Juan Cole, Andrew Sullivan, and the gimmicky #iranelection Twitter feed.

EDIT 6/15 1:20 PM EST: Turning this post into a stream-of-consciousness feed. That #iranelection feed is no longer gimmicky, it’s better to think of it as SIGINT, as Marc Ambinder explains. Two more good sources to add are @persianwiki and Nico Pitney. Also Andrew Sullivan claims to be under cyber attack.
6/17 10:30 AM EST: Here’s a good summary (video) of the power struggle behind the protests.

Gaza and Terrorism
January 12, 2009

Yglesias: “The oddity of terrorism as an enterprise is that, in essence, it’s an effort by a weaker party to trick the stronger party into weakening [itself] by engaging in panicky overreactions.” Excepting nuclear terrorism, this is exactly right, and it’s really what’s so upsetting for me about the Gaza situation (in addition, of course, to the death and suffering). Everyone knows this is how terrorism works (it’s right there in the name!) and yet it still seems to work every time. It’s troubling because we (i.e. Israel and America) have learned the historical lesson of how terrorism succeeds, but we still repeat the same mistakes. I don’t know whether it’s because terrorism is uniquely psychologically effective or because our societies are structured to incentivize overreaction, but it’s important to be able not only to learn lessons, but to apply them and adapt.

Gaza 2008
December 28, 2008

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I’m no expert on the Middle East and I don’t think about it that much, but as I have a blog I get to offer my uninformed ill-considered opinions along with the more carefully thought-out ones. So here’s my take on the mess in Gaza, following from Matt Yglesias’ comment earlier today. I basically agree with him, but want to add a little more.

It is perfectly understandable that Israel feels besieged and wants to retaliate against Hamas to disrupt the endless rocket attacks against Israel. And there’s a good point to be made about looking weak and inviting further aggression by not responding. But I think the rule has been pretty well established over the past few decades that airstrikes don’t work in this sort of situation. Even if Israel managed to kill all the Hamas leaders responsible for the attacks, people just don’t like being bombed by what they perceive as an imperialist power, and such attacks inevitably create more resentment than they can assassinate. And, after the 2006 Lebanon war, such campaigns don’t even make Israel look strong anymore. So, leaving aside all the other dimensions, Israel’s operational choice of an air campaign is counterproductive to their strategic goals. I really feel for them, but this isn’t the way to go.