The Parallax Brief

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Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Iran Satellite Launch no Barrier to Soft Power

Dealing with the Middle East is clearly President Obama’s most pressing foreign policy task, and the politics and complexities of the region also make it by far his most exacting. Obama must deal with the region as a whole, yet within the Middle East pot, he is faced with a broth of caustic, distinct, and often mutually repulsive ingredients seemingly always at boiling point.

It is the process of dealing with these ingredients individually while simultaneously managing the effects of doing so on the others that has made the Middle Eastern foreign policy soup hitherto indigestible for US presidents.

And Iran just made Obama’s task more difficult by launching its first homemade satellite into space.

If true, this is an extremely alarming development, as the technology for putting a satellite into orbit is directly adaptable the process of putting a warhead into orbit as part of an ICBM’s flight path. Developing ‘staged’ rockets is vital if Iran’s military is to extend the range of Iran’s Shahab missiles, which are currently limited to 1200 miles (2000km).

The news does nothing to aid Obama’s quest to strike a more conciliatory tone with the Muslim state. Demonstrating an understanding of the technology that could in theory allow it to target countries beyond its backyard provides ammunition to those who wish to see military action against Iran, or at the very least a continuation of the failed Bush policy of hard-line isolation and sanctions.

However, hope remains for those of us who believe that the Bush-era diplomatic freeze with Iran was egregious and monstrously counter-productive. First, on the domestic front, Obama has a tremendous mandate so soon after his election and following the deeply unpopular, ineffectual, and mostly incompetent Bush administration. In fact, pressure is on Obama to unveil policies which contrast to those of his predecessor.

Second, Obama’s worldwide popularity makes it far more difficult for foreign leaders to criticize him personally, or blame America for their woes, than was the case with the widely reviled Bush. Iran may already be struggling in the face of a more conciliatory tone.

Third, the administration’s efforts toward Iraq withdrawal are likely to garner further good-will in the Middle East, putting a quid pro quo back on the table, and, in combination with point two, making public opinion less of a problem for Middle Eastern countries dealing with America.

Finally, perhaps Iran could change soon, too. Iran’s economy is in a parlous state, and there is reason to believe that the Ahmadinejad belligerent, hard-line regime is not popular. Given elections in June, Obama and his team could be soon faced with a more moderate Iranian leader, such as Mohammad Khatami.

While it would be fatuous to assume the ayatollahs will decide to walk to road to Damascus and discover the wonders of capitalism and Jesus, there is reason to believe that the time is ripe for the US, led by Obama and Clinton, to gain traction with Iran for the first time in a decade.

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The Right is Against Fairness

A big problem with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party specifically, and the American conservative movement in general (and for that matter the extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party and movement in Britain, too) is that it is slavishly ideological. Anything is acceptable in the name of progressing the Right’s cause; nothing anyone outside the team ever does is ever good.

With this in mind, I found, via Matthew Yglesias’s consistently outstanding blog, a colossally idiotic article by James Besser concerning the possible appointment of a special envoy to aid the Israel-Palestine peace process:

“Some Jewish leaders say the very qualities that may appeal to the Obama administration — Mitchell’s reputation as an honest broker — could spark unhappiness, if not outright opposition, from some pro-Israel groups.

“Sen. Mitchell is fair. He’s been meticulously even-handed,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “So I’m concerned,” Foxman continued. “I’m not sure the situation requires that kind of approach in the Middle East.””

Abraham Foxman, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, should be ashamed: as Yglesias himself points out, the article is “incredibly stupid—nobody comes out against fairness.

But herein lies the problem with the pro-Israel lobby, and, I might say, the Right in general. They have a blinkered, ‘you’re either unequivocally with us, or you’re a sworn enemy’ approach to ideology that would make a jihadist proud, and simply can’t tolerate deviation from the play book on any matter at any stage, even if deviating is the right thing to do.

Nowhere is this tendency more evident than with Israel. So hysterical is the right’s defence of Israel, that it has become next to impossible to criticize Israel’s actions without being labeled as a terrorist sympathizer who wants to deny Israel the right to exist.

I’m nowhere near smart enough to disentangle the complex knot of issues that comprises the Israel question, but I would suggest one of the biggest roadblocks to peace is that both sides are primarily supported by absolutists who will brook no compromise or discussion. Of course, this kind of idealogical absolutism has been traditionally associated with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Muslim extremists in general, but the sooner we realize that we have a very powerful contingent in the so-called Judeo-Christian world with similarly intractable, although diametrically opposed, views, the sooner we can sideline both sets of crazies, who would both rather see a continuation of scenes like the one depicted in the picture above than accept compromise.

That way, more reasonable types may be able to get on with the task of finding a “meticulously even-handed”, “fair” solution to what is ultimately an inhumanly destruvtive problem.

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Gaza Supplies Nauseating Reminder of the Cost of War

It would take a smarter man than I to disentangle the history, justifications, claims, emotions, propaganda and truth of the current conflict in Gaza. But while the pundits and analysts intellectualize the conflict, a war with terrible human costs is being waged.

A friend sent me a picture yesterday that beggars belief. It depicts a burnt baby being held up by an (understandably) hysterical medic. Clearly shown are the infant’s face, body, and bloody femur bones. I don’t know whether the picture is real or fake; whether it was staged or not. Neither do I apportion blame. However, it serves to remind us of the probable cost of this war.

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